Thursday, November 22, 2007


It seems to me that the basic Christian mindset is, or ought to be, gratitude. What are we Christians, anyway? What defines us? Isn't it the fact that, completely apart from any merit of our own, we trust in Jesus' sacrifice for our sins? In other words, our only standing before God--the only thing that sets us apart and gives us hope for eternal life--is having received a gift. A gift of infinite value to us and inestimable cost to the Giver. A gift that we could not possibly deserve--a gift that was necessary precisely because we did not deserve it.

What possible response should that engender apart from gratitude? Certainly not the religious, moralistic pride that all-too-often we can exhibit. We forget that we are a community of sinners before we become a community of saints, and that anything good in us is a gracious gift of God.

I think every other aspect of the truly Christian mindset springs from gratitude. Joy, for example. Can a person who is unthankful be truly joyful? I know that in my own life, moments of pure joy are those in which I am the most conscious of having been richly blessed, having received what I did not earn. Or love. The more conscious I am of being a recipient of God's love, unmerited, undeserved, the more easily I can share this love with others, without regard for whether I think they deserve it. It doesn't matter: freely, freely, I have received, which helps me to freely, freely give.

And so, amidst the feasting and football, whatever our circumstances or station in life, lets remember, not Pilgrims and Indians, but God's truly rich blessings on us. And may we all have a most blessed day of Thanksgiving.

Earlier Thanksgiving posts: Don't "Happy Turkey Day" Me! and 40 Things to be Thankful For.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Thoughts on Primary Voting

Ben Witherington's Voter's Guide for Thinking Evangelicals is a worthwhile read. A few salient points (these are mine, although they overlap with Dr. Witherington's and his post is my jumping-off point):
  1. Don't be a one-issue voter. It's my conviction that politicians have used certain wedge issues to secure the votes of people whose interests and priorities overall they have no intention of representing. Bluntly put, if Republicans have the votes of Evangelicals in their hip pockets because of the abortion issue, they don't actually have to do anything about abortion. In fact, it's against their own interests to do so--because it would rob them of the issue over which they gained a voting bloc in the first place. It's in their interests to keep the "struggle" going as long as possible, to keep that voting bloc faithful, while at the same time "reaching out" to those who differ on the abortion issue and growing that "big tent." Which is exactly what's been going on for years, perhaps decades, now.

  2. Vote based on issues that the office being run for actually has influence over. Once again, using abortion as a touchstone (and only one of many possible examples), the Presidency has practically no influence over this issue. The most that can be hoped for is that Supreme Court justices are elected who overturn Roe, which, if it happened, would relegate the issue to the states and remove the President and the Federal government from the issue entirely. On the other hand, there are many, many issues over which the Presidency does exert great influence: foreign policy, for example. We should vote based on what the duties of the office entail.

  3. In primaries, vote for the candidate you genuinely would like to see win. It is mind-boggling to me that long before a single primary or caucus vote has been cast, people are already advocating voting based on "electability." "I'm not happy about some of Candidate Y's positions, but he's our best hope of beating Candidate X."[1] What are we doing when we say that? Yes, in the general election, there may be times to hold our noses and vote for the lesser of two evils, but in the primaries, we need to give the candidate whom we can most truly support our support. The worst that can happen is that a party chooses a nominee that will get defeated in the general election, while a more "moderate" candidate could have won (e.g., the Republicans choosing Goldwater in 1964). However, that can be a bellwether for a political shift (e.g., the Republicans choosing Reagan in 1980).
Anyway, those are my thoughts.

[1] "Candidate Y" and "Candidate X" morph over time; two very plausible present contenders would be "Rudy" and "Hillary." Which is why the "Y" and the "X" were interposed. To be chromosomally correct.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love and the Pro-Con List

Julie has another terrific post, this time about expectations of singles for marriage, especially among Christian singles. Well worth checking out. I'm going to do a bit of fisking here, but in a good way.

Julie writes,
During my first year of college (which was a Bible college), there was a girl named April who firmly believed that she was so special and unique in God's sight -- this had been drummed into her head by well-meaning parents, teachers, and youth pastors trying to protect their young flock -- that her list of qualifications for a guy was incredibly long and incredibly impossible. Nothing but the best for her, she insisted, pointing out that God wanted the best for his daughters. April did not have any comparative list of such actual qualities in herself.
Just so. I've observed before that everyone is always looking for the "right person" for himself or herself; hardly anyone is looking to become the "right person" for someone else. Which, when you think about it, is pure selfishness: I want precisely what I want, at the least possible cost or annoyance to me. What's more, that process of becoming "right" for one another doesn't end with an engagement, or even a wedding. It's a lifelong process of learning, growing, reacting, rebuking, and generally becoming intertwined.

Think about it. People are fluid. You're not the same as you were a decade ago. You won't be the same in another decade. How can you possibly know what future-you will need or value most? How can you know if future-him or future-her will be able to provide it? So how can a list, based on present-day needs and expectations, possibly forecast the future?

At some point, we have to realize that the process of becoming one is a lifelong process, directed by God, sometimes painful to our individual desires, but nonetheless beautiful, wonderful, and eminently worthwhile. I don't know who I would be without Cecile in my life for the past eighteen years; I'm not sure I want to know.

Too often the phrase "God has called me to be single" is a Bible-laced excuse to continue being selfish, fearful, proud, and content with smooth sailing. Many beautiful books and web sites by lovely men and women discuss singlehood as if we were all Paul, mysteriously and unfairly going through life without the healing of our affliction.
Yes. Reread 1 Corinthians 7. Does Paul ever say that singleness was to be pursued for its own sake? That it's a spiritually superior mode of being? No. All his reasons for preferring and advocating singleness are practical. Singleness is practically preferable for a dangerous, itinerant ministry like Paul's (you don't have to worry about how your family will be provided for while you're being thrown in jail, thrown out of town, and shipwrecked) and in times of persecution (you don't have to worry about what will happen to them if you're beheaded). It allows you to focus on service to God, exclusively. So if someone genuinely has that gift and is genuinely called to be single, then they will also be called to some form of ministry that makes apparent why marriage would be significantly detrimental in that situation.

I'm not saying that everyone who is not specifically called to singleness must get married by age x, to the first available candidate. I am saying that avoiding marriage out of fear and selfishness, and calling it a calling, is wrong. Marriage and parenthood are two of the most powerful tools God uses to get our focus off of ourselves and make us part of something larger. They teach us things that are difficult to learn in any other way.
The Evangelical world should stop having singles ministry that encourages singles to stay single and get their weekly relationship fix over pizza or coffee with the rest of the group -- sans any icky side effects from commitment -- and instead tell them to quit waiting for "the right one" and get over themselves and get married to a good and decent one.
Oh yes. What biblical justification is there, anyway, for this concept of "the right one"? That if you don't marry the one person in six billion that God has Specially Chosen Just for You, that life will be toast? As Julie says, we've become "vast herds of terrified, lonely, confused people insisting that good people right beside them simultaneously moving in the same direction are not the right people." If we find someone who is good and decent and loves God and we're genuinely attracted to them and we share interests and like being together, then that should be enough to start on. God will take care of the rest.

Please understand. I'm not saying take the plunge hastily or thoughtlessly. And we are entitled to our own preferences. But somehow, because of fear of making a mistake, we've forgotten that marriage is also a gift. A really, really good gift.

Kudos to Julie. Brave words, coming from someone who is single herself. So far. Check out the entire post; there's a lot more there.
For more on marriage, check out my book, Marriage, Family, and the Image of God .

Marriage, Family, and the Image of God


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Karate and Coasting in North Dakota

Julie wrote a very thought-provoking post, entitled Wear the purple belt. I'm tempted to summarize it, but that would just make prosaic what she expressed much more eloquently. So if you want to know what her title has to do with my title and how that could possibly be thought-provoking, you'll just have to check it out for yourself.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pat Robertson Endorses Giuliani

Pat Robertson endorses Giuliani.

And the corruption of the "religious right" is complete. Republican politicians don't even have to pretend to support Christian social issues anymore.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Joe Carter Takes a Stand against Waterboarding

Joe Carter writes a fine article taking a stand against torture, including the kind known as waterboarding. He asks, rhetorically, "How degraded has conservatism become?" I'll ask, non-rhetorically, "How has conservatism become degraded?" Especially the Evangelical Christian kind? The progression, it seems to me, went something like this:
  1. Social changes in the 60s and early 70s made certain things socially acceptable that Christians found abhorrent.
  2. The Democratic party tended to ally itself with these social changes. Evangelical Christians migrated toward the Republicans as an alternative, even though many Republicans had no interest in the social conservatism of Evangelicals.
  3. Evangelical Republicans began to adopt aspects of economic and foreign-policy conservatism that had nothing to do with the social conservative agenda. In some cases, this involved soft-pedaling other aspects of biblical social policy, such as concern for the poor. Identity as a conservative began to supersede identity as a Christian.
  4. Evangelical Republicans became increasingly swayed by such voices as Rush Limbaugh, who seemed to support the social conservative agenda, but who much more strongly supported other aspects of conservatism.
  5. Opposing the Republican party, especially the conservative wing, on any issue, became considered caving in to the liberals.
  6. Evangelical Republicans threw their support strongly behind George W. Bush, partly because he was also an Evangelical.
  7. Bush defined his presidency as war against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
  8. Conservative Evangelical Christians, to be supportive of Bush and in opposition to liberals, adopted the "oppose terrorists at all costs" mentality.

And here we are.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Rethinking the Reformation

It's a little late to be talking about Hallo Reformation Day, but Michael Spencer's post is really more about how we should view the Reformation itself. A few highlights:
  • I no longer believe Luther ever intended to slay the Catholic Church and establish the wonder of contemporary Protestantism.
  • I do not believe true Christianity was restored or rediscovered in the Reformation.
  • I’m convinced that it didn’t take long for Protestantism to accumulate enough problems of its own to justify another reformation or two.
  • I believe we ought to grieve the division of Christianity and the continuing division of Protestantism.
  • I no longer believe the theology of the Reformers was the pinnacle of evangelicalism or is the standard by which Biblical truth itself is judged.
No argument here. I wrote about some of this earlier, in The Successes and Failures of the Reformation. It bears repeating, though, if only because of the increasing movement toward judging one's theology, if not one's actual salvation, by the litmus test of the theology of the Reformers.

I purposely left most of Michael's excellent list out. Check it out for yourself.

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