Friday, November 30, 2007

Evangelical Virgins Tasting Forbidden Fruit

Paul's instruction in 1Thessalonians 4:3-8 seized my attention the other day. Paul writes:
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress or wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us to impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but GOd, who gives his Holy Spirit to you."

Young evangelicals are faced with a significant challenge in our sexually charged culture. Maintaining sexually purity of mind and body in today's world is like trying to scale the heights of Mount Everest. It takes discipline, courage, singlemindedness and determination. The footholds leading to safety are often difficult to navigate. One reason for this is that sexual imagery and conversation are pervasive in our world. An random moment of channel surfing can quickly (and rather innocently) turn into a Beyonce peep-show (who boasts to where the name of Jesus while often wearing little else).

What I found even more compelling and frightening about Paul's instruction is that not only are to fight for personal purity, but we are to fight for the purity of others. When we give into impurity, it may initially reveal itself privately through mental fantasies, internet chat rooms, sexually-charged movies, and perhaps (sadly)even pornography, but eventually these means of sexual exploration will energize a restlessness that desires to express itself toward the opposite sex (which it naturally should). Here is the warning in Paul's instruction: Your purity is important; but equally important is that you do not lead others into sexual deviance or impurity.

I came across an interesting article about a book called Forbidden Fruit written by Mark Regnerus which reveals that evangelical teens are actually more likely to be sexually active than mainline Protestants and Catholics. However, to be fair, Regnerus' research reveals that one reason for this is that evangelical is a broad term, and that those evangelical teens that consider themselves serious about their faith are far less likely to become sexually active before marriage.

But for the sake of discussion and to provoke thought, check out some quotes from the article below revealed from Regnerus' book.

Teenagers who identify as "evangelical" or "born again" are highly likely to sound like the girl at the bar; 80 percent think sex should be saved for marriage. But thinking is not the same as doing. Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.

Who are these evangelicals? They are clearly nominal believers.

How is that possible? What happened to all those happy, young Christian couples from the '90s swearing that True Love Waits? Partly, the problem lies in the definition of evangelical. Because of the explosion of megachurches, vast numbers of people who don't identify with mainstream denominations now call themselves evangelical. The demographic includes more teenagers of a lower socioeconomic class, who are more likely to have had sex at a younger age. It also includes African-American Protestant teenagers, who are vastly more likely to be sexually active.

But partly the problem lies in the temptation-rich life of an average American teenager. The fate of the True Love Waits movement, which began with the Southern Baptist Convention in the '90s, is a perfect example. Teenagers who signed the abstinence pledge belong to a subgroup of highly motivated virgins. But even they succumb. Follow-up surveys show that at best, pledges delayed premarital sex by 18 months—a success by statistical standards but a disaster for Southern Baptist pastors.

For evangelicals, sex is a "symbolic boundary" marking a good Christian from a bad one, but in reality, the kids are always "sneaking across enemy lines," Regnerus argues.

Do the "serious" Christians teens fare any better?

Among the mass of typically promiscuous teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens who describe religion as "extremely important" in their lives. When these guys pledge, they mean it. One study found that the pledge works better if not everyone in school takes it. The ideal conditions are a group of pledgers who form a self-conscious minority that perceives itself as special, even embattled.

I recently spent a year among some evangelical teenagers who belong to this elite minority, and I can attest to the inhuman discipline they exert over their hormones. They can spend all evening sitting on the couch holding hands and nothing more. They can date for a year, be alone numerous times in a car or at the movies, and still stick to what's known in the Christian youth literature as "side hugs," to avoid excessive touching.

But Regnerus makes a very interesting observation about the resolve of these Christian teenagers, particularly the males. They may be less likely to give into sexual pressure, but they aren't getting any help from their Christian female counterparts:

Muslims have it easy compared to them [evangelicals]. At least in Saudi Arabia the women are all covered up, so there's nothing to be tempted by. But among this elite corps of evangelicals, the women are breezing around in what one girl I know called "shockingly slutty conservative outfits" while the men hold their tongues

You can check out the article in its entirety here.

Scary Words From Evangelicals

“How then have we come to believe that at the cross this God of love suddenly decides to vent his anger and wrath on his own son? The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse — a vengeful father punishing his son for an offense he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith." Steve Chalke

“What I think I can say is, and this is where I get into trouble, I’m not so sure that when this life is over that all possibilities for salvation are over.”
Tony Campolo

“It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved.”
Dallas Willard

“For too many people the name Jesus has become a symbol of exclusion, as if Jesus statement ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me’ actually means, ‘I am in the way of people seeking truth and life. I wont let anyone get to God unless he comes through me.’”
Brian McLaren

“Could you elaborate on your personal theory of atonement? If God wanted to forgive us, why didn’t he just forgive us? Why did torturing Jesus make things better?”
Question addressed to Brian McLaren on his website (answered below)

“This is such an important and difficult question. I’d recommend, for starters, you read “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross” (by Baker and Green). There will be a sequel to this book in the next year or so, and I’ve contributed a chapter to it. Short answer: I think the gospel is a many faceted diamond, and atonement is only one facet, and legal models of atonement (which predominate in western Christianity) are only one small portion of that one facet. Dallas Willard also addresses this issue in ‘The Divine Conspiracy.’ Atonement-centered understandings of the gospel, he says, create vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else. He calls us to move beyond a ‘gospel of sin management’ — to the gospel of the kingdom of God. So, rather than focusing on an alternative theory of atonement, I’d suggest we ponder the meaning and mission of the kingdom of God.”
Brian McLaren’s answer to the above question

Younger evangelicals disenchanted with the institution of the church and seeking refuge in the "conversation" of the emerging movement would do well to heed the words of Francis Shaeffer:

“If we do not make clear by word and by practice our position for truth and against false doctrine we are building a wall between the next generation and the gospel.”

I'm concerned that some biblically orthodox evangelicals are too easily dismissing the influence of the emergent conversation. While there may be some redeeming elements to the movement, the reality is that the leadership of this movement, as demonstrated above, is moving far from the center of what have been historic orthodox beliefs. We cannot ignore the influence that the emerging church is having on Western Christianity. Perhaps that quotations from above will heighten our awareness of the battle brewing for orthodoxy within the Church.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Local Church / One Global Mission

The holidays tend to "bog" down progress in the blog world, so I apologize for the lengthy absence.

As our church begins to think more intentionally and move more purposefully towards adopting and unreached people group, I think the elephant in the room is always, "What kind of difference can one local church make? Isn't this what is so great about the Cooperative Program, bringing our resources together to make a bigger kingdom splash on the global front?"

I find this article about Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. To be sure, Bellevue isn't your typical local church. It has over 30,000 members. Nonetheless, it is an example of how one local congregation can make a difference in the lives of people on the other side of the world. Check out the whole article (as a side note, BBC gives 1/4 of its annual $22 million budget to missions)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Warmth of Prayer

This past Sunday was International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I came across this eery, yet fantastic true account of how one man's life was spared by the power of prayer.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mark Driscoll: A Confession of Pride

Justin Taylor posted this already but it is well worth the server space to post it here again. It is an excerpt from a sermon by Mark Driscoll on humility.

I believe that humility is the great omission and failure in my eleven years of preaching. I believe that this is my greatest oversight both in my example and in my instruction.

I therefore do not claim to be humble. I do not claim to have been humble. I am convicted of my pride, and I am a man who is by God’s grace pursuing humility.

So in many ways this is a sermon that I’m preaching at myself, this is a sermon you are welcomed to listen in on as I preach to myself.

But I truly believe that were there one thing I could do over in the history of Mars Hill it would be in my attitude and in my actions and in my words to not only emphasize sound doctrine, encourage in strength and commitment and conviction but, to add in addition to that, humility as a virtue.

And so I’ll start by asking your forgiveness and sincerely acknowledging that this has been a great failure.

And I believe that it is showing up in our church in the lives of men and women who have sound doctrine but not sound attitude. They may contend for good things but their motives are bad and their methods are bad and their tone is bad and their tactics are bad and their actions are bad because their attitudes are bad even though their objective is sometimes good. I see this in particular with the men. I see this with men young and old, men who have known Jesus for a long time and should know better, and men who are new to Jesus and are learning sometimes the hard way.

I will take some responsibility for this. Luke 6:40 says that when fully trained, disciples are like their teacher, and I am primary teaching pastor of this church and I can’t simply look at the pride in some of our people and say that I am in no way responsible or complicit.

I’m a guy who is pretty busted up over this personally and it really came to my attention last December just in time for Christmas. The critics really brought me a lot of kind gifts of opposition and hatred and animosity. Merry Christmas. And some of those most vocal and nasty critics were Christians – some of them prominent Christians. So I was getting ready to fire back (my usual tactics). They hit you, you hit them twice and then blog about your victory. Which I don’t have any verses for and don’t say it was a good idea. But it had been a pattern in my life until a man named C.J. Mahaney called.

I’d always considered humility to be cowardice and a compromise. In the name of humility you give up biblical conviction and passion and the willingness to contend for the faith (Jude 3) and to fight false teaching. What he was describing was orthodoxy in belief and humility in attitude and that those two together are really what God desires. And so it got me thinking and studying and praying through pride and humility and repenting and learning and growing. So I would start by saying that I thank my dear friend C.J. Mahaney for his ongoing friendship and the kindness he has extended to me and the things I’ve been able to learn through his instruction.

Furthermore, I apologize and repent publicly to you, the church for whom I am responsible, for much pride in the history of my ministry that some of you have poorly imitated and for that I am deeply sorry.

And thirdly, to say that I’m not a humble man but as result of study I’m a man who is acknowledging his pride and pursuing humility by God’s grace.
-- Mark Driscoll, sermon on Philippians 2:1-11 (November 4, 2007), part 5 in The Rebel's Guide to Joy in Humility (3:16-8:40)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Electability Trumping Values

The reports this morning that Pat Robertson will endorse Rudy Guiliani for the Republican nominatino for President is frustrating (to put it mildly). Here we see a clear-cut example of a conservative endorsing a candidate based on their perceived electability rather than their moral and social values. Rudy Guiliani may be a tough, no-nonsense politician who is fit to deal with issues related to our national security and terrorism, but he is no conservative. His promise to appoint strict constitutionalists in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to our judicial benches must be considered in light of Guiliani's infidelity in his own personal life. If he has been unable to remain faithful and honest to the promises made to those closes to him, why should we expect that he would honor promises made to the American public at-large once in office. I have a hard time understanding why evangelicals endorsing Guiliani are so easily dismissing his lack of integrity in his private life. Why is it so hard for Republicans to see that if the voting base would rally behind a conservative candidate such as Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul (whom I don't know enough about so that isn't an endorsement) or even Fred Thompson, that he would instantly become "electable". Our fear of a Clinton presidency is eroding the principles the Republican party has embraced because of our willingness to embrace a socially liberal, morally misguided candidate. Guiliani is polarizing the voting base in the Republican party and this will likely result in handing over the office to the very person Republicans are trying to keep it away from.

One a side note, Mike Huckabee's campaign faced a serious blow when Sam Brownback endorsed John McCain this morning.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lies and Illusions that Destroy the Church

While in the middle of doing some research and study in preparation for a talk at UTC this week I came across a really good article in Christianity Today about the kinds of spirituality that Eugene Petersen believes is destroying the church. I encourage anyone with any interest in church and culture to take the time to read the article. Here's a quote:

When you start tailoring the gospel to the culture, whether it's a youth culture, a generation culture or any other kind of culture, you have taken the guts out of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not the kingdom of this world. It's a different kingdom...

I think relevance is a crock. I don't think people care a whole lot about what kind of music you have or how you shape the service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, where they're taken seriously, where there is no manipulation of their emotions or their consumer needs.

One of the reasons I think a church like Mars Hill in Seattle (pastored by Mark Driscoll) is thriving is because they are very serious about the gospel while not capitulating too much to culture. There is no question that there is a great deal of contextualization that is associated with Mars Hill Church, but it appears this is never at the expense of the gospel (2Cor 5:21). This is where many emerging / emergent and contemporary churches lose their way. They tailor the gospel to culture in unhealthy degrees and, in effect, neuter the gospel of its power.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Prince Caspian

Here is a sneak peek of the next movie from C.S. Lewis' classic series The Chronicles of Narnia