Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More YouTube Apologetics from Jay Smith

Christian apologist/evangelist Jay Smith has added the following videos to his series on Islam and Christianity (previous videos listed here):

Is Allah God?
Re: The Name of God is Allah...Jay Disagrees
How Many Bibles Do We Have?
Re: Theo Van Gogh's Film Submission, Women in the Qu'ran

In addition to providing useful information and sound arguments, these videos are good examples of how to respectfully dialogue with those with whom we have strong disagreement. They're also a creative and wise use of the the Internet to declare Christ.

Why Should Christians Study Logic?

Jeff Fuller at the Reformed Evangelist recently posted a helpful article from ChristianLogic.com giving these reasons:
  1. To Logically Defend Your Faith - Apologetics
  2. To Defeat the World's Philosophies by Advancing Biblical Reasoning
  3. To Prove Your Doctrines from the Bible
  4. To Apply the Logical Implications of God's Commands in Your Life
  5. To Be a Good Steward of Your Mind
  6. To Seek Wisdom in Living Your Life
  7. Jesus Was a Logical Man

Monday, October 30, 2006

Quentin Schultze at Trinity

Those in the vicinity of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School may be interested in this. Dr. Quentin Schultze, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College and author of Habits of the High-Tech Heart (which I've referred to here and here) and High-Tech Worship?, will be speaking this Wednesday, November 1, on Trinity's campus. The lecture is part of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding "Scripture and Ministry Lecture Series." Dr. Schultze's topic will be "Beyond the Digital Rat Race: Using Technology Wisely in Our Lives, Work, and Churches." Here's the description offered by the Center:
All of us are burdened with desires and demands to expand our technical abilities and to push for greater use of information and communication technologies in our daily lives. Yet the temptations to overuse and misuse technologies are evident all around us. How can we equip ourselves, our families, and our congregations to use email, PowerPoint, cell phones, instant messaging, personal Web sites, and other technologies appropriately?
The seminar is free, open to the public, and requires no registration. If you're anywhere in the area and your schedule allows you to attend, I encourage you to do so.

Audio archives and/or notes from past Henry Center seminars and conferences are available here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

From the Couch to the Crib

Infant psychotherapy is on the rise (HT: Jeff Burton):
A widely used mental health and development diagnostic manual for infants was revised last year for the first time since 1994 to include two new subsets of depression, five new subsets of anxiety disorders (including separation anxiety and social anxiety disorders) and six new subsets of feeding behavior disorders (including sensory food aversions and infantile anorexia).
Can fruit-flavored, infant-formula antidepressants be too far off?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cutting Through A Teen's Moral Fog

It's been a while since I've posted a log from my archive of online exchanges. Here's one from a young person (whose screen name I've changed) who used to frequent an atheist chat room. It was obvious from interacting with her over time that she was confused about what she believed about life and was hoping that being a regular in the atheist chat would help her figure things out.

I wonder how many thousands of American teens she represents - both outside and within the church. Concerning the latter, I wonder if much has changed since Francis Schaeffer penned the following assessment of the evangelical church over thirty years ago in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century:

We already are, of course, losing many of our young people, losing them on every side. It would be impossible to say how many have come to L'Abri from Christian backgrounds. And these young people have said, "You are our last hope." Why? Because they are smart enough to know that they have been given no answers. They have simply been told to believe. Doctrines have been given them without relating them to the hard, hard problems which these young people are facing. Those who come to us and say something of the nature that we are their last hope usually then speak of two things which discouraged them. First, they have not been given reasonable answers to reasonable questions. Second, they have not seen beauty in the Christian group they were in. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 4, pp. 69-70.

Did you ever read any Carl Sagan?

KP: Yes, only a little. I've heard and seen him on television too.

YMIHere: He was in the Catholic newspaper my parents get, it was an argument whether he claimed God existed or not before he died. I don't like the newspaper, it's not the most tolerant paper I've read. It tells you what movies you should be allowed to watch! I think that's sort of weird.

KP: I doubt that that newspaper tells you what movies you should be allowed to watch. It probably reviews movies based on their moral content and makes recommendations based on that. And speaking of tolerance..you don't sound very tolerant of that paper and its views. ;-)

YMIHere: Well, it's really weird. It has these lists of movies and says which ones are ok for Catholics. I mean, they gave the movie "Clueless" a bad grade or whatever. They said it was indecent. It was a pg-13 movie for kids! lol, I am tolerant, i just don't agree with what they say. I try to have tolerance for the Catholic religion, but I think it's not really good for people. I was taught the strangest things in Catholic school.

KP: Why is it that if you don't agree with what they say and how they think, it's just a disagreement but if they don't agree with the contents of particular movies they're intolerant? What kind of strange things were you taught in Catholic school?

YMIHere: I don't know, that paper just makes me angry and I don't know why. Christian sexual education was taught, and I never agreed with any of it. Also, the pro-life stand that Catholics take on abortion.

KP: And why is that strange?

Tulipstem: Like a religion should tell women they don't have a right to choose to have a baby or not. That's just strange. And I never understood why people would want to do that. And Christian sexuality was against sex before marriage which was very confusing. I think it just confuses kids.

KP: The real issue isn't one of women's rights at all. The real issue is whether or not one can take the life of another innocent being. To make women's right the focal point is mistaken. Christians believe that sex is to be reserved for a monogamous, life-long marital commitment. What's so confusing about that?

YMIHere: What do you mean? She's the mother. It 's her right to take the life (if you think it is a life at all).

KP: Oh, so her being the mother gives her the right to take the life? On those grounds, then your mother has the right to kill you anytime she wants, right? After all, she IS your mother.

YMIHere: No. People who recognize that the baby is not life until a certain period of time believe in the right to abort a child. This, I guess, has to do with when the law recognizes a baby as being officially life. I haven't decided when I think this is but I have no problem with abortion being legal. My mother can't legally take my life. There's the whole legal difference.

KP: So whatever is legal is morally right?

YMIHere: No. It's acceptable.

KP: Well, the abortion debate isn't over what is acceptable, is it? I thought it was over what is morally right. In some South American countries it is both legal and acceptable for men to beat their wives. A few hundred years ago it was both legal and acceptable to own slaves and to treat them as property.

YMIHere: I don't know. I don't spend much time debating abortion. Yes. It's also legal in Peru for women to be forced to marry men who raped them and the men won't be charged with the crime. Sick, but it's how some cultures live. Things changed for the better, didn't they?

KP: In Hitler's Germany it was both legal and acceptable to kill Jews.

YMIHere: Yes. And things changed. It makes you think "what a screwed up" world.

KP: Is all you care about what is acceptable in the eyes of the majority? If morals are relative as you say they are, then one can't say that things changed for the "better." One can only say that things changed. "Better" implies some fixed and objective standard of what is good or right. Of course, you can say that things changed for the better in a very subjective sense - meaning that they changed to suit your personal preference.

YMIHere: Yes, if I lived in a society, I would live by the accepted rules. If it was Nazi Germany and I didn't agree with their society, what am I supposed to do? The Germans went by Hitler's society, as messed up as it was, because they had no choice. It's really depressing, but that's the way it is sometimes. I have to live by America's society and so do you.

KP: Well, I'm glad that not all had your compliant attitude. Otherwise, we might still be enslaving Blacks in this country.

YMIHere: And who changed things? The society itself?

KP: People within the society who were convinced that the law was wrong. The Abolitionists, for example, in the case of slavery. But according to what you're saying, one should never oppose the prevailing idea of what is "acceptable" and therefore social reform becomes impossible.

YMIHere: I don't agree. Societies can change what is acceptable in a society. Look at America, that's what politics is about. Sometimes the country goes through conservative periods (the Reagan era) but things change and the majority of people just go along with it.

KP: Furthermore, according to what you've said, there can never be such a thing as an unjust law since what is legal is all that matters. Since you do not hold to any moral order above human legislation, you have nothing to appeal to in order to make a judgment that a law is just or immoral.

YMIHere: I have a question. Do morals matter that much? What happens when there are no morals? What happens to people and society?

KP: Of course morals matter. Without them, chaos results.

YMIHere: how do you know this? Can I have an example?

KP: If there is no moral authority and therefore no accountability to anyone other than the person or group with the most power, then all sorts of atrocities can take place such as Hitler's Germany, Stalin and Lenin, and the late Romanian leader whose name I can't spell.

YMIHere: Hitler had no morals? No morals whatsoever? He wanted a society without morals?

KP: No, that's not what I meant. Of course no one is devoid of a moral system or a system of values. The real issue is what that system is based on. For example, it could be that my moral system is that anything that deprives me of pleasure is wrong and anything that gives me pleasure is right. If everyone operated accordingly, what would the shape of society be?

YMIHere: So what moral system should everything be based on?

KP: Our moral system should reflect the revealed character of God. He is the transcendent and absolute measure of what is objectively good and evil.

YMIHere: ok.

KP: I'd love to continue this but I have to get going. If you'd like, we can pick this back up when next we're on.

YMIHere: OK. I'd like to continue too. Bye.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dealing With Doubt

Dr. Gary Habermas, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Liberty University's Department of Philosophy and Theology, has posted the complete contents of his book Dealing With Doubt here. (HT: Steve Wagner)

An Anglican's Call for Gospel Clarity and Courage

It's not a good sign when your non-Christian friends are curious about why you're not more actively seeking to persuade others of the message of salvation you claim to believe. Paul Eddy, a member of the ruling body of the Church of England, reports, "My Muslim friends say they can't understand why we Christians don't evangelise more, especially as they have a strategy to convert Britain."

Eddy recently accused bishops in the Church of England of avoiding the biblical mandate to evangelize so as not to offend minority groups and adherents to other faiths. To address this, he has made a motion intended to force the Church's General Synod to debate and clarify its position on the uniqueness and exclusivity of the gospel. From an article in the Telegraph:
[Eddy] said the Church's official statements tended to gloss over the issue of converting Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or followers of other religions. His motion calls on the bishops to report back on "their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain's multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none".
Eddy sounds a sobering exhortation to Christ-followers everywhere: "The Church needs to regain confidence in the God it professes to believe in, and a new confidence in the Gospel it should be proclaiming. And that starts with a clear steer from the bishops."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Johannine vs. Postmodern Epistemology

Matt Harmon, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, looks at two aspects of knowing in 1 John, stresses the importance of keeping them together, and notes how a biblical understanding of knowledge differs from the postmodern construal:

1. Central to the Christian life is the "experiential" knowing of God, something not reducible to mere intellectual assent to a set of propositions.

2. Central to the Christian life is the cognitive knowing of certain propositional truths about God.

To be biblical, we must embrace both the experiential and cognitive aspects of knowledge. Losing sight of either of these realities results in a distorted view of Christian knowledge. This is important today especially in light of those who, enamored with postmodern critiques of intellectual hubris, wrongly claim that propositional knowledge must be jettisoned as a relic of modernity. Furthermore, note the confidence and certainty that John claims Christians have about the reality/truth of these claims. There is no hint of the false humility of postmodern culture that abandons certainty in the guise of humility. This of course does not mean that Christians have absolute or exhaustive knowledge of such matters, but it does mean that Christians can have sufficient knowledge for certainty on fundamental aspects of the Christian faith. At the same time, these observations also serve to correct those who in their pursuit of propositional truth lose sight of the experiential aspect of knowledge, thus reducing Christianity to a set of beliefs devoid of personal, experiential knowledge of God.
Read the whole thing

Friday, October 13, 2006

"How Dare You Suggest We Spread Our Religion by the Sword!"

From the International Herald Tribune:

Relatives of beheaded Iraqi say kidnappers demanded apology for pope Muslim comments

Associated Press

Published: October 12, 2006

MOSUL, Iraq Relatives of an Orthodox priest who was kidnapped and found beheaded three days later said Thursday that his captors had demanded his church condemn the pope's recent comments about Islam and pay a US$350,000 (€280,000) ransom.

More than 500 people attended a memorial service Thursday for father Amer Iskender in the northern city of Mosul after his decapitated body was found Wednesday evening in an industrial area of the city.

Iskender was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church in Mosul.

"He was a good man and we all shed tears for him," said Eman Saaur, a 45-year-old schoolteacher who said she attended Iskender's church regularly. "He was a man of peace."

Relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the unidentified group that seized Iskender on Sunday had demanded a ransom and that his church condemn a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI last month that ignited a wave anger throughout the Muslim world. In a speech at a German university the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," declaring Islam was a religion spread by the sword.

Before Iskender was kidnapped, his relatives said, the church already had put up signs condemning the statement and calling for good relations between Christians and Muslims. The message was posted again, they said, after the priest's kidnappers made their demand.

"It was a tragedy," said Hazim Shaaiya, 60, who had come to the memorial service to pay respects. "Father Amer Iskender was a peaceful, kind religious man."

Relatives said the priest's oldest son had been in contact with the kidnappers on mobile telephones. He negotiated the ransom payment down to US$40,000 (€32,000) and had agreed to pay, but contact abruptly ceased Tuesday night.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Kitschy, Kitschy, Coo

For a satirical look at items like this divine door knocker (I wonder, can I get that in a Revelation 3:20, instead?), check out kinda kitschy, a blog whose tagline reads: "The world is laughing at us. So am I."

Speaking of kitsch, Quentin Schultze made the following observation about its use in worship in By Faith magazine (HT: Phil Ryken):

Young people witness some of the cheesy video and computer 'art' in worship and see it for what it is: kitsch. Stock clip art. Old-fashioned, 19th-century background images under song text: the sun shining on the cross, running streams, baby faces--all of the stereotypical images that say, 'Christians are crummy artists and naive sentimentalists.' To them, such kitsch is like handing out illustrated kids' Bibles to high school students and telling them that these images represent the depth of insight and excellence of the Christian faith.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Spare the Rod?

One of the adult classes our church is offering this quarter is The Case for Kids, a video-based curriculum on parenting by brothers Paul and Tedd Tripp who respectively authored Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens and Shepherding a Child's Heart. Unlike so many approaches to parenting that concentrate on controlling behavior, the Tripps focus on Christian parents' responsibility to minister to the hearts of our children out of which their behaviors flow. They also highlight how our parenting reveals what, besides God, governs our own hearts on a functional basis. It is, in my estimation, an excellent resource that I enthusiastically recommend.

Knowing that the topic of spanking was on the horizon, the couple leading this class asked me to look over and respond to an article called "Spare the Rod" by Crystal Lutton, author of a book titled Biblical Parenting. This couple told me of a family member who found her argumentation against spanking very persuasive and wanted to get my take on it in preparation for their teaching material that sees spanking as a biblically legitimate aspect of corrective discipline. Pastor Lutton tries to make her case by showing why references in the book of Proverbs to the rod as a means of discipline are not intended as endorsements of spanking.

I spent a number of hours last week studying Mrs. Lutton's article and related material and thought I'd post the fruits of my labor here. My purpose in doing so is not so much to convince anyone of the merits of spanking as to hopefully model some sound methods of biblical interpretation and critical analysis of proposed biblical interpretations. One should never simply accept an argument because the person presenting it has the title of pastor and appears to have some familiarity with the original languages. As I read through the many references to Hebrew words and lists of lexical definitions in Mrs. Lutton's essay, I understood how easily someone with no background in biblical languages could be convinced that her case is solid. Fortunately, however, numerous resources, like concordances and dictionaries (some of which are available online), make it possible for anyone who knows how to use them to evaluate various claims.

So, here's an edited excerpt of the email I sent to the couple who asked for my feedback. Naturally, it will make better sense if you read Pastor Lutton's essay first.

Pastor Lutton gives only three possible meanings for the Hebrew word (shebet) translated as “rod” in English: the large walking staff held by the head of a family, a shepherd’s crook, or a scepter. However, in checking a standard Hebrew lexicon, one finds other definitions such as club, shaft (i.e., a spear or dart), and tribe. Given the wide range of possible meaning, it’s necessary to pay close attention to the context of each usage of the word to determine which meaning is most likely.
Pastor Lutton argues from the fact that Solomon was a king and therefore it is most likely that when he used the word in Proverbs it was a scepter he had in mind. This would make sense if the book was intended only for royalty but that’s not the case. Solomon makes it plain in the introduction to the book (1:4-5) that he has a broader audience in mind than just the son to whom many of the exhortations are addressed. Therefore, since Proverbs was written to a wider audience that consisted of more than royalty, it’s improbable that the rod in the verses he cites is a scepter.
According to Pastor Lutton, the child referred to in Proverbs 23:13 is between 5 and 21. She claims that had the author wished to refer to a child under 5, he would have used another Hebrew word. Unfortunately, she doesn’t indicate what that word is. Regardless, her claim that the Hebrew word na’ar refers to a child of at least 5 years of age is simply not true. The same word is used of Moses when he was an infant in Exodus 2:9: “And Pharaoh's daughter said to [Moses’s sister], ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him.” Note that the child mentioned was still nursing, in which case, according to Pastor Lutton's position, another Hebrew word used only of nurslings should have been used. Na’ar is used with reference to children clearly under the age of 5 (newborns, even!) in Judges 13:5 (Manoah’s wife is told that she will bear a son; the word is also used in vv. 7, 8, and 12) and 1 Samuel 1:22 (used of Samuel before he was weaned). This is a fact easily enough verified with the use of a concordance.

The word translated as "correction" or "discipline" in Proverbs 23:13-14, according to Pastor Lutton, “carries the connotation of ‘Come let us reason together’ and speaks to verbal correction.” Again, I don’t know how she draws this conclusion from the various ways the word is used in the Old Testament. I believe that the majority of occurrences do refer to verbal reproof (especially in Proverbs), but not all uses fit that restricted meaning. For example, Isaiah says that Judah whispered a prayer to God in her distress when his discipline was upon her (26:16). This is a reference to God’s sending Babylon against the southern kingdom on account of the people’s sin. Obviously, therefore, discipline in this instance takes the form of punishment and not mere instruction or, “Come let us reason together.” Later in Isaiah, in describing the suffering servant, the prophet says “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:5). The word translated “chastisement” is the same word and, here again, it is evident that whatever it means, it's more than verbal correction. Other uses of the word where it clearly involves more than reasoning together occur in the following passages: Jeremiah 2:30; 5:3; 30:14 and Hosea 5:2.
The Hebrew word, therefore, can be used of instruction/reasoning as well as of punishment or discipline. Pastor Lutton’s frequent error is that she insists upon a very wooden use of language, demanding that whenever a word is used, it must have one consistent definition. But this is not the way language works. Usage determines meaning.
Among the fallacious arguments Pastor Lutton offers in defense of her position is that of pointing to the penalty for killing one’s slave by beating him or her with a rod (Exodus 21:20) and concluding from it that Proverbs 23:13-14 cannot be referring to actual corporal punishment because “you are still left with the reality that striking someone with your staff can kill them so you cannot take this as a promise of any kind.” This fails to take into consideration a point that virtually all commentators agree upon, namely, that none of the Proverbs are to be taken as absolute promises but are instead maxims or statements of general principle that do not apply absolutely across all cases.
No one I’m aware of who takes the verses in question as references to physical punishment believes that spanking their child will result in their eternal salvation so Lutton’s comment about how we could save lots of money on missions if we could beat people into the kingdom is ludicrous. The reference to saving the child’s soul from death is most likely dealing with preventing premature death by means of foolish behavior. This is, interestingly, one of the definitions she lists for the phrase translated “he shall not die” in v. 13: “to die prematurely (by neglect of wise moral conduct).” So, it is possible (though not certain) that this verse is not stating that the child will not die from the beating but rather will not die as a result of folly left to grow by the lack of discipline. The latter halves of vv. 13 and 14, in this case, would be parallel with each other. Bruce Waltke, a distinguished Old Testament scholar, agrees with this interpretation, writing: “The elaboration of the proverb pair’s outer frame of v. 14b shows that he will not die (see 5:23) signifies that because of the flogging he will not die, not that from the flogging he will not die (i.e., he will survive it)."
Though Lutton refers to spanking as a “modern day practice,” it would seem helpful to investigate the historical and cultural context of ancient Israel to determine what means of child discipline were employed. R. N. Whybray, in his commentary on Proverbs, cites an Egyptian proverb very similar to Proverbs 23:13-14: “Do not spare your son the rod, or you will be unable to save him from wickedness. If I strike you, my son, you will not die, but if I leave you to your own devices you will not live.”
As for Pastor Lutton’s take on Proverbs 22:15, I doubt one could find anyone knowledgeable of the Hebrew language who would agree with her interpretation. In saying that folly is bound up in a child’s heart, the author is asserting that a child’s natural inclination is toward foolishness. Lutton would have us believe that foolishness and sin lie dormant in a child until some later stage of life but this is foreign to the biblical witness. Beyond that, the notion that foolishness is rendered inoperative in a child’s heart is disproven time and time again by anyone with children.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's the Difference Between Breast Reduction and Abortion?

Melinda Penner asks, illustrating the illogic of "pro-choice" reasoning.

Theology, Where Art Thou?

In response to Christianity Today's list of the 50 most influential books in evangelicalism over the last 50 years, Philip Ryken asks Where, O Where Has Theology Gone? and makes a troubling prognosis:

There are plenty of experiential biographies, lots of "practical" books for family life and church management, but almost nothing in theology. The notable exceptions, of course, are Tozer, Piper, Stott, and in a way, Schaeffer. We could perhaps include a title that certainly should have made the list: Jerry Bridges' The Pursuit of Holiness. But where are all the books on the incarnation and the atonement?

Too often, the previous generation of evangelicals assumed its theology rather than defended it, especially in more recent decades. If history holds true, the coming generation will be the one that forgets the theology its fathers and mothers loosely accepted but did not inculcate.
CT's managing editor, Mark Galli, offers some explanation for the titles that made the list in the comments section of his personal blog (HT: Justin Taylor).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Faith and Reason at Harvard

Educators at Harvard have proposed a new requirement for its undergrads - "a course focusing on the interplay between reason and faith—whether in wars of religion or debates over stem cell research."

Friday, October 06, 2006

New Apologetics Titles

James Sire dedicates his latest book, A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics, to Francis Schaeffer (in memoriam). Here's IVP's description:
Always be prepared to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15-16)
We've all felt the tension. An opportunity to speak for Christ comes up, and either we jump in with both barrels blasting or we cower in the corner and say nothing. Is there a better way? Can we learn to speak boldly, yet humbly, about our faith in Christ?
Veteran apologist Jim Sire offers salient counsel derived from over fifty years of experience in a vast array of settings. Through a variety of snapshots, both successful and unsuccessful, he helps us understand the nature, value and limits of apologetics, and suggests how to tailor our comments to respect our audience whether large or small, formal or informal. He then outlines five key arguments for the Christian faith and offers responses to five common objections. Finally, for those especially drawn to apologetics, he offers counsel on how to discern a call to apologetic ministry.
I noticed this small volume today while picking up Bryan Follis's new book, Truth With Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer which Crossway describes as follows:
Francis Schaeffer was a well-known, extremely influential apologist and thinker who made his mark defending orthodox truth in the face of strong opposition. He was foremost in the vocation of apologetic ministry, and he was a brilliant man whom God used mightily during the decades of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.
In Truth with Love, Bryan Follis explores the theology and thinking that fueled the ministry of Francis Schaeffer, from his Reformed position to his understanding of fundamentalism. Follis examines SchaefferÂ’s apologetic argument and the role of reason in his discussions and writings. The position Francis Schaeffer took against modernism and its applicability in this day of postmodernism are studied as well.
This book is a beneficial resource for any Francis Schaeffer fan and any minister, teacher, or student who appreciates truth and its defense in the face of different kinds of opposition.

Are Evangelicals Losing Our Teens?

The New York Times examines various reactions to the claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be "Bible-believing Christians" as adults.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Equal-Opportunity Disorder

The media are abuzz with the findings of a recent study indicating that men are almost as likely (5.5 percent of men) to be compulsive shoppers as women (6 percent of whom engage in the behavior).

The complete findings of the study appear in the current issue of a major national publication. No, not Cosmopolitan or GQ, as you might expect, but the American Journal of Psychiatry. If you're wondering why excessive spending is of interest to medical professionals, it's because, in yet another instance of the medicalizing of life (i.e., reducing all manner of life's problems to illness), the American Psychiatric Association claims that those who frequently experience irresistible and irrational urges to buy things suffer from a condition known as "compulsive buying (or shopping) disorder." According to one account of the study's findings, "Sufferers often rack up thousands of dollars in debt and lie to their loved ones about their purchases. The consequences can be bankruptcy, divorce, embezzlement and even suicide attempts." Researchers conclude that one in 20 adults in the U.S. "suffer" from the "condition."

What is not being as widely broadcast is the fact that this study was funded by an educational grant from Forest Pharmaceuticals Inc. (see small print at the end of the above linked article), whose speaker's bureau includes both the senior author (Lorrin Koran) and co-author (Elias Aboujaoude) of the compulsive shopping study. What makes this connection so interesting is the fact that three years ago another study, also funded by a grant from Forest Labs, reported that a commonly prescribed antidepressant called citalopram (which Forest Labs just happens to manufacture) might be useful in alleviating compulsive shopping disorder. It comes as no surprise that Lorrin Koran was this study's lead researcher as well.

Of course, the fact that those researching a drug's effectiveness are in the employ of the pharmaceutical company that manufactures it does not in itself discredit the research. However, it should at least raise suspicion about just how objective the research is. I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately about the marketing strategies of pharmaceutical companies and it's distressing, to say the least. In their book Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us All into Patients, Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels write:
Psychiatry's intimate relationship with the pharmaceutical industry has become notorious. When the former New England Journal of Medicine editor Dr. Marcia Angell published her famous editorial "Is Academic Medicine for Sale?," it was this group of specialists that she chose to illustrate her point. She wrote that when journal staff were searching for an experienced and independent psychiatrist to write a review article about antidepressants, they had a great difficulty finding one, because only "very few" in the entire United States were free of financial ties to the drug makers (25-26).
Now that it has been "established" that compulsive spending is not just a women's issue, as previously thought, the market for drugs promising to treat the condition has been expanded, much to the pharmaceutical companies' glee, not to mention the relief of those now liberated from any moral evaluation of their insatiable appetites in the name of medical science.

Monday, October 02, 2006

No More Squinting!

Those of you who've been stopping by for some time have probably taken note of a recently instituted change - the print is larger. If this makes your reading experience more enjoyable, I'm glad but I can't take the credit for the improvement.

Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds. Since his is one of the first Christian blogs I began visiting with regularity, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know him better and discuss a wide range of theological and social issues. The conversation could have easily gone into the dinner hour as we each seemed to have a full arsenal of questions for each other. As we stood outside the restaurant about to part company, Justin said, "One criticism about your blog." This neophyte blogger shot up a one-second prayer that I'd have the humility to receive whatever he had to say and braced myself for what was coming. "The font is too small," he said. Ah, what a relief! That was painless.

So, if you're relieved that reading here no longer requires the straining of your eyes, you have Justin to thank.