Modern Cloister: Decline of Community

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I was out of town last week, so this is a little old, but the most recent Modern Cloister Podcast is up and live. We continue out series in Community and discuss the future of community. Most of it is speculation, but also following various trends. A week or so ago, a Gallup survey came out that shows that church membership dropped below the 50% threshold for the first time since they have tracked. It is worth noting that it is not the lowest in US history, most Historians peg Colonial to pre-Great Awakening membership to something like 20-30%. The survey points to many of the things we discussed in out Decline of Community podcast, such as the rise in the 30’s and the peak in the 50’s, with major changes come in the 70’s and 80’s. They also have a few speculations about the future, and the implications.

I personally do not believe we will drop to the 10% mark in other post-Christian democracies, mostly due to immigration; however, a return to the pre-revival American age of 20-30% seems imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see those levels be 2050. We will talk in the next Pod about how we believe Covid will accelerate the trends of the declince.

The Future of Community Modern Cloister

In this episode of the Modern Cloister, we discuss trends and projections for where the church is headed, along with our thoughts and commentary on the opportunity we have as Christians to influence the future of both the church and Christian community over the next decade. This is the 3rd episode in our series on community. The 1st covered the history of Christian community and the 2nd focused on the decline of community from the 1950s to present day. Resources mentioned in this episode:  Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer This is the book mentioned at the end of the podcast, for anyone interested in further reading.
  1. The Future of Community
  2. In The News: Atlanta Spa Shootings, Beth Moore, Audrey Assad, and Evangelicals Least Likely to Care for Others
  3. The Decline of Community
  4. A History of Christian Community
  5. Welcome to the Modern Cloister

In the News: Atlanta Spa Shootings, Beth Moore, Audrey Assad, and Evangelicals the Least Likely Group to Care for Others

Modern-Cloister-NEW

Today we are taking a break from our Community Series to kick off something we plan to post near the end of each month. In it we will discuss two or three major news stories as well as one other story from each of us. We aren’t just trying to report the news, but to discuss either why the story matters or how we should think/act in response to the events from a Christian viewpoint.  

In the first segment, we discuss the recent Asian Spa shooting that happened here in Atlanta, which now has its own Wikipedia page (which is actually quite good), in which eight people died, six of which were Asian. I should note that during the recording we wondered the ethnicity of the other two and assumed they were both women. However, it was actually a man and a woman, both of which were white. We also failed to note that there was another person shot, a hispanic man, who did survive. We try to touch on both the asian violence over the past year and the issues with ‘purity culture’, as well as our response to both issues as Christians. I mention Kevin DeYoung’s remarks, his podcast is called Life and Books and Everything does not appear to have a website, and our friend Steve Heimler, who’s video you can watch below the podcast feed. 

Our second segment is on Beth Moore leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, for whom she has authoring numerous books over the past few decades. She is likely the most famous in a long line of people who have left the SBC, including whole congregations of black churches. This is notable in that there seems to be no issue of hersey, but rather a lack of will to support Trump that is causing such deep divisions. You can read what Russell Moore (no relation) has to say about Beth here.

Mrs. MMT discusses the news that one of her favorite singers, Audrey Assad, abandons Christianity. 

We wrap up with an article from David French about white evangelicals being the least likely group to say they will get vaccinated, and if that isn’t enough, they are also the least likely to say that the effects on the community are important. This is, of course, a complete disregard for love your neighbor and they will know you by the love you show.

We went far longer than intended, so the format may change. I hope you enjoy the discussion, please feel free to comment below.

The Future of Community Modern Cloister

In this episode of the Modern Cloister, we discuss trends and projections for where the church is headed, along with our thoughts and commentary on the opportunity we have as Christians to influence the future of both the church and Christian community over the next decade. This is the 3rd episode in our series on community. The 1st covered the history of Christian community and the 2nd focused on the decline of community from the 1950s to present day. Resources mentioned in this episode:  Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer This is the book mentioned at the end of the podcast, for anyone interested in further reading.
  1. The Future of Community
  2. In The News: Atlanta Spa Shootings, Beth Moore, Audrey Assad, and Evangelicals Least Likely to Care for Others
  3. The Decline of Community
  4. A History of Christian Community
  5. Welcome to the Modern Cloister

Book Review: How to Read the Psalms

How to Read the Psalms (How to Read Series)

 

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy read, short (<200 pages)

Summary

The book is what the title says, a guide to reading the Psalms. The book is broken into three parts – The Psalms Then and Now (chapters 1-5), The Art of the Psalms (6-8), and a Melody of Psalms (9-11). The chapters are The Genres of the Psalms; The Origin, Development and Use of the Psalms, The Psalms: The Heart of the Old Testament; A Christian Reading of the Psalms; The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul; Old Testament Poetry; Understanding Parallelism; Imagery in the Psalms; Psalm 98; Psalm 69; Psalm 30. Part three (the last three chapters) is essentially a mini commentary on these three Psalms, in which Longman shows the aspects of the Psalms that he has covered in this book. There is also an intro and epilog, as well as an answer key to the exercises and a guide to commentaries, which is quite helpful. 

My Thoughts

The Psalms is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and Longman is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars/authors, so this is a pretty straight forward must read for me. The book is short and cheap to begin with, but it is over 30 years old now, so you can find copies for a few dollars. Buy the ones with a harp playing shepard on the front, it is the older one. They have since repackaged the book with a weird eyeball on the front. 

The best part of the book is probably Part 2, where he goes through Old Testament poetry. This disconnect between ancient Hebrew poetry and the modern western conception of poetry is probably what keeps most people from diving into the Psalms as much as they should. It is not only one of the longest books in the Bible, but it is the most quoted in the New Testament. All kinds of prayer and reading plans for centuries have called for an immersion in Psalms. It is an important book, and I think a large subset of Christians (low church/baptist/non-denom people like me) really miss the value of the Psalms. 

Longman spend Part 1 of the book arguing for the value of the Psalms, especially how they have been used historically. I would have liked him to go a little deeper into the genres chapter, but the Psalms are notoriously hard to categorize (and some fit many or all categories). His short exegesis of the three selected Psalms is also helpful in understanding the different genres and poetic structures.

Overall, if you want to start reading the Psalms regularly or already are, but are struggling to understand parts, this is a great, short book that will give you a broad overview into some of the confusing aspects. The book itself is actually short the Psalms, so well worth it. His commentary guide at the end is also helpful (though slightly dated) in diving even deeper; but if are wanting to get into a better understanding of how to read the Psalms, this book is a must read. 

Modern Cloister: Decline of Community

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In this week’s episode, we discuss the decline of community in America. This is probable most famously captured in the book, Bowling Alone. The changes in communal life in general had two major impacts on Christians, first the pursuit of individualism and consumer focused churches leads to over an overall decline Christian community, second the decline of each lead to a broader decoupling of church culture and American culture. I should note that when we think of 50’s American culture and Christianity, we are talking about White Protestant Americans. I know that leaves many people out, especially black people and Catholics, but the sad fact of American life (as far as culture shaping) and politics of the time is that these groups specifically were excluded (think segregation and the controversy of JFK being Catholic). 

Our last episode discussed the history of Christian community, and today’s is still a little but of history, but it is a turning point that brings major change and will lead us into our next episode of where we are today. We’ll have one more offshoot episode, on the impacts of Covid, to wrap up the series. You can find us on all the major platforms (if you are on one that doesn’t have it, let me know) or listen to it here or on my Modern Cloister page from the tabs at the top. 

 

The Future of Community Modern Cloister

In this episode of the Modern Cloister, we discuss trends and projections for where the church is headed, along with our thoughts and commentary on the opportunity we have as Christians to influence the future of both the church and Christian community over the next decade. This is the 3rd episode in our series on community. The 1st covered the history of Christian community and the 2nd focused on the decline of community from the 1950s to present day. Resources mentioned in this episode:  Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer This is the book mentioned at the end of the podcast, for anyone interested in further reading.
  1. The Future of Community
  2. In The News: Atlanta Spa Shootings, Beth Moore, Audrey Assad, and Evangelicals Least Likely to Care for Others
  3. The Decline of Community
  4. A History of Christian Community
  5. Welcome to the Modern Cloister

Covid: One Year

Depending on how you count it – the pandemic had already been called, I was still at work for a week, but Mrs. MMT had just shut down, and schools shut down this week – it has been a year with Covid in our lives. I have written a few thoughts during the past year about Covid and the impact on my life. I don’t have much more to add. As of this writing, more than 530,000 Americans have died from the virus, and while numbers are down, there are still more than 1,500 people dying a day. It didn’t have to be this way, we have the second or third highest per capita death rate, depending on the source. Meaning, we are literally one of the worst three, none of which include Sweden, whose entire plan was to do absolutely nothing. We committed to neither lockdowns and safety measures, nor to completely running the economy as normal, but with distancing and masks. For that, our economy has suffered more than most others (our GDP drop again puts us in the worst performing five). The Republican president at the time recommend we ‘inject bleach’ for the virus, while many Democratic governors in blue states have shuttered their schools (but kept casinos and bars open) against almost all science and pediatric recommendations. I won’t rehash the politics of the past year (most of which are still ongoing), suffice it to say, it is an embarrassment.

I do want to point to one thing, quite disconcerting as David French noted in an earlier article, white evangelicals are the least likely to take the vaccine (though some churches and ‘leaders’ are actively promoting the vaccine). Anti-vaxx isn’t really part of the white evangelical culture, so it seems to be the influence of politics (Trumpism, QAnon, etc.) more than anything else. In some senses, it is ‘fine’ (I guess), to not want the vaccine, but is worst of all, is that white evangelicals were the least likely (only 48 percent, while most others were in the high 60’s) to say that concern for others welfare mattered. Between this and the currently trending argument that empathy is sinful, I don’t know what else to say, so I’ll just leave the words of Christ.

Luke 10:27; Matthew 22:36–40; Mark 12:28–31
 
27 And he answered, sYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and tyour neighbor as yourself.

36 Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? 37 And he said to him, gYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And ha second is like it: iYou shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 jOn these two commandments depend kall the Law and the Prophets.


The Great Commandment

28 uAnd one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, Which commandment is the most important of all? 29 Jesus answered, The most important is, vHear, O Israel: The Lord our God, wthe Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 xThe second is this: yYou shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment zgreater than these.

Introducing the Modern Cloister

Modern-Cloister-NEW

On Twitter the other day I saw someone say, ‘at this point, I need you to list that you don’t have a podcast’. I guess I can no longer say that. Mrs. MMT has convinced me to start a podcast. We are calling it the Modern Cloister, and homage/play on Martin Luther’s Black Cloister (now mostly called Lutherhaus). You can go here for a really good write up of life in the Black Cloister, or here for a shorter article about the history of the ‘home’ (or both to get a better understanding). Our first episode, Welcome to the Modern Cloister, also touches on this history, how we chose the name, and our goals for the podcast.

 Our second episode, A History of Christian Community, the first episode in four part series on Christian Community. In this episode, we discuss community in the Old and New Testaments, the early Christian church, and then in ‘Christendom’, which brings us up to the modern age. It has a little more history and a little less discussion than the others in the series, because of the ground work that needs to be laid. Our next episodes in the series are about the current state of community, the future, and then the impact of Covid. 

We plan to release on the first and third Sundays of the month. The goal is to mostly do series, but there may be one off episodes as well. Also, towards the end of the month, we will do a review episode of events that happened that month. We have already started our next series. You can find us a Modern Cloister, we aren’t yet on all the players, but once we are, please subscribe. We are also on YouTube, and I’ve posted a player below, if you like listening at work on your computer. Hope you enjoy, would really appreciate any feedback. 

The Future of Community Modern Cloister

In this episode of the Modern Cloister, we discuss trends and projections for where the church is headed, along with our thoughts and commentary on the opportunity we have as Christians to influence the future of both the church and Christian community over the next decade. This is the 3rd episode in our series on community. The 1st covered the history of Christian community and the 2nd focused on the decline of community from the 1950s to present day. Resources mentioned in this episode:  Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer This is the book mentioned at the end of the podcast, for anyone interested in further reading.
  1. The Future of Community
  2. In The News: Atlanta Spa Shootings, Beth Moore, Audrey Assad, and Evangelicals Least Likely to Care for Others
  3. The Decline of Community
  4. A History of Christian Community
  5. Welcome to the Modern Cloister

Book Review: The Wisdom Pyramid

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read; short (< 200 pages)

Summary
Modeled on the old school (though not as old as I thought) ‘food pyramid’, McCracken seeks to give us guidelines for what to consume to gain wisdom. The book is broken into two parts. First, keeping with the food metaphor (eating too much, too fast, and unbalance) is the ‘source of our sickness’ which has three chapters: Information Gluttony, Perpetual Novelty, and ‘Look Within’ Autonomy. Part two lays out the pyramid in these chapters: Part Two Intro, The Bible, The Church, Nature, Books, Beauty, The Internet and Social Media, and What Wisdom Looks Like (which is part summary and part conclusion for the whole book). There is also an introduction (An Unwise Age) that does well to diagnoses many of our current issues.

My Thoughts
The first part of the book was unexpected. I thought the focus would be just the pyramid, but McCraken does a great and concise job of diagnosing the problem. That made the book stronger and I appreciate his continued use of the food metaphor. Overall, I agreed with most of his food groups, but not all. In his defense, he points out that the metaphor breaks down a bit, but the overall focus was balance. Starting with the Bible is a good choice, obviously you can’t really read it more than all other books combined, and his point isn’t that you should read other books.

The next two levels, the church and nature, were really well done. Considering these are all short chapters, everyone should read this the book, but these two chapters were probably the best. He does a great job of pointing to the communal aspect of church, and reading this now (hopefully with the end in sight) in the pandemic, is an important reminder of what we are missing. I was skeptical of nature at first. I enjoy the outdoors (fishing, hiking, camping, etc.), but I’m usually wary of Christians how push it as necessary (conflating the outdoor life with ‘manliness’), but that is not at all what he did. He writes of the value of nature for our brains, touching on neuroscience, and the enjoyment of God’s creations. He reaches back to Augustine and Calvin and the ‘two-book’ theory of general revelation. It is probably one of the best handlings of nature by a Christian author that I have read.

Books, of course, was great. He is a big book guy, I’m a big book guy. I remain skeptical that if you are not an avid reader, that you would agree with him. Most people aren’t going to read 30-50 books a year, but maybe he could have set a goal for people on the lower end, or people who don’t challenge themselves to read, preferring, instead, to live a life of functional illiteracy. I must point out, because it is so often incorrectly quoted, that C.S. Lewis said read ONE old book for every three NEW books. People often flip the quote.

The weakest chapter for me was beauty. I understand he was likely being vague so that it could encompass various arts, but I wonder if the point would be clearer/stronger, if he dove into one think (i.e. Music). Or at least encourage people to actively participate. This may not be what he actually believes, that we must create, but I find that to be a little closer to the truth. The final chapter is on social media/internet. He makes a compelling argument to not abandon them completely and offers strong guidance on how to cultivate use. I am not a heavy social media uses, so much of what he offered seemed simple, but I know it is more difficult for others.

I thought one thing that was missing, or maybe just not pointed out clearly enough, was TV. I could see how quality TV/Movies (he is a professional movie critic) could fit into beauty, but also (he points to bingeing on Netflix) social media/internet. Maybe I’m just old for thinking of TV as a separate category (don’t worry, I do stream shows, no cable at the MMT household), but on the other hand, I don’t know many things that waste as much of peoples time in mindless consumption as TV. Sure, you may mindlessly scroll for 30 minutes on Facebook, but people will eat dinner in front of the TV, then watch for another four hours, before going to bed.

The only other issue I had, and to stick with his food metaphor, was this was really just a sampling. Again in his defense, I believe this was by design. I will likely pull more books from his end notes than I typically do. I’ve read most of the tech ones (his big omission was Irresistible, about the way tech has been made to be ‘addictive’. I had not read many of the books from the nature chapter, that seem like they integrate theology and nature well or on a psychology and nature level.

Overall, I think everyone needs to read this book. It is relatively short and can give you great guidance on your consumption. Extra points to him and the publishers for adding discussion questions. I already know a guy who is doing this book with his men’s group. This book would be a great discussion starter on how you are spending time and ways you can reorder your intake, especially on tech and books. It isn’t perfect, and many people will disagree with the levels (outside of the top and the bottom, hopefully), but it is a compelling starting point and a must read.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The City of God and the Goal of Creation

My Rating: If you are looking for something

Level: Moderate read, short (just under 200)

Summary

Alexander traces the concept of ‘City’ throughout the Bible, starting with Genesis (specifically Tower of Babylon) through the rest of the OT (specifically Jerusalem as the temple city) to the end of the New Testament (with the coming of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation). 

The book is broken into eight chapters, The Godless City, The Temple-City, The Holy Mountain City, The Royal City, Envisaging a Transformed City, and Hope for Jerusalem beyond Divine Judgement, Seeking the City That Is To Come, and Anticipating New Jerusalem. There is also an introduction (plus the series introduction), a ‘further reading’, as well as general and scriptural indices. 

My Thoughts

If you are expecting the title to be drawn from Augustine’s book of the same name, you’ll be a little disappointed. This is where it is important to closely read the book description. That is not the fault of the book, but I was expecting something else. I’m sure the Augustinian influence was part of the title choice, but if you are looking for a well known book from the past to play off of, I would have gone with ‘Tale of Two Cities’. The bulk of the book, the first six chapters, deal with the Old Testament dichotomy of Babylon vs. Jerusalem. Chapter 7, deals with Christ/Us as the new temple/new city, while only the final chapters discusses the future New Jerusalem in the New Earth.

As a professional city planner, any discussion of cities is interesting to me. Alexander does an excellent job in his exegesis of the various Biblical Passages that deal with the two cities. I would have liked to have more about the New Jerusalem, but I suppose as part of the ‘not yet’, we don’t know a good deal about it, nor do we have much to say. As far as the physical attributes of the New Jerusalem, his understanding and interpretation is one of the best I’ve read.  

Overall, this was a good book, particularly for anyone specifically interested in the Biblical treatment of cities. However, I wonder how broadly interesting it may be. Again, this is not the fault of the book. When I finished it, I went back to review the series intro. Each book is narrowly construed, by design. I don’t know if the long term plan is to bind them all in one massive take on a Systematic, with each book being a section, but that is ultimately how they read. I’ve read Work and Our Labor in the Lord, it is also pretty good, and I see a few others I’d like to read. However, popularily, I think most will enjoy this book, but it is probably best for those looking for something specifically about cities.  

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ash Wednesday 2021

A few years ago I wrote post that became fairly popular, called, Some Thoughts on Lent (pretty clever title, right?), most of what I said in then is still most true, I don’t know how to Lent. My church is trying to help this year, especially in a year in which people are not meeting in person, by sending home a box with everyone that has contents to be used the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday services, as well as devotional/calendar to be used for Lent in general. 

After church on Sunday, our guys group was talking about the Ashes, and a some people stated they wouldn’t be using them. Classic Reformed, ‘it isn’t in the Bible’. I didn’t have many thoughts, and I asked if anyone knew the history of the ashes. No one did, so I decided to look it up. 

The short answer is, ashes were used in the Old Testament as a sign of penitence and mourning. My boy Tertullian believed that confession of sin should be accompanied with ashes and sackcloth. So, clearly, early on the Christians still associated ashes in a similar manner as that of the OT. The basis of Lent is Christ’s 40 Days in the Wilderness in preparation for his ministry, which culminated in his death and then resurrection on Easter. Those who practice Lent engage in 40 days (technically 46) of reflection and repentance leading up to Easter. So, that is it, that is the connection. Looks like Ash Wednesday was really official until the 10th Century for Catholics. Apparently, Orthodox do not do it at all. I had no idea, I kind of always view them as have the same church calendar (even if the days are different) and liturgies. After the Reformation, Lutherans/Anglican didn’t stop. Today other liturgical churches such as Methodist and Presbyterians often hold the service and it appears to be growing in popularity. Other Baptist and non-denominational churches are starting to hold the services. 

I actually like it. Then again, I like history and tradition. This will hurt the heads of the academics and teachers who read this, but the Wikipedia article on Lent is pretty good, if you want more info. Along with ashes, two other things are popular, one is saying ‘from dust you came and to dust you will return’, while imposing the ashes. People seem to like it as a reminder of mortality and their short time on the earth. I think it somewhat detracts from the pentinance part, by trying to make the ashes represent too many things. The other is the reading of Psalm 51, which is David’s repentance after being confronted by the Prophet Nathan. 

Back to the Anglican thing for a minute, Cranmer, who wrote the Book of Common Prayer, banned the ashes, but it (obviously) came back. This somewhat ironic, as the church I attend is non-denominational that loosely follows the BCP. Interestingly, I have never done the ashes or attended an Ash Wednesday service. You can read in my prior Lent post, I grew up Baptist with no church calendar at all, not even Good Friday. Mrs. MMT and I were members of a Presbyterian church that would have like to do Ash Wednesday, but we met in a community center, so it was difficult to get a service going. I’ve never attend my current church’s service, because MRs. MMT is usually the music for it and I would stay home with Sprout. This year, it is only online, it has actually already been recorded (I ran the sound, on a soundboard that isn’t set for streaming output, so, should be interesting), and we are streaming at 3:00, 6:00, and 8:00 tonight; go here if you are interested. 

So, that is a little history of the ashes for Ash Wednesday. I feel like it can be a worthwhile tradition and plan to participate for the first time, tonight. I also found a cool infographic on Twitter that pretty well sums up everything:

Image