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Tim Keller, Rachel Held Evans, and the Virginity of Young Christians
Monday, April 15, 2013, 2:06 PM

There is a fascinating tale of a brief Q & A with Tim Keller at the Christ and Pop Culture blog.  When asked about obstacles to revival, Keller pointed to fornication.  In other words, it is difficult to spiritually awaken people who have hard-wired a particular sin into their lives and have essentially committed to it.  If repentance means a large structural change, such as ending a co-habiting, sexual relationship, then it becomes that much less likely.

The part of the exchange that especially drew attention was the following:

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience.

Now, in my view, what Keller said is a very pastoral insight.  It is the kind of thing you learn from long experience dealing with church members and their children.  It also happens to be the kind of thing many of us have observed in our own lives.  For example, one of my very best friends had long been on fire for God.  When he became disappointed with his marriage, he suddenly became an expert critic of the Bible and questioned the concept of God’s authority.  We can see, in that instance, that the life circumstance prompted the doubts.  The values he had long embraced precluded leaving his wife.  So, he worked on deconstructing those values and justifying new ones.  One might also recall Augustine, whose conversion was held up to some degree by the fact that he had a mistress.

John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries and Prison Fellowship posted the story to his Facebook page and prompted feedback from Rachel Held Evans, who has become a successful writer on Christian topics, notably her experience as a Bryan College student and then again on trying out “Biblical womanhood.”  She took offense to what Keller said and wrote the following:

I’m often asked to speak on the topic of why young people leave the church. This. This is why young people leave the church. Because our questions aren’t taken seriously, because our value tends to be linked inextricably to our virginity, because our ideas are dismissed as silly.

I want to address one piece of what Rachel had to say.  ”[O]ur value tends to be linked inextricably to our virginity . . .”  To argue that the church has made something of a fetish out of virginity for young people is to essentially argue against the lordship of Christ and against the value of sexual purity.

When you are in high school and college, sex is the prime locus of the fight for sanctification.  It is the battle that is appropriate to the age.  You are on the edge of marriage during those years.

In the Christian understanding, sex is a marital act.  It is fitting that you and your spouse should have it in common only with each other.  To remain a virgin prior to marriage is to align oneself consciously with God and the church in viewing ourselves as uniquely and wonderfully human (in the image of God).  It is to renounce the reigning cultural logic which follows the popular lyric, “You and me, baby, we ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.”  In remaining virgins, we deny that we are at the mercy of animal instincts and assert that we are capable of adhering to higher laws than those which are merely biological.  To marry as a virgin is to demonstrate submission to God, love for one’s future spouse, and to offer up a witness to the world.

The church does us no disservice in emphasizing these points.  Rather, to the extent we embrace these teachings we experience a richer and fuller life both in obedience to Christ and in greater intimacy with our spouses.

An Astonishing Message from a Gay Sister in Christ
Monday, March 18, 2013, 7:15 PM

(You must make it to the third paragraph in order to understand.)

To the churches concerning homosexuals and lesbians:

Many of you believe that we do not exist within your walls, your schools, your neighborhoods. You believe that we are few and easily recognized. I tell you we are many. We are your teachers, doctors, accountants, high school athletes. We are all colors, shapes, sizes. We are single, married, mothers, fathers. We are your sons, your daughters, your nieces, your nephews, your grandchildren. We are in your Sunday School classes, pews, choirs, and pulpits. You choose not to see us out of ignorance or because it might upset your congregation. We ARE your congregation. We enter your doors weekly seeking guidance and some glimmer of hope that we can change. Like you, we have invited Jesus into our hearts. Like you, we want to be all that Christ wants us to be. Like you, we pray daily for guidance. Like you, we often fail.

When the word “homosexual” is mentioned in the church, we hold our breaths and sit in fear. Most often this word is followed with condemnation, laughter, hatred, or jokes. Rarely do we hear any words of hope. At least we recognize our sin. Does the church as a whole see theirs? Do you see the sin of pride, that you are better than or more acceptable to Jesus than we are? Have you been Christ-like in your relationships with us? Would you meet us at the well, or restaurant, for a cup of water, or coffee? Would you touch us even if we showed signs of leprosy, or aids? Would you call us down from our trees, as Christ did Zacchaeus, and invite yourself to be our guest? Would you allow us to sit at your table and break bread? Can you love us unconditionally and support us as Christ works in our lives, as He works in yours, to help us all to overcome?

To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. We are your brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not what we shall be, but thank God, we are not what we were. Let us work together to see that we all arrive safely home.

A Sister in Christ

Remembering an Encounter with a Young Pastor in a Park
Saturday, March 16, 2013, 3:14 PM

Several years ago my wife and I were at a park playing with our son (then just a toddler).  We noticed a younger couple having a wonderful good time playing with their child around the swings.  Somehow it happened that the two wives starting talking together as did the two husbands.  I discovered that the young man was a Lutheran seminarian or pastor in training.  At that moment I was worrying about gay marriage (this was well ahead of the controversy we are embroiled in today). The young pastor asked me, “Why are you so concerned about that?  Isn’t it evident enough that men are made for women and women for men?  Hasn’t God made it clear in His creation?”  At the time I was annoyed, but the message has remained with me.  Why should I struggle and worry about the nature of marriage?  God has made it more than clear in his design.

Today, I find myself frequently remembering what he said to me.  Marriage is changing rapidly.  Though the democratic results have largely been in favor of traditional marriage, all of us can feel the massive change that has occurred among elites and the young.  It is coming.  Marriage may well be altered for a long time to come.  And yet I remember that God has made the matter evident.  If we make this change, it will be on us and on the way we have chosen to alter our minds.

When I ponder what the young pastor said, I sometimes think that I should give up on any concept of culture war.  Why insist on something when great masses of people seem bent on going a different way?  But I can turn that thinking around to twist myself in a knot.  There have been times when great masses of people were convinced that dark men were not men.  And yet had not God made it evident that they were men?  Indeed, he had.  Anyone could see that the black man was a man and not a beast of burden.  We experienced judgment in the form of a terrible war and the subsequent malformation of our politics and culture which continues to this day.

I think we must be faithful by reasoning in the public square and by championing the truth as we have light to see it.  That is the task before us whether we prevail or not.  But fundamentally, the most important war is the one being fought by the young pastor.  That is the war of the spirit.  When our spirits are submitted to God, he will show us the way.  The question is whether we will be interested in knowing Him.

The Cry of the African Schoolgirl
Sunday, October 21, 2012, 8:19 AM

My friend, Dauson Musasizi, showed this to me yesterday:

The Cry of the African Schoolgirl

I beg you to watch and to share.

A Simple Solution to the D’Souza Controversy
Saturday, October 20, 2012, 8:27 PM

Based on the reporting, I think it is not too difficult to determine who is portraying the truth between Dinesh D’Souza and World Magazine. But there is an easy way to resolve it once and for all.

I pose the following to D’Souza so he can clear his name if it is possible:

You said that you and the woman with whom you were traveling stayed in separate rooms. The conference organizers did not obtain the extra room for you, so you must have done so. Produce the receipt for the extra room you obtained for your female traveling companion. I am sure the hotel can print one up for you if need be.

The Wrongful Secular Intellectual Reflex on Science
Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 4:06 PM

I happen to be reading an outstanding book titled The Innovative University.  It is an excellent account of how Harvard has shaped higher education for both good and ill during the past two centuries.  I recommend it.

However, I have now encountered the same claim made on a couple of occasions in the book.  The authors describe Harvard as having thrown off the “intellectual shackles of Puritanism.”  According to the book, this secularization of the school enabled scholars such as John Winthrop (a descendant of the one you know) to do things such as discovering “the true, natural causes of earthquakes.”

I suppose the statement makes sense to the authors, but not to me.  I have no idea why Puritanism would prevent scientists from learning things about earthquakes.  Someone will likely say to me that Puritans would attribute an earthquake to the sovereign action of God.  But so what?  Does that mean that religious human beings would have no interest at all in the natural mechanisms of earthquake?  Have religious persons NEVER made scientific discoveries?  Of course they have.  Besides, I’m sure Puritans saw the hand of God in the success and failure of crops.  Do you mean to tell me, then, that they had NO interest at all in methods of farming?  Ridiculous.

I wrote about this problem in The End of Secularism.  We have been taught to believe that Christianity, for example, is some kind of science stopper, but that isn’t really so.  Christians often object to particular applications of science, such as embryonic stem cell research.  But there is nothing about being a Christian that would prevent a person from using the tools of science to learn and to know.  There is a great difference between being against driving on the sidewalk and objecting to the general use of automobiles.

The New Christian Consumerism
Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 2:43 PM

Young people everywhere are attracted to the idea of doing good as they consume products and services.  Tom’s Shoes appear on the feet of students all over my campus.  The shoes come with a promise that a pair will be distributed in the underdeveloped world each time a pair is purchased.  The same is true of Warby Parker glasses.  I own a pair, though I bought them for affordability and quality rather than because I wanted to see a pair distributed.  Young people are also busy buying “fair trade” coffee, t-shirts, and other goods.  The idea is that through our buying habits, we can achieve a greater good than the one that comes from a straightforward exchange of money for products and services.

This concern for those who are less well-off or who live at a disadvantage to ourselves is, of course, nothing new.  Certainly, the desire to aid the poor, the widow, and the orphan is a core element of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  In my own generation (and really a generation or two before me), Francis Schaeffer criticized Americans (comfortable Christians included) for their addiction to “personal peace and affluence” and their “noncompassionate use of wealth.”

The buying practices I have mentioned are aimed at curbing the tendency of well-off westerners to consume too casually and perhaps too enthusiastically.  There is an attempt to encourage thoughtfulness about the way one acquires consumer items.  Buy the shoe that results in a pair being delivered to a poor person in Africa at the same time.  Purchase the goods that have been produced in a more humane fashion than the ones that belch forth from a sweatshop.  Good ideas.

However, I would suggest another consideration in the way we consume.  Instead of merely thinking more carefully about things like the production ethics of things we purchase, maybe we should reconsider our list of things we buy.  At any given time, we may have items such as tablet computer, smartphone, new car, bigger flatscreen television, new pair of shoes that accomodates each toe separately, new earphones, new trendy jacket, etc. on our list of wants.  What if we reconceived our list to include such things as helping someone pay for their car to be repaired, paying money into a scholarship fund for needy families at a local private school or college, giving a Target or Walmart gift card to a young single mother whom you know is having trouble with her bills, assisting a family with the costs of an adoption, and giving a used car to someone who could really use it instead of trading the car in?  The list could be as long as one’s imagination, but the point is really to be sensitive to the opportunities as they occur.

The picture I am trying to paint here is one of a new model for consuming.  Rather than thinking about the things we would like to buy (even the ones that will be replicated through a buy one, give one model), why not expand the list to include buying things that other people need?  In the same way that one saves up money to purchase an iPod, it would be possible to save up a couple hundred dollars and then to ask the Lord to show you what to do with it.  I think that this way of living, call it a new Christian consumerism, would go far in building up the church, the spiritual strength of the people in it, and the bonds of friendship between people.

Standing Up to Rousseau: Remarks at the Fortnight for Freedom
Tuesday, June 26, 2012, 5:09 PM

I had the opportunity to speak at the Fortnight for Freedom event held by the Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, Tennessee.  The venue and the crowd were among the best I’ve ever encountered.  Below, you can read excerpted remarks:


Two Academics Talk About Secularism . . .
Monday, May 28, 2012, 10:09 PM

Anthony Gill of the University of Washington hosts a great podcast called Research on Religion.  This week, he’s airing a discussion he had with me about The End of Secularism.  I have rarely faced such a skilled questioner.  The process reminded me a little of my dissertation defense.  The product is pretty entertaining if you care about things like how church and state fit together, especially since Anthony is the kind of professor who wears cowboy hats and rides around in gigantic pick up trucks (in other words, the opposite of boring).

A Modern Crime
Thursday, May 24, 2012, 9:51 PM

This evening I took in the mild, early summer weather and watched a group of 20 or so children play baseball. Some of them sat in wheelchairs or had braces on their legs. Others needed help because of mental ailments, deafness, or blindness. Adults and teenagers mixed in with the kids on the field giving both assistance and encouragement. A man with a microphone sat behind home plate and announced the children’s names as they came up to bat and rounded the bases. It is always a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, watching people love those who need it most, seeing young people with special needs being supported.

On this occasion, I noticed a conversation happening in sign language off to my left. A middle-aged mom signed and spoke to her daughter who was waiting in line for a turn at bat. The girl had Down Syndrome. She displayed a fun-loving personality as she bantered with her mother, signing rapidly. Her mother kept telling her to be sure to use a particular bat when she got to the plate. The girl made a sign back at her mother that clearly meant something like, “Yak, yak, yak.” It was impish and funny.

As my wife and I watched the exchange, I said to her, “It’s a terrible crime, you know.”

She responded, “You mean about the genetic screening and the abortions?”

“Yes,” I said.

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