America’s Dwindling Economic Freedom
“World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.”

“But as the U.S. economy languishes, many countries are leaping ahead, thanks to policies that enhance economic freedom—the same ones that made the U.S. economy the most powerful in the world. Governments in 114 countries have taken steps in the past year to increase the economic freedom of their citizens. Forty-three countries, from every part of the world, have now reached their highest economic freedom ranking in the index’s history.”

“Hong Kong continues to dominate the list, followed by Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada. These are the only countries to earn the index’s “economically free” designation. Mauritius earned top honors among African countries and Chile excelled in Latin America. Despite the turmoil in the Middle East, several Gulf states, led by Bahrain, earned designation as mostly free.

Why Atheists Are Angry at God
Joe Carter’s series series on apologetics and worldview analysis looks at the strange phenomena of why so many atheists are so angry with the God they don’t believe exists.

Many claim to believe that God does not exist and yet, according to empirical studies, they tend to be the people most angry at him.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but also give them a reason to cling to their disbelief.

Joe’s ends  his survey of recent research with an appeal for a new apologetic:

I’m beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many Christians realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks.

Masculinity is More than a Mask
A popular new documentary, The Mask You Live In, argues that a harmful social code of masculinity is the cause of male aggression and depression. There’s a great response here from Christina Hoff Summers. She says of the film-maker Jennifer Newsom:

I admire Newsom for using her considerable talent to advocate for boys. But I worry that she is less concerned with helping boys than with re-engineering their masculinity according to specifications from some out-of-date gender-studies textbook. The trailer is suffused with males-are-toxic ideology but shows little appreciation for how boys’ nature can be distinctively good.

Sommers says that Newsom should go back to the drawing board and craft a new film with the following emphases (summarized):

1. Recognize that masculinity is more than a “mask”
“The title and content of the film suggest that masculinity is a cultural creation. That is only marginally true. A lot of typical boy behavior, such as rough-and-tumble play, risk taking and fascination with gadgets rather than dolls, appears to have a basis in biology….We do not yet fully understand the biological underpinnings of these universal tendencies, but that is no reason to deny they exist.”

2. Appreciate the difference between healthy and pathological masculinity
“Most boys evince healthy masculinity. They may enjoy mayhem in games and sports, but in life they like to build, not destroy. Their instinct is not to exploit vulnerable people but to protect and defend them.”

3. Acknowledge the virtue of male reserve
The driving message of Newsom’s film is that we must free our young men to become emotionally expressive. Of course, parents should do all they can to improve their sons’ emotional literacy. But parents (as well as wives and girlfriends) should keep in mind that male reticence has its advantages….Male stoicism may be adaptive and protective. If you want a boy to be more forthcoming, Rose has good advice for parents and counselors: “You will have to persuade him that it serves a practical purpose.” Engage his male instinct for problem solving.

4. Make clear that most boys are psychologically sound and resilient
The Mask You Live In gives the impression that the average adolescent boy is severely depressed. In fact, clinical depression is rare among boys….Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) does appear to be an epidemic among boys, but the implications of that are ambiguous. It could be that as a society, we are pathologizing age-old male rambunctiousness. Some experts have suggested that ADHD would be significantly reduced if we allowed boys more unstructured recess and occasions for spirited rough-and-tumble play.

The energy, competitiveness and corporal daring of normal males are responsible for much good in the world. No one denies that boys’ aggressive and risk-taking tendencies must be socialized and channeled toward constructive ends. But the de–Tom Sawyering of the American boy should not be anyone’s agenda. I am sure it is not Newsom’s. Yet her film in progress suggests otherwise.

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An Interview About Ethnic/Race Issues in the Church
This is one of the best interviews on this important subject that I’ve come across.  Leon Brown says: “I am convinced we need each other. God did not save us to be spiritual nomads. Besides saving us for his glory, for love and good deeds, he also saved us to be together. Addressing ethnic/race issues is my small way to highlight the pink elephant in the room, which very few people discuss, but needs to be addressed in order to draw us all closer together. Our intimacy will not result simply by pointing out the issues, however, but by emphasizing the one thing that changes hearts and brings us together – the gospel.”

What’s Beauty Worth to You? (HT: Zach Neilsen)
Christine Jeske talks about the need to seek out, value, and enjoy beauty in our daily lives, even in waffle-makers! On the same subject Carl Truman asked Dr. Diane Langberg, a specialist in abuse counseling, “how she manages to maintain a healthy outlook on life when she is faced every day with dealing with ugliness and depravity.  Among other things, she mentioned filling her life with as much beauty as possible, and mentioned Bach in particular.

Losing Privileges
In the face of the rapid “de-Christianizing” of American, R.C. Sproul Jr. challenges the church to maintain her witness and even rejoice in her pariah status: “It will not be long, I suspect, before those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman will have all the cultural respect as a member of the KKK.  Will the church be telling us to soften on this issue, to not talk about it, so accommodate the broader world for the sake of soul-winning? If so, we will have sold our own soul.  Jesus was rather clear — if we were of the world, the world would love its own. But we have been bought with a price (John 15:19). Pray that we don’t sell our birthright of persecution for the pottage of respectability.”

Trends Among Evangelicals Entering Ministry
Three Christian higher education presidents—Michael Lindsay, Albert Mohler, and Phil Ryken—discuss in this new roundtable video what they observe among the rising generation. Meanwhile, President Mez has other ideas for the coalface.

Holy Love Wins: David Wells on the Story of the Bible and the Meaning of Life
David Wells turns from critic to creator, from deconstructor to reconstructor in his capstone book that shows the church a way forward in the post-modern world.

Tweeting as @DailyKeller, Painting as Tim Clark
Another great interview in the TGC vocations series.

The Biggest “Contradiction” in the Bible

When people criticize the Bible, they often point to contradictions. “The Bible says this here, but says the opposite over here!” This proves, they say, that this cannot be God’s book, it’s no different from any other human book with the usual errors and mistakes.

Usually it’s quite easy to show that these are only “seeming” contradictions. If we interpret God’s Word correctly, we will usually be able to show how both verses or passages are true.

However, sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes it’s very hard. Sometimes it looks almost impossible. One of these “impossible” passages is James 2:24, probably the biggest “contradiction” in the Bible.  Let me state this problem as clearly as I can.

In at least three places in Romans alone the Apostle Paul says that we are saved by faith alone without works (Romans 3:20, 28; 5:1).

But when we turn to James 2:25 we read: A man is justified by works, and not by faith only (James 2:24).

The problem is obvious, isn’t it? Many verses in the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. But James says that faith alone without works is not enough.

High Stakes
The stakes are very high here, because it’s not just a minor matter about the number of soldiers in Israel’s army; it’s about the most important matter of all – how sinners are saved.

Can these opposing statements be reconciled? I believe they can, and the key is to understand that although Paul and James both speak of justification, they are speaking about two different kinds of justification.

This isn’t some kind of verbal trickery, making words mean just what we want them to mean depending on what we want to believe. No, words only have meaning in relation to other words. We need to look at the surrounding words to figure out what each word means. The surroundings make all the difference.

For example, if you’re fishing in a boat and someone says, “Will you get off the net?” you look around your feet to see if you are standing on the landing net. But if you’re sitting at a computer and Dad says to you, “Will you get off the net?” you’re looking for the “Close Browser” button. Same word, but different surroundings make the word mean something completely different.

So what are the surroundings of “justification” in Romans and James?

In Romans, the context is our standing before God, God’s view and verdict upon us.  In that sense, God justifies us by our faith, He counts us as righteous because of the faith that He alone can see.

In James, the context is our standing before people, their view and verdict upon us. In that sense, people justify us by works, they conclude we are righteous because of the good works they see in our lives (being unable to see if faith is in our hearts).

The whole letter of James is about practical Christianity – how we are to live out our faith. Chapter 1 covers doing the Word not just hearing it (v. 22), care for orphans and widows (v. 27), and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world (v. 27). Chapter 2 says, “Stop being snobs and start treating rich and poor alike” (vv. 1-13). Chapter 3 is about the way we use our tongues, chapter 4 addresses relational conflict, and chapter 5 calls us to deal fairly with our employees and pay our bills on time. It’s all about the visible practice of Christianity.

No Surprise
No surprise then when we come to the latter part of chapter 2, James is utterly focused on the need for faith to produce works, fruit, public profit, evidence of spiritual life, etc. It’s not about our relationship to God but our relationship to other people. It’s not about how God sees us but how people see us. It’s not about how we get spiritual life, but how we demonstrate that we have it.

The biggest contradiction is not Romans v James. The biggest contradiction, says James, is a Christian without good works.


2014 Predictions for Churches
A couple of articles highlighting expected trends in the church over the next year. First of all, some predictions from The Institute of Religion and Democracy:

  • Polygamy will gain as an issue in religion and society.
  • Church attendance will increase in major cities.
  • …But Oldline Protestant denominations will lose at least another 300,000 members.
  • Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches will come precariously close to collapse.
  • Christians continue to increase in Israel while decreasing everywhere else in Mideast.
  • Anti-Israel sentiments will surface in the evangelical world, especially on evangelical college campuses.
  • Most evangelicals will remain against or ambivalent about mass legalization of illegal immigrants.
  • Religious Left groups will target denominations that do not ordain female pastors.

Then Thom Rainer gets his crystal ball out (Part 1 and Part 2):

  • Smaller churches will seek to be acquired by larger churches in increasing numbers mainly because of staff costs.
  • Downsizing of denominational structures.
  • Decline in evangelism and fewer non-believers becoming Christians.
  • More megachurches.
  • Greater number of churches moving to a unified worship style.
  • Increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership.
  • Increased challenges for congregations to build and acquire land due to restrictive governmental policies.
  • Increased emphasis on small groups.
  • Longer pastoral tenure.
  • Local churches increasing their roles in training for ministry.

The End of Morality Laws? Not Exactly
Polygamy campaigner, Professor Jonathan Turley (lead counsel in the “Sister Wives” case in Utah) says he’s celebrating the death of all morals legislation. Al Mohler points out that all law is moral, and therefore all that’s happening is the substitution of one set of morals with another, biblical morals being replaced with secular ones. “The removal of morals legislation and the celebration of that removal is itself a profound moral statement,” says Mohler, before highlighting the hypocrisy of Turley and others who still want to hold on to laws agains incest and bestiality.

We are seeing Psalm 2 being fulfilled before our eyes as men and women throw off God’s “bands and chains,” as they see them. The problem is that no one knows where this great experiment in “liberation” is going to end. It’s all very well for secularists to celebrate the ending of morality laws, but none of them have any idea, and even fewer seem to care, what kind of society will result 20, 50, and 100 years down the road. See Ari Fleischer’s article below for some indication of the damaging fallout from this reckless and rage-blinded disregard for possible consequences.

India Hails Polio-Free Milestone
I always like to include at least one link that shows a more positive view of our world, and this news is certainly worth celebrating. It’s three years now since India had its last reported polio case. It is a huge public health success, achieved through a massive and sustained immunization program, and rightly hailed by India’s health minister as a “monumental milestone.”

  • Nearly 2.3 million volunteers vaccinate some 170 million children under five years of age in India during every round of immunization.
  • Polio is capable of causing crippling disability or death within hours. It plagued societies in ancient times – and was present in more than 100 countries even in the 1980s, when it left 350,000 people paralysed each year.
  • Global cases have decreased since then as part of a mass eradication program – to 372 last year.

Click through for an illustrated history of polio to underline how thankful we should be for this wonderful news.

How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married
So says Ari Fleischer, former Press Secretary to President George W. Bush:

If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality, he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family. A man mostly raised by a single mother and his grandparents who defied the odds to become president of the United States is just the person to take up the cause.

  • Among families headed by two married parents in 2012, just 7.5% lived in poverty.
  • When families are headed by a single mother the poverty level jumps to 33.9%.
  • The number of children raised in female-headed families is growing throughout America.
  • 28.6% of children born to a white mother were out of wedlock. For Hispanics, the figure was 52.5% and for African-Americans 72.3%.
  • In 1964, when the war on poverty began, almost everyone was born in a family with two married parents: only 7% were not.
  • Among white married couples, the poverty rate in 2009 was just 3.2%; for white nonmarried families, the rate was 22%.
  • Among black married couples, the poverty rate was only 7%, but the rate for non-married black families was 35.6%.
  • The majority of women who have children outside of marriage today are adult women in their 20s. (Teenagers under 18 represent less than 8% of out-of-wedlock births.)
  • Children who grow up in a home with married parents have an easier time becoming educated, wealthy and successful than children reared by one parent.

The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high-school diploma or less.

Apple: Making a Difference One App at a Time
See, digital technology’s not all bad! Lots more companies should make films like this to show the difference their products and services are making to the world. Why should the media only tell stories and make films about corporate greed, insider trading, fat-cat salaries, and abuse of employees?

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Free Narrated Film Version of Pilgrim’s Progress for Kids
Bit basic but might be a good tool for a Sunday afternoon.

A Few Good Men, Not a Few Good Yes-Men
Carl Trueman: “every minister needs good local elders, men whom he has not chosen, who see him each Sunday, who hear him preach and pray, who connect with him during the week, who see how he treats his wife and his children, who observe how he speaks to visitors, who know how he relates to his neighbours, to keep him accountable both to the Word of God and to congregation which he serves.  Anything less, anything other, is simply unbiblical and in the long run a recipe for disaster.”

The Printed Book is Not Dead – Long Live the Book
Surprising Infographic on the state of the publishing industry. The good news is that although eBook sales have grown significantly over the last few years, most of the sales have been in addition to printed books rather than cannibalizing them.

6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage
Tim Challies lists the 6 greatest enemies of our marriages. Good one for couple to discuss and pray about.

Ten Regrets, Ten Graces
Your New Year resolutions already smashed to smithereens? Read Katelyn Beaty’s neat way of finding positives among the negatives. Why not resolve to develop this ability?

6 Simple Habits to Keep You Consistently Happy Every Day

  1. Wake up early
  2. Exercise daily
  3. Have a habit of disengagement
  4. Regularly help others
  5. Learn new skills
  6. Have multiple ways to win each day

A Short History of Student Missions [Video]

A Short History of Student Missions from Citygate Films on Vimeo.

A Report Card For Humanity

Is the world getting better or worse? Is the human race getting better or worse?

Your answer probably depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but 21 of the world’s top economists have tried to provide an objective answer by measuring and forecasting 10 areas (e.g. health, education, air pollution, etc.) over a 150 year period (1900-2050). Their conclusion?

Neither the pessimists nor the optimists are entirely right. But the optimists definitely win on points—most indicators are going in the right direction…That’s not to underplay the serious issues still confronting much of the world, especially in developing nations. But overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.

Some highlights from their findings:

Air pollution
The biggest environmental problem in the world is not climate change; it’s indoor air pollution (caused mainly by indoor cooking in developing world). All told, the effects from indoor air pollution killed almost twice as many people—260 million—than all the 20th century’s wars combined, and four times as many as outdoor air pollution.

Armed Conflict
On average, 20th-century military conflict cost about 5 percent of GDP per year. Today, the cost of conflict has fallen to about 1.7 percent and most experts expect it to remain that way.

Climate Change
One of the more startling findings is that climate change is expected to have a net positive benefit through 2050….However, after the year 2070, as temperatures rise, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action now and in the decades to come.

Today, 20 percent of the world population is still illiterate. Yet in 1900 that number was perhaps closer to 70 percent. By 2050, it is estimated global illiteracy will fall to only 12 percent.

Pakistan and South Korea started with about the same level of education and income in 1950. Today, Koreans have an average of 12 years of education, whereas Pakistanis have not yet reached an average of six years. Korea’s per-capita income has grown 23-fold versus Pakistan’s three-fold growth.

Human Health
In 1900, the average person lived 32 years; today it’s 69 years, and by 2050 it will be 76. Advances are so rapid that for every month you live, medical science adds a week to your life expectancy.

There are a number of other indices but I’ll let you read them for yourself and instead conclude with a few comments.

First, let’s thank and praise God for His common grace. There are clear signs of progress and improvement in many areas of the world – better health, raised life expectancy, improved education, less war, etc. This is not chance but providence, and therefore praiseworthy: “The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).

Second, these economists remind us to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes we can get caught up in the multiple problems of our own family, church, or nation, and fail to see what God is doing in the wider world. Or, if things are going well for us, and we’re tempted to self-confident complacency, these stats remind us of the struggles of billions of people around the world.

Third, notice how different man’s report card is to God’s. God is not disinterested in economics; He is concerned about the environment, education, etc. But His criteria are primarily moral and spiritual: “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psalm 53:2; 14:2). He measures what has eternal impact and consequence.

Fourth, the self-confidence of the researchers is quite astonishing. “Overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.” They’re confident about their analyses of causes and effects in the past. And they’re confident about their predictions for the future. War will only cost 1.7% of GDP, average life expectancy will rise, global illiteracy will fall.

All by 2050!

Even though none of us can be sure the world will exist tomorrow!

There’s absolutely no sense of possible divine intervention to upset their figures and predictions. “If the Lord wills” or “If the Lord tarries” is totally absent. As Jesus himself predicted:

For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be….Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:38-39, 44).

Then humanity’s report card will be irrelevant and the only one that matters will be the one in God’s files with your name upon it. Unless, of course, you’ve asked God to rip yours up and substitute it with Jesus Christ’s. There’s nothing more world-changing and eternity-changing than that.