The Briefing, Thursday, October 25, 2012

TODAY: Also on the ballot in November, the legalization of marijuana (Oregon, Washington, Colorado) and the expansion of gambling (Maryland). The precedent is set for a radical expansion of presidential power after the election. The new face of infidelity — women are committing adultery at rates formerly known only to men. I discuss all these on today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

The legalization of marijuana has been controversial for some time, but the issue is front and center as voters in Oregon, Washington, and Colorado go to the polls November 6. In California, The New York Times reports that an estimated 500 to 1,000 “medical marijuana” dispensaries exist, largely outside government control. Prescriptions for medical marijuana can be obtained on Santa Monica beach, and no one believes that all the healthy young customers of the marijuana dispensaries are actually cancer patients. In Colorado, the shape of the future of marijuana as a retail consumer product is taking shape. As TIME reports, this is an ominous future, with companies poised to exploit a profit motive to get people hooked on marijuana — including teenagers, whose use is now at a 30-year high.

In Maryland, voters will be asked to expand legalized gambling. But, as Keith Harriston of The Washington Post argues, this will put the most vulnerable at greatest risk and puts the government in the posture of predator against its own people.

I then discuss coverage in Newsweek and New York Magazine about President Obama’s expanded use of executive orders to get around Congress. These articles raise very serious constitutional issues, especially about the separation and balance of powers intended by the founders as a firewall against executive tyranny. As Jonthan Chait of New York Magazine argues, this sets the 2012 election in a new and important light. The President who sits in the Oval Office in this new presidential term — whether Obama or Romney — will be tempted to use this executive power on an unprecedented scale.

Finally, I discuss a very revealing article by Peggy Drexler in The Wall Street Journal. Drexler reports that women are now committing adultery at rates formerly associated only with men. This strange form of gender equality is tragic news for all, and Drexler argues that it results from a growing normalization of adultery in the media, the fact that so many women are now involved in business contexts and travel, and the rise of social media. “The New Face of Adultery” puts a very old sin in a sad new light.

All these are discussed on today’s edition of The Briefing. Listen here: You will also find links to the articles cited.

The Briefing, Wednesday October 24, 2012

In today’s edition of The Briefing I talk about the issue of abortion in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, with a particular reference to a controversy surrounding comments made by Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan. Rep. Ryan affirmed the personhood of every human being from conception until natural death. In response, MSNBC host Chris Matthews argued that Ryan’s view — held by millions of pro-life Americans — is “almost like Sharia,” a reference to Islamic law.

What Matthews failed to acknowledge is that the law absolutely requires a definition of human personhood, explicit or implied. That definition will be determined on some basis and will ascribe human personhood at some point along the continuum of human development. The pro-life position is that full human dignity must be recognized at conception or some human beings — indeed millions of human beings — will have that dignity and right to life denied.

I also discuss a recent Gallup Poll indicating that the total percentage of GLBT Americans (those who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered) is 3.4% — not the 10-25% often assumed or claimed by many Americans.

I then turn to discuss the finding that American boys are now entering puberty earlier than in previous generations. This points to an increasing distance between male puberty and the age of marriage. The delay of marriage and the extension of adolescence becomes an even more pressing challenge.

Finally, I talk about a recent story out of California in which a group promoting the practice of yoga has put over $500,000 behind an effort to teach yoga to children in the public schools of one community. A group of parents is rightly concerned that there is no way to remove Hinduism from yoga, despite the claims of the school district.

The Briefing is a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. You can listen here.

Links to articles I discuss in the program can be found here.

Revisiting Inerrancy: A Panel Discussion Considers What is at Stake

More than twenty years ago, theologian J. I. Packer recounted what he called a “Thirty Years’ War” over the inerrancy of the Bible. He traced his involvement in this war in its American context back to a conference held in Wenham, Massachusetts in 1966, when he confronted some professors from evangelical institutions who “now declined to affirm the full truth of Scripture.” That was nearly fifty years ago, and the war over the truthfulness of the Bible is still not over — not by a long shot.

With current challenges to the inerrancy of Scripture in view, I convened a panel of theologians to revisit the question. In one sense, the challenges to inerrancy are more direct than ever, with figures associated with some evangelical institutions calling for a straightforward repudiation of the doctrine. Other assaults are more subtle, but all of these challenges demand our close attention.

The panel was convened on Thursday, September 27, 2012, in Alumni Chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The video of the panel can be viewed by clicking here.

‘Staying in His Lane’ — Joel Osteen’s Gospel of Affirmation Without Salvation

Joel Osteen was back on CNN this week, appearing Thursday morning on “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.” Osteen’s new book, I Declare: 31 Promises to Speak Over Your Life, recently hit the nation’s bookstores.

Osteen’s positive thinking theology was on full display in the interview, as in the book. O’Brien asked if he really believes that speaking declarations out loud can make them come true. Osteen assured her that he does, promising that speaking positive words can bring positive results and warning that speaking negativity will bring negative results. “I don’t think there’s anything magic about it, but those words go out and come right back in and affect your own self-image.”

In the book itself, Osteen asserts, “You’ve got to send your words out in the direction you want your life to go.” The theme of his book is simple: “With our words we can either bless our futures or we can curse our futures.”

The most enthusiastic response to Osteen’s message came from Deepak Chopra, the New Age self-help guru, who was also on the CNN program. He affirmed Osteen’s message and added, “I’ve believed forever that there’s no mental event that doesn’t have a brain representation, that every thought actually generates molecules.”

The two self-help experts then elaborated on their ideas, with Osteen urging “activating faith,” because “faith is what causes God to work.” Later, he even spoke of “speaking to the seeds of greatness that God’s placed in all of us.”

The appearance of Osteen and Chopra together was a priceless demonstration of the fact that the New Thought positive thinking philosophy that drives them both can be grafted onto either Christianity or Eastern religion. In the end, it all sounds the same. Chopra’s New Age spirituality and Osteen’s updated version of the word-faith movement end up as the same message, only with different trappings.

O’Brien then shifted the topic to homosexuality, as would be expected. As she said to Osteen, “Almost every time we have a pastor on, it’s a conversation we have.”

She then said, “When you say homosexuality is a sin and there’s a bunch of people who clearly are gay in your church. You’re calling them sinners. I mean, that’s the opposite of uplifting, I would think.”

She established the perfect platform for Osteen to respond with the gospel of Jesus Christ, but he did not. “Well, Soledad, I don’t necessarily focus on that. I only talk about that in interviews,” he said.

So this pastor only talks about sin on television interviews, and then only when forced to do so. He then attempted to broaden the talk of sin to being critical and even “being negative.”

Osteen tried to explain that he tries to avoid such issues intentionally. “I think part of my, if you want to call it success, I’ve stayed in my lane and my lane is listing people’s spirits and there are issues that good, Bible-believing people see on both sides of the fence.”

So, “good, Bible-believing people” are found on both sides of the fence when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, Osteen said. His intention is clearly to straddle that fence.

He affirmed previously that homosexuality is “not God’s best” for humanity. Even then, the words had to be put into his mouth by others, including a major homosexual activist also on the program.

Pressed again by O’Brien, Osteen repeated: “First of all, in my services, I don’t cover all those issues that we talk about here.” Later, he responded to another question by stating: “And I don’t understand all those issues and so, you know, I try to stick to the issues that I do understand. I know this: I am for everybody. I’m not for pushing people down.”

Viewers of CNN saw a display of confusion, evasion, and equivocation coming from one presented as a Christian pastor. What they were really seeing is the total theological bankruptcy of the word of faith movement and the gospel of positive thinking. Osteen cannot, or at least will not, speak even the simplest word of biblical conviction. He states his intention to stay in his “lane” of glib affirmation.

Affirmation is important, and humans crave it. But affirmation as a sinner is the worst possible form of pastoral malpractice. Christianity is based on the truth that sinners need a Savior, not merely a coach or a therapist.

Joel Osteen’s appearance on CNN Thursday revealed little that is new. It was Osteen as always — evasive and confused, but constantly smiling. This is now his calculated and well-practiced approach. He offered no word of the gospel, and no reference to Jesus Christ, but he was introduced as “one of the most recognizable faces of Christianity in America today.”

There, for all to see, was Joel Osteen … staying in his lane.

Why the Sexual Revolution Needed a Sexual Revolutionary

My article, “Why the Sexual Revolution Needed a Sexual Revolutionary,” is now available at The Atlantic. I write about Helen Gurley Brown’s influence in the Sexual Revolution and the revolutionary character of her agenda in her own times. Conservative Christians sometimes assume that massive cultural changes are inevitable in some sense, but such movements are actually inseparable from the individuals who push the boundaries and shift the consensus. The overturn of a sexual morality that had survived intact for thousands of years was made possible by individuals willing to scandalize the public, while creating a new setting for the cultural and moral norm.

Helen Gurley Brown was a pioneer of sorts, who intended to overthrow traditional sexual morality. To a considerable degree, she succeeded. She also lived long enough to see the Sexual Revolution reach far beyond her vision in 1962, when Sex and the Single Girl was published.

A review of her life and influence helps us to understand how a moral revolution happens — and at what cost.

From the essay:

The revolutionaries of sexual liberation would include some who did not live to see the transformation in full fervor, such as Alfred Kinsey (d. 1956) and Margaret Sanger (d. 1966). But the leading agents of the sexual revolution came from the generation who reached cultural influence just as the movement began to crystallize. This generation would include both Hugh Hefner (b. 1926) and Helen Gurley Brown (b. 1922).

1960 also marked the advent of The Pill. The first authorized prescriptions for the oral contraceptive came that very year, and that one little pill changed the moral landscape, separating sex and reproduction with chemical ease. The Pill was first made available only to married women, but that changed quickly.

When Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl hit the bookstores in 1962, it lit a firestorm of controversy. A former advertising writer, then recently married to a leading Hollywood producer, Helen Gurley Brown dared to scandalize the nation, virtually inventing the “single girl” as a cultural category. Brown urged young women to see themselves as empowered by sex, money, and men—but without any need for the traditional commitment to marriage.

Her argument was so scandalous at the time that no major publisher would touch the book. The bookstores were filled with books offering advice to young wives and mothers, but Helen Gurley Brown was openly inventing a new cultural category, the sexually liberated single girl.

The full essay is available at The Atlantic:

Shall We Die as a Fool Dies?

For many years I have been captivated by King David’s lament over Abner in 2 Samuel 3. It framed a fitting text for my 2012 Opening Convocation Address at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Shall We Die as a Fool Dies?”

Gore Vidal and the Sky God

The death of author and controversialist Gore Vidal last week brought an end to one of America’s most gifted and flamboyantly offensive literary voices. Eugene…

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