Archive for the ‘christianity’ Category

When Christians Become a ‘Hated Minority‘” (CNN):

Edward Johnson, a communication professor at Campbell University in North Carolina, says we are now living in a “postmodern” era where everything is relative and there is no universally accepted truth. It’s an environment in which anyone who says “this is right” and “that is wrong” is labeled intolerant, he says.

There was a time when a person could publicly say homosexuality was wrong and people could consider the statement without anger, he says. Today, people have reverted to an intellectual tribalism where they are only willing to consider the perspective of their own tribe.

“They are incapable of comprehending that someone may have a view different than theirs,” Johnson says. “For them anyone who dares to question the dogma of the tribe can only be doing so out of hatred.”

The One, the Three and the ManyColin Gunton offers some penetrating analysis of this “intellectual tribalism” in his book The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity:

The characteristic peril of the modern is to be found in the tendency to homogeneity, to the intellectual and social pressures by which the distinctive individuality of people and things is endangered. … [T]he death of rhetoric is the reason why much modern political dispute takes the form of aggressive confrontation rather than rational engagement: the demonstration rather than the disputatio. Given the loss of confidence in argument, the noisy and potentially violent demonstration is all that remains. … [Alasdair] MacIntyre has argued that there is in the modern world a complete breakdown of a common language in which to argue and decide moral disputes. Listen, he says, to any argument about abortion or nuclear arms, and you will find that opponents speak past each other’s shoulders because they lack a common language in which to communicate. The reason is to be found in emotivism. …

A diagnosis of American conditions similar to that of [Wayne C.] Booth’s underlies Allan Bloom’s much discussed The Closing of the American Mind. … The problem is the cult of openness:

Openness used to be the virtue that permitted us to seek the good by using reason. It now means accepting everything and denying reason’s power. The unrestrained and thoughtless pursuit of openness, without recognizing the inherent political, social or cultural problem of openness as the goal of nature, has rendered openness meaningless … Openness to closedness is what we teach. (101-103)

UPDATE: Justin Taylor has posted a related article entitled “The Gay Marriage Campaign and the Despotism of Conformity.”  Check it out—it’s worth the read.

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Russel Moore on the state of the America:

As Christians, we ought to recognize that the old majoritarian understanding of church/state relations is outmoded. Our situation today is not to hold on to some form of American civil religion. Our situation today is more akin to the minority religions of America’s past: colonial Baptists, nineteenth-century Baptists, early twentieth-century Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are appealing simply for the right to exist at all, in the face of an established religion armed with popular support and, in the fullness of time, state power.

It turns out we’re circling around to where we should have been all along: with the understanding that religious liberty isn’t “toleration” and separation of church and state isn’t secularism.

Indeed, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis note that we are already living in a “post-Christendom” context, and therefore should not be surprised when we are marginalized by society:

Christendom, however, is increasingly a spent force in the West.  Some of the symbolism remains.  The British monarch is still the head of an established church, and bishops still sit in the upper chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament.  But the reality of Christendom is fading fast, overtaken by secularism and pluralism.  The Bible no longer has authority in public discourse.  The church no longer has a privileged voice.  Church leaders still get invited to state occasions, but on matters of ethics they are ignored.  When the Pope visited the United Kingdom in 2010 he was greeted with all due pomp ad ceremony as a head of state.  But when it comes to his views on abortion and homosexuality, he is ignored by politicians and ridiculed by the media.  Lyndon Bowring, the Executive Chairman of CARE, said in an interview, “The greatest challenge … is the growing secularization of society, where Christianity is being increasingly squeezed out of our national life.  The ultimate result of this tendency will be a society that is hostile to Christian truth and practice.

Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 19-20

Sobering words, but a timely reminder nonetheless.  Praise God our hope does not rest in the continuation of Christendom.  Rather, we trust in our sovereign Lord, who reigns from heaven and in whose hands the hearts of kings are but streams of water (Prov. 21:1).

Be sure to read the rest of Moore’s excellent article, “Louie Giglio and the New State Church.”

Absolutely right:

In the drive to make churches more guy-friendly, we risk confusing cultural (especially American) customs with biblical discipleship. One noted pastor has said that God gave Christianity a “masculine feel.” Another contrasted “latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers” with “real men.” Jesus and his buddies were “dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.” Real Christian men like Jesus and Paul “are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.” Seriously? …

So enough with the beards (if it’s making a spiritual statement). Enough with the “federal husband” syndrome that goes beyond the legitimate spiritual leadership of the heads of households found in Scripture. Enough of the bravado that actually misunderstands—sometimes rather deeply—what real sanctification looks like in the lives of men as well as women. And why does every famous pastor today have to write a book about his marriage and family? Beyond Scripture, there is godly wisdom and Christian liberty. Biblical principles focus on what it means to live in Christ by his Word and Spirit, and even in those few passages that speak directly to men and women, there will be legitimate diversity in application.

– Michael Horton, “Muscular Christianity

It is highly likely that most Evangelical Christians have, at some time or another, heard this famous quote (often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi):

Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.

The sentiment behind such statements generally goes something like this: the church too often focuses too much on talking at people (even if it’s about the Gospel) rather than practically loving them, first and foremost.  The underlying conviction is (broadly speaking) that the most important/powerful “witness” Christians have is a lived-life abounding in generous, self-sacrificing love like that exhibited by Jesus during his life on earth.  Furthermore, our role as “verbal” proclaimers of the Gospel is usually relegated to a secondary position, lest our lives not first provide the foundation – indeed, substantiate – the cognitive message we preach.

Helping to bring fresh light to this important issue, Duane Litfin (former president of Wheaton College) has just written a new book, Word versus Deed: Resetting the Scales to a Biblical Balance (excerpt).

Please, take a moment to pray for our brother in Christ, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who just yesterday was sentenced to execution in Iran for converting to Christianity.

Fox News reports:

Supporters fear Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old father of two who was arrested over two years ago on charges of apostasy, may now be executed at any time without prior warning, as death sentences in Iran may be carried out immediately or dragged out for years.

It is unclear whether Nadarkhani can appeal the execution order. …

Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 and was tried and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in Rasht. He was then given verbal notification of an impending death-by-hanging sentence. …

The court then gave Nadarkhani the opportunity to recant, as the law requires a man to be given three chances to recant his beliefs and return to Islam.

His first option was to convert back to Islam. When he refused, he was asked to declare Muhammad a prophet, and still he declined.

Pray that our brother would be strengthened by the Father through the Spirit to hold fast to the word of life, confident that though Christ’s enemies may kill his body, his soul is secure in mercy and grace of God his Father, the only Lord of the universe who works all things according to the counsel of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.

Please, beseech God for his mercy and sustaining power, that Pastor Youcef would be strengthened by the fact that God has granted him the great honor of not only believing in Christ, but also suffering for his name.  Pray that Pastor Youcef would fight the good fight of faith, and that he would confidently take hold of the eternal life granted to him through his good confession of Jesus Christ.

As I’m sure everyone who has Facebook knows, Jefferson Bethke’s “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video is lighting up the internet.  Currently, his video has over 6.5 million views on YouTube.  Clearly, something about his message is appealing to many people (it also helps to get a shout-out from The Resurgence).

In light of the way it has gone viral, I thought I might offer a brief response.  Below are four reasons why I love (pure) religion, but hate false dichotomies.

  1. Jesus was highly religious.  He was a devout, Torah-observing Jew, profoundly concerned about living a pure, God-honoring life.  When Jesus criticized the Pharisees and teachers of the Law – the self-proclaimed “religious people” of his day – he was not criticizing their “religion” but rather their lack thereof (cf. Jam. 1:27)!  It’s not that the Pharisees were too careful or strict in their observance of the Law.  Rather, they felt the freedom to pick and choose what they would follow, preferring to puff up their self-righteous hearts by (rightly) tithing out of their spice racks while (wrongly) neglecting justice, mercy, and faithfulness (“the weightier matters of the Law“).  Pitting Jesus against “religion” is inconsistent.
  2. Religion isn’t the problem.  Prideful works-righteousness is.  Do we really want to give up the word “religion” to a few self-righteous legalists who don’t understand the glories of grace?  I don’t.  The real issue is the way we all (not just the grumpy Baptist fundamentalists down the road) tend to confuse God’s grace with our merit.  You don’t have to be wearing a suit and tie to be brimming with self-righteousness.  The contrast isn’t “religion” vs. Jesus.  Rather, it’s mandated obedience in order to please a heavenly Dictator vs. a vital, Spirit-formed relationship with our benevolent Father. Christianity is fundamentally about the latter, not the former.  Pitting Jesus against “religion” just isn’t helpful.
  3. Christianity is a religion.  From a historical perspective, to abstract Jesus from the religion that he started is kind of silly.  By any normal definition, Christianity is a religion.  We can repudiate religion based on works-righteousness without disparaging religion based on Jesus.  Additionally, your “I follow Jesus, not a particular religion” line will only go so far.  Sooner or later, your unbelieving friends will realize that you’re simply a Christian who loves Jesus, and your false dichotomy will just end up making you look dumb and/or insincere.  Pitting Jesus against “religion” is simply silly.
  4. Jesus loves His church.  I worry about the conclusions that many will draw from rhetoric like this.  Many who dislike “religion” also dislike “the church,” thinking it’s full of disingenuous, self-righteous people.  And they’re right – the church is full of disingenuous, self-righteous people because the church is full of sinners!  But Christ loves His church.  He created it, sustains it, and is Lord over it.  And He desires that His people live, worship, and evangelize the world in community.  There’s no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian.  We were (re)created for Christian community (aka, the church).  Additionally, the New Testament clearly outlines a certain organization, structure, and authority for the church.  Yes, it can be abused, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to throw it out.  Pitting Jesus against “religion” is potentially dangerous.

All that being said, I understand the “heart” of the video’s message and agree with it. Christianity is first and foremost about the God who, in love, sovereignly reached out to wayward men and women for their salvation and joy. It’s not about what we need to do for God, but what He has already done for us.  Amen and amen.

I just think there are more helpful ways to go about accomplishing what Bethke and millions of other Christians really want: the faithful proclamation of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more good thoughts on this, check out Jared Wilson’s blog.

Chuck Colson, writing for The Christian Post:

People used to be celebrated in our culture for accomplishing something special. George Washington won the Revolution; Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic; Wilma Rudolph set a world record in the 100-meter dash. Now, people are famous for, well, being famous.

That’s how people like the Kardashians and Paris Hilton become celebrities. Or take the pop singer Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, otherwise known as Lady Gaga. To gather all the notoriety and money she can, the moderately talented Lady Gaga will say, sing, or do almost anything, from simulating sex in videos to blaspheming God in her songs. She was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Please! …

Even worse, the cult of celebrity has seeped into our sanctuaries. Like the culture around us, churches too often reward the sizzle and not the steak. Too many people in the pews would rather have a celebrity in the pulpit instead of a good shepherd of souls, a good servant leader. …

According to theologian Os Guiness, we expect the pastor to be a shrink in the pulpit, a CEO in the office, and flawless in his family life. Heap on top of all that our desire that the pastor be a spiritual rock star, and these expectations can lead to pastoral frustration, burnout, and even financial and sexual immorality.

Is it any surprise, then, that the Church has been rocked over the last few decades by clerical scandals?

Friends, celebrity worship – in my book Being the Body I call it the Pedestal Complex – has no place in the Church. Let’s honor and care for our spiritual leaders, of course. But let’s be sure to keep them off our pedestals – for their sake and for ours.

Check out some of my own musings on this topic: