Christianity Beginning to Disappear in its Birthplace
Prince Charles has spent much of the last twenty years promoting respect for and dialogue with muslims. He’s beginning to notice that it doesn’t seem to be reciprocated:

It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants.

In a reference to the Christmas story, he added: “Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church communities link us straight back to the early church as I was reminded by hearing Aramaic, our Lord’s own language spoken and sung just a few hours ago.

Yet today the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest concentration of Christians in the world – just four per cent of the population and it is clear that the Christian population has dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further.

In his address, the Prince urged Christians, Muslims and Jews to unite in “outrage” as he warned that the elimination of Christianity in much of the region in which it developed would be a “major blow to peace.”

“Good luck with that” as someone might say.

Judge Strikes down Obamacare Contraception Mandate
“Yesterday, Judge Brian Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, not only struck down Obamacare’s contraception mandate as applied to religious non-profit organizations, but also sent a strong signal that federal courts were losing patience with President Obama’s many stitches of executive power.”

Judge Cogan forcefully rejected three key Obama defenses of the mandate and on the government’s claim that there was a compelling interest in uniform enforcement of the contraception mandate, Cogan noted: “Having granted so many exemptions already, the Government cannot show a compelling interest in denying one to these plaintiffs.”

Facebook Is A Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight
When Facebook’s obituary is written, I believe one word will be written on its tombstone: COMPLACENCY.

In August, Facebook revealed that every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.

Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible.

The Stigma of Racism
Reobert Verbuggen sees a good side and a bad side to this game-based research:

Scientists had a group of white adult volunteers play a game of Guess Who? — where players start with a lineup of faces and try to find the correct one by asking yes/no questions — with partners who were either white or black. The lineup they were given was half-black and half-white, so asking about race was a great way to eliminate a lot of possibilities quickly. And yet 43 percent of the subjects failed to ask when the person answering the questions was white, and 79 percent didn’t ask when the person was black. Conducting the experiment with children revealed that this fear sets in around age 10.”

The bad side: “Many white people are so scared of being seen as racist that they’re not willing to talk about simple facts — and, ironically, they end up being seen as racist as a result.”

The good side: “The campaign to stigmatize anti-black racism — the most corrosive force in this country’s history — has been remarkably successful.”

Personally, I think he’s overstated the “good side” because every black person I know still frequently encounter prejudice and injustice. I think what it reveals is that people have learned to hide their racism in games and surveys, but when it comes to everyday life, latent racism often oozes out in relationships and decisions.

The Real Reason The Humanities Are in Crisis
The decline in humanities at our Colleges and Universities is usually traced to: (1) significant funding cuts to history, literature, and arts programs at public universities and (2) political criticism of the humanities (they’re not “practical” enough). But the real underlying reason is the change in women’s choices in higher education.

Instead of pursuing degrees in the liberal arts and education, women often chose pre-professional degrees such as business or communications….There’s still no concrete answer about why this happened, though theories abound. Perhaps it was a consequence of increasing equality that women turned away from degrees that seemed to funnel them into traditionally “feminine” occupations. Perhaps some women hoped that pre-professional degrees would seem more practical and applicable to potential employers and would prove their desirability over male candidates.”

If the aim was higher wages, then the statistics still show significant disparities between men and women. Heidi Tworek concludes her article by arguing that “more practical degrees are not necessarily the answer.”

A choice of a specific major matters less than the skills that students acquire. Polls of employers back me up on this. For nearly 95 percent of employers, a particular college major matters less than “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.”

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New Research: Americans Prefer In-Person Video to Video Preaching
Surely not too surprising.

Building a Theological Library
Danny Akin updates his extensive bibliography.

22 Productivity Principles from the Book of Proverbs
“The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about productivity. Not only does it teach us how we can be more productive, it teaches how we can be more biblically productive.”

Preachers, Before You Preach…
Joe Thorn fears “that we put too much trust in the mechanics of “sermon prep,” believing excellent commentaries, classic writings, a good homiletic outline, and a strong conviction are all that’s needed to prepare to preach the word.

Modern Medicine v Biblical Medicine
Chris Bogosh, author of Compassionate Jesus, has started a through provoking blog that’s going to be looking at medical subjects, including Obamacare, from a Christian perspective.

What Joseph Can Teach Us About Biblical Manhood
“The story in Matthew 1 is about the birth of Christ, and we should honor it as such. But isn’t God kind to allow us to learn other truths along the way to Bethlehem? Joseph is a hero in Scripture who points us to the Hero of Scripture. May God give us the grace to follow in his steps.”

Three Seasonal Videos To Awe, Touch, And Cheer

To Awe You
I used to live in a place where this was quite common.

To Touch You
A man who’s been deaf for 50 years hears his daughter sing for the first time. There’s a lot of pain being unpacked from that beautiful voice. For a longer version of the song, watch here.

To Cheer You
And if #2 made the tears flow, have a good laugh at this.

RSS and email may need to click through here to view the videos.


It’s a man’s world and it always will be
Infamous feminist author Camille Paglia’s opening statement in a recent debate about whether men are obsolete:

If men are obsolete, then women will soon be extinct—unless we rush down that ominous Brave New World path where females will clone themselves by parthenogenesis, as famously do Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks, and pit vipers.

A peevish, grudging rancor against men has been one of the most unpalatable and unjust features of second- and third-wave feminism.  Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment.  Ideologue professors at our leading universities indoctrinate impressionable undergraduates with carelessly fact-free theories alleging that gender is an arbitrary, oppressive fiction with no basis in biology.

I wondered if Al Mohler had written her speech, especially when I came to this bit:

When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves as women.

Read the rest of this astonishing turnaround here. It’s about on the same level as Bill Clinton campaigning for abstinence. It’s just a pity that so much damage is done to our culture along the way as progressives experiment with their latest theories. I can imagine many similar public reversals regarding homosexuality in 10-15 years, if our culture survives that long.

6 Surprising Scientific Findings About Good and Evil
Evolutionary theory has always struggled to come up with an objective basis for morality. The latest attempt by Harvard’s Joshua Greene argues:

  • Evolution gave us morality—as a default setting. One central finding of modern morality research is that humans, like other social animals, naturally feel emotions, such as empathy and gratitude, that are crucial to group functioning. These feelings make it easy for us to be good.
  • Gossip is our moral scorecard. Greene suggests that a primary way that enforce morality is through gossip. He cites the anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found that two-thirds of human conversations involve chattering about other people, including spreading word of who’s behaving well and who’s behaving badly. Thus do we impose serious costs on those who commit anti-social behavior.
  • Humanity may, objectively, be becoming more moral. Green is pretty optimistic about humanity. He says it’s far easier now than it ever was to be aware that your moral obligations don’t end where your small group ends. We’re just more conscious, in general, of what is happening to people very distant from us. What’s more, intergroup violence seems to be on the decline. Here Greene cites the recent work of his Harvard colleague Steven Pinker, who has documented a long-term decline of violence across the world in modern times.

And if your eyebrows are arching ever higher as you read this  - It’s easy to be good? We’re moral by default? Gossip is our judge? We’re getting better and better every day and in every way? – you’ll be relieved to know that this “scientific” research is solidly grounded upon games in labs!

What a relief to have the Word of God that explains the source of morality, makes God the judge of it (let me fall into the hands of God and not into the hands of men), and that reveals the only way to become more moral begins with admitting our immorality (1 John 1:9).

Religion Without God
In a ruling that recognized the Church of Scientology as a religion in the UK, Lord Toulson, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, said: ”Religion should not be confined to religions which recognize a supreme deity…”

The atheist writing this article sees a significant turning point here, though not going far enough:

What this means more broadly is that the tired old Protestant-inflected definitions of “religion” are losing hold in diverse Western nations. And it’s about time. Religion can no longer be seen as a “set of beliefs in God,” as conventional wisdom might put it. A global, plural view of religion must rid itself of emphasis on both “belief” and “God.” Religion refers to behaviors and practices as much as, and often more than, belief.

“Religion is simply doing the same things together.” Not only does it not require belief in God (Toulson), it doesn’t require any belief at all!

Do you shovel snow with your neighbor? You have a religion. Play tennis with a colleague? File for 501c.

Religion in America’s States and Counties
Click through to see a red v blue map with a difference. This time it’s Southern Baptist (red) v Roman Catholic (blue), the two largest “denominations” in the USA. Other interesting stats:

  • Some 21 states are requiring insurers under the federal health-care law to provide exemptions from contraception coverage for employers that object on religious or other grounds. And 13 states in recent years have banned abortions past 20 weeks.
  • Islam is the largest non-Christian religion in the nation, claiming 20 states scattered mostly throughout the Midwest and South. In the West, Buddhism is the largest non-Christian religion in 13 states. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast. Hinduism reigns in two—Delaware and Arizona. And the Baha’i claim South Carolina.
  • Counties in many Western states and some New England states have high diversity, while there are pockets of low diversity throughout the middle of the country, Utah and the South.
  • Religious participation was highest in Utah, the Midwest and parts of the South reign supreme. Religious participation was lowest in California’s Alpine County (4.3 percent), Hawaii’s Kalawao County (3.3 percent) and Nevada’s Esmeralda County (3.1 percent).
  • The numbers of congregations per 10,000 people were lowest in New York’s Bronx and Richmond counties, Michigan’s Macomb County and Nevada’s Clark County, where there were only four congregations—defined as regular religious group meetings—per 10,000 people.

Statistics come from the “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study,” an every-decade research effort sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, which gathers statistics for religious groups or scholars interested in such.

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The 2013 Issachar Award
Jim Hamilton says that “the book that best understands the times and teaches what God’s people should do” is What is the Meaning of Sex? by Denny Burk.

9 Ways to Pray for Churches and Pastors
Why not pick one a day instead of repetitive generic cliches?

Counseled by Casting Crowns
Paul Tautges explains four ways he is being counseled by song.

Free: 3 New Books in  R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions Series
Free eBooks on  How Can I Develop a Christian Conscience?What Is the Church?, and What Is the Lord’s Supper?

The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology
Although it falls short of a biblical apology, some Christians could learn a thing or two from this Psychology Today article.

How Academia Resembles a Drugs Gang
This is a bit niche but Alexandre Afonso looks at how the academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders.

Ted Haggard On How Not To Repent

In 2006, Ted Haggard joined the “pantheon” of fallen megachurch pastors after being caught red-handed in a gay sex and drugs scandal. Most Christians weep over such incidents, grieve for the damage done to the church of Christ, pray that the man will repent and find forgiveness with God, and hope that he will take a quiet and unpublicized place in the church of Christ for the rest of his life.

Usually it’s a vain hope. As it was in this case too.

After a short period of “restoration,” the Haggards returned to the public eye with books, television interviews, and a re-launched ministry.

I suppose we all still hoped that despite appearances, there had been true repentance, that Haggard really had owned his sin, taken responsibility, accepted the blame, and sincerely confessed his guilt.

But a recent blog post raises a huge question mark against that hope. In Suicide, Evangelicals, and Sorrow, Haggard used the recent suicide of another megachurch pastor’s son, Isaac Hunter, to continue his attempts at resurrecting his name, reputation, and ministry. His post really is an almost perfect example of how not to repent.

So why highlight it? First, because it will help us to spot these characteristics when dealing with others who have fallen into public sin and scandal. Sadly, there are predictable patterns to these things that we’d do well to acquaint ourselves with so that we are not duped.  And second, because we can use it as a personal heart-check to examine how we respond to our own sin.

1. I’m no worse than anyone else. In a number of places Haggard basically says, “OK, I’m not perfect, but neither are you. We all fall short. We’ve all had sin intrude horribly into our lives. Only Christ is perfect.” In other words, why make such an example of me when you’re no better.

2. My problem was not spiritual. ”The therapeutic team that dug in on me insisted that I did not have a spiritual problem.”

3. It was something that happened to me. “Contrary to popular reports, my core issue was not sexual orientation, but trauma.” It’s not so much about what I did, or who I am, but about what someone else did to me.

4. I wasn’t responsible; someone else was to blame. ”I had a physiological problem rooted in a childhood trauma.”

5. I needed therapy, not faith and repentance. ”I needed trauma resolution therapy….I went through EMDR, a trauma resolution therapy.”

6. It wasn’t a personal choice. Haggard asks: “Do we actually believe that the many pastors who have been characterized as fallen decided to be hateful, immoral, greedy, or deceitful?” Then answers: “I think not.”

7. Christians are cruel and unforgiving. In a number of places Haggard attacks Christians saying that they lack sympathy, grace, and forgiveness. “My sin never made me suicidal, but widespread church reaction to me did.” He also speaks of the “brutal mail” and “hurtful communications” he received, and he imagines the Warrens and Hunters did too. He lambasts an “evangelical culture that alienates those who fall and spiritualizes their struggles.”

8. Attack the accusers. Throughout this piece Haggard is continually swiping at his accusers and those who initiated church discipline against him. They are “flat-earthers,” “Judaizers,” “scrutinizers,” “Pharisees” who are “too busy with the sins of others.”

9. You just don’t understand me: “When I explain [my trauma and the trauma resolution therapy] to most Evangelical leaders, their eyes glaze over.” He goes on to characterize Christians who rejected his excuses as simplistic fundamentalists.

10. My sins were not as bad as you think. ”My accuser failed his lie detector test and refused to take another, and I passed four lie detector tests given by three different polygraphers saying that the primary accusations were false.”

Sadly there is no shortage of naive people who will swallow this self-pitying self-justifying narrative hook, line, and sinker. (And sadly there’s no shortage of media outlets who will happily use Haggard as a stick to beat the “unforgiving” church with.)

Even more sadly, our own hearts can also do a Haggard when we are confronted with our own sins.

Real repentance looks and sounds radically different. It says: “I’m worse than you, worse than you think, and did worse than you can imagine. No matter what was in my past, I deliberately chose these sinful actions and accept full responsibility for them. I deserve whatever consequences result from them. I shamed my Lord and His church. If some Christians treat me badly, that’s OK, I understand. I can’t and won’t complain. I won’t say or write anything that will portray the Church or Christians in a bad light. I’ve brought enough damage on the church already. And I certainly won’t use the tragic suicides of others to further my own public rehabilitation.”

That’s the kind of repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).