Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Shattered: Struck Down, But Not Destroyed (Frank Pastore)

Shattered: Struck Down, But Not Destroyed is an autobiographical sketch of Frank Pastore’s (Frank) spiritual journey from childhood to the present day, from atheism to faith in Jesus Christ.

Raised by an abusive and stalwartly atheist mother, Frank tells the story of her early impact on his views on faith and Christianity. From youth into adulthood as a professional baseball pitcher, he regarded faith in God as a delusion and a fantasy. He indulged in a life of materialism and through friendships with fellow teammates, who were Christians, was determined to disprove the Christian faith.

Through a series of personal life challenges climaxing in a career-ending injury to his pitching arm, Frank recalls a pivotal moment when the Christian players on the team met with him for what reads like an intervention. Unlike previous get-togethers, his teammates brought an evangelist who, in turn, brought books. They introduced him to Frank, and after a while, he introduced Frank to his books. After much reflection on his beliefs and reading arguments for the Christian faith by such esteemed authors such as C.S. Lewis, Frank surrendered his life to Christ.

For me, what came after Frank’s conversion intrigued me the most. He tells that his resistance to Christianity was mostly intellectual, and for all the appeals to believe, his Christian teammates could not defend the faith against his arguments. That is, until Frank started reading, well, apologetics. Never shy about wanting to set his teammates straight, Frank confronted them, this time from the other side of the fence. He writes,

“Guys!” I said. “For years you’ve been sharing with me why I needed to become a Christian. I’ve been asking you all these basic questions, like why do you believe God exists, how do you know the Bible is true, why is there evil in the world, why is Christianity the only true religion, what about the person who’s never heard of Jesus—and for more than five years you’ve given me really bad answers. I could have died and gone to hell, and my blood would have been on your hands!”
This is what I believe is the true mission of Shattered. The book is an implicit plea to all well-meaning Christians that sometimes saying “just have faith” to an unbelieving friend is not the due diligence required to share the Gospel.

Shattered is a heartwarming book for any thoughtful Christian who wants to know the background of KKLA’s most cutting edge radio talk show host today. For added excitement, Frank includes the dramatic details of his cross-country adventure to marry the love of his life, his wife Gina. This book will leave you smiling as it did to me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A.C.T.S. - Supplication

Imagine a young child sitting on her parent's lap, the two of them sharing a tender moment. The child lifts up her face to Mommy or Daddy and says "I'm thirsty. Can you give me something to drink?" There is no hesitation on her part, no fear of rejection. She has asked for something she needs, even if she cannot yet tell the difference between 'need' and 'want.' She trusts that Mommy and Daddy will take care of her, because she knows they are good. In such an innocence and trusting spirit, God the Father wants us to approach Him with our requests. Like a child, we need to fully realize our dependence on Him and ask without ulterior motives. Imagine yourself as that child, asking the Father for your needs as the Lord's Prayer delineates.

Give us this day our daily bread...

this day...- I've heard it said that if we were to ask God for an annual supply of bread that He likely would not hear from us except once a year. A child rarely knows what he needs tomorrow, and only asks for what he needs today. Similarly, we are to have priority consciousness of what this day's needs are and not shortchange God's provisions for today for want of tomorrow's. God calls a fool the one who arrogantly relies on wealth and/or human planning to give fullness in life but doesn't seek God's will for even daily living (Luke 12:16-18). Let us not make this mistake ourselves.

...our daily bread - the staff of life is used literally, but also metaphorically of Jesus Christ Himself. Bread feeds our bodies. Jesus, the Bread of Life, feeds our spirits. Without either we die, and so we must ask God to grant us both to live for Him. "Jesus declared 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry. He who believes on me will never be thirsty.'" (John 6:35) "Man does not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (Deut. 8:3)

And lead us not into temptation,

Walking with God is a walk of dependency. The path that belongs to Him is straight, but we are small and severely myopic to the spiritual reality we live in, that the path He is leading us on is the inward journey toward holiness. So we must ask God to steer us ever away from the temptations that our minds conjure up for our hearts to lust after. Of His faithfulness to us, Jesus says, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13)

but deliver us from evil.

God doesn't simply save us from His wrath toward our sin. He saves us from the defiling reach of evil that we should feel in every heartbeat. "Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil." (Matt. 12:34-35) Jesus directs us to pray for our deliverance from the grasp of sin in our lives. We are to run to Him, cling to Him, and seek refuge in His righteousness, for He alone is powerful enough to overcome our own evil tendencies. He alone is powerful enough to

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A.C.T.S. - Thanksgiving

Though there is no explicit line in the Lord's Prayer that expresses thanksgiving, the entire prayer is fashioned as a response to the Father's creation and providence. The prayer reflects the many points of relationship that we have with His sovereignty, mercy, tender love, and ability to align our wills to His. The God addressed in prayer is a good God, so The Prayer is only effective if prayed with a spirit of thanksgiving.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A.C.T.S. - Confession

There is a daily war between our sinful nature and our redeemed nature. We defile our spirits effortlessly in the attempt to elevate ourselves in our own eyes and in the eyes of other defiled spirits. In vanity, mirrors are tools for pride-elevating positive feedback, but Confession turns mirrors into agents of truth and strips the vanity from our eyes to see our sin as God sees it.

And forgive us our debts...

I've always found it interesting how the different English translations render the word "debts." Some say "trespasses;" some say "sins." In each of these different renderings, the message is conveyed that we have something grevious about ourselves that needs the forgiveness of God. The usage of the word "debts" in the King James helps us to understand that each moment of our sinful lives is lived on borrowed time and mercy from the Creator God. The priority of this clause should not be missed. Jesus' directive is for us to recognize that we have sinned against God before we have sinned against others. we forgive our debtors.

As believers then, our lives are then spent "redeeming the time," (Colossians 4:4-6) paying back the time we spent in rejection of God by paying it forward our forgiveness to those who do not believe and have done injustice to us. Let's look at forgiveness as the wisdom to create justice from injustice and establish the peace of our Lord. Such forgiveness is indeed divine.

A.C.T.S. - Adoration

This is bare-faced expressions of love and worship of God's deity, personhood, and attributes that go beyond mere acknowledgement. Believers exalt His beauty and glory in contrast to their own creatureliness. We adore Him.

Our Father,

Our relationship to God as Father comes before His position in our lives. The Father wants devotion borne out of the kind of rapturous love that one can only have for a God that is infintely beautiful and completes the human spirit. He wants our devotion before our worship, belief, or faith in Him. He desires to be "Abba, Father" before anything else.

which art in heaven,

God is our Sovereign. Though He reveals that He is closer than a brother, closer than a whisper into our ears, close enough to study every insecurity etched on our faces and our souls, He occupies that transcendent dimension not seen with human eyes...

Hallowed be Thy Name.

...He occupies that transcendent dimension that burns white hot with a holiness that is so distant from our inferior sinful natures as one end of the universe is from the other end. We cannot bear to look at Him this way, for we will perish in His purity, yet we will never be complete without falling prostrate at the mere thought of His grandeur. We lift up holy hands to exalt Him ever higher for our own sake, knowing that such acts are symbolic and powerless to add anything to Him.

For Thine is the kingdom...

One of Jesus' more famous directives is "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33); coupled with the equally famous, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15) there is a powerful message of God's arrival in a "kingdom" way. Jesus tells us that God's kingdom should be sought after, yet there is not far to go to find it. He also tells us that waiting is no longer necessary, and that all that is necessary to enter the kingdom is to believe in the Gospel. Given the nature of scriptures about the kingdom of God, we should begin to see that God is His kingdom insofar as the God's gateway to Himself. As Jesus says in Mark 10:14, "Let the little children come to Me. Don't stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

...and the power..

Though incomprehensible, the power of God is not inconceivable. We see his workmanship in every waking moment and learn of His divine miracles in His Word. When necessary, He still performs miracles beyond the time of the Scriptures. Yet in all of these grand displays, there is none more grander than seeing all the divine creative power and ability to render cosmic justice in the universe bound up in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. When the Creator can come to exist as the most vulnerable and powerless human ever and grow up to provide redemption for humanity, that is the greatest display of power that can ever be rendered.

...and the glory forever.

It is one thing to compliment someone out of courtesy because he has a position of authority. It is quite another to glorify someone just for being who and what he is. Jesus is the only person who not only is glorious but also deserves glory for His acts on our behalf.

Igor Sikorsky observes that the sentence "For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory" is reminiscent of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, mirroring the Devil's offerings to Jesus. As it says in Luke 4:5-7, "And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine." (KJV) In what I can only say is defiance of the Devil's proposition, the prayer declares that Christ is the kingdom, the power, and the glory already from eternity past.


Defined as an affirmation "so be it" or "truly," we are directed to declare our approval of the Lord's will in all that we pray to Him. This declaration is what separates the children of God from all others. James 2:19 says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder." Inasmuch as we affirm God's sovereign accomplishments, the demons oppose them and so will never utter "amen" to His will. Believers should understand how precious few our "amens" are; we are to see them multiplied in worship of God Almighty always.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Praying the A.C.T.S. Model Using the Lord's Prayer

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and glory forever.
(Matthew 6:10-14)

The Lord's Prayer is timeless. It is also a prayer timelessly named after the Lord who taught it but never prayed it Himself. Such a prayer is meant for His followers, disciples who bend their knees and want to know the heart of communion. The prayer is meant to express the gut basics of a deep, personal connection with God as much as its Spirit-led recitation aligns the believer's heart to establish that connection.

The A.C.T.S. prayer model is also a rather transcendent, albeit a more recent, mnemonic formulation to help believers to remember the elements of communication and communion with God. In this series, I've superimposed the A.C.T.S model onto the Lord's Prayer (or perhaps the other way around), a layering of the ancient with the contemporary of sorts. It is clear that two millenia before we had an acronym, Jesus demonstrated what the human heart should long to say before the face of the Father.

Briefly, A.C.T.S. stands for:
A - Adoration
C - Confession
T - Thanksgiving
S - Supplication

The next four posts will dive into the details of how the Lord's Prayer and A.C.T.S. go together and can give us a way to find prayer memorable and enriching as meaningful communion with the Creator. At the end of each entry, I will insert a song that best captures my mind's ear that buttresses my thoughts. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

TATB: Bodies on Display

Theology at the Bottleworks (July 28, 2010)
"Bodies on Display: The Ethics of Body Modification"

My scattered thoughts on the issue:
Body modification, whether medically necessary or elective, is a terrific question to consider, especially because everyone has a different opinion on where the limits lie (or if there are limits at all). The subject is so iconically subjective that that there isn't anything that cannot be considered a factor in any person's decision to participate or not to participate.

What is our range?
Plastic surgery - piercings -tatoos - implants (decorative, medical, and cyborg) - gastric bypass - circumcision (male and female) - LASIK surgery - hair transplantation - makeup - steroid use

The basic question is, "what governs what we do to our bodies?" Or better, "who governs what we do to our bodies?" Much of what people consider acceptable is culturally conditioned or even culturally mandated. Standards of beauty and "coolness" are products of the human imagination and are applied through personal motivation, peer pressure or, in some cases, force.

Along with the basic question, I'd like to know what the metaphysical implications/motivations are of participating in body modification. Metaphysical naturalism says that our bodies and identities are the same, which means that whatever changes we make to our appearances, we also change our identities. If this is true (given naturalism's denial of the existence of God), how do we make sense of identity in a practical sense? Neither a balding husband nor the law have grounding recourse against divorce if the wife says 'he is not the man I married' in a very literal sense.

With naturalism, most people would disagree. There is a default sense in the human mind that our identities are related to but not synoymous with our bodies; we think intuitively that a woman who wants a full-body transformation (via plastic surgery) to look like Kim Kardashian will never actually be Kim Kardashian or cease to be her self in any fundamental way. Does it matter, then, what a person does to her body? Those who say there are no objective governing principles to human actions must fall back on metaphysical naturalism to justify this position, but then we are back to the same conundrum of identity.

I observe that no matter what the extent of modification, people justify changes to their bodies in an effort to make some 'improvement' over the status quo (with the exception of the mentally insane, or so I'm told). How does a forked tongue or horn implants constitute an improvement? Steroids enlarge muscles but shrink genitalia. Where is the net improvement? Add to this that almost all claim freedom to modify with the caveat "as long as it doesn't harm anyone else." As surely as I know that no man is an island, how do people continue to use this phrase to justify this activity?

Bottom line: perhaps the "who" in "who governs what we do to our bodies?" isn't found in the mirror or in the culture. As someone observed, perhaps our bodies are objects of stewardship like any posession we have in life, given by the One who created all bodies. I find it ironic that the cost of denying this Who sometimes in the pursuit of body modification is greater in terms of pain and expenses than it is to acknowledge Him.

Out of the discussion that evening, two great quotes emerged, which are both humorous and uforgettable:
"If you want to lift 500 pounds, get a backhoe."
While referring to the subject of circumcision, "Any way you slice it..."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Who's Waiting For Your Kids?"

Brett Kunkle, from Stand to Reason, has a great video out on The video is for parents of kids nearing college age and challenges them to find out what messages and environment the college milieu will impose on their kids. My advice: even if you don't have kids who are about to leave for college yet, please watch the video to find out what they'll see when they get there.

(Apologies for not being able to embed the video. Just click the link below.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nicole Queen vs. Nabeel Qureshi

Please watch both stories in their entirety.


I watched quite a few video testimonies of conversions to either Christianity or Islam. I selected these two people because they related the most thoughtfulness in their stories. Observations:

1) Nicole Queen's decision to become a Muslim came from a desire to find meaning and dignity in life and leave a lifestyle that she found shallow and unfulfilling. As sincere as I believe Ms. Queen is about her belief in Allah, she never talked about how she resolved in her mind the problematic aspects about Islam, such as the mandate to fight and kill Jews and Christians, not to make friends with Jews and Christians, to kill people who leave Islam, to support Sharia, and so forth. I'd also like to know more of her thoughts about her Baptist upbringing early in life.

It is nice to showcase that Islam has an attractive side to it--of course it has (if it were completely noxious, then no one would believe it). However, Ms. Queen's story of her conversion sounds like many, many other conversion stories that I have heard--conversion to Mormonism, conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses, conversion to Buddhism. What I found missing was an appeal to objective truth and the search for God's actual character. Ms. Queen has found her moral compass, which is laudable.

2) Nabeel Qureshi is a man that I am so glad to call a brother in Christ. His story is particularly interesting to me, because he had no reason to leave Islam. As a devout Muslim in a devout Muslim family that loved him, and all things being equal, why would he convert to Christianity if all his spiritual cards were lined up correctly? He recounts that initial encounter with truth through his good friend David was when it began. The first nugget of truth that fell into his life was the dispelling of the told and retold myth that the Bible is corrupt. From then on, the myths about Jesus and the Christian faith began to fall, and one day, God revealed Himself in a personal way to Nabeel*.

For me, it is remarkable how it is both easy and difficult it is to wrestle with Christianity, and I have to put myself into other people's shoes, like Nabeel's. Sometimes I think the history just speaks for itself and the truth stares at us plainly. Other times, I see that we need to be led out of the maze of our own making by the divine hand of God. And that is what the Gospel is all about--God forgiving and overcoming the sin in our very nature to bring us to life through Jesus Christ.

A final thought: I wonder how many Christians sitting in church every Sunday (or on Christmas and Easter) could easily be someone like Nicole Queen. Christians are provided with lessons about Jesus' sacrificial love and forgiveness, mercy and spiritual rebirth. We are given Bibles that tell of God's purposes for our lives. We are constantly invited to consider God and see Him for who He is. Yet, many don't even crack open the Bible between church attendances. We cannot remember what was spoken about immediately after leaving the service, and worst of all, we hardly give God a thought in our day-to-day activities. We haven't encountered God at all; He is not in us even though He is around us constantly. No wonder that when certain people reach a level of maturity, they cannot see the presence of God in so-called Christian people. They don't see Him, because He's not there. So they look elsewhere.

*Today, Nabeel and David both operate Acts 17 Apologetics, a Christian ministry with a special focus on Islam.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Theology and Apologetics Q&A (1)

These are questions asked by my fellow churchgoers. For reasons of length, they are answered here so I can elaborate if I need to.

Q1: The whole Bible is the basis of my faith and I know if one word is not inspired then the whole thing collapses. The biggest barrier I run into in my outreach is the tripwire the old chestnut of the book being written by man and therefore suspect...Bottom line, give me the elevator speech that knocks down that argument about the Bible being written by men. Thanks.

If, by "argument," you mean the view that since the Bible was written with human hands it couldn't also be inspired by God, then I would ask "why not both?" What people are really questioning is whether the Bible can be truly error-free if it were produced by human hands. If there is a God who wants to communicate with us through the Bible, then why can't the Bible be error-free? Again, if there is a God who wants to communicate with us, then why does it matter that He chooses to speak through poetry, narratives, and letters written by men vs another method?

Would it make a difference if God struck His word on tablets on a mountaintop instead? (Oh wait, He did) Would it make a difference if monkeys pounding on computer keys produced all the books of the Bible? Would that make things any more miraculous, inspired, or error-free? It wouldn't to me.

In turn, I'd like to ask if such an argument is made by people, namely men (?). Of course it is. So, if I were to adopt a similar line of reasoning, shouldn't I be able to question whether that is a good argument simply because it was made by a man? Well no, of course not. It just goes to show that this attitude dismisses the veracity of the Bible based on its origins in what's called the genetic fallacy. Other than being guilty of extreme prejudice, this argument carries little weight.

Q2: Why is God so angry in the OT, to the point of killing people on the spot? Why did he stop that behavior in the N. T. ? hum, does that mean GOD changed his tactic with us?

This is a good question that people often ask.

Your question makes it sound like God reacts out of His anger to kill people unjustly. Is this what you mean? If so, God wouldn't be loving or just if He did that. People are created beings; on top of that we are sinners. Our lives are always at His mercy, and if/when He determines that our earthly lives should end, we have no reason to accuse Him of being wrong or unfair.

God may appear to behave differently between the OT and NTs, but I think this is only due to what we perceive as more tolerance on His part. God can and has claimed life in immediate punishment for sin past the OT. Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 are the examples that come to mind. But you could be right that God has actually changed His behavior toward those in post-NT times. If He has, I'm thankful for His great mercies.

Q3: Did Jesus give a chance to the people of the Old Testament that never heard the Word of God?

Romans 4 talks about Abraham and David believing God and God treating them as righteous long before Jesus walked the earth. Theologians have pointed out that Jesus' blood retroactively covers their sin even as it proactively covers ours today. For those people in the OT who were not a part of the Hebrews or Israel, their witness was the nation of Israel itself. There were many who became part of the Hebrew community all throughout the OT who learned of the God of Israel (i.e. Egyptians escaping w/ Hebrews in the Exodus, the Moabites).

Q4: Why are we saved by grace through faith? Why not grace through love, or forgiving others? Is it because we’d earn salvation that way, in a sense?

Think about it this way: it is not so much the "earning" aspect that plays a role in this question. Being sinful people by nature, we cannot love well enough or forgive others with pure enough hearts and minds to qualify being worthy of being in the presence of God. One guilty person loving and forgiving another guilty person doesn't erase the guilt of either party before God.

Second, the whole idea of grace negates trying to earn salvation, because grace is something God freely gives as He wills. If grace is earned, then it wouldn't be grace (Romans 11:5-7). Suppose if salvation could be earned, then some people would have a right to demand it of God based on a level of achievement. Those people would somehow have less sin or be better than the rest of humanity. But, as Scripture reveals, no one has any spiritual advantage. We are all sinners, whether we sin more or less than the next person.

I think I should point out that only Christianity contains God's grace in this way. God is an agent
independent of us who gives grace and instills faith on believers. Many religions require merit that is ultimately not for God but for collecting self-orbiting accolades meant to force God to do something for us. That is very different from the loving relationship that God wants for us that we find in the Bible.

Q5: What happens to people that don’t hear the Word of God? Are they judged based on the difficulties that God has given them, or solely on never hearing his name?

Wow, this is a question that is as old as the Bible itself! Even if I had another two-thousand years, I couldn't give you a complete answer. You won't be alone when you get to meet Jesus in person one day and ask Him directly. :)

Short answer: it depends. Without the Gospel, there is only Law (Romans 10). How an individual responds to the Law of God, which everyone knows in their heart, is how God will judge him/her (Romans 1). The only thing we know about the unknowns is that God is always just, and whatever happens to those people will be the right thing.

Q6: In the end, it says that “every knee shall bow” (Philipians 2:10) and every tongue confess (Philipians 2:12) that Jesus Christ is Lord. Also, it says “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” So, it turns back to belief again with the heart, but what about salvation through confession? If everyone confesses, are they all saved? That is a nice thought, but I think I’ve misunderstood something here.

Yes, there are two senses of the word "confess" here. One can "confess" as in pure acknowledgement of the identity of Jesus Christ; another "confess" is what a believer does to identify his belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

Notice that the first sense in Philippians 2:11 is what everyone will do when Jesus comes again and the world must acknowledge Him for who He is. The second sense in Romans 10:8-10 is communication to God from someone with a believing heart. Per your question, the confession of the believer doesn't grant salvation, but it witnesses to the believer's salvation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Movie Review: The Cartel

Last Friday, on an impulse, I and my 4-year old rushed out of the house to make the 1pm showing of The Cartel at The Plaza Frontenac (Oohlala).

But I digress; with my toddler's patience clock counting down (as was the number of fries in his lap), and the movie starting 15 minutes late (sans previews, thank goodness!), I was not disappointed in the least. The movie got right down to business as Bob Bowden, the creator of this documentary, reveals to the audience that the New Jersey public education system is about many things, the least of which is actual education.

The public may/may not know that the state of NJ spends an exceedingly high number of dollars per student per classroom, with the average classroom receiving about a sum total of $313,000 (or more) per school year (including teacher salary and overhead). Surprised? So were the NJ residents interviewed on the street, who were asked to guess but named a far lower amount.

So where is the money going if it isn't producing the good results that upwards of six modest incomes combined should produce (if money were the biggest factor)? Bowden follows the moolah everywhere it goes. And not surprisingly, most of it isn't spent in the classroom.

The movie accomplishes several things:
o It dispels the myth that more money equals better schools and better performing students. Most of the money is spent on administrative costs and patronage, a quid pro quo between the teachers union (the NJEA, which is the most powerful lobby in the state) and pretty much everyone on school boards and state and local government. According to the documentary, many friends and family members of teachers, administrators, and school boards obtained their jobs through instances of quid pro quo support of the teachers union's objectives.

(Speaking of administration, the movie does a side-by-side comparison between NJ and neighboring Maryland, both of which have roughly the same number of students in the state. NJ has 616 school districts with all the staff to boot; MD has just 24. You do the math.)

o It reveals that lots of $$$ goes toward exorbitant salaries, severance pay, and pensions; some of them being custodial staff. I said that Bowden followed the money--he did--right into an administrative parking lot where the number of luxury cars might rival that of the dealership where they were purchased.

o It reveals multiple instances of fraud, from teachers using students in order to obtain more money for pet programs to a large construction firm demanding billions on top of billions already paid to construct poorly-built and incomplete school facilities.

o It exposes the NJEA's practice of punishing teachers and administrators for wanting to discipline misbehaving and poor performing teachers. Alongside that practice, the union fosters a mentality that discourages teachers from innovating and benefitting their students if it means that other teachers would look bad by not doing the same.

o It dispels the myths spun by teachers unions that voucher programs are a detriment to public education.

- It dispels the myth that any kind of public voucher program is just a racist Republican scheme to hurt black people and minorities.

- It dispels the myth that private schools and charter schools are unaccountable; those schools are accountable to the parents and to the state, which must approve of the educational objectives set forth in the curricula.

- It dispels the myth that vouchers take resources away from public schools, thereby making public schools worse.

- It dispels the myth that alternative and charter schools favor certain, select students by way of admission.

- It affirms what we've known all along, that competition among schools improves schools, which in turn, benefits the students.

- Finally, it dispels one more myth: that the NJEA is always against vouchers through exposing the double standard that it has toward magnet schools, only because magnet schools are still counted as part of the public education system and the union would still receive funds through those schools. Ch-ching!

The documentary made one important observation about vouchers: change the language, and you change the public's response. If you ask most people if they are in favor of vouchers, many react negatively. However, if you ask if they would favor 'scholarships for everyone' to attend the school of their choice (which is the same thing), the public jumps to support that.

At the end of the movie, Bob Bowden remarks that this is not just about NJ. Indeed, as if corruption exists nowhere except NJ? Everywhere there is a failing school we must pursue the cause and strive to fix it. Our kids depend on us.

The movie had significant personal impact on me. At one point, the viewer joins a room full of anxious parents with their sons and daughters present for the lottery drawing of new enrollees for a charter school. The room is pin-drop silent as the names of children are drawn from a bingo tumbler and read aloud. Tears and muffled elated crying begin to filter from the crowd after each name. Near-silent dancing breaks out as one mother, overcome with joy, dances out to the foyer to praise Jesus that her daughter, in her words, now "has a chance." The joy eventually turns to sorrow as another set of tears begin to flow, this time from the children who must also listen for their names, but only to hear their place on the waiting list. It is not rejection, but it is the awful realization that they must face another year in public school if nothing else comes through for them.

As a mom with a child in a public school, I couldn't help but shed a tear along with these families, for both the 'winners' and the 'losers.' Something primal in myself understands that for something as essential as an education, children should not be trapped in the prisons of bad schools. Parents should have the freedom to use the public funds set aside for their children to seek better schools and better teachers. The state's authority comes in second to parents when it comes to the education of our children, and the teachers union, none at all. Parents in every school district in the country need to wield that authority for the good of their own kids and demand that the state, which holds their money, must relinquish it for the good of the future.

Every concerned parent should see this movie.
Read other reviews of The Cartel.

View the trailer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Nidal Malik Hasan Did Not Murder Anyone

I originally intended to publish a post on the Ft. Hood massacre soon after the news broke about the attack by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. In the inital days following, the news media strained to find a possible motive for Hasan's actions. Was he a flaming jihadi or a garden variety crazyman? Now, since the events took place months ago, I've had plenty of time to mull the situation over and grant possibilities and motivations subliminally suggested by the media. I also enlisted the help of a fellow Christian apologist and expert on Islam, David Wood from Answering Muslims, to help me make sense of Hasan's motivations. Questions in bold are followed by his answers in italics. To be fair to the media, I have also included representative media answers in response to Mr. Wood's statements. Thus, this blog entry has both sweet and sour sides to it. I'll let the reader decide which is which.

1. It seems like the American media doesn’t know what to make of this man Hasan except to attribute his actions to a psychosis or a mental breakdown. How legitimate is this treatment of him?

Hasan did exactly what Islam commands him to do, which is why it's absurd to attribute his actions to a mental defect. If Hasan had started running down the highway in a pink dress, barking like a dog and shooting people with paint-ball pellets, we might reasonably question his sanity. But when he proclaims his jihadist views over a period of years, consults Muslim scholars about waging Jihad, purchases weapons, and carries out a brutal attack against carefully selected targets, psychological problems simply aren't the explanation. Islam is the explanation.

Phptht. No, Hasan had to be mentally disturbed. After all, he was about to be shipped to Iraq to fight George Bush’s War. Who wouldn’t go insane? You shouldn’t bring Hasan’s cultural upbringing into this. As an enlightened and tolerant society, we should realize that none of this is really his fault, and he can’t help it if he’s Muslim. I mean, Islam is a religion of peace, right? Right?

2. What are the laws in the Qu’ran prohibiting murder or the killing of innocent people? Tell me about what they mean.

Concerning the murder of innocents, Muslims may appeal to Qur'an 17:33, which says, "And do not kill any one whom Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause, and whoever is slain unjustly, We have indeed given to his heir authority, so let him not exceed the just limits in slaying; surely he is aided." Here a Muslim may rightly claim that the Qur'an condemns the killing of innocents.

The problem is that the Islamic definition of "innocent" is radically different from that of practically everyone else on the planet. According to Islam, non-Muslims aren't innocent. Pagans aren't innocent. Christians and Jews aren't innocent. Consider, for instance, what Qur'an 9:30 says about Jews and Christians: "And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!"

Christians and Jews are therefore guilty of the worst sin imaginable (associating partners with Allah). It isn't surprising that 9:29 commands Muslims to fight us.

Hence, while it is correct to say that Islam forbids the killing of innocents, we must keep in mind the fact that, according to Islam, the only innocent people are good Muslims.

This has to be an obvious twisting of the Qu’ran. I mean, what about The Crusades?

3. According to this understanding of the Qu’ran, why are American soldiers legitimate targets of killing?

The Qur'an specifically says that the penalty for "making mischief" in Muslim lands or fighting against the Muslim community is death. Qur'an 5:33 reads: "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement."

The American soldiers targeted by Hasan were about to be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, to make what Hasan would regard as "mischief in the land." These soldiers were therefore legitimate targets according to Islam.

Well, I have a Muslim neighbor, and that’s not what he believes. And he says he’s very devout. His kids and mine play soccer together.

4. What is the war/jihad that Hasan chose to fight in and what the imam he consulted with endorsed?

According to Hasan, the United States is at war with Islam (due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). Thus, any Muslim is justified in waging Jihad against America.

That’s sooo ridiculous. As stated before, Islam is a peaceful religion. The U.S. is at war in Afghanistan and Iraq because George W-stands-for-Warmonger Bush was a warring warmonger. You can’t base what one crazy man says as representative of the whole religion. I’m sure there’s no justification whatsoever in what he believes. He’s crazy, you know.

5. If Hasan’s acts took place in, say, Saudi Arabia, would he be treated as a murderer as he is here in the US?

In the eyes of Muslims who understand Muhammad's teachings, Hasan isn't a murderer at all. He killed enemy combatants, and therefore should be considered a war hero.

Haw-haw. Hasan is a US citizen, and he has Miranda rights and should be tried fairly in federal court. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty!

6. What could be his defense for his actions? Could he argue that he did not really murder anyone at all, since none of the victims were Muslim?

Murder, by definition, is an unjust killing. In Islam, it's lawful to kill enemy combatants. It's also lawful to kill people who are aiding enemy combatants. It's even lawful to kill civilians as collateral damage when targeting enemy combatants. Everyone killed by Hasan fits into these categories, so there was nothing unjust about his killing spree (according to Islam).

See, this shows that Islam is very tolerant and peaceful.

7. The American society seems to be just one of the things disdained by many militant Muslims about the US. Are the features (positive or negative) of American society fundamentally incompatible with Islam or Sharia? Are Islam and Sharia the same?

Islam is the religion, while Sharia is the legal system put in place when the religion becomes dominant in an area. Thus, while there are many Muslims in America, there isn't much Sharia. Sharia is completely incompatible with American society. Freedom of religion is severely limited under Sharia. Freedom of speech is severely limited. The penalties for various offenses in Islam would qualify as "cruel and unusual" in America. Since America is pluralistic, Islam can exist in America. But Islam is monolithic; therefore, America cannot exist under Islamic rule.

America has separation of church and state, therefore, I cannot conceive of any American Muslims who would tolerate Sharia. Only the radical Muslims, whom I refuse to acknowledge exist, would want to impose Sharia. Even if they did exist (which they do not), I’m satisfied with characterizing them as terribly misunderstood and also confident that they will eventually become as relativistic about their beliefs as I believe they should be.

8. Is Sharia the goal of Islam? I mean, there are plenty of Muslims who do not want to live under Sharia. However, does faithfulness to Islam compel them to accept it as the right way of life?

If someone believes that Islam is true, they should believe that Sharia is the greatest system of law (since it's the system that's been commanded by Allah). It is therefore quite strange for a Muslim not to desire Sharia law. Muslims who do not desire Sharia have either been thoroughly Westernized, or they don't know enough about their religion to know that they're supposed to seek the establishment of Sharia.

Well, if you’re going to get all confusing like that, then there is no longer any reason to rebut you.

9. Are Americans naïve to this aspect of Islam? Are Westernized Muslims likewise naïve?

Since Americans are raised to believe that a particular religion shouldn't be forced on people, many Americans just can't grasp the fact that Islam is completely different in this respect. Americans tend to think that all religions support basic rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, etc. Indeed, when the facts about Islam are pointed out to people, many become upset because they assume that those presenting the facts must be misrepresenting Islam. After all, no religion could possibly teach that unbelievers should be fought simply for being unbelievers!

Similarly, many Muslims in America have been raised with Western values, and they believe in Western values. But since they don't know much about Islam, they are convinced that Islam teaches the same thing (when it doesn't).

This is the problem with religion in the first place. Adherents turn perfectly benign beliefs in the brotherhood of man (and woman) and the parenthood of God(ess) into a contest of exclusivity! If religious people would just become as enlightened as we reporters, journalists, and news anchors, then everyone would understand how objectively correct we are in pointing out the relativism of all moral and religious beliefs! Let us all put down the dogma, already! Get it? Put down the dog-ma?

10. There are efforts from people like Irshad Manji to reform Islam into a less oppressive religion. Is this even possible?

People are free to reinterpret Islam, and this is what many are already doing here in the West. The problem is that wherever Islam spreads, there will always be a minority of Muslims who take the Qur'an and Hadith seriously. So no matter how much Irshad Manji waters down the religion of Muhammad, Muslims will continue to oppress unbelievers.

When women and minorities are abused in Islamic countries and bring that abuse to the West, I tolerate it as a mark of their culture that I can’t bring myself to critique in public, even if I wanted to. I’ve abdicated my ability to criticize Islam out of loyalty to moral and religious relativism and political correctness. Christianity—now that’s another matter altogether…

Personal reflection:
An army base with unsuspecting and men and women, most of them unarmed. Motive: kill the enemy. Triggerman: one Soldier of Allah. Result: 13 dead.

However the media (and the military) chose at one point to characterize what happened, I can’t ignore the clear, linear progression of logic that led Hasan to attack the personnel at Ft. Hood. For a Muslim dedicated to the supremacy of Allah by following Qu’ran to the letter, mass murder became more necessary than any gentle proselytizing. Maj. Nidal Hasan was an officer in our military, yet he was of another military, that of Islam. In short, he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, following the path of what he believed a good Soldier of Allah was supposed to do.

Oh yes, let’s go there. Though 13 people died, assuming none were Muslim, according to the laws within Islam, Hasan did not commit murder at all. The dead were only Jews, Christians, and infidels worthy to be swept up in body bags as the consequence of victory in jihad. In Islam, there is no murder of non-Muslims, just death. This is the first tragedy of Ft. Hood.

The second tragedy is this: it took months for the Army to finally spit out the word “terrorist” in the same sentence as Hasan’s name. And the mainstream media? I’m still waiting. And in the pit of my stomach, I suspect I will be waiting forever. Journalists are doing the equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand to hide from the obvious. Hasan’s beliefs are Islamic…and protected in the shadow of welfare in a beautiful, magical, multicultural world. Therefore, saying anything negative about the origin of his violence (ahem, Islam) is strictly prohibited in the uber-PC culture of the mainstream media. Political correctness forces us to ignore where Hasan got his jihadist mindset (um, the Qu’ran and the Hadith?)

So it seems that some want to imply that Hasan could have been a radical, violent, religious nutcase that had just as much chance of shooting up an army base as a Christian as he did as a Muslim. Fine. If that were the case, I have complete confidence that the media will call him for what he is: a murderer.

But if political correctness in the media can’t call something for what it is, like murder, terrorism, and jihad, then we might as well blame political correctness for murdering 13 people. If that is the case, then political correctness needs to be murdered in order for people to live.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Found this on

Is that...Karl Marx in the apple?

Note: we have it on the word of HillBuzz, who picked up this photo early when it first came out last week, that the photo is the original cover of Newsweek and has NOT been Photoshopped.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Abortion Coverage--It's Not Not in There

In the last few weeks, when the Democrats in Congress are racing like cats on crack to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. O-Care, Faux-Care, or my favorite: N-O-Care), one of the more contentious issues about the bill is whether or not it funds elective abortion with taxpayer money. Well, since I don't just identify with contentious but also conscientious when it comes to the frivolities of life or death issues, I wanted an answer. Does it or doesn't it?

I read a smattering of articles by fellow pro-lifers against the bill and articles and responses by N-O-Care supporters who accuse said pro-lifers of making things up, and then I read the sections (AND proposed amendments) to the bill about abortion funding. My findings?

The bill does not not fund abortions with taxpayer money.

Get it? Even with amendments, federal funds can be used to pay for abortions unless states individually pass legislation prohibiting taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions...kinda. Someone receiving a federal subsidy to buy health insurance will probably have enough dollars in the check to cover an abortion, although that part will be done in a separate transaction outside of health care proper. Y'know, all straight up like that, yo.

The public should well understand something about the law by now: if the law doesn't explicitly prohibit something (i.e. abortion funding), then it is legal and totally exercisable by the beauracracies that be. Abortion coverage is not just a possibility, it's a plausibility. And that's enough for the family of Planned Parenthood, Obama, Reid, and Pelosi to declare that the dastardly deed is done.

Pro-lifers have been told repeatedly that if they do not like abortion, they should not get one. Cute. With this legislation in mind, let's shift the shoe to the other foot. If I didn't get a woman pregnant, I shouldn't have to pay for her abortion.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Should Hell Last For an Eternity?

A question posted to my church discussion board by a fellow member:

Hello …. I’m looking for some reasoned responses or references that I can go to in order to address an inner struggle I am currently undergoing …. I’m wrestling with the issue of “eternal punishment” …. my question is basically: Given the fact that Jesus Christ “paid it all” through his death on the cross, becoming sin and enduring God’s wrath on behalf of all those who will trust in Him, and the fact that after three days he was then resurrected and restored to his rightful position as Lord and King, how do I reconcile with that the idea that a person who does not accept Jesus Christ as Savior must therefore face the consequences of his own sin, but that the consequence for the sin of that one person is an eternal punishment (separation from God) …. how can I resolve the idea that the punishment for the sins of many was satisfied by Jesus Christ over the course of three days (earth time) but the punishment for the sins of just one (without Jesus Christ) is never satisfied and lasts forever ? I realize there may be too many unknowns for this to be answered “easily”, but I wouldappreciate some help with this …. thanks, TWS

This is my answer to this question and some of the discussion trail following it:

It seems the prevailing assumption on this topic is that the suffering of hell is divinely imposed, that God causes the suffering felt. What if the suffering is self-imposed, and, not only that, for those in hell, such suffering is preferable than to be in the presence of a God that those people have hated and rejected?

In Matt. 16:18, as Jesus commissions Peter to lead the New Testament church, He makes an interesting comment that the gates of Hades (Hell) will not prevail against the church. The popular understanding of this verse is that the church will not succumb to the onslaught of Hell, but this is opposite to what Jesus actually says. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, giving the actual imagery that Hell is shut from the inside by its inhabitants, and that the movement of God will overcome its resistance. Indeed, this imagery makes more realistic sense as a city beseiged is shut from the inside, not the other way around.

What might we infer from this? Hell is filled with people who would rather be there over and above spending an eternity with a God they despise. They are unforgiven not because they lapsed in asking for forgiveness but because they have rejected the God who forgives. Paul states that freedom from sin is bondage to the Father, which is precisely what sinful people cannot tolerate. To them, freedom to sin is freedom from God, and so in this sense, hell is exactly what they have desired all along. (My thanks to St. Paul..and C.S. Lewis)

But back to the original question, why the eternality of it all? To say that a sin is finite because it is committed in a finite earthly life assumes that one’s location determines its finitude. It also assumes that sin is confined only to this earthly life. We know this is untrue, since Scripture teaches that all sin has an additional spiritual dimension. Sin is ultimately committed against an eternally existing God, who is timeless. The offense exists as long as God does.

The Law exists to teach God’s moral righteousness. James 2 teaches that breaking one law (the only language quantifying sin we have) is breaking the (whole) Law. God’s moral perfection and character, which are abstract and exist eternally outside this temporal world, are represented in the Law, and are the attributes that we offend when we sin/break the Law. From this perspective, sin is far from being merely temporal, since it offends the eternal character of God.

We can look at Jesus’ death on the cross similarly. In fact, my daughter asked a very relevant question related to this just tonight. How can Jesus’ death be efficacious for us living now if Jesus died in the past? (Not in those exact words, of course) But we do know that it is efficacious for us now and for those who lived prior to Jesus’ life on earth, NOT through the limited time of the actual event of dying on the cross, but through the timeless spiritual significance of Jesus’ death on the cross. Specifically, the Resurrection is what makes it efficacious for lifetimes past, present, and future. Jesus is risen and alive and able to reach across time to forgive and save.

On the flipside, I’d like to know: if it seems somehow unfair that hell should last an eternity, then why should heaven last an eternity? I’ve never known anyone to contest that an existence in the presence of God should only be finite because the time spent on earth believing in Jesus was finite.

BTW, Tim Keller’s chapter his book The Reason for God, is one of the better treatments of God and Hell I’ve seen in a lay-oriented book. Chapter 5. I recommend it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Snagged Me a Photo Job!

Meet Martin Baker, candidate for MO U.S. Congressional District 1. I had a blast photographing this guy and his fiancee at the Arch yesterday. Lighting was perrrrfect!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

International Society for Women in Apologetics

A new organization; a new website:

It's like...the most perfect pair of shoes in the world. I am so happy!

UPDATE: It's official! I am a member, and I'm listed!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"damnant quodnon intelligent"

Pasted here, because everyone should READ this--this is an article written by Janine Turner on parents need to be involved in educating their children now, as a matter of importance and urgency:

By Janine Turner
In 1775 Israel Putnam was farming in Brooklyn, Connecticut when he heard the British had fired on the American Militia in Lexington, Massachusetts. He immediately dropped his plow and rode 100 miles in 18 hours to Cambridge, Massachusetts to join the colonial soldiers.

On the way he spread the call for "every man who is fit and willing" to come to his countrymen’s aid.

Israel was resolute when revolution beckoned. He was fit and willing. Are we? Are our children? Or is it time for a 2010 resolution for a revolution?

Revolution conjures thoughts of guns and soldiers, passions and pageants. The revolution that currently beckons is an awakening – not an awakening of political parties or partisan politics but of our youth’s minds.

America’s future lies with them.

What is happening to Americas promise? Their intellectual stimulation is benumbed with mindless text messaging, Xbox and reality television. There is an extraordinary, seemingly boundless amount of information available at their fingertips but the question begs: will it be used benignly or brilliantly? Will our children become hypnotized or revitalized? Unfortunately, I see signs of complacency. Recently, I stumbled upon the following words:

The average age of the world’s greatest civilization has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to selfishness;
From selfishness to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependency;
From dependency back to bondage.

Where are our children on this scale? Complacency? Apathy? Are they walking the plank of dependency, over an ocean of bondage? Awakening our children’s sense of faith, courage, tenacity, selflessness, and lessening the belt on prejudice, is paramount for our country’s survival.

We need to unite -- unite in our efforts to rekindle America’s flame.

We come from a lineage of a great, stoic, hard working, positive, philanthropic people who believed in Divine Providence; a Divine Providence that was both the anchor and the launching pad from which dreams were made. America was a land of hope. We cannot become a land of dopes.

We must tell our kids to go outside and look at the stars, sit under a tree, read a book. We must encourage them to seek, understand and value our rich heritage and to do that -- they must study, they must read. We must teach them. We need to turn off the television and read a book of history at the dinner table; be the example. We need to revolutionize our thinking, our moral foundation and our academia.

To quote from one of my favorite forefathers, John Adams:

"I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

We have come full circle. We have studied painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain for too long. We, both as citizens and as parents, need to study with our children -- history, politics, war, mathematics, natural history and engineering. We, and they, need to be fortified with wisdom, inspiration, Yankee Spirit and American can do attitudes. We need to be both prudent and provocative.

We need a resolution for revolution.

We must no longer rest on our laurels as the aristocracy of Europe did in the 18th century.

Ignorance is the surest way to bring on the demise of our great land. Our children may end up in our enemy’s hands. America will be taken with a subtlety and a craftiness that will feed upon our children’s complacency. The rug will be pulled from under them before they even know there is an enemy in the room. It is not just the terrorists or reckless spending that threatens our country. It is our children’s lack of education and intellectual fortitude. It is apathy. Woe to us, and shudder to think what lies before us, if we do not recognize that knowledge is power.

Our children’s fates and their futures are being carved by our culture -- cultivated and manipulated by a senseless, meandering, electronic society. We must be the hand on the brush that paints our children’s fate.

In our house, one of the ways to paint is with text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter, stimulating thought provoking conversation and patriotism with Latin quotes and American history.

My daughter’s most recent text: “damnant quodnon intelligent.” --They condemn what they do not understand.

I couldn't have said it better.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I support the 2010 March For Life

TODAY is the annual pro-life rally at the mall in Washington D.C, the March For Life. This year is the first year where those who cannot be physically there can be "present" virtually through signing up to have a symbol of them displayed on the mall with the other ralliers. Why yes, there is a cardboard cutout for me out there!

What's more awesome about this year is that the rally is livecasted on the Americans United For Life website. By going cyber, the pro-life message is going global. People who respect life and are pro-family and have consciences can feel united with other pro-life people all over the world. That, my friends, is beautiful.

I wonder how many protest marches and rallies must go on before our US legislators and Supreme Court justices realize that it is just as wrong to take a life while she is in the womb as when she is out of the womb. No civilization is remotely just when it approves the killing of the next generation of its own citizens. This sanctioning is so close to the eating of our own offspring that anyone who can't see it must not be right in the head, if you know what I mean. That is why this is my symbol for the abortion supporters: The Ouroboros

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Are Christians as anti-intellectual as ever?

Today's younger Christians (under-40) are are more educated than ever in history. The vast majority are college educated (many through graduate school), and because of their tech savviness, are more exposed to different philosophies, worldviews, and political and religious thought than any generation past. In fact, most of these younger Christians have come to believe that they are more educated, objective, and intellectually superior to their parents' generation and their grandparents' generation. Particularly in America, many think that they are certainly superior to the generations before the Enlightenment.

Previous generations of Christians have been characterized as anti-intellectual, unwilling to enter the academic arena or read books challenging Christian suppositions. They eschewed serious discussion over competing worldviews and took a dim view of higher education in the liberal arts and sciences. They thought that real spiritual history began with the Pilgrims (slight sarcasm there).

But younger Christians are better now. Why? Because we know so much more, that's why.

But is this true? Even with all these degree letters swirling around our names like some badge of honor, ask most young Christians how well they actually know their own convictions compared to previous generations. Ask how much Scripture they actually read on a regular basis. Ask how many books they have read.

Have they read books by G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon? I could go on ad infinitum, but I'll stop there for brevity's sake.

Most have not. More than most have not. At the end of the day, while we believe that we have more intellectually distinguished knowledge of the world and of faith, I fear that we do not. Most of us can name the companies that have dropped their ads using Tiger Woods (and the ones that haven't). But most of us cannot name the 10 Commandments nor articulate an objective reason why the Christian faith should be believed among religions of the world.

If asked why not, most young people would say that they haven't the time nor the interest. That excuse doesn't sound much different today than it did in yesteryear. So has anything really changed?

Monday, January 11, 2010

What's Yours is Ours: Thoughts on the Christian Collective and Socialism as Policy

It's an election year, and I feel like mulling over the oft-asked question "How should Christians think about politics?" Since politics is much too broad an issue on which to focus one singular post, I'll start by narrowing down a particular issue that perhaps hasn't received enough attention among believers of late: Biblical Christian community vs. the American way-of-life.

A YouTube video tangentially touched on this subject, and a friend of mine from church obliged me a comment on the prospect of socialism existing here in the U.S. She said:

"I really wish people would stop the fear-mongering, like the quick flashes of the old Soviet Union flag, other socialist and Communist images in the video, and the menacing music. Fear-mongering promotes hatred and hostility rather than respectful dialogue in which both/all parties can learn from each other and promotes consensus. No elected official is trying to turn the US into a Communist state or even a socialist one.

That said, there is nothing inherently evil about socialism. Communism definitely is inherently evil (denial of God, mindless submission to leaders, suppression of human rights, etc.) - it's an ideology. But socialism is merely another economic system and is in itself spiritually neutral. It flies in the face of our American sensibilities of "every man for himself," but it's actually more in line with the first century church where "they had everything in common" (Acts 2:44)."

I find the point in the second paragraph the most interesting and something that I have pondered at least once or twice before myself. In all practical respects, the early church in Jerusalem did live communally and had a touch of socialist redistribution of wealth in the believers' day-to-day.

"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need." (Acts 2:44-45)

So, is this a model for Christian life today, not just in America, but everywhere? Can it be? Should it be? If it is, then it cannot be merely spiritually neutral, can it? Specifically, if we see it institutionally implemented as a transformation of society from a non-socialist status quo to one that is, should we not embrace it as a move toward that higher biblical living that we should all strive to achieve?

Before anyone objects, I'll just name an incomplete list of issues that have ushered us to this point in America: state and federal welfare programs, minimum wage, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, COBRA, the National School Lunch Program, WIC, and state and federal unemployment benefits. We are also almost at the point of adding national socialized medicine to this list. Given the mandate from God Himself to exercise compassion, charity, and to care for the poor, it seems the consistent thing to do as a Christian is to support such programs in the effort to obey, or so it seems of late. As analysts continue to dissect the voting patterns of the younger generation of Christians going to the polls, they so far have corroborated what my friend Matthew Lee Anderson has said about those in the younger Evangelical segment. Younger Christian voters do tend to favor the establishment and expansion of government programs which have the stated purpose in assisting the poor financially. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis finally intertwine in idyllic unity as far as this generation is concerned. The leap, therefore, into endorsing a socialist economic system would be nothing more than taking the next step in realizing a piece of heaven on earth. It seems logical that all believers should do likewise, as maintained by many self-professed Christian Socialists. Indeed, the leaders of churches steeped in liberation theology have long preached just such a message, have they not?

Is it really that simple? Some problems with such a proposition should come to mind. The Kingdom-minded who would like to see the advancement of a socialized economy for the sake of the poor should remember objections leveled at other efforts to bring some Jesus into public life, one of which is the doctrine of the separation of Church and State. Parents who have longed for the ability to send their children to superior private or parochial schools (vs. failing public schools) but cannot afford the tuition have thus far been denied vouchers on the grounds that the possible choice of schools includes those administered by religious entities. Not many who support socialism also support school choice, seeing as the latter is more a feature of a free-market system than socialism.

The limitations that socialism brings on society also pose a conflict for the Christian worldview. As with communism, socialism necessarily strips the individuality of persons and replaces it with a category or class in order to address needs through a system. The Marxist ideal of the classless society is not only unrealized but flatly contradicted as socialism must work by taking from one class to give to another. Indeed, the State defines the nature and level of compassion the needy require and determines the manner of aid distribution. Everything is quantified, even down to the worth of a human being. By contrast, the Christian worldview upholds the humanity and distinction of each human person of first importance in regarding his needs and leaves full discretion to the Christian Body on how best to exercise charity. If Christians intend for the government to render financial assistance to the poor, then when it does not on the basis of some discriminatory policy, the sacrifice for living under socialism will have been futile.

There are more limitations to socialism, but I will simply point out one additional. Socialism has always failed and left in its wake the same financial need, hunger, and poverty that it was implemented to fix, if not more. As a system, it is one that consumes and never generates the resources and wealth that it seeks to redistribute to the poor. Contrast the results with that of the U.S. record of charitable giving for all entities both public and private. In the current non-socialist system, the high wealth generation that exists has allowed Americans to fund relief work on a global scale unmatched by any other country in the world. For Christians, the command is to minister to the poor actually, not potentially. Therefore, believers should think carefully about the kind of amelioration to the poor in which to invest support.

But what about that Jerusalem Church? Its unofficial socialist-like economy did serve a definite good, but before Christians today go viral with the idea, the situation in which the Jerusalem Church found herself bears due consideration. First, the sharing of possessions and food served as rescue from a consequence of belief in Jesus Christ: persecution. Jews that embraced Jesus as the Messiah inevitably faced being disowned and homeless by their families and the greater Jewish community. To avert starvation, those with resources shared what they had to care for destitute brothers and sisters in the faith. Second, we find this specific activity in Acts 2 and nowhere else in the experiences of the other New Testament churches, particularly in the Gentile world where believers could live independent of the Jewish community for sustenance. The motivation of the Jerusalem Christians to implement communal life came about through necessity, not as a model for any ideal style of godly living. Third, the overarching point of Acts 2 starting in verse 40 is to highlight the unity and the Pentecostal movement of God within Jerusalem to bring the believers into faith in Jesus Christ. Given the narrative context of the scripture in question, the Christian reader should be careful not to make an 'is' into an 'ought' from them.

Even without this poring over actuality and context, I cannot help but sense a violation of some subtle grounding principle as believers judge what obedience to God really means in service to the poor. In Matt. 25, with eternal judgment on the line, Jesus explicitly places the believer under personal moral obligation to show compassion and make a difference toward the poor, hungry, and imprisoned. By saying it this way, He undercuts substitutions to third party providers. Why? Such substitutions often result in diminished impact and dependence on a third party. And when it fails, obedience fails, while the moral mandate remains unchanged and unfulfilled.

Christians naturally live in a collective called the Church. In it, believers have the greatest ability to copy their Jerusalem ancestors with the same values and benefits. The Jerusalem Church demonstrated the greatest amount of discretion in a collective moved by God to serve their own. Socialism has shown never to be a simple expansion of this communal life. Socialism in the contemporary sense substitutes the values of the Church for the values of the State. Believers today need to consider what surrendering this discretion to socialism would mean to the actual ability to embody the faith. In the end, the decision is a classic one for Christians living in two Cities about what must one give up to live fully in one City or the other.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy 2010

This year, I'd like to start the blog by offering up a New Year's prayer:

Dear Lord of Heaven and Earth,
I submit and commit my thoughts to Your plan and approval. May you make this year one in which my thoughts and my words reflect the truth of Your Word, nature, and glory. May I speak with the wisdom only You can supply. May everything be done according to Your will on earth as it is in heaven, and that includes cyberland as well.

May believers take seriously and use wisely the gift of communication in the time we are given this year. Bless all You allow to hear and understand the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria