Category Archives: culture

Racism and the Gospel

In view of John Piper’s newest book, Desiring God has produced a short documentary cataloguing his growth from a full-fledged racist to the father of an African-American daughter. It is worth your time to watch because it very concretely details the implications of the gospel in all areas.

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Am I a recalcitrant pagan if I use CE rather than AD?

As someone with a background in history at a secular university as well as a Christian seminary I have lived between two worlds. I noticed a recent article on the use of CE (e.g., Common Era) versus AD (i.e., Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) in regard to describing the dates of historical events. Scot McKnight also mentioned this issue on his popular blog and I was asked this same question by the parent of a teenager after her son was instructed to use BCE/CE in all of his papers at a local public school.

In my undergraduate training it was clear that I was to strive for objectivity. Though I am a Christian and cannot divorce my personal faith and worldview from my historical inquiry, it would be inappropriate to advocate a particular faith position in my writing. I must attempt to understand my biases and, to the best of my ability, allow the evidence to lead me to appropriate conclusions. Though the legacy of Christianity is still implicit in the BCE/CE dating system (what do you think we are counting from?), it is less overt in its advocacy of Christianity. It is no more accurate to say 40 CE than 40 AD. However, CE claims no reference to faith and, therefore, is more appropriate for a pluralistic environment.

There is nothing Biblical about counting from the point of Jesus’ inaccurately dated birth. We don’t even want to get started on trying to date from the point of creation (settle down you young-earthers).

Any thoughts?

Mythbuster Monday: Myth of Talent

I’m beginning a new series on common myths about culture, Christianity, history, and more. I’ve dabbled in this concept from time to time. In addition, I’ve always had a soft spot for the popular Mythbusters television show (FYI, my favorite episode is “Phonebook Friction“).

We’ll start off this simple series by busting the old “myth of talent.”

First off, I’m not trying to argue that talent is not real or that some people are not more naturally talented at some things than others. I’m mainly voicing frustration with those who say they can’t do something purely because they aren’t talented enough.

For example, I know some people that are phenomenally talented musicians. That is, they have a natural ear for pitch and tone. That being said, even the one’s that don’t read music have spent countless hours honing their ability to play their instrument of choice (e.g., guitar, piano, voice, etc.). Ultimately, anyone can learn to sing or play an instrument if they are willing to work.

This goes for things like foreign languages as well. Though not all of us can be linguistic savants, a language can be learned with diligence and perseverance.

I find sports to be the same way. The best athletes will (most likely) possess a good deal of raw talent but they will never rise to an elite level (e.g., NFL, etc.) without combining that talent with skills that can only be acquired by years of practice. Talent is not the same thing as technique. This gives hope to those of us who have certain height and speed deficiencies. While my natural abilities are often lacking I can still gain proficiency in a sport through practice.

A similar phenomenon has crept into Christian circles. I notice a lot of Christians avoiding things that they are not naturally good at. Some people don’t share their faith because they think they are not smart or good at meeting people. Others avoid teaching because they are not extroverted and outgoing. Some don’t serve others because they don’t have the gift of compassion or mercy. The examples could go on and on.

The main problem with these objections is that the Scriptures command all of us to do all of these things. Sure, some people are more naturally inclined toward these activities but, as I’ve heard it said, “God doesn’t call the equipped He equips the called.” God will never command you to do something that He won’t also empower you to do. I think it is short sighted and faithless to think that God can and will only use those of natural ability.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standard; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the way things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:26–30)

Social Networking Faux Paus

My social networking pet-peeves:

1. Anonymous, passive-aggressive posts.

“I wish someone would learn how to mind her business” (sometimes there is a “you know who you are” inserted). If you want to call someone out, use their name. If you are talking about a general subject then leave the personal pronouns out of it.

2. Misuse of the LOL phrase.

Using the phrase LOL after something does not necessarily make it funny or nice. I can’t just say, “Johnny is a selfish jerk, LOL” unless there is some inside joke or personal anecdote to which it refers.

3. A distinct online personality.

People who are witty, sarcastic, extroverted, and bold online but are dull, quiet, and passive in real-life exhibit tendencies of multiple personality disorder. Be who you are in real-life online (and vice-versa). Don’t say something on the internet you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Sometimes I’ll catch people tweeting something in the moment that they are too afraid to say aloud. Live in reality and use social networking for what it is. Do not use social networks as a venue for your alternate personality or to substitute for reality.

Do you have any social networking pet-peeves that you want to add to this list?

Aaron Rodgers Photobomb

Just to settle any arguments regarding the epic awesomeness of Aaron Rodgers I had to post this picture. Not only is he a Superbowl MVP Quarterback, he is a master of the photobomb (he is “sneaking” in between 73 and 36).

If you think that this might be some sort of one-time-occasion, check out this collage of him repeatedly bombing the pre-game team captains picture. He ‘bombed almost 30 pictures! Nice!

As the teenagers and adults at my church know, I enjoy a good photobomb as well:

The Benefits of Christendom’s Waning Influence

Some time ago I read a post by Larry Hurtado on the fall of Christendom in Western cultures.

In the Western nations where Christendom once was dominant, it is dominant pretty much no more.  I for one don’t grieve this one bit.  I regard “Christendom” as a morally dubious phenomenon that probably did as much harm to the gospel as it ever did any good.  It consisted more in the promotion of institutional power of churches and church officials.  It may have had some effect in shaping professed public morals, and perhaps even some effect on moral practice.  But I don’t like the idea of any religion being able to exercise social coercion, and I think that religious faiths should live or die solely by their ability to commend themselves to the consciences of people…

So, I find pre-Constantinian Christianity much, much more exciting than what comes later, with much more to say to churches, Christians, and non-Christians too in our modern era in which Christianity is essentially one religious option in a religiously plural world.  If Christians want to figure out how to be authentic and particularly Christian while also negotiating their contributions to the wider society, it’s Christians and texts from the first three centuries that provide the best resources.

This is similarly related to a conversation I had with a fellow pastor at our church. He was telling me how he used to want to live in the South, deep in the buckle of the Bible Belt “Religion Belt.” He was commenting on the change in his attitude over the years. He would rather live somewhere that the gospel and Christianity was not culturally assumed. In a non-Christian environment he could share the joy of the Christ without having to disabuse people of their religious idols.

This is a good reminder for me that the decline of Christianity’s social and political impact is an opportunity to elevate the life-changing, life-saving, power of the gospel.

HT: Alan Knox.

Changing Values of Morality

I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the declining morals of modern American culture. It is basically assumed that the morals of the ’50s were vastly superior to whatever values still remain. Anecdotal evidence usually cites the terrible entertainment on television (think Jersey Shore instead of Leave it to Beaver) or changing sexual ethics (think premarital sex and homosexuality).

I would like to caution us not to be unnecessarily concerned. First of all, sin is trans-generational. Changing technology and access to information have made certain forms of sin more visible in the wider culture but sin has always existed. People in the ’50s had moral lapses. In fact, a view of morality that focuses merely on externals has to pick and choose what is and is not the essential determiner of right behavior. The ’50s mights seem more upright in regard to conservative views of sexual ethics. However, if the standard has anything to do with institutionalized racism then the ’50s might be seen as significantly worse than today. This all depends on whether external morality is the sole basis for which one wants to judge a culture. If the ’50s are a bad barometer of external morality then the Bible fares much worse (adultery, incest, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, etc).

I’ve seen a great deal of positive movement in my generation toward care for the environment, concern for the poor, economic equality. All the while, my friends have maintained a strong commitment to defending the unborn and other “traditional” causes of conservative evangelicalism. In addition, all of the focus on external behavior can easily devolve into outright hypocrisy. My generation is much more concerned with authenticity, humility, and honesty than any pretense of performance or righteous charade.

I suspect there is a bit of historical naïvity and unsubstantiated nostalgia when certain people discuss the past. Whatever the case, external morality misses the point. The gospel realizes that no amount of “good behavior” warrants salvation and that real life change only comes from Jesus Christ. People do not need behavior change, they need to go from spiritual death to spiritual life. Focusing on external behavior is like giving a dead man Tylenol. Standards of external morality will change based on cultural situation, we need a basis for behavior that is rooted in the character of God and not the fashions of the day.