Archives For Culture

An excellent article, well worth the read:

It seems that many churches will spend 10 weeks preaching on leadership, or 4 weeks on a sex series sermon, or 12 weeks on finances and 8 weeks on interpersonal relationships, all the while three quarters of their church members are theologically and doctrinally ignorant.

They can tell you all sorts of mystical, magical things about listening to the still, silent voice of God, but they have no conception of how to answer a basic apologetic question, like “where did we get the Bible from, how do we know it’s true, and who decided what books should be in it?”

They can probably tell you about the amazing way they felt during worship, and how God “showed up” this one time when the worship leader played “Let it rain” for 20 minutes, but couldn’t tell you how the Old Testament relates to the New, couldn’t name a single church father, and couldn’t tell you anything about the first 400 years of Church history or even why it matters.

They can tell you about how to narcissistically insert themselves in the Biblical stories as if somehow these stories are about them, but they would run for their lives if asked to explain the Trinity, or God forbid offer even a basic refutation to the theistic challenges of a Muslim, Oneness Pentecostal, or a Jehovah witness.

They can tell you about the awesomeness of the latest books from Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn,  “Open theist” proponents and any other spiritualish poision-spewing lunatic that comes around, but they can’t speak with authority on what the five solas [Fide, Gratie, Scriptura, Christus, Deo Gloria] are, why they matter, and how the relate to each other.

They can tell you about a lot of things, but can they articulate a clear presentation of the Gospel? Can they tell a person, in no uncertain terms, how men and women are justified and found to be at peace and no longer at war with God?

And we’re not speaking of mere ignorance here. How many of them would not only not know, but rather would actively argue against you? How many would push back on fundamental Christian doctrines like the exclusivity of faith in Christ for salvation, issues of biblical sexuality, the nature of God, the relationship between sin and mankind, and a host of other things? How many of them, when pressed, would reveal to have some really bizarre and idolatrous views of Christ and his work and his means?

Read it all.

As you probably know, an Islamist terror group that goes by the acronym ISIS has been gobbling up huge swathes of territory, executing Christians and other religious minorities, and even destroying priceless artifacts. Tens of thousands have been forced to flee with little more than the shirts on their backs. My friend, Canon Andrew White, vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq, says, “The Islamic State simply said [']we can do anything now that the world is just looking at Gaza['] . . . in reality that is true. Iraq seems like old news, yet things just get worse and worse here.”

In a recent letter to President Obama, Rep. Wolf wrote, “Mr. President . . . You, Secretary of State Kerry and Ambassador Power all need to speak out.”

“Time is running out,” Wolf continues. “How many more people must be killed for you to acknowledge this situation?”

President Obama has said there’s no military solution to this crisis. But there are other measures to take, and Wolf is calling for the president to take a number of them immediately, including:

  • Sign the bipartisan legislation approved by the House and Senate to create a special envoy to promote religious freedom in the Middle East, legislation that has been sitting on Mr. Obama’s desk. The envoy would work with the Kurdish and Iraqi governments to address this humanitarian crisis;
  • Appoint a senior official to coordinate all U.S. government resources necessary to stop the genocide;
  • Publicly thank the Kurdish authorities for protecting the Christians and other religious minorities who have fled ISIS; and finally
  • Work with trusted NGOs—such as Catholic Relief Services and UNICEF—who are already on the ground.

Friends, this is not a partisan issue; it’s a biblical issue…to rescue the perishing. Let’s stand with Frank Wolf and with others of good will, ofallparties, to respond to this disaster. As Wolf said in closing his letter to the President, “You and your administration must take action now, before the damage is irreversible. Please speak out for the voiceless.”

Folks, I’m asking you to call or write the White House. Applaud the President’s use of air drops and air strikes, but urge him please to take the steps recommended by Rep. Wolf.

Read it all.

 

Around-the-Horn[1]Fact-Checking Your Pastor’s Sermon
Good sounding lies you’ve been told by well-meaning people.

Why Do You Live Like Tomorrow Is Promised?
Do I truly believe my life is a vapor that will potentially vanish tomorrow? If so, has anything changed since those thoughts crossed my mind? 

The Tragic Death of the Funeral
The bereaved need, and deserve, something better. They deserve a service that speaks frankly and honestly about death, while anchoring the survivors in a hope that extends beyond this world. If any life is to be celebrated, let it be the life of the One who alone can lighten the load of grief borne by the survivors, and who shines a ray of his life into the gloom of death.

What Drives Tom Brady?
Lessons to be learned for all leaders: “Tommy had a very specific vision of how he wanted you to run the play,” Fauria explained. “Charlie Weis would put the play up on the board, and Tommy would say, ‘No, don’t run it like that. Run it like this.’ He’d show me exactly how he wanted me to turn — and I mean exactly, because you couldn’t send mixed messages. You couldn’t have him show you, then do it 80 percent of the way he said. No. It had to be exactly how he wanted it.

The Fallacy of Outward-Focused Ministry
From Bill Easum: Whether we call it “Social Justice,” Social Action,” or “Mission-oriented” ministry, too many congregations are wearing themselves out and, worse, missioning themselves out of existence.

Church of New York Times Keeps Preaching Its Own Faith
It’s time for another “Kellerism” update, as The New York Times continues its efforts to highlight religious institutions with doctrines that are unacceptable to the newsroom’s theologians and, perhaps, the U.S. Department of Justice. This time, the drama shifts out West, where another Christian college community is trying to find a way to live out its faith commitments.

Kneel Before Zod: On Celebrating Obama’s Birthday
This is really not the biggest deal in the world, but every year on August 4, I’m reminded of something kind of creepy in the Cult of Obama. That, my friends, is the obsession with his birthday.

From Mollie Hemingway:

It’s time for more Americans to learn about what happened to the Christians of Mosul and think about what we can do to help.

Human rights advocate Nina Shea wrote a piece everyone should read. She describes how the Sunni Muslim Islamic State group (ISIS) gave Christians the option of turning over their money and possessions, converting to Islam, or death. It’s a horrifying tale and an important piece.

Radical Islamists have eradicated — for the time being — a Christian community that has worshiped in Mosul for nearly two millennia. That this ethnic cleansing was only accomplished for the first time this year after centuries of peaceful coexistence with Muslims should be a strong signal of the seriousness of this threat.

ISIS is on the march and other radicals will take notice.

Read it all.

A Church For Exiles

August 5, 2014 — Leave a comment

Excellent article from Carl Trueman over at First Things:

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

It is also being driven by issues that few predicted would have such cultural force. It is surely an irony as unexpected as it is unwelcome that sex—that most private and intimate act—has become the most pressing public policy issue today. (Who could have imagined that policies concerning contraception and laws allowing same-sex marriage would present the most serious challenges to religious freedom?) We are indeed set for exile, though not an exile which pushes us to the geographical margins. It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.

American Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism start this exile with heavy baggage. Evangelicalism has largely wedded itself to the vision of America as at heart a Christian nation, a conception that goes back to the earliest New England settlers. An advertisement for The American Patriot’s Bible (2009) proudly boasts that it “connects the teachings of the Bible, the history of the United States and the life of every American” while “beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight the people and events that demonstrate the godly qualities that have made America great.” Yet a nation where the language of “choice” and “freedom” has been hijacked for infanticide, the deconstruction of marriage, and a seemingly limitless license to publish pornography is rather obviously not godly. That’s a hard truth for those who believe America belongs to them by right.

For Roman Catholics, the challenges of our cultural exile are different. Rome has somehow managed to maintain a level of social credibility in America, despite holding to positions regarded as intolerable by the wider secular world when held by Protestants. Her refusals to ordain women or sanction the use of contraception do not seem to have destroyed her public reputation. But if, for example, tax-exempt status is revoked for educational and social-service nonprofits opposed to the increasingly mandatory sexual revolution, the Church will face a stark choice: capitulate to the spirit of the age or step out into the cold wasteland of cultural and social marginality. When opposition to gay marriage comes to be seen as the moral equivalent to white supremacism, it is doubtful that the Roman Catholic Church will be able to maintain both her current position on the issue and her status in society. She too will likely be shunted to the margins . . . .

Perhaps I am mistaken and have portrayed my Christian brothers in a way that over-emphasizes weaknesses and downplays strengths. But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

It’s not surprising that Reformed Christianity equips us well for exile, because it was itself forged in a time of exile, often by men who were literal exiles. Indeed, the most famous Reformed theologian of them all, John Calvin, was a Frenchman who found fame and influence as a pastor outside his homeland, in the city of Geneva. The Pilgrim fathers of New England knew the realities of exile, and the conditions that it imposed upon the people, only too well. Winthrop’s famous comment about being a city on a hill was not a statement of messianic destiny but a reminder to the colonists of the fact that their lives as exiles were to be lived out in the glare of hostile scrutiny. Exile demanded they have a clear and godly identity . . . .

Read it all.

 

Ryan Anderson offers a very good response – while raising a salient point with regard to the philosophical principle to which many/most/all appeal – to a current cultural conversation.

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Very good commentary from Aimee Byrd on 50 Shades of Grey.

One neighbor I haven’t seen in a while asked me what I had been getting into over the year, and I had the opportunity to tell her about the book I had been writing. I explained to her that it was about how our knowledge of God shapes our everyday living. Now you never know what kind of reaction you are going to get when you tell people you write Christian books. But I wasn’t prepared for this one. She was thrilled because she loves to read, and as a matter of fact, she was currently devouring 50 Shades of Grey. I think I my facial expression matched that of Ralphie when he decoded his first Little Orphan Annie message in his bathroom.

Next thing you know, she calls her husband over to tell him about my writing. And she starts chatting away about 50 Shades. Her husband is smiling like it was so cute that his wife was “into” a book like that. It was all very strange and uncomfortable for me. This is a conservative looking woman, a mom of two boys, in her 40’s. If her husband was bragging at the party that he was reading a porn novel, I would think she’d feel very disrespected and ashamed.

Of course, there were many shades of strange like this when 50 Shades grew in popularity. Since it was one of the fastest-selling book series ever, I had already looked up the reviews. One thing that bothered me terrible was that discerning readers (who had no problem with the “erotica” genre) were complaining about how poorly the book was written. They point out the many overused phrases, the juvenile plot, lack of character development, and even how bad the sex scenes are described. One reviewer said it is clearly written for bored housewives (may I add, who must not ever read good books) and hormonal teenagers.

So I usually ask about the actual quality of the writing, since it is a book and all…

Now the trailer is out for the movie. And just this week, I am encountering more shades of strange for a movie that isn’t even releasing until February. I am shocked by some of my mom friends that have posted the trailer on Facebook, tagging some of my other mom friends about the “Mom’s Night Out” they look forward to having in February. Some of these women profess to be Christians. They all have daughters in middle or high school. And sons.

My first reaction was, “This is 50 shades of hypocrisy!” Would they want their husbands to be bragging about the porn they were looking forward to watching together? Wouldn’t they be humiliated? Of course, it’s a double standard: it’s somehow sexy for women to watch porn. And if these husbands are counting on a movie to make their sex lives with their wives better, well, that’s a little humiliating too. And sad.

My daughters are old enough to pick up on the 50 shades of strange that will no doubt be happening around them. I’m sure it will be talked about in the high school. And worse, they may find some of their friends’ moms going. I assume that the movie is going to follow the same BDSM so-called plotline as the book. In which case, Christians and non-Christians alike should be joining forces in outrage over the thought that women are portrayed as getting off on abuse. I suspect a lot more men and teenage boys will be going to the movie than have bothered to read the book. How are they going to react when unwanted beatings are glorified in sex? Is the message going to be “this is what women really want”?

I think that in the months building up to this movie, we need to be engaging this 50 shades of strange, asking good questions. This is an opportunity for believers to reach out to our unbelieving friends and ask if this is really the road that we want to go down. Do we really want to be encouragers of promiscuity and abuse? Do we really believe that this is good sex? Do we want our sons and daughters to think women want to be dehumanized and beaten to be aroused? This movie is a wake up call. And to think, it all started with bad writing…

Read it all.

Around-the-Horn[1]The Parable of The Lawn Mower
Here’s a wonderful parable about why we must proclaim the Gospel, not simply display it.

Third World Osteen
Where Third World poverty and Joel Osteen’s tweets collide, or, applying Osteenisms to the poorest of the poor.

The Emerging Reality Facing Clergy
A good article from The Atlantic asking, what is the church willing to do support its pastor?

America’s Udder
We have two presenting issues on our southern border. One is the border security itself, and the other is all the stuff we are doing that creates the need for border security in the first place.

A Haunting Peace
Islamic scholars must stop the self-deception which claims that Islam is 100% peace, and with honesty, recognise the violence that continues to exist within their religion today.

N is For Nazareth
Christians around the world are changing their social media avatars to the arabic letter “n.” In so doing, these Christians are reminding others around them to pray, and to stand in solidarity with believers in Iraq who are being driven from their homes, and from their country, by Islamic militants. The Arabic letter comes from the mark the ISIS militants are placing on the homes of known Christians. “N” is for “Nazarene,” those who follow Jesus of Nazareth.

Am I In Trouble?
It’s not just a question from the mouth of a disobedient toddler.  It’s the same question that many of us ask when we think about opening God’s word after an absence of days, weeks, or months.

Build Your Character, Not Your Platform
Words like “platform” and “influence” are important.  But if we aren’t careful, in our desire to build our platform and influence, we can end up building our ego.

Short-term Missions, Long-term Impact
The trip was undeniably a PowerPoint success story. We had secured a cornucopia of colorful photos with pithy captions to document our accomplishments. We delivered a sterling report to our supporters back home who has all been holding vigil, waiting for the bottom line: how many souls from Botswana would will be in heaven because of our cash?

Classic:

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What Not to Say at My FuneralAround-the-Horn[1]
Because I do care now, and will care even after I’m with the Lord, here are some things I hope and pray are not said at my funeral. I care about those who will be there, about what they will hear. I want the truth to be spoken, the truth about sin, the truth about death, and, above all, the truth about the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Three Reasons You Should Not Try to Bind Satan
There is a pernicious paranoia that permeates churches today: folks think Satan can hear them speak. Some people unwittingly pad Satan’s résumé to include God’s unique attributes of omniscience and omnipresence. Yes, Satan certainly is ambulant (1 Peter 5:8), but he is confined to one place at a time. He can’t read your mind, and he doesn’t perk his ears when he hears his name mentioned in your prayers.

J.R.R. Tolkien Reveals True Meaning of The Lord of The Rings in Recently Found Audio Recording
Over 20 years ago, a lost recording of J.R.R. Tolkien was discovered in a basement in Rotterdam, but the man who found it kept this important reel-to-reel tape hidden away. Until recently, only he had heard the recording. But now, I am one of those lucky Middle-earth lovers who has listened to this magical magnetic tape, and I happily declare that it is awesome. For it proves once and for all that Professor Tolkien was, in fact, very much the hobbit that we all suspected him to be. What’s more, we get to hear Tolkien reading a lost poem in the Elven tongue which he translates into English. And to top it off, he states in unambiguous terms (cue Rohirrim war trumpets) the real meaning of The Lord of the Rings!

Pastors Are Not Born But Formed
Cruising through Bruce Gordon’s masterful biography on Calvin, I’ve been struck to see that pastors aren’t born but formed. It’s easy when reading the final edition of the Institutes or the later commentaries, at such a historical remove, to forget the development and the formative influences involved in turning the proud young legal scholar into a mature churchman and theologian.

Should A Theologians Life Affect How We Regard His/Her Theology
Over the decades of studying and teaching about not only the theologies of Christian theologians past and present but also their biographies I’ve run into a common question. How should we relate their lives to their theologies? To be specific, if there’s something negative in their life story, should that affect how we value their intellectual contributions?

Religious Freedom In Peril
From the NYT: Religious freedom is one of the most basic of human rights, and one in peril in much of the world.

A Chilling New Front In The War On Religious Liberty
What does this mean? It means that the ACLU and company are pursuing a zero-sum strategy against religious groups and individuals. They have declared an all-out culture war and will offer no quarter to sincere religious dissenters. They are ready to use the coercive power of the state to trample the religious consciences of their countrymen. This is radical and chilling. Let’s hope and pray this intolerant strategy does not become the new orthodoxy among the American Left. It is toxic.

Wrestling With That Old Anglican Timeline, In South Carolina 
Anyone who follows news on the religion beat knows the drill when it comes to reporters framing the global, national, regional and local conflicts between Anglicans: The battles are about homosexuality, period, and all heck broke loose in 2003 when the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire elected an openly gay and non-celibate bishop.  The problem with that news template is that it’s simplistic.

Christian Eschatology and the Planet of The Apes
A Christian vision of the future proves the dystopian movies to be right, in some sense. There’s a fire being kindled somewhere, and not even the Statue of Liberty can withstand it. But, after that, there’s the kind of new creation that makes everything new.

A Company Liberals Could Love
From the NYT: For a generation now, liberals have bemoaned the disappearance of the socially conscious corporation, the boardroom devoted to the common good. Once, the story goes, America’s C.E.O.s recognized that they shared interests with workers and customers; once wages and working hours reflected more than just a zeal for profits. But then came Reagan, deregulation, hostile takeovers, and an era of solidarity gave way to the age of Gordon Gekko, from which there’s been no subsequent escape.  There are, however, exceptions: companies that still have a sense of business as a moral calling, which can be held up as examples to shame the bottom-liners.  One such company . . . .

Get With the Program – The Church of England Votes to Ordain Women Bishops
Writing about the age of John Milton, the British author A. N. Wilson once tried to explain to modern secular readers that there had once been a time when bishops of the Church of England were titanic figures of conviction who were ready to stand against the culture. “It needs an act of supreme historical imagination to be able to recapture an atmosphere in which Anglican bishops might be taken seriously,” he wrote, “still more, one in which  they might be thought threatening.”  Keep that in mind as you read the news that the General Synod of the Church of England voted yesterday to approve the consecration of women as bishops of the church.

Arminianism 101: An FAQ
From Roger Olsen

Fleeing Gangs, Children Head to U.S. Border
From the NYT: The killings are a major factor driving the recent wave of migration of Central American children to the United States, which has sent an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors across the Texas border.

When the Bricks Start to Fall
It is worthy noting that the Lord Jesus describes one of the features of hypocrisy as being manifested in an inability to read the culture. A hypocrite does not know what is coming down because it does not suit him to know what is coming down. It is always handy to say, when things are comparatively calm, “well, that’s not my interpretation.”