Thinking Out Loud

August 12, 2014

“My goal tonight is to talk you out of following Jesus Christ”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

This 32-minute video is the type of teaching that drew me to the ministry of David Platt. Recorded at the Urbana conference, presented every two years by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

August 11, 2014

The Divorce Effect — Part II

Jeff Snow As good as today’s article is, I want to strongly encourage you to click to read part one if you have not already done so. This is the second of three parts; part one dealt with the effects of divorce. Today we will focus on the theology of the topic, and part three will look at practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce.

divorce effect2Jeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, both in a local church and parachurch context. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth.


by Jeff Snow

In our last article, we looked at the effects of divorce on teens as spelled out by researchers who have studied the subject. An overarching theme is the sense of loss that teenagers feel in various ways as the result of parental divorce. There are a few ways that those wanting to help teens affected by divorce can help them deal with these losses. We can work to replace the social capital they have lost, giving them the physical resources and support they need to heal and thrive. We can give them psychological support by way of helping them think properly about the divorce and their place in the situation.

Both of these are good and necessary. But divorce brings about more than an economic, intellectual, or psychological loss. Divorce brings with it a sense of loss that strikes much deeper into the soul of a teenager and impacts his life in different ways for years to come. These spiritual and existential losses are important to understand, for they lie at the root of the painful effects of divorce experienced by teens. As those involved in Christian ministry to youth, we are uniquely positioned to speak to these issues and minister to this less tangible sense of loss.

Divorce brings to a teen a loss of their sense of community. The most basic form of community is the family. Divorce pulls children out of that most basic form of community and by doing so, it strikes at the very nature of how God created us to live.

Marriage ripped apartGod Himself, by His very nature, lives in community, a community of mutual love among the three persons of the Trinity. Humans, created in the image of God, are created to live in community. Living in relationship is essential to our humanity.

Genesis 1:27 and 2:23 tell us that both man and woman and their one flesh union reflect the image of God. The early church father John Chrysostom expanded this idea to include children. In his view, “The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh.”

Divorce destroys this “one flesh” community of parents and children. Divorce does damage to the image of God as reflected in marriage. Though a teenager may yet find community within which to live, and still within his own being reflect the image of God, he is nonetheless impacted greatly by this loss of community, the loss of love, and the loss of the active model of the image of God in his life represented by his parents.

This loss of community strikes at the very core of the teen’s sense of self, his sense of being. Andrew Root, in his deep yet excellent book The Children of Divorce: The Loss of family as the Loss of Being, writes, “When that community (of mother and father) is destroyed, it is a threat to the child’s being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unit, but the break of the community in which the child’s identity rests.” Root maintains that the effects of divorce cannot be limited to social and psychological factors. The root of the loss inherent in divorce is the loss of being and the subsequent anxiety resulting from that loss.

Sad TeenRoot asks the question, “Can a person be at all, now that those who are responsible in their union for creating that person are no longer together?” He goes on to say that “there is no community more primary than that of mother and father, than those responsible for my being. When their community is not, my being is shaken.”

Divorce brings into question in the mind of the teen his very identity. If existence is found in relationship, then the removal of the key relational community in the life of a teen will impact their identity. The refuge and protection that family is meant to provide is pulled out from under the teen, and the safe harbour in which they can discover who they are no longer exists. They are left to figure out their identity on their own, caught between the two worlds which their parents are creating for themselves rather than for their children.

Ministry to teens of divorce will focus not only on social and psychological needs, but will zero in on issues surrounding identity, who they are in Christ, and their relationship with God as a Father.

A healthy view of God as Father is another area of loss among many teens of divorce. The idea of God being a father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) is not a comforting thought if God is going to be like their father. The idea of God as “Abba” and of the teen seeing herself as Abba’s child (Romans 8:14-16) is somewhat of a foreign concept. Yet coming to grips with these concepts and this understanding of God is important in order for the teen to be able to rediscover their identity and realize who they are as children of God. Our job as ministers to youth is to come alongside teens on this journey of rediscovering who they are in Christ and as beloved children of God. For as we noted last time, divorce leaves teens embarking on these journeys of self-discovery primarily alone.

One of the key roles of the parents within the family is the transmission of values and beliefs to the next generation. This was clearly spelled out in Hebrew law:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

In an intact family, a community exists where the image of God, where the admonition to love God, where the instruction to follow His commandments, can be taught and modeled through the everyday routine of life. In divorce, that community is fractured. That place of refuge where children can have inculcated upon them the values and beliefs that will point them to a relational experience with God has disappeared. Their view of the image of God, their impression of God as Father, becomes deeply marred.

Instead of embarking on this journey under the watchful tutelage of their parents, children of divorce must create their value systems on their own, while living within the dichotomy of the often conflicting value systems being created by divorcing parents, putting teens in a position they were never meant to fulfill.

In divorce, the line of ancestral obligation is broken, and the teen is left to be what Elizabeth Marquardt calls a “moral forger” who has “to grow up quickly … trying to make sense of adult concepts and choices with the tools of a child.” The teen is left to figure out his belief system and to figure out exactly who God is, what He desires of him, and why that matters, entirely on his own.

search for identityIt is the cumulative effect of these losses which often fly under the radar that creates the anxiety in teens of divorce that breeds many of the issues and behaviours we discussed in our last article. All young people wrestle with the existential questions of “Who am I?” “Where do I belong?” “Is there a God and can He be trusted as a Father?” But in the lives of teens of divorce, this search for identity and security is heightened as they pursue these questions alone, without the community of support that God created for them to have.

These losses breed anxiety in the lives of teens. Anxiety is different from fear. Perhaps that’s why we buy into the “kids are resilient” idea and assume teens will survive divorce relatively unscathed. Most teens of divorce are relatively free from fear. They are, for the most part, physically and economically safe. But that doesn’t mean they are free from an anxiety rooted in a loss of a sense of being and security that permeates their lives and exhibits itself in a myriad of issues.

It is this sense of anxiety that God the Father desires to alleviate as the teen of divorce grows in relationship with and understanding of Abba Father, and with the community He provides for the teen, namely the church. As the reflection of divine community, the church can come alongside the teen of divorce, providing him with a community in which to belong, with people who can remind him who he is in Christ and how the image of God is still evident in him. The church can provide a sanctuary where he can safely formulate a value system that corresponds to what God has created him to be. The church can provide a place where the anxiety caused by dealing with the many losses inherent in divorce can be borne by others in the community, and can be alleviated by bringing the teen in to a clear and healthy relationship with God the Father.

In our third and final installment, we will look at practical ways the church can be a divine community for teens affected by divorce.

to be continued…

August 10, 2014

Just Checking In…

When you post every day at a fairly fixed time, and then you take a day off, people do start to wonder… So first, a random graphic from my previously-unused files…

For the word of God is living

 

…followed by a joint-post with Christianity 201 which, ironically was titled “What to Write.”  (The ‘random’ graphic serves as reminder that what we do write is much more powerful when it is saturated with scripture content.)


This morning our speaker opened in prayer quoting Psalm 19:14

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

No pastor, teacher, preacher, author wants to overstep the boundaries of what would be acceptable to God. Many begin Sunday sermons with the prayer, “Hide me behind the cross;” expressing the desire that the cross of Christ be seen first and foremost, not the speaker.

A few days ago, blogger Scott Fillmer quoted from the introduction to The Journals of Jim Elliot.

What is written in these pages I supposed will someday be read by others than myself. For this reason I cannot hope to be absolutely honest in what is herein recorded, for the hypocrisy of this shamming heart will ever he putting on a front and dares not to have written what is actually found in its abysmal depths. Yet, I pray, Lord, that You will make these notations to be as nearly true to fact as is possible so that I may know my own heart and be able to definitely pray regarding my gross, though often unviewed, inconsistencies… these remarks are to be fresh, daily thoughts given from God in meditation on His word.

Elliot had no idea through his martyrdom how many people would want to read his writings. It reminds me of this story:

6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you,a but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Verse 13, which I’ve underlined is interesting because the woman had no idea that what she was doing would continue to be remembered in perpetuity; but also the agency by which we know the passage that we call Matthew 26; the writer of the gospel could not possibly realize the means by which that story would become part of what we call the New Testament canon, which in turn is part of the bestselling book of all time, which we call The Bible. (Today, many print books are remaindered, declared ‘out of print’ after as little as one year.)

Pause for a moment: Imagine creating something that lives on long after you are gone; of leaving a story so significant that becomes part of the core literature for all generations that follow.

I try to both write God-honoring material here [at Christianity 201], and select God-pleasing material here on the days we borrow from other devotional bloggers and authors. But the totality of my computer output on any given day can contain a variety of topics not all of which are enduring or lasting. Just check Thinking Out Loud, and you get a glimpse of some of the controversies that dog the contemporary church, and each Wednesday at that blog we note some of the stranger things that take place in the name of Christianity. Many of these posts have a “best before” or what the Brits call “sell by” date that’s just a few hours after the post has been published. [That's why I created C201; I needed the personal balance.]

Elliot’s wish was that God would, “make these notations to be as nearly true to fact as is possible so that I may know my own heart and be able to definitely pray regarding my gross, though often unviewed, inconsistencies.” He desired to be truthful and he desired to be consistent. The gospel of Matthew strived for accuracy. The woman with the alabaster jar courageously broke with tradition as he broke the jar sacrificially, probably not fully realizing the prophetic significance of her actions.

Truth, consistency, accuracy, courage, sacrifice. This is what pleases and honors God.

August 9, 2014

“Oh, are you any relation to John Piper?”

I would not want to grow up in the shadow of a famous person, let alone a celebrity in the present Evangelical/Christian milieu, so after listening to several episodes of The Happy Rant Podcast, of which Barnabas Piper is one of three hosts — I decided it was time to see how iconic Calvinist John Piper fared in his son’s book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.

The Pastor's Kid - Barnabas PiperDespite a rather intense introduction from the elder Piper, no family secrets were revealed, in fact there is such a universality to this story that perhaps it should be titled, The Church Leader’s Kid, or The Board Member’s Kid, or The Sunday School Teacher’s Kid, or even The Usher’s Kid. (Note: This list was not presented in descending order; I am not implying that ushers are any less important than board members.) The point is that all of us who grew up in church sometimes feel undeniable pressure to be good.

The book itself is rather light reading, though this is not a light subject. The younger Piper comes at this from various perspectives and with absolute transparency. The ministry life is an individual calling, but as I know from my own household, spouses and offspring get dragged into that life whether they want it or not.

The immersion into ministry life for a child is not simply a matter of meshing a church schedule to a school and sports schedule. The expectations are gigantic.

In some sense the “Bible expert” identity is one that PKs can’t help. It takes very intention effort not to learn biblical facts and references when it is your parents’ full-time job and home life both. We absorb biblical knowledge passively whether we care to or not. And the higher expectation naturally follows.

When you combine this ever-present reality with the fact we are the progeny of clergy, a further challenge arises — PKs are often expected to be theologians (sometimes by our parents, usually by the church). This is distinctly different than being a “Bible expert,” someone who knows the facts of Scripture. Being a theologian is a discipline, a cause, a passion. People expect that one of our great passions will be the systematized exploration and explanation of God. And while it is good for everyone to give careful thought to the things of God, the expectation of “theologian” placed on PKs is much more than that.  (pp. 52-53)

The book also is strong in its examination of the relationship of the PK to the pastor/parent.

American church culture has created a double standard for pastors. They are expected to be dynamic leaders, teachers, counselors and organizational heads. And one of the job qualifications is that they be dynamic family men. These two demands would not necessary be at odds except that both far surpass reality. Pastors are expected to be superior in both roles, even when they are at odds with each other.   (p.  119)

If the church wins the battle for the man’s time, the family (i.e. especially the kids) lose. “What we get are the leftovers. When that happens, while he may be seen as great pastor, he is a flop as a parent.”

Barnabas Piper and John PiperThere is more than a direct hint from Barnabas that his famous father really isn’t drawn to any particular hobbies.  In a rare candid paragraph he laments that “…to this day, I still yearn to have a shared hobby with my father, something as simple as golf or hiking. Such little things have big meanings.” While I am not a pastor myself, I saw myself in this section of the book, especially the notation that, “…what he loved was studying, theology, writing and preaching — not exactly the hobbies to share with a twelve-year old.”

That’s possibly why I said the book really has a more general application, especially for Christian men. I know men aren’t big consumers of Christian books, but the 137 pages of core content here includes 21 essentially blank pages (something publisher David C. Cook is frequently guilty of) so at least the guys will feel they are making progress as they read.

As universal as are the parenting issues this book speaks to, the very designation “PK” shows that the issues are unique.

You can tell we have a reputation because we get our own abbreviation. You don’t see a teacher’s kid getting called a “TK” or a salesman’s kid getting called an “SK.”  (p. 23)

There are two things that are absent from The Pastor’s Kid which I feel are worth noting.

First, Barnabas is the son of both a famous preacher and a famous preacher’s wife. (Some churches even refer to the Pastor’s wife as the church’s “First Lady,” in the same sense as the wife of the U.S. President.) Perhaps he is saving this for a sequel, establishing a brand. (The Pastor’s Wife followed by The Pastor’s Cat and Dog.) It’s also possible that Noël Piper wisely suggested something like, ‘Leave me out of it.’ Either way, there is only a passing reference to his mother.

Second, and more importantly, while the subject frequently arises, there isn’t nearly enough direct treatment of what Barna Research refers to as Prodigal Pastors’ Kids. Perhaps their circumstances make them overly visible, but we all know PKs who have gone off the deep end, either theologically or behaviorally. (See infographic below.)

Those two things said, this is still an important book and one that every elder, board member needs to read, as well as passing it down the line to kidmin and ymin workers who deal with the PKs in Sunday School, midweek club, or youth group.


Thanks to Martin Smith of David C. Cook Canada for a chance to come late to the review party and still get a seat!  For another excerpt from the book, see the second half of this devotional at C201.

Barna Research - Prodigal Pastors' Kids - from infographic

August 8, 2014

Dear Mark Driscoll

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:25 am

Out of all the rhetoric bouncing around online this week about Mark Driscoll, Ron Wheeler, part of the Mars Hill story from early days, is probably the most poignant. Two-thirds of the way through, it builds to this crescendo:

You can’t preach Jesus and curse people.

You can’t preach Jesus and threaten people.

You can’t preach Jesus and be sexually vulgar.

You can’t preach Jesus and denigrate women.

You can’t preach Jesus and then shun people.

You can’t preach Jesus and give rich people special privileges.

You can’t preach Jesus and steal people’s material

You can’t preach Jesus and cheat your way onto bestseller lists.

You can’t preach Jesus and then force your people to not compete with you in spreading the gospel.

You can’t preach Jesus and then force people to either stay silent or not be paid.

You can’t preach Jesus and seek to become the “greatest of these”.

You just can’t. You see that right?

This is not the only voice asking for Mark’s resignation. There are many. If Mark Driscoll has any other options at this point, I can’t imagine what they are.

Read the whole letter, posted here.

UPDATE (August 8; 11:50 AM) — via Warren Throckmorton: “In a stunning move, the Acts 29 Network leadership has removed network co-founder and Mars Hill Church lead pastor Mark Driscoll from the organization’s membership…”  Click here to read.   Sample of the Acts 29 letter:

…Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.

We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner…

 

August 7, 2014

The Divorce Effect

Jeff SnowJeff Snow has spent the last two decades working in youth and young adult ministry in southern Ontario, Canada, and he has become a friend of our family for much of that time. For his Masters thesis, he wrote on the impact of divorce on middle-school, high-school and college youth. Ever since I heard about this, I have been asking if he could summarize some of his findings for us here.

This is longer than we usually roll here, but it’s important to read every paragraph. This is actually the first of three parts, on the effects of divorce. The second will focus on the theology of the topic, and the third on practical suggestions for the church to minister to teens of divorce. We’ll interlink the parts as they appear here.

divorce effectBe sure to forward the link for today’s post to anyone involved in children’s or student ministry at your church or in your community. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section.


by Jeff Snow

A defining moment in my 16 years of youth ministry came a few years into my stint running a drop-in for unchurched teens. I was driving a number of youth home after drop-in one evening when two of them began a discussion in the back seat. They were listing off a number of their friends, maybe 15 in all, most of whom teachers at the high school would identify as “at-risk” youth. At one point, one of them exclaimed to the other, “Hey! We’re the only two who still live with both our parents!”

From that point onward I began to take more careful notice of the connection between youth who find themselves in trouble in various forms and the fact that a great majority of them do not live with both their biological parents. Those observations eventually led me to a Seminary paper on the effects of divorce on teens and an examination of what we as the Body of Christ can do to minister to these young people.

As in any other area of study, the research sometimes presents contradictory results. While almost all researchers agree that divorce is a traumatic event that has negative effects on children, particularly in the first year after the divorce, there are some researchers that maintain while some youth face ongoing lifelong effects, most youth will emerge relatively well-adjusted after going through a 2-3 year adjustment period.

Divorce LawyerThe problem I see with this assessment is two-fold. For an adult, three years is just a blip on the radar. But for a teenager, three years is half their adolescent life. A teen experiencing a divorce in junior high school will spend half of their formative teen years trying to adjust to having their world turned upside down. It is hard to believe that this will not have a long-lasting impact, at the very least in terms of missing out on the formative development they would have experienced in an intact family.

Secondly, many of these studies focus on a single factor, such as school grades or adult earning potential, as a means of measuring overall health. They also depend widely on statistical analysis and questionnaires. But surveys that rely on interviews with teens of divorce, that rely on actually listening to their stories, paint a much different, somewhat bleaker picture.

Divorce is not a benign event. Many people like to view its impact like that of a cold, which may knock you down for a short time but which you eventually get over. But the effects of divorce on teens is more like a chronic illness. It may lie dormant for a while, but it flares up at the most unexpected times. It never totally goes away. It can only be managed in order to live life to the full.

The effects of divorce on teens can often be very visible in their behaviors, yet often it is unseen. Elizabeth Marquardt wrote an eye-opening book entitled Between Two World: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. In another article she writes, “I’ve interviewed dozens of young adults from divorced families … If you gave them a questionnaire and asked, for instance, if they had ever been arrested, dropped out of school or been diagnosed with a mental illness, practically every one of them could respond ‘no’. But that does not mean they were unaffected by their parents’ divorce.”

Divorce is a time of loss for a child...like a death

Divorce is a time of loss for a child…like a death

So, how does divorce impact teens? Most researchers describe divorce as a time of loss for young people. This goes beyond the loss of a parent. They have lost the security of their home. They have lost connection with grandparents and other extended family members. The divorce is often only the first in a long string of losses, as numerous new boyfriends and girlfriends come in and out of their parents’, and their, lives.

Teens lose something as basic as their own room. They end up having to divide their lives in two, splitting their possessions between their parents’ two houses. In the case of step families, teens will end up having to share personal space with step siblings. I still remember a grade eight girl telling me of the difficulty she was experiencing as her mom’s new boyfriend’s family moved in, and she was forced to share her room with someone who was supposed to be a sibling, but who was to her a complete stranger.

Teens experience the effects of what is called “diminished parenting.” As parents deal with their own trauma and grief resulting from the divorce, they have less time and emotional energy to help their children through their grief. As time passes, parents become engrossed in moving on with their lives, and the needs of teens are unconsciously put aside as the parent looks for a new partner. This neglect is almost always unintentional, but the results are the same. The teen does not receive what she needs from the parent, and in fact, at times care-giving goes in the opposite direction as the teen, particularly the teen girl, takes on the role of a support to the parent whose life is falling apart.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceAs the two parents’ worlds begin to move apart, the teen is stuck in the middle, trying to navigate the chasm on their own. They are often faced with divided loyalties, as pressure is put on them by parents to take sides or to report back after custodial visits. They are faced with inconsistent parenting, as each household develops different rules for living. This even impacts teens as they work to develop their own morals and values. In an intact family, the two parents work together to present a united front of morals and values that they present to their children as the way their family is to live. But in families of divorce, the parent’s value systems will invariably start to differ with each passing year, and the adolescent is left to forge their own morals and value systems on their own, at an age where they are not yet able to successfully accomplish this task.

Diminished parenting shows itself in the lack of protection afforded, particularly to teen girls by the non-custodial father. Without a father figure, with less accountability and with decreased monitoring of activities, studies show that girls from families of divorce engage in sexual activity earlier, more often, and often with men older than they are.

Though teens of divorce will achieve grades in school that are close to those from intact families, the issue is in getting them to school and getting them to stay there. Teens of divorce are late for school more often, will skip class more, and get suspended or expelled more than teens from intact families. Teen of divorce are 30% less likely to complete college, as non-custodial parents generally feel that their financial responsibility is over once the child reaches 18, and will rarely provide the funds for college.

Family ConflictSome statistics from the website Rainbows, which is a curriculum for divorce support groups, state that 50-80% of patients treated in Canadian mental health clinics are from separated families, and that teenagers of divorce are three times more likely to be in psychological counseling than those in intact families.

For those of us in the church, it is interesting to see how divorce affects a teen’s spiritual life. Generally, interest in the church and religion will diminish, but interest in spiritual things, even in prayer, will not. One author posits the theory that the increase in divorce may be behind the contention of many under the age of 35 that they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Teens who are heavily involved in church activities will experience a retreat from spiritual things. They will wonder why their prayers were not answered, and why parents who said they loved God and believed in Him would then give up on a marriage which was supposed to be sacred. Teens who are nominally involved in church, however, will go the other way and will turn more towards the church as a coping mechanism.

Broken HomeTeens from families of divorce are more likely to be kicked out of the house, more likely to report not feeling emotionally or physically safe at home, more likely to be abused. Anywhere from one third to one half of girls from families of divorce report being sexually abused as children or teens, most often by stepfathers or stepbrothers. Two leading researchers conclude that living with a stepparent remains the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse.

Though there are many effects of divorce, the one most people will refer to first is economic, and while this must not overshadow the devastating effects that are more hidden, economic factors still cannot be ignored. Families of divorce will experience a decline in income of as much as 50% as compared to their pre-divorce lives.

Though as we said, some researchers see divorce as a temporary setback for young people, Judith Wallerstein, from her 25 years of study, has put forth the idea of “the sleeper effect” of divorce. She maintains that many teens of divorce will emerge from adolescence relatively unscathed, only to have the trauma of the divorce hit them when they reach young adulthood when they begin to seek out their own romantic attachments and consider marriage. Without role models, many teens of divorce find it harder to maintain long-term relationships, and are 2-3 times more likely to get divorced themselves.

Elizabeth Marquardt uses the phrase “happy talk” to describe how most of society talks about divorce and its effects on children and teens. We convince ourselves that teens are resilient and that we don’t really have to worry about them. Marquardt suggests that we do that in order to defend our own adult decisions. In view of the pain that I have seen both in youth ministry practice and in my research, this has to stop. There was a time when adults sacrificed for the sake of the children, not the other way around.

We as adults in the church need to have the courage to dismiss the temptation toward “happy talk.” We in fact need to stop talking and start really listening to the pain and hurt that teens of divorce would be willing to share with us if we only gave them the chance, and to find ways to support them as they attempt to navigate their way through life “between two worlds.”

to be continued…

August 6, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Mega Christian Wedding B I N G O

Another week that started with, “I think we’ll only do about 20 links this time;” and ended with…

Oh oh! The internet meter just ran out again and I’m out of quarters.

Paul Wilkinson is widely regarded as the world’s best writer who does a column called Wednesday Link List for PARSE, and blogs the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

Calvinist Problems on Twitter

August 5, 2014

Canada’s Evangelical News Story of the Year

Tyndale College and Seminary - Arial View

Morrow_Park_Tyndale_Bayview_CampusIt’s only August, but I’m prepared to call it; I’m just not able to better report it. The short version is that Canada’s Tyndale University College and Seminary announced in the spring of 2011 its intention to “buy the house next door;” that is, to purchase the former Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, a rather imposing structure, visible from Toronto’s Bayview Avenue that more than a few visitors thought was the Christian university for many years.  The acquisition has been a slow and steady process dating back to 2007 and a $58M (CDN) fundraising program.

In fact this has been so long in quietly approaching fruition — students will fully occupy the facility in the second semester of the 2014-15 year — that leads me to make the “not able to report it” clause in my introduction. Basically, I think this story is the hottest news on the rack as far as Evangelicalism in Canada is concerned, but the institution has not exactly been blowing its own horn about it.

Tyndale’s existing property has been sold to a housing developer. This is the fourth significant location for the school which began life in 1894 first in a church and at 110 College Street as Toronto Bible Training School, and then in downtown Toronto at 16 Spadina Avenue as Toronto Bible College (TBC). The move to its current location, 25 Ballyconnor at the very north perimeter of what is now Metro Toronto in 1976 occured eight years after a merger with the London College of Bible and Missions (LCBM) and a change of name to Ontario Bible College. The seminary was later added and a new name incorporates both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

This report is rather sparse because, at least in this writer’s opinion, the new Tyndale campus is probably a story not known to the broadest percentage of the Christian community in Canada’s largest city; the biggest religious news story in town that nobody knows about. Capital projects tend to play to the donor base, who are no doubt better informed, and so far, this has been a very large capital project.  A blog documents the month-to-month progress and contains hints of what the future campus looks like, including state-of-the-art IT equipment in the classrooms and a much improved library.

The chapel, pictured below, will be quite a change from the informality of the present one, though I expect the acoustics are rather amazing. Otherwise, Tyndale seems to be saving all the photo ops for when the facility officially starts receiving the bulk of its student body, expected to be the first week in January, 2015.

Tyndale College - Bayview Campus - Chapel

August 4, 2014

Remembering Braxton Caner

Braxton CanerThe death of Braxton Caner, the 15-year old son of Baptist writer Ergun Caner has haunted me all weekend. I’ve followed various internet rabbit trails trying to extract some meaning from his sudden, untimely death, apparently at his own hand. Why?

From the obituary:

…Braxton loved three things: God, his family and sports. When he got to Texas, he added four things to that list: Football, his friends, weight training, and Hannah Spencer. Braxton only loved one girl in his whole life — He and Hannah were inseparable for these last two years, and reflected a godly love far beyond their respective ages… Before he died, Braxton began researching collegiate programs in sports fitness and kinesiology, and wanted to become a sports trainer. Braxton only lived 15 years and four months, but he did more in his brief life than many people do in a lifetime. He traveled with his parents, visiting 41 states. He attended over fifty weeks of church camp in his life, on every major ocean. He learned to surf in Hawaii, escaped a moose in Alaska, got chased out of Canada, helicoptered over the Grand Canyon, and ducked out of the way of a lion in the Serengeti. He got to help do a chapel for his beloved New England Patriots and learned to drive his F150 pickup truck on dirt roads of Texas. Braxton’s faith in Christ was also reflected in his life: He was the best big brother to Drake, led his cousin to Jesus shortly after his own salvation, and was a positive role in the lives of many others. He traveled around the world on eight mission trips, including Kenya twice, Tanzania, Israel, Mexico, the Bahamas, England and Wales…

While there has been speculation as to what propelled Braxton to this action, I think this is one of the news stories that will only become clearer with time. His father is not without controversy, and some have noted* that Braxton was being bullied on his Twitter account by enemies of Ergun Caner. He left no note…

I leave the comment section open to anyone else who has followed this story and wishes to add their insights; please be respectful… 

*UpdateTuesday, August 5th, 10:30 PM EST: The investigative website The Wartburg Watch thoroughly chronicles the role that certain people would appear to have played in Braxton’s sudden death. Writer Darlene Parsons begins, “This is one of the hardest posts I have ever written;” and many gut-wrenching paragraphs later, concludes, “Things have gone way too far.” To read that article click here.


News search results from last week:

Evangelicals Grieve as Braxton Caner, 15-YO Son of Christian

Christian Post-Jul 30, 2014

August 3, 2014

The Things That Trip Up Seekers, Skeptics, Doubters

Filed under: Christianity, testimony — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:18 am

doubt-church-cartoon

Dee and Deb at Wartburg Watch have posted an article by ‘Eagle’ in which he shares part one of his road (back) to belief. It’s a bit longer than what we run here, so click this link to read Eagle’s story.  (Check back with their blog for part two; we’ll try to run the link here as well.)

What I thought important in his story was the list of things that confounded him as he considered the elements of faith. These are the things that get people thinking that perhaps God isn’t real, or, if there is a supreme being He (for lack of a better pronoun) is unable or unwilling to intervene in our affairs.  You’re better to click the link above, but if you don’t, here’s his story already in progress:

The Second Adam

I often wondered about the evangelical definition of sin as portrayed in the second Adam. Why was I held responsible for another person’s sin which took place long before I was born? Why did this issue “taint” me? What kind of loving and forgiving God would allow and hold sin against me – even when I didn’t commit it? And why couldn’t God just forgive that sin? Also why did Jesus have to die? Is God a sadomasochist who took pleasure in murdering his son…especially when this infinite and sovereign God who created the world and brought order to it could have simply said “I forgive you”?

Genocide in the Old Testament

I realized how screwed up Evangelical Hermeneutics can be. You read about this God of wrath in the Old Testament. Then suddenly, you are to “turn the other check and forgive your enemies” in the New Testament. It appeared that God was schizophrenic.  Add to that, the massive loss of life in the Old Testament with the flood, the destruction of the Canaanites, etc. It made me wonder….how is this genocidal God any different than Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot?

The Prosperity Gospel

It was obvious to me that this “gospel” did not square with the Bible. I was shocked at how widespread this thinking permeates evangelical groups, both overtly and also insidiously. My analysis is that 90-95% of Christianity struggles with prosperity theology in some context.

The Problem of Pain and Suffering and End Times Theology

…It seemed to me that Christians were not allowed to be disappointed and angry with God.  Why is it that, up to this moment, all I mostly heard was this “happy clappy” God is good, etc. I came to realize that I had never really heard any ministry leader openly talk or teach about their disappointments or frustrations with God.

I began to question the serious flaws in some evangelical perspective on disasters and end times theology. So many events like September 11, the Iraq War, Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the current Syrian conflict are placed as proof of an end times perspective. When this happens, there can be devastating effects. I would even go so far as to say that Hal Lindsey and John Nelson Derbyshire have brought great harm to American Christianity due to how their teachings have led some Christians to view horrific events of war, terrorism or natural disaster to be construed as being “good news”. Why? Because it means Jesus is coming soon, and the rapture is around the corner.  Instead of empathizing it has led some Christians to have this perverse sense of glee in other people’s suffering.

This brings up an important question. When an evangelical minister claims that events in the Middle East “prove” the End Times are upon us and nothing happens…how is that minister any different than Joseph Smith or Brigham Young? It’s just a thought….

The Eternal Destination of Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel

I began to wonder why someone living in Wuhan, China in 400 B.C. would be condemned to hell because he never even heard the Gospel. The Gospel wasn’t even invented yet so why would that be held against someone who never even had a chance to place his faith in the Lord? This made no sense, especially for all the descriptions of the Lord being just.

Sexual Abuse By Church Leaders

The hot button issue for me is child sexual abuse. I first became aware of this issue in 2003-04 when I was deeply involved in the 20 Something Ministry in Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Several years earlier (in 1999) Daniel Varga, the popular youth minister, was found to be a sexual predator who abused a number of young adults, and the scars from that still hung over Elmbrook. For me it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that there could be a sexual predator in a position of trust. How could this be? The scars of such abuse last a lifetime for the victim, haunt a church and compromise its mission for years. Yet, the evangelical church often covers up and excuses such activities, carrying on as if nothing has happened.

Corruption in the church

Churches can seem no different than secular businesses. Money, nepotism and cronyism often take precedence over the truth and faith. Many parts of Christianity have become a business with money to be made in publishing, conferences, music, etc… There were times when I attended a Christian concert and cringed at the commercialism surrounding it. Nepotism and cronyism are major issues in evangelical Christianity, and it has amazed me how some pastor families can have a lock on a church or Elder board. This could turn a family event into a church meeting without the congregation even knowing about it.

The Problem of Prayer

I wondered…What good is prayer to an omniscient God? Does prayer serve any purpose in illness? Why do some seem to get answers in prayer and why does God seem to be silent in other instances? What purpose does prayer even serve?

The Problem of Evil

This was the hardest question for me and the tipping point which finally drove me away from the Christian faith. Evil is everywhere, and its not something you can escape… [He gives several examples] …So why would I worship an omniscient God who allows evil to occur? Why is such a God considered good?  (I’ll talk about it later, but I would also suggest that in many parts of evangelicalism today words are being redefined. The word “allow” is one of many.)

So there’s a cliffhanger for you. How will Eagle overcome these various obstacles to faith? Stay tuned…

 

 

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