By / Mar 23

Philosophy, my graduate field of study, has taken hits in recent months. Who knew philosophers would be pitted against welders and subjected to assault from pop culture personalities? I chose philosophy well before such hubbub, but now seems as good a time as any to revisit why I did such a thing. Why did I, having been in the employ of a Southern Baptist entity for over a decade, choose to study philosophy?

1. Worldview reconnaissance

At the time I was considering graduate programs, I sought counsel from a host of people I trust. My interest was to continue work at the intersection of Christianity and the public square, with the nuance that I have particular interest in doing so directly among people who don’t necessarily share a Christian worldview. American culture continues to become more diverse in every way imaginable: religiously, ethnically, ideologically, politically. It is clear, then, that American Christians will increasingly interact with people who have no Christian memory. This is true whether you coach little league or petition Congress.

Most of the ideas the ERLC contends with in the public policy realm emanate from some kind of philosophy. This is true whether elected officials, government staff and advocacy groups are aware of it or not. Some of those ideas harmonize with Christian ethics while others—many others—do not. Thus, I decided I wanted a glimpse “behind the curtain” to see where these policy ideas come from. Consider it a kind of “worldview reconnaissance.”

2. Professional skills

Once I had some clarity about the theme of my professional interests, Barrett Duke suggested I consider philosophy. He said it would give me access to the ideas that become worldviews and would help me develop the inherent skill set necessary for worldview engagement, like argumentation and writing. He was correct. (And wow, was there writing.) As a bonus, the program forced me to write more precisely. (Yes, I’m a work in progress.) Further, the task of philosophy made me comfortable discussing both big, oversimplified concepts and nuanced specifics. Mainly, it helped recognize the difference between the two and learn to communicate appropriately.

3. Appreciation for original sources

During my particular track of study, I spent a good deal of time reading the likes of David Hume, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant and John Rawls. I was also exposed to Jewish and Islamic scholars, along with some Christian authors I’d not previously read. The writings of all of the above influence our current public policy debates in one way or another, though well “upstream” from legislation and political pundits. I learned that a philosopher’s popular reputation is often different than the actual text. This led to a greater particular appreciation for engaging original sources.

For example, David Hume supposedly dispelled with rational belief in miracles. But a reading of On Miracles reveals he didn’t accomplish that task, at least not in that essay. Immanuel Kant supposedly disproved the existence of God. Yet a reading of Critique of Pure Reason shows that he too still believed, with “certainty,” in a deity. But I didn’t learn any of that from a wiki entry. I had to read the original texts.

I have since found that requesting a fair reading of original texts resonates in debates over ethics and policy. Whether responding to questions about the Bible, an SBC resolution or an ERLC policy position, I find it immensely useful to simply say, “Let’s look at the original source.” This cools what otherwise might be a contentious conversation and often corrects the record.

4. Confidence in my faith

In my program of study I was a minority with regard to worldview, and that was OK. Given a firm foundation in Scripture in advance, having your beliefs challenged can be a fruitful exercise. It helped me refine how I communicate about my faith. It provided confidence that the historic, orthodox Christian faith can withstand philosophical scrutiny. A familiarity with the likes of C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer and R.C. Sproul helped in recognizing presuppositions in philosophical arguments. (However, while such familiarity with Christian thinkers helps, it does not exempt a student from the deep-in-the-weeds work of academic philosophy.)

It became evident that secular philosophies have no substantial refutation of religious belief in general, nor Christianity in particular. No philosopher to date has found any silver bullet that takes down all religious belief, though many assume they have. I found many fellow students hadn’t actually read much of the Bible, and few approach it with even a neutral academic posture they would other ancient texts. There just isn’t anything I’ve seen that provides the materialist worldview a one-two punch against Christianity.

5. A focus on Christ

However logical, creative or absurd a philosophy, even a philosopher must do something with the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth. C.S. Lewis’ trilemma has been accused by some philosophers of failing to “prove” Jesus is God. But that is to misunderstand the task of the trilemma. The only thing the trilemma accomplishes is to remove the fourth option, the claim that Jesus was merely a “great moral teacher.” In this philosophical exercise, He might still be a lunatic or liar. But if we affirm the existence of the man called Jesus (a question of history, not science or philosophy), and we read the Bible (the most original source we have about him), then only three options remain: He is either who he says he is (Lord), or he is a liar or lunatic.

Studying philosophy focused me on the person of Christ because I quickly saw how human efforts are, still, “striving after wind,” and “if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (Eccl. 1:17, 1 Cor. 15:14). And by God’s grace, I still call him Lord, even after a philosophy degree.

By / Jun 2

I remember noticing her frantically walking through our yard looking for something—or someone. Opening the front door, I went to her, eager to help. “Did you lose someone?” I asked. She looked about my age, and I was worried maybe she was missing her child.

“Yes! Have you seen her? Normally she’s not gone this long. I’ve called and called, but still no response. She’s white all over, with a black spot on her tail.”

“Oh.” I said, relieved. “From the look on your face, I thought you were missing your child.”

“She is like my child!” she said, intensely, earnestly. “Please let me know if you see her.”

After she left, I prayed with our kids that she would find her cat. And then we had a conversation about what would cause someone to treat a pet like a child. It’s obedient stewardship of God’s creation to love and care for pets. But, it seems increasingly common for couples to forego children, only to treat their dogs and cats like they would their own offspring. In fact, in some towns, pet boutiques are far more common than shops for children; parks are for pets only; and the pressure’s on to keep things quiet and child-free.

Enter Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, a collection of 16 essays by “literary luminaries” who are defensively child-free. The book promo says it “makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process.” Given our increasing obsession with pets in America, our fixation on autonomy, or desire to sever every connection between sex and procreation, it’s almost nonsensical that a group of elite writers would feel the need to defend their decision to forgo babies. And yet, they do.

Where, I wonder, is this parent-centric, kid-fixated world these writers feel so pressured by? Los Angeles? Brooklyn? New York City? Venice Beach? It’s hard to imagine the neighborhoods these award-winning writers occupy being overrun by the “overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood” their book claims to counter.

Even in our Bible-belty town, I’ve felt out-of-place entering a restaurant, market, or boutique with our four children. And elsewhere, especially while awkwardly guiding our four kids through first-class on our way to coach seats on a crowded airplane, I’ve wished they had t-shirts that reminded people simply, “You were this age once.” I know I’m not alone.

As far back as 2008, the National Marriage Project’s report, “Life Without Children,” warned that America was shifting away from supporting parents in the hard and essential work of raising the next generation. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote,

“We are in the midst of a profound change in American life. Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults. The repercussions of this change are apparent in nearly every domain of American life.”

Last week a story in The Atlantic added more evidence. In “The Childless Millennial,” Olga Khazan summarized findings from the Urban Institute that “today's twenty-something women have been slower to have children than any previous generation.” Far from calling millennials to get with the program and absent any “pressure to parent,” this story said the significant downturn is nothing to worry about.

Having a child and giving yourself to parenting requires a level of self-sacrifice rarely endorsed, let alone imposed, in our day. According to Popenoe and Whitehead,

Indeed, child-rearing values—sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity—seem stale and musty by comparison to the “child-free” values. Nor does the bone-wearying and time-consuming commitments of the child-rearing years comport with a culture of fun and freedom. Indeed, what it takes to raise children is almost the opposite of what popularly defines a satisfying adult life.

Yet for all this change away from children and toward an adult-focused culture, especially in the entertainment arena, the authors of Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed are defensive against something—or someone. On some level, it seems as if they feel the need to justify their decision not to have children.

Someone once sacrificed for you

I think their angst points to the metaphysical musing: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? The practical answer is that you’re here because your parents, in a moment of passion, conceived you. Someone carried you, bore you, nursed you, clothed you, taught you, and hopefully, loved you. No one can completely forget that someone once sacrificed so we could be here. Every person owes their life to someone else. Someone once given life, who refuses the miracle to another, must, at some level, feel the weight of their decision.

This is one of those truths we can’t unlearn. We can deny them, but they persist. They’re the things written on our hearts, not with random evolutionary etchings, but by the One who formed and fashioned us with the ability and the obligation to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). We cannot escape our witness-bearing conscience that accuses or excuses our every decision (Rom. 2:15).

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is a piercing example of people trying to quiet their consciences. I’m not saying that everyone who doesn’t have children has consciously made the decision not to. Many childless men and women long to have children but face circumstances beyond their control. But regardless of our circumstances, we must continue to be a voice for children; for having them and for training them in the fear of the Lord.

We should also pray for the authors of this book, and those who will read it looking for encouragement to stay the self-seeking path. May they come to know the One who said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

We need children because we’re selfish

I’ve seen plenty of selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed parents, including the one who stares back at me in the mirror every morning. The childless don’t have a monopoly on those adjectives. People generally don’t have babies because they’re altruistic. A big reason God gives us children is to grow us up. Scripture says children are a blessing. What it doesn’t say is that children will always make you happy or fulfilled. We need children precisely because we are selfish.

The incredible challenges that come with parenting can completely undo you, but as Allan Carlson writes in The Natural Family, it “opens the portals to the good life, to true happiness, even to bliss. . . . Kindness begets kindness, shaping an economy of love. Kindred share all they have, without expecting any return, only to receive more than they could ever have imagined.”

There’s joy you can only know on the other side of selfless sacrifice. Getting people to affirm being selfish, shallow and self-absorbed will never compare.
 

Editor's Note: ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event next year in Washington DC on January 21-22nd, featuring Russell Moore, Roland Warren, David Platt, Eric Metaxes, Kelly Rosati, Ron Sider and others. 

By / Feb 3

The recent measles outbreak centered in California has brought up questions about vaccinations. You cannot turn on a traditional news source or social media outlet without seeing a related article about measles specifically or vaccination in general.

In my pediatric practice, questions about vaccines come up frequently. Your Facebook timeline, like mine, is often filled with vocal vaccine skeptics and critics who make us feel like we are in the minority opinion.

So, what is a Christian to do with vaccinations?

I believe they should vaccinate and vaccinate with confidence.

Why?

1. Christians should vaccinate because science confirms the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations.

Vaccines work. Vaccines have eliminated a significant amount of suffering and death from various preventable diseases. Let’s take measles as an example. Prior to the vaccination, four to five million people contracted measles in the United States per year. Complications of the measles included hospitalization (48,000 per year), encephalitis or brain swelling (4,000 per year) and death (400 to 500 per year). It was considered eliminated from the United States in 2000 because there were no new cases transmitted here. Worldwide, measles continues to be a significant cause of disease and death. There were 145,000 deaths from measles in 2014 alone. Measles is not the only example. Each infectious disease we provide a vaccination for has a similar story.

Vaccines are safe. Studies have shown this to be true over and over again. The basic science of vaccines is sound and proven. Additive ingredients in the vaccines are not “toxins.” They are chemicals that are found in nature. Your child will get more mercury from a tuna fish sandwich, more aluminum from breast milk or formula and more formaldehyde from a pear than they will receive from vaccinations. Population studies looking at vaccine safety have consistently shown they are safe. The biggest and one of the most recent studies from Australia looked at more than 1.2 million children and showed no association with autism for vaccination, MMR, thimerosal or mercury.

Many Christians have adopted the mindset that we should be skeptical of science. But to be skeptical does not mean to disregard. We should also be aware that the study of science is defined as the “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena.” The observation of the natural world that God created (Gen 1:1) and that Jesus upholds (Col 1:17) should only draw us closer to him and help us to understand him better.

We should weigh the evidence in light of a Christian worldview, but we cannot ignore overwhelming scientific consensus in favor of anecdote and theory. Evaluate the evidence from reliable sources, then pray and seek wisdom.

2. Christians should vaccinate because we love our neighbors.

Vaccination is not only best for your child, it is best for those around us as well. Despite what you might have heard, the science of herd immunity is solid. Using measles as an example again, the rate of infection in a fully vaccinated child exposed to measles in almost zero percent. Not zero, but close, which becomes important. The rate of infection in an unvaccinated child is 90 percent.

Because measles is contagious before children show symptoms, unvaccinated exposed children have a high likelihood of spreading the disease to others before anyone is aware that they have it. However, in an outbreak situation, even those who are vaccinated can become infected because the vaccines are not perfect.

The main issue is that the trail of unvaccinated infected children and adults creates a domino effect of exposures and infections that become difficult to contain. Add to that the fact that many who are asked to stay home in order to prevent the spread of the disease are refusing quarantine, which makes the situation even more tenuous.

Children who have not been vaccinated because of the choice of the parent are not just risking sickness for themselves; they are endangering others as well. Others at risk include children and adults who are immunosuppressed due to medical conditions, those who cannot receive vaccines due to medical issues and those less than one year old who have not received their first vaccination.

In this situation, we need to remember that we are our brother’s keeper (Gen 4:9). Choosing not to vaccinate and to hide in the herd of everyone else who is puts others unnecessarily at risk and, as we have seen these past few weeks, does not work. Vaccination is pro-life and pro-neighbor because it serves the public good.

3. Finally, Christians should vaccinate because we don't give into fear mongering.

I realize this statement could be made for either side. Remember that in fear mongering the subject is often exaggerated in order to generate the desired response. Telling the story of a child who contracted an infectious disease and had a terrible outcome is a valid public health strategy. It could be fear mongering but when those tactics are used, it should be supported with data that describe the reality and scope of the problem.

The reality is that the very accusation of fear mongering that is hurled at those who support vaccination is often the tactic most employed by those opposing. Most often the stories I hear are anecdotal, not verifiable. The studies do not support the likelihood that the adverse event could be vaccine related. The strategies employed play on our biggest fears as a parent, that we might do something that could harm our children. What they forget to mention is that by not vaccinating you are taking a bigger risk.

Unfortunately, they often don’t stop at your fears associated with your own child. They will also attack your foundational beliefs when it comes to how far you should go to help your neighbor, your Christian worldview, your pro-life stance and others. I encourage you to not make decisions based on these attacks, step back and think.

As Christians, we do not have to make decisions this way. We can seek out information, wise counsel and trust that God can and will lead us into truth. Decisions about vaccines are no different.

In the midst of all the confusion about vaccines, I believe that Christians don’t have to be the ones who are confused. We can use the gift of vaccines with confidence knowing that, ultimately, our lives and our health are in the hands of our Father.

By / Aug 13

One out of every five Americans has some disability. Seven percent of Americans have mental limitations or illnesses that interfere with their daily functioning. Only 16 percent of people with a severe disability such as deafness, legal blindness, intellectual disability, autism, or an inability to walk are employed. Twenty-seven percent live under the poverty level, compared with nine percent of people without disabilities.

Randy Lewis, senior vice president of Walgreens is on a mission to change all these statistics and transform all these lives. You can read his story in a wonderful book called No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father's Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement. The title is probably a play on Jim Collins’ bestselling business book, From Good To Great

Lewis’s experience of raising an autistic son gave him a huge heart for others with disabilities. Over many years this passion developed into a massive and remarkable vision to provide meaningful, well-paid, and full-time employment for men and women with disabilities.

Lewis builds his case not so much on compassion for the disabled but on profit margins. He demonstrated that employees with disabilities have four times less absenteeism, 75 percent lower turnover, up to 50 percent higher productivity, and much better teamwork.

He persuaded Walgreens to build the most efficient distribution center of its kind in the world and staff one-third of the workforce with people who have disabilities, many of whom had never been offered a job.

He insisted that they be paid exactly the same as people without disabilities and enjoy the full benefits of full-time employment.

He then opened Walgreens’ doors to the world, even to their competitors, to share everything they’d learned in this process.

10 reasons to read this book

This was one of the books on my summer reading list and has turned out to be my favorite book of the year so far. As I want to motivate you to read it for yourself, here are 10 reasons to do so.

  1. It will give you a greater love for the disabled and a greater appreciation of their gifts.
  2. It will inspire you to fight for justice for the disabled and to include them much more in public life.
  3. It will inspire those with disabilities, and especially their caregivers and supporters, that so much more can be accomplished than is often feared.
  4. It will give you an insight into the burden of fear, anxiety and exclusion that the families of the disabled live with.
  5. It will demonstrate Christian faith tried in the furnace of affliction.
  6. It will call the church to emulate and exceed Walgreens. After all, if a corporation can do it, how much more can and should the church.
  7. It will challenge businesses and corporations to employ more people with disabilities – not just out of compassion but out of concern for profits!
  8. It will teach you leadership principles. Each of the 40 or so short chapters end with a catchy saying, a proverb, that Lewis draws from his experiences. Many of these are pure gold.
  9. It will make you cry, it will make you laugh, it will make you shout with joy.
  10. It will make you realize how much one person can do with God’s blessing. When Lewis was hesitating at one point, his wife Kay shared the story of Esther with him: “Perhaps you were made vice president for such a time as this.” Then, with absolute conviction in her voice, she said, “All the angels and the powers of heaven are standing behind you.”

This article was originally published here.