Category Archives: Faith and Culture

Ted Cruz and The Diabolical Enemy

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz made a somewhat uncomfortable appearance on the Stephen Colbert show this past week. I say “uncomfortable” not because Cruz was caught off guard or unsure of himself, but because the studio audience was pretty loudly, audibly hostile to him. In fairness, Colbert asked them to stop actually saying “Boo” at one point, but his own sympathies are in fact pretty liberal, so he tried to get in his share of cutesy zingers during questioning (some of which actually fell embarrassingly flat, not that the audience would have admitted it).

Still, Cruz handled himself in a relaxed, gracious manner that I think came off well. The biggest “joke’s on you” moment for Colbert came when Cruz was laying out a list of principles he stands for, like economic stewardship and respect for the constitution. Colbert interjected, “And no gay marriage.” Cruz decided to say that he believed according to the Constitution, marriage should be left to the states, whereupon Colbert showed his ignorance of the 10th Amendment by interrupting again, “Yeah, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about gay marriage.” “Exactly,” replied Cruz. See Amendment 10. Oops.

But I confess that I came away a little bit disappointed with Cruz overall, which surprised me. While Colbert eventually asked him point-blank on the marriage issue, “I’m asking what you want,” he didn’t really answer the question directly. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Cruz to state plainly that marriage is between a man and a woman and that it would in fact be disastrous even on a state level to re-define it. He chose instead to focus on the “5 robed men in Washington can’t make fiat law” angle, which is certainly a good and important point to make, but it’s not sufficient to address the whole issue.

This rhetorical reserve is connected to another little exchange, where Colbert questioned him about political civility. He asked whether Cruz would agree that it’s important not to call his political opponents “the devil” or “diabolical,” in the interests of bi-partisan collaboration. “Absolutely. There’s nothing diabolical about you,” said Cruz equably. He also agreed that his Democratic opponents aren’t “diabolical.”

I realize this was the rhetorically suave path to take, but I would have liked to see Cruz give some push-back on this point as well, especially in the aftermath of this ongoing Planned Parenthood scandal. The evil on display in these videos truly is diabolical, and yet every Democrat in the House and Senate has voted against a bill to cut funding for the organization. I’m sorry to say Rand Paul voted against it too, though he said it was because some other aspect of the bill would create more debt, not because he disagreed that Planned Parenthood should be shut down. I’m still disappointed. However, it’s safe to say that the Democrats are pretty much universally pro-abortion. And at this point, I think it’s also safe to say that they are doing the devil’s work by banding together in support of Planned Parenthood. I think it’s been safe to say it for decades, but all the more so now that the light is being shone on even deeper layers of evil, lies and corruption.

What Cruz should have said is this: “Well, Stephen, I don’t know. Why don’t you give me an example, and I’ll tell you if I agree or not?” Instead, he talked about not responding to “insults” in kind, which isn’t even the same thing. It’s one thing to make an inappropriate, petty attack on somebody’s person, as has doubtless happened to Cruz. It’s another thing to make a pointed, accurate accusation of evil.

If there was ever a time to take the kid gloves off and put the boxing gloves on when it comes to the rhetoric of political discourse, this is it. Yes, I realize Colbert framed these questions by asking Cruz to make the case for why non-conservative voters should consider him, and a truly hardball answer like what I’ve sketched out would most likely alienate such voters. But so what? Non-conservative voters will never consider a conservative candidate anyway, no matter how much his policies align with what’s actually in their own best interests morally, economically, etc. Pigs will fly before that happens. So why bother being suave?

I’m still happy with the idea of a Cruz primary win, and I have hopes that he might still go all the way. But this is the wrong socio-political moment for him to pull his punches. It’s okay Ted, you can say it out loud: The enemy is diabolical.

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American Tragedy: The Donald Trump Phenomenon

I must say that I am equal parts shocked and disgusted with the inexplicable surge of popularity that Donald Trump has been enjoying among alleged conservatives. And not only conservatives, but Christian conservatives no less. A recent NPR story had a photo of an Alabama rally that drew 30,000 fans, some of whom held a banner saying, “Thank You, Lord Jesus, for President Trump.” You think I’m making this up? Click here. The letters were hand-drawn in red and blue marker on a white background. If you look at the faces of the people in that photo, you can see they’re ecstatic, overwhelmed, overjoyed.

Why? Conservative America, Christian America, why? I can’t hope to write more eloquently on this topic than Matt Walsh already has in several articles for The Blaze, but I must still add my voice to the chorus of “Whys.”

People say, “Well, he tells it like it is!” Or “He won’t take junk from Iran!” Or “He’s not afraid to criticize other Republicans?” Okay, who else can we think of in the current Republican field who might fit that bill? Bonus points if he’s been married to the same woman and didn’t bribe Hillary Clinton to come to the wedding. Extra bonus points if he actually understands the gospel. This, by the way, is not the gospel, just so we’re all clear: “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” Oh, one more thing, if he can take criticism without whining like a 3-year-old and lobbing crude insults at women like a 13-year-old, that would be really terrific.

What’s that you say? There are several candidates who make the cut? Well then what in the red, white and blue blazes are people thinking?

But “He says his favorite book is the Bible”! And one guy “heard” he was going to make America a Christian country again! “Thank you Lord Jesus,” for men who tickle the ears of gullible people with just the words they want to hear.

The saddest part about all of this is that even if Donald Trump doesn’t manage to win the nomination, there is no way he will not keep riding that attention train on a third party ticket. And he will know full well that he is essentially handing the keys to the Democratic party once again by doing so. But then, beating the Democrats has never been his real goal. Being the center of attention is. And if he can’t be the absolute center of attention, he’ll be as distracting a sideshow as possible. This is a man who can compare himself to Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham while keeping a straight face.

Christian conservatives ought to be ashamed of themselves. This whole farce is nothing less than a national tragedy.

America, please, get behind a real man. I’m not even going to dictate which man you should get behind instead. You have options. You have one of the best Republican fields we’ve seen in years, and you have nearly a whole half-year to get to know them before the primary. You have half a year to straighten out your priorities.

If you still don’t have it together come election season, the only advice I have left for you is to be careful what you wish for.


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Do War Room and Sherwood Pictures Present a False Gospel?

Many of you are probably familiar with the Christian movie productions of Sherwood Pictures. They’ve had great success with limited budgets on films like Facing the GiantsFireproof, and Courageous. Each of their films covers a particular theme, like faith, marriage, or fatherhood. The other week, they released a new project entitled War Room, focused on prayer. It was a box office smash, vying with hot Hollywood releases like Straight Outta Compton. However, like the church’s other projects, it’s come under criticism for being poor quality and perhaps even presenting a distorted view of Christianity.

These criticisms are sometimes coming from other Christians, not just jaded mainstream reviewers. I recently read one article by John Mark Reynolds that was particularly unsparing. He called it “Genie Jesus and the War Room Problem.” He argues that all the Kendricks’ movies have the same theological flaw: They give Christians the impression that any problem a Christian has can be solved by the appropriate amount of faith and prayer. In other words, he’s accusing them of presenting a prosperity gospel. He points out that for many people, living out the Christian faith will involve unanswered prayers, suffering, and sad endings.  In War Room, a wife is urged to remain in a bad marriage and pray for her nasty, philandering husband, who ultimately repents. Reynolds cites the examples of many women like her who will pray fervently and see no change.

Okay, so we know happy endings aren’t universal, but is it fair to accuse Sherwood’s films of generally presenting a false gospel? Do they really preach a “genie Jesus”? Will Christians walk away with a false idea of what faith, prayer and provision really mean? I think a more careful look reveals that while Reynolds raises interesting concerns, he’s being disproportionately harsh. (Full disclosure though: I haven’t seen War Room yet, just previous Sherwood movies.)

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Like Summer Snow: On Josh Duggar and Christian Scandals

It’s official: Josh Duggar is a serial adulterer and p*rnography addict. The data unearthed in the recent hack of Ashley Madison, a subscription web service designed to facilitate extra-marital affairs, left no room for speculation. Josh has made public statements confirming his infidelities, liberally laced with appropriately shamed/repentant language. Of course, whether he means a word of it remains for his wife and immediate family to see.

I wrote an article back when the first Duggar scandal broke a couple months ago. I criticized people who praised public school sex ed and said the homeschooling culture cultivated sexual repression, which led directly to Josh’s molesting his sisters. Whatever else you may think about how the Duggars handled the situation, to blame the whole thing on homeschooling and hold up public school sex culture as an enlightened alternative was laughable. However, I did strongly question the wisdom of starting a reality TV show in such a dysfunctional context, and I wasn’t necessarily on board with the particular ATI brand of sex ed curriculum the family used. But I was prepared to forgive them and to forgive a (seemingly) repentant Josh, now nearly twice the age he was then and with a family of his own. And I still firmly believe that it would not have been better for the family to be torn apart and dragged through the mud in the immediate aftermath of Josh’s crimes.

However, while I still have great sympathy for the Duggar family and now for Josh’s own immediate family, I have not one iota of sympathy left for Josh himself. Without going into details, the data from Ashley Madison shows that he was prepared to experiment with the most sleazy kinds of sexual activity, tagging a laundry list of “turn-ons” in a potential sexual partner. In one chat, he said he was “looking to have a steamy affair.” He even paid a perverted kind of “warranty” fee, which guaranteed that if he didn’t get an affair in some set time period, he would get his subscription money back.

This slap in the face to Josh’s wife and family is tragically compounded by the shame Josh has brought to the Church and the name of Christ. As president of the Family Research Council, he has vocally lobbied for genuinely worthy conservative causes, like fighting the re-definition of marriage. All that work is now tainted by his involvement with it.

Tragically, Josh is not alone. In fact, he is only the most recent example of a conservative Christian political activist who has been caught living a double life.  Continue reading


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GOP Candidates, First Impressions

Republican Elephant Boxing

I caught bits and pieces of the FOX News-hosted GOP debates last night and wanted to share a few first impressions, as well as additional information about the candidates that might be helpful. I don’t know enough about every candidate to give comments on all of them (and frankly, it’s too early for me to do that much research!) But for now, these are my thoughts. FOX has also put up some choice clips that I will embed in case you missed the debate or need a replay. Those of you who are resolutely trying not to get caught up in the hype, feel free to resist the “Click for more” urge and come back in a year. (But really, you know you want to click. Come on now.)

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On Homosexuality and Singleness: A Response to Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield

Butterfield and Yuan

Last week, I had some thoughts on SCOTUS’s gay “marriage” decision that seemed to strike a chord with a lot of readers. I was honored that New Testament professor Robert Gagnon shared it on his Facebook page. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, I recommend that anyone who wants to be encouraged by a thoughtful, biblical perspective on the issue seek out Gagnon’s writing. He strikes the perfect balance between meticulous scholarship and sharp-eyed observation of our culture.

In that post, I critiqued a few different conservative leaders who have thrown in their .02 on the decision. Today, I’m going to discuss a special joint response by two more speakers named Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield. Yuan and Butterfield have distinctive ministry platforms, based on their personal testimonies of being delivered from the homosexual lifestyle. While Yuan remains single, Butterfield has married and raised a family since her conversion. In their statement, they articulate a certain philosophy of marriage and singleness that dovetails with other comments I’ve heard Yuan make. In addition, they close with a parallel between pro-marriage and pro-life activism. While I have no essential doctrinal disagreements with either writer, I believe parts of their joint statement are simply wrong. Unfortunately, I have yet to see anybody offer a corrective to it. So I’m afraid that once again, it falls on me to rush in where Gospel Coalition pastors fear to tread.

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A Place for Outrage Post-Obergefell

While I’m on a political roll, I’ll take a post to look back at the fateful SCOTUS decision on gay “marriage,” which I didn’t get around to writing about at the time it was actually handed down. In particular, I want to critique some of the more unhelpful reactions I saw from allegedly conservative Christians, who took it upon themselves to lecture other conservative Christians about how they should or shouldn’t react to the decision.

One theme that folks like Ed Stetzer, Russell Moore and others kept harping on was the unhelpfulness of “panic” or “outrage.”  Stetzer’s Christianity Today article contained subtly downplaying language like this: “As Christians, this is just another step as Christians are losing long-held cultural clout in the West. The focus must not be panic… or anger… or fear… or disdain.” (As if Christians who express alarm at the profound social ramifications of this decision are merely pouting over their loss of “cultural clout!”) Russell Moore wrote two pieces, one for the Gospel Coalition that was more constructive, and one for the Washington Post that included lines like this: “Some Christians will be tempted to anger, lashing out at the world around us with a narrative of decline. That temptation is wrong.” And a few lines later, “This is no time for fear or outrage or politicizing.”

I wonder whether the work of somebody like Ryan Anderson, who immediately responded to the decision with five practical actions Christians could take, would count as “politicizing” or “lashing out” by Moore’s standards. I’m also at a loss as to where Moore gets this idea that it’s “wrong” and unbiblical to be angry, outraged or even fearful at the moral decline of a nation. There is most certainly a place for outrage in the wake of this decision, and it presents a false dichotomy to divide it necessarily from evangelistic compassion.

The truth is, I don’t think Stetzer, Moore, and their ilk have really thought through all these finger-wagging soundbites. I think they feel compelled to put them in there as part of a knee-jerk reaction against anything that might be perceived as blunt, or harsh, or rough around the edges. As proof of my hunch, I’d like to offer an incident I actually observed for myself when I recently sat in on an interview taping with Sean McDowell. (Yes, THAT McDowell. Sean is the son of Josh and has his own writing/speaking ministry, including a recent book with Breakpoint’s John Stonestreet on same-sex “marriage.”)

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Pro-Lifers, Be Angry and Sin Not

In the wake of the disgusting revelation that Planned Parenthood has been trafficking the remains of its victims, and apropos of some thinking and listening I’ve been doing lately on the subject of abortion, a few words seem appropriate.

On this breaking news, there’s not much more to be said that Matt Walsh hasn’t already said volubly and elegantly, so everyone, just go read his columns at The Blaze and thank me later. However, one paragraph of his in particular caught my attention and did seem worth expanding on (emphasis added):

I am incredibly angry as I write this. I try not to be, usually. Writing angry is often like going to the grocery store hungry; you’re bound to make choices you’ll regret later. But I anticipate that much of the media will ignore this story, so I have to write about it. And if I’m going to write about Planned Parenthood selling dead children, or Planned Parenthood doing anything else, it’s impossible to be anything but angry in the process. This is the most wretched and contemptible organization in the world, and I don’t think I ever want to get to the point where they don’t make me angry when I think about them.

It’s unfortunate that some pro-life activists, even wonderful representatives for the cause who are doing great work and saving lives, will distance themselves from the idea of feeling anger at abortion. Without naming names, I recently heard one make an inspiring pitch for his organization in which he still felt a need to explain that grief as opposed to anger is what really saves lives. He described anger as a temptation to resist, something that’s not constructive and not helpful.

I beg to differ. I think Matt gets it exactly right. And so does a friend of mine, who’s a little bit famous (is that a thing?) and very polarizing, so in the interests of avoiding google trolls, I’ll just call him Mike (‘cuz that’s his name).

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Can We Still Be Patriotic?

The other week I was listening to Rush Limbaugh, and I heard a very sad call-in from a 60-year-old southern gentleman. He was talking about loss of faith in the Republican party, in the judicial system, in the military—all these institutions that as conservative Americans we would love to throw our support behind. He talked about current and possible future erosion of liberties like speech and gun ownership. What was there left for him to believe in and defend as a patriotic American? Rush had no pat answers. All he could do was empathize.

By coincidence, I was listening in on the same day SCOTUS upheld Obamacare 6-3. Once again, the allegedly conservative Justice Roberts co-authored the majority opinion. (It’s enough to make one wonder if someone has incriminating photos of the guy, but that’s neither here nor there.) Meanwhile, Justice Scalia added yet another gem to a long line of eloquent dissents. Read a few choice quotes here. “Interpretive jiggery-pokery,” indeed. And of course, the day after that, SCOTUS miraculously “found” the “right” to redefine marriage in our Constitution by a 5-4 majority. Kennedy wrote this opinion, in a style “as pretentious as its content was egotistic.” (Scalia again. How I love that guy).

In these times, the southern gentleman’s question is a fair one. When even the most conservative justices in our highest court can’t always agree on a matter of basic interpretive integrity, where do we place our hope? What does it even mean anymore to say “God bless America”?  Continue reading

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The Enduring Power of Hymns

Much ink has been spilled over the worrying statistical reality that millennials are leaving their parents’ churches, and a lot of them don’t make a return appearance. Mega-church strategists everywhere are no doubt feverishly putting their heads together to figure out how this can still be happening (even after they installed that sick light show and put all their youth pastors in skinny jeans!) Some of these discussions are probably revolving around worship music. Maybe (some of them are still wanly hoping), we can keep tweaking our music formula until it’s so cool our kids will never want to leave, cause they just gotta have their weekly dose of worship band.

Of course, you know and I know that if anything, the mega-church strategists’ fever dreams are part of the problem, not the solution. I propose that this is because with all their bumbling good intentions, they fail to see there’s something fundamentally transient about turning church into a product. They’re hoping to keep kids in church by breathlessly trying to keep up with the latest trends in pop music, culture, etc. But kids don’t need a fad. They need a foundation.

That foundation should take a number of different forms: doctrinal, apologetic, and even musical. One of the most shameful gaps in the foundation for many of our young people is a firm grounding in how to defend their own faith, but that’s a discussion topic for another day. Today, I want to talk about building a musical foundation for our young people. In particular, I want to focus on the enduring power of hymns. 

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