Christian Civility :: Weekend Reading List

“In Hebrew the term dabar means both word and deed,” Frederick Buechner observes. “Thus, to say something is to do something.” Buchner explains:

Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endless!

How many ripples have we suffered in this year of political rancor? The collective loss of civility has been mourned as often as it has inflicted wounds across the spectrum. Yet, Hua Hsu writes for the New Yorker, “The problem with civility is the presumption that we were ever civil in the first place.” Hsu continues:

Thanks to the Internet, we have become expert parsers of language, meaning, and authorial intent. We have grown obsessed with subtext. In other words, we live in very discursive times, when language seems to matter more than ever.

“See how a great forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire,” warns the book of James. How powerful would it be if the Church were to lead in the restoration of public civility in American culture?

For such a restoration to take place we would have to begin with confession. For while the nearly-endless coverage of this year’s broken discourse makes it feel different, it is far from abnormal. In a piece promoting the upcoming Civility In The Public Square event, Timothy Keller explains:

It could be argued that America has never really been a genuinely pluralistic, perspective-diverse, free society. We have never been a place where people who deeply differ, whose views offend and outrage one another, nonetheless treat each other with respect and hear each other out.

Those who have held the reins of cultural power—its greatest academic centers, its most powerful corporations, the media—have often excluded unpopular voices and minority views that fell on the wrong side of the public morality of the day.

In the 1980s and ’90s, many white evangelical Christians wanted to occupy those places of power, and showed little concern at the time to create a society that respected communities with sharply differing moral visions.

Civility falters when people live in fear—fear that their views may be wrong; fear that their power is limited; fear that there is no sovereign who cares for their interests. But the rhythms of civility restore what was lost in the fall, as Buechner concludes:

Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Daniel 6 (Listen – 5:18)
Psalms 112-113 (Listen – 1:49)

Today’s Reading
Daniel 7 (Listen – 5:21) Psalms 114-115 (Listen – 1:18)
Daniel 8 (Listen – 4:39) Psalms 116 (Listen – 1:34)

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The Beginning of Holiness :: Throwback Thursday

By Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. — Psalm 111.3

Holiness in man is but the image of God’s holiness. Surely there are not more virtues belonging to the image than are in the original. Those affections that are truly holy are primarily founded on the moral excellency of divine things. In other words, love of the divine things—for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency—is the spring of all holy affections.

The word moral is not to be understood according to the common acceptation: as outward conformity to the duties of the moral law. It is this holiness that gives beauty to natural perfections and qualifications.

The holiness of God is the same with the moral excellency of the divine nature: comprehending all his moral perfections, righteousness, faithfulness, and goodness. As in holy men—Christian kindness and mercy belong to their holiness—the kindness and mercy of God belong to his holiness.

Strength and knowledge do not render any being lovely without holiness, but more hateful; though they render them more lovely when joined with holiness. Thus the elect angels are the more glorious for their strength and knowledge, because these natural perfections of theirs are sanctified by their moral perfection. But though the devils are very strong, and of great natural understanding, yet they are not the more lovely. They are more terrible, indeed, not more amiable; but on the contrary, the more hateful.

The holiness of an intelligent creature is the beauty of all his natural perfections. And so it is in God, according to our way of conceiving of the Divine Being: holiness is in a peculiar manner the beauty of the divine nature. Holiness renders all his other attributes glorious and lovely.

It is the glory of God’s wisdom—it is a holy wisdom—and not a wicked subtlety. This makes his majesty lovely, and not merely dreadful and horrible—it is a holy majesty. It is the glory of God’s immutability—it is a holy immutability—and not an inflexible obstinacy in wickedness.

Any vision of God’s loveliness must, therefore, begin here. A true love to God must begin with a delight in his holiness, and not with a delight in any other attribute: for no other attribute is truly lovely without holiness.

* Abridged and language updated from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Div. VIII, Part III, Section III.

Today’s Reading
Daniel 5 (Listen – 5:47)
Psalms 110-111 (Listen – 1:57)



Kindling Love

My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being! — Psalm 108.1

“The heat of spontaneous love is so dangerous—no matter how great its passion—that it can very quickly become a poisonous fever,” warns Søren Kierkegaard. How many of us, still today, walk around wounded by the words or actions of someone who said they “loved” us. We know, through experience, that love rooted in sentimentality or self-interest risks running dry over the course of time or evaporating in the heat of struggle.

The enduring love referred to in the Scriptures is not a matter of deepening emotions, but embracing what Kierkegaard refers to as the “duty,” or work, of loving:

Only when it is a duty to love, only then is love eternally secured; secured against the ravages of change, eternally and happily secured against despair. However joyous, happy, indescribably confident, instinctive and inclinational, spontaneous and emotional love may be—it still needs to establish it­self more securely, in the strength of duty. Only in the security of the eternal is all anxiety cast out.

For in spontaneous love, however confident it be, there still resides an anxiety, a dread over the possibility of change. Yet in the you shall, it is forever decided; one’s love is forever secure. Every other love can be changed into something else.

The prayer of Psalm 108, “my heart is steadfast,” is not the result of “being a better Christian” or the fruit of willpower. A steadfast heart has made a thousand sacrifices—siphoning passion and energy away from everything which would pollute its commitment to God.

Kierkegaard anchors his perspective in the Torah’s command to love; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” concluding:

“You shall love,” this command from God, takes all the unsoundness away and preserves for eternity what is sound. You must heed to the eternal’s you shall. This alone will preserve you. This alone will keep your love alive.

There, where the merely human wants to storm forth, the command still holds. Just when the merely human would lose courage, the command strengthens. Just when the merely human would become tired and clever, the command flames up and gives wisdom.

The command consumes and burns out what is unsound and impure in your love, but through it you shall be able to kindle it again, even when, humanly considered, all has been lost.

Today’s Reading
Daniel 4 (Listen – 7:27)
Psalms 108-109 (Listen – 4:28)



Abandoning Legalism

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord. — Psalm 107.43

“Since high school days Jim had judged his own conduct, and probably the conduct of others, by what he later called his, ‘code of don’ts,’” wrote Elisabeth Elliot of her late husband Jim. “Late in his senior year in college, he began to see that this was contrary to the teaching of the apostle Paul.”

In a journal she read after his martyrdom, Jim had written about how he confronted his judgment of others through cultivating humility in response to his own sin:

I note that my [entry] of a year ago seeks a time when I shall forget all my failure. Psalm 107 has wrought much peace of heart in this regard. Just today I was thinking of how God loves in spite of all my sin and has promised to bring us to the ‘desired heaven.’ He will perform until the day.

What matters of the resident Adam? What care for my bloating pride? What concern for attacking lust whose inner fifth-column betrays me to that enemy so often?

Perfect love casts out fear, and this blessed rest—in knowing He loves through all these things—makes them seem too worthless even to be thought upon. I know them. God knows them. I confess them. He forgives them. Oh that I might praise him worthily!

This personal transformation opened his life up for deeper community. Elisabeth explains, “With a new understanding of these principles, Jim discarded some of the old inhibitions which before he had regarded as prerequisite to holiness.”

Far from sparking an unregulated life, Jim’s newfound posture connected him with others and opened up opportunity for him to deepen his connection with the Spirit while he calibrated his spiritual freedom. Later in the journal Jim wrote:

A disruption of my previously pious ‘code of don’ts’ that used to motivate much of my action has occurred in the last three months. The Lord has freed me from many things—good, ‘consecrated’ attitudes, priggish little laws whereby I used to govern my conduct.

I experience new fellowship, new freedom, new enjoyment. But my pendulum swung too far. My liberty become license in some things, and a stumbling block to some people…. Let us earnestly have these decisions before God…. We can boast with David in prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ ‘My heart confided in the Lord and I was helped, therefore my heart exults.’

Today’s Reading
Daniel 3 (Listen – 5:56)
Psalms 107 (Listen – 4:12)



Through Chaos, to Hope

Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love. — Psalm 106.7

Love has five stages—though many people get stuck at the third stage—according to psychologist Jed Diamond. The first stage is easy enough: falling in love. “Your partner rapidly becomes the ideal person for you; they simply have no flaws of any kind,” a Brightside article on Dr. Diamond’s five stages summarizes.

In the second stage the two become a couple; “a time of unity and joy.” This is part of what makes the third stage—disillusionment—so jarring. “You start to feel like you want a break from them or even tell yourself they’re not the one for you.” And here, after months or even years, many people exit their relationship. But this doesn’t have to be the end.

Couples that work through the third stage, Dr. Diamond says, get to create real, lasting love. “Your mind is freed from these illusions which you projected onto your partner in the early stages” And it only gets better.

Once a couple has reached the beauty of the fourth stage of love, they have the opportunity for the fifth stage: using the power of two to change the world. It’s here that the marriage so many of us long for comes into full bloom. The fruit of a thriving marriage cannot be conjured from aspirations, it must be cultivated through sacrifice.

This doesn’t just happen in love, but also in community, and faith. Decades before Dr. Diamond, Dr. M. Scott Peck wrote of the four stages of community. In the first stage, called pseudo-community we pretend to be close; in the second stage, chaos, we project our ideals on others.

The third stage of community, emptiness, is where we give up our demands for one another and build an understanding of each unique person. It’s only after we have yielded our personal pursuits that we can nurture the fourth stage: authentic community.

How often this pattern repeats. Psalm 106 laments how quickly we forget the foundation of our relationship with God when disaster batters our lives. The chaos of pain is disillusioning. Instead of progressing through the season of our trials, we are tempted to abandon the hope of our future.

But, as the Psalmist reminds, this doesn’t have to be the end. Like Israel, we can learn to cry for help as we embrace the hope of tomorrow; “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”

Today’s Reading
Daniel 2 (Listen – 8:45)
Psalms 106 (Listen – 4:52)