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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[209] Secular Privilege

Mary Poplin teaches at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. She was interviewed for Christianity Today by Andrea Palpant Dilley. The link for this interview is http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/september/lets-save-university-from-secular-privilege.html?share=pHjigdVEUe8xbGWiBaFAwEykQok7NvnX.

Poplin, who has experience in secular research universities, isolated five characteristics of the secular university system that severely undercuts its effectiveness.

First, while the university sees itself as a free and open marketplace for ideas, is free and open only to those ideas that come from a secular worldview.

Second, it claims to value pluralism, a co-existence of many ideologies and mindsets. It is not.

Third, its secular worldview does not prepare its graduates to enter a world that is filled with religious belief of varying sorts, with Christianity the dominant one. Their graduates’ distorted view renders many ineffective.

Fourth, it establishes “speech codes,” a political correctness in which one can say some things but not others.

Fifth, in its feeble attempt to mollify religious groups, the university has taken an “interfaith” approach, one that enables students of varying religious traditions to engage in “so-good: activities. This is totally ineffective as it fails to account for the distinct nature of religious frameworks—the basis of their identities. DC

[208] Millennials

Bruce Wydick, professor of economics at the University of San Francisco, made a salient point published by Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/september-web-only/elishas-prophetic-message-for-millennials-stop-leaving-your.html?share=pHjigdVEUe/oDFhRmAFPL1VGzmyzBKo6&start=2). He notes that millennials are caught in a major dilemma. On one hand, they are looking for existential meaning, a non-material justification for life. On the other, they flee commitment.

These forces are at war with each other. To find meaning—to live a life of meaning—requires commitment.

Yet commitment is difficult in an age of jaded thinking and among a generation characterized by skepticism. He points out that millennials are characterized by wanting to keep their options open. Wydick notes that among millennials, only 26% are married, 29% are religiously unaffiliated, and half are politically independent.

Wydick sees millennials as approaching life with an eye toward cutting ties and opting out when a decision does not yield “value,” He states that this thinking is pervasive among university students “in decisions related to graduate school, careers, marriage, and even spiritual commitments. …It’s all about keeping the options open.”

This is not an effective life strategy.

Wydick says he does not know a single student “who has been successful in college by keeping all of their academic options in play. There is no older adult I’m acquainted with that has had a successful career while perpetually keeping their career options open. I am unaware of any married couple with a happy marriage without narrowing their relationship options.”

Commitment brings meaning. Wydick recalls sociology professor Tony Campolo stating that “continually searching inwardly for meaning is like peeling away the skins of an onion. We keep peeling and peeling, ultimately finding that there is not a whole lot there except that little pale bulb inside the onion—not the most impressive part of this vegetable…We are defined by our commitments.”

For the faith-and-learning community, scholarship begins with humility, and that humility generates a commitment to the leading of the spirit of God. Faith and learning, then, is a humble enterprise. It trusts that the spirit of truth will lead us into all truth (John 16:13)—a truth that brings meaning and purpose.

[207] Eyes

By most current standards, Michael Douglas has been an amazing success. He has excelled in a variety of aspects in both television and film, particularly acting. He has been able to all but select his roles, rather than settle for a script tossed on his coffee table. He has uncountable wealth and a stunning wife, Catherine, Zeta-Jones, a first-rate actress in her own part.

Michael Douglas is the gold standard for success.

That is, if you look at him through secular eyes.

But what if you don’t? What if you don on some spiritual lenses. Is he still successful?

First, there is no evidence that he is a believer. He has a father who lived a dissolute moral life, one after which young Douglas patterned much of his behavior, conduct that destroyed relationships. He has gone through a savage divorce with an ex-wife, Diandra, whose actions suggest she despises him. That marriage produced a child who descended into the chasm of drug dealing and drug abuse, spending six years in prison. Douglas took responsibility for his son’s plight, calling himself “a bad father,” while stating that as devastating as life in the slammer can be, prison may have saved his son’s life. His current wife, with whom he has had one separation, suffers from bouts of depression.

So just how successful is Michael Douglas?

This blog is not really about Douglas. He is nothing more or less than a sinner like you and I, and one for whom I regularly pray. This is about us. For those of us see Douglas as a success, who celebrate and revere him, a question awaits: With what eyes are we going through life?

Spiritual eyes lead us to a life of purpose and direction as Christ’s disciples–success in this life and the next. Secular eyes make us no different from Douglas and those like him, eyes that may lead us to professional achievement and considerable wealth, but ones that yield a bitter harvest. DC

[206] Anger

Trump-loathing, road rage, stand-in-line arguments… People are angry today, seemingly like never before. Television news programs occasionally do features on public displays of anger.

Why so much?

Here are two reasons. From a social psychological standpoint, despite the pervasiveness of social media aimed at celebrating individuality, people are increasing aware of how little control they have of their lives. Terrorist attacks, sudden economic downturns, and the conglomerating of businesses and corporations are just a few examples of how easy it is to become a victim through no action of one’s own. When we run into a problem there is rarely a genuine decision-maker to whom we can turn for resolution. There is no local bank president who can straighten out that error. When we want to call a company about a problem, we either get a recorded message, or worse, discover the institution only accepts email.

We may have a social media presence, but not much in the face of the social forces with which we are confronted.

But there is a larger spiritual reason. We live in a faithless, secular culture. We are reinforced with the secular notion that life’s only meaning is what we give to it. There is no truth, and maybe more important, all we have for sure is now—our three scored and ten—and that 70-year span is running out a day at a time.

An angry culture is not an accident. Neither is an angry home, and I know of many of these—among professing Christians. The call to faith for all Christians—from parents to members of the academic community–to seek humility and grace has never been louder. DC

[205] Culture Audit

I think the church needs a cultural audit. I look at how married it is to middle class culture rather than a more sober view of scripture. Here is what I mean. Many evangelicals are not welcoming to homosexuality, abortion, or the removal of the death penalty. I am not taking issue with them on that. There is much to studied, discussed, and prayed over with respect to these matters. I take issue, however, with the church’s more permissive posture toward divorce, racism, gossip, and ignoring the poor.

In short, the church seems to pick and choose the sins on which they focus, being much more tolerant of the transgressions long-practiced within their own culture and tradition, than those outside their own demographic heritage.

That is a selective gospel. It is a “create your own” discipleship. It is a somewhat comfortable discipleship. It is not a call to genuine discipleship.

Please understand, I am not suggesting where exactly the church boundaries need be on these matters. I am suggesting that its posture on each should not be so easy to predict. DC


[204] Trivialization

It is important to realize that the goal of the secular-progressives is to drive God out of the culture. They do it stealthily, largely through the courts, perverting the separation of church and state doctrine as they attempt to erase any recognition of the divine from our major institutions—government, education, media, etc. When confronted with charges of atheism, their adherents quickly circle the wagons and argue that they are all for religious freedom, just none of “that God thing” in the public arena.

Here is the issue, my friends. To the extent that they are able to succeed in their repeal-but-not-replace God quest, they accomplish a much larger and demonic goal: They trivialize religion as a meaningless component of human life. Once religion is out of the Pledge of Allegiance and public school system, millions of children can matriculate through our educational system scarcely encountering even the thought of God.

It is that trivialization that generates much of the spiritual apathy in the culture. God is not bad. God is not good. He is functionally dead. With work to do, lunch to eat, and movies to watch, God is simply unimportant.

My biggest concern is that millions of Christians are unaware that this is going on. And the longer they remain asleep the more religious freedoms will erode. Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, in her speech at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, stated that the rights of Christians are being undermined and persecution already exists from just these types of initiatives.

She knows. I know. You know. I presume some clergy know. Yet, I almost never hear a sermon about this. No alarm clock is ringing. And nothing will further the secular-progressive march than continued slumber. DC

[203] Jobs

Many of us in the faith-and-learning community have a mission statement—to glorify God. Our attempts such a lofty aim are often feeble, failing, and disappointing. Our efforts often draw confused, bemused, and even rejecting responses from secularists who seek first wealth, acclaim, and temporal pleasures. If ever you wondered whether trying to serve God is a waste of life, you would do well to read these last words of Steve Jobs:

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.  In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.  However, apart from work, I have little joy.  Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.  At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death.  In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me.

Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth.  It should be something more important:  For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood.  No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me.

God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life. I cannot take them with me.  I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love.  This is the true wealth that will follow you; will accompany you, he will give strength and light to go ahead.

Love can travel thousands of miles and so life has no limits.  Move to where you want to go.  Strive to reach the goals you want to achieve. Everything is in your heart and in your hands.

What is the world’s most expensive bed?  The hospital bed.  You, if you have money, you can hire someone to drive your car, but you cannot hire someone to take your illness that is killing you.  Material things lost can be found.  But one thing you can never find when you lose: life.  Whatever stage of life where we are right now, at the end we will have to face the day when the curtain falls.

Please treasure your family love, love for your spouse, love for your friends…  Treat everyone well and stay friendly with your neighbors.  DC

[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] 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] 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

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