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 Sep 3, 2020

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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.

Episode Date
How Do We Reconcile A Split and Broken Church? - BreakPoint Q&A
46:13

John and Shane field concerns from listeners related to repairing and restoring relationships inside the church after the recent political season.

John and Shane provide pathways of thought to recalibrate our approach to reconnecting with Biblical mandates without building kingdoms.

A listener also asked how Christians should respond to the recent censorship from technology companies. There are real civil reasons some speech has been curbed, however what does that do to freedoms and are those freedoms that incite civil unrest worth protecting? John helps identify the contradictions inside the censorship practices impacting citizens and helps organize thinking inside a Biblical framework.

 

 

Jan 20, 2021
Inauguration Day 2021
04:58

In July 1864, some 14,000 Confederate troops stood just six miles—within sight— from the Capitol Dome. For President Lincoln, it was a rude shock. After all, this was a year after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederacy seemed near defeat.

In the nick of time, 17,000 Union troops dispatched by Ulysses S. Grant arrived and pushed the Confederates back. Washington was saved. Today, as Joe Biden is sworn in as 46th President of the United States, 20,000 National Guardsmen will defend that same Capitol from enraged citizens. 

It’s impossible to understand how we’ve reached this point, unless we look beyond the last few weeks, even beyond the election, to pre-existing conditions, such as the decades-long thinning of civil society.

The most recent lawlessness at the Capitol reflects an escalating lawlessness that spans political parties, religious affiliations, age brackets, and social classes. Will a militarized America be the new normal? Will the armed troops protecting the Citadel of Democracy today be patrolling the streets of rioting cities tomorrow? Will the blatant failures of our institutions and our leaders continue to fester to an explosive level of distrust?

Chuck Colson often said that unless a people are governed by the conscience, they will be governed by the constable. When people are unable to govern themselves, they face a choice between order and chaos. Most often, the people ultimate choose order, which inevitably means the loss of freedoms.

The freedom to assemble peacefully is impossible to maintain when assemblies frequently turn into riots, looting, or sedition. The freedom of speech seems particularly vulnerable today, when Big Tech wields all the power and decides, like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram already have, to crack down on political speech they deem offensive or dangerous. Last week, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke openly about forming a committee to “rein in our media environment,” something that should alarm anyone who has ever read any dystopian novel, ever. Our Second Amendment freedoms are most vulnerable when used as cover by mass shooters or insurrectionists.

Perhaps the most consistent refrain from America’s Founders is that our national experiment would prove unsustainable without a virtuous citizenry. Our Constitution simply cannot govern those who refuse to govern themselves. John Adams, our second President, said it most clearly: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Yet, Americans are becoming increasingly immoral and irreligious, our shocking lack of conscience is on display in rising numbers of both “deaths from despair” (addictions, self-harm and suicide) and “acts of desperation” (violent acts, riots, self-mutilation in pursuit of identity or sexual pleasure). We pump poisonous ideas into our hearts and minds and call it entertainment. We pump lies into our children and call it education.

In other words, America is in a dark, deeply divided place, a place Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn accurately described in his 1978 speech at Harvard. We have, he said, very “little defense against the abyss of human decadence…such as the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror.” Even strict laws, said Solzhenitsyn (and, I might add, 20,000 National Guard troops), are powerless to defend a people against such moral corrosion.

The situation is dire, but not without hope. As Chuck Colson often said, despair is a sin. Christ is risen from the dead. God, in his gracious goodness, has revealed to us what is true and what is good. He has given us His Word and, through prayer, He has made Himself available to us.

Today, the Colson Center is launching a time of prayer, which will continue every week until Easter. Each week, often led by our ministry colleagues, we’ll pray according to the profound instruction God has given us in the book of Proverbs. We launch this today, and you can learn all about it at breakpoint.org/proverbs.

The devolution of our collective conscience may continue. The replacement of constitutional rights with constables might be inevitable. May it never be! But even if so, may God’s people not be reduced to outrage or cowardice. May we be the reservoir of strength and renewal our nation so desperately needs.

Jan 20, 2021
A COVID-Free China Still Isn’t Free
04:48

Recently, police in Hong Kong arrested 53 pro-democracy activists for holding a primary election. The Communist Chinese government made the sweep of political opponents under cover of its new national security law. The same day as these arrests, China-based tech firm Alibaba’s stock jumped 30 percent when word circulated that Jack Ma, Alibaba’s eccentric founder, might actually be alive. Ma vanished two months ago after publicly criticizing China’s banking system. Apparently, stockholders had assumed the Chinese Communist Party killed him. 

Juxtaposed to these stories was a New York Times article that ran the same week describing everyday life in China now that the Coronavirus is nearly nonexistent there. The headline of the article was, “In a Topsy-Turvy Pandemic World, China Offers Its Version of Freedom.” Underneath the headline was this summary: “Surveillance and censorship bolster Beijing’s uncompromising grip on power. But in the country’s cities and streets, people have resumed normal lives.” Hmmm.

According to the veteran reporter, life in the Communist country now resembles “what ‘normal’ was like in the pre-pandemic world.” “Restaurants are packed,” she wrote. “Hotels are full. Long lines form outside luxury brands stores. Instead of Zoom calls, people are meeting face to face to talk business or celebrate the new year.”

Yes, the Times reporter admitted (via a few throwaway lines early in her report), “Chinese citizens don’t have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, or even freedom from fear,” but they do have the freedom to “lead a normal day-to-day life.”

In the book I co-authored with Brett Kunkle, A Practical Guide to Culture, we wrote that “the battle of ideas begins with the battle over definitions.” How we define certain words is incredibly consequential. It’s jarring to consider just how malleable definitions of words such as “freedom” have become. Pro-democracy activists are arrested by the dozens… a billionaire tech CEO is presumed missing after criticizing his government… but shopping at a designer store without a mask is freedom? 

For the record, even if we granted the Times the benefit of the doubt here, China still wouldn’t live up to the Times’s grotesquely skewed definition of freedom. An estimated one million (and counting) Muslim Uighurs are currently detained in concentration camps in Xinjiang province. Inmates are forced into physical labor and sometimes tortured. Women, according to reports, are often forcibly sterilized or forced to undergo abortions. Even according to the New York Times definition, the Uighurs are anything but free.

The Chinese government is, of course, well-known for playing loose with language. In a now-removed tweet, the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. recently claimed that their holocaust-like treatment of Uighur women had, in fact, liberated them because, after all, they were now more open to abortion. Even Twitter thought that crossed a line.

Even so, the way this New York Times piece defined freedom down commits another error. Any grammar nerd will blanche at a rhetorical redundancy, such as, for example, the phrase “completely destroyed.” That’s because there aren’t degrees of destruction. Something is either destroyed or it isn’t, no qualifier is necessary. Freedom is similar. The ability to shop at a mall while not being able to worship, speak, or assemble isn’t freedom.

This is not to say that freedom is without limits. No one is “free” to murder or yell “fire” in a crowded theater. In fact, the definition of freedom increasingly embraced across the West—that we are free from rules, from consequences, from restraint, or from truth itself—is actually license. As the apostle Paul says, license only enslaves us. True freedom isn’t freedom from but freedom for… the freedom for living fully into our created design.

Christians, of all people, should be able to clearly and accurately define freedom. Better yet, we must be able to show what freedom is. Our brothers and sisters in China are not free to worship together on Sundays without fear or oversight. American Christians who don’t live Monday to Saturday as if Jesus is Lord aren’t free, either, if freedom ends up being nothing more than enslavement to every passing fad.

True freedom is only in Christ, in seeing and living all of life as if it belongs to Him. Even when new COVID-19 cases across the globe finally reach zero, we’ll only be truly free if the Son has set us free. Then we are free indeed.

Jan 19, 2021
Dr. King and the Nature of Law
04:37

In an eloquent defense of life, marriage, and religious liberty known as The Manhattan Declaration, authors Chuck Colson, Professor Robert George, and Dr. Timothy George wrote, “There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Recently, new allegations from biographer and historian Dr. David Garrow have escalated concerns about Dr. King’s moral failings, especially his sexual exploits and mistreatment of women. Many Christians are also rightly troubled by Dr. King’s unorthodox theological views, especially his views about the resurrection of Christ and salvation that are outside of historic Christianity.

At the same time, as a work of moral philosophy, Colson and the Georges are absolutely correct about their assessment of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It is unparalleled in its clarity about the nature of law, what constitutes an unjust law, and our responsibility to respond to unjust laws.

Twenty years ago, Chuck Colson reflected on Dr. King’s legacy, and the most important contributions from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: Here is Chuck Colson:

“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is out of harmony with the moral law.”

It was with these very words, in his memorable “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” that Martin Luther King, Jr., threw down the gauntlet in his great Civil Rights crusade. King refused to obey what he regarded as an immoral law that did not square with the law of God.

All across America today, millions of people are celebrating the birthday of this courageous man, and deservedly so. He was a fearless battler for truth, and all of us are in his debt because he remedied past wrongs and brought millions of Americans into the full riches of citizenship.

In schools and on courthouse steps, people will be quoting his “I Have a Dream” speech today. It is an elegant and powerful classic. But I would suggest that one of Dr. King’s greatest accomplishments, one which will be little mentioned today because it has suddenly become “politically incorrect,” is his advocacy of the true moral foundations of law.

King defended the transcendent source of the law’s authority. In doing so he took a conservative Christian view of law. In fact, he was perhaps the most eloquent advocate of this viewpoint in his time, as, interestingly, Justice Clarence Thomas may be today.

Writing from a jail cell, King declared that the code of justice is not man’s law: It is God’s law. Imagine a politician making such a comment today. We all remember the controversy that erupted weeks ago when George W. Bush made reference to his Christian faith in a televised national debate.

But King built his whole case on the argument, set forth by St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, that “An unjust law is no law at all.” To be just, King argued, our laws must always reflect God’s Law.

This is the great issue today in the public square: Is the law rooted in truth? Is it transcendent, immutable, and morally binding? Or is it, as liberal interpreters have suggested, simply what courts say it is? Do we discover the law, or do we create it?

Ever since Dr. King’s day, the United States Supreme Court has been moving us step-by-step away from the positions of this great Civil Rights leader. To continue in this direction, as I have written, can only lead to disastrous consequences—indeed, the loss of self-governing democracy.

So, I would challenge each of us today to use this occasion to reflect not just on his great crusade for Civil Rights but also on Martin Luther King’s wisdom in bringing law back to its moral foundations.

Many think of King as some kind of liberal firebrand, but when it comes to the law he was a great conservative who stood on the shoulders of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, striving without apology to restore our heritage of justice.

This is a story I tell in my book, How Now Shall We Live?: a great moment in history when a courageous man applied the law of God to the unjust laws of our time, and made a difference. And that is the lesson we should teach our kids on this holiday. It is not just another day off from school or a day to go to the mall.”

That was Chuck Colson. Read through King’s letter today. Discuss it with your kids. I think you will find it to be an incredibly important civics lesson.

This commentary by Chuck Colson’s first aired February 18, 1998.

Jan 18, 2021
"Christian Nationalism" - A Conversation with Mark Tooley and Andrew Walker - BreakPoint Podcast
36:08

In the past, Civil religion united America. Not anymore.

Following a recent exchange on Twitter, John Stonestreet called on Mark Tooley and Andrew Walker to discuss the current political movements, including Christian nationalism, and how they impact Christianity.

Tooley and Walker discuss the future of America in a post-Christian, pseudo-Christian context. The pair believe there needs to be a resurgence in building institutional Christianity to counter the prevailing individualism of our age.

Together they call for a greater unity in the Church to provide stronger discipleship in online relationships. They both believe there needs to be better thinking in political involvement, sharing that we’re likely giving Washington way more of our attention than it deserves.

Mark Tooley is the President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) – Editor of IRD’s magazine Providence.

Dr. Andrew Walker is the Associate professor of Christian Ethics and Apologetics, Associate Dean for the School of Theology, and the Director of the Carl F H Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Jan 18, 2021
There are Pre-existing Conditions to This Cultural Moment - BreakPoint This Week
41:40

There are deaths from despair and acts of desperation that mark this cultural moment. Some are lacking peace and many are struggling to find hope from our cultural institutions and leaders. John Stonestreet invites Maria Baer to discuss the challenges we and our loved ones face currently. The two also identify how the Christian worldview offers great perspective and encompassing hope to participate in our modern world.

John and Maria also visit on the role of family and the challenges to thin society. Maria highlights that some might call a challenging person 'toxic'. In doing this many will avoid seeking restoration. John highlights how this thinking has flowed downstream and is greatly impacting how Christians live in church, culture, and even their own families.

To close John spends significant time discussing the persecution of Christians around the world. He notes Open Doors' World Watch List, an orderly explanation and ranking of persecution across the globe.

 

Jan 15, 2021
Our Politics is Cracking Under the Weight of a Thinning Civil Society
05:55

A little more than a week after the storming of the Capitol, five Americans have died, the House of Representatives has impeached the President for a second time, Twitter and other social platforms have permanently banned the sitting President of the United States, Amazon Web Services shut down alternative social media site Parler, and National Guard forces are being deployed, with 15,000 troops scheduled to surround the Capitol because, according to the FBI, armed groups are planning to protest the Inauguration, not only in Washington, D.C., but in all fifty states.

There are immediate causes, of course, for the chaos that unfolded last Wednesday. Over 70 million Americans are unhappy with and deeply worried about the implications of the presidential election and, no less important, the Georgia Senate runoffs. Among that number, a sizeable group believes the election was stolen, and just-as-deeply disbelieve all media personalities, investigators, elected officials of either party, or judges who say otherwise. Among that group, agitators, after making their violent intentions clear on social media, successfully incited Trump supporters to mob the Capitol.

Still, even the most-crafty agitator can only agitate a crowd that is agitate-able. One of the main headlines, not just of Wednesday but all of 2020, is just how dangerously on-edge Americans are. Only an analysis that looks beyond the rage of this day or that day, one that takes seriously the “pre-existing conditions” of our national tinderbox, will ultimately be helpful in pulling us back from the precipice.

For decades, sociologists have warned just how thin American civil society has become, replaced by a growing individualism that isolates Americans from the relationships and loyalties that once nurtured a thick social fabric. This is an unsustainable path. The collapse of the family, declining church attendance, institutions losing their integrity and our trust, and the various technological vortices keeping us from our neighbors are all catalytic factors in what’s been rightly called “deaths from despair” (increasing suicide rates, loneliness, addictions) and could be called “acts of desperation” (mass violence, rioting, and self-mutilation).

As civil society thins and as Americans become less connected to the pre-political aspects of life, the cultural weight lands on politics. To put it bluntly, our politics cannot handle the amount of weight we currently expect of it. As a result, we are experiencing two unsustainable consequences.

First, a culture that lacks the necessary resources to produce good citizens and cultivate self-control. Family, Church, community life, and volunteer groups play many roles in a society, but none more important than in providing a vision of what it means to live together, advancing things like civility and the common good.

Now this point should be obvious, but the state cannot function for long without good citizens. After all, it has no resources of its own, other than power. And yet, just as the state needs a moral citizenry to keep it from abusing its power, citizens need a properly functioning state to secure rights and liberty. The state, in and of itself, is wholly inadequate to produce the citizens it needs in order to function well. That must be done elsewhere, and herein lies an essential ingredient of our current crisis.

Second, when too much weight of a culture is placed on politics, when people turn exclusively (or even primarily) to politics to define and solve their problems or secure their hope, the stakes become too high. A zero-sum, winner-take-all, win-or-die kind of politics that places too much weight on the next election, the next bill, the next scandal, the next “breaking story from Washington. The anxiety level too much for people to bear.

On the opposite extreme from those who want to remove Christians from politics, are those Christians who think political levers should be used as power plays. But that’s merely Christianizing a secular methodology; it will never work. If we hope to be part of a solution and not add kindling to this explosive environment, we’ll need clear and compelling teaching on what politics is ultimately for, what it’s not for, and how it fits in the larger economy of pre-political realities and institutions.

To be clear, difficult days lie ahead for anyone committed to the sanctity of human life, sexual restraint, or religious freedom. In our political and pre-political efforts, then, what the world needs most, as Chuck Colson said, is for the Church to be the Church. The thinning of civil society is our nation’s greatest challenge. It is also among the Church’s greatest opportunities.

We’ve been appointed to this time and this place (Acts 17:26), but others have gone before us, and we must learn from them. We need not re-invent the wheel (or, as one of my colleagues likes to say, the flat tire). Like those whose remarkable faith is now sight, we must roll-up our sleeves and double down on loving God and neighbor, proclaiming what is true and elevating what is good, fighting for what matters but never placing our hope horses, chariots, or elections.

Only in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come.

Jan 15, 2021
Our Politics is Cracking Under the Weight of a Thinning Civil Society

A little more than a week after the storming of the Capitol, five Americans have died, the House of Representatives has impeached the President for a second time, Twitter and other social platforms have permanently banned the sitting President of the United States, Amazon Web Services shut down alternative social media site Parler, and National Guard forces are being deployed, with 15,000 troops scheduled to surround the Capitol because, according to the FBI, armed groups are planning to protest the Inauguration, not only in Washington, D.C., but in all fifty states.

There are immediate causes, of course, for the chaos that unfolded last Wednesday. Over 70 million Americans are unhappy with and deeply worried about the implications of the presidential election and, no less important, the Georgia Senate runoffs. Among that number, a sizeable group believes the election was stolen, and just-as-deeply disbelieve all media personalities, investigators, elected officials of either party, or judges who say otherwise. Among that group, agitators, after making their violent intentions clear on social media, successfully incited Trump supporters to mob the Capitol.

Still, even the most-crafty agitator can only agitate a crowd that is agitate-able. One of the main headlines, not just of Wednesday but all of 2020, is just how dangerously on-edge Americans are. Only an analysis that looks beyond the rage of this day or that day, one that takes seriously the “pre-existing conditions” of our national tinderbox, will ultimately be helpful in pulling us back from the precipice.

For decades, sociologists have warned just how thin American civil society has become, replaced by a growing individualism that isolates Americans from the relationships and loyalties that once nurtured a thick social fabric. This is an unsustainable path. The collapse of the family, declining church attendance, institutions losing their integrity and our trust, and the various technological vortices keeping us from our neighbors are all catalytic factors in what’s been rightly called “deaths from despair” (increasing suicide rates, loneliness, addictions) and could be called “acts of desperation” (mass violence, rioting, and self-mutilation).

As civil society thins and as Americans become less connected to the pre-political aspects of life, the cultural weight lands on politics. To put it bluntly, our politics cannot handle the amount of weight we currently expect of it. As a result, we are experiencing two unsustainable consequences.

First, a culture that lacks the necessary resources to produce good citizens and cultivate self-control. Family, Church, community life, and volunteer groups play many roles in a society, but none more important than in providing a vision of what it means to live together, advancing things like civility and the common good.

Now this point should be obvious, but the state cannot function for long without good citizens. After all, it has no resources of its own, other than power. And yet, just as the state needs a moral citizenry to keep it from abusing its power, citizens need a properly functioning state to secure rights and liberty. The state, in and of itself, is wholly inadequate to produce the citizens it needs in order to function well. That must be done elsewhere, and herein lies an essential ingredient of our current crisis.

Second, when too much weight of a culture is placed on politics, when people turn exclusively (or even primarily) to politics to define and solve their problems or secure their hope, the stakes become too high. A zero-sum, winner-take-all, win-or-die kind of politics that places too much weight on the next election, the next bill, the next scandal, the next “breaking story from Washington. The anxiety level too much for people to bear.

On the opposite extreme from those who want to remove Christians from politics, are those Christians who think political levers should be used as power plays. But that’s merely Christianizing a secular methodology; it will never work. If we hope to be part of a solution and not add kindling to this explosive environment, we’ll need clear and compelling teaching on what politics is ultimately for, what it’s not for, and how it fits in the larger economy of pre-political realities and institutions.

To be clear, difficult days lie ahead for anyone committed to the sanctity of human life, sexual restraint, or religious freedom. In our political and pre-political efforts, then, what the world needs most, as Chuck Colson said, is for the Church to be the Church. The thinning of civil society is our nation’s greatest challenge. It is also among the Church’s greatest opportunities.

We’ve been appointed to this time and this place (Acts 17:26), but others have gone before us, and we must learn from them. We need not re-invent the wheel (or, as one of my colleagues likes to say, the flat tire). Like those whose remarkable faith is now sight, we must roll-up our sleeves and double down on loving God and neighbor, proclaiming what is true and elevating what is good, fighting for what matters but never placing our hope horses, chariots, or elections.

Only in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who was and is and is to come.

Jan 15, 2021
Navigating the News in 2021 from a Christian Worldview
04:25

A recent headline that isn’t exactly news announced the findings of a recent Gallup study: “Americans Remain Distrustful of Mass Media.” Six out of ten Americans trust the media either “not very much” or “not at all” when it comes to reporting the news fairly and accurately.

Truth be told, I’m among those six. I’m tired of bias, of opinion pieces masquerading as reporting, of buried leads and hysterical fearmongering. Apparently, many Americans are tired of these things, too. Last year, a major news network flashed this caption, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting,” as its reporter stood in front of buildings that were burning to the ground. Last week, America’s paper of record ran a glowing piece on freedom in China, where people may not have freedom of religion, speech, or assembly but enjoy going to nightclubs thanks to their dictator's handling of COVID. And don’t get even get me started on the news coverage of the events this week.

Watching or reading different news sources today is like watching and reading about completely different worlds. If aliens landed in America tomorrow, they’d have no idea what the truth is about this country. They wouldn’t even be able to report back to their leaders about whether or not actress Tanya Roberts had died or not!

That last little anecdote brings up another challenge we all face: the sheer volume of noise we are forced to navigate. The Washington Post alone publishes an average of 500 news stories every single day. Add to that The New York Times, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, FoxNews, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, not to mention the ever-present and sometimes-tempting clickbait everywhere, and the noise is simply overwhelming.

More and more, Americans have turned to social media and news aggregators out of sheer desperation. These tools do offer help navigating the volume, but they don’t offer wisdom. Increasingly, these tools become echo chambers. Recently, Pew Research found that nearly half of Americans are unable to determine whether their news sources do their own original reporting.

We must bear in mind what Paul said in his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17: God intentionally places us all in particular times and particular places in history. Engaged, thoughtful Christians must not only stay informed about those trends, issues, and stories that truly matter, they must discern between those that matter and those that don’t. And that’s not all. We also somehow have to navigate the constant worldview spins we are subjected to by media sources.

Chuck Colson first founded BreakPoint to illustrate that this sort of worldview analysis of contemporary events was not only possible but necessary and incredibly helpful. Let me be clear: We cannot do this work, which we love, without the help of faithful partners. One of the most critical partners we have in this task is the WORLD News Group and WORLD magazine. WORLD is a critical source of news and thoughtful analysis. The BreakPoint team relies on it.

WORLD does journalism from a Christian worldview without the click-bait and without the hype. Their print magazine, online articles, and daily podcast, “The World and Everything in It” (which I join weekly as a guest commentator) features clear reporting, news coverage of stories that matter, and a recognition of the central role of faith and religion in contemporary society.

This month, any gift of $19 or more to BreakPoint and the Colson Center, provides a one-year subscription to WORLD magazine that you can keep for yourself or gift to a friend or family member. So, if you already subscribe to WORLD, and I hope you do, you can bless someone else with a resource you know they will enjoy and can rely on.

Come to BreakPoint.org/January2021 to get a one-year subscription to WORLD with your next gift to BreakPoint and the Colson Center.

This commentary originally aired on January 8, 2021

Jan 14, 2021
Navigating the News in 2021 from a Christian Worldview

A recent headline that isn’t exactly news announced the findings of a recent Gallup study: “Americans Remain Distrustful of Mass Media.” Six out of ten Americans trust the media either “not very much” or “not at all” when it comes to reporting the news fairly and accurately.

Truth be told, I’m among those six. I’m tired of bias, of opinion pieces masquerading as reporting, of buried leads and hysterical fearmongering. Apparently, many Americans are tired of these things, too. Last year, a major news network flashed this caption, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting,” as its reporter stood in front of buildings that were burning to the ground. Last week, America’s paper of record ran a glowing piece on freedom in China, where people may not have freedom of religion, speech, or assembly but enjoy going to nightclubs thanks to their dictator's handling of COVID. And don’t get even get me started on the news coverage of the events this week.

Watching or reading different news sources today is like watching and reading about completely different worlds. If aliens landed in America tomorrow, they’d have no idea what the truth is about this country. They wouldn’t even be able to report back to their leaders about whether or not actress Tanya Roberts had died or not!

That last little anecdote brings up another challenge we all face: the sheer volume of noise we are forced to navigate. The Washington Post alone publishes an average of 500 news stories every single day. Add to that The New York Times, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, FoxNews, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, not to mention the ever-present and sometimes-tempting clickbait everywhere, and the noise is simply overwhelming.

More and more, Americans have turned to social media and news aggregators out of sheer desperation. These tools do offer help navigating the volume, but they don’t offer wisdom. Increasingly, these tools become echo chambers. Recently, Pew Research found that nearly half of Americans are unable to determine whether their news sources do their own original reporting.

We must bear in mind what Paul said in his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17: God intentionally places us all in particular times and particular places in history. Engaged, thoughtful Christians must not only stay informed about those trends, issues, and stories that truly matter, they must discern between those that matter and those that don’t. And that’s not all. We also somehow have to navigate the constant worldview spins we are subjected to by media sources.

Chuck Colson first founded BreakPoint to illustrate that this sort of worldview analysis of contemporary events was not only possible but necessary and incredibly helpful. Let me be clear: We cannot do this work, which we love, without the help of faithful partners. One of the most critical partners we have in this task is the WORLD News Group and WORLD magazine. WORLD is a critical source of news and thoughtful analysis. The BreakPoint team relies on it.

WORLD does journalism from a Christian worldview without the click-bait and without the hype. Their print magazine, online articles, and daily podcast, “The World and Everything in It” (which I join weekly as a guest commentator) features clear reporting, news coverage of stories that matter, and a recognition of the central role of faith and religion in contemporary society.

This month, any gift of $19 or more to BreakPoint and the Colson Center, provides a one-year subscription to WORLD magazine that you can keep for yourself or gift to a friend or family member. So, if you already subscribe to WORLD, and I hope you do, you can bless someone else with a resource you know they will enjoy and can rely on.

Come to BreakPoint.org/January2021 to get a one-year subscription to WORLD with your next gift to BreakPoint and the Colson Center.

This commentary originally aired on January 8, 2021

Jan 14, 2021
Is the Constitution Actually Functioning? - BreakPoint Q&A
42:56

John and Shane address a main question about whether or not the constitution is actually functioning? They identify how the Constitution reflects the design by God. John highlights that a consistent theme from the founding fathers and founding documents is that it is made for a type of person.

John and Shane then spend time fielding a listener question on the design of men and women. The two spend time explaining what men and women are designed to do and then highlight how they are equipped to live according to their design. They address the brokenness of the world, noting that humanity was created before it was fallen, but fallen is the state we're living in and our cultural realities illuminate that reality. They end in hope in Christ, reflecting on other times in history that times were bleak and cultures wholly broken, but God made His name known, evident, and provides salvation for humanity.

Jan 13, 2021
The Ethics of the COVID Vaccine
05:13

Recently, a Wisconsin pharmacist was arrested for attempting to destroy hundreds of vials of the COVID-19 vaccine. He feared the vaccine could change the DNA of anyone who received it.

Fears and rumors and worries about the safety and the ethics of the various COVID-19 vaccines are understandable. After all, no vaccine has ever moved into distribution this quickly, and much has been made about the new approach to vaccination take by the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. And, of course, elected officials aren’t always trusted in our culture.

Just before Christmas, I asked friend, former teacher, and trusted bioethicist Dr. C. Ben Mitchell to walk through the ethics of the COVID-19 vaccines on the BreakPoint Podcast. I’ve known Dr. Mitchell for years.  I know him to be careful and measured, while also theologically faithful. I know him to seek out the best sources for his information while also being wary of what is the Achilles heel of modern medical technologies: unexpected consequences. Our conversation went for over an hour, but that’s what I was hoping for: a careful, measured, informed and thorough look at the various ethical questions that have arisen because of the COVID-19 vaccines.

For example, the unprecedented speed at which the various vaccines were developed, reducing a process that often takes years to mere months, is an extraordinary accomplishment. Still, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder if ethical and safety corners were cut to bring the vaccine to market so fast. That’s one of the things we talked about that.

At the top of the list for most Christians, me included, is whether or not cells from aborted fetuses were used in the development of the vaccines. Citing the extensive research on the issue by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute, Mitchell agrees that the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna are “ethically uncontroversial,” a position affirmed by the U.S. Catholic Bishops. In our interview, Dr. Mitchell not only walks through the data, but offers a mini-course in unraveling these sorts of ethical complexities.

We also spent extended time discussing the new mRNA approach used by some of the vaccines. Until now, vaccines have worked by introducing a weakened or inactivated version of the virus to trigger an immune response, which then creates an immunity to the illness in our bodies. These COVID vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach our cells how to make proteins that, in turn, trigger an immune response and subsequently create immunity. This approach, while new to vaccines, has been used for years in other treatments, including cancer treatments. The novelty of using this approach in vaccines has caused confusion and concern. Dr. Mitchell walks through it with in clear and understandable terms.

Concern has also been raised about the possible effect the vaccines could have on pregnant women. According to the CDC, “only limited data are available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines . . . administered during pregnancy.” According to Dr. Mitchell, this is also because of the unprecedented speed at which the vaccine was developed and approved, not because of any known problems such as long-term infertility. And that is one of the outstanding questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. Whereas the safety protocols for short-term and mid-term results are pretty clear, the long-term results cannot be. 

A final topic we discussed is whether or not COVID vaccinations would be mandated, either directly by the state or indirectly by schools, colleges, airlines, and corporations. This introduces yet another ethical issue surrounding the vaccine, one made more acute by the medical community’s overall embrace of vaccines as a preventative strategy.

In the end, concerns over the COVID vaccines are understandable. Ends do not justify immoral or unethical means, and ethical consideration is absolutely necessary, but it must be informed by truth rather than overtaken by fears or conspiracy theories.

You may not agree with Dr. Mitchell’s conclusion that Christians, unless doctors indicate otherwise, should get the vaccine, especially out of concern and love for their neighbor. Even so, I think anyone who takes the time to listen will find the ground covered by this interview very helpful in understanding the issues.  Please come to BreakPoint.org to hear my entire conversation with bioethicist Dr. Ben Mitchell.

Jan 13, 2021
‘Soul’ and the Life Well-Lived
04:42

It remains to be seen which of the COVID-caused disruptions to our previous way of life will permanently change things. For example, while parents of small children don’t miss the popcorn prices, it still feels a bit strange for a brand-new movie to go straight to the living room instead of the theatre. Still, Disney-Pixar’s latest release, Soul, is easily worth breaking out the Orville Redenbacher.

Pixar has a reputation (and a knack) for telling great stories. In fact, let’s play name that film … a toy dealing with a midlife crisis? A fish with short-term memory loss? An unlikely pair on an unusual flight to South America in a house? Or a rat who becomes an award-winning chef? Though these storylines may seem unlikely fits for children movies, Pixar consistently produces creative and touching animation. Some of the best in our culture, in fact.

Their films are also, frequently, countercultural. A dominant theme running through Pixar’s canon is the journey to find one’s life purpose. The deafening message across most of pop culture, especially in films and music aimed at kids, is to “look inside,” “follow your dreams” and “trust your heart.” In contrast, Pixar’s most memorable characters face disappointment, frustration, and even the death of their dreams.

In fact, death is a recurring theme in Pixar features. I don’t want to give away too much, but Soul is no exception. The main character in this urban jazz-scene-themed story dies almost out of the gate, just as he is on the cusp of his big break as a musician. Right when it seems like his life is about to start, it ends. The rest of this heartwarming and surprisingly hilarious movie is spent wrestling with the question, “Do our lives have meaning if we never achieve our ‘purpose’?”

Director and Pixar veteran Pete Docter’s answers by giving a heavenly perspective on what a life well-lived means. Instead of Clarence earning his wings by showing George Bailey what life would look like without him, Soul shows a musician the wonder of his life by letting him see someone else live it.

In the end, just like in Frank Capra’s classic, meaning is not found by acquiring fame or financial success. Rather, meaning is found in learning to see life’s inherent but overlooked wonders, and by learning to love the life he’s actually been given (which, in his case, includes bad middle school music, New York Pizza, a dingy apartment, a loving and opinionated mother, among other things).

To be clear, as a few Christian reviewers have pointed out, Soul’s excellent lesson comes wrapped in New Age mysticism like “chakras” and “astral planes,” and the idea of pre-existing souls in some vast “Great Before.” Even though Soul presents these ideas with a good bit of goofiness, parents will want to talk through the movie’s theological errors.

As a point of reference, evangelicals have long quibbled with C.S. Lewis over The Great Divorce because of its portrayal of Purgatory. Yet those who get stuck in the setting and never take the rest of his story seriously means miss out on one of his best works, not to mention lessons as relevant for this life as for the next.

In one scene in Soul, some so-called “lost souls” coated in their obsessions and insecurities wander through a spiritual dimension, oblivious to all around them. We get more than a hint that this is a kind of “hell,” the fate of those who “follow their dreams” or succumb to their fears at the expense of everything and everyone else.

The whole scene is a profound and subtle rebuke of one of our culture’s central and mistaken assumptions, that meaning can be measured by paychecks and popularity. In the end, the film echoes one of Christianity’s central insights: that all of life, when lived for a higher purpose, is sacred. As William Tyndale said, “… to wash dishes and to preach is all one, as touching the deed, to please God.”

After a year of disappointments, cancelled plans, and dashed hopes, this redemptive message is one many need to hear. The zany cartoon metaphysics of Disney-Pixar’s latest film by seem a bit odd, but trust me, this one has a Christian soul.

Jan 12, 2021
BreakPoint Podcast: Revival or Revolution - The Choice for a Decadent Society with Ross Douthat
34:23

In this cultural moment John called for a re-air of an interview with Ross Douthat. Douthat identifies that we live in a decadent society. But when you think of the word “decadent,” you probably are thinking, lavish, immoral, wasteful, etc.

But that’s not exactly what Douthat means. What he means is a society that is prosperous, powerful, and stuck. Stuck in an economic rut, a creative rut, a political rut; a society that is running out of spiritual and intellectual energy.

Today on the BreakPoint Podcast, John Stonestreet talks with Douthat about his new book, “The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success."

Jan 11, 2021
BreakPoint Podcast: Revival or Revolution - The Choice for a Decadent Society with Ross Douthat

In this cultural moment John called for a re-air of an interview with Ross Douthat. Douthat identifies that we live in a decadent society. But when you think of the word “decadent,” you probably are thinking, lavish, immoral, wasteful, etc.

But that’s not exactly what Douthat means. What he means is a society that is prosperous, powerful, and stuck. Stuck in an economic rut, a creative rut, a political rut; a society that is running out of spiritual and intellectual energy.

Today on the BreakPoint Podcast, John Stonestreet talks with Douthat about his new book, “The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success."

Jan 11, 2021
When the Truth-Bearer Falls
05:03

Two days before Christmas, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries confirmed that its founder had engaged in sexual misconduct over the course of many years. Ravi, a highly regarded speaker, author, and apologist, died a few months ago. In its initial “interim” report RZIM leadership not only confirmed the allegations but promised a full and thorough final report.

Like so many others, I’m devastated. Ravi was not only a significant personal influence for me, he was a great friend of this ministry for years. In fact, he was a guest on one of the last radio broadcasts I co-hosted with Chuck Colson. I remember beginning the interview apologizing for all the times I inadvertently plagiarized him over the years.

When Ravi died, the Colson Center honored him in a number of ways. At the time, there were initial allegations that had been investigated and dismissed. We trusted the information provided to us. We were wrong. I believed and shared excuses for Robby’s behavior, and in doing that, I misled others.

There is no sugar-coating, excusing, or explaining away Ravi’s behavior. It was sinful. It was wicked. And, it was folly, which is one of words Proverbs uses to describe sin. Simply put, our sin makes us foolish. Buried in sin, we actually think that, for the first time in human history, we will be the ones to get away with it.

And, Ravi’s sin left victims. The most harm was done directly to those women he abused, human beings made in the image of God and for whom Christ died. Other victims include family, friends, and the disillusioned around the world who benefitted from Ravi’s teaching.

Last week, a BreakPoint listener emailed us asking how we should respond to cases like this, when a Christian leader or teacher is caught in sexual misconduct. Is it possible to separate the good that they’ve done and the truth they’ve taught from the person and their sin? And, what about in cases such as this, when the perpetrator is gone and has no further opportunity to acknowledge his sins, repent, and seek forgiveness?

Last week on the BreakPoint Podcast, Shane Morris and I  attempted to offer an answer. You can listen at BreakPoint.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

We need not deny that Ravi’s teaching helped many Christians make sense of the faith, deal with their doubts, and engage other people with the Gospel, while we also acknowledge the truths revealed by this tragedy, including the truth about who we are as fallen human beings. Pastors and Christian leaders, as Shane pointed out, are not “made of finer clay” than anyone else. So, any sort of righteous indignation or superiority we’re tempted to feel toward the fallen should be quickly overwhelmed by an important and humbling admission: There, but for the Grace of God, go any of us.

Another point to consider, on a Christian worldview analysis level, is that, to borrow a phrase popularized by Christian educator Arthur Holmes, “all truth is God’s truth.” In other words, if Ravi Zacharias ever said anything true in his life, and of course he did, he was not its source but only its medium. Any truth, all truth comes ultimately from God, outside of time or place or context.

A postmodern worldview, in contrast, relativizes truth to cultural settings or individuals. In other words, truth is not absolute. And, if truth is dependent on the shifting sands of attitudes, beliefs, perceptions of a culture or an individual, anything we build on it must collapse when any of those things do.

The Christian view is that Truth, even when delivered by sinful creatures, is as eternal and unchanging as God Himself. Of course, that truth about truth doesn’t make what has happened any less painful, disorienting, or consequential. Just because the truth that has been spoken remains true does not mean the privilege of speaking the truth as a ministry or church leader (and it is an incredible privilege) should continue for anyone. And speaking the truth is an enormous responsibility.

Finally, let’s be reminded again, especially those among us granted some degree of leadership, that we must be accountable to others. We must not trust ourselves, but only God and His Spirit. Pray for your pastor, church leaders, spouse, and whomever else God has placed in your life, that He would protect them from the real and ever-present temptations that could harm them, others, and their witness for Christ.

And, please, pray for Ravi’s victims, for his family, and RZIM.

Jan 11, 2021
Are We as a Nation Capable of Governing Ourselves? - BreakPoint This Week
55:17

This is not how we wanted to start 2021, with the Capitol of the United States of America being overrun by a violent mob. John Stonestreet and Shane Morris discuss the turbulent past few days and wonder whether Americans now have the moral and ethical wherewithal to govern ourselves. They also reflect on the truth that achieving freedom is not rare in history: Maintaining that freedom is.

Also on today's episode: What Democratic control of the Senate means for Christians; China's brutal and perhaps final crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong; plus John's and Shane's recommendations for the week: The Book of Proverbs and Pixar's new animated film, Soul.

 

 

Jan 08, 2021
Navigating the News in 2020 from a Christian Worldview
04:25

A recent headline that isn’t exactly news announced the findings of a recent Gallup study: “Americans Remain Distrustful of Mass Media.” Six out of ten Americans trust the media either “not very much” or “not at all” when it comes to reporting the news fairly and accurately. 

Truth be told, I’m among those six. I’m tired of bias, of opinion pieces masquerading as reporting, of buried leads and hysterical fearmongering. Apparently, many Americans are tired of these things, too. Last year, a major news network flashed this caption, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting,” as its reporter stood in front of buildings that were burning to the ground. Last week, America’s paper of record ran a glowing piece on freedom in China, where people may not have freedom of religion, speech, or assembly but enjoy going to nightclubs thanks to their dictators’ handling of COVID. And don’t get even get me started on the news coverage of the events this week.

Watching or reading different news sources today is like watching and reading about completely different worlds. If aliens landed in America tomorrow, they’d have no idea what the truth is about this country. They wouldn’t even be able to report back to their leaders about whether or not actress Tanya Roberts had died or not!

That last little anecdote brings up another challenge we all face: the sheer volume of noise we are forced to navigate. The Washington Post alone publishes an average of 500 news stories every single day. Add to that The New York Times, The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, FoxNews, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, not to mention the ever-present and sometimes-tempting clickbait everywhere, and the noise is simply overwhelming.

More and more, Americans have turned to social media and news aggregators out of sheer desperation. These tools do offer help navigating the volume, but they don’t offer wisdom. Increasingly, these tools become echo chambers. Recently, Pew Research found that nearly half of Americans are unable to determine whether their news sources do their own original reporting. 

Even so, we must bear in mind what Paul said in his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17: God intentionally places us all in particular times and particular places in history. Engaged, thoughtful Christians not only must stay informed about those trends, issues, and stories that truly matter, they must discern between those that matter and those that don’t. And that’s not all. We also somehow have to navigate the constant worldview spins we are subjected to by media sources. 

Chuck Colson first founded BreakPoint to illustrate that this sort of worldview analysis of contemporary events was not only possible but necessary and incredibly helpful. Let me be clear: We cannot do this work, which we love, without the help of faithful partners. One of the most critical partners we have in this task is the WORLD News Group and WORLD magazine. WORLD is a critical source of news and thoughtful analysis. The BreakPoint team relies on it.

WORLD does journalism from a Christian worldview without the click-bait and without the hype. Their print magazine, online articles, and daily podcast, “The World and Everything in It” (which I join weekly as a guest commentator) features clear reporting, news coverage of stories that matter, and a recognition of the central role of faith and religion in contemporary society. 

This month, any gift of $19 or more to BreakPoint and the Colson Center, provides a one-year subscription to WORLD magazine that you can keep for yourself or gift to a friend or family member. So, if you already subscribe to WORLD, and I hope you do, you can bless someone else with a resource you know they will enjoy and can rely on.

Come to BreakPoint.org/January2021, that’s BreakPoint.org/January2021, to get a one-year subscription to WORLD with your next gift to BreakPoint and the Colson Center. 

Jan 08, 2021
What if What We Saw Yesterday at the Capitol Is Us?
05:08

In the introduction to his book The Content Trap, author Bharat Anand asks readers to consider what caused The Yellowstone Fires of 1988, which lasted for months and destroyed over 1.3 million acres of the world’s oldest, and one of our nation’s most treasured, national parks. The traditional story places the blame on a worker who dropped a single, still-lit cigarette. Anand disagrees.

The cigarette certainly triggered this fire, but a million cigarettes are dropped every single day. That year (likely even that day), other cigarettes and, for that matter, lightning strikes, fell in Yellowstone. Why did this one spark so much damage? Anand’s point has to do with the pre-existing conditions, which made something that is benign in most other circumstances, a trigger for incredible destruction.

Yesterday, as protestors stormed the Capitol, Illinois Representative Kinzinger, a Republican, said, “We (Americans) are not what we are seeing today…” Others remarked how shocking it was to see the sort of political unrest common to other countries, here in America. And, of course, it was shocking.

But we’d better be clear on why. It’s not because somehow Americans, even those who love freedom and wish to protect the remarkable gift that is our nation, are somehow exempt from the Fall. It’s not because America has some sort of Divine pass to last forever. It’s not because the rules that govern nations and civilizations, which have been proven over and over again throughout history, somehow do not apply to us.

In what now seems like an ominous prediction, my friend Trevin Wax tweeted out a quote from Chuck Colson Wednesday morning: “People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government ... without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well."

Colson was right. Another way of saying what he did is, “Character is destiny.” It’s tempting to apply this undeniable truism rather selectively, but it is as true for individuals on “our side” as it is for those on “their side.” It is true for presidents and for peasants. It’s as true about a President “not as bad as she would have been,” who delivers strong policy wins for our side as it is about anyone else. It is true for the narcissist and for the abortionist, for the one who rejects religious faith and the one who uses it for his own ends.

But, and this is the much more important point that many miss, character is destiny for a people as well as for a person. Yesterday, when President-elect Biden said that the actions of the mob did not reflect America, I wish he were correct. But he wasn’t. We are not a moral nation. We are lawless. We are not a nation that cultivates the kinds of families able to produce good citizens. Our institutions cannot be trusted to tell us the truth or advance the good. Our leaders think and live as if wrong means are justified by preferred ends. Our churches tickle ears and indulge narcissism. Our schools build frameworks of thinking that are not only wrong, but foster confusion and division.

Yesterday’s riot was not the first in our nation’s recent history, nor will it be the last. There are certainly immediate causes for what we witnessed, including the words of a President who appeared to care more about the attention the riots gave him than the rule of law that they violated. Still, there are ultimate causes, ones that predate his administration and that have created what is clearly a spark-ready environment.

Yesterday’s events cannot be understood, much less addressed outside this larger context. And the moment we excuse ourselves from being part of the problem, we have lost our saltiness

Often throughout history, moments like this have been embraced by the Church as an opportunity by God’s people. When a people reach this level of vulnerability, either as individuals, as families, or as nations, it is clear that they are out of ideas. There is no sustainable way forward when the ideological divide reaches this level, not only about how best to reach commonly held aims but when there is no consensus on the aims themselves.

To be clear, civilizations usually die with a whimper, not a bang. America will go on, but we aren’t ok. Even more, the resources once found in various places within our culture to build new things or fix what’s broken are largely depleted. The only way out of the long decline of decadence, punctuated as it is by noisy, scary moments like yesterday, is either, as Ross Douthat wrote, revolution or religious revival.

The story of Yellowstone Park is that now, a decade letter, it has been largely revived and reborn. Let’s pray that’s also the story of the Church, and even our country.

Jan 07, 2021
Do We Throw Out the Teaching of Leaders in Scandals - BreakPoint Q&A
52:40

John and Shane revisit a topic from the New Years Eve podcast to address moral failure in Christian leaders. They help expand our thinking to address the challenging world of sin and its impact on Christian leaders.

Specifically, John and Shane address the revelations from the independent investigation into allegations of Ravi Zacharrias participating in sexual misconduct. 

Later, John and Shane address a critique to their response to invetro fertilization and embryo adoption. The two dig into the details of the science, ethical, and culture reasoning around the Christian worldview response they are positing. 

Lastly, Shane presents a question related to second marriages. The question comes in light of the presentation of marriage as a procreative endeavor. They address a Christian view of marriage that is expansive, including marriages that are infertile. They include various Christian thinking on marriage, explaining nuances in Biblical interpretations without falling into a secular view of marriage. 

Jan 06, 2021
The Pig-Man Cometh, Part 2
05:53

A recent article published in the scientific journal Cell announced the “successful” creation of a human-animal hybrid. Researchers at the Salk Institute took pig embryos and implanted human pluripotent stem cells, or cells that can produce any kind of body tissue.

Believe it or not, attempts to genetically cross humans with animals, in various forms and to various degrees, date back at least twenty years. This team of 40 researchers worked for more than four years to create their human-pig chimera (the scientific term for an organism that contains cells from two different species). Previously, the same team created rat-mice chimeras by using the gene-editing technology CRISPR “to hack into mouse blastocysts.” Having mastered the rat-mice cross, they applied the same technique to create human stem cells which they then introduced into pig embryos.

As was the case with Dolly the cloned sheep (remember her?), calling the whole process a “success” requires a bit of winking and nodding. Years of trial and error, and plenty of failed embryos, preceded the chimeric embryos which actually survived long enough to be implanted into adult pigs for three-to-four weeks. They were then removed for analysis.

What motivates the time, money, and energy to do such a thing? Well, remember, the road to Hades is paved with good intentions. In this case, the goal is to alleviate the shortage of human organs available for transplantation, a loaded phrase in and of itself. To say there is a “shortage” of organs available for transplant is to say, “not enough people have died to save others.” Even so, the chimeras created contained so few human cells that any organs created by this method, at least at this point, would be rejected by our immune system.

And, there is the potential of other technologies to produce transplantable organs render flights to “The Island of Dr. Moreau” unnecessary. For example, “bioprinting” is a technology very much like 3D printing, only the products fabricated can be used in the human body. This isn’t science fiction. It’s quite probable that within our children’s lifetimes, if not sooner, transplant surgeons will “print” compatible livers and hearts on demand, no chimera necessary. In fact, bioprinting could render the human-animal hybrid enterprise moot long before the Salk Institute produces a single viable organ.

All of which makes it possible that the whole organ transplantation rationale is just a smokescreen obscuring the real reason for creating human-ham hybrids … just to see if we can.

Just last year, Japanese and German scientists (who obviously never saw “Planet of the Apes”) spliced human genes into the brains of monkey fetuses. We’ll never know if these monkeys would have taken over the Earth since they were aborted.

Responsible scientists are sounding alarms over all this genetic tinkering, especially with gene-editing technologies like CRISPR. Others, to paraphrase a line from Jurassic Park, are so busy seeing if they can do something, they don’t take time to ask whether they should.

This leaves the rest of us in high-stakes, real-life game of “what if?” What if technology allows us to create and farm human-pig chimeras to harvest for human organ transplantation? What if our science continues to not only outpace, but far outpace, our ethics? What if we continue our technologies without the world’s only stable ground for human dignity, that every person bears the image of God Himself? What if, following the logic of naturalism, we treat humans as an accidental product of chemicals and atoms colliding, no different from other living beings, like pigs or pandas?

Twenty years ago, in remarkably written and prophetically entitled article, “The Pig-Man Cometh,” Joseph Bottum walked through the what if scenario.

“…we live at a moment in which British newspapers can report on 19 families who have created test-tube babies solely for the purpose of serving as tissue donors for their relatives -- some brought to birth, some merely harvested as embryos and fetuses. A moment in which Harper's Bazaar can advise women to keep their faces unwrinkled by having themselves injected with fat culled from human cadavers. A moment in which the Australian philosopher Peter Singer can receive a chair at Princeton University for advocating the destruction of infants after birth if their lives are likely to be a burden. A moment in which the brains of late-term aborted babies can be vacuumed out and gleaned for stem cells.

In the midst of all this, the creation of a human-pig arrives like a thing expected. We have reached the logical end, at last. We have become the people that, once upon a time, our ancestors used fairy tales to warn their children against -- and we will reap exactly the consequences those tales foretold.

Like the coming true of an old story -- the discovery of the philosopher's stone, the rubbing of a magic lantern –biotechnology is delivering the most astonishing medical advances anyone has ever imagined. You and I will live for many years in youthful health: Our cancers, our senilities, our coughs, and our infirmities all swept away on the triumphant, cresting wave of science.

But our sons and our daughters will mate with the pig-men, if the pig-men will have them. And our swine-snouted grandchildren -- the fruit not of our loins, but of our arrogance and our bright test tubes -- will use the story of our generation to teach a moral to their frightened litters.

Jan 06, 2021
Unexplained Light
04:47

About a month before the great December conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, NASA researchers announced a separate, unexpected discovery: evidence of light in deep space without an explainable source. After studying photographs taken by the New Horizons space probe, which is now 4 billion miles away but still beaming footage to Earth, NASA came across an unexplained “glow.” It was in areas particularly distant from the known sources of light, such as stars and galaxies, and from sources of reflected light, such as dust particles. In fact, one astronomer told NPR that the amount of unexplained light was about equal to the light coming from sources they could identify.

The NPR article described the “problem” this creates for scientists: “… for 400 years, astronomers have been studying visible light and the sky in a serious way and yet somehow apparently ‘missed half the light in the universe.’” The choice astronomers face is either to double-down on the known explanations for light or be open to new ones. 

I’m no astronomer, of course, and I certainly won’t pretend to know more than those who’ve dedicated their lives to studying the heavens. However, it’s worth mentioning that an additional explanation for light is found in Genesis. If the testimony of Scripture is, like science, considered an actual source of knowledge, rather than a book of religious metaphors and self-help, light was the first thing created by God, in order to form and fill an earth that was “formless and empty.” Maybe knowing that light preceded existing physical objects points to a different explanation for those especially empty corners of the sky that seem to mysteriously “glow”

A few years ago, journalist and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell told a story in his book “Blink” about how surprisingly accurate human intuitions can be. In the early 2000s, a decorated general who had fought in Vietnam was called to the Pentagon, along with other top military analysts, specialists, and software engineers, to help with a war simulation exercise. Worried about unstable conditions in the Middle East, a simulation was set up to play out strategy if, say, an unstable despot did something rash.

For the simulation, Pentagon officials studied and made calculations and built algorithms to plan for every possible contingency. The Vietnam Veteran general was, on the other hand, assigned as the enemy. He was privy to none of the sophisticated strategizing, fancy equipment, software, or teams of mathematicians. Instead, he used intuition and the wisdom earned on the ground in Vietnam. Rather than calling meetings every time conditions changed, the General made decisions quickly. According to Gladwell, he trusted his gut. He won the battle in two days, humiliating the Pentagon.

Gladwell’s main point is that humans tend to overthink things. The amazing successes of our science and technologies have led us to idolize sophistication and, at times, complicate what’s really simple.

In Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, the main character is taken into space and is flabbergasted by what he sees. “Space,” Lewis describes, “was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens - the heavens which declared the glory.”

Many scientists and astronomers, of course, know and believe in the Creator. However, the better our technology and the more specialized our tools, the more we, as enlightened moderns, doubt older wisdom. Our algorithms and war game strategies and sophisticated techniques can, unintentionally become blinders that block the God-given intuition that comes from our created humanity. When light is discovered where there ought not be any, maybe we’ve stifled the most plausible explanation. Long ago, Someone said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That Someone, then, told us all about it.

Perhaps, it would be easier to see God in “the heavens” He made, if we weren’t so convinced of our ability to explain everything by purely naturalistic causes or even, as some do, to dismiss all supernatural causes. Maybe our gut instinct to look upward when we encounter the unexplained is the right one. If the heavens indeed “declare the glory of God,” we’d do well to listen.

Jan 05, 2021
Unexplained Light

About a month before the great December conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, NASA researchers announced a separate, unexpected discovery: evidence of light in deep space without an explainable source. After studying photographs taken by the New Horizons space probe, which is now 4 billion miles away but still beaming footage to Earth, NASA came across an unexplained “glow.” It was in areas particularly distant from the known sources of light, such as stars and galaxies, and from sources of reflected light, such as dust particles. In fact, one astronomer told NPR that the amount of unexplained light was about equal to the light coming from sources they could identify.

The NPR article described the “problem” this creates for scientists: “… for 400 years, astronomers have been studying visible light and the sky in a serious way and yet somehow apparently ‘missed half the light in the universe.’” The choice astronomers face is either to double-down on the known explanations for light or be open to new ones. 

I’m no astronomer, of course, and I certainly won’t pretend to know more than those who’ve dedicated their lives to studying the heavens. However, it’s worth mentioning that an additional explanation for light is found in Genesis. If the testimony of Scripture is, like science, considered an actual source of knowledge, rather than a book of religious metaphors and self-help, light was the first thing created by God, in order to form and fill an earth that was “formless and empty.” Maybe knowing that light preceded existing physical objects points to a different explanation for those especially empty corners of the sky that seem to mysteriously “glow”

A few years ago, journalist and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell told a story in his book “Blink” about how surprisingly accurate human intuitions can be. In the early 2000s, a decorated general who had fought in Vietnam was called to the Pentagon, along with other top military analysts, specialists, and software engineers, to help with a war simulation exercise. Worried about unstable conditions in the Middle East, a simulation was set up to play out strategy if, say, an unstable despot did something rash.

For the simulation, Pentagon officials studied and made calculations and built algorithms to plan for every possible contingency. The Vietnam Veteran general was, on the other hand, assigned as the enemy. He was privy to none of the sophisticated strategizing, fancy equipment, software, or teams of mathematicians. Instead, he used intuition and the wisdom earned on the ground in Vietnam. Rather than calling meetings every time conditions changed, the General made decisions quickly. According to Gladwell, he trusted his gut. He won the battle in two days, humiliating the Pentagon.

Gladwell’s main point is that humans tend to overthink things. The amazing successes of our science and technologies have led us to idolize sophistication and, at times, complicate what’s really simple.

In Out of the Silent Planet, the first book of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, the main character is taken into space and is flabbergasted by what he sees. “Space,” Lewis describes, “was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens - the heavens which declared the glory.”

Many scientists and astronomers, of course, know and believe in the Creator. However, the better our technology and the more specialized our tools, the more we, as enlightened moderns, doubt older wisdom. Our algorithms and war game strategies and sophisticated techniques can, unintentionally become blinders that block the God-given intuition that comes from our created humanity. When light is discovered where there ought not be any, maybe we’ve stifled the most plausible explanation. Long ago, Someone said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That Someone, then, told us all about it.

Perhaps, it would be easier to see God in “the heavens” He made, if we weren’t so convinced of our ability to explain everything by purely naturalistic causes or even, as some do, to dismiss all supernatural causes. Maybe our gut instinct to look upward when we encounter the unexplained is the right one. If the heavens indeed “declare the glory of God,” we’d do well to listen.

Jan 05, 2021
Are the Covid Vaccines Ethical? - Dr. C. Ben Mitchell on Breakpoint Podcast
01:03:32

Dr. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow in the Academy of Fellows of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity and previously served as its Executive Director. 

He visits with John to discuss the ethics of the Coronavirus vaccine. They discuss the origins of the vaccine and possible side-effects from taking the newly produced immunization to fight COVID-19.

Jan 04, 2021
Where Salome Danced
04:44

In a strange but memorable story told by both Mark and Matthew, Salome, the stepdaughter of King Herod, dances for his birthday. Delighted by her performance, Herod tells her, “Whatever you ask me for, I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom.” Salome is advised by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Mark 6:22-24). Distressed but trapped by his publicly made promise, Herod gives Salome what she wants. 

The story takes up only about two paragraphs, but it tells us a great deal. Not only about the protagonists, but about the overall human condition. It’s almost Dostoyevsky-ian. In fact, the story has inspired many works of art throughout the centuries, including paintings by Titian and Moreau, an opera by Richard Strauss, and a play by Oscar Wilde.

Though the story clearly has had a grip on artistic and cultural imaginations through the years, it is not a product of the Gospel writers’ imaginations. It is firmly rooted in history. And just recently, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the site of the story had been discovered.

Located at Machaerus, Jordan, is a fortress on a cliff with a view of the Dead Sea. On clear days, Jerusalem can be seen from this perch. Inside is a 7,000-square-foot royal courtyard where “archaeologists have identified a semicircular niche where they believe [Herod’s] throne was positioned.” According to the article, the archeological team “re-erected two of the columns that had once held up the roof of the courtyard where the princess Salome is said to have danced.”

Obviously, stones can’t confirm all the details of the story told in Matthew and Mark, but other extra-biblical sources confirm parts of the story. The best example is Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote around the same time as the Gospel writers. Herodias, Josephus writes, “took upon [herself] to confound the laws of our country and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas.” This was the act that drew both the ire and the condemnation of John the Baptist. The royal couple was so displeased with the prophet’s outspokenness, they threw him in prison. Apparently, Herodias never got over her grudge.

Josephus also confirms that Herod gave the order to execute John. Josephus also described John as “a good man [who] commanded the Jews to exercise virtue." The historian even gives us a date and a place for the execution, about February in A.D. 32 at the fortress at Machaerus, (Antiquities, XVIII. 5. 2). Josephus goes on to suggest that a subsequent military defeat was seen by his subjects as “a punishment… a mark of God’s displeasure to him.”

To be clear, Josephus does not mention the role that Salome or Herodias played in John’s death, but it doesn’t mean that the biblical account is fiction. Josephus is clearly not a neutral historian. His ancient style does not obey the “rules” applied to modern histories. Still, modern historians rightly treat Josephus as an important historical source.

However, the Gospels are not given the same consideration. Clearly, the Gospel writers were writing history, a history with basic details repeatedly confirmed by Josephus and others. Treating them differently, as many scholars do, says much more about the prejudices of modern historians than about the historical reliability of the narratives.

For Christians, the fact that the biblical story takes place in actual human history, and not “Once upon a time,” says a lot about the kind of faith we have. It’s not merely a “way,” a set of virtues to respect and follow. When Luke, for example, situates the ministries of John and Jesus by telling readers historically verifiable details like who the emperor and local rulers were, he’s describing something that actually happened in human history. The Christian faith is open to scrutiny and skeptics. It’s not afraid to be weighed and tested.

And, in the end, the Bible is the best-attested book of antiquity, and nothing else comes close. The Bible is not a historical novel, a work of fiction written to inspire us. It’s true. It describes the world as it actually is. And yet, it’s also one of the most powerful sources for the great works created by the human imagination.

Jan 04, 2021
BreakPoint This Week: Looking Ahead to 2021
49:50

John, Shane, and Maria consider important movements likely to impact 2021. From political challenges and global issues to our own perspectives on identity, the team decipher shifts we need to prepare for in the new year.

Jan 01, 2021
Don’t Stay for the Applause
04:16

This week we take a look back at the most-talked-about BreakPoint commentaries from 2020, covering the key issues of this turbulent year.

A few years ago, a popular Christian singer ended her set by leading the audience in “O Come All Ye Faithful,” even though it wasn’t Christmastime. By the time the song was over, and the crowd’s attention was pulled back to the stage, the singer was gone. While it was her concert and not a church service, she hoped to point to God and not herself. When it was time for her well-earned applause, the singer was out of sight.

A few weeks ago, news broke that a young, popular pastor from Hillsong Church in New York City had been fired. Carl Lentz is known for hanging out with celebrities, throwing so-called “Church house parties,” and dressing in expensive, stylish, and even provocative ways. On Instagram, Lentz confessed that he had been unfaithful in his marriage.

This remarkably sad story is certainly not the only one we’ve heard recently of a pastor or ministry leader found guilty of a moral failing. Both from our observation and from Jesus’ teaching, it is clear that fame and wealth can both attract temptation and cultivate corruption. The main lesson for all of us is to stay accountable. Stay humble. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

There’s also a lesson here about the relentless pursuit of relevance. When pastors and ministry leaders flirt with celebrity, Christianity becomes a brand. When that happens, the surrounding noise of marketing and brand-building drowns out the central promise of a changed life. Suddenly, the metrics of a “successful” ministry shift from faithfulness to the number of likes, shares, and dollars.

About the same time that I read the heartbreaking news about Carl Lentz, I learned of the passing of a man I’d known since I was young. Lee Stone spent decades as a volunteer girls’ basketball coach at the little Christian school I attended and as the pastor of a small country Baptist church in Virginia. For 34 years he led the local rescue mission in town, helping men and women who were down and out with alcoholism, addiction, and homelessness–often the same men and women, over and over again.

Lee Stone was a quiet man, and he walked with a limp. He was certainly no celebrity. I can’t say for sure, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that he never had an Instagram account. However, what’s clear, both from his obituary and from the tributes that poured in on social media, is that Lee Stone was a man who loved others deeply and was deeply loved by many. He left his community better without ever building his “platform.”

“Lee’s legacy,” the local newspaper read, “is one of serving God with the compassion of Jesus Christ.” That legacy and Lee’s impact were quietly built on a lifetime of faithfulness. He is survived by his lovely wife, to whom he was married for 65 years, his 4 children, and his 23 grandchildren.

The contrast between these two stories, one which made national headlines and one that made the local paper’s obituary section, was stark. I am sure he wasn’t perfect, but Mr. Stone chose a life largely insulated from the temptation to entitlement or self-worship or fame. But his impact was great.

I want to be like Lee Stone. I don’t think I’m old enough to offer much life or ministry advice, but I will confidently advise anyone called to serve the Lord as a pastor or speaker or ministry leader, if given the choice between the way of a celebrity pastor or the way of Lee Stone, choose the latter.

Our talent and drive and even our charisma can often write checks that our character can’t cash. Err instead on the side of a quiet, faithful life. Leave the stage before the applause starts. The applause of our Father, “who sees in secret,” is the only praise we need anyway.

This commentary first aired December 15, 2020

Jan 01, 2021
The Best Analysis of the Presidential Debate Was Given 42 Years Ago
05:43

This week we take a look back at the most-talked-about BreakPoint commentaries from 2020, covering the key issues of this turbulent year.

There are no highlights from Tuesday night’s presidential debate. There are, however, plenty of “lowlights”: name-calling, untruths, anger, vitriol, interruption. It was a debacle on every level.

During the debate, my friend Trevin Wax tweeted, “Neil. Postman. He saw this coming forty years ago,” referring to how the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death, who described what happens in societies when societies' entertainment replaces truth and celebrity-ism replaces virtue.

In addition to Postman, a speech called “A World Split Apart,” given at the Harvard University commencement on June 8, 1978, by Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn has proven to be the best decoder of our cultural moment. Today, we live downstream from, in the wake of, what Solzhenitsyn attempted to describe to his booing audience.

For example, Solzhenitsyn described how the West had replaced the pursuit of happiness by virtue with a pursuit of happiness by stuff: 

“Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness … however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression … The majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values?”

When the pursuit of virtue is undone by materialism, words are redefined. Specifically, Solzhenitsyn suggested, freedom:

“Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the … misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people's right not to look or not to accept … Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil … [was] born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected.”

Solzhenitsyn then specifically points a finger at the press:

“The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. But what sort of use does it make of this freedom? … How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one's nation's defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: ‘Everyone is entitled to know everything.’ But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable [right]. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information. … In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is.”

At the root of all of this, Solzhenitsyn suggested, is what he called “spiritual exhaustion”:

“The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music … There are meaningful warnings that history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden, crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, and the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

There is only one solution with which Solzhenitsyn left his audience:

“Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction … If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.”

And then he concludes:

“No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.”

God help us.

This commentary first aired October 1, 2020

Dec 31, 2020
What Do We Do with Critical Theory?
05:28

This week we take a look back at the most-talked-about BreakPoint commentaries from 2020, covering the key issues of this turbulent year.

The question most central to defining a worldview, other than “Who is God?” and “What does it mean to be human?” is “What’s really wrong with the world?” It’s a tricky question, because there are a lot of things wrong with the world. The question is, what is the core problem that needs to be addressed in the world, the root cause of evil and human suffering, and what solution can be offered to fix it?

For example, we should want to see justice flourish and racism of all kinds come to an end, especially in light of our nation’s history and evidence that our African American neighbors are not treated equally before the law. But not everyone who talks about ending racism and creating justice means the same thing.

For a growing number of people, including some Christians with good motives, these goals are shorthand for an ideology that divides instead of reconciles, that sees people as either oppressed or oppressor rather than as divine image bearers created from “one blood.”

The ideas of Critical Theory, especially since the horrific killing of George Floyd, have become a central part of our national conversation. Once largely limited to the academy, these ideas have trickled down the way ideas do, to the media, through popular culture, and into the cultural imagination. Even those not familiar with the term “critical theory” will likely recognize its central tenets.

Critical Theory originated with a group of political philosophers who applied Karl Marx’s ideas about economics to society as a whole, especially across additional categories of class distinction, such as race, sex, and gender identity. The result was an all-encompassing worldview that purported to reveal hidden power structures behind society’s problems and institutions, by dividing people along the lines of oppressed and oppressor.

As Colson Center Senior Fellow and historian Glenn Sunshine explained in a recent episode of The Theology Pugcast, Critical Theory, like the classical Marxism it borrows from, views human beings in purely materialist terms. So, according to Critical Theory our race, sexual orientation, gender identity aren’t mere aspects of who we are, they are our defining characteristics. In each of these areas, we are either part of oppressed groups or we are oppressors.

According to critical theory, the oppressed group automatically has moral authority, while the oppressor group does not. Someone who is a racial minority or a sexual minority of some kind is automatically a victim of oppression and has claims against oppressors and the unearned privilege that makes their life easier (and this part is critical) at the expense of their oppressed neighbors.

Overlooked in this analysis are individual choices and life situations, which often has a far greater impact on a person’s life. For example, whether or not a child grows up with a father is statistically more important than their ethnic identity. Other factors, such as religious commitment, education, sexual decisions, and family stability have profound power to shape the lives and futures as individuals, families, and whole communities.

Critical theory, however, ignores every other factor or squashes it into the oppressor-oppressed dynamic. This view distorts reality, and often turns on itself.

A recent article at Quillette described a Danish professor and critical theorist attacked by fellow critical theorists. They claimed his branch of Critical Theory was racist. This is no isolated case. Critical Theorists have produced scholarly articles and whole books claiming that everything from logic to math are tools of white, heteronormative oppression.

The problem, as is explained in a recent “What Would You Say” video, is that Critical Theory’s answer to the question “what’s wrong with the world” is just wrong. Specifically, critical theory gets the human condition wrong and the human problem wrong. As a result, its solutions are simplistic and, at times, dangerous. They’re not compatible with Christianity, and we should reject them.

Now, to be clear, I believe racism still plagues our country, and is embedded in the hearts of individuals and in institutions and systems. We can reach this conclusion by care, by listening, and by statistical data, not to mention from  how the Christian worldview describes the cause and condition of fallen humanity.

Too often, any attempt to listen and to engage the race issue is dismissed as critical theory. It’s not. At the same time, Critical Theory’s analysis and answers to the problem of racism violate what we know to be true about the human condition. Only the Biblical story frames for us human value, human sin, and human hope, which both allows us and calls us to confront racism wherever it rears its ugly head, without embracing a theory that sees people as nothing but their race.   

This commentary first aired June 17, 2020

Dec 30, 2020
BreakPoint Q&A - The Best of 2020 Volume 2
33:30

John and Shane highlight some of their most challenging and uplifting questions received in 2020. 

Dec 30, 2020
C. S. Lewis and the Coronavirus
05:31

This week we take a look back at the most-talked-about BreakPoint commentaries from 2020, covering the key issues of this turbulent year.

The news this week about COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, has certainly, to understate it, escalated: New infections, grimmer projections, lots and lots of cancellations (including—can you believe it?—March Madness). The news changes so quickly day by day, even hour by hour, that it’s hard to keep up, much less know, really, what to think about all of this.

C.S. Lewis once said that we should read three old books for every new one. I think we should read three C.S. Lewis books for every new one. He never faced the coronavirus, of course, but in the late 1940s, the world was coming to grips with another threat: nuclear annihilation. The bomb was only a few years old, and in the hands of sworn national enemies. The uncertainty of what exactly could happen, not to mention what might happen, was palpable. In that context, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

I’m grateful to one of my BreakPoint colleagues, Ashlee Cowles, for reminding us of this essay along with some sage advice: Whenever you hear “atomic bomb” in this essay, think “coronavirus.”

“We think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb,” Lewis begins. To those who wonder how it’s possible to go on in the face of such a threat, Lewis recalls that theirs was not the first generation to live under a threatening shadow. In fact, if we’re honest, we all live under a sentence of death, and for some of us, that death could even be “unpleasant.”

The important question, says Lewis, is not whether or how we will die but if in the meantime we will be doing “sensible” and “human” things like “praying, working . . . reading, listening to music, bathing the children.”

Lewis asks his readers to consider the important but unsettling truth that “Nature does not, in the long run, favor life.” It’s an ominous observation that points to an essential worldview truth: “If Nature is all that exists—in other words, if there is no God and no life of some quite different sort somewhere outside of Nature—then all stories “will end in the same way: in a universe from which all life is banished without the hope of return.”

How do we respond to this unsettling truth? Lewis saw only three options: The first is suicide, something not uncommon in Britain of the 1940s and 50s. The second, “simply to have as good a time as possible. The universe is a universe of nonsense, but since you are here, grab what you can.”

Of course, as Lewis noted, “there is, on these terms, so very little left to grab—only the coarsest sensual pleasures.” Whether we’re talking about sex or listening to music, the pleasure is diminished by the knowledge that any enjoyment we might derive are merely “illusions,” the product of “irrational conditioning” determined by our genes.

The third response, Lewis said, is to “go down fighting,” to live as if the universe has meaning. We can insist on being rational and merciful even when the universe is not. Of course, if we choose that option, there’s no way to actually prevail against the “idiocy” of the universe—it would still win. Our insistence on being rational and merciful has no real justification.

The hopelessness of those three options should instead lead us to a different conclusion: “We must simply accept . . .,” said Lewis, “that we are spirits, free and rational beings, at present inhabiting an irrational universe, and must draw the conclusion that we are not derived from it.”

In other words, we must reject naturalism and embrace “a much earlier view:” biblical theism. It’s the only grounds on which we can avoid the despair brought on by the knowing that we are under a “sentence of death,” whatever form that death takes.

Lewis’ words are just as relevant today as they were seven decades ago. For people who believe there is a God, doing the “sensible” and “human” things are possible because we have hope. For those who don’t have that hope, no amount of toilet paper or cans of Spam stacked in the garage can make anyone truly safe, much less solve the ultimate question of meaning that haunts us all.

Today as yesterday, the world is still in God’s hands. Nothing has changed. Whatever the next chapter of this coronavirus story might be, the same questions remain to us: Will we trust God? And then, will we love our neighbors? And finally, how shall we then live?

This commentary first aired March 13, 2020

Dec 29, 2020
Being Chosen to Play Jesus - An Interview with Jonathan Roumie
33:23

What is it like to portray the lead character in the story of the entire universe? Today on the BreakPoint Podcast, Shane Morris welcomes Jonathan Roumie, who portrays Jesus on the extremely well-done and enormously successful video series, “The Chosen.”

Roumie discusses the series’s approach to the Gospels, to plausible “back stories” of the disciples, and how they wanted to focus on Christ’s humanity–without underplaying the fact that He is the Son of God.

Dec 28, 2020
J. Lo and Shakira’s Super Bowl “Performance” and Our Culture’s Mixed Messages
05:00

This week we take a look back at the most-talked-about BreakPoint commentaries from 2020, covering the key issues of this turbulent year.

In 2013, Rachel Campos-Duffy, a blogger on the Today Show’s “Moms” site, described watching Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime performance as a “parenting challenge.” The hyper-sensual show’s half-dressed performers had left her kids with quizzical looks on their faces. Her eight-year-old simply said, “She looks weird.”

I wish all of our kids were as confused by seeing something like that, but unfortunately, sexuality packaged as music and performance is an all-too-familiar part of our culture. After Beyonce’s version in 2013, Campos-Duffy snarkily commented, “I half-expected a stripper pole to pop out of the platform...”

Well this past Sunday, that’s exactly what happened. A stripper pole.

Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime performance, featuring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, was by far the raciest halftime since Beyonce. For the last several years, there’s been a notable de-sensualization of not only Super Bowl halftimes but also Super Bowl commercials.

Even Lady Gaga was comparatively modest in her 2017 performance. It’s almost as if the NFL and its network producers got the message from Campos-Duffy and millions of moms who complained about the visual assault on their children and families.

Well, until Sunday, that is, when the Super Bowl became yet another chapter in the ongoing sexualization of American culture, of women, and of kids. In the midst of our culture’s ubiquitous calls to protect kids and women from abuse and harassment, especially in this #MeToo era, we pretend that as long as we call it “art” or “female empowerment,” that this sort of overt sexualization will magically have none of the consequences we now complain about.

From the beginning, the sexual revolution has promised women that aggressively flaunting skin and sexuality was empowerment, and that divorcing sex from marriage and procreation would be a means to freedom. In reality, it was men who got what they wanted: sexual pleasure without the burden of commitment or requirement of chivalry.

For a brief moment a few years ago, it was almost as if that lie had been exposed. More and more women bravely came forward revealing how they’d been treated horrifically as “sexual objects” and such. But if Sunday’s performance is any indication, we have not learned our lesson.

It’s not only women who are victims of these bad ideas. Years ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed a special adviser on the commercialization and sexualization of childhood because, “Our children are growing up in a very sexualized world.”

That was an understatement even then. A far-more accurate description is that this is an out-of-control social experiment, and the guinea pigs are primarily our children. In addition to the predatory, hardcore pornography that haunts their devices and online lives, experimental theories about gender and sexuality haunt their education, and, as we saw Sunday, stripper poles and outfits haunt their so-called “art” and “entertainment.”

Of course, J.Lo and Shakira were a throw-back to a couple decades ago, more for the Xers and Millennials than for the Gen Z’ers. Even so, remember that this performance was on prime-time network television. And check out the lyrics of Billie Ellish or Roddy Ricch, or Lizzo to see if anything has changed.

As my friend Tom Gilson wrote years ago on BreakPoint.org, ethics require that subjects of social experimentation give informed consent. But in our culture, adults force young people, who have no say in the matter, to go along with their fantasies, theories, and so-called expressions of empowerment and freedom. It’s child abuse.

Just as with Beyonce back in 2013, there will be progressive voices, even so-called Christian ones, that will celebrate Sunday’s performance as “empowering women and Latinas” (particularly the child-in-cages part). But using sexuality for power is a triumph for men, not for women, and certainly not for children—it only leads to their objectification and victimization.

After all, I doubt there were very many wives watching their husbands watch, or moms trying to keep their children from watching, Sunday’s performance who felt empowered in any way.

This commentary first aired February 4, 2020

Dec 28, 2020
Looking Back at 2020: What This Turbulent Year Revealed about Us
49:44

Shane Morris and Maria Baer join John Stonestreet to talk about the year 2020, and the numerous pre-existing conditions exposed by the pandemic and other trials that will remain critically important in 2021.

Societal trust has been eroding for a long time, but this year invaded our closest relationships, like churches and families. We saw just how many politicians and, for that matter Christians, consider church to be “non-essential.” It isn’t. And speaking of the Church, John, Shane, and Maria discuss the factors behind last year's scandals involving prominent Christian leaders.

And, of course, issues of race and justice, will re-emerge. The question is whether they’ll be hijacked by wokeness, or actually addressed within a framework of human dignity and morality.

As always, they wrap up the episode with their recommendations for the week.

Dec 25, 2020
A Baby vs. the World
03:56

A Christmas message came to my mind a few years ago as I stood shivering in the autumn chill at the grave side of Father Jerzy Popieluszko. Jerzy was a young pastor who once delivered the dynamic messages that stirred the Polish people to overthrow their Communist oppressors.

His theme was always the same: The Christian is called to defend the truth and overcome evil with good.

Father Jerzy was a young man, pale and gaunt, and his sermons were neither fiery nor eloquent. Yet his monthly masses, dedicated to the victims of Communist persecution, attracted tens of thousands of Polish people. He never preached revenge or revolution. He preached the power of good to overcome evil.

It was a passion that dominated his own life, as well. In 1980, martial law was declared in Poland. Tanks and troops clogged the streets until the entire country was one vast prison. Jerzy hated the occupation as much as his countrymen, but he fought it using God's weapons of overcoming evil with good. On Christmas Eve, Jerzy slogged through the snow handing out Christmas cookies to the despised soldiers in the streets.

And even in his death, Jerzy was victorious. In 1984, he was kidnapped by the secret police. The nation was electrified. In churches and indeed in factories across Poland, people gathered to pray. Steelworkers demanded his release, threatening a national strike. Fifty thousand people gathered to hear a tape of his final sermon.

Then the blow fell: Jerzy's body had been found floating in the Vistula River. He'd been brutally tortured, his eyes and tongue cut out, his bones smashed. Yet the gentle pastor had taught his people well. After his funeral, hundreds of thousands of Polish people marched through the streets of Warsaw right past the secret police headquarters carrying banners that read, "We forgive."

They were assaulting evil with good. And under the impact, the Communist regime soon crumbled.

In 1993, I traveled to Poland for the chartering of Prison Fellowship Poland, a ceremony held outside the very church where Jerzy had preached. His grave is in the courtyard, and as I laid a wreath of flowers on the grave, I looked up at the balcony where the martyred pastor once preached his most powerful message: "Overcome evil with good."

Suddenly, I felt a stab of conviction as though the Holy Spirit were saying to me, "Pick up the baton. Make that your message, too." In that instant it was clear to me that the message Jerzy preached has always been God's strategy for overcoming evil. The supreme example is the Incarnation itself, which we celebrate today–-the event when God Himself entered human history to overcome the evil of the world.

America is not in the grip of a Communist regime as Poland was, yet Christians are battling a hostile secular culture. And we often wonder how we can fight more effectively. The answer is that God's people are to fight evil using God's strategy and God's weapons.

When God wanted to defeat sin, His ultimate weapon was the sacrifice of His own Son. On Christmas Day two thousand years ago, the birth of a tiny baby in an obscure village in the Middle East was God's supreme triumph of good over evil.

This commentary originally aired December 24, 1997.

 

Dec 25, 2020
It's Christmas Eve Again
03:55

In his book, “The Triumph of Christianity,” (which, by the way, was one of Chuck Colson’s favorite books) historian Rodney Stark describes the Roman world of that first Christmas Eve.

The gods, Stark writes, “were everywhere and thought to be undependable.” Apart from “some magical powers” and “perhaps the gift of immortality,” there was little to distinguish them from their human worshipers: “they ate, drank, loved, envied, fornicated, cheated, lied and otherwise set morally ‘unedifying examples.’”

And, not surprisingly, they didn’t care one bit about those who worshiped them. All they wanted was to be propitiated.

In other words, Christ entered into a culture in which the gods of the age were not worthy of worship.

And Roman society was just as oppressive and undependable as its gods. For most people, life in the empire’s cities could be fairly described, to borrow a phrase from philosopher Thomas Hobbes, as “nasty, poor, solitary, brutish, and short.”

This was world into which Christianity was born. And still Christianity triumphed, not least of which because it offered an alternative to the oppression of Roman society.  It offered another way than the dead-end of paganism, a way so compelling that it outweighed the obvious social disadvantages of being identified as a Christian.

As Stark writes, “in the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity offered an island of mercy and security.”

I hope that when you hear Stark’s words, you realize that we also have something far more compelling to offer our contemporaries as well.

Many of our contemporaries also worship deities that are undependable and scarcely distinguishable from their worshipers.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “worship” as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” Worship transforms the worshiper. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the Gods we worship write their names on our faces; be sure of that . . . thus, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

Emerson wrote that without even foreseeing the age of “social media,” in which we increasingly worship what we’ve become or at least what we imagine ourselves to be. Many pages on Facebook and Instagram can, with almost no exaggeration, be called “shrines.”

Our deities are as much of a dead end as the pagan gods of Rome. And like all idol worship, self-worship can be a lonely activity. Just like the Greek gods, who didn’t play well together, today’s pagans are far from anonymous, but just as isolated as their ancient predecessors. A 2011 Cornell study found that the average American has only two “good friends.”

What Christians today have to offer is remarkably similar to what the early Christians had to offer: what Stark called an “intense community,” a place where, instead of being surrounded by strangers, they are surrounded by “brothers and sisters in Christ.” A place that when the hard times come, as inevitably they will, “there [are] people who care -- there are people who have the distinct responsibility to care.”

Stated succinctly, what Christians have to offer is a better way of being human than anything currently offered in contemporary society.

That’s why, despite the often-distressing state of our culture, I remain hopeful. The Christian alternative is just as desperately needed today as when the early Church offered it to the Romans. Like them, we must proclaim and embody that alternative.

And if we do, it could be another Christmas Eve all over again.

And friends, as we prepare to gather with our own friends and family to exchange gifts and celebrate the light of Christ coming into this world, I would ask you remember BreakPoint and the Colson Center in your year-end giving. Thank you so much. And have a very merry Christmas.

A version of this commentary first aired on Christmas Eve, 2014.

Dec 24, 2020
BreakPoint Q&A - The Best of 2020
54:19

John and Shane highlight some of their most challenging and uplifting questions received in 2020. 

Dec 23, 2020
It’s Not About the Manger
03:55

As you enjoy this Holy Christmas Day in the company of friends and family, be sure to reflect on how the babe in the manger reveals to us God's wonderful love. But even more, as Chuck Colson explained over a decade ago, remember the cosmic implications of the incarnation… that God would indeed become flesh. Here is Chuck Colson.

The manager scene inspires a sense of awe and comfort to the hearts of Christians everywhere. But we often forget the staggering implications of Christmas. What image does the mention of Christmas typically conjure up? For most of us, it's a babe lying in a manger while Mary and Joseph, angels, and assorted animals look on.

Heartwarming picture, but Christmas is about far more than a Child’s birth—even the Savior’s birth. It's about the Incarnation: God Himself, Creator of heaven and earth, invading planet Earth, becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

It's a staggering thought. Think of it: The Word—that is, Logos in the Greek, which meant all knowledge that could be known, the plan of creation—that is, ultimate reality, becomes mere man? And that He was not born of an earthly king and queen, but of a virgin of a backwater village named Nazareth? Certainly, God delights in confounding worldly wisdom and human expectations.

Thirty years after His humble birth, Jesus increased the Jews’ befuddlement when He read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor...to proclaim release to the captives...to set free those who are downtrodden...” Jesus then turned the scroll back and announced, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In effect, the carpenter’s son had just announced He was the King.

So yes, the birth of Jesus is a glorious moment, and the manger scene brings comfort and joy and Christmas cheer. But it should also inspire a holy terror in us—that this baby is God incarnate, the King who came to set captives free, through His violent, bloody death on the cross as atonement for us, His unworthy subjects.

It's through the Incarnation God sets His grand plan in motion. He invades planet Earth, establishing His reign through Christ’s earthly ministry. And then Christ leaves behind an occupying force, His Church, which is to carry on the work of redemption until His return and the kingdom’s final triumph.

Do we get this? I'm afraid most of us are so preoccupied and distracted by last-minute Christmas shopping and consumerism, we fail to see God’s cosmic plan of redemption in which we, as fallen creatures, are directly involved.

Well, the average Christian may not “get” this announcement, but those locked behind bars do. Whenever I preach in the prisons, and I read Christ’s inaugural sermon, Luke 4:18, and when I quote His promise of freedom for prisoners, they often raise their arms and cheer. The message of Jesus means freedom and victory for those who once had no hope. They're not distracted by the encumbrance of wealth and comfort.

People in the developing world get it, too. Whenever I've shared this message with the poor and oppressed people overseas, I see eyes brightening. Stripped of all material blessings, exploited by earthly powers, they long for the bold new kingdom of Christ.

Today is Christmas. Go ahead, enjoy singing about and celebrating the birth of the Savior. Set up a manger scene in your home. But don't forget this earth-shaking truth: The birth of the Baby in the manger was the thrilling signal that God had invaded the planet. And that gives us real reason to celebrate Christmas.

For all of us at BreakPoint, this is Chuck Colson in Washington, wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas.

Dec 23, 2020
The Future of Christian Marriage
05:24

Ask any random group of ten elderly couples about their marriage, and half of them will probably say something like this: “We were high school sweethearts, tied the knot soon after graduation, worked our way up from nothing, had kids, and here we are. Being married made us who we are today.”

Beneath these stories is a view of marriage as a foundation of life, a starting point for other goals. Today, this view has been replaced by a different one, what some call the “capstone” view of marriage. In the “capstone” view, marriage is a finishing touch to add to a life after individual careers have been achieved, personal goals have been checked off, and we’ve discovered “who we are.”

This massive shift in our ideas about marriage has all kinds of consequences, from delaying weddings (for many people, into their 30’s) to cratering the fertility rate in most developed nations to normalizing premarital sex and cohabitation. Still, the most consequential changes might be occurring within the Church.

University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus tracks these changes in his new book, The Future of Christian Marriage. Regnerus not only described his findings to Shane Morris on the Upstream Podcaest, he also described the dramatic steps that will be required if a culture of marriage is to be restored within the Church.

The Future of Christian Marriage features interviews with numerous Christian young people from seven countries. By being both forward looking and firmly planted in history, Regnerus traces how marriage went from a natural institution bound up with childbearing and blessed by the Church to one that is now, like so many other things in our culture, determined by adult desires and largely defined (or should I say redefined?) by the state.

One of the most counterintuitive findings in The Future of Christian Marriage is that Christian young people around the world still have a recognizably biblical ideal for what marriage should be. Those he interviewed typically mentioned the idea of a lifelong union of man and woman. Often, they talked about how marriage is a picture of Christ and His Church, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5. Many even mentioned that children are part of God’s design for marriage.

Tragically, far fewer practice, or even try to practice, this design. The average age at first marriage is nearing historic highs in nearly every country Mark studied, and cohabitation is quickly becoming a common lifestyle choice, even for young people within the Church.

So, how did we get here? According to Regnerus, it’s complicated. Economic factors, the growing expectation that women will work outside of the home, the normalization of birth control and the resulting “cheapening” of sex, and the overall removing of children from the picture have all changed, not only our behavior, but how we think about marriage. Even more, Regnerus suggests that young people, including Christian young people, just aren’t that into marriage. In fact, an increasing number is willing to put it off indefinitely. Here’s what he writes in the book:

“The focus of twentysomethings has become less about building mature relationships and fulfilling responsibilities and more about enjoying oneself, traveling, and trying on identities and relationships…We now get ourselves ready for marriage, rather than marry to get ourselves poised to accomplish common objectives—a home, a job, a family. Instead, marriage itself has become one of those objectives, an accomplishment signaling that [we] have ‘made it.’”*

This is new. Historically, marriage was never considered an optional feature of the Church’s life, nor a trophy you win after reaching “adulthood.” God clearly calls some to the single life and elevates their potential for ministry. At the same time, marriage is the picture the Apostle Paul uses when to illustrate the love between Jesus and His redeemed. Marriage reorients our energies and affections away from ourselves and toward others in a way nothing else, other than parenting, can.

If we want Christian marriage to have a future, we’ll need to change this capstone view. Much of the problem that Regnerus describes in The Future of Christian Marriage is a failure of the imagination and the inability to see marriage as attainable. Among the ambitious and surprising suggestions Regnerus offers is to make sure our kids hear the kind of stories older couples often tell. It’s not “rocket surgery” to conclude we need to begin by telling the next generation the truth about marriage.

I’ll link you to The Future of Marriage, Mark Regnerus’ insightful new book, and his fascinating interview on the Upstream podcast at BreakPoint.org.

*Mark Regnerus, The Future of Christian Marriage, p. 38

Dec 22, 2020
Understanding Mary in the Christmas Story - BreakPoint Podcast with Tim Rolston
57:03

Mary was Jesus most devoted disciple. Tim Rolston joins the BreakPoint Podcast for a special feature. Sarah Stonestreet and Erin Kunkle present their inteview with Dr. Rolson on the BreakPoint Podcast today, as part of their new podcast, Strong Women.

Dr. Ralston brings a rich pastoral background to his classroom, having served as an associate pastor and pastor in Ontario and as a director of adult education in the United States. Dr. Ralston is an active member in the North American Academy of Liturgy and the Evangelical Homiletics Society. His research in New Testament manuscripts and worship has taken him into a wide variety of settings and produced numerous scholarly articles. His teaching interests include preaching, worship, and spirituality. His research interests include New Testament manuscripts, liturgical theology and history, the history and practice of Christian spirituality, and spiritual direction. 

He vists the BreakPoint Podcast to discuss Mary and her important role in the life of Jesus beyond the Christmas story.

 

Dec 21, 2020
Life Lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”
03:58

Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, is such a TV staple this time of year, it feels like just another Christmas decoration. It’s like one of those things that gets put on the wall because it’s Christmastime but hardly ever noticed. That would be a shame, however, because there are so many great life lessons in this film. Just ask journalist Bob Welch, the author of a Fifty-Two Little Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life. For those keeping score at home, that’s one lesson for every week of the year.

For example, Welch points out how much this film teaches us about grace, the idea of unmerited favor. Right at the beginning of the film, the addicted druggist Mr. Gower slaps a young George Bailey on the ear so hard that it starts bleeding. George chooses to forgive him, realizing that Mr. Gower has just received word that his son has died.

There’s also the scene where George and Mary are trying to leave for their honeymoon but witness a run on the Building and Loan. Old man Potter offers 50 cents on the dollar to customers to move their business. Many are tempted to take him up on it, but George pleads with the townspeople to keep their money at the Bailey Building and Loan. Welch notes, “George suggests that one reason to do so is that the Baileys believe in grace and Potter doesn't.”

“Here, Ed,” George says to one of his neighbors. “You remember last year when things weren't going so well, and you couldn't make your payments? You didn't lose your house, did you? Do you think Potter would have let you keep it?”

Of course not. Old man Potter didn’t do “grace.”

And remember the missing $8,000, lost by Uncle Billy on Christmas Eve. While George grabs Uncle Billy and shouts at him, in the end, he ultimately extends grace as well. In fact, forced to ask Mr. Potter for help, George takes the blame, saying that he is the one who misplaced the money.

George's wife, Mary Bailey, especially excels at the grace business. When George comes home from work on Christmas Eve, yells at his wife and kids, insults Zuzu's teacher over the phone, and trashes the living room, Mary has every right to be furious. Instead, she forgives George, tells the children to pray for daddy, and then goes around town asking people for help in replacing that $8,000.

Grace, Welch reminds us, “is the foundation of the Christian faith. Jesus' granting us grace by forgiving our sins flies in the face of virtually every other religion, which operate on a you-get-what-you-deserve basis. But Jesus says, in essence, you don't get what you deserve. You get what you don't deserve.”

The willingness to offer grace. The willingness to accept grace. The willingness to live by grace. That's what makes Bedford Falls such a great place to live.

There are other life lessons in the film that Welch points out in his book, as well. For example, to count our blessings. Or, that richness is not about money, but about the people in our lives. And, that we can indeed make a difference because, as the angel Clarence reminds George, each person’s life touches so many others.

Fifty-two Little Lesson from It's a Wonderful Life is a great Christmas gift for the family. You can pick up a copy at our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org and read it together as a family. And of course, don't forget to sit down together and watch Frank Capra's great classic film.

Before I leave you today, I want to remind you that BreakPoint is a listener-supported ministry of the Colson Center. The Colson Center is equipping you and countless others, not only through our BreakPoint podcast, but also through our short courses, our What Would You Say? videos and a host of other programs. You can show your support for BreakPoint and these other ministries by making a year-end gift at Breakpoint.org/December2020.

Thank you!

A version of this commentary first aired on BreakPoint in December of 2012.

Dec 21, 2020
A Time to Reconcile . . . and Happy Christmas! - BreakPoint This Week
45:33

John Stonestreet and Shane Morris talk about the turmoil of 2020 and how politics, the election, COVID, economic stress, and even face masks have caused division within families, the nation, and even the body of Christ. How do we reconcile with one another? After all, Jesus wasn't merely suggesting we leave our "gift at the altar" and be reconciled with our brother. It was a command.

Also on today's episode, two interesting reports: Pew Research shows that restrictions on religion across the globe are at an all-time high. Meanwhile, Gallup released a survey that show while Americans' mental health ratings have "sunk to a new low," on group of Americans is doing much better than others: frequent churchgoers.

They wrap up the episode with their Christmas movie recommendations. Listen in as Shane waxes theologically rhapsodic over "It's a Wonderful Life," while John weighs in on every movie version of "A Christmas Carol."

Dec 18, 2020
Britten’s Ceremony of Carols
03:55

In the recent Tom Hanks movie Greyhound, the captain of a destroyer leads a convoy across the U-boat-infested North Atlantic during WWII. To say that the trip from the U.S. to Britain in 1942 was dangerous is not only is an understatement of epic proportion, it offers context for the extraordinary composition of Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols.”

Britten was arguably the most important British composer of the 20th century. In 1942, after three years in North America, he found himself in the middle of the Atlantic aboard a Swedish cargo vessel, trying to return to his native England. Instead of panicking amidst the harrowing circumstances of the dangerous crossing, he wrote two choral works: the “Hymn to St. Cecilia” and the “Ceremony of Carols.”

As the name suggests, the “Ceremony of Carols” consists of ten carols framed by the chant “Hodie Christus Natus Est” (“Today, Christ is born”) at both the beginning and the end. The carols he employed date from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, and are sung in Middle and Early Modern English, as well as Latin.

One carol, “Deo Gratias” (“Thanks be to God”), sung in a combination of Middle English and Latin, tells the story of Genesis 3. While the text is primarily about the Fall, the carol’s musical energy and emphasis is on thankfulness, specifically to God for providing a savior who sets things right.

The most beloved carol in the work is “This Little Babe.” Despite its sentimental-sounding title, the text describes the all-out battle the Babe of Bethlehem wages against Satan himself.  The words were written by Robert Southwell, a Catholic priest who was hanged, drawn, and quartered by Queen Elizabeth I. Here’s how they read: “This little Babe so few days old, Is come to rifle Satan’s fold; All hell doth at his presence quake, Though he himself for cold do shake; For in his weak unarmed wise, the gates of hell he will surprise.”

Jeff Spurgeon of New York’s classical music station, WQXR, calls “This Little Babe” his “favorite Christmas carol.” In Southwell’s words and Britten’s music, says Spurgeon, the battle between good and evil is won by “a baby born in obscure poverty” and is depicted “not by a huge orchestra and massive voices, but by a harp and a choir of children.”

Britten, the man who pulled this off musically, could hardly be described as an orthodox Christian, much less a devout one. His personal life, including his sexual proclivities, was the source of numerous controversies during his life and even after his death. However, if this work composed during a potentially deadly voyage in 1942 is any proof, he was at least a Christ-haunted man. Believe it or not, in this, Britten wasn’t unusual. So much of the West’s greatest art was inspired by Christian themes. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine the West’s cultural heritage without Christianity.

Though much of great art was created by people of unquestionable faith, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, others were produced by people whose faith is unknown, or even, nonexistent.

The power these works hold to move us is, at root, the power of the story that makes the work possible--the story that explains where human creativity, like is evident in the talent of Benjamin Britten, comes from. And in this case, to use Spurgeon’s words, the story of God’s “sneak attack on the forces of evil,” which we will soon celebrate.

For BreakPoint, I’m John Stonestreet. Merry Christmas.

A version of this commentary was aired by John Stonestreet on December 23, 2016.

Dec 18, 2020
Snowflake Adoption Is Wonderful, but It Is not the Solution
05:04

Last week, I shared the story of a man and his wife who decided not to pursue in vitro fertilization, despite being told by their doctor that it could be successful in their case.  “A little boy or girl created with our own genetic material,” he wrote, “is not morally worth the many inevitable deaths of his or her embryonic brothers and sisters.”

The moral clarity and moral courage of this couple is impressive and, as I said in the commentary, too rare. More than a few people wrote to ask us if the problems raised by IVF, particularly the issue of so-called “excess embryos,” could be solved by what’s called “snowflake adoption.”

Snowflake adoptions involve adopting and implanting frozen embryos “left over” after IVF. Like pregnancy care centers that offer redemptive ways for people to confront the issue of abortion, embryo adoption is an amazing and redemptive response to a pre-existing brokenness. It’s not accurate, however, to call it a “solution.” Here’s why.

While the numbers are hard to pin down, it’s estimated that only one in four viable embryos created by IVF will be implanted. And, only about 40 percent of implantations result in a successful pregnancy. Once a successful pregnancy is achieved, any excess embryos created by the process are either discarded, donated for scientific research, or frozen. By most estimates there are more than one million frozen embryos in storage, just in the United States.

In other words, to “solve” just the current crisis would require one million couples willing and able to undergo the expense of embryo transplantation. And, it’s important to know that at least 60 percent of the “adoptions” would not result in a successful pregnancy.

But, of course, the number of frozen embryos continues to grow. The cultural factors that currently drive IVF are still in play. There is still an utter lack of ethical consideration surrounding artificial reproductive technologies. We still operate, as a culture, from a utilitarian “ends-justifies-the-means” mindset, where people often use technology to postpone childbirth and in which same-sex couples, who have intentionally chosen a sterile union but who nonetheless demand children.

That’s why “snowflake adoption” is better seen as a wonderful, redemptive response, but not a solution to the problem. Another response would be organizations who perform IVF without creating excess embryos. However, they are the exception, not the rule. For the most part, we have accepted the destruction of countless lives so that some infertile couples can have a child of their own genetic making. For the most part, many Christians have also accepted this.

Back in March, I spoke with Hannah Strege, America’s first “snowflake” baby and her family on the BreakPoint Podcast. Her parents adopted her from a freezer, and they courageously gave her a chance at life. During the interview, Hannah told me that she wished to devote her life, in part, to opposing in vitro fertilization.

“Snowflake adoption” is an amazing response to the brokenness, but we have to stop adding to the brokenness. Christians must stop participating in any technology that creates excess embryos. Pastors need to know enough about IVF and be brave enough to counsel couples to make the right decision.

And Christians must live counter-culturally when it comes to those factors that drive the use of IVF, such as delayed parenting and same-sex marriage.

God bless any couple willing to adopt and bring a snowflake baby to term. And God give us the kind of moral courage we need to live in this cultural moment, the kind of courage displayed by the young couple who wrote me.

Before I leave you today, I want to remind you that BreakPoint is a listener-supported ministry of the Colson Center. The Colson Center is equipping you and countless others, not only through our BreakPoint podcast, but also through our short courses, our What Would You Say? videos and a host of other programs. You can show your support for BreakPoint and these other ministries by making a year-end gift at Breakpoint.org/December2020.

Thank you!

Dec 17, 2020
Does My Son's Inclusion Promote LGBTQ+ Inclusion? - Ask the Colson Center
40:04

A mom writes to BreakPoint to ask about a school request. The school wants to push inclusion in the classroom for her son with a disability. The family is concerned that joining the inclusion effort will inevitably be tied to sexual dysphoria inclusion.

After explaining the Christian view of dignity and value, John and Shane provide support for a youth worker. The youth worker asks for church history resources in an effort to make church history connect to a Christian worldivew. John and Shane highlight the development of doctrine inside church history. They explain the distinct nature of the Christian worldview over other belief systems.

-- Resources --

Political Idolatries - Mark Tooley

Why You Think The Way You Do - Glenn Sunshine 

Church History Vol. 1 - Everett Ferguson

Documents of the Christian Church - Henry Bettenson

Church History in Plain Language - Bruce Shelley

Dec 16, 2020
The Story Behind Handel’s Messiah
03:55

George Frideric Handel was mainly a composer of operas. In fact, he composed dozens of them. Though his productions were popular in 18th century London, Handel had his enemies. A foreigner, born in Germany, and by many accounts not a very likeable fellow, his rivals detested his style of opera. He was also kind of a large, awkward man, rough and hot-tempered enough to earn the nickname "The Great Bear."

When his operas and his health began to fail, Handel sank into bankruptcy and despair, believing his career was over. In 1741, he was invited to Ireland to direct one of his works at a charity performance. Handel decided to write a new oratorio.

A deeply religious man, he turned away from the human foibles common to his operas and chose his text and themes from Scripture. Something remarkable happened. He composed with a super-human zeal and energy. People thought he was mad, or even under a spell. One servant reported that Handel seldom ate or slept and worked with such frenzy that his fingers could no longer grip his pen. He was, in fact, in the grip of divine inspiration. The result is one of the world's great masterworks, Messiah.

Handel finished Part I in only six days. He finished Part II in nine days, and Part III in six days. The orchestration took him only a few days more. In other words, in all, two-and-a-half hours of the world's most magnificent music was composed in less than twenty-five days. When he finished, he sobbed: "I think that I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself!"

Immediately, from its premiere in Dublin in 1742, Messiah was pronounced a masterpiece. Messiah recounts the prophecies of Christ and his triumphant birth, utilizing an amazing amount of Scripture including passages like, "For unto us a child is born . . . and the government shall be upon His shoulders." And "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God . . . the Prince of Peace."  In fact, Messiah pulls from the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, Lamentations, Haggai, Malachi, Zechariah, Matthew, Luke, John, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, and Revelation.

At its London premiere, King George was so moved by the "Hallelujah Chorus" that he spontaneously rose from his seat. The entire audience followed his example and, for the past 250 years, audiences have continued to do the same.

After the success of Messiah, Handel continued to write religious music. Beethoven said: "To him I bend the knee, for Handel was the greatest, ablest composer that ever lived." Even after his eyesight failed, Handel continued to perform until, at age 74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. He was put to bed saying, "I should like to die on Good Friday."

Instead, he died on Holy Saturday, April 14th, 1759. His grave, at Westminster Abbey, is marked by a statue of Handel with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth."

My wife starts listening to Messiah each year during Advent, or even a bit earlier. Like King George, our hearts still rise at that great triumphal chorus. We sing "Hallelujah” to the King who will reign forever and ever.

 A version of this commentary by Chuck Colson first aired December 22, 2000

Dec 16, 2020
Don’t Stay for the Applause
03:55

A few years ago, a popular Christian singer, even though it wasn’t Christmastime, ended her set by leading the audience in “O Come All Ye Faithful.” By the time the song was over, and the crowd’s attention was pulled back to the stage, the singer was gone. Even though it was her concert and not a church service, the singer hoped to point to God and not herself. When it was time for her well-earned applause, she was out of sight.

A few weeks ago, news broke that a young, popular pastor from Hillsong Church in New York City had been fired. Carl Lentz is known for hanging out with celebrities, throwing so-called “Church house parties,” and dressing in expensive, stylish, and even provocative ways. On Instagram, Lentz confessed that he had been unfaithful in his marriage.

This remarkably sad story is certainly not the only one we’ve heard recently of a pastor or ministry leader found guilty of a moral failing. Both from common observation and from Jesus’ teaching, it is clear that fame and wealth can both attract temptation and cultivate corruption. The main lesson for all of us is to stay accountable. Stay humble. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

There’s also a lesson here about the relentless pursuit of relevance. When pastors and ministry leaders flirt with celebrity, Christianity becomes a brand. When that happens, the surrounding noise of marketing and brand- building drowns out the central promise of a changed life. Suddenly, the metrics of a “successful” ministry shift from faithfulness to the number of likes, shares, and dollars.

About the same time that I read the heartbreaking news about Carl Lentz, I learned of the passing of a man I’ve known since I was young. Lee Stone spent decades as a volunteer girls’ basketball coach at the little Christian school I attended and as the pastor of a small country Baptist church in Virginia. For 34 years he led the local rescue mission in town, helping men and women who were down and out with alcoholism, addiction, and homelessness–often the same men and women, over and over again. 

Lee Stone was a quiet man, and he walked with a limp. He was certainly no celebrity. I can’t say for sure, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that he never had an Instagram account. However, what’s clear, both from his obituary and from the tributes that poured in on social media, is that Lee Stone was a man who loved others deeply and was deeply loved by many. He left his community better without ever building his “platform.”

“Lee’s legacy,” the local newspaper read, “is one of serving God with the compassion of Jesus Christ.” That legacy and Lee’s impact were quietly built on a lifetime of faithfulness. He is survived by his lovely wife, to whom he was married for 65 years, his 4 children, and his 23 grandchildren. 

The contrast between these two stories, one which made national headlines and one that made the local paper’s obituary section, was stark. I am sure he wasn’t perfect, but Mr. Stone chose a life largely insulated from the temptation to entitlement or self-worship or fame. But his impact was great.

I want to be like Lee Stone. I don’t think I’m old enough to offer much life or ministry advice, but I will confidently advise anyone called to serve the Lord as a pastor or speaker or ministry leader, if given the choice between the way of a celebrity pastor or the way of Lee Stone, choose the way of Lee Stone.

Our talent and our drive and even our charisma can often write checks that our character can’t cash. Err instead on the side of a quiet, faithful life. Leave the stage before the applause starts. The applause of our Father, “who sees in secret,” is the only praise we need anyway.

Dec 15, 2020
The Nativity in Light of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus - Alistar Roberts on The BreakPoint Podcast
34:58

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, Shane Morris invites Dr. Alastair Roberts to explain the stunning symmetry in the Gospel narratives between Jesus’ birth and His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  Dr. Roberts also explains how reading the Bible typologically can help us see the amazing parallels between the Old Testament and the life of Jesus—much as Jesus must have explained to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, where Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Dec 14, 2020
Healing the Relationships Broken by 2020
03:54

I’m ready to make a prediction about the 2020 election. I realize it’s a bit late, though I am comforted by the fact I cannot be more off than the polls were. For the record, this isn’t a prediction about whether or not President Trump will concede or succeed in returning to the Oval Office, or even about what will happen in the very important Georgia Senate run-offs.

No, this is a prediction I thought about making months ago, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to articulate it. But now, I’m ready to predict that many people are going to regret how they talked about and treated others over the last year or more.

Christians, especially, will regret how this election has ended deep and important alliances and even friendships. We are going to regret things we posted and tweeted. We are going to regret ways in which we questioned motives or even character. We are going to regret placing so much weight on a set of political outcomes that certainly matter, but not nearly as much as it felt like at the time.

It’s not just the election. Disagreements over mask mandates, lockdown orders, and other aspects of pandemic frustration have broken up families, churches, and friendships. I predict there will be a good bit of self-reckoning in the future, looking back at words we allowed ourselves, and wondering, “Was it really worth all that?”

Don’t get me wrong: All of these issues at the center of our fighting have mattered greatly. I don’t think there are “two sides” to most of them, at least not two sides that are rational, measured, or moral. There are, however, image bearers on both sides. In most cases, there are image bearers with whom God has ordained us to “do life," or by whom God has blessed our lives for years. Many Thanksgiving meals were ruined this year, and we can’t just blame overreaching governors.

I’ve experienced the fracturing myself. Emails and phone calls from long-time listeners and even friends demanding I agree with them . . . or else. Of course, instances of “How dare you!” and “Shame on you!” are always part of this gig, but they have dramatically increased in volume and frequency, and have come from surprising corners.

This was a crucially important election, and this was a charge we took seriously. Each week for three months prior to it, the Colson Center held a national prayer webinar for the Church and our country. We did our best to help Christians be informed, not only on the presidential and congressional elections, but also about the very important local and state elections and state ballot initiatives.

Chuck Colson often observed that politics is downstream from culture. That’s almost always true, but most outside observers would have to admit that today, politics has taken over the lion’s share of our culture. In a sense, that’s still a “downstream” reality, because so much of the larger culture has thinned out over recent decades. Nature might abhor a vacuum, but political forces love it. As other aspects of culture, especially our pre-political relationships and local institutions, have drawn back, the noise of political ultimatums ride the tide of big tech right into more and more of our lives.

Fr. Robert Sirico once said that Christians should be ruthless with ideas but gentle with people. Too many Americans, but especially too many Christians, have been ruthless with people. Not only is this a way of shortcutting our task of truth-telling and persuading, it’s wrong.

A second prediction is that we are going to miss, and even need, many of the relationships we lost. Christian friendships, as C. S. Lewis describes in his masterful book The Four Loves, are among God’s greatest gifts to His people this side of eternity, and even beyond. “To the Ancients,” Lewis wrote, “Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue.”

But of course, a time is coming, and coming soon, when Christians who spent the last few years shooting at each other will find themselves, once again, side by side in the cultural foxholes. Many of us used the word “reprieve” to describe the 2016 election. That was the right word; it was never a solution. By all accounts, although there may be some additional buffering courtesy of a remade judiciary, that reprieve is over.

The incoming administration has promised to revoke the Mexico City Policy, which forbids U.S. foreign aid for organizations that promote abortion, and the recent appointment of Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services indicates there’s not really an interest in “coming together” and “moving forward” with those of us not in lock-step on abortion and sexual issues. Not to mention, during the campaign, Joe Biden promised to continue the fight against the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have been to the Supreme Court three times so that they don’t have to pay for birth control. And he’s promised to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion.

Will Christians be ready to face these challenges? And, even putting those challenges aside for just a moment (because a moment may be all we have), the Body of Christ predates and will long outlive any election cycle. How are we going to humbly obey Christ’s command to encourage one another towards love and good works, from thought leaders to family members, when we can’t stand each other?

Jesus’ instruction, even before we appeal to the throne of God for help, is this: “First go and be reconciled to your brother.”

Dec 14, 2020
Carl Lentz, Chuck Colson, and the Social Pull to Celebrity - BreakPoint This Week
42:43

Faithfulness, not success. That was a phrase that circled around Chuck Colson. However, as John Stonestreet points out to Shane Morris, that was something Chuck learned through real life consequences. 

John and Shane think through the power of celebrity, drawing listeners to recognize the power of social media to build an idol of success. They make the statement that social media is the most powerful force to engage and reveal a worldview since the printing press.

John and Shane also explore the worldview of former Vice-President Joe Biden as he begins making placements for his cabinet. 

Dec 11, 2020
The Majesty of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
03:55

Christians have so many wonderful resources that can help us celebrate Christ’s birth and prepare our hearts for His second coming, and one of them is sacred music. The abundant supply of truly majestic Christmas music points to a long line of theological artists, individuals who took seriously both what truth needed to be said in music and how it could be said so as to be both memorable and beautiful. Perhaps the greatest offering of all is Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

For much of his life, Bach was in charge of music at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Leipzig, Germany. However, his many other responsibilities, such as raising 20 children, might explain why he indulged in a few shortcuts. For example, Bach often recycled old material for new musical pieces.

Of course, true creativity does not always require an artist to work from scratch. We are made in the image of the God, who created ex nihilo, out of nothing, but human creativity always, to some degree, involves cultivating what God has given us and developing it to its highest form. In the Christmas Oratorio, Bach took virtually every solo from sacred music he had composed earlier and combined them with other choruses and instrumentals that were both new and old.

The opening chorus, “Celebrate, rejoice, rise up and… glorify what the Highest has done today,” was completely original. Later in the oratorio, Bach invites us to contemplate the paradox of the Incarnation: that the King of heaven saw fit to become a tiny baby born in a stable. By means of a powerful bass, Bach marvels that, "Great Lord, O powerful King, dearest Savior. . . He who sustains the entire world, who created its magnificence and beauty, must sleep in a harsh manger."

Bach’s original lyrics are in German. Come to BreakPoint.org, for a link to the entire English translation.

Bach's notion of creativity has been largely lost today. As children of 19th century Romanticism, many contemporary artists focus on the self as the creator and sees the role of the artist to spin out something completely novel and unique. Most artists today equate creativity with novelty, some even think that the role of art is to be subversive to any and all norms. It’s a form of what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”

Bach's music is as a powerful reproach to that vision of what art is. He saw creativity as a means of highlighting and enhancing traditional Christian belief. He saw scriptural texts and musical forms were compatible, serving each other in order to supply rich liturgy.

Bach signed all his work "SDG," shorthand for Soli Dei Gloria, which means “to God alone the Glory.” Bach knew the One true source of human creativity and that He must work through the composer if the art is to be what it should.

This Christmas, let one of history’s greatest artists, remind you that all of our work should be done to the glory of God. Like Bach, our creativity is intended to serve the Creator, who is the source of our lives and our abilities.

A version of this commentary was first published by Chuck Colson on BreakPoint in December of 1998.

Dec 11, 2020
Preach Christianity’s Weird Stuff
04:48

An agnostic historian just offered some interesting advice to Christians who want to be heard in a skeptical culture: “Preach the weird stuff.”

In a recent video interview with Glen Scrivener of Speak Life, Tom Holland, award-winning historian of the ancient world and author of the book Dominion, said that Christians shouldn’t shy away from the things that make the Faith unique. For example, the idea that Jesus of Nazareth is both God and man, said Holland, “sets everything on its head.” In fact, it is the Incarnation that provides what Holland calls Christianity’s “strange singularity.”

Christians, especially in light of modern sensibilities, are tempted to downplay the supernatural dimension of the faith. Yet Holland asserts that Christians should insist on things like angels, demons, and miracles. Not only are these beliefs non-negotiable within historic, confessional Christianity, they are foundational to much of the world’s great art and literature. Christianity’s greatest contributions, the ones that literally transformed the world, as Holland documented in Dominion, are grounded in “the weird stuff” of Christianity.

Even better, these truths have stood the test of time. Perhaps that’s because they’re true.

 In the early third century, the church father Tertullian wrote that the death and resurrection of Christ “is entirely credible, because it is unfitting . . . [and] it is certain, because it is impossible.” Tertullian understood that Christianity makes claims that people will find, at best, weird, and, at worst, offensive. And even back then people tried to make Christianity more palatable to contemporary ears. For example, the Gnostics, thinking the Incarnation and bodily resurrection were philosophical non-starters for the pagan world, remade Jesus into a sage and dispenser of hidden wisdom, and His physical resurrection into a spiritual one.

Fifteen hundred years later, in the so-called “Age of Enlightenment,” Christian ideas like the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, miracles, and the authority of Scripture were deemed to be insurmountable stumbling blocks for sophisticated minds. So, attempts were made, once again, to reinvent Jesus and Christianity to suit the spirit of the age: Jesus was a great teacher but not Divine, miracles had reasonable explanations, and Scripture could be scientifically scrutinized but still teach good morals.

Of course, the Jeffersonian attempts to remove the supernatural left no reason to accord Jesus a higher status than any other moral teacher or philosopher, despite the best attempts of people such as Friedrich Schleiermacher to win the intellectual approval of Christianity’s “cultured despisers.”

In other words, reimagining Jesus and Christianity to appeal to skeptics and unbelievers is nothing new. The result is always the same: We end up with a Jesus who looks nothing like the Jesus of history but looks an awful lot like the person doing the reinventing.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many American churches attempted to become “relevant” by embracing fashionable political causes while downplaying and even denying historic Christian orthodoxy. These churches have been hemorrhaging members ever since. Today, many have chosen to reimagine Jesus into the image of a social revolutionary or as a champion of the sexual revolution. Many of these churches face extinction.

Scholars may debate (and they do) whether or not the loss of members is caused by these attempts to be relevant, but a church that merely repeats the New York Times doesn’t give anyone a compelling reason to get out of bed on Sunday morning. Why sit through a boring sermon when there’s NPR?

What’s relevant to the larger culture will always be a moving target. As William Inge, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, once put it, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” Trying to win the approval of non-Christians by changing the message of Christianity is as much of a waste of time as it was in Tertullian’s day. Plus, the message of Christianity is True, which means we don’t have to make it relevant. It already is relevant—to reality!

Tom Holland is right. Let’s preach the Truth. God exists. Miracles happen. Jesus is God incarnate. He actually rose from the dead. That He cares how we live. That He’s coming again to judge both the living and dead. You know, all that “weird stuff.”

Dec 10, 2020
Shouldn't We Protect Our Borders? - Ask BreakPoint
51:49

John and Shane field questions from BreakPoint commentary. They start their session pointing out common challenges that Christmas is a pagan holiday. Shane provides a few resources he is providing this week from the Colson Center. John builds a structure of thought that stands against the torrent of criticism some face about Christian's hold on the holiday. 

Shane then introduces a challenge to a piece related to the United States' recent history in accepting Christian refugees. John provides necessary distinction in defending borders and providing asylum, calling listeners to understand the importance of the cultural moment.

To close John and Shane dig deep into theological thought on determinism. Shane frames the conversation around a comment from a listener related to a recent BreakPoint article. They lead listeners to a place of awe for the mind and love of God. 

Dec 09, 2020
Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? Jesus Is Myth Become Fact
04:23

Several years ago, in a documentary called “Religulous” (clever, right?), Bill Maher claimed that most of the story of Christ, especially the parts about His birth, were cribbed from pagan mythology. After all, Maher claimed, the Egyptian God Horus was born of a virgin on December 25th, was baptized, had twelve disciples, performed miracles, and ultimately died and rose again. Christianity, said Maher, is nothing but a cheap knockoff. 

The problem is, as numerous critics have pointed out, Maher’s claims are complete nonsense. No original source material backs up his description of Horus or, for that matter, of Mithras or Krishna, two other deities Maher claims early Christians copied.

As ridiculous as “Religulous” is, some of its same claims about the origins of Christian holidays remain and tend to surface most at Christmas time. For example, how and when did the Church determine that date of December 25th? Was it to compete with the Roman festival of Saturnalia? And what about trees, and gifts, and lights? Where did all of that come from? And, what about those pagan stories that resemble Christ, of sons of the gods and “corn kings” who die and rise again? 

Recently, historian and long-time friend of the Colson Center, Dr. Glenn Sunshine joined Shane Morris to talk about these things on the Upstream podcast. Glenn is a favorite teaching faculty of the Colson Fellows and, I can assure you, he is no Grinch. During his conversation with Shane, Dr. Sunshine answered some of the core questions about Christmas. 

For instance, Sunshine argued that December 25th was not chosen as the date for Christmas in order to co-opt a pagan solstice festival. More likely, it was based on an ancient Jewish belief that people are conceived on the date of their deaths. Since Christ died on or around March 25th, some Church Fathers believed that Christ must have been conceived on that day and born nine months later… December 25th.

Was this Jesus’ actual birthday? No one knows, of course. Still, the choice to celebrate Christ’s birth at the end of December reflects a “sacramental” view of reality, which Christians have held through the ages. 

In this more “enchanted” view of the world, one that held sway in the Early and Medieval Church, nature itself was understood to have signified the life of Christ. The visible death of winter—the withering of the leaves, the dormancy of the ground, and the longer nights—symbolized to many Christians of centuries past the death Jesus came to die. The turning of the seasons and the increase in daylight that symbolized the dawning of the Light of the World in a manger. 

Many of our traditions, like Christmas trees, probably began as symbols of life in the midst of death. Dr. Sunshine suggests that this mingling of symbols of atonement with the joyous news of the Savior’s birth can even be detected in the Gospel narratives. For instance, could those swaddling clothes be the burial cloth Joseph carried with him in case of death?

Even more, the pagan myths that atheists often exaggerate to attack Christianity, Dr. Sunshine thinks, offer tantalizing echoes of Christ in other religions. C. S. Lewis also recognized this when he wrote in Mere Christianity of what he called “good dreams,” or “those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men.” 

For Lewis, these echoes were not evidence of religious plagiarism, but that Christ is the “true myth,” the waking reality behind these “good dreams.” To celebrate Christmas well, focused on Christ as opposed to “stuff,” we do more than repeat old traditions. We are glorifying the King of Kings who came to save His people from darkness and make all things new. 

You can get Shane’s podcast with Glenn Sunshine at breakpoint.org, and the latest “What Would You Say” video tackles this same question, “Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?” Watch it as a family, share it on social media, or with your church to help others answer this question that still stumps too many of us.

Dec 09, 2020
One Couple’s Decision to Forgo IVF
04:47

Last week, I received a stunning email from a gentleman who had, only days before, learned from doctors that he and his wife would likely not be able to conceive children. The doctor did say that, in their case, in vitro fertilization could be successful. The email described the couple’s decision:

“We just can’t go forward with IVF. I know it could satisfy one of the deepest desires of our hearts, but the cost is unacceptable. A little boy or girl created with our own genetic material is not morally worth the many inevitable deaths of his or her embryonic brothers and sisters.”

I’m not sure what’s more stunning: the moral conviction shown by this young couple or just how deeply they understand the moral realities of artificial reproductive technologies. In a culture that views children as products instead of image-bearers, many Christians feel lost when faced with similar decisions. We hear from them all the time, and, while I’m grateful to be a resource for those wrestling with these issues, the Church has, too often, simply failed young couples in this area, both in communicating a theology of children and in helping them navigate the ethical challenges of infertility.

Whether from Scriptural stories (like Abraham and Sarah, Samuel’s mother Hannah, and John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth) or from personal experience, to say that infertility is painful is an understatement, as anyone who has gone through it can attest. Even if lacking a clear ethic on reproductive technology, Christians tend to value children more than the wider culture. In this context, technology can seem like answer to the prayers of those who wish to conceive their own children but cannot. It’s understandable why pastors and fellow believers would be loath to counsel against it.

All of this made the moral clarity found in this email so stark. This couple acknowledges that their deep, God-given desire for children is more than a matter of personal preference or a choice to further their happiness. Rather, it’s an inherent part of their marriage. Yet, they’ve sought to understand the moral complexities of IVF, realizing that means are not justified by well-intentioned, or even Godly, ends.

Listen to this line again: “A little boy or girl created with our own genetic material is not morally worth the many inevitable deaths of his or her embryonic brothers and sisters.” In most IVF clinics, couples consent to create more embryos than they intend to parent. They do that to increase the chances of success through various rounds of implantation. It’s a strategy built around the probability that not all of the embryos will survive. If more embryos survive implantation than desired, a so-called “voluntary reduction” is often recommended and performed. That’s another word for abortion.

To be clear, there are fertility specialists and clinics, many of them Christian, who, while not finding IVF unethical per se, refuse this pragmatic sacrifice of human life. Unlike a practice that has resulted in over a million abandoned embryos, subject to custody battles, or being discarded as medical waste, these clinics require that only one embryo is created and implanted at a time or that the couple will agree to implant all embryos created. 

All of this is a poignant reminder that talk about Christian ethics and worldview is not some disembodied, esoteric exercise for the theologically nerdy. Like the couple that wrote to us, the real-life issues Christians face in this cultural moment have flesh-and-blood implications. “Forgoing IVF is hard,” they wrote, “but we have peace that it is right and good.”

This couple has chosen the narrow way Jesus referred to in His Sermon on the Mount. They’ve chosen the way of Mary, who, when told by the angel that unexpected motherhood was her future, said “let it be to me according to Your Word.”

I don’t know precisely how, but I pray God will bless this couple with peace and in amazing ways for their faithfulness. I pray others, facing the pain of infertility, will follow their courageous example and do the hard work required to make the right decisions. I pray God will equip His Church and its shepherds to prepare His people to live faithfully in this cultural moment.

Dec 08, 2020
The Characters of Christmas - Daniel Darling on The BreakPoint Podcast
23:47

If the Christmas story is a cosmic drama, we would do well to know all we can about the cast of characters onstage at Bethlehem and beyond. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, of course. But what about the innkeeper? The angels and the shepherds? Simeon and Anna. And even “the surprising people” Jesus’ family tree.

What does God’s selection of this cast of supporting characters say about the star Himself, Jesus the King? Today on the BreakPoint Podcast, John Stonestreet welcomes Dan Darling, the author of the beautiful and insightful book “The Characters of Christmas: 10 Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus.”

Dec 07, 2020
Andrea Bocelli’s Beautiful Testimony of Life
03:55

Sixty-two years ago, a young Italian woman named Edi Bocelli, pregnant with her first child, was hospitalized with appendicitis. Her doctors advised her to abort the child because, they said, “the baby would be born with some disability.” A devout Catholic, Edi Bocelli refused, but the doctors’ prognosis was correct. Her son Andrea was born with congenital glaucoma and was completely blind by age 12. 

Despite being unable to see, Andrea was born with other gifts. One, in particular, stands out. His voice has been called “the most beautiful in the world.” According to Celine Dion, “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”

In fact, Bocelli’s albums have sold over 90 million copies. His 1999 album “Sacred Arias,” is the biggest selling album by a solo classical artist in history, and his 1996 single, Con te partirò (“With You I Shall Leave”) is one of the biggest selling singles of all time, putting him on a list that includes Lady Gaga, Maroon 5, and Adele. Bocelli has sung for presidents, prime ministers, and popes. He was even named one of the world’s “Fifty Most Beautiful People” by People Magazine.

In 2010, Bocelli told his mother’s story, in a video entitled “Andrea Bocelli—His Unknown Story That Touches Hearts.” Sitting at the piano, after describing his mother’s decision to not abort him, he adds, “Maybe I'm partisan, but I can say that it was the right choice.” 

Bocelli told an Italian newspaper, that he was inspired to share his story by a missionary in Haiti who works with children and women facing difficult pregnancies. “Because of my personal convictions as a devout Catholic,” said Bocelli, “I am not only fighting against something, I am fighting for something - and I am for life.”

The video went viral. Bocelli said he hopes it will “help comfort those who are in difficult situations and who sometimes just need to feel that they are not alone.” In this way, Bocelli’s story is reminiscent of the important work of pregnancy care centers, which also exist to remind women facing a difficult pregnancy that they are not alone. The comfort and support they provide helps women choose life, just as Bocelli’s mother did.

Especially at this time of year, Bocelli’s story reminds us of the part a challenging pregnancy played in the story of our redemption. It’s easy for us to forget that God gave Mary the option to say “no.” Her reply, “may it be done according to thy will,” are similar to the words that Edi Bocelli and countless other women have echoed throughout the ages. 

And here’s just a small sample of “the most beautiful voice in the world, Andrea Bocelli singing, “Glory to You, Christ Jesus, you will reign today and forever. Glory to you, you who will soon come!”

 

Glory to you, Christ Jesus,
you will reign today and for ever
Glory to you! You will soon come;
you alone are our hope!

The Colson Center team has prepared a free downloadable and beautifully illustrated e-book, “Emmanuel! Readings for Advent.” It’s available at BreakPoint.org.

And, by the way, Andrea Bocelli is holding a Christmas concert, to be streamed online around the world, on December 12. It’s available on pay-per view. We’ll link you to that as well at BreakPoint.org

Dec 07, 2020
BreakPoint This Week - How Strong Is Our Democracy?
46:41

Given the post-election turmoil and growing distrust of Americans in our nation's institutions, John Stonestreet and Shane Morris discuss the health of America's system of government, what Chuck Colson once called "the greatest experiment in Liberty ever undertaken."

Also on this episode: Are we on the cusp of a COVID baby bust? With the American fertility rate well below replacement level, what does it say about our culture that fewer people are having--or even want to have--babies? And what are the ramifications for our economy and our society? Have we lost hope?

In the meantime, NASDAQ is asking the Federal Trade Commission to approve new guidelines for companies listed on the exchange concerning the diversity of their corporate boards. John and Shane discuss woke capitalism and the proliferation of identity groups.

John and Shane wind up the show with their recommendations for the week. Why not actually read Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"? And John is beyond excited about . . . the return of NCAA basketball.

Dec 04, 2020
The Case for Accepting Refugees
04:56

Among the commitments made for his administration’s first 100 days in office, Joe Biden has promised to reverse Trump-era policies on the admission of refugees into the United States. Specifically, Biden has promised to raise the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. during his first year in office to 125 thousand , a significant increase from the current levels of around 25 thousand per year.

Given the increasingly grave threats faced by religious minorities in many regions of the world, especially Christians, a careful change of national policy in this area is desperately needed. To understand why, the refugee issue must first be untangled from the larger issue of immigration.

Immigration levels are determined by a combination of factors, mostly having to do with national economic interests. Refugee levels are, or at least should be, a matter of humanitarian concern. In recent years, the two issues have been conflated, partly by government failures on immigration and partly by increasingly passionate political loyalties. They shouldn’t be conflated.

A refugee, as officially defined by the Refugee Resettlement Program, is someone who fled their country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution based on his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The number of refugees around the world has reached its highest point since the end of World War II. Most are from the Middle East, where wars throughout the region have caused millions, including millions of Christians, to flee their homes. ISIS, for example, was birthed out of instability in Iraq and Syria, and their targeting of Christians and Yazidis was eventually (and rightly) called genocide.

In African countries such as Upper Volta and, especially, Nigeria, Christians are broadly and violently targeted by their non-Christians neighbors. In Nigeria, where Boko Haram and militant Fulani herdsman have killed, injured, kidnapped, and displaced thousands of Christians, the situation has also been labeled “genocide” by the Internal Committee on Nigeria.

In China, the Communist Party has not only declared war on Christians, with pastors and Christian leaders both on the mainland and in Hong Kong fleeing and seeking sanctuary elsewhere but has also targeted the Muslim Uighur population in ways reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust.

About a year ago, I noted that certain promises made to persecuted Christians by the Trump Administration, including by Vice-President Mike Pence, had not been kept. In particular, the number of refugee admissions into the United States has been reduced to a level that Mindy Belz of World Magazine has labeled “cruel and unusual.” 

To be clear, the administration has pursued “a new, practical focus on assisting refugees where they are concentrated,” using foreign assistance and other tools “to resolve the crisis points that drive displacement in the first place.” The administration also appointed former governor Sam Brownback as the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and hosted two international ministerial conferences for advancing religious freedom.  New approaches like this are needed and are welcome. Ultimately, we want the number of refugees reduced, and that will require that religious freedom and protections for religious minorities be advanced around the world. And, simply put, most people don’t want to leave their countries, their families, and their homes behind.

In other words, there are things that can be done to help refugees, both Christian and non-Christian, that do not involve resettling them into the U.S. Any and all effective policy advancements to that end ought not be reversed by an incoming administration clearly committed to reversing almost everything from the previous administration.

At the same time, as more and more people are forced to flee religious persecution around the world, the United States will need to admit more refugees. This is especially true of those fleeing persecution in China and Iran, where our ability to resolve crisis points on the ground is limited. This can be done without compromising our commitment to vet the situations and stories of those seeking refuge. Already, refugees are far more strictly vetted than others seeking to enter the United States.

Time will tell if the U.S. will open its doors. Whether we do or not will tell us what kind of nation we are.

Dec 04, 2020
Will there Be A COVID Baby Bust?
04:51

Since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, plenty have joked about the expected pandemic-induced baby boom. In more recent months, however, those predictions have changed. For example, last week in The Atlantic, Joe Pinsker joined the growing chorus predicting a 2021 “COVID baby bust.”

While there’s not a lot of direct evidence for this pessimism, at least not yet, Pinsker’s predictions are the safest bet based on what might be called “pre-existing conditions.” Like the physical comorbidities that contributed to COVID complications for many patients, there are also cultural comorbidities which indicate maternity wards could be eerily quiet this time next year.

How quiet? Pinsker cites economists who predict somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 missing pregnancies due to COVID-related economic strain. And even those bleak numbers, say some economists, could be too optimistic. The volume of Google searches for pregnancy-related terms has dropped off significantly, reports the same Atlantic article, which could signal a fertility shortfall of as much as 15 percent in the coming months. One survey of Americans under 40 found that 17 percent who currently don’t have kids now plan to delay even longer because of the pandemic, with most of those reporting less interest in having children at all.

To be clear, in light of birth rate trends throughout the developed world, this shortfall is like losing a handful of dirt in the Grand Canyon. America’s fertility rate was already significantly below replacement levels, at an average of 1.7 children per woman over a lifetime. This number keeps falling further and further from the average rate of 2.1 required to maintain the population.

The most common explanation is that millennials, who currently make up the majority of the population in their childbearing years, were handed an economic raw deal. Having come of age during the Great Recession, they lacked the head start and resources their parents had to build families. While this is part of the truth, there’s a lot more to be said.

For example, neither the economic slumps of the Great Depression nor of World War II resulted in a fertility slump this persistent. The oldest millennials are entering middle age, but still only 32 percent of their generation is married. There’s no indication of a second Baby Boom on the way anytime soon. Instead, a huge percentage of Americans of childbearing age are simply choosing a childless lifestyle.

Recently, the “Conversation of our Generation” twitter feed posted two covers of “The New Yorker” side by side to illustrate the point. The first cover is from December 1957 and features a painting of a young family with two children admiring the home they’ve freshly decorated for Christmas. The second, from December of this year, features a young woman sipping wine and gazing at her laptop in an apartment surrounded by cats.

Of course, there are dramatically different economic realities behind the two pictures, but there are also dramatically different choices behind them. An article in Mic published earlier this year entitled, “11 Brutally Honest Reasons Millennials Don’t Want Kids,” quoted young adults citing all the reasons they don’t want kids: overpopulation, the physical toll of pregnancy, parenting challenges, and political fears. One woman simply said, “Children have always irritated me.”

If the dire predictions of a COVID Baby Bust come true, it will point to a condition that existed prior to the pandemic. Ours is culture committed to immediate gratification, which no longer thinks of the long-term future of our society enough to value children or the family. At the same time, we’re facing a near-term future filled with aging adults, who will increasingly lack meaningful connections with family members. To understand why that could be a problem, see the short documentary shot in Japan last year called “Dying Alone.”

The call to action, the only one that can reverse this trend seems too simple to be effective. But, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man in king. In simple terms, the Church must re-catechize its people of the centrality of marriage and the God-given good of children. Christians must make different choices and urge our children to make different choices. Christians must have different priorities. Otherwise, a generation from now, what happened in ICUs this year will be overshadowed by what didn’t happen in our maternity wards.

Dec 03, 2020
Covid and Christianity - BreakPoint Q&A with John and Shane
35:24

John and Shane field a challenge on using data to take a stronger stance on the covid situation around the country. 

The pair also field a question on the Trinity, and Shane provides some good resources to help build a Christian perspective that is rooted in Scripture.

To close John and Shane field a comment that helped a family navigate infertility. Through the Colson Center's presentation on IVF technology, the couple making the comment share that they were able to build a Christian view that has legs to stand. They thanked John and Shane for their work to help this couple hold a consistent Christian worldview.

Dec 02, 2020
We Can’t Control COVID (Or Much of Anything Else) 

05:02

In early March, the University of California San Francisco held a panel discussion of infectious disease specialists on a new virus that had, at that point, killed 41 Americans. These experts not only estimated that 60 to 70 percent of America’s population would eventually contract the virus, but that our best attempts to contain it, either through lockdowns or contact tracing, would be, in their words, “basically futile.”

Today, nine months later, the predictions of this particular panel of experts have turned out like most other COVID-19 predictions: right on some things, wrong on others. It’s not clear just how effective all of the quarantining, lock-downing, social distancing, and masking has been in reducing the number of infections, or why, despite more data, our assumptions about COVID-19 remain largely unchanged. And, of course, we’ve yet to reckon with the economic, educational, and mental health consequences of the policy paths we’ve chosen.

What is clear, more clear than ever in fact, are the base set of assumptions we now operate from as Westerners and Americans. Catastrophes like COVID always reveal worldview. To borrow a phrase philosopher Craig Gay uses in his book The Way of the Modern World, we are “practical atheists.” A subtle, operational-level form of secularism, practical atheism is not necessarily to believe that God does not exist. Rather, it’s to live as if God does not exist.

Professor Gay identifies two features of a culture operating from a deeply engrained practical atheism. First, there is an illusion of control. If there is no Higher Power determining the course of human events or judging the morality of our actions, the world is a place for us to make and remake according to our wishes. Grand leaps in science, medicine, and technology only deepen the faith we put in ourselves.

At the heart of our illusions of control is the assumption that world is totally understandable. We actually believe, Professor Gay says, not only that we can “comprehend reality in its totality,” but that “we are capable of rendering it stable and predictable.” In other words, we will ultimately make the world “work for us.”

That’s a really attractive proposition, of course. However, what happens when we face something beyond our understanding, something that is an existential threat to the “convenient fiction” of our control? Like a global pandemic? The answer can be seen in how so many U.S. governors approached last week’s Thanksgiving holiday: travel restrictions and curfews, bans on indoor gatherings, shaming even the idea of family gatherings for everyone, not just those at higher risk. The Governor of my home state of Colorado said that gathering with family for Thanksgiving was like “putting a loaded pistol to Grandma’s head.”

How quickly we went from the “we acknowledge we can’t control this” of the UCSF panel of experts to the “we absolutely can and will control this” of elected officials. The shift from “most of us are going to get sick but let’s care for and protect the vulnerable” to “everyone must avoid getting sick at all costs” is a significant one. Now, if anyone contracts COVID, it’s not because it’s a novel virus we don’t understand, but because someone failed. Practical atheists want control. When control is lost, someone is to blame.

This brings up another characteristic of “practical atheism” that Professor Gay rightly identifies: anxiety. Anxiety is the inevitable reaction when we realize just how out-of-our-control this fallen world is, and how fragile our shoulders – which now bear the weight of the world without God – really are.

It’s here that we see how much "practical atheism" has permeated the Church. Even for Christians who worship God on Sundays, it’s hard not to give in to promises that our doctors, or our politicians, or our favorite celebrity preachers, or our organic vitamin regimen, or our purity rings will fix the world, or at least allow us to control all the scary stuff in it. And, we too, are tempted to look for someone (or someones) to blame for all that seems out of control with our world, whether a global pandemic or election results. 

That’s why this moment is such an incredible opportunity for the Church. It will reveal our worldview, too. A Christian vision allows us to fully acknowledge our human limitations to understand everything, much less control everything. And yet, in this self-awareness, we are anxious for nothing, because we know there is a God who not only does understand but oversees the world He created and loves.

Dec 02, 2020
Ordinances Banning “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” Are Unconstitutional, Says 11th Circuit
04:37

Many Christians, especially when it comes to LGBT-related issues, have bought into what might be called “the inevitability thesis.” Nearly everything in our culture has convinced them to assume that it is futile for anyone to resist their same-sex attractions. And, any attempt to help someone, especially young people, reduce their behaviors and attractions is just as futile, and probably even illegal. 

After all, many believe, legislatures have adopted and courts have upheld bans on such things. Pastors, youth pastors, Christian-school teachers, entire counseling degree programs at Christian colleges and seminaries, and plenty of parents have embraced the “inevitability thesis” when it comes to LGBT issues, and now refuse either to address these questions at all, or, if they do, it’s to counter the cultural consensus they assume has been settled.

A ruling last week from the 11th Circuit court challenges the inevitability thesis. 

In 2017, the city of Boca Raton and the county of Palm Beach in Florida joined a growing list of jurisdictions that have adopted bans on “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts.” By ordinance, licensed professional counselors are prohibited from treating minors with the goal of “changing [their] sexual orientation or gender identity.” When Robert Otto and Julie Hamilton, two licensed counselors, challenged the ordinances in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, their chances of success seemed slim to none. After all, similar bans had already been challenged and upheld in the 9th and 3rd Circuit Courts. 

Judge Britt Grant of the 11th Circuit, however, sided with Otto and Hamilton. The counselors told the court that the ordinances “infringe on their constitutional right to speak freely with clients,” including those who have sought counseling because of “sincerely held religious beliefs conflicting with homosexuality.” Judge Grant found these free-speech restrictions of the ordinances to be “presumptively unconstitutional.” 

While Judge Grant acknowledged that the kind of therapy Otto and Hamilton practice to be “highly controversial,” which is why dozens of states and municipalities have banned it, the ordinances applied only “to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.” The First Amendment, Judge Grant clarified, “has no carveout for controversial speech.” Despite the government’s “legitimate authority to protect children,” speech, no matter how controversial, “cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them.”

 “If the [therapists'] perspective is not allowed here,” Grant concluded, “then the [government’s] perspective can be banned elsewhere.” In other words, what’s sauce for the goose could easily become sauce for the gander. Thus, speech should not be restricted merely because some people object to what is being said. 

Not only does Grant’s decision create what’s called “a conflict in the circuits,” making it all the more probable that the Supreme Court will have to consider the issue, there is an implicit lesson for anyone tempted by the inevitability thesis. After California and other jurisdictions passed laws restricting what counselors could discuss with their clients, many Christians and Christian institutions chose to conform to ideas and practices they knew to be wrong, so as not to put their licensure, accreditation, or some form of the state’s blessing, at risk. The pressure they felt was, of course, real, but they were mistaken to think there was no further legal recourse available. A similar mistake was made a couple years ago by a Christian adoption agency who had been told they had to place children with same-sex couples. A judge decided against the state in that case as well.

Of course, it’s not clear what decision a newly remade Supreme Court may return on any of these issues. That’s why the best advice in times like ours remains that given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, advice we were all reminded of by Rod Dreher: We must not live by lies. While there may be no call for us to stand on everywhere street corner or counter-protest every pride march, the greater challenge for every mom, dad, pastor, professor, youth pastor, or professional counselor, is never, ever to allow ourselves to say or go along with what is not true. Especially when it comes to what it means to be human.

Dec 01, 2020
Os Guinness' 1970 Critique Still True Today - BreakPoint Podcast with John Stonestreet
29:32

Os Guinness is a renowned scholar and accomplished author. He sits down with John Stonestreet on the BreakPoint Podcast to receive recognition for a republishing of his first book.

In The Dust of Death, Os outlines the trappings of a liberal movement that hadn't yet reared an overwhelming influence in society. He shows the strategy and forecasts much of the modern challenges we face to our freedoms in America.

Nov 30, 2020
Emmanuel! Readings for Advent
03:55

Yesterday marked the start of Advent. Officially, at least according to the Church calendar, it’s not yet Christmas. Officially, it’s Advent. This time of preparation is among the most important seasons of the Christian calendar. Reflecting on the God’s promises throughout history, first to Israel and then to the Church, is a remarkable way to cultivate and reinforce a Christian worldview in our hearts and minds.

For nearly two millennia, Advent has called Christians to understand life between the two bookends of God’s redemptive acts in Christ: His Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, and His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Advent is a time to recall God’s utter and unstoppable faithfulness to His people. Though Israel failed to keep its covenant with God, made at Sinai and renewed on several occasions afterwards, He always intended to keep His covenant with Abraham, that “through your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” That offspring was, of course, Jesus Christ.

Throughout Church history, reflecting on God’s faithfulness has led to the inspiration and production of many great hymns, including the one most identified with Advent, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The lyrics of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are taken from what are called the “O Antiphons.” An antiphon is a phrase or short sentence recited or sung either before or after a psalm or other passage of Scripture.

The “O Antiphons” belong to Christian antiquity. Roman philosopher Boethius, who lived in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, alludes to them in his writings. One scholar suggests that, “in some fashion, the O Antiphons have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.” And, since at least the eighth century, the “O Antiphons” have been set aside for the week preceding Christmas Eve, December 17 to 23.

The O Antiphons, like the hymn they produced, offer a journey through salvation history. Each Antiphon includes both a Messianic title, a reminder of who Christ is, and the invitation, “Come,” a reminder of our helpless state and need for divine rescue.

Christ is the Wisdom of God (Isaiah 11). He is Adonai, the Lord our lawgiver and judge, who will save us (Isaiah 33). He is the root of Jesse’s stem, whom the Gentiles will seek (Isaiah 11). He is the Key of David, who unlocks the doors of our prison. He is the Radiant Dawn, the light that shined upon the people who dwelt in darkness (Isaiah 9). He is the King of the Nations (Isaiah 2). And of course, He is Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7).

This sort of theological profundity, which cannot be found on any of the 24-hour Christmas music stations, is worthy of our silence, reflection, and meditations.

My Colson Center colleagues have prepared a free, downloadable booklet featuring an explanation of each of the O Antiphons, a short meditation on their meaning, and quotes from Christians throughout history on the wonder of Advent. The booklet is called Emmanuel: Readings for Advent. Come to breakpoint.org to receive this gift from our team to you and your family.

Exploring these remarkable statements about the nature and work of Christ is a wonderful way to intentionally engage with the season of Advent.

Nov 30, 2020
BreakPoint This Week - Are COVID-19 Vaccines ethical?
35:12

John Stonestreet and Shane Morris recount what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving season . . . and then wade into the deep waters of the ethics surrounding the upcoming COVID vaccines, whether they use fetal stem cells and whether it is ever ethically acceptable to take an innocent life, even for a so-called greater good. The good news is, major Christian organizations and ethicists have given the green light to two of the upcoming vaccines . . . but not a third.

Also in this week's episode, a federal circuit court has enjoined local ordinances that forbid so-called gay "conversion therapy." Clearly, the law is not settled, and John urges Christian counselors, churches, and institutions not to cave into the cultural narrative that our urges and desires define who we are.

They wrap up the show encouraging Christians to observe the season of Advent--and have some recommendations to make to bless you and your family.

Nov 27, 2020
Advent in a Time of COVID
04:27

Black Friday will be different this year, thanks to COVID-19. Instead of a single day of sleep-deprived consumers trampling security guards for flatscreen TV’s, it’s more a couple weeks of online over-marketing. While the presumed decrease in physical violence is certainly an improvement, the additional appeals to fill the voids in our hearts and minds with material goods isn’t.

If there were ever a time that we needed less distraction and more focus on what really matters, it’s now. In such a context, the next four weeks is, for followers of Christ, a gift. Sunday is the beginning of the season of Advent, a time set aside in the Christian calendar to reflect on the coming of Jesus into the world.

The Latin word adventus, from which the word “Advent” is derived, literally means “coming.” Positioned as it is, in the weeks before Christmas, Advent places Christ’s first coming into the world, in a manger in Bethlehem, within the larger historical context of redemptive history and the long promises of God to send a Messiah. At the same time, Adventus is the Latin translation of the Greek word parousia, which is used repeatedly in the New Testament to describe Jesus’ second coming, when He returns in glory at the end of the age.

Prior to this usage by Paul and other New Testament authors, parousia referred to the arrival of the Emperor in a city or a province. When notified of his coming, citizens would scramble to properly greet this very important person, preparing great feasts, and dressing in their finest clothes.

The original readers of the New Testament not only would have understood parousia in this context, they would have seen it as an explicit rejection of Caesar’s claim of lordship. While Christians today think and talk of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in personalized terms, such as “have you made Jesus Lord of your life?” the earliest Christians understood it as a public, definitive, and risky proclamation. In other words, to say “Jesus is Lord” is to say, “Caesar is not.” By using parousia to refer to someone other than the Emperor, Christians were saying something about who was really in charge.

This backdrop is essential to understand why so many early Christians became martyrs. Rome would tolerate various and eccentric religious beliefs and practices. At times, they’d even incorporate alternate religious celebrations and beliefs into their own. What would not be tolerated, however, were rival allegiances.

Nearly two millennia later, Christians must still clarify their allegiances. We, too, are tempted to give ourselves to would-be Caesars. Our false gods may be more subtle, but through the prevailing culture they exert power over our thoughts, imaginations, and loyalties. Unless we are intentional, we will worship them. While our would-be lords rarely demand, at least in overt terms, that we deny the lordship of Jesus, they are most effective in distracting us from ever thinking about what the lordship of Christ means and requires.

Advent invites us to prepare to greet the One who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” through whom “all things were created.” We, too, are asked to prepare through prayer and generosity. We, too, are asked to array ourselves in our “finest.” Not in garments but in truth, love, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

To prepare this way, not only to remember Christ’s first coming but to anticipate in hope His second coming, is every bit as culturally subversive as using the word parousia was two-thousand years ago. It’s a way of living as if Jesus is Lord. Because He is.

For a list of resources, podcasts, books and ideas for Advent, visit us at breakpoint.org.

Nov 27, 2020
What We Need This Thanksgiving
03:55

G.K. Chesterton once said that gratitude was “nearly the greatest of all human duties, (and) nearly the most difficult.” It is the greatest of human duties, because as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “what do we have that we did not receive?” It is especially difficult in a year like this, because we see in so many ways that things could be better.

Chuck Colson made this point in a BreakPoint commentary from 2011. When life is great, Chuck said, it’s easy to be grateful. When life is difficult, however, expressing gratitude can be a strange, yet profound, witness to the world:

A few years ago, university psychologists conducted a research project on gratitude and thanksgiving. They divided participants into three groups. People in the first group practiced daily exercises like writing in a gratitude journal. They reported higher levels of alertness, determination, optimism, energy, and less depression and stress than the control group. Unsurprisingly, they were also a lot happier than the participants who were told to keep an account of all the bad things that happened each day.

One of the psychologists concluded that though a practice of gratitude is a key to most religions, its benefits extend to the general population, regardless of faith or no faith. He suggested that anyone can increase his sense of well-being just from counting his blessings.

As my colleague Ellen Vaughn wrote in her book, Radical Gratitude, no one is going to disagree that gratitude is a virtue. But, Ellen says, counting our blessings and conjuring an attitude of to-whom-it-may-concern gratitude, Pollyanna-style is not enough.

What do we do when cancer strikes — I have two children who have battled it — or when loved ones die, when we find ourselves in the midst of brokenness and real suffering? That, she says, is where gratitude gets radical.

While they often mingle together in the life of a follower of Christ, there are actually two types of thankfulness. One is secondary, the other primary.

The secondary sort is thankfulness for blessings received. Life, health, home, family, freedom, a tall, cold lemonade on a summer day — it’s a mindset of active appreciation for all good gifts.

The great preacher and American theologian Jonathan Edwards called thanks for such blessings “natural gratitude.” It’s a good thing, but this gratitude doesn’t come naturally — if at all — when things go badly. It can’t buoy us in difficult times. Nor, by itself, does it truly please God. And, to paraphrase Jesus, even pagans can give thanks when things are going well.

Edwards calls the deeper, primary form of thankfulness “gracious gratitude.” It gives thanks not for goods received, but for who God is: for His character — His goodness, love, power, excellencies — regardless of favors received. And it’s real evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life.

This gracious gratitude for who God is also goes to the heart of who we are in Christ. It is relational, rather than conditional. Though our world may shatter, we are secure in Him. The fount of our joy, the love of the God who made us and saved us, cannot be quenched by any power that exists (Romans 8:28-39). People who are filled with such radical gratitude are unstoppable, irrepressible, overflowing with what C. S. Lewis called “the good infection” — the supernatural, refreshing love of God that draws others to Him.

And that, more than any words we might utter, is a powerful witness to our neighbors that God’s power is real, and His presence very relevant, even in a world full of brokenness as well as blessings.

I’m John Stonestreet, from all of us at the Colson Center, happy Thanksgiving.

Nov 26, 2020
Moms Don't Dad and Dads Don't Mom - BreakPoint Q&A
42:34

John and Shane venture where men seldom dare. They field questions on contraception and the role of sex in marriage.

They're asked for resources to build a scaffold for the purpose of marriage unions. In their explanation they delve into the impact of same-sex parenting and critiques on studies that show challenging outcomes. 

John and Shane address the difficult issue of contraception. They field a question asking for a Christian worldview response to how contraception might separate childbearing from sex. 

They conclude their time fielding a poignant request for resources on parenting boys. The listener references John's recent interview with Anthony Bradley, asking for resources to guide parenting and care for fathers and sons. 

Nov 25, 2020
Physics and Free Will
04:46

When Christians use the term “free will,” it’s often in discussions about divine sovereignty and predestination. Whether we choose God or God chooses us has been at the center of theological debate for centuries. On the other hand, when the term “free will” is used by evolutionary biologists the debate is over whether choice itself is real, whether it is an illusion produced by our brains.

Materialists have long insisted, because they kind of have to, that human actions and decisions are determined, not free. In other words, we think we make real choices as humans, but we don’t. Our choices are really the inevitable outcomes of a whole chain of material causes that go back, like falling dominoes, to the Big Bang.

This idea is called “determinism.” If true, a scientist with perfect knowledge of all of the conditions from the beginning of the universe could, like a cosmic weatherman, predict everything that would ever happen.

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, who runs a popular blog called “Why Evolution Is True,” has long held this view. As he puts it, “our choices and behaviors are the result of the laws of physics…” Given our chemistry, the arrangement of atoms in our brains, and outside forces acting on us, we cannot help doing what we do.

Obviously, determinism does quite a number on things like meaning and moral responsibility, among other things.

Determinism is an unavoidable conclusion if you start with the assumption that the world is only a place of natural causes and processes. However, if you start with the evidence, it’s another matter altogether. For example, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor points out at “Mind Matters” that quantum physics suggests we do not live in a deterministic universe. As early as the mid-60’s, physicists had devised experiments that strongly pointed to the fact that nature does not determine every event beforehand. Quantum events, such as those that put a certain spin on an electron, are not the result of “hidden variables” at the subatomic level. In fact, we don’t know what determines them!

While Jerry Coyne seems to be recognizing the implications of quantum physics for his determinism, he has chosen to double down rather than admit his framework is flawed. Reviewing a PBS video entitled “Can Free Will be Saved in a Deterministic Universe?” Coyne reiterates his belief that our sense of having free choice is merely an illusion. “…we could not have done other than what we did at any moment in time,” he writes. “And, except for the action of any quantum events, the future is completely determined by the past.”

In other words, Coyne’s determinism applies everywhere in the universe … except for quantum events. Other than an undetermined variable that influences literally every physical process in the universe, everything else is determined?

Michael Egnor has responded with a personal challenge to Coyne: What in nature isn’t the action of quantum events? Certainly, every event in the brain is quantum in nature—every brain state…every bit of protein synthesis or ion flow—is the consequence of quantum events. Because all quantum events are non-deterministic, then all brain states are non-deterministic, and the free will deniers’ claim that nature is deterministic falls to pieces.”

All of that physics jargon is making an important worldview point. In a Christian worldview, human attitudes and human actions are not only morally significant, but central to what it means to be in the image of God. We are not mere effects of material causes. It is because our minds are not mere emanations of our brains that we can talk about “right” and “wrong” as real concepts, to hold people accountable for their actions.

It also makes all of our talk about physics or neuroscience meaningful.  To borrow an argument from Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, if our minds are merely the products of material causes, why should we trust our thoughts to conclude anything, including that our minds are merely the products of material causes? Ironically, Jerry Coyne is assuming free will and rationality in arguing against free will and rationality.

This is one of those things we can’t not know about ourselves: Our thoughts, decisions, and beliefs are morally meaningful, not pre-determined. Anyone who is determined to deny this must assume their denial wasn’t determined.

Nov 25, 2020
Cashing in on Psychedelics
04:49

In 1967, ex-Harvard professor Timothy Leary famously coined one of the slogans of 60’s counter culture when he told hippies to “turn on, tune in, [and] drop out.” Psychedelics like LSD became a vital part of what Leary would later call the “graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments.”

Advocating for psychedelics made Leary an academic pariah and a target of the FBI. Had he come along fifty years later, he may have landed a lucrative consulting gig with venture capitalists.

On November 3, Oregon became the first U. S. state to legalize “magic mushrooms” for therapeutic use, following the lead of a few cities like Denver, Oakland, and Ann Arbor. Almost immediately after, articles appeared advising investors how to “take full advantage of this $100 billion (USD) market potential. Investing Daily summed up the bullishness many see in this new market segment: “‘Magic mushrooms’ aren’t just for getting high and playing your old Iron Butterfly albums. These versatile fungi are entering the consumer mainstream and they’re evolving into a major investment theme.” Joining the “cha-ching” chorus, Business Insider has run a few articles as well, with titles such as “4 ways entrepreneurs can break into the psychedelics industry,” and “Why I’m betting big on psychedelics.”

If I were to bet big about psychedelics, I’d bet our nation is making a big mistake. Psilocybin, the ingredient that puts the “magic” in “magic mushrooms,” is sold on its therapeutic potential but, like marijuana (which also won big on election day in Montana, Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and even Mississippi), there’s no way to limit its use to medical settings.

In fact, Michael Pollan described the real-world use of psychedelics in his 2018 best-seller, “How To Change Your Mind: “What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” Pollan and others don’t ingest “LSD, psilocybin and the crystallized venom of a Sonoran Desert toad” because they are clinically depressed. They are doing it to pursue what Leary called “the divinity within” and “the discovery of one's singularity.”

To put it in more accessible terms, our increasingly materialist culture rejects any God Who is authoritative and transcendent (i.e. who exists outside of the material world). Thus, the divine must be found “within.” Many think psychedelics can assist their search by making it that much easier to escape the constraints of reality, authority, and limitations.

Of course, something is noticeably missing in any alternate reality, whether induced by psychedelics, alcohol abuse, or virtual reality: other people. “Pursuing your singularity,” as Pollan put it, leaves little room for anyone else, and feeds the illusion that we are somehow free of any obligations and commitments to others.

People who use psychedelics say simply that it makes them feel better. What often goes unconsidered is whether or not psychedelics makes them better… better spouses, better parents, better employees, better friends. Advocates, like Pollan, also say that it helps them see things more “clearly.” In the 1990s, a small group of volunteers were injected with the psychedelic DMT. “Almost half experienced terrifying hallucinations, like ‘aliens’ that took the shape of robots, insects or reptiles.”

And, of course, there’s this notion that psychedelics help you “find yourself.” But, as John Horgan wrote in the Scientific American, that may not be a good thing. “Far from making you wiser and nicer,” he wrote, “psychedelics can make you an arrogant, narcissistic jerk. It can be hard distinguishing an ego that has vanished from one that has expanded to infinity.” It reminds me of what my friend Mike Miller used to say, “We told a whole generation of young people ‘go look inside, go find yourself.’ But what if they find themselves, and they’re jerks?”

That is, of course, at the root of the problem with psychedelics. Escaping reality never solves the problem of reality. Deluding oneself about oneself is never a fix for the problems of oneself.

Leary died in 1996. He didn’t live to see this brave new world of psychedelics entering the consumer mainstream. It’s just as bad of an idea today as it was fifty years ago.

Nov 24, 2020
The Fury of the Fatherless - Mary Eberstadt on the BreakPoint Podcast
23:45

Mary Eberstadt believes our national distrust is linked closely to a shift in fatherhood. A recent articled published in First Things makes the point that there is a link to violence and fatherlessness. 

Eberstadt notes a rise in national distrust and violent response. John Stonestreet pulls out more reasoning from Eberstadt's article, The Fury of the Fatherless, and allows her to share more research that led her to her conclusion.

Resources:

The Fury of the Fatherless: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2020/12/the-fury-of-the-fatherless

Nov 23, 2020
Abandoning the Elderly in Belgium
04:19

A recent report by the Belgium affiliate of Amnesty International contained an elephant-sized irony that neither Amnesty International nor much of the media seemed to notice. Entitled “Nursing Home Blind Spots,” the report claims that the human rights of nursing and rest-home residents were violated during Belgium’s initial wave of COVID-19. Of the 11,500 people who died from COVID-19 in Belgium during that first wave, 6,500 were residents of nursing and rest homes. Amnesty International calls this a “stupefying figure.”

The residents of these homes were, according to the report, “abandoned” by government authorities as the epidemic raged. Out of fear of overwhelming Belgian hospitals, only about half of COVID patients in nursing homes that needed to be hospitalized, were. What happened in Belgium is outrageous. That it happened in Belgium is not surprising.

Though Belgium wasn’t the first country to legalize euthanasia, it has “the world’s most liberal law on physician-assisted suicide.” A practice originally sold as a way to ease the pain and suffering of terminally ill older people quickly expanded. In less than a year’s time, legalized euthanasia was expanded to include children. Then it was extended to those chronically ill, but not necessarily terminally ill. Then to psychological suffering, not only physical suffering. The Psychiatric Times calls Belgium the "epicenter of psychiatric euthanasia.”

In 2014, Belgium extended the right to die to a convicted rapist and murderer who preferred dying to serving his sentence. Soon, other prisoners requested to die. They were turned down, not out of a new-found respect for human life, but because the country had been criticized for a “failure to properly treat mentally ill prisoners.”

Earlier this year, three Belgian doctors were cleared of murder charges after euthanizing a 38-year-old woman with autism. Her family insisted the doctors violated informed consent requirements and failed to properly treat her psychological issues.

For Belgians, euthanasia is quickly becoming a normal way of dying. Social workers and nurses who specialize in palliative care are quitting their jobs. In many instances, their jobs have been reduced to “preparing patients and their families for lethal injections.”

While this recent history in no way makes abandoning the elderly during a pandemic any less outrageous, it does make it easier to understand. Once a certain group of people is considered expendable, something Belgium concluded a long time ago, necessarily becomes part of all kinds of equations, especially when this kind of stress is added to the system. It is then impossible to have conversations about medical rationing, or resource efficiency, or financial prudence, or even, “flattening the curve” without factoring in what has already been decided: that some lives are not worth the cost.

Once a society steps onto this slipperiest of slopes—which has already happened in Belgium and the Netherlands and, to a lesser degree for now, in Canada and even Oregon—it becomes impossible not to re-evaluate human dignity and value based on some extrinsic criteria, such as convenience or financial costs.

The so-called “right to die” is sold on promises of personal freedom and autonomy. But once the so-called “safeguards” such as “informed consent” are justified, something that has proven incredibly easy to do, it’s a short, inevitable step from “right to die” to “expected to die.” 

We should know better. Certainly, many in the disabled community do. They’ve felt the unspoken but very real psychological pressure to buy the lies our culture tells about human value, to believe – God forbid – they’d be better off dead.

Christians should know better. We shouldn’t kill our suffering or our elderly for the same reasons we shouldn’t abandon them during a pandemic. They are image bearers. Their lives have infinite value, from conception to natural death.

Nov 23, 2020
Justice Alito Defends Religious Freedom . . . And Gets Skewered
37:06

What does it say about American society that when a justice of the Supreme Court gets hammered for defending the first freedom guaranteed under the Bill of Rights? John Stonestreet and Shane Morris discuss the media and political reaction to Justice Samuel Alito's speech hat the National Lawyers Convention, in which Justice Alito described the current threats to religious freedom.

Also on today's episode, some 92,000 complaints of sexual abuse have been filed against the Boy Scouts of America. While the decline--and demise?--of the Boy Scouts is a huge loss for American boys, there are, thanks to Christians across the country, alternatives such as Trail Life USA.

And Belgium has come under fire from Amnesty International for its shabby treatment of the elderly during the COVID crisis. But has anyone noticed that Belgium's lax euthanasia laws have been killing the elderly for years?

On a brighter note, John and Shane end the episode with their recommendations of the week. Shane going with "Adventures in Odyssey," and John recommending Melanie Kirkpatrick's book, Thanksgiving: The Heart of the American Experience.

Resources:

Address by Justice Samuel Alito at the 2020 National Lawyers Convention, YouTube

"Justice Alito is Right: Freedom of Speech and Religion Face Real Threats," Keith D. Stanglin, Newsweek 

"The Fury of the Fatherless," by Mary Eberstadt, First Things

"The Last Children of Down Syndrome," by Sara Zhang, The Atlantic

"When COVID Hit, Many Were Left to Die," New York Times

"Adventures in Odyssey"

Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience, by Melanie Kirkpatrick, available at Amazon.com

John Stonestreet's Interview with Melanie Kirkpatrick on Thanksgiving, The BreakPoint Podcast

Nov 20, 2020
Live not by Lies and the Danger of Soft Totalitarianism
05:20

Acts 4 describes how, after throwing Peter and John in jail for “teaching the people (and) proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead,” the Sanhedrin demanded that they “not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Peter bluntly replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Throughout history, Christians have faced demands to be silent. Throughout history, they refused. The word “martyr,” in fact, is derived from the Greek word that means “witness.”

In Live Not By Lies: a Manual for Christian Dissidents, blogger and author Rod Dreher thinks Christians in the West are entering a season where we will not only have to decide whether we will be silent; we will have to decide whether we will allow ourselves to be forced into going along with what is not true, with lies. Like those who endured the hardest days of Communist Eastern Europe, Western Christians face a totalitarian future.

Though he admits the totalitarianism of today is different in a number of ways, Dreher thinks it is the correct word to describe the “all-encompassing ideologies” of our day that “seek to control not just the actions, but the thoughts of those under its power.” Of course, we don’t face the sort of state-sponsored violence, persecution, and physical coercion many others have throughout history. One doesn’t end up in a Gulag for criticizing the new sexual orthodoxy or refusing to use the demanded pronouns, but some have lost jobs, some have lost their futures, and some have lost their degree programs. Others, like cake artist Jack Philipps or florist Barronelle Stutzman, have all but lost their livelihoods.

In our current context, what Dreher calls “soft” totalitarianism is mostly administered not by the state but “by corporations and other institutions run by managerial elites.” Our social media profiles, smartphones, and smart speakers provide these managerial elites and corporations with an unprecedented ability to monitor what we say and do.

China, already an expert in hard totalitarianism, is an example of how soft totalitarianism could proceed, especially the social credit system which “determines who is allowed to buy, sell, and travel, based on their social behavior.” Here, even as more and more instruments of technological surveillance are put in place, an additional layer of enforcement comes from corporate America. In our recent conversation for the BreakPoint Podcast, Dreher pointed to the corporate reaction to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which dates to 2015, as a key moment of cultural transition.

Though Indiana’s legislation was essentially identical to its federal counterpart, corporations responded by threatening economic sanctions. Some corporations closed down offices in the state. The NCAA, which is based in Indianapolis, threatened to move the Final Four basketball tournament. And, when the Christian owners of Memory’s Pizza expressed support for the measure, they were bombarded with negative online reviews and had to close temporarily due to threats of violence.

During the controversy, a man whose mother had grown up under the “hard” totalitarianism of Communism, told Dreher that his mom saw parallels to what had happened in Eastern Europe. Since then, others from across Europe shared their own observations, and many of these moving stories are included in the book. In fact, the interviews with Christians who remained faithful under Communist tyranny are worth reading, even if you aren’t convinced by Dreher’s comparisons between their day and ours.

Above all, these dissidents, such as Father Tomislav Kolaković, a Jesuit priest responsible for an underground church network in Czechoslovakia, have a great deal to teach us about what it means to “live not by lies.” We have much to learn from the Benda family in Prague about how to catechize our children when everything, it seems, is pointing them away from truth. And from Russian Christian dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov. And, of course, from Solzhenitsyn and Havel and so many others who will go down in the annals of Church history.

My conversation with Rod Dreher, author of Live Not by Lies is available now on the BreakPoint Podcast. Come to BreakPoint.org or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. There’s also a video of the interview on YouTube which you can watch and share.

While, as Hebrews says, we’ve not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood, the most tempting thing is not to resist at all. Live Not by Lies is, in my view, a vital book, and we have it for you at our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org. We may not be called to loudly protest or shout the truth from the rooftops. But we must not be forced to say what isn’t true.

Nov 20, 2020
Radical Gratitude
04:22
Nov 19, 2020
Radical Gratitude
Nov 19, 2020
Co-Parenting
04:30

The fundamental idea of the sexual revolution, the one that has led to so many of the sweeping social changes of recent decades, is that sex, marriage, and babies are separable from one another. Prying these created realities apart, realities that went biologically, historically, and religiously unquestioned until quite recently, wasn’t as inevitable as it now seems. Without technological innovations like the pill and legal innovations like no-fault divorce, it would have been impossible to imagine sex not inherently connected to childbearing or the normalization of childbearing outside of marriage. 

The stage that we now enter, after separating sex from marriage and marriage from children, is separating childbearing from sex. Once again, technological innovations, such as in-vitro fertilization, and legal innovations, such as the Uniform Parentage Act, have made thinkable what was previously unimaginable. 

And now, the UK Guardian reports on the rise of something that is being called “platonic co-parenting,” couples who connect in order to fulfill their mutual desire to have a baby, but who have no romantic or relational commitment otherwise. These couples aren’t actually couples, at least not at first. They’re not seeking love or romance. They don’t want to “waste time” on dating or marriage.

“You’re looking to achieve a common goal” described Stephan, a camera operator that had recently fathered a baby girl with a geologist named Jenica. “I really didn’t want a romantic connection,” agreed Jenica. Their daughter was conceived naturally, but the intent from the beginning was to co-parent, without living together or marrying. 

They’re not the only example. Co-parenting apps and so-called “mating sites” like “Coparents,” “PollenTree,” and “Modamily,” are rapidly growing, with some already boasting thousands of members. The main clientele for reproductive matchmaking services are, it appears, wealthy professionals, some who hear their biological clock ticking and others who wish to skip love and marriage and proceed directly to the baby carriage. 

Though the pretense, even in the Guardian’s headline, is that these relationships will remain strictly platonic and clinical, perhaps assisted by artificial insemination or IVF, couples aren’t finding it so easy to treat each other as reproductive vending machines. 

Most of the couples interviewed by Linton chose “natural conception” over artificial fertilization as a cost-cutting measure. At least one couple formed a lasting relationship and settled down. Most, however, endured painful and confusing breakups after having the baby, before settling into various kinds of arrangements, the kinds that children from broken homes know all too well.

One mother who went through a “breakup” said, in an attempt at self-reassurance, “I think there are far worse ways to bring a child into this world. I’ve got my baby and the love of my life, but through two different men. Our son doesn’t see mummy and daddy kissing and cuddling in the same house, but he sees that he’s loved and wanted, very much, by both of us.”

The vast and conclusive data we have on children from broken families makes it difficult to think her words are anything less than wishful thinking. The Guardian article quotes a family researcher at Cambridge who admits that “the quality of parents’ relationships with one another and their level of intimacy have a large bearing on children’s welfare.” Incredibly, she then immediately adds, without any evidence, “It is possible though, that taking away romantic baggage could even make for a more stable environment.”

So, all the data we have says that kids suffer when mommy and daddy are not committed to each other, but if mommy and daddy are participants in a reproductive business transaction, the kids will be fine? 

Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. Disconnecting sex from childbearing gave us abortion and abandonment. Disconnecting childbearing from marriage gave us a generation of fatherless children. The idea that we can have children without sex gave us rented wombs and robbing them of either a mom or a dad. That children should be created out of contractual arrangements without the burden of mutual love is also a bad idea. Once again, the victims are children.

Nov 19, 2020
Building a Theology of Getting Fired - Ask BreakPoint
43:37

John and Shane field important conversations downstream from worldview. A scientist asks how to frame gender identity. Another listener asks how to engage fundamental worldview questions in the classroom.

John references the need for building a theology of getting fired. He notes that we must continually ask fundamental questions in building a worldview.

John and Shane help listeners consider some survival tactics of consciousness of self-interest. The encourage listeners to hold self-preservation in engaging worldview battles hand-in-hand with truth. John rests his thought on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's work on Live Not By Lies

 

Shane closes with a question about Bible translations. The two wrestle the question while also driving listeners to simply read the Bible. They provide recommendations on strong translations. They also build confidence that the Bible is reliable.

Resources:

Solzhenitzyns Live not by lies

Colson Center - Worldviews and cultural fluency

Tactics - Greg Koukl

 

Nov 18, 2020
A Fancy Dinner Isn’t a Moral Failure
05:10

Earlier this month, when celebrity chef Thomas Keller was interviewed by NPR about his new cookbook, his interviewer wasn’t all that interested in the recipes. Instead, he wanted to talk about the $850-per-plate price tag at Keller’s recently reopened San Francisco restaurant.

With so many people struggling financially due to the pandemic, asked the reporter, is it really “fair” to charge that much per plate? Or is it, to use his words, “tone deaf.”

That an interview, which was likely intended to be a puff piece, turned into a social justice diatribe, is further proof that worldview affects everything.

To be clear, I cannot imagine ever spending $850 for a meal, but the reporter’s problem had nothing to do with prudence or financial stewardship. The problem with the price tag, according to the reporter, is not that some people would not have access to food, but that everyone would not have equal access to Thomas Keller’s food. In other words, his was a problem with the free market. And, of course, having a problem with the free market is all the rage these days.

Often called capitalism, a term popularized by Karl Marx and intended to be derogatory, the free market is an economic system. Unlike communism, it is not a complete worldview. In other words, it doesn’t try to answer questions about the nature of reality, who we are, why we’re here, what’s right and wrong, what’s ultimately wrong with the world, and how it can be fixed. That’s a significant distinction.

The failures of communism (everywhere it has been tried) is due to the fact it assumes wrongly about reality, morality, and human nature. Its failures are intrinsic. A free market, on the other hand, is premised on allowing consumers and entrepreneurs to make their own decisions. Its failures are the failures of the human beings it involves. Economic freedom for a largely moral people leads to the explosion of wealth, innovation, and generosity. Economic freedoms outside a moral framework can lead to exploitation. Thus, instead of the totalizing control of a communist framework, a free market leans on the state to provide legal protections and religious institutions to provide moral instruction.

Arthur Brooks, President Emeritus of The American Enterprise Institute and a professor at Harvard Business School, once said that he supports the free market because not because he cares about the rich, but because he cares about the poor. After decades of studying global poverty, he found that “four-fifths of starvation level world poverty has been eradicated since 1970.” How did that happen? It wasn’t through additional federal aid, or by throwing money at a problem that fundamentally wasn’t a money problem.

Poverty is addressed through opportunity, innovation, and people benefiting from their hard work and expertise. Thomas Keller can charge more because he sources the best produce and meat, buys the best kitchen tools, pays the best chefs, and tosses in his own innovation and skill set. I’m not saying that he should charge what he does, or that people should pay what he asks. I’m just explaining why his work and product deserves more value than a Big Mac

Imposing absolute financial equality, on the other hand, doesn’t lift anyone to ingenuity or wealth. Rather, it lowers everyone to the lowest common denominator, economically as well as in creativity and quality.

A free market works not because wealth is valued, but because labor is. Jesus said we can’t serve both God and money and that it’s more difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus never said accumulating wealth itself is sinful. Exploitation of the poor is sinful. Looking to wealth for salvation and meaning is sinful. Failing to steward what we’ve been given and failing to care for those in need are sinful.

When these potential downfalls are mitigated or avoided, a free market inspires people to give more. According to data from The Philanthropy Roundtable, Americans give to charity at a rate seven times higher than continental Europeans. The top one percent of all earners in the U.S. give a full one-third of all charitable donations.

Once NPR finally asked Thomas Keller about what was in his new cookbook, the interview took an ironic turn. Keller cautioned that his recipes aren’t necessarily for home cooks. His recipes require a certain amount of previously obtained skill. Interestingly, the reporter didn’t seem to think that was unfair.

I won’t be buying Keller’s book, and I likely won’t be eating at his restaurant. Still, I respect what his labor and skill has created. All that’s ok. That’s how freedom works.

For more on why a free-market economic system tends to be the best option for human flourishing, you can view our newest What Would You Say video at whatwouldyousay.org

Nov 18, 2020
The Mexico City Policy Football
01:01

Before the election, there was a lot of discussion in evangelical circles about single-issue voting when it comes to president. And the single issue was, of course, abortion.

Some argue that after six Republican administrations, Roe v Wade still stands. And even if it’s overturned, abortion becomes a state issue. So when it comes to abortion, it doesn’t really matter who’s in the White House.

I disagree. And here’s just one reason why. Team Biden has already announced that he will undo the so-called “Mexico City Policy” in his first 100 days

Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Republican presidents issue an order prohibiting US funds to go to NGOs overseas that promote abortion. And every Democratic president repeals the order.

In fact, Biden will likely push legislation to repeal the Mexico City rule permanently. And, to be clear, that’s just one way the U.S. has, under Democratic presidents, promoted abortion overseas. 

When it comes to abortion, Presidential elections do matter.

Nov 17, 2020
The Problem with Talking about Right and Wrong
04:44

Perhaps the most helpful framework I know of in wrestling with moral issues comes from T.S. Elliott. Before we can know what to do with something, we must know what that something is for. For example, before we decide what we should do with human life (whether we should take it, make it, or remake it), we should know what human life is for.

The opposing sides of contemporary debates around bioethics, i.e. abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, in-vitro fertilization, and other assisted reproductive technologies, often proceed from very different beliefs about what it means to be human and, therefore, what it means for humans to flourish.

That is essentially the very important argument made by Notre Dame Professor O. Carter Snead in his new book What It Means to Be Human, which was recently called “the most important book of moral philosphy so far this century” by public intellectual Yuval Levin.

(Now, if you’ve already checked this off as too academic because of phrases like “moral philosophy” and “public intellectual,” I will have failed. My interview with Snead on the BreakPoint Podcast should change your mind.)

Our laws and policies and debates about beginning and end-of-life technologies are proceeding these days, says Snead, without a shared or articulated vision of “what it means to be human.” Or, to use T.S. Elliot’s framework, we are greenlighting incredible technologies and freedoms about how to begin life and how to end life, without a foundation for understanding what humans are for.

Absent any official conversation, contemporary bioethics merely assumes the dominant cultural narrative about human existence: that we are autonomous individuals living in moral isolation from everything and everyone. As Snead profoundly argues, “everything” includes our own bodies. In other words, some of the most profound moral decisions are made as if people are “disembodied wills.” Philosopher Alisdair McIntyre put it simply, “We have forgotten our bodies.”

Here’s why that matters. If we aren’t bound by our bodies, then we aren’t bound by the bodies of others, which means we have no responsibility for anyone for anyone or for any obligations that are not chosen. No relationship, not with fellow citizens, not with family members or friends, not with tradition or religion, can define for us who we are or how we live.

This view of what humans are for, or perhaps what humans are not for, has been dubbed “expressive individualism,” and is the dominant worldview shaping our laws and our cultural imagination when it comes to what humans should do, and what we should be able to do with humans (including those not yet born, or who are infirmed and elderly, or who perceive themselves to be “born in the wrong body,” or who are fertile or infertile when they don’t want to be).

This caricature of real people and the way we live fails to take into account one of the most basic realities of human existence: that we live and encounter each other as bodies, not just as desires and wills.  And our bodies are vulnerable. They are fragile. They get sick, and they eventually die. This reality creates mutual obligations within families, friends, and neighbors. Namely, to give without expectation of getting anything back and, also, and this is important, to receive without being able to give back.

In What It Means to Be Human, Snead makes clear that simply debating the morality of abortion, euthanasia, and assisted reproduction is not sufficient. Moreover, it’s not enough to train our kids or disciple Christians just in the morality of these issues. We have to ground our definitions, debates, and catechisms in anthropology, in what it means to be human.

If we are to love our weak, vulnerable, and dependent neighbors, if we are to defend them, we ought also remember that we, too, will be weak, vulnerable, and dependent someday. This is what being human is, and our laws and policies should reflect it.

My interview with Professor Snead can be heard on the BreakPoint podcast. Please listen, and then buy two copies of What It Means to Be Human: one for yourself and one for your pastor. Both the Podcast and the book are available at BreakPoint.org.

Nov 17, 2020
Another COVID Surge, Same Question
04:59

The country faces another surge of COVID-19 infections, with as many as 120,000 new cases a day. According to WORLD magazine, “New cases and deaths from the coronavirus in the Midwest are climbing among record-setting days for the whole United States . . .”

The good news is that a vaccine is on the horizon and, as treatment plans have dramatically improved, the overall death rate has plummeted.  One physician at the Mayo clinic described to WORLD the new ways doctors think about treating COVID: “administer steroids, if appropriate. Don’t rush to put patients on ventilators. Be judicious with fluids. Put patients in a prone position to take pressure off their lungs. In short, stick with . . . the ‘bread and butter’ of critical care.”

In light of these new protocols and the updated information, medical experts, local officials, governors, and especially media outlets need to rethink the language they use, the panic they incite, and the policies they enact.

Still, the spike in emergency room admissions, especially in the Midwest, is a legitimate concern. Dr. Ben Daxon, a Mayo Clinic ER physician in Minnesota, described the patient load as “a constant surge.” In addition to the unique challenge of treating COVID cases, the influx of COVID patients compete with “heart attacks, appendicitis, injuries and the other maladies… for limited hospital beds.”

It remains to be seen whether or not things here will revert to the chaos of the early pandemic. Because on-the-ground realities in most cities across the country never reached predicted disaster levels, folks are burnt out on lockdowns and more than a little skeptical. Understandably so. However, in Italy, hospitals that were forced to ration medical treatment back in the spring, with doctors openly questioning whether limited resources should be spent on the elderly, are once again facing what the AP calls “a breaking point.”

It’s certainly possible that a second wave of the pandemic could get really bad in more places than it already has. Unfortunately, even though we are more knowledgeable about the virus in terms of therapies and treatment plans, it doesn’t seem we are better prepared this time around to answer a number of critical questions. For example, state officials and individual citizens have dramatically different views on the limits of personal freedoms, and those state officials that decided to not let a “crisis go to waste” will face a much tougher sell job this time around. Also, I hope, but am skeptical, that local officials will have figured out by now that neither churches nor workers should be thought of as “non-essential.” I also hope, but am skeptical, that Christians have figured that out. 

Another question, if things get really bad and medical treatment resources become scarce, are any we better prepared to deal with the sort of ethical questions a crisis like this could demand?  By necessity, in times of acute crisis, care must be triaged, to ensure the “efficient use of resources. The crux of the issue is found in the word “efficient,” not because limited resources shouldn’t be wisely stewarded, but because we are a culture with a tendency to devalue human life and call it “efficiency.”

Wesley J. Smith has documented the rise of “futile care theory,” in which doctors withhold medical treatment deemed “too burdensome” or “too expensive.” According to Smith, this is a rising trend, not only in areas around the world with limited resources, but in pre-pandemic America too. “Futile care theory” rethinks care in financial terms. This way of thinking is devastating for human dignity, especially in a pandemic.

There’s also the increasing popularity, and not only among euthanasia enthusiasts, of “quality of life” language. As I’ve said before, in practice, who decides the “quality of life” often shifts from patient to family members to bureaucrats. As a result, the “right to die” quickly becomes the “duty to die.” Economic pressures only grease this already slippery slope.

All of which is why Christians everywhere should be thinking about medical ethics, joining hospital ethics boards, running for office, and becoming health care workers. And every Christian should embrace our God-given and culturally-escalated task, in this crisis and beyond, of bearing witness to certain eternal truths: that every human being has inherent dignity and value, and no one should ever be sacrificed on the altar of “efficiency.”

Nov 16, 2020
Using Fathers to Close Prisons - Dr. Anthony Bradley - BreakPoint Podcast with John Stonestreet
29:41

Dr. Anthony Bradley is mobilizing Fathers. His vision is to inspire dads to engage their children. He believes that in building strong fathering habits he can close prisons.

Bradley is the director of the Center for Human Flourishing at the Kings College. As a professor he mentors young men. He finds unique ways to use Twitter and other social media to inspire dads around the country to practice good fathering habits.

Bradley references the power of dad-play in the interview. He highlights what wrestling with a son does to their mental, emotional, spiritual, and social development. 

John Stonestreet presses Bradley to identify the key benefits fathering has on society. Bradley calls dads to have friends. He references statistics along with real world stories to guide listeners to see the power of friendship inside the life of young and old men alike. 

Nov 16, 2020
BreakPoint This Week - The Election and Public Trust
35:15

John Stonestreet welcomes WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, and Colson Center contributor Maria Baer to "BreakPoint This Week.  John and Maria (sitting in for Shane Morris) discuss the recent election and the loss of trust in not only the outcome, but in our public institutions themselves.

On today's episode: Presidential elections do matter when it comes to abortion -- case in point, presumptive President-elect Biden's plans to undo an executive order prohibiting funding abortion efforts abroad. Also, are megachurches best equipped to survive the surging pandemic and its aftermath?

John and Maria end the episode with their suggestions for the week: A storytelling podcast for children, and a beautiful painting for Advent.

Nov 13, 2020
Chris Nikic (who has Down Syndrome) Completes Ironman
04:45

This past weekend in Florida, 21-year-old Chris Nikic completed one of the most challenging feats in all of sports. The Ironman triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bicycle ride, topped off by a full marathon, a 26.2 mile run. At one point, Nikic fell off his bike. During a nutrition stop, he was attacked by ants. Still, he completed the race in 16 hours 46 minutes and 9 seconds, 14 minutes under cutoff time. Oh, and Chris is the first athlete with Down Syndrome to finish an Ironman competition.

Nikic now joins the annals of others with intellectual disabilities doing the improbable. In 2006, Jason McElwain sank six three-pointers in the last four minutes of a New York district basketball championship game. McElwain has autism. Then there is Tim Harris, who with his parents help, opened a restaurant in New Mexico named “Tim’s Place,” known for its “breakfast, lunch, and hugs.” My family visited Tim’s place in 2013, where we got lunch and hugs. At the time, the hug counter in the restaurant already topped 1 million. The restaurant closed a few years ago when Tim and his family moved, but he still has an impressive social media following and his written articles for CNN and other national news outlets.

Stories like these are much-needed reminders that people, especially those with disabilities, are often capable of far more than we can imagine. At the same time, if we’re not careful, while we rightly celebrate stories like Nikic, McElwane, and Harris, in no way do they imply that a person’s worth is dependent on their accomplishments and abilities. That very bad idea has created countless victims, especially for people with Down Syndrome.

For example, a recent Christian Post article described how women, 69% of the time, are immediately offered an abortion when their child is diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero. If they decline, they are asked again. And often, again. One woman reported being asked fifteen times! Government policies in countries like Iceland and Denmark have resulted in only a handful of children with Down Syndrome born each year. In fact, about 90 percent of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome in Europe are aborted. In the U.S., the best estimates are about 65%.

Parents of children with intellectual disabilities, who have already exhibited love and moral fortitude in resisting the social pressures to abort, have chosen a path that is not only difficult, but profoundly counter-cultural. Increasingly, having and raising children is evaluated in terms of personal fulfillment and validation, with a minimal amount of inconvenience and never suffering.

To judge an individual’s worth by what they can achieve or contribute is fundamentally inhumane, and to put it bluntly, children just don’t “pay off” in the end. There’s no legitimate method of doing a cost-benefit analysis of kids based on their success or our self-fulfillment. Completing an Ironman contest, running a restaurant, and sinking three-pointers is amazing for anyone, especially those with disability. We celebrate their accomplishments especially because they’ve proved the cynics and skeptics wrong. Still, we must be clear: the dignity of any human life is inherent, not acquired. The value of every life is priceless already, and not increased one cent by an amazing accomplishment.

It’s a wonderful thing when the talents of people like Chris Nikic are celebrated, or when a baby with Down Syndrome is named the official Gerber baby, or when an actor like Zack Gottsagen in the movie “Peanut Butter Falcon” is recognized for delivering an incredible performance. At these times, Christians should be cheering more loudly than anyone else.

But remember, and Christians should be saying this more loudly than anyone else, it’s not what can do that matters. Its Whose image we bear.

Nov 13, 2020
Divorce Is Down During COVID
04:30

“Stressful” doesn’t really begin to describe a year like 2020. Between the pandemic, the lockdowns, cancelled classes, lost jobs, and an election to rival trench warfare, you would expect a heavy toll on marriages and families. But A recent piece in the Washington Post offered some of the best news we’ve gotten in quite a while. Divorce rates in the United States have declined, and marriages have grown stronger--during the pandemic.

Predictions of a COVID-induced divorce surge never materialized. And according to Dr. Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, divorce filings are down between 10 and 20 percent since last year. While Wilcox admits that these numbers may also reflect “deferred” divorces, unhappy couples unable to get to the courthouse during lockdown, more and more data trickling in suggests trends more surprising and encouraging than initially assumed.

Last year, according to the American Family Survey, 40 percent of married Americans surveyed reported their marriages were in trouble. This year, that number is down to 29 percent. According to the same survey, 58 percent of married people between the ages of 18 and 55 report that their appreciation for their spouse has increased during the pandemic. 51 percent report a deepened commitment to their marriage during COVID, while only 8 percent report a weakened commitment to their marriage.

Recently on the Upstream podcast with Shane Morris Dr. Wilcox discussed these surprising and welcome findings. As counterintuitive as it may sound, marriages tend to benefit during times of historical stress, such as during the Great Recession a decade ago. This is partly financial, since divorce is both expensive and stressful. In other words, some choose to stay with a spouse they’d rather leave to keep from breaking the bank.

Still, Wilcox, believes there is more to it. For instance, during the pandemic, fathers have spent more time at home and have helped out more with household chores. The marital benefits of a father’s presence go far beyond the division of labor. Wilcox believes that the increased time men spend engaging in home life makes an incredible difference relationally with both spouse and children. Even more, for many during this pandemic, the home became the center of work, play, meals, and even worship, a trend far more significant than it sounds. In effect, COVID has at least temporarily reversed a long-term trend in which the home has been largely de-centered from modern life.

As Aaron Renn, a researcher with the Institute for Family Studies, pointed out back in March, pre-industrial families organized shared lives around shared labor, shared meals, shared recreation, and shared education. During the pandemic, however, families were forced to stop treating their homes as nothing more than shared bunk space and food repository. As Renn predicted, many families have now rediscovered what he calls “the productive household.”  And as Wilcox believes, a backyard garden, renovations, cleaning the garage, family projects, and even board games can re-center families.

And, maybe, instead of just leaving when conflict started, couples were forced to stay together. Maybe, they experienced the long-term relational and personal improvements that comes when conflict is faced and resolved, as opposed to running away from each other.

Shane’s conversation with Brad Wilcox is available on the Upstream podcast. The good news Wilcox shares should also be taken as a challenge. When things go back to “normal,” our marriage habits shouldn’t. When it comes to family, the most important things are cultivated, not felt. Love, loyalty, gratefulness, growth, depth…these are things chosen and habitually formed. Not to mention, the home is ground zero for fulfilling the creation mandate: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

This pandemic has exacted significant costs from us. Wouldn’t it be something if the forced investment of our time and attention to our marriages and households paid dividends for years to come?

Nov 12, 2020
Divorce Is Down During COVID

“Stressful” doesn’t really begin to describe a year like 2020. Between the pandemic, the lockdowns, cancelled classes, lost jobs, and an election to rival trench warfare, you would expect a heavy toll on marriages and families. But A recent piece in the Washington Post offered some of the best news we’ve gotten in quite a while. Divorce rates in the United States have declined, and marriages have grown stronger--during the pandemic.

Predictions of a COVID-induced divorce surge never materialized. And according to Dr. Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, divorce filings are down between 10 and 20 percent since last year. While Wilcox admits that these numbers may also reflect “deferred” divorces, unhappy couples unable to get to the courthouse during lockdown, more and more data trickling in suggests trends more surprising and encouraging than initially assumed.

Last year, according to the American Family Survey, 40 percent of married Americans surveyed reported their marriages were in trouble. This year, that number is down to 29 percent. According to the same survey, 58 percent of married people between the ages of 18 and 55 report that their appreciation for their spouse has increased during the pandemic. 51 percent report a deepened commitment to their marriage during COVID, while only 8 percent report a weakened commitment to their marriage.

Recently on the Upstream podcast with Shane Morris Dr. Wilcox discussed these surprising and welcome findings. As counterintuitive as it may sound, marriages tend to benefit during times of historical stress, such as during the Great Recession a decade ago. This is partly financial, since divorce is both expensive and stressful. In other words, some choose to stay with a spouse they’d rather leave to keep from breaking the bank.

Still, Wilcox, believes there is more to it. For instance, during the pandemic, fathers have spent more time at home and have helped out more with household chores. The marital benefits of a father’s presence go far beyond the division of labor. Wilcox believes that the increased time men spend engaging in home life makes an incredible difference relationally with both spouse and children. Even more, for many during this pandemic, the home became the center of work, play, meals, and even worship, a trend far more significant than it sounds. In effect, COVID has at least temporarily reversed a long-term trend in which the home has been largely de-centered from modern life.

As Aaron Renn, a researcher with the Institute for Family Studies, pointed out back in March, pre-industrial families organized shared lives around shared labor, shared meals, shared recreation, and shared education. During the pandemic, however, families were forced to stop treating their homes as nothing more than shared bunk space and food repository. As Renn predicted, many families have now rediscovered what he calls “the productive household.”  And as Wilcox believes, a backyard garden, renovations, cleaning the garage, family projects, and even board games can re-center families.

And, maybe, instead of just leaving when conflict started, couples were forced to stay together. Maybe, they experienced the long-term relational and personal improvements that comes when conflict is faced and resolved, as opposed to running away from each other.

Shane’s conversation with Brad Wilcox is available on the Upstream podcast. The good news Wilcox shares should also be taken as a challenge. When things go back to “normal,” our marriage habits shouldn’t. When it comes to family, the most important things are cultivated, not felt. Love, loyalty, gratefulness, growth, depth…these are things chosen and habitually formed. Not to mention, the home is ground zero for fulfilling the creation mandate: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

This pandemic has exacted significant costs from us. Wouldn’t it be something if the forced investment of our time and attention to our marriages and households paid dividends for years to come?

Nov 12, 2020
Divorce Is Down During COVID

“Stressful” doesn’t really begin to describe a year like 2020. Between the pandemic, the lockdowns, cancelled classes, lost jobs, and an election to rival trench warfare, you would expect a heavy toll on marriages and families. But A recent piece in the Washington Post offered some of the best news we’ve gotten in quite a while. Divorce rates in the United States have declined, and marriages have grown stronger--during the pandemic.

Predictions of a COVID-induced divorce surge never materialized. And according to Dr. Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, divorce filings are down between 10 and 20 percent since last year. While Wilcox admits that these numbers may also reflect “deferred” divorces, unhappy couples unable to get to the courthouse during lockdown, more and more data trickling in suggests trends more surprising and encouraging than initially assumed.

Last year, according to the American Family Survey, 40 percent of married Americans surveyed reported their marriages were in trouble. This year, that number is down to 29 percent. According to the same survey, 58 percent of married people between the ages of 18 and 55 report that their appreciation for their spouse has increased during the pandemic. 51 percent report a deepened commitment to their marriage during COVID, while only 8 percent report a weakened commitment to their marriage.

Recently on the Upstream podcast with Shane Morris Dr. Wilcox discussed these surprising and welcome findings. As counterintuitive as it may sound, marriages tend to benefit during times of historical stress, such as during the Great Recession a decade ago. This is partly financial, since divorce is both expensive and stressful. In other words, some choose to stay with a spouse they’d rather leave to keep from breaking the bank.

Still, Wilcox, believes there is more to it. For instance, during the pandemic, fathers have spent more time at home and have helped out more with household chores. The marital benefits of a father’s presence go far beyond the division of labor. Wilcox believes that the increased time men spend engaging in home life makes an incredible difference relationally with both spouse and children. Even more, for many during this pandemic, the home became the center of work, play, meals, and even worship, a trend far more significant than it sounds. In effect, COVID has at least temporarily reversed a long-term trend in which the home has been largely de-centered from modern life.

As Aaron Renn, a researcher with the Institute for Family Studies, pointed out back in March, pre-industrial families organized shared lives around shared labor, shared meals, shared recreation, and shared education. During the pandemic, however, families were forced to stop treating their homes as nothing more than shared bunk space and food repository. As Renn predicted, many families have now rediscovered what he calls “the productive household.”  And as Wilcox believes, a backyard garden, renovations, cleaning the garage, family projects, and even board games can re-center families.

And, maybe, instead of just leaving when conflict started, couples were forced to stay together. Maybe, they experienced the long-term relational and personal improvements that comes when conflict is faced and resolved, as opposed to running away from each other.

Shane’s conversation with Brad Wilcox is available on the Upstream podcast. The good news Wilcox shares should also be taken as a challenge. When things go back to “normal,” our marriage habits shouldn’t. When it comes to family, the most important things are cultivated, not felt. Love, loyalty, gratefulness, growth, depth…these are things chosen and habitually formed. Not to mention, the home is ground zero for fulfilling the creation mandate: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

This pandemic has exacted significant costs from us. Wouldn’t it be something if the forced investment of our time and attention to our marriages and households paid dividends for years to come?

Nov 12, 2020
Divorce Is Down During COVID

“Stressful” doesn’t really begin to describe a year like 2020. Between the pandemic, the lockdowns, cancelled classes, lost jobs, and an election to rival trench warfare, you would expect a heavy toll on marriages and families. But A recent piece in the Washington Post offered some of the best news we’ve gotten in quite a while. Divorce rates in the United States have declined, and marriages have grown stronger--during the pandemic.

Predictions of a COVID-induced divorce surge never materialized. And according to Dr. Bradford Wilcox, director of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project, divorce filings are down between 10 and 20 percent since last year. While Wilcox admits that these numbers may also reflect “deferred” divorces, unhappy couples unable to get to the courthouse during lockdown, more and more data trickling in suggests trends more surprising and encouraging than initially assumed.

Last year, according to the American Family Survey, 40 percent of married Americans surveyed reported their marriages were in trouble. This year, that number is down to 29 percent. According to the same survey, 58 percent of married people between the ages of 18 and 55 report that their appreciation for their spouse has increased during the pandemic. 51 percent report a deepened commitment to their marriage during COVID, while only 8 percent report a weakened commitment to their marriage.

Recently on the Upstream podcast with Shane Morris Dr. Wilcox discussed these surprising and welcome findings. As counterintuitive as it may sound, marriages tend to benefit during times of historical stress, such as during the Great Recession a decade ago. This is partly financial, since divorce is both expensive and stressful. In other words, some choose to stay with a spouse they’d rather leave to keep from breaking the bank.

Still, Wilcox, believes there is more to it. For instance, during the pandemic, fathers have spent more time at home and have helped out more with household chores. The marital benefits of a father’s presence go far beyond the division of labor. Wilcox believes that the increased time men spend engaging in home life makes an incredible difference relationally with both spouse and children. Even more, for many during this pandemic, the home became the center of work, play, meals, and even worship, a trend far more significant than it sounds. In effect, COVID has at least temporarily reversed a long-term trend in which the home has been largely de-centered from modern life.

As Aaron Renn, a researcher with the Institute for Family Studies, pointed out back in March, pre-industrial families organized shared lives around shared labor, shared meals, shared recreation, and shared education. During the pandemic, however, families were forced to stop treating their homes as nothing more than shared bunk space and food repository. As Renn predicted, many families have now rediscovered what he calls “the productive household.”  And as Wilcox believes, a backyard garden, renovations, cleaning the garage, family projects, and even board games can re-center families.

And, maybe, instead of just leaving when conflict started, couples were forced to stay together. Maybe, they experienced the long-term relational and personal improvements that comes when conflict is faced and resolved, as opposed to running away from each other.

Shane’s conversation with Brad Wilcox is available on the Upstream podcast. The good news Wilcox shares should also be taken as a challenge. When things go back to “normal,” our marriage habits shouldn’t. When it comes to family, the most important things are cultivated, not felt. Love, loyalty, gratefulness, growth, depth…these are things chosen and habitually formed. Not to mention, the home is ground zero for fulfilling the creation mandate: to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.

This pandemic has exacted significant costs from us. Wouldn’t it be something if the forced investment of our time and attention to our marriages and households paid dividends for years to come?

Nov 12, 2020
Why the Idea of Human Exceptionalism Ruffles Feathers
05:23

Crows are pretty clever creatures. This is part of the reason they figure so prominently in mythology as messengers and tricksters. Crows are smart, as far as animals go. Their problem-solving abilities are impressive, as long as the problem being tackled has to do with food (which is the key factor of the whole “as far as animals go” part).

C.S. Lewis once observed that the most important philosophical statement of all time was, “In the beginning, God,” because, if that were true, the universe is a different place. Even crows are different. The belief in God is often the difference between marveling at the beauty and design displayed in animal intelligence and seeing animal intelligence as proof that there is nothing special about humans.

A recently announced study of crows’ basic sensory awareness is a case in point. While “measuring brain activity in crows performing a visual task,” researchers came upon activity they believed to display “another layer of awareness.”

What they found was, essentially, unexpected neuron activity. What they concluded, however, was “that these two layers of perception constitute a form of what humans call subjective experience,” or in other words, consciousness.

After speculating about the possible consciousness of crows, the authors then shifted from science to philosophy. “Humans,” they wrote, “have tended to believe that we are the only species to possess certain traits, behaviors, or abilities, especially with regard to cognition. Occasionally, we extend such traits to primates or other mammals—species with which we share fundamental brain similarities. Over time, more and more of these supposed pillars of human exceptionalism have fallen.”

To say that “supposed pillars of human exceptionalism…” is a loaded phrase is quite an understatement. What it’s loaded with, of course, is a worldview, one which motivates both this research and these researchers to scientifically justify knocking homo sapiens sapiens off its pedestal.

Worldviews function like glasses. We rarely think about them, but we always think with them. A false worldview, such as materialism, offers both an explanation of reality (in this case, that the material world is all there is and that there’s nothing metaphysical about us to uniquely set us apart from other animals), and provides the lens through which we formulate interpretations of reality. Or, in this case, crow research.

Despite the incredible amount of research into human consciousness, it remains a mystery to us. If we are not even certain how best to understand or define human consciousness, how can we possibly know whether what crows or other animals possess should be thought of as consciousness, much less that theirs is comparable to ours?

What’s at work here are worldview assumptions. Scientists who assume that human exceptionalism is a religious hang-up will see any animal spotted resembling human behavior as evidence that there’s nothing exceptional about humans. A classic example is the “mirror test.” An animal, such as a chimp, a dolphin, a cat, or even a fish, seems to recognize itself in a mirror, and it’s taken as proof of self-awareness. The problem is, as an evolutionary biologist Alex Jordan put it, “Honestly, the test [stinks].” No one knows what is going on when animals stare at their reflection. Calling it “self-awareness” is, as Jordan puts it, “a stretch.”

Nevertheless, scientists continue exploring animal behavior and cognition, and make their determinations of what they are seeing, not from a commitment to science or animal welfare, but to a materialistic worldview.

This same commitment to disproving human exceptionalism, as my colleague Shane Morris has pointed out, is also at work in the search for extraterrestrial life. We are often led to believe that “any day now,” conclusive evidence will demonstrate that we are not alone in the universe. The urgency of the breathless reporting is instructive. Partly assuring lonely earthlings that we could have a plan B if we destroy our planet (an idea also chock full of worldview assumptions) and partly pointing that life could evolve elsewhere,  the end result is that the inherent dignity of human beings is compromised.

The view that best corresponds to reality is the Biblical view, described by the audacious proclamation of Psalm 8, that humans were created “little less than God . . . and crown[ed] with glory and honor,” and the audacious job description described in Genesis, that humans have “dominion” over all creation, including the “birds of the air.” Even crows.

Nov 11, 2020
Do You Defend The Unborn Who Later Identifies As Gay? - Ask BreakPoint
30:28

John and Shane are challenged on their pro-life position. A listener asked if they defend the lives of those who might later identify as gay. The pair define what it is they are defending in the pro-life position and try to answer a larger issue that they perceive is behind the question.

John starts out the show leaning in to the internal and external unrest many are feeling. He identifies some challenging realities that are impacting how we feel about our security as citizens of earth and heaven. He closes with a charge from Chuck Colson that the church should be the church in times like these.

Shane works through a listener's question regarding science and God. The listener asks how to respond to those who believe that science disproves God's existence. Shane and John provide strong structure in their response, establishing ground to hold tightly to Scripture, respond in love to a challenging question, and respect observable science.

Nov 11, 2020
Ballot Initiatives and the Silence of Churches
05:15

In addition to national, state and local leadership, voters made incredibly consequential decisions on over 100 ballot initiatives. The results of these direct-to-voter policy races, about 3/4 of which involved potential changes to state constitutions, reveal much about the electorate, perhaps even more than the Presidential and congressional races.

Though ballot initiatives are often written in legalese that is impossible to understand and can address mundane topics, increasingly in recent years, voters have been deciding on weighty moral questions. It’s one thing to vote on best means to achieve a shared vision of reality. It’s another to ask voters to decide between competing visions of reality. Americans are, state by state, doing more and more of the latter these days.

In Louisiana, voters overwhelmingly passed a measure clarifying that the Louisiana state constitution does not include a right to abortion. Called the “Love Life Amendment” by supporters, this lays critical groundwork for challenge to Roe v. Wade. Note also that this ballot initiative was already in the works when the Supreme Court issued a disappointing ruling in the June Medical Services case. I’d say those pro-life Cajuns are showing a level of tenacity the entire movement might learn from.

Oregon voters also showed tenacity, but without the virtue, by decriminalizing the possession of hard drugs, including LSD, Meth, and heroin. This ballot initiative was sold to Oregonians not by questioning how harmful these substances are, but with the promise of reducing the number of people of color in prison and ensuring that addiction recovery is more widely available for those who (and I quote) “need and want it.”

Of course, those two goals could have been achieved through better policies without advancing a flawed and dangerous view of freedom. The idea that legal progress involves being freed from anything that restrains our will or behavior is at the heart of many ballot initiatives, and only ends with people enslaved by their passions or addictions. The kind of freedom that allows fallen people to flourish, on the other hand, necessarily involves common-sense restraints from government and other authorities.

Speaking of casting off restraint, voters in Washington state decided that kindergarteners should be taught so-called LGBTQ-inclusivity, and that the corresponding behaviors should be taught to students beginning in fourth grade.  In this case, voters decided to cast off not so much the restraints of government as to use the government to cast off the restraints of reality, including the created goodness of our human bodies and the moral consequences of sexual brokenness.

Meanwhile, voters in Colorado soundly rejected a measure that would have outlawed abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion advocates raised an incredible amount of money to defeat Prop 115 and protect in law the killing of nearly born children. Dressed like “handmaids,” they spread lies about the “safety of the mother” and about pro-lifers only caring about babies until birth. But mostly, they took advantage of a state deeply committed to this libertarian view of freedom, which just four years ago voted in doctor-assisted suicide, also by ballot initiative.

Still, to be clear, Prop 115 failed in 2020 and Prop 106 passed in 2016, not because of the clever and vocal arguments of one side, but because the world’s largest grassroots organization just didn’t show up. Most churches in Colorado, not all but most, would not summon the resources or moral courage to get involved. Colorado pastors, including some who marched with Black Lives Matter just a few months ago, didn’t want to “get too political.” Thunderously denouncing racism from their pulpits, rightly so, they then refused to even mention the killing of hundreds of thousands of babies each year in this country, or even the hundreds of later-term babies killed each year in this state.

My guess is that a similar silence afflicted Oregon and Washington as well. If so, those shepherds missed an incredible opportunity to teach congregants a vision of the world that has nothing to do with partisan politics, but everything to do with seeing and valuing each human life as created by God. They missed an opportunity to put faces and flesh on the parable of the Good Samaritan, discipling their flocks in loving their preborn and school-age neighbors. Instead, unwittingly, a false vision of freedom, one driving so much of our culture, went unchallenged and maybe even encouraged.   

Nov 10, 2020
Pray to Our Holy God for Our Divided Nation
05:10

For weeks, each Wednesday morning, the Colson Center has hosted a time of prayer for the church and the nation. Led by ministry partners and Christian leaders from around the country, these times have been moving and inspiring.

This past Wednesday morning, the day after an election that is still not resolved, my friend Ed Stetzer challenged us, in direct and clarifying terms, what kind of church the world needs right now. Despite what we might feel, the political and cultural chaos that engulfs us is, Stetzer said, an opportunity to champion the Kingdom of God in this time and in this place. After all, just as the prophet Isaiah learned, no amount of political or cultural chaos upends the plans of God.

Here’s Ed:

“I voted like an Arminian and rested like a Calvinist, because I know at the end of the day, I’ve read the end of the book, and Jesus wins.

“My original assignment from the Colson Center was to pray for the newly elected or re-elected president, and, of course, we don’t know who that will be at this point. It does remind us a bit of Isaiah Chapter 6, verse 1: “In the year King Uzziah died…” Now that’s a very casual phrase that Isaiah writes, and it’s worth noting for us that the year a king dies is a very, very big deal.  It makes a contested and uncertain election look like nothing. . . A just ruler can replace an unjust ruler, or an unjust ruler can replace a just ruler. Alliances that kept enemies at bay can fall apart. So in the wake of Uzziah’s death, the whole nation asked the question “What’s next?” 

“So, Isaiah writes, ‘In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and exalted, seated at the throne with the train of his robe filling the temple.’ I want you to know this is really key.  We look to the words of Scripture, and people in the time of tumult and turbulence looked to God.

“When God’s people pray, we know their hearts are-aligned with God’s heart. We know ultimately that He hears our prayer.”

After that brief introduction Ed began to pray. You can listen to the whole thing on a special edition of the BreakPoint podcast, which you can find at BreakPoint.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Here’s a portion of that prayer and, with so much not clear right now, I encourage you to pray along:

“Father. We come before you today and we acknowledge your Holiness and goodness. We acknowledge that the thing we can do that is most important, more than anything else, is not the flip on the news and to see where the electoral counts are not to see where the votes are coming in.

“Right now, the most important thing we can do is to say ‘Holy, Holy Holy.’

“All of you pray with me out loud, the three-part ‘Holy.’ Let’s say it out loud together.

“Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole Earth is full of your glory. In places for the vote's been counted-- full of your glory. In the places where votes have not been counted--full of your glory. In places where people are afraid—full  of your glory. A place where people are excited--full of your glory.

“Lord, we know this truth literally shook the thresholds in Isaiah 6 and it shakes the thresholds of our world today…

“We pray for our nation. That you might forgive us when we haven’t valued the unborn. We pray as a nation that you would forgive us when we haven’t cared about racial injustice. We pray that you would forgive us for when we have celebrated the wrong and pushed aside the good.”

“Father, forgive us for relying on politics for what  only Jesus can do.

“Father, I pray for God’s people on this call, in this conversation, people who will watch later or who are watching and sharing right now. Father I pray that they would be bearers of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Please come to BreakPoint.org to find this special episode of the BreakPoint Podcast.

Nov 09, 2020
Victims of a Disease-free World with O. Carter Snead - BreakPoint Podcast
34:45

This week's BreakPoint Podcast highlights how expressive individualism is prominent inside bioethics. There is a rewriting of parenthood and end of life care. John Stonestreet invites O. Carter Snead to discuss Snead's new book What it Means to Be Human

O. Carter Snead is the William P. and Hazel B. White Director of the Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. He is a law professor and concurrent professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. 

Snead and John start by discussing anthropology as an account of what it means to be human and enable human flourishing. Snead addresses building a renewed vision of human progress apart from expressive individualism. He touches on the idea of building public policies that engage and protect humans who may be on life sustaining measures and has lost legal competence. 

Snead reads a segment from his book where he quotes Dr. Gerald Schatten. "Reproductive medicine is helping prospective parents to realize their own dreams for a disease-free legacy." Snead highlights how expressive individualism is overriding the case for the body in bioethics.

Nov 09, 2020
Where are we as a Church, Nation, and Culture After the Election? - Breakpoint This Week
52:27

John Stonestreet and Shane Morris wrap up a tumultuous election week from a Christian worldview perspective. With the outcome of the election still not entirely clear, we find our nation more divided than at any time since the Civil War.  How did the pollsters get this election so  wrong? What do the President's gains among minority groups say about the prevailing cultural view of race and politics in America?

John and Shane also discuss the numerous and critical ballot initiatives in various states--and what those results have to say about our nation, from late-term abortion, to protecting life, to gambling, drug legalization, and sex-education for kindergarteners.

And tune in for John's fierce conviction about the absolute necessity for pastors to summon the courage to speak out on behalf of the unborn from their pulpits. As John says, those pastors who think that it's too political to say that we shouldn't be dismembering viable babies are dead wrong.

John and Shane wrap up the show with their recommendations of the week and with an in-depth discussion of a crucial religious freedom case argued before the Supreme Court: Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, in which Catholic Social Services (CSS) is suing Philadelphia over the city's decision to disallow CSS from placing foster children--simply because the Catholic organization follows Catholic teaching and won't place children with same-sex couples.

 

"One reason the polls were wrong: Why the answer is so significant for our national future," by Jim Denison

"The Ballot Initiatives of 2020," by John Stonestreet and Maria Baer, BreakPoint

"Supreme Court Tackles Religious Freedom in Foster Care Case," by John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, BreakPoint

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Dale Carnegie

BreakPoint Special – Prayer Webinar with Ed Stetzer

National Prayer Webinar with Joni Eareckson Tada

 

Nov 06, 2020
The Problem with Eugenics Is not Just Its Racist History. It’s a Present Crisis.
05:31

Last month, the LA Times reported that the University of California at Berkeley would no longer take money from “The Genealogical Eugenic Institute Fund.” The school had been drawing from the fund for years, until a “shocked and dismayed” bioethics professor learned of the fund and saw the term “eugenics” in the title. Rightly so.

Modern “eugenics” emerged as an application of Darwinism in the late 1800s. Social scientists believed they could “improve the human race” by encouraging the “well-bred” and healthy to procreate, while discouraging (or even, for some, forcibly preventing) the poor, the sick or just the “undesirable” from having children. While eugenics typically brings to mind the Nazi attempt to exterminate six million Jews during the Holocaust, the idea’s intellectual development is largely American. For example, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger openly advocated for eugenics, and actively worked to advance birth control with African American women as part of what she called the “Negro Project.”

By the way, the organization she founded is the best example in our culture of systemic or structural evil. Planned Parenthood kills black babies at a rate five times higher than children of other ethnicities.

Though the Dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health promised the money was not used for any sort of racially motivated genetic research, it was used for genetic counseling, he admitted. In other words, money from the eugenics fund was used to research assisted reproductive technologies, specifically how those industries might “take advantage” of genetic testing. That research will continue.

So to be clear, though UC Berkeley disavowed a fund connected to a pseudo-science that is unarguably racist (a scary thing for Berkeley’s PR department), the university made no promises to stop studying or funding actual eugenics. In other words, the university rejects the racist connotations of the word eugenics, but embraces the practice. They’ve judged this fund by the name on its letterhead but ignored the content of its character.

In 2020, eugenicists may not be goose-stepping down the street in khaki uniforms, but they are not hard to find. While the word “eugenics” rightly offends our modern sensibilities, the eugenics impulse is alive and well, especially in the sciences and social policies of human reproduction.

For example, Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, referred to neighborhood IVF clinics as the modern “cowboys” of genetic engineering. Of course, parents who use in-vitro fertilization to overcome infertility aren’t attempting to systematically improve the human race, and most doctors at these clinics are motivated by an honest desire to help families. But choosing whether to implant or discard embryos based on birth defects or gender is very much an example of the eugenic impulse, as is treating “excess” embryos as medical waste.

The eugenic impulse is responsible for the near eradication of Down syndrome in Iceland, and the catastrophically low rates of girls born in China and India and other parts of the world because of “sex selection.” When customers shop at the sperm bank for samples based on the donor’s height, skin, athletic ability, IQ, or eye color? That’s the eugenic impulse.

We justify this impulse not through promises of an improved race but through a technological pragmatism. In vitro fertilization is expensive, and clinics often counsel parents to get the most for their money by creating multiple embryos and implanting only the “healthiest” ones. And any parent who’s received a positive diagnosis from an amniocentesis has experienced the pressure of justifying a decision not to abort, rather than vice-versa.

A million such decisions are made daily, most by well-meaning folks with perfectly reasonable explanations. At the same time, these decisions are being made within a cultural milieu in which not only the inherent relationship between marriage and childbearing is severed, but in which the eugenics impulse goes largely unchallenged. 

In his book Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, Christopher West rightly observes that “when we begin untying the tight-knot nexus of marriage, sex and babies, we end up redefining all three.” Marriage becomes a piece of paper. Sex is reduced to an exercise of personal pleasure. Babies become products, disposable when unwanted, valuable only when wanted and, even then, designable to our specifications. 

UC Berkeley ought be uneasy by the word “eugenics” and its racist history. We ought all be wary, however, of the practice of eugenics, and how normal it has become.

Nov 06, 2020
BreakPoint Special - Prayer Webinar with Ed Stetzer
15:40

In a special BreakPoint Podcast we are sharing the prayer webinar led by Ed Stetzer. 

Nov 05, 2020
Supreme Court Tackles Religious Freedom in Foster Care Case
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Yesterday, as most of America continued to process a razor-thin presidential race, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in what could be a momentous religious freedom case. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia is a case that began in 2018, when Catholic Social Services (CSS), a charitable arm of the Church that dates all the way back to 1797, was barred by the city of brother love from placing foster children, unless it changed its policy on same-sex households. Rather than compromise, CSS took the city to court, claiming a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and, even more importantly, the free exercise of religion.

The reason that the outcome of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia is so potentially important goes back to another Supreme Court decision, from 1990. In Employment Division v. Smith, Justice Antonin Scalia determined that a state or local law could restrict religious freedom, as long as it does so in a way that equally applies to everyone. The only way such a law can be challenged under the Free Exercise Clause is if it violates some other right. In a way, Employment Division v. Smith turned religious freedom into a subset of the freedom of speech, rather than the “first freedom” it truly is.

Yesterday, the lawyers for Catholic Social Services not only asked the Court to rule in their favor but, also to overturn Employment Division. This would force state and local governments to abide by the same standard as the federal government, justifying any infringement on religious freedom by showing that a compelling interest is being served in the least restrictive way possible.

So, there are two things at stake here. First, there is the question of whether or not a religious charitable organization can operate according to its faith convictions. Second, there is the question of whether this case would put an end to the most problematic part of Justice Scalia’s legacy. (Adding to the drama, this is the first major case heard by Amy Coney Barrett, an advocate of religious freedom and also a former protege of the late Justice Scalia).

Lawyers for Catholic Social Services pointed to incidents in which Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services waived its anti-discrimination requirements when it comes to foster care. For example, in certain instances, the department had discriminated on the basis of disability or had clearly taken race into account in its fostering decisions. Thus, CSS attorneys argued, even if Employment Division wasn’t overturned, it shouldn’t be applicable in this instance.

Why then, Justice Coney-Barrett asked, should the court even consider overturning Employment Division if it wasn’t applicable? Barrett, along with a majority of the Justices, seemed sympathetic to Catholic Social Services but hesitant about overturning Employment Division.

To be clear, attempts to predict Court decisions from oral arguments is about as reliable as predicting election outcomes from polls. (Well, it’s not quite that bad). But, here goes: A ruling for CSS in Fulton that didn’t fully overturn Employment Division would be disappointing but would still be a win for religious freedom. After all, the case was argued almost entirely on religious freedom grounds, not on freedom of speech, and both Justices Kavanaugh and Alito clearly spoke of the need to address imbalances in the growing number of cases that pit LGBTQ rights vs religious freedom.

As both pointed out, we were assured in decisions like Obergefell that anyone holding traditional views of marriage would be respected. We were told their rights would be upheld. They haven’t been. Philadelphia, Justice Kavanaugh said, “created a clash” with a group that had been taking care of children there for two centuries simply because it was “looking for a fight.”

Justice Alito said it even more bluntly. After observing that no same-sex couple had ever approached CSS and, if they had, would have been referred to another agency, Alito concluded that the case was never really about “ensuring that same-sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents.” Instead, “the city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese [of Philadelphia] are sending by continuing to adhere to the old-fashion view about marriage.”

Given the perceived animus towards Catholic Social Services, the majority probably will not need to overturn Employment Division to send a strong message on behalf of religious freedom. At the same time, we’ve already had, in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, a ruling about government animus toward religious conviction. What we need now is a ruling that protects the rights of religious organizations and individuals to operate according to those convictions, while limiting the government’s ability to trample on them.

Nov 05, 2020
Election Results and Jesus' Prayer for Unity
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This may or may not have been, as many pundits claimed, the “most important election of our lifetimes,” but it certainly has been the most contentious one of mine. In a series of reflections posted on Facebook, a former Colson Center colleague and current Family Research Council Senior Fellow Joseph Backholm said what all of us should be thinking, “The fact that there is a bipartisan expectation of riots and destruction means that in really important ways everyone has already lost. The peaceful transfer of power and faith in our institutions has been a critical part of our national success. If we've lost that, it's a bigger issue than the guy in the White House.”

And, I would add, it should be an issue obvious to us all, but in the months leading up to the election, the sheer anger on both sides of the political aisle has been, to understate it, a distraction. We get so angry when someone doesn’t agree with us. In too many cases, we want to win more than we want to be right.

At the same time, the heightened temperature and heightened rhetoric that has us all weary right now reflects what is at stake. Elections matter. Elections have consequences and, at times, victims. And I don’t want to downplay how important this election was. Still, it remains unclear just how we might move forward together, not just as a nation but, specifically, as a church.

In addition to our atheist Twitter trolls and ideologically opposed commenters, I frequently receive troubled and angry emails from a particular BreakPoint follower frustrated that I don't see political realities completely the way he does. In his view, I am not conservative enough and, because of this, my sincerity, motives, intellect, and even my faith are in question. To be clear, our disagreements have nothing to do with the historic teachings of the church or moral teaching. After all most people think I’m politically conservative, too. We disagree primarily over political personality and pragmatics. 

At some point, preferably sooner than later, we will have to address the deep relational rifts created and/or exposed by this election, especially between those with whom we agree on virtually every other issue.

Over the last several weeks, inspired especially by one of the Colson Center’s weekly times of prayer for the church and the nation, I’ve been struck by a particular part of Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer,” which is recorded for us in John 17.  A central theme of this most important of all prayers, in which God the Son appeals to God the Father on the evening before His crucifixion, is unity. “Holy Father,” Jesus prays, “keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.” Unity would even, Jesus said, help the world believe that He was the Son of God.

It would take months to unpack this prayer, especially the mind-blowing idea that our unity with each other is to be such that it reflects the unity Jesus has with His Father. Such unity seems impossible, of course, unless we remember how such unity is achieved. We may, Jesus prayed, “all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…”

In other words, it is only through vertical unity with God that the horizontal unity of His people is possible. This is why true unity is never achieved by compromising what is true. As we are unified with God in Christ, we are unified with each other.

Our attempts to achieve unity primarily around political party or political strategy reveals the increasing dominance of politics over other aspects of life and culture. Chuck Colson often said that politics is downstream from culture. However, politics has become the most dominant aspect of our culture, and that’s not a healthy condition for any group of people.

Joseph Backholm’s admonition in his Facebook post, is spot on: “The future of our country and the quality of our lives is not determined primarily by who is in public office. Politicians are the fruit of the tree, they are not the tree. Our future will be determined by the strength of our families, and we all have control over that. Be great husbands, wives, parents, friends, and neighbors. Live for others, and live as if your kids, and God, are always watching. God is always watching, and our kids are watching more than we realize. Find things to be grateful for and resist the temptations to complain. Go out of your way to make someone else's life better and yours will be too, even if you don't like who is in the White House. If our joy is dependent upon a political outcome, we'll never be happy.”

Amen.

In fact, Christians have the only other viable alternative on offer: unity in Christ. After all, Who occupies the throne in Heaven matters far more than who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Nov 04, 2020