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Discussion | Christian News | Chaplain's Office => Christian and Theological News => Topic started by: patrick jane on December 04, 2018, 07:02:49 pm

Title: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 04, 2018, 07:02:49 pm

The Culture Wars Are Ancient History

Today’s fights over the religion in the public square are replays of fights from two thousand years ago.

In The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), T. S. Eliot saw a conflict between Christianity and paganism shaping the 20th century. Steven D. Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City applies Eliot’s map to today’s culture wars, especially in the United States.

It’s common to portray the culture war as a battle between people who favor a public role for religion and people who want to keep religion locked securely in the private realm. Smith argues, however, that our frameworks and language obscure a deeper reality: The real fight isn’t between religion and secularism, but between two kinds of religion. His book makes the case that today’s culture war shares much in common with the culture war that rocked ancient Rome.

The Romans were pragmatic and worldly, yet they believed their greatest strength was devotion to the empire’s gods. This was evident in public rituals, architecture, the role of divination, and the military. Rome, in short, was a “city of the gods.”

The paganism of Rome treated the world itself as sacred. But Christianity introduced a radically different perspective. Christians—while affirming the world’s goodness—located the sacred in another world altogether. In other words, paganism was an immanent form of religiosity, while Christianity embraced the transcendent.

Take, for instance, their competing approaches toward sexuality. For the Romans, sex provided pleasure and progeny, but they also viewed it as a divine imperative that shared in the energy of the universe. (Some pagan religious festivals included sex shows.) Christians did not claim that sex and reproduction were wrong, though Augustine and others insisted that sexual desire in its earthly form was deeply disordered. Yet having pledged their loyalty to a different world, they thought it idolatrous to make earthly sexual fulfillment the highest good; even reproduction and family weren’t ultimate goods. Christianity demanded a degree of sexual control and renunciation that was nonsensical to many pagans.

The Romans were, in some ways, tolerant of this new transcendent religion. But over time they came to regard Christianity as incompatible with Roman values. Christians refused to pledge allegiance to the emperor. By rejecting Roman religion, Smith writes, Christians “actively and affirmatively subverted” the foundations of Roman order, the “social contract” between the empire’s gods and its people. Christians “defied and insulted the gods,” a desecration Rome could not tolerate. Christian morality, especially its sexual morality, was resented for interfering with Roman liberties.
Rome did make Christians a counter-offer: If they would be reasonable and keep their faith a private affair, they could live in peace. Christians rejected the bargain, and Roman tolerance evaporated into sporadic but bloody persecution. Christianity exposed the fact that the Romans were tolerant in theory but not in principle.

A Pagan Public Square
Smith doesn’t attempt to adjudicate historical debates about the causes of Christianity’s eventual triumph. He’s more interested in the kind of triumph Christianity achieved, and the degree to which it extinguished paganism. Christianity won in that it eventually shaped the symbols and norms that defined public life. Yet paganism persisted in art, in periodic renaissance movements, and in nostalgia for the shimmering glow of the ancient gods or resentment against Christianity’s suppression of pagan exuberance.

Modern secularism understands itself as an immanent movement that relegates religion to a purely private role. Political secularism attempts the virtually unprecedented experiment of establishing political order without reference to God or, in theory, any form of sacred. Philosophical secularism claims that rational scientific explanations of the world have made religion obsolete. If Max Weber is to be believed, we inhabit a disenchanted world.

But Smith isn’t buying it. Somewhat like Charles Taylor in A Secular Age, he sees pagan forms of religiosity popping up in surprising places. The late legal theorist Ronald Dworkin, for instance, endorsed a pantheistic “religion without God,” and writers like Sam Harris and Barbara Ehrenreich advocate modes of re-enchantment.

In two chapters about “counterrevolution,” Smith examines the internal tensions of contemporary American law, sexuality, and religious freedom. Why, for instance, are Christian symbols purged from public spaces while “sacred” national symbols (like the flag) are permitted? Why can we only tolerate public religious expressions that have lost their religious significance (in the view of what former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called a “reasonable observer”)? Once they’ve won their civil rights, why can’t LGBT activists permit Christians their religious freedom?

In each area, Smith’s pagan-versus-Christian template proves more illuminating than the secular-versus-religion framing favored in most “culture war” analysis. The Constitution isn’t a battleground between secular and religious interpretations but between transcendent religion (Christianity in particular) and immanent religion. Transcendent religious expressions are excluded, but immanent religiosity is permitted.

Thus, for instance, during the 1990s, the Supreme Court abandoned “accommodation” as a justification for religious freedom. The standard of accommodation assumed the possibility of religious truth, protecting the right to “obey God rather than man” (within limits, which didn’t include polygamy). Recent religious liberty decisions instead pay homage to the individual conscience while treating any symbols that still imply transcendence or accountability to God, like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, as constitutionally suspect.

In example after example, Smith shows that Eliot was right. We don’t have a naked public square. We have a pagan public square from which transcendent appeals and symbols, even implicit ones, are excluded.

The Scandal of Particularity
Smith’s book is strongest in the final chapters, where he writes about his specialties, constitutional law and religious freedom. His pagan-versus-Christian framework uncovers a logic behind the apparently arbitrary court decisions of recent decades.

But weaknesses crop us as he skims the surface of many centuries. He doesn’t always clarify the difference between pagan persistence and pagan revival, and he doesn’t attend sufficiently to the various ways Christianity has transformed paganism by assimilating many of its dominant ideas and symbols. (Thomas Aquinas, for instance, drew heavily on philosophical frameworks inherited from Aristotle, and a great deal of Christian art has incorporated pagan imagery.) Smith tends to treat paganism as an unchanging essence, which prevents him from doing justice to Taylor’s insight that our secular age has produced fresh forms of religious life and experience, neither strictly pagan nor strictly Christian.

But the most fundamental problem with Smith’s book is his shaky deployment of the terms immanent and transcendent. Christianity, he says, is transcendent, in that it locates human fulfillment in a world beyond “this world,” while paganism is an immanent religiosity that seeks fulfillment in the here-and-now.
The terms are misleading at best. For pagans, the human world is marred by mortality, while the gods are immortals who transcend this vale of tears. Olympus is beyond this world, where the gods feast on ambrosia. On the other hand, “transcendence” is hardly the whole story for Christianity, which affirms that the Creator took frail flesh to live a human life and die a human death. It was the unthinkable immanence of the Christian God that posed a stumbling block for pagans, as well as for early Christian heretics.

Along similar lines, treating Christianity as “transcendent” obscures the inherently socio-political character of Christianity; that is, it fails to do justice to the church. One of Christianity’s prime novelties was the formation of a new kind of social body—similar to Judaism but not ethnically defined, universal as the empire but entirely independent of it, a polis that was not confined to a single location, a this-worldly communion that also encompassed the heavenly assembly.

Treating Christianity as an instance of a more general category, like “transcendence,” doesn’t capture its novelty. It glosses over Jesus, the message of the gospel, and the formation of a church. Smudging these specifics, Smith’s framework stumbles over the scandal of particularity.

Why does Smith rely on the distinction between immanent and transcendent religion, given these historical and theological problems? In The Idea of a Christian Society, Eliot distinguished between concrete forms of religion—paganism versus Christianity. That better describes the conflict in the US, where the representatives of “transcendent religion” are overwhelmingly Christian. Why not just say so?

Two answers occur to me. First, Smith’s inclusive terminology is more legally and politically viable. To argue for the legitimacy of public Christian symbols runs afoul of contemporary constitutional interpretation. In a political environment more pluralistic than Eliot’s, the generic category enables Smith to make common cause with adherents of other “transcendent” religions.

Second, the inclusive language deflects the worry that Smith might be arguing for a specifically Christian political order. He claims that “modern Christian society would be open to transcendence,” but without sponsoring “any official account of what transcendence is and requires.”

That sounds like the classical liberal settlement regarding religion: Religions, including transcendent ones, have a robust place in the public square, but no religious truth-claims set the rules of the game. But—if I’ve decoded Smith’s hints accurately—this runs contrary to his historical analysis. American religious liberty, Smith shows, is an outgrowth of a specific religion, not generic transcendence. We can’t wish away the necessity of ground rules, which inescapably assume and imply certain beliefs about God and his relevance (or irrelevance) to politics. They assume either that Jesus is, or is not, Lord.

The polity Smith appears to imagine is literally utopian: It has existed nowhere. For all Christendom’s limitations and flaws, the same cannot be said of the idea of a Christian society.

Peter Leithart is president of the Theopolis Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. He recently authored a two-volume commentary on Revelation for the International Theological Commentary series (T&T Clark).

Do you agree? Is this missing something? Share your feedback here.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 04, 2018, 07:08:58 pm

A Bible in One Hand, a Passport in the Other

What Christians gain from traveling the world.

Peter Grier caught the travel bug at an early age. But as he journeyed off to destinations across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, he began pondering the relationship between his Christian faith and his wanderlust: Does God really want us spending time and money on travel for its own sake, apart from any missionary or evangelistic motivation? In Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart, Grier—who works with students at several Irish universities as a Christian Unions team leader—walks through a Christian approach to travel. Andrew Wilson, an avid hiker and author of Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther, spoke with Grier about his adventures abroad and how they have deepened his faith.

What drove you to start exploring the world?

I grew up in Belfast during the 1980s and ’90s. It was a troubled spot with much violence, and I lived through it all. Because so few people wanted to come to a country that was so divided, it was very monocultural.

It was also monocultural in another way: It was one of the largest evangelical Christian populations in the world, certainly in Europe. I grew up in a Bible-believing household, got taught the Bible from a young age, and experienced the privilege of the community there establishing me in my faith. It was only when I went off to university in Nottingham that I started to meet people of different worldviews and upbringings. That was a great challenge and a great turning point in my life of faith. Since then I’ve worked with various Christian unions to help students of faith maintain their belief and explain it to the world.

I was traveling a lot—mostly by car— for my job, and I kept hearing that it was a waste of time to be spending so much time on the road. Which got me thinking: How can it be useful for my life of faith? At the time, I was also living with a final-year student at the university, a great friend. He decided when he was finished that he would fly to New Zealand and cycle back to Ireland over the course of a year. When his parents found out, they called me and told me I had to stop him, that the trip would perhaps destroy his faith, and besides it would be a waste of time. At the same time, my friend came to me and asked me to convince his parents that the trip was a good idea.

And so I suppose I’m writing the book for people like him. I wanted to explore how travel can help our faith.

Where did traveling begin for you?

My first independent travel experience was at age 16, heading off in the summertime with an evangelical mission on the beaches of Belgium. I remember being stopped on the train on the way back by the Belgian police; they asked where my guardians were and told me I wasn’t supposed to be traveling alone!

That was one of the many experiences that gave me the confidence to travel the world. I also have a sister who lives in Africa and just married a man from Vanuatu; another sister has lived in various places including Brussels. I have a heart for mission and try to get away each summer with mission groups, but I also travel on my own to explore various cultures less impacted by Christianity.

Tell me about some of the highlights and disappointments of your world travels.

On one of my early trips to North Africa, I did a home-stay with local family who spoke only Arabic. I was petrified to begin with. But I was able to stay in their house and eat with them. The father ran a stall at the local market, and I got to see the how he interacted with both locals and tourists. Those are the joys you look back on.

I remember a student who stayed with us in Ireland for a month and spent his first eight days hanging out in his room Skyping people back home in Taiwan. I finally knocked on his door and said, “You’ve got one month to explore Ireland: Why haven’t you left the house yet?” He replied, “Oh, I’m waiting for good weather.” That pretty much sums up how I traveled to begin with, waiting for and chasing picture book experiences instead of learning to make the most of every situation. I had to learn to adapt.

I remember backpacking through South America as a young man and encountering not so much the local culture but the subculture of travelers, many of them young people like myself, on a quest for something. I remember an atmosphere of intense hedonism: not just sketchy sex and drugs, but a larger, more wholesome desire to flood the senses and find intimacy with other people. As someone who works with students, how do you teach them not to tame but to direct these God-given desires?

Not diminishing their adventurous desires is absolutely key. Some Christians—many in the circles I grew up in—want to immediately point to the problems with any particular activity, which isn’t the warmest way to invite people to discover life to the full with Christ. If God has created the world, then we should expect to experience the implications of that with all of our senses as we travel the world.

We can be quick to point out from the top of a mountain the awesome beauty of creation and expect it to be obvious to others that God made it, which can actually put people off. But when you spend hours traveling and hosting travelers, when you spend long evenings chatting, eating good food, and sharing the joys and struggles of life—that’s when people genuinely open up. Here is the real chance to partake of life and faith. It’s not just beauty that is meaningful, either. Here in Ireland there are castle ruins every few miles, sitting broken down in farmers’ fields. We know that they were meant to be more than they are now. We all know this, but the Christian worldview is quite unique in expressing this truth, which many people find difficult to express otherwise.

What can you recommend for us to see in Ireland?

A tiny village called Ardmore, down the coast from where I live, where there’s a monastery founded by a fifth-century saint named Declán. Many people think of Saint Patrick as the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, and yet Saint Declán actually arrived before him. Visiting those sites and the round towers is inspirational. You get a sense of how seriously these men and women took their faith and their travel, how they desired to go off to places that did not know the name of Jesus or the joys of living for him. I confess that history bored me in my school days, but traveling really drove me to start reading and learning about these figures, both from people of old who have passed away and left their accounts and from local people who have stories to tell.

Your book addresses a tension between the desire for movement and the value of stability. Saint Patrick and other missionaries to Europe were Benedictines, who took a vow of stability. They evangelized by first traveling out—and then putting down deep roots. As travel has gotten cheaper and more commonplace, and as communication has shrunk the world, what’s the place of staying in place?

There’s clearly no one-size-fits-all answer. My friend who cycled the world found, even after networking extensively and making stops with lots of friends along the way, that his journey was probably the loneliest experience of his life. And one thing he said it taught him was the value of people who invest themselves in others’ lives in deep ways, more than just an hour on Sunday morning. And so he’s really bedded down for life in Ireland now, rather than yearning after more adventure.

Fresh Ideas for Your Christmas Sermon
I think, increasingly, the students at the university where I work realize that there’s something unique about Christian community, and when they see such unity in diversity—how we love one another—they start to look toward Christ. When you’re living an independent, individualistic life, which many travelers lean toward, you do miss out on the richness and beauty of true community. You can also opt out of many of the problems that come from living alongside other humans who are just as prone to silly things in their hearts as you are. I hope that travel can prompt people to reflect upon what it means to be a church gathered as well as a church sent.

I’m reminded of the great missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin, who once drove back to England from his home in South India and, famously, was able to find a church to worship in every single Sunday of that long trip, save one. Tell me something about the diversity of Christianity that you’ve encountered in your travels.

Travel has really opened my eyes to see how Christianity is far more diverse and wonderful than I could have imagined from within my own culture. It’s blown my mind how God has shaped his church and grown his kingdom in various settings. Some of the richest times have been sitting with the underground church—a real privilege, as having a Western visitor is not very safe for those trying to stay under the radar. To meet in secret with some of these believers, to experience the depth of their faith in challenging circumstances, to see their wholehearted commitment to the Lord Jesus and the worship of him—that is bound to bring forward the main things in Christianity. You’re not going to end up having a complete falling out just because they have a slightly different theology of the end times or something like that.

Such a setting binds you so tightly that you feel ashamed to split over minor things which, in Ireland, Christians might be happy to split over. That will forever be etched on my memory, and any time I have cause to disagree with my brother or sister, my experience of the persecuted church will come back to me, urging me to live with and learn from my fellow Christians.

What travel plans do you have for the future?

I’d really love to move to a radically different part of the world where Christ is not known so much, bed down there, and see what that teaches me. Perhaps in one of the Islamic cultures I’ve been visiting recently: to experience life together with fellow believers there and to learn from our Muslim friends and their different way of looking at the world. I might even create a business to help people conserve their local culture. Then I could bring that experience back to the Irish church, so that the tiny evangelical church scene here might see more of the real blessing of worldwide sending and receiving.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 05, 2018, 09:59:46 pm

At President Bush’s Funeral, Michael W. Smith Honors His ‘Friend Forever’

The CCM pioneer used to talk faith with George H. W. Bush and Billy Graham. This year, he performs at both of their memorials.

Michael W. Smith’s hit song “Friends” has been sung thousands of times over the decades, but never quite like today’s performance at the funeral service for President George H. W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington.

Not only will Smith be backed by a full orchestra and a 150-person choir, but he will also be singing a personal farewell to the leader who, to his surprise, became his longtime friend and fan. Bush died on Friday at age 94.

“First and foremost, I hope the song is very honoring of the president because he loved the song,” Smith said in an interview with CT. “The last time I saw him, when we said goodbye, he gave me a hug, pointed his finger in the air, and with a twinkle in his eye, said, ‘Friends are friends forever.’”

The contemporary Christian music (CCM) chart-topper first played for President Bush in the White House after a Christmas special in 1989. They struck up a friendship that led to regular visits to the late president’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine; relationships with the rest of the Bush family; and even travel together.

“He’s just been an inspiration to me,” the three-time Grammy winner said. “We didn’t talk about politics much. But we did have a lot of conversations about God and faith.”

“One thing that tied us together was his relationship with Billy Graham. There were times we would get Billy Graham on the phone and talk,” Smith said, remembering them standing on the deck conversing with the late evangelist, whose memorial service and funeral the singer performed at earlier this year.

Bush requested “Friends,” his favorite song of Smith’s, for his funeral. Smith sang an arrangement with the Armed Forces Chorus, the National Cathedral Choir, and the United States Marine Orchestra.

Smith described the 41st president—a lifelong Episcopalian—as a humble leader and a man of deep faith: “He was so kind. He was gentle. He was for the underdog. If he did something great, he never bragged about it.”

The singer-songwriter also became close with Bush’s sons George W. and Jeb, before either had set their sights on running for governor or president. The first time Smith met George W. Bush, Smith beat him and the senior Bush in a doubles tennis match. “I thought, ‘I’ll never be back,’” he said.

But Smith went on to sing during a White House prayer service for George W. Bush’s presidential inauguration in 2001—the first time he ever performed “Above All”—and for Jeb’s inauguration as governor of Florida. (The younger President Bush calls him “the real dubya.”)

When the Smiths and Bushes traveled together on vacation to Greece, Smith said the late President Bush would request he lead a worship service on Sundays—“nothing too long.” He always called him “Mr. President,” and his late wife Barbara “Mrs. Bush,” even though they were close enough to be on a first-name basis.

Even after all these years, “It’s sort of surreal,” said Smith, who has sold more than 15 million albums over his career. “I think God ordained it. For some reason, God has given me favor with kings. It certainly has nothing to do with my credentials.”

Smith’s wife Debbie wrote “Friends” in honor of someone leaving town. “Little did I know I would be singing the song my entire life,” the CCM pioneer said.

From his 1983 solo album, The Michael W. Smith Project, “Friends” struck Christian listeners and grew to become a staple for goodbyes, graduations, and memorial services. (The chorus, in part, goes: “Though it’s hard to let you go / In the Father’s hands we know / That a lifetime’s not too long / To live as friends.”)

CCM Magazine ranks “Friends” among the greatest songs in Christian music. It’s become so popular that it’s part of Smith’s brand, inspiring his 1997 devotional book, Friends Are Friends Forever: And Other Encouragements from God's Word; a 2001 youth album Friends 4 Ever; and several Micheal W. Smith “and friends” tours.

When Smith sang his trademark ballad during a performance in Houston on Sunday night, he “lost it” thinking of the late president.

He said he had been in touch with a few of Bush’s children, including Jeb, since the president’s death. Though there is a sense of relief around his passing, Smith said, “You’re never ready to say goodbye to your mom or dad. I know because I lost my dad three years ago.”

He said he trusted that during today’s service, “the song will translate to all the world” as people pause to remember the leader he got to call a friend.

Other songs featured during today’s state funeral included “Praise My Soul, The King of Heaven,” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” nicknamed “The Navy Hymn.” The service was led by Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (who famously preached at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle), along with the bishop of Washington, the dean of the Washington National Cathedral, and the rector of Bush’s home church, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Tomorrow, another memorial service will be held at St. Martin’s before Bush’s burial at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

Smith performed “Above All” at Billy Graham’s funeral in March, one of six worship songs handpicked by the legendary preacher.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 06, 2018, 12:38:13 pm

The Strange Journey of Christian Rock and Roll

Randall Stephens’s history pays attention to political and cultural flash points—without losing focus on the music itself.

Every few years, it seems, what some call the “mainstream media” rediscover Christian rock. Sometimes it’s treated with reverence and respect, as in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s now-classic 2004 account of tagging along at a Christian music festival for GQ. More often, it’s treated like a sociological oddity: a strange footnote in the history of American pop, a foreign culture to be explained with an anthropologist’s rigorous eye. Just this September, The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh wrote a mini-history of Christian music (“The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock”) that took the genre seriously, but still contained whiffs of the incredulous stance preferred by many music writers: Can you believe that band you like—take your pick from among U2, Bob Dylan. Paramore, Evanescence, Switchfoot, Sixpence None the Richer, The Killers, and the list goes on—might actually be Christian?

What Sanneh’s piece got right, thankfully, was its attention to just how common Christian pop music is today—how central it is, in sometimes unrecognized ways, to American popular culture. (Though when he says this would have been hard to imagine in 1969, I’m not so sure; “Spirit in the Sky” was a hit single that year, and the previous year saw the release of perhaps the most overtly religious rock record of all time, The Electric Prunes’s Mass in F Minor.)

Indeed, Christian rock has had a strange and circuitous journey back to the center of American culture. Randall J. Stephens’s The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll describes this sometimes paradoxical path. Stephens traces the roots of rock music to the Pentecostal church and catalogs the racial, political, and religious backlash from some of the same denominations that birthed it, forces that built to a frenzy in the mid-1960s. Later he shows how the tide turned, with rock being absorbed into the evangelical movement that created what we now know as “Christian music.”

Between Rock and a Hard Place
If this synopsis sounds complicated, that’s because it is. (I even left out a couple other pendulum swings.) Stephens is an academic historian, and this is perhaps the most comprehensive history of Christian rock yet published. Armed with an astonishing array of archival material, from pamphlets to sermons to newspapers and magazines, Stephens blows through nearly 70 years of church, music, and cultural history in 250 pages.

The book begins in the 1950s, when musicians who cut their teeth playing the emotional, high-energy music of the Pentecostal church began to take that same fervor to the emerging rock-and-roll scene, often to the chagrin of their pastors. Stephens details the anguish that both Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard felt about performing secular music: Both occasionally swore off rock out of what appeared to be genuine concern for their souls, but they usually came back.

These musicians were between rock and a hard place. Their churches often condemned them for embracing the worldly, sexualized tropes of rock and roll, while at the same time mainstream society rejected them for being associated with lower-class, low-culture Pentecostalism. Though Stephens is careful to maintain a focus on the music itself—a strength of the book; many academics take an interest in Christian culture for political or sociological reasons—he does have a thesis about what made the church, and indeed mainstream Christian culture, so squeamish about rock music: in short, racial (and occasionally gender) anxiety. He details stomach-turningly racist screeds against rock music, appearing in pamphlets and lectures associating rock with “primitive” and “savage” depictions of both African and African American culture.

By the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the backlash against rock reached perhaps its zenith with anti-Beatles sentiment, which, Stephens shows, actually predates John Lennon’s 1966 boast that his band was “bigger than Jesus.” This was the age when the clash between the “Christian establishment” and the “rock counterculture,” which can seem today like a tired (and untrue) cliché, was actually a vital national debate.

Stephens then describes the surprising shift—and it was surprising, in 1972—that happened when conservative Christianity embraced rock music, driven in part by the musings of Christian leaders who wondered if churches really were failing to offer an exciting alternative to the ascendant counterculture of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Incredibly, it worked. The Jesus movement, with its “combination of the hippie counterculture, neo-pentecostalism, and a general antiauthoritarian primitivism,” led to an explosion of Christian rock music that helped fuel the growth of non-denominational churches like Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard—which in turn, Stephens writes, went on to “reshape” evangelicalism. (As, indeed, they would shake up secular rock music—Stephens devotes several pages to the dismissive reactions from rock critics to Bob Dylan’s Vineyard-influenced Christian albums.)

Though the rock-ification of the evangelical church ultimately seems to have won the day, given the current prominence of Hillsong-style worship music, Stephens’s final chapter describes the fundamentalist backlash against the evangelical embrace of rock. Televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart— Jerry Lee Lewis’ cousin, as Stephens occasionally reminds readers; a fact which basically sums up this whole tangled business in a nutshell—denounced Christian rock as worldly, Satanic, and theologically suspect. We know how this turned out: Stephens describes the continued acceptance of rock music in the late 80s, leading to the second explosion of Christian rock in the 90’s, which he touches on briefly in his epilogue.

More to Be Written
The Devil’s Music ends its dense exploration of Christian rock history here. As someone whose primary interest in Christian rock is ‘90s-oriented, you might expect I would find this disappointing. Even so, I have to conclude that the scope of the book feels appropriate. We are just now beginning to gain enough historical distance from a phenomenon as big as DC Talk’s Jesus Freak to truly understand its cultural, historical, and musical significance. Stephens’s work is broad, and it takes the interplay between church, music, and secular culture seriously. Those who grew up with Christian rock as an utterly normal part of their lives, who can’t imagine a time when it would have been controversial to have an electric guitar in church or to listen to a Beatles album, will find this history revelatory.

Ultimately, though, I want to see more: not just more Christian rock history, though that would be interesting, but more writing about Christian rock that takes the music itself seriously. The Devil’s Music is one of only a handful of recent books—there are maybe a dozen in the last 20 years—that does so. There is more to be written about Christian rock: maybe an ethnography that will make Christian rock pop off the page the way James Ault’s Spirit and Flesh or T. M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back did for church life; maybe an anthology of Christian music criticism (it exists, stretching back to Christian youth magazines of the 1970s); maybe an oral history of ‘80s and ‘90s underground Christian rock; or maybe more explorations of classic Christian albums. (In fact, the Bloomsbury Press’s popular 33 1/3 series, which consists of small books on classic albums, has just released a volume on Jesus Freak.)

This stuff is worth documenting, and not simply as novelty. Christian rock is a large, complex, and important cultural phenomenon. As Sanneh points out in The New Yorker, fully half the top 20 songs on last year’s Billboard chart were performed by acts with (at least) Christian roots. The history of Christian rock is strange and fascinating, and it is our history—not just as evangelicals, but as Americans.

Joel Heng Hartse is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. He is the author of Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll: My Life on Record (Cascade).

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 10, 2018, 12:24:05 pm

The Top Bible Verses of 2018 Don’t Come from Jesus or Paul

For the first time in recent years, YouVersion and Bible Gateway users searched for and shared verses from Old Testament prophets the most.

Do not fear.

It’s a charge that extends back to the earliest parts of Scripture, gets repeated from the lips of Jesus, and resonates the modern world. It’s also the message of the most popular Bible verse of 2018 on YouVersion, the world’s most-downloaded Bible app.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God,” reads the year’s top verse, Isaiah 41:10. “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

That exhortation from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was shared, bookmarked, and highlighted more than any other passage by hundreds of millions of YouVersion users.

The year’s top honor at Bible Gateway comes from another Old Testament prophet. The most-read verse on the Bible website was the familiar Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

On the leading Bible website, either Jeremiah 29:11 or John 3:16 have topped the annual list every year. (The oft-quoted line from Jeremiah has come to be considered one of the most frequently misinterpreted Bible verses.)

The rest of Bible Gateway’s top 10 come from Psalm 23 (verses 1, 4, 6, and 6), Romans (Romans 8:28 and Romans 12:2), and Matthew (6:33).

YouVersion’s top verse, Isaiah 41:10, ranked thirteenth on Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway’s top verse, Jeremiah 29:11, also spiked to No. 1 in several countries worldwide, according to the YouVersion data.

The two Bible platforms’ lists end up being pretty different from one another each year, evidence that users tend to look up different verses online than they highlight or share during their study time on an app.

This year, Bible Gateway ranked popular verses based on 920 million searches across versions of the site. YouVersion’s picks stem from more than 1.7 billion highlights, bookmarks, and notes on more than 350 million devices.

Previously, YouVersion’s verse of the year award has gone to Joshua 1:9 (2017), Romans 8:28 (2016), and Proverbs 3:5–6 (2015). This year marks a shift to a prophet, but continues the theme of biblical reassurance to digital readers.

“This year’s data shows people worldwide are continuing to turn to the Bible in search of comfort, encouragement, and hope,” said Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader for Life.Church and YouVersion founder.

While Isaiah 41:10 was the app’s most popular verse overall in 2018—and the top pick in the United States, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain—several others were ranked as No. 1 in various countries.

Joshua 1:9, the global favorite in 2017, remained the most popular verse in the Central and South American countries of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. John 3:16 took the lead spot in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Turkey. 1 Peter 5:7 topped the list in Egypt, India, and Iraq, and Matthew 6:33 was most popular in Thailand and Vietnam.

Not only was Jeremiah 29:11 the most popular verse of the year on Bible Gateway, it also claimed the YouVersion top spot in countries in the developed West (Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom) and the Global South (Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates), spanning demographics in a way that other verses didn’t.

At Bible Gateway, top searches for passages included Psalm 91, Psalm 23, Genesis 1, Romans 8, and Matthew 6. Its leading keyword searches of the year were “love,” “peace,” and “faith,” respectively (“amor,” which means love, was the top keyword in Spanish, too). “Holy spirit,” was the eighth-most searched word, “forgive” ranked 15th, and “truth” came in as the 19th most commonly searched term.

And with the help of an emoji-based search on YouVersion’s Bible App, which allows users to tap images corresponding to various emotions, individuals conducted more than 18 million searches to find what the Bible might say to them in the midst of their emotional highs and lows.

YouVersion celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the app in July. In the decade since it originated as one of the Apple App Store’s first 200 applications, the Bible App has grown to include more than 1,800 versions of the Bible in more than 1,250 languages. Across the globe, via the Bible App, 27.2 billion Bible chapters were read in 2018; there were 4.2 billion audio chapter listens; more than 400 million verses were shared; and nearly a billion days of Bible plan readings were completed.


Engagement with God’s Word rose across continents. In Asia, Japan led the way in increased use of the Bible App, doubling over 2017, largely due to the addition of a new Japanese translation of the Bible within the app. Nepal (69%), Indonesia (61%), and Vietnam (59%) also saw big boosts in digital Bible engagement.

European countries like Romania, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Italy amplified their use of the leading Bible application, with increases of 100 percent, 67 percent, 60 percent, 57 percent, and 53 percent, respectively. South American countries also contributed to rising overall engagement, with use in Chile increasing by 79 percent and in Argentina by 60 percent.

“Many of us grew up with the ability to read the Bible in our heart language, but countless people around the world don’t have that privilege. That’s why we’re passionate about making the Bible available in more languages through the app,” said Gruenewald.

Overall Bible engagement on the YouVersion platform reached a new pinnacle this year, featuring a 27 percent year-over-year increase in daily use from 2017. The group’s Bible App for Kids, which launched in 2013 and is now available in 42 languages, saw an increase of 55 percent in installations in the last year, reaching 27 million devices worldwide.


"This generation is on pace to become the most Bible-engaged generation ever, and we believe the Church should keep investing in new technologies to help adults and children connect with the Bible,” said Gruenewald. “We’re honored to be a part of how God is reaching people around the globe through his Word, and we’re eager to see how Bible-engaged people make a difference in this world for decades to come.

Bible Gateway celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The popular Bible directory is and “the Internet’s most visited Christian website,” according to HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Though most of its users continue to access the site via desktop (followed by mobile and table), Bible Gateway launched a new Bible Audio App this year.

The site has become popular among millennials and younger generations, with more users aged 25-34 accessing Bible Gateway than any other age group. The site reports that 44 percent of users come from outside the US, and 2018 saw visitors from over 240 countries and territories.

Top Bible Verses of 2018
Citation   Verse   Countries where it ranks No. 1 on YouVersion   Overall ranking on Bible Gateway

Jeremiah 29:11   “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   

Australia, Canada, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom   1
Isaiah 41:10   So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.   

Chile, France, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, South Africa, Spain, United States   3
Joshua 1:9   Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.   Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, Mexico   15
John 3:16   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.   

Bangladesh, Nepal, Turkey   2
1 Peter 5:7   Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.   Egypt, India, Iraq   40
Proverbs 4:23   Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.   China, Russia   71
Matthew 6:33   But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   

Thailand, Vietnam   10
Romans 8:28   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.   Ukraine   4
Proverbs 16:9   In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.   Korea   Not in top 100

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 11, 2018, 12:35:16 am

The Most Wonderfully Painful Time of the Year

Christmas reminds us that faith in the future does not erase our pain in the present.

Several years ago, when my son Quinn was in kindergarten, he opened a present on Christmas morning, and he was not happy with what he saw. He set it aside, looked up at me, and declared, “We’re gonna need a receipt for that one.” I made a mental note to start working on gratitude with him as soon as the wrapping paper was all picked up. Yet, at the same time, I heard in his words the ordinary wish of the masses of humanity: We are given this gift called life and, oftentimes, as we unwrap it, there are parts of it we would like to return.

Usually, we want a receipt for the painful parts.

For instance, several months ago, I dropped Quinn off for his first day of fifth grade. The long line of cars was moving slowly, so I had time to watch him walk onto the playground. He stood there, alone, nervously rubbing the straps of his backpack, scanning the crowd for just one friendly face. He turned in circles and searched in vain. My stomach clenched. As a psychologist, I know kids need moments like this to build resilience—to learn they can survive it—but the father in me was about to pull over and get out anyway. Then, the line sped up and I was forced to move on, leaving my son lonely and looking. I knew he’d eventually find his friends—moments of loneliness always precede moments of belonging, that’s just the way it is—but eventually wasn’t good enough for me.

I wanted to skip over the painful part.

Jesus Wept

It’s Christmastime now, and as I watch my kids make wish lists and sing in Christmas pageants and open an Advent calendar, memories of my own childhood are revived, like ghosts from Christmases past. Specifically, I recall the church I attended when I was Quinn’s age, where I learned about a better way to handle the painful parts of life. Every week in Sunday school, we’d practice Bible trivia. Over time, I memorized most of the questions and answers, and for some reason, to this day, I remember one question in particular: “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?” And the answer?

“Jesus wept.”

Why did Jesus weep? The story begins with the sisters of a man named Lazarus sending word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus immediately reassures them with these words, “This sickness will not end in death.” Then, Jesus dawdles for a while, and his friend dies. Eventually, Jesus returns to Judea, where the body of his friend lies lifeless, all the while reassuring everyone that he will resurrect Lazarus. But then, with his own eyes, he sees the stark tomb of Lazarus himself, and the big, thick, wordy Bible is suddenly pithy in describing the scene: “Jesus wept.”

Jesus didn’t skip the grit to get to the gift.

He’s the God of the universe, power with a pulse, justice with a jawbone, love with a larynx. He knows he can and will resurrect his beloved friend—the outcome is not in question, the joy is not in doubt, the gift is not up for grabs—and yet he sobs anyway. He feels the grief and the sorrow, the loss and the agony. He takes time for the pain. To surrender to it. To show it. Though we human beings tend to ask for a receipt and try to return our pain—though we human beings, if given a choice, would skip the weeping and get right to the resurrecting—God-become-human will have none of it.

Before the gift of the whole story, Jesus makes space for the grit of the human story.

Now, years later, as my kids fall asleep with visions of Nintendo Switches dancing in their heads, as a clinical psychologist, I think the weeping of Jesus may be one of his most important teachings of all. Now, when my clients say things like, “My faith is strong, so I don’t know why I feel so afraid of all this uncertainty,” or “I believe in heaven, so I don’t know why I feel so sad about all this loss,” I remember the shortest verse in the Bible. I remember that Jesus wept before the resurrection of his friend.

I remember that faith in the future does not erase our pain about the present.

Oftentimes, we’d prefer to reflect upon the gift of a resurrected Jesus, while we want a receipt for all of the grit that preceded it. But Christmastime is the perfect time to slow down and reflect upon how terribly imperfect his entire life really was. Every hero has an origin story, and Jesus’ story is overflowing with pain and grit, from the very beginning.

Humble Beginnings … and Endings
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David” (Luke 2:4). Jesus is from an impoverished, forgotten, country town. Despite the royal family history, his father is a blue-collar man, probably more than a little rough around the edges. “[Joseph] went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child” (v. 5). His mother was an unmarried pregnant teenager. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” (v. 6–7). He was literally born in a barn. His first cries mixed with the mewling of animals. Poor and pushed to the margins, he entered the world.

It doesn’t get better from there—the grit is everywhere.

He’s still a toddler when he and his parents are forced to flee their homeland, running from murderers and assassins (Matt. 2:13–18). Eventually, they return, but the trauma isn’t over. Accidentally forgotten by his parents at the tender age of 12, he is left alone at a temple in a city far from home (Luke 2:41–52). Do you remember what it was like to be 12? No matter how well you handle it, that pain gets in. Decades later, he emerges into public life and is soundly rebuked and rejected by the Who’s Who of his culture (John 6:41–42). He has a nice run during several years of public ministry, but the crowds that once flocked to him eventually abandon him and call for his death. Moreover, his best friends—his disciples—seem to never really understand him.

They keep wanting to skip the grit to get to the gift.

Meanwhile, he keeps telling them to slow down. For instance, when the mother of two disciples asks him if one of her sons can sit at his right hand in heaven, instead of answering her, he asks her a question, referring to the torture and death that await him: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Matt. 20:22). Around the same time, Peter angrily objects, saying this kind of suffering should never happen to Jesus. In exasperation, Jesus finally loses his cool with all the grit-skipping and replies, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me: you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matt. 16:23). Human beings are obsessed with skipping the grit to get to the gift.

God, apparently, does not separate the two.

Soon after, Jesus is arrested. He is imprisoned and beaten, tortured, spit upon, mocked, and shamed. Then, finally, on the doorstep of death, his loneliness becomes complete, as he experiences the abandonment of his most faithful companion, his Father in heaven. Jesus’ life, from the manger to the Cross, is a story of pain and suffering. He is a perfect human being, but his experience of humanity is anything but perfect. And over and over again, his message for us is this: Don’t skip the grit of being alive to get to the gift of a resurrected life.

Fresh Ideas for Your Christmas Sermon
You can almost hear him on a hillside somewhere, trying to convince the crowd: The grit along the way is part of the gift of finding your way.

The Grit and the Gift
However, like my son with a gift he didn’t want, we human beings have a tendency to separate the two. C. S. Lewis put it this way, “That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

We mortals call pain bad and pleasure good, loneliness bad and belonging good, uncertainty bad and clarity good, death bad and resurrection good, sorrow bad and joy good, darkness bad and light good. Indeed, we’ve even done that to this most human of holiest seasons, this observation of Jesus’ birth itself. For centuries, the four weeks leading up to the holy day of Christmas were called the season of Advent, a liturgical season in which the grit of the world was observed through the ritual of darkness, a lack of light in our homes and churches. A time of waiting on the Light to eventually come. Then, on Christmas day, the gifts. The lighting of trees, the celebration of Light coming into the world, the joy of it all, observed for 12 full days. Now, though, there are lights in the stores as soon as the Halloween candy is gone from the shelves. We leave no space for darkness.

No space for the grittiest parts of our humanity.

A few months ago—and just a few hours after I dropped Quinn off on that lonely first-day-of-school playground—he arrived home with a smile on his face. Eventually, he’d found his people. Eventually, loneliness gave way to belonging. Eventually, pain gave way to peace. Eventually, grit gave way to gift. Eventually. Not immediately. Eventually. But now he knows he can endure the loneliness. Now he knows he can persevere through the pain. Now he knows he can grind it out through the grit. Now he knows he can wait for the resurrection.

Now he knows why the grit is part of the gift.

Jesus showed us with his birth, life, and death that every human life is a gift to be faithfully opened, both the gritty parts and the glorious parts. He came to show us how to stand alone and together, how to weep and wonder, how to die and be resurrected. So, this holiday season, will you join me in doing the most Christlike thing of all? Will you let this holiday be as imperfect and as painful as it wants to be, and will you try to trust, for a little while, that painfulness always precedes peacefulness? Have faith, friend.

The grit eventually becomes part of the gift.

Kelly Flanagan is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, Illinois. His most recent book is Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life (Zondervan, 2017).

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 11, 2018, 10:21:17 am

Christianity Today's 2019 Book Awards
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.

DECEMBER 11, 2018

Christianity Today's 2019 Book Awards
Image: Lauren Pusateri

There’s a funny graphic making the social media rounds that confirms a truth universally acknowledged, at least by bibliophiles. Under the heading “Do I need more books?” sits a pie chart partitioned into a big slice (in teal) and a much smaller slice (in yellow), representing the dueling impulses in play. Predictably enough, the teal portion depicts the overwhelming urge to answer with an emphatic “YES.” But then we confront the nagging, still small voice of conscience, whispering ever so delicately, “also YES, but in yellow.”

Enter to win a complete bundle of all 13 winning titles from CT!
As someone who owns a perfectly appropriate, not even slightly excessive, but still fairly large number of books, I know the feeling. Several years ago, I was part of a book club at church. We were discussing a book about books (Tony Reinke’s Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading). At some point, I asked whether anyone else ever felt guilty about devoting too much time to reading, given all the other callings God places on our lives. One young woman in the group thought the question revealed more about the bookworm bubble I inhabited than any spiritual dilemma Christians commonly face. And of course she was right! (Thank goodness that levelheaded young woman later saw fit to become my wife.)

If only through gritted teeth, you can usually get me to concede the sinful temptations that bookaholism encourages. Like any good gift, reading can be overindulged. But each year, as I set the table for another book awards banquet, I try to ease up on the introspection, adopting the literary equivalent of the “calories don’t count” mindset that fuels so many satisfying Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner binges.

During book awards season, at least, the answer to “Do I need more books?” is always yes. That applies whether you’re someone who likes to read a reasonable amount—or someone who also likes to read a reasonable amount, but more. —Matt Reynolds, books editor


Image: Lauren Pusateri

Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believable

Sam Chan (Zondervan)

“For every generation, or maybe even every decade, a book comes out that will become a standard reference for evangelism and apologetics. This book has the potential to become the leading manual for Christians engaged in outreach for many years to come. Chan discusses a wide set of issues ranging from the theology of evangelism to how to give evangelistic talks to the place of apologetics in evangelism, all geared to the mindset of our contemporary culture.” —Winfried Corduan, professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, Taylor University

(Read an excerpt from Evangelism in a Skeptical World in the June 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

The Morals of the Story: Good News About a Good God

David and Marybeth Baggett (IVP Academic)

“The Baggetts are convinced that the moral argument for God’s existence and nature is among the most resonant and persuasive arguments available in contemporary society, and they do a masterful job of pooling the relevant resources. They highlight the inability of secular ethical theories to account for objective good and evil and human moral obligation. They also demonstrate the rich explanatory power of the Christian worldview in accounting for those same moral realities. If humanity’s deep and unshakable moral intuitions are correct, then The Morals of the Story demonstrates that the rational observer should embrace Christian theism in response.” —Tawa Anderson, professor of philosophy, Oklahoma Baptist University

Biblical Studies

Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels

Edited by Barry Beitzel (Lexham Press)

“This is a very helpful resource. None of the current ‘background commentaries’ offer quite the same level of detail on geographical places. Particularly when studying the Gospels, geographic context is helpful. One of the strengths of the book is that it doesn’t just discuss geographical places in isolation but interweaves them with the Scriptures themselves, producing insights that help clarify our understanding of specific texts. One great example: the book’s discussion of Nazareth and Sepphoris, which sheds light on the probable boyhood context of Jesus.” —J. Daniel Hays, professor of biblical studies, Ouachita Baptist University

Award of Merit

Introducing Medieval Biblical Interpretation: The Senses of Scripture in Premodern Exegesis

Ian Christopher Levy (Baker Academic)

“This book offers a fascinating tour of the ways our forebears in the faith read the Bible. Before the historical-critical method became our modern norm, interpreters commonly wrestled with the historical and spiritual meanings of God’s Word. Many modern readers are ignorant of the trends and methods that permeated this period that occupies the majority of church history. While Levy does not imply that we should abandon the historical-critical method, he does raise the question of what may be learned from our theological predecessors. Remembering that we are members of a 2,000-year-old community of readers may enhance and enrich our own reading of the Bible.” —Constantine Campbell, professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Children and Youth

The Friend Who Forgives

Dan DeWitt and Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company)

“Going by the cover alone, the artist’s style reminded me of the cartoony illustrations for The Beginner’s Bible. But there’s more here than obvious child-grabbing appeal. The illustrations are very clever and contribute greatly to the story. I liked the way motifs repeat—for example, Jesus calling Peter at the beginning of his ministry and again at the end, and Jesus’ prediction of Peter becoming a ‘fisher of men’ later fulfilled. The story is well-suited for children, with its effective echoes and repetition. It’s a book I can see children asking for over and over.” —Janie Cheaney, YA novelist, columnist for World magazine

Award of Merit

The Edge of Over There

Shawn Smucker (Baker)

“Smucker nimbly weaves common experiences that teens face—shifting relationships with parents, the desire to become socially active, and the yearning for connection—into this almost dystopian fantasy. On the other side of a door that leads to the afterlife, and before a bitter battle begins, adolescent Ruby reflects on her relationship with her father: ‘Her father’s manner toward her had been changing recently. He was letting go of her, or pulling away, she couldn’t tell which.’ She enjoys the freedom this affords her, but feels ‘empty, anxious.’ Full of profound wisdom, The Edge of Over There is a lyrical exploration of the good and evil that reside in all of us.” —Jennifer Grant, writer and speaker, president of INK: A Creative Collective

Christian Living/Discipleship

The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World

Rosaria Butterfield (Crossway)

“This is a profoundly challenging book that I would happily recommend to any of my Christian friends. I didn’t agree with every jot and tittle, although I share Butterfield’s complementarian theology. But the book offers both a vital critique of our Christian cultural norms and a beautiful, gritty, hard-won vision for how we could live together more faithfully. I laughed out loud at Butterfield’s anecdote about her mother banging on the door during a radio interview, and I cried when she recounted her mother’s death-bed conversion. I will live better because of this book.” —Rebecca McLaughlin, writer and speaker, author of Confronting Christianity (forthcoming)

(Read CT’s interview with Rosaria Butterfield.)

Award of Merit

The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home

Russell Moore (B&H)

“As a pastor, I often earmark books that could be a great resource for church members. This time, The Storm-Tossed Family was the book I needed. With one adjective, storm-tossed, Moore captures perfectly the state of affairs in my home. With the gentleness of a fellow parent, he unmoors us from the frantic idolatry of family and reorients our focus on the crucified Savior who has the power to say to the wind and waves, ‘Peace, be still.’ Moore puts his rhetorical gifts to work, turning phrases, weaving together Scriptures, and summoning apt illustrations with the unction of a preacher but the meekness of a bleary-eyed father of five. He shares his own failures and shortcomings while faithfully directing our gaze to the grace of Christ’s cross as a hopeful anchor for the family.” —Chad Ashby, pastor of College Street Baptist Church in Newberry, South Carolina

(Read CT’s interview with Russell Moore in the September 2018 issue of CT.)

The Church/Pastoral Leadership

Preaching as Reminding: Stirring Memory in an Age of Forgetfulness

Jeffrey D. Arthurs (IVP Academic)

“This book just became required reading for any young pastor I have the privilege of ministering in the future. Thankfully, the evangelical church over the past half-century has emphasized the need for expositional preaching. Yet much of what passes as expositional preaching today lacks impact. It tends to feel more like a running commentary on the text, rather than preaching. Arthurs underscores the importance of remembering in preaching. He provides a helpful biblical theology of the role of memory, cites modern science’s help in this area, and then applies the knowledge to the discipline of preaching. This book is engaging, informative, and lively—just like our preaching should be.” —Jason Helopoulos, senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, author of The New Pastor’s Handbook

Award of Merit

The Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in America

Glenn Daman (Moody)

“As a church planter in a rural (or micropolitan) setting, I found Daman’s work to be helpful, refreshing, and encouraging. He charts a path forward that doesn’t ask ministry efforts to be geared exclusively toward the city or the small town. With the overwhelming majority of my (Southern Baptist) denomination’s churches existing in small-town or rural contexts, I believe The Forgotten Church is an immensely important book for the future of ministry across the country.” —Dayton Hartman, lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, author of Lies Pastors Believe

CT Women

Perfectly Human: Nine Months with Cerian

Sarah C. Williams (Plough Publishing)

“In Perfectly Human, Williams allows the reader to join her in the most excruciating journey of her life—carrying her daughter, Cerian, to term, knowing the child would not survive her own birth. With honesty and transparency, she invites readers to experience how she and her family wrestled with the sort of gut-wrenching questions and decisions few will ever have to confront. In doing so, she moves conversations about the sanctity, value, and beauty of life to a deeper, more human level.” —Courtney Doctor, writer and speaker, author of From Garden to Glory

(Read CT’s review of Perfectly Human in the October 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege

Amy Julia Becker (NavPress)

“The word privilege is increasingly important in our national conversation about racial justice. For people of faith, the word ripples with significance because we worship the God who is Love, equally for all people. Amy Julia Becker writes from her context as an affluent white woman who could live comfortably within the white picket fences of suburbia. Yet she chooses to broaden her definition of neighbor. Told with grace and humility, this memoir will be a helpful companion to those who are wrestling with similar questions about privilege.” —Ruth Everhart, pastor of Hermon Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, author of Ruined: A Memoir

(Amy Julia Becker wrote about growing up privileged for CT Women.)

Culture and the Arts

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

Free Newsletters
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Email Address
Gregory Thornbury (Convergent)

“Many of us working at the intersection of Christianity and the arts have a deeply conflicted relationship with Christian music as a genre. Thornbury takes us back to the roots of Christian rock music in this biography of Larry Norman, one of the genre’s first major figures. This is an even-handed biography, allowing Norman and his ideals to stand forward in all of their beauty and strangeness. It’s a fascinating portrait of a person, but it also provides valuable opportunities for better understanding the relationship of art and belief in the context of the contemporary American entertainment industry.” —Jonathan Anderson, associate professor of art at Biola University, co-author of Modern Art and the Life of a Culture

(Gregory Thornbury wrote about Larry Norman for the March 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

Selfies: Searching for the Image of God in a Digital Age

Craig Detweiler (Brazos)

“Detweiler helps readers think theologically about one of our culture’s most ubiquitous products, our smartphone ‘selfies.’ Although he recognizes that smartphones have often contributed to an unreflective self-centeredness, he also suggests that they can be used to explore our self-worth, teach others, expand our empathy, and participate in prophetic witness. Detweiler’s dialogue partners are breathtakingly broad—artists, social scientists, psychologists, media critics, theologians, biblical scholars, cultural commentators, and ancient church fathers and mothers.” —Robert K. Johnston, professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

(Read CT’s interview with Craig Detweiler.)


An Extra Mile: A Story of Embracing God’s Call

Sharon Garlough Brown (InterVarsity Press)

“The story provides a satisfying ending to the Sensible Shoes series. Even for those who have not read the first three books, Brown does a masterful job familiarizing readers with her four main characters and providing the necessary backstory. Each character is realistic and believable, faced with inner and outer struggles that intermingle in ways that readers may recognize. These aren’t ‘strong females’ after the fashion of Hollywood blockbusters—they aren’t leading armies or embracing their destiny as the chosen one—but they prove themselves strong in the truest sense of the word: They face the needs in their everyday lives, recognize their spiritual condition, and struggle to walk with Christ day by day.” —Rebecca LuElla Miller, freelance writer and editor, blogger at A Christian Worldview of Fiction

Award of Merit

No One Ever Asked

Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook)

“Excelling writing and a compelling plot. No One Ever Asked took me into a world that was realistic—and new to me. The theme of racism was thought-provoking and challenging. Ganshert created believable characters who I continue to think about. The book raises spiritual themes without being preachy.” —Lynn Austin, historical fiction writer, author of Legacy of Mercy


The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism: True Religion in a Modern World

Bruce Hindmarsh (Oxford University Press)

“At a time when evangelical is a contested word that increasing numbers of one-time evangelicals shun, this beautifully written and carefully researched historical exploration of the sources of evangelical devotional life offers a timely reminder of the wellsprings of the movement. Hindmarsh is almost alone among scholars in paying close attention to the spiritual meanings at the origins of evangelicalism, and his thorough, clear, and compelling book about what the first evangelicals understood their convictions to mean for their interior lives and their public concerns draws the reader back to the sources in a way that is more crucial than ever.” —Edith Blumhofer, professor of history, Wheaton College

(Read CT’s review of The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism.)

Award of Merit (TIE)

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals

Melani McAlister (Oxford University Press)

“McAlister’s book will change the way we teach and think about American religious history. Her point, that you can’t really understand American evangelicalism if you consider it solely within the boundaries of the United States, is an essential corrective. Her argument that American evangelicals variously and unpredictably interacted with, furthered, and resisted American military and economic power is a complex and convincing account of a story that has been the subject of simplistic narratives, both positive and negative.” —Robert Elder, assistant professor of history, Baylor University

(Read CT’s interview with Melani McAlister in the September 2018 issue of CT.)

Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History

Brian Stanley (Princeton University Press)

“In this book, Stanley ambitiously sets out to chart the course of Christian churches across the 20th century. There is a lot to be gained here, and I learned much about topics I knew next to nothing about before. Anyone who reads this book will come away with a better understanding of the history of Christianity in a global context, a story not of straightforward triumph or decline but of shifting influence and cultural relevance.” —John Wigger, professor of history, University of Missouri

(Read CT’s review of Christianity in the Twentieth Century in the June 2018 issue of CT.)

Missions/Global Church

Megachurch Christianity Reconsidered: Millennials and Social Change in African Perspective

Wanjiru M. Gitau (IVP Academic)

“Gitau’s even-handed examination of Mavuno Church in particular (and megachurches in general) is a welcome addition to an ongoing conversation that tends either to glorify or denigrate the megachurch model. Moreover, Gitau provides a poignant example of contextual understanding that Christians around the world would do well to emulate. Her examination of Mavuno Church’s history and growth takes into full account the living, breathing world in which this congregation took root and grew. Sociological and cultural insights are combined with an incisive understanding of theology, politics, and globalization, opening new horizons for understanding how these factors affect the local church. As such, Gitau’s work exemplifies the process of gospel contextualization for churches of every size and in every culture.” —Jaclyn Parrish, writer, editor, and social media associate for the International Mission Board

Award of Merit

Cultural Insights for Christian Leaders: New Directions for Organizations Serving God’s Mission

Douglas McConnell (Baker Academic)

“This volume is rich in theology, broad in its missional perspective, and practical in its recommendations. Clearly written as a text for cross-cultural workers with an interest in cognitive anthropology and incarnational mission, it is nonetheless littered with real-life examples and case studies. It should find a place on the reading lists for missiology classes around the world.” —Michael Frost, missiologist, founding director of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College in Sydney, Australia

Politics and Public Life

Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women

Elaine Storkey (IVP Academic)

“Elaine Storkey courageously identifies how violence against women—be it physical, sexual, psychological, or economic—is, as her title suggests, a scar across humanity. Her work addresses the broad-sweeping manifestations of patriarchy in Christian history, the internalized gender discrimination and justification of abuse in societies around the world, and the church’s inadequate response to these violations and injustices. But this book isn’t just a broad-sweeping condemnation of Christian failure, as Storkey offers direct and clear recommendations for how violence against women can be overcome. Not an easy read, Scars Against Humanity is an essential work calling the Christian community to address one of the greatest injustices of our day.” —Mae Elise Cannon, writer and minister, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace

(Read CT’s interview with Elaine Storkey in the May 2018 issue of CT.)

Award of Merit

Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear

Matthew Kaemingk (Eerdmans)

“Matthew Kaemingk’s consideration of how diverse peoples can live together, with emphasis on how Western Christians should engage with their Muslim neighbors, is excellent. His argument is strong and well-documented, and his reflections are coherent and presented in a clear and accessible manner. Furthermore, the topic he is addressing could not be timelier. However, I believe the strongest contribution of this book is the author’s encouragement to go beyond theories of justice in a pluralistic world to micro-practices of hospitality that focus on ‘healing, listening, caring, reconciling, forgiving and welcoming.’ ” —Harold Heie, senior fellow at the Colossian Forum, founder of the Respectful Conversation project

(Read CT’s review of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear in the January/February 2018 issue of CT.)

Spiritual Formation

Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World

A.J. Swoboda (Brazos)

“Subversive Sabbath is a rich, timely, and a needful word to American Christians. ‘Sabbath,’ writes Swoboda, ‘is a gift we do not know how to receive.’ Yes! Sabbath rest is for us, for others, for creation, and for worship. With helpful prompts for self-examination, Swoboda’s well-grounded practical theology yields life-giving practices that teach true rest.” —Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, author of Glittering Vices

(Read an excerpt from Subversive Sabbath.)

Award of Merit

The God Who Plays: A Playful Approach to Theology and Spirituality

Brian Edgar (Cascade)

“Western Christianity is often haunted by a sense of perfectionism, anxiety, and exhaustion. Edgar points out that many Protestant traditions have developed a work ethic that lies in profound tension and even contradiction with the life of grace. His book provides a thoughtful and nuanced correction, emphasizing that as Christians we are first of all children of God, which entails a kind of ‘playful’ relationship. Faith-filled play draws us back to a merciful God who calls us into a childlike faith. It can help restore our trust in God as a good and gracious Father.” —Gisela Kreglinger, writer and speaker, author of The Spirituality of Wine


Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Hans Boersma (Eerdmans)

“For many today, the beatific vision is nothing more than thankfulness for being freed from the grips of eternity in Hell, but Boersma has a more far-reaching vision. On the opening page of the book, he gets to the heart of the beatific vision: ‘Seeing God is the purpose of our life.’ In chapter after chapter of rich historical theology, he draws on the best theologians of the Christian tradition to teach us that the beatific vision is a bottomless well of joy. And yet, this book is more than a historical lesson—Boersma goes to great lengths to remind us how practical and vital seeing God really is, both in our own lives and the lives of those around us.” —Brandon D. Smith, editorial director at the Center for Baptist Renewal

Award of Merit

Dying and the Virtues

Matthew Levering (Eerdmans)

“Levering mines both Scripture and the Christian tradition for resources on what late-medieval theologians called ars moriendi, ‘the art of dying.’ He teaches readers about dying well through living well, focusing on nine virtues, beginning with the three theological virtues of love, hope, and faith. Though written from a Roman Catholic perspective, Dying and the Virtues is universally valuable for the guidance it offers both ministers and congregants for the journey toward and through death.” —Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 18, 2018, 05:39:38 am

Why Putting Christ Back in Christmas Is Not Enough

The history of American holiday cheer obscures the difficult details of the nativity narrative.

Christmas in America has never been a straightforward event. Whether in the privacy of our homes or in the public square, it has always been a conflicted affair.

For some in our present cultural climate, it’s been a matter of religious liberty and a political right to be able to say “merry Christmas” at Target or Walmart. For others, it’s been a matter of religious pluralism and political hospitality to say “happy holidays” instead.

This pushes a portion of our society to want to abolish Christmas altogether. For others, the answer is to keep putting “Christ back in Christmas.” But maybe there is a deeper problem.

Perhaps the problem is not whether we remember “that Jesus is the reason for the season,” but that the story that “Christmas in America” tells looks nothing like the story that Matthew and Luke tell about the birth of Christ and always seems to distort or to leave out essential elements of the Nativity narrative.

There’s a reason for that, of course. Christmas in America is influenced less by the stories of a publican and a physician—the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke—than by the stories of a Puritan, a princess, a poet and a host of painters.

What’s needed, I might argue, is a far more radical re-conceptualization of the story of Christmas—what it sounds like, how it feels, where it takes us, and what it enables us to imagine—and for the story of Matthew and Luke to redefine how Christians in America celebrate the “mass of Christ.”

Perhaps what’s needed, more bluntly, is to leave the story of “Christmas in America” alone and for Christians to learn to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity.

A puritan, a princess, a poet and plenty of painters
The history of how we got “Christmas in America” as we know it is a long and complicated one that depends, in short, on four fundamental influences: the legal actions of Puritans in the 17th-century, the domestic celebrations of Queen Victoria, the publication of a Charles Dickens novel, and the work of poets and painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Publick Notice: Christmas is Forbidden”
Around the middle of the 17th century, Puritan leaders in New England made the celebration of Christmas illegal. They did so for two specific reasons.

For one, the feast of Christmas involved a great deal of intemperate behavior. During these long winter nights, people feasted in excess, got drunk, engaged in wanton sex, rioted in the streets, and barged into the homes of the well-to-do and demanded that they be given the best of the pantry. Christmas back then looked more like a frat party gone horribly wrong—marked by “mad Mirth and rude Reveling,” as Cotton Mather saw it. It was far from sweet and mild.
Another reason the Puritans banned Christmas is that it smelled too much of “Popish” ceremonies. For them, the Roman Catholic “mass of Christ” contravened the requirement to worship only as the Bible has explicitly commanded. As Gerry Bowler, in Christmas in the Crosshairs, observes, “The only day to be kept holy, the Puritans asserted, was the Sabbath.”

One public notice warned its citizens:

The observation of Christmas having been deemed a Sacrilege, the exchanging of Gifts and Greetings, dressing in Fine Clothing, Feasting and similar Satanical Practices are hereby FORBIDDEN, with the Offender liable to a Fine of Five Shillings.

Because of the Puritan influence on this particular religious holiday, the United States Congress regularly met on Christmas Day from 1789 to 1855. Public schools met on Christmas Day in Boston until 1870. The first state eventually to declare legal the celebration of Christmas was Alabama, in 1836.

“The very smell of the Christmas Trees"
One year later, in 1837, Princess Victoria, the only daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, became Queen of England. Three years later she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Unlike the English Puritans, German Protestant Christians, like Victoria’s mother and Prince Albert’s family, retained the historic traditions of Christmas.

Because Victoria’s Hanoverian ancestors had already introduced the custom of Christmas tree decoration to the English court, it was not a difficult decision for the queen to introduce the Christmas tree to the English people at large. Together Victoria and Albert modeled for the people of the United Kingdom a family-centered celebration. This is the second key influence on Christmas in America.

An entry from Queen Victoria’s journal on December 24, 1841, says this:

Christmas, I always look upon as a most dear happy time, also for Albert, who enjoyed it naturally still more in his happy home, which mine, certainly, as a child, was not. It is a pleasure to have this blessed festival associated with one’s happiest days. The very smell of the Christmas Trees of pleasant memories.

As the historian Stephen Nissenbaum summarizes things in The Battle for Christmas, what was once marked by liturgical celebrations at church and festivities in the village, revolving around public rituals and civic activities, eventually turned into a domestic affair, revolving around a children-centric holiday, marked by extravagant gift-giving and, in time, commercial-oriented activities.

Tom Flynn in The Trouble with Christmas adds this remarkable fact: “[It is] surprising how small a role the churches played in the Victorian revival. From its inception, contemporary Christmas was primarily a secular and commercial holiday. The parsons were as surprised as anyone else when after a century-long hiatus, the pews started filling up again on Christmas morning.”

“I have always thought of Christmastime as a charitable time"
Seven years after Victoria acceded to the throne, Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol. With his story of ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, Dickens essentially created a myth devoid of particulars from the Gospel narratives. This is the third influence on the American account of Christmas.

For Dickens, it was the “spirit of Christmas” rather than the Spirit of Christ that captured his attention. Humanitarianism rather than the humanity of Jesus became, for him, finally determinative. The effect of Dickens’s tale cannot be overestimated. As Bowler summarizes it, “He revived the lost medieval link between worship and feasting, the Nativity and Yule, and emphasized the holiday as a time of personal and social reconciliation.”

Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew speaks for the era when he remarks, “I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.”

During Dickens’s day, working on Christmas Day was a normal thing. What A Christmas Carol did was to effectively shame this practice out of use.

The secularization of Saint Nicholas
The final influence on American Christmas is the work of painters, storytellers, and illustrators, beginning with the philanthropist John Pintard in the early 19th century. Hoping to inspire the virtuous habits of his Dutch ancestors in the people of New York City, once a Dutch colonial town, Pintard campaigned to make Saint Nicholas the patron saint of the city. As Bruce David Forbes describes it in Christmas: A Candid History:

Under Pintard’s leadership, the New York Historical Society began an annual Saint Nicholas Day dinner on December 6, 1810, and for the occasion Pintard commissioned a woodcut illustration of Nicholas, clothed in a bishop’s robes.

This, for all practical reasons, would be the last time that artists would represent Nicholas the Bishop of Myra in his original liturgical garb.

In 1809, on Saint Nicholas Day, the writer Washington Irving portrayed Saint Nicholas in his satirical book Knickerbocker’s History of New York flying over trees in a horse-pulled wagon and sliding down chimneys to deliver gifts. In 1823, a poem titled “A Visit From St. Nicholas” was published, describing Saint Nicholas on a sleigh with individually named reindeer. This poem cemented the basic features of the American Christmas story.

Another influential figure of this time period is Thomas Nast, a German-born illustrator. In 1862, Nast drew a cartoon for Harper’s Weekly that represented Saint Nicholas as a small, elflike creature. Eventually, Nast added other details: locating his headquarters in the North Pole, depicting him as a toy maker with elves as assistants, receiving letters from children and snacks when he visited their homes.

A final influence worthy of mention is the illustrator Haddon Sundblom. In 1931, as the Coca-Cola Company chronicles the story, the company wanted its soft drink campaign to show a wholesome, realistic Saint Nicholas, or as the Dutch called him, Sinterklass. So they commissioned Sundblom to develop a series of images that used Santa Claus. They wanted readers to encounter Santa himself, not just a man dressed as Santa.

From 1931–1964, Sundblom produced at least one illustration per year of Santa Claus drinking a Coca-Cola. It is at this point that Santa Claus went global. According to Bowler, in his book Santa Claus: A Biography, “The overwhelming ubiquity of these advertisements … ensured that no rival version of Santa could emerge in the North American consciousness.”

Any ties that may have remained with the Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor are hereafter severed in the American imagination. Nicholas the Wonderworker has become Jolly Old St. Nick; the saint has been secularized.

The power of a liturgical vacuum
So what happens when the Protestant church in the 17th century evacuates its worship of the celebration of Christ’s birth? A liturgical vacuum is created that non-ecclesial entities willingly fill. The government determines the legal shape of Christmas, the market shapes a society’s emotional desires and financial expectations about the holy day, the ideal family replaces the holy family, and the work of visual artists shape its imagination, while musicians and writers fill the empty space with their own stories about the “magic” of Christmas.

For instance, in 1863, not only is Santa enlisted to support the war effort, he is also given a partner in order to enhance his market value. In 1939, Montgomery Ward’s advertising men dream up a character known as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in order to compete with Marshall Fields. The same year, President Roosevelt declares the fourth Thursday of the month to be Thanksgiving Day, moving the holiday forward by one week. This break with tradition is prompted by requests from the National Retail Dry Goods Association to extend the Christmas shopping season.

What happens to the church in the light of all these things? It loses its distinctive voice in the public square. What happens to plenty of Christians great and small? They get mad about the wrong things. What happens to the gospel stories? They get co-opted by alternate stories and distorted by lesser stories. What happens to the voices of the protagonists of Matthew and Luke? They get swamped by the noise of advertising jingles and the voices of fictional characters who invite us to “just believe.”

The reason why we can’t merely put “Christ back into Christmas” is this. Every time we try to put a little more Jesus into the story of “Christmas in America,” Jesus, as it were, routinely loses. As an instance of civil religion, “Christmas in America” always aims to sanitize the Nativity story—make it safe for public consumption. It robs Luke’s story of its sting by removing its scandalous elements—its songs of protest, for instance. In placing a crèche next to a blow-up BB8 or Frosty on the front lawn, it absorbs Matthew’s strange tale into a tale of generic good cheer.

If it is true that those who tell the stories rule the world, then the story that “Christmas in America” tells is a juggernaut force. Thinking we can throw in a dash of the baby Jesus into the tale of “Christmas in America” without a mutation of the God-Man baby is naïve. Believing a shout of “Merry Christmas” at Target will be heard as a faithful announcement of angelic tidings is equally naïve. The story of Matthew the publican and Luke the physician inevitably gets drowned—and drowned out.

Because the story of “Christmas in America” is bound up with fundamental American myths, like baseball and apple pie, the difficult details of the Nativity narratives get swallowed up and repurposed by the nostalgic story of Americans at Christmastime. “The most wonderful time of the year” invariably reconstitutes the account of the birth of Christ “in the days of Herod.” And while “Christmas in America” is not all bad by any means, it involves inertias that resist the more demanding story of God Incarnate and to which Christians should be alert.

The stories of a publican and a physician

But what would happen if the church were to become more profoundly shaped by the stories that Matthew and Luke tell? How might our traditions change if we attended to the whole narrative and not just to the highlight reel of the Nativity stories?

For the gospel writers, the story doesn’t merely illustrate a point; the story is the point. If this is so, then how might the point of view of the narrator, the characterization of its protagonists, the settings, and the use of metaphors, signs, and songs show us the meaning of Jesus’ birth? Four fundamental characteristics imbue these stories with their meaning.

First, these stories are fantastical stories. An angel repeatedly communicates with Joseph through dreams and in person with Mary and with Zechariah. An angel warns the Magi in a dream to not return to Herod and a host of angels appears to a group of shepherds in their field. A group of astrologers/astronomers see a star in the heavens and decide to visit Bethlehem in order to visit the child king in light of their celestial observations.

We hear a lot about the magic of Christmas. But what if the magic of Christmas is less like the wonder of a Pixar movie (as wonderful as it is!) and more like the deep magic of Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia—far more fantastical than anything we could ever imagine? What would it mean to encounter afresh the awful and awe-filled news of Christ’s birth in our festivities? How might we taste anew the terrible and terrific word of the angel in our testimonies and prayers?

Second, these are stories of hardship, loss, and pain. A child is conceived out of wedlock. A social stigma accompanies Joseph’s decision to take Mary to be his wife. Infertility characterizes the experience of Zechariah and Elizabeth. A refugee family moves away from family at the most inopportune time of a child’s life in order to live among strangers in a foreign land. A massacre of children takes place in the town that the holy family has fled.

Suffering haunts every corner of the birth narratives. Pain and loss mark the experiences of each character in these narratives. So, yes, the celebration of Christmas ought to be a merry celebration of Christ’s birth—marvelously merry! But perhaps Christ’s birth is an encounter with joy and not happiness because joy, biblically considered, can account for suffering, while happiness cannot.

Third, it’s a multi-generational, multi-cultural story. Jesus has a teenage mother and his cousin-once-removed, Elizabeth, is advanced in age. Simeon the God-Receiver and Anna the Prophetess are decidedly elderly. Mary and Joseph belong to a low socio-economic class, while Herod belongs to an upper socio-economic class. The shepherds belong to a social outcast class, Zechariah to the priestly class. The Magi are Persian astrologers. And they all belong to the Nativity narrative.

However else we may describe the story of Christ’s birth, we describe it unfaithfully if we erase all the “multi-”s: multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-economic, multi-cultural, and multigenerational. And in being all these things, it anticipates the good news of Pentecost, where the Spirit of God brings together a host of “multi-”s in the name of Christ.

Fourth, it’s a story of spontaneous songs. Like characters in a musical theater production, the protagonists of Luke’s gospel find mere speech insufficient to the task of expressing their astonishing experiences. Mary breaks out in song in response to Elizabeth’s benediction. (It is not a “sweet” song.) Zechariah sings his way out of silence at the pronouncement of his son’s name. (It, too, is not a “sweet” song.) The angel choir sings of God’s fantastic glory to a socially insignificant collection of shepherds, while Simeon at the sight of the Christ child.

The experience of God’s redemption is so very extraordinary, that it prompts extraordinary patterns of speech—in this case, musical and lyrical eruptions. As New Testament scholars like to point out, the Gospel was born in song. Nothing less, it seems, would befit an encounter with the living God.

Celebrating the Nativity of Christ
So how shall we then live? I might recommend two things here.

First, enjoy in good conscience all that is good about “Christmas in America.” Enjoy it for both personal and missional reasons. Enjoy the twinkling lights that dot your neighborhood. Take pleasure in making the sugar cookies and homemade wreaths. Have a good laugh, or a good cry, by rewatching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Listen to your Bing Crosby and Mariah Carey records.

Enjoy them because the grace and goodness of God are not absent from these things. Enjoy them because we are always, as Augustine might say, citizens of two cities. Enjoy them because they become a way for us to be wholly present to the lives—and longings—of our neighbors.

But I also encourage us to remember that the story that “Christmas in America” tells is not to be confused with the Gospel story. While the former makes plenty of room for wonderment and kindly regard for our neighbors, the latter makes it possible for both joy and sorrow, both justice and mercy, to coexist in the redemptive tale of God.

In the Matthean narrative, both the experience of refuge and of the refugee represent signs of God’s providential care. In the Lucan account, both the lowborn and the highborn become equal participants in the drama of Christ’s incarnation. To know that our own fears and yearnings belong in this story becomes a source of great comfort to many in our communities.

In the end, I don’t think much good will come from trying “to put Christ back into Christmas.” I say, leave that story alone; it’s not worth the fight. Let America have its Christmas story. Treat it like any other aspect of our nation’s traditions, for better and for worse.

But I do think a great deal of good will come when the church learns to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and to discover in this astonishingly beautiful story of Christ’s birth the better-than-we-could-have imagined nature of the gospel.

I also believe we’d become a more winsome witness to a watching world that sorely wants to know if God is in fact with us—here and now, in this time, this place.

W. David O. Taylor is assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary and the director of Brehm Texas, an initiative that seeks the renewal of the church through the arts. His book Glimpses of the New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts is due out with Eerdmans in 2019. He tweets at @wdavidotaylor.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 28, 2018, 11:34:52 am

Heartbeat Bills Used to Divide Pro-Lifers. Here’s Why That’s Changing.

Even the “most restrictive” abortion laws—like one vetoed this week in Ohio—may now have a place in incrementalist strategy.

Two years ago, Ohio Governor John Kasich had the support of the state’s biggest pro-life group when he vetoed a bill to ban abortion after about six weeks, once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable.

Last week, the pro-life politician again vetoed a state “heartbeat bill”—only this time Ohio Right to Life (ORTL) took a different stance.

The organization wanted to see the state legislature override his decision. Though lawmakers failed to do so yesterday, ORTL plans to lobby his successor to sign the ban, considered the most restrictive abortion policy in the country, into law.

What changed over the past few years to prompt their new stance? In short, the Supreme Court.

For years, the pro-life movement has taken on different tactics toward a shared goal of eliminating abortion. ORTL adopted a “strategic incremental approach,” at times supporting more feasible abortion regulations—such as the ban on abortions after 20 weeks Kasich signed in 2016, or the ban on “dismemberment abortions” he signed this year—over more restrictive legislation that risked being turned down in the courts.

Kasich defended his veto with nearly identical wording last week as he did two years prior. “As governor I have worked hard to strengthen Ohio’s protections for the sanctity of human life, and I have a deep respect for my fellow members of the pro-life community and their ongoing efforts in defense of unborn life,” the outgoing Republican stated.

But the ban runs “contrary to the Supreme Court of the United States’ current rulings on abortion,” he said, referring to Roe v. Wade, which allows for the abortion of any child not viable outside the womb.

Back in 2016, ORTL president Mike Gonidakis agreed with Kasich’s assessment of the potential legal challenges, saying:

Given the current makeup of the United States Supreme Court, Governor Kasich got it right by embracing the strategic incremental approach to ending abortion. The current pro-abortion Supreme Court was given the opportunity on two occasions in 2016 to address heartbeat legislation, and both times refused to hear the case allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand. Both of those states’ heartbeat laws have been ruled unconstitutional, never took effect, and saved not one unborn life.

But this year, the organization was quick to point out that the bench is different now. “As we look forward, Ohio Right to Life believes that it is now time to embrace the heartbeat bill as the next incremental approach to end abortion in Ohio,” said Marshal Pitchford, chairman of the ORTL board of trustees.

After years of taking a neutral stance on the policy, “we are now prepared to support our partners in Ohio’s pro-life movement to enact the heartbeat bill,” he said on Thursday. “With the additions of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court we believe this is the most pro-life court we have seen in generations. Now is the time to pursue this approach.”

The strategic shift by ORTL, the state chapter of America’s largest and oldest pro-life group, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), aligns them with fellow pro-life voices that argued for heartbeat bills on principle even when the court makeup was less favorable.

One of the most vocal critics of Kasich’s earlier veto was James Dobson, president of Family Talk and founder of Focus on the Family.

“This was a cowardly and shameful action,” Dobson said in 2016. “[T]here is a growing movement to finally reject the barbarism of abortion and to fully protect the rights of the unborn. This bill was an important step in that direction, and we mustn't be silent in response to the governor's action.”

However, some abortion-rights advocates did agree—though not happily—with ORTL at the time.

The 20-week-ban “may actually be a bigger threat to the pro-choice movement—a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly, and only very limited exceptions for a woman’s health,” wrote Emily Crockett for Vox.

“Even if Kasich has let the six-week ban become law, it would have had no chance of surviving the inevitable, immediate court challenge that would follow,” she wrote. “But the 20-week ban might survive in court, and could eventually be taken up by the Supreme Court. And if it did, it would directly challenge Roe v. Wade.”

With its “fetal pain” law, Ohio joined 12 other states that have banned abortion after 20 weeks—technically, a few weeks before the viability deadline. The laws lean on the idea that unborn children are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks. This week, it became the 10th state to ban abortion through a procedure known as dilation and evacuation or “D&E.”

No state has successfully implemented a ban as early as Ohio’s heartbeat law, which would be the most restrictive abortion policy in the country if adopted by the next administration.

The incremental approach to stopping abortion has been effective—231 abortion restrictions were enacted in 27 states from 2011 to 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The abortion rate in the United States is now the lowest since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control reported that abortions fell 24 percent from 2006 to 2015.

Pro-lifers on various levels have disagreed over whether to continue relying on incrementalism or to take stronger moral stands on abortion regulations. When the pro-life “born alive” bill—protecting babies who survive abortion attempts—passed in the US House of Representatives a year ago, some advocates were disappointed the legislature hadn’t taken up a less popular national heartbeat bill.

The Christian group Operation Rescue had blamed NRLC for supporting the born-alive bill over the heartbeat bill, calling it “the one obstacle standing in the way of protecting nearly a million children” and “no greater betrayal of innocent blood since Judas.”

“It is not true that National Right to Life has blocked congressional consideration of the heartbeat bill. Nor is it true to say that National Right to Life lobbied congressional leadership against the heartbeat bill,” said Carol Tobias, NRLC president. “National Right to Life does not oppose the heartbeat bill. Divisiveness and attacks on fellow pro-lifers does not save babies.”

Tobias previously praised the US House of Representatives for passing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2013. Meanwhile the flagship pro-life group, which counts more than 3,000 chapters in all 50 states, jettisoned Georgia Right to Life for encouraging state senators to vote against the bill because it contained exceptions allowing later abortions in dire circumstances.

Some, including CT, argue that instead of contested medical findings, resistance to abortion should be based on the inherent dignity of the personhood of the child.

“If we have any historical memory, we know science is a fickle handmaiden,” wrote former CT managing editor Katelyn Beaty.

“We don't wish this to be true, but research may soon confirm that unborn babies can't experience pain until much later in development. Meanwhile, abortion providers could find ways to perform ‘pain-free’ abortions. Of course, in these cases we would still vehemently oppose the abortion, because we believe it takes a life, not just a life that feels pain.”

Similarly, as CT reported earlier this year, some doctors challenge the existence of a heartbeat as a measure of viability for the pregnancy.

Following the Ohio legislature’s failure to override Kasich’s veto, “Ohio Right to Life is prepared to support the current pro-life organizations working tirelessly to pass the heartbeat bill during the next General Assembly in 2019,” the group stated.

“We will partner with Greater Toledo Right to Life, Cleveland Right to Life, Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati and others to get the heartbeat bill to Governor-elect Mike DeWine’s desk. We make this public commitment today.”

Additional reporting by Kate Shellnutt.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine December 2018
Post by: patrick jane on December 31, 2018, 01:31:39 pm

Urbana Faces the Challenge of Calling Gen Z to Missions

Despite its lowest attendance in decades, InterVarsity’s historic conference aims to combat student cynicism through scriptural hope.

Plenty of today’s evangelical leaders look back to Urbana conferences over the years as the catalyst that drove them to ministry.

But for the shrinking crowd at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s (IVCF) triannual conference—held over the past few days in St. Louis—the path to the mission field appears more complicated.

The college students who attended Urbana ‘18, though passionate about Christ, hold different expectations for life after graduation, often taking longer to settle into a vocation, and carry stress over growing student debt.

“At the conferences that I’ve been to that have been less diverse, I felt I was unrepresented and it was hard for me to worship well,” Daniela Bushiri, an engineering major at New Jersey Institute of Technology, told CT. “Seeing minorities on the stage means a lot because it shows us that we have a role to play in this community.”

Today’s youngest believers are more likely to find themselves as outliers for their faith. Barna Research found that while roughly 6 in 10 of Gen Z (the 70 million people born between 1999 and 2015) identify as Christian, only 1 in 11 can be characterized as an “engaged Christian,” whose beliefs and practices are shaped by their faith.

Religious and non-religious young adults alike are struggling to find hope, so leaders at Urbana are praying this generation embrace a view of the kingdom that combats their current cynicism.

“There is a lot of anger against injustices like sexism, racism, classism, privilege, and white supremacy,” said René Breuel, a Brazilian pastor in Rome, who who taught several plenary sessions. “Young people pick that up and feel that very strongly, but don’t always have a Christian vision of how the world will be mended and restored.”

The tension between the youthful perspective of 20-somethings and the sacrificial call to missions is not unique to Generation Z. Over 20 years ago, CT reported from Urbana ‘96 that their parents’ cohort also had a “shift in commitments.”

Generation X “is often characterized as one of slackers,” Urbana’s former director Dan Harrison said, citing caution over long-term commitments due to concerns about broken marriages and job security. “They're not slackers or uncommitted at all, but they define commitment differently than I do.”

With a new generation and new challenges before them, conference organizers turned to the timeless truths of Scripture, selecting a text with a sobering understanding of reality: Revelation. Passages from the apocalyptic book were used for daily Bible studies, taught by plenary speakers, and recited in other languages including Spanish and Hawaiian.

“Revelation takes anger by hand to a place that is healing, that exalts Christ, where the nations flourish, and where we reign in serving each other under the throne of the lamb,” said Breuel. “It can be a healing experience of that anger portrayed in a good way.”

Conference sessions named and condemned injustice from the stage, including calling out atrocities committed in the name of Christ: the Rwandan genocide, Canadian residential schools that separated First Nation children from their families, and Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism.

“I did a lot of praying and asking God what he wanted me to do with my life,” said Samuel Chow, a sophomore at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“Seeing all the bad things that the church has done and the repercussions of it has led me to be more conscientious about how I convey myself as a Christian and as a child of God to others who do not know him.”

The presentations on historic injustice resonate with young people who crave transparency.

“I’ve been talking to pastors who’ve asked ‘Why are we talking about the failures of missions in the past? Why aren’t we talking more about where to go or unreached people groups?’” said IVCF’s Jao. “What I’ve wanted to say is this generation requires a level of honesty and authenticity about our failures in the past before they’re willing to embrace the future.”

The historic missions conference has also had a long history in pursuit of racial justice, beginning with evangelist Tom Skinner’s keynote at Urbana ‘70. Urbana ‘15, also held in St. Louis, spoke directly to racial tensions in the US, with members of the worship team wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts and speakers such as Michelle Higgins challenging the evangelical response to shootings such as Michael Brown’s in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.

Some at this year’s conference speculated whether the pushback over Black Lives Matter at the last conference or an IVCF staff policy on sexuality that went into effect in 2016 hurt attendance.

Though Urbana has drawn well-known speakers from Elisabeth Elliot to David Platt in years past, the 2018 lineup focused on personal narratives over popular names.

“Each person that gets up there, you’ll hear them say, ‘This is my blank Urbana’ or ‘This is what happened to me at Urbana ’03 or ’06,’” said Steven Grahmann, IVCF’s Arizona area director. “That’s what Gen Z and millennials want to know. This person has been here. Their experience here changed them. That could happen to me.”

Students listened for perspectives that could apply to their own walk with Christ or their future vocation.

“It’s very vulnerable of them to go in stage in front of thousands of people and share a struggle that they’ve faced and a struggle they’ve gone to in their life,” said Christine Lui, a biochemistry major at University of Texas. “That really shows their heart to share who God is and what God has done for them. It makes them seem more human.”

Others told CT about rethinking ways to incorporate missions into their career fields as a result of the Urbana sessions.

Over the next couple weeks, as thousands of students will return to classrooms and campus ministries, IVCF will be left to evaluate Urbana 2018, which concludes today.

With an attendance decline of nearly a third, the organization will examine what kept students away from the event—whether shifting priorities, scheduling conflicts, or other factors. (In just a few days, the Cross Conference will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, drawing a more Reformed and Southern Baptist crowd, and featuring former Urbana speaker David Platt.)

Just about 60 percent of the 10,000 who showed up for Urbana 2018 were students.

“What we need to do after Urbana is ask the question, ‘How has the ecosystem of Christian conferences changed? Is this a shorter-term trend or a longer-term trend?,’” said Jao.

“What we do know, especially because of Revelations, is that God is sovereign. He brought these 10,000 and so that’s our focus during this week.”

CT has previously reported on contemporary challenges to student ministry, including InterVarsity’s legal fights over faith requirements, Princeton Christian Fellowship’s decision to drop “evangelical” from its name, and Fuller Youth Institute’s research on churches with growing young adult demographics.

“This is changing the way that InterVarsity and mission agencies are engaging with participants,” said Greg Jao, senior assistant to IVCF president Tom Lin.

“We need a longer-term strategy to help people who may make decisions about the missions field while they’re at Urbana as college students sustain their interest and commitment over the longer period of time that it takes to figure it out.”

Determining how to navigate these challenges as Generation Z enters college is crucial for ministries like Urbana. Attendance at the historic conference is down to its lowest in at least 20 years, with around 10,000 attendees in 2018, compared to 16,000 in 2015.

But the crowd and speakers were more diverse than ever, already resembling the majority-minority demographics of the next generation: 64 percent of attendees were non-white.

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