Tag Archives: Denison Forum

Denison Forum – William Barr’s statement at Notre Dame: My perspective and God’s call to courage


Attorney General William Barr is making headlines for a speech he delivered at Notre Dame University’s law school last Friday. Barr, a devout Catholic, told faculty and students that “the problem is not that religion is being forced on others, the problem is that irreligion is being forced—secular values are being forced on people of faith.”

Barr adds: “Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives. But where is the progress? We are told we are living in a post-Christian era, but what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the heart of the individual person? And what is the system of values that can sustain human social life?”

The attorney general said of the moral problems we are facing, “This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secular forces and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

I believe Attorney General Barr is absolutely right.

Here’s why we are here: Many in our culture believe the lie that all truth claims are subjective impositions of personal power on others. Tolerance of all viewpoints must therefore be mandated, except, of course, for viewpoints deemed intolerant.

According to this agenda, the freedom to express religious beliefs ends where such freedom is deemed harmful to or by another person. Any person. Of course, the harm done to the person expressing his or her religious beliefs is ignored.

How to “experience the strongest opposition”

In such times, answering God’s call to be culture-changing Christians requires both urgency and courage. The higher the summit, the harder the climb.

A dear friend recently shared with me this statement from seventeenth-century theologian John Owen: “There is no duty we perform for God that sin does not oppose. And the more spirituality or holiness there is in what we do, the greater the enmity to it. Thus, those who seek the most for God experience the strongest opposition.”

Peter would agree.

Continue reading Denison Forum – William Barr’s statement at Notre Dame: My perspective and God’s call to courage

Denison Forum – All three capitals of the Confederacy now have black mayors: Bending the ‘arc of the moral universe’


Montgomery, Alabama, was known as the first capital of the Confederacy in the early Civil War period. Richmond, Virginia, served as the Confederacy’s second capital from 1861 to 1865. Danville, Virginia, was the capital for eight days after Richmond fell.

With the election of Steven Reed in Montgomery last week, all three cities now have black mayors for the first time.

Martin Luther King Jr. believed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” However, Dr. King did not mean that the “arc of the moral universe” can be trusted to bend itself. That’s why he devoted his life to seeking justice for African Americans and the poor.

And it’s why Christians must take Christ to our culture as passionately and compassionately as we can. Let me illustrate.

Bride includes husband’s girlfriend in her wedding

This New York Times headline caught my eye: “Happily, Ever Open. What’s the wedding like when the couple is in an open or polyamorous relationship?” The article tells us that a woman named Daley South had six bridesmaids in her wedding to Logan South; one of them was her husband’s girlfriend. “I really enjoyed having her be part of our big day,” the bride said.

At another wedding, this one inside a New Hampshire church two days ago, a gunman shot the presiding bishop in the chest and the bride in her arm. Guests then tackled the shooter and pinned him to the ground until police arrived. Bishop Stanley Choate is in critical condition in a Boston hospital; Claire McMullen was expected to be released from the hospital yesterday.

The day before, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill requiring public universities to provide medical abortion on their campuses. Since these universities are funded by California’s taxpayers, abortions are now being funded by California’s taxpayers, whether they object personally or not.

Scientists have discovered twenty new moons around Saturn

Reading the news can be discouraging. It seems easier to retreat from the “culture wars,” but the wars will not retreat from us.

Continue reading Denison Forum – All three capitals of the Confederacy now have black mayors: Bending the ‘arc of the moral universe’

Denison Forum – Three sisters who fought the Nazis: How compassion changes those who change the world


There is something in us that wants to help people who need help.

Time tells the remarkable and sometimes gruesome story of three sisters who fought the Nazis as part of the Dutch resistance in World War II. One explained why she became involved in the conflict: “While I was biking, I saw Germans picking up innocent people from the streets, putting them against a wall and shooting them. I was forced to watch, which aroused such an enormous anger in me, such a disgust. . . .

“You can have any political conviction or be totally against war, but at that moment you are just a human being confronted with something very cruel. Shooting innocent people is murder. If you experience something like this, you’ll find it justified to act against it.”

Two sisters help Iranian immigrant

Hassan Nezhadessivandi has spent the last five years distributing Express, a publication of the Washington Post. Mr. Nezhadessivandi immigrated from Iran in 1978 to go to college, but unrest in his homeland cut off his funds. He has been working odd jobs for many years to support himself.

He stood at the same spot in Washington, DC, for four hours every morning, passing out the newspaper to the commuters who passed by. He did his job in the snow, rain, or heat.

When the Post announced last Wednesday that the last copy of Express would be distributed the next day, many of the commuters realized they would no longer see Hassan. At the age of sixty-five, he was not sure how he would make ends meet.

Then, two sisters started a GoFundMe account for him. They spread the word by placing a poster board at the station, printing fliers, and sharing the link on social media. The fund has raised nearly fifteen thousand dollars so far.

“I have already been given a taste of God”

Part of being made in our Father’s image is sharing his heart for his children. This impulse to make the world better shows that we intuitively believe in a better world.

Henri Nouwen:

“I know that the fact that I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love, and of Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found. How can I search for beauty and truth unless that beauty and truth are already known to me in the depth of my heart?

“It seems that all of us human beings have deep memories of the paradise that we have lost. Maybe the word innocence is better than the word paradise. We were innocent before we started feeling guilty; we were in the light before we entered into the darkness; we were at home before we started to search for a home.

“Deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts there lies hidden the treasure we seek. We know its preciousness, and we know that it holds the gift we most desire: a life stronger than death.”

As we work, God works

The fact that we were made for a better world, however, does not exempt us from seeking to better this world.

Darian Thompson started at safety for the Dallas Cowboys in their 31–6 win over Miami last Sunday. After overcoming numerous injuries and setbacks, he is following his dream in the NFL.

He told a reporter, “I’m thankful for God allowing me to do this. But also, it’s a testament to me and my work and the time I’ve put in.”

Noah built the ark, and God closed the door (Genesis 7:16). Moses held his staff over the Red Sea, and God parted the water (Exodus 14:21). Joshua led the people to step into the flooded Jordan River, and God stopped the water (Joshua 3:14–17). Peter preached at Pentecost, and the Spirit led three thousand souls to Christ (Acts 2:41).

As we work, God works. As we give our Father our best, we position ourselves to experience his best.

A man spent a year turning an overgrown, weed-infested field into a beautiful garden. When he showed it to his pastor, the pastor exclaimed, “What a beautiful creation of God.”

The man replied, “You should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

“You will set the world on fire”

Denison Forum seeks to build a movement of culture-changing Christians because we are convinced that such a movement is the greatest need of our day. God has entrusted to each of us a Hassan Nezhadessivandi or a weed-infested field—ways we can use our gifts and influence to help someone follow Jesus.

Helping hurting people has been at the heart of the Christian mission from its beginning until today (cf. Acts 2:45). Our most powerful witness to a skeptical culture is our compassion for those in need.

Such compassion is not only our gift in God’s name—it is also God’s gift to us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

St. Catherine of Siena went further: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

What part of the world will you set on fire today?



Denison Forum – The latest on the Emmy Awards: How to win the ‘crown of life’


Game of Thrones won for Outstanding Drama Series at last night’s Emmys, making it the most-awarded narrative series in the history of the Emmys. Fleabag won for Outstanding Comedy Series. Jodie Comer and Billy Porter received Outstanding Lead Actress and Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Here is what I noted: Except for a few minutes watching a late-night talk show here or there, I did not see a single show that was nominated. Not one.

Advice I wish I always followed

Part of the explanation could be that much of popular culture is aimed at people half my age. Another factor is that I have to go to bed early each night to finish this article early the next morning.

But I suspect the largest reason for the disconnect between the 2019 Emmys and my television-watching habits is that Janet and I choose to watch shows that do not dishonor the Lord and his word. I’m not suggesting that every nominated show fails this standard, but many do.

Scripture calls us to “be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). In that light, we should heed the warning of the eighteenth-century scientist G. C. Lichtenberg: “Never undertake anything for which you wouldn’t have the courage to ask the blessing of heaven.”

I wish I could tell you that I always follow his advice. But I do recognize the truth of his assertion.

“The euthanasia of Christianity”

The popularity of television shows that contradict the biblical worldview reveals that many people do not realize there is a biblical worldview.

God’s word speaks to every dimension of every moment of life, not just our Sunday worship or Monday prayers. Abraham Kuyper was right: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Continue reading Denison Forum – The latest on the Emmy Awards: How to win the ‘crown of life’

Denison Forum – Hurricane Dorian and the Hunkerdown Hideaway: Offering an ‘ablation’ to God


Hurricane Dorian turned north overnight and is about one hundred miles off of Florida’s east coast this morning. At least seven people were killed in the Bahamas; dozens are still being rescued from floodwaters.

The Category 2 storm, with winds of 110 mph, is lashing central Florida’s east coast today. Flash floods and a life-threatening storm surge are expected. More than two million people in Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina have been warned to evacuate.

Not everyone is leaving, however. Employees of the Hunkerdown Hideaway in downtown Cocoa Beach, Florida, vow to remain open “till the police shut us down.” Some say that the expense of evacuating and the income they would miss make leaving almost impossible for them.

Their dilemma could be solved if they knew where (or if) the hurricane would strike land. It’s an astounding fact in our day of remarkable technological sophistication that such vital and practical information is unavailable to those who need it most.

How many people work for the National Weather Service?

Our problem is not that our best people aren’t doing their best. The National Weather Service employs 2,600 operational meteorologists and hydrologists; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2019 budget exceeds $5 billion.

And yet, using the most advanced technology in history, our best meteorological scientists are still unable to predict the precise path of a hurricane. The consequences of this fact are staggering.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates government costs for hurricanes at $28 billion a year. Coastal shoreline counties generate 40 percent of America’s jobs and are responsible for 46 percent of our gross domestic product.

Clearly, our best experts are doing all they can. But their limits show us our own.

“Life has never been normal”

Researchers predict that cancer will become the leading cause of death in the US by next year. And yet the National Cancer Institute’s budget for this year is $5.74 billion. As the father of a cancer survivor and the son of a cancer victim, I wish it were more.

My point is that disasters and diseases demonstrate the finitude of fallen humans.

We can do so much more in the world than ever before. For instance, distributing this article without email would require $90,000 in postage and would render today’s column outdated by the time it arrived in your physical mailbox.

But the issues that matter most are beyond our capacity to influence or even predict. I don’t know if I’ll be alive to write Thursday’s Daily Article; you don’t know if you’ll be alive to read it if I do.

In this sense, the unpredictability and devastation of Hurricane Dorian is nothing new on our fallen planet. What C. S. Lewis said of war can be said of a hurricane: It “creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. . . . We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life.’ Life has never been normal.”

“The wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

When we face a foe stronger than we are, it’s wise to trust in a power stronger than it is.

Scripture says of the Lord: “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth” (Jeremiah 10:12–13).

When Jesus “rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’” here’s what happened: “The wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). The God who parted the Red Sea and stopped the flooded Jordan River is more powerful than Dorian or any other disaster.

Of course, it’s human nature to ask why this omnipotent God didn’t stop Dorian from devastating the Bahamas. When our son was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, I asked the Lord why he didn’t answer my daily prayers for Ryan’s health. Eventually, I came to peace with the fact we discussed yesterday: my fallen mind cannot comprehend God’s “higher” thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8–9), so turning from my Father when I need him most only makes suffering worse.

For today, let’s consider that the unpredictability and danger of natural disasters and diseases should remind us daily of our frailty and limitations. The more advanced our technology becomes, the more tempting our hubris.

“Living your life as an offering of thanksgiving”

What Hurricane Dorian does this week is beyond our control. But how we respond to that fact is not.

When we remember that this world is not our home and that all we “own” actually belongs to the One who made it, we are free to live for heaven on earth and trust the results to our Father.

Curtis Almquist of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist offers this advice: “All the things which you could call your ‘possessions’—both the tangible and the intangible—give them up. I’m not saying to disregard or devalue them; quite to the contrary, I’m speaking of ‘giving them up’ like an offering, acknowledging to God how God has acknowledged you in them. In the ancient vocabulary of the church, this is called ‘an ablation,’ living your life as an offering of thanksgiving.”

Will you offer your ablation to God today?



Denison Forum – ‘Things like this happen all over planet Earth all the time’: The key to optimism in hard times


“This is Odessa, Texas. Things like this don’t happen here. This is small-town Texas.”

This is what Senior Pastor Del Traffanstedt told his congregation Sunday morning after a shooter killed seven people and injured twenty-two in his community. His church is within sight of the movie theater where the violent chase ended.

Then the pastor added: “The reality is, things like this happen all over planet Earth all the time.”

The latest on Dorian

The apparent randomness of the attack in West Texas underscores the threat it represents. It seems that anyone, anywhere, can be a victim of violence.

The same is true of natural disasters. As of this morning, Hurricane Dorian has killed at least five people in the Bahamas and left countless people homeless. The National Hurricane Center warns that the storm will get “dangerously close” to the Florida coast late today through Wednesday and will threaten Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina by Thursday.

In other news, a dive boat caught fire off the Southern California coast Monday morning, leaving at least twenty-five people dead and nine others missing. A twenty-seven-year-old minor-league catcher for the Detroit Tigers died yesterday from injuries sustained in a skateboarding crash.

A five-year-old girl was killed in Brooklyn when a decorative stone fence fell on her. Earlier this summer, a fifteen-year-old Tennessee girl was killed on a church mission trip in Mexico when a tree fell on her group’s van.

Why do optimistic people live longer?

You and I can neither predict nor control the future, but we can control how we respond to its unpredictability. Our response, in turn, plays a pivotal role in our personal future.

A new study suggests that people who tend to be optimistic are likelier than others to live to be eighty-five years old or more. Researchers from Boston University and Harvard found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11–15 percent longer lifespan.

How can we become more optimistic? A clinical health psychologist explained that she works with patients to “uncover systems of beliefs and assumptions people are making about themselves in their lives” so they can “begin to change those.”

When we begin making optimistic assumptions, our attitudes toward our experiences become more positive, our stress levels respond, and our physical health can improve as well. In other words, when we choose to view life positively, life often responds in kind.

The key to relational truth

This psychological principle also holds true spiritually.

When tragedy strikes, it’s human nature to cry with Christ from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). We want God to explain his ways so we can decide whether or not to trust him with our pain.

But what if we cannot experience his help until we trust his heart?

Relational truth must be chosen to be experienced. You cannot prove you should get married until you get married. You cannot prove you’ll recover from surgery until you trust the surgeon.

You should examine the evidence, but then you must step beyond the evidence into a relationship that becomes self-validating.

“Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small”

So it is with God. He wants us to develop and use our intellectual capacities as fully as possible (cf. 2 Peter 1:5; Matthew 22:37). But when it comes to understanding the mind of God, he tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Our finite, fallen minds may not be able to comprehend his perfect will until we are with him in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12).

And as long as we hold our Father at arm’s length while we wait for explanations that may not help us, we forfeit the mercy that will.

President John F. Kennedy kept on his desk a block of wood inscribed with the words, “O God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” They were adapted from this poem by Winfred Ernest Garrison:

Thy sea, O God, so great,
My boat so small.
It cannot be that any happy fate
Will me befall
Save as Thy goodness opens paths for me
Through the consuming vastness of the sea.

Thy winds, O God, so strong,
So slight my sail.
How could I curb and bit them on the long
And saltry trail,
Unless Thy love were mightier than the wrath
Of all the tempests that beset my path?

Thy world, O God, so fierce,
And I so frail.
Yet, though its arrows threaten oft to pierce
My fragile mail,
Cities of refuge rise where dangers cease,
Sweet silences abound, and all is peace.

Will you trust your boat to your Lord today?



Denison Forum – High school renovated to protect against mass shootings: The safest way to a joyful future


Here’s a sign of the times: a high school in western Michigan has been renovated to protect against a mass shooting.

The design takes a cue from World War I trenches that were dug in zigzag patterns so the enemy could not shoot in a straight line down the trench. In a similar fashion, the Michigan school added curved hallways to reduce a gunman’s range, barriers to provide cover and egress, and classrooms that can lock on demand and hide students in the corner, out of a killer’s sight.

In related news, a school district in Colorado has provided buckets and cat litter for teachers to have on hand in case children need to relieve themselves during a prolonged active-shooter lockdown. The district has also supplied sharpies for writing the time tourniquets were applied.

“The greatest catastrophe since the dawn of civilization”

It is obviously important to do what we can to minimize tragedies before they strike. But there’s only so much we can do to prepare for the unpredictable.

Nature is a regular threat. For instance, lightning struck a tree at the Tour Championship in Atlanta Saturday. The tree exploded, injuring six spectators with debris.

The New York Times reports that an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would produce a toxic ash cloud that would reach both coasts. It would destroy crops, ruin power lines and electrical transformers, block sunlight, plunge global temperatures, and cause farming to collapse. In short, according to a group of researchers, such an eruption would be “the greatest catastrophe since the dawn of civilization.”

An asteroid missed our planet last week but was undetected by astronomers until it passed us. A study shows that shark attacks in major metropolitan areas have doubled in the last twenty years. And Brazilian troops have been enlisted to fight unprecedented wildfires in the Amazon.

Teenager exposes hundreds to measles at Disneyland

Diseases make the news regularly as well.

Continue reading Denison Forum – High school renovated to protect against mass shootings: The safest way to a joyful future

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?



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.

Continue reading Denison Forum – Police attacked in Philadelphia: Three vital responses

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?



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?