Thinking Out Loud

July 21, 2017

Getting to Know People in a Godless Society

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism, Faith, ministry, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:54 am

I like to talk.

I don’t have a lot of hobbies, so I thrive on faith-focused conversations.  These usually take two forms.

The first is conversations with those outside the faith. I’ve learned a few things over the years about theodicy, that branch of apologetics which attempts to explain the nuances of Christianity to outsiders. I thrive on this. Just hours before writing this, I was talking to a pastor about a church we visited when our kids were small which had a staff member designated as “Minister of Assimilation.” Aside from any weird science-fiction imagery, I liked the idea of integrating new people into the family and explaining how the family operates, our traditions and our key values.

The second is conversations with brothers and sisters. Considering a doctrinal idea. Encouraging one another with a particular verse or Bible passage. Networking to connect someone with a particular individual or resource which can potentially make a difference in their life, or having them do the same for me. Praying together. Singing together. Sharing our faith stories…

…What was unusual about the trip Europe was that I couldn’t get the conversation going. At the end of Day Four, in desperation, I emailed eight friends back home:

I know I live a lot of my life in the Evangelical bubble but it is strange to be in an environment where a faith-focused conversation is elusive.

We met some people from Sydney so I asked them if they had heard of Hillsong. They had but that was the end of it. This has happened many times. I toss out key words. I quote Jesus as casually as if I’m quoting Mark Twain. The conversation shuts down. No one takes the bait.

I did get to talk to one guy & shared the idea that to make the claims he made Jesus had to be deranged, deceptive or divine. On the 3rd possibility he just shut it down with “But there is no God.”

Now I know why Missionaries work so long before they see results.

Otherwise things going well.

So aside from noting my brilliant alliterative update to the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” apologetic, I think you can see the frustration that I was experiencing. I really, really wanted to find someone to connect with over the thing that most excites me (church, Bible, worship, teaching). Or the One (Jesus).

The conversations never happened. Not in the dining room. Not on the sun deck. Not in the buses. Not on the streets. Perhaps God was telling me, ‘I don’t need you to be working for me all the time; kick back and have a vacation.’

It was bad enough touring through a very post-Christian society without having to face it on the boat. Supposedly about 37% of my fellow travelers were American. So where were the Southern Baptist Republicans I’ve heard so much about?

Not, as it turns out, on an expensive river cruise with an open bar.


Four days later we discovered over lunch that one of the four people from Sydney was a Christian. Same denomination as I am, in fact. I looked forward to continuing the conversation and learning more about her church, but we never actually connected past that point in the trip.  


Sidebar: Be prepared. I packed three (different) Bibles to give away to people I met on the trip… and I brought three Bibles home with me. Just never had that sense to go ahead and give one. That’s a first.

July 12, 2017

Mother Seeks Christian Bookstore Job for Her Wayward Daughter

Filed under: Christianity, Humor, parenting — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:12 am

This appeared last March on the Facebook page of an American Christian bookstore we have frequently visited. I’ve chosen not to link to the comment, but can authenticate it for you offline if need be. Note: This is more sad than funny.

I was a fan of this store until my prodigal daughter wanted me to pick her up a job application. The person who gave me the application questioned me about my daughter’s faith and how her being prodigal would make her basically unemployable to the store, because she would not be knowledgeable of the stores content.

In my mind I was thinking don’t they train you to do the job? I felt she was being biased and prejudiced because my daughter was not a practicing Christian. This is not only not what I expected from a supposedly Christ centered ministry, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me that this was not at all acceptable as well, in His eyes! Jesus would NEVER turn away someone who was away from Him, especially if their was even a hint of Him being able to reach the person, especially through a ministry!

I was even more appalled when I got home and read through the application! The first thing that stood out to me was what was written just below the company logo. ” We are an equal opportunity employer “. Are you kidding me! You discriminated against my daughter in the store and there was further discrimination in the application under references, “name a pastor or church leader”, give me a break! That’s out right bias right there! Oh and they conveniently left out ” We do not discriminate against race, color, sex, RELIGION etc. etc. etc “. , how convenient! To me that further proves more bias!

Oh and yet they want the person to agree to having their life scrutinized in-depth way more than I would ever tolerate, in the applicant statement and agreement section! I would not be employable just on that section alone! If a job or a landlord or a bank or anybody wants to use my credit score against me that’s not acceptable under any condition!

For reasons why, check your bibles under how Jesus treated the poor, if you think it’s OK to deny someone just because of their credit score (which may not even be their fault IE identity theft etc. )! As far as the last paragraph in that section, it needs to be eliminated that’s not acceptable to me either! I am totally appalled by this whole thing! I will never shop at the store again! I can see Jesus being infuriated by this Companies policies as well, shame on you guys! I would have given it zero stars, but it would not let me write the review but did. So technically a big zero from me sorry to say. I know you will delete this when you read it, because your even bias in what reviews you allow visible, but know Jesus has already seen it!

So how would you reply to this?


The Wednesday Link List returns July 19th

July 11, 2017

Post-Camp, Post-Festival Spiritual Highs: When they Crash

From the moment she got in the car for the one hour drive home, she didn’t stop talking. It had been an awesome two weeks. God was doing incredible things. She started talking about the people she wanted to take from her home church the following year. She described the insights the weekly speaker had shared on one particular Bible passage. When she got home she went into her room and for another hour worked out the chords for various worship songs she’d learned that week. 

So what happened? Over several days she got very sullen. On Sunday she seemed a little unsure if she even wanted to go to church. “Don’t you want to tell your friends about your great week?” you asked her. She had come down off the spiritual high and simply crashed

image 073115…Over the next few weeks, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little, or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience.

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to collectively move on. For teens, and for all of us, the spiritual landscape is always changing.

June 25, 2017

Baby Dedication and Gift-Giving

Not being Roman Catholic, I didn’t realize that Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation were gift-giving occasions until I started working in a Christian bookstore. To be honest, I didn’t really know what the latter two sacraments were and at what age they were preformed. I quickly caught up.

Then came the day someone asked for a First Reconciliation gift suggestion. This is the confession which precedes First Communion since, as every good Catholic knows, there is no participation in the Eucharist without confession. But a gift?

I think there can be some appropriateness to presents associated with the sacraments if the gifts are well-chosen, suited to the child, and represent something that will help the child remember the importance of these occasions. However, I also think some of this is an attempt to parallel what happens in the life of a Jewish boy or girl at their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. Let’s face it, there’s nothing particular spiritual about those pen and pencil sets. Or the envelope containing $20. At least Catholic kids get crosses and pictures of those warm and fuzzy Precious Moments characters kneeling.

But now I see that the Evangelical equivalent of Baby Baptism, Baby Dedication is increasingly a gift-giving occasion. I’m not biting the hands that feed me; those purchases certainly do keep our local store open, and it is a great time to offer a new baby gift, I just hate to think that Evangelical friends and family might feel an obligation to bring a gift. That’s not written in stone in any book of social or religious etiquette and I’d like to see it stay that way.

I wrote about this once before in regard to Evangelicals giving teens and adults gifts for their believer’s immersion baptism, and concluded that at the outset of the Christian pilgrimage, you’re needed as a mentor, not a benefactor. That should be first and foremost. Don’t buy something, be there for them.

In an Evangelical setting, it’s as much about the parents dedicating themselves to serving the spiritual needs of the child, and the entire church community vowing to support that nurturing. In that sense, buy yourself a gift! Something to support your own spiritual development and formation so you can be the person who can best support the Christian parents and children in your church family.

April 18, 2017

How Do We Define Progress?

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

Driving a car isn’t fun. When I was young, I would borrow one of my parent’s cars and take off and return around 1:30 in the morning. They often had no idea where I was and had no idea to reach me. Their only concern was that I not make noise on returning home. I learned to close the driver side door so very quietly and literally stripped on the back porch so I could just slip in the back door and land directly under the covers of my bed.

Today, parents would be catatonic if their kids were out at that hour with the family car.

It’s interesting how driving has gotten complicated.

We’re better equipped now with driver training programs that produce, in theory at least, very capable vehicle operators. But as a culture, we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to making progress at road safety. Consider:

  • We run the real risk of air bag injuries in an accident, or an accidental deployment of them; but the only reason we have them in the first place was that American compliance with seat belt ordinances was shockingly poor.
  • We’ve addressed the problem of drinking and driving various ways in an effort to stop the carnage caused by inebriated drivers but then several states and all Canadian provinces have introduced legalization of marijuana.
  • Our vehicles are equipped with various safety features, but technology has also brought us the cell phone; handy things to have if you’re traveling, but we have no technology that shuts them off while the car is moving.
  • Many accidents are caused by people who simply don’t know where they’re going, but GPS devices introduce another potential for distraction.
  • We have state of the art sound systems that prevent us from hearing the fire truck or ambulance which is gaining on us, and somehow we miss seeing those emergency responders in the rear view mirrors.
  • In our haste to resolve some of these things, we’re introducing driver-less cars before the complete infrastructure is in place to support those vehicles’ knowing the intricacies of the routes we’ll be taking, or how to interpret visual cues, or how to master the human type of responses needed in a crisis
  • We have simply too many vehicles on the road. 
  • Many jurisdictions continue to require emissions testing for cars while operators of transport trucks and dump trucks are allowed to somehow skirt the requirements and end up spewing enough smoke to temporarily block visibility of the drivers in their wake.
  • We continue to license kids as young as 15, when specialists in neurology tell us the teenage brain isn’t fully formed when it comes to the consequences of ignoring safety as it would be if we only waited one year more.

So I ask, are we really all that smart?

April 3, 2017

Pushing the Envelope of Decency

Filed under: Christianity, media, parenting — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:09 am

Archie Andrews is sleeping with Miss Grundy.

For those familiar with the original comic, this may take a moment to digest, but Netflix’s new “Riverdale” series offers a very different take on the original.

So begins a March 15 article by Ryan Moffatt which appeared in the English editions of The Epoch Times under the title “‘Riverdale’ oversteps boundaries better left alone.” The piece is half information, half editorial, and it’s only out of respect to blog ethics that I don’t reproduce it in its entirety.

The series premiered on January 26th on the CW network. One look at the trailer and you almost want to conclude that the similarity between this and the classic Archie comics is simply a coincidence. But the setting and the character names are the same. An article by Tony Wong in the Toronto Star begins:

In the town of Riverdale, Archie Andrews is brawnier than Moose Mason. Jughead is a cynic. Veronica has lost all her money. And Betty has serious mental health issues. And yes, there is a dead body.

So same characters, but as the trailer indicates, one-to-one correspondences end there. In a video interview, actor Cole Sprouse who plays Jughead describes the production as “film noir.” In another interview, the sexuality of the character is discussed:

One of the biggest speculations in anticipation of the series has to do with Jughead’s sexuality. In one of the newer Archie comics, it is revealed that Jughead is asexual – which means that he doesn’t experience sexual attraction. Fans of the comics have been wondering if that aspect of the character’s identity would carry over into Riverdale as well.

Cole tells Teen Vogue that he “did a lot of research” on asexuality as soon as he got the role, but notes that season 1 of Riverdale ultimately will not explicitly be the story of Jughead’s asexuality…

But Cole understands that representation matters – and that it means the world to young people to be able to see characters who are a reflection of themselves. With that in mind, he tells Teen Vogue that he is fighting for Jughead’s sexual identity to become highlighted in future episodes. “I hope that huge corporations like the CW recognize that this kind of representation is rare and severely important to people who resonate with it,” he says, “That demands representation. It would be a wonderful thing if that were the case.”

So why play the Archie connection in the first place? Much of the target audience wasn’t around for the original versions of Archie and Jughead. Why not:

  • Use the characters to inspire a new series, but do so covertly, with a different location and character names, never mentioning the source of the inspiration.  Or,
  • Just write an original series.

At The Verge, Megan Farokhmanesh compares the series to The Vampire Diaries.  Concluding a review of the series she writes,

Riverdale doesn’t feel like a spinoff or a brand partnership — it’s a reboot. Archie Comics has chased whatever’s popular, but it turns out teenage dramas were popular all along. They just needed to fit into 2017, not 1967.

Archie’s Christian History

Missing from all the articles however is the Christian connection between Archie and comic artist Al Hartley. Two years ago, in a Wednesday Link List we included this biography found at Lambiek Comiclopedia:

The year 1967 was a big turning point in Hartley’s life, both professional and personal. The last remaining Patsy title ceased publication and his marriage was in trouble. Hartley found answers to his problems in his newly found faith in God. Completely out of work, Hartley found employment by Archie Comics, which he himself thought of as “God’s work”. He injected a lot of his Christian faith into his early Archie work and was eventually told he had to cut back. He began a collaboration with the publisher Fleming H. Revel, who assigned him to do comics adaptations of religious stories like ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’, ‘God’s Smuggler’ and ‘The Hiding Place’. His religious output for Archie also increased with the launch of the Spire Christian Comics series. He co-created new titles as Archie’s One Way and Archie’s Love Scene. In all, he did somewhere around 60 Christian comics, including at least 19 Archie titles, 6 Bible story adaptations, 12 biographical adaptations, 4 other book or movie Adaptations, and 9 children’s Christian comics. Al Hartley was awarded the Inkpot Award at the San Diego Comic Con for his entire oeuvre in 1980. During the 1980s, he wrote and illustrated Christian children’s books and he continued to work for Archie until the mid-1990s.

Contrary to what some believe, Hartley didn’t create the series or the characters. In a Wikipedia article on Archie Comic Publishers, Inc., he’s not even mentioned. But he is associated with the series to many, and would probably not be thrilled with the latest edition of the series on The WB and Netflix.

In an article on Hartley at ChristianComicsInternational, more details are provided:

Hartley and the publishers had what they believed to be a God-given idea — To create completely original comics using the Archie characters. It was, as Hartley put it later, “a fantastic idea for evangelism,” but permission had to come from John Goldwater, president of Archie comics, who was Jewish. Hartley had already cultivated a relationship with Goldwater, enjoyed several conversations about faith with him, and found Goldwater to be “a man of deep moral and spiritual principles.” (John Goldwater was among those who created the Comics Code Authority in 1954 to help control the way sex and violence were portrayed in comics.) Hartley telephoned Goldwater “with an optimism that had to come from God,” and “within one minute” Goldwater had given his approval. Hartley always felt that it was “the Lord’s timing” that they had published The Hiding Place comic just prior to his approaching the Archie publisher, because it had “showed John a side of Christianity that few Jews have seen.”

I just can’t but help wonder how the current television series would impact kids who grew up on the Christian version of the comics. Worst case, some might tune in thinking there is a correspondence to the characters they loved.  Moffat at Epoch Times warns,

Don’t tune in if you are looking for nostalgia; this latest incarnation is sure to shatter any pastoral impressions of teenage life left by the paperback comics.

In the Teen Vogue interview Sprouse tries hard to find the upside:

Ultimately, Cole thinks that fans of the original comics will be extremely satisfied with Riverdale – despite the fact that the new series is noticeably darker than the comics.

However, there’s also this: Isn’t Archie dead? Well, yes and no. In a piece titled “Comics’ Archie dies heroically” CNN reported in July, 2014:

It was one of the most unexpected announcements of the year. In April, Archie Comics released the news that its lead character, Archie Andrews, would die in an upcoming issue of “Life With Archie.” The story won’t affect the overall Archie storylines, as “Life With Archie” takes place in an alternate timeline.

The nature of comic book Archie’s death is interesting, given this discussion, as reported in People:

The famous freckle-faced comic book icon is meeting his demise in Wednesday’s installment of Life with Archie when he intervenes in an assassination attempt on Kevin Keller, Archie Comics’ first openly gay character. Andrews’ death, which was first announced in April, will mark the conclusion of the series that focuses on grown-up renditions of Andrews and his Riverdale pals.

“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” said Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”

Moral Concerns

I suppose this loose structure gives creators license to do as they wish with Betty, Veronica and the rest of the gang. Literally, nothing is sacred. Moffatt continues,

In the Archie world of yesteryear, Miss Grundy is an old schoolmarm and the polar opposite of adolescent desire. But in the television series she is a young, sultry librarian with a predatory eye for the 15-year-old Archie Andrews. In the alternate “Riverdale” universe, this is just par for the course of young people making very adult decisions.

This Grundy subplot has been described as a “racy” and “forbidden romance,” but there is another phrase more fitting: statutory rape. It’s a term that doesn’t sell nearly as well as “racy” but it is most apt considering the circumstances.

If the genders were reversed in this instance the reaction would be much different…

This is the fare to which a generation of impressionable adolescents is being exposed. Moffatt notes,

There should be legitimate concern when things of this nature creep into mainstream television—making it seem like a teacher having sex with a 15-year-old is par for the course of growing up. The blurred lines between reality and fantasy are getting harder to distinguish when it comes to the societal influence of our entertainment consumption.

The bottom line for the producers of the series is the bottom line. Moffatt:

When the implicit condoning of deviant behaviour makes its way into our entertainment universe, alarm bells should be ringing—and they aren’t. There is a great fascination with the  taboo, an attraction to what is forbidden, and it’s an easy sell when packaged as a teen coming-of-age drama. The entertainment industry is very aware of this and more than happy to oblige our appetites by steadily pushing the envelope of decency. Shocking is only shocking for so long, and the ante needs to be upped.

He also notes that the end results of the downward spiral of decency on television has yet to be seen:

The real issue at play here is that damaging behaviour is being presented as normal to school-age kids, who rely heavily on the digital and entertainment world for the barometers of their moral compass. Unrestrained access to the darker corners of the Internet and the false reality of the digital universe are influencing the minds of teenagers who are forming their perceptions of the world. These perceptions will influence the decisions they make and the rules they abide by as they take their place as members of society…

He concludes:

…The Archie/Miss Grundy relationship treads on some sacred ground. Archie has been a mainstay of Western culture for 80 years now, and the storyline has remained more or less unchanged in its projection of teenage life as a time of innocent misadventure and light-hearted humour.

It is a concern on many levels that this just doesn’t sell anymore.

 

March 18, 2017

Parents to Kids: We’re Called to be Different

A lot of modern Christian parenting consists of making sure when your kids arrive at the age where they are making choices, that they avoid the pitfalls which have brought down many a young life. Usually mentioned are promiscuous sex and the varieties of drugs and alcohol. Many of these messages come across as “Don’t do this;” “Don’t do that;” Don’t ever let me catch you doing…;” and “I never want to hear that you…” (I think the wording of the last two needs some refining; it could suggest a workaround is possible if one doesn’t get found out.)

Better, I believe to say to your kids, “We follow Christ. We’re different from the world.” The NLT rendering of Romans 12:2a (and The Living Bible before it) has always stuck with me:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors. Why not wear garments woven with two types of fabric? I think there’s a lot more going on there than what appears on the surface, but it’s part of that unique characteristic God wanted his people to have. Why wear tassels on their garments? I believe it’s again, identity; perhaps a precursor to the days when soldiers in The Salvation Army would don a uniform to be highly identifiable in a larger culture.  The old KJV at 1 Peter 2:9 calls us “a peculiar people;” the NIV translates that as “God’s special possession.”

The idea of distinction is seen in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:

Ex. 11:6-7 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

So we tell our kids, “The world does their thing and we do ours. We are citizens of a different world. We intersect with the world constantly, but we’re following a different, though parallel script.” Or something like that; your kids may need that in simplified language.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)

 

 

March 11, 2017

New Zondervan Childrens’ Bible May Undermine Faith

If I could spend five minutes in the board rooms of some of the publishers in the Christian book industry, my message would be, “Anticipate your critics.” Why release products that simply feed those who think their agenda is to actually undermine the Christian faith?

A few months ago I had a visit from someone far more trained in apologetics than I. We got talking about the various things published about Noah’s Ark and how few of them would be considered theologically accurate, either in terms of the text or the illustrations. 

He also said that we have to really avoid the temptation to talk about Bible stories. In a child’s mind, a story may or may not be real. Ditto the word tale. While it’s a bit above some kids’ pay grade, the term he liked is narrative. In other words, ‘Here’s how it happened…’

Any English speaker knows that “Once Upon a Time…” is simply code for “It didn’t really happen; but let’s pretend.” If you’re talking about the parables, then by all means. Jesus begins his parables with “A certain man…” which amounts to the same thing. But the parables are only a small percentage of the whole of scripture. “Once upon a time…” consigns the whole Bible to realm of fiction. It puts it on a par with fairy tales.

So that’s why this particular NIrV Bible, releasing this month from Zonderkidz, has me very, very concerned. Did they anticipate their critics? I don’t think so.

March 7, 2017

Unequally Yoked: Advice Not Taken

dating-tipsWhile going through boxes of old books, I came across a 1962 publication by Back to the Bible Broadcast, Dating Tips for Christian Youth. Though only 64 pages in length, the booklet has no less than five authors dealing with the following topics at the length indicated:

  • Relationships with parents, 11 pages
  • Making sure you date the right person, 17 pages
  • The myth that “everyone is doing it,” 8 pages
  • The dangers of physical intimacy, 6 pages
  • Committing to a single person to date, ie. “going steady,” 11 pages

In other words, the chapter given the greatest weight in this 55-year old title has to do with the Biblical principle of not being “unequally yoked” which was and still is generally interpreted in this case to mean that Christians should not date non-Christians.

I have not spent a lot of time reading more recent books either written for teens or for people in youth ministry, but I would like to think this is still a rather important theme. Trying “unequally yoked” at CBD did not produce any youth titles, and “dating a non-Christian” only revealed a 2002 IVP booklet. On the internet however, “should a Christian date a non Christian” revealed 12,800,000 results. The phrase “unequally yoked” brought 345,000 results, and just to be sure I checked every one of them. Or maybe not.

Still, I’d like to think that youth pastors continue to advise the tweens and teens to make lifelong connections through church, youth groups, Christian concerts, church-based summer camps, and yes…with certain caveats…on Christian dating sites. In other words, not necessarily at school, their part-time job or, once they reach the legal age, at a bar.

So…

…I have to wonder if Christian kids grow up hearing this message over and over and over and over again, why is it that each week, in the context of my work, I hear the despairing voice of a parent lamenting that their teen or twenty-something is dating, is engaged to, or has married a non-believer. There are no words to describe the disappointment these moms and dads feel when, after a lifetime in church, their son or daughter has made a decision that they feel is the opposite of every core value they tried to instill in them on the subject of choosing a mate for life. Often, for this or other reasons, the relationship is currently in crisis.

The thing is, when a male and a female live together or get married (a choice that needs to be the subject of a different article) if one of them is not a Christian, while it’s sometimes the case that the non-Christian is willing to check out their partner’s church, the greater preponderance seems to be that both stop going to church.

recessive-faithI know nothing about biology but I remember hearing someone using genetics to explain how blue eyes are a recessive trait and as blue eyed people continue to crossbreed with non blue eyed people, the number of blue eyed people declines. I sort of feel like church attendance and faith commitment are recessive traits and as theological mixed marriages take place, we see the decline in church attendance and/or people identifying as Christian.

In other words, there’s more at stake than just the underlying reasons why Paul makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 6:14, though the context is quite broad and marriage is not mentioned specifically. (If you’re in a business partnership with an unbeliever, the principle would appear to apply equally.)

What’s at here stake seems to be the future of the church.

 

December 29, 2016

The Opposite of Infant Baptism: Why Evangelicals Opt Out

This article was a link list item two weeks ago, but I found myself thinking about it somewhat continuously since, and last night it came up again at the supper table. The writer blogs at Patheos under the banner Troubler of Israel but I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his work.

I’ve quoted this in full, though you are strongly encouraged to read it at source and join the over 300 comments; just click the link in the title below. The only difference here is that I’ve placed one paragraph in bold face type which I believe deserves special attention.

The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies
by G. Shane Morris

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term 'baptism.'

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term ‘baptism.’

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Almost always, I see the lights come on after explaining this point to an evangelical friend. And in most cases, their acceptance of infant baptism isn’t far behind.

 

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.