CT Blog

Interview: Ben Sasse: Adolescence Is a Gift, but Extended Adolescence Is a Trap

The Nebraska senator wants parents to get serious about shepherding kids into responsible adulthood.

During the 2016 presidential race, Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, struck a chord on social media with principled opposition to his party’s nominee, Donald Trump. But his posts on the political scene weren’t the only ones getting attention. That same year, his teenage daughter, Corrie, went away to apprentice at a cattle ranch, where she performed variety of unpleasant, sometimes gross-sounding jobs. Sasse began relaying some of her text-messaged observations to his Twitter followers under the heading “lessons from the ranch.” (A sample: “Today we checked to confirm some cows were pregnant—which Megan did by jamming her hand up their rectums. Eww.”)

That dirty, sweaty, achy work builds character is one of many axioms reverberating through the senator’s book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. During his tenure as president of Midland University (a small Lutheran school in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska), Sasse often observed students who seemed stuck in adolescence, having never acquired the virtues and character traits they’d need to raise families, run businesses, and revitalize communities. His book warns that Americans have lost touch with cultural scripts that used to guide the journey from childhood to responsible adulthood.

Matt Reynolds, CT’s associate editor for books, spoke with Sasse about how parents can equip their children to escape the protective cocoon of extended adolescence.

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Moral Outrage in America Is Now for Everybody

Gallup finds record-high liberalism on 10 of 19 issues. Yet moderates and liberals are growing more concerned.

Ask Americans about their personal views on moral issues, and they are more likely than ever to hold a liberal position. Ask them about the country’s moral values, and they’re becoming more and more pessimistic.

The church today finds itself in a precarious position, as an ethical shift pushes public opinion in favor of stances that Christians have traditionally sided against. Meanwhile, Americans from all political and theological stripes have their own reasons to be concerned over moral decline.

In a recent poll, Gallup found a widening embrace for more than a dozen moral issues, including record-high acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy, and physician-assisted suicide.

Of the 19 issues queried about, Americans have become more liberal on 13 of them (with 10 hitting record highs) and stayed consistent on 6—most notably abortion, which 43 percent of Americans and 34 percent of Protestants deem morally acceptable.

Americans have not shifted more conservative on any of the 19 moral issues measured.

“There was a time that basic Christian morality was at least something people were afraid to violate—at least in an answer on a public survey,” said Dan Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in response. “I am not so sure this is reflective of a moral slide, but of greater honesty.”

In May, both Gallup and LifeWay Research released polls showing about 4 in 5 Americans are worried about the moral state of the country. This year, 77 percent say the country’s values are getting worse, the highest level since Gallup started tracking this topic 16 years ago.

Historically, ...

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Terrorists Kill 28 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery

(UPDATED) Egypt cancels Ramadan’s opening celebration in response to stunning attack on Copts.

Terrorists ambushed a Coptic church bus trip on Friday near Minya in Upper Egypt, killing at least 28 and injuring 23, including many children.

Egypt’s interior ministry reported that three 4x4 vehicles of 8 to 10 gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire on the vehicle, which was on its way to St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Samalout, 140 miles south of Cairo.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the attack—which occurred on the eve of Ramadan—follows church bombings claimed by the Islamic State on Palm Sunday and in advance of Christmas.

Last week, Egyptian authorities arrested 48 individuals, securing confessions of belonging to a terrorist cell linked to the Islamic State.

“I am grieving. It is sad and shocking,” said Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Qusia, 75 miles from the monastery. “But at the same time, I know this is not new. I was expecting things like this to happen. And it will not be the last.”

Thomas described St. Samuel’s as a favorite location for Copts to visit in central Egypt. A desert monastery, it has a simplicity that attracts both spiritual pilgrimage and social outings.

The move to attack Coptic civilians outside of church services is a worrisome development. Thomas compared it to attacks perpetrated against Copts by militant groups in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He views the attacks as connected, and an effort to disturb Egyptian stability.

“As long as society is so much into fundamentalism and sectarianism,” said Thomas, “this atmosphere will bring more and more [attacks].”

Egypt canceled opening Ramadan celebrations as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, condemned the attacks. ...

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Do Children Go to Heaven When They Die?

God's love for children is clear in Scripture, but the 'age of accountability' is harder to find.

Several years ago, I took a group of college students to the Amazon basin to share the love of Christ in some remote river communities. After a few days in one village, I left a small group of students there and continued upriver to another village. After I left, a young family in the community tragically lost a 6-month-old baby to an unknown illness and dehydration. The parents asked my students to do the funeral. These 19- and 20-year-olds were not prepared for the emotional and spiritual gravitas of the situation. They did the best they could to minister to that family. But they all felt the acute burden of answering the inevitable theological questions arising from such a difficult loss: What happens when children die? Are they saved? What do we say to comfort grieving parents?

It is natural, maybe even inevitable, that we seek comfort in the hope that God welcomes little ones in heaven when their time on earth is cut painfully short. While most Christians affirm the doctrine of inherited sin and confess that forgiveness of sin comes only through personal faith in Christ, we also believe God is good and gracious in cases when a lost child was too young to make a profession of faith. How is it, though, that God would save young children without the need for repentance of sin and expressed faith in Christ?

Theologians and Christian leaders throughout history have sought to answer this knotty problem. Augustine and Ambrose argued that since infants inherit the guilt of sin, not just the sin nature, only baptized infants would be saved. John Calvin and C. H. Spurgeon maintained that God’s election could extend to infants and children, so they were already predestined for salvation. And a variation of this view argues ...

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I Survived Katrina and Cancer

Here's what I learned.

As I emerged from the fog of anesthesia, I heard the surgeon informing my wife, Kelly, that our worst fear had improbably come true.

“Cancer!?” I interrupted, before falling back into unconsciousness. That happened six more times before I fully awoke.

Earlier in the week, tests had revealed a suspicious growth atop a nerve bundle in my pelvis, which explained the shooting leg pains I had been experiencing. Baffled about where the mass might have originated, I was scheduled for a colonoscopy. “Chances of cancer in someone your age and health are less than 1 percent,” the surgeon said just before performing the procedure.

Not long after, I found myself at a cancer center looking over an oncologist’s shoulder and examining my test results on his computer.

“It’s cancer,” he confirmed. He went on: The cancer was advanced, and the tumor in my colon had spread to create the mass in my pelvic region.

I cried as the shock started to wear off. The oncologist tried some small talk. “What is it you do for a living?” he asked. I told him I’m a college professor, and that I direct the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI), a Wheaton College research center dedicated to the study of faith and disasters.

“Looks like you’re in for your own personal disaster,” he said.

At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I had multiple surgeries to remove it. Altogether, I underwent chemotherapy for close to a year. For the first six months, my oncologist would only respond to my requests for a prognosis by telling me, “I can’t tell you that it’s going to be okay, Jamie. It’s too early to tell. But if there’s anyone you want ...

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How I Became a Jailhouse Jesus Freak

I was sentenced to life for a murder I didn’t commit. But God didn't forget me.

It happened in a blur. One minute we were enjoying a night out, shooting pool. The next thing I knew, we were running from the law—wanted for murder.

I’d always looked up to my out-of-town cousin, Bobby. I was thrilled when he invited me to come along that night. The Marine Room was well known in my circle of friends as a place that didn’t card minors. At 17, a high school sophomore, I was confident they’d serve me.

Alcohol abuse was prevalent in my rural Pennsylvania home. My biological dad drank himself to death. My mom couldn’t tell me not to drink, since she did—excessively—every day. She did try to keep me home that night. “It’s too late,” she said, when we started out the door at 11 p.m. I begged Bobby to talk Mom into it. He did. We were off, along with my stepbrother Sid.

A few games of pool and several drinks in, Bobby told us he was going to rob the place. While surprised at his sudden intentions, the alcohol seemed to dull any impulse for protest. Sid and I would leave—as locals, we’d be recognized—and Bobby would commit the robbery alone.

We waited outside. It was taking too long. After several minutes, we poked our heads in the door—Bobby had brutally murdered the bar owner. He shouted, “Don’t just stand there! Help me find the money!” Before long, we were on the run.

I followed Bobby to New York City. We visited drug dens and stayed in roach-infested motel rooms. But I couldn’t escape the reality of what had happened. I decided to return to Pennsylvania and turn myself in. Bobby said, “Tell them the truth, Gene. It was all me.”

I told the detectives everything I knew—and as I did, I realized ...

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The Freedom and Chaos of Sola Scriptura

Historian Mark Noll helps unravel the uses and misuses of ‘the Bible alone.’

It’s been a hallmark of Protestantism for 500 years, but what do we mean when we base our faith on “the Bible alone”? Is it even possible to read the Bible without being influenced by the social and theological contexts in which one is immersed? Hasn’t this doctrine, more than any other Reformation doctrine, been responsible for the fragmentation of the church?

To help unravel such questions, editor in chief Mark Galli interviewed a scholar who has given much thought to the place of Scripture in the church’s life: Mark Noll, recently retired from the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492–1783, as well as an essay in Protestantism After 500 Years entitled, “Chaotic Coherence: Sola Scriptura and the Twentieth-Century Spread of Christianity.”

Though the idea of sola scriptura predates Martin Luther, when did the idea surface in his life?

It came in controversies with people defending indulgences and unquestioned obedience to the pope. In these disputes he appealed directly to the Bible—as with his dramatic statement to the Holy Roman Emperor at Worms in 1521: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” He took his stand on Scripture alone.

The tension came when other Protestants asserted, “Well, the Bible alone clearly teaches that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, this is a symbolic supper.” That’s when Luther said, “No, that’s not right. You have to read the passages about the Lord’s Supper in connection with all the other passages and the best interpretations of past theologians.”

And so hermeneutical debates (controversies over interpretation) ...

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Our Spiritual Gifts Have an Expiration Date

Let’s rejoice in them—while looking forward to a time when they’re no longer needed.

Spiritual gifts can cause confusion. As a pastor in a charismatic church, I encounter it all the time. Some are worried whenever they hear talk of the gifts of the Holy Spirit—languages, prophecy, healing, miracles, and so forth—and others are worried whenever they hear talk of anything else. The second group risks turning a good thing into an ultimate thing; the first risks dismissing a good thing because it might frighten the horses.

God’s miraculous gifts have often been met with mixed responses. Some pour scorn over them, and some fawn over them. For a better way to think about the place of gifts in the contemporary church, it’s helpful to think back to an Old Testament example: Spiritual gifts are like manna.

There are all sorts of reasons for the comparison. Both are miraculous gifts that come down from heaven daily to sustain people. Not for nothing does Paul describe manna, and the water from the rock, as “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor. 10:3–4), before moving on to talk about “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12–14). Both are easily misunderstood. When the Israelites first encountered manna, they asked each other, “What is it?” When the church first encountered spiritual gifts, some muttered that those using them were drunk.

Both gifts bear witness to the miracle-working power of God. Both are given specifically to his covenant people. Both can be overemphasized by enthusiasts, like the Israelites who kept their manna until the next morning only to find it had gone rotten, or the hyper-charismatics who get more excited about speaking in tongues than the gospel. At the same time, both prompt grumbling from others, who complain ...

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Do We Treat Sunday the Way the Earliest Christians Did?

Historian Justo González charts how observance of the Lord’s Day has changed over time.

I never miss the opportunity to read Justo González. The eminent Cuban American church historian has long provided a wealth of insight into the development of Christian doctrine as it has spread across the globe.

At first, I was puzzled by the title of his latest book, A Brief History of Sunday: From the New Testament to the New Creation (Eerdmans). Could 150 pages really do justice to such a massive subject? Yet the book, though small in size, packs a substantial punch, correcting a number of misconceptions long held by historians and theologians alike.

The second half of the book covers expected topics, like how the British Puritans approached the Sabbath, and how secularization has influenced Sabbath observance in modern times. But in the first half, González makes a provocative claim: that the argument for naming Sunday the Sabbath day might not be as obvious as we suppose. “Many may be surprised,” he writes, “to learn that connecting Sunday with the fourth commandment [‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy’] finds very little warrant in the early church, and that calling Sunday ‘the Sabbath’ is a relatively new phenomenon.”

The first Jewish Christians gathered after sunset on Saturday in order to break bread. With the incorporation of Gentiles, however, meetings were moved to after midnight or prior to the sunrise the next morning, since these Gentiles had work responsibilities. Moreover, for Gentiles, the week started at midnight of the seventh day anyway. But González finds that no theological reason seems to have compelled the change. As he observes, “there are very few passages that might seem to claim that the Christian Lord’s ...

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Eugene Peterson: The Pursuit of Happiness Is a Dead-End Street

How Ecclesiastes shows a better way to joyful living than chasing pleasure

When God spoke to Job “out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1, RSV throughout), he told him that when he, God, “laid the foundation of the earth”—that is, created everything that exists—“the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (vv. 4, 7). Which is to say, if we throw our minds back into the past as far as we can imagine, what we find is joy: the stars of God and the sons of God singing and shouting joyfully.

Then go the other direction—as far in the future as we can imagine, into heaven—and we find a similarly joyful pleasure. In Revelation, all creation is gathered around God’s throne, and songs of joy are lifted up by great multitudes in exuberant chorus. In the midst of the assembled joy, 24 elders, representing the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the church—venerable and dignified figures who represent symbolically the centuries of discipleship and faith in a grand finale—take off their crowns and throw them into the air, pitching them before God’s throne (Rev. 4:1–11). The picture is one of hilarity, almost of frivolity. Think of West Pointers throwing their white hats into the air in the jubilation of graduation or of football players filling the air with their helmets in the triumph of victory.

The story of our faith, our very existence, begins and ends with joy. And between the beginning and the conclusion there is joy: “a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Ps. 46:4). Jesus said it plainly: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). And Paul wrote to the Philippians how much he knew about ...

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Interview: Why the Modern World Is Making Us Miserable

Mark Sayers asks us to look to the Bible’s steadying influence in an era of cultural turmoil.

Mark Sayers hears it all the time: Between the election of Donald Trump, Britain’s exit from the European Union, clashes over transgender bathroom use, and the horrors of ISIS, doesn’t it feel like the world has gone mad? In Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval (Moody), the Australian author and pastor applies a biblical lens to the craziness that surrounds us. Hunter Baker, professor of political science at Union University, asked Sayers how Christians can keep their bearings and live kingdom-oriented lives when the world makes no sense.

Why do you suspect that the modern world is making us miserable?

When it comes to ease and comfort, the infrastructure of the modern world is unsurpassed. However, the recent epidemic of mental health challenges is telling us that something else is going on. There’s an interesting phenomenon called the Immigrant Paradox: People migrating from the majority world to the West often experience an initial improvement in health and well-being. Yet, as they become fully assimilated into Western culture, the gains are reversed. It seems there is something about the perks of modernity, and the skewed expectations they create, that throws us off balance.

What do you mean when you say that a secular society has never existed?

God made us as religious creatures. We cannot not worship; the only question is who—or what—we worship. Thus the whole of human life is lived in a religious key. Part of the reason for our increasingly fractious and extreme political culture is this religious impulse. The post–World War II political order attempted to avoid the extremes of left and right. But this is struggling to hold, as many push with religious fervor for the ...

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