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Discussion | Christian News | Chaplain's Office => Christian and Theological News => Topic started by: patrick jane on January 01, 2019, 07:50:08 pm

Title: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 01, 2019, 07:50:08 pm

Gospel-Centered Resolutions: Not All about You, but God Working in You

The cultivation of our love for God isn’t something we can nurture all on our own.

New Year’s is perhaps the only holiday that requires its celebrants to continue the ‘festivities’ months and months after the day is out.

After all the partying and fellowship die down, most people can’t help but get started setting goals and making resolutions. As a matter of fact, a full 40% of the nation’s population makes New Year’s resolutions each year. Of course, the size and scale of these goals often differs from person to person. Many set out to change their budgets, bodies, homes, or education levels. Others want to focus on emotional well-being or the building of meaningful interpersonal connections with others.

But regardless of the specific area of interest, there exists a couple of common denominators between these resolutions worth acknowledging. First and foremost, everyone seems to want more of something specific in their lives. Statista performed a study in 2017 on individuals’ New Year’s resolutions across the country. When asked, 53% of respondents wanted to save more money, 24% of respondents wanted to travel more, 23% wanted to read more books. Others wanted to increase their own personal health by losing weight, getting in shape, or quitting smoking.

Of course, it’s not that any of these things individually are wrong. Many of us could benefit from books, travel, or a little weight loss. What’s most impressionable here is the theme of discontentment; we are a society full of perpetually unsatisfied people, hungry for more of whatever we can get our hands on.

But regardless of the specific area of interest, there exists a couple of common denominators between these resolutions worth acknowledging.

First and foremost, everyone seems to want more of something specific in their lives.

We are never satisfied.

Statista performed a study in 2017 on individuals’ New Year’s resolutions across the country. When asked, 53% of respondents wanted to save more money, 24% of respondents wanted to travel more, 23% wanted to read more books. Others wanted to increase their own personal health by losing weight, getting in shape, or quitting smoking.

More is a common focus, and that is not always bad.

Many of us could benefit from books, travel, or a little weight loss. What’s most impressionable here is the theme of discontentment; we are a society full of perpetually unsatisfied people, hungry for more of whatever we can get our hands on.

As the line in Hamilton goes, “I’ve never been satisfied.”

Actually, it’s one of the recurring themes in the show— the lack of satisfaction which both propels betterment and ultimately undermines relationships.

Second, New Year’s resolutions are mostly about trying harder.

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, it seems that the method we use for going about getting to the ‘more’ we’ve set our sights on is the same across the board. When in doubt, most of us assume that trying harder is the solution to almost all our problems.

Are you struggling with your weight (like me)? Try hustling better at the gym. Finding it difficult to reconfigure that budget? Work more diligently. Not getting that promotion at work you’ve always wanted? Maybe you’re not putting enough effort in.

New Year’s is, without a doubt, every try-hard’s favorite holiday.

But the thing is, this whole ‘do more, work harder’ mentality hasn’t just become evident in our celebration of a once-a-year goal-setting tradition. In fact, many of us now live in a culture that is more achievement focused than any other in recent history.

A 2015 article in The Atlantic makes note of the “pervasive culture of achievement” plaguing today’s generation of college students. But the piece, entitled ‘The Try-Hard Generation,’ delves deeper into the topic than a surface level blame-game.

Not surprisingly, our try-hard culture has spilled over into matters of spirituality. Many followers of Christ this New Year’s Day plan to make resolutions about Bible reading, prayer time, and ministry work. We want to be better followers of Christ who take the call to obedience seriously in our daily practices.

Godly ambitions

These ambitions, much like the weight loss, reading, and travel goals are good things when entered into rightly. Certainly, setting goals for the new year about going to church, praying, or reading Scripture with greater frequency isn’t a bad idea. We do need to set aside time for personal devotion—believers have agency and that agency matters in terms of our approach to our walk of faith.

But matters like these often fall astray not in the planning, but in the application stage.

You see, the lie we so often believe about faith is that it is something we alone have the power to nurture. It’s our job to draw closer to God. It’s our job to spend time in the Word with him. It’s our job to pray so that we won’t forget about the Lord’s presence or fall astray.

But, what we must remember amidst the try-hard and obsessive goal-setting mentalities in the world we live in is that our God is the source of all gospel-centered life change.

As Paul write in Philippians, He who began a good work in each of our lives is faithful to complete it in good time. The growth of our trust and cultivation of our love for him isn’t something we can nurture all on our own. God is sovereign over and constantly providing every step of the way.

That just does not just include things like calendaring your quite time. It includes calendering your excersise. It includes all of life, and our desire to submit our lives to the Lordship of Christ.

Actually, even if we want to do these things, it is God who gives us even the desire. I like the New Living Translation of Phillipans 2:13:

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
Work as we might to love him more and follow him better, we never want to lose the fact that it is God working in us.

For me, I’m going to set goals and make resolutions with that mentality—one centered around God’s power in us instead of my trying harder.

I hope you will as well, because you can be satisfied, in Christ, and you can have more, in Christ.

Gospel-centered resolutions are not all about you, your strength, or your plans. That’s what makes such resolutions worth making.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Gabriella Siefert contributed to this article.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 04, 2019, 07:31:15 am

Ten Theses on Creation and Evolution That (Most) Evangelicals Can (Mostly) Support

We won’t achieve perfect unanimity on every contested topic. But there is more to unite us than divide us.

Not long ago a pastor friend called, asking for help. “I’m preaching through Genesis 1–11,” he said, “and I need some advice on the whole creation and evolution thing.” There was anxiety in his voice. He wasn’t sure how preaching on origins was going to go in his church setting—or whether he would even survive! Understandably so. There is hardly a more controversial subject among evangelical Christians.

Several years earlier, a rumor circulated within my congregation along the following lines: “Pastor Todd thinks we came from apes!” My congregation was, historically speaking, on the conservative side of many theological issues, this one included. In its not-too-distant past, the church had embraced six-day, young-earth creationism as its (unofficial) teaching position. Needless to say, the fact that their relatively new and fairly young pastor held to a version of evolutionary creation caused some congregational heartburn.

This tension-filled season in the life of our church provided a good occasion to engage in serious conversations about origins issues. We grappled with our doctrinal boundaries as a local church: What degree of diversity will we allow? And given our diversity, what can we still affirm together as a unifying doctrinal core?

The upshot was the development of a series of ten theses on creation and evolution that we believe (most) evangelicals can (mostly) affirm. We weren’t looking for perfect unanimity. Our ultimate goal was to maintain the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) and to prioritize the gospel as of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). It was important for us to arrive at a position on creation and evolution that was in keeping with that faithful Christian saying, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

In this essay, I share our ten theses on creation and evolution—or what we call Mere Creation. This is not what young-earth creationists believe or old-earth creationists believe or advocates of intelligent design believe or evolutionary creationists or theistic evolutionists believe but what most (evangelical) Christians, at most times, have believed and should believe about creation.

1. The doctrine of creation is central to the Christian faith.
Historically speaking, evangelicals have struggled to take the doctrine of creation seriously. Our love has been soteriology and Christology, not creation. But our neglect of the doctrine of creation is not only because our attention has been elsewhere; we have sometimes downplayed the doctrine of creation for the sake of ecclesial cohesion. We’ve categorized the doctrine as a “secondary” or “tertiary” issue in an attempt to preserve church unity. Why break fellowship over an issue not directly related to the mission of the church or the salvation of souls?

One of the strengths of evangelicalism is its ability to forge common cause out of theological diversity. And yet the danger is that our toleration for doctrinal differences becomes an indifference to doctrine. Of course, some doctrines are nearer to the core or closer to the periphery than others. Angelology isn’t central. Nor are certain aspects of eschatology. But the doctrine of salvation is; so too the doctrine of God, the doctrine of the Spirit, and the doctrine of Christ.

We should add to this list the doctrine of creation for the simple reason that it addresses some of the fundamentals of our faith—the reason for and nature of the world God has made, as well as the reason for and nature of the creatures God has made, not least those creatures made in God’s image.

2. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and without error. Therefore whatever Scripture teaches is to be believed as God’s instruction, without denying that the human authors of Scripture communicated using the cultural conventions of their time.
I have found it helpful in origin discussions to begin with a full-throated affirmation of the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible. This is especially true for those who are sympathetic to evolutionary creation since they are sometimes unfairly portrayed as sitting loosely to Scripture.

I’ve also found that Christians who reject an evolutionary account of origins do so not primarily because they find the science unconvincing but because they have come to the conclusion that such a view will inevitably undermine the authority of the Bible. The fear is that embracing evolution leads to compromising biblical authority.

The thrust of this thesis is that whatever the Bible teaches, God teaches. Whatever Scripture asserts (as distinct from what Scripture merely affirms) is to be believed as what God intends it to say. It’s not a viable option for those committed to the authority of Scripture to say, “I know the Bible teaches this, but I don’t believe it.”

In saying this, however, we want to avoid implying that God did an “end run” around the authors of Scripture. No amount of stress on a “high view of the Bible should cause us to inadvertently downplay the human side of the equation. As D. A. Carson nicely puts it, “The Bible is an astonishingly human document.” We also do not want to suggest that a robust view of Scripture leaves no room for the authors to communicate divine truths through the cultural conventions of their time.

When we read the Bible, then, not least when we read the creation accounts in Genesis 1–2, we want to know the author’s intention as expressed in the text written, even if this doesn’t exhaust a faithful handling of Scripture. At root, we want to know what this particular author meant to say, at this particular time, with these particular cultural conventions.

3. Genesis 1-2 is historical in nature, rich in literary artistry, and theological in purpose. These chapters should be read with the intent of discerning what God says through what the human author has said.
We move now from what Scripture is to what Scripture says. This is where all the proverbial bugs come out of the rug.

Of course, there is much to debate about how to interpret Genesis 1–2. All too often, the question is posed as an either-or. Is Genesis fact or fiction? Is it historical or theological? Does it reveal literary crafting or is it describing actual historical events?

We need a balanced approach to the question of the literary genre of Genesis 1–2. This means allowing for the fact that the text is a carefully crafted composite genre with all three elements—literary, historical, theological—present.

Clearly, the text is intended to be read as a historical account, at least at some level. This isn’t ancient mythology or folklore. More is going on. And yet a close reading of these texts reveals rich literary artistry. This isn’t the kind of “just the facts” reporting you find in a newspaper.

Yet it seems clear that the author’s aim is ultimately theological—to say something about God, the nature of the world, and the identity and destiny of human beings who are created in his image (Gen. 1:27). The point is not ultimately about supernovas or greenhouse gases or horticulture but about “God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth,” as the Apostle’s Creed puts it.

Of course, affirming that Genesis 1–2 is a composite genre doesn’t immediately solve issues of interpretation. Scholarly will undoubtedly continue to debate the meaning of these chapters. But as we seek common ground, we should at least begin with a shared commitment to authorial intention and agreement that the genre of Genesis 1–2 is complex and arguably composite.

4. God created and sustains everything. This means that he is as much involved in natural processes as he is in supernatural events. Creation itself provides unmistakable evidence of God’s handiwork.
Any conversation about origins involves under-the-surface assumptions about who God is, what the world he has made is like, and how God interacts with this world. For instance, our view of God is often more deistic than theistic. In our secular age, even Christians are accustomed to viewing the world in mechanistic or materialistic ways—we find it quite easy to affirm that God is involved in raising someone from the dead, but we also slip into patterns of thinking that exclude God from the routine workings of nature, like the rotation of the stars, the formation of clouds, or the grass as it grows. That’s just nature doing its thing.

This implicit naturalism limits our theological imagination in unhelpful ways. We need to avoid being essentially atheistic in the way we view the “natural” world, as though God isn’t involved in all the processes scientists like to study—things like cell divisions, photosynthesis, or condensation. As Karl Barth says of God’s providential interaction with his creation, “He co-exists with it actively, in an action which never ceases and does not leave any loopholes.” Or consider Psalm 104, which celebrates God at work in virtually everything.

An upshot of this is that creation itself provides unmistakable evidence of God’s handiwork. As the psalmist declares, “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1, NRSV). Or as the apostle Paul puts it, God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20, ESV).

5. Adam and Eve were real persons in a real past, and the fall was a real event with real and devastating consequences for the entire human race.
This is likely to be a sticking point for some. An increasing number of evangelical evolutionary creationists are giving up belief in Adam and Eve as real persons in a real past. The genetic evidence, at least as we now understand it, makes belief in an original human pair doubtful if not impossible.

I suspect in 20 years’ time, support for Adam and Eve as real persons in a real past will be a minority view even within evangelicalism. Should this come to pass, I remain confident that the Christian faith will survive, even though this will require some reconfiguration of our deepest convictions.

That being said, I personally don’t find the genetic evidence compelling enough to jettison belief in a real Adam and Eve in a real past. I admit that the evidence is mounting and at this stage looks (to my untrained eye) impressive. But two scriptural convictions keep me tethered to the historic Christian conviction about the original human pair. The first is the testimony of Scripture, especially Adam’s presence in genealogies (Gen. 5; Luke 1) and in Paul’s Adam-Christ typology in Romans 5. Even more compelling is the idea that the Christian view of salvation appears to hinge on the doctrine of original sin and the fall as an event, which in turn requires a real person to have transgressed and thus plunged humanity into a state of sin from which it needs redemption.

It may be the case that faithful Christians will develop biblically legitimate and theologically sensible ways of explaining the gospel apart from a real Adam and Eve. But until that point, the better part of wisdom is maintaining a spirit of engaged conversation on this issue.

6. Human beings are created in the image of God and are thus unique among God’s creatures. They possess special dignity within creation.
Modern science has demonstrated that there is strong biological continuity between human beings and all other animals. Human beings, for example, share 98.5 percent of their DNA with chimpanzees. It is increasingly difficult, then, to claim that human beings are qualitatively distinct from the animal kingdom.

Indeed, it is surprising to note how much emphasis the Genesis creation account places on the continuity between human beings and other creatures. When God created human beings, he didn’t cause them to fall from the sky but formed them from the dust of the earth.

And yet Scripture clearly intends to say that something special took place on the sixth day of creation when God created human beings. The change of language is indication enough: from “Let the waters teem” (Gen. 1:20) and “Let the land produce” (Gen. 1:24) to “Let us make” (Gen. 1:26). Here the creation reaches a new stage, a high point, and God leans into the creation of humanity in a way that is distinct from what has gone before.

The Christian tradition has tended to locate this uniqueness in the doctrine of the imago Dei, or image of God. Defining precisely what this image of God entails has been vexing for theologians. But the basic point is straightforward enough—humanity is endowed by God with a special dignity. While there is continuity between humans and the rest of animal-kind, this sixth-day creation called “humankind” is unique.

7. There is no final conflict between the Bible rightly understood and the facts of science rightly understood. God’s “two books,” Scripture and nature, ultimately agree. Therefore Christians should approach the claims of contemporary science with both interest and discernment, confident that all truth is God’s truth.
Some take issue with the notion of God’s “two books,” the book of Scripture and the book of nature. But metaphor goes back at least to Augustine and can be found in esteemed places like the Belgic Confession.

The point is that these two books, Scripture and nature, ultimately agree. At times in history we have thought they disagreed or were in conflict. This is because both the book of Scripture and the book of nature require interpretation. Today we want to affirm that all truth is God’s truth—wherever you find it, whether in the Bible or in the creation.

A corollary of this is that Christians should approach the claims of contemporary science with both interest and discernment. Sadly, at least in popular imagination, Christians are known less for enthusiasm and more for their skepticism toward science. But the truth is that Christians do not need to be nervous about the findings of contemporary science—as though science might unearth a defeater to the Christian faith. It won’t. It can’t.

We may have to live with some tension between what we believe Scripture teaches and what we understand science to be saying. But Christians, rooted in the ultimate harmony of these two books, ought to cultivate a confident patience. Remember, now we see “in a mirror dimly” (see 1 Cor. 13:12, ESV). One day, all will be made clear. So we wait, in hope.

8. The Christian faith is compatible with different scientific theories of origins, from young-earth creationism to evolutionary creationism, but it is incompatible with any view that rejects God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Christians can (and do) differ on their assessment of the merits of various scientific theories of origins.
The Neo-Darwinian assertion of people like Richard Dawkins, that mutations are random and that evolution is therefore necessarily unguided or blind, is a metaphysical add-on to the scientific theory of evolution, not a part of the theory itself. It’s a supposition derived not from any science but from a naturalistic worldview, which regrettably is thought by many to be inseparable from the science of evolutionary biology. Christians justifiably object to evolutionary science being used as a pretense for making grand philosophical claims about the nonexistence of God or the nature of the world or what it means to be human. Furthermore, Christians are quite right to object to the science classroom being used as a pulpit for naturalism.

The idea of unguided evolution is incompatible with Christian theism. Within the biblical worldview, nothing is random. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of God (Matt. 10:29). If in fact God created the biological diversity we see through mutation and natural selection, then he superintended the process every single step of the way. Evolution would thus be a thoroughly directed process, the means by which God has chosen to bring about life throughout history.

Yet we must understand that the supposed conflict between Christianity and evolution is more apparent than real. The Christian faith, in principle, is not at odds with evolution as a science but with evolution as a worldview. Christians can and do assess the merits of the science of evolution differently. That’s all good and well. But the claim that evolution is by its very nature opposed to Christianity is simply overreaching—it’s not defensible philosophically or theologically.

Some Christians believe that God created the world several thousand years ago. They see this as the plain reading of Scripture and what Christians have believed for centuries. There are others who take the Bible just as seriously but see the scientific evidence a little differently and think the world is very old—several billion years. Here’s the bottom line: Christians can and do differ on their assessment of the merits of contemporary science. This is okay. What is not okay, or what is not a Christian view, is to exclude God from the process in any way. If the earth is young, then God made it young. If the earth is old, then God made it old. If human beings came from literal dust, then God did it. And if human beings share common ancestry with other species, then God did that too.

9. Christians should be well grounded in the Bible’s teaching on creation but always hold their views with humility, respecting the convictions of others and not aggressively advocating for positions on which evangelicals disagree.
As we grow in the depth of our understanding of these important issues, we should mature in our ability to engage with those who hold opposing views. It is a sign of Christian maturity to be able to live with these sorts of tensions; it is a sign of childhood or adolescence to be agitated by a less than black-and-white world.

Central to this is the Christian virtue of humility. Sometimes we will talk about “needing humility,” as though we can turn humility on like a light switch. The truth is that humility is a virtue that is only cultivated over time and with great patience and intentionality. It is also only cultivated in community, with the help and encouragement of others. This is why the apostle Paul invited Christians to work hard “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, ESV).

In practice, humility and a desire to preserve ecclesial unity mean respectfully listening to the views of others. It also means not agitating for change or grandstanding with one’s own views. On a complex, sensitive, and contentious issue like origins, it is best for evangelicals of goodwill not to aggressively advocate for positions on which evangelicals disagree.

10. Everything in creation finds its source, goal, and meaning in Jesus Christ, in whom the whole of creation will one day achieve eschatological redemption and renewal. All things will be united in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Creation ultimately exists for Christ. He is its source, its goal, its meaning. Scripture describes Jesus with these soaring words, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–17, ESV).

As Mark Noll has argued, the person of Christ provides motives for serious learning, not least in the sciences. There is a Christological basis for our engagement with the doctrine of creation and the natural world.

More than that, we confess that Christ is also the telos of this creation. Not only its meaning but its goal—its redeemer and the source of creation’s climatic resolution. Or as Scripture so pointedly says, God’s will has been “set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9–10, ESV).

Todd Wilson is the president and cofounder of the Center for Pastor Theologians. This article is adapted from his chapter, “Mere Creation,” in Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World (IVP Academic), which he co-edited with Gerald Hiestand.

Taken from Creation and Doxology edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald L. Hiestand. ©2018 by edited by Todd Wilson and Gerald L. Hiestand. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 05, 2019, 07:16:28 pm

The Audacity of Mary

God chooses the unlikely yet obedient to be his image bearers.

As I spent time reflecting on Mary in the Gospel of Luke this advent, I was continually brought to tears in a way that I’ve never experienced. Her story is beautiful and bold. It reminds us of the uncomfortable reality that witness is embodied and done in community.

It is sacred, messy, painful, and confusing. Yet it is God’s way of birthing gospel dreams in and through each of us.

Ben Witherington III writes in Women and the Genesis of Christianity that:

…it is Elizabeth and Mary, not Zechariah and Joseph who are first to receive the message of Christ’s coming, who are praised and blessed by God’s angels, and who are first to sing and prophesy about the Christ child…perhaps they are also the first examples of the lowly being exalted as part of God’s plan of eschatological reversal that breaks into history with, in, and through the person of Jesus.

When Gabriel appears to Mary, he doesn’t begin by telling her what will happen. He tells her why. Why? You are highly favored. Mary is troubled by his words and asks, “What kind of a greeting is this?”

He tells her again, “Don’t be afraid, you have found favor with God.”

The angel speaks these words to Mary because she is seen as anything but favored in her culture. Mary is a peasant, an unmarried girl from an insignificant village. In Jewish culture, a woman pregnant outside of marriage faced the threat of being put to death at worst and being dishonored and disgraced at best.

Women today are fighting through the barriers to share Jesus as they ask the same question Mary asked—“Why? Why am I, or would I be highly favored by God? Why would God choose to use me in his plans as a single woman who feels unseen? As a widower who is questioning her purpose in life? How am I favored when I’ve been abused by brothers in Christ that I believed I could trust?”

It’s hard to see yourself as the one favored to share the hope of Jesus when all you see is the Bible teacher or the evangelist from the stage telling their stories of preaching across the world. Think about who bears witness to your community. Who gives a testimony of faithful witness when you have conferences? Are they people who are just like you who have a similar ministry to you?

In evangelism, triumphant stories of white men preaching from stages to thousands of people will not be sufficient to unleash ordinary woman to witness. Women who are struggling to overcome depression or chronic illness, the grind of full-time work, and finding friendship in a lonely and isolating culture.

Women need to know that witness is embodied in these places. We see ourselves in the stories we’re told in our churches and Christian ministries. But you can’t be who you can’t see.

As evangelists, we can’t neglect our call to equip half the church for God’s mission. I’m thankful for women like Christine Caine, Jo Saxton, Beth Moore, Ruth Padilla-Deborst, and many other female and male theologians and Bible teachers who cast vision for women and are asking “Why? Why would God choose me to be his witness and image bearer?”

They answer with their embodied stories of being chosen by God even when they’ve experienced racism, sexual abuse, being in the foster care system, because God chooses the unlikely yet obedient to be his image bearers. Just like Mary, their stories are embodied stories of saying ‘yes’ to Jesus to follow him into mission.

Like Mary, their identity is rooted in God showing them favor, choosing them because they are loved and created for the purpose of making Jesus known. When women aren’t hearing stories in congregations or organizations of other women saying ‘yes’ to Jesus to proclaim him despite the internal and external barriers, it’s unlikely that they will see themselves as crucial to the gospel going forward.

Recently, I heard the story of Belinda, one of our Stonecroft volunteers, boldly sharing her faith with other women.

Belinda lived as a homeless drug addict, working the streets to support her habit. Without family or friends, she wanted to die. As a child, she remembered praying to Jesus, wondering, “Could Jesus love me?” She told us, “One day, I walked into a church to find out. No one spoke to me. No one would look at me. I felt invisible. I ran outside, crying.”

Years later, Belinda got sober and was invited to church where she met one of our group leaders, Sage. At their first meeting they did an icebreaker where everyone wrote down something they were thankful for. Belinda had no idea that they would be read aloud and then everyone would guess whose card it was.

Belinda had written down “sobriety.” Her heart sank, terrified of how women would respond when they realized it was her card.

Instead of awkward silence or shame Belinda found love and acceptance with the women at that meeting in her very physical reality of overcoming addiction. A few months later, she shared her story of finding community at a Storymarks outreach where women share the stories behind their tattoos.

Belinda shared the gospel through the story of her tattoo even though she was terrified to get up in front of people. That night she invited other women to begin following Jesus and discover how they are loved and favored by him no matter who they are, how society views them, or what has happened to them in the past.

Mary is not valued because of who she was married to, the town she came from, her years of ministry experience or even because she was the vessel who carried Jesus. She is favored by God and seen by God as a credible witness to birth the dream of Jesus in her own right because she loved the Lord and was obedient to do his work.

May many more women become an audacious example of witness, like Mary believing that nothing is impossible with God.

Jessica Leep Fick innovates new training and outreach tools for women to share the gospel globally as the evangelism resources director for Stonecroft Ministries. She is the author of Beautiful Feet: Unleashing Women to Everyday Witness and co-host of the Ears to Speak podcast. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and two sons where they kayak, build elaborate Lego creations, and eat delicious BBQ together.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 07, 2019, 05:39:34 pm

Exclusive: Here's the Justin Bieber Selfie w/ Biola's Prez Barry Corey. Sry TMZ.

"I could tell that he had an attraction to people that seemed like it was from the heart."

Ed: Barry, I got a text that said, “Barry Corey is on TMZ.” My first thought was, “Oh no,” but to my surprise you were the random guy in a video with Justin Bieber. What’s going on and how did you end up in this video?

Barry: My wife Paula and I were at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills meeting with a family whose children attend Biola. I had left something in the car, so my wife waited inside and I asked the valet guys to retrieve my car. While I was waiting there, this young guy wearing sweats, and a sweatshirt, with a baseball hat on, was hugging the bellmen and telling them they're blessed or something like that.

Then, he started singing Marvin Gaye's ‘Sexual Healing,’ and I knew the song since it came out in 1982 when I was in college. I thought, This guy seems like a happy guy, he's connecting with people. As he was singing next to me, I kept glancing to my left, and then I noticed that he was reaching his hand out to me.

I'm this 57-year-old out-of-touch dad, so I didn’t know who he was. But I did figure out he must be a celebrity, maybe a rapper or an actor or something, because of the way people were reacting to him and because of where we were. So I wanted to take a selfie.

Ed: So you didn’t know it was Justin Bieber?

Barry: No. And he was there with a young lady who I later found out was his new bride Hailey. But I heard somebody say, “Hey Justin,” and immediately I thought, “Oh, it’s Justin Timberlake.” Later, when I told my wife about it, she told me it sounded more like Justin Bieber than Justin Timberlake.

Ed: So you really are an out-of-touch dad. In the video, I see him reach out his hand to you and you’re looking over at it. What was going through your head?

Barry: I was thinking, This guy's having a great time, and he's singing unapologetically, and he has a decent voice. So when he reached out his hand, I thought, Why not?He reached out his hand, I grabbed it, and then he kind of pulled me a little bit and I pulled him into a dad hug and put my arm around him. The next thing I know, my right hand was coming out with my cellphone, and he and Hailey cuddled next to me and I took a selfie. Unfortunately, the selfie didn't come out.

Ed: We have the selfie exclusive here today. This is the actual selfie you took:


Barry: Yes, no one has seen it yet and I actually retrieved it from my discarded photos just for you, Ed. I didn't even know I could do that until my high-tech kids told me how to do that, so you are the first to see the incomprehensible blur, as I call it.

Ed: Well, I’m glad you were the random guy on TMZ, not some other story that might be negative. I have to admit, I immediately thought of your book, Love Kindness. I know that's crazy, but I love your book, and I love the idea of you reaching out to someone reaching towards you.

You knew the song “Sexual Healing” is not a song I immediately associate with Biola University. And you didn’t know it was Justin Bieber, nor did you know that he has been on a spiritual journey, talking a lot about his walk with Christ and more lately. So here was someone you didn't know, who you thought was a rapper singing Marvin Gaye's ‘Sexual Healing.’ He may have had a different view than you. Why reach back?

Barry: Because he reached out. If somebody reaches out, I think we need to reach back, and you can reach back without joining him in the song.

Ed: For sure. This is something that your book addresses. I quoted your book in my new book Christians in the Age of Outrage, and I told a story in there where you reached out and then someone reached back, which is going to be in the new edition of your book. Talk a little bit about that.

Barry: Right. So here in California, being a conservative Christian college, Biola is up against politics that aren't always congruent with our deeply held virtues and values at the university. A few years ago, when some legislation was introduced that was kind of set on disrupting us because of sexual ethics that we hold at the university, one of the authors of one of the bills, Evan Low, was seen by many of us as someone who was unapproachable, and deeply antagonistic.

Through what I can only say is divine appointment, someone arranged for me to meet with him. I met with him, he received me, we began a conversation, and it's been well over two years now that we've had many conversations, many meals together, and we co-wrote an article in the Washington Post.

Evan Low and I have been working together to try to figure out how we model civility without capitulating on our deeply-held values. From my perspective, how is the gospel going to be at work with someone who doesn't see eye to eye with me? It's been a beautiful story, and it was the story of the fact that it's better to start a conversation by talking across a table than shouting across the street.

That's what's missing in such a stark way, in politics and media, even in higher education, and unfortunately many places in the church.

Ed: That’s great, Barry. If Justin Bieber read this, what would you want him to know?

Barry: I'd want him to know that when he went out to the valet guys and said, "Hey, bless you," that I could tell that he had an attraction to people that seemed like it was from the heart. I am left thinking, This is a person who is trying to make a difference. Let’s get him to Biola and have a chance to tell his story.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 11, 2019, 10:35:51 am

When Great Writers Wrestle with Faith

Why have so many modern novelists and poets chased after (and fled from) God?

The metaphors we use in given situations show us more about our assumptions than we often realize. In politics, we speak of the “arena,” our “opponents,” or even “battle lines.” Our language betrays a hostile environment filled with warring parties. When we discuss education, we may refer to “values,” “costs,” or “benefits,” revealing economics as our lens for assessing learning.

The title of Richard Harries’s book, Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith, revolves around two contrasting metaphors for writers and religion. On the one hand, Christ is scary, unpursued, and ephemeral, haunting writers like a ghost. In the subtitle, though, the writers are active agents wrestling with an unknown entity, like Jacob with the angel, for the prize of faith. Harries explores both types of artists in his book, those who flee religion and those who chase it. He focuses primarily on those who lived in the 20th century, starting with 19th-century novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and ending with modern writer Marilynne Robinson.

The Pull of Religion

Harries chooses his 20 novelists and poets from those “who have meant a great deal to me over the years [and] for whom the pull of religion has been fundamental.” His book consists of revised talks on his chosen writers given over the course of a 30-year career. As a retired Anglican bishop of Oxford, he attends more to Oxford-based writers than American readers may expect. Each chapter begins with a brief biography, but key details are sometimes omitted (such as the writer’s homeland), and the pages are littered with misprints and dated references. (At one point, Harries describes a 1991 biography of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as “recent.”)

Because the list is subjective, there are a handful of idiosyncratic choices. For instance, the poet Edward Thomas had no particular religious leaning and is not much discussed, even in academic circles in America. Stevie Smith and Elizabeth Jennings were poets who grabbed prizes and accolades in the 1950s, but they are unfamiliar to 21st-century readers. They each receive a dozen pages, whereas the “big names” of Christian writing—like Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo, and Evelyn Waugh—are all squished into one chapter.

Harries may feel he knows these writers so well that, for him, every debate about their work has been settled, allowing him to present his interpretation as the interpretation. For instance, on Dostoevsky, Harries writes, “Dostoevsky was not interested in philosophical arguments about whether or not God exists. For him religion was primarily a matter of deep feeling expressed in acts of gratitude or love.” This claim reveals more about how Harries defines religion than Dostoevsky, for the Russian novelist expends hundreds of pages trying to argue for and against God’s existence, over the course of five large novels. Love may be an answer for Dostoevsky, but love is not defined as “feeling” in his work: It is labor, fortitude, and involves practice over the course of a lifetime. He writes as much through the voice of the Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. Harries excels only when he borrows from Rowan Williams, who has written one of the finest books on Dostoevsky ever composed.

Because Harries writes with affection for every writer that he chooses, he tends to baptize their faults. His defense of Emily Dickinson offers a case in point. Harries exalts Dickinson for her agoraphobia, casting her as a mystic who may have come to believe “in God or Christ … in and through this dialogue of self with self.” Overlooking the false either-or between God and Christ, I find the praise of inner dialogue problematic. Didn’t Ovid’s Narcissus show us the tragic outcome of a self reflecting on itself? It was not a discovery of the divine.

Moreover, Harries speaks of Dickinson’s faith superficially, counting 20 references to Jesus as his evidence. But these references only occur over the course of nearly 1,800 poems, meaning thousands of lines. By contrast, she refers to birds at least 300 times. On Harries’s logic, one could easily argue that she loved birds more than she loved Jesus. Most readers of Dickinson recognize her ambiguity about matters of faith, so Harries’s attempts at an apology sound hollow.

Harries’s biographical sketches are often engrossing. And the title of his chapter on great Catholic novelists, “Grace in Failure,” helps us consider the gap between worldly fame and heavenly success, both within works of fiction and in the writers’ own lives. Still, many of Harries’s observations struck me as well off the mark. For instance, in a chapter comparing C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman, the agnostic author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, he describes one of Pullman’s characters, Lyra Coulter, as “the most rounded and alive person in all the books under discussion.” Yet Lyra’s goodness is marginal at best. She approves of a murderer, and by Harries’s own description she is a liar and a trickster. Despite her obvious lack of virtue, Harries persists in calling her a religious figure, “very alive and attractive.”

Skimming the Surface
Like the title of the book, which seems unaware of the tension between its two dominant metaphors, Harries is beset by unacknowledged assumptions about his audience’s view of religion. He is genuinely concerned that moral characters will be found boring, that quiet artists will be seen as weak, and that any stance for truth will reek of reductionistic thinking. Perhaps drawing from his British listeners’ skepticism regarding the significance of religion in daily life, Harries overemphasizes the seriousness and intellectual validity of these modern writers, as though the content of their minds mattered more than the movements of their hearts.

Despite Harries’ assertion that religious language has become “tired, stale and lifeless,” he rarely digs deeply into the language these writers employed. Nor does he deal explicitly with the theological questions posed by their narratives or poetry. He rarely refers to the differences between their faith traditions and seems unaware that the work of a 19th-century Russian Orthodox novelist might be shaped by different theological and aesthetic beliefs than the work of a 20th-century Anglican poet. Instead, Harries contents himself merely with ascertaining whether each writer made a profession of belief in God, good and evil, and basic doctrines of Christianity.

Taken together, the authors featured in this book—with their greatly varying perspectives on the relationship of faith and art—remind us that God’s choir may sing harmoniously, but never dully or monotonously. To imagine Dostoevsky, in heaven, bellowing out praises to God alongside figures like Shusaku Endo and W. H. Auden is quite a vision. This makes it all the more regrettable that Haunted by Christ manages only to skim the surface of what could have been a rich conversation between masters of faith and craft.

Jessica Hooten Wilson teaches humanities at John Brown University. She is the author of Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky (Cascade Books), Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence (Ohio State University Press), and Reading Walker Percy’s Novels (Louisiana State University Press).

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 13, 2019, 02:36:45 pm

I Escaped from Iran, but Not from God

As a child of the Iranian Revolution, I wanted nothing to do with religion.

I was nine years old when I decided that I hated God. I hated him because I believed he hated me first.

It was 1979, during the middle of the Iranian Revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious zealots had recently overthrown the existing government and seized political power. Hundreds of thousands of people had their lives turned upside down in the chaos.

My father was a military officer in the previous regime, and we had grown up on a military base. A couple of weeks into the revolution, I was at school when we were called outside for an unexpected assembly. A soldier read off three names, including mine, and called us to the front. Removing a gun from his holster, he quoted from the Qur‘an and told me he would kill me to deliver a message to supporters of the old regime. Fortunately the school principal intervened, and the soldier relented.

Running for Our Lives

Traumatized, I rushed home to tell my father what had happened. Despite his usual sternness, he took me into his lap and pledged to keep us safe, revealing that plans were underway for an eventual escape.

To me, this felt less like escaping from Iran than escaping from God. We were leaving our home, our family, our wealth, our friends, everything we held dear—all because our country had been victimized by religion gone wrong.

Just days later, our situation grew desperate. Soldiers barged into our home and dragged my father out. One day earlier, revolutionary guards had whisked one of my father’s colleagues off to a public park, where he was brutally tortured, dying seven hours later.

To everyone’s surprise, my father made it home alive, but this only strengthened our resolve to flee. He devised a plan to leverage my mother’s heart issues as a means of escape. We met with a few trusted doctors, offering everything we owned—our home, cars, clothes, money—if they would risk helping us. One day my mother began faking chest pains. She was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors “assessed” her and recommended a trip to Switzerland for open-heart surgery.

From that point forward, we were running for our lives. Miraculously, we made it to the plane and eventually reached Switzerland. We sought out the American embassy to apply for political asylum, but the United States was not allowing Iranians in at the time.

After a while, we traveled to Germany, hoping for a more sympathetic consulate. One day my mother suggested praying to the “God of America” named Jesus. Maybe he would let us into “his” country. Her plan sounds silly in retrospect, but it worked: One week later we were flying to America.

We settled in Texas because my father had done some previous training at Fort Hood. Living in a military town in a patriotic state, it didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t welcome. I was constantly bullied, joked about, picked on, harassed, and laughed at. Everywhere we lived, we were outcasts—weirdos who couldn’t acclimate.

On the day before I started high school, my father found me crying in my room. I explained that no one liked me—that I got beat up constantly and wanted to return to Iran. By this time, my father had achieved modest financial success. That day, I got an extreme makeover: new clothes, a new haircut, and a car. I walked into high school a new man—or so it seemed to my peers. Outwardly I had mastered the popularity game, but inwardly I remained fragile and insecure.

Coming Alive
A few months after graduation, a friend asked why I seemed so down. I explained that all of my friends were moving away, and I was feeling isolated. He suggested coming with him to church the next morning. Despite all my religious baggage, I conceded that I would go—but only with my parents’ permission. To my utter shock, they didn’t immediately shoot down the idea.

Unbeknownst to me, some people from this church had been dining at the restaurant my father owned. When they noticed he was shorthanded, they left their seats, picked up towels, and began waiting and busing tables throughout the lunch hour. For days, they kept returning and serving. Eventually the music minister invited my father to Wednesday night choir practice, and he felt obliged to attend. The choir director explained the restaurant’s need for temporary help, and volunteers covered the next two weeks. Their kindness touched my father’s heart.

And so I walked into that enormous Baptist church one Sunday morning as a youth rally was taking place. I noticed all the friends I used to party with, so I approached them like usual, but they were acting strangely. They all had Bibles and used super-spiritual words I didn’t understand. Within five minutes, everyone was dispersing—everyone except Larry Noh.

Everyone in our town knew Larry. He was a local legend—a linebacker from a rival football team who was outspoken about his faith. I had mocked him at a party the year before. I feared a confrontation, but he assured me he only wanted to sit with me. Throughout the Bible study, he made sure I felt included. He let me borrow his Bible and flipped to the correct passages so I wouldn’t get lost.

The next night, 17 teenagers from church showed up at my house. For three hours they visited with me and shared the gospel, even though I wasn’t interested. They kept coming each Monday. And every Sunday and Wednesday, I was at their church. One Sunday night, the preacher invited people forward to give their lives to God. Afraid, I slipped out quickly and drove home thinking I was finished with this “church stuff.”

Arriving home, I wanted to show God who was boss of my life, so I took one of the youth group’s Bibles, doused it with lighter fluid, and set it on our backyard grill. But I couldn’t find a match! Frustrated and curious all at once, I opened the Bible and began reading. When I came to the story of Peter walking on the water toward Jesus, it came alive! God was calling me to step out—out of myself, out of my excuses. That night, in my bedroom, I trusted Jesus.

My father immediately reproached me: “You can’t be a Christian,” he said. “We are Muslims.” Assuming I would get over it, like any other teenage phase, they let me keep reading the Bible. But getting baptized sent them over the edge. When I arrived home, my father had a duffel bag packed. I was dead to him, he thundered, and I had to leave.

That night I called Larry Noh and told him I was homeless. He invited me to come live with him and six other interns in a house that belonged to the church. In the months to come, they helped me grow tremendously in my walk with the Lord. Meanwhile, one by one, God started saving my family. First my sister came to faith at a Campus Crusade event. Then my mother and brother were saved. We prayed relentlessly for my father, and eventually he too gave his life to Christ.

God, in his amazing grace, has turned my family’s tragedy into testimony. Though I hated him as a child, I can see now that he was holding us all along.

David Nasser is senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty University.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 15, 2019, 04:45:33 am

Abortion, Black Lives Matter, and Wheaton

Let me shed a little light on the situation with Wheaton College and Ryan Bomberger.

A tempest has arisen in the teacup that is the conservative blogosphere.

Let me try to shed a little light in the midst of the heat.

Last month, black pro-life activist Ryan Bomberger spoke on the Wheaton campus about abortion and race. A link to his speech is below, but what is not seen in the video is a question-and-answer session in which Bomberger made comments that several students found objectionable, and said so publicly. Bomberger took exception to their objections and said so publicly.

The blogosphere has taken it from there.


As I said, let me try to shed some light.

First, Wheaton College is doctrinally pro-life.

That’s correct—life “from conception” is in our community covenant. Faculty and students agree that we will, “uphold the God-given worth of human beings, from conception to death, as the unique image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:27; Psalm 8:3-8; 139:13-16).”

Wheaton has demonstrated its commitment to this deeply-held value. It was Wheaton College that sued the Obama administration over the HHS contraceptive mandate. And we won. That lawsuit came from our pro-life commitments. Forbes reported:

“We are grateful to God that the court recognized Wheaton’s religious identity and protected our ability to affirm the sanctity of human life,” said Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College.

You can’t teach or go to school here if you don’t affirm life, from conception forward.

So any “Wheaton College is not pro-life” comments (as I’ve seen in some places on the Internet) are simply false.

Black Lives Matter

Second, I believe black lives matter.

People can go ahead and take my statement out of context. I’m fine with that. And, not only do I believe black lives matter, but I think it is unhelpful to say “all lives matter” in response.

Obviously all lives matter, but there are some in the African American community who wonder if the rest of the world believes their lives matter.

So, let me say it again: black lives matter.

Let me also say, unborn lives matter. (Ever notice that people don’t snap back, “All lives matter” to that?)

Now, Black Lives Matter, the organization, is quite another story. Some of its stated values are quite contrary to many values an evangelical would hold. I’ve posted many articles here at The Exchange that point out that reality.

Unborn Black Lives Matter

It is irrefutably true that the African American community has been disproportionately impacted by abortion. Tens of thousands of unborn black lives have been lost to the tragedy of abortion.

That’s the primary message Bomberger brought to Wheaton’s campus and the reason I am writing this article. I’ve watched his presentation and share many of his concerns.

Furthermore, he has a compelling life story that powerfully undergirds his message— he was conceived in rape, adopted, and now is a black pro-life activist. I imagine that we’d get along quite well and we share some similar values.

In fact, Bomberger spoke at the Chicago March for Life this year, an event where I spoke last year.

However, after his presentation on the Wheaton campus, reports say he and several students disagreed concerning how to best respond to some issues concerning race, not abortion. I don’t know what they discussed beyond that, but students were bothered by his answers. They communicated their concerns to their student government leaders, and those leaders communicated the concerns in an email to the student body.

Actually, our student newspaper wrote about the incident:

… Wheaton’s student body president, who played a key role in drafting the school-wide email, said Bomberger went from “political disagreement into a place of a racially-aggressive speech that left students crying and feeling really unheard … their question wasn’t really addressed in a respectful manner.” Bomberger affirmed that students were upset, but denied that anyone had cried.

The student body president wasn’t there, but was representing what she was told by students who attended.

I wasn’t there either. But, clearly Bomberger knows that some folks were upset with his post-talk answers, and wrote (and wrote) about it in several on-line forums, including LifeNews, The Christian Post, Town Hall, and LifeSite News, with the title, “I went to Wheaton to talk abortion. The student gov’t flipped out.”

Other conservative sites then ran news stories based on his columns. Some joined the outrage, believing that anything bad about a Christian institution must be true, while others actually had the integrity to report facts.


Bomberger said some wanted to “silence the message and smear the messenger,” yet the video of the talk is available online and Bomberger himself has encouraged people to watch it. (How is a video “silenced” if it’s on the Internet?)

Of course, I’ve seen this before when I worked at LifeWay. People would say, “LifeWay banned my book, so buy my book to show them!” Obviously, books (and videos) are not banned or “silenced” when they are readily available elsewhere, but I get how this works.

Bomberger also indicated in his columns that he wanted a “Matthew-sort of conflict resolution approach to all this,” but that’s not how public dialogue and disagreement works.

Matthew 18 applies when you think I’ve sinned. If I’ve disagreed with you (even in a manner that you find questionable), that’s called public disagreement. Disagreement is part of public dialogue. If I’ve sinned against you, call me.

No one sinned against Bomberger. Some students disagreed with him.

If disagreement is unsafe, then Wheaton is unsafe. If you don’t like people challenging your ideas when you are intentionally provocative, this is not the place to come and speak.


I’m glad that I work in a pro-life place that cares deeply that people of color are valued. And, this is also my community now, and I will defend it when needed.

This argument between Bomberger and some of our student leaders is just that—a conversation and disagreement between Bomberger and students.

Furthermore, student leaders did not smear Bomberger. They disagreed with him and shared their perception and concern with fellow students. As the elected leaders of the student body, they represented their peers’ concerns.

Some staff members worked with them at the students’ request, and the students sent out an email voicing their concerns. Again, the students sent their ideas in response to Bomberger’s post-video comments, so using the video as a means to undermine the students’ claims does not address the issue.

These students objected to some of what he said after the talk, contrary to what you may have read in some places around the web.

You see, we debate ideas here at Wheaton, and our students felt that some of Bomberger’s comments after the talk were unhelpful and dismissive, not about abortion, but about other issues of concern to them.

Honestly, I would not have used the charged word “safe” that the students used in that email, but it does convey the kind of place we want Wheaton to be—a safe place to debate ideas and a safe place for people of color.

The Real Issue

The issue in this story is not about whether pro-life messages are welcome on campus. It would be against our community covenant to promote views that undermine our commitment that life begins at conception.

But, when you speak provocatively, you open yourself up to criticism. When you speak out, it can have a jarring effect on the recipients of the message, and sometimes people don’t like what you said or how you said it.

You see, Wheaton is a safe place for differing ideas, but it may not be a comfortable place for speakers with untested or confusingly-articulated ideas. We sometimes disagree. We debate. That’s what we do in a college setting.

But, and this is key, when you’ve built your reputation as a speaker who says things in provocative ways like Bomberger has (and, at times, like I have as well), you can’t run to the press with a story saying someone is trying to silence and smear you when, in reality, three college kids pushed back in an email to their peers.

It’s not silencing, and it’s not about abortion.

It’s disagreement.

Some college kids disagreed with Bomberger.

It is what it is.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 15, 2019, 04:15:17 pm

The Top Reasons Young People Drop Out of Church

Even with 1 in 4 leaving over politics, college kids are more likely to return after a hiatus than leave for good.

Slightly fewer young adults are dropping out of church after high school, but those who do have more serious reasons for leaving than a decade ago.

In a 2017 LifeWay Research survey released today, 66 percent of Americans between 23 and 30 years old said they stopped attending church on a regular basis for at least a year after turning 18, compared to 70 percent in 2007.

Most young churchgoers skip out on Sundays at some point amid their transition to going to college, moving away from home, or starting their first jobs. LifeWay has found that historically about two-thirds of dropouts return to services once they get older.

But these days, young Christians are more likely to cite weighter political and spiritual concerns as pushing them away from the church, with 70 percent listing such beliefs as a reason for their departure in 2017 compared to about half (52%) 10 years before.

Moving for college remains the top reason young people stop attending church in both surveys, which are based on responses from more than 2,000 young Americans who attended a Protestant church regularly (twice a month or more) for at least a year during high school.


Other popular reasons to include: a perception that church members were hypocritical (32%), disconnect with church life (29%), and lack of student ministry opportunities (24%).

Political rifts between young Christians and their congregations are growing. A quarter (25%) of recent dropouts said disagreements over their church’s stance on political and social issues contributed to their decision to stop attending, compared to 15 percent in 2007.

The follow-up survey came in the wake of the 2016 elections, with partisan divides over President Donald Trump’s victory adding to Generation Z’s growing concerns around race, social justice, and LGBT rights.

“In the past, it was possible for difficult issues like this to be brushed aside or go unaddressed entirely,” Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, told CT last year, responding to trends among Gen Z. “But that approach cripples the purpose of student ministry. Now, student ministry leaders are forced to teach what the Bible says on these issues, as well as equip teenagers to respond biblically.”

In a time when many churches are “predictable clusters of the politically like-minded,” as James K. A. Smith has said, it’s harder for those who feel like ideological outliers to stick around. As CT reported last year, church attendance dipped among born-again and evangelical Christians across age groups after Trump’s election, particularly among Hillary Clinton supporters, who may have not felt welcome in certain church contexts.

Young people—some temporarily and some permanently—are moving outside churches to find a cohort that shares their political and spiritual beliefs. After high school, many find that community on campus.

A quarter of 18- to 22-year-olds in 2007 and a third in 2017 said they stopped attending church regularly simply because they “moved to college.” (Among young adults who had enrolled in college, that number is up to nearly half—47 percent.)

Still, only 14 percent said their school obligations actually kept them away from church, compared to 24 percent that said their work responsibilities prevented them from going.

Other studies have noted a clear correlation between college attendance and decreased religiosity but find the decline in faith isn’t the fault of professors or classes themselves. Rather, it may be due to the “college experience” more broadly or the transition from one’s family home to a new independence. There is also plain teenage amnesia.

“It's not that most rejected the church,” wrote Ed Stetzer, former executive director of LifeWay Research and the current head of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “For the most part, they simply lose track of the church and stop seeing it as important to their life.”

Of those who dropped out of church for at least a year during the college years (between ages 18 and 22), more of them—31 percent—now attend regularly than those who never returned—29 percent.

LifeWay reports that church attendance peaks at age 15, with more than three-quarters regularly attending then. But that percentage took a nosedive at 18, and by 19, only 4 in 10 former regular-attenders were still in the habit. By 21, one-third attended church services regularly—a percentage that remained constant through age 30.

The dynamics of churches themselves are increasingly a turnoff for dropouts. In 2007, half (55%) pointed to church- and pastor-related reasons as important in their decision to leave—mostly their impressions of their place in the congregation. But in 2017, 73 percent indicated such grievances were a factor in stepping away.

Just as earlier research by Fuller Youth Institute concluded that young people don’t want hip pastors, matters of worship and preaching were not dominant factors inspiring young people to leave. LifeWay found that only 13 percent said they left because the worship style was “unappealing,” and 1 in 10 said they left because “the sermons were not relevant to my life.”

The percentage of those who said they wanted to keep attending church but dropped out because they were “too busy” actually decreased in the decade between surveys (22% in 2007 versus 20% in 2017).


It’s worth noting that most who withdraw from regular attendance are not abandoning the faith outright. Still, a bigger portion of the dropouts cite major shifts in their views of Christianity. While only 10 percent said they left because they stopped believing in God, that’s double as many as ’07.

Of all young adults who used to attend Protestant churches but left temporarily or for good, just 7 percent say they are currently atheists (3%) or agnostic (4%). In contrast, most still consider themselves Protestant (49%) or non-denominational (21%), while 10 percent now identify as Roman Catholic.

There’s more positive news for orthodox Christianity. While most of those who left the church did so for reasons related to personal life changes (like going to college) or frustrations with hypocrisy and politics in church, those who continued regularly attending did so primarily because, they said, “church was a vital part of my relationship with God” (56%) and “I wanted the church to help guide my decisions in everyday life” (54%).

Notably, young Protestants who kept up their church attendance claimed to experience fewer of the social frustrations than those who dropped out. While those who stayed did observe judgmentalism, cliquishness, and a lack of connection in some ministries, they perceived these problems at substantially lower rates than the students who ended up leaving.

And for young Christians who bailed on church but have since returned, the most common reasons were the encouragement of family (37%), the personal desire to go back to church (32%), and the feeling that God was calling them back (28%).

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 16, 2019, 07:42:28 am

What Humans Have That Machines Don’t

New #1
How a theology of personhood cuts against the mechanical metaphors we use to describe ourselves.

As a literature and theology teacher, I train my students to see and hear metaphors, which are not just a matter of language. As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue in The Metaphors We Live By, “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” A metaphor, in classical Greek, means “a carrying or bearing across,” which is why in present-day Greece, metaphora designates a moving van.

Metaphors efficiently transport meaning when literal language fails us. The poet Emily Dickinson compares hope to “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.” The economist Adam Smith compares the free market to “an invisible hand” that promotes social welfare despite the natural selfishness of individuals. As C. S. Lewis claims in Miracles, “The truth is that if we are going to talk at all about things which are not perceived by the senses, we are forced to use language metaphorically.”

For much of Western civilization, there was a consensus among Christian and non-Christian thinkers about the material and spiritual nature of human beings. The Genesis creation story memorably captures this dynamic harmony when “the Lord form a man from the dust of the ground and breathe into his nostrils the breath of life” (2:7). But the materialism of our time diverges from this consensus, insisting that we are only brains and bodies—nothing more.

When I recently taught Mere Christianity, I was surprised that Lewis frequently deploys a mechanical metaphor for human beings. He is typically alert to imperfect illustrations. And nothing, in my estimation, is more imperfect than transfiguring a living organism into a manufactured object. Lewis says, “God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.”

Notice how Lewis, who seems uneasy with his own mechanical metaphor, adds an organic metaphor. But he presses on with the mechanical one, as if the Garden of Eden were a pristine garage for Aston Martins until a malevolent mechanic interfered: “In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.” Elsewhere in the book, Lewis imagines humans as “a fleet of ships sailing in formation”; moral failure occurs when we collide into each other and when our “steering gears” malfunction.

Despite using these mechanical metaphors for human beings, Lewis readily admits that God did not invent mere machines, as the gift of free will makes clear: “A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designed for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water.”

Why, then, does Lewis employ mechanical metaphors for the human being? As much as he was a medievalist by training and imagination, he still lived in the modern world. Ever since the 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes described humans as “microclocks” belonging to an interconnected “macroclock” of the universe, the metaphorical mechanization of life has been hard to escape. Materialism has come like a thief in the night, robbing us of organic metaphors for the human being. Cars and ships are meager in comparison to rich pictures of sheep rescued by a watchful shepherd (Ezek. 34:11–16), fruit-bearing branches that abide in the nourishing vine (John 15:4–5), or, most affectingly, adopted sons and heirs of the kingdom (Gal. 4:4–7; James 2:5).

A Network of Relations
In Being Human, the Anglican theologian Rowan Williams awakens us to the dead metaphor of the human machine, which has become so familiar that we seldom recognize it as a metaphor, let alone one that truncates the mystery and complexity of our existence. His book is the latest contribution in “a sort of unintended trilogy” that includes Being Christian (2014) and Being Disciples (2016). Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks clearly and calmly into the “contemporary confusion” about our humanity because he follows the perfect model of being fully human: Jesus Christ. Consisting of addresses given between 2009 and 2015, the first three chapters concern human nature as it relates to consciousness, personhood, and mind-body relations, while the last two chapters concern human flourishing as it relates to faith and silence.

Like C. S. Lewis before him, Williams understands that human beings are set apart from animals because of personhood—a nature shared with our three-personal God. Machines, however sophisticated, lack this nature; therefore, we should resist comparing humans to them. If personhood depended upon “a set of facts,” we might tick various boxes to judge whether a human being deserves respect, thus endangering “those not yet born, those severely disabled, those dying, those in various ways marginal and forgotten.” Williams persuasively argues that we ascribe dignity to humans—regardless of “how many boxes are ticked”—because every person stands “in the middle of a network of relations” that confers meaning and worth. God himself belongs to a network of relations that Christians name the Trinity.

Not only does the community of the Godhead precede the community of humans, but the latter is coupled to the former, making atomized existence a delusion. As the metaphysical poet John Donne famously penned, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” What else could this continent be other than God? God, we could say, reclaims the oceans that man invents to separate himself from his Creator and neighbor. “Before anything or anyone is in relation with anything or anyone else,” Williams writes, “it’s in relation to God ... the deeper I go into the attempt to understand myself, who and what I am, the more I find that I am already grasped, addressed, engaged with. I can’t dig deep enough in myself to find an abstract self that’s completely divorced from relationship. So, for St. Augustine and the Christian tradition, before anything else happens I am in relation to a non-worldly, non-historical everlasting attention and love, which is God.”

Man is “neither a machine nor a self-contained soul,” as materialist and spiritualist views of human life erroneously claim. We are instead hybrid creatures—body and soul—living in “the material world, subject to the passage of time, and yet mysteriously able to go beyond the agenda that is set, to reshape what is around; above all, committed to receiving and giving, to being dependent as well as independent, because that’s what relation is.” A theologically informed language of personhood corrects the mechanical language that reduces us to a checklist of attributes and the individualist language that alienates us from the destiny of others.

Faith and Silence
Once we have developed a proper notion of being human, we should ask how to become more human in a world that conspires to make us less human. Here, Williams offers wise reflections on the roles of faith and silence in human flourishing. Faith helps us mature in four ways: (1) Against the modern ideal of autonomy, faith empowers us to acknowledge a “non-disabling dependence” on divine liberty as we become who we were meant to be—the adopted sons of God (Rom. 8:15). (2) Against a neurological determinism that makes us victims of unchosen instincts, faith educates the passions to serve the good. (3) Against the undifferentiated and commodified time of secularism, faith reckons with time as “a complex and rich gift ... the medium in which we not only grow and move forward but also constructively return and resource—literally re-source—ourselves.” (4) Against the kind of anxiety expressed by Claudio in William Shakespeare’s drama Measure for Measure(“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; to lie in cold obstruction and to rot”), faith teaches us to accept our mortality, living purposely because our days are numbered.

Known for his mystical practice of Christianity, Williams considers how silence aids our “growing humanity.” We are tempted by a fantasy of domesticating whatever is wild and managing whatever is unwieldy. Silence humbles this will to power, which explains why we fear prayer that relinquishes words, theology that eschews systems, and worship that invites mystery. Silence helps us to let God be God, Williams believes, “and in the process we’re letting ourselves become more fully human, because, in the extraordinary economy of heaven, God is God by being God for us, and we are human by being human for God; and all joy and fulfillment opens up once we recognize this.”

The epilogue of Being Human is an insightful sermon that Williams delivered on Ascension Day at Westminster Abbey. Had I been a disciple who followed Jesus through it all—the life-changing ministry, the heart-wrenching death, and the mind-boggling resurrection—I might have sunk into depression when he “was taken up before [my] very eyes, and a cloud hid him from [my] sight” (Acts 1:9). Where is the good news for humanity in the bodily absence of our Lord and Savior? The Ascension, according to Williams, celebrates “the extraordinary fact that our humanity in all of its variety and vulnerability has been taken by Jesus into the heart of the divine life. ‘Man with God is on the throne,’ the hymn goes.” We are not left alone, sorting through our own mess.

Jesus, Williams preaches, hears all the words we speak and takes them before the Father, saying: “This is the humanity I have brought home. It’s not a pretty sight; it’s not edifying and impressive and heroic, it’s just real: real and needy and confused, and here it is (this complicated humanity) brought home to heaven, dropped into the burning heart of God—for healing and transformation.” Amen.

Christopher Benson teaches literature and theology at The Cambridge School of Dallas. He blogs at Bensonian.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 23, 2019, 05:35:45 pm

It’s Time for Correctional Ministry to Wade into Deeper Water

People who are hurt the worst need the best discipleship.

Correctional ministry, whether a juvenile hall, jail, or prison, is shallow by design. This is in large part due to the correctional setting itself: limited time frames for ministry availability, lack of quiet and secure meeting spaces (especially for clergy-confidential counseling), an overload of request demand coupled with too few chaplains and volunteers, and finally—and with much consternation—a deliberate lack of support for religious programming by some institutional line staff.

Religious requests by inmates are derisively called “snivels” by line staff who see correctional ministry as naïve do-gooders pathologically coupled with whining and/or manipulative anti-social personalities dedicated to hustling the naïve do-gooders.

Much of this structural and systemic cause for shallow ministry will never be effectively remedied, and therefore in social sciences is a “root cause” for the very reason that is systemic at its core.

However, there is a secondary cause for shallowness that brims with missiological optimism.

This secondary cause for shallowness is the result of decades of perpetuated flawed ministry practices. The good news is these are practices which can be easily addressed for incremental improvement. To better understand this cause for self-imposed shallowness, let’s look at how correctional ministry is normally conducted.

If the facility has a chaplain (and most do not), the religious coordinator will make primary use of church teams. Several local churches will field a small team of volunteers and rotate church services and Bible studies on a monthly basis, usually. These church teams are made up of volunteers who have received a bare minimum of orientation followed by zero training. They are under the authority and supervision of a church team leader, who are themselves untrained.

Therefore, ministry is conducted by well-meaning people who love the Lord and have a heart for those inside, but are vastly ill-equipped for the complex ministry service delivery that the incarcerated desperately need.

These rotating church teams do not communicate with each other week to week. The First Baptist church team coming in this Sunday does not know what the First Assembly of God church team taught last Sunday. There may be repetition or even blatant contradiction between rotating messages.

When I was involved in a revival at San Quentin Prison in the 1970s, the question was asked of a long-term inmate, “What is something I should know in doing this ministry?” His answer, “If one more group comes in and teaches the Prodigal Son story, I am going to throw up. Don’t they know we have heard that story a thousand times?”

The truth is they don’t know because the churches never talk to each other.

Gospel presentations are often rushed and incomplete. As a ministry hour comes to a close, a church group might hurriedly state, “If you want to ask Jesus to come into your heart, just pray this prayer.”

Inmates will pray and come forward. However, if you could observe that same group week after week, you would see those same people coming forward many times. The reason? They do not properly understand who Jesus Christ is, what he accomplished on the cross, what it means to biblically ‘believe,’ and they certainly do not understand what it means to be “in Christ.”

The Apostle Paul stated 164 times that a believer is “in Christ” and yet the average person (after attending countless chapels and Bible studies) has no idea theologically what it means to be “in Christ.” More importantly, they don’t understand what it means for them personally in their Christian formation.

In addition, a church group will use the sinner’s prayer as a prayer of rededication, further confusing the inmate: “Am I saved or not? Do I have to keep asking Jesus into my heart every week? And what does it mean to ask Jesus to come into my heart? How does that work anyway?”

Those inside prison walls, especially those with longer sentences, need personalized discipleship. Discipleship allows the inmate to clearly understand basic, necessary Christian doctrines, and then learn how to apply those doctrines in real time.

Through discipleship, old appetites, habit patterns, and attitudes are addressed and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is increasingly appropriated by faith for victory. The word of God tells us, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

The one inside must learn what it means to have the Spirit, be controlled by the Spirit, and how to use all that spiritual horsepower to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sadly, the church does not make discipleship a priority, nor does correctional ministry incorporate discipleship to create a fully-orbed ministry.

Correctional ministry is too often legalistic. WASP exhortations (“get a job, get your tattoos removed, leave your gang,” etc.) replace critical biblical truths such as our position in Christ. “Get a job” is a much different message than, “When you trusted in Jesus Christ and relied upon his finished work on the cross for your salvation, you were baptized by the Holy Spirit who took you out of the life of Adam and placed you into the life of Jesus Christ. You are now co-united in the life, death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

That level of teaching must of course be unpacked, carefully explained, and the disciplee must have an opportunity to demonstrate that they clearly understand.

Correctional ministry usually does not take the necessary time to check the understanding of those being taught. “The sage on the stage” or the “pour and store” methodology of teaching does not verify that a successful sender-receiver communication has taken place.

These are just two ministry deficiencies that can be quickly addressed: (1) replace worn out clichés (“God don’t make no junk”) and motivational speeches (“You can be anything you want to be so don’t let anyone rob you of your dreams”) with the relevant word of God as it applies to salvation and sanctification, and (2) make time to verify that the teaching is clearly understood by the listener and that an application was provided that can be applied in real time.

People who are hurt the worst need the best. Correctional ministry should be the premier ministry on planet earth for that very reason. People in lock up are hurting, lonely, discouraged, fearful, angry, hopeless, in bondage to addictions, traumatized, and perilously close to suicide. In a triage metaphor, those in lockup are the most injured and need the finest response possible.

Unfortunately, they receive a “something is better than nothing” or a “beggars can’t be choosers” level of mediocrity. This should not stand. It is time for correctional ministers to wade into deeper waters because people who hurt the worst, need the best.

Steve Lowe is Founder and President of Pacific Youth Correctional Ministries. As a former probation counselor and therapist and today as a seasoned juvenile correctional chaplain, Steve has provided over 45 years of professional institutional service to California's San Bernadino, Riverside, and Orange counties. As the Founder, President, and Executive Chaplain for Pacific Youth Correctional Ministries, an international chaplain-placing ministry, Steve also assists Christian organizations and penal agencies as a consultant in program organization and development. He has experience as an adjunct faculty member, specializing in criminology and juvenile delinquency.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 25, 2019, 05:11:02 pm

Foster Ministry Gets to Keep Protestants-Only Policy—And Federal Funds

Conservative Christians cheer HHS waiver for South Carolina's Miracle Hill.

Two years in, the Trump administration has continued to extend protections for conservative Christians to keep their faith in the public square—and in some cases, backed by federal dollars.

The latest example came this week as the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted a waiver for faith-based foster care agencies in South Carolina to restrict placements to families that share their beliefs, provided they refer those who do not qualify to other organizations.

The decision came in favor of Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian organization that recruits 1 in 6 of all foster families in the state but risked losing its license (and more than $500,000 in annual funding) due to its placement policy, which excludes non-Protestants.

HHS opted to waive Obama-era requirements that barred publicly licensed and funded foster programs from discriminating on the basis of religion, instead citing protections for faith-based organizations to participate under principles set forth in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

This move follows a trend under President Donald Trump and under HHS purview in particular to rescind earlier restrictions in favor of policies that defer to religious conscience.

“By granting this waiver, President Trump and [HHS Secretary Alex] Azar have shown the entire world that, as Americans, our fundamental right to practice religion, regardless of our faith, will not be in jeopardy under this administration,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said in a statement.

During the first half of his term, Trump repeatedly spoke of religious liberty as a priority, but hadn’t always offered specifics. An executive order on religious liberty issued his first year in office came with a pledge to “never ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs.”

Then came a Justice Department memo doubling-down on RFRA compliance among federal departments. At the time, University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock told CT, if the administration followed through on its renewed commitment to religious liberty in federal regulations, “it is a potentially big change.”

That change has unfolded in federal health care policy in particular—previously an area of concern for evangelical and pro-life Americans who opposed the Obama administration’s contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act. In addition to offering relief to groups continuing to fight the mandate, the Trump administration launched a new HHS division in 2018 to protect health workers’ conscience rights, such as those who decline to perform abortions or assisted suicides. Last year, the department also offered states greater leeway to bar Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

The HHS decision on Miracle Hill comes through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which determined that the antidiscrimination requirements would be “a burden to religious beliefs that is unacceptable under RFRA,” since the South Carolina ministry sees placement in Christian families as a part of its faith-driven mission. The ACF’s acting secretary added that Miracle Hill must agree to refer parents who don’t meet its faith requirements—which would include Jewish, Catholic, and same-sex couples—to other agencies.

“The significance of this waiver must not be lost. Faith-based organizations are a vital part of the community of care our country needs to serve children in crisis,” wrote Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, policy adviser with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, which celebrated the news as a potential precedent for other states where religious agencies have come up against similar regulations.

“All institutions should have an equal seat at the table, and many faith-based organizations have made it clear that they are more than willing to provide referrals to other placement organizations.”

While the ERLC and other conservative groups saw the decision as a victory, it also represents a unique kind of religious freedom case.

Christian adoption and foster care programs—also called child-placing agencies or CPAS—in several states have fought for the right to decline placement to gay couples on religious grounds. As CT reported in 2017, Texas and South Dakota protect state funding for faith-based agencies, and at least five others allow agencies to put forth faith-based restrictions but not if they receive public dollars.

“There are two separate issues with faith-based CPAs,” said Kelly Rosati, a longtime adoption and foster care advocate and the mother of four children adopted from foster care. “No. 1: Can they get government funds in the form of contracts if they discriminate in proscribed ways? No. 2: Will they be shut down and not allowed to even operate (by way of licensure) in their needy communities with privately raised charitable funding?

“As I understand it, the exemption from HHS authorized [Miracle Hill] to operate with their limitations while also receiving federal funds. That is noteworthy and unusual,” said Rosati, a former Focus on the Family vice president. “I think all faith-based CPAs should be prepared to serve their communities without government funding and must be allowed to do so.”

Robin Fretwell Wilson, a University of Illinois law professor known for her work advocating a middle way between LGBT protections and religious liberty, similarly suggested on WBUR’s On Point that the government should have more regulatory authority over faith-based agencies that accept public money.

The debate over whether Christian organizations should welcome these grants in the first place took off when President George W. Bush established the first White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and offered religious organizations the chance to compete for $10 billion in funding for social service projects. The opportunities continued under President Barack Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Trump has called his own version the Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

But the Miracle Hill case goes beyond the typical “culture war” debate between conservative Christians and LGBT advocates and defends faith-based organizations’ rights to restrict based on affiliation and belief.

“The public perception feels really different. I’m going to send away someone who’s also a believer?” Wilson said. “It tests our religious freedom in a different way.”

She points out that there’s a case to be made that faith-based organizations can play a unique role recruiting and energizing potentional adoptive families from within their own tradition, with each agency being able to contribute their own focus to the lineup of foster programs in the state.

ERLC president Russell Moore has defended religious distinctives for foster care agencies, and his organization lists a proposed federal Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act among its legislative priorities for the year.

He describes the bill as preventing “the government from appointing itself as an evaluator of what constitutes acceptable theology” as well as working “to ensure that Catholics can be Catholic and Baptists can be Baptist.”

“While some interpret these organizations to be seeking a license to discriminate, I think that Catholic adoption agencies, for example, are just trying to be, well, Catholic. Similarly, the Baptist adoption agency licensed by the state is simply asking for the right to be consistent in their theological beliefs as they go about the important work of serving children and families,” he wrote in a USA Today op-ed last year.

Though there are other avenues available for prospective foster parents who are Catholic, local church leaders expressed disappointment in Miracle Hill’s position, now protected through the HHS exemption.

“Catholics in the Upstate of South Carolina learn very quickly that significant numbers of our neighbors who are deeply committed disciples of Jesus, do not think that we are,” Greenville priest Jay Scott Newman told Religion News Service. “That’s just a fact of life. They are part of a Reformation tradition that still regards Catholicism as a false religion.”

CT previously reported on the Texas law allowing faith-based agencies to use policies that restrict placement based on faith, sexuality, or marital status, as well as on a couple in Canada whose foster child was removed from their care due to their Christian beliefs and traditions around the Easter bunny.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 26, 2019, 12:44:29 am

Keeping Satan’s Fingerprints Off of Your Marriage

Why husbands and wives need to suit up for spiritual war.

It was pitch black as I rode in the back of a safari vehicle, the headlights trying their best to cast a beam down the rocky path through the African bush. In the driver’s seat, a soft-spoken missionary was opening up about difficulties in his marriage: “Sometimes I’d be talking with my wife from another room, and she would burst out in tears. When I came around the corner and asked her face-to-face why she was upset, she said she had heard me say something deeply insulting. The problem was the words she had heard weren’t even close to the words I’d said. After it happened several times, we realized something demonic was going on.” As I listened, a question dawned on me that I’d never entertained before: Do demons actively work to destroy marriages?

We read in the Gospels that Jesus spent much of his ministry fending off evil spirits, and in the Epistles we find sober warnings about the prowling lion seeking to devour us. Despite this, Tim Muehlhoff identifies with many modern Christians in his latest book, Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, when he admits, “To be honest, spiritual battle is simply not on my radar.” In Ephesians 5 and 6, the apostle Paul calls Christians to suit up for spiritual war just after explaining God’s beautiful design for marriage. In Defending Your Marriage, Muehlhoff seeks to do the same.

Satan’s Jealousy

Muehlhoff begins with a biblical exploration of Satan. Mixing Scriptural data with a bit of plausible speculation, he presents an interesting case that Satan’s hatred of mankind is primarily fueled by jealousy. God uniquely bestowed his grace on humanity by fashioning them in his own image and giving them an earthly kingdom to rule. What is more, he foreordained his own Son to die in the place of fallen sinners, a salvation that angels—fallen or not—can only gaze upon as outsiders (1 Pet. 1:12). Muehlhoff explains that Satan’s envy manifests itself in his maniacal endeavor to wrest dominion over this earth from us by force, particularly by undermining our marriages.

He describes the clash of Christ’s kingdom with the powers of darkness: “If Satan’s purpose is to help create cultural terrain that reflects his priorities, then a purpose of your marriage is to counter his priorities by modeling values rooted in God’s kingdom.” In other words, we have to see the spiritual skirmishes in our own marriages in view of the great cosmic battle: “In a world where the fingerprints of Satan are everywhere, we offer marriages that reclaim enemy-occupied territory by being outposts for a different kingdom.” Evangelicals often think of individuals belonging to the kingdom of God, but it is interesting to imagine relationships as kingdom spaces, or outposts, as Muehlhoff does.

Perhaps the most intriguing chapter centers on the question that plagued my mind since page one: “How can I tell if this is spiritual warfare?” What signs indicate that my marriage hasn’t just hit a few bumps in the road but may be a specific target of demonic spirits? Drawing from 1 John 4:1, Muehlhoff lays out this guiding principle: Does the influence of a spirit move a believer toward the fruit of the Spirit or toward the deeds of the flesh? He goes on to mention his top five indicators of spiritual warfare, including inappropriate anger, a strong sense of indefinable dread, and intense feelings of shame. Curiously, the chapter does not survey any of the accounts of demon oppression from the Scriptures.

Using a double-edged-sword approach, Muehlhoff then instructs couples on how to defend against Satan’s temptations and advance in the battle together. He includes some helpful psychological insights about the complex nature of conflict while doing a bit of exegetical gymnastics through Genesis 3. I have to admit, though, that I was a bit disappointed with his treatment of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. It is long on personal reflection and historical illustrations about Roman soldiers but short on the call to march forth in the finished work of Christ.

I was surprised and humbled that the chapter that affected me most was titled, “Our Greatest Defense: Prayer.” We pick up a book on spiritual warfare thinking there is some special formula or secret weapon we are lacking, but the thing most lacking in most marriages—including mine—is regular, Spirit-led communication with our Father. “The start of [The Lord’s Prayer],” Muehlhoff writes, “is not meant to be a type of etiquette in addressing the divine but rather a powerful means of rebutting the devil’s flaming arrows of accusation.” If there’s one encouragement we need to hear again and again, it’s to pray together more as husbands and wives.

The Enemy Within
In Defending Your Marriage, Muehlhoff has assembled something of a marriage conference in book form—complete with teaching content, panel-style interviews, Q&A, between-session blurbs, and follow-up homework. His writing has a lighthearted and friendly appeal. Unfortunately, Muehlhoff’s humor at times trivializes the very thing he seeks to emphasize. The battleground of marriage is not simply littered with arguments over who will take out the trash. The casualties of spiritual warfare are often divorcees, abuse victims, and cheated-upon spouses—not to mention children deeply scarred by marriages losing the battle. Defending Your Marriage would have done well to use a tone better suited to encouraging contemplation of these very real dangers.

It’s obvious that the book’s target audience is Bible-believing Christians, but I found it odd that the gospel itself felt peripheral to the spiritual battle Muehlhoff describes. How does the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection shape a marriage? How does Christ’s power over sin and death fend off the accusations, attacks, and efforts of the Devil? And how can husbands and wives learn to preach this Good News to one another regularly, practically, and faithfully? Muehlhoff would be just the man to deconstruct our embarrassment around sharing the gospel with one another in our homes.

Defending Your Marriage focuses particularly on habit-training and improved communication, which is not surprising since, as a communication scholar, this is Muehlhoff’s forte. Perhaps, however, the book would have been helped by some discussion about the spiritual battle against our own fleshly desires—a topic treated often in Paul’s epistles. Certainly, we have external enemies to fight, but many of us are losing the spiritual battle with the enemy within. I would have loved the perspective of a communications expert on the importance of open communication between spouses for success in putting specific sins to death.

As the con artist Verbal Kint famously quipped in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” For many modern Christians, Defending Your Marriage is an easy first step out of false reality into the truth, a reality where “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Muehlhoff’s book sparks a conversation that is strangely uncomfortable in modern American homes but desperately needed. It’s a conversation that I hope more authors will explore and refine in the future.

Chad Ashby is the pastor of College Street Baptist Church in Newberry, South Carolina. He blogs at After Math.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine | January 2019
Post by: patrick jane on January 29, 2019, 07:43:10 pm

I Don’t Know Why the Atonement ‘Works,’ But I Know It Does

Christ taking our place on the cross doesn’t always make sense. It doesn't have to.

Of the many positive things one can say about the analytic philosopher and devout Catholic Eleonore Stump, this one stands out: She is no coward. During her career, Stump has tried valiantly to address the perennial problem of God’s goodness and omnipotence in the face of evil. And now she has published a book, Atonement, in which she dares to offer a new theory of this pivotal doctrine.

Not unlike professional climber Alex Honnold, who scaled 3,000 feet without ropes up the daunting face of California’s El Capitan rock formation, Stump is a person of uncommon skills (intellectual in this case). But unlike Honnold, she is glad to have a few ropes—especially those tethered to Thomas Aquinas—to help her grapple with daunting topics like theodicy and atonement.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to summarize her new view as we might with other atonement theories. For example, the ransom theory argues that Jesus’ death ransoms us from the hold of Satan. The exemplary theory saves us because we are moved by Christ’s sacrificial death to take up a life of sacrificial love. Penal substitution is about Christ paying the just penalty for our sins so that we might be united with him. And so forth.

Stump’s theory could be summarized like this: God is love from beginning to end. This, of course, sounds trite, but in her hands it is anything but. Using Aquinas as a guide to the meaning of divine love, she argues that her atonement theory deals not only with our guilt but also our shame. Not only our suffering but also the suffering our sin has inflicted on others. Not only our past sin but also our current and future sin. Not only our alienation from God but our alienation from others.

Stump puts it this way: “God’s love [is] maximally expressive of God’s nature and central to the atonement, and it takes God’s forgiveness to be God’s love in operation towards human beings suffering from guilt. . . . There is no human being, however steeped in evil, with whom God does not desire union, which is the true good for that human being. In a sense, all of this book is an explanation of the love of God.”

The Agony of the Cross
You might be tempted to ask, “Well, what is so new here?” The answer, of course, comes in the richness of Stump’s many detailed observations, and for that, one can only commit to reading her book in its entirety. Still, here is one example that gave me fresh insight: her discussion of Jesus’ cry of dereliction—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—along with his desperate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading with God to be spared.

Here’s the problem: Many mere mortals have managed to face death with more courage and equanimity than Jesus did—Stephen, for example, just months later. Jesus knew he would rise from the dead, so why all the anguish?

After a lengthy argument about what is required for Jesus, as fully human and fully divine, to read the minds of other human beings (not a simple problem to unwind philosophically), she says this about his ordeal on the cross:

At one and the same time Christ mind-reads the mental states found in all the evil human acts human beings have ever committed. Every vile, shocking, disgusting, revulsive psychic state accompanying every human evil act will be at once, miraculously, in the human psyche of Christ . . . without yielding an evil configuration in either Christ’s intellect or will.

Such psychic agony “would greatly eclipse all other human psychological suffering. . . . Flooded with such horror, Christ might well lose entirely his ability to find the mind of God the Father.” For me, this drives home the suffering of Christ, a suffering so comprehensively horrible that it surpasses even the physical abuse of crucifixion.

Unfortunately, there was one theme in the book so troubling that I had to work hard at engaging the rest charitably. I’m referring to the way Stump handles the atonement theory associated with Anselm—that the sinless Christ took sinful humanity’s place in bearing the just wrath of God. She acknowledges that her work is but an “interpretation” and a “theory,” and she quotes C. S. Lewis to that effect:

Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations of how it works. . . . We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary.

And so, as Lewis suggests, she permits us to discard her theory if we conclude that it isn’t helpful.

Unfortunately, she then proceeds as if alternative theories are not just incomplete or inadequate, but simply wrong (Anselm’s theory especially). Perhaps this is how analytic philosophy works, by completely clearing the field of all rivals before it can move on. If so, I guess I’m not a fan. Each atonement theory brings important dimensions into view, and each paints a picture we are wise to ponder and even pray through. I trust I’m not a mere relativist in saying that how and why the Atonement works is ultimately a mystery. But each theory gives us a glimpse, however inadequate, of the great love in, with, and under this mystery.

When it comes to Anselm’s atonement school, a favorite of Protestant theologians since the Reformation, Stump seems obtuse about the ways theologians actually work with his theory. Based on her premises, she says things like this: “On the Anselmian kind of interpretation, nothing about the passion and death of Christ alters the human proneness to sin.” Or this: “Past sin leaves a human person with shame over what he now is, namely, a person who has done such things. But having an innocent person suffer the penalty or pay the debt incurred by one’s own sin does not take away that shame. If anything, it seems to add to it.” Or this: “On the Anselmian kind of interpretation, a human being needs to do something to apply the benefits of the atonement to himself. He needs to have faith, or appropriate Christ’s payment of the debt to himself in some other way. But why?”

Stump fails to see that theologians in this tradition—like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, T. F. Torrance, or J. I. Packer—have many substantive answers to such questions. But her most revealing critique, perhaps, is this:

According to interpretations of the Anselmian kind, what God does to act compatibly with his goodness or justice is in fact to fail to punish the guilty or to exact the payment of the debt or the penance from those who owe it since sinful human beings do not get the punishment they deserve or pay the debt or penance they owe. . . . How is justice or goodness served by punishing a completely innocent person or exacting from him what he does not owe?

This, I would venture, gets to the heart of Stump’s unease with penal substitution. To her, it doesn’t make philosophical sense. To be frank, it doesn’t make any “sense” to me either. But large swaths of Scripture assume that sin rightly incurs punishment—and that the innocent and clean can make things right for the defiled and guilty.

This is the kind of reality for which, in Pascal’s words, “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Examples abound. Seeing a painting of the crucified Christ, Mahatma Gandhi remarked, “I saw there at once that nations like individuals could only be made through the agony of the cross and in no other way.” In a mysterious (and yes, very limited) way, the deaths of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were substitutionary. While their tormenters escaped punishment, they ended up dying unjustly—as sacrifices that worked toward healing both victims and oppressors. That’s one reason King’s death has often been called his “crucifixion.”

I don’t know why substitution works, but it plainly does, as all the Christ figures woven into our literature and movies can attest. No, it doesn’t make philosophical sense, but it makes a profound sort of human sense.

Wide and Long, High and Deep
In the end, Stump concludes that the God of Anselm is not finally a God of love, precisely because of Anselm’s emphasis on divine justice. I believe she fails to fully appreciate biblical themes like this: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph. 1:4–5). This suggests that God’s longing for justice in regard to sin might, at the same time, be driven by his love for us.

Yet it is difficult to be too critical of Stump, given how I admire the intellectual gifts and courage on display in this book. She is relentless in trying to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18). May her tribe increase.

Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity Today.

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