Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

The death of Steve Jobs, founder and iconic leader of Apple, is a signal moment in the lives of the “Digital Generation,” which Jobs, along with a very few other creative geniuses, made possible. Few individuals of any historical epoch can claim to have changed the way so many people live their lives, do their work, and engage the products of the culture.

Jobs was one of the most influential cultural creatives of all time. If that seems like an exaggeration, it is only because the products that Jobs and Apple brought into being have become so familiar that they appear as the furnishings of contemporary lives. The personal computer was not invented by Steve Jobs, but he saw the possibility of integrated systems that would allow personal creativity to blossom. He saw products that customers did not even know they needed — and then released the products to the public, creating entire new markets and unleashing an explosion of worldwide technological creativity.

The Apple products that Jobs personally introduced, including the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, defined a new era. There is now no going back. We are in the digital age to stay. But, that world will now have to reckon with the absence of Steve Jobs.

Born to unwed parents in 1955, Jobs was adopted by a couple in Northern California — the region later to be known as Silicon Valley. In one sense, Jobs was first defined by Silicon Valley. Later, he would return the favor by defining the region on his own terms.

He, along with Stephen Wozniak, developed Apple as an idea and as a company. After dropping out of Reed College, Jobs joined Stephen Wozniak in attending the meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club, which met at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, California. They began attending the meetings in 1975. In 1976, they began Apple with just over $1,000 of their own money. By 1981, the company was worth $600 million. In 1983, Apple joined the Fortune 500.

Jobs had his share of technological failures, or disappointments. Nevertheless, even in his years away from Apple (after losing control of the company), Jobs redefined entire industries. He developed Pixar into a digital movie powerhouse, among other things, returning to lead Apple in 1997 and later to become CEO again in 2000. The rest is history.

Christians considering the life and death of Steve Jobs will do well to remember once again the power of an individual life. God has invested massive creative abilities in his human creatures. These are often used for good, and sometimes deployed to evil ends. Steve Jobs devoted his life to a technological dream that he thought would empower humanity. He led creative teams that developed technological wonders, and then he made them seemingly necessary for life in the digital age.

Jobs’ massive creative genius was matched to an almost unerring intuition of taste. His design specifications and attention to aesthetic detail are legendary. He reportedly held product designs, such as the iPhone, in his hand, closing his eyes as he ran his fingers over each surface, mandating changes to make to the product that were, to his mind, aesthetically perfect. He once defined taste as “trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing.”

His sense of taste — almost an intuition to know in advance what would be considered tasteful — was remarkable. Nevertheless, taste is not a very substantial basis for a worldview, nor can technology save us.

Steve Jobs lived a life that, by secular standards, will be considered legendary. Generations to come will be directly influenced by forces and products that he and his company brought to reality. He died a legend and one of the world’s richest men.

His personal life was far more complicated than his cool and reserved public image suggested. And his worldview, seemingly and vaguely Eastern in orientation (there was speculation that Jobs was Buddhist), was very much a part of the hidden Steve Jobs. In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Jobs said:

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

He told the graduating students to pursue their dreams and cited The Whole Earth Catalog, a work that symbolized the quirky culture of Jobs’ youth in northern California: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

In diet, he was a pescetarian, eating fish as the only meat. In public, he was the essence of cool — redefining the role of the CEO as the narrator and public revealer of new technologies and products. In private, beginning in 2004, he was fighting against pancreatic cancer.

In his Stanford address, Jobs told of a saying he first heard as a 17-year-old: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

He stepped down as Apple CEO in August, telling his company’s employees, “I have always said that if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

He exited the scene with grace, ensuring that the company he founded would endure when he was off the scene. There is much to learn from his life and his legacy.

At the same time, Christians cannot leave the matter where the secular world will settle on Steve Jobs’ legacy. The secular conversation will evade questions of eternal significance, but Christians cannot. As is the case with so many kings, rulers, inventors, leaders, and shapers of history, Christians can learn from Steve Jobs and even admire many of his gifts and contributions. Yet, we must also observe what is missing here.

I am writing this essay on an Apple laptop computer. I am listening to the strains of Bach playing from my iPad via an AirPort Express. My iPhone sits on my desk, downloading a new App from iTunes. Steve Jobs has invaded my life, my house, my office, my car, and my desktop — and I am thankful for all of these technologies.

But unerring taste, aesthetic achievement, and technological genius will not save the world. Christians know what the world does not — that the mother tending her child, the farmer planting his crops, the father protecting his family, the couple faithfully living out their marital vows, the factory worker laboring to support his family, and the preacher preparing to preach the Word of God are all doing far more important work.

We have to measure life by its eternal impact, even as we are thankful for every individual who makes this world a better place. But, don’t expect eternal impact to be the main concern of the business pages.

A June Surprise? President Obama and Same-Sex Marriage

Is President Obama about to endorse same-sex marriage? The possibility was the subject of open speculation on the front page of Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. Reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg quoted an unnamed Democratic strategist close to the White House, who said that the President’s advisers are considering the political costs, if any, of such an action.

When President Obama ran for office in 2008, he stated that he was opposed to same-sex marriage, but he ran as an ardent supporter of the homosexual community. This week, he will host a $1,250-a-plate “Gala for the Gay Community” in New York City. Stolberg also reports that the President will host a gay pride reception at the White House on June 29. The issue of same-sex marriage will inevitably be discussed, especially given the fact that the New York legislature may be poised to legalize same-sex marriage as early as this week.

Interestingly, Stolberg cites the fact that while Obama, as a candidate, ran as one opposed to same-sex marriage, “he may have been for same-sex marriage before he was against it.”

She writes: “In 1996, as a candidate for the State Senate in Illinois, Mr. Obama responded to a questionnaire from a gay newspaper. ‘I favor legalizing same-sex marriages,’ Mr. Obama wrote, ‘and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.'”

President Obama has already called and worked for the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and has instructed his Attorney General not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Same-sex marriage seems like the logical next step, given the President’s record.

Nevertheless, an open endorsement of same-sex marriage by an incumbent President of the United States would be a very significant and troubling development. If he were to do so, President Obama would not only repudiate his former position(s), he would push this nation toward the unraveling of civilization’s most central institution — marriage.

The unnamed Democratic strategist said that President Obama “is clearly a president who is interested in making big historical changes . . . I think this issue has moved into that context for him.”

The realm of politics is as corrupted by sin as is any other dimension of creation and human culture. Here is a prime example of that fact. With this article, the White House is moving forward in gauging the political costs of such a move. The very fact that this article appeared in a Sunday edition of The New York Times indicates that the White House is well down the road of endorsing same-sex marriage. If this strategist is right, President Obama sees himself as the leader who can make “big historical changes.” Well, this one is big, indeed.

Such a move would represent nothing less than a moral revolution. Furthermore, the one who makes such a move would be nothing less than a moral revolutionary.

The Myth of the Genderless Baby

Back in the nineteenth century, the British people were introduced to a fairy tale about “water babies” through a story written by Rev. Charles Kingsley. The water babies entered folklore, and generations of British children imagined the water babies and their story.

Now, out of Canada comes another strange story, but this one is not a fairy tale. Two Canadian parents have ignited a firestorm over their determination to raise their third child as a “genderless” baby.

As reporter Jayme Poisson reports, “The neighbors know [Kathy] Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it.”

Well, the neighbors might take these parents at their word, but the very idea of a genderless baby is nonsense. This is not a baby with ambiguous genitalia, a defect that occurs in a very small percentage of births. The parents admit that this baby has a clear biological sex, but they do not want that to become the child’s identity. They want the child to make that determination at a later date.

To no real surprise, these parents classify themselves on the political and ideological left. Their two older children are both boys, but the parents encourage the boys to act and dress in unconventional ways. So much so, that as the reporter informs us, many who see them assume they are girls.

The new baby, named Storm, is dressed and presented in a manner that makes no clear gender statement. Only the parents, the two older boys, and a close family friend know the truth about the child’s biological sex.

As Poisson reports:

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

Well, actually, you do — not in the crass and crude way that Mr. Stoker puts it, but in the virtually universal way that people ask of a baby: Is it a boy or a girl?

The controversy surrounding Storm is a sign of our times. Our rebellion against the Creator has now reached the point that we will deny the fact that our identity is not just our own personal project, but is first of all established in the Creator’s intention — and part of that intention is the fact that we are male or female.

Storm’s parents clearly believe that our personal identity is our own personal project. They lament even the fact that parents make so many decisions for their children. “It’s obnoxious,” Stoker says.

Well, the decision about gender is not something made by parents, but by God. At this point, the Christian worldview and the worldview of secularism run into direct collision. Nevertheless, the objective reality of the child’s gender will eventually become a public issue, regardless of the parents’ intentions. As even they recognize, at some point in the future, decisions about such things as which bathroom the child will use will force the issue.

The major issue at stake in this controversy is the objective reality of sex and gender. We are, in fact, what our genitals tell us we are. This is not because we are genitally determined, but because we were created by a holy God, whose plans and purposes for us are, inescapably, tied to our gender.

Gender is not merely a socially constructed reality. When the Southern Baptist Convention modified its confession of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message, in 2000, it added language that defined gender as “part of the goodness of God’s creation.”

Some observers wondered why that language is important. Now, you know.

Screen Test: The Danger of Digital Fixation

When it comes to the dangers of the digital age, most parents worry about what is on the screen of the computer. Recent research indicates that the screen itself just might be a very real danger.

Writing in The New York Times, physician Perri Klass warns that many parents are unaware of the risks posed by the digital screen. She tells of parents who tell the pediatrician that their child cannot have attention problems because he can watch a digital screen for hours on end. The child may have attention issues elsewhere, but not in front of a screen.

Dr. Klass writes:

In fact, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers.

Dr. Christopher Lucas of the New York University School of Medicine explains that the kind of attention demanded by the digital screen is very different from that required, for example, by a classroom or a book. The child in the classroom has to pay attention without immediate reward and learn to maintain that attention. When reading, a child has to supply the reward by means of imagination.

But, when focused on a digital screen, the child’s attention is rewarded by “frequent intermittent rewards” in the form of hormones released into the brain. The child may grow dependent on these rewards and lose the ability to maintain attentiveness without the pleasurable charges to the brain.

Dr. Klass admits that the research is not yet able to answer the question of which comes first — the dependence on the screen or the lack of attentiveness. Either way, the close association of the digital screen and the attention crisis is well documented.

This does not mean that parents should throw the computer (and other digital devices) out of the house, but it is a wake-up call that Christian parents should note with particular concern. For Christians the issue cannot be merely academic success in the classroom. We must be concerned with the means of grace that make for godliness in the life of the believer. The Christian should be a student of the Scriptures, and this requires the discipline of attentive reading. Attentive worship is another necessary discipline of the Christian life.

Are we creating a generation that cannot worship or read without the need for a dopamine release?

This research is important for us all. The digital revolution has brought wonders and opened new worlds. There is so much to celebrate and appreciate. At the same time, there are real dangers in these new technologies, especially for children. Parents must set and maintain boundaries for their children . . . and for themselves.

The Terrorist and His Porn Stash

The news that a huge stash of digital pornography had been discovered on the computers taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound was big news, but it should not have been a big surprise. As Scott Shane of The New York Times reports, the discovery “could fuel accusations of hypocrisy against the founder of Al Qaeda, who was 54 and lived with three wives at the time of his death.”

Well, he would hardly be the first married man caught with a porn stash, but in this case, Osama bin Laden had repeatedly accused the United States of immorality, with specific reference to pornography and sexualized images.

In 2002, bin Laden released a ‘Letter to the American People,” in which he attacked American sexual mores. In his words:

Your nation exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them. . . . You plaster your naked daughters across billboards in order to sell a product without any shame. You have brainwashed your daughters into believing they are liberated by wearing revealing clothes, yet in reality all they have liberated is your sexual desire.”

There is considerable truth in his criticism of America’s sinfully-sexualized and pornography-drenched culture, of course. Americans should be humiliated that we are known for such cultural exports to other nations. And yet, it turns out that the terrorists who denounce America for its depravity allow themselves pornography — and sexual entertainments.

At least some of those directly involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks had visited sexually explicit entertainment services just days before the murderous events.

What are we to think of this? Hypocrisy is nothing new, and we are prone to revel in it when seen in others. But there are larger lessons. For one thing, those who commit themselves to asceticism and denial in order to earn or supposedly deserve God’s mercy and favor almost always allow themselves some sinful enjoyments. As a recent study of dieters revealed, those who put themselves on a rigorous food diet often allow themselves other satisfactions — an expensive new dress, a few more hours of television . . . or worse.

Christians are called to holiness, not to asceticism for the sake of asceticism. The Gospel reminds us that we do not deserve our salvation and that there is nothing we can do to deserve it. Bin Laden and his associates must have been convinced that Allah would forgive them their sexual sins because of their faithfulness in carrying out acts of terrorism in the name of Islam.

Christians had better see this as a warning lest we allow ourselves the same kind of rationalization.The porn stash in Abbottabad is not only a symbol of Osama bin Laden’s hypocrisy — it is also a warning to us all.

Nero in Beijing — The Communist Party Declares War on Christians

The news out of China grows worse as reports of the arrest, detention, harassment, and beatings of Christians come from across China. The most publicized case thus far is the repeated oppression against a Beijing congregation that has led to numerous arrests and a crackdown within China’s capital.

In a very important editorial statement, The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board set the record straight. “Religious persecution is always abhorrent, but in this case it’s also a political blunder,” the paper stated.


The incident is a microcosm of the wider problems caused by China’s crackdown. Beijing insists it wants to promote a harmonious and stable society. Yet by arresting prominent activists for no apparent reason, the security forces are doing the opposite: Those who were once content to live quietly with the Party’s restrictions on free expression are now compelled to speak out.

Observers warn that China is sending the signal that it will not allow the eruption of protests like those that have spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

There is more to it, of course. Central to this crackdown is the paranoia of the Communist Party. One of the hallmarks of democratic societies is the existence of thriving “mediating institutions” between the individual and the brute power of the state. In the United States, these mediating institutions include everything from the PTA to your local church and the neighborhood reading club.

One dimension of the Communist Party’s idolatry is that it allows no mediating institutions between its power and the individual. It greatly fears these organizations, especially the church.

One reason — Christians in China now outnumber members of the Communist Party.

China’s strategy was detailed by the paper’s editorial:

This may come as a surprise to some in the West. Until recently, Beijing had played a skillful game of applying the screws just enough to keep everybody in line while easing state control over most aspects of people’s lives, including employment, choice of a spouse, housing, religion and even the ability to criticize the government in limited terms. International human rights advocates had to admit that most Chinese enjoyed greater freedom than ever before, and many foreigners downplayed arrests of dissidents as aberrations against a general trend of liberalization.

In other words, “those who doubted the Communist Party’s sincerity were right all along.”

A Warning of Intimidations to Come

The defense of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] got a little more complicated yesterday as the law firm that the House of Representatives had hired to defend the law withdrew from the case. As The New York Times stated bluntly, the firm dropped the case “amid pressure from gay rights groups.”

The Atlanta-based firm, King & Spalding, had agreed to take the case, and one of its lawyers, Paul D. Clement, was to lead the legal effort to defend the constitutionality of DOMA, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman in terms of federal recognition. The law also prevents any state from being forced to grant legal recognition to a same-sex marriage performed in another state.

Robert D. Hays, Jr., chairman of King & Spalding, released a statement in which he said: “In reviewing this assignment further, I determined that the process used for vetting this engagement was inadequate. … Ultimately I am responsible for any mistakes that occurred and apologize for the challenges this may have created.”

Clement, a former solicitor general of the United States under President George W. Bush, immediately resigned from King & Spalding and will continue to represent the House of Representatives in the case.

As The New York Times reported, Clement said: “I resign out of the firmly held belief that a representation should not be abandoned because the client’s legal position is extremely unpopular in certain quarters. … Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do. I recognized from the outset that this statute implicates very sensitive issues that prompt strong views on both sides. But having undertaken the representation, I believe there is no honorable course for me but to complete it.”

Gay rights groups hailed the law firm’s decision. Activist groups such as the Human Rights Campaign had lobbied King & Spalding to drop the case. The Weekly Standard obtained copies of emails sent by the Human Rights Campaign to supporters that read, in part: “Later that day we announced the elements of our campaign to show King & Spalding’ hypocrisy for taking on Defense of DOMA while touting their pro-gay policies – including their 95% score on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. … In the meantime we also contacted many of the firm’s clients, LGBT student groups at top law schools and used social media to inform the public about K&S’s wrongheaded decision.”

The success of the group’s efforts to intimidate King & Spalding serves as a warning of things to come. This is the kind of intimidation that will be used against any organization or institution — or law firm — that takes a controversial case and opposes the agenda of the gay rights movement. Watch and be warned.

We should also take special note of the statement by Paul Clement. He defended his commitment to defend DOMA and the U.S. House of Representatives by stating, “Defending unpopular clients is what lawyers do.”

So, now DOMA and the House of Representatives fall under the category of “unpopular clients” despite the fact that DOMA was passed by the overwhelming vote of both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. That statement underlines the moral revolution happening in our midst and indicates what groups like the Human Rights Campaign are certain is the direction of history. Armed with that confidence, intimidation is now the order of their day.

“God’s True Vision of the Way Things Ought to Be?” — It’s Not Really About Same-Sex Marriage

The Douglas Boulevard Christian Church in Louisville has voted to stop performing legal marriages in light of Kentucky’s constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriages. As Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal [Louisville] reported:

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church made the unanimous vote Sunday [April 7, 2011]. The Rev. Derek Penwell, senior minister of the church, said it’s unjust that heterosexual but not homosexual couples can benefit from marital rights involving inheritance, adoption, hospital visits and filing joint tax returns, saving thousands in annual taxes. Our congregation believes it is unfair to provide different services and benefits to heterosexual couples than we can provide to gay and lesbian couples,” said a church associate minister, the Rev. Ryan Kemp-Pappan.

This argument has been encountered elsewhere, but Douglas Boulevard Christian Church, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, now becomes one of the first congregations in Kentucky to take such a step.

The news article also reports that the church now draws about 80-120 worshipers weekly. In 2008, it declared itself an “open and affirming” congregation, accepting persons without regard to sexual orientation.

According to the report, “The church plans to continue offering religious marriage ceremonies for gay and straight couples, but the latter will need to get a separate ceremony through a justice of the peace to get legal recognition.”

The Christian Church of Kentucky, which numbers about 35,000 members, does not ordain non-celibate homosexuals, but the national denomination has no policy on ministers performing same-sex unions.

One key fact from the article in The Courier-Journal: The church hosts about eight to ten weddings per year, “most of them involving nonmembers.”

For many years, I have driven by this church in its present location. The congregation was once much larger, with many families attending. This article indicates that the congregation has followed the trajectory of liberal Protestantism right down to the dwindling numbers of both worshipers and weddings from within the congregation.

In the news article, no theological argument is offered — only a protest of the denial of same-sex marriage in Kentucky. Nevertheless, on the church’s Web page, Senior Minister Derek Penwell offered his account of how he changed his mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

He writes:

But beyond what I take to be the inadequacies of a static view of biblical interpretation that seeks to match the brown shoes of scripture with the often black tuxedos of context, the thing I found most persuasive in changing my theological views of homosexuality was my contact with my brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian.

To his credit, Rev. Penwell does not deny that the Bible condemns all homosexual behaviors as sin. Instead, he employs a trajectory hermeneutic that argues that new contexts require fundamentally different ways of understanding even what the Bible clearly addresses.

In his words:

In other words, I thought that maybe the Holy Spirit is in the process of revealing to us God’s true vision of the way things ought to be with respect to homosexuality.  If this is the case, then we need not necessarily say that God has changed (though my colleagues who are Process theologians probably wouldn’t object to this description), but that the world has changed sufficiently to be able to receive the fullness of God’s truth on this issue.

So, his argument is that the Holy Spirit may now be “revealing to us God’s true vision of the ways things ought to be with respect to homosexuality” — a vision very different from that actually found in the Bible.

And thus, the fundamental divide over biblical authority and interpretation is laid bare for all to see. The real issue is not same-sex marriage or even sexuality. The fundamental issue is the authority and interpretation of the Bible.

Why is the Muslim World So Resistant to the Gospel?

The future shape of the world appears to be a worldview competition between Christianity, Islam, and Western Secularism. For Christians, both of these worldviews represent real and lasting challenges to evangelism. Neither of these is a particularly new challenge, and the Christian encounter with Islam is now over a millennium in duration.

Writing over thirty years ago, when most American evangelicals had little knowledge of Islam, missiologist J. Herbert Kane of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outlined six reasons why the evangelization of the Muslim world has been so difficult. His explanation of “Why the Muslim Soil is So Barren” remains both instructive and important.

1. Islam is Younger than Christianity

Having borrowed from both Judaism and Christianity, Islam “has just enough Christianity in it to inoculate it against the real thing.” As with Mormonism, Muslims claim a later revelation that corrects and supersedes the Bible. This represents a very real challenge to the Christian, who will base the argument for the Gospel on the biblical revelation.

2. Islam Denies the Deity and the Death of Christ

Islam not only denies the deity of Christ, it finds the idea abhorrent. “If a missionary but mentions the deity of Christ the fanatical Muslim is likely to spit on his shadow to show his utter contempt for such a blasphemous suggestion.” Furthermore, the Qur’an denies that Christ actually died on the cross, thus taking away the very act of our atonement. “There appears to be no way around these two obstacles,” Kane lamented. “The Christian missionary can find many points of similarity between Christianity and Islam, and certainly he will want to make full use of these; but sooner or later he must come to the central theme of the gospel — the cross. At that point he runs into a stone wall. He can remove many offending things, but he can never do away with the offense of the cross. That and the deity of Christ are hurdles that can never be removed.”

3. Islam’s Treatment of Defectors

“All religions, including the broadest of them — Hinduism — look with disfavor on the devotee who changes his religion,” Kane advised. “But it remained for Islam to devise the Law of Apostasy, which permits the community to kill the adherent who defects from the faith.”

For Islam, “conversion is a one-way street.” Even when death is not a real threat, losing the bonds of community and family are huge costs.

4. The Solidarity of Muslim Society

Muslim societies are a solidarity, with religion, politics, economics, and personal life all accountable to Islam as a total way of life. Even where Muslims are not in a majority, such as in Western nations, they often concentrate in specific areas or communities where this solidarity can be approximated.

Under such an arrangement, efforts by Christians to evangelize meet a unified resistance, and a decision to leave Islam can be construed as an unpatriotic act, tantamount to rejecting one’s nation and people.

5. The Public Practice of Religion

Often overlooked by many Christians is the fact that a faithful Muslim demonstrates that faithfulness in a public pattern of prayers and observances. A convert who ceases these observances becomes immediately evident. This system of public prayer and ritual represents a powerful support for Islam and a powerful deterrent to conversion to any other belief system.

6. The Memory of the Crusades

As Kane explains, “To Christians in the West the Crusades were a bad dream, of which we have only the faintest recollection; but to the Arabs they are the greatest proof of the Christian hatred for Islam.” Christians bear the burden of a long and intensely bitter Muslim memory. Though atrocities were common on both sides, the atrocities committed by Christians were uniquely a repudiation of central Christian teachings.

In the mind of many Muslims, the Crusades feel like a living memory. To many within the Islamic world, Christians remain Crusaders, and evangelism is just another way of continuing the crusading mission.

Professor Kane’s breakdown of these obstacles is not only interesting and helpful, it also serves as a reminder that these issues are hardly new. At the same time, Christians must evangelize, no matter the obstacles to Christian witness.

Christians must remember that the Holy Spirit can break down the greatest wall of resistance and the Word of God is, as He says, like a hammer that shatters a rock. Dr. Kane’s arguments help us to understand the challenge, but were not meant to suppress evangelism. To the contrary, he wanted the church to be better informed as we fulfill the command of Christ.

Rinse Not the Prose: Christopher Hitchens on the King James Version

Why would an ardent atheist care about translations of the Bible, and why would Christians be concerned with what an atheist would think? These are rather obvious questions, especially when the atheist is Christopher Hitchens, one of the most influential of the New Atheists.

Nevertheless, Hitchens devoted his column in the May 2011 edition of Vanity Fair to the King James Version of the Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.

As always, Hitchens is interesting and provocative. He places the history of the Authorized Version (the name by which the British normally refer to the King James Version) in its political context in the early years of the Stuart dynasty and rightly explains that the interest of King James I in the project was to “bind the majesty of the King to his devout people.” He then offers anecdotal observations of the KJV text, correctly attributing its tone and tenor to the earlier work of William Tyndale, as well as to the unusually gifted committee of translation.

Hitchens is a man of letters, and as such, he takes matters of language with urgent seriousness. He points to the King James Version as a crucial repository of our common civilizational knowledge. As he sees it, “A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one.” It is very hard to argue with that warning.

Hitchens is also an avowed enemy of banality, which means that he has little literary respect for modern translations that lack literary and linguistic taste and thus pander to mere popular taste. The King James Version translates 1 Corinthians 13:7 to read: “[Love] Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” But the Good News Bible translates it as: “Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.”

As Hitchens states:

This doesn’t read at all like the outcome of a struggle to discern the essential meaning of what is perhaps our most numinous word. It more resembles a smiley-face Dale Carnegie reassurance. And, as with everything else that’s designed to be instant, modern, and “accessible,” it goes out of date (and out of time) faster than Wisconsin cheddar.

He also has little use for attempts to render the text as gender-neutral. He asserts that “to suggest that Saint Paul, of all people, was gender-neutral is to re-write the history as well as to rinse out the prose.”

Along the way, Hitchens takes legitimate shots at modern marketing efforts to commercialize the Bible and sell some translation or edition to virtually every niche market. Of course, as an atheist, he expresses less sympathy with the Reformation conviction that the Bible should be available to everyone in the vernacular of the language. He does offer some interesting insights into the King James Version and the larger issue of Bible translation.

His admonition that translations should not “rinse out the prose” is well stated and profoundly appropriate. Even an atheist can offer good advice on literary matters, and Hitchens is a writer of great ability.

Since the article’s publication, several observers have noted Hitchens’ comments on faulty modern translations and gender-neutral approaches. His points are well worth noting.

But the more interesting aspect of this article to note is this: Christopher Hitchens, one of the world’s most ardent and outspoken atheists and a man in the fight for his life against cancer, is reading the Bible. This is at least the second article on the Bible that he has written of late. I note this with a sense of hope.

I know you will join me in praying that, in reading the Bible, Mr. Hitchens will find more than he might be looking for. Rinse not the prose of its message.

This Priest Faces Mecca? A Parable of Confusion

Rev. Steve Lawler has attracted the attention of the national media because this Episcopal priest chose a very odd way to observe Lent. He decided to “adopt the rituals of Islam” for the forty day season observed by many liturgical denominations, including the Episcopal Church.

As reported in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lawler decided to practice as a Muslim for the forty days as a part of his “Giving Up Church for Lent” emphasis at St. Stephen’s Church. The closer you look at this story, the more it appears that Rev. Lawler “gave up church” some time ago.

According to the press reports, the priest began to perform Muslim prayer rituals, facing toward Mecca and praying five times a day. He prayed to Allah, read the Qur’an, and adopted Islamic dietary restrictions.

He also got in trouble with his bishop. “He can’t be both a Christian and a Muslim,” said Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. The bishop continued: “If he chooses to practice as Muslim, then he would, by default, give up his Christian identity and priesthood in the church.” The bishop also told the public that his priest had a responsibility “to exercise Christianity and to do it with clarity and not with ways that are confusing.”

It is refreshing to see that kind of conviction from a mainline Protestant church leader. But, after all, he had a priest who was practicing a different religion. Sort of.

What Rev. Lawler really represents is the postmodern spirituality that masquerades as authentic belief. This becomes clear when the report reveals that the priest did not declare the oneness of Allah nor acknowledge Muhammad as God’s prophet. These just happen to be the first of Islam’s Five Pillars.

So Rev. Lawler decided to deny the core beliefs of Islam, while claiming to be practicing the faith in order to learn about it. In so doing, he transformed himself into the perfect parable of postmodern confusion, emptying conviction of all content, picking and choosing beliefs and practices along the way. As his bishop rightly asserted, Lawler was “playing” with Islam.

At a deeper level, this betrays the kind of theological suicide mission that many liberal churches have adopted in recent years. The Bible could not be more clear in commanding Christians to avoid any confusion with non-Christian systems of belief.

As Paul instructed the Christians in Corinth:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? [2 Corinthians 6:14-16]

That is very strong language. Indeed, Christian worship cannot be mixed with non-Christian elements, nor can a Christian play around with the beliefs and practices of non-Christian religions without compromising faithfulness to Christ. This is a much more prevalent temptation now with the spiritual practices of Eastern religions, which some Christians attempt to blend in with Christian beliefs.

The news article states that Rev. Lawler joined the Episcopal Church because he wanted a theologically liberal denomination. Evidently, he just found out that even liberalism has some limits. A Christian minister who prays facing Mecca is not merely praying in a new direction. He is, whether he admits it or not, departing the Christian faith.

The Global Threat of Gendercide

Historian Niall Ferguson reminds us that Ernest Hemingway once penned a collection of short stories entitled Men Without Women. The stories are haunting, demonstrating the brutality that comes to men without the presence of women — and especially without the companionship of wives.

He recalls the Hemingway collection in order to underline what is at stake in the growing global threat of missing girls and women. The global gender gap in favor of males is a reversion of the natural pattern. How did it happen? By the widespread practice of aborting and killing baby girls — what is rightly called “gendercide.”

As Ferguson explains, “The mystery is partly explicable in terms of economics. In many Asian societies, girls are less well looked after than boys because they are economically undervalued.”

Years ago, economist Amartya Sen put the number of missing girls and women at 100 million worldwide. As Ferguson argues, that number is surely far larger now.

Consider the scale of the problem:

In China today, according to American Enterprise Institute demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, there are about 123 male children for every 100 females up to the age of 4, a far higher imbalance than 50 years ago, when the figure was 106. In Jiangxi, Guangdong, Hainan, and Anhui provinces, baby boys outnumber baby girls by 30 percent or more. This means that by the time today’s Chinese newborns reach adulthood, there will be a chronic shortage of potential spouses. According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, one in five young men will be brideless. Within the age group 20 to 39, there will be 22 million more men than women. Imagine 10 cities the size of Houston populated exclusively by young males.

Ten cities the size of Houston? This staggers the imagination.

Ferguson warns that this gender imbalance has led in the past to outbreaks of expansionism and imperialism. Others have more directly warned of militarism and violence from China’s young men who have no prospects of marriage and a normal family life. These young men are described as China’s “broken branches.” There are millions of these young men in India, as well.

We must look beyond these warnings and see the even larger horror — the tragedy of young girls, aborted and murdered just because they are girls. This, among other vital reasons, is why even the earliest Christians understood abortion to be such a horrific evil. Given the reality of human sinfulness, we now compound abortion with infanticide and gendercide. Is this of interest only to historians and economists?

Will the Last Baptist at Baylor Please Turn Out the Lights?

Baylor University has been the news lately, because of the vote by the university’s regents to allow up to 25 percent of the board to be non-Baptists. The Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, meeting February 21-22, grilled Baylor leaders on this decision — taken without consultation with the convention.

In an odd but revealing twist, the regents basically told the BGCT that they did not consult with leaders there because they knew what the answer would be. After all, the BGCT voted overwhelmingly to reject a similar proposal from Houston Baptist University just last fall. “If we offended you, we apologize,” said regent Gary Elliston. Trust me on this — many were offended.

Now that Baylor has taken the action, it appears that Houston Baptist University intends to reconsider the issue as well. It has been years since the BGCT has been so interesting to watch — and the case can be made that the BGCT sowed the seeds for all of this when it allowed Baylor to escape its oversight through the election of the school’s governing board.

Nevertheless, none of these issues match the one hardly noted as a matter of concern. Now, given the political dissonance between the BGCT and Baylor on the one side, and SBC conservative leaders on the other, the natural expectation is probably that an argument is about to be made in order to score political points. That is not the case with this article. Those issues can await some future consideration. The most urgent issue in this case could be of equal concern in the most conservative of contexts.

The real issue of concern should be a matter that is really not political at all. In speaking to the BGCT Executive Board, Baylor regent chairman Dary Stone explained the central rationale for the regents’ decision. As reported by The Baptist Standard:

“Only 31 percent of our freshman class claim the Baptist label,” he added, noting the percentage of Baptist students has been declining about 2 percent a year and likely will drop to 20 percent within this decade.

We might offer many suggestions to explain why the percentage of Baptist students has been dropping at Baylor, and some of these would have to deal with theological and ideological controversies. But there are no doubt other reasons as well, having little to do with theology or worldview. These would include the rising cost of private education, the increasing diversity of the population, and the shift to an evangelical identity that is perceptibly less specifically Baptist. In one sense, the very success of a school in terms of academic reputation and expanding institutional reach can dilute the percentage of Baptist students at any school.

Mr. Ellison pledged that Baylor would forever remain “a Texas Baptist institution.” Well, I have no reason to doubt his sincerity, but I can cast ample doubt on the fulfillment of that pledge. If the percentage of Baptists in the student body reaches such perilously low levels — and is candidly expected to fall even more — the school will cease in any meaningful way to be a Baptist institution where it matters most.

Baylor has made its choice, but it will not be alone in facing this challenge. If Baptists are determined to retain their colleges and universities, they will have to show far greater resolve than in the past. They will have to make certain that their schools are the kind of schools that will attract Baptist students, earn the confidence of Baptist parents, and retain a clear accountability to Baptist churches. Otherwise, the Baptist label will mean little or nothing — merely a tip of the hat to ancient history.