Thinking Out Loud

September 18, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Every six months or so I drop in at Church Stage Design Ideas to see what’s new. The very fact that we have (for many years now) a site like this shows how different the modern church has become from what many of us remember in our youth. But wait a minute, Haran Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia is taking the opportunity to do something more than retro, a stained glass window motif. What does this say about our hunger for a more classical faith? (Click the image to see more pictures.)

Since we last met it appears you survived the full moon falling on Friday the 13th, which I know, as good Evangelicals, was top of mind that day. We’re back with a shorter list this week. It’s our ‘All Wheat, No Chaff’ list, accomplished through the process called winnowing, and I’m not talking Winnows 98, either; this is Winnows 10.

■ After five years in jail, a Christian couple in Pakistan — ranked as the 5th worst nation in the world for religious freedom — faces the death penalty for blasphemy, but they may be holes in the prosecution’s case, “including the allegedly blasphemous messages being in English even though Emmanuel and Kausar don’t speak English.”

■ This time around WORLD magazine looks at the ECFA, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The organization appears to have been nothing more than a rubber stamp for member charities. Julie Roys writes:

As the WORLD article notes, this shameful pattern at the ECFA goes back decades. In fact, the criminally fraudulent spending involving the PTL Club and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 1980s occurred while PTL was a member of the ECFA.

Start at Julie’s article, then click here to read the piece at WORLD.

■ 10 Minute video: “The Church of the Godless;” a look at the rise of the “nones” who now exceed the number of Evangelicals.

■ On Friday, 200 Liberty University students staged a protest demanding an investigation of Jerry Falwell, Jr. following the article in Politco.

■ Financial improprieties? Catholics have them, too. “Some parts of West Virginia are so poor they can’t afford running water in their homes, and their shepherd took ‘necessary breaks’ at Palm Beach penthouses

■ One of the things for me that makes Jarrid Wilson’s death so hard to take is that just one day earlier, he had officiated the funeral for a woman who had committed suicide.

■ On a variation of ‘Was that the Lord, or last night’s pizza?’ a pastor notes that we need to discern the difference between the leading of the Holy Spirit versus the latest trending insights of church leadership experts.

■ Respected Christian journalist Jana Reiss provides a thorough look at David Kinnaman’s new book Faith for Exiles (co-authored with Mark Matlock.) The book looks at the faith of Gen Z-ers and Millennials.

■ We mentioned the job posting at Willow Creek last week for a senior pastor. Scot McKnight critiqued the job description and found some things over-emphasized and at least one thing seriously lacking.

■ If you did a 500-mile pilgrimage, can you imagine doing it for a second time? I can’t, but it must have been special since Brian Zahnd and his wife are again walking the Camino Francés pilgrim route.

■ The United Methodist denomination: When God wants to write a new chapter, the previous chapters don’t always have a verse which anticipates the change. (That sentence isn’t in the article, but you get the idea. I hope.)

■ Women’s Workshop: “Yes, it is good to be independent but it’s also good to be interconnected. We can do it alone, but we don’t have to – we can belong to each other and this makes life so much richer.”

■ “Churches are using targeted ads on social media to convert and recruit.”

Katie Allred—co-founder of the group and assistant professor of software development and digital media at the University of Mobile, a Baptist-affiliated school—cites the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in which a shepherd leaves his flock of 99 sheep to recover the wandering one, as biblical inspiration. According to Allred, “If your church has a marketing budget, you don’t want to use that budget to reach the 99. You want to use your ad budget to reach the one, so that someone who is far from Christ might be interested in learning more.”

■ Parent of a high school student already thinking about September, 2020? The Christian University College Fair tour has kicked off for another year. (I mention this annually because one of these events was extremely helpful to us a few years back.)

■ Worship Musician-ing: In our present environment flow is everything. However, “Silence between songs is not the kiss of death. If the Glory of God is revealed in your worship service it’s because He’s chosen to show up. No amount of liquid, musical fluidity can coax Him. No amount of choppy chord changes can deter Him.”

■ Time to sell the church? A Jacksonville congregation has had that epiphany. “The fact of the matter is that an institution that is spending 53 percent of its budget on plumbing and heating and buildings and facilities, that is not a church anymore. That is a property management organization.”

■ New Zealand wants to greatly restrict access to pornography. You can guess who isn’t happy about that.

■ Parenting Place: This particular forum on Reddit doesn’t usually see this type of engagement. The question asks people who grew up in the church and are still following Jesus if there’s anything in particular they feel their parents did right.  Closing in on 400 responses.

■ Seeing God Work: Earlier this summer the people at Southeast Christian Church heard pastor Kyle Idleman share the history of the rapid growth of their church.

■ New Music ♫ – Until last night I had never heard of Lindy Conant, though her band goes back several years. Check out the latest, Stand in Awe by Lindy and the Circuit Riders.

■ New Music ♫ – One of my personal favorite artists. Butterfly by Josh Garrels. (This is a really cool song.)

■ New Music ♫ – Is it a music video or a graphic novel? Check out Dreaming of Eden by Skillet.

■ New Music ♫ – One of the most anticipated albums this fall in mainstream CCM is the one for which this is the title song:  I Give Up by Laura Story. A companion book was released by Thomas Nelson and is already available.

■ First there was Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Now there’s Christians in Cars Getting Spiritual. But it will not have that title. And judging by the one-minute trailer, there might not be cars. But there will be Kirk Cameron. (Actually, it looks like fun!)

■ Confessing your sins to plants. You’ll think it’s an Onion article. Or Babylon Bee. But Union Theological Seminary was serious. Don’t miss the comments, either.

And people say there is no God. Explain this.

■ If you’re into the whole church sign thing, we found 42 of them at this link.

Vaping Throwback.jpg


September 16, 2019

Opinions Change, Values Should Not

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:02 am

Despite the steady growth of people posting things to WordPress as evidenced by this slightly older graphic, the impact of bloggers in Christianity is not the same as it once was.

Now that I’m not posting every single day, 24/7/365, I allow myself to question whether I need to weigh in on each and every topic which comes under this blog’s larger area of study — Christianity and Culture — or involves something currently making the rounds in Christian news or opinion.

If I were to go back ten-plus years, I would probably see blog posts that were filled with self-importance, and in fairness, this blog did regularly rank among the top such sites in North America.  Now, in the years following the post-blogging boom, I realize that my opinion is not that for which the world waits.

I also realize that my opinion on a few things have changed.

Let’s be clear what I mean by that:

  • My core doctrine is solidly unchanged on the things that matter
  • My core values are unchanged on the things that matter to me
  • My beliefs on secondary and tertiary doctrines have shifted slightly, perhaps more radically in a few cases
  • My ranking of what things I prize or value is unaltered by any shifts on secondary matters

People change, but I believe the core statement-of-faith type things have to be non negotiable. These are not on the table for discussion.

However, on a whole other list of things, my opinions or understanding has shifted somewhat.

What are your non-negotiables?

I recently discovered this list of 255 dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. These are their non-negotiables. To dissent on any one of these is, in one person’s words to “cease being a Roman Catholic.”

We don’t have such a list in Evangelicalism. Our faith statements or creeds give prominence to about 8 to 10 core doctrines. Then there follows that many again that some people would like to see in the core list. You have yours and I have mine.

Except that I don’t actually have any. I can live and fellowship with people who simply are satisfied with that 8 to 10 items.

And it sure beats 255…

…Before you ask, I’ve never deleted a blog post. I’ve never gone back and said, ‘This would be embarrassing should anyone find it today.’ Because the word blog is shorthand for web log and that’s what it is, a log or diary of my thoughts at that time. (Captain’s log, Stardate 5743. We were cruising the Romulan galaxy…)

And if you are human, your thoughts should be allowed to change; you should give yourself room to grow.

September 13, 2019

Now That You’re A Christian, You Need to Find Another Church

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:27 am

I spent my formative years in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada at a time when we didn’t have the term “megachurch” but if it had existed, Peoples was the first and only one in Canada during those years. We also didn’t have the term “seeker sensitive,” but Peoples, under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith, defined that completely.

There was always the hint that a person who found Christ in that environment might reach a point where they want to step out either (a) to serve, or (b) to come under deeper teaching in an another church.

Steven Furtick

So I wasn’t totally alarmed when I started to read this profile of Steven Furtick:

Furtick is charismatic in the pulpit, and he is eager to share his desire to reach the lost. But he seems to believe that once the lost are “found” his work is done. “If you know Jesus Christ, I’m sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you,” Furtick says. This applies even if you’ve only known Christ for as little as a week.  “Last week was the last week that Elevation Church existed for you,” Furtick declares.

Furtick forgets that Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” And we know the entire point of a pastor is to shepherd the flock under his care (John 21:17; 1 Peter 5:2-3)…

At least not alarmed at first.

Over the years, I’ve gone through stages of affection and concern for the Elevation pastor. But Furtick is given to hyperbole, and while hyperbole is by definition an excess, his “Last week” statement above could be shattering to a person who has crossed the line of faith and wants to know determine — as another megachurch terms it — “next steps.”

We don’t ask newborns to take the elevator to the lobby and catch a taxi to their next station in life.

In the field that was once called “Personal Evangelism” it was called “Follow Up.” The quotation marks and capital letters are intentional. I’m trying to make a point here, and the point is that if nothing else, the parable of the soils (or seeds, if you prefer) tells us what happens if the seeds are not well-planted; not well-nurtured.

It reminds me of the girl who, on completing her Confirmation, told me “The day I joined the church is the day I left the church;” treating it as if it was some type of graduation ceremony.

Nothing could be further from the truth…

…I’ve used these charts before in various forms, and I apologize for not knowing the source of these particular graphics, but they illustrate that the work of the church continues both before and after. The original black-and-white version I have is from Contemporary Christian Communication: Its Theory and Practice, by James K. Engle (1979)


September 12, 2019

The Importance of Cross Pollination in Worship

John Severns photo, Public Domain

The late Robert Webber will be remembered for encouraging worship leaders along the lines of “Ancient-Future” worship, but churches which are determined not to reach back to the hymns of past centuries might do well to at least heed the principle.

This week we discovered a new song being sung at a church we once visited, while the people were receiving communion. The song immediately resonated with us. After the service had played out, I found the proper title, the original recording artists, and some videos online.

I would teach this song in a heartbeat. It probably fits more into the “Modern Hymns” movement than it does “Modern Worship” but it had enough to offer to have been closing in on 3 million views online.

But then last night, we listened to it again, and followed up by clicking on another song from the same worship team.

Same key. Same rhythm. Same lead vocalist. Same lexical set.

By the latter, I mean that in some faith streams, there is a pressure to say certain things and to say them the same way. Each song is supposed to encapsulate not part, of all of the Gospel™.

We listened to a third song.

Same thing.

At this point, I turned to Mrs. W. and announced, “They’re plagiarizing their own music.”

Truly, it was partly that. It was partially an attempt to copy a style made popular by a particular husband-and-wife couple who are also leaders in this same sub-genre of worship. As the late Larry Norman once said comparing the present state of the arts to the Rennaissance, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.” We find things that are working elsewhere while 90% of the creative possibilities lie under-utilized if not undiscovered.

So to return to Dr. Webber, I think I would still teach the first song because it would form part of a set drawn from a larger catalog of available worship.

But if your church worship is all Hillsong, or all Bethel, or all Elevation, then it’s possibly not a healthy mix. In fact, if the trip back to the hymn area is too long a road to travel, I would suggest at least periodically looking to what you were doing ten years ago, and also occasionally revisiting the founding worship streams for the present movement, such as the original Maranatha! Music, Vineyard and Hosanna Integrity compositions.

There’s a value in cross-pollination.

It was getting late, and part way through the third song, my wife said, “I’m bored. I’m leaving now.” Each one of the songs was beautiful and lyrically rich, but as we would say to the kids at the dessert buffet, “You can only choose one.” We’d only heard three songs and we were starting to O.D. on this particular style.

For some reason, three songs from this worship family was two too many.

September 11, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #72. This is where all the cool get people get their Christian news and opinion pieces. • You can also stay in touch during the week here at the blog and @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter. (Just remember the number one substitutes for the letter I if you’re typing it in from scratch.) • Image (above) from this week’s Happy Monday.

Apology — The list was pretty much locked in on Monday night, and then on Tuesday, like most here, I read of the untimely death of Jarrid Wilson at age 30. I considered adding it last night but just figured there was no escaping the reports online. This morning I feel bad about seemingly ignoring this story. So for any who missed this, here is a link to the story at CT and you’ll also find it in many other media outlets.

■  AdditionAgain, subscribers will not have received this one, either; but I wanted to mention that Willow Creek has posted the call for resumés for the position of Senior Pastor. There are many requirements, but also this, the only entry in the section labeled ‘education:’ 

Willow Creek values candidates who are life-long learners. Proven leadership experience is important, and this individual should be theologically grounded, but a formal theological classroom education is not a requirement for selection. 

The piece notes that the candidate will wear the “dual hats of pastor…and CEO” leading “a complex organization with more than 350 employees.”

■ Ultimately, this may be the most important thing I post today: “Archaeologists believe they might have discovered the location of the town of Emmaus, where Jesus was said to have first appeared before two of his disciples after His resurrection.”

■ Mega baptism service: Thousands are baptized in at least 28 different pools in a gigantic event in Bocaue, Bulacan, in the Philippines and at more than 100 sites worldwide. (We’ll include a link to your service the next time it takes a drone to capture it all in a single image.)

■ Another one returns! Pete Wilson has been teaching at a church in Michigan. In the sermon linked, he’s seen starting a sermon series on vocation. The story at Wartburg Watch is fresh, but the linked video is from May, as is another video from the same church with Willow’s former teaching pastor Steve Carter. The article notes that Wilson joins a long list of ‘comeback’ pastors.

■ Even at Wesleyan University, where the author of this piece is president, discussion of faith are fine if it involves the type of facts and figures you’d see on Wikipedia. But when he tries to make it personal, students basically shut down

■ Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids is selling a sizeable portion of their building, a former shopping mall, to the local public school, with an agreement to have the use of baby and preschool rooms free for 15 years. The announcement comes at the beginning of the service video.

■ Before you say, “Here I am, send me;” note the 7 types of Christians God can’t use.

■ Rachel Held Evans put a lot of work into the upcoming Evolving Faith conference in Denver, October 4th and 5th. Her husband Dan posted a link to this newsletter

Essay of the Week: Karen Spears Zacharias uses the weekend hurricane as a metaphor for the greater trials we face. “We need people who will ride out the storm with us.”

■ Did he let him off too easy? It’s easy to armchair quarterback this pair of episodes of Ten Minute Bible Hour:

■ Blogging at its Best: Getting your readers to help you put together your Sunday sermon. (To be clear, I liked this, and learned much from some of the comments. Bruxy Cavey did this a few weeks earlier on Twitter for a sermon on Abraham’s ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac.)

■Your new Word of the Week: Christoformity. Scot McKnight explains in this 2-minute book teaser.

■ One of his best blog posts, Aaron Wilkinson on The Ten Commandments as Narrative.

■ If it looks like a duck… Gospel for Asia’s “K.P. Yohannan says there isn’t a ring kissing practice” in an interview with Francis Chan that Warren Throckmorton was forced to remove from YouTube (but it’s embedded in this post) discussing the practices of Yohannan’s Believer’s Church. Throckmorton also has more on Gospel for Asia asking past donors to return the settlement money from the $37M lawsuit.

■ ♫ Have you heard of the band half•alive? Listening to the song Creature, I’m reminded of Owl City from a previous generation. Here are some lyrics:

i’m looking forward to the day
when life can grow without decay
humanity is not alone
when Jesus Christ sits on the throne

■ For part of our New Music feature, we offer you the winners in the Christian category of the Unsigned Only Music Competition. More details at this link.

■ ♫ More New Music: New from Integrity Music, Stillman, and the song Draw Near.

■ ♫ Also from Integrity Music: Thrive Worship, with the song I Still Believe.

■ Admittedly, Charisma Magazine is biased, since they share the same parent company as the publisher of Oracle, this week’s hottest selling Christian book by Jonathan Cahn. That said, if you’re looking for the 411 on this half-prophecy, half-fiction title, this article well covers the book’s premise.

■ Yes, I know. Benny Hinn has renounced prosperity gospel teaching. But haven’t we seen it all before where he repents of certain doctrines, only to have them pop up again — in Whack-a-Mole style — in subsequent teachings and books? Think back to his 9-part godhead, where each member of the trinity is itself triune. (Sorta like a fractal, I guess.) So for this one we bring you:

■ Leadership Lessons: “Leading your church through a time of sexual questioning.” Half hour podcast with Bruce B. Miller the author of a book by Thomas Nelson by the same name.  …which brings us to…

■ …Becket Cook’s turnaround from being gay in Tinsel Town, started with seeing a book on a table:

…Six months later Cook was at a coffee shop in Silver Lake with his best friend, also gay. He glanced over at the table next to them and noticed something akin to an extraterrestrial encounter — five young people with Bibles on their table. “It was strange because I had never seen a Bible in L.A., ever. It was a sighting. We just thought it was so odd; we were intrigued. My friend urged me to turn around and talk to them. He liked to stir things up and engage in crazy conversations.”
Cook felt compelled to ask the $64 question. “What does your church think about being gay?”
“We believe it’s a sin,” one said.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.  (More on the book at his website.)

■ They sold the church’s two properties for $1M U.S.
On the day of the funds transfer, they bought a lake house for $1M.
Months later they transferred title to the church.
Because of its status, the church is not required to file annual returns.

■ Parenting Place / Puppy Place: “There are times in parenting that are like little deaths both because they slay your heart completely and because you have to die to your basest instinct to Control the Shit Out of a Situation That Is Causing Your Child Pain and instead provide leadership and kindness and gentleness and guidance so they can slay their own dragons.”

■ Trans books for kids:

In a book aimed at seven-year-olds called Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?, the protagonist Kit says: “the best thing about hormone blockers is that if I change my mind then they won’t hurt my body”. [Researcher Susan] Matthews however points out that this is “misleading”, as the notion that puberty blockers are fully reversible lacks any medical foundation. (emphasis added)

■ Adults making friends: 2 authors, 4 tips for extroverts, 4 tips for introverts.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Before Washington Was, I AM,” Trump Tells Reporters. [Note: Eye of the Tiber is the Catholic equivalent of The Babylon Bee.]

■ At Christian Forums, this one caught my attention: “How to assimilate all of evolutionary theory into a literal 7 day creation without changing anything.” This topic is more widely discussed than you might think.

■ Former U.S. Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders considers herself a Christian. Now she may be running for Governor of Arkansas

■ Looking for more? check out Michael and Eric’s link list, especially about six or seven in the first half.

■ The real estate agent never mentioned they were buying a house practically next door to a nudist camp. Once you’re past that, the article is a serious look at the spirituality of nudist culture.

■ You thought Baptists don’t dance? Pictures of Beth Moore dancing leaked to Twitter by… Beth Moore.

■ Time for another Worship Leaders Fantasy Draft. (You’ll need to know who are the major players in the worship ‘industry.’)

■ Finally, months later, his $25,000 fundraising goal at GoFundMe is still stalled out at $215. I wonder why?

When people share their most intimate secrets, as they do at, matters of faith and belief often get included in the mix.

Calling versus Living: Also from this one is especially sad.

One last one from PostSecret (we’ll visit again in six months): This either reflects a great satisfaction with life as it currently consists, or a very low view of heaven.

September 9, 2019

Dad, I’m Gay

Filed under: children, Christianity, Church, issues, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:53 am

What do you do when your son says, “I am gay?” There’s a lot contained in that three word statement, certainly more than initially registers. A Christian friend experienced this several months ago and continues to wrestle with the implications. Recently, he asked to share this with readers here.

“Dad, I’m gay.”

When my son says “Dad, I am gay”, what he is saying is . . .

I had the courage to tell you something very important.

I have been trying to figure this all out for quite some time now.

I’m more likely to deal with depression than a straight child.

I’m more likely to have suicidal thoughts than a straight child.

I am more likely to be picked on or talked about than a straight child.

I would be arrested in certain parts of the world.

I would be put to death in certain parts of the world.

I’m not sure I will be accepted at church.

I’m not sure you will be accepted at church either depending on how you handle this.

Though I am your son, I am not just like you.

I am still your son, and in many ways, just like you.

I am still your child, but am not a child anymore.

I will want you to meet my boyfriend someday.

If I take a step of covenanting with a man to be faithful to him the rest of my life, many of your friends may tell you that you should not attend that celebration. My friends will not hesitate to be there for me.

You may not change your perspective on homosexuality, but I do expect you to be understanding of mine.

I want you to celebrate and have joy because of me, not merely tolerate me.

I know that you love Jesus and the Bible. I am also aware that you love me. You need to figure out what all that looks like.

This post originally ran in January of last year, but I’m running it so soon again because I was told last week it got a lot of ‘likes,’ so myself and the author decided we’d run it today in case some missed it the day after New Year’s.

Leave a comment — I’m closing comments here so you can add your voice to the original post at this link.

September 6, 2019

Stained Glass

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:41 am

Guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

When Jesus talked about us, he used words like “family,” “vine” and “body” – images of life, growth and diversity.

The journey of a Jesus follower was never meant to be a solo trip. His own vision for His Church was that we would build it together. Even when things were frustrating. Even when we got hurt.

If you’ve been trying to live this life by yourself, maybe it’s time to think ‘inside the frame.’ Your shape fits together with all the other shapes of all the other believers to make something far better than we can make on our own.

What are you a part of? A rainbow? A blossoming apple tree? A tool box? An orchestra?

If you’ve walked away from “church,” you’re missed. You’re needed. You belong in the picture.

This Sunday, take a chance – see where you fit.

September 5, 2019

When Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy Collide

Filed under: Christianity, culture, doctrine, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:54 am

Orthodoxy = Right belief.
Orthopraxy = Right practice.

I mentioned on Twitter that I would love to write an article with this title. I’m not sure this is the one. It seems to me that this is a topic that deserves a much fuller treatment.

Today, I simply want to document the observation that sometimes, even though we are dogmatic about what the Bible says on particular issues, and we’ve got our doctrine absolutely certain, advancing that is not always the best approach where real people are involved.

I think the popular phrase is, “Welcoming but not affirming.”

When you know real people, especially in your family, workplace, church community, or neighborhood, it’s hard to trumpet the judgment of God when the person involved is sitting right there in front of you.

Our approach is going to vary. Jesus didn’t always minister to people in similar situations in exactly the same way.

One of my regular C201 contributors shared this:

I like to think of God as Heavenly Father. My experience of fatherhood is that what is best can vary according to situation and the maturity of the children etc. I also have an expression: What is right is not always what is best.

I used the illustration in a sermon that it was completely fair how my brother and I took turns on the Atari 2600 depending on how long your guy lasted. It seemed that my brother played for hours while I played for minutes.

What is right is not always what is best.

It would be difficult for some Christians to wrap their minds around that. We’re supposed to be champions for truth, right? 

Some of you will sense that I had something else in mind when I first considered this, but Paul’s message in Romans 14 is certainly applicable:

13 In light of this, we must resolve never to judge others and never to place an obstacle or impediment in their paths that could cause them to trip and fall. 14 Personally I have been completely convinced that in Jesus, our Lord, no object in and of itself is unclean; but if my fellow believers are convinced that something is unclean, then it is unclean to them. (The Voice Bible)

Choosing a graphic image for these articles often adds an extra dimension. Today’s image (from MGM Ministries) reminds us that our words and actions can point people in one of two very different directions. 

The graphic below (from Christian Paradoxes) is a reminder that there is actually a trio of factors, but to delve deeper, I encourage you to use a search engine, as this topic is well covered online.

September 4, 2019

Wednesday Connect

Hillary Price’s Rhymes with Orange panel for 12.16.18

I go to a variety of sources to choose what appears here. This week I found an article alleging that a Christian textbook publisher was just a front for a large secular publisher hoping to make a profit of the homeschooling industry. It could have been our lead article, except that it went on to promote the product line with which the author was affiliated. It’s unfortunate when that happens, but increasingly on blogs and websites it’s all about someone trying to sell you something, in particular their something. 

Clicking on some items this week will earn you double reader points, but you won’t know until you click.

■ Quotation of the Week: “Youth ministry is more than a stepping-stone; it’s a viable lifelong ministry. In the same way no one asks a high-school English teacher when he’s going to start teaching college students, we need to stop asking youth pastors when they’re going to leave youth ministry.” A youth pastor reflects on four reasons he’s stuck it out in student ministry for 21 years.

■ It’s not about the Bible; it’s not about the Church; it’s not about dogmas and creeds; it’s all about Jesus. If that’s where our focus lies, that’s enough. Dr. Claude Mariottini,  Emeritus Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary offers his own take on why people leave the Christian faith.

■ Rant of the Week: “I’m tired of a sermon on, say, the essentiality of baptism, being presented to a church of 80 souls, all of whom already agree with the preacher on the subject, and then someone later congratulating the preacher on having the courage to “preach the truth.” That’s not courage. It’s not courageous to tell 80 people something you know they (likely) already agree with you on.” On sermons lacking any edge or tension.

■ Authors accustomed to editors correcting their books, should have editors screening their tweets. Dr. Albert Mohler spectacularly insults the singles, the childless, calling non-parents less than human.

■ Persecution in Nigeria. This is a hard story to read.

■ Persecution in America: “San Francisco employees on official business won’t be permitted to travel to states with restrictive abortion laws under a new law…”

■ Are there two testaments in the Old Testament? According to this author, yes; “the old covenant given through Moses, and the original covenant given to Abraham.”

■ From the same author, if you want a visitor-friendly church, you need to be conscious of the 6 unwritten rules by which local churches operate.

■ Justin Bieber, Worship Leader: The pop singer led the midweek congregation at Churchome, a network of churches started by Judah Smith who has known Bieber since he was eight years old. FOX News adds that he also shared a ‘vulnerable’ testimony

■ Still looking for a Fall adult curriculum? Check out Scot McKnight’s review of this new DVD-based product featuring N.T. Wright and Michael Bird.

■ No gay gene? The Catholic News Agency reports that “a major scientific study found there is not a singular genetic marker for homosexualty…I t examined data from several large genetic databanks in multiple countries, and surveyed nearly half a million people about their sexual partners and preferences. Previous studies on the matter have only examined sample groups of hundreds of people.” (Or read about the study at

■ Singer Randy Travis has written a memoir, which this reviewer says chronicles “decades of spiritual highs and soul-wrenching lows.”

■ Is there such a thing as too concise? If so, I think this summary of Paul and Barnabus having a disagreement over John Mark* proves that ’25 words or less’ can leave you with an outline too simplistic. (And readers told him so.) (*Not a reference to John Mark Comer.)

■ Losing their religion: It can happen every bit as much at a Christian college or Christian university as it can happen at a secular one. CT’s report on students’ crises of faith.

■ Provocative Headline of the Week: “Liberal Indiana United Methodists Stand with Tarot-Practicing Lesbian Activist Minister.”

■ I didn’t end up with a specific link this week, but as we kickoff a new season, I want to remind readers here that if you want to know more behind the faith-focused stories you read in mainstream media, bookmark the site Get Religion, where you’ll find excellent analysis.

■ Part insider, part outsider, he discovered four things about the denomination after attending his first Mennonite Church USA convention.

■ It should have been a routine youth group trip. But the boy whose birthday was being celebrated possibly suffered a seizure in the wave pool and later died. (The youth pastor adds details on Reddit.)

■ Randy Alcorn shares an excerpt from God, Greed and the Prosperity Gospel, a new book from Costi Hinn, nephew of Benny Hinn; which includes a rather awkward rationalization for the times that people do not get healed..

■ After listening to a song by Christian band Big Daddy Weave, a man in Tennessee confessed to murder and robbery

■ New Music: Cody Carnes – Run to the Father – one of the top sheet music downloads this week by worship leaders at

■ New Music: Will Retherford – Human – “orchestral dream pop and electronica with mild flavors of folk and indie rock.”

■ New Music: Urban Doxology – The Earth Shall Know – their name says it. 

■ New Music: Beach Chapel – Sweet Water – indie worship project from California.

■ This UK writer (who we frequently link to here) believes that if you’re moving, instead of trying to find a good church, you should consider trying to plant a good church.

■ Leadership Lessons: When pastoral staff are fired from a church.

■ First Impressions: 9 Indicators that it’s time to work on your church’s interior design.

■ Here, one year ago: Remembering the “Teaching Tapes” years in church

■ Not the words I would have chosen: Revisiting Robert Capon’s 9 word summary of the Bible.

A 7-year-old has admitted to setting a fire which damaged a Louisiana church.

■ Anything but the Bible, I suppose. So a Missouri city councilor takes the oath of office on a Dr. Suess book, leading a friend of ours to post:
I would not, could not
Swear on The Book
Not in a port
Not in a court
But swear I will
On Dr. Seuss
For I am such
A silly goose

■ Finally, it can happen to the best of us: “Pope Francis begged the pardon of the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, explaining that he was late because he had gotten stuck in a Vatican elevator and had to wait for help from the fire department.”

■ Way, way past “finally” in a category by itself: Matthew Pierce’s Baptist Fan Fiction.

An abandoned LifeWay. Dark. Dirty. Lifeless, like a Lutheran VBS. Stacks of books, all of them ghostwritten for football coaches or Duck Dynasty cast members. In the corner, a single Mandisa CD gathers dust like so many Promise Keepers.

For the record, I just read the printed text, I have no idea what’s in the podcasts at the end of each.

This got your interest? Then click the image to read more at Facts and Trends.

■ At 8:30 last night I thought I was done, but Eric and Michael provided some links that were irresistible. (Including three I’d already included.) Check out their link list which appears the day before this one.

September 3, 2019

In Religion Reporting, There’s a Tradeoff Between Objectivity and Accuracy

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

I’ve said before that only insiders can report a news story in Evangelicalism.

I realize this means that there is a certain loss of objectivity that a reporter borrowed from the business beat or the political department would have, but I believe it’s worth sacrificing that aspect of objectivity if it means getting the report mostly correct.

The reason is simply that there is so much terminology, so much nuance behind our stories that an outsider simply can’t appreciate. In the name of objectivity, it would be possible to get the story wrong.

I wouldn’t consider writing a piece about a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist community any more than I would consider writing about NASCAR, South African politics, or gourmet cooking.

Fortunately, there is the website Get Religion, which keeps us abreast of the missteps by (mostly) print media in attempting to cover stories of (mostly) Christianity. Usually these include things like wrong terminology, poor theological understanding, unawareness of the full history of the story, or missing entirely the sub-strands of the story being covered.

I was reminded of this on the weekend reading some tweets from religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, made, as it turns out, in reference to an item I now also see covered on Get Religion.

She wrote,

I’ve been reporting on religion, especially the inner workings of U.S. evangelicals, for 12 years now. I’m fully aware of the skeletons in the closet. I have fun stories to share! BUT if your publication can’t write a fair piece about them, you risk alienating 25% of the country.

I was inspired to become a religion reporter after Bush’s re-election, when reporters were baffled by what many of them portrayed as stupid evangelicals willing to vote for a buffoon. I thought perhaps I could explain. 12 years later, I don’t think the media has woken up.

I’m tired of watching the media botch religion coverage, whether news or opinion.

If you see your faith poorly covered, you will instantly distrust the rest of that outlet’s coverage.

That last sentence is key. Can you truly put your faith in a media outlet if their coverage of the subject that is perhaps closest to your heart is being rendered carelessly?

For Sarah, I suspect it’s doubly discouraging, knowing she could have been asked to write the piece and done a better job. Full disclosure: In this instance, the piece in particular at the New York Times was an Op-Ed — an opinion piece — and not hard news. But I know for writers and reporters like Sarah and others like her this is a constant frustration.

I’ve had the privilege of writing some print pieces for nationally distributed media outlets. But for 30 years I’ve also lived in a small town, doing a somewhat visible ministry that interacts with all the churches and parachurch organizations. In all those years, I’ve never once been interviewed as a source to help the local newspapers clarify a religion story, and often it means they’ve missed the mark almost to the point of getting the story completely wrong.

It leaves the public misinformed, and leaves the media outlet looking less than they would desire.

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