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

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Use Care, Christian, or You May be Mistaken for a Klansman

The headline read, "Indiana University Students Mistake Priest for KKK Member." Immediately, I had to know more. As Breitbart reported, several students saw a man dressed in a Dominican monk's habit with beads hanging from a long belt and began tweeting about him "to express their fear of the alleged Klansman, who they claimed was carrying a whip, and dressed in 'white robes.'" 1 The reports led residential hall advisor Ethan Gill to write a warning to IU students about the individual, as reported in the university newspaper:
There has been a person reported walking around campus in a KKK outfit holding a whip. Because the person is protected under first amendment rights, IUPD cannot remove this person from campus unless an act of violence is committed. Please PLEASE PLEASE be careful out there tonight, always be with someone and if you have no dire reason to be out of the building, I would recommend staying indoors if you're alone.
Gill would later post a retraction after he saw a picture of the individual:
This is what happens when there is miscommunication. So what happened tonight goes like this: a person saw white robes and what looked to them like a weapon, got scared (rightfully so), warned people, warned staff, which in turn caused me to warn my residents because I need to look out for my residents, which in turn made it spread.
When my residents, terrified, come running to me, saying yeah the report must be true, they saw him and couldn't believe there was a klansmember with a whip. And I see this picture. It's a priest. With a rosary. 2
Of course it would be easy to poke fun at IU students who overacted to a local priest who regularly walks the campus to pray for those enrolled. But instead of looking down on the undergrads, Christians can learn quite a bit from this incident. Here are at least three takeaways:

1. You cannot assume people today know anything about faith

We now live in a post-Christian culture, which makes things harder for Christians who want to be ambassadors for their faith. That means you shouldn't assume other people will know anything about Christianity or even what you mean by the words "faith" or "belief" as you engage in conversations about beliefs. These are constantly caricatured to mean something less than the traditional Christian understanding. Society is becoming appallingly illiterate on matters of religion, and not just the Christian faith. You need to be prepared to explain what you mean by these terms when talking with friends and family.

2. Christian customs and actions can be mistaken as a threat.

Because matters of faith are foreign to so many, it becomes wise for the Christian ambassador to proceed slowly and make sure those with whom they're speaking have a better understanding of not only what they believe, but why that belief matters. Innocuous statements or actions—like a priest walking a college campus to pray for students—can be perceived as a threat by people who in a very real way belong to another culture. Just read this reflection on Christian missionaries in India by a local Hindu to see what I mean.

This misunderstanding has far-reaching consequences, too. The current climate on religious freedom bills, like those passed in North Carolina and Mississippi, and the one vetoed in Georgia, show just how out of touch folks are with the concept of fidelity to conscience being essential to the integrity of a human being. Instead of the first freedom being necessary, they ascribe it to bigotry – a Klansman's garb.

3. Christians need to work harder at bridging communication gaps.

Lastly, as missionaries in what amounts to a foreign culture, Christians really need to spend some time going out into the world and getting to know those with whom they wish to engage. Be there to listen to the questions non-Christians have. The more people interact with loving followers of Jesus who care not simply about witnessing to them but care if they passed their last midterm the fewer misunderstandings will occur. Certainly, you cannot appease everyone; there are people who want to be angry or have a political ax to grind. But you can certainly be open before people and get to know them as people. That's what Jesus did.


1. Ciccotta, Tom. "Indiana University Students Mistake Priest for KKK Member." Breitbart News. Breitbart, 06 Apr. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.
2. Leeds, Griffin. "Everyone Mistook a Priest for a KKK Member." The Tab. The Tab, 05 Apr. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

'Secular' Nations are Coasting Off Christian Fuel

"No one need fear that the Titanic will go down. Even though all her former compartments and bulkheads were stove in by the iceberg, she would still float indefinitely. She might go down a little at the bow, but she would float. I am free to say that no matter how bad the collision with an iceberg, the Titanic would float. She is an unsinkable ship." 1

Those words were offered by P.A.S. Franklin, Vice President of the International Mercantile Marine on the morning of April 15, after reports started coming in that the R.M.S. Titanic stuck an iceberg and was in need of rescue. Franklin assured the public that would be rescued. Of course, his assumption was completely wrong, as was the Titanic's captain who proceeded at full speed even though the Titanic had received six separate warnings of heavy ice before she was struck. Captain Smith, a seasoned leader, knew of the ice in the water before he left port.2 Both men were assuming future success on their past history. Smith even previously said that modern shipbuilding had "gone beyond" any condition causing a ship to sink. 3

Christianity is What Shaped These Societies

I offer the example of the Titanic not to berate the assumptions of the men above, but that they should serve as a caution. Today, we recognize such statements as hubris, perhaps even ridiculous but hindsight is easy. When I read things like Phil Zuckerman's claim that secular societies fare better than religious ones, I have to shake my head. Zuckerman offers several statistics, both on a state level within the U.S. and on a global scale comparing 'secular' nations to those whose citizens are religiously engaged and concludes that on many different benchmarks, such as economic indicators and reported levels of happiness, the secular nations are better. Scandinavian countries are held high in Zuckerman's writings as prime examples of secular nations. While that may be a debatable point, I will grant that for all practical purposes, the Scandinavian nations have a dominant secular population.

I've already discussed the first problem with the claim: what counts as 'better?' Today, I want to take on the heart of the matter, though. These secular nations (and the less religious states Zuckerman offers) are as successful as they are not because they've turned secular, but because of the centuries of Christian history and values that have shaped them into what they are today. It is the Christian tradition that has made the Scandinavian countries value all people as equals. Before Christianity, the Viking culture saw pillaging monasteries of far off countries acceptable and slavery was part of the business. It took some 150-250 years for the Scandinavian nations to convert to Christianity, and during that time the culture gradually changed to adopt Christian principles.4

Jumping to Conclusions

The length of time it takes to change a culture fits appropriately with sociologist Robert Woodberry's findings on how Christian missionaries positively affected third world nations. What makes his study so significant is that Woodberry has researched his claim so carefully no critic can find a hole in it. You can read more here, but as Christianity Today summarized:
Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.

In short: Want a blossoming democracy today? The solution is simple—if you have a time machine: Send a 19th-century missionary.5
Zuckerman has offered his criteria for "better" by using measures like a nation's democracy, the equality of women, or its level of literacy. But these are results of the Christian worldview. So are education, the value for children and orphans, and the idea that all men are created equal. The secular nations that Zuckerman highlights have had a long history of Christianity as their primary societal driver. There simply has not been enough time for secular values that Christians warn of to do the damage they can ultimately inflict.

Once the Titanic struck the iceberg, it didn't sink right away. It took over two hours before she went down and in the immediate minutes after the hit, I would imagine certain crew would still have voiced the same hope as P.A.S. Franklin. Their assumptions were equally wrong. I've shown how the so-call model secular nations have devalued life already. The question for us today is where will this new secularism take us when enough time has passed for the culture to be drowning in it?


1. "She Cannot Sink, Says Official of White Star Line" The Evening World (New York, NY) 15 Apr. 1912, Final ed.: 1. Print. PDF version available at
2. Elverhøi, Peter. "There's a lot of ice out there, old boy." Acquitting the Iceberg. Encyclopedia Titanica, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
3. Butler, Daniel Allen. Unsinkable: The Full Story of the RMS Titanic. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1998. Print. 48.
4. Stone, Ryan. "The Long Goodbye to Scandinavian Paganism and the Christianization of Three Realms." Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, 16 Oct. 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.
5. Dilley, Andrea Palpant. "The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries." Christianity Today. 1/8/2014.  Accessed 6/9/2014.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Living in a Post-Pagan Culture

We in the West are living in a post-Christian culture. Europe has been overtly secular for many years, but given the high percentage of the population in the U.S. who believe in God, identify with a specific Christian faith and state religion is very important to them. Yet, the recent Pew survey showed that mainstream Christianity has been losing adherents, especially with the Millennial generation.1

Even prior to the Pew survey, the influence of Christian beliefs had been clearly waning as we saw less and less evidence of the Christian worldview impacting the important moral questions of our day. Instead of the God of the Bible and his moral standard, most Americans hold to God as someone you pray to in order to escape trouble but doesn't require anything from you. It's akin to what researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton labeled Moral Therapeutic Deism.2 The recent battles that Christians have had to fight in not servicing homosexual unions to maintain their religious integrity offers a clear sign that the country had left its Christian underpinnings. There should be no doubt that American—the last hold-out in the West—has become post-Christian.

What are we trading Christianity for?

Of course, believers have lamented how a society built upon and existing because of a Christian worldview would now jettison its foundational principles for something that is not clearly defined. Most of the culture is moving to a feelings-based system of judgment.

Take a recent letter to the Los Angeles Times. Reader E.J. Parker was opining on whether the Los Angeles should change the name of Robert E. Lee school and wrote, "For me, the deciding point is this: Were I an African American, how would I feel as a parent, sending my child to a school named for the great hero for the Confederacy?" That's the deciding point? Feelings? Yet, in all those lawsuits against Christian bakers, photographers, and wedding coordinators who wouldn't service a homosexual ceremony (and even a complaint against Christians who would), feelings are the impetus and the deciding factor.

So, what is in store for Western society now? Are we to slide back into paganism? No, that won't happen. A feelings-based society is further removed from Paganism than it is from a Christian society. C.S. Lewis explains:
For [those in a post-Christian society] neglect not only the law of Christ but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and the other crimes which I will not say Christian Doctors, but the pagans and the barbarous have themselves denounced.

They err who say "the world is turning pagan again." Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state.

"Post Christian man" is not the same as "pre-Christian man." He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except the want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost.3
Lewis is exactly right here. Christianity provided the grounding for the equality of all men; it is unintelligible in paganism. The New Secularists who place all their emphasis on the feelings of others have taken that Christian idea and warped it to mean all people should be equally unoffended. The new concept only vaguely resembles Christian morality, but it is completely foreign to pagan Rome of Greece, where the conqueror is lauded as the supreme example of humanity.

The West has divorced itself from Christianity. Our society is now is selling off all those things that remind us of the relationship. But if Christianity built the house, bought the furniture, and created the traditions, what will our lives look like once all those things are gone? We cannot look to the pagan past as we have buried that husband long ago. This brave new world is unknown, and perhaps those who advocate for it should show a bit more caution before every bit of shelter is lost.


1. "America's Changing Religious Landscape: Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow." Rep. Pew Research Center, Washington D.C., 15 May 2015. Web.
2. Smith, Christian. "On "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" as U.S. Teenagers' Actual, Tacit, De Facto Religious Faith." Religion and Youth. Ed. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2010. 46-57. Print.
3. Lewis, C. S., Wayne Martindale, and Jerry Root. The Quotable Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989. 482. Print.
Image courtesy Zoomar and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Something Stinks in the Media's Reporting of the Pew Survey

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released its latest findings on the state of religion in the United States. They noted in the report that those who describe themselves as Christians had decreased by eight percentage points in the last seven years. This prompted many different news outlets to run stories proclaiming that Christianity is slipping as a religion and the rise of secularism is upon us. CNN declared, "Millennials leaving church in droves."1 Today's Los Angeles Times carried the headline "US has become notably less Christian."2 The Times story reports:
The erosion in traditional religious ranks seems likely to continue. Among Americans aged 18 to 33, slightly more than half identify as Christian, compared with roughly 8 in 10 in the baby boom generation and older age groups, the new data show…

Almost 1 in 5 American adults was raised in a religious tradition but is now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only 4% have moved in the other direction.3
In the fact that less Americans are identifying as Christian, the times gets the Pew Report correct. However, the story also claims "The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse."4 Notice the shift between the quotes, though. The first excerpts talk about "traditional religious ranks" and adults being "unaffiliated" with a specific religious tradition. That isn't the same thing as declining religious beliefs.

Is the Church Dying?

When analyzing the numbers, there are certain trends that immediately stick out. First is that the declines in Christianity come from the more liberal mainline denominations. Those who identify as Evangelicals are statistically level with prior years, even though the population has grown while mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations show a 3% to 4% decrease. This is no surprise as we have seen these denominations lose members for years.

Further, while the group identifying as Unaffiliated grew to 22.8% of the population, those who claim to specifically be atheist or agnostic were 7.1% of the population. That means there are a lot of folks who don't identify with a Christian denomination, but they may still hold to the existence of God and the importance of specific beliefs.

The Barna Research organization last month published findings on specific beliefs people held concerning Jesus. They found that 95% of Americans believe Jesus was a real person, 56% believe Jesus was/is God incarnate, and 62% say they have made a commitment to Jesus Christ. Barna says "roughly two out of five Americans have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ (a group Barna classifies as ‘born again Christians')." Interestingly, Barna notes "Fewer than half of Millennials say they have made such a commitment (46%), compared to six in 10 Gen-Xers (59%), two-thirds of Boomers (65%) and seven in 10 Elders (71%)."5

Christianity is No Longer the Default Position

I think some of the shakeup in the polling statistics is due to the way generations have historically identified themselves. Older generations would call themselves "Methodist" or "Episcopal" even when they held errant views and hadn't darkened the doorway of a church for decades. If they were baptized into a specific denomination or were taken as a child with their parents, they saw themselves with that identification.

Millennials don't do that. If we compare the Barna and the Pew statistics together, we can see that more Millennials are defining themselves by their current beliefs. the Pew Report says about 56% of Millennials define themselves as Christian while Barna says 46% of Millennials claim to have confessed their sinfulness and professed faith in Christ. What this means is those who identify as Christians are taking the beliefs of Christianity seriously. Those who marginally believe are leaving Christianity altogether.

One thing the Pew survey does show is that people are increasingly uncomfortable being labeled Christian if they don't hold to orthodox Christian beliefs. In some ways, that's a good thing. It's honest and makes evangelism efforts more clear. However, the poll also shows that the Church more than ever needs to reach out to the younger generation and provide evidence of why Christianity is true, using reasons and evidence. The Millennials are not simply going to follow in Mom and Dad's footsteps because they've always done it this way. They are going to want to believe things for good reasons. Therefore, it is increasingly crucial Christians are able to provide an answer to those who ask about the hope within you. Are you ready?


1. Burke, Daniel. "Millennials Leaving Church in Droves, Study Says." CNN. Cable News Network, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.
2. Lauter, David, and Hailey Branson-Potts. "U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.
3. Lauter, 2015.
4. Lauter, 2015
5. "What Do Americans Believe About Jesus? 5 Popular Beliefs." Barna Group. Barna Group, 1 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 May 2015.
Image courtesy Emma (abandoned church) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Binds Us to the Past and the Future

Thanksgiving is an important holiday, one that properly reflects our dependence upon God's grace and acknowledgement of his provision in our lives. But who is responsible for an entire nation recognizing their need to offer thanks to their creator?

Thanksgiving proclamations have a long history in American government. While Abraham Lincoln established an annual recognition of thanksgiving in 1863, the practice goes back much further. George Washington offered the first official proclamation as President of the United States in 1789. But even before our Constitution was written, the United States Continental Congress recognized their need to offer thanks to the Almighty.

Of course, Thanksgiving is rooted in the tough winter the Puritan settlers experienced after landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. But, the exploits of the Puritans were not nearly as ingrained in the psyche of the young nation as they are now. It took a stirring speech by the famous Daniel Webster to do so. Webster was asked to speak at Plymouth Rock on December 2, 1820, to mark the 200 year anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower in the new land. It was Webster's speech that painted such a vivid portrayal of the sufferings and difficulties they faced, that Americans took the story as symbolic of the resolve the country itself bore. Here's how Webster began:
Let us rejoice that we behold this day. Let us be thankful that we have lived to see the bright and happy breaking of the auspicious morn, which commences the third century of the history of New England. Auspicious, indeed, — bringing a happiness beyond the common allotment of Providence to men, — full of present joy, and gilding with bright beams the prospect of futurity, is the dawn that awakens us to the commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims. Living at an epoch which naturally marks the progress of the history of our native land, we have come hither to celebrate the great event with which that history commenced. Forever honored be this, the place of our fathers' refuge! Forever remembered the day which saw them, weary and distressed, broken in everything but spirit, poor in all but faith and courage, at last secure from the dangers of wintry seas, and impressing this shore with the first footsteps of civilized man!1
The entire speech is contained in the book The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster which is available as a free download here. Webster felt that the Pilgrims' attitude toward God was not only proper, but it cemented the citizens of the US to those stalwart pioneers. In the same speech, he said "neither is it false or vain to consider ourselves as interested and connected with our whole race, through all time; allied to our ancestors; allied to our posterity… , binding together the past, the present, and the future, and terminating at last, with the consummation of all things earthly, at the throne of God."2

I like Webster's concept that recognizing our God in a day of national Thanksgiving ties us not only to our American heritage, but to our progeny who will follow after us long after we've passed on. It is all the more reason to give thanks on this special day.


1. Webster, Daniel, and Edwin Percy Whipple. "First Settlement of New England." The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster, with an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style. Boston: Little, Brown, 1879. 25. Print.

2. Webster, 26.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Christians Must Stop Staying Invisible (video)

Imagine Thomas Jefferson wanting to stay anonymous when the U.S. was founded. What if he chose to only talk with those who agreed with him instead of drawing attention to himself and risked his livelihood by becoming a figurehead of the revolutionary effort? What would the United States look like today without the ability to point to Jefferson and his ideas?

That is the very problem plaguing Christians in who fight in the war of worldviews. The Barna organization reports that the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives has become largely invisible. It's not that there is no influence, it's simply that no one realizes how much Christianity matters to society. Christians are buying the lie that they should keep their faith as a private matter, and it weakens the moral and spiritual principles upon which our society runs.

In this short clip, listen in as I note the threat to our modern way of life when Christians become invisible in culture.


Image courtesy Leo Reynolds and licenced via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Monday, August 11, 2014

Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers

I finally had the chance to read the column Ann Coulter wrote about Kent Brantly, the African Missionary doctor who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating others in Liberia. Entitled "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'," Coulter's piece is not only confused, but also mean-spirited. However, I want to use Coulter's disparagement of Christian missionary efforts as an opportunity for Christians to learn something: how judging Christian efforts by worldly standards is mistaken. Coulter thinks her reprimand is clever, but she fails to recognize the value of human life and discounts the power of God.

Devaluing Human Life

Coulter's article, aside from the emotionally poisonous words, tries to make the argument that Christian missions should be approached from a utilitarian perspective. She complains about how the cost of treating the now infected doctor and his nurse "has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered" and then asks "why do we have to deal with this at all?"1 The answer is simple and something that is largely forgotten in this day and age: Christianity values human dignity. Because humans are made in the image of God, Christianity has always taught that alleviating suffering at cost to oneself is a noble and worthwhile pursuit in and of itself. In Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, it is an enemy of Israel that provides comfort and healing to the victim on the street. The Samaritan even pays the poor man's caretaker's bill and tells the innkeeper "whatever more you spend, I will repay you."2

Throughout the history of Christianity, Christians have sought to model their Master's words. The Romans thought Christians were crazy for picking up indigent children who had been abandoned on the Tiber. In an agrarian society, a healthy child is an asset, another hand to help work the farm. An indigent child is a liability. It means another mouth to feed and more overall suffering in times of drought or famine, not to mention the additional work. However, Christians recognized the image of God that was reflected in each life and could not do otherwise than serve them.3 As I've previously written, missionaries such as Father Damien purposely risked themselves to serve in a leper colony, with death as a result.

Coulter has seemingly bought into the concept that human suffering can be somehow quantified into dollars and cents. By advancing such an idea, Coulter herself demonstrates how cheaply our society's view on human life really is. While her facts are a confused (when Brantly went to Liberia, it was not yet a country infected; It was only after he was stationed there that the outbreak began and he chose to stay and treat the victims), she still wants to measure the alleviation of human suffering by cost. That cannot be done. Christian missionaries demonstrate how invaluable human life is in such selfless acts. If suffering becomes only a bottom-line game, then we've lost our humanity altogether.

Underestimating the Power of God

The other major error Coulter makes in taking a utilitarian approach to missionary efforts is she simply doesn't understand how God works. In her article, she accuses missionaries of being "tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S... So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream. "I don't know how Coulter can read the minds of so many Christian missionaries to ascribe such motives, but she feels that it is more prudent to be missionaries here in America. She writes:
If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.

If he had provided health care for the uninsured editors, writers, videographers and pundits in Gotham and managed to open one set of eyes, he would have done more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World. 
Here, Coulter completely ignores 1 Corinthians 12:14 that the body of Christ has many members and each is called to a different role. Paul instructs the church "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable."4

My calling is apologetics. It involves interacting with people, discussing ideas, and possibly changing minds, which Coulter sees as essential. But that doesn't mean all should be so called. Brantly had always felt the call to Africa, even as a kid according to his mother.5 He did the thing that God had laid up on his heart, and that is the more important thing. Mother Theresa did likewise.

If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good. And, while it may be that Brantly could make a movie mogul like Christians a bit more by providing him with medical services in New York, it is also possible that by contracting Ebola movie studios would be interested in making a movie of Brantly's life and heroism. It may even be possible that such a move would have a greater effect on the population of the country than Coulter assumes her path would take. It isn't like Chariots of Fire, Lilies of the Field, and even Molokai don't show such a result.

For Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives. That doesn't mean we don't take any kind of results into account, but it does mean that ministry efforts cannot be reduced to numbers.

I know Coulter is politically and not spiritually motivated. But even in this area, it has been proven that Christian missionaries are THE factor responsible for stable democracies forming across the African nation. Perhaps Coulter should look at the history of Christian missionary efforts a bit more carefully before she lambasts it so. People are not numbers; by her criticism, Coulter is in danger of becoming the very thing she says she stands against.


1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online. "
2. Luke 10:25-37. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
3. See my article "How will children be valued if Christianity is lost?" for several supporting cases.
4. 1 Corinthians 12:21-23. English Standard Version. Crossway. Accessed online.
5. Associated Press. "Mother: Doctor with Ebola sought to be missionary." LIN Television Corporation. 28 July, 2014. Online.
Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Rise of the Anti-Hero

"If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation."1 – Andrew Fletcher.
It is no secret that we're in the midst of a cultural revolution. As western society pushes more aggressively towards post-Christian secularism, we are beginning to see changes in more obvious ways than before, so much so that others are beginning to take notice.

An Op-Ed column by writer Greg Burke appeared  in today's Los Angeles Times entitled "Disney's 'Maleficent': Romancing the devil." There, Burke observes that the movie company known for its family-friendly fare is now "risking the wrath of monochrome Christians everywhere."2

Disney has portrayed evil with interesting specificity in previous films. Even in 1940's Fantasia, evil demons in the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence were clearly depicted, especially when juxtaposed with the hallowed blurriness of "Ave Maria" which is supposed to counteract the evil frivolity. For fallen men, evil is always easier to see than holiness.

But, as even Burke notes, in Malificent there's a fundamental shift in the understanding of evil. Not only does he claim that "Jesus has lost some reputational ground," but he believes "It's easier to identify with a Maleficent than a messiah."3 He writes:
Once a force of pure evil, the demonic Maleficent (played by Angelina Jolie) has morphed into a sympathetic Earth goddess akin to Demeter, cursing yet protecting her Persephone-like surrogate daughter, the sleeping beauty Aurora.

In endowing the horned Maleficent with motherly love, veteran Disney writer Linda Woolverton takes a stance similar to that of Scandinavian/European black-metal bands such as Immortal, Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth: They embrace darkness in order to align themselves against those who claim to represent the "Light" — the legions who invoked Christ while destroying primeval cultures and slaughtering the metal folk's tribal forebears. Maleficent's brutish screen opponents, crowned with medieval helmets, lack only crosses on their chests to identify them directly as Crusaders.4
The mistaken history and pejoratives aside, I think Burke is onto something and this change in the public's self-understanding is not exclusive to Disney. The anti-hero is the rule of thumb in entertainment today. One has to look no further than hit television shows such as Dexter, Breaking Bad, or The Walking Dead to see how heroes with moral clarity have been replaced by protagonists (if one can use the word) who week after week are playing by their own rules and using demonstrably evil means to achieve their individual ends.

In Book II of The Republic, Plato was deeply concerned with the popular entertainment of his day. He felt that the stories people told had a profound impact on the society as a whole. He states that the most stories were having a corrupting influence on those who partake of them by not only being false, but offering dangerous lies by making what is naturally bad good and vice-versa . He calls such corruptions "ugly and immoral as well as false—misrepresenting the nature of gods and heroes, like an artist whose picture is unlike the object he sets out to draw." 5

Unlike Plato, I don't see state-governed censorship as the solution. However, while our entertainment reflects our declining values, it also reinforces those "ugly and immoral as well as false" views on just what a hero should be. We know that children who watch these shows are affected in many ways,6and such representations are multiplying exponentially. I think it demonstrates that we are truly in an age that Paul warned us of in II Timothy 3.

We need good, educated Christians and apologist to not only debate Christianity's values in the public square, but we need more educated Christian artists to create thoughtful entertainment that can support and exemplify Christian principles. Otherwise, we may lose our culture entirely.


1 Fletcher, Andrew M. An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind. Volume 11. (Edinburgh, 1704.) 10. Available online at
2 Burke, Greg. "Disney's 'Maleficent': Romancing the devil." The Los Angeles Times. 13 June Web. Accessed 13 June 2014.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Cornford, Francis MacDonald. The Republic of Plato. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.) 69.
6 Wilson, Barbara J. "Media and Children's Aggression, Fear, and Altruism." Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008. The Future of Children. Web. Accessed 13 June 2014.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How will children be valued if Christianity is lost?

I've written before about how modern culture takes for granted many of the values and benefits that are specifically rooted in Christianity.1 Christianity has single-handedly improved the world in multiple ways. One very clear example of that is how Christians were unique in abolishing infanticide and child abandonment.

George Grant in his book The Third Time Around  writes, "Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children." 2 Alvin Schmidt agrees, writing:
Frederic Farrar has noted that "infanticide was infamously universal" among the Greeks and Romans during the early years of Christianity. Infants were killed for various reasons. Those born deformed or physically frail were especially prone to being willfully killed, often by drowning. Some were killed more brutally. For instance, Plutarch (ca. A.D. 46 - 120) mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, "offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan" (Moralia 2.171D). Cicero (106 - 43 B.C.) justified infanticide, at least for the deformed, by citing the ancient Twelve Tables of Roman law when he says that "deformed infants shall be killed" (De Legibus 3.8). Even Seneca (4 B.C.? - A.D. 65), whose moral philosophy was on a higher plane than that of his culture, said, "We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal" (De Ira 1.15). So common was infanticide that Polybius (205? - 118 B.C.) blamed the population decline of ancient Greece on it (Histories 6). Large families were rare in Greco-Roman society in part because of infanticide.3
Schmidt goes on to catalog that this practice wasn't reserved by the ancient near-eastern societies but that  "it was common in India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos" as well as the pagan parts of Africa until Christian missionaries reached them.4

Grant goes on to list some of the Christians who changed this practice, even to their own detriment. He writes:
The heroes of the faith who demonstrated the grace of Christ through such deeds of kindness during the apostolic era were legion:
  • Addai ofEdessa was one of the Apostle Thomas's earliest disciples. Sometime at the end of the first century he was sent to what is now Urfa in Iraq. There he established the church and launched innumerable evangelistic enterprises. He also was forced to confront the barbarous program of child limitation and elimination practiced in that region. Eventually, he was martyred for his refusal to temper his pro-life fulminations.
  • Benignus of Dijon was a missionary from Lyons who was martyred in Epagny in the late second century. He was renowned for his generosity and charity especially to the sick and suffering. A mob of superstitious citizens in that pre-Christian Gallic region slew him because he nursed, supported, and protected a number of deformed and crippled children that had been saved from death after failed abortions or exposures.
  • Callistus of Rome was a Christian slave who was imprisoned and sentenced to hard labor in the Sardinian quarries late in the second century after becoming involved in a scandalous financial scheme. After his release he was emancipated and put in charge of the church's shelter and cemetery on the Appian Way which still bears his name. He faithfully occupied himself with his duties-caring for the poor, comforting the bereaved, and giving refuge to the dispossessed. His compassion for abandoned children was especially noteworthy-it was Callistus that helped to organize the famed "Life Watches" that placed hundreds of exposed children into Christian homes. Eventually, he was chosen to serve as Bishop of Rome.
  • Alban of Verlamium is widely venerated as the first Christian martyr on the island of Britain. During the last few decades of the second century he offered refuge to those fleeing the persecution against the church. He succored the sick, cared for the poor, and saved abandoned children from certain death. Bede the historian records his brutal martyrdom on Holmhurst Hill after he tried to intercede on behalf of a pitiful family of refugees.
  • Late in the third century, Afra of Augsburg developed a ministry to the abandoned children of prisoners, thieves, smugglers, pirates, runaway slaves, and brigands. Herself a former prostitute, she cared for the despised and the rejected with a special fervor, taking them into her home, creating an adoption network, and sacrificing all she had-that out of her lack they might be satisfied. Ultimately, her work came under the scrutiny of the authorities, and she was martyred during the great persecution of Diocletian.
  • George of Diospolis, patron of both England and Lebanon, was a Christian soldier who gained fame after several daring rescues of children in distress. He was known as the "Dragonslayer," not so much because of exploits with rare and dangerous reptiles, but because of his willingness to snatch innocent life out of the jaws of death. Eventually, he too fell victim to Diocletian's wrath in the persecution of 304, and was beheaded in Nicomedia. Later, innumerable legends made much of his exploits-romantically associating him with damsels and dragons-but it was his willingness to risk all for the sake of the sanctity of life that earned him his place in history.
  • Barlaam of Antioch was a cobbler for the imperial forces who devoted all his free time to the care of orphans and widows in his church. Because he himself had been saved from the infanticide wall outside the city, he was especially concerned for exposed children. Even though he was not a pastor or church leader, his good deeds were so widely known that the enemies of the faith sought to have his witness silenced. During the calamitous persecution in 304, they succeeded in having him martyred.5
It is Christianity's view that every person bears the image of God that stopped the horrific practice of killing or disposing of infants. As our culture now seeks to abort Christianity from its social moral fabric, they also abort the foundation that roots the equal value of all human life. How will the weakest among us fare in such an expulsion?


1. For an extended quote on this from scholar Alvin J. Schmidt, see my previous post "The Effects of Jesus on the Western World."
2. Grant, George. The Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Pub., 1991).27-29.
3. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).49.
4. Schmidt. Ibid. 5. Grant. Ibid.27-29.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On the Cost of Liberty

Today in the United States we observe Memorial Day. While most only see today as the traditional opening of the summer vacation season (can I now wear my white Vans?), Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who have given their lives to protect the freedoms of our country. Services will be held at most national cemeteries, and thoughts and prayers offered by family members of soldiers who were killed in service to their country.

While most nations mark their countries' fallen, there is a bigger issue that Memorial Day arouses in my mind. Western culture is enjoying the highest quality of living in the history of humanity, in no small part to the Judeo-Christian ethic. But as we become comfortable in this newfound success, we also become forgetful of how difficult life can be for many people throughout the world. We become complacent, thinking that things like liberty and freedom do not require sacrifices, even the sacrifice that some of our sons and daughters make for those ideals.

Is a concept worth sacrifice? Are there things more valuable than life and comfort? Our Founding Fathers thought that such a position is not only the patriotic one, but the Christian thing to do. Below is a quote from Patrick Henry's famous speech before the Virginia Convention, asking to establish armies across the colony. He recognized that people were fearful of the cost of war, and that they would be sacrificing their sons and daughters. Henry addressed their concerns head on, but holds that the ideal of liberty for the sake of their posterity is worth "whatever anguish of spirit it may cost."
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it
Henry recognizes that, unlike today, the colonies were not nearly as likely to win a war against Britain, the superpower of that day. Yet, he ends his argument with some of the most powerful prose to come out of the founding period:
Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
I'm thankful for those who continue to see that ideals like freedom and liberty are extremely valuable, and I recognize those who have sacrificed themselves so that they may continue to flourish. May we never take their sacrifices for granted, nor trample underfoot the liberties for which they fought.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Christianity and Superhero Movies

They're smashing box office records and have become one of Hollywood's most bankable formats. But why are movies like The Avengers, Captain America, and the Dark Knight so popular? And do they hold a secret to sharing the Gospel? Listen to this class and find out how superheroes derive their power from the Christian tradition.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Should Oklahoma Allow a Satanic Statue on Public Lands?

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a New York-based Satanic Temple has applied to have a seven foot tall statue of Satan erected on the Oklahoma state Capitol so that "people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation." According to the report, the group claims that the state of Oklahoma opened the doors to such a display when they allowed a privately-funded Ten Commandments monument to be erected at the Capitol in 2012. The next day, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to restore a cross to the county seal. Meanwhile, the battle for the cross on Mount Soledad continues to rage.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, should we expect to purge all public or government-owned lands of any religious symbolism? Or should we expect a religious free-for-all where petitions by Hindus, Satanists, and even atheists to place Flying Spaghetti Monster symbols in public locations will be commonplace? Are such things even reasonable to consider?

It is obvious that the requests by the Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are really nothing more than publicity stunts. No one actually believes that such a thing as the FSM exists. The concept was used as a rhetorical device by a college student in a letter he wrote to the Kansas Board of Education, and that is definitely not a sound basis for a belief system. Their church and all that follows from it is just a joke. As for the Satanic Temple, even spokesman Lucien Greaves admitted the petition "is in part to highlight what it says is hypocrisy of state leaders in Oklahoma," according to the report. Greaves claims the Temple is serious about having a monument placed there, which is no surprise since if you can get your protest installed as a permanent structure, it lasts much longer.

What is clear, though, is that none of these requests are taking into account the function of what public monuments are supposed to perform. Communities place monuments in public spaces to provide a link to relevant actions or ideas that helped shape that community. As Wikipedia puts it, "A monument is a type of structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event, or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage." While the Ten Commandments can be explicitly shown to have shaped both the values of the citizenry in the state of Oklahoma and also modern American jurisprudence, the church of Satan, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, nor even earnest practicing Hindus can make such a claim. The state of Oklahoma is well within it prevue to reject these proposals even while allowing the Ten Commandment monument on just such reasoning.

Similarly, Los Angeles County Supervisors Antonovich and Knabe argued that the cross is appropriate on the LA County seal because the seal depicts a mission, which has historically boasted a cross on its steeple. California history is simply incomplete if one were to ignore Father Junipero Serra and the California missions. Whether the supervisors were themselves sincere in their desire, I don't know. However, I do know that the mission with its cross does accurately reflect the history and the cultural forces that shaped the county. Spanish Jesuits are why Los Angeles is so named.

It strikes me as I see more and more attempts to purge our cultural markers of Christian symbols that such motives are endangering our collective memory as a society. Monuments are important because they serve as remembrances of important influences. Public lands are not like AYSO leagues; not everyone should get a medal for simply being there. There are good reasons why certain Christian symbols belong on a county seal or a capitol lawn. I see no benefit from New York Satanists, nor how their ideas have contributed to the welfare of Oklahomans.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

1908 Writer Describes 21st Century with Amazing Accuracy!

Phillip Yancey relays the story that when someone asked famous English theologian G.K. Chesterton what one book he would desire to have with him if stranded on a desert island, Chesterton matter-of-factly replied, "Why A Practical Guide to Shipbuilding," of course!1

That answer demonstrated well how Chesterton could capture the most obvious as well as the most salient points that he wished to examine. A towering intellect in the early twentieth century, his book Orthodoxy comments on many of the distinctions between culture and faith properly understood.

One of the most often quoted passages is Chesterton's examination of the contradictory messages being fostered by modern culture. Although this passage was written over 100 years ago, it’s startling to see the topics and aspects of each he captures perfectly. Chesterton writes:
For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.2
Here Chesterton examines how the modern society corrupts the ideas of equal rights for women, sexual purity versus promiscuity, inherent value of human life, the sanctity of the marriage covenant, the worth of national pride, and evolution versus man bearing the image of God. In all, Chesterton presents a very prescient view of modern culture.

If you haven’t yet read Orthodoxy, I encourage you to do so. Best of all, you can grab the e-book for free, since the copyright has expired and the work is in the public domain.  Just grab a version from this link.


1 Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. (New York: Image Books | Doubleday, 2001).From the introduction.

2 Ibid.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Thank God it's Friday - Really!

T.G.I.F. everybody! Today is Friday and you're likely to see those four letters popping up on coworkers' lips and Facebook status posts throughout the day.  We've heard the expression so often it requires no translation anymore. Thank God it's Friday! I get the sentiment.  The pressures of the workplace and our obligations to an employer (or to the customer if you are the employer) are suspended and our time is now our own.  Usually, this means we have leisure time, time for fun.

Courtesy Jatayou
Because we are so accustomed to the modern construct of a five day work week, it's easy to forget that humanity hasn't enjoyed such luxury for most of its history. Even the concept of dividing time into seven days is a unique concept.  It doesn't really fit neatly into the 30/31 day month nor the 365 day year.

The real origin of the seven day week along with the cycle of work and rest is found in the Bible. In Exodus, God uses the six days of creation and seventh day of rest as a model for the Jews to follow. Because the Jewish Sabbath occurred every seven days, it became natural for the Jews to mark their calendars in this fashion. Eviatar Zerubave  dubbed it "a distinctively Jewish contribution to civilization."1 While the 24 hour day, the month, and the year all have their beginnings in astrological markings of time, the seven day week doesn't seem to fit.  It is roughly equivalent to the lunar cycle, (the moon will become full every 29-1/2 days or so), but its origins lie outside of astrological observance. Zerubave writes, "One of the most distinctive features of the week is the fact that it is entirely disassociated from the lunar cycle. It is defined as a precise multiple of the day, quite independently of the lunar month." 2

This concept of scheduling a regular time of rest during the week was unique in the ancient world. Most other societies thought it strange that the Jews required a day of no work. The Romans even said the Jews were simply being lazy. Augustine notes that the Roman philosopher Seneca would complain that the Jews "lose through idleness about the seventh part of their life, and also many things which demand immediate attention are damaged."3 It seems that the 21st century always-on-call mentality isn't as new as we may think!

Because the pattern of a day of rest was set by the Jews, it became customary for the Christians to gather on Sunday in remembrance of the Lord's resurrection, the day after their Sabbath observances. Sunday became the primary day of rest after Constantine issued a proclamation in 321 AD that solidified it as such for the Christian and pagan alike. Because Constantine was a politician, he avoided tying the rest day to the celebration of the resurrection. His motive to have a regular weekly day of rest and the choice of Sunday for that day were no doubt a result of his Christian conversion.4
In his article on the origin and meaning of the weekend, Witold Rybczynski writes that the word "weekend" first appeared in an 1879 issue of the English magazine Notes and Queries. Quoting the Oxford English Dictionary,  he writes, "'In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week's work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance,' the magazine citation goes, 'he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.' This is obviously a definition, which suggests that the word had only recently come into use."5

Rybczynski goes on to report that in the U.S. "the first factory to adopt a five-day week was a New England spinning mill, in 1908, expressly to accommodate its Jewish workers. The six-day week had always made it hard for Jews to observe the Sabbath, for if they took Saturday off and worked on Sunday, they risked offending the Christian majority. Moreover, as work patterns became increasingly formalized through union agreements, many Jews did not even have a choice, a state of affairs that threatened the Sabbath tradition. The five-day week—in which both Sunday and Saturday were holidays—offered a convenient way out, and it came to be supported by Jewish workers, rabbis, and community leaders, and some Jewish employers."6 While few industries followed this lead initially, it was ultimately adopted throughout the country when the Great Depression hit, simply as a way of reducing the number of work hours (and thus reducing the amount of pay) for a company's employees.7

So our two glorious days free from work to fill with our leisure time. Or perhaps we should also take a moment and use that time to thank God for the model of work and rest that He gave us. Maybe we should really thank God it's Friday, because without the Biblical tradition, the weekend would look a whole lot less appealing.


1. Zerubave, Eviatar. The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week.
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985.) 9.
2. Zerubave,Ibid.
3. Augustine of Hippo. City of God. Book 6, chapter 11. Accessed online at <>
4. See Philip Schaff's explanation in History of the Christian Church, Vol II: From Constantine the Great to Gregory the Great, A.D. 311-600. (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1867). 379-380.   

5. Rybczynski, Witold. "Waiting for the Weekend". The Atlantic Monthly. August 1991. Accessed online at <> 4/5/2013.
6. Rybczynski, Ibid.
7. Rybczynski, Ibid.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Using a free Christian society to disparage Christianity

How Christianity Changed the World
Many today who disparage Christianity may not know or believe that were it not for Christianity, they would not have the freedom that they presently enjoy. The very freedom of speech and expression that ironically permits them to castigate Christian values is largely a by-product of Christianity's influences that have been incorporated into the social fabric of the Western World, as chapter 10 documents. This freedom, similar to the freedom that Adam and Eve once had, ironically permits the possessors of freedom to dishonor the very source of their freedom. As Fernand Braudel has so eloquently stated, "Throughout the history of the West, Christianity has been at the heart of the civilization it inspires, even when it has allowed itself to be captured or deformed by it."
               - Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. p.13.

For more on this topic:
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If Christianity truly originated with God, then we would expect that following its precepts would have dramatic implications for societies as well as individuals. See how humanity is better off because of the Christian faith.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Does Thanksgiving's First Mother Want Us to Know?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and Americans of all faiths or no faith will come together to feast and perhaps reflect on their thankfulness for the blessings this nation provides. As I've said before, the very concept of being thankful requires someone to thank. Someone who had a keen understanding of this is also the one who more than any other is responsible for our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, though it's someone you have probably never heard of. The Mother of Thanksgiving is Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah Josepha Hale was a poet, an editor, and a writer. Every school child has heard her nursery rhyme "Mary had a Little Lamb", but few know that it was this author who was determined to see Thanksgiving reach beyond its traditional New England roots and become an official holiday for all of the United States. She campaigned tirelessly and her efforts proved successful when her editorials and letters reached President Lincoln. On October 3, 1863 Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…  offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience." 1
Hale was pleased with the recognition of an annual day of thanks. She also had a true understanding of the danger that such a holiday could become focused on the trivial.  In her book Traits of American Life, published in 1835, she paints a thoroughly modern picture:
It takes but little to make one happy when the heart is right: but a repining disposition never yet enjoyed a Thanksgiving. There is always some accident or occurrence that mars the festival. The turkey is over-roasted, or the sermon has been too long; or, perchance, the ball-dress of a young lady has not been sent home; or the hair-dresser has failed in finishing the beau; — many are made wretched by trifles light as these. But the heart is not in such troubles. It is sheer selfishness that makes the grief and vexations of which two-thirds of the world complain. It is chagrin, not sorrow, people feel; and they endure it, because they will not cultivate the disposition to be happy.2
In either 1835 or 2012, Americans worry about the food presentation rather than God's deliverances and blessings. They concern themselves with the latest fashion rather than humble penitence. And they seek personal happiness rather than obedience. Of course Hales prescience is underscored when she writes "There is small danger of being starved in our land of plenty; but the danger of being stuffed is imminent… You may indulge any childish propensity with less injury to the intellect than gluttony."
May we humbly remember our God in Thanksgiving and reflect on the true meaning of why this holiday is set aside. God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving.
Many are the sayings of the wise,
In ancient and in modern books enroll'd,
Extolling patience as the truest fortitude.
But with the afflicted, in his pangs, their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tone,
Harsh and of dissonant mood from his complaint;
Unless he feels within
Some source of consolation from above.
Secret refreshings that repair his strength.
And fainting spirits uphold. 3
-Sarah Josepha Hale.
If you would like to know more about the life of Sarah Josepha Hale, page through this article from The Pilgrim Hall Museum.


1. "President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1863 (Presidential Proclamation 106)., 10/03/1863 - 10/03/1863", National Archives. Accessed Nov. 21, 2012.
2. Hale, Sarah Josepha. Traits of American Life. 
Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1835. 210. Available online at
3. Ibid. Page 226-227.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Should a Christian Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

I've been hearing from a lot of Christians that they will either choose to sit out this election or not vote for president because neither choice is a candidate they consider appropriate for the position. They believe that their consciences would be violated by voting for "the lesser of two evils." Some hold that because neither are conservative Christians they therefore shouldn't be considered. Some wish to vote for the Libertarian candidate because they believe in Libertarian ideals. Some people are promoting the idea that Christians write in "Jesus" as their choice for president! (I would hope that any Christian with half a mind would never choose that last option, as it is infantile and foolish.  God is not pleased with such actions.)

On the other points, I can understand some people's misgivings. But I think we need to better understand just what is happening during a presidential election and why voting is crucially important and possibly even commanded by God for all faithful Christians.

First, I think that the idea of the "lesser of two evils" has no merit. I actually think it doesn't apply in the U.S. political process.  Our entire political system is not structured to find a single position on all issues.  It by nature takes into account those who differ, as they are represented and their disagreements should be included and weighed in the discussion.

The point of American politics is much like football; it is a game of inches.  One strives towards his goal line, but understands that forward progress is better than backward progress.  That's why I currently oppose promoting legislation that bans all abortions.  I am personally against elective abortion in any form except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.  However, to seek to advance legislation at this point would actually set the pro-life movement back and more babies would be lost as a result. The goal isn't the laws; it’s the lives of the children at stake.  This is why compromise is a key part of congress passing laws, something I think both sides of the aisle have forgotten.  Ideology is great; it gives you a goal to focus on. But any team that is only throwing to the end zone will soon have their game figured out and be quickly defeated.

Choosing a president, a senator, or any elected official plays out the same way.  The office of president is especially powerful in this aspect.  Either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will lead our nation for the next four years, there's no escaping that.  Gary Johnson and other candidates may have been seen as more palatable, but they simply won't win. So, I would urge you to vote for the candidate that you deem more closely aligned to your goals and beliefs as a Christian. We choose presidents, not kings, and we are able to re-choose every four years for the express purpose that no one man will ever be the candidate that is perfect.

Lastly, I would note that in Romans 13 God tells us that the governing authorities are provided the sword by God to do good. We tend to read that verse and think of the president or the government writ large as that governing authority.  However, in our nation it is we the people that are the ultimate seat of authority.  We decide who is president and who sits in congress.  That means that God has given us the sword—the sword of the vote—to wield for the good. As a believer I think we would be remiss in our duties if we were to keep it in its sheath because we disliked both candidates.  On some issues Romney and Obama are close.  On other issues, they are not.  There are more issues where both have sought to reflect the views of their constituency when in the past they have held a different view.  (That last item is not a "flip-flop" or pandering as is often portrayed in the press.  I think it is appropriate as long as the candidate keeps his word and actually does what he promised after the election.) But there are enough clear differences between the two to know what they are and to be able to make a choice.

I urge you to exercise your sword, for God does not give it in vain.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Should Christians Cheer the Death of bin Laden?

The web has once again been sent buzzing, this time by the announcement that U.S. Forces have killed Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks among others. Undoubtedly, bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people and the suffering of untold thousands more. But should Christians really revel in the death of anyone, even someone as wicked as bin Laden? Doesn't the Bible tell us to pray for those who persecute us? Did not Paul's command in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for those in power even include Nero, who persecuted the church mercilessly?

As you can see, there is much confusion on just how Christians should respond to such news. If we are to follow the command of Christ, we should love our enemies. However, we also need to reflect God's desire for justice in the world.

I think that in order to gain a better perspective on this issue we may need to look at the Bible a little more carefully than merely pulling our favorite proof text out for either side of the issue. Fortunately, there are many passages where these kinds of issues have already been explored by commentators. One such passage is Psalm 58:

   1Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods?
        Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?
   2No, in heart you work unrighteousness;
        On earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.
   3The wicked are estranged from the womb;
        These who speak lies go astray from birth.
   4They have venom like the venom of a serpent;
        Like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear,
   5So that it does not hear the voice of charmers,
        Or a skillful caster of spells.
   6O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth;
        Break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD.
   7Let them flow away like water that runs off;
        When he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts.
   8Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along,
        Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
   9Before your pots can feel the fire of thorns
        He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.
   10The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
        He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
   11And men will say, "Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
        Surely there is a God who judges on earth!"
Psalms such as Psalm 58 are known by theologians as imprecatory psalms, which basically means the Psalmist is calling a curse from God down onto his enemies. These psalms have been the subject of many debates as to their meaning since they seemingly contradict the commands to love our enemies noted above. But we know that all Scripture is inspired by God (II Tim 3:16) and that this Psalm's author, David, was said to be empowered by the Holy Spirit when writing his psalms (Acts 2:33-35). So much about bin Laden's reign of terror and his subsequent death is reflected in Psalm 58, I think we can gain a better understanding of how we should react by studying it more closely.

Imprecatory psalms have several elements that are unique to them:

1. None of these psalms should be read with the notion that the Psalmist is calling for revenge or individual retribution.

In all the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist is motivated by seeing God's justice served. David models this himself in other psalms that call for the destruction of his enemies. In Psalm 31 David writes "In your righteousness deliver me!" and in Psalm 109 he writes , "They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer." He also modeled this both when Saul pursued him unjustly and when Absalom usurped his throne. Asking God that justice be done is not the same thing as carrying out an individual vendetta. Such distinctions are important.

2. God Hates Sin

Another thing the imprecatory psalms do is underline the notion that God hates sin. Sin is real, and it's truly offensive to our Father in heaven. Osama bin Laden was a murderer who took glee in snuffing out those made in the image of God. Sometimes as Christians we are so concerned with not offending anyone that we overlook this fact. However, Jesus used strong and condemning language to underscore sin's heinous nature. He took the Pharisees to task several times, going so far as to call them children of the devil and only seeking to do the devil's will (John 8:44). He said to the citizens of Capernaum that they would go straight to hell, since Sodom would have believed had they seen the miracles he performed (Matt 11:23). He took a whip and drove out the moneychangers from the temple (John 2:15). Sin provokes a pretty strong reaction from our Lord and it should also provoke one in us, too.

Note that sometimes the language in the psalms is hyperbole – meaning it uses overblown images to make a point. I don't think we should take the passage "shatter their teeth in their moths" literally any more than when David writes in Psalm 6 "Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears." Jewish poetic style uses hyperbole in this way, and we should understand it as such. It does, though, make a strong point about God's view of sin.

3. It is God's glory to provide justice.

Note the end of Psalm 58 where David writes, "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. And men will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!'" God's divine justice is served when evil doers are given their just due. The righteous can point to such actions and know that God will ultimately be a righteous judge and provide justice for His righteous ones. Unbelievers are given a witness of God's righteousness. And because Romans 13 claims that governing authorities can serve as God's servants, meting out His justice, we can be thankful that the action was done in an orderly way--not by wiping out entire sections of a foreign country, but through a surgical strike that respected those other people made in the image of God in Abbottabad. Reuters even reports that once dead, the U.S. handled his body in accord with Islamic customs.

So, how should we respond to the death of bin Laden? We should first lament the sin we see in the world, including our own. We should rejoice that God's justice was in fact carried out in this instance. We should grieve that the gospel hasn't penetrated the hearts of people like bin Laden and those who sincerely followed him. And we should, like David, pray for them. Pray that they would know the love of Christ. Pray that God's justice will ultimately be seen. And pray that no more would die in response to a lie. That would be truly loving one's enemies.

Image courtesy Hamid Mir and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.
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