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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020  (Read 2212 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« on: July 02, 2020, 10:30:18 am »


5 Pandemic Lessons from Eurasia’s Evangelical Churches

How congregations in the former Soviet Union are responding to the coronavirus challenge can help the global church think better about buildings, young professionals, and persecution.

For many Western Christians, Eurasia is uncharted territory, and no less so amid this pandemic. In the midst of troubling COVID-19 tallies from the US and Europe, little is heard about what is happening in this strategically important region, situated with Europe to its west, China to its southeast, and the Muslim world to its south.

Yet the way local evangelical churches are responding to coronavirus challenges speaks volumes about their way of life and ministry, as well as their future missions potential.

National church leaders testify that the situation in Russia—with more than 640,000 confirmed cases, the third-worst reported outbreak in the world after the US and Brazil—and other Eurasian nations is alarming. Health systems, economies, transportation, and security systems are on the verge of collapse. Mass testing for COVID-19 is not happening. Governments deny access to reliable information. And all the while the war in Ukraine continues, and restrictions on religious freedom and human rights increase in Russia, Belarus, and Central Asia.

The former Soviet Union is a gray zone where hybrid systems have emerged which imitate the developed world while using talk of democracy, free markets, rule of law, independent media, freedom, and human rights to mask their absence. Given these circumstances, evangelical churches are under constant pressure both from government authorities and wider society, which are dominated by either aggressive Orthodoxy, Islamism, or a secular Soviet mindset.

However, the challenge of the pandemic has lit a spark which casts light on the little-noticed but active and essential role of evangelical churches in this gray zone. Based on my extensive conversations with local leaders, here are five lessons that Christians worldwide can learn from their brothers and sisters in Eurasia:

Lesson 1: When the government is helpless and public institutions are paralyzed, the church is on the front lines.
Under the circumstances, people have no one to turn to other than the church and volunteers. And this creates unprecedented opportunities for sharing the gospel beyond church walls. Regular church members serve as agents or angels of hope for thousands of people paralyzed by fear and poverty. When regular church activities come to a halt, it prompts many young Christians to begin thinking about what they can do for others.

For example, Sergey, a young Russian pastor from Buryatia (a region of Siberia bordering Mongolia), shares his experience:

“Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations,’ and our government said, ‘Stay home.’ We were faced with the question of how to help people without breaking the law. Our team registered as volunteers and received special volunteer movement permits. Some of us sewed masks, others collected and distributed food donations to those in need, and others answered calls to a hotline, offering much-needed counseling and encouragement.

“One day we were asked to visit a woman who had been severely beaten by her husband. She had gone blind and was alone. We expected her to have a lot of questions about how God could have allowed this to happen to her, but instead she eagerly listened as we told her about Jesus and she prayed to accept Him as her Lord and Savior. We prayed for her, for healing for her soul, spirit, and, of course, her eyes. She is very lonely and would like us to visit more often to tell her about God. After encounters like that, you begin to appreciate things you almost didn’t notice before and took for granted: your ability to see, hear, walk, and live.”

These positive examples serve to introduce many people to the church and change their attitude towards it. “All non-Orthodox churches are considered illegitimate in Russia,” said Sergey. “However, now a lot of good things are being written about us online and on TV. While before the evangelical church was considered a sect, now we are practically heroes!”

Lesson 2: In addition to formal church structures, it is important to have parallel networks of informal leaders.
In critical moments when church structures are paralyzed, these leaders in the field—not the office—can take the lead. For example, Mission Eurasia began training young leaders in 2004 from 14 countries through its School Without Walls program, which emphasizes serving beyond the church building. It is an invaluable resource for local churches to have relationship-based regional networks of young leaders with experience working together, especially during a crisis of large institutions and structures.

Another important group is young professionals. Normally churches overlook them; however, now churches are praying specifically for doctors and teachers. Now that churches are closed, everyone understands that it is Christian professionals out on the front lines. They have become more visible. And this experience should change us forever.

We should not wait for the next crisis; we should mobilize churches now to strengthen ministry to young professionals, through training, caring for, and supporting them. If they are the front-line workers of the church, then they deserve better treatment and better resources. In the coming years, we should focus on helping those professional communities which are critically important to the life of our whole society—that could be called to the front lines at any moment. At Mission Eurasia, we call this movement “Mission in Profession.” It is a new, fresh initiative which could change our way of thinking about missions, vocation, the church, and young professionals’ place within it.

Lesson 3: Christian communities need to develop their own internal culture of generosity.
When the whole world is in crisis—when borders are closed, and giving to global missions declines—we need to count, first and foremost, on local resources.

I remember back in 2005 when the Russian government refused to recognize Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child gifts as humanitarian aid. Authorities claimed, “Russia is rich and can take care of its own children.” That same year, Russian evangelical churches began their own Christmas gift distribution project called Gift of Hope. It turned out that churches were glad to put together gifts for orphans and children from needy families. Since then, the ministry has continued to grow. It is not well known in the West but is well known in Eurasia, and many churches have even developed their own local initiatives—the idea has become contagious. Today, as the lockdown continues, instead of Gifts of Hope for children, churches are putting together “iCare” grocery packages for hungry families.

All this is not to say that churches in Eurasia do not need help. Help is needed more than ever, especially in the dark corners of Eurasia such as the Russian-controlled separatist regions of Ukraine or the far-flung regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia. However I am convinced that when we in the West know the extent of local generosity, we will be happier to support churches in Eurasia—adding our international assistance to their sacrificial giving, thereby sharing in their needs and blessings.

Lesson 4: Churches without comfortable, well-equipped buildings are more flexible and creative in missions outreach.
In Russia and many other countries of Eurasia, the government can easily confiscate, bulldoze, or shut down an evangelical church’s building. Therefore a majority of churches have faced difficult choices, weighing the risks of continuing to actively reach out to their community or calmly enjoy a comfortable church life in a well-equipped location with no external outreach activity. During the pandemic, churches without buildings responded more quickly, because they lost less. They were able to mobilize to serve others instead of grieving over their empty building.

Media attention has been fixated on the Orthodox churches, which continued public services during lockdown in defiance of government restrictions. In the Orthodox tradition, the temple is everything, and without the temple and sacraments there is no church. In contrast, evangelical churches which have learned to live and serve “without walls” are in a much better position. While Orthodox churches fight for their traditional liturgy formats, evangelical churches are reaching new missions fields—online and in homes.

Many call themselves “Church Without Walls,” putting an accent on their flexible format and missional nature. For example, pastor Igor says that the quarantine has not in any way limited his congregation’s activity: “We were not tied to a particular location or ministry format, therefore we do not feel that we have less work or fellowship. In fact, the opposite has occurred, because during lockdown everyone wants to hear about God and no one refuses assistance or prayer.”

Lesson 5: Ministry during lockdown serves as a valuable lesson for future periods of repression and persecution.
This is not the first time the church in post–Soviet Eurasia has been in lockdown. It survived 70 years of aggressive atheism, when almost all churches were closed. While Soviet communism feels like the distant past, the lessons of that history—learned through underground ministry, personal evangelism, and a battle for freedom—are still relevant today.

For example, pastor Sergey serves in a Russian-controlled area of Ukraine, and he said when church services were forbidden, he wasn’t discouraged—because he still remembered church services in Soviet times:

“I realized that now was the time for individual meetings and family visits, for speaking without a pulpit or microphone but rather heart to heart. In the very first week of lockdown, two people confessed their sin and made peace with God. They had never attended church before the lockdown. But God found them. I am grateful for the new opportunities created by this situation.”

The church of post–Soviet Eurasia was cleansed through trial by fire, and the current challenges are unlikely to limit its ministry but instead serve as a powerful stimulus to renew its mission and to grow in leadership, generosity, and creativity. These lessons from evangelical churches in Eurasia during this pandemic serve as a reminder that in times of external difficulties and limitations, God renews the church, activating its young and creative powers for ministry “without walls.”

Michael Cherenkov is executive director of Mission Eurasia’s field ministries.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2020, 10:48:56 am »


Reflections from a Christian Scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics

Looking at Marxism and Critical Race Theory in light of the problem of racism in America.

During the weeks following the death of George Floyd, I have been following the news with an increasing sense of sadness and concern for the problems facing the United States regarding race and racism.

I’ve been unsure how to respond as I’ve scrolled through social media and watched increasingly polarized rhetoric on both sides of the political aisle—except to listen to the voices of Black friends and neighbors who are hurting and to pray for justice.

I’ve tried to apply the biblical principle of being “slow to speak” (James 1:19), but I’ve been convicted recently about joining a particular thread of the (inter)national conversation taking place among those who share my faith in Jesus Christ and want to support truth and justice without compromising on principles peculiar and integral to our faith—principles that they are afraid might be stealthily replaced by rhetoric from other, incompatible frameworks of thinking.

Two frameworks I’ve been hearing about increasingly often are familiar to me from my own field: Critical Race Theory and Marxism. Because I have some expertise in these areas, I want to offer some thoughts and, hopefully, clarification to the conversation.

I’ll begin by giving some credentials, not to ask for accolades but to indicate why I want to address these areas of the cultural conversation in particular. I have two English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) from a Christian university and a Ph.D. in literature and criticism from a state university.

In my field, Marxism is one of the most commonly studied and most influential perspectives, and Critical Race Theory is also a significant force and gaining momentum. As a result, I’ve studied these theories extensively.

What gives me an unusual perspective in my field, however, is the fact that my primary research interest—and the topic of my doctoral dissertation—is twentieth-century Russian literature. My studies have convinced me that the sufferings and deaths of millions are not only correlated with but largely caused by the Marxist-Leninist agenda, and I am therefore deeply opposed to Marxism as a framework.

I hope that, knowing this, those patient enough to read these notes will acquit me of being a closet Marxist covering a secular agenda with a veneer of Bible verses.

That said, I do believe that some reactions to the protests following the death of George Floyd in particular and the Black Lives Matter movement in general are based on a failure to recognize important nuances in the conversation.

I’m going to address what I believe to be some problematic reasoning I’m seeing come from Christian sources on race:

Argument #1: Like all sin, racism originates in the human heart. Therefore, the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change. “Systemic racism,” on the other hand, is a Marxist idea.

Response: The first sentence’s claim is true. If you believe in original sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5), you have to admit that any sin originates in the human heart. Sin might be aggravated by circumstances, but circumstances don’t cause sin. However, the conclusion that the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change is true but incomplete.

If people are born in sin and people build a society, that society will be structured in ways that reinforce whatever sins dominate the hearts of those who build it. Therefore, even if many people’s hearts change a few generations later, those structures might still perpetuate the problems associated with that society’s “original sins.”

This is why—and I believe this is an important distinction as well—it is possible to recognize that many individual police officers might not be racist and still believe that changes in police departments need to take place to discourage injustice.

What those changes might be—alterations in training, changes in criteria for which areas are patrolled more often, etc.—is an important conversation, but having it does not mean condemning all police officers, many of whom are no doubt grieved at the horrific actions of other officers, such as the murderer of George Floyd. The problem can be built into structures and (some) individual hearts.

Here is how the above arguments are distinct from Marxism:

Marxism posits that socio-economic forces create the problem, not that they perpetuate the problem. A true Marxist does not believe that individuals have essential selves apart from the historical contexts in which they develop.

As an atheistic philosophy, Marxism does not allow for belief in a soul, and therefore, people are merely the products of the world they live in (referred to as a “superstructure” of social norms, historical forces, religious ideas, etc.).

The way to change people is to change society, and, for those who follow the most progressive version of Marxism, to dismantle society and recreate it from the ground up (this is what Lenin tried to do in Russia and Mao Tsetung tried to do in China). I know people who hold to the most extreme version of this philosophy.

If you believe (as I do) that sin, such as racism, originates in the human heart and merely manifests itself in society, you can recognize the above project as fundamentally utopian. It won’t work because whatever society you build from scratch will still have problems (perhaps new ones, perhaps the same ones) because you won’t have fixed the source of the problems (the human heart).

Only one Person can eradicate sin from the world, and I pray for that Person’s coming with an increasing sense of urgency these days.

However, to reject the claim that “fixing society at the structural level will fix everything” does not mean that we should reject the idea of being good stewards of the society in which we live. The fact that we will never be able to eradicate sin (this side of the resurrection) does not mean we should sit back and allow it free reign.

Those among my fellow believers who oppose abortion are already recognizing that sin and its effects can be addressed on both individual and societal levels. Meeting with a desperate woman outside a clinic and convincing her not to end her baby’s life is addressing it at the individual level.

But many who reach out to prospective patients outside clinics also campaign for legal protections for the unborn and support clinics (like our local Blue Ridge Women’s Center) that provide desperate women with other options, resources, counseling, and support. Other systemic changes might involve better guarantees for parental leave, stronger incentives for paternal involvement or financial support, and funding for adoptive and social service venues.

Addressing the problem of abortion at the systemic level does not mean caving into Marxism unless we believe that doing so is the only, complete, and permanent solution.

I firmly believe that if we are to work toward racial reconciliation, we need to admit that the history of racism in the United States (slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) has left us with problems that need to be addressed at the heart level AND at the structural level.

Argument #2: Critical Race Theory is a Marxist framework, and therefore, it is antithetical to the gospel.

Response: Critical Race Theory is indeed deeply informed by Marxism. As a result, I recognize that, as a Christian scholar, I will not agree with all of its tenets. However—and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who wrote a dissertation about the ways in which Russian poets coped with Marxist-Leninist oppression—Marx was not wrong about absolutely everything. Very few thinkers are (probably because they are all made in God’s image) wrong about everything.

Here are two statements on which I, as a Christian scholar, actually agree with Marx—while vehemently rejecting his philosophy as a whole:

1) Power does exist, and people do sometimes use it to oppress others.

Reading the Old Testament will make these truths abundantly clear (Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, the list goes on). And everyday experience makes these truths abundantly clear. Just ask anyone whose boss fired him/her for no good reason. Even Marx’s cited evidence for the above truths was legitimate. During the Industrial Revolution, factory workers had few legal protections, worked overly long hours in unsafe environments, and received few benefits and low pay.

2) Oppressed people do suffer, and their suffering is often unjust.

I actually believe that as a Christian, I have a much better foundation for supporting the above statement than Marx did. If people are merely cogs in the wheel of history, it’s hard to explain why anyone should care if they suffer. The fact that most Marxists I know are deeply compassionate people is, I believe, a testament to their humanity (being made in God’s image), not their philosophy.

Because I believe people are made in God’s image (Gen. 1); the God whom I worship warned his followers repeatedly not to oppress the poor, widows, foreigners, etc. (cf. Deut. 15:7 and countless other passages); and Jesus reached out to those whom society despised (women, Samaritans, etc.); I can argue with confidence that my faith is wholly consistent with working to mitigate oppression in the society in which I live.

By doing so, I am not embracing an alternate gospel but merely living in a way consistent with the gospel I have embraced since I was a child.

What some are referring to as “social justice” these days—making sure our laws and institutions don’t make it easier for the powerful to oppress marginalized groups—often refers to good, old-fashioned biblical justice.

This may mean that those who have more should be given structural incentives to share with those who have less. Ruth was able to pick up the grain from behind Boaz’s reapers because he was following the biblical mandate for them not to go back and pick up what they’d dropped—that was reserved for the poor and the immigrants. He could have argued that it all belonged to him, since he planted it, but he was willing to share.

Requiring him to give up every scrap of grain from his field to distribute it equally among the whole town would have been Marx’s solution, but requiring him to leave a little behind was God’s solution (Lev. 23:22).

Exactly how the principle of protecting the poor should be translated into legislation and cultural practices today is a separate question—one I’m not prepared to address here. Some incentives already exist (e.g., tax breaks for charitable donations). I’m merely pointing out that Christians who express concern about the disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” should not be labeled Marxists by other Christians on that criterion alone.

And if the term “social justice” is sometimes co-opted by Marxists, rejecting the concept outright robs Christians of the chance to become part of the conversation regarding its definition and application. It is a fluid concept right now, and using the term in a way that validates biblical principles of justice can help shape the way in which the cultural conversation develops.

Backing out of the conversation, on the other hand, involves relinquishing the chance to have what could be an important, positive influence.

Argument #3: The Black Lives Matter movement is Marxist and supportive of the LGBTQ community’s attempts to criminalize traditional, biblical views of sexuality.

Response: The official Black Lives Matter movement, started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, is indeed built on a Marxist foundation and deeply involved with LGBTQ agendas. I took an entire doctoral-level cultural studies course on the Black Lives Matter movement, so I’m very aware of these connections.

However, as the course in question also involved a study of Twitter campaigns and hashtags (yes, people study Twitter in academia these days), I became just as aware that most people who use the #blacklivesmatter hashtag have no connection to the movement proper.

The hashtag itself speaks a truth, and people who hold up a sign at a protest proclaiming that truth are not necessarily involved with or even aware of the tenets of the movement proper. Conversations surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests should not assume that the slogan is owned by the movement (nor should the movement itself try to “own” all those who use the hashtag or the slogan).

I also believe that if Christians fail to become involved in promoting the truth behind the slogan, we are lending credence to the Marxist claim that Christianity exists merely to perpetuate the injustices it (Marxism) seeks to correct.

I think many of my fellow believers would be surprised how many people in my field are disgusted by our faith not because they believe we hold outdated ideas about God (though that’s a common belief as well) but because we’ve failed, so many times throughout history, to stand up for the oppressed.

My response to that disgust is that they’re not wrong about Christians having done the wrong thing at many times throughout history but that, when Christians have done the wrong thing, we’ve been acting in a way inconsistent with the tenets of our own faith. Because I believe that even Christians struggle with sin, I’m not surprised when I study history and read about my brothers and sisters having massive blind spots and acting accordingly (it makes me wonder what my own massive blind spots are).

But I do believe that those blind spots are just that—blind spots, areas in which they failed to see the truths of Scripture or understand how to apply them. When I see atrocities perpetrated by Lenin, Stalin, or Mao, however, I see the source of those atrocities built into their own philosophy and its assumption that creating a virtual paradise (a classless society) is possible and therefore worth achieving no matter what the cost.

Also, for the record, those in the LGBTQ community are highly sensitive that they not be left out of conversations involving justice for other marginalized groups. While I hold to a traditional, biblical view of sexuality that would offend many in the LGBTQ community, I do believe it is important that they be treated like the human beings they are, and I am willing to listen to them even if I will not agree with all of their claims.

There is a real fear among members of the LGBTQ community that they will suffer violence and dehumanization from others (and instances of such violence are well-documented).

As human beings, they deserve protection from those threats. Conversations over the distinction between disagreement and dehumanization are difficult because they involve questions regarding identity categories, but I hope and pray that such conversations can still happen.

Argument #4: The concept of “white privilege” is unjust because it blames white people today for atrocities, such as slavery or segregation, that were set up generations ago and that they had no hand in creating. It also suggests that white people today should feel guilty for racism even if they are not racists themselves.

Response: Some people probably do use the term “white privilege” in this way (the conversation is developing at such a rapid pace that such terminology is developing new shades of meaning at an accelerated rate). However, the term is helpful in describing a real phenomenon—one that I’ve personally witnessed taking place. Bear with me, and I’ll define it first, then share a personal story to illustrate what I mean.

“White privilege” refers to the phenomenon in which white people receive certain societal benefits that they did not earn—benefits they receive by default simply for being white.

To be clear, I do not feel guilty for being born white. I was created that way, and it’s no more a sin to be born white than it is to be born a member of any other race.

However, I do recognize that some people—and some institutions—will respond to me differently because I am white. I do not, for example, get followed around department stores by loss-prevention officers because I look like “the kind of person who might steal something.” My Black friends do have that happen to them.

This is where the term “privilege” gets sticky, because it can be understood to mean I have a benefit that I shouldn’t have—i.e., that we should both be followed around the store. Actually, however, what I’m receiving is the benefit of the doubt—the default assumption that I’m going to be honest until I do or say something to undermine that assumption.

What the concept of privilege actually suggests is that we should both get the benefit of the doubt. It is not a privilege because I shouldn’t have it; it is a privilege because I have it and other people just as honest as I am do not have it. The term, in this context, calls attention to an unjust and illogical disparity in expectations.

Now, how should I respond? Should I feel guilty for the racism informing the tendencies of loss-prevention officers to target customers other than me for surveillance?

I shouldn’t feel the guilt of being individually culpable for what other people do. After all, I didn’t ask the loss-prevention officers to follow other people around. However, I should feel guilty if I recognize the larger problem at work here—both individual and systemic racism—and do nothing about it.

I can’t fix it single-handedly, but I can speak up. I can vote. I can teach texts in my classroom that confront these issues. I can say something when a white friend tells a racist joke. I can listen to my friends of color when they share their experiences and allow myself to be guided by their insight. If I don’t, I’m part of the problem and share the guilt of perpetuating it (even though I didn’t personally cause it).

I might also feel other emotions, such as anger, which is a proper response to injustice. This is, in fact, exactly what I felt when I visited the local social security office to get an updated card after my wedding thirteen years ago.

My sister, a Korean-American adopted at three-months-old and naturalized as an American citizen in early childhood, had gotten married to her husband in the same ceremony. She, being more on top of things than I was, had already gone to the office to get her card. She had taken the required documents listed on the website—birth certificate, current social security card, a photo ID, etc. When she arrived at the office and showed her papers, however, they demanded more: they wanted to see other papers, records, etc. that were not officially required when she already had a valid social security card.

I remember them demanding that she make several trips to their office—I even remember hearing that they wanted to make her take a test in American history (because all real Americans apparently know their history so well). Finally, she got the card.

Having heard about all the hoops they had made her jump through, I was nervous about going to get my card. I double-checked that I had everything—birth certificate, social security card, photo ID, etc.

When I got to the window, I handed over my current card and said I was there to get an updated card with my new name. The woman behind the counter handed it to me without even asking to see my driver’s license.

When I got back to my car, I called my sister and ranted about what racist jerks ran the social security office and how outraged I was on her behalf. I probably felt a little self-righteous, if I’m honest, for my outrage, and I do believe I was right to feel the outrage. I shouldn’t have felt so righteous, though.

A more righteous person would have walked back inside and asked to speak to the employee’s supervisor. Maybe I wasn’t a racist, but I didn’t do anything to challenge racism when it hit me in the face, and so, notwithstanding my righteous anger, I failed to do the right thing because I don’t like confrontations.

I hope and pray that, given the injustices on national news these days, I will do the right thing the next time I get a chance to. It’s why I’m writing this essay-length note, knowing full well that my Marxist friends (if they take the time to read it) will not appreciate my objections to their philosophy and that some of my Christian friends (if they take the time to read it) will see me as selling out.

I want to do the right thing this time, though, and so I’m doing my best to add to a difficult conversation. I welcome any and all honest responses, whether they agree with me or not. There are important questions being raised about issues that directly and/or indirectly affect my brothers and sisters in Christ—and my friends of other faiths and no faith who share similar concerns about justice.

So I’ll end my long reflections by saying, on or off social media, let’s talk.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2020, 10:52:11 am »


How a Reformed Facebook Group’s Private Comments Turned Into a Public Dispute

The social media saga involving Aimee Byrd and Genevan Commons calls for discipline, justice, and restoration beyond “cancel culture.”

In an era when swift social media reactions and public repudiations offer an instantaneous form of rebuke and discipline, what role does the church have in holding its leaders and members accountable for online speech?

Aimee Byrd has found herself at the center of this question. The author of Why Can’t We Be Friends?, Byrd has come under fire from some within her Reformed theological tradition for her latest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The fight has largely played out on blogs and in private online discussions, but also has Byrd and her critics each calling for Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) sessions (church elders) to take action.

Two weeks ago, screenshots from a private Facebook group called Genevan Commons were posted on an anonymous website that describes itself as an “archive of reviling, cyberbullying, harassment, sexism, and racism among church officers and laypeople.”

Byrd’s supporters have challenged the harsh comments within the Facebook group’s threads, including remarks that address her motives, appearance, and relationship with her husband. They’ve asked whether the leaders responsible will be held accountable for the remarks.

“We are greatly concerned that officers of the church, who have sworn to be accountable to ‘their brethren in the Lord’ would attempt to hide behind a group that pledges itself to secrecy, as if ‘locker room talk’ could somehow be exempted from the accountability of the church on the basis of an alleged right to privacy,” read a statement signed by several dozen OPC pastors and elders.

Byrd was well known for blogging as “The Housewife Theologian” at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and for co-hosting the Mortification of Spin podcast with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. The Alliance ended its years-long partnership with Byrd earlier this month after she declined to answer questions related to her latest book.

While Genevan Commons represents a small sliver of the Reformed corner of the Christian internet, believers across traditions have followed Byrd’s saga as a case of online chatter turned ugly.

In the quick back-and-forths in posts and comments, arguments over competing doctrine can easily collapse into character assassination and unbiblical speech, said Daniel Darling, author of A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good.

“I think a lot of pastors and leaders forget that when they’re online, they’re in public,” said Darling, vice president for communication at National Religious Broadcasters.

Joe Thorn, a pastor and podcaster based in Illinois, said pastors whose discussions and ministry extend online need to become fluent in apologizing for their mistakes. He told CT he’s seen too many fellow pastors respond to online criticism by defending their own stances and growing more convinced of their own righteousness.

Thorn himself has had to apologize, publicly and privately, for things he’s said online. “My life is accountable to the elders and congregation of Redeemer Fellowship,” he said—and that includes the comments he makes on his social media accounts and as co-host of the Doctrine and Devotion podcast.

In Byrd’s case, most of her fiercest critics are OPC pastors and elders. The denomination is relatively small, with about 300 congregations across the US and Canada. As a member, Byrd pledges to submit to the governance of her congregation and “heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life.”

So far, her leaders have not subjected her to church discipline over her books or blog posts, which she says are in line with the confessions of her faith.

But that hasn’t stopped her critics. When members of the Genevan Commons found Byrd’s accountability lacking, they wrote blog posts with specifics about how to oppose what they described as Byrd’s feminism. Byrd told CT that her detractors called ahead to at least one of her speaking engagements to inform the retreat center of concerns over Byrd’s teachings.

Group leaders have defended their remarks and the Genevan Commons group.

“The idea that I’ve tried to create a place where we are unaccountable is foolish,” wrote Shane Anderson on The Daily Genevan in April. “In life many discussions are considered appropriately private, and yet the Christian ought to know he can be brought to account both by church discipline now and on the day of judgment before Christ. I have no problem with that, and they should stop pretending that I have some secret, hidden agenda or actions.”

The anonymous website GCScreenshots featured not only the Facebook group’s remarks against Byrd and other Reformed women, but also a list of the hundreds of Facebook users who belonged to the group, including the church affiliations of the pastors and elders who were members.

Todd Pruitt, who has publicly defended Byrd, lamented that the hundreds of users who never slandered Byrd appeared on the list of members. Both he and fellow podcast co-host Carl Trueman heard from dozens of men who belonged to the group but didn’t realize it or never commented. One pastor told Pruitt his wife’s employer was contacted over his membership in the group.

Steven Wedgeworth, a Presbyterian Church in America pastor who appeared to make crude comments in a screenshot posted by the site, alleging that the images were edited to omit context or to wrongly indicate that some of his negative comments were about Byrd.

Byrd fired back on her blog last week, disputing Wedgeworth for minimizing the group’s slanderous comments.

“I’m tired of making a case that is blatantly obvious,” wrote Byrd, referencing that multiple sources have surfaced screenshots showing similar patterns of harmful language. “Why do I have to say all this? Why am I the one defending my reputation? When will there be a conversation about qualifications for those in spiritual authority over Christ’s sheep?”

Concerned OPC elders have been working to assemble evidence of sinful speech from the group. Mark Garcia, an OPC minister and president of the Greystone Theological Institute in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, said denominational leaders had contacted him privately for advice on the best way for a presbytery to discipline those who penned the comments in question.

When Garcia saw rude messages in the Genevan Commons group, he says, he left the group and used his personal Facebook page to repudiate the sinful things others said about Byrd. (Former members say the group still exists, but it’s smaller and more tightly moderated.).

Garcia believes it’s fair to critique Byrd’s work online, but a discussion of “the ethics of her behavior, deceit, and the like” does not “belong in those contexts, in social media, or anywhere else except for the one context where the Lord has provided for her accountability: her session,” he told CT.

Garcia is continuing to pray that God will “bring swift justice, peace, and unity to his people in the ministry of his wise Spirit.” He fears the process will be hampered by allegations of slander both on the part of Byrd’s critics and her supporters.

But there’s good reason the church doesn’t match the pace of so-called cancel culture, leaders say. Within the church, the goal of discipline is restoration and growth in godliness, as opposed to in the broader culture, where the goal is punitive silencing and ostracizing.

“The wheels of Presbyterian justice move slowly. There’s wisdom in that,” said Pruitt, who recently deleted his Twitter account out of concern he was spending too much time in fruitless debates. “Sometimes in our zeal to be vindicated we can cause collateral damage that’s ungodly.”

The opportunities to speak out and offer influence also heap additional responsibility on Christian leaders. Just look at the warning of “stricter judgment” in James 3:1, followed by the instructions around taming the tongue, said Darling.

“When you speak online, people are watching. We have to weigh our words,” he said. “We forget that bearing false witness online is an actual sin.”

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2020, 11:07:49 pm »
This is sad the bullying and lying have become so easy on social media it has now reared its ugly head even amongst those that are supposed to be above it and leading us away from it.
Say each prayer as if it is your very last conversation with God and live each day as your last day to glorify God by your actions and words.”

My rule of spiritual life.  6/22/2021
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2020, 10:48:55 am »


Can We Now Agree that It’s Time to Become a Different Kind of Church?

How are the times changing? Here are four cultural realities which require a different kind of response from the church.

Times change—sometimes at a seeming snail’s pace, and other times at a breathtaking pace that’s more closely akin to that of a cheetah sprinting after a fleetfooted gazelle.

For many, on the surface at least, the last several decades have appeared to be relatively stable for church planting methodologies.

Numerous church planting leaders saw little incentive to change, and instead, insisted on plotting a future course that was eerily reminiscent to the past. Disregarding the cultural realities that are shaping the mission field, we have doubled down on a church planting idea that assumes a resident religious memory, but only to diminishing returns on our investment.

In some cases, we have learned to plant larger, but almost always to thinning evangelistic effect.

It would seem that many of us are convinced that we are still in the “church growth golden age” (circa 1985) by deploying methodologies that prioritize launching worship experiences which bake in the consumeristic value of excellence and the principal metric of attendance.

And so, we continue to send courageous church planters who heroically attempt to start new churches that are built upon an erroneous cultural assumption that there still exists a marketshare with ‘church-going credentials’ residing in most North American communities.

Ultimately, here’s the big problem.

When culture is tiltedtoward the church, we instinctively know what to do. We woo them and welcome them in with a warm and sincere greeting. Hand them a gift bag. Invite them to a meet and greet with the pastor. And get them to sign up for the new member’s class. Its muscle memory for most of us.

But what happens when the culture is tilted away from the church? What do we do when there are only social disadvantages to our evangelical ties?

Perhaps most have awakened to the reality that somehow, the ground has fundamentally shifted under our feet. We call to mind the men of Issachar who helped King David “understand the times and know what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).

How are the times changing?

Here are four cultural realities which require a different kind of response from the church:

First, there is a rapid shift from secularism to secularity.

Secularism was, and is, a good news belief system. It’s purported good news is that society functions best when rid of the oppressions of religion as it sought to create religiously neutral landscapes free from the societal perversions of religion. But secularism did not account well for the persistence of religious belief, nor the abundance of immigrants who migrated in carrying their religious beliefs with them.

In place of secular‘ism’ we find a new reality; secular‘ity’. Secularity doesn’t seek to eradicate religion; it merely sets them all (secularism included) on the buffet table of worldview options. People are left to determine for themselves which of an endless array of spiritual alternatives provide the best sense of grounding for their lives.

Second, there is a rapid shift from theoretical truth to demonstrable truth. The value of what is hypothetically true is of less worth in the minds of most today than what demonstrably actually works.

For many moderns this is a stunning reversal of the prevailing spirit in which they were raised. Modernism sought after impartial truth. In that worldview, evangelistic techniques had apologetical underpinnings that assumed that if people simply learned of the veracity of Christianity, then their spiritual conversion would naturally follow.

But the ideas implicit within postmodernism diluted this notion of truth. Words alone seemingly lack meaning, and every absolute truth claim was met with skepticism. What now seems to stir curiosity is the expediency of truth.

Does my Christian worldview actually work? If divorce rates are similar inside and outside the church, many move along to try other choices on the buffet. If personal faith doesn’t transfer into community engagement, the veracity of that faith becomes immediately suspect.

Now, more than ever, our day demands missionaries like Elijah (1 Kings 18) who can show the superiority of the one, true God over and against all competitors by the authenticating substance of their lives.

Third, there is a shift from distant pitches to relational proximity.

The previous two shifts call for the third. If the goal is to prove truth, then one merely has to articulate that truth in a compelling and convincing way. Sadly, we’re all also aware that at times these truth statements have morphed into angry shouts rather than winsome testimonies.

What’s required today is the relational proximity designed to marry a compelling gospel message with a believable gospel messenger which, integrated together, coexist as Exhibit A for the superiority of Christ. People must see that Christ is better.

This leads to a clear problem—how do onlookers see the superiority of Christ when believers are cloistered away in insulated containers, sealed and protected from possible contamination from spiritual outsiders? The answer is clear: They cannot.

Fourth, there is a rapid shift toward a deployed and decentralized church.

Some missiologists have been arguing for the necessity of such a shift for decades. What these voices have been unsuccessfully heralding for years, COVID-19 accomplished in days. God allowed the church to be locked out of its confining container and sent into world.

Never before in North America has the need been greater for believers to live as lights to the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14-15).

Now distant from church gatherings are programs, the local church must become resoundingly local in deployment. People must strive to connect with one another, love their neighbors, meet real needs, listen to hurts, and live as agents of the kingdom. But sadly, far too often a gathering-centric church is not well prepared to deploy disciples into Christ’s mission.

So, what do these changing times mean for God’s church?

Three paradigm changes become essential.

First, we need a different kind of church. Rather than a hyper-focus on the gathering, we must prioritize equipping people for a disciple-making movement. Disciple-making is the goal, not a hopeful byproduct of the gathering. By decreasing our focus on the gatherings as an end, we now have the margin to increase our effort to make disciples who live vibrantly sent lives.

Second, we need a different kind of church planter. If our focus shifts to invading the secular space with believers who model the superiority of Christ, then we need church planting teams that are within relational and credible proximity.

Such work will happen best through teams of interdependent leaders who can live out their sacred callings and unique giftings by deploying together as co-vocational teams. And the side benefit is this, we begin to develop an infinitely reproducible blueprint for new believers to pattern.

Third, we need a different level of gospel collaboration. The scorecard has shifted in ways that are hard for many to get their minds around right now. Think about how foolish the question, “How many did you have?” sounds right now.

I believe that this is for our good. Now we must think less about ourselves and more about the spiritual state of our communities. And to that end, we must work together with other churches to see that everyone has a chance to see, hear, and respond to the good news invitation of Jesus Christ.

Can we make these changes? Of course. Will we? Only time will tell.

Who will make these changes? Those who know the times and adapt with Spirit-guided wisdom.

May God multiply this camp across North America.

Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute - an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2020, 10:55:12 am »


Welcome to Christian Camps’ Weirdest, Hardest Summer

More than a hundred sites have called off their peak season, while others reduced and reimagined their staple programs.

The sounds of Christian camp are the soundtrack of my summers. Joyful shouts from the athletic fields echo across the valley in the afternoons, and voices lifted in praise roll from the chapel at dusk.

Each year, my family moves to the grounds of the 250-acre camp in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, where my husband serves as executive director. During the off-season, we long for camp and pray for the rowdy campers and staff members who will trek down the gravel lane the next summer.

Camp can be a peaceful place. But this year, many camps are eerily quiet. The ones that are open are emptier than usual. Staffers wave instead of smacking high-fives. The smells of disinfectant and hand sanitizer overpower the familiar cedar cabin scent. “Let’s go wash our hands!” is a common refrain. Like so many things in the age of coronavirus, camp is not the same.

When the pandemic shut down schools and businesses back in the spring, Seneca Hills Bible Camp and Retreat Center, where my husband works, became a food distribution site for kids to get free meals on the weekends. Other Christian sites, like Camp Cho-Yeh outside Houston, offered their cabins to health care workers who needed to isolate from their families while treating COVID-19 patients. Crescent Lake Bible Camp in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, was among the locations that replaced spring break camps with childcare programs for frontline workers.

Like most businesses and ministries across the country, Christian camps felt the economic halt right away. Church retreats and events were called off in March, April, and May due to bans on mass gatherings across the states. Before long, camps were forced to grapple with the unimaginable: no summer camp.

By May’s end, more than 100 Christian camps had announced cancellations. Most of the rest made dramatic changes to summer programming. Summer camp can represent half of a camp’s annual revenue or more, so skipping it for a year comes as a massive financial blow.

Dan Busby, president emeritus of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, predicted camps and conferences would be among the ministry sectors hit hardest by the shutdowns because of their seasonality. Camps owned by a single church or regional church body can barely hold on from month to month.

In March, Vanderkamp Center, an ecumenical campsite in upstate New York, announced it would be shutting down for good after 55 years of ministry, citing faltering finances and the COVID-19 pandemic. LifeWay Christian Resources canceled 311 camps and events scheduled for this summer. It announced plans to sell the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, which called off its traditional two-week camp sessions and postponed the rest of its programming (like sessions for families).

Industry experts predict that summer 2020 is only the beginning, and the coronavirus crisis is going to hamper enrollment for years to come. With families unable to afford the cost or afraid to send their kids into close quarters where viruses can spread quickly, Christian camps aren’t just asking whether they can survive one year with no camp or fewer campers—they’re looking at perhaps two or three years below the capacity they’re used to.

Camp after quarantine
Camp directors and staff will tell you it’s not the financial pressure but the campers themselves who inspire them to keep camp going somehow. They see camp as a crucial place to train the next generation of Christian leaders—a gospel-infused, community-centered environment away from screens and school pressures.

Camp staff know firsthand that the concentrated fellowship time in the cabins and on the grounds stands to bear gospel fruit in young believers.

“After COVID-19, we will see a groundswell of support for this distinctive ministry,” said Gregg Hunter, president of the Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA). “People will be hungry for a new experience, and I believe their souls will need feeding.”

Experts agree.

“We have to be prepared that there will be long-term impacts on the psyches of these young people,” said Jacob Sorenson, a researcher and consultant specializing in Christian summer camps. “They need places of healing when this is done, and camp can be one of those places.”

But the pandemic isn’t over, and this year, many camps decided to do the unthinkable. They called off summer offerings, some for the first time ever. Others opted to transfer activities to the virtual realm they’d otherwise encourage campers to escape.

The future of Christian camps may depend on how ministries respond to this crisis. Camps stake everything on trust. Many of the CCCA’s 870 members built their reputations on growing the faith of young campers over decades of ministry, establishing relationships with churches, and serving families across multiple generations.

Over the years, camps have reassured parents that their children will be spiritually nurtured and kept safe as they swim, climb, and play. In recent years, they have emphasized that staff members are background-checked and trained to protect campers from abuse. And now, camps must meet the challenge of keeping participants safe from the coronavirus—whether that means taking new precautions or canceling camp for a season.

Camp Cho-Yeh in Texas was among the first to say it would stay closed for the summer.

“It makes me so sad to think that this place is going to sit empty over the course of the summer,” president and CEO Garret Larsen said in a video in late March.

With over 4,000 campers attending the camp each summer for Bible studies, color war competitions, rock climbing, archery, and water games, Cho-Yeh’s enrollment ranks in the top 5 percent of summer camps in the US. It brings in $4 million of its $7 million budget during summer.

Cho-Yeh was set to run out of cash in May, but a Paycheck Protection Program grant extended the camp’s resources by eight weeks. Larsen initially cut 42 of the camp’s 50 full-time staff members. Then, once Texas lifted its mandatory 14-day self-quarantine rule for travelers, the camp opted to move forward with a shortened season—1,500 campers over five weeks instead of the typical ten.

COVID-19 represents a unique threat to the camping landscape. From hugs and high-fives to team-building activities and cabin bunk beds, camp and social distancing do not mix. In 2009, swine flu loomed over summer plans but was manageable: The H1N1 virus could be treated with antiviral drugs, and patients needed to be quarantined only until they had been fever free for 24 hours. But the new coronavirus has been harder to track and contain, due to a longer incubation period.

Camps that serve medically vulnerable populations or that meet on college campuses had to cancel in-person summer camp, according to the American Camp Association.

Certain state restrictions, such as in Arkansas, mandated that camps stay closed through May, when they would typically be training staff to prepare for campers in June, July, and August.

Most camps tried to minimize risks by cutting programs and amping up health precautions. Cho-Yeh developed a cohort model for keeping campers in smaller groups, shortened sessions to give more time to clean in between, and adopted protocol for isolating kids who show COVID-19 symptoms.

SAMBICA in Bellevue, Washington, did away with camp-wide gatherings and overnight camps and restricted enrollment to county residents.

Forest Home Christian Camps in California had a plan in place—screening for sick campers, upgrading air filters, providing hand sanitizer, and isolating the sick—but in the end, its Mill Creek Canyon site had to call off this summer’s camps and retreats. “Given the close community experience of camp with large group gatherings, group dining, team competitions, and shared lodging, we did not see a practical way to operate camp safely,” it stated.

Word of Life Youth and Family Camps, one of the biggest Christian camps in the country, canceled summer camp and fall retreats at its home campus in the Adirondacks.

Like many camp ministries shifting plans, the camp asked participants to consider registering for a 2021 session or even donating their deposit rather than requesting a refund. “As you can imagine, this situation has significant stewardship challenges and any gift would be much appreciated,” the New York–based camp wrote. “We need your support and contributions in order to sustain our current operations and to continue sharing the gospel with this generation and generations to come.”

Groups that had registered for LifeWay’s 96 FUGE camps were given the option to transfer their deposits to a 2021 session or accept a 50 percent refund and 50 percent LifeWay credit.

Other camps are asking for additional donations to see them through the uncertainty that will extend well beyond the lifting of public-gathering bans. Cho-Yeh’s Larsen suspects that after canceling some 2020 sessions, enrollment in 2021 will not return to pre-pandemic levels.

Camp as spiritual formation
Christian camp is a special place for folks like me. Year after year, I get to watch shy campers slowly open up. I see counselors’ beaming faces as they describe campers praying to receive Jesus as their Savior. I watch my own sons’ sense of adventure, confidence, and faith grow as they play and help during our summers spent at Seneca Hills.

Camp is also a special place for the Christians who were those shy campers and new believers, who trace the pivotal moments in their spiritual journeys to cabins in the woods.

“The typical camp experience, when done well, is a quantum leap forward for people’s faith formation,” said Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.

“My hope and prayer is that camps, youth leaders, churches, and youth ministries will pray and come up with some creative options.”

Research indicates that there’s something particularly effective about the setting as a tool for spiritual growth.

Sorenson, the camping consultant, found that two months after attending camp, 96 percent of campers reported that camp helped them grow in their faith, and 94 percent reported growing in their knowledge of God. His research also shows that attending a Christian summer camp correlates with a lasting increase in self-confidence, commitment to personal devotions, church attendance, faith conversations and practices in the home, and understanding of faith’s relevance to life (Sorenson calls this “horizontal faith”).

Other research has been more mixed, with a study in the journal Leisure/Loisir finding that the initial spiritual high after summer camp can fade over time.

One of Sorenson’s biggest takeaways, though, matches the goals of camps that focus on getting kids to unplug and play together: Young people admitted that camp freed them from electronics and social media.

As Christian camps increasingly compete with more options for kids’ summer schedules—including sports training and school activities—they have positioned themselves as a uniquely outdoorsy, incarnational, and community-driven option. In an era when teens and children have less contact with creation, camp provides an ideal location to encounter God and build friendships with each other without the distractions of school and smartphones.

But this year, many camps that couldn’t count on holding in-person activities over the summer opted to try to offer online programs rather than cancel summer activities altogether.

“In a lot of ways, it’s the antithesis of what camp is for us,” said Kellie von Borstel, camp director of Montlure, a Presbyterian church camp in Arizona. “We’re doing this because we don’t want to cancel summer camp.”

Montlure decided to offer virtual camp after calling off its overnight and day camp programs for the summer. It is using a virtual camp portal through the Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center Association, where campers can log in to participate in each day’s camp activities: craft how-tos, hiking videos, and online Bible studies.

While virtual camp is better than no camp, many kids were weary of Zoom by summer. When surveyed in the spring, less than a quarter of families were interested in enrolling in online camp.

Camps like SAMBICA in Washington offered “Camp in a Box” for elementary schoolers who couldn’t attend in person this year, with art supplies and camp swag, plus interactive videos.

To some outsiders, the efforts to pivot or offer camp activities in the midst of a pandemic may seem a bit much. What’s one year, after all? But for those of us in the camp community, our prayer is always that this summer would be the one that changes lives, that we would witness the undeniable work of God among us in our staff and campers.

Camp doesn’t just have the potential to change the lives of the kids who attend, but it impacts their families for generations to come. I think of the story of Caleb and Luke Fugate, brothers who each worked at Seneca Hills for six summers and now serve in pastoral and youth ministry. Members of the Fugate clan have camped and worked at Seneca Hills for three generations, but only because Caleb and Luke’s Uncle John accepted Christ there as an 11-year-old camper and returned home to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to share the gospel with his parents and siblings.

Those kinds of stories still happen. In Johns Creek, Georgia, 1,000 families find Perimeter Church each year through Perimeter’s Camp All-American. Roughly 40 percent of the camp’s families have no prior church affiliation.

So whether through an abbreviated session, an online rally, or a socially distanced campfire, we entered the summer with the expectation that God would be at work as he always is, and that he would provide the financial backing to get us through this difficult season and the ones that lie ahead.

Megan Fowler is a contributing writer for Christianity Today.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2020, 10:59:46 am »


A ‘Sober Curious’ Quarantine Broke My Christian Perfectionism

While researching young adult ministry, I discovered the younger generation had something to teach me about my approach to alcohol.

She couldn’t have been younger than 65. Fit, trim, close-cropped silver hair, loading her third case of wine into her Costco cart. The man next to her laughed and said, “You’re going to ride this out in style, eh?”

She smiled. It was just days before Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued stay-at-home orders.

It seems that she was not alone. Health officials issued warnings about drinking during quarantine, citing the 55 percent increase in alcohol sales in the week ending on March 21. Other reports indicate that online alcohol sales jumped more than 243 percent during the pandemic. Coronavirus-induced drinking memes swept across the internet, showcasing a nation’s coping mechanism for times of crisis.

But the pandemic has also coincided with a growing number of Americans rethinking their relationship with alcohol. Though far less meme-worthy, the “sober curious” movement has taken off recently, prompting people to make intentional choices about what, why, and how often they drink.

Named after the book Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington, it’s gaining popularity among young millennials and older Gen Zers who are looking for a healthier lifestyle. There are now “nonalcoholic spirits” that are soaring in sales, thousands joining groups to promote “sobriety as a lifestyle,” and even bars that offer a wide range of mocktails or cater specifically to people who are sober curious or in recovery.

No longer is sobriety seen as just the last resort for people whose lives are falling apart. Many in the sober curious set would not label themselves as traditional alcoholics, but they do wonder if their drinking is a problem and recognize the benefits of ditching the booze.

Over the years, I’d asked myself the same kinds of questions. When my children were toddlers, and the gray Michigan winter days blurred into one long Groundhog Day, I caught myself anxiously watching the clock for 5 p.m. when I could open up a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

I started wondering if that extra glass was really necessary, and if things would be easier if I didn’t have to fight the morning mental fog leftover from the wine the night before. Would life be better without alcohol? And more to the point: Did I like the release brought on by my glass of wine just a little too much?

I didn’t identify with the term alcoholic because, to be honest, my drinking didn’t look different from my friends—Christians who, like I did, devoted their life in some way to promoting the gospel message. After all, I reasoned with my inner doubts, I wasn’t living in the gutter! I had two advanced degrees, a nice home, steady work, two strong, confident daughters, and a healthy marriage. What was the problem?

It wasn’t until I discovered the sober curious movement that I found the language for it.

During the pandemic, I attended 30 online recovery groups for alcoholics in 30 days. The first thing I learned was that the people in these groups weren’t the people I imagined them to be: struggling for work, struggling in relationships. Instead, the women were especially high achieving. They were doctors, lawyers, marathon runners, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. In their life before, they drank to manage their extraordinary responsibilities. To my utter shock, their stories did not sound any different from mine.

But there was another lesson I learned. It was one of those lessons that upends everything, that gets in the roots and the cracks of your character, that digs out the deep-rooted weed sown into your soul long ago. I realized that the very skills that helped me survive a dysfunctional home—perfectionism, overachievement—were killing me as an adult. And I had to let go. I had to change.

Some Christians fall into a cycle of perfectionism and achievement and ultimately dejection when they fail to live up to impossible standards because they believe God will not accept them any other way. I cycled because I believed tectonic plates would shift if I wasn’t perfect.

If you had asked me, I would have told you, “Of course, I know the world won’t fall apart if I’m not perfect.” I knew it, but I didn’t know it the way I know I love my daughters. God did not require, expect, or even ask me for perfection. He never had. But those meetings helped me see how much I stood upon my own perfectionism. Being at those recovery meetings cracked the ground beneath me and forced me to stand back on the solid ground of my faith.

As a researcher at Denver Seminary who studies ministry to young adults, I had read studies on addiction and virtue and heard of young adults asking: Why isn’t the church more like recovery groups?

Indeed, people who populated these meetings demonstrated more vulnerability than I have seen in any church group. Perhaps because you’re known the second you step in the door. And because you’re known, you know you don’t have to hide your pain and failures behind a façade or a smiling face. The people in recovery groups have already met their worst selves. The world can be a brutal place, and they are not afraid to say it.

As a sober curious person who has turned down more than a few drinks at Christian events, it’s occurred to me that alcohol is the only drug you have to explain not using. Embarrassed, I’ve whispered to bartenders more than once at open bars, “Just a ginger ale please.” Not imbibing at Christian events sometimes raises eyebrows and other times stokes jokes about whether or not you are a “fundie”—a fundamentalist who judgmentally looks down on drinking. (When did non-imbibing become something you have to explain around Christians?)

Paul references our call to “not treat with contempt” those whose faith leads them to not indulge (Rom. 14). Perhaps in America today, that means not assuming all of us who are “free” to drink will choose to, and not second-guessing those who pass on alcohol for a range of reasons.

Because of my work in young adult ministry, I also see the sober curious movement as an example of how the younger generations can lead the older. They’ve been willing to rethink categories and overcome the stigma to embrace a life sans alcohol, or with a lot less of it. And the research is backing up their instincts that sobriety really is the healthiest option.

On June 9, the American Cancer Society, in a major move, issued new guidelines on the consumption of alcohol and cancer risk. It recommends not one, not two drinks per day for optimal health, but none. Not drinking alcohol is the third most important thing you can do to decrease your risk of cancer, just behind not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, studies show that mental health is affected even among moderate drinkers.

Going without still is not always the easy choice. Sometimes, nothing sounds better than sitting in my backyard as the sun sets over the Rockies with a charcuterie board and chilled glass of Pinot Grigio. But I know that in forgoing that, I will go to bed and wake up with peace and mental clarity to face my day. I will enjoy a deep connectedness with God and my family. Most of all, I will experience life unblunted. I will walk through valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death, without the aid of alcohol to number the pain. And I will summit mountaintops, joys unnumbered, living in high definition.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2020, 04:50:18 pm »


Churches, Coronavirus, and the New York Times

Describing churches as a "major source of Coronavirus cases" is odd, since that's not even the case their own article makes.

The New York Times just published an article with this headline: "Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases."

Headlines are chosen by editors, and don’t always tell the whole story, of course.

However, the lede continues: "The virus has infiltrated Sunday services, church meetings and youth camps. More than 650 cases have been linked to reopened religious facilities."

As someone who has strongly advocated for churches to take COVID seriously, and whose church is not yet meeting, this article seems to tell a different story than its title.

For example, they report:

More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.
That’s 650 since the beginning of the pandemic. There are now 3 million people infected.

Furthermore, there were 60,000 cases each of the past two days in America. That's almost 100 times the 650 case that the NYT reports in churches for since the beginning of the pandemic.

Let me unpack some of the obvious issues with the article.

First, churches have cooperated.

Churches have been remarkable partners in the fight again the coronavirus, with the vast majority closing their gatherings all around the country. Yes, there have been a few outliers, but their paucity demonstrates the cooperation of churches with officials throughout this pandemic.

Churches have overwhelmingly been partners with health authorities and have carefully taken each small step.

Second, hyperbole helps no one.

It is strange (at best) to use words like “major” and “erupted” when describing 650 cases. (You could easily write an article with the headline, “Of the 3 million cases, only 650 connected to churches.”)

On that point, the headline is misleading. Having 650 cases in my county might be news, but 650 nationally out of three million cases is a headline looking for a story. The real story is this: churches are gathering and remarkably few infections are taking place.

Third, the article understates the obvious.

In fact, it buries something quite essential: “... some of the recent cases appear to have occurred in churches that did not require masks or keep members apart.” For example, 236 cases in Oregon were linked to one church in that state. The church, Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City, was apparently not following protocols:

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that a deleted video from the church’s Facebook page showed “hundreds of worshipers singing, dancing, and jumping around” at a May 24 service despite the governor’s orders restricting gatherings

This one church out of 300,000 in the country accounted for about one-third of the total in the NY Times article.

To be clear, every case matters—every life matters. But making churches out to be the problem does not come from the data.

It is worth saying again that I’ve been one of the most cautious. I hosted an early Facebook Live viewed by almost 200,000 churches urging churches to take the crisis more seriously. My church is not gathering. I’ve cautioned churches not to rush to do so.

Furthermore, church IS a riskier activity. It is indoors. There are a lot of people. That’s why we need to take this seriously, and so many churches are.

And that’s the story that got missed.

Fourth, this kind of article causes people to dismiss important information.

I’m a subscriber to the New York Times. Good journalism matters.

And, good journalism needs context. There are over 300,000 churches in the United States, the overwhelming majority who are doing amazing in their COVID response.

This article illustrates why the Knight Foundation and Gallup found in a 2018 poll that American's trust toward the media continues to decline. Most adults have lost trust in the media. Articles like this won't help in rebuilding trust.

Don't misunderstand; gathering is risky, and proper protocols need to be followed. But, churches are doing so. Pastors care for their people and have represented the balance between gathering and safety overwhelmingly well.

The picture used for the NYTimes article is from a Calvary Chapel. The Calvary Chapel I visited on Sunday is more representative of their network of churches in particular and most churches in general. They literally have cones between every car, clearly defined zones, health and cleaning teams, and more. They are following the rules and observing proper protocols.

Will there be an outbreak at a church that follows the rules? Yes. Just like there will be at colleges that meet this fall, and at Amazon warehouses, big box stores, and at workplaces. That’s why we need to continue to be careful.

However, articles like this create a false narrative concerning churches and places of worship, convince people that their reporting on religion can’t be believed, and enflame rather than inform.

Finally, this article simply misses the point.

It provides the opposite of its headline. A few churches have made some bad decisions and this has led to community spread. However, even in these cases, your chance of catching the virus at church is—based on the data—remarkably low.

And, if you make wise choices, it is even lower.

We all recognize the difficulties we face today, whether we are talking about churches, workplaces, schools, or sports. Inflammatory articles like this help no one but may instead cause undo harm both to the subject and to the source.

The New York Times is a place for serious journalism, and much of this story is good work— the quotes, the personal stories, and more. However, it frames the story in a way that is unhelpful and ultimately misleading. And, the New York Times needs to take churches, and their work to protect their own people, more seriously.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article and have updated it.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2020, 12:36:16 am »
I got from this is that no matter the media source, take time to check everything as everything has an agenda anymore.  This just reinforced it and makes me sad to see it is oozing its insidious self into religion.
Say each prayer as if it is your very last conversation with God and live each day as your last day to glorify God by your actions and words.”

My rule of spiritual life.  6/22/2021
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2020, 07:20:16 pm »


Why ‘Ditch the Deli Meat’ and Other Prohibitions Miss the Point of Pregnancy

Childbearing is too often defined by restrictions against vice instead of invitations to virtue.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I looked for books to tell me what it all meant. I wanted to know how I should understand the strange situation of having a whole other mysterious person folded up inside my middle. Surely I had entered into a special spiritual category. When I made choices about what to do, I was taking another person’s safety into account. And when I prayed, two of us were already gathered, so Jesus must have been present with us.

In addition to asking big questions, I was also following guidelines, as American women have grown accustomed to doing in pregnancy. I was watching my diet, avoiding medicines and household chemicals, walking carefully, taking vitamins, and drinking tankards of water. The implication of prenatal instructions was that following them to the letter would ensure a healthy baby.

Of course, prenatal good behavior doesn’t guarantee a healthy baby. But if not, what is the point of doing all this stuff? Pregnant mom rules are focused almost entirely on vice and the avoidance of it. Women who are “with child” are warned away from drugs and strong drink, deli meats and soft cheese, acne lotions and champagne toasts. Even resting has rules. We’re told which side of the body is best to sleep on.

These prohibitions matter, of course, but they also blind us to the bigger picture. We call out the vices of childbearing without having any notion of what the virtues might be. Applying the framework of virtue to pregnancy isn’t necessary for persuading a woman to do good on behalf of a child—she’s already doing that—but rather for naming this good.

To be sure, talking about virtues alongside pregnancy requires caution. Pregnancy itself is most certainly not a virtue; it only gives opportunity for the practice of it. Nor should we equate female flourishing and female virtue with motherhood. At its best, the concept of prenatal virtue defeats some assumptions that are left over from antique ways of thinking about pregnancy. By focusing on actions, we affirm childbearing as more than passive waiting. And by noting how these positive choices (not just negative ones) shape character, we recognize that pregnancy is a sphere of astonishing moral action.

When we fail to think about prenatal nurture in terms of what is true, noble, and lovely (Phil. 4:8), we leave unsung a glorious aspect of our embodied creation. Those who believe that God knits together babies in secret (Ps. 139:13) but have nothing to say about women’s prenatal acts miss a chance to proclaim this splendor.

What, exactly, do virtues look like in the context of pregnancy? By traditional count, the virtues include four “classical” or “cardinal” ones—prudence, temperance, courage, and justice—plus three “theological” ones: faith, hope, and charity. To varying degrees, these seven and more are called into service during childbearing. Hope anchors a woman when her conditions are discouraging. Temperance might well describe the many abstentions of pregnancy. Justice—giving each person what is due—is rendered in providing the dependent fetus what is needed to survive and thrive.

Nonetheless, four virtues in particular stand out.

First, prudence.
Prudence is practical wisdom, the first of the virtues and an enabler of all the others. It applies principles to contingencies. For the pregnant woman, prudence builds a bridge between fetal-development facts and the daily experience of carrying a baby to term. Mothers-to-be are given warnings that they might harm the fetus by standing too close to a microwave, listening to loud music, bathing in water that’s too warm, or eating canned tuna or brie or pineapple. In this context, prudence cuts a path between extremes of overreaction and paralysis. It also requires a great deal of discernment.

Prudence is essential for onlookers, too, as it obligates us to see things as they actually are. For millennia, men were credited with the agency of reproduction, women were seen as passive vessels, and the entire process of gestation was viewed as spiritually unremarkable. But we can apply practical wisdom to correct that appraisal. For millennia, pregnancy was cast as “waiting while doing nothing of significance.” But we can use a century’s understanding of maternal-fetal physiology to laud women’s collaboration with the creative work of God.

Second, charity.
Charity—love!—may be the virtue most obviously engaged in pregnancy. Arguably, charity starts with affirming the goodness of another person’s existence. In the words of the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, “It’s good that you exist; it’s good that you are in this world!” By offering nurture to a child in the months before birth, a woman expresses charity and says in so many words: It is good that you are, and I will help you be in this world.

Of course, this expression comes at a great cost. For a human to exist, someone else has to give, and give in ways that sometimes wound. Bringing a new person into the world can cause hemorrhoids and heartburn, tears and scars. We need a virtue framework to help make sense of this fact. In other words, the habits taken up by the pregnant woman are significant not only in making her a mom. They’re also essential to shaping the sort of person she is: a woman of great charity who follows in the footsteps of Christ, both in terms of her love and sacrifice.

Next, hospitality (a subsidiary virtue).
The parallels between pregnancy and hosting a houseguest are irresistible. When a guest comes to stay in our home, we might move furniture, prepare a room or couch, change linens, adjust our plans around guests’ needs, offer special meals, and give other forms of welcome. A pregnant woman does all of those things inside the space of her own body. For some children, the room in the womb might be the best place they ever live. Even women who barely have shelter themselves—transient, homeless, or refugee women—provide comfortable housing for the babies they carry.

Scripture and Christian tradition enjoin hospitality as an important duty of the faithful. When we offer kindness to strangers, we might be entertaining angels unaware (Heb. 13:2) or even welcoming the Lord (Matt. 25:35). A childbearing woman, then, displays in her belly not only the telltale signs of a small, new person but also a sign of receptivity to relationship with others and even relationship with God.

Finally, courage.
According to some scholars, Plutarch reported that Spartan women who died in childbirth had their graves marked with a special inscription, honoring them in the same way as men who died in battle. But the courage of childbearing emerges long before the first contraction and comes in the most normal and healthy of pregnancies, not only high-risk ones. Courage entails doing what is right even at a cost to oneself. Pregnant women confront mortality—their own and their child’s—and go to great lengths to shield their baby from harm.

For women who carry an unplanned pregnancy or an unwell child, pregnancy might require an additional act of courage. And for many mothers, being pregnant includes the possibility of bearing a child who dies either through miscarriage or stillbirth. “There is no other experience, in the mix of our many human griefs, that comes close to mirroring this,” writes Union Theological Seminary president Serene Jones. “She carries death within her body ... but she does not die.”

Not every woman who gets pregnant meets this kind of grief. But openness to these griefs is built into childbearing, and that openness requires the virtue of courage.

Margaret Hammer, a Lutheran pastor and the author of Giving Birth: Reclaiming Biblical Metaphor for Pastoral Practice, wonders whether the church will “gain anything important by focusing more attention on the experience of giving birth.” Our answer must be an emphatic yes. Prenatal motherhood offers us a powerful model of virtue in action. It teaches us to care closely for each other, weigh the impact of our deeds on others, take seriously our created condition, and face our dependence on one another and on the Lord.

When we recognize the theological significance of this work, we remember that we are co-creators with God. Nowhere is that truth more manifest than in pregnancy.

Agnes R. Howard teaches humanities at Christ College, the honors college at Valparaiso University. She is the author of Showing: What Pregnancy Tells Us about Being Human.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2020, 11:10:52 am »


The Debate Beneath Our Debates on the Pandemic and the Protests

Our divided responses to national challenges reflect deep divisions on what it means to be human.

All interest in disease and death is only another expression of interest in life.” Novelist Thomas Mann penned these words long ago, and they continue to prove true in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national police protests we’re experiencing today.

These ongoing challenges present litmus tests for our beliefs about ourselves. Our answers to questions like “Should I wear a mask in public?” or “How should I respond to police brutality?” are rooted in our answers to more foundational questions, such as: What does it mean to be human? How much is a human life worth? Who are my neighbors, and what do I owe them? What is the destiny of humankind?

In other words, our divided responses to the pandemic and protests expose the fact that we’re deeply divided over the nature and purpose of humanity. Any meaningful effort to address our nation’s challenges, then, must be grounded in a deep understanding of what, who, and why we are.

It’s precisely these three categories that Joshua Farris explores in his new book, An Introduction to Theological Anthropology: Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine. A theologian and philosopher, Farris has been writing and lecturing on a host of anthropological issues for years. This latest book represents his attempt to distill these issues into a single, accessible volume that traces his answers to the what, who, and why questions.

Competing Narratives

“Humans live and die by stories,” writes Farris. He means that each of us possesses a “narrative identity” that’s made up of the stories we tell ourselves to help us make sense of ourselves and our place in this world. The question, then, is not whether we identify with some overarching narrative but which narrative it is. According to Farris, what primarily distinguishes one narrative from another is its account of human nature. That is to say, our beliefs about who we are and why we exist depend a great deal on what we believe ourselves to be.

There’s no shortage of views on human nature, and Farris does a careful and balanced job of presenting the ones that have been the most influential. Yet he devotes most of his attention to contrasting the two most pressing narratives: physicalism and substance dualism.

In each of its varieties, physicalism is the view that humans—and everything else in the universe—are made entirely of physical parts. We have no souls or minds or any other immaterial parts that contribute to making us what we are. A physicalist could say, “I am my body (or some part of my body), and my body is me.”

By contrast, substance dualism is the view that humans are made up of dual parts: a material body and an immaterial soul. Farris supports a version of substance dualism that sees humans as being identical to their souls. Fundamentally, he argues, each of us is a soul who happens to have a body. “It is not that the body is unimportant to personal identity,” he writes. Our souls are united to our bodies in such a way that they functionally depend on one another. But when our bodies die, our personal identities don’t disappear. We continue to exist as the same persons, albeit in a disembodied state. This means that, though our bodies are important to our personal identities, they’re not essential.

Creaturely Dignity
In a time of global pandemic and protests against racial violence, it would seem the last thing we need to hear is that our bodies aren’t essential to our identities. Farris would argue the exact opposite: We can’t reclaim the full dignity of our bodies without recovering the doctrine that, first and foremost, we are souls.

According to Farris, what’s at stake in the debate between physicalism and substance dualism is the permanence of human identity. Because physicalism is based on a materialistic, evolutionary view of human origins, he argues, impermanence is built into its metaphysics. If each of us is swept up in a cosmic sea of evolutionary flux, can there be any stable ground upon which to fix our personal identities? What makes you you? Your body? As it changes over time, so would your identity. Your memories? They come and go just as quickly.

By failing to establish personal identity, physicalism inevitably opens the door for private, totalizing interpretations of the self, in which people are valued or devalued based on sliding scales of physical characteristics like stage of development, sex, race, ability, and so on. In a world with such arbitrary value systems, individuals are motivated to treat their bodies (and the bodies of others) as malleable means of self-realization. In short, if personal identity has no permanent basis, neither does personal dignity.

The picture is drastically different for substance dualism, says Farris. He’s sympathetic to a modest account of biological evolution—broad enough to include the possibility that God created life on earth gradually, over a long period of time—but he argues that God brings about each person’s particular soul and thereby permanently grounds each person’s identity. Because each of us is identical to our soul, our identity remains intact regardless of the status of our bodies. In effect, substance dualism gives us a sturdy foundation upon which to claim the essential, universal, and permanent goodness of our bodies and all that they comprise: sexuality, gender, race, work, and so on.

Because this is a key benefit of substance dualism, it’s regrettable that Farris doesn’t devote more space to exploring ways that our bodies might inform our personal identities. For instance, if we’re souls, first and foremost, why is it significant that God chose to bind us to particular times and places via our bodies? Why are our immaterial and immortal souls tethered to bodies that require food, sleep, and medicine? Even when Farris addresses body issues such as sexuality and gender, he seems mainly focused on how our bodies bear the marks of the souls that belong to them.

To be fair, Farris devotes more time to body-related issues than most similar books on the subject. Careful readers can extrapolate even more from an ongoing theme he develops: that our bodies allow us to experience God sacramentally in a world where sex, gender, ethnicity, birth, and death all carry theological meaning. Still, his arguments for personal identity and personal dignity would benefit from more explicit and thorough answers to the question, “What are bodies for?”

Divine Destiny
But if Farris undersells human creatureliness, it’s because he’s intent on selling a more neglected matter: human divinity. As its subtitle suggests, the heart of Farris’ book is to defend the historic Christian view that humans are both creaturely and divine. By “divine,” Farris is referring to what’s historically been called “deification.” He doesn’t mean literally that we’re gods or parts of God. Rather, he means there’s some transcendent aspect of our being—our souls—that bears resemblance to God.

Because all humans are souls created in God’s image, we all bear some resemblance to God. Yet our sin, Farris writes, “dirties the image of God” in us, preventing us from resembling God as he intends. We’re like seeds, he says, who can only grow into mature fruit-bearing trees after we’ve been showered with the redemptive water found in Christ. By his incarnation, Christ “unites the creaturely nature of humanity with divinity.” By his resurrection, Christ makes it possible for those united in him to fulfill their destiny as humans: to see, know, imitate, and have fellowship with God in ways that mere creatures cannot. In short, we have a creaturely nature but a divine purpose that’s fulfilled in Christ.

During this time of pandemic and protests, we sorely need Farris’s reminder that we humans are both creaturely and divine. When we overemphasize our creatureliness and neglect our divine purpose, we run the risk of totalizing our bodies and reducing the gospel to our preferred set of social policies. When we overemphasize our divine purpose to the neglect of our creatureliness, we diminish our bodies and end up living as though the gospel doesn’t have extensive social implications. As Farris shows, it’s only by emphasizing that we’re both creaturely and divine—body and soul—that we can affirm the full dignity and true destiny of every person.

Politics always swims downstream from nature, so a robust understanding of the what, who, and why of our humanity must be the starting point of any meaningful proposals to fix what’s broken in our society. Farris doesn’t answer every question, and one could disagree with any number of answers he gives. But his keen understanding of the issues together with his God-glorifying vision of humanity makes his book an excellent place to begin.

Timothy Kleiser is a teacher and writer from Louisville, Kentucky. His writing has appeared in The American Conservative, Modern Age, The Boston Globe, Fathom, and elsewhere.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #11 on: July 11, 2020, 09:53:21 pm »


One on One with John Starke on Having a Deeper Prayer Life

We need a deep, hidden life for a fruitful, public life.

Ed: Why a book on prayer? Have you noticed deficiencies in how we are doing in the church in regards to prayer life?

John: We live in a performative age. “Performative individualism” is how Sophie Gilbert describes our society, where the performance of the self is more important than the reality of it. The most obvious place this shows up is in social media, where we curate our image to give the impression that we are okay and that we’re successful.

But there are also forms of performative individualism in our vocations, relationships, and even our families. Jesus warns against this in “performing your righteousness before others” in a kind of performative spirituality. The fruit of that is a culture of hyper-insecurity, a lack of self-awareness, and deep status anxiety.

We are likely all shaped by this culture in more subconscious ways than we think.

The answer to this performative life is to have a regular, hidden life with God. For many people, that’s intimidating. Oftentimes, when we hear of a “deep prayer life,” they imagine the one or two people in their church who are mature, or pastors, or folks made of different spiritual stuff.

I wrote this book because the Bible imagines prayer to be a very ordinary thing for very ordinary people. The whole first half of the book is aimed at showing that a satisfying and vibrant prayer life is for all who are in Christ.

Ed: What are some of the regular pathways and rhythms of a life of prayer?

John: After we grasp that prayer is possible for us, we learn the pathways. That’s the concern of the second half of the book, where I look at six main disciplines: communion, mediation, solitude, feasting and fasting, and corporate worship. These aren’t complex, but ordinary things.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the most transformative thing you can do is to begin to spend unhurried time with God on a regular basis for the rest of your life. What I try to show in the book is that it’s possible.

Ed: Who have you found to be key people in scripture who have modeled what our prayer life should look like? How can we model these patterns?

John: Jesus gives us a pattern of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. That’s a good place to begin. But Jesus talks quite a bit on prayer. He teaches us we ought to come to God like a father who likes to give good gifts (Matt. 7:7-11); that we ought to pray with faith (Mark 11:23-26); we ought to pray in private (Mark 12:38-40); we ought to plead to God like a persistent widow coming to a reluctant judge for justice or like a tax collector longing for mercy (Luke 18).

But the prayer book of the church is the book of Psalms. Eugene Peterson says somewhere that since the church’s beginning, Christians have learned to pray by praying the Psalms each day. The Psalms contain every human emotion.

They teach us how to pray when we are angry, desperate, joyful, depressed, afflicted, and hopeful. They teach us how to feel or what to say when our lives are falling apart or when we’ve just been delivered.

The easiest way to allow the Psalms to shape your prayer life is to read a psalm a day and ask how this psalm teaches me to talk to God.

Ed: Let’s talk about prayer during these times of Covid-19 and racial injustice. How do we press into prayer now?

John: Covid-19 has taken away a lot of the public and therefore performative elements of our lives, leaving much of it hidden, which can be strategic for our spiritual growth. It might be helpful to imagine ourselves like a seed, buried in the ground.

So much happens to a seed, when buried. It dies, as Jesus says, in John 12. But in doing so, it opens itself up to all the resources of the soil and becomes something greater than it was.

But it had to be hidden to do so. I think there’s a lot to that imagery that we haven’t been able to see and grasp until now.

With racial injustice, there’s a danger of performative justice. In other words, right now, Christians are tempted to say the right things on social media to ensure we are on the “right side” or we don’t have any work to do on ourselves.

Then, once our culture is done being concerned about it, so are we. Having right conclusions about racial injustice is one thing, but to be working against it for only as long as the culture is paying attention is worldliness. We will need something deeper than “cultural support” to be people of justice.

Justice, especially racial justice, is a long road that often takes many hidden acts of sacrifice and suffering. So much is needed that is unseen. That means we will need to know how to work and pray in hidden ways. For many of us, it’s hard to even imagine what that kind of life and work looks like. We need a deep, hidden life for a fruitful, public life.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
« Reply #12 on: July 11, 2020, 09:58:28 pm »


One on One with Jerry Root on 'The Neglected C.S. Lewis'

What readers of Lewis tend to neglect, are in fact the very books Lewis thought were his best and most important.

Ed: Many are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles and his Christian apologetics. How can you say he was neglected?

Jerry: While Lewis is a well-known author, nevertheless, very few are familiar with his academic books. Yet, these are his best books. They were born out of his professional life and his study as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature while at Oxford and later at Cambridge University. Mark Neal and I wanted to reintroduce these books to a wider public.

Ed: How important are these academic works?

Jerry: Lewis thought them very important. For example, one of the books we highlight, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, took Lewis over 15 years to write. He said that of all the other books he wrote during that time, they were, by comparison, only the ‘twiddly bits.’ That means that Lewis classified as ‘twiddly bits’ Mere Christianity, the Narnian series, his science fiction, and Screwtape Letters. What readers of Lewis tend to neglect, are in fact the very books Lewis thought were his best and most important.

Ed: Do you think some people look past his academic books because they feel too intimidated by the depth of the books?

Jerry: Perhaps. Nevertheless, Lewis was such a great writer that nobody should be intimidated by him. His prose is well reasoned and imaginatively depicted. The material is presented with such wit that even his most rigorous volumes leave the reader chuckling (and in some cases belly laughing).

To be intimidated by these books is short sighted. It is not that we lack the capacity to enjoy them; we often simply lack the discipline to stretch academically.

I think we have become slaves to social media and short sound bites. We want immediate information at our fingertips. Siri and Google have become the gurus of our day. This has contributed to academic laziness.

We lack intellectual rigor and we are often not interested in developing it. On the one hand, we feel awkward when approaching the books that were Lewis’ lifeblood. On the other hand, we forget that any new endeavor will leave us feeling awkward until a certain level of skill is developed.

In fact, if you are not awkward some place in your life, you are just not growing. The very act of reading these neglected books is itself a liberal arts education. Lewis opens more than wardrobe doors.

Furthermore, these books can increase the readers’ capacity to think, wrestle with big ideas, and grow intellectually.

Ed: Can you briefly describe some of the books included?

Jerry: One book discussed, The Discarded Image, was a lecture series on medieval literature that Lewis frequently gave at Oxford University. He introduces students to the medieval worldview preventing them from projecting their twenty-first century values onto the literature of an earlier age.

Lewis says that after the Bible, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy was the most influential book on medieval literature, and until recently a person was not considered educated if they did not know that book.

In fact, Lewis gives Boethius’ answer to the problem of foreknowledge and free will that is so simple and accessible that we wonder why did this question ever perplexed us in the first place.

Another book already mentioned is English Literature in the Sixteenth Century. To write this book, Lewis read every book written in English or translated into English in the sixteenth century.

That was the century of the Reformation. Lewis was one of the few who has ever actually read exhaustively both sides of that controversy. Consequently, his judgments are more informed, and more carefully nuanced.

Furthermore, Lewis’ The Allegory of Love, the book that launched his brilliant academic career, is another one of the eight works highlighted in The Neglected C. S. Lewis.

Ed: But, that material seems “old hat.” What benefit can there be in reading the literature of the past?

Jerry: Every generation can spot the failures of the generations that came before them but lacks the perspective that future generations will have as they judge the failures of our own day.

We cannot travel into the future and look back, but we can read the literature of the past and although they made errors different from our own it is unlikely they made the same kinds of poor judgments we have made.

The past gives us touch points of comparison and the means to evaluate our own time and maybe even correct some of its excesses.

Furthermore, in an age of polarization we would be well to familiarize ourselves with The Personal Heresy. This was a literary debate between Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard of Cambridge University. The controversy produces light not heat.

These two men knew how to argue properly. The debate contains no informal fallacies. It is a model of civil discourse so needed in our age of impatience, angry tempers, and soaring egos. This merely scratches the surface of the wisdom to be found in the books highlighted in The Neglected C. S. Lewis.

Ed: How does this material affect your work as a professor of evangelism at Wheaton College?

Jerry: Lewis once wrote, “Most of my books are evangelistic.” How could this be when he was writing literary criticism, children’s stories, adult novels, poetry, and so forth? In fact, Lewis said we do not need more books by Christians about Christianity. We need more books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.

He wanted to produce books where the Christian worldview was implied and every topic bears the sense and fragrance of Christianity. The gospel makes more sense when everything supports its truth; consequently, one gains a more robust and convincing grasp of the message.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.


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