Posts tagged ‘Huffington Post’

Faith and Authority

rod-long-355994-unsplash.jpg

Credit: Rod Long on Unsplash

I find people’s faith stories fascinating.  Take, for instance, Rachel Meyer, who, in an article for the Huffington Post, chronicles her struggle of how she might be able to pass down her faith to her son.

She opens her piece by talking about a man she dated when she was in her early 20s.  When she asked him whether or not he believed in God, he responded, “I believe in ME.”  “I knew in that instant,” she writes, “it would never work between us.”  Why?  Well, she continues:

I am a person of deep faith: a preacher’s kid, a yoga teacher, and a meditation geek with a master’s degree in systematic theology.  I’ve spent my whole life belly-deep in the spiritual world.

Her spiritual world, however, is not what many would expect.  She sums up her creedal commitments by rattling off a litany of things she does not believe:

I don’t believe in original sin, or the pathological shame and guilt that comes with it.  I don’t believe in hell, or that bodily desire gets us there.  I don’t believe that God is gendered, or in the kind of sexist and homophobic theology that shuts out LGBTQIA+ folks.  I don’t believe in substitutionary atonement or white supremacy.  I don’t believe that nationalism should have anything to do with religion.

For the record, as a confessional Christian, I don’t believe in many of those things, either.  I do believe in original sin.  But I’m not big on pathological shame.  I do believe in hell.  But I don’t believe that bodily desire gets us there.  I believe that rejecting God’s resurrected Son gets us there.  I don’t believe that God is gendered per se, for He is spirit.  But I do believe that He became incarnate as a man and invites us to approach Him as our Father.  I don’t believe in shutting out LGBTQIA+ people – or anyone else, for that matter – but I do believe we must take seriously the sexual contours outlined in Scripture and consider that perhaps they are there for the sake of our safety and thriving.  I most certainly do believe in the substitutionary atonement.  And I most certainly loathe white supremacy.  It is inimical to the very nature of who the Church is to be – the redeemed “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (Revelation 7:9).  A good portion of the fun of figuring out what you think about nationalism is figuring out how to define it, as this podcast from Arthur Brooks reminds us.  But regardless of how you define nationalism and what you think of it, I most certainly believe that I am a member of God’s household before I am a citizen of any nation.

But behind our individual instances of agreement and disagreement lies some bigger questions:  How does one decide what to believe?  To what authority does one turn to shape one’s beliefs?

There is a canon of beliefs that Rachel Meyer wants to hand down to her son:

I still want my kid to grow up with an appreciation for high-church liturgy, for the holy space of grace that is a cathedral.  I want him to know the selfless service of church ladies setting out homemade casseroles and Jell-O salads in the fellowship hall after baptisms and funerals.  I want him to learn that Jesus – like Buddha and Muhammad – was a radical prophet who taught us how to live gently, wholeheartedly, out of love above all else, and to let that understanding cultivate a passion for social justice.

Okay.  I agree that selflessness is critical – even to the Gospel itself.  Gentleness is a member of the Spirit’s fruit.  And concerning ourselves with justice in society is beautifully prophetic.  But why are selflessness, gentleness, and social justice in while the substitutionary atonement is out?  Rachel never quite answers these questions.

In the end, Rachel seems to have cobbled together a faith that is not based on much of anything besides her own affections and aversions.  What she likes in faith, she keeps.  What she doesn’t like, she trashes.

The humorist Anne Lamott once told the story of a priest friend of hers, Tom, who would say, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  Tom is right.  To be a person of faith is to be, among other things, a person under divine authority.  Only a fool would believe that their own opinions and preferences would always match up with God’s commands and revelation.  This is why, for millennia now, Christians have turned to the pages of Scripture to discover God’s commands and character, even when His commands and character unsettle us, puzzle us, or even offend us.  We approach the pages of Holy Writ humbly, wondering what we have missed, what we must learn, and how can change.

If your God always agrees with you, then it’s safe to assume that the “god” you believe in is really just a thinly veiled version of you, which means that your god can’t help you, challenge you, stretch you, or save you because he is you.  So why bother with him at all?

Perhaps Rachel has more in common with her old love interest than she lets on.  “I believe in ME,” he said.  It sounds like she could say the same thing, too.

June 24, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Spiritual Speech About Social Concerns

ConfusedLast week on this blog, I discussed a video showing some members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist chant. In my analysis, I cited Byron Williams of The Huffington Post and his use of theological language to address the incident:

America’s approach to the original sin of racism maintains an aspect of arrested development. It is too easy to temporarily transfer our moral indignation toward a fraternity at the University of Oklahoma that no longer exists than it is to take the more difficult path that could lead to a meaningful transformation …

The expelled students have already succeeded in dismantling their fraternity chapter. Shouldn’t they be given opportunity for redemption? In lieu of expulsion, could the university have found another way to educate all involved about the poisons of racism?[1]

Williams attaches a lot of theological freight to his analysis of this incident – and, I would argue, rightly so – with words like “original sin” and “redemption.” But I would also argue that he does not frame his theological terminology in a particularly Christian way. Williams’ description of “redemption,” for instance, is more closely aligned with AA’s call to make amends than it is with Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. To be clear, I by no means think that these students should not have to make amends. Indeed, I think such action would be extraordinarily salutary – both for the people they hurt and for the offending students themselves. I only point out Williams’ unconventional use of theological language as an example of how, while many in our culture still have strong theological instincts, such instincts are often not expressly Christian in their content or context.

In an article for The Weekly Standard, Roman Catholic theologian Joseph Bottum frames the issue of racism and its attendant issue of white privilege, as does Williams, in the theological terminology of original sin:

“All have sinned,” writes St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome, even those who have “not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” And so too are we all guilty of racism, even those who have never harbored an explicitly racist thought or said an explicitly racist word or performed an explicitly racist deed. “We have to get away from this idea that there is one sort of racism and it wears a Klan hood,” as Berkeley law professor Ian Haney-López explains. “Of course, that is an egregious form of racism, but there are many other forms of racism. There are racisms.” Racisms under which we all suffer.[2]

Bottum astutely notes that for all the talk of secularism’s encroachments on Western society, our essential impulses are still spiritual. Just look at how we talk about racism as not just a set of actions, or even as a worldview, but as a blight for which we must make atonement.

But as strong as our spiritual impulses may be, something is missing:

The doctrine of original sin is probably incoherent, and certainly gloomy, in the absence of its pairing with the concept of a divine savior – and so Paul concludes Romans 5 with a turn to the Redeemer and the possibility of hope: “As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Think of it as a car’s engine or transmission scattered in pieces around a junkyard: The individual bits of Christian theology don’t actually work all that well when they’re broken apart from one another.

We are stuck in a societal Anfechtung, Bottum says.  For on the one hand, our culture does indeed have strong spiritual impulses.  This is why we confess and agonize over “original sins” like racism.  But on the other hand, our spiritual impulses do not lead us to the relief of Christ’s cross. Instead, our impulsive anxieties are left to stew in their own juices until they inevitably begin to search for relief and redemption in other ways – in our day, usually in the ways of our body politic. In large part, we in the West have traded the theologia crucis for legislative sausage making.

In many regards, this way of theologizing is merely the inexorable upshot of the liberal Protestantism of the twentieth century. As Bottum explains:

Early in the twentieth century … the main denominations of liberal American Protestantism gradually came to a new view of sin, understanding our innate failings as fundamentally social rather than personal. Crystallized by Walter Rauschenbusch’s influential Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907), the Social Gospel movement saw such sins as militarism and bigotry as the forces that Christ revealed in his preaching – the social forces that crucified Him and the social forces against which He was resurrected. Not that Christ mattered all that much in the Social Gospel’s construal. Theological critics from John Gresham Machen in the 1920s to Reinhold Niebuhr in the 1950s pointed out that the Social Gospel left little for the Redeemer to do: Living after His revelation, what further use do have we of Him? Jesus may be the ladder by which we climbed to a higher ledge of morality, but once there, we no longer need the ladder …

The Social Gospel’s loss of a strong sense of Christ facilitated the drift of congregants – particularly the elite and college-educated classes – out of the mainline that had once defined the country. Out of the churches and into a generally secularized milieu.

They did not leave empty-handed. Born in the Christian churches, the civil rights movement had focused on bigotry as the most pressing of social sins in the 1950s and 1960s, and when the mainline Protestants began to leave their denominations, they carried with them the Christian shape of social and moral ideas, however much they imagined they had rejected Christian content.

When I read Bottum’s analysis of our current situation, I can’t help but think of Rudolf Bultmann, the famed twentieth century German theologian, who sought to free Christianity from its so-called “mythical” trappings – trappings like Jesus’ miracles, Jesus’ teachings, and, ultimately, Jesus’ very resurrection. I wonder if this old liberal theologian isn’t smiling down on us right now. After all, his project of demythologizing Christianity has now been completed, probably more thoroughly than he could have ever imagined. For Christianity in secular society has indeed been stripped of all its mythical trappings – including, as it turns out, Christ Himself.  We are left only with the residual ghosts of Christian morality to convict us of socially abhorrent sins without the historical cross of the resurrected Christ to comfort us in all sin.

Of course, orthodox Christians cannot accept Bultmann’s project or its outcome. But even if we cannot accept it, it is important that we understand it. For if we do not understand the theological shape of our secular society, we will perhaps miss opportunities to offer our salvific rest of the story to our society’s guilt-ridden part of the story.

And that would be a sin.

_________________________

[1] Byron Williams, “It’s Not Unconstitutional to Be Racist,” The Huffington Post (3.11.2015).

[2] Joseph Bottum, “The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas,” The Weekly Standard (12.1.2014).

March 23, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Unreal Sales for Real Marriage

Real MarriageIt seems as though the New York Times bestseller list just isn’t what it used to be.  In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Carolyn Kellogg writes about the saga of a recent book that became a New York Times bestseller not because lots of people were buying it, but because a company called ResultSource was buying thousands of copies of the book with the express intent of turning it into a bestseller.  Kellogg begins by citing from World magazine, the news outlet that broke the story:

“The contract called for the ‘author’ to ‘provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the makeup of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.’”

Measures like these are designed to game the systems set in place by BookScan and other book sales talliers to protect the integrity of their bestseller lists …

After getting thousands of names with geographic diversity, RSI took another step to place [the book] on bestseller lists, according to the World article. The agreement specifies, “RSI will use its own payment systems (ex. gift cards to ensure flawless reporting). Note: The largest obstacle to the reporting system is the tracking of credit cards. RSI uses over 1,000 different payment types (credit cards, gift cards, etc).”[1]

Wow.  That sure sounds shady.

Did I mention the book in question is Real Marriage, written by famous mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll?  And did I mention his church, Mars Hill in Seattle, shelled out, according to some reports, over $200,000 to get his book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list?

In many ways, Mark Driscoll and I are kindred spirits.  We share many of the same theological commitments.  When it comes to preaching, we both believe a good sermon must not primarily be about what we are to do, but about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  When it comes to Scriptural authority, both of us hold doggedly to the doctrine of inerrancy, even though some voices are seeking to discredit it these days.  When it comes to salvation, we both believe that, contrary to our society’s pluralistic ethos, salvation is found in no one but Christ.  We share a lot in common.  But for all our theological similarities, what happened with Real Marriage represents a weighty ethical difference.

I know sales number shenanigans are not at all unusual in the publishing world.  Authors do this kind of thing all the time.  Sarah Cunningham of the Huffington Post explains that Real Marriage’s marketing strategy is only a symptom of a systemic disease:

This book launch strategy … wasn’t shocking to anyone who has been involved in the publishing industry … There have always been ways to underwrite the success of authors in any field, religious or not, when the efforts were attached to a deep enough bank account.  Don’t doubt for a second, then, that some of Mark’s … counterparts haven’t done (or tried to do) the same.[2]

According to Cunningham, when it comes to cooking sales numbers, “everybody’s doing it.”  But this go-to teenage quip is a sorry justification for what is a seriously unethical practice.

When I visited ResultSource’s website, I found it curious that although they made all sorts of promises that they can get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list, they didn’t give a clear explanation of how they can get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.  Here’s a sampling of what their website boasts:

We partner with authors to create and tap an audience – to connect the potential buyers of your book directly with the bookseller to leverage your launch potential.  Our goal is to reach further than just typical launch management – our deep relationships enable us to create opportunities outside of what’s expected, to gain substantial traction within the critical “first 90 days” of your launch – or booksellers will send your book back to the publisher.

RSI can:

Leverage our relationships with individuals in “Seven Channels of Influence” to promote your book.  Research shows that people are influenced by multiple touch-points – and that our buying decisions are driven by as many as seven channels within our culture.

Send email promotions to as many as 300,000 book buyers on our proprietary database of business and self-help book buyers.

Write and design electronic promotions such as banners, excerpts, and Q&As.

Build a powerful merchandising program with key retailers like airport booksellers, Amazon, B&N (Brick-n-Mortar and BN.com), Borders, Books-A-Million and independent outlets.  The key to a winning book launch campaign is to have copies of your book in prominent positions at as many retailers as possible – and then drive sell through.[3]

Now, besides being a little leery of any company that makes selling a book through Borders (NYSE: BGP $0.00 +0.00%) a featured component of their marketing strategy, I am also deeply unsettled by the ambiguity of their claims.  I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about.  What are the “Seven Channels of Influence”?  What, exactly, does it mean to “build a powerful merchandising program with key retailers”?  And why don’t they mention that their primary strategy to drive sales is for this company to buy thousands of copies of a particular book in a way that dupes bestseller lists into believing thousands of people are buying the book?  If a company can’t talk openly and honestly about the services they offer, perhaps they shouldn’t be offering them.

Ultimately, I point out what happened with Real Marriage not to pick on Mark Driscoll, but because this scandal is indicative of a wider, toxic pattern that needs to be addressed.  In this particular instance, I appreciate how the Board of Advisors and Accountability at Mars Hill has responded to this controversy, writing, “While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again.”[4]  I am glad to hear that.  I hope others follow suit.

From a theological perspective, Driscoll pinpoints the root of the problem in this whole saga in another one of his books when he writes, “This world’s fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are – children of God made in His image – and instead define ourselves by any number of things other than Jesus.”[5]

I couldn’t agree more.  If the prestige of being a New York Times bestselling author is so bewitching that a whole company can be created to help authors pay their way onto this list, something is terribly and tragically awry.  We are defining ourselves by all the wrong things.

Regardless of whether or not Mark Driscoll actually is a bestselling author, he is a child of God.  So am I.  And that’s good enough.  Because, in the end, that’s what really matters.


[1] Carolyn Kellogg, “Can bestseller lists be bought?Los Angeles Times (3.6.2014).

[2] Sarah Cunningham, “The Injustice of Silence: Why Our Culture Pulled Mark Driscoll Over For a Broken Headlight,” Huffington Post (3.6.2014).

[3] ResultSource.com, “Book Launch Campaigns.”

[4] “A Note From Our Board of Advisors & Accountability,” Mars Hill Church (3.7.2014).

[5] Mark Driscoll, Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity In Christ (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2013), 2.

March 17, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Is Christianity Dumb?

Benedict Spinoza Credit: Wikipedia

Benedict Spinoza
Credit: Wikipedia

It’s really the Enlightenment’s fault.  Ever since René Descartes decided the best catalyst for rational inquiry was skepticism, the skepticism supposedly necessary to reason and the faith integral to religion have been regularly presented as at odds with each other, or, at the very least, best quarantined from each other.  Consider this from Descartes devotee and Old Testament critic, Benedict Spinoza:

Those who do not know how to distinguish philosophy from theology dispute as to whether Scripture should be subject to reason or whether, on the contrary, reason should be the servant of Scripture:  that is to say, whether the sense of Scripture should be accommodated to reason or whether reason should be subordinated to Scripture … It is obvious that both are absolutely wrong.  For whichever position we adopt, we would have to distort either reason or Scripture since we have demonstrated that the Bible does not teach philosophical matters but only piety, and everything in Scripture is adapted to the understanding and preconceptions of the common people.[1]

Spinoza passionately contends that reason and religion must be kept in two separate spheres.  If they are not, he warns, Scripture will distort reason and reason will distort Scripture.  But key to understanding Spinoza’s argument for the separation of Scripture and reason is why these two entities distort each other.  “Scripture,” Spinoza explains, “is adapted to the understanding and preconceptions of the common people.”  Spinoza assumes that the biblical characters of antiquity did not have the intellectual faculties necessary to imbibe the great rational truths of the Enlightenment.  Spinoza elsewhere explains:

God adapted His revelations to the understanding and opinions of the prophets [and other biblical authors as well], and that the prophets could be ignorant of matters of purely philosophical reason that are not concerned with charity and how to live; and indeed they really were ignorant in this respect and held contradictory views.  Hence knowledge about natural and spiritual matters is by no means to be sought from them.[2]

Isn’t that nice.  God would have revealed matters of rational, philosophical reason to the biblical writers, but because they were not smart enough to understand them, God had to stick with giving them moral platitudes about “charity and how to live.”  Thankfully, Spinoza does understand the truths of rational philosophy and can explain them to us full-throatedly.

Unfortunately, Spinoza’s parings of reason with intelligence and religion with ignorance are still assumed in and normative to the thinking of our day.  Consider this from the Huffington Post:

Are religious people less intelligent than atheists?

That’s the provocative conclusion of a new review of 63 studies of intelligence and religion that span the past century. The meta-analysis showed that in 53 of the studies, conducted between 1928 to 2012, there was an inverse relation between religiosity – having religious beliefs, or performing religious rituals – and intelligence. That is, on average, non-believers scored higher than religious people on intelligence tests.

What might explain the effect?

Scientists behind studies included in the review most often suggested that “religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better.’”[3]

Now, the rules of rational and, for that matter, statistical inquiry remind us that correlation does not equal causation.  So, to surmise that religious beliefs decrease IQ from a study that happens to show some people with religious beliefs have lower IQ’s than those without religious beliefs is suspect at best.  Indeed, Jordan Silberman, a co-author of the study, admitted as much to the Huffington Post:

I’m sure there are intelligent religious people and unintelligent atheists out there … The findings pertain to the average intelligence of religious and non-religious people, but they don’t necessarily apply to any single person.  Knowing that a person is religious would not lead me to bet any money on whether or not the person is intelligent.

Silberman concedes that there are many anomalies that counter his correlation between religious belief and lower IQ’s, which speaks forcefully against any kind of causation.  Thus, this study gives us no real insight into to whether or not religion and rationality are truly at odds with each other.

So why do I bring all of this up?  Because, regardless of whether or not it is true, firmly ingrained into our society’s zeitgeist is the narrative that religion and reason are irreconcilable.  I, however, believe this to be false.  Christians can make full use of their rational faculties without having to sell their faith to the strictures of a seventeenth century movement and its incorrigible assumptions concerning the incompatibility of reason and religion.  Regardless of any assumptions bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment, we know that we have far more than just reason or just religion, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).  And His mind bridges both reason and religion.  After all, His command created both reason and religion.


[1] Benedict Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, Michael Silverthorne & Jonathan Israel, trans. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007), 186.

[2] Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 40.

[3] Macrina Cooper-White, “Religious People Branded As Less Intelligent Than Atheists In Provocative New Study,” The Huffington Post (8.14.2013).

October 28, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Chafed Over Chick-fil-A

The firestorm is burning white hot.  And it didn’t take much to spark it either.  All it took was a passing statement from Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy in an interview with the Baptist Press:

We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.[1]

Cathy’s qualification of “family” as “the biblical definition of the family unit” upset and offended many of those who support same-sex marriage, which, by all traditional Christian accounts, falls outside the pale of “the biblical definition of the family unit.”[2]  But Cathy wasn’t backing down.  In an appearance on “The Ken Coleman Show,” Cathy solidified his stance:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, “We know better than You as to what constitutes a marriage,” and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is about.[3]

The reactions to these two statements have predictably ranged from the genuinely offended to the bombastically outrageous.  Equality Illinois, an LGBT advocacy group, plans a “kiss-in,” akin to the “sit-ins” of the 1960’s civil rights movement, in front of selected Chick-fil-A’s to protest Cathy’s statements.  The group has also launched a “Flick the Hate” campaign, saying, “Rather than spend money at hateful businesses like Chick-fil-A, support businesses that support LGBT rights.”[4]  Rosanne Barr tweeted, “Anyone who eats *Expletive* Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.”[5]  She later apologized for her incendiary statement.  Then there was Juliet Jeske, a comedian, who posed the perennial hermeneutical quandary: “I don’t quite understand how Christians who cite these six scant verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality conveniently ignore some of the more extreme laws. How is one verse the ‘WORD OF GOD’ and another discarded as being out-of-date?”[6]  She cites a slew of peculiar-sounding passages from Leviticus and opines on why Christians no longer follow the Good Book’s restrictions concerning menstruating women and clothing made of more than one fabric while insisting on following the Bible’s moral verdict on homosexuality.  If she is interested in the answer to her conundrum, I would suggest she read Tim Keller’s insightful article, “Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency.’”  Considering how many times this question concerning the so-called “inconsistent” application of the Bible has been raised, however, and how many times it has been answered – quite well, I would add – I have begun to wonder if this article, and others like it, is not more of a cheap shot at Christian biblical interpretation rather than a genuine question about Christian biblical interpretation.

What disturbs me most about the Chick-fil-A controversy is not Cathy’s statements, for the immorality of all sex outside the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman is a longstanding Christian tenant.  Nor do the objections of many in the LGBT community to Cathy’s statement disturb me, for such objections are to be expected.  What disturbs me most about this controversy is the eventual response of Chick-fil-A as a corporation to the stir.  The company issued a statement that read in part, “Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”[7]  Though people may debate whether or not it is prudent for COO’s of large corporations to express their theological convictions to news outlets that often make a habit out of subjecting theological convictions to the acerbic accusations of public opinion, I would submit that Chick-fil-A made precisely the wrong move when it so willingly relinquished this debate to the arena of government and politics.

At its heart, the debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is not a political debate, but a moral one.  To relegate this debate to the realm of politics and wrangling legislators is to cheapen it and, ultimately, to give it less consideration and credence than it deserves.  Moral debate should not be settled by majority vote, but by robust and respectful conversation grounded in something steadier and more transcultural than November’s ballot box – something like Holy Scripture for Christians, or, in broader society, natural, moral law.[8]  Morality by democracy can lead only to disaster, for it encourages people to breezily act according to what is right in their own eyes (cf. Judges 17:6).

The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, had it at least partially right when he said, “Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values.”[9]  Though, as a Christian, I heartily disagree with Rahm Emanuel’s values as they pertain to same-sex marriage, on this much we find common ground:  this is about values and morals, not politics and opinion polls.  Let’s not turn it into anything less.


[1] K. Allan Blume, “‘Guilty as charged,’ Cathy says of Chick-fil-A’s stand on biblical & family values,” Baptist Press (7.16.12).

[2] Read Concordia’s stance on same-sex marriage in “A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage.”

[3] As cited in “Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A President, On Anti-Gay Stance: ‘Guilty As Charged,’The Huffington Post (7.17.12).

[4] www.facebook.com

[5] Cited in Paul Bond, “Roseanne Barr Responds to Critics After Controversial Chick-fil-A Tweet,” The Hollywood Reporter (7.26.12).

[6] Juliet Jeske, “Chick-Fil-A, Do You Really Want to Run Your Company on Biblical Values?The Huffington Post (7.26.12).

[7] Cited in Shan Li, “Chick-fil-A steps out of public debate on gay marriage,” The Los Angeles Times (7.19.12).

[8] An examination of same-sex marriage in light of natural, moral law can be found in “A Pastoral Statement on President Obama’s Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage.”

[9] Cited in Bill Barrow, “Chick-fil-A sandwiches become a political symbol,” The Associated Press (7.27.12).

July 30, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Making the Most of Marriage

At the end of each year, major news outlets publish their lists of the year’s top news stories.  For 2011, Osama bin Laden’s death and Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami were the top news stories according to the Associate Press. [1]  Interestingly, it is not only mainstream news outlets that provide such lists.  Religious news outlets, editorial writers, and bloggers are now following suit.  I have seen lists of 2011’s top religious news stories in Christianity Today [2] and the The Huffington Post[3]  But it is a top ten news story in the Gospel Coalition blog that really caught my attention.  It is titled “Marriages Need Help.”  Collin Hansen, who penned this list, explains why this story made his top ten:

This story could have appeared in my 2010 list, and it might warrant an encore in 2012. Same-sex “marriage,” legalized by New York state in 2011, continues to grab the headlines. But here’s the bigger story: a growing number of Westerners have abandoned the institution altogether. The Pew Research Center recently revealed that a record low number of Americans – 51 percent – are married. The rate dropped 5 percent in just one year, between 2009 and 2010. [4]

If that statistic from the Pew Research Center does not make your jaw drop, it should.  At an increasingly rapid rate, Americans are either (A) getting divorced, (B) never getting married in the first place, or (C) living in lifeless, loveless, romance-less marriages.  It is worth noting that the statistics from Pew do not account for those in category C.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, [5] Pastor Tim Keller distinguishes between two kinds of relationships:  consumer relationships and covenantal relationships.  A consumer relationship lasts only as long as the needs of the partners in the relationship are being met satisfactorily.  As soon as needs stop being met, the relationship falls apart.  These kinds of relationships, then, are inherently self-centered, for they exist merely to gratify their participants.  Covenantal relationships, on the other hand, are binding relationships in which the good of the relationship trumps the preferences and immediate needs of the individuals in the relationship.   These relationships are based on a continual commitment rather than on a consumer-fueled contentment.

Part of the reason marriage is on such a sharp decline, Keller argues, is because we have taken what should be the covenantal relationship of marriage and have turned it into a consumer relationship.  In other words, many marriages last only as long as the partners are having their needs met.  As soon as a marriage hits a rough patch, or as soon as one spouse or both spouses feel as though their desires are going unaddressed, divorce all too quickly ensues.  Indeed, this is why many people don’t get married in the first place.  They don’t want to bother with the kind of covenantal commitment that marriage inevitably brings – at least from a legal standpoint, if nothing else.  As a pastor, I have heard more times than I care to remember, “We don’t need a piece of paper [i.e., a marriage license] to tell us that we love each other.  We don’t need to get married!”  This kind of statement breaks my heart.  For what a person who makes such a statement is really saying is, “I don’t love this person quite enough to make things as permanent as a marriage makes things!  I don’t love this person quite enough to enter into a covenant with them!”

Jesus’ words about a Christian’s life apply equally as well to a spouse’s life:  “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).  Self-sacrifice is the way of the gospel…and the way of marriage.  Marriage is not about getting your needs met.  It is about sacrificing selflessly for the sake of your spouse.  And yet, through such willing sacrifice, Jesus promises that your needs will indeed be met, even if ever so mysteriously.  You will “find your life,” Jesus says.  But take heed of Jesus’ warning:  If you enter a relationship with a consumer mentality, looking only to your own needs, wants, and desires – if you try to “save your life” – you will only wind up sorely and sadly empty.  You will only wind up losing your life.  Fulfillment in marriage – and in life – begins with emptying yourself in service.

So if you are married, but times are tough, in almost every instance, except those instances in which a family member is in danger, the road to recovery begins with serving your spouse.  If you are not married, but you’d like to be, selfless service is the path to your future spouse’s heart.  This is the help our marriages need.


[1] David Crary, “The top ten news stories of 2011,” The Associated Press (12.30.11).

[2]Top 10 News Stories of 2011,” Christianity Today (12.28.11).

[3] Paul Brandies Raushenbush, “Religion Stories of 2011: The Top 11,” The Huffington Post (12.8.11).

[4] Collin Hansen, “My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2011,” The Gospel Coalition (12.28.11).

[5] See chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage” in Tim Keller with Katy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011).

January 9, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

God and the Debt Crisis

It was a rough day on Wall Street. On Friday, Standard & Poors downgraded United States debt, taking it from its time-honored AAA rating to AA+, with a warning that another downgrade could be in the making. Today, the markets reacted as the Dow Jones plunged 632 points and closed below 11,000, its worst one day loss since December 2008. Though I’m no financial analyst and would never deign to give anyone counsel concerning our fiscal future, right now, the economic horizon of our country does not look particularly bright to me.

The current debt crisis has invoked a fair amount of personal reflection concerning the ethics of managing money. From greed to irresponsibility to politics to entitlements, there is much to be said concerning our pecuniary predicament. But it was an article in The Huffington Post that led me to some new and sober analysis on how we, as Americans, view our finances. The article was titled “Why Atheism Replaces Religion in Developed Countries” and was written by Nigel Barber, who holds a Ph.D. in Biopsychology. Barber’s thesis runs thusly:

Atheists are more likely to be college-educated people who live in cities, and they are highly concentrated in the social democracies of Europe. Atheism thus blossoms amid affluence where most people feel economically secure. But why?

It seems that people turn to religion as a salve for the difficulties and uncertainties of their lives. In social democracies, there is less fear and uncertainty about the future because social welfare programs provide a safety net and better health care means that fewer people can expect to die young. People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion.[1]

Barber’s argument, then, is this: The more money you have, the less religion you need. Religion is for those who cannot secure their futures via monetary means.

There are a couple of things that strike me as odd about Barber’s argument, not the least of which is its conflict with much of the empirical evidence. According to Barber, money and religion compete with each other in an inverse relationship. The more money one has, the less religion one needs. But many studies do not bear out this assertion. Take, for instance, the percentage of atheists in our nation throughout the years. In 1944, 4% of our nation’s citizens were atheists. In 1964, it dropped to 3%, remaining steady through 1994. In 2007, it crept back up to 4%.[2] Over the course of sixty-three years, through good economic times and bad, the percentage of people who self-identify as atheists has remained remarkably consistent. Indeed, the economic vitality of our country seems to have no effect on the religious sensibilities of our people. Moreover, because our nation is one of the most economically prosperous in the history of the world, one would expect to see a much higher percentage of self-declared atheists. But this is not the case. Statistically, atheists make up a small segment of our population, regardless of our economic state.

The second thing that strikes me as odd about Barber’s argument is his massive assumption that all human desire can be reduced down to a single need: the need for security. Barber’s argument runs like this: Our foundational need is to feel secure. And we will get the security we so earnestly desire one way or another. Some superstitious people get security from religion. Enlightened people, invigorated by their economic prosperity, receive security from money and the government that doles and dishes it out. But is this really true? Can money, managed by the government nonetheless, really offer the kind of security human beings desire and need? If our latest financial crisis is any indication, it cannot. Finding refuge in money is like finding security in a house of cards. The slightest jolt can send it crashing down.

Additionally, is the need for security really the only fundamental need human beings have? What about the need for purpose in life? Atheism, with its commitment to a closed and sterile universe, cannot offer the transcendent purpose that human beings seem to innately desire. Bertrand Russell, the famous British atheist philosopher, explains with clinical sobriety the view atheism has of the universe and of human beings:

In the visible world, the Milky Way is a tiny fragment; within this fragment, the solar system is an infinitesimal speck. And of this speck our planet is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of impure carbon and water, of complicated structure, with somewhat unusual physical and chemical properties, crawl about for a few years, until they are dissolved again into the elements of which they are compounded.[3]

Is it any wonder Bertrand didn’t make it as a motivational speaker? But Bertrand is simply honest enough to admit what so many atheists have fought so vigorously to sugarcoat and excuse: The inevitable philosophical concomitant of atheism is fatalism. If atheism is true, that means we are born, we live to struggle against the evolutionary goads, and then we die. That’s it. Our lives are merely blips against the backdrop of a cold, and ultimately triumphant, evolutionary system.

This is why atheism will finally never carry the day. Atheism will never carry the day because human beings want their lives to count for something – something bigger than money, something bigger than accomplishments, and something bigger than even this life itself. And only God can meet this want. And it seems only reasonable to recognize that if only God can meet this want, then maybe there is a God who has placed this want in human beings in the first place. Doctrinally, we call this the natural knowledge of God. And all human beings, yes, even atheists, have this knowledge – even if they fight this knowledge.

All of this leads us back to our debt crisis. The economic future of our nation is indeed frightening, but it is not surprising. After all, stocks and bonds, debt limits and balanced budget amendments simply cannot offer what God offers, no matter what Nigel Barber may assert. For capital cannot offer comfort and hope. Only God can offer that. That’s why so many in our nation continue to trust in God – through this crisis and the crises to come.


[1] Nigel Barber, “Why Atheism Replaces Religion in Developed Countries,” The Huffington Post (July 26, 2011).

[2] Matthew Hutson, “One Nation, Without God,” Psychology Today (September 1, 2009).

[3] Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays (London: Routledge Classics, 2004), 19.

August 8, 2011 at 10:55 am Leave a comment


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