Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
John S. Dickerson’s Hope of Nations (Zondervan, 2018) sees persecution of Christians growing and wants us not to lose hope. He notes that Christians “cannot control what children are being taught by American society at large … cannot control the direction of cultural change in the U.S. … cannot control the world my kids will inherit.” A Christian can control “what I teach my kids and model for them … the moral direction of my own life … what I will do with my day,” and can “believe that God has placed me here, now, for a reason … that every obstacle is an opportunity when I am rightly related to Christ.”
Dickerson also points out that we can “influence many great Christian institutions that have not abandoned scriptural authority.” He puts this reminder in boldface type: “Any ministry or family that abandons the authority of Scripture (no matter how noble the argument for it) is one generation away from abandoning Christianity entirely.” Professors at hundreds of colleges and universities that started as Christian institutions began accepting materialist assumptions while insisting that they were not hostile to Christ: Soon they were.
Byron Reese’s The Fourth Age (Atria, 2018) displays materialist assumptions about the bright future of robotics and artificial intelligence. He expects continued technological progress and discounts original sin: “For ten thousand years, good has edged out evil.” He thinks war will be rare because “trading partners seldom go to war with each other.” (That’s what European trading partners commonly asserted before World War I.)
Reese doesn’t think robots will create massive unemployment, but he lists the type of jobs least susceptible to automation: ones where every day is different and work occurs in different physical locations, where training is long and decision-making is hard, where creativity and emotional connectedness are important. Recommended for automation: hostage negotiator. Not recommended: fast-food order taker.
Reese displays no faith in God but examines speculations that we may be living in a simulation created by a far-advanced civilization. Creation, by Whomever or whatever, is astonishing: Reese writes how one of the most powerful computers in the world, to model 1 percent of the human brain for one second, had to create more than 1.7 billion virtual nerve cells and over 10 trillion synapses.
Furthermore, Reese notes, the human body contains 60 different elements in various amounts: “No known laws of physics can explain how those elements can be combined in such a way as to create an entity with consciousness.” Mind and life itself “are themselves the most utterly inexplicable things we know of. They are the great mysteries, and may be forever beyond our control.”
Are we heading back to a religious world like that of the Roman empire in the second century? Michael Kruger’s Christianity at the Crossroads (IVP, 2018) describes the Christian presence in that era sociologically, politically, intellectually, and economically. Brian Stanley’s Christianity in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2018) is a useful scholarly overview. Marissa Henley’s Loving Your Friend Through Cancer (P&R, 2018) is a practical guide to moving beyond sometimes-tactless sympathy to thoughtful support.
Gavan Tredoux’s Comrade Haldane Is Too Busy to Go on Holiday (Encounter, 2018) is the sadly amusing story of a British scientist who saved Darwinism in the first half of the 20th century by melding theories of natural selection with Gregor Mendel’s discovery of genes. Haldane was also a Soviet spy and a hard-line propagandist who supported Josef Stalin’s favorite “scientist,” the crackpot Trofim Lysenko. Joe Bastardi’s The Climate Chronicles (Relentless Thunder, 2018) is a populist attack on current environmental crackpots.
Michael Best’s How Growth REALLY Happens (Princeton, 2018) displays an academic economist’s contention that government, instead of trying to pick economic winners and losers, can be useful in creating interconnected infrastructures. Jordan Hall’s Every Degree Debt Free (self-published, available through Amazon, 2018) is the exact opposite: an earthy and concrete, nonacademic look at how to pay for college and graduate school without loans. —M.O.