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From Christianity Today:

When was the last time you read a book? For almost 1 in 4 of us, it was more than a year ago, according to Pew Research. That’s three times the number who didn’t read a book in 1978. In America, we have a literacy problem. But more concerning to me, we have a biblical literacy problem. Americans, including churchgoers, aren’t reading much of any book, including the Good Book. 

Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it’s God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.

Because we don’t read God’s Word, it follows that we don’t know it. To understand the effects, we can look to statistics of another Western country: the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many could not identify common Bible stories. When given a list of stories, almost 1 in 3 didn’t choose the Nativity as part of the Bible and over half (59 percent) didn’t know that Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is in the Bible.

British parents didn’t do much better. Around 30 percent of parents don’t know Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible. To make matters worse, 27 percent think Superman is or might be a biblical story. More than 1 in 3 believes the same about Harry Potter. And more than half (54 percent) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible.

But it’s more than simply not knowing stories from Scripture. Our lack of biblical literacy has led to a lack of biblical doctrine. LifeWay Research found that while 67 percent of Americans believe heaven is a real place, 45 percent believe there are many ways to get there—including 1 in 5 evangelical Christians. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent) believe the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being—in contrast to the orthodox biblical teaching of the Trinity being three Persons in one God. As a whole, Americans, including many Christians, hold unbiblical views on hell, sin, salvation, Jesus, humanity, and the Bible itself.

Read it all.

From Paglia writing in Time:

Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Too many young middleclass women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.

Current educational codes, tracking liberal-Left, are perpetuating illusions about sex and gender. The basic Leftist premise, descending from Marxism, is that all problems in human life stem from an unjust society and that corrections and fine-tunings of that social mechanism will eventually bring utopia. Progressives have unquestioned faith in the perfectibility of mankind.

The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

 

Liberalism lacks a profound sense of evil — but so does conservatism these days, when evil is facilely projected onto a foreign host of rising political forces united only in their rejection of Western values. Nothing is more simplistic than the now rote use by politicians and pundits of the cartoonish label “bad guys” for jihadists, as if American foreign policy is a slapdash script for a cowboy movie.

The gender ideology dominating academe denies that sex differences are rooted in biology and sees them instead as malleable fictions that can be revised at will. The assumption is that complaints and protests, enforced by sympathetic campus bureaucrats and government regulators, can and will fundamentally alter all men.

But extreme sex crimes like rape-murder emanate from a primitive level that even practical psychology no longer has a language for. Psychopathology, as in Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s grisly Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), was a central field in early psychoanalysis. But today’s therapy has morphed into happy talk, attitude adjustments, and pharmaceutical shortcuts.

Read it all.

 

Around-the-Horn[1]How To Distinguish the Holy Spirit from the Serpent
John Owen suggests four ways in which the Spirit and the serpent are to be distinguished . . .

The Benedict Option or the Benedict Arnold Option?
All of these outcomes would flow from the misnamed “Benedict Option,” favored by Dreher, who for years has advocated a sort of apolitical Christian separatism.

Catching Sleep and Catching Revival
From John Starke: “Smith uses the analogy of sleep to help us think about rhythms of discipleship, but what if the dynamic of sleep is the same for spiritual awakening in our churches?”

The Prayer Meeting Revival
Would God do this again?

Are We Preaching Christ or Preaching About Christ?
A thoughtful article from Ray Ortlund.

That Decoupaged Chapter
One of Saul Alinsky’s rules was that the activist should always make his adversary live by his own purported rules. In the case of what Christians are currently up against, one of the secularist rules is their so-called commitment to free speech. They are quite pleased with themselves about that commitment, and preen themselves in the mirror. But at the same time, their inner tyrant wants to control public discourse in such a way as to quit losing all those debates.

The NYT is Confused About Protestant Denominations
Why is it, though, that the media treat shrinking and declining progressive church bodies so well while disparaging those larger church bodies that retain their doctrines in the face of pressure? Consider the fluffy coverage generated for the Episcopal Church.

The “Heroic Impulse” and How It’s Not A Good Thing
Many contemporary Christian men’s ministries tell men they need to be the hero of the story – what’s wrong with that?

How Should You Talk to Your Children About Same-Sex Marriage?
With the Supreme Court decision last week legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States, some Christian parents wonder how they ought to explain all of this to their small children. So how does one teach about the law and the controversy, without exposing one’s children to more than they can handle?

From Sam Storms (our New Wine 2016 speaker):

In 2002, the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster

authorized its bishop to produce a service for blessing same-sex unions, to be used in any parish of the diocese that requests it. A number of synod members walked out to protest the decision. They declared themselves out of communion with the bishop and the synod, and they appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican primates and bishops for help.

Packer was one of those who walked out.

When asked why he walked out, he answered, “Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.” In other words, it was Packer’s confidence in the functional, life-directing authority of Scripture that led to this decision.

“My primary authority,” wrote Packer, “is a Bible writer named Paul. For many decades now, I have asked myself at every turn of my theological road: Would Paul be with me in this? What would he say if he were in my shoes? I have never dared to offer a view on anything that I did not have good reason to think he would endorse.”

Here we see that, for Packer, affirming biblical authority is meant not merely to provoke a debate but to give ethical direction to life. Regardless of what personal preferences one might have, irrespective of the cultural trends in play at the time, the Bible is the ethical standard by which Christians such as Packer judge their responsibility.

What’s Really at Stake

Packer then proceeds to exegete Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 as justification for his decision to lodge this protest. There are only two ways in which we might miss Paul’s point and his directives. One is to embrace an artificial interpretation of the text in which Paul is conceived as speaking of something other than same-sex union.

The second approach, notes Packer, “is to let experience judge the Bible.” Experience suggests that homosexual behavior is fulfilling to some; therefore, the Bible’s prohibition of it is wrong. But the appropriate response is that “the Bible is meant to judge our experience rather than the other way around,” and “feelings of sexual arousal and attraction, generating a sense of huge significance and need for release in action as they do, cannot be trusted as either a path to wise living or a guide to biblical interpretation.”

What is at stake in such a debate is the nature of the Bible itself. There are, notes Packer, fundamentally two positions that challenge each other . . .

Read it all.

Read it here.

Gimmicks and God

June 18, 2015

From Timothy George over at First Things:

Ed_Young_41Perhaps there is a more excellent way between the do-nothing and the do-anything approach to evangelization. The Christian church has always existed in tension between the poles of identity and adaptability. It can go to seed by swinging too far in one direction or the other. When the church becomes so self-referential, it loses any sense of mission. But when it becomes so assimilated to the culture, it loses the Gospel. In speaking of the fading fortunes of the mainline, historian George Marsden has said, “Liberals have learned that it is difficult for the church to survive, if there is nothing that makes the church distinct from culture.”

But this principle is not limited to one religious tradition. The recent Pew Research Center’s report on the surprising decline among Catholics in America indicates that this is not solely a Protestant problem. And, while evangelical and Pentecostal churches fared better in the Pew study, the danger signs are there for them as well. Accommodation is a two-way street. The Gospel can be lost whenever Christianity becomes too casual and worship is reduced to entertainment, no less than when it follows the siren lure of secularism. Many megachurches have a mini-Gospel where the emphasis is more on attracting people than retaining them for discipleship and service. Mark Noll was once asked whether he thought a campus revival he had witnessed was genuine. He said: “Come back and ask me that question in ten years.”

Two recent books shed light on this theme. In Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus, Mack Stiles defines evangelism simply as “teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade.” The focus should not be on programs or events. Biblical evangelism happens, Stiles argues, not when crowds are attracted to a church for some spectacular experience but rather when the members of the church are sent out into the world to bear witness to Christ.

Brian H. Cosby is a bright young Presbyterian pastor who has thought deeply about these matters, especially about how the church should reach out to the rising generation. In his book Giving Us Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Church, Cosby offers some counter-cultural advice for everyone called to the ministry of the church:

I maintain that the ‘How to’ of being faithful to God in worship and ministry is demonstrated through the ordinary, historic, and apostolic means of grace, particularly, ministry of the Word, prayer, and sacraments.

If God has already provided the ordinary means of growing in grace as we find in His Word, why do we think that we have the right or the greater wisdom to invent new ways through entertainment-driven, success-oriented worship and ministry?

I plead with you not to be tempted with success, professionalism, or the fading fads of our entertainment-driven culture. Rather, pursue Jesus as the all-satisfying treasure that He is and strive to faithfully feed His sheep through the means of grace that God has already provided His Church.

A church based on gimmicks is not likely to develop deep-soil disciples who demonstrate “a long obedience in the same direction.” The question for every evangelist and every church ought to be: “Is the method we are using worthy of the Gospel we are proclaiming?”

Read it all.

Around-the-Horn[1]

Is Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?
From Sam Storms (our New Wine 2016 speaker): People often answer “yes” to this question because suicide leaves no room for repentance; a person enters eternity with unconfessed and therefore unforgiven sin. But . . .

What’s at Stake?  The Gospel is at Stake
From Tim Challies: There is always one truth or another that is being disputed. There is always some doctrine or another that is under attack. And speaking personally, I find it hard to keep up.

Breaking: 2 Billion Christians Believe in Traditional Marriage
From Mark Galli at Christianity Today: It’s not at all certain that the rapid cultural shift in America on gay marriage will be mirrored in the Christian church. North American and European Christians who believe in gay marriage are a small minority in these regions, and churches that ascribe to a more liberal sexual ethic continue to wither. Meanwhile, poll Christians in Africa, Asia, and practically anywhere in the world, and you’ll hear a resounding “no” to gay marriage. Scan the history of the church for 2,000 years and you’ll have a hard time turning up any Christian who would support same-sex marriage. The church has been and remains overwhelmingly united. It’s undergoing stress, certainly. But the evidence doesn’t support a narrative of division and collapse.

Does Camille Paglia Have Any Hope for Our Modern Society?
From Reason.com: “I do not feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life,” Paglia tells Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie. “This gender myopia, this gender monomania, has become a disease. It’s become a substitute for religion.”

Martin Luther: Driven to Defiance
A nice video from PBS.

The Redeemer Report
From Tim Keller: The Bible and same-sex relationships.

Bob Costas is Right. ESPN’s Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner is Absurd
From Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist: What’s most interesting about it, perhaps, is the willful way in which the mainstream media participated in this propaganda campaign.

The Suicide of Britain
From Ross Douthat at the NYT: I’m a Yankee; this not my argument to make. But if our cousins can’t find leaders who can make it, there won’t be a Great Britain anymore.

Will You Forgive Me?
These are 12 words that can change, strengthen, and renew any relationship. These 12 words are:

A Self-Pity Refresher
Self-pity: a self-absorbed, feeling sorry for oneself fueled by a high view of self, a low view of God, and an attitude of entitlement.

 

 

From Christianity Today:

As the nation’s largest Protestant group prepares to meet in Columbus next week, it reported its largest annual decline in more than 130 years—a loss of 236,467 members.

With just under 15.5 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) remains the largest Protestant group in the United States. But it has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million.

This past year, however, the number of SBC churches grew by 1 percent to 46,449. That’s in part due to church planting efforts, aimed at starting new churches. Southern Baptists started 985 new churches in 2014, up 5 percent from the previous year.

Still, challenges remain.

A new major survey from the Pew Research Center shows a similar decline for the SBC. In 2007, Pew found that about 6.7 percent of Americans claimed to be Southern Baptists. In 2014, 5.3 percent of Americans were Southern Baptists.

Pew also found that Southern Baptists are aging, with the median age rising from 49 in 2007 to 54 in 2014. That makes them older than Nazarenes, “nones,” and nondenominational Christians, but younger than Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists.

Other news from the recent Annual Church Profile (ACP) report released by LifeWay Christian Resources, which compiles SBC stats:

Read it all.

Religious Giving in 2015

June 17, 2015

CHARLESTON, SC – June 16, 2015 – The Winkler Group today released the full results of Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy. 

The total amount contributed to religious organizations reached its highest inflation – adjusted value ever: $114.9 billion — just above 2013’s $113.92 total. 

The report shows that giving to religion increased 2.5 percent in current dollars. 

Giving to religious organizations still tops all other subsectors.  However, giving to religion (as a percentage of total giving) continues its 30-year decline.  In 1985, it comprised 56 percent of total giving; last year, comprised only 33 percent.

Key considerations from Giving USA 2015:

  • Americans gave a total of $358.38 billion in 2014, the highest total in Giving USA‘s 60-year history.
  • Giving is up for the fifth straight year. 
  • Giving to all sectors except international affairs increased.
  • Giving from individuals, corporations, foundations, and bequests all increased.
  • Corporate giving, including grants from corporate foundations, was estimated to be only 0.7 percent of 2014 pre-tax corporate profits.  This is the lowest percentage in the last 40 years. 

Jennifer Richard, Winkler Group COO, and Jessica Browning, Vice President of Communications, served as contributing editors for the report.  You can read more of their analysis here: Winkler Group Analysis