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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021  (Read 1054 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« on: November 04, 2021, 09:30:15 am »


Quotations on Prayer that Stir the Soul

Insights from Augustine, Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, and more.

For the highest prayer is to the goodness of God, and that comes down to us in our lowest need. It quickens our soul and gives it life, and makes it grow in grace and virtue. It is nearest in nature and readiest in grace; for it is the same grace which the soul seeks and always will.
—Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

I make it my business only to persevere in his holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God.
—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

If our presence is dripping with Christ, it will drip with alluring power and also cause demons to flee.
—Marlena Graves, The Way Up Is Down

O Jesus, you who suffer, grant that today and every day I may be able to see you in the person of your sick ones and that, by offering them my care, I may serve you. Grant that, even if you are hidden under the unattractive disguise of anger, of crime, or of madness, I may recognize you and say, “Jesus, you who suffer, how sweet it is to serve you.”
—Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World, edited by Becky Benenate

So starting today, we craft a prayer strategy with peace in mind, leading to peace of mind for ourselves and the ones we love.
—Priscilla Shirer, Fervent

When we pray we must hold fast and believe that God has heard our prayer. It was for this reason that the ancients defined prayer as an Ascensus mentis ad Deum, “a climbing up of the heart unto God.”
—Martin Luther, Table Talk, featured in Devotional Classics edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen.
—The Book of Common Prayer

My own hope and prayer is that we go away with a repentant attitude . . . with a sense of our helplessness . . . and yet also with a great confidence in God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who “by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.”
—C. René Padilla, speaking at the Lausanne Conference, 1974

Let nothing trouble you, nothing frighten you. All things are passing; God never changes. Patient endurance attains all things. Whoever possesses God lacks nothing: God alone suffices.
—Teresa of Avila, a personal prayer she kept in her prayer book

O love ever burning and never extinguished charity
My God set me on fire.
—Augustine, Confessions, featured in An African Prayer Book edited by Desmond Tutu

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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2021, 09:33:24 am »


God Loves a Persistent Pray-er

He’s not offended when we ask, ask, and ask some more.

Each week is full of crises—in the world, in the church, and often in our own families. It’s natural to wonder: How should I have been praying about that? As Christians, we dream of having a prayer life that is fervent, fruitful, and on top of things. But so often, we end up dwelling on the prayers we neglected to pray and wondering if God is disappointed with our lack of spiritual fervor.

For the anxious or hesitant prayer, the pointed two-word title of J. D. Greear’s latest book—Just Ask—offers both a reassurance and an exhortation. The word just conveys the childlike simplicity of prayer. Don’t worry about getting your phraseology just right, says Greear, the North Carolina pastor and former Southern Baptist Convention president. Just pray already.

The book’s subtitle describes postures that, in Greear’s opinion, ought to typify our approach to prayer: confident, bold, patient, relentless, shameless, dependent, grateful, powerful, and expectant. But despite the can-do tenor of these words, Just Ask is no lightweight, name-it-and-claim-it pep talk, and Greear takes pains to give reasons why God might decline to answer a prayer.

The book contains seven manageable chapters, arranged into two sections. Greear begins by candidly addressing questions like “Honestly, does prayer do any good?” and “But seriously, why isn’t God answering me?” Then he gets even more practical, mapping out various how-tos and the how-not-tos. And he helpfully closes the book with ten straightforward suggestions.

Readers may flinch, at first, when Greear jabs them with the claim that “instinctively we all pray the wrong way.” But he softens the sting by making sure to include himself among the accused. Drawing on insights from authorities like Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, Charles Hodge, Tim Keller, J. I. Packer, John Piper, and the biblical writers, Greear walks us through the fundamentals of prayer and motivates us to get going.

Greear spurs the readers to take Jesus seriously when he says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Though asking is not the only component to prayer, we still need to be asking. How can we avoid the self-inflicted disappointment that comes from giving up too soon? The solution is simple, says Greear—keep asking! Those who are children of God, adopted into his family through the atoning blood of Christ, have every reason to boldly approach (and reapproach) the throne of grace.

Though Just Ask focuses on one aspect of faith (prayer), the book ultimately concerns the totality of faith and one’s relationship with God in general. Greear drums on this theme: “God only gives some things in response to ongoing, patient, relentless, impudent, bold, shamelessly persistent prayer.” Explaining that “God is glorified through our persistence,” he assures us that our repeated petitions demonstrate “that God is the only place [we] have to go.”

Overall, Just Ask is persuasive, compelling, and often convicting. That said, the book does occasionally fall prey to what struck me as false dichotomies. I would invite Greear, for instance, to add some nuance to a self-evaluation he calls the “Acid Test”: namely, the act of asking whether we’re coming to God because he is beautiful or because we’re looking to get something, as though these motives were mutually exclusive. It’s possible, of course, to approach God selfishly, as a dispenser of favors. Yet God’s beauty and his giving go together. One of the most beautiful aspects of his character is that he gives generously to his children. When God gives in response to prayer, and we respond in turn with heartfelt gratitude, he gets the glory as the good giver. In fact, we can’t come to God without believing that he rewards us (Heb. 11:6).

Elsewhere, Greear exhorts us not to ask God to do what he has already promised. Again, this strikes me as a false dilemma. For example, when God promises to strengthen us and help us (Isa. 41:10), it is not faithless but instead faithful to ask that he customize that promise and deliver that help for today’s circumstances. Here’s another example: God promises to give us wisdom, but James explicitly invites us to ask for it (1:5).

Beware of reading a book on prayer without praying (even just to write a review). Hypocritical whited sepulchers come to mind (Matt. 23:27). While reading Just Ask, I prayed that God would help me see what I ought to see, do what I ought to do, and become what I ought to become. Hopefully, Greear’s book will put many others onto the same habit.

Sam Crabtree is a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the author of Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances.
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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2021, 07:48:15 pm »


Prohibition: A Movement of Prudish Killjoys or Righteous Revolutionaries?

A new book reenvisions temperance as a global struggle on behalf of the oppressed and exploited.

Now that cool pastors drink craft beer, American Protestants’ erstwhile obsession with banning booze can seem downright weird. Or maybe just quaint? Was the nation’s brief experiment with Prohibition an instance of no-fun church folks run amok, one of the last gasps of an overweening Puritan superego?

That’s what the true villains of the story would want you to think, or so Mark Lawrence Schrad argues in his new book, Smashing the Liquor Machine: A Global History of Prohibition. Taking aim at the widespread perception that temperance movements were all about “moralizing ‘thou shalt nots,’” he proclaims that they were, on the contrary, “a progressive shield for marginalized, suffering, and oppressed peoples to defend themselves from further exploitation.”

Crucially, in Schrad’s telling, prohibition was never about raining on the individual drinker’s parade. Rather, it was a tactic to combat predatory liquor traffickers and the empires that benefited from their nefarious work. It is only because the capitalists and imperialists so often prevailed in these struggles, Schrad suggests, that we remember temperance activists as prudish killjoys rather than righteous revolutionaries.

Resisting ‘alco-subjugation’

United States historians have tended to reinforce such misconceptions, Schrad contends, because they have usually failed to view American temperance movements in wider world context. To be sure, this is not easy to do. For Schrad it meant tracking down leads in 70 different archives housed in 17 different countries and strewn across five continents. But the payoff of that hard work is tremendous: a story that is, as the subtitle promises, truly global.

One of its central themes is that alcohol—and especially distilled liquor—functioned as a powerful tool of empire. This was in no small part because the sale of spirits kept the ruling class’s coffers full. In Tsarist Russia, Schrad observes, “the vodka monopoly was the largest source of imperial finance.” But booze was more than just a moneymaker. It also facilitated what he calls the “alco-subjugation” of the world’s peoples, many of whom had no prior exposure to “industrial alcohols.” Everywhere distilled liquor was introduced, epidemics of intoxication and addiction followed, rendering entire societies ripe for conquest. In this sense, “colonialism in Africa, Asia and North America was achieved with bottles as much as bullets,” Schrad states.

Little wonder that, across the globe, temperance and anti-imperialism activism were so often of a piece. In the years just before Ireland’s Great Famine, Father Theobald Matthew traveled the countryside and collected an astounding 5.5 million temperance pledges, building a movement that became closely associated with the fight for Irish independence. In early-20th-century Russia, Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks urged the masses to abstain from vodka in a bid to starve the regime of revenue. South Africans registered their objections to colonial rule in the 1920s and 1930s by boycotting beer halls, while in India, for Hindu and Muslim dissenters from the British Raj, “abstinence became synonymous with patriotism.”

Notably, Schrad goes on to argue, the United States was not an exception to this global rule. Here, too, temperance movements were powered not by stern divines and dour church matrons but by staunch defenders of the poor and the oppressed. Indigenous leaders led the charge, with the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes, for example, agreeing to “cooperate in suppressing the sale of strong drink.” Similarly committed to the cause were abolitionists, women’s rights activists, social gospelers, and more. Indeed, Frederick Douglass’s line, “All great reforms go together,” is one of Schrad’s favorite mantras. He supports this claim by underscoring the temperance credentials of not only Douglass but also the likes of William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln. “These are the heroes of American history, not its villains,” Schrad declares.

There is no doubt that he has a point. Smashing the Liquor Machine’s provocative reframing of temperance and Prohibition as “part of a long-term people’s movement to strengthen international norms in defense of human rights, human dignity, and human equality” represents a persuasive challenge to conventional wisdom. It should change the way that historians think and write about these subjects going forward. But one wishes that Schrad had not been content to flip an unsatisfying script. What if temperance activists were neither heroes nor villains, but rather finite, fallible humans, fighting for what they understood to be right, even as they were caught up—in ways that they did not fully recognize—in deeper-seated social sin?

One of the great tragedies of American history is that, whatever Douglass’s noble aspirations, all great reforms have not in fact gone together. One finds some evidence of this in Schrad’s book, notwithstanding his assertions to the contrary. In a chapter on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), he discusses how the organization’s leaders sought to navigate the racism that was so pervasive among its white rank-and-file members, and also how the WCTU leadership was itself hardly immune. Longtime president Frances Willard loved to tout her abolitionist heritage and “Do Everything” reform philosophy; but while she championed the causes of women’s suffrage and labor reform, one thing she refused to do was support Ida B. Wells’s courageous campaign to mobilize white Christians against the scourge of lynching.

Willard’s failings on this front were hardly unique. Another of Schrad’s temperance heroes, William Jennings Bryan—or the “Great Commoner,” as he liked to be called—was a fierce defender of white farmers and workers at home, and a ferocious critic of American imperialism abroad. But when President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner, Bryan declared it “unfortunate, to say the least.”

Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the great theoreticians of the social gospel, provides yet another case in point. As Schrad underscores, in addition to propounding temperance, Rauschenbusch wrote voluminously about the threat of spiraling economic inequality. Yet he said next to nothing about the rising tide of mob violence and anti-Black racism. As he reflected in the final decade of his life, “the problem of the two races in the South has seemed to me so tragic, so insoluble, that I have never yet ventured to discuss it in public.”

A daring argument
The issue is not only that many temperance reformers fell short of heroism when it came to other causes. It is also that the temperance fight itself was more morally complex than Schrad allows. There was unmistakable synergy, for one, between campaigns against “the liquor power” and others targeting Catholics, immigrants, and labor radicals. The Germans who participated in Chicago’s Lager Beer Riot of 1855—sparked by a nativist mayor’s decision to close taverns on Sundays and to raise the fee for liquor licenses—felt this viscerally, but the perspective of working-class immigrants like them is largely absent from Schrad’s narrative.

Also missing are the important ways in which the brunt of temperance activism fell not only on “the man who sells” but also on countless ordinary people. The heyday of temperance reform was, not coincidentally, also the heyday of “scientific charity,” whose proponents often saw anyone who frequented the saloon as unworthy of material aid.

Saloons themselves were more complicated than Schrad lets on. Waving off the suggestion that they might have had redeeming features, he insists that they must be understood as “an actual, real blight on the local community.” At points his description sounds a lot like what one might find in a late-19th-century temperance pamphlet. “They were dark and smoky,” Schrad writes, “with overflowing spittoons and sticky floors.”

Saloons were certainly not above reproach. Yet historians have found overwhelming evidence that they served a wide variety of social roles, not all of which were objectionable. They were places where information was exchanged and public questions debated; where immigrants created space that they could call their own; and where the poor found shelter from the streets, a free lunch to fill their bellies, and sometimes even access to prohibitively expensive technologies such as the telephone. Schrad is a political scientist, and in his introduction he clarifies that Smashing the Liquor Machine is “not a history book” but rather “a work of comparative politics.” His treatment of the saloon is one of the points where it shows.

But Schrad’s disciplinary expertise is also the source of extraordinary insight. Crisscrossing the globe and assimilating vast evidence along the way, he advances a daring argument, one that historians will be reckoning with for years to come. This book deserves a wider audience, too. It is a fun read, thanks to Schrad’s eye for colorful characters such as William “Pussyfoot” Johnson, who lost one of his eyes while on mission preaching the temperance gospel in England. During a melee between law enforcement and college students—who were, predictably, none too excited about his message—a rock hit him square in the face. He was good-natured about it afterwards, telling a group of remorseful student well-wishers who visited him in the hospital, “You had a good time; I had a good time. I have no complaints. But if you want some real fun, get into the game against the greatest enemy of the human race—drink.”

Cheers to a book that offers a new and sharper sense of that game, including what, exactly, was at stake and why so many millions once poured their lives into playing.

Heath W. Carter is associate professor of American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago.
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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2021, 01:13:56 pm »


Fame Is a Fake Version of Friendship

We long to be known and loved. But false community won’t get us there.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

Unlike Macaulay Culkin, the ten-year-old who starred in the famous Christmas movie Home Alone, his younger brother Kieran Culkin turned down multiple opportunities to be a child star. He learned by observation that he didn’t want a life of fame—knowing it could lead to things like substance abuse, court guardianship battles, and the like.

We might be tempted to view the life choices of famous people like the Culkin brothers from a distance. But maybe we’re looking into a collective mirror. Today, fame is not just something that happens to stars, child or otherwise. Thanks to the age of social media, many of us are turning into mini-stars, with the only real difference being the size of our audience.

The recently leaked “Facebook Files,” which discuss the inner workings of the social media company, include data about the harm Instagram usage inflicts on the self-image of adolescents, especially teenage girls. Every child or teen faces a fear of judgment from their peers. They also fear being exiled from their social group. (This also why very few of us would ever wish to time travel back to our middle school days.)

However, the world of social media seems to heighten these dynamics—where almost everyone is followed by a kind of paparazzi, exposing and subjecting us to the approval or disapproval of our peers, acquaintances, and often complete strangers.

Philosopher Alain de Botton argued in his book The School of Life that one way to gauge your parenting is to ask your child whether they aspire to be famous. He says the quest for fame is different from other (equally risky) aspirations to acquire wealth, power, or pleasure. The desire to be well-known, he argues, is tied to “the intimate desire to be liked and treated with justice and kindness by people they don’t know.”

“Fame is deeply attractive because it seems to offer very significant benefits,” he writes. “The fantasies go like this: when you are famous, wherever you go, your good reputation will precede you. People will think well of you, because your merits have been impressively explained in advance.”

De Botton goes on to say that “the desire for fame has its roots in the experience of neglect, in injury,” adding that “no one would want to be famous who hadn’t also, somewhere in the past, been made to feel extremely insignificant.”

If I’m famous, the subconscious argument goes, I will be free from facing any rejection or judgment. Not only will my parents admire me, but I will have an instant and safe community. However, de Botton says, the exact opposite is true: “Fame makes people more, not less, vulnerable, because it throws them open to unlimited judgement.”

Fame has always been a draw for at least some human beings. One needs to look no further than the pyramids to conclude that. However, most people throughout human history began their journey of self-discovery in the presence of a very limited “audience”—consisting mostly of extended family, a larger tribe, a local village.

But today, impressionable young children are forming their identity through social media outlets, which encompass a much wider audience. Studies show that apps like Instagram are a risk to the psychological health of adolescents, and not simply because kids can be bullied online (although that does happen). Even when young people receive affirmation from this online collection of strangers, they will almost always seek to maintain that attention going forward.

That is, even when someone is “winning” at their social media game, the fear of falling becomes all the more intense—like a cherubic dimpled child star who worries he will not be cast when he becomes a gangly adult. This kind of pressure is bad enough when someone is pursuing a career in film, but it can be far worse when it comes to somebody’s life off screen.

The danger is there, not just for those who are crushed beneath the weight of others’ judgment, but perhaps even more so for the people who have learned coping mechanisms to protect themselves from social judgment. Some end up as trolls who want to preemptively lash out at those who might hurt them, while others can become almost sociopathic in their numbness to other’s opinions. Over time, they build a hard exoskeleton of cynicism, which can filter out not only the judgment of online strangers but also the counsel of real-life friends.

There are no easy answers here, especially as we move toward the next phase of connectedness in the “metaverse” or its equivalent. But, as with most things, I believe the right response to the threat of social media influence is both individual and communal.

Each of us needs to learn how to develop a rightful biblical individualism, which is to say that God receives us into his kingdom not collective by collective, nation by nation, or peer group by peer group, but one by one.

The message “You must be born again” is not just directed generically to humanity or to the Pharisees, but to one particular Pharisee named Nicodemus—who was so fearful of losing status among his peers that he came to Jesus by night (John 3). Only when we realize that we personally stand before the face of God—and that we will each give an account before the judgment seat of Christ—only then can we be freed of the countless mini judgment seats that are formed around our lives on a daily basis.

But what frees us is not just the vision of a singular judgment seat but also the one who is seated in that place. It is the judgment seat of Christ alone. He is not someone who judges us on our impressive achievements, curated images, or status according to some social system. Jesus is the one who came looking for us in the woods—and then threw a party of rejoicing when he found us (Luke 15:3–7).

That’s why Paul could write to the Corinthians that he found it “a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court”—even his own judgment of himself (1 Cor. 4:3, ESV). Instead, he could entrust himself to the judgment of a Christ who truly knew him—a serial killer with religious zeal—and loved him anyway.

The communal side of the solution is realizing that kindness and community cannot be found universally or generically. Instead, we must look for—as Seth Godin puts it from a marketing perspective—the “smallest viable audience.” That is why Jesus placed us all into the context of a church body—a group of people that actually gathers around a table.

Alain de Botton rightly notes that “there is no shortcut to friendship—which is what the famous person is in effect seeking.” Indeed, there is not. As Christians, we know that true fellowship happens while gathered around bread and wine, confession and repentance, mission and service—coming together with a tangible group of people, in whose presence one can learn to love and be loved. There is no shortcut for that.

Maybe that is what the church uniquely has to offer the world right now—the message that you do not have to be famous to be known. You do not have to be perfect to be loved. You do not have to be proven right to be justified. Perhaps even child stars can become as little children again. And even in a metaverse, none of us are home alone.

Russell Moore leads the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #4 on: November 13, 2021, 06:42:41 pm »


She Walks in Beauty Like a Prayer

Christopher Stokes on how the Romantic poets propelled a new view of personal devotion.

The language of prayer and the language of poetry share strong similarities. Prayer, like poetry, allows for, and even invites, the interplay between truth and beauty. A new book explores this connection between rational thought and aesthetic expression. Romantic Prayer: Reinventing the Poetics of Devotion, 1773–1832(Oxford University Press, 2021), by Christopher Stokes, senior lecturer in Romantic literature with the University of Exeter, is a scholarly examination of several key poets of the British Romantic period, from pre-Romantic William Cowper to second-generation Romantics Percy Shelley and Lord Byron and a range of poets in between.

The poets examined in this book reflect shifts in forms of religious devotion. Stokes argues that the theology of prayer reflected in this age and its poets parallels the growing importance of individual practices in religious life, when devotion became as much about doing as believing. Poetry, likewise, was increasingly becoming a personal practice, not merely an objective art.

Living in a time of ongoing and culminating secularization, these poets illustrate the ways Christianity helped birth secularity, as debates about the modes of Christianity evolved into debates about Christianity itself. Even so, as Stokes shows, poetry can be a way to preserve and practice religious faith amid growing skepticism.

You call prayer “an organ of faith” because of the way it “imprints” an understanding of God in the one who prays. Poetry, too, is a language that forms or imprints itself on us. The foundation of your analysis is that the language of prayer and the language of poetry are deeply connected. How are they connected?

There’s certainly a deep historical connection between poetry and prayer. As I note in the book, the very earliest surviving poem in English, Caedmon’s “Hymn,” is a kind of prayer. And across the centuries, poetry has been energized by its relationship with private prayers, with hymnody, with liturgies, and with great scriptural texts like the Psalms or the Song of Songs. There are certain eras—I’m thinking of the 17th century and the Victorian period, for instance—when devotional poetry really is as good as anything else being written in English literature, and you see poetry drawing this tremendous beauty and complexity from the great religious and theological shifts of its times.

So, it’s impossible to think about the development of English verse—and literature never sheds its histories—without thinking about prayer as well. The evangelical tradition often slighted set or memorized prayers and saw prayer as a much more visceral cry from the heart. Poetry also took inspiration from that notion.

More abstractly, there is also something interlinking the experience of prayer and the experience of lyric poetry (poetry spoken by an “I”), which has always captured the imagination of writers. Perhaps it has to do with the intimacy of voice, or the overtones of confession, or the idea of speaking in this strikingly unusual way (that prayer and poetry share) whereby there isn’t necessarily an addressee present in the conventional way but there is still a fundamental sense that this language will be heard. I’ve always been fascinated by those links.

The Romantic poets were, in many ways, reacting to seismic shifts in the 18th century, shifts brought about by the Enlightenment, by the factions within and outside the established church, and by the increased subjectivity that both enacted and reflected these changes. You call this “a time in which prayer was a language under pressure.” What do you mean by this?

Maybe prayer is always a language under pressure! The Enlightenment gets mischaracterized, I think, as a relentless critique of religion. Actually, the radical atheist or anti-Christian polemic we associate with, say, French thinkers, was a pretty extreme wing of a much broader sensibility across Europe, and most parts of it had no real desire to exit Christianity at all.

However, it is true that many Christian thinkers in the era were obsessed about the reasonableness of religion as a belief system—and prayer fit quite awkwardly into that rationalizing project. For example, the idea that God would intervene supernaturally in the carefully constructed natural universe he had elegantly and intelligently created just because someone prays—well, that just didn’t sit well.

As the century went on, I would summarize two opposite reactions to this “reasonableness.” On the one hand, some Christians wanted to rationalize further, and their versions of prayer became closer to contemplation or meditation. On the other, the Methodists and the evangelicals offered something much more unapologetically spiritual and otherworldly, addressing a devotional need but provoking a lot of suspicion and even mockery from the mainstream. So, it’s a fascinating time when multiple ideas of prayer are circulating.

You describe the “secular” as “a space opened up between theism and atheism.” Can you elaborate on this idea?

It’s a way of looking at history in a more complex way. It seems broadly clear that over a few hundred years in the West, we moved from a state of affairs where Christianity was this universally shared backdrop to a present moment where this isn’t the case. Traditionally, the secularization hypothesis has described this change as a one-way street whereby religion inexorably gives more and more ground to reason, humanism, science, or whatever. It’s a narrative of inevitable binary conflict between religion and modernity. The problem is that we generally find that black-and-white ways of looking at history nearly always fail the fine detail. Things such as science weren’t always the opposites of religion, and religion continued to generate profound ways of inhabiting the world across the 18th and 19th centuries and beyond.

I’m trying to note that what the secular involves is not atheism triumphing over theism and hence bringing in “the modern world” as an atheist world, but rather a range of theists, a range of skeptics, and a range of agnostics all developing their ideas in a culture which no longer has that common background of shared Christianity. Basically, it’s just an acknowledgment that Christianity (or any religion) doesn’t stop having intellectual vibrancy just because other forms of belief or nonbelief suddenly share its cultural space; there are modern expressions of the Christian tradition. Put that way, you have to question why scholars ever thought that wasn’t the case!

Within the Evangelical Revival, prayer becomes not just an act of reasonable devotion or duty but, as you write, “a struggle, a wrestling, a matter of life or death.” You further explain that “Evangelical prayer involves a transformation and transposition of self,” and that this is because evangelicalism’s sense of self involves “an experience of alterity and decentering.” How does prayer itself contribute to this kind of “intensified spiritual existence”?

I think all traditions recognized different forms and experiences of prayer, but they also privileged certain kinds as more prototypical. For the 18th-century mainstream, prayer tended to be something that composed and oriented the self. It’s all prayer as an action which places your thoughts and feelings into a structure that referred to God. For the evangelical tradition, prayer was not so much a “doing” as a state of “being”—and importantly, a state of new being.

So, prayer was a couple of things to the 18th-century evangelical. It was an invitation for a divine influx to make the self anew. It was also the language of authentic life breaking through from the depths of the soul, “an embryo of God, a spark of fire divine,” as Anna Letitia Barbauld puts it. And it’s also the record of the struggle of the sinner undergoing that transformation. It’s all much more dramatic than the mainstream account, because it’s about change in your whole existence.

In your chapter on the poetry of the evangelical William Cowper (most famous for his collaboration with John Newton on the Olney Hymns), you address the connection between the practice of prayer within the Evangelical Revival and “radical interiority,” or a sense of an authentic self. And you describe the decline of Cowper’s lifelong fragile mental health as, in part, “the failing of prayer.” Can you explain this connection? Do any of Cowper’s most popular hymns illustrate this connection?

William Cowper’s Calvinism has always been seen as a problem. The great emotional power of Wesley and the Methodists came from the controversial doctrines of sanctification, but what if sublime confidence in salvation was replaced with a potent assurance of your failure to be saved? Prayer comes in because a prayerful state was seen as one of the likely signs of election, and in finding prayer a tormenting struggle, Cowper feared he was encountering his own spiritual nullity. Yet the advice given to an evangelical struggling to pray was, in effect, to pray more—to pray for the power to pray. This became something of a tragic circle for Cowper.

It’s probably true, and perhaps understandable, that the most popular of Cowper’s hymns take more optimistic positions, but motifs of estrangement and inadequacy are still very much present: the melancholic nostalgia of “O for a closer walk with God,” or the “poor lisping / stamm’ring tongue” envisaged in the grave in “There is a fountain filled with blood.” The circular logic is also apparent in the rhetoric of love in “Hark, my soul, it is the Lord,” a poem whose beautifully tender images of care anticipate some of the quieter recesses of prayer in Cowper’s later long poem The Task.

For Anna Letitia Barbauld, a Dissenter whom you identify as “probably the most theologically literate writer” in your study, prayer is less interior, more social and physical (involving the act of kneeling, an act done in a physical and often communal space). How does that different understanding of prayer play out in her theology, practice, and poetry?

Barbauld is a fascinating figure, not least because she illustrates how poetry can not only express theology but contest it. This wing of 18th-century Dissent was increasingly embracing an ideal of prayer as solitary reflection: minimizing petition, suspicious of collective prayer, often privileging the wordless, and in some versions cautious about even addressing God. This trajectory just doesn’t make sense for Barbauld, and in her religious poetry she repeatedly evokes scenes of solo philosophical contemplation only to interrupt them with something much more intimate and direct. As her career progresses, I think she finds the most authentic religious passions are found not in a single mind reflecting on the infinite, but those generated through shared experiences within family or chapel. Elegantly, she writes in 1792: “We neither laugh alone, nor weep alone, why then should we pray alone?”

One of the most beautiful and memorable moments of prayer in all of Romantic poetry is the moment in Samuel T. Coleridge’s haunting Rime of the Ancient Mariner when a curse placed on the seafarer after wantonly killing an albatross is broken when he bursts forth in spontaneous prayer in response to seeing the beauty of sea creatures at play upon the water. What does this moment in the poem illuminate about the deep connections between prayer, poetry, beauty, and the limits and the power of language?

This is perhaps the most famous prayer in Romantic poetry. The first thing I would say is that in at least one sense I can’t tell you what this moment means. What Coleridge evokes is something uncanny and wondrous: It’s a narrative pivot around which the whole mysterious poem turns, but it is strangely depthless. Of course, critics have tried to interpret it: The mariner is having an ecological epiphany or facing up to the guilt of the slave trade or philosophically converted to the pantheistic doctrine of the “one life.” But, in effect, the point is its uninterpretability. It just falls, like grace.

As a young philosophical radical, Coleridge had been a full-blown rationalist Unitarian, but by the late 1790s he was beginning to feel the truth (his own words) of religious doctrines like original sin and the Trinity, although he couldn’t explain them and didn’t have a theology to account for their consequences. These poems attempted to fill the gap between what he could explain and what he was beginning to feel. In his late career, he would go on to attempt a “philosophy of prayer,” which tried to explain how prayer could be both absolutely valid but lie partly beyond the forms of human reason. The fact that some extraordinary lines in a poem of the 1790s could do what his theological labors of the 1820s couldn’t tells you a lot, I think, about the relation between prayer, poetry, theology, and language.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2021, 12:22:19 pm »


In Our Rejection of the Prosperity Gospel, Are We Missing God's Provision?

As church leaders, we can model a balanced mindset about God's material blessings.

I knew full well going to Facebook to ask for advice could be dicey. My wife and I had had our fill of mechanic bills and were in the market for a new (used) vehicle. Searching online for low-mileage, well-maintained cars in our price range was proving difficult, but I thought I’d found a good lead. The car was about 15 years old but appeared to have barely been driven by its one owner. It was in great shape and seemed like a steal.

There was only one problem. It was a BMW.

Am I a BMW guy? I thought to myself. My first concern, I confess, was about what others might think. So I took to Facebook and asked, “Anyone out there think it’s problematic for someone in my position to drive a car like this?” I was worried it might appear immodest or even hypocritical for a seminary professor and preacher of the (free!) gospel to be seen driving such a car.

I made sure to mention a few exonerating details—that it wasn’t new, wasn’t expensive, and the like. Most of my friends said they wouldn’t have a problem with me driving one. Interestingly, one commenter said that the very fact I was asking meant it probably was a violation of my own conscience. And another commenter added that seeing me drive a BMW onto the campus where I teach pastoral ministry would “cause him to stumble.”

In the end, my wife and I opted to keep searching, mainly because of warnings we received about costly repairs to older-model BMWs, which was the very thing we were trying to avoid in the first place. But the experience got me thinking about Christians’ vision of money and the perception, right or wrong, of extravagance and prosperity.

Our Complicated Relationship with Prosperity
Evangelicalism is a conflicted marketplace when it comes to prosperity. On the one hand, our suburban megachurches (not exactly known for frugality or architectural sparseness) continue to grow and reproduce while we prop up our subculture’s own version of internet influencers and self-help gurus by making their channels popular, their books bestsellers, and their brands lucrative.

On the other hand, we also enjoy scoffing at some of these folks’ obsession with image and unabashed displays of luxury. The Instagram account PreachersNSneakers—which features photos of well-known Christian spokespeople sporting expensive tennis shoes, ostensibly for the purpose of exposing their inappropriate extravagance—is just one example. And of course many evangelicals find the long-tenured cast of characters in the “health and wealth” movement a reliable stock for sarcasm and critique.

Americans are obsessed with money, and they’re obsessed with those who are thought to have too much of it. And American Christians are no exception. Perhaps there’s a double-mindedness at play here.

To be clear, the prosperity gospel—a theology of a Protestant subculture largely occupied by (but not limited to) Pentecostal and charismatic believers that posits financial blessings and physical health are God’s will for the faithful—is an especially pernicious plague in the world, now fully exported and a global affront to true Christianity. And its problems aren’t merely theological. The prosperity gospel movement exploits the poor and many others in ways implicit and explicit that often cross fully into the category of spiritual abuse.

When we couple this very real religious epidemic with wider (but also very real) concerns about social justice, income disparities, economic disadvantage, and the like, evangelicalism’s money problem makes total sense. Prosperity theology—“health and wealth,” “name it and claim it,” and so on—turns God’s commands into formulas and faithful obedience into a kind of magic. The prosperity gospel twists biblical concepts into a counterintuitive mix of superstition and pragmatism. This heterodoxy ought to be rejected wholesale.

But what if our rightful concern with the prosperity gospel and our honest zeal against it has created a scorched-earth policy regarding money and material blessings that is, in its own way, problematic?

The Biblical Balance on Wealth
Are God’s provisions only to be thought of in purely spiritual terms—that is, are we to reject any material prosperity as not one of God’s blessings? Could our reaction to the prosperity gospel’s errors cause us to miss biblical truth about God’s provision?

The Bible, of course, says a multitude of things about money and material possessions, but Christian thinking on the subject these days appears to be somewhat selective. For instance, we all know that the love of money is an idolatry that leads to ruin (Ecc. 5:10; Matt. 6:24; 1 Tim. 6:10; Heb. 13:5). Paul names love of money in the same list of shameful immoralities that includes abuse and brutality (2 Tim. 3:2–5). Jesus also warns about riches constantly. The wealthy, it would seem, are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to perceiving his glory and the eternal riches of the kingdom (Mark 10:25).

But the Bible also has plenty of positive things to say about wealth—not about the love of it or the finding of one’s satisfaction in it, obviously, but simply about the fact of it. In the Old Testament in particular, we find ample evidence of financial and material provision being viewed as part of God’s blessings. The Wisdom Literature especially seems to regard wealth as (often) the result of good stewardship, hard work, and faithful diligence. Proverbs 12:27 is just one example: “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth” (ESV). Riches are also held out very often metaphorically as a reward for faithfulness (Ps. 112:3; Prov. 14:24; Is. 60:5).

Job is an obvious example of a very rich man who is nevertheless regarded as righteous (Job 1:1–3). After he has undergone his unfathomable suffering, his restoration includes the reward of double his previous fortune. This comes from the hand of the Lord himself (42:10).

In the New Testament, where the warnings about riches seem to come more urgently, we nevertheless encounter wealthy people who support the ministry of Christ and his disciples. Joseph of Arimathea, who possessed a family tomb he offered to hold the body of the crucified Jesus and is identified as “a rich man” in Matthew 27:57, is just one example. A group of women financially supported Christ’s ministry out of their abundance, as well (Luke 8:3). And Lydia and other wealthy patrons helped sponsor the early church’s apostolic missionary efforts.

The problem with the prosperity gospel, then, appears not to be about prosperity per se. The spiritual dysfunction of this theology is largely about pragmatism, a turning of biblical principles into dubious formulas for wealth and accumulation. It is one thing to think of riches and material possessions as God’s blessings. It’s another thing entirely to think of them as God’s debt to our faithfulness (or to consider the lack of riches as an indicator of unfaithfulness).

Certainly the language of reward in the Scriptures may complicate the thinking here. When we come across verses about asking and receiving, we must take care not to misinterpret them as being about individualistic fulfillment or remove them from their spiritual and kingdom contexts. Similarly, passages on sowing and reaping or returns on investments often lend themselves to immediate financial or personal application, when their primary thrust is often about spiritual interest, heavenly rewards, or the stewardship of souls.

We can know that finances are not an automatic or reliable reward for faithfulness simply because there are too many of the faithful poor in the Scriptures! We can and should repudiate any theology that posits material goods as owed to anybody. And we can and should repudiate any vision of material goods that promotes greed, envy, vanity, and immodesty, not to mention stinginess or exploitation of the poor. The potential for sin is not in the money itself, but in how we think about it and what we may do with it.

How a Poverty of Thinking Impacts Our Churches
As church leaders, our vision of money—especially how we talk about it—has deep implications for our personal discipleship and the discipleship culture of our churches. What do we stand to lose, for instance, if in our rejection of the prosperity gospel, we unintentionally create a kind of shame around receiving such provision?

We could inadvertently deincentivize generosity among those in our midst who have more than others. If maintaining wealth is itself cast as greedy or otherwise sinful, we may be telling the wealthier among us that the church and its mission are not the place in which to invest one’s wealth, that their stewardship ought to be channeled elsewhere.

Consider: What do our better-resourced congregants think when we create unbiblical categories of sin around money and possessions? Will they feel unwelcome, ashamed, or even alienated from the values of the church? If we cultivate an unhealthy stigma around wealth, our wealthier members may have second thoughts about financial support of the church, opting instead to support charities and organizations that cheerfully receive their cheerful generosity.

Or they may even disengage from church altogether. If a church operates with a shame culture around money, it may ironically promote self-indulgence and self-interest in disengaged wealthier congregants, creating deep detrimental impacts on mission support and benevolence needs.

Think, too, of those in lower-income areas where successful businesses lead to job creation and other cascading effects of social uplift. By shaming wealth, the church may be confusing budding entrepreneurs and defusing the kind of passion that can have long-lasting, systemic improvements in contexts that most need them.

Additionally, casting a vision of money or material possessions as themselves sinful borders on a kind of Gnosticism that works against the real-world spirituality of the Scriptures.

It is much better instead to speak of money as a tool. Tools can help or harm. Many people in our world have been harmed by deformed thinking about and demonic use of this tool. But many others have been helped. To borrow a phrase from Martin Luther, let us take great care in our overcorrection, then, not to fall off the horse on the other side.

The evangelical problem with money can be remedied with a careful and biblical call for vigilance and balance, for grace and clarity. Pastors ought to remind their congregations—and themselves!—about the dangers of riches, about the particular vulnerabilities endemic to those who enjoy more of material provisions than others. As it traffics in self-interest and a kind of pragmatic legalism, the prosperity gospel is always lying in wait outside the doors of our hearts, so we need to teach biblical truth and encourage biblical wisdom in these matters at every turn.

But we ought not act out the now-clichéd misremembering of 1 Timothy 6:10, that “money is the root of all evil.” Along with sober-mindedness, encourage wholehearted generosity. Appeal to those who have much to remember in every way those who have little. To remember the poor is part of our fidelity to the gospel, in fact (Gal. 2:10). Every good gift comes from God. Nothing is to be rejected if it can be received with thanksgiving. Let us not dishonor the Giver by deeming any of his blessings as unacceptable.

Jared C. Wilson is assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and cohost of CT’s The Art of Pastoring podcast.

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2021, 04:30:29 pm »


There’s No Good Plan to Stop 100,000 Opioid Deaths a Year

The Christian call to hard friendship in a national emergency.

100,000 Americans died from April 2020 to April 2021 due to opioids, according to numbers released this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of the deaths have come via fentanyl, which accounted for more than 75 percent of all fatalities. Most of the time fentanyl has been used in combination with drugs like methamphetamine or ****.

Who were those who lost their lives? According to The New York Times:

The vast majority of these deaths, about 70 percent, were among men between the ages of 25 and 54. And while the opioid crisis has been characterized as one primarily impacting white Americans, a growing number of Black Americans have been affected as well.

There were regional variations in the death counts, with the largest year-over-year increases — exceeding 50 percent — in California, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky. Vermont’s toll was small, but increased by 85 percent during the reporting period.
This week on Quick to Listen, we wanted to talk about the opioid crisis. What is our response as Christians who are in relationship with those affected? What is our responsibility when we are far away?

Andrea “Andi” Clements is professor and assistant chair of the psychology department at East Tennessee State University and is cofounder of Uplift Appalachia, which helps churches care for addicted people. She is on the leadership team of the Strong BRAIN Institute, which studies childhood resilience.

Clements joined global media manager Morgan Lee and executive editor Ted Olsen to discuss when she first realized that opioid addiction had entered her community, why churches are part of the solution to the crisis, and how being in relationship with the addicted has changed her faith.

What is Quick to Listen? Read more.

Rate Quick to Listen on Apple Podcasts

Follow the podcast on Twitter

Follow this week's hosts on Twitter: Morgan Lee and Ted Olsen

Read Ted's Precious Moments article: What Steadfast Looks Like in a Revolution

Music by Sweeps

Quick to Listen is produced Morgan Lee and Matt Linder

The transcript is edited by Faith Ndlovu

patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - November 2021
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2021, 09:44:43 pm »


Christian Florist Settles Legal Battle With Same-Sex Couple

After eight years, the 77-year-old Washington state grandmother is retiring from her business and her religious liberty fight.

A florist in Washington state who was in an eight-year legal battle that reached the US Supreme Court will retire after settling with the same-sex couple whose wedding job she refused.

Barronelle Stutzman of Richland, Washington, announced the settlement Thursday, saying she has paid $5,000 to Robert Ingersoll, The Tri-City Herald reported.

She said Jesus “walked with me every step of the way” through her legal journey and also wished Ingersoll, who had been her customer at Arlene’s Flowers for almost a decade, “the very best.”

Ingersoll and his husband, Curt Freed, plan to donate the settlement payment to a local PFLAG chapter, and personally match the $5,000.

The agreement allows Stutzman to “preserve her conscience” by not forcing her to act against her Southern Baptist religious beliefs, according to a news release from her attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom. They reached the settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

It also prevents Stutzman from having “to pay potentially ruinous attorneys’ fees,” the release said.

“I am willing to turn the legal struggle for freedom over to others. At age 77, it’s time to retire and give my business to someone else,” Stutzman said.

“I wish the culmination of all that I’ve been through could result in a new respect, culturally and legally, for freedom of conscience in our country,” Stutzman said. “From the beginning, I have asked no more than the freedom to act in accordance with my religious beliefs and personal convictions. I have treated those who persecuted me with respect, and with the assurance that I want for them the same freedom that I ask for myself.”

Alliance Defending Freedom has also defended fellow Christian wedding vendors who have cited their conscience in turning down business for same-sex ceremonies. The team represented a Christian baker in his 2018 Supreme Court victory and is continuing to argue on behalf of a Christian web designer, both challenging Colorado’s application of its anti-discrimination law.

The settlement by Stutzman leaves in place two unanimous decisions by the Washington state Supreme Court that the Constitution does not grant a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people, the ACLU of Washington said.

“We took on this case because we were worried about the harm being turned away would cause LGBTQ people,” Freed and Ingersoll said Thursday in a statement. “We are glad the Washington Supreme Court rulings will stay in place to ensure that same-sex couples are protected from discrimination and should be served by businesses like anyone else.”

The ACLU brought the anti-discrimination lawsuit against Stutzman in 2013 on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued separately, saying the floral artist violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act by declining to provide services based on sexual orientation.

A Benton County Superior Court judge in 2015 ruled that Stutzman must pay $1 in attorneys’ fees and costs to the state, along with a $1,000 civil penalty, for discriminating against the couple. That judgment still stands.

“We are pleased to hear that Arlene’s Flowers and Barronelle Stutzman have reached a settlement agreement with the couple they refused to serve,” Ferguson said in an email to the Tri-City Herald.

The two cases through appeals by Stutzman wen to the state Supreme Court, and then to the US Supreme Court.

The country’s highest court vacated Washington state’s previous ruling and sent it back to the lower court in 2018 for another review. The Washington Supreme Court in 2019 ruled unanimously that state courts did not act with animosity toward religion when they ruled Stutzman broke the state’s anti-discrimination laws by refusing on religious grounds to provide wedding flowers.

Stutzman and Alliance Defending Freedom—in their second attempt to get the case before the US Supreme Court—filed a petition for review in September 2019.

The Supreme Court in July declined to take up the case. Stutzman responded with a petition for rehearing, but she will withdraw it as part of her settlement.


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