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Signs and Wonders

women_smarchinstagramMexico City Policy. President Trump has reinstated a policy that stops U.S. taxpayer funding of abortion overseas. The Mexico City policy was first put in place by Ronald Reagan, and it has been a political ping-pong ball ever since. One of the first acts of a Democratic president is usually to rescind the policy, and Republican presidents reinstate it. Pro-life groups were quick to praise Trump for doing so, with Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List saying that Trump was “continuing Ronald Reagan’s legacy.” However, it’s important to note that this was an easy step to take. It will be much more difficult for Trump to defund Planned Parenthood and fulfill other promises he’s made to the pro-life movement. Still, though a baby step, this was at least a baby step in the right direction.
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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

ThinkstockPhotos-139872063What can the slow-motion death of Sea World teach us about the state of our culture? A lot, if you have an eye for key similarities. Let me tell you a whale of a tale.

The recent death of Tilikum the orca, the subject of the flashpoint documentary “Blackfish,” has the online animal rights community in a frenzy. Over at Salon, former trainer and “Blackfish” interviewee John Hargrove calls the bull killer whale’s death another “cry for help” from captive members of its species, which the producers of “Blackfish” and other activists insist are incompatible with captivity. The piece is as schmaltzy as it is devoid of substance, with laments for Tilikum’s separation from his “family” at age two, his “sterile confinement,” and the “suffering” he endured (as if wild orcas live carefree lives). Hargrove offers every anthropomorphism we’ve grown accustomed to, without giving any indication that he ever personally worked with Tilikum (I could find no evidence that he had).
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-488222300Prosperity Gospel Preacher Dies. Eddie Long, a “prosperity gospel” preacher who was under near-constant investigation because of accusations of misconduct, died of cancer on Sunday at age 63. Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, which he took over in 1987, grew from 300 to 25,000 under his leadership, but Long attracted scrutiny nearly every step of the way. He moved around the country and the world in a private jet, he drove a $350,000 Bentley automobile, and he had to answer repeated accusations of sexual misconduct. Sen. Charles Grassley investigated Long and five other televangelists for financial wrongdoing, but no charges were ever filed in any of the “Grassley Six” investigations. In 2010, four young men who had formerly been a part of Long’s congregation filed lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct. Long settled the lawsuits out of court and never admitted wrongdoing.

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Radical Life

silence-movie-neeson-scorsese-570x285Many years ago, I read Shushaku Endo’s novel “Silence.” Endo tells the story of two young Portuguese priests who travel to Japan to discover what happened to their mentor, who disappeared during widespread persecution. What they encounter strips them spiritually bare and plunges them into a world of suffering, denial, and despair.

At the time, “Silence” was disturbing for me. I could not disassociate myself from the story. The Christ I knew and loved was not hidden. He was there, front and center, silent to the suffering of his most passionate children. But in “Silence,” the heroes who placed their lives on the line were filled with doubt and fear. They cried out to God. Where was He? Why was He silent?

When I finished the book, I threw it across the room.
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Signs and Wonders

grande_prairie_bus_ad1_645_194_55It Might Actually Happen. The nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, received more than $500 million in federal funding in 2014, primarily in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. Pro-lifers have for years said that this funding should end. It could actually happen. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List and an important Trump supporter, recently told TIME magazine: “We won for a reason. There’s never been a time, ever, when the muscle of the pro-life movement has been so strong.” The TIME article added, “For the first time in eight years, Dannenfelser and anti-abortion advocates are on the offensive and hoping their electoral work will pay off.” It won’t be easy to completely strip Planned Parenthood of funding, because it comes from a variety of sources in the byzantine federal budget. However, last week House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans will eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood in a budget bill. Yet Planned Parenthood will not go down without a fight. “Regardless of what Paul Ryan says and what he does, we are not going away, and we are not going anywhere,” said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.
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Priorities

The_Dream_of_Saint_JosephEvery Advent, much of the media spotlight shines on the Virgin Mary. She is the subject of countless cover stories, it seems. And no wonder. Mary says, “From now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48), a statement that is impossible to dispute.

Yet the season also gives us another, less-celebrated disciple whose faithful obedience changed the course of history—Joseph, the husband of Mary and human father of Jesus. Joseph, like his Old Testament namesake, was a dreamer—and sometimes the carpenter’s dreams led to divine interruptions.

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Signs and Wonders

51tLI6sVM8L._SX321_BO1204203200_Top Stories of 2016. ’Tis the season for news organizations to post their lists of top stories of the year. Most lists are exercises in stating the obvious, such as informing us that Donald Trump was elected president. (Really? Who knew?) But I did run across a couple of lists that I found interesting. Over at Patheos, Bart Gingerich posted the Top 9 Evangelical News Stories of 2016.” Among them: the debate over the Trinity going on in evangelical circles, a debate that was front-and-center at this year’s Evangelical Theological Society. Also on the list: the rise in popularity of the satirical website The Babylon Bee. Another interesting list came from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in the form of 10 Good News Stories from 2016 You Might Have Missed.” Among those stories: Homelessness has declined sharply in the past decade, and 19 states passed more than 60 laws protecting the unborn in 2016.

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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-469734719On August 15, 2016, Huntington, West Virginia, a small city of approximately 49,000 residents, which was previously best known as the home of the Marshall Thundering Herd, became known for something far less uplifting: 28 residents overdosed on heroin in a four-hour period.

To put this in statistical perspective, that’s about as many as overdosed every two weeks in New York City, which has 170 times as many people as Huntington.

What happened in those four hours from hell in Huntington differed only in degree, not in kind, from what is happening elsewhere in the country, especially in communities that have seen better days.

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Signs and Wonders

9780718089788Color Me Unimpressed. According to the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, three of the top five non-fiction Christmas books are . . . wait for it . . . coloring books. When I posted this factoid on Facebook, I also asked the question: Does anyone besides me find that disgusting? I unintentionally tapped into a deep well of emotions about adult coloring books. Some said they were a symptom of the “dumbing down” of America, and the fact that coloring books were outselling more substantive writers was a troubling sign of the times. But others defended the trend in adult coloring books, saying they were beautiful and helped reduce stress. I get that, but three out of five? Really?

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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

Lord_of_the_Rings--Gandalf_and_FrodoFifteen years ago today, the naysayers ate their words. As the folks at TheOneRing.net document in an insightful little anthology, “The People's Guide to J. R. R. Tolkien,” many had concluded prior to the release of Peter Jackson's adaptation of “The Fellowship of the Ring” that the Oxford philologist's high fantasy was incompatible with the screen. They were wrong. As wrong as Saruman was about a halfling's chances of reaching Mount Doom.

The Fellowship of the Ring” soared to box office success and critical acclaim. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Weta Workshops, Howard Shore, and a small nation of cast and crew opened up Tolkien's masterpiece to the world in an unprecedented way. The novels on which Jackson's films were based quickly moved from paperback fantasy and sci-fi sections to shelf-ends or kiosks in bookstores. The merchandising machine ground into action like the wheels of Isengard. And this 2001 blockbuster kicked off a trilogy of films that would culminate in record ticket sales worldwide and one of the biggest Oscar hauls in history.
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Signs and Wonders

Bob_Dylan_in_November_1963Suffering for Jesus. More than 25 Egyptians died on Sunday when an apparent suicide bomber detonated a bomb inside Cairo’s St. Peter’s Church. The bombing struck at the heart of the Christian church in Egypt, as it took place at a church next door to St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of Egypt's Orthodox Christian church and headquarters for Coptic leader Pope Tawadros II. He heads the largest Christian church in the Middle East. WORLD’s Mindy Belz reports that “a brief statement from the State Department gets important details wrong. The attack did not take place outside the church and it was not at St. Mark’s.” In some ways these are minor details, but they indicate a level of engagement—or lack of engagement—in the U.S. State Department when it comes to religious liberty for Christians in the Middle East.
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Signs and Wonders

Dave_Brubeck_NotesRemembering Dave Brubeck. This week we mark the anniversary of both the birth and death of jazz great Dave Brubeck. He died on December 5, 2012, just one day short of his 92nd birthday, December 6. Jazz fans and others who know anything about him remember his1959 album “Time Out,” the first ever million-selling jazz LP. He was the first modern jazz musician to be featured on the cover of TIME, on Nov. 8, 1954. However, only his most ardent admirers know that Brubeck had a late-in-life conversion to Christianity and he also left a robust body of sacred music. To learn more about Brubeck, check out an appreciation I wrote about him for WORLD when he died four years ago.
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Here Goes -- I Mean Amen

the_last_battleI am a lifelong Narnia fan. I treasure these books, constantly refer to them, and still mysteriously get something in my eye when Aslan explains the Deeper Magic from Before Time. C. S. Lewis was simply a master world-weaver, and Narnia is Lewis par excellence. So I don’t make this confession lightly. But I’ve stayed in the closet (wardrobe?) for too long. Here goes:

I’ve always found “The Last Battle” disappointing.

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Priorities

ThinkstockPhotos-497544355“Astronomy,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “taught us our insignificance in Nature.”

Many people believe this, and on one level, it’s hard to blame them. The size of the universe overawes any who contemplate it.

According to scientists’ best estimates, the cosmos is 91 billion (that’s 91,000,000,000) light years in diameter. A light year, you may recall, equals, give or take, about 6 trillion (that’s 6,000,000,000,000) miles. Multiply 91 billion by 6 trillion and you get a round trip of 546 billion trillion miles. It’s incomprehensible.

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Signs and Wonders

keith-kristyn-getty-irish-christmas-celebration-90Cuba Libre. A lot of ink has spilled regarding the death of Fidel Castro in the past few days, but if you want a fairly comprehensive and relatively unbiased account of his life, I recommend the Miami Herald’s obituary. It is, of course, no surprise that Leftist ideologues have praised Castro’s brutal reign, but I must confess some surprise that the award for cluelessness would go to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had the worst assessment of Castro I’ve seen. Trudeau said Castro “made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation,” a ridiculous and demonstrably false statement. Trudeau’s statement caused Sen. Marco Rubio to tweet: “Is this a real statement or a parody? Because if this is a real statement from the PM of Canada it is shameful & embarrassing.” To read an interesting interview with Cuban dissident Armando Valladares, an interview that brings the real Cuba into focus, click here.
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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-531454680Dealing with Prodigals. Even great Christian families have troubles. That’s the reality of living in a fallen world. Or perhaps you have a friend who has walked away from Christianity. How do you continue to love that person without compromising your own beliefs and emotional health? These are some of the questions Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert deal with in “Letting Go: Rugged Love for Wayward Souls.” I commend the book to you, but if you’re one of those who like to sample before you buy, WORLD has published a chapter as part of its “Saturday Series,” a weekly offering of “long form” reads on its website. You can read that chapter here.
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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-509483224I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything


In the weeks and months preceding the vote on Colorado Ballot Proposition 106, which legalized physician-assisted suicide in the Centennial State, John Stonestreet pointed to the wave of suicides among Colorado teenagers and rightly argued that a “yes” vote on 106 would send the wrong message to vulnerable kids. Sadly, two thirds of his fellow Coloradans didn’t agree or didn’t care.

As it turns out, teenagers aren’t the only people in the state experiencing a suicide epidemic. A recent story in the Washington Post tells the story of an increase in suicides among white women in La Plata County, in the southern part of the state.
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Signs and Wonders

Brantly_Mask_5x7Making Families Great Again. All this talk of “making America great again” reminds me of something Allan Carlson has been saying for a while: that the health of America’s families has gone through cycles of ups and downs over the years, and we are headed into an upswing in that cycle. Basically, he says that civilizations can tolerate sexual promiscuity and family breakdown for only so long before they either disintegrate or self-correct. Throughout American history, we have had a tendency to self-correct, and Carlson believes we are at the beginning of a period of self-correction now. You can read more about his theory in an interview I did with him at last year’s World Congress of Families.

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Internally Displaced Person

ThinkstockPhotos-498915290By the time this column is posted, the election results will be, in all probability, in, and we will have moved into the recrimination and handwringing phase.

Some more thoughtful Christians will be trying to figure out how to heal the wounds this electoral season has created. As the Emperor of the Colson Center John Stonestreet—I thought that, for all he has to put up with, he should be called “Emperor of the Colson Center” at least once in print—has pointed out on several occasions, the issue is how Evangelicals who have exchanged heated words over whom to vote or not vote for will partake of the communion table.

But there’s another divide that this election season has exposed that is getting much less attention, even though it’s arguably more portentous: the demographic divide.

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Signs and Wonders

ThinkstockPhotos-587789666Calling Elections. It’s popular in politics to tout the polls when your candidate is ahead, but to say the polls are flawed when your candidate is behind. So on this election day, I share a few final polls so that tomorrow and the rest of the week you can see whose polls really were reality-based, and which were biased. Real Clear Politics has Hillary Clinton winning by 3.2 percent in the popular vote and with 272 electoral votes. Nate Silver’s 538 Blog doesn’t predict the popular vote, but gives Clinton a 71.6 percent chance of winning with 302 electoral votes. Online oddsmakers OddShark and almost all the other online betting services have Clinton winning. Let me add, with emphasis: I’m not sharing these predictions in order to endorse or un-endorse one candidate or the other, but merely so that later this week we can see who called it and who didn’t. But from where I sit today, it’s pretty obvious that if Donald Trump wins, the “conventional wisdom” will have a lot of explaining to do. On the other hand, if Clinton really does win, many of us may have to admit that perhaps the polls are not so biased after all.
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