Monday, June 09, 2008

Internal Discussion in Islam

Christianity is not the only world-faith that continually examines its theology and the impact of that theology on the contemporary world. Increasingly, in the post-9/11 world, Islam is going through its own internal discussions on its intent and its future. Many Americans were shocked after 9/11 in that we were reminded that what we believe really does matter. And while most Americans are very pluralistic in our religious practice and apathetic in our attitude toward religion, we are in the minority. We do ourselves a disservice when we don't spend serious time examining our own religious convictions and when we don't seriously study the religious views of others. Of course, one of my passions is to help people examine their beliefs in a safe environment. But, even beyond my passion for each person to grow in their understanding of faith, I believe that it is impossible to understand our world today (and the conflicts within it) without a serious examination of religion.

Lawrence Wright is a writer who lives here in Austin and has written extensively about modern development in Islam. He is a regular writer for New Yorker magazine, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his book about the run-up to 9/11 called The Looming Towers. I am working my way through his book right now to gain perspective on the development of the militant wing of Islam. It is a fascinating read. Recently, however, Wright has written a new piece for the New Yorker about internal conflict even inside the extreme elements of Islam. I encourage to read this article to help you understand what is going on in our world, especially in the area of religion.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Foster Care & Adoption

I got a call about two weeks ago from the pastor in whose church I first came to Christ and who eventually performed my wedding. His name is Russell Rogers, and he has been the pastor at Trinity Life Baptist Church for about 16 years. Russell was calling me because he and his wife, Shelly, have become champions of Christian families becoming foster parents for the state of Texas. Russell & Shelly have been foster parents for many years and have adopted three of the kids into their own family. They also have two children of their own.

Russell called because he wants to come and speak about this program in my church. He has been challenged by the state to host 70 meetings this year in churches throughout Texas to promote foster-parenting and adoption. An article was just written about his work in the SBTC paper, and a more personal story with pictures of his family can be seen in the Dallas Morning News.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Reason for God

I read Tim Keller's new book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, while I was on vacation last week. Dr. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a major influencer of church-planting in urban settings around the world. He has long had an influential ministry because of his church planting residency program at Redeemer, but in this book, you can see why so many people are attracted to his preaching. He is a great writer because he is a great thinker. This is one of the clearest and most gracious books on apologetics that I have ever read.

I loved the book because of Keller's interaction with so many other scientists, philosophers, and authors. I always enjoy reading a pastor who is well-read and uses his brain. But more than that, I enjoy reading a theologian who has a pastor's heart for people and for his city. His graciousness to those who doubt is apparent on every page, while his argumentation is clear and strong.

I really appreciated his insight that every worldview contains faith statements. Even those who say, "I only believe in science," are making a statement of faith, because their statement goes beyond factual observations to conclusions about the metaphysical world. I also really liked his perspective on how we all live like there is a God even if we don't articulate it that way. In NYC, Keller does ministry around many young people who are passionate about poverty and human rights in different parts of the world. Consistently, however, Keller asks these young people what basis they have to argue against injustice and for human rights? Why should the majority not dominate and subjugate the minority as we witness in the animal kingdom? If evolutionary philosophy is correct (not the science, but the philosophy), then the stronger dominating the weaker should be normal, yet it outrages us when we see it. Keller's question is simple: why does it outrage us? What foundation do we have to stand on to say that people have value and should not be treated as animals? Without a belief in imago dei (image of God in man), there is no foundation for these values. See Al Mohler's discussion of this topic - very helpful.

In the second half of the book, Keller moves from doubts to why the biblical narrative of Christianity makes the most sense of the world we live in. I really appreciated that Keller puts the gospel into context in this part of the book. We constantly see that many people say they have made a "commitment to Jesus at some point in their life that is important to them" while they do not adopt a Christian worldview. Keller shows how the gospel only makes sense inside of the grand narrative of the Scriptures - the person and nature of God, the brokenness of humanity, the problem with religion, etc. It is by far one of the best explanations I've read on why the gospel makes prefect sense inside a Christian worldview. Keller's work has challenged me to again rethink evangelism away from "pray this prayer" to trust in the Christ of the NT whose life and death and resurrection mean these things inside the narrative of the whole Bible.

Overall, very insightful read. We have asked some of our neighbors this month to read it with us and come over to our backyard for some conversation. We'll see where it goes.

One more note. If you do read it, don't skip the notes in the back - they contain some jewels, especially Keller's thoughts on Kierkegaard's view of sin as centering our lives on anything other than Christ.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Go, Obama, Go...but wait...

Impressive last night to see an African-American win the Democratic nomination - even more impressive that he won against the machinery of the Clinton family. I think that speaks highly of his administrative leadership - his team did very well. My dad and I joke about Obama because dad thinks Obama will take all his money and send it to me - and thus, why dad thinks I will support Obama. I can see his logic, and thus why so many young people are supporting Obama. In reality, however, while I am very impressed with this guy, I don't know that I could vote for him. It's not that I am opposed to government solutions to societal issues - in fact, I'm not married to a small-government philosophy (which actually McCain does not champion either) of federal government. At some point, I probably was committed to it, but now that I have had more interaction with the poor and needy in our society, and seen the limitations of non-profits to address all these issues alone, I'm not opposed to government helping out. I personally don't put any faith in government to fix personal "heart" issues (and thus why I am more committed to using my efforts in the church than in the public sector), but I'm not antagonistic toward government either.

All that being said, I just don't know that I can vote for a guy who is so pro-abortion. If he would come out and say something like, "though I want to keep abortion legal, I'm committed to cutting the number of yearly abortions by half during my first term," I might reconsider. But I watched a speech that he gave to Planned Parenthood on YouTube, and he's not just pro-keeping abortion legal, he actually espouses abortion as a positive thing. I don't know how a liberal politician who is supposed to be for the little guy doesn't see the inconsistency of this message. Why not fight to keep it legal but fight harder to make it less frequent by supporting those organizations and efforts that help struggling moms when they are unexpectedly pregnant?

Our church supports a great organization like this in Round Rock called the Agape Pregnancy Center, and they do a great work to help young, poor, single moms process their unexpected pregnancy, but always with life as the best option. They provide classes and vouchers for much-needed baby supplies, and they always refer moms to other organizations that can help with other needs. Where is the public support for these efforts, not just the public support for organizations like Planned Parenthood that abort so many babies a year?

And why not more emphasis on adoption? Why not a huge nationwide campaign to push adoption as the better option to abortion? You don't want to keep your baby for personal or financial reasons? Understood, but I've got 5 families in my church right now who are struggling with infertility who would gladly pray through taking those kids.

So, like it or not, that's where I'm at. I don't like that it is a make-or-break issue for me, but it is - big time. Maybe it's because I have four kids of my own, but my heart is broken over this issue more than any other, because simple solutions seem right on our finger-tips, but no-one talks about them.

Update: read this article in the Wall Street Journal that expands my point above with more detail and research.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Declining Church???

A new book, the fall of the evangelical nation, makes just this case - that the evangelical movement in America in on the decline. Christine Wicker writes an op-ed in The Dallas Morning News about her findings that evangelical youth are not staying in the church after graduation and that the SBC, the nation's largest evangelical denomination, after years of decreasing growth, is now actually experiencing decline (see Ed Stetzer's discussion of this fact). There have been many observations about why these trends are the way they are. The bottom line, however, is sobering, and a cause for us as evangelical leaders and parents to pause, pray, and reflect. Surely, her book is a call for parents to lead in the home and not expect the church to be the fix-all for spiritual development. But it is also a wake-up call to the evangelical movement that our existing network of churches are not doing enough by themselves to reach an increasingly unchurched nation (and thus a reminder of the immediate importance of church-planting - the most effective method of evangelism in the world).

Hat Tip: Brent

Monday, June 02, 2008

2 Interesting Links...

I haven't blogged in a while, some out of choice, some out of necessity. I just got back from a week of awesome vacation with my family in Canyon Lake, northwest of San Antonio. We had a wonderful time down there - the resort we stayed at was great and the water was awesome. It was a much-needed time of relaxation and rest - amazing how hard it is for me to shut down my church-brain for a whole week. I need to work on that discipline more...

A couple of interesting links to pass on to you this evening:

1) I came across this article in the WSJ after I returned from vacation and tore me up emotionally - just the idea that this is how our culture treated those with mental handicaps even 50 years ago. Check out this article and read the whole thing. Wow.

2) I just saw this article today in the Dallas News about the Rangers' stud player Josh Hamilton and how his wife's faithful prayers and testimony brought him back from the brink of addictive destruction and led him to faith. Another reminder that God is still changing lives every day.