Friday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey writes about two key components of strong ministry marriages: “Setting goals together and making decisions together are two powerful components of any strong marriage. And they will help you become a better leader, too. But all of this presupposes that you are praying for and with your spouse. No amount of counseling, reading, self-help or peer advice can match the power of a praying spouse. Praying together makes setting goals and making decisions together that much easier. But it also sets your hearts on what is most important: your relationship with the Father above.”
  • Phil Steiger reviews The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher: “I believe there is a lot of value for a pastor in The Benedict Option. Dreher forces us to pay attention to some of the significant and seismic changes in culture, but more than that, he produces some tangible suggestions. And I agree with him that we can’t just do business as usual and expect better results.”
  • George O. Wood–aka, “Dad”–talks about one of his favorite pastoral prayers: “Lord, help them to lay foundations that are strong enough to bear the weight You will later place on them.”

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Review of ‘Faith in the Voting Booth’ by Leith Anderson and Galen Carey


Voting_Booth_350Leith Anderson and Galen Carey, Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

Today (March 15), voters from Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Since I am a Missourian, I performed my civic duty and cast a ballot along with them. Voting is so routine in American life that we Americans often take it for granted. We shouldn’t, however. It is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.

It also can be hard work. Choosing a candidate or supporting a referendum requires informed decision-making. What principles should guide us? What should our priorities be? Thoughtful citizens try to answer these questions as they enter the voting booth.

Faith in the Voting Booth is a primer on biblical principles and priorities for the thoughtful evangelical voter. Leith Anderson and Galen Carey are, respectively, president and vice president of governmental relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. The NAE is the largest organization of evangelicals in America, whose mission is “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians.”

Evangelical is “often portrayed as a political identity by the national press,” which Anderson and Carey note is fundamentally wrong. Evangelicalism is first and foremost a spiritual identity. The authors cite with approval historian David Bebbington’s list of “four convictions that identify evangelicals”: (1) conversion—having a “born again experience, (2) action—consisting of evangelism and social action, (3) Bible—Scripture is the top authority, and (4) cross—Jesus died to save people from sin. These four convictions unite evangelicals spiritually across partisan political lines.

Of course, it would be next to impossible for a person’s spiritual identity not to affect their political identity in some way. “The ultimate political statement is ‘Jesus is Lord,” Anderson and Carey point out. But American evangelicals do not always let their core convictions shape their political principles and priorities. For example, Lifeway Research conducted a survey of evangelical opinions on immigration. That study found, in part, that evangelicals were as likely to be influenced on that issue by “The media” as by “The Bible” and “Your local church” combined (slide 16). For people whose core convictions include the Bible’s supreme authority, that’s an alarming statistic.

The core of Faith in the Voting Booth is an examination of hot button issues from a biblically informed perspective. Anderson and Carey cite four broad areas “where most evangelicals agree most of the time.” These are biblical authority, life, religious freedom, and marriage. They then examine eight issues in more depth: poverty, racial and ethnic minorities, marriage and family, immigration, taxes, justice and jails, foreign policy, and environmentalism. The goal is to bring biblical principles and priorities to bear on public policies.

Faith in the Voting Booth is difficult to peg, ideologically. For those looking for a lawyer’s brief for their side of the political aisle, this is not your book. But it’s important to remember that the Bible is not captive to modern ideologies or political parties. It stands outside of them, critiquing them for what they get wrong and affirming what they get right. If we follow the Bible, then, our political principles and priorities won’t be easy to peg as merely partisan ideology. Personally, I found the book refreshing. In a few places, it caused me to reexamine whether my political convictions are as biblically rooted as I think they are. In a few places, I disagreed with it. That kind of critical self-examination is a good habit to develop, it seems to me.

Anderson and Carey close the book by making a case for civility in the public square. Given the taunting, name-calling, and isolated acts of violence that have marred this election cycle, the authors’ plea for civility is especially appropriate. I’ll close with this quotation from the book:

The practice of Christian civility brings the fruit of the Spirit into the public square: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). We please God, display the love of Jesus, and bless our nation all at the same time.

Amen to that!

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Leith Anderson about the book.

P.P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘From This Day Forward’ by Craig and Amy Groeschel


From-This-Day-Forward Craig and Amy Groeschel, From This Day Forward: Five Commitments to Fail-Proof Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014). Paperback / Kindle

Marriage is delightful. It is also difficult, however. While the divorce rate may not be the oft-quoted 50 percent, it is still significant.[1] The relevant question, then, for Christians getting married or already wed is this: What can a couple do to make sure their marriage thrives?

Craig and Amy Groeschel offer an answer to this question in their new book, From This Day Forward. Craig is the founding senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, an innovative multisite church best known for its Bible app, YouVersion. Amy leads LifeChurch.tv’s women’s ministry and homeschools the Groeschel children. Craig wrote most of the book, but Amy adds her unique “angle” at the end of each chapter.

Drawing on the Bible and their own twenty-plus years of marriage, the Groeschels identify five practices that contribute to marital wellbeing:

  1. Seek God.
  2. Fight fair.
  3. Have fun.
  4. Stay pure.
  5. Never give up.

Can marital wellbeing really be that simple? Based on my nearly 10 years of marriage, I would say both yes and no. Or better, I would say that marital wellbeing is easy to analyze but difficult to practice. A couple which strove to put these five practices to work in their marriage would significantly improve both the quality and durability of their union.

From This Day Forward is written in an easy, conversational tone that makes for a quick read. It doesn’t—thankfully!—get bogged down in exegetically driven discussions of gender roles (i.e., male headship, female submission), though it occasionally it reflects gender stereotypes (e.g., men prefer physical intimacy, women prefer emotional intimacy). I would have liked to see more discussion of topics such as finance, childrearing, and traumatic stressors (e.g., illness or death in the family), though the Groeschel’s five practices probably cover those concerns, at least in principle.

Who, then, should read this book? Those about to get married, for sure, and those already married (especially if they’re in their early years together). Zondervan has produced a DVD-based small group curriculum based on the book, making the book and/or the curriculum ideal for use in a church’s engaged couples seminar, small groups, or Sunday school classes.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

[1] Unfortunately, the Groeschels cite the 50 percent figure throughout the book. For a thorough debunking of and other marriage myths, see Shuanti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead, The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2014).

Review of ‘The Good News about Marriage’ by Shaunti Feldhahn with Tally Whitehead


The-Good-News-about-Marriage Shaunti Feldhahn with Tally Whitehead, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle

Marriage survives by hope. If a husband and wife believe that their relationship can get better, chances are that it will. They may have to tread a difficult path for a time, but eventually, the road becomes smoother and they arrive at their destination: a fulfilling life together.

Unfortunately, many of the statistics about marriage and divorce that are prevalent in our culture destroy hope. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, we’re told. For second and third marriages, the divorce rate is even higher: 60 and 73 percent, respectively. Few couples are satisfied with their marriages. Though Christians talk a good game about marriage and family, the reality of divorce and dissatisfaction is the same for them as for everyone else. Finally, making a marriage work requires bigger changes than most couples are willing to make.

The funny thing about these hope-destroying statistics is that they’re wrong, misleading, or both. Instead, as Shaunti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead argue in their new book, there’s plenty of good news about marriage. Indeed, they identify five specific pieces of good news:

  1. The vast majority of marriages last a lifetime; the current divorce rate has never been close to 50 percent—it is closer to 20 to 25 percent for first-time marriages and 31 percent for all marriages—and has been declining for years (p. 39).
  2. The vast majority of marriages are happy (around 80 percent)! Most people are glad they married their spouse and, given the chance, would do it all over again (p. 61).
  3. The rate of divorce in the church is 25 to 50 percent lower than among those who don’t attend worship services, and those who prioritize their faith and/or pray together are dramatically happier and more connected (p. 86).
  4. The large majority of remarriages last. Among women in second marriages, 65 percent are still married to their spouse, and of those who aren’t, many are widowed rather than divorced (p. 101).
  5. In most cases, having a good marriage or improving a struggling one doesn’t have to be ultra complicated or solve deep, systemic issues; small changes can and do often make a big difference (p. 117).

The authors recognize that getting good statistics about marriage and divorce is not an easy undertaking. Different studies ask different questions. The sample is occasionally not representative. The data sometimes point in different directions. And not all family scholars agree on conclusions.

Nevertheless, Feldhahn and Whitehead make a reasonable case for their conclusions, drawing on the best experts in the field and the best studies. Those wishing to investigate for themselves can read the authorities cited in the footnotes for themselves and draw their own conclusions. My guess is that they’ll come away convinced that Feldhahn and Whitehead are substantially correct.

Who, then, should read this book? Although drawing on social science research, this is not a social science book. Instead, it uses good research to help couples, marriage counselors, and Christian leaders better prepare themselves and others for lasting, fulfilling marriages. This hope-filled approach is helpful, for as the authors say, “‘You can believe in marriage’ can become the new normal” (p. 124).

Let’s hope so!

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. For more good news about marriage, as well as practical advice for making your marriage good, visit http://www.shaunti.com.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Wednesday, June 15, 2011


This summer, the General Council of the Assemblies of God will vote on a proposal to consolidate the three nationally owned schools in Springfield, Missouri: AG Theological Seminary, Central Bible College, and Evangel University. Dr. George O. Wood, who serves as AG general superintendent (and is my dad) outlines the proposal in the video below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Consolidation Proposal for Springfield Resident…, posted with vodpod

More information on the proposed consolidation is available here.

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In “Anthony Weiner and the National Adultery Ritual,” Kay Hymowitz writes: “Far from a vestige of American prudery, then, the National Adultery Ritual is best understood as a modern protest in behalf of women against the persistence of male infidelity in an age of equality.” Read the whole thing.

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“Nigeria’s violence political, not religious, says Muslim leader.” If you’re on the wrong end of the stick, does it matter what the stick-wielder’s motivation is?

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Make sure to read Scott Yenor on “The Family’s End” and “The Family: What Is To Be Done?” in which he battles against the notion that marriage is merely a contract between two individuals.

Marriage has contractual moments, but it ultimately, as Hegel writes, supersedes the point of view of contract as the individuals lose their identity by becoming members of the family. A healthy culture recognizes this and laws create a fertile space for such mutual self-giving. It is difficult to see how a healthy marriage culture can exist until we recover the language of self-giving to reflect its continuing reality in our lives. The language of contract is not sufficient to that experience.

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“Demonize the opposition, chapter 666”: about how the media portrays opponents of same-sex marriage, of course.

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“Can Government Get Out of the Marriage Business?” Contra Ron Paul, evidently not.

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“I Am Second.” Inspiring videos from people who have decided to live for God and others rather than for themselves.

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“The Perennial Brain-Mind Gap.” In which Raymond Tallis argues that “neuroscience cannot–not just has not yet, but cannot–explain consciousness itself.”

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“Jesus for Jews”: on the resurgence of Jewish interest in Jesus.

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“Too Late for Apologies: Three Steps the U.S. Bishops Should Take to Prevent Another Sexual Abuse Scandal.” Good advice!

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Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper on pastoral succession plans.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Friday, June 3, 2011


Michael Potemra provides a glowing review to Rejoice and Shout, a documentary about the African-American tradition of Gospel music. I love the Andraé Crouch quote that Potemra opens the review with: “If we really heard the voice of God, we would be reduced to juice. The vibration of His voice would reduce us to liquid. . . . So He has to use other people to speak His word.” I look forward to seeing the documentary, though I’ll probably have to wait till it comes out on DVD.

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As you may know, residents of San Francisco will vote in November on an initiative to ban circumcision, with no religious exemptions. Wesley J. Smith points out that the author of the initiative is a notorious anti-Semite. Smith’s wife, Debra J. Saunders, points out that San Francisco pols have a tendency toward busy-body-dom, having earlier banned McDonald’s Happy Meals. Alluding to Martin Niemoller’s famous words, Saunders concludes: “First they came for the Chicken McNuggets, then they came for my son’s …” We live in interesting times.

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Stephen Schneck provides a useful outline of Catholic social teaching on subsdiarity, that is, “the appropriate balancing of responsibilities and functions among the parts of a social order.” I particularly liked this statement:

Subsidiarius, thus, hints at the moral issue at the heart of any correct understanding of subsidiarity, especially in application to questions about the proper role of government in executing public policies.  Subsidiarity requires that policies be performed by the most appropriate level of the social order to achieve results without too much overage or too much underage in the application of power or resources. Overage creates unwanted dependency. Underage fails to fully satisfy needs relative to the common good.

Subsidiarity is a Catholic social teaching. The Dutch Reformed tradition has a similar concept, sphere sovereignty. As our nation debates changes to our welfare state, I think all of us can learn from both concepts. The question is not whether we help the poor and disenfranchised, only how.

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Greg Garrett does not like Joel Osteen.

You and other Prosperity Gospel preachers advance a vision of God that is transactional: if you do this, then God will do that. He has to, in fact. Because a verse here or there in the Bible says so, however little it reflects God’s actual redemptive work in the world.

And I’m here to tell you, Sir, in the same language I use with anyone who imagines we can be in a transactional relationship with God, that this isn’t what Christian faith is. Praying the right prayer often enough to get what you want, believing really hard in Jesus to get what you want are not true to the Christian story, or to logic. To imagine that you, or your followers, or the person out in the bookstore or TV land who is exposed to your message somehow influences the God of the Universe, the Creator of All That Is, by his or her personal actions is not belief in God.

It’s belief in magic. Put your hands together, say a few faithful words, and the Universe will give you what you ask.

In the process of delivering his soul against Osteen, Garrett, a Mainline Protestant, takes a crack at “the always-dying and ever-angry Christ of conservative evangelicals,” and this crack rings false. But overall, the jeremiad is both timely and true. Bonus angle: Garrett’s grandmother attended an Assemblies of God church.

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David Harsanyi begins “There’s Something about Marriage” with this awesome quote: “When an actress—no, an artist—the caliber of Cameron Diaz weighs in on the future of social institutions, America has an obligation to listen.” Diaz evidently thinks marriage is a dying institution. (You would too if you got dumped by Justin Timberlake.) Harsanyi disagrees.

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Questions (almost) no one is asking: “What Rowan Williams really dislikes about Freemasonry.” Actually, the article is pretty good.

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“[Romney’s] Mormon faith still seen as hurdle.” The article focuses on evangelical opposition to a Mormon being president. My guess is that, in a general election, evangelicals would more readily vote for a Mormon who is politically conservative than a Protestant who is politically liberal. We may get to test whether my guess is accurate in 2012. Oh, and if Romney does become the GOP presidential candidate, I wonder whether The Washington Times will run a news story on liberal opposition to a Mormon being president. My guess is no. And the Times is a “conservative” paper. But I could be wrong.

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“Religious groups have too much freedom to discriminate.” The country is England, the groups are religious charities, and the root issue is homosexuality. I expect to see more of this kind of argument on our side of the pond in the years to come.

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William Doino Jr. reviews Michael Burleigh’s new book, Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, in two parts: here and here. Doino’s conclusion?

If Moral Combat proves anything, it is that the voice of conscience did survive the Second World War, in spite of all its outrages and ethical compromises. There were civilians and resistance fighters and clergymen and politicians, and yes, even military men, who did, in fact, uphold the moral law, and protested to their leaders when they violated it, even at the risk of being called traitors or worse. They were not seduced by the “lust for war,” and they didn’t countenance its abuses. Whether conscious of it or not, they were following the noble precepts of the Just War tradition, which went into abeyance for a time but, thankfully, have been revived.” Let’s hope so.

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The always interesting David Bentley Hart opines on “the similarities between the language of Christianity in the early centuries and that of many of the pagan devotions of late antiquity”:

The gospel entered the ancient world at a time of tremendous religious plurality and spiritual ferment: an age of religious anxiety, when mystery religions, Orphic cults, Gnosticisms, and innumerable devotional sects multiplied uncontrollably and continuously throughout the empire. And I suppose one can look at the issue from either direction. One can gaze backward and conclude that the rise of Christianity was simply the accidental evolutionary consequence of the cultural forces of a certain period and nothing else.
But one might also conclude that Christianity endured, spread, and ultimately succeeded in large part because it provided an answer to seemingly unanswerable cultural and spiritual dilemmas, and addressed certain perennial human yearnings with perhaps unrivalled power. What one thinks that says about the gospel, however, is all very much a matter of what one understands nature, culture, and history to be.

Hmm.

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Nancy Guthrie offers her perspective on the question, “What Do You Mean When You Talk about Christ in the Old Testament?” Preachers should read this.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Best. Conspiracy. Ever.

Make sure to watch it all the way through. And read the credits; they’re hilarious.

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“Egypt in crisis talks after Muslim mobs attack Christian churches” or “12 dead in Egypt as Christians and Muslims clash”? GetReligion.org tries to sort out the facts.

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Is a bad marriage better than a good divorce? “Social scientists are concealing the harm that divorce, single parenting and stepfamilies do to children. Not only that, they are also hiding the benefits which even unhappy marriages bestow, not just on children, but on the couples involved.”

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Is a national curriculum a good idea? “National control over curriculum creates a single lever you can pull to move every school in America. Would conservatives trust progressives, and would progressives trust conservatives, not to try to seize control of that lever to inculcate their religious and moral views among the nation’s youth? And if you don’t trust the other side not to try to seize the lever, is there any reasonable alternative to trying to seize it first?”

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In “Europe’s Concerned, Worried, and Doubting,” David Mills reflects on the differences between European and American reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden.

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California college adds major in secularism. Of course, on many college campuses today, students get a minor in it already, though without knowing it.

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“How Christianity and capitalism can ‘heal’ the world.” An interesting article about “social investing.” Theologically, however, I’d prefer to delete –ity and capitalism from the title.

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“LGBT ‘Welcome’ Ad Rejected by Sojourners, Nation’s Premier Progressive Christian Org.” I’m on the opposite side of the issues from Rev. Robert Chase, but I too wonder how a Christian magazine can avoid taking sides on this issue.

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In “Judas,” Lady Gaga goes clubbing with Jesus, who’s a Latin biker, and… Oh, who cares! There’s no “shock value” in this video, only “shlock value.”

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In closing, and a bit more reverentially, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gil shine on this country rendition of “How Great Thou Art”:

I totally want to go to whatever church these two provide “special music” for.

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 P.S. Shameless self-promotion: Check out my article in Enrichment: “Up There, Down Here, Among Us, In Me.” It’s about praying for God’s kingdom.

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