- TGC Spotlight 10.03.14
- Stranger in a Strange Land: Fox’s New Reality Show ‘Utopia’
- How Long O Lord?
- Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community
Posted: 03 Oct 2014 12:47 AM PDT
TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed.
Around the Web
How many Americans abuse drugs?
According to a new report from the Health and Human Services Department, there were 24.6 million people aged 12 or older — about 1 in 12 of all Americans — who used illicit drugs during at least one month last year. In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users. This represents 9.4 percent of the population aged 12 or older.
7.6 percent of adults were current users of marijuana, 2.5 percent were current nonmedical users of prescription-type drugs (including 1.7 percent who were current nonmedical users of pain relievers), 0.5 percent were current users of hallucinogens, 0.6 percent were current users of cocaine, 0.2 percent were current users of inhalants,
and 0.1 percent were current users of heroin.
In 2013, 7.1 percent of adolescents were current users of marijuana, 2.2 percent were current nonmedical users of prescription-type drugs (including 1.7 percent who were current nonmedical users of pain relievers), 0.6 percent were current users of hallucinogens, 0.5 percent were current users of inhalants, 0.2 percent were current users of cocaine, and 0.1 percent were current users of heroin.
To put those numbers in perpective:
- Number of users of illegal drugs in America = population of Texas
- Number of marijuana abusers = population of the state of New York
- Number of cocaine abusers = population of Philidelphia
- Number of hallucinogens abusers = population of Dallas
• At Christianity.com, TGC’s Matt Smethurst explains seven ways Christian history can benefit you.
• This weekend, the Left Behind novels will see their second film adaptation. John Dyer has five tips for handling the discussions about the new movie.
• October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Justin S. Holcomb has helpful article explaining what domestic violence is and how prevalent it is in America.
• Confused about what’s going on in the Middle East? You aren’t the only one. Here are nine attempts to explain the crazy complexity of the Middle East.
• What do Americans pray for? Themselves, a favorite sports team, or the winning lottery ticket.
(For even more links, see the “Remainder Bin” at the end of this post.)
Featured TGC Articles
Why We Play | Erik Thoennes
I’m convinced that helping God’s people survive in a broken world requires a well developed ability to play.
Kingdom Opportunities Mean Kingdom Adversaries | Derek Rishmawy
If God is with me, there will be many adversaries.
The Missing Demographic In Urban Churches | Emily Morrice
While cities are home to many of the best universities and career opportunities, many Christian families continue to stay away. Why?
When Sinners Preach To Sinners | Jeff Robinson
Pastors preach to their congregations every week, but are they hearing and heeding their own sermons?
The Addict As Modern Prophet | Kent Dunnington
Like the prophets of old, today’s addicts may remind us our desire for God is trivial and weak, and our horizons of hope and expectancy are limited and mundane.
Featured TGC Contributor Articles
In addition to “last days,” this present-day category can also be called “the last time/s” (Jude 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:20) or “the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
The Lost Virtue of Modesty | Kevin DeYoung
I don’t know if modest is hottest, but I do know that modesty is biblical.
The trio has sold more than 4 million albums and singles, and garnered seven Dove Awards. Despite their previous accomplishments, their most recent album, You Amaze Us, has achieved unprecedented success.
Praying might make things worse — at first | Ray Ortlund
An obvious pattern in the Bible is that God tests the faith and stamina of his people as they cry out in prayer for some significant mercy.
A Prayer for Recognizing Our Inner Spiritual Orphan | Scotty Smith
Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for everything you’ve done to make our relationship with God one of perpetual favor and filial affection.
Coming Next Week at TGC
Help, I Married the Wrong Person | Courney Reissig
God is no less sovereign over our marriages in a Western context than he was in the Ancient Near East or in a remote village in Africa.
You Do Who You Are | Jeff Vanderstelt
If you’re turning discipleship into a ‘missional to-do list’ then perhaps you are thinking too much about what you do, and not who you are.
Why Is the Ascension So Important? | Jeff Robinson
Jesus went up and back into heaven, but will one day return as our conquering king.
TGC New England Regional Conference: On October 3-4, the New England chapter will host its second conference in Boston, MA.
The Gospel Coalition New England invites you to join Christians from all over New England as we celebrate and inquire into God’s “Relentless Grace” at our 2014 Regional Conference. Over the course of two days, you will hear from a variety of outstanding speakers whose main assignment will be to point you to Christ. Speakers include: D.A. Carson, Paul Tripp, Michael Horton, Russell Moore, Stephen Um, and many others.
TGC Hawaii Regional Conference: On October 18-19, the Hawaii chapter will host its second conference in Kaneohe, HI on the theme, Living in the Overflow.
Join us for our Regional Conference as we celebrate the Gospel, and learn to live in the “Overflow” of God’s grace from guest speakers John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Michael Oh.
TGC Bay Area Regional Conference: On November 15th, the Bay Area chapter will host its third conference in Walnut Creek, CA on the theme, Revival and Reformation.
Featured plenary speakers include D. A. Carson, Léonce Crump, Collin Hansen, and Jon McNeff. This team of plenary speakers will take us on a journey to explore how God works through prayer, the Word, leadership and persecution to precipitate gospel renewal and strengthen the church.
Assembled Under the Word: Preaching and Christ. Speakers include Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, and David Helm.
2015 National Conference — Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth (Registration info coming next week.)
Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth. Speakers include Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Philip G. Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and many others.
The Cult Deficit
Ross Douthat, New York Times
Like most children of the Reagan era, I grew up with a steady diet of media warnings about the perils of religious cults — the gurus who lurked in wait for the unwary and confused, offering absolute certainty with the aftertaste of poisoned Kool-Aid.
The Modern Campus Cannot Comprehend Evil
Camille Paglia, Time
Young women today do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.
What Do Satanists Really Believe?
Susan E. Wills, Aleteia
Although most people assume that Satanism has existed for millennia, in “Contemporary Esotericism” religious studies professors and authors Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm confirm that LaVey founded the first “unbroken explicitly Satanic tradition, in the sense of a group of people adhering to a teaching of that type” over a period of decades or more.
2 white Ohio women sue over sperm from black donor
Mark Gillispie, Honolulu Star Advertiser
An Ohio woman has sued a Chicago-area sperm bank after she became pregnant with sperm donated by a black man instead of a white man as she’d intended.
Amendment 1 vital for women’s health, safety
Dan McConchie, The Tennessean
This November, Tennesseans will vote on Amendment 1, one of the most important ballot measures in the country. Voters will decide whether to take back control of the abortion issue or leave it in the hands of unelected state judges.
Scientists grapple with ethics in rush to release Ebola vaccines
Kate Kelland, Reuters
Normally it takes years to prove a new vaccine is both safe and effective before it can be used in the field. But with hundreds of people dying a day in the worst ever outbreak of Ebola, there is no time to wait.
To the left of abortion
David Cook, Times Free Press
As someone whose heart leans to the Left, I claim to be against sexism, mass incarceration and drone strikes that kill children in faraway places. I try to advocate for gay rights, racial justice and nonviolence, for the poor and marginalized, for the least of these.
Christianity and Culture
Introspection time for evangelicals
Michael Gerson, Washington Post
Christian conservatives are often the subject of study by academics, who seem to find their culture as foreign as that of Borneo tribesmen. And this is a particularly interesting time for brave social scientists to put on their pith helmets and head to Wheaton, Ill., Colorado Springs or unexplored regions of the South. They will find a community under external and internal cultural stress.
Women and the Culture of Evangelicalism
Dale M. Coulter , First Things
When Protestantism largely rejected religious orders as a viable form of Christian life, it opened the door once again to the question of women teachers and preachers. Among evangelical Protestants, this combined with a penchant for revivalism and their desire to facilitate large-scale lay participation in the reform and renewal of the churches.
Museum of the Bible aims for timeless name
Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service
The high-tech museum, set to open in fall 2017, is four blocks from the U.S. Capitol and three blocks from a global tourism mecca, the Air and Space Museum. The new museum will feature standing exhibits on the history and impact of the Bible as well as interactive features to bring viewers into Bible stories and characters.
How Lecrae mixed rap and theology to find huge, mainstream success
Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service
He’s been crowned the “new hip-hop king” and his newest album, “Anomaly,” topped iTunes and Amazon charts the day of its Sept. 9 release. He’s been invited to birthday parties for both Billy Graham and Michael Jordan and riffed on NBC’s “Tonight Show” with host Jimmy Fallon.
Christine Caine, Liberty University to Launch ‘Lean In’-Type Program for Christian Women
Kate Shellnutt, Christianity Today
Propel calls on the church to equip and validate working women.
Evangelist ‘Shawn the Baptist’ pepper-sprayed on campus
A Christian evangelist who calls himself Shawn the Baptist was sprayed with pepper spray while preaching on the campus of Montana State University.
Rescuing Warriors from Muscular Christianity
Greg Forster , First Things
When Adam was first made, he was told to fill the earth and “subdue” it. Gerry Breshears of Western Seminary has pointed out that the Hebrew word used here for “subdue” is a martial term. It is used to describe what victorious armies do to conquered cities. Warfare is part of the purpose of human life from the beginning.
These Pro-Gay Evangelicals Think They Know How To Save The Megachurch
Lila Shapiro , Huffington Post
The mission is at once incredibly modest and completely radical. But Brandan Robertson, the 22-year-old spokesman for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, a new group whose very name sounds like an oxymoron, has lived a life of many contradictions.
How the News Makes Us Dumb
Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition
Sommerville’s main point is not the news is dumb, but that we are dumb for paying so much attention to it. We have become conditioned to think that the really important stuff of life comes to us in a neat 24-hour news cycle.
What is Domestic Violence?
Justin S. Holcomb, Reformation 21
The month of October has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The goal of this month is to raise public awareness about domestic violence and to educate communities and individuals on how to recognize, prevent, and respond to domestic violence.
Woman Is Beheaded in Attack at Oklahoma Food Plant
Richard Perez-Pena and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times
A man beheaded a co-worker at a food processing company in Oklahoma on Thursday afternoon, and stabbed another employee before he was shot and wounded by a company executive, the police said Friday.
Drugs and Alcohol
Why Pot Companies Can’t File For Bankruptcy
Erin Fuchs, Business Insider
The pot industry in Colorado is starting to boom, but operating a business that’s illegal under federal law can be very problematic. For one thing, it’s impossible to file for bankruptcy.
Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you.
Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post
Do you drink a glass of wine with dinner every night? That puts you in the top 30 percent of American adults in terms of per-capita alcohol consumption. If you drink two glasses, that would put you in the top 20 percent.
Education Needs More Freedom, Not More Money
Emily Domenech, The Federalist
Oh, what I could do with the money my local school system spends while complaining they just don’t get enough to offer many extras.
Sandy Hook Commission Calls For Government Crackdown On Homeschools
Eric Owens, The Daily Caller
Under a new law proposed this week by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, every homeschooling parent with a child who has been labeled with a behavioral or emotional problem would be forced to submit to a host of strict, burdensome regulations.
Life to the Full: The Dangers of Material Wealth and Spiritual Poverty
Jordan J. Ballor, Public Discourse
In helping developing countries to increase their economic prosperity, we must remember that human welfare cannot be reduced to material realities
Recessions drive down fertility rates for more than a decade
Sarah Kliff, Vox
When the economy goes south, Americans tend to have fewer babies. Researchers have know this for awhile and, intuitively, it makes sense: tough economic times can put the costs of raising a child out of reach. The pattern has repeated itself again and again, with birth rates dropping as unemployment rises.
The American Family Is Making a Comeback
Michael Wear, The Atlantic
Marriage is on the decline, birthrates are down, and divorce rates are high. But politicians in both parties are finally putting forth proposals to help—and strengthen society.
Child Poverty Rate Five Times Lower in Married-Parent Homes
Rachel Sheffield, The Daily Signal
Child poverty rates have decreased slightly, according to the latest Census data. Child poverty dropped from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Why I Want To Live Long And Burden My Children
Cheryl Magness, The Federalist
Ezekiel Emanuel wants to die at 75 because he equates worth with productivity. But burdens help us sacrifice our selfishness for love.
Gambling states addicted to easy money
Editorial Board, USA Today
New Jersey is a prime example of how states are the worst offenders in the world of gambling. They are both addicts and pushers. They throw temper tantrums and upset settled policy when their fix of gambling revenue runs low. And rather than compensating for the effects, they encourage their own citizens to gamble more and in different ways.
The U.S. Is Saving Nukes So It Can Blow Up Asteroids
Tim Fernholz, The Atlantic
The government isn’t destroying older bombs on schedule, because it might need them for “planetary defense.”
Secret Service Director to Resign
Michael S. Schmidt and Michael D. Shear, New York Times
Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, is resigning in the wake of several security breaches, according to administration officials.
5 Reasons Your Church Should Care about Hunger
Jill Waggoner, Pastors Today
For many Christians, the concept of hunger ministry brings to mind a governmental agency or a local food pantry. Yet the hunger need around the world is diverse and the ministries required to meet these needs will be also.
First Ebola case diagnosed in the United States: CDC
Julie Steenhuysen and Sharon Begley, Reuters
U.S. health officials said on Tuesday the first patient infected with the deadly Ebola virus had been diagnosed in the country after flying from Liberia to Texas, in a new sign of how the outbreak ravaging West Africa can spread globally.
Antibiotics ‘linked to childhood obesity’
Smitha Mundasad, BBC
Young children who are given repeated courses of antibiotics are at greater risk than those who use fewer drugs of becoming obese, US researchers say.
Ebola Outbreak in Nigeria Appears to Be Over
Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times
With quick and coordinated action by some of its top doctors, Africa’s most populous country seems to have beaten its first Ebola outbreak, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
Thousands of children who have lost parents to the west African Ebola epidemic risk are being shunned by frightened and suspicious relatives, the UN children’s fund said on Tuesday.
Iraq crisis: ‘Every single Christian wants to leave’
Jessica Winch, The Telegraph
Christians in northern Iraq are unable to celebrate communion for the first time in two millennia after Islamic State captured the area, says vicar.
How China’s One-Child Policy Is Setting Nation Up for Economic Crisis
Olivia Enos, The Daily Signal
China is missing out on its biggest economic asset: its people. Economist Nicholas Eberstadt estimates that, even if Beijing were to eliminate its one-child policy today, Chinese economic growth would still decline in the 2020s, because the next generation’s working-age population is already so markedly small.
Acknowledging the Ones Who Stay: A New Approach to Studying Divorce
Hilary Towers, Family Studies
A comprehensive look at divorce must consider the perspective of abandoned but committed spouses.
Marriage Is Not a Water Fountain
Anthony Esolen, Public Discourse
Segregation was based on irrational, peculiar prejudice. By contrast, protecting marriage between one man and one woman is based on universal truths about our human nature.
Polygamy: Coming to America?
Rev. Paul Sullins, Aleteia
Our society may be about to take another step in the process of denying these wise words of Jesus on human sexual relations. With widespread divorce, we have long ago moved past the conviction that the two become one flesh.
Christians want NC’s marriage limit preserved
Conservative Christians vowed Tuesday to fight to keep marriage in North Carolina between a man and a woman, despite Attorney General Roy Cooper’s unwillingness to defend a state law that defines it as such and a judicial trend striking down similar limits elsewhere.
The Problem of Neutral Rhetoric
Brandon McGinley, Public Discourse
It is impossible to make a political argument without also making a moral claim. Demanding tolerance often functions as a way to evade robust discourse about the merits of one’s principles.
New Federal Guidelines Aim to Rid Schools of Racial Inequality
Motoko Rich, New York Times
With racial minorities still less likely than white students to have access to rigorous academic classes or experienced and qualified teachers, the Obama administration will announce guidelines on Wednesday to ensure that strong teachers, high-level math and science courses, quality extracurricular programs, and equivalent technology and school facilities are available for all public school students.
FCC to consider banning NFL ‘Redskins’ team name on TV and radio
Joshua Barajas, PBS NewsHour
In a move that adds to the mounting protests that the ‘Redskins’ team name is disparaging to Native Americans, the Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday that the agency will consider banning the Washington NFL team name from on-air broadcasts.
What Does Liberty Really Mean for Christians?
Jim Tonkowich, Juicy Ecumenism
Both people on the right and people on the left “alike seem confused about what liberty and progress really mean and require,” writes Ethics and Public Policy scholar, Yuval Levin in the October First Things.
How Serious Is the Supreme Court About Religious Freedom?
Dawinder S. Sidhu, The Atlantic
A new case will test whether the justices’ defense of conscience in Hobby Lobby applies to minority religions like Muslims, or just to Christians.
Gov. Jerry Brown announced Sunday that he has signed a bill that makes California the first in the nation to define when “yes means yes” and adopt requirements for colleges to follow when investigating sexual assault reports.
How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
Damon Linker, The Week
Liberals love to champion principles of sexual self-determination when it comes to gay marriage. But when you apply those same principles to adult incest…
Posted: 02 Oct 2014 10:01 PM PDT
What do you get when you take a Southern Pentecostal minister, a polyandrous young woman, a homeless ex-con, along with a dozen assorted other characters and put them on a small plot of land to live together in harmony? If your answer is utopia, then you would be wrong. But if your answer is Utopia, then you must follow the machinations of broadcast networks as they churn out the latest iterations of reality television.
Utopia comes to us courtesy of Fox, one of a slate of new fall shows. It takes tried-and-true reality show tropes found on Survivor, Big Brother, and even aspects of The Bachelor, and ratchets everything up several notches by creating what the producers tout as a new kind of social experiment. Take 15 willing participants, give them a property stocked with the basics: a pond, land for growing food, cows, chickens, and a large shed for shelter, and expect these people to build a society with only these tools. Theoretically, these tools include life skills and a sense of shared humanity and hard work.
In actuality, the cast members of Utopia represent a down-market version of America’s fabled melting pot. This particular melting pot includes a lot of melting down, albeit of the mental variety. Along with threats of violence over, say, the matter of one faction of this society (yes, there are already factions) eating another faction’s bananas.
This incident took place on the show just five days into the year-long project. Apparently, bananas were borrowed with the promise that they would be replaced the next day, only it didn’t quite work out that way. Then, of course, it became a matter of integrity as well as sustenance, since food is hard to come by in Utopia. If only the members of this utopia had managed to set up a judicial system before the banana kerfuffle, litigation would have ensued. As it was, threats of violence had to suffice. Like all nascent, primitive societies, shouting and throwing things trumps a sense of order (just ask any mother), and Utopia has a long way to go before a claim to civilization can be made.
Real World and Reality TV
Speaking of bananas, if this particular state of utopia chose a representative fruit the way actual states do, bananas would definitely be the right choice. But the bananas-quality of the enterprise hasn’t stood in the way of the show’s producers in their quest to find willing cast members. In fact, every so often throughout the year that this society exists, a new citizen of Utopia will be introduced. Preferably one who knows how to chop firewood and is willing to take off nearly all his clothes in order to do so. Of course such willingness has nothing to do with helping with the society’s fuel supply and everything to do with performing for the ubiquitous cameras, all-seeing eyes that cover every inch of the property.
And this is the real problem with this utopia—not the inability of its members to keep their clothes on, though this does stand in the way of progress. No, the real problem is that none of the people involved has a shared sense of anything greater than themselves. Historically, utopian societies emerge when a group of people with a shared value system break away from the larger society. The Puritans and Shakers come to mind. While the cast members of this Fox-generated version desire to remake the world, they are stymied by the fact that each one wants to remake it in his or her own image, creating society one selfie at a time.
During the show’s first three episodes, Pastor Jonathan—the Pentecostal minister brought on Utopia as a counterpoint to the other assorted flavors of belief—provides a gentle, if beleaguered presence. Or maybe his demeanor could be attributed more to a state of shock at the hedonistic hijinks taking place throughout the compound.
Missionary to Utopia
Pastor Jonathan, a man who left his family and church on a missionary journey to the hinterlands of reality TV, seemed to move throughUtopia disoriented, as though he wasn’t quite sure just what he got himself into, often muttering prayers in distress as viewers listened in, the cameras recording every plea for divine help. And apparently God answered, as Pastor Jonathan suffered an injury to his hand and had to leave Utopia less than two weeks into the project. Still, in this short time he impressed his cast mates with his decency. They were sorry to see him leave, as it was clear even to Utopia’s token atheist that Pastor Jonathan provided much-needed moral ballast to this sinking enterprise.
In spite of this appreciation, the presence of a committed Christian on a bottom-dredging TV show like Utopia raises the question: how far should we go in attempting to reach our neighbors caught up in this culture? Just how frayed does the fray have to be before we refuse to participate? For some Christians, there is no context too dicey when souls are at stake. If Utopia were a burning building, so to speak, wouldn’t Pastor Jonathan abandon everything to rush in and save as many as he possibly could?
Well, yes. But Utopia isn’t a burning building, at least not more than anywhere else. The whole world is on fire, and in every single corner, people need saving. The tiny infernos we face in our daily lives with our real-world neighbors, out of sight of the television cameras, offer no shortage of mixed-up people attempting to remake the world. Our own neighborhoods, wherever they may be, are rife with regular sinners, fumbling through the day-to-day pains of making society.
Which brings us to the most salient point: the church is already engaged in creating a utopia of sorts. Or to put it another way: what do you get when you take Southern Pentecostal minister, a polyandrous young woman, a homeless ex-con, and assorted other characters, and ask them to live together in community? You get the church. The belief that we are all sinners in need of a Savior brings a whole host of disparate and desperate types together, transcending our differences through faith in Christ.
If there is hope for an echo of utopia on earth, it is found in the culture of the church, not in the culture of an artificial world concocted by an entertainment conglomerate. To enter into the sort of artifice demanded by a reality show like Utopia is to risk losing a sense of . . . well, reality.
Pastor Jonathan’s work, our work, is to welcome everyone—including reality show producers and all those people straining toward utopia but finding only brokenness—and invite them to taste and see that the Lord is good. Take refuge in Christ, in the one who takes our fractured images of utopia and remakes us in his own image, together.
Posted: 02 Oct 2014 10:01 PM PDT
Christian Piatt. postChristian: What’s Left? Can We Fix It? Do We Care?. New York, NY: Jericho Books, 2014. 224 pp. $20.00.
“This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.” One gets a lingering sense of déjà vu reading postChristian: What’s Left? Can We Fix it? Do We Care?, a new book by Christian Piatt, founder of Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado, and creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series. There’s the neo-Schliermachian attempt to deal with the newest wave of Christianity’s “cultured despisers” and the edgy, progressive attempt to ruffle feathers (“This book is going to piss you off!”). But the déjà vu results primarily from realizing halfway through the book that rather than being post-anything, Piatt’s newest work is just another spin around the liberal/conservative theological merry-go-round that leaves readers standing right where they started.
Piatt attempts to address Christianity’s increasingly uncertain place in (one must assume American) society by talking through vices and virtues of the church. At the end, the main takeaway is to be more loving, more accepting, to those around us in the hope that we can take our place alongside our cultured brothers and sisters as contributing members of the human project. The message is more cliché (thoroughly in keeping with much 20th- and 21st-century mainline Protestant theology) than threatening. It reminds me of when I worked for an organization advocating for human rights in North Korea and would corner people at activities bazaars by asking if they “supported human rights.” Um, of course. In response to Piatt, obviously we would respond with resounding support for loving our neighbor, but this framing merely begs the question, “What does Piatt mean by the word ‘love’?” Because it is clear that we disagree.
Fuzzy concepts and poor logic are among the consistent and severe problems in this short volume. There’s the odd hypocrisy of denying the right to make truth claims by making a truth claim or of arguing for the importance of subjective understandings and experiences only to claim that one genre of such subjectivity is acceptable whereas other apparently are not. It is never quite clear which “church” Piatt is addressing/targeting (evangelicals? prosperity gospellers? fundamentalists? mainliners?). Then there is the curious use of “institutions” as almost a slur while showing a rather startling lack of understanding of what the word even means or that institutions could be judged good or bad but never avoidable. And despite all the encouraging and optimistic language, by the end of the book it is hard to tell whether “claiming the message” and “following the call of Jesus” are anything more than a hollow cultural marker used simply for its surface recognizability.
The misrepresentations and uncharitable characterizations some Protestants have consistently leveled at other parts of the church are the background noise of this book’s missed opportunity. We are either striding briskly toward the post-Christian precipice or perhaps just waking up to the fact that he have already gone striding over it. And understanding what that catastrophe implies for us and requires of us as the church in the United States will be one of the central questions with which the church will wrestle in the coming decades.
In order to understand that question in Piatt’s volume and beyond, we first need to interrogate its most central term: “post-Christian.” Piatt defines it this way: “Post-Christianity is an often-misunderstood term. It means that today we live in a culture where Christianity is no longer the baseline for cultural identity and discourse” (3). But this somewhat simplistic definition misses what is most troubling in Piatt’s argument. Are we Christians living in societies that are post-Christian (again, a largely European and North American phenomenon) or that Christianity itself is becoming something more effectively described as post-Christianity? Piatt seems to indicate the latter.
As a clearly important cultural moment seems to be taking shape around us, we feel greater pressure than at any other time since perhaps the 1960s. But while we go about trying to determine what it will mean to live in a period that may feel like cultural exile, we should not fall prey to the desire to define this time as some stage of development that has no equal or that offers a threat or challenge unlike any the church has known. Because if seen with historical and global perspective, we are entering a situation much like what the church has often faced in other times and places. We can never be post-Christian because we are simply continuing to be what we have always been: Christians. Followers of Jesus. Seekers of the Way leading through Christ and to the Father. With challenges that are new, to be sure, but more so in their immediacy than in their exceptionality.
“This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.”
Posted: 02 Oct 2014 10:01 PM PDT
A broken body. A rebellious sister. An unsaved brother. Disease that has forever changed my family. Daily difficulties of sin nature.
Sometimes the list of my trials and suffering threaten to overshadow my gaze of the Father; the pain of living in a fallen world that weaves itself into my heart attempts to steal my affections for my Savior.
“How long O Lord?” my weary soul cries out, echoing the words of Psalm 13.
How long will my heart feel like it’s being ripped out of my body, trampled on, and then placed back? How long will I have to daily fight to see the Lord’s face? How long until these sorrows are redeemed?
How long O Lord?
John Calvin described Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” How thankful I am that the Lord provides his children with the rawness found in Psalms. Repeatedly the psalmists cry out with such honesty. Listen closely. You can hear the anguish in the following verses:
O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! (Psalm 71:12)
O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. (Psalm 38:9-10)
From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. (Psalm 61:2)
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. (Psalm 69:3)
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearing; my soul refuses to be comforted. (Psalm 77:1-2)
Recently, as I rehearsed my troubles and asked the question “How long O Lord?” I was faced with a decision. Would I choose to listen to my heart, my emotions, and the pain? Or would I choose to press in and trust in God’s ultimate faithfulness, goodness, and sovereignty? The choice is found in the closing verses of Psalm 13.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5-6)
Even though our questions can be brought before our loving Father, they must ultimately be resolved in trusting in his character. Spurgeon put it beautifully: “When you cannot trace his hand, you can always trust his heart.”
The longings of our hearts are many, big and small, from personal comfort to gospel advance. But this world is not our ultimate home (1 Peter 2:11). Unmet desires and unfulfilled longings shouldn’t surprise the believer. Instead, they should remind us heaven is our ultimate home.
Rather than focus on our own trials, we can ask that our longings be transformed:
May our longing be for deeper intimacy with our Savior.
May our longing be to grow in Christlikeness.
May our longing be to see others find their ultimate needs met in him.
May our longing be to know Christ and to make him known.
May our longing be to bring glory to his name.
May our longing be for him.
Ask the Lord, “How long?” But then allow him to make your heart long for something greater than answers to our questions.
Posted: 02 Oct 2014 10:01 PM PDT
I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.
Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.
Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.
I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.
Thick Communities as Alternative Plausibility Structures
More than two decades ago sociologist Peter Berger coined the term “plausibility structure” to describe the sociocultural systems of meaning, actions, or beliefs that are basic to community life and tend to remain unquestioned by individuals in a given society. Had you told someone 50 or 100 years ago not to have sex before marriage, even if he transgressed he’d still agree abstinence “makes sense” and is “the right thing to do.” This idea was an axiomatic part of his plausibility structure, his shared sense of meaning with the broader culture.
But today, what the church affirms about sex and sexuality is so radically out of step with what’s commonplace in the culture that we cannot expect anyone to innately “get” the Christian view. Our beliefs are no longer part of the cultural plausibility structure. Yet the church often puts the demands of Christian sexual discipleship on individuals without creating social conditions to make those demands possible and attractive.
I believe one of the most serious callings of the church in our age is to create new, countercultural plausibility structures that make the demands of the gospel plausible, practical, and attractive.
I believe one of the most serious callings of the church in our age is to create new, countercultural plausibility structures that make the demands of the gospel plausible, practical, and attractive. If a gay friend is going to embrace a life of chastity for Jesus Christ, she must be able to look into the future and see not only the loss and pain but also the possibility that a real fulfilling life can be lived. If we don’t work at this task, if we don’t create the kinds of communities in which the countercultural lifestyle we’re advocating is supported and upheld, we’ll continue to see people choose plausibility structures that make more sense and have greater support from the culture.
For this change to happen churches have to be actual communities, not just buildings people enter once a week. Jesus calls individuals into a new family that lives out the joys and demands of the gospel together, bearing burdens and cheering one another along the Calvary road. Jesus even promises that those who take up the hard demands of following him will be given a new community to support the consequences of the losses they endure:
Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life. (Luke 18:29–30)
Christ’s consolation to those who follow him isn’t new religious activity; it’s a new family.
Bearing the Cost
Do we realize what we’re asking of our friends with same-sex attraction? One the one hand, God is asking of them the same thing he’s asking of us who are heterosexual when we start following Jesus. He’s asking for every part of our lives to come under his lordship, including our sexuality. If we’re single, that means committing to sexual abstinence or chastity.
Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship. That realization can be devastating, and too few heterosexual Christians have gone to the depths with a friend into that experience. Bearing this pain with another is part of creating a social environment where the possibility of this kind of life isn’t a horrific prospect.
The sexual demands of discipleship will become more plausible and practical to our gay (and straight) single friends if they see everyone in the community taking seriously all the demands of the gospel, not just the sexual ones.
Imagine two scenarios for a friend we’ll call Bob. Bob is gay. He’s just become a believer in Jesus and is now coping with the idea that Jesus may be calling him to live a life of chastity. He has one Christian friend, Steve, who initially invited him to church. Steve’s a nice guy, is married, has three kids, is wealthy, and seems very happy. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he cannot help but feel it’s unfair that he was born with same-sex attraction while Steve happened to be born straight and pretty much has a perfect American life. If this is the only Christian environment Bob knows, he likely won’t choose the way of Jesus.
Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.
In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.
Honor Singleness, Demystify Marriage
Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.
But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.
Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).
Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.
In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.
We should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.
Embrace a Theology of Unfulfillment
Whether it’s shopping, sports, jobs, or sex, Western values encourage people to discover what they really want and go for it. Sadly, the church often coopts this narrative and makes it part of our own. God has given me these desires and wants me to be happy, and God helps me get what I want. At times it’s difficult for us to understand why Scripture might prohibit our desires, since this completely contradicts the cultural plausibility narrative we often embrace.
But when we read Scripture we see a theme of unfulfillment, incompletion, and brokenness everywhere. “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit,” Paul writes, “groan inwardly as we eagerly await for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Or elsewhere: “For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). This is the normative Christian experience— to live with incompletion, unfulfillment, and an awareness that the gospel’s imperatives will challenge and frustrate our natural impulses in many ways.
If we’re going to summon people to sexual chastity, we should be welcoming one another into a community in which we are all wrestling with unsatisfied desires that will only fully and finally be met in Christ. Such a community will help create a plausibility structure in which our same-sex attracted friends living with daily unfulfillment see that they are not the only ones.
No Magic Bullet
I realize what I’m proposing here leaves many unanswered questions. The church’s social arrangements aren’t the only factor that will enable us to live faithful sexual lives, for even the best Christian community will utterly fail without the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit at the center. I’m simply trying to make the case that we cannot espouse the historically Christian view of sexuality without also embracing a radical view of community that makes the biblical ethic viable, practical, and plausible. Self-denying sexuality needs robust ecclesiology. To do one without the other is to continue to inflict pain on the LGBTQ friends we’re inviting to follow Jesus.
May we create communities as Jesus did—communities in which all sorts of people with all sorts of pasts are welcomed and given the support they need to follow him together until the day we see him face to face.
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