Monday, November 29, 2010

Skewed Statistics

Tired of articles and headlines bashing Christians? Tired of books forecasting the end of Christianity? I'm reading a fascinating book right now that brightened my day. Bradley R.E. Wright, a sociologist at UConn writes, "Negative statistics about Christianity are more likely to become conventional wisdom. There are various possible explanations for this...But in general, Christians acting like Christians just isn't as interesting as 'Christians gone wild.' As a result, bad news about Christians spreads faster and farther than good news."

The book is entitled, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told, and it's filled with fascinating statistics that give counterbalance to some of the fear mongering of Barna and the gleeful finger-pointing of Newsweek, etc. It turns out that Evangelical divorce rates are a lot lower than Non-Evangelicals. We're not losing our youth at the panic rate, and, I know this will blow you away, but not every minister is practicing infidelity. Honest!

Furthermore, Christian teens are as committed or more committed than their counterparts from the past handful of generations. Church attendance plays a huge role as well. If you look at the stats of those who go to Church vs. those who don't you find great contrasts in areas of belief and behavior all across the board.

Stick to the stuff, and don't believe everything you hear from the number crunchers!

PS> Thanks to Bill Welti for the book.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Saving Thanksgiving

I just watched a report online about a recent consumer trend in America--retailers opening their stores on Thanksgiving Day for early Christmas shopping. It seems four in the morning on "Black Friday" isn't early enough anymore. Commentators will surely talk about the financial benefit this will bring to companies trying to boost profits this year, but I wonder about what this trend says about Thanksgiving Day itself.

If more and more people are driving out to stores after pulling away from the table on Thanksgiving Day it seems to me that family togetherness and traditions including reflection on the provision of God are becoming less and less important. My concern for America as a whole is high, but my concern for Christian families is even higher. Of all people we should place a high value on thankful reflections. But I fear we are too easily yielding to materialism. Instead of discussing matters of eternal importance with our loved ones we are lured by the circulars to the mall.

If I sensed in those I talk to a more general attitude of thankfulness throughout the year I would not make so much of this diminishing holiday. But we need a thankful spot on the calendar as a reliable reminder, calling us back to that which we should never forget--namely, the goodness of God. But now one day is becoming half a day. And a half a day may turn into a token prayer before dividing the turkey. I ask, how much more of this holiday can we give away before there is nothing left?

If we want to stem the tide of encroaching materialism let us devise traditions--or revive old ones--that have these or similar characteristics:
1. Bring the family together
2. Bring out the Bible
3. Feature the wisdom of parents and grandparents
4. Tell tales or family history
5. Testify to the Lord's faithfulness

By way of example, we place unpopped popcorn kernels in a dish or basket each year after the main meal. While we're waiting for enough room to squeeze in some dessert we sit in a circle and take kernels out in turn. After all have taken some we send the dish around a second time and fill it up with our thankfulness as we return the kernels to their source. Exercises such as this can have an incalculable impact on children as well as those who care for them.

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare 
your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.
                                                                  -Psalm 71:18

Black Friday pic from:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Heritage

There is much debate today about the Christian or not so Christian heritage of America. Everyone with eyes can see that regardless of the origins of our country we are moving in the direction of secularization. There are those who are alarmed by this; there are those who embrace it; and there are those who couldn't be bothered. I am one who is alarmed and I say so because I love this country.

There is no doubt that the US has become one of the most powerful and richest countries the world has ever known. I believe much of the controversy stems from different theories of what has brought us to this point. Our perceptions of history are colored by our agendas making the "true history" hard to find. A common example of this is how historians view Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson was a complex man who struggled to find a firm place to stand between two waring philosophies of politics, theology, and science. When he was on this side of the Atlantic he was in the company of those who-for reasons of faith, or reasons of pragmatism-held that law was divinely given and any state that failed to acknowledge God was destined for failure.

On the other hand, he had a fascination with the French. When he was in France under the influence of the philosophies of Rousseau and Voltaire, etc. he was a witness to the French Revolution. The French Revolution, like the American Revolution, was a revolution for "liberty". The profound difference between them, however, was that while the American Revolution was a revolution for liberty "under God", the French sought a liberty "under man." Any honest comparison of the two revolutions shows the former to generally be a revolution of order versus the latter being a revolution of chaos. In the former, the enemy was clear, in the latter one could not tell his ally from his enemy and so blood and treachery ran from the guillotine. One day's leader became the next day's victim and so the country was torn apart.

Jefferson saw all this and liked the philosophies of the French while preferring the results of the beliefs of the Americans. This statement may in fact give too much credit to the French. Though there were aspects of their thinking that he admired such as their quest for reason and enlightenment,  he did not abandon the Judeo-Christian worldview as many would have us believe. I would point any interested person to an article by Beliles and Barton on the University of Virginia which was founded by Jefferson.

But this is only an example of how history can be taken different ways. What concerns me is the open repudiation and downplaying of Christian influence in anything good that happened in the founding of America while trumpeting its involvement in such things as slavery. Wherever possible the Founding Fathers are portrayed as deists unless they were fathering a child with a slave girl at which point it is said, "That's not very Christian".

When we let the founders speak for themselves it is clear that Christianity and the principles of the Bible specifically played a profound part in the making of the most successful country in history.

But what now?

Will we retain what nurtured our success? Will we recognize the role of God in our history? Will we give thanks to him like the Pilgrims did after a successful harvest?

I close with a quote:

"In the United States of America, our traditional, Western, Judeo-Christian culture is collapsing. It is not collapsing because it failed. On the contrary it has given us the freest and most prosperous society in human history. Rather, it is collapsing because we are abandoning it."

--W.S. Lind