Archives For Culture

Origins of Politics

The thing I love about reading is that you never know where you’ll find creative advice. I was recently reading about the Christian writer and theologian Tatian who was a Syrian who lived in the second century. He was born in Assyria (Mesopotamia), and as an adult he journeyed to Rome, where he first discovered Christianity. He was shocked at the pagan cults he witnessed throughout the city and as a result, began reflecting on religious issues. During his investigation, he read the Old Testament, and the more he read, the more he realized just how unreasonable paganism was. As a result, he decided to become a Christian.

In reading Tatian’s Address to the Greeks, written about AD 170, the story of his conversion was so compelling, that I immediately thought it a model for how we can engage the secular culture of today – 2,000 years after Tatian. Here’s his story:

“I withdrew myself and sought best how to discover the truth. While I was earnestly employed in this matter, I happened to light upon certain ‘barbaric’ (i.e., non-Greek) writings, too old to be compared with the opinions of the…

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I heard not long ago from a man I haven’t seen since high school. When asked about his religious beliefs, he simply says he is “an atheist until proven otherwise.” I fear sometimes that, despite all my Sunday learning, I’m the same thing.

It’s not just that I want to be protected from whatever scares me; I want to be reassured now that this protection will always be there. I want Christ, but I too often want him as a kind of quantifiable spiritual asset, as something I can always check to be sure of just as I can check my bank account balance or my cholesterol level. I want what God has promised, but I want power of attorney to execute those promises when I’ve determined I need them. That’s not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.

The second temptation that Satan presented to Jesus was one based on the human need to feel secure. “Throw yourself down,” Satan said, so that God would send his angels and prove how protective he was of his Son (Matthew…

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Bible Reading

By Bob Smietana

Americans have a positive view of the Bible. And many say the Christian Scriptures are filled with moral lessons for today.

However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible.

Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian Scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

Small wonder many church leaders worry about biblical illiteracy, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Most Americans don’t know firsthand the overall story of the Bible – because they rarely pick it up,” McConnell said. “Even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily. The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”

Many unfamiliar with biblical text

Almost nine out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible, according to the American Bible Society, and the average household has three.

But Bible reading remains spotty.

Why Not Read the BibleLifeWay Research surveyed 1,000…

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This is an exciting weekend. It is the opening weekend of The Case for Christ, a faith film releasing in over 1,100 theaters nationwide on April 7.

The Case for Christ is likely already showing in several of your favorite movie theaters starting this weekend.

If you haven’t already heard of the book The Case for Christ, it tells the story of Lee Strobel, who was an award-winning, legal editor at the Chicago Tribune in the 1980’s. Lee was an avowed atheist, but one day his wife came home to tell him she had decided to believe in Jesus. This was difficult news for him, and set him on a journey to investigate the claims of Christianity in order to prove it false, and save his wife from what he considered to be a cult.

After nearly two years of meeting with experts, and weighing the evidence, Lee concluded, as an atheist, that there was an avalanche of evidence pointing to the truth of Jesus Christ, and Lee chose to put his faith in Christ.

In 1998, he shared the story of his journey in the book The Case for Christ, which has…

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Racial Reconciliation

Most Protestant senior pastors say their church is open to hearing about racial reconciliation.

But few say church leaders are clamoring to hear more about it.

And pastors seem to prefer personal relationships and prayer when it comes to addressing matters of race.

Those are among the findings of a new study about pastors, churches and racial reconciliation from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors, found little pushback against or demand for sermons on racial reconciliation in their churches, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Most pastors appear to be taking a leadership role in encouraging racial reconciliation,” said McConnell. “Nine in 10 pastors say they recently have done something to encourage racial reconciliation. A majority has been socializing with other races and ethnicities and have led prayer on racial reconciliation, but less than a third have addressed economic inequity or publicly lamented injustice.”

Mixed feelings about racial reconciliation

Researchers found most pastors (90 percent) say their church would welcome a sermon on racial reconciliation. Seven percent disagree, while three percent aren’t sure.

While 45 percent have preached on racial reconciliation in the last three months, few pastors have been criticized for speaking…

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It all started in a Facebook community group. It could’ve ended there but something happened that changed everything.

“The Facebook group was a place where people in our part of town share things,” Nathan Creitz, pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, Queens, New York, recounted, “and somebody on there shared a link and said something like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening in our neighborhood.'” Creitz clicked on it — and immediately wished he hadn’t.

“It was a picture of scantily clad Asian girls from a website that often advertises places that are fronts for human trafficking, places like massage parlors,” he said. “I was about to click away — except for the fact that I realized I recognized one of the girls.”

And he recognized the place — it was a massage parlor right next to the church.

“When we were giving out coats in front of the church a month or two before, as the employees of the massage parlor came, this girl was there, and it was basically her first day on the job,” Creitz said. “She came over and got a hat and coat, and some…

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High Voltage

I had been in ministry long enough to hear the stories. It’s a familiar narrative these days: pastors disqualified from ministry due to moral failure. For years I had listened to devastating tales of infidelity and broken families in the lives of fellow pastors. My immediate reaction, in all honesty, was typically swift judgment. I mentally distanced myself from such pastors, believing I was cut from a different sort of spiritual cloth than such sinners. How on earth could this happen? How could anyone, let alone a pastor, ever do such a thing? These stories, while far too commonplace, were quite removed from my immediate life and church world. I couldn’t imagine any of my pastoral peers ever experiencing such a fall from grace.

Then it happened. I remember the phone call vividly. A dear friend, a fellow pastor, called me to confess his infidelity and ask for prayer amid the consequences he was going to face from the leadership of his church. As he talked I felt numb. The shock of the moment gripped me in a way I had never experienced. I knew this man. I thought I knew him well….

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Martin Luther King

Last week our country paused to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. As we do so, we may ask ourselves: Why, especially in a time of so much racial tension, injustice, and strife, did Dr. King’s message resonate with so many?

King was, of course, a gifted orator, and his calls for justice and equity were often poetic and deeply historic. But I think a great deal of the power behind King’s message came from the way that he was pressing a claim onto consciences.

He drew frequent contrasts between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King, against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” pointed out “an appalling condition” that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

This is the kind of prophetic, sin-and-judgment language that we see in the Old Testament. We often hear caricatures of evangelical “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. But most evangelical churches breezily converse about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. In fact, most…

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By Bob Smietana 

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than half of Americans plan to go to church at Christmastime.

And most Protestant pastors will keep the doors open for them.

Nearly 9 out of 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold services on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as both fall on a Sunday, according to a recent survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

More than 7 in 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold Christmas Eve services. And more than a few will be open on New Year’s Eve.

Christmas is o­­ne of the busiest times of the year, especially at churches, with many churches having extra Christmas Eve services and special programs,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “If Christmas falls on Monday through Saturday, churches might be closed on Dec. 25 — but almost never on a Sunday.”

The Christmas season has become a major outreach focus for many churches, with more than half of Americans saying they visit church for Christmas. Many of those who don’t go usually to church are open to an invitation during the holidays, according to previous LifeWay…

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christmastree

Sometimes I learn a lot from conversations I was never intended to hear.

This happened once as I was stopping by my local community bookstore. It’s a small, quiet store, so it was impossible not to eavesdrop as I heard a young man tell his friend how much he hated Christmas. To be honest, the more he talked, the more I understood his point. This man wasn’t talking about the hustle and bustle of the holidays, or about the stresses of family meals or all the things people tend to complain about. What he hated was the music.

This guy started by lampooning one pop singer’s Christmas album, and I found myself smiling in agreement on how awful it is. But then he went on to say that he hated Christmas music across the board. That’s when I started to feel as though I might be in the presence of the Grinch. But then this man explained why he found the music so bad. It wasn’t just that it was cloying. It’s that it was boring.

“Christmas is boring because…

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I’ll never forget seeing a woman pull measuring tape out of her purse as she talked about the skull of her child.

This woman, standing in an airport in Russia with my wife and me, was, like us, an American. She, like us, was in the former Soviet Union to pursue adoption. She had heard, she said, “horror stories” about fetal alcohol syndrome and various other nightmares. The measuring tape was for gauging the size of the craniums of her potential children, to make sure there was “nothing wrong” with them.

This woman spoke with hushed tones as she mentioned her last visit to an orphanage. She rejected the referral because the child had “something wrong with her” because she had a “blank stare” in her eyes. “You know?” the woman prodded. “Like, you know, the lights are on, but maybe nobody’s home?” I ventured that maybe the little girl had a “blank stare” because she had been staring at a blank wall for 12 hours a day. The woman assured me that I just didn’t know how bad it could be,…

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The most important aspect of our mission, as it relates to human dignity, isn’t our social action or our responsibilities as citizens or as culture-makers. The most important aspect of our mission for human dignity is the Gospel itself.

When we recognize that human dignity is contested by spiritual warfare, we understand that politics is indeed downstream from culture, and that culture is downstream from conscience, and that conscience is downstream from the Kingdom of God. We cannot combat a culture of death merely with appeals to abstract human dignity based on natural law (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In every assault on human life, there’s not only a life left for dead but also a conscience left for hell. The Gospel addresses both.

On the abortion question, for instance, the sheer numbers of children aborted each year ought to prompt us to realize that perhaps as many as one out of every three women in our congregations has aborted. With her is typically a man who approved of or paid for or pressured her to this act. Many women sit silently, in the fear that God can forgive any sin but…

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