The World Wide Religious Web for Tuesday, January 31, 2012


BECAUSE IT’S EASIER TO BE A BOY: Why Young Men Aren’t Manning Up.

Young men are being shaped by prolonged adolescence and perceived obsolescence, and powerful social forces are at work to keep them that way.

For instance, a much-publicized Relevant magazine article highlighted a study that found 80 percent of evangelical Christians have had premarital sex, slightly below the 88 percent mark of society at large. Sex is readily available and as a motivator for pursuing marriage seems all but off the table. Fear of divorce further undermines the draw of marriage.

For another example, I’ve already hinted at the fact that the current growth sectors of the job market are geared more to the skills of women. In addition, average college loan debt post-college is more than $25,000, so even men with their act together often must delay taking on the added financial burdens of home and family. Women, despite their newfound financial independence, still expect to marry up. Many young men, unable to handle adult expectations, have simply chosen not to try.

They’ve been rewarded for throwing in the towel with a hook-up culture skewed in their favor, a growing buffet of man-centric entertainment, and a plunging limbo bar of social expectations. And—paradoxically in the current market—they have a relatively high amount of disposable income to play around with, and no financial obligations but the ones they choose. Man up? Are you kidding?

THEIR VIOLENCE, AND OURS: Secular Theocracy: The Foundations and Folly of Modern Tyranny, Part 2.

The reality of today’s secular theocracy is that its hypocritical authoritarianism circumvents the natural-law tradition of Christian teachings. Cavanaugh well sums up the incoherence of the secular theocrat who claims that, “Their violence—being tainted by religion—is uncontrolled, absolutist, fanatical, irrational, and divisive. Our violence—being secular—is controlled, modest, rational, beneficial, peace making, and sometimes regrettably necessary to contain their violence.” The appalling problem with the “myth of religious violence” is not that it opposes certain forms of violence, but that it not only denies moral condemnation of secular violence, it considers it highly praiseworthy.

AN EXTENSION OF THE STATE? Religious Liberty and Civil Society.

In this sense, what is at issue in the controversy over the administration’s rule is not just the question of religious liberty but the question of non-governmental institutions in a free society. Does civil society consist of a set of institutions that help the government achieve its purposes as it defines them when their doing so might be more efficient or convenient than the state’s doing so itself, or does civil society consist of an assortment of efforts by citizens to band together in pursuit of mutual aims and goods as they understand them? Is it an extension of the state or of the community? In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda. The idea is to leave as few non-individual players as possible in the private sphere, and to turn those few that are left into agents of the government. This is the logic of a lot of the administration’s approach to the private economy, not just to civil society. It is key to the design of Obamacare (which aims to yield massive consolidation in the insurance sector, leaving just a handful of very large insurers that would function as public utilities), of significant portions of Dodd-Frank (which would privilege and protect a few very large banks that would function as public utilities while strangling all the others with red tape), and of much of the regulatory agenda of the left. And it is all the more so the character of the administration’s approach to charitable institutions. It is an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.

“WE HAVE TO PASS THE BILL SO THAT YOU CAN FIND OUT WHAT IS IN IT”: Obamacare’s Great Gift: Clarification.

If nothing else, in declaring war against our consciences, the Obama administration has given American Catholics a great gift of clarification; a fractious family we may be, but—as the saying goes—we are church. And we have the right to be who we are.

EVIDENTLY, JESUS WAS A DEMOCRAT: The War on Christianity.

It’s almost comical if folks didn’t believe this while claiming religiosity. This is the true War on Christianity in our country. It’s not about prayer in schools, or soccer trumping Sunday school. It’s about groups of pundits, politicians and “American”-centric groups redefining the teachings of Jesus to suit their economic, social or political agenda. You know it’s working when those spouting the anti-Christian rhetoric rile people into anger and hatred. You know it’s working when Christians are confused into believing that the the health of their neighbor is not their concern. That individual freedom is radically more important than community well-being. You know it’s working when these movements strategically quote the teachings of Jesus to suit their own agendas, rather than base their leadership on the foundations of love, compassion, and concern for our fellow human — which any good Christian knows is Jesus’ clear central message.

PARTISAN IDOLATRY: The Perils of Making Jesus in Your Own Image.

A scholarly study released this week attempts to answer how staunch Christians can make such differing claims about how the teachings of their faith should inform their politics. The bottom line: Many Christians make God, or at least Jesus, in their own image, projecting their own politics and priorities onto their interpretation of the divine will.

IT’S THE CULTURE, STUPID! Values Inequality.

So much for the idea that the white working class remains the guardian of core American values like religious faith, hard work and marriage. Today the denizens of upscale communities like McLean, Va., New Canaan, Conn., and Palo Alto, Calif., according to Charles Murray in “Coming Apart,” are now much more likely than their fellow citizens to embrace these core American values. In studying, as his subtitle has it, “the state of white America, 1960-2010,” Mr. Murray turns on its head the conservative belief that bicoastal elites are dissolute and ordinary Americans are virtuous.

Focusing on whites to avoid conflating race with class, Mr. Murray contends instead that a large swath of white America—poor and working-class whites, who make up approximately 30% of the white population—is turning away from the core values that have sustained the American experiment. At the same time, the top 20% of the white population has quietly been recovering its cultural moorings after a flirtation with the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, argues Mr. Murray in his elegiac book, the greatest source of inequality in America now is not economic; it is cultural.

BAD SCIENCE: The Genetics of Same-Sex Attraction.

To his credit, Bruni gets a number of things right, including the most important thing: Science will not solve our culture’s struggles about sexual orientation. But when science is cited, we should at least get it right.

GOD IS A PLACE WITHIN OURSELVES? How the Placebo Effect Proves that God Exists.

Which brings us back to the placebo effect. It is mysterious, right? We don’t know how it happens. A person was sick and they take a sugar pill and next thing you know — voila — they are healthy. To call this “the placebo effect” is to dress up our ignorance in words. What has actually happened is nothing short of a miracle. Science has got no explanation for it– something immaterial (a thought?) has impacted something material (our body) in a way which utterly defies logic.

And that is what prayer is all about. Prayer is based upon the conviction that the immaterial is more powerful than matter itself. Whether we call this immaterial force “God,” “the ground of our being,” “Spirit,” or “higher consciousness” doesn’t matter. The point is– there is an uncanny power (which all of us without exception have got access to) which performs miracles. The sick can be cured, the broken can feel whole again.

And the greatest miracle of all is that this power can connect us to a place within ourselves of boundless love, peace and well being. Do we need any other proof for the existence of God?

THE RELIGIOUS WRONG? Newt Gingrich and the Future of the Right.

What would Weyrich, who died in 2008, make of the fact that Newt Gingrich — who was himself having an adulterous affair during the Clinton impeachment proceedings (one of several conducted by the former speaker, according to his own testimony and a number of lengthy journalistic investigations, including this one from CBS and that one from the Daily Beast) — won the 2012 South Carolina Republican primary with a plurality of voters who described themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians?

OY VEY! BUT NO! Did Romney Eliminate Kosher Nursing Home Food as Governor?

IN HIGH SCHOOL OR COLLEGE, MOSTLY: If People Leave the Faith, When Do They Do It?

QUITE A FEW THINGS, ACTUALLY: What’s the difference between a Pastor and a Priest?

The Good Life’s Complicated Calculus (1 Thessalonians 3:6–8)


What is the good life?

It is not having a pulse, at least not merely. Having a pulse is a necessary condition of the good life, of course, but it is not sufficient. A good life requires more.

It is not experiencing pleasure either, at least not simply. Of course, pleasure is generally better than pain. (I am a chronic pain sufferer, so I know whereof I speak.) But not all pleasures are created equal. Not only is the pleasure of doing right better than the pleasure of doing wrong, but even the pain of rightdoing is better than the pleasure of wrongdoing. In other words, better to suffer in the cause of justice (Martin Luther King Jr.) than to benefit from injustice (Bull Connor).

The good life’s complicated calculus is on display in 1 Thessalonians 3:6–8, where Paul, Silas, and Timothy write:

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

In this paragraph, the missionaries mention two pains they had experienced: “distress and persecution.” The two were related. Both the missionaries and their Thessalonian converts had been on the receiving end of persecution since the founding of the church (Acts 17:5–9; 1 Thes. 2:14, 3:3). The missionaries, being strong in faith, did not worry about themselves. But they were distressed for their converts, not knowing whether their nascent faith had survived the onslaught of opposition.

The missionaries went on to mention four pleasures: “good news” about the Thessalonians’ faith, “pleasant memories” on both sides, a mutual desire to meet once again, and encouragement “because of your faith.” For the missionaries, their ongoing friendship with the Thessalonians mattered more than other goods. What mattered most, however, was the end their friendship pursued: “your faith and love,” “your faith,” and “standing firm in the Lord.”

So here, if I understand it, is the good life’s complicated calculus according to Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

  1. In general, pleasure is better than pain, and pleasure in pursuit of good is best.
  2. But pain in the pursuit of good is better than pleasure in the pursuit of evil.
  3. Pleasure from friendship in the Lord is better than pleasure from any other source.

Is (3) a stretch? I don’t think so. Notice verse 6: “For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” In Greek, the adverb really does not appear in the text. Ironically, by adding it, the NIV actually weakens the force of the missionaries’ statement, “Now we live…”

To live is to be friends in the Lord. Everything else—pleasure, comfort, whatever—is gravy.

The World Wide Religious Web for Monday, January 30, 2012


THE EVANGELICALIZATION OF PENTECOSTALISM: The Pentecostal Paradox: As the Global Church Grows, American Tongues Fall Silent.

But while more mainstream evangelical churches have borrowed charismatic styles of worship and thus become more “pentecostalized,” Pentecostal churches in North America are moving away in public worship gatherings from the more demonstrative expressions of spiritual gifts, such as messages in tongues with interpretation, prayers for healing and prophecy. In many cases, churches and megachurches have chosen to relegate glossolalia and other charisms to Sunday night services or small groups and, in some cases and settings, according to church historian Dr. Stanley Burgess, “it has virtually disappeared.”

ON THE INCARNATION: Jesus and the Goodness of Everything Human.

The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth, fittingly called the “church father” of the 20th century, put it this way: “As the man Jesus is himself the revealing Word of God, he is the source of our knowledge of the nature of man as created by God.”

The logic of this simple statement is compelling: If men and women can know who they are only on the basis of the Word of God, then it is only by looking at the One who indeed is himself the Word of God, Jesus Christ, that we can know our identity and nature. Barth put it succinctly: All study and knowledge of human beings is “grounded in the fact that one man among all others is the man Jesus.”

CROWDING OUT NON-COERCIVE ALTERNATIVES: Government and Its Rivals.

But there are trade-offs as well, which liberal communitarians don’t always like to acknowledge. When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

But sometimes the state goes further. Not content with crowding out alternative forms of common effort, it presents its rivals an impossible choice: Play by our rules, even if it means violating the moral ideals that inspired your efforts in the first place, or get out of the community-building business entirely.

FAITH & THE FOUNDING: God of Liberty: An Interview with Thomas Kidd.

[Paul Harvey]: Your previous book, published in 2010, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution outlines 5 broad tendencies, or “religious principles,” about religion and American society, that you believe united the revolutionaries and founders who otherwise disagreed with each other wildly on specific points of Christian doctrine. Can you say something about those principles?

[Thomas Kidd]: So much of the popular discussion of faith and the American Founding revolves around the personal faith of the major Founders. This is an interesting topic, but I don’t actually think it tells us much about the role that religion played in the larger process of creating the American republic. So I sought to broaden the focus to the level of the public religious principles that helped unite the Patriots. These included religious liberty, the importance of virtue, the dangers of vice, the principle of equality by creation, and the role of Providence in human affairs. When you look at these principles, it is easier to understand why people of such sharply differing personal beliefs as Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist evangelist John Leland could cooperate so enthusiastically during the Revolution.

WHICH JESUS? No Country for Evangelicals.

It is not coincidental that the 2012 Republican presidential primaries are bringing this truth to light. A precursory scan of the contemporary landscape of evangelicalism reveals a splintered, disconnected culture in which any interpretation is up for grabs. Even looking at some of the presumed figureheads of evangelicalism reveals just how many different versions there are. Are you an evangelical like Mark Driscoll, who believes in an overly hip, tough-guy Jesus? Or like Benny Hinn, who, with Zionist John Hagee, recently prayed that God would lead the United States into war on behalf of Israel? Or perhaps you identify more with John Piper, whose extreme reformed theology says that some are chosen and others, unfortunately, are just not. I could go on; there’s the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen, the socially conscious evangelicalism of Jim Wallis, or the libertarian faith of Marvin Olasky. When Rick Santorum recently said that “we always need a Jesus candidate,” which Jesus did he have in mind?

EVANGELICALS FOR RON PAUL? The Rise of Christian Libertarians.

Probably one of the biggest disgraces of this “one nation under God” is that the government has had to step in to help those the Church should’ve been helping, to do what the Church was called to do. The Church failed—and government stepped in. Perhaps the reason many now lean Libertarian is because they’d like the Church to take back—and take seriously—its calling to transform this world. It’s Jesus—not Uncle Sam—that people should see and know whenever blessings flow and mercy, justice and love roll.

IT’S EASY TO BE COMPASSIONATE WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY, UNTIL THAT MONEY RUNS OUT: Is compassionate conservatism dead?

Just three years after George W. Bush left the White House, compassionate conservatives are an endangered species. In the new Tea Party era, they’ve all but disappeared from Congress, and their philosophy is reviled within the GOP as big-government conservatism. Is this just a case of the Republican Party wanting to distance itself from the Bush years — or is compassionate conservatism gone for good?

TURNING THE TABLES: The Same-Sex “Marriage” Proposal Is Unjust Discrimination.

If marriage is not a bodily, emotional, and spiritual union of a man and a woman, of the kind that would be fulfilled by procreation, then what makes a union marriage and why should the state support it? It is not simply a union that is formed by a wedding ceremony: that would be a circular definition. Nor is every romantic and sexual relationship a marriage, and certainly there is no point in the state promoting all such relationships. Perhaps one will say that it is a stable, committed, and exclusive romantic-sexual relationship. But how stable would a romantic-sexual relationship need to be in order to be a marriage? Suppose John and Mary have a romantic-sexual relationship while college students but plan to go their separate ways after graduation: is that stable enough to be a marriage? If not, why not?

Or suppose Joe, Jim, and Steve have a committed, stable, romantic-sexual relationship among themselves—a polyamorous relationship. On what ground can the state promote the relationship between couples, but not the relationship among Joe, Jim, and Steve? The argument here is not a slippery slope one. Rather, the point is: There must be some non-arbitrary features shared by relationships that the state promotes which make them apt for public promotion, and make it fair for the state not to promote in the same way other relationships lacking those features. Without this the distinction is invidious discrimination. The conjugal understanding of marriage has a clear answer: (a) marriage is a distinct basic human good, that needs social support and that uniquely provides important social functions; (b) marriage’s organic bodily union and inherent orientation to procreation distinguish it from other relationships similar in superficial respects to it. But the same-sex marriage proposal’s conception of marriage has no answer. In fact, its conception of marriage is actually an arbitrarily selected class, and so the enactment of this proposal would be unjust.

THE ADVICE OF AN EVANGELICAL CELEBRITY: Talking About REAL Marriage.

What Real Marriage has going for it, in the end, is the only thing it doesn’t share with scores of other marriage books: Mark Driscoll. Driscoll has preached the book’s content, he tells us, in “England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, India, and Turkey” and has talked personally to “hundreds of thousands of couples.” The author’s bio reminds us that he is “one of the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastors.” He pastors the “2nd most-innovative church in America.” The hype in the press release isn’t, ultimately, about Real Marriage; it’s about Mark Driscoll.

The book may be ordinary, but Driscoll is an evangelical celebrity; and celebrities are standouts. As Christopher Bell puts it in American Idolatry, celebrities must be present in our lives, yet remain unattainable. The more like us a celebrity is, the less useful he becomes as a celebrity. The Mark Driscoll of the Thomas Nelson press release—one of the “25 Most Influential Pastors of the Past 25 Years,” the man who has “taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners previously unexplored by evangelicals”—is a lot more marketable than Mark Driscoll, the husband who spent the first decades of his marriage screwing up. Mark and Grace Driscoll do a fine job, in Real Marriage, of acknowledging that they struggle just as much as any other couple. But no publicist is going to send out a press release that begins, “Two perfectly ordinary people have some hard-earned wisdom to share with you!”

NO HONOR IN MURDER: Family convicted in Canada ‘honor murders.’

A Canadian jury Sunday convicted three members of a family of Afghan immigrants of the “honor” murders of four female relatives whose bodies were found in an Ontario canal.

3–5%: How Many Americans are Atheists? Fewer than You Might Think.

The first misinterpreted approach is to ask people if they think of themselves as an atheist. For example, the 2008 Pew Landscape Study found that 1.6% of Americans define themselves as Atheist. Likewise, the 2008 American Religious Identification Study found less than 1% of Americans describe themselves as atheists.

This type of question gets at social identification rather than people’s actual beliefs, and some people who believe that God does not exist do not think of themselves as atheists. There’s nothing wrong with asking this type of question as long as we understand what it’s measuring: a self-identity rather than actual beliefs.

The second misinterpreted approach is to ask people simply if they believe in God, with no other clarifying information. For example, a 2011 Gallup Poll found that 7% of Americans did not believe in God. A 2011 PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey found that 8% did not believe. A 2009 Harris Poll found 9%.

Here’s the problem this this approach: It’s not a measure of atheism. Yes, atheists will say that they don’t believe in God. But so too will agnostics, who do not believe in God because they don’t think it can be known.  In addition, there are people in the world who may believe that God exists, but they don’t “believe” in God in the sense of having faith and following Him. They too will answer “no” to this question.  That’s the problem: This question is ambiguous as to whether it’s getting at belief of God’s existence or acceptance of God as a guiding force.

ASSEMBLIES OF GOD NEWS: Paul Finkenbinder, “Hermano Pablo,” passes away; Young Evangel graduate killed in Afghanistan; and Valley Forge Christian College alumna, Jessica Buchanan, rescued by Navy SEALs.

Advice for Parents Who Want Their Children to Follow Jesus (1 Thessalonians 3;1-5)


Every night since my son Reese was born, I have prayed this prayer for him as I put him to sleep: “Jesus, I ask that Reese would follow you from an early age.” Because Reese is three years old, it is easy for me and my wife Tiffany to create the conditions for this prayer to be answered. We attend church, pray and read the Bible together, and model the kind of life we think a Christ-follower should live. But there will come a day when Reese has grown up and must choose for himself whether and how to follow Jesus on his own. When that time comes, I will no doubt be praying with greater intensity.

I tell you this in order to tell you that, as a father, I understand the intensity behind Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s words in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5:

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

Remember the context of these words: According to Acts 17:1-9, the missionaries spent several weeks evangelizing Thessalonian Jews and Gentile God-fearers. At some point, however, a coalition of Thessalonians initiated a mob action against the missionaries and new Christians, the former eventually fleeing the city under cover of night at the encouragement of the latter. These new Christians immediately began to suffer for their faith (1 Thes. 2:14, 3:3). Paul, Silas, and Timothy were worried whether their short, three-weeks’ work among the Thessalonians had laid strong enough foundations for them to withstand these attacks. They needn’t have worried, for the Thessalonians had stood strong.

Several lessons for fathers and mothers–biological or spiritual–who long for their children to follow Jesus Christ:

First, focus on Jesus Christ. The practice of Christianity goes bad when it begins to focus on peripheral issues rather than central ones. The missionaries’ preaching was simple: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah” (Acts 17:3). If you want your children to follow Jesus, show them Jesus all the time.

Second, expect temptations and trials. Following Jesus doesn’t mean an easy life. We are “destined for [trials].” Following Jesus helps us resist temptation and emerge victorious from trials.

Third, keep the lines of relationship open so that you can communicate “encouragement and strength” whenever they’re needed. As your children age, your relationship with them changes. But the goal of your relationship doesn’t. You bear a responsibility of helping them love God, neighbor, and self. This is best done by encouragement, not nagging; by example, not command.

Jesus, may our children follow you from an early age and throughout the ages. Amen!

Review of “Christian Apologetics: Past and Present,” Volume 2


Christian Apologetics: Past and Present is a two-volume compendium of primary sources that document the variety of reasons Christians have given in defense of their faith over the two millennia of its existence. This second volume covers the period from 1500 to the present. The authors divide it into four parts: (1) “The Reformation, Post-Reformation (Protestant), and Catholic Reformation”; (2) “Modernity and the Challenge of Reason,” from roughly the late 17th through the mid-19th centuries; (3) “The Global Era: Christian Faith and a Changing World,” which covers the mid-19th through early 20th centuries; and (4) “Issues Today and Tomorrow,” which covers the mid-20th century to the present. Each section includes selections by authors from across the ecumenical spectrum–Protestant and Catholic–with Reformed evangelical authors receiving special focus in parts 3 and 4. Each part begins with an “Introduction” that frames the historical context the excerpted apologists worked within and concludes with a “Follow-Up” that briefly describes apologetic authors and works not excerpted for the book. I recommend both volumes for Christian apologists, pastors, seminary professors or readers, or laypeople interested in the historical development of Christian apologetics.

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