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Can Institutional Cultures Change?

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There’s a provocative article in the latest Atlantic (March 2012) on “Why Companies Fail.” The reason why corporate turnarounds are so difficult and rare, according to author Megan McArdle, is the stubborn persistence of dysfunctional corporate cultures. These cultures are the hardest things of all to change. She cites Detroit automaker GM as a case in point. It was bailed out by the government less than two years ago, and freed from most of its excessive overhead and liabilities. But its stock value has fallen by a third since then. The reason? GM still thinks and acts like GM. It is still the same old culture on the inside.

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Chinese Missions Conference Workshops

MOVIE THEOLOGY WORKSHOP

Movies today powerfully reflect and shape beliefs, attitudes and values on a global scale. By cultivating the art of watching and listening perceptively, Christians can better understand what people today are thinking and feeling. Contemporary movies also provide important evangelistic “points of contact”–non-threatening opportunities for stimulating conversations on matters of faith.

Movie Theology Workshop Handout

IS THE SAVIOR GREEN? EVANGELISM AND CREATION CARE WORKSHOP

Environmental destruction is perhaps the greatest contemporary threat to human civilization. Historically Christians have been among the worst polluters. This presentation highlights the internal resources that Christianity can draw on to become a global force for the preservation and healing of nature, rather than an ideological foundation for its continued abuse. Christian commitment to creation care need not siphon energy away from evangelism. It can actually increase the credibility of the Gospel and also provide opportunities for building partnerships and personal relationships with environmentally concerned unbelievers.

Evangelism and Creation Care Workshop Handout

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John Stott Is Dead but Not Forgotten

John Stott (1921-2011) has died. Like countless other Christians I mourn his passing. An internationally-respected British Anglican, he was a gifted Christian statesman, and a man of humble integrity, warm grace and prodigious gifts. Perhaps best of all, he finished well. We will miss him, and pray that others of comparable (or at least approximate) quality will emerge to take his place. One cause of the disillusionment of our times is the declining number of people who truly deserve respect. We are becoming, in the words of a twentieth-century history of Scotland, a society with No Gods and Precious Few Heroes. But John Stott has been a happy exception.
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Does Christianity Grow or Just Move On?

BSOP

I have just returned from Manila this week, where I had the privilege of teaching on Christian spirituality to a wonderful cohort of eager Filipino-Chinese and Mainland Chinese students. The latter are the “tip of the iceberg” of a remarkable, grass-roots movement of vibrant Christianity emerging out of a country that has been officially (and sometimes repressively) atheistic and Communist since 1949. Most of these bright, passionate young adults are university-trained students, and many of them possess Mac computers and international cell phones. Yet they have come to accept the prospect of suffering, and have embraced radical consecration, to a degree only sometimes seen nowadays among their North American Christian counterparts. What’s going on? Is Christianity really dying out in the West while growing up in Asia and Africa? If so, it raises another, somewhat troubling question: Does the Christian faith actually expand, or does it just migrate elsewhere?

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Judgment Day May 21?

Judgment

I was down at San Diego’s Earth Day a few weeks ago, helping to staff a booth run by Christians for Earth Care, and took a break to browse the area. The atheists were there in full force, exposing what they believe to be the idiocy of religion and people of faith. I stopped to chat with them for a bit; it became immediately apparent that they weren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, but on some points they were relatively coherent . . . and they were enjoying lots of traffic.Then I spied the Day of Judgment guy.

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Financial Debt and Religious Freedom

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A profound social transformation has been taking place right in front of us, and we have barely noticed. Very quietly a revolution in attitude has occurred. It is simply this: debt has been normalized. As a professor I see it every day where students preparing for the (generally underpaid) Christian ministry blithely assume enormous debt to finance their seminary education. They are in effect committing themselves to long-term financial hardship. In some cases their only hope will be to declare chapter 7 bankruptcies. But this is simply a reflection at the personal level of a much larger national disposition. America is staggering toward its own bankruptcy, and we cannot seem to get a handle on the problem. This week I discovered another reasons why our growing debt should be a particular concern for Christians. It came out of a news report from China.

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Pipe Bombs and Confessionals

San Diegans have become callous to the daily reports of crimes in “America’s finest city.” Nevertheless some stories stand out because of their particularly disturbing or shocking nature. The story this past week of a middle-aged man suspected of planting a pipe bomb underneath his wife’s vehicle fits this category. His homemade bomb exploded as he planned when she started for home after a day’s work at a daycare. Though the bomb did not kill her, it destroyed her car and left her in critical condition. The 52-year old wife, by all accounts, is a lovely and gracious woman. The husband is being held without bail on suspicion of attempted murder. It turns out he is an evangelical Christian. Ouch.

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The Future of Smoke Stacks

 

Beijing Smoke Stack

 

Beijing is a polluted city. Not even the spin-doctors deny that the air here is bad. On a windy day you can taste it. But upon my arrival it still came as a surprise to see a huge ten-storey industrial smoke stack right across the street from my apartment on the campus of Renmin (the People’s) University. Encased in scaffolding, workers have been banging and jack hammering on it every day. The project’s location struck me as particularly offensive—way too close to this residential university, an inappropriate site in an already-dense urban environment. And then eight weeks on I made a surprising discovery. The smoke stack is not going up; it’s actually coming down! It’s another sign that China is making a serious effort to go “green.”

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The Canary in the Gulf of Mexico

China Recycling

 

At the moment the world is fixated on the video-cam of oil spewing up out of the earth to defile the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone is hoping and praying that a technical solution will be found to stabilize this environmental holocaust. Should this occur in the near future, we will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Inevitably there will be resolutions to tighten up oil drilling safety standards and improve emergency response strategies, but perhaps the greater tragedy will be if in a few weeks or months we resume our same dangerous and unsustainable way of life. If this disaster proves to be of sufficient magnitude that it will not be possible thereafter to revert to business as usual, the tragedy itself may end up a “severe mercy.” We may look back on it as the moment when “the canary died in the coal mine.” It may be our chance to break out of something that is otherwise going to kill us all.

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Religion as Therapy in China

Lama Temple Beijing

 

I have been in Beijing, China for about three weeks now as a visiting scholar at Renmin (the People’s) University, founded by Chairman Mao, and at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. I am comfortably housed in the Foreign Expert Building on the University campus, and get to bike around the leafy campus alongside many of future leaders of the Communist Party and of China itself. Without denying the real differences between West and East, it’s surprising how much is the same, even in the sphere of religion.

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