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Weekly Digest: Becoming Tim Keller
Welcome to my weekly digest for February 17, 2023.
For new subscribers, this contains a roundup of my recent writings and podcasts, as well as links to the best articles from around the web this week. You can control what emails you get from me by visiting your account page.
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Becoming Tim Keller
Collin Hansen wrote an excellent new intellectual biography of Tim Keller called Timothy Keller: His Spiritual and Intellectual Formation. I take a look at this book over at American Reformer.
Hansen’s book confirms several of my perspectives on Keller. The first is that he is primarily a digester, synthesizer, and systematizer of other people’s thoughts, rather than an original scholar or thinker himself. This is an uncommon and vitally important skill. Keller, a voracious reader, studied and learned from a vast array of very different people. It’s not obvious how they all fit together, but he was able to combine them into a coherent and elegant whole, rounded out with his own contributions. As Hansen notes, “Keller’s originality comes in his synthesis, how he pulls the sources together for unexpected insights… He’s the guide to the gurus. You get their best conclusions, with Keller’s unique twist.”
When I first learned of Keller, it was via his views on urban ministry. I was a professional writer on cities at the time, and was extremely impressed with his accurate knowledge of urbanism and global cities. He had clearly read and correctly understood thinkers like Jane Jacobs, Ed Glaeser, Richard Florida, and Saskia Sassen. (Hansen only mentions Jacobs as an urbanist influence, but he clearly had some others beyond that. While the book discusses a constellation of Keller influences, it’s still at some level only the highlights). And urbanism was just one of his many areas of reading.
There’s a media principle known as the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. We open the newspaper and read a story on a topic about which we are personally an expert or have direct first-hand knowledge and say to ourselves, “They got that completely wrong!” Then we turn the page, read articles in other areas of which we are ignorant, and take them in as if they were 100% accurate. My experience with Keller was the inverse of this. In my personal vocational area he did know what he was talking about. So that did credential him enormously in other areas. He was the first evangelical I encountered who actually seemed to know something about the world. I’m sure I’m far from the only person to have this experience with him.
Click over to read the whole thing.
There’s No Such Thing As a Good Divorce
Russell Moore has a great column online about why there’s no such things as a good divorce.
I firmly believe the Bible gives grounds for when a one-flesh covenant is severed, in which case divorce and remarriage are morally legitimate. I’ve also argued that there are cases (such as an abusive household) where a separation or a divorce is the right thing to do—for one’s children and/or for oneself.
That said, while divorce is sometimes necessary, it is never “good.”
Divorce, after all, is not just the rearrangement of a living situation or the moving of a name from one government registry to another. Divorce is dismemberment. In the union of marriage, a husband and wife are, as Jesus teaches, “one flesh.” In essence, spouses are members of each other’s body.
Yet sometimes dismemberment is necessary.
A person caught in a bear trap might well need to saw off a leg to escape and survive. In that case, dismemberment was necessary. The alternative was far worse. We might even say to one another, “Thank God there was a bone saw within reach!” But we should never pretend that the act of dismemberment is anything other than traumatic—or that the missing limb is anything other than a loss.
Apropos of something Moore says the column, while many children of divorced parents work hard to make sure there own marriages lasts, statistically, being a child of divorce raises the risk that your own marriage will end in divorce.
Porn and Christianity Relationship Stability
There’s an article at the Institute for Family Studies about how porn use reduces relational stability. That’s very unsurprising. But the effect is more pronounced for the highly religious, especially for higher levels of porn use.
This is consistent with other research I’ve seen. Perhaps it doesn’t surprise you, but it is theoretically counter-intuitively. Supposedly Christianity has superior insights into the nature of sin and the human condition - so people falling into sins like porn use shouldn’t be surprising - and also provides the mechanism for addressing it - repentance and forgiveness. So we should be unsurprised when people sin against us and more able to show grace and forgive. Yet we see here the opposite: being a Christian (not limited to Christians but included them) actually makes you more fragile in the face of other people’s sin, and less able to cope with it. This is true for men as well as women, by the way.
Big Finance Housing Scams
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has posted two wonderful investigative pieces on how large investors have scooped up enormous quantities of housing in Atlanta, making it impossible for many people to buy a house. The first installment details how investors acquired 65,000 houses in metro Atlanta, and accounted for a third of all home purchases over a one year period.
The second installment is about how these firms, some of which are owned by major Wall Street private equity firms, too often behave like slumlords. Here’s an excerpt:
Tawana Randall’s landlord charged her a $15 penalty every month for not having renter’s insurance. Under her lease, the insurance had to benefit not just herself, but also Progress Residential, the company that owned the four-bedroom home. Randall said she sent proof of her policy. She emailed. She called. And month after month, the $15 fees kept hitting her account. Finally, in August 2022, a Progress employee called Randall about the policy, she said. Not to clear up her billing dispute, but because her house went up in flames, and Progress wanted to cash the insurance check….Progress, Atlanta’s second largest homebuyer with more than 10,000 homes, is based in Arizona, but is owned by Pretium Partners, a New York private equity firm with over $51 billion in assets.
Armed with technological and financial advantages, Progress and other large single-family rental firms are more sophisticated than traditional landlords at scooping up homes, filling them with renters and maximizing profits. In their pursuit of higher returns, the largest firms aggressively increase the cost of housing through rent hikes and fees, while skimping on maintenance and passing many traditional landlord responsibilities on to the tenants themselves, the AJC found….Over and over, Progress’ tenants described being trapped between two bad choices: Pay outrageous fees they believed were charged in error, or refuse and risk their financial credit when the company’s software locks them out of their account and triggers an eviction filing.
In complaints to the state Attorney General’s Office obtained through an open records request, residents said their investor landlords rented homes in hellish conditions. One woman’s laundry room ceiling collapsed due to severe mold. A pregnant woman, who has asthma, said her air conditioning was out from June 17th to July 7th. At one point during a record-setting heat wave, the temperature rose to 97 degrees inside the house.
One of the problems with these firms: they interact with tenants 100% digitally. There’s basically no way to talk to a real customer service or helpdesk type person.
There have always been sleazy operators in our society, but today too many members of the supposedly respectable business world too often behave in a ruthless, amoral, and greedy manner. No wonder many on the left want socialism, and even the Republican voting base is starting to question the free market.
Also, this story shows how the state of Georgia essentially has no tenant protections. While blue states are captured by public employee unions and similar groups, red states are captured by sleazy business special interests. Indiana, where I live, is 100% pro-slumlord state. They’ve passed special purpose legislation that prohibits municipalities from providing even the most basic tenant protections, such as banning retaliation against tenants who report code violations. There was a huge problem in Indy this year when a big apartment complex was going to have its water shut off because the company that owned it didn’t pay the bill (which was their responsibility). The state legislature killed a proposal to address situations like this.
The bottom line, the people running our country across multiple domains of our society are not serving the country well. At the same time, they treat any would-be alternative leaders who might want to fix some of this stuff as a threat to “our democracy.”
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Best of the Web
According to the UK’s Independent newspaper, eight out of teen teenage boys have watched content from Andrew Tate.
First Things: What is the longhouse?
The New Yorker: The Astonishing Transformation of Austin - A very interesting article. They mention liberals who moved there hoping to turn Texas blue. But also conservatives of various stripes that moved to Texas to set up shop. This invasion of blue space by conservatives is pretty rare in my experience.
Economist Glenn Loury, for those of you follow him, was a guest on Tyler Cowen’s podcast. He has an interesting discussion of his relationship to Christianity.
Tomorrow’s insanity today. NYT: A Yale Professor Suggested Mass Suicide for Old People in Japan. What Did He Mean?
New Content and Media Mentions
New this week:
In case you missed it, my monthly newsletter #73 came out Monday and was ten theses on marriage and family. Unfortunately, this went to spam for a lot of people.
He Gets Us, But They Don't Like Us (paid only) - A look at the hate directed at the He Gets Us Super Bowl ad by the secular left.
Evolving Evangelical Gender Theology - Russell Moore’s newest column shows a rethinking and realignment taking place.
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Where have all the good men gone?