Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Salon Writer Who Fell in Love with Joel Osteen’s Megachurch

This is one of the more unexpected pieces I’ve come across in a while.  A woman journalist who writes for Salon and other leading publications, secular-minded and skeptically oriented, found herself in Houston and started attending Lakewood Church.  For those who don’t know, this is health-and-wealth preacher Joel Osteen’s congregation.  These are two constituent elements–secular journalist and fluffy Protestantism–that normally do not mix.

Here’s what Alexis Grant (a Colby College grad, bitter rival of my alma mater!) said of her initial enthusiasm for Osteen’s church:

I could hear the music even before entering the stadium, just like during my first visit with my girlfriends. But this time I was the one alone – and on the verge of tears. Even more than being mad at my ex, I was mad at myself for wallowing over a man when life had something exciting in store for me: I was about to leave my job to go backpacking through Africa, a trip I’d dreamed about for years. Three more months and I’d be on the plane, out in the world, free. Why couldn’t I focus on that?

But at Lakewood, emotion pulsed through the crowd. People sang loudly, with both hands outstretched, palms toward their God as if to receive whatever he offered. I put my hands out too, feeling sheepish, glancing around to see if anyone could tell I was a newbie. Soon the whole place was jumping up and down and belting the lyrics, “I’m Still Standing.” (Think worship lyrics; not the Elton John song.) As they waved their arms in the air, I hoped their strength would rub off on me.

She found more “motivation” and less religion at Lakewood:

Yet Lakewood felt more motivational than religious – or maybe that was simply what I wanted it to be. Ironically, the secular spirit that drew me there was exactly why some religious folk criticized Osteen: They complained he wasn’t religious enough.

When Osteen did invoke religious images or drift into Jesus talk, I’d tweak his words so they worked for me. He said things were in God’s hands; I heard it as fate’s hands. He said God would send luck my way; I told myself to make my own luck. By performing this sort of calculus, I managed to convince myself that I wasn’t becoming one of those religious nuts.

Definitely read the whole thing.  It’s nicely-written and quite interesting.

It’s obvious throughout the piece that Grant hears little in the way of traditional evangelical doctrine from Osteen.  The focus, as we would expect, is on finding purpose, being happy, and getting motivated to become one’s best self (driven by God-given “luck”!).  That is obviously a problem of catastrophic proportions, for though this sort of talk sounds fine and even Christian, if divorced from the gospel and not handled with great exegetical care it is spiritually disastrous, mere men-pleasing talk.

It is also heartbreaking to read of Grant’s own search for something greater than herself.  We’re reminded through her story that there are people just like us all around us who act happy and may even think they’re happy but have little means of finding happiness.  You can be well-educated, literarily gifted, young and fresh, thinking the world is your oyster, and have nothing at all.  There are many around us who have had no engagement with a church, have heard no news from another world, and are lost and adrift.

Speaking of “motivation,” that should be all we need to strategize ways to introduce people like Alexis Grant, talented journalist, to a God who does something so much greater than “send luck our way,” but who in Christ becomes sin for us in order that we might pass through this earthly fire and join God himself in the life to come, world without end, amen.



Filed under church life, evangelism

Should We Not Read Jonathan Edwards Because He Owned Slaves?

An upcoming event at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School tackles this question, and does so by way of a major lecture by esteemed pastor Thabiti Anyabwile.  This lecture, entitled “Jonathan Edwards and American Racism: Can the Theology of a Slave Owner Be Trusted by Descendants of Slaves?,” will be held this Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 1pm CST (2pm EST) on the campus of TEDS.  The event will be live-streamed here.

Two leading African-American Chicago pastors, Charlie Dates and Louis Love, will respond.

Here’s the lecture description:

Jonathan Edwards is arguably the most important theologian that North America has produced. He is a hero to many Christians. Yet he also owned slaves, a fact that has raised important questions about his moral credibility. Should we really be holding Edwards up as a theological role model? Should we be trying to learn from him? These are live questions here at Trinity and beyond. Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile has thought about these questions–as a pastor, an African American, and adherent to Reformed theology. We invite you to listen in as he reflects about them personally, engaging two other African-American pastors and the audience in an edifying installment of the Edwards Center series ‘Jonathan Edwards and the Church,’ moderated by Dr. Sweeney.

Again, make sure to watch the free live-stream of this important lecture.

I am personally very glad that the JEC at TEDS is hosting this conversation and that they have invited three African-American pastors to lead the conversation.  Evangelicalism very much needs this kind of honest and open discussion about racism in our past (I’m glad for pastor John Piper’s Bloodlines as well–see the arresting video).  The fact that Edwards owned slaves revolts me, to be frank, and was the most difficult matter with which I had to square in writing the Essential Edwards Collection with Dr. Sweeney.

My own conviction as a white Christian is that Edwards’s horrific sin should not cause us to ignore his theological voice.  If we were to adopt this kind of posture, we would find ourselves with precious few guides from past ages.  Luther denounced the Jews; Zwingli kept a mistress for some time; John Wesley was a less-than-ideal husband, to say the least.  The list could go on.

None of this means that we take Edwards’s slaveholding lightly.  We must not.  But it does mean that we must tread carefully in disqualifying leaders, not least because we ourselves are no better than they.  We are sinners.  We have gross faults, too.  Is this not one of Scripture’s greatest lessons?  Sin is in our house.  It is not only in our neighbor’s, as the log in our eye would obscure us from seeing.

All of us have sin; all of us need Christ, and forgiveness from our brothers and sisters.  There will be no weeping and anger in heaven, but it is a sweet thing indeed to think that there, Jonathan Edwards has recognized that the slaves he held, those who knew Christ, were not his property.  They, like all humanity–saved or not–were not his possession.  They were his kin, his spiritual kin, and Jesus has bestowed on them a dignity that the world denied them.

One hopes that this conversation at TEDS will lead evangelicals to continue to realize just how strong our union in Christ is, to meditate more on how great is the bond between us, much as our past suggests–to our shame–otherwise.


Filed under jonathan edwards, racism

The “Immobile Class”: On College and Work in the New America

The New York Times recently published a thought-provoking article on the new American economy entitled “A Mess on the Ladder of Success.” Here’s a snippet:

Rather than dividing the country into the 1 percenters versus everyone else, the split in our economy is really between two other classes: the mobile and immobile.

This is an interesting metaphor that has resonance with Richard Florida’s conception of the “creative class” as a group of creative, talented, mobile workers who will move to new cities (primarily) for stimulating work.

Here’s what economic opportunity used to look like, according to the author, Adam Davidson (of NPR):

In the past, it was perfectly clear where young people should go for work (Chicago in the 1870s, Detroit in the 1910s, Houston in the 1970s) and, more or less, what they’d be doing when they got there (killing steer, building cars, selling oil). And these industries were large enough to offer jobs to each class of worker, from unskilled laborer to manager or engineer. Today, the few bright spots in our economy are relatively small (though some promise future growth) and decentralized. There are great jobs in Silicon Valley, in the biotech research capitals of Boston and Raleigh-Durham and in advanced manufacturing plants along the southern I-85 corridor. These companies recruit all over the country and the globe for workers with specific abilities. (You don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg to get a job in one of the microhubs, by the way. But you will almost certainly need at least a B.A. in computer science or a year or two at a technical school.) This newer, select job market is national, and it offers members of the mobile class competitive salaries and higher bargaining power.

Here’s what it looks like now for the “immobile class”:

Until now, a B.A. in any subject was a near-guarantee of at least middle-class wages. But today, a quarter of college graduates make less than the typical worker without a bachelor’s degree. … Those without such specialized skills — like poetry, or even history, majors — are already competing with their neighbors for the same sorts of mediocre, poorer-paying local jobs like low-level management or big-box retail sales. And with the low-skilled labor market atomized into thousands of microeconomies, immobile workers are less able to demand better wages or conditions or to acquire valuable skills.

Let’s assume that Davidson’s essay is right (a big assumption, but let’s try it).  What does this mean for the aforementioned history major, Bible major, English major?

It means this, I think.  Assuming once more that Davidson is right and that non-technical disciplines may be a hindrance to getting good work, students who major in the humanities or Christian studies will be well advised to prove that they have accrued real-life, workplace skills through internships, carefully selected summer jobs, and other programs that allow them to gain a field of expertise beyond their more theoretical academic study.

I for one do not think that a piece like this–if it is correct–should inspire droves of students to leave the humanities or Christian studies in order to graduate with a degree in the hard sciences.  I do think, though, that families and students would be wise to heed material like this and to realize that the days of graduating and then finding a nice-paying job regardless of one’s degree may be, if not over, lessened.

So study whatever you want in college.  Stretch your mind.  But while you do that, gain skills.  Be strategic.  Position yourself well for the future.  All this will mean, of course, that you take service in Christ’s kingdom seriously, and that you work with alacrity to take dominion of your life and not waste the time you have.

(Image: David Turnley/Corbis)


Filed under economics, economy

Things You Should Be Reading: Credo Magazine on Solus Christus

This just in from Credo: issue number two is out.  It’s on “In Christ Alone,” what the reformers called Solus Christus, and it looks like a humdinger.

Here’s the teaser:

“In Christ Alone” – The January issue of Credo Magazine is here!

The January issue argues for the exclusivity of the gospel, especially in light of the movement known as inclusivism. This issue will seek to answer questions like: Can those who have never heard the gospel of Christ be saved? Will everyone be saved in the end or will some spend an eternity in hell? Must someone have explicit faith in Christ to be saved? Contributors include David Wells, Robert Peterson, Michael Horton, Gerald Bray, Todd Miles, Todd Borger, Ardel Caneday, Nathan Finn, Trevin Wax, Michael Reeves, and many others.

As you can see, the second issue of Credo features an impressive list of contributors.

One great feature of this new publication is the “Ten Questions” with a leading theologian.  The January 2012 issue features David Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, one of my favorite thinkers and writers.  Here’s a snatch from the interview:

Credo: To many leading evangelicals, you are a father figure in many ways. But when you first entered the teaching ministry who did you look up to the most?

Wells: I was deeply shaped by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose church I attended twice a week in London, by Schaeffer with whom my wife and I worked, by John Stott with whom I lived for five years, and I always had the highest regard for Carl Henry.  I never found him incomprehensible as others said they did but, on the contrary, he was for me a model of what theologians should be doing.  I always wished that Karl Barth’s immense talent and majestic vision had been worked out a little differently but I always appreciated reading him even when I had to argue with him.


Filed under credo magazine

Live-blog of ProLifeCon 2012

Link to the live webcast of ProLifeCon.  Here is the live-blog of ProLifeCon 2012:

8:30am  And we’re off.  Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, has just taken the podium.  Perkins says a note of welcome and note that something like 50 million abortions have happened in the last four decades.  He goes on to say that the pro-life movement has made gains and stands at a very important point in history in the battle for the sanctity of life.

8:37am  Jill Stanek is introduced as the emcee of #ProLifeCon; her blog is described as the “epicenter” of the pro-life blogging community.

8:40am  Michael Clancy, the photographer who took the “Hand of Hope” photo, is speaking about the politicization of the picture.  He is reiterating that the photo was authentic.

8:45am  Clancy initially missed the moment when the baby’s hand reached out and lamented that reality; a nurse nearby said that babies reach out from the womb all the time.  Incredible–do you hear that in the media?

8:53am  FRC is showing a video of Samuel Armas, the little boy from the “Hand of Hope” photo, who says to the camera that he believes that is supposed to tell people that “abortion is wrong.”  Read the story of the photo here.

9:06am  Gerald Nadal, a pro-life blogger and a Catholic microbiologist, is now speaking at ProLifeCon on the eugenics movement.  The medical community is dominated by an “aggressive eugenics,” according to Nadal.

9:11am Nadal: doctors are now telling women that they need to abort.  Doctor at a medical school: “You tell that woman, if she has that baby, her life is over.”  Legislatures must write measures that respect autonomy and a woman’s right to choose.  If abortion is the law of the land, there is no choice.

9:19am  Ryan Bomberger is now speaking.  From his bio: “His biological mother was raped yet courageously chose to continue the pregnancy, giving him Life.”  Bomberger is a creative professional who created the “Too Many Aborted” campaign.  He was adopted into a very large family.

9:32am  Bomberger: when we create and design for purposes of promoting life, it should be transformational and excellent.  He’s shown a number of his videos at the conference, and I have to say that they are very nicely done.  “We are designed to create, and we have to create a way out for millions of people.”

9:37am  Lila Grace Rose of the Live Action Network is now speaking.  A recent UCLA grad, Rose has attracted national attention through her efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.  She has stirred up a great deal of controversy by work like this and especially through sting video like this.

9:48am  Rose says that Planned Parenthood is sitting on “a billion dollars” of funding.  That’s a stunning amount of money, to state the obvious.

10:07am  Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) on American ideals: “Abortion is not an American value.”  America is promoting the culture of death through NGOs, international branches of Planned Parenthood, and more.  Africa is a target of this effort, with Kenya at the top of this list.  Kenya now has “abortion for health” written into its constitution through the work of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others.

10:10am  Smith: “Obama is an enemy of life!”

10:20am  Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is a new Tea Party congresswoman.  She is introduced as a “new pro-life heroine.”  She says that “over 60% of the American people don’t want their tax dollars to go toward abortion, according to a CNN poll.  That’s what she is working toward.

10:24am  Hartzler notes that she is a part of the largest incoming group of pro-life congressmen and women.  Knowledge, she says, changes hearts and minds.  When the American people have the facts, they make the right decisions.  She notes that she was in the sixth grade when Roe v. Wade was handed down and then details the journey she took toward a pro-life position.

10:27am  Hartzler suggests that there will be roughly 34 abortions during her speech alone, most of the aborted children less than three months old and able to feel the pain of an abortion.  Planned Parenthood, Hartzler says, doesn’t “deserve a dime of our money.”  They don’t care about women.  In 2010, abortion procedures amounted to 91% of their work.

10:40am  Collin Raye, spokesman for Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, is a country-music singer who has sold over 8 million albums and has been nominated five times as Male Vocalist of the Year in country-music circles.  He notes that though the mainstream media often ignores the pro-life cause, blogs and social media are giving it a powerful voice.  He also points out how many “kids” are energized by the pro-life cause and are in DC for various events.

10:45am  Raye says that partial-birth abortion is not “just a procedure,” but is “medieval and barbaric.”  There is video out there on the web of the performance of abortions (I’m not linking to it on purpose), and it is perhaps the worst thing imaginable.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been as shaken.  It’s not an uncommon occurrence, though, but an everyday reality.

10:51am  Just saw this post about “Yalies for life.”  As a graduate of a liberal New England college, I can say that it takes serious courage to stand up for the pro-life cause while a member of such a school.  Bravo, Yalies.

10:55am  Kristan Hawkins, Executive Director of Students for Life of America, is now up.  Under her leadership, Students for Life has tripled the amount of groups on college campuses.  This is one of the choicer fruits of the pro-life surge in recent years, I must say.  If Roe v. Wade is ever to be overturned, it will be the next generation that does it.

10:59am  Hawkins: “Good morning.  The pro-life movement is winning!”

11:03am  Hawkins: “Never before has the youth generation been so pro-life…unlike past generations, this one is starting out pro-life.”  Why?  “Because we have images.  We now know what the pre-born baby looks like.  Those images are broadcasted in tv shows, commercials, and movies.  These images need to be our tool.”

11:04am  Hawkins: “Hosting images on our blogs and websites is the greatest work we can do.”

11:12am  Jeanne Monahan, Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council,quotes the stat that there are over 2000 crisis-pregnancy centers.  She suggests going to this site, A Passion to Serve, to get comprehensive data on the “amazing impact” centers are making.

11:19am  Karen Snuffer, Executive Director of CareNet Pregnancy Resource Centers in Manassas, Woodbridge, and Warrenton, Virginia, is speaking about how important it is that men be educated on the realities of abortion.  Through a Bible study, she got involved with centers and eventually assumed her current position.  Despite the good work her centers do, “we receive no government funding,” an incredible fact.

11:25am  Tom McClusky, Senior Vice President of FRC Action, is up to close the ProLifeCon.  He has showed a video that demonstrates that the pro-life cause is being galvanized across the country.  Go here to read more, and he urged folks to sign up for this website.

11:28am  Just got an email about a new pro-life movie coming out in October 2012, October Baby, distributed by the same folks who have done Courageous and Fireproof.  Check that out–hope it can make a major splash in the culture.  10% of profits will go to crisis-pregnancy centers and other members of the culture of life.  The trailer looks powerful.


And with that, the conference is concluded.  I’m thankful to have known about this event and to have been able to pass on word to folks, and kudos to Tony Perkins, Jill Stanek, Chris Marlink, and many others who made it happen.

One can only hope and pray that the cause of life is championed with ever-increasing power in coming days.  It was remarkable how many different voices made up the conference.  As evangelical Christians, until Christ the warrior-king returns to destroy sin and Satan, we work in his name to advance the reign of his righteous kingdom, a reign that brings life where death dominates.

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Filed under abortion, pro-life

Saving the Littlest Lives: On This Monday’s Pro-life Conference

This coming Monday, January 23, 2012 from 8am-11:30am (EST), I’ll be blogging and “live-Tweeting” the ProLifeCon, put on by Family Research Council.  I’m very glad that FRC is such an outspoken and courageous defender of the unborn, and I hope that this event advances the cause.

Here’s the link to the live webcast, which will obviously be operative on Monday morning at 8am.  And here’s some info about the event:

Pro-life internet activists will gather at Family Research Council headquarters on January 23rd, 2012 for ProLifeCon, the premier conference for the online pro-life community.  The event will be webcast live, and will feature experts and legislators to inform you about the cutting edge of the pro-life movement and give you ways to make a difference on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the rest of the online world.

The event has included numerous political leaders, prominent pro-life activists, and has attracted media from outlets such as Fox News, CBS News, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Scripps Howard News, Congressional Quarterly and others. The event is also webcast live to thousands across the nation.

Featured speakers include Lila Rose of Life Action Network, Senators Chris Smith and Vicky Hartzler, and Tony Perkins of FRC.

I would strongly encourage you to watch the live webcast, and to pray that events like this continue to turn the tide of our nation toward life and away from death.  There are very encouraging signs that this is happening; as William Kristol of the Weekly Standard has reported, there are now triple the amount of crisis pregnancy centers in America compared to the number of abortion clinics.  College students are opening scores of “Students for Life” groups.  May this work only continue.

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Filed under abortion

Pastors/Planters, Drink from the Well of Theology

A fantastic word on the incredible value of reading theology by my friend, pastor Gerald Hiestand:

The expectations and demands of your congregation will almost certainly push you away from study and writing. So if you’re going to get after it, you are going to have to make it a priority in your schedule. I’ve found that setting aside my mornings works best for me. This year I’m reading Augustine on Mondays, Thomas on Tuesdays, Barth on Wednesdays, and contemporary theology/scholarship on Thursdays. I turn my phone off, don’t open my e-mail and don’t schedule any appointments (if at all possible) until noon. Of course, sometimes I have to pull up from studying — funerals, emergencies, etc., press in occasionally. But for the most part I’ve found that I can get nearly all of my administrative stuff done if I push it into the afternoons. (Typically, if you give yourself eight hours to do your administrative stuff, it will take eight hours. If you given yourself four, it will take four). Of course, this only works when you are in control of your schedule. Most pastors are, but some of you serve in a church where you are at the mercy of others. Even so, there are probably times in the week that are usually open. Schedule your study time around those times.

And one more point here — don’t just study for your next sermon or teaching assignment. Quite apart from striving toward the calling of the ecclesial theologian, too many pastors are merely one step ahead of the theological train. The lifeblood of the pastor — whether your local congregation realizes it or not — is a steady intake of rich theology, prayer and bible reading. Stop feeling guilty about prayerfully reading Calvin’s Institutes, or Anthanasius’ On the Incarnation or Augustine’s De Trinitate. Theological study isn’t something a pastor fits into his schedule when he’s completed his pastoral duties, rather theological study is the pastor’s duty. For the good of your congregation — for the good of your preaching and teaching and counseling and capacity to offer pastoral care — it is vital that you not neglect to feed yourself.

Read the whole post.

This was so good and right, I had to link to it again.  Too many pastorates today feed the people milk and not meat (see Hebrew 5:11-14).  If you want to offer your people a nourishing and delectable “meal” from the biblical text, study the great thinkers of the Christian past. You do not need to be Jonathan Edwards to honor the Lord in your ministry, but you would profit by reading more of him and less of whatever chatterbox is currently drawing attention.

Take just one hour a day and read something soaring, stretching, theologically challenging, philosophically expanding.  If you did this every day, every week, and every month for ten years of your ministry, you would have been able to work through many of the most important texts of the Christian church, and your ministry would be way stronger than if you had spent that time elsewhere. Your counseling would be richer, your sermons would be bolstered, and your vision of God and life would be far deeper than if you spent that hour on ESPN or Facebook.


Filed under pastor-theologian, pastoral ministry

Christopher Hitchens Was Wrong: Martin Luther King, Jr. on “Cosmic Companionship” at Southern Seminary

This from the archival history of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a site that has a lot of information on the school (including a section called “Our Lore” that has a number of fun and interesting stories):

In April 1961, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, was gaining national fame for his work for racial equality, he visited Southern and spoke in chapel. Ethics professor Henlee Barnette, who invited Dr. King, remembered the event nearly forty years later. After an introduction by Ethics Professor Nolan Howington, King rose to speak.

“Dr. King slowly and quietly recognized Dr. Howington, members of the faculty, students, and visitors. Then he expressed his pleasure at being in the seminary chapel again. He noted that he had been in the chapel two or three times before with his mother who was organist for the Woman’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention meeting on the campus.

The title of Dr. King’s prophetic and challenging message was The Church on the Frontier of Racial Tension. In this lecture, he observed that we were witnessing the passing of the old order and the emergence of a new age. With the decline of colonialism, new governments and countries were being born, especially in Africa…In conclusion King declared that we must have faith in the future, that problems can be solved, and that we have “Cosmic Companionship” in the task ahead of us. King closed with a typical peroration that characterizes many of his messages by noting that there is something in this universe which justifies the poet’s conviction that truth will triumph.

This speech was given in an academic setting, which perhaps accounts for a lack of the typical animation on the part of King in his concluding remarks. Through it all, he was calm, deliberate, articulate, serious. He delivered the whole message without a note, looking straight at the people in the pews who sat spellbound throughout the speech.”

King then spoke to a seminary ethics class for some time about his advocacy for equality and participated in several meetings in downtown Louisville, shuttling from place to place in a funeral home limousine with a police escort.

–From Barnette’s The Visit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Part TwoReview and Expositor

It is good to remember events like this, and also to note how King’s spiritual and theological convictions drove his advocacy on behalf of a just cause (see Denny Burk’s thoughts here).  Christopher Hitchens was wrong.  The Christian moral imagination has accomplished amazing feats of virtue and justice throughout the world’s history.

We remember that today.



Filed under Southern Baptists, southern seminary