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Looking Forward by Looking Backward (My Personal 2013 Recap)

2013_dubai_fireworks_reuters

Dubai’s 2013 Fireworks Display. Credit: Reuters

Adult maturity is partly evidenced by how well we allow our past to influence our vision and hope for the future. No matter how bleak our past experiences might be, if we never allow them to shape our vision forward, our future will be even bleaker. Reflective consideration for what we have read, heard, and experienced throughout this past year ought to help us consider what the upcoming year(s) will be like.

The stories we live by grip us tighter than we are willing or able to admit. Whether we treat our beliefs as narratives or propositions, our life context contributes greatly to how we think about the world. The disciples of Jesus lived with certain expectations about the God who would come and set the world aright. Jesus upended that view of God and the future of Israel and transformed their story. In a very real sense this is what God does: upend our stories. In Matthew 25 both the sheep and goats are surprised at their judgment. In Luke 15 both the prodigal son and his eldest brother expected their father to respond one way, yet their father responded the opposite. The disciples had Jesus living in the present, and we have the Spirit dwelling in us and in our loved ones around us.

The ongoing upending of my life story is the ever-growing realization that life is far more complex and nuanced than I want to believe. As Molly Worthen writes in Apostles of Reason, “Truth is no obstacle to a story that people want to believe.” When we apply that to ourselves we realize that the challenge of repentance is a matter of trading the story we want to believe with the Truth.

My prayer for libertarian Christians is that we humbly move forward, craft our words carefully, and thoughtfully listen to others. We have a lot to offer other Christians, both Left and Right. But in order for us to win hearts and minds we must be willing to be wrong, to learn, and to grow from those who do not share our priority for liberty. If we think we know everything we definitely have more to learn!

While most of my focus in 2013 was theology, key podcasts kept me up to date on issues of liberty and economics. Below are two lists, one of podcasts and another of books that I valued greatly this year and I heartily recommend them to you.

Podcasts I found useful in 2013

EconTalk The is a must-listen for anybody interested in economics or liberty. Russ Roberts is an amazing host and invites a variety of people on his podcast. He also demonstrates amicable disagreement with his guests.
Freakonomics If you have not listened to these, they are very fun. This is more in the “infotainment” category, but is never a waste of time.
Beyond the Box The two hosts of this podcast are not libertarians, but they have partnered with a ministry whose leader leans libertarian (I have had personal conversations with him). Raborn and Steve are both progressive-leaning Christians who are attempting to think outside of the box of institutionalized religion. I have had lunch with Steve before and can tell that both he and Raborn are humbly seeking to follow Jesus, whatever that means for their “religion” or “faith.” They also have guest appearances by folks like Brian McLaren, Michael Hardin, Sharon Baker, Peter Enns, and Preston Sprinkle.
The Tom Woods Show Hands-down the most succinctly entertaining and informative libertarian podcast out there, and Woods is just getting started. These are “commute-length” and is well worth the time.
The Tentative Apologist Similar to Beyond the Box, Randal Rauser poses inquisitive and respectful questions to Christian scholars who push the boundaries of evangelical faith. Rauser is not a pushover and has a nice firm grasp on what objections would arise for listeners.
Woodland Hills Church – Greg Boyd If it were not for Greg Boyd, I would still be a “patriot libertarian” in the form of those you would find at a Tea Party rally. Boyd’s sermons each Sunday are tremendously helpful in understanding what it means to walk in faith and follow Jesus practically.

Books I found useful in 2013

There are plenty of books here on theology and spirituality, and few on liberty or economics. Some of them are novels, some of them are narrative non-fiction. Titles in bold I have provided a brief description of below the table.

(Audiobooks are in italics, books I have re-read in 2013 have an asterisk)

Title Author Pages
Public Jesus Tim Suttle 112
What We Talk About When We talk About God Rob Bell 240
A Non-Violent Atonement J. Denny Weaver 362
Church Worth Getting Up For Chuck Gutenson 144
Changing Signs of Truth Crystal Downing 342
A Gentler God Doug Frank 398
The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are Jenell Williams Paris 160
Unclean Richard Beck 214
Problems with Atonement Stephan Finlan 144
What Would Jesus Deconstruct John Caputo 160
Constantine’s Bible David Dungan 240
The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien 259
Executing God Sharon Baker 216
Year of Biblical Womanhood Rachel Held Evans 333
The Racketeer John Grisham 352
The Litigators John Grisham 400
The Passage Justin Cronin 785
Blue Parakeet Scot McKnight 241
Raw Revelation Mark Roncace 242
Evolving in Monkey Town Rachel Held Evans 240
A Long Faithfulness Scot McKnight 63
There Are Two Marriages Tony Jones 15
Fallen Angel Daniel Silva 421
And God Said “Billy” Frank Schaeffer 327
The Naked Anabaptist Stuart Murray 190
Eat This Book Eugene Peterson 186
The Idolatry of God Peter Rollins 240
A New Kind of Christian* Brian McLaren 321
The Story We Find Ourselves In* Brian McLaren 192
Evil and the Justice of God N.T. Wright 176
Catch Me if You Can* Frank Abagnale, Jr. 304
The Utter Relief of Holiness John Eldredge 208
Speaking Christian Marcus Borg 261
The Great Emergence Phyllis Tickle 224
Healing the Gospel Derek Flood 138
Free: The Future of a Radical Price Chris Anderson 300
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate Justin Lee 272

Year of Biblical Womanhood – Rachel Held Evans decided that she wanted to experience and write about what it would be like to be a “biblical woman.” When I read reviews of her book by critics (after I had read the book), it was clear that her critics either do not have a sense of humor or are completely oblivious to what Rachel was communicating. This was my favorite book of 2012 (I think I finished it January 2 of 2013, so it barely qualifies for this list!). This book often shows up as very cheap as a Kindle edition. The one minor imperfection of the book (she doesn’t go in-depth on an alternative reading of the Bible passages she discusses) goes away if you follow it up by reading The Blue Parakeet by Scott McKnight. He fills in what RHE did not cover.

Changing Signs of Truth – Crystal Downing delves into the changing world of linguistics and semiotics,  recounting the development of Christian language and symbols and makes a case for the ongoing re-signing of truth through symbols. If you love puns and how authors play with words, you will love this book. But it is also challenging. Downing proposes some major changes to the way we view atonement, trinity, and other major aspects of Christian theology without abandoning their meaning. In doing so she demonstrates well how a changing culture requires how Christians communicate the gospel. (For an specific example of what she means by re-signing truth, see Sharon Baker’s Executing God.)

What We Talk About When We Talk About God – Rob Bell, controversial as he is, has a knack for poetically capturing the spirit of the culture and infusing it with the ethos of Jesus. This book is a great conversation piece if you have friends who are unfriendly to faith but inquisitive about the nature of life. If you can listen to the audiobook, I recommend doing so because Bell reads his own books and does an amazing job.

There Are Two Marriages – This is a very short ebook, and Tony Jones, progressive post-modern theologian as he is, makes a very good argument for understanding why marriage according to the State and marriage according to the Church should be understood and treated separately. Because Jones believes committed gay relationship are legitimate, he and his spouse actually waited to become “legally married” until their state (Minnesota) legalized same-sex marriage so they did not enjoy special privileges their gay friends could not enjoy.

The Great Emergence – Phyllis Tickle covers Christian history while talking about the major shifts occurring right now in our culture and in Christianity. Basing her study on the observation that every 500 years or so the Church goes through a “rummage sale” and undergoes some major “Greats”—the Great Schism in the 11th century, the Great Reformation in the 16th, and now a Great Emergence in the 21st.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate – My only comment about this book is, do not read it. Listen to it. Justin reads it himself.

What I Learned from the Christian Libertarians Facebook Group

I have been blessed to be an Admin in the Christian Libertarians (New) Facebook group. I have learned a lot about interacting and communicating with other Christians who do not share the same exact views, but in so many ways share a common desire for sharing the gospel and for spreading the message of liberty. It has also made me realize that I need to learn a few more languages: Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, and Presbyterian (though I do have a good take on the various Baptist dialects!). I have even made a friend who lives locally and we have seen each other at various times around town!

I have learned through observation and a few of my own missteps that certain modes of communicating do not work well. I will highlight two:

Quoting a Bible verse (or chapter) without explanation – Open your Bible. Place it on your desk. Now, wait for it to speak to you. (Are you back yet?) Hear anything? Probably not, because at some point we have to recognize that the Bible does not self-interpret. We have to read it through the lenses we have got, for better or worse. There is no difference between “the Bible says” and “I believe the Bible says.” Quoting the verse in the Bible in an online discussion does not solve all problems. As a friend of mine loves to say (and I think he is quoting a scholar he knows), “A text without a context is just a con.” So, do everyone a favor: when you argue about something Scripture seems to address (directly or indirectly), explain why you read the passage that way.

Get to the deeper level in debates over liberty and economics – Everyone ought to go through some sort of training in the art of listening. Because libertarians are so intelligent and passionate, we often stumble over our eagerness to communicate. We should strongly and humbly reconsider our rhetorical strategy for debating others with whom we disagree. Here is a starter suggestion: Consider caring about their desired goals, and then go on to explain how a free market does a much better job in the long run (reminding them that patience is a virtue). For instance, we could argue whether or not welfare for the poor is worthwhile, or we could argue why corporate welfare is a much more nefarious and evil mechanism for the very conditions that perpetuate poverty and keep the playing field tilted in favor of the rich. Not all evil is created equal. So do not stop engaging others on any and every evil. Pursue a broader goal and pique their interest by going to a deeper level of the problem. Think of it as a merging of “finding common ground” while also beating them at their own game. They will respect you more with it, I believe.

How Has My Libertarianism Has Changed?

One might think that with all of my Progressive-leaning material, I might be waning in or abandoning my libertarianism. Back in 2007 I realized that if I wanted to understand how social justice could work in the real world, I had to learn some basic economics. I spent much time doing just that, and now I am starting to integrate my theological changes with my views of economics and the importance of individual liberty. The best description of what “flavor” of Christian I am becoming is Anabaptist. Anabaptists value peace-making and reconciliation over dominance and retaliation. The Way of Jesus is the mark of a true Christian, not checked boxes on a list of theological points. For more details about this I recommend The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray.

To be sure, most Anabaptists are not libertarians, and many of them are critical of capitalism and markets. Yet libertarianism, with its strong emphasis on the Non-Aggression Principle, overlaps quite well with the Anabaptist principle of non-violent resistance. Yes, libertarians make exceptions for self-defense whereas Anabaptists would not, but both agree the initiation of force is wrong. I would say that is some pretty good foundational agreement!

Let me put it more directly: I believe that the goals and outcomes of so-called Social Justice Christians can best be achieved in the long run through freed markets with limited or no State interference. I also believe that seeking “the common good” should not yield a knee-jerk response for libertarians and especially Christians, when equipped with the proper tools of achieving such ends. Christians should be the people of God bringing hope to the world and seek to advance humanity forward through the use of mechanisms that do not tap into the cycle of violence that is Empire-based solutions.

What I Hope to Learn in 2014

As I look forward to the coming year(s), I hope to integrate a vision for justice with the realities and limitations of our world as explained and examined by economic inquiry. This will take time, and it will take dialogue and mutual learning among fellow sojourners. We learn best in community and in dialogue, so the first step will be working on materials that will facilitate such dialogue.

I would love to hear your comments about the goals and aspirations I have mentioned here. Humanity does not move forward without feedback and cooperating together.

Have a Happy New Year!

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Doug Stuart

Doug Stuart holds a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Seminary and is a regular contributor to LibertarianChristians.com. He currently lives with his wife and three children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he enjoys home brewing, coffee roasting, reading, and aviation. He is a life group leader and deacon at an evangelical church, where he has also taught classes on film and culture, evangelism, faith and economics, and non-violence.

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