Alan Jacobs: Hating Your Neighbor Will Make You Dumb

How tribalism and culture-warring have ravaged our ability to think.

Alan Jacobs’s wonderful new book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds never mentions the concept of black magic. But it offers a lively antidote to magical thinking nonetheless.

As any wizard knows, to practice magic is to marshal the powers of the universe into a concentrated point. Spirits, forces of nature, and other humans are subjected to the magician’s wishes. If I practice magic, I am trying to bend reality to my will. Aleister Crowley, the magician dubbed the “wickedest man in the world,” famously summed up the occultist philosophy: “Do what thou will is the whole of the law.”

This might sound like the stuff of medieval fantasy, but a quick glance at our culture confirms that habits of magical thinking are stubbornly persistent. Wherever one finds groups and individuals intent on ramming an agenda through the system—perhaps by manipulating boardroom membership, stacking organizations with the “right” people, or enacting ideologically driven purges—one finds shades of black magic. We don’t call political lobbying the “dark arts” for nothing.

Petitions, protests, and popular rallies reveal our deeply ingrained belief that voices shouting loudly in unison can shape reality. In today’s climate, many of us crave clear battle lines between good and evil and abhor anyone who dares admit that complex problems don’t have simple answers. And heaven help any poor public figures foolish enough to sincerely change their minds.

Repugnant Cultural Others

All these trends have hampered our ability to think carefully, judiciously, and generously. As a professor and public intellectual, Jacobs is well aware of the difficulties posed …

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Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?

A study reveals why relational ministry can leave our inner circle empty.

My pastor recently asked me, “Why is it so hard for people to see pastors as friends and not just pastors?” In one respect, the question caught me by surprise. He is part of a large pastoral staff of a big and vibrant church with a reputation for being highly relational. How can someone whose life revolves around forming caring relationships have a lack of friendship?

It turns out my pastor is far from alone. In a recent study, my team discovered that most relational-style pastors and missionaries average fewer personal relationships than the typical adult, and an alarming number have too few close confidants to support them in their life and calling.

Though it may be tempting to simply encourage ministers to seek more relationships, many ministers are faced with a trade-off between quality and quantity. Those with a large number of very intimate relationships have a smaller overall social network, and those who form lots of relationships have impoverished inner circles. Failing to get the right balance corresponds with burnout and ministry ineffectiveness.

Quantifying an Inner Circle

Our research is rooted in the idea that humans naturally have a certain number of personal relationships to which they gravitate. Known as “Dunbar’s Number” because it was first discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the number of genuinely personal relationships that we can actively maintain averages around 150 people but varies broadly. Some people can handle more and some less, but 150 seems to be the human norm.

Interestingly, Dunbar and colleagues note that 150 people is both the approximate size of typical small-scale human villages and about the number of people who can live or work together …

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Kaepernick, Speech, and a Job: The Cleat May Soon be on the Other Foot

Free speech is important, but is it always helpful, and how does it relate to employment?

Free speech can be quite controversial.

But this shouldn’t be surprising. If we all agreed on everything, we wouldn’t need the First Amendment. Unpopular speech is why we have the First Amendment. And, let me be clear, Colin Kaepernick was exercising his First Amendment right when he kneeled during the national anthem.

Yesterday, President Trump exercised his right to speak out when he called on NFL owners to release players who took a knee during the anthem. And when the president called on fans to boycott NFL football, that was still about citizens exercising a right.

So, none of these things is illegal. But the question is, Are they helpful?

To be honest, I don’t know much about football. Google only recently told me that Kaepernick is a quarterback. He has been protesting what he sees as racial injustice in America by kneeling during the national anthem.

Now, let me say, I’m not a big fan of “totalizing” protests—the national anthem is a symbol of many things and so much of that is good. Furthermore, the flag and the anthem represent the sacrifice of many who have fought and died for freedoms, including the freedom of speech we are discussing today. As such, I do find such protests disrespectful.

However, I do not have to be a fan of the protest to reflect on the president’s comments and how Christians might react. So here are a few ways we might respond to what is now a national conversation surrounding Kaepernick and President Trump.

First, the response of many African Americans (including fellow Christians) should give us pause to reflect on their response.

Sure, I get it. Like me, many of you are offended by people who dishonor the flag and the anthem. Patriotism is important …

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Fake Apocalypse News Shouldn’t Eclipse Real Tragedy News

There are real issues that deserve full coverage, not another fake story about the end of the world.

The need for good journalism has never been more pressing. Time and time again I have written about fake news. And over and over we find more of it, and more people believing it.

Rohingya Muslims are fleeing Myanmar for their lives. Puerto Rico is picking up the pieces after a devastating hurricane. One of the most divisive pieces of legislation in American history is being debated. North Korea and the U.S. are dancing around rhetoric last heard in the Cold War. It appears that no journalist is facing a shortage of issues and controversies worthy of their time—real issues that deserve full coverage and our attention.

In light of all of these significant and worthy issues that should deserve coverage, my question to the media is, why instead have you chosen to dedicate significant time and resources to the ravings of a poorly-credentialed conspiracy theorist like David Meade?

The “expert” of a profession that has been called ‘Christian Numerology,’ Meade has been the subject of article after article, bolstering his claims and linking his views to mainstream Christian theology. While some may see the unfounded discoveries of men like Meade as urgent news, I feel compelled to point something out: there is a lot going on in the world right now.

As I said in the Washington Post, Meade is a “made-up expert in a made-up field talking about a made-up event.” So, why is he in so many news reports today?

Taking Our Eyes Off the Good

In giving people like Meade a platform, media outlets have unwittingly legitimized his illegitimate findings. They’ve given (yet another) ill-informed Christian a megaphone by which he (and others before him) can make Christians look foolish and distract us from …

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Germans Are Welcoming Refugees as a Way to Honor Luther’s Legacy

Asylum seekers and immigrants are big part of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary in Germany.

As a young man, Martin Luther had a persistent, obsessive fear that he was cast out from God’s grace and that it was his own fault. He saw himself as a figurative refugee from the love of God. “My sin lay heavy night and day,” he wrote.

Later, he would lament, “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”

Then, after nailing his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, Luther became an actual refugee from his homeland. Roman Catholic leaders were seeking his life, and he was forced to flee and hide.

Five hundred years later, the Reformer and German icon is strikingly relevant for the issues facing Germany today. Millions of Germans feel attached to Luther and, to many of them, his example urges their country to welcome refugees.

“Luther was so human,” said Markus Ziener, a veteran journalist with the influential German newspaper Handelsblatt who now teaches at a university in Berlin. “Because he struggled, the rest of us who struggle can identify with him and find him very approachable,” Ziener said.

Luther’s quest for the grace of God led him to study theology, the Bible, and the writings of Augustine, and he met a merciful Christ he couldn’t wait to tell others about.

So when Luther wrote his 95 Theses, he was driven by a few simple, democratic ideas—for example, that the grace of God is available to every believer and that everyone is equally free to access that grace through faith. Because they were already assured of God’s love through his unmerited grace, Christians were then to help others in need. According to Luther, “God does …

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Q+A: Jonathan Falwell’s Caribbean Vacation Turned into Hurricane Relief Ministry

After Irma disrupted his 25th wedding anniversary, Baptist pastor shares how he got Samaritan’s Purse to come to the rescue of St. Martin and why he went right back.

When Jonathan Falwell saw the first signs of what would become Hurricane Irma swirling on the weather map, he moved up the dates of his Caribbean vacation—a surprise trip to St. Martin with his wife for their 25th anniversary—just in case.

He never imagined they’d be sleeping on pool loungers in a makeshift hotel shelter, coming face-to-face with the destruction of a category-5 storm, or flying home on a Samaritan’s Purse plane.

Falwell—son of the late Jerry Falwell and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia—helped coordinate early relief efforts while stranded for days on the island, one of the hardest-hit by Irma.

“In a situation like this, I had the opportunity—and I do believe it was an opportunity—to be right smack dab in the middle of it,” he said. “I think it’s just a great reminder of how truly urgent that it is that we get the gospel out to let people see that yes, we live in a broken world, but yes, there is an answer and that answer is Jesus.”

In an interview with CT, Falwell shared his prayers, stories, and theological lessons from his time stranded on St. Martin and his involvement in the recovery since then.

What went through your mind when you realized Irma was going to hit the island?

We got down there, and we were watching the storm. The storm was picking up speed and certainly picking up power. On Monday night, we got a notification that the flights were canceled, the airport was closed, and we weren’t going to get out of St. Martin on the flight that we had intended. It wasn’t until Monday that we knew we were going to have to hunker down and make it through.

I just assumed it would be a bad storm—some …

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How Do You Solve a Theological Problem Like Maria?

Record hurricane season challenges believers in paradise to trust God amid life’s literal storms.

Christians across the Caribbean are turning to God during a hurricane season like no other. On Wednesday morning, Hurricane Maria landed on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, the strongest to hit the US territory in at least 80 years.

The night before, pastor Gadiel Ríos prayed and read the Bible during a Facebook Live broadcast with more than 100 of his congregants, asking that God intercede to protect them and allow them to bless their island in the aftermath.

“As a congregation, we help each other during the preparation time, pray together a lot more, and help on relief efforts after the event,” said Ríos, lead pastor of La Iglesia del Centro, a congregation of about 350 in Arecibo. “The evangelical church is an ever-present force before and after these dire situations.”

Evangelicals make up about 15 percent of the population in Puerto Rico, where Catholics remain the majority, according to the Pew Research Center. Many churches, including Calvary Chapel of Puerto Rico, held special prayer nights this week to pray for their island and others in Maria’s path.

In practical ways, Caribbean churches have become better prepared for the annual threat of storms each hurricane season: Buildings are constructed to endure hurricane-force winds, forecasters can better predict a hurricane’s path, and social media networks allow congregants to quickly share warnings, pray, and coordinate relief efforts.

“We deal with the hurricane season as a ‘normal’ thing in our region, but the giant scope (size, force, rapidness of development) of Irma and Maria are just of another league,” Ríos explained by email.

Maria arrived about two weeks after Irma skirted Puerto …

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Of Old Testament Haircuts and New Testament Head Coverings

How Scripture records God consistently defending the humanity and dignity of women against sexual violence and exploitation.

Are women human? Dorothy Sayers asked the question in a series of essays published in the early 20th century. For many today, it seems absurd—of course women are human! Yet sub-human treatment of women has endured throughout history, from wife-selling practices in the 18th and 19th centuries to customs today in some parts of Nepal that banish menstruating women to outdoor sheds and expose them to elements that seem harsh for even animals. Any student of history knows that Sayers’s question was relevant for multiple cultures throughout history and remains so for many cultures today.

“So God created mankind in his own image . . . male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

The opening pages of the Bible teach that woman was created in God’s image (the crucial dividing line between mankind and beast). But after the fall of man, the history of God’s people gives us much to scrutinize on this question. The exploitation of Hagar in Genesis 16 and the rapes of Dinah in Genesis 34 and an unnamed concubine in Judges 19 offer snapshots of a fallen humanity that regularly views women as expendable sexual objects.

God caused such sexual violence to be recorded in Scripture, not to glorify the acts but to show the stark condition of mankind apart from God. Judges in particular tells us that its stories reflect people doing “what was right in their own eyes,” in contrast to what was right according to God’s Law (21:25, NRSV). God did not allow his people to ignore their sinfulness, and he never downplayed its harmful consequences for the most vulnerable in society.

The Bible is also clear: God hates inhumane treatment of women. Survivors of sexual violence can know that God sees their …

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When Disasters Bring Out the Best in Our Gospel Witness

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Episode 32: When Disasters Bring Out the Best in Our Gospel Witness

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, talks about the role of people of faith during times of natural disasters. In this moment of need, we can speak into their hurts and lend a helping hand. We can also share the hope we have in Jesus and how He is the one who restores and renews all things.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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Ravi Zacharias Remembers His Young Protégé, Nabeel Qureshi

The late apologist’s mentor and “uncle” said his lightning-bright legacy will live on.

The first time I saw Nabeel Qureshi, he sat at a table across from me, his one leg constantly moving almost subconsciously, warming up for a run. It was a habit of his restless disposition.

That was Nabeel in true expression; he hated sitting still. He was a man with a mission, ready to run. Sadly, for us, he finished his race all too soon and our hearts are broken at the loss of one who ran with spectacular passion to do what filled his soul.

He was a thorough-going evangelical. He held dear the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and carried the message of salvation. Jesus’ grace for a transformed heart was his message.

For years as a young man, he labored and struggled to gain “righteousness before God” only to find out that righteousness was already met in the cross through Jesus Christ. That was his message in his best-selling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

Qureshi was not just an evangelical; he was passionately evangelistic. He desired to cover the globe with the good news that God’s forgiveness was available to all. I have seldom seen a man with such deep conviction and proportionate passion and gifting. When he spoke, he held audiences spellbound.

I invited him to join our team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) four and a half years ago. He placed one condition, and I placed one condition. His condition was that after he joined, he’d travel with me for one year, to observe and learn. I asked that after the year, he’d go to Oxford. I wanted him to complete his doctorate to be better prepared to answer the toughest questions a Christian apologist faces—and to do it with gentleness, respect, and learning. He agreed.

He called me “uncle.” …

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