marginal utility | maximum authority

Derek: Ah, yes (eating the half-popped kernels at the bottom of our popcorn machine)! These have such a great marginal utility.

Me: (blank stare)

Derek: Oh, you don’t know what marginal utility is? It’s the best concept in economics. I love it. Seriously, it’s so cool! It’s basically all I remember from that class.

Me: (still blank stare) I want to believe that’s true, but the most I know about economy right now is that mine is not so hot.

Derek: (laughter) Well, okay. Utility is, like, the satisfaction someone has after consuming a certain amount of something. Usually, the more you consume, the more satisfaction you have. Marginal utility is… the satisfaction you get with each extra amount of consumption. Like, these kernels. The marginal utility is super high when I eat the first few – super beneficial and satisfying to me. Eventually, the marginal utility will go down because it’s no longer satsifying. (holding up a kernel)

Me: Uh-huh. Sounds interesting. I’ll probably write a blog about it.

I sent Derek a text that night because I forgot the word, but now that I have it, I’m intrigued on several levels. It’s strange to me that economy has something to say about measuring satisfaction and that measuring satisfaction has something to say about economy AND that there are technical terms to describe the relationship.

As I read Nancy Pearcey‘s book, “Saving Leonardo,” I’m on the hunt for ways we’ve separated things (through dualism) in our lives that were meant to be seen as a whole. Take life, for example.

Recently, an article came out from several medical ethicists who proposed that a newborn baby was really no different than a fetus – “morally irrelevant” and only a “potential person.” The article has since been taken down from the internet, but this is not the first brush modern culture has had with the “personhood debate.” In Pearcey’s book, she references Miranda Sawyer, an English journalist who identified as a pro-choice feminist… until she became pregnant and was faced with a dilemma. What would she call the thing growing inside her? She came to the conclusion that, “In the end, I have to agree that life begins at conception, but perhaps the fact of life isn’t what is important. It’s whether that life has grown enough to start becoming a person.” That is how she reconciled the two truths competing for her worldview – she didn’t. She was content to settle for piecemeal what was meant to be whole.

Pearcey writes,

“Ever since antiquity, of course, most cultures have assumed that a human being comprises both physical and spiritual elements – body and soul. What is novel in our day is that these two elements have been split apart and redefined in terms that are outright contradictory. As we will see, the human body is regarded as nothing but a complex mechanism, in accord with a modernist conception of science (the fact realm). By contrast, the human person is defined in terms of ungrounded choice and autonomy, in accord with a postmodernist conception of the self (the value realm). These two concepts interact in a deadly dualism to shape contemporary debates over abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, and the other life issues.” (Saving Leonardo p. 49)

Life was never meant to be divided into science and values; fact and fantasy; real truth and livable truth, but that’s what we’ve allowed our culture to do. Somewhere along the lines, I’ve let journalists and science books and professors of the “facts” create another stage on which to shine. See, this whole time we’ve been thinking that science is trying to steal the spotlight and what’s really happened is that secularism is basking in an entirely different, man-made stage with a different story.

The problem is this: there is only one story. There is only one reason why the first popcorn kernels mean a great marginal utility for Derek and it isn’t economics. Economics might explain some true trends, but that doesn’t give economics the power to write a new story. There is truth in science and there is truth in politics and there is truth in the worn pages of my C.S. Lewis library, but no truth contradicts itself because it is one story.
God’s story.

                                                              Let LOVE fly like cRaZy

“We are to magnify Christ, not like a microscope magnifies things but like a telescope magnifies things. Microscopes make small things look big; but telescopes make seemingly small things look like they really are: Huge!” ~John Piper


I haven’t posted anything for the past few days because I haven’t been using my computer… because I misplaced my cord. After the battery died a few nights ago, I shrugged, moved on, and thought, “Well, there’s that.” I knew it would turn up eventually. This is one of those times when I’m reminded I don’t fit in US culture anymore.

But, cultural careening aside, I’ve been diving in to some precious reads lately. Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin, Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey, and the Perspectives textbook are striking straight conviction in my heart and sending me to Scripture and prayer.

I keep coming back to this idea of knowledge.

I know, I know. I’ve already hashed it out – knowledge is useless unless it results in obedient acts full of love. But, I literally have to remind myself of this every day, multiple times a day. It’s a discipline to recall those things I’m learning and then, instead of simply sharing my realizations, put them into practice. If I am learning to serve, then I must ask, “What can I do to serve right now?” instead of, “How can I explain what I’m learning about service right now?”

So, I’m learning what it means to see knowledge as responsibility – personal responsibility.

I’m also learning that catchy phrase from School House Rock, “knowledge is power,” holds true for our culture in a way that we often ignore.

Mary Poplin spent most of her life running after isms and throwing rocks at religion. After becoming a believer while a professor at Claremont in California, she decided to spend two months volunteering with Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Her book, Finding Calcutta, explores how her journey shaped her young faith and impacted what she would understand a “Christian life” to look like. Let’s just say it looked a lot different than the Christianity she ran from for so long… and it had a lot to do with how our knowledge of God plays out in the everyday-ness of our lives. In grappling with her role as an educator, she writes about a realization she had on a plane ride one day,

“…Genesis 1:1-3 informs us that ‘in the beginning… the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.’ I saw distinctly the three moving as one – God, His Spirit and His Word. What a miracle that these three always agree! The Gospel of John reveals more about the Word that God spoke, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without Him was not anything made that was made… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Paul tells us in Hebrews that Jesus ‘is the exact imprint of God’s very being,‘ and in Colossians that ‘by him all things were created… and in him all things hold together.’ I asked myself, If these are true, then how could anything I taught not relate to God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus?”

Christianity is not knowledge on Sundays to make our Monday through Friday knowledge a little less painful. Following Christ is not about believing a nursery rhyme because believing real truth is just too depressing.

Some of our generation’s atheist thinkers (who would philosophically trace back to David Hume), explain our fascination with religion in this dualistic way. Because we can’t deal with the reality that life has no meaning, we create meaning so we can sleep at night. We have what Francis Schaeffer called a two-story concept of truth.


We conveniently hold two competing worldviews in a dichotomy so that we can appease both the ‘scientific facts’ and the ‘subjective feelings’ warring within us. We can say, “The sun will come up” with sure, scientific conviction as much as we can be convinced that “no one really knows the meaning of life or if there is one.”

Pearcey takes Schaeffer’s two-story idea in her book Saving Leonardo and explores its implications throughout history – bringing us up to our jumbled, dichotomous understanding of truth today. She writes of one Cambridge philosopher, Peter Lipton, who has a Jewish background. In an interview, he once said, “I stand in my synagogue and pray to God and have an intense relationship with God, and yet I don’t believe in God.”

Stranger than his statement is that to question him is ‘intolerant’ and anti-intellectual. When did “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” start to say, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Biblical wisdom” in Psalm 9:10? We are not so developed, my friends – not so progressive as we like to think. It used to be that the great theologians were naturally the great philosophers; that great pastors were naturally the great scholars; that great evangelists were naturally great orators. Why? Because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7)… and not just cute, Sunday school knowledge. All knowledge.

What Mary Poplin realized on that plane ride was that there is only one Truth. Sure, people believe different things – about science and philosophy and art and what happens to the worms who will one day eat our flesh. But, believing in something doesn’t make it true. There is only one Truth that makes sense of things on this earth and it starts with a holy fear of the Lord.

Our culture is parched. The people are desperate for this no-holds-barred message. Forget sugar-coated. Forget patty cake and beating around the bush. They want answers. The hard stuff. The rated R conversations with God.

Two Cathedrals clip from The West Wing (warning for language)

The world will not make sense until we understand that all knowledge must begin with a fear of the Lord. Until then, our generation is simply caught in the crossfire of heaven and hell with no defense, just like Brandon Flowers croons.

Crossfire by Brandon Flowers (lyrics here)

Our culture is CRYING OUT and hoping that something calls back. I think they’re even willing to wrestle it out, ready to tear down the stories of skyscrapers built to stand against religion, if it means there is something solid to stand on underneath.

We Don’t Eat by James Vincent McMorrow (lyrics here)

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