Archives For Culture

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?


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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.”

Here’s a snip:

That liberalism, political or theological, is not enjoying good health is obvious to even the most causal observer.  The rise of religious extremism, particularly that of Islam, has present the Left with a series of choices which have pushed it towards incoherence.  Theologically, the picture is little different: liberal Christianity is in decline as it does little more than offer a vaguely religious vocabulary for expressing ideas that are, to be frank, more compelling when stated in secular terms.

In this well-written and fascinating book, Reinventing Liberal Christianity, Theo Hobson laments the parlous state of liberal Christianity and, after an extended historical narrative, offers a plea for its reinvention.

At the heart of Hobson’s book lies a fundamental distinction which he makes within liberal Christianity: there is liberal Christianity which, taking its basic cue from Schleiermacher, seeks to redefine the faith in a way that a conservative like myself would say disembowels it of its content by purging away the supernatural and redefining doctrine in psychological or social categories.  That is the definition of liberal Christianity with which most evangelicals operate.   Yet Hobson also offers another definition, that of liberal Christianity as affirming the liberal state, with its traditional values of personal freedom.

To summarise Hobson’s historical narrative, he sees John Milton as offering an account of Christianity which affirmed the liberal state and also set forth a model of the relationship between the sacred and the secular which allowed for dialogue without the kind of dogmatic universalizing of reason which actually triumphed and placed a basic dilemma at the heart of the liberal state which we live with today: individual freedom versus a totalizing vision of the truth.  What Hobson wishes to do, therefore, is not reinstate classic Christian liberalism but to call it back to its roots in people like John Milton.

There is much to enjoy in this book.  It is good to be reminded that the Roman Catholic Church only decided to jump on the religious liberty bandwagon in the 1960s (after Elvis had past his peak, if you want a pop culture marker to remind you of how recently that was).   Hobson’s treatment of Hauerwas is stimulating: he appreciates Hauerwas’s (for want of a better word) sectarianism but dislikes his repudiation of the liberal state.  It is hard to argue with that: Hauerwas only enjoys his opportunities to write as he does because he lives in a liberal state.  North Korea presumably offers less attractive opportunities for its resident Christian ethicists.

One thing that struck me, though, is that the model offered is not distinctively liberal in terms of its theological commitments.   While Milton is the poster child of the seventeenth century for Hobson, there were other voices calling for an understanding of church and state which certainly pointed towards the modern liberal state.  John Owen, for example, a high Calvinist if ever there was one, argued for toleration of Protestant sectarianism in 1660s.  That his argument served his own personal cause does not render it invalid or insignificant.   ‘Good liberalism’ can easily be held by the most theologically and traditionally doctrinaire of people.  Further, one might point today to certain branches of Reformed theology, such as that elaborated by David VanDrunen in his recent book, Divine Covenants and Moral Order, which offer a very nuanced account of the relationship of church and state, such that the identity and task of the church is not confused with that of transforming society.  Interestingly enough, it seems to me that there are a number of practical similarities between that position and that of, say, Scot McKnight.

The other matter which Hobson does not really address and yet which is so germane to the current situation is the role of the law courts.  With so many competing visions of what individual freedom actually looks like (as opposed to what it is in theory), the liberal state has arguably ceded significant power to the judicial branch of government in a manner which is set to increasingly limit democracy and also ultimately to redefine what is actually meant by freedom.  As a Christian in America today, I fear judicial rulings more than I trust in elections.

Be sure to read it all.

From Reformation21:

Did you know that the average adult reads between a 7th and 9th grade level? And studies show that we like to read two grades below our reading level for entertainment. Well I have a daughter going into the 7th grade, and one going into the 10th this fall. They are intelligent girls and all, but my 38-year-old self would be insulted if I had to stop at their reading level.

And yet there are plenty of intelligent people who do not have the stamina to read a popular level book on the basics of theology. As a writer in this genre, I often wonder at the irony of writing a book that is technically supposed to be at a lower reading level than the Bible. I mean, the Bible is for everyone, right? What reading level is the Bible? There is some disagreement, but according to the chart offered . . .

Read it all.


Around-the-Horn[1]Tim Keller on Mars Hill Preaching, Homosexuality, and Transgender Identity
From Owen Strachan: In the course of my free-ranging conversation with Keller, we touched on some matters that were not directly related to the book and thus weren’t included in the CT interview. I was helped and heartened by Keller’s characteristically winsome, gracious, and convictional thoughts on these topics, and I’m glad to share them.

9 Things You Should Know About the Southern Baptist Convention
This week the Southern Baptist Convention meets in Baltimore, Maryland for its 156th annual meeting. Here are nine things you should know about America’s largest Protestant denomination.

What if Your Child is Gay?
You will, without a doubt, have someone close to you in your family come out as gay or lesbian, if not already, then sometime in the future. How should a Christian parent or grandparent respond?

Which Religions Favor Separation of Church and State?
Do all religions teach separation between church and state? If not, which ones and why?

Imaginative Apologetics
One function of art, it has been said, is to defamiliarize experience. We can become so familiar with things that we stop paying attention to them. Art can cause us to notice them in our lives anew. The same thing happens with faith. For a lot of people, Christianity is ‘old hat’ and easily dismissed. Art can help us defamiliarize Christianity so people see it clearly for the first time.

The 8 Stupidest Arguments Being Made About Obama’s Bergdahl Swap
From Mollie Hemingway: President Obama’s defenders have been forced to make some remarkably silly and short-sighted arguments about Bowe Bergdahl. Critics have made a few as well.

Writing On Houses of Worship?  Ignore the Religious
Pop quiz: When you write about baseball or surgery, whom should you quote?  That’s right. And when you write about playing a piano or cello, whom should you quote?  Right again. And when you write about religion, whom should you quote?  Nope, missed that one.

Did Benedict Actually Resign?
Fascinating article.

From Spurgeon:

An evil is in the professed camp of the Lord, so gross in its impudence, that the most shortsighted can hardly fail to notice it during the past few years. It has developed at an abnormal rate, even for evil. It has worked like leaven until the whole lump ferments. The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.

From speaking out as the Puritans did, the church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she tolerated them in her borders. Now she has adopted them under the plea of reaching the masses.

My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it? “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That is clear enough. So it would have been if He had added, “and provide amusement for those who do not relish the gospel.” No such words, however, are to be found. It did not seem to occur to him.

Then again, “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers .., for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12). Where do entertainers come in? The Holy Spirit is silent concerning them. Were the prophets persecuted because they amused the people or because they refused? The concert has no martyr roll.

Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles. What was the attitude of the church to the world? Ye are the salt” (Matt. 5:13), not the sugar candy—something the world will spit out not swallow. Short and sharp was the utterance, “Let the dead bury their dead” (Matt. 8:22) He was in awful earnestness.

Had Christ introduced more of the bright and pleasant elements into his mission, he would have been more popular when they went back, because of the searching nature of His teaching. I do not hear him say, “Run after these people Peter and tell them we will have a different style of service tomorrow, something short and attractive with little preaching. We will have a pleasant evening for the people. Tell them they will be sure to enjoy it. Be quick Peter, we must get the people somehow.” Jesus pitied sinners, sighed and wept over them, but never sought to amuse them.

In vain will the Epistles be searched to find any trace of this gospel of amusement! Their message is, “Come out, keep out, keep clean out!” Anything approaching fooling is conspicuous by its absence. They had boundless confidence in the gospel and employed no other weapon.

After Peter and John were locked up for preaching, the church had a prayer meeting but they did not pray, “Lord grant unto thy servants that by a wise and discriminating use of innocent recreation we may show these people how happy we are.” If they ceased not from preaching Christ, they had not time for arranging entertainments. Scattered by persecution, they went everywhere preaching the gospel. They turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). That is the only difference! Lord, clear the church of all the rot and rubbish the devil has imposed on her, and bring us back to apostolic methods.

Lastly, the mission of amusement fails to effect the end desired. It works havoc among young converts. Let the careless and scoffers, who thank God because the church met them halfway, speak and testify. Let the heavy laden who found peace through the concert not keep silent! Let the drunkard to whom the dramatic entertainment has been God’s link in the chain of the conversion, stand up! There are none to answer. The mission of amusement produces no converts. The need of the hour for today’s ministry is believing scholarship joined with earnest spirituality, the one springing from the other as fruit from the root. The need is biblical doctrine, so understood and felt, that it sets men on fire.

How many years have we been saying this at SAMP?

I’d put together a while ago a partial reading list of primarily old dead guys, with some newer, books here.

Here’s a snip:

My friends and most of my extended family are very tolerant of my antiquarian tastes. At best, it’s an eccentricity bordering on a waste of time. At worst, it’s a snobbery they’re willing to indulge. A few of the more well-meaning sort imply that I am able to digest such ponderous tomes through some exceptional mental capacity. “You’re so smart to be able to read that,” they say. “I wouldn’t be able to make it past the first chapter.”

What all of these responses have in common is that they are justifications – not just for why someone else would read an old book (eccentricity, snobbery, superhuman intelligence), but for why they won’t. My tastes are normal. I’m not a snob. I’m not as smart as he is. They’re reasons we give ourselves for not doing something. What I’d like to do in the remainder of this article is give you an antidote for this kind of thinking. You don’t have to be a snob or a literary wunderkind to enjoy “the Great Books.” What you do need to be is open to experiences beyond your time and culture.

In On the Reading of Old Books, C.S. Lewis says that one of the chief values of old literature lies in its ability to show us the blind spots of our own day and age—assumptions we take for granted at which earlier ages (and perhaps later ages) would have scoffed:

Read the rest.

John Mark has become a good friend of St. Andrew’s over the years and he always brings the love. He also brings the rock. Tomorrow night, June 6th at 7.30 pm, on his 5th visit to a St. Andrew’s venue, he brings a new band and his new Borderland CD that is earning a lot of attention and praise from critics and audiences alike. We are excited and eager about this concert as it finds John Mark at a highpoint in his songwriting and recording career. At the heart of it all, however, is still the same John Mark who consistently defies easy categorization and maintains a worshipful dialogue with the Almighty.

“With a cracking voice and soaring, fuzzed-out amplification, McMillan stands out as a true worship pioneer,” says RELEVANT magazine of the three-time GMA Dove Award nominee for “New Artist of the Year,” “Worship Song of the Year” and “Rock/Contemporary Album of the Year.” For those following the North Carolina-based songwriter’s steady rise as an artist, McMillan is hailed for his concise, poetic and often “raw” lyrics, with roots in Dylan, Kerouac and Springsteen, but haunted by the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. His voice, as strong as a live oak, is always welcome in these parts.

To register click here.