Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why Aren’t Millennials Buying Cars?

The Atlantic has an interesting story by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann in its September 2012 issue entitled “The Cheapest Generation.”  It details how “Millennials” aren’t making major purchases that once served as benchmarks of personal maturity.

Here’s a snatch about how Ford is trying to solve this problem and sell cars to young consumers:

The company is trying to solve a puzzle that’s bewildering every automaker in America: How do you sell cars to Millennials (a k a Generation Y)? The fact is, today’s young people simply don’t drive like their predecessors did. In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985. Miles driven are down, too. Even the proportion of teenagers with a license fell, by 28 percent, between 1998 and 2008.

Read the whole thing.

Surely there are many factors here: a weak economy; high student-loan debt; a desire among many young people to delay breadwinning; a reaction against materialism among young people; a laudatory trend toward a “walkable” lifestyle; the cultural loss of a meaningful narrative of personal maturity; and more.

It’s not wrong, of course, that twentysomethings aren’t buying cars.  There are, however, deeper issues to consider in this story.  This kind of trend has broad cultural significance.  It certainly has economic significance for the American future.  It has spiritual significance in that many Christian parents today struggle to know how to prepare their children for modern adulthood.

Whatever other conclusions we can draw here, this kind of trend reminds us of the need for churches to equip families to “launch” their youth and pursue Christ wholeheartedly as mature adults, whether that entails buying a Ford Fiesta or not.

(Image: The Atlantic)

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Gender Roles and the Gospel

Here’s a great video on complementarianism (or biblical gender roles) from The Gospel Coalition featuring John Piper, Tim Keller, and D. A. Carson (HT: JT).  I found all three panelists’s remarks stimulating (and I enjoyed Carson’s anti-Zwinglian militarism at around the 9-minute mark!).

Piper, as Piper does, got ramped up in the first part of the video, and said some truly inspiring things about the need to guard this doctrine and not shrink back against the rushing tide of culture.  His boldness, clarity, and zeal for the gospel is as inspiring to me today as it was thirteen years ago, when I first heard of him.  Both he and Carson made painstakingly clear that the church must speak up about this issue, costly as this may be, culturally speaking.

I am thankful that TGC is hosting such nuanced and helpful video discussions, and I hope this video proves constructive to you as you sort out this issue.  God’s glory is in this.

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Is it Wrong to RT Yourself?

Recently, I wrote about “your best image now” based on a WSJ essay on bragging and social media.  The piece raised many good questions for me, including one I’ve been turning over in my mind for a long time: is it wrong for me to RT material about me?

So you know, “RT” doesn’t “Remotely Tazer” or “Radically Transgress.”  It means “re-tweet,” and so it applies to Twitter.  If someone says something nice about you–”@collinhansen wrote a great story”–should you RT it, and pass it along to all of your followers?  Is that fine, or is it a violation of Proverbs 27:2, which reads: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips”?

This is a complex matter, as I said a few days ago.  Social media has changed things.  It’s tricky to know where to find exact boundaries.  Some would say, of course, that you should never RT material about yourself, because yes, it is a direct violation of Proverbs 27:2.  I get that.  I’m sensitive to it.  In fact, in many cases, if someone has said something complimentary about my writing/speaking, I purposefully do not re-tweet it.  I suppose that this is a policy rather than an unbroken law, but it is indeed my general rule.

But other situations raise more complex questions.  If a news outlet, say The Gospel Coalition, has sent out word to their followers about a piece I’ve written, should I RT it?  Or if a small media company has done a video with a pastor about sanctification that aims at building believers up in the faith, should he RT it?  In both of these instances, I can see an argument for passing on word about it to people who might want to see it.  There is, after all, a ton of media produced nowadays.  If you want content to be consumed and actually helpful to people, you may feel a desire to do your part and notify people about it.

I do this with Facebook and Twitter.  If I blog here, I’ll post it on both of these outlets.  That lets people know about it.  And if a site is running a piece I’ve written, I’ll often let folks know about it.  In doing so, by the way, I feel a tension.  There is a gray area in such decisions.  Am I being self-promoting?  Well, maybe.  I can be honest about that.  Is that my primary motivation?  I certainly hope not.

So I guess I can say this: I understand never RTing yourself.  But many of us who want to edify and strengthen God’s people and promote the gospel find ourselves in a brave new media world where publishers and sites actually kind of count on you to publicize your content and put it before its target audience.  Many of us who are not currently blockbuster authors must therefore travel to the aforementioned “gray area” with regularity.  To RT or not to RT?  That is the question.

Here’s where I land.  I want to be scrupulous about self-promotion.  So that’s my first priority.  (Feel free to sound off in the comments–is my model self-promoting?)  My second priority is to try and put good resources before people in a non-invasive way.  That seems to be part of the work of writing and contending and speaking today.  I see the gray area, and I try to focus on getting out gospel-driven material, much as doing so–like preaching or pastoring or leading or almost any human activity–places me in the possible position of self-exaltation.

In all of this, I am aware of my sin and human penchant for self-deception.  I am constantly reminded by the nature of questions like this one of my need to confess sin to God and to ask the Spirit to continue changing me into the image of Christ in a comprehensive, holistic, across-all-plaforms kind of way.

(Image: retweet.com)

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Hitchens’ Widow: “He Insisted Ferociously on Living”

I found this poignant.  It’s from a touching memorial for the writer Christopher Hitchens that his wife, Carol Blue, wrote.  As many will know, Hitchens was a ferocious atheist.  That fact notwithstanding, his wife has this to say about his final months:

The new world lasted 19 months. During this time of what he called “living dyingly”, he insisted ferociously on living, and his constitution, physical and philosophical, did all it could to stay alive.

Christopher was aiming to be among the five to 20 per cent of those who could be cured (the odds depended on what doctor we talked to and how they interpreted the scans). Without ever deceiving himself about his medical condition, and without ever allowing me to entertain illusions about his prospects for survival, he responded to every bit of clinical and statistical good news with a radical, childlike hope. His will to keep his existence intact, to remain engaged with his preternatural intensity, was spectacular.

The whole piece is worth reading.  Let’s say this: first, you feel the humanity of this remembrance.  It is clear that Hitchens was quite a man.  He’s the type of thinker and leader who I wish I could have talked and laughed with.  He was an outstanding intellect and a formidable opponent.

Second, an atheist can live with hope if they like.  But it seems a bit odd to do so.  At the very least, if there is no God, no meta-reality and meta-narrative–if the universe is a closed system–then there is surely no rational expectation that one should hope.  You can hope in whatever you like if you are so inclined.  But an atheist fundamentally believes that the universe is a closed system.  There is no ought, as the Marquis De Sade famously noted, in such a world.  There is only is.  Correspondingly, there is no real hope, or even a strong reason to keep existing.  Again, you can live if you like, or not.  It’s yours to decide.

But in our natural state, we have a very difficult time denying the basic realities of the image of God.  We are created.  We are inclined to hope.  God “has put eternity into man’s heart,” and so we quest after it regardless of whether our worldview directs us to do so (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Though we are fallen according to Genesis 3 and Romans 1, we naturally want to believe that life matters, and we act as if it does.  Many of the most hardened of atheists, including Hitchens, want practically to find hope in the world, want desperately not to die.  That is a profound testimony to the beauty of life–and only God could create such a life.

Hitchens wrote hundreds of thousands of words in defense of his atheism–and here’s the thing: his completely understandable will to live denies them all.  This is not a triumphal realization, but a deeply sorrowful one, and it must move us to pray and engage those who are held together by Jesus Christ yet hate him, even as we once did.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him (John 1:10).

(Image: Dafydd Jones/Telegraph)

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Is it Anti-gospel to Teach Kids Self-control Before Conversion?

Right now in conservative evangelicalism, there is an ongoing conversation about children, the gospel, and sanctification.  Kevin DeYoung’s book The Hole in our Holiness is the latest entry on this topic, and looks to be very helpful.

One side of the discussion emphasizes that no true transformation can happen without miraculous grace.  There is surely truth to this argument.  Without the gospel, we are slaves to sin.  We cannot conquer sin or master it; as long as we are unconverted, sin is in fact our master.  We need God-given faith in Christ to know true and lasting transformation.

But I am wondering if, in highlighting this ultimate truth, we might forget a penultimate (secondary) reality.  It is good and well to train children, pre-conversion, in obedience and self-control.  If you do this in a way that indicates that successfully resisting a given temptation equates with the highest form of pleasing God, then that’s problematic.  In other words, if you train kids that doing right actions saves them, that’s tragic.  But it’s also tragic to not raise children to discern right from wrong and to think that they have no ability whatsoever to follow commands.

If, though, you train children in good habits while always holding out the need for repentance and faith, I think you’re being a wise and godly parent.  The father who speaks repeatedly to his son in Proverbs clearly directs him to steer clear of sin.  The father is forming habits in his son, and those habits are not opposed to saving faith.  They are creating channels through which the life-giving water of the gospel will flow.

Christ is, of course, our ultimate motivation.  The gospel is, correspondingly, the ultimate force in sanctification.  But we should not make the mistake of thinking that obedience–even pre-conversion obedience–is antithetical to the gospel.  It most surely is not.  It seems to me that we are to follow the flow of Scripture in training our children.  They learn the need to obey, the requirements of God’s holy standards, and we train them to do so (working from the Old Testament on up).  But they quickly discover that they cannot ultimately fulfill the requirements upon them and must know Christ as savior if they are to be counted righteous before the holy judge (this is the miracle we discover in the New Testament).  After their faith and repentance takes root, they are now empowered in an unprecedented way to obey and give glory to God.  The Holy Spirit in us, through our union with Christ, provides a power and a motivation never before possible (this is what Paul and the apostles labored to help early Christians understand).

So: teach your young kids good habits.  Teach them good manners.  Train them in self-control.  Model what being a Christian is like, and encourage them to follow your behavior.  Instill in them that obedience is the cornerstone of being a child.  Discipline them when they fail on this point.  And consistently–though not mechanistically or fearfully–hold out their only true hope for life and faith, the message of free grace in Christ.

Your children will thank you after their conversion that you trained them in good habits, even as they will recognize that only the gospel truly sustains holy living.

(With thanks to the intrepid Matt Smethurst–and the Smethurst family–for copyediting services)

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Ravi Zacharias: It’s Not Okay to Practice Homosexuality As a Christian

Some of you will be aware of the recent controversy surrounding Alan Chambers, the head of Exodus International, a ministry that helps gays and lesbians embrace the gospel.  Chambers recently suggested that one can be a born-again Christian and continue to practice homosexual sin, which touched off a firestorm.

This is a tricky matter, but I appreciated Ravi Zacharias’s careful response above.  Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration pointed me to it a few days ago.  It strikes me that it is possible for a person to fall back into sin after conversion to Christ, but that this cannot be normative for them.  If there is no power over sin in a professing believer’s life, I think one has to conclude that saving faith is not present.

This is true of homosexuality, heterosexual adultery, gambling, and many other sins.  We do not sin that grace may abound (Romans 6), and if we have that mindset in any form, I fear that we have misunderstood crucial Christian truths.  There is indeed grace for us if we sin, but we are not free to legitimize sin–willingly or unwillingly–by allowing ourselves license to practice it in the future.

We might call our position “vigilant honesty.”  We’re on the prowl against sin.  If we do falter, we confess it–we’re honest about it.  But we always, always, resolve to kill it anew, and to do everything in the power of the Spirit to avoid it in the future.  This is especially true of what we could call “lifestyle sins” to which we are particularly prone.

Sin is strong, but Christ is stronger.

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The Aesthetics of Work

A little while back I blogged about the workrooms of famous men.  Today comes news of a great-looking new book called Where They Create (Frame, 2012).  It’s very expensive and features the photography of a talented man named Paul Barbera.

The little I’ve seen from the PR of the book reminds me that aesthetics matter.  Design has practical significance for our everyday lives.  That may seem counterintuitive.  Aren’t we supposed to just, well, work in whatever surroundings we find ourselves?  Isn’t art/design/beauty ephemeral and unimportant?

I go the other way.  I think the physical environment you create matters.  The cleanness of your desk, the pictures you hang on your wall, the natural lighting you favor over fluorescent lights, the chair in which you sit–these things shape the way you think about your work.  If you are in a messy, ugly environment, you have to fight against it in creating and working, I think.

Of course, as I write this, I’m reminded of Jonathan Edwards (everything reminds me of Jonathan Edwards).  He did a good deal of his writing in what was essentially a closet.  So there’s some irony for you: the most aesthetic of evangelical theologians worked in a thoroughly plain setting.  But–and this is big–Edwards absolutely relished walks in the New England outdoors.

That, my friends, is an office one can only dream of, and only an aesthetic God, the God who is himself beauty, can create.

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Matthew Perryman Jones, One of Evangelicalism’s Finest Singer-Songwriters

If you haven’t heard of Matthew Perryman Jones, he’s one of the finest singer-songwriters I know of.  Jones has a new album out called Land of the Living that looks great (here’s an interview about it with Relevant magazine, and here’s a laudatory review from a leading music website).  The song above is from the new album (Update 11:24am: the album is free on Noisetrade for a couple more days.  Go get it!)

And here’s a terrific song that Jones did with Indelible Grace a few years ago.  MP Jones is one to know and follow.  And support.

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Guard the Flock: David Jang & “Second Coming Christ” Theology

Christianity Today has just published a major piece on a mega-leader named David Jang, whose followers may claim that he is the “Second Coming Christ.”

Ted Olsen and Ken Smith have published this work of investigative journalism that I commend to you in order that you might know about a potentially dangerous theological movement that is associated with California’s Olivet University and Apostolos Campus Ministries.

Over the last five years, ministries and organizations founded by or connected to Jang have gained influence in American and global evangelical ministries, including the World Evangelical Alliance. Yet in the same period, a number of mainstream Christian organizations in Korea and China have severed relationships with his affiliated organizations after investigating such claims and finding them credible. Other groups have reconfirmed their ties after their investigations cleared him. Now, as Jang’s businesses and ministries have sought greater recognition and expansion in the United States, Christian leaders and ministries here are asking similar questions about Jang, his affiliated organizations, and their theology.

Read the whole (lengthy) piece.  Apparently, in the testimony of some, Jang’s followers may believe he is a kind of pre-Christ eschatological leader, “a new messianic figure that would complete Jesus’ earthly mission,” according to the story. [Update: here is an opposing view from the Christian Post, which is connected to organizations like the World Evangelical Alliance, which has some kind of connection to the aforementioned ministries.]

This is excellent reporting and writing, and it needs to be widely read.  However this all shakes out–and it’s not immediately clear how it will–Peter tells us that “false teachers” will arise, “and in their greed they will exploit you with false words” (2 Peter 2:3).  Guard yourself, and guard your flock, and stay close to Christ and faithful biblical teaching.  There is one messianic figure, and he is not here yet.

But we will all know when he is.

(Image: CT)

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MIT Prof Vs. Bowdoin Prof: Are Science & Faith Foes?

On April 12, 2012 at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, scientists Troy Van Voorhis of MIT and Richmond Thompson of Bowdoin debated the question, “Science and faith: friends or foes?”  Van Voorhis and Thompson each gave 20-minute presentations on the topic, with Van Voorhis presenting an evangelical take on the matter and Thompson arguing for a non-Christian position.

I had the opportunity to moderate this debate at my alma mater (my voice was suffering from allergies and a cold, please note!).  It was terrific fun and highly stimulating.  Both professors made strong arguments for their view.  My own beliefs line up with Van Voorhis (who as a young MIT professor is a noteworthy evangelical voice), though I was challenged by Thompson’s thoughtful and charitable presentation.

Events like these are what make the Veritas Forum and liberal arts colleges so great: the free exchange of meaningful ideas.  Kresge Hall was full, with almost 300 people attending.  Debate and disagreement, we saw, do not equal hostility or intolerance.

I’m thankful for the outstanding gospel-centered and Word-driven ministry at Bowdoin, led by Rob and Sim Gregory, and for the strong partnership it has forged with the Veritas Forum.  May it only continue.

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