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How Dante's Poetry Rescued Rod Dreher from Despair

The popular blogger leaned on 'The Divine Comedy' when his world was falling apart.

Walker Percythe novelist, philosopher, and Christian convert—once expressed his bemusement at those who read Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy merely for its “poetic structure.” Percy knew, of course, that the poet carefully constructed his three-part epic (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) around complex allegories. He also knew that readers can learn a great deal about the medieval mind by reading it. Yet Percy was mystified that anyone would follow Dante’s arduous journey without getting the real point: Dante wants to save our souls no less than his own.

Rod Dreher gets it. The popular blogger’s new book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem (Regan Arts), does more than retrace Dreher’s own Dante-driven recovery of life and faith. Just as the poet Virgil leads Dante into the pit of hell so that he might climb to the edge of paradise, Dreher hopes to lead readers out of their own “dark wood” toward heavenly delight.

Yet Dreher doesn’t turn Dante into a preacher. On the contrary, he attends to the Comedy’s poetic nuances, its rich characters and events, its stunning metaphors, and its piercing insights. Even so, this book is more about Dreher than Dante, and I don’t say this to damn with faint praise. By filtering his own personal struggle through the greatest of all Christian poems, Dreher strikes depths not otherwise possible.

Return to Roots

How Dante Can Save Your Life is, in effect, a sequel to Dreher’s 2013 best-selling memoir, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. In that book, he narrated the marvelous life and crushing death, from cancer, of his schoolteacher sister. Unlike ...

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God and Country: Americans' Views of God's 'Relationship' with the U.S

What do Americans think about the United States and God? Fascinating new data.

Happy Fourth of July weekend folks, my American readers!

Two hundred thirty-nine years ago tomorrow, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, nearly a month before it would eventually be signed. I hope you're having a fun weekend, getting to enjoy some time with family and friends.

As I explained in a post last year:

Christians are, in a sense, dual citizens-- of the Kingdom and of the nation where they live. I live in a country that is not without fault, but I am proud to be a citizen of that nation. I teach my children to be proud of their nation-- not unaware of its challenges-- and patriotic citizens.

Just this week, LifeWay Research released some new data on how Americans view their country and how God relates with it. Here's an excerpt from our report:

In a nation founded on religious liberty, most Americans believe God has a special relationship with the United States, and they’re optimistic the best is yet to come. Despite headlines lamenting the global decline of the United States since the Cold War, 54 percent of Americans believe the nation is on the upswing, according to a September survey by LifeWay Research. Only 4 in 10 think “America’s best days are behind us.” And though the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of God, 53 percent of Americans say they believe God and the nation have a special relationship, a concept stretching back to Pilgrim days. Even a third of atheists, agnostics, and those with no religious preference believe America has a special relationship with God. “‘God Bless America’ is more than a song or a prayer for many Americans,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “It is a ...

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Pastor Exposed as Faithful to Wife of 17 Years

Despite the headlines, marital scandals dont define the church.

My husband and I bought a house today. It’s a green house on a little hill, built in 1927, and owned since 1966 by the local fire chief and his wife, now recently widowed. “Oh, the Flaherty house!” people around town said to us, “What a great family! What a great house!”

And so we bought it—the well-loved kitchen and bedrooms and front porch—the settings of half-a-century’s worth of lazy Saturdays and Sunday dinners and hectic Monday mornings. And lugging our cardboard boxes through the door, we found a note on the kitchen counter: “We hope,” she had written in the fragile penmanship of the elderly, “you have many happy years as we did in this home.” My house tells the story of a happy marriage.

The church, too, is a kind of house (1 Pet. 2:5, Heb. 3:6). Yet, tragically, the marriage stories of its well-known members and leaders are not always the happy kind.

Tullian Tchividjian, a pastor in my own denomination, recently resigned over an affair. He joins what seems like a long list of pastors whose reputation for sin now precedes them. Turning in disgust from our unrelenting newsfeeds, we might shake our heads and sadly accept the pronouncement of a Christian Post op-ed: “Moral failings among [Christian] leaders are becoming an epidemic.”

We are right to lament moral failure. Forgiveness and reconciliation are central to our Christian faith, but Tchividjian’s sin (and the sin of every pastor who is unfaithful) will still have grave consequences for himself and for the lives of his wife, his children, and the woman with whom he committed adultery. The effects will extend to the members of his church and to those who have read ...

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God and America: It's Complicated

Surveys show fewer think America is a Christian nation, but many see special relationship with God.

This Fourth of July, God and America have a complicated relationship.

A third of Americans say the United States is a Christian nation. But more than half say the country has a special relationship with the Almighty.

Those are among the findings of two newly released reports from Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and LifeWay Research.

According to LifeWay's report, slightly more than half of all Americans (54%) say the US has a special relationship with God, with 35 percent strongly agreeing with this perspective.

African Americans (62%) are more likely than white Americans (51%) to claim that America has a special relationship with God.

More than two-thirds of evangelicals (67 percent) believe in this unique relationship. Others who strongly hold this perspective include Southerners (59%), those with a high school degree or less (66%), women (58%), and older evangelicals over 45 (71%).

“‘God Bless America’ is more than a song or a prayer for many Americans,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “It is a belief that God has blessed America beyond what is typical for nations throughout history. I am sure that would spawn many theological conversations, but it’s important to note most Americans think God has a special relationship with their country.”

LifeWay also asked Americans whether they agreed that “America’s best days are behind us.” More than half of Americans (55%) disagree with the statement, including 35 percent who strongly disagree. In contrast, just 21 percent strongly agree and 19 percent somewhat agree.

Optimism is highest among the most highly educated Americans. Only one-quarter of those with a graduate ...

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Three Scenes: The Open Secret in Christian Adoption Circles and Why it Matters to the Church

How will you and your church contribute to the ministry of adoption?

I’m thrilled that my friend Ed has allowed me occasional space here to address matters of interest and concern. In April I wrote about how adoption doesn’t fix children over at her.meneutics. With oversight of Focus on the Family’s adoption and orphan care initiative, and as an adoptive mom, this is a topic that is near to my heart. And I meet countless people who, even though they don’t feel called to be adoptive parents, are nevertheless excited about adoption. They understand that it speaks to the dignity of every human life and that it underlines some basic truths about their own Christian faith. So I thought I’d take a stab at painting a picture of some ways everyone can play a role in adoption and illuminating why I believe it’s such an important subject.

Scene 1 - On Stage in the Sanctuary (this is a real story)

At a church-sponsored adoption event, passionate servant-leaders unpack the clear and resounding call from the Holy Scriptures to care for orphans. Whether speaking one-on-one or in front of the larger group, they eloquently raise awareness of the plight of millions of orphans worldwide. They tell stories about the 100,000 kids in U.S. foster care who need permanent families. And they help attendees better understand the very heart of God—a Father to the fatherless—and His desire to use His followers to “set the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:5).

Having been touched by God to answer this call themselves, these leaders are trying to walk the talk. Theirs is not a “Do as I say, not as I do” message. In their homes and their lives, they’re doing their best to live it out. And they are honest about counting the cost, careful ...

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Review: Terminator Genisys

Once more into the time breach.

mpaa rating:PG-13 (For intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity and brief strong language.)Genre:Action, Science FictionDirected By: Alan Taylor Run Time: 2 hours 5 minutes Cast: Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke Theatre Release:July 01, 2015 by Paramount Pictures

Note: There are implied plot spoilers in this review, particularly about a twist that is revealed in the film’s trailer but which the director has said he nevertheless hoped would be more of a surprise.

Does continuity matter to you? Even a little bit?

The Terminator franchise has always existed somewhere in the mushy middle between unified stories told across multiple films (The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) and serial stories free to change actors, back stories, and plot points (James Bond, any superhero franchise).

The first film was most likely intended as a one-off, and that’s nowhere more evident than when Kyle Reese tells the disbelieving police that “nobody goes back [through a time travel portal], nobody else goes through.” This little bit of mythological world building was necessary to keep away any of the inevitable questions surrounding time travel narratives. Why only one Terminator? Why only one time? Why not eliminate Sarah’s parents or grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandpare . . . ? Why are the ripples of change caused by time-travel so focused on one person? Why are we sure that in killing this one person that nothing else will change besides the end of the world?

It’s not so much that the original film gave better answers than its sequels to these time travel conundrums; it’s that the first film signaled that it didn’t really care about them.

The original story’s time travel backdrop was a frame to explain a tight chase and rescue story about and raising the stakes around its outcome. Terminator 2: Judgment Day took advantage of greater special effects to essentially retell the same story, but on a bigger scale. It was ...

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Burning Black Churches Rekindle Old Fears

(UPDATED) Two cases of arson found so far. Most weeks average five.

Update (July 2): The FBI believes that lightning, not arson, caused the fire at Mount Zion AME. "A forensics report of lightning strikes by CNN meteorologists shows four strikes occurred in the immediate vicinity of the church, all at 7:18 p.m. ET Tuesday," reports CNN.

So far, officials suspect lightning caused three of the recent fires at black churches.


After news broke on Tuesday night about the seventh fire at a Southern black church since the Charleston massacre, one white pastor suggested that would-be arsonists expand their targets.

“Hey racists, come burn our church too,” tweeted Ray Ortlund, who leads Immanuel Church near Nashville. “We stand for Jesus too. We oppose racism too.”

Federal officials said they had not ruled anything out in their investigation of the blaze that destroyed that Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, in a press conference on Wednesday morning. However, one federal official told the Associated Press that the cause was not arson.

The church had been the victim of arson by two KKK members in 1995, reportsThe Post and Courier, during a wave of 670 church burnings, bombings, and attempted bombings from January 1, 1995, to September 8, 1998.

It was rebuilt in 1996. President Clinton was among the guests at the dedication.

"I want to ask every citizen, as we stand on this hallowed ground together, to help to rebuild our churches, to restore hope, to show the forces of hatred they cannot win,” he said at the dedication.” I want to ask every citizen in America to say we are not going back, we are not slipping back to those dark days.”

The recent fires have led to fears that dark days are returning ...

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Yes, Jesus Has Always Been Our Boyfriend

The biggest difference between old and new hymns isn't Trinitarian theology.

If you think contemporary praise music lacks robust theology, you’re not alone. Modern worship is widely criticized for not being Trinitarian enough, and its lyrics are often perceived to be more romantic than reverent—as if Jesus were a significant other, not the God of the universe.

A new study, however, finds that Jesus has always been the primary focus of evangelical songs. Further, traditional hymns and contemporary worship are more similar in describing the Trinity than is widely believed.

So says Lester Ruth, research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School. He compared the 110 worship songs that topped the Christian Copyright License International lists between 1989 and 2015 with the 70 most-printed US evangelical hymns from 1737 to 1860. He found that both traditional hymns and praise songs are equally weak in referencing the Trinity—and equally strong in addressing Jesus.

Ruth also found today’s praise songs never use sin as a verb per se, only as a noun; hymns predominantly use sin as a noun (including sinner) and occasionally as a verb (including sinning). No single theory of the Atonement predominates in either era. And whereas hymns tend to exhort people to worship, praise songs are more likely to worship God directly.

The striking difference between the two groups is eschatology. Ruth argues that in hymns, heaven hasn’t yet reached earth. In praise songs, heaven is already here.

Hymns emphasize patience and perseverance, portraying the Christian life “as a journey of harrowing dangers and temptations that, if one stays true and faithful, will safely bring the Christian, by the grace of Christ, to a destiny of unspeakable bliss,” said Ruth.

By ...

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Help My Unbelief: An Interview with Barnabas Piper

How do we face unbelief? Barnabas Piper explains his new book.

Ed Stetzer: Your first book was about being a pastor’s kid, and this one, Help My Unbelief, is about belief and the extent to which we can know God. When you sat down to write Help My Unbelief, what did you hope to accomplish? If a reader came up to you and said, “Barnabas your book _____________________,” what would you hope to hear?

Barnabas Piper: I hope to connect with people in three different places of faith. On one end I want to rattle those who have never questioned or doubted or thought deeply They may appear to have a solid faith, but in many cases it is paper mache – a brittle veneer over emptiness. I want to push them into deep questions they’ve never considered because otherwise those questions will ambush them someday.

On the other end I want to help the perpetual questioner. Not all questions have concrete answers and they need to come to grips with that while finding deep confidence in God’s character. I want to help them question in a way that builds faith instead of undermining it.

In the middle I want to help believers who feel guilty about doubts and questions to see that those can be an asset. They don’t have to know all the answers or be afraid of not knowing. Those things are inevitable; that’s why we pray “I believe; help my unbelief.”

ES: I know you write about this in the book some, but can you share a bit about what it was that led you to waver in the faith of your youth?

BP: For me it was less an instance of skepticism (though there was plenty of that too) and more a case of knowing vs. believing. As a pastor’s kid I knew all the answers about all the theology and Bible stories, but they were not the sole shaping force in my life. ...

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Blogging Truth to Power

Why we listen to watchdogs and whistleblowers (from two of us who have been there)

From Unquestioning Submission to Speaking Out
Michelle Van Loon

My husband and I once belonged to a congregation where leaders took their cues from the Shepherding Movement. Emphasizing allegiance and church unity, they expected members to submit to their authority in all matters. One of their favorite mantras came from 1 Corinthians, using the King James Version for extra emphasis: Touch not God’s anointed. I was taught that to question a leader was to defy God himself.

I was a naive sheep in this flock until I stumbled upon the elaborate efforts to keep hidden the pastor’s porn addiction and infidelity with a congregant. Anyone who got too close to this secret was branded a problem. I found myself drafted into the uncomfortable role of whistleblower. After my husband and I brought our concerns to church leadership, the elders made it clear that we were untrustworthy and troublemakers. After a number of failed attempts to resolve the situation, we left the church.

It took a while to heal from the manipulation and misuse of authority my husband and I experienced at the hands of these men. Over time, others experienced the same treatment, which, turns out, was a demonically effective way of deflecting attention from the real problem. Over a decade passed before the pastor’s marriage fell apart and the truth came out.

I’ve watched from afar as similar scenarios play out as whistleblowers decry leaders-gone-bad in organizations and congregations across the country: Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Mark Driscoll. Especially online, we hear from these voices long before the pastor finally makes a grudging public admission of his wrongdoing.

When I see someone suggest those harboring hurt or suspicion ...

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