Category Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – Is popularity the new prosperity gospel? Millennials, abortion, and the power of God’s word

 

s popularity the new prosperity gospel for millennials?

The answer is yes, according to Relevant magazine.

The Great Recession and high student debt have driven many millennials to abandon hope of financial wealth. But the ubiquity of mobile phones and instant access to social media are luring them to redefine success as popularity. Viral videos and massive numbers of followers are how many measure significance.

Yesterday we discussed the growing trend of celebrity endorsements for abortion. Connecting the dots: celebrities are popular; popularity attracts millennials; and millennials are the most likely demographic to consider an abortion.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 60 percent of women who choose abortion are in their twenties. If having an unplanned child impedes their ambitions, many are making the same decision Alyssa Milano famously chose: career over children.

For those of us who believe God’s word on the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, choosing career, finances, popularity, or anything else over a child is abhorrent. But many in our culture obviously do not share our biblical convictions.

What non-biblical reasons for choosing life can we offer our millennial children and grandchildren (and the larger culture as well)? Let’s consider three facts.

One: Abortion is dangerous for the mother and deadly for the child.

Last March, a woman went in for an abortion in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but was sent to a hospital for emergency surgery and a hysterectomy after the abortion was botched. According to the CDC, 437 women died from abortion complications between 1973 and 2014.

The American Pregnancy Association warns that women who undergo an abortion may experience “abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and spotting and bleeding.” The website then lists what it calls “serious complications,” including “heavy or persistent bleeding, infection or sepsis, damage to the cervix, scarring of the uterine lining, perforation of the uterus, damage to other organs, and death.”

And abortion has ended the lives of nearly sixty-two million babies in the US since 1973. That’s more than the population of twenty-six American states, combined.

Two: Science increasingly shows that a fetus is a child.

Fox News reports that at least forty babies were born alive after botched abortions across three states since 2016. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 143 cases between 2003 and 2014 of infants born after attempted abortions. These numbers are likely very low since many states do not report such births.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Is popularity the new prosperity gospel? Millennials, abortion, and the power of God’s word

Denison Forum – Alyssa Milano’s abortion announcement: Two points I’ve not made before on this issue

 

Alyssa Milano has made headlines often in recent years for her advocacy of abortion, the #MeToo movement, and various political candidates. Now she has revealed on her podcast that she had two abortions in 1993.

She says she was in a serious relationship and was using birth control both times she became pregnant. She looks back on her decisions without regret: “I would not have my children . . . I would not have my career. I would not have the ability or platform I use to fight against oppression with all my heart. I would never have met my amazing husband.”

In short, Milano knew “she was not ready to be a parent” as she pursued her career. Of course, the Bible says that she became a parent the moment she became pregnant (cf. Psalm 139:13). And that her career came at the cost of her first two children.

Why is George Clooney selling coffee makers?

Our culture has forced me to write often on abortion over the years. (For my in-depth article on the subject, see my “Abortion and the mercy of God.”) Today’s news, however, leads me to make two points I’ve not discussed with you in the past.

First, pro-life supporters must beware the rising tide of celebrity abortion endorsements.

It is obvious in our culture that celebrity sells. Michael Jordan sold basketball shoes and underwear; George Clooney is making TV ads for a coffee maker. There was a day when voice-overs on TV ads were anonymous; today, you can identify nearly every movie star voicing every commercial.

This strategy is called “celebrity branding” and has roots going back to royal endorsements for pottery and chinaware in the 1760s. Advertisers hope the popularity wielded by celebrities will transfer to their product or idea.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Alyssa Milano’s abortion announcement: Two points I’ve not made before on this issue

Denison Forum – Can hard work buy happiness? New study offers surprising answers

 

Daniel Markovits is a professor at Yale Law School with previous study at the London School of Economics, Oxford, Harvard, and Yale Law School. In The Atlantic, he pulls back the curtain on one of America’s most destructive myths: the harder you work, the happier you’ll be.

The dictionary defines meritocracy as “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” According to Markovits, this system has become highly restrictive in America, producing wealthy parents who produce privileged children.

For instance, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale collectively enroll more students from households in the top 1 percent of income distribution than from households in the bottom 60 percent. Markovits cites a study indicating that only one out of every one hundred children born into the poorest fifth of households will join the top 5 percent. As a sign of the eroding middle class, fewer than one in fifty born into the middle fifth will do the same.

But meritocracy is not only leaving behind those whose family income does not qualify them to participate. In Markovits’ words, it also “devours the elite.”

Are you suffering from “time famine”?

Wealthy students demonstrate higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than poor students do. They suffer depression and anxiety at rates as much as triple those of their age peers. In a recent study of Silicon Valley High School students, 54 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

Their parents are suffering as well. In 1962, the American Bar Association declared that there are “approximately 1,300 fee-earning hours per year” available to the typical lawyer. By 2000, the number had risen to 2,400 billable hours. According to Markovits, billing 2,400 hours could require working from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. six days a week, every day of the year, without vacation or sick days.

It is unsurprising that roughly two-thirds of elite workers say they would decline a promotion if the new job demanded yet more of their energy. Most Americans who work more than sixty hours a week report that they would prefer twenty-five fewer hours. They complain about the “time famine” resulting from overwork that interferes with their marriages, families, and health.

Markovits concludes: “It is simply not possible to get rich off your own human capital without exploiting yourself and impoverishing your inner life, and meritocrats who hope to have their cake and eat it too deceive themselves.”

Elites and hillbillies

Markovits’ solution is to make education more inclusive and to favor goods and services that can be produced by workers without elite training and degrees. In this way, “The elite can reclaim its leisure in exchange for a reduction of income and status that it can easily afford. At the same time, the middle class can regain its income and status and reclaim the center of American life.”

These are undoubtedly positive steps. But Markovits’ fascinating essay leaves out a component that I believe is foundational to the kind of flourishing he wants for all Americans.

Consider a book written from the other end of the spectrum. Hillbilly Elegy is J. D. Vance’s story of his family’s roots in Kentucky and Ohio. In many ways, it makes Markovits’ case: many in rural, impoverished America see no future for themselves and have given up hope.

With one exception. Vance reconnected with his biological father after years of family chaos and a “revolving door of father figures.” The reason: his father had become a Christian.

Vance notes: “In this, Dad embodied a phenomenon social scientists have observed for decades: Religious folks are much happier. Regular church attendees commit fewer crimes, are in better health, live longer, make more money, drop out of high school less frequently, and finish college more frequently than those who don’t attend church at all.”

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Could it be that an obsession with material success “devours the elite” not just because of the time demands it makes and stress it produces but also because it is the wrong answer to life’s most fundamental question? Is it possible that creatures need a relationship with our Creator?

Jesus was clear: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is they who “wait for the Lord” who “shall renew their strength” and “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).

Would Jesus say you are abiding in him? Would the Lord agree that you are waiting on him?

Paul described the source of his ministry: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). As we work, God works. When we give our best, God gives his best.

But when we depend on ourselves more than we submit to and rely upon him, we miss all that Almighty God can do in and through us. That’s why I have warned often over the years that self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide.

David’s prayer is essential for us all: “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Do you want the impossible?

If you’re part of the meritocracy or aspire to be, take heed. No matter how much you can do, don’t settle for what you can do.

John Piper: “I don’t know how people pray who don’t believe in the sovereignty of God to do the impossible. Because all the things I want to happen are impossible. If they’re possible I’ll do them.”

Do you want the “impossible” today?

 

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Denison Forum – The threat of great white sharks and contact lenses that zoom: God’s call to excellence

 

“Any person could be attacked at any minute,” said a surfer who spotted a great white shark off Cape Cod. Researchers have identified at least three hundred of the huge predators in the popular area.

Nine people were injured last night in Pennsylvania when lightning struck a tree, causing it to fall on their tent. Fleas carrying the plague have infested prairie dogs near Denver, threatening humans and prompting officials to close parts of a wildlife refuge. Overseas, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a bombing at a wedding that killed sixty-three people and wounded 182 others in Kabul, Afghanistan.

With all the bad news in the news, let’s focus today on some good news.

Scientists have taken the next step in developing contact lenses that zoom when we blink. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gave an award to a Bluetooth-connected water bottle that plays music, takes and receives phone calls, and offers caller ID.

CES also recognized a countertop dishwasher that requires no plumbing connections; you load your dishes, add a gallon of water, and turn it on. And the event celebrated a laptop computer with a keyboard that transforms into a writing pad.

Scientific advances are changing our lives daily. For instance, thousands of people have RFID devices implanted in their bodies so they can activate doors and computerized locks. A Tesla owner recently implanted in her arm the RFID chip that starts her car.

Earbuds now offer real-time language translation. Exoskeletons are being tested that enable soldiers to hike long distances without fatigue. A man who is colorblind can detect color through an antenna grafted onto his skull.

What a rocket scientist said about God

Each day’s news seems to report new ways science is improving our lives. By contrast, religious news these days is tragically focused on clergy abuse scandals, hateful rhetoric, and radical ideologies.

It’s unsurprising that Americans trust scientists far more than they trust religious leaders today. But what if deciding between science and religion is a false choice?

Wernher von Braun, the NASA scientist who designed the Saturn rockets: “I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – The threat of great white sharks and contact lenses that zoom: God’s call to excellence

Denison Forum – 📉 Recession worries and the ‘yield curve inversion’: 📈 How and why to trust the sovereignty of God

 

The stock market fell more than eight hundred points Wednesday, the largest one-day drop of the year. It rebounded somewhat yesterday to finish up nearly one hundred points, but concerns about the global economy persist.

The decline Wednesday was precipitated by a “yield curve inversion” that made headlines when it occurred for the first time since 2007. What is this? Why does it matter?

Is a recession coming?

The Washington Post explains that an “inverted yield curve” occurs “when the interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than the interest rates paid by long-term bonds.” In other words, “people are so worried about the near-term future that they are piling into safer long-term investments.”

According to the Post, “the yield curve has inverted before every US recession since 1955, suggesting to some investors that an economic downturn is coming.” The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has also stated that the yield curve “has a strikingly accurate record for forecasting recessions.”

However, there are also strong reasons to believe the economy will not go into a recession. The labor market is strong—the economy added 164,000 jobs in July as employers say this is a “golden age” to get a job or to ask for better pay and benefits.

One expert stated as recently as July 26, “I don’t see any warning signs right now. It’s hard to be against the economy when the consumer is in such good shape.” Another expert added, “I wouldn’t forecast a recession just on the yield curve. I would want to see other signals that point to that, but we’re not seeing them right now.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – 📉 Recession worries and the ‘yield curve inversion’: 📈 How and why to trust the sovereignty of God

Denison Forum – Police attacked in Philadelphia: Three vital responses

 

“I thank God for these cops.”

That’s the sentiment of a woman protected by police officers amid an unfolding crisis in Philadelphia last night.

Officers went to a house to serve a state narcotics warrant when they came under fire. Nearby daycare centers with dozens of children inside were evacuated. Women were escorted from the building where the suspect was located. Police urged residents to avoid the area.

Some of the officers responding to the incident had to escape the building through windows and doors. Six officers were injured, but the Philadelphia mayor said they have been released from the hospital and are in “good spirits.” SWAT officers helped evacuate two other officers and four women who had been trapped inside the home.

After almost eight hours, the suspect surrendered just after midnight. The city’s police commissioner identified him as Maurice Hill, age thirty-six, and stated that he has an extensive criminal history.

The death of Officer Andre Moye, Jr.

Much attention has been focused recently on those killed by police officers. Scrutiny has especially centered on allegations of police misconduct.

But much less attention has been paid to officers who have died in the line of duty.

As the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) notes, “When a police officer is killed, it’s not an agency that loses an officer, it’s an entire nation.” The ODMP lists seventy-three line of duty deaths this year, 163 last year, and 908 in the last five years.

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Denison Forum – How did Jeffrey Epstein really die? Conspiracy theories and the key to cultural impact

The two staff members guarding the jail unit where Jeffrey Epstein apparently killed himself fell asleep and failed to check on him for about three hours, according to this morning’s New York Times. They then falsified records to cover up their mistake. The two employees were placed on administrative leave yesterday and the warden of the jail was temporarily reassigned.

Skepticism surrounding Epstein’s death has ranged across the political spectrum, from President Trump and Rudy Giuliani to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough.

“We have to ask who stood to gain from his permanent silence,” said Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe. “Who could he have incriminated in an effort to win favorable treatment from the Trump Justice Department?”

Such questions reflect our growing skepticism of our government and elected leaders. According to Pew Research Center, public trust in government was near 80 percent in the mid-1960s. Today, such trust has fallen to 17 percent.

Only 3 percent of Americans say they trust the federal government to do what is right “just about always”; 14 percent say they trust it “most of the time.”

Did the military create Lyme disease?

Conspiracy theories have long been with us.

On the recent fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landing, claims that NASA faked Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk received renewed attention.

Next month, the remains of FBI bank robber John Dillinger will be exhumed. For eighty-five years since his death, conspiracy theorists have claimed that the FBI killed a body double. DNA testing could confirm the corpse’s true identity.

Some have questioned whether Lyme disease in the US resulted from an accidental release of a secret bioweapons experiment by the military. And more than two million people signed on to a Facebook event to storm Area 51 in Nevada seeking evidence of aliens. The event was a joke drawing on decades of conspiracy theories, but the response shows how pervasive these theories have become.

Continue reading Denison Forum – How did Jeffrey Epstein really die? Conspiracy theories and the key to cultural impact

Denison Forum – Unprecedented protests in Hong Kong and Moscow: How to unleash the power of true community

Hong Kong International Airport has canceled all remaining departing flights for the second day after thousands of pro-democracy protesters blocked the terminals. “Protesting in the airport is the best way to tell the world what’s happening in Hong Kong,” according to a sixteen-year-old who handed out flyers to travelers alleging police brutality.

Demonstrators say they are protesting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that was enacted when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control in 1997. Uprisings started ten weeks ago over a bill that would have allowed China to extradite Hong Kong citizens to face trial in Communist courts. It has since broadened into demands for more democratic reforms. Protesters have blocked trains and staged airport strikes, rallies, and marches.

Meanwhile, nearly fifty thousand people flooded Moscow over the weekend to demand an end to political controls under President Vladimir Putin and to stand up against police violence. This is the largest protest movement in Moscow in years and comes as Mr. Putin’s support has fallen to multiyear lows.

Is our culture at war with community?

There is enormous power in community.

The return of Col. Roy Knight Jr.’s remains to Dallas on an airplane flown by his son engendered an airport-wide show of support that even made the New York Times. Mass protests led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and sweeping democratic reforms in Eastern Europe. Whether for bad or for good, the force generated by people working together to advance a common agenda is undeniable.

Why, then, is our culture undermining community at a time when we need it most?

As American society has turned from biblical sexuality and marriage, we have seen a rapid fragmentation of the family. The number of unmarried parents has increased fourfold since 1968; the number of births to unmarried women has increased over 50 percent.

As a result, 40 percent of children born in America today are to women who are either solo mothers or living with a nonmarital partner. This while the children of unmarried parents are much more likely to be impoverished and otherwise disadvantaged.

With the advent of postmodern relativism and its denial of biblical authority, we have seen a rapid decline in church membership as well. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they belong to a church or other religious institution has fallen from more than 70 percent to 50 percent. This is the lowest since Gallup began such polling in 1937.

It’s not just families and churches that are fragmenting in our postmodern, post-Christian society. Rotary Clubs, Masons, Elks, and Shriners are all declining in membership. Organizations that require us to sacrifice our time and resources on a regular, disciplined basis are facing enormous headwinds these days.

Is connectedness the new community?

One more factor: as institutions are declining, digital interactions are escalating.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Unprecedented protests in Hong Kong and Moscow: How to unleash the power of true community

Denison Forum – A true American hero comes home: The power of community

 

“Dad has come home.”

With these words, Roy Knight III described the remarkable funeral service held last Saturday for his father, Roy Knight Jr.

Col. Knight’s homecoming made national headlines last week, and for good reason.

A true American hero

Roy A. Knight Jr. enlisted in the United States Air Force just days after his seventeenth birthday, following the example of his five older brothers, all of whom served in World War II. He served in the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, then became a fighter pilot, serving in Germany and France.

He and his family returned to Texas in 1963. He completed his bachelor’s degree, then received orders for Southeast Asia. He reported in January 1967 and flew combat missions almost daily until he was shot down on May 19, 1967.

Col. Knight was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and six Air Medals for his bravery. His remains were recovered and identified in February 2019.

“Dallas Love Field fell absolutely quiet”

A reporter named Jackson Proskow was at Love Field Airport in Dallas last Thursday. He had been covering the shooting in El Paso and was waiting for his connecting flight to New York City. There, he said, “Dallas became the place where the weight of the world seemed to melt away—the place where the good outweighed the bad for the first time in days.”

Continue reading Denison Forum – A true American hero comes home: The power of community

Denison Forum – Two mass shootings in two days: God’s question for his people today

Horror. Anger. Grief. Anguish. Heartbreak. Mourning. Shock.

These are some of my emotions this morning. But surprise is not among them. And that is one of the tragedies of these tragedies.

A man opened fire at an El Paso shopping area Saturday morning, killing at least twenty people and wounding twenty-six others. He was apprehended at the scene.

Early the next morning, another shooter opened fire, this time in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio. At least nine people were murdered, including the gunman’s sister, and twenty-six others were wounded. The shooter was killed by police.

There have now been 251 mass shootings in America this year. And 2019 is little more than seven months old.

A murderer living twenty minutes from my home

Watching the national reaction to these tragedies, it seems to me that despair has captured our collective soul.

We are afraid that no place in America is safe today. We can’t put metal detectors at every store, mall, movie theater, and office building. And even if we did, murderers would just attack us in the parking lot.

How do you know that wherever you’re going today won’t be next? The fact is, you don’t. Dallas is not safer than Dayton. A garlic festival in California is not safer than a Walmart in El Paso.

A young man living in Allen, Texas (twenty minutes north of my home) drove ten hours to massacre people in El Paso and is now one of the most infamous mass murderers in American history. Perhaps someone living in your community will be next.

On a morning like this, it’s easy to wonder how the Christian message can possibly be relevant to the crisis of mass shootings. How can the gospel protect us from the next massacre? How can it make a difference in this epidemic?

What mass shooters have in common

Tomorrow, I plan to answer our question in the context of the racist worldview that reportedly motivated the El Paso shooter. For today, I’d like to respond more personally.

In the wake of the El Paso massacre, the Los Angeles Times published a vitally important op-ed by Jillian Peterson and James Densley. These university professors run The Violence Project, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to reducing violence in society and improving policy and practice through research and analysis.

Working on a project funded by the research arm of the US Department of Justice, they have studied mass shootings since 1966, along with media, social media, manifestos, suicide notes, trial transcripts, and medical records. They have discovered four commonalities among the perpetrators of nearly all the mass shootings they have studied:

One: The vast majority experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.

Two: Nearly every mass shooter reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.

Three: Most of the shooters studied the actions of other shooters and sought validation for their motives.

Four: They all had the means to carry out their plans by obtaining weapons legally, illegally, or from family members.

As a result, Peterson and Densley recommend tighter control of media sites that validate violence, improved security and weapons control, and proactive responses to those in personal crisis.

The darker the night, the more crucial our light

While society should obviously take all effective measures to protect itself, here’s my biblical point: Jesus can change any life he touches. He can heal any trauma. He can redeem any crisis. The God who turned a murdering Pharisee into a missionary of grace can transform anyone.

Do you believe that any person stands beyond the transforming power of our Savior’s love? What about the person planning the next massacre?

The more secularized our culture becomes, the more evangelistic our churches must become. The more people during a crisis ridicule our prayers, the more they need our prayers. The more traumatized and victimized our society, the more vital our compassion. (For more, see Ryan Denison’s “The Gilroy Garlic Festival: Moving forward by not moving on.”)

The greater the threat of violence, the more urgent our message.

That’s why we must do all we can to reach the next shooters before they strike. We must use our influence to permeate our broken culture with biblical truth and grace. We must share God’s word and love with everyone we can in every way we can.

God’s question for his people today

Jesus is weeping beside twenty-nine graves today (John 11:35). He is calling us to join him with heartbroken compassion for the victims and their families and a renewed commitment to our gospel mandate.

We are still the only “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The darker the night, the more crucial our light.

One lesson of El Paso and Dayton is that every community is a mission field. As a result, every Christian is a missionary.

This morning, I hear our Lord asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).

What is your answer to him?

 

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Denison Forum – Mario Lopez criticized for transgender remarks: A Christian response to cultural backlash

Mario Lopez first became famous for his role as A.C. Slater on the show Saved by the Bell. He has since carved out a solid career as the co-host of Access Hollywood and is a go-to for many people on understanding Hollywood trends as a result.

However, after comments he made in June on The Candace Owens Show resurfaced, Lopez has been in the news for a very different reason.

While on the show, Owens brought up the trend among many celebrities to allow their children to pick their own gender.

Lopez responded: “Look, I’m never one to tell anyone how to parent their kids . . . But at the same time . . . if you’re three years old and you’re saying you’re feeling a certain way, or you think you’re a boy or a girl, whatever the case may be, I just think it’s dangerous as a parent to make that determination then.”

He went on to say, “I think parents need to allow their kids to be kids, but at the same time, you got to be the adult in the situation. . . . I think the formative years is when you start having those discussions and really start making these declarations.”

LGBTQ+ backlash

As one might expect, many in the LGBTQ+ community were quick to decry the Access Hollywood host’s comments.

Queer Eye co-host Karamo Brown spoke for many in that community when he remarked that he was “disappointed” by what he’d read. Brown said that, while he disagreed with those who thought Lopez should lose his job for the remarks, the host “should be given the opportunity to learn why his comments are harmful to trans youth and their parents.”

Others were less measured.

Out magazine’s executive editor Raquel Willis wrote, “Transphobic parents are the danger not children being their truest selves.”

And while Lopez has since apologized for the remarks, calling his comments “ignorant and insensitive,” he should not have been terribly surprised by the backlash.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Mario Lopez criticized for transgender remarks: A Christian response to cultural backlash

Denison Forum – Ancient Church of the Apostles reportedly discovered: Three reasons you should care

Archaeologists working in what they believe to have been the biblical city of Bethsaida claim to have recently found the Church of the Apostles, a fifth-century church supposedly built over the home of the disciples Peter and Andrew.

While it will likely take at least a year to be certain, the mosaic tiles found in the location “only appear in churches,” according to Professor R. Steven Notley, who helped lead the project.

In 725 AD, the Bavarian bishop Willibald toured the Holy Land and wrote of seeing the church of Peter and Andrew, but, until recently, there had been little evidence to corroborate the report. That no other churches have been found in the region supports the notion that the latest discovery is authentic.

However, as Notley said, “It would be normal to find an inscription in a church of the Byzantine period, describing in whose memory it was built.” Until such an inscription is unearthed, it will be difficult to verify the claim with any real certainty.

Given the significance of Peter and Andrew—and if the location can be verified—the Church of the Apostles is likely to become among the most popular historical sites in the region, and particularly for members of the Roman Catholic Church since they consider Peter to be the first pope.

Does the Church of the Apostles matter today?

As exciting as it would be to find verifiable evidence of such an ancient church, does anything about this story take it from being merely interesting to being personally relevant?

After all, we don’t need the Church of the Apostles to exist to believe that Peter and Andrew did. And, even if the church is proven to have been built over what fifth-century Christians believed was their home, how can we know they were correct?

So, what relevance can this story have beyond possibly piquing our interest for a few minutes or offering a welcome distraction from the other news of the day?

Ultimately, there are three reasons I believe this discovery is relevant to our lives and our mission to help the lost find the Lord.

First, this discovery reminds us that we serve a God who has been faithfully worshiped by his people for thousands of years.

In our culture, it can be easy at times to feel isolated in our faith or to question its legitimacy in light of current social trends and accusations of irrelevance (or worse). While the truth is not based on how many people have done something or for how long, it’s reassuring to know that, when we worship, we also join a legacy of believers that extends so far into our collective past.

The same God who was worthy of worship sixteen hundred years ago is still worthy of our worship today.

Second, the Church of the Apostles reminds us that persecution will come, but our faith is built on something that goes far beyond whatever challenges it might face.

Around ninety years before Bishop Willibald would have passed by the church, this region of the Holy Land fell to the Muslims as they expanded north. While the building was apparently left standing, any who worshiped in it did so under very different conditions from when it was founded.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Ancient Church of the Apostles reportedly discovered: Three reasons you should care

Denison Forum – Joshua Harris, author and former pastor, renounces Christianity: Should public falls affect your faith?

Joshua Harris became an internationally prominent Christian when he published his first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, at the age of twenty-three. The 1997 guide to dating focused on maintaining sexual purity before marriage by guarding against the kinds of physical contact and situations that could lead young people to give in to their lust and sin.

I didn’t read the book when it was released. But, as someone who graduated high school in 2004, I remember how the principles he espoused seemed to impact so many around me.

Harris went on to author several more books and pastor Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, from 2004 until resigning in 2015 to pursue a graduate degree at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Around the time he left his position as pastor, he publicly apologized for what he’d come to see as errors in his writings. He still maintained that there were certain aspects of those works with which he agreed. He even expressed gratefulness for the positive impact his words had had on some.

However, he came to see the work as a whole as being too restrictive and fostering a fear-based understanding of relationships.

But Harris is in the news again today for a different reason.

‘I am not a Christian.’

After recently announcing his divorce from his wife of twenty years, Harris stated this week that he has left his faith as well. As part of a long post on Instagram detailing the decision, Harris explained, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

He went on to describe the many regrets he’s had from his time as a Christian leader before speaking specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, stating, “I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.”

The Instagram post concluded with a note thanking his Christian friends for their prayers but warning that “I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.”

The weight of public faith

We do not have the space today to discuss the extent to which a person can truly leave the faith (for more on that topic, please see Dr. Denison’s article, “Is it possible for me to lose my salvation?”) However, Harris’ example brings up another important issue with which many believers struggle today.

Joshua Harris is by no means the first well-known Christian to fall away from the faith that helped make him famous. If the Lord tarries, he likely won’t be the last.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Joshua Harris, author and former pastor, renounces Christianity: Should public falls affect your faith?

Denison Forum – The Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting: Moving forward by not moving on

What more is there to say?

The news is once again headlined by reports of a mass shooting, complete with essentially the same statements of remorse, promises of prayer, and debates about gun laws we’ve heard countless times before.

As of this writing, details continue to emerge regarding the latest attack, this time at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California. Three were killed, including a six-year-old boy and a thirteen-year-old girl, while another twelve were injured. Police also shot and killed the suspected shooter.

The gunman, who has since been identified but will remain unnamed in this article, bypassed security by entering the festival grounds via a nearby creek and then cutting a hole in the surrounding fence.

He started shooting around 5:41 on Sunday evening, and, by the grace of God and the accuracy of festival security, stopped shooting less than a minute later.

Yet that was all the time it took to forever alter the lives of countless individuals.

So, where do we go from here?

Keep the focus on the people rather than the issues

We could spend this time debating our nation’s gun laws and what guidance we can find in Scripture. The former has been at the crux of most comments coming from those in the political sphere. And, while the latter is always helpful, we’ve been there before.

We could look at the mental health aspects of the discussion. We could examine the degree to which the most sustainable solutions will focus on who is allowed to wield guns rather than how the guns are acquired. But that too seems like a topic better saved for another day.

Instead, I think it’s best for us to just spend some time owning the fact that four people are dead and countless others injured, physically and emotionally, before we hurry off to try and fix it.

The time for discussion about those other issues will come, but that discussion will be better served if we’ve actually grappled with the gravity of the situation rather than sought to escape it before it sinks in.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting: Moving forward by not moving on

Denison Forum – Shark Week to devour millions: What our rapt attention reveals about our spiritual condition

The lure of Shark Week

Sunday night kicked off Discovery Channel‘s thirty-first season of Shark Week, seven days of programming dedicated to the aquatic monstrosities that haunt dreams and make a day at the beach just a bit more nerve-wracking.

The programming is now broadcast in seventy-two countries around the world with just under thirty-five million people expected to tune in.

What makes this programming so attractive?

And what does it say about us as a culture that so many will dedicate their evenings to watching documentaries, movies, and celebrity dives with these beasts?

Are we shark-watching sloths?

Shark Week originally began as an effort to increase awareness about the importance of conservation while also tackling myths about sharks.

Given that the series began the year after the fourth film in the Jaws franchise hit theaters, that desire to set the record straight is understandable. And when you consider that roughly half the population of the Midwest is “absolutely terrified” of sharks despite living nowhere near the ocean, sharks clearly hold an outsized influence on our collective psyche.

What I’d like to discuss today, however, is less related to our fear of sharks than the way that so many will center their lives this week around watching them. It’s simply the latest—or perhaps most relevant—example of a larger trend often criticized but seldom truly examined: slothfulness.

When you think of slothfulness, your first thought might be related to laziness, perhaps in regard to binge-watching Netflix or endlessly perusing social media. That’s an accurate association, to an extent.

However, when Pope Gregory the Great first enshrined slothfulness as one of the Seven Deadly Sins back in the 500s, the concept had a much deeper meaning.

Slothfulness is more than laziness

The Greek term from which the idea of slothfulness finds its origin is akedia, the negative form of the word that refers to loving one’s family. As such, for the majority of Christian history, slothfulness has been seen primarily as a sin associated with the kind of loveless apathy and depression that would drive a person to seek escape from their obligations to those close to them.

As a result, slothfulness can appear in a wide variety of ways. For some, slothfulness may be as simple as losing themselves on Facebook when they should be working. For others, it could manifest as making sure the TV is on instead of talking with their family at the dinner table.

Yet, because the root cause of slothfulness is more about the selfish search for escape than the manner in which that escape takes place, even outwardly beneficial and praiseworthy behaviors can be sinful at heart.

For example, the most industrious workaholic you know could be guilty of slothfulness for the simple reason that they’ve chosen to arrange their priorities with little regard for those around them. They might justify the extra hours by saying they’re doing it to provide a better life for their family, which might be true in some cases or for certain seasons.

But I suspect that a great many of those who lose themselves in their work do so because it seems easier than listening to their spouses discuss the day or helping the kids with their homework.

So, how do we determine when our actions, whether centered on rest or work, are sinful versus when they are correct?

After all, that escape will not necessarily look the same for every person.

How to find purpose in every moment

A good way to tell if your actions are motivated by a spirit of slothfulness is to ask yourself two questions:

  • Does my current activity (or inactivity) serve a purpose?
  • If so, is that purpose good or bad?

Rest, for example, serves an important purpose. So does stillness and taking a real Sabbath day. Procrastinating because we can still find time to get the job done, regardless of the extra stress it may cause our loved ones, maybe not so much.

Ultimately, God has a purpose for every aspect and every moment of our lives, whether they are filled with work or rest, and we must learn to see each moment through that prism if we want to avoid the many ways we can fall into this sin.

Speaking about this perspective of intentionally pursuing God’s purpose, the apostle Paul told the church in Philippi that “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).

I have a difficult time believing that Paul never took a lunch break or needed a moment to rest. But, even in those moments, he remained open to allowing God to direct his time and actions. That’s what the Lord needs from us, and it’s what the temptation to slothfulness most endangers.

It won’t be easy, though, and there is little in the culture that’s going to help.

D.A. Carson assessed our situation well when he described how “people do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

So whether you spend your time this week watching sharks on the Discovery Channel, scrolling through Facebook, or looking toward that next task at work, make it a point to grant God open and unending access to every minute of your day.

You will be amazed by what he can do.

 

 

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Denison Forum – Boris Johnson and Robert Mueller: The best way to serve our nation

Boris Johnson officially becomes Great Britain’s prime minister later today. His life story is most interesting.

He was born in 1964 in New York City to British parents. His father was studying economics at Columbia University.

At Eton College, prior to attending Oxford, he won honors in English and Classics, edited the school newspaper, and was secretary of the debating society. He played rugby in college, where he was elected president of the Oxford Union and studied ancient literature and classical philosophy.

Johnson married after college and began work as a journalist. After fabricating a quote for an article, he was fired. He secured work at The Daily Telegraph and continued his career in journalism and the media until he was elected mayor of London in 2008 and reelected in 2012.

He was elected to the House of Commons in 2015 and endorsed the campaign to leave the European Union (the so-called “Brexit”) the next year. He served as Foreign Secretary from 2016 to 2018. Yesterday, he was chosen to become prime minister.

Johnson is fluent in French and Italian and conversant in German, Spanish, and Latin. He also studied Ancient Greek in school. I found his biography of Winston Churchill to be fascinating.

His private life has been chaotic at best. He and his second wife are divorcing, and he is living with his current girlfriend; he may have fathered two children out of wedlock. He is an extremely divisive figure in the UK, popular with many and vilified by others.

Winston Churchill on democracy

How did such a polarizing person become prime minister?

In the United Kingdom, voters elect a party to office—in this case, the Conservative Party, which won the most Parliament seats in the 2017 election. The party’s leader, Theresa May, announced her resignation after failing to lead the UK out of the European Union and will leave office later today.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Boris Johnson and Robert Mueller: The best way to serve our nation

Denison Forum – The greatest hymn ever: What will matter most in 50 years and 50 millennia

What is the greatest hymn of all time?

The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada recently addressed that question. In their annual conference in Dallas, they voted using their society’s website, on Facebook, and in person during a competition set up with brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament.

If you thought the answer is “Amazing Grace,” you need more grace. It turns out, “Holy, Holy, Holy” won the title.

I can see why.

In times like these, it’s deeply reassuring to sing to God, Holy, holy, holy / Though the darkness hide Thee / Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see / Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee / Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

We may not be able to see God in our culture, but nothing in today’s news changes his eternal character. This is a fact our souls need to claim.

Why Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing movie ever

In other less-than-surprising news, Avengers: Endgame has passed Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time. The popularity of a film with superheroes strong enough to defeat cataclysmic evil says something interesting about us.

Continue reading Denison Forum – The greatest hymn ever: What will matter most in 50 years and 50 millennia

Denison Forum – 32 million Americans think Apollo 11 was staged: Reaching the moon and finding true meaning on earth

 

My great-aunts Daisy and Clara were convinced that humans never went to the moon.

I asked them about the television broadcast we all watched; they claimed it was filmed by Hollywood actors on sand dunes in Arizona. I asked them about the testimony of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin that they had been to the moon; they said the astronauts had been paid to lie. I asked them about the moon rocks they brought back; they asked me, “How do you know they’re from the moon?”

My great-aunts were not alone in their skepticism.

A poll taken a year after Apollo 11 found that 30 percent of Americans believed the moon landing to be fake. Even today, as many as 10 percent of Americans (and 60 percent of Russians and 25 percent of Brits) believe the lunar landing was staged. Ten percent of Americans equates to thirty-two million people. That’s more than the population of our fifteen largest cities, combined.

Even though scientists have repeatedly debunked such conspiracy theories, they persist. And they tell us something important about faith in our culture.

Communion in space and atheism on earth

Buzz Aldrin celebrated communion aboard Eagle after he and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. (See Steve Yount’s excellent article on our website for more.) However, NASA officials decided not to broadcast his communion service back to earth, reportedly fearing a lawsuit from atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

This tension between communion in space and atheism on earth is a metaphor for American culture today.

Trust in government peaked at 77 percent in October 1964, a year after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The year before the moon landing, average trust in government had fallen to 62 percent. The year after the landing, when 30 percent of Americans believed Apollo 11 to have been staged by the government, it had fallen further to 54 percent.

Public trust in government today stands at 17 percent.

Continue reading Denison Forum – 32 million Americans think Apollo 11 was staged: Reaching the moon and finding true meaning on earth

Denison Forum – How Michael Collins enabled Apollo 11 moonwalk: The way to change the world

Fifty years ago this Saturday, at 1:46 p.m., astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin separated the lunar landing craft from the Apollo 11 command module. As they moved toward the moon, astronaut Michael Collins stayed behind. He was 250,000 miles from earth.

While Armstrong and Aldrin received much of the attention for their magnificent feat, their journey to the moon and back would have been impossible without Collins.

He piloted the command module through maneuvers that detached it from the third stage of the rocket carrying them into space. He then pivoted the module and steered it as it docked with the lunar landing vehicle. When the lunar module returned from the moon, Collins directed the command module to reacquire it, enabling Armstrong and Aldrin to reenter the craft they would ride for the journey home.

In short, without Michael Collins there would be no lunar mission to celebrate this week.

The heroes who saved a cathedral

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died Tuesday at the age of ninety-nine. One of the longest-serving justices in US history, he was nominated by President Gerald Ford but eventually became the leader of the Court’s liberal faction. His support for abortion, gay rights, gun restrictions, limits on government aid for religion, and the legalization of marijuana influenced the Court and the culture.

In other news, the New York Times is reporting on its extensive investigation into the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It turns out, the firefighters who saved the cathedral did so at great risk to themselves.

According to the Paris mayor, “It was clear that some firefighters were going to go into the cathedral without knowing if they would come back out.” The iconic landmark is now being rebuilt and will be a lasting tribute to their sacrificial courage.

Continue reading Denison Forum – How Michael Collins enabled Apollo 11 moonwalk: The way to change the world

Denison Forum – President Trump’s tweets and critics: Four categories and a biblical response

President Trump’s tweets and statements about four Democratic congresswomen have been dominating the news this week.

Critics are decrying his rhetoric as racist. Several Republicans joined a wide range of Democrats in criticizing the president’s comments. Democrats in the House of Representatives (joined by four Republicans and one Independent) passed a resolution yesterday condemning his statements. Historian Jon Meacham claimed that Mr. Trump is the most racist president since Andrew Johnson.

However, the president denies that he or his statements are racist. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a news conference yesterday that he did not believe the president is a racist. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed, stating: “I believe this is about ideology; this is about socialism versus freedom.” Others are defending Mr. Trump and criticizing his opponents.

Four responses to Donald Trump

As the leader of a nonpartisan ministry with readers in 203 countries, my purpose today is not to take a side in this debate. Rather, my goal as a cultural theologian is to offer context and analysis and then to consider biblical responses.

With regard to Mr. Trump’s presidency and the current controversy, there are four broad categories on a spectrum of response.

One: Some are opposed to Mr. Trump himself. They consider the current controversy to be another example of character unfit for the office of president.

Two: Some are opposed to the president’s policies. They disagree with him on abortion, border security, transgender persons in the military, and a host of other issues. Continue reading Denison Forum – President Trump’s tweets and critics: Four categories and a biblical response