Peter Berkowtiz wrote an excellent review of Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great in today’s Wall Street Journal. Read the whole thing, but here are the concluding paragraphs:
In making his case that reason must regard faith as an enemy to be wiped out, Mr. Hitchens declares Socrates’s teaching that knowledge consists in knowing one’s ignorance to be "the definition of an educated person." And yet Mr. Hitchens shows no awareness that his atheism, far from resulting from skeptical inquiry, is the rigidly dogmatic premise from which his inquiries proceed, and that it colors all his observations and determines his conclusions.
Mr. Hitchens is by far the most erudite and entertaining of the new new atheists. But his errors and his excesses are shared by the whole lot. And these errors and excesses have pernicious political consequences, amplifying invidious distinctions among fellow citizens and obscuring crucial differences among believers world wide.
Playing into the anger and enmities that debase our politics today, the new new atheism blurs the deep commitment to the freedom and equality of individuals that binds atheists and believers in America. At the same time, by treating all religion as one great evil pathology, today’s bestselling atheists suppress crucial distinctions between the forms of faith embraced by the vast majority of American citizens and the militant Islam that at this very moment is pledged to America’s destruction.
Like philosophy, religion, rightly understood, has a beginning in wonder. The most wonderful of creatures are human beings themselves. Of all the Bible’s sublime and sustaining teachings, none is more so than the teaching that explains that humanity is set apart because all human beings–woman as well as man the Bible emphasizes–are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
That a teaching is sublime and sustaining does not make it true. But that, along with its service in laying the moral foundations in the Western world for the belief in the dignity of all men and women–a belief that our new new atheists take for granted and for which they provide no compelling alternative foundation–is reason enough to give the variety of religions a fair hearing. And it is reason enough to respect believers as decent human beings struggling to make sense of a mysterious world.
From the conclusion of a speech by President Calvin Coolidge commemorating the 150th anniversary of American independence:
Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.
No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.
Amen! And have a Happy 4th of July!
Over the past three weeks, on the First Things website, Michael Novak has posted an impressive series of rebuttals to progressive religious critiques of the American economy.
Each of these rebuttals is well worth reading.
Inviting guests to your church is easy. Getting them to stay is not. Gary McIntosh’s new book offers concrete suggestions for getting guests to stay “beyond the first visit.”
I began reading Beyond the First Visit in January 2007 when my wife and I moved to California’s central coast to pastor a church. We didn’t know anyone in the area or the church, so for a while we felt like guests in our own congregation. I grew up in a pastor’s home and was associate pastor to a long-time friend, so this was a new feeling for me. But it was a very valuable feeling, for it gave me an important insight into how guests at our church feel all the time. (And I have a very friendly church!)
According to McIntosh, we need to “guesterize” our churches. That is, we need “to make a church more responsive to its guests and better able to attract new ones.” From the moment guests step foot on our campuses, they need to feel a welcome invitation to be there as well as opportunities to connect with others and get involved in the life of the church.
Each chapter of Beyond the First Visit includes numerous suggestions for making your church guest-friendly, real-life examples of what works and what doesn’t, and discussion questions that can be used individually or among leadership groups.
If your church has many guests, but few who stay, read Beyond the First Visit. It will open your eyes to your guests’ point of view.
The mission of the church is simple: “Make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). Unfortunately, the discipleship process in many churches is anything but simple. How do you know if your church’s discipleship process matches the simplicity of its mission?
Ask yourself the following four questions:
- Is my church’s discipleship process clearly stated and understood by all?
- Does it channel movement along a trajectory from unbelief toward mature belief?
- Are the church’s programs aligned with this process?
- Is the church focused enough on its process to eliminate programs that don’t align with it?
If you can answer yes to each of these questions, then your church has a simple discipleship process.
If not, then you should read Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples. Using biblical teaching, true-life stories, and statistical analysis, the book shows the connection between the vibrancy of a church and the simplicity of its discipleship process. Rainer and Geiger drive home the importance of four basic concepts: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. And they provide concrete suggestions for using these concepts to design and evaluate effective church programs.
As a new senior pastor, I found Simple Church to be very helpful for diagnosing what is and is not working at my church, and why. As I work with my church’s leaders to develop a new discipleship process, I will undoubtedly return to Simple Church regularly for good advice.
The Barna Group released a new study of atheists and agnostics in America that is well worth reading, especially for what it reveals about the "no faith" commitment of younger Americans. Here are the opening paragaphs:
A new evangelistic movement has emerged in America. Yet this effort does not spring from those loyal to a particular faith or religious view.
The new evangelists are atheists. People who have determined there is no God or who doubt his existence (a group commonly known as agnostics) are adopting a more aggressive, intentional effort to discredit the notion that God exists and to critique people of faith. Widely reviewed new books such as The God Delusion and God is Not Great represent this movement.
Beyond the bestseller lists, however, a new survey shows there is indeed a significant gap between Christians and those Americans who are in the "no-faith" camp. For instance, most atheists and agnostics (56%) agree with the idea that radical Christianity is just as threatening in America as is radical Islam. At the same time, two-thirds of Christians (63%) who have an active faith perceive that the nation is becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity. ("Active faith" was defined as simply having gone to church, read the Bible and prayed during the week preceding the survey.)
A new study by The Barna Group examines the numbers, lifestyles and self-perceptions of America’s atheists and agnostics, contrasting the no-faith audience with those who actively participate in the Christian faith. Surprisingly, not every measure shows points of differentiation; there was also some common ground between the two groups who are at opposite ends of the faith spectrum.
This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. For a useful introduction to the Six Day War, check out this website by CAMERA, which specializes in debunking myths about Israel and the Middle East. Also, check out this lecture on the ongoing ramifications of the Six Day War by Michael B. Oren at Jerusalem’s Shalem Center. Oren is the author of Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.