Monthly Archives: May 2012

What it Means That Only 41% of Americans Are “Pro-choice”

This from Politico:

The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “pro-choice” is at the lowest point ever measured by Gallup, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

A record-low 41 percent now identify themselves as “pro-choice,” down from 47 percent last July and 1 percentage point down from the previous record low of 42 percent, set in May 2009. As recently as 2006, 51 percent of Americans described themselves as “pro-choice.

Meanwhile, 50 percent of Americans now consider themselves “pro-life,” one point below Gallup’s record high on the measure.

Read the whole piece.

This is just a poll.  Public opinion could and will shift in different directions in coming days.  Polls, furthermore, are inexact.  I don’t ask polls to do a lot of heavy lifting in my intellectual life.  With that said, this is a surprising development, a significant one.

This means that the “culture war” has not been for naught.  Granted, some have fought for the cause of life in less than ideal ways.  Championing a pro-life position from a God-and-country stance–linking the kingdom of Christ with the nation of America–is a mistake.  Some who have fought for the pro-life cause and other conservative (biblical!) social positions have made personal compromises and used the church as a platform.  With all these qualifications stated, though, the “culture war” is a worthy one to fight.

The media, of course, loves this language of a war.  Conservatives are read as a crusading, domineering force; to contend for the rights of the unborn is to become some sort of vigilante, to shirk thoughtful, respectful dialogue and become a spittle-flecked warrior.  Again, some may deserve this reputation, but many do not.  Many Christians have fought for the unborn on staunchly biblical and intellectual grounds.  These people take a great deal of heat from the secular press.  But in reality they deserve a great deal of praise.  Their efforts have not been in vain.

All the campus pro-life groups and silent protests and counseling at abortion clinics and legislative action and making of films like Bella and careful appointment of pro-life justices and, most importantly, prayer, has all been worth it.  This is not to say that abortion is now illegal.  It is not.  But it seems that gains are being made.

This is a pretty strong counter to the rhetoric making its way around evangelicalism that politics don’t really matter, that evangelicals should be neither blue nor red when it comes to social policy, that earthly causes aren’t really worth fighting, that the pro-life cause is really about power and domination and winning the “war.”  For most Christians, fighting abortion is not about power.  It is not about personally inaugurating Christ’s kingdom.  It is about speaking up for the least of these in a profoundly Christocentric way.  Psalm 139 matters; the fight for righteousness mapped out in the Beatitudes matters (Matthew 5).

I am glad to contend for the pro-life cause in a reasoned, rational way.  But I am not willing to lay down this fight because someone brands me a “warrior” because of it.  God’s glory is in this fight.  We may never win it, or we may.  But it is worth our time and effort.  If we abandoned abortion as a first-order issue to focus on other issues of less import, we would not be seeing the gains we are currently witnessing.

So, young evangelicals: do not believe the “fetus fatigue” language.  Do not pass on an issue because it’s controversial and people won’t like you because of it.  Do not cease to contend for the unborn, whether through calm conversation in the lunchroom or advocacy in the nation’s capitol.  Never make the mistake of thinking that this cause is the kingdom, or that the state is the church.  Don’t make the further mistake of writing everyone off who came before you simply because the media branded them with the “culture warrior” tag.

With a proper perspective of this issue, keep fighting and praying for the day when Roe v. Wade is struck from the books.

(Image: AP)

10 Comments

Filed under abortion

Wisdom & Prayer Are Not Opposed

“Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7).

I think many evangelicals know that they should pray.  They rightly expect that God will lead them as they do so.  But they might struggle to affirm how important wisdom is.  Learning from situations, being trained in godliness by mentors, and especially having one’s mind and heart shaped by Scripture–this is what the “getting” of wisdom looks like.  It is unbelievably good for you and me.

So pray like the wind–and get as much wisdom as you possibly can.  It’s not wrong to be led by wisdom–it’s directly biblical.  Pray for wisdom, in fact–and then live according to it without shame or fear that you’re missing God’s will.  Why?  Because in Christ “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Leave a comment

Filed under prayer, spirituality

How Do I Know if I Should Be a Preacher?

Good word from Proclamation Trust, a great UK ministry promoting excellent preaching, on determining your preaching call:

There is little in scripture explicitly about the feelings or desires of the people set apart for word ministry. When Paul speaks of those who aspire to the pastoral office (1 Timothy 3:1) he does not make it clear whether the candidates coming forward in Ephesus were to be encouraged or discouraged in their desire. On the one hand, some desire to enter this ministry, and ought not to. They may for example have a wrong understanding of scripture (eg 1 Timothy 1:7), a love of power (1 Peter 5:3) or prominence (3 John 9), a love of money (1 Timothy 6:5), or a desire to exploit vulnerable people by making them dependent upon them (2 Timothy 3:6f). On the other hand, some want to avoid this ministry who ought to be in it. For pastoral ministry has its peculiar pressures. And so a love for the world (2 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 2:15-17) or a desire to avoid suffering (2 Timothy 1:6-12; cf. 1 Timothy 4:14) will make us avoid this work, even when we are called to it. So we must be deeply sceptical of our feelings and desires. For it is possible to quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19).  So, rather than rely on our feelings, we do well to focus on the principles of stewardship. If Christ has given us ‘word’ gifts, then we must use them, whether or not we want to.

Christopher Ash, How Do I Know if Preaching Is for Me? (Proclamation Trust)

It’s no bad thing to go to seminary to learn more Bible and theology.  But if you want to be a preacher, and you want to go to seminary to be a well-rounded one, consider the above essay.  Merely enjoying preaching is not necessarily a sign of a call.  If you want to serve the church, and are willing to give up comfort and wealth to do so, and have preaching gifts that the church has affirmed, those are signs that may well beckon you to undertake the long, difficult, and valuable work of seminary training.

“If Christ has given us ‘word’ gifts, then we must use them…”

Leave a comment

Filed under preaching

Encountering Those Who Have Wounded You

This from an elegant piece entitled “Looking for Release” in the Image Journal, a compendium of faith-driven writing and reflection.  How do you handle encounters in adulthood with people who hurt you in your childhood?  Allison Backous considers the question.

Here’s a powerful selection:

Dayne eventually left my mother. She wept for weeks, and never heard from him again. But my sister and I saw him years later, when I was home from college, filling up my gas tank at the local BP. He walked through the gas station doors and stared straight into my car, skin still red, hair grayed and white. He was not yet fifty years old.

“That’s him,” my sister breathed, settling into her coat. “That’s Dayne.”

He stared at us, quiet and intent; then lifted a gloved hand. He looked remorseful, or lonely, and after he raised his arm he walked into the neighborhood and slipped beneath a fence. It was as if the landscape pressed him into itself, as if he had been some movable part, tossed by a whim into our lives, our afternoon.

What loss held his life, I could not tell. And to say “I forgive you” feels too quick, too simple, for the patterns he forces my family to hold still.

But I cannot shake the image of him waving, the stretch of his arm, more gentle than I had ever seen it, a palm gesturing upward, a sign of something I could not throw aside easily. He slipped into the neighborhood and was gone. Vanished into trees, history, the graying snow.

I remember how terrible he was. And I look for the hold of a new pattern, one that releases and sets free.

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

The Merits of Jonathan Merritt’s USA Today Op-ed

Just read through the USA Today op-ed piece by Jonathan Merritt, a young evangelical leader.  A talented writer, Merritt started an evangelical climate change initiative that drew the signatures of many movers and shakers a few years back.

In his piece, entitled “New Form of Christian Civic Engagement,” Merritt makes the case that a new evangelical political theology is upon us.  It’s more moderated than years past and is focused less on abortion and more on creation care and social justice.  It’s good to see a young Christian thinker get some press in a major cultural outlet.  I thought I would very briefly engage Merritt’s ideas, which are part of his book project that has just released.  I’m not going to quote him extensively, as I’ll assume you’re going to read the short piece.

[Update: As a friend from the Institute on Religion & Democracy pointed out, Merritt refers to the 2001-07 Pew polling data of young white evangelicals to make his point.  But the 2011 poll actually showed a 15% jump among white young evangelicals as those identifying with the GOP.  Intended or not, this is a pretty major omission, and it counters his entire narrative.]

1. Merritt is surely right, sociologically, that a new wing of evangelicalism has cropped up that is not politically conservative.  This surely includes some young people, perhaps a good chunk.

2. It is not surprising that attendees at the Q conference would not register with one party or another.  If you accept my first point–and if you have heard of the emergent movement, you are obligated to do so–then it will not surprise you to hear that a sizeable portion of the folks who go to Q are either apolitical, politically moderate, or even liberal in their politics.  Of course, a good chunk of those who don’t identify with a party–which is what Merritt zeroes in on–would still support traditional marriage and be against abortion.

In other words, I’m not sure that this statistic offers much payoff for Merritt.  The same week that around 1000 people went to Q, 8000 went to the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville.  Many of them were young.  I would wager that a vast majority of them are politically conservative.  So what does this battle of the statistics tell us, ultimately?  Not much.

3. You don’t need to agree with everything or even a lot of what James Dobson and Tony Perkins have stood for.  But it seems pretty uncharitable as an evangelical to slag off other evangelicals in the mainstream press.  For the record, I’m thankful for much of what Dobson has done.  I don’t know Perkins well, but I’m thankful that Christians have an active and convictional voice in DC.  As for whether their power is waning, well, that may be true in Dobson’s case.  He is in his upper years, after all.  Perkins seems to have quite a bit of influence, though.

4. Merritt is doubtless right that “Christians’ partisan, divisive and uncivil engagement in the public square” has had some negative effects.  I am not a “culture warrior.”  With many others like me, I want Christians to first love God and his gospel.  I want them to love their local churches and see them, however humble in appearance, as very important.  Beyond that, I want them to passionately though carefully engage the civic and cultural realms.

But while Merritt celebrates the new and more peaceful style of political jujitsu, I’m not by any means willing to write off the previous generation’s work.  Fighting abortion-on-demand has been awful.  It’s also been worth it.  Many good gains have been made, including two rock-solid pro-life Supreme Court justices (and the Chief Justice, who is, pardon the phrase, a baller).  How many lives did crisis pregnancy centers save? How many lives did legislative measures in state politics save?  How many lives did counselors standing outside of abortion clinics influence?  Was all this not worth it because politics is a “blood sport” and some people didn’t like evangelical engagement?

5. I get that some younger evangelicals are politically progressive.  Right.  That’s clear.  But is Merritt aware of the recent stats on campus pro-life groups?  In 2006, there were less than 300; now there are over 600.  Many of those groups are driven by or drawing young evangelicals, make no mistake (along with young Catholics, Mormons, etc.).  What about crisis pregnancy centers, many of which (like the one in Louisville) are staffed by young evangelical volunteers and workers?  There are around 2300 of these compared to 500-800 abortion clinics.  I don’t have hard data, but surely there is some significant young evangelical movement in these areas!

6. I’m not sure, finally, that there’s much new in this piece by Merritt.  If you heard of unChristian by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, you’ll know that they raised many of these points five years ago.  In fact, they said almost exactly the same thing.  I engaged their work in a review.  One of my major concerns was this: Jesus said that we are blessed if we are hated for his sake (Matthew 5:11).  We shouldn’t go out of our way to be hated, of course.  But clearly the beatitudes and the fact that Christ (like most of his apostles) was murdered tells us something about the way outspoken biblical fidelity will be handled in this word.  To quote Daniel Craig in Casino Royale: “Not well.”

There are some quick responses.  Merritt may be right that the younger generation is different than the previous one.  But there are many of us who are determined not to let “fetus fatigue” submarine our conscience.  We love all our neighbors, but we are unwilling to see traditional marriage redefined without a profound and sustained response.  We will not lose our souls over politics, and we will love our local churches and the gospel they guard and the kingdom they promote.  We will not be silenced, though, by calls for peace that will in reality bring no peace, but rather death, and more death.

I always appreciate a critical new voice, and I think Merritt’s piece raises some good questions.  But when it comes to answers in this modern moment, many of us will hew to older paths, including, if need be, the path toward a cultural cross.

1 Comment

Filed under political philosophy, politics

R. C. Sproul Jr. on the Death of His Wife

Reflecting on the recent death of his wife, R. C. Sproul, Jr. wrote this on Twitter:

“I wish I had held her hand more”

That’s all he said.  That one got to me.  Husbands, hold your wife’s hand more.  Love her more dearly.  Kiss your kids.  Sacrifice your work and career to put them first.  (A recent film, We Bought a Zoo, tackled a similar theme in a moving way.  This song seemed to fit this little message–the film has in general a beautiful soundtrack capturing the beauty and tragedy of life.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must do the same.  I need to hold my wife’s hand.

(HT: JT)

1 Comment

Filed under death, marriage

Friday Awesomeness: The Dark Knight Rises Trailer

Sometimes you have to step away from all the serious blogging.  Sometimes you have to watch an awesome movie trailer.

That’s just what you have to do.

5 Comments

Filed under film

The Death of Junior Seau & Head Injuries: 10 Essential Resources

Junior Seau, football hall-of-famer and former New England Patriot, is dead.  It appears that he committed suicide.  Seau was 43 and had an ex-wife and three children.

This is the latest in a growing line of NFL suicides, and Seau is the sixth member of the 1994 San Diego Chargers team to die from suicide, alcohol or drugs (two other Chargers died in freak accidents).  It is not immediately clear that Seau killed himself because of brain trauma and resulting mental illness, but there are forbiddingly ominous signs of the same (he did suffer many concussions, that much is clear).  Two years ago, Seau survived a 100-foot plunge off a cliff following a fight with his girlfriend.  He said that he fell asleep at the wheel, but one sees a pattern here in relation to previous tragic deaths of NFL players and other athletes (see below).  All this discussion must, of course, be conducted with clear reference to human sinfulness, which is our primary problem.  But our physical actions can aid and abet our sin and fallenness, that much seems clear.

On Twitter, I discussed this issue with some friends and connected this death to the strong possibility of brain injury.  Good questions were raised, and someone asked about hard data that helps to substantiate the connection between football violence and bizarre, even deadly, behavior.  Below are some links that I’ve culled on this subject, one that has personally interested me for three years.

1. The New York Times compendium on brain injuries and sports–The foremost journalistic resource on this entire subject, with dozens of articles (Joe Nocera of the NYT has led the charge, to his credit).  An absolute must-visit, though you may burn through your 10 free articles per month here!

2. Jonah Lehrer’s Grantland essay–Filled with data, scientific discussion of the brain, and why the problem of concussions is bedeviling (it’s not easy to stop the brain from moving around).  Frightening fact: includes mention of the only youth brain studied, that of an 18-year-old player–the brain showed clear evidence of irreversible brain trauma.

3. ESPN reporting on Owen Thomas–A Penn football star who committed suicide and whose brain clearly showed CTE

4. New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell–Famously compared football to dog-fighting.  Included some of the earliest research on collision impacts on football, which liked a UNC practice to a series of “minor car crashes”

5. ESPN coverage of the death of Dave Duerson–Committed suicide and shot himself in the chest, apparently in order to preserve his brain for concussion research (Seau did the same, possibly for similar reasons)

6. Early GQ piece on brain injuries and the courageous doctor studying them–”[He saw] brown and red splotches. All over the place. Large accumulations of tau proteins. Tau was kind of like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.  This was why Mike Webster was crazy.”

7. First Things essay I did on this subject linking to many articles on this topic

8. Coverage of a pro wrestler who went crazy and killed his wife and son–”Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.”

9. Minnesota Public Radio coverage of the brain injuries of deceased hockey player Derek Boogard

10. Research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that shows negative brain effects from heading balls in soccer

In listing these resources, I’m not suggesting that Christians can’t play or watch football or other contact-oriented sports, but surely there must be productive things that we can do to address these issues.  That all starts, of course, with information, and though I’m not a doctor nor a researcher, I want to try to help others think well about violence, sports, and the application to every area of the Christian conscience created by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

9 Comments

Filed under sports injuries

“I Wouldn’t Think So Much of the Gathering:” Engaging Francis Chan on the Church

Francis Chan offered some surprising thoughts at the Verge 2012 conference recently.  Speaking on the church gathering, he said the following at the conference in Austin:

If I just read the Scriptures, I wouldn’t even think so much of the gathering.  You know–Like, my first thought wouldn’t be, “Let’s have a gathering.”  Out of the Scriptures, I would think, “I’m on a mission.  Like, I love this God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and now I’ve got to go out and make disciples.”  That’s what I would think.  I need to go out there and just reach as many people as I can!  I’m supposed to teach them to obey everything that’s God command–that’s what I would get out of Scripture.  And then what would happen as I did that–what I believe would naturally happen–is suddenly I would find those other people who are on that same mission because we’d be the weirdest people on earth.   Right? 

We would stick out, we’d be so different, and that pressure to always stay on that mission, everyone else would always be beating me down, so I would actually need these brothers and sisters in my life and tell them hey don’t let me slow down, and I won’t let you slow down, we’ve got to stay on this mission together.  See this is why I wasn’t into fellowship before–because I didn’t any more friends, okay, it wasn’t like “Oh yeah, let’s get another gathering together so I can have someone to talk to.”  Like, I didn’t need accountability groups so I wouldn’t sleep around or whatever it was–I could do that, I can do that on my own.  Like–not sleep around, you know what I mean? <laughter> You know I don’t need that to do American church, I don’t need fellowship.  But to stay on mission everyday?  I need people because I’m going to get distracted–there are so many other things I would rather do than make disciples.  And so I need people in my life to tell me this.  That’s what I would get out of Scripture, is I got to go out and start making disciples.  And as I did that I really believe that I would start gathering with other people doing the same thing. 

Here’s the link again.

I stumbled across this piece of content and was surprised to see it rather tepidly introduced.  This is a big deal.  Let’s be clear: Chan is not saying that the local church is unimportant.  He’s arguing for what is called “missional” ecclesiology, the idea that the church isn’t about gathering for its own sake, but for the purpose of making disciples to the glory of God.

There is much about Chan’s body of work that I like.  He champions a bold, aggressive, unapologetic, God-driven spirituality.  He has words that the church needs to hear, it seems.  Even the section quoted above can provocatively push many of us to be less inwardly focused and more outwardly focused.  With many others, I want to be “on mission” in my daily life.

Here’s the problem, though: when I “just read the Bible,” it seems like evangelism is not the only important thing.  It seems like a plain and unsophisticated reading of the Bible without reference to all kinds of fancy commentaries and hermeneutical guides will lead you to a rather straightforward directive on church: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

You could draw a very similar conclusion from the Corinthian letters, which enjoin the church to purify itself and perform discipline on members caught in a pattern of unrepentant sin (see 1 Cor 6, for example).  Fellowship and accountability, in other words, are essential.  They are not lesser ends.  They stir the body up to kill sin for the glory of Christ and to encourage one another as “the Day” of Christ’s majestic return approaches.

The Great Commission, of course, is hugely important.  It’s our mandate as those sent into the world in the power of the Spirit.  Indeed, the Great Commission is now carried out with Pentecost power.  We “make disciples of all nations” in the power of the poured-out Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).  But what does this all this disciple-making create?  It creates local churches that, as I noted above, do not neglect meeting together.  These churches function as kingdom outposts.  They are both centripetal places of rest, edification, and encouragement and centrifugal posts from which we are launched into the world to tell it of Christ’s death and resurrection and to live profoundly redeemed lives.

It is not weak of Christians to want to meet together and to “build [one] another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, also Romans 14:19).  That’s directly biblical.  It’s wise and good.  The only way we can do this, though, is if our orientation is Godward, if we are first coming together to give him honor and glory and praise.  He, and no other end, is the primary reason for our gathering.  We come before him first because he deserves worship.  Worshipping the Lord of heaven and earth is not a subordinate reason to gather.  It is our foremost concern.  To not realize this is to miss a massive biblical-theological point.  John Piper working off of Jonathan Edwards working off of Augustine working off of Paul working off of Jesus has made just this point (see Desiring God by Piper, Dissertation Concerning The End for Which God Created the World by Edwards, Confessions by Augustine, and the Bible for the rest).

I agree with Chan, by the way, that our churches can become inwardly focused, as I mentioned above.  We certainly can.  We need to take care that we leave room in our busy lives to get out among unbelievers and witness for Christ.  We should intentionally plan our church calendars so that we can accomplish this biblical priority. I like Chan’s focus on mission, and I like that he wants to avoid a weepy and weak Christianity.  He’s right, furthermore, that we don’t need something called “accountability groups.”

However, for many sinners like me, the words of Paul ring in my ears on this point: “[L]et anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).  I’m concerned that I hear in Chan’s message the seeds of a movement away from accountability in whatever form.  I’m as concerned for the less mature Christians who hear this message, want to be like a godly man like Chan, and therefore disdain different forms of accountability.  You don’t need to meet with three peers in a basement somewhere at 6am and weep for three hours to practice accountability–but make no mistake, every last one of us desperately needs it, and the church is structured to give it.  The horrifying stats on pornography and Christians would suggest that we desperately need accountability, in fact.

Chan makes us think in this little clip from a larger message.  He’s got a point.  But his words need beefing up.  Aside from the easy laugh he gets on the subject of sleeping around (which is a cheap and worldly way to engage your audience, one far too common among young evangelicals), he needs a more robust doctrine of the church, as so many of us do, whether in theory or practice.  Too many evangelicals settle for, as John Piper said a few years ago of his own ecclesiology, a B- on the church.  That’s not good, and it’s not biblical.  New Testament unfolding of the church is mere but very important (start here, perhaps, and then go here).

Here’s hoping, then, that this post will push others who–like myself–are inspired by a bold Christian leader like Chan to love God and love his church.

8 Comments

Filed under church life, missional

Jonah Goldberg v. Piers Morgan and Why Christians Don’t Do Bad Journalism

This is an example of bad journalism.  Agree with him or not, Jonah Goldberg barely had a chance to share his views on CNN’s Piers Morgan show.

Here is another example of bad journalism: Martin Bashir ambushing Rob Bell last year.  Not good, though I agreed with the stern critique of Bell.

Christians stand for better journalism than these examples.  We don’t ambush people; we don’t steamroll them to make our points; we listen respectfully and disagree respectfully.  We stand up for truth, but we do it as those filled with grace.

(The CNN site and WordPress are not working symbiotically on this issue–Wordpress often seems to struggle handling embeds.)

15 Comments

Filed under journalism, theological journalism