Screen Strangle, part 1

January 31, 2013

The first time I really became aware of the full intensity of the problem was in a conversation with a couple students training for the ministry.

I was speaking at one of our top seminaries when after the class two men came up to me in private to ask a question. I could tell by the way they were speaking quietly and shifting their eyes that they had something awkward to say. I was sure they were going to talk about pornography. And sure enough, they wanted to talk about their struggles with the internet. But it wasn’t porn they were addicted to. It was social media. They told me they couldn’t stop looking at Facebook; they were spending hours on blogs and mindlessly surfing the web.

This was several years ago, and I didn’t know how to help them. I hadn’t encountered this struggle before, and I wasn’t immersed in it myself. Five years later: I have, and I am.

I used to make fun of bloggers. I used to lampoon Facebook. I used to laugh at Twitter. In my life I’ve never been an early adopter with technology. I’ve never cared what Steve Jobs was up to. I used to roll my eyes at technophiles.

Until I became one.

Now I have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, a Bluetooth headset, an iPhone, an iPad, wifi at work and at home, cable t.v., a Wii, a Blu-ray player, multiple email accounts, and unlimited texting. Pride comes before a fall.

I was born in 1977 so I can remember life before the digital revolution. In college we had to go to a computer lab to get on the internet, which wasn’t a big deal because nothing happened on email and I didn’t see anything interesting online. By the time I was in seminary, however, things had changed. Email was a vital way to communicate and the internet was how my friends and I were getting our news (and doing Fantasy Football). But even then (in the late 90s and early 2000s) life was far less connected. I only got an internet connection in my room part way through seminary–one of those loud, lumbering ack-ack dial-up monstrosities. I didn’t have a cell phone in high school, college, or graduate school. As little as four or five years ago I didn’t do anything on my phone and barely accessed the internet at home. I’m not suggesting those days were purer and nobler, but my life felt less scattered and less put upon. Something has changed. A lot, actually.

What Are the Threats?

Much has been written and will be written about our insatiable appetite for the screen. I’ll leave it to others to decide if Google makes us stupid and whether young people are more or less relational than ever before. Let me simply suggest three ways in which the digital revolution, for all its benefits, is also an accomplice to our experience of being hassled, frazzled, and crazy busy. For if we understand the threats, we may have some hope of finding a way forward.

First, there is the threat of addiction. That may sound like too strong a word, but that’s what it is. Could you go a whole day without looking at Facebook? Could you go an afternoon without looking at your phone? What about two days away from email? Even if someone promised there would be no emergencies and no new work would come in, we’d still have a hard time staying away from screen. The truth is many of us can’t not click. We can’t step away, even for a few hours, let alone a few days or weeks.

In his bestselling book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr reflects on how his attitude toward the web has changed. In 2005—the year he says the “Web went 2.0″—he found the digital experience exhilarating. He loved how blogging junked the traditional publishing apparatus. He loved the speed of the internet, the ease, the hyperlinks, the search engines, the sound, the videos, everything.

But then, he recalls, “a serpent of doubt slithered into my infoparadise” (15). He realized that the Net had control over his life in a way his traditional PC never did. His habits were changing, morphing to accommodate a digital way of life. He became dependent on the internet for information and stimulation. He found his ability to pay attention declining. “At first I’d figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rot. But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it—and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became. Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check e-mail, click links, do some Googling. I wanted to be connected” (16).

I’ve noticed the same thing happening to me for the past few years. Unless I’m really in a groove, I can’t seem to work for more than twenty minutes without getting the urge to check my email, glance at a blog, or get caught up on Twitter. It’s a terrible feeling. In a postscript to The Shallows, Carr explains that after his book came out he heard from dozens of people (usually by email) who wanted to share their own stories of how the Web had “scattered their attention, parched their memory, or turned them into compulsive nibblers of info-snacks.” One college senior sent Carr a long note describing how he had struggled “with a moderate to major form of Internet addiction” since the third grade. “I am unable to focus on anything in a deep or detailed manner” the student wrote. “The only thing my mind can do, indeed the only thing it wants to do, is plug back into that distracted frenzied blitz of online information.” He confessed this, even thought he was sure that “the happiest and most fulfilled times of my life have all involved a prolonged separation from the Internet” (226). Many of us are simply overcome—hour after hour, day after day—by the urge to connect online. And as Christians we know that “whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19).

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Screen Strangle, part 2

January 31, 2013

Second, there is the threat of acedia. Acedia is an old word roughly equivalent to “sloth” or “listlessness.” It is not a synonym for leisure, or even laziness. Acedia suggests indifference and spiritual forgetfulness. It’s like the dark night of the soul, but more blah, more vanilla, less interesting. As Richard John Neuhaus explains, “Acedia is evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education but of narcoticized defense against time and duty. Above all, acedia is apathy, the refusal to engage the pathos of other lives and of God’s life with them” (Freedom for Ministry, 227).

For too many of us, the hustle and bustle of electronic activity is a sad expression of a deeper acedia. We feel busy, but not with a hobby or recreation or play. We are busy with busyness. Rather than figure out what to do with our spare minutes and hours, we are content to swim in the shallows and pass our time with passing the time. How many of us, growing too accustomed to the acedia of our age, feel this strange mix of busyness and lifelessness? We are always engaged with our thumbs, but rarely engaged with our thoughts. We keep downloading information, but rarely get down into the depths of our hearts. That’s acedia—purposelessness disguised as constant commotion.

All of this leads directly to the third threat of our digital world and that’s the danger that we are never alone. When I say “never alone,” I’m not talking about Big Brother watching over us or the threat of security breaches. I’m talking about our desire to never be alone. Peter Kreeft is right: “We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.” (Christianity for Modern Pagans, 168).

Sometimes I wonder if I’m so busy because I’ve come to believe the lie that busyness is the point. And nothing allows us to be busy—all the time, with anyone anywhere—like having the whole world in a little black rectangle in your pocket. In Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers likens our digital age to a gigantic room. In the room are more than a billion people. But despite its size, everyone is in close proximity to everyone else. At any moment someone may come up and tap you on the shoulder—a text, a hit, a comment, a tweet, a post, a message, a new thread. Some people come up to talk business, others to complain, others to tell secrets, others to flirt, others to sell you things, others to give you information, others just to tell you what they’re thinking or doing. This goes on day and night. Powers calls it a “non-stop festival of human interaction” (xii).

We enjoy the room immensely—for awhile. But eventually we grow tired of the constant noise. We struggle to find a personal zone. Someone taps us while we’re eating, while we’re sleeping, while we’re on a date. We even get tapped in the bathroom for crying out loud. So we decide to take a digital vacation, just a short one. But no one else seems to know where the exit is. No one else seems interested in leaving. In fact, they all seem put off that you might not want to stay. And even when you find the exit and see the enchanting world through the opening, you aren’t sure what life will be like on the other side. It’s a leap of faith to jump out and see what happens.

The point of Power’s parable should be self-evident. Like Tolkien’s ring, we love the room and hate the room. We want to breathe the undistracted air of digital independence, but increasingly the Room is all we know. How can we walk out when everyone else is staying in? How will we pass our time and occupy our thoughts with the unceasing tap, tap, tap? For many of us, the Web is like the Eagles’ Hotel California: we can check out anytime we like, but we can never leave.

And the scariest part is that we may not want to leave. What if we prefer endless noise to the deafening sound of silence? What if we do not care to hear God’s still, small voice? What if the trivialities and distractions of our day are not forced upon us by busyness, or forced upon us at all? What if we choose to be busy so that we can continue to live with trivia and distraction? If “digital busyness is the enemy of depth” (17) then we are bound to be stuck in the shallows so long as we’re never alone. Our digital age gives new relevance to Pascal’s famous line: “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

Kevin DeYoung

End of an Era

January 25, 2013

My first job, the Country Gardens, is closing their doors come Feb. 2, 2013.

Worst Day

January 25, 2013

I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:18

If you woke up feeling especially blah this morning, you’re in good company. January 24 is now officially “the most depressing day of the year.”

Those are the findings of Dr. Cliff Arnall, an English psychologist who specializes in seasonal disorders at the University of Cardiff in Wales. His formula for analyzing such things includes seven variables–the weather, personal debt, monthly salary and even the amount of time since Christmas, among other things–that determine people’s feelings of happiness.

He figures January 24 is when credit-card bills start rolling in, reminding us how we got carried away again with our holiday spending. By now many of our New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside or at least been riddled with pockets of compromise.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe you really are feeling it today. But what Dr. Arnall may not understand is that our joy and contentment doesn’t have to be taken away by the bleak clouds of winter or the long wait until our next vacation. As followers of Christ, a settled sense of well-being and belonging can be ours no matter what our set of circumstances.

Hear again the words of a man who knew what to do with a January 24 kind of feeling: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

God is there with you every day of the year.

Discuss
Maybe this would be a good time to get a jump on Thanksgiving. Talk about everything there is to rejoice in, make a list of things you are thankful for, even on a day that may be blah.

Pray
Take turns giving thanks to God. Praise is one of the most important elements of worship and in experiencing God in our lives.

Rainey

Roe

January 23, 2013

5 Things You Didn’t Know about “Jane Roe”

Today is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the controversial Supreme Court ruling that progressives want to enshrine and conservatives want to overturn. Few rulings have been more consequential. According to Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute, 22% of all pregnancies now end in abortion, with 3 in 10 women terminating their pregnancy by the age of 45. There have been approximately 57 million legally induced abortions in the U.S. since 1973—nearly the current population of California and Texas combined.

Yet a recent Pew study found that 4 in 10 “Millennials” don’t even know that Roe v. Wade has to do with abortion. And even fewer today know the true story of the woman who started it all, the pseudonymous plaintiff “Jane Roe.” Here are five things you may not know about her, culled from interviews and profiles along with her sworn congressional testimony and memoirs.

(1) The name “Jane Roe” was created over beer and pizza.

In 1969 Norma was 21 years old, divorced, and pregnant for the third time. (The first two children were placed for adoption.) After seeking an abortion but finding out it was illegal, and then driving to an illegal clinic only to find it closed, adoption attorney Henry McCluskey referred her to two young lawyers in Dallas, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Weddington (who had traveled to Mexico a couple of years earlier to have an abortion) was seeking a class-action lawsuit against the state of Texas in order to legalize abortion. It was an unlikely party at the corner booth of Columbo’s pizza parlor in Dallas: two recent law-school grads in business suits sitting across the table from a rough and uneducated homeless woman. The lawyers needed a representative for all women seeking abortions—one who was young, poor, and white. They just didn’t want her to cross state lines to get a legal abortion, or the case would be considered moot and dismissed. Without money and five months pregnant, Norma was the ideal candidate. After downing several pitchers of beer, they agreed on using the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” (“Wade” referred to Henry B. Wade, the attorney general of Dallas.)

(2) Jane Roe didn’t know the meaning of “abortion.”

Weddington and Coffee told Norma that abortion just dealt with a piece of tissue, and that it was like passing a period rather than the termination of a distinct, living, and whole human organism. Abortion was a taboo topic in 1970, and Norma had dropped out of school at the age of 14. She knew that John Wayne movies talked about “aborting the mission,” so she thought it meant to “go back”—as in, going back to not being pregnant. She honestly believed “abortion” meant a child was prevented from coming into existence.

(3) Jane Roe never appeared in court.

Her lawyers drafted a one-page legal affidavit, which she signed but did not read. (Even today, she has not read it.) This was only the second time she would meet with her lawyers—and it turned out to be the last. She would not be called to testify and attended none of the trial. She found out about the Supreme Court ruling from the newspaper on January 23, 1973, just like the rest of the nation. Few on that day understood the implications of Justice Blackmun’s instruction that Roe v. Wade was to be read in conjunction with its companion case Doe v. Bolton, which effectively made abortion legal at any stage of pregnancy for any reason. As a result, the United States (with Canada) became the only Western country offering no legal protection for the unborn at any stage of the pregnancy.

(4) Jane Roe never had an abortion.

Norma had already given birth and placed the baby for adoption before the three-judge Texas panel ruled against her in May of 1970, long before the Supreme Court decision in January of 1973. She was in a committed lesbian relationship and would not become pregnant again. Abortion continued to be a part of her life, however. She went on to work in abortion clinics, holding the hands of women and offering reassurance as they terminated their pregnancies, and making appearances on the Roe anniversaries.

(5) Jane Roe became pro-life.

In 1995, while working at the clinic, Norma became haunted by the sight and sound of empty playgrounds in her neighborhood. Once teeming with kids, they now seemed deserted. And she began to see it was the result of what she once called “my law.” But the decisive change happened when she met Emily Mackey, a seven-year-old girl whose parents were protesting at the clinic where “Miss Norma” worked. Emily, who had almost been aborted herself, befriended Norma, showing genuine interest and love, giving her hugs and inviting her to church. Through the influence this young girl’s combination of truth and grace, along with those who shared the gospel of Jesus with her, Norma not only became convinced of the pro-life position but also converted to Christianity.

* * *

Norma McCorvey now says that “Jane Roe has been laid to rest.” Both sides in America’s most contentious debate have claimed her at one point, and both have had reason to be disappointed. But for evangelicals—the demographic most committed to overturning Roe—the case for protecting the smallest and most defenseless members of the human race does not rest with the testimony of a single individual. It does not even rest on biblical revelation; moral philosophers have pointed out that the differences between a fetus in utero and an infant outside the womb—size, location, degree of dependency, and level of development—are morally irrelevant when determining a person’s right to life.

On this fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, evangelicals would do well to remember that we must not only labor to protect the unborn, but to continue reaching out with assistance and love and the good news of grace to the Norma McCorveys of the world—broken women who feel they have no other place to turn.

1-22-1973

January 22, 2013

What if every day of the year could speak? What would the message of each day bring?

I wonder.

Do the days soak up the joy of weddings, births, and victories that take place during their hours?

Do they bend and bow under the weight of heaviness, weeping over deaths, losses, and tragedies?

Does September shudder every time the 11th rolls by, as it recalls the horror of human carnage and the blood that now stains the beginning of fall?

Will December 14th forever strain under the weight of sadness, remembering the children gunned down in the innocence of youth?

There are days that remain with us, carving out a space in the calendar, forcing us to rethink life in terms of before and after.

And then there are days whose sadness spreads. Quiet events that bring monumental changes. Effects felt not on the first day, but on the second, the third, the hundredth, the thousandth.

More than fourteen thousand days have passed since a quiet winter day in January, when the rights of an entire class of human beings were denied with a stroke of a pen, when the most powerful nation in the world determined to withhold protection from its most defenseless.

If January 22 could speak, what would it say?

Unlike other tragic days, this one comes and goes each year with little fanfare. If January 22 could speak, it would tell us of the ignobility of being ignored.

The tears of those affected are unseen, because they never had the chance to cry. Their suffering is silent, captured only in ultrasound images that show them scurrying away from the intruding instruments determined to destroy and dismember their fragile bodies.

The cries of January 22 are drowned out by partisan powers of politics, the clanging of coins and cash, the frightful sight of moms and dads marching for the right to end the lives of their children, as if a baby were only a burden and not a blessing.

Oh, the injustice of those who profit financially from the business of snuffing out of the weakest among us!

Oh, the scandal of politicians more concerned about protecting the rights of doctors seeking to kill than the rights of babies struggling to breathe!

Oh, the tragedy of a society that exercises its freedom in the willful choice to close their eyes to the ultrasound images, to close their minds to miracle of life blossoming in the womb!

But not forever.

One day, January 22 will not be shrouded in sadness.

A new generation is rising. We refuse to make unborn children invisible. We are unafraid to stand up to the entrenched interests of those who would deny a class of humans their right to live.

We envision a more beautiful world – a world where all are welcomed into existence, where our love for life overcomes our desire for convenience, where we rely on each other as we choose life rather than revel in our freedom to choose death.

Forty years have passed, and so have 50 million little ones.

But the message of a day can change.

January 22 might break under the unbearable weight of its tragic significance if not for another day on the calendar. If that day could speak, it would tell us of the darkness of death and the coldness of a tomb whose stillness was shattered when the stopped, silent heart of a crucified man suddenly began beating again.

Days can change. That day gives January 22 hope.

Trevin Wax

Freedom of Speech

January 18, 2013

It’s happening in GB, and it’ll be happening here in no time.

LONDON (AP) — One teenager made offensive comments about a murdered child on Twitter. Another young man wrote on Facebook that British soldiers should “go to hell.” A third posted a picture of a burning paper poppy, symbol of remembrance of war dead.

All were arrested, two convicted, and one jailed — and they’re not the only ones. In Britain, hundreds of people are prosecuted each year for posts, tweets, texts and emails deemed menacing, indecent, offensive or obscene, and the number is growing as our online lives expand.

Lawyers say the mounting tally shows the problems of a legal system trying to regulate 21st century communications with 20th century laws. Civil libertarians say it is a threat to free speech in an age when the Internet gives everyone the power to be heard around the world.

“Fifty years ago someone would have made a really offensive comment in a public space and it would have been heard by relatively few people,” said Mike Harris of free-speech group Index on Censorship. “Now someone posts a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook and potentially hundreds of thousands of people can see it.

“People take it upon themselves to report this offensive material to police, and suddenly you’ve got the criminalization of offensive speech.”

Figures obtained by The Associated Press through a freedom of information request show a steadily rising tally of prosecutions in Britain for electronic communications — phone calls, emails and social media posts — that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character — from 1,263 in 2009 to 1,843 in 2011. The number of convictions grew from 873 in 2009 to 1,286 last year.

Behind the figures are people — mostly young, many teenagers — who find that a glib online remark can have life-altering consequences.

No one knows this better than Paul Chambers, who in January 2010, worried that snow would stop him catching a flight to visit his girlfriend, tweeted: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your (expletive) together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.”

A week later, anti-terrorist police showed up at the office where he worked as a financial supervisor.

Chambers was arrested, questioned for eight hours, charged, tried, convicted and fined. He lost his job, amassed thousands of pounds (dollars) in legal costs and was, he says, “essentially unemployable” because of his criminal record.

But Chambers, now 28, was lucky. His case garnered attention online, generating its own hashtag — (hash)twitterjoketrial — and bringing high-profile Twitter users, including actor and comedian Stephen Fry, to his defense.

In July, two and half years after Chambers’ arrest, the High Court overturned his conviction. Justice Igor Judge said in his judgment that the law should not prevent “satirical or iconoclastic or rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humor, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it.”

But the cases are coming thick and fast. Last month, 19-year-old Matthew Woods was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for making offensive tweets about a missing 5-year-old girl, April Jones.

The same month Azhar Ahmed, 20, was sentenced to 240 hours of community service for writing on Facebook that soldiers “should die and go to hell” after six British troops were killed in Afghanistan. Ahmed had quickly deleted the post, which he said was written in anger, but was convicted anyway.

On Sunday — Remembrance Day — a 19-year-old man was arrested in southern England after police received a complaint about a photo on Facebook showing the burning of a paper poppy. He was held for 24 hours before being released on bail and could face charges.

For civil libertarians, this was the most painfully ironic arrest of all. Poppies are traditionally worn to commemorate the sacrifice of those who died for Britain and its freedoms.

“What was the point of winning either World War if, in 2012, someone can be casually arrested by Kent Police for burning a poppy?” tweeted David Allen Green, a lawyer with London firm Preiskel who worked on the Paul Chambers case.

Critics of the existing laws say they are both inadequate and inconsistent.

Many of the charges come under a section of the 2003 Electronic Communications Act, an update of a 1930s statute intended to protect telephone operators from harassment. The law was drafted before Facebook and Twitter were born, and some lawyers say is not suited to policing social media, where users often have little control over who reads their words.

It and related laws were intended to deal with hate mail or menacing phone calls to individuals, but they are being used to prosecute in cases where there seems to be no individual victim — and often no direct threat.

And the Internet is so vast that policing it — even if desirable — is a hit-and-miss affair. For every offensive remark that draws attention, hundreds are ignored. Conversely, comments that people thought were made only to their Facebook friends or Twitter followers can flash around the world.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that First Amendment protections of freedom of speech apply to the Internet, restrictions on online expression in other Western democracies vary widely.

In Germany, where it is an offense to deny the Holocaust, a neo-Nazi group has had its Twitter account blocked. Twitter has said it also could agree to block content in other countries at the request of their authorities.

There’s no doubt many people in Britain have genuinely felt offended or even threatened by online messages. The Sun tabloid has launched a campaign calling for tougher penalties for online “trolls” who bully people on the Web. But others in a country with a cherished image as a bastion of free speech are sensitive to signs of a clampdown.

In September Britain’s chief prosecutor, Keir Starmer, announced plans to draw up new guidelines for social media prosecutions. Starmer said he recognized that too many prosecutions “will have a chilling effect on free speech.”

“I think the threshold for prosecution has to be high,” he told the BBC.

Starmer is due to publish the new guidelines in the next few weeks. But Chambers — reluctant poster boy of online free speech — is worried nothing will change.

“For a couple of weeks after the appeal, we got word of judges actually quoting the case in similar instances and the charges being dropped,” said Chambers, who today works for his brother’s warehouse company. “We thought, ‘Fantastic! That’s exactly what we fought for.’ But since then we’ve had cases in the opposite direction. So I don’t know if lessons have been learned, really.”

Gun Debate

January 17, 2013

Editor’s Note: Below is the third post from contributing writer, John Mark Reynolds, founder of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, now a trailblazing provost at Houston Baptist University, and a frequent social commentator in places like The Washington Post:

If government were good, only God would have guns. Yet humans abuse God’s gift of human freedom, and so guns abound. What can we do about it?

Christians want peace, but perfect peace is not possible in our present condition without tyranny. We must tolerate law — a thing that does violence to our liberty — while remembering no law is good in itself. Liberty is good in itself, while law is the compromise we make with our inability to be good and free, and the law is only good when it maximizes liberty and minimizes vice.

Nothing is so good that humans cannot mess it up, and nothing is so bad that God cannot redeem it. If we do not start with this simple truth when it comes to guns, then our discussion will go no place. Guns can easily kill, though they need not be used to kill. Killing can be murder and murder is immoral. Guns, therefore, like cars, require thoughtful regulation in a fallen world. This is why both guns and cars are already regulated.

No gun control the President can suggest will deserve moral condemnation or praise, because there is no fundamental human right to own a gun as there is a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Before guns existed, men were free and if all guns vanished men would still be free.

If men were angels, then every man could own a gun. If men were devils, no man should own a gun. Since no person is either an angel or a demon, and since guns are so easy to abuse, we must measure what to do about them.

Of course, gun regulations, which Americans already have, limit our liberty, but a limit on liberty need not make me a slave. As a conservative, I recognize that this is a pragmatic decision between liberty and law. Regulation reduces what it regulates, but it also infringes on my liberty. There is also the pragmatic question of whether more gun control will prevent any of the events such as the Newtown horror.

Sociology and science can help us answer those questions, but science cannot tell us what society Americans want. Turning to another easily abused good, media, makes this obvious. The scientific consensus is that consuming violent media increases the tendency to violence, but that agreement doesn’t tell us anything about we should do. Christianity warns that Utopia isn’t coming with direct divine rule, so no solution will be perfect. The awesome liberty to play Halo means that unstable people can easily play Halo. Most Americans think the censorship of such media will not lead to a sufficiently significant decrease in violence to be worth our loss of liberty. Christians know that giving the government power is necessary, but also understand that all such power will be abused.

Increasing government power over anything is always dangerous, though increasing my liberty is also dangerous! It is impossible to know when “tipping points” are reached, when liberty devolves into licentiousness or the law into legalism.

This means there an be no single Christian position on gun control. Christians can live peacefully in societies where there is no right to bear arms and in societies, such as ours, where there is such a civil right. We believe in liberty, morality, and law, but don’t know how to balance those goods.

That is the downside of God’s gift of free will.

Pragmatically, as a citizen, I believe that an armed citizenry is worth any increase in violence that may result. I also believe that we have sufficient regulations in place and no new regulations, given the number of guns in the society already, are likely to prevent another Newtown. There has been no increase in such violence, and it seems unwise to pass laws only so that we can have the satisfaction of having done something.

If the Federal government decides further to limit magazine sizes in an act of therapeutic regulation, however, I think the Republic will no more be in imminent peril, than if it decided to ban certain kinds of violent video games. We were free before Grand Theft Auto and could be free without it.

I hope we do neither, but only because I believe too much liberty and privacy has been lost already.

John Reynolds

Arm and Arm

January 17, 2013

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Psalm 85:10

If you’re like most married Americans, your relationship likely resembles one of these three positions:

Face to face. Like typical newlyweds, this couple is cruising down the highway of life in a convertible with the top down. A favorite CD is playing love songs through the speakers while their fingers are intertwined. She rests her head on his shoulder, and he plants an occasional peck on her cheek.

Side by side. This couple has traded in their convertible for a minivan. With toddlers strapped into car seats, with sippy cups rolling around on juice-stained carpets, their relationship is showing signs of strain. It takes everything they’ve got sometimes to stand beside one another as they make it through the day.

Back to back. Like ships passing in the night, this couple now drives his and hers cars. Their house is more hotel than home. Friction, harsh words, verbal jabs, and anxiety have replaced whatever amount of intimacy used to pass between them.
Most likely, you’ve experienced a little of each of these–perhaps all in the same week! But Barbara and I have discovered that the position that holds the most lifelong promise for a marriage is actually arm in arm–walking together at the same pace. In the same direction.

It means mutually figuring out the unique rhythm of your marriage–making the investment to know each other so well that you’re able to walk in lockstep together.

If you’re face to face, enjoy and give it time. If you’re side by side, keep working at it. Even if you’re back to back, there’s hope. God is in the business of making all things new . . . and putting husbands and wives arm in arm.

Discuss
Which one of the four positions best describes you right now? Why? How can you better connect arm in arm and grow together as a couple?

Pray
Pray for warning and protection from anything that could threaten to back you away from each other. Pray also that God will show you how you can better walk arm in arm with your spouse.

Rainey

Look Upwards

January 15, 2013

A shift has taken place in the Evangelical church with regard to the way we think about the gospel and it’s far from simply an ivory tower conversation. This shift effects us on the ground of everyday life.

In his book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, famed Dutch Theologian Herman Ridderbos (1909 – 2007) summarizes this shift which took place following Calvin and Luther. It was a sizable but subtle shift which turned the focus of salvation from Christ’s external accomplishment to our internal appropriation:

While in Calvin and Luther all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ’s death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to it’s mystical and moral effect in the life of the believer. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and more from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of Paul’s preaching.

Donald Bloesch made a similar observation when he wrote, “Among the Evangelicals, it is not the justification of the ungodly (which formed the basic motif in the Reformation) but the sanctification of the righteous that is given the most attention.”

With this shift came a renewed focus on the internal life of the individual. The subjective question, “How am I doing?” became a more dominant feature than the objective question, “What did Jesus do?” As a result, generations of Christians were taught that Christianity was primarily a life-style; that the essence of our faith centered on “how to live”; that real Christianity was demonstrated foremost in the moral change that took place inside those who had a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Our ongoing performance for Jesus, therefore, not Jesus’ finished performance for us, became the focus of sermons, books, and conferences. What I need to do and who I need to become, became the end game.

To be sure, the Bible has plenty to say about our becoming like Jesus. But our transformation is a secondary theme. The primary theme of the Bible is Christ’s substitution–the fact that Jesus became like us. The modern church has sadly reversed the order. The focus of the Christian faith has become the life of the Christian.

Believe it or not, this shift in focus from “the forensic to the pneumatic”, from the external to the internal, has enslaving practical consequences.

When you’re on the brink of despair-looking into the abyss of darkness, experiencing a dark-night of the soul–turning to the internal quality of your faith will bring you no hope, no rescue, no relief. Too often our preaching (and our counseling) is the equivalent of giving a drowning man swimming lessons: “Paddle harder, kick faster.” We assume that people possess the internal power to get things right so we turn them in to themselves. But, as too many people already know, every internal answer will collapse underneath you. Turning to the external object of your faith, namely Christ and his finished work on your behalf, is the only place to find peace, re-orientation, and help. The gospel always directs you to something, Someone, outside you instead of to something inside you for the assurance you crave and need in seasons of desperation and doubt. The surety you long for when everything seems to be falling apart won’t come from discovering the dedicated “hero within” but only from the realization that no matter how you feel or what you’re going through, you’ve already been discovered by the “Hero without.”

As Sinclair Ferguson writes in his book The Christian Life:

True faith takes its character and quality from its object and not from itself. Faith gets a man out of himself and into Christ. Its strength therefore depends on the character of Christ. Even those of us who have weak faith have the same strong Christ as others!

By his Spirit, Christ’s continuing subjective work in me consists of his constant, daily driving me back to his completed objective work for me. Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around. The gospel is the good news announcing Christ’s infallible devotion to us in spite of our lack of devotion to him. The gospel is not a command to hang onto Jesus. Rather, it’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith may be in seasons of spiritual depression, God is always holding on to you.

Martin Luther had a term for the debilitating danger that comes from locating our hope in anything inside us: monstrum incertitudinis (the monster of uncertainty). It’s a danger that has always plagued Christians since the fall but especially Christians in our highly subjectivistic age. And it’s a monster that can only be destroyed by the external promises of God in Jesus.

Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a bonafide peace that’s built on a real change in status before God—from standing guilty before God the judge to standing righteous before God our Father. This is the objective custody of even the weakest believer. It’s a peace that rests squarely on the fact that we’ve already been “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (v. 10), justified before God once and for all through faith in Christ’s finished work. It will surely produce real feelings and robust action, but this peace with God that Paul describes rests securely on the work of Christ for us, outside us. The truth is, that the more I look into my own heart for peace, the less I find. On the other hand, the more I look to Christ and his promises for peace, the more I find.

So, when pressed in on every side, look up. In God’s economy, the only way out is always up, not in.

Tullian