News Flash: Dog Doesn’t Bite Man

Exactly zero news agencies would bother reporting that a local man encountered a dog who didn’t bite him, as he had feared it would, but gave him a friendly lick on the hand instead. Yet friendliness has shown up recently where one might not expect to find it: between Christians in public.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is an international fellowship of Reformed Christians committed to effective preaching, evangelism, missions, and cultural engagement. It is also marked by its fierce defense of gender differentiation (men are to lead churches and homes), its high-profile leaders (such as pastor Tim Keller, scholar Don Carson, and political leader Russell Moore), and its vigorous vigilance over what it takes to be correct doctrine.

Recently, Ontario pastor and author Paul Carver, a member of the Canadian board of TGC, interviewed Bruxy Cavey, senior pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches, The Meeting House, also in southern Ontario. The express goal was to clarify Cavey’s teaching—issued in a plethora of books, podcasts, weblogs, and sermons—for those in TGC who were concerned that Cavey was well beyond the pale.

One might have expected a hostile give-and-take as a flinty Calvinist took on an equally unapologetic Mennonite. But Carver is no Dutch uncle, nor is Cavey your typical Amish elder. The result is not the lurid Grand Inquisition one might have anticipated.

Carver is clearly a thoughtful and civil interrogator, determined to understand, not condemn, what he hears. For his part, Cavey—who looks like a hipster cross between Willie Nelson and Santa Claus—demonstrates a keen theological mind. He nicely articulates where his views differ from Carver’s (as they apparently do only rarely, according to the first two interviews) and where they are in fact pretty much the same, if expressed with Cavey’s characteristic creativity and élan.

The result is one of those benign rarities in public discourse today: a “civil and respectful dialogue” (as TGC puts it) that models a serious attempt both to understand suspicious ideas and to find common ground.

Meanwhile, Prof. Jason Byassee of the Vancouver School of Theology, a theological seminary of mainline Canadian Protestantism (United, Anglican, and Presbyterian), was recently given space by Canada’s leading journalist in religion and ethics, Douglas Todd of The Vancouver Sun, to give a very positive review of the recent book by local megachurch pastor Ken Shigematsu.

What’s this? A Presbyterian theological professor saying nice things about the work of an evangelical preacher?

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The Bad News in the Bad News

Hurricane Florence is devastating America’s east coast while super-typhoon Mangkhut lays waste to the northern Philippines.

Religious believers wonder where God is in all of this, while skeptics scoff that such calamities clearly prove the foolishness of belief in an all-good, all-powerful Being.

There’s plenty of foolish belief to go around, however. Believing that human beings can be rallied to work together to solve major problems, such as those thrown up by Florence and Mangkhut, for example.

Many people fervently believe that we need to convince the world of the reality of severe and increasing climate change. Once convinced of that inconvenient truth, the world then needs to be convinced to take one or more of several drastic steps in order to slow and even reverse it.

Massive cutbacks in the use of fossil fuels—which would almost certainly stop the economic development of most of the world’s population. Massive investment in renewable energy sources, which would hamper every other economy as well. Massive changes in the production, use, and disposal of pretty much everything, from water to garbage. And massive technologies to alter the very weather, with unforeseeable risks built in (it is the weather we would be altering, after all).

Are we surprised at the lack of buy-in to such unfathomably costly schemes?

Some people focus on smaller-scale, but still gigantic, human initiatives. If we look back a year to Hurricane Maria, how has the Caribbean fared since then?

Let’s focus on the most privileged of Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the richest country on earth, the United States. And we find that America’s Chief Executive denies the extent of the catastrophe while the island remains mired in damage, depression, and despair. Remember: that’s the best-case scenario, being an actual part of the United States, and yet Puerto Rico is still a disaster zone.

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Advice for Students in Unsafe Places

“But, Professor, I learned in church that God wrote the Ten Commandments himself on stone tablets and gave them to Moses. Isn’t that what happened?”

“It is unscientific and absurd to believe that God ever turned stone-mason and chiseled commandments on a rock.”

Such went the confrontation of traditional Christian belief and confident modern thought at Syracuse University—in 1909. And such collisions have resumed again on campuses throughout North America.

As Christian students return to universities across Canada this month, they, and perhaps their parents, will worry about whether their education will cost them their faith.

Ironically enough, our campuses nowadays are awash in worries held by lots of different kinds of people about being confronted with ideas and experiences they don’t like, from “trigger warnings” to “speech codes” to “safe places.”

It is easy to mock such worries about the big, bad, secular university, even as studies show that, in fact, religious belief and practice does not tend to wane as one gains higher education.

The whole Christian educational complex, to be sure, both Catholic and Protestant and from kindergarten to graduate school, can be seen as a gigantic “safe place” for Christian faith. As Adam Laats reports in his recent book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018), fear of non-, sub-, and anti-Christian influences was always a high motivation in producing Christian colleges, from Harvard, founded in 1636, to (Patrick) Henry, founded in 2000.

And just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you.

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