Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Being among the few Cardinal fans at church (where most are fans of the Wildcats), I have jokenly been persecuted. Of course I enjoy the rivary, and that is what makes it so much fun is see the fans of the other team following the game whether win or loose. But it got me to thinking; I was such a huge fan when they were winning, am I still now? Isn't that the very difintion of a true fan; someone who roots them on through thick and thin?
Faith is very much like that. If you really want to know if you what you believe, see how firm you are in it during times of hardship and doubt. See how much faith you have whenever you are all alone and no one else believes.
It was a striking revelation, and I want to share it with all of you.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Harvard University's humanist chaplain considers himself something of a ministerial vanguard -- a help and inspiration to fellow unbelievers. Furthermore, he is evangelistic in his promotion of unbelief as a foundation for meaning. Preparing to preside over a funeral service, he carries a book of readings appropriately titled Funerals Without God.
David Abel of The
Boston Globe describes the chaplain, Greg Epstein, age 30, as "a kind of
ministerial paradox, a member of the local clergy who disavows God, preaches to
atheists and agnostics, and seeks to build the equivalent of a church for
nonbelievers and others skeptical of or alienated by religion."
fascinating aspect of this story is the fact that humanists would need
chaplains. Why do atheists and agnostics need clergy? The reason is quite simple
-- they can't get around the big questions. A funeral requires us to face those
questions as much as some might like to avoid them. Even if an atheist has no
ground for hope in a life to come, he can at least be comforted by the knowledge
that someone with ministerial credentials is there to commemorate his
As the paper explains:
In a world where zealots crash planes into buildings in the name of God and
politicians use the Bible to craft public policy, Epstein sees himself as in the
vanguard of an emerging movement fueled by the rise of skepticism, advances in
science and technology, and a spreading aversion toward radical religious
ideologies and traditions. He and other humanists, who also call themselves
atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, secularists, or brights, point to a survey
published in January by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press,
which found that 20 percent of
Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 say
they have no religious affiliation
or consider themselves atheists or
agnostics – nearly double those who said that
in a similar survey 20 years
ago. Another Pew survey in March concluded the
nation is witnessing a
"reversal of increased religiosity observed in the
mid-1990s." Today, 12
percent of Americans surveyed age 20 and older describe
themselves as not
religious, up from 8 percent in 1987. "This change," the
wrote, "appears to be generational in nature, with each new
displaying lower levels of religious commitment than the preceding
There is reason to believe that Epstein may indeed be the vanguard of
an emerging movement. Unbelief is all the rage these days, with
best-selling books promoting atheism and secularists newly emboldened to trumpet
their numbers and influence. An academic community like Harvard
University, while far from completely secular, does offer a far more secularized
environment than would be found in the heartland. Given the tenor and
worldview of the academic elites, a humanist chaplain at Harvard makes
Epstein prefers to call himself a humanist rather than an atheist
because humanism is a more positive term, he explains. "Atheism is what I don't
believe in; humanism is what I do believe in," he says. He defines humanism as a
"philosophy of life without supernaturalism that affirms our ability and
responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment aspiring to the
greater good of humanity."
Of course, non-supernaturalism is the very heart
of atheism. So it is hard to see why affirming non-supernaturalism is more
positive than affirming atheism. Either way, the point is to create or
find some meaning for life without God.
The report in The Boston Globe does make the point about the generational dimension
here. As Abel reports:
Students on college campuses and others have
begun to organize
nonbelievers. The number of campus groups affiliated with the
Student Alliance, for example, has increased by more than 50 percent in
past two years, to more than 80 groups, says August E. Brunsman IV,
executive director of the Albany, New York-based alliance. Since January,
Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, a science-promoting umbrella
sponsored or helped organize more than 50 atheist outfits on
campuses from the
University of Georgia Law School to the University of
Texas at Austin to Kent
State University in Ohio, says D.J. Grothe, the
center's vice president of
outreach. The MySpace atheist and agnostic group
has grown by about 10,000
members a year since it began in 2004 and now is
about one third the size of
MySpace's largest Christian group, says Bryan J.
Pesta, an assistant professor
of management at Cleveland State University,
who moderates the
Here in the United States, where atheism remains a relatively
current against the tides of religion, the rising interest in Godlessness
most visible on college campuses and among recent graduates. Many of them
regard religion as the perpetuation of superstitions and mythology and see
world's largest faiths as sowing division and enmity more than the peace
The university context is also important. Steven Pinker, a
cognitive scientist at Harvard who was named "Humanist of the Year" by the
American Humanist Association last year, argues that science is progressively
taking over all of religion's domain. Secularism and unbelief are the
coming reality, he advises. In his words, "More and more of what used to
be the domain of religion has been ceded to science. It's the trend of
modernity. I think this is a tide. We've seen it happen everywhere else in the
developed world. This is the direction of history."
There can be no doubt
that unbelief is seeing a resurgence of sorts on many college and university
campuses. Of course, many thriving evangelical ministries exist within
those same precincts. Measuring the actual growth of atheist numbers and
influence remains difficult.
Meanwhile, Epstein has become something of a
controversial figure himself. It seems that not all nonbelievers are
pleased with his approach. Epstein has challenged some of the more
strident voices within the secularist movement, angering the more ideological
among them. R. Joseph Hoffman of the humanist Center for Inquiry called
Epstein's approach "Gen-X humanism for the Passionately Confused."
This is how Abel describes part of the funeral service performed by Epstein:Then he addresses death by quoting Sherwin Wine, a humanist Epstein
considered a mentor. "It is so overwhelmingly final that it fills our lives
dread and anxious fear," Epstein says. "We cry out at the injustice of
and wait for answers that never seem to come."
To cope with it,
humanists need a certain courage. "Courage is loving life, even in
the face of
death. It is sharing our strength with others, even when we feel
weak. It is
embracing our family and friends, even when we fear to lose
them. It is opening
ourselves to love."
Before closing with a meditation
on the precariousness of
life, Epstein offers lines adapted from a familiar
"His body we commit to be burned and returned to
the cycles of nature,"
he says. "Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to
Even in attempting a
humanist and non-supernatural funeral service, Epstein draws upon the language
of the Christian tradition.
Joseph Hoffman may call this "Gen-X humanism for
the Passionately Confused," but it sounds more like a humanism that knows it
needs help -- an anti-supernaturalism that craves the supernatural.
Atheism is the church of defiant unbelief, but many like Greg Epstein seem
less defiant than confused. As a matter of fact, very little separates
these unbelievers from the unbelievers in so many liberal churches who still
claim a Christian identity but reject the truths central to Christianity.
Like Rev. Epstein, they want the candles and liturgy -- just leave out the truth
It is telling that the article in The Boston Globe begins and ends with a funeral service. As Sherwin Wine rightly observed, at a funeral all an atheist can do is "wait for answers that never seem to come."
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
First, I want everyone to watch this video. It really does bring back many of th emotions from that day. Our nation was hurt, and I feel that we have grown callas and pretend as if it never happened. Let us never forget the danger that terrorism presents. They want to kill you and me for the very fact that we live. After watching this video, I can't help but ask why are we debating the things that we are debating in this country?
WARNING: This video does show some graphic images such as people falling from the World Trade Center, planes flying into buildings, body bags, debris, people running, and even some scenes from other terrorists attacks in the years that followed 9/11.
Secondly, here is the President at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001
Here is a great speech (one of my favorites of Graham) from Dr. Billy Graham that he gave on the same day:
President and Mrs. Bush, I want to say a personal word on behalf of many
people. Thank you, Mr. President, for calling this day of prayer and remembrance. We needed it at this time.
We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious, or political background may be. The Bible says that He's the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles. No matter how hard we try, words simply cannot express the horror, the shock, and the revulsion we all feel over what took place in this nation on Tuesday morning. September eleven will go down in our history as a day to remember.
Today we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot, and to those who carried it out, that the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes. Someday, those responsible will be brought to justice, as President Bush and our Congress have so forcefully stated. But today we especially come together in this service to confess our need of God.
We've always needed God from the very beginning of this nation, but today we need Him especially. We're facing a new kind of enemy. We're involved in a new kind of warfare. And we need the help of the Spirit of God. The Bible words are our hope: God is our refuge and strength; an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
But how do we understand something like this? Why does God allow evil like this to take place? Perhaps that is what you are asking now. You may even be angry at God. I want to assure you that God understands these feelings that you may have. We've seen so much on our television, on our -- heard on our radio, stories that bring tears to our eyes and make us all feel a sense of anger. But God can be trusted, even when life seems at its darkest.
But what are some of the lessons we can learn? First, we are reminded of the mystery and reality of evil. I've been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer totally, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept by faith that God is sovereign, and He's a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says that God is not the author of evil. It speaks of evil as a mystery. In 1st Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure." Who can understand it?" He asked that question, 'Who can understand it?' And that's one reason we each need God in our lives.
The lesson of this event is not only about the mystery of iniquity and evil, but secondly it's a lesson about our need for each other. What an example New York and Washington have been to the world these past few days. None of us will ever forget the pictures of our courageous firefighters and police, many of whom have lost friends and colleagues; or the hundreds of people attending or standing patiently in line to donate blood. A tragedy like this could have torn our country apart. But instead it has united us, and we've become a family. So those perpetrators who took this on to tear us apart, it has worked the other way -- it's back lashed. It's backfired. We are more united than ever before. I think this was exemplified in a very moving way when the members of our Congress stood shoulder to shoulder the other day and sang "God Bless America."
Finally, difficult as it may be for us to see right now, this event can give a message of hope -- hope for the present, and hope for the future. Yes, there is hope. There's hope for the present, because I believe the stage has already been set for a new spirit in our nation. One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this country. We need a spiritual revival in America. And God has told us in His word, time after time, that we are to repent of our sins and return to Him, and He will bless us in a new way. But there's also hope for the future because of God's promises. As a Christian, I hope not for just this life, but for heaven and the life to come. And many of those people who died this past week are in heaven right now. And they wouldn't want to come back. It's so glorious and so wonderful. And that's the hope for all of us who put our faith in God. I pray that you will have this hope in your heart.
This event reminds us of the brevity and the uncertainty of life. We never know when we too will be called into eternity. I doubt if even one those people who got on those planes, or walked into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon last Tuesday morning thought it would be the last day of their lives. It didn't occur to them. And that's why each of us needs to face our own spiritual need and commit ourselves to God and His will now.
Here in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us symbols of the cross. For the Christian -- I'm speaking for the Christian now -- the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering. For He took upon himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, our sins and our suffering. And from the cross, God declares "I love you. I know the heart aches, and the sorrows, and the pains that you feel, but I love you." The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil, and death, and hell. Yes, there's hope.
I've become an old man now. And I've preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago, and proclaimed it in many languages to many parts of the world. Several years ago at the National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, Ambassador Andrew Young, who had just gone through the tragic death of his wife, closed his talk with a quote from the old hymn, "How Firm A Foundation." We all watched in horror as planes crashed into the steel and glass of the World Trade Center. Those majestic towers, built on solid foundations, were examples of the prosperity and creativity of America. When damaged, those buildings eventually plummeted to the ground, imploding in upon themselves. Yet underneath the debris is a foundation that was not destroyed. Therein lies the truth of that old hymn that Andrew Young quoted: "How firm a foundation."
Yes, our nation has been attacked. Buildings destroyed. Lives lost. But now we have a choice: Whether to implode and disintegrate emotionally and spiritually as a people, and a nation, or, whether we choose to become stronger through all of the struggle to rebuild on a solid foundation. And I believe that we're in the process of starting to rebuild on that foundation. That foundation is our trust in God. That's what this service is all about. And in that faith we have the strength to endure something as difficult and horrendous as what we've experienced this week.
This has been a terrible week with many tears. But also it's been a week of great faith. Churches all across the country have called prayer meetings. And today is a day that they're celebrating not only in this country, but in many parts of the world. And the words of that familiar hymn that Andrew Young quoted, it says, "Fear not, I am with thee. Oh be not dismayed for I am thy God and will give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand upon" my righteous -- on "thy righteous, omnipotent hand."
My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us as we trust in Him. We also know that God is going to give wisdom, and courage, and strength to the President, and those around him. And this is going to be a day that we will remember as a day of victory. May God bless you all.
Friday, September 7, 2007
As a result, Christians are painted as intolerant bigots that are mean and hateful, whenever they couldn't be farther from the truth. I believe that the true intolerant bigots in our society are those who criticize Christianity because by their definition of tolerance, they should embrace us, love us, and accept us. They should celebrate our diversity by the fact that we disagree with them. But they don't. We must realize that though secularism and our culture bark tolerance for everybody, they only want tolerance for themselves, every one else must be stopped at all costs.
This animosity towards Christians should not surprise us. Christ, Paul, and the Scriptures as a whole warned us of this. The world hates us and is hostile towards us. But we must also realize that a sinful, depraved culture is going to fight against the One True Light of the world; Christ. A depraved society will do everything it can to celebrate it's depravity and anytime a religion, person, sect, or faith that stands in contrast to that will be persecuted somehow. If culture killed and persecuted Christ, we know that it will do the same to His followers. Jesus makes this clear in John:
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" -John 15:18
Also, a depraved society will do everything it can to normalize and legalize it's sin. And it will likewise de-normalize and illegalize anything that stands in the way of their depravity. Man is sinful and wants to remain in it's sin. And the debate over hate crimes is evidence of this.
The whole idea of hate crime bills/laws is to essentially shut Christians up. We have had some bill proposed, and even passed, in America where anyone who speaks out against homosexuality or other issues could be arrested. Preachers aren't allowed to preach, Christians aren't allowed to live freely, and the Church is told to be quit.
This is already happening in many countries in the West, including the United States, and the Church of England seems to have waken up to it. Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an article about the reaction by the Church of England to a proposed bill that would make it illegal to say anything against homosexuality. Again, a depraved society will do everything it can to normalize and legalize it's depravity and sin, and will criminalize anyone that stands in the way.
This is a threat that we must wake up to and stand against it vehemetly. Though the founding fathers guaranteed us our freedom of religion, liberals and secularists in our society are wanting to take away our freedom of religion. Remember this, liberalism is the most suffocating worldview out there (right next to Islam). Liberalism takes away your freedom, conservatism promotes freedom.
Here is Dr. Mohler's article:
The Church of England has issued an unusual statement expressing its concern
that a proposed anti-discrimination law could lead to legal action against
churches and Christians who uphold biblical standards of sexual morality.
reported in today's edition of The Telegraph [London]:
Church leaders expressed fears last
night that Christians could be sued under proposed new laws to protect gays from
The Government is proposing to introduce the laws to protect
individuals from hostile or humiliating "environments" as part of an overhaul of
discrimination legislation. But Christian lawyers and the Church of England
warned that Christians could face legal action if they offended gays by
expressing the traditional teaching that homosexual sex was immoral.
paper explains, the proposed law could allow homosexuals to sue if they heard a
sermon that declared homosexuality to be sinful. A homosexual might also sue if
denied membership in a church and felt they had been put in a "humiliating
In its submission to Parliament, the Church of England also argued
that any legislation in this area must respect the right of individual
Christians -- not only pastors and other ministers -- to live according to their
Christian faith. Similarly, Christian schools must be able to teach in
accordance with Christian conviction and principles.
plans to extend the same harassment laws to religion and belief were also
The Church said it could lead to people objecting to religious
symbols such as crosses on hospital walls on the grounds that they were an
affront to atheists.
It added that the proposals were in danger of
undermining religious freedom.
"We have been concerned at what has seemed in
some recent debates to be a trend towards regarding religion and belief as
deserving of a lesser priority in discrimination legislation than the other
strands where the law seeks to bring protection," it said.
belief seemed to be treated as subordinate to other rights because they were
deemed to be a personal choice, but this was "a false analysis", it continued.
As the church's statement concluded: "This does not amount to, or achieve,
equal respect for different religious groups and those of no religion; rather it
amounts to an enforced secularism that fails to respect religious belief at
This kind of head-on collision occurs when anti-discrimination laws
include sexual orientation and behavioral issues. This is where the inevitable
collision occurs -- when religious liberty is sacrified on the altar of
political correctness. This is what the Church of England sees when it speaks of
"a trend towards regarding religion and belief as deserving of a lesser priority
in discrimination legislation."
Religious liberty is meaningless if the
pulpit is not free to preach the Word of God, if churches cannot determine their
own membership, and if Christians are silenced in their Christian
The full text of the Church of England's statement can be read here.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The death of Dr. D. James Kennedy is yet another reminder of what the hymn
writer Isaac Watts saw when he wrote that "time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all its sons away." Dr. Kennedy died this morning at his home in Ft.
Lauderdale. He had been out of the public eye since suffering a significant
cardiac arrest in January.
James Kennedy founded the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in
1959, the year I was born. Within just a few short years the church became one
of the nation's largest Presbyterian congregations. Along the way he established
a host of affiliated ministries. He taught thousands of Christians how to share
their faith, one on one, through Evangelism Explosion. He reached millions through his television ministry, "The Coral Ridge Hour." He educated generations of children and youth through Westminster Academy and trained ministers through Knox
He was a visionary with few peers. The motto inscribed on a flanking wall of the church's massive sanctuary certainly made an impression on me as a young man: "Excellence in All Things and All Things to God's Glory."
Some friends and associates called him "Jim," but to the rest of the world he was Dr. D. James Kennedy -- followed by a list of academic degrees. A dance instructor before his conversion and call to ministry, Kennedy always had a sense of himself, his movements, and his voice. He could often be intimidating, and he always made an impression. My wife Mary, who worked as a teenager at a local hamburger restaurant, always knew that voice from the drive-through when he ordered his meal. He used the same voice at the hamburger joint that he used in the sanctuary -- and to the same effect. He commanded attention.
A theological conservative, he led Coral Ridge into the young Presbyterian Church in America in the 1970's and was highly involved in a host of evangelical causes. He defended biblical inerrancy and the doctrine of justification. He believed in the need for sinners to come to Christ, and called persons to come to Christ by faith.
Many Americans knew him primarily through his television ministry and his involvement in national political issues. He contended for national righteousness and
was a defender of the unborn before many other evangelicals were even awakened
to the crisis. He at least flirted with the language of Christian Reconstructionism, but he never left his first love which was for his own congregation.
My indebtedness to Dr. Kennedy is very personal. I was a young Southern Baptist who as a teenager had serious questions about the big issues of the Christian faith. Dr. Kennedy's ministry at Coral Ridge addressed those big questions. He was unafraid to take on the intellectual challenges of the faith. He was kind to a Baptist teenager, introducing me to Francis Schaeffer and dignifying my questions. He clearly enjoyed talking theology and he was the first person I had ever met who demonstrated this joy. He was kind. I was hooked. In no small way my own
calling as a theologian can be traced to Dr. Kennedy's influence. I was
inspired by his intellectual engagement and motivated by his vision of
excellence for God's glory.
My indebtedness also extends to Mary, my wife, who attended Westminister Academy and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1979. She is living proof to me of the reach of Dr. Kennedy's vision and ministry.
Dr. Kennedy watched events within the Southern Baptist Convention with interest and encouraged me as I became president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He knew what was at stake here, and he assured me of his prayers. Then, several years ago, he came to Southern Seminary, preached in chapel, and told students what he had learned about the local church and the challenge of evangelism. During the chapel service, he looked to me with tears in his eyes, and told me that he had never before heard the sound of so many men singing hymns together.
He has joined the great host now, and that chorus exceeds any on earth. I am thankful to God for the life, ministry, and personal influence of Dr. D. James
A memorial site is found here.