American Idolatry

The fact that we have a television show called American Idol is a bit of an indication that we don’t really know what an idol is – or what our attitude toward one ought to be.

I will confess, I am sufficiently behind the pop-culture curve that I have never actually watched American Idol, but because I do not live under a rock, I am familiar with what the show is about, and how it works. (Call it cultural osmosis.) As far as I can tell, it’s a harmless and entertaining show.

I do find the name interesting, however. American Idol. Who will be the next Idol? Lots of people want to be an idol – and millions more are eagerly waiting to find out whom they will idolize next.

But what really is an idol?

An idol is anything that we worship other than the one true and living God.

The Anglican Rosary as a Spiritual Discipline

Most Christians have heard of the rosary, but relatively few know that using beads as a tool to aid in prayer is an ancient practice that can be found in Anglicanism and Orthodoxy as well as Roman Catholicism. Since I’m Anglican, I’m going to focus on the Anglican rosary as a spiritual discipline.

 

The Anglican rosary (like the Roman Catholic rosary and the Eastern Orthodox prayer rope) is intended to be used as a tactile aid for contemplative prayer: the person praying repeats a short, traditional prayer while holding each bead of the rosary in turn. Far from being the mindless repetition that Jesus condemned, repeated prayers such as these are an attempt to take seriously Scripture’s call to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Over the past few years, I’ve been amazed at how the repetition of a simple prayer helps settle my distracted thoughts and center them on God.

Trusting and Taking Risks: A Reflection on the Spiritual Life

I recently had the chance to hear a lecture by renowned Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland. In this evening talk, Dr Morland chose to discuss “The Spiritual Life,” and in the course of his lecture, talked about the impact of the Fall on our lives. 

Dr Moreland explained that because of the Fall, we are in a state of separation (from God, from others, and from ourselves) and thus we experience a fundamental loneliness. We look for ways to overcome this loneliness, often with strategies that are sinful. Our corresponding fundamental need is attachment, and God’s deepest way of relating to us is through attachment. Dr Moreland then posed a question: “What are our attachment strategies that are not healthy, that don’t help us become more like Jesus?”

Ouch.

The Attraction of Atheism

If atheism is true, and there is no God, then everything really is all about me, and what I want, and what I can get. “My will be done, not Yours.”

Put your finger on the pulse of modern culture: it throbs with “me, me, me.” Advertisements tell me: “Indulge yourself! You deserve it!” I can buy my lunch and my coffee made “my way.” I flip open a magazine, or browse the best-sellers, to find ten easy tips on how I can have what I want, right here, right now.  

Put one way, this is selfishness. But it’s spun as empowerment, self-actualization. We are told to follow our hearts, seek our deepest desires, do what feels good. Indeed, if atheism is true, there is no ultimate purpose to life, so we might as well go for self-indulgence, whether through hedonism or through constructing one’s own “meaning” in life.

The Parable of the Sweater: or, Why Evangelism Can Drive People Crazy

How do you evangelize when people aren’t interested in the Gospel? They don’t feel a need for it, they think it’s silly and embarrassing, it interferes with their daily lives, and they just don’t want to hear about it. One approach is to try to work in appeals to the Gospel in conversation – to look for an opening and point out that Jesus really is the answer.

Many Christians don’t understand why this approach often backfires – sometimes spectacularly, as if the evangelist had just stepped on a verbal landmine, sometimes quietly, as if a glacial chill had settled on the room. Why doesn’t this approach work better? Why don’t people open up and take the opportunity to talk about the Gospel?

I’ve been there, on that side of the conversation. It’s hard to explain straight-up, so let me tell you a story.

Useful Restlessness

“Restless” literally means “lacking rest.” That doesn’t sound good – but in fact restlessness can be a good thing. St Augustine famously wrote in the Confessions that our hearts are restless until they rest in God; restlessness can be the spur that drives us to arise from our entrenched state of alienation and dissatisfaction to seek after what we really need.

On a more practical level, “restlessness” is an interesting word, because it covers two quite different states of mind. These two states could be described as “bad” and “good” restlessness, but actually it’s a little more complicated than that.  

The first kind is probably the one I know best – the restlessness of being tired and yet having work to do. While I’m trying to concentrate on grading papers, or paying bills, or doing the assigned reading for a class I’m taking, I’m distracted by a thousand and one things that seem more appealing than what I’m doing right now.

What Is Prayer? (3) Why Bother?

Christians pray. But why? What’s the point? What do you say to the One who knows you better than you know yourself?

After a lot of discussion with my Christian friends and mentors about their prayer lives, I finally understood that prayer can’t be seen in isolation as an action that we do in order to get something. Rather, prayer is about relationship with God. As we pray, we are drawn up into the deepest relationship there is: the most holy Trinity, the eternal loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In prayer, we don’t tell anything to God that He doesn’t already know. But that’s also how it is when we speak with our friends and family – when our relationships are at their best.

If I send a card to a friend saying “Happy birthday,” what purpose did that serve? She already knew it was her birthday! The message is that I care about her – but wait, she already knew that, too; we’ve been friends for years.

Skepticism as Snobbery

Skepticism about religious belief, and indeed about the existence of truth itself, is often dressed up as being highly “rational” and “intellectual.” Logic and reason drive the skeptic, not feelings and wishful thinking, right? Well, maybe sometimes. However, skepticism is often based quite firmly in emotional reactions. In fact, skepticism is often a form of snobbery.

Take an ordinary Christian, not a pastor or teacher, but just someone who goes to church on Sunday, and who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and that the Bible is God’s Word. Now ask that person to explain why those beliefs are true. There’s a good chance that this ordinary person can’t defend his or her belief, can’t provide a compelling argument for why it is so.

On this ground – on the basis that Average Joe and Average Jane can’t explain why they believe as they do - the skeptic rejects their belief.

Fire and Ice: The Consequences of Radical Skepticism

“It’s all relative.” How many times have we heard statements like that? “Some people believe in Jesus, and that works for them, but, you know, other people don’t, and that’s OK, because it’s all relative.”

Wait a minute! “Belief” by itself is meaningless: what matters is whether the thing we believe in (or not) exists (or doesn’t). If there is something objective that we call Truth, it exists independently of our knowledge of it –  it is not a matter of perspective. Thus, if there is such a thing as Truth, we should expect consequences when we act in ways contrary to that truth.

I grew up on the East Coast, and now live on the West Coast, so I’m going to use a climactically mixed metaphor involving both a frozen pond (very Massachusetts-y) and a wildfire (characteristically Southern Californian).

Consider a pond that has frozen over in the winter. I used to go ice skating on ponds like that as a kid in Massachusetts. Is the ice safe to walk on? The importance of the answer depends on why you want to know.

Scenario 1: If you just want to go ice skating, the safety of the ice is not an urgent question. You can err on the side of caution and go sledding instead on the hill behind you. (Or, if you live in Southern California, you can go to the beach.)

Scenario 2: However, imagine that a forest fire has broken out on the wooded slope behind you. The shortest route to safety is across the frozen surface of the pond. Now it matters a great deal whether the ice is safe or not. If it is thick enough, you can easily and quickly make your way to safety. If, however, you know that the ice is too thin, you will have to proceed along the water’s edge, a longer and more dangerous route (but necessary, if you are to have any chance to save yourself.)

Scenario 3: You are seated at the pond’s edge, and a friend texts you that a major wildfire has broken out in the forest. According to this friend, the fire is burning so rapidly that it will certainly encircle you before you can walk out along the edge of the pond. The only way to safety is to cross the pond, on the ice.

We thus have three questions:

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Spiritual Warfare: Learning from a Christian Hero

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” – C.S. Lewis, Preface to The Screwtape Letters.

Let me be clear: the Enemy is real. Not a metaphor for “negativity” or some other waffle-word, but a real, conscious spiritual being who is in opposition to God and who is actively seeking to draw us away from God. In a culture that has ceased to believe this, we are even more vulnerable to assault – so it is crucial that we remember Peter’s admonition: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pt. 5:8).

In times like this, we can benefit by spending time with one of the great heroes of the Christian faith, St.

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About
Dr. Holly Ordway is a professor of composition and literature. She speaks and writes regularly on literature, especially fantasy literature and poetry, and literary apologetics.


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