NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

NEXT – GEN CULTURAL NAVIGATION: Stonestreet & Kunkel’s Practical Guide

News broke this week that noted evangelical leader Eugene Peterson, famed for The Message paraphrase of the Bible and many other works of spiritual theology, had come out in support of same-sex marriage. Then he backtracked but, as they say, the toothpaste was out of the tube and believers all over the country were flummoxed.

Can anyone be depended on to steer a true spiritual course through our tumultuous cultural waters? And how can we equip ourselves to stand with grace and truth when so many, it seems, are falling?

Many books are available to equip believers to think with the Biblical worldview. Among them are Chuck Colson’s master work HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE? co-written with Nancy Pearcy; THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson and a little more accessible; Pearcy’s solo effort, TOTAL TRUTH; Abdu H. Murray’s GRAND CENTRAL QUESTION; Russell Moore’s ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel; the works of Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness for those of a more intellectual bent, and of course the Breakpoint daily podcast.

All of those are helpful but none of them, save the Breakpoint daily, are as easy to digest and practical to use as A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO CULTURE: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkel. The book is targeted at parents and Christian leaders who are tasked with equipping teens to face the pressures of our cultural moment, but it is useful to wider audience.

Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and well-known, with Eric Metaxas, for the daily Breakpoint podcast (www.breakpoint.org). Brett Kunkel, who has over twenty-five years working with junior high, high school, and college students, is the student impact director at Stand to Reason, and founder of a new organization called Maven (www.maventruth.com).

Their book is broken into four sections: Why Culture Matters; A Read of the Cultural Waters; Pounding Cultural Waves; Christian Worldview Essentials. All four are clear, concise, and easy to navigate. Each chapter concludes with four discussion questions. But for those who are secure in their worldview essentials yet still need practical tools for the day-to-day cultural situations being thrust upon us, section three, Pounding Cultural Waves, is worth the price of the book.

In it, Stonestreet and Kunkel take on eight hot-button issues every believer faces in all manner of environments including the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension. Each topic is further broken down into four sections that, in turn, reveal the false cultural narrative about the topic, restate the biblical view of it, suggest practical action steps, and forecast hope.

Christian high school and college students, professionals, educators, business leaders, government officials, and all manner of other believers stemming the tide of this cultural moment have reason to feel somewhat like Elijah of old, when the corrupt culture of Ahab and Jezebel held sway. When the knees of trusted leaders seem to buckle in the surf resources like this remind us that God has far more than seven thousand who have not bowed to the pressure.

I encourage you to read it, study it together with your kids and friends, and strengthen your knees.

 

ONE RING TO BIND THEM

Glenn T. Stanton’s The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage

Ask any pastor what the toughest part of his job is and, second only to funerals of the young, he will tell you “counseling broken marriages.” Nothing else wreaks more emotional, spiritual, familial, and financial havoc than divorce. No wonder then that we are always on the lookout for resources to help couples, especially pre-marital couples, prevent that disaster. Glenn T. Stanton’s THE RING MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE (Moody Publishers, 2011) takes aim at one of the preeminent pre-cursors to broken marriages today: pre-marital cohabitation, and does so with pinpoint accuracy.

Stanton is the director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, and a leading spokesperson on marriage and family issues. He can also be heard on the weekly “Breakpoint This Week” podcast, hosted by John Stonestreet.

At fewer than one hundred and fifty pages, The Ring is an easy read, incredibly well-documented, and highly practical for couples or individuals who want to think carefully and act wisely as they approach marriage. Each chapter has large-print summary quotes for quick review along with five or six insight-inducing questions at the end.

The book is also a great example of science “catching up” with scripture. Anyone familiar with the biblical understanding of marriage knows that sex before marriage is sin and cohabitation is not equal to marriage. The mid-twentieth century sexual revolution and feminist movements undermined that message, and cohabitation has skyrocketed as a result. Most couples just sort of slide in to the arrangement, not intending to commit sin so much as failing to see why it matters. But social scientists have been tracking the results of that sea-change for fifty years and the results support the biblical view. A few of the findings are indicative:

“Marriage matters, not just because it is preceded by a wedding that costs us or our parents tens of thousands of dollars, but because the nature of the relationship itself makes a difference in ways you probably never imagined.”

“Even if (cohabiting) couples consider themselves essentially “married,” they know that without a marriage license, they are freer to exit the relationship at any time. This lack of security in the mind of each partner affects how they deal with each other.”

“Marriage involves things the cohabiting couple–or at least one of them–would rather not deal with. This is why cohabitation even exists.”

“People with cohabiting experience who marry have a 50 to 80 percent higher likelihood of divorcing than married couples who never cohabited.”

All of those findings are important, but the one that stood out most, because it is the one that I deal with most often in counseling, is that cohabitation, even with someone you eventually wed, sets up unhealthy relationship patterns that carry over into the marriage. Cohabitors have fewer and weaker conflict resolution skills. They are less likely to be supportive and self-sacrificing. Most notably, “the lack of relational clarity is likely to foster more controlling and manipulative interactions to try to keep the relationship together and get the partner to do what the other desires. As a result, cohabitors are much more likely to report a sense of relational instability than their married peers.”

Any married person would benefit from Stanton’s book, but I highly recommend it to young men and women contemplating marriage, as well as to those who haven’t yet found that special someone. Read it, and protect yourself from a world of hurt.

 

THE OLD MAN’S EGGS: Three Worldview Questions for 2017

An old man with a cane is struggling to get his groceries out of the buggy and into his car. One bag drops to the ground, breaking most of the eggs inside. What should you do: Ignore him and walk on by? Stop, help him pick up the bag, and maybe give him your eggs? Push him down and take his wallet?

I’m willing to bet nobody chose option three.

The way we answer such questions tells us not only about our character, but what we believe about the existence of objective moral truths. No one believes option three is morally right, even the thugs who might take the money and run. It is testimony to the biblical idea that the requirements of the law are written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.

In other words, whether we admit it, or not, whether we want to believe it, or not, we do believe in objective moral truth every bit as much as we believe in scientific truth, like gravity.

The problem, the thing that creates so much confusion for so many of us as we try to sort through answers for today’s difficult questions on things like social justice, abortion, and same sex marriage, is that we are attempting to live with competing and conflicting worldviews. We wouldn’t take the old man’s wallet, but we can’t explain why someone else shouldn’t.

What’s a worldview? Your worldview is the grid through which you understand and interpret all of life. It answers four questions that are basic to everything else: Where did we come from? What’s wrong with us? How are the problems of life best addressed? Where is life headed in the end?

The reason we can’t offer anything more than an exasperated, “It’s just wrong!” to taking the old man’s wallet is that we are attempting to blend traditional morality with pluralism and post-modernism.

Traditional morality is based, more or less, on the biblical worldview (think: creation, fall, redemption, restoration) and agrees that there is such a thing as objective moral truth. Pluralism says that there are many possible worldviews and many possible truths, each with equal validity. Post-modernism says there is no such thing as truth, that meaning is completely subjective. A thing only means what the individual observer says it means. It’s like the old joke about the three umpires. The first one says, “I calls ‘em as they is.” The second says, “I call’s ‘em as I see’s ‘em.” And the third says, “They ain’t nothin’ till I calls ‘em.”

So here’s a three-part challenge for 2017:

First, what is your worldview? Is it consistently biblical? Pluralistic? Post-modern? Or some combination thereof?

Second, ask yourself if it actually fits observed reality. Is someone helping the old man with his eggs, or is someone robbing him, and if so, why?

Third, ask yourself which worldview your life is conforming to, the one you say you believe, or one of the others, or some amalgamation thereof?

My hope and conviction is that as we answer these questions the fog of confusion will clear and uncertainty will give way to confidence.

 

FLABBY-BRAINED BELIEVERS?

The bathroom scales hounded me back to my Nordic Trak last week with the words: “You are a middle-aged blob who eats too much and exercises too little!”

OK, it didn’t actually say that because it can’t talk. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it read either (I am vain that way). Let it suffice that I sweated through my first thirty-minutes in about a month on the twentieth-century torture tool and I’m headed back there today.

I wonder, however, if there was a scale for the Christian mind that could talk, what it would be saying to the people of God? I’m afraid it would report that many of us have flabby brains.

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” said Joseph Addison, but far too many of us read nothing at all.

If you’re ready to get your mind back in action here’s a list of recommended reading that will equip you to think Christianly about life.

Suffering

SUFFERING AND THE HEART OF GOD: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Diane Langberg, PhD. Langberg, who has worked with Rwandan genocide victims, is a globally recognized expert on trauma, particularly that special evil suffered by sexual abuse victims. She is theologically solid, clinically expert, and personally compassionate. I’ve heard her speak and read her previous book, On the Threshold of Hope. I guarantee that if you do not already know a sexual abuse victim, you will and you will want to know how to help. Her books will help.

Marriage

SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS: Seven Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Marry, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. The Parrotts are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. I’ve been offering per-marital counseling since 1995 and I’ve yet to find a better resource.

RECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES: Healing for Troubled Marriages, by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jim Talley. Talley’s work became my go-to for counseling couples in crisis many years ago and remains so today. It is simple, clear, and concise. Read it five years into your first marriage and you probably won’t have a second. Find him at drtalley.com.

Giving Wisely

TOXIC CHARITY: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (and how to reverse it), by Robert D. Lupton. Bob, the founder of FCS Urban Ministries, moved his young family into inner-city Atlanta in the late seventies and stayed. He “has developed two mixed-income subdivisions, organized a multiracial congregation, started a number of businesses, created housing for hundreds of families,”[1] and is a friend of our family. He is also an excellent writer and teacher of the ideas he promotes. The book is an easy and useful read.

Biblical Worldview Thinking

HOW NOW SHALL WE LIVE, is the late Chuck Colson’s and Nancy Pearcy’s magnum opus on biblical worldview thinking. If you have no exposure to the genre and five hundred pages doesn’t frighten you, begin here. It is compelling and easy to follow.

THE GOOD LIFE, also by Colson with Harold Fickett, is much shorter and more about answers to the questions we all have, like: Why am I here; how can I find significance? But all of Colson’s works are infused with the worldview rubric and this one will challenge you to choose carefully.

Culture War

CULTURE MAKING: Recovering Our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch. Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, makes an excellent case that it is not enough to condemn culture, nor to stand aloof and critique it or naively copy it, still less to unconsciously consume it. If Christians want to return to the cultural influence that helped build Western Civilization, we have to create better culture. CULTURE MAKING is the best book yet on how to do that.

ONWARD: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, by Russell Moore. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a man who, like Albert Mohler, is an energetic, entertaining, and articulate defender of the faith. ONWARD is a quick, compelling read that roots our cultural engagement squarely in the Gospel and never strays from it.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I don’t have time to read serious books.” If so remember World Magazine and World Radio, both of which will keep you up-to-date with the latest biblical worldview thinking in a highly portable format. Go to getworldnow.com for a free three month trial. The daily worldview update, Breakpoint, with John Stonestreet and Eric Metaxas is also excellent.

Brains, like bodies, get flabby without exercise. What would our imaginary mental scales say about yours? Time to get to work!

[1] From the book cover.

OF SHIPWRECKS AND SCRIPTURE: Worldview and You

G. K. Chesterton, the famous British author of the early 20th century, was once invited to a gathering of intellectuals where a question was posed: “If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what one book would you wish to have?”

Knowing his commitment to orthodox Christianity, most assumed Chesterton would answer, “The Bible.” Instead he replied, “Thomas’s Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

Many Christians today wouldn’t have been half as clever, because even if we know our bibles well, we do not know how to think biblically about life. We do not know how to answer non-biblical questions from the biblical worldview.

Everyone has a worldview, whether they realize it or not. Your worldview is the system of thought that helps you answer life’s four great questions: Where did we come from? What’s wrong with us? How can we solve life’s problems? What’s the ultimate purpose and meaning of life? Your worldview is the way you think the world works and how you fit in it.

The biblical worldview represents reality. It sees the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. It answers the four questions this way: We are created beings, made in the image of God, not random accidents of biology. We were created good with marvelous potential, but became broken and prone to evil when we rejected God, bringing all of creation under the curse when we did so. From that moment on, the cosmic Murphy’s Law applied: if something can go wrong, it will.

The solution to man’s problems is the work of redemption, recovering what was lost by the sacrifice of Christ for our sins, and the ongoing work of his people in restoring God’s order of things, healing the brokenness of the world wherever we find it with whatever works best. Thus Chesterton’s reply: Stranded sailors need books on shipbuilding. Stranded sinners, on the other hand, need the scriptures.

Ultimate meaning comes from glorifying God by fulfilling our purpose, knowing that, on the day Christ returns to renew all things, we will give an account to him for all that we have been given, and be rewarded for our faithfulness. Thomas’s redemptive purpose was to write that shipbuilding book; Chesterton’s was to build it.

The short version is: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration and Judgment. When we learn to sift every life situation, every opportunity, and every problem to be solved through that grid we will know how to respond with biblical wisdom, and even wit, to questions which cannot be answered with chapter and verse.

The Bible does not specifically address many things in life, but that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say about them. The trick is learning to think from a biblical worldview.

REAL HEAD SCRATCHERS

Things that make us scratch our heads:

Christians line up by the thousands to vote for an arrogant, rude, reckless, serial adulterer. Huh?

Once staunchly-biblical denominations line up to support blatantly anti-biblical forms of marriage. Wha?

Liberals of all stripes line up to support the right of Islamists to impose Sharia law in European democracies and American Universities. Really?

What’s up with that? How did we arrive at this state of confusion? The answer, in one word, is tolerance. Tolerance is the virtue most exalted in the last thirty years of Western Civilization. The thoughtless embrace of it has led us to this point.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “How can you say that? Tolerance is a good thing.” And I agree with you. But the late John R.W. Stott, in his book Contemporary Christian, outlined three kinds of tolerance. Christians ought to support the first two to the hilt and oppose the last kind to the last man.

Legal Tolerance
You and I should be committed to everyone’s right to think or say or preach anything he believes. It is the basic ‘freedom of religion’ that this country was founded upon. If someone wants to say that the rapture will happen next week he should have the freedom to do that. If someone wants to say that gender-dysphoric people should have the right to use the restroom of their choice, he or she should have the freedom to say that. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should run up our credit cards because Jesus is coming back on Friday, or that we should allow biologically male teens to use the girl’s restroom at the high school with our daughters. The freedom to believe and say something does not imply the obligation of everyone else to agree with us.

Social Tolerance
You and I should be equally careful to protect social tolerance. Social tolerance means respect for all people, regardless of the views they may hold.

I think gambling is a bad idea. I can argue against its legalization and preach against its corruptive power. I am not at liberty however to label every person who gambles as a supporter of the Mafia. Social tolerance means I try to understand the values and convictions of others without passing judgment on them.

Christians believe that all humans are made in the image of God and that He wants us to live together in harmony. “As much as it lies with you, be at peace with everyone,” said the Apostle Paul to the Romans. That’s social tolerance.

Intellectual Tolerance
Intellectual tolerance is something we should beware of and oppose. Intellectual tolerance means that we’re supposed to accept every idea and philosophy and doctrine uncritically as equal in value and virtue with every other idea.

Stott said it this way, “To cultivate a mind so broad that it can accommodate every opinion, however false or evil, without ever detecting anything to reject, is not a virtue; it is the vice of the feebleminded and amoral. It ends up in an unprincipled confusion of truth with error and goodness with evil.”

It leads to Evangelicals supporting an ungodly, unprincipled opportunist; to pastors and parishioners supporting same-sex marriage; to intellectual liberals supporting a political ideology dressed up as religion that oppresses minorities, abuses women, sponsors terrorism, and murders gays.

That confusion of truth with error and goodness with evil is why so many of us are scratching our heads. Intellectual tolerance is a subtle but powerful cultural current and it is easy to go with the flow. We who stake our lives on biblical truth are swimming upstream against it. But swim we must, trusting God that as we do truth will prevail.