Recent Reads

I found Albert Mohler making a good point here: “News of the “house of horrors” in Pennsylvania brings prompt moral outrage, and understandably so. But is the abortion clinic on the corner, established for the purpose of killing unborn children, any less a house of horrors. The couple in Australia openly admitted aborting their twin boys because they want a daughter. Millions around the world seem outraged by their decision, but having accepted the basic logic of abortion, they are hard-pressed to define when any abortion demanded by a woman might be unjustified and thus illegal.”

Speaking of Albert Mohler, he made waves a while back by saying that only young earth creationism is the only valid option for Christians.  The interesting thing is that Mohler admitted that the evidence seems to point to evolution.  I have read other young-earth creationists say the same thing: the scientific evidence points in favor of evolution but Christians should reject it because a “literal” understanding of Genesis 1 trumps the scientific evidence.  Mohler’s speech has garnered tons of responses, many of which are nicely summarized here.  The biggest problem with Mohler’s argument (line in the sand) is that, at least as I understand it, he says Christians should reject a “uniformitarian” understanding of nature which means we should not assume that natural laws have always worked the way they do today.  But to assume this is to bring into question how we can really know anything:

If Mohler’s view of history is correct, then all of his assumptions about scripture are up for grabs.  Absent a “uniformitarian” view of history, there is no way to be sure that what we now think of as “scripture” wasn’t poofed into existence with the “appearance of age” only moments ago.  There is no way to know with any certainty what the “plain meaning” of these documents might be or whether there is any “language” with meaning at all.  Indeed, there is no way to know whether Jesus really lived and truly rose again.

This is an issue that is not going away.  Rachel Held Evans has written a story on her intellectual journey and she weighs more on the issue here with, what I think, is an important message.

Moving on, here is a post listing some of the most prevalent “counterfeit gospels“.

I love this: the Internet Monk blog always reminds me of the beauty of grace!

I also like to read dead people.  Speaking of dead people, if you read the King James Version, this is an interesting post listing words that mean a different thing now then they did when that translation was made.

Almost Christian 1

You have got to love a book that starts like this: “Here is the gist of what you are about to read: American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith – but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school” (3). That is how Kenda Creasy Dean begins her book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. This book is based on the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), a massive study of teenagers (and young adults – see Souls in Transition by Christian Smith…and my blogs on that book.).

I am excited to read this book. One reason is that there are definitely numerous similarities between teenagers in this book and the college students I work with. Also, the faith of teenagers reflects that of their parents and the church as a whole. So this book provides a window into the state of faith in our country. Teenagers have not developed a lackadaisical faith in a vacuum, instead they have learned it from the church.

Dean writes clearly, concisely, and with wonderful imagery. At least based on the first chapter, this book would be a fitting and easy read (not to mention, a must-read) for Christian leaders, parents and many otehrs. She compares the American church to Esau in Genesis, trading his birthright for some stew:

Like Esau, American Christians tend to think with our stomachs, devouring whatever smells good in order to keep our inner rumblings at bay, oblivious even to our own misgivings. Sociologists paint American Christians as restless people who come to church for the same reasons people once went to diners: for someone to serve us who knows our name, for a filling stew that reminds us of home and makes us feel loved, even while it does a number on our spiritual cholesterol” (8).

She argues that churches offer teenagers a “diner theology” which consists of a religion that is cheap but never satisfying, easy and requiring no sacrifice. The NSYR has described the religion of American teenagers as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3. The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.

4. God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.

5. Good people go to heaven when they die (14)

 

This is the religion teenagers are learning in churches and it is supplanting Christianity as the dominant religion in the United States. For the record, when I talk to college students, I see this affirmed. This is how young people think of religion (although as a side-note, this also appears to be the “civil religion” of American life that we hear many politicians and political commentators talk about; a religion that is fine with God but not keen on Jesus). Ironically, churches spend more time ministering to youth then ever before and youth ministers are better educated and stay in churches longer. The NSYR has shown that while youth ministry matters, it cannot be separated from the Church as a whole, or the family of the teenager. One question this book seeks to answer is how the church can better prepare young people, who are steeped in the religion of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, to develop a vigorous Christian faith (22). The answer is not simply to get more teenagers to come to church. After all, it is church that is practicing MTD. The solution is a more faithful church (23). According to Dean, meeting this challenge is vital:

If we fail to bear God’s life-altering, world-changing, fear-shattering good news (which, after all, is the reason the church exists in the first place) – if desire for God and devotion to our fellow human beings is replaced by a loveless shell of religiosity – then young people unable to find consequential Christianity in the church absolutely should default to something safer. In fact, that is exactly what they are doing” (24).

Weekly Word – Persecution, stumbling blocks, spiritual death and us

(Every week, give or take, I send out a brief email to the students with some thoughts from Scripture and I offer it here also in case it may encourage anyone else who comes across it)

Last evening we studied Matthew 18:1-14.  When Jesus tells his disciples to have faith like a child, he is pointing to a child-like dependence on God similar to how children depend on their parents.  The focus is on trusting in God for strength, grace and forgiveness rather than trusting in yourself.  But Jesus does not mean to become a child in every other immature way.  As humans we grow into maturity.  Hopefully in college your parents do not wake you up anymore, that is a part of childhood left behind.  When you were little you read picture books, in college you have moved on to more difficult books.  In the same way, we are called to maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:11-6:3), moving into a deeper faith.  But a child-like faith is not the opposite of a mature faith.  A mature faith is more unity, more love, more ministry and service (read those three passages, they describe it, also read 1 Corinthians 13)…but still a deep (hopefully deeper) trust in God.

Last night we did not really look at verses 5-9 in chapter 18.  In 18:5 Jesus says that whoever welcomes a little child in his name welcomes him.  On one hand, this can mean that we should invest time in teaching and ministry to children.  But I do not think that is all that it means.  Jesus said that true disciples are those who become like children (18:3) so the “child” in 18:5 also refers to other adult disciples.  Thus, if we welcome other followers of Jesus, we welcome Jesus.

This reminds me of a conversation I was having with Josh yesterday about the persecuted church throughout the world.  In much of the world Christians gather for worship with the very real possibility that they may be arrested and imprisoned (or worse) simply for being Christians.  Yet in places where this sort of things happens the church is passionate and vibrant.  If you want to learn more about this, check out Voice of the Martyrs.  Also, here is an interesting report on the growth of Christianity in Iran.  The church is also growing rapidly in places where it is not necessarily persecuted, but where people live in abject poverty; as Philip Jenkins said in his book The Next Christendom, the average Christian in the world is not a rich, white, male European but a poor, black African woman.

Another place where Christianity is growing quite rapidly is in China, estimates are that 80-130 million Chinese are Christians.  The cool thing here is that a stereotype many secular (and Christian) westerners have is that global Christianity is a phenomenon of mostly poor people – poor starving Africans, or Latin Americans, or Asians are coming to Christ.  Along with this is a bit of arrogance – an attitude that poor people have nothing so they cling to faith; we have a lot of stuff so we have moved beyond that.  Christian growth in China goes directly against the stereotype -many who are joining churches (legal or illegal churches) in China are the community leaders, the movers and shakers.  Even though Christianity is still only 10% of the population, it is an influential 10%.  To read more check out this, this and this.

The question to ponder – how are we “welcoming” our brothers and sisters throughout the world?  Are we praying for them?  I am sure they are praying for us because while the persecuted church may face physical death we face something far worse: spiritual death.  We live in a culture that offers so much and that puts us to sleep, desensitizes us.  It is so easy to just go with the flow.  This brings me back to Matthew 18:6-9 where Jesus speaks of things that cause his followers to stumble.  What sorts of things are being offered to you on a university campus that may be stumbling blocks?  Some of these may be blatantly evil, but I imagine that most of them are not bad things in themselves.  Instead, they can become stumbling blocks if we put all our focus on them.  For example, a good job and a decent salary is not sinful, unless getting such things is your sole drive and motivation.     Be aware of the things offered in our culture that may cause you to trip up in your walk with Christ (And read this article).

My prayer is that we would have a global view of the Church, being aware and in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the globe.  May we also recognize that they are probably in prayer as we face spiritual rather than just physical death.  Or as Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28)

Fountain Lady

Sometimes I feel like Berks county is the center of the universe (okay not really).  But we have Jon and Kate, now we have the Fountain Lady!  The video of this woman falling into a fountain at the Berkshire Mall while texting has become a hit on youtube.  Apparently she is so embarrassed that this video has been seen by millions…that she is going on CNN, ABC news and anyone else who will take her to whine about it.  No one looking at the video can see her face…the only reason anyone knows her identity is that she is making a huge issue out of it!

Her lawyer says they want to hold the right people responsible.  The only person responsible is sitting right next to him!  I wonder how long it took the $$$ to flash before her eyes.  She claims mall security did not come help her, but she got up right away and walked away.  So every time someone falls over in the mall security needs to come running?

If she sues the mall it begs the question: if she was texting and knocked down an old person or a young child, could they sue her?

Give me a break.

 

Recent Reads

It seems the Amazon Kindle put Barnes & Noble and Borders on the ropes…and only Barnes & Noble has recovered.  This would be sad, as I really like Borders.  It seems they might end up just joining forces.

This is just plain cool: the Internet in 2010!  There are 152 million  blogs, holy cow!  I would post more of the stats, but just go to the site.  It is mind-boggling!

Many have read Donald Miller’s books, especially Blue Like Jazz.  His blog is often good, such as this post: “Are Evangelicals Getting Dumber?

I might be a “millennial” (depends where the line is drawn) and I work with them, so I am reading this analysis.

The tragedy in Tuscon remains in the news.  One of the  more frustrating aspects of this is how so many have sought to use it for their own political gain, by blaming other politicians and pundits.  Ross Douthat comments on that, as does George WillGlenn Greenwald goes a slightly different direction, writing on the reflexive call for fewer civil liberties that seems to always come after such tragedies.  Of course, a debate about gun control has now begun.  I am all for people owning guns for hunting, even to protect their family if they so choose, but the gun used in Tuscon was beyond either of those.  It was an assault weapon that could fire 33 rounds before being reloaded and its one purpose was to kill people; it should be bannedSome gun advocates agree with me.

Sticking with political things, in spite of my better judgment, here is a story to read: a US teenager tortured in Kuwait and barred entry back into his home country, the US.  How about we just get rid of the death penalty: it does not keep us safer, it is more expensive then life in prison, and it is horribly imperfect (even executing one innocent person should make us question whether to have it)?  Finally, is there any doubt that if the first Latina governor of a state was a Democrat, we would hear more about her?  I am not a Democrat or a Republican (yeah independent!).  But it seems that when Democrats break barriers it makes news.  Does a minority Republican not fit the media’s stereotype?  Yes, a governor is not a president or supreme court justice.  But if she was a democrat, it would have been huge news.

I don’t want to read too much into this without more research, but most British evangelicals say Jesus is the only way to God.  My guess is that in a much more secular country, the minority of Christians tend to stick more with historic Christian beliefs.  Britain probably has less people who are “cultural Christians”; such people don’t bother showing up on Sundays.

Finally, yesterday we honored Martin Luther King Jr.  A US defense official said that while MLK opposed Vietnam, he would love the wars we are fighting today!  Actually, probably not.  For a response, check out Jesus Radicals.

Weekly Word – Opposition, Grief and Silence

(Every week, give or take, I send out a brief email to the students with some thoughts from Scripture and I offer it here also in case it may encourage anyone else who comes across it)

The first time Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die on the cross, they opposed him. Peter takes him aside and declares that such a thing would never happen (Matt. 16:21-22). Jesus, not happy with such opposition, replies, “Get behind me Satan.” To attempt to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross was to align yourself with Satan. So the first time the disciples hear of the cross, they are in direct opposition to Jesus.

Not long after, Jesus again tells his disciples that he is going to die. This time, we are told that the disciples were filled with grief (17:22-23). They no longer attempt to oppose him, but they are none too happy with the idea.

The third time Jesus tells them of the crucifixion, they say nothing (20:17-19). Silence. They may not say anything, but the mother of James and John does. She asks for her sons to be seated next to Jesus in his victorious kingdom. Jesus is speaking of death and everyone is still expecting victory.

Jesus did mention the resurrection along with the crucifixion each time, but this made no sense to the disciples. In their minds, the Messiah, God’s chosen one, would not die a gruesome death, he would win a huge victory. They were so baffled that Jesus spoke of death that anything else he said (resurrection three days later, what?) made no sense.

How do we respond to Jesus when we are called to follow him in self-sacrifice? Do we resist, setting ourselves in opposition? Do we grieve in sadness? Or do we simply sit in confused silence?

I hope we are not too hard on the disciples. There is no indication they understood until after Jesus’ rose from the grave. Right up until he was arrested, they were ready to fight a bloody battle for him. Even after he rose, some still did not get it (Matt 28:17; Acts 1:6). It took a while to comprehend that the battle had been fought on the cross, the victory won and the mission was now one of taking up their cross and following Jesus on a mission to serve and love others.

No one expected God to accomplish salvation through death on a cross, so let’s not be too hard on the disciples. Most of us have heard the story so often, we know what is coming. We read of Jesus’ death but the despair of it stays far from us as we know it takes just the turn of a page to see him alive again. The disciples did not know that in advance, so of course they resisted, grieved or said nothing. We know the whole story. Yet, when Jesus calls us to things how often do we resist, grieve or just sit there in silence?

My prayer is that this semester, you would take time to listen to Jesus as he calls you to take up your cross and follow him.

Recent Reads

My friend Zach has started a fun website, check it out and contribute to the discussion: Life in Tandem.

Too often pastors make the news for scandal, so it is refreshing to read the story of Francis Chan.  Ironically, part of the reason he left the church was because he becoming a Christian celebrity, but in leaving his celebrity status may grow.  I have not read any of his books, but I listened to a few of his sermons a while back.

Here is another challenging story: a man who joined the military right out of high school and ended up becoming a conscientious objector.  I have no comment on it, other than it is inspiring and makes me wonder how open I am to Jesus’ leading when it goes against all I have been taught.

The Internet Monk continues to be one of my favorite blogs with thoughtful, pull-no-punches analysis like this: “Works-Righteousness by any Other Name Still Stinks

Ross Douthat is becoming one of my favorite columnists with pieces like this one: The Unborn Paradox.

Finally, now that we are officially in a new decade, we can look back at the 2000s (aughts!).  Andy Crouch lists the Ten Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Last Decade.