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Our Relation to the Church: We Are Servants

Mar 28, 2015 | Trevin Wax

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Charles Spurgeon:

My brethren, what is our relation to this church? What is our position in it?

We are servants.

May we always know our place, and keep it! The highest place in the church will always come to the man who willingly chooses the lowest; while he that aspires to be great among his brethren will sink to be least of all.

Certain men might have been something if they had not thought themselves so. A consciously great man is an evidently little one.

A lord over God’s heritage is a base usurper. He that in his heart and soul is always ready to serve the very least of the family; who expects to be put upon; and willingly sacrifices reputation and friendship for Christ’s sake, he shall fulfill a heaven-sent ministry. We are not sent to be ministered unto, but to minister.

Charles Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the World: The Final Manifesto

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Trevin’s Seven

Mar 27, 2015 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal of the Day: Mere Humanity: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition$0.99.

1. The ERLC Summit on racial reconciliation continues today. Free live-stream here. Session and speaker list is here.

2. World - Kansas Bans Dismemberment Abortions

3. E. Stephen Burnett – Rediscovering Beauty, Truth, and Magic in Cinderella

4. Nine Every Morning - Combining love and passion for your work with dedication and commitment

5. Three Nigerian women recount their experiences as captives of Boko Haram

6. Stephen Miller – How Comparison Undermines Leading Worship

7. Living for the New Heaven and New Earth

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Ted Cruz

Mar 27, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Ted CruzName: Ted Cruz

Why you’ve heard of him: On March 23, Cruz announced he would seek the 2016 Republican nomination for president.

Position: Cruz is the junior U.S. senator from Texas, after winning the election in 2012.

Previous:  Cruz has served in the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and as a policy adviser to then-President George W. Bush. Earlier, he was Solicitor General of Texas and an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law. Cruz also served as a law clerk for several justices, including William Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Education:  Cruz graduated cum laude from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Later, he attended Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude with a Juris Doctor degree. While at Harvard, he was a primary editor of the Harvard Law Review, and executive editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, and a founding editor of the Harvard Latino Law Review.

Books: In addition to numerous published writings, Cruz has written one book: A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Miracle of America.

Why he’s important: Born to a Cuban refugee father and a mother from Delaware, Cruz has joked that “I’m Cuban, Irish and Italian, and yet somehow I ended up Southern Baptist.” He says he became a Christian at Clay Road Baptist Church in Houston.

According to The Washington Post, Cruz currently calls Houston’s First Baptist his home church. His father, Rafael Cruz, a preacher and director of an international ministry, often appears alongside his son at speaking engagements.

Elected in 2012, he is the first Hispanic or Cuban American to serve as a U.S. Senator from Texas. Currently, he is the chairman of the several senate subcommittees.

Cruz readily identifies with conservative positions and appeals to evangelical voters, as evidenced by his winning the 2014 Values Voter Summit presidential straw poll for the second year in a row. He announced his presidential candidacy with a speech at Liberty University.

Notable Quotes:

“At the end of the day, faith is not organized religion; it’s not going to a church. It is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

“I am always skeptical of politicians who say, ‘I’m running because God told me to.’ My view as a voter is: ‘When God tells me to vote for you, we’ll be on the same page.'”

“I think anyone in politics you’ve got a special obligation to avoid being a Pharisee, to avoid ostentatiously wrapping yourself in your faith.”

“It’s a tremendous blessing to be a child of an immigrant who fled oppression because it makes you understand just how fragile liberty is.”

“Our Constitution was truly a revolutionary document because they inverted the entire concept of sovereignty.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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Apologetics, Cultural Liturgies, and Our Postmodern Age

Mar 26, 2015 | Trevin Wax

pearceyYesterday, I began a conversation with Nancy Pearcey about her new book, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God SubstitutesToday, we continue this discussion and focus on the benefits and limits of worldview training.

Trevin Wax: James K. A. Smith makes the case that worldview analysis isn’t enough when it comes to discipleship, since we are formed by cultural liturgies, not just philosophical beliefs. What are the limits of worldview training?

Nancy Pearcey: The issue raised by James K. A. Smith is whether we are shaped less by belief than by practice — by ways of life or what he calls “liturgies.” The idea of the primacy of practice comes out of postmodernism, which claims that people’s beliefs are shaped by the patterns of life embodied in their communities. On one hand, that seems obvious. On the other hand, when we borrow an idea from an existing intellectual tradition, we must analyze it carefully to make sure we are not absorbing non-biblical assumptions in the process.

The idea that individuals are constituted by their communities is a common theme in a philosophical tradition called continental philosophy. The theme can be traced back to the German philosopher Hegel, who taught that the real actor in history is not the individual but a Universal Mind, a kind of collective consciousness. As philosopher Robert Solomon explains, the Universal Mind creates the world “through the shared aspects of a culture, a society, and above all through a shared language.” Individuals are constituted by the customs, values, and habits of the groups to which they belong.

Over time, Hegel’s Universal Mind was dropped, but what remained was the idea that individuals are shaped by communal forces. They are not producers of culture so much as products of a particular culture with its forms of life.

In our own day, this has led to the postmodern claim that ideas are merely social constructions stitched together by cultural forces. Individuals are little more than mouthpieces for communities based on race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity. The implication is that people believe what they do not because they have good reasons but because they are black or white, male or female, Asian or Hispanic, or whatever.

This is radically dehumanizing. It implies that individuals are powerless to rise above the communities to which they belong. It is a form of reductionism that dissolves individual identity into group identity. Christian philosopher Dooyeweerd called it the “ideology of community.”

In Finding Truth, I argue that every worldview gets some things right, which means we can be open and respectful, gleaning what is good wherever we find it. Postmodernism has been a helpful corrective to modernism. It has done good service in countering the lonely individualism of the Enlightenment’s autonomous self. It rejects the modernist project of thinkers like Bacon and Descartes to start history over from scratch within the isolated individual consciousness.

But just as we should not uncritically accept Enlightenment-inspired philosophies, so we should not uncritically accept postmodernism.

Postmodernists reject the Enlightenment ideal of neutral, objective knowledge on the grounds that everyone’s perspective is “situated” in a context that is particular, local, and historically contingent. But they often overlook the fact that their own claims are likewise situated. After all, where did postmodernism come from? As we just saw, it is a strand of modern European intellectual history, stemming from post-Hegelian continental philosophy with its claim that consciousness is shaped by communal ways of life. Postmodernists are just as restricted by their own historical horizons as the more traditional people whom they tend to look down on.

Finding Truth gives guidelines for practicing biblical discernment with any set of ideas, identifying what they get right and where they go wrong.

Trevin Wax: You present a five-step approach to apologetics:

  • Identify the idol.
  • Identify the reductionism.
  • Test the worldview.
  • Show how it’s self-defeating.
  • Make a case for a Christian worldview.

How did you develop this approach, and why do you believe it is a helpful way of conversing with unbelievers?

Nancy Pearcey: Romans 1 describes the dynamics of the person struggling to avoid God. It unfolds a series of actions — a drama of divine-human interaction — that is the source of all worldviews, from ancient times to our own. The great plot line of history is the tug of war between God and humanity. On one hand, God reaches out to humanity to make himself known. On the other hand, humans desperately seek to avoid knowing him by creating God substitutes.

When conversing with non-Christians, then, we can start where Paul does: with general revelation, a body of knowledge that is available to everyone because it is part of universal human experience. An important aspect of that knowledge is our direct awareness of human nature. As philosopher Étienne Gilson puts it, because humans are capable of choosing, the first cause that created them must have a will. Because humans are capable of thinking, the first cause that created them must have a mind. In short, because a human is a someone and not a something, the source of human life must also be a Someone. As the Psalmist says, “Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?” (Ps 94:9)

When humans create God substitutes, however, those lead inevitably to a lower view of human nature. The technical term is reductionism. Those who exchange the glory of God for something in the created world will also exchange the image of God for something in creation.

For example, take materialism, since that is the dominant worldview in the academic world. Its idol is matter. Everything else is reduced to material objects produced by material forces. Anything that does not fit in the materialist box is dismissed as an illusion, including free will, mind, spirit, soul, consciousness. Humans are said to be essentially robots — complex biochemical machines. Reductionism is a strategy for suppressing the truth: For if we can reduce humans to machines operating by natural forces, then we can explain their origin by purely natural forces.

But can anyone actually live like a machine? Of course not. Philosopher John Searle jokes that if people deny free will, then when ordering at a restaurant they should say, “Just bring me whatever the laws of nature have determined I will get.” It seems to be part of undeniable, inescapable human experience that we have the power to make choices, that we are not robots.

In Finding Truth, I give several astonishing quotes by leading scientists and scholars who admit that their own worldview does not fit the world as they themselves experience it. The example my students always remember best is Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is just “a big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. It is difficult to actually see people that way, he admits. But “when I look at my children, I can, when I force myself … see that they are machines.”

But is that how Brooks treats them? Not at all. “I give them my unconditional love,” even though love has no “rational analysis” in his worldview. It sticks out of his materialist box. Robots don’t love. Brooks’s philosophy is too limited to account for reality as he himself experiences it.

So the Romans 1 strategy equips us to dialog with non-Christians because it incorporates what everyone knows by general revelation. The person before you has a profound experiential knowledge of being made in God’s image—and that knowledge keeps breaking through even when his worldview tells him he is a machine made in the image of matter.

Trevin Wax: Worldview analysis has been offered in other books. What’s really new here, and how can we use it with non-Christians?

Nancy Pearcey: : There are two major ways to test a philosophy or worldview: (1) Test it externally against the world and (2) test it internally for logical consistency. These are the same questions we raise in testing any idea — whether in a science lab, a court of law, or when asking a friend why she showed up late.

What makes the Romans 1 approach unique is that it tells you why these tests work.

We can be confident that every non-Christian worldview will fail the first test. Why? Because, as we already saw, every non-Christian worldview is reductionistic. As Romans explains, those who reject the Creator will idolize some part of the created order. You might think of it as trying to stuff all of reality into a box. But a part is never enough to explain the whole. Something will stick out of the box. The theory does not match the real world.

We can also be confident that non-Christian worldviews will fail the second test. Why? Again because of the reductionism. When you hold a lower view of humanity, that will include the human mind—our cognitive faculties, rationality, reason. Yet how does a worldview support its own case? By using reason. Thus when it discredits reason, it undercuts its own case. It is self-refuting. It commits suicide.

The technical term is self-referential absurdity, and you will see it applied regularly by philosophers and apologists — but with no rationale or method. What is unique about the Romans 1 approach is that it tells you why it works and how to apply it. Find the reductionism: That’s the point where it will commit suicide.

The Romans 1 strategy works with non-Christians because it relies on what everyone recognizes as good reasoning. Even the term “idols” is used by secular thinkers (ever since Nietzsche’s famous essay “Twilight of the Idols“). Afterward, we can draw back the curtain and explain the deeper metaphysical grounding: The Romans 1 narrative, with its dramatic account of idols and suppression, is the larger framework that gives these strategies their theological rationale and weaves them into a dynamic unity.

To quote one of my students, using the strategy in Finding Truth ”is like the difference between driving around Los Angeles with just a set of directions (turn left, turn right) compared to having a map of the whole city. The map gives you the overall perspective.” The five principles provide a map to navigate any system of ideas.

Trevin Wax: Several of the chapters in this book deal with both Enlightenment materialism and postmodernism, which critiques the hubris of Enlightenment philosophy. Which of these two philosophies do you believe is ascending today?

Nancy Pearcey: In the modern age, Western thought and culture has split into two streams. In the 20th century, they were labeled the analytic and the continental traditions. The analytic tradition traces its roots to British empiricism and is associated with philosophies that claim to be science-based, such as materialism and naturalism. The continental tradition traces its roots to the Romantic protest against the Enlightenment, and includes philosophies such as idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, and postmodernism. (I describe these two traditions in much greater detail in Saving Leonardo, showing how each give rise to distinctive schools of art, literature, and music.)

Analytic philosophy is taught in some 90 percent of American philosophy departments, so it is more familiar to most people (even if they don’t know the name). Continental thought, on the other hand, has swept through the humanities: English, history, theology, ethics, the social sciences, and so on.

Perhaps the best way to understand their relationship is summarized in the fact/value split: Modernism lays claim to the fact realm, while postmodernism is rampant in the value realm.

The upshot is that Christians need to know how to interact critically with both of these philosophical traditions, gleaning what is good while sorting out what is contrary to a biblical worldview.

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Worth a Look 3.26.15

Mar 26, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic by Chris Castaldo. $0.99.

Chris Castaldo takes readers on a fascinating and practical exploration of the challenges and opportunities encountered by Catholics who become Evangelicals. He examines the five major reasons why Christ’s followers often leave the Catholic Church, and shows how to emulate Jesus in practical ways when engaging Catholic friends and family. And, with humor and authenticity, he shares his own faith journey in order to help readers understand and work through their own.

The ERLC Summit on Racial Reconciliation begins today at 1:00 p.m. CST and continues through tomorrow evening. You can live-stream the sessions here. Here is a list of sessions and speakers.

The Federalist features a number of people on both sides of the gay marriage debate discussing the best point of the other side: The Best Reason I’m Wrong on Gay Marriage

In advance of the Supreme Court’s consideration of the gay marriage issue, we asked five people on the Right with differing views on gay marriage to share doubts or misgivings they have about their own position. On an issue where so many people are sure of the rightness of their views, what’s the one thing that gives you pause? Here’s what they had to say.

Jake Meador on the “little things” of the Shire and the power of memory in Sam and Frodo’s quest:

There’s a scene near the end of The Lord of the Rings when Frodo and Sam are on the slopes of Mt Doom making their ascent to the crack in the mountain into which they hope to cast the Ring of Power, thereby bringing an end to Sauron’s power in Middle Earth. But at this point it seems as if they may not make it. They’ve marched for weeks on weeks with little food or water. They’ve been attacked by giant spiders, taken captive by orcs multiple times, and now appear to have lost their final reserves of energy as they attempt to make the final push up the mountain. But something is able to keep them going-memory.

Aaron Earls shows us a map of the most searched-for services in the capital cities of each state, and then reflects on what these searches mean:

What they found reveals several core needs we all have and our often futile attempts to satisfy them. While we frequently speak of eyes being the windows to the soul, Google seems to have that cornered as well now. Our searches reveal more about us than we would care to admit.

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Can Your Congregation Answer the Questions of a Post-Christian Society?

Mar 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Pearcey_FindingTruth

Ever since I was a teenager, I have benefited from the work of thinkers like Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey. Their book How Now Shall We Live? forced me to examine assumptions and answer the question of why I believed Christianity to be true. Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth was also an important book in my spiritual development. It pointed me in the direction of Francis Schaeffer and led me to a deeper consideration of philosophy and worldview analysis.

Nancy Pearcey is a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University, and she has recently released a new book, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God SubstitutesToday and tomorrow, she joins me on the blog for a conversation about evangelism, apologetics, and worldview training.

Trevin Wax: Nancy, It’s been more than ten years since Total Truth came out. How has the landscape in North America changed, and how have recent trends shaped your work in Finding Truth?

Nancy Pearcey: Total Truth makes the case that Christianity is a worldview that is meant to be applied not just to religious life but to all of life. Finding Truth gives people the tools to do it.

Christians are often stymied because they simply don’t know how to apply biblical truth to all of life. As a result, they are continually in retreat before competing ideas. The dominant theories in virtually all fields are secular, and sometimes explicitly anti-Christianity. In order to obey the cultural mandate, we need a strategy that empowers us to show where those theories are mistaken, and then to craft positive biblical alternatives.

Finding Truth offers a 5-part strategy that equips us to penetrate to the core of any worldview and weigh its claims. As one of my students said, “Your book is different from any other book I’ve read on apologetics. Other books are informational; they tell us about various worldviews. Your book teaches us how to actually do apologetics.”

 

Trevin Wax: You write: “Churches have an obligation to equip their congregations to answer the questions that inevitably arise from living in a post-Christian society.” What are some of the common questions you find churches have a difficult time answering?

Nancy Pearcey: The core question is the same one that I wrestled with as a teenager: How do we know that Christianity is true? We should be Christians only because we are persuaded that the gospel is true.

When I stumbled upon L’Abri in the early 1970s, I was a young adult steeped in relativism and skepticism. I had to be persuaded that there is such a thing as truth before I could even consider whether Christianity might be that truth. Today relativism is far more widespread. Polls show that even in the church, teens are likely to say that there are many ways to God, or to say that statements about God’s existence are subjective, based on emotional experience.

Yet church youth groups rarely teach apologetics, majoring instead on games and goodies. The goal seems to be to engineer events that ratchet up emotional commitment, as though sheer intensity of experience will compensate for intellectual doubts. But emotional intensity is not enough to block out teens’ questions. If anything, it leads them to redefine Christianity in purely emotional terms —which leaves them even more vulnerable when they finally do face their questions.

Finding Truth equips young people — and their parents, pastors, and teachers — to craft answers to the many competing worldviews they encounter, whether secular or religious.

 

Trevin Wax: Many people, especially in the Reformed world, are questioning the role that worldview training plays in discipleship. How do you respond?

Nancy Pearcey: There are many levels of Christian discipleship, but clearly the first one is to stay Christian.

Many Christian homes, schools, and churches are not equipping young people to maintain even the basic conviction that Christianity is true. Sociologist Bradley Wright at the University of Connecticut asked former Christians why they de-converted. The researchers expected to hear stories about people leaving the church because they had been hurt or emotionally wounded — relationship issues. To their surprise, the reason given most frequently by former Christians was that they could not get answers to their doubts and questions. In fact, they could not even get the church to treat their questions seriously. A former Southern Baptist (obviously still angry) said, “Christians always use the word ‘faith’ as their last word when they are too stupid to answer a question.”

Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, reports similar results. In Soul Searching, he found that the reason given most often by teens who left their religion was that they had unanswered doubts and questions. I hear the same story far too often myself.

Recently a mother told me with tears in her eyes that her son had lost his faith at a state university. Her son was a psychology major, and ever since Freud, most psychological theories have treated Christianity as a symptom of neurosis, an infantile regression, the projection of an imaginary father figure in the sky. The young man came from a strong, warm Christian family and church, but he was completely unprepared to critically evaluate the theories he was learning in the classroom. Within a semester, he had abandoned his religious upbringing altogether.

How can we help a psychology student respond to Freud’s charge that religion is a symptom of emotional immaturity? An English student seeking to answer Foucault’s charge that truth claims are merely power plays? A law student whose professor insists that law has no relation to morality? A unique feature of Finding Truth is that it teaches a strategy that can be applied universally. No more memorizing specific arguments for each theory. We can be confident that Romans 1 applies to all of them.

 

Trevin Wax: Your book is primarily focused on the flaws in prevailing philosophies. But you also recognize that most people don’t think, “I need a personal philosophy” for life and then sign up for a course. Much of our outlook on life is absorbed through books and movies and music. 

Nancy Pearcey: You’re alluding here to cultural apologetics. It was Francis Schaeffer who first taught evangelicals the value of cultural apologetics — of tracing ideas as they permeate society through the arts, literature, and pop culture. This is where most people pick up their ideas about life. My earlier book, Saving Leonardo, interacts deeply with the arts: I argue that it is imperative for Christians to learn the skill of deciphering worldviews when they come to us not in words, where they are easier to recognize, but in the idiom of image, plot line, composition, and characterization.

Yet to recognize worldviews embedded in art forms, obviously we must first be familiar with those worldviews. And we must have the skills to critically assess them.

Those competencies are what Finding Truth teaches. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I offer what my students have said. An undergraduate wrote, “The method of critique you taught in this class has been incredibly helpful to me, not just in class but in my life — reading books and watching movies.” A master’s student wrote, “When watching television or movies with my family, I used to be afraid of secular ideas seeping into my psyche, but now I finally have the skills to identify and critique them. My kids are intrigued and delighted.”

Once you master the five principles from Romans 1, you will be equipped to think critically and creatively about any theory in any field.

 

Trevin Wax: Tomorrow, my interview with Nancy Pearcey will continue. We will discuss James K. A. Smith’s critique of “worldview training,” and how we engage in apologetics in a postmodern age.

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Worth a Look 3.25.15

Mar 25, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth5Kindle Deal of the Day: Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb. $3.99.

Know the Heretics provides an accessible ‘travel guide’ to the most significant heresies throughout Christian history.

USA Today has a column from Charles Camosy on why millennials will change the abortion conversation:

The conventional wisdom is that young people are strongly pro-choice. While it is not surprising that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers eventually grew more skeptical over time, when they were teenagers and young-adults, they too were all-in for abortion rights. But the demographic future of the United States is defying that conventional wisdom.

I appreciated this reminder from Joshua Rogers about the beauty of having (rambunctious) kids in church. What My Pastor Did About the Rowdy Kids at Our Church:

If you’ve got kids in your church, be encouraged!  They may be distracting at times, but they’re your next generation of believers, and that’s a very good thing.

Seth McBee shows what evangelism looks like when it’s introverts who are sharing the gospel:

If you are an introvert, live out the mission to make disciples in the way that God calls you based on who you are. Don’t use your design as a crutch, and don’t let anyone else use your design as a crutch.

Todd Henry says it’s not always “flip-flopping” when leaders change their positions. In fact, good leaders are willing to change their minds:

One of the most crucial roles of the leader is to be a learner, and it is impossible to learn without being shaped and changed in some way. To be shaped, you have to open yourself to the idea that you don’t know everything, and that your present ideas could be incorrect, or at least incomplete.

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dc Talk and the Influence of Faith-Fortifying Songs

Mar 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

jesus freak_hugeChristian contemporary music gets a bad rap nowadays (ironic, since Christian rap is one of the bright spots). Why? Let’s start with the “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs from artists straddling that barbed wire fence between secular and Christian. Ever since Debby Boone said “You Light Up My Life” was a love song to God, Christian artists have bottled sentimental syrup for mass consumption. Cultured observers despise CCM for sacrificing artistic integrity to copy the world’s art and create a subculture. The theologically astute find CCM nauseating for its lack of precision, its fallback into heterodox clichés, or vague, spiritual-sounding phrases.

All these criticisms have some merit. But I’m increasingly grateful for the CCM that was the soundtrack during my teenage years. In recent weeks, I’ve revisited some dc Talk songs, since this is the year their acclaimed album, Jesus Freak, turns 20. As I’ve listened, I’ve been impressed by how fortifying their songs were. This was a group who put unabashed lyrics to the in-your-face bluster of rock and rap, and the music was hellbent on keeping you from hell and all its effects.

Free at Last, for example, sought to give Christian kids a narrative that was counter-cultural and cool, especially when it came to issues of morality. “Luv is a Verb” tried to rescue the word “love” from meaning “sex,” whereas “That Kinda Girl” and “I Don’t Want It” were anthems promoting abstinence and chastity. One might chuckle at how over-the-top they sound today, but there’s something endearing about the earnestness. “Socially Acceptable” gave the strongest commentary on American culture, warning against “justifying” sin, turning everything to “gray,” and “synchronizing to society’s ways.” Decrying the “plunge” of “decency” and relativism, the song goes on to ask “in whose sight?” are today’s sins socially acceptable.

If sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll are the unholy trinity of the lost, then dcTalk was determined to use rock-and-roll to turn the tables on sex and drugs. By the time Jesus Freak was released, the band had shifted to a mix of rock and rap while maintaining their social commentary. “So Help Me God” was a cry for help in the midst of being “bombarded” by “philosophies that satisfy the surface.” “Colored People” sought to redeem a racial slur in order to showcase the power of reconciliation through embracing God’s creative intention of a multi-colored humanity. Meanwhile, “What Have We Become” invited the listener to recoil with horror at the “self-indulgent people” we’ve turned into.

But the most popular dc Talk songs were about the adventure of daring to challenge the world. “Jesus Freak,” the signature song of the group, became the anthem of a generation of young people who were coming to terms with the fact that the Christian life will be increasingly “freaky” to a lost world. The song struck a chord with teenagers because it captured the angst of “not fitting in” and wondering what everyone else will think. By 1998, “Into Jesus,” the lead single from Supernatural, had resolved the angst. Those of us singing along weren’t asking “What will people think?” anymore, but instead declaring our identity, “Hey you! I’m into Jesus. I’ve seen the truth, and I believe.” No longer is the unassuming teen worried about being seen as a “Jesus freak;” he’s an evangelist calling other people to join him.

The success of dc Talk caused some to wonder if the band would go “mainstream” and sacrifice their Christian identity. “My Friend (So Long)” answered those rumors with a defiant “Never!” It was the group’s reaction to a fictional member of the band betraying their Christian calling and compromising with the world. The song bounces back and forth from anger and sadness, with a declaration of the band’s unfailing love for the compromiser, but also a firm recommitment to never join him in seeking the world’s popularity. The message rings loud and clear: “We will always love you, but we will never compromise.” Reflecting on “My Friend (So Long),” I can’t help but think about some of my youth group friends who’ve left evangelical Christianity. Some pivoted to a raucous libertarian hedonism of the right, while others fell for “Emergent” and wound up emerging out of the church altogether. Relistening to this song makes me wonder how it may have shaped my response to friends who walked away.

Not all of dc Talk’s music was “bold” and “in-your-face.” The quietly introspective “What if I Stumble” opens with Kevin Max’s quote from Brennan Manning: “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world is Christians who confess Jesus with their lips and then deny Him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” The song then captures the inner struggle of a young person who worries about the consequences of falling into sin. Will their sin lead others astray? Will they let down their friends and family? Listening to the plaintive lyric and melody today, I wish that dc Talk had been more gospel-grounded in their answer to that question. The gospel isn’t for those who never stumble, but for those who do – again and again, and rise in repentance. Still, when placed within their overall body of work, I see how it functions as another “fortifying song.” It urges the listener to consider what stepping into sin will do to one’s reputation and the cause of the gospel.

dc Talk doesn’t need to make a comeback. They’ve already taken over CCM. Kevin Max became the lead singer for Audio Adrenaline, Michael Tait for the Newsboys, and TobyMac has had success as a solo artist. In their recent songs, one still sees the “fortification” aspect of their music. For example, the Newsboys song “We Believe” begins with a context of “desperation,” “doubt and fear,” before launching into a strong confession of faith in salvation through Christ alone.

1990’s CCM, for all the faults of its corny creativity (many of which are even more glaring and obvious as time goes by), was successful in one key sense. It gave me and my generation a different narrative. It was a sub-culture, yes, but no matter much some may sneer, it was a culture, and cultures are formative. Twenty years later, it’s the element of “fortifying faith” in so many dcTalk songs that has stuck with me. And for that, I’m grateful.

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Worth a Look 3.24.15

Mar 24, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus by D. A. Carson. $2.99.

How are Christians to approach the central gospel teachings concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus? The Bible firmly establishes the historicity of these events and doesn’t leave their meanings ambiguous or open to interpretation. Even so, there is an irony and surprising strangeness to the cross. Carson shows that this strange irony has deep implications for our lives as he examines the history and theology of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

I need to do this more often — 4 Reasons to Write Down Prayer Requests:

At our monthly leaders meeting our lead pastor did something beautiful. He had written down our prayer requests the month prior and he went back through them and asked about them. Such a simple thing—but it helped me see the hand of God in our church.

Scott Sauls outlines how the church can put forward a graciously historic sexual ethic in our contemporary context:

What do we make of this new cultural landscape? How do we understand the Scriptures on this matter? And what should we do with that understanding?

Emotional blackmail is saying, “If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.” Jared Wilson quotes John Piper on why this is damaging to the relationships in our families and churches:

Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them.

Michael Kelley has a great illustration of the power of consistency and how it applies to church ministry:

Imagine a leaky faucet. Regardless of how you hard you twist the knob, it still drips. One drop at a time. Incessantly – drip, drip, drip. The consistency becomes an annoyance pretty quickly. But put in the right environment and given enough time, that same dripping with that same consistency, can have an immense amount of power.

That’s how canyons are made. Not all at once, but through the power of consistency.

Dripping isn’t that exciting, but what it lacks in flash it makes up for in effectiveness. There’s a lot to be said for the power of consistency.

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The Wonder of Sunday Morning

Mar 23, 2015 | Trevin Wax

church

Every Sunday, a deacon unlocks the door, an usher picks up a stack of bulletins, a pastor kneels in the study, and they wait. Soon, the parking lot fills, and people from all walks of life stream into the building for weekly worship.

They are not paid to be here. They are not forced to be here. Yet they come and serve in beautiful ways.

In the nursery, volunteers change diapers without complaint, step in to mediate the toddlers’ dispute over sippy cups, and dole out a weekly supply of animal crackers.

Down the hall, men and women open their Bibles and discuss the meaning and application of God’s inspired Word. A doctor with more than a decade of education in medicine takes notes as a construction worker who never went to college exercises his gift in teaching the Scriptures. The small groups then rearrange their classroom space in preparation for the homeless women they will shelter during the week.

The choir and praise team are warming up and running through the songs they will lead in the upcoming service. The hallways are buzzing. Greeters seek out newcomers, teenagers gather near the front of the sanctuary, and the anticipation builds: the worship is about to begin.

This is a place of music, where hundreds of voices soar to the ceilings and the echo of praise hovers over the people. A man who can’t carry a tune lifts his kid up on the pew in front of him and sings along anyway. Some raise their hands. Some kneel. Some close their eyes. Some look to heaven. Various postures, all united in worship.

Then they pray — for the lost, the sick, the hurting in their community. In this moment, the people’s concern for their city is like the ocean tide gathering up its waves of compassion into this place of prayer before rolling their acts of mercy into the city throughout the week.

The pastor opens the Bible. The sermon exalts the Savior and exhorts the saints. Yes, they are saints. All of them, even with their ongoing sins and struggles, their failures and flaws — they are washed in the blood of a spotless Lamb. Forgiven, adopted, and made new. This is not a crowd; it’s a church – a people who have been called out of the world and changed by grace.

From the feast of God’s Word to the feast of the Lord’s Table: now they eat and drink to the glory of God. Christ’s body broken for them. Christ’s blood shed for them. Time stands still, for in this moment, these people are carried back to their Savior’s cross and ushered forward to His return.

The dawn of resurrection morning has given way to the sunlight of noonday. Energized and equipped, the blood-bought saints go out. It may seem like the service is over, but the truth is, their service is just beginning.

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