Monthly Archives: May 2005

Memorial Day Reflections: Can Politics Change Culture?

By training, I am a historian. At least I like to think so. I had good teachers, and I still love the subject. I dabble in it, even professionally, and even get asked to lecture occasionally. I am also a keen observer of American political debate. I have a horse in most political races, and it is generally the one that could be labeled conservative, though not rigidly so. I also believe in what professor Stephen H. Webb has called "American Providence." (Perhaps more about Webb’s historical thesis later this week.) Simply put, God cannot be removed from American life and politics if one has a robust view of providence, as I think I do.

As we celebrate Memorial Day I am struck as an American, and a historian, at how divided we are as a nation. No one doubts that we are divided, at least politically. Think red and blue states. But we are increasingly divided at the more basic level of community values and national vision. In the end I think it is safe to say that the unique American

By |May 30th, 2005|Categories: Politics|

Soul Searching Among America's Youth

Most American teens indicate that religious faith is very important in their lives. That is truly good news. In addition, they are far more influenced by the religious beliefs and practices of their parents and other adults than is commonly thought. The bad news is that religion is deprioritized and poorly understood by teens. This is the conclusion of Christian Smith, the Stuart Chapin Distinguished Professor and Associate Chair of Sociology at the University of North Carlina, in the much acclaimed new book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Smith’s study is based upon the most extensive and ambitious national study ever conducted among American teens about their religious and spiritual lives. Kendra Creasy Dean, the author of another important study of youth, calls Soul Searching "a bombshell, and that is one long overdue." It shows, she says, that our assumptions about youth and religion have bene profoundly wrong. Instead of finding general apathy or hostility the study shows are that America’s teens are very interested in faith. There is further good news here,

By |May 27th, 2005|Categories: Renewal|

What Should We Make of the Blogging Rage?

Kevin Maney, in a weekly technology column in the Wednesday edition (May 25) of USA Today, suggests the present growth of blogging will chill out relatively soon. His piece is actually a very funny spoof on the growing rage for blogs. Had I read Maney in March I might have hesitated to begin this business of regularly writing blogs.

Maney concludes about the blog business:

"So, yeah, blogs are cool. Anything that gives people a voice benefits society and makes us all better and smarter–and, as bloggers have proved, makes established information outlets more accountable. But blogs don’t seem to be the second coming of the printing press. They’re just another turn of the wheel in communications technology."

Maney pokes fun at the notion that this is a great new revolution that will "change everything." He notes that every new technology is significant for a time, and alters the dynamics of society and business to varying degrees. Blogs are doing that as well. But, as Maney properly notes, "each technology has also gone through a cycle of superhype, followed by

By |May 26th, 2005|Categories: Current Affairs|

Cultural Hot Topics and the Pulpit

Timothy Merrill, executive editor of the magazine Homiletics, urged pastors last week to scrap their preaching plans for May 22 so they could take advantage of a historic moment. What moment was that you ask? Well, the rush to see and discuss “The Revenge of the Sith,” George Lucas’ third film in the newer version Star Wars films. Merrill noted that it was a Jedi night at theatres around the country late last week, as Stars fans lined up to see the movie, some late into the evening.

Merrill wrote this in his online advice column:

By |May 25th, 2005|Categories: The Church|

A Gracious Work of God in an Old Church

I am afforded the opportunity to preach and teach in churches across many denominational and ethnic lines. I get to serve new church plants, as well as older churches that have considerable history. By this calling I am allowed to see renewal from many different angles.

I have drawn attention to "emergent" churches in recent weeks. Today I write about an old church, Randolph Street Baptist in Charleston, West Virginia. Spiritual life is presently being renewed in and by the Holy Spirit at Randolph Street. I taught in Charleston on mission and evangelism in a lovely Saturday Seminar setting on May 21. I then taught the adults on Matthew 18:21-22 yesterday, May 22. I also preached from Matthew 9:35-38 in the worship celebration that followed. Then last evening we had an open house at the pastor’s home and I spoke to a number of the folks who have loved me and prayed for me here in Charleston for twenty years. It was a delightful weekend in every way.

What thrills me the most about these developments is to see how the Spirit has moved to begin a

By |May 23rd, 2005|Categories: Renewal|

More Reflections on Osteen

My purpose, in my several blogs on Joel Osteen, that were written over the past eleven days, was not to argue about Lutheran-Reformed hermeneutical frameworks. Nor was my purpose to deny the obvious point one reader made, namely that all of us use frameworks and thus hermeneutics is an extremely vital matter for reading and hearing the Bible correctly. That is precisely the point I tried to make, if I understand what I wrote.

What I am attempting to do is to get people who use a particular system to not do so with such confidence. I am hopeful that some will seriously reflect upon where they come from historically on these issues. If this small step is taken we can have an honest discussion and even profitable disagreement.

Let me suggest for those who have any interest in the point I have tried to make about certainty that they read Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, & Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Eerdmans, 1995), by the late Reformed missional-theologian Lesslie Newbigin. If you want to understand what I mean about Horton’s sense of certainty, and why I believe

By |May 20th, 2005|Categories: American Evangelicalism|

Standing Against Homosexual Protest

A St. Paul, Minnesota, Roman Catholic priest denied communion to more than a hundred people on Sunday, May 15, saying they could not receive the sacrament because they wore rainbow-colored sashes to church to show their support for gay Catholics.

The Associated Press reported, in a May 16 story, that a group called the Rainbow Sash Alliance has encouraged supporters to wear the multicolored fabric bands since 2001 on each Pentecost Sunday, the day many Christians celebrate the Holy Spirit’s coming to give power to Christians soon after Jesus ascended to heaven. But Sunday’s Minnesota service was the first time these activists were actually denied communion at the altar.

In an expression typical of liberal support for these activists Sister Gabriel Herbers said she wore her sash to show sympathy for the gay and lesbian community. She noted that their sexual orientation ”is a gift from God just as much as my gift of being a female is."

The activist nun’s quote undercores the primary argument now advanced by the homosexual community and its supporters. Sexual inclination, or "orientation" as it is called, is inherent in our genes and

By |May 18th, 2005|Categories: Current Affairs|

How Joel Osteen Has Impacted My Life

I have contributed two previous posts to this blogspot on the rising popular ministry of Houston preacher Joel Osteen. I am amazed at the interest expressed about these two entries. It has forced me to read numerous comments, both critical and supportive, and thereby rethink the whole issue several times. I find myself in agreement with certain points made by my critics but still feeling they generally miss the central points that I have made.

1. I did not intend to write an apologia for Joel Osteen or his ministry. I am not qualified to do so.

2. I did say that his ministry was useful for some Christians. Though very simplistic, his writing and preaching do offer simple words of Christian hope. I can learn a great deal from this. I need to be simpler in my presentation of truth, a quality that does not overflow with abundance in my own circles of theological conviction.

3. I also concluded that Osteen, contrary to some critics, is not a heretic. He is a very popular charismatic minister, warts and all.

4. Finally, I questioned one major aspect of

By |May 17th, 2005|Categories: The Church|

The Issues Change But the Disputes Remain

Some of my friends embrace what I call "Reformation romanticism." This notion generally colors everything they see and do in the modern world. In this romantic spirit the modern is generally bad, while things from the sixteenth and seventeenth century are mostly good! A little reading and a great deal more honesty would help to cure most of this nonsense.

On April 6 Dr. Raymond Mentzer helped me to see more of it through a public address presented as the Meeter Center Biennial Lecture (Calvin College, Grand Rapids). The lecture had the arcane title, "No Benches Are Reserved: Seating Disputes in the French Reformation Church." Dr. Mentzer’s lecture actually focused on sixteenth and seventeenth century Protestant France. He showed that during this pristine time period benches and chairs first became part of the physical provision of Christian churches in France.

The choice to bring seating into the churches actually came from the emphasis of John Calvin on preaching. In order to support the Reformed style of worship church buildings in France were built, or renovated, to include a pulpit surrounded by pews and chairs. Though seating, in

By |May 16th, 2005|Categories: Church History|

Defining Evangelicalism

Deciding on how to define evangelicalism, or how to meaningfully express that one is an evangelical, is notoriously difficult. Mark Noll has written about the scandal of losing the evangelical mind while other writers, myself included, have warned that the word refers more often than not to a subculture, not a doctrinally based movement of churches. It seems people have as many different definitions of "evangelical" as there are schools, groups and movements. One soon begins to doubt the value of retaining the term. I have chosen, to this point, to keep it. I have no real quarrel with those who decide otherwise.

My reasons for keeping the word evangelical may eventually be outweighed by the political and social baggage attached to it but currently these positive reasons include the following:

1. The word has its roots in the New Testament word evangel, thus reminding us that we are gospel Christians.

2. The word has solid historic roots in the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent evangelical awakenings.

3. The word avoids denominational labels and identities that make our boundaries of cooperation and fellowship too narrow.

4. The

By |May 14th, 2005|Categories: American Evangelicalism|

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