This roundup concept was dubbed a unicorn at first, because it seemed to be a mythical beast, to be seen in the wild just once and never again. But here’s roundup #4, so perhaps it’s here to stay, at least for the moment, collecting unusual and thought-provoking reads from the previous week.
This week, I appreciated Susannah Black Roberts’ tribute to Tim Keller: New York’s Pastor in the newest issue of Plough. A taste:
Evangelicals leaving home for New York needed something like Keller’s ministry to prevent them from leaving the faith. Secular New Yorkers needed a word from outside their city – from the New Jerusalem – to give them life.
Keller gave his New York congregation a new City to love, a City that draws together red and blue, urban and rural, Americans and those half a world away. It is the love of this City that will ultimately overcome all enmity. It is in this City that we find our peace.
In his latest for Christianity Today, my favorite American historian, Daniel K. Williams, considers takeaways from Jim Davis and Michael Graham’s new book, The Great Dechurching. A taste:
The church’s reason for existence cannot be merely evangelism, since parachurch ministries and missionary teams are often more effective at that. It cannot be simply to preach God’s word, since some of the best evangelical preaching has often occurred at unaffiliated revival services and parachurch ministry conferences.
If the church is the bride of Christ—whom Jesus redeemed with his blood—we know it is vital. But why?
An evangelical answer is that the church exists as a local expression of the family of God and it’s Jesus’ plan for training his disciples to love one another and become more like him.
As evangelicals have rightly noted, God’s Spirit and gift of salvation are not defined by church walls. But without an embodied community of believers, we’re limited in our ability to learn how to love other followers of Jesus. We’re hindered in our capacity to experience the unity with other Christians that Jesus prayed for just before his crucifixion. And we’re less likely to experience the blessings that come with being part of a local expression of Jesus’ Bride.
Many thanks to Brian Scoles, the finder of all the unusual, quirky, yet powerful stories, who pointed me to this stunning story about a woman who survived a kidnapping by a serial killer, and has recently told about her experience in detail for the first time: The Serial Killer and the Texas Mom Who Stopped Him With Prayer. A taste:
What happened to Palm on that day in 1981 doesn’t make sense in the way that stories about life-changing events often don’t. She hadn’t planned on stopping at Kmart—it was an on-the-whim errand and not even her usual Kmart. She has a hard time explaining how she overcame gunpoint terror to attempt an in-car exorcism on a serial killer. And she still struggles to reconcile the fact that she escaped a man who brutally raped and murdered many women before her—women who deserved to live just as much as she did.
After Morin’s arrest on December 12, 1981, Palm tried to resume her normal life, but something surprising happened. Morin began calling, writing, and even sending her Christmas cards from prison. Morin felt so close to her, in fact, that he branched his friendship out to her mom and sister, calling them for regular check-ins. Palm visited Morin behind bars about 15 times and made the long trek to see him on death row the day before he was executed.
Siobhan Heekin-Canedy, who has written for Current recently about “Ice Dancing’s Feminist Insight,” has an insightful essay in this week’s Fairer Disputations, making the case for “Multi-Generational Mothering.” A taste:
The biological and emotional realities of motherhood don’t fit neatly into to the male model of work-family balance (which, arguably, hasn’t been working well for men, either). Mother-friendly alternatives to the ideal worker model are just beginning to emerge, and women who seek a more integrated approach can often feel isolated.
Too often, the proposed solution to work-family conflict is “less family.” Given that American women are increasingly having fewer children than they desire, this is an unhelpful response. Women have made real legal, educational, and professional gains in the twentieth century, but the ideological hijacking of the feminist movement has predicated these gains upon the suppression of female fertility.
Restructuring policy and culture to accommodate both women’s desire for motherhood and their presence in the workforce is a complex task. An important piece of this puzzle is capitalizing on the familial network of mutual aid that already exists. In other words, the answer isn’t “less family,” it’s “more family.”
Two interviews of note with Karen Swallow Prior this week about her new book, The Evangelical Imagination: Joel J. Miller’s interview on his substack and Andrea Turpin’s interview at the Anxious Bench. Karen also recently visited John Fea’s Way of Improvement podcast to talk about this book. And speaking of substacks, Karen’s own new project, The Priory, is truly a lovely read.
On a more ominous note, here is Ross Andersen’s article on AI from The Atlantic this week, “Does Sam Altman Know What He’s Creating?” This essay is a good reminder of something I’ve been thinking for a while already: being consistently pro-life in our world requires thinking consciously about what it means to be human—and how/why we should treasure human beings—in a world increasingly being taken over by machines. A taste:
Altman believes that people need time to reckon with the idea that we may soon share Earth with a powerful new intelligence, before it remakes everything from work to human relationships. ChatGPT was a way of serving notice.
Academics have been worrying about AI in the classroom (and in student assignments outside the classroom), but there are other ways it can now disrupt human relationships and interactions. The article considers such experimental AI functions as AI romantic partners, for instance, and it is as disturbing as it sounds.
But production of knowledge is, perhaps, the main goal, and AI researchers themselves are content to admit that they don’t know where/how far this will take them:
No one at OpenAI seemed to know precisely what researchers need to add to GPT-4 to produce something that can exceed human reasoning at its highest levels. Or if they did, they wouldn’t tell me, and fair enough: That would be a world-class trade secret, and OpenAI is no longer in the business of giving those away; the company publishes fewer details about its research than it once did. Nonetheless, at least part of the current strategy clearly involves the continued layering of new types of data onto language, to enrich the concepts formed by the AIs, and thereby enrich their models of the world.
I was reminded of Christina Bieber Lake’s excellent review of a novel on these issues earlier this year.
We have a rich feast of essays on reading, humanity, and AI scheduled for this next week at Current. We hope you will join us!