Social Media Advice from Tim Keller

Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

Not everyone has the same relationship with social media, and not everyone loves or hates it the same amount and for the same reasons.  For some, it may be fine just the way it is for how they use it.  Below I’ve linked Tim Keller’s review of the book Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail, which has some helpful observations on why social media is so polarizing for many, and some thoughts on how to make it a better place for discussion.  Bail’s book is based on social science, not religion, but Keller connects it to Christian principles in interesting ways.

One of my favorite lines in the review is that “social media is not primarily a place of public discussion of ideas. The ideas are ways to define oneself and signal belonging to a group, as well as to assign identities to others by associating them with groups you oppose.”  Near the end are listed “several principles that [Bail] believes move toward persuasion in social media rather than polarization.”  It begins with listening and seeking to understand.

Full article linked below.
(Estimated reading time 10 minutes)

What Was the ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ Really About? – History Bit for July 21

Some events in history bring a faint glimmer of memory to many people, but what they remember may not be the most relevant point. One such event was the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” decided on July 21 in 1925. What actually was this trial? Wikipedia’s summary[1] is that “a high school teacher, John T. Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which had made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. The trial was deliberately staged in order to attract publicity to the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, where it was held.” The trial descended into theatrics and was covered by national news organizations. Time magazine called the trial a “fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war.” Each side had a famous lawyer seeking publicity: the Presbyterian William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president three times, was the prosecuting attorney, and the agnostic Clarence Darrow defended Scopes.

The immediate result of the trial was that Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a small fine, but years later, that’s not what people remember.  For some, the lesson of the Scopes trial is simple: “science good; religious fundamentalism bad.”  Another group of people might think the lesson was: “religious fundamentalism good; science bad.”  But did the case conclude either of these things?  It didn’t, so what’s the real issue?

The Culture Behind the Scopes Trial
In the background issues were simmering which still linger today – whether religion should have a voice in how science is used and taught.  Tim Keller notes that “Few people remember…that the textbook Scopes used, Civic Biology by George Hunter, taught not only evolution but also argued that science dictated we should sterilize or even kill those classes of people who weakened the human gene pool by spreading ‘disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country.’ This was typical of scientific textbooks of the time.”[2]  Wikipedia notes that “Scopes was unsure whether he had ever actually taught evolution, but he incriminated himself deliberately so the case could have a defendant.”  So, the trial did not hinge on Scopes’ teaching, this textbook, or even eugenics, but the subject of eugenics sheds some light on how over-simplified the take-away of “science good; religious fundamentalism bad” really is.

Geneticist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, popularized the term “eugenics” from the Greek, meaning “good birth,” to describe ways humans could use evolutionary science to improve their condition.  He usually left unspoken that he meant not specific humans, but some abstract sense of humans in aggregate, and also that he meant to improve the condition of those humans in charge, or those humans with a voice among the humans in charge.   These beliefs were not rare, but quite mainstream.  Joseph Loconte, writing of the culture J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis lived in[3], notes: “In Britain, the Eugenics Education Society was founded in 1907 to take up the cause.  By 1913, the American Genetic Association was established in the United States to promote the doctrines of racial purity.”  The United States was actually the first country where compulsory sterilization was legalized, and some practices implemented by Nazi Germany were lifted right out of laws used by U.S. States.  U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “Three generations of imbeciles is enough” in defense of Virginia’s sterilization law.

The church was not entirely immune from the eugenics movement either.  According to Loconte, “Ministers in the Church of England held a Church Congress in 1910 in Cambridge, inviting several members of the Royal Commission on the Feeble-Minded to participate.”  Also, “By the 1920s, hundreds of American churches participated in a national eugenics sermon contest.  As the Rev. Kenneth McArthur, a winner from Sterling, Massachusetts, put it in his sermon: ‘If we take seriously the Christian purpose of realizing on earth the ideal divine society, we shall welcome every help which science affords.’”

This background to the Scopes Trial, often simplified to a “science” vs “fundamentalism” debate, makes us ask: which science and which fundamentalism?  Was eugenics, for a moment, part of “religious fundamentalism” for some of the church?  And is perfecting society on earth truly a fundamental Christian belief?  With a rule of thumb of “science good; religious fundamentalism bad,” or the opposite, what do you do if a scientific idea becomes also central to religious belief?

Also, if you take away science and religion from the equation altogether, which is better: “all humans have dignity and are worthy of care and love” or “some people deserve to be neutered like an ordinary animal”?  If science is the only source of our “fundamentalism,” where do we turn when it insists on destruction for the less favored?  Tim Keller argues that “Secular, scientific reason is a great good, but if taken as the sole basis for human life, it will be discovered that there are too many things we need that it is missing.”  What is missing is a meaningful reason to love your neighbor, regardless of their scientific knowledge, religious belief, disability, economic impact, level of intelligence, or any other characteristic.

It’s Not (Entirely) a Fantasy
Loconte says that although Tolkien and Lewis wrote of fantasy worlds populated not only by men, but also by elves, dwarves, orcs, and many other races, the topics of eugenics and other Progressive Era ideas served as background.  In Tolkien’s epic The Lord of The Rings, the solution to conflict between the races was not for one race to rule the others, or (even worse) to eliminate them.  Instead, the answer is to utterly destroy the Ring of Power, representing the desire of any tribe to use power to rule others “for their own good,” as some say.  While Tolkien insists his story is not a direct allegory, he may have been thinking of the centuries of tribal conflict between the English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh.  Or the conflict between any group of conquerors and the conquered.  By using fictional races, Tolkien was arguing that this lesson applies to everyone, in all places and at all times.

Therefore, when scientific fundamentalism says it’s OK not to love some people, Christians need to respond without exception that every person is a creation of God with innate dignity and should be loved as Christ loved us.  However, as shown on the cross, power is not the answer.  As Jesus told his disciples in Mark 10:42-45 – “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

God does not expect us to understand every issue of history, or even in our daily news feed, which is increasingly a “fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war,” but when we all meet our Lord in heaven, He will say “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25:40


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scopes_Trial
[2] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  This post draws from pages 12-13.
[3] Loconte, Joseph.  A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (2015).  This post draws on pages 15-19.

All You Need is Love, But What is Love?

A recent survey said that only 9% of American adults have a “biblical worldview.”  I’m generally skeptical of polls unless I know how they were done.  After looking into this one, I wonder if I fall in to the 91% of American adults who don’t have a “biblical worldview.”  Why?  In their definition of “biblical worldview” the word “love” was nowhere to be found.  Maybe they thought “love” was too hard to define to base a survey on.  If so, I can understand because love is a complicated thing.

In this survey, “love” was not in the definition, but “absolute moral truth” is, which bothered me not because truth is a bad thing, but because moral law is what condemns us.  Moral law would still exist if Christ had not died for us.  The Gospel, or Good News, of Christianity is that we can be saved despite failing to follow the law. Truth without love is like describing Easter and leaving out the Resurrection.  If we have not love, we have nothing but condemnation.  Love is essential.

But what is love?  Love means many things to different people and is a word people like to leave undefined or use to mean whatever sounds good.  Often people agree that “we should all love each other” without knowing what exactly they’re agreeing on.

Confusion about what love is has been around for a long, long time.  The Bible itself talks about several different kinds of love, making a “biblical worldview” definition harder.  In English translations of the New Testament, the word “love” shows up over and over again, but the Bible wasn’t written in English.  I’m no Greek scholar, but what follows is how I personally understand “love,” and I hope it clarifies rather than confuses.

In Greek, there are at least 4 words for love, including these three:

  • Eros – sexual or passionate love
  • Phileo – this is a root of “Philadelphia”, literally the city of brotherly love.  Loosely, phileo means an affection for people who are “brothers,” who we like because we admire something about them, or because they are like us.
  • Stergo – This is a love toward kindred or family, typically between parents and children.  This love is like a loyalty to those we are related to by blood.

These words and ideas were part of the culture in which Jesus lived, died and rose again over 2,000 years ago.  However, the writers of the New Testament Bible couldn’t line the meaning of these words up with what they wanted to say about Jesus.  Therefore, they took a little-used word – agape – and poured new meaning into it.

A Better Love
Agape is epitomized by the act of Jesus dying on the cross, but also by His selfless love for others repeatedly demonstrated in the gospel records of His life.  Agape is putting the interests of others above the interests of yourself, even if there is no benefit to yourself, or even if there is a significant cost to yourself.  Even if those others don’t love you.  Agape motivates acts of benevolence or charity.

Why is love so important to a Christian worldview?  Not only because if God didn’t love the world, He wouldn’t have sent His only son, but also because if individual Christians leave love out of their worldview, they use “absolute truth” as a reason to judge.  Love that requires sacrifice may be less popular than love that doesn’t, but without it there is no cross.

As I see a Christian worldview, this kind of love is absolutely essential.  From it comes a framework of the entire history of God’s relations with man in three phases: love rejected, love redeemed, and love restored.

Love Rejected
While vague “love” is popular, true agape love is not.  When I took a college class on Interpersonal Psychology, one of the topics was the multiple meanings of love. The professor explained the multiple Greek words used for “love”, but when he got to “agape” he asked if anyone in the class could explain because he didn’t “understand” it (or so he said).  I raised my hand, answered by describing the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, and was snickered at by much of the class.  The professor smiled at me and moved on to the next topic.  He probably set up the same situation every semester.  So, yes, not only does the world often not know what “love” means in a Christian sense, but they actively ridicule it when it’s explained to them.

From Adam and Eve right to the modern day, agape love is the bonds that mankind seeks to break and find their own way.  In an earlier post, I wrote that the “bonds” and “cords” that the world tries to break free from in Psalm 2 are the laws of love for God and for our fellow man.  Jesus summarized all the commandments of the Bible as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

I recently wrote that “the problem with every person individually is that they are unable, no matter how much external pressure is put on them, to treat other individuals the way they should be treated.”  People like to ask or demand that others practice agape love, but usually for the benefit of themselves.  It is not in our nature to demand it of ourselves first whether or not anyone else reciprocates.

Love Redeemed
People also usually like the idea that every person gets what they deserve – but we are less likely to talk about that for ourselves than for others.  The justice of God demands that anyone who refuses – at any time – to love Him and to love their neighbor should get what they deserve.  He does not miss anything but is perfect in His justice.  Jesus had to live the perfect life of agape love, under the loving guidance of Our Father, not so we won’t have to, but because we can’t.  Without Christianity and without love, the world would never be able to overcome the “Love Rejected” stage.

Christianity is not judgement, but the only way of escape from it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). If man had not rejected love, Christianity wouldn’t be necessary; but also, if Christianity does not restore mankind to agape love, it’s pointless.  Jesus, by willingly giving the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, satisfied God’s perfect justice and perfect love simultaneously.

By rising from the grave, He is able to share with us the power of agape love, which governs and redeems the other loves:

  • Eros – So many of the personal and societal problems in the world are driven by unconstrained eros.  In agape, God provides boundaries within which eros benefits, rather than harms, humanity.  See an earlier post on Godly Offspring for how God prevails over unconstrained eros even when we fail.
  • Phileo – Unconstrained phileo, which can become what we call tribalism, is behind a lot of the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other group conflicts in the world.  This also is nothing new – God through His Son will redeem us.  I wrote about agape overcoming tribalism in an old post about Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus the tax collector.
  • Stergo – Families might be expected to be the easiest places to love each other, but they are often where passions run hottest.  James 4:1 says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”  Only agape provides what is needed to bridge the divide, a love to govern stergo.

A Christian in our world has a restored relationship with God but is only able to practice agape love imperfectly while awaiting a new body in a new heaven and a new earth.

Love Restored
The Bible does not contain a lot of specifics about the eternal life that Christians inherit and it is often misunderstood.  For example, those who think of Christianity as a set of rules that make us “perfect” think they are right to ignore the hope of heaven.  C.S. Lewis says sometimes “our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.”[2]

But thinking of heaven as love restored helps understand it better.  Elsewhere Lewis reframes heaven as: “When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”[3]  By obedience he means obedience to loving God and man, and in heaven every person’s ability to love will be as the laws of nature, as reliable and predictable as the rising of the sun every morning or the return of leaves to the trees in the spring.

Also, we will not become something entirely other than what we are now, like an angel, but will be transformed and perfected, while retaining our individuality.  Pastor Tim Keller explains that “Our future, glorified selves will be continuous with who we are now, but the growth into wisdom, goodness, and power will be infinitely greater.”[4]

This is a future worth having.

How to Have This Love
For those who agree that the agape love we lost is the love we need back, Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He offers a world where every individual person uses their individual talents, gifts and creativity in the best interests of others.  All you have to do is agree to do the same, redeemed by His sacrifice and empowered by His Spirit to do the will of the Father.

How do we accept this offer?
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” – Romans 10:9-10

If you haven’t already, ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

Nobody is more or less Christian than Jesus makes them.  No doctrine or experience can replace a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.  If we have not love, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Fortunately, in Christianity we have His agape love if we will accept it above all other, lesser loves.  Christianity is not Christianity, and we are not fully ourselves, without it.


[1] From Matthew 22:37 and 39
[2] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1941).  P. 107
[3] Ibid.  P. 43
[4] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 170

Jesus is Indignant – Those Who Mourn #3

Today is part 3 of a series on the second Beatitude from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” – Matthew 5:4.  The first two are here and here. We begin with story of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus:

“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” – John 11:39

Before this dead man Lazarus died, Jesus got a message that he was ill.  Lazarus was in Bethany, near Jerusalem, and Jesus was about a day’s journey away avoiding the Jewish leaders who sought to stone Him to death for claiming to be God (Jn 11:30 and elsewhere).  After saying “this illness does not lead to death[1], Jesus stayed away for two more days and after the time it took to travel to Bethany, He found Lazarus already “dead four days.”

Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, were deep in mourning, along with many others who had come to mourn with them.  Then “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  Reading this we might assume Jesus’ reason for weeping was the same as everyone else’s.  However, pastor and author Tim Keller notes that: “Both verses 33 and 38 say that while He was weeping with grief He was also snorting with anger.  Jesus could not have been weeping for Lazarus because He knew he was about to raise him from the dead.  What, then, was He so grieved and angry about?  He was furious at the sin and death that had ruined the creation and people He loved.”[2]

Jesus knows that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  Since Adam and Eve, mankind has been facing, and mourning, the consequences.  From the repetition of “and he died” in the genealogy of Genesis 5 on, we are reminded of the result of missing the mark of God’s righteousness.  Nobody is more aware of this than Jesus.  As God, He understands our loss more deeply than we do, and He is indignant, consumed with righteous anger.

When Jesus got the message Lazarus was ill, He could have healed Him on the spot from a distance as He did the official’s son in John 4:46-54.  Instead, Jesus delayed in coming to raise Lazarus “so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4b).  The miracle convinced many, but not everyone: “the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well[3] because so many were later believing in Jesus that they plotted to bury the evidence[4].

However, Jesus used the miracle to increase His disciples (and our) faith, particularly in times of loss and mourning.  Jesus taught Mary to replace her “if” statement “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died[5] with His statement “I am the resurrection and the life.”[6]  As man, He feels as we do, and in compassion for us He weeps.  He steps right into our suffering with us – the odor of death does not deter Him.  He knew He would have to die to save us from our suffering, and He willingly took it on.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” – Hebrews 4:15

Just as He could have healed Lazarus before he died, Jesus could return right now and take us to heaven, but He waits until His purpose (not ours) is fulfilled so that He may be glorified.  For now, we can know as Mary did that He is “the resurrection and the life,” rather than wonder “if” He could have come sooner.  Therefore, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” – Matthew 5:4.  In time, Jesus will fix it all.

With the next post in the series, we move to the next Beatitude in Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” – and we begin with that odor.


This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here, and for the next post click here


[1] John 11:4
[2] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 164-5.
[3] John 12:10
[4] See also this earlier post
[5] John 11:32
[6] John 11:25

Let Justice Roll: History Bit for January 15

On January 15, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  A leader in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name, celebrated on the 3rd Monday of every January.

During this holiday, many will cite positives and negatives from King’s life and legacy, and here I will focus on one, specific positive.  His father and maternal grandfather had both been pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and he carried this religious heritage into his own studies and activism.  In pastor Tim Keller’s book “Making Sense of God” he writes that the strength of King’s arguments comes from his knowledge “that human rights have no power if they are simply created by a majority or imposed by judicial fiat. They have power only if they are really ‘there,’ existing on their own, dependent only on the fact that the wronged person before you making the claim against you is a human being.”[1]

King applied the teaching that “God created man in His own image” from Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that this image gives every person: “a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him a dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”[2]

In one of my favorite quotes from King, he cites the American institutions of democracy and its founding documents, but knows that even these must be rooted in religious truth to be effective:

“One day the South will know that when these dis­in­her­ited chil­dren of God sat down at lunch coun­ters, they were in re­al­ity stand­ing up for what is best in the Amer­i­can dream and for the most sa­cred val­ues in our Ju­deo-Chris­t­ian her­itage, thereby bring­ing our na­tion back to those great wells of democ­racy which were dug deep by the found­ing fa­thers in their for­mu­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.”[3]

Keller continues in his chapter titled “A Justice That Does Not Create Oppressors” that “Martin Luther King Jr. did not ask white America to make African Americans free to pursue rational self-interest, their own individual definitions of a fulfilling life. Rather, quoting Amos 5:24, he called them to not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’[4]  God provides, and demands, more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

While His justice and righteousness will only be made fully manifest in eternity, when we bring a bit of it into this world, we provide something available no other way to our neighbors, communities and beyond.  We should not be satisfied with anything less.


[1] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 199.
[2] From a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, 1965.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.
[3] From “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, dated April 16, 1963.
[4] From King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.