Giving Luther a hit record

A while back ago we blogged about that YouTube video of Lyle Lovett and other members of his LCMS congregation reciting the Nicene Creed.  Someone observed that on his latest album,  Release Me, he does a straight-up recording of Luther’s hymn “Keep Us Steadfast“:

Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word;
Curb those who fain by craft and sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He hath done.

Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known,
For Thou art Lord of lords alone;
Defend Thy Christendom that we
May evermore sing praise to Thee.

O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth.
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.

All of this gave Aaron Lewis a bright idea:

I was reading your post recently about Lyle Lovett’s rendition of Lord Keep Us Steadfast on his new album.
Why don’t you launch a campaign to help a song by Luther reach the top of the pop charts? We could start by having you encourage your readers to call radio stations and request that they play the song (it is on a major label so most stations should have the album). People can suggest others do the same on their facebook page/twitter &etc.
What do you think???

 I think it’s not very likely that the readership of this blog, however massive and well-connected, could pull that off, but, hey, I’m willing to try.  And we can all at the very least buy the track for 99 cents at Amazon or for $1.29 at iTunes, thus bidding up its prominence.  (Go to one of those sites to sample the recording.)  Though I myself, a big fan of Lovett and his alt country repristination of Western Swing, want the whole album.

What the “nones” believe

Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger discusses the phenomena of the “nones,” the growing demographic–currently 19% of the American population– that is unaffiliated with any religion.  Some say this group represents the secular elite, a wave of atheism, the sexually-liberated young people reacting against the sexual restrictions of religion.  But, says Berger, the evidence suggests otherwise:

The “nones” are most strongly represented among people with an income under $30,000, with high school graduation or less, who are married but (interestingly) without children. I am enough of a sociologist to think that class comes in somewhere in this matter, but it is unlikely to be a major factor.

I find most intriguing the Pew data on the religious beliefs and behavior of the “nones”. Let us stipulate that the “nones”, especially if they are young, are repelled by the neo-Puritanism of religious conservatives. But does this mean that they have decided (in the words of the authors) “to opt out of religion altogether”? I am strongly inclined to say no. Back to Pew data: 60% of “nones” say that they believe in God, as against 22% who say not. 41% say that religion is important in their lives, a minority as against the 57% who say that religion is not important—but a minority large enough to contradict the assertion that the “nones” have turned against religion altogether. What they have clearly turned away from is participation in institutional worship: 72% say that they seldom or never attend church services.

Let me, with all due respect for Campbell and Putnam [authors of a book on the subject that Berger is reviewing], suggest a hypothesis of my own: Most “nones” have not opted out of religion as such, but have opted out of affiliation with organized religion. Among Christians (the great majority of all survey respondents) there are different reasons for this disaffection. The two authors are very probably correct that, broadly speaking, those who are turned off by Evangelicals and conservative Catholics do so because they don’t like the repressive sexual morality of those churches (the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church has not helped). But the “nones” have also exited from mainline Protestantism, which has been much more accommodating to the liberationist ethic. Here, I think, there has been frustration with what my friend and colleague Thomas Luckmann long ago called “secularization from within”—the stripping away of the transcendent dimensions of the Gospel, and its reduction to conventional good deeds, popular psychotherapy and (mostly left-of-center) political agendas. Put differently: My hypothesis implies that some “nones” are put off by churches that preach a repressive morality, some others by churches whose message is mainly secular.

What then do these people believe? There is very likely a number (in America a relatively small one) of “nones” who are really without religion—agnostics or (even fewer) outright atheists. The latter have been encouraged by the advocates of the so-called “new atheism”—which is not new at all, but rather a reiteration of a tired 19th-century rationalism, pushed by a handful of writers who have been misrepresented as an important cultural movement. Presumably it is committed atheists who spark litigation over allegations that, for instance, a Christmas tree in a public park is a violation of the constitution. The bulk of the “nones” probably consist of a mix of two categories of unaffiliated believers—in the words of the British sociologist Grace Davie, people who “believe without belonging”. There are those who have put together an idiosyncratic personal creed, putting together bits and pieces of their own tradition with other components. Robert Wuthnow, the most productive and insightful sociologist of American religion, has called this “patchwork religion”. This includes the kind of people who will say “I am Catholic, but…”, followed by a list of items where they differ from the teachings of the church. The other category are the children—by now, grandchildren—of the counter-culture. They will most often say, “I am spiritual, not religious”. The “spirituality” is typically an expression of what Colin Campbell, another British sociologist, has called “Easternization”—an invasion of Western civilization by beliefs and practices from Asia. A few of these are organized, for instance by the various Buddhist schools. But most are diffused in an informal manner—such as belief in reincarnation or the spiritual continuity between humans and nature, and practices like yoga or martial arts.

via The Religiously Unaffiliated in America | Religion and Other Curiosities.

So 60% of those who belong to no religion believe in God, and 41% say religion is important to them, even though they don’t have one.  I agree with Berger that the privatization of religion–the anti-institutionalism that rejects churches and “organized religion” and the impulse to devise one’s own personal theology–accounts for much of this.

That’s a useful term:  “secularization from within.”  That is, the way churches have embraced secular values, thus rendering themselves superfluous.

What other observations can you make about the “nones”?

Are any of you readers “nones,” and if so does any of this ring true?

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

Scandals at the biggest Christian TV network

Christianity has a presence on television.  Unfortunately, its presence come from Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a forum that presents a schlocky and embarrassing version of Christianity, its programming consisting mostly of “prosperity gospel” preachers.  It’s interesting how such ventures are so often accompanied by overt corruption and scandal.  From World Magazine:

A $50 million jet. Chauffeurs. Mansions in California and Florida. Clandestine affairs. Crimes and cover-up. Even a $100,000 motor home for the pet dog.

These are just a few of the allegations directed against the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and its directors in a pair of lawsuits filed in February by former employees of the nation’s largest Christian broadcasting network.

The first lawsuit, filed on Feb. 1 in U.S. District Court in California, contains charges by Brittany Koper, the former chief financial officer of TBN and the granddaughter of founders Paul and Janice Crouch. Her lawsuit is not against TBN but against Davert & Loe, one of TBN’s law firms. Koper’s suit says she discovered illegal activities when she became head of finance. Among the alleged activities: “the unlawful distribution of the TBN Companies’ charitable assets to Trinity Broadcasting’s directors,” some of whom are Crouch family members. The suit says “these unlawful financial transactions” exceed $50 million.

She took that information to Davert & Loe, seeking legal advice. The firm “acknowledged that the conduct in question was unlawful but nevertheless advised … Ms. Koper to perform and cover up such unlawful activities,” according to the lawsuit. The suit also says lawyers in the firm harassed her sexually. She seeks more than $500,000 in damages.

The other lawsuit is against Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, one of TBN’s corporate entities, as well as other TBN entities and Davert & Loe. Joseph McVeigh, Koper’s uncle, says TBN sued him in retaliation against Koper. A judge dismissed TBN’s claims against McVeigh, who now seeks legal fees and “punitive and exemplary damages.”

Both lawsuits paint a sordid picture of TBN, including allegations that Janice Crouch had an “affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience,” a TBN-owned amusement park in Florida. The suit also accuses Matthew Crouch, a TBN director and the son of Paul and Janice Crouch, of sexual and financial misconduct. Koper’s suit said that Matthew Crouch brought a gun to one meeting. He “began tapping the firearm … and asked Ms. Koper what she thought would happen [if] she wrote a memo to the board critical of Matthew Crouch’s financial improprieties.”

via | TBN again | Warren Cole Smith | Apr 07, 12.

I’m speaking at an online apologetics conference

Do you like to go to conferences–say, a big conference on apologetics–but don’t have the time or the money to take off and fly somewhere for several days?  But why should anyone have to travel for a conference, what with online technology?

I’m going to be giving a lecture on Christianity & Comedy at an online apologetics conference to be held April 19-21.  The overall topic will focus on “Literary Apologetics,” the use of stories (including literature, films, music, and other expressions) to convey the truth of the Christian faith.  The conference is being put on by Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics organization led by Anthony Horvath (a Lutheran teacher and a former student of mine!).

You can sign up for the conference here.   The following are the speakers and the topics.  Go here for a schedule of the actual times.  (Mine will be at 9:00 a.m. Central on Friday, April 20.)  Notice that most of the conference is for paid registrants (a mere $30) but that the sessions on the 19th are free.

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual

Online Apologetics Conference

2012 Theme:

Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith


Dale Ahlquist

President of the American Chesterton Society

 Other Speakers:

Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten  | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak

An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)

April 19th,  20th, and 21st, 2012.

Access on April 19th is FREE!

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ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!

2012 Conference Goals:

  • Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
  • Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
  • Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
  • Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
  • Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
  • Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
  • Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.

Conference Framework

ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years.  The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview.  Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics.   The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.

On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval).   Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary.  Note:  all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public!  Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.

Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)



  • Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
  • Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ:  Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
  • Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O'Connor].”
  • Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
  • Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
  • Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
  • Paul Nowak, author.  “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk's original short story "Fight Club" (later a novel and movie by the same title)].

Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)

  • Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
  • Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
  • James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions.  “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
  • Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
  • Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
  • Mark Riser, apologist.  “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
  • Tom Gilson, apologist.  “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
  • Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author.  ” CSI: Golgotha”
  • Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author.  “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”

Big state government vs. little local government

In classic conservative political theory, the most significant form of government is what is closest to the people; that is, local governments in which the people select their neighbors to govern the community.  As levels of government get farther and farther away from the people who elected them, political involvement becomes ever more abstract and the distant government gets potentially ever more problematic, especially when it usurps power from the officials closer to the people.

Nevertheless, today many state governments–particularly some that are Republican-controlled–are working to minimize the authority of local governments.  Some of these conservative state legislators complain about a too powerful federal government usurping the rights of the states, while themselves working to increase the power of state government at the expense of city and county governments.

Debates about the relative authority of state and local government are not new. But in places such as Tennessee, where Republicans claimed comfortable majorities in the legislature in 2010, they come with a different subtext.

Many of these state lawmakers have accused the federal government of adopting an imperious, one-size-fits-all mentality and of subverting the rightful powers of states. At the same time, many high-profile debates in the Tennessee Capitol over the past two years — on topics such as local wage rules and local non-discrimination rules, among others — have centered on the state trying to limit the power of localities to make decisions for themselves.

To some critics, that’s a sign of hypocrisy. What conservative supporters of these laws argue, though, is that localities sometimes use their power in ways that are inconsistent with values the state holds dear, such as defending property rights and reducing government regulation. Their case is that the only way the legislature can enact its vision for government is to use the power it has, not delegate it to others.

Most of the legislation in Tennessee hasn’t passed yet, and some of it seems unlikely to pass soon. Still, in Tennessee and elsewhere, it’s clear that for conservative lawmakers, local control is just one principle, a principle that sometimes is superseded by others.

While the extent of local government autonomy varies from state to state, nowhere is that autonomy absolute. Even in states such as Tennessee that offer limited “home rule,” state governments can act to overrule the localities.

“What the locals need to remember,” said Tennessee state Rep. Jim Gotto (R), “is that all the power they have is what has been delegated to them by the state.”

As a result, states and localities are engaged in a constant push and pull in state capitols. In Indiana, for example, the legislature rejected a bill this year that would have given some local jurisdictions the power to ask voters for tax increases to pay for public transit. The move came even though the mayor of Indianapolis considered the bill a top priority and the measure had the support of other local officials and business groups.

via Republican legislatures move to preempt local government – The Washington Post.

It sounds like the emphasis is on final results rather than conservative principles.  Taxes are bad and development is good, reason the state legislators, so they are voting to prevent local communities from raising taxes and limiting development.  But shouldn’t the particular communities have the right to make decisions on issues like those?   Are those bottom-line issues more important than the principle of limited government?  If the federal government were to issue mandates on those issues that were to conservatives’ liking, would conservatives be OK with that, even if it meant usurping the jurisdiction of both state and local governments?

Rumors crossing into journalism

The internet can serve as a vast gossip network, a way to spread rumors and falsehoods.  That’s bad in itself, but especially when the falsehoods get taken up by the ostensibly legitimate press.  And people and their reputations can get hurt in the process.  That’s what happened to South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.  Kathleen Parker tells the story:

The rumor — that Haley was about to be indicted for tax fraud — was so delicious that other bloggers, tweeters and even some mainstream media outlets felt compelled to repeat it.

Except that it wasn’t true. Not even a little bit. Some twit apparently thought it would be fun to start a rumor and see what happened next. . . .

The New York Times tracked the path of the Haley/tax rumor to show how quickly it traveled from a small spark in the fevered brain of a political enemy into a bonfire of inanity. It began with a blog item, then was tweeted by the Hill, a Washington political newspaper, and reported in a short article by the Daily Beast.

All of this happened March 29 between 12:52 p.m., when the blog post went online, and 1:12 p.m., when a reporter for USA Today decided to call Haley’s office and actually find out if the story was true. Give that reporter a raise! But the rumor was retweeted at 1:14 by a Washington Post reporter and later picked up by online outlets Daily Kos and the Daily Caller. By 3:29, the Drudge Report linked to the Daily Caller article featuring the headline: “Report: DOJ may indict SC Gov. Nikki Haley for tax fraud.”

The next morning, The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, had a front-page story. All in a day’s whisper.

What is abominably clear is that this sort of thing can happen to anyone at any time. And much worse things can be said that can’t easily be disproved. Haley extinguished this fire by releasing a letter from the Internal Revenue Service stating that there was no investigation.

via Whispering campaigns can take flight in new media – The Washington Post.