In Case You Missed It

At SBC Voices, Alan Cross interviewed out Seminary President, Dr. Danny Akin on the Great Commission, immigration, and rejecting fear.

The next When Heaven and Earth Collide podcast interview is up with Dr. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Akin and I have a wide-ranging conversation about how loving and ministering to immigrants coming to America relates to Scriptural commands involving the Great Commission and loving our neighbor. Dr. Akin calls upon Christians to engage immigrants with the gospel, with service and sacrificial love, and to put aside fear of others and trust Christ in what God is doing in the people movements around the world.

 

At the Intersect Project website, Laura Thigpen posted a helpful article discussing how as Christians, our spiritual disciplines are on display on social media. Laura writes:

As a freshman at a secular college I took on the daunting task of writing a paper arguing a counter-cultural idea: That technology, in an effort to promote communication and human interaction, would in fact complicate it.

 

At that time, Facebook was exclusive to Harvard students, Myspace was the dominant social network and the first iPhone had not been released. Ten years later, the world is more connected than ever — and, yes, communication is more complicated than ever.

 

Here’s what I mean, fellow Christians: Much of our engagement on social media is guided by our ill-informed, uninstructed and unchallenged spiritual minds. We often cave to the temptation to use social media as a platform to spread spiritually malnourished thoughts, ideas and convictions. I often recall C. S. Lewis’ words inThe Weight of Glory:

 

Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

 

There is a severe lack of the spiritual disciplines in our approach to and engagement with social media that contributes to the elimination of critical thinking and genuine human interaction on this platform.

 

Dr. Jamie Dew continues his series of posts on Anselm’s Proslogion with a post titled “The God of Inaccessible Light.”

“Truly, Lord, this is the inaccessible light in which You dwell. For truly there is nothing else which can penetrate through it so that is might discover You there.”(Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogion, ch. 15)

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve highlighted a few nuggets from Anselm’s Proslogion. This first 7 chapters are probably the best known from the work, but here, before ending the series on Anselm, I want to highlight a few other parts of the work that are either helpful, interesting, or edifying for us. Throughout the remaining 19 chapters, Anselm reminds us of a few important things.

 

At The Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax interacts with 4 ways which Dr. Danny Akin feels that the world will pressure you to conform.

Many older evangelicals view the USA in ways that resemble Israel in the Old Testament: God has chosen to pour His blessing on this nation and to commission it for His purposes of extending freedom throughout the world. 

 

Many younger evangelicals view the USA in ways that resemble ancient Babylon: we live in a society that is increasingly hostile to God’s truth and God’s people.

 

Neither framing of our current situation fully captures the reality. The United States is neither Israel nor Babylon, and both frameworks face problems when applied too closely to today’s situation. Still, the metaphor of “exile” remains an apt description of Christians who are sojourners in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

 

We are exiles in every age, in every country, but perhaps we sense that reality more powerfully in places where Christians are marginalized, with privileges stripped and penalties imposed as a way of pressuring us toward cultural compromise.

 

I recently edited several Gospel Project sessions from Dr. Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary. His sessions cover the book of Daniel, which describes the time when Jews who were exiled to Babylon showed incredible courage and faithfulness.

 

Akin lays out four ways in which the Babylonian empire sought to bring the Jewish exiles in line with their pagan ways. These strategies show us how the world, in every era, can pressure Christians to conform.

 

Dr. Bruce Ashford posted an article at his personal blog sharing eight writers which have shaped him spiritually. Dr. Ashford writes:

Over the course of the past two years, I have had occasion to reflect on the various ways the Lord has discipled me and disciplined me since I came to saving faith during high school. The catalyst for those reflections was my 40th birthday and the recognition that, although God has graciously worked in my heart in many ways to conform me to his will, there is yet a lot of work to be done.

 

God has worked in my heart in many ways, using my parents, churches, friends, critics, students, bosses, and colleagues. He has taught me and challenged me through Scripture reading and memory. He has convicted me and comforted me in prayer.

 

But he has also fostered spiritual growth is through certain books I have read. Among the many authors whose books have shaped my walk with God, I have distilled the list down to eight. Now, this list of eight is not especially sophisticated. It is not a “balanced” list of “all the right authors” a person should read to help them in the course of their spiritual formation. It is not a list of people with whom I agree theologically on all of the particulars. It is not a list for snobs who find it beneath them to read the writings of authors not as highbrow as they might prefer. Instead, it is simply this list of some of the books the Lord has used most powerfully in my life over the course of the past several decades.

 

In case these books might be helpful in somebody else’s spiritual formation, I have listed them here in chronological order of when I discovered them in my own journey and provided a brief explanation of why you might want to read them also.

A Nation of Heretics

Ross Douthat published Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics three years ago (2012), but I’m just getting around to reading it. Now I find I can’t put it down.BadReligion

He describes the time of post-WWII America as a quasi-golden era for the Church. Four religious figures exemplified, respectively, the four foremost religious movements of the 1940s and 50s: theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and his intellectually stimulating neo-orthodoxy, evangelist Billy Graham and his new brand of evangelicalism, Bishop Fulton Sheen and his warm-hearted Roman Catholicism, and Martin Luther King and his prophetic call for civil rights.

The growth of Christianity in America during this time was truly phenomenal. In 1930, less than half (47%) of all Americans were members of a church. By 1960–in just 30 years–the number had jumped to 69% (22).

But between the 1960s and the current day, explains Douthat, something went seriously wrong:

The Protestant Mainline’s membership stopped growing abruptly in the mid-1960s and then just as swiftly plunged. Of the 11 Protestant churches that claimed more than 1 million members in the early 1970s, eight had fewer members in 1973 than in 1965. There were 10.6 million United Methodists in 1960, more than 11 million at mid-decade, and 10.6 million again my 1970 – and it was down, down, down thereafter. The Lutherans peaked in 1968, Episcopalians in 1966, and the United Church of Christ in 1965; by the middle of the following decade, they were all in steep decline. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Lost about 1.5 million members between the mid-1960s and the late 1980s. By the 1990s, 60% of Methodist parishioners were over 50, and there were more Muslims in America than Episcopalians. (59)

One would think that the decline might have been merely the result of the country becoming more secular. However, the evidence indicates that during the last half of the 20th century the nation became more religious. “Belief in God, an afterlife, and intercessory prayer remained constant or even rose during these years (Americans were slightly more likely to believe in life after death in the 1990s than in the 1960s)” (62).

No, America is didn’t stop believing; rather, its beliefs became skewed. Orthodoxy was replaced with worship of “the god within”, the prosperity gospel and American nationalism. The message of the Cross was abandoned in favor of moralistic therapy. Douthat describes the present spiritual state of the nation thusly:

United States remains a deeply religious country, and most Americans are still drawing some water from the Christian well. But a growing number are inventing their own versions of what Christianity means, abandoning the nuances of traditional theology in favor of religions that stroke their egos and indulge or even celebrate their worst impulses. These faiths speak for many pulpits –conservative and liberal, political and pop-cultural, traditionally religious and fashionably “spiritual”–and many of their preachers call themselves Christian or claim a Christian warrant. But they are increasingly offering distortions of traditional Christianity, not the real thing.
… This is the real story of religion in America. For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics. (4-6)

America has always had its share of groups at the margins–Quakers, Shakers, Mormons, and Millerites. Douthat argues that the difference this time is the weakest of the orthodox center. Mainline Christianity wasn’t prepared to handle the pressures of late 20th century: political polarization, the sexual revolution, globalization, increasing wealth, and the rise of a new cultural elite that considered the Christian faith déclassé.

Douthat is Roman Catholic, and there are places where I would have said things differently. Still, I highly recommend the book.

In Case You Missed It

Recently at TGC, Trevin Wax published an article giving tips for reading better while retaining more. In his article Trevin writes:

Last week, I posted a video to my Facebook page in which I gave some tips for reading faster, better, and wider. Also last week, Hubworthy released book recommendations from people associated with The Gospel Coalition. (My list of “essential reading” is here.)

With so many good books to read, it’s natural to want to read better and wider. Here is my response to a few questions that were sent to me on Facebook, prompted by the video.

In a guest post on Art Rainer’s blog, Sam Morris gives five helpful tips for becoming a better public speaker:

Whether it is a sermon full of ‘umms’ or a prayer spoken at the speed of sound, if the audience has lost track you are not communicating effectively. As a pastor, this could quite literally be the difference between redemption and condemnation.

There are a myriad of reasons why a pastor should always continue to develop as a public speaker. Here are  five communication tips for pastors to consider.

Elizabeth Wann published an article earlier this week at Desiring God explaining the hidden ministry of motherhood. Elizabeth writes:

[T]he main role God calls us to as wives and mothers is our home and family. God made women to bear and nurture life and men to provide for and protect the lives of women and children. The heart disposition in these matters manifests itself in where our priorities lie.

At the Baptist Press, Don Whitney explains how he started praying the Bible:

It was the first of March 1985. I remember where I was sitting when it happened.

I was pastor of a church in the western suburbs of Chicago. A guest preacher was speaking at a series of meetings at our church. He was teaching on the prayers of the apostle Paul in his New Testament letters, and encouraging us to pray these inspired prayers as our own.

Then, at one point he held up his Bible said, “Folks, when you pray, use the prayer book.”

In that moment I suddenly realized, “The entire Bible is a prayer book. We can pray not only the prayers of Paul in Ephesians, we can pray everything in the Book of Ephesians.”

Chris Martin recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Russell Moore about his latest book ‘Onward’.

I do not count it coincidence that a leader as articulate and gracious as he has been made the leader of one of the most influential Christian organizations in Washington, D.C. amidst our present culture context. The Lord knew what he was doing when he led Dr. Moore to lead the ERLC, and I’m thankful for that. People who get on TV to represent Christianity sometimes make Christians look silly. Dr. Moore has done quite the opposite, and I’m thankful someone like him represents evangelicals on CNN and other places.