In praise of dissent

metaxas[T]his morning I ask you to ask yourself: do I know and respect people who have different views than I do on the hot button topics of today? Do I have friends who are pro-choice and pro-life? Do I have friends who are for gay marriage and friends who are against gay marriage? Or don’t I think people on the other side of these issues are worthy of my respect? Do I think they must simply be avoided — and perhaps for the good of all even silenced altogether?
Eric Metaxas, Sewanee Convocation Speech (February 10, 2015).
Without irony, I confess I do not always agree with Eric Metaxas, but this is a very nice speech on the importance of viewpoint tolerance and understanding in a democratic society.  Somehow, I think this is about recognizing the image of God in others.

Physics & empathy

Dark MatterDark matter’s existence perplexes people who find it implausible that the vast majority of matter in the universe would be undetectable by our senses and their technological extensions. Some even wonder if it’s a sort of mistake. To me it would be even more astonishing if the matter we can see with our eyes were all the matter there is. You might have thought such hubristic beliefs were upended by the Copernican Revolution. After all, the history of physics is the history of revealing how much is deceptive, or is hidden from view.

Most people mistake their own perspective, shaped by their subjective and limited perception, for the absolute reality of the external world. Questioning this assumption is what advanced our research on dark matter. It is also the only thing that has ever advanced human empathy.

Lisa Randall, “Seeing dark matter as the key to the universe — and human empathy,” Boston Globe (October 26, 2015) (

Lisa Randall is a physicist at Harvard University.  This article was brought to my attention by polymath professor Alan Jacobs of Baylor, at more than 95 theses. who queries “I wonder if Randall (professor of physics at Harvard) thinks that this insight should have any influence on how atheists treat theists?”

Fool’s Talk: The tyranny of application

Os Guinness observes with dismay that the modern Western obsession with “the magic of technique,” leads us to focus almost exclusively on the application question — what preachers call the “So what?” of a sermon:

“All good thinking is a matter of asking and answering three elementary questions. What is being said? Is it true? What of it? Yet one of the curious experiences of speaking in many places in the West is an almost universal preoccupation with the last question, as if audiences were incapable of answering it for themselves. A speaker must therefore provide ready-made ‘take home values,’ ‘next steps,’ ‘measurable outcomes’ and the like. I sometimes wonder if some audiences raise the first two questions at all, and I am far from certain that such insistence on formulas and recipes for action really leads to more decisive action in practice. But the hosts and chairpersons in many events act as if without spelling out all the next steps, audiences would be cruelly short-changed.”

Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Kindle Locations 370-375). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Fool’s Talk: “The Grand Secular Age of Apologetics”


Everyone defends their viewpoint, says Os Guinness in a fascinating new book:

From the shortest texts and tweets to the humblest website, to the angriest blog, to the most visited social networks, the daily communications of the wired world attest that everyone is now in the business of relentless self-promotion— presenting themselves, explaining themselves, defending themselves, selling themselves or sharing their inner thoughts and emotions as never before in human history. That is why it can be said that we are in the grand secular age of apologetics.”

Guinness, Os. Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Kindle Locations 153-156). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

“Jesus never talked to two people in the same way.”

The Christian consensus has collapsed, and much of the rise of the so-called religious Nones is really the falling away of people who were only loosely attached to a church tradition. So there is a grand moment of clarification, and among the many things we need to clarify is our ability to communicate. Much of our witnessing, on the one hand, assumes that people are open and needy. It also assumes a whole series of formulae or recipes. I would argue that Jesus never talked to two people in the same way, and neither should we. So as part of the grand clarification of our generation, this is a time to reexamine our communication and see if it is as biblical as it should be.

from Tim Stafford, An Interview with Os Guinness, Christianity Today (July 23, 2015).