reTHINK Student Conference by Brett Kunkle: “[A]fter adding walk-ups, sponsors, staff, and other guests, almost 1,100 people attended this year’s reTHINK…. Why has there been such a tremendous response? Because students are hungry for the truth…. At reTHINK, no question was off limits. We covered relativism, same-sex marriage, God’s existence, pornography, evolution, the Bible, science, and much more. We let students ask their toughest questions at the conference and even set up a live online Q&A event for the following week so students could continue to pursue God’s truth. We want students to see that because Christianity is true, they have nothing to fear. Objections can be dealt with, questions can be answered, and exploring our doubts can eventually lead us to greater faith in Christ.” (Read more)
Are We at War with Muslims? by Alan Shlemon: “Besides the September 11 attacks, there have been riots, bombings, and beheadings all done in the name of Islam. Are the perpetrators of this violence not following true Islam? What do we make of Islamic leaders who decry the violence of jihadists? How do we make sense of the contradictory claims by Islamic spokesmen? Will the real Islam please stand up? I use a simple tactic to help me sort through the confusion. If I want to know whether a teaching or behavior is truly Islamic, I ask a simple question: Is it based on authoritative sources in Islam? There are three primary sources.” (Read more)
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The fallout from the destruction and redefinition of marriage spreads still more widely, even beyond the immediate territory of the family. Deep friendship between members of the same sex is now in grave danger. To show us why, Esolen asks us to imagine a world in which the incest taboo is erased (and that is a world that may not be far off). In such a place, “You see a father hugging his teenage daughter as she leaves the car to go to school. The possibility flashes before your mind. The language has changed, and the individual can do nothing about it.”
So too, in the world that is rapidly embracing and recognizing homosexual relationships as normal and normative, the space for deep and meaningful male-male or female-female friendships among the young is rapidly shrinking to the vanishing point. “The stigma against sodomy,” Esolen rightly notes, “cleared away ample space for an emotionally powerful friendship that did not involve sexual intercourse, exactly as the stigma against incest allows for the physical and emotional freedom of a family.”
Add, then, the estrangement of boys from boys and girls from girls, in a world in which intimacy always raises the suspicion of sexual desire. This is a bleak horizon to contemplate: plenty of sex, mostly empty and unrewarding, with much less love and friendship.
I’ve already seen a change happening in interpretations of friendships, most recently in the discussion over Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s friendship with Eberhard Bethge, and it’s upsetting to me that people might shy away from close friendships for this reason. Here’s what Trevin Wax had to say about the “assumption [that] affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature”:
History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.
Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.
In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.
The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.
This is just one unintended consequence of the sexual revolution and subsequent redefinition of marriage, the most basic and foundational institution in our society. There will be many more. You can’t rip the foundation out of a house and then not expect every room to be affected in some way.
Historian Rodney Stark writes in The Triumph of Christianityabout the significant contrast Christian mercy and compassion was in comparison to pagan religions. Before this passage quoted here, Stark gives the details of the truly horrible conditions in the ancient world. It's worth reading to get a better picture of the terrible conditions Christian mercy intervened to change.
In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security.
Foremost was the Christian duty to alleviate want and suffering. It started with Jesus: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35-40).
James 2:15-17 expresses a similar idea….In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion: because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice. As E.A. Judge explained, classical philosophers taught that “mercy” indeed is not governed by reason at all,” and humans must learn “to curb the impulse”; “the cry of the undeserving for mercy” must go “unanswered.” Judge continued: “Pity was a defect of character unworthy of the wise and excusable only in those who have not yet grown up.”
This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues – that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was even more incompatible with pagan convictions. But the truly revolutionary principle was that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and even those of faith, to all in need. As Cyprian, the martyred third-century bishop of Carthage explained, “there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love….Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.”
It wasn’t just talk. In 251 the bishop of Rome wrote a letter to the bishop of Antioch in which he mentioned that the Roman congregation was supporting fifteen hundred widows and distressed persons. This was not unusual. In about the year 98 CE, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, advised Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, to be sure to provide special support for widows. As the distinguished Paul Johnson put it: “The Christians…ran a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.”…
These charitable activities were possible only because Christianity generated congregations, a true community of believers who built their lives around their religious affiliation….Even if they were newcomers, they were not strangers, but brothers and sisters in Christ. When calamities struck, there were people who cared – in fact, there were people having the distinct responsibility to care! All congregations had deacons whose primary job was the support of the sick, infirm, poor, and disabled.
As you’re spending time learning apologetics, it’s crucial that you never stray from reading the Bible. There are many reasons for this (see here and here, for example), and at this year’s Desiring God Conference, John Piper gave this one: “[A]ll the God-exalting joy that we hope to experience now and in the age to come hangs on the truth and power of the Bible.”
Here’s a summary of the five ways he says our joy in God depends on the Bible:
First, there can be no fullness in our joy in God where there is no fullness in the revelation of God’s excellencies. And that fullness is in the Bible. You can’t love him if you don’t know him. And the more fully you know him, the more fully you can love him and treasure him and delight in him. And God knows what kind of revelation and what fullness of revelation is needed to ignite and sustain the fullness of joy that glorifies him most. And that fullness of revelation is in the Bible….
Second, the story of how God acted in history to purchase our release from spiritual deadness, and the bondage of the will, and the wrath of God is only known because of the inspired record of it in the Bible. The power that this story has is possible only because God ordained that it be preserved by his inspired spokesmen in the Bible….
Third, that historical account of God’s saving work in Christ is the instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit by which he makes us alive to the all-satisfying glory of God….
Fourth, the joy of faith is created by the word of God…. The reason there can be no saving faith apart from the Scriptures is they are the only reliable portrait of the Christ of faith. Saving faith is faith in Christ, and Christ is only known through the inspired Scriptures….
Fifth…this joy is attacked and embattled everyday of our lives, until we die or until Christ comes, and its endurance — its perseverance — is only possible because of the Scriptures. We owe not only the creation of the joy of faith to the word, but also its daily survival.
Here in California, our governor and attorney general refused to defend our democratically-established constitutional amendment maintaining the definition of marriage as one man and one woman. So last year, since the Supreme Court decided that no one other than these men had the necessary legal standing to defend Prop 8, the people of California had no way to defend their votes, and an earlier judge’s decision to strike the marriage amendment down was allowed to stand. The will of the people of California meant nothing. The power and opinions of these few individuals trumped all.
In many other states, judges are striking down the democratically-established legal definition of marriage according to their own opinions about whether or not man/woman-only marriage is irrational and secretly motivated by malice.
This isn’t the way a free society is run, and it’s certainly not the way to maintain a stable one (see the Roe v. Wade debacle of the last 40 years), so the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday to not weigh in on whether or not the people of our country have a right to legally define the most basic and necessary institution in our country is a blow. From Ryan Anderson:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review appeals from Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin on the definition of marriage. This means that lower court rulings that struck down state marriage laws now will go into effect, forcing the redefinition of marriage in these states and potentially in other states in the 4th, 7th, and 10th circuits….
The truth of the matter is that the marriage laws in these five states—as in many states across our nation—are good laws that reflect the truth about marriage. Frequently they were passed with overwhelming democratic support. The Supreme Court should have reviewed these cases and should have upheld the authority of citizens and their elected representatives to make good marriage policy. Instead, the Supreme Court left standing bad rulings from lower federal courts that usurped authority from the people by striking down good laws.
The cases at issue involve lower court rulings that struck down state marriage laws, claiming that they violated the U.S. Constitution. But the courts never provided compelling arguments that laws that reflect the truth about marriage are unconstitutional. Indeed, as former Attorney General Ed Meese and I argued last week in The Washington Post, the Supreme Court should have reviewed these cases and declared the laws constitutional.
It’s very hard to watch our culture rush headlong into its own destruction waving celebratory flags. I love our people. I love our country. The consequences we’ve been warning about are already beginning to show themselves throughout the West, and things are going to get worse. It’s like watching a nation of snowmen fight for a right to live in greenhouses. We can reason, and weep, and plead, but they want their “freedom,” and they just won’t listen to us haters.
I say it without hyperbole: PrayerMate revitalized my prayer life. It has been at least a couple of years since I made the move from organizing my prayers in a book to organizing my prayers in an app, and, at least for now, I don’t ever see myself going back. I know that praying from an app is not for everyone, but for me it has made all the difference. Let me tell you how I use it.
It wasn’t hyperbole. I’ve been using this app ever since and finding it extremely helpful. It’s easy to quickly add a prayer request as soon as you hear of a need, and you can do so without worrying that your list will become unmanageably long, because you control how many requests you’ll pray for in each category per day and/or choose which days any one particular request will appear.
[W]hen we ask God for strength, what are we asking for? Are we asking for the strength that God wants to give, or are we asking for the strength that we want to have?
The reason this is important to ask is because the two may not be the same. Highest on God’s agenda for us is strengthening our faith (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 2:20). Highest on our agenda is frequently accomplishing something necessary or noble, or escaping affliction or humiliation. These may not be wrong desires, but they may be the wrong priorities.
When this is the case, our conception of the strength we need differs from God’s. When we pray for strength, we may imagine the answer looking like increased capacities to accomplish or escape. But the strength that God supplies (1 Peter 4:11) is often increased capacities to trust his promises, which might require dying to our envisioned accomplishment or enduring what we wish to escape….
The biblical pattern of God strengthening his saints is this: God chooses a sinful, weak person to be his redeemed saint; God further weakens this saint through circumstantial and/or physical adversity; The saint is forced to trust God’s promises; God proves himself faithful to his promises; The saint’s faith is strengthened and hope abounds because his/her faith doesn’t rest on the wisdom of men but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5).
This pattern is woven all through the Bible. As soon as you see it, you see it everywhere.
What kinds of questions are students asking? What kinds of doubts are they struggling with, and what kinds of objections bother them? Well, we just spent an entire weekend with about 1,000 students at the reTHINK conference, so we have some ideas. Plus, we're going to give students an opportunity to ask more of their questions. So if you're a student or you teach or parent students, join us tonight, 6:30–7:30 p.m. (PT). You can watch it all live right here, on YouTube, or on Google+.