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Trevin’s Seven

Feb 12, 2016 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Mark – The Gospel of Passion, by Michael Card. $2.99.

Seven of the best articles I came across this week:

1. Thomas Kidd – When America Put Pastors in PrisonThe true story of the Baptist battle for religious liberty in our country’s earliest days.

2. Caitlin Dewey – The “Uber for Friends” Plans to Save Millennials From Loneliness. “We’re the first ones to commodify friendship,” Kohut says.

3. Emily Ekins and Jonathan Haidt – Donald Trump Supporters Think Differently about Morality. Here’s how. I don’t believe the evolutionary psychology behind some of this analysis, but I do think Haidt’s moral pillars correspond, at least partly, to the law of God written on human hearts. This is one reason why morality is always in play in an election.

4. Jen Wilkin – A Plea to the Mission-MindedBehold suburbia, the mission field for whom our hearts do not break.

5. Glenn Stanton – Marriage as a Feminist InstitutionStanton shows how marriage empowers women.

6. Oliver O’Donovan – Why Tradition is Essential to Sustaining Communal IdentityThe essential thing about tradition is that it creates social continuity. It binds the communal action of the present moment to the communal actions of past moments.

7. New York Times – New Ways into the Brain’s “Music Room.” Fascinating.

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America The Exceptional?

Feb 11, 2016 | Trevin Wax

o-american-flag-facebookThe presidential primary season is now in full swing, with candidates jostling for their party’s nomination and a chance to occupy the White House.

But no matter what policy differences the candidates may have, they will all be singing in unison about the “greatness of America.” From Donald Trump promising to “make America great again” to Marco Rubio claiming America as “the greatest nation on earth,” politicians will keep praising the uniqueness of American values. This is one of the primary ways our nation’s leaders give voice to the idea of “American exceptionalism.”

Exceptional on Right and Left

Those on the right and the left often agree that America is an “exceptional nation,” but they apply these terms differently.

Conservatives tend to emphasize patriotism and the uniqueness of American values. Greatness is part of the past on which we build.

It’s true that some on the right no longer believe we are “exceptional” because we have deviated too far from the values that once made us great. In this case, their rhetoric focuses on regaining the exceptionalism that has been lost. But for the most part, conservatives are quick to praise American values and slow to question their assumptions about American greatness.

Liberals tend to see “exceptionalism” as something we hope to achieve, a way of atoning for the ways we have fallen short in the past and still fall short today. Greatness is part of the future, something to which we aspire.

It’s true that, for some on the left, the ongoing pursuit of this greatness is one reason we can say right now America is “exceptional.” But many liberals hesitate to lift up America as unique so as not to offend multicultural sensibilities or sound too nationalistic.

What is “Exceptional?”

The key to this conversation is what we mean by “exceptional.”

As an evangelical, I think it’s best to dig a little deeper, to go beyond the surface claims of politicians and analyze the meaning of American exceptionalism from the framework of a Christian worldview. If someone were to ask me if America is exceptional, my answer would not be an immediate “yes” or “no” but – what do you mean by exceptional?

9780830840946Open vs. Closed Exceptionalism

John Wilsey, a professor at Southwestern Seminary, helps us better understand the meaning of “exceptionalism.” His new book American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion does exactly what its subtitle claims: it reassesses the history of an idea.

First, Wilsey shows the role that exceptionalism has played in American history. He traces the idea back to the earliest Puritan settlers of the United States, the theological roots of America as “a chosen nation,” the Enlightenment’s impact on the idea, and the eventual morphing of exceptionalism into “manifest destiny” that gives America a messianic role in the world. In each chapter, he shows how American leaders have made use of this concept, and how it has impacted our national story.

Secondly, Wilsey offers counsel to evangelicals who wonder if and how American exceptionalism fits within a biblical worldview. Here, Wilsey distinguishes between “closed” and “open” exceptionalism.

The “closed” view of American exceptionalism is “at odds with the Christian gospel,” he writes. It involves five theological themes imported from Christianity and applied to America:

  1. Chosen nation
  2. Divine commission
  3. Innocence
  4. Sacred land
  5. Glory

The problem with closed exceptionalism is that it bestows “a transcendent status” upon America and sets up the nation as “a necessary player in redemption history.”

The “open” view of American exceptionalism is narrow, limited primarily to politics and culture. It sees America as striving to “serve as a communal paragon of justice, freedom and equality among nations” – with the goal of compassion, justice and general human flourishing. There is room for dissent in the “open view” without being accused of being unpatriotic, for “we affirm that America is different because it is a nation in which dissent is not only allowed; it is a virtue.”

Exceptionalism that Helps and Hurts

The strength of Wilsey’s book is that it explains the historical concept of American exceptionalism without reducing it to either “closed” or “open” variations. At times, exceptionalism has led Americans to be blind to injustice. Other times, exceptionalism has fortified the country for causes that were just and noble.

I resonate with Wilsey’s nuanced understanding of American exceptionalism.

On the one hand, I’ve spent extensive time in other parts of the world – 5 years in the Eastern European country of Romania, which suffered for decades behind the Iron Curtain of Communism. My friends in Romania would have laughed if I had argued that America was not a special place, or a nation not blessed by God. The rest of the world sees the success of the U.S.A., and we are foolish to deny that we live in a blessed nation or to stop calling or singing for God to bless America. We can be patriotic because we love this land.

On the other hand, I believe it is theologically dangerous to see America as having a special, privileged relationship with God. It’s problematic to take Old Testament promises to Israel or New Testament descriptions of the Church and apply them directly to the United States. We, the Church, are God’s shining city on the hill, not the United States, however contrary that may be to the late, great Ronald Reagan.

How Do We Do History?

Why, then, are so many evangelicals prone to adopt the “closed view” of exceptionalism? It’s here that I hoped for more from this book.

Wilsey critiques a number of Christian school history books for leaning too heavily in the “closed” direction. His analysis is on point, but he doesn’t help us understand why this is the case.

Let’s remember that these textbooks do not exist in a vacuum. They are direct responses to public school textbooks that so downplay any notion of exceptionalism that children are likely to question the entire American experiment rather than rally around it. If Christian schools err on whitewashing the American past, public schools err on neglecting America’s real and enduring accomplishments or our religious heritage, and thus they fail to generate sufficient levels of national pride or commitment to the values that will help build America’s future. Christian textbooks are a reaction to public school education that too often focuses on America’s vices instead of our virtues, or unites students by their grievances rather than their aspirations.

Conclusion

Overall, I hope Wilsey’s book gets a wide audience. Evangelicals should be especially wary of political language that casts America in messianic terms, relies on the myth of American innocence, or uses “chosen nation” language in a way that colonizes the biblical teaching on the Church.

At the same time, however, we should be concerned about decreasing patriotism among the millennial generation, and advocate for a more balanced telling of history in the public schools. Wilsey helps us think more deeply about what we mean when we call America “exceptional.”

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“Transparent” and the Art of Propaganda Squads

Feb 09, 2016 | Trevin Wax

maxresdefaultThoughtful Christians have long encouraged discernment and worldview analysis when watching films or television or reading books.

  • What is the message here? 
  • What is the filmmaker’s vision of the good life?
  • How does this message line up with what Scripture teaches?

Some Christian leaders have wondered if all this “worldview” talk may interfere with a Christian’s ability to simply enjoy a film without looking for its hidden or surface messages. That is a good caveat. A work of art is not something to be dissected merely for its “propositional truth message,” for the form is indeed part of the message. We will have an impoverished understanding of worldview analysis of cultural products if we try to reduce them in this way, and this is one of the reasons many Christian attempts at filmmaking come up so flat.

Still, it is likely that in the coming years we will need to raise our discernment antennas, not lower them. Why? Because the next round of popular entertainment will veer into the territory of propaganda, not just art.

The Art of Propaganda

Take, for example, the Amazon Prime television show, Transparent – a show that has won Emmys and been lauded by Trans Rights activists for its portrayal of an older man who transitions to a female persona.

For all its trophies and acclaim, Transparent finds itself squarely in the realm of propaganda. It is a heavily biased attempt to promote and publicize a political cause. The producers have deliberately and delicately crafted it so as to challenge the gender norms of American society.

In choosing the word “propaganda” to describe this show, I am not joining the ranks of conspiracy theorists who believe there is a secret plot to mislead the American public. I am echoing the word the producers themselves use.

“Propaganda Squads” for Artistic Activism

In a lengthy profile of the show and its creator (Jill Soloway), The New Yorker describes the writers as a “propaganda squad.” All of the writers (except one who had experience in television beforehand) hail from the academy where they participated in writing and theater and queer activism. “You are creating propaganda for you,” Soloway says.

The “propaganda squad” needs help to ensure faithfulness to the Trans Rights cause. So, they turn to other activists for support. “Every decision on the show is vetted by Rhys Ernst and Zackary Drucker, trans activists and artists… ‘We monitor the politics of representation – if we catch things in the writing stage, it’s kind of optimal because then there’s time to shape it.’”

The New Yorker affirms Transparent’s artistic activism, describing it as a show that “both reflects and advances” the trans “agenda.” The cast of Transparent describe themselves as a “wonderful cult.” Soloway doesn’t go that far, but she does call herself “seditious” and the name of her production company is Topple, meaning “topple the patriarchy.”

Entertainment in Service to the Gender Revolution

In describing Transparent, words like “propaganda,” “agenda,” “monitoring,” and “seditious” do not come from alarmist talk show hosts or conservative bloggers. These are the words the show’s creators use to speak about their work. They have a revolutionary perspective on what it means to be human, and they are pushing it unapologetically.

“We’re asking the whole world to transition with us to a less binary way of being,” Drucker says. “It’s the next step in the fight for gender equality: removing the habit of always qualifying a person as a man or a woman.”

Not surprisingly, the show’s producers are excited about the evolving nature of language, from “gender reassignment surgery” to “gender confirmation,” from pronouns like “he” and “she” to plurals that no longer indicate any gender at all. Soloway likes the idea of a person containing more than one self or gender. “Part of it is just the fiction of being alive. Every step, you’re making up who you are.”

Stalin’s “Enlightenment Through Entertainment”

Propaganda can be a powerful tool in the hands of revolutionaries. It worked for Joy Davidman, the future wife of C. S. Lewis. The 1934 film Chapayev, a Soviet piece of propaganda, enthralled Joy with its artistic sensibilities and powerful message. The film was “hailed as a masterpiece of modern cinema” and packed the house at Manhattan’s Cameo Theater for ten weeks. Abigail Santamaria writes:

“Stalin was seductively deceptive. The dictator and his filmmakers did not hesitate to advertise their movies as enlightenment through entertainment, a way of educating the people… To make those philosophies accessible to all, Stalin built thousands of theaters.”

Entertainment continues to be one of the primary drivers of societal change in morality—both reflecting and directing public consensus on what progress entails. Vice-president Joe Biden was not off-base in crediting the popular television comedies like Will and Grace (1998‒2006) and Modern Family (2009‒) for the public’s rapid embrace of same-sex marriage. Those shows aren’t pure propaganda in the way Transparent is, but they are clearly educating people regarding social norms.

Look for the Agenda

Let’s be clear. The producers and writers of Transparent have every right to push their perspective through the medium of television.

But when political and social revolutions are promoted powerfully through their presentation, and when they use the word “propaganda” to describe their work, it is wise for Christians to see it for what it is. Furthermore, it is paramount for Christians to view much of our culture’s entertainment as propaganda, some more and some less.

Our society’s songs, movies, and books don’t just communicate a message; some of them they may actually be specifically designed to promote a political cause. The ability to recognize propaganda and analyze it from the lens of a biblical worldview is more necessary than ever before.

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Trevin’s Seven

Feb 05, 2016 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews$3.99.

Seven of the best articles I came across this week:

1. Alastair Roberts – Trumped Up? Is the Donald’s Support Really Driven By Racist Xenophobia? This is a long article, but it is well worth your time if you want to see why Trump is so appealing to a segment of the American population. Roberts peels back the layers of Trump’s support to show why so many white, blue collar workers have become supporters.

2. Timothy Tennent – There Are Really Two Kinds of “No.” Using “transableism” as an example, Tennent shows why the Church’s “no” is geared to human flourishing, not suppression.

3. Cathy Young – The Totalitarian Doctrine of “Social Justice Warriors.” Most intriguing to me is not the pushback against political correctness, but the religious words used to describe millennial activists. Devout, doctrine, etc.

4. Jen Wilkin – 4 Ways to Battle BitternessJen is on point, as usual. #2 is key here.

5. Alan Noble – To Hope All Things about the American VoterA good warning from Alan about twisting the truth to make a point, or assuming the worst of American voters.

6. Chris Martin – Russell Brand: The Epitome of “Spiritual But Not Religious.” Chris shows why the ‘spiritual but not religious’ is oh so close, yet oh so far from Christianity.

7. How to Be a Prolific Writer. People often ask me about my reading and writing habits. Dan Darling does a good job of describing what it takes to write well and often.

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Should Princeton Strip Honor from President Woodrow Wilson?

Feb 04, 2016 | Trevin Wax

Presidentwoodrowwilson-e1448043956405-1280x960“We owe nothing to people who are ‘deeply flawed’.”

So says Wilglory Tanjong, writing for the Black Justice League, to explain why Princeton University should strip its buildings and titles of any reference to one of the school’s most notable alumni, former president Woodrow Wilson. The Black Justice League believes Wilson’s achievements as president a century ago are overshadowed by atrocious views on race and segregation.

How has Princeton responded to the demands to demote Wilson?

According to Tanjong, the administration claims “we owe a great deal to people who are deeply flawed, and not many people can transcend the prejudices of the times they lived in.” Instead of sitting in judgment, the administration recommends we “assess ourselves with great humility because we, too, are flawed, and it’s likely that we will also be guilty of sins and prejudices that to future generations who look back on our own legacies will be very obvious.”

We could sum up Princeton’s position as an application of the Golden Rule in temporal terms: Do unto others (in the past) what you would have others (in the future) do unto you.

Tanjong’s response rejects that possibility out of hand: “We owe nothing to people who are ‘deeply flawed.’” Wilson’s sin in one area outweighs anything good he may have done in another. He is due no honor.

Who is right here?

The Conservative Error

The conservative tendency is to dismiss out of hand the demands of groups like the Black Justice League. If conservatives err, it’s on the side of tradition, by whitewashing history and minimizing the sinfulness of our nation’s heroes.

Tanjong makes a good point when she says that describing the subjugation of other human beings as merely “a flaw” minimizes the seriousness of the sin. The Bible challenges the conservative tendency to minimize past sin, giving us words like “wicked” and “evil” to better describe the reality.

The Progressive Error

But progressives err on the side of the present, by whitewashing ourselves and minimizing our own complicity in unjust systems and structures. When we cast ourselves as pristine in our righteousness, we find it harder to see redeemable qualities in those who have gone before us. We judge ourselves by the lenient standards of the present and thus become blind to our own wickedness and evil.

The biblical worldview also challenges the progressive tendency. We owe everything to people who are ‘deeply flawed.’ Our cultural inheritance does not come to us untainted. Sin has infected all who have gone before us, and sin infects us still today.

An Ever-Present Problem

Americans are not the only ones to wrestle with questions like this.

While I was living in Romania, my in-laws’ street underwent a name change. The street had once been named for a Romanian leader in the 1930’s. After the fall of Communism, many claimed the leader’s dictatorial tendencies outweighed the good he did for the country, and the name was switched.

Major world cities have seen their names come and go: Russia’s St. Petersburg became Leningrad and is now St. Petersburg again. Reassessments of leaders and legacies happen in every country.

Pop culture is not immune to these controversies. Should The Cosby Show be forever banned from television? Is it right for the brilliant cast of The Cosby Show to be relegated to obscurity due to the wicked actions of its star? Does the groundbreaking element of this sitcom’s legacy forever disappear?

The Line of Good and Evil

I am not proposing quick and easy answers to these questions. I agree with Tish Harrison Warren, writing in Christianity Today about our “beautiful, broken Christian ancestors” and the twin dangers of airbrushing the people in our past or deriding our heritage altogether.

I also find it helpful to listen to people who have faced suffering and oppression in ways I have not.

One example is Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who endured years of abuse in the Gulag for opposing the Communist regime. Solzhenitsyn recognized that most people cannot be easily categorized “good” and “bad.” Life is simply too complex. “The line of good and evil runs through every human heart,” he wrote. That insight comes not from a man of privilege, cloistered in an ivory tower, sheltered from suffering. It comes from someone who looked evil squarely in the eye, and yet was incisive enough to see evil lurking in his own heart.

Good and Evil Grow Together

In his excellent book on sin, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. helps us understand why this categorization is so difficult:

“Evil always appears in tandem with good… Good and evil grow together, intertwine around each other, and grow out of each other in remarkable and complicated ways.”

Plantinga mentions several examples from history:

“Good biographers find character ironies irresistible. Hence the attraction of Martin Luther, one of the three or four most prominent Christians after Paul, a doughty champion of the gospel of grace and a ghastly anti-Semite who wanted his readers to break down Jewish homes and house their occupants in stables.

Other ironies appear in other characters, including Luther’s most famous modern namesake. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the noblest and most eminent Americans of the twentieth century, adulterated his marriage and plagiarized some of the work that made his reputation. Thomas Jefferson held slaves.

The Bible itself gives us such alloyed heroes as King David, a great and godly and wicked man whose name has been blessed by centuries of Jews and Christians.”

He concludes:

“Observing character ironies of these kinds, we naturally conclude that human beings are inexpressibly complex creatures in whom great good and great evil often cohabit, sometimes in separate and well-insulated rooms and sometimes in an intimacy so deep and twisted and twined that we never get to see the one moral quality without the other.”

Flawed Legacies

Recognizing this human complexity is not to cast a blind vote for a pristine past – either by papering over the wickedness of national figures or by only lifting up past heroes who meet all our contemporary standards of righteousness.

Instead, it is to realistically assess the human heart, receive the good and the bad from the tainted legacies of our forebears, and pass on deeply flawed legacies of our own, ever hopeful that God will grant our descendants seeds of grace from the mixed inheritance we leave them.

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5 Books You Should Read This Election Year

Feb 02, 2016 | Trevin Wax

IMG_0731

It is Election Year in the United States, and many Christians are heavily engaged in supporting candidates in their race to the White House. Naturally, on talk shows and in interviews, political pundits are pontificating about the role evangelicals will play in the political process this year.

I have a few questions of my own about evangelical engagement in politics:

  • How can we as Christians display our commitment to the flourishing of society and also demonstrate our higher allegiance to the kingdom of God?
  • What are evangelical Christians known for in politics? What aspects of this reputation are good? What aspects need to change?
  • Should Christians have high hopes and expectations from political candidates? Or should Christians be more chastened in hoping for cultural transformation through politics?

None of these questions can be answered in a sound bite. In fact, they can’t be answered merely with words. The answers must be fleshed out in the actions of devoted Christians across this great land.

And so we find ourselves on the threshold of great opportunity, as well as danger. For, even though we may try to represent Christ well in the political sphere, we can unintentionally damage our witness to King Jesus through unthinking or unprincipled involvement.

  • What if we are formed more by what we watch on the news than by the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • What if a cause displaces the cross as the uniting factor for a church?
  • What if our perspective is more informed by today’s pundits and commentators than by the theologians and thinkers who have reflected for centuries on how Christians can best serve in the public square?

To aid us in this task of enduring an Election year and engaging the political process well, I’ve selected five books as “recommended reading.”

patrioticgrace1. Patriotic Grace

I don’t know what Noonan’s religious beliefs are, but I find her to be articulate and winsome, even when I disagree. Patriotic Grace appeared in 2008, while McCain and Obama were duking it out for the presidency. It is a brief book that calls Americans to courtesy and civility as a way of showing our respect for this remarkable Republic we have inherited.

Some writers force a dichotomy between partisanship and civility. Noonan does not. Instead, she warns that when politics replaces religion (whether for those on the right or the left), we are inclined to drive out the “heretics” who differ with us.

Eight years later, Noonan’s call to patriotic grace is even more needed – “a grace that takes the long view, that apprehends the moment we’re in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them.”

5views2. Five Views on The Church and Politics

Throughout history, Christians have debated the appropriate posture toward the public square. This book includes representatives from five influential streams of Christian thought:

  1. The “separationist” view of the Anabaptists
  2. The “paradoxical” view of the Lutherans
  3. The “prophetic” view of the black church
  4. The “transformationist” view of the Reformed
  5. The “synthetic” view of the Roman Catholic Church.

This book serves as a worthwhile introduction to the major views of political engagement. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of the Anabaptist chapter (we need their emphasis on ethics and the political witness that comes from the church being the church!), and I’m inspired by the hurdles overcome by the prophetic witness of the black church. Overall, my position is closest to the one presented by James K. A. Smith (the transformationist view), which is why the next two books on my list build on that particular perspective.

politicaldisciple3. The Political Disciple

Vincent Bacote, professor at Wheaton College, has written a brief book on why and how Christians should be involved in politics.

I enjoyed The Political Disciple primarily because of its autobiographical dimension. Bacote is an African-American evangelical theologian, and this book includes both his story of migration between political parties and his discovery of Abraham Kuyper’s theology of common grace.

I appreciate Bacote’s call for Christians to pursue both private and public holiness, as well as his encouragement to Christians to persevere no matter how long it seems to take to achieve results.

onenationundergod4. One Nation Under God

Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo take the Kuyperian approach to politics, explain it, and then apply a Christian worldview to some of the pressing issues of our day.

Even if you do not agree with all of Ashford and Pappalardo’s prescriptions, you will benefit from the framework for political involvement that they provide.

Books like this one transcend the polarities of “right and left,” or “conservative and liberal,” which indicates that there is an appeal to biblical principle here, not just to a party platform.

onward5. Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel

Russell Moore’s new book is a manifesto for Christian action as a distinct minority within an increasingly hostile culture. Moore cautions against dangers on both the right and the left, and he encourages evangelicals to not sacrifice our prophetic voice by aligning too visibly with any particular politician or political party.

Christianity Today named Onward their book of the year and the best representation of “beautiful orthodoxy.” Read it, and you’ll see why.

Your Picks

What about you?

What books on religion and politics would you recommend this election year?

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Trevin’s Seven

Jan 29, 2016 | Trevin Wax

TrevinSeven1webKindle Deal: New Atheism: A Survival Guide by Graham Veale. $2.99.

Seven of the best articles I came across this week:

1. Frederica Mathewes-Green – When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making SenseOne of the most powerful pro-life articles I’ve ever read, a journey from pro-choice feminism to the realization that abortion harms women. “Once I recognized the inherent violence of abortion, none of the feminist arguments made sense.”

2. D. A. Carson – The New Tolerance Must Crumble. “Although the digital world wants us to answer only in one-liners; we cannot build a whole worldview on one-liners.”

3. “We’ve lost ‘em. God bless ‘em”: What it was like to witness the Challenger disaster. The Washington Post reposts Kathy Sawyer’s excellent reporting from the scene of the Challenger explosion.

4. Bruce Ashford – A (Religious) Alternative for American PoliticsThis is the conclusion to Ashford’s excellent series laying out the idolatrous elements of various political views.

5. Jen Wilkin – How Should I Handle Anger When Disciplining My Children? Many parents have a disconnect when thinking about anger and discipline.

6. Kathryn Schulz – Dead Certainty: How ‘Making a Murderer’ Goes Wrong. Toward the end of the series, Dean Strang, Steven Avery’s defense lawyer, notes that most of the problems in the criminal-justice system stem from “unwarranted certitude”—what he calls “a tragic lack of humility of everyone who participates.” Ultimately, “Making a Murderer” shares that flaw.

7. Eric Geiger – 4 Types of Tone-Deaf LeadershipThere are a plethora of tone-deaf leaders who are out of sync and rhythm with people and their context. They seem deaf to the people and context around them.

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Colton Dixon and the “Craziness” of Saving Sex for Marriage

Jan 28, 2016 | Trevin Wax

colton-dixon-annie-coggeshall-wedding-6People magazine recently published a brief story about Christian singer Colton Dixon. The interview included honeymoon pictures of Colton and his wife, Annie, and explained why the two chose not to have sex until after their wedding.

“I believe sex was designed for marriage,” Colton said, explaining that the Bible teaches this idea and that it is “more meaningful to wait.”

The article is short, but the comment stream is long. A few commenters applauded the Dixons for living according to their values. But most were harshly critical of the idea that you should wait until you’re married to have sex.

I’d like to highlight a few of the comments because they are a good example of cultural antipathy toward Christianity’s distinctive sexual ethic. Most of the criticism fell into three main categories.

1. “Sex has no design.” 

When Colton says that sex is designed for marriage, he’s implying that there is a Designer – a God to whom we’re accountable for our sexual actions. He’s also saying that marriage is the only covenant relationship where sexual expression is supposed to flourish.

Naturally, many disagree with both of those notions. So, some reduced marriage to a “human concept” that was “invented” for tax benefits and passing on your inheritance. Others claimed that marriage has “nothing to do with commitment” and is just “a contract for those who need things in writing.” 

2. “Sex has nothing to do with morality.”

The next line of criticism focused on the idea that one’s sexual behavior has something to do with “good morals.”

“Right just means right for the individual,” someone wrote. Colton and Annie are no better or worse for waiting until marriage. It’s more important to treat other people nicely, to donate to charities, to be a good friend, etc.

Sex is “just a biological urge,” so there’s nothing wrong with “having sex just for the fun of it” as long as you’re being “responsible” and trying to get “experience.” If there is any meaning to sex, it is something “created by the couple involved and their relationship and commitment.” And if there is a God, he couldn’t care less what you do with your reproductive organs.

3. “They are freaks.”

The most disturbing line of criticism is that Colton and Annie are “idiots” who have bought into “purity crap” persuasive only to a “few freaks out there.” “SO BIZARRE!” one wrote.

Only religious “repression” could “brainwash” people into thinking sex was something more than just pleasure, and only “a moron” would save sex for marriage. The idea is “silly,” “freakish,” and “against nature.”

Who promises to spend their life with someone before knowing if they are sexually compatible? How else can you be sure you’ve sensed the “spark” that lets you know you’ve found your “soul mate?”

The Beautiful Craziness of Marriage

As Christians, we should get used to being labeled “freaks” and “morons” and “silly” for our views on sexuality. The idea that sex outside of marriage is sinful draws cultural scorn.

The temptation for the Church is to fire back, to condemn the world and run down a list of biblical “do’s” and “don’ts.” Instead, if we are to be effective missionaries in this culture, we should try to show why God’s design is not only right, but also beautiful.

We can start by trying to understand why our neighbors see reserving sex for marriage as “silly” and “bizarre.”

Today, more than half the population lives together before getting married. Many millennials have grown up in broken homes and don’t want to repeat the mistakes of their parents. It’s understandable that they would think it’s healthier to assess one’s sexual compatibility before tying the knot.

But the statistics tell a different story: cohabitation is more likely to lead to future divorce. Why is this the case?

Perhaps it’s because cohabitation robs a couple of the security of covenantal love. Premarital sex offers your partner one aspect of who you are (your body) while you are still holding on to all of the other aspects of your independence (social, economic, legal). It is a pale imitation of marital love, no matter how pleasurable it may be in the moment.

Tim and Kathy Keller write:

In so many cases, when one person says to another, “I love you,” but let’s not ruin it by getting married,” that person really means, “I don’t love you enough to close off all my options. I don’t love you enough to give myself to you that thoroughly.” To say, “I don’t need a piece of paper to love you” is basically to say, “My love for you has not reached the marriage level.”

The Bible upholds sex within marriage because sex is an expression of the covenantal union of husband and wife. Apart from that covenantal promise, sex is diminished, more about one’s “performance” than about selfless devotion. When a relationship becomes a “test drive” or a “try out,” both parties ask themselves either “Am I good enough?” or “Am I settling when I should be looking for someone better?”

Even non-Christians are having second thoughts about our current cultural practices. Consider the questions raised by Aziz Ansari, who critiques American millennials for their “exhausting” search for a soul mate. “While we may think we know what we want, we’re often wrong,” he writes.

Our relationships are fraught with the fear of constant comparison. We wonder if our partners will stay with us as we age, or if they are on Facebook wishing for “what might have been,” or swiping Tinder to see what new options are available. Ansari contrasts this frustrating sift through endless romantic options to his parents’ (arranged!) marriage, a relationship where compatibility and love have grown stronger over time.

Conclusion

Colton and Annie Dixon went against the flow. They were rebels in a world where sex before marriage is normal and expected.

They chose to give themselves to each other fully only after they had made the vow that encompasses and protects the beautiful vulnerability of their marital love. That’s one way they show their marriage is much more than a contract. It’s a covenant designed to inflame and sustain their sexual union – “till death do they part.”

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Is Donald Trump Truly Pro-Life?

Jan 27, 2016 | Trevin Wax

Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C Groundbreaking CeremonyFrom my latest article at Religion News Service:

In 1999, Donald Trump claimed to be “pro-choice in every respect”, to the point he would have opposed a ban on late-term and partial-birth abortions. His position at that time reflected the extreme edges of abortion ideology. A mere 14 percent of Americans believe third-trimester abortions should be legal.

But Trump has since switched sides, a move that makes sense in today’s political climate. Since the 1990s, abortion has become one of the starkest and most consistent lines of demarcation between Democrats and Republicans. It is virtually inconceivable that a Democrat opposing abortion or a Republican supporting legal abortion could win the respective party’s presidential nomination.

In a debate last year, Trump claimed he had “evolved” on the issue of the abortion. “I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life,” the GOP candidate said.

But the way Trump described his “evolution” from the pro-choice to pro-life position raises some interesting questions.

He said: “Friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances.”

Now, I’m one who cheers whenever someone publicly switches from supporting abortion rights to supporting human rights for all — including the unborn. I am glad to see people like Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, or Bernard Nathanson, founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, become pro-life activists.

But I find it difficult to cheer Trump’s conversion, because the reason he gives for being pro-life doesn’t correspond to the pro-life ethic.

CONTINUE READING

 

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The Great Ebook Battle of 2016

Jan 26, 2016 | Trevin Wax

o-EBOOK-facebookTim Challies is selling his library and “going all-in” with Ebooks.

Meanwhile, Michael Hyatt has announced he is shelving his Kindle and returning to print books.

What’s going on?

Tim Challies: New Wine for New Wineskins

Challies says Ebooks are the way of the future. People fail to see the Kindle’s superiority only when they compare their reading device to the older experience of having a book in hand. He writes:

We tend to want the new medium to mimic the old one and judge the new in light of the old. What we fail to account for are the ways in which the new is superior, in which the new is something entirely new. When cars were first invented, people called them “horseless carriages” and judged them in light of the horse and carriage. But over time they proved their superiority and we forgot all about that older technology. We stopped thinking about the new technology in reference to the old. I think the relationship of book to ebook will eventually prove similar.

Michael Hyatt: The Old Is Better

On the other side, Hyatt lists eight reasons that explain why he is returning to print books, and, as Challies point out, his reasons focus primarily on the inferiority of the Ebook.

  1. Ebooks are out of sight and out of mind.
  2. Ebooks engage fewer senses.
  3. Ebooks make it easier to get distracted.
  4. Ebooks result in less retention and comprehension.
  5. Ebooks feel too much like online reading.
  6. Ebooks are more difficult to interact with.
  7. Ebooks are more difficult to navigate.
  8. Ebooks provide less satisfaction in finishing.

Challies disagrees with almost all of Hyatt’s reasons. In fact, he claims Hyatt’s article “helped seal his decision” to dispense with his library in favor of digital reading.

My Reading Habits

Like Challies, I’ve amassed a large number of books. We have a room downstairs with more than 1600 titles.

Also, I suspect the number of books I read in a given year is closer to Challies’ total than to Hyatt’s. (Hyatt says he finished 12 books last year. I don’t know how many books Challies read, but I assume he read a lot more.)

But even though my reading habits resemble those of Challies, I have reverted back to print books due to several of the reasons in Hyatt’s list. I find myself reading less and less on my Kindle, and I’m just now figuring out why.

Enjoying Ebooks

In 2011, I started commuting to Nashville every day by bus. The commute was great for reading, but it wasn’t convenient to haul big books in my bag, and it was too hard to underline and write down notes when the road was bumpy.

That summer, I bought my first Kindle, and it quickly became my constant travel companion. For the next three years, I did much of my reading on the Kindle – history, fiction, theology, politics, biography, classics, and bestsellers. The Kindle was perfect for me as a commuter. It was lightweight and easy-to-store, with a built-in light that enabled me to read on dark and dreary mornings.

Back to Print

In 2015, my reading habits changed.

First off, I wrote the bulk of my Ph.D dissertation. Now, when you get to the dissertation phase of the Ph.D process, you discover that there are books you need to “live in” for awhile. Scrolling through these books on my Kindle would have been almost impossible. I needed to jump around, review, and take notes in these books.

Secondly, I spent a lot of time in several theological libraries in 2015. I don’t know if breathing in the scent of old books had anything to do with my rekindled love for non-Kindle books, but “library time” was a big part of my reading experience last year.

Third, most of the books I purchased in 2015 are what I call “forever books.” I will return to them, reread everything I underlined, and reference these authors for the rest of my life. For months, these hefty books demanded my attention, and now, they have earned the right to sit on a physical shelf. My Kindle feels too “thin” to carry the weight of their insights.

Fourth, LifeWay sold its property in Nashville, and in the transition phase, many of us became more “mobile” in our work. I was spending less time commuting and more time working “from anywhere,” which meant that my Kindle was gathering dust because I wasn’t on the bus as much.

Finally, we moved to a new house in 2015, and for the first time in my life, I have a room dedicated to books. I’ve got them shelved and arranged for easy reference, reading, and study.

Loving Print Books

For these reasons, today I am much more likely to buy a print book than an Ebook. I’ve found that there is nothing like taking a book off the shelf and noting your notes, or rediscovering what you underlined.

Of course, I am not throwing away my Kindle. I continue to enjoy Ebooks, especially when traveling. I don’t agree with Hyatt’s claim that reading on a device is inherently distracting. On the contrary, a reading device is perfect when you’re on an airplane or sitting in an airport or on a bus.

Ebooks are not going away, which is why I will continue to alert readers to excellent Kindle deals every morning, as I have for many years. But I’ve come to realize that print books are not going away either. And I love print more than ever.

And so, my counsel to Tim is this: purge your library of the books you won’t ever read again. But think twice before getting rid of all your books in favor of a large Kindle library. You may reach a point where you start favoring print books again, and then you’d have to start over.

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