Worth a Look 10.27.14

Oct 27, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul by Mark Buchanan. $2.99.

Mark Buchanan replaces our spirituality of busyness with a spirituality of abiding. Sometimes we are busy, sometimes still, sometimes pushing with all we’ve got, sometimes waiting. This model of the spiritual life measures and produces growth by asking: Are we living in rhythm with the season we are in?

You can catch the live stream of the ERLC conference “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” today beginning at 2:00 p.m. EST. I’ll be on a panel this afternoon discussing Marriage and Millennials. The live stream will be active at A detailed schedule for the live stream is available at the conference liveblog page.

New York Magazine - I Survived a Weekend with the Cult of Oprah:

I’m determined to meet her. It feels like my destiny: to come to this House of Oprah and not find her physical form would be the ultimate failure. I have eight hours plus a press pass and am very sneaky. I will find Oprah. For moms everywhere, I will find Oprah at this Oprah weekend.

Prajwal Kulkami – Science Says Creationists Aren’t Idiots:

Note they make an empirical claim: because of their beliefs about the origins of life, creationists cannot think rationally or logically anywhere. Put another way, it’s possible to determine people’s general reasoning and analytical skills by knowing what they think about the theory of evolution. Interestingly, neither Helmuth nor Nolan nor anyone else provided any evidence for this assertion—none whatsoever. Given that their argument depends on their ability to draw conclusions from creationists’ beliefs, it’s a glaring oversight.

Timothy Tennent – Alice Was Right: Thoughts on Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and Homodoxy

In recent years it has become clear that the contemporary church has a misunderstanding about the word orthodoxy. This has, in turn, led to a profound misunderstanding about the nature of the church’s unity.

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Help Us Rise to the Challenges of Our Times

Oct 26, 2014 | Trevin Wax

613vc4UmQjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_O God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
and of all who have gone before us on this earth,
we give thanks for Your faithfulness
from generation to generation,
and we ask Your forgiveness
that we live as if we were Your only concern
and our time were the only time there is.

Grant that as we seek to serve You,
we may understand our times,
we may see our time in the light of all times and of eternity,
and we may understand Your purposes in our generation.

May no challenge or crisis daunt us,
no enemy or attack unnerve us,
and no failure or setback cause us
to take our hands off the plough
or let the sword slip from our hand.

Grant then that we may rise to the challenges of our times
as the great heroes of the faith did to theirs,
so that together with them
we may be the servant agents of Your kingdom
and worthy of Your high calling.
In the name of Jesus, Amen

– Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times

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Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ

Oct 25, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Halfway cross 17aBy God’s grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers are assured of “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph 1:3).

  • We are justified; that is, we receive here and now advance declaration by God of the verdict of his court on the day of judgment, that we are included among those whom we will declare righteous on account of our faith in Jesus and his obedience unto death.
  • We are saved; that is, we are delivered from the wrath to come, rescued from the anger of God against all wickedness and rebellion.
  • We are reconciled; that is, the enmity between us and God has been removed, because God himself bore our sins in the person of his own Son on the cross.
  • We are forgiven; that is, God chooses to “carry” (the Hebrew word usually translated “forgive”) our sins, rather than repay them to us, because they have been “carried” by Jesus on the cross. They will never be held against us.
  • We are redeemed; that is, God has achieved our liberation from all the bondage of sin, as he rescued the Israelites out of Egypt, through the sacrificial blood of Christ.
  • We are adopted; that is, God includes us among his children, or more specifically, treats us as firstborn sons (whether male or female), and thus as his heirs, sharing in the inheritance that belongs to Christ.
  • We are made alive; that is, from the death of sin we are given new life, the resurrection life of Christ himself.
  • We have the Spirit; that is, the promise that God made to Israel, that would bring about their renewal and “resurrection” and obedience (as, e.g., in Ezek. 37), is now poured out in us, bearing the fruit of transformed lives.

– Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People193.

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Abortion as “Unthinkable” in the New Testament

Oct 23, 2014 | Trevin Wax

006063796XOur journey through The Moral Vision of the New Testament continues as Richard Hays devotes a series of chapters to the New Testament’s witness regarding specific, controversial issues. (If you’ve gotten behind in the reading or you’re just joining us, see the reading schedule here.)

We began with the question of Christians using violence in the defense of justice. Then, we looked Hays’ treatment of divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and ethnic division and treatment of Jews.

Today, we look at abortion by asking Hays’ question: How shall we live faithfully under the gospel with regard to our treatment of the issues of pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing?

Key Texts:

Hays doesn’t see any texts that speak directly to abortion. One may point out the sixth commandment prohibiting murder, but this begs the question: Is abortion murder? Though no texts speak to abortion directly, the Bible consistently portrays a symbolic world in which God is active in unborn life (see, for example, Psalm 139).

Synthesis: Abortion in Canonical Context

Because there are no texts that speak to abortion directly, there is no synthesis possible. “The canon is unified in silence.” A general survey of pregnancy and childbearing, however, reveals that children are a great blessing from God. Childlessness is portrayed as a terrible affliction.

Hays concludes: “It is significant that the canon – thought it does not address abortion specifically – portrays a world in which abortion would be not so much immoral as unthinkable or unintelligible.”

Hermeneutics: Responding to the New Testament’s Silence on Abortion

The Bible contains no rules or principles that speak directly to abortion. Instead, Hays suggests we place the issue within the symbolic world of the Scriptures. God is the creator and author of life, and we are stewards who bear life in trust. Abortion “presumptuously assumes authority to dispose of life that does not belong to us.”

Within the Bible’s symbolic world, Hays discovers several paradigms that help in our interpretation:

  • The Good Samaritan: The point of the parable is that we are called to become neighbors to those who are helpless. Jesus’ story challenges the lawyer’s attempt to circumscribe our moral concern by defining the other as being outside our scope. “To define the unborn child as a nonperson is to narrow the scope of moral concern, whereas Jesus calls upon us to widen it by showing mercy and actively intervening on behalf of the helpless.”
  • Jerusalem Community: The church should assume responsibility for taking care of the needy. “The church’s confusion on the issue of abortion is symptom of its more fundamental unfaithfulness to the economic imperatives of the gospel.” Hays quotes Hauerwas: “Abortion often is the coercive method men use to free themselves from responsibility to women.”
  • Imitation of Christ: “We should act in service to welcome children, both born and unborn, even when to do so is obviously difficult and may cause serious hardship.”

Other Authorities: The Christian tradition is consistent in its opposition to abortion. Hays lists a number of arguments from reason in favor of abortion, but concludes that none of them measure up to the biblical witness. Experience is less important because the claims and counterclaims are inconclusive.

Hays concludes that the New Testament forbids the presumption that leads us to the human decision to terminate life. He opens the door for certain circumstances that may justify abortion as a tragic necessity for Christians (rape or incest). But his focus is on strengthening the church so we can share the burden and take responsibility.

Living the Text: The Church As Community of Life

  • We cannot coerce moral consensus in a post-Christian culture. It is futile to seek to compel the state to enforce Christian teaching against abortion.
  • The church must be a counter-community of witness. God’s people show the world another way.
  • The church must embody its commitment to receiving life as a gift from God.

Some Personal Considerations: Hays is helpful in putting forth a Christian vision for welcoming life, and he is right that the symbolic world of the Bible sees abortion as unthinkable. The reality of infanticide, gendercide, and abortion on demand are signs of how far the world is from the life-affirming vision of both the Old and New Testaments.

That said, I found this chapter to be a rather weak explanation of why the church is pro-life, for two reasons. First, his statements against the idea that the Bible teaches the sacredness of human life are exaggerated. I understand his concern to keep the biblical witness from being subsumed under the Western rubric of “human rights,” but surely we can see a connection from the Christian vision of life to the preserving of human life.

Secondly, Hays appears to contradict some of his own conclusions. We are to have a strong presumption against terminating human life, he writes on one page, and then offers extenuating circumstances surrounding a human’s conception (rape and incest) as potentially justifying abortion. He says that the church must embrace the gift of life as precious, but that it is pointless to influence the state to enact protective measures for the preciousness of human life. This begs the question: If the church sees the gift of life as precious, why should it not influence the state to protect such life?

Overall, I appreciate Hays’ ecclesiologically focused solution to the abortion problem. He is right that abortion among Christians is a failure of the church not merely the individual Christian. My disappointment is that the chapter doesn’t make abortion unthinkable in the same way the Scriptures do.

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Worth a Look 10.23.14

Oct 23, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World by Joni Eareckson Tada and Nigel Cameron. $2.99.

Stem-cell research. Cloning. Genetic engineering. Today, discoveries in biotechnology are occurring so rapidly that we can barely begin to address one ethical debate before another looms overhead. This brave new world we’ve entered is a daunting one as well, with disturbing implications for the sanctity of life and for human nature itself. How should we respond as Christians?

Time reports on China’s Underground Churches:

Though CCP cadres remain suspicious of what they consider “Western” dogma, their biggest fear is not the doctrine itself, but its popularity — they worry that Christianity could grow more popular than the party. At the church outside Beijing, at least, the service was steeped in the rituals of worship, not the language of politics.

In advance the ERLC conference next week on marriage, Ministry Grid has posted video from all the sessions from an earlier ERLC event on the family. Free for a limited time!

Timothy Larsen – Cheerful Confidence After Christendom:

The world is used to Christians who are alarmed, angry, fearful, despondent, grumpy. Such a posture only reinforces their complacent assumption that faith is a relic of the past which is in the process of passing away forever. I have found they are confused and intrigued by Christians who are confident, witty, and cheerful. They start to wonder if we know something they don’t know about what is really true and how things are really going to turn out. And do we not?

Rest in Peace, Google Glass:

Glass has disappeared almost overnight, and there’s a reason: Google’s ham-fisted approach to privacy.

The New Yorker‘s profile of Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, is lengthy but worth reading:

“When I was really strongly pro-choice, I didn’t go to bed thinking, Oh, my gosh, women can’t be free unless they have abortion; what am I going to do tomorrow?” she says. “Now I’m going to sleep thinking, Oh, my gosh, thirty-eight hundred children are going to die tomorrow. What am I going to do to actually save some of them?” She calls this phenomenon “the intensity gap”—a simple way of understanding why her side hasn’t lost this war, and may yet win it.

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LOST at 10: Still Lost After All These Years

Oct 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Lost-whole-groupTen years ago this fall, Lost debuted on ABC. It was groundbreaking drama with a premiere that smashed records and garnered a a rabidly devoted fan base.

Six years later, Lost ended as a letdown for many of its most faithful fans. Why did the show draw such attention? And why did it prove ultimately unsatisfying for so many viewers?

How Lost Drew Us In

Lost was at the forefront of “the binge-watching era,” a phrase used to describe the immediate consumption of entertainment through streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Because previous seasons of Lost were available on DVD and later online, viewers could start at the beginning whenever they wished and “catch up” on the show before joining the rest of the country for the new episodes.

And make no mistake, watching the show on television mattered. Audience participation was as vital to the experience as viewing the show itself. Coworkers discussed the show in the office the next day. Fans took to websites and blogs to share their theories, revel in the mysteries, and critique other people’s ideas.

The producers of Lost didn’t talk down to us. They expected us to catch the show’s philosophical bent. They wanted us to look up the famous thinkers Lost’s characters were named after – Rousseau, Locke, Faraday, Charlotte Staples Lewis, etc. They infused the show with religious imagery, ancient myths, and a mix of scientific and political theories.

As a result, Lost raised the bar for TV watching. The show was savvy and smart, with interesting characters and a gripping storyline. In our world today, people are closer than ever in public spaces of multicultural display (i.e. the airplane), and yet we are farther apart in our failure to know and understand the people around us. Lost created a microcosm of human society, a group of individuals united by tragedy, yet utterly divided in their opinions of how they can best battle the elements, resist their evil impulses, and discover the purpose for their lives.

Lost also captured the inner angst of our secular age – the desire to discover something beyond our own lives. The show depicted a world haunted by the echoes of transcendence. That’s why a common theme in the early seasons was the showdown between the “Man of Science” (Jack) versus “Man of Faith” (Locke). There was never any doubt that Lost would end up squarely on the Faith side of the equation, because the island was charged with cosmic grandeur. Even so, the man of faith would come with wrestle with doubt, and the man of science would be drawn to the island’s magic.

At every turn, the writers reinforced the idea that humans are part of a larger narrative, a grand scheme. The crossing of our paths is not accidental. A divine purpose ripples through creation and surprises us in ways the analytical mind cannot fully grasp.

Meanwhile, the sociological part of the show provided the greatest opportunities for character development. A disparate group of people from different cultures and backgrounds inhabit a deserted island. We watch them as they seek to create a society on an island full of ruins of failed experiments and dashed utopian dreams. Lost was gripping because it introduced us to characters we cared about and wanted to survive.

How Lost Lost Us

In Lost‘s later years, fans wondered if the show could answer all its mysteries. We began to doubt the overarching narrative. In order to continue to maintain the audience, the producers had to simultaneously resolve old mysteries and introduce new ones. As the mysterious elements began to pile up, the show began to slide toward chaos. The science fiction elements began to dominate the plot, often at the expense of character development.

In the first season, the island was a backdrop for the characters. Over time, the island’s unique attributes began to upstage the uniqueness of Lost‘s characters.

Then, after six years of promises, the show concluded with a widely watched finale that angered and disappointed the majority of viewers who’d come along for the ride. Lost premiered with a bang and went out with a whimper, a confusing amalgam of spiritual symbols that left viewers scratching their heads.

It turned out that Lost‘s biggest strength proved to be its biggest weakness. Its ambitiousness in creating characters whose lives intersected according to a cosmic purpose couldn’t keep pace with itself. The reason we watched Lost was its bold promise that everything will soon make sense. The reason we were let down was that the “sense-making” turned increasingly inward; the haunting transcendence of the island was reduced to the psychological deliverance of the characters.

The finale shouldn’t detract from Lost‘s many enjoyable moments. We imagined ourselves on the island with Lost‘s colorful cast of characters because we also inhabit a world of individual stories that are connected to a cosmic narrative that makes sense of reality. Lost drew us in because it reflected our own attempts to find meaning and love in a culture caught between science and faith.

But Lost let us down because all it could do was point ever so faintly toward the grand finale we long for in the deepest part of our souls – the last chapter of this present world when all wrongs will be righted, all injustices will cease, and we will finally understand purpose and pain.

Maybe that’s the best takeaway from Lost. Its contribution was to awaken people to the mysteries of the world around us. And with its thirst for transcendence, Lost still points beyond itself in the human search for answers to life’s greatest questions.

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Worth a Look 10.22.14

Oct 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Understanding the Koran: A Quick Christian Guide to the Muslim Holy Book$2.99.

Find out how the Koran resembles the Bible—and the drastic ways in which it differs. Understanding the Koran gives you a fascinating essential grasp of Islam’s holy book: where it came from, what it teaches, how Muslims view it, and how the Allah of the Koran compares with the God of the Bible.

The New Yorker‘s interview with President Obama on his judicial legacy:

Beyond diversity, the story of Obama’s influence on the courts is more complex. Indeed, it could serve as a metaphor for his Presidency: symbolically rich but substantively hazy.

22 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep:

The important thing to understand is that getting a good night’s sleep is an all-day affair. How you wake up, what you do during the day, and your nightly routine can all affect the quality and quantity of your sleep. Below are some research-backed tips that you can employ from dawn to dusk to prepare your body and mind for sleep.

Aaron Earls – What Millennials Misunderstand about Marriage:

Millennials, perhaps more than any other generation, grew up with the reality of broken homes and divorced parents. But in their efforts to avoid those mistakes, they often go in the wrong direction and end up in the same situation.

Human Life Review: Forty Years of Fighting for Life and Dignity

In a recent interview with Stella Morabito for The Federalist, Maria Maffucci reflected on the evolution of the pro-life movement and the Human Life Review’s scope and critical role in that movement.

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3 Definitions of “Secular” and Why They Matter for Our Mission

Oct 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

secular ageCharles Taylor’s A Secular Age has been praised for its thorough analysis of how we arrived at the “secular” moment in which we live, a world where the biggest shift is not simply in what human beings believe or disbelieve, but what is believable.

Before reading this book, I considered “secular” as a synonym for “non-spiritual” and used the term as an antonym for “sacred” or as an adjective to describe an increasingly non-religious Western world. Taylor’s work challenged me on the meaning of “secular” by offering three reference points for secularity, showing how the term can take on different meanings.

1. “Secular” – The Classic Definition

“Secular” isn’t a word that suddenly appeared the first time religious belief was challenged. Hundreds of years ago, in a time when religion touched every part of life, when all public space was considered “religious” at least in some sense, the word “secular” referred to the earthly activities that were not considered sacred. The spiritual work of prayer, fasting, and Scripture meditation was largely the work of the priestly class, while the “secular” work of farming, distribution, industrial efforts, and domestic chores belonged to the common people.

Fulfilling “secular” work said nothing of your belief or disbelief in God. The vast majority of people were religious, even though their daily roles and responsibilities were separate from the “sacred” activities of religious leaders. According to this definition, the majority of religious people busied themselves with secular tasks. 

2. Secularism – A Prescription for Non-Religious Neutrality

The second definition shows up after the Enlightenment. It refers to public spaces being “emptied of God, or of any reference to ultimate reality” (2).

To be a secular school, for example, means no religious viewpoint is adopted or promoted. A secular government seeks to remain neutral on matters of religion.

People who consider themselves “secular” by this definition are not religious people distinguishing their tasks from the “sacred” (as in the classic definition). Instead, they are usually referring to their lack of religious affiliation or beliefs.

In this sense, secular moves from being an adjective that distinguishes it from the sacred and becomes an -ism, a philosophy that sees humanity on an upward journey that entails the shedding of religious beliefs and practices in favor of a universal neutrality. According to this definition, secular people have abandoned or at least marginalized their religious beliefs.

3. Secularity – An Age in Which Belief is One Option Among Many

The third definition of secular is what Taylor uses to describe Western nations today, and it focuses on “the conditions of belief” (3). He explains:

“The shift to secularity in this sense consists, among other things, of a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace.”

This is a rejection of the idea in the second definition that “science refutes and hence crowds out religious belief” (4). Instead, it is a description of the age in which we find ourselves, an age in which many people believe in God, often with passionate fervor, but not because the conditions of society lend themselves to faith or transcendence. Belief is no longer the option, as was the case in ancient times. It is now one of many options, and this change has opened the door for people to live without any reference to something higher or more transcendent than their own human flourishing.

In the secular age that Taylor describes, all beliefs are contestable. This is a shift from the sacred/secular split in the pre-modern era, and it better captures the reality of our situation than the prescriptive model of the second definition. According to this third definition, religious and non-religious people alike are secular because they inhabit an era in which faith is one of many options.

Why This Matters for Our Mission

Why is it important to distinguish between these three ways of defining “secular?” Taylor believes it matters for us historically and philosophically. If we assume the posture of definition #2, then we will misread the historical events that blazed the path toward the era described in definition #3, which will lead to further confusion regarding the era in which we live.

I agree with Taylor that it matters historically and philosophically, but I also think it matters for evangelicals missiologically. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me from Taylor’s book is this: Our missional engagement will suffer if we see ourselves in a battle between “religion” and “secularity.”

If we think of “secular” in terms of the second definition, we’re likely to adopt an adversarial posture that pits science versus belief, or secularism versus religiosity.

Consider the theme running through last decade’s popular television series, Lost, which pit the “man of faith” (Locke) against the “man of science” (Jack). Or the stridency of the new atheists and their belief (yes, belief!) that the world is progressing beyond religious superstition into a more peaceful, prosperous world founded on empirical data.

Taylor’s distinction matters because the moment we begin to argue against “secularism” in the general sense, we have adopted “prescriptive secularism” as our definition and we begin acting out the script the anti-religious would expect from someone “of faith.”

Instead, the better way forward is to recognize that we are all secular in the third sense. We inhabit a secular world in which even the most committed rationalists may confess a longing for transcendence, a sense of loss, even though it is difficult to articulate. Meanwhile, the most committed believers are aware that being “of no faith” is a legitimate option in society and, as a result, they may wrestle with doubts their forefathers would have never entertained.

In a secular age, we are all more likely to doubt our beliefs; the faithful will question truths once taken for granted, and the faithless may doubt their doubts because of a sense that something of significance is beyond us and beyond our definitions of human flourishing, to break in and give us meaning.

According to the second definition, the “faith option” is less and less available to us because of science’s triumph. If we go after this view of secularism with guns blazing, we put people in the situation where they feel they must choose either science or faith, and such a false dichotomy flattens both science and faith, ignoring the faith-based assumptions at the root of all scientific inquiry and ignoring the objective, historical elements at the heart of some faiths (particularly, Christianity).

Taylor’s third definition better explains a world that is as religiously fervent as ever, yet within a different frame – one in which we often expect people to choose not to believe, or confess they find believing to be difficult. Arguing against “secularity” would be like medieval people arguing against the medieval age.

We are all secular in Taylor’s third sense; the question is, what does mission look like in the age in which we find ourselves?

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Worth a Look 10.21.14

Oct 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. $1.99.

A pastor’s recommendation for how to assess the health of a church using nine crucial qualities often neglected by many of today’s congregations.

Patton Dodd – Your iPhone Might Be Making You Less Religious:

In this latest study, the scholars posit that lifestyle brands like Apple, Nike, Starbucks, and Harley-Davidson — brands that are “highly salient” — may lead people to disassociate from their religious faith. To test the hypothesis, they conducted three different tests designed to measure levels of commitment to religion. “We were trying to figure out whether people expressing themselves with brands [has] any impact on how committed they are to religious activities and behaviors,” says Cutright. She says it’s become a popular truism that “branding is overriding people’s religious beliefs,” so she and her colleagues wanted “to see if we could see that in the data.” And sure enough: “When people are using brands to say something about their identity, then they tell us that they are less religious.”

Brandon Smith – Expressing God’s Love in the Local Church:

There are perhaps innumerable ways to describe God’s love in relation to the local church, but here are four significant ways our churches can reflect God’s love properly to each other and the world.

Tyler Glodjo – This Coke’s [Not] For You:

If we ignore the voices of those on the margins, we dismiss the very place from which Jesus spoke. Beware: sometimes it’s just too easy to buy the Coke because your name is on it.

What Kids Around the World Eat for Breakfast:

Children all over the world eat cornflakes and drink chocolate milk, of course, but in many places they also eat things that would strike the average American palate as strange, or worse.

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