John Stonestreet – Some are saying that Christians have lost the culture. But what if it was never a war to win, instead it was a calling to embrace?
If there is an overarching theme for BreakPoint—starting with Chuck Colson and now with Eric and me—it’s culture. Specifically, how Christians can understand it, engage it, confront it, even restore it—through the clarity of a Christian worldview.
As Brett Kunkle and I explain in our book, “A Practical Guide to Culture,” what we mean by culture is not some mysterious thing cloistered in art museums. No, culture is the sum of everything we as human beings create, write, say, do, and think—the marks we leave on our world.
In that sense, “engaging the culture” isn’t really optional. It’s human. It’s as much a part of being alive as breathing is. We don’t decide whether we’ll engage the culture. Just how.
I say this because lately, a few people have suggested that Christian efforts in the culture have failed. One gentleman recently wrote me saying that worldview-style training like the kind we do just hasn’t worked. We’re losing the next generation, he said, and mainstream culture is as dark as ever.
But I want to push back against this idea, at least on a couple of fronts. First, it just isn’t true! You can’t convince me that the work of people like Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, David Noebel, or the work of groups like Summit Ministries or the Colson Center, teaching Christians how to approach culture from a Christian worldview hasn’t made a difference. I’ve seen young faces light up when they get this Christianity thing for the first time, realizing it’s true, and that faith relates to culture. I’ve seen too many to believe that it hasn’t made an impact. I was one of those faces in 1994.
And stats back me up on this. Far from the doom and gloom we often hear in the media, and from Christian sources, the Church isn’t collapsing in America. In fact, evangelicals have one of the highest retention rates of their young people of any Christian group.
And to say that “worldview hasn’t worked” is to ignore the incredible inroads made in the academy in our lifetime. Consider that the entire discipline of philosophy was flipped on its head in the late 20th century by people like Alvin Plantinga. Consider the amazing progress in law, not only now, but the seeding of jurisprudence by the folks at Alliance Defending Freedom. Consider the gains of the pro-life movement. All of these were either directly or indirectly inspired by Christians taught to engage culture armed with Christian worldview thinking.
What this thinking has done is offer an antidote to the toxic assumption that Christianity is just something you do on Sunday in the pews; that Christianity is personal and private. No way. Christianity is personal, but it’s not private. Every square inch of human existence belongs to Christ.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m under no illusion that things are going great in the culture. No, Christians are facing incredible challenges around the world. And in Western culture, it’s all but lost any sort of privileged position it once had.
But here’s the kicker: we don’t teach worldview or champion the idea that Christians should “engage culture” because it “works.” It’s not a strategy, folks. We do it because we’re redeemed human beings, and because redemption is in line with, not opposed to, our created purpose.
Christians shouldn’t make art, write literature, compose music, build businesses or any of these things to win a kind of war against secularism. We do these things because they’re part of what it means to be truly human. And that’s what Jesus saved us to be—fully human worshipers of God with all of our lives.
So yes, the worldview movement and its emphasis on culture has made a difference. I know the beneficiaries by name. But we don’t teach worldview or engage culture for strategic purposes. We do it because Christianity isn’t Christianity without it.
As Chuck Colson would often say, Christians are to “make the invisible kingdom visible.” We do just that by intentionally engaging the culture around us in every sphere of life God has called us to.
‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Anthony DeStefano uses this Bible quote toward the end of his new book Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There Is No God, pointing to the resiliency and truth of Christianity. “You can hide it, persecute it, denigrate it, scoff at it, lock it up, even murder it—but all to no avail . . . those words of Christ have not passed away.” He talks a bit about the book and why he wrote it.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why do you consider it an important thing to frame the “new atheists” as bullies?
Anthony DeStefano: It’s important because it’s the truth. Bullies are usually cruel, arrogant, ignorant, intolerant, selfish, self-centered, often cowards and liars — and when you try to correct them, they usually throw temper tantrums. Well, that’s the perfect description of modern atheists. And these particular bullies are at war with us, plain and simple. For the last 20 years, they’ve been waging an all-out, media-driven attack on believers — especially Christians — in the form of anti-Christian books, movies, TV shows, articles, speeches, billboard campaigns, blogs, anti-religious civil litigation, and government legislation — and it’s been relentless. Their goal has been to totally eradicate religious beliefs from the public square. As I say in my book, there’s only one way to deal with bullies — and that is to stand up to them and fight them. Ultimately, that’s why it’s so important to define the “new atheists” as bullies right from the start — so we don’t waste any more time and start countering their attacks in the most effective way possible.
DeStefano: It’s true that the “new” atheists have been around for a while, but their influence has never been as great as it is now. Atheism is reaching epidemic proportions today in the West. In a very short time, most of the countries in Europe will lose their Christian majorities to those who consider themselves atheists or “religiously unaffiliated.” In fact, the “religiously unaffiliated” or “nones” are now the second largest “religious group” in Europe. In the United States, “nones” make up almost a quarter of the population!
Atheism is especially popular with today’s youth, who have been attracted to the confident, firebrand styles of atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, and also to the idea of a hedonistic culture with no moral truths or commandments. And in truth, these figures understate the impact of atheism on the culture. Many people stop short of calling themselves “atheist” but reject the majority of dogmas held by Judaism, Christianity, and the other world religions. In other words, their professed religious views have little or no relevance in their lives. These are the “Cafeteria Christians” the “Christmastime Christians.” They are believers in name only; in their behavior, they are thoroughly secular. For all practical purposes, they are atheists — and this is especially true in the media, academia, the entertainment industry and the government. Now is therefore the best time for my book, because the world in which we live is literally facing a crisis of faith.
Lopez: Is it your prayer that Christopher Hitchens now knows he is wrong about God after having experienced His mercy? Do you pray for him and others you describe as bullies who are still with us?
DeStefano: It’s very much my prayer that Christopher Hitchens was forgiven by God for his attacks on Christianity. During the writing of my book, I prayed for his soul often, and I still do. I actually like Christopher Hitchens. Despite his offensive and sometimes obscene attacks on our Faith, he could be very charming and funny and likeable. In fact, since he died, I think there hasn’t been a trace of wit or cleverness to come out of the mouths of any of the new atheists. He was truly their brightest star. I enjoyed the way he wrote, and I especially enjoyed his humor.
I think many Christians feel this way, and some — such as Bishop Robert Barron — have said so publicly. Hitchens’ mother killed herself when he was young, and he felt a lot of guilt about it, because she had reached out to him before she died, and he wasn’t there. Those kinds of painful experiences leave a mark on a person, and I hope and believe that God, in His infinite mercy, took that into account when judging Hitchens.
The main point to understand, however, is that sometimes the best way for us to show mercy to others is to employ “tough love.” My book is tough on atheists, but the reason is not because I hate them, but rather because I want to prevent them from harming others and from harming themselves. Their vicious attacks on believers and on Christian values have to be stopped, and I believe that by being honest with them we are actually showing more mercy for their souls, and not less.
Lopez: Why does it matter that that Hitchens had a cross in his hospital room near the end of this life?
DeStefano: Hitchens spent a good deal of his time in a Catholic hospital during the last year of his life, with priests and nuns darting through the corridors and crosses hung above all the doors. This is an important point to note because it means that up until the very end, the man who wrote that “religion poisons everything” couldn’t escape religious kindness. This ironic fact, predictably, was completely lost on his atheist followers. But it can’t be lost on us. Christ said that “Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The truth always wins out in the end. Christopher Hitchens was born with the very name of God imprinted on his identity — Christopher, after all, means bearer of Christ — and he couldn’t get away from the cross of Christ even as he lay dying. God always has the last word.
Lopez: You talk about atheists using descriptors such as “pseudo-intellectual blowhards.” How Christian is that? Could the tone have been less strident? Aren’t you called to joy?
DeStefano: Christians are called to be Christ-like. That is the primary duty of anyone who identifies as a Christian. The question is what did Christ do and say when he was confronted with hypocrisy and injustice? And the answer is he was extremely direct and forthright. In fact, it’s good for all Christians to reflect on why the founder of Christianity was tortured and killed. It wasn’t because he was so “nice.” He was killed because he said some very upsetting and harsh things to the people who were in authority at the time. In fact, he was extremely confrontational!
When he saw how the money-changers in the Temple were cheating His people, He didn’t try to give them a pleasant, civil lecture. Instead, He made a whip of cords and physically drove them from the marketplace. And when the Pharisees and Scribes tried to trip him up with their clever word games, he put them squarely in their place, calling them “white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones” and a “brood of vipers” and “blind guides” and “hypocrites.” Our Lord didn’t mince words. He fought back hard against the injustice and hypocrisy of his day. And he was crucified for doing so.
Some Christians have this naïve idea that Jesus Christ was sort of like Mr. Rogers. Well, I like Mr. Rogers as much as anyone, but as nice and good a person as he was, he didn’t save the world! He didn’t overcome the forces of evil. In order to fight against great evil, you sometimes have to use very strong words and be very honest. You have to use tough love, just the way Christ did. And that’s exactly what we need to do today in response to today’s arrogant, atheist no-nothings. Yes, we must always love our enemies and pray for them, but we must never allow them to stop us from carrying out the command Christ gave us — to make disciples of all nations and to fight injustice with every fiber of our being. In fact, the joy we experience as Christians will be more real and more intense if we start to fight against the evil that is all around us in a courageous way, instead of just trying to live a “comfortable,” “nice” Christianity.
Lopez: What is it about the “intolerance” of the “Atheist mind” today that might help us unmask other misconceptions about intolerance?
DeStefano: “Tolerance” is such an important buzz word today. The problem is that it’s used too often as a weapon to employ “intolerance” against anyone who believes differently than you. Case in point: the atheists. Atheists are tolerant and believe in free speech as long as you agree with them. If you don’t agree with them, watch out! For instance, well-known atheist Sam Harris has said: “If I could wave a wand and rid the world of rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.” And Al Stefanelli of the organization American Atheists has stated that “sometimes intolerance becomes necessary and even laudable, if it is directed towards bigotry, discrimination, etc.” In other words, atheists believe that it’s ok to be intolerant, as long as you’re being intolerant against Christians! And this is nothing new.
Secular atheists have a long history of intolerance and repression. It’s part of their DNA. It’s part of who they are. It’s been at the root of their relentless drive over the last 50 years to systematically purge all religious symbols and imagery from the public square. Atheists have accomplished this repression of free speech with a mixture of scorn, smears, deception, and legal intimidation. There’s really been the equivalent of a modern inquisition in this country — in entertainment industry, in much of the media and in the academic world — to root out secular heretics — people who don’t believe in the secular humanist agenda.
Just look at the repression of free speech on the college campuses today! There’s even a movement among atheists to stop parents from exposing children to religious “propaganda.” The bottom line is that secular atheists just don’t believe that the rights our Founding Fathers spoke about — including the right to free speech — are from God and therefore unalienable. They believe our rights come from government. So naturally government can repress those rights when it wishes to — which is a prescription for tyranny. The lesson for all of us is that “tolerance” and “intolerance” are virtually interchangeable words for atheists today, depending on who they are attacking.
Lopez: Do you really believe your book can teach atheist readers humility?
DeStefano: I believe that if an atheist is sincere and truly has an open mind, then yes, my book can teach him or her humility, because it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the great contribution religion has made to civilization and the great misery atheists have caused throughout history. However, I think most of the atheists writing their books and blogs today are not sincere. Rather, I think they are practicing their own religion — a religion of unbelief — and I think they wish to spread this religion of nothingness to the whole world. In fact, their dogmas are so powerful that their whole thinking process is overwhelmed, and it’s extraordinarily difficult for them to be humble. That’s why I’m not worried about it at all. As I say on the very first page of Inside the Atheist Mind, this book is not for atheists, it’s about them.
John Stonestreet – Holy Week is a reminder of many things, but one we often forget is rest. God did it, and so should we.
Here’s a tough one: If Jesus died and was in the tomb by Friday night, spent Saturday there, and rose Sunday morning before the women arrived, how can we say He was in the tomb for “three days and three nights?”
The answer is more than just a good lesson on why we shouldn’t read Western assumptions into the Bible. There’s also a worldview gem buried in this detail of Holy Week: a call to rest, not just from something like work, politics, or the news cycle, but in someone.
Ours is a culture that’s forgotten how to rest. The political environment is frantic, and social media makes us feel like we’re always missing out on something. It’s tempting to spend even the Lord’s Day worked up over the stories in our newsfeeds.
At least in some ways, this makes our culture similar to the first Holy Week.
Think of how the people of Jerusalem, who so eagerly welcomed Jesus in as King, demanded His crucifixion just days later. Peter, impatient for a revolution, cut off the servant’s ear in Gethsemane. In all of this restlessness, Pilate caved to a mob baying for the blood of an innocent man.
Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were still asking when He would return the earthly kingdom to Israel.
And so, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus reminded them—and us—how to rest.
The gospels describe this time period in several ways: Jesus was “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” All four gospels report that His resurrection took place on “the first day of the week,” which for Jews was Sunday.
There’s some dispute on this, but the majority of scholars agree that Jesus died on a Friday—“the Day of Preparation.” This means that He was not in the tomb for 72 hours, no matter how you slice it. The only full day He spent behind the stone was Saturday—the Sabbath—the day on which God commanded the people of Israel to rest, just as He had rested after His work in Genesis 2.
Here’s where it can help to take off our Western glasses and think more like the authors of the New Testament. They didn’t divide days at midnight like we do, but at sundown. And in the first century Jewish mind, part of a day counted as a whole day. So, because Jesus was buried on Friday evening and rose on Sunday morning, He was in the tomb “three days and three nights” by Jewish reckoning. By modern reckoning He was in the tomb only one full day: Saturday, the Sabbath.
Here’s that worldview gem I promised: After God incarnate had declared His work on our behalf “finished,” He honored the Sabbath once more, just as He had at the beginning of creation. In the tomb, God rested.
G. K. Chesterton writes in “The Everlasting Man” that this Sabbath Jesus spent in the earth was the last Sabbath of the old creation, which was marred by Adam’s sin.
“What [the disciples] were looking at” on Sunday morning, writes Chesterton, “was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.”
When we rest on the Sabbath, we do so not in the old creation, but in the new—not in the world marred by Adam, but in the world being renewed in Christ. We trust not in politics or princes or earthly decrees, but in Him who became, Himself, our Sabbath rest.
Andrew Peterson makes this same connection in his new album, “Resurrection Letters: Prologue,” when he sings, “In six days God made the earth and all the heavens/but He rested on the seventh/God rested/He said that it was finished and the seventh day He blessed it/God rested.”
Eric Metaxas – Welcome to Holy Week. In 2012, the English poet Ruth Padel accepted a commission from Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra to write poems that would be read between the movements of Joseph Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross.”
Writing about her experience two years later in The Guardian, Padel called her acceptance of the commission “rash.” Her father was a psychoanalyst, her mother was a great-grand-daughter of Darwin—what could she have to say on this subject?
Well, that’s a good question.
By her own admission, Padel had “no idea if what [she] did works theologically, but musicians find it OK to work with.” Thankfully, we don’t have to settle for “OK to work with.”
In 1783, the Cathedral of Cadiz, Spain commissioned the great composer Joseph Haydn to write a musical setting for what are known as the “Seven Last Words (or Sayings)” of Jesus on the cross.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “Seven Last Words,” they are “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do;” “Today you will be with me in Paradise;” “Behold your son/Behold your mother;” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “I thirst;” “It is finished;” and finally, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Haydn’s opus consists of nine parts: an introduction, followed by a musical meditation on each of the seven sayings, and then completed by a section entitled “Il Terremoto,” which is “earthquake” in both Italian and Spanish. Il Terremoto, of course, refers to the earth quaking in Matthew 27 when Christ “yielded his spirit” and died.
At the original performance at Cadiz Cathedral, the Bishop spoke one of the sayings of Jesus, “delivered a discourse thereon,” and this was followed by Haydn’s musical meditation on the words.
Since Haydn never specified what, if anything, should be said between movements, subsequent performers have felt free to add, or not add, whatever was “OK to work with.” But, as the Vermeer Quartet learned, paying heed to what works theologically is the way to go. In 1988, they won a Grammy nomination for their performance, which featured excerpts of sermons by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Billy Graham between movements.
The recording came about because music-only performances left them with the “polite applause of a worn-out audience.” So, they decided to “restore Haydn’s work to its original sacred setting.” The experience was “transforming.” As the quartet’s violinist told the New York Times, “Though we knew the music so very well . . . we had never before been obliged to relate it in its intended context.”
Haydn, who typically began his manuscripts with the phrase “in nomine Domini,” “in the name of the Lord,” and ended them with “Laus Deo,” “praise be to God,” would, no doubt, approve.
John Stonestreet – If someone asked you whether we can really know who Jesus is and what He accomplished, could you give a convincing answer?
Well, Easter is just around the corner. And that means so are those annual TV specials and magazine articles that cast doubt on the biblical account of Jesus, wondering aloud whether he even existed or not. It’s amazing how many mainstream media outlets still posit that fringe theory as if there’s a serious, scholarly debate. There isn’t.
Even so, what are we going to do with this opportunity in front of us? Because that’s what it is…a great opportunity to tell friends and neighbors the truth about Jesus. After all, the events surrounding the life of Jesus, especially the crucifixion and the resurrection, either happened or they didn’t. We’re not talking about merely issues of personal belief; we’re talking about real events of history, and if they happened, change everything.
When Christians say that Christianity is true, we’re not saying that we think it’s true. Or that it’s true for us and not for “them.” Or that it’s true if you believe. No, we mean that it’s true whether you believe it or not. We mean that Christianity is just flat-out true: that Jesus actually lived, that you could have seen Him, that the crucifixion actually took place, that He really did rise from the dead.
Had you been there, you could’ve eaten the fish and loaves that were multiplied by Jesus from the little boy’s lunch. The water that Jesus walked on would have gotten you wet. And had you been in that upper room with Thomas, you could have seen the wounds on Jesus’ hands and placed your finger in His side.
These historical events are not just matters of personal faith; they’re matters of public truth. And you and I, especially in this cultural moment, have a responsibility, a task, a calling even, to articulate and defend these truths when called upon.
Now if you can’t, I’ve got some great news. You can learn to do this. I’m always troubled when Christians act as if there are not reasons that back up their faith. Folks, we live in the golden age of apologetics. And one of the most effective equippers of others is J. Warner Wallace.
J. Warner Wallace’s first career was as a cold-case homicide detective. Today, he’s a best-selling author and nationally known speaker, who also serves as an adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University. He knows his stuff, and he’s as good as it gets in equipping others to make the case for Christian truth.
A former atheist himself, Wallace put Christianity to the test in an investigation that finally led to his conversion. And he had to face the same question we all hear every Easter: who is Jesus? “Many faith traditions lay claim to famous religious leaders and founders,” Wallace says, “but Jesus is different… the New Testament leaves little room for doubt: Jesus claimed to be God and taught this truth to His followers.”
While the prophets usually said, “This is what the Lord says,” Jesus said, “I tell you the truth.” Wallace adds, “Prophets spoke for God, but Jesus consistently spoke as God. In addition, Jesus claimed God’s title, “I am,” and other significant characteristics of God—such as the ability to forgive sins.”
That’s what Jesus claimed, but the question is, was He telling the truth? Or maybe he was crazy. Or maybe the Gospel accounts are fairy tales. Or maybe…
Be prepared to make the case for Jesus this Easter.
Eric Metaxas – How much trouble would you take to understand the Bible just a little bit better?
Pierpont Morgan was perhaps the most influential financier in American history. During the latter part of the 19th century, Morgan began using some of his extraordinary wealth to become a collector—of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and ancient artifacts—for his personal library.
In 1924, his son, J.P. Morgan, donated his late father’s library and all its treasures to the public. It became known as the Morgan Library and Museum, or “the Morgan,” for short. And it’s right here in New York where I live.
Back in 1962, the Morgan added to its collection of rare manuscripts by purchasing a clump of charred parchment leaves. The artifact is a codex, or ancient book, written in the Coptic language, that dates between A.D. 400 and 600 from Egypt, before the Muslim invaders arrived. The codex contains a copy of the New Testament’s Book of Acts, as well as another work yet to be determined.
But the condition of this codex, known as M.910, is so fragile—a journalist said it “looks as delicate as a long dead flower”—that no one has dared to open it, for fear of causing further damage. Until now.
In December, W. Brent Seales, a computer science professor at the University of Kentucky, began using a CT scanner and his own software to, according to The New York Times, “model the surface of a contorted piece of papyrus or parchment from X-ray data and then derive a legible text by assigning letters to their proper surface.”
In other words, Seales has the technology to read a crumbling book that has been closed for a millennium and a half—even while it remains closed—Amazing! The technique, Seales says, “can turn things thought to be of no value into precious objects.”
We should begin to receive the results for M.910 very soon. The findings are expected to shed light on the formation of the New Testament canon, as well as the original Greek text of the book of Acts—no small matters to Christians! And who knows what we might learn from the other work that may be concealed along with Acts in this ancient codex?
Uncovering the secrets of ancient artifacts such as M.910 is fabulous. As the Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” And the fact that a secular organization, the Morgan Library and Museum, would devote so many of its resources to this task demonstrates just how valuable to human civilization biblical texts really are. As Samuel Chadwick stated, “No man is uneducated who knows the Bible, and no one is wise who is ignorant of its teachings.”
This brings up a very natural follow-up question: How valuable is God’s Word to you? And a second is like unto it: What pains are you willing to take to understand that Word?
If a museum will buy a crumbling, basically unreadable biblical text and hold it for over five decades in the hope that somehow, some day a technology will be invented so that its pages can be opened and its history understood, what are we doing with our perfectly good Bibles?
It’s almost funny—we sometimes treat our Bibles as if they are museum pieces, and only infrequently do we dust them off and look for the precious treasures hidden inside their pages. A real museum, however, spares no expense and works diligently, knowing that what it finds could change how we understand the world.
By the way, what we find in the Bible today could change our world. Of course, you have to read it.
John Stonestreet – “Don’t Mess with My Kids” Evangelicals are on the rise in Latin America. And at least one writer at the New York Times is very, very concerned.
The explosive growth of Christianity in what is called the “Global South”—places like Africa, Asia, and Latin America—has been well-documented and reported. While much attention has centered on Africa, the story in Latin America is no less dramatic and no less important.
Someone who’s noticed what’s going on there is the New York Times but, to put it mildly, they’re not very happy about it.
A recent op-ed piece, written by Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, starts by describing the growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America. Corrales tells readers that “Evangelicals today account for almost 20 percent of the population in Latin America, up from 3 percent three decades ago.”
These impressive numbers are only a prelude to the main point of his article: Evangelicals’ growing impact on Latin American politics which, for Corrales, is bad news. While “Evangelical pastors embrace varied ideologies,” he writes, “when it comes to gender and sexuality, their values are typically conservative, patriarchal and homophobic.”
Thus, “in every country in the region, [Evangelical pastors] have taken the strongest stands against gay rights.” This makes the “rise of evangelicalism . . .politically worrisome,” Corrales writes.
He goes on to complain that evangelical voters “tend to be intransigent on issues of sexuality, which feeds cultural polarization.”
You might ask, “Cultural polarization about what?” The principle example is what Latin American Christians call the “ideology of gender.” In Corrales’ words, “This term is used to [negatively] label any effort to promote acceptance of sexual and gender diversity,” including the idea that “gender identity is a construct.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. So-called “gender diversity,” among other things, is what fuels our current cultural obsession with transgenderism, gender fluidity, and other rejections of biological reality.
Latin American Christians, understandably, don’t want to go down that road. And by “Christians,” I mean both Evangelicals and Catholics. As Corrales tells us, “Politically, we may be witnessing a historic truce between Protestants and Catholics in the region.”
Fighting the “ideology of gender” is the result of this cooperation. Another result is the phenomenon known as “Don’t Mess With My Kids,” which has spread across the region.
The movement originated in Peru as Evangelical and Catholic parents objected to a school curriculum that, in their estimation, sought to indoctrinate their children into a new sexual ideology.
In response, 1.5 million Peruvians marched in the streets, telling their leaders that “the people ‘refuse to surrender.’” The movement has spread to neighboring Ecuador and other parts of Latin America and everywhere it goes, it’s primary objection is to “state meddling” as well as “the exclusion of parents in the sexual formation of their children.”
For the New York Times, all of this might be “politically worrisome,” but lost in all those worries is the fact that gender ideology is a prime example of what might be called “cultural imperialism.” The ideology is being imposed on Latin America by its secular northern neighbors, and Christians there have said, “Don’t mess with our kids!”
I, for one, am grateful to our Latin American brothers and sisters for teaching us with their example.
January 4, 2018 – John Stonestreet “That Which We Have Seen With Our Eyes”
What do a Greek-speaking Egyptian rebel and an ancient king of the Nabateans have in common? They both point to the reliability of the Bible.
One of the most popular topics we cover at BreakPoint is the way that archaeology and related disciplines are continually confirming the biblical narrative.
It’s easy to see why so many Christians respond to this topic: unlike other faiths, Christianity is rooted in real human history. It tells the story of God’s actions in the same world that you and I occupy, as opposed to some mythical “once upon a time.”
The September/October 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) presents the latest entry in a series of articles listing biblical figures whose existence have been confirmed in extra-biblical historical sources and/or archaeology.
The editors of BAR have told the author, Lawrence Mykytiuk of Purdue University, that his previous entries are among the most popular articles ever published in the magazine, whose readership is a combination of scholars and very well-read laymen. In his last entry, Mykytiuk focuses on political figures named in the New Testament. Some of them, like the four Roman emperors named in the New Testament, are obviously well-attested. Something similar can be said about the plague of the Herodians that feature prominently in the Gospels and the book of Acts.
But the New Testament writers don’t stop at the obvious. They, especially Luke and Paul, provide details that only someone who lived through the events or spoke to an eye-witness could provide. One confirmed example is found in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul tells the Corinthians that “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me.”
Aretas, “a contemporary of Herod Antipas,” was a real person whose existence has been documented by both extra-biblical sources and archaeology. Coins and other artifacts bearing his name have been found from what’s now Jordan to Italy. What we know of his life and reign outside of the Bible argues for the historicity of Paul’s account.
A more obscure example is found in Acts 21. Paul has returned to Jerusalem, where he knows that imprisonment and possibly death await him. He is attacked by a mob at the Temple and only survives because he is rescued by Roman soldiers. The commander, upon hearing Paul speak Greek, says “Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied that no, he was a Jew from Tarsus, which he called “no mean city.”
This exchange was a reference to a rebellion chronicled by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. There was an Egyptian, who would have spoken Greek, who lead a violent uprising involving thousands of men in the wilderness at around the same time as the events in Acts.
While the Romans put down the insurrection, the Egyptian escaped and was believed to be in or near Jerusalem. Thus, what Luke records in Acts is exactly the kind of exchange that would have taken place at that time between Roman troops and suspicious Greek-speaking strangers.
These are just two examples of many, written in both parchments and in the very ground of the Holy Land, that attest to the reliability of Scripture and the historical nature of Christian revelation. You see, instead of being myths and fables or even disembodied ideals, Christian proclamation is about, as 1 John says, that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched . . .”
So it shouldn’t surprise us that the list of biblical figures and places confirmed by archaeologists and other scholars continues to grow. It’s exactly what we should expect—and I’m happy to be the one who reminds us this time.
December 25, 2017 – Peter Wehner Why is it that, according to Jesus, faith is better than proof? That’s a question I’ve struggled to answer ever since I began my pilgrimage of faith as a young man. Sometimes it seemed more pressing, other times less so. It can intensify during periods of grief and pain, when faith may not offer much consolation or even make much sense in a world that seems random and cruel.
This question is compounded during periods like this one, when faith seems to distort reality rather than clarify it, when it’s easily manipulated for low rather than high purpose and when some of those who claim to be people of faith act in ways that bring dishonor to it and themselves.
Why take a leap of faith, given all that? Insisting on a little more empirical evidence before you make the leap seems pretty reasonable.
The apostle Thomas clearly thought so. According to the Gospel of John, the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the risen Lord, to which Thomas replied he wouldn’t believe until he put his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand into Jesus’ side.
Fast-forward a week, when Thomas encounters Jesus, who tells him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas does, to which Jesus replies, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Not seeing and still believing is held up by Jesus as a greater thing than seeing and believing. But I’m not sure I have ever fully grasped what it is about faith that makes it precious in the eyes of God. Recently, with the help of friends — pastors, theologians, authors, fellow believers — I’ve tried to deepen my understanding on that subject.
To start out, it’s worth noting that treating Christian faith as different from proof doesn’t mean it’s antithetical to evidence and reason. Christianity is a faith that claims to be rooted in history, not abstract philosophy. St. Paul wrote that if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, the Christian faith is “futile” and followers of Jesus are “of all people most to be pitied.”
Christians would say, in fact, that reason is affirmed in Scripture — “Come now, and let us reason together,” is how the prophet Isaiah puts it — and that faith properly understood is consistent with and deepens our understanding of reality. “Reason purifies faith,” George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me. “Faith without reason risks descending into superstition; reason without faith builds a world without windows, doors or skylights.”
But faith itself, while not the converse of reason, is still distinct from it. If it seems like that’s asking too much — if you think leaps of faith are for children rather than adults — consider this: Materialists, rationalists and atheists ultimately place their trust in certain propositions that require faith. To say that truth is only intelligible through reason is itself a statement of faith. Denying the existence of God is as much a leap of faith as asserting it. As the pastor Tim Keller told me, “Most of the things we most deeply believe in — for example, human rights and human equality — are not empirically provable.”
“The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason,” is how Blaise Pascal put it. Something would not require faith if the proof of it was absolute. According to Philip Yancey, the author of “The Jesus I Never Knew,” “Faith requires the possibility of rejection, or it is not faith.”
Perhaps the key to understanding why faith is prized within the Christian tradition is that it involves trust that would not be needed if the existence of God were subject to a mathematical proof. What God is seeking is not our intellectual assent so much as a relationship with us. That is, after all, one of the purposes of the incarnation of God in Jesus.
Every meaningful relationship — parent-child, spouse to spouse, friend to friend — involves some degree of trust. It is better and more vivifying to be the object of someone’s trust rather than the last person standing after a series of logical deductions. That’s true for us as individuals, and it can be true for God as well.
Faith demonstrates human trust in him — and, according to James Forsyth, pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia, which my family attends, it demonstrates that we accept God’s love for us. “There is a force within love that longs to be received,” he says.
Craig Barnes, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, told me, “Faith is a greater blessing than proof because it gives us a relationship with Jesus. All good relationships are bound together by love. And love is always an expression of faith.” He also pointed out that proofs don’t necessarily inspire belief. Toward the end of his Gospel, Matthew mentions that some still doubted after they looked right at the risen Christ. (“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”)
Some of those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus eventually sought to kill him. And Judas, one of Jesus’ original disciples, betrayed him with a kiss. So sensory experience isn’t enough to compel belief and allegiance.
Our most important forms of knowledge rarely come from logic or proof, according to Cherie Harder, the president of the Trinity Forum. Citing the work of the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, she says it comes through a more personal knowledge. For example, I know my wife loves me because I know her, I know her heart, I know her character, and because I trust her. “Your knowledge of her is less about physical certainty,” Ms. Harder wrote to me, “and more about a well-placed confidence in who she is (a faith in her that is qualitatively different, and far more personal and holistic, than intellectual certainty).”
“Faith,” Ms. Harder added, “is tied to love in a way that logical deduction and reason are not. We are changed by what we love more than what we think.”
Faith can allow us to understand things in a different way than reason does, in a manner similar to what J.R.R. Tolkien meant when he said that pagan myths weren’t lies but rather pointed toward deep truths. The imagination could be integrated into reason, he believed, in a way that helped us to see reality a bit more clearly. Reason is one way to perceive reality; faith — rooted not in partisan ideology but in grace and a sense of the sacred — is another.
There’s one other difference between faith and reason. The latter can analyze things like quantum physics and modern cosmology. But what faith can do is to put our lives in an unfolding narrative in ways reason cannot. It gives us a role in a gripping drama, of which the Christmas story is one defining scene. It’s a drama that includes sin and betrayal, redemption and grace; and ultimately it gives purpose to our lives despite the brokenness and pain we experience. This may mean nothing to you, but to people of faith, it can mean everything. If God is real, perhaps it should.
It’s notable that when Thomas makes his request to Jesus, he’s not condemned. Rather, Jesus gives Thomas what he needed — in his case, proof — and in doing so makes it clear that Jesus is willing to meet us where we are. Some need proof, at least as a start; for others, faith alone is enough.
According to Christian tradition, Thomas would eventually go on to serve as a missionary in India, where he was martyred. I imagine his faithfulness had less to do with putting his hand in the side of Jesus than what transpired within his heart. His intellectual doubts gave way to calm trust. In my experience, at least, that journey hasn’t always been an easy one. For many of us, shadows of doubt coexist with faith.
To emphasize faith is not to cast out doubt. In fact, it is precisely to take doubt seriously, but also to understand the doubter more completely — not just as a reasoning mind but as a full person, possessed of a divine spark that lets us see, now and then, right through the walls we have built between faith and reason.
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.
December 6, 2017 – Ethiopia has the largest Orthodox Christian population outside Europe, and, by many measures, Orthodox Ethiopians have much higher levels of religious commitment than do Orthodox Christians in the faith’s heartland of Central and Eastern Europe. The country in the Horn of Africa has 36 million Orthodox Christians, the world’s second-largest Orthodox population after Russia.
Nearly all Orthodox Ethiopians (98%) say religion is very important to them, compared with a median of 34% of Orthodox saying this across 13 countries surveyed in Central and Eastern Europe. About three-quarters of Orthodox Ethiopians say they attend church every week (78%), compared with a median of 10% in Central and Eastern Europe and just 6% in Russia.
Orthodox Ethiopians are more likely than Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe to wear religious symbols (93% vs. median of 64%), to say they believe in God with absolute certainty (89% vs. 56%), to fast during holy times such as Lent (87% vs. 27%), and to tithe (57% vs. 14%). Indeed, these gaps between Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Europe mirror broader differences in religious commitment between people living insub-Saharan Africa, where religious observance is relatively high among all major religious groups, and those in more secular societies in Central and Eastern Europe.
Orthodox Ethiopians also tend to be more conservative on social issues than are other Orthodox Christians surveyed; they express higher levels of moral opposition to homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, divorce and drinking alcohol. For instance, Orthodox Ethiopians are much more likely to say that having an abortion is morally wrong than are Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe (83% vs. median of 46%).
Orthodox Christians do not make up a majority of Ethiopia’s overall population: 43% of Ethiopians are Orthodox, while approximately 19% are Protestant and 35% are Muslim. Still, in 2010, the 36 million Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia made up about 14% of the world’s total Orthodox population (compared with a 76% share in Central and Eastern Europe), up from about 3 million in 1910, when Orthodox Ethiopians made up 3% of the Orthodox total. This increase is owed mainly to natural growth in Ethiopia’s population, which rose from 9 million to 83 million between 1910 and 2010.
Ethiopian Orthodoxy is part of the Oriental branch of Orthodoxy, which accounts for approximately 20% of the global Orthodox population and is not in communion with Eastern Orthodoxy, the larger branch, largely due to theological and doctrinal differences.