Tim Keller on New Church Models

Question: Will Redeemer follow the mega-church model?

Keller:    I was in a little church for 10 years in Virginia, blue collar church, small town, small church, about a hundred of people, maybe grew to 200 people and we did all that too but not through programs.  When somebody lost a job, we try to help them find a job.  If a woman had a child out of wedlock and needed to go to community college to figure out a way, you know, to get marketable skills so she could support herself, somebody in the church would watch the child, somebody in the church would probably come up with the money, you know, the tuition.  All these things, just helping people with everything, people in the church who were smarter about how to do conflict management in their marriage would work with a young couple who is about to blow up their marriage, or people who understood financial counseling were always doing financial counseling other people, but it all happen organically because you had a small number of people.  In a big church, you have to do it through programs, you have to say, here is the financial counseling ministry, here is the marital communication ministry.  So, I’m not sure that mega church necessarily is doing things that much differently than a small organic church, so I’m not sure it’s all that, I don’t think it’s all that revolutionary to do what they’re doing.

Question: How has your religious network changed since you founded Redeemer?

Keller:    When Redeemer was a normal-sized church, yes, I hang out with a lot of other ministers and now there’s not a lot of them in New York City actually.  But as the church has gotten bigger, we now have a network of, you know, I have a hundred staff people, and in order to be available to my own leaders, I now tend to hang out much more with the people inside the church.  I wish that I could do more networking, but the fact is when you hire somebody, they move to the city or they come on your staff from the city, they’re really investing their lives in you and they want the boss this time, otherwise, you’re really not, you know, they put their life on the line to come in.  So I have a responsibility to be doing an awful lot of social networking and developing relationships inside the ministries that we have now and there’s a lot of pastors in there.  So, now, I’m not as available to the rest of the city as I used to be, I wish I was.

Question: Will your numbers grow with the recession?

Keller:    After 9/11, you know, you might remember that the week after 9/11, all churches had this enormous growth and I can tell you exactly what happen to us.  We had 2,900 people a week coming.  The week after 9/11 we have 5,300, 5,400 people show up.  In fact, I had actually, we couldn’t get them all in and I called [inaudible].  At the very beginning of one of the services I said to everybody, “Those of you who can’t get in, come back in two hours and then we’ll do another service.”  I walked over to the organist, I walked to the musicians, I said, “Are you going to stick around to do another service after this?” And they said, “Sure.”  So, I went back up to the microphone, I said, “Come back in two hours, we’ll do another service,” 8 or 900 people came back.  However, even though those numbers went down a bit, Redeemer permanently grew about 6 or 700 people overnight.  So, when the numbers came down, we never went back below say 36, 3,700 people and it was because people were in need and therefore they were looking to the church to help them.  And my guess is something less dramatic in that but similar to that will happen to us now.  Yes, I do think there’ll be numbers, there’ll be a numbers increase but the giving will go down.

Pastor Tim Keller on cosmopolitan religion.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

Photo credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
  • The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
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