Category archives: Religion & Culture

On the Presidents Easter Prayer Breakfast Comments

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 19, 2011

To an eclectic group of religious leaders[1], President Obama spoke movingly today at the White House about the meaning of Easter:

The humility of Jesus washing the disciples feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross. And were reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world — past, present and future — and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection. In the words of the book Isaiah: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this Amazing Grace calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that Ive not shown grace to others, those times that Ive fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of … His Son and our Savior.

Remarkable: A pretty clear presentation of the Gospel from a man who arguably is Americas first post-modern President. He even quotes from Isaiah 53, a prophetic passage that describes vividly the suffering of the coming Messiah.

Heres what he said about the Bible:

… in the middle of critical national debates, in the middle of our busy lives, we must always make sure that we are keeping things in perspective. Children help do that. A strong spouse helps do that. But nothing beats Scripture and the reminder of the eternal.

Hes right. Yet Mr. Obamas reading of Scripture seems highly selective. In a speech to the Evangelical Leftist Jim Wallis Call to Renewal conference in 2006, heres what then-Sen. Obama said:

Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our Bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles.

This statement trivializes serious biblical interpretation. Mr. Obamas apparent philosophy of exposition is that no one can ever say with any real authority thus saith the Lord since, one is left to assume, the Lord said so many obscure, grim, and evidently impracticable things. The Bible according to Mr. Obama becomes a Rorschach blot to which we each bring our own meaning. This is particularly troubling in a President who frequently invokes the Bible in his speeches, often to justify his political stances.

The reality, of course, is that the Old Testament civil code was intended only for theocratic Israel. The ceremonial rituals of Israels religious worship were representative, and fulfilled in Christ. The moral law, however, is constant from Genesis through Revelation. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus intensification of the Law of Moses, intended to demonstrate both the way His followers should treat others and the inability of fallen men to practice perfectly Gods standards which is why they need the Savior.

President Obama persistently refuses to acknowledge the personhood of the unborn child. He is the strongest advocate for the homosexual agenda ever to work in the Oval Office. His position on religious liberty is captured by the notion that faith is best expressed within the walls of a church, but is taken outside those walls only at the legal peril of the faithful (and if the Employment Non-Discrimination Act were enacted into law, profound intrusions by the state within those four walls would happen, as well).

It is good to read the Presidents expression of Christian faith. Now if he would search the Scriptures and apply them, as appropriate, to public policy, many believers would sing Amazing Grace with even greater gratitude this coming Resurrection day.

[1] The guest list ran the spectrum from the respected Evangelical leader Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City to Nancy Wilson, moderator of the aggressively homosexual Metropolitan Community Churches.


On Sir Martin Rees, Scientific Speculation, and Confident Faith

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 6, 2011

Sir Martin Rees, member of the House of Lords, brilliant astrophysicist, and Master of Trinity College at Cambridge don —- has won the prestigious Templeton Prize. The Prize was established in 1972 by the late Sir John Templeton, investor and philanthropist, to recognize “a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming lifes spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” At $1 million pounds ($1.6 million), the award carries substantial financial reward but, much more, the prestige of one of science’s top honors.

Sir Martin’s work in achievements in the field of science are indisputable. His mind ventures into arenas of thought most of us remain unaware exist: They include “High energy astrophysics —- especially gamma ray bursts, galactic nuclei, black hole formation and radiative processes (including gravitational waves) … Cosmic structure formation —- especially the early generation of stars and galaxies that formed at high redshifts at the end of the cosmic ‘dark age’.”

Sir Martin’s comments on faith, however, merit consideration. In an interview with RealClearReligion, he said, “I don’t have any religious beliefs but I’m not allergic to religion. I participate in the religious services of the Church of England, which is the culture in which I grew up. I’m an analogue to the substantial fraction of Jews who don’t believe in God but still practice some of the traditional rituals. The liturgy and music of the English Church are part of my culture that I value and would like to see preserved.”

In other words, he does not believe the words he speaks regarding God, Christ, sin, salvation, etc., but he says them because of a certain cultural reassurance they bring him.

Using this logic, one could read from The Federal Register in muffled tones or hear it sung in plainsong and have just as much of a spiritual experience as reading the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church.

Sir Martin’s understanding that traditional faith is jettisoned only at the cost, ultimately, of cultural erosion is correct. But that is only true if the faith itself has inherent meaning. If it is arbitrary, then what he is advocating is merely a self-deceptive and intellectually dishonest form of social therapy.

Christianity makes truth-claims, among them that the God of the Bible is real and eternal; that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human and fully God, willingly bore the sins of a fallen humanity on the cross, rose bodily from the grave, and is alive today. These claims are even more stunning than Sir Martin’s that there might by myriad universes or his comments about “black holes in galactic centers.”

Put simply: If he can believe that “the universe exists because we are aware of it” —- but, Sir Martin, if no one sees me, do I not exist? —- I can believe, with a confident mind, in the witness of history and the assurance of faith that Jesus is Lord. And I do.

What the Founders Really Did on Religious Liberty

by Rob Schwarzwalder

April 4, 2011

The religious views of America’s Founders were not segmented into a discrete compartment, segregated away from their political views. Rather, the faith of Fathers infused their understanding of government, the public good, and way in which they believed men and women could most productively live alongside one another in a free but ordered society.

Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, who has spoken eloquently at FRC about the Founders and religious liberty, said recently that the American founders looked to the role of religion … and morality informed by religious values to provide an internal moral compass that would prompt the citizen to behave in an orderly, disciplined fashion. This is an idea that is replete in the political literature of the American founding. It is said over and over and over again.”

Religious liberty is rich ground out of which all our other liberties grow. As FRC Senior Fellow Bob Morrison writes in his new booklet “What the Founders Really Did on Religious Liberty: ‘Deeds not Words,’”

The Founders of our country considered religious liberty our ‘first freedom.’ In their view, it was the bedrock upon which all other freedoms rest. Why? They understood that ones right to worship God and follow his conscience according to the principles of his religious faith was foundational to all morality. A man whose religious faith was repressed could never be a loyal citizen, since the state was usurping his first allegiance and costing him his primary, or first, freedom.

Samuel Adams wrote in his Rights of the Colonists in 1772, The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave. If we do not acknowledge that God is the author of our liberty —- an inherently religious assertion, stated clearly in the Declaration of Independence —- then liberties of all kinds are merely trinkets of the state.

So, at a time when religion in public life is under attack by those who would scrub our government and public institutions of all vestiges of our Judeo-Christian heritage, it is imperative for conservatives to stand for religious liberty as the foundation of our laws and our nation itself. Bob Morrisons new booklet is a great place to start.

Simian, called PETA

by Robert Morrison

March 30, 2011

The ever-inventive animalists at PETA are out with a new beef, er, gripe: The Bible.

It seems in this 400th anniversary year of the venerable King James Version, PETA wants to jump on the bandwagon for some free publicity. Heres the news item:

Animal activists say the Bible needs to be more considerate of Gods furry friends. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has asked the Committee on Bible Translation to update the New International Version Bible to include more animal-friendly language, according to CNN. In a letter to translators, the group called the Bibles current text speciesist and requested that pronouns like he and she be used instead of it when referring to animals…Language matters, Friedrich told CNN. Calling an animal it denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God.

Actually, PETA folks get this one wrong, too, as they get most things wrong. The Bible is most considerate of Gods creatures. The Bible tells us that all Creation groans, awaiting its savior. As C.S. Lewis helpfully informs us, Nature is not our mother, shes our sister. Nature, like us, is in need of redemption. Thats why, when Jesus was born, Heaven and Nature sang.

Rembrandt's BalaamAs it happens, my mens Bible study just this week delved into the remarkable story of Balaams ass. Its in the book of Numbers 22:21-38. In brief, Balaam is a pagan priest on his way to curse Israel. Apparently, Balaam is considered a champion curser. He mounts his she-ass and heads off to do evil. But the Angel of the Lord appears and blocks the path. Balaams poor donkey sees the angel and balks at going to the left or the right. Despite Balaams beating her, she refuses to aid him in his wickedness. She lies down before the Angel. She even talks to Balaam. She asks him how he can be so cruel to her. Never before had I encountered talking animals in Scripture. No wonder C.S. Lewis peoples his books with talking creatures, two- and four-legged. Balaams ass is a touching story. Even the donkey acknowledges the God of Israel.

I was once taught a lesson in the differences between men and beasts. Boarding a Soviet trawler in the Bering Sea, my party of ten Coast Guardsmen quickly finished our inspection of their catch of fish. I was serving as the Russian language interpreter for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell.

As I was about to go back over the side, I offered this last word to the Soviet skipper. Naoborot, spaceetyay kitov. (By the way, save the whales.) Whales, like all marine mammals are a protected species. My Greenpeace friends ashore had given me that Russian line to use.

The Soviet skipper laughed: We know whut you mean, he said, but you cant say eet zat way, he said in heavily accented English. He smiled through stainless steel teeth.

Spaceets means to save as in save ones soul. Whales dunt haff souls, only people haff souls.

I looked up at the trawlers smokestack. It had a yellow profile of Lenin, the top Communist revolutionary. Lenin had said any religious sentiment, however slight, was unspeakably vile. Yet here was one of his own Communistswearing a furry shapka on his head that bore the red star, hammer and sickle deviceand telling me that only people had souls. I half expected that smokestack to tumble into the sea!

If Balaams ass can acknowledge the God of Israel, and if this official representative of the atheist USSR knows that only people have souls, there may be hope for PETA yet.

FRC Lecture Series: John Stonestreet

by Carrie Russell

February 15, 2011

Last week, FRC hosted a Family Policy Lecture: Young Evangelicals—Are They a Lost Cause in the Culture Wars, featuring John Stonestreet, Executive Director of Summit Ministries. You can watch the lecture here. After the lecture, we had a chance to interview Mr. Stonestreet for more insight on the next generation of evangelicals.

Young Evangelicals: Are They a Lost Cause in the Culture Wars?

by Krystle Gabele

February 10, 2011

If you missed today’s Family Policy Lecture, then you missed a great speaker. John Stonestreet, Executive Director, of Summit Ministries discussed the perceived divide between the older generation and new generation of evangelicals and provided ideas on how to unite them on meaningful causes.

You can watch the lecture by clicking on the player below.

Book Review: The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America

by Eliza Thurston

January 31, 2011

Economists of the twentieth century looked upon the depravity surrounding them and pinpointed the source of this sin: material shortages. By promoting the development of financially profitable natural resources, progressive economists believed this sin could be erased. A century later, however, this economic religion is suffering and as Robert Nelsons The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion argues, it may well be on its way out. As environmentalist values continue to permeate public policy, economic arguments are forced to reckon with a whole new ethical framework. Nelsons new book offers a fascinating interpretation of this dilemma. By examining the fundamental tenets of both economics and environmentalism The New Holy Wars provides a fresh perspective on one of the most debated issues of our time.

The New Holy Wars proposes that at their cores, both environmentalism and Western economic theory are informed by Judeo-Christian beliefs. However, the theological underpinnings of these disciplines have been remapped to form secular versions of Christianity. Taking this a step further, Nelson argues that the clash of these two competing secular religions represents the most important religious controversy in America today. It is a startling proposition for which Nelson presents a convincing case. By framing the environmental debate in spiritual terms he makes sense of the intensity with which both sides promote their worldviews. At the same time The New Holy Wars digs beyond the rhetoric to unearth those presuppositions which are essential to understanding both sides of the debate.

Perhaps most intriguing is Nelsons treatment of environmentalism. Nelson argues what few practitioners are willing to admitthe environmentalist worldview is very much a religious one. With clarity and perception he explores the Protestant (specifically Calvinist) underpinnings of the movement. Pointing back to the writings of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Jonathan Edwards, The New Holy Wars shows how key components of Calvinism have been transformed under the guise of environmentalism. Nelson illustrates how the movements jargon speaks volumes about its philosophical commitments. Steeped in the language of moral urgency, human depravity, individualism, and asceticism that marked much of the early reformed tradition, environmentalism is not unlike its more traditional religious counterparts. But Nelson is careful not to take the association too far. When Jonathan Edwards looked upon the Book of Nature he was awed by Gods glorious and omnipotent hand in creation. In marked contrasted, John Muir responded to the same beauty with transcendentalist adoration that bordered on pantheism. For Muir and the descendents of his preservationist movement, Nature became the ultimate recipient of their worship. And herein lies what Nelson recognizes to be a serious flaw in environmental theology: its failure to offer an adequate substitute for the loving and redeeming Christian God who had been lost.

While The New Holy Wars does not offer a solution to the economic-environmental debate, it does provide significant insight into the issue. Nelsons stimulating case for the role religion plays in the economic and environmental philosophies dominating current public policy is bound to challenge his readers. Those seeking to equip themselves for todays challenges should pay heed to Robert Nelsons work.

New Survey Shows Interesting Trends in Online Activities

by Krystle Gabele

December 21, 2010

A recent Pew Internet Project Survey focused on the online activities which each generation participates in and the changes that have occurred over time. This survey is particularly interesting, especially in the areas of using the internet to obtain religious information and donating to charity.

According to the survey, the G.I. Generation, those ages 74 and older are more than 50% likely to go online to look up religious information among other things, like email or social networking. Compared to the G.I. Generation, the other groups surveyed were less than 50% likely to go online for the same information. This demographic did not change over time either.

On the other hand, donations to charity remain at less than 50% likelihood across the generations. The statistics on giving were constant without any noticeable increases, and this can be attributed to the current economic climate.

Overall, the results from this survey are not surprising, since there is a generational shift towards social networking.

On Not Growing Weary in Doing (Public) Good

by Rob Schwarzwalder

December 7, 2010

In recent days, some Evangelical leaders have called for fellow believers to declare failure and withdraw from the public square. Academic sociologist James Davison Hunter, in his book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, is among those who believe that mere personal faithfulness should supplant Christian political engagement.

Gabe Lyons, another believer with a deep commitment to the Gospel, asserts on ABC News that “the Religious Right” achieved its goals in electing prominent leaders but asks, “Did anything change?”

It is a valid question, but purveys less careful thinking than it does weary aggravation, a frustration borne of false expectations.

Over the years, some believers seem to have thought that if only the “right” people were elected, somehow liberalism would disappear and that a new, halcyon era of truth and light would emerge across America’s fruited plain.

The events of the past three decades have proven this premise false, and instead remind us of the veracity of Scripture’s injunction, “Put not your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3).

Political triumphalism is an idol, and political involvement is not the path to temporal salvation. We cannot, through legislative action, induce the kingdom of God to emerge on earth. Such attempts are neither new nor effective; witness the tower of Babel.

Evangelicals need to bear in mind that political victory almost invariably is incremental, and only occasionally does it transform culture. The two great racial justice movements in American public life —- the abolition and civil rights efforts of the 19th and 20th centuries —- were once-in-a-century phenomena. They were grounded in campaigns that included many disparate and sometimes mutually suspicious alliances, political efforts at the local, state, and national levels, and efforts to persuade the heart and mind of a nation through moral suasion and Christian exhortation.

A case in point: William Wilberforce and his friends in the Clapham group worked for the abolition of British slavery for decades. The final bill ending slavery in Britain was enacted only days before his death. But he never gave up.

Most of the time, political action achieves only incremental victory. For example, when

advocates of disengagement argue that after decades of Evangelical political activism, Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land, they should consider that to shift the culture is a trans-generational effort. It involves continuous and creative initiatives to persuade fellow-citizens and woo their consciences with fact and reason, grace and truth.

And we now see that 37 years after Roe, the majority of Americans reject unrestricted access to abortion on demand. When public judgment becomes settled, laws start to change. We have seen this already: Over the past decade, we have succeeded in:

  • Banning partial birth abortions (the act prohibiting them was upheld by the Supreme Court)
  • Enacting the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act”
  • Enacting the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act”
  • Preventing federal funding of abortion through the Hyde Amendment (although this is now threatened under President Obama’s health care plan)
  • Applying the Mexico City Policy, created by President Reagan and now lifted by President Obama, but which under more conservative Presidents has prevented federal funding of overseas agencies that perform abortions
  • Fostering the growth of roughly 2,000 pregnancy care centers for women with crisis pregnancies.

This list contradicts Mr. Lyons argument: Elections do matter. From funding directives to specific laws to appointment of Supreme Court justices and federal judges, participating in the political process clear-eyed about what to expect is indispensable for Christian citizens and for what the Bible calls the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).

Of course, we have much work to do. Such abortifacient drugs as “ella” and RU-486 and Planned Parenthood’s relentless predation on troubled pregnant women remain open wounds on the national soul. Yet the examples I have cited constitute real change, and with the advent of a more pro-life milieu among younger Americans, how long can Roe and its attendant evils stand?

Additionally, when the Supreme Court finally invalidates Roe, those doing so will be justices appointed by a President and confirmed by a Senate elected by We the People. Thats change we can work for, if not put our unguarded confidence in.

When Roe falls, much more will remain to be done, from sustaining traditional marriage to delimiting the authority of courts that defy the plain meaning of the Constitution to upholding religious liberty in all its facets. And faithful Christians, whose obligation to bear witness is not mitigated by political discouragement (or self-pity), will keep working to advance life-affirming biblical principles in public affairs.

Is this the whole sum of Christian public duty? Of course not! Christians are actively serving the poor, at home and abroad; defending the persecuted in the courts and quietly with foreign governments; working to free the many millions of people trapped in sexual slavery and involuntary servitude; and a host of other ways, not least of which is simply getting to know their neighbors and showing them the love of Jesus in tangible, practical ways.

Yet to disengage from the public square is to deliver it up solely to evil. This would be an act of what the late theologian Carl F. H. Henry called “Christian lovelessness.” For serious believers in Jesus Christ, this is an option they must never accept. Let us, instead, do the work not of human princes but of the Prince of Life, to Whom alone belongs eternal victory.

Martin Luthers Mighty Fortress

by Robert Morrison

November 10, 2010

Today is the birthday of Christian reformer Martin Luther. Luther was born November 10, 1483. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but young Luther instead entered Catholic holy orders and became an Augustinian monk in Saxony.

In 1517, Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church door, in the university town where he was serving as a teacher. Young Luther had earned his doctorate in theology, at a time when doctorates were rarer than Nobel Prizes are today.

Luthers 95 Theses disputed the church practice of selling indulgences. Luther read in the book of Romans that the just shall live by faith. It was faith, then, and not the purchase of indulgences that led to salvation, Luther maintained.

His bold move sparked a reformation of the Church. The still-new printing press soon spread Luthers ideas around Europe.

He was always in grave jeopardy. An earlier reformer, the Bohemian Jan Hus, had been burned at the stake for heresy for saying some of the things that Luther was saying. Hus (goose) said today you burn a goose, but there will come a swan. To millions, Luther became the Swan of the Reformation.

In 1521, Luther was ordered to appear before the Diet of Worms. Thats the name given to the imperial council of the Holy Roman Empire. That body consisted mostly of representatives of petty German states, what Churchill called pumpernickel principalities.

Fearing for his life, his friends warned Dr. Luther not to go. But he was adamant: I would go if there were a devil on every roof tile. When he was ordered to renounce his writings, and commanded to write no more, Luther refused. Before the Holy Roman Emperor, young Charles V, and the assembled nobles and clergy of the German nation, Luther proclaimed:

Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

On leaving the city of Worms, Luther was kidnapped and taken for protection to the famed Wartburg Castle. Here, he translated the New Testament into German.

This was a great event in the life of the Christian Church, making the Word of God accessible to the poorest of the poor. Luthers translation of the Bible powerfully influenced the development of the German language and culture. It even helped inspire the translation of Holy Scripture into English with the King James Version.

Luthers legacy is honored today in his voluminous writings, his many hymns, and his love for the Christian life and home. Some of his more controversial writings and sermonsespecially his anti-Semitic rants and his more vulgar denunciations of the Popeare rejected. But his brave stand in defense of Scripture inspires us still. It is a tribute to his gifts that one can even hear his great hymnA Mighty Fortress is Our Godsung at Roman Catholic Masses.

By taking a stand for Christian liberty, Luther helped shape the life of Europe and the world. The concluding scene in the film Luther shows the nobles of Germany ceremonially bowing before the Holy Roman Emperor as they presented him with their copy of their evangelical statement of faith, The Augsburg Confession. Each of the nobles comes forward, bows, and offers to let their ruler strike off his head.

It is a powerful testament to their faith that they were willing to give up their lives for the Lord. It is also to be noted that Emperor Charles V did not have them put to the sword.

Europe, it is true, suffered greatly from wars of religionbetween Catholics and Protestants. But it is also true that the jewel of liberty is dearly won and never fully secure.

In many struggles over bioethics, human sexuality, religious liberty, and foreign missions to persecuted lands, we see Evangelical, Catholic and Lutheran Christians in our time working hand-in-hand against moral relativists and militant secularists.

Today, Christian liberty is very much in dangerin Europe and around the world. Even this day, Christians are being murdered in Iraq by fanatical Muslim jihadists who do not hesitate to strike off the head of those whose religious faith differs from theirs.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan, and throughout the Bloody Crescent, Christians are suffering for their faith. Let us speak for them. Let us stand with them. God helping us, we can do no other.