Archive for August, 2010

CNN has a good article on Kenda Creasy Dean’s new book Almost Christian where she argues that many religious teens are Christian in name only.  “Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.”

Once again, however, we read that the Christians doing the best job of passing on real faith are evangelicals (Lutherans are generally considered members of “mainline denominations” rather than evangelical). There’s a lot of talk out there among Lutherans about how shallow a lot of evangelical youth ministry is (see, for example, Gene Veith’s blog post “Youth group madness” from a couple of days ago). To some extent, some of that talk is justified. But when it comes down to brass tacks, evangelicals are succeeding in passing on the faith where the vast majority of Lutherans are not. They’re doing something right, and it’s clearly a something that most Lutherans just don’t seem to get.

We discussed elements of this topic on my site back in 2009 in an entry entitled “Stemming the Tide of Church Youth Dropouts”. I’m curious to hear what new ideas people have on what we Lutherans can do to more seriously engage young people in their faith. Brainstorm people.

In Canada we haven’t had much (if any) media coverage of the crisis occuring in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since its August 2009 vote to approve homosexual relationships and open the clergy to non-celibate homosexuals. But an article of mine published today on the National Post’s religion blog “Holy Post” is intended to fill that gap a bit. It’s admittedly a cursory glance at a very complex issue, but I think I do a fair job of explaining the situation. So go ahead and check out my article (which the Post named and not I) “Lutherans follow Anglicans down rocky road of dissent”. For a reminder just how widespread the fallout over the 2009 vote is, visit my frequently updated (but by no means exhaustive) chronicle of congregational action in the ELCA.

Update – August 30, 2010

Another article of mine, this time a much shorter one on the birth of the North American Lutheran Church, has now been published in LCC InfoDigest (forthcoming also in The Canadian Lutheran): “New Lutheran church body established.” This one focuses a bit more on the Canadian connection.

There’s a perception still common in Western Society that Christianity is a “white religion.” It’s old. It’s patriarchal. And it’s imperialistic. Case settled, right? Well, it might be except for the awkward fact that the the average Christian these days is unlikely to be any of those things. North American and European Christians today account for only 38% of the global population of Christians. As noted in Philip Jenkins’ 2002 (revised 2007) book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, the “average Christian” is a citizen of the Global South – Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Christianity is not only alive and well in these areas; it’s growing at a phenomenal rate.

Images from The Thinking Christian, based on Jenkins’ numbers.

I was reminded of this fact while listening to a White Horse Inn podcast of the recent “Conversation on Global Evangelism” held at Saddleback Church (sponsored by the Lausanne Movement for World Evangelism, and featuring such thinkers as Skye Jethani, Michael Horton, Jim Belcher, Kay Warren, Jena Lee Nardella, Miles McPherson and Soong Chan Rah). One of the thing these western theological leaders comment at length on is just that – the disproportionate number of western theological leaders in the world.

As time goes on, the centre of Christian thought will eventually shift to reflect the new reality. And personally, I think that’s just fine. Christians in the Global South, living as they do with affliction in the forms of poverty, AIDS, famine, civil unrest, religious persecution, and so much more, have a vibrancy in their faith lacking in much of the West. In the midst of actual suffering, these Christians’ adherence to Scripture is something we in the West must admire.

Already we’re seeing elements of the leadership-shift as African bishops in Anglicanism and Lutheranism call on increasingly liberal counterparts in North America and Europe to return to historical orthodoxy. Think back to GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) held in Jerusalem 2008. Anglican leaders, primarily from the Global South but also including conservative leaders from the West, gathered to chart an orthodox course for world Anglicanism in opposition to the liberal agenda of the North American and European churches. Many of the same bishops in attendance would refuse to attend the Lambeth Conference (the traditional world conference of the Anglican Communion) a month later – a visible sign of the theological tensions between West and the Rest.

Likewise, leading up to the Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Stuttgart this year, African leaders representing 18.5 million Lutherans displayed their anger over the West’s recent moves to affirm alternate sexualities in a tersely worded statement. “The majority of African member churches say ‘NO’ to homosexual acts and regard it to be sinful.” The message was clear: Western churches were not going to be allowed to hijack the Assembly’s agenda to push ideas which the African church had already determined were unbiblical.

Christians in the Global South are beginning to make their voices heard. Let us pray that the West will sit up and listen.


If you’d like to read a bit more about the shift underway in World Christianity, check out Philip Jenkins’ article “Liberating Word: The Power of the Bible in the Global South”.

I’m just filling out my registration information for the University of Regina’s Literary Eclectic conference in September (a task delayed a bit by my not having a very new word processor on my desktop computer. Curse you, .docx files!). I’m presenting a paper entitled “Despair in The Pilgrim’s Progress: Universal Allegory Founded on Individual Experience” which – as might be obvious, considering it’s on John Bunyan – marries my twin passions for theology and literature. Giant Despair, from an 1894 engraving by the Dalziel Borthers Put very basically, I’m exploring the relationship between the popular theology of despair (see my 2009 post “On Despair”) which was sweeping across England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and Bunyan’s own personal bout of despair as recorded in his spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. [In layman’s terms, “despair” is the condition of those who desire earnestly to be saved by God but believe themselves already condemned or otherwise unforgivable.] In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan depicts what he believes to be the universal Christian’s experience of despair (in the characters of the Man of Despair and Giant Despair); but this universal depiction’s account of the nature, causes, and cure for despair are fundamentally drawn from Bunyan’s own struggle with despair. While I’m not arguing that the account in Pilgrim’s Progress is therefore autobiographical, I am highlighting how Bunyan’s theology on the subject is drawn from conclusions he made while a sufferer of the condition. In other words, it’s not mere academic theology for Bunyan; it’s theology learned painfully through real-life experience.

Incidentally, the slate I’m on includes presentations on Milton’s Comus and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It promises to be an entertaining (and enlightening) conference.

I picked up Peter Hitchens’ book The Rage Against God a couple days back and read it in one sitting. Hitchens is the brother of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, and while his book is not meant to be a point by point counter to his brother’s God is Not Great, it is nonetheless meant as a general rebuttal to popular atheism. Still, as he is clear, he is “neither a theologian nor even a Bible scholar,” and so his arguments are fundamentally autobiographical and/or journalistic in nature.

Which is probably why I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I might (and on this, I apparently differ from media on both the left and the right who have generally given very positive reviews). The book is divided into three parts: 1, “A Personal Journey Through Atheism”; 2, “Addressing the Three Failed Arguments of Atheism”, and 3, “The League of the Militant Godless”. The first section, which takes up more than half the book, is an autobiographical account of how he had become a militant atheist (even burning his Bible on the school ground at the age of 15) to eventually re-embrace Christianity; an interesting testimony on, as the book’s North American subtitle puts it, “how atheism led me to faith”. The second addresses three arguments of atheism: 1, that conflicts which are purportedly religious are always actually about religion; 2, that coherent morality can exist without reference to God; and 3, that atheist states are not atheist.

The third subject is where Peter Hitchens shines, and it is on this subject that his readers will find him most insightful. Drawing on his own experiences in the USSR and well-researched knowledge of its early history, he demonstrates that the Soviet system was fundamentally atheist at its core (not “religious” as Christopher Hitchens repeatedly attempts to suggest). In doing so, he demonstrates that the actions taken by the “League of the Militant Godless” (an organization in the Soviet Union devoted to wiping out religion) were directly in line with the Soviet Union’s purpose. In the process, he demonstrates that some of today’s extremist atheists (such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkings) are advocating positions worryingly like those enacted in the USSR (for example, the argument that parents should not be allowed to teach their children anything about religion until they are 18). The consequences of enacting such laws would lead inevitably, Peter Hitchens suggests, to the destruction of human rights and the increase of suffering (which demonstrably happened in the USSR – a true atheist state).

The book is a generally good read, but if you’re looking for standard apologetics it may not be the book for you. But for what it is, it is a welcome, intelligent addition to the pro-religion/anti-religion debate so popular in the present era.

I’m off to Chicago today until Saturday for I.D.I.O.M. (In-Depth Investigation of Mission), put on by Lutheran Bible Translators. [I am grateful to LBT-Canada for their support in attending the conference.] This event is for people considering the possiblity of serving in translation ministry (whether as translation advisors, language surveyors, ethnomusicologists, etc). Please pray for me and the other seventeen people at this event as we explore the possiblity of working with LBT.

LBT has published 31 translations of the New Testament since 1980, with many more projects on the go. They and similar groups such as Wycliffe Bible Translators are instrumental in bringing the Gospel of Christ to the nations. Please pray for these ministries, that God would provide workers for the harvest.