Join John Stonestreet for a daily dose of sanity—applying a Christian worldview to culture, politics, movies, and more. And be a part of God's work restoring all things.
Join John Stonestreet for a daily dose of sanity—applying a Christian worldview to culture, politics, movies, and more. And be a part of God's work restoring all things.
Pastor or Parrot?
Pastoring is always a difficult job. I can’t think of another job, in fact, in which someone is hired to do one thing (typically, lead and disciple God’s people) but evaluated on a completely different thing (namely, growing the audience and the budget).
Pastoring during coronavirus seems even more unenviable. Zoom stock might be way up as the new prefered platform for corporations and schools, but there no digital substitute for the sort of face-to-face work pastoring requires. When to close down was a tough decision. When to reopen is even more difficult. If pastors choose to strictly adhere to state guidelines, they will upset people. If they ignore or relax those guidelines, they upset others. In almost every church I know of, pastors face a no-win proposition right now.
In addition to navigating a global pandemic, pastors must also deal with our already intense and only intensifying cultural firestorms. While we all must navigate the issues of race, sexuality and gender, criminal justice, political divisions, and other markers of our fallen human nature that dominate this cultural moment, pastors face expectations that many of us don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this phrase on social media recently: “If your pastor doesn’t preach about X from the pulpit this Sunday, it’s time to find a new church.” Same phrase, but the X changes with the headlines.
Don’t get me wrong. As the true account of the human condition, the Bible has this quality of universal relevance. Pastors should make the connection between the timeless truths of Scripture and our particular context, in their preaching and in their leading. There are times that to not address something from the pulpit is to be louder than addressing it, and churches that never address controversial issues risk giving their people the impression that the Bible is our own personal, private collection of encouragements rather than the personal, public and true account of the human condition.
At the same time, the loud demands placed today on pastors to not only hold but to articulate our approved opinions reveals more about us than about our pastors. After all, if we are confident our pastors are called by God and entrusted by Him to lead us into His Word and His will, that leaves little room for making demands on what he teaches.
Also, our loud demands that a pastor “talk about subject X,” almost always means “say specifically what I want him to say about subject X.” But that also means we’re not really looking for a pastor or a teacher anymore. We’re looking for a parrot.
The demands pastors face can range from mountains to molehills but, in too many cases, they are treated the same. To bring up the most common elephant in the sanctuary today, everyone has strong feelings about masks. I do too. But being asked to wear a mask in church by pastors seeking to comply with civic authorities or protect the health of parishioners is not a matter of orthodoxy. This is not a sufficient cause of outrage or of making demands for our pastor’s compliance. And it’s certainly not worth leaving a church over.
Keep in mind that pastors are called to shepherd specific congregations. Though the big cultural issues are always relevant, each community and each congregation find themselves in a specific time and place (as Paul told the Athenians) with specific people and circumstances all orchestrated by God. For example, a church connected to an addiction recovery center, as is the home church of a colleague, will be made of people with specific needs and challenges that others may not have.
What is really at stake here is that we all need to foster a proper ecclesiology, (that’s a $.50 word for the doctrine of the church). When we view church like we do so much of 21st-century western life, as consumers, we’ll see church as a pl
Children, the Church, and the Culture War
A few days ago, a colleague shared comments he and his wife get when people find out they have seven kids: “Are they all yours?” “Were they all planned?” “What are you, Mormon?” And, most awkward of all: “You know what causes that, right?”
This kind of reaction to large families, which I’ve gotten with only four kids, reveals the assumptions about children that largely go unquestioned in our culture, even in the Church.
It is widely assumed, for example, that children are a choice. This was not always so. The introduction of reliable contraception, especially the pill, made it possible to divorce the inherent connection between sex, marriage, and procreation.
The cultural journey through the sexual revolution went something like this: First, we wanted sex outside of marriage. That required having sex without the threat of babies. Then we wanted babies outside of marriage, and even today, babies without sex. Somewhere along the way, the idea of marriage without children, intentionally I mean, became common too. Even among Christian couples, the idea of not only delaying children but choosing to not have them at all is, in many circles, non-controversial.
In previous generations, an intentionally childless marriage would have been unthinkable. Infertility, as so many couples are painfully aware, is tragic. Intentional infertility is considered a choice today.
Another assumption that controls our cultural thinking is that we have children in order to fulfill adult longings. This shift goes hand in hand with seeing marriage as fundamentally an institution of adult happiness, rather than as an institution to protect and enable the next generation.
When kids are thought of in terms of personal fulfillments, how we go about “obtaining” them becomes less important. Or not at all. And so, the sexual revolution is punctuated by ethically problematic reproductive technologies and intentionally single-parent households, not to mention same-sex households who want children even after entering an intrinsically sterile sexual union.
In short, after seeking the moral acceptance of sex without marriage or sex without children for so long, we now seek moral acceptance of having children without marriage or even without sex. Left out of our moral calculations is what happens to children who primarily exist to fulfill adult longings.
We will soon know. According to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, America has gotten older faster over the last ten years than at any other time in history. Since 2010, Americans over 65 have become the fastest-growing segment of the population. Meanwhile, the number of those under 18 actually shrank between 2010 and 2019. If this continues, by 2035, senior citizens will outnumber minors in America in an unprecedented “top-heavy” arrangement with all sorts of social, economic, and political instability.
This news comes at a moment many Christians are already wondering what America their children will inherit. No matter what we do or how we vote or even who is appointed to the Supreme Court, it seems, our culture and country continue to drift in an anti-Christian direction.
In response to a recent disappointing opinion from the Supreme Court, Pastor Kevin DeYoung proposed a new “culture war strategy.” Writing at The Gospel Coalition, DeYoung urged Christians to “have more children and disciple them like crazy.” As my Tennessee friend might say, it’s not rocket-surgery.
The heated reactions to DeYoung’s blog post, especially from other Christians, shows just how counter-cultural it has become to embrace the inherent created connection between sex, marriage, and children, even within the Church.
Of course, the reason Christians of all people should welcome children into our lives and even into our troubled times is not ultimately to win a culture war. As DeY
Podcast: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep with?
It might be the biggest stumbling block for modern non-believers: The Christian view of sex. Why, as author Sam Alberry asks in his new book, does God care who I sleep with?"
Sam Alberry, pastor, speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministry, and visiting professor at Cedarville University joins Shane Morris today on the BreakPoint Podcast.
Resources: Why Does God Care Who I Sleep with? by Sam Alberry
“A Christian View of Money: God’s Economy vs. the World’s,” a Colson Center Short Course. Register by July 7.
The Supreme Court, Abortion, and Religious Freedom
John Stonestreet and Shane Morris discuss last week's momentous Supreme Court decisions: one that handcuffs states that try to restrict abortion, and one that protects religious institutions--especially schools--from discrimination by the government.
Also on today's program: China's new security law could spell the end of democratic Hong Kong. Will other nations and especially international corporations push back on Beijing? Shane Morris shares a portion of his BreakPoint Podcast interview with Jason Thacker, author of The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity. Finally, John and Shane answer your questions about the Christian perspective on the death penalty and the state mandating masks in church.
Resources: The Impact of the Supreme Court’s Louisiana Abortion Decision, a BreakPoint Podcast interview with Dr. Charmaine Yoest
“Justice Roberts Cites Precedent to Uphold Evil of Abortion,” By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, BreakPoint
“Supreme Court Says States Cannot Discriminate Against Religious Schools,” by John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, BreakPoint
“China’s Threat to Religious Freedom in Hong Kong,” by John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, BreakPoint
The Age of Artificial Intelligence, a BreakPoint Podcast Interview with Jason Thacker
A New Declaration of Dependence—On God
On July 4, 2004, Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint commentary was entitled “A New Declaration of Dependence.” Reading through it again recently, I was struck by just how prophetic his words were.
As a student of history, Chuck not only understood the founding principles of our nation, supremely expressed in the Declaration of Independence, he understood on what those principles were grounded.
What happens, Chuck asked, when the foundations are rejected? What happens when religion and truth and public virtue are all made non-essential? What happens when citizens want the benefits of the American experiment without taking seriously what it requires from us?
Here is Chuck Colson from July 2, 2004:
July 4 celebrates our liberty and our national independence. Americans will hoist their flags, march in parades, and set off fireworks. I get a thrill every time I hear the cannons blast that rousing finale of the “1812 Overture.” And I get a lump in my throat whenever I join in singing "America, America, God shed His grace on thee.”
Indeed, God has blessed America. This nation, dedicated to the proposition that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, has endured 228 years. America is the oldest constitutional republic on earth.
But all is not well in our land. When Thomas Jefferson penned the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence, he deliberately appealed to the Creator. He acknowledged an overriding obligation to “Nature and Nature's God.” And he understood that ordered liberty is not just a subjective preference, but a divinely ordained condition for which human beings are designed.
But over the last few decades, legions of skeptics have mounted a massive assault on these “self-evident truths.” In prestigious law schools, in the halls of government, and especially in the Supreme Court, God is often banished from public conversation. If a public school teacher introduces Jefferson's ideas and language into the classroom today, she would likely be called on the carpet—and possibly disciplined.
This assault on God in public culture severely damages our republic. If God is thrown out of our history, we lose our basis for believing that individuals have rights and dignity. In an empty universe, we have no meaning, no value. Without God there are no unalienable rights, and no certain proof that liberty is better than tyranny or that life better than death. Everything is a matter of opinion and power.
The references to God in the Declaration of Independence provide a foundation for a moral argument within civil society. And moral truths pervade our founding documents from beginning to end. Without God as the source of all those moral principles, the public square would quickly revert to the law of the jungle. Brutish power would prevail. The weak, the unborn, the elderly, and the gravely ill could be quietly terminated.
As much as I enjoy the anthems and the fireworks, more than that is called for on this July 4th. We need to confess our moral failures and our national sins. Repent of the lies that have justified killing innocent babies and the elderly. Renewal begins on our knees. It's there that we hear soul-searching questions from God Himself, asking: “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?...Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Our nation's founding document declared independence from Britain, but, with equal fervor, declared dependence upon God. Expressing “firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence,” the signers committed the American experiment to their Maker. The Spirit of 1776 was reverence and trust.
So as we mark this solemn occasion, let us seek a rebirth of true liberty, which is possible only when governed by divine law. For, without God, we can never have “liberty and justi
Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, the DC Sniper, and the Importance of Fathers
Like many basketball junkies deprived of March Madness and the NBA playoffs, I devoured ESPN’s 10-part series “The Last Dance,” the definitive account of one of the NBA’s G.O.A.T (“greatest of all time), Michael Jordan. Anyone who watched the emergence of the Bulls in the 1990’s knew that Jordan’s talent and athleticism was matched only by his drive, but I’m not sure any of us fully understood his unique ability to manufacture grudges for competitive advantage, or to either motivate or run off teammates.
In one area, however, Michael Jordan was just like the rest of us. The series dove deeply into his love and devotion for his dad. The greatest athlete of the 20th century, the international icon and billionaire, longed for his dad’s acceptance and love just like everyone else, from the time he was a boy until long after his dad was murdered in North Carolina in 1993. His dad was the reason for his first retirement. His dad is the reason behind the iconic photo of Jordan heaving tears, hugging the championship trophy, after returning to the game.
The film also covers the career of Dennis Rodman, perhaps the greatest rebounder in basketball history and an unexpected ingredient in the second half of the Bulls dynasty. Rodman grew up without a father but found one, after his unlikely journey to the NBA, in Chuck Daly, the coach of the Detroit Pistons. After being traded to Chicago, Rodman continued to perform well on the court, but without Daly’s guidance, went off the rails off the court. Today, he’s less known for basketball than he is for substance abuse, Vegas bingers, dating Madonna, getting arrested, wearing a wedding dress and hanging out with Korean dictator Kim Jong un.
Another series I’ve binged during quarantine was the podcast “Monster: DC Sniper.” In October of 2002, John Allen Muhammad (aged 41) and Lee Boyd Malvo (aged 17) held Washington DC, northern Virginia, and Maryland hostage with fear during a three-week random shooting rampage.
A key factor behind the entire horrifying saga, at least according to the series, is Lee Boyd Malvo’e desperate need for a father. Malvo met John Allen Muhammad when he was 13, and Muhammad treated him like a son, trusting and affirming him. Muhammad even introduced Malvo to others as his son. So, Malvo followed him, back and forth across the country, and four years later, on a shooting spree that would kill at least eleven people in three states.
A dominant narrative today is that fathers are expendable except for, perhaps, genetic and financial contributions. Either life goes on just fine without them, or they can be easily replaced by a “loving parent.” The stories of Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, and Lee Boyd Malvo, however, suggest that there is a dad-shaped hole in all us that only dads can fill.
Of course, many people have fared well without dads, and many haven’t fared so well with dads. Heroic single parents are everywhere, as are grandparents and extended family members, foster care parents, and others who step in to fill the gap left by absent dads. But still, the data could not be more clear: dads matter.
Back in 1992, Vice- President Dan Quayle was derided for saying as much in response to sitcom character Murphy Brown having a child outside of marriage and without the father involved. The whole saga likely cost him the presidency. (Either that, or it was because he couldn’t spell potato).
The following year, in an Atlantic article, Barbara Defoe Whitehead proclaimed “Dan Quayle was Right”. According to “a growing body of social-scientific evidence,” she wrote, “children in families disrupted by divorce and out-of-wedlock birth do worse than children in intact families on several measures of well-being.” Today, nearly three decades later, we know that “do worse” is an understatement. “Children in singl
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Great, succinct coverage of hot topics
I’m always impressed by how succinctly this podcast covers hot topics and breaking news of interest to Christians. Always worth the listen.
Thought-Provoking Every Time
This podcast is a must if you want to live out your Christian faith in the world. They evaluate the cultural trends and life’s events - incredibly helpful to me as a Believer. Breakpoint reminds me that ALL of life is spiritual. I’m challenged and/or encouraged each time I hear an episode. It helps me not to compartmentalize my faith.
Breakpoint this week - a Super Tuesday surprise?
I’m going to be honest and say that when this title showed up in my playlist feed for my Saturday morning long run my first thought was, “not another discussion about politics”, but I decided to leave it and, if I didn’t like it just skip to the next podcast in my play list. I’m so glad I did! This was one of the best discussions I’ve listened to in a while. It was informative and also made me think. It addressed some of the theological matters I’ve been thinking about recently (divine providence?), and provided sources for further reading. I am probably going to listen again. Thank you,