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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020  (Read 2158 times)

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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2020, 03:54:02 am »


Where Do White Evangelicals Get Their Coronavirus News? The White House

While most agree with the response from public health officials, confidence in the Trump administration outweighs the news media.

With claims of a “plandemic” and other conspiracy theories swirling, the need to communicate accurate, trustworthy information about the coronavirus is becoming more crucial.

Leaders like Ed Stetzer have called on Christians to be discerning in what they believe and share, worried that promoting false information “can end up harming others and … hurt your witness,” as he wrote on his CT blog The Exchange.

So where are believers looking for information on the spread and risks of COVID-19? Recent survey data indicates that white evangelical Protestants’ go-to sources don’t always line up with the rest of the population.

While a majority of both evangelicals and the population overall believe public health officials have gotten a lot right in their response, evangelicals are more confident in the Trump administration’s response and less confident in the media than non-evangelicals are, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last month and provided by the Roper Center.

Evangelicals were more divided over how the media has covered the pandemic, with 60 percent saying it was covered well and 40 percent saying it was not covered well. (Among the rest of the population, the split was closer to three-quarters and one-quarter, respectively.)

Overall, white evangelicals were more likely to believe that the severity of the COVID-19 threat had been exaggerated by a range of sources.

Around two-thirds of white evangelicals said the news media had greatly or slightly exaggerated the risks posed by COVID-19. Just under half (44.5%) said the same of Democrats in Congress.

Almost two thirds of white evangelicals, though, believe that President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus has been “about right.” They are more confident in the president’s response than in any other group’s, including public health officials like those with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just 3 in 10 respondents who were not white evangelicals think that the president’s response was “about right.”

In comparison, the group that the general public thinks has “gotten it about right” is public health officials, with nearly two-thirds (63.9%) approving of their messaging. Non-evangelicals were almost twice as likely to say that the media had covered the outbreak properly (42.4%) compared to white evangelicals (23.7%).

The Trump administration was named by white evangelicals as the source they would most likely rely on as a major source of news. That was followed by national news networks and local news outlets. Public health officials were the fourth most consulted source.

For the rest of the population, national news ranked at the top, followed by public health officials and local news. Compared to non-evangelicals, white evangelicals were less likely to turn to state elected officials like governors for pandemic information.

Looked at broadly, white evangelicals express a greater skepticism of the news media than the general public. Two thirds believe that the news media has exaggerated the risk of the coronavirus. They also express less confidence in public health experts to accurately convey information about the pandemic (53.6% versus 63.9% of the rest of the population).

Politics is a factor. Since most white evangelicals align with the Republican Party, they are inclined to take a more positive view surrounding Trump and a more negative view toward sources like Democratic lawmakers and the media, which Trump frequently criticizes.

The politicization of the virus is something that public health officials were concerned about during the early stages of the outbreak. Before the current coronavirus outbreak, survey data indicated that political ideology was a bigger influence on coronavirus concerns than faith. As I wrote in mid-March: “Politically conservative Protestants who attend church frequently are far less concerned with a major epidemic. …”

If people are receiving conflicting messages and cannot agree on the severity of the coronavirus, slowing its spread and finding a cure could prove to be much more difficult.

Ryan P. Burge is an instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. His research appears on the site Religion in Public, and he tweets at @ryanburge.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2020, 03:57:15 am »


Largest Christian Radio Company Faces Financial Crisis Due to Coronavirus Downturn

Salem Media makes cuts as more churches and ministries pull spending during the pandemic.

The largest Christian radio company in the United States suffered a major financial blow as ongoing industry challenges collided with the economic impact of COVID-19.

Salem Media Group reaches an estimated 298 million weekly listeners on 3,100 stations branded as The Fish, The Answer, Faith Talk, and more. The megabroadcaster rose to dominance with a revenue model that protected it from some of the ad volatility suffered by its secular counterparts, but that hasn’t been enough in this recent downturn.

Salem’s share price has dropped from a high of about $30 in 2004 to about $6 in 2018 and to 80 cents on Monday. The company’s investment value has been downgraded to “poor quality” and “high risk” by Moody’s, a top credit ratings agency.

On Tuesday the board of directors announced that it would temporarily suspend quarterly payments of dividends to shareholders. The top executives’ salaries were cut by 10 percent.

Financial analyst Michael Kupinski, who specializes in media and entertainment companies, wrote that he expects Salem to “weather the storm,” but not without taking drastic measures. According to Kupinski, that could include “asset sales and aggressive cost cutting,” such as selling off some of the 100 stations owned by Salem or laying off some of its more than 1,400 employees.

Salem did not respond to Christianity Today’s requests for comment. In its most recent financial filing, vice president and chief financial officer Evan Masyr wrote that “it is impossible to predict the total impact that the pandemic will have on our business.”

Salem airs religious programing from teachers such as Chuck Swindoll, John MacArthur, Tony Evans, Eric Metaxas, and the late J. Vernon McGee, as well as contemporary Christian music and conservative political commentary from Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, Mike Gallagher, and Sebastian Gorka.

The business of ‘block programming’
Christian radio has long been seen as more financially stable because of its intimate relationship with listeners and a business model pioneered by Salem to sell airtime to churches and ministries to broadcast their own recordings.

Traditional radio stations make about 95 percent of their income from advertising. Christian radio companies sell spots to advertisers, but also make money from selling “block programming” to preachers who want reliable access to the airwaves.

In 2019, Salem netted $48.5 million from sales of block programing to David Jeremiah, Charles Stanley, Focus on the Family, and other major Christian ministries. The company made an additional $30.5 million from block programming sales to local churches and ministries. The same year, Salem made $16.4 million from national advertising and $51.8 million from local advertising, financial records show.

But with the economic impact of the pandemic, the company saw declines in both advertising and block programming sales. Experts expect a 40-percent decline in radio ad revenue and a drop in charitable giving that puts pressure on churches and ministries to cut back on their spending.

Salem notified shareholders that COVID-19 was going to impact profits at the end of March.

More listeners in crisis
Though revenue is down, the size of the audience has grown since the start of the pandemic. More than a quarter of Americans say they are listening to more radio because of COVID-19, according to market research from the Nielsen Corporation. In the same survey, 60 percent said they trusted radio to give them reliable information and connect them to their communities.

That’s especially true for Christian outlets, according to Jennifer Epperson, a member of the National Religious Broadcasters board of directors and chair of its radio committee.

“People need facts, but they can get fact fatigue, so they want comfort,” said Epperson, a 30-year veteran in the industry. “With the Christian radio station, you can do both.”

Salem was founded by Edward Atsinger III and Stuart Epperson (distantly and indirectly related to Jennifer Epperson). The two met at Bob Jones University and then moved to California and bought a radio station in Oxnard. The station gave them access to the Los Angeles market, the second-largest radio audience in the country.

According to a Forbes profile, Atsinger and Epperson realized that with a market that big, they wouldn’t have to pay preachers to record programs they could broadcast. Preachers would pay for access to their giant pulpit. And they could continue to produce their own programs and sell advertising too.

Salem’s reach became clear in 1988, when one LA station started calling for a protest of Martin Scorsese’s new movie, The Last Temptation of Christ, which many conservative Christians found offensive. So many people showed up at the entrance of MCA Universal Studios that the protest shut down the highway.

By the early 2000s, Salem stations reached an audience of about 100 million listeners, and they were major players in the largest markets across the country, giving Christian preachers access to loyal listeners in major metro areas. The company went public and expanded into conservative talk radio.

Salem dominated Christian radio and set industry standards. Other Christians in the industry sometimes complained about Salem’s emphasis on business and accused the company of treating nonprofit radio ministries and smaller Christian companies as rivals rather than co-laborers for the gospel. Some Christians leaders also complained about Salem’s outsized influence on evangelicals—criticizing the company for promoting right-wing politics, contemporary worship music, and self-help theology.

Challenges of media changes
The company’s share price peaked in 2004 and has been on a downward trajectory since then as the media market has evolved and radio has had to compete with podcasts, streaming music, and other new media. Salem has diversified, expanding into online content and publishing, and found ways to cut costs. In 2019, Salem brought in $265 million. The company entered 2020 expecting a slight decrease in revenue, before the market was disrupted by the pandemic.

Despite the recent downturn, the founders of Salem are investing more in the company. Financial records show that since the beginning of March, Atsinger has acquired more than 170,000 additional shares of Salem stock, and Stuart Epperson more than 300,000.

Jennifer Epperson said there is reason to be optimistic about the future of Christian radio, despite the current crisis.

“I don’t think radio is going away anytime soon,” she said. “Radio is an intensely personal medium. You can hear someone breathing with that microphone. And someone that close—that’s a friend. … As a radio host you welcome people with your tone and walk along with your listener as a friend, even through disaster and COVID. You really do life together, and that’s the beauty of radio.”

Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2020, 03:59:53 am »


When States Don't Talk with Churches about Covid Timetables, Tensions Increase

Follow up from my article for the Religion News Service.

Governors are leading the conversation about opening up now— and that’s led to mixed responses depending on the state.

In our divided time, one governor's response is considered reasoned by one news network and reckless by another. Fox News has repeatedly praised Governors Abbott of Texas and Kemp of Georgia, while CNN has valorized Governor Cuomo of New York and Governor Pritzker of Illinois.

I live and serve in Illinois, where Governor Pritzker announced on May 5 the Restore Illinois plan, dividing the state into four geographical regions. Each region must go through these five phases based on certain markers in order to be reopened completely:

Rapid Spread: What the state was in from March 21 to April 30.
Flattening: Began May 1, allow "nonessential" retail businesses to open for curbside pickup and delivery, state parks to open, among others.
Recovery: Manufacturing, offices, salons, and others with capacity restrictions; no more than 10 may gather.
Revitalization: Restaurants and bars can reopen with limitations on capacity; gatherings of 50 or fewer allowed.
Restored: The economy is fully reopened. This only happens when there is "a vaccine or highly effective treatment widely available or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period.”
While there are already questions about how the plan will impact businesses, my concern here is its impact on churches. Under this plan, no gatherings over 50 will be allowed until Phase 5, which will likely be many months or a year or more. I believe this fails to acknowledge how churches function, and (unlike how businesses are being treated) does not show the kind of partnership and communication we need right now.

It is important to note that Illinois is the outlier, both in its timetable and its lack of communication. Other states have similar, though not quite the same, struggles. (Note, Pritzker may have had some conversation with the Catholic church.)

On the other hand, some states are partnering with their churches, using percent capacity and other means to talk about an opening timetable. While no state is responding perfectly and each has unique challenges in fighting the virus, this model of partnership between churches and government officials needs to be.

Circling back to my recent Religion News Service article, I want to outline in more detail why Illinois needs to engage its churches and work on a better plan that reflects the reality of church.

Let me again be clear: I do not believe Illinois needs to open now or soon. I do believe that governors need to work with and better understand the plans churches can make-- now or soon.

Times and Spaces Rather Than a Fixed Number

We need to move forward with caution and care, particularly as this has impacted our communicates of color disproportionately. In my article, I mentioned two pastors who have similar concerns and would love to work with the governor (and, I should add, they want to also work with the mayor of Chicago).

James Meeks is a key leader in the African American community and Wilfredo de Jesus in the Latino community. Pastor Meeks shared with me this morning:

Nobody loves our church members like we do. We are capable of developing plans that protect our members. We’d like to share with the governor what our plans are-- our social distancing may be better than most places. We are not going to put our mothers, brothers, and others in harm’s way.

Recognizing the spirit in which Pastor Meeks was writing, Governor Pritzker's recent comments show a focus on group size, not spacing and mitigation, and represents the wrong approach for churches.

As I wrote about this plan:

It will not only hurt churches’ ability to survive this crisis but could also exacerbate the mental health struggles beginning to take hold across the country. Pastors are impatient to engage the increased suffering of people in the churches and in their communities. That work often involves meeting with people in person.

For Christian leaders who want to wait, it is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade them to hold tight and remain distant from those who need their help— particularly with what appears to be no communication and little understanding of how churches function.

The example I gave was Moody Church-- an outlier itself, but an easy illustration of the point. Limiting the group to 50 people in a room that seats almost 4000 makes little sense.

The issue is not a fixed number like groups of less than 50; times and spaces are the two critical metrics. Fifty people in a church that seats 50 is obviously a problem. Fifty people in a church building that seats 300—properly distanced and practicing appropriate mitigation—provides more opportunities for safety. As does 400 people in a room that seats 4000.

Many churches are more than capable of adding service times and creating safe spaces for worship. Typically, the space between pews means that skipping every other row creates a six-foot space. Marking off a space three seats (24") apart on the rows to be used will allow the spacing in terms of width, with the exception of families who can sit together.

These are not demands, but rather ideas aimed at generating discussion. But, we need to have that discussion in IL, CA, and beyond.

Keep in mind, I was among the first to argue in a national publication (March 12 in RNS as well, and before President Trump acted to shut down the country for 15 days) that we should consider not meeting when it was still a controversial question, writing,

God will bring us back together, stronger and more on mission than ever…Listen to your health department. See what your local schools do. Consider the age of your congregation. And then, decide accordingly…We love gathering in person — with feet and faces — but for now, we may best love our neighbor by gathering via electrons and avatars.

Even as some media outlets have focused on fringe churches resisting lockdowns in late March and April, the overwhelming majority of pastors have been quick to listen to medical experts. But after two months it is time to at least have a discussion about how churches can make the social distancing limitations work in a way that meets the needs of our communities.

Not tomorrow. Not next week. But not wait without end.

The Costco Comparison

The title of my RNS article was, “If Costco can reopen safely, why not Illinois churches, Gov. Pritzker?”

Anyone who has written for a publication knows that writers don’t pick the titles (although they did run it by me). Not ones to pass up the opportunity, several people online were ready to pounce: Retail is different! You are in and out! There’s no talking!

Ironically, most of the people focused on the customer experience—as if the only person in the Costco situation was the consumer. That certainly is a position of privilege, but one single person mentioned the employees. Those employees are working eight or more hours a day, interacting with dozens, if not hundreds, of customers at checkouts and in the aisles. Their opening had less to do with the nature of the industry than with its essentialness to our society.

Moreover, my point wasn’t a direct comparison, but rather the underlying mentality that went into opening Costco and other grocery stores. Recognizing their importance, government officials worked with grocery store owners, union representatives, and medical experts so that Costco could open with appropriate measures. We need to talk about how churches might do the same— with medical experts to work through the issues.

Given the unprecedented nature of this crisis and the ambiguity about the correct pathway forward, dialogue has proven a far more fruitful aim than blanket pronouncements either for or against opening.

I just think it is time for the conversation in partnership, like businesses have already have had. If Costco can make it work— for not just their shoppers, but their employees— let’s start a conversation about how churches can.

When we don’t have that partnership and conversation, we can end up like California, where 2,000 churches plan to open in defiance of the governor’s orders.

Partnership is a better way.

An Opportunity for Vision and Leadership

I don't think we can have this kind of open-ended restriction for months or years among churches without sustained discussion. Left in the dark and out of the process, some churches have already begun to push on these issues. I don’t want them to make irresponsible decisions, but I understand their frustration when they are given little hope and no voice.

Rather than putting the state at odds with churches, we hope to continue to be co-belligerents with our officials against this disease. The most successful leaders during this time are those who have been able to convey a vision of unity—one that demonstrates that we are truly in this together. As I mentioned at RNS, Pritzker has already declared churches a critical, indeed essential, component of tens of millions of Americans’ lives.

We must graciously and lovingly speak up and say that if churches have been important for 2,000 years, then they are still vital today.

I am not asking for an opening now, or an opening at an irresponsible time. I am asking for conversations with the governor aimed at a plan that reflects the reality of churches better.

I can get churches in the Zoom room with the governor and anyone he designates. Members of Congress have championed this request and we are happy to coordinate with synagogues, mosques, temples, and more. There is an opportunity here for vision and leadership—an opportunity for us to find common ground aimed at finding ways we can serve one another and our community in a culture that more often incentives division.

Illinois has a ways to go before churches can meet, but friendly conversations with public health officials about how they could make it work, along with a more realistic timeline, would be an encouraging step.

Even that coordinated timeline can change as we follow the science, knowing that the disease is ultimately setting the timetable. However, the lack of a plan that takes into account the unique characteristics of churches—from size to questions of singing and much more— does not create the kind of partnership we will need to beat this disease.

Governors can do better. Churches care for their people and can work with the government to look at safe timing and safe practices so that, if and when that time comes, people are protected and congregations continue their good work.

It’s not the time to open in Illinois or in many other states, but it is time for governors to talk to churches and strategize together on the metrics and the times when we can.

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.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #16 on: May 17, 2020, 10:15:20 pm »


Despite Bad News, Evangelical Philosophy Is Flourishing

And that’s good news, because it helps us pursue goodness, truth, and beauty.

Philosophy is vital for Christians today. It equips us to love God with our hearts and minds. It teaches us to think well and cultivate Christian character. It helps us to understand the history of the faith and the development of foundational doctrines, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. And it enables us to engage the culture.

As C. S. Lewis put it, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” I would add that good philosophy must also exist to help us to pursue goodness, truth, and beauty, which are all grounded in the nature of our great God.

My experience studying philosophy at Talbot School of Theology continues to shape me not only as a philosophy professor, but as a member of my local church, husband, father, soccer coach, and friend. Whatever intellectual and moral virtues I possess, I owe in large part to my training in philosophy.

That’s why I was dismayed to hear that Liberty University has dissolved its philosophy department. What terrible news for the five excellent scholars and teachers who will no longer be employed as of June 30; for the students who will miss out on the transformative experience of studying philosophy at a Christian school; and for the American church, which needs more evangelicals trained in philosophy, not fewer.

Any university worthy of the name—especially a Christian one—needs philosophers to do what they do in the classroom and beyond. As Baylor University’s Francis Beckwith put it:

Liberty’s decision reflects something of a trend in higher education. Philosophy and other fields in the humanities aren’t seen by some as essential to a university education. People mistakenly think graduates in these fields are unable to find gainful employment, even though the data show otherwise, and they completely disregard the role philosophy and the humanities can play in the spiritual growth of students, regardless of their major.

As the president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, I’m disappointed when Christians don’t see the value in the pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. But I also see a picture broader than the most recent news of a department closing. While the prospects of philosophy departments are grim in some cases, evangelical philosophy is also flourishing.

There has been a renaissance in Christian philosophy since the 1960s, and evangelical philosophers have been a significant part of this movement. Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga, Eleonore Stump, Robert and Marilyn Adams, and William Alston were instrumental. Evangelical philosophers like William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Doug Geivett, and Jerry Walls have been a part of it as well.

Now a new generation of evangelicals continues this work, both in the United States and around the world. Evangelical philosophy is flourishing at places like Biola University, Houston Baptist University, and Tyndale University, to name just a few.

Seminary students can receive a top-notch philosophical education at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Denver Seminary, or Talbot School of Theology. Palm Beach Atlantic University has just announced a new Master of Arts degree in philosophy of religion, opening in the fall of 2021.

Evangelical philosophers also publish in all areas of philosophy. The Evangelical Philosophical Society has numerous conferences around the United States every year, with hundreds of scholars and apologists in attendance. The society’s journal, Philosophia Christi, publishes excellent philosophical work by evangelicals, other Christians, and our secular colleagues.

Kent Dunnington at Biola and Ross Inman at Southeastern Seminary are representative of the many evangelicals who have published excellent scholarly works with top academic presses. Dunnington’s Humility, Pride, and Christian Virtue Theory and Inman’s Substance and the Fundamentality of the Familiar are just two examples of the fine work that scholars are doing today.

And evangelical philosophers write for the church, making our work accessible to the people in the pews. We write on a wide variety of topics, exploring the implications of our faith for all of life. We engage the culture for the sake of the kingdom, help equip people in our churches, and seek to shape the hearts and minds of our students for a lifetime of serving God in the home and in their vocations.

For example, Paul Gould’s award-winning book Cultural Apologetics expands our view of what apologetics is, how it can help build the church, and the ways it can be used to truly reach others with the gospel. My own just-released book, God and Guns in America, uses philosophy alongside theology and biblical studies to address the gun debates in the United States from a thoroughly Christian point of view.

But arguably the most important work done by many evangelical philosophers happens in the classroom. That work takes different forms. I’m a professor at a public university, so I strive to love my students and help them think carefully and well about life’s big questions. At Christian institutions, evangelical philosophers help their students integrate their faith into all of life. They train future doctors, nurses, teachers, filmmakers, pastors, missionaries, business professionals, and university professors to see their personal and professional lives in the light of Christ. They teach them how to think hard, and think well, in a Christlike way.

That matters to the life of the church. If you’ve ever bemoaned the lack of discipleship in American evangelicalism, philosophy can help us with this, because it can help those who study it develop intellectual and moral virtue. A slow and careful reading of Plato’s Republic, Augustine’s Confessions, Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, or contemporary philosopher Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s Glittering Vices can be a fruitful exercise in Christian spiritual formation.

At its best, a Christian philosophical education helps us love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It equips us to love our neighbors as ourselves in ways that we might not be able to do without philosophical training. You don’t need a philosophy class or degree to love God and your neighbor, of course, but it can help you do those things in some wonderful and unique ways.

Practical education is important, but given the pace of change in our world, the practical soon becomes passé. Students with a philosophical education, however, know how to think. Because of this, they are able to adapt to changes in industry. They can adapt to changes in the culture that impact how to do ministry well in a given context.

In fact, philosophy is intensely practical. This might sound ludicrous, but philosophers explore issues like the character of God, the true nature of justice, the proper application of scientific knowledge, the structure of good arguments, and the nature of virtue and its connection to human flourishing. All of this is obviously relevant to our daily lives.

In a culture where humility is in short supply, where people who can give sound but also winsome arguments seem rare, evangelical Christian philosophy has much to offer. We must not cast it aside. We should do what we can to encourage its impact in the culture, growth in the church, and continued presence in our Christian institutions of higher education.

Michael W. Austin is the president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He teaches philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University and his latest book is God and Guns in America.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #17 on: May 17, 2020, 10:27:07 pm »


Q Hosts Nutritionist Who Promotes ‘Building Immunity’ Over Vaccines

Joshua Axe’s talk at last month’s virtual event has raised concerns among experts.

The founders of Q have hosted talks promoting what experts say are unfounded claims that alternative health methods such as practicing gratitude and consuming essential oils can combat or even prevent contracting the novel coronavirus, sparking pushback from at least one ally of the group.

The talks took place on platforms affiliated with Gabe Lyons and his wife, Rebekah, both of whom are influential evangelical Christian authors and speakers. The two founded Q, which is described on its website as “a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good in society.” The organization hosts an annual conference that resembles TED Talks and features prominent Christian speakers, as well as business leaders, politicians and entertainers. Videos of the talks and affiliated podcasts are distributed via apps to digital devices such as Apple TV.

Lyons recently hosted two coronavirus-themed conversations with Joshua Axe, who is listed as a chiropractor and nutritionist on his website, which sells a wide variety of alternative health supplements such as essential oils. The website does not describe Axe as an expert on epidemiology, but it does boast that his company, Axe Wellness, has won accolades in Tennessee. The nature of his practice is unclear: the state’s Department of Health lists his chiropractic license as expired as of 2013.

The first conversation occurred on a February 28 episode of the “Rhythms for Life” podcast, a reference to Rebekah Lyons’s book Rhythms of Renewal, which is described as outlining methods to “overcome anxiety with daily habits that strengthen you mentally and physically.”

In the podcast conversation with Gabe Lyons, Axe downplayed the threat of the novel coronavirus by claiming “we’ve actually had worse threats in the past;” suggested the pharmaceutical industry and “the media” benefit from “driving fear” around the pandemic; and claimed he has “complete confidence” that he could either avoid infection from the coronavirus or defeat it in a few days by boosting his immune system through alternative methods such as ingesting ginger tea and oregano oil.

“I’m in complete confidence that if I’m exposed to the coronavirus that either I won’t get it, or if I do get it, that, hey, it will be a few days and I’ll be fine afterwards,” he said. “Because when your immune system is strong—God designed our bodies to fight viruses. And that’s the thing: For me, it’s an attitude and mentality of faith over fear.”

Axe did not discuss vaccines other than to argue that pharmaceutical companies “are developing a vaccine around” the pandemic and that there is “a big industry there.”

At no point did Gabe Lyons challenge Axe’s claims, which appear to be directly refuted by a statement published on the website of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, operating underneath the National Institutes of Health. (It was to this statement that the NIH directed an inquiry from Religion News Service when asked to comment on the contents of Axe’s talks.)

“The media has reported that some people are seeking ‘alternative’ remedies to prevent or to treat COVID-19,” the statement reads. “Some of these purported remedies include herbal therapies, teas, essential oils, tinctures, and silver products such as colloidal silver. There is no scientific evidence that any of these alternative remedies can prevent or cure the illness caused by COVID-19.”

Rebekah Lyons posted about Axe on Instagram shortly after his appearance on the podcast, saying “Who do you call to get insight on boosting immunity in light of the Coronavirus? (Axe) of course!”

Gabe Lyons hosted Axe again during the Q 2020 Virtual Summit that took place April 22-23, featuring speakers such as conservative commentator Eric Metaxas, theologian Tim Keller, and hip-hop artist Lecrae. Axe was originally listed in a session titled “Fighting Pandemics” but, according to correspondence acquired by RNS, appears to have changed the segment to “Building Immunity” after encountering pushback from independent researcher Jake Dockter.

Neither Gabe Lyons nor Axe returned RNS requests for comment or to verify the exchange.

Axe’s presentation at the conference occurred immediately after a short question-and-answer session between Gabe Lyons and a physician on the topic of the coronavirus. Q 2020 featured multiple segments that appeared to follow a similar setup: two differing or opposing perspectives on one topic—such as a later debate between Metaxas and columnist David French on whether Christians should vote for Donald Trump.

After the Q&A with the physician, Lyons introduced Axe by asking, “Is all our confidence going to be in future medicine or vaccines, or is there anything we can be doing as people—is there any way in which we can live, and the way God has designed us—to fight off viruses?”

Axe then launched into an 18-minute talk in which he promoted “herbal and natural forms of medicine,” argued that positive emotions are crucial to health, suggested “the media” has caused more disease than helped people by promoting “fear” during the pandemic and declared “the ultimate way to protect yourself and your family during any health crisis is to put your faith in God and follow the health principles laid out in the Bible.”

Axe also criticized White House coronavirus response coordinator Anthony Fauci by putting up a slide in which he quotes the doctor as saying “our Ultimate Hope is a vaccine.”

“A vaccine—again, that’s not the ultimate solution,” Axe said. “The ultimate solution is God, and also, secondarily, supporting this body God has given us, strengthening our immune system so we can fight off not only this virus, but every virus we’re exposed to in the future.”

The precise origin of the Fauci quote is unclear. While the White House adviser has said similar things in the past, there is no indication he capitalizes “ultimate hope” or that the phrase is meant to be a religious reference.

The segment triggered minor backlash from some viewers on Twitter and from Tearfund, an evangelical Christian relief and development agency based in the United Kingdom. A vice president of Tearfund USA, the group’s US-based arm, spoke at a previous Q gathering and was listed as one of the 2020 speakers as well.

“The Q Ideas forum brings together many perspectives, which we value,” read a tweet from the group. “But in this case we were extremely disappointed. As soon as the talks streamed we immediately raised our concerns with them. We hope they’ll exercise better judgment in the future.”

[Editor’s note from CT: A Q&A on the Q site includes the caveat that participants may encounter perspectives they disagree with. “At Q, we pride ourselves on providing Christian leaders with a wide range of viewpoints on every issue we cover, so that you can be sure you’re getting a full perspective. This means you might not agree with every talk or speaker you see on Q Media, but that’s the point—we want to help you see the complexity of each issue so that, whatever your viewpoint, you can engage this cultural moment well.”]

According to Gabe Lyons’s exchange with Dockter, the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, was also reportedly invited to address the Q conference. But Dockter told RNS that he contacted Collins to raise questions about Axe’s appearance on the same program. According to correspondence obtained by RNS, Collins responded: “Many thanks for providing this information, which certainly gives me pause.”

Collins did not speak at the Q 2020 conference; his office did not respond to requests from RNS to verify the authenticity of the emails or the invitation to speak.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2020, 11:58:26 am »


The Wonder and Terror of Hearing God’s Voice in a Disaster

When Mt. St. Helens erupted, plants returned amid ruin. This pandemic holds the same glory.

In late March 1980, while walking through the cabin of a passenger ship on the Salish Sea, I noticed a newspaper on a table and stopped in my tracks, surprised by a dramatic photograph under a headline reporting a small eruption on the summit of Mount St. Helens. I was returning from a college work week at a Young Life camp in British Columbia. The eruption on March 27 was the first indication that Mount St. Helens had awakened after its last eruption in 1857.

Later, on the top deck of the ship, I joined some other students gathered around two guitar players. They were singing “God, Make Us Your Family” by The Fisherfolk—a rousing, inspiring chorus and haunting, evocative verses about God’s restoration of the earth and the family of all mankind. I felt somber and thoughtful, standing on the upper deck in the dark as we passed under the lights of the Lion’s Gate Bridge along the downtown Vancouver waterfront.

Everyone in the Pacific Northwest knew that they lived near volcanos. Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, and Mount Baker are prominent and stunning features on the horizons of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. But no one (except geologists) spent any time thinking about what their presence really meant. They were supposed to be extinct, weren’t they?

Now in the global COVID-19 pandemic, a question that seemed distant and perhaps irrelevant when everything was going well for us has risen to the surface—where is God in all of this anyway?

The eruption

Everyone in the region remembers where they were when the unthinkable happened on a Sunday morning, May 18, 1980. I was in Bridle Trails State Park, a large forested park in Bellevue, Washington, again working for Young Life. I stood in the quiet forest with other staff waiting to start an orienteering course. Suddenly we heard this mysterious and massive BOOM at 8:32 a.m. like a cannon shot. A few of us joked, “Maybe Mount St. Helens blew up!” We found out later that day that it was indeed Mount St. Helens erupting 100 miles south.

After our course finished, we drove to Seattle for another Young Life session, listening to the radio’s blizzard of breaking news about the eruption, which in a matter of hours had basically shut down the entire state. The Interstate 5 freeway to the south was closed at the Toutle River Bridge, which was in imminent danger of being washed away by lahars—torrents of melted glaciers and snowfields mixed with enormous amounts of volcanic ash, rock, and downed trees. The lahars had blown out every other bridge on the river from the mountain to the freeway.

Later that day, the flood of ash-laden meltwater reached the Columbia River and shut down all shipping traffic from Portland, Oregon (and upriver ports), to the Pacific Ocean. The mountain passes to the east were closed due to zero-visibility conditions and black skies at midday due to falling volcanic ash. At our afternoon session, some the staff at the training weekend who had traveled from Oregon and Eastern Washington discovered they were now stranded, unable to return home to Yakima and Portland. As they say, then and now, we were all in uncharted territory.

The initial blast event resulted in impressive destruction. It was triggered by an earthquake, which caused the north side of the mountain to collapse in the largest landslide (two billion tons of rock, glacial ice, and snow) ever recorded. This then released gases, steam, and lava from below in an enormous blast, sending an ash cloud 12 miles into the sky. Winds blew the ash plume east, and significant ash fell on Eastern Washington.

In coming days, the ash cloud would travel across the entire United States, eventually circling the globe. The top 1,300 feet of the mountain were lost, replaced by an enormous crater that opened to the north. Fifty-seven people were killed, 200 homes were damaged or destroyed, and 27 bridges were taken out by the debris flowing down the Toutle River valley. The largest lahar filled the floor of the river valley for 14 miles downstream to an average depth of 150 feet. Hot, hurricane-force (pyroclastic) winds carrying rock debris flattened 143 square miles of forest in a large arc north of the volcano, and an additional 42 square miles of forest was killed with the dead trees left standing upright. A large area at the base of volcano was turned into a plain of pumice rock. Spirit Lake, a deep, pristine, cold-water lake was filled with hot ash and mud, its surface covered with a raft of dead trees.

Translation help
Several years ago, I found the gravestone of the poet Denise Levertov (1923–1997) in Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle while attending the funeral of a close friend and rector of my former church. After the service, I looked up Levertov online and read several books of her poetry. Her words in the poem “Immersion” struck me:

There is anger abroad in the world, a numb thunder,
because of God’s silence. But how naïve,
to keep wanting words we could speak ourselves,
English, Urdu, Tagalog, the French of Tours,
the French of Haiti …

It concludes:

God’s abstention is only from human dialects. The holy voice
utters its woe and glory in myriad musics, in signs and portents.
Our own words are for us to speak, a way to ask and to answer.

Some years later, I bought another of Levertov’s books. In it, the essay “Janus” recounts an evocative memory when she and several neighbor girls trespass onto the grounds of an apparently abandoned house. Perched atop a garden’s brick wall, they are struck with awe by a flowering tree. The caretaker of the house runs out of the house and yells at them to leave. She reflects: “Wasn’t it one of the earliest intimations of how close to one another are beauty and terror, how intimately related?”

The words fear, dread, and awe, when studied for their modern and archaic meanings, point to a fusion of terror and being wonder-struck with awe—two sides of the same coin. Perhaps this is why every time angels appear in the Bible, they preface their message with “Do not be afraid!”

The aftermath
Ten days after the eruption, the first three scientists from the US Forest Service arrived at the blast zone by helicopter. They knew the event would be an unequaled chance to document the return of life after a major disturbance. Their general expectations were that the destruction would be total: Trees, plants, and animals would not return to the site for perhaps decades or centuries, and initial colonization of the blast zone would consist of invasive species coming in from the edges of the zone. Their assumptions were proved wrong almost immediately:

So it was that [ecologist Jerry] Franklin opened the helicopter’s side door and hopped out. His boots sent up little puffs of ash when they hit the ground. He glanced down, but instead of the gray he expected, he saw a bit of green poking up next to him. He knelt. It was a plant shoot, maybe 2 or 3 inches tall. ‘I’ll be damned,’ Franklin thought. It was Chamaenerion angustifolium, a plant much more widely known by its common name, fireweed.

As Franklin discovered, some of the first plants to come back were fireweed and pearly everlasting, which grew back rapidly from underground rhizome-like root systems that survived the blast. In his new book about the eruption, Eric Wagner writes that in England, fireweed is called rosebay willowherb or bombweed because it was the first plant to colonize the blast zones in London after the Blitz. Another group of plants to return quickly to Mount St. Helens was legumes such as lupines and low-growing red alders, which have nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their root systems, allowing them to colonize the nutrient-poor tephra (fine volcanic ash) deposits.

Article continues below
These “early-successional” plants were the first stage in a series of relatively transient ecosystems that will ultimately give way to the restoration of a conifer forest “climax community” similar to what existed before the eruption. The process is called “succession” by ecologists. Return of old-growth forests will take centuries—if not interrupted by new volcanic events.

This was the just the start of extensive research into the eruption’s effects that continue today. Mount St. Helens has become the most studied volcano in the world. The results of studies at the site have changed the science of ecology, now that we know life returns to a highly disturbed area in diverse and unexpected ways. In another line of Levertov’s poem, she sees God’s voice in “the poor grass returning after drought, timid, persistent.” Not unlike Franklin’s fireweed growing in volcanic ash.

Our current crises
The COVID-19 pandemic and a historic economic collapse, like flash photographs—brightly illuminate and expose everything and everyone, revealing realities we rarely care to think about: food supply lines supported by low-paid workers in poor conditions; injustices of health care access; salary disparities; the vulnerabilities of immigrants and the homeless; conditions in nursing homes that spread disease; and on and on. The effects of these intertwined crises also relate to how we approach the underlying and accelerating global climate change. But perhaps God is speaking to us in this current emergency in the manner Levertov articulated: “The holy voice utters its woe and glory in myriad musics, in signs and portents.”

Since the end of February, we have seen the heroic and inspiring stories of medical professionals and ordinary people responding to the pandemic—treating COVID-19 patients, sewing face masks, distributing food from closed schools, shopping for elderly neighbors—the very kinds of selfless actions documented by Rebecca Solnit in her book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Solnit describes the aftermath of several famous disasters, including the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906; the London Blitz in 1940-41; the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City; and Hurricane Katrina in late 2005. She discovered in her research that most people, contrary to expectations, when confronted with disaster, embrace it with a kind of joy and pitch in to improvise and help the victims and themselves survive and recover—like plants springing from ash.

Also in recent weeks, remarkable occurrences in nature have resulted from essentially the whole world being at a standstill. As Levertov writes: “the unearned retrieval of blessings lost forever”—yet another word from God? Significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions have been reported in every nation. Air quality has dramatically improved in all the world’s most polluted cities: Delhi, Beijing, and Los Angeles. Residents in Northern India are seeing the Himalayan Mountains on the horizon for the first time in decades. Wild animals have been returning to areas normally crowded with tourists—bears appearing in Yosemite Valley, lions in South Africa taking naps on roads. In the Pacific Northwest, orcas, dolphins and whales have returned to waters usually transited by freighters, tankers and cruise ships, benefiting from the drop in underwater noise. The canals of Venice have become clear and filled with marine life.

The entire world has borne witness to these glories, as Levertov might say. Could it be that God speaks—reminding us that our collective actions affect both human civilization and the natural world for good or for ill? How can we play a role in the culmination of God’s kingdom—a civilization more equitable, just, and prosperous for both humans and nature? We can reimagine, rethink and restructure our economy, energy sources, natural resource utilization, and more. In the words of the song I heard on that evening 40 years ago, “Let the prayer of our hearts daily be: God, make us your family.”

Gerald Erickson is a marine scientist and writer in the Seattle area. His outlook on life has been formed from being present on the interfaces between his ecumenical Christian faith, science, and the arts.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #19 on: May 18, 2020, 11:54:01 pm »


Pastoring in a Pandemic

Empower your people. Mobilize the church.

As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, many church leaders find themselves tired, discouraged, and anxious regarding the long-term implications of this pandemic. Pastors are wondering how they can apply biblical roles and goals for pastoral ministry in such a radically altered context. Such work requires savvy shepherds—those who take responsibility for their task in its new and present form.

While the goals and definitions of pastoral ministry haven’t changed, the context surrounding shepherding has shifted dramatically, morphing in ways that are impossible to see while we’re still in the midst of it. As the pandemic took hold, church leaders were faced with an unfamiliar task: pastoring people from a distance. The work, which seemingly demands personal presence, now must occur in cyberspace. Dinner invitations and hospital visits are replaced with an endless stream of videos, emails, texts, and phone calls. Work that was once shoulder to shoulder is now device to device. And pastors are expected to adapt quickly and continue indefinitely.

To better see and meet their congregations’ unique needs, pastors and lay leaders have embraced social media, creatively cared for their members, led countless Zoom meetings, and taught to video cameras in empty rooms. But serving an entire congregation can be extremely challenging, and the long-term effects on congregational shepherds are still unclear.

The Weekly People Check-in is a five-minute assessment from Gloo and Barna that lets people share their experiences with church leadership, providing pastors with a status report on how their congregants are doing with their health, relationships, job, finances, and faith in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. Alongside temperature-taking tools like this, pastors are leaning on wise counsel and firm boundaries to serve people while maintaining some level of personal sanity.

Care through a mobilized church
At the outset of the shutdown in North America, many pastors’ first goal was to ensure their people felt embraced with loving care. Of course, the need for hope has always been there. Forms of suffering that long predated the onslaught of COVID-19 have not stopped. People still have cancer. Marriages still collapse. Sin still crushes.

The pandemic has brought new causes for despair all its own: more parishioners facing physical illness, more of them grieving lost loved ones, more of them teetering on economic destruction, more of them burdened with anxiety and depression. The need to care for others, then and now, has always been the same.

But pastor burnout is a predictable outcome, particularly for those running at a sprinter’s pace for what is likely a marathon. According to Gloo’s data, church leaders are desperate to pass on a message of faith and hope, but the means of communicating that message are difficult to determine. The responsibility to care well from afar for a hurting congregation weighs heavily, draining emotional and spiritual reserves. When pastors can’t access the tools people find most reassuring—eye contact, bedside prayers, and physical presence—bridging that physical divide when comfort is sorely needed feels like a daunting, demanding task they are doomed to fail.

How are pastors to combat such a fate? The answer, at least in part, lies in a mobilized church. A singular pastor or program won’t do—we need every member tasked to care for one another, whether that be through prayer, communication, encouraging notes, or acts of service. Dwayne Milioni, pastor of Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and chair of the board of The Pillar Church Planting Network, has experienced the positive effects of his church’s intentionality: “We have actually found ourselves connecting with our members more during the quarantine.” Pastors are pouring out themselves for members, and these members are following suit by caring for others. Sanity comes in leaning on the saints.

Many churches have rallied to the crisis, finding even more ways to empower members. Clint Darst, pastor of King’s Cross Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, has hope for his congregation’s involvement. “I’ve been encouraged by the creativity of our people to come up with ways to minister to each other,” he says. “Carpool lines in front of houses to say happy anniversary, college students offering to grocery shop for the elderly, older saints modeling gratitude and faith to the younger saints via online platforms they’ve never used before, generosity in giving to our benevolence fund, phone calls to saints in retirement homes. I could go on and on.”

This member-to-member focus protects pastors from shouldering the sole weight of care during crisis. The endurance of pastors increases when they depend less on themselves and programmatic forms of care and begin to entrust God’s people to the care of mobilized church members who are finding strategic ways to bear the burdens around them.

Discipleship through equipped leaders
As this pandemic has required more intentionality to connect, it’s clear that person-to-person ministry from leaders to congregation members, be it face-to-face or virtual, is the necessary means of discipling today. All too often, however, the definition of leader is synonymous with the office of pastor, which again contributes to an oppressive, overwhelming responsibility for those in that role. In order for pastors to have sustainable, healthy relationships with their congregations, more lay leaders—not pastors—must take spiritual responsibility for the growth and maturation of others.

In this moment, the work of pastors is largely the task of equipping these leaders to foster discipleship via technology or one-on-one conversations with fellow members. This work lies squarely within the purview of the pastoral responsibility to “equip [Christ’s] people for the work of service” (Eph. 4:11–12). Ultimately, those who have ecclesial bottlenecks that relegate ministry function to only a few select leaders are struggling, while those who equip and empower a greater number of leaders are thriving. Preexisting structures providing care and connection for members, such as small study groups or Sunday school environments, have allowed leaders to leverage those already-existing relationships as they take on higher levels of responsibility.

Yes, it will require more effort to train leaders how to teach and train others than it does to write a clear, expositional sermon, but this effort will multiply influence in the long-run. In order to avoid burning out later, as pastors we must extend ourselves now as we talk with potential leaders and disciple and pray with those we can influence. Once these leaders are equipped, we can be confident that our leaders are echoing truth to one another through Zoom calls, text messages, and walks around the neighborhood, even when the church can’t gather in person.

As social distancing restrictions phase out, these empowered leaders also provide hope through multiple, smaller gatherings, perhaps in homes, until allowance is made for larger, communal gatherings. For this to happen, pastors must encourage leaders to foster nourishing, spiritual relationships—a task that will require great humility and wisdom from the average pastor who is often at the center of much of the disciple-formation that takes place in the church. Yet, such steps are vital for pastoral sustainability. Delegation is difficult, but without an abundance of leaders, the weight of this next season of ministry will be too much too bear. And finding creative ways to train an army of members to carry the weight of church life together will surely aid in the health of the church long after the pandemic passes.

Training through reproducible tools
Finally, consider the value of new formats and reproducible tools. The weekly sermon format must adjust to meet our current moment. By necessity, most churches are putting their services online—a daunting task for many. But without the feedback loop of in-service responses and post-service conversations, preaching to an iPhone leaves many wondering how to discern whether the message, or the medium, is effective. Such a void can leave pastors dismayed.

More difficult questions come as pastors wrestle with the challenge of what form this online presence should take long-term: Should it seek to embody the weekly gathering as much as possible, or should it act as a filler to bide time until the church can gather together physically once again? The longer the potential time until the church can wholly regather, the more likely that pastors will choose to offer suitable substitutes for various elements, such as live question and answer time before or after the sermon, online webinars about topics like depression and anxiety, daily or weekly devotional excerpts from pastoral leaders, drive-in services, or even live sermons by pastors or lay leaders to smaller home gatherings. Each church, and the pastors entrusted with its care, will have to determine to what degree these online presentations or home gatherings continue when society reopens.

By God’s grace, however, the conversation will move far beyond whether to retain or heighten one’s online presence as a church. This season of disorientation can foster ingenuity and creativity surrounding how we train disciples—one common theme of successful, thriving churches is a desire to find simple means of distilling truth. Small groups are gathering around basic themes of gospel truth and connecting those truths to their church community, current context, and their mission in the world. Some of the best tools for training people are those that are easy to understand, apply, and duplicate. Once again, this is a hopeful note for the future of the church. Producing simple, reproducible content that the average member can understand and share with others will surely enhance the culture of discipleship.

The task of a shepherd is never easy. But we need not despair, nor should we attempt to shoulder the weight ourselves. Our theology is our greatest comfort. We do not shepherd alone. Our Good Shepherd—the one who gave his life for his sheep—loves his church far more than we do, and he is, at this very moment, leading his church and beckoning us to have faith and follow wherever he might lead.

Matt Rogers, PhD is a pastor in Greenville, SC who also serves as an Assistant Professor of North America Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Church Health Strategist with The Pillar Network. He is also the author of a number of reproducible tools for disciple-making such as the Seven Arrows for Bible Reading.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #20 on: May 19, 2020, 09:33:41 am »


Ravi Zacharias Dies of Cancer

The famous apologist was 74.

Apologist Ravi Zacharias died Tuesday, two months after he announced he had been diagnosed with cancer. He was 74.

The popular author and Christian teacher was known for his work through Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), which focused on apologetic arguments for the existence of God and the reasonableness of Christianity.

He preached in more than 70 countries and authored more than 30 books in his 48-year career, teaching Christians to engage with skeptics and arguing that the Christian worldview has robust answers to humanity’s existential questions.

Zacharias was born in India and raised in an Anglican family. He recounted that his conversion to Christianity came while reading the Bible in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt as a teen. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 20.

Zacharias started his ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA). A graduate of Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University) and Trinity International University, he was commissioned as a national evangelist for the United States in 1977 and ordained in the CMA in 1980. He founded RZIM in 1984, and the organization has grown to about 200 employees in 16 offices around the world, with 20 traveling speakers.

His best-selling book, Can Man Live Without God?, sold about 500,000 copies in 1995. His most recent book, The Logic of God: 52 Christian Essentials for the Heart and Mind, won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s 2020 Christian book award in the Bible study category.

Late in his ministry career, Zacharias faced claims that he overstated his academic background and implied he had earned a doctorate degree. Over the years, RZIM and Zacharias’s publishers revised his biographies to clarify that he has received honorary doctorates and removed references to “Dr. Zacharias.”

Zacharias was also involved in a legal dispute over “sexually explicit” communication with a woman he met through his speaking ministry. Her lawyer said Zacharias had groomed and exploited her. Zacharias sued, and the lawsuit was settled out of court with a non-disclosure agreement.

Earlier this year, doctors discovered a malignant tumor on Zacharias’s sacrum as he underwent back surgery. He began receiving treatment for sarcoma at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

The ministry posted an update on May 8 saying Zacharias’s cancer was deemed untreatable, and he was sent home to Atlanta to be with his family. On social media, a wide range of Christians including Lee Strobel, Tim Tebow, and Christine Caine posted tributes with the hashtag #ThankYouRavi.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their three children.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #21 on: May 19, 2020, 09:37:03 am »


Martin Luther Helps Us See Divine Love in Pandemic Suffering

The German reformer would call COVID-19 an "alien work of God."

If we could ask Martin Luther how to make sense of the current pandemic, he would likely encourage us to view it as the “alien work of God.” The phrase appears in his earliest lectures on the Psalms and again in his lectures on Romans and Hebrews, where he develops the defining contours of his evangelical theology. It directly informs the advice he gives in his much-quoted “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” and is central to the way he interprets suffering and misfortune.

Luther believed that God is utterly sovereign over all things, including suffering of various kinds. God is even sovereign over the Devil, whose diabolical plots in the world the Wittenberg reformer took quite seriously. Luther was very honest about the reality of suffering in the world, along with the pain and despair that it causes—there is nothing Pollyannaish about his theology.

But Luther firmly believed that God is good. God’s very nature is ardent, self-giving love—this is foundational for Luther. Human beings, on the other hand, are deeply sinful and strongly prone to self-deification in all things. Even Christians have to engage in a daily, life-or-death battle with the “old Adam” (or “old Eve”), which they can only win by divine grace. Many are also prone—as he himself was prone—to see God as an angry judge who is easily provoked to wrath. Luther knew firsthand that when such souls experience suffering, they nearly always view it as divine punishment for sin.

The phrase “alien work of God” was Luther’s pastoral response, putting all of these beliefs and concerns together and offering some comfort in the midst of overwhelming suffering. The term expresses Luther’s desire to assure Christians that God is for them, never against them, despite appearances to the contrary.

According to Luther, suffering is God’s work. That is, God is its ultimate cause, although not necessarily its immediate cause—God can sovereignly use the Devil or other agents as tools to accomplish his larger redemptive purposes in the world. But suffering is not God’s proper work, which is always to love and save. Suffering is alien to God in the sense that it is foreign to his nature and intentions, even though he is still sovereign over it.

This means that in the midst of suffering, faithful Christians shouldn’t read their lives for signs of God’s attitude toward them. Rather, they should trust what Scripture says about God—that he is good—not what fallen reason concludes—that he is not. Luther thought that if people relied on their own unaided efforts to find and understand God in the midst of the reality of suffering, they would wind up concluding that God is absent or that God doesn’t love humans. But by faith, Luther believed, we can see through suffering to the true nature of God.

Luther’s emphasis on suffering as the alien work of God was connected to his larger conviction that God is mostly hidden from our view in this life. God can be discovered, however, in the last place fallen human reason would expect to find him—the Cross. In fact, Luther once asserted, drawing directly on 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5, that “God can be found only in suffering and the cross.”

According to Luther, God hides from view to confront us with our sin, which necessitates this veil, and to drive us to know him by faith, which is itself a divine gift. Luther refers to such faith as kunst—an “art” or “craft”—stressing that while faith is essential to the Christian life, it is also difficult, requiring daily practice in surrender to God.

In his Treatise on Good Works, Luther explains how such faith rescues the Christian from despair during suffering:

It is an art to have a sure confidence in God when, at least as far as we can see or understand, he shows himself in wrath, and to expect better from him than we now know. Here God is hidden, as the bride says in the Song of Songs [2:9], “Behold there he stands behind our wall, gazing in through the windows.” That means he stands hidden among the sufferings which would separate us from him like a wall, indeed, like a wall of a fortress. And yet he looks upon me and does not forsake me. He stands there and is ready to help in grace, and through the window of dim faith he permits Himself to be seen. And Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3 [vv. 32–33], “He casts men aside, but that is not the intention of his heart.”

Luther, the father of evangelical Protestantism, would want the faithful Christian to know that COVID-19 is not the proper work of God. Rather, it is the alien work of God that summons us to know the true intentions of his heart by the art of faith, even as it is working to conform us to the image of Christ and his self-sacrificial love. Luther would want to console us with these words, especially those of us who are inclined to doubt and despair.

The current pandemic is dark and menacing for many of us, and it is easy to wonder whether there is a good and sovereign God in heaven or not. Luther would welcome and even encourage such honest questions. But he would finally want to teach us how to glimpse our loving yet hidden God as he beholds us in grace through the window he has placed in this wall of suffering. This window is faith, “dim faith,” which clings passionately yet always imperfectly to the Word and its promises that God loves us in all things, including suffering.

Dim faith may be all we can muster in these difficult days. It’s frequently all I can muster. But it can suffice to assure us of what we most need to know: Our God is with us and for us in this crisis; he does nor forsake us but eagerly seeks to help us, for this is his true heart. All of this may seem strange to us, but such is the alien work of God.

Ron Rittgers holds the Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies at Valparaiso University. He is the author of The Reformation of Suffering: Pastoral Theology and Lay Piety in Late Medieval and Early Modern Germany, along with other book chapters and articles on Christian responses to suffering in the past.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #22 on: May 20, 2020, 01:09:12 am »


Martin Luther: Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague

Read in full the famous reformer’s advice on Christian faithfulness amid pandemics like the coronavirus.

[Republished with permission of Fortress Press]

To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1527 A.D.):

Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Your letter, sent to me at Wittenberg, was received some time ago. You wish to know whether it is proper for a Christian to run away from a deadly plague. I should have answered long ago, but God has for some time disciplined and scourged me so severely that I have been unable to do much reading or writing. Furthermore, it occurred to me that God, the merciful Father, has endowed you so richly with wisdom and truth in Christ that you yourself should be well qualified to decide this matter or even weightier problems in his Spirit and grace without our assistance.

But now that you keep on writing to me and have, so to speak, humbled yourself in requesting our view on this matter so that, as St. Paul repeatedly teaches, we may always agree with one another and be of one mind (1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2). Therefore we here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them.

To begin with, some people are of the firm opinion that one need not and should not run away from a deadly plague. Rather, since death is God’s punishment, which he sends upon us for our sins, we must submit to God and with a true and firm faith patiently await our punishment. They look upon running away as an outright wrong and as lack of belief in God. Others take the position that one may properly flee, particularly if one holds no public office.

I cannot censure the former for their excellent decision. They uphold a good cause, namely, a strong faith in God, and deserve commendation because they desire every Christian to hold to a strong, firm faith. It takes more than a milk faith to await a death before which most of the saints themselves have been and still are in dread. Who would not acclaim these earnest people to whom death is a little thing? They willingly accept God’s chastisement, doing so without tempting God, as we shall hear later on.

Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm, Mark 16:18, while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death. Peter could walk upon the water because he was strong in faith. When he began to doubt and his faith weakened, he sank and almost drowned. When a strong man travels with a weak man, he must restrain himself so as not to walk at a speed proportionate to his strength lest he set a killing pace for his weak companion. Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 15:1 and 1 Corinthians 12:22.

To put it briefly and concisely, running away from death may happen in one of two ways. First, it may happen in disobedience to God’s word and command. For instance, in the case of a man who is imprisoned for the sake of God’s word and who, to escape death, denies and repudiates God’s word. In such a situation everyone has Christ’s plain mandate and command not to flee but rather to suffer death, as he says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” and “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Matthew 10:28, 33.

Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must likewise remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from Christ, “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” (John 10:11). For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. However, where enough preachers are available in one locality and they agree to encourage the other clergy to leave in order not to expose themselves needlessly to danger, I do not consider such conduct sinful because spiritual services are provided for and because they would have been ready and willing to stay if it had been necessary. We read that St. Athanasius fled from his church that his life might be spared because many others were there to administer his office. Similarly, the brethren in Damascus lowered Paul in a basket over the wall to make it possible for him to escape, Acts 9:25. And also in Acts 19:30. Paul allowed himself to be kept from risking danger in the marketplace because it was not essential for him to do so.

Accordingly, all those in public office such as mayors, judges, and the like are under obligation to remain. This, too, is God’s word, which institutes secular authority and commands that town and country be ruled, protected, and preserved, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 13:4, “The governing authorities are God’s ministers for your own good.” To abandon an entire community which one has been called to govern and to leave it without official or government, exposed to all kinds of danger such as fires, murder, riots, and every imaginable disaster is a great sin. It is the kind of disaster the devil would like to instigate wherever there is no law and order. St. Paul says, “Anyone who does not provide for his own family denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). On the other hand, if in great weakness they flee but provide capable substitutes to make sure that the community is well governed and protected, as we previously indicated, and if they continually and carefully supervise them [i.e., the substitutes], all that would be proper.

What applies to these two offices [church and state] should also apply to persons who stand in a relationship of service or duty toward one another. A servant should not leave his master nor a maid her mistress except with the knowledge and permission of master or mistress. Again, a master should not desert his servant or a lady her maid unless suitable provision for their care has been made somewhere. In all these matters it is a divine command that servants and maids should render obedience and by the same token masters and ladies should take care of their servants. Likewise, fathers and mothers are bound by God’s law to serve and help their children, and children their fathers and mothers. Likewise, paid public servants such as city physicians, city clerks and constables, or whatever their titles, should not flee unless they furnish capable substitutes who are acceptable to their employer.

In the case of children who are orphaned, guardians or close friends are under obligation either to stay with them or to arrange diligently for other nursing care for their sick friends. Yes, no one should dare leave his neighbor unless there are others who will take care of the sick in their stead and nurse them. In such cases we must respect the word of Christ, “I was sick and you did not visit me ...” (Matt. 25:41–46). According to this passage we are bound to each other in such a way that no one may forsake the other in his distress but is obliged to assist and help him as he himself would like to be helped.

Where no such emergency exists and where enough people are available for nursing and taking care of the sick, and where, voluntarily or by orders, those who are weak in faith make provision so that there is no need for additional helpers, or where the sick do not want them and have refused their services, I judge that they have an equal choice either to flee or to remain. If someone is sufficiently bold and strong in his faith, let him stay in God’s name; that is certainly no sin. If someone is weak and fearful, let him flee in God’s name as long as he does not neglect his duty toward his neighbor but has made adequate provision for others to provide nursing care. To flee from death and to save one’s life is a natural tendency, implanted by God and not forbidden unless it be against God and neighbor, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:29, “No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.” It is even commanded that every man should as much as possible preserve body and life and not neglect them, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:21–26 that God has so ordered the members of the body that each one cares and works for the other.

It is not forbidden but rather commanded that by the sweat of our brow we should seek our daily food, clothing, and all we need and avoid destruction and disaster whenever we can, as long as we do so without detracting from our love and duty toward our neighbor. How much more appropriate it is therefore to seek to preserve life and avoid death if this can be done without harm to our neighbor, inasmuch as life is more than food and clothing, as Christ himself says in Matthew 6:25. If someone is so strong in faith, however, that he can willingly suffer nakedness, hunger, and want without tempting God and not trying to escape, although he could do so, let him continue that way, but let him not condemn those who will not or cannot do the same.

Examples in Holy Scripture abundantly prove that to flee from death is not wrong in itself. Abraham was a great saint but he feared death and escaped it by pretending that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. Because he did so without neglecting or adversely affecting his neighbor, it was not counted as a sin against him. His son, Isaac, did likewise. Jacob also fled from his brother Esau to avoid death at his hands. Likewise, David fled from Saul, and from Absalom. The prophet Uriah escaped from King Jehoiakim and fled into Egypt. The valiant prophet, Elijah, 1 Kings 19:3, had destroyed all the prophets of Baal by his great faith, but afterward, when Queen Jezebel threatened him, he became afraid and fled into the desert. Before that, Moses fled into the land of Midian when the king searched for him in Egypt. Many others have done likewise. All of them fled from death when it was possible and saved their lives, yet without depriving their neighbors of anything but first meeting their obligations toward them.

Yes, you may reply, but these examples do not refer to dying by pestilence but to death under persecution. Answer: Death is death, no matter how it occurs. According to Holy Scripture God sent his four scourges: pestilence, famine, sword, and wild beasts. If it is permissible to flee from one or the other in clear conscience, why not from all four? Our examples demonstrate how the holy fathers escaped from the sword; it is quite evident that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fled from the other scourge, namely, hunger and death, when they went to Egypt to escape famine, as we are told in Genesis 40–47. Likewise, why should one not run away from wild beasts? I hear people say, “If war or the Turks come, one should not flee from his village or town but stay and await God’s punishment by the sword.” That is quite true; let him who has a strong faith wait for his death, but he should not condemn those who take flight.

By such reasoning, when a house is on fire, no one should run outside or rush to help because such a fire is also a punishment from God. Anyone who falls into deep water dare not save himself by swimming but must surrender to the water as to a divine punishment. Very well, do so if you can but do not tempt God, and allow others to do as much as they are capable of doing. Likewise, if someone breaks a leg, is wounded or bitten, he should not seek medical aid but say, “It is God’s punishment. I shall bear it until it heals by itself.” Freezing weather and winter are also God’s punishment and can cause death. Why run to get inside or near a fire? Be strong and stay outside until it becomes warm again. We should then need no apothecaries or drugs or physicians because all illnesses are punishment from God. Hunger and thirst are also great punishments and torture. Why do you eat and drink instead of letting yourself be punished until hunger and thirst stop of themselves? Ultimately such talk will lead to the point where we abbreviate the Lord’s Prayer and no longer pray, “deliver us from evil, Amen,” since we would have to stop praying to be saved from hell and stop seeking to escape it. It, too, is God’s punishment as is every kind of evil. Where would all this end?

From what has been said we derive this guidance: We must pray against every form of evil and guard against it to the best of our ability in order not to act contrary to God, as was previously explained. If it be God’s will that evil come upon us and destroy us, none of our precautions will help us. Everybody must take this to heart: first of all, if he feels bound to remain where death rages in order to serve his neighbor, let him commend himself to God and say, “Lord, I am in thy hands; thou hast kept me here; thy will be done. I am thy lowly creature. Thou canst kill me or preserve me in this pestilence in the same way as if I were in fire, water, drought, or any other danger.” If a man is free, however, and can escape, let him commend himself and say, “Lord God, I am weak and fearful. Therefore I am running away from evil and am doing what I can to protect myself against it. I am nevertheless in thy hands in this danger as in any other which might overtake me. Thy will be done. My flight alone will not succeed of itself because calamity and harm are everywhere. Moreover, the devil never sleeps. He is a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44) and tries everywhere to instigate murder and misfortune.”

In the same way we must and we owe it to our neighbor to accord him the same treatment in other troubles and perils, also. If his house is on fire, love compels me to run to help him extinguish the flames. If there are enough other people around to put the fire out, I may either go home or remain to help. If he falls into the water or into a pit I dare not turn away but must hurry to help him as best I can. If there are others to do it, I am released. If I see that he is hungry or thirsty, I cannot ignore him but must offer food and drink, not considering whether I would risk impoverishing myself by doing so. A man who will not help or support others unless he can do so without affecting his safety or his property will never help his neighbor. He will always reckon with the possibility that doing so will bring some disadvantage and damage, danger and loss. No neighbor can live alongside another without risk to his safety, property, wife, or child. He must run the risk that fire or some other accident will start in the neighbor’s house and destroy him bodily or deprive him of his goods, wife, children, and all he has.

Anyone who does not do that for his neighbor, but forsakes him and leaves him to his misfortune, becomes a murderer in the sight of God, as St. John states in his epistles, “Whoever does not love his brother is a murderer,” and again, “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need [yet closes his heart against him], how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:15, 17). That is also one of the sins which God attributed to the city of Sodom when he speaks through the prophet Ezekiel 16:49, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Christ, therefore, will condemn them as murderers on the Last Day when he will say, “I was sick and you did not visit me” (Matt. 25:43). If that shall be the judgment upon those who have failed to visit the sick and needy or to offer them relief, what will become of those who abandoned them and let them lie there like dogs and pigs? Yes, how will they fare who rob the poor of the little they have and plague them in all kinds of ways? That is what the tyrants do to the poor who accept the gospel. But let that be; they have their condemnation.

It would be well, where there is such an efficient government in cities and states, to maintain municipal homes and hospitals staffed with people to take care of the sick so that patients from private homes can be sent there — as was the intent and purpose of our forefathers with so many pious bequests, hospices, hospitals, and infirmaries so that it should not be necessary for every citizen to maintain a hospital in his own home. That would indeed be a fine, commendable, and Christian arrangement to which everyone should offer generous help and contributions, particularly the government. Where there are no such institutions — and they exist in only a few places — we must give hospital care and be nurses for one another in any extremity or risk the loss of salvation and the grace of God. Thus it is written in God’s word and command, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and in Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

Now if a deadly epidemic strikes, we should stay where we are, make our preparations, and take courage in the fact that we are mutually bound together (as previously indicated) so that we cannot desert one another or flee from one another. First, we can be sure that God’s punishment has come upon us, not only to chastise us for our sins but also to test our faith and love — our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor. I am of the opinion that all the epidemics, like any plague, are spread among the people by evil spirits who poison the air or exhale a pestilential breath which puts a deadly poison into the flesh. Nevertheless, this is God’s decree and punishment to which we must patiently submit and serve our neighbor, risking our lives in this manner as St. John teaches, “If Christ laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

When anyone is overcome by horror and repugnance in the presence of a sick person he should take courage and strength in the firm assurance that it is the devil who stirs up such abhorrence, fear, and loathing in his heart. He is such a bitter, knavish devil that he not only unceasingly tries to slay and kill, but also takes delight in making us deathly afraid, worried, and apprehensive so that we should regard dying as horrible and have no rest or peace all through our life. And so the devil would excrete us out of this life as he tries to make us despair of God, become unwilling and unprepared to die, and, under the stormy and dark sky of fear and anxiety, make us forget and lose Christ, our light and life, and desert our neighbor in his troubles. We would sin thereby against God and man; that would be the devil’s glory and delight. Because we know that it is the devil’s game to induce such fear and dread, we should in turn minimize it, take such courage as to spite and annoy him, and send those terrors right back to him. And we should arm ourselves with this answer to the devil:

“Get away, you devil, with your terrors! Just because you hate it, I’ll spite you by going the more quickly to help my sick neighbor. I’ll pay no attention to you: I’ve got two heavy blows to use against you: the first one is that I know that helping my neighbor is a deed well-pleasing to God and all the angels; by this deed I do God’s will and render true service and obedience to him. All the more so because if you hate it so and are so strongly opposed to it, it must be particularly acceptable to God. I’d do this readily and gladly if I could please only one angel who might look with delight on it. But now that it pleases my Lord Jesus Christ and the whole heavenly host because it is the will and command of God, my Father, then how could any fear of you cause me to spoil such joy in heaven or such delight for my Lord? Or how could I, by flattering you, give you and your devils in hell reason to mock and laugh at me? No, you’ll not have the last word! If Christ shed his blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for his sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not my dear Christ, with his precepts, his kindness, and all his encouragement, be more important in my spirit than you, roguish devil, with your false terrors in my weak flesh? God forbid! Get away, devil. Here is Christ and here am I, his servant in this work. Let Christ prevail! Amen.”

The second blow against the devil is God’s mighty promise by which he encourages those who minister to the needy. He says in Psalm 41:1–3, “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble. The Lord will protect him and keep him alive; the Lord will bless him on earth and not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed. In his illness he will heal all his infirmities.” Are not these glorious and mighty promises of God heaped up upon those who minister to the needy? What should terrorize us or frighten us away from such great and divine comfort? The service we can render to the needy is indeed such a small thing in comparison with God’s promises and rewards that St. Paul says to Timothy, “Godliness is of value in every way, and it holds promise both for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Godliness is nothing else but service to God. Service to God is indeed service to our neighbor. It is proved by experience that those who nurse the sick with love, devotion, and sincerity are generally protected. Though they are poisoned, they are not harmed. As the psalm says, “in his illness you heal all his infirmities” (Ps. 41:3), that is, you change his bed of sickness into a bed of health. A person who attends a patient because of greed, or with the expectation of an inheritance or some personal advantage in such services, should not be surprised if eventually he is infected, disfigured, or even dies before he comes into possession of that estate or inheritance.

But whoever serves the sick for the sake of God’s gracious promise, though he may accept a suitable reward to which he is entitled, inasmuch as every laborer is worthy of his hire — whoever does so has the great assurance that he shall in turn be cared for. God himself shall be his attendant and his physician, too. What an attendant he is! What a physician! Friend, what are all the physicians, apothecaries, and attendants in comparison to God? Should that not encourage one to go and serve a sick person, even though he might have as many contagious boils on him as hairs on his body, and though he might be bent double carrying a hundred plague-ridden bodies! What do all kinds of pestilence or devils mean over against God, who binds and obliges himself to be our attendant and physician? Shame and more shame on you, you out-and-out unbeliever, for despising such great comfort and letting yourself become more frightened by some small boil or some uncertain danger than emboldened by such sure and faithful promises of God! What would it avail you if all physicians and the entire world were at your service, but God were not present? Again, what harm could overtake you if the whole world were to desert you and no physician would remain with you, but God would abide with you with his assurance? Do you not know that you are surrounded as by thousands of angels who watch over you in such a way that you can indeed trample upon the plague, as it is written in Psalm 91:11–13, “He has given his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the adder, and trample the young lion and the serpent under foot.”

Therefore, dear friends, let us not become so desperate as to desert our own whom we are duty-bound to help and flee in such a cowardly way from the terror of the devil, or allow him the joy of mocking us and vexing and distressing God and all his angels. For it is certainly true that he who despises such great promises and commands of God and leaves his own people destitute, violates all of God’s laws and is guilty of the murder of his neighbor whom he abandons. I fear that in such a case God’s promise will be reversed and changed into horrible threats and the psalm will then read this way against them: “Accursed is he who does not provide for the needy but escapes and forsakes them. The Lord in turn will not spare him in evil days but will flee from him and desert him, The Lord will not preserve him and keep him alive and will not prosper him on earth but will deliver him into the hands of his enemies. The Lord will not refresh him on his sickbed nor take him from the couch of his illness.” For “the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matt. 7:2). Nothing else can come of it. It is terrible to hear this, more terrible to be waiting for this to happen, most terrible to experience it. What else can happen if God withdraws his hand and forsakes us except sheer devilment and every kind of evil? It cannot be otherwise if, against God’s command, one abandons his neighbor. This fate will surely overtake anyone of this sort, unless he sincerely repents.

This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running. And yet they don’t hear what Christ himself says, “As you did to one of the least, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). When he speaks of the greatest commandment he says, “The other commandment is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matt. 22:39). There you hear that the command to love your neighbor is equal

to the greatest commandment to love God, and that what you do or fail to do for your neighbor means doing the same to God. If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word. If you do not wish or care to serve your neighbor you can be sure that if Christ lay there instead you would not do so either and would let him lie there. Those are nothing but illusions on your part which puff you up with vain pride, namely, that you would really serve Christ if he were there in person. Those are nothing but lies; whoever wants to serve Christ in person would surely serve his neighbor as well. This is said as an admonition and encouragement against fear and a disgraceful flight to which the devil would tempt us so that we would disregard God’s command in our dealings with our neighbor and so we would fall into sin on the left hand.

Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.

If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the same reasoning a person might forego eating and drinking, clothing and shelter, and boldly proclaim his faith that if God wanted to preserve him from starvation and cold, he could do so without food and clothing. Actually that would be suicide. It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.

No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary. Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he in turn should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death. “Whoever loves danger,” says the wise man, “will perish by it” (Ecclus. 3:26). If the people in a city were to show themselves bold in their faith when a neighbor’s need so demands, and cautious when no emergency exists, and if everyone would help ward off contagion as best he can, then the death toll would indeed be moderate. But if some are too panicky and desert their neighbors in their plight, and if some are so foolish as not to take precautions but aggravate the contagion, then the devil has a heyday and many will die. On both counts this is a grievous offense to God and to man — here it is tempting God; there it is bringing man into despair. Then the one who flees, the devil will pursue; the one who stays behind, the devil will hold captive so that no one escapes him.

Some are even worse than that. They keep it secret that they have the disease and go among others in the belief that by contaminating and poisoning others they can rid themselves of the plague and so recover. With this idea they enter streets and homes, trying to saddle children or servants with the disease and thus save themselves. I certainly believe that this is the devil’s doing, who helps turn the wheel of fate to make this happen. I have been told that some are so incredibly vicious that they circulate among people and enter homes because they are sorry that the plague has not reached that far and wish to carry it in, as though it were a prank like putting lice into fur garments or flies into someone’s living room. I do not know whether I should believe this; if it is true, I do not know whether we Germans are not really devils instead of human beings. It must be admitted that there are some extremely coarse and wicked people. The devil is never idle. My advice is that if any such persons are discovered, the judge should take them by the ear and turn them over to Master Jack, the hangman, as outright and deliberate murderers. What else are such people but assassins in our town? Here and there an assassin will jab a knife through someone and no one can find the culprit. So these folk infect a child here, a woman there, and can never be caught. They go on laughing as though they had accomplished something. Where this is the case, it would be better to live among wild beasts than with such murderers. I do not know how to preach to such killers. They pay no heed. I appeal to the authorities to take charge and turn them over to the help and advice not of physicians, but of Master Jack, the hangman.

If in the Old Testament God himself ordered lepers to be banished from the community and compelled to live outside the city to prevent contamination (Leviticus 13–14), we must do the same with this dangerous pestilence so that anyone who becomes infected will stay away from other persons, or allow himself to be taken away and given speedy help with medicine. Under such circumstances it is our duty to assist such a person and not forsake him in his plight, as I have repeatedly pointed out before. Then the poison is stopped in time, which benefits not only the individual but also the whole community, which might be contaminated if one person is permitted to infect others. Our plague here in Wittenberg has been caused by nothing but filth. The air, thank God, is still clean and pure, but some few have been contaminated because of the laziness or recklessness of some. So the devil enjoys himself at the terror and flight which he causes among us. May God thwart him! Amen.

This is what we think and conclude on this subject of fleeing from death by the plague. If you are of a different opinion, may God enlighten you. Amen.16

Because this letter will go out in print for people to read, I regard it useful to add some brief instructions on how one should care and provide for the soul in time of death. We have done this orally from the pulpit, and still do so every day in fulfillment of the ministry to which we have been called as pastors.

First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentation. A person who wants to live like a heathen or a dog and does not publicly repent should not expect us to administer the sacrament to him or have us count him a Christian. Let him die as he has lived because we shall not throw pearls before swine nor give to dogs what is holy (Matt. 7:6). Sad to say, there are many churlish, hardened ruffians who do not care for their souls when they live or when they die. They simply lie down and die like unthinking hulks.

Second, everyone should prepare in time and get ready for death by going to confession and taking the sacrament once every week or fortnight. He should become reconciled with his neighbor and make his will so that if the Lord knocks and he departs before a pastor or chaplain can arrive, he has provided for his soul, has left nothing undone, and has committed himself to God. When there are many fatalities and only two or three pastors on duty, it is impossible to visit everyone, to give instruction, and to teach each one what a Christian ought to know in the anguish of death. Those who have been careless and negligent in these matters must account for themselves. That is their own fault. After all, we cannot set up a private pulpit and altar daily at their bedside simply because they have despised the public pulpit and altar to which God has summoned and called them.

Third, if someone wants the chaplain or pastor to come, let the sick person send word in time to call him and let him do so early enough while he is still in his right mind before the illness overwhelms the patient. The reason I say this is that some are so negligent that they make no request and send no message until the soul is perched for flight on the tip of their tongues and they are no longer rational or able to speak. Then we are told, “Dear Sir, say the very best you can to him,” etc. But earlier, when the illness first began, they wanted no visit from the pastor, but would say, “Oh, there’s no need. I hope he’ll get better.” What should a diligent pastor do with such people who neglect both body and soul? They live and die like beasts in the field. They want us to teach them the gospel at the last minute and administer the sacrament to them as they were accustomed to it under the papacy when nobody asked whether they believed or understood the gospel but just stuffed the sacrament down their throats as if into a bread bag.

This won’t do. If someone cannot talk or indicate by a sign that he believes, understands, and desires the sacrament—particularly if he has willfully neglected it—we will not give it to him just anytime he asks for it. We have been commanded not to offer the holy sacrament to unbelievers but rather to believers who can state and confess their faith. Let the others alone in their unbelief; we are guiltless because we have not been slothful in preaching, teaching, exhortation, consolation, visitation, or in anything else that pertains to our ministry and office. This, in brief, is our instruction and what we practice here. We do not write this for you in Breslau, because Christ is with you and without our aid he will amply instruct you and supply your needs with his own ointment. To him be praise and honor together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Because we have come upon the subject of death, I cannot refrain from saying something about burials. First of all, I leave it to the doctors of medicine and others with greater experience than mine in such matters to decide whether it is dangerous to maintain cemeteries within the city limits. I do not know and do not claim to understand whether vapors and mists arise out of graves to pollute the air. If this were so my previously stated warnings constitute ample reason to locate cemeteries outside the city. As we have learned, all of us have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has commanded us to care for the body, to protect and nurse it so that we are not exposed needlessly. In an emergency, however, we must be bold enough to risk our health if that is necessary. Thus we should be ready for both — to live and to die according to God’s will. For “none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself,” as St. Paul says, Romans 14:7.

It is very well known that the custom in antiquity, both among Jews and pagans, among saints and sinners, was to bury the dead outside the city. Those people were just as prudent as we claim to be ourselves. This is also evident in St. Luke’s Gospel, when Christ raised from the dead the widow’s son at the gates of Nain (for the text of Luke 7:12 states, “He was being carried out of the city to the grave and a large crowd from the city was with her”). In that country it was the practice to bury the dead outside the town.

Christs tomb, also, was prepared outside the city. Abraham, too, bought a burial plot in the field of Ephron near the double cave where all the patriarchs wished to be buried. The Latin therefore employs the term efferi, that is, “to carry out,” by which we mean “carry to the grave.” They not only carried the dead out but also burned them to powder to keep the air as pure as possible.

My advice, therefore, is to follow these examples and to bury the dead outside the town. Not only necessity but piety and decency should induce us to provide a public burial ground outside the town, that is, our town of Wittenberg.

A cemetery rightfully ought to be a fine quiet place, removed from all other localities, to which one can go and reverently meditate upon death, the Last Judgment, the resurrection, and say one’s prayers. Such a place should properly be a decent, hallowed place, to be entered with trepidation and reverence because doubtlessly some saints rest there. It might even be arranged to have religious pictures and portraits painted on the walls.

But our cemetery, what is it like? Four or five alleys, two or three marketplaces, with the result that no place in the whole town is busier or noisier than the cemetery. People and cattle roam over it at any time, night and day. Everyone has a door or pathway to it from his house and all sorts of things take place there, probably even some that are not fit to be mentioned. This totally destroys respect and reverence for the graves, and people think no more about walking across it than if it were a burial ground for executed criminals. Not even the Turk would dishonor the place the way we do. And yet a cemetery should inspire us to devout thoughts, to the contemplation of death and the resurrection, and to respect for the saints who rest there. How can that be done at such a common place through which everyone must walk and into which every man’s door opens? If a cemetery is to have some dignity, I would rather be put to rest in the Elbe or in the forest. If a graveyard were located at a quiet, remote spot where no one could make a path through it, it would be a spiritual, proper, and holy sight and could be so arranged that it would inspire devotion in those who go there. That would be my advice. Follow it, who so wishes. If anyone knows better, let him go ahead. I am no man’s master.

In closing, we admonish and plead with you in Christ’s name to help us with your prayers to God so that we may do battle with word and precept against the real and spiritual pestilence of Satan in his wickedness with which he now poisons and defiles the world. That is, particularly against those who blaspheme the sacrament, though there are other sectarians also. Satan is infuriated and perhaps he feels that the day of Christ is at hand. That is why he raves so fiercely and tries through the enthusiasts to rob us of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Under the papacy Satan was simply “flesh” so that even a monk’s cap had to be regarded as sacred. Now he is nothing more than sheer “spirit” and Christ’s flesh and word are no longer supposed to mean anything. They made an answer to my treatise long ago, but I am surprised that it has not yet reached me at Wittenberg. [When it does] I shall, God willing, answer them once again and let the matter drop. I can see that they will only become worse. They are like a bedbug which itself has a foul smell, but the harder you rub to crush it, the more it stinks. I hope that I’ve written enough in this pamphlet for those who can be saved so that — God be praised — many may thereby be snatched from their jaws and many more may be strengthened and confirmed in the truth. May Christ our Lord and Savior preserve us all in pure faith and fervent love, unspotted and pure until his day. Amen. Pray for me, a poor sinner.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 43 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 119–38.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #23 on: May 20, 2020, 09:52:22 am »


COVID-19 and Rural Work Around the World

I had the opportunity to talk to missionaries serving around the world in rural areas concerning the impact COVID-19 is having on their lives and their ministries.

When COVID-19 struck in the U.S., the church sprang into action. Alternative plans were hastily developed and Zoom calls and conferences sprang up overnight. It is now possible to watch video conferences all day long on how to handle the COVID-19 crisis. Because of this worldwide event, the church in the U.S. has been dissected and examined in excruciating detail.

Likewise, churches in large, urban areas around the world have experienced a similar flood of resources to evaluate their situations and to make plans on how to move forward. However, our Christian brothers and sisters in rural and remote areas across the globe have not been afforded as much attention or help.

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to missionaries (via a video conference call) serving around the world in rural areas concerning the impact COVID-19 is having on their lives and their ministries. While it was a great time of encouragement and a great source of firsthand information, it was also a time of somber reflection as many people around the world in rural areas are suffering because of this terrible disease.

The Negative Effects of COVID-19 Imposed Lockdowns

I listened to nearly 80 missionaries talk about rural work around the world. The recurring theme was that few people in rural areas are suffering from the disease itself. COVID-19 is still being seen in most rural areas around the world as an urban disease.

However, many rural peoples are suffering greatly because of government, and sometimes local community, imposed lockdowns.

As cities went into lockdown mode, jobs dried up around the world. The result was devastating as migrant peoples were forced to leave their city jobs and return to their homes in the countryside. With this kind of job loss, the primary worker loses an income, but the extended family also loses because many people in the countryside survive from one city person’s job.

Many missionaries serving in rural areas mentioned that farmers are not able to plant crops this year due to the lockdown. The inability to purchase seeds, go the fields, and plant crops has left many farmers in dire straits.

The implications of fallow fields mean no crops this year, no money from the harvest this fall, and no food until the fall of 2021. (The next opportunity to plant again is in the spring of 2021 and the harvest of that crop will not be until late summer of 2021, nearly 16 months away.)

Gospel Opportunities in Rural Areas

On a positive note, I learned that many rural missionaries are ramping up humanitarian relief projects such as food distribution, setting up hand-washing stations, and providing masks for people living in rural areas.

These humanitarian efforts are opening doors for the gospel in many places where penetration with the good news had previously made little progress. While their urban neighbors are often afraid and unwilling to help, local religious groups are self-isolating, and many secular relief organizations are pulling out due to fear of infection, Christians are going in to serve the people in greatest need.

While many very resistant areas with people opposed to the gospel remain, stories of openness due to the virus and the good work of Christians willing to sacrifice to serve people where they live are springing up around the world. There may not be a great revival yet, but God is at work in areas that had previously been resistant to the gospel.

Disruption to Short-term Missions

COVID-19 is also wreaking havoc on summer plans for short-term mission trips from churches in North America and for the field itself. As groups cancel due to travel restrictions, rural overseas missionaries are struggling to find ways to fill in the blanks where they had planned to utilize these groups.

For many missionaries, short-term groups provide vital support to their work, and the cancellation of these groups seriously impacts their evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training possibilities.

However, many rural missionaries shared how national partners are stepping up in new ways to take the gospel where the missionaries can no longer go. For many nationals, taking the gospel to a lost world is a very real risk. They may face government opposition, family opposition, and village opposition.

They could also face the risk of catching the coronavirus as they step out of their houses and communities to serve God. Yet, they are going, serving, and sharing in greater numbers than ever before and people are listening and believing.

God is at work among rural people around the world. Missionaries serving in some of the most remote places on earth often do not get recognition for their sacrifices and their hard work in the face of difficult situations.

I am thankful I was able to listen to these men and women as they recounted how God is blessing in rural areas. I am also thankful to share with you the needs and the victories of rural work across the world.

Jeff Clark is the Rural Missiologist for the Rural Matters Institute as well as the Project Leader for the Global Research Department with the International Mission Board. He has served as a Strategy Research Associate in East Asia. He has also served on the state Baptist Conventions of Montana and West Virginia. Jeff holds a Doctor of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #24 on: May 20, 2020, 11:27:30 am »


The Pandemic as God’s Judgment

Does the biblical pattern of disaster and discipline with a call to repent apply to COVID-19?

Is this pandemic God’s judgment against us? This is a difficult question to ponder. To ask it, I do not presume ourselves to be under either the blessings and curses of theocratic Israel or the apocalyptic doom of Revelation. However, I do see patterns of biblical teaching indicative of God’s ongoing engagement in the affairs of human life and his willingness to use extreme measures to accomplish his purposes.

When confronted with disaster, Scripture calls us to look to God for both comfort and self-censure. Prophets from Moses to Malachi point to sin and the need for repentance as reasons behind various disasters. Likewise, John the Baptist and Jesus launch the New Testament with prophetic warnings and calls to repentance.

Early in Romans, the apostle Paul observes, “the wrath of God is being revealed … against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (1:18, ESV). To the Corinthians, Paul holds up Old Testament patterns of judgment as “types,” “examples to us”—historic precedents to heed (1 Cor. 10:1–12; Rom. 11:20–21). When chastising the Corinthians for desecrations of the Lord’s Supper, Paul warns, “why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [have died]” (1 Cor. 11:30). Paul labels sickness and death as a “judgment” (v. 29), even for these New Testament believers. Hebrews 12, citing Proverbs, tells believers in the same vein, “‘do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, ... for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Heb. 12:5, 11, ESV).

It is important to clarify that God’s wrath comes with mercy (Hab. 3:2; 1 Chron. 21:13). We can discern his mercy in the pattern of smaller catastrophes preceding greater ones, granting opportunity for repentance sooner rather than paying larger consequences later. The ten plagues of Egypt increased in severity in part because, early on, Pharaoh and his people “did not listen,” but rather “turned and went into his house with no concern even for this.” (Ex. 7:22–23, NASB). How quick are we to dismiss extraordinary acts of God as quirks of nature, forces we can harness with enough resilience and resourcefulness? Scripture labels this mindset hardening the heart (Ex. 8:19; Prov. 28:14). It is dangerous.

Some will demand prophetic confirmation of any divine judgment. But given the full and clear teaching of canonical Scripture at our stage in redemptive history, we are owed no more prophetic confirmation than the rebuff of such expectation at the end of Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:27–31).

Nevertheless, the Lord has raised up poignant prophetic voices in our midst, from Jeremiah Wright, Jim Wallis and Diane Langberg to John Piper and James Dobson. While none of them claims inerrant inspiration, each has sounded loud notes of biblical warning. Jeremiah expressed God’s frustration at how his people stubbornly closed their ears to (mostly unnamed) prophets “sent again and again” (Jer. 25:4, 29:19). Perhaps this indicts us too.

God may disrupt the human cycle of selfishness by awful means and call us to account. Global pandemics thankfully are rare, but when they do occur, they usually spread through trade routes of prosperous, powerful nations—inherently prone to prideful pursuit of profits and indifference toward God (Deut. 8:10–14). Is this pandemic part of a larger pattern? Consider other catastrophes that have struck North America over the past 20 years: 9/11; Superstorm Sandy; hurricanes Katrina, Maria, Irma, and Harvey; California wildfire; Midwest tornado spikes; swine flu, and now COVID-19. Have we hardened our hearts so as to write off a warning as mere acts of nature? Shouldn’t we rather ask if we could be under divine judgment?

We need not look far for reasons. God opposes the proud and uses catastrophe to undermine arrogance. James 4:13–17 calls out the “sin” of living life as functional atheists, operating as though God is paying us no real attention, presuming our security lies simply in planning and protecting our profits. James 5 calls down severe judgment on the rich—in our day, we who put “In God we trust” on our mammon had best take heed.

God’s passionate concern is for the vulnerable—the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, the refugee. The Lord will not allow prosperity devoid of such concern to stand (Ex. 22:21–24; Deut. 10:16–20; Isa. 10:1–4; Jer. 5:28–29; Amos 4–8; Mal. 3:1–6). “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Prov. 21:13).

If this pandemic is a judgment from God, our response should not be to point a sanctimonious finger at others but to lament and repent, with prayers like unto Daniel 9:3–19, where the person of God owns and confesses “our sins” and pleads for God to “forgive us” (2 Chron. 6:36–39, 7:12–14). In such moments we are most in sync with prophets like Habakkuk and Jeremiah. Sharing their lamentations, we also are put in position to observe: “And yet, your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:23).

Human sin in such times can be redeemed by God for greater purpose. Besides instilling fear of the Lord, plagues historically have prompted people to prepare for the afterlife. Jesus underscored the transience of material things and the foolishness of building one’s life on such sand (Matt. 7:24–27). Christians need not fear death. Confidence in Christ and eternity has led many to give their own lives to minister to the sick and dying, a visible witness to resurrection hope.

Followers of Christ are not called to pronounce God’s condemnation but rather to examine themselves. Our own repentance serves as one aspect of our larger kingdom mission to relieve suffering, mourn with the grieving, care for the sick, encourage the weak, and comfort the afflicted even as we plead for God’s mercy. With this pandemic, I see the seriousness of God’s demand for repentance and receive any discipline God may intend as coming from the hand of my loving Father.

Todd Mangum is Clemens Professor of Missional Theology, Missio Seminary.

Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - May 2020
« Reply #25 on: May 22, 2020, 09:38:37 am »


Amid the Stresses and Strains of Higher Education, Christian Study Centers Are Thriving

How a postwar evangelical movement to unite mind and heart spread to campuses across the country.

In the May 1972 issue of Christianity Today, Frank Nelsen, a history professor from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, proposed creating “evangelical living and learning centers for undergraduate students [to] be built on private property near large state universities.” These centers would provide students with space to pursue “an intellectually honest investigation of the Christian faith and its relation to secular disciplines.”

Nelsen suggested the idea—targeting a niche between campus ministries, local churches, and Christian liberal arts colleges—as a solution to what CT had identified a year earlier as the “Crisis in Christian Education.” The postwar boom in higher education was waning, and evangelicals were unprepared to respond. Rather than stick to an aging model, Nelsen asked: “Is there an educational alternative to the private college for evangelicals to consider in the light of current economic stresses and strains?”

The question is, unfortunately, as timely in May of 2020 as it was in May of 1972. Once again, universities—both public and private—are facing a tidal wave of new “economic stresses and strains.” And what of Nelsen’s proposal? In the almost-half-century since, “evangelical learning centers” have popped up on dozens of college campuses, from flagship public institutions such as the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin–Madison to elite private schools including Yale and Duke. The 30 or so individual centers have formed a national Consortium of Christian Study Centers, founded in 2008. While the details of Nelsen’s proposal never came to fruition (he suggested separate Christian dormitories and accredited coursework), the idea took on a life of its own.

The path from CT article to national consortium was anything but straightforward. Charles Cotherman’s new book, To Think Christianly, is the first comprehensive history of the Christian study center movement and its many roots in postwar evangelicalism. Focused on an influential, if small, class of educated evangelicals pursuing deeper cultural engagement with contemporary thought, To Think Christianly carefully reconstructs a vast web of intellectual networks and institutional struggles that most recent histories of postwar evangelicalism ignore, resisting the dominant narrative of evangelical cultural engagement since World War II.

Two New Frameworks
To Think Christianly may be the first time many readers encounter the institution of the Christian study center. Cotherman, it should be clear, is exclusively concerned with the genealogy of “evangelical learning centers.” In the 19th century, organizations like the YMCA and the Chautauqua movement fulfilled a similar role for lay Christians. Catholics have built a vast Newman Center network, and mainline Protestants founded centers like the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, Switzerland, in the late 1940s. Even Christian Science Reading Rooms resemble Christian study centers. Cotherman ignores this wider Christian history in favor of explaining contemporary evangelical study centers in particular. This may rankle some readers, but the choice also sharpens his focus on a distinct evangelical engagement with culture that remains understudied.

Evangelical Christian study centers trace their roots to two progenitors: Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri community in Switzerland and Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. While both were founded outside of the United States, they were deeply attuned to midcentury American evangelical concerns. Founded in 1955 in the Swiss Alps, L’Abri became a destination for travelers and wanderers to learn at the feet (or more often at the cassette tape) of ex-fundamentalist Francis Schaeffer. A one-time missionary, Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, recognized the growing appeal of hosting young travelers in their home. As Cotherman observes, L’Abri’s “home-based hospitality” of open-ended stays, communal work, and eating together made it “a working, living, studying, praying community before communal living became a countercultural standard.”

L’Abri’s “radical hospitality” helped to popularize Schaeffer’s novel conservative Protestant engagement with art, philosophy, and culture. By the late 1960s, Schaeffer was a best-selling author with speaking tours across the United States. Yet there were limitations. Especially as he became a leader in pro-life politics in the 1970s, he developed a guru-like aura among his followers. Rather than engage directly with other thought leaders, he maintained an insular circle of intellectual partners. While most historical accounts of Schaeffer linger on this later phase of political activism, Cotherman emphasizes how a generation of intellectually inclined evangelicals were inspired by Schaeffer’s earlier period at L’Abri.

If L’Abri’s hospitality modeled a new type of evangelical community, Regent College suggested a novel framework for evangelicals to pursue academic knowledge. Initiated by a circle of educated Plymouth Brethren in Vancouver, Regent started as a graduate school for lay Christians, eventually affiliating with the University of British Columbia. Regent’s founding in 1970 was shaped by its first principal, James M. Houston, a Scottish geographer who left Oxford for the job. Houston quickly assembled an impressive faculty, including J. I. Packer and W. Ward Gasque, which led to growing enrollment.

One of Houston’s early struggles was to maintain Regent’s focus on relational lay theological training and to resist developing Regent into a large seminary. As Cotherman puts it, Houston wanted education “to do away with the trappings of technocracy in favor of personal relations.” There were many benefits to this approach. With its mission to lay Christians, Regent was more welcoming to women (predominantly as students) in an era when it was almost impossible for women to enroll in evangelical seminaries. Regent encouraged women and men alike to become theological thinkers.

Why so much attention directed to this pair of institutions? In Cotherman’s telling, the twin legacies of L’Abri and Regent “helped sow an emphasis on hospitality and relationship” for the study centers that would follow. Moreover, the majority of later study center founders had some connection to L’Abri or Regent. These common evangelical roots were revealed through overlapping interpersonal networks and a shared intellectual agenda. The relationship of knowledge to faith—of “mind and heart”—was the umbrella under which each new generation could contemplate certain core questions: What role does Christian faith play in the pursuit of academic knowledge? What does it mean to have a faithful Christian presence in a modern university community? How should Christian thought form an engineer, a doctor, an architect?

Cotherman’s other examples—R. C. Sproul’s Ligonier Valley Study Center in Stahlstown, Pennsylvania, and New College Berkeley near the University of California (now affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union)—diverged from the early models. Ligonier eventually became a national cassette and video tape ministry that relocated to outside of Orlando, Florida. New College Berkeley nearly folded in its attempt to gain accreditation in the 1980s, deciding instead to embed itself in an existing network of seminaries and theological centers in the San Francisco Bay area. More closely linked to the contemporary Christian study center movement is the Center for Christian Study on the campus of the University of Virginia, which under the leadership of Andrew Trotter in the 1990s and 2000s developed the cooperative model between university and study center that now dominates the movement. (Trotter would become the first director of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers in 2009.)

Carrying the Torch
Cotherman’s story largely sidesteps the familiar culture-war and Christian-right themes that currently receive so much attention from journalists and historians. Study centers themselves are scattered across the political spectrum. Schaeffer played a crucial role in the Christian right until his death in 1984, while New College Berkeley’s roots are in the evangelical left of the 1970s.

This diversity does not mean, however, that Cotherman overlooks the areas where Christian study centers overlapped with conservative evangelical politics. Many study centers pitched (and still pitch) themselves as a “shelter” and specialize in apologetics, creating Christian “bubbles” of students floating in secular campuses. The US Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which allowed universities to implement far more muscular anti-bias regulations, only hardened this posture. According to Cotherman, the decision aided a “reactionary and isolationist strain” that can work against stated missions of cooperative academic engagement. And while the study centers that followed in Regent’s path were substantially more accessible to women than evangelical seminaries, most often they have been founded and led by white men.

Cotherman’s narrative choice is refreshing, suggesting an alternate story of postwar evangelical cultural engagement that is challenging, insightful, and, at times, inspirational. Like all histories, this one is shaped by the questions asked of the past. The Consortium of Christian Study Centers has recently experienced remarkable growth, as more than half of its 30 member centers were founded after 2010. To Think Christianlyreflects this narrative of growth, tracking the movement’s shift from an “innovation” mindset to a “multiplication” mindset. It remains unclear if the movement will continue to grow, or what its broader influence on evangelical thought will be. Observers beyond Cotherman, including historians Mark Noll and Molly Worthen, have highlighted study centers as potential bright spots in an intellectual landscape darkened by the multiple crises afflicting evangelical intellectual life and higher education.

These cycles of educational crisis, voiced by Nelsen in 1972, are, admittedly, here to stay. “Crises are nothing new for the Christian colleges,” he observed, “their histories are replete with them.” Cotherman’s excellent book illustrates how there has been and will continue to be an evangelical impulse to care for the mind, body, and spirit of these university communities. Whatever crises lay on the horizon, we can expect a host of Christian study centers to build creatively on the foundations laid by previous generations, carrying the torch of evangelical cultural engagement with the same verve and resilience.

Daniel G. Hummel is an honorary research fellow in the history department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a staff member at Upper House, a Christian study center based there. He is the author of Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, and U.S.-Israeli Relations (University of Pennsylvania).
« Last Edit: May 22, 2020, 09:51:06 am by patrick jane »
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