Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Crusades, Church Architecture, and Liberty University’s Strangest Student

Hunter Baker has a post up at Evangel on Rodney Stark’s new book on the crusades, God’s Battalions.  Here’s what he says about the book by way of description:

Rodney Stark’s God’s Batallions is an outstanding book designed to help the educated reader (not only the academic reader) understand the Crusades.  You know the routine.  You want to talk about Christianity and the village atheist wonders just how you are getting past the horrors of the Crusades and the Inquisition.  This book answers the question with regard to the Crusades.  Stark brilliantly explains how the Crusades started, what happened in the course of events, and why they finally ended.  All in all, the western church comes off pretty sympathetically.  Readers who know Stark find it easy to trust him because he always questions excessive claims and makes sure to back his own assertions up with data.

Check out God’s Battalions.  Also, Hunter’s own book, The End of Secularism, looks very good.  I am working my way through it and commend it to you.  Al Mohler did a whole radio program on it.

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An interesting post from Matthew Anderson on church architecture.   Good Chesterton quotation to kife as well.

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Amanda Baker reports on a summer she spent living with unbelievers in Washington, DC.  Hers was a reverse experience of the kind chronicled in the recent book by non-Christian Kevin Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, which profiles Roose’s strange semester at Liberty University. 

I just read Roose’s book and found it provocative on a few points.  Nothing too earth-shattering.  I think the whole “I studied evangelical Christians thinking they were weird and found out they’re actually pretty normal” genre is a bit played out, personally.  Many Christians are indeed pretty normal, sometimes too much so, as Roose’s book shows.  The guys he pals around with struggle with lust, pornography use, and nominalism.  I was reminded just how difficult it is for young men to fight for purity in this world, whether at Liberty or elsewhere, and just how much we need a robust view of Christ, not merely rules, Christian codes, and chapels, good as these things can be.

Roose’s writing isn’t exceptional, and the book doesn’t unearth anything terribly unusual, but I was glad that he seemed to warm to Christians through his exposure to them, and I hope that he finds the Lord.

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Have you heard of Libera?  They’re an all-boys choir from England.  Not usually my cup of tea, but this is a particularly elegant song.

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Shocking News: Men Are in Trouble

Add these to your already extensive “Men Are in Trouble” files.  My thanks to Mark Rogers for the first two.  First, “Lean Years” from David Brooks of the NYT:

Over the past few decades, men have lagged behind women in acquiring education and skills. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at age 22, 185 women have graduated from college for every 100 men who have done so. Furthermore, men are concentrated in industries where employment is declining (manufacturing) or highly cyclical (construction).

So men have taken an especially heavy blow during this crisis. The gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records.

And here’s an exchange between Brooks and Gail Collins of the NYT that raises some interesting questions.

Finally, here’s the article that sparked a major thrust of this conversation: “More Men Marrying Wealthier Women” by Sam Roberts.

It’s interesting to see the online conversation about this matter.  Some folks are straining with impressive effort to avoid the conclusion that, um, perhaps something needs to be done about the “man problem”.  Meanwhile, every week a new story comes out that reminds us yet again that Western men are struggling mightily to steady themselves in a modern world.  Take one look at articles those noted above, raunch culture films and tv, and the sports-obsessed boy-men all around us, and it is strenuously difficult to conclude that we do not have a problem–a major one–on our hands.

Evangelicals can’t necessarily fix the culture.  But we can address our own struggles in the power of Christ and seek to be a salve, a dash of salt and a ray of light, to the confused, broken, lost world in which we live.

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Public Speaking, Sarah Palin, and “Accidental” Plagiarism

I know some folks saw this video a while back, but I just came across it again and almost fell out of my chair laughing.  It’s the “boom goes the dynamite” segment from a poor Ball State sportscaster, and it is ridiculously funny.

Note: Brian Collins sounds like a good guy.  Read the updated story.  Poor guy didn’t get a single date from the whole thing.

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Speaking of talking in public, this Men’s Health featurette has some useful tips on public speaking (or as David Brent once called it, “public squeaking”).  There’s some bad language, so note that.  I found it helpful, for example, to think about concentrating on vowel sounds when you’re nervous.  So there you go.

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George Will on Sarah Palin and the strengths and weaknesses of populism.

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There’s some bad language in the following story too, but if you can skip that, it raises some fascinating ethical questions, namely, is it possible to “accidentally” plagiarize?  The NYT just fired Zachery Kouwe for just that.  Let me answer my own rhetorical question (does that mean I’m interrupting myself?).  Sometimes we might use a phrase and not know its origin, but plagiarism–particularly multiple acts of it–can’t be “accidental”.

Kouwe, apparently unaware of how silly he’s making himself look, notes that he “was as surprised as anyone else that this was occurring.”  These really are strange ethical times.

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You may have it already, but if you don’t, buy Fernando Ortega’s recent The Shadow of Your Wings.  Most of the cd features Scripture set to calm and moving music.  Beautiful cd, and deeply edifying.

–Have a blessed weekend, all.

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New Essay by William Lane Craig: Arguments for God

The Henry Center sponsors a really cool and helpful program called the Christ on Campus Initiative, which produces articles and essays.  The series is designed to provide college students and thinking Christians with apologetic resources necessary to meet the intellectual challenges of the day.  The editorial team for the series is chaired by D. A. Carson of TEDS.

The latest essay is by William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, and is entitled “Five Reasons for God”.  Building off of the five commonly known arguments for the existence of God, Craig engages the New Atheists, showing how they attempted to handle these ideas and how, ultimately, their responses fail.  Whether or not one’s apologetic method includes the five proofs, this essay will make for highly stimulating reading.

Here’s Craig’s conclusion (read the whole thing):

We’ve examined five traditional arguments for the existence of God in light of modern philosophy, science, and mathematics:

1. the cosmological argument from contingency

2. the kalam cosmological argument based on the beginning of the universe

3. the moral argument based upon objective moral values and duties

4. the teleological argument from fine-tuning

5. the ontological argument from the possibility of God’s existence to his actuality

These are, I believe, good arguments for God’s existence. That is to say, they are logically valid; their premises are true; and their premises are more plausible in light of the evidence than their negations. Therefore, insofar as we are rational people, we should embrace their conclusions.

The Henry Center is glad to make “Five Arguments for God” available for free to all.

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Are You Dating a Narcissist? How to Spot “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”

This just in–you may be dating a narcissist.  So said Chicago Tribune writer Heidi Stevens in her piece “Are You Dating a Narcissist?”.

“Narcissism is an epidemic in our society,” argues Lisa Scott, author of “It’s All About Him: How to Identify and Avoid the Narcissist Male Before You Get Hurt” ( CFI, 2009). “Our culture breeds it.”

Here are the nine signs that signal a person has fallen prey to “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (you can’t make this stuff up).  The American Psychological Association has identified these:

•Feels grandiose and self-important for reasons not supported by reality

•Obsesses with fantasies about unlimited success, fame, power or omnipotence

•Believes he/she is unique and special and can be understood by and associate with only other unique or high-status people

•Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention and affirmation

•Feels a sense of entitlement

•Exploits others without guilt or remorse

•Is devoid of empathy

•Tends to be envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her

•Displays arrogant and haughty behavior

The biggest red flag, Scott says, is lack of empathy.

Here’s one hilarious testimony from an NPD survivor:

“My ex-husband and I were seeing a therapist, and she met with me privately and said, ‘He has NPD. The only thing we can do is continue meeting like this, and I can give him ways he should treat you, but he’ll never be able to do it on his own,'” Scott recalls. “They don’t comprehend that other people have feelings, and they never will.”

This is one of the funniest pieces I’ve read in a while.  There is now a formal psychological diagnosis for narcissism, which is nothing other than the greatest human sin–pride–parading itself before others.  You have to love the therapist–“the only thing we can do is continue meeting like this”.  Won’t hurt, of course, that this exclusive form of redress comes to the tune of hundreds and probably thousands of dollars.  How shocking to see the bottom line pop up in such a conversation.

On a more serious note, how maddening is it to see our society continue its transition from a theological foundation to a psychological one?  It seems clear that pastors need to be reading modern psychologists, because these folks are some of the only ones in a postmodern world beside ministers who are tackling character issues.  Of course, they are radically relabeling them and divesting them of spiritual content.

With that said, we might point out that narcissism does seem to be an epidemic these days.  On a constant basis, people think about themselves, whine about their lives, speak loudly in public places to call attention to themselves, throw themselves at the merest opportunity to get “fame”, broadcast the details of their daily lives like mini-celebrities, and dress and act in garish ways to draw attention.

Many of us have NPD, it seems, and the only cure can’t be found in a therapist’s chair.  We very much need wise pastors and biblical counselors to help our people to see that their narcissism is a matter of not loving Christ enough, not a mere quirk of their makeup.

By the way, does anyone else want to see Carl Trueman tackle this one?

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Books on Tap: Morley, Wax, Carson, Cole, Beale, and The Essential Edwards Collection

I’ve received some books recently, and have a minute at present to quickly pass on word about them.  I’m no expert on any of the books or subjects covered below, but I do love books, and it’s fun to try to let others know of possibly edifying works.

First, Patrick Morley’s Pastoring Men came out not too long ago (Moody, 2008).  It looks like a helpful book for practically solving a quandary many church leaders face: how do I engage men and involve them in the life of the church?  It is endorsed by a number of leaders I respect, and it looks worth checking out.  Here’s what Bryan Chappell of Covenant Seminary said about the text:

Patrick Morley’s long-standing concern to see the light of Christ in the life of men has always been inspiring. Now this exceedingly practical book helping pastors implement discipleship programs specifically directed toward men will do much to shape the future of home, church, and the next generation. Morley writes in terms that reach men—and change them.

Second, Trevin Wax of First Baptist Church of Shelbyville, Kentucky just authored Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals (Crossway, 2010, with a foreword by Ed Stetzer and endorsements by Mohler, Moore, and Olasky).  I’ve read through the book and found it a helpful meditation on an enlivening metaphor, that of subverting Satan through the gospel.  Trevin writes with clarity, passion, and a love for God’s church.  This would be a helpful book to go through with small groups, students, and many others.

Third, D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and The Gospel Coalition just wrote Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway, 2010).  The book is a collection of five lectures on the title topic.  Dr. Carson gave these talks some months ago at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, and they were explosive.  The Henry Center is grateful to have been a sponsor of those talks.  Pick up the book, and embrace anew the scandal of the cross.

Fourth, Graham Cole of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School recently published God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (InterVarsity, 2009).  Some TEDS students worked through portions of this text in a memorable doctoral seminar on the atonement with Dr. Cole.  Based on that experience and brief study of the book, it looks like this would be a very rich book for scholars, pastors and thinking Christians who want to better understand the multidimensional glory of the atonement.

Fifth, G. K. Beale of Wheaton College Graduate School has penned The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway, 2009), a collection of essays on inerrancy.  This one looks to be particularly worth chewing on for Christian Old Testament scholars, as a number of Beale’s essays wrestle with OT textual issues.

Sixth, Doug Sweeney and I have just released the five-volume series entitled The Essential Edwards Collection (Moody, 2010).  (You will hear very little from me about this project.) This series distills the essential thought of America’s greatest pastor-theologian.  It is written to be of help to all kinds of people–those who know little about Edwards and haven’t had time to read him, those familiar with Edwards who could benefit from short resource guides offering important quotations and critical but deeply appreciative analysis, and those who love Edwards and want to work through the searching material he authored.  The books are short (160 pages), readable, and include application sections.

We wrote this series not simply, though, to be a collection about Edwards, but to enlarge the modern church’s understanding of God and the life of joy and excitement He offers us through His Son.  This isn’t, in the end, a series about the colonial pastor, but a series about the majestic Lord the pastor loved.

If you have a blog and would like to do a blog review of any books from Moody (including the EEC), I might be able to rustle you up a copy.  Write to hctu [at] tiu.edu with your address.

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So there you go–some books to potentially buy.  Here’s hoping that they build the faith of God’s people and give Him glory.

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HBU’s The City, David Brooks, and the Urban Woodsman

The City has just published its latest issue in ZMags.  If you have never used this web program, check out the site.  It’ll take you a minute, but it’s pretty cool.

Also, if you are a thinking Christian, sign up to receive The City for free from Houston Baptist University.  I read every page in the latest issue, and found a ton of food for thought.

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David Brooks just published a piece worth reading on the value of sports in society.  Brooks is pretty positive, on the whole.  I would have quibbles with some of his points.  I want to read the essay he riffs off of, a piece by Duke University professor Michael Gillespie called “Debating Moral Education” from an upcoming title of the same name.

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Are you an urban woodsman?  New York magazine documents a new trend.  (Be careful on that site.  There’s some hinky stuff.)

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Recently, doctors in Belgium found a trace of life in a vegetative patient who had lain comatose for five years.  Some serious implications for those who advocate the rush to extinguish life in such situations, eh?

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Carl Trueman, resident critic of evangelicalism, weighs in on the evangelical embrace of tenets and aspects of Catholicism.

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Church Fight Clubs: Good or Bad Idea?

The New York Times just published an article entitled “Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries” that bears looking into.  It profiles evangelical “fight clubs” and quotes a number of pastors and young men who participate in them.

Here are some key quotations:

Mr. Renken’s ministry is one of a small but growing number of evangelical churches that have embraced mixed martial arts — a sport with a reputation for violence and blood that combines kickboxing, wrestling and other fighting styles — to reach and convert young men, whose church attendance has been persistently low. Mixed martial arts events have drawn millions of television viewers, and one was the top pay-per-view event in 2009.

Recruitment efforts at the churches, which are predominantly white, involve fight night television viewing parties and lecture series that use ultimate fighting to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. Other ministers go further, hosting or participating in live events.

The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”

The whole article is interesting.

If you have ever read this little blog, you will know that I am passionate about countering the anti-masculine spirit so common in our culture. However, speaking personally, I don’t see these fight clubs as a positive development for evangelicals.  I’m not against testosterone, sports, and manliness by any stretch.  We need far more practitioners of biblical manhood, which includes agency, dominion, and godly ambition.

But this sort of thing is not, in my humble opinion, what the Bible calls for from men.  Yes, Jesus cleansed the temple, and yes, I think that’s pretty cool (see Mark 11:15-19).  But that is a far cry from senseless, needless violence that has an excellent chance of causing permanent physical damage.

I’m not advocating for weak-kneed Christianity where every man wears plaid Dockers,  refuses to kill flies due to insect rights, and stays indoors when it gets hot.  Good grief.  But I do think that those of us who have a desire to reach men (and women) with the gospel and see them live to the glory of God in their role need to be very careful that we don’t adopt a trend just because it promotes some form of masculinity.

In my opinion, evangelicals are too quick to embrace violence, and too slow to think about it on a deep level.  In addition, many of us “cultural engagers” fall into the trap of redeeming every cultural trend in the name of Christ.  Many things, I think, are worth redeeming.  But many are not.

(Image: Fred Conrad/NYT)

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How to Tell Who the Best Employees Will Be–From Soccer

This is a fun tidbit about how one CEO figures out who could and could not be a good worker and leader in his company.  He plays soccer.

Here are the qualities he looks for when he plays (and hires):

One is reliability, the sense that they’re not going to let the team down, that they’re going to hold up their end of the bargain. And in soccer, especially if you play seven on seven, it’s more about whether you have seven guys or women who can pull their own weight rather than whether you have any stars.

So I’d rather be on a team that has no bad people than a team with stars. There are certain people who you just know are not going to make a mistake, even if the other guy’s faster than them, or whatever. They’re just reliable.

And are you a playmaker? There are people who don’t want to screw up, and so they just pass the ball right away. Then there are the ones who have this kind of intelligence, and they can make these great plays. These people seem to have high emotional intelligence. It’s not that they’re a star player, but they have decent skills, and they will get you the ball and then be where you’d expect to put it back to them. It’s like their head is really in the game.

See–you might think you’re playing soccer, and you’re actually being evaluated for your next job.  I’ve actually heard of a Louisville church that does this.  Makes sense.

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