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How Christian Is The University?

There’s probably not a week that goes by that I am not called upon to defend the “Christian-ness” of Cornerstone University on some issue or in some fashion. Usually I find this phenomenon rather fascinating. Sometimes, I confess, I find it frustrating.

People question the university's Christian commitment based upon their understanding of the phrase, and the number of these perspectives seems infinite.  No real consensus seems to exist anymore in what it means to be Christian.

Words that used to work in this defense no longer seem to work. For example, if I say CU is “conservative” people will assign their own definition to the word, which may include---theological understanding (which is what I mean when I use this word: CU is theologically conservative, which is to say that we believe the Bible is God’s Word and that it is our guide for faith and practice), political positions, rules or lifestyle commitments, or an organizational style or orientation as in not innovative, risk averse, or cautious. But CU does not demand that its employees always adopt politically conservative positions, CU bases its spiritual formation program upon spiritual discernment rather than rules, and CU is actually a rather progressive and innovative organization.

If I say that CU is “evangelical,” then people will think of everyone from Jim Wallis on the Left to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson on the Right. I do not and CU does not niche on either end of this continuum. Or people hear the word “evangelical” and think CU is representative of the “Values Voters” who put Bush back in the White House in the 2004 election. Or people hear that word and think Fundamentalist, legalistic, or a group that doesn’t work and play well with others, has a vision for the world that brooks no disagreement, and in general is comprised of people who would not make good neighbors. Actually, if I say CU is “evangelical,” I mean that we believe the Bible and we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son through whom one may receive salvation from sin.

If a university student goes to a dance, than it must mean the university is no longer Christian. If a professor uses a book in his class that was produced by a non-Christian, than this must mean the university no longer cares about its faith. If the university hires according to its faith principles this must mean people at the university stand in judgment of all others who may affirm slightly different views of Christian faith. If an university athlete does not comport himself or herself well on the court or field of play, than this must mean the entire university is given to poor sportsmanship and non-Christian attitudes. If people give to the university and allow it to build a beautiful structure this must mean the university is more about materialism than missions or ministry. If a faculty member writes something someone else does not like, this must mean that the professor’s view is the university’s view and, thus, the university is no longer to be trusted. And so it goes.

Cornerstone University is a Christian university. What does this mean? It means that all of our trustees and personnel are authentic and dedicated Christian people. It means that our academic, athletic, student development, seminary, and radio programming are intentionally constructed upon a biblical worldview with the purpose of teaching or propagating a biblical worldview. It means that we make decisions we believe will advance our mission—“to enable individuals to apply unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world.” It does not mean we are perfect, but it does mean we strive for excellence, consistency with our biblical worldview, and effectiveness.

Sole Deo Gloria.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogrers.

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Best-selling Fiction Masquerading As Nonfiction

“How much fiction can a nonfiction book contain before it must be re-classified as fiction?” That’s the question of the month that’s raising eyebrows far beyond publishing industry.

James Frey’s book, A Million Little Pieces (2003), a drug-addiction novel-turned-memoir, sold more copies in 2005 than any other book except J.K. Rowling’s latest tome in the “Harry Potter” series. Everything was going swimmingly for Frey, including an October 26, 2005 appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and Oprah’s selection of the book for Oprah’s Book Club, which resulted in some 2 million book sales (3.5 million total to date) and counting just from Oprah’s fans.

Then the website, The Smoking Gun, outed the book’s numerous fabrications built into the supposedly true, gut wrenching story of addiction rehabilitation. Frey and his publisher, Doubleday, have been doing damage control since including an appearance (with his Mother sitting at his side) on “Larry King Live” January 11, 2006 during which Oprah literally placed a last minute call blessing the book’s “underlying message of redemption” and saying the book, “still resonates with me.” Later she added, “To me, it seems to be much ado about nothing.”

Frey has refused to respond directly to The Smoking Gun’s allegations and has threatened the site with a lawsuit. Larry King zoned in and Frey responded to accusations of falsehood by bizarrely admitting to 18 pages of “embellishments,” which he said represented “less than 5 percent of the total book.” For Frey, “The important aspect of the memoir is getting at the essential truth.”

So now instead of Truth we have “essential truth,” which is a bit like Al Gore’s “no controlling legal authority” or Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.” Clinton still owns the Baby Boomer Fabricator-in-Chief title with his finger-pointing “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” But Frey is introducing his generation’s definition of truth, which is to say, “essential truth.”

Neither Frey nor Doubleday much care about the hoopla, for it simply sells more books. And Oprah thinks its much ado about nothing. But shouldn’t the rest of us care? If nonfiction is fiction aren’t we left with Orwellian double-speak offering no certainty and eventually no hope. Former New York Times reporter Jason Blair lost his job for fabricating stories. Why is what Frey did any different?

Frey’s book was first conceived as a bloody, graphic novel, which was, according to Frey, rejected by a dozen publishers. When his agent then suggested Frey call the book a memoir it sold and sold big. Memoir is a form of the word “memory,” and everyone’s memory grows dim with time. But “memoir” also means “one’s personal experiences,” which is to say that the author tripping down memory lane is remembering, however dimly, actual events, times, places, and people---not fantasy.

Politicians are often accused of “spinning” the truth, which may mean putting one’s best foot forward (actual occurrences) or it may mean stretching the truth (which is a form of not telling “nothing but the truth” and, therefore, a lie).

Christians are guilty too. For years I have disliked the phrase “evangelistically speaking,” which is used as a generally kind but sometimes biting comment about a preacher’s tendency to exaggerate his statistics. I’ve never liked even the kindly use of the phrase for it seemed to indicate the preacher was either an uninformed boob who could not get his facts straight, an avid spinner creating a fuzzy impression, or an outright liar. None of these images seemed very preacherly to me.

Lying began in the Garden of Eden. As part of Adam’s race, we’ve all lied at some point if not multiple points in our lives. But this condition of the human race does not make lying acceptable, whether its called prevarication, fabrication, spinning, equivocation, hedging, evangelistically speaking, dissembling, pulling the wool over his eyes, fibbing, “truthiness” as has been cited on comedy channels, or lying.

The concept of “essential truth” fits neatly within moral relativism-the idea that there is no such thing as absolute, for-sure, for-certain, “true even if you don’t believe it” truth-which is one of the defining characteristics of postmodern culture. Francis A. Schaeffer coined the phrase “True truth” a long time ago, just to convey the reality of divinely given ultimate, objective truth. Truth is, whether James Frey, Oprah, Bill Clinton, Jason Blair, you or I own it or not.

No one ever said nonfiction can have no fiction within it, just that respect for God, truth, one’s own integrity, the writer’s craft, and the reading public demands the fiction be identified. I’m glad Frey is no longer addicted to drugs. Let’s hope he can break his addiction to falsehoods. Even more, let’s hope the publishing industry rediscovers the definition of fiction and nonfiction.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's Take On God

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin thinks recent catastrophic weather is a message from God.  During a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally yesterday, the Mayor said, "As we think about rebuilding New Orleans, surely God is mad at America.  He's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane.”

Nagin also interpreted God’s purported view of African Americans, noting, "But surely he's upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves. We're not taking care of our women. And we're not taking care of our children."  Mayor Nagin’s comments caused enough reaction that he apologized today.

Earlier this month it was Pat Robertson (re his comments about Ariel Sharon) on the Right, now it’s Ray Nagin on the Left—both seem to believe they know exactly what God is doing and why.

Mayor Nagin has worked hard under extreme pressure.  He’s clearly blessed with certain leadership skills, and I would not question his heart for the people or the city of New Orleans.  But you never know quite what he’s going to say, including borderline race-based commentary accusing the Federal government of ignoring the city simply because many of its residents are Black.  In yesterday’s comments, he also said God wanted New Orleans to be a “chocolate city” once again, reinforcing what some consider a racist view of the city and its future.  Hopefully, he’s discovered that kind of rhetoric doesn’t work very well or attract many followers.

Is God at work in this world?  Of course he is.  Is he sovereign over everything, including good and evil—and for that matter the weather?  Yes he is.  Is God out of touch with what’s happening in America in 2005-2006?  No he is not.  Can we read the Bible and learn something about God’s character, his will, and his pattern of relationships with human beings, nations, and history?  Yes.

Can we, then, experience, read, or watch breaking news and know for certain that God is accomplishing some specific divine intent?  No we cannot.  God does not give us that kind of information.

The doxology of Romans 11:33-34 says it best: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?”

Mayor Nagin has every right to his opinion, and I am glad he is seemingly interested in what God is doing.  But I don’t think the Mayor has a hotline to God that allows him to make the claims that he did.  I disagree with the Mayor’s statements, even as I’ll try to understand something of the stress under which he made them.  Still, we generally have the right to expect more from our leaders.  Anyone can make a mistake, but measured, well considered responses ought to characterize the Mayor’s public pronouncements.

God may indeed be displeased with America.  He may be concerned about families without faithful fathers—White or Black.  We should examine what God says about the faiths of nations and families.  But we should avoid speaking ex cathedra, even if we are an over-wrought politician.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Books I Have Recently Read

Jeff Alan, Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News (2003). If you want to learn more than you ever wanted to know about television news anchors, read this book. If you want to learn about American history during the past sixty years or so through the camera’s lens, read this book. If you want to try to identify what is going to happen next in broadcast news journalism, read this book. I learned a few things, but this book was not really my cup of tea. But it was a Christmas present, and I’ll read just about anything, so I read it.

Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (2005). This is basically a Christian worldview book written by a young pastor of a huge church riding the wave of the emerging church movement. Bell’s preaching schtick comes through the book loud and clear—he likes youthful tones and metaphors, likes to stretch or even shock peoples’ thinking, writes with an abandon that he thinks or makes you think has never been done before, all while genuinely yearning to know God authentically and live out his Christian faith in a truly high impact mode. The best sound bite in the book is “Christian makes a great noun but a terrible adjective.” Very thought-provoking comment. Bell seems to embrace a culture or even reader based approach to hermeneutics as opposed to a Scripture based approach, but it’s frankly hard to tell. He opens discussion on doctrines like the virgin birth, asks truly off the wall question (again, apparently to make people think) but leaves the reader wondering exactly what he believes—or more, where he’s going.

Joan Biskupic, Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice (2005). In what will likely become the standard work on Justice O’Connor’s years on the high court, this book not only details how she became the influential swing vote but also how she evolved from conservative to moderate. This is an interesting political and legal biography encompassing some of the most controversial issues facing the nation in the past twenty four years. The author holds a law degree but has developed a career as a journalist, court reporter, and editorialist, so she can read the law and she can write. Recommended reading if you want to understand the law behind episodes of “Law and Order.”

Nina Burleigh, The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum (2003). This biography details the life of a very strange man and an even stranger family. James Smithson’s estate left the equivalent of $50 million to the United States of America, a country in which he had never set foot, to start a museum in his name that would further the knowledge of mankind. Thanks to Smithson’s interest in learning, to his poignant desire for respectability, and to his largess, the Smithsonian Institution is today the most extensive and remarkable museum in the world. This book also lauds John Qunicy Adams, crediting him with almost single-handedly protecting and preserving Smithson’s estate until such time as sufficient other individuals joined in a desire to fulfill the dying man’s wishes. Adding to the weirdness of Smithson’s life is the story of his illness, death, and burial in Italy, followed several decades later by a visit by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, the wealthy American inventor and his reluctant but supportive wife who rescued Smithson’s bones from their precarious seaside grave and brought them to America. You’ll not likely see a movie about James Smithson, so you’ll have to read the book, especially if you like real life trumps fiction stories.

Billy Crystal, 700 Sundays (2005). I’ve referenced this book and Grisham’s in an earlier blog. Suffice it to say here, the story of Crystal’s immigrant Jewish heritage, his family’s very early influence upon the development of Jazz via their New York City record shop, and Crystal’s talent as a comedian and entertainer all create a fairly stimulating read. But Crystal’s insistence on repeatedly using the worst of vulgar language robs the book of moral strength in what might otherwise be an engaging story of family love and endurance.

Michael K. Deaver, A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years With Ronald Reagan (2001). An interesting insider’s view of the Reagan personality, politics, and phenomenon. Many interesting tidbits like Reagan’s speaking trick: As a 70 something, he could not read his cue cards, but he did not want to wear reading glasses and, thus, appear older. So he wore his contacts, popped out the left one just before he spoke, developed the ability to read the cards with his left eye, looked at the audience with his right eye, all the while looking younger and more vigorous to his rapt listeners. Deaver is a loyal friend and supporter whose own legacy is forever intertwined with his boss, so this is a kind interpretation. But Deaver does speak knowledgeably about some of Reagan’s weaknesses and misjudgments. For anyone who liked Reagan or his conservative “revolution,” this is an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

John Grisham, The Broker (2005). Grisham’s stock in trade: legal fiction. An excellent novel about a wayward Washington, D.C. lobbyist that makes you think Jack Abramoff was the model for Grisham’s protagonist. Very well written. Timely. Free of sex scenes and generally free of language. Just a good read.

Michael Medved, Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life (2004). Medved tells how it’s possible for an irreligious, liberal, Yale-educated young Jew to migrate to traditional Judaism, political conservatism, and a position as one of the leading conservative voices in the nation. Even aside from the political story, Medved has lived a very interesting life. His recollection of his immigrant elders, hitch-hiking literally tens of thousand of miles while in college (he provides you with an exact count), going to school with Hillary Rodham Clinton and a host of other now notable individuals, experience as a movie critic, and very early success as a writer with subsequent television appearances make for rather engaging reading. Beyond this, Medved makes a compelling case for conservatism, American patriotism, and appreciation for a country where anyone with talent, drive, and a willingness to work enjoys boundless opportunities.

John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (1959). Real history written as political biography. This is a long, thorough, sometimes ponderous book. But you will not find a source better prepared to deepen your knowledge and understanding of this intriguing and truly brilliant figure who spanned the Colonial Period through the Birth of the Nation through its earliest days. If you are not serious about history, stay away from this book, but if you’re game, take the plunge. No matter how much you’ve read about the War for Independence and human nature, you’ll still learn something from this book. In the end, it will heighten your awe about what clearly was an exceptional and a providentially blessed period in all of history.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

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Justice, Mercy, and the American Taliban

The father of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh went public yesterday calling on President Bush to grant clemency to his son. Frank Lindh claims his son, first captured at 20 in Afghanistan and now 25, is innocent, “acted with integrity,” is a “great kid,” and “never fought against America.” He said, “In simple terms, this is the story of a decent and honorable young man embarked on a spiritual quest.” According to Frank Lindh, his son went to the Middle East to study Islam, traveled to Pakistan to escape the summer heat, went into Afghanistan without informing his parents, and only joined the Taliban army to fight against the Northern Alliance, not America. Meanwhile, the father choked back tears and showed baby pictures of his son.

The record, however, tells a different story. John Walker Lindh is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists. He avoided a life sentence in 2002 by pleading guilty to lesser charges of supplying services to the Taliban and carrying weapons against U.S. forces. He was given a 20 year prison sentence.

No one who has children can watch or read this story without feeling some compassion for an anguished father. I don’t doubt that he loves his son, that he genuinely believes his son is innocent of wrongdoing, or even that his son may have been involved in some kind of spiritual odyssey. And I don’t begrudge his request for clemency. Many of us might very well do the same thing in similar painful circumstances.

But a father’s love does not change John Walker Lindh’s record, clearly established through due process of law. Lindh was not abused or tortured. He was given a fair trial in an American court through which he was provided with an opportunity to defend himself. And in the end, his sentence was far less severe than his deeds warranted according to law.

Justice has been served. But the father’s request is not about justice. It’s about mercy in the form of clemency. So if you were advising President Bush about this case how would you recommend he respond?

While John Walker Lindh’s father is asking for mercy another father, Johnny Spann, is trying to get Lindh’s sentence extended for murder and treason. His son, CIA officer Johnny Michael “Mike” Spann, was killed in a prison riot after being videotaped speaking to John Walker Lindh. Again, most people, particularly those of us who have children, understand Spann’s response.

This is a sad case, but this is more than a “troubled youth” who made a couple of ill-advised decision in the neighborhood. This is about a young man who was intelligent and resourceful enough to travel around the world to study under religious teachers and who in turn took steps to align with groups clearly functioning outside the bounds of American, Afghan, or moral interests. He was not confused. He was intentional. He knew what he was doing, and he was old enough to understand words like treason, traitor, and terrorist.

So, should President Bush grant clemency to John Walker Lindh? I don’t think so. I believe mercy and even forgiveness can be extended within the constructs of his sentence, while I do not think freeing him serves justice or the needs of the American people. He is not in prison in some forgotten part of the world. He serves his time at the medium security federal penitentiary in Victorville, California. This is not a fun environment, but given his crimes, serving his time in his home state near his parents is a form of mercy in itself.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Family Leadership Succession in Christian Ministry

The Crystal Cathedral’s recent investiture of Robert H. Schuller’s son, Robert A. Schuller, as pastor of the Crystal Cathedral is the latest in a series of similar family leadership successions in Christian ministries.

Bob Jones followed Bob Jones who followed Bob Jones as the president of Bob Jones University. Richard Roberts followed his father as president of Oral Roberts University and associated ministries. Franklin Graham inherited his father Billy Graham’s leadership of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and affiliated ministries. John Osteen went to his reward and his at-first reluctant but now phenomenally successful son Joel Osteen followed his father to the leadership of Lakewood Church in Houston. Gordon Robertson is apparently heir apparent of his father Pat Robertson at CBN in Virginia Beach. Somewhat distinct from the others yet a similar story is Andy Stanley’s founding of North Point Community Church across town from his father Charles Stanley’s longtime ministry at First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

Sons and daughters have long followed their parents into “the family business”—it even happens in politics—think George H. and George W. Bush. But a Christian ministry is not a family business, particularly when the sons typically possess very different skills than their fathers and may evidence very different levels of spiritual commitment or maturity.

I’m not suggesting there is necessarily something unbiblical or otherwise unwise about these successions. But I do find them interesting. I’ve wondered what discussions have taken place about the son’s sense of calling, what motivates the son to take the reins, and what constituents think about the appropriateness of the choice versus others that could have been made. I’ve wondered what a famous name, family features, and sometimes a similar tone of voice or mannerisms have to do with the ability to lead a Christian organization for the Lord’s service.

That said, I think the Graham transition has been especially strong and effective. Franklin possesses an “edge” that Billy did not evidence, which provides a voice I think our culture needs. I appreciate him. All in all, these successions may indeed be God’s best. Clearly it is these families’ and organizations’ responsibility, not mine. I wonder about it, but I wish them well.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Dr. Rex M. Rogers

Dr. Rex M. Rogers

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