Are Christians Anti-Science? (You Lost Me 8)

In You Lost Me, David Kinnaman states that “Millions of young Christians perceive Christianity to be in opposition to modern science.”  The rest of this chapter goes on to analyze the data that says many young adults walk away from faith, or become disillusioned with faith, because it appears to be opposed to modern science.

One of my personal regrets when I think back to my own college days is that I did not take more science courses.  Along with that, I did not study as vigorously in the courses I did take as I should have.  I took the required nine credits in science and moved on to what I really wanted to study, things like history and religion.  Over the years I’ve found myself fascinated by aspects of science and on a regular basis I’ll read books (or watch videos like this)  in an attempt to learn more about everything from the theory of evolution to string theory.

I wish I had taken more science courses in college because I recall being rather arrogant.  My belief was that since I was a Christian and had the Bible, I knew how God had created and I knew evolution was not it.  I could laugh at those who thought humanity had evolved from monkeys (I don’t think I realized at the time that the theory is that we have evolved from a common ancestor we share with monkeys, so monkeys are our cousins according to the theory).

In the years since then I think I’ve learned humility.  It has been an important lesson to learn.

Now I work in campus ministry, leading a community of Christian students on campus.  What strikes me as interesting is that when I meet students who are Christians and science majors, they tend to think the theory of evolution holds strong explanatory power.  These students continue to have Christian faith, but they also cannot refuse to believe what the evidence appears to show.  On the other hand, it is often students who major in something else, those who have little knowledge of the science, (like me when I was in college) who reject evolution.  I have not taken a study on this, it is just my perception of the students over the years.

My advice to any sort of student I meet, regardless of their major,  is to encourage them to study.  God has blessed you with a brain, you’ve been commanded to love God with your mind, so apply all your intellectual faculties to the subject and learn as much as you can.  If you pursue a degree in science, become the best scientist you can be.

My advice to Christians who have been taught that evolution is an enemy of faith is humility.  Just because we have Christ does not make us experts on everything.  I usually refer them to the words of Augustine, writing 1000 years before the theory of evolution came along, are extremely helpful:

 “Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous things for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show a vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but the people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books and matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience in the light of reason” (Augustine Genesis 19:39)

I think the best thing we can do for young people is help them avoid the two extremes, both of which say the same thing.  Some on the Christian side and some on the atheist side say that you cannot believe in evolution and be a Christian.  Such blanket statements, especially when made by Christians, are just wrong.  Instead we ought to encourage students to study and learn and help them integrate their faith with science, whether they believe in evolution or not.  More than that, my goal is for students to become disciples of Jesus which has a lot more to do with how you treat other people then how precisely you think God created the world.

Whatever individuals think about science and faith,  I think this quote from Kinnaman makes a vital point:

the very fact that science invites participation lends its authority more weight than areas of inquiry that don’t. Dialogue, creative problem solving, living with questions and with ambiguity, group brainstorming, the opportunity to contribute—these are highly valued by the next generation. To the extent that we in the Christian community insist that young adults should just accept our “right” answers, we perpetuate a needless schism between science and faith.” (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 2223-2226). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.)

Science invites participation.  I was listening to a podcast (I forget which one) and the statement was made that scientists do not sit around talking about what they know, they sit around talking about what they do not know yet.  Science is a field that pushes young scientists to make their mark by discovery.

Faith, at least from the perception of young people, is more about authority: believe this book, believe this sermon and don’t ask questions.  The challenge, I think, is to help people see that Christian faith is not just about submitting to archaic rules and notions of the universe.  Instead, it is about entering into a beautiful and exciting relationship, one filled with mystery and discovery, with the Creator of the universe.

Free Bags of Stuff for College Students!

Every year I invite local churches to donate gift bags for students at Penn State Berks.  These bags are filled with snacks, drinks (Pepsi products, no Coke allowed as per PSU’s contract with Pepsi), school supplies and any encouragement notes, Bibles or Christian books they want to include.

Raquel and Heather Getting Things Going

The bags are dropped off at Kissinger’s Lutheran Church, which is right next to campus, during the days prior to students returning to school.  Then members of CSF bring them over to campus and hand them out during the first week, last night to be specific.

The last two years we have had around 300 care packages.  This year we got 407!   We started handing them out around 6 PM and by 9 PM, when we only had about 15 left, we decided to call it quits.  We’ll save these for another recruiting event on campus next week where we’ll hand them out.

Kevin, Heather, Elizabeth, Raquel…and Paul

What is amazing to me is that we gather these hundreds of packages from a very tiny group of churches.  I believe, unless I missed something, we had only six churches participate (West Lawn United Methodist, St. John’s Lutheran, Community Evangelical, Faith Evangelical, Mohn’s Hill Evangelical, First Presbyterian).  We also received care packages from a group of Penn State staff, coordinated by a big supporter of CSF.

Seven groups of people….400 care packages.  Holy cow!

To put this in perspective, there are only 800 students who live on campus.  If I could get another 5-6 churches on board we could have enough packages to just give one to every single student on campus.  How cool would that be?

I suppose that is my prayer/goal for next year – 800 care packages!

Spreading the Love (with the help of Sgt. Groff)

Saved from Sacrifice – Review

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross. Ever since then, those who consider themselves his disciples have been putting forth various interpretations for what Jesus’ death means for humanity. Unlike such subjects as the Trinity and the dual-nature of Jesus, what happened on the cross was never included as part of the great creeds of the early church. It is as if Christians have always realized that the cross was too big an event to squeeze into one explanation.

So we have various “theories of the atonement“. There is the penal substitution theory which states Jesus Christ took our place and accepted the wrath of God that our sin deserved. There is Christus Victor, where Jesus defeated Satan and the evil powers that held us in slavery, freeing us to know God. Then there is the exemplarist view, where Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of how we ought to live and it moves us to live differently.

Of course each of these views is open to various nuance, and holding to one of them does not rule out the others (it makes me think of Scot McKnight’s great book, A Community Called Atonement, where he likens these theories to golf clubs: each different club has a purpose in different situations and all are needed for a full game of golf…or understanding of the cross).

Mark Heim, in his book Saved from Sacrifice, presents another theory of the atonement (to be set alongside others, not put in place of them), relying heavily on the work of Rene Girard. Briefly, humans tend to mimic each other, leading us to desire the same things which brings us into conflict. Such conflict causes unrest in societies, so historically all this unrest would lead to one person being chosen and killed as a sacrifice. This person was the scapegoat, blamed for all problems and evils in the society. At the same time, since this killing brought peace, this person was honored. Girard argues that this story is seen throughout religions and literature.  But it is hidden, for the real story cannot be told, in other words the innocence of the scapegoat cannot be admitted. For the sacrifice to do its work, the society must convince itself of the guilt of the scapegoat.

What is unique in the Jewish scripture is the unmasking of this story. Alone among ancient religion, Girard argues that the Bible is filled with stories of innocent victims. The clearest example of this is Jesus himself who dies as the ultimate innocent victim.

Heim’s book spends a lot of time looking at what this all means. It is one of those books that is hard to grasp, I think, because I am so familiar with the source material. In other words, I am so familiar with the New Testament that I have preconceived notions of what it all means. Heim’s book tries to show the stories in a different light which is fantastic as you read it, but hard to grasp in the face of a lifetime of reading it differently. That said, working to get your mind around this understanding of the cross is rewarding.

One point Heim returns to over and over is that the stories in the gospels of Jesus’ crucifixion emphasize two points: the crucifixion should NOT be happening, for Jesus is innocent, yet it is good that it is happening. Holding these two points together is the challenge for any explanation of what it all means.

Heim argues that Jesus going to the cross was not God’s plan so much as it is God condescending to a human idea. Many Christians think God became human in Jesus Christ and went to the cross because it was all God’s plan and idea. Yet Heim argues, following Girard, that executing innocent victims is not something God would do, it is something humans do throughout our history.  Thus Jesus goes to the cross to save humans from our tendency to sacrifice innocents and through that to bring peace.

On the cross God identifies with innocent victims. Thus, those who claim to be on God’s side can no longer take part in the sacrificial, scapegoating system. We are saved from creating scapegoats, from blaming our problems on others, from forming unity via violence and excommunication. Jesus on the cross pulls back the curtain, unmasks the evil of scapegoating sacrifice, and shows us a new way  to live.  Instead of unity through violence, diverse people join together in communion (mass, eucharist), a ritual that requires no continued sacrifice and no continued violence. You could say we are set free to live in relationship with God and one another.

I thought it was especially interesting how Heim shows that part of the reason we miss this way of looking at the cross is that it was so successful in changing how our culture thinks of sacrifice. The fact that some people reject Christianity because Jesus was crucified though innocent is a testimony to Christianity’s influence: it is Christianity’s influence that makes us show revulsion at scapegoating.  This goes so far as to see the complete redefinition of sacrifice. We still talk about sacrifice and self-sacrifice but not in literal terms, such as those prior to the execution of Jesus spoke.

One thing I wish Heim had spoken of more was how this would preach. It is clear how Christians, as a subculture, utilize the scapegoat idea today in such things as the “culture war“, casting all the blame on one group, seeing them as the reason why everything is wrong. As I was reading, I was thinking of individual people and how they may scapegoat others and how this message of the cross could be applied to free them from that.  Is it as simple as saying not to blame your coworker, neighbor or whomever when something in life goes wrong?  Again, I wish Heim had done more to apply this message of the cross practical ministry.

As you can see, this book has given me a lot to think on, which alone makes it a worthwhile book.

On Cloth Diapering

When my wife, Emily, told me she wanted to use cloth diapers rather than disposable ones on our yet unborn baby, I was skeptical.  Never having changed a diaper in my life, I was a bit nervous about the whole thing.  Though I had no experience changing diapers, I assumed that using disposable diapers was much easier then cloth.  Disposable diapers were…disposable!  You take them off and throw them away (along with whatever has been deposited inside of them).  With cloth diapers not only would I have to clean the baby, but I’d have to clean and save the diaper!

Emily knows me well.  Her primary argument was not about how cloth diapers are better for the environment (though they are).  It was about how much money we would save.  Disposable diapers are expensive and babies go through a lot of them.  Reusable cloth diapers only have to be purchased once and then the only costs are detergent and your water bill.

So I gave in.  Why not give it a try?

Fifteen months later I can say I am glad we did it.  Not just for the money we saved (though Emily calculated how much we spent compared to how much she estimated we would have spent on disposables and we did save at least a thousand dollars), but also…okay, mostly for the money we saved.  I also like producing less trash.  We used disposables for the first month or so and I was amazed how much additional trash I was putting on the curb each week!

I’m not going to lie: cloth diapers are hard work.  We purchased enough to last for a couple of days.  So every other evening after we put Junia to bed we would have to put a load of diapers in the washing machine.  One cycle on cold, another cycle (with an extra rinse!) on hot and then into the dryer (or on the washline, before I cut it down by accident with the hedge trimmer, which is another story).  On a good day if we started the diapers in the evening we’d finish the process by lunchtime the next day.  On a bad day we might end up with a naked baby on the changing table and all the diapers sitting in the dryer in the basement!

Emily and I are blessed to have the sort of jobs that make cloth diapering a bit easier: she teaches at a Cyber School, so she works from home, and I work in campus ministry so my schedule is flexible enough to allow me to stay home during the day and go to campus in late afternoons.  If both persons in a couple have to go back to work shortly after the baby is born cloth diapering is probably more difficult, though I imagine if they really wanted to do it, it could be done.  But if one person plans to stay home with the baby full-time, or if the jobs are flexible enough, I would highly recommend cloth-diapering (have I mentioned how much money you will save?).

Cloth diapering does not need to be all or nothing.  Some people who cloth diaper do so regardless of where they go or how long they are there.  When my wife and I have been out of town with the baby for a few days, we go disposable.  I am sure cloth diapering could be done in such situations: you’d just have to find a place to wash them…and not mind carrying a bunch of dirty diapers with you.

Carrying dirty diapers was my biggest hang up.  If I am taking Junia somewhere and it is likely she’ll need a diaper change, I’ll put a disposable on her.  My reason is simply that I don’t want to carry dirty or wet diapers with me.  I like to bring home less stuff then I take with me and shoving a dirty diaper (in its own bag, of course) into the diaper bag is a hassle.  Emily often gives me a hard time…mostly asking, “what’s the big deal?”  I have to admit that the more used to cloth diapering I have gotten the more comfortable I have become with doing it while out.  Now I am willing to cloth diaper if one change will be needed (but there’s no way I’m carrying TWO dirty diapers around with me…wait, I did that yesterday!).

So if you’re soon going to be having a baby, I encourage you to look into cloth diapering.  There are not cloth diaper stores on every corner, but if you want to do it you can find the resources you need.  Do some research, discover if it is for you.

(Did I mention you’ll save money?)

I also heard kids who cloth diaper potty-train faster because cloth diapers do not soak up the pee as well and are thus more uncomfortable.  I am not sure if that’s true, but I’ll let you know!

 

College Mindset List – Class of 2016

I love reading the Beloit College Mindset list each year.  It gives us a window into the world of students entering college, a world that is viewed quite differently from those of us who have been around this planet a bit longer.

Here are some of my favorites from this year’s list, for the class of 2016.  But you can read the whole thing if you want.

3. The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.

5. If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.

6. Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds

7. Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.

8. Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge

9. They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”

15. Having grown up with MP3s and iPods, they never listen to music on the car radio and really have no use for radio at all.

29. They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”

34 Billy Graham is as familiar to them as Otto Graham was to their parents.

35. Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.

43. They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either

55. Mr. Burns has replaced J.R.Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.

68. They watch television everywhere but on a television.

73. Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.

 

As always, a fantastic list.

Moral Therapeutic Deism – You Lost Me (A Sidebar)

I’ve been slowly blogging through David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me which analyzes the reasons why so many young people either wander away from faith completely, put faith on hold for a time, or feel disconnected to faith while still being in the church.  One of the reasons given is that Christian faith is shallow.  Christianity in America has been described by sociologist Christian Smith as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

Moralistic – Christianity is basically about being a good person, just like every other religion.

Therapeutic – Christianity is about feeling good about yourself; God is a big fan of yours and wants you to be happy!

Deism – The Christian God who wants you to be good and feel good is not involved in life but instead is distant, far away.

I looked back at my blog and found other posts I’ve written about Moral Therapeutic Deism.  If you’re interested, check them out:

Souls In Transition: Moral Therapeutic Deism (May 24, 2010)

When you make religion into just about being a good person (moralism) and when you want all religions to be basically the same, you are left with a more or less deistic God. This God also makes you feel good, because “God” kind of likes what you like, does not like what you do not like, and would never be mad at you. Such a God is unnecessary and practically meaningless.

I could go on a tangent about how such a God is worthless and has little to say to the horrors of the world such as the Holocaust, human trafficking, genocide and more, but I’ll save that for next time. Another temptation is to go on a tangent about how the differences in world religion are what matters, but this post is already too long. I will say that God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ so that we no longer have an abstract God but God with a face, the face of Jesus, and who self-sacrificially gave his life to heal us of all guilt and who calls us to also self-sacrificially give ourselves for others is in a whole other universe than the God most emerging adults (and probably Americans in general) believe in.

Costly Grace (Sept. 17, 2010)

Studies have shown that the religion of young people in American culture isMoral Therapeutic Deism. The majority of you people believe there is a “God”. They stop there, believing that on this point all religions more or less agree and that is really all that matters. This God does not really interact with us much (hence “deism”). Religion is just about ethics, being a good person, which again is where all religions, more or less, agree. Finally, the purpose of religion is to make you feel good about yourself (therapeutic). If God is watching he pretty much likes what you like and approves of anything you do.

When we read the stories of Jesus, this whole idea is shredded. We are reminded that you are not saved by simply believing in God (that makes you a theist or a deist). Salvation, healing, freedom – these things come in the grace of Jesus Christ. We believe not in an abstract “God” but in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. As God walking among humanity, when Christians speak of God we start with Jesus Christ.

Almost Christian 1

Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian, calls MTD “diner theology” and writes: ”

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).

Shallow – Young Adults Who Wander (You Lost Me 7)

One of my favorite people in the world is Ron.  Ron retired after a long and successful career as a chemist.  He spends his retirement on campus at Penn State Berks, tutoring students in chemistry.  Ron does this because of his Christian faith: he is using his gifts to connect with young people and speak truth into their lives.  When he first began tutoring on campus he was so well-received that he was asked to join the faculty, teaching chemistry.  While he enjoyed this, he later resigned saying it was hard to minister to students when you were grading their papers!  So he went back to his spot in the library, tutoring.

I do not know Ron very well, but I have learned one thing from him: use your gifts to meet students where they are at.

Connecting with students one-on-one is not glamorous.  It will not lead to a report before a church mission board about multitudes getting saved on campus.  But what people like Ron do is help students move beyond a shallow faith.

David Kinnaman, in the book You Lost Me, says that one reason young people walk away from the faith is that they see it as shallow.  He writes:

I think the next generation’s disconnection stems ultimately from the failure of the church to impart Christianity as a comprehensive way of understanding reality and living fully in today’s culture. To many young people who grew up in Christian churches, Christianity seems boring, irrelevant, sidelined from the real issues people face. It seems shallow (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1841-1844). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition).

One of the cornerstones of this shallow faith is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a label given by Christian Smith and Melinda Denton.  Kinnaman quotes their book Soul Searching in defining this:   “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.

Moral Therapeutic Deism contributes to the shallow faith found among young Christians.  One of the interesting things Kinnaman brings up is that while their faith is shallow, they are quite confident in themselves.  Part of the reason for this overconfidence is the influence of our youth-worshiping culture.  We shun the wisdom of the old and look to the young and beautiful as our examples for how to live and think.  Kinnaman concludes:

If you already know all there is to know, if you’ve been told your entire life that you’re “just right” exactly the way you are, if the main job of the god you believe in is to make you feel good about yourself (because you’re entitled to great self-esteem, along with everything else), then there are not a lot of compelling reasons to sit in the dirt at the feet of Jesus and live the humble life of a disciple” (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1917-1920). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition).

The problem is not just that young people have a shallow faith.  They learned it from the previous generation, who also had a shallow faith.  Christianity in in the United States could be characterized, in general, as shallow.  Yet, as Kinnaman notes, the USA has the most developed “spiritual infrastructure” in the world.  We are inundated with Christian books, media, conferences, churches, camps, retreats, seminars and every other resource you could want.   Yet this infrastructure is almost like a factory, mass-producing Christians.  And this mass-producing may yield a large quantity, with most identifying as Christian, but a shallow quality.

Kinnaman does not get into it, but I suspect a part of this is the American evangelical desire to get people saved.  If everyone is destined for hell and believing in Jesus is the only thing that will save them then having them confess Christ is all that matters.  Historically the Christian culture in America has been good at getting people to believe in Christ.  But then you have a lot of people just standing around, waiting to die and go to heaven.

This may be one reason why many are rethinking hell (is it annihilation?  is there a hell at all?).  As interesting a discussion as that is, I think there is an even deeper root cause: fear.  We live in fear: fear that God is going to punish us if we don’t tell enough people about Jesus, fear that we’re not really accepted by God, fear that those closest to us will spend eternity in hell.  From that fear is often used as the chief evangelism tool: believe or burn.  In contrast to this, I am struck by the absolute lack of fear that Jesus and the early Christians had.

The flip side of fear is a trust in God’s sovereignty.  That is, to trust that it is not your job to save the world, that is God’s job!  It is okay to invest your time in a few people, working hard to help them grow into mature Christians.  Hey, that’s what Jesus did!

This is encouraging to me because as I look back in my years at campus ministry so far…well, there has not been much quantity!  But I think of students I still keep in touch with and relationships I have built.  I recall a conversation on the phone with a man who is preparing for marriage and navigating family issues.  Then there was a lunch at a diner with a recent grad preparing to move to Pittsburgh for a new job.  I smile as I think of that one couple who always visits Emily and I when they are in the area.  I look back at all that and pray that though the quantity of persons I have influenced may not be as high as I had hoped when I started, the quality in those I have managed to help along the way, by God’s grace, has been life-changing.

Overcoming a shallow faith cannot happen on a mass scale, but that’s okay, its not our job to save the world.  It may be our job to deeply invest in a few people though.

Dude, You Got Daddy Skills

My neighbor posted this video on her Facebook.  It is absolutely hilarious!  Share it with any dad you know.

My favorite is that there were so many moments that I could completely relate to: stressing that people are going to know I’m the one who dressed her, the spare crocs when you go out, the little snack cup…so true!

Book Review – Half the Sky

Today we look back on the acceptance of slavery in the 1800s and before and ask what those people were thinking. How could they accept such a horrific crime to continue in their midst? Or we look to our more recent past and cringe at the crimes done by those in favor of segregation. Again, how could people allow such evil to continue?

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn believe that future generations will look back to our day and wonder how we could blindly allow worldwide violence against women to continue. Why didn’t they do more to stop it, future generations will ask of us. The goal of their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is to educate and motivate people to begin to end oppression against women throughout the world.

There are not many books I will say this about, but here it goes: every person should read this book. Men and women, young and old, people of any faith. This is the definition of a must-read. Put down The Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Grey and read this. Please.

It is not an easy read. By that I do not mean it is intellectually challenging. In that way it is an easy read, filled with stories that bring the issues and statistics to life. But it is not easy in that there were numerous points where I had to stop reading because I could not stomach the stories. The things they write about are simply horrific, words cannot do justice to how vile what happens to women in some parts of the world is. But if any book comes close to having the words do justice, it is this one.

Kristof and WuDunn shed light on sex trafficking and forced prostitution. That is a subject I have read about before so I knew what to expect, though they do bring a slightly different angle in a few points. Then they move on to other subjects. We learn about how rape is used as a weapon of war in the Congo, how it is safer to be a man fighting in the wars there then it is to be a woman on the sidelines. Along with this we learn about honor killings. Then they tell us about the dangers of childbirth for many women throughout the world where things like fistula can make women outcasts in their own communities.

The authors are not afraid to take America to task, and one of the thought-provoking chapters for me as an American pastor was when they discussed the “God-gap.” They spoke of how American politics affects women worldwide. When President Bush ended funding to any foreign aid group that counseled women about abortion options the target may have been an organization in China but this policy had ill-effects on women who were seeking help (not seeking abortions) from the same organization operating in Africa. But the authors do not blame just one side of American politics, as they recognize it is Christian groups who are often the only ones bringing the needed help to rural areas in Africa. The challenge is for those on both sides of the American political spectrum to find a way to lay aside their differences and work together for the good of women throughout the world.

Kristof and WuDunn do not just seek to educate, they also propose a way forward. Some keys in this way forward are things like education and microfinance, as well as seemingly mundane things like ensuring that pregnant women get iodized salt which has proven to increase IQ in the babies. They also propose funding towards medical facilities to heal women with fistula. Finally, they give the reader a few things that can be done in the ten minutes after finishing the book.

After I finished this book I sat around the dinner table with the two women I love the most: my wife and my daughter.  I could not help but think how different their lives would be had they been born elsewhere.  So many women in the world are suffering in so many ways.  The love I have for these two lovely ladies moves me to want to help other women throughout the world.

To start, I went here  and here.

This is a book that will not leave you unchanged.

Is the Church Overprotective? Young Adults Who Wander (You Lost Me 6)

A few years back I was talking to someone about what I do as a campus minister and I made a comment along the lines of how I don’t really listen to Christian music.  The person was kind of surprised, thinking I listened to such holy music so I could recommend it to my students.  I joked that that is what youth ministers have to do, we who work on campus are a different breed.

But really, I am not a huge music guy.  I mean, I enjoy music…but if I worked for a church or ever got interviewed for a magazine and one question was, “what’s on your iPod?” my answer might would be some Hardcore History podcasts, Sandra Boynton kids music and the Les Mis soundtrack.

When I do listen to music nowadays I listen to country.  This is kind of funny, because I never listened to country growing up.  In the early 90s I listened to early 90s rock/alternative music like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Live.  Eventually I “got serious” about  my faith which meant giving up much of that “sinful” music and listening to “Christian” music: Audio Adrenaline, Newsboys and the like.  At the time that music was very meaningful and encouraging to me.  But over the years I got bored with it and kind of slid into a “listen to everything” attitude: anything from country to classic rock and when I’m feeling different kinds of nostalgic I’ll go back to the rock/alternative or the CCM (contemporary Christian music) of my youth.

Trading in my secular music for Christian music simply meant putting the CDs in a shoebox somewhere.  But I remember friends of mine talking about literally burning their secular CDs.  A clear line was drawn in the sand: to be a Christian is to only listen to Christian music.  Thankfully, we could trek on down to the local Christian bookstore where they had a huge chart that told you if you like such and such secular band then you will like this or that Christian band (they sound the same, but they mention Jesus!).

This is not a post on the pros and cons of contemporary Christian music, such posts and articles can be found if so desired.  I recall those days of my youth when there seemed so much pressure to only listen to “approved” music.  Bible verses were tossed about to remind us the importance of not being corrupted by the world.  Music was the main part of it, but there were also “Christian” movies and books, shirts and much more.  The goal seemed to be to keep us kids safe from the evil and scary world around us.  In other words, the goal was protection.  To some degree, this is not a bad thing.  But too easily protection would slip into a sheltering, “we’re good and they’re evil” sort of overprotection.

In the second part of You Lost Me, David Kinnaman examines various reasons why young adults wander from the faith.  The first reason he gives is that the church i soverprotective (the rest are that the church is shallow, antiscience, repressive, exclusive and doubtless).  I will spend one post on each reason, beginning with the problem that Christians are overprotective:

Is it possible that our cultural fixation on safety and protectiveness has also had a profound effect on the church’s ability to disciple the next generation of Christians? Are we preparing them for a life of risk, adventure, and service to God—a God who asks that they lay down their lives for his kingdom? Or are we churning out safe, compliant Christian kids who are either chomping at the bit to get free or huddling in the basement playing World of Warcraft for hours on end, terrified to step out of doors? Here are some of the criticisms that young Christians and former Christians level at the church:

Christians demonize everything outside of the church

Christians are afraid of pop culture, especially its movies and music.

Christians maintain a false separation of sacred and secular.

Christians do not want to deal with the complexity or reality of the world

Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1533-1538). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.

This reminds me of the recent story I read about a group of Christian bookstores pulling The Blindside from their shelves because a pastor complained about the language in the movie.  Such a story makes Kinnaman’s point: much of the Christian culture is over-protective.  We want to shelter kids from practically everything, creating a safe and sanitized world for them to live in, almost in parallel to the real world out there.

It is almost like we want children to become hermits, fleeing from the evils of the world.

The cure to being overprotective is not to shun any sort of boundaries at all.  There are still many things in the wider culture that we probably should protect our kids from.   It makes me think of Jesus’ words, calling his followers to be in the world but not of it.  But whatever this protection looks like, we need to remember that there is a lot of beauty and goodness in the world around us.  And such beauty and goodness is not always found in the “Christian” bookstore with the “Christian” label assuring us it is safe for the whole family.

Young people want to break out of this sacred/secular dualism that places “Christian” in one arena and everything else in the other. Kinnaman notes that younger Christians desire mainstream influence.  They do not just want to have successful “Christian” bands that play on “Christian” radio or to be “Christian” professors in “Christian” universities.  Instead they desire to create good music on the radio, to become professors at universities…in other words to heed God’s call in their lives to serve in whatever area they are placed (the word for this is vocation).  Kinnaman sees hope in this: “Could it be that the growing desire for mainstream influence among the younger generation is the work of God—preparing them to bring restoration and renewal to our culture? I believe so” (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1657-1659). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition).

Christians can have a better influence on the world around us not when we retreat into our safe places but when we go out in the name of Jesus and be the best at whatever calling we have.  Or as Kinnaman says, “gaining credibility for its own sake is vanity; gaining credibility to participate in God’s work to redeem his world is a mission” (Kinnaman, David (2011-04-01). You Lost Me (Kindle Locations 1662-1663). Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition).

I believe Christians should be the best at what we do.  Christians artists should create beautiful music and art and film, not worrying whether it achieves a “Christian” label.  Christians should search for truth in all things, portraits of truth may be found in “Christian” movies like Courageous but may also be found in Gran Torino and The Artist.

More than that, as we attempt to cease being overprotective we give young Christians the space they need to hear from the Holy Spirit and be shaped into the people God created them to be in the crucible of the world.