Predestination and Church History (prior to Calvin)

11 Nov

From Professor Shawn Wright writing for Desiring God:

Luther’s and Calvin’s Catholic contemporaries argued against Reformed doctrine because it disagreed with the teaching of Rome. The Reformers argued, first, that their doctrines agreed with Scripture, but they also appealed to church history. Predestination and the other doctrines of grace were, according to them, not novel teachings, but teachings held as far back as the church fathers — especially Augustine.

Full article

JAMA Conversion Therapy Study (that isn’t)

8 Nov

From Mark Regnerus at Public Discourse:

In a “study” that arrived to much media fanfare last week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers affiliated with Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital purported to offer convincing proof that “conversion therapy” predicts longstanding toxic outcomes among Americans who self-identify as transgender, including greater recent suicidality and more severe psychological distress in the past month. Its results, the authors state, “support the policy positions” of such medical professional organizations as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics.

I am agnostic on the topic of “conversion,” though I suspect the subject is more diverse and complicated than political soundbites let on. But I’m not agnostic about the new JAMA Psychiatry study. There are at least four good reasons for being leery of the results appearing therein.

Dr. David Ayers’s study on Evangelical Youth and Sexual Activity

30 Oct

Length to full study

Interview with the Gospel Coalition

Despite the clear biblical instruction, sex outside of marriage has become increasingly morally acceptable among young evangelicals. That’s one of the findings in a new research brief for the Institute of Family Studies produced by sociologist David J. Ayers, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, and professor of sociology, at Grove City College. He uses data from the National Survey of Family Growth to gauge trends in sexual activity among never-married evangelical young people.

Ayers has taught college-level courses on Marriage and Family for about 30 years, and his most recent book is Christian Marriage: A Comprehensive Introduction (Lexham Press, 2019).

From Atheist to Christian at Yale – Dr. Paul Lim

19 Sep

Religious composition of Two-Parties; Nones nearly 1/3 of Democratic Voters

6 Sep

From PRRI:

 

Spiritual but not religious

6 Sep

From Pew:

Grading “The Family,” my review

20 Aug

How would I grade “The Family,” a Netflix documentary based on Jeff Sharlet’s book of the same title?

Central thesis: There is a secret conspiracy of fundamentalist Christians organized as “The Fellowship” led by “The Family” to seize political power in America and throughout the World.

Supporting Claims and Evidences

Assessment

Grade

Because “The Fellowship” events and activities concentrate on political elites, The Fellowship believes that God favors the elites and is therefore out of line with the mission of Jesus.

Simply because a Christian ministry targets a subset, any subset, of a population doesn’t mean the ministry believes God favors that subset.  Do Nigerian missionaries believe that God favors Nigerians?  The Fellowship sees itself as a ministry/mission to politicians, who, along with all ensouled humans, are to evangelized.  No evidence, quotes, were provided to support the claim (made in the final episode) that the Fellowship/Family believes that God favors elites out of all humanity

F

“The Fellowship” is a society owned, operated, controlled by white evangelical fundamentalist right-wing zealots.  

The Fellowship has a disproportionate number of evangelicals and Republicans.  But Democrats, liberals, theological liberals, African-Americans, are present throughout the event and activities and inner leaders.  Also, evangelical and fundamentalists are never defined.  How can an evangelical or fundamentalist (which are not synonymous) deny the authority, sufficiency of the whole bible and emphasize only the gospels (as allegedly the Fellowship/Family does)? Is that cult-like activity, poor doctrine of scripture or is that lowest common denominator Christianity, maximizing their appeal theological conservatives, Protestant liberals, and Catholics. 

D

“The Fellowship” holds secret prayer breakfasts, indicating conspiratorial aims.  

Evangelicals, Christians of every kind, hold prayer meetings in secret if and when confessing of sin is to be a regular and important part of it (as the film clearly reveals about them here).  Like AA meetings.

D

“The Fellowship” is really doesn’t police itself, befriends or accommodates or fails to renounce subversive evil opportunists who seek to use the Fellowship as a door to U.S. politicians; if it isn’t wicked itself it is very naive and careless in this regard.

This part of the film was the most credible and most supported in terms of evidence.  However, Christians who are driven by evangelism are often naive and vulnerable/gullible.  They are notorious for being so forgiving and so gracious that they get duped at best, and even mistakenly err on the side mercy at the expense of justice or common sense at worst.  But that hardly makes them conspiratorial.  

C

“The Fellowship” has a single goal, power.  Everything else they talk about is a ruse.  

No evidence was provided that The Fellowship uses (or even could use) carrots or sticks to control anyone (a key ingredient of real and actual power).  They don’t have a reward/punishment system, not even campaign contributions, to achieve their goals.  The films doesn’t even explain what the power goals are (I suppose power for its own sake?).  As far as the evidence that was presented is concerned, they use prayer and fellowship across the political aisle to realize their stated objective, conversion of politicians to Jesus Christ in hopes of changing the world.    

D

“The Fellowship” activities and influence violates the Separation of Church and State enshrined in the Constitution.

The Fellowship isn’t a church, for one thing.  It has no institutional structure.  No formal creed. No legal status or designation.  So a church government isn’t being entangled with a civil government at all.  If the claim is that Christians violate the separation of church and state when they intentionally try to influence politicians, then this is simply a bad understanding of the first amendment, since Christian influence was not and is not unconstitutional in a republic any more than black influence or feminist influence.  Moreover, it would prove too much, because in the film Sharlet seems to condone and cheer Christians who attempt to influence politicians for the sake of the poor.  Can’t have it both ways.  In fact the most organized, oldest, and frequent number of religious lobbying groups (not talking prayer breakfasts, but registered lobbyists and their parent organizations) in D.C. are not right-wing or theologically conservative, but left-wing and theologically liberal, who believe that political activity is in fact part of the mission of the church.  If explicit religious influence bothers Sharlet, he must outraged by the religious left, but he’s not.

D

What made the film succeed in promoting a creepy conspiratorial narrative wasn’t the substance of the argument but the manipulation of the music, image and video editing, and radical interpretations.  But this doesn’t mean The Fellowship is innocent.  There is a legitimate criticism of The Fellowship or The Family, but it doesn’t come from Sharlet nor is it stated in the film.  It’s an internal and theological criticism.  It’s the notion, misguided notion, on the part of so many in the Christian Right but also the Christian Left that the way you usher in the Kingdom of Christ, the way that you impact the world for Christ, is through political processes.  This is an old but stubborn temptation.  “Convert or influence the politicians and you get Christian America” is a canard swallowed first by the Christian Left and then by the Christian Right and wrong-headed, misguided, and unbiblical in both cases.  The purpose of the Christian Church isn’t to make any nation Christian again.  It is to proclaim the gospel in Word and Sacrament and function as a separate Kingdom, a faithful witness to their heavenly Kingdom, in the midsts of the kingdoms of this world.  The church’s mission is spiritual in nature, and in pursuit of that spiritual mission, the host cities, societies or governments in which they find themselves may be impacted positively, although only incidentally.  The film didn’t prove that the goal was power.  It only proved that the goal was conversion as a vehicle to social/political change.  The Fellowship can be rightly criticized for embracing that methodology.      

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