fain | fān | archaic

fain | fān | archaic: adjective: 1. pleased or willing under the circumstances, eager. 2. obliged. adverb: gladly

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Parents are the Influential Pastors of Their Children

At Good Shepherd, we have been stressing how critical it is for church to "come home" and to be part of daily family life if our children are to follow the way of Jesus in an increasingly toxic culture for faith. This study provides more data for the importance of parents in forming their children's faith lives. 


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

More on Following Jesus in a New Context

This is a good interview with the President of Fuller Seminary on thinking about how we are the church and how we are disciples in the 21st century.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More on Christianity and Culture

More on Christianity and Culture

Rising Number Say Religion Losing InfluenceI find myself thinking a good bit these days about the relationship of the church and Christianity to American culture. It has changed and continues to change at a dramatic pace. Some believe that the church and Christianity have completely lost any standing and that in fact the culture will eventually turn against Christianity and even persecute the church. This understanding is held by the outgoing Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago who says that he expects to die comfortably in his bed, that his successor (already named) will die in prison and that his successor will die a martyr in the public square. If nothing else, you have to admit that is an attention getting way of describing the trajectory of our country and its relationship to Christianity.

Others hope for the pendulum to swing, that there will be a renewal of the relationship of Christianity with the church again having a healthy, wholesome light, salt, and leaven impact on American culture. Who knows?

What follows is a Pew report on what many Americans are thinking now: 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Freedom Ain't Free

First Constitutional Convention 

Here is an interesting video from Professor Clay Christensen of the Harvard School of Business:

Concerns about religious freedom in America are beginning to be articulated by academics and progressives as well as by conservatives.

I believe the historic record is clear and unambiguous that the framers of our constitution had no intention whatsoever in creating a purely secular republic and as a group would have agreed with the sentiments expressed in this quote by Edmund Burke (1729-1797), member of Parliament,  supporter of the American revolutionaries and opponent of the French Revolution:

Men are qualified for liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites….society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within  (that is within the individual), the more there must be without (that is from an external source). It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate disposition cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Each day’s news seems to bear out the truth of Burke’s observation. The paradox and dilemma of freedom is that if we do anything and everything that we are free to do, then we will wind up not free and slaves to one thing or another. The counter-intuitive claim of the Gospel is that true and perfect freedom comes from choosing to make ourselves servants of Jesus Christ.

The genius of the framers was in recognizing that the freedom available in a democratic republic requires a virtuous people and their survey of history and philosophy convinced them that religion better than any other force, fosters in people a desire and an intention to voluntarily restrain themselves. At the same time, they recognized from their interpretation of history, that whatever the truth claims of any religious faith, they are not well-served by theocratic government and imposition, hence no religion was to be established under the new constitution of the United States.

Freedom of religion is one of the many tensions that American civic and political life must manage for us to thrive and prosper as a free nation and people. I believe the balance is currently out of kilter, the collective result of incessant challenges and subsequent judicial rulings on the question over the last fifty years. These rulings have unintentionally relegated religion to the institutional sideline of the public-square conversation that creates American culture, mores, policies and law.

Is this why religion in America is so impotent when it comes to positively influencing the quality of national culture, manners, civility, cooperation, and behavior? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Robert's Reads: Can a scientist believe the resurrection?

The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Eliminating the Impossible: Can a Scientist believe the Resurrection?
By: John Lennox ABC Religion and Ethics 16 Apr 2014

To suppose that Christianity was born in a pre-scientific, credulous world is simply false. Christianity won its way by dint of the sheer weight of evidence that one man had risen from the dead.
To suppose that Christianity was born in a pre-scientific, credulous world is simply false. Christianity won its way by dint of the sheer weight of evidence that one man had risen from the dead. Credit: shutterstock.com
The Christian gospel is based squarely on a miracle. It was the miracle of the resurrection of Christ that started it going, and that same miracle is its central message. Indeed, the basic qualification of a Christian apostle was to be an eyewitness of the resurrection, and for centuries Christians have greeted each other at Easter time with the confident words, "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!"

C.S. Lewis expresses the situation precisely: "The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection. If they had died without making anyone else believe this 'gospel', no Gospels would ever have been written." According to the early Christians, then, without the resurrection there simply is no Christian message. Paul writes: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

The question is: can we make sense of this claim in a scientifically literate society? For the Christian gospel conflicts with the widely held notion that belief in miracles in general, and New Testament miracles in particular, arose in a primitive, pre-scientific culture where people were ignorant of the laws of nature, and readily accepted miracle stories. In the oft-quoted words of David Hume (1711-76):
"A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience as can be imagined ... It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed, in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event; otherwise the event would not merit that appellation."
Hume denies the miraculous, because miracle would go against the uniform laws of nature. And yet elsewhere he denies the uniformity of nature. He famously argues that, just because the sun has been observed to rise in the morning for thousands of years, it does not mean that we can be sure that it will rise tomorrow. This is an example of the Problem of Induction: on the basis of past experience you cannot predict the future, says Hume. But if that were true, let us see what follows.

Suppose Hume is right, and no dead man has ever risen up from the grave through the whole of earth's history so far; by his own argument he still cannot be sure that a dead man will not rise up tomorrow. That being so, he cannot rule out miracle. What has become now of Hume's insistence on the laws of nature, and its uniformity? He has destroyed the very basis on which he tries to deny the possibility of miracles.

In any case, if according to Hume we can infer no regularities, it would be impossible even to speak of laws of nature, let alone the uniformity of nature with respect to those laws. And if nature is not uniform, then using the uniformity of nature as an argument against miracles is simply absurd.
I find it astonishing that, in spite of this fundamental inconsistency, Hume's argument has been responsible to a large extent for the widespread view that we have a straightforward choice between mutually exclusive alternatives: either we believe in miracles, or we believe in the scientific understanding of the laws of nature; but not both. For instance, Richard Dawkins claims:
"The nineteenth century is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated Christians are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection. But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know that it is absurd, so they would much rather not be asked."
Not so. For there are eminent, scientists, like Professor William Phillips (Physics Nobel Prizewinner, 1998), Professor Sir John Polkinghorne FRS (Quantum Physicist, Cambridge) and, in the United States, the current Director of the National Institute of Health and former Director of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins (to name just three) who, though well aware of Hume's argument, nevertheless publicly, and without either embarrassment or any sense of irrationality or absurdity, affirm their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which they regard as the supreme evidence for the truth of the Christian worldview.

Such scientists do not feel threatened by Hume because his idea that miracles are "violations" of the laws of nature, is fallacious, as C.S. Lewis illustrated:
"If this week I put a thousand pounds in the drawer of my desk, add two thousand next week and another thousand the week thereafter, the laws of arithmetic allow me to predict that the next time I come to my drawer, I shall find four thousand pounds. But suppose when I next open the drawer, I find only one thousand pounds, what shall I conclude? That the laws of arithmetic have been broken? Certainly not! I might more reasonably conclude that some thief has broken the laws of the State and stolen three thousand pounds out of my drawer. One thing it would be ludicrous to claim is that the laws of arithmetic make it impossible to believe in the existence of such a thief or the possibility of his intervention. On the contrary, it is the normal workings of those laws that have exposed the existence and activity of the thief."
The analogy also helps point out that the scientific use of the word "law" is not the same as the legal use, where we often think of a law as constraining someone's actions. There is no sense in which the laws of arithmetic constrain or pressurise the thief in our story! Newton's Law of Gravitation tells me that if I drop an apple it will fall towards the centre of the earth. But that law does not prevent someone intervening, and catching the apple as it descends. In other words, the law predicts what will happen, provided there is no change in the conditions under which the experiment is conducted.

Thus, from the theistic perspective, the laws of nature predict what is bound to happen if God does not intervene; though, of course, it is no act of theft, if the Creator intervenes in his own creation. It is incorrect to argue that the laws of nature make it impossible for us to believe in the existence of God and the possibility of his intervention in the universe. That would be like claiming that an understanding of the laws of the internal combustion engine makes it impossible to believe that the designer of a motor-car, or one of his mechanics, could or would intervene and remove the cylinder head. Of course they could intervene. Moreover, this intervention would not destroy those laws. The very same laws, that explained why the engine worked with the cylinder head on, would now explain why it does not work with the head removed.

It is, therefore, inaccurate and misleading to say with Hume that miracles "violate" the laws of nature. We could, of course, say that it is a law of nature that human beings do not rise again from the dead by some natural mechanism. But Christians do not claim that Christ rose from the dead by such a mechanism. They claim that he rose from the dead by supernatural power. By themselves, the laws of nature cannot rule out that possibility.

When a miracle takes place, it is the laws of nature that alert us to the fact that it is a miracle. It is important to grasp that Christians do not deny the laws of nature, as Hume implies they do. It is an essential part of the Christian position to believe in the laws of nature as descriptions of those regularities and cause-effect relationships built into the universe by its Creator and according to which it normally operates. If we did not know them, we should never recognise a miracle if we saw one.

And that also puts paid to Hume's idea that accounts of miracles "are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations." You cannot recognise an abnormal event, if you do not know what is normal. This was recognised long ago.

The brilliant ancient historian Luke, a doctor trained in the medical science of his day, begins his biography of Christ by raising this very matter. He tells the story of a man, Zechariah, and of his wife, Elizabeth, who for many years had prayed for a son because she was barren. When, in his old age, an angel appeared to him and told him that his former prayers were about to be answered and that his wife would conceive and bear a son, he very politely but firmly refused to believe it. The reason he gave was that he was now old and his wife's body decrepit. For him and his wife to have a child at this stage would run counter to all that he knew of the laws of nature. The interesting thing about him is this: he was no atheist; he was a priest who believed in God, in the existence of angels, and in the value of prayer. But if the promised fulfillment of his prayer was going to involve a reversal of the laws of nature, he was not prepared to believe it.

Luke here makes it obvious that the early Christians were not a credulous bunch, unaware of the laws of nature, and therefore prepared to believe any miraculous story, however absurd. They felt the difficulty in believing the story of such a miracle, just like anyone would today. If in the end they believed, it was because they were forced to by the sheer weight of the direct evidence presented to them, not through their ignorance of nature's laws.

To suppose, then, that Christianity was born in a pre-scientific, credulous and ignorant world is simply false to the facts. The ancient world knew the law of nature as well as we do, that dead bodies do not get up out of graves. Christianity won its way by dint of the sheer weight of evidence that one man had actually risen from the dead.

Most of our evidence comes from the New Testament and it may surprise many that, in comparison with many other ancient works of literature, the New Testament is by far the best-attested document from the ancient world. Sir Frederic Kenyon, who was Director of the British Museum and a leading authority on ancient manuscripts, wrote:
"The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world."

The empty tomb

It is the constant and unvarying testimony of the Gospels that the tomb was found to be empty when the Christian women came early in the morning of the first day of the week, to complete the task of encasing the body of Jesus in spices. And when the apostles went to investigate the women's report, they likewise found the tomb empty.

If the tomb had not been empty, the authorities would have had no difficulty in producing the body of Jesus, demonstrating conclusively that no resurrection had happened. If they had had the slightest evidence that the tomb was empty because the disciples had removed the body, they had the authority and the forces to hunt down the disciples, arrest them and charge them with tomb-robbing, which at the time was a very serious offence.

Tomb-robbers would not have taken the corpse, and left the valuable linen and spices. And even if, for some unfathomable reason, they had wanted only the corpse, they would have had no reason whatever for wrapping all the cloths round again as if they were still round a body, except, perhaps, to give the impression that the tomb had not been disturbed. But if they wanted to give that impression, they would surely have done better to roll the stone back into its place! But here we meet another matter: how could any tomb-robber have removed the stone when the guard was there? The noise would have been considerable. The rolled-away stone was a complete give-away that the tomb had been disturbed.

But it was the way in which the grave-cloths were lying that convinced St. John of a miracle. So, could someone have taken the body and rewound the cloths deliberately to give the impression that a miracle had happened? But who could this have been? It was morally impossible for the followers of Christ to have done it. It was also psychologically impossible, since they were not expecting a resurrection. And it was practically impossible, because of the guards. It would be absurd to think of the authorities doing anything remotely suggestive of a resurrection. After all, it was they who had ensured that the tomb was guarded, to avoid anything like that!

The early Christians did not simply assert that the tomb was empty. Far more important for them was the fact that subsequently they had met the risen Christ, intermittently over a period of forty days. According to Paul's list in 1 Corinthians 15, there were originally well over five hundred people who at different times saw the risen Christ during that period.

But it is not only the number of eyewitnesses who actually saw the risen Christ that is significant. It is also the widely divergent character of those eyewitnesses, and the different places and situations in which Christ appeared to them. For instance, some were in a group of eleven in a room, one was by herself in a garden, a group of fishermen were by the sea, two were travelling along a road, others on a mountain. It is this variety of character and place that refutes the so-called hallucination theories.

Psychological medicine itself witnesses against these explanations. Hallucinations usually occur to people of a certain temperament, with a vivid imagination. But Matthew was a hard-headed, shrewd tax-collector; Peter and some of the others, tough fishermen; Thomas, a born sceptic; and so on. They were not the sort of people one normally associates with susceptibility to hallucinations.

Again, hallucinations tend to be of expected events. But none of the disciples was expecting to meet Jesus again. The expectation of Jesus's resurrection was not in their minds at all. Instead, there was fear, doubt and uncertainty - exactly the wrong psychological preconditions for a hallucination.

Hallucinations usually recur over a relatively long period, either increasing or decreasing. But the appearances of Christ occurred frequently, over a period of forty days, and then abruptly ceased. Hallucinations, moreover, do not occur to groups and yet Paul claims 500 people saw Jesus at once.

In any case, hallucination theories are severely limited in their explanatory scope: they only attempt to explain the appearances. They clearly do not account for the empty tomb - no matter how many hallucinations the disciples had, they could never have preached the resurrection in Jerusalem, if the nearby tomb had not been empty.

To anyone who knows anything about the ancient laws regarding legal testimony, it is very striking that the first reports mentioned in the Gospels of appearances of the Risen Christ were made by women. In first-century Jewish culture, women were not normally considered to be competent witnesses. At that time, therefore, anyone who wanted to invent a resurrection story would never have thought of commencing it in this way. The only value of including such a story would be if it were both true and easy to verify. Its very inclusion, therefore, is a clear mark of historical authenticity.
The evidence of the empty tomb, the character of the witnesses, the explosion of Christianity out of Judaism and the testimony of millions today are inexplicable without the resurrection. As Holmes said to Watson: "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, a Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford and an Honorary Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is the author of several books, including Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target and God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Robert's Reads: Why Fund-Raising is Fun

I have often heard it said that you can't outgive God. I have found this to be true in my own giving, but now it appears that there is verifiable evidence to back it up! 

Thanks to Bob Nesbit for passing this along. Read on! 

Why Fund-Raising Is Fun
Via: The New York Times

ONCE, I asked a class full of aspiring social entrepreneurs — all with business plans and ambitions to start nonprofits — how many of them were looking forward to fund-raising. Exactly zero hands went up. The consensus was that raising money might be a necessary evil, but it was a distraction from a social enterprise’s “real” work.

To their disappointment, I told them that today, soliciting donations is often the single biggest part of a nonprofit leader’s job. For example, I lead a research institution in Washington. Private philanthropy makes up our entire budget, so I travel every week, and the majority of my time is spent fund-raising.

Sound like fun? Actually, it is. Here’s why.

In 2003, while working on a book about charitable giving, I stumbled across a strange pattern in my data. Paradoxically, I was finding that donors ended up with more income after making their gifts. This was more than correlation; I found solid evidence that giving stimulated prosperity. I viewed my results as implausible, though, and filed them away. After all, data patterns never “prove” anything, they simply provide evidence for or against a hypothesis.

But when I mentioned my weird findings to a colleague, he told me that they were fairly unsurprising. Psychologists, I learned, have long found that donating and volunteering bring a host of benefits to those who give. In one typical study, researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia confirmed that, in terms of quantifying “happiness,” spending money on oneself barely moves the needle, but spending on others causes a significant increase.

Why? Charitable giving improves what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” one’s belief that one is capable of handling a situation and bringing about a desired outcome. When people give their time or money to a cause they believe in, they become problem solvers. Problem solvers are happier than bystanders and victims of circumstance.

If charity raises well-being, there is no obvious reason it would not also indirectly stimulate material prosperity as people improve their lives. By the time I published my results in an academic journal and book about philanthropy, the only real question was why I hadn’t intuitively understood this all along.

But studying the link between service to others and happiness changed more than just my research; the evidence led me and my wife to reconsider our personal behavior. We raised our financial support for the causes we cared about, increased our volunteering, and — proving that the path to the human heart can run through 100 megabytes of social science data — adopted our youngest child. These things have enriched our family beyond imagination, just as the research promised.
I also began working with nonprofit leaders, helping them to understand the transcendental benefit to donors and recipients alike. And after a few years I finally made the leap to fund-raising myself, leaving academia to lead my current institution, an organization with a mission to which I was morally committed: improving policy and defending American free enterprise.

In this role, I have found that the real magic of fund-raising goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere convictions. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society.

Of course, not everyone shares the principles that motivate my institution’s scholars and supporters. But with millions of 501(c)(3)s and houses of worship nationwide, no one needs to wait on the sidelines and hope that politicians will marshal government power in service of their priorities. By investing their own time, talent and treasure, every American can bring his or her core principles to life. That can mean promoting literacy, conserving nature, saving souls or something else entirely. 

None of this is exactly revolutionary; after all, Jesus himself taught his followers, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Poets and philosophers have often made this point. One example I love is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lyrical test of success in life. In the poem “In the Churchyard at Cambridge,” he contemplates the grave of an unknown woman:

Was she a lady of high degree,
So much in love with the vanity
And foolish pomp of this world of ours?
Or was it Christian charity,
And lowliness and humility,
The richest and rarest of all dowers?

If the lady passed the test and gave of herself to others, who knows? She might have had a fund-raiser to thank.

Nonprofit leaders serve others, and help build causes. But just as important, by providing opportunities to give, they empower us to breathe more meaning into our lives. 

Via: The New York Times

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Robert's Reads: Ways Faith Is Kept, or Lost, Over Generations

Must read.. especially for Dads!

Book Explores Ways Faith Is Kept, or Lost, Over Generations

Vern L. Bengtson came from a religious family — to put it mildly.

“My dad was a minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church,” Professor Bengtson, who teaches social work at the University of Southern California, said from his home in Santa Barbara this week. “He had nine brothers and sisters, and all were staunch Evangelical Covenant Church people. I had 33 cousins on my father’s side, all staunch Evangelical Covenant Church people.”

In 1963, after college at a school sponsored by his historically Swedish denomination, Professor Bengtson entered graduate school at the University of Chicago. There, he was an oddity in two ways. All of a sudden, most of his peers were irreligious. And while he happily took cues from his parents, his classmates didn’t trust anyone over 30.
To a graduate student, this state of being the odd man out suggested a research question: Why do some young people adopt their families’ views, while others, especially in the ’60s, strike out on their own?

In 1969, shortly after being hired at U.S.C., Professor Bengtson began a study of 350 families, whom he interviewed regularly until 2008. In some families, he interviewed four generations. In all, his respondents were born in years spanning 1878 to 1989.
Professor Bengtson’s project yielded more than 200 articles, many focused on aging and intergenerational conflict, topics on which he has become an expert. Now, at last, he is ready to draw some conclusions about religion, the issue that got him started.

In “Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations” (Oxford; $29.95), written with two colleagues, Professor Bengtson argues that families do a pretty good job of passing religious faith to their children. More interesting, for those who fret about children leaving the fold — that is, clergy members and parents everywhere — Professor Bengtson has theories about why some children keep the faith while others leave.

According to Professor Bengtson, parents have as much hold as ever on children’s souls. “Parent-youth similarity in religiosity has not declined over 35 years,” from 1970 to 2005, he writes. Denominational loyalty is down — kids feel free to ditch the Baptists for the Presbyterians — but younger generations are no less likely to inherit core beliefs, like biblical literalism, the importance of church attendance or, for that matter, atheism.
As to why some children follow their parents, spiritually speaking, Professor Bengtson’s research confirmed some common-sense assumptions. For example, it helps if parents model religiosity: if you talk about church but never go, children sense hypocrisy. And intermarriage doesn’t help. If you’re Jewish (or Mormon, Catholic, etc.), and want your child to share your religion, it helps to marry someone of the same faith.

But Professor Bengtson’s major conclusion is that family bonds matter. Displays of parental piety, like “teaching the right beliefs and practices” and “keeping strictly to the law,” can be for naught if the children don’t feel close to the parents. “Without emotional bonding,” these other factors are “not sufficient for transmission,” he writes.

Professor Bengtson also found that one parent matters more than the other — and it’s Dad. “But what is really interesting,” he writes, “is that, for religious transmission, having a close bond with one’s father matters even more than a close relationship with one’s mother.”

There are some interesting exceptions. Transmission of Judaism, for example, depends more on a close bond with one’s mother than with one’s father — perhaps because Judaism has traditionally held that the faith is inherited from the mother. Among Jews with a close maternal bond, 90 percent considered themselves Jewish, versus only 60 percent of those who weren’t close to their mothers.

In general, however, “fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad.” Over and over in interviews, Professor Bengtson said, he found that “a father who is an exemplar, a pillar of the church, but doesn’t provide warmth and affirmation to his kid does not have kids who follow him in his faith.”

Professor Bengtson’s own family hewed to the rule of the nurturing dad. “I had this great big jovial grandfather, who just exuded warmth,” Professor Bengtson said. “All of his 10 kids followed him in the faith. And it was true of his father, going back to Sweden, and it was true of my father. There’s this pattern of paternal warmth that seems to characterize the Bengtson family. And that may be why there are so many evangelical Bengtsons.”
Professor Bengtson also found that grandparents have a strong influence on children’s religious development, and that freedom to leave can encourage children to stay. “Allowing children religious choice can encourage religious continuity,” he writes.
Then there is the conclusion that the professor now exemplifies himself: “Don’t give up on the Prodigals” — those who drift away — “because many do return.”

In graduate school and after, Professor Bengtson abandoned his faith. His despairing mother once wrote to him, “Vern, if I have to choose between you and my Jesus, I will choose Jesus.” Recently, however, too late for his mother to know, Professor Bengtson has found his way back to church.

“By golly, I had this religious experience when I was about 67 years old,” said Professor Bengtson, now 72. Easter morning of 2009, he woke up and decided to check out “this Gothic-looking church down on State Street” in Santa Barbara. He entered church a bit late, after the service had started.

“The organ was roaring,” he recalled, “the congregation was singing, the pillars were going up to heaven, the light was sifting down through the stained-glass windows. I was just overwhelmed. I found my way to a pew and started crying. ... I haven’t been the same since.”

Professor Bengtson now sings in the church choir. His return — albeit to a progressive Episcopal church — has, he says, made him a better scholar. He now believes that some of his survey data are, while necessary, also “trivial — questionnaires asking, ‘Do you agree or disagree that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God?’ ”

Parents aren’t just trying to pass on to their children a checklist of beliefs, he said. Better than ever, he grasps “the kind of passion these parents had for wanting their children to achieve the peace and the joy and the hope and the inspiration they had found for themselves.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Robert's Reads: Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury Unite to Comat Slavery and human Trafficking

Good news!

Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury unite to combat slavery and human trafficking
By Archbishop Cranmer on his blog.


Some ecumenical pursuits are laughably delusory; others are supremely vital. The fight against modern slavery and human trafficking is of the latter category, and ought to unite Christians across all denominations.

It is therefore a cause of great joy that the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Pope Francis have given their backing to a ground-breaking ecumenical initiative to combat this evil. The agreement to help eradicate an injustice affecting up to 29 million people was co-signed today by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Representative to the Holy See, Archbishop Sir David Moxon, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Bishop Sanchez Sorondo and Mr Andrew Forrest, the founder of the large international philanthropic anti-slavery organisation from Perth, Western Australia 'Walk Free'.

In a statement the Archbishop of Canterbury said:
“Anglicans and Roman Catholics have, since 1966, been in serious and prayerful dialogue with each other, to seek the unity that Christ wills for his church in the world. Jesus has said 'May they all be one', and this imperative has inspired and sustained the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission, and the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, for many years as an act of faith.

“We are now being challenged in these days to find more profound ways of putting our ministry and mission where our faith is; and being called into a deeper unity on the side of the poor and in the cause of the justice and righteousness of God. For this reason, the new Global Freedom Network is being created to join the struggle against modern slavery and human trafficking from a faith base, so that we might witness to God's compassion and act for the benefit of those who are abducted, enslaved and abused in this terrible crime.

“Many are already engaged in the struggle and we join them with much to learn as well as much to contribute. All are called to join common cause to end this crime and suffering. The more we share the pain and oppression of the poor and suffering in the name of God, the more God will draw us closer to each other, because we will need each other’s strength and support to make the kind of difference that is needed. We are struggling against evil in secret places and in deeply entrenched networks of malice and cruelty. No one of us is strong enough, but together we are ready for the challenge God is placing before us today, and we know that he will strengthen us so that all people may live in freedom and dignity.”
Salvation is not only concerned with eschatology and eternity: it can be realised in a believer's 'freedom' and redemption here on earth, as the first-fruits of what we anticipate and hope for. The freedom we have in Christ includes the removal of psychological barriers - liberation from "the bondage of the will". St Paul often contrasts the gospel of liberty with the law that binds, because Christ came to deliver us from the incapacity to obey. The law simply reinforces our impotence, rendering us nervous paralytics.

To be free we must be able to respond as we wish. Those who are bound in will or restricted in action may be free in spirit, but they cannot be free to participate in the fullness of the created order: in Christ, we are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters. This means not only that we can do now what we could not do before, but that we may do now what we were not permitted to do before.

This effort by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope is founded upon a clear scriptural principle - freedom for captives. These modern-day slaves will be liberated from the living death of isolation, depression, shame, abuse and hatred. They will given a new life in creation and a worthy place in community. They are walking side-by-side in the footsteps of William Wilberforce and giving meaning to the term 'humanity'.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Robert's Reads: Nine Things You Should Know About Marriage

Here are some interesting facts about marriage in our culture today. I still work on the assumption that facts are useful things in constructing a point of view!

9 Things You Should Know About Marriage in America
By Joe Carter on the Gospel Coalition Blog

This week Americans celebrate National Marriage Week, a collaborative campaign to strengthen individual marriages, reduce the divorce rate, and build a stronger marriage culture. Here are nine things you should know about marriage in America:

1. The median ages of people when they first marry (as of 2010) was 28.9 for men and 2010 for 26.9 women.
2. The marriage rate in the U.S. is currently 31.01, the lowest it's been in over a century, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Center at Bowling Green State University. That equals roughly 31 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women. In 1920, the marriage rate reached its peak at 92.3. Since 1970, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent. In real terms, the total number of marriages fell from 2.45 million in 1990 to 2.11 million in 2010.

3. Most people now live together before they marry for the first time. An even higher percentage of divorced persons who subsequently remarry live together first. And a growing number of persons, both young and old, are living together with no plans to marry eventually.

4. Unmarried cohabitation—the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household—is particularly common among the young. It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women age 25 to 39 are currently living with a partner and an additional quarter have lived with a partner at some time in the past. More than 60 percent of first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared to virtually none fifty years ago.
5. The average age for childbearing is now younger than the average age for marriage. By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married. Today, only 23 percent of all unmarried births are to teenagers. Sixty percent are to women in their twenties. Today, the average woman bearing a child outside of marriage is a twenty-something white woman with a high school degree.

6. Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life. No longer the foundation on which young adults build their prospects for future prosperity and happiness, marriage now comes only after they have moved toward financial and psychological independence.

7. The national divorce rate is almost 50 percent of all marriages. But for many people, the actual chances of divorce are far below 50/50. The "close to 50 percent" divorce rate refers to the percentage of marriages entered into during a particular year that are projected to end in divorce or separation before one spouse dies. Such projections assume that the divorce and death rates occurring that year will continue indefinitely into the future—an assumption that is useful more as an indicator of the instability of marriages in the recent past than as a predictor of future events.

8. The presence of children in America has declined significantly since 1960, as measured by fertility rates and the percentage of households with children. Other indicators suggest that this decline has reduced the child-centeredness of our nation and contributed to the weakening of the institution of marriage. It is estimated that in the mid-1800s more than 75 percent of all households contained children under the age of 18. One hundred years later, in 1960, this number had dropped to slightly less than half of all households. In 2011, just five decades later, only 32 percent of households included children. This obviously means that adults are less likely to be living with children, that neighborhoods are less likely to contain children, and that children are less likely to be a consideration in daily life.

9. If a person has been to college, has an annual income over $50,000, is religious, comes from from an intact family, and marries after age 25 without having a baby first, their chances of divorce are very low. Here are some percentage-point decreases in the risk of divorce or separation during the first ten years of marriage, according to various personal and social factors: Annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000) (-30); Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage) (-24); Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18) (-24); Family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents) (-14); Religious affiliation (vs. none) (-14); College (vs. high school dropout) (-25).