From Hans Fiene @ The Federalist:
If you’re a parent trying to give your child the best education possible, I would worry about teacher quality and your own involvement in your little one’s intellectual development before I’d worry about class size. I’m not saying that having 19 children per room isn’t preferable to 23. I’m just saying that the student-to-teacher ratio won’t matter a tremendous amount if your son’s teacher thinks four plus twelve equals purple or you want your kid to memorize the chronology of WWE champions instead of U.S. presidents.
So if little Bryden (because that’s what boys are named these days, in case you hadn’t already given up on humanity) has a bit of an overcrowded class, but a solid teacher and great support from you, don’t let anybody convince you that you’re selfishly endangering his education if you don’t turn your life upside down by moving to a slightly less-congested school district.
Likewise, if you’re a Christian parent trying to give your child the best spiritual formation possible, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re selfish for not making the size of a congregation your number one priority. In particular, don’t let megachurch pastor Andy Stanley convince you that you’re endangering your child’s soul if you don’t attend a large congregation.
If you’re a bit confused by Stanley’s accusation (one that, to his credit, he quickly recanted), here’s what he meant: Making friends at church is what keeps people in the faith, and the more kids your church has, the more opportunities your children will have to make friends. Therefore, if you attend a congregation that only has enough kids for a joint middle school/high school youth group, you’re reducing your kids’ friend-making potential and thus putting them at risk.
It doesn’t matter if the local megachurch’s Christology is wonky enough to keep you at a smaller parish or if the mid-sized flock you belong to is where you and your kids were both baptized and confirmed, apparently. To Stanley, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than that you should cause your freshman to share a bag of Doritos and a TeenzAlive! Study Bible with a seventh grader.
From the Barnabas Fund:
Fire gutted a Christian TV station in Karachi, Pakistan on 24 November, leaving the three-room offices a smouldering wreck following a suspected arson attack.
The blaze, which officials report took nearly two hours to extinguish, appeared to specifically target valuable broadcasting instruments that the station uses to spread the Gospel message to the nation.
Javed William, the brother of Pastor Sarfraz William who is the owner of the affected broadcasting station Gawahi TV, said that the fire seemed to be a deliberate attack aimed at thwarting the Christian work of the station, “This is not an attack on us; it is an attack on Christianity. Whoever did this does not want God’s work to happen.”
Whilst no one was hurt in the incident, the station’s equipment, including computers and cameras, was completely destroyed along with furniture and books. There was also evidence that the network’s security cameras had been tampered with prior to the incident, and some computer hard disks were stolen. Assistant manager of Gawahi TV, Irfan Daniel remarked, “Someone did this with a lot of thought.”
Gawahi Television was established in February 2013 through donations from the Christian community. The station broadcasts Bible readings, Christian hymns and videos with the intention of, “spread[ing] the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan”. The channel, which regularly airs to approximately 12 million people, was working on programming for the Christmas period at the time of the attack.
Previous threats from suspected militants, demanding the closure of the station, were reported to the police by Gawahi TV management, but they did not investigate the threats or give any advice or help to increase security.
A charred but intact Bible was found amongst the wreckage, a fitting reminder of the permanence of the Gospel, even in the face of such raids.
Christian persecution in Pakistan occurs frequently, whether it be through community oppression from the Muslim-majority, discrimination against Christians in the workplace or the unfair implementation of the country’s notorious “blasphemy laws”.
A recent report by the International Commission of Jurists has called on the Pakistan government to, “repeal all blasphemy laws … or amend them substantially so that they are consistent with international standards on freedom of expression; freedom of thought, conscience or religion; and equal protection of the law”.
From Matthew Tuninga:
If the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter were given the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress, do you think they would mention the name of Jesus? Pope Francis allegedly occupies the place of St. Peter, the bishopric of Rome. Though often introduced as the “leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics,” his primary claim is to be the vicar of Jesus Christ. And yet the pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday (transcript here; Nor did he mention Jesus’ name when speaking at the White House reception on Wednesday).
I am not the sort of person to be instinctively critical of Pope Francis, and I have praised his work before. Indeed, I largely agree with what he said in his speech about the importance of hospitality to the immigrant, care for the environment, justice for the poor, the protection of life, and the nurture of families. But I cannot get my mind around the fact that he mentioned all of this without saying why any of it matters. He did not even mention the name Jesus, or Christ, let alone say anything about Jesus’ death, resurrection, or future return.
Pope Francis has the attention of virtually the entire United States right now. The media is covering every word, every act, every moment of his visit. And what is the media talking about? Politics. Whether the pope’s comments benefit the right or the left, whether he’s helping Republicans or Democrats. No one, it would seem, cares much about the substance of the pope’s faith regarding Jesus. And why should they? The pope hasn’t mentioned Jesus, so Jesus must not be an important part of the pope’s message to America.
An atheist friend enthusiastically wrote on Facebook yesterday, “I am an atheist, and I love this Pope!” A writer for the Huffington Post happily declares that America has a “man crush” on Pope Francis. All people are speaking well of him.
There was a time when Jesus warned his disciples that such favorable reception on the part of “all men” is not a good sign (Luke 6:26). He warned them that the world would treat those who speak Jesus’ message as it treated Jesus himself (Matthew 5:11; 24:9). Prepared for this, the disciples insisted on doing everything that they did “in the name of Jesus,” using every opportunity, even when confronted by those in authority, to proclaim the good news of his death, resurrection, and future return. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
Sadly, some think they are sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ when they tell others to “ask Jesus into their heart.” But one will search in vain throughout all of scripture for the gospel message to be described or presented in such a way. To be sure, someone who says they have asked Jesus into their heart may indeed possess genuine saving faith. They may have a sufficient understanding of the gospel. They may grasp their own unworthiness, guilt; they may understand that their best merits deserve only the wrath of God, that they are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing to contribute to their own salvation save their own sin, that their spiritual condition before a holy God is hopeless, doomed, and that their efforts to win God over are futile, that they are in desperate need of a perfect substitute, someone who obeyed all the divine laws they broke and who is able to be a sacrifice for sin in their place, and that God provided such a substitute mercifully and graciously in His own Son, Jesus Christ. So perhaps they do possess such faith. But the statement that “I have asked Jesus into my heart,” empty as it is of even minimal gospel content, tells us almost nothing of such faith, such as it is.
Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.
Blaise Pascal was a brilliant 17th-century French mathematician and physicist who had a dramatic Christian conversion experience and thereafter devoted much of his thought to Christianity and philosophy. He began to assemble notes and fragments he hoped would be woven into a book called The Defense of the Christian Religion, but he died just two months after his 39th birthday and it was never written. Those fragments, however, were published as Pensees (“Thoughts”), and it has become one of the most famous Christian books in history.
One of the most interesting of Pascal’s Pensees is the one quoted above. Here Pascal looks holistically at how to present the Christian message to those who do not believe it. He begins with the psychology of non-belief. He says that people are not objective about religion (here meaning Christianity). They really despise it and don’t want it to be true—yet fear it may be true. Some of these are fair-minded people who see good, well-thought-out reasons Christianity is not true. Others are not so fair-minded, and they just vilify and caricature it. But no one is neutral. People know instinctively that if Christianity is true they will lose control, and they will not be able to live any way they wish. So they are rooting for it not to be true, and are more than willing to accept any objections to the faith they hear.
How should Christians respond? Pascal thinks there are basically three stages to bringing someone on the way to faith. First, you have to disarm and surprise them. Many people hope Christianity does not make sense on any level. They especially enjoy hearing about professing Christians who are intemperate, irrational, and hypocritical—this confirms them in their non-belief. When, however, some presentation of Christian faith—or simply a Christian believer’s character—comes across as well-informed, thoughtful, sensible, open-minded, helpful, and generous, then this breaks stereotypes and commands a begrudging respect.
After this, Pascal says, we should be somewhat more proactive. “Next make it attractive, make good men wish [Christianity] were true.” We might object to the term “make” and suggest that Christianity is already attractive, but that’s to miss Pascal’s point. Of course he isn’t saying we should make Christianity into something it’s not; rather, we should reveal, point out, and expose its existing features. But the phrase “make good men wish it were true” gets across that this takes determination and ingenuity. We must know our culture—know its hopes—and then show others that only in Christ will their aspirations ever find fulfillment, that only in him will the plot lines of their lives ever have resolution and a happy ending.
I’m glad Pascal calls for this because, understandably, in these conversations we want to talk about sin and the barrier it creates between God and us. Pascal isn’t arguing against that. Certainly he isn’t telling us to hide that. But do we take time to talk about the manifold and astonishing blessings of salvation? Do we give time and effort to explaining the new birth; our new name and identity; adoption into God’s family; the experience of God’s love and beholding Christ’s glory; the slow but radical change in our character; a growing freedom from our past and peace in our present; power and meaning in the face of suffering; membership in a new, universal, multi-racial counter-cultural community; a mission to do justice and mercy on the earth; guidance from and personal fellowship with God himself; relationships of love that go on forever; the promise of our own future perfection and glorious beauty; complete confidence in the face of death; and the new heavens and new earth, a perfectly restored material world?
If we do this, Pascal gives us a very specific outcome to shoot for. If we’ve pointed out such things in an effective way, then some (though surely not all) will say, “If Christianity really can give that, it would be wonderful. Yes, it would be great if it were true. But of course Christianity isn’t. What a shame!”
Only then will most people sit through any kind of substantial presentation of the evidence and reasons for the truth of Christianity. Now Pascal says to “show that it is [true].” If they have not been brought through stage 1 (being disarmed and surprised by the lives and speech of believers) and stage 2 (seeing the great and attractive promises of God in Christ), their eyes will simply glaze over if you begin talking about “the evidence for the resurrection.” They will still expect Christianity to be at best useless and at worst a threat. But if Christianity has begun to make emotional and cultural sense they may listen to a sustained discussion of why it makes logical and rational sense. By “emotional sense” I mean that Christianity must be shown to be fill holes and answer questions and account for phenomena in the personal, inward, heart realm. By “cultural sense” I mean that Christianity must be shown to have the resources to powerfully address our social problems and explain human social behavior.
Only if their imagination is captured will most people give a fair hearing to the strong arguments for the truth of Christianity. Let’s appeal to heart and imagination as well as to reason as we speak publicly about our faith in Jesus.
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the newsletter of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.