Friday, December 31, 2010

Christianity and Culture

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. His life completely altered world history. It is easy to overlook this. The trees of current events are so upfront and personal that we are unable to see the forest of Christianity's dominance of history. In addition, the assumptions of cultural pluralism, i.e. all cultures are equally beneficial, make the obvious embarrasing. In all that follows I am going to assume the best definiton of culture that I have heard, culture is just religion externalized.

The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western SuccessChristianity is the world’s largest religion. In 2005 the world’s population hit 6 billion. 2 billion are Christian, 1 billion are Moslem, 1 billion are Hindu/Buddhist and 2 billion are a polyglot of different beliefs.
Christianity is also the world’s most influential religion. It affects culture powerfully. To the degree that a culture embraces Christianity it has become dominant in world affairs. It is no accident that the Christian West has prevailed militarily, economically, and technologically for 2,000 years.

By contrast, the cultures dominated by Hinduism/Buddhism, Confucianism, Taosim, and especially Islam have been weak and backward. One critic recently observed that middle eastern culture, with the exception of Israel, is still culturally and technologically in the 8th century.

Christianity is dominant because it is all about Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrated last week. Christ affects individuals and cultures positively. Here is the history since the Reformation.

At the time of the Reformation, 16th century, Spain was the world's dominant power. It was the last time a Catholic country would hold that distinction.

By the 17th century Holland, under the influence of Calvinism, became the world’s greatest maritime power.

The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global FaithIn the 18th and 19th century, England, transformed and fortified by 17th century Puritanism, dominated world culture. By 1914 England controlled 25% of the world’s land mass. She exported political liberty, justice, the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, and capitalism, and thousands of missionaries to her dominions. The nineteenth century, dominated by Great Brittain, witnessed the greatest missionary expansion in history. See The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll.
Then after WWII America, also influenced by Puritanism, picked up where England left off. We have been the world power for the last 100 years.
This is no accident. The Protestant faith heightens the value of the individual, fortifies families, provides a basis for social justice, liberates creativity, and motivates hard work, perseverance and productivity.

This is exactly what the prophet, Daniel, predicted. (Dan. 2:35) “The stone that struck the image became a great mountain that filled the earth.”  Jesus anticipated this development. “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches”(Matthew 13:31–32).

Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950Good Books on this subject are  The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (above) by Rodney Stark, professor at Baylor University. Also commended is Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 by Charles Murray, one of my favorite authors. Murray is not a Christian. He is an agnostic.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Questions for Non Christian Relatives and Friends

Many of you will spend the holidays with relatives and friends that are not Christians. Some of you look forward to this with trepidation. What is there to  talk about? We have so little in common. Often we find conversation difficult. Here are ten questions, supplied by Donald Whitney, to start great conversation this Christmas. Check them out here. God might use some of these to open conversation about deeper things.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reccomended Christmas Movies

White Christmas (Anniversary Edition)Christmas classics such as “Home Alone”, “Elf”, “The Santa Clause”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, “Its A Wonderful Life”, “The Nativity Story”, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “A Christmas Story” are always a joy to re-watch come December, however, my two favorite Christmas movies remain “White Christmas” and “While You Were Sleeping”.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis in Irving Berlin’s 1954 musical “White Christmas”. After serving together in WWII Wallace and Davis partner as a song and dance duo quickly becoming the most sought after act in show business. Along the way they team up with a sister act, Betty and Judy Haynes, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. In an effort to save a financially troubled General they served under during the war Bob and Phil eventually move their entire show from New York City to Pinetree, Vermont for the Christmas season. True to its time, “White Christmas” remains profanity free and the only sexual content are a few tasteful kisses here and there. The songs are fun and infectious and the dancing often leaves me awestruck but invigorated. If for no other reason then to experience from where one of the most famous Christmas songs originated, “White Christmas” should be viewed by all at least once in their life time, if not every Christmas season.

While You Were SleepingSet during a bitter cold Chicago winter in 1995 “While You Were Sleeping” captures the heart from the beginning. Sandra Bullock stars as Lucy Eleanor Moderatz, a ticket collector for the “L” train who looks forward to her daily sighting of Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher). When Peter ends up in a coma Lucy is mistaken as his fiance thus causing strife in the family. Eventually she is welcomed with opened arms by everyone but Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman). Jack is less accepting of Peter and Lucy’s engagement, but finds it is not because he doesn’t like her, it is because he does. The everyday life of the Callaghan family is portrayed with love, joy and humor, but Lucy’s neighbor Joe Fusco, Jr. (Michael Rispoli) often steals the scene. Profanity is slipped in every once in awhile and there are a few sexual references, but overall “While You Were Sleeping” offers fun for those in the family of junior high age and older.... Stephanie Spurgetis

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Paradox of the Incarnation

At this blog you will find a thoughtful, short exposition of the paradoxes that the Incarnation represents. Read, think, meditate, and enjoy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Most Important Gift to give at Christmas

C. J. Mahaney meditates on the most important gift that we can give our loved ones at this Holiday Season. You will be surprised. It is not what you expect. Go here  and you will find a wonderful gift idea, one that will do much good, and one that I am sure you have not yet considered. Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Joy of Sin

(This is an excerpt from my forthcomin book, The Power of a Humbling Gospel). No one can be used by God to help others grow in humility until they have come face to face with the biblical doctrine of sin. I recently overheard a Christian say, “No matter how badly you think of yourself, no matter how guilty you feel, no matter how deep your sense of moral bankruptcy and failure, you have not yet seen the depth of your sin. It is always worse than you think.” That was Dr. Plumer’s point in the nineteenth century. “The truth is, no man ever thought himself a greater sinner before God than he really was. Nor was any man ever more distressed at his sins than he had just cause to be.”

Generally, this is not how the church sees sin at the beginning of the twenty first century. D. A. Carson, Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has been conducting missions on college campuses since the 1970s. “The hardest truth to get across to [university students],” he writes, “is not the existence of God, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, or Jesus’ resurrection…No, the hardest truth to get across to this generation is what the Bible says about sin.” Students are resistant to this teaching because it humbles them, and they have been taught since infancy that they are inherently good and wonderful. The therapeutic self-esteem movement has evangelized us more successfully than we have evangelized them. We speak a humbling message to a proud culture, but God can open the heart to its potency.

After all is said and done, all defective views of sin can be traced to unbelief or ignorance. We just don’t believe the Bible, or we don’t know what it says. “In all unbelief there are these two things,” noted Horatius Bonar (1808-89), “a good opinion of one’s self, and a bad opinion of God.”

Bonar’s words sound foreign to the modern ear for several reasons. Either we have never been taught about sin (common today), or we have been taught about it, but do not want to believe it. Pride resists the doctrine of sin. It is a humbling subject. It is an unpleasant subject. Like death, one wants to hear about it or discuss it. The obituaries don’t use the word “death, dying, or died.” They talk about “passing away.” Sin is the same way, but until we come face to face with the doctrine of indwelling sin there will be little growth in humility, few conversions, and little Christ-likeness in our character. We will experience little joy, insecurity about God’s love, and little desire to love others.