Some programs are so good, so powerful, and so important, that their impact is nearly impossible to describe to the outside world. The Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University is one such program. Wheatstone Academy, an offshoot, is another.

Since the early 1990s, Christians have increasingly focused on the role that ‘worldviews’ play in apologetics and the Christian life. Numerous programs and camps have worked to help Christians not only identify the tenets of their own worldview, but also the worldviews of other ideologies and religions.

For the most part, these educational efforts have been strictly didactic. Now, however, more programs are turning toward the process of articulating and defending ideas, rather than strictly reading or listening about them. The difference is enormous–by sharpening their thinking skills in the context of a community of friends, Christians are able to learn not only how to ably handle difficult questions, but how to do so in a friendly and engaging way.

No program has more experience or has had more success at this than Wheatstone Academy. A week-long conference primarily for high school students age 15-19, Wheatstone is a remarkably challenging–and enormously rewarding–week for those who attend. The video, which is one of the best promo videos I think I’ve ever seen, manages to capture exactly what the week is like for students.

If you know a high school student who is serious about their faith, do them a favor and send them to Wheatstone this summer. Wheatstone has been instrumental in deepening numerous students’ appreciation for the intellect, and in helping them see the need for its subservience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If you need any other reason to send a student, you should know that Drs. John Mark Reynolds, JP Moreland, Fred Sanders, and Paul Spears of ScriptoriumDaily all hang out there, as does my wife–who is vastly superior to them all.

Wheatstone Academy is hosting two conferences this summer. One at Chapman University from June 22nd-27th, and one at Biola University from July 6th-11th.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. I actually am not opposed to churches paying some types of tax. But I think Yglesias misunderstands the reason for tax exemption (or he was just not making the historical reasons clear.) Churches are tax exempt because 1) the history of the state church, it was the state that supported the church, not the other way around. 2) the first amendment usually understood to mean that any regulation of churches (including taxes) is against the constitution. (There are some regulations that churches fall under, but they are few and far between).

    But churches are not businesses. Building a bigger or nicer building is not about efficiency or how much the church can add to society. At the same time, churches do all kinds of things to benefit society by strengthening institutions, families, providing moral education, assisting the poor, etc.

    Businesses are taxed on profit, not revenue. So the key for a taxed church is to spend all their money, which is not an efficient method for long range health of the non-profit organization. In a business giving dividends is an expense, so if you give dividends you are not taxed on that money. But that is not possible in churches which are designed to not maximize profits or to give benefits only to their members.

    On the other hand, I do think that there is some reason to pay property taxes. Local governments provide services for churches and have been increasingly limited those services to churches. Chicago stopped giving free water to churches a couple years ago. Other communities require payments for fire or police service. Also there would be the effective result of local governments losing some of their zoning power if churches started paying property taxes.

    But those property tax dollars are essentially going to be coming out of local tax payers pockets. Except for megachurches, most people attend church in their local community. So taxing property for churches is just another way that local residents will be paying more in taxes to their community. And unless all non-profits (YMCA, schools, hospitals, etc) are also required to pay property taxes it will be pretty hard to enact.

    (Church run book stores already collect taxes in most states.)

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  2. Note the trick that both articles rely upon. They mention only a very few high-roller churches. I work for a church, and I know that even a decent-sized church in an affluent suburb can find itself running on a very tight budget. Unless they are the big, rising church with all the local buzz, or a large-scale congregation headed by a celebrity figure (i.e., outlier cases), most churches are not flush with cash or face increasing giving. The overwhelming majority of churches are very small; many rural congregations can barely afford to pay a pastor. Even fairly stable churches find themselves deferring maintenance on their building to squeeze out more funds for ministry work. If churches started paying taxes, the typical case would not be Joel Osteen having to buy one less car per year. It would be the 1st Missionary Baptist having to close its food pantry, close its school or raise tuition (often subsidized from the offering plate), further defer maintenance on their building, or put its pastor on food stamps and Medicaid.

    I’m not sure it makes sense to apply income tax to any entity that isn’t out to make a profit. It’s just taxing transfer payments. (I know, they tax unemployment checks; I think that’s wrong, too.) In practice, to have similar working deductions as for-profit business would require a great many pages of tax regulations geared directly to churches. Like taxed businesses, a lot of the church’s internal operations would be exposed in great detail to the IRS. The potential for bad free exercise implications would be great.

    And I am not sure it is entirely right to consider non-profit (including churches) tax exemption as subsidies. There are cases where tax exemptions certainly are subsidies, such as with the arrangements given to sports stadiums and high-demand big-box stores. But the charity exemption can also be taken as recognizing the special cases of organizations that run primarily on donations and other transfer payments. People don’t want to donate when 30% goes to overhead. How much more would it depress giving when you know that another 10-25% is going to the government?

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  3. And I agree with Adam that some sales taxes and property taxes raise different considerations and are not as problematic.

    Historically, I would root the tax exemption less in the state church era (which really starts with the early modern period) and more from the Medieval and earlier concept of the church as a distinct spiritual realm outside the authority of the temporal government. The temporal governments did not always like that idea (hence the various English kings who tried to force clerics to pay taxes), and often had a different idea of where the spiritual/temporal line ran.

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