What Does Matthew McConaughey Know that the Gospel Industrial Complex Does Not?

I am no fan of religious “journalism” that functions as publicity but here I may be guilty of that of which I complain — at least, to paraphrase the Pharisees, I’m no reporter.

All about mmmmeeeeEEEE, but I really like Nick Foles if only because he is so hard to like, not for having rough edges but for his vanilla qualities. He generally answers reporters questions with generic affirmations of hard work, team spirit, and respect for the other team — in a monotone that is singularly dull. He seems to suffer from the professional QB disease of not being fleet of foot. He even gets that deer-in-the-headlights look when on camera. After a scintillating start in his rookie season (under Chip Kelly, mind you), he fell back to the back of the pack.

Oh, by the way, he just won the Super Bowl, went pass-for-pass with the legendary Tom Brady, and also was MVP. Add to those accomplishments Foles’ profession of faith in Jesus Christ and his on-line seminary studies and you might think the journalists at Christianity Today or the “reporters” at Gospel Coalition would be delighted to draft on Foles’ success the way the Co-Allies did with Bubba Watson at the Masters, if only for the sake of winning more people to Christ. But no. Nothing at either website.

Not even the endorsement from Frank Reich, the Eagles’ Offensive Coordinator (and now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts), who was once-upon-a-time the president of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) commanded the gospel industrialists’ attention:

“Nick is the real deal — an authentic Christian who has a contagious love for Christ and for others,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich told The Washington Post in a text message.

Meanwhile, Matthew McConaughey took out a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman to congratulate Foles.

The actor’s response likely has nothing to do with the coverage that even the Washington Post gave to the Eagles’ QB:

Foles’s up-and-down career in the NFL, which included him considering retirement, has prepared him to discuss adversity and character building for a Christian audience. In a video on the YouVersion Bible app, he slipped into preacher mode by reading and explaining 2 Corinthians 12:9.

“This verse has brought so much meaning to my heart and in my life,” he says, later adding, “Everyone feels weak at some time in our lives, but we have to realize when we’re going through that, God’s shaping our hearts and allowing us to grow to become who he created us truly to be.”

He said the week of the Super Bowl that he envisions ministering to students because he understands the temptation with social media and the Internet.

“It’s something I want to do,” he said in an AP story. “I can’t play football forever. I’ve been blessed with an amazing platform, and it’s just a door God has opened, but I still have a lot of school left and a long journey.”

Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ injured starting quarterback, posted an Instagram picture with Foles before the game, writing, “God’s writing an unbelievable story and he’s getting all the glory!”

The Liberty connection may be what puts off the evangelicals in the center of evangelicaldom. Liberty University issued a press release that reads a lot like the kind of features reporting in evangelical publications:

Foles has been bold about his faith during his football career, indicating that he would like to be a youth pastor someday. As the Eagles were presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Foles held his infant daughter, Lily, and said, “Being here with my daughter, my wife, my teammmates, my city, we’re very blessed.” At the post-game press conference, he said God gets the glory. “I wouldn’t be out here without God, without Jesus in my life. I can tell you that, first and foremost in my life, I don’t have the strength to come out here and play a game like that. It’s an everyday walk.”

But Liberty’s president did not even spook the Washington Post’s editors who have been known to be a tad tough on Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s favorite POTUS:

Liberty President Jerry Falwell tweeted after the game: “Congratulations to Liberty student @NFoles_9 on an incredible performance tonight and on becoming the first @LibertyU student to quarterback a winning @SuperBowl team! Amazing job by @Eagles! Great game and a real testament to the character and perseverance of the Eagles team!”

So what gives? Even Liberty University English professor, Karen Swallow Prior, isn’t toxic for Christianity Today’s purposes.

My gut tells me Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition still hold a grudge against J. Gresham Machen who started Westminster in Center City Philadelphia. But don’t the editors know that Machen protested the change in Blue Laws that allowed the NFL to play on the Lord’s Day?


Could Billy Graham Stand in Alan Jacobs’ Great Day?

Jacobs is a smart fellow and should have enough sense to beware of crowds. If the group is running one way, to paraphrase Glenn Loury, “head for the other.” Right now, group-think is decidedly against any evangelical who supported or voted for Trump.

I did not vote for Trump nor am I an evangelical. So I am a neutral in all the Trump- and evangelical-bashing.

Jacobs recently attributed Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s folly in coddling up to the current POTUS to the poor education he received from his father, Jerry Falwell I:

Point the first: Jerry Falwell, Jr., though not a pastor and holding no advanced degrees in Bible or theology, graduated from two institutions founded by his pastor father for the express purpose of offering seriously Christian education: Liberty Christian Academy and then Liberty University. (JF Jr.’s college major was Religious Studies.)

Point the second: As is evident from the statements that French discusses in his post, Jerry Falwell, Jr. shows no evidence of having even the most elementary understanding of what the Bible says and what the Christian Gospel is.

The problem, as discerning readers will already have noted, is how to reconcile these two points. How could someone raised as Jerry Falwell, Jr. was raised, educated as he was educated, living as he now lives, say that Jesus “did not forgive the establishment elites”? Could he really not know that Jesus said of those establishment elites who killed him, “Father, forgive them”? And this is not an isolated incident. Quite often in recent months JF Jr. (like a number of other evangelical leaders) has made statements that clearly contradict some of the best-known passages in the Bible.

Notice what happens if you apply these standards to Billy Graham. Did his “decisionism” actually express the gospel faithfully? You don’t need to read white papers from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to know that the greatest evangelical of all time may have not used the best of methods or theology to reach the unconverted or lukewarm. Just listen to Tim Challies:

Last weekend Billy Graham preached at what may be his final crusade, preaching before up to 82,000 people at a time. A headline at Pastors.com proclaimed the crusade a great success, indicating that some 12,000 people made decisions for Christ. In a previous article I expressed concerns with Graham’s ecumenism and the fact that Roman Catholic counselors would be present at the event and any people who made decisions and indicated they were from a Catholic background would be directed back to their Catholic churches. Today I’d like to examine the idea of the “decision” that weights so heavily at these crusades.

If you were to do a survey of church history, reading books and documents from the first century all the way to the early nineteenth century, you would find no mention of “decisions for Christ.” Similarly one would find no reference to the altar calls which are the culmination of every modern evangelistic crusade. Those elements, which are found in nearly every evangelical church today, were inventions generally attributed to evangelist Charles Finney who lived from 1792 to 1875. He emphasized the need for a decision, usually made by “coming forward” to approach the altar. Becoming a believer became synonymous with making a decision and proving that decision by taking physical action. It is important to note that this system is entirely foreign to the Scriptures.


By the way, Billy Graham’s theological education was not exactly first-rate, but it didn’t prevent him from preaching his entire life. Nor did it raise questions about the institution where Alan Jacobs used to teach — Wheaton College — which in 1943 granted Graham a degree in — wait for it — anthropology.

In addition to Jacobs’ fastidiousness about Falwell’s theology is the professor’s distaste for the Liberty University president’s politics. Just say Donald Trump and you’ve said all you need to.

But just how reassuring were Billy Graham’s political ties during his long career? What would Jacobs’ have written about Billy Graham conducting worship services in the Nixon White House? And it went beyond worship:

Rev. Billy Graham, the Montreat-based, world-renowned evangelist, long ago addressed some of his troublesome interactions with President Richard Nixon, but disclosures about their behind-the-scenes connections have kept surfacing.

Now, formerly classified and otherwise hidden parts of the daily diary kept by Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, have added even more to the record on Nixon and Graham’s tight relationship.

Last week, on the day before Graham celebrated his 96th birthday, the Nixon Presidential Library posted most of the previously unreleased parts of Haldeman’s “candid personal record and reflections on events, issues and people encountered during his service in the Nixon White House,” as the library describes the diary.

The records add a new level of detail on how Nixon and Graham consulted and bolstered each other during contentious times, with dissent over the Vietnam War sweeping the country, the Watergate scandal erupting, and both men sizing up their standing in national debates.

Most of the records came in the form of audio recordings, which can be heard below.

They expand on how Graham advised Nixon to make more effective speeches, clinch his 1972 re-election bid, address the nation’s spiritual woes and conduct matters of war and diplomacy.

“I talked to Billy Graham during the day,” Haldeman, who ultimately became the key conduit between the preacher and the president, noted in one newly released tape from May 8, 1971, the day Nixon made a major address on his decision to expand the war in Southeast Asia.

“And he said to tell the president to get tough, that that’s what people wanted.”

The point here is not to besmirch Billy Graham. If you were an evangelical you had to scratch your head a lot. Instead, the point is to wonder about the bar that critics of evangelicals like Alan Jacobs are now raising for the likes of Jerry Falwell II. Old Life holds no brief for Mr. Falwell’s mix of religion and politics. But some can wonder where the critics were in the days of Billy Graham.

As the Church Lady used to say, “isn’t that convenient.”

Why Liberty U. May Be a Better Place to Study than Duke

Jerry Falwell, Jr. may have and still does support Donald Trump, but I doubt he’d let happen what Paul Griffiths, a very smart Roman Catholic scholar, is now experiencing for not submitting to sensitivity training (thanks to Rod). Griffiths’ description of the consequences of the politics of identity is a reminder that we have more to fear than Donald Trump:

These disciplinary proceedings are designed not to engage and rebut the views I hold and have expressed about the matters mentioned, but rather to discipline me for having expressed them. Elaine Heath and Thea Portier-Young, when faced with disagreement, prefer discipline to argument. In doing so they act illiberally and anti-intellectually; their action shows totalitarian affinities in its preferred method, which is the veiled use of institutional power. They appeal to non- or anti-intellectual categories (‘unprofessional conduct’ in Heath’s case; ‘harassment’ in Portier-Young’s) to short-circuit disagreement. All this is shameful, and I call them out on it.

Heath and Portier-Young aren’t alone among us in showing these tendencies. The convictions that some of my colleagues hold about justice for racial, ethnic, and gender minorities have led them to attempt occupation of a place of unassailably luminous moral probity. That’s a utopia, and those who seek it place themselves outside the space of reason. Once you’ve made that move, those who disagree with you inevitably seem corrupt and dangerous, better removed than argued with, while you seem to yourself beyond criticism. What you do then is discipline your opponents.

If only liberals were liberal.


How to Tell the Difference between Turkey and the U.S.

You don’t read about President Erdogan in the pages of Washington Post, New York Times, or New Yorker:

As Turkey heads toward a constitutional referendum designed to grant its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even greater powers, the polls predict a neck-and-neck race.

That doesn’t mean their chances are equal. While the April vote is likely to be free, whether it will be fair — given rising repression of political dissent and the ongoing state of emergency — is another question.

Take the case of İrfan Değirmenci, a well-known news anchor for Kanal D, who explained his opposition to the proposed changes in a series of tweets earlier this month. “No to the one who views scientists, artists, writers, cartoonists, students, workers, farmers, miners, journalists and all who do not obey as the enemy,” he wrote.

He was promptly fired.

Değirmenci’s dismissal has heightened fears among No campaigners that those who oppose the new constitution will be subject to threats and intimidation ahead of the referendum on April 16.

“A lot of people are risking their careers and their future by openly and publicly campaigning for No,” said İlhan Tanir, a Turkish columnist and analyst based in Washington. “There is nothing fair about this.”

Government supporters face no such risk: While Kanal D claimed Değirmenci had been let go for violating the media group’s neutrality rule, Yes supporters have been free to air their views in the pages of Hürriyet, which belongs to the same group.

Hurriyet itself — a newspaper that positions itself as neutral — has muted critical voices: Its editors last week scrapped an interview with Orhan Pamuk, in which the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist explained his reasons for voting No.

So why do elite journalists cover the Trump administration as if we’re living in the television series, Man in the High Castle. Perhaps because they believe in American innocence as much as Jerry Falwell, Jr.


Cherry Picking Amendments

I am no fan of the National Rifle Association. Having grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I have no first hand knowledge with weapons — either for self-defense or sport. My own politics tell me that if I am going to support the Second Amendment (and my right to bear arms), I should also be opposed to standing militias. Which I am. Hey now. The way I read the politics of England and British America is that the right to bear arms was part of a citizens militia where ordinary people would fight the battles of the nation — and so they needed guns. If I’m going to fight as an ordinary citizen today, I need either a rocket launcher or a drone. Conceal and carry that.

But I am intrigued by John Piper’s remarks about Jerry Falwell’s remarks on Christians carrying guns and how Piper is being picked up by some evangelical academics. This was a line that caught my attention since it has the ring of 2k to it:

the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3)…. exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.

I agree.

But then I had to wonder about some of Piper’s recent reflections about race in the United States and all the attention that he received for descrying the real bigotry that exists in this society. Did Piper adopt a spirituality of the church mindset then? Did he call for Christians to act like strangers and aliens or did he aid and abet progressive policy reforms that would make the United States a safer and more equitable place? Here is something the Minneapolis pastor wrote a year ago:

Jesus said that anger is motivationally equivalent to murder (Matthew 5:21–22). But he did not say the outcomes are equivalent. After murder somebody is dead, but not necessarily after anger. According to Romans 13:1–7, God put government in place not to remove the anger, but to keep it from becoming murder. He put the gospel of Christ in place to transform anger into love. This double divine work of government and gospel is also true in regard to lust leading to rape, greed leading to stealing, fear leading to perjury, intrigue leading to treason, and racial prejudice leading to racial injustice.

Laws don’t save souls. But they do save lives and livelihoods. And that matters for those of us who want to reach people with the heart-transforming gospel. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that is pretty important, also.”

I wouldn’t but I could well imagine someone making the same point about citizen Christians owning and carrying guns. “Guns don’t save souls. But they do save lives and livelihoods.”

So I am once again left wondering about the selective appropriation of both the spirituality of the church and our nation’s Bill of Rights. Why single out gun owners but not also call American Christians to put no trust in Fourteenth Amendment (which is backed up by officials — some of them Christians — with guns)? Here are a few other places where Piper’s embrace of civil rights and repudiation of gun rights seems off:

Few messages are more needed among American Christians today than 1 Peter 4:12: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Fiery trials are not strange. And the trials in view are hostilities from unbelievers, as the next verse shows: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” These trials are normal. That may not be American experience, but it is biblical truth.

Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.

For Piper that’s a reason for Christians not to have guns, but would he have said that to African-Americans — “you need to suffer more” — who sought and seek equality under the law?

Or let me ask, would Piper say the same as this about civil rights legislation?

I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.

I don’t think Piper actually puts his hope in the nation’s laws. But has he warned his fans and appropriators about the proximate or relative good of improved race relations in the United States compared to the real hope that animates believers?

And if Piper would not even call the police for the defense of his family from an assailant, why would Piper support laws to protect African-Americans from oppressors?

There is, as I have tried to show, a pervasive thrust in the New Testament pushing us toward blessing and doing good to those who hate, curse, and abuse us (Luke 6:27–28). And there is no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military. This is remarkable when you think about it, since I cannot help but think this precise situation presented itself, since we read that Saul drug men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2).

2) Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this threat to my wife or daughter or friend, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.

Maybe the problem is that of being the holy pontiff of Minneapolis. Sometimes pastors think they need to comment on everything. Often, even those with a curia behind them, can’t keep up with everything they say. If only every pastor and theologian had a Denzinger.


Is Anyone Reliable?

First the light show at the Vatican.

Then the statement that evangelism of Jews is out.

Now some of the Roman Catholic intelligentsia say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (even though they gather on different days of the week and one prays in Jesus’ name, along with Mary). Francis Beckwith, former head of the Evangelical Theological Society, squishes:

So the fact that Christians may call God “Yahweh” and Muslims call God “Allah” makes no difference if both “Gods” have identical properties. In fact, what is known as classical theism was embraced by the greatest thinkers of the Abrahamic religions: St. Thomas Aquinas (Christian), Moses Maimonides (Jewish), and Avicenna (Muslim). Because, according to the classical theist, there can only in principle be one God, Christians, Jews, and Muslims who embrace classical theism must be worshipping the same God. It simply cannot be otherwise.

But doesn’t Christianity affirm that God is a Trinity while Muslims deny it? Wouldn’t this mean that they indeed worship different “Gods”? Not necessarily. Consider this example. Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.” On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of “being a father to several of SHs children.”

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not.

Paul Moses at Commonweal writes that Wheaton College, in putting on administrative leave, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, has succumbed to anti-Muslim bigotry because Miroslav Volf has written (noting looking to a Protestant for support):

Muslims and Christians who embrace the normative traditions of their faith refer to the same object, to the same Being, when they pray, when they worship, when they talk about God. The referent is the same.

But it wasn’t so long ago that some Roman Catholics were saying that Islam was not a religion of peace (which would seem to make it a different religion from Christianity even though I demurred). Wasn’t it Joseph Pearce who wrote:

The fate of the liberals in the future Eurabia does not look good. May the God in whom they do not believe help them. And may he forgive my own irresistible sense of schadenfreude at the whole pathetic scenario. As for me, I’m with Mrs. Burrows against the world and all the fallacious “peace” it has to offer. With Shakespeare’s Mercutio, I end with a note of defiance to Islam and its liberal enemy: A plague a’ both houses!

And didn’t Fr. James Schall also highlight the distance between Islam and Christianity?

What has to be faced by everyone is not the ‘violence’ of Islam, but its truth. We may not ‘like’ a jihadist view of the Quran. But we denigrate the dignity of ISIS and other violent strains in both Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam that clearly see that their interpretation of Islam has legitimate roots in the Quran, in Islamic history and in the judgment of many authoritative commentators.

So I’m left wondering. Do Roman Catholics celebrate the victory of Christendom at the Battle of Lepanto or not?

P.S. And Jerry Falwell Jr. is beyond the pale?