More than Thoughts and Candles
Is there more hostility to authentic biblical Christianity than a few decades ago? Probably. But people are still people. They don’t want to be scared, and they don’t want to die. They need forgiveness, they need comfort, they need hope. They need Jesus.
It certainly wasn’t the first deadly shooting on one of our college campuses, but this one just happened to be the college campus I know best. On Monday night, while I was taking my nine-year-old to a Hornets game for his birthday, my phone erupted with texts from my friends in East Lansing. There was an active shooter on the campus of Michigan State University.
We’ve all seen these stories before. Maybe your school or child’s school has faced this grief already. It was a little over four years ago when a similar tragedy took place at UNC Charlotte, just 20 minutes from where I now live. On Monday it happened at MSU—three dead, five seriously wounded, and a whole community in mourning.
Before moving to Charlotte, I pastored in East Lansing for 13 years. If you’ve never lived in a small city with a major university, you may not be able to fathom how virtually everyone and everything can be connected to a single school. I didn’t go to Michigan State, but it was hard to pastor University Reformed Church without bleeding green and white. I could hear Spartan Stadium from my home and see the blimp overhead for big games. So as I followed the news on Monday night, into Tuesday morning, I knew all the buildings and all the streets. I heard from friends with children locked in the basement of the library, from friends who opened their home for college students to sleep on the floor so they could get off campus, from friends with relatives who were running across campus in the dark because the police told them the shooter could be nearing their location.
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What is the Pitiful Problem With Education?By Virgil Walker — 7 months ago
The words teach and teaching are mentioned 212 times in the scriptures. Christianity, unlike any other worldview, is an intellectually rigorous worldview. For far too long, we’ve delegated education to public school systems. Only recently have Christians taken a stand, as we’ve witnessed the proliferation of homeschooling across the country. The next phase of growth, however, will require true vision and sacrifice as followers of Christ re-stake our claim in the area of education. It will be imperative to build our own colleges, universities, and seminaries, unyielding to the cultural onslaught we’ve witnessed in the last decade.
Ruby Bridges was the firstborn child of Abon and Lucille Bridges. The Bridges were farmers from Tylertown, Mississippi. As a black family living in the segregated south in 1950, they were aware of their limited options for work. The Bridges relocated to New Orleans to pursue better job possibilities. This family, like many, realized the importance of hard work and education in climbing the ladder of success, and they wanted better opportunities for their children.
In the same way that the Bridges sought opportunities in their day, parents today continue to seek the benefits of hard work and a decent education for their children. Unfortunately, public schools are no longer institutions focused on children’s primary education; they’ve become experimental laboratories of indoctrination for kids. Today, students are used as test subjects for the latest notions proposed by modern critical theorists.
No longer is education the prescription for success that it once was. The hard work of achieving academic excellence is ignored. Poor academic performance among students receives the majority of attention, supporting the notion that institutional racism is the root cause and that educational reform is therefore necessary.
Education has changed dramatically from the days of Abon and Lucille Bridges in the 1950s. I’d argue that education was better at preparing children for success during the ’50s than it is today. And the results can be readily evidenced in higher failure rates, low achievement scores, and programmatic government dependency.
During the 1950s, racism and segregation had taken their toll on black families like the Bridges. However, education was still seen as a priority for most blacks. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of blacks unable to read or write at age 14 decreased from 79.9% to 1.9% between 1870 and 1979. From 1870 to 1940, perhaps the most heinous period of segregation and Jim Crow, we witnessed the most significant drop in illiteracy (79.9% to 11.5%). This tremendous improvement brought black students parity with their white counterparts regarding literacy.
By 1969, organizations such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress had begun to assess reading, mathematics, and other important educational indicators. Long after the civil rights struggle, the black power movements of the 1970s, and even the beginnings of critical race theory in legal studies, there has been a persistent drop in scholastic achievement in black communities.
Between 1992 and 2019, blacks experienced a 10-point drop in overall academic performance, expanding the gap with whites. While a 10-point decline may not appear to be noteworthy, a closer examination of the figures reveals the looming disaster that awaits scores of children in the coming years.
Armstrong Williams cited information from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in an essay published in The Hill in 2022. Williams writes,
In California, 90 percent of (black) students cannot do math or read well. In New York, the figures are 85 percent and 82 percent. In Illinois, it is 86 percent and 85 percent. In Texas, the numbers are 84 percent and 89 percent. Maryland sits at 86 percent for math and 80 percent for reading… In Georgia, the numbers are 86 percent and 82 percent. In Missouri, it is 89 percent and 88 percent. And in Washington, D.C., the numbers are 85 percent and 87 percent.
As indicated, there has been an observable reversal of progress in educational achievement. But how is this possible, and what is the root cause?
Is Racism the Problem?
How can educational advances earned during a more difficult period in American history be so readily squandered during a period of immense opportunity? Is racism to blame for the obstacles that students face?
Most academics would say that racism is the root cause of putting black pupils behind. Many papers and published studies cite corollary anecdotal evidence to prove the narrative of racism. Furthermore, many of the proposed solutions to correct the problems (i.e., less policing of students, easier testing, more funding, etc.) can be easily refuted by pre-Brown v. Board of Education examples like Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.
Long before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, Dunbar High School was a segregated high school. The school was underfunded, had students from all socio-economic strata, and had a penchant for discipline. During segregation, this all-black high school consistently graduated men and women who would be firsts in their area of expertise.
Sleeping on Rocks Right Now? Jesus is Right ThereBy Campbell Markham — 4 months ago
As a church struggles—and every true church must struggle—heaven’s stairway joins her to heaven and all heaven’s mercy and safety. The stairway is not built by our faithfulness, but God’s promise. The stairway is not our obedience and steadfastness, but the person of Christ come down to rescue us from our sin and rebellion.
Weeks after winning my license, I crashed my car. It was a wet night and my friends and I decided it would be fun to drift around corners with wheels spinning. I lost control, the front of the car hammered into a high curb, and the steering was wrecked.
I limped the car home, too ashamed and embarrassed to tell my parents. I drove it first thing in the morning to the repairers in town. The mechanic hoisted it up and showed me how I’d bent the wheels and steering arms. Repair would be very costly.
I remember pacing the wet streets car-less, wondering where on earth I would find the repair money and still too ashamed to tell my family. For just a few hours I felt unusually helpless, almost nauseous with worry and loneliness. Looking back, I see how unnecessary my suffering was. All the help in the world was all around me, and I was blind to it.
So it is with Jacob in the book of Genesis.
Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Gen. 28:10).
What tragedy we read in these few words. Jacob was born into a rich and loving family. But he tricked his twin brother out of his birthright (Gen. 25) and then pulled a seriously devious and nasty deception on his blind father, tricking Isaac into giving him Esau’s covenant blessing (Gen. 27). So now Jacob is fleeing Beersheba, his home in the south of the Promised Land, to Haran in the strange and distant north: beyond Galilee, beyond Syria and Damascus, right up near Assyria and the Euphrates River.
Jacob means “Grasper.” Grasper had betrayed his family. And by lying and cheating and dishonoring his father, he had also dishonored God. What had he accomplished? A family in humiliation and disarray. He himself running, alone, and far, far from home.
Remember, this is the father of Israel. According to the principle of corporate identity as explained in Hebrews 7:1-10, the entire nation was physically latent within him at that moment. Jacob is Israel. Grasper personifies the church. What is true of him is true of the church.
What is true of Jacob is true of the church.
And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep (Gen. 28:11).
After fleeing all day, night falls with no motel or friendly house nearby. In verse 20 Jacob prays for “food to eat and clothes to wear.” So we see a lonely, guilty, destitute man. He lies in the open air with a rock for a pillow. He is exhausted physically, morally, spiritually, and relationally. This by nature is you. This by nature is your church.
Sleeping on rocks gives anyone strange dreams. God gives Jacob a vision. It is a kind of apocalypse; God pulls aside the curtain to show Jacob what is going on behind his desolate circumstances.
God showed Jacob a staircase joining heaven and earth.
And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac” (Gen. 28:12-13a).
God cast our rebellious parents, and thus us, out of Eden. Cherubim wielding blazing swords barred the way back (Gen. 3:24). Humanity, and not least Jacob at this point, live within the desolation of that separation. But God showed Jacob a staircase joining heaven and earth.
The people of Babel attempted something like this, to build a tower to reconnect heaven and earth, to manufacture greatness and security (Gen. 11:1-9). But it was human-made and prideful, and God razed it. If God separated humanity from heaven, what can we do to bridge the gulf?
We cannot reach up to God, but he can reach down to us. That is the staircase.
Why are angels dashing up and down it? “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). They rush down with God’s word and salvation (Heb. 2:2), and rush back up with our prayers (Rev. 8:4). The staircase establishes communication between Jacob and heaven. It is a conduit of help—of salvation.
The One who speaks to Jacob is “the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” He made that unbreakable promise to Abraham:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” (Gen 12:1-2)
At that point Jacob must have doubted those promises. “Land? Great nation? Great name? Blessing? I’m an exile from the land. My ‘great name’ is Grasper. I’m cursed, not blessed!” Jacob had betrayed family and God and had lost everything. Yet God was working right then even in Jacob’s betrayal and desolation to fulfill his promise. God was there, heaven and earth were joined. God’s ministering servants rushed up and down for Jacob.
Elite Evangelicalism’s Allergy to ComplementarianismBy Denny Burk — 1 year ago
“I don’t know that evangelicals have been sufficiently self-reflective to admit their basic and personal insecurities. It’s just no fun being an outsider to mainstream culture. We all just want to be loved, and if not loved, at least liked and respected. Elite evangelicals are not just savvy evangelists but also a people striving for acceptance.” ~Mark Galli
Former editor of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, wrote a jaw-dropping column last week. Galli’s essay discusses where the next generation of evangelical leadership is going to emerge from. Will it be from among “elite evangelicalism” (e.g., Fuller Seminary, CT, Intervarsity Press, World Vision, etc.), or will it be from among the constellation of “reactionary Reformed conservatives” (e.g., Doug Wilson)? Galli then goes on to talk about his tenure at Christianity Today and what it revealed to him about the priorities of “elite evangelicalism.” He writes,
Elite evangelicalism (represented by CT, IVPress, World Vision, Fuller Seminary, and a host of other establishment organizations) is too often “a form of cultural accommodation dressed as convictional religion.” These evangelicals want to appear respectable to the elite of American culture. This has been a temptation since the emergence of contemporary evangelicalism in the late 1940s, the founding of Christianity Today being one example…
I don’t know that evangelicals have been sufficiently self-reflective to admit their basic and personal insecurities. It’s just no fun being an outsider to mainstream culture. We all just want to be loved, and if not loved, at least liked and respected. Elite evangelicals are not just savvy evangelists but also a people striving for acceptance.
I saw this often when I was at CT. For the longest time, a thrill went through the office when Christianity Today or evangelicalism in general was mentioned in a positive vein by The New York Times or The Atlantic or other such leading, mainstream publications. The feeling in the air was, “We made it. We’re respected.” …
This tendency has only gotten worse, as now the mark of a successful evangelical writer is to get published regularly in the Times, Atlantic, and so forth. What’s interesting about such pieces is that (a) such writers make a point that affirms the view of the secular publication (on topics like environmental care, racial injustice, sexual abuse, etc.) and (b) they preach in such pieces that evangelicals should take the same point of view. However, their writing doesn’t reach the masses of evangelicals who take a contrary view and don’t give a damn what The New York Times says. If these writers are really interested in getting those evangelicals to change their minds, the last place they should be is in the mainstream press. Better to try to get such a column published in the most popular Pentecostal outlet, Charisma. Ah, but that would do nothing to enhance the prestige of evangelicals among the culture’s elite.
Evangelical columns in large part merely bolster the reputation of secular outlets, as these publications can now pat themselves on the back and say, “See, even religious people agree with us.” Rarely if ever will you see an evangelical by-line in such outlets that argues to protect life in womb or affirms traditional marriage.
We see an ancient dynamic here: When you seek to win the favor of the powerful, you will likely be used by them to enhance their own status. And along the way, many of your convictions will be sidelined. We’ve seen this happen on the religious right in the political nightmare of the last few years. But it happens on the left just as often.
Anyone paying attention to CT over the last decade or so is not surprised by any of this. What’s surprising is that Galli confirms it in so many words. He basically admits that “elite evangelicals” aim to win the respect and praise of Christianity’s cultured despisers and that such is the temptation in the CT newsroom itself.
What he describes is nothing other than the age-old temptation of theological liberalism, which in many ways was simply an attempt to make Christianity acceptable to cultural elites. As we all know now, that project led to the denial of core teachings of the Christian faith. For miracle-denying “Christians,” theological liberalism became the faith of the apostates not the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). It was a failed project in the last century, and it will be a failed project in this one to the degree that “evangelical elites” pursue it.
Pursuing the approval of elites is a fool’s errand. Those undertaking this project never seem to learn that “he’s elites are just not that into you.” They never have been and never will be (John 15:18-19). A part of faithfulness in our generation and in any generation is to have a holy indifference about the approval of those who despise Christ. That is why Paul warns, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Galli writes that it’s no accident that CT more or less snubs complementarians and 6-day creationists. It’s a direct consequence of their not wishing to offend elite sensibilities.
I saw this accommodation dynamic as CT managing editor and then editor in chief. We said, for example, that the magazine did not take a stand in the complementarianism or egalitarianism debate. But we rarely if ever published an article that endorsed complementarianism; we did offer many that assumed egalitarianism in family and church life (not to mention the many women pastors who we published).
Then there was the six-day creation/evolution debate, in which again we said we took no stand. But try to find an article in the last three decades that argued for or assumed six-day creation. And yet we published several pieces that simply assumed a billion-year time span for the history of the earth.
It’s not a coincidence that complementarianism and six-day creation are anathema to secularists, features of a religion out of touch with reality.
I offer one personal anecdote that confirms this in my own experience. Four years ago, a number of evangelical leaders and scholars gathered in Nashville, Tennessee to complete and endorse what would come to be known as “The Nashville Statement” on biblical sexuality. Over the next four years, an impressive array of evangelical seminaries, colleges, churches, and ministries would adopt the statement as a confessional standard. Two years ago, the PCA adopted it as a faithful tool for discipling their members. The same year, the Southern Baptist Convention also adopted a resolution adopting language taken directly from The Nashville Statement.