Faith and Freedom in the Public Square: An Evening I Will Share with Dennis Prager and Ross Douthat

imsis053-071A respectful conversation on the most controversial issues of our day is a rare gift. And I am looking forward to just that kind of opportunity when I will join Dennis Prager and Ross Douthat for such a conversation. It will take place next Tuesday in Alumni Chapel at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The event is presented by World Magazine and #Hashtag Productions, and the public is invited—and that pleases me.

I cannot remember when I first read material from Dennis Prager, but he is one of the most significant Jewish thinkers in America today. He has a keen mind and a generous spirit. I have enjoyed every conversation with him. He is also a nationally syndicated radio host, whose influence is massive. Similarly, Ross Douthat is one of the most influential newspaper columnists and writers in the nation today. His column in The New York Times is required reading for anyone who wants to think about the leading issues of the day. His latest book, Bad Religion, was a best-seller for all the right reasons.

Our conversation is entitled, “Faith and Freedom in the Public Square.” Warren Smith of World Magazine will emcee the evening. I want to make sure that you know about it, and that you know you are invited to join us for the evening.

For tickets and information, go to

Here is the information from that site:

An Evening with Albert Mohler, Dennis Prager and Ross Douthat

Presented by World Magazine and Hashtag Productions

On Tuesday, January 28th at 7:00 pm, in Alumni Chapel on the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, nationally syndicated radio show host Dennis Prager, Christian author Dr. Albert Mohler and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat will appear together on stage for a conversation about about “Faith and Freedom in the Public Square.”

Our emcee for the evening will be Warren Smith of World Magazine.

We live in trying times. Those of us who take belief in the God of the Bible seriously feel burdened by the problems that arise in our increasingly secular, pluralistic society. People are abandoning truth, Western culture is dying, and the lines between right and wrong are becoming irrevocably blurred.

The goal of this event is to allow three prominent voices in the public square—one Jewish (Prager), one evangelical Christian (Mohler), and one Catholic (Douthat)—to engage in an open, honest and entertaining dialogue about these challenges we face as a nation and civilization. This is about asking and answering tough questions in a God-honoring and purposeful way.

Tickets are $19.95 for General Admission seating, and a limited number of $64.95 VIP reserved seating (which includes admittance to a catered pre-show VIP reception with the speakers at 6:00 pm).

Alumni Chapel
2825 Lexington Road
Louisville, KY 40280
This event is brought to you by Hashtag Productions LLC ( and World Magazine (


Commonplaces: Teenagers, Reading, and Language

9781626360921In times past, readers kept books in which they recorded favorite items from their reading. These “commonplace books” were sometimes later collected, offering a view into the mind and habits of the reader even as the thoughts of the original writers were shared. This year, I intend to start sharing some of my commonplaces with you. Why wait to share them?

The first comes from a very intriguing book of essays by Jim Flynn, who taught for almost six decades at the University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest university. Flynn is an avid and careful reader, and in The Torchlight List, he offers what he calls a global “road map” for reading.

In his first chapter, he writes of his own reading experience and compares that experience to the reality of today’s teenagers, including the young people who arrive on the campuses of the world’s most prestigious universities. To put the matter bluntly: they are not serious readers, and this is especially true when it comes to great literature. Flynn is surely right when he argues that an individual who reads well but has no college education is better educated than one who does not read seriously and widely but holds university degrees.

“Ask students what novelist they like best and you get a blank, or some reference to the author of airport trash,” he laments.

He then makes an observation that every parent, educator, pastor, youth minister, and teenager should note carefully. He distinguishes between active and passive language. Active language is the language people use to initiate a conversation. Passive language consists of language an individual can understand, but does not (or cannot) use to initiate a conversation.

Note carefully, then, what he says next:

In sum, in 1948 teenagers could both understand and use the vocabularies of their parents. In 2006 they could understand their parents but, to a surprising degree, could not initiate a conversation using adult language.

Sound familiar? I thought so.

He also observes that teenagers of the past “wanted to become adults and enjoy the privileges of adults.” Now, however, adolescents have their own distinct subculture that “is so attractive that some young adults want to remain in it through their twenties and even their thirties.”

He does not write with scorn nor does he believe that the damage is always permanent. But he writes with a prophetic and wise voice that has to do as much with life as with books—and he warns of a life without books.

Think and consider.

Another Shooting, But the Same Vexing Questions Remain

92032131One day before the one-year anniversary of the killing of twenty-six in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, an 18-year-old young man entered the high school at which he was a student in suburban Denver on Friday and shot two students before killing himself. One of those students, Claire Davis, a 17-year-old senior, is now in very critical condition, described by USA Today this morning as “clinging to life.”

The story is shocking on its face for any number of reasons. As Carolyn Pesce of USA Today reports:

The gunman, who entered a Denver-area school on Friday and shot and critically wounded a student intended to harm a large number of individuals. Karl Pierson, age eighteen, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot, entered the north side of the high school armed with a shot gun he bought legally, with multiple rounds of ammunition strapped across his body, a machete and a backpack filled with three Molotov cocktails.

Pesce goes on to describe the tragedy: “In less than two minutes he fired five shots and ignited one of the Molotov cocktails before running to the back of the school library and killing himself.”

This is a story that simply defies the imagination when we ask a couple of very simple questions. The most direct question is unavoidable: why did this young man do this? It appears that behind this crime might be the simplest of human emotions: resentment and revenge. The student had targeted a teacher who had been working with him on the school’s debate team. The student was known to have been a very angry debater at times, but, nonetheless, was described as having his temper under control—at least until Friday. On that day he entered the school, calling out the teacher’s name and, amazingly enough, he entered the school carrying a shotgun he had bought legally as an 18-year-old in Colorado on the sixth of December.

That raises another immediate question: how in the world, given the contemporary concerns about school security, could an 18-year-old student enter a high school in the Denver area carrying, and not even trying to conceal, a shotgun with multiple rounds of ammunition strapped across his body, with a backpack filled with three Molotov cocktails, and also carrying a machete? He detonated one of the Molotov cocktails to little effect, but he shot two students, one of them with only a superficial wound and the other one, young Claire Davis, shot in the head.

This is a sad account in every dimension, but it drives us right back to the same basic questions as Columbine, as Aurora, as Newtown, Connecticut. The big question of why is a question that must be asked but cannot be adequately answered.

One especially haunting issue rises to the surface of this tragedy. Unlike so many recent school shooters, Karl Pierson was not suspected by his friends of being capable of such criminality and violence. How could his closest friends miss this part of Karl? We must note the inability of even his closest friends to describe what in the world happened between the relatively hot-headed-but-under-control young man they say they knew and the young man who entered the high school on Friday, intending to commit murder, setting off a Molotov cocktail, and shooting one student for no apparent reason whatsoever before taking his own life.

This transformation—of the Karl Pierson who entered that school with murderous intent on Friday as compared with the Karl Pierson that had been known for the previous eighteen years—raises one of the most basic questions that frustrates all human beings: how in the world can we understand someone like this? But then, of course, that drives us back to an even more basic question: How can we understand anyone? How can we get into the human heart and try to plumb its depths and disentangle its cobwebs? The reality is we can’t, even when it comes to our own heart. And, yet, we have to try.

That is why we put screening and security systems in place.  But why in the world wasn’t there some screening process in place that would have prevented someone walking in with an unconcealed shotgun? The directness of that question is raised by Jack Healy in The New York Times when he writes:

The student did not try to hide the shotgun he carried into Arapahoe High School at 12:30 p.m. Friday. He sought to confront a teacher, law enforcement officials said, and asked his classmates where he could find him. The teacher slipped away from the building, but officials said the gunman seriously wounded one student and then died, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado then called the episode an “all-too-familiar sequence” in his state. The memory of Columbine is ever present.

No doubt Governor Hickenlooper now faces the same questions as the rest of us.  And when you look at so many of the editorial pieces written over the weekend, so many seem to assume that there is an obvious answer to how to prevent this kind of tragedy. The truly vexing thing from the Christian worldview, the most deeply troubling truth, is that there is no way to prevent this—not fully, not adequately, not comprehensively. We fool ourselves if we think we can. On the other hand, we’re irresponsible if we do not try.

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