If Bill McKibben's main point in "Christmas Unplugged" [Dec. 9] was that materialism damages God's creation and we should change our ways, I agree. If his point was that Christmas should be celebrated frugally because materialism is harmful, I think he neglected a much stronger line of reasoning, and incidentally forgot to mention the significance of Christmas. A stronger and simpler argument would be: Since Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ, Christians should celebrate in a manner appropriate to the event.
It would seem more fitting to celebrate by giving gifts to the poor and homeless, and by worshiping God with awe and adoration for his compassion and humility. We neglect both of these activities year-round, to our shame.
-Susan S. Monk
Chapel Hill, N.C.
I agree wholeheartedly with McKibben's suggestion to turn off our tv sets. My wife and I did that years ago, and we've felt our lives richer for the increase in time spent together and the decrease in meaningless distraction. But he also wants us to stop spending at Christmas. He says to stop spending at $100, but one supposes that he really means to stop, period.
I suggest that McKibben do what my wife and I have found so satisfying. We have "adopted" a needy child through Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, New York. We don't decrease our spending at Christmas, we greatly increase it. We get our "daughter" and her family as many presents as our finances will allow, and we wrap them and send them off and thank God for the opportunity to make a difference in just one family. We spend far more on this family than we do on our own. The joy we receive is incomparable.
If McKibben allowed God more room to worry about his creation and its environment, and spent more time (and money) helping to change the lives of the only part of creation that the Bible assures us possesses immortality, the author's future advice might change to "spend more, lots more, but only on someone who would have little or nothing without you."
-John H. Busser
I'm appalled by McKibben's assertions on global warming. It's simply not true "the world's scientists are now in agreement that we have begun to warm the planet." Yes, the earth is getting warmer, but according to a survey by the environmental group Greenpeace, only a third of climatologists blame human activity.
-Roger D. McKinney
So we can add Christmas to the ever-growing list of environmental hazards. I suppose that it won't be long before we discover that Easter causes cancer.
Ft. Payne, Ala.
Newbigin: A valuable asset
* Thanks for the profile of Lesslie Newbigin ["God's Missionary to Us," Dec. 9]. In him the Christian church has a valuable asset. Newbigin has restored theological integrity to cross-cultural ministry, a ministry that has been dominated by pragmatic communication models for far too long. Newbigin exemplifies the truth that solid theological thinking need not be the antithesis of meaningful cultural engagement. Is it not ironic that people today feel that "missions" is neither theological nor relevant? Why? Few theologians have felt mission as a topic worthy of their serious thought just as missionaries have felt theology was irrelevant to their daily schedules. When each can do without the other, something is wrong. Newbigin reverses this trend by engaging culture theologically and so ends up engaging it meaningfully.
* Thanks for bringing out this most recent contribution of Lesslie Newbigin, the call to a missionary encounter of the gospel with our Western culture.
A couple of notes: First, someone has confused me with George Hunsinger [as noted in the introduction]. He is the "theologian," I am a "missiologist," though that's in the same ballpark. He is currently at the Center for Theological Inquiry; I am on the faculty at Western Theological Seminary. It's not the first time I've been confused with him. I don't mind, because he does excellent work. But we ought to be distinguished so he is not encumbered with any adverse reputation I may have.
More of substance, it may be worth exploring the "movement" you mention as having been spawned by Newbigin's work [p. 26]. The conference held in England, the newsletter starting, the lectures at Princeton (in 1984, eight years earlier than the conference mentioned as though it was the first), give short (and confusing) shrift to something much more dynamic. The comment, "The movement continues today as a loosely organized, hand-to-mouth operation," is false by its casual and diminutive way of describing something which is, in fact, alive, growing, and spreading its effect on several continents.
I am the coordinator of one of a number of movements spun off the one Newbigin spearheaded in the UK. It is called the Gospel and Our Culture Network, a network of people across North America. The initial vision was Newbigin's, but others like Will Willimon, Stan Hauerwas, Douglas Hall, and a host of other U.S. and Canadian voices fueled it from the beginning. This network is full of the vibrancy of personal commitments to the missional transformation of the churches of North America.
This North American movement is in close touch with similar movements in the Western world. The "movement" to which you allude so briefly is perhaps the next big story. Without this bigger story of the momentum of the movement, Newbigin might be seen as merely a cantankerous Quixote without a following and without effect.
-George R. Hunsberger
* Extracts from Lesslie Newbigin's book Proper Confidence, especially "Putting Science in its Place," is the most articulate argument against the idol called science that I have read in a long time. The Word of God is the Truth. It towers (he towers) above all known knowledge, and indeed all of his creation.
* I enjoyed "Fatherhood Aborted," by Guy Condon [Dec. 9], about the hidden trauma of men who permit the abortion of their children. You could do a similar story on sons of adultery. When a man forsakes his wife for another woman, it has a deep impact on his son; however, the impact may not be apparent immediately. It may take years, even decades, to manifest itself. One consequence is rage in the son when he finally realizes how his mother has been hurt. Another is hidden grief. Because of the denial that there was anything wrong with the adultery, there has been no chance to properly grieve the loss of the marriage. Grief goes underground, only to resurface later as anger, frustration, depression, strange behavior. The son fights a hidden battle against these emotions and has trouble reaching his full potential, fathers are disappointed, and society suffers.
What is Jerry Falwell really like?
I was disappointed in the general tone and conclusions of the news article "Jerry Falwell's Uncertain Legacy" [Dec. 9].
First, I was disappointed that significant credence as well as considerable ink was devoted to the opinions of former employees who were extremely negative in criticism of Falwell's motives, character, and leadership style. I too am a former employee, of over 14 years. I was close to Falwell and at one time was considered to be his possible successor. I do not share the opinions of some of the former employees quoted. Some accused Falwell of "stifling authoritarianism." I did not find that to be true. On many occasions I disagreed with him, with no repercussions. I found him always open to divergent viewpoints. I do not believe his leadership is overall detrimental to Liberty University. In fact, I believe the opposite. Without his leadership there would be no Liberty University. In my opinion, there are far more former employees who share my views than those who share the views in your article. Unfortunately, our voices were not heard.
Second, I was disappointed that little of your extended interview was included. Granted, it is on the Internet, but I felt it was a disservice to delete much of what he said.
Third, I was disappointed that the negative issues you raised were often not counterbalanced with the positive. For example, you mentioned Liberty's academic ranking in the bottom fourth of colleges and universities, but you did not mention that they have an open admissions policy; they are willing to give students with poor academic skills a chance.
What is Jerry Falwell really like? He is a man who deeply loves God and his family. He wants to make a difference for God in this world. He is a man of immense energy and vision. We have had significant disagreements, but if I were to die today, he would be the first to call my wife and invite her to move back to Lynchburg and promise to take care of her and my children. This is the Jerry Falwell I know.
-Edward G. Dobson
Senior Minister, Calvary Church
Grand Rapids, Mich.
No, Jerry Falwell is not perfect. I'm sure that by talking with as many disgruntled former associates as you could find, you discovered some of the reasons we all have a Savior.
* Liberty University's financial woes might be due in part to alumni like me who refuse to donate a penny to the university so long as Falwell is permitted to slander the President (as in the Clinton Chronicles), the "loony" Tammy Faye Messner, pastors "living in sin" because they don't get up by 8 a.m. and "don't work very hard" even if they do, "small-minded" evangelicals, and anyone else who doesn't fit into his myopic Christian world-view. Nor can I give so long as he tells the Christian world that Liberty is his educational tool for fulfilling the Great Commission while assuring the state of Virginia (as he did in 1993) that public tuition assistance for students should not be cut off on First Amendment grounds, because the university's mission is not primarily religious. So long as he is allowed to speak and act like this with complete autonomy, Falwell and the university board leave only one means of accountability—the pocketbook.
-Tobin D. Kern
* Writer John Kennedy fails to recognize the accomplishments of any alumni, and skews his coverage of LU by tediously quoting one professor who is apparently the self-proclaimed expert on LU's woes. The most important issue is whether the students produced by LU are quality individuals. In my experience, most are.
* Through a series of unplanned events and circumstances, my family and I now live in Lynchburg and attend Thomas Road Baptist Church. We are not on staff or associated with any related ministries. It is simply where we attend church. When your 13-year-old begs to go to church on Sunday nights, do you really have to pray about it? We were not prepared to experience the profound impact the church and Liberty have had on this community. It is a wonderful place to live, worship, educate our children, and serve as a base for our own ministry.
It's hard to believe Jerry Falwell would be so foolish as to declare that "most pastors I know don't work very hard." Having pastored for over 33 consecutive years, I have noted that those who make such judgmental statements are usually doing so to elevate themself by degrading their colleagues. I find my spiritual and pastoral heroes in humble ministries of faithfulness and sacrifice.
-Pastor Rod Vermillion
Columbia Ridge Community Church
The pope and evolution
The pope is correct is stating that "Evolution is more than a hypothesis" [News, Dec. 9]. Evolution is a fact when referring to minor variations in the colors of moths and the sizes of finch beaks (microevolution); a theory when referring to the inference that all organisms have been linked in the past by common ancestors (common descent); and a grand metaphysical scheme when it claims that the entire living world is the product of blind natural forces. Unfortunately, the grand metaphysical meaning is the one being promoted under the guise of science in the biology classroom. Not only does the National Association of Biology Teachers define evolution as "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process"; the popular tenth-grade text Biology, by K. Miller and J. Levine (1993, Prentice Hall), informs students that "evolution works without either plan or purpose," and evolution "is random and undirected." Such statements are not justified on scientific grounds and illustrate that evolution is not taught as science, but as Darwinian philosophy, whose purpose is to replace the otherwise obvious design of organisms. All theists and scientists should unite in correcting this abuse in the science classroom.
-John Wiester, Chairman
Science Education Commission,
American Scientific Affiliation
No man knows the mind of God. We are told to be careful repeatedly. God's time frame is not the same as man's. God can use any method of creation—instantaneous, evolutionary, or [a third process unknown to us]. The only thing we can be absolutely certain about is that he "created." Anything further is pure speculation.
-Stanley Lindquist, Ph.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychology
California State University
* The pope's letter to the Pontifical Academy of Science is available (http://www.catholic.net:80/cgi-bin/ HyperNews/get/evolution/14.html). Consulting this text rather than press news wires, you would have quoted the pope to say that "new knowledge has led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of evolution." That's different from your and the mainstream press's out-of-context quote, "fresh knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis." The text shows that John Paul II did not abrogate, but in fact reiterated, Pius XII's epistemological and moral reservations on evolution (his text is also available through the above Web site).
The translation ("more than one hypothesis") cited by Mr. Wissler was published on October 30 by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano. The paper later realized it had made a mistake and printed a retraction. The pope's original French text should be translated (as reported in ct) as "more than just a hypothesis."
Up & Comers
* Your inclusion of R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in "Up & Comers" [Nov. 11] is somewhat disconcerting. As a 1979 graduate of "Southern," I have watched as this once great school has struggled and stumbled. The comment that "the speed and velocity of that turn threw some faculty, staff, and students off-balance—a few were thrown overboard" was callous and ill-informed. According to the Associated Baptist Press, since Mohler became president in 1993, about 60 percent of Southern's full-time faculty members have either retired, resigned, or been fired. In response to Mohler's leadership and problems with the faculty, the Association of Theological Schools has expressed question and concern about the relationship between the trustees, administration, and faculty.
I am a religious conservative who believes the Bible is the inspired Word of God and can be preached in its entirety. There is one positive thing I can say about Mohler's leadership: Parking on the main campus at Southern is no longer a problem.
* In your article on "Up and Comers," you [implied] E. Bailey Marks, Jr., headed up development of the aids-prevention curriculum "Youth at the Crossroads" and "spearheaded its use in areas outside Malawi." That curriculum (originally "Youth at the Threshold of Life") was developed in Hungary under the leadership of Campus Crusade's David Robinson.
ECT and theological agreement
Permit me to make one amendment to the fine comment by Brother Jeffrey Gros on "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" [Books, Oct. 7]. He said that one reason why ECT has not caused as much discussion among Catholics as it has among evangelicals is that ECT "does not press for theological agreement." The original declaration and the subsequent book of the same title make clear that ECT is deeply committed to working for theological agreement. The difference between ECT and the dialogues with evangelicals in which Bro. Gros and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops are involved is that ECT is very deliberately unofficial, and thus has greater freedom of initiative. Both official and unofficial conversations are important and should complement one another.
-Richard John Neuhaus, President
Religion and Public Life
New York, N.Y.
Brief letters are welcome. They may be edited for space and clarity and must include the writer's name and address. Send to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; fax: 630/260-0114. E-mail: email@example.com. Letters preceded by " * " were received online.
Copyright © 1997 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
February 3, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 2, Page 6
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