Friday, June 29, 2007

News You May Have Missed: Yorkshire Man Not Allowed to Buy Eight Pasties

No, not those pasties.

A pasty is a small savory pie with a filling of meat, potatoes, and onion. More about these coveted items can be found on Wikipedia.

But this isn't a cooking blog, it's a news item, and for that we turn to the U.K.'s Wakefield Express, which reports that a West Yorkshire man was threatened with the police for attempting to buy eight pasties at a supermarket. Apparently, the store has a limit of six.

Proving that British humor just sort of creates itself, check out the article here and be sure to watch the short video that accompanies it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

35 Years Later

In 1972, my best friend Gary and I were enjoying summer break between our freshman and sophomore years of high school. Earlier in June, he had gone off to Texas to attend a conference sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ called Explo '72.

Shortly after he got back, Gary guest-led our church youth group. Normally rather neurotic, he now seemed strangely at peace. He was wearing a big cross around his neck, and he told us, "While I was in Texas, I became a Christian." This made no sense to me, as both of us were full, confirmed members of our church, and had been for several years. If we weren't already Christians, what were we? Or, more to the point, what now was I?

Gary went on to share with us a little booklet called the Four Spiritual Laws. It summarizes the message of the Bible as: God loves us and has good plans for us; but placing our desires ahead of His (= sin) has separated us from Him and we can never be good enough to work our way back; Jesus, who was God, paid our penalty in our place; we can receive forgiveness and a relationship with God through Jesus, just by asking for it.

There was nothing in that booklet that was new to me. What was new, however, was that I had never heard all these pieces put together in such a way that I understood the story. Things clicked, in both mind and heart.

So when I got home that evening, I sat down in the living room and told God I wanted to be a Christian. I had thought I already was, but seeing that evening what the Bible had to say, I realized I wasn't. I asked Jesus to forgive my sins and come into my life. Deep inside me, I felt that He did exactly that. And I felt the same way the next morning when I woke up.

That was hardly the end of the story, but it was the beginning.
June 28, 1972.

Explo '72 attracted 80,000. The final Christian rock concert, which was pivotal in launching contemporary Christian music, drew almost 200,000. I wasn't there, but the music is still ringing in my ears.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pop Quiz - Capital Punishment in America

Which country performed the most executions in 2006: China, Iran, or U.S.A.?

How many executions did the U.S.A. perform in 2006 (to the nearest 100)?

Got your answers in mind?


Would it surprise you to know that China performed 7,500-8,000 executions, Iran 170, but the U.S.A. only 50? From all the attention that the death penalty gets in this country, from the protestations of Amnesty International and the condemnations of "civilized" countries like the U.K. (which doesn't practice capital punishment), you'd think there was a judicial bloodbath going on here. (These statistics come from Amnesty International, by the way - via The Economist's issue of 4/28/07.) In a country of 300,000,000, with about 16,000 murders per year - around 600 of them in NY City, alone - wouldn't you expect the rate of capital punishment to be higher?

And for another point of interesting perspective: worldwide, there are approximately 46 million abortions per year, representing 1 in 4 pregnancies (3 of 4 in Romania and Shanghai, 2 of 3 in Russia). In the U.S., the number is around 1.3 million (3 of 4 pregnancies in New York City).

There is in fact a bloodbath going on, but it's not through capital punishment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Who Said It?

Can you guess which presidential candidate gave this speech last week? (I've edited it heavily to try to avoid giving undue hints.)

It's great to be here. I've been speaking to a lot of churches recently, so it's nice to be speaking to one that's so familiar. Clearly, the past 50 years have not weakened your resolve as faithful witnesses of the gospel. And I'm glad to see that.

It's been several months now since I announced I was running for president. In that time, I've had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country. And I've found that no matter where I am, or who I'm talking to, there's a common theme that emerges. It's that folks are hungry for change - they're hungry for something new.

But I also get the sense that there's a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any single cause or issue. It seems to me that each day, thousands of Americans are going about their lives - dropping the kids off at school, driving to work, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets, trying to kick a cigarette habit - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They're deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long road toward nothingness.

And this restlessness - this search for meaning - is familiar to me. I was not raised in a particularly religious household. It wasn't until after college that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. I wanted to be part of something larger. I learned that everyone's got a sacred story when you take the time to listen. [The people at church] saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held and that propelled me in my work were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached - that I was an observer in their midst.

And slowly, I came to realize that something was missing as well - that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.

So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity Church. And I heard Reverend Wright deliver a sermon. And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.

But my journey is part of a larger journey - one shared by all who've ever sought to apply the values of their faith to our society. It's a journey that takes us back to our nation's founding. So doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning. And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life.

Question 1: Democrat, Republican, or Independent?

Question 2: Who is it?

You can find the answer here, and read the entire speech without edits, if you like.

And none of this should be taken as my endorsement of the candidate. In fact, I'm almost certain I wouldn't vote for this person. But it's nice to hear this kind of talk in the public square.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Am I Famous?

Hemant Mehta - a.k.a. Friendly Atheist - has added me to his blogroll, which you can see here. You'll find me in the "Christian Blogroll" section.
OK, I admit I asked him to do it, after he solicited submissions and said Christians would be welcome. But still, these brushes with fame can be exciting.

Thanks to Hemant, and if you haven't yet checked out his site, it's a good thing to do from time to time.

Now, if I could just get on the Pope's (double entendre intended for those "in the know") blogroll, I'd really have the bases covered.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Century of Posting

Well, this is my 100th post!

Since beginning this blog in February, 590 different people have visited this site - some of them by accident, I'm sure. They've come from 43 countries. And 2/3 of the visits to my blog have been made by people coming back for more.

It all works out to about 15 visitors per day. Not quite enough to rival the New York Times, but they probably started small, too.

I hope I've been able to bring you some valuable items of interest, irritation, and humor. I appreciate the comments you've made along the way.

And now, as a reward for your loyalty, I'm happy to announce that the next 100 entries will be offered free of charge! Enjoy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Grow Your Vocabulary

How I Met My Wife

by Jack Winter
Published 25 July 1994 - The New Yorker

It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.

I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.

I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I’d have to make bones about it since I was travelling cognito. Beknownst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn’t be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.

Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion.

So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make heads and tails of.

I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if this were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.
Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had no time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d’oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself.

She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savory character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. “What a perfect nomer,” I said, advertently. The conversation become more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Let's Hope the Pope is More Mature Than His Flock

When President Bush visited Pope Benedict in Rome on June 9, he presented the Pope with a walking stick carved by a formerly homeless artist in Texas. On the stick are the 10 Commandments.

Now it turns out that certain shorts-in-a-knot Catholics, including a professor in St. Louis, are going on record as offended that the 10 Commandments are presented in the "Protestant" version, not the "Catholic" one. Equal to this transgression - and maybe worse - the President at least once called the Pope "sir" rather than "Your Holiness." You can read all about these faux pas and the backlash here.

To which I say, BFD. And to which I add, "Grow up and get a life."

If you didn't know, Catholics, Jews, and Protestants all agree that Exodus 20 has a list of "the 10 commandments," also known as the Decalogue. They all agree on the words of the commandments, but they group the phrases/commands in the list slightly differently - still always ending up with 10.

Bush is accused of a "religious offense" for handing over the Protestant version. Apparently, some Catholics think the Pope should only be exposed to Catholic art. I'd like to think he's robust enough to be exposed to American folk art without forsaking his faith. And for the record, if the Pope would like to give me an illuminated Bible from the Middle Ages, I'll be happy to receive it, even if it contains the Apocryphal books - even if it's only the Apocryphal books. I promise not to be offended.

As for the misplaced honorific, get over it. I doubt the Pope stayed awake that night mumbling to himself, "Sir!? I can't believe he called me sir!" Nor do I think he's going to start a holy war over this. I prefer to think he secretly wishes people would call him Joey, and I hope there's a person or two in his life who does just that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The C.S. Lewis You Never Knew

Earlier this month, I attended an exceptional seminar entitled, "Spiritual Formation in the Life of C.S. Lewis." Those of us who love Lewis know his writings and his bio and how he came to faith, but what we don't know much about is how Lewis went about growing in his faith after his conversion.

Lyle Dorsett is one of the leading living Lewis scholars, and in four talks, he took us through the key elements in Lewis's spiritual formation. Dorsett traveled extensively throughout the U.K. and the U.S. and spoke with many who knew Lewis personally or corresponded with him. Through the study of Lewis's letters - published and not - and the accumulation of anecdotes, Dorsett was able to piece together how Lewis cared for his own soul. The entire seminar was an amazing combination of scholarship and devotion. I thought I knew a lot about Lewis - even took a one-week course at Oxford University a couple years ago - but I heard lots of things from Dorsett that I had never heard before.

The sessions were recorded, and this link may take you to them. If you find it's password protected, e-mail me and I'll slip you the password (shhh!). If you take the time to listen to these talks, and even take notes, you won't regret it.

If you go to Perimeter Church, you can get the talks in the bookstore on CD (or you can call them at 678-405-2205 and place an order). And if all else fails, just go buy Dorsett's book on the same subject.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How Not to Share Your Faith

Friendly Atheist asked his readers to submit stories of "Christians who were well-meaning about sharing their faith, but actually ended up pushing you further away from Christianity. . . . Is there someone who intended on helping you find God. . . but did it in a way that just backfired completely? What happened? Why didn’t their 'tactic' work? What were you thinking/feeling?"

Read the post and responses here and learn what not to do. I'd categorize it this way:
  • Be a hypocrite.
  • Harp on hell.
  • Harp on sins.
  • Focus on denominational distinctives.
  • Use terminology that no one ever uses in normal conversation.
  • Pretend to be interested in the other person, but do so only as long as he's interested in talking about Christian stuff.
  • Argue or pretend to listen, but don't actually discuss.
  • Talk a lot, because time is too short to spend it listening.
Anything you'd add to this list?
Bonus Question: How many of these people rejected Jesus because of Jesus? (Isn't HE supposed to be the stumbling block?)

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Night of Worship

Last night, my church had a "Night of Worship." "Night" was a bit of a misnomer, as it only lasted about 90 minutes. But "Worship" was spot on. It was probably the most worshipful time I've had in an evangelical church.

I'm thankful to Randy S. [check out his blog] and his team for all the effort and prayer they put into this special evening. As I looked around our large auditorium, I felt blessed to be in a church where so many of those I know - on stage and in the congregation - are actually actively seeking a life of discipleship to Jesus. I'm privileged to know these people who know Christ.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Perhaps The Most Sensible Thing You Will Read About Immigration

Peggy Noonan was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She now writes for the Wall Street Journal, among others. An editorial she penned around Memorial Day (before the immigration bill was voted down by Congress) strikes, I think, a good balance between a genuine love for immigrants and the ways they enrich our lives, and the need to manage the situation intelligently. You may not agree with every last thing she says (I'm not sure I do), but it's nice to get away from the shrill rhetoric for a change.

An excerpt from the beginning:

Why do people want to come here? Same reasons as a hundred years ago. For a job. For opportunity. To rise. To be in a place where one generation you can be a bathroom attendant at a Brooklyn store and the next your boy can be the star of "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour," with everyone in the neighborhood listening on the radio, or, today, "American Idol," with everyone watching and a million-dollar contract in the wings. To be in a place of weird magic where the lightning strikes. Boom: You got the job in the restaurant. Crack: Now you're the manager.
Boom: You've got a mortgage, you have a home.

"Never confuse movement with action," said Ernest Hemingway. But America gives you both. What an awake place. And what a tortured and self-torturing one. Your own family will be embarrassed by you if you don't rise, if you fall, if you fail. And the country itself is never perfect enough for its countrymen; we're on a constant Puritan self-healing mission, a constant search-and destroy-mission for our nation's blemishes--racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, out damn spots.

I asked myself a question this week and realized the answer is "Only one." The question is: Have I ever known an immigrant to America who's lazy? I have lived on the East Coast all my life, mostly in New York, and immigrants both legal and illegal have been and are part of my daily life, from my childhood when they surrounded me to an adulthood in which they, well, surround me. And the only lazy one I knew was a young woman, 20, European, not mature enough to be fully herself, who actually wanted to be a good worker but found nightlife too alluring and hangovers too debilitating.

But she was the only one. And I think she went home.

Please read the rest of Noonan's article here, in which she suggests how we should approach the issue of illegal immigration.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Elimination, Selective Reduction, Deletion - Murder?

If you can read this GetReligion post without being repulsed and at least a little sick, then you deserve my admiration or pity. The Washington Post article it's mostly about discusses the murder of selected fetuses when the mother is carrying more than one at a time. Pregnant with 3, but only have room at home for 2 more? There are doctors who can help you with that.

It's astonishing to me that the Washington Post would run an article such as this, which hardly helps to forward the pro-choice agenda. Here's an excerpt that gives you an idea of what you're getting into:

Evans prepared two syringes, swabbed Emma with antiseptic, put the square-holed napkin on her stomach. Then he plunged one of the needles into Emma’s belly and began to work his way into position. He injected the potassium chloride, and B, the first fetus to go, went still.

“There’s no activity there,” he said, scrutinizing the screen. B was lying lengthwise in its little honeycomb chamber, no longer there and yet still there. It was impossible not to find the sight affecting. Here was a life that one minute was going to happen and now, because of its location, wasn’t. One minute, B was a fetus with a future stretching out before it: childhood, college, children, grandchildren, maybe. The next minute, that future had been deleted.

Evans plunged the second needle into Emma’s belly. “See the tip?” he said, showing the women where the tip of the needle was visible on the ultrasound screen. Even I could see it: a white spot hovering near the heart. D was moving. Evans started injecting. He went very slowly. “If you inject too fast, you blow the kid off your needle,” he explained.

If a nation ever deserved God's judgment, isn't it ours?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What I Live For

The following e-mail took over 3 months to work its way to me, and I'm not even sure who originally wrote it.

What I do know is that I had the privilege of discipling John Seid to the best of my meagre ability during my senior year of college - his freshman year. There were four other guys (mostly freshmen) in our discipleship group, which they named "The BBS" (for Barlow Bible Study). We had a lot of fun in our group meetings and in our 1-to-1 times - at least, it's only the fun times I remember! God gave us, I think, a special camaraderie during that time.

Although I've never met the guy mentioned in the message below, I feel that, in a small but real way, I am a part of his ministry - because God used me in John's life, and God used John in Colin's. He wants to do the same, and more, with your life.

Read on . . . (slightly edited for spelling and clarity):
Sent: Mon, 26 Feb 2007 4:18 PM
Subject: the impact of one Navigator

Dear NavStaff Friends,

I want to share with you the importance that your ministries make. You might want to share this with your young leaders.

This past weekend I was at the Men's retreat and talked with our speaker Colin Saxton. We were comparing notes on our history as I learned, like me, Colin is a 45 year old male, who's been walking with Christ for the last 25 years. And like me he came to Christ while in college without any Christian family support. It turns out he was at the University of Oregon and living in one of the coed dorms. Just after a party (maybe even during it) he had just come off of a heavy overdose of drugs when a student walked in named John Seid. John proceeded to share the gospel with him. Colin said it best, "John treated me like a treasure, rather than like someone who was lost."

John was associated with a group of students on campus called the Navigators. It was because of John's faithfulness and obedience to be compassionate to one desperate college student, who hated the life that he lived, but didn't know there was another way, that today, we find Colin, ministering throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and literally around the world as the Superintendent of the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Evangelical Friends, touching 10s, 100s, 1000s and millions (think India) of lives with the grace of God.

John Seid, wherever you are – Thanks!

Keep seeking God's treasures – you might find one at a party this weekend.

Blessed Regards,

The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly. (Isaiah 60.22)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Hitchens vs. Hitchens

Peter Hitchens is Christopher's brother, and in this article from The Daily Mail, he reviews his atheist brother's book. In short, he thinks Christopher is out to lunch.

Sibling rivalry can be ugly, but in this case it's kind of fun.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Fear of Freedom

In telling the story of his conversion, Augustine wrote in his Confessions (VIII.5) about how he struggled, preconversion, with the implications of being a Christian and receiving God's grace. He understood that this would make a change of life - and self - not only possible, but also necessary. The prospect of being free of the sins that controlled him was attractive, but it was also frightening:
"Instead of fearing, as I ought, to be held back by all that encumbered me, I was frightened to be free of it."

Story of my life. I bet it's the story of yours, too.

I read a similar thought in a more contemporary book a few years ago, and the insight was helpful. As much as we hate our sins, shortcomings, addictions, and quirks, those are the things that we use to define ourselves to ourselves. "This is who I am, this is what I am like." If the alcoholic stopped being an alcoholic, who would he be? If the brainy guy stopped being so intellectual about everything, who would he be? If the emotionally inhibited man stopped repressing everything, who would he be? If the hypercritical woman stopped being so negative about everyone and everything, who would she be? If YOU stopped ______________, who would you be?

Even in our new lives as Christians, we become comfortable with our inadequacies, and even though we don't like them, holding on to them is preferable to giving them up and losing our identity.

Eventually, push comes to shove. It may happen at a crisis point, but it will more likely be a long series of little decisions. We either grow in Christlikeness by accepting the significance, security, and transformative power that Jesus offers us, or we continue to hold back the ugly but comfortable parts of our personality and identity.

In VIII.7, Augustine says to God, "You brought me face to face with myself..., forcing me upon my own sight so that I should see my wickedness and loathe it. I had known it all along, but I had always pretended that it was something different." Why call it wickedness if we can call it preferences, or weaknesses, or personality, or "Just the way I am"?

Ultimately, Augustine came around. Ultimately, he says to God (VIII.12), "You converted me to yourself." No other conversion, no other vision, will be strong enough to convince us to deny ourselves and follow Him.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith."
(Hebrews 12.2,3)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Friday, June 8, 2007

Is Donald Miller a Prophet, or Just Odd?

If you're a fan of Donald Miller - or just don't get why he's so popular - you'll find this profile/interview on the Christianity Today website well worth reading.

Miller, of course, is the author of Blue Like Jazz, Searching for God Knows What, Through Painted Deserts, and To Own a Dragon.

As one who tends to think propositionally, always looking for outlines, principles, and "truths," I appreciate the balance that Miller brings in reminding me that the Gospel is first and foremost a story of God's passionate love for the world. That story has had its ups and downs, but it started with a beginning and it will finish with an end. For now, we're in the confusing middle, and there's no shortage of drama.

I think Miller is a good representation of what the "emergent church" movement would be if it were actually faithful to the Scriptures and its Author. Maybe they'll swing back that direction, when they eventually realize that it's OK to change the packaging, but not the Truth.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Brownback Has a Brain

Sam Brownback's running for the Republican nomination for President. I don't know too much about his political positions, but what I know, I like. When's the last time you heard a presidential candidate speak (or write) so intelligently about something like the interplay of faith and science? I think he must have read the Pope's Regensburg address (the one that set off the Muslim rioting but was really about answering the question, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" - in other words, "What has reason to do with faith?").

The original NY Times op-ed is here, or you can read it below in its entirety.

What I Think About Evolution
Published: May 31, 2007 Washington

IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.

The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.

Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.

Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.

The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.

Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Does Jesus Read "The Economist"?

One of the churches in our metropolitan area is rapidly becoming the "flavor of the month" in American evangelical Christendom. The pastor is a great preacher, the church is growing rapidly, and they attract lots of beautiful young singles and rich young marrieds. Consequently, they also attract a lot of press.

Recently, a web interview with this pastor was posted, and it's illuminating. Here's part of the interview, edited to avoid naming names (if you don't already know, then good search skills will get you the answer in about 3 seconds - but I'm trying to focus on the thought and not the person, per se):
Question: What is distinctly spiritual about the kind of leadership you do?
Answer: There's nothing distinctly spiritual. I think a big problem in the church has been the dichotomy between spirituality and leadership. One of the criticisms I get is "Your church is so corporate." I read blogs all the time. Bloggers complain, "The pastor's like a CEO." And I say, "OK, you're right. Now, why is that a bad model?" A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles.

Question: So what's the principle behind the CEO model?
Answer: "Follow me." Follow we never works. Ever. It's "follow me." God gives a man or a woman the gift of leadership. And any organization that has a point leader with accountability and freedom to use their gift will do well. Unfortunately in the church world, we're afraid of that. Has it been abused? Of course. But to abandon the model is silly. Churches should quit saying, "Oh, that's what business does." That whole attitude is so wrong, and it hurts the church.

I'm a businessman. I work in a very large "name brand" corporation. And I agree that there are areas where business people can help church people be more effective. I even serve on committees at my church where I suggest we learn from approaches that are taken in business.

But I take strong objection to this pastor's sentiments. Is there really no difference between spiritual leadership and business leadership? Do we just slide all the principles and practices over on a one-for-one basis? Is a church really a corporation, to be led by a CEO whose primary directive is, "Follow me"?

I wonder if the "company handbook" has anything to say about this?
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." President and CEO Jesus. Matthew 20.25-28.

Servanthood must be the mark of a spiritual leader. Some businesses understand that a serving leader usually gets better results in the workplace, but not many of them do. My company certainly doesn't teach that the higher I go, the more I get to sacrifice for the benefit of my people.

Which leads to my second passage from the Christian company handbook:
"[Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Marketing Manager Paul of Tarsus. Ephesians 4.11-13.
I may step on some toes here, but I argue that the primary job of the pastor is NOT to compel people to follow the CEO pastor. Rather, it is to serve his people by contributing to their spiritual maturity, to help them connect to Christ and become Jesus's disciples, not the pastor's. It is to train and prepare the laymen for the call which God has placed on each believer's lives: namely, to love God, to love others, and to lead others to discipleship to Jesus.

We do violence to Jesus and the Kingdom of God when we say that there is no such thing as spiritual leadership. May God protect us from churchmen and pastors who say there's nothing distinctly spiritual about how they lead!

And to those who will respond, "But look at how God is blessing that pastor's church and making it grow," I can only respond: Look at the fruit. Are lives being changed, disciples being made, laborers being sent into the harvest? Numbers are good. Numbers plus depth and maturity is even better. The point is not to add numbers to the church, but disciples to the Kingdom. Over time, we will see whether the fruit is good.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"The Bible Says . . ."

"It was my eyes that read these words but my soul that knew their meaning." Augustine, Confessions, IX.4

Proof-texting occurs when we look for words that back up our pre-formed conclusions. It happens in religion, of course, all the time. It happens in politics - pay attention to the ads that will play during the upcoming election year, and you'll hear quotes from the candidates that, while accurate, are misleading as to what they were really saying. "You took me out of context," the aggrieved party will rightfully say.

I can't help but think that God says that to us several million times a day. "You took me out of context." Now, don't take me out of context. I do believe that the Bible is God-breathed, that we can trust it fully, and that God's promises apply to us today. But I don't believe that our interpretations and conclusions are equally God-breathed.

I'm all for memorizing individual Scripture verses and studying individual verses, passages, or chapters. I do it regularly. But in the midst of all this, we need to seek out the heart of God and the logic of God behind the words.

For example, there's a verse that says I can divorce my spouse if he/she commits adultery. But what's God's heart behind the matter? I could probably find some verse to support whatever position I have about immigration policy, but what does God really think about how we treat the "foreigner" and protect our jobs, etc.?

"He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel" (Psalm 103.7). It's good to know what God has done. It's even better when we know why He did it [though not everything will be revealed or even comprehensible to us, of course - "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever" (Deut. 29.29)].
"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55.8). We need to learn His ways and His thoughts. This can only come as we steep ourselves in His word (all of it, not just the favorite passages) and ask him to form us through prayer. The Bible is not a reference book, and God is not the "answer man." It's too deep, too rich for all that.

"The Bible says..."? Sure. But what does God mean? As with Augustine, our eyes must read, but our soul must learn.

Monday, June 4, 2007

What if Adam Had Said "No"?

Yesterday's cartoon got me to thinking. I'm not a fan of speculative theology - when our coworkers and neighbors are going to Hell, who cares how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? - but here's my question, nevertheless . . .

Let's imagine that only Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit and Adam had said, "No, thanks, I'd rather obey God." What would that have meant for the Fall of Man? As the Apostle Paul wrote, "In Adam all die." Would we still be dead if only the female part of the ur-couple had sinned? Would Eve have been wiped out and Adam provided with a new, improved Eve 2.0? Or what?

Oddly enough, I've never seen this question addressed in the scores of commentaries on Genesis that I've read cover to cover. Have you?

(By the way, C.S. Lewis takes his own run at the Adam and Eve story in Perelandra, which is Book 2 of his space trilogy. In this case, the Satan figure keeps on tempting and the Eve figure keeps on resisting, until . . . Well, I guess you'll just need to read this excellent book to find out.)
Painting: "Adam and Eve," Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1533

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Kong Fights Godzilla, and The Winner Is . . .

Well, the 6th and final installment of the web debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson has now been posted on the Christianity Today website.

Contrary to my earlier predictions, this has been a surprisingly "flat" debate. Considering that there were only one or two posts per week, I would have expected a higher level of discussion, especially out of Wilson. Is this really the best he could do? With all his acolytes, disciples, and hangers-on? I feel that half of my friends could have debated Hitchens as well - in substance, if not in style.

Most tellingly, the debate never seemed to stay on topic for long, which was supposed to be, "Is Christianity Good For The World?" Instead, it devolved (I use that word on purpose) into the standard Atheist v. Christian Theist debate. Been there, done that.

I still like Wilson's thinking on a lot of issues, but this feels like a missed opportunity.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Getting Any? Single Evangelicals Have Sex More Often Than Nonevangelicals

You heard it here, first. Or maybe not.

An article on the Slate website says that evangelical teens are statistically more likely to engage in premarital sex than nonevangelical teens.
Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.
Why is this happening? Well, the author lists several influences, most of them cultural, that make it difficult for evangelicals to think differently from others.

But partly the problem lies in the temptation-rich life of an average American teenager. The fate of the True Love Waits movement, which began with the Southern Baptist Convention in the '90s, is a perfect example. Teenagers who signed the abstinence pledge belong to a subgroup of highly motivated virgins.

But even they succumb. Follow-up surveys show that at best, pledges delayed premarital sex by 18 months—a success by statistical standards but a disaster for Southern Baptist pastors.

Evangelical teens today are much less sheltered than their parents were; they watch the same TV and listen to the same music as everyone else, which causes a "cultural collision," according to Regnerus. "Be in the world, but not of it," is the standard Christian formula for how to engage with mainstream culture. But in a world hypersaturated with information, this is difficult for tech-savvy teenagers to pull off.

There are no specific instructions in the Bible on how to avoid a Beyoncé video or Scarlett Johansson's lips calling to you from YouTube, not to mention the ubiquitous porn sites. For evangelicals, sex is a "symbolic boundary" marking a good Christian
from a bad one, but in reality, the kids are always "sneaking across enemy lines," Regnerus argues.

To that, I'd add that a church environment is all about building relationships. When you're hanging around with people, sharing your lives and your struggles, attachments will develop. Many of those attachments would be called community or fellowship, but as closeness develops, it can tempt toward fornication, as well. This is what I'd call an unintended consequence. Kids could avoid this by staying home alone, reading books, watching TV, or even cruising the internet for porn, but hermitage is a poor substitute for relationships, even when the relationships provide some temptation. There's a middle ground (a balance, if you will) in the pursuit of healthy relationships, knowing the difference between close and too close.

And here's the part of the article that I think is most relevant to our earlier discussion of evangelical divorce rates. Notice that not all evangelicals are created equal:

What really matters is not which religion teenagers identify with but how strongly they identify. After controlling for all factors (family satisfaction, popularity, income), religion matters much less than religiosity. Among the mass of typically promiscuous teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens who describe religion as "extremely important" in their lives. When these guys pledge, they mean it. One study found that the pledge works better if not everyone in school takes it. The ideal conditions are a group of pledgers who form a self-conscious minority that perceives itself as special, even embattled.

I recently spent a year among some evangelical teenagers who belong to this elite minority, and I can attest to the inhuman discipline they exert over their hormones. They can spend all evening sitting on the couch holding hands and nothing more. They can date for a year, be alone numerous times in a car or at the movies, and still stick to what's known in the Christian youth literature as "side hugs," to avoid excessive touching. Muslims have it easy compared to them. At least in Saudi Arabia the women are all covered up, so there's nothing to be tempted by. But among this elite corps of evangelicals, the women are breezing around in what one girl I know called "shockingly slutty conservative outfits" while the men hold their tongues. (No, they don't hold anything else.)

As usual, I encourage you to read the entire article rather than rely on my snippets. But here are my own conclusions:

  • Evangelicals are in the world and exposed to the same cultural influences that nonevangelicals are.

  • Evangelicals are being taught what's right and wrong, but their thinking is not being transformed. Typically, the church teaches the rules and the lists and the "steps to ___," but doesn't teach its people how to learn God's logic and be transformed by His Spirit.

  • Unmarried teens and married adults both think that fulfillment and romantic love are higher values than commitment, obedience, and integrity. When presented with the opportunity for premarital sex or the challenges of a difficult marriage, the tendency (i.e., temptation) is to opt for the "self-actualizing" approach, rather than the one of chastity or fidelity.

  • Plus, there is, no doubt, a spiritual warfare component to what's going on - which would give the evangelicals an adversary that the others might not have.

  • It's not all bad news, though. Teens who are truly committed and not just mouthing words are avoiding sex before marriage at a rate better than nominal evangelicals. A different mind (or mindset) and the power of the Holy Spirit do make a difference.

  • I suspect there's a similar pattern in marriage: although evangelicals as a group are divorcing at a rate similar to their non-evangelical neighbors, the rate among "true believers" is probably better than among those who simply talk the talk and act the walk.