Even NBC knows that a generic faith in a generic God does little good when it really matters

Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research offers this video clip from NBC's "ER," illustrating that the Oprah-ization of American spirituality that glorifies "searching" for spiritual meaning while de-emphasizing "finding" is not enough.

From my personal experience, I can testify that a mamby-pamby spirituality would have done me little good as I lay in the ICU, fighting for my life after my aortic dissection. It was the sure hope in a real God that love me personally and promises me forgiveness and restoration that got us through as a family.

HT: Stephen Shields


A Republican is Impressed by a Young Generation of Evangelicals

Michael Gerson is the author of the new book, Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't). He was once the main speechwriter for President George W. Bush and named by TIME as one of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” Gerson now writes for Newsweek and is an opinion writer at The Washington Post. He's written about his experience with our ministry of the CCO, where he took part in our annual Jubilee Conference.

Faith Without a Home

By Michael Gerson
Wednesday, February 27, 2008; Page A17

I have seen the future of evangelical Christianity, and it is pierced. And sometimes tattooed. And often has one of those annoying, wispy chin beards.

Those who think of evangelical youth as the training cadre of the religious right would have been shocked at Jubilee 2008, a recent conference of 2,000 college students in Pittsburgh sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach. I was struck by the students' aggressive idealism - there were booths promoting causes from women's rights to the fight against modern slavery to environmental protection. Judging from the questions I was pounded with, the students are generally pro-life - but also concerned about poverty and deeply opposed to capital punishment and torture. More than a few are unable to consider themselves a Republican or a Democrat - homeless in the stark partisanship of American politics.


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Jubilee: Worldview for the Thinking Student

I just returned from our annual Jubilee Conference.

The main speakers were Anthony Bradley, Kelly Munroe Kullberg, Chuck Colson, and Donald Miller.

Each main session was excellent:

Anthony Bradley challenged students to “spit in the face of 'American-Dream' Theology” and instead to embrace the implications of creation- fall- redemption- restoration.

Kelly Munroe Kullberg told the story of starting the Veritas Forum at Harvard and now at many other schools. She captivated us with her humility and the ability she has to gently and caringly share the gospel with students.

Chuck Colson hit a home-run with a clear explanation of our calling to take part in God’s redemptive work on earth. He even quoted Abraham Kuyper.

Donald Miller explained the three aspects of narrative story telling: (1) A character that is good because he or she cares more for others than him- or her-self, (2) That character’s ambition to do something grand, and (3) the conflict to arrive at that ambition. Miller challenged students to ask themselves if they like the character they are in their story (Do I care for others or am I selfish?), what their ambition is (Am I being sucked into the consumerism narrative that says our highest ambition is to shop?), and see if their struggles in life are the inevitable conflict that arises from doing God’s will (“If you are a person who only wants a Volvo, your story sucks.”).

I also liked the breakout sessions I attended. Of great interest was a panel discussion on Faith and Politics with Anthony Bradley, a Research Fellow for the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action and author of the new book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World?, James Skillen, President of The Center for Public Justice and author of The Scattered Voice: Christians at Odds in the Public Square, and Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, named by TIME as one of “The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America,” new opinion writer at The Washington Post, and author of the new book, Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America's Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don't).

Anthony Bradley acted as the moderator.

Ron Sider
advocated against a Libertarian approach to politics that would say that the government needs to have a “hands-off” approach to civil life. He stated that the Bible states that the king is responsible for economic justice. The government is not the first or even the primary institution to solve poverty, but it is one of the ones to do so, especially in its role to be sure that systems are just for the sake of the poor. He was for Welfare reform and he is in favor of Earned Income Tax Credit.

Jim Skillen offered his tremendous insights into how Christians should approach the high calling of politics – he is always pushing us to not jump first to policy issues before thinking deeply about a political theology. According to Skillen, government is just one of many different institutions in society, each with its own sphere of sovereignty. Government is different from the other institutions in that it defines the parameters of a just society so that society is structured so that all can flourish. He asked us to redefine poverty, not based on amount of money or on income a person has, but on what he calls “capability deprivation” (a concept developed by economist Amartya Sen). There are a lot of reasons why people are capability deprived: education, break down in the family, culture, communities, churches, and health.

Michael Gerson said that he feels that the separation of church and state is a legitimate one – but that we have to define what we mean by this. In the areas of Soteriology (salvation), Eschatology (end times), and Ecclesiology (church polity), the two need to be clearly separate. But in the area of Anthropology (humankind), the church and the state need to be in constant conversation. Faith always has had a role to play in influencing the state in the area of human rights. Gerson believes that the growing tide of secularization is seeking to take this out of public discourse, which, in fact, would give the secular voice the only favored voice in politics.

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As we reflect on who we are as humans, and how that is warped by the Fall, let us think in these terms:

We are supposed to image God and create culture; we are not supposed to image the culture and create God.

The Fall makes us backwards people. Image-bearers are meant to glorify God in all we do ("...whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God..." - 1 Cor 10:31), we were given the mandate to shape the world as God's vice-regents (See Genesis 1:26-28) -- for Christians, "Culture is Not Optional."

But the hard question that must be answered in 21st Century America is this: Is the evangelical church imaging God and creating culture, or are we imaging the culture and shaping God into what we want him to be?

For just one example of this, contemplate what Tom Sine writes:

"How many of us unwittingly have allowed aspirations and values of the imperial global shopping mall define for us what is important and what is of value — what is the 'good life'? Many of us, in spite of our best intentions, allow the economic aspirations of the workplace or the up-scaling impulses of our middle-class lifestyles to take over our lives. As a consequence, we too often trivialize our faith to little more than a devotional add-on to our 'real lives.'" ("Making it Real: How to live as if another world were already here", Sojourners, January 2008)

So, instead of Christians engaged in the culture, seeing our work and our lifestyles as integral parts of our mandate to image God in this world, we allow the consumerism and the economic aspirations of our culture to define us. We listen more to the marketers than to our Lord.

And then, as the ultimate sacrilege, we remake God. He becomes a divine being who's main purpose is to meet our needs or to make us successful. The God of the American upper-middle class evangelical Christian is the God that gives a nice home in the suburbs and an SUV to drive, the God that is more concerned about our "family values" than about poverty or disease or injustice.

There are many, many other examples of how we are not imaging God and creating culture but imaging culture and creating a false God.

What do you see?

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You Were Made for Earth - Interview with Michael Wittmer

Trevin Wax has interviewed Mike Wittmer over at his blog, Kingdom People.

You Were Made for Earth: My Interview with Michael Wittmer

Some of the questions Trevin asked:
Q: In Heaven is a Place on Earth, you write that humans were created, not for heaven, but for earth. Why would most Christians believe this is the other way around?

How does developing a Christian worldview help us avoid the dualistic thinking found in so many churches today?

How do humans reflect the image of their Maker?

You write about the cosmic reach of the Gospel. What does this entail?

Check it out!


Two Year Anniversary of Almost Dying

Two years ago tomorrow, I nearly died of a dissection of my ascending aorta. 2006 was a traumatic year for our family and friends.

On February 2, at about 10:30 PM, I felt like somebody threw a spear through my back. I ran upstairs and woke my wife Linda - "Call 911!!"

I writhed on the floor in pain as Linda made the call. As she was talking to the 911 dispatcher, I stopped breathing. Linda hung up on the woman and gave me CPR, all 100 pounds of her compressing my chest to revive me. When I woke up, I was so angry with her - "Why did you wake me? Now I am in pain again!!" I didn't understand that she had just saved my life.

At the hospital, they could not figure out what was wrong with me. The blood tests showed that I was not having a heart attack. It wasn't until they looked at my chest xray and then a CT Scan that they saw a football-shaped aneurysm in the ascending aorta (the main blood vessel that comes up out of the heart - see daigram). When they saw this, everything changed. I was rushed into surgery, which lasted 12 hours.

Against all odds, I survived the tear of the aorta and the trauma of the surgery. But I wasn't out of the woods yet. I developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and for four weeks was placed in a medicated coma. The mortality rate for those with ARDS is extremely high. Each day my vitals were up and down, and they could not risk bringing me out of the coma. After four weeks of this, Linda confronted the pulmonologist, asking him when he thought this would end. He said that he did not know if or when it would end. The next day I was sitting up in a chair! Praise God.

During this time, my wife, friends, and family had no choice but to rely on God for strength, peace, and comfort. And that is a good thing. All too often, we feel we are God - that we have total control of our destiny. But times like these remind us that this is only so in a limited way. God is God, and we are not. When the hard times come, like when we face mortality, it speaks like a megaphone into our souls (to borrow an image from C. S. Lewis) that we are in need of God. The witness of Christian reliance on God and the hope of eternal life was a tremendous testimony to friends, family, and the medical staff at the hospital. While in that hospital, I had a very real sense of the presence of God. Seven weeks after the emergency surgery, I was finally released from the hospital.

One month later, I was life-flighted to the Cleveland Clinic when I was in yet another acute medical emergency: the discovery of another aneurysm at the base of the aorta. I had to have a second open-heart surgery in September 2006, which reconstructed the entire thing and inserted an artificial aortic valve.

Two years after the initial event, I just want to thank our God for his grace and mercy. He spared my life. And he did so not for any of the reasons I've heard people say - it was not because I am in Christian ministry; it is not because I such a 'godly man; it was not because I deserved it. None of that is true of me. I am a sinner in ways that deeply shame me, and I am no more in 'Christian ministry' than the next Christian in his or her vocation.

God showed mercy to me, and I cannot pretend to know why. Why me, and not the next person? All I know is that God says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Exodus 33:19, Romans 9:14). I just trust that. And I rest in the belief that God is God, and I am not.

I thank God for my wife, Linda. Not just because she knows CPR (smile), but because she was there every day, praying for me and reading Scripture to me and playing recordings of the children to me as I lay in a coma. If the roles were reversed, I don't think I could have been as strong and steadfast. I would have been an emotional wreck. God is good.

I also thank God for friends and family that were there through that horrific event two years ago. Our neighbor, Liz Heiser, came over at 11:00 and watched the kids and cleaned up (yikes!) the vomit that was all over my family room. My sister-in-law, Karen Eckart, came over and cared for the children through the night and the next day (as well as a lot over the next seven weeks).

My friends Miche Spring and Matt Robinson (pictured, left to right, with my children, Joel, Trey and Kaira) were the first to arrive at the hospital and stood by our side through the crisis. They called Amber Hale (pictured with Kaira) and she came in and was able to care for Linda during the ordeal. Amber has been a dear, dear friend for our family, ever since she started babysitting our children years ago. She was always more than a babysitter; she really loves our kids and has actually helped raise them. She spent several nights with Linda, helping her care for the kids.

One of the first to arrive was Darren Noble, who is one of the most compassionate friends a person can have. My friend Tim Miller was there once he heard about the situation. He'd come in all the time to pray and to read the Bible with Linda next to my bed. Eloy and Pat Pacheco, friends of the family, was there immediately and was able to care and comfort at this time of need (Eloy has recently retired from a long-time care ministry, visiting and caring for people in the hospital). His loving, gentle, and wonderful pastoral care is greatly appreciated.

Linda's parents, Richard and Carolyn Eckart, were caring and very helpful as they watched their daughter go through the worst possible situation.

My mom, Sandi Robinson, was there - praying and loving everyone. I loved seeing 'my mommy' when I woke up from my coma. My brother, Doug, and sister, Jackie, were there all the time, concerned and helping in any way they could.

My dad, Jack Robinson, and his wife Sharon, were workhorses - caring for the children as Linda would visit me in the hospital. My dad (pictured with Joel) is an amazing man. He never missed a day to visit me while I was in the hospital. He nearly died of a heart attack 20 years ago, and I can only imagine what it must had been like to face the possibility of one of his children dying before he did.

I thank God for my ministry community in the CCO. Everyone faithfully prayed and fasted on our behalf in this time of need. Herb Kolbe, my supervisor, came and visited on a regular basis. Dan Dupee, the president of the CCO, was instrumental in making sure we were cared for. Bob Cunningham, the CCO's Vice President for Finance and Administration, worked long and hard as a liaison between Linda and the insurance company.

I also thank God for the internet community. Byron Harvey, a friend from my pastoring days in the Evangelical Free Church, made people aware of the emergency. Emails from Linda, our friend Wendy Nowak, Tim Miller, and Matt Robinson went out to the four corners of the earth as people passed them along; people all over the world were praying for us. These updates were also posted by Scot McKnight (pictured with me in a doctored fake photo, since I don't have a picture of the two of us together!) at his extremely popular blog, Jesus Creed. So many of the readers of his blog (who occasionally pop in at this blog) were praying as well. Amazing. So I thank God for all of you!

To trace the story, read some of these blog posts: