Archive - May, 2008

A Nation of Wimps – Reviewed by Tony Woodlief

Awhile ago I spoke positively about an interesting new book by Hara Estroff Marano entitled A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting. Marano is an award-winning writer and editor-at-large for Psychology Today, which published this lengthy review article of the book.
I have not read or seen Marano’s book yet, but I was happy to read what seems to be a balanced WSJ review by Tony Woodlief, himself a Christian blogger. Woodlief argues that Marano is on the mark in critiquing the invasiveness and over-protection tendencies of many parents today who guard their children from risks and consequences while pushing them in sports and other activities in the hope of getting them into elite colleges. However, she overreaches:

Unfortunately, it’s not just the parents aiming their elementary-school kids at Harvard and Stanford who draw Ms. Marano’s fire. It’s parents who don’t send their children off to sleepaway summer camps. It’s those nutty home-schoolers. It’s women professionals who choose to be stay-at-home moms while their children are young and parents who prefer not to hand their infants over to a daycare center. It’s cellphones, and globalization and American individualism.
Ms. Marano is fond of referring to “how things used to be,” but she seems to idealize a sliver of American parenting history, one that started shortly after Gloria Steinem declared stay-at-home mothers valueless and ended before millions of women decided that Ms. Steinem and her crowd were saps. In the how-things-used-to-be category, it is helpful for us to remember that Teddy Roosevelt, the quintessential American anti-wimp — he once killed a mountain lion with a knife — grew up enjoying a close relationship with his parents, including extended family vacations (no summer camp!), home schooling (call the teachers’ union!) and close contact even after he left for college (cut the cord, Mrs. Roosevelt!). TR’s own children suffered similar “overparenting,” yet they went on to be war heroes and successful citizens. American history teems with similar examples.

Seems like a helpful corrective from Woodlief. Read the whole thing.

Farewell to Senator Clinton

Look for some compromise on the status of the Michigan and Florida delegates when the 30-member Democratic Party panel meets later today, but not one that sufficiently eats into Obama’s delegate lead. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer pens what is probably the best assessment I’ve read on Clinton’s failed candidacy. An excerpt:

It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that she figured out the seam in Obama’s defense. In fact, Obama handed her the playbook with Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Michelle Obama’s comments about never having been proud of America and Obama’s own guns-and-God condescension toward small-town whites.
The line of attack is clear: not that Obama is himself radical or unpatriotic, just that, as a man of the academic left, he is so out of touch with everyday America that he could move so easily and untroubled in such extreme company and among such alien and elitist sentiments.

Read the whole thing.

Albert Mohler on the Uniqueness of Humans

Albert Mohler writes:

Few questions are more important than this — Are humans unique? Or, put in other words, is there any basis for human dignity and for treating humans with special respect? It is now frighteningly clear that secular science is inadequate to answer that question.
The May 24-30, 2008 edition of New Scientist, an influential British journal of science, features a cover story that raises this very question. “Human beings are obviously unique,” the headline declares. “But it’s surprisingly hard to say why.” As the actual cover article indicates, there is very little that makes humans “obviously unique.”

Mohler goes on to discuss Christine Kenneally’s cover story (subscription required). He later notes:

The Christian worldview offers the only sustainable foundation for human dignity. The Christian truth claim, grounded in the Bible, claims that human dignity is ontological (based merely in the human being’s existence) rather than functional. According to this worldview, every single human being is equally created in the image of God. The other creatures are wondrous and each reveals the glory of God in its own way, but no other creature is created in the image of God. To be human is to be a bearer of God’s image. Thus, every single human being possesses full human dignity.

Read the whole thing.

Grace-Filled, Relationship-Building Vacations

C.J. Mahaney writes an outstanding three-part series on How to Have God-glorifying, Grace-filled, Relationship-building, Memory-making Vacations:

Here’s what I’ve learned. The difference between forgettable vacations and unforgettable vacations is not the location or attractions. Nope. The difference between forgettable and unforgettable vacations is the father’s attitude and leadership. This makes all the difference.
Family vacations provide a unique opportunity each year for fathers to create memories their children will never forget. Memories that will last a lifetime. Memories that will be recreated by your children with your grandchildren. Memories that will outlive a father. But in order to create these memories, a father must be diligent to serve and lead during a vacation. How a father views his role on a vacation will make all the difference in the vacation.
So in this season where family vacations are being carefully planned and eagerly anticipated, I thought it might be helpful if I passed along seven lessons I’ve learned over the years, in hopes that your family vacation will be a God-glorifying, grace-filled, relationship-building, memory-making time together.

Mahaney skillfully unpacks seven essential qualities that fathers must cultivate on family vacations:
1. A Servant Heart
2. A Tone-Setting Attitude
3. An Awareness of Indwelling Sin
4. Studying Your Family
5. Skillful Surprises
6. Intentionally Together
7. Gratefulness to God

Read the whole thing: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3
(HT: JT)

Election and Free Will – Robert Peterson

While we’re on the topic of reformed theology, I thought I’d mention this interesting new book by Robert A. Peterson, Professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Entitled Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious choice and Our Responsibility, Peterson traces the doctrine of election throughout the Bible and explains the biblical concept of free will.
I find this issue to be at the heart of the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. People often talk past each other because they have different categories for “freedom”. In one sense, all humans are free to do whatever they wish. The problem is that we’re born into this world with corrupt hearts such that we cannot want God (Rom. 8:7-8). Consequently, apart from God’s regenerating grace, we are “free” only to sin against God in various ways, depending on our inclinations. We need heart surgery to gain the freedom to truly obey God. Nevertheless, the concept of “will” is helpful, I think. All persons must choose to believe in Christ (who He was and what He accomplished) or perish (John 3:16-18; 36). A sample of the endorsements:
“This is a singularly helpful book in what promises to be a useful series. It is helpful for three reasons: its attempt to ground its thesis in Scripture, the courtesy with which it engages those who disagree, and the crisp clarity of the writing. Beyond these things is the importance of the subject. Books on this subject often become merely polemical, but this one is full of the majesty and grace of God.”
– D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“Neither superficial nor highly technical, this new series of volumes on important Christian doctrines is projected to teach Reformed theology as it is most helpfully taught, with clear grounding in Scripture, mature understanding of theology, gracious interaction with others who disagree, and useful application to life. I expect that these volumes will strengthen the faith and biblical maturity of all who read them, and I am happy to recommend them highly.”
– Wayne Grudem, Phoenix Seminary, author of Systematic Theology
“There are many misconceptions today about systematic, biblical, and applicatory theology. One sometimes gets the impression that these are opposed to one another, and that the first two, at least, are so obscure that ordinary people should avoid them like the plague. The series Explorations in Biblical Theology seeks to correct these misunderstandings, to bring these disciplines together in a winsome, clear unity, edifying to non-specialists. The authors are first-rate, and they write to build up our faith by pointing us to Christ. That’s what biblical and systematic theology at their best have always done, and the best application of Scripture has always shown us in practical ways how to draw on the rich blessings of Jesus’ salvation. I hope that many will read these books and take them to heart.”
– John Frame, Reformed Theological Seminary
Related: Peterson co-edited Faith Comes By Hearing with Chris Morgan. I interviewed Morgan about the book.

Young, Restless, Reformed – Collin Hansen

A well-researched and entertaining account of Reformed theology’s increasing popularity among young Christians, Collin Hansen’s new book, Young, Restless, Reformed, appeared in seed form as a Christianity Today cover story in 2006. With a degree in journalism, Hansen is now editor-at-large for Christianity Today while pursuing an M.Div. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.
Hansen documents the impact of several vibrant ministries that, while having significant theological differences with one another, answer with one voice on the question, “Who does what in salvation?” These ministries all contend that humans contribute no more to their second birth than they do to their first. Just as the cry of a newborn infant is evidence of new life (rather than the cause of that life), so faith in Christ is a response to the new (spiritual) life (re-)created by God the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration precedes faith. We love God because He first loved us. We choose Christ because God first chose us. While Hansen spends a little time unpacking the “five points of Calvinism,” his book is by no means polemical. Rather, through interviewing a host of rising leaders (and a fair share of regulars), he lets them explain the emotional appeal and the biblical/intellectual consistency of the doctrines of grace.
Chapter one is entitled, “Born Again Again”. It introduces us to the theme of the book; namely, that there seems to be a confluence of factors drawing significant numbers of young Christians to embracing at the least the basics of Reformed theology. For example, Joshua Harris is quoted as saying: “I do wonder if some of the appeal [of Calvinism] and the trend isn’t a reaction to the watered down vision of God that’s been portrayed in the evangelical seeker-oriented churches.” The chapter includes Hansen’s coverage of the 2007 Passion Conference, and particularly John Piper’s presence at that 18,000+ student event. Hansen also describes his own journey toward Reformed theology.
Chapter 2 focuses more fully on the impact of John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church. I appreciated this chapter because Piper was instrumental in my own embrace of Calvinism in my early twenties. Also, I spent three years at Bethlehem, and it was during that time that Hansen visited, so I know a lot of the people he was talking to.
Chapter 3 shifts east to Yale University and an investigation of Jonathan Edwards, a man whose popularity is also increasing, as exemplified by the establishment of the Jonathan Edwards Center. Their ambition is to make all of Edwards’ writing available in digital form (about 100,000 pages).
Chapter 4 shifts south to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), where the conservative resurgence has been quite friendly to Calvinism. Hansen gives a good historical sketch of the SBC with respect to Calvinism and includes a few student and faculty interviews (For a more extensive treatment, see By His Grace and For His Glory by Tom Nettles). Nearly one of every three SBTS graduates from 1998-2004 professes Calvinism. Hansen also discusses the Founders Movement and graciously interviews leading pastors who are quite uncomfortable with Calvinism’s popularity. I was intrigued to learn that some have feared that disagreement on Calvinism has the potential to split the SBC.
Chapter 5 and 6 focus on Sovereign Grace Ministries and their ministry to (primarily younger) singles, New Attitude. With 70 or so churches in the United States and almost 10 around the world, the movement led by C.J. Mahaney has been tremendously significant. Chapter 7 then shifts to the west coast and Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and the Acts 29 church-planting network. What was so interesting is that until a few years ago, Driscoll and Mahaney didn’t even know each other.
The book also includes some interesting tid-bits on the Reformed blogosphere — Hansen even gives away the visitor statistics on Tim Challies’ blog. You’ll have to read the book to find out. All in all, a great read. One that won’t tax you too much mentally, and yet will inform you of recent developments all over the country. If (like me) you’ve been impacted by this movement, prepare to be encouraged.
Related: A four-part series I wrote on the Calvinism vs. Arminianism issue: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Do Hard Things – NPR Interview with Alex & Brett Harris

Alex and Brett Harris were recently interviewed by Michel Martin of NPR’s Tell Me More broadcast about their outstanding book Do Hard Things. In this 14-minute spot the Harris brothers preview their book, mention their political involvement with Huck’s Army, and even (briefly) share their Christian faith. To learn more about this book, see my endorsement, or read the Table of Contents and a sample chapter.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor – D.A. Carson

You don’t have to be a pastor to profoundly benefit from Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson, a moving biographical account written by Pastor Carson’s son, eminent author Dr. D.A. Carson. This is simply an outstanding book for any Christian who wants to fight sin, grow in grace, and be faithful until the end. I read it straight through, and was quite moved.
Dr. Carson writes poignantly about his father, Tom Carson, who spent much of his life in pastoral ministry in small churches. Tom Carson never wrote a book and was never a sought-after conference speaker, but he was a faithful, consistent, Christian man. Though imperfect, Mr. Carson was an overwhelmingly godly example to his children, leading them in both family worship and by his own exemplification of Christian virtues. He faithfully prayed for and loved his congregation, and sought to redeem every relationship for good.
The book begins with a brief history of Canada, to give the reader some perspective as to where Tom Carson ministered. Interesting historical details are given as to how Canada viewed and was impacted by the American War for Independence. Carson gives emphasis to language issues; much of the Quebec area (where Carson’s life centered) was predominantly French speaking. This would become an issue in Mr. Carson’s ministry because the congregation he served was bi-lingual, and toward the end of Carson’s life most churches were bifurcating into English-speaking and French-speaking congregations. Chapter 2 walks us through Carson’s early years. He was soundly converted in high school through the influence of a godly mother. Carson’s father, however, was not a Christian until the last few years of his life–long enough, however, for Don Carson (a grandson) to discern the difference conversion makes in an older man’s life. [An application: Don’t stop praying for your unconverted father.]
The next few chapters walk us through some of the difficulties of Mr. Carson’s ministry. He occasionally received unfair treatment from denominational leaders, but never returned evil for evil. The book quotes at length from Mr. Carson’s journals and we’re given access to how he led his family. Mr. Carson’s story motivates me greatly to authentically live the Christian faith before my wife and children. It also motivates me to want to suffer well and work vigorously for the Audience that truly matters. Mr. Carson, even to the very end of his life, was one who redeemed his time. His journals document that he was up early for intimate prayer and devotional reflection in the Word, and then sought to be fruitful in study as well as in visitation with his parishioners. He also did not neglect to pursue healthy relationships with his children (e.g., encouraging Don in his sports and his studies).
Mr. Carson died well, three years after his wife Margaret succumbed to a painful, extended season of Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Carson’s final suffering was relatively brief: a persistent cough, followed by a fever. A month later he breathed his last. You’ll have to read the book to find out why, in God’s providence, he died alone. The last two paragraphs of the book are particularly moving–but read this 148-page book straight through — regardless of your calling, you will be blessed:

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.
But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

The Conservative Resurgence at Southern Seminary

Dr. Albert Mohler walks through the story of his early years at Southern Seminary. It is an outstanding story of God’s goodness. Two free downloads:
Part 1
Part 2
(HT: JT)

The Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia

It is no secret that American intellectuals tend to look down upon evangelicals, even their would-be counterparts. [For example, movies like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, explore the closed-mindedness of many in academia toward any who would question Darwinian evolution.] In response to this perception of widespread evangelical disparagement, Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs has launched a two-year research project called The Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia. They kicked things off last fall with a major conference entitled Opening of the Evangelical Mind. The participants included George Marsden, Mark Noll, and Alvin Plantinga. While conference leaders hailed mainly from the ranks of Boston University’s faculty, others such as Os Guinness, Michael Cromartie (Ethics and Public Policy Center and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom) and John Wilson (editor of Books & Culture for Christianity Today) were included.
For a helpful overview of the research initiative, see this interview which John Steel conducted with Dr. Timothy Shah, Director of the The Emerging Evangelical Intelligentsia project. Here’s the first question:
John Seel: What is the overarching purpose of your research project?
Timothy Shah: The project was actually an idea that emerged from the fertile mind of the eminent sociologist Peter Berger. It seemed to him that the prevailing understanding of the evangelical community among intellectuals in America was cartoonish at best. He felt that there were developments in the evangelical community that were being overlooked. Berger felt there was an emergence of what he called an “evangelical intelligentsia”—a self-assured, sophisticated class of intellectuals working in various fields. So he gathered a group of people, including Mike Cromartie (Ethics & Public Policy Center), Os Guinness (author), Mark Noll (Wheaton College), John Wilson (Books & Culture), Dana Robert (Boston University), and myself and asked if there has been a sociological or historical study on the emergence of this phenomenon.
We agree that there really wasn’t one. There have been critiques of its intellectual sophistication and assessments of its scholarship. Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Robert Wuthnow’s The Restructuring of American Religion tackled this aspect. But most of this work was done in the early 1990s, and it seemed to us that there were recent developments that bode well for the emergence and impact of an evangelical intelligentsia. By intelligentsia we mean professional producers of ideas, not simply academics, but also public intellectuals—including sophisticated journalists and public commentators.
The project will do two things. Historically, we want to explore how this evangelical intelligentsia has emerged particularly in the years after World War II. And then, sociologically, we want to look at the institutions and resources that have enabled these evangelicals to have the influence that they are now having.
Read the whole thing.

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