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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Christian living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian living. Show all posts

Monday, January 22, 2018

Reckless Love and Why Words Matter in Worship

In 1996 the alt-rock band Dishwalla became a one-hit wonder with their catchy “Counting Blue Cars." The song isn't well known by its title as much as its chorus:
We said, "Tell me all your thoughts on God
'Cause I'd really like to meet her.
And ask her why we're who we are."
Tell me all your thoughts on God
'Cause I'm on my way to see her
So tell me, am I very far,
Am I very far now?
When I first heard the song, I remember how it was a bit jarring having the singer refer to God as a woman. We know that God is a spirit; which means he doesn't have male or female chromosomes. In fact, there are many places in scripture that portray God as feminine or motherly. God says in Isaiah 66:13-14 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem." Hosea 11:3-4 paint a vivid picture of God as a mother cradling and feeding her children, and there are others as well. However, God has also in scripture consistently referred to himself exclusively through male pronouns. He explicitly uses the term father and it is clear that this is the proper way to refer to him. Christians don't write worship songs extolling Mother God.

Is God's Love Reckless?

I offer this example because of a recent trend in worship songwriting I've noticed. Many popular worship songs aren't very careful with their lyrics and how they portray God. One such song that has grown in popularity is the Cory Asbury song “Reckless Love," published by Bethel Music. A lot of people have bristled at the song's hook. Should we caricature God's love as reckless?

I know that other song have tied God's love to negative actions, such as equating it to the destructive power of a hurricane or one drowning in an ocean. I don't believe such word choices are an attempt to make God an evil force. I believe the writers are earnestly trying to describe a feeling of overwhelming awe about God's mercy and power in their lives, though they seem to lack the vocabulary to say it in that way. They cheat a bit and their analogies bring a picture of breaking apart rather than building up. Still, since those are analogies I don't protest too much.

However, when a worship song teaches that one the attributes of God is recklessness, then the issue is more important and we need to think through what this may mean. To be reckless, as it has been defined, is to be "utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution, careless." Can God be in any way unconcerned with consequences? Can a holy God be without caution? Can a God who has defined himself as the very essence of love be careless? To use the term brings the very defining features of how God has revealed himself to be under question. And given that the worship we sing is a form of teaching in the church, the words we choose in our worship songs fall under the same admonition of James 3:1 and require a greater strictness.

What about the Positive Aspects of Recklessness?

In discussing this with others some have offered a different take on the word reckless. One friend asked :
But what about these:
  • "Giving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
  • "Serving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
  • "Loving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
When taking the term "Reckless Love" and looking at it in the context of the rest of the lyrics, it's clearly used in the positive sense of the word.
I still don't think this works, and here's why. There is a type of giving that is utterly unconcerned about consequences, such as when someone gives an addict a $100 bill or when parents give their children whatever they ask. That is reckless giving because the consequences of those gifts will actually harm the recipient. In giving, Paul teaches us to be intentional (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) and also that the one who doesn't work shouldn't simply be given food (2 Thess. 3:10). So, it isn't careless giving but thoughtful giving. Similarly, one can serve recklessly. It may be as benign as finishing your child's homework or as dangerous as aiding them in covering a crime or enabling an abuser.

In each of the sentences above, the word that may be used is selfless, not reckless. Selflessness means we ourselves feel it when we give or serve yet value others more. But word matter. Recklessness is not selflessness. So my response is:
  • Giving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action = spoiling
  • Serving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action = aiding and abetting
  • Loving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action= dependency
So to describe God's love as reckless reduces God to at best fallible and at worst dependent. Again, I don't believe the writers or the people who sing the song are intending to this, but one cannot reconcile recklessness with a perfect God.

The Importance of Words and Their Meanings

Words are important. Christians recognize this when we discuss issues like homosexual unions. We recognize the word marriage has a specific meaning and that marriage at its core means the joining of a man and a woman. Christians balk at how popular culture seeks to redefine the term to fit their opinion. We would likewise balk at an attempt to label God as transgender simply because he has spoken off himself with motherly tendencies. The word reckless also has a real meaning. When we try to use that attribute of God, we are trying to pour a new meaning into the word, but it then affects the very idea of God to the listener.

I don't think anyone would cheer a worship song that extols God the Mother. Yet, there is more scriptural support for that phrase than there is for God being reckless in any aspect. Let's face it, entitling a song “Reckless Love" is a little bit of clickbait. The writers want people to ponder the incongruity of the phrase. Yet, this is exactly where caution should be exercised more. Accuracy over intrigue, especially when discussing something as central as God's character, is what is called for. Even if I'm wrong, the very fact that so many are concerned about its message should at least caution us to avoid the song for fear that the danger of misrepresentation is a real one (1 Cor. 8:7-13) .

I can sum up my argument in the following sentence: “Reckless Love" delivers reckless theology brought about by a reckless use of language. I don't think anyone can honestly read that sentence and believe that I've just given the song a compliment. And if that's true, perhaps it's time to rethink teaching that God's love is reckless to our congregations.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What the #TakeAKnee Controversy can Teach Christians About Sharing Their Faith

It's no secret people are feeling more and more divided these days. Even the actions of professional sports stars are creating strong feelings on both sides as NFL players decided to not stand while the National Anthem was being played in fields across the country yesterday. The players stated they were protesting in response to President Trump's inflammatory tweets that declared those who didn't stand for the anthem should be fired.

I'm not a football fan, but as I sit back and watch this spectacle, it looks very familiar. As someone who has engaged in debates and discussions online, this is very much the model of Internet exchanges that continually degrade in demeanor until there's no light at all but only heat. It is also how I've seen discussions about faith pan out many times. None of this is really productive, except as a model of what not to do. Therefore, I'd like to use it as a way to possibly model a different approach for Christians who are commanded to use love instead of vitriol in sharing their faith.

Through the Eyes of the NFL Player

The idea of taking a knee during the National Anthem as a sign of protest began with Colin Kaepernick during a 2016 San Francisco 49ers preseason game. He chose not to stand during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and later said "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."[1] Other players, seeing Kaepernick's protest, didn't necessarily equate sitting out the Anthem or taking a knee with protesting the nation, but with trying to draw attention to the plight of inner city blacks and what they feel is the wrong perpetrated upon them.

Just last Thursday, in a recent interview with ex-NFL coach and Christian believer Tony Dungy (you may watch the piece here), Miami Dolphins' players Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas explained there were "a bunch of different instances where there were unjust murders of African-Americans, and I wanted to do something more, you know, than just talk on social media about it." They spoke with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who asked them their motivation for taking a knee, and he backed them, stating "when you hear the why and the caring that they have, and knowing that they think they could make a difference and be heard, I think, you know, how could one not really understand that and encourage it."

I don't doubt Stills and Thomas's sincerity. It was persuasive to even owner Stephen Ross. However, fans, friends, and family of the players reacted differently. They received death threats and wishes of harm. In the interview Kenny Stills said, "A lot of people just really didn't understand what we were doing or why we were doing it."

Point #1 – Miscommunication and Incoherence is More Common than You Think

This brings me to my first point in sharing your faith: people will hold passionate beliefs and they will act upon them, but don't expect those people to understand that their actions may be communicating something different from their intentions. Stills and Thomas wanted to see bloodshed end. I'm with them on that! They wanted to do something more than just talk on social media. So, they looked to the actions of their peer, Kaepernick, and mimicked it. What they didn't understand was their actions sent a message other than the one they wished to communicate.

What people see when a player sits or takes a knee during the playing of the anthem isn't a protest against police killing people, it's a rejection of the country and the values that country represents. Those values include the idea that all people are created equally. What veterans see is someone saying "I'm going to denigrate your sacrifice in risking your life for our country and our flag." The Take a Knee NFL players think they are protesting authoritarianism by not doing what they've always been told to do. But what others hear is "I'm protesting your country, one of the things that forms your identity and what you love."

Point #2 – React with Kindness to Establish Clarity

Miscommunication is always an issue when coming from different perspectives. Yet, if we respond to perceived insults with insults of our own, then no one moves forward. Even though Stills and Thomas didn't get their message clearly communicated, they did get some kind of result because some folks in the Miami area cared. They were able to have a town hall meeting with local law enforcement, community representative, high school coaches, and it fostered real dialogue and helped everyone understand each other. They participated in a ride along and had police officers interact with the community in fun ways. The black community was surprised but began to see law enforcement not as enemies but as human beings. Stills notes how a young girl, age 5 or 6, was confused as to why these two paradigms for young black people would hang out with the police since "The only time the police ever came was to arrest my dad." Stills replied "You have nothing to fear from the police officers. If you do right, they're not going to come after you." This is a huge step towards ending the us/them perception and can save lives, both blue and black.

Seeking to build bridges and communicate made a real difference; so much so that Stills and Thomas stood up and rallied the whole Dolphins team, where they would all stand at Sunday's playing of the Anthem. But what happened next blew that all to pieces.

Point #3 – Reacting with Spite May Undo Good that Has Already been Done

The players decided in 2017 they wouldn't kneel. Thomas said, "You're still giving back to the community, you're still keeping that conversation going, but without obviously protesting." They had planned on standing this week and tried to convince their teammates to do so, too. Yet, on Sunday they all knelt. Why? They were reacting to President Trump's invective on Twitter demanding NFL owners fire their players for taking a knee. Stills texted Dungy and wrote:
Deep down I did not want to allow the President to intimidate us or keep us from using our right to protest. We had a couple guys kneeling for the first time and we had our teammates all locked arms. We were still all together and that's powerful.
The insults and challenges thrown down by the President harmed the progress that was made by open communication. I get the feeling that the players still don't fully realize the difference between protesting the president's authority and protesting the country from where they have the ability to exercise that challenge to authority. I think they have every right to protest, but I think they are protesting the wrong way. Yet this is very much how interactions go when feelings rather than a desire for understanding drives the debate.

Sharing your faith is hard. People's beliefs, be they patriotism or matters of God, are deeply held and form part of our self-identities. They are at the core of who we are. Therefore, dear Christian, it is essential that you take extra care and extra time seeking to understand what the other person is feeling and what he or she is trying to say rather than what you think you hear. You can either make progress or tear down any understanding that may have already been achieved. But Jesus had it right when he said we must love one another. That is the message of reconciliation.


[1] Steve Wyche. "Colin Kaepernick Explains Why He Sat during National Anthem.", NFL Enterprises LLC., 28 Aug. 2016,

Friday, September 08, 2017

Are All These Natural Disasters Punishment from God?

The news seems to be filled the last few days with one natural disaster on top of another. Texas has already been victimized by Hurricane Harvey, with massive flooding and untold suffering. It was the largest hurricane Texas has ever recorded and may be the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history with estimates placing the damage at up to $180 billion.1 But Houston may not hold that record long as Florida sits directly in the path of Hurricane Irma, with Hurricane Jose following behind her. We then have a massive 8.1 earthquake off the coast of Mexico which may cause a tsunami. What’s going on?

Given the terrible destruction and suffering caused by Harvey and Irma, people are beginning to wonder if there isn’t some kind of divine retribution going on. Jeffery Terry tweeted "#HurricaneHarvey is Gods punishment for those who support @realDonaldTrump may God have mercy on them" and University of Tampa Professor Ken Storey tweeted "I don’t believe in instant karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them." (Although Storey’s tweets are protected, you can view a screenshot here.)

Jennifer Lawrence didn’t blame God, but did invoke Mother Nature and insinuated that the recent destructions are somehow related to the recent election of President Trump, saying "We voted and it was really startling. You know you’re watching these hurricanes now, and it’s really hard especially while promoting this movie, not to… not to feel Mother Nature’s rage, wrath."2  Of course Christians are not immune to the temptation, either. Newsweek reports that Rick Wiles claimed "‘here’s a city that has boasted of its LGBT devotion, its affinity for the sexual perversion movement in America. They’re underwater."3

Shark Attacks and Jumping the Shark

So, with so many out of the ordinary natural disasters occurring, shouldn’t we attribute them to God’s wrath? Before we jump to that conclusion, maybe it would be wise to find out just how out of the ordinary this weather cycle is. It seems that with media channels reporting the continued destruction in our 24-hour news cycle, one could hardly be blamed for assuming 2017 was a special year for natural disasters, but that’s not necessarily the case. According to the folks over at Weather underground, 2005 was truly a record year, with 28 storms and 15 hurricanes in the North Atlantic. Of those, five were large and/or deadly enough to have their names retired (Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan, Wilma). 2017 isn’t close to that yet.

Interestingly, we’ve actually been in a downward trend of hurricanes that hit the United States. Writing for the NOAA, climate scientists Gabriel A. Vecchi and Thomas R. Knutson show how the United States has been seeing a decrease in the number of storms causing damage on land. They provide the figure below with the following caption:

Since the late-19th Century global (green) and tropical Atlantic (blue) temperatures have risen – an increase that was partly driven by increased greenhouse gases. If one does not account for possible missed storms (first red line) Atlantic tropical storms appear to have increased with temperature; however, once one accounts for possible missed storms (second and third red lines) basinwide storms have not exhibited a significant increase. When one focuses only on landfalling storms (yellow lines) the nominal trend has been for a decrease.4
So, the number of hurricanes displacing people and causing widespread damage is not increasing, even though we may think it is. A lot of it is because we forget just how bad seasons like 2005 really were and compare this year to last year or to two years ago. Some of it is the continued discussion in the media, spurring what is sometimes called "the shark attack effect" following the release of the book and movie Jaws. A quick explanation is that while shark attacks in real life are very rare (more people die from bee stings in this country each year than from shark attacks), once it captures our psyche, we are prone to look for more examples to confirm our fears. It’s kind of like how only after buying a new car you notice how many of that same model are on the road.

We live in a fallen world and natural disasters are a part of that fallenness. It is also true that God has and will use natural calamities to punish or correct nations. However, when people jump to that conclusion first, they remind me of Jesus’ disciples in John 9, who asked him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" There, Jesus gave a most prescient answer: "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." That should be the Christian response. Let us show the goodness of Christ’s love by reaching out to those afflicted by nature’s devastation and stop trying to pin the blame on some perceived sin. It will be a more effective way to share your faith with others.


1. Reuters. "Hurricane Harvey Damages Could Cost up to $180 Billion.", Fortune, 3 Sept. 2017,
2. Long, Jackie. "Jennifer Lawrence: ‘I’Ve Heard and Seen Things on TV That Devastate Me and Make Me Sick.’" Channel 4 News, Channel Four Television Corporation, 6 Sept. 2017, Beginning about 5:14.
3. Sinclair, Harriet. "Did Gay Sex Cause Hurricane Harvey or Was It Climate Change? Some on the Right Blame LGBT Americans (No Seriously)." Newsweek, Newsweek, LLC, 3 Sept. 2017,
4. Vecchi, Gabriel A., and Thomas R. Knudseon. "Historical Changes in Atlantic Hurricane and Tropical Storms." Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, GDFL/NOAA Research, 29 Aug. 2017,

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Approaching Reality with a Childish Mind

There used to be a time when most children in society would dream of becoming adults. When I say that, I don't mean how kids dream of adventurous occupations ("I want to be a fireman!") or the grandness of their wedding day. I mean that most children understood that as children they lacked the experience, wisdom, and maturity to be a fully functioning member of their community. They saw adulthood as the proper destination for childhood and if one did not arrive at becoming an adult, something went terribly wrong.

In a recent audio piece, Sir Roger Scruton in examining J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels expresses his concern that the novels not only became incredibly popular with adult readers, but how so many adults are trying to make the fantasy of Potter's world is spill out into the real one.

To understand this a bit better, one must understand the two categories of children's literature Scruton identifies:
On the one hand, there are stories addressed specifically to the child's state of mind and which play with those primordial emotions which are the residue of hunter-gatherer terrors. Of this kind are the folk tales collected and embellished by the brothers Grimm.

On the other hand, there is literature which is aimed not at the child, but at the idea of the child; literature that frames the childish mind, treasures it, and also uses it to convey truths about adult reality. Among works of this second kind are some of the masterpieces of our literature, including the Alice books of Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain's story of Huckleberry Finn.

Children's literature of this second kind is about the world as it really is, but written in such a way as to put the innocence and the guilelessness of the child in the center of the narrative. Children's literature of the less artful kind is not about the world as it really is but about the world as children perceive it when deprived of adult wisdom and experience.
Scruton doesn't disparage Rowling's work. He even commends her ability to grip audiences and her deft skill at creating imaginary worlds with engaging names. However, he notes that this less artful literature paints a childish and simplified picture "where good and evil are revealed in concrete terms and divide reality between them." Adults who would hold to such a view of the world would be quite capable of distorting reality, reducing complex issues like free speech, race relations, and differently held views to rather childish views of good guys and bad guys.

Desiring to be Children Instead of Dreaming to be Adults

To be clear, I don't believe Rowling's books are causing such childishness in adults. I believe it simply is one sign of many that our culture continues to shun the responsibility and weight of adulthood for what they perceive as the more carefree existence of childhood. Look at the rise of the Twitter hashtag #adulting, commonly used when someone must deal with choices that aren't necessarily fun, but are required to be considered a responsible person. More and more people bristled against such responsibility instead of embracing it as a welcome sign of maturity and ability.

J.M. Barrie tells us that Peter Pan "still had all his first teeth." I do not desire to now have all my baby teeth. If that were the case, I would seek medical attention because it is a signal that I'm not developing correctly. It would also mean that I would be less capable of enjoying the robust diversity of foods available to me. While children may hold that McNuggets or Mac and Cheese are the best things to eat, they really are poorer than adults who have developed a sophisticated palate.

Similarly, those with a childish concept of the world are poorer in that they cannot understand or experience the wide range of positions, ideas, and emotions that diverse people will naturally have. Tales of a world of magic where every bad guy is easily identifiable is comforting for children who do not yet possess the mental or emotional wherewithal to handle the intricacies of life. But one should not want to remain a child forever. To do so is terribly tragic.

Image courtesy Carlos and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Progressives: Please Help Me Understand International Women's Day

Today is marked as International Women's Day, described as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."1 The Women's March, among other progressive women's rights groups, decided to mark the day by creating "A Day without a Woman" campaign, instructing women to:
  1. Take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
  2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
  3. And Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman
As a heterosexual white male living in the 21st century, I definitely want to highlight the crucial contributions women have made to our society. But I need some help in understanding just how to go about doing this. Lest I be accused of "mansplaining" or bias because of my sex, I want to ask my progressive friends to help me make better sense of this day and just what it is I'm recognizing.

Question 1: How Do We Mark Achievements Today?

As noted above, this date is set aside to celebrate "the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women," yet women are being instructed to take the day off from labor—to go on strike. Fox News reports that "Several schools in at least four states were closed Wednesday so teachers can participate in ‘A Day Without a Woman' strike in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home."2How does this celebrate achievement? What happens to the female students who are supposed to be taught today? Does losing one day's instruction give them an advantage?

Question 2: How Do We Accelerate Economic Gender Parity?

Perhaps the strike is meant to accelerate gender parity. After all, the day is to be marked with calls to action. Does the fact that these schools closed mean the school districts need to hire more men so the ratio of genders is equal? Should we put quotas in place to ensure parity? What about other jobs where men are in the vast majority, like sanitation engineers or coal miners? Business insider lists these as two of the fifteen most deadly occupations with fatalities per 100,000 workers at 22.8 and 38.9 respectively.3 Christina Hoff Sommers documents how in the top ten highest paying college majors, men overwhelmingly outnumber women in all but one while in the ten least remunerative majors women outnumber the men in all but one. So, how do we accelerate gender parity economically here?

Question 3: How Do We Accelerate Cultural Gender Parity?

Perhaps economic parity isn't the only kind of parity we should strive for. Perhaps we can recognize that women as women offer unique and worthwhile contributions to our society that cannot be measured (or are undervalued) economically. But this seems to get sticky pretty fast. Can I say that women as a gender have a unique view on society and its problems? When the city of Los Angeles was in danger of having an all-male city council, former councilwoman Laura Chick decried the possibility, saying "Shame, shame. Absolutely it makes a difference. Our brains are different. We have different perspectives.... There's something terribly wrong with this."4

But how can this be true if a family requires two loving adults, no matter what their gender? Progressives have been telling me for a long time that children don't need women as mothers, they simply need loving individuals. Gender doesn't matter at all. To create a situation where children are intentionally denied the opportunity for a mother is so inconsequential that it shouldn't even be up for discussion. It certainly shouldn't be considered as a factor when adopting, as Catholic Charites were told, forcing them to shut down their adoption services in Massachusetts.

Question 4: What do You Mean by Woman?

Perhaps the fact that women bear children and are responsible for the lion's share of rearing them is a point to be underscored. But that would mean that the very concept of being a woman is rooted in biology. But according to my progressive friends, that isn't true at all. They say the very idea of gender is simply a social construct. All that is required to be a woman is to identify as a woman. Is that right? But that means I can be celebrated if I choose to identify as a woman today.

The big question in all this is how do we celebrate the achievements of women and rally to gain parity for women when the concept of what a woman is isn't defined? This is probably where I need the most help, as I can't make sense of it at all. If the very definition of what constitutes a woman is up for grabs, then what happens to those gender parity issues? I mean, there are those who deeply identify as football fans or basketball fans. I'm in the minority as a hockey fan. Should I seek a day for celebration of achievement and a call to parity since hockey fans are so underrepresented in society?

I would really love to celebrate women. However, in today's world with all the different messaging going on, I can't figure out just who it is we're celebrating or what kind of achievements qualify to be celebrated. If anyone can help me out, I'd be really appreciative.


1. "About International Women's Day." International Women's Day. Aurora Ventures (Europe) Limited., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
2. "'Day Without a Woman' Strike Shuts down Schools as Teachers Bolt." Fox News. FOX News Network, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
3. Lubin Gus and Kevin Lincoln. "The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs In America." Business Insider. Business Insider, 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
4. Newton, Jim. "An All-male City Council?" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Bioethics in the 21st Century (podcast)

We live in a confusing time. Sex is seen as recreational, while pregnancies are disposable. Then, infertile women will pay thousands of dollars for the latest treatments just to have a child. How should Christians make sense of all the new technologies out there? In this four-part series, Lenny reviews the various challenges in this Brave New World of bioethics.

You can subscribe to the Come Reason podcast via iTunes or through our RSS feed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Battling the Culture Wars (Podcast)

Popular media today has an incredible influence on thoughts and attitudes. From blockbuster movies to superstar pop divas, our minds are being shaped by the values that Hollywood deems important. How can Christians protect their families from such a powerful message? This podcast series looks at ways to provide a counterbalance to culture's corrupting influence.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Teaching the Three Rs of Being Human

Every parent wants his or her child to grow into a fully capable, knowledgeable human being. One way we seek to accomplish this is to make sure our children have a proper education, beginning with what has colloquially become known as the three "Rs": reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic. These three Rs are not simply basic skills. Reading allows children to take in knowledge, writing allows them to communicate and distribute knowledge, and arithmetic provides the basis for not simply mathematics, but logical comparison and a host of other concepts. Together, the three Rs have become a shorthand way to reference a complete foundational knowledge all children need to build upon for a successful education.

However, there is another set of three Rs that are at least as foundational to the development of successful human beings as those with which we're all familiar, and I've noticed that not only are these three Rs not taught to children today, but young adults who are deficient in understanding them are causing major repercussions in our university system. These aren't three Rs of education. These are three Rs that distinguish us from animals. They are the three traits that make us civilized human beings and if the next generation doesn't learn them, society will regress as it has already begun to do.

The three Rs of being human are Reason, Regard, and Reverence. Let me briefly explain each of them below:


Reason is an incredibly important skill human beings are capable of developing, and it is one that makes us uniquely human. Animals operate off of their appetites, desires, and drives. Bonobos are very sexually active and much more socially open, so much so they are called the "hippie apes."1 But bonobos also cannibalize their young.2 They operate off their drives and instincts. Humans use their reason to overcome their drives. This is what being civilized means. But left-leaning political movements today have been pushing to return to basing our decisions on our desires. We have become men without chests, flabby, and looking more like animals and less like rational beings.


Another concept that is being lost on the next generation is the Golden Rule. Many people give lip service to the idea of doing unto others as you would have them do to you, but it seems that a whole lot of college kids think the rule comes with an asterisk, acting as if it only applies when that other person agrees with your position. But Jesus put it in context, declaring "Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles" (Matt. 5:39-41, ESV).

The concept of recognizing and extending honor to people because they are also human beings is uniquely Christian.. It recognizes that people are flawed and no one is beyond redemption. It is a practical way to show humility as opposed to arrogance. Given the protest culture we increasingly find ourselves in today, humility has become a rare commodity.


Lastly, we need to teach our children the crucial aspect of reverence toward God. No one should believe he or she is the center of the universe. By recognizing there is a higher moral law to which we all are accountable, it further serves to help us realize both our fragility and dependence.

Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa theologiae, recognized that human beings alone weigh their actions through reason, seeking to attain "the good" or the highest level of happiness. As Shawn Floyd summarizes, Aquinas believes "human actions are those over which one has voluntary control (ST IaIIae 1.1). Unlike non-rational animals, human beings choose their actions according to a reasoned account of what they think is good."3 Aquinas argues that each of us seeking happiness can only find its ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate good, which is God. Without recognizing God, we are doomed to seek only immediate and imperfect pleasures, diminishing our capacity to be truly human by finding the ultimate good.

Losing Our Humanity

It's become popular to bash the medieval as people who were stuck in the Dark Ages and ignorant. However, Aquinas understood what it meant to be human rather than an animal and he strove to live out that difference. Today, our society is regressing, operating more on feeling than facts and comfort over truth. They would rather have us behave more like the bonobos, indulging our sexual passions whatever they may be.

If we don't start teaching the three Rs of humanity, we are in real danger of our culture becoming truly debased, one not fit for real humans to live in.


1. Angier, Natalie. "In the Bonobo World, Female Camaraderie Prevails." The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
2. Callaway, Ewen. "Hippy Apes Caught Cannibalising Their Young." New Scientist. Reed Business Information Ltd., 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.
3. Floyd, Shawn. "Thomas Aquinas: Moral Philosophy." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Why Virtue Matters in Politics

Today, as Americans across the country select the next Commander in Chief, many go to the polls with trepidation at the choices set before us. Does character matter in a candidate? In surveying the charges against character, it seems a lot of political supporters believe character only matters if your opponent shows a deficiency. If it is the candidate you support, then poor character may be excused.

I'm not pointing to a specific candidate in my remarks today. Neither presidential contender could be described as virtuous in any sense of the word. But this cavalier attitude towards character is disturbing. I believe our Founding Fathers were smart men who understood some of the dangers that could befall our freedoms and created a system of checks and balances so that should one branch of government become corrupt, it would be restrained by the other two.

However, one thing the Fathers could never guard against is if the American people as a whole became unprincipled and selfish. That would be the grains of sand that would bring the whole engine to a stop. John Adams, when writing to the Massachusetts Militia made this abundantly clear:
But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, … while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.#1
Is there another way than "assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance" to describe a people who bludgeon those seeking to live out long-established religious beliefs in the name of tolerance while accepting those who have proven themselves to disregard law or common decency in their arrogance? Virtue does matter. Without it our government will no longer function to secure the freedom of people but will crumble to an oligarchy serving only a privileged few.


Adams, John. "From John Adams to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, 2 Feb. 1999. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
Image courtesy Erik (HASH) Hersman and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We Need More Christian Kids Hearing from Atheists

A Barna Group Study released earlier this year reports some dramatic shifts in how American youth approach the Bible. Today's youth read the Bible much less than young people have even fifteen years ago and fewer Millennials see the Bible as a Holy book, let alone one inspired by God. 1 Of course, the rise of skepticism has only added to young people's disillusionment about God's word. As the Barna researchers noted, the culture has seen a steady rise of skepticism "creating a cultural atmosphere that is becoming unfriendly to claims of faith."2

The skepticism and danger of losing their kids to skepticism and atheism has caused many Christian parents and pastors to try and shield them from non-believing influences. They dismiss any biblical difficulty as something not worthy of consideration or as a sign of faithlessness.

Reactions like this are not new. In 1874, when John W. Haley compiled almost every single biblical discrepancy or troubling passage into a single volume, he answered similar concerns:
Some persons may, perchance, question the wisdom of publishing a work in which the difficulties of scripture are brought together and set forth so plainly. They may think it better to suppress, as far as may be, the knowledge of these things. The author does not sympathize with any such timid policy. He counts it the duty of the Christian scholar to look difficulties and objections squarely in the face. Nothing is to be gained by overlooking, evading, or shrinking from them. Truth has no cause to fear scrutiny, however rigid and searching. Besides, the enemies of the Bible will not be silent, even if its friends should hold their peace. It should be remembered that the following "discrepancies"are not now published for the first time. They are gathered from books and pamphlets which are already extensively circulated. The poison demands an antidote. The remedy should be carried wherever the disease has made its blighting way.3
I think that's well said. While a Christian parent's gut reaction may be to steer their child away from objections or controversies of the faith, it is far better to take them on, take them apart and see how well they stand up in the light of truth. That means your youth group needs to integrate some kind of apologetics teaching into its regular curriculum. Invite an apologist to speak at a mid-week service. Make defending the faith the theme of your next youth retreat. Perhaps even find out how you can participate in one of our Apologetics Missions Trips, where students are trained then taken to a secular environment where they get to interact with atheists and skeptics directly.

We need to prepare our young people for the objections they will face once they head off to college. Kids will her these objections; there's no way to shelter them from the rising cultural animosity toward the Christian worldview. To try and do so may even backfire and produce the very result you had hoped to avoid. However, when you engage the arguments and objections, you may be amazed at how poor they really are. As Haley noted, if Christianity is true, then it has no cause to fear scrutiny. The poison demands an antidote.


1. Barna Group. "The Bible in America: 6-Year Trends - Barna Group." Barna Group. Barna Group Inc., 15 June 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. .
2. Barna Group, 2016.
3. Haley, John W. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Grand Rapids,: Baker Book House, 1977. Print. (preface)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Battling the Culture Wars (podcast)

Popular media today has an incredible influence on thoughts and attitudes. From blockbuster movies to superstar pop divas, our minds are being shaped by the values that Hollywood deems important. How can Christians protect their families from such a powerful message?

In this podcast series, Lenny offers ways to provide a counterbalance to culture's corrupting influence.
To see more podcasts, check out our podcast page. You can subscribe to our podcasts via iTunes or using your favorite software.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Understanding the Bible Requires Humility

The Bible is a unique work in human history. It isn't simply one book, but a collection of sixty-six books written by about forty authors in at least three languages over some 1500 years or so focusing on some of the most important moral and spiritual questions of all time.

One would think such a collection would be utterly incompatible; ideas and precepts would contradict each other on every page. Certainly, skeptics like to make such charges, but some Christians do, too. Take the prohibitions on homosexual relations as an example. In a recent discussion, Brian McLaren holds the passages banning homosexual sex no longer apply. He feels while the admonition was appropriate for those of the first century world, the modern nature of homosexual orientation and unions are something different and therefore the overarching principle of love should take precedence. McLaren pointed to other passages where Jesus seemed to also overturn scriptural commands, such as not working on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8).

Andrew Wilson, who engaged McLaren, disagreed. Wilson holds that Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath in the Matthew passage restores the original intent of the command. It doesn't change it. I tend to agree with Wilson, here. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was correcting the deviations that had snuck into the religious teaching of the day. Jesus is saying that the opinions of the Pharisees were misunderstanding the admonitions. He needed the people to learn the correct lesson.

A Proper Approach to the Bible

The thing I liked the most about the discussion is how Wilson clarifies the way each reader should approach the biblical text. Given there is so much content placed in different genres and written across different times and cultures, there can be places where one would ask “how should I understand this?” Wilson offers a method when reading the scriptures, which is to apply humility four different ways:
  • Humility toward Community– We must first ask how other good, stable Christians have understood such passages. People have a tendency to slant or bend the ideas they receive towards their own experiences, but by asking others one can mitigate such tendencies and pool their common understanding into a more expansive view. This doesn't always mean communities settle on the right understanding, but it is a good first step in seeking a more reliable comprehension of the thought being conveyed.

  • Humility towards Catholicity-Beyond just the local community, one should also ask how Christians across all cultural spectrums would see the passage in question. Obviously, in the antebellum South, slave owners were wont to take Paul's command in Ephesians 6:5-9 as justification for slavery. However, others, such as William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement explained how chattel slavery was antithetical to Christianity. If one were to humbly listen to those voices outside their primary circle, they could come away with a new and more profound understanding of difficult biblical passages.

  • Humility towards Orthodoxy-While current points of view are important, there is a basis of orthodox beliefs against which all biblical interpretations should be measured. The early church fathers labored incredibly to ensure they understood the primary aspects of Jesus and the Apostles' teachings. Over the course of decades and sometimes even centuries, these core beliefs were honed to precision. Therefore, when one comes across a passages that isn't as clear, it is incumbent upon him or her to make sure such beliefs do not undermine these essential positions of the faith.

  • Humility towards Scholarship-Lastly, one must realize there's a whole lot about a text he or she may not know. For example, how slavery in the ancient world of Paul had a much wider range of experience than the slavery practiced in the South. Scholars explore the ancient language, the cultural background, the types of uses of words, and the opinions of other scholars to come to their conclusions. A truth-seeker must be able to include their voices when struggling with a difficult section of scripture.
The person reading the Bible is well served through this practice of humility. Realize, humility doesn't mean one should de facto accept the word of the community or of scholars, etc. It does, however, give appropriate credence to them and one's mind will be opened to possibilities that may not have otherwise been considered.

Whenever I speak with skeptics, humility towards the text seems to be the biggest thing they're missing. They want to believe passage X proves their point. Their stance may give them assurance, but it ultimately won't further the truth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Necessity of Humility for Racial Healing

It's no secret that racial tensions in this country are the highest they've been in many years. The different high profile shootings of black men and of police officers have raised tensions to extreme levels and both black and white Christians are trying to understand how they should respond.

It's clear that Christians should have a response. Christianity holds to a very clearly defined moral understanding of the nature of human beings as ones who reflect God's image, and the sanctity of life. Both issues are central to this crisis. Further, Christianity has always taught that differences of race, culture, sex, or socio-economic backgrounds matter little in the inherent worth of an individual (Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12:12-13).

I've previously written that the church should be the place where blacks can turn in their pain and fear. How we as Christians can reach out to our community and begin to promote healing is a little tougher question. Recently, I was able to attend an event hosted by Sandals Church and Pastor Matt Brown entitled "A Real Conversation About Race and the Church" that brought together several black pastors as well as law enforcement and local government officials to talk about the role of Christians in bridging the divide that seems to grow wider with each news cycle.

Stop Asserting Your Individuality

One of the more common themes mentioned by the participants throughout the evening was that of humility. Pastor Jonathan Bilima of Relevant Church told of how he would intentionally reach out to others in his community by not exercising his preferences or his freedoms, but by trying to present an atmosphere where others would be more comfortable. He said even in his church services, he would prefer more musical styles associated with traditionally black churches, he chose to "turn down a little bit of my identity in order to bridge the gap of ignorance."

I think Pastor Bilima put his finger on a key factor in reconciliation and healing. As Christians we have an amazing amount of freedom to worship and live. However, if we elevate those freedoms to be primary over the needs of another, we sin. The Corinthian church had the freedom to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as that's pretty much the only meat one could buy. The Apostle Paul understood that those idols were not real gods and told them they could do so. However, he added that if their freedom to eat the meat might stumble another, they should spit it out of their mouths. He wrote "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved" (1 Cor. 10:31-33).

The Ultimate Model of Humility

Jesus modeled such humility more than anyone else. He didn't regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he humbled himself so much that he submitted to his own torture and death in order to save those who were doing the torturing and killing. He understood that placing the needs of those who were in the wrong above his rights was the only way to reach them and heal them. This is the model we as Christians are called to follow.

Certainly, the pursuit of justice is important. I do not believe we as citizens should dismiss wrongdoing. However, that doesn't mean as Christians when engaging others in conversation, even in conversations online, we should begin our conversation with calls to justice. Perhaps beginning with calls for understanding and empathy would be better. Empathizing is a great way to build real relationships because it tells the other person you value their feelings and experiences. It is one way each of us can make a difference in the lives of those who see things differently from us. It is one way we can draw each other closer to Christ instead of drawing distinctions.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Why Isn't the Church a Sanctuary for Black Lives?

I'm aghast at the news. Within a 24 hour period, two police shootings have left two men dead and cell phone videos showing the aftermath. Both victims were black men who seem to be in non-threatening positions and their deaths add evidence to the charge that there is a serious problem in our country with racial engagement.

Were these shooting racially motivated? Uncovering internal motivation is a pretty tricky business. The details are still being investigated in these cases so it would be premature to pronounce guilt or innocence. But what we can judge is there is a natural reaction to such incidents. Is it any surprise that blacks are scared for their lives when they see law enforcement? Is it a shock that these people have cause to be concerned about their welfare being threatened by the very people who have sworn to protect them?

The Church Must Do Better

There is a judgment I can make and it is the evangelical church is failing these people. We are failing. Those who are scared don't see the church as a sanctuary where they will receive support, empathy and protection. They don't see evangelicals as advocates for them like they are for the unborn. Mika Edmondson said it well when he addressed the council members of the Gospel Coalition in May of this year:
Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to "mourn with those who mourn." The unique calling of the church (as opposed to the institutions of the world) is not simply to tolerate one another, or even simply to understand one another, but to mourn with one another and bear one another's burdens. To deliberately devote ourselves to listen to one another for understanding, and then to empathize with one another to the point of shedding tears with one another. That's certainly not what so many of the talking heads on cable TV and talk radio are advocating. They're not talking about mourning with those who mourn.

But in the church, white suburban men are called to cry tears with the black inner-city woman scared to death her husband is going to be the next Eric Garner, or that her teenage son is going to be the next Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. And if you are so entrenched in your socio-political camp that you can't shed some tears with Tanisha, something is deeply wrong. Because that's who the church is called to be. That's the kind of thing that makes our unity in Christ really conspicuous and causes people to see that there is a unique power at work in the church unlike anything in this world.1
Realize that Dr. Edmondson is not claiming that all police are hunting down black people. He isn't assigning guilt in any shooting incident. Rather, he's talking about ministering to hurting people in a time of tragedy. That is clearly what Jesus taught his followers to do.

The Model of Ambrose

We need to work harder so blacks feel that evangelical churches are places they can go for sanctuary. We talk about sanctuary, but do we really understand what that term means? It means coming under the cover of an entity that will provide comfort and stand for what is right

We have a model in the early church. Theodosius I was emperor of Rome in 390 AD. He was a Christian and began aggressively banning pagan activities. "The Law" began oppressing pagans, which lead to a riot in Thessalonica where some of the citizens killed Theodosius's representative in protest. The slaying angered the emperor so much he gave his soldiers carte blanche to punish the citizens. They in turn devised a scheme and slaughtered a large number of men, women, and children of the city.

Theodosius was the most powerful man in the world, yet his actions were rebuked by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who excommunicated him for eight months until he repented of his actions. In one famous retelling, Ambrose stood outside his church and forbade Theodosius' entrance. William Stearns Davis recounts the story:
When Ambrose heard of this deplorable catastrophe, he went out to meet the Emperor, who—on his return to Milan—desired as usual to enter the holy church, but Ambrose prohibited his entrance, saying "You do not reflect, it seems, O Emperor, on the guilt you have incurred by that great massacre; but now that your fury is appeased, do you not perceive the enormity of your crime? You must not be dazzled by the splendor of the purple you wear, and be led to forget the weakness of the body which it clothes. Your subjects, O Emperor, are of the same nature as yourself, and not only so, but are likewise your fellow servants; for there is one Lord and Ruler of all, and He is the maker of all creatures, whether princes or people. How would you look upon the temple of the one Lord of all? How could you lift up in prayer hands steeped in the blood of so unjust a massacre? Depart then, and do not by a second crime add to the guilt of the first.2
Alvin J. Schmidt notes the event is pivotal in history since it is "the first instance of applying the principle that no one, not even an emperor or king, is above the law."3 Ambrose's bravery tuned the culture, establishing the rule of Law above the rule of power in the West.

Calling out sin, promoting justice for the oppressed, and standing strong for the Gospel have always been a part of the Christian legacy. We need to comfort those who mourn and stand beside the fearful. Non-Christians who wish to uphold natural marriage or protection for the unborn feel confident the church stands with them in their fight for justice. We need to work harder so those in the black community hold similar feelings.


1. Edmondson, Mika. "Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?" The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition, Inc., 24 June 2016. Web. 07 July 2016. .
2. From: Davis, William Stearns, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, 298-300. Reproduced online at
3. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print. 250.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are Christians Too Judgmental? (podcast)

The most well-known verse in the Bible is not John 3:16, but Matthew 7:1—"Judge not lest ye be judged." People quote it all the time when a Christian seeks to take a stand for biblical values. But what does it mean? Should Christians "force" their beliefs on others and is it right to take stand against an immoral practice by trying to pass laws affecting all citizens?In this four-part podcast, Lenny examines these charges, showing what Jesus actually meant and why Christians must identify sin to be loving.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Finding Christian Hope in This Election Cycle

Today is the National Day of Prayer and I know a lot of Christians who are praying for this country more than ever before. Principled people are faced with two choices for leading our country, each of whom has acted in ways demonstrating a complete lack of moral grounding. As one young evangelical mom told Senator Ben Sasse, "I want to cry. I disagree with Hillary Clinton on almost every single thing – but I will vote for her before Trump. I could never tell my kids later that I voted for that man."1 As I said yesterday, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift where the abandonment of truth and community standards for individual desires is coming home to roost.

Like the lady above, a lot of people I talk with are feeling more and more hopeless. They don't want their daughters sharing a bathroom with a grown man, yet even the courts are demanding we ignore the reality of biology over something that is not yet defined or testable. They worry about their kids and the kind of world they will inherit. For people of faith, it will definitely get harder. What's a Christian to do?

There is hope to be found in the events we see today. It's a very specific kind of hope, one that comes about as the result of hard times. Paul explained to the Romans how hope is developed in the Christian:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
This is the hope of the New Testament. It isn't a hope of changing circumstances. Because of our great blessings, we've mixed up the hope spoken of by the apostles with hoping that easy times are ahead. But that isn't the way the Bible uses the word.The Bible teaches that this world is corrupt and needs to be judged. It isn't a hope in a political figure who will move things in a particular direction. We know that no one is good but God alone. The hope we have is that even as the world gets darker and our struggles more difficult, God will use those to develop our reliance upon him alone.

As the world gets darker, I do have more hope. I can see how the lines are being more clearly drawn than before. I can see how it may soon cost every Christian something to claim the name of Christ. That won't be easy and I don't wish pain upon anyone, but it will make people take their beliefs more seriously than it has in the past.

The hope we have is a hope that God will at one point put everything right again. In the meantime, I cling to the fact that God will be working in me to produce the endurance and good character he desires me to have. I trust in him and my hope drives my ministry. Not simply hope for a future event but faith in his providence leading each of us today and every day, even when it looks crazy out there.

So rejoice today, Christian. If God is real then there is hope to be found.


1. Sasse, Ben. "An Open Letter to Majority America." Ben Sasse Facebook Page. Facebook, 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 May 2016.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

twenty one pilots and How to Drown Out Self-Reflection

It's no secret we live in a noisy world. Many pixels have been spilled on just how interrupted our lives have become. Advertisers are competing in an ever more crowded space, seeking to be noticed. Since there's an old maxim that a customer must see one's ad seven times for it to be optimally effective, each tries harder and more frequently to rise above the din and be noticed. Of course, that means invasive advertising escalates until everyone is shouting.

However, it isn't only advertisers that have added to the noise in our world. As with many of the problems arising from modernity, we are not only victims but we suffer from self-inflicted wounds. We carry screens with us at every step. Not only does this provide the channel for those vying for our attention to shout at us, it creates its own distractions. We add our own noise by seeking to be entertained, distracted, or otherwise engaged throughout our day.

Again, none of this is new. What is interesting, though, is it isn't only the "old curmudgeons" that are lamenting the loss of self-reflection. My fifteen-year-old son played me a song from the band twenty one pilots which made the same point. Their 2013 hit "Car Radio" casts a young man lamenting the fact that his radio has been stolen, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Here's a portion of the lyrics:
I hate this car that I'm driving
There's no hiding for me
I'm forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts
So often I ought
To replace that slot
With what I once bought
'Cause somebody stole
My car radio
And now I just sit in silence
Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It's on my sleeve
My skin will scream
Reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream1
The song paints a picture of a young person who isn't complaining about the noise, but pining for it. The silence has forced the driver into self-reflection and he really doesn't like what he's discovering about himself: a person who's prideful, perhaps selfish and definitely shallow. Instead of knowing how to process and perhaps work on his deficiencies, he'd rather have the noise to cover them up and divert his attention once more. Reality, like the quiet, can be brutally honest and I think that many people in our society—both young and old—have sought to dodge self-reflection through business and noise.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. But I don't think we know how to do quiet contemplation well any more. Ask yourself, how long can you sit in a room with nothing but your own thoughts? Researchers recently reported more people were willing to administer electric shocks to themselves than sitting in a chair unstimulated for ten or fifteen minutes.2

Like anything else, quiet reflection and thoughtfulness is a skill that must be practiced. I outline some of the basic principles on just how to do that here. Christians especially are commanded to be contemplative, meditating on God's word and their own place. We may feel discomfort about our own shortcomings, but the answer isn't to turn up the volume. It's to think even more deliberately and more carefully, seeking to minimize them while honoring our God. As the song says:
There's faith and there's sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive.2


1. Joseph, Tyler, and Josh Dun. "Car Radio." Vessel. twenty one Pilots. 2013. MP3.
2. Pomeroy, Ross. "Some People Prefer Electric Shocks to Thinking Quietly by Themselves" RealClearScience. RealClearScience, 13 July 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2014.
3. Joseph and Dun, 2013.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bible Promise Verses and Apologetics

Yesterday, I posted a short clip on how many people take the oft-quoted passage "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and apply it incorrectly. (Click here to see the video.) I also shared the post with a couple of online apologetics groups. A couple of people were confused on why I even bothered with this point. Why make a big point about something as seemingly small as using Philippians 4:13 to show that they can conquer their difficulties?

The reason is both important and relevant to apologetics. First, apologetics doesn't only concern believers defending their faith against non-believers. 1 Peter 3:15 is clear when it instructs us to be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks. That "anyone" includes those inside the church who may not know as much as you or those who are mistaken in their use of scripture. Paul instructs Timothy to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Paul immediately follows this up by telling Timothy to correct errors that are being spread within the church, stating "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene."

The Problem with Misapplying Scripture

Of course, some may think that this is a bit of an over-reaction. How can a mis-applied verse on a Bible Promise calendar escalate to spreading like gangrene? The problem is twofold. First, there are those who may "claim" these verses and when they don't play out as they expect in really difficult times, they see it as evidence against the Christian faith. This happened en masse in the Great Disappointment of the Millerite movement of 1844, but I've spoken with those today whose Christian beliefs were more rooted in these feel-good promises than the hard task of working out one's salvation with fear and trembling. When they did face pressures, they felt these promises didn't deliver, and therefore Christianity was something of a bait and switch. Others may not leave the faith, but they question themselves or their standing in salvation.

Secondly, approaching the Bible with this kind of sound-bite exegesis is incredibly misleading and even dangerous. One of the biggest difficulties I have in sharing an orthodox Christian belief with Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons is how they try and use the Bible to proof-text their beliefs. They abuse the text in the exact same way as the passage above by ripping it out of its larger context and isolating a verse or two so it can mean what they want it to mean instead of what the author intended. If Christians begin to take all of scripture as a series of verses that stand independently, how can we ever know what meaning the writers actually had in mind and whether this applies or not? Such misapplied Bible verses, even in the guise of providing encouragement, actually encourage the misuse of Scripture. If we chide the Mormons and JWs for doing this, we shouldn't do it either.

In all, I think it's important for Christians to be careful when using individual verses to support any belief. As I've shown before, sometimes people can sound really Christian and even say all the right slogans, but they may not even understand salvation. As believers and faith-defenders it is important we gently correct those who may misuse scriptures, lest they fall into a greater error. The video is one small step in that direction.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What Does the Bible Promise "I Can Do All Things" Really Mean?

Bible promises are very popular, with calendars, posters and inspirational quotes proliferating Christian stores. However, do those promises really mean what we think?

In this short video, Lenny demonstrates how taking a verse out of its context can distort the message the Scriptures actually convey.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is Any Body Modification OK Just Because It's Your Body?

It's no secret the culture has shifted regarding the personalizing of one's body. I've been exploring the question of body modification in a series of articles where I hope to bring some clarity to this contentious issue. I first argued that the human body holds intrinsic worth; the body has value in itself as opposed to merely having value because we give it value. Thus, we should be thoughtful as Christians when thinking about any kind of body modification.

In my last article, I also said that one shouldn't discount any type of modification as some kind of violation of that worth. I offered reconstructive surgery, braces, hair plugs, or even certain forms of tattoos as examples that demonstrate one cannot simply classify any tattooing or body modification as sinful or wrong. But those fall into one aspect of the four different classifications of body modification. There are other types of modifications that are not so easily dismissed.

Further complicating the issue is the question of personal autonomy. As human beings, we know our bodies better than anyone else. We control them and they affect us, not others. If we wish to alter our bodies, shouldn't we have that right? Even some of the more extreme cases, most people are reticent to tell others they cannot do as they wish with their bodies. Take Pixee Fox, a North Carolina woman who had several plastic surgeries including 1400cc breast implants and the removal of six ribs to provide a cartoon-like hourglass shape. Most may call such actions foolish, but would they describe them as sinful or wrong?

Damage for Self-Fulfillment

I think there are instances where certain modifications that present themselves as violating the inherent worth of the body and shouldn't be allowed, even though they may infringe on the autonomy of the person requesting them. There are of course modifications done forcibly against one's will or before one can give consent, such as female genital mutilation. Since informed self-choice doesn't really factor into such cases, I would consider them separate issues.

I'd like to look at a group of people that are becoming better documented in medical literature. These people suffer from a condition called Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) and they have the common trait in feeling that one of their body parts is foreign to them and needs to be amputated. Realize these are healthy limbs or appendages that function normally; there is nothing physically wrong with them. Those with BIID, though, "feel ‘over complete' and want to have the alien limb amputated."1 They will seek out medical intervention, although there are no hospitals that currently allow the amputation of healthy limbs.2

Many may say that such an extreme condition is clearly a mental disorder, and shouldn't be included in a discussion on body modification, but some in the medical community feel the issue isn't quite that cut and dry. Tim Bayne and Neil Levy argue that patients suffering from BIID have an autonomous right to modify their body just as those who undergo extreme breast enlargements or other plastic surgeries have the right to alter healthy body parts for their satisfaction. They note that reproductive surgeries, such as tubal ligation or vasectomy cripple healthy organs, too. They also state BIID patients "who succeed in procuring an amputation seem to experience a significant and lasting increase in wellbeing" and stop seeking to self-amputate, which is much more dangerous and has led to death in prior cases. 3

An Autonomous Lifelong Desire

Sabine Müller points out that those suffering from BIID are not making their choice off the cuff. Instead, they have agonized over their foreign limb and they report having these feelings since childhood. She states "Because of the early onset of the disturbance of the body image, BIID patients cannot remember a life in which the affected limb was integrated into the body image."4

Annemarie Bridy argues the initial revulsion over removing the offending limb as a form of treatment may be simply showing a bias most people have. She writes:
In contemporary society, the body is regarded not as a physiological given to which we must reconcile ourselves, but as a malleable instrument of self-expression amenable to a wide range of medical and surgical interventions…

At the turn of the twentieth century, many physicians believed that cosmetic surgery undermined fundamental tenets of the medical profession by violating the ethical injunction against doing harm…. Body parts perceived to be too small are augmented; those which are thought to be too large are reduced in size or prominence. While the dramatic shift in attitudes toward cosmetic surgery hardly forces the conclusion that elective amputation will one day be as common as rhinoplasty is today, it does suggest that beliefs about the integrity of the body and the nature of bodily harm are culturally mediated and historically contingent. As anomalous as it may seem when viewed in a historical vacuum, elective amputation becomes less incomprehensible when it is viewed as a manifestation of the continuing social and cultural evolution of attitudes toward the body and its modification.5
What further complicates the issue is the question of autonomy. All of those writing on this issue underscore how important it is to respect autonomous decisions by the patient even when we disagree with their decision. Bayne and Levy point to decisions based on religious autonomy that may be harmful, such as Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions.6  Yet, not all procedures are morally justified by claims of autonomy. Müller uses the example of an anorexic patient who deeply desires stomach-stapling surgery.7

Where Do We Draw the Line?

While Bridy along with Bayne and Levy see circumstances where they believe amputation of healthy limbs is permissible for BIID patients, I agree with Müller who sees the condition as primarily a psychiatric affliction that should be treated as such. As a Christian, I would recognize the body has a telos, that is it shows design for a purpose. To claim that one's arm or leg is foreign to the individual is to claim there is no objective telos to the body. The only value or purpose the body has is whatever the individual wishes to ascribe to it. Those with BIID are being honest in their feelings of detachment from one of their limbs and their misery in their current state. However, they seem to believe their mental state should dictate their physical state. This doesn't follow for me. Anorexics have mental states seeing themselves as fat, but it would be immoral to allow them to modify their bodies through stomach stapling or some other procedure. It is their mental understanding that is failing them.

BIID is an extreme aspect of body modification. I would argue it holds strong parallels to those who seek sexual reassignment surgery and the issues are nearly identical, although individuals who claim to be transgendered do have the opportunity to modify their bodies to match their mental state while BIID patients do  not. Why? What's the difference? One of the reasons for opposing SRS is that it also disregards the intrinsic worth of the body and gives subjective value to it.

The real question, though, is just how far down the road should Christians go? What about less drastic forms of body modification? Where do we cross the line from personal expression and harmless autonomous choices to demonstrating a subjective value for the body God gave us? Does tongue-splitting qualify? How about vasectomy or tubal ligation? These aren't easy questions, but in a future article I hope to perhaps offer some guidelines to explore them more fully.


1. Müller, Sabine. "Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID)—Is the Amputation of Healthy Limbs Ethically Justified?" The American Journal of Bioethics, 9:1, 36-43,
(2009) DOI: 10.1080/15265160802588194
2. Bayne, Tim, and Neil Levy. "Amputees By Choice: Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the Ethics of Amputation." Journal of Applied Philosophy 22.1 (2005). 75. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
3. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 78-86.
4. Müller, 2009.39.
5. Bridy, Annemarie. "Confounding Extremities: Surgery at the Medico-ethical Limits of Self-Modification." The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 32.1 (2004): 148-58. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.151-152.
6. Bayne and Levy, 2005. 80.
7. Müller, 2009.40.
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