web analytics

Author Archive

[202] Escape

I watch sports to escape the byzantine realities of daily living. Among the last things I want is to have my escape experience used as a platform to hash out current issues. But it happens all the time. On TV, I will have to hear Bob Costas engage in a bit of social critique as it relates to a player, a team, a league, or a sport. Costas is not a competent social scientist. He announces sports. Let him be happy with that.

He can get away with it, because Costas is careful to stay safely inside the politically correct foul lines. Curt Schilling, however, was jettisoned by ESPN over a Tweet or two—nothing on the air, just Tweets that hit a third rail of political incorrectness. I am rankled by this as a Christian, as this politicization of sport is generally a subtle way of spraying the listener, viewer, or reader with liberal values. Please understand, this is not a closet attempt to render a conservative counter. It is a plea for even-handedness, or better yet, nothing at all.

And then there is politically incorrect language or opinions coming from the mouths of athletes. These athletes are hardly towering intellects. Permit them their First Amendment rights and leave them alone.

Even in the case of the sensitive matter of domestic abuse. Why do you think universities and professional teams bring the steel shoes down on sports figures even alleged to have cuffed around a domestic partner? Because they are on the side of righteousness? Were that the case there would be myriad other misdeeds for which athletes would be punished. It is simply because domestic abuse is currently among the most highlighted and condemned of wrongdoing in the culture at large, and the sporting establishment cannot afford not to be on the politically correct line of scrimmage on that one. It is about politics not ethics.

When I go on the ESPN website there are features galore that are poorly thought hybrids of sports and current social issues glued together in a story about an athlete, team, or coach. Exhibit A: “The Undefeated,” a largely polemical site dedicated to African-American people and race issues in sport.

Enough already. All I really want to know is who is ahead in this game–the one I am wishing I could be watching on my personal and private “Gilligan’s Island.”


[202] Top 10

I can remember the days during which stations and programs and publications would trumpet their weekly Top 10 pop music singles. Dick Clark’s weekly Top 10 was eagerly awaited.

The church has its own Top 10 when it comes to sin. For years it demonized homosexuality, rooting its condemnations in scriptural proof texts. As the years have passed it has looked the other way when it comes to divorce and “shacking.” Pushed against the spiritual wall, evangelical pastors will speak against these practices, but you will see a lot of birthdays pass between sermons on those misdeeds.

Drunkenness has been roundly condemned to the point of advocating teetotaling. Gossip, divisiveness, and inhospitable behavior, not so much. Foul language is out, but racism is still quite acceptable. A few weeks ago I heard my first sermon on “Racism in the Church” delivered by a white pastor.

If you think pastors are preaching the whole counsel of God, then you belong in the Flat Earth Society. And I am not simply going after pastors on this. Many of them realize the reaction they would get from their congregants, should they inveigh against pet sins, would remind one of the actions of those who resisted Christ two centuries ago.

Please understand, I am not advocating excising sin from the attention of the church, nor am I advocating that churches make sin its central focus. I am advocating a humble and sober effort at total discipleship, one that levels the playing field when it comes to the various types of sin, and leaves those Top 10 lists of transgressions back with the Dick Clark Top 10. DC



[201] Down

Early in 2017, Pew research reported that evangelicals were the only religious group in the US that did not enjoy a better reception than it did in 2014. More important perhaps, Americans were increasingly less likely to know an evangelical personally than anyone from another religious background.

Pew applied a “feeling thermometer” to determine the warmth level of feelings toward the religious groups. While evangelicals held steady at 61% in being warmly regarded, Muslims went up 8% to 48, while atheists jumped up 9% to 50%.

Two thoughts on this: First, atheism has now gained mainstream acceptance. This does not mean there are more atheists than in the past, but it does mean they are now able to come above ground and engender little resistance. There is a price for people of faith to pay here, and that is encountering more open atheistic opposition to matters of faith.

Second, and perhaps more disturbing is that Americans are less likely to know an evangelical than a member of any other religious group. It is good the Apostle Paul is not around to see this. He would gag. How can this be? Evangelicals are definitely not the smallest in number of the religious groups. It is because of the fortress mentality that has long typified them. And it is not working. This shouts out the need for evangelicals to get outside of their religious ghetto and interact with the rest of the world. It is time to preach to someone other than the members of the choir.

Little surprise that there is such naivete among evangelicals with respect to the subtle invasion of our national culture by secular-progressives. They may be too busy painting the lines in the church parking lot to see how their relevance continues to dwindle as those hostile to the faith reshape the nation. DC

[201] No Counter

I don’t think Christian colleges are doing enough to counter post-modernism, particularly that aspect of this philosophical heresy that affirms the absence of truth. The notion that truth is relative–or more accurately, an individual phenomenological opinion—is a bedrock doctrine in the postmodern catechism.

It is everywhere, even at Christian colleges. Many of the students there profess a personal faith, but they have little use for “Thus saith the Lord…” thinking. The former is personal and even malleable. The latter is unbending and calls people to discipleship.

Postmodernism is arguably the biggest threat to Christianity in our time, because it invalidates truth. There is no foundation in a postmodern Christian “faith.” It is a faith without facts. It offers a discipleship without discipline, a set of beliefs with nothing immovable in which to believe. It is postmodern thinking that makes marrying out of the faith acceptable, because after all, who really knows what is true?

And again, postmodernism is everywhere—even in Christian colleges. I have long advocated for a required course in apologetics at every Christian institution of higher learning. We need that now more than ever—for the truth of the Christian faith is all we have that separates us from our secular counterparts. DC

[200] Fake News

“Fake news” has now entered the mainstream vocabulary. There is plenty of fake news.  We are in a new era of “journalism.”  Remember All the President’s Men?  Ben Bradlee directed Woodward and Bernstein to get multiple sources on anything Watergate that went to press.  Now a “story” with no on-the-record sources will do.  You need only “sources close to…” to launch it on the 24-hour cable channels and the blizzard of online sources.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Here are two principal ones.  We no longer have three major news networks, and a nation of newspapers going to press once or twice day.  Now we have myriad television and internet sources all enmeshed in byzantine competition for viewers and clicks.  To get that flow, you need to get there first.  Second, everything is now 24 hours, not two printings a day and an evening news hour.  So there is much time to fill and not much hard news with which to fill it.  Hence, opinion and discussion are passed off as information.

Here is one more.  You better talk loud to be heard over all the cable shows, bloggers, podcasts, and on and on.  Better to do that with explosive innuendo and a few lies than the sterile nature of fact.

The gospel is about truth.  Truth shows up in the Ten Commandments.  In John 8:32, Christ says the truth sets us free.  What does fake news do?  DC

[199] Subtle Politics

Much of the ruckus over Colin Kaepernick’s not being on an NFL roster is not about football.  First, a fact needs to be stated.  There are roughly 100 quarterbacks on NFL teams.  Kaepernick, a Super Bowl quarterback but a few years back, is easily better than half of them.  Hence, the logic is that he is not in the league because owners do not want the baggage of a player who very publically refused to stand for the National Anthem last season.

No matter that Kaepernick has stated he will not persist in this practice.  He is damaged goods in the economy of the NFL.  No team has signed him in a league with many teams in need of insurance at the critically important quarterback position.

Note well that the public clamor over this omission of Kaepernick is not, however, focused on some football injustice, or some attempt by owners to protect their brand against a potentially objecting fandom—the millions who did not approve of Kaepernick’s symbolic protest.  It is focused on race.  And it is more than a scattered group of activists who point to racism as the underlying motive of the owners.  It is an organized attempt by the political left—those who embrace identity politics—to make this about race.  They are “racializing” the matter to advance the identity politics cause.

In the larger scheme of things, the plight of an unsigned multi-millionaire quarterback is not of much consequence in the context of North Korea, Charlottesville, and a health care crisis.  And that is why that narrower matter—football–is not the subject of this blog.  The point here is that those who are committed to identity politics will use very subtle means to make their case.  If they can shift the paradigm from simple alleged unfairness to racism they can turn Kaepernick’s circumstance into one of racism—the unfair treatment of one who identifies as an African-American—a headline grabber, given the unhappy history of race relations in the US.  And that shifts the goal of politics from one of advancing the national welfare to one that promotes the interests of individual subgroups, as they vie with other groups for power.

It is hard to make a case for identity politics from a faith-and-learning perspective, because it is an offshoot of postmodernism—the notion that there is no truth, just personal and cultural perspectives of subjective reality.  More important perhaps, is the need for vigilance; to “see” the subtle workings of ideologies as they visit everything, even football.  DC

[200] Icons

I read a stunningly insightful book recently, entitled Dinner with DiMaggio, soon to be reviewed in these pages. The book caught the essence of what it meant to be an American icon. I reflected on the concept of national icons. From the ‘40’s to the ‘90’s there were so many—DiMiaggio, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Billy Graham, and Michael Jackson, among others.

They were so big they were commonly referred to as idols.

But the era of the genuine icon is, for the most part, gone.

The reason is that we are in an electronic age. In the previous era, the media was narrow, consisting mainly of radio, newspapers (literally print on paper), popular magazines, television (limited mainly to three networks), and movies. In short, the modalities were few, such that once a celebrity became nationally marketable he or she would dominate almost all of the layers of media reaching the public. Hence, an icon went deeply into American culture—dominating every point of contact with the public with each segment of the media reinforcing the others.

Two forces have changed all this: Cable TV and the internet. We now have myriad television channels and a world wide web with infinite points of contact. No one person can dominate all these. Hence, we have moved from national icons to what we might call niche icons. In addition, because of the incredibly wide expanse of contact, we are more aware than ever that we are not a homogeneous nation. We are nation of identifiable subgroups.

This makes the spread of the gospel easier and more difficult. It is easier because there are so many more apertures—so many more windows through which we can send the gospel out. It is more difficult because we have no Billy Grahams—icons whose fame and charisma can draw millions to their televisions—all at the same primetime hour–to hear a galvanizing message.

All of this begs the question: Are national revivals a thing of the past? With things moving horizontally rather than vertically, some say it is. Time will tell. We may indeed have to shape the gospel presentation to demographic niches, much as missionaries of the past did, learning the language and the culture of the particular people to whom they were to be sent before leaving American soil. Just as Christian colleges strategize to recruit students from various demographic segments, the church needs to strategize when it comes to evangelism—going to people “where they are,” to paraphrase John Calvin. From another vantage point, there is the concept of “going viral.” We must communicate the gospel knowing it has no boundaries in terms of its appeal, and there is nothing more viral than the Holy Spirit. DC

[199] Mission Statement

A few decades back, the business world was taken by storm with the idea of having a Mission Statement—a simple one or two statement as to its purpose for existence.

Not a bad idea for a business. An even better idea for a Christian college. And better yet for a person. In fact, I would like to see every person engage that task—write a life mission statement. For the Christian, the top line should be to glorify God. Believe it or not, that is the easy part. What comes next? For one thing, each of us can ask if what we are currently investing our energies in is glorifying God. We can also ask how we can take our skills and interests and aim them in that direction.

You get it. Doing these things not only will move us closer to the top line—glorifying God—but it will also make us a lot happier. DC


[198] No Consensus

The debate over homosexual behavior and same-sex marriages rages on. I see no consensus in sight on these issues among serious biblical Christians. I think we may have to accept a permanent diversity on these matters.

There are two general ways to look at this. For many, the prohibitions in both the Old and the New Testament are the final word. To mettle with these prohibitions is to mettle with the eternal in unchanging word of God. It is a simple but a compelling position.

The other is to look at the sanctions in cultural context. For example, in Romans, Paul connects homosexual activity to other obvious sins in his description of a truly wicked group of people. Homosexuality appears to be in the context of riotous, promiscuous living, not in a monogamous, committed relationship. Moreover, I doubt Paul knew that sexual orientation is largely if not completely genetic any more than the biblical writers realized the universe is heliocentric, with the earth being oval, rather than possessing four corners. And from there one can shift to other strictures of the past that are no longer in force today—women wearing hats in church, for example, not to mention more liberal attitudes toward divorce.

I urge Christians to avoid the one thing that is among the common and easiest to do when engaging explosive issues such as these: To attack rather than reason, to demonize those with opposing views rather than working out their differences in the love of Christ. DC

[198] Jessica Mendoza

What is Jessica Mendoza doing analyzing major league baseball games? She has no business in the booth. She has never played baseball. She has never coached baseball. She has never managed a baseball team, and she has never been an administrator in baseball.

Jessica Mendoza is a softball player—a very good one—but she has no meaningful background in baseball.

What Ms. Mendoza is, however, is very attractive, classy, charming, Hispanic, and female. And like so many of the foxy newscasters that populate virtually every channel, that seems to be quite sufficient to be passed off as an expert.

If MLB wants a female, it might want to look at the front offices. Commissioner Selig’s daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, was in charge of the Brewers. There must be other women with some valuable front office experience out there.

If this is read as an attempt to denigrate Ms. Mendoza, I am not making myself clear. The offender here is ESPN and MLB, in their desire to serve up the viewer with a plateful of identity politics and diversity rather than incisive baseball analysis.  In an oh-so-subtle fashion, matters like these remind us that the secular culture continues to pour itself into a politically correct mold, one that all but silences any contrary voices.  In the big scheme of things, baseball is rather innocuous, but as we regularly discuss here it is but an ornament on a much larger cultural tree.


Subscribe to this site
Get new Faith and Learning posts sent to you by email: