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Using New Media to Impact the Next Generation of Christian Leaders

November 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Radio Program Hour 2, Radio Show

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Guest Host: John Stonestreet, executive director, Summit Ministries
Guest: Randall Niles, AllAboutGod.com

Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc, etc. The #1 source of information for the 21st century is the internet. Guest Randall Niles, founder of www.allaboutgod.com discusses how the internet can be used to communicate the Gospel to questioners. Learn how Randall is impacting thousands by building a “wall of truth,” placing Christian answers to people’s deepest questions where they can find it. Read more

Passing the Baton to the Next Generation of Christian Leaders

November 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Radio Program Hour 1, Radio Show

Play

Guest Host: John Stonestreet, executive director, Summit Ministries
Guest: Jeff Myers, author and speaker

What if life isn’t a sprint or even a marathon? What if it’s a relay race? Throughout Scripture the faithfulness of a generation is tested not the by their faithfulness, but by the faithfulness of the next generation. In this hour, Dr. Jeff Myers of Bryan College and Passing the Baton International discusses why and how we can be hopeful about the future leaders despite all of the bad news we hear. What’s this generation like? Who’s at fault for this? What can be done?


Ideas Have Histories … Where Postmodernism Came From

September 11, 2009 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

Postmodernism comes in all kinds of shapes and expressions. This sort of variety can make it difficult to understand. Further, postmodernism resists categories and distinctions, and this makes it more difficult to nail down as a worldview. There is a larger intellectual history that must be understood in order to grasp the uniqueness and significance of postmodernism as a worldview.

Ideas Have Histories: How We Lost Our Minds…

While dividing history into distinct time periods is not an exact science, there are two major historical transitions that can help us clarify the emergence of postmodernism: (1) the transition towards modernism, typically dated around the 1700s and (2) the transition away from modernism which began in the late 20th century.

The transition from what is often called the pre-modern period into the modern period corresponds with the influence of Enlightenment thinking and the scientific revolution. Prior to the Enlightenment, there was a dominant cultural belief in the existence of the supernatural. This was due in large part to the rise of Christianity and specifically the Roman Catholic church as the most powerful cultural presence in medieval times. This was a world of authority, and authority rested in the hands of traditional institutions, especially the church, since it was entrusted with interpreting and communicating this truth to the common person.

With a belief in God came a strong belief in the concept of revelation, that God not only existed but had revealed Himself and His will in the Bible. This revelation was considered the primary source of truth, and could be trusted to unlock God’s metanarrative (or, “Big Story”) for the world. Believing was the starting point of real knowledge. St. Anselm, typifies a pre-modern perspective on truth: “For I seek not to understand in order that I may believe; but I believe in order that I may understand, for I believe for this reason: that unless I believe, I cannot understand.” This view of revelation and authority did not fare well during the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment was a movement among European intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the decades leading up to this time, the church’s authority had been successfully challenged politically (reactions against corruption), theologically (Luther, Calvin and the Protestant Reformation), philosophically (downfall of scholasticism), and scientifically (Galileo, Copernicus, and Baconian method). There was a growing disillusionment with the traditional educational, political and religious institutions, as well as their authoritative sources.

During the Enlightenment, authority shifted from traditional institutions to human reason. A scientific approach to the world yielded tremendous advances in medicine, technology, and communications and challenged the centrality of theology and religious belief as the paradigm for learning. Free from the restrictive shackles of traditional beliefs (thus, modernism), progress seemed inevitable. Immanuel Kant described this period of time in this way: “Sapere aude! ‘Have the courage to make use of your own mind!’ is thus the slogan of the Enlightenment.” [1]

The modern period had begun. The growing skepticism in regards to anything supernatural was matched by growing faith in human ability to know the world, control it, and reap the inevitable benefits. The “Big Story” of the world was not given by revelation; rather, it was to be discovered and perhaps even determined by science, reason and technology. This major transition was at the heart of the modern period.

However, from our 21st century perspective, it is clear that the predictions of utopia guaranteed in the modern period never materialized. Instead, modernists became disillusioned as military increase brought world wars; failed development policies led to class oppression and colonialism; economic idealism resulted in communism and the Cold War; and our best science created nuclear weapons and the threat of global devastation.

Postmodern writers, beginning with Nietzsche, began to question the integrity of modernism’s metanarrative of progress. In fact, the main casualty of a postmodern perspective is the very idea of a metanarrative. Postmoderns are skeptical of any and all claims to an authoritative comprehensive worldview, absolute truth about reality, and an overarching purpose to the human story.[2] Postmoderns embrace local narratives, not metanarratives; a multitude of stories, not a “Big Story.”

In short, it could be said that religious metanarratives were dismissed by modernism. Man-made ones are dismissed by postmodernism. This is what Myron Penner and others have referred to as “the postmodern turn:”[3] postmodernism is a turn away from the certainty and optimism of modernism. As Jean Francios Lyotard wrote: “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”[4]

Answering the Postmodern Challenge

Postmodernism’s impact on Western culture is hotly debated, and various thinkers and writers- including those coming from a Christian worldview- have offered diverging opinions of it. Some see it as a passing fad; others see it as long-lasting paradigm shift. Some decry it as dangerously destructive; others embrace its destruction of the oppressive structures of modernity.

The most helpful contribution of postmodernism is, first, that it has successfully challenged the reigning paradigm of the modern period, which was based largely on naturalistic humanism. Modernism, in seeking to arrive at absolute knowledge through empirical investigation, separated matters of “faith” from matters of objective knowledge about the real world. Postmodernism confronts this dichotomy in ways that are helpful for the Christian worldview.

Second, postmodernism has cast a large shadow of skepticism (and has offered a strong dose of humility) on the modern belief in the efficacy and near inerrancy of human reason. As was seen during the modern period, human reason can be quite productive, especially in the arenas of science, medicine, and technology. However, human reason can also be manipulative and destructive, especially when it produces the totalizing ideologies (e.g. communism, Nazism, colonialism, etc) that characterized the modern period.

Third, postmodernism has demonstrated that objectivity and certainty are not exclusive to the realm of science as was claimed during the modern period. In fact, science is often quite biased and agenda-driven, and is therefore in no place to claim to be the final arbiter on all matters of knowledge. This is especially helpful for Christians, who often feel the burden to play by the rules of modernism and empirically demonstrate every aspect of Christian truth.

Fourth, postmodernism rightly reminds us of the power of our culture, and especially the language of our culture, in creating our frames of reference. The modern period demonstrated that this power can be used to marginalize and oppress others at the personal and the systemic level. For the Christian, then, care should be taken to distinguish Scriptural teaching from our cultural perceptions.

Finally, the emphasis of postmodernism on story and narrative fits (to a limited extent) with the way the Bible presents God’s interaction with the world. The Bible is, on the whole, a narrative through which God gives us the Truth about Himself, humanity and the world. Of course, for the postmodernist, no story is to be considered true in this absolute sense over and above any other story, and propositions from one interpretive community are irrelevant for others.

The Bible does not present a God whose story is one among many, but a God whose story is the story above all others. So, in dealing with the postmodern mind, evangelicals face a difficult situation. For the past several centuries, modernity has relegated Christianity to the category of an unscientific, unrealistic worldview that is simply not believable for thinking people. Some Christians are tempted to settle for having Christianity accepted as a truth rather than face the prospect of being dismissed due to dogmatically claiming to be the truth, and abandoning the concept of worldview seems to be a small price to pay for having at least some claim to “truth.”

Although the dethroning of humanistic scientific reason is attractive to battle-weary Christian intellectuals, the postmodern denial of all objective truth is unacceptable. Further, it is important to note that none of the positive contributions of postmodernism originated with postmodernism! In fact, the Christian worldview has always attested to the limitations of unaided human reason, the effect of the fall on objectivity and certainty, the tendency of humans towards marginalizing others, and the role the concept of story plays in our experience.

Despite the popularity of postmodernism among many Christians, the Christian worldview and the postmodern worldview cannot co-exist without one capitulating to the other. One could argue that we are chronologically “postmodern;” but ideologically, we cannot become “postmodernists.”[5]

Footnotes
  1. Immanual Kant, “An Answer to the Question ‘What is Enlightenment?'” available online at http://www-personal.ksu.edu/~lyman/ english233/Kant-WIE.htm.
  2. David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers: Christ in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 2005), 74–90.
  3. Myron Penner, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views, 19–28.
  4. Jean Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, in Theory and History of Literature, vol. 10 (Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1984).
  5. Note: This article is an adaptation and abrdigement from the second chapter of Making Sense of Your Wolrd: A Biblical Worldview by Gary Phillips, William Brown, and John Stonestreet.

Helping Students ‘Get It’

In last month’s article, I argued that a major project for those of us who work with students is to help them “get” Christianity. While a significant number of Christian students reject Christianity during their university years, far more struggle to embrace a faith that is not really authentic or orthodox. Theirs is a “moralistic therapeutic Deism” as Christian Smith put it; a tame faith that is privatized and perhaps personally meaningful but which is not publically true, culturally significant, or fundamentally informative to the rest of their lives.

Rather than trying to make Christianity as attractive and entertaining as possible, we ought instead to be sure that what we are communicating to them is actually Christianity. As I noted, this is very challenging in a culture of information overload, where students are bombarded daily with a multitude of messages, most of which, encourage them toward a mentality of adolescence.

Still, there is good news. Adolescently minded cultures like ours inevitably have a leadership vacuum. So, there remains a terrific opportunity for influence for those who produce the leaders, especially if they produce networks of leaders who can think deeply and contribute broadly to a wide variety of cultural institutions.

How can we do this?

1. Challenge Students, Instead of Coddling Them

Frankly, it is my opinion that we aim too low with teenagers. Students do not need more entertainment, whether it is from the television, the Wii, the iPod, or the youth group. We will never effectively prepare students to engage our entertainment-driven culture by replacing it with Christian entertainment.

It is foolish to expect students to take Christianity and the world seriously if all they have been exposed to at youth group is games, pizza, and mindless mini-therapy lessons that may or may not come from the Scriptures. The church should be the place where we no longer believe (and students no longer experience) the myth of adolescence.

Instead, students need (and want) to be challenged: with the Scriptures, theology, tough questions, and cultural dilemmas. We see this every year at our Summit student leadership conferences — students endure 70+ hours of lecture and instruction on worldviews, apologetics, culture, and character. Then they call home and ask for more money, so they can buy books!

I think there is something of the imago dei in these students that screams in rebellion against the low expectations they face everywhere. For proof, see the movement of teenagers started by Brett and Alex Harris’ recent book, Do Hard Things.

2. Give Them a Thorough Education in Worldviews and Apologetics

Because everyone has a worldview — a basic way in which they see, understand, and interact with the world — education is at its most fundamental level a worldview-shaping enterprise. It is the responsibility of a Christian institution to challenge students with the Christian view of life and the world, while exposing the non-Christian worldviews that others hold and which are behind historical movements and cultural expressions.

First, students need to know what they believe. Many see Christianity as merely a private faith rather than as a robust view of reality that offers a tried and true map for life. If students are convinced that the core of the Christian faith is how they can get to heaven and have a happy life, rather than as the Truth about all of life and the world, they do not know what they believe.

Of course, there simply is no substitute here for equipping students to dive deeply into the Scriptures. At the same time, however, it is important to help them dive into the Scriptures in the right way. Unfortunately, many students have only seen the Bible handled poorly by other Christians. Often, their only experience with the Scriptures include it being replaced by therapeutic clichés, utilized and memorized completely out of context, tacked on but not central to a lesson, strangely pieced together with other verses to make a point, proof-texted to supplement a devotional book or song lyric, or largely ignored.

When the Scriptures are handled this way, bits and pieces of the Bible only get co-opted into the student’s existent worldview. They may know the Bible, but they don’t think biblically. Rather, the student remains as the central arbiter of truth and interpretation.

The goal is that the Scriptures would transform the student’s mind (i.e. worldview). I fear we may have a generation of students who see the Bible through the lens of their culturally inherited worldview, rather than seeing the culture through the lens of the Bible.

Second, students need to know what others believe. There are non-biblical worldviews that are battling for hearts and minds as well as our culture. Historically, Christians from Justin Martyr to Augustine to Pascal to Edwards to C.S. Lewis, not to mention the Apostle Paul, exhibited a strong understanding of the competing worldviews in their culture.

We at Summit Ministries contend that, at minimum, students need to have a handle on at least six major Western worldviews before going to college: secular humanism, Marxism/Leninism, postmodernism, Islam, New Age, and Biblical Christianity.

Third, Christians must know why they believe what they believe. Too many Christians cannot answer, and are even afraid of, the challenging questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, morality, or truth. Unfortunately, too many adults dread the moment that a student asks them a tough faith question they cannot answer. This avoidance, of course, does not remove the question. It merely delays the question until the student is an environment where the question will be entertained (like college!). We ought to see these questions as opportunities for the student, and ourselves, to dive even deeper into this faith we claim is true. Plus, God is big enough for the question.

3. Show Them That Christianity is Not Just about What We Are against, but What We Are about

Proverbs says that without vision, the people “cast off restraint.” One of the main reasons that students are casualties of immoral choices is that they lack a big vision for their lives. While they may know what they are not supposed to do, they fail to understand the life of meaning, purpose, and impact Christ calls them to. Christian students often get the impression that we are merely saved from, and not “to.”

The picture of redemption in Scripture is far broader than this, however. We often forget how many words used in the Scripture for redemption are “re” words: renew, regenerate, reconcile, redeem, re-creation, etc. The implication is that salvation is a return to the real life God intended for us before the fall. Christ not only came to save us from death, he came to save us to life — an abundant life at that!

This life is not merely our “spiritual” lives either. Rather, the Scriptures offer us the true Big Story of the world: from creation to new creation.

4. Confront them with, rather than isolate them from, the major cultural battles of our day

Challenging students to love God fully by thinking deeply, discerningly, and truthfully about His word and His world is foundational to what a truly Christian education is. Any other educational means and methods that do not include this as a goal cannot, in my opinion, really be considered Christian education (even if there is a plethora of rules, Bible references, and verses to memorize).

According to the way the Scriptures describe the grand narrative of God’s redemptive plan for creation, Christianity is neither a religion of ascetic withdrawal nor a dualistic philosophy that denigrates certain human activity as less than spiritual. Rather, followers of Christ are called to dive deeply — and hopefully headfirst — into the significant historical and cultural issues of the human situation. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “If Christianity should happen to be true — that is to say if its God is the real God of the universe — then defending it may mean talking about anything and everything.”

This is what ought to be meant when the language of worldview is used in education. Historically, Christians have sought to understand, and respond to cultural crises. They understood that these crises were the site of the battle of worldviews. Unfortunately, many Christians today are unaware of, disinterested in, or avoiding issues like embryo-destructive research, euthanasia, emerging technologies, the arts, film, fashion, legislation, human trafficking, politics, and international relations. In Gethsemane, on the evening before His death, Christ prayed these astounding words for his followers: “Father, do not take them from the world, but protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Our prayer, and preparation, for our children should be no different.

One final word about the spirit from which we approach the next generation: a few months back, I received a thoughtful and appropriate criticism to a talk I often give which I call “Why Students Walk Away from their Faith (and what we can do about it . . . ).” The letter asked if I was coming at this issue from a position of fear — fear of the world and the enemy — and very appropriately suggested that Christians should not be fearful.

I must say that I fully concur with this point. The fear of God casts out all other fear. As the late Richard John Neuhaus wrote: “We have not the right to despair for despair is sin. And, we have not the reason to despair for Christ has risen.” I hope I am not approaching this issue from fear, though I can certainly see how it could be seen that way.

I hope I am approaching this issue from a perspective of realism, for students really are walking away from or checking out of the faith they were raised with, and we should confront this reality as Biblically and resourcefully as possible. This is not something we can ignore. As the historian Will Durant aptly noted: “From barbarism to civilization requires a century. From civilization to barbarism takes but a day.”

I can say in all truthfulness that as I write this, I really do have hope. Fundamentally, I have hope in Christ — He has risen. The day He died was actually the day that death died, and nothing can ever undo that reality. I also have hope in the Church, despite my critical words about it. I am part of this institution which Christ established and announced that against it the gates of Hell could not stand. (My reading of Church History has done more than anything else to secure my belief in those words).

Finally, I have hope because annually I work with many students — both here and abroad — who do, or are fighting to, “get it.” They want their lives to matter for Christ, they want to take the Gospel into all the world (including every corner of culture), and they want to think well about and in this world. They will be better than my generation has been. They will love God better, serve others better, care more deeply, and think more clearly. They want to read good books, and they want to live for something bigger than themselves.

Two Articles on Marriage That Should Be Read

Time Magazine’s cover story this week, even amidst the mass hysteria about Michael Jackson, was about marriage (“Is There Hope for the American Marriage” by Caitlin Flanagan). Very well written, it argues that the destruction of marriage is having a brutal impact economically and socially on culture at large. Of course, we need only look across the Atlantic to see how the degradation of marriage is turning out to be the suicide of Europe.

What is most interesting is that Flanagan traces the marriage crisis to the core definition of marriage itself, concluding that marriage can only survive if it is not about meeting our personal needs for sex or love but if it is about producing and preserving the next generation. Further, Flanagan cites extensive evidence, as well as quotes from our last four Presidents (including Obama, ironically), that the next generation is always cared for best when both parents are in the home!

What makes the article most astounding, however, is not what it says but what it does not say. As Flanagan attacks the pop-narcissism of easy divorce and sexual infidelity as resulting from a fundamentally bad definition of marriage, it also point by point destroys, albeit indirectly, each of the major arguments for same-sex marriage! Of course, this elephant in the room is not addressed directly in the article.

It is well worth the read, and you can find the article here.  But, don’t stop there.

Also this week, Christianity Today offered an feature article on the same-sex marriage issue (“Is the Gay Marriage Debate Over?” by Mark Galli). Read this with the Time article and you will see how the arguments made in the Time article apply to same-sex marriage, too.

The most helpful thing about Galli’s article is that he reminds us that gay marriage is not what will kill marriage. It is a symptom of what is already killing marriage. He writes:

We cannot very well argue for the sanc tity of marriage as a crucial social institu tion while we blithely go about divorcing and approving of remarriage at a rate that destabilizes marriage. We cannot say that an institution, like the state, has a perfect right to insist on certain values and behavior from its citizens while we refuse to submit to denominational or local church author ity. We cannot tell gay couples that mar riage is about something much larger than self-fulfillment when we, like the rest of heterosexual culture, delay marriage until we can experience life, and delay having children until we can enjoy each other for a few years.

In short, we have been perfect hypocrites on this issue. Until we admit that and take steps to amend our ways, our cries of alarm about gay marriage will echo off into oblivion.

This does not mean we should stop fighting initiatives that would legalize gay marriage. Gay marriage is simply a bad idea, whether one is religious or not. But it’s bad not only because of what it will do to the social fabric, but because of what it signals has already happened to our social fabric. We are a culture of radical individualists, and gay marriage does nothing but put an exclamation point on that fact. We should fight it, because it will only make a bad situation worse.

Galli’s article has been posted by a blogger here.

Why Heterosexual Marriage Must Remain Strong

Play

Guest host: John Stonestreet, executive director, Summit Ministries

Michael Craven, president of the Center for Christ and Culture will join guest-host John Stonestreet for the second hour to talk about the recent cover story in TIME magazine on marriage. The article champions a conservative view of marriage. Michael is a published expert on the importance of marriage for society.

Michael Jackson and Celebrity-Driven Culture

Play

Guest host: John Stonestreet, executive director, Summit Ministries

During the first hour, guest-host John Stonestreet will talk through the recent frenzy surrounding the death of Michael Jackson, and what it tells us about our celebrity-obsessed culture. John’s guest for this discussion will be Ben Williams, director of the Bryan College Worldview Team and director of Summit’s Conferences in Tennessee and Virginia.

Helping Students ‘Get It’

What Do They Need?

In a previous article, I argued that a major project for those of us who work with students is to help them “get” Christianity. While a significant number of Christian students reject Christianity during their university years, far more struggle to embrace a faith that is not really authentic or orthodox. Theirs is a “moralistic therapeutic deism,” as Christian Smith put it—a tame faith that is privatized and perhaps personally meaningful but which is not publicly true, culturally significant, or fundamentally informative to the rest of their lives.

Rather than trying to make Christianity as attractive and entertaining as possible, we ought instead to be sure that what we are communicating to them is actually Christianity. As I noted, this is very challenging in a culture of information overload, where students are bombarded daily with a multitude of messages, most of which, encourage them toward a mentality of adolescence.

Still, there is good news. Adolescently minded cultures like ours inevitably have a leadership vacuum. So, there remains a terrific opportunity for influence for those who produce the leaders, especially if they produce networks of leaders who can think deeply and contribute broadly to a wide variety of cultural institutions.

How can we do this?

CHALLENGE STUDENTS, INSTEAD OF CODDLE THEM
Frankly, it is my opinion that we aim too low with teenagers. Students do not need more entertainment, whether it is from the television, the Wii, the iPod, or the youth group. We will never effectively prepare students to engage our entertainment-driven culture by replacing it with Christian entertainment.

It is foolish to expect students to take Christianity and the world seriously if all they have been exposed to at youth group is games, pizza, and mindless mini-therapy lessons that may or may not come from the Scriptures. The church should be the place where we no longer believe (and students no longer experience) the myth of adolescence.

Instead, students need (and want) to be challenged—with the Scriptures, theology, tough questions, and cultural dilemmas. We see this every year at our Summit student leadership conferences—students endure 70-plus hours of lecture and instruction on worldviews, apologetics, culture, and character. Then they call home and ask for more money, so they can buy books!

I think there is something of the imago Dei in these students that screams in rebellion against the low expectations they face everywhere. For proof, see the movement of teenagers started by Brett and Alex Harris’ book Do Hard Things.

GIVE THEM A THOROUGH EDUCATION IN WORLDVIEWS AND APOLOGETICS
Because everyone has a worldview—a basic way in which they see, understand, and interact with the world—education is at its most fundamental level a worldview-shaping enterprise. It is the responsibility of a Christian institution to challenge students with the Christian view of life and the world, while exposing the non-Christian worldviews that others hold and which are behind historical movements and cultural expressions.

First, students need to know what they believe. Many see Christianity as merely a private faith rather than as a robust view of reality that offers a tried and true map for life. If students are convinced that the core of the Christian faith is how they can get to heaven and have a happy life, rather than as the Truth about all of life and the world, they do not know what they believe.

Of course, there simply is no substitute here for equipping students to dive deeply into the Scriptures. At the same time, however, it is important to help them dive into the Scriptures in the right way. Unfortunately, many students have only seen the Bible handled poorly by other Christians. Often, their only experience with the Scriptures include it being replaced by therapeutic clichés, utilized and memorized completely out of context, tacked on but not central to a lesson, strangely pieced together with other verses to make a point, proof-texted to supplement a devotional book or song lyric, or largely ignored.

When the Scriptures are handled this way, bits and pieces of the Bible only get co-opted into the student’s existent worldview. They may know the Bible, but they don’t think biblically. Rather, the student remains as the central arbiter of truth and interpretation.

The goal is that the Scriptures would transform the student’s mind (i.e. worldview). I fear we may have a generation of students who see the Bible through the lens of their culturally inherited worldview, rather than seeing the culture through the lens of the Bible.

Second, students need to know what others believe. There are non-biblical worldviews that are battling for hearts and minds as well as our culture. Historically, Christians from Justin Martyr to Augustine to Pascal to Edwards to C.S. Lewis, not to mention the apostle Paul, exhibited a strong understanding of the competing worldviews in their cultures.

We at Summit Ministries contend that, at minimum, students need to have a handle on at least six major Western worldviews before going to college: secular humanism, Marxism/Leninism, postmodernism, Islam, New Age, and biblical Christianity.

Third, Christians must know why they believe what they believe. Too many Christians cannot answer, and are even afraid of, the challenging questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, morality, or truth. Unfortunately, too many adults dread the moment that a student asks them a tough faith question they cannot answer. This avoidance, of course, does not remove the question. It merely delays the question until the student is an environment where the question will be entertained (like college!). We ought to see these questions as opportunities for the student, and ourselves, to dive even deeper into this faith we claim is true. Plus, God is big enough for the question.

SHOW THEM THAT CHRISTIANITY IS NOT JUST ABOUT WHAT WE ARE AGAINST, BUT WHAT WE ARE ABOUT
Proverbs says that without vision, the people “cast off restraint.” One of the main reasons that students are casualties of immoral choices is that they lack a big vision for their lives. While they may know what they are not supposed to do, they fail to understand the life of meaning, purpose, and impact Christ calls them to. Christian students often get the impression that we are merely saved from, and not “to.”

The picture of redemption in Scripture is far broader than this. We often forget how many words used in the Scripture for redemption are “re” words: renew, regenerate, reconcile, redeem, re-creation, etc. The implication is that salvation is a return to the real life God intended for us before the fall. Christ not only came to save us from death, he came to save us to life—an abundant life at that!

This life is not merely our “spiritual” lives either. Rather, the Scriptures offer us the true Big Story of the world—from creation to new creation.

CONFRONT THEM WITH, RATHER THAN ISOLATE THEM FROM, THE MAJOR CULTURAL BATTLES OF OUR DAY
Challenging students to love God fully by thinking deeply, discerningly, and truthfully about His word and His world is foundational to what a truly Christian education is. Any other educational means and methods that do not include this as a goal cannot, in my opinion, really be considered Christian education (even if there is a plethora of rules, Bible references, and verses to memorize).

According to the way the Scriptures describe the grand narrative of God’s redemptive plan for creation, Christianity is neither a religion of ascetic withdrawal nor a dualistic philosophy that denigrates certain human activity as less than spiritual. Rather, followers of Christ are called to dive deeply—and hopefully headfirst—into the significant historical and cultural issues of the human situation. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “If Christianity should happen to be true—that is to say if its God is the real God of the universe—then defending it may mean talking about anything and everything.”

This is what ought to be meant when the language of worldview is used in education. Historically, Christians have sought to understand, and respond to cultural crises. They understood that these crises were the site of the battle of worldviews. Unfortunately, many Christians today are unaware of, disinterested in, or avoiding of issues like embryo-destructive research, euthanasia, emerging technologies, the arts, film, fashion, legislation, human trafficking, politics, and international relations. In Gethsemane on the evening before His death, Christ prayed these astounding words for his followers: “Father, do not take them from the world, but protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Our prayer, and preparation, for our children should be no different.

One final word about the spirit from which we approach the next generation. A few months back, I received a thoughtful and appropriate criticism to a talk I often give, which I call “Why students walk away from their faith (and what we can do about it).” The letter asked if I was coming at this issue from a position of fear—fear of the world and the enemy—and very appropriately suggested that Christians should not be fearful.

I must say that I fully concur with this point. The fear of God casts out all other fear. As the late Richard John Neuhaus wrote: “We have not the right to despair for despair is sin. And, we have not the reason to despair for Christ has risen.” I hope I am not approaching this issue from fear, though I can certainly see how it could be seen that way.

I hope I am approaching this issue from a perspective of realism, for students really are walking away from or checking out of the faith they were raised with, and we should confront this reality as Biblically and resourcefully as possible. This is not something we can ignore. As the historian Will Durant aptly noted: “From barbarism to civilization requires a century. From civilization to barbarism takes but a day.”

I can say in all truthfulness that as I write this, I really do have hope. Fundamentally, I have hope in Christ—He has risen. The day He died was actually the day that death died, and nothing can ever undo that reality. I also have hope in the Church, despite my critical words about it. I am part of this institution which Christ established and announced that against it the gates of Hell could not stand. (My reading of Church History has done more than anything else to secure my belief in those words).

Finally, I have hope because annually I work with many students—both here and abroad—who do, or are fighting to, “get it.” They want their lives to matter for Christ, they want to take the Gospel into all the world (including every corner of culture), and they want to think well about and in this world. They will be better than my generation has been. They will love God better, serve others better, care more deeply, and think more clearly. They want to read good books, and they want to live for something bigger than themselves.

On Fundamentalism: Why We Need to Know History

April 23, 2009 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

One of the defining moments in my personal journey was a class I took in seminary from Dr. John Woodbridge on the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in America. As someone frustrated with and running from my own pseudo-fundamentalist heritage, the class helped me place my own limited experiences, as well as pace my grumpiness with it.

The class both clarified my complaints and chastened them, as I realized where I had come from in a larger ecclesiological sense. With a childhood in a church and school which followed the lead of Jerry Falwell (first as an independent fundamental Baptist church then as a more mainstream Baptist church), college years in first a liberal Mennonite college and then at a school named after the greatest enigma in fundamentalism (William Jennings Bryan), seminary at Reformed Theological and eventually Trinity Evangelical, my church makeup was plenty diverse but my understanding of where these various streams of evangelicalism had come from was thoroughly anemic.

I learned from Dr. Woodbridge how many silly assumptions I had because I was operating from my limited experience without any understanding of real history. In my view, this is epidemic in the American evangelical church – we have what my friend Debbie Brezina calls evangelical Alzheimer’s. Personally, I went through a Christian school, Christian college, and nearly halfway through seminary without having to learn church history. The little I did get was truncated or strangely juxtaposed together.

I tend to think this overall lack of church history is one reason why what has come to be known as emergent thought is so attractive. In so many ways, it is merely a rehashed liberalism, but so many don’t realize it because they have no clue about the modernist/fundamentalist battles of the early 1900’s. They literally think that Shane Claiborne, Brian McLaren and Tony Jones are on to something new. Further, it is not uncommon for those in this crowd to toss around the “fundamentalist” label as the emergent equivalent of the scarlet letter while offering really bad definitions of it because, again, they don’t know the history of the term.

Without a basic knowledge of recent church history, emergents seem “cutting edge.” When understood within this history, they seem presumptuous, naive and arrogant. (I recently saw a “conversation” between one of these emergent leaders and a well-known evangelical leader. The emergent leader was waxing eloquent about the lack of compassion in evangelicalism, forgetting that his older counterpart had spent the last 50 years taking care of prisoners and their families. For what it’s worth, I also think that the reactionary response of too many conservatives resembles the mistakes the second wave of fundamentalism made in the mid 20th century, but that’s another blog topic.)

I bring up all of this because a friend and former professor from Bryan College has written a nice little history of fundamentalism in America while also dealing with some of the bad definitions of fundamentalism that are thrown around. Dennis Ingolfsland is a terrific scholar, especially in Jesus studies, whose blog is worth following. And, his entry from a few days ago on fundamentalism is especially terrific.

For more on the history of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, see George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture, or see the summary chapter in James Davidson Hunter’s Culture Wars.

Stem Cell Decision Worse Than Roe v. Wade

March 10, 2009 by  
Filed under The Latest from Our Blog

Today, the shoddiest piece of journalism I have seen in a long time landed on my front step. The L.A. Times article “Obama Moves to Strengthen Role of Science in Policy” was printed in my Colorado Springs Gazette. It is the most blatant form of secularist “if you don’t agree with our science, you are religious and should be dismissed” ideology since John Kerry’s presidential campaign. The “journalists” Jim Tankersley and Noam Levey write:

President Obama made his most forceful break yet from his predecessor’s controversial scientific agenda Monday, opening the door to a major expansion of government-funded research on embryonic stem cells and ordering federal agencies to strengthen the role of science in their decision-making.

The twin announcements marked a clear departure from former President George W. Bush’s approach to science, which had caused a rift between that administration and a large segment of the nation’s research community. Many complained that scientific data had been ignored or skewed as the Bush administration set policy on climate change, oil and gas drilling, and other aspects of environmental and health policy.

In particular, Bush’s limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell experiments had become a touchstone for many scientists angry at the administration, as well as for advocates for patients who have hoped the research would lead to cures for a wide range of diseases.

The problem here is that few presidents have been as thoroughly vindicated on a particular policy decision as George W. Bush was on his decision to restrict federal funding for embryonic destructive research. For a clear history of this, see the November 2008 article by Joseph Bottum and Ryan Anderson “Stem Cells: A Political History.”

Where Bottum and Anderson are correct is that with the astounding success of adult stem cells (stem cells acquired from sources that do not require the destruction of the embryo), and the exciting developments in regard to induced pluripotent cells (non-embryonic cells “reprogrammed” to behave like embryonic stem cells) there remains few scientific reasons, if any, to pursue the ethically questionable research that destroys the most innocent among us. We certainly do not think we should fund every scientific venture with tax dollars. Why this one?

Where Bottum and Anderson are wrong is in their suggestion that since this issue was a minor one during the election, it is therefore no longer a political issue. Clearly, after yesterday’s dismal decision by President Obama, it still is.

This is a decision worse than Roe V. Wade. In cases of abortion, one can at least wrongfully argue that immediate hardship will be alleviated. In this case, there is no reason to believe any hardship will be alleviated, and certainly not immediately. Not to mention, where on earth are we going to get any federal funds at this time? Has our President forgotten the real crisis now is not that scientists cannot find money (Note: embryonic stem cell research was never banned, contrary to Kerry’s claims. President Bush restricted federal funding. States – and many did – and private investors – and very few did since it was such a bad investment – were still allowed to provide funding), it’s that our country cannot find money?

Without all of the ethical questions surrounding this, it is a poor economic decision! It’s bad enough that President Obama thinks that all problems need to have government solutions. Now, he is fabricating problems so that the government can solve them! There is no problem anymore! In fact, there never was!

So, why is this ignored in the “report” by the LA Times? Why are any arguments against embryonic destructive research considered merely religious and political? Why are all arguments for embryonic destructive research scientific when there remains next to no scientific reasons to pursue it any more?

(Note also how later in the article, the authors imply that those who oppose global warming do so only for political reasons. Are they unaware how increasingly ridiculous the accusation of human cause global warming is becoming? Are they at least aware that the scientific community has not come to a consensus about this issue?)

So, today I, and many Americans, are forced to fund murder and contribute our tax dollars to something which will – in the name of “science” – further our culture of death. Only, it is not science. It is politics. And, it is completely unjustifiable.

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