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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021  (Read 716 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« on: December 02, 2021, 03:31:56 am »


Supreme Court Abortion Case Holds Signs of Hope for Pro-Life Evangelicals

The conservative-majority Supreme Court appeared willing to side with Mississippi’s abortion ban, which restricts beyond what “Roe v. Wade” allows.

After a long-awaited challenge to Roe v. Wade made it to the US Supreme Court on Wednesday, pro-life evangelicals who had rallied for the cause for decades were encouraged that the conservative-leaning court appeared willing to uphold a contentious Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks.

The justices’ decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, due in late June, could overturn the country’s landmark abortion rights cases, making way for more restrictive state laws protecting the personhood of fetuses in the womb.

White evangelicals—who are twice as likely than the average American to want to make abortion illegal—gathered outside the high court in Washington and, across the country, listened to the oral arguments, streamed online due to the pandemic.

But the two-hour discussion—the greatest threat to abortion policy in 50 years of prayer and advocacy—largely skipped over familiar evangelical talking points to focus on the legal precedents for the case.

“The discussion was purely legal—purely legal in a way that might have surprised some,” said Notre Dame law professor Sherif Girgis in a discussion convened by the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC). “It was really just focused on: Is there a doctrinal path to a middle ground?”

The middle ground Gergis references is whether the court can somehow uphold the Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy without overturning Roe v. Wade. The 1973 decision doesn’t allow states to ban abortion prior to the point the baby is viable outside the womb, around 24 weeks.

The EPPC’s Ed Whelan said Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to be seeking a middle-ground argument, while the other five conservative justices—including President Donald Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—signaled that they may be ready to overturn Roe and fellow landmark abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Roberts, though, couldn’t settle on what legal marker the court could adopt to move restrictions earlier than the viability standard, which legal counsel for the providers argued balanced protections for the mother and baby.

Russell Moore, who leads CT’s public theology project, wrote that, “The Court was wrong to grant human rights on the basis of viability or unviability. And we are wrong when we do the same, despising weakness and idolizing power.”

Justice Kavanaugh brought up that the Constitution is “silent” and “neutral” on abortion. He seemed to suggest that national abortion regulations shouldn’t be up to the Supreme Court.

“Why should this Court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures, state supreme courts, the people being able to resolve this?” he asked.

Pro-life advocates and legal experts say they were heartened by what they heard in the oral arguments . Roger Severino, the former director of the Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under Trump, said the pro-life movement should “rejoice” at the outcome.

Evangelicals were not directly mentioned in the arguments in the chamber, but Justice Sonya Sotomayor evoked evangelical convictions as she referenced the role of faith in beliefs around when life begins.

“How is your interest anything but a religious view?” she asked Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart, who argued on behalf the state’s ban.

“The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It’s still debated in religions,” she said. “So when you say [the right to abortion] is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life—that’s a religious view, isn’t it? Because it assumes that a fetus is life?”

Evangelical Protestants make up 41 percent of the population in Mississippi (compared to a quarter of the US overall), and the state has one of the highest levels of abortion opposition in the country, with 59 percent saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

US Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who sided with the clinics, argued that women depend on abortion as a “fundamental right” that’s “central to their participate fully and equally in society.”

“For a half century, this Court has correctly recognized that the Constitution protects a woman's fundamental right to decide whether to end a pregnancy before viability,” she said.

The momentum around reversing Roe v. Wade has also drawn more attention to the evolving future of the evangelical pro-life cause, particularly the support and care of a swath of new mothers would require if unable to obtain abortions.

Nathan A. Finn, dean and provost at North Greenville University, wrote for the Baptist Press:

The overturning of Roe must energize local pro-life activism rather than leading to grassroots complacency because of the national legal victory. In a post-Roe world, some women will still want an abortion or believe abortion is their only option. There will still be the need for pro-life pregnancy resource centers in local communities.

In states where elective abortion remains legal, those centers will continue to go head-to-head with abortion clinics. There will also still be young children in need of adoption, perhaps in some places more than there are at present. The church must remain committed to the ministry of orphan care, ready to care for little ones who need a loving home.

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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2021, 08:47:46 am »


For Those with Eyes to See, There Is Theological Truth in Church Architecture

How to read what the wood, glass, and stone say about God.

God is bigger than a church building. He reveals himself to us in myriad ways: through the Bible savored in silence or thundered in a sermon, through prayerful solitude or bread broken with others. He reveals himself in the contours of nature and whispers of wind. We do not rely on church buildings for divine encounter.

And yet churches can reveal God to us. If we pay attention.

As an architect, I am learning how to read buildings. In the same way musicians must be musically literate, architects must be architecturally literate. A musician must be constantly exposed to a range of compositions to develop musical literacy; an architect must engage all kinds of buildings to be able to read them. This isn’t simply a matter of naming specific styles or noting unique details. It’s learning to understand what statements or narratives are embedded within the design of a building.

So, I study churches. Church, of course, is a weekly rhythm of small group, choir practice, Bible study, Sunday school, and an inevitable potluck. Church is community and fellowship and belonging. More broadly, there is “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” that spans time and culture. But there are also these buildings that often hide in plain sight.

Embedded in every church is a theology that reminds us of our relationship to God through Christ. If we can learn to read the buildings architecturally, through their elevation, plan, and section, we can grasp what the structures are communicating about God—and, perhaps, what God is communicating to us through these churches.


Well before we ever enter a church, we can begin to read its theology simply from its exterior or elevation. An elevation is how a building looks. A church’s posture toward the surrounding world is communicated through its elevation. Many traditional churches are designed to be outwardly explicit in delineating the sacred as a place set apart.

For example, notice whether there is a bell tower, which signifies that the church is a building of both visual and auditory “otherness” from its surrounding context. Note the color and material of the entryway. Traditionally, red doors signify the blood of Christ and demarcate the church as a place of sanctuary. Note any floral ornamentation on the facade that both recalls the Garden of Eden and prefigures the new heaven and new earth.

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images Courtesy of Amanda Iglesias / WikiMedia Commons
St. Peter's Church in Chicago (left) and the National Cathedral in DC (right).

Of course, note any overtly Christological imagery. For example, Chicago’s St. Peter’s in the Loop reminds us that Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross is indiscriminate: Suspended on the Madison Street facade is an enormous dying Christ, offering himself to the daily onrush of commuters, tourists, and impoverished alike. Above the west entrance of the National Cathedral in DC, however, we find God’s ex nihilo creation of Adam, a swirling and visceral reminder that from dust we come and to dust we will return.

However, a church exterior need not be expressly iconographic to tell the story of God’s work in the world. In fact, most are not.

Many post–World War II churches were designed as a corrective to the perceived excesses and antiquarianism of preceding styles. Such “mute” facades communicate an incarnational approach to the world that eschews this idea of a sacred-secular divide. The Chicago suburban churches of Edward Dart are simple edifices built in common brick. Taking on the scale and material of “everyday” architecture—such as a school or a library—Dart’s modest churches remind us that the infinite God took on flesh and dwelt among us.

Further, St. Anna’s Church in Düren, Germany, was designed by Rudolf Schwarz with the rubble of its medieval predecessor, which had been destroyed during a 1944 Allied airstrike. The simplicity and austerity of the church belie what is in fact heavily marred masonry walls, a reconstitution of assembled fragments. We are reminded that in God’s kingdom, broken things, people, and places are made whole again.

Inside a church, we take note of the architectural plan. The plan is what organizes a building on the horizontal plane. It reveals a church’s conception of our relationship to one another.

For example, note the presence or arrangement of altar, font, and baptismal. These elements create spaces for liturgical participation and designate the format of collective worship. The location and visibility of pulpit, lectern, or stage, however, reveal to us an emphasis placed on preaching. The seating shapes our posture and receipt of the Word.

Further, take note of how the seating arrangement shapes social dynamics: Semicircular auditorium seats gather congregants around a fixed stage; linear pews uphold a hierarchy and separation from the altar; simple folding chairs allow for self-determination according to a congregation’s changing needs.

Beyond the interior layout, however, the architectural plan is theologically motivated and historically inherited. After Constantine’s 313 Edict of Milan propagated Christianity as the religion of the empire, churches began to adopt the civic Roman basilica as the formal architecture of Christianity. Under imperial patronage, the basilica church developed a liturgy of procession, hierarchy, and veneration, all of which emphasize Christ as emperor. The cruciform cathedral layout also emerged from this basilica type, proclaiming the work of the Cross not just inwardly in plan but outwardly at the scale of the city.

Contrast this with the domestic, interior environments of Jesus’ ministry and covert early church gatherings. At the opposite scale of the cathedral, we find the table to be the smallest plan of a church, an intimate gathering where believers can fully participate in the Lord’s Supper. Many churches employ centralized plans to recreate this intimate scale and break down the historic hierarchy between laity and clergy.

The small scale of chapels honors the individual’s need for reflection as a precursor to collective participation. The MIT Chapel designed by Eero Saarinen employs the totalizing geometry of the circle to create a hushed, prayerful environment set apart from its busy Boston context. The chapel’s simple brick walls are animated with the rippling reflection of outside water; such architecture ennobles the contemplative practices of silence and solitude as core dimensions of the Christian life.

If the plan organizes space along the horizontal axis, the architectural section organizes space along the vertical axis. Orienting our attention upward, the section reveals a church’s theology of God’s relationship to us.

Note a church’s vertical height: The awesome, dizzying interiors of cathedrals evoke a theology of God’s transcendence and omnipotence. Conversely, small is also powerful. Small- or medium-sized interiors remind us of God’s immanence, or nearness, to our daily lives. The Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle is topped with light wells that wash the peripheral walls in subtle shades of color, reminding us to pay attention to the way God reveals himself through general revelation, such as in the changing beauty of a sunset.

The section also determines how daylight enters a church. Note the presence and type of daylight: The quality of light from high Gothic clerestory windows, floor-to-ceiling panes of stained glass, or small storefront windows will differ. First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, designed by Eliel Saarinen, employs strong shafts of sidelight to illuminate the main auditorium, with concealed skylights to illuminate the altar’s back wall with daylight. This creates a “living” wall, the luminosity of which changes with every passing cloud.

Toplight also creates a powerful focus point. Peter Zumthor’s humble Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in northern Germany is a dark and charred concrete cavity illuminated solely by a small overhead oculus, reminding us that God’s light pierces the darkest places.

Contrast this with contemporary churches that have little to no daylight. The absence of daylight is increasingly commonplace, owing to the popular “black box” churches that rely on their own light systems for service. This is partly pragmatic. Many churches inherit, retrofit, or rent preexisting structures such as theaters, school auditoriums, or office buildings. Such environments can point us to architect Edward Sövik’s idea of a “non-church” church that is multifunctional and flexible and that emphasizes the idea that the church is first and foremost a gathering of people.

The point of this is not architectural knowledge. This can of course be a good thing to acquire, but nobody is being quizzed on how to identify a Corinthian versus a Doric column capital.

Reading churches is worthwhile, though, because churches are everywhere. They are constantly communicating theological truths through their architecture.

We often miss these daily reminders of truth. Yet we are invited to pay attention to the movements and workings of God in the world, through his people, and through our buildings. After all, what is spiritual formation if not developing eyes to see (Matt. 13:15–17)?

Amanda Iglesias is an architectural designer in New York City.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2021, 05:33:35 am »


Most Americans, and Many Christians, Don’t Believe the Son of God Existed Before the Manger

There’s widespread agreement around Christmas as a historical event, but people are confused around the timeline for the Son’s existence, per a recent survey.

Christmas is a celebration of a real event, according to most Americans. Just don’t expect them to know exactly why Jesus was born and came to earth.

A new study from Lifeway Research finds close to 3 in 4 Americans believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Even more say Jesus is the son of God the Father, but less than half believe Jesus existed prior to being born on that first Christmas.

“Most Americans consider Jesus’ birth a historical fact,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “It can be easy to only evaluate Jesus like you would any other historical figure—thinking about when He lived and what He did. However, the Bible also describes Jesus in a way that one must evaluate who you believe He was. Most Americans believe His origin was from God the Father, but half as many believe He existed before His birth.”

More than 9 in 10 Americans (91%) celebrate Christmas, according to a previous Lifeway Research study released this year. For most of those celebrating, Christmas is about a historical occurrence. More than 7 in 10 (72%) say the Jesus Christians believe in was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, including 49 percent who strongly agree. Few (9%) disagree, while 18 percent aren’t sure.

Most Americans (80%) agree Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Father, while 10 percent disagree and 10 percent aren’t sure.

The average person isn’t quite as sure about the Son of God’s existence prior to Jesus’ birth. Around 2 in 5 (41%) say God’s son existed before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Close to 1 in 3 Americans (32%) disagree, and 28 percent say they’re not sure.

“The 2020 State of Theology Study showed that 72 percent of Americans believe there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,” McConnell said. “Prophecies such as those in Isaiah 9 reflect that the Messiah would be the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. While these titles reflect the Trinity, some Americans do not connect the Jesus born in Bethlehem with the Messiah who already existed as God now coming in the flesh.”

The religiously unaffiliated are least likely to agree with any of the statements surrounding Jesus’ birth and identity, but some still believe despite their stated disconnect from organized religion. Almost half (48%) believe Jesus Christ is the son of God the Father. A third (33%) say Jesus was really born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Fewer (15%) believe the Son of God existed before Jesus was born.

Among Christians, those who attend church four times a month or more, are most likely to believe each of the statements about Jesus and His birth: 98 percent believe He is the Son of God the Father, 95 percent say He was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, and 63 percent agree the Son of God existed before Jesus was born.

Why Christmas?
Americans aren’t always sure what motivations Jesus ascribed to Himself and His coming to earth. When given seven options—four correct and three incorrect—for reasons the Bible records Jesus as saying why He came, only one choice garnered a small majority.

Americans are more likely to choose a correct answer than the false ones. Half (51%) say the Bible records Jesus as saying He came to give His life for many, which Jesus does say in Mark 10:45 (“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”).

Around 3 in 10 Americans (31%) rightly say Jesus came to give life in abundance (“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance,” John 10:10 CSB) and testify to truth (“I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth,” John 18:37

Far fewer (9%) believe the Bible records Jesus saying He came to bring division rather than peace, despite Him making that claim in Luke 12:51. Altogether, only 3 percent of Americans recognized all four options in the list that match biblical quotes from Jesus.

Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans falsely identified other reasons for Jesus’ coming to earth: 9 percent believe Jesus said He came to be served (contradicted by Mark 10:45), 8 percent think He said He wanted to abolish the Old Testament law and prophets (contradicted by Matthew 5:17), and 8 percent say Jesus came to condemn sinners (contradicted by John 3:17).

“Despite widespread belief that Jesus really came to earth as a baby, there is far less familiarity with why Jesus said He came,” said McConnell. “However, the majority of Americans believe Jesus came to give His life for many, which is reflected in the angel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1:21, ‘She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’”

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2021, 04:08:49 am »


‘No Room in the Inn’ Was Good News

The story of the Bethlehem hostel means Christ keeps company with pilgrims, not emperors.

In nativity pageants all over the world, several roles fit well for those terrified of public speaking: cows, sheep, and the innkeeper. The innkeeper, in most dramatic renditions, has no speaking lines. Instead, the person must merely look sad, hold out their hand, and shake their head to say no.

Luke’s gospel tells us that Mary and Joseph laid Jesus in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, KJV). Some people are surprised when they find out there is no innkeeper in the Bible—and probably not even an actual “inn,” at least in the way we think of it.

Many experts in this time period argue that the word translated “inn” in our New Testament texts probably doesn’t refer to the Middle Eastern equivalent of a hotel or motel. The problem is not one of overbooked rooms.

New Testament scholar Darrell Bock suggests that the “inn” refers to any form of public shelter—usually a two-story house in which the lower story was for animals and the upper floor was for guests, or a one-story building with a stable attached.

The “inn” may have been the home of Joseph’s or another’s extended family in town—who welcomed them as guests but were unable to accommodate birth-giving in the upper rooms. In no first-century context would a Jewish family have countenanced such a breach of hospitality by turning away strangers, let alone extended family, into the night.

Regardless of what exactly Luke meant by the word “inn,” the larger point stands that not only was Jesus born into humble circumstances—placed in what was probably the feeding trough of an animal—but also that his birth was displaced by a crowd of people.

The crowding of public shelters in Bethlehem was no doubt due to the influx of people into the small town for the census, which Luke references at the beginning of the nativity passage. The political decree from Caesar Augustus was that all people must register in their hometowns (2:2–3). This story of people trekking into the City of David for a census should prompt us to recognize it as a callback to a previous biblical plot line.

After all, David himself had sinned against God by doing the equivalent of what Caesar Augustus mandated in Luke 2: counting the people. And in doing so, he brought a plague of judgment on his kingdom (1 Chron. 21:1–17)

David’s notable sins are clear to readers of his story—the sexual misconduct with Bathsheba, the arranged killing of her husband, and so on. But on this point, one that brings about anguished repentance in David, his mistake isn’t immediately obvious to us. What’s wrong with a statistical representation of people?

Daniel Heller-Roazen, a Jewish scholar in language and literature, illustrates the dangers of such counting by citing Rabbi Eleazar: “Whoever counts Israel transgresses a prohibition, as it is said, ‘Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured.’”

Implicit here is the idea that counting people—often done, directly or indirectly, for political purposes or military readiness—seeks to quantify by sight what God has promised by faith. Or it could be that the census was meant to replicate the world’s standards of power and strength—that is, through numbers and armies rather than through the covenant presence of God himself.

The sin of this counting, meant to create corporate solidarity, created isolation instead—as David begged for the curse of God to fall on him alone and not on the people (1 Chron. 21:17). Seeking to avert God’s judgment, David then purchased a threshing floor, where he built an altar to the Lord. There, God accepted the king’s offering by fire and ordered the fearsome angel to put away his sword (vv. 18–27).

The site of this altar, and later the temple, was the spot where Abraham had once offered up his son Isaac—the very forefather of faith through whom God’s promise to make the people of Israel as numerous as the stars of heaven, would come (2 Chron. 3:1).

In the shadow of a census, which was meant to showcase carnal might and multitude, God brought forth a sacrificial offering in an unlikely place. In the time of another ruler—Caesar Augustus—the house of David was the counted, not the one counting.

Thomas Merton, a 20th-century Trappist monk, saw the lack of room in the census city as a metaphor for our time. The end-time judgment, Merton notes in an essay reflection, was a time of crowding—a mustering of armies, a moving of mobs, a display of power.

“That which is to be judged announces itself, introduces itself by its sinister and arrogant claim to absolute power,” he writes. “Thus, it is identified, and those who decide in favor of this claim are numbered, marked with the sing of power, aligned with power, and destroyed with it.”

“Why was the inn crowded?” Merton asks. “Because of the census, the eschatological massing of the ‘whole world’ in centers of registration, to be numbered, to be identified with the structure of imperial power,” he answered. “The purpose of the census: to discover those who were to be taxed. To find out those who were eligible for service in the armies of the empire.”

He goes on to say that “the numbering of the people of God by an alien emperor, and their full consent to it, was itself an eschatological sign.”

But the point of the Incarnation was not the absorption of the person into a nameless, faceless mass. “It was therefore right that there should be no more room for him in a crowd that had been called together as an eschatological sign,” Merton writes. “His being born outside that crowd is even more of a sign. That there is no room for Him is a sign of the end.”

Merton complained that our age is one of crowdedness, an era in which our technological mastery and connectedness leave us with no room for solitude or thought—a time in which “the crowd” leads to more loneliness than ever.

Keep in mind, Merton observed this long before anyone had imagined an internet or an iPhone or a Metaverse. Merton foresaw that such crowding and “fullness” would end in emptiness, lifelessness, and alienation.

Can we deny that this is the case, especially when our identities are subsumed in the “power” of our political herds or our digital tribes? Who can deny that—in a time of the most concentrated power in human history—we feel weak, lonely, and lost in whatever crowd we choose to seek refuge?

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited,” Merton wrote. “But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, and yet He must be in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room.”

Christ’s place, Merton argues, “is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.”

Maybe there wasn’t an annoyed hotel supervisor at the nativity scene. Maybe the straw-filled manger was itself an offer of hospitality by some compassionate villagers. But what is clear is that Caesar’s quantifiable numbers did not bring good tidings of great joy. For that, we must look to the baby in a feeding trough, surrounded by sheep-herding nomads.

Instead of Caesar’s statistics, we find the kind of promise that results in a number no man can count—and instead of a place with no room, we will find a house with many mansions.

Russell Moore leads the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2021, 06:56:51 am »


Bible Translators Add 400 Sign Languages to To-Do List

First finished Scripture for deaf people prompts attention to global need.

The completion of the first sign language Bible translated from the original languages prompted cheers and celebrations in the fall of 2020.

It took nearly four decades for more than 50 translators to finish the American Sign Language Version (ASLV), and the project started by Deaf Missions received crucial support from the Deaf Bible Society, DOOR International, Deaf Harbor, the American Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Seed Company, and Pioneer Bible Translators.

But for the deaf, it’s one down, more than 400 to go.

“Still only one sign language of the over 400 has a complete Bible,” said J. R. Bucklew, the founder and former president of the Deaf Bible Society, who now works as director of major gifts at Pioneer Bible Translators. “And still, no other sign language outside of the American Sign Language has a full New Testament. There’s a lot of work ahead of us.”

Bucklew doesn’t diminish the significance of the completion of the ASLV. As a hearing person born to deaf parents, he sees the translation as a major historic event. And as an advocate for sign language Bible translation, he sees the ASLV as the “great accelerator” that is helping build the momentum necessary for the translation work that remains to be done. IllumiNations, an alliance of 11 Bible translation organizations, has set a goal of rendering Scripture in every known language by 2033. There are, according to the group, about 7,000 known languages in the world, and roughly more than half have little or no Bible. While people may access Scripture by learning English, Spanish, or a dominant trade language, the evangelical organizations believe everyone should have equal access in their “heart ...

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2021, 03:03:46 am »


Have Christians Forgotten How to Fight with God?

The Lord wants our protest. But it seems some of us have neglected the ancient art of lamenting evil.

At the moment, our world is on fire with social unrest, racial injustice, and an unrelenting pandemic that’s constantly wearing us out. We’ve just reached another grim milestone of 800,000 deaths in our country—so many that we risk becoming numb to it all.

It feels like this suffering is shaking all that can be shaken, right to the core (Heb. 12:25–29). Because of the global fragility we are all collectively experiencing, I would guess I am not alone in feeling a sense of God’s absence … or, worse, in sensing the presence of an uncaring God.

But my guess would be wrong.

The latest poll from Pew Research Center surveyed over 6,000 American adults—including 1,421 evangelicals—about why they think bad things happen to good people.

The most common answer? It is what it is—life just happens, says 35 percent of folks. The next highest response, coming from 13 percent, is that suffering is God’s will. The rest of the respondents believe that evil is the result of Satan, sinful human nature, free will, karma, societal systems, or opportunities for spiritual growth.

But here’s the kicker: Of the 9 in 10 Americans who believe in God or a higher power, over 80 percent say that suffering does not make them doubt God’s existence, God’s power, or God’s love. Not even sometimes.

So much suffering in the world, and yet most Americans are not doubting God.

That should be good news, right? … Or is it?

Perhaps this survey indicates a general ignorance about the classical tension between God and evil. Or maybe it shows a swing away from popular evangelical narratives that view suffering as a form of God’s punishment or judgment toward sinners, often with reference to natural disasters.

Some of these statistics may also reflect certain theological approaches to the problem of evil, known as “theodicies,” which have trickled down from seminaries into local churches over time.

A common one in evangelical circles is the “free-will defense,” which states that evil is the result of God giving humans a free will. This runs parallel with 71 percent of US adults who agreed with the statement that suffering is primarily a consequence of people’s own actions.

Another approach, called “felix culpa” (or “happy fall”), says that God is justified for allowing evil and suffering because it paved the way for Christ to redeem the world—and that this end ultimately justified the means.

Or it could be that these recent statistics indicate a general malaise and stoic apathy toward the age-old problem of evil—a suffering that is being lived out but not consciously thought through.

Either way, the complacent conclusion that evil and suffering exist “just because” has no basis in the Christian tradition. For believers, nature is not a blind force of random chance or bad luck. Creation is very good, and suffering exists because of Eden gone wrong. To believe in evil as a basic part of nature or luck of the draw might be Gnostic, Stoic, or Taoist, but it’s not Christian.

Why, then, is the most common answer among Americans for suffering pragmatically atheist—that evil just “is what it is” and has no correlation to our belief in a good and powerful God?

Scripture is chock-full of stories where God’s people are bold enough to wrestle with him and ask the hard questions: Why are you allowing all this evil? How long, oh Lord? When will you come and set all this right?

Job of the Old Testament, Epicurus, David Hume, C. S. Lewis, and Mother Teresa—along with countless others throughout history—all wrestled with the problem of evil and suffering. And they did so in a way that forged a crucible for their faith, ultimately strengthening their belief in a God who is both strong and loving, despite the apparent evidence to the contrary.

Time and time again, we see ordinary people approaching God with raw honesty about human suffering. And God responds to them, because they reflect his own lionheart that’s hell-bent against evil and death.

God wants our protest against the evil and pain in this world. So why aren’t we giving it to him?

As recent scholarship by theologians like Eleonore Stump and Paul Moser suggests, our honest struggle with evil invites a kind of pain that yields a powerful return on our investment, which can result in an even stronger faith—one that has been tested by fire.

Instead, it seems we may have lost our nerve. Many Christians today are trading a hard-won birthright of wrestling with God for an easy meal of safe answers. And in doing so, we are setting up a facile faith that the next generation will simply turn around and “deconstruct.”

But can we really be blamed?

With so much Zoom fatigue, a rising global death count, and disheartening news media, it makes sense that we would be too tired to feel, much less invite our faith to be tested by fire.

Still, we are called to more.

To be a Christian is never to be apathetic toward evil and suffering, nor to avoid protesting God.

Instead, we are told to work out our faith in “fear and trembling,” which includes unflinching lament at all the evil and death in this world. We are meant to hold our hands open in foolish faith, to watch and wait with hopeful expectation for God to show up in surprising ways—to remind us that he is good and powerful and that he will grant us his own steadfast courage.

We are called to the daring and bold love of God in Jesus Christ, who stopped at nothing—not even death on a cross—to fight and win back the glory and goodness of God’s original creation.

To be a Christian is to join Christ in his suffering for the life of the world. He sweat blood while surrendering his own will in the garden and was honest unto his dying breath—crying out, “Why have you forsaken me?” while inviting his Father to draw near by saying “My God, my God.”

Our relationship with God is all the richer when it is allowed to pass through the threshing floor of protest and honest questions, even when those questions are painful and have no answer.

And it is here that I believe trauma survivors and therapists can teach us an important lesson on the priceless value of suffering losses in this life.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with one of my students, a trauma therapist, in a course at Richmont Graduate University called Theodicy and Trauma Counseling. I had assigned two books by C. S. Lewis, and she told me how valuable they have been in her current work with clients.

In the introduction to A Grief Observed, Lewis is described as “a man emotionally naked in his own Gethsemane” while mourning the death of his beloved wife. Yet in all that grief, Lewis encountered God in the process—by keeping his heart open to the pain of it.

Lewis describes this openness to suffering in The Problem of Pain, saying that “pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Those like myself and Lewis who have survived personal trauma and experienced recovery have learned to embrace a measure of suffering that we could not endure in the past. In fact, that is precisely what recovery is: facing our painful past by looking it square in the face—and realizing that it is not too much for God, or our close friends and family, to bless and redeem.

Recovery and healing mean learning to suffer well by facing the problem of evil directly and honestly, so that we can be roused by the pain enough to hear the kindness of God in the midst. And in a world that is experiencing so much collective pain, the call to be Christian is to follow the trauma survivor and their therapists and stop avoiding our own suffering.

We are meant to neither explain it away nor draw a stick-figure God with easy answers but to follow the Great Survivor, Jesus Christ, into God’s renewed future. For the only path to resurrection joy is through death and sorrow. The way to the garden is through the grave.

The world is hungry for believers to once again be honest about suffering, evil, and injustice. Some of us haven’t had the luxury to do anything else—and our lives are all the richer for it.

Perhaps if more Christians learn to wrestle honestly with the problem of evil and suffering, it will help thicken the church’s witness to the world. At the very least, we might help each other along in our own journeys by following Jesus into a faith that’s worth suffering for.

Preston Hill is assistant professor of integrative theology at Richmont Graduate University, an ordinand in the Anglican Church in North America, a clinical pastoral therapist, coauthor of the forthcoming book Dawn of Sunday: The Trinity and Trauma-Safe Church (Cascade), and editor of the forthcoming book Christ and Trauma: Theology East of Eden (Pickwick).

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - December 2021
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2021, 01:03:27 pm »


Ten Prayers for the New Year

2021 was a year filled with trials and troubles for many. Let’s start this next one on our knees.

1. A prayer for a fresh start:

Lord, thank you for another year of life and all that you provided for us last year. We lay before you all the disappointments and unfinished work, and we ask for your mercy, peace, and joy as we look to the year ahead. May we delight in the gift of your presence as we discern the journey you have for us in this new year.

2. A prayer for our habits:

Lord, we confess that we spend much of our day thoughtlessly consuming the things around us. Our habits often lack intention and cause us to live distracted, self-focused lives. Would you bring to our attention the unhealthy ways we spend our time, energy, thoughts, talents, and money? Show us old habits to turn away from and new habits to practice. Shape us by your Spirit into more merciful people who love you and neighbor with greater intention.

3. A prayer for relational healing:

Lord, there are many ways we fall short in our relationships. We failed to carry each other’s burdens, we harbored offenses, and we judged each other’s motives. Help us to confess our sins against each other. Help us to forgive and seek forgiveness. May your Spirit heal wounds and bring unity to fractured relationships—that we might love one another as you love us.

4. A prayer for the weary:

Lord, the last few years have been filled with sickness, death, job loss, isolation, anxiety, fear, and division. We are weary. In our weariness, we confess our cynicism and our skepticism and we ask for your renewal. Give us eyes to see the kingdom life Christ has promised—and fill us with a hope that allows us to live each day with soberness, generosity, and joy.

5. A prayer for the lonely:

Lord, you are the father of the fatherless, and you place the lonely in families. This year, help us join you in that work. Give us eyes to see those around us who may feel alone. Help us to notice the orphans, single parents, the elderly, the incarcerated, the homeless, and the refugees in our midst. Expand our capacity to be hospitable to those who desire belonging and family.

6. A prayer for those suffering:

Lord, bring to mind those in our lives who are suffering, and help us to be faithful in prayer for and service to them. We also ask that you strengthen your servants, scattered around the world, to be the hands and feet of Jesus—especially in places where war, violence, famine, and sickness are devastating families and communities.

7. A prayer for our neighbors:

Lord, help us to notice our neighbors more this year. May we learn the names of those who live next door to us, the people who serve us coffee and gas each week, and the families we run into at the park. Remind us to be a source of blessing, even in the most ordinary and simple ways, as we learn to abide in your love and extend it toward our neighbors.

8. A prayer for our work:

Lord, you have placed Christians in every industry and city. Help us to steward our work this year—not only for our families, but also for the flourishing of others. Allow us to be a restorative presence in our places of work. Align our organizations to reflect your creativity, goodness, and justice. Help us to act righteously and generously to those whose work is often marginalized by society.

9. A prayer for Christian community:

Lord, help us not to be consumers in our local churches, or to think transactionally about our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Instead, show us how to nurture true Christian community in our lives this year. Give us the initiative and insight to know how to cultivate a greater love for God’s people. Help us to share our lives with one another in such a way that the people we meet are ultimately drawn closer to you.

10. A prayer for our hands and feet:

Lord, bless our hands to serve you more faithfully in the year to come. Guide our feet to walk in your steps, imitating the example you set for us during your time on earth. Help us to follow and obey you. Empower us by your Spirit to love one another in consistent and creative ways.

Dennae is the co-director for The Crete Collective, Surge Network, and City to City North America. She serves at Roosevelt Community Church in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Dennae and her husband Vermon have 5 children.


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