‘Born Bad’: How the idea that we’re all sinners has shaped Western culture – The Washington Post


‘Born Bad’: How the idea that we’re all sinners has shaped Western culture – The Washington Post.

Read this book review by Michael Dirda and consider where the argument about original sin and the history of Christian doctrine errs.

Your observations are welcome. Feel free to share using the comments box below.

Rev. Giles Fraser Catches Out Richard Dawkins in Dispute about Christianity in Britain


On Tuesday, BBC 4 hosted an occasionally heated exchange between Richard Dawkins and Rev. Giles Fraser. In their exchange, Fraser takes exception to the design of a survey conducted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. He suggests that the survey, which purports to establish that Christianity is rare in Britain, shows no such thing. The Dawkins survey revealed that nearly two out of three who consider themselves Christians were unable to name the first book of the New Testament. (The correct answer is supposed to be the Gospel According to St. Matthew, but that depends on what you mean by “first”!) Fraser put the Dawkins test to work on Dawkins himself and asked if he could name the full title of The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. Though he said he could, Dawkins stumbled when trying to quote the full title of his own secular Bible. Some British journalists are having laugh at Dawkins’s expense.

For audio of the interview (less than 7 minutes) click here. The story is reported at the Huff Post, with a transcript of the embarrassing bit, here.

Many, no doubt, will remark with glee on the embarrassing incident. But this isn’t quite fair, in my opinion. True, Dawkins should know the full title of Darwin’s seminal work. Dawkins is, after all, a former Oxford University professor who has published extensively in defense of Darwinian evolution. He is also the author of a 23-page Introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of The Origin of Species and the Voyage of the Beagle, published by Alfred A. Knopf. But it surely is a sad commentary on the state of literacy in Britain that so few who call themselves Christians can name the book that appears first in most copies of the New Testament.

There is a larger point that should not be missed. There was a time when knowing that sort of thing was widespread among believers and non-believers alike. But the fund of “common knowledge” has been compressed to the dimensions of a thimble so that now what counts as literacy is up for grabs. Christian or not, shouldn’t a literate person know enough about the world’s great literature to be able to declare with confidence the name of the first Gospel of the New Testament?

Coincidences of Life – Ender’s Game and a UPS Truck


UPS Truck . . . without a driver

This afternoon I was waiting at a red light (northbound on Palm at Central in Brea, CA, if the coordinates matter) and listening to the audio-book for the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Just as the light turned green, one character said to the other, “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service.”

This struck me as odd, showing up in a work of science fiction. But stranger still, as I shifted my motorcycle into second, a UPS truck passed me in the intersection going south.

Was it a coincidence? Of course it was. It was quite literally the coinciding of an auditory reference from one source and a visual reference from another source to the same company, UPS. These sensory experiences occurred simultaneously. They each conveyed information, and the information conveyed referred to the same thing. I heard a guy say through my headset, “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service” just as I waved to a guy driving a truck for the United Parcel Service. (Well, actually, I didn’t wave.)

Uncanny?

Sort of.

The Merriam -Webster Dictionary defines “uncanny” in this way: “seeming to have a supernatural character or origin,” or “being beyond what is normal or expected: suggesting superhuman or supernatural powers.”

The concurrence of two causally unrelated references to the same informational content attracts our attention. It is so incredibly unlikely that this would happen, it seems almost to have been planned. Was it planned? And if so, who arranged it? It might take superhuman or supernatural powers to make it happen just so. What other explanation could there be?

“Coincidence,” we say, with palpable matter-of-factness. But of course it’s a coincidence. Saying so merely reports an observation of fact. The real question is, what kind of coincidence is it? What is the explanation for this coincidence?

We do explain coincidences in various ways. Sometimes we say, “It was just a coincidence.” By this we mean that there’s nothing more to it than that, a mere coincidence, with no deep explanation. There is no intelligible cause, and no intelligent agent, involved. There is no meaningful answer to the question, “Why did this happen?”

But the question does present itself. It does to me, anyway. Trivial coincidences like this happen in my experience with remarkable frequency. I say “trivial” because I infer no special significance when they happen. And yet it is both remarkable each time it happens and remarkable that it happens as often as it does.

Why is it remarkable if the coincidence is trivial? It’s remarkable because the concurrence is so improbable. The degree of improbability varies depending on the specific character of the information presented. But the improbability of the concurrence does not, as such, warrant attribution of some special significance.

Why not?

The answer, I think, is two-fold. First, we can think of no special reason why the elements in our experience have occurred together. (Note: No one else in the intersection, I believe, actually heard or thought of the words “United Parcel Service” at that moment.) Second, we can identify no  causal mechanism that would ensure that they did occur together. In other words, there is no apparent point in their concurrence, and no obvious causal account of their concurrence. If we thought their concurrence served some purpose, we would naturally be curious about the cause. And if nothing else will serve, we might say that the cause was superhuman and personal. Given a general reluctance to attribute causes to occult entities, we require that a coincidence be specially significant. Also, if the concurrence was caused for our benefit, then we should find some benefit in their concurrence. That is, if we who experience the coincidence were meant to experience it, then there was some reason why it happened and why it happened in our experience. And this suggests that we should be capable of discerning that purpose.

What purpose could possibly have been served by the coincidence I experienced on my way home this afternoon? Nothing comes to mind. “It’s just a coincidence.”

But wait, now that I think that thought, I recall that there was a UPS package for me when I arrived home not two minutes later. Was the coincidence a warning, then? It certainly didn’t have that effect on me when it happened. In fact, when it happened, my thought was, This is something I could blog about. And in retrospect it doesn’t seem that a warning was required. The contents of the package were innocuous. Some clothing I had ordered. I don’t know if it matters, but the package wasn’t waiting on the front porch, as if it had just been delivered by the very same UPS truck. It had been carried in by another member of my household who wasn’t home. (I know she wasn’t home because no one was home. And I know it was a she because I’m the only he in the household. Aren’t you impressed with my awesome powers of deduction?)

I suppose now I might take care trying on the clothing that was delivered. But I can’t seriously entertain the notion that I’m in some kind of danger.

If there was a message, it was totally lost on me.

Could there be some other purpose, completely unrelated to my goals or interests, so that the purpose might be achieved quite apart from my cognizance of it?

(c) 2009 Katherine Gehl Donovan

Sure. A minor demon might have been taunting some innocent angel with her powers of manipulation, claiming to be able to cause me to hear “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service” and, at the same precise moment, cause me to see a guy driving a truck for the United Parcel Service.

In that event, would it really matter whether I recognized the concurrence of the appearance of a UPS truck just as I was hearing that bit of fictional dialogue? I can imagine a neophyte angel thinking, How did you do that? What if the line I’ve quoted from the story isn’t actually in the novel?

And what if there wasn’t really a UPS truck crossing the intersection in the opposite direction? Maybe the demon’s game was to present me with visual and auditory data that did not correspond with objects matching the data. Who knows what minor demons are capable of?

The point is, if there was a purpose in the coincidence, I have no idea what it was, and this makes it less likely that, if there was a purpose, realization of that purpose depended on my discerning that purpose.

Now, what do I actually believe? Do I believe there was a purpose in the coincidence? I do not. But this is imprecise. Not believing that there was a purpose is not the same as believing there was no purpose. I might simply be agnostic about whether the coincidence served some purpose.

So am I agnostic? No. I believe that no purpose was served.

I should have a reason for believing this, shouldn’t I?

My chief reason for believing that no purpose was served by the event is that attributing a reason does not comport with my worldview. Or rather, my worldview provides no basis for attributing a reason for the coincidence.

What we make of coincidences often is a matter of worldview commitments. Some coincidences do, for me, invite an inference to the agency of some superhuman or supernatural agent. Apparent answers to prayer, for example.

Here’s a question for fellow theists who believe that God exists and is a personal being who created the universe and sustains it in existence, others like me who affirm a doctrine of meticulous divine providence:

How do you decided whether this or that ‘coincidence’ is the occurrence of an event serving some special purpose intended by a superhuman or supernatural being?

Bonus Question: Is the angel/demon image posted here too provocative? Is it poor judgment to use it here?

Doug Interviewed by the Religious News Service about God’s Role in Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami


Tuesday, March 22, I was interviewed by Nicole Neroulias about God’s role in Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. Neroulias blogs for Beliefnet and writes for Religion News Service. She is a graduate of Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and she has written for The New York Times and other media.

Our conversation of about 40 minutes focused on a poll just conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. The institute and news service polled Americans for beliefs about God’s role in natural disasters. Neroulias recounted the results of the poll for me and asked for my reaction. Today her story went online here. Portions of our interview are summarized near the end of her article.

We discussed far more than could be included in her story. So I may be posting further about this interesting and important topic.

I welcome your reaction to the poll and comments on the article by Neroulias.

Notes & Updates:

  • Nicole Neroulias can be followed on twitter here.
  • The Religion News Service claims to be “the only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethics.”
  • The poll has also been noticed by CNN here.
  • Neroulias has also posted at Beliefnet here.
  • The Huffington Post is carrying the story by Neroulias here.

Radio Interview: The Janet Mefferd Show


Beginning at 11:00 a.m. CT today, Doug will be interviewed on the Janet Mefferd Show.

400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible


The first page of the Book of Genesis from the...

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The world’s best-selling book of all time, the King James Version of the Bible, is 400 years old this year. Introduced in 1611, this elegant English translation has a storied history, and an influence on Western culture beyond that of any person or object.

Today, a friend and colleague of mine gave a brief presentation on the history and influence of the KJV to the faculty at my university. Dr. Clinton Arnold is a New Testament scholar with numerous books to his credit. For a beautiful book that surveys the history of the English Bible, I recommend his neatly organized and amply illustrated book How We Got Our Bible.

If you want to read up on the King James Bible, I recommend two books:

The general topic matters for two basic reasons:

  1. Some uninformed critics think that the existence of diverse English translations counts against the divine origin of the original manuscripts of the Bible.
  2. Many, believers and nonbelievers, are not familiar with the history of the “canon” of the Bible. They do not know how the various books of the Bible, written by many individuals over a period of centuries, came to be regarded together as the written word of God.

Whether or not you use the King James Version, whether or not you read the Bible, I encourage you to commemorate this anniversary of the KJV with a little study of the history of the Bible. Here are some sources for that purpose:

Related:

Scripture Memory Made Easy


Scripture Memory Made Easy is the title of a little book by Mark Waters. The method resembles the approach I was taught by Garry Friesen as a college student in the late 1970s. The 64-page booklet, dubbed an “easy-to-understand pocket reference guide,” is both a guide to Scripture memorization and “a plan for learning one hundred Bible verses in fifty-two weeks.”

The author stresses the importance of review and has built this crucial element into the method. He also advises the excellent practice of memorizing verses topically. Both of these components of a sound Scripture memory plan were part of the Navigator’s “Topical Memory System” that I used when I was a teenager.

I have always believed in the value of Scripture memorization. It’s never too early to begin. Nor is it ever too late. For all the enthusiasm we see today for new techniques of “spiritual formation,” there is almost no emphasis on the memorization of carefully selected passages from the Bible.

Scripture Memory Made Easy, by Mark Waters, is a useful remedy.

Order at Amazon

Happily, the Topical Memory System, by the Navigators, continues to be published. Today’s kit includes 60 verses cards with passages from several familiar English translations, a workbook, and a verse card holder.

If Scripture memorization is new to you, I urge you to begin now. God will reward your efforts with the supply of wisdom for life’s small and major moments.

Note: I welcome your response to this post. Other readers may be encouraged to know of how your own experience with Scripture memory has increased your faith, enabled you to follow God’s will, and fostered greater boldness as a believer living in a secular society.

This website is read by people of differing beliefs. This particular post is primarily for those who believe the Bible is the greatest source for wise living. Anyone who believes this should be especially open to the value of Scripture memorization.

Again, I look forward to hearing from you!

Clever Edit of Mexico Debate a Challenge to Richard Dawkins


Apparently, Birdie.com has edited the YouTube video made of the debate in Mexico from November 2010, in which I, Bill Craig, and David Wolpe debated Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, and Matt Ridley. The aim of this 6 minute feature is to show the mistakes that Richard Dawkins made in understanding and assessing our case in that debate.

If you wish to see this clip, click here.

The Christian Introvert


Adam S. McHugh has written a wise book of guidance for the Christian introvert. I’m convinced by his argument that the Christian church in the West is, by and large, an “extrovert church,” and that this has stifled and confused many members of the church and enervated the church’s influence in the world.

Here’s my chapter-by-chapter review of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam S. McHugh.

Chapter 1, “The Extroverted Church,” documents the extroverted tone of the Christian church today. The author’s citation from Eugene Peterson gets right to the point: “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”  Such “hustling ambition” is part of the legacy of the first and second Great Awakenings. I would add that it is also a capitulation to modern western culture. Approximately half of the church’s demographic is temperamentally introverted, and so a large sector of the church is made to feel alienated and inadequate to the call of God in their lives.

Chapter 2, “The Introverted Difference,” helpfully describes the differences between two temperaments, the extrovert and the introvert. Any Christian reader will probably know whether she is an extrovert believer or an introvert believer after reading this chapter. And if she is an introvert, she will probably feel considerable relief that someone understands her. McHugh’s affirmation of the introvert temperament begets inspiration to own your introvert temperament and re-engage with the church and the culture in ways that draw on your strengths as an introvert.

The fundamental difference concerns the direction of energy flow in the life of the individual, especially in relation to social interaction. The extrovert, of course, seeks out and is energized by interaction with others. The introvert, though capable of participation, feels the energy drain away as a result too much interaction. This affects her perception of herself as a member of an extroverted culture. And it can be misunderstood by the extroverts who set the tone for this culture of extroversion.

Note: Being an introvert doesn’t make you shy, or inhibited, or anti-social. And being an introvert is no better or worse than being an extrovert.

Chapter 3, “Finding Healing,” addresses the need of so many introverts for healing from the wounds inflicted by the exclusivity of our extroverted culture. Often lonely and confused about the role they should play within the church and the world leads, introverts are vulnerable to depression, isolation, and despondency. McHugh distinguishes between introversion and shyness, and helps the introvert reader understand how participation in communal life is possible and why it is necessary.

The next few chapters explore ways the Christian introvert may thrive as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 4, “Introverted Spirituality,” introduces ways that Christian introverts may deepen their relationship with God. These ways complement the introverted temperament. McHugh describes contemplative spirituality. His outline of the examen on page 74, though concise, is practical. And his counsel to adopt a “rule of life” is especially good. He speaks several times of learning to discern the voice of God. Though I would gloss this differently, what he says is consistent with my own take on divine guidance.

Chapter 5, “Introverted Community and Relationships,” admonishes the introvert to re-engage in communal life and offers practical suggestions for doing this, consistent with the introvert temperament. McHugh speaks as an introvert who has practiced what he preaches. He attests to the refreshment that becomes possible for the introvert in community, and to the joy that accompanies meaningful participation.

Chapter 6, “The Ability to Lead,” speaks to me. On the Myers-Briggs personality evaluation, I’m an INTJ. Translated, this means I have stronger tendencies to probe below the surface for what is important, rather than seek out concrete experiences, to make decisions based on deliberation, and to prefer structure over spontaneity in many (though certainly not all) areas of my life. For all of my adult life I’ve had a leadership role of some kind within the church and within society. Leadership feels and looks different for the introvert. But the introvert leader brings important skills to the table. Models of introverted leadership include Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jonathan Edwards. Old Testament saints Moses and Jacob probably were introverts. The young pastor Timothy, so important to the ministry of St. Paul, may have been an introvert (see 2 Timothy 1:7). Then there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary, who was Martha’s sister (see Luke 10:38-42). I suppose Esther, the Old Testament figure who changed the course of history for Israel, was an introvert. Not bad company, really.

(Diane Hamilton offers a sample list of celebrities, showing some famous extroverts and some famous introverts.)

Chapter 7, “Leading as Ourselves,” is one of the longest and most valuable chapters. McHugh extends his treatment of leadership and gets into specific details of preaching as an introvert, functioning as a spiritual director, the differences in leading extroverts and leading other introverts. He writes very candidly on this subject.

A consistent critique of my ministry has been a lack of communication. What people sometimes consider to be my flaws betrays their extroverted expectations for communication.

Speaking from experience, I can say that there is real lived wisdom in that statement. University students, for example, expect—and often prefer—extrovert communication. This is reinforced in countless ways. At the graduate level, many of them aspire to be the kind of teacher that they expect their teachers to be. Which is to say: extroverts (in the Jungian sense). But they are not all extroverts themselves, and they never will be. So they need models of introvert leadership in teaching and mentoring. Also, they might benefit from considering what an introvert teacher offers that most extrovert teachers do not, because of how they’re wired. (This topic deserves several posts at another time!)

Chapter 8, “Introverted Evangelism,” begins, “An introverted evangelist? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Very little has been written about personal evangelism that doesn’t assume a extrovert personality. This chapter is an exception. McHugh stresses that evangelism is needed and occurs in different contexts. Many contexts—some of them very natural and routine—are overlooked. And these often are contexts where introverts thrive. Here’s one tidbit that may interest you in this aspect of evangelism:

My evangelistic conversations these days resemble spiritual direction more than they do preaching. . . . Because introverts process internally, we can offer a nonjudgmental posture and others will be comfortable opening up their lives to us.

I’m a big fan of “conversational evangelism.” But many extroverts are clumsy in their use of this approach.

Note: McHugh and I differ about how rational argumentation and lifestyle persuasion relate to each other. Whereas he places them in tension with each other, I see them as complementary, no matter who we happen to be conversing with.

Suggestion: For more on conversational and lifestyle evangelism, I recommend the book Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You, by Joe Aldrich, and Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak So You Can Be Heard, by Norman Geisler and David Geisler.

Chapter 9, “Introverts in Church,” surveys the diverse ways that Christians do church, and relates each of these to the interaction styles of introverts, who may or may not be Christians. McHugh describes some wonderfully creative ways to energize the worship experience and communal life for the many introverts who are otherwise neglected by standard protocols. I know of Christians who have never felt at home in churches they’ve attended. After awhile, many of them begin to feel that something is wrong with them. Some even begin looking beyond Christianity for spiritual sustenance. It is a grievous error of the church to miss what’s being done to these dear believers.

Introverts in the Church includes “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” for each chapter. How fitting it is, in a book for and about the Christian introvert’s discipleship, to place reflection and discussion in that order! These are not perfunctory questions. They probe and delve deeply in ways that will help the introvert understand herself more fully and will inspire new ways of being in community with and leadership among other believers.

There pages of “Further Reading” include categorized lists of other resources. On evangelism, McHugh recommends Mike Bechtle, Rebecca Manley Pippert, and Rick Richardson. He lists three memoirs by “introverted authors,” Anne Lamont, Donald Miller, and Lauren Winner. For more detailed study of introversion, he suggests Susan Cain, Laurie A. Helgoe, and Marti Olsen Laney. There are other recommendations for “Community and Relationships,” “General Personality Type,” “Leadership,” “Spiritual Direction,” and “Spirituality.”

The book I’ve found most useful for delineating personality theory and personality types is Please Understand Me II: Character, Temperament, Intelligence, by David Keirsey. Basic to the theory is Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. McHugh also recommends and frequently cites Type-Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, by Otto Kroeger and Jane M. Theusen.

Two books I would add to McHugh’s list are:

Other links:

Two Bad Ideas—Building a Mosque & Burning the Qur’an


Two big items in the news today: first, Imam Feisal Abdul’s article congratulating America on its religious tolerance of Islam; second, an American pastor’s plans to burn copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11.

Building a mosque at Ground Zero is a bad idea. So is burning the Qur’an.

The media and politicians on the Left are obsessed with the differences between the two intentions. Putting it mildly, they condone the erection of the controversial mosque. But let’s be honest. Those who haven’t been silent—including President Obama and NYC mayor Bloomberg—have expressed unequivocal support for building the mosque (even though they have equivocated following their unequivocal expressions of support).

What about the pastor, with plans of his own? He is angrily denounced.

Ahem. What about the striking similarity between the two men and their “projects”?

Whatever else can be said about their true intentions, their plans appear to be deliberately provocative. That’s the point that ought to be stressed in the great conversation we’re having about “tolerance” and “rights.”

Within the framework of this likeness—that is, both are deliberately provocative—we can make more useful distinctions between the men and their plans. We should acknowledge their similarity, then ask: as deliberately provocative acts, how do they differ?

Here’s one salient difference. A mosque will have a longer term effect, with direct bearing on more people, than the singular act of burning copies of the Qur’an on 9/11. The minister’s action, if he goes through with it in a few days, will soon be forgotten—even by Muslims, I dare say. But if the mosque is built, it will stand as a permanent monument to—well, what?

For non-muslims, the mosque would not be a monument to anything at all. But can this be said of Muslims? Hmm?

Oprah on My Mind


Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

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Time Warner was at my house today to troubleshoot instability and speed problems with our internet connectivity. After the fix, we tested the speed at speakeasy.net and speedtest.net. The technician then suggested that I open YouTube for a real world test.

I cranked up the ole’ YouTube and the first thing that popped up was a six-minute video titled “The Church of Oprah Exposed.” We watched the whole thing.

It reminded me of a lecture I heard a few weeks ago by a Christian woman with a far more sophisticated exposé of Oprah’s religion.

Then I was reminded that I had agreed to review a book called “O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett.

The most limited encounter with Oprah reveals at least the following few facts:

  1. The turning point in Oprah’s spiritual odyssey was when, as a young woman, she heard the preacher in her Baptist church speak of God as “a jealous God.” Until that moment, she says, she was pretty traditional in her Christian beliefs. But the idea that God was jealous offended her sensibilities, and off she went in search of a new form of spirituality.
  2. Eventually, Oprah concluded that spirituality is not about belief but about experience. You would think that she has no definite religious beliefs, but that she only expounds on spiritual technologies that bring people together. She does, however, assert that God is in everything. From this she divines many other “truths.”
  3. Oprah uses her media venues for the overt dissemination of her religious notions. Oprah is an evangelist, with an evangelist’s fervor. You might say that she’s the single most successful “television evangelist.”
  4. Oprah emphatically denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and extols the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. The Power of Now, published in 2004, just now has 1,166 customer reviews at Amazon.com, and boasts 4 and 1/2 stars and an Amazon Bestseller Rank of 263. A New Earth garners 4 stars, 1531 customer reviews, and a Bestseller Rank of 370.

Oprah enjoys enormous popularity and her influence in the lives of individuals is considerable. There clearly is a need for sober reflection on Oprah’s significance as a spiritual guru.

Even cursory exposure to her teachings is unsettling. Her claim that religious or spiritual reality is not really about believing anything is self-defeating, since the technologies she promotes are rooted in certain definite beliefs. By denying the significance to true belief, Oprah takes the important role of evidence off the table and promises a set of attractive experiences. Meanwhile, her avid disciples or “fans,” if you prefer) abandon their more traditional beliefs, or try somehow to line them up with the principles of “the power of now.”

Oprah believes that Jesus Christ was not the unique savior of the world. That’s a pretty fundamental belief. It’s no use denying that she has control beliefs. The question is whether her beliefs are adequately grounded in evidence and whether her beliefs are true.

Here are some suggested principles for evaluating Oprah’s claims, or anyone else’s for that matter (including the preacher at your neighborhood church):

  1. If she denies that beliefs are important to her spiritual outlook, she’s being dishonest, or else she has deceived herself.
  2. If experience is promoted over truth, then there is no way to gauge the validity of the experience. Does it connect with reality, or is it a counterfeit of reality?
  3. If Oprah’s entire odyssey in the direction of a New Age religion was prompted by an altogether naive understanding of the claim that God is a jealous God, then expect the rest of her perspective to be riddled with equally naive holes.
  4. If you accept Oprah’s claim that Christianity can be harmonized with Oprah’s gospel, then count yourself a convert from Christianity to something that isn’t Christianity.
  5. If Oprah has made herself wealthy and politically influential, take special care to examine her claims, lest you be snookered by a media pro taking selfish advantage of others who aren’t sure what they believe.
  6. If Oprah’s success is owing to her media skills, then understand that she is no more credible than any other television evangelist who is known solely as a public persona.
  7. If you’re going to read Eckhart Tolle’s books, check each of his claims against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  8. If Oprah and Tolle make statements about what Jesus really taught, or what the Bible really means, take care to examine their statements for yourself to see if their interpretations are accurate.
  9. If you’re a Christian, check the fundamental claims of Christianity against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  10. Whatever it is you belief about the things that matter most, check your beliefs against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?


I discovered the music of Larry Norman through a friend in 1979. I never made it to a concert, but I’ve listened to his music for 30 years. And I’ve introduced others along the way. (I play his song “The Outlaw” in my course on Christian apologetics.)

Today I came across an interview he did with a magazine called The Wittenberg Door, published in 1976.

In the interview, Larry talks about the Jesus Movement, “Jesus Rock,” Christian music, signing autographs, being a celebrity, and having heroes. There’s a lot there for Christians to chew on today. I’m not a musician, but my world, what you might call the “Christian knowledge industry,” has its own problems with integrity.

Larry’s perspective applies at all levels of Christian engagement with culture. I encourage thoughtful consideration of what he had to say in 1976.

Note: The title of this post comes from Larry Norman’s song “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”

The Official Larry Norman Web Site

Is Witchcraft Merely a Passing Fancy among Emerging Adults?


Buffy

As a university professor, I have a deep interest in the lives of “emerging adults” and trends occurring among them. Today, one such trend is commitment to Witchcraft.

A popular website, TeenWitch.com, claims that

Witchcraft is the fastest growing belief system in the U.S. and the second largest religion in the U.S. Witchcraft (including Wicca) passed Buddhism in 2005, passed Hinduism in 2007, passed Islam in 2008, and passed Judaism in March of 2009.

More young women than men are attracted to Witchcraft. Often, their initial introduction to the Witchcraft movement is through popular media: TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and feature films like the Harry Potter series. Initial curiosity is often fed by internet searches that put young adults in possession of more information and in contact with established members of the Witchcraft community.

Many emerging adults simply accept the neopagan interests of their peers without seeking inclusion. Others, who investigate a little more fully, lose interest quickly. But a marked number take to Witchcraft quite seriously.

The movement deserves greater attention and more sensitive understanding. It’s tied to a worldview that looks particularly attractive to a group of today’s emerging adults who seek to make sense of their experiences—disappointments, spiritual needs, loneliness, quest for meaning, social dissonance, etc.—on a deep level.

Witchcraft’s associated worldview is supported in various ways by a general culture of relativism and experience-based conviction (over rational inquiry and the assessment of evidence). I believe the Witchcraft movement has real staying power, that it will endure as the stabilizing center for many young people now being initiated into its sensibilities. In other words, it’s more than a passing fancy or form of teenage rebellion or angst.

A good place to begin understanding the movement is with a book by sociologists Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy: Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self. Berger and Ezzy conducted intensive interviews with self-identified witches in the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia. Their book describes their findings. It includes transcripts of several interviews.

Compared with other literature I’ve read, this book by Berger and Ezzy is most helpful as an introduction to the movement among young people. Their conclusions are tied to specific empirical data. They describe the pathways by which young witches often become committed to Witchcraft. They recount the experiences and practices of young witches, and explain the notions behind them. They relate the Witchcraft movement to broader cultural sensibilities, especially (and most helpfully) in connection with the effects of postmodernism.

(Another book to make this connection is Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, by neopagan Michael York.)

Berger and Ezzy take care to describe the elements of an individual’s experience that dispose him or her to the blandishments of Witchcraft. They explore the ways family and friends have responded or reacted to the revelation that a son or daughter, friend or neighbor, has become a witch. And they describe how these responses have affected young people who consider themselves witches.

Berger and Ezzy are reluctant to criticize the movement, and they are remiss, I believe, in their conclusion that young adults are not injured by commitment to Witchcraft. They believe that for some young people, Witchcraft is a viable way of making sense of their world and living with greater purpose and satisfaction. They do not critically examine the worldview components of Witchcraft, in the interest of assessing their truth value. They seem themselves to be heavily influenced by relativizing tendencies in Western culture.

But their research and clear exposition have great value, whatever your view of these shortcomings. The authors are, after all, examining the movement as interested sociologists. Value judgments, whether positive or negative, are deliberately kept to a minimum. My impression is that this book could be read by emerging adults who are either fascinated with or already committed to Witchcraft, without causing them to feel misunderstood or prematurely judged.

More important, the book is an excellent entry point for parents, teachers, church leaders, and any others who are confused by the Witchcraft movement and concerned about the involvement of young people they know.

Interview with Brian Auten


I was interviewed recently by Brian Auten. Most of Brian’s questions concern the topic of miracles. Today Brian has posted this audio interview at his website and can be heard here.

Doug’s other posts on the subject of miracles:

On This Date in 431: The Council of Ephesus


Today is an apt day for reflecting on the Christian doctrine of the two natures of Christ. Read more of this post

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