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Culture Books

Trends and patterns

Books

Trends and patterns

The future of Christianity

Glenn Stanton’s The Myth of the Dying Church (Worthy, 2019) points out that, contrary to numerous big-media proclamations, atheism and agnosticism are not growing wildly, and more young adults are attending Biblically faithful churches than attended a half-century ago. Liberal churches, though, are hemorrhaging, and formerly evangelical churches that embrace homosexuality—Seattle’s EastLake is one example—often lose members. 

You Found Me (IVP, 2019) goes over the same ground Stanton does: Author Rick Richardson’s subtitle is New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith. But while Stanton emphasizes the importance of sticking with Biblical doctrine, Richardson prioritizes social outreach. His example in a “Hope for the Future” section is a Colorado church that provides thousands of kids with school supplies, free clothes, and free haircuts and takes 140 bags of food to an elementary school every Wednesday. 

Dustin Messer’s Secular Sacraments: Finding Grace in the World and Sin in the Church (Center for Cultural Leadership, 2019) punctures the balloons of the Rob Bells who further “an age of autonomy” by abandoning Biblical teaching. Messer rightly says “the real adventurers are those who set sail for the risky land of Christian orthodoxy, … who subject their thoughts, behaviors, and passions to an exclusive Sovereign.” 

In The Wealth of Religions (Princeton, 2019), Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro push back against the secularization hypothesis, which suggests that increases in income, education, urbanization, and life expectancy lead to less religious belief. That’s not true historically in Western culture: For a time, more wealth led to more time and resources to pour into religious study, and more belief led to more long-term thinking rather than immediate gratification. In a virtuous spiral, that resulted in more work effort and thrift. 

One other factor is significant: “Protestantism’s stress on individual reading of the Bible led to higher literacy and, thereby, promoted economic development.” But, as the Bible shows regarding ancient Israel, over several generations people start saying “We built it” rather than “God built it.” The result can be increased self-satisfaction and less prayer and worship. It’s not clear whether America is still spiraling upward or heading rapidly downward. 

BOOKMARKS

Harvey Klehr’s The Millionaire Was a Soviet Mole: The Twisted Life of David Karr (Encounter, 2019) tells the surprising story of a man who moved from Communist journalist to muckraking columnist to public relations counsel to corporate executive, but remained throughout an egotistical liar who left behind four wives. Klehr believes David Karr was a Soviet agent who created such a tangle that the KGB eventually killed him. 

Joel Beeke and Christopher Bogosh’s Dying and Death (Reformation Heritage, 2018) is a succinct and solidly Biblical summary of how to prepare rightly for what’s inevitable. William Boekestein’s The Future of Everything: Essential Truths About the End Times (Reformation Heritage, 2019) briefly describes our own personal ends and what the Bible says about the world’s end and redemption. Boekestein favors burial, not cremation: He notes how the first cremation in America came in 1876 and was “accompanied by readings from Charles Darwin and the Hindu Scriptures.”

In The Drama of Celebrity (Princeton, 2019) Sharon Marcus tells of well-known people, starting with actress Sarah Bernhardt in the late 19th century, who became objects of mass fascination but could not cheat death. Human Liberty 2.0 (Post Hill, 2019) by Matthew Daniels emphasizes noncelebrities. He tells stories of little-known people who have used the internet to promote the dignity of humans created in God’s image. 

Carles Boix’s Democratic Capitalism at the Crossroads (Princeton, 2019) sees technological change increasing inequality and notes the inadequacy of a universal basic income (UBI) that would deliver dollars without dignity. Boix points out that a UBI could reduce work incentives, keep structures of inequality unchanged, and erode motivations of individuals to school themselves and develop character: “Working confers a dignity that the reception of a public handout does not.” —M.O.