Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Who won the debate? Remembering how God measures success


The first of three scheduled presidential debates took place last night at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Chris Wallace of Fox News moderated the event, which took place over ninety minutes in six fifteen-minute blocks. President Trump and Vice President Biden were asked about their records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.

The debate was contentious from the beginning, with each candidate contradicting the other repeatedly throughout. Fox News is calling the debate “fiery”; CNN describes it as “rancorous and chaotic.” According to USA Today, it was “one of the most chaotic, insult-laden presidential debates in modern history.”

How Richard Nixon’s suit affected the 1960 election 

Before last night, more than 70 percent of Americans said the debate wouldn’t matter much to them. Fewer people than at any time since 2000 consider debates important to deciding how they will vote.

However, televised presidential debates have been changing history since 1960, when Richard Nixon’s light gray suit blended into the background on black-and-white television and his opponent, Sen. John Kennedy, began the ascendancy that led to his eventual victory.

Ronald Reagan’s memorable response in 1984 to a question about his age (“I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience”) led to his easy reelection. President Ford’s insistence that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” may have contributed to his loss in 1976; Ronald Reagan’s clear dominance of his debate with President Carter in 1980 likely contributed to his landslide victory.

The contentious nature of last night’s debate reflects the contentious nature of our culture. Our politics are locked in a zero-sum game: abortion is legal or it is not; LGBTQ rights and sexual liberty take precedence over religious liberty or they do not. More than ever before, Republicans and Democrats both consider the other side to be “brainwashed,” “hateful,” and “racist.”

Why these are good days for compassion and love 

In the midst of such political animosity, let’s gain a larger perspective.

The world passed one million confirmed coronavirus deaths on Monday, losing 3,819 lives per day since the start of the year (by comparison: 2,977 people were killed on 9/11). It has been estimated that the US has lost two million “years of life” from early deaths due to the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning Americans to prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 this fall.

In other news, one of the largest medical cyberattacks in US history occurred last weekend. Multiple people died during a hostage situation in Oregon on Monday. A priest in China was reportedly abducted and tortured for refusing to join the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

And a Texas pastor and his wife were killed when a driver crossed into their lane and struck their vehicle head-on. Their three small children survived.

I took you through these stories to make two related points.

One: Every day’s news reminds us that ours is a broken world. Many people are suffering in ways that far transcend political divisions. And such divisiveness is nothing new in America. We are fallen people living in a fallen culture.

Two: Tragedy and hatred are opportunities for compassion and love. The more acrimonious our country becomes, the more urgent and powerful our ministry becomes.

Let’s close by focusing on this fact.

“What is the invitation of God in your fear?” 

Not in my lifetime have I seen an election this intense, with supporters on each side convinced that our nation’s future depends on their candidate’s victory. We can and must vote, pray, and speak biblical truth to the issues of the day.

But it is vital to remember that God measures success not by outcomes in our world but by obedience to his word.

When Jeremiah warned his people not to flee to Egypt (Jeremiah 42), they “did not obey the voice of the Lord” (Jeremiah 43:7) and in fact forced the prophet to go with them (v. 6). This was not the outcome he wanted, but Jeremiah’s obedience resonates still today.

In fact, fear of failure can be reframed as an opportunity for greater faith.

Writing for the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston, Curtis Almquist notes: “Fear is not a sign of the absence of God. In our fear we rather find the bidding presence of God. Our fear most often arises out of something that is bigger than we are, and we find that in and of ourselves, there isn’t enough—not enough energy, or patience, or hope, or encouragement, or provision. We come up short.

“Where is God in your fear? What is the invitation from God in your fear?”

How would you answer his questions today?

Denison Forum – Amy Coney Barrett and the People of Praise: How to respond when critics don’t understand our faith


Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett are set to begin on October 12. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the committee should clear her nomination by October 26, leaving the Republican-led Senate roughly a week to confirm Barrett before the November 3 election.

Attacks on her family and faith have already begun.

Focusing on the fact that she and her husband adopted two children from Haiti, one critic suggested without any evidence the possibility that “her kids were scooped up by ultra-religious Americans, or Americans who weren’t scrupulous intermediaries & the kids were taken when there was family in Haiti.” Judge Barrett and her husband have also been likened to “White colonizers” for adopting “Black children.”

If past is prologue, we can expect more character assassination attempts in the weeks ahead.

Many critics have focused on the fact that Judge Barrett is a member of a group called People of PraiseNewsweek headlined: “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’” Their original headline incorrectly claimed that People of Praise directly inspired the dystopian novel; editors were forced to issue a retraction and change their headline (though not the “reporting” in the article itself).

Such guilt by association was echoed by other outlets but has been soundly debunked. This controversy illustrates an important point about the state of our culture and the best way for Christians to respond.

“Glaring gaps in religious knowledge” 

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan explains that People of Praise is part of the Charismatic Renewal movement that began in the 1970s and “emphasizes personal conversion and bringing forward Christ’s teachings in the world.” Noonan notes: “Members include Protestants as well as Catholics. They have joined together intentionally, in community, to pray together, perform service, and run schools. They’re Christians living in the world.”

David French’s response is especially helpful. He quotes this New York Times description of the group in 2017: “Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty, called a covenant, to one another, and are assigned and are accountable to a personal adviser, called a ‘head’ for men and a ‘handmaid’ for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family.”

French responds: “The more I looked into People of Praise, the more I had two simultaneous thoughts: First, many millions of American Christians see echoes of their lives in Judge Barrett’s story. And second, lots of folks really don’t understand both spiritual authority and spiritual community. The concerns about Barrett reflect in part the glaring gaps in religious knowledge in elite American media.”

He’s precisely right.

“A war for worldview dominance” 

People of Praise took “handmaid” from Mary’s response to Gabriel’s announcement that she would become the mother of God’s Son: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38 KJV). (The group later changed the term to avoid confusion after The Handmaid’s Tale came out.)

French reports that the group has been lauded by Cardinal Francis George; one of its members was appointed by Pope Francis as auxiliary bishop of Portland. It has founded three schools that have won nine Department of Education Blue Ribbon awards.

The furor sparked by misunderstandings of Judge Barrett’s faith illustrates an admission New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet made to NPR’s Terry Gross, “We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.” They’re not alone.

A recent study reported that only 2 percent of America’s millennials hold a biblical worldview. Among Gen X (thirty-seven to fifty-five years of age), only 5 percent subscribe to such a worldview. Only an estimated 9 percent of adults over the age of fifty-six hold a biblical worldview.

George Barna noted that the report “suggests a nation that is at war with itself to adopt new values, lifestyles, and a new identity. In other words, there is a war for worldview dominance.”

How do we win this “war”? Let’s close by focusing on an important part of the answer.

“His kingdom shall never be destroyed” 

Across the coming weeks of divisiveness over confirmation hearings and the presidential election, my prayer for Judge Barrett and for all believers is that we will demonstrate the integrity of Daniel.

His political opponents “could find no ground for complaint or any fault” (Daniel 6:4), so they reverted to attacking him “in connection with the law of his God” (v. 5). However, the Lord redeemed Daniel’s faithfulness so miraculously that King Darius eventually proclaimed: “He is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (v. 26).

Like Daniel, we face opposition that does not understand our faith or believe in our God. They need and deserve our compassion and our witness. But they will receive neither unless we live with such integrity that they see the unmistakable imprint of Jesus on our lives.

If skeptics are going to find fault with us, let them say that we are too committed to our Lord.

Is this what the world would say of you?

Denison Forum – What a self-described liberal said about Amy Coney Barrett: Fighting for truth with courageous grace


It’s not often that we get to see history being made, but that’s what happened Saturday afternoon when President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court of the United States.

Any nomination to our nation’s highest court is historic. If confirmed, Judge Barrett will become only the 115th person in American history to sit on this court and only the fifth woman. Moreover, she will be the first person with school-age children to serve.

But what most concerns opponents of the president’s nomination is another historic fact: she would give the court a six-to-three conservative majority by replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long considered the leader of the liberal faction of the court. This could be crucial with upcoming cases on the Affordable Care Act, abortion restrictions, and perhaps the 2020 presidential election.

Much has already been said in opposition to this outcome. Today, I’d like to explain why this opposition is so heated and what it means for every evangelical in America today.

“A brilliant and conscientious lawyer” 

Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s judicial qualifications to serve on the court are beyond dispute. Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, a self-described liberal who is “devastated” over Justice Ginsburg’s death and “revolted by the hypocrisy” of considering the president’s nomination, nonetheless writes: “I want to be extremely clear. Regardless of what you or I may think of the circumstances of this nomination, Barrett is highly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.”

He explains: “I disagree with much of her judicial philosophy and expect to disagree with many, maybe even most of her future votes and opinions. Yet despite this disagreement, I know her to be a brilliant and conscientious lawyer who will analyze and decide cases in good faith, applying the jurisprudential principles to which she is committed. Those are the basic criteria for being a good justice. Barrett meets and exceeds them.”

If a self-described liberal would endorse Judge Barrett in such strong terms, why is opposition to her nomination mounting so quickly? Their problem lies not with her capacities or qualifications, but with her faith.

“The dogma lives loudly within you” 

Friday night, HBO’s Bill Maher called her a “****ing nut” and said she was “Catholic—really Catholic. I mean really, really Catholic—like speaking in tongues.” Although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was deeply influenced by her Jewish faith, such faith was acceptable to Maher and those like him since they shared her liberal worldview.

In 2018, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) confronted Brian Buescher, a nominee to the US district court in Nebraska, over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a faith-based service organization that supports traditional Catholic positions on marriage, abortion, and human sexuality. The senator asked if the nominee would terminate his membership in this organization since it had taken “a number of extreme positions” on social issues including abortion and marriage.

When Amy Coney Barrett was nominated for the Seventh Circuit Court in 2017, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) stated, “Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case . . . the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to the big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”

The senator added: “Over time, we learn to also judge what they think, and whether their thoughts enable them to be free to observe the law.”

The senator’s statement crystallized the problem I’m addressing today.

“A judge must apply the law as written” 

Following the president’s announcement Saturday, Judge Barrett stated: “I clerked for Justice Scalia more than twenty years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate. His judicial philosophy is mine, too. A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

This is known as “originalism,” the theory that “the constitutional text ought to be given the original public meaning that it would have had at the time that it became law.” Justice Ginsburg, by contrast, was a staunch advocate of the “living” Constitution theory, which holds that the meaning of the text changes over time as social attitudes change.

Originalists focus not on what “they think” (to quote Sen. Feinstein) but on what the law says. This is why Judge Barrett’s personal Catholic beliefs on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage should be irrelevant during her confirmation hearing since they have no bearing on decisions based strictly on the law as it currently exists.

The fact that her beliefs have been and will be attacked says more about her attackers than it does about her. They clearly would judge based not on the original meaning of the Constitution but according to their personal beliefs. Here we find the larger problem in our culture: we now live in a postmodern culture in which all truth, whether found in the US Constitution or claimed by your neighbor, is deemed personal and subjective.

This is why the Supreme Court has become so legislative in the postmodern era, making laws Congress did not enact when the unelected justices discovered “rights” to abortion and same-sex marriage that are clearly not in the text of the Constitution. And it is why critics of unchanging biblical morality are becoming more vociferous in their opposition with each passing day.

“Holding fast to the word of life”

We will have reason to say much more about the debate over truth as Judge Barrett’s confirmation process moves forward. For today, let’s deepen our resolve to obey and share the word of God, remembering the psalmist’s prayer that “the sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever” (Psalm 119:160).

Let’s intercede for those who consider Judge Barrett’s nomination, praying that they conduct themselves with the decorum and civility befitting their positions and that the hearings do not further fracture our divided culture. And let’s pray for Judge Barrett to manifest the character of Christ (Romans 8:29) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) as she faces intense scrutiny and global attention.

“Holding fast to the word of life” is our mission and should be our mantra (Philippians 2:16). Is it yours today?

Denison Forum – If “Love Island” is our future: The legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the urgency of moral purpose


My wife and I watched NCIS Tuesday night. When the show ended, Love Island began. We watched the first minute and were so shocked we turned the television off.

CBS describes the show this way: “Love Island is the sizzling summer series based on the international smash hit and cultural phenomenon. The matchmaking begins as a group of single ‘Islanders’ come together in a stunning villa in Las Vegas, ready to embark on a summer of dating, romance, and ultimately, relationships.”

Note the order: dating, followed by romance, which then leads to relationships. Not the reverse.

The description continues: “Every few days the Islanders pair up and those who are not coupled are at risk of being dumped from the island.” When the swimsuit-clad contestants began to “pair up” in the part of the show we saw, it was obvious what came next.

Here’s my point: CBS airs this highly sexualized show at 8:00 p.m. (CT), early enough for my grandchildren to watch.

An army of law clerks 

An army of more than a hundred former law clerks for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg met her casket at the Supreme Court yesterday. They accompanied it up the steps to the Great Hall for the private ceremony and public viewing that followed.

One of Justice Ginsburg’s greatest legacies is the degree to which she influenced the generations following her. As the Wall Street Journal notes, “Few generations of lawyers—particularly women—have looked to her as a role model as much as the students entering the profession today.”

Her iconic cultural status and tireless work on behalf of women’s equality changed the legal profession. One recent graduate credits the composition of her law-school class—nearly equal numbers of men and women—largely to Justice Ginsburg’s pioneering path.

One of the mantras of our relativistic culture is that we have no right to “force our values” on others. Ruth Bader Ginsburg clearly did not ascribe to this philosophy with respect to the values she championed. Whether we agree or disagree with those values—and many of us do both—we can learn from her culture-changing example.

In fact, we must.

“Optimism by another name” 

According to historian Maurizio Valsania, pessimists have been forecasting the demise of America since our founding. For example, in the 1800 election, one newspaper predicted these results if Thomas Jefferson were to be elected: “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will openly be taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

In a day when France and Great Britain were the global superpowers, our infant nation’s future was perilous. From then to now, voices predicting doom have seldom been in short supply.

However, as Valsania notes (following the work of political scientist Francis G. Wilson), there are two types of pessimism in America: absolute and conditional. Absolute pessimism “is the belief that the nation is a big lie, a fraud, a trick that cunning white males have been playing on women, native populations, African Americans, working classes, immigrants. As such, this nation deserves to be cursed, canceled, sunk, forgotten.”

By contrast, conditional pessimists “deliver a prophecy of disaster because they want to provide a new hopeful solution. They speak to Americans’ sense of pride, exhort them, incite them, mobilize them, increase the level of commitment to a common cause and enact a ritual whose upshot should be a deeper awareness.”

Valsania calls this type of pessimism “optimism by another name.”

“God has no grandchildren” 

It is incumbent upon Christians to follow the example of Justice Ginsburg by investing in the coming generations. In our case, the stakes are even higher, since Christianity is always one generation from extinction.

As evangelist Reinhard Bonnke noted, “God has no grandchildren. He has only children.” Scripture agrees: “To all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Note the little word with global implications, “all.”

However, we should engage our broken culture with the kind of conditional pessimism that warns of God’s judgment against sin while offering his grace to sinners. We should be famous for hope, not hate; for generosity, not guilt.

Of all people, we who have experienced the crucified love of Jesus should be especially passionate about offering such love to all.

Identifying our enemy and trusting our refuge 

Love Island and all it represents should call us to brokenhearted intercession, not self-righteous condemnation. Those who made the series and those who watch it are not the enemy—they are deceived by the enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4). And there, but for the grace of God, go we.

When we are discouraged by the sinfulness around us, this testimony can be ours: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). And we can say with the psalmist, “The Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge” (v. 22).

Then we can pray for God to use us to lead others to make him their refuge as well.

I read John Baillie’s classic A Diary of Private Prayer each morning and evening. His prayer for this morning includes this petition: “Teach me, O God, to use all the circumstances of my life today to nurture the fruits of the Spirit rather than the fruits of sin.”

Let’s make his prayer ours today.

Denison Forum – Two reasons the Supreme Court has become so divisive: The most important book I have read this year and a calling beyond compare


Sen. Mitt Romney announced yesterday his support for a process whereby the Senate could confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court before Election Day. His statement seems to ensure that a candidate could be confirmed barring missteps by the nominee during the confirmation process.

This process has become extraordinarily contentious for two reasons. One is obvious; the other is less so but even more fundamental to our nation and her future.

Why the Republicans will nominate a candidate 

Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia were known as fierce advocates for liberal and conservative philosophies, respectively. However, Justice Ginsburg was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by a vote of 96–3; Republican leaders Bob Dole and Mitch McConnell voted for her. Justice Scalia was confirmed in 1986 by a vote of 98–0; Democrat leaders Al Gore, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Joe Biden voted for him.

That was then; this is now.

When Merrick Garland was nominated by President Barack Obama for the Supreme Court following Justice Scalia’s untimely death in 2016, the Republican-led Senate refused to consider his candidacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained that not since the 1880s had the US Senate considered an election-year Supreme Court candidate put forth by a president from the opposition party.

When Justice Ginsburg died last Friday, Sen. McConnell quickly announced that the Senate would consider a candidate put forward by President Trump, since both the Senate and the White House are led by the same party. Nonetheless, many have condemned his decision as hypocrisy, given that this is once again an election year.

Critics are also claiming that there is not enough time before the November 3 election to investigate a candidate appropriately. However, of the 163 nominations in US history to the Supreme Court, more than half were formally nominated and confirmed within forty-five days. Justice Ginsburg’s process took forty-two days; Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed in thirty-three days.

To this point, it might seem that I am defending Republicans against Democratic charges of hypocrisy and unfairness. In the interest of fairness, it is plausible to suggest that if the roles were reversed, many Republicans would be saying the same of Democrats that Democrats are saying of Republicans.

Therein lies my second point.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom” 

I am reading Jonathan Sacks’s magisterial new book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. I’m halfway through it and already consider it the most important book I have read this year. The author was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the UK for more than two decades. He is the recipient of the Templeton Prize among numerous other recognitions.

A review of what I have read so far would take far longer than space permits today. However, I want to focus on one insight I find to be enormously profound and urgent.

Rabbi Sacks correctly claims that morality is essential to a healthy society and its freedoms. He quotes George Washington: “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” And Benjamin Franklin, who noted: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” A team cannot win if its members do what they want to the exclusion of what is best for the team. An orchestra cannot perform well if each member plays what they want rather than what the conductor directs.

When a society loses its collective moral compass, it outsources moral standards to the government to legislate morality. But Rabbi Sacks warns that this cannot work: “Morality cannot be outsourced because it depends on each of us. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.”

Why the Court has become so divisive 

How is this discussion relevant to the Supreme Court?

Many Americans began abandoning biblical sexual morality decades ago. Many other Americans have resisted the epidemic of sexual immorality that has resulted, along with redefinitions of marriage and gender. Our elected officials represent and reflect these deep divides and thus have been unable to enact legislation with regard to abortion, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ rights.

Those seeking such “rights” appealed to the courts. In my view (shared by many), the Supreme Court adopted a legislative rather than a judicial role when it then discovered rights to abortion, same-sex marriage, and LGBTQ advocacy that clearly are not articulated in the US Constitution.

Now that the Supreme Court has become a means of legislating morality which advocates are unable to advance through our elected governance, fights over the court’s membership and future have become more vociferous than ever before.

A calling beyond compare 

Today’s article leaves Christians with this familiar but urgent fact: “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14, my emphasis). Jesus’ definite articles show that the world has no other salt or light but God’s people. When we speak and obey God’s word in God’s Spirit for God’s glory, God uses us in ways he can use no one else.

Members of the Supreme Court come and go, but “kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). One day, he assures us, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).

In the meantime, we are God’s agents of moral change in an immoral world. This is a calling beyond compare and a purpose worthy of our lives.

Max Lucado noted, “Thanks to Christ, this earth can be the nearest you come to hell. But apart from Christ, this earth is the nearest you come to heaven.”

With whom will you share those facts today?

Denison Forum – What Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote when she was thirteen years old: The privilege of declaring and defending biblical truth


This week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first woman in history to lie in state at the US Capitol. Her casket will be placed in the National Statuary Hall on Friday, where a formal ceremony for invited guests will be conducted.

Beforehand, her body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court Wednesday and Thursday. A private ceremony attended by her fellow justices, relatives, and close friends will be held in the Great Hall of the court building at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. Her casket will then be brought outdoors for a public viewing under the Portico at the top of the front steps. Next week, her remains will be interred alongside her late husband in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

After her death last Friday, I read My Own Words, a collection of her most significant writings. The first piece in the compilation was published in her school newspaper in June 1946. She described and assessed “four great documents” that have changed the world: the Ten Commandments, the Magna Carta, the 1689 Bill of Rights in England, and the Declaration of Independence. She then affirmed the Charter of the United Nations as a fifth.

She was barely thirteen years old at the time.

Later that month, she published in the bulletin of her local Jewish Center an article which concludes: “There can be a happy world and there will be once again, when men create a strong bond towards one another, a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance. Then and only then shall we have a world built on the foundation of the Fatherhood of God and whose structure is the Brotherhood of Man.”

How many of us could have written that paragraph when we were thirteen years old?

How her husband described her 

The more I read about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the more I was impressed with her intellectual brilliance and her personal story.

When she was fourteen months old, her older sister died of meningitis at the age of six. Her mother died of cancer at forty-eight years of age, two days before Ruth’s high school graduation. Ruth was one of only nine women in her class of approximately five hundred at Harvard Law School.

Her husband once introduced her as a person of “great intelligence, fine judgment, personal warmth, unremitting hard work, and an advantageous marriage, which is just what I expected after our second date fifty-three years ago.”

The more I learned about Justice Ginsburg, the more I wished, respectfully, that she had used her amazing gifts in the service of a more biblical worldview.

The National Abortion Federation published a statement after her death calling her “a crucial defender of abortion rights.” A website devoted to LGBTQ advocacy headlined, “RBG Fought Like **** for LGBTQ+ Equality. It’s Our Turn to Fight for Her Legacy.”

Consistent with the relativistic claim that truth claims are subjective and personal, Justice Ginsburg advocated a view of the US Constitution as “living” and thus subject, as Justice Antonin Scalia derisively noted, to “whimsical change by five of nine votes on the Supreme Court.” Such “whimsical change” discovered a “right” to abortion in 1973 (predating her elevation to the court in 1993) and to same-sex marriage in 2015 (where she voted in the five-to-four majority).

Imagine the impact Justice Ginsburg could have made if she had reasoned according to God’s unchanging word on life, marriage, and truth.

Anselm’s definition of God and Abraham Lincoln’s riddle 

Schitt’s Creek received seven Emmys last Sunday night. One of the winners is a gay actor who plays a gay character. He told the audience, “Our show, at its core, is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance. We need it now more than ever before.” Time said, “Nothing captured our collective thirst for comfort, positivity, and familial togetherness more than the Schitt’s Creek sweep.”

Unbiblical morality has become more normalized by the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion than ever before in our nation’s history. In these perilous days, we can learn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg the importance of intellectual excellence and persuasion.

For example, let’s note that changing our opinions regarding God and his word changes neither God nor his word. As C. S. Lewis observed, denying the sunrise does not harm the sun.

Psalm 90 declares, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations” (v. 1). “Dwelling place” translates the Hebrew for a home and a refuge. God has been this for his people “in all generations” because “from everlasting to everlasting, you are God” (v. 2).

The most logical description of God I have found comes from Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109), who characterized him as “a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived” (Proslogion 2). God cannot change or he would at times be less than God (cf. Malachi 3:6). Nor can his word change its truthfulness, for it reflects the One who revealed it (2 Timothy 3:16).

When we change our opinions regarding the truth, we do not change the truth. President Abraham Lincoln once employed a popular riddle: “If I should call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs would it have?” His audience answered, “Five.” Lincoln replied, “No, only four; for my calling the tail a leg would not make it so.”

When the world seems very small 

Are you living by the court of human opinion or the counsels of God? If your life were to be even more aligned with your Father’s unchanging word, what would change?

Are you using your influence to encourage those you influence to live by biblical truth? Whatever it costs us to declare and defend God’s word is a small price to pay for the privilege of partnering with the King whose Son died that we might live with him in paradise forever (Luke 23:43).

St. Gregory (AD 540–604) observed that the world seems very small to a soul who contemplates the grandeur of God.

How small does the world seem to you today?

Denison Forum – The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and our unique role in God’s drama of the ages

Joan Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 15, 1933. She met Martin Ginsburg on a blind date when they were undergraduates at Cornell. The couple had a daughter, Jane, and a son, James.

She became a Supreme Court Justice in 1993, serving for twenty-seven years before her death last Friday at the age of eighty-seven.

In days to come, we will discuss some of the biblical aspects of her work on the Court, including her judicial philosophy and her views on cultural issues. For today, I’d like to focus on Justice Ginsburg’s life and influence in the context of one of the most famous chapters in Scripture.

Here we discover a life principle that she illustrates and that our Lord commends to us.

“A Prayer of Moses, the man of God” 

Psalm 90 is titled “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” It was apparently written as the Jewish people were preparing to enter Canaan together.

Moses led them from Egyptian slavery through the Red Sea and forty years in the wilderness. He gave them the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Torah as God’s word and guidance for their lives and nation. He brought them through battles, rebellions, and hardships to the edge of their future in the land God intended for them.

If we had met Moses forty years earlier, however, we would never have imagined that the last paragraph would be possible.

A fugitive from Egyptian justice, he was keeping his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness. When God appeared to him and called him to liberate his people, Moses’ reply showed his astonishment: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).

But God had a plan for his life that Moses could not imagine at the time.

“Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature” 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg received her BA from Cornell and attended Harvard Law School, where she was the first woman to serve on the editorial staff of the law review. When her husband got a job in New York, she finished her law degree at Columbia Law School, where she tied for first in her class.

After graduation, however, she struggled to find employment. One of her Columbia professors intervened on her behalf and she got a job as a law clerk from 1959 to 1961.

She became a professor of law at Rutgers (1963–72) and Columbia (1972–80). She was instrumental in launching the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1971; she served as the ACLU’s General Counsel from 1973 to 1980 and on the National Board of Directors from 1974 to 1980.

She was appointed a judgeship on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980. President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court on June 14, 1993; she was confirmed by the Senate on August 3 and took her seat on August 10. She became the second female and first Jewish female justice of the Court.

After her death, Chief Justice John Roberts stated, “Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature.” Known as a “lioness of the law,” she became a cultural icon, inspiring T-shirts, a character on Saturday Night Live, an Oscar-nominated documentary, and a major studio motion picture about her early legal career.

According to one legal scholar, her work as an attorney decades before joining the court “fundamentally changed the Supreme Court’s approach to women’s rights.” Writing for the New Yorker, Harvard professor Jill Lepore stated: “Ginsburg bore witness to, argued for, and helped to constitutionalize the most hard-fought and least-appreciated revolution in modern American history: the emancipation of women. Aside from Thurgood Marshall, no single American has so wholly advanced the cause of equality under the law.”

“Suddenly a wall becomes a gate” 

As we will discuss tomorrow, I disagreed with Justice Ginsburg on a host of biblical issues, but I’m grateful for the way she inspired generations of women to know that they can accomplish their dreams. Like Moses, you and I are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) with a unique role he intends for us in the drama he is directing through the ages.

Our part in this drama is a present-tense calling with present-tense urgency. However long we live, our years “are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). As a result, we must pray, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). Each day takes us one day closer to eternity.

It is significant that the first female Jewish Supreme Court justice died on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is seen by Jews all over the world as a day for new beginnings.

The fact that you and I are alive on this Monday morning is evidence that God has a plan and purpose for us. Each day is a new beginning in which we are invited to know our Lord and make him known with greater passion and purpose than ever before.

Then, when our last day in this world comes, Christians can know that our death is only the doorway to life. As Jesus said, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).

Henri Nouwen was right: “Death is part of a much greater and much deeper event, the fullness of which we cannot comprehend, but of which we know that it is a life-bringing event. . . . What seemed to be the end proved to be the beginning; what seemed to be a cause for fear proved to be a cause for courage; what seemed to be defeat proved to be victory; and what seemed to be the basis for despair proved to be the basis for hope. Suddenly a wall becomes a gate.”

Are you ready to step through that gate today? If not, why not?

Denison Forum – Why Candace Cameron Bure won’t return to “The View”: Two questions that can change your world


A gender reveal party sparked a wildfire that has grown to nearly ten thousand acres in California as of this morning. A woman died over the weekend while hiking amid a record-setting heatwave in the state. And at least 147 COVID-19 cases have been linked to a wedding reception in Maine.

In the midst of all the bad news, one Christian celebrity wants to focus on the good news.

Candace Cameron Bure was asked recently if she would ever reprise her role on the talk show The View. The actress chuckled and said, “No. I’m done with that chapter. I’m very grateful for that time in my life but I don’t want to talk about politics.” She explained: “Not because I don’t believe that my viewpoints and opinions are important, but I would much rather share Jesus with people. That’s really my passion.”

Notice that she doesn’t want to talk about religion or even Christianity, but about Jesus. That’s because Jesus is a real, living person, not just an idea or a worldview. He has changed her life, and she wants everyone to know that he can change their lives as well.

Over the Labor Day weekend, my wife and I watched A Rush of Hope, Greg Laurie’s marvelous and moving cinematic invitation to meet Jesus. After blending inspirational films and music about our Lord, the program then focused on the pastor as he explained who Jesus is and what he wants to do in our lives.

Laurie did what Candace Cameron Bure wants to do: share Jesus with people. In a broken world filled with disaster, disease, and despair, he is our only hope. Even more than we need a COVID-19 vaccine and solutions for the divisiveness of our day, we need to know him.

Not just about him. We need Jesus.

The danger of the Thomas theorem

Here’s our problem: secularization has convinced secular people that Jesus is merely an idea or historical figure they can ignore if they wish. Even Christians can fall for this deception, turning a personal relationship with their personal Lord into a religion about him they can observe on their terms.

Such decisions become tragically self-fulfilling.

In sociology, the Thomas theorem states: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” For example, thousands of people over the Labor Day holiday refused to take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic. Their false belief that masks and social distancing are unnecessary will lead to very real consequences for them and for the rest of us as well.

Similarly, if like a majority of American adults you believe that Jesus is only a man, you will refuse the salvation only the Son of God can offer (cf. John 14:6). As a consequence, you will spend eternity separated from God and you will miss all that his divinity can do in your life today.

And if you believe that Christianity is about attending church and being religious, you will miss all that the living Lord Jesus wants to do in and through your life today.

The privilege of “unveiled encounters” with Jesus

Yesterday, we focused on the fact that God wants to use our temporal work for eternal purposes, noting with Oswald Chambers that “a river touches places of which its source knows nothing.”

Today, let’s focus on the work before the work.

Chambers encourages us to, “Never allow anything to come between yourself and Jesus Christ, no emotion or experience; nothing must keep you from the one great sovereign Source.” When you are connected to the living Lord Jesus, “you will find that God has nourished in you mighty torrents of blessing for others.”

This is because, when we encounter Jesus, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Commenting on this astounding statement, Craig Denison notes: “When we spend time alone with God, the Holy Spirit longs to lead us into direct, tangible, and transformative encounters with the glory of God. Christian spirituality is all about direct connection with our heavenly Father and not about engaging in religious practices just because we feel we should.”

You might be thinking, But you don’t know my failures and mistakes. You don’t know all the ways I am unworthy to experience the holy God. You’re right. You are not worthy to experience God personally. Neither am I. This is one reason so many Christians settle for religion about God rather than an intimate relationship with him. It’s why we read the Bible, pray, and attend worship services, but when we’re done, we are the same as we were before we began.

Here’s the amazing good news: you do not have to be worthy to experience God, for he has made you worthy. As Craig explains, “The death of Christ has made unveiled encounters with God completely available to you whenever, wherever.”

Two questions that can change your world

All across the Gospels, whenever and wherever people chose to trust in Jesus and stepped into a personal relationship with him, he changed their lives. And he is still the same today as he was then (Hebrews 13:8).

As a result, let’s close with two questions.

First, when was the last time Jesus changed your life?

When we read the Bible with the prayer that Jesus would speak to us, he will. When we pray with the desire to speak to him and hear from him, he meets with us. When we worship for the purpose of connecting with the living Lord, we do. When we serve in submission to his calling and power, we experience him as we partner with him.

So, I’ll ask a second question: When next will Jesus change your life?

Denison Forum – An attorney visited a jeweler and received a new kidney: The power of working on purpose


Aaron Wiley and his wife Erleigh went to his favorite jeweler in May to get her diamond necklace upgraded. Their jeweler, Jennifer Pratt of JPratt Designs, helped them select a new motif for her necklace. The next day, Jennifer offered them something else: her kidney.

During their design appointment, she asked Aaron if he would like a glass of water. Erleigh said, “He can’t have any more water—he’s on dialysis and has to restrict his intake.” She had donated a kidney to her husband in 2008, but it failed in 2017 and he had been forced to live on dialysis. Aaron, a private practice attorney, continued to work, timing his travel schedule around four-hour dialysis treatments every other night.

Jennifer told a reporter that when she learned of Aaron’s plight, “I went home and told my husband, ‘I’m going to try and give Aaron my kidney.'” She added: “We were living a peaceful life, drinking wine and enjoying the pool in our backyard, and Aaron was in dialysis three or four times a week. I thought, ‘This is something I can do to fix that problem. I can make life better for him.'”

Rigorous testing showed she was a perfect match. On August 25, she gave one of her kidneys to Aaron during a four-hour transplant surgery at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, where she and the Wileys live.

She and Aaron are now recovering at home. Erleigh says, “Jennifer is proof that there truly are angels on Earth. She’s a person of action who never wavered. We’ll never be able to thank her enough.”

Partnering with our Maker 

Labor Day is the first Monday in September. According to the US Department of Labor, this day is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” Some of these achievements are obvious and immediate. Other work creates outcomes we cannot measure on this side of eternity.

Every person Aaron Wiley helps as an attorney and influences as a person will be an extension of Jennifer Pratt’s selfless gift to him. As is every person who learns their story, including you and me today.

That’s the way work works.

God put the first man in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The Hebrew word translated “work” means to cultivate and improve. The word translated “keep” means to guard and nurture. Taking these verbs together, we learn that we are called to partner with the Creator of the universe by developing and protecting his creation.

Tragically, the Fall made this calling much more difficult and painful than it was originally designed to be (Genesis 3:17–19). As a result, it is easy to view work as an unfortunate but necessary means to an end. We work to make enough money to do what we want to do with the time when we’re not working. Many work during the week so they can live on the weekends.

This is the wrong way to view work.

Two reasons to sew clothes for a baby 

Philosopher Simone Weil believed that people need to work not only for income but also for the experience of work itself. In her view, we were not created for lives of idle pleasure. It is through work that people contribute to the lives of others. Work reminds us that we are part of something greater and provides a larger purpose for our lives.

She wrote of the calling to serve others: “Anyone whose attention and love are really directed toward the reality outside the world recognizes at the same time that he is bound, both in public and private life, by the single and permanent obligation to remedy, according to his responsibilities and to the extent of his power, all the privations of soul and body which are liable to destroy or damage the earthly life of any human being whatsoever.”

In other words, we are called to work to reverse the Fall. The more difficult the work, the more urgently it is needed. The sicker the patient, the more necessary the doctor.

Remembering that our work has a larger purpose than we know gives purpose to our work. For example, Weil asked us to imagine that two women are sewing clothes for a baby. One is pregnant and thinks about the unborn child for whom she is working. The other is a convict engaged in prison labor.

Each seems to be doing the same work, “but a whole gulf of difference lies between one occupation and the other.”

“Rivers of living water” 

On this Labor Day, I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on your labor. Is your work an unfortunate but necessary means to an end? Or do you see your work as your kingdom assignment, your unique way of loving your Lord and your neighbor?

It may be that, like Jennifer Pratt, you will meet someone in the midst of your labors this week whose life you can change with your service. Or it may be that your work will touch lives you will not meet on this side of eternity.

Oswald Chambers noted that “God rarely allows a soul to see how great a blessing he is.” This is because, as Chambers observed, “A river touches places of which its source knows nothing.”

If you will stay close to your Source, the Lord Jesus, “out of [your] heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

So, here’s the vital question we should ask ourselves on behalf of everyone for whom we work, whether we know them or not: How close are we to our Source today?

Denison Forum – Was a Bible burned in Portland? Two sides of the story and the truth that will “set you free”

Was a Bible burned in Portland? Yes, but that’s only part of the story.

On August 1, the story began circulating that “left-wing activists” burned a “stack of Bibles” in front of the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, the previous night. The story was shared widely, especially among conservative media.

However, the New York Times reported yesterday that the individual who first tweeted the story “has amassed a large Twitter following by playing a right-wing American raconteur on social media.” The paper states that this individual added his own commentary, “wildly exaggerating” what the video showed.

The Times also reports that the video came from Ruptly, which it describes as a video news agency financed by the Kremlin. The Times article alleges that the video consisted of “images selected to mislead.” It reports that “a few protesters among the many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible—and possibly a second—for kindling to start a bigger fire.” And it references a local television reporter who “heard about the Bible burning and noted it with a single sentence in a lengthy report on that night’s protests,” linking to his report.

However, there seems to be more to the story. That reporter is named Danny Peterson with CBS station KOIN 6. He was present on the evening of July 31 and tweeted several videos and photos of protesters burning American flags. He also tweeted a photo of what he described as “a Bible being burned.” The fact-finding website Snopes spoke with Peterson, who confirmed with protesters that the book he saw burning was a Bible.

He told Snopes that the people burning the Bible and American flags did not self-identify with any particular group. However, these acts appeared to be political expressions and were not “coincidental objects that people burned in order to make a fire.” His eyewitness statement contradicts the Times report.

“The Holy Grail of all dollars” 

Was the Bible-burning episode in Portland exaggerated and publicized by the Russians? Was it reported factually by an eyewitness? Or both?

We live in a post-truth culture that believes seeing is believing and perception is reality. This perception fractures the foundations of the Christian worldview by making the Bible a diary of religious experience you have no right to impose on others.

For example, we’re told that our biblical conviction that life begins at conception is an opinion we have no right to force on women facing an unwanted pregnancy. Our biblical conviction that sex is intended for a man and woman in the covenant of marriage is allegedly an opinion we have no right to force on same-sex couples or heterosexuals outside of marriage. Our biblical conviction that life is sacred to natural death is supposedly an opinion we have no right to force on suffering people.

Since this belief that perception is reality is so prevalent, let’s take a moment to examine it.

NASA assured us that the “best meteor shower of the year” would be on display early yesterday morning. I was outside at 4:30 a.m. to witness the Perseid meteor shower but did not see a single meteor. Does this mean that the meteors did not exist? Or could light pollution in Dallas and/or my impatience in scanning the sky for only a few minutes have played a role in my disappointing experience?

A dealer is selling a 1794 US silver dollar believed to be the first coin of its kind minted by a newborn United States. One expert calls it “the Holy Grail of all dollars,” a coin estimated to be worth $10 million. However, because I know nothing about numismatics, it is worth only a dollar to me. Does this mean that my opinion is as valuable as that of experts in the field?

Tens of thousands of Palestinians spent the day on a Mediterranean beach recently when Israel allowed them to slip through its West Bank security barrier. One, a high school student, put her feet in the ocean for the first time in her life. Does this mean that the Mediterranean did not exist before she experienced it?

What happens when we “abide” in Jesus’ word? 

Solipsism is the philosophical claim that reality exists only as long as and to the degree that you are experiencing it. While I don’t know any true solipsists today, the conventional wisdom that perception is reality comes close.

According to an eyewitness, a Bible was burned as a political expression in Portland, regardless of what liberal or conservative media say about the event. The existence of meteors does not depend on my experience of them; coins can be valuable whether I value them or not; and the Mediterranean exists whether a Palestinian teenager has seen it or not.

Why are so many people so certain that biblical morality affirmed as objective truth by billions of people across twenty centuries can be dismissed as mere opinion?

One answer is that they have been deceived by the enemy (2 Corinthians 4:4). A second is that they may not want to submit to God and the morality he requires (cf. Genesis 3:5). But a third factor may be that they need to see more Christians whose lives reflect the transforming relevance of biblical truth (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus taught, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). We must “abide” (meno) in his word—the Greek means to “remain, persist, live.” Our attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions must align with God’s word and will.

Then, and only then, we will know the truth and be set free by it. And others will be drawn to the truth they see in us.

Will the truth “set you free” today?

Denison Forum – Joe Biden nominates Kamala Harris for VP: What your place in the world says about your view of the world

Joe Biden named California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate yesterday. If elected, she would be the nation’s first female, first Black, and first Asian American vice president.

Sen. Harris is a native of Oakland, California. Her father, who is Jamaican, taught at Stanford University. Her mother, the daughter of an Indian diplomat, was a cancer researcher. She served as attorney general for San Francisco and then the state of California before she was elected to the Senate in 2016.

She and Beau Biden, the presidential nominee’s late son, worked closely together when he was Delaware’s attorney general. She campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination and, after leaving the race in December, gave her full support to Mr. Biden.

Numerous Democratic leaders tweeted their support yesterday for Sen. Harris. By contrast, the Trump campaign responded much more critically.

Your position regarding Mr. Biden’s selection likely reflects your position regarding the election. Where we are in the world, both physically and ideologically, says a great deal about how we see the world.

If time is a line on a page, God is the page 

Yesterday, we explored the first part of 1 Peter 1:1, where the apostle addressed his letter “to those who are elect exiles.” We focused on our status as “exiles,” noting the importance of seeking the welfare of our society while we trust God with our future and seek his presence in the present.

Today, let’s think about the rest of Peter’s introductory paragraph: “of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (vv. 1b–2).

“Dispersion” (diaspora) refers to the “scattering” of Peter’s readers across modern-day Turkey. The locales he named comprise an area of nearly three hundred thousand square miles. I traveled through this part of Turkey some years ago when researching a book on the seven churches of Revelation; it is a beautiful region replete with artifacts of ancient towns and cultures.

Peter’s readers were exiled “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” a reminder that we must never forget that God never forgets us. He sees the future more clearly than we see the present. As C. S. Lewis noted, if we view time as a line on a page, God is the page.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Joe Biden nominates Kamala Harris for VP: What your place in the world says about your view of the world

Denison Forum – “Absolute chaos in downtown Chicago”: Why a “theology of exile” is empowering for Christians today

Chicago police shot and wounded a young man Sunday afternoon after he fired at them while trying to evade arrest. Though he was in his twenties, a rumor spread in the neighborhood that officers had shot a child. A mob then laid siege to Chicago’s downtown commercial district.

Stores were looted and windows were smashed. Two people were shot, thirteen police officers were injured, and more than one hundred arrests were made. The city then halted public transportation and raised the bridges that lead to downtown. Access was restricted to the area again last night.

“Absolute chaos in downtown Chicago,” one reporter wrote on Twitter.

The night before the riots in Chicago, a seventeen-year-old in Washington, DC, was killed in a shooting and twenty others were injured. Meanwhile, according to the New York Post, New York City is on track to have more shootings and victims this year than in 2019 and 2018 combined.

A radio question 

If you don’t live in Chicago, New York City, or Washington, DC, you might shrug your shoulders at today’s news with gratitude that you don’t live in these cities. But in a very real sense, you do. So do I.

What we need is a biblical approach to our broken culture that balances grief and hope.

I was interviewed by Kim Weir for her radio broadcast Sunday night. At one point, she asked me to address the discouragement so many evangelicals feel with the moral trajectory of our culture. As she knows, it is tempting to withdraw from the world, to stop caring about people who don’t seem to care about us or our biblical convictions.

But this is precisely the wrong way for believers to respond to the issues of our day.

Why we are “elect exiles” 

1 Peter 1 begins: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion” (v. 1). “Elect” (eklektois) means to be “chosen” by God. Note that Peter’s audience included Gentiles as well as Jews, so the apostle could not be referring only to Israel as the chosen people of God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37).

Rather, all who choose Christ are chosen by him. If Jesus is your Lord, you can know that you are God’s child, known personally and loved passionately by your Father.

“Exiles” (parepidemois) can be translated as “strangers” or “pilgrims.” Peter repeated his description later: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles . . .” (1 Peter 2:11). The apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), clearly described us as living in a land that is not our home.

How does this fact help us respond redemptively to our fallen culture?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to exiles in Babylon that answers our question (Jeremiah 29:1). As Jews living among pagan people who had destroyed their temple and nation, they were understandably antagonistic toward the culture in which they found themselves. The Lord spoke through his prophet to his people (v. 4), issuing three empowering imperatives.

One: Choose compassion and character, no matter how you are treated. 

God said: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (v. 7). For an example of this verse in action, see Minni Elkins’s article on a pastor who is conducting prayer walks in Chicago.

Continue reading Denison Forum – “Absolute chaos in downtown Chicago”: Why a “theology of exile” is empowering for Christians today

Denison Forum – Who should Joe Biden nominate for VP? Three biblical commitments we owe his selection


Joe Biden is expected to announce his running mate this week. Reportedly, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Susan Rice, national security advisor to President Obama, are the top contenders. Either would make history as the first Black woman to be a vice presidential candidate for a major party.

Biden is reportedly also considering Rep. Karen Bass of California, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

Four factors seem to be at work:

  • Age: Biden would be the oldest president ever elected if he wins in November, so some want him to choose a running mate who is younger and can be the future of the party.
  • Balance: some perceive Biden to be too moderate for the progressive wing of the party and want him to select a nominee that will excite these voters.
  • Demographics: some want him to select a Black candidate to gain support among Black voters.
  • Politics: as one politics professor notes, “the vice-presidential candidate can help a little or hurt a lot.” He would advise candidates, “Above all, do no harm.”

My purpose this morning is not to help Mr. Biden make his decision, but rather to discuss our reaction once he makes it.

Where are you on this spectrum? 

You are likely approaching the upcoming election in one of eight ways on a political spectrum from “right” to “left.”

  • You believe Joe Biden is wrong for America and will vote for his opponent.
  • You believe Donald Trump is right for America and will vote for him.
  • You believe Republican policies—such as the party’s positions on abortion and religious liberty—are right and will therefore vote for Donald Trump despite personal misgivings about him.
  • You support Republican policies but believe Donald Trump is so wrong for America that you cannot vote for him. (This is the “Never Trump” movement.) You will not vote at all, or you will cast your ballot for Mr. Biden or for a third candidate.
  • You support Democratic policies but believe Joe Biden is so wrong for American that you cannot vote for him. You will not vote at all, or you will cast your ballot for Mr. Trump or for a third candidate. (I am not seeing this position reflected in the present campaign, but I include it as a logical possibility.)
  • You support Democratic policies and will vote for Joe Biden despite personal misgivings about him.
  • You believe Joe Biden is right for America and will vote for him.
  • You believe Donald Trump is wrong for America and will vote for his opponent.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Who should Joe Biden nominate for VP? Three biblical commitments we owe his selection

Denison Forum – Bride’s wedding video cut short by Beirut explosion: Three keys to living in a non-linear world


Lebanese bride Israa Seblani stood in a long white gown and veil, smiling and posing for her wedding video, when the scene was shattered by a horrific roar and a shockwave nearly threw her from her feet.

The footage captured the moment on Tuesday when a massive explosion rocked Beirut, killing at least 135 people and injuring more than 5,000.

Seblani, a doctor working in the US, helped check on the injured before fleeing the area to safety. She said later, “What happened during the explosion here—there is no word to explain . . . I was shocked, I was wondering what happened, am I going to die? How am I going to die?”

“There are no words to describe the catastrophe” 

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate caused the massive fireball that sent a shockwave across the city. “There are no words to describe the catastrophe that hit Beirut,” he stated.

The Port of Beirut was destroyed. Shop and apartment windows were blown out two miles from where the explosion occurred. Losses are estimated to be between $10 billion and $15 billion.

Protests erupted last night in central Beirut. More than three hundred thousand people—more than 12 percent of the city’s population—are now homeless. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured. Images of a shattered city convey just some of the horror.

Why was the ammonium nitrate there? A vessel called the MV Rhosus entered the port at Beirut in 2013 due a lack of seaworthiness and was forbidden from sailing. The ship’s owner abandoned the vessel, and the ammonium nitrate remained in a storage facility in Beirut’s port. Authorities were supposed to dispose of it safely but failed to do so.

Many in Lebanon blame years of mismanagement and corruption by the country’s political leaders. Some speculate that Hezbollah, a radical Shiite organization that controls much of Lebanon and is pledged to the destruction of Israel, was holding on to this material to use against Israel in missiles or bombs.

What “could change life as we know it” 

The explosion in Beirut was two orders of magnitude greater than the most powerful nonnuclear weapon in the US arsenal. This fact leads to another story in the news this week.

Yesterday was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal states that Saudi Arabia may be working with China to join their number.

Some nine thousand nuclear weapons exist; as the Union of Concerned Scientists notes, “the use of even one could change life as we know it.”

A university professor who studies nuclear events warns that “the risk of a nuclear exchange—and its devastating impact on medicine and public health worldwide—has only escalated compared to previous decades.” He adds that “the developing technological sophistication among terrorist groups and the growing global availability and distribution of radioactive materials are also especially worrying.”

“The linear life is dead” 

The tragedy in Beirut and the threat of nuclear annihilation point to the unpredictable and chaotic nature of our fallen world. In Life Is in the Transitions, Bruce Feiler expresses this fact bluntly: “The linear life is dead.” By the “linear life” he means “the idea that life follows a series of carefully calibrated progressions—childhood to young adulthood to middle age to old age; dating to marriage to children to empty nest; low-level job to mid-level job to senior-level job to retirement.”

According to Feiler’s research, this idea “seems preposterously outdated.” He discovered that the average person experiences a life “disruptor” every twelve to eighteen months and a “lifequake” (one big event or multiple disruptors at the same time) three to five times in adulthood.

In addition, he reports, the average worker today will hold twelve different jobs before the age of fifty. Those with higher education can expect to change their jobs fifteen times and alter their skill set three times. The typical job now lasts four years; among those under thirty-five years of age, it drops to three.

To navigate such a chaotic, non-linear world, Feiler believes we need agency (“the belief that you can impact the world around you”), belonging (a community that surrounds and nurtures you), and a cause (“a transcendent commitment beyond yourself that makes your life worthwhile”).

Feiler’s insights are more biblical than he may know.

What should be our “greatest fear”? 

God’s word is replete with promises of agency, the assurance that your Father can use your life to impact your world even in the gravest of circumstances. From Joseph, Peter, and Paul in prison to Daniel in a lions’ den and John on Patmos, God uses us in spite of and often because of our challenges (cf. Philippians 4:6–7, 13).

Our Father also offers us belonging in a community of faith so strong and enduring that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And he has a cause for us that gives our lives eternal significance (Matthew 28:19–20).

So, admit that you live in Beirut, wherever you live. Pray for those who are suffering and find ways to share with them the hope and community of Christ. Live fully in this day, for it is the only day you have.

And remember: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter” (Francis Chan).

Will your life “really matter” today?

Denison Forum – Statue of Billy Graham to be installed in US Capitol: The anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the ultimate solution to the sin of racism

If you’ve been to the US Capitol, you’ll remember its collection of one hundred statues, two from each state of the Union. Some, like Helen Keller and Thomas Edison, are known to us all. Others are less famous nationally.

North Carolina currently honors Charles Brantley Aycock and Zebulon Baird Vance. However, the former was one of the masterminds of an 1898 race riot in which a local government composed of Black Americans was overthrown and replaced by white officials.

In his place, a life-sized statue of Billy Graham will be installed sometime next year. Rev. Graham is one of his home state’s most beloved figures, with two state highways named to honor him. One of Charlotte’s biggest tourist attractions is the library documenting his life and ministry and its grounds that include his gravesite and restored childhood home.

The statue will feature Rev. Graham as he looked in the 1960s, preaching and holding a Bible in one hand. His son, Franklin Graham, said, “My father would be very pleased that people thought of him in this way. But he would want people to give God the glory and not himself.”

Let’s consider the replacement of Aycock’s statue with that of Billy Graham as a parable for our day.

“It gives me a great deal of hope” 

Today is the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law on August 6, 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It prohibits discriminatory voting practices, enforces the voting rights of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, gives racial minorities the right to vote across the country, outlaws literacy tests, and bars state or local governments from imposing voting qualifications.

The House of Representatives recently approved a measure to rename the legislation after the late Rep. John Lewis (D–Ga.), coinciding with a ceremony honoring him in the US Capitol Rotunda. The House voted by unanimous consent to rename the bill the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

On March 7, 1965, Lewis led a civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, in support of voting rights. He was nearly beaten to death by state troopers wielding clubs and tear gas. At the time, many Black Americans were denied the right to vote in Alabama. In Dallas County, Alabama, for example, where Black Americans made up more than half of the population, just 2 percent were registered voters.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Statue of Billy Graham to be installed in US Capitol: The anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the ultimate solution to the sin of racism

Denison Forum – John MacArthur’s church violates state restrictions: Three principles to balance in serving Caesar and Christ

Pastor John MacArthur led his congregation in worship inside Grace Community Church’s 3,500-seat sanctuary in Sun Valley, California, last Sunday. They met in violation of state restrictions stating, “Places of worship must therefore discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of one hundred attendees, whichever is lower” (their emphasis).

Videos and pictures of the service showed the sanctuary filled to capacity with worshippers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. I did not see anyone wearing a mask.

MacArthur said in a video statement, “We will obey God rather than men. We’re going to be faithful to the Lord and we’re going to leave the results to him.” He added, “We will not bow to Caesar. The Lord Jesus Christ is our king.”

According to Franklin Graham, officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health have threatened MacArthur with “repercussions such as fines and even possible arrest.” Nonetheless, MacArthur states, “We will meet as the church of Jesus Christ because we’re commanded to do that. We will sing, we will pray, we will fellowship, we will proclaim the word of God far and wide.”

Commenting on churches that have chosen to defer in-person worship until January, MacArthur said, “I don’t have any way to understand that other than they don’t know what a church is and they don’t shepherd their people, but that’s sad. And you have a lot of people in Christianity, who seem to be significant leaders, who aren’t giving any strength and courage to the church. They’re not standing up and rising up and calling on Christians to be the church in the world as I said on Sunday.”

How Greg Laurie’s church responded to the restrictions 

An hour away, in Riverside, California, worshipers at Greg Laurie’s Harvest Christian Fellowship met in a white tent half the size of a football field to comply with state orders restricting indoor worship.

Volunteers scanned attendees’ foreheads with infrared thermometers before they entered the tent, where they found rows of six chairs spaced about six feet apart. Masks were required and signs directed worshipers to wave at rather than touch one another.

An official with MacArthur’s Grace to You ministry said that moving gatherings outdoors to comply with state regulations was not an option for Grace because of the size of the congregation and the California heat. He also said, “You don’t have to shut down the whole church” just because people might catch an illness.

Continue reading Denison Forum – John MacArthur’s church violates state restrictions: Three principles to balance in serving Caesar and Christ

Denison Forum – Two sisters reunite after fifty years because of COVID-19: The peril of self-reliance and the power of Spirit-dependence

Doris Crippen, age seventy-three, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and became a patient at a rehabilitation center in Nebraska. Bev Boro, a medication aide, has worked at the facility for more than two decades.

Last month, Bev was looking over her patient list when she recognized Doris’s name. She was shocked: Doris is her older sister, though the two have not seen each other in more than fifty years.

The two share a father but were born to different mothers. Doris was raised by her mother and stepfather and was twenty years old when she last saw Bev. The women knew each other’s names and spent years searching for each other without success. Then the pandemic brought them together.

Despite the suffering Doris has endured, she told a reporter, “I am the happiest person in the world. I cannot believe I finally found my sister.”

We all love stories that have such happy endings, especially during days of pandemic pain and economic suffering. But what do we do with stories that don’t end so well? With family members and friends who don’t recover from this horrible disease? With prayers that seem unanswered?

  1. T. Wright, one of the most profound theologians of our generation, notes that lament is a central part of our faith. Psalms that express anger, frustration, and pain to God are in Scripture for a reason. Some of them, as Wright observes, “come out the other side into the light. And sometimes . . . they simply don’t. They stay in the dark. And there’s a sense that God is with us in that darkness.”

Yesterday we focused on our need for the power of God to live as the people of God. Today, we’ll examine perhaps the greatest obstacle to experiencing such power in painful times.

Learning from the Old West 

I’m reading Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the facts his fascinating narrative reinforces on nearly every page is the frailty of life on the frontier.

Settlers moving west were one Indian raid or hard winter from annihilation. Starvation was an ever-present possibility. A broken leg in the wilderness could mean a horrible death from infection or wild animals.

As a result, those on the frontier knew they needed God and each other to survive. Generations facing the Great Depression and two world wars learned the same lesson.

However, our technological and medical advances have insulated us from much of what they faced. The rising secularism and moral relativism that have resulted from our cultural self-sufficiency now threaten our souls.

And our churches as well.

The problem with church-growth seminars 

I was called to my first pastorate in 1984, just as the church-growth movement was gaining momentum. The scientific study of growing churches led to identifying best practices that could be emulated in other congregations. Before long, church-growth conferences hosted by megachurches became mandatory for pastors of smaller churches. I attended at least one a year in my early years as a pastor and read the literature produced by this movement extensively.

The purpose of these resources was to identify biblical principles that all churches should understand and seek to practice. The downside, however, was the sense—however unintended by leaders in the movement—that if churches organized themselves strategically, created worship and teaching experiences that appealed to a consumeristic culture, and marketed their services and events effectively, their growth was assured.

The fact is, human words cannot save human souls. You and I cannot convict anyone of their sins or lead them to repentance. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. He will use us to the degree that we depend on him.

If our church growth strategies are submitted to the Spirit in passionate prayer and utter dependency, he will use them for God’s glory. But only then. Otherwise, we are building buildings and attracting numbers, but we are not growing God’s kingdom.

When God gives us “overcoming life” 

The coronavirus pandemic proves our mortality. The recession demonstrates the unpredictability and unreliability of wealth and the folly of self-reliance.

However, if we reframe the sufferings we face as an invitation to seek the strength of our Savior, he will redeem them by leading us into the spiritual renewal we need so desperately.

Oswald Chambers observed: “God does not give us overcoming life: he gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength.”

We can illustrate this principle physically. To get stronger, we must strain the muscles we intend to build. In the same way, when we develop the reflex of trusting our problems and pain to the power of Jesus, we experience his presence and peace in transforming ways.

“This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” 

Speaking of biblical lament, the writer of Lamentations set the standard with his deep, despairing grief over the destruction of Jerusalem. At one point he testifies of “my afflictions and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!” (Lamentations 3:19).

But his despair leads him to make this decision: “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 21–23).

What is the source of your “hope” today?

Denison Forum – Burning Bibles in Portland and two sentences every American needs to hear

Activists burned a stack of Bibles in front of the federal courthouse in Portland Friday night. A statue of Jesus was beheaded recently at a Miami church.

A recent faculty survey at Harvard University found that 79.7 percent consider themselves “very liberal” or “liberal”; 18.9 percent say they are “moderate”; only 1.46 percent call themselves “conservative” or “very conservative.”

Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe Christianity’s influence on American life is decreasing. Two-thirds say their beliefs are in conflict with mainstream American culture.

“We have no enemies, only opponents” 

And yet, this is a time when the evangelical message that we can have a personal relationship with a personal Savior is more urgently needed than ever.

Tropical Storm Isaias is on track to impact the Carolinas later today, demonstrating our finitude before the power of nature. Dr. Deborah Birx noted yesterday that the coronavirus pandemic is “extraordinarily widespread” in the US. Governmental leaders are meeting today to continue negotiations over a new coronavirus-relief package, but they cannot end the recession without an end to the pandemic that is causing it.

How can we make God’s offer of redemption in response to our repentance more available and attractive to those who need it? Consider two sentences I believe every American needs to hear.

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush spoke at the funeral of Rep. John Lewis. In his brief but emotional eulogy for one of our greatest civil rights heroes, the former president made this statement: “John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and in the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action.”

When we view those with whom we disagree as our enemies, our sentiment usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we view them as members of the same human family and citizens of the same great nation, we can engage with them in the spirit of “democracy in action.”

Ronald Reagan used to tell those who served in his administration, “Remember, we have no enemies, only opponents.”

Consider three biblical principles.

One: God can use anyone, whether we think so or not 

Joshua 24 records the Lord’s address to his people at the end of Joshua’s life. It begins with God’s reminder that “your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates . . . and they served other gods” (v. 2). And yet, he “took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many” (v. 3).

You and I might not have chosen a childless idolater to begin a nation, but God did. We might not have believed that a prisoner in Egypt would one day become prime minister, or that a fugitive would lead the Jewish people out of Egyptian slavery, or that a disciple who denied Jesus three times would preach the Pentecost sermon.

If God could redeem and use an enemy of his people like Saul of Tarsus, what could he do with someone who burns a Bible or beheads a statue of Jesus? Continue to pray for your nation and proclaim God’s word with grace, knowing that it’s always too soon to give up on God.

Two: All we have is ours by grace 

The Lord concluded his address with this statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (v. 13).

I did not earn the right to be born in America rather than North Korea. I did not earn the right to hear the gospel from Christians who knocked on my door and invited me to ride their bus to church. If you know more about your Lord than those who oppose your faith, you have an obligation to pay forward to them the grace you have received.

Three: We need the power of God to live as the people of God 

Joshua followed God’s message with his own: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (v. 15). The people promised in response: “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24).

However, after Joshua and his generation died, “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judges 2:11–12). They could not live as the people of God without the power of God.

Nor can we.

We cannot ask Americans to do what we are not doing. If we would challenge them to repent of self-reliance and live in dependence on Jesus, we must do the same. If we would call them to biblical morality, we must exhibit biblical morality.

Otherwise, our words are only words.

“As for me and my house” 

Joshua modeled the commitment God is calling us to emulate when he told the nation, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

I remember vividly my first visit to Janet’s home in Houston after we began dating in college. Her parents displayed Joshua’s declaration on a plaque in their dining room where everyone entering their home could see it. As I soon learned, they lived the truth of these words every day.

Could you display their plaque in your home today?

Denison Forum – Man spends 267 days sailing solo around the world: The compelling power of character in chaos

Bert terHart set sail from British Columbia last year in late October on a solo journey to circumnavigate the globe. He arrived back on July 18, where he was welcomed by family and friends. And where he was promptly thrust into the reality of life in a pandemic.

“In a nutshell, I’ve been sequestered completely, totally isolated from the rest of the world,” terHart said of his voyage. Astronauts on the International Space Station orbiting thirty-five miles above the earth were actually the closest humans to him for most of his journey.

He told a reporter, “When I got back, the first thing I said was, ‘What did I miss?'”

A reader’s perceptive question 

In my sixty-two years, these have easily been the most tumultuous nine months I have witnessed. In these difficult days, Rep. John Lewis’s commitment to “redemptive suffering” has taken on special meaning and urgency.

In a recent article, I stated my deep appreciation for Rep. Lewis’s courageous and sacrificial leadership in America’s ongoing quest for racial equality. However, I also noted my disagreement with him on moral issues such as same-sex marriage, religious liberty, and especially on abortion.

A reader responded to my article with this question: “Jim, I am struggling with how to balance how a man so Christlike in his courage to confront violence/racism nonviolently could arrive at these conclusions on issues that are so contrary to God’s word. Any comments would be appreciated.”

I did not have the privilege of knowing John Lewis personally, so I cannot answer this question from firsthand knowledge. But I can describe the reasoning of many who share our faith in Christ but agree with Rep. Lewis on these issues.

On abortion, I know Christians who claim that science cannot determine when life begins. As a result, they believe that decisions regarding the preborn baby are best left with the mother rather than being “imposed” by the state. (For my response, see my paper on abortion).

On same-sex marriage, some Christians claim that the Bible does not forbid loving, monogamous same-sex sexual relations. They therefore view LGBTQ people as a persecuted minority in need of the same civil rights protections as racial minorities. (For my response, see my paper on same-sex marriage).

Continue reading Denison Forum – Man spends 267 days sailing solo around the world: The compelling power of character in chaos

Denison Forum – Barbecue Baptist Church delivers meals, hope, and levity: How being “guests” liberates us to speak biblical truth

Remember when you couldn’t find toilet paper?

Chad McMillan, the pastor of students, evangelism, and missions at First Baptist Church in Navasota, Texas, had a novel idea. He put his pastor on a trailer surrounded by plexiglass and armed him with a T-shirt gun to distribute toilet paper rolls wrapped with Bible verses. It went so well, they added a pulpit, piano, and sound system to do pop-up worship services while flinging the TP.

Then McMillan started Barbecue Baptist Church. The church borrowed a catering truck from a member and traveled around the county, serving about four meals a day, four days a week, along with a short worship service. Last month, they took the ministry on the road from Navasota to Nashville, visiting first responders and medical professionals across six states in seven days.

Along with the meals, they are offering a message of hope and some humor as well. “Not to make light of what’s happening,” McMillan explained, “but to try to give people a moment of levity and joy to know that God loves them, and we love them.”

A price it’s easy for me to ask you to pay 

When you’re offering free toilet paper and barbecue, people tend to be grateful. When you’re called to share unpopular biblical truth, they can be less so.

It is especially challenging to speak such truth to people when our success depends on their affirmation.

Most of you reading this article make your living in the secular world and are therefore measured by secular means. In such a culture, it can be risky to stand up for spiritual truth. As we’ve discussed before, if you defend biblical marriage, you’ll be branded a “homophobe.” If you advocate for life from conception, you’ll be accused of participating in a “war on women.” In these days of cancel culture (for more, see my paper here), those who oppose biblical truth have unprecedented means of attacking Christians.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Barbecue Baptist Church delivers meals, hope, and levity: How being “guests” liberates us to speak biblical truth