City of Man (with Download of Foreword and Preface)

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I recently had the pleasure of editing City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner,  releasing October 1 from Moody Publishers.  In this volume, Gerson and Wehner draw on their experience as former White House staff, journalists, and commentators on religion (especially evangelicalism) to chart a new course for Christians to engage with politics in a post-Religious-Right era.

Rather than focusing on specific strategies for influencing legislation or electing politicians, the authors outline broad biblical principles that should inform believers as they engage the realm of politics—the “City of Man” in the words of Augustine.  Such principles include fighting for human rights, defending life, supporting the family and other character-shaping institutions, and engaging with political and ideological opponents in a civil and respectful manner.

What I most appreciate about City of Man is that it isn’t partisan in its approach, though both authors are well-known conservatives, but that it strives to present biblically and theologically sound first principles that apply to Christians of all political persuasions.  I believe the authors succeed, and I recommend this volume to any Christian looking for a deeper understanding of how the City of God relates to the City of Man.

You can download the foreword (by Timothy Keller) and preface in PDF format here.

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The Decade’s Biggest Changes in Christianity

Several scholars and journalists weigh in at Christianity Today.  For example,

“The huge surge of Christianity in China is a major development that several decades down the road could make the difference between peace and war. If Christianity continues to grow in China, I think relations between the U.S. and China will develop very well. If Christianity sputters out there, we’re probably looking at a military confrontation of some kind. The hopes for world peace depend on what happens in China.”
Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief, WORLD Magazine

“The speed with which the emerging church movement has dissipated, or lost momentum. At the beginning of the decade, ‘emerging’ was a huge buzzword. It peaked in 2002 or 2003; in the time since then, it has become a stigma or albatross that people don’t want to associate with. You don’t hear anyone talking about the emerging church any more. It doesn’t really sell the books that it used to. People thought it was going to be the next big thing and revolutionize the way we do church and change everything, but it seems like the reaction against it has been even more significant.”
Brett McCracken, author, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide

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News about Former Kansas Member Kerry Livgren

Kerry Livgren has put up a Christmas Eve letter about his recent, very severe stroke and significant but still-only-partial recovery.

For those who don’t know, Kerry Livgren was a founding member of Kansas and chief songwriter until the mid-80s. He became an evangelical Christian near the end of his time with the band and had a Christian band called AD in the 80s, after which he has spent much of his time running a farm and producing solo albums, while occasionally appearing with Kansas and contributing some new material for them to record (even contributing an entire album that reunited the original members of the famous 1972-on version of Kansas in 2000). Most recently, he reunited with some members of Kansas from before the band was famous in a group called Proto-Kaw (“Kaw” is another name for the Kanza people, from who the state got its name). He appeared on Kansas’ new DVD There’s Know Place Like Home and former Kansas vocalist John Elefante‘s new Mastedon project Revolution of Mind, and he’s been reworking some of his solo album, writing a cantata about the death and resurrection of Jesus’ friend Lazarus in John 11, and updating his autobiography.

Thanks to Parableman for this update.

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How Michael Behe Was Pulled from Bloggingheads.tv

Christianity Today gives the story behind this incident, which seems to reveal a selective intolerance toward dissenting ideas.

An online clearinghouse for intellectual debate has discovered the apparent boundary for its controversial conversations: Intelligent Design.

Bloggingheads.tv posted a video interview between journalist John McWhorter and Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe in late August focused on the Lehigh University biochemistry professor’s 2007 book The Edge of Evolution. It was taken down the same day after the website received a barrage of online criticism for not asking tougher questions of Behe and for hosting him at all.

The explanation given for pulling the interview: “John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable.”

Bloggingheads editor-in-chief Robert Wright reposted the interview four days later upon discovering the incident, but Behe says that action didn’t erase what happened . . . (Continue)

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“Jedi” 10th Most Popular Religion on Facebook

Paul Asay comments on a fascinating Washington Post article on how people struggle to answer the Religious Views question when creating a Facebook profile.

[William] Wan says the box gives us insight how the religious landscape has changed in the Internet age. “Christian” — or a Christian denomination or sect — is still by far the most popular way to fill in the box, followed by “Islam” and “atheist.” But, as Wan points out, people describe themselves  in a myriad of ways: “Jedi” is actually the 10th most popular “denomination” on Facebook. More than 2,000 people list “Heavy Metal” in the box. Many typed in “beer.”

And then there are the cryptic or witty one-liners, including my favorite: “Agnostic, but accepting offers.”

All of this makes these Facebook theologians sound rather light and trite. But for many, wrestling with how to fill in the box was a very serious matter. Some, according to Wan, wrestled with the question for days or weeks. For a few, considering “the box” led them to a line of thought they’d long ignored. Some eventually type in favorite Bible verses or an obscure line of poetry. Others gave up and simply wrote, “it’s complicated.” Religious descriptors on Facebook are almost as numerous and varied as the faithful themselves. (Continue)

It’s good to see that Facebook is acting as the catalyst for some soul searching.

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How Gen Y Is Changing the Economy

Kruse Kronicle points out some interesting factoids about how Gen Y is changing the economy.

USA Today: Gen Y forces retailers to keep up with technology, new stuff

The next time you see a member of Generation Y, show some appreciation.

In Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail, Kit Yarrow and Jayne O’Donnell say today’s teens, tweens and twentysomethings “were the least likely to cut back spending after the onset of the 2008 recession.”

What’s more, Yarrow (a consumer researcher and chair of the Golden Gate University psychology department) and O’Donnell (USA TODAY’s retail reporter) say the 84 million Generation Yers born from 1978 through 2000 are so influential they’ve changed shopping for all consumers. They call Gen Y “the taste-makers, influencers, and most enthusiastic buyers of today,” who will become “the mature, high-income purchasers of the future.”

Because of Gen Y, we have:

  • More creative, technically advanced websites (50% of retailers redesigned their sites last year).
  • A wide availability of online customer reviews (Gen Y writes half of them).
  • A faster stream of product introductions (Gen Y gets bored fast).
  • Bigger, more comfortable dressing rooms (Gen Yers like to bring in friends to review outfits).

Generalizing about any group this size is risky . . .

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Kurt Vonnegut on Disaster, Drama, and Real Life

I was at a Kurt Vonnegut talk in New York a few years ago.  Talking about writing, life, and everything.

He explained why people have such a need for drama in their life.

He said, “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is, they think life is supposed to be like the stories. Let’s look at a few examples.”

He drew an empty grid on the board, like this:

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Time moves from left to right.  Happiness from bottom to top.

He said, “Let’s look at a very common story arc. The story of Cinderella.”

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It starts with her awful life with evil stepsisters, scrubbing the fireplace. Then she get an invitation to the ball! Things look up. Then the fairy godmother makes her a dress and a coach. Even better! Then she goes to the ball, and dances with the prince! This is great!  But then it’s midnight. She has to go. Oh no. Sadness. Back to her humdrum life scrubbing the fireplace. But it’s not as bad as before, because she’s had this encouraging experience.  Then, the prince finds her, and the happiness factor is off the chart!  Happily ever after.

“People LOVE that story! This story arc has been written a thousand times in a thousand tales. And because of it, people think their lives are supposed to be like this.”

(Continue) (HT First Thoughts)

Vonnegut goes on to describe a common disaster story and comments similarly:

“People LOVE that story! This story arc has been written a thousand times in a thousand tales. And because of it, people think their lives are supposed to be like this.”

Since we grow up with these larger-than-life stories,

we think our lives are supposed to be filled with huge ups and downs! So people pretend there is drama where there is none.”

That’s why people invent fights. That’s why we’re drawn to sports. That’s why we act like everything that happens to us is such a big deal.

We’re trying to make our life into a fairy tale.

In my view, we’re all part of a much bigger drama than any of those he mentions – the cosmic drama of redemption, and the Kingdom of God against the powers of darkness.  Perhaps it’s no mistake that we think and imagine on a grand scale.  Maybe that’s an aspect of having eternity set in our hearts (Eccles. 3:11).

What do you think?

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Pastor Visits the Creation Museum with Secular Student Alliance

Creation Museum
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Pastor Aaron Gardner describes his experience visiting the Creation Museum along with several atheist and agnostic students with the Secular Student Alliance (SSA).  He makes some interesting observations about the reaction of Christians to the group.

While I did not have [an SSA or atheist] T-shirt (a symbol anyway) it was obvious that there was a distinctive way that we were being treated because of the shared identification.  There were hateful glances, exaggerated perceptions, waxing surveillance by security, and anxious but strong ‘amens’ accompanying a lecture on “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” by Dr. Jason Lisle.

There have rarely been times in my life that I have been ashamed of people that I call “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  This was one of them.  To be judged by people that share my beliefs because of the name tag I wore was appalling [Aaron attended with the SSA group and had an SSA name tag].  We forget that Jesus not only commanded that we love our enemies and pray for them, but he also sought out people who were rejected by the religious order, embraced them, spent time with them, and partied with them.  It was not a covert operation to get them to say the sinner’s prayer (which was not invented until the 20th century) and get them to change their ways.  Jesus knew that spending time with them was like good medicine: those who are well do not need a doctor. (Read the rest here)

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Review of Soong-Chan Rah’s “The Next Evangelicalism”

by Greg Taylor at Leadership Journal.  Dr. Rah has some ground-level insights into how the evangelical church can better deal with issues of race.

My life and worldview will never be the same after living seven years in Uganda. My wife and children, our mission team members, and I all made friends with and learned from people who were struggling out of poverty but still lived full of joy and hope.

Unfortunately, few Western Christians have the opportunity to learn from believers in other cultures. As a result, we impose our own perspective on Christians worldwide.

In The Next Evangelicalism, professor and pastor Soong-Chan Rah says the evangelical church has been held captive to Western-white power and must be released in the same way the early Christian church was released from Jewish ethnic control. Nearly 95 percent of Christian churches in America have more than 80 percent of one particular ethnic group. Most evangelical churches are white monoliths.

“Racism,” he says, “is America’s original sin.” Our culture and economy were built on the backs of Native Americans and black slaves. But American individualism and consumerism keep Christians from understanding and confessing corporate sin.

According to Rah, today’s “slavery issue” is immigration. Rah says church leaders maintain a “conspicuous silence” on the issue of immigration. Though some view immigration as a huge problem, Rah interprets law changes as far back as 1965 as catalysts for making immigrants the next hope for evangelical churches.

But the road to change is long and full of pitfalls, and the cards are stacked against non-whites. A 2005 Time story featuring 25 influential evangelicals included only two non-whites. Rah tells stories of churches resisting ethnic change in their communities, but has hope for a few shining examples of churches learning from and embodying ethnic change in their neighborhoods. He says the “colorblind American” approach is superficial and serves only to cover over and hide racial hatred. (Continue)

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Worldwide Study on the Benefits of Religion

A new study by Angus Deaton uses an expansive dataset to analyze the determinants and benefits of religiosity around the world. Deaton confirms that women and the elderly are almost universally more religious. He also finds evidence that higher religiosity among the elderly may be due to aging effects as opposed to simply secularization of younger generations. Religious people view themselves as more fit, reporting better health, more energy, and less pain. (Perhaps prayer is a substitute for complaining?) They’re also less likely to smoke and more likely to be married, have supportive friends, and be treated with respect. Other economists have linked religiosity with voting and counteracting the effects of childhood poverty.

(Via Freakonomics)

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