One Survivor

In Februrary 1945, nine U.S. Navy and Marine airmen were shot down over the Japanese-held island of Chichi-jima. 8 were executed (4 were eaten) and 1 became President of the United States.

bush srGeorge H.W. Bush, then a 20 year-old pilot, narrowly evaded capture by the Japanese and was eventually picked up by a U.S. submarine. While on the submarine, he recalls wondering, ”Why had I been spared and what did God have in store for me? In my own view there’s got to be some kind of destiny and I was being spared for something on Earth.”

You can read the remarkable story in the best-selling book Flyboys by James Bradley. 

This article also summarizes the story well.



Here’s a video of President Bush briefly reflecting on this incident.



The names of the other 8 airmen were:

Jimmy Dye from Mount Ephraim, New Jersey,

Floyd Hall from Sedalia, Missouri,

Marve Mershon from Los Angeles, California,

Warren Earl Vaughn from Childress, Texas,

Dick Woellhof from Clay Center, Kansas

Grady York from Jacksonville, Florida,

Glenn Frazier from Athol, Kansas, and

Warren Hindenlang of Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Supporting World Vision

Each person  only has so much money to invest in charitable causes and there are plenty of options.

If World Vision had announced that in the spirit of grace they were employing known racists, former child molesters, or members of Westboro Baptist, I’d say “thanks, but no thanks.” There’s plenty of other organizations to partner with.

So if (a) you don’t think that a settled homosexual lifestyle is a secondary issue like baptism or the gifts of the Spirit or such, but rather (b) think it’s consistently presented in Scripture as one of the many sins for which Christ died and which are antithetical to the life of the Spirit, then you’re going to have reservations about partnering with an organization that wraps Christianity in a modern American social ethic, which will (and it will) be offensive to the majority of people they are trying to help in the Majority World.

Supporting World Vision is an individual decision that can be defended well from either side. But progressive Christian friends: a decision to not support World Vision can be something else than culture-war-styled fundamentalism making a point on the backs of orphaned children.


World Vision And The Global Christian Church

worldvision_map-0f324e73cd0fb35ae89504df00841c9fAs a long-time financial supporter of World Vision, I was grieved to hear today of their decision to affirm homosexual marriage by removing it from the category of unethical conduct and relegating it to the category of debatable secondary matters.


Five Implications For the Global Christian Church

1. In the ongoing debate regarding the definition and parameters of the Christian faith, this incident illustrates with clarity that “Jesus as the center” alone is not sufficient. Followers of Jesus believe certain things and act in certain ways. In other words, there is, of necessity, a theological and ethical center to the Christian faith. Christianity has a core and boundaries and it is essential to flesh this out with clarity.

2. Leaders of para-church organizations must not disengage from this debate, but rather lead with clarity and conviction. If para-church organizations serve churches, they need to know what constitutes the Church they are serving. World Vision has a particular understanding of what comprises Christianity and it leads them to make decisions accordingly (Stearns said one of the impetuses for revising their policy was that churches and denominations they serve have changed their position on same-sex marriage). The seeds that produced the fruit of March 24, 2014, were sown years ago.

3. One of World Vision’s primary arguments for their decision was the desire to foster unity among Christians despite differences over secondary matters. This is certainly commendable! Unity in the Christian faith is always found around the truth of the Gospel, sometimes despite significant differences over non-essentials. But one thing we can learn from this is the need for evangelicals to clearly articulate what is essential and non-essential to the faith and why. What is the Gospel? What are the necessary entailments of the Gospels? Why is homosexual marriage not like baptism or the ordination of women? We cannot assume these things.

4. The work of poverty alleviation, community development, and orphan care is an urgent, necessary, beautiful, Christ-like work. My wife and I supported World Vision because they are very good at this–they are smart, informed, efficient, and resourceful. This decision, however, will undoubtedly cause many evangelicals to lose confidence in World Vision and withdraw their support (e.g. we have discontinued our support). But let me plead with those who make this decision: continue to financially support ministries doing poverty alleviation, community development and orphan care. Let’s be slow to start new organizations that will take years to develop infrastructure, relationships, and best practices. There are already excellent organizations that do this sort of ministry in a way that is sociologically smart and theologically faithful (e.g. Compassion International).

5. For conservative evangelicals in the United States, it behooves us to speak on this issue, not only for the sake of faithfulness to the Scriptures, but in an effort to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world. I’m in regular contact with evangelical pastors in a broad range of denominations all over the world and this much is clear: the acceptance of same-sex marriage by liberal Christians in the United States is an extreme minority position among Christians worldwide. World Vision is exporting a decidedly American social ethic. Let’s uphold a distinctly Biblical one.

Sidestepping Transcendence: George Ladd, St. Paul, and John Updike on The Historicity of the Christian Faith

george laddGeorge Ladd

“The uniqueness of the scandal of the Christian religion rests on the mediation of revelation through historical events. Christianity is not just a code for living or a philosophy of religion. It is rooted in real events of history. To some people this scandalous because it means that the truth of Christianity is inexplicably bound up with the truth of certain historical facts. And if those facts should be disproved, Christianity would be false. This, however, is what makes Christianity unique because, unlike other world religions, modern man has a   means of actually verifying Christianity’s truth by historical evidence.”


061206_stPaul_vmed_8p.grid-4x2The Apostle Paul

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so if your faith.”




john updike


John Updike



“Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse,

the molecules reknit, the amino

acids rekindle,

the church will fall…


Let us not mock God with metaphor,

Analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

Making of the even a parable, a sign

painted in the faded credulity of

earlier ages:

Let us walk though the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,

Not a stone in a story,

But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

The wide light of day…”


Art Is Not A Megaphone, It Is A Dog Whistle

5things1Daniel Siedell, Presidential Scholar and Art Historian in Residence at The King’s College in Manhattan, has written a fascinating article on what art is not. It will probably cut across some of your preconceived notions–it did mine! It’s a thought-provoking piece. I still wonder if number four is more a both/and than either/or, while I think number five is particularly instructive for Christians. What do you think?


The basic outline is included below, but you can read the entire piece here. 

1. Art is not an abstract category. 

The artist Barnett Newman once quipped, “aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds.” As useful as theoretical and philosophical reflection can be in moderation, I tend to agree with him.

2. Art is not a political weapon

The value of art is not found in its capacity to effect political change “out there” but to work on us—you and me…

3. Art is not easy.

The “right eyes” take time—a lot of time.

4. Art is not a visual illustration of the artist’s worldview. 

We often presume that a work of art represents the “worldview” of the artist. This is simply untrue. An artist does not paint a picture to express what she already knows or believes. She paints to learn something about herself and the world—something she doesn’t already know.

5. Art does not form virtue. 

Art is not a megaphone. It is a dog whistle. And only those who suffer and hope can hear it.

If You Love Like Jesus, You Will Be Misunderstood

John 13: 34-35: “A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”



I had coffee with a mentor last week in a quaint little corner shop owned by an Ethiopian Christian. We were talking about difficult decisions Christians sometimes have to make in how we will relate to others, and he made an observation that struck me.

He said he’d rather be “caught” seeking to show someone love, than to “play it safe” and not love. He said he’d rather be misunderstood because he was attempting to show love, than understood by not. His comments, coupled with reading the Gospel of John, got me thinking.

Jesus Calls Us To Risky Love

Love can be risky. It often calls us to do hard things. Sometimes it takes courage. I’ll risk using a well-worn term, because I think it’s the best descriptor possible– Jesus’ love was radical. It caused him to be misunderstood and criticized. It put him in some tight spots. It meant he was often found serving.

And this is the kind of love Jesus calls us to–a risky, radical, self-denying, others-serving kind of love. We’ll know it’s Christ-like love when we’re occasionally misunderstood or criticized for it. We’ll recognize its authenticity when we regularly find ourselves doing things like washing feet.

The Only Explanation Is Jesus

Here’s my take-away from that coffee shop and from John 13: I want to be known as someone who so deeply believes and rests in God’s love for me, that I go a really, really long way in loving others. The way others will know I am a disciple is not by “playing it safe,” “erring on the side of caution,” and loving in the exact ways everyone would expect. They’ll know it when my love is so puzzling there’s really only one explanation–Jesus.

One last thought: if this sounds “soft” or “liberal” to you, or looks something like the cragged precipice of a slippery slope; then go back, read the Gospel of John, and listen to Jesus. He’ll model a surprisingly risky and servant-hearted love. And then he’ll say “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

The Unpersecuted Church

behind_bars_xsmallA few weeks ago I was in Northern India with pastors who have been physically beaten because they converted to Christianity. Many of them have been permanently ostracized from their families and friends because they now follow Jesus.

Before meeting these men I had heard a lot about persecution–usually while reading an article on my MacBook Air or talking with friends about Christianity around the world over a latte. I have had hardships in my life–trials, difficulties–and in some cases thought it may be something akin to persecution. But in the faces of these men, I saw the weighty cost of discipleship. I saw persecution.

And of course, these stories can be multiplied tens of thousands of times over. Just spend an hour or so perusing the website for The Voice of the Martyrs. You’ll read about massacres in Christian churches in Nigeria, imprisonments in Iran, and systematic persecution in Syria. The nature and scope of persecution of Christians around the world is staggering.

But let’s be clear: a multi-millionaire being suspended from his show because of comments he made while being interviewed by GQ is not persecution. Christians losing a favorite reality TV show about ducks is not persecution.

Perhaps the only thing more staggering than the persecution of Christians around the world is how un-persecuted American Christians are. We enjoy more freedom, wealth, privilege, and status than any other Christians, at any other time, in any other place in world history.

Now we certainly have hardships–trials or difficulties that cause us collective concern. What happened with Phil Robertson and with others who have articulated the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is a good example.

But brothers and sisters, let’s get some perspective. Yes, our society is increasingly secular and our enormous freedom, wealth, privilege, and status is being chipped away at a bit. But crying persecution? Comparing ourselves to the Jews in Nazi Germany? It’s embarrassing.

Let’s broaden our perspective and remember what Christians throughout history (and today!) have faced for confessing the name of Christ. The list of persecutions will be sobering, but I guarantee you the suspension of a reality TV show about ducks will not be anywhere near the top.



Should Christians Defend Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty?

phil-robertsonYes and no. Two thoughts:

(1) This is a prime example of the intolerance of the new tolerance. The new tolerance asserts that all viewpoints are equally valid and thus any viewpoint that asserts itself right over and against another viewpoint, is deemed “intolerant” and unfortunately, is frequently silenced.

This is the opposite of true dialogue, cultural progression, and respectful tolerance. Russell Moore has said it well:

If the reports are true that the reality TV star’s suspension was due to his stated views on homosexuality then I hardly think silencing him can be called open-minded. In fact, it’s the sort of censorious cultural fundamentalism that is neither “progressive” nor “pluralistic.”

Let’s have the sort of cultural conversation that allows us to seek to persuade each other, not to seek to silence one another with intimidation. That’s what real diversity is all about.

2. Does any Christian really want to defend Phil Robertson’s specific comments? Even if you agree with his understanding of what the Bible says about marriage and sexuality (I do!), surely you must recognize that his comments were crude, wrong-headed and insensitive. There was nothing of the spirit of Christ about them.

I wonder if part of the problem is that many have actually not read some of his comments. I’ll copy them below, but warning: graphic language. 

On homosexuality:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

On race and Civil Rights:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

We’re a long way from “let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). As Christians who believe in the authority of God’s Word in all of life (including sexuality and marriage), this is the kind of speech we want to distance ourselves from, not defend. 

So should Phil Robertson have been fired? I don’t think so. It goes down as another example of the small-mindedness of the new tolerance–doling out censure in the name of openness, silencing in the name of conversation.

But should Christians defend Phil Robertson? Well, yes and no. Defend his right to express his viewpoint and certainly defend the Biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. But let’s make it clear that we find this kind of attitude and speech reprehensible as well.

It not only matters what we say, it matters how we say it.


“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17)