John Stonestreet and Kasey Leander

Tis the Season for Christology: How the Hymns of Christmas Teach Right Doctrine

Christmas announces His lordship over all creation. His life, obedience, death, and resurrection ensure that the darkness will end, and that He is the light that comes into the world and reveals the truth about everything. In this and every season, there is hope. This invites us to sing along and share these truths with a world in darkness. 

Recently, my colleague Kasey Leander sat down with Dr. Andrew Newell of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, to discuss the Christmas hymn, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Originally published in 1739, the song is a treasure of orthodox Christology, something just as needed today as it was in the 18th century.
As Newell explained, England at that time was beset with theological challenges. After a profound cultural upheaval during the previous century, the Church of England had replaced much of its theological vigor with a more stagnant faith, one that de-emphasized doctrine in favor of “reasonable religion,” outward works, and Enlightenment thinking. Largely missing was a commitment to the notion that Christianity was actually true, and thus required of Christians personal conviction, repentance, and transformation.  
Likewise, heresies such as Arianism, the false religion centered around the idea that Jesus was not God incarnate but merely a created being, had gained new traction. In fact, Charles Wesley thought Arianism a big enough threat to directly counter, when he compared it to the “wormwood” of Revelation 8:10-11: 
How has he shed his baleful power,  
Wasted the earth, and peopled hell,  
While millions drink the Arian lie 
And yet, in the midst of this bleak scene, revival was stirring, which could be seen in central Europe among the Moravian Christians, across the Atlantic with Jonathan Edwards, and at Oxford University in the “Holy Club” founded by George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, and others. In England, members of the Holy Club preached, wrote hymns, and published sermons. When church doors were closed on them, they met in open fields. 
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Loving Our Neighbors, Telling the Truth about Identity and Gender

James calls followers of Christ to be, “gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Silence might be easier…however, we must take the posture of engaging the issues—not avoiding them—and especially of engaging people with truth and love as Christ did. 

The questions we receive more than all others have to do with how best to respond to friends, family members, and neighbors who struggle with gender dysphoria. The rational case for humans as either male or female is strong, as are arguments from history, biology, law, and theology. However, arguments that would’ve been considered obvious not that long ago often seem to go nowhere with someone desperately reaching for answers or affirmation. 
The number of Americans who report personally knowing someone who struggles with gender dysphoria now approaches 50%. Thus, Christians should be prepared, as best as we can, for these scenarios which we are now more likely to encounter than not. When unprepared, too many Christians simply go quiet, and in the process, go along with transgender ideology—not because they believe it but because rocking the boat seems too risky. Rather than truly loving our neighbors, something admittedly difficult, we instead choose the easier path of not offending and only affirming. We then name that path “love,” but it’s neither loving nor true.  
The story of Holy Scripture, in each of its four chapters, contextualizes what is true about every person, including the created reality of sexual distinction. First, that God created and values our bodies, which are made male and female for His purposes. Second, the Fall, while validating the pain and discomfort that many people feel within their own bodies, dispels the idea that what we feel should be accepted as true. In fact, it may be false, confused, and harmful.  Third, that Christ is making all things new through His life, obedience, death, and resurrection, all of which came by God Himself taking on a human body. Fourth, one day the pain of dysphoria will be fully healed when our faith becomes sight. 
The topic of transgenderism requires, first and foremost, theological clarity. Children must hear, over and over, God’s design for sexuality and the body articulated. If they haven’t heard it, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn how many struggle in silence.   
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Dating is Broken

Purpose does not guarantee success, of course, but it can define a life of faithfulness and meaning, whatever our place in life and whatever obstacles we face. Like everything else, all of our human relationships are touched by the Fall. But our purpose as human beings, given by God in creation, remains. Christ’s redemptive work stretches as wide as creation to all of our relationships.  

According to Michal Leibowitz in an opinion piece for The New York Times, “Dating is broken.”  
When Pew Research surveyed those in the dating scene, 67% of respondents answered that their dating life was not going well. Though 25% percent said it was easy to find a date, the rest reported finding it either very or somewhat difficult. And, those are just the results among those who are actively dating. About half of single Americans, by contrast, have stopped looking. 
Meanwhile, the number of single people in the U.S. is at an all-time high, with nearly 1 in 3 U.S. households representing someone living alone. Though many gladly opt for the single life, others feel trapped by social trends they didn’t invent, either caught in a cycle of short-term relationships or starved for options in a world that doesn’t seem to share their values.  
Technology is a major factor behind the significant changes in all human relationships. After Tinder turned 10 years old this year, journalist Catherine Pearson offered what she called, “a moment of collective reflection about how apps have reshaped not just dating culture, but also the emotional lives of longtime users.” One young woman told Pearson that she’s “over it all: the swiping, the monotonous getting-to-know-you conversations and the self-doubt that creeps in when [matches fizzle].” (That’s leaving aside issues of harassment and abuse, something more than 60% of women say they’ve experienced on a dating site.)  
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Cheating in Sports and the Rest of Life

This phenomenon applies to sports as much as to marriage, to international economics as much as to personal finance, to lawmaking as much as to law keeping, to policing as much as to criminal activity. Technology may help us better detect cheating, but it won’t produce humans who won’t try. If we think otherwise, it’s because our worldview is cheating us.  

Recently, five-time world chess champion Magnus Carlsen resigned a match with 19-year-old Hans Niemann and accused his opponent of cheating. His allegations have since been substantiated. In professional poker, a relative newcomer was accused of cheating in a game in which she won over $260,000. The CRLG, the world’s largest competitive Irish dancing organization, just launched a widespread investigation of cheating, which included offering sexual favors for presiding judges. And in a video gone viral, over 8 lbs. of lead weights were removed from the bellies of Ohio walleyes caught in a professional fishing tournament. 
The string of cheating scandals points to a reality of the human condition after the Fall, a reality that spans time and place and cultures and even sports, ranging from the popular to the less than popular. At the Olympic Games of 388 B.C., the 98th Olympic games, a boxer named Eupolus of Thessaly bribed three opponents to throw the match. In response, the Greeks raised statues of Zeus along the route to the competition, with lightning bolts raised to punish those who would bribe or cheat their way to victory. The irony, of course, is that Zeus, “the Oath Giver” was a notorious oath breaker, cheating again and again on his wife Hera. And lest we pick on professional fishing, we should remember NFL’s “Deflategate” and the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. 
What is odd about our time and place is the outrage over lead weights in dead fish and yet our simultaneous shrugs over affairs, open marriages, and no-fault divorce. A recent YouGov poll found that roughly a quarter of Americans were interested in an open relationship. According to Gallup polling, though the divorce rate has actually dipped in recent years, the social acceptability of divorce is at an all-time high. 
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The Church’s Lane is the Whole Cosmos

Christian citizens of a democratic republic should strive, with humility and wisdom, to influence and govern and live together as if Christ is over it all, because He is. We contend for the well-being of our neighbors, even when it’s unpopular. The question isn’t whether Christians should engage politically, but whether we will do it well. We don’t live in a theocracy, and pastors aren’t policy makers. But Christians are to apply God’s truth about everything to everything.  

Recently, a denominational leader said to me that the best thing that the Church could do to handle the challenges of this cultural moment would be to “stay in its lane.” That the so-called “culture wars” have been grueling, and the Church is primarily called to spread the Gospel. That when it comes to the most controversial issues, the best strategy is non-confrontation and to focus on what is most important.  
I think I know what he meant. There’s certainly truth to the idea that Christians overemphasize politics. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, politics makes a lousy worldview. In a culture without better answers to life’s biggest questions, politics too easily assumes the place of God, determining everything from our values to our sources of truth to who we’re willing to associate with. When Christians embrace a political identity rather than a Kingdom identity, the riches of Christ are exchanged for the porridge of political gamesmanship.  
However, telling the Church to just “stay in our lane” and out of politics is an equally unhelpful answer. Typically, the “stay in your lane” mandate is only applied to unpopular issues, like abortion, marriage and family, or religious freedom. No one ever tells the Church to stop fighting against sex trafficking, or to no longer dig wells for communities without fresh water, or to cease sustainable economic development in impoverished nations. Christians should absolutely engage worthy causes because the Lordship of Christ and the implications of the Gospel demand it, not because they are deemed culturally uncontroversial.  
Historically, the Church’s shining moments have often come in direct conflict with dominant cultural beliefs and practice. The Roman world needed Christians to take in abandoned children and oppose the gladiatorial games, precisely because the pressure was enormous to do exactly the opposite.
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Gender Transition for Minors: What Does the Research Say?

Even while many nations pump the brakes on radical transgender ideology and healthcare practices, Americans at both the state and federal level continue to push culture-wide affirmation, social transition of minors, hormone therapies, and harmful surgeries. Advocates frequently claim that so-called and misnamed “gender-affirming” treatments—including surgery—“save lives,” that gender dysphoria is a permanent condition even among minors, and that regret by those who undergo such treatments are minimal or non-existent.  
Increasingly, research suggests otherwise. Until recently, activists were able to hide behind a very limited number of studies, some of which even seemed to confirm what those activists wanted to hear. No more. With a 900% increase in young people claiming gender dysphoria, the amount of data in recent years has sharply increased.  
The data is overwhelming. Contrary to what is consistently filling our newsfeeds, there is a disturbing lack of evidence that intervening in a child’s gender development produces beneficial results of any kind. More than that, many studies are showing a strong potential for lasting harm.  
Last month, Dr. Stan Weed with the Institute for Research and Evaluation produced an invaluable paper on the subject, entitled “Transgender Research: Five Things Every Parent and Policy-Maker Should Know.” In it, Weed summarizes dozens of studies from around the world on five of the most hotly debated transgender talking points. For example, about the benefits and harms of cross-sex medical treatment for minors, the highly respected British Medical Journal concluded:  
Puberty blockers are being used in the context of profound scientific ignorance…There are a large number of unanswered questions that include the age at start, reversibility; adverse events, long term effects on mental health, quality of life, bone mineral density, osteoporosis in later life and cognition…The current evidence base does not support informed decision making and safe practice in children. 
On whether medical transition improves rates of suicidal ideation for trans-identifying youth, one group of researchers observed:  
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Why Are Men in Crisis?

This corresponds with a dramatic crisis in terms of sociability. As Andrew Yang noted, “Roughly one-third of men are either unemployed or out of the workforce,” and correspondingly, “more U.S. men ages 18 to 34 are now living with their parents than with romantic partners.” Galloway noted an even more surprising statistic: Fewer than 1 in 3 men under the age of 30 have had sex in the last year.  
Shocking though it is, that last statistic isn’t primarily about sex. Rather, it points to a deeper problem. Young men aren’t forming social bonds with real, live people, even the kinds of bonds that have historically captured their attention.  
The question is, why?  
Maher nods at digital technology, arguing that it keeps men away from the skills they need to form real relationships. Galloway agrees: Tinder in particular has been a “disaster,” reinforcing the lie that video game addiction and pornography already sell. Happiness, these platforms imply, does not require effort or sacrifice. Just a screen.  
 Andrew Yang put it this way: “Here’s the simple truth I’ve heard from many men. We need to be needed. We imagine ourselves as builders, soldiers, workers, brothers—part of something bigger than ourselves. We deal with idleness terribly.”  
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Is the New Atheism Dead?

In addition to their own jarring polemics and personal misfires, the New Atheists failed to realize that religion, especially Christianity, was the proverbial branch upon which they were sitting. For example, the freedom of expression depends on a number of assumptions, that there is objective truth, that it can be discovered, that it is accessible to people regardless of race or class, that belief should be free instead of coerced, that people have innate value, and that because of this value they should not be silenced. Every one of these ideas assumes the kind of world described in the Bible and mediated across centuries of Christian thought. Not one of these assumptions can be grounded in a purposeless world that is the product of only natural causes and processes.  

Though it’s not always clear when a movement is over, there are many indicators that suggest this is the case of the “New Atheism,” a cultural wave that rose in the 2000s and aggressively attacked religion in the guise of scientific rationalism. Despite the name, the New Atheism wasn’t really new, at least not in the sense of presenting new arguments. Instead, leveraging the global shock of 9/11, New Atheists pushed an anti-religious mood along with a vision of a society free from the cobwebs of religion, defined by scientific inquiry, free speech, and a morality not built on God or religious traditions. 
In 1996, prominent New Atheist Richard Dawkins articulated this mood in his acceptance speech for the “Humanist of the Year” Award: “I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils,” he said, “comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.” There was a commercial aspect to the New Atheism, with bumper stickers and T-shirts carrying well-worn slogans, such as one coined by Victor Stenger: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”  
Though, at the time, it grew into somewhat of a cultural force and platformed a group of minor celebrities, the New Atheism now seems to have run out of steam. Divided by progressive politics and haunted by the obnoxious tone of many of its own founders, the movement is being devoured by other ideologies. Concepts like freedom of expression, scientific realism, and morality without God have all met their antitheses, often in clashes featuring the New Atheists themselves.  
One watershed moment was a conflict over the role of science. Just last year, the American Humanist Association revoked Richard Dawkins’ “Humanist of the Year” award for his long history of offensive tweets. For example, Dawkins told women who experience sexual harassment to “stop whining” and parents of babies with Down syndrome to “abort and try again.”
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No Civilization Without Restraint: Wise Words From 1939

Unwin’s conclusions can be boiled down to a single issue. Are people living for the future, with the ability to delay gratification, or are they focusing only on the here and now? When a culture fails to restrain its sexual instincts, people think less about securing the future and instead compromise the stability, productivity, and the well-being of the next generation in the pursuit of sexual pleasure.  Unwin claims that he had no moral or ideological axe to grind in this research. “I make no opinion about rightness or wrongness,” he wrote. But his work is nevertheless profound, as are his conclusions, which we seem to be living out in real time.  

It is not normal or healthy for a culture to talk about sex this much. From Pride month to education to companies telegraphing their commitments to inclusion and diversity, to just about every commercial, movie, or TV show produced today, sexual identity is treated as if it is central to human identity, human purpose, and human happiness. And this vision of life and the world is especially force-fed to children, who are essentially subjects of our social experimentations. 
“If the energy spent talking about sex is disproportionate, it’s important to know there were some who saw this coming. The best example is Oxford sociologist J.D. Unwin. In 1939, Unwin published a landmark book summarizing his research. Sex and Culture was a look at 80 tribes and six historical civilizations over the course of five millennia, through the lens of a single question: Does a culture’s ideas of sexual liberation predict its success or collapse? ”
Unwin’s findings were overwhelming: 
“Just as societies have advanced [and] then faded away into a state of general decrepitude, so in each of them has marriage first previously changed from a temporary affair based on mutual consent to a lifelong association of one man with one woman, and then turned back to a loose union or to polygamy. ”
What’s more, Unwin concluded,  
The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has been absolutely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs. 
Unwin saw a pattern behind societies that unraveled. If three consecutive generations abandoned sexual restraint built around the protections of marriage and fidelity, they collapsed.  
Simply put, sexuality is essential for survival. However, sexuality is such a powerful force, it must be controlled or else it can destroy a future rather than secure it. Wrongly ordered sexuality is devastating for both individuals and entire societies. 
Unwin’s conclusions can be boiled down to a single issue. 
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Lightyear Critics Will “Die Off Like Dinosaurs,” Says Captain America

It’s one thing to promote the idea that dads and moms are interchangeable despite, you know, science, but it’s another to accuse anyone tired of being force-fed this whole thing of bigotry. As one reviewer put it, “Perhaps calling critics of a movie “idiots who are going to die off like the dinosaurs” wasn’t the best strategy to get families to watch the latest entry in the Toy Story franchise.” 
Disney’s newest Pixar film, Lightyear, isn’t doing great at the box office. While critics puzzle over why, an obvious reason is parents are tiring of the constant indoctrination in sexual matters. They feel betrayed by the once trusted Toy Story franchise. 
All that may come as a surprise to Chris Evans, the new voice of Buzz, who recently said concerned parents are “idiots” who will soon “die off like the dinosaurs.” 
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