Once we know that God is the solitary explanation at the beginning, we can be confident that he will be the one who brings this story to a close in a way that brings him no less glory.
Once we know that God is the solitary explanation at the beginning, we can be confident that he will be the one who brings this story to a close in a way that brings him no less glory.
The suicide of Mark Madoff, the 46-year-old elder son of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, has all the trappings of a Greek tragedy. Madoff hanged himself in his Manhattan apartment on Saturday, the second anniversary of his father’s arrest for what is now known as the world’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme.
Just before killing himself, Madoff called relatives and asked them to check on his two-year-old son, sleeping in the next room. His death came even as prosecutors and other legal authorities were considering legal charges against the sons of Bernard Madoff. At the same time, other authorities were seeking to go after the Madoff relatives in order to regain some of the vast losses suffered by investors in the senior Madoff’s $50 billion fraud.
The Madoff sons have insisted on their own innocence, and they had originally confronted their father with the concerns that led to his arrest and conviction. Bernard Madoff is now serving a 150-year federal prison sentence.
Was Mark Madoff guilty of complicity in his father’s criminal scheme? We may never know. He insisted on his innocence, but there can be no question that he profited from his father’s criminal acts. News reports on the Madoff scandal have introduced many Americans to terms like “noxious profits.”
Regardless of the legalities in this case, there is a tragic affirmation of a biblical principle here. In the Old Testament, God is said to visit the iniquities of fathers “upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” [see, for example, Exodus 20:5, 34:7; Number 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9]
Some Christians turn these passages into nonsensical and sensationalistic warnings about “generational curses” that must be removed by some kind of special prayer or ministry. The reality of the biblical warning is clear enough. We are warned that the consequences of our sins are not limited to ourselves, or even to our own generation.
Bernard Madoff did not ruin only his own name, but the name carried by his children and grandchildren. The moral, legal, and financial consequences of his sin will not be borne by Bernard Madoff alone, but by his descendants after him.
All of this is brought tragically to mind when we think of the despair of Mark Madoff — and even more so when we consider what this means for a two-year-old boy who had been sleeping in the next room. That grandson was not even conceived when Bernard Madoff was conducting his Ponzi scheme.
Cast aside the unbiblical nonsense about “generational curses” and reflect on the reality of the Bible’s teaching about the consequences of our sin — a sin indeed visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation.
That two-year-old grandson already represents the third generation. May God mercifully protect him.
Diana B. Henriques and Al Baker, “A Madoff Son Hangs Himself on Father’s Arrest Anniversary,” The New York Times, Saturday, December 11, 2010.
This is a commencement message preached Friday, December 10, 2010 by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The campus of George Washington University must be an interesting place to be — and it looks like it may quickly become a lot more interesting. Consider these opening words from a report in The Washington Post: “The long-eroding boundaries that once kept men and women apart on America’s college campuses soon will disappear at George Washington University, which this week announced that students can share dorm rooms with anyone they want — regardless of gender.”
Thus, GWU becomes the latest school to adopt a “gender-neutral” housing policy. This policy, which will allow students to share a room with a person of either sex, was not pushed by heterosexual students. The demands came from gay, lesbian, and transgendered students. A student leader of “Allied for Pride” said, “Ivy League schools have it. A lot of progressive schools have it. It was time for us to try it.”
Several GWU students had already experimented with gender-neutral housing on campus by living in a townhouse they labeled “Escaping Gender.”
One shocking aspect of this development is how the moms quoted in the article were all for the new policy. “The students need to learn to make these decisions based on their own comfort levels,” said one mom. Another mom said, “They’re 18. We can’t do much about it anyway, if they’re away at school.”
That is patent nonsense, of course, but it indicates that many parents are no more mature or level-headed than their 18-year-old offspring.
Meanwhile, Newsweek also reports that GWU is wondering if the Obama health care regulations will classify birth control pills as “preventative medicine”, which would be available for free through insurance programs. GWU freshman Jessi Payton told Newsweek that not having the The Pill does not mean that students will not be having sex.
“The answer is definitely not having students abstain from sex,” she insisted. “We are adults. We are going to have sex, and if the pill isn’t available, sex just isn’t going to be as safe.”
Well, if this young woman’s words prove anything, it is that she is definitely not an adult. College students are dependents. They may be 18, but they are not living as full adults, supporting themselves and living responsibly. It’s a sad picture of America’s college students and a reflection of the moral confusion at the heart of the larger culture.
Depressed? Well, hold on for this: George Washington University was first established by Baptist missionary/statesman Luther Rice as Columbian College, a Baptist college for the training of young people for service in the church and on the mission field. Baptists lost control, the school changed its name to George Washington University, and it now serves as a parable of the secularization of higher education.
In less than two centuries, the school has modulated from Luther Rice to gender-neutral housing and demands for free birth control. The slide will not end here.
Jenna Johnson and Daniel de Vise, “At George Washington University, Coed Quarters Becoming Option for All,” The Washington Post, Saturday, December 4, 2010.
Carolyn Sayre, “Should Birth Control on Campus Be Free?,” Newsweek [Education], Friday, December 3, 2010.
The great code word for art meant to scandalize is “transgressive.” The term was well-established by the end of the 1960s, when artists sought to scandalize middle-class morality by “transgressing” moral boundaries. Artists and writers began pushing through the moral limits, seeking the thrill that comes by shocking the masses.
All this was part of the Marxist dream of destroying bourgeois morality and values in order to liberate humanity from the constraints of the Christian worldview. In some ways, the effort was stunningly successful. But transgressive artists have run into a wall of sorts. How do you scandalize when every moral conviction has already been transgressed and trampled upon?
Eric Felten of The Wall Street Journal wrote about this in his recent column, “After the Shock is Gone.” Felten argues that artists who seek the transgressive approach today are often frustrated. “But once all the boundaries have been blurred, what’s left?” he asks.
Felten cites leftist philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who observes that perversion itself “is no longer subversive.” It has all been seen already. Perversion no longer shocks. As Žižek notes, “transgressive excess loses its shock value.” It is hard to invent a new perversion that someone else has not already exhibited in a museum or presented on the theater stage.
This reality frames many of the artistic worlds around us, ranging from the local art museum to the television set. It all becomes boring as it loses its shock value, leaving the artist looking increasingly pathetic. “How many decades will Madonna continue to wear that same costume as if it were a racy innovation?” Felten asks.
The inability to transgress or shock is a sign of cultural decadence, but it is also a signifier of the foolishness of sinful humanity. Left to our own devices, we will do our best to shock ourselves until we can shock ourselves no longer. Then, we grow frustrated.
Transgressive art is exactly what we should expect from transgressors, is it not?
Eric Felten, “After the Shock is Gone,” The Wall Street Journal, Friday, December 3, 2010.
Parents cannot be spectators in the lives of their children, but should set rules, establish expectations, enforce limitations, and constantly monitor their teenagers’ digital lives. Anything less is a form of parental negligence.
A proposal to build a theme park that would feature a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark has set off a controversy in Kentucky that is worth watching. Within days, the controversy had spread to the pages of The New York Times and USA Today.
So, who’s afraid of Noah’s Ark? Lots of folks, it seems, but the editors of the state’s two largest newspapers, in particular.
The “Ark Encounter” is a major project to be undertaken by a partnership led by Answers in Genesis, the group that built the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky — an attraction that has now recorded over a million visitors by some reports. The attraction, also to be built in Kentucky, is to include live animals and a 100-ft tower of Babel.
The partnership has applied for incentives under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, and Governor Steve Beshear announced plans for the park at a news conference in the Kentucky State Capitol.
Then . . . the deluge.
The Courier-Journal of Louisville editorialized that the project would amount to “creationist tourism” that would embarrass the state by featuring “a fundamentalist view resting on biblical inerrancy [that] indirectly promotes a religious dogma.”
The editors asked, “Why stop with creationism? How about a Flat-Earth Museum? Or one devoted to the notion that the sun revolves around the Earth?”
An op-ed column in the same paper lamented with frustration the fact that the proposed theme park was just another reminder that “only 39 percent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution.”
Meanwhile, the state’s second-largest paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, declared: “Anyone who wants to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible has that right.” But, the paper added, the state would be embarrassed by appearing through its governor to embrace “such thinking.”
The paper reported that Daniel Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, called Gov. Beshear’s support of the project “embarrassing for the state.”
The editorial boards of the state’s two largest newspapers seem to be very embarrassed indeed. Gov. Beshear kept his comments fixed on economics: “The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” he said. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”
The proposed theme park is expected to attract 1.6 million visitors in its first year, bringing a $250 million annual economic impact within five years.
The most interesting aspect of this controversy isn’t the proposed theme park, but the panic among the commonwealth’s self-appointed guardians of evolutionary theory.
So who’s afraid of Noah’s Ark? Now, we know.
Stephanie Steitzer, “Theme Park for Creationism Proposed for Kentucky,” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky], Wednesday, December 1, 2010.
“Creationist Tourism,” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky], Thursday, December 2, 2010.
Pam Platt, “A Whirlwind of Ignorance,” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky], Sunday, December 5, 2010.
Shawntaye Hopkins, “Governor Defends Tax Incentives for Religious Theme Park,”The Lexington Herald-Leader [Lexington, Kentucky], Thursday, December 2, 2010.
“Ark Incentives: Cheap Jobs, Poor State Image,” The Lexington Herald-Leader [Lexington, Kentucky], Friday, December 3, 2010.
Laurie Goodstein, “In Kentucky, Noah’s Ark Theme Park Is Planned,” The New York Times, Monday, December 6, 2010.
For reasons that include all that we can learn from this report, and for many more that we know from the Scriptures and Christian wisdom, Christians know that the marginalization of marriage can only lead to unhappiness, unhealthiness, and the unraveling of human relationships.
Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein argues that the kingdom of David and Solomon is a greatly embellished biblical fiction. Jerusalem, he argues, was a cow town, a “hill country village.” David was an insurrectionist and bandit whose followers were not a mighty army, but “500 people with sticks in their hands shouting and cursing and spitting.”
All this is reported in the cover story of the December 2010 edition of National Geographic magazine. That magazine, you will remember, made its own headlines just a few years ago with the claim of a “Jesus family tomb” which was supposed to cast doubt upon the New Testament accounts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. That “discovery,” by the way, did not stand up to close investigation.
Now, the magazine wades again into contested and controversial territory in its cover story “The Search for King David.” At least one strand of the article reaches back to 2005, when archaeologist Eilat Mazar announced that she had discovered the palace of King David. More recent developments include the discovery by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel of Judean ruins in the Elah Valley, which is where the Bible records that David slew Goliath. Add to this the discovery of what may well be a large copper-smelting facility in Jordan by American archaeologist Thomas Levy. All of these discoveries would add much to the case against those who claim that these events did not happen or were greatly embellished.
“In no other part of the world does archaeology so closely resemble a contact sport,” explains National Geographic. The claims and counter-claims of archaeologists are used to make arguments for and against the truthfulness and authority of the Bible, for and against the validity of Jewish claims to the land, and for and against any number of related controversies — all of them heated and potentially explosive.
The National Geographic article is both interesting and inconclusive. It leaves most of the big questions raised but unanswered. Significantly, the magazine does undermine the case for the “biblical minimalism” school of archaeology that would claim David and Solomon as “simply fictitious characters.”
Nevertheless, Christian readers of the magazine should note a couple of key observations. First, this cover story documents the fact that archaeology is not an exact science and that the discipline is heavily influenced by ideological interests. Claims and counter-claims often have as much or more to do with those contemporary agendas than with the study of ancient civilizations.
Second, Christians should always remember that the truthfulness and authority of the Bible are not based upon any authority external to the Bible itself. There is no external evidence required to “prove” the Bible’s truthfulness. It stands on its own claim to be the Word of God. Archaeology may sell magazines and make for interesting reading, but it cannot prove nor disprove the Bible.
Robert Draper, “Kings of Controversy,” National Geographic, December 2010.
The Christian worldview is structured, first of all, by the revealed knowledge of God. There is no other starting point for an authentic Christian worldview—and there is no substitute.
In Sunday’s edition of The New York Times — the front page, no less — reporter Paul Vitello writes about “a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga.” Well, welcome to my world. My last few weeks have been heavy into “fierce debate” and light on “the gentle world” part. It all started when I was asked to answer a practical pastoral question: Should Christians Practice Yoga? My answer was the answer long offered by those committed to orthodox biblical Christianity — No.
There is nothing wrong with stretching exercises, and Christians are called to meditate upon the Word of God, but the practices of Yoga, both historic and current, are not about mere stretching. I will not repeat the argument here, but you can read my essay for yourself. After that, came the deluge. After a major story by the Associated Press and coverage in the mainstream media, I found myself (and my poor inbox) flooded with angry, vitriolic, confused, and even threatening emails. I did not seek to fuel the national debate, since I was trying to advise Christian believers, not attempting to launch a social crusade against Yoga.
Along the way, something really interesting happened. I started getting emails of a different sort, and many came from India. Central to my argument was the fact that Yoga is inseparable from Hinduism. I was nonetheless a bit startled to receive, for example, an email from a teenager in India thanking me for my “heroic” act of recognizing that Yoga is historically and essentially Hindu. After coverage in the Indian press, my exhausted inbox received many similar messages.
Stefanie Syman deserves credit for raising the issue of the American commercialization of Yoga in her book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America. But now The New York Times reports on a movement called “Take Back Yoga” that seeks to reassert the Hindu roots of Yoga. As Paul Vitello reports, the group is “mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.”
Before diving into the terms of the debate within the world of Yoga, Vitello briefly juxtaposes me with New Age guru Deepak Chopra. Interestingly, Vitello cites Professor Loriliai Biernacki of the University of Colorado, who points to a range of spiritual practices and beliefs rooted in Hinduism but increasingly common in American today, including reincarnation, meditation, karma, and even cremation. “All these ideas are Hindu in origin, and they are spreading,” she told the paper. “But they are doing it in a way that leaves behind the proper name, the box that classifies them as ‘Hinduism.'”
I take that as a vindication of my argument from an unexpected source. I am not so deluded as to think it will end the debate. I just sent a warning to my inbox.
Paul Vitello, “Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul,” The New York Times, Sunday, November 28, 2010.
Albert Mohler, “The Subtle Body — Should Christians Practice Yoga?,” Monday, September 20, 2010.
Who needs marriage? I do. You do. We all do — and for reasons far more fundamental than can be explained “in purely practical terms.”
Well, it looks like Georgia Baptists had a debate worth having. Associated Baptist Press reports that the Georgia Baptist Convention voted to separate itself from a church that has called a woman to serve as co-pastor. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the recommendation that the convention oust the church, but the debate must have been interesting.
Meeting November 15-16 at Albany’s Sherwood Baptist Church, the GBC took the action in keeping with its adoption of the Baptist Faith & Message as its confessional basis. That confession of faith, adopted as revised by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, states: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The church, Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, is one of the most venerable congregations in the state convention. For decades, it was the very epitome of the GBC establishment. Louis Newton (1892-1986), who served as president of both the GBC and the SBC, served for decades as the congregation’s pastor, beginning in 1929. Now, the church is considered no longer in fellowship with the GBC on the basis of its violation of the confession of faith. The recommendation to remove the church came from the GBC Executive Committee.
The debate, as reported in the press, got to the most basic and urgent issues. Michael Ruffin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, argued that the GBC was practicing “selective creedal application” of the Baptist Faith & Message. In his words:
There are many, many, many more provisions in the Baptist Faith and Message . . . . I don’t want the GBC to become even more creedal in its application of the Baptist Faith and Message than it has on this one score. We really should consider the arbitrariness of such an application. I think we also ought to consider the possibility that if we get serious about holding every Georgia Baptist Convention church accountable to every line in the Baptist Faith and Message as we are this one, we’ll soon have no churches left.
It appears that Michael Ruffin is right. This is an example of selective creedal application. The GBC removed another church, First Baptist Church of Decatur, for the very same reason just last year. The issue of a woman serving as pastor has been the only issue on which the GBC has taken such an action in recent years.
But, is selective creedal application wrong? The answer to that has to be both yes and no. No denominational body is equipped to deal with every issue in every meeting. The issue of a woman serving as pastor is a public statement that presented the GBC with an unavoidable decision. It would either stand by its own confession of faith, or it would, in effect, decide to abandon its own confessional identity.
Dr. Ruffin was honest in arguing that even as the GBC was undertaking a “selective creedal application” of the Baptist Faith & Message, he did not want the convention “to become even more creedal in its application of the Baptist Faith & Message than it has on this one score.” His argument is well recognized as stating the case against any regulative application of the confession of faith. His argument did not carry the day, nor should it have, but he presented his argument with consistency and honesty.
The truth is that denominational bodies will have to be more expansive in applying their own confessions of faith, or they will inevitably find themselves to have become an amalgamation of churches that are no longer standing together in common beliefs and doctrines. That would be a tragic abdication of responsibility.
The reality is that even greater challenges are certain to come. Doctrinal deviation is a real and present danger, as Southern Baptists have learned over the past half century and more. The future will require all Christians, Baptists included, to be more clear about our beliefs and common confession, or we will lose our theological integrity and Gospel faithfulness.
The application of confessional accountability undertaken by the Georgia Baptist Convention this week is a reminder of how Baptists hammered out their understanding of confessionalism in times past — and a sign of things even more difficult sure to come.
Bob Allen, “Georgia Baptists Oust Second Church with Woman Pastor, ” Associated Baptist Press, Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
The Baptist Faith & Message, Adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, June 14, 2000. http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp
We should respect the power of the Devil and his demons, but never fear them. We do not need a rite of exorcism, only the name of Jesus. We are not given a priesthood of exorcists — for every believer is armed with the full promise of the Gospel, united with Christ by faith, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Christianity honors the life of the mind, not because it celebrates the power of human intellect, but because Christ himself instructed Christians to love God with heart, soul, and mind.
BioLogos is a movement that asserts theological arguments in the public square in order to convince evangelical Christians to accept their proposals. They now have the audacity to ask for a pass from theological responsibility. That is the one thing they may not have.
Evangelicals tend to swing between extremes when it comes to politics and elections. We are too easily elated and too readily depressed. Make no mistake. The election results of 2010 will lead to big changes in Washington and far beyond. That in itself is good news. But all this must be put in a truly Christian context.
Professor Giberson asserts that to believe in the truthfulness and historicity of the entire Bible is to paddle in an “intellectual backwater.” Christians committed to biblical authority should ponder that statement deeply, even as they keep paddling.
Professor Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University’s Divinity School is a man who enjoys probing questions and has a habit of irritating the faithful. In a recent edition of The Guardian, London’s famed newspaper of record for the political Left, Hauerwas assured Britons that, contrary to popular reports, America is not so religious. As a matter of fact, he argues that America is actually more secular than Great Britain.
Now, that runs counter to just about all evidence and common sense. Sociological studies indicate that Americans report far higher rates of belief in God and identification with Christianity. Americans attend church at rates that dwarf those of Britons — so much so that America ranks as one of the most religious societies on earth, while the United Kingdom is one of the least. The data is so overwhelming that sociologists have had to explain what is often called American “exceptionalism” when it comes to secularization. America is profoundly unsecular.
So, is Hauerwas nuts? Not likely. He is a provocateur, however, and he means to provoke some thinking here.
The immediate background to the Hauerwas article in The Guardian was the selection of Ed Miliband as the new leader of Britain’s Labour Party. Miliband is an atheist, and as Hauerwas admits, that would be virtually unthinkable in the United States. “Indeed, it seems to be a requirement of political office in America that you believe in God,” he acknowledges.
He then writes: “In the US, many who may have doubts about Christian orthodoxy may continue to go to church. They do so because they assume that a vague god vaguely prayed to is the god that is needed to support family and nation.”
He is no doubt right about this, and this is evidence of the power of “civil religion,” which is not to be confused with biblical Christianity. Britain and most of Europe also had a well-established version of civil religion until the period between the two world wars. In Germany, a tragic form of civil religion served the cause of the Nazi regime.
Americans do not have to believe in God, because they believe that it is a good thing simply to believe: all they need is a general belief in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in the US. The god most Americans say they believe in is not interesting enough to deny, because it is only the god that has given them a country that ensures that they have the right to choose to believe in the god of their choosing. Accordingly, the only kind of atheism that counts in the US is that which calls into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Now, there is much in that paragraph to appreciate. Hauerwas wants to make a clear distinction between authentic theism and its counterfeits. Any serious-minded Christian should agree with the necessity of this distinction.
At the same time, one of the difficulties of Hauerwas’s framing of the issue is what appears to be his lack of appreciation for lay Christianity and what some sociologists now define as “lived religion.” While I find Stanley Hauerwas to be unfailingly provocative as a thinker, I go away from the experience of reading his books with the firm impression that the Christian in the pew is just not to be trusted as really believing much of anything. I share his concern to reject civil religion as true Christianity, but I cannot share his dismissive approach to the faith of millions in the pews, who may not be theologians, but who are faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Stanley Hauerwas, “How Real is America’s Faith?” The Guardian, Saturday, October 16, 2010.
It turns out that Robert Schuller offers the best analysis of this crisis with his own words. “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems.” The theological crisis in Garden Grove is far more significant than the financial crisis.
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Yesterday’s release of a video showing the senior medical director of Planned Parenthood casually discussing the sale of organs from aborted babies is a moral…
As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading.