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An Ambassador to the Spiritual but Not Religious

Why David Dark thinks its a mistake to reject the R-word.

In the first half of the 17th century, Rene Descartes put forth a new method of philosophy, inaugurating what would come to be called the modern age. His philosophy was driven largely by skepticism about the reigning religious and philosophical traditions of his day, and his method was geared toward weakening their influence. Over the last four centuries, Decartes’s work has become deeply embedded in Western culture. As a result, we are increasingly alienated from the places, stories, and traditions through which our ancestors made sense of the world.

Descartes’s philosophy has a surprisingly contemporary feel in the 21st century. A recent re-reading of his work gave me the sense that he might feel right at home with those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” (or simply, the “nones”). Like many nones today, Descartes likely saw the senseless devastation that was done in the name of religion. (He was, after all, born less than a century after the dawn of the Reformation and undoubtedly knew the religious violence that saturated Europe in the early 17th century.) Today, we still see our share of religious violence and inconsistent or abusive behavior by prominent religious leaders, which rightly makes us shudder, if not roil with anger.

David Dark is sympathetic to all these anti-religious emotions, and yet in his new book Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, he suggests that try as we might, we cannot completely sever ourselves from religion. Branding someone as “religious” in public discourse, he observes, often becomes a surefire way to dismiss what that person is saying. Dark wants to drain the stigma from “religion,” restoring ...

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The Wheaton Controversy Ends, but Im Still Torn

My struggle to understand the complicated relationship between trust, truth, and transparency.

“The Editor’s Desk” is a weekly, personal meditation by CT Editor Mark Galli on how he approaches the issues of the day.

One could imagine a better outcome at Wheaton College, but it probably wouldn’t be one that is achievable given all the bloodshed in the last few weeks. To me, however, what transpired is remarkable: a display of courageous humility by provost Stan Jones and the compromise between Wheaton and Professor Larycia Hawkins.

As this controversy continued to unfold, I wrestled with a conundrum for which no solution presented itself. For many years now, I’ve heard professors, staff, and students at many Christian colleges and universities complain that they don’t know what’s going on in their institutions. This seems to reflect the oft-noted reality that we today distrust institutions and their leaders. Many of us agree—even institutional leaders—that institutions should be more accountable to the people they serve.

The solution seems simple: Why not just become more transparent about what’s going on, telling those outside the administration what ideas are percolating, what the options are—all the while inviting the larger community to participate in the decision-making process? Wouldn’t that make for better decisions and a sense of ownership by all?

Let me say I am deeply sympathetic with this view.

Then recently I met a president of a West Coast Christian college who told me why his school has actually become less transparent over the years. He said before the Internet, his school was collaborative and transparent in decision making. It was typical for the school to present proposals to faculty and staff to get their input long ...

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When Art Doesn't Make Us Better People

"The Club," a disturbing film about guilt and damnation, raises questions about art that resists creating empathy.

In a scene in Spotlight, one character points out to another that just down the street from his own home is a house he never noticed before. It’s the home to several former priests forced into leave by the church after their molestation of young parishioners was discovered. Briefly, the measured Spotlight turns into a horror film, with a home full of menace and evil lurking quite literally around the corner.

The Club, by the Chilean director Pablo Larrain, descends straight into that hell, placing us in one of those houses—but instead of Boston, this time, we’re in a remote Chilean fishing village called La Boca. Several priests live quietly, in a regimented and peaceful life near the ocean, looked after by a woman they call “Sister.” They raise a dog for racing and pray and eat together. It’s like a small monastery.

Except everyone in the little enclave are there paying for their sins, sent there by the church. And when a new member of the house shows up, so does one of his victims, who describes in very graphic detail outside their gate what was done to him. Soon an agent of the church—Father Garcia, a straightlaced, humorless Jesuit who is a servant of the “new” church—shows up to the home to investigate each inhabitant, discovering in the process that they all maintain they don’t belong there with the other degenerates. Their sins vary, but represent in microcosm a number of the Church’s worst offenses against its flock, and they all hate Fr. Garcia, who seems to semicordially despise them back.

Larrain—who was raised Catholic but no longer practices—told the New York Times that “the key words in making The Club were ‘compassion’ ...

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Bring Back Blind Dating

Online matches put the pressure on us, while setups offer a sense of community support.

Married at First Sight is one of those extreme reality shows with a premise so far-fetched you can hardly believe it’s “reality,” yet there’s something about it that compels you to watch. As the title suggests, it features three couples who are matched by a panel of experts and agree to get married upon their initial meeting.

While these brave souls may be the exception in the dating world, the show’s popularity speaks to what may be a growing weariness with today’s dating process.

In his standup comedy and his relationship book Modern Romance, comedian Aziz Ansari likewise marvels at his own parents’ arranged marriage. He notes with some irony, “It was quicker for my dad to find a wife than it is for me to decide where to eat dinner.” Ansari contrasts the community-focused way his parents met with online dating, which relies heavily on personal preference … and is growing more specific and niche than ever.

It’s true, there’s a specialty site for nearly every demographic: FarmersOnly.com, EquestrianSingles.com, VeggieDate.org, and even MouseMingle.com for Disney Parks fans. At these sites, as well as major ones like eHarmony and Match, singles have thousands of potential dates at their fingertips, to the point that it’s difficult to know where to look and who to pick.

Dating portals put the responsibility on the individual to do the searching and selecting. This format is challenging because we’re on our own—outside the social context of meeting through friends and far from the conventions of community matchmaking or arranged marriages.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller describes how the cultural view of ...

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Nominal Nation—The Shift Away From Self-Identified Christianity

The decline of nominal Christianity is an opportunity for the gospel

There was a time in American history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian. In reality, in our lifetimes, there was never a time when everyone was a Christian, and there will never be a time when there are no Christians.

We’ve used the term “Christian” so broadly that it sometimes doesn’t bear a resemblance to itself. It's nearly become a word without a meaning in modern America. Or, I should say it has endless meanings. Therefore, we can get the wrong ideas about what is and is not true in the Church and in culture.

The way things were

At one point, there was more of a Judeo-Christian consensus. There was a time when most people in America lived by more religious principles. This is why America has been referred to as a “Christian nation." Of course, we know that nations cannot be “born again” in an evangelical sense, so a nation can’t truly be “Christian.” Only individuals can be Christians.

Now, 70-75% of American say they are Christians.

I've estimated that about a third of them, or 25 percent of Americans, are what I would call “convictional Christians.” Another 50 percent of Americans call themselves Christians, but it's less central in their lives.

We also know that there was never a time when 75 percent of the people in the country were truly living a redeemed and transformed life. But there was a time when more people shared a consensus morality based on the Bible than now.

The convictional Christians wielded disproportionate influence in the culture. Those Christians had more influence than we do now. In today's culture ...

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Wheaton College, Larycia Hawkins to Part Ways

Provost says he asked tenured professor for forgiveness, withdrew termination process.

Two weeks ago, faculty leaders unanimously asked Wheaton College to drop its attempt to fire tenured professor Larycia Hawkins over whether her views on Islam fit the school's faith statement.

On Friday, 78 of the Illinois school’s 200-plus professors publicly vouched for the orthodoxy of Hawkins's theology and requested the same.

On Saturday, provost Stanton Jones told faculty that he had revoked his recommendation that started the termination process.

Hours later, the college and Hawkins jointly announced “a confidential agreement under which [we] will part ways.”

”[We] have come together and found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation,” the two sides stated in a press release complimenting each other and stating they "wish the best for each other in their ongoing work."

In a Saturday evening email, Jones informed faculty that earlier in the week he had “communicated to Dr. Hawkins that I recognize her as a sister in Christ, and that it was never my intent to call the sincerity of her faith into question.

"I asked Dr. Hawkins for her forgiveness for the ways I contributed to the fracture of our relationship, and to the fracture of Dr. Hawkins’ relationship with the College," wrote the provost. "While I acted to exercise my position of oversight of the faculty within the bounds of Wheaton College employment policies and procedures, I apologized for my lack of wisdom and collegiality as I initially approached Dr. Hawkins, and for imposing an administrative leave more precipitously than was necessary.”

Jones says he also regretted not explaining the college’s public response, and for “introducing significant ...

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Pride, Prejudice, Zombies, and Straw Men

It's not a satire. It's not a comedy. It's not anything, really.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is so devoid of artistic pretense or ambition that I feel as if I have to justify being angry at it. Come on! Look at the title, for heaven’s sake! Were you expecting it to be good? What were you expecting?

I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. But I was expecting it to be . . . something. A satire, maybe. A comedy. A riff or sideways examination of its subject matter.

But Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is none of these things. Its nearest analogue in recent film history is probably Snakes on a Plane. It is a single, pitch-ready joke title in a half-hearted search for a movie to attach to it. I half expected Samuel L. Jackson to show up in a cameo and pronounce that he was “sick of these blankety-blank zombies on this blankety-blank English estate!”

A title credits sequence sets up the premise and could be used as a textbook exhibit in the difference between world-building and exposition. We get some quick maps explaining what parts of England are overrun with zombies and which aren’t. (I’m still not sure I know.) We are told that that the rich study Japanese martial arts while the “wise” study the Chinese ways. The latter conceit shows some promise, though it isn’t really relevant to any other part of the movie except a scene where Lizzie reads The Art of War and sniffs indignantly at Caroline Bingley’s snobbishness.

In fact, the class-consciousness motif ends up being hopelessly muddled, one of several places where the source material and horror genre are at odds with each other. Horror is often thinly (or not-at-all) disguised metaphor for social and cultural anxieties. Frankenstein is about technological advances ...

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7 New Theology Books You Should Read This Year

A list to help you grow intellectually and spiritually.

CT asked publishers which theology and biblical studies books they were most excited to publish this year. Here are the entries along with descriptions from the authors, showing how their books address questions and concerns Christians have.

What does it mean to be a Christian today?

Modern Christian Theology, by Christopher Ben Simpson (T&T Clark, February)

My book tells how the story of Modernity is deeply intertwined with the story of Christian theology. Few people in the modern Western world think about God or religion. A religious perspective is no longer dominant in our society. If we look back 500 years, we see a world in which it would be strange for someone not to believe in God. What happened from 1500 onward—the rise and development of “Modernity”—was not only influenced by developments in Christian theology, but also influenced what it means when we today claim to be Christians. Our Christian theology has a history, and understanding that history—and the resources therein—shapes how we should think about ourselves, the modern world, and the Christian faith.
~ Christopher Ben Simpson, professor of philosophical theology, Lincoln Christian University

How can we truly understand ourselves?

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That's a Good Thing), by Jen Wilkin (Crossway, April)

My book addresses the concern that there is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. Because we lack awe for God, we lack an accurate assessment of our own patterns of idolatry, patterns that often take the form of ascribing to ourselves an attribute that belongs to God alone. By recapturing a vision of God high and lifted up, we learn a right reverence ...

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Q+A: The Story Behind the Jesus Storybook Bible

Sally Lloyd-Jones wrote a kids Bible so popular that theyre releasing an adult version.

Sally Lloyd-Jones is not just any children’s author. Like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, her writing is beloved by children and adults alike, with her bestselling Jesus Storybook Bible selling over 2 million copies to date and ranking as the most popular children’s Bible on Amazon, a position earned by its winsome presentation of the gospel in a storytelling format with a fairytale flavor. A “grown-up” version of her Bible stories hit the shelves last fall. The Story of God’s Love For You merges the text from the Storybook Bible with a fresh, new title and cover.

With roots in East Africa, England, and now a life in Manhattan, Lloyd-Jones developed a lifelong passion for stories that would be beloved by little ones worldwide. Bronwyn Lea talked with the New York Times bestselling author about learning wonder and joy alongside children, pursuing excellence, and rediscovering our vulnerability to the gospel through storytelling.

I discovered the Jesus Storybook Bible with my young children, and it was a deeply emotional experience to read it aloud to them: I laughed and I cried. What was it like for you to write it?

I always go by that saying from Robert Frost: “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” Not that you’re supposed to be moving yourself to tears in a sentimental way, but if writing is not coming from that deep place that moves you, or that you find really funny, then I don’t think it will work. Writing requires truth: truth first for the writer and then it will come across to the reader, whether it’s funny or sad. When I was writing the story of the passion, it just so happened it seemed that I was writing it during holy week, ...

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Weekend Edition: February 5, 2016

Engaging in politics, What loves is not, Single Christians, and more

POLITICS IS NEVER ENOUGHAaron Earls

Aaron Earls is a consistently solid writer, and this post on how Christians engage politics is no exception.

Solo But Not AloneErin Straza

Living single in a mostly married world is always a challenge.

The Church's One Foundation—Rebecca Faires

The writers at She Reads Truth are blogging themes from the theology in older hymns.

4 Lies About LoveTony Merida

All we need is love? Not so fast.

Five Common Reasons Church Members BurnoutThom Rainer

Church member burnout continues to happen all too frequently.

Want to read a weekly digest of The Exchange blog? Click here to subscribe to Christianity Today's Newsletter for The Exchange to get weekly wrap-ups in your inbox.

Download this week's edition of The Exchange Podcast with Greg Surratt.

Earlier this Week at The Exchange

Church Planting At Thomas Road Baptist Church—An Interview with Jonathan Falwell

Viewing Black Lives Matter, Part 1

The Gettys Spearhead Call For a Global Hymn Sing

Exploring Evangelicalism: An Interview With Brian Brodersen of Calvary Chapel—Part 1

Exploring Evangelicalism: An Interview With Brian Brodersen of Calvary Chapel—Part 2

Trend #1 For The Future Of Church Planting—Kingdom Collaboration

Sunday Journeys: Millcreek Community Church in Erie, PA, a Visit to a Church We Planted 20 Years Ago

Religion in America: An Interview With Greg Smith of the Pew Research Center (Part 2)

Church Signs

Makes me wonder when the typocrites go to church.

And everyone who knows a saved curmudgeon said, "Amen!"

They've peppered their sign with veggies. Kinda corny if you ask me.

Thanks to Brad Johnson, Josh Hearrin, and Mark Ellison for this ...

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