Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

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:

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.

 

 

 

Feb
27
2014

Christians on Computers Talking Cakes

You probably don’t want to read one more article on the religious liberty, cake-baking, gay marriage controversy. But let me diverge from the important legal and spiritual implications of this discussion and talk about the actual discussion itself. How should the discussion among Christians be driven around the public water cooler of social media? Here are a few thoughts I have in the wake of this pitched battle:

  • We should always assume the very best about those with whom we disagree and we should argue against their best arguments, not caricatured straw men.
  • We should remember that there are actual people behind the avatars. And we should remember that we are people, not avatars. As followers of Jesus we are accountable for what we do and say.
  • We should not assume the headline, but understand and know the facts behind the headline. Tweeting in reaction to a headline may be fashionable, but it’s not worthy of a Christian whose goal is to pursue truth (Philippines 4:8)
  • As much as we can, we should not talk at people, but with people.
  • We should remember that if someone disagrees with us, they are not necessarily being mean to us, they are simply disagreeing with us. The surest way to shut down a productive discussion is to score cheap political points by hi-lighting how unreasonable our debate partner is. A reasoned argument against your position is not an attack. Know the difference.
  • Christians should, as much as they can, support fellow Christians. Paul reminded us to do good to those who are of “the household of faith.” Twisting the arguments, fanning the flames of public shame, and advancing the popular narrative of Christians as bigoted, uncaring, ideologues doesn’t exactly build unity in the body of Christ. If anything discouraged me in this entire discussion it’s the willingness of Christians to throw other Christians under the bus for fifteen seconds of cultural affirmation. Sad.
  • It’s helpful not to throw a rhetorical bomb out there and then say, “What?, What?” denying an obvious intention to stir things up (Proverbs 26:18-19)
  • It’s also not helpful to come in late to an important discussion with the pious, “I wish Christians would all stop arguing and get in a circle and sing Kumbaya.” Not every argument is worth having, yes. And sometimes Christians fight unworthy fights, yes. But not every discussion is unhealthy. Until we are fully sanctified in Heaven, we’ll not stop having discussions and disagreements.
  • We should discern between worthy arguments with reasonable opponents and folks who only want a prolonged Twitter battle. Or as a friend tells me all the time: Don’t feed the trolls. It’s also helpful to actually not be a troll. Twitter discipline is a hard thing to maintain and all of us have had moments where we have failed.
  • We should be joyful warriors. There are slippery slopes, troubling signs in our culture, and an increasing marginalizing of orthodox Christian beliefs. Still, Christ is coming. He is building His Church. He is triumphant. And He will renew all things. So onward with joy.
Dec
09
2013

Preach the Gospel and Forget Politics?

Evangelicals are evaluating their posture in an increasingly post-Christian age. This is good, but there are some myths we’ve adopted that are unhelpful. In my weekly post for ERLC, I tackled five of these. Here is a common one: We should only preach the gospel and make disciples and not worry about politics. Here is my answer:

It’s true that no political party or movement can change the world. Sometimes political activism on both the left and the right can be overly triumphalist. Only the gospel, not political ideology, has the power to change hearts. Yes and amen.

But the gospel, if you notice, is a rather political statement itself. The gospel declares, first of all, that Christ and not Caesar is the ultimate King (Mark 12:17) and that even the most powerful rulers serve under the authority of King Jesus (Rom. 13:1). Even the most popular prayer in the world, the Lord’s Prayer, is really a prayer of revolution, declaring that there is another King and another kingdom that is not of this world (Matt. 6:9-13).So you can’t really preach the gospel and avoid politics. Politics are embedded in the very heart of the gospel. Furthermore, think about Jesus’ words in the Great Commission. The imperative is to “make disciples” and teach them “all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).

The gospel doesn’t simply punch your ticket to heaven; it empowers Christians for a radical new lifestyle, one that is at odds with the world (Jas. 4:4; Rom. 8:7).  The most nonpolitical Christian, if he is faithful, is a political statement to a world system that is under the temporary and restrained rule of Satan (Eph. 2:2).

The Church is to be an alternate society, an outpost of the kingdom to come (1 Peter 2:9). This means the gospel calls us not simply to make converts who have no effect on the world around them. The gospel calls us be agents of reconciliation, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to live and work toward justice and righteousness, to seek the welfare of our cities, to advance human flourishing. In fact, a Christianity that has no impact on the world around it, according to James, is a dead, lifeless faith (Jas. 2:14-16).

I’m glad, for instance, that men like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King Jr. and Deitrich Bonheoffer had a gospel big enough to demand justice for the innocents. To ignore injustice is to say to the 19th-century slave in America, to the 20th-century Jew in Germany, to the 21st-century unborn baby: “Be warmed and filled.” It’s a diminished gospel, a lifeless faith.

What our generation of evangelicals has to understand is that love of neighbor doesn’t mean only the politically safe endeavors of charity that everyone affirms. It might also mean having the courage to get involved in the socio-political structures that either advance or hurt human flourishing.

You can read the entire article here: 

Dec
06
2013

A Theology of Technology

How do Christians handle technology? We we blindly accept it all forms as neutral? Do we withdraw in a sort of isolationist rejection? Fascinating questions we must tackle as faithful followers of Jesus during the digital revolution. These are the questions Craig Detwiler discusses in a fascinating new book, iGods. I had the change to chat with him this week over at Leadership Journal. Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

If you could counsel church leaders, how would you advise them to approach, in their teaching and personal life example, an adequate theology of technology?

As with entertainment, the temptation seems to be disengagement or overindulgence. How do develop a maturity that welcomes the wonders and gifts of technology without letting our devices drive our decision-making?

I’ve been rereading Scripture with an eye on technology, wondering how to translate enduring truths into contemporary terms. For example, can we call God the original technologist? Perhaps it is helpful to talk about Genesis in terms of engineering and aesthetics. We know that Jesus was more than a carpenter’s son, but do we also realize the Greek word for “carpenter” was tekton? Perhaps the “magic” that we associate with the iPhone isn’t so far removed from the original Designer.

I haven’t heard enough pastors talking and modeling digital discipleship. If our congregants spend hours each week involved in social media, then how do we follow God and craft a winsome witness via our smart phones? In the 21st century, we all have the capacity to be narrowcasters, with the possibility of becoming broadcasters. That is a remarkable moment to preach and teach within.

We also might find ourselves distinguished by our ongoing belief in the sacredness of the body, the need to relieve physical and psychic pain and suffering via presence—from chicken soup to bedside prayers. I’m confident the Spirit will continue to lead us towards acts of kindness towards our neighbors and into the farthest corners of the Internet.

You really should read the rest of this interview here:

Nov
04
2013

The false gospel of cynicism

Today, at the ERLC blog, I talk about the mandate for joy in Philippines 4:8:

Yet Paul, without denying the misery of life in a fallen world, seems to say to followers of Jesus everywhere: “In light of what we have in Christ, let’s think on these things: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, what is commendable and what is praiseworthy.”

In other words, let’s not focus solely on the evil in the world. Let’s not live as negative, apocalyptic reactionaries. There is time for lament, certainly. But given that we know the Man of Sorrows who has borne our grief, let’s train our minds to glimpse the beautiful, the unbroken, the rays of heaven’s sunshine upon the earth and the people Jesus is redeeming.

Paul could say this, not because he was a Pollyanna escaping reality, but because he had a greater grasp of reality than anyone who lived. A reality that says while yes, the world is broken, a man from Galilee lived, died, rose again and is now the rightful King. A new Kingdom has dawned, and light has broken in the darkness. There is a city coming whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10).

Paul’s words don’t simply give us permission to smile when things are upside-down. They are a mandate to rejoice in the often barely perceptible pinpricks of grace that penetrate our canvas of evil. So let’s, without guilt:

Rejoice in the stunning hues of a sunset.

Be enraptured by the beautiful laughter of our children.

Appreciate the best artistic expressions, regardless of their source.

Enjoy our favorite sporting events.

Pursue deep friendships.

Feel the grain a well-crafted piece of furniture.

Treasure every intimate moment with our spouses.

Laugh at good jokes.

Cry at the moments that catch our breath.

Allow the best music to flow through our ears into the deepest part of our hearts.

We can do these things, even in a world of suffering, heartache and toil. Not because we are ignorant of evil, but because we are part of his story of redemption, renewal and grace. We can do all these things to the glory of God. Why? Because anything beautiful or lovely or good can catapult our hearts into worship of the creator who made it.

Every time your child laughs and gives you joy, you can silently worship God, the giver of good gifts. And you can do this with a delicious meal, a glorious soundtrack, a delightful conversation, or anything that brings you wholesome pleasure. You can do this because every glimpse of beauty is a reflection of the one who is beautiful.

Read the whole thing here:

Oct
28
2013

Your Family is Not a Problem to Be Solved

 In a symposium published by The Guardian, novelist Richard Ford was asked to deliver his best advice to aspiring writers. Forgive me for quibbling with the wisdom of a celebrated muse, but I was offended by his first two pieces of advice: 1) Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea; 2) Don’t have children.

In Ford’s view, marriage is only useful insomuch as it furthers personal aims and children are optional nuisances to be avoided, if possible. Marriage is merely instrumental instead of aspirational. I’m not sure if Ford’s advice was meant as tongue-in-cheek, but it reflects the utilitarian and the flaccid attitude toward the family in our time. As if the rigors of family life are an impediment to selfish career aims.

It would be easy to dismiss this kind of logic as the liberal worldview of the elite—and in some measure it does reflect the sort of utopian, family planning ideology of many academic precincts—but the seeds are part of a larger conflict that dates back to the Garden of Eden.

After all, it was the wily serpent who convinced Eve that to live out her existence as God’s image-bearer was to lead a less-fulfilled, less noble life. It became all about her aims to know more, to be more, to carve out a self-directed life apart from God.

This lie that leads to death is at the heart of Satan’s long war against God. To consider children and family life a nuisance to be avoided rather than a gift to be stewarded is the seed that leads to modern evils like abortion, euthanasia, human trafficking and other violations of human decency. We take the inherent worth of the imago dei and subject it to material gain or personal fulfillment. We become individualists, viewing each other not as a unique soul created in God’s image, but a product to be consumed at our leisure. Darwinian convenience is a direct assault on God’s ordered creation and therefore an assault on God himself.

But lest followers of Christ think this kind of utilitarianism is restricted to the airy halls of Berkley or the Ivy Leagues, we must be careful to resist imbibing the idea that family life is somehow a lesser accomplishment than career.

I’ve had more than one conversation with a Christian parent whose greatest fear was not that their son would leave the faith while in college, but would find a girl and get married, thwarting his viability for graduate school and beyond. I’ve heard the drip of condescension of some who view with pity the stay at home mom, as if she’s given up the best of her life to do the lesser task of raising her children. And I’ve battled the temptation to consider my role as father less important than the title on my business card.

To be sure, family life is a sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears and treasure. There are many parts of parenthood that are less than glamorous. Homework assignments, late-night bouts of the flu, consistent discipline—these are not warm and fuzzy moments that make the photo album. And yet if we were to be honest, our lives would be less fulfilled and lack a certain, unquantifiable richness  without the deep well of family life. I can’t imagine my life and my career without the steadying influence of my wife and the gradual sanctification God has allowed in me through fatherhood. Frankly, my writing and speaking career ascended only after I got married and started having kids. You might say that this was just coincidental, a maturity that comes with age. But those who know me best would strenuously disagree. Marriage and fatherhood settles men by forcing their concentration toward their most immediate context: their family. Where the wellspring of manhood bends outward instead of inward toward his family, we produce a society that reaps what it sows—immature men whose sexual appetites are as untrained and unfocused.

When we diminish marriage and family life, whether with Richard Ford’s intentional swipes or by our subtle lifestyle choices, we err in two ways. First, we acquiesce to the enemy’s ruthless attack on God. To diminish human dignity, in any form, is to snuff out the image of God. Marriage is an illustration of the intimacy between Christ and His church and a window into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity.

And secondly, we, like Eve, accept the lie that what God has designed is inferior to what we could design on our own. We would do well to repeatedly remind ourselves that Jesus came to restore us to the fruitful joy stolen by the enemy in the Garden (John 10:10).