William Rehnquist, the chief justice of the United States, is dead at 80

Chief Justice William Rehnquist succumbed to thyroid cancer tonight. His death is a great loss to our country, and my heart goes out to his family.

I will miss chief justice Rehnquist. He was the quintessential originalist and an exemplary justice whose legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Washington Post – “Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist Dies”

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Kanye West’s Race-Baiting Tirade

Hip-hop star Kanye West went on a tirade during NBC’s disaster relief fundraiser tonight. West and Michael Myers were paired together during a segment so that they could appeal to a nationwide TV audience to donate money to the Red Cross. After Michael Myers opened with a few remarks, Kanye West began a meandering monologue that was clearly not written on his cue card and was very difficult to understand. However, a few things came through loud and clear.

First, West made the outlandish claim that the government had given the troops in New Orleans permission to shoot black people. Second, he accused the media of racist coverage, alleging that reporters are saying that black families are looting while white families are just looking for food. Third, West punctuated his screed with an low-blow against the President: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” (the Washington Post has the entire exchange here).

I fear that West has been drinking deeply from the propaganda of the race-baiters who have been trying to exploit this tragedy for their own ends. For instance, consider Al Sharpton’s accusation on Keith Olbermann’s program just last night: “And the real question is not only those that didn‘t get out. The question is why has it taken the government so long to get in. I feel that, if it was in another area, with another economic strata and racial makeup, that President Bush would have run out of Crawford a lot quicker and FEMA would have found its way in a lot sooner” (source).

Consider also how Jesse Jackson criticized the federal response to the disaster: “How can blacks be locked out of the leadership, and trapped in the suffering? It is that lack of sensitivity and compassion that represents a kind of incompetence. . . There’s a historical indifference to the pain of poor people and black people . . . [the new media has] criminalized the people of New Orleans” by focusing on violence in the city (source).

So you see, Kanye West didn’t say anything that these race-baiters haven’t been saying all week. But West’s remarks do reveal just how reckless the rhetoric of the Jacksons and the Sharptons can be. What should have been a non-partisan appeal to the better angels of American nature turned into a counter-productive blame game.

Nevermind the fifty-percent of Americans who would take great offense at West’s parroted accusations. Nevermind the fact that such remarks might disincline some from contributing to the Red Cross disaster-relief fund. Just blame Bush and exploit the tragedy for partisan advantage. That does not sound very compassionate to me.

NBC tried to recover the good will of its viewers with the following statement that was released after the concert:

“Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion” (source).

I am not saying that the south doesn’t have serious racial issues to confront. Believe me, we do. And I am certain I will have more to write on that topic later. But tonight, I am just troubled by the irresponsible, inflammatory statements made by West.

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New Orleans: Then and Now

I was struck this morning when NBC’s Today Show offered glowing and nostalgic remembrances of how great New Orleans was before the hurricane. The parties, the good times, the food, and the music. According to the Today Show’s reporting, New Orleans was a virtual heaven on earth—a true American original.

I have to say, however, that as a native Louisianan, I don’t think that description of pre-hurricane New Orleans really rings true. Yes, it is true that the city had its charms, but it also had its challenges, the kinds of challenges that are routinely overlooked by reveling tourists.

I could relate story after story about how difficult the city really was before Katrina. I could tell you about how my friend Dr. Charlie Draper’s wife got caught in the crossfire of a shoot-out while pumping gas into her car across the street from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I could tell you about my former associate pastor who barely escaped being accosted by a group of homosexual men. Or I could tell you about my wife’s cousin who was shot to death by hoodlums who wanted to steal his walkman.

But these anecdotes do not comprise the sole reason for my impression of the city. It is a matter of public record that the city had a crime rate that was ten-times the national average. All of this is just an indicator of underlying problems that the outsider usually doesn’t notice.

Nicole Gelinas summed it up today in a penetrating essay titled “Will New Orleans Recover? Weak and struggling before Katrina, the good-time city now teeters on the brink.” She writes,

The truth is that even on a normal day, New Orleans is a sad city. Sure, tourists think New Orleans is fun: you can drink and hop from strip club to strip club all night on Bourbon Street, and gamble all your money away at Harrah’s. But the city’s decline over the past three decades has left it impoverished and lacking the resources to build its economy from within. New Orleans can’t take care of itself even when it is not 80 percent underwater; what is it going to do now, as waters continue to cripple it, and thousands of looters systematically destroy what Katrina left unscathed? . . .

The city’s government has long suffered from incompetence and corruption. Just weeks before Katrina, federal officials indicted associates of the former mayor, Marc Morial, for alleged kickbacks and contract fraud. Morial did nothing to attract diversified private investment to his impoverished city during the greatest economic boom of the modern era. . .

New Orleans teems with crime, and the NOPD can’t keep order on a good day. Former commissioner Richard Pennington brought New Orleans’ crime rate down from its peak during the mid-1990s. But since Pennington’s departure, crime rates have soared, to ten times the national average. The NOPD might have hundreds of decent officers, but it has a well-deserved institutional image as corrupt, brutal, and incompetent.

How will New Orleans’ economy recover from Katrina? Apart from some pass-through oil infrastructure, the city’s economy is utterly dependent on tourism. After the city’s mainstay oil industry decamped to Texas nearly a generation ago, New Orleans didn’t do the difficult work of cutting crime, educating illiterate citizens, and attracting new industries to the city. New Orleans became merely a convention and tourism economy, selling itself to visitors to survive, and over time it has only increased its economic dependence on outsiders. The fateful error of that strategy will become clearer in the next few months. . .

New Orleans has experienced a steady brain drain and fiscal drain for decades, as affluent corporations and individuals have fled, leaving behind a large population of people dependent on the government. Socially, New Orleans is one of America’s last helpless cities—just at the moment when it must do all it can to help itself survive.

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More on Bethlehem’s Position on Baptism

After my last blog, people asked why the elders at Bethlehem Baptist (John Piper’s church) are proposing to change its requirements for membership. The new policy being proposed by the elders is that under certain conditions members need not be baptized by immersion after coming to faith. Of course, the change would have to be approved by the congregation before the policy would go into effect.

One of the reasons that the elders are moving in this new direction is that “the doctrinal bar of the eldership at Bethlehem” has been raised significantly in a statement of faith titled “Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith.” Here is the section on baptism:

12.3 We agree that historic Christian differences concerning the time and mode of baptism are not part of the defining beliefs of Treasuring Christ Together. Until the day when wider agreement can be reached, we desire that each local church or fellowship of churches search the scriptures and be fully convinced in their own mind as to what the Bible teaches concerning baptism. We believe that each church should practice baptism. It is not negligible. We believe it should be practiced with an obedience of heart, which submits to the authority of God in scripture according to the light that each church has. We do however deny the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, whether concerning infants or adults. We believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is not only contrary to Scripture but is seriously undermining to the gospel of justification by faith alone.

Apparently, the following statement is to be added to the above statement of faith:

We believe that baptism is an ordinance of the Lord by which those who have repented and come to faith express their union with Christ in His death and resurrection, by being immersed in water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (source).

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John Piper on Accepting the Unbaptized as Members


John Piper, Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN

Pastor John Piper has just made a stunning announcement concerning who will be accepted as members at his Baptist church.

“The Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ . . . The most obvious change this involves is allowing the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership” (“What the Elders Are Proposing”).

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Military Chaplains Pressured Not to Pray in the Name of Jesus


Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a chaplain and a priest with the Evangelical Episcopal Church, has accused the Navy of religious discrimination.

The Washington Post reports today on an little known controversy among the ranks of chaplains in the U.S. military:

“Evangelical Protestant chaplains are fighting what they say is a legacy of discrimination in hiring and promotions, and they are bridling at suggestions they not pray publicly ‘in the name of Jesus.’”

You can read the full story here.

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Watching and Waiting With Apprehension and Prayers

My wife and I are watching the impending disaster as it creeps ever closer to the shores of our home state. We are apprehensive about our family and friends who live in and around the New Orleans area and who are preparing for the worst.

One of my friends from high school just evacuated his family at 4pm this afternoon. They left Covington, LA to head back toward our hometown DeRidder, LA (which is in the southwest part of the state and out of the way of the storm). The westbound traffic on I-10 between New Orleans and DeRidder is crawling along very slowly. In some spots it is taking about an hour to go ten miles.

My mother and father went to eat at Wendy’s with friends after the evening service at FBC DeRidder. They saw evacuees all over town. The hotels are full, and others are just wandering around with no place to go. My parents and their friends ran into a family of evacuees in line at Wendy’s. They were traveling through town with no place to go, so my parents’s dinner partners invited the family to stay with them at their house.

As we watch the coverage on the television and as the stories of the evacuees come trickling in, Susan and I are heavy-hearted tonight. We know that tomorrow morning may witness one of the most fearful disasters we have ever seen.

The million persons who are fleeing will likely not be able to go back home for at least a week or more after the storm is over. And when they get back, it is not at all clear that anything will be there. My high school friend who was leaving did not know if his home or his job would withstand the storm. They literally stand to lose everything before the day is out, and there’s nothing to do about it except run.

Our hearts and our prayers are in Louisiana tonight.

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What do college students do when they aren’t studying?


My Greek teacher Rev. James Lipscomb and I during one of our tutoring sessions at his home in Ruston, LA (circa 1994).

“What do college students do when they aren’t studying?” According to the Wall Street Journal’s Naomi Riley’s review of two books about college life, college students are primarily engaged in idleness.

No, they are not studying and going to class forty hours a week. They certainly are not becoming avid readers. Rather, they are in pursuit of the ideal represented in their ubiquitous watchword: “fun.” “Fun” includes among other things a great deal of binge drinking (often beginning on Thursday night and going through the weekend) and frequent casual sexual encounters.

This sad state of affairs comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the decline of university life over the last thirty years or so. We are no longer shocked by Jay Leno’s undergraduate “Jay Walking All-Stars” who don’t even know who the vice-president of the United States is. We simply assume that a significant number of undergraduates will be idle dead-heads who really don’t learn that much by the end of their seven years of college.

There was a time in the history of higher education in America when going to college meant going to get an education. To be an undergraduate student was more than merely hanging around old buildings with books in them.

My own undergraduate experience began with the same shiftlessness portrayed in Ms. Riley’s article (minus the partying and dissipation). Academically speaking, I was just there to get a piece of paper. Somebody told me I needed that paper, so I was there to get it. I had no clue about how an education could enrich one’s life and faith. But that all changed during my sophomore year.

During my second year in college, I entered into a profound crisis of faith. As a result of one professor in particular and a few other key influences, I came to doubt the reliability of the sourcebook of my faith: the Bible. It was as if someone had yanked the rug out from under me and I had no where else to stand.

But God used this spiritual and emotional crisis to drive me to a whole new perspective on Him and my education. In addition to being driven back to the Bible, I became blood-earnest about understanding history, philosophy, theology and all the other big worldview disciplines that have impacted Christianity over the centuries.

For me, it wasn’t an academic exercise, it was a matter of spiritual life and death to understand the Bible and where it came from, to understand the history of theology, and to think God’s thoughts after others who have gone before.

My love of the Greek Bible began in earnest during this period because I knew that I had to read this book for myself. I could no longer allow the secularists to tell me what the Bible is, what it is saying, and where it came from. I had to know God’s revelation for myself or I felt as if I would drown in the morass of conflicting opinions about it.

I’m not saying that everyone’s experience should be like mine or that everyone should go to college so that they can become a New Testament professor. What I am saying is that an education is not coextensive with a piece of paper. Many people with the piece of paper don’t have an education.

An education relates to how we view the mind that God has given us. Are we going to be passive receptacles for the world’s tripe, or will we discipline ourselves for the glory of God to learn about Him and the world in which He’s put us? An education is not just about knowledge (though it certainly includes that!), but it is also the formation of our character under God and the shaping of our minds according to a biblical worldview.

I fear that the majority of what passes for undergraduate education today is very far from such an ideal. May God allow us to see this tide turned in our generation for the glory of God.

(For more on philosophical and theological roots of the current crisis, see my review of George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.)

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Pro-Life and Hip-Hop: Nick Cannon’s Amazing Video

Nick Cannon and His Mother

It’s not often that a rap video brings a tear to your eye. But my wife and I watched one tonight that did.

Some of you may know Nick Cannon from the hit movie “Drumline” or perhaps from his new show on MTV, “Nick Cannon Presents Wild ‘N Out.” What you may not know is that he released a music video this summer that is powerfully pro-life.

The lyrics to the song tell the true story of Nick Cannon’s mother. When she became pregnant with Nick, she was an unwed teenager. She made it all the way to the operating table of the abortion clinic when she realized that she was about to do something awful. So she got up and walked away from the clinic and away from the abortion. The rest of the song is a “thank you” to his mother for letting him live. The video closes with Nick embracing and thanking his real-life mother.

The music video to the song “Can I Live” is one of the most poignant pro-life messages that I have ever witnessed. Reading the lyrics alone won’t really convey the emotional wallop that you get from watching the video. So I highly recommend clicking here or here to see it for yourself.

Kathryn Jean Lopez from National Review Online writes:

“Cannon’s new music video ‘Can I Live?’ tells a tale that’s very different from a gangsta’s paradise of dirty dancing and booty calls that Cannon may be sandwiched in between on MTV or BET. In the song, the hip-hop pop star tells his life story — or at least the beginning of it and his mom’s close call with abortion.

“Cannon, 24, appears in the video as a ghost (or an angel, if you prefer) and sings, ‘Mommy, I don’t like this clinic. Hopefully you’ll make the right decision, and don’t go through with the knife decision.’

“A scared teen, his mother was on a gurney — that’s how close the call was — but got up, and, at least in the video version, ran.

“He points out to his mother something she got on some level, or she wouldn’t have gotten up: ‘That’s a life inside you, look at your tummy. What is becoming Ma, I am Oprah bound. You can tell he’s a star from the Ultrasound.’

“The video images tell a stirring, gripping story regardless of where you fall in the abortion debate.”

Go watch the video and buy the single. We should support something that is bound to save many lives that might otherwise have been snuffed out.

(R. Albert Mohler talked about the video on his radio show. You can download the mp3 of Mohler’s program here.)

(HT to Justin Taylor whose blog first brought this video to my attention.)

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