The City Podcast: Whither the Christian Blogger

by Timothy Motte on December 29, 2014

Blogging has changed, is changing, and will change. But how?

We don’t have the answers, but we know some good people.

Our guest, Joe Carter, has been blogging since the medium was founded and has seen a lot of change. He is or has been involved in blogging and/or communications strategy for the ERLC, the Acton Institute, the Gospel Coalition, Touchstone, First Things, Patheos, as well as being the founder of the Evangelical Outpost.

If you are a blogger, especially a Christian blogger, you need to determine whether blogging is an activity that you should put your energy into. You need to figure out your blogging strategy. And most importantly, you need to find out how to blog virtuously.

This podcast will help you.

Featuring: Dr. John Mark Reynolds, Joe Carter, Dr. Holly Ordway, Cate MacDonald

The City Podcast. Smart. Sane. Spiritual.


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Email us at with your thoughts, questions, or suggestions for future episodes.

Subscribe via iTunes.

Sense and Sensibility

by John Mark Reynolds on July 4, 2011

History will not end because of gay marriage in ageing New York.

The Catholic Church, imperfectly but inevitably, will continue to stand for decency and public morality. Politicians like Governor Cuomo will side with powerful donors and a momentary immoral majority.

Nothing new there.

Whether on the sanctity of human life or marriage, Governor Cuomo sides with his donors over his Church. Such politicians have their reward, but should not expect prizes from the Church in return.

The Church protected human dignity before New York and will defend morality centuries from now. It has seen pols like Cuomo since the days of the decadent Romans.

Sex should happen between a married man and woman seeking to build a family. That sex does not always happen that way is true, but always regrettable. It is not new for the old immorality boldly to trick itself out as the new morality and deny this moral fact.

The Christian Church has seen it all before now.

Some new group assumes that the pillars of societal order are no longer needed and breaks them one by one. When there is no immediate collapse, the unwise assume that more change will be safe. They measure their morality and cultural security by one human lifetime. Wiser people look to the laws of all nations, history, religion, and philosophy.

They know a society unpracticed in moral restraint in one area will not easily gain it in others. Societies can be too hard, but they can also grow soft, self-indulgent, and sterile.

The key question: Who will determine what is moral for Americans?

John Locke, the philosopher and Christian apologist, argued that both human reason and revelation supported a Christian ethical order. The Founders of America following Locke assumed such an order or took it for granted. Even those who disagreed with the details of orthodox theology adopted an essentially Christian ethic.

The vast majority of Americans have taken a general Christian moral framework as a given. From Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to King, leaders appealed to that standard to bring needed change.

The government of New York decided to discard that consensus and adopted alien standards. The wisdom of the West, of Plato and of Saint Paul, is being ignored in New York.

What have these libertines learned? It cannot be scientific, because science does not deal in ethics. It can only tell us what is and not what should be.

Any human being who denies nature and God’s design for human sexuality is mistaken. It is an error many have made, but a common error is still an error. Classical philosophy was wise when it urged restraint and limits to our erotic impulses. Sexuality is too powerful, sublime, and beautiful to be reduced to recreation or cut off from all chance of fulfilling its intended purpose.

Gay marriage is one small sign of decline from this moral standard and not even the most serious one. It is much less serious than easy divorce, a culture awash in pornography, or infidelity in marriage.

Nobody is perfect, nobody lives up to the high standards of romance and Christian love, but the effort has helped produce Western civilisation.

We are asked to assume all will be well without it. Where is the evidence? Some indicators of marital health are up, but child birth is down. Stable, but sterile marriages, planned barrenhood, is not a sign of success.

Traditional Americans have celebrated chastity and purity as good and sexuality as good. Each has a time and place in a healthy culture. In a world where heterosexuals ignore sense and lack restraint, there probably is no great harm in allowing others to do the same, but that is to praise New York’s folly with faint damns.

We ignore profound questions in our haste and hubris to declare moral what the common opinion of humankind calls immoral. Are we really so ethnocentric to ignore their reasons and experience?

Can such a culture produce enough children? Can it raise healthy children fit to compete in the global arena? Can such a culture develop moderation in other areas when it rejects traditional restraints on sexual desire?

What will happen to the poor in such a state? The rich will always be able to afford more vice, but the poor will show the impact of moral decay first. Will those who mock the Catholic bishops replace their massive and personal charitable works in every poor parish in the nation?

What of the common opinion of humankind? The further America moves from sense to sensibility, the more we cut ourselves off from the opinions of most humans. If we abuse our liberty with libertine values, then it will be harder for those who reject our immorality to draw the distinction.

One hundred years from now the fruit of our folly will be apparent, but we can hope licentiousness will not continue so long. Americans have the power and money at the moment to cast off the restraints of divine and natural law. When the cost of sensual living grows high enough, common moral sense surely will return.

Facile comparisons to the American civil rights movement comfort gay marriage advocates from their moral isolation. They forget that for most Christians, race based slavery was an aberration in the development of Christian ethics. Gay marriage cuts Americans off from the booming global population of mainstream monotheistic faiths and finds allies only in nations inflicted with the same flawed assumptions.

Traditional Christianity is far more likely to survive globally, than this eccentric action by the United States.

The better comparison is to abortion rights. In my youth, a majority of young adults and opinion makers believed Roe versus Wade and time would end the controversy. The great knowledge traditions will neither accept gay marriage nor disappear.

Despite momentary setbacks, Christians are hopeful. Our disagreement is not with those who have homosexual desire. We stand in solidarity against any group or nation that would threaten or bully anyone while pretending to agree with Christian morality. Governments like Uganda are wicked when they threaten homosexuals and are condemned by the sane bishops who condemn Cuomo.

The middle way of morality avoids the perils of moral tyranny and laxity.

Many of us are sorry to be asked so often about gay marriage since there are more pressing moral issues. The experience of other lands shows few gays will choose to marry:  a small percentage of a small group. If state government allows millions of us, gay and straight, to oppose this experiment with marriage, we can hope societal harm will be minimal.

What is next?

Gay marriage is more likely to lead to Christian revival than further decay. Either way, millions of Christian Americans, gay and straight, will love each other better, but govern our desires by Christian ideals. We are not going away.

What next?

Christians will clean up our own failings and make our own lives more consistent with the laws of nature and nature’s God. Good will come of this episode. American Christians will not return to moral hypocrisy about the presence of wrong desires in all of us.  We will not return to the days of the closet, but to open confession of sin in a supporting community where all of us fall short of our highest calling.

We pray for God’s mercy on all Americans, including Governor Cuomo, as we hope to find mercy.

Obama: The Christian as President

by John Mark Reynolds on April 16, 2009

Recently President Obama made a series of important speeches in Western Europe and in Turkey. He said that “the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam” and that “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation.” He is right on both counts. These passages must be understood in the context of his sophisticated view of the role of religion and government.

This was demonstrated by his Inauguration and his frequent use of examples such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. There is a bipartisan American consensus on this issue.

President Obama is following the lead of President Bush in defending religious liberty for all Americans while using his Christian principles to govern. Understanding how he can do both is vital to helping the rest of the world imitate US success in securing freedom of religion without forcing religious people to privatize their faith.

Both North Korea and Iran have recently been in the news as threats to American peace and prosperity. Neither nation has achieved the constitutional compromise necessary to make a society moral and free. North Korea forces a secularist ideology on everyone and suppresses religious conscience. Extremists in Iran create religious conformity that is too pervasive and allows for too little freedom of choice to minority religious groups. President Obama is trying to be part of a long tradition of American governmental leaders balancing between the two extremes and urging other nations to do the same.

Both Bush and Obama have recommended the Islamic people follow our example, especially in unsteady but functioning democracies like Turkey. Many in the Islamic world are doing so, but not the terrorists who follow leaders such Bin Laden.

The terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11 use Islamic language to mask fascist or socialist tendencies. They take God’s will into their own hands and their cruelty shows no true submission to the will of Allah. George W. Bush argued that this demonic religion is not the religion of the hundreds of millions of Islamic people worldwide. He frequently pointed out that thousands of American Muslims are loyal Americans. President Obama agrees and adds the credibility gained from his personal experience as a Christian who has lived in a majority Islamic nation to argue that Islam can follow a better path than that taken by extremists.

President Obama argued that the members of any religion, including Islam, could be good citizens of the United States. The Christian majority has designed a system in the United States where this is possible.

American is mostly Christian without being a Christian state.

Unlike Great Britain our nation is not identified with a monarch, but a set of principles. We swear an oath to a constitution and not a Queen. Historically the monarch is Britain just as the constitution is the United States. The Queen can be Christian, but a constitution cannot be a member of a religion anymore than it can join a political party.

President Obama could just as rightly have said that as Head of State he is not a Democrat or a Republican.

US Christians are a good example for religious people around the world about how to act on one’s faith in public affairs. Christians like President Obama govern as Christians without forcing others to be Christians. We know a good bit about President Obama’s values, for good and bad, by knowing the form of Christianity he embraces.

This has always been true.

Abraham Lincoln used Evangelical votes and values to gain the Presidency. Christian ministers like the Reverend Martin Luther King used his Christian values and an appeal to those values in other Americans to advances civil rights.

It is natural religion should shape public life. President Obama’s conscience has been shaped by Christian ideas and his decision-making is shaped, in part, by these religious ideas. One of these ideas is freedom of conscience and limited powers for the government.

If President Obama acts consistently with his faith, he will respect others’ right to practice a different faith. The US constitution was designed from hard learned lessons by Christian civilization to allow for such liberty.

Christians remain a dominant presence in the United States. Recent polling this Easter claimed that 79% of Americans believe Jesus rose from the dead, but this Christian majority refrains from acting in a way to exclude the non-Christian minority as much as possible. We have created a governmental framework by our lives and blood that allows for maximum participation from diverse peoples that can accept the constitution.

As the majority, Christians have done most of the work of building the nation, but welcomed other participants. They have managed to celebrate their faith in the public square without forcing others to believe as they do. This is a great accomplishment that secularists in places like Albania and religious in places like Russia have yet to achieve.

President Obama’s own inauguration demonstrated this wonderful balance. He took the oath of office on a Christian Bible and the music of the event was soaked in Christian language. We have been and remain a Christian majority without refusing citizenship to the non-Christian minority. Though practiced imperfectly this tolerance has been a great historical achievement. Other groups, religious and otherwise, would be wise to learn this American Christian tolerance.

President Obama has a theology and philosophy, which is informing his morality, which impacts his politics. To the extent that I disagree with his theology, I will disagree with some of his decisions. A few seem positively immoral to many of us and we use constitutionally guaranteed means to protest and try to overturn them.

Despite these strong disagreements with some of the President’s positions, as the constitutional head of state he remains my President. By showing respect and opposition, I am true to my faith
while remaining a patriot. Hopefully even this small example of loyal opposition will demonstrate how a nation can contain many different theologies and philosophies while still sharing common space amicably.

On America, Land of Cults

by John Mark Reynolds on April 2, 2009

An American cult is what happens when radical individualism meets religion and philosophy.

A cult becomes cut off from the mainstream of traditional religion and the global community of faith. It begins to converse only with self. This dangerous isolation is an important topic, as American religious communities such as the Episcopal Church drift in this direction. Mainstream global Christians do not delight in this drift as they recognize the temptations of the cult all too well from their own temptations to isolation.

Extreme stories litter the paper every day that show the consequences of isolation. Cults begin to delight in their edgy behaviors and to call what the rest of the world calls “wrong” something good.

Why is America a particular breeding ground for cults?

The root is in a misapplication of good American ideas.

Americans rightly rejoice in their heritage of legal and political equality, but the usefulness of an idea can have limits. Positive political ideas can be toxic when misapplied to other areas. Treating the ideas of individuals equally is excellent for society in the voting booth, but not so good in the laboratory or the parish.

Liberty is a very good thing, but so is excellence, and there is noteworthy tension between these two goods. American society mostly has done a good job allowing for moral excellence, virtue, while being cautious about imposing too much virtue on dissenters.

There is much to fear when culture gets the balance wrong. Liberty can always devolve into the merely libertine while excellence can become the tyranny of the experts. Humane society cannot survive either extreme for long.

Traditional Christianity asserts the importance of both liberty and excellence. Christianity asserts the essential freedom of human to choose his path. God Himself let Adam and Eve choose and face the consequences of that choice. Christianity also asserts that while human beings are created equally in the image of God, all human ideas are not equal. Some ideas are true and some are false.

No king, rich man, or mob can decide what is true, good, and beautiful.

A cult gets the proper tension wrong in two ways. First, in its relationship to the outside world it is radically autonomous, defying dialogue with the broader community in the name of what it claims to know. Second, internally it often demands a rigid suppression of thought and dissent in the name of community standards.

This is dangerous, because religion, like any field of knowledge, is powerful, complex, and fraught with peril for small communities. Cults have at least two characteristics that make them likely to go bad: they refuse to defend their beliefs using reason and they never or rarely change their minds based on external ideas.

All of us are tempted to talk only to a small group of like-minded folk, but, as recent revelations about left-of-center media lists reveal, such conversations become dull and predictable. Fringe members of the community begin to press the envelope and if the community is not careful then dangerous ideas can be “mainstreamed” in the small group.

Too little dissent can create a groupthink that slowly allows genuinely frightening ideas to gradually gain credence. The lazy tolerance for anti-Semitism that manifests itself in certain leftist web sites is one example of how otherwise sane groups can be hijacked by too much conformity.

Much of the “new” atheism presently suffers from the perils of this intellectual inbreeding. Of course, traditional Christians can give this warning, because they have bitter experience of these dangers.

There is another danger in talking about “cults” for more mainstream religious and non-religious people. We can misuse the term by applying it to any person with strong religious beliefs, especially if they are in the minority. If cults are in danger of close-mindedness, some Americans avoid this error by going to the opposite extreme. They associate any strongly held religious opinions with close-mindedness or cultic behavior.

This is a dangerous mistake that can cut off valuable conversations.

For example, while most reasonable Americans believe in God, it would wrong to say that all strong-minded atheists are in a secular cult. A few extreme secularists may fall into the “cult trap,” as the founders of the American Atheist organization did, but their failure is not because they have unpopular views or express them forcefully.

Cult members are very opinionated, but that does not mean every religiously opinionated person is part of a cult. Thinking you are right is normal, having disdain for everyone who disagrees with you is cult-like. My own strong religious views have benefited by being tested by reading scholars who disagree with me, ranging from Pope Benedict XVI to Michael Ruse. Both the Pope and Ruse hold their views strongly, but reasonably, and are not isolated from a global conversation.

Overuse of the term “cult” in the public square sometimes substitutes for actual arguments with thoughtful dissenting groups. As a traditional Christian I have serious theological disagreements with my friends in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), but it is wrong to label them a cult.* Any quick search will show LDS are willing to defend their views using arguments accessible to non-LDS. These arguments have changed under pressure from counter-arguments from non-LDS scholars and improved. I am not persuaded, to say the least, by these arguments, but LDS willingness to produce careful and responsive scholarship is a nearly infallible sign that they are no cult.

America has long operated with hazy, but generally Christian, moral consensus. America has typically tried to provide maximum liberty to those who dissent in a way that is consistent with social order. For example, the government would not allow polygamous marriages, but would tolerate some types of religious dissent from forced government schooling.

Hopefully, if this consensus changes over time, the tension between religious liberty and social order will be maintained and continue to tip ever so slightly in favor of dissenting views. Today’s cult, after all, might be tomorrow’s received wisdom. The humility to recognize that this is true is also an important part of a good and reasonable society.

*The word “cult” has popular, technical philosophic and theological uses. Some technical theological uses of the word “cult” might apply to LDS, but I am speaking of the use of the term in newspapers like the Washington Post.

Finding the Devil in the Post

by John Mark Reynolds on March 26, 2009

Satan’s existence is suggested by human experience and the Bible and is confirmed by reading the Washington Post. The Post is almost surely not a particularly diabolical organ, but it does report the news, and the news often shows signs of the demonic.

The bad news about the world is evidence for evil that goes beyond the merely human. The Devil is a spiritual being gone wrong who could not be satisfied with goodness, truth, and beauty. This proud tyrant seizes power and authority that he is not fit to wield. The Creator grants the Devil his free choice and allows the natural consequences of his folly to come to full fruition.

God, in his justice, allows the case against truth, goodness, and beauty to be made by Satan to humankind. Sensible humans will take this into account when living life.

The existence of the devil is a good reminder that just because a being is spiritual does not mean he is helpful. Religious experiences can be confusing partly because we misunderstand them, but partly because some spiritual beings are deceptive and malevolent.

Theology, the science of knowing God, helps protect humankind from these beings. People who try to be spiritual without theology are doing the spiritual equivalent of walking into Los Angeles and asking anyone they meet to be their best friend and boss. It might work out well, but it probably will not.

God speaks to humanity and the Devil has chosen to try to confuse our reception of His loving words. As a good Father, God tries to warn us of bad behavior and bad theology and the Bible gives us those warnings in writing. One hears the voice of Satan when this sensible morality is attacked in the name of a “new theology” which is always as old as the Garden of Eden.

Satan tells every generation of Christians that something big has happened and that the Church must change or die. The Internet, the pill, the bomb, World War II, flappers, the steam engine, the Enlightenment, and the Fall of Rome all have been given as reasons that goodness, truth, and beauty had to change to fit the times. Ignoring this demonic folly has proven good policy.

Humans are quite capable of imagining and performing evil acts without help of course. In our broken condition we act badly even when we wish we wouldn’t. Nobody needs a devil for that kind of thing, but with a little aid and encouragement we can go further and become positively inhuman. Knowing this puts us on our guard and makes our prayers an even more pressing priority.

Because he is not a god, Satan cannot do everything. His resources are great, but limited. He is often happy to be ignored, because the ignorant cannot expose his limitations. The skeptic will overlook what he does do and the fanatic will give him credit for evils he could not do. Of course like any insecure and tyrannical soul, Satan cannot simply hide, but must sometimes demand either fear or love.

His limitations suggest a mixed policy of encouraging atheists to ignore him, Satanists to worship him, pagans to misidentify him, and Christians to obsessively fear of him. This maximizes his influence and minimizes his defeats.

Nobody save a prophet can look at the Post and be sure what God or the Devil is doing at any given moment or in any given news story. God’s providence is inscrutable in its complexity, but rational, while the Devils work is manifestly irrational and thus difficult to discern.

Over time in the hideous works of Stalin, Hitler, or Mao humankind can begin to discern a touch of the diabolical. Meanwhile we trust in God, attempt to do the good He gives us to do with the means he gives us, and keep an exorcist or pastor handy.

It is sensible to suspect the diabolical when an evil is sustained, irrational, and obviously and spectacularly destructive to the very parties practicing it. We should enter such situations reasonably and prayerfully. Let me suggest two types of “front page” wickedness that might give a Christian special concern.

The irrational, wicked, continuous, and destructive hatred of the Jewish people has a bloody and sordid history. Anti-Semitism has sponsored so much wickedness that it is reasonable to suspect diabolical force behind it.

The tyrant in any cult of personality in a nation or in a small group behaves much like Satan. The weird, wicked, and ultimately self-destructive actions of the leader of North Korea make our special prayers for the deliverance of that nation especially appropriate.

Jesus believed He was God and died for our sins, Kim Jong-Il acts like he is god and kills others for his sins. If “Dear Leader” is not possessed of devils, he gives a fair imitation.

Of course, the pages of the Post only record the public actions of humankind. They rarely venture to tell the private struggles of the men and women that form most of the actual history of our sad race. It is there that most of us come face to face with devils. Each of us face temptations and some of these come with special force and are particularly hard to resist. No man can blame devils for bad choices or pass off his personal moral responsibility, but many men are aware of the persuasive power of Satan’s pleading for evil.

The devil did not make us do it, but he surely is not helpful.

Plunging into wickedness is bad for the human soul in itself, but also because it allies the bad man with the devils. Demons are not helpful or trustworthy allies.

Satan exists with his demons and he is intent on destroying as much that is beautiful as he can. We need not fear him, but cannot ignore him. And so the wise man prays for deliverance from human and diabolical temptation while longing for mercy from Jesus Christ, God’s son, for our failures.

Thank God such mercy is available.

Rick Warren: A Public Educator Worthy of Honor

by John Mark Reynolds on December 22, 2008

Rick Warren is a sensible man who represents the center of American Christianity. Christian ideas and culture are part of the genetic makeup of our nation and appealing to them is vital to tapping into the American story. President-elect Obama was smart to pick Warren, and Pastor Warren was right to accept.

Opponents of the pick on the far left are marginalizing themselves, but don’t realize it since they have such a limited circle of friends. Charity demands that we recall that much of our education has been too narrow. We don’t understand sophisticated religious points of view, because we are not exposed to them. When combined with a natural tendency to justify what we want, even when it is wrong, a prophetic voice like Warren’s makes many of the pundit class uncomfortable.

Rick Warren refuses to bow to the thoughtless assumptions of the American right or the American left. He flays the comfortable in both camps, but too much of the left is unused to having the morality of their positions questioned. They have insulated themselves from it.

The traditional Christian is, on the other hand, bombarded by media and educational messages opposed to his point of view. He has no trouble seeing that there are sensible people on the other side and interesting arguments that need consideration. It is impossible for a man like Warren to forget, even for a moment, that much of the leadership class despises him.

President-elect Obama understands the cultural prejudices and blind spots of his class, because his biography has always made him a bit of an outsider to that class. He knows most Americans are religious, most religious are Christians, and most Christians sympathize with Warren’s views, even if they don’t agree with him on every theological detail.

The Warren pick shows Obama is not trapped in the bubble that has so marginalized the left in this nation. Much of the left has never read an argument for Christianity by a sophisticated philosopher such as Alvin Plantinga. They don’t understand why a rational person might read the Bible a source for moral guidance. Many are never exposed to secular arguments supporting social conservative positions.

Some of us who talk for a living delude ourselves into thinking we are the nation’s intellectuals, but too often our intellectual activities amount to sophisticated justifications for comfortable, but selfish lives. Reading the right books, watching the right films, and going to the right schools, is useless if it does not make us better men and women. The temptation is to become elegant hedonists.

After all, if you want charity, you would be better off going to your local fundamentalist church than a university. You might get a sermon with your soup in the church, but professors and pundits are not noted for their generosity. There would be no sermon or soup from us! Barack Obama understood the need for intellectual activity to be tied to a life of service.

He found this integration in church. Church exposed him to another group of intellectuals: people who take their reading seriously enough to sacrifice when they are persuaded by it. Rick Warren has lifted more people out of poverty than most of his critics have met.

I have a good friend who was a member of Pastor Warren’s church. His life was transformed and improved by this experience. Secular Orange County youth culture was hedonistic and anti-intellectual. My friend was saved from this by church. He became motivated to study philosophy and was taught selfless citizenship. He is preparing for graduate studies at a major secular university.

There are thousands like him in Orange County.

While their neighbors are watching television, they will attend concerts and classes at Warren’s churches. Thousands will read the Bible with care, attend lectures by university professors at Warren’s church, sing ancient hymns this Christmas, and think through an oration every Sunday. Members will connect all of this robust intellectual activity to actual behavior and change. They will sacrifice for the good of mankind.

These members of Warren’s church will read more, give more to the poor, become better spouses, and better neighbors as a result of his ministry.

Their lives are integrated: head, heart, and hand. Warren urges his congregation to think, read, and act, and so is a much better role model for the life of the mind than most of us.

Despite their disagreements on a few issues, President-elect Obama sees that he has more in common with Warren than with some of Warren’s narrow minded critics.

Pastor Warren is right to oppose the further erosion of traditional marriage. He is right to ask God to bless our land and our new president. His opponents would do well to examine their own works and see if they are in a position to judge this decent man.