Archive for the ‘Politics and Culture’ Category

Nov
14
2014

How NOT to Read the News

We live in a time where we are exposed to more news headlines than at any time in human history. In the ancient days of news, anchors checked the AP newswire for stories and reported on them and people in their homes watched or people in their cars listened to radio. Today, everyone, is essentially checking the wire, all day, through social media. We also live in a time when it’s has never been easier to publicly express an opinion. Before the Internet, if something happened, you might have picked up the phone to call someone or perhaps you might discuss it at work, around the water cooler. But today we are all pundits, all with commentary on what is happening right now.

Quite often this new reality is leveraged for good. If a disaster strikes, more people can be informed than in previous generations. Social networks can be good conduits for raising money for important charity, for networking and communicating with wider groups of people. In many ways, the new paradigm has flattened leadership, forcing organizations to be more transparent and less hierarchical. All this is good.

Still, followers of Christ need to think through how they process the news, particularly how we react to the headlines that come across our screens every day. Here are three tips I think that might help:

1) Don’t react to headlines, get the full story. I think James 1:19 is instructive here. If I could paraphrase, I’d say we should be “swift to hear, slow to tweet, slow to outrage.” We often get it backwards. Two things work against us slowing down and getting the story right: confirmation bias and our need to be the first and most clever to speak. First, because we can tailor our news intake (more on that below) to our specific point of view and bias, we tend to gravitate to news headlines that confirm what we already want to believe about people and personalities we might not favor. Secondly, there is a human instinct to want to be the first to comment and to have the most clever reaction (measured in retweets). There is an inherent danger in being so reactive to headlines. If you have not read the full story and, perhaps, ready other stories about the topic, a quick reaction can make you appear foolish. It also works to divide the body of Christ. There is nothing wrong with principled, sharp engagement with news stories. Christians need thoughtful commentary on cultural events, but we need it to be critiquing things that actually happened, not caricatures of things that happened. There’s a difference here. Before you start a brushfire online, before you email your allies with damning information about someone with whom you disagree, before you forward and post negative things, make sure you are actually getting the full story.

2) Don’t consume news from only one point of view. It’s a good habit to follow, on Twitter and in our other consumption of news, people from other “tribes” (though I hate that word now) and from other ideological perspectives. It’s good to have a mix of people in your twitter feed: advocates, opponents, and straight-up journalists. This gives you a much more nuanced view of what is actually going on. It also keeps you from tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists that seem to dominate on all sides of various issues. You should also have an operating principle of not reacting to a story unless you’ve read two or three versions of it from diverse news outlets. In other words, don’t just take the news story that best confirms what you already believe about something or someone. Get the full picture here. I can think of one story in particular that I thought was newsworthy, even worth commissioning an article for ERLC. But then I asked a few folks, read a few more articles, and realized there was more to it.

3) Try to see the human side of the news. This is especially important when news stories involve personalities, whether politicians or preachers. There’s a lot of tabloid journalism out there, both in the larger culture and in the church world (unfortunately). Remember that the person you are about to destroy online with a clever hashtag probably has a family who can google their name. Do you want to be the one who caused their daughter pain? Followers of Christ should operate by different principles. This should have two effects on our public witness: First, when expressing public disagreement, we are to consider every person, even those with whom we viscerally disagree, as people created in God’s image and worthy of respect (James 3:9; 1 Peter 2:17). We’re also supposed to be especially charitable to fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10). Secondly, to knowingly spread false witness about someone by not getting the facts right says to the world that we don’t value some humans like we value others. It’s also sin. All of us are wise to consider our platforms and how we are influencing those who follow us.

Jul
25
2014

Some Recent Articles

Here are some links to my latest articles:

“Applying our Pro-Life Convictions to the Border Crisis” at Huffington Post:

Well-meaning Americans will continue to disagree on the exact policy prescriptions for the border. But hopefully we can all agree to see each in each undocumented child, the image of the Creator. My hope is that followers of Jesus begin to see immigrants as less of a threat to their way of life and more of an opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission and be a part of God’s sovereign plan to gather a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 7:9; Rev 5:9).

You are Not Speaking to the Room” – Leadership Journal

Today we live in a world where pastors of churches large and small post their content online almost immediately. Many live-stream and some churches even offer sophisticated viewing experiences allowing viewers to provide feedback. What’s more, the advent of smart phones and social media has made Sunday sermons an interactive experience. Social media on Sunday is filled with comments and quotes drawn from the church service. Christian conferences are chronicled live on Twitter with special hash tags, Instagram pictures, and commentary.

Some lament this new reality. They say we are eroding the value of the incarnational experience of hearing a message. This is a valid concern, but pastors and church leaders must deal with the world that is: a digital conversation that is here to stay. So preachers must reckon with reality: when you walk up to the pulpit or lectern, you are not merely speaking to the room. You are speaking the outside world as well.

Former All-Pro Wide Receiver Tim Brown on Leadership and Determination” – Parse

Quite simply, he saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. Maybe it was because I was not trying to see it. I was so content on getting my degree, going back home, marrying my high school sweetheart, and having six kids, that football was not high on my list. I wanted to play well, but being the best player in the country was not something I even dreamed about. What was unique about the transformation is when it sunk in, I saw it so clearly. Not winning the Heisman, but being a real player and leader. I was the best player on my high school team, but I didn’t see myself as a leader. For the first time in my life, I saw I had the ability to lead guys.

Do Blue Collar Workers Fit our Theology of Vocation?” – Christianity.com

I hope our faith and work theology works for Uncle Jim, not just for the artists and painters and poets. I pray that the postman of the next generation might deliver mail with a bit more bounce in their step, because they know that despite the cultural fascination with white collar work, those who labor in the trenches of our less flashy professions do work as important as anyone else.

LeBron James and Our Longing for Home” – Christianity.com

I think this longing for home is innate, something God wired in us. Ever since Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden, we’ve been displaced, a bit uncomfortable wherever we are.

 

 

 

Apr
04
2014

Is Orthodoxy Causing Young Evangelicals to Flee the Faith?

Today I’ve got a post up at the CNN Belief Blog, debunking the narrative that holding fast to the truth is causing evangelicals to leave the Church:

Yes, it is true that Christians should be known more for what they are for than what they are against.

But if you move past the rhetoric, you’ll find that it is often not aggrieved ex-evangelicals who are founding and leading charitable organizations, but the stubbornly orthodox. Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need – but they make up a large percentage.All over the world, you will find faithful followers of Christ adopting orphaned children, rescuing girls from trafficking, feeding the poor, digging wells and volunteering in disaster relief.

My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, operates one of the world’s largest relief operations while holding fast to its theological commitments. And some of the world’s most effective ministries to the poor and marginalized were started by and continue to operate according to evangelical Christian beliefs. They live in the tension of the New Testament, which calls believers to both faithfulness and charity.In fact, the most effective agents of hope in this world likely don’t have Twitter accounts, have never blogged and might never have even uttered the words, “social justice.”

And yet silently, quietly, patiently they serve the least of these, not because they first jettisoned their quaint notions of orthodoxy, but because they held them tighter.

Read the whole thing here:

Apr
01
2014

Three Things to Consider Before You Hit “Send”

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Today communication has never been easier. Most of the time this is good, allowing us to communicate good news quicker, to socialize with family and friends, and, in emergencies, get in touch with people faster. It also allows us to publish our thoughts at lightening speed. Most of the time, this is good. But not always. The ease of pressing “send” has not always brought out the best in people–even God’s people.

I’ve often said that James 1:19 has never been more relevant and never more ignored: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Slow to speak sounds like an old-fashioned relic from another era. How quaint, we moderns say, to actually be “slow to speak.” Why, that blog post, that tweet, that Facebook rant must be posted. And it must be posted now or I’ll lose clicks.

Following Christ means following him even in the way we engage online. I’ll admit that if this verse from James hits anyone, it hits me first. As disciples of Jesus, we can and should do better. So here are three things we might try to consider before we hit “send” on that tweet, status update or blog:

1. Did I get my facts right? 

If I’m writing about a news story or reacting to growing controversy, did I get all the facts or is my response a knee-jerk reaction? What’s more, am I believing the worst about someone with whom I disagree? Am I leveraging incomplete and sensational bad news to advance my argument? Or have I slowed down enough to read the best of the other side, process their arguments and respond with charitable disagreement? Of all things, we should be about the truth; not just the objective, orthodox body of Christian truth passed down from generation to generation. We should also be about the truth in every situation, even the truth about those with whom we most vociferously disagree.

One of the things you learn in seminary, at least from the best scholars, is to present the other side’s argument so well, so accurately, that he could recognize it. We ought to do that with our online discussions. But this takes a bit of work, it might mean not writing that blog post and not reacting so quickly to breaking news. Thankfully, Christians have the freedom to not be controlled by their passions, but by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22-23).

A neglected part of the truth is resisting caricatures and stereotypes. It is so easy to simply tag an entire group or tribe, with whom we disagree, as the problem or the enemy. In reality, there are diverse views in every denomination, association and network. I always cringe when I see lazy generalizations of networks to which I belong, because I know how wrong they often are. I’m guessing that same reaction happens when I carelessly do this to others.

2. Did I obey this oft-neglected verse? 

Galatians 6:10 says Christians should “do good, especially to those of the household of faith.” This means we should give other believers the benefit of the doubt. It’s so much easier to do the opposite. Today there is so much self-loathing among Christians online, a rush for us to beat up the Church or, rather, “those Christians.” There isn’t a sense of loyalty anymore to at least give our brothers and sisters in the Lord the benefit of the doubt, to say, “That brother or sister was purchased by the same blood of Jesus that secured my redemption. I at least owe them respect, dignity and the benefit of the doubt.”

Jesus said we were to be known by our love for each other (John 13:35). We have a strange way of showing love. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean there is no room for substantive, even sharp disagreement. Jesus isn’t speaking to his disciples about a kind of fuzzy, touchy-feely love that’s all unicorns and no weight. Paul, at times, showed love by sharply rebuking those in error (1 Cor. 4:21).

And yet, when writing to Christians about the Church, we should do as Paul did: always with a heart of love. And I’m not just talking about loving the people with whom we agree, who are in our tribe, but we should love Christ’s church. Some of the rants, blogs and tweets I read from Christians reflect such a near-hatred for the body, the bride, for whom Christ shed his blood. We forget that Jesus loves the Church (Eph. 5:25). Even though the Church disappoints, sins and fails, Jesus still loves the Church. When writing, posting and speaking, everything we say about Christians, to Christians, should at least reflect this reality. Sometimes we must defend the truth against error, sometimes we must stand against brothers and sisters for the sake of the gospel, sometimes we have to do and say things that are unpopular. Even so, in all of that, we should do it with tears, with reluctance and with a kind of heartbroken love for the Church.

3. Did we envision the real person we are criticizing? 

There are a lot of things we say behind a keyboard that we’d never say to someone in person. That’s because there is something about speaking to a flesh and blood person, measuring the reaction in their eyes and face, and weighing its effect on the heart. But keyboards and touch-screens reduce our communication by a dimension. You can’t convey tone in a blog post, tweet or a Facebook rant. This is why, even in an age of email, text and phone, some things are best said in person.

So when we go off on a rant against a particular group of people with whom we disagree, we should first envision an actual person. Perhaps it’s a friend, a relative or a coworker. If they read what we just wrote, how would it make them feel? Would they at least know, despite our disagreements, that we love and care for them? Would they think we were fair to them? Would they feel we took gratuitous shots?

Digital communication is a helpful tool, in many ways. But it can also remove the personal touch, the layer of one-to-one relationships of community. We’d do well to remember, as Tim Challies says, that “pixels are people.” That person with whom we disagree is not an avatar,  an entity or a static head-shot. He or she is a person created in the image of God and deserves respect.

Mar
22
2014

How to Pastor Single Adults

Lisa Anderson is the editor of Boundless, one of the finest resources for young adults in the evangelical world. She’s also host of the Boundless Podcast, where she interviews leading thinkers on issues of singleness, sexuality, marriage, and culture. I had the chance to interview Lisa this week for Leadership Journal. I asked her questions on singleness, sexuality, and ministry. This is one of the questions:

Some pastors and church leaders face a tension between encouraging marriage and yet not diminishing the gift–and even calling–of singleness. How would you advise them?Pastors need to invite singles into the life and leadership of the church, treating them not as “kids” but as functioning adults with vital spiritual, emotional, and physical assets for the congregation.

There’s a delicate balance between encouraging single young adults in their current life stage and experience while still elevating marriage and acknowledging that marriage is in most people’s future. Over 90 percent of single young adults want to get married, but pastors understandably don’t want to make singles feel like second-class citizens, so instead they say very little about marriage to singles. An awkward silence ensues, leaving singles feeling unheard and misunderstood. Pastors need to invite singles into the life and leadership of the church, treating them not as “kids” but as functioning adults with vital spiritual, emotional, and physical assets for the congregation. They then would do well to hear singles out. For women, this means hearing their hearts’ cry for marriage; for men, it may mean challenging them to consider marriage sooner rather than later. Either way, real relationships, accountability and a significant amount of grace is needed to open the conversation and remind everyone involved that singleness is a gift for a few, but a season for most. Let’s move people with biblical intention in the direction they need to go.

Read more here:

Mar
17
2014

Thinking and Rethinking Social Media Engagement

From my latest for ERLC.com:

Has there ever been a time in history where celebrities are as close to the people? In the old days, if I wanted to ask Tim Keller a question, I’d have to look up his church in the phone book (yes, a phone book). Today I can tweet him a question and get an answer.

Social media allows us to join tribes based on common interests. It can be leveraged for social good. And often drives conversation around important issues.

But social media can also bring out the crazy in all of us. Somehow even the best of us throw off restraint behind the keyboard and find a strange new hubris. We say things about people or even to people that we’d never say if the conversation was happening in flesh and blood. The most clever and the manipulative among us are able to form critical narratives about people with whom we disagree. Sometimes with a creative hashtag.

Followers of Christ need to continually think and rethink their social media engagement. We are presented with both opportunity and danger, peril and potential. Platforms can be powerful vehicles for delivering the timeless message of the gospel story, with all of it’s radical, paradigm-shifting impact. They can also fan the flames of self-righteousness and nurture the worst lusts: pride, anger and self-importance.

Read the whole thing here: 

Mar
04
2014

When Christianity Becomes Uncomfortable

On Sunday, our small group began a study on discipleship, aided by the very good material from Multiply written by Francis Chan and David Platt. The first part of this study challenges us to count the cost of discipleship. I was struck afresh by Jesus’ words in Luke:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:25-33, ESV)

As an American Christian, I guess I’ve never had to fully weigh the impact of Jesus’ words here. We’ve lived in a bubble of acceptance, especially those, like me, who’ve mostly worked for Christian organizations. Sure, there is the occasional derogatory remark by a unbelieving family member or neighbor. Yet even among those who don’t profess faith, Christianity has been something considered worth commending. For much of the church’s history, this was not the norm. Christianity has been uncomfortable. It has involved cross-bearing.

Jesus wanted his followers to know this. I notice he said these very hard things when the crowds followed him. It’s as if he’s saying to them, “If you are following me for the benefits, for the goodies, for the anticipated health and wellness, well, you’ve got the wrong Messiah.” It’s not that Jesus was sadistic. But the spiritual battle between light and darkness involves hardship, suffering, and a willingness to be considered on the “wrong side of history.”

I think this is where we often get Jesus wrong. I think this is where we often get Christianity wrong. The New Testament knows nothing, really, of the Jesus-as-mascot paradigm. To claim to follow Jesus, but reject the radical new way of life He calls to us to is to reject Jesus altogether. The way of Jesus is better. But many don’t see that. Many of us don’t see that.

For American Christians, I think the coming years will force us to make difficult choices. We will have to choose between cultural acceptance and the way of Jesus. In other words, Christianity, truly bearing the name of Christ, will involve a cross. It will be rough and uncomfortable. Sometimes this discomfort is in the form of cultural rejection. Sometimes it’s the discomfort of forgiving someone we want desperately to despise. Sometimes it’s the self-sacrifice to give ourselves for those we are called to love and nurture: our spouses, our children, our neighbors. Sometimes it’s the discipline to speak the truth in type of love others don’t exhibit. Sometimes it involves making reasoned, winsome arguments in favor of truth that are unfairly dismissed as bigotry.

Are we ready for this? I think of the words of Peter to the first-century church in 1 Peter. He reminded the Church that while they were to assimilate into their contexts, they were to remember their status as strangers and foreigners. Christians follow another King and live out the values of another Kingdom. There would be cultural pressure to abandon Jesus or to synch Jesus with whatever is popular. As if Jesus is the clay and we are the potters. Peter urged the first century church to stand strong, to have courage, but also to do this with a kind of joyful anticipation of the world to come. I’m particularly arrested by Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17, ESV)

Having warmed himself by the fires of cultural acceptance and having also been the doomsday zealot, Peter argued for a third way. Followers of Jesus must be should not be gripped by fear (“nor be troubled”), but give a calm, rational, joyful defense of Christian faith, shaped by gentleness and respect. Being misunderstood, slandered, and disparaged by the culture and even fellow evangelicals is no fun. But our response should not only be courageously truthful, it should be otherworldly in terms of kindness. We not only communicate the values of another world. We speak with rhetorical tools from another world. We shouldn’t add to our suffering with fleshly responses.

As we anticipate life in a post-Christian world, we need to not only reacquaint ourselves with Christian identity (cross-bearing, suffering), but by faith live out this gospel fully before a watching world.

 

 

 

Jan
03
2014

Fearless Predictions for 2014:

A fair warning: I’m likely the worst prognosticator in the world. Just ask President Pawlenty. And yet here I am making predictions for 2014, well, just because this is what writers do. So without further fanfare, my picks for 2014:

 1)   After a year (2013) of religious liberty setbacks, this will be the year religious liberty wins in the courts. This is not just a left-right issue, but also a constitutional issue. I think the Supreme Court will strike down the HHS mandate in a win for religious organizations and businesses.

2)   Peyton Manning will win his second Super Bowl, leading the Denver Broncos to a narrow win over the Seattle Seahawks. This year will further bolster Manning’s case as one of the greatest QB’s to play in the NFL

3)   There will be two or three major controversies that will continue to divide the Christian blogosphere. Some will fan the flames for continued blog traffic, platform building or fundraising. Others will issue cliched appeals to harmony, unity, and getting back to important work, like instagraming every meal.  And a few smart influencers will offer thoughtful and original reactions.

4)   A pop culture icon will do something crass, foolish, or vulgar (or all three) allowing regular people to feel better about themselves.

5)   Southern Baptists will continue to quietly serve as the third largest disaster relief operation in the world, but nobody will notice.

6)   No Chicago sports teams will win a championship. The Cubs’ 100-year plus rebuilding project will continue at its glacial pace, the Bulls will me a mediocre-but-not-elite team without Derrick Rose, the Blackhawks will take a year off from winning championships, the White Sox will continue to have no plan, and the Bears will rise and fall on the health and maturity of their quarterback, Jay Cutler.

7)   Evangelicals of my generation and younger will continue to try to be cool and Christian with less and less success. As the stigma of radically following Christ pushes against cultural winds, many will run for the high ground of acceptance and eschew courage.

8)   Political parties and activist groups will tell us again (without irony) that the 2014 midterm election is the most important of our lifetime. This will lead some to fevered and worried anticipation, others to involvement, and others to apathy.

9)   Dr. Russell Moore will continue to grow in influence among those trying to apply the gospel of the Kingdom to current culture. His winsome voice will help younger evangelicals think through difficult moral and ethical issues and key institutional leaders will continue to seek his advice on evaluating and making policy.

10)  Some will continue to wring their hands at the decline of the Church’s influence and power while quietly, the gospel will advance in cities around the world. A burgeoning gospel-centered movement to church plant in the worlds’ biggest population centers will slowly transform whole neighborhoods, boroughs, and even whole cities.   Small town pastors will continue their faithful gospel work. And Jesus’ promise to build His church will continue unabated by other factors.

11)   People will continue to demand content in a variety of platforms. Reading of online content on smart phones and iPads will increase. The desire for magazine-style journalism on digital devices will increase. And the consuming of e-books will level off but not drop off as readers appreciate the complimentary nature of both digital and analog.

12)   Smart, young, conservative evangelicals will continue to quietly make their mark in leading cultural and political institutions. Christian colleges and seminaries will keep churning out committed, well-read, world-shapers eager to contribute to human flourishing in their generation.

13)   The color of the Church as we know it will continue to change. The embrace of intentional racial diversity by the evangelical church, rapidly changing North American demographics, and changing attitudes about race will continue to bring Sunday gatherings closer to John’s vision of the Kingdom in Revelation 9.

14)   Bloggers will continue to blog about Mark Driscoll, even if there is nothing left to talk about. No explanation needed here, really.

15)   The prolife movement will continue to make gains, both in public attitudes, in state-by-state legislative remedies, and in the heroic work of countless crisis pregnancy centers around the world. The outrage of abortion on demand will continue to prick the American conscience.

16)   Dr. Russell Moore will continue to mock me for calling Diet Pepsi “pop” instead of coke. And I’ll continue to stand out as a Midwesterner among southern gentleman here in Nashville.

17)   Tim Keller will continue to churn more awesome books than I  have time to read.