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Lessons learned

What I've seen and taught

Lessons learned

When editing WORLD during the 1990s and 2000s, I looked at other magazines and saw their cover stories about books their editors had just published. By not even mentioning in WORLD my books or those by culture editor Ed Veith, I felt very noble.

Later, I received letters from some readers who complained, in essence: We wanted to read those books. Why didn’t you let us know of their existence? So, last year we excerpted a chapter of Mindy Belz’s excellent They Say We Are Infidels, and this year in May we ran a chapter of Dog Company, the terrific book by WORLD senior writer Lynn Vincent and Capt. Roger Hill that documents how the U.S. high command abandoned American soldiers in Afghanistan.

I’m letting you know that a new book of mine is now out—World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. It includes lots of columns I’ve written over the past 20 years. You can be the judge of whether the book is any good, but putting it together did help me to see the basics I’ve been trying to teach over two decades. Seems to me we should aspire to be post-resurrection Peters regarding faith in Christ but Doubting Thomases regarding faith in man’s institutions—which means poking fingers in the sides of both liberals and conservatives.

Since men aren’t angels, we need government. Since governors aren’t angels, we need tight controls over government.

Since men aren’t angels, we need government. Since governors aren’t angels, we need tight controls over government. We are, in two words, intrinsically disordered. Fiscal conservatism does not work without Biblical moorings. Actually, nothing works without Biblical moorings. Material insecurity correlates with leftward leanings: The left wants the government to make us feel secure. But security by itself creates problems: Tenured professors often have contempt for those who pay the bills.

Over these two decades I’ve learned that social fabric depends more on individual tailors and seamstresses in their families than on any decrees emerging from D.C. We keep government small only when most people honor their fathers and mothers while refraining from murder, adultery, theft, and false witness. When children are born out of wedlock or marriages break apart, or when affluent people don’t love their poor neighbors, government grows.

I’ve learned that most religions teach us how to ascend to God: That’s a recipe for failure. Since we cannot climb high enough, Christianity rightly teaches that God mercifully descended to us. People long knew about the importance of power and money, two points on the line of success, but Jesus turned it into a triangle, with compassion at the top. And yet, Christianity is not a nice religion: As priests once used hyssop to spray on people the blood of sacrifices, so Christ had to shed His blood, not just preach, to free us from sin.

On education, I’ve learned to appreciate those who have the spiritual gift of discouragement. School is about doing satisfactory work in lots of areas, but a career is about doing exceptional work in one area, and a lot of job happiness depends upon discerning what that area is. Inflation in grades or ratings hinders that learning process. Hard knocks lead to soft landings later: It was valuable for me to learn in the sixth grade that I didn’t have a future in baseball.

I have less patience with the countless liberal theologians who say we can stand in a hallway of religion without going into particular rooms: Remove the rooms, and the hallway is just empty space. I have less patience with green economists who enjoy life in nations that have materially climbed through industrialization, and now want to kick away the ladder. I have more patience with those who disappoint me, because I have disappointed many.

I still stick with the adages we’ve tried to drum into our young reporters. Be salt, not sugar. Report sensational facts with understated prose. Don’t suck your thumb: Pound the pavement. Strive for factual accuracy and Biblical objectivity. The heavens declare the glory of God, but the streets declare the sinfulness of man. Believe in a God who tells the truth and wants us to do the same. Don’t scream that the sky is falling: Remember that God holds up the sky.

And for all of us, when crunch time comes, as it always does, here’s the crucial question: Whose applause do I want, man’s or God’s?


  • PaulC
    Posted: Sun, 11/12/2017 10:25 pm

    Thank you for sharing your lessons learned.  Well written, and succinct.