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[290] Irrelevance

In my last post I mentioned the ever-more common trend of denominations retreating from biblical authority, and accommodating secular thinking in a desperate attempt to appear relevant to the world.  These churches seem to think if only they would bend a little to the world, “modernize” some doctrines, and become more secular-friendly, their pews would fill.

They are dead wrong.  Researchers continually cite diminishing attendance in theologically flexible—liberal–mainline denominational churches, while finding growth among more biblically-centered, evangelical churches.  

The reason is that the gospel has never been relevant to the world, and all the manipulations and permutations will not make it so.  All such churches do, is excise the power of truth from their message, hence, neutering their potential impact.  They become toothless do-gooder voices with little appeal to the non-believer who finds Christianity at best, mythical—certainly not fashionable.

In 1 Cor. 2:14, Paul puts it in our face. He says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

There it is, right there. The gospel is irrelevant, folly, foolishness to those who are not spiritually awake.

But he had more to say.  In Romans 1:16 he said he was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation…”  The gospel is clearly irrelevant by contemporary standards.  But that irrelevant message has truth, and truth has power that trumps social relevance every time.  DC

[289] Correction

When the stock market goes through a negative spasm it is called a “correction.” Churches and denominations experience corrections as well, and I see another one coming. Almost 90 years ago there was a mass revolt against liberalism from the ranks of orthodox Christians. Denominations had—over decades—relaxed their allegiance to scriptural authority and seminal doctrines—the virgin birth, the reality of miracles, the infallibility of scripture, etc. The shift toward what was then called “modernism” reached a watershed, resulting in groups splitting off to form new denominations, ones faithful to the traditional creeds.

I see another correction coming. It seems inevitable. The further denominations move off a scriptural base, the greater becomes their distance from the centrality of the gospel. And there is much such movement. Universalism, retreats from biblical authority, and easy accommodations to secular thinking (in a desperate attempt to appear relevant) now abound in settings that were formerly more orthodox. That can stretch only so far before there is backlash from those who can no longer tolerate the drift. The result will be a correction—a nearly perfectly descriptive word. DC

[288] Identity as Worldview

It is easy to get lost in Identity Politics—that contemporary trend of defining oneself by the social group of which one is a member, especially in the case of race and gender.  Hence, if one is gay that is the overwhelming determinant of who one is.  Problematic as that is, what is much worse is that social group membership often becomes a worldview, and all differences of opinion on matters like race and gender are then taken personally.

Say you have a good friend who is gay and he asks your opinion of gay marriage.  If you find such alliances objectionable, that view may be received as a personal attack by your friend, because his primary selfhood, and therefore his perspective on the world, is lodged in being gay.  This tendency comes at an awful price—that of stifling free inquiry and open discussion. One no longer feels free to disagree with someone else over a matter pertaining to a social group, because that disagreement could very well terminate a relationship.

It goes like this.  If you don’t approve of the issue pertaining to who I am, you don’t approve of me personally, and therefore our relationship is over. You can see the First Amendment wobble in the distance, in part because this worldview-driven personalizing has stifling effects in the media.  In television, radio, and social media, people are simply afraid of taking stands on controversial issues for fear they will be branded hateful, intolerant, or ignorant.

The result is the end of the free exchange of ideas. What binds us together as a nation is our acceptance of our differences–racially, ethnically, and culturally–and our ability to explore all aspects of our diversity freely.  When those ties no longer bind, we descend into a cauldron of warring groups and ideologies, rather than being one nation, under God, indivisible. DC

[287] Pro-Choice RC’s

Have you noticed how many Roman Catholic political figures are pro-choice despite the Catholic church’s staunch anti-abortion stance?  It seems counterintuitive and begs the question why.

I submit it is about worldview.  Many Roman Catholics feel their religious convictions are personal and private; more important, one of a number of key components in their life.  When people view their religion as one very personal, private, off-limits component of their identity, they prevent their faith from permeating and informing all areas of their existence.

Hence, they can be personally against abortion but fully supportive of others’ right to abortion if it coheres with those others’ personal values. That is bad, relativistic, and postmodern (what-is-truth-for-me-may-not-be-truth-for-you) theology. What is murder for the Christian, should in her mind, be murder no matter who engages in it, and that Christian needs to be on the right side of the 6th Commandment.  DC

[286] Why Colleges Die

Higher education in general, and Christian colleges in particular are heading into hard times.  Secular institutions are under attack for their progressive bent, while Christian colleges continually need to justify their existence, not to mention their hefty student tuitions.  Add to that the Covid-19 plague and colleges and universities of every stripe are in a battle for students.

Thom Rainer, of Lifeway.com published an article on “Why Dying Churches Die.”  Below are reasons why Christian colleges are in trouble—even dying—adapted from Rainer’s assessment of churches.

They Live in Denial: Difficult times are viewed as transitory, the bottom side of a never-ending cycle, rather than evidence of the institution being in trouble.  Hence, when tough times hit, they move toward retrenchment rather than marketing, suffocating creative efforts.

They Flee Accountability:  In short, difficulties are attributed to external factors—the economy, a lack of respect for liberal arts education, poor support from churches–rather than issues within the institution.  This absolves them of responsibility to act.

They Are Waiting for the Magic Bullet: Instead of taking responsibility and moving forward, they await a large contribution, a hefty bequest, state or federal legislation that takes the form of dollars, or some other fall-from-the-sky life preserver.

They Resist Change: Consistent change is one of the unchanging realities of life. Troubled institutions do not live in the context of that reality.  For example, online education is now fully mainstream, yet many Christian colleges have fledgling or no online courses.

They Are Not Really Committed to Diversity:  Though there may be a multi-ethnic presence within the student body, the school does not aggressively pursue racial and ethnic minorities, nor does it address the contextual issues necessary for such students to feel welcome.  They are also slow to attract other non-traditional students—seniors, disabled, and international, etc.

Their Mission is Survival:  Rather than asking the questions, Why do we exist?  What is our Purpose?  What is our Mission?  They seek only to keep the doors open, rather than examine why the doors should remain open, making survival a mission in itself. A defensive, reactive, fortress mentality develops that drives out any aggressive, pro-active, expansionist energy.

Colleges like these are not hard to spot.  Enrollment, endowment, and contribution numbers are visible indicators.  These, however, are not the causes of possible extinction.  They are symptoms that have their root in reasons like those above.

 

DC

[285] The Big 4

It is important to understand how Secular progressivism (SP) moves its agenda forward.  They use four institutions all characterized by stealth—a systematic, yet subterranean effort to remake the country. Here they are Big Four.

Law: Historically, much of the SP agenda would not receive widespread support were it in the form of a referendum.  Hence, from abortion to outlawing the teaching of creation, Secular Progressives have for decades worked the behind-the-scenes side route of changing laws.

Social Media:  SP dominates social media, even to the extent of media giants censoring online challenges to SP notions under the guise or preventing misinformation.

Mainstream Media:  We know it has long been politically liberal, but much of the media have moved beyond classic liberalism to SP as if it were mainstream thinking.

Academe:  Secular universities, dominated by SP thinking, subtly seek to reshape the worldviews of tomorrow’s leaders under the protection of academic freedom.

These are the four cornerstones of SP.  They are real.  They are formidable.  And perhaps most important, they are stealthy.  Christians need to use all available means to shine the light of truth on them.  DC

[284] Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias went quickly, and for many, too soon.  The 73-year-old discovered that he had bone cancer in March of this year, after having undergone back surgery.  He was gone in two months. Zacharias was a celebrated apologist, ever ready to give an account of his faith.

Zacharias argued that a competent worldview must address four issues: origin, meaning of life, morality, and destiny.  Every religion claims exclusive truth, but only Christianity addresses all four issues.  He advocated that Christianity can prevail in the face of the most aggressive philosophical attacks.

Furthermore, Zacharias stated that a quality apologist needs to operate from three levels. Logic—intellectual tenability; Feelings—making the faith livable; Moral—establishing the right to make moral judgments.

He is gone, but his books and arguments are with us, and form a foundation for all those who wish to defend the faith. DC

[283] In the Gap

Gone are the days when many Christian colleges could restrict their student enrollment to professing, evangelical Christians.  Now scrounging for freshmen, the gates of acceptance with respect to religious identification, have been widened.  In that context, many see the Christian college student population consisting of two groups—believers and non-believers—believers and those targeted for evangelism.  Technically that believer/non-believer split would be correct in any population, but in the Christian college we may want to include a third, “wedge group”: Children of professing Christian parents who themselves show no evidence of being believers.

There have been many studies on why children from Christian families do or do not “stay Christian.”  Lyman Stone, of the American Enterprise Institute, discussed this in Christianity Today (2/21/2020). The data indicate that the dividing line is the degree to which parents practice their faith at home. Here’s the punchline, according to Stone: “The key to successful transmission of Christian faith across generations is not more youth groups or hipper pastors but the Holy Spirit working through the vocation of parenthood as parents take the time to share their faith with their own children.”

Catechism begins at home. In fact, the odds of a child leaving the faith “are between one third and seven times greater in a household with little or no in-home catechesis than in a household where the family has regular religious practice together.”

You will find many of these leave-the-faith children in Christian colleges–institutions standing in the gap.  Voluntary chapel services won’t cut it.  The “wedge” group won’t be attending anyway.  They will also not be at events highlighting Christian entertainers.

There two things they will do.  One is go to class.  It is in class where they can be engaged in considering the truth of the gospel.  That is where they need to be exposed to truly Christian education, from courses in apologetics to Christian worldviews evident in non-religion courses. It has never been more important to hire Christian faculty, and beyond that, encourage and demand that they find a way to communicate their faith in their discipline.

They will also interact with other students.  Christian colleges would do well to train volunteer Christian counselors among their students, educating them to the characteristics of non-believer and wedge groups, and teaching them how to engage members of these groups in healthy, non-manipulative conversations.

It is the spiritual authenticity of Christian faculty and students to which these groups need to be exposed—a collection of people who genuinely live a Monday-through-Sunday life of intelligent discipleship, something neither group saw in their homes.  DC

 

 

[282] St. Francis

“Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words,” so St. Francis of Assisi, allegedly said about 8 centuries ago.  Two problems here: St. Francis never said it and it is bad theology.

I am more concerned about the second problem, as I doubt St. Francis cares much about attributions for statements he allegedly made 800 years ago. The suggestion that the gospel is preached through actions is preposterous.  No one comes to Christ by watching someone. They come to the faith by hearing a message and receiving it.  “ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” says the writer of Roman (10:17).

We are talking about words here.

The supposed utterance of St. Francis is popular largely because it is much easier to be a quiet example of what a Christian is than to risk the rejection that often comes with presenting the gospel verbally.  I know that all too well.

Ideally our example is aligned with our words.  But we need words for that alignment to take place.  DC

[281] Hopeless & Helpless

Here is what makes Christianity unique from all other religions and the nature of us humans.  It is a religion in which God shows primary concern not for the achievers, the successful, the powerful, the winners, the admirable, but for the hopeless and helpless.  Reincarnation rewards the good guys, the bootstrappers. God doesn’t use societal standards of adoration.  There are over 400 verses that affirm God’s love for the poor, and over 70 directly about justice, while the rich are given a very low probability of getting into the kingdom of heaven.

We cannot honor the First Great Commandment until we honor the Second. DC

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