Monthly Archives: September 2011
Text the letters “HPN” to 74574 to learn how you can act in faith to stop the execution of Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani.
Use the form on this site to email the Interests Section* of the Islamic Republic of Iran and urge that country’s leaders not to execute him.
Or call the Interests Section directly at (202) 965-4990.
* The United States and Iran do not have formal diplomatic ties. Hence, they have an “interests section” in Washington DC rather than an embassy.
YOUCEF NADARKHANI WATCH: “U.S. condemns Iranian pastor’s conviction.”
The White House Thursday condemned the conviction of an Iranian pastor, who may be executed in Tehran for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert from Christianity to Islam.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani “has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for people,” a White House spokesman said in a statement. “That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency and breaches Iran’s own international obligations.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advisory group appointed by the president and Congress to monitor religious freedom around the world, Wednesday expressed “deep concern” for Nadarkhani, the head of a network of Christian house churches in Iran.
After four days of an appeals trial for apostasy, Nadarkhani refused to recant his beliefs, the commission said. Chairman Leonard Leo said the pastor “is being asked to recant a faith he has always had. Once again, the Iranian regime has demonstrated that it practices hypocritical barbarian practices.”
“A MENACE TO THE BODY POLITIC”: “‘Hate’ is too big a word to be used with such little restraint.”
In many ways the environment we find ourselves in is not unlike that surrounding Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Certainly at that point in our history, the threat of communism to our nation was real.
It was right and proper, as most on the left and right agree, that those who did seek to subvert the laws and security of the United States be exposed and brought to justice. But the way McCarthy pursued his anti-communism campaign was, as the Times said in a 1998 editorial, “a menace to the body politic.”
He leveled very loud charges very publicly, often with no evidence to support his accusations. Still, the smears stuck even to those he targeted unfairly, who for the rest of their lives bore a stain not caused by their actions, but by his words.
We were a better country than that then, and we’re a better country than that now. Ours is a long tradition of turning disagreements into debates, not denigration. Let’s keep that tradition going by putting out a real fire – the one caused by overheated, overreaching rhetoric.
GRACE AND CHAOS: “Good News: Jesus Is Not Nice.”
What are we to make of this New Testament picture of God in our own lives?
For one we can stop pretending God is nice, as if it’s his job to make our lives well-adjusted or religious or even spiritual. Jesus did not say he came to give us happiness, only blessedness. He did not promise an easy life, only an abundant one. He doesn’t call us to be religious or spiritual, but to love God and love others. We can save ourselves a lot of grief if we recognize that up front.
This means at least two things: (1) He’s not going to spare us from heartache, suffering, and chaos. (2) He’s actually going to bring heartache, suffering, and chaos into our lives sometimes.
GOOD NEWS & GOOD WORKS: “What Does Justification Have to Do with Justice?”
Those who are all about justification by faith alone are usually not about justice. And those who are all about justice, usually are not about justification by faith alone. I think that is a big mistake.
FOR BETTER OR WORSE? “5 ways tablets will change church & ministry.”
- Face to face conversations.
- Easier access to text resources.
- Owning your church’s app.
- No more guest cards?
- Your pastor may not need an office.
AMERICANISM: “The Ten Commandments of The American Religion.”
- Thou Shalt Own a Home.
- Thou Shalt Go to College.
- Thou Shalt Recognize that Some Wars Are Holy.
- Thou Shalt Obey the Constitution.
- Thou Shalt Give to Charity.
- Thou Shalt Obey the Food & Drug Administration.
- Thou Shalt Always Vote.
- Thou Shalt Choose Between Two Political Parties.
- Thou Shalt Recognize the Media as the “Fourth Estate.”
- Thou Shalt Forever Progress Toward the Frontier.
DEFENDING THE FAITH: “Interview: Douglas Groothuis on Good Apologetics.”
What is our greatest challenge today in Christian apologetics?
The greatest challenge is just doing it. Often, for various reasons, apologetics doesn’t get into the pulpit. Part of it is fideism, the idea that faith requires no evidence. In fact, some people even pit faith against reason. That’s simply bad theology, and bad anthropology.
Many Christian colleges do not require apologetics courses. Many seminaries do not require their divinity students to study apologetics. I think that’s deeply wrong. But it is not merely for the professors, the philosophers, and the writers. We are called to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds; to love our neighbors as ourselves, have a reason for the hope within us, and contend earnestly for the faith. Apologetics is not a peripheral discipline for Christian eggheads. It’s right at the center of the kingdom of God.
FLANNEL GRAPH WATCH: “The sociology of Sunday school.”
When it began, Sunday school was a creative response to a particular societal need and setting, confronting the massive illiteracy present among British and American youth. Later, enhanced by denominational networks and the sociology of the Protestant Sunday it offered opportunity for extended biblical instruction and Christian community.
As the sociology of Sunday changes can Sunday school remain an effective vehicle for addressing the escalating biblical illiteracy evident among American Protestants? If not, then we’d better do something fast. Otherwise we’re nothing but a bunch of prodigals!
WASHINGTON ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: “A letter’s journey, from founding father to religious question.”
FROM MY MAGAZINE: “The Trinity: Why We Should Teach It” by Frank D. Macchia.
I attended Prof. Kvanvig’s lecture on atheism at Evangel University last year, but I was unaware that the video had been posted until now. So, here’s the lecture:
By the way, I recently interviewed Prof. Kvanvig about his forthcoming book, Destiny and Deliberation. Here’s the video:
By the way, Kvanvig is not pronounced “Kwanvig,” as I say repeatedly in the interview. Both Vs should be pronounced.
This video is sure to offend someone, but if the right to free speech doesn’t encompass offensive speech, how is it free?
Apropos of this topic: “Cartoonist to be Tried for Insulting Islam.”
L’Shanah tovah, dear readers!
PRAY FOR YOUCEF NADARKHANI: “Troubling News: Death Sentence Still Imminent for Christian Pastor in Iran.”
Early this morning, the ACLJ received this troubling news from Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s attorney in Iran, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah. Mr. Dadkhah firmly denies that the court has agreed to overturn Pastor Youcef’s death sentence. He believes this is a lie spread by the Iranian secret service, even to members of his own family, to stop the media from reporting on this case.
IN RELATED NEWS: “Turkey’s Elephant in the Room: Religious Freedom.”
THE KERNEL AND THE HUSK: “An appeal to writers: Don’t confuse Christ with Christianity.”
I may be skeptical about formal religion, but I know the power and promise of personal faith in God. After nearly a year of writing this column, I am more convinced than ever about the need to differentiate between Christ and Christianity, religion and faith. Convincing people of the impotence of religion at times seems a hopeless task, but I know there are people out there who are thinking this through.
“Faith,” the Scriptures tell us, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That speaks of conviction, longing and trust, not clichéd, boring religion.
The fact remains that most people don’t desire true life-giving faith in God; they prefer the convenience of inherited religion. The reasons are obvious: Religions give you rules to obey. They are handed down, no thinking need be done, and most people prefer to hang on to their institutional club membership for the tradition and the perks.
BUMMER OR KERNEL/HUSK SEPARATION? “Trends for U.S. Churches Mostly Pointing Down, Says Report.”
Of course, it’s no surprise that young adults are crafting moral models differently than their elders when vitriol taints our moral climate. One need only look to recent words spoken by politicians or, dare I say it, op-ed writers to see that. Young people watch these leaders, and they’re disheartened. They see themselves surrounded by a Venus flytrap of toxic judgmentalism that older adults feed as if they were Seymour Krelborn in Little Shop of Horrors. Meanwhile, young adults see this kind of morality failing them. They see judgment trumping cooperation and resulting economic instability. Now wonder they’re searching for a better way forward.
Of course, it is a timeless truth that every older generation thinks the younger one inheriting their legacy will destroy it. Whether there is any truth in this, I cannot say, as it is impossible to measure morality the way you would a cup of sugar. But what is clear is that young adults refuse to live in the black-and-white world painted by older generations and they have good reason to because it has not served them well. Perhaps, then, their morality is less grey than it is pink, purple and aqua. And maybe a little color, at this stage, is a good thing.
ON THE OTHER HAND: “Sociology and the Life of Virtue.”
As it turns out, if young adults haven’t grappled with Aristotle on virtue, Kant on duty, St. Thomas on the natural law, and Bentham and Mill on the principle of utility, they simply have no language to articulate the human moral experience. And to fill the void, they turn to what our therapeutic culture seems to value above all else – individual sentiment.
Perhaps Smith’s study may offer the most eloquent argument yet for the tangible benefit society reaps from the embattled, impractical liberal arts. Are we content with a generation of ethical emotivists whose moral ramblings are inescapably, though thoughtlessly, Nietzschean? If not, perhaps it’s time for us to remember that required classes requiring students to study Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, St. Thomas, and Hegel might be the most practical courses colleges can offer.
Smith’s research on young people talking about their moral experiences recalls to mind something Socrates said just before his death: “For you know well, my dear Crito, that to express oneself badly is not only faulty as far as the language goes, but does some harm to the soul.” Socrates was on to something here – harm to the soul indeed.
CULPAE POENAE PAR ESTO: “In Defense of Capital Punishment.”
If wrongdoers do deserve punishment, and if punishment ought to be scaled to the gravity of the crime (harsher punishments for graver crimes), then it would be absurd to deny that there is a level of criminality for which capital punishment is appropriate, at least in principle. Even if it were claimed that a single murder would not merit it, it is not difficult to imagine crimes that would. Ten murders? Ten murders coupled with the rape and torture of the victims? Genocide? If wrongdoers deserve punishment and the punishment ought to be proportional to the offense, then at some point we are going to reach a level of criminality for which capital punishment is appropriate at least in principle. To claim that no crime could justify capital punishment—to claim, for instance, that a cold-blooded genocidal rapist can never even in principle merit a greater punishment than the lifelong imprisonment inflicted on a bank robber—is implicitly to give up the principle of proportionality and, with it, any coherent conception of just punishment.
Is Catholic opposition to the death penalty losing traction as opposition to abortion, gay marriage, contraception and other causes become the defining “pro-life” issues for the American hierarchy?
That’s what some Catholics are asking after the bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee on Monday (Sept. 26) released its message for October’s “Respect Life Month” campaign, which kicks off in thousands of U.S. parishes on Oct. 2.
A CANDIDATE’S “EVANGELICAL MESSAGE”: “Bachmann urges Christians not to ‘settle.’”
On Wednesday, the congresswoman occasionally touched on politics in her speech, mostly blasting President Barack Obama’s health care reform for including funding for abortions, which can only be used in the case of rape, incest, or if the life of a woman is in danger.
She also took issue with Obama’s approval of an Institute of Medicine recommendation that health insurance fully cover birth control, including the so-called “morning-after” pill.
“We need to stand up to government takeover,” she said.
But Bachmann, who’s seen her poll numbers drop into the single digits over the last month, mostly charged the students not to settle on their faith.
“Usually when we settle, it’s a short-term ease,” Bachmann said. “But it’s the long-term hard that the Lord often asks us to choose.”
CHRISTIAN NATION? “Patriotism and the ‘God gap.’”
As to the religious identity of the nation, 62% said the United States is a “Christian nation” in a survey of 1,000 adults done a couple of years ago for Newsweek, while 75% of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey also done in 2009.
And earlier this year, writing for the CNN Belief Blog, Boston University religion scholar Stephen Prothero analyzed the religious affiliations of those elected to serve in the 112th Congress and concluded: “Is this a Christian nation? No way, says the Constitution. But U.S. voters are telling us something else altogether.”
THE ETHICS OF REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES: “38 Ways to Make a Baby.”
In welcoming Louise Brown into the world we ushered in an era of new ethical dilemmas, a Pandora’s box that includes human cloning, the creation of “designer” babies, and the eugenics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Whether we create a dystopian future for ourselves will depend on whether we humbly accept our limits and fully understand our obligations. We may have 37 new ways to make a baby, but the purpose of baby-making remains the same: to bring into the world a human being created in the image of God.
DEMONIZING THOSE WITH WHOM YOU DISAGREE: “Multi-site Churches Are from the Devil.”
FROM MY MAGAZINE: “I’m Feeling Spiritual Dry.” Advice for pastor’s wives from Gabriele Rienas.
THE PERSECUTED CHURCH: The American Center for Law and Justice seems to have the most up-to-date information on the status of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian pastor who could be executed as early today for apostasy from Islam. Please keep Pastor Nadarkhani and his family in your prayers.
POPE BENEDICT XVI ON LUTHER AND PENTECOSTALISM: “Meeting with the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany.” On Luther:
“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. And insofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – Luther’s burning question must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too, not an academic question, but a real one. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.
The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon – that bishops from all over the world are constantly telling me about – poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.
The Pope’s comment on Pentecostalism is harsh, but I think he’s certainly pegged Pentecostal weaknesses: “little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability.”
UNETHICAL CHURCH BEHAVIOR: “Church Drops Mortgage for Expansion.”
Facing a dramatic decline in its property values, The Church at South Las Vegas stopped paying its mortgage in May and filed for Chapter 11 protection in July after its lender filed suit. The church owes approximately $7.6 million on property now worth only $2.4 million.
Pastor Benny Perez told media that the default was a strategic move in order to preserve member donations—totaling almost $650,000 according to court filings—given to expand church facilities. The church has the money to make its monthly payments (it has about $1 million in reserve funds) but believes it is bad stewardship to have tithes keep going into a “black hole.”
“People give to vision,” Perez told CBS 8 News. “They don’t give to debt.”
But others doubt the wisdom of a church taking such action.
Count me among the doubters. Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’: anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt. 5:37). I’m pretty sure that applies to mortgage obligations, especially when you have the money to pay them, and despite the decline in property values.
HOW NOT TO RESOLVE A CONFLICT: “The Methodist Billboard War Over Homosexuality.”
Homosexuality has, for better or worse, become ground zero in theological fights over sex and the Bible’s authority.
GOD AND GOVERNMENT: “10 questions worth asking about a candidate’s faith.” From a professor at an Assemblies of God university, no less!
OH, THE HORA! THE HORA! “Rick Perry dances with the rabbis.”
ONE CERTAINLY HOPES SO: “Can You Take the ‘Southern’ out of the Southern Baptist?”
However rooted the SBC is in the South, its heritage and influence have always been broader, and that is best illustrated today in the SBC’s International Mission Board, which has almost 5000 missionaries serving around the world, and which reported 360,000 baptisms in its international churches in 2010. Along with believer’s baptism, missions work and evangelism have always been key priorities of the SBC, and that has made it impossible for Southern Baptists to remain exclusively southern.
NOT FUNNY: “Perdue jokes about suspending Congressional elections for two years.” Related, Obama’s former budget director argues, “we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.” Have you ever noticed that politicos’ like or dislike of democracy tends to track with whether they’re getting their way?
NEWS YOU CAN USE: “Why Churches Don’t Grow.”
- The pastor lacks priority for evangelism, vision, and/or knowledge
- The church members have no priority for reaching the lost, have a self-serving attitude, and/or fear that new people will destroy their fellowship
- Perceived irrelevance
- Using the wrong methods
- No plan for assimilation
SUNLIGHT IS THE BEST DISINFECTANT: “Congress to Investigate Planned Parenthood.” Related, “Promised Objectivity: Americans Receive Planned Parenthood Ideology.”
FROM MY MAGAZINE: “Carrying Guns on Church Property” by Richard R. Hammar.
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#1: Webb Whiskey Tortoise Matte