Momma, Jesus Invites you to Come and Rest

Resting around my house can be quite difficult. My two boys don’t take naps anymore, and the only time I feel like I can “get away” is through handheld devices and copious amounts of snacks. But of course I can’t do that for too long or I feel guilty. So, the work doesn’t end, and it feels like there is no true Sabbath for me. Resting on the seventh day just doesn’t seem possible. How can a busy mom find rest for herself? It’s ultimately through cultivating a place of rest that can never be taken away and isn’t restricted to one day of the week. It’s a place of rest in the heart, rooted in a particular person.

Read more at Risen Motherhood >>

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Christ & Culture Series — Culture Follows Philosophy: Why You Should Read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

By Ryan McLaughlin 

This is a continuation of the Christ & Culture Series. The first post in the series was an interview about juggling artistry, business, and theology, and the second post was an interview about education. This guest post is a piggyback of the previous post in the series titled, The Law Follows Culture.    

Ryan McLaughlin is a math teacher, husband, and father of three. He lives with his family in the Tampa, FL area, and is a member of St. Andrew-the-First-Called Orthodox Church. He has been an enthusiastic fan of Dostoevsky since he was a teenager, and has taken classes on Russian literature. He even had an essay that he wrote on Crime and Punishment published in Vestnik: the Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. Not bad for a math guy!


In his excellent post, Jacob Phillips made the argument that “law follows culture.” I couldn’t agree more, and today I want to make a follow-up point: “culture follows philosophy.”

It’s not always easy to see, but philosophy—that dusty, abstract, impractical subject that you didn’t major in because your parents told you that at some point they were going to cut off your allowance—is actually what runs the world. Good philosophy reaps innumerable benefits for culture, and bad philosophy wreaks devastating consequences. If we as Christians are going to engage effectively with our culture, we’re going to need to understand what philosophical assumptions are driving it and critically evaluate them in the light of the Gospel.

To provide you with a model of how to do that, I’m going to suggest—perhaps counter-intuitively for some—a really dark murder story written by an epileptic with a gambling addiction…

A Novel with a Sharp Edge

Fyodor Dostoevsky was a 19th century Russian writer widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists that ever lived. His novels—including The Brothers Karamazov, The Devils, The Idiot, and our topic for today, Crime and Punishment—are considered to be some of the all-time classics of world literature. Dostoevsky was also a passionate Eastern Orthodox Christian with a great deal of prophetic insight into the dark turn that Russian culture was taking in his day.

The plot of Crime & Punishment is relatively simple, if rather dark: A young, impoverished law school drop-out decides to commit an axe murder to prove a point about his philosophical ideals. He roams the streets of 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia, slowly descending into mental illness while being pursued by a relentless detective. His only hope for redemption seems to be a young woman who has been forced into prostitution by her family’s abject poverty and her father’s raging alcoholism.

The young law student, named Raskolinikov, believes that “superior” men are above notions of right-and-wrong. He has bought into the philosophy of ethical nihilism, the idea that ultimately there is no such thing as an authoritative reality. He allows this idea to direct his actions: to prove the point to himself, he kills an old pawnbroker woman. Ideas have consequences, though, and Raskolnikov finds that the “culture” around him cannot withstand the philosophy he has embraced.

A Culture Slowly Killing Itself

Dostoevsky’s Russia was at a turning point. Hitherto, it had been a devoutly Christian country whose philosophy and culture reflected a profound faith in Jesus Christ. Increasingly, though, Western philosophies were influencing the brightest minds of the younger generations—the Enlightenment ideas that had spilt the blood of so many in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were gaining traction in the East. Dostoevsky was deeply concerned about this—it could be argued that he foresaw Bolshevism and the coming of the USSR—and wrote his later novels in the hopes of turning back younger minds from their folly.

Raskolinikov—the law student that commits the murder to prove a philosophical point—is the main focus of the novel. His philosophy leads him directly to murder. But Crime and Punishment isn’t just a prophetic warning about the consequences for an individual who thinks himself above the normal rules of society. It’s about a society that thinks itself above the normal rules of morality. Remember, Raskolnikov is “an impoverished law student”—he is a stand-in not just for a legal system impoverished by its lack of culture, but for a culture impoverished by its gradual embrace of a radical, nihilistic philosophy. Everyone in Dostoevsky’s fictional portrayal of 19th century St. Petersburg is suffering from the break down of morality—the alcoholic father and his starving family, the young woman forced into prostitution, etc.

As we look around and see our own 21st century American culture suffering through so much—racial and social injustice, abortion, addiction, growing teen suicide rates, and more—we must ask ourselves: what are the philosophical assumptions that drove our culture to this point? Who (or what) were our “Raskolnikovs”? Which old pawnbroker women have we killed along the way to get to this point? And here, by “we” I don’t just mean broader society; we as Christians must look at ourselves with a repentant eye and first examine the cultures we’ve created within our churches and families. As Jacob pointed out in his post, plenty of born-again Christians initially praised the Roe v. Wade decision. What philosophy did Christians adopt (perhaps subconsciously) to reach that point?

A Story About Lazarus

One of the turning points in the novel comes when Raskolinikov visits with Sonia, the young woman who has been forced into prostitution. Guilty of murder, pursued by the authorities, Raskolnikov makes a simple request of Sonia: find the passage in the Bible where Lazarus is raised from the dead, and read it aloud.

I won’t give away any more of the plot.   But suffice it to say, cultural redemption comes through Resurrection. You cannot make minor corrections to fix the dead; they must be brought back to life again. For Dostoevsky and for us, radical repentance and a radical submission to the Resurrected Christ are the only way out of the cultural cesspool that bad philosophy has created. We must be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.”

A Call to Examination

In commenting on another one of Dostoevsky’s novels, the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said:

“[Dostoevsky] wanted to take men along the ways of wildest self-will and revolt in order to show them that they lead to the extinction of liberty and to self-annihilation. This road of liberty can only end either in the deification of man or in the discovery of God; in the one case, he is lost and done for; in the other, he finds salvation and the definitive confirmation of himself as God’s earthly image. For man does not exist unless there be a God and unless he be the image and likeness of God; if there be no God, then man deifies himself, ceases to be man, and his own image perishes. The only solution to the problem of man is in Jesus Christ.”

In what ways does this describe our culture today? In what ways are we ourselves guilty of giving in to “wildest self-will and revolt”?  How will we answer this type of thinking with the truth of Jesus Christ?

I hope that you’ll give Dostoevsky a careful read and then, inspired by his example, you’ll engage with the philosophy behind our culture.

Christ & Culture Series: The Law Follows Culture

By Jacob Phillips

This is a continuation of the Christ & Culture series. In my first post I interviewed my husband about juggling artistry, business, and theology, and then interviewed my sister about education.

For this next post I have a guest writer, Jacob (Jake) Phillips, arguing for the adage that law follows culture. He recently graduated from UF Levin School of Law with a doctorate of jurisprudence, he clerked for Judge Eric Melgren of the Federal District Court of Kansas, and researched and contributed to the writing of model reform legislation regarding the provision of education in Florida’s juvenile detention facilities, which was submitted to Governor Rick Scott.

Before his pursuits in law, Jake received a B.A. in History from UCF in Orlando, FL (the place he calls home.) Him and his wife Sarah, a first grade teacher at Vista Lakes Elementary School, currently attend Redeemer Church at Lake Nona, where Jake oversees and writes the Redeemer Blog.


On Friday of last week a conference was held in my hometown or Orlando, FL.  It was designed to equip evangelical pastors to learn how to enter into public office.  The goal of the man behind the event, David Lane, is to create “pastor-politicians” who will influence government at all levels with biblical and conservative values.  Of course, the fact that those two terms are assumed to be synonymous is probably itself problematic.  But it also ignores a pretty important point: law (and politics) follows culture.

Roe v. Wade

In 1973 the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, and effectively legalized abortion on demand.  The decision is popularly (and wrongly) credited with being the catalyst for the Moral Majority.  Because of that myth-making, it is often assumed by certain segments of evangelicalism that our highest court dictated a progressive agenda. In reality, the attorney who filed the plaintiff’s claim in Roe v. Wade was a born-again Christian who regularly attended his local church.

The Southern Baptist’s initial report on the Court’s opinion (while noting, parenthetically, that the denomination had no official position on abortion) heralded as an advancement of “religious liberty, justice, and human equality.”  Roe v. Wade was not forced on a mostly-resistant center-right country, but it was the natural result of the sexual revolution, the capitulation of the church, and a Supreme Court that is constantly cognizant of its tenuous legitimacy.  The law was merely following culture.

Of course, after a while, and the reality of legalized abortion became clear, evangelicalism (and eventually, conservatism more generally) hardened around a pro-life position.  For two decades, they fought abortion in the legal system, and were almost entirely unsuccessful.  A conservative court upheld Roe v. Wade in 1992.

In the past decade, however, we’ve seen the first signs of a legal system that is restricting abortion rights and limiting its access.  But, importantly, this is not because a new generation of lawyers and politicians have come up with cleverer arguments than those that came before them.  Laws regarding the right and access to abortion are changing because culture is changing.  Because of scientific advancement, the tireless efforts of pro-life advocates, and changing demographics (Hispanics are generally more pro-life than non-Hispanics), a majority of Americans self-identify as pro-life for the first time since pre-Roe v. Wade.  In other words, culture is changing; the law is merely following culture.

Brown v. Board of Education 

The counterargument that most people use is Brown v. Board of Education.  Before the Civil Rights movement even began, the Supreme Court declared that “separate but equal” did not apply to schools, and thus ordered them to be desegregated.  In doing so, they struck a blow to the heart of the concept itself.  Some say that this is an example of the law influences culture, rather than following it.  But that counterargument actually points out the very reason why the adage is, in fact, true.  The reason that law follows culture is tied up in the concept of legitimacy.

After Brown v. Board of Education, very little desegregation actually occurred.  Because culture, or at least Southern culture, was diametrically opposed to desegregation, the inevitable result of Brown was that it was mostly ignored.  It was not until years later, after a second Brown decision, the birth of the Civil Rights, the backing of a Republican president, and a shift in cultural values, that schools actually began to desegregate.  The legitimacy of laws requires some level of cultural acceptance.

That’s also why the popular conservative criticism of the recent Supreme Court decision is misguided.  Complaining about the decision because it is constitutionally indefensible (i.e. Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent) is one thing.  But most of the criticism has centered on the fact that “nine lawyers in a robe” just dictated the law of the land.  That criticism, I think, is misguided.  Evangelicals didn’t lose this battle when Justice Kennedy read his opinion.  They lost this battle long before that.

Changing Culture

The “law follows culture” adage is not only historically accurate, it’s also the natural (and probably preferable) result of living in a representative democracy.  In other words, our laws are supposed to reflect the people they are meant to serve.  Notions of self-government require that cultural norms be, to at least some degree, reflected in our political and legal spheres (with protection for the rights of minorities, of course).

If Christians are saddened by the shifting ethical norms reflected in culture, the proper and best response is probably not to seek to craft laws that reflect our own values.  It’s not to try to “win” the legal and political spheres.  The proper and best response is to, like we have in the abortion debate, change culture.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t “legislate morality,” because that’s impossible.  Everyone legislates morality.  But it is to say that we should not legislate morality to an unwilling populace, not because it’s wrong, but because it’s impossible.

That’s why I think the efforts of David Lane, Mike Huckabee, and those like them are misguided.  They are responding to shifts in cultural norms by encouraging pastors to use their influence in the political and legal sphere, rather than the cultural sphere.  In doing so, they are putting the cart before the horse.  If pastors want politics and the laws to reflect their own values, the best way they can do so is to convince others that their own values are preferable.  In other words, they should continue to do what they do best — tell others about a King who gave up a throne to carry a cross.

Christ, Culture, and Politics

None of this should be taken to mean that I don’t think Christians should want to be lawyers, judges or politicians; after all, I just graduated from law school.  But it should be taken to mean that we should re-think how we approach some of the value-driven cultural conversations.  Too often, Christians have attempted to wed political influence with cultural disengagement.  If we think we can get Christ into politics without telling culture about Christ, we are kidding ourselves.  And if we think we can tell culture about Christ without understanding culture, Paul has a few words for us (I Corinthians 9:19-23).

If you want laws to better reflect your values, fine. We all should, after all. I’m a lawyer predominantly because I want to see a society that is fairer and more just, and I know no better example of justice and fairness than the one who is both just and Justifier.  But if you want to change the law, change culture first; the law follows culture.  God issued the Ten Commandments after he had already made a people of His own.