Weekly Meanderings

Good Morning!

Michael Mercer, “For this I give thanks,” on what makes him grateful for his evangelical past.

Nate Stratman, at The Burner, on the pastoral implications on youth for pastors.

Tony Jones on a napkin — the top 25 books in Christian history/theology/spiritual formation.

Thomas Froese: “KAMPALA, UGANDA—Remember Kienan Hebert, the three-year-old in one of Canada’s biggest feel-good stories of 2011? Kienan was abducted from his B.C. home and later returned by, of all people, his abductor. Twitter and Facebook lit up. Christians proclaimed God is alive and well and listening to prayer.” (HT: PH)

I’m glad John Stackhouse called our attention to the death of CS Lewis, on the same day JFK died.

Mark Regnerus on Catholic Contemporary Music — or lack thereof: “Our transition from evangelical to Catholic has shed light on the role of music in one’s faith tradition. (It’s also gratefully revealed little that’s distinctively Protestant about most CCM.) For many evangelicals, CCM is a hallmark of their cultural consumption patterns. Sure, there are different tastes and preferences, from the cheesy to the edgy, from the very to the barely (Christian). But one fact seems pretty clear: most performing artists in the CCM world run with evangelicals, so far as I can tell. Very few are Catholic. Why is that?”

Newt Gingrich, an overpaid historian? John Fea: “In a recent GOP presidential debate in which Gingrich was asked to explain why he earned $300,000 from Freddie Mac, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives claimed that he had given the mortgage company advice in his capacity as a historian. Later it was revealed that Gingrich had actually received between $1.6 and $1.8 million for his supposed work as a historical consultant. By one definition, Gingrich is a historian. He has a Ph.D. from Tulane University where he wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960.” He taught history at West Georgia College (now University of West Georgia) and, believe it or not, was influential in starting an environmental studies program there. When he did not receive tenure at West Georgia he set off on a political career….Is it really possible that the leadership of Freddie Mac wanted a historical consultant to help them think about the way in which the past, in this case the history of housing in America, informs the present? If so, why wouldn’t they hire someone who knows something about this field? It is more likely that Gingrich is not telling the truth.”

Brad Wright analyzes why some leave the faith: part one, part two.

Karl Giberson: “Survey results recently reported by Christianity Today clarify once again the sober truth that evangelicals are not making much progress in accepting well-established mainstream scientific ideas about origins. Particularly disturbing is the finding that only 27 percent of evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” with the statement that the earth is 6,000 years old. A higher number “strongly agree” that the earth is just 6,000 years old, a conclusion refuted by mountains of evidence. Seven in 10 evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” that “God used evolution to create people.”

Tim Dalrymple: “As it turns out, however, evangelical churches are arguably the least-politicized of all the major churches.  At a recent meeting of the excellent Faith Angle Forum, David Campbell, author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, presented his updated research.  When asked whether they heard sermons on political or social issues once a month or more, here is how America’s major religious groups responded:

  • Jewish: 41.4%
  • Non-affiliated: 30.5%
  • Black Protestant: 29.6%
  • Catholic: 20.7%
  • Mainline Protestant: 16%
  • Evangelical: 13.7%

I don’t have figures for Muslims, but the only religious group that definitely had a lower percentage of sermons on political/social issues was, interestingly, the Mormons.  Only 2% of Mormons said that they heard a sermon on social/political issues at least once a month.  (My thanks to Dr. Campbell for sharing the exact figures with me.)  But isn’t it interesting that liberal secularists rarely complain about the “politicization” of the Black Protestant or Mainline Protestant churches?”

Meanderings in the News

Work until they’re 80! “One of the striking results of the survey released Wednesday is that 25 percent of the respondents said they’ll need to work until at least age 80 because they will not have enough money to retire comfortably.”

David Gergen fires a few volleys at the bow of the super committee: “That’s why this failure of the super committee represents a reckless, irresponsible gamble by our “leaders” in Washington. It’s difficult to remember a Congress that has put the nation so much at risk in the service of ideology and to hold onto office. Partisans on both sides are grievously failing the country. An honest assessment would lay blame on the White House doorstep, too. Yes, the president finally put up a plan a few weeks back and made a few phone calls. But he has been exercising the most passive leadership imaginable. Nor have the Republican candidates for president been any more engaged. Why are their campaigns so focused only on 2013 and so detached from a crisis that continues to deepen in D.C. right now?”

Paul Oestreicher speaks wisdom on war: “Albert Einstein made that plain long ago. He knew there was no limit to our ability to kill, that the enemy of our survival is war. As murder is condemned in public opinion and in law, so must collective murder be. For the one we go to prison, for the other we get a medal or a hero’s funeral.”

Smart people and drugs: “Having a high IQ may have its drawbacks: a new study finds that highly intelligent children are more likely to try illegal drugs in their teenage and adult years. … An ongoing study that started in 1970 gathered data from 8,000 people, including their IQ test scores at ages five and 10. Participants later reported their history of illicit drug use at age 16, and then again at age 30. Men with high childhood IQs were 50 percent more likely to use drugs than their low-scoring counterparts. And women with high scores were more than twice as likely to have tried controlled substances. What draws children with high IQs to eventually try drugs? The study’s authors point out that drugs could serve as a coping mechanism for intelligent children who stand out from their classmates and become targets for teasing. In addition, intelligent people tend to pursue new, stimulating experiences to stave off boredom. Meaning that an IQ being high could be a gateway to getting high.”

Males cognitive abilities in the presence of women: ““Recent research suggests that heterosexual men’s (but not heterosexual women’s) cognitive performance is impaired after an interaction with someone of the opposite sex (Karremans et al., 2009). These findings have been interpreted in terms of the cognitive costs of trying to make a good impression during the interaction. In everyday life, people frequently engage in pseudo-interactions with women (e.g., through the phone or the internet) or anticipate interacting with a woman later on. The goal of the present research was to investigate if men’s cognitive performance decreased in these types of situations, in which men have little to no opportunity to impress her and, moreover, have little to no information about the mate value of their interaction partner. Two studies demonstrated that men’s (but not women’s) cognitive performance declined if they were led to believe that they interacted with a woman via a computer (Study 1) or even if they merely anticipated an interaction with a woman (Study 2). Together, these results suggest that an actual interaction is not a necessary prerequisite for the cognitive impairment effect to occur. Moreover, these effects occur even if men do not get information about the woman’s attractiveness. This latter finding is discussed in terms of error management theory.”

The Numbers Guy at WSJ: “A series of studies with both approaches has found the marginal value of a year of college is somewhere between 6% and 10%, according to Mark Long, an economist at the University of Washington, and other researchers. Earning a diploma confers a bit of a bonus, because it is necessary for some licenses and because it signals to employers a higher level of readiness. That adds up to a lifetime earnings increase of between $300,000 and $600,000 for completing college—for the typical worker. Many of these studies are from a decade ago or longer, and some economists think the true benefit has grown because of a greater demand for skilled labor.”

The decline of the US Postal Service: “The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been sliding down an unsustainable fiscal path for years. A toxic combination of a poor economy, an increase in online bill paying, the proliferation of e-mail and other digital communication, and congressional mandates have created billion-dollar deficits for the USPS since 2007. Last year it lost $8.3 billion. This year, it lost $5.1 billion (only because a mandatory $5.5 billion prepayment for retiree health benefits was postponed). Mail volume declined 1.7%. Projected mail volume over the next decade? Down, down, down. Officials say if nothing’s done, the postal service will run out of money by August or September of next year, and absent congressional action by Friday, the USPS will default on that mandated $5.5 billion payment.”

C. Michael Patton reflects on why we love CS Lewis but not Rob Bell. What we think now of Lewis needs to be thought of what evangelicals will think of Rob Bell in a generation or two. In his day, Lewis had plenty of worrisome critics. But Rob Bell and Lewis are not easy comparisons for me; Lewis and Tom Wright, yes.

Which major studies the most? “Full-time college students on average study 15 hours a week, but averages varied by academic majors, says the survey, released today by the National Survey of Student Engagement, based on a spring survey of 416,000 freshmen and seniors at 673 colleges and universities nationwide. Engineering seniors studied the most, 19 hours on average, and business and social science majors studied the least, about 14 hours. A companion survey found that faculty expectations for study time by major corresponded closely to what students reported. One exception: Social science faculty expected students to spend about 18 hours a week, four more hours than students reported.”

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  • totally agree re parallels between Lewis and Wright being more pertinent… and indeed Wright himself would probably be flattered by that… Bell in the US and previously Chalke in UK are, in many ways, Wright-lite

  • Scot, I wouldn’t make too much noise about the politicization of Mainline churches. The difference is a mere 2%. I would be interested in knowing what Non-Affiliated means? Is this the mega-church movement? As for RCC, not surprising considering strong opposition to abortion and a rather strong social ethic.

  • Alan K

    Dalrymple’s article misses the point. Every person and every community is politicized. The question is: politicized according to what? If churches are not hearing sermons that proclaim the gospel’s impact on real life in this world, then I must wonder if proclamation is really happening at all. If political identity is not formed according to Jesus Christ, then sooner or later it will be formed according to MSNBC, Fox, or anything else that comes along and fills our imaginations.

  • Beakerj

    Such interesting articles on CS Lewis & Rob Bell. SOme of the comments are even more fascinating – if you follow one link you get to a page where you can click on ‘Satanism & Narnia’ to find out exactly how Narnia is dragging us subtley into Satan’s lair. Fascinating stuff. There ae times I thank God I’m British & this is one of them!

  • Susan N.

    Mark Regnerus on CCM – I found this to be the essential truth of the article:

    “While evangelicalism has long been characterized by a strong pragmatic sensibility—one that encourages it to keep in step with contemporary culture in order to evangelize that culture without (it is hoped) being consumed by it—conservative forms of Catholicism are much less pragmatically oriented.”

    From which I segued into Brad Wright’s ‘Why Do Christians Leave the Faith?’ – Parts 1 and 2. Part 2 resonated with my experiences as a young adult (post-fundamental faith). But, I think “disappointment with God” is a direct result of the particular god who is presented by some churches’ teachings. So then, finally, the disappointment comes around (eventually) full circle, to be recognized in the church community itself. I think of the Book of Job. So much wisdom in that story about life and relationships. Will look forward to Part 3 in this article series 🙂

  • RJS

    The post by Michael Mercer and the two posts by Brad Wright coupled with the post by Karl Giberson are quite interesting. The comments after the post by Mike make fascinating reading as well. Then throw in the comments after Brad’s post and there is a compelling case that we need to look at and wrestle with. (I generally don’t read comments on the Huffington Post.)

    It would be nice if we could convince pastors and church leaders that this is important – but most seem to tend to agree with the commenters who attribute loss of faith to the pull of lifestyle and unwillingness to follow than to real deep questions and concerns.

    If we misunderstand the problems we implement the wrong solutions.

  • Brad

    Your story link on Newt highlights all that is wrong with the political process. This is a complete non-story of someone being over paid as a consultant. If anyone thinks this is unique to either political party then they are quite naive.

    Bill Clinton was able to clean up to the tune of over a $100 million in his post-presidency. Do you think he deserved everyone of this dollars, or could it be some of them came be him being considered a “consultant” for something that was less than spot on?

    I notice all this political writers also seem to have very little time or energy in discussing what is actually a much more serious matter, in how in the world could Obama be handing out hundreds of millions of our money to bankrupt environmental groups? Was this payback for campaign support? Or just trying to put his ideology into the corporate relm regardless of feasibility.

  • Those Brad Wright articles were heartbreaking. But I don’t know if apologetics is the cure as much as just being an available, humble Christian friend who suffers beside those who are suffering.

    Peace, Brian

  • RJS


    Different people hit different snags and questions. sometimes the most important thing is humble available Christian friends – community and church. This is essential.

    But we also need people who have wrestled with the questions to act as guide, teacher, and/or confidant. The church should have intentional programmed space for this in addition to more informal personal interactions.

  • AHH

    Interesting juxtaposition of the articles by Brad Wright and the one by Giberson, particularly Wright talking about the importance of apologetics.

    As Giberson points out with regard to one of the issues, I think the problem is not that the church does not do apologetics, but that it does apologetics in a way that fails. Certainly both for “The relationship between faith and science” and “Is the Bible reliable?” the evangelical church does plenty of apologetics. But the usual approach to science in the Evangelical ghetto doesn’t stand up to the evidence in nature, and the usual “perfect book” approach to the Bible is also untenable.
    So yes, the church needs apologetics for believers in those areas, but it needs to do that in an informed, thoughtful, non-fundamentalist way that will not crumble like a house of cards when confronted by reason and reality.

  • The occupy link goes back to the post office article.

  • Dana Ames

    The one bright spot of the inertia in Washington at the moment: the Bush tax cuts will expire. (Finally!!!) There will be some money to offset any cuts that will actually happen (we’ll see what is actually allowed to be cut…), which will appease the Democrats, and the Republicans can truthfully say that so far they have not “raised taxes” and so will appease their base, and yet there will be more revenue. A win/win situation 😉

    Susan: Well said. N.T. Wright’s whole big project is, when we say “god”, who exactly are we talkin’ about?


  • In re: to books about spiritual formation, one of my favorites and most accessible is Randy Harris’ new book “Soul Work: Confessions of a Part Time Monk.”

  • Matt

    Agree that Lewis & Bell shouldn’t be compared. Whats the parallel? Some people didn’t/don’t like Lewis and some people don’t like Bell, they are both Christian writers so that makes them similar? They are worlds apart for me.

  • AHH

    Matt @14,

    I think making a comparison in the context of the original question was reasonable. The point being that both hold/held views that are anathema to modern conservative Evangelicalism, such as rejection of “inerrancy”, entertaining the possibility of post-mortem salvation and departure from a “penal substitution” view of atonement. Yet modern evangelicals mostly idolize Lewis while painting Bell as a near-heretic.

    But I think Patton identifies a key difference, which is that most of Lewis’s writing focused on orthodox Christian commitments. His breaks with conservative orthodoxy were secondary, whereas those breaks are what Bell tends to focus on (at least in his writing).

    One does have to wonder if Lewis would have come under more attack if he were writing in our age of the heresy-hunting blogosphere. Would The Great Divorce have led to a “Farewell, C.S. Lewis” tweet?

  • Matt

    AHH @ 14,
    Fair enough. To me, making a comparison like that needs more substance than “since CS Lewis had unorthodox beliefs people should dislike him as much as they dislike Rob Bell” logic. I see them as being totally different even if I disagree with both at certain points. In my mind, there’s no way in the world that Bell will be viewed with the same respect as Lewis over time.