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CULTURE DIGEST: John Piper resolves to glorify God through cancer; Calif. school sued over intelligent design

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The man who has long proclaimed that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” is now facing a major test of his faith with every intention of proving God worthy.

John Piper, author of “Desiring God” and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late December and will undergo surgery to remove the organ in February, according to a letter he wrote to his congregation and posted on his website, desiringgod.org.

“This news has, of course, been good for me,” he wrote. “The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.

“For example, is there anything greater to hear and believe in the bottom of your heart than this: ‘God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him’ (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)?” he added. “God has designed this trial for my good and for your good.”

Doctors told Piper the cancer does not appear to be aggressive and it is unlikely that it has spread beyond the prostate, thus it is possible to be cancer-free with successful treatment. Piper, in his letter, asked that people pray that God would “grant that this light and momentary trial would work to spread a passion for [God’s] supremacy for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”

CALIF. SCHOOL SUED OVER INTELLIGENT DESIGN — Another school district has been pulled into the intelligent design controversy after moving forward with plans for a high school philosophy course in which arguments for and against the issue would be explored.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit on behalf of 11 parents against the El Tejon Unified School District, saying Frazier Mountain High School in rural Lebec, Calif., violated the U.S. Constitution while attempting to legitimize intelligent design, according to the Associated Press Jan. 11.

The four-week class with just 15 students enrolled is being taught by the wife of an Assembly of God minister.

Superintendent John Wright has said that the class, called “Philosophy of Design,” was not being taught as science and was an opportunity for students to debate the controversial issue, AP said.

But Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said it was “clearly intended to introduce religion into a public school.”

This case now joins similar battles being fought in Georgia and Kansas, and it follows a U.S. district court decision in December not to allow intelligent design to be taught in a Dover, Pa., school system.

POPE DENOUNCES ‘CULTURE OF DEATH’ — Pope Benedict XVI, in one of his first public addresses since being elected, abandoned his prepared text and took on a course of condemning a modern lifestyle that perpetuates a “culture of death.”

“In our times we need to say ‘no’ to the largely dominant culture of death,” Benedict said during a ceremony at the Sistine Chapel in which he performed the first infant baptisms of his pontificate Jan. 8. “This anti-culture is seen in drugs, in flight from reality, in self-delusion, in false happiness that is manifested in lies, deceit and injustice. It is seen in contempt for others, contempt for solidarity and contempt for a sense of responsibility for the poor and the suffering.

“It is demonstrated in a sexuality that becomes pure amusement without responsibility, that turns the human being into a ‘thing’ instead of a person,” he said.

Though the pope did not elaborate on what he meant by a culture of death, Reuters noted that John Paul II regularly used the term to define abortion and artificial birth control.

“The anti-culture of death was a love of lies and of deceit,” he said, referring to ancient Rome’s Colosseum and Nero’s gardens where Christians were tortured and martyred long ago. “It was an abuse of the body as a commodity and as a product. Even in our times there is this culture and we must say ‘no’ to it.”

The pope’s prepared text had been about baptism.

BARNA FINDS DISCREPANCY OVER SPIRITUAL HEALTH — A huge gap exists between the perception of pastors and the reality of people’s devotion to God, a new report by The Barna Group has revealed.

Barna found that, on average, pastors believe that 70 percent of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to be the highest priority in their life.

But when similar questions were asked of those who attend church, Barna discovered that only one out of every seven adults, or 15 percent, placed their faith in God as the top priority.

Barna research indicates few pastors rely on criteria that reflect genuine devotion to God, opting instead to evaluate the spirituality of their members by whether they are involved in some form of church-related volunteer activity, whether they attend church regularly or whether they made a public profession of faith.

Among the criteria Barna said was used too infrequently to assess the spiritual health of a church: stewardship, evangelism, lifestyle changes and community service.

Pastors, Barna found, are “nine times more likely to seek reactions to their sermon than they are to assess the congregation’s reactions to visitors,” and pastors are “21 times more likely to evaluate whether people show up for church than to determine whether people experienced the presence of God during their time at church.”

“It has been said that ‘you get what you measure’ and ‘you see what you want to see,’” researcher George Barna said in an online analysis. “Both of those sayings go a long way toward describing the assessment problem that plagues churches today. The only way to explain the enormous gap between the perceptions of pastors and the reality of people’s lives is to understand that pastors evaluate spiritual health from an institutional perspective — that is, are people involved in keeping the system going — while people are aware of their unmet need to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God.

“The nation’s adults deserve some credit for recognizing and acknowledging that God is not a top priority in their life. The challenge to church leaders is to stop pandering for popularity and to set the bar higher,” he added. “People only live up to the expectations set for them. When the dominant expectations are that people show up, play nicely together and keep the system going, the potential for having the kinds of life-changing experiences that characterized the early Church are limited, at best. If churches believe in the life-changing power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, they must hold people to a higher and more challenging standard.”

For more information, visit www.barna.org.

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry Roach