As a way of closing out the year 2015, I thought I would highlight what I thought were some of the most thought-challenging blog posts and news articles of 2015, and why. Some caution is in order, as several of these posts can be disturbing to read. Nevertheless, they are important because the stories conveyed by the authors have ramifications for how we as followers of Jesus practice our faith in our world today.
- Graeme Wood’s article in The Atlantic, What ISIS Really Wants, helps to shatter the myth that the aims the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant having nothing to do with genuine Islam. Sure, moderate Muslims are repulsed by ISIS, but if you study their agenda to re-establish an Islamic caliphate, then you will recognize that the motivation behind ISIS comes straight out of a literalistic reading of the Koran.
- As discussed here on Veracity, numerous media outlets reported on the statement made by Wheaton College faculty member, Larycia Hawkins, that Christians and Muslims worship “the same God,” that led to her being placed on administrative leave. The incident revealed tensions within the church, in view of the recent problems with terrorist attacks by radical Islamic groups, and the future status of 4 million Syrian refugees flooding the world. How should Christians relate to people from Islamic cultures?
- National Geographic‘s Maureen Orth, in her front-cover article on the Virgin Mary shows just how seriously the Roman Catholic Church takes miracles associated with appearances of the Mother of Jesus. Is there a problem when people look to such “signs and miracles” to guide their faith, or does such a dependence on such things undermine the principle of the all sufficiency of Scripture alone to guide us towards the Truth? How do you discern the difference between a genuine miracle of God and a fake? The first reported sighting of Mary goes back to 40 A.D…. while she was still alive.
- Is your church cool enough for celebrities like Justin Bieber to experience a relationship with Jesus? Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a secular-minded journalist with an Orthodox Jewish background, discusses her encounter with Hillsong Church in New York City for GQ magazine. The Hillsong ministry that started in Australia is one of the top producers of contemporary Christian worship music today. What are the pitfalls of Christian ministry to the rich, hip, and famous?
- In a somewhat related story, Christianity Today‘s Bob Smietana investigates the connection between royalties from the popular evangelical worship song, “How Great is Our God,” and a church leader in the Nashville area who is under a cloud of suspicion regarding prosperity doctrine teachings and sexual abuse. There appears to be fine line between faithfulness to the Gospel and careening off a spiritual cliff (UPDATE: 12/31/15)
- Rod Dreher, a Christian blogger, writes in the American Conservative that the recent debates over LGBT rights means that the “American way of life” is on a collision course with traditional, orthodox Christianity. The culture wars, as we have known it, are over, and the battle for hearts and minds is in the up-and-coming generation of youth in our churches. Christians need to rethink how to go about biblical discipleship in a rapidly shifting culture, including considering the so-called “Benedict Option.“
- Ever wonder who popularized terms like “anorexia,” “PTSD,” and “biopolar disorder” in the modern vocabulary of psychology? Look no further than Robert Spitzer, the psychologist intellectual who died on Christmas Day, 2015, in this piece written by Amy Argetsinger for the Washington Post. Spitzer helped to steer the psychology profession to declare that homosexuality was not a psychological disorder in the 1970s. In the early 2000s, his work took a different turn, declaring from one of his studies that reparative therapy could actually cure homosexual orientation, which served as a very promising sign to the growing “ex-gay” evangelical Christian movement. However, this conclusion was later rescinded by Spitzer’s own reevaluation in 2012. Later that same year, Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” evangelical Christian ministry in the world, closed its doors, following Spitzer’s revised conclusion that reparative therapy not only fails to help people in most cases, but that it can also cause great psychological harm. A growing view among evangelical Christians, while still believing in the Bible’s opposition to same-sex behavior, now agrees that reparative therapy is to be avoided, according to this article by Jonathan Merritt for The Atlantic.
- And to top it off…. the biggest NON-stories for 2015… drum roll please….. the prophecy non-fulfillments regarding the Four Blood Moons and the Mystery of the Shemitah predictions…. ZZZZZZ…. surprise, these two were sleepers!!
A few of the above stories can get you a bit depressed. Here are few antidotes to the pessimism that indicates that God is doing some incredible things in our world today. May we be ever mindful of God’s providential care in the New Year!
- Christian missiologist, David Garrison, argues that we are currently seeing movements of more and more Muslims coming to Christ within the last 12 years than in the previous 14 centuries of Islam’s existence. As this other blog entry from Voices for the Martyrs suggests, we can identify up to eight reasons as to why this is happening, including the fact that Muslims fleeing as refugees from political instability around the world are becoming increasingly open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Christianity Today’s Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra reports the findings of a study that says that teenagers who read their Bible are more faithful in reading Scripture than their adult counterparts.
- Biblical scholar at Eternity Bible College, Preston Sprinkle, encourages Christians to take a closer look at what the Bible teaches about same-sex attraction and same-sex behavior, while at the same time actually listening to people who are personally dealing with these challenges. This can lead to opportunities for those who are struggling with same-sex attraction type issues to find authentic, biblically-supportive community in local churches.