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Discussion | Christian News | Chaplain's Office => Christian and Theological News => Topic started by: patrick jane on April 02, 2020, 12:03:44 pm

Title: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 02, 2020, 12:03:44 pm

Have Yourself a Bittersweet Easter

A typical Holy Week is out of reach this year. That's cause for lament—and celebration.

A pastor friend lamented this week, “All our Easter plans are shot. We are gutted—our entire vision and hard work are down the drain!” Another colleague said to me that he openly wept on a staff Zoom call when he finally gave in to the realization that there was no way, given social distancing rules, to pull off the normal joys of Holy Week. He said, “This is unthinkable; it’s worse than the Cubs not playing baseball!” Many leaders I am talking to fear that Easter 2020 will whimper into a non-event, into an anticlimax that does not seem at all like Easter.

This year we face a reality check. Kids standing shoulder to shoulder waving palms on Palm Sunday? That could get you arrested. Maundy Thursday foot washing? Are you kidding? Walking the stations of the cross or pinning a note of one’s sin to a cross on Good Friday? Nope. Saturday Vigil or Holy Saturday activities? No way. And then there is Easter, where the lament comes to its deepest, most profound level.

This year we are something like our ancient exiled relatives who, with lovely memories of Jerusalem in mind, exclaimed, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. … How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1, 4). Today, the lamenting refrain from working pastors goes something like this: “On Slack we sat and wept when we remembered Easter last year. … How can we sing the classic songs of resurrection and preach the classic Easter passages in a foreign place called ‘online’?”

The songs of Zion glorified Yahweh’s presence in the city of Jerusalem. But those songs seemed emotionally and spiritually distant and disconnected from the point of view of exile. In a similar way, a normal Easter is out of reach this year. On Easter Sunday morning, most of us will be housebound, sheltering in place when everything in our being will yearn to break free from our tight confinement and isolation to join Jesus in his freedom. Our hearts will cry for accustomed sanctuaries, familiar people, and family dinners. Leaders and our people will wonder, even if we can’t put precise words to it, How does loss, pain, confusion, and lament work on the one day of the year when we focus sharply on celebration?

Here are four ideas for how to navigate an Easter in exile.

Practice Both/And
What story are we in: the pain of virus and economic catastrophe or the Easter one? Must we choose? Christians do not privilege the spiritual over the material so much that the material does not matter. Two things are simultaneously true. First, Jesus has risen from the dead and it changes everything about the material world: its origin, how it is superintended, and how it will come to fulfill God’s purposes. Second, America now has the highest numbers of COVID-19 victims in the world. This is a stark, undeniable fact regarding physical bodies. This year we celebrate in the context of deep lament.

You can do it. You can walk and chew gum at the same time. Perhaps you have never had to lament-celebrate on Easter before, so it feels foreign. It is foreign. Embrace that truth. God is in liminal, foreign times.

Don’t just celebrate resurrection; practice it. Pull the eschatological power of resurrection into the pain of pandemic. Work with your team so that with emotional, spiritual, and intellectual honesty you can “keep it real” Easter morning. Process real pain within the promise Easter guarantees: “I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ … [in which God] ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Rev. 21:1–4).

Find Perspective
In Northern Italy, 60 priests have died from Coronavirus. How do their churches celebrate Easter? What if 60 pastors had died the last few weeks in your city or state? Historically, Easter in wartime meant that loved ones were not just sheltering in place but were far away with lethal danger nearby. There has often been fighting and killing on Easter day. We get to celebrate Easter this year because, through the hardest things humanity has to ever had to experience, the church finds a way to keep the chain of Easter unbroken.

I am hearing from clergy that last Sunday more people tuned in online than usually attend church in person. Easter 2020 may not have your hoped-for aesthetics, but it can be a gospel moment that keeps the Easter message intact for the generations to come. By keeping Easter alive this year amid all our disappointments, you will accomplish something you can cherish forever.

Pass Easter Peace
“The peace of the Lord be with you.”

“And also with you .”

Those common words used in liturgical worship are challenged when we pastors are working ourselves into exhaustion while our phones anxiously scream the latest dire predictions. Who knows what is going to happen in the next few weeks? But it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that we could have many dazed or stunned people in our online congregations this Easter. I interact with loads of pastors, and those conversations lead me to bet on something: You are thinking your best thoughts, summoning the best creativity from your team, and praying your most fervent prayers in the hopes of staving off anticlimax while channeling the victory of God over the dark gloom and sorrow that overshadow your city in this pandemic.

As you should. There is nothing wrong with diligent, focused, passionate work. But along with effort, I want to invite you, as citizens of God’s kingdom, to relax. See if you can cultivate some times where you are less tense, moments that are less dense, softer. Create wider margins. Shoot for simplicity. As The Message has Jesus saying,

What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (Luke 12:29–31)

What if this Easter there is an invitation from God to focus on the peace that marked some of the first words of the resurrected Jesus: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). Peace is an attribute of God, seen in the risen Christ. It is woven into God’s intention for humanity and is therefore possible and powerful—a potent way to live and lead for the good of others.

A difference-making aspect of practicing resurrection is to practice peace. When you cultivate peace in your heart and help others do the same, you are leading well. You are giving God’s people an amplified appreciation for the peace implicit in resurrection. Can you find peace in the coming weeks in order to embody and pass peace on Easter?

Communicate a Missional Imagination
In recent days, many of you have heard the story of 72-year-old Don Giuseppe Berardelli. We can safely bet that he, as a senior Roman Catholic priest, spent his life in mediation of, and seeking alignment to, the sacred heart of Jesus. In Holy Week, we focus especially on the heart of Jesus, who in his death lived out the truth that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). And in his resurrection he defeated sin, the Devil, the principalities and powers, and death itself.

Giuseppe so cherished the other-focused heart of Jesus—and so prized the reformation of his own life into Christlikeness—that when the moment came, desperately sick with COVID-19, Giuseppe overflowed with Christlikeness by giving up his ventilator so a younger person could live. Giuseppe’s act is an evocative and imaginative model for the missional moment provided to us during Easter this year. Acts of selfless generosity and sacrifice are popping up by the millions across America. In your congregation, breathe life into that hope. Fan it into flame. Celebrate how such acts are proof of the living Jesus in the church.

Pastors and preachers are always aware of audience and context. When you can’t have the special sermon, decorations, music, and musicians, when you can’t flower the cross or tease about the people who only come on Easter, the normal Easter story seems overshadowed. In actuality, the historical fact and ongoing power of the Resurrection overshadow everything and give every person, place, and time its true meaning. Even Easter 2020.

As you think about how to work on those four ideas for Easter in exile, I have a final idea for you: Jesus is alive! He is leading the most substantive, interesting, and consequential life imaginable. Even through pandemic, Jesus is superintending all creation to its intended telos. Be confident in that. Lead from that. You will deliver Easter 2020 from mere banishment of our cherished routines to freeing people to find their life, amid tragedy, in Jesus’ now-life, shepherding them into an experience of the with-God life.

Todd Hunter is a bishop of Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO) in the Anglican Church in North America.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 02, 2020, 11:36:38 pm

Most Churches Have Stopped Gathering, Few Plan to Meet on Easter

While nearly all pastors say their church held in-person worship services at the beginning of March, the situation had changed radically by the end of the month.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The coronavirus outbreak has had ripple effects across the country, including in U.S. churches, according to a new study of pastors.

Nashville-based LifeWay Research asked Protestant pastors how the pandemic has impacted their congregations and what their plans are for the near future.

While nearly all pastors say their church held in-person worship services at the beginning of March, the situation had changed radically by the end of the month.

On the weekend of March 1, 99% say they gathered, while 95% held services the next weekend. By March 15, that number dropped to 64%. And by March 22, 11% of pastors say their churches gathered in person. On March 29, only 7% of pastors say their congregations met in person.

“Gathering for worship as a local church is a fundamental expression of the body of Christ, but so are valuing life and loving others,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “As mitigation guidance first impacted large churches, the majority of churches with 200 or more attendees were not meeting by March 15, and only 1% of them met March 22 as guidance continued to shift.”

Almost half of churches (47%) say they have already decided they will not meet in person for Easter. A small number (3%) say they will have an in-person gathering no matter what.

A significant number say they are in a wait-and-see situation. Close to 1 in 5 (18%) say they will have an in-person gathering if authorities allow gatherings of that size. Another 15% say they will do so if local authorities do not recommend against it. Fewer (7%) say they will have an in-person Easter gathering if in their own judgement they feel it is safe. One in 10 say they’re not sure.

Online services and groups

As churches have moved away from in-person gatherings during the crisis, most were able to transition to some form of an online video replacement.

Fewer than 1 in 10 Protestant pastors (8%) say they did not provide any video sermons or worship services this past month. By contrast, a fall 2019 survey of Protestant pastors found 41% of pastors at that time did not provide any video content for their congregation.

Around 1 in 5 pastors (22%) say their churches were already livestreaming worship services before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and they continued doing so. More than 2 in 5 (43%) say they don’t typically livestream their sermon or worship service, but they did so in the last month because of the coronavirus. Another 27% say they didn’t livestream their service but did post a video sermon online for their congregation to view anytime.

More than half of congregations (55%) say they’ve also moved their adult groups online, while 6% say they’ve continued to meet in person. Meanwhile, 40% say their groups have not met in any capacity during the coronavirus disruption.

“The rapid adoption of providing video content has been just as abrupt as ceasing in-person meetings,” said McConnell. “Churches who never would have considered offering a streaming or video option, have quickly done so. Their pastors were compelled to stay connected and to continue to provide spiritual guidance during this trying time.”

Impact to the church

Protestant pastors say the outbreak has brought both difficulties and opportunities to their congregations.

Most say they’ve seen church attendees help each other with tangible needs (87%) or meet coronavirus-related needs within the community (59%). More than half (55%) say an attendee at their church has been able to share the gospel through this time, with 4% seeing someone make a commitment to follow Christ. Many (44%) say an attendee has counseled someone crippled with fear.

Three in 4 pastors (75%) say someone within their church has had their income impacted by reduced hours at work. Around 2 in 5 (42%) say one of their church attendees has lost their job. And 5% of pastors say they have someone at their church who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Pastors in the West (16%) and Northeast (13%) are more likely than those in the South (2%) or Midwest (1%) to say an attendee has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Pastors in the Northeast (69%) are also most likely to say someone at their church has lost their job.

As members have lost income, churches are struggling as a result. Half of pastors (52%) say giving has decreased compared to earlier this year. One in 5 (18%) say giving has continued at similar levels, while 2% say it has increased. Around a quarter of pastors (28%) aren’t sure.

Among those who say giving is down at their church, 60% say it has decreased by 25% or more, including 30% who say it has dropped by at least 50%.

This may be due in part to many churches’ hesitancy to adopt online giving. A 2017 LifeWay Research survey found 30% of churches used a website to facilitate online giving, while more than half of Americans said they paid bills online.

“Churchgoers can still mail in a check,” said McConnell, “but this crisis has driven churches to technology. Many are now adding online giving capabilities when they’ve been reluctant to do so in the past.”

Pastoral pressure points

When asked for areas in which they are under the most pressure or ways in which they could use some support, more Protestant pastors say staying connected with their congregation is a concern (30%).

Pastors also say they worry about finances (26%), the technological challenges of the current situation (16%), offering pastoral care from a distance (12%) and members without access to technology to help keep them connected (11%).

Other concerns pastors say are weighing on them include figuring out how to be strategic (9%), the pressure around deciding not to meet (7%), the well-being of their members (7%), needing prayer (6%), being personally exhausted or stressed (6%), the time-consuming nature of the changes (6%), meeting tangible needs while socially distanced (5%), helping with the fears and hurts of others (5%), how to counsel from a distance (5%) and helping to find gospel opportunities (5%).

Few pastors (6%) say they are doing well and don’t have any current pressure points.

“Social distancing is not normal. Humans are relational by nature, and churches are a community of Christ followers,” said McConnell. “The lack of presence pains many pastors and their congregations, but they are utilizing technology like never before to stay connected until they can meet again.”

Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.


The online survey of 400 Protestant pastors was conducted March 30-31, 2020. Invitations were emailed to the LifeWay Research Pastor Panel followed by two reminders. The probability sample of Protestant churches was created by phone recruiting by LifeWay Research using random samples selected from all Protestant churches. Pastors who agree to be contacted by email for future surveys make up this LifeWay Research Pastor Panel.

Each survey was completed by the senior or sole pastor or a minister at the church. Responses were weighted by church attendance, region, ethnicity of pastor and whether the pastor self-identified as evangelical or mainline to more accurately reflect the population. The final sample is 400 useable surveys. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 5.5%. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 03, 2020, 07:13:07 pm

To Truly Live, I Needed to Die

If the old me stays alive, I never escape hell. Instead, I live it.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We’re dead either way. The grace is that we get to choose which death we die.

Lent, the season of solemnity and contemplation, has become this year a global grappling with sickness, loss, and death not seen in generations. There is no spiritualizing away this novel coronavirus, tying it up in neat religious packaging. Yet there remains opportunity to be confronted not just by headlines and disease, but by God’s Word and the depths of mortality.

Scripture is clear: Before Christ comes into our lives, we’re dead in our trespasses, even while we live (Eph. 2:1–3). We’re not injured, not dirty, but dead. It’s offensive, for we can be so proud of the lives we construct. I know I was.

Yet even without the Bible telling us so, sometimes we can suspect that what we’re experiencing is death-life—that there must be more. Desperate activity and disappointment creep into the corners of our lives like clouds of mustard gas, reeking of mortality. We exhaust ourselves trying to gain or prove or establish, sometimes finally giving up.

Perhaps some of us are indeed chasing righteousness, hoping it will bring life. More likely, we’re addicted to something else that promises the same: CrossFit, essential oils, or something garden variety like money, sex, or a particular relationship that’s captured our attention. We 21st-century Westerners love self-improvement, ever seeking the next upgrade for our lives and selves. We believe in it; we deeply believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Before knowing Christ, I wanted to live—the verb’s meaning emphatic, hard to pin down, something more than merely existing. Perhaps I could sense the death I was living in without being bold enough to name it. Passionately, purposefully, I sought to grab life by the shoulders. Yet I was only half right (that most seductive kind of wrong). I did need to live. But to get there, I needed to die.

Jesus knew we needed to die before we were ever born, and he provided the means for that in dying for us. That’s the gift. Look at how Paul framed it in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul spoke here in metaphor that isn’t really metaphor. Paul was not literally on Jesus’ cross with him that Good Friday. But Jesus’ death in literal history was just as much Paul’s crucifixion as it was the Lord’s.

In an inverted way, it mimics how Eve and Adam didn’t physically drop dead when the fruit hit their tongues, though they died all the same. And not only that, but we died too in Adam’s death (Rom. 5:12–18; 1 Cor. 15:22)! This is the source of our death-life. We weren’t there when our first parents ate the fruit. Yet our continued pattern is to act just as they did, eagerly, with the same deadly results. We’ve got their moral DNA, their terminal disease.

But Jesus came to offer a death to undo that death. For us, as for him, the only way forward is through. Because Adam’s death has claimed us, we must, like Paul, fully abandon ourselves to Christ’s death as well. Paul could have hardly been more emphatic: He was crucified, and he no longer lived. A crucified man can languish for hours, but his fate is sure. Nailed in place, it’s done.

We, too, need to fully identify with this death to self. If we posture ourselves as if all we need is a little scrubbing up, we’re deluded. We need so much more than an upgrade. Programs to make us smarter, fitter, or even more morally excellent all ultimately fail to bring us the life we need. We’re simply too corrupted, image-bearers though we are.

If the old me stays alive, awaiting a cosmic self-improvement project, I never escape hell. Instead, I live it. Jesus came to give us more.

Right after Galatians 2:20, Paul declares in verse 21, “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” He was writing to a people who thought they could get to life through the law, walking again that minefield of half right. God’s law is perfect, such that to keep it would bring someone life! But the other half of the truth falls like a guillotine’s blade: We can’t.

Today we console ourselves with “Nobody’s perfect.” Yet we still live as if we can achieve life ourselves—yes, even as Christians. Friends, if this were possible without Christ’s death, he wouldn’t have had to come to die. We must remember how he pleaded in the garden, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39, ESV).

It was not possible, and Christ drank the bitter fullness of that cup until it was as dry as the bones that filled Ezekiel’s visionary valley. But if we allow ourselves to die with Christ, to be crucified with him, we will, like that army, find sinews, flesh, and the breath of life added to us.

Isn’t this just what Jesus preached as he wound his path slowly toward Gethsemane, toward Calvary? In the chapter after Christ called Lazarus out of his tomb, he spoke this to his disciples: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24–25).

If we know him, we know these words. But see how John leads us into them: “Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’ ” (v. 23). There is always a direct connection between his death and ours.

Christian, what joy that his death secures yours! Now no failure can condemn you, for all is forgiven through that death. Now no temptation can own you “because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:7). Now no accusation can stick to you—even the true ones—for “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

Lord, teach us how to die

Rachel Gilson serves on Cru’s leadership team for theological development and culture. She recently completed her MDiv (Gordon-Conwell) and is the author of Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 06, 2020, 11:18:12 am

Not Even the Gates of a Hellish Pandemic Will Prevail Over God’s Church

Scripture doesn’t promise wealth or health or even life. What, then, does it promise?

My grandfather was a preacher at Beaverdam, a black Baptist church in Alabama. Periodically, when his ministry would take him from the pulpit, the associate pastor would step in. The joke that went around my family was that every time the associate preached, he chose the same text: Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1–14). In the passage, the Spirit takes the prophet to a place where the remains of the dead are strewn about. God commands Ezekiel to preach to them, and when he does, the bones are re-enfleshed and resurrected.

According to my mother, the associate pastor preached on this passage for seven consecutive years. Every time he started in on “them bones,” she and I would give each other a knowing smile and chuckle. Looking back on it now, however, his decision to revisit this story over and over doesn’t seem unreflective or humorous. It seems wise. Maybe Ezekiel’s vision is the answer to the most important question we can ask, especially in this present moment. What will God do in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles? What will he do in a world surrounded by death?

By now, the entire globe is convulsing with death, illness, and economic collapse. COVID-19 has taken the lives of too many, and a certain dread lingers as we wait for the virus to make its way to our communities. There’s not much for us to do but take the advice of professionals, pray for and give to those in need, refresh our news and social media feeds, and wait for test results along with our friends, family members, and neighbors.

The somber season of Lent seems perfectly suited to the moment. This is a time of national lament. But as we turn the corner toward Easter, dare we say more? Dare we speak of joy and resurrection in a world that feels like it’s in the shadow of death?

If the prophets of the Old Testament have anything to teach us, it’s that precisely in the darkest moments of our history, we need divinely inspired and freshly articulated hope.

We find this in the book of Ezekiel. The prophet is among the first group that departs Jerusalem after the Babylonians take the city. He lives with people who have experienced deep trauma and lost loved ones to the siege. Now their future lies in the hands of the same foreign rulers who destroyed their lives. Much of Ezekiel is a lament over Israel’s sin, which led to the exile, but the book also contains passages that look to God’s future restoration of Israel after the season of trial is over.

The most famous of these restoration passages is the dry bones narrative in chapter 37. The point of the story is plain enough: Just as it seemed impossible for dead things to be resurrected, it also seemed impossible for Israel to be restored. But God fulfilled his promise to the Israelites.

Of course, we have to be careful not to misapply the story of Israel to our own experience. Nonetheless, we as Christians know that the dry bones vision isn’t merely metaphorical and that God’s faithfulness does indeed call dead things to life. The Israelites knew that God’s ability to save them had no limits, no matter how dire the situation. The deeper the problem, the greater the glory of God’s redemptive work. For Ezekiel, then, deep human suffering collided with God’s promises, and the result was a vision of the future—dry bones coming to life—that remains with us today.

Similarly, in the black church tradition, the spirituals and hymns that look to a greater future have power precisely because they were written when we weren’t yet free. Those songs were a prophecy, written in the blood of our foremothers and forefathers, declaring that God had a better future for us. Maybe not now, but someday.

It seems, then, that the height of the COVID-19 pandemic is precisely the time to speak about hope rooted in God’s promises. These promises are not about the American economy. God has made no guarantees in that regard. He has also not guaranteed that all of us will survive. We will not. What, then, has he promised? That not even the gates of hell will prevail over the church (Matt. 16:18).

I don’t know what the future of Christianity holds in the weeks and months to come. I do know, however, that the church will not be overcome by a virus. I know this is not the end, and I know that we will in fact worship together again.

But is it possible to say even more? Is it possible to say, like Ezekiel, that the intense pain of this season can lead to a grander vision for a reinvigorated people of God? Is it possible to say that at the end of all this, we won’t simply resume our work but expand and grow the church with fresh confidence in God’s providence? I for one am anxious to see what kind of church emerges from this trial. I pray that it will be glorious.

This hope for the transformation of the church is critical to the kingdom, but the more central promise for Christians is God’s defeat of death. Jesus’ words in the upper room came during a dark time in the lives of his disciples. He knew that the time for his passion drew near and that things would get worse before they got better. He told them, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20). He wasn’t promising that they wouldn’t weep and mourn. He was promising joy on the other side of their mourning.

What was the source of this coming joy? His own resurrection. What is it, then, that gives hope to the church in the midst of this pandemic? The resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. It is God’s promise, written in the blood of his son, that he loves us with a love stronger than death and that at the last, he will call us from the grave to see him as a friend and not an enemy.

The celebration of Easter tells us what lies on the other side of COVID-19 and on the other side of all our trials: life with God. This message is necessary not because we are stumbling toward Easter Sunday as a scattered and beleaguered people of God. It is necessary because the truth of the gospel shines most brightly in dark times. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

This Easter, it doesn’t matter if we can’t be together in our local churches. We can still shout as one people, “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” God hears our triumphant cries, no matter how hampered they are by fears of unemployment, sickness, and death. Satan and the powers of evil hear them, too, and tremble.

Even if we are chained to our homes, the gospel remains free and continues to do its work. Nothing—not even a pandemic—can change that.

Esau McCaulley is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is the author the forthcoming book Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (IVP Academic).
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 06, 2020, 09:15:58 pm

Peace and Goodwill? 'Bah, Humbug,' Says the Holy Spirit

'The Comforter' sometimes acts more like 'the Great Discomforter'

Back in the day, Mary of Nazareth set out "with haste," Luke tells us, rushing to a Judean town in the hills where her relative Elizabeth lived with her husband, Zechariah. She was anxious to tell Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the one to be named John, that she herself was also expecting. Mary's greeting was so over the top, apparently, that Elizabeth's "baby leaped in her womb." Luke continues: "And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (1:41).

Elizabeth is the first person in Luke's gospel to be filled with the Holy Spirit—although earlier the angel had said that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit (1:15). The Holy Spirit, in fact, shows up quite a bit in the Nativity. Zechariah is filled with the Spirit after his tongue is released. Simeon is said to have the Holy Spirit rest on him and guide him to the temple to see the infant Jesus. And, of course, there is the key moment of the drama: "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:18, NRSV).

It's said prosaically, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. But no matter how it is announced, the careful reader of the Bible will know that something momentous is afoot. Because when the Holy Spirit gets involved, trouble lies ahead.

Peace and goodwill are the twin wishes of Christmas, echoing the angel's announcement about the birth of Jesus. And while our worlds—global, national, and even personal—may remain cauldrons of chaos, hope springs anew during Christmas.

Unfortunately, even if we enjoy this for a few weeks in December or a few hours on Christmas morning, we are soon plunged back into the chaos. It could be a dead-end job or a dead-end marriage. Perhaps just a dead end, such as a life-threatening disease. Maybe it's your kids, or your parents, who make life so confusing right now. Maybe it's finances. Maybe it's your church. (Come to think of it, what church doesn't know some chaos?)

The chaos of our lives could easily lead to despair—unless we remember that not all chaos is bad and that some, in fact, is the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the Beginning, Chaos
When God created the heavens and the earth, the Bible says, "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep" (Gen. 1:2, ESV). Scholars debate the exact meaning of the opening line—is it a thesis for what follows? Or is it the first act of creation? I like a simple reading: God created in rudimentary form the sky and the earth. But the earth was formless. That is, it didn't have any land, lacking mountains and valleys, canyons and deserts. No shapes or form. No property with a view.

It was also "void" of plants, animals, and people. No roses or thorn trees. No eagles or mosquitoes. No giraffes or black widow spiders. No pesky neighbors with barking dogs or beautiful people with shimmering hair.

Not that one could have seen anything anyway, for the narrative assumes that there was darkness everywhere.

And water was ubiquitous. No oceanfront property—just ocean. No tides or waves, because there was no moon to pull the water to and fro. The water that covered the earth is pictured as a placid lake at dawn.

Except that there was no dawn, no rising sun, no crowing rooster, no sparrows chirping to welcome the new day. Just darkness, and silence in the darkness. Not a scary darkness or unnerving silence—for there was nothing yet to fear. No, this darkness and silence were utterly calm, like the peace of a deep, restful sleep. In the beginning, there was utter and complete order and tranquility.

The author of Genesis says that over this order and tranquility, the Spirit of God "brooded." Not a good sign, it turns out.

What follows is usually and rightly interpreted as the unfolding of the divine order of Creation. Six days, six distinct acts of creation. Everything in its place. There is indeed something steady and solid about the created order, for which we are grateful. But look a little closer, and we see something else going on.

What God first created was light. So now there was darkness and light. The creation became dynamic. Light and darkness opposed one another. So different were they, they received distinct names: day and night. And this was only day one.

Next God made sky, and so a new dynamic was introduced. Now there were "the waters" and "the heavens."

The next day land was formed, with another new dynamic: "seas" and "earth." So now there was night and day, sky and waters, earth and sea. God was up to something.

In the middle of the third day, God really got going. He created plants and trees and all manner of vegetation. Chrysanthemums bursting with color, stately redwoods stretching to the heavens, and prairie grass waving elegantly in the wind. And, we must assume, poison oak and thorn bushes and toxic mushrooms. And he gave this resplendent variety of plants and trees the ability to reproduce, to be fruitful and multiply by propagating their seed. As we know, this ability tends to wildness—the lush and verdant chaos of life.

The camera pans out, and we see the creation of the sun, a bright and warm energy that penetrates deeply into the skin of the planet. Then, by way of contrast, came the moon—a beautiful but distant orb that hung in the sky like a shiny earring. And then came an extravagant flourish: stars. Billions of them. This was variety gone to seed, variety without number, a chaos of the heavens.

A Troublemaker God
That was already quite a day's work. But unfazed, God turned his attention back to this planet and really set things on edge. Any vegetation is resplendent enough, but it's pretty much stuck in place, confined to spending its life in one spot. What if there were a life form that could travel the planet, that could crawl and run and jump and fly?

And what if these creatures didn't merely exist side by side but also interacted with one another? What if they absolutely depended on one another, so that, in a paradoxical dynamic, they had to both pursue and be pursued, devour and be devoured by their fellow creatures, in order for life to continue to explode?

So God created living creatures, swarms of them. Creatures in the ocean. Creatures on the land. Creatures in the skies. Trout and sharks, deer and wolves, robins and vultures, among others. And the living creatures would number at least millions upon millions. As he did with the plants, God gave these creatures the ability to self-propagate. And just to make himself clear, God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." As if instinct would not have taken over soon enough.

The planet was now one fine mess. From a state of perfect peace and harmony, it had been transformed in a few short days into a lush, rich, infinitely varied cacophony of color and sound and life.

This is the sort of thing that happens when the Spirit of God hovers over things.

You'd think God had caused enough trouble for a workweek. Five days of activity that had left the planet in a state of holy confusion. But he had one more idea to put on the table before he took a break. What he did next suggests that one's best ideas are not necessarily those that come at the end of a hard week of work. But God went ahead anyway, unaffected by the consequences.

He created people. And he created them in his image and likeness: mischief-makers. Creatures who cannot leave well enough alone. Creatures like animals, restless and on the move. Creatures who pursue and are pursued. Creatures never satisfied with the status quo, born to create something new again and again. Creatures who plan and build and paint and weave and cook and carve and hunt and fish and play.

And if that were not enough, he created people in two varieties, male and female. Of the same flesh and blood, yet as different as night is from day, as the seas are from the sky, as the waters are from the land. Of the same being and substance, but as different as Mars is from Venus.

And here comes a most mysterious thing. To the man and the woman he gave the wild and unruly gift of sex. And without a warning label. Without instructions. Well, except this one: "Be fruitful and multiply." Have lots of unprotected sex. Not exactly family planning. No concerns about the woman's career or the man's freedom. No precise formula for 1.8 children. No questions about carbon footprints or affordability or spending quality time with each child. Just the command to create little communities of chaos and love called families.

The Spirit of God was finally through. The calm, orderly, and peaceful creation had been turned into a variety of form, a chaos of color and sound. And it was eucatastrophe—a good catastrophe—of life, exploding in all corners, spewing forth with the volcanic heat and energy of creativity and love and new life. If the Spirit had been brooding when he started, he must have been smiling by the end of day six. The scene was anything but peaceful. But it was wonderful. It was a holy chaos.

The Great Discomforter
When the Holy Spirit starts something new, things get a little crazy. It happens again at the Nativity. At one level, the Messiah came to save us from evil chaos—the chaos brought about by sin: injustice, guilt, suffering, and despair. But he's not going to save us from holy chaos, because that would thwart the work of the Spirit, who fills him.

So what we see in Jesus' ministry is one chaos-inducing moment after another, from the Virgin Birth ("How will this be . . . since I am a virgin?" Mary exclaims) to the boy Jesus confounding teachers in the temple, to the Spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness to be harassed by Satan, to onlookers being astounded at his miracles, to the overturning of the tables in the temple, to the startled and frightened witnesses of the Resurrection. Time and again, Jesus under the power of the Spirit creates holy chaos. Roofs come off houses, cripples cast away their crutches, pigs hurl themselves off cliffs, dead people sit up, the religious are confused, sinners are freed, and disciples are astonished when they find his grave empty.

And the Holy Spirit was just getting started. Luke tells us this was what Jesus "began to do and to teach" (Acts 1:1, emphasis mine). We see more holy chaos in Peter's crazy food dream, which leaves him confused about what to do with Gentiles. Then there's Paul, shocked into blindness at meeting the one he'd been persecuting. And, of course, there's the wild gift of tongues falling on the crowd in Jerusalem. Bystanders were so alarmed that they thought they had stumbled upon a drunken party.

When the Holy Spirit starts hovering, watch your back. Yes, the Spirit comes to assure us that our sins are forgiven (peace!) and that we are joined to Christ (love!) and that we have a blessed future with God our Father (hope!). But if the Spirit has started a new work in our lives—whether we call it a new creation or a new birth—we can be sure we'll know holy chaos.

Many people become religious because they want to get their act together. They are tired of living in confusion. They want commandments to follow, rituals to perform, spiritual disciplines to practice. They hope all this will bring them transcendent order. And it will.

But it will also bring something else, something alarming. The Bible describes it as trials, other times as suffering. Sometimes you'll be asked to take great risks. Some are called out of a life of suburban safety into an exotic land or job. Most are simply called to live into the radical freedom of grace wherever they are. Whatever it is, it isn't order. It's grounded on order, founded on the Rock of our salvation. But sometimes our lives will feel out of control. Like getting pregnant at the most inopportune time. Like life exploding uncontrolled in the wild. Like the joy of God falling on you so powerfully, you wonder if you are drunk.

That's holy chaos--the word of the Great Discomforter. Few things are more unexpected, shocking, even troublesome—ah, but also more glorious. As much as we wish each other peace and goodwill this Christmas season, if we have any sense of the way things really work, we'll wish each other a little holy chaos as well.

Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today. Parts of this article come from his book Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit (Baker Books).
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 06, 2020, 09:18:49 pm

Ministering to Teens While They Shelter at Home

Teenagers are at home, activities are shut down, and many of those “lasts” are lost.

It’s the final stretch for the 2020 school year, and in a normal year it would be filled with several “lasts” that help bring closure for teenagers as they move from one grade to another and enter their summer break. Of course, this year is far from normal.

Teenagers are at home, activities are shut down, and many of those “lasts” are lost.

Schools and churches are launching digital programming to deliver content to the generation of our country that is the most digitally native among us. Other generations are learning and exploring this great new digital land where our teenagers have already built settlements and cities. In many ways, it’s their land, and we are invading it.

And, it’s about time.

The teenagers in your church and community need you in this moment to embrace the awkwardness of discovering a new land in order to reach them. They probably won’t say that to you, and you probably won’t get a welcome party, but they need you there with them, and they are worth it.

This generation of teenagers is the most connected generation we’ve seen, and yet the most disconnected at the same time. They have thousands of surface level relationships and conversations while few people in their lives truly know them. Anxiety, loneliness, and depression are serious challenges they were already facing before COVID-19 and sheltering in place gained the potential to morph into isolation.

The message of hope found in Jesus is the conversation your teenagers need right now. They need to hear it from you, and they need to be equipped to have that conversation with their friends. In many ways, student ministry has an opportunity in this moment to equip teenagers to talk about their faith in Jesus more than any other time. They are ready to hear it, and they are ready to pass it on to their friends.

I’ve been so encouraged by the work of student ministry leaders to move programming online in the first few weeks of this pandemic. It has been an incredible effort fueled by a desire to continue ministering to teenagers. Now, my challenge to student ministry leaders is to move beyond online programming to content that will specifically address the need and opportunity of the moment.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18, we see that as we stare at Jesus we will be transformed into His image. We know that we stare at His image through the Bible. The reality is that your teenagers are going to stare at something in their life and their identity will be transformed around that image: hurt, depression, religiosity, relationships, fear, COVID-19, and so on.

One of the main tasks of student ministry then is to help teenagers learn how to fix their eyes on Jesus rather than the abundance of other options we have to stare at in our world.

“Unprecedented” is a word that’s been used many times to describe this moment. I believe, because of the abundance of time that teenagers now have coupled with a posture of readiness to hear from God, you as a student ministry leader have an unprecedented moment to help students engage with God’s Word in a new and more consistent way.

Dream with me for a moment on what this could look like. What if there were thousands of teenagers who began reading the Bible consistently while we are sheltering at home?

What would families, churches, and communities begin to look like as the lives of teenagers are transformed by God’s Word and what would these same things look like a decade from now? What if sheltering at home became the spark of revival that has been so often led by young people in our nation’s history?

I believe these things can happen, but it will take you, student ministry leader, continuing to forge ahead settling in a new already inhabited digital land, and it will take you being willing to stay there when we are no longer sheltering at home.

Ben Trueblood is director of LifeWay Students.

The LifeWay Students team is offering help to student ministers during the COVID-19 crisis. If you’re looking for free digital Bible studies, need help troubleshooting Zoom or Google hangouts, or you’re just looking for community and support from other student ministers, check out

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 06, 2020, 09:22:13 pm

What Passion Week Means

Because of Christ's darkest week, he can be with us in ours.

For today’s musical pairing, listen to “Agnus Dei,” Samuel Barber’s own choral arrangement of his “Adagio for Strings.” Note that all the songs for this series have been gathered into a Spotify playlist here.

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’”
Matthew 16:21

Meditation 13. 1,324,907 confirmed cases, 73,703 deaths globally.

The chapters of the Gospels describing the suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are often called “passion” narratives. Medieval dramatizations are called “passion plays,” and the most famous rendering of those stories in film is called The Passion of the Christ.

As we enter into Passion Week, it’s worth pausing and asking why this is so. Why do we call these gospel accounts the “passion” of Jesus?

Words have histories, and the history of the word passion is long and illuminating. Passio is the Latin version of the Greek word pathos. For Aristotle and his followers, pathos referred to an affliction or disease. It was something endured passively, and morally it was neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. Later, for the Stoics, the passiones were more associated with longing. We are not afflicted with disease but with desire. Whereas the Aristotelian school opposed passio to actio (passivity to action), the Stoics opposed passio to ratio (desire to reason). The intent of the Stoic was not to endure afflictions patiently but to rise above our desires and yearnings into the higher tranquility of reason.

In other words, suffering and longing weave together in passion. You can hear the echoes of that history in words that derive from pathos and passio, such as sympathy and compassion, apathy and impassibility, pathological and impassioned.

As the philologist Erich Auerbach explains in Literary Language and Its Public, Christian thought goes further when it speaks of bonae passiones or good passions. The Christian does not seek to retreat from the longings and sufferings of the world, but to shape her worldly longings into longings for God, and her worldly sufferings into sufferings for Christ. By entering into her own sufferings, and the sufferings of others, particularly those who suffer unjustly, she takes up her cross, follows Jesus, and joins in the fellowship of his sufferings.

These concepts were fashioned centuries ago and are reflected in art and literature and the devotional texts of the mystics and monastics. But they touch on something—the duality of suffering and yearning—we can easily understand. When we desire something in the depths of our being, do we not suffer for its absence? Or when we suffer something deeply, do we not long for another world, a better world, a world there all things are made right? Is this not why we undertake the privations of Lent, so that even these minor sufferings will summon and deepen our desire for the deliverance of God?

It was the passionate love of God that moved him to enter into the sufferings of humankind and begin the redemption and restoration of the world. Countless times throughout the history of the church, it has been the passionate love of the Christian that moves her to suffer with those who suffer from injustice or want and to bring hope and healing into places of pain.

There is suffering in longing and longing in suffering, and sometimes it takes suffering to awaken or reawaken our desire for justice, community, and the final triumph of good.

This week may be the darkest week of the pandemic for those of us in the United States. Perhaps it’s entirely appropriate, then, that it should also be the week of Christ’s passion, a week in which the love of God and the suffering of God redeemed the children of God and began the restoration of the world.

We ask you, O Lord, that you would help us in our suffering to sense the deeper yearning of our souls for you—and in our yearning to reach out to the suffering world as you do.
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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 07, 2020, 11:00:50 am

Love in the Desert of Lent

This season’s greatest gift has nothing to do with discipline.

When I hit a desert season in my spiritual life some years ago, I felt haunted by the abundance I had left behind. I missed about 10 years of sermons due to pregnancy nausea, crying babies, toddler tantrums, dirty diapers that needed changing right in the middle of the service, or my own human sin. (At least I thought it was sin, but it was more likely total and complete exhaustion.) I was a frazzled mother who brought my children to church in their pajamas and often felt disconnected from Christ there and everywhere else.

At the time, I thought my spiritual dry spell simply reflected how poorly I was doing and how undisciplined I felt in the chaos of parenting young kids. I believed that my faith could only grow in abundance—the abundance of felt worship, prayerful focus, and passionate commitment. But I was wrong. It took me years to learn that the Lord speaks in silence. And years again to learn that he holds onto me more tightly than I hold onto him. And still more years to realize that grace is best understood in periods of apparent failure, absence, and desolation.

As I look back on those desert years, I see that hard-won truth for what it is—a Lenten lesson. Although we often think of Lent as a time of strict discipline and self-denial, it requires something much more: a deep understanding of our belovedness.

The life of Christ bears this out. In the story of his encounter with Satan in the desert, we often think Jesus had victory over temptation simply because of his divinity. But the early church had a different perspective. They believed the secret to Jesus’ strength in the desert came from the event right before: his baptism in the Jordan River. Christ’s endurance lay not in the abstract power of “being divine” but rather in the human experience of being cherished by a Father who opened the heavens and said, “This is my Son, whom I love” (Matt. 3:17). That love was the secret of his ability to resist temptation. (In fact, this view was so important to early believers that they celebrated Jesus’ baptism long before they celebrated Christmas Day.)

This same love carries over to our practice of Lent. In the dry, arid season before Easter, we encounter the satiety of God’s care for us. When we turn to him, our disordered loves are exposed. And when we embrace the biblical promise that we’re cherished and known by him, we begin to put those disordered loves in proper order. That is the life-giving message I received from my wilderness experience. The Lenten desert does indeed expose us, yes, but it exposes us not for the sake of being exposed but rather for the sake of being healed.

We see this “desert love story” play out in the history of the early church. In A.D. 313, the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity fashionable, and the church was flooded with new Christians (often with dubious motives) banging down the doors, wanting to be baptized. Priests were faced with a crisis.

Overnight, the requirements for all Christian initiates—three years of training and 40 hours of strict fasting—suddenly became impossible to enforce. So the church charged all new believers with 40 days of study and partial fasting before their baptism on the Saturday night before Easter. By A.D. 339, a mere 25 years later, the church father Athanasius reported that the 40-day fast was practiced the world over.

This baptizing of thousands of people might make some of us uncomfortable, and for good reason. Christianity as an empire religion should never sit comfortably with us. Nonetheless, the age of Constantine set in motion an innovation that radically changed the church: The original 40-hour fast became part of the ecclesial calendar in the 40-day form of Lent. It invited believers to eschew a “spectator faith” by participating in Christ’s wilderness trial.

The third-century desert fathers took this call literally and went and lived in the barren landscapes of the Middle East. One of them was Saint Anthony of Egypt. After hearing the gospel call to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21), he sold everything and went into the Nitrian Desert.

In this inhospitable space, Anthony discovered that, even though he’d given up wealth, security, honor, relationships, and comfort, these very things followed him into the desert. He couldn’t pray. He couldn’t focus. He was tortured by thoughts of what he had given up—possibilities left unfulfilled, relationships left behind. He was in the desert, but his mind was back home.

So Anthony had to take an even deeper plunge into what the desert fathers later called the “full desert,” or what I call the “interior desert.” He did this “to give heed to himself,” as his biographer Athanasius later put it. He realized that simply giving up bad habits didn’t break their power. That was only the first step. In the interior desert, changing habits for good required replacing them with other rightly oriented affections and desires. He had to survey the spiritual chaos and then realign those disordered loves by the power of God’s love.

“I sang the Psalms against Satan, and he vanished away,” Anthony reported to younger monks (whom he called his “children”) toward the end of his life. “Often his devils would beat me, and I repeated again and again, ‘Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ’ and at this, they rather fell to beating one another.”

When he was living in the desert, Anthony went so far as to move into a tomb to declare that his bad habits and thoughts were dead and had no hold on him, but he did so wrapped in the Spirit of Christ. He understood this fundamental truth: You can only confront your dark side in the presence of someone who loves you.

During the years of my spiritual desert, I told my husband that I couldn’t possibly give up anything else for Lent, because I felt as if everything had already been taken from me. I couldn’t give up coffee, because I could no longer drink a cup without being interrupted ten times. I couldn’t give up alcohol, because I wasn’t at liberty to drink while nursing. I couldn’t give up sleeping in, because I was already sleep deprived. None of my usual creature comforts were available to me, so I had to give up giving something up. And in that barren place, I began to understand that “feeling” close to God—my metric of spiritual success—was much less important than simply receiving the word beloved.

When he was a Yale professor, Henri Nouwen spent a six-month sabbatical with a monastic community in New York and arrived at a similar conclusion. He recognized that a monk’s journey into holiness is a journey into receiving God’s love to greater and greater depths. In October 1976, Nouwen wrote in his journal:

To respond to God’s love was a great act of faith. . . . This is the great adventure of the monk: to really believe that God loves you, to really give yourself to God in trust, even while you are aware of your sinfulness, weaknesses, and miseries. I suddenly saw much better than before that one of the greatest temptations of a monk is to doubt God’s love.

If we’re being honest, most of us dwell on our flaws before we dwell on God’s love. But the story of Jesus’ baptism in Scripture—located right before the desert temptation—reminds us that we need to listen first to God’s message of care before we try to know ourselves and our temptations. We must hear the call of Christ above our own voice of self-condemnation.

Fundamentally, Lent is an invitation to return to that wonderful and awful moment in the history of the universe when Jesus faced the Tempter. We participate in that experience by saying in so many words, “Christ has walked this dark path, and it is in him that I live and move and have my being” (Acts 17:28). We once again embrace a new identity and an entirely different way of looking at the self: It is not I but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20).

In Christ, we receive the words “You are my beloved child.” In Christ, we’re led into wilderness areas—some of our own making, some imposed upon us—where we fight the Tempter with those same words of love. And in Christ, we ask ourselves, “What would it be like to hear ‘You are my beloved’ in the midst of this specific wilderness in my life?” Or, if we’re already vulnerable, we might wonder, “How can I not resent this pain but choose it again and again?”

As the years go by, I become more and more convinced that receiving God’s love from a place of weakness is absolutely essential to spiritual health. I want this experience for my kids as they grow (and sometimes flounder) in faith. I want it for myself. I want it for my theology students and the congregants in my husband’s small Anglican church in eastern Washington. And I want it for the global church as we participate in the life of Christ day in and day out. Together, we ask the loving Lord to help us know him and know ourselves.

That’s what Lent is all about. When we fast, give up social media, or relinquish other habits, we place ourselves in the wilderness. There in that barren space, we’re better able to hear the simplicity and power of the gospel message: We are loved by God and loved to the death. Only by staying grounded in this love does sin break its hold on us. Only by his affection do our temptations wither. And only through declaring ourselves beloved can we look ahead to what comes out of the desert—the resurrection of Christ, through whom all things are made new.

Julie Canlis is the author of A Theology of the Ordinary (Godspeed Press) and Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension (Eerdmans), which won a Templeton Prize and a Christianity Today Award of Merit.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 07, 2020, 11:04:41 am

Coronavirus Searches Lead Millions to Hear About Jesus

Tens of thousands have clicked to pray for salvation since the outbreak. Is the increase temporary or a harbinger of greater gospel witness online?

Millions of worried people who have turned to Google with their anxiety over COVID-19 have ended up connecting with Christian evangelists in their search results—leading to a spike in online conversions in March.

In the Philippines, a woman named Grace found herself on a website about coronavirus fear hosted by the internet evangelism organization Global Media Outreach (GMO). “Please help me not to worry about everything,” she wrote in a chat with a volunteer counselor. “What’s happening now is very confusing.” The counselor explained that only Jesus can bring lasting peace, and Grace received Jesus as her Savior.

Back in the US, a volunteer at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) chatted online with a young mother named Brittany who worried that COVID-19 would take her life and her children’s lives. The volunteer offered hope and peace, and Brittany too accepted Christ.

Three of the largest online evangelism ministries—GMO, BGEA, and Cru—account cumulatively for at least 200 million gospel presentations on the internet each year. All three say the number of people seeking online information about knowing Jesus has increased since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic in early March.

Between mid-March and late March, GMO saw a 170 percent increase in clicks on search engine ads about finding hope. Clicks on ads about fear increased 57 percent, and about worry 39 percent. The ministry’s 12.4 million gospel presentations in March represented a 16 percent increase over the average month in 2019.

This recent surge corresponds with a broader finding by a University of Copenhagen professor: Internet searches related to prayer in 75 countries skyrocketed to their highest levels in five years in March.

“We are seeing millions of people open to talking about faith in the face of fear,” said Michelle Diedrich, GMO’s seeker journey director, “and we’re ramping up to be available for them.”

Pastors, evangelists, and online ministries tend to tell a similar story: COVID-19 escalated an already significant trend toward internet evangelism. As the virus’s spread eventually wanes, they will seek to determine whether the uptick in online witness can be sustained—and how they might improve discipleship for these new believers. Only a fraction of those who come to faith online engage in follow-up discussions or report joining a local church.

Evangelism via ‘electrons and avatars’
In March, BGEA launched landing pages with coronavirus resources in six languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic). The association also launched social media campaigns themed around fear.

In the first four weeks, 173,000 people visited the websites and more than 10,000 clicked a button indicating they made decisions for Christ, said Mark Appleton, BGEA’s director of internet evangelism. That was in addition to traffic on BGEA’s standard family of evangelistic websites, which includes and and sees nearly 30,000 visitors per day. (CT reported in 2015 that online gospel presentations through BGEA were equivalent to a daily Billy Graham crusade.)

One visitor to the coronavirus page, a 17-year-old named Donmere, told a chat volunteer, “I’m not really a religious person, but I don’t know who else to turn to but God.” Forty-five minutes later, Donmere was a follower of Christ and had been pointed to discipleship resources.

Donmere’s conversion fits the profile of typical internet salvation experiences.

Pastor Mark Penick, in his 2013 doctoral dissertation at Dallas Baptist University, studied converts who came to Christ through the evangelistic website Through in-depth interviews with 37 individuals in 17 states, Penick determined all his subjects “experienced an impassible quandary” like a divorce, job loss, or financial crisis that left them searching and questioning. Eighty-six percent said finding a Christian website was unplanned but “of their own initiative” (through actions like clicking on an ad or a search engine result). About 75 percent had “personal dysfunction and addiction issues” prior to their online conversions.

Few scholarly analyses of internet evangelism have been attempted—mostly dissertations and doctoral projects on specific evangelistic initiatives—but in 2014, the Pew Research Center found that informal online witnessing was relatively common. One in five Americans said they shared their faith online at least weekly, and 60 percent said they saw religion shared online at least weekly.

In 2018, Barna Research reported that most Christians agree technology is making it easier to evangelize and that 58 percent of non-Christians said someone had shared their faith with them on Facebook, with another 14 percent hearing a testimony through other social media channels.

Ed Stetzer, director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, said missiologists generally have a favorable view of internet evangelism.

“Historically, we’ve always thought of evangelism being done with our feet and our faces,” he said. “We go and we tell. But people feel okay that it might involve electrons and avatars” in the 21st century.

At Cru, witnessing also involves emojis. Among Cru’s digital evangelism tools for college campuses is a survey to be answered with emojis to start a spiritual conversation. Cru’s online presence also includes evangelistic mobile apps, gospel presentations in various languages, and online articles using felt needs as bridges to the gospel. One of the ministry’s most effective evangelistic websites,, received 56 million hits last year and registered 657,000 decisions for Christ.

In response to COVID-19, Cru has added 52 new resources to its websites. A corresponding bump in traffic has the ministry on pace to eclipse last year’s total number of visitors to by 20 million in 2020 and the site’s total decisions for Christ by more than 300,000.

The college-focused ministry InterVarsity USA reported a similar increase in spiritual interest amid COVID-19. In an online fundraising ad running the first week in April, the ministry stated, “We’ve seen more first-time decisions to follow Jesus in the last week than at any other time in the past year.”

A study by the American Enterprise Institute suggested the young adults targeted by ministries like Cru and InterVarsity may be more worried about the coronavirus—at least in some respects—than their counterparts in older generations.

The survey found that 53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are concerned about being able to afford basic housing costs amid the pandemic. Fifty-nine percent of 30- to 49-year-olds expressed the same concern, compared with just 29 percent of Americans age 65 and older. Across all generations, people said the coronavirus outbreak has caused them to feel closer to God, including 14 percent of the religiously unaffiliated.

Despite the documented rise in religious interest as COVID-19 sweeps the world, it remains unclear how much of the increase in religious internet traffic is due to the heightened interest and how much is simply a temporary replacement for in-person religious activity. Cru, for instance, has taken all of its evangelism and discipleship groups online via the video conferencing software Zoom. On a single day in late March, Cru held 746 Zoom calls, compared with 474 for the entire month of February before social distancing began in earnest for the US.

By March 29, only 7 percent of American churches were still holding physical gatherings and most had moved online, according to a survey by LifeWay Research. Just 8 percent of Protestant pastors said they had not provided any online sermons or worship services for their congregations during the month of March.

Great Commission goes digital
Regardless of whether the bump in internet traffic is permanent or temporary, it’s clear that online evangelism’s reach is global. During one week in March, Cru’s digital resources were accessed from every country in the world, Cru vice president Mark Gauthier said.

Thanks to online tools, the body of Christ “has the ability to plant churches in every unreached people group” with less expenditure of resources than ever, he said. “This is one of the greatest moments in the history of the church for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

COVID-19 hot spots have received particular online evangelistic focus. BGEA launched a Spanish social media campaign aimed at Spain, where about 120,000 have tested positive for the coronavirus and nearly 11,000 have died. During the campaign’s first week, 93,000 people viewed targeted Facebook posts for at least 10 seconds. More than 10,000 people had social messaging conversations in a single week with BGEA volunteers in English and Spanish.

Southern Baptist evangelist Sammy Tippit has plans for gospel witnessing during the coming months in Iran, where 45,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported. At age 72, Tippit has experienced the power of internet evangelism only in the past four years. His journey online began by preaching evangelistic sermons to villages in India via Skype. That led to a Skype event where 10,000 Indians gathered to watch Tippit preach via video, and 5,000 indicated a desire to commit their lives to Christ.

To follow up with those new believers, Tippit began making three-minute discipleship videos and distributing them on social media. The videos took off, and now a global network of his ministry partners is preparing to distribute videos of two Tippit sermons to their non-Christian friends on May 30 and 31. The sermons will be translated into 10 languages and distributed via the messaging application WhatsApp in nearly 70 countries, with an anticipated audience of 10 million

A television station in Iran got wind of the emphasis and is partnering with Tippit to distribute the evangelistic sermons to an additional 6 million people.

Only a “handful” of evangelists are doing online ministry on that scale, said Tippit, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. But “a lot of people I know” are “doing something on Facebook” and reaching hundreds. Tippit plans to train other evangelists in expanding their reach through the internet.

Mass evangelism’s weak point
The greatest difficulty with online evangelism is follow-up. While 60,000 people per day last year indicated on GMO’s websites that they had made decisions for Christ (either first-time commitments or rededications), the ministry was only able to track 5,244 people all year who connected with a local church after beginning their journey with Christ. “This has been our biggest challenge,” Diedrich said.

Now, with the coronavirus keeping church doors closed for the time being, new believers will need to rely even more on web resources for discipleship.

Of the 10,000 people indicating salvation decisions during BGEA’s COVID-19 campaign, about 2,030 requested follow-up. For BGEA, funneling new converts into online discipleship courses is a major part of the follow-up process, along with encouraging new believers to plug into a local church. In March, the ministry saw 3,043 people enroll in discipleship courses, up 37 percent from the average monthly enrollment. Cru sees about 40 percent of the individuals who register salvation decisions through proceed to online follow-up. This includes working through a series of discipleship lessons and being offered an opportunity to interact with someone over chat to discuss what they’re learning.

Yet the difficulty of following up with those who profess faith isn’t unique to internet evangelism. The same trouble has dogged crusades and other forms of mass evangelism, Stetzer said.

“This has been everybody’s weak point for the last hundred years,” he said. However, “we shouldn’t pull away because this is the challenge. We should try to address it” with “stronger bonds to local churches.”

Despite the follow-up challenge, the benefits of online evangelism seem to outweigh its drawbacks. Missiologists note seekers’ willingness to discuss spiritual matters in greater depth because of the anonymity afforded online. People also generally will trust the biblical counsel on websites that look reputable and professional. Internet witnessing additionally creates a lower-stress opportunity for initial evangelism attempts by Christians who may feel hesitant to share their faith in person.

A BGEA online volunteer reported, “I have lived across the street from my neighbor for 10 years, and I just went and shared the gospel with him for the first time ever because I started to do this internet evangelism, and I learned how to actually have conversations with people,” Appleton said.

Among the next frontiers in online gospel sharing is Global Outreach Day 2020. Set for May 30, the day has largely been driven online by COVID-19 and the increasingly digital nature of the world. An international coalition of organizers has set a goal of mobilizing 100 million believers to share the gospel with 1 billion people worldwide in May.

Among the main evangelistic methods will be posting personal testimonies online and then sharing them with friends via text or social media. (The Southern Baptist Convention has launched a similar campaign as the pandemic forced adjustments to its Who’s Your One? evangelistic push.)

If every Christian would send a gospel presentation to one person online and ask that person’s opinion of it, Gauthier said, “you would see a lot of people having a chance to know Christ and a lot of fruit.”

David Roach is a writer in Nashville.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 08, 2020, 04:43:07 pm

What Did the Pope Really Say About Confession During COVID-19?

Unpacking Pope Francis's remarks about 'taking your sorrows directly to God.'

The rapid advance of COVID-19 has produced angst among the faithful, as with the rest of society. It has also generated a surge of religious innovation. Many of us pastors have suddenly become iPhone evangelists, streaming gospel messages to our people and anyone else who will listen. My own church, for example, has been increasing its use of technology and just shared its third Sunday service on the web.

The Roman Catholic Church, known in recent years for its dynamic development of doctrine and religious modernization, has also been required to pivot in unforeseen ways. Because of the severe impact of COVID-19 on Italy, Pope Francis has canceled his main public appearances to prevent crowds from forming. The pontiff is instead livestreaming various events—much like the growing ranks of innovative pastors here in the US. He has replaced the mandatory Mass with a “virtual parish.” He also offered the possibility of a plenary indulgence, the forgiveness of sins, because of the pandemic.

But some of us Vatican observers are wondering if the changes go beyond form to the very substance of Roman religion. And if they do, how should Protestant believers respond?

Given the inability of most Catholics to leave their homes right now, confessing one’s sins to a priest—mandated by Roman Catholicism for the forgiveness of sins at Fourth Lateran Council (1215)—is out of the question. So what should Roman Catholics do with their unconfessed sin?

Speak Directly to God

A headline in the Catholic-sponsored Our Sunday Visitor answers, “If you can’t go to confession, , pope says.” This sounds startlingly like a sentiment a sin-tormented Martin Luther would agree with.

Here’s what Pope Francis stated last week: “If you cannot find a priest to confess to, speak directly with God, your father, and tell him the truth. Say, ‘Lord, I did this, this, this. Forgive me,’ and ask for pardon with all your heart.” But the pope made this statement flanked by an image of Mary and a crucifix thought to have miraculous powers. He prayed for the world at this crucial juncture in the presence of two relics that have accompanied the people of Rome for centuries: the ancient icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani and the miraculous crucifix of San Marcello. Some, however, have noticed the mixed message. His words implied that direct access to God is available through Christ, but the symbols suggested otherwise.

Even so, the pope’s recommendation for the faithful to pray directly to God was couched in language much like that of the late Billy Graham, exalting God’s tender mercy toward His flock. “Return to your father who is waiting for you,” Francis said. “The God of tenderness will heal us; he will heal us of the many, many wounds of life and the many ugly things we have done. Each of us has our own!”

God stands ready and “welcomes every repentant sinner with open arms,” Our Sunday Visitor also reported Francis as saying, adding his words: “It’s like going home.”

Not a ‘Reformation’ for Rome
Though the requirement to confess to a priest was temporarily removed, the pope didn’t remove every obstacle to direct access with God. He said Catholics must still perform an act of contrition and promise to go to confession later. “And immediately you will return to a state of grace with God.”

“As the catechism teaches,” the pope counseled, “you can draw near to God’s forgiveness without having a priest at hand. Think about it. This is the moment.”

The Catechism (CCC N. 1452) speaks of contrition prompted by “a love by which God is loved above all else. …” Well and good. But this raises Martin Luther’s question of how the faithful are to be sure they love God “above all else” to the extent that they are safe in bypassing priestly mediation. Luther himself tried mightily to love God and obsessively confessed his sins, strictly following this standard, and—as he later confessed—he ended up hating God. The task, without the gift of faith, was beyond him. It is beyond each of us. The oft-vacillating love with which we approach God is insufficient.

And if we somehow can go directly to our tenderhearted and welcoming Father to receive forgiveness at this time, during this pandemic, why can’t the faithful do it all the time? It raises the question of whether God’s welcoming, no-strings-attached embrace of prodigals is always available or an option only during emergencies. Innovations such as this might suggest to some that Catholicism’s regulatory religion is less than practical, maybe even unlivable.

There is, of course, a full-orbed body of theology informing the Catholic practice of confession and prayer, a sacramental system that involves particular understandings of the authority and the ministry of Christ through the Roman Church. Nevertheless, the practical question continues to assert itself of how Christian men and women can enter God’s presence and come “home,” in Pope Francis’ words, to the Father’s compassionate embrace.

Talking with Catholic Friends
Rather than seeing the pope’s innovation as an opportunity to score debating points for the Reformation—which clearly isn’t over—we would do well to talk with our Roman Catholic friends and loved ones about why God accepts us.

Divine acceptance is not grounded in the love or inner righteousness that proceeds from our hearts, but in what Christ has done for us. Our Catholic friends have been taught that we must continually cooperate with Christ’s gracious work on the cross to be forgiven, and when we fail to live up to this standard—as all humans will—we are to seek divine absolution as mediated by a priest. Such a thorough system, though well meaning, gives us no assurance, even when it gets modified during a plague.

During this anxious time of sheltering at home, often with loneliness and isolation, we need to be reminded of how the father of the prodigal son noticed his repentant child returning home from a long distance away and with deep compassion ran to him with outstretched arms. This is our heavenly Father, and it’s the direct, unmediated forgiveness that he offers through the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” who died and rose so that our forgiveness would be certain and permanent (1 Tim. 2:5). As Paul stated so gloriously, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1–2).

The coronavirus pandemic and the Lenten season provide a wonderful opportunity to embody and explain this grace. And our Catholic friends may be more willing to listen. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a Catholic nonprofit affiliated with Georgetown University, only 2 percent of Catholics regularly go to confession—and three-fourths never go or only go less than once a year. Many in the Roman Catholic fold apparently find their religion to be unlivable.

Let’s show them a better, more hopeful way. It won’t take much innovation—just a bit of faith.

Chris Castaldo is lead pastor of New Covenant Church, Naperville, Illinois, and is the author of The Unfinished Reformation: What Unites and Divides Catholics and Protestants after 500 Years (co-written with Gregg Allison), Talking with Catholics about the Gospel: A Guide for Evangelicals, and Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 08, 2020, 04:47:53 pm

How to Prepare Your Heart for Holy Week This Year

No plague has ever altered the truth of redemption, and this novel virus doesn’t change the reality that Holy Week and Easter reveal.

On a warm June day in 1956, a boat sped across a lake in upstate New York. Striking a rogue wave, the impact threw a man and a young girl out of the boat into the water. The man held the girl up above the water as the boat circled back. But while the girl was being pulled to safety, the man sank into the waters. On that day, Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, drowned while rescuing a girl whose name he did not know.

Evangelicals still recall this act of unselfish heroism.

On 9/11 in New York City, the heroes were the first responders. Today in New York City—and in towns and urban centers across our world—the heroic healthcare workers serve the masses infected from COVID-19, often at great risk and selfless sacrifice.

In uncertain times, acts of heroism bolster our faith and give us hope.

Holy Week comes just in time this year— we need this week and the message it brings. This week, Christians around the globe remember the sacrifice of Jesus. The stories of heroism inspire us, but the truth of Easter does even more: it transforms.

Holy Week is different this year because of the aggressive spread of a global pandemic. No plague has ever altered the truth of redemption, and this novel virus doesn’t change the reality that Holy Week and Easter reveal.

The practical ways we observe this season will be different—video venues, in-home communion for some, cancelled Easter egg hunts—but the unchanging truth of Easter remains unaffected by the virus. In fact, maybe even more this year it offers us renewed hope in the middle of this pandemic.

Holy Week reveals contrasts: crucifixion and resurrection, death and life, sin and salvation, sorrow and hope. How can we best prepare to remember the Paschal lamb in the middle of a lingering pandemic? We can renew our minds as Paul told us in Romans 12:2. Here are some specific ways you can do this during Holy Week.

Focus on Jesus and his timeless work on the cross, not temporary issues like social distancing.

While almost all of us are in some way affected by the novel coronavirus, we are not alone. God is in our midst. Easter reminds us of this.

We miss our gatherings of corporate worship; Easter Sunday will make that especially real. We miss the intimacy and proximity social distancing prevents. During Holy Week, think of a different distancing: not of church members from their church home, but of Jesus from his heavenly home; not of a pastor from his people, but of the Son from his Father.

This Easter remember what Paul wrote:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

Focus on the gospel, not secondary issues.

The gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3). People are searching right now in ways we haven’t seen in our lifetime. If you are a church leader, don’t make the mistake of assuming people watching your services or being touched by your community work know what it means to be a Christian.

Churched and unchurched people realize Easter is different this year; it’s an opportunity for us to remind ourselves and others of the gospel. Let our focus be laser sharp on Jesus.

The gospel is the declaration of the victory we have in Christ because of his substitutionary death for our sin on the cross and his glorious resurrection over death. George Whitefield once said someone may preach the gospel better than him, but they won’t preach a better gospel.

There’s no better time than Easter, and especially this Easter, to tell this good news.

Focus on real suffering, not temporary discomfort.

At Easter, it is appropriate for us to lament the death and suffering caused by this pandemic: COVID-19 patients dying alone isolated from family; burials without ceremonies to grieve over the dead; the numbers of healthcare workers and others who will fall ill and die from this dreaded virus; the loss of jobs; and the mental health issues from the unsettledness of life.

It’s not okay to harp constantly about our boredom from being cooped up in our comfortable homes. Maybe this year more than others we can understand anew the paradox of Good Friday. It is good because of a blessed cataclysm: Christ’s death bringing us salvation.

As we lament, let our sorrow turn to the sinless Savior of the world, who suffered for us, and like Psalm 13, let our sorrow turn to praise.

Focus on hope, not despair.

This unprecedented season we are in, like a perpetual grey Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, seem to cover our world just now. But we are a people of hope, not despair. This is a season to remember the blessed hope we have in Christ (I Peter 1:3-9).

We treasure stories of heroism, whether a single act on a lake or a myriad of deeds by medical staff in a pandemic. As we prepare for Easter, let us lift our eyes to the One who died for us so we could have life, and let that focus bring us to worship our unchanging Lord in the middle of uncertain times.

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

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 09, 2020, 01:14:22 pm

Venal Dogmata: A Parable of the Future Church.

An Interview with Jeff Christopherson

Lots of people are asking if this moment will have long term implications—will it dismantle the consumer-driven church? Will this lead to some church changes that many of us have always wanted?

Well, my friend (and partner in the SEND Institute) Jeff Christopherson actually had a book in the works that asks, “What is the future of the church in North America?”

I asked Jeff, who many of you know authors the pieces for our Missio Mondays, if he’d jump in for a quick interview on the book.

Ed: Jeff, I know this is not a book written knowing that there was a crisis coming, but many of the things you talk about in the book are on the minds of a lot of Christian leaders—particularly church practices. What do you think about the timing of this?

Jeff: You know that many of us have been watching the downward “bending of the curve” among evangelicals for a while now—so, no, I didn’t write this with a pandemic in mind—I actually wrote it with a different crisis in mind—the upcoming cultural whiplash against evangelicals.

Ed: Explain more of what you mean by upcoming cultural whiplash?

Jeff: Jesus said in Matthew 26:52 that “If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword” as Peter tried to create some kind of Kingdom advancement for Jesus through his own personal strength.

It was an instinct that Jesus immediately rebuked, but it seems to be an instinct with which we struggle. In our attempts to regain or retain some semblance of Christendom we seem to instinctively go the route of Peter. But God’s Kingdom in never advanced through strength—only through weakness. And weakness is the dominating biblical metanarrative throughout Scripture. Inappropriate political attachments as the solution to Kingdom advance seems to me to be the contemporary corollary of Peter’s error.

Ed: So, the upcoming cultural whiplash—the live by the sword, die by the sword moment— is the cultural reaction to evangelicals when we lose our lobbying power and our political influence?

Jeff: I think so. Our weapon of choice, an inappropriate reliance on politics, will be used against us in full measure. You don’t have to be a prophet, or a son of a prophet to see where this is going. We drew our sword and took our best swing—but it wasn’t a kill.

It couldn’t have been a kill. Darkness can only be overcome by light. God’s Kingdom can’t be voted in, it can only be revealed through the weakness of selfless Jesus followers. We poked the bear, and we should expect the bear to respond as bears do.

Ed: So, you wrote Venal Dogmata as a prophetic call for political disengagement? Are you saying that we should not be involved in our community, politics, and the advocacy for positions that matter to us?

Jeff: Actually, not at all. The setting of my parable assumes the conditions of the future—one where we as evangelicals had overplayed our hand, and now, we are experiencing the social consequences. The new reality of ministry now no longer includes tax advantages, societal standing, or even neutrality. Open cultural hostility is the environment Christ-followers must navigate.

Ed: Well that seems kind of depressing.

Jeff: I sure hope not. Because historically, this is the type of environment where the most Jesus-y stuff happens. Whenever the church has been in power, it’s pretty tough to see Jesus. Darkness is what most often emanates. But when she has been pushed to the margins, watch out! Venal Dogmata paints a picture of how an African American church in Philadelphia loses everything—and then transforms into a global gospel movement.

Ed: Intriguing. Can you explain the title? It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Jeff: Sure, it comes from two Latin words. Venal, which means, ‘open for corruption—bribable,’ and Dogmata, which is the plural of dogma—or a belief. So, it’s an overarching system of beliefs that are up for sale.

Ed: I’ve read your books, even wrote the foreword in a couple, I read what you write weekly in Christianity Today, but this narrative style seems like a divergence. Why did you choose this medium to communicate your message?

Jeff: I actually stumbled on it. Matt Rogers and I are writing a textbook for B&H Academic on North American missiology. In it, we describe the ten factors that are keeping evangelical churches in North America from gospel movement.

In each of these ten factors, we dig into our past and look at cultural decisions that we have made to cause us to think and act like we do. Then we move into the future and look at biblical adjustments that we must make in these ten areas in order to thrive as a missionary people.

As we were finishing the book, I thought that I needed to write a story that encapsulates these ten ideas in a parabolic form. Something that would help a student to have some handles for application and stick with them. The idea was originally to be something contained in an appendix.

But I got so caught up in the story, the characters, and the ideas that it became way too much for a textbook appendix. I sent a draft over to Todd Wilson and my friends at Exponential— and they saw the potential to take the approachable ideas that were imbedded in solid missiological thought and expose them to a much wider audience than just seminary students.

Ed: So, this is a book that anyone could read and get something from it?

Jeff: I believe so. We’ve included three sets of group discussion questions for small groups to dive into.

Ed: Interesting timing as many churches, because of this virus, have put much emphasis into their small group ministry. This could be a tool to help many churches explore their own futures.

Jeff: God’s timing is astonishing to me. Yes, perhaps this little parable is one small facet of the amazing reordering that God is doing in his church through this pandemic.

Ed: Do you think that, coming from this crisis, evangelical churches in North America will make the profound adjustments required to re-center everything on the mission of Christ?

Jeff: Some will. Many won’t. Those that were already leaning in this direction but couldn’t figure out how to get from here to there; now they have their moment. The status quo has been smashed, and now they have the opportunity to let their people taste something different. And once you’ve personally experienced the body of Christ engaged in the mission of Christ, no light and fog show will ever come close to satisfying again.

Ed: But many won’t?

Jeff: I am afraid not. It’s easy to see that already many churches are craving homeostasis. When “it’s all about the weekend,” that DNA tends to stick around. Unfortunately.

Pick up a copy of Venal Dogmata or download the e-book.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 09, 2020, 01:31:18 pm

If Easter Is Only a Symbol, Then to Hell with It

The empty tomb is evidence that God’s love triumphs over death. That truth endures with or without us.

Practicing the liturgical calendar is like participating in immersive theater. Through fasting, feasting, rites, and rituals, we walk into the story of Jesus. In Advent, we lean into longing and wait together for the coming King. At Christmas, we lay babies in makeshift mangers and enter into the Incarnation. During Lent, we smear ashes on our foreheads and remember sin and death. All of it builds to the big moment: Easter Sunday.

For Christians, this is the World Series, the crescendo of the symphony, the climax of the play. This is what we’ve been sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for all year. But this year: nothing. The game is canceled in its final inning. The horn section left in the middle of the concerto. The theater caught fire in the third act.

As a priest, this feels incredibly unsatisfying. Sure, we’ll livestream services. The Word will be proclaimed. But it isn't the same. Something is clearly lost.

And yet, the solid fact remains that Christians do not make Easter through our worship and our calendar. Jesus rose from the dead, and even if it were never acknowledged en masse, it would remain the fixed point around which time itself turns. The truth of the Resurrection is wild and free. It possesses us more than we could ever possess it and rolls on happily with no need of us, never bending to our opinions of it. If the claims of Christianity are true, they are true with or without me. On any given day, my ardent belief or deep skepticism doesn’t alter reality one hair’s breadth.

Believers and skeptics alike often approach the Christian story as if its chief value is personal, subjective, and self-expressive. We come to faith primarily for how it comforts us or helps us cope or lends a sense of belonging. However subtly, we reduce the Resurrection to a symbol or a metaphor. Easter is merely an inspirational tradition, a celebration of rebirth and new life that calls us to the best version of ourselves and helps give meaning to our lives.

But the actualities that we now face in a global pandemic—the overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, the collapsing global economy, and the terrifying fragility of our lives—ought to put an end to any sentimentality about the Resurrection. To borrow the words of Flannery O’Connor, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

The stakes could not be higher. As a deadly virus speeds its way around the world bringing chaos, destruction, and death, it’s painfully clear that the Resurrection is either the whole hope of the world—the very center of reality—or Christianity is not worth our time.

“Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence; making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages,” writes John Updike in his poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter.” If Jesus’ “cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall.”

I am a Christian today not because it answers all my questions about the world or about our current suffering. It does not. And not because I think it is a nice, coherent moral order by which to live my life. And not because I grew up this way or have fond feelings about felt boards and hymn sings. And not because it motivates justice or helps me to know how to vote. I am a Christian because I believe in the Resurrection. If it isn’t true, to hell with it.

On the other hand, if Jesus did in fact come back from the dead on a quiet Sunday morning some 2,000 years ago, then everything is changed—our beliefs, our ethics, our politics, our time, our relationships. If it is true, then the resurrection of Jesus is the most determinative fact of the universe, the center point of history. The Resurrection is ultimately truer and more lasting than death or destruction, violence or viruses. It’s truer, too, than our celebration of it, however beautiful, however meager.

That morning in history when Jesus rose, there was no expectation of a resurrection. There was no fanfare. No churches gathering with songs of triumph, no bells ringing, nothing. A few women went out to tend to Jesus’ dead body. His “nobody” disciples were laying low, lost in grief and feeling afraid. The rest of Jerusalem and the wider world had moved on. The sun rose. People went about their business gathering grain and water from wells. They started breakfast.

All of the cosmos was changed, and it was almost entirely overlooked.

This coming Sunday will be quiet too. Nearly 80 percent of Americans are under stay-at-home orders and will continue to be for most of the 50 days of Eastertide. But, in the end, what made Easter morning matter was never the packed sanctuaries, never the hymns or celebrations, rituals or rites. Just as the quietness of that first Easter did not determine if the stone rolled away or not, the locked doors of our local churches don’t determine it either.

The truest fact of the universe this Eastertide is not death tolls, emptied sanctuaries, or overcrowded hospitals. The truest fact of the universe is an empty tomb. The Resurrection is the only evidence that love triumphs over death, weakness prevails over strength, and beauty outlives ashes. If Jesus is risen in actual history, with all the palpability of flesh, fingers, bone, and blood, there is hope that our mourning will be comforted and that death will not have the final word.

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, a member of The Pelican Project, and a writer in residence at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and a contributor to the forthcoming book Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 09, 2020, 01:34:33 pm

This Easter, The Weary World Rejoices. But First It Grieves.

As a widow, I have newfound appreciation for why the mourning of Holy Saturday is indispensable to the journey toward joy.

The most striking of my childhood church memories occurred during our parish’s Good Friday service each year. At the end of the service, with the lights dimmed, our pastor would draw a black drape across the altar at the front of the sanctuary. As a child, the gesture reminded me of physicians I’d seen in old Hollywood movies draping the deceased. No doubt the allusion was intended. A black cloth hung on the cross above the altar, the sanctuary dressed for a funeral.

Afterward, my family and I walked quietly to the parking lot. An awkward hush followed us. Jesus had just died in there—what could you say after that? Buckled into the back seat of our station wagon, my sisters and I sat uncomfortably, waiting for the feeling to subside. This was only a pageant, right? The world wasn’t really this dark, our situation this bleak.

Eventually, conversation began to flow, and by the time we arrived home, the transition from Good Friday was complete. Like slowly waking from a bad dream, we emerged into the present once again. The next day, Holy Saturday, was filled with busyness. We made deviled eggs and rearranged the fridge to fit the ham. Nobody spoke of death or dying or thought about the black drape across the altar.

When we arrived at church on Easter morning, I always marveled at the transformed sights and smells of the sanctuary. Fragrant lilies and hyacinths blanketed the chancel, and the altar was covered in a white-and-gold embroidered cloth. The sanctuary had been scrubbed clean of death.

Even then as a child, the contrast seemed surreal. Were we the same people we’d been just two days before? After 40 days in Lent with Jesus, we stood at the foot of the cross and took in its horror, woke on Saturday to make deviled eggs and fruit salads, and then arrived at church on Sunday for celebration. My heart couldn’t make the jump.

It wasn’t until adulthood—and now in widowhood—that I realized why the transition from Good Friday to Easter Sunday felt so abrupt. In all of our careful reenactment, we had forgotten the most human part of the process: the mourning.

By contrast, the early church brought mourning into its Holy Saturday practices. From the second century on, Christians fasted and prayed between Good Friday’s dusk and Easter’s dawn. Inspired by the Gospel narratives, early believers committed those 40 hours to mourning the crucified, dead, and buried Jesus.

Like loved ones attending a wake, they stopped for the day and kept vigil. They mourned their own sinfulness and the world's brokenness. They wept over the dead body of their Lord, knowing that mourning it was indispensable for the journey to Easter joy. And they named the day Holy Saturday because they knew that death, too, is sacred.

In fact, new believers were baptized on this day. Their baptisms were meant in part to underscore Paul’s declaration that “we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).

This year, COVID-19 has created a drastically different context for Easter. This crisis allows none of us to sidestep conversations around grief and death. The pandemic itself feels like one long Holy Saturday, where we live in the liminal space between death and the life we hope for on the other side. We’re left asking questions like those I had growing up: How do we worship while holding grief and joy in the same hand? Can we manage these mixed emotions? How do we come to Easter in the midst of death?

Since my husband’s death last summer, death is no longer abstract. I have wondered nervously if I can be ready for Easter Sunday in time. The span from Good Friday to resurrection morning is so short. But Holy Saturday helps me. It helps all who now mourn like I do—those who tremble in their weeping; those whose hearts have been pierced by death; those who know the unbearable tension between the now and the not yet; those who will find consolation only in vigil with the buried Jesus; and those who aren’t yet ready to sing “Alleluia.”

And yet, it is from the grave that resurrection happened. Year in and year out, in sickness and in health, come rain or shine, we celebrate Christ’s return from the dead. Every Easter, a song emerges not in spite of our sorrow but because of it. Passion gives way to praise.

“The celebration of Easter tells us what lies on the other side of COVID-19 and on the other side of all our trials: life with God,” writes Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. “This message is necessary not because we are stumbling toward Easter Sunday as a scattered and beleaguered people of God. It is necessary because the truth of the gospel shines most brightly in dark times.”

This Easter Sunday, then, we will stubbornly insist that “He is risen indeed” is our honest and true expression of worship. God’s resurrection power will dispel our darkness, not fully now, but surely on that great day for which our grieving hearts await.

Clarissa Moll (MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the young widow of author Rob Moll and the mother of their four children. After a career in fundraising and marketing for small nonprofits, she now supports those in grief through her writing. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 09, 2020, 04:17:29 pm

Easter Fear Is Natural

Jesus’ unnatural resurrection helps us fear not.

Empty churches on Easter Sunday around the world represent an image that, until this year, would have made sense only in a fever-pitched 1990s end-times novel. Yet, in the middle of a global pandemic, that will now be our reality. The grief that Christians already face over missing their church services for necessary social distancing will intensify when it comes to the preeminent day on the Christian calendar. But if we pay attention, we may see something new and holy about Easter in quarantine. And that something is fear.

At first glance, fear seems alien to Easter, belonging more to Good Friday. Even our hymnody reflects this. “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” is in lyric and tune foreboding, while “Up From the Grave He Arose” peals triumphant. This makes musical sense. Good Friday evokes the emotions the first disciples experienced when they thought all was lost and the noon skies above them turned dark. By contrast, Easter evokes a new dawn, the truth that “everything sad is coming untrue.”

And yet, the Gospel accounts are not so neatly categorized by emotion. The first reactions to the Resurrection were confusion and fear. The guards at the tomb “trembled and became like dead men” at the sight of the angel there (Matt. 28:4, ESV). To the faithful women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the first words spoken by the angel were “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just as he said” (vv. 5–6).

Upon hearing the angel, the women were filled with “with fear and great joy” (v. 8). They then ran right into the risen Jesus, who repeated the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10). The earliest record of the Resurrection, from Mark’s gospel, closes with the women fleeing the empty tomb, “for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

One could imagine, of course, a less traumatic Resurrection, in keeping with the natural rhythms of the world—except that the Resurrection was wholly unnatural, naturally eliciting fear and alarm.

The Resurrection is not a timeless truth about the immortality of the human being, or the reassurance that everything works out in the end. The Resurrection takes place in a graveyard, a reminder that, left to ourselves, every one of us will retreat to the dust from which we came. Thus Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He is the only one of us who has “life in himself” (John 5:26).

The resurrection of Jesus does indeed destroy fear, pulling us out of slavery from the fear of death (Heb. 2:14–15). But that freedom from fear does not come the way we usually pursue it, through denial and the illusion of immortality. On the contrary, to see fully the glory and mystery of the resurrection of Jesus, we must feel the just sentence of our own deaths, the inevitability, apart from him, of our own demise. The Resurrection shows us our lives hidden in Christ, which means that on our own, we are the walking dead. The Resurrection means we follow Jesus where he went, toward where he is. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Jesus said (Mark 8:34, NIV). Easter is not the end of our carrying our crosses but the beginning.

This is terrifying when you think of it. And Jesus means for you to think of it. Only then can you listen to the Shepherd who walks you through the valley of the shadow of death. Only then can you know what it means to know “Because he lives, all fear is gone.”

Many Christians around the world will not gather this Easter. Our churches empty, we will wait in our respective homes, with dread and alarm from knowing we could witness thousands of our neighbors die and millions more fall sick from a brutal disease. This Easter, we do not know which of our loved ones, or which of us, will die alone on a ventilator, unable even to see the face of the nurse behind a protective mask. Let us experience that fear, and then let us turn to Christ to be reminded that death is awful but, in Christ, death is defeated.

This Easter, our churches will be empty. That’s scary. But the tomb is still empty too. Do not be afraid.

Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 10, 2020, 06:51:42 pm

Alone on a Friday: Isolation, Identify, and the Forsaken Savior of the World

If being alone during this pandemic is especially hard, look to the One who experienced loneliness at a level we never will precisely because he faced what he did for us on the cross.

Sometimes a word or phrase arrests us with its simplicity and its weight. This is especially true in a season which renders a given term especially important. “Alone” is such a word right now. Many of us understand the term in a different light than before.

Social distancing, quarantines, and isolation have become a part of everyday life right now. We aren’t used to the elderly who are sick being alone in hospitals separated from family. We are coming to terms with healthcare workers who have to remain isolated from their families while they work with COVID-19 patients. We are moved by the scenes of spouses of many decades waving at their dearest from outside the glass of a nursing home window.


Let’s face it, we Americans love our freedom and its corollary individualism. But we love our individualism because it allows us to choose when and who to spend time with. We like to be separate from people, but only when we get to choose it. We can’t escape that we are social beings.

The important measure of social distancing which seems to be showing some positive effect on the spread of COVID-19 reveals “that America’s individualistic framework is deeply unsuited to coping with an infectious pandemic,” because of the shift in our thinking “from an individual-first to a communitarian ethos.”

So, most of the time “alone” is not that big of a deal. But for many right now, alone means very lonely, disconnected, and anxious. But this is not the only prescient expression to consider.

Let me give you another one.

The Ultimate Oxymoron

“Good Friday.”

This expression is the ultimate oxymoron, that the death of our Savior would make this day so good. It’s another term we all know well, celebrating as part of Holy Week each year as it points us to the high hosannas of Easter.

But this year, Good Friday means a bit more, doesn’t it? In times when we face waves of difficulty, we turn to anchored truth.

We can forget in the familiarity of Good Friday and the wonderful ceremonies of the season a central part of the story. Jesus, who made this day good, was isolated during it. He lay down his life as the substitute for sins, carrying such a weight and facing such pain, and he did so essentially alone.

He told his disciples repeatedly of his impending death and they just didn’t get it. That had to be lonely, that your companions with whom you had lived and invested seemed to miss the point.

He took his closest allies to Gethsemane where he agonized in prayer, sweating drops of blood as he lay prostrate before his Father.

And what did his must trusted disciples do?

They slept.


One of the 12 betrayed him openly, and as once he did the other disciples “all left him and fled” (Mark 14:50). As the religious Council mocked him, spat in his face, and struck him, his most bold disciple, Peter, denied him. At that moment, Luke tells us, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” That had to be a very alone moment.

Soldiers — an entire battalion Matthew says — spit on him, put a purple robe on him in mockery, and hit him. A thorny crown was pressed into the flesh of his forehead. Those created by him angrily abused him.

He stood before Pilate with no advocate.


He was scourged by a whip that killed more than a few men in the process. When he had an opportunity to be released, the crowd chose a run-of-the-mill insurrectionist named Barabbas instead of the King of Glory.

Aloneness was very near to the Son of Man.

He was crucified. Such a brutal way to die. Two obvious criminals hung on crosses to each side, and both mocked him. Yet in the middle of the torment, Jesus showed mercy to the one who cried out to him for mercy. Soldiers gambled for his few possessions. People walking by derided him.

As Jesus hung between heaven and earth, imagine how alone he must have felt. Then, Mark 15:34 records he cried out, “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

You probably already knew that. You recognize it as one of the last Seven Words of Christ on the cross. But look at it again this year. Jesus was utterly, painfully alone.


One comment on this phrase observes how in this moment, Jesus cries out to God in the immense pain of divine abandonment (see Isa. 59:2; Hab. 1:13), which he suffers as a substitute for sinful mankind.”[1]

Our Advocate

We celebrate our Lord as our advocate at this season, and well we should. We should also remember on this Good Friday that “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

If being alone during this pandemic is especially hard, look to the One who experienced loneliness at a level we never will precisely because he faced what he did for us on the cross. But Jesus did more than experience loneliness. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). He redeemed us into a family (Eph. 2:19). And he will ultimately remove it (Rev. 21:4).

Good Friday, indeed.

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

[1] Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 122690-122691). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 11, 2020, 10:19:25 pm

Before Christ Rose, He Was Dead

The truth of Holy Saturday is that God is with us, even in our mortality.

Deep down, I knew I had cancer before the doctor delivered her diagnosis. Still, the news came as a shock. I was 27. My wife and I had just moved to a new town, where we knew hardly a soul. We felt very much alone.

Of course, we knew and believed God’s promise to “never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6). In church the following week, we sang the chorus “O love that will not let me go.” But this knowledge was mostly intellectual. Beneath these affirmations, we were for the first time trying to understand the meaning of God’s presence in our newly unmistakable mortality.

The question of God’s presence in mortality is central to a significant, but seldom recognized, day in the church’s yearly calendar. Holy Saturday is that odd day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday during which Jesus Christ—life himself!—lay dead in a tomb. Before my diagnosis, I had never much pondered the significance of this fact. The church has had little difficulty fixing its attention on the dying of Christ, and even less difficulty on the rising of Christ, but the being dead of Christ has found relatively little expression in its theology and liturgy. Holy Saturday, however, has an integrity of its own. If the church can attune its ear to its frequency, so easily drowned out by the dominant tones of Good Friday and Easter, it may be able to hear a profound word about human living and dying between the Cross and the Resurrection.

Christ the Superhero

Christians have found two primary ways to understand how and why Christ descended ad inferos (literally “to those below”). The predominant interpretation by the early church, what we might call the classical view, stressed Christ’s glory and power in his descent to the underworld. The fourth-century monk Rufinus of Aquileia was one of the first church fathers to write about it:

It is as if a king were to proceed to a prison, and to go in and open the doors, undo the fetters, break in pieces the chains, the bars, and the bolts, and bring forth and set at liberty the prisoners. … The king, therefore, is said indeed to have been in prison, but not under the same condition as the prisoners who were detained there. They were in prison to be punished, he to free them from punishment.

Here, Christ’s divine power, rather than his human suffering, takes center stage. Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, a Roman Catholic theologian, calls Christ’s descent “the beginning of the manifestation of his triumph over death and the first application of the fruits of redemption.”

As a visual representation, consider the anastasis icon of the Maestà Altarpiece (1), from the 13th century. Less common today, works of art like this were traditionally placed behind the elements of the Eucharist on the altar. They bear collections of images that typically depict the entire life of Christ, from Gabriel’s announcement to Mary to Christ’s ascent and reign in heaven. The anastasis portion (named for the Greek word for resurrection) depicts Christ being raised from the dead.

Image: Mondadori Portfolio / Hulton Fine Art Collection / Getty Images
Maestà Altarpiece

In this version, painted by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna, Jesus breaks the bronze doors, trampling the Devil underfoot. Think Jesus as superhero, Jesus as Schwarzenegger, Jesus as Rambo, infiltrating an enemy camp to rescue POWs. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, a bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, wrote that “Christ descended into hell not as the devil’s victim but as Conqueror.”

The Eastern Orthodox worship service known as the Matins of Great Saturday expresses this sentiment beautifully. The gathering begins with a grave (epitaphion) erected as the focal point in the middle of the church and includes a reading of Psalm 119, a customary funereal psalm.

The typically mournful tone associated with this psalm, however, is subtly overturned through a series of exultant responses, climaxing with the singing of the Paschal troparion (“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”), which signals the beginning of paschal joy. In fact, the dominant theme of the service is Christ’s glorious and powerful triumph over death and the Devil; the Matins of Great Saturday is clearly an anticipatory celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

But the shortcoming of the classical take on Christ’s descent, for all its theological richness and truth, is that it plays too much to our collective desire to move past suffering into glory. In its eagerness to express Easter joy, it threatens to eclipse, and therefore obscure, the theological integrity and significance of Holy Saturday.

Christ the Sufferer
During the Protestant Reformation, a different view gained prominence, and its leading proponent was John Calvin. Calvin rejected the notion that Christ saved souls from limbo (“Nothing but a story!” he scoffed). Instead, he interpreted the descent into hell as a metaphorical expression of the fathomless depths of Christ’s suffering, especially spiritual suffering, endured on the cross.

This interpretation reflected Calvin’s emphasis on Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Drawing on Gregory of Nazianzus’s ancient axiom, “What has not been assumed [by Christ], has not been healed,” Calvin boldly asserts that our spiritual healing requires that Christ suffer not just biological death but also the “agony of death” (Acts 2:24), the “terrible abyss” of feeling “forsaken and estranged from God.” For Calvin, the descent into hell is the obvious theological next step of Christ’s cry of dereliction from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). If Christ is triumphant, according to this view, it is only through his passion.

This “passionate view” finds expression in another famous 13th-century painting, the Isenheim Altarpiece (2), by German artists Nikolaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald. This collection of images also depicts scenes from the life of Christ. A notable feature of this altarpiece is that it opens like a cabinet, with two sets of doors, or “wings,” that are painted with vivid imagery from the Gospels so they can be opened or closed to display different images at different times during the church year.

Image: WikiMedia Commons
Isenheim Altarpiece

On most days of the liturgical year, the Isenheim Altarpiece’s wings are closed, displaying the image of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Few graphic representations depict the extent of Christ’s physical and spiritual agony like this one. Open the wings, however, and we encounter scenes that emphasize Christ’s divinity, such as the annunciation to Mary, the Nativity, and Jesus’ resurrection. Open an additional set of wings and we see images of the church in eschatological glory, represented by gilded saints. The church’s glory is hidden in the divinity of Christ, but the divinity of Christ is hidden in his very human suffering and crucifixion.

If the Orthodox liturgy of Holy Saturday is essentially an anticipatory celebration of Easter, the absence of attention to Holy Saturday in many Protestant denominations makes it into an extended observance of Good Friday. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Common Worship, for example, concludes its liturgy for Good Friday with the instructions, “All depart in silence. The service continues with the Easter Vigil, or on Easter Day.”

This practice is thoroughly in line with Calvin’s emphasis on the Cross as the center of salvation. For Calvin, as with the Book of Common Worship, the “action,” so to speak, occurs on Friday. For this reason, the Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once claimed that Calvin had more or less rendered Holy Saturday “superfluous.” Of course, a liturgical gap—a pregnant pause—could be a meaningful way to attend to the meaning of Holy Saturday. In practice, however, we tend to treat the extended silence of Good Friday as a way to simply move on.

Hearing Holy Saturday
Both of our most common approaches to Holy Saturday miss its full meaning. I would like to highlight a third line of interpretation, which stresses the fact that God in Christ takes on our mortal nature and thereby makes it his own. Because it focuses on Christ’s suffering with us, we might call it the compassionate view.

In addition to victory and suffering, this approach adds a radical reaffirmation of the totality of the Incarnation, which is not suspended in any way during the hours between cross and resurrection. God was indeed in Christ (2 Cor. 5:19) even while Christ lay dead in a tomb. This (admittedly inconceivable) thought, according to the late Reformed theologian Alan Lewis, “forces us to think at deeper levels yet, of who God is and how God works: present-in-absence, and absent where most present; alive in death, and dead when most creative and life-giving.”

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (3), by 16th-century German painter and printmaker Hans Holbein the Younger, is a rare attempt to depict Jesus Christ in the tomb on Holy Saturday. It is also a fitting pictorial representation of this third view.

Image: WikiMedia Commons
The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb

Eyes toward heaven, mouth agape, Jesus’ continued relation with the Father is hinted. We have seen a similar expression on his face in images of the descent of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. But Jesus is truly dead (indicated by the rigor mortis and gangrenous coloration of his hand and face). Though the grotesque realism of the image is in line with late medieval (macabre) sensibilities, the image ultimately serves as a reminder of the miracle of resurrection and the totality of the Incarnation.

There are pastoral implications to such an interpretation of Holy Saturday. In a world living a Holy Saturday existence, in which God often seems absent, the compassionate view tells us that if God can be present in the death of Jesus Christ, then God can be and is present even where he seems most distant. During a 2010 visit to the famed Shroud of Turin, a linen cloth that is believed by some to bear the imprint of Jesus’ face, Pope Benedict XVI offered a reflection on the importance of Holy Saturday for addressing the spiritual darkness of our contemporary world:

[A]fter having passed through the last century, humanity has become especially sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. God’s concealment is part of the spirituality of contemporary man, in an existential manner, almost unconscious, as an emptiness that continues to expand in the heart. . . . After the two World Wars, the concentration camps, the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become in ever great measure a Holy Saturday.

This is a distinctively modern interpretation of Christ’s descent, emphasizing divine solidarity with the human condition of mortality and vulnerability. The church has long taught that Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of the nature of both God and humankind. So if God was in Christ in the grave, then death cannot be wholly alien to God, and neither can it be wholly alien to the human condition. On this basis, Alan Lewis boldly claims: “The New Testament story of the cross and empty tomb is the profound and dramatic confirmation of the Creator’s yes to our mortality.” This in no way denies the resurrection of Christ or the hope for new creation but rather affirms each as an eschatological surplus. Resurrection and new creation come as a result of God’s abundant grace from above and beyond the possibilities of our current reality. As C.S. Lewis repeatedly wrote, “Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.”

Is there a way for us to highlight the significance of Holy Saturday? Is it possible, in Augustine’s words, “to see darkness, to hear silence”? Perhaps, yes. In the Revised Common Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Word on Holy Saturday draws attention to the burial of Christ (John 19:38–42 or Matt. 27:57–66) while also striking a balance between acknowledging the transience of human life (Job 14:1–14) and recognizing the hope that Christ’s redemption reaches even to the lowest places (1 Pet. 4:1–8 ). Furthermore, the practice of observing Easter Vigil, though it technically belongs to Easter Sunday, emphasizes the tension between the already and the not yet, which marks Christian life between Cross and Resurrection. Therefore Easter Vigil is an appropriate and desirable way to nurture attention to Holy Saturday.

Church historian Eamon Duffy describes an interesting late-medieval English practice associated with Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday, three hosts (bread, which is Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper) were consecrated. The first was used for Communion on Thursday. The second was used for Communion on Good Friday. The third was placed in a pyx, which is a special container, then wrapped in linen and placed in a stone sepulcher on the north side of the church on Good Friday. In this way, the medieval Christians literally buried the body of Christ. Believers would then keep vigil until Easter morning, when the host was returned to its usual place above the altar. Contemporary high church Anglicans have an analogous practice: After consuming all of the host on Good Friday, the door to the tabernacle, which typically stores the reserve sacrament (bread and wine from Communion that is kept for services during the week), is left open on Saturday to demonstrate the visible absence of Christ’s body. These creative liturgies, and others, have the possibility of becoming ways to express God’s solidarity with humanity, which “neither death nor life” can ultimately thwart (Rom. 8:38–39).

Of course, for many churches, liturgies are not simply formulated out of thin air but are specific, historical traditions that the church takes up and enacts. Some churches may have more freedom to improvise than others. All who repeat the creed, however, must come to terms with the meaning of Holy Saturday, when “he descended.” Whatever else it means, this phrase proclaims that God’s solidarity with the human condition extends at least six feet under the earth. Even in the grave, Jesus is still Immanuel, God with us.

As I now reflect on my experience of a cancer diagnosis and successful treatment, I can’t escape seeing my life in the light of Holy Saturday—in all its dimensions. Christ indeed was victorious over death and Hades. He also suffered the spiritual suffering that we experience. But, more than anything, he is with us through it all.

Travis Ryan Pickell is associate director of university engagement at Anselm House in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 13, 2020, 09:30:34 am

Who Is My COVID-19 Neighbor?

The only way to beat the coronavirus in the US is to beat it everywhere. Can we really save the whole world?

In early March, $6,500 could buy you and three friends a round of golf on an island in Charleston, South Carolina, accompanied by a former NFL quarterback or maybe even Chris Tomlin. When the sun sank behind moss-draped live oaks and blackwater marshes, you could retire to a country club for cool drinks and a private show with Grammy-nominated band Needtobreathe.

And in the surreal psychology of philanthropic events, you could have done all this in solidarity with some of the world’s poorest people, your fee going to improve health care in places where a bite from the wrong mosquito or a sip from the wrong faucet can end your life.

At least that’s how OneWorld Health, a Christian medical nonprofit, was marketing its big spring fundraiser.

By the middle of March, however, no amount of money could secure you a berth at a charity golf tournament or gala or silent auction anywhere in the country. Virtually all of them were being canceled. COVID-19 was burning its way across the globe and, for all anyone knew, it was just waiting to press the flesh in VIP circles at such gatherings.

OneWorld Health called off its Needtobreathe Classic on March 13. “It was an easy decision to make, the right decision,” said executive director Michael O’Neal. “But it certainly leaves a hole in terms of operational funds.”

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic threatens to decimate nonprofit groups. Churches, forced to livestream or outright cancel worship services, wonder what will happen when offering plates cannot be passed. Missions groups, forced to halt international travel, ask how long they can survive without sending workers into the field. Everyone worries how big donors will respond as investments dissolve and business profits disappear.

But the pandemic is a two-front war for organizations like OneWorld Health, which operates a dozen medical facilities in Central America and East Africa. Their fundraising efforts are being pummeled just as they scramble to get ahead of an anticipated onslaught of virus-related cases in the countries they serve. “We’re trying to prepare ourselves,” O’Neal said. “But we’re all going to see giving decline in the next 18 to 24 months.”

Global-health experts are particularly concerned about COVID-19’s impact in the developing world, where health care systems are already strained and, in many places, nonexistent. Millions could die. If a nation as powerful and as spread out as the United States has failed to get a handle on the virus, signs are not good for regions with high population densities, cultures of communal living, and deficient water and sanitation systems.

O’Neal knows. He and his wife moved to Uganda to help OneWorld Health open its first medical center there in 2011. “It’s going to have a huge effect,” he said. “There are 55 ICU beds in a country of 36-plus million people.”

Doctors in other countries wish they had it that good. Martie Wahl works in a private medical practice in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, and minced no words: “Our health system will not be able to cope with a large number of people who need ventilation,” she said. “It will collapse within days.”

For months, international groups have issued crescendoing calls to help poorer nations prepare for the worst. As early as February, countries including the UK began earmarking millions in special aid to help those with fragile health systems fight the outbreak. The United Nations released $15 million in early March and asked for $2 billion in additional assistance. Other groups like the International Monetary Fund and the G20 have followed suit with proposals of their own.

The concern is obvious: Wealthy countries, once they’ve beaten back the inferno in their own backyards, may be too exhausted to run toward smoke on the horizon. In a firestorm, it’s only human, even prudent, to worry about your own house and your next-door neighbor’s house. But the lesson of pandemics in a globalized era is that there are no clear boundaries between neighborhoods; flames don’t just jump streets, they jump continents.

“In global health, we know with diseases like this, you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said Ed O’Bryan, who cofounded OneWorld Health and is a physician and director of global health at the Medical University of South Carolina. Taming COVID-19 in China and the US and all of Western Europe won’t matter if it’s still raging and potentially mutating in Africa or Russia, he said. “It’s going to come back around.”

In Namibia, the government has mandated social distancing, but Wahl doubts that will be possible for one of her employees who lives with five siblings and their children in a tiny house in a poor part of town. In Liberia, where there is no ambulance service, a missionary surgeon says he worries how the sick will even get to the hospital since public transit has been restricted. Street selling, which many depend on for income, has been banned, and formal markets may be scrutinized next.

And everywhere in societies where elders occupy special places of honor, people dread a virus that preys largely on the aged.

“Often the unfortunate case is that the grandparents are the breadwinners and caregivers of the grandchildren,” Wahl said. “We would have a lot of orphaned children, more than we already have.”

If the COVID-19 pandemic has hammered wealthy nations, it’s arriving in many poorer ones like a demolition crew. Foreign investment is fleeing, revenue from oil and tourism has vaporized, and unemployment has risen to perilous levels. All this in places where most people have little or no savings to cushion their fall. Days before Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, ordered his 210 million countrymen into their homes, he lamented that it would “save them from corona at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side.”

For missionaries and aid workers, it’s a foregone conclusion that surging desperation and malnutrition crouch just around the corner.

“It’s said, ‘When the US sneezes, Latin America gets pneumonia,’” missionary Kevin Abegg, who oversees ministry in that region for United World Mission, wrote to donors. “The sheer scale of the US economy and resources available provide significant protections that are not available in the Central American countries where we and our fellow missionaries serve.”

The developing world is not a monolith; some quarters are better equipped than others to fight the virus that has breached nearly every geopolitical border. In low-income countries outside of Southeast Asia, fewer daily flights were emptying bellyfuls of passengers from infection hot spots. That gave some leaders time to watch the rest of the world react to the pandemic. Sudan closed schools and banned large gatherings after reporting only two COVID-19 cases. Haiti closed its airports after announcing its debut pair of infections.

Across parts of Africa, fresh memories of previous epidemics like Ebola primed many countries to respond swiftly and forcefully. Liberia’s first positive test for COVID-19 was at 4 a.m., and by 10 a.m. that day, the president was shuttering schools.

The mood here “is pretty tense,” said Rick Sacra, a missionary physician at ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, who survived Ebola after contracting it in 2014. He reassured his colleagues that COVID-19 is not like Ebola, which killed half of everyone it infected. “Some of the staff, just like during Ebola, they tried to put on the personal protective equipment and felt all claustrophobic and just couldn’t cope with it.”

But responses have varied starkly. On the opposite side of Africa, Tanzania had already reported 12 cases when President John Magufuli smiled calmly and promised a cheering congregation that he would not close houses of worship because COVID-19 “cannot survive” there; “it will burn.” Across the Atlantic, while much of the world was shut indoors, thousands of Nicaraguans marched in the streets in a government-orchestrated show of support for coronavirus victims. (Nicaragua reported its first infection three days later on March 18.) Farther south in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro was dismissing the virus as a “measly cold” while the nation’s reported number of infections blew past 2,000.

“There are some things, from a public health standpoint, that are very scary for us,” said OneWorld’s O’Neal. His organization runs multiple medical centers in Nicaragua.

In most countries, doctors told CT, governments are taking the lead in testing for COVID-19 and preventing its spread. But nearly everyone in scrubs, whether employed by hospitals or by NGOs, is bracing for overwhelming numbers of coughing, feverish patients. “We’re going to be hard-hit when it picks up,” Sacra said.

That’s in no small part because, while COVID-19 has become almost the singular focus of the global health community, more-menacing diseases like tuberculosis and infectious diarrhea continue to prowl. So do less sensational illnesses like pneumonia, the world’s leading killer of children, which claims more than 800,000 lives under age five every year. “Just because you’re battling this, malaria doesn’t go away,” O’Neal said.

COVID-19 has left ample mysteries as it sweeps the globe, and doctors don’t know exactly how it will behave in the developing world. Maybe it will be less lethal among Africa’s young-skewing population. Maybe the virus faces headwinds in tropical climates, if the possibility that it doesn’t like warmer temperatures holds true. Maybe, in some tragic twist, all of these advantages are nullified in malnourished bodies.

What countries will probably never be certain of is a death toll. However scarce testing supplies become in the US, O’Bryan said, count on far less in poor countries. “You’re going to see higher mortality rates, but they may not necessarily be attributed to coronavirus. You’re going to see a lot of patients die of ‘unknown respiratory illness.’”

Dieudonné Lemfuka harbors no illusions about human strength in the face of pandemics. The surgeon spent a month in quarantine in 2014 after combatting Liberia’s Ebola outbreak at the ELWA (short for Eternal Love Winning Africa) hospital in Monrovia. “The best way to pray,” he said, “is to ask the Lord, if possible, to stop this disease.”

Prayer is probably as much as most of us ever do—if we manage to do anything—in response to news of plagues and disasters on distant shores. But it’s notable, now that a plague has encroached upon our home turf, that even Western Christians have criticized prayer as an inadequate response to the crisis on its own. “Overwhelmingly, I think the groups I work with would say ‘pray and work’” to solve the problem, pastor and Southeastern University theology professor Chris Green told the Associated Press in March.

We’ve been inundated with messages about what that work looks like domestically—no Google search or news binge is complete without a pop-up PSA to “Do the five.” Compulsive hand washing, keeping distance, and worshiping to stuttering video feeds no longer require imagination. Envisioning how to halt COVID-19 overseas is a fuzzier effort.

Volunteering for medical trips probably isn’t the answer, at least not for now. The usual countries that send medical teams are so desperate for personnel at home that they are pleading with retired health care workers to volunteer locally. For the foreseeable future, attempting international travel will require navigating a bramble of restrictions, exposure to crowds where the virus could be lurking, and potential quarantines. And if already-struggling hospitals are pushed to the brink, they will not have resources to host hordes of foreign volunteers.

Lemfuka will tell you—as will other global-health workers in the US and abroad—that money and resources are critical. Everyone interviewed for this story expressed extreme concern about shortages of personal protective equipment for medical workers and intensive-care equipment for patients. As supply chains tighten upstream in wealthy countries, they dry to dust in places like Liberia. Lemfuka sees this as a planet-size opportunity to show the love of Christ. “But how do we show that without supplies?” he asked.

He answered his own question: “If they really have that love and compassion,” Christians could “donate and support [us] with that equipment.”

If they can get it. Fundraising for public health overseas is an uphill climb, even in cheery times. If it were easier, preventable diseases like tuberculosis, which is projected to kill more than 10 million people in the next decade, would already be gone. Experts estimate that disease could be eradicated for a cool $65 billion—small potatoes when stacked against the more than $2 trillion the US government is spending to stimulate its economy during the COVID-19 downturn.

The church is unlikely to marshal such resources (although Rotary International, surely a less formidable entity than the global bride of Christ, has raised nearly $2 billion and has led the world to the cusp of eradicating polio). And leaders in the developing world are not naive—they know many of their cries for help will be lost amid the roar of appeals as the usual “donor nations” tend to their own needs first.

In the West African Ebola outbreak that Sacra endured, “it was just these three countries [affected],” he said. “We had whole containers of protective gear getting sent our way.” He doesn’t expect that kind of help with COVID-19.

Which raises questions: Would it be fair for doctors to expect such help from Christian strangers around the world? Humans are finite; we can only juggle so many cares at a time. Just how much are we obligated to help others when we need help ourselves? Jesus praised the widow for giving her mites. But would he have asked her for them?

James Thobaben is a medical ethicist and theologian at Asbury Theological Seminary. He juggles lofty questions about public health with his own more personal concerns—like whether his daughter, a physician at a St. Louis hospital, is safe. He understands scholarly ideals like utilitarianism, helping as many people as possible even if a few have to sacrifice. But he also has strong words for anyone who would send health care workers, like his daughter, into harm’s way without adequate protective equipment. “It is morally wrong,” he insists.

He referenced 1 Timothy 5:8: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This, Thobaben explained, grounds the obligations Christians have to the world: “One has a higher duty to one’s nuclear, and perhaps extended, family than to an otherwise unknown stranger. The same higher degree of duty applies to the visible church.”

It’s true, Thobaben said, that, theologically, everyone in the world is the Christian’s neighbor: a brother or sister in Christ or a victim on life’s Jericho Road. But effectiveness matters when we help others, and we are generally most effective at helping those most proximate to us.

Thobaben added a caveat: Christians are also a people on mission. That means we are always expanding the circle of people we consider close. “If I do not help at least some outside my immediate community, I fail to reach out with the gospel,” he said. “Part of the prudential obligation of a Christian is to decide how to use or even use up what one has when there is not enough to go around.”

In our globally connected age, humans—and Christians in particular—have flaunted our ability to stretch the definition of “neighbor” as far as an internet connection or a Boeing 787 will carry it. One takeaway of the COVID-19 crisis so far is that our boasting rings hollow. We clearly still react most strongly to events in our own backyard, and it’s very possible the pandemic will push the world inward to a new, self-centric era.

But proximity is both geographic and relational. Perhaps our shared experiences with this virus—rich nations and poor nations—will bring us all a little closer once we’ve emerged from the haze of self-isolation. Perhaps the next time we hear of some faceless people group out in the world suffering from an invisible, enigmatic predator, those people won’t be so faceless after all, because we’ll see ourselves in them.

For his part, as he bides time at home with his family in Charleston, Michael O’Neal sure hopes that can happen—at least in time for OneWorld Health’s next golf tournament, which he’s rescheduled for October. “Be compassionate,” he said. “Remember what it was like.”

Andy Olsen is managing editor of Christianity Today. Susan Mettes is a researcher and writer living in Washington, DC. She lived in Burundi for two years.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 14, 2020, 09:22:06 am

Resurrection Hope Extends Beyond Easter Sunday

Even when death looms, the Good News remains.

As the COVID-19 pandemic brought global suffering and death to so many over the past several weeks, Christians eagerly anticipated Easter Sunday with its promise of new life.

Now that the holiday has come and gone, Christians might be tempted to move on. With the scope of the suffering around the world, and trajectories continuing to warn that the worst isn’t over, it would be easy to set aside any Easter joy and hope. But Jesus’ resurrection is not reserved for a single Sunday. Easter may have passed, but the hope of Resurrection is new every morning because Jesus is physically risen from the dead.

Jesus died for our sins, physically rose from the dead, and appeared to many eyewitnesses as recounted in the Gospels and throughout the Epistles. In the New Testament, hope is a confident expectation that God has fulfilled and will fulfill his promises of redemption for his people and for the world in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Christians especially need to remember this word during times of suffering. As Paul himself attests, because we’ve been justified by faith in Jesus Christ, we have both peace with God and hope in God when we suffer (Rom. 5:1–5). This hope “does not disappoint” (v. 5, NLT).

I understand how it can be hard to keep the Resurrection at the forefront when death threatens us, our communities, and those we love.

In 2018, my beloved Auntie, who raised me as if I were her own son, died a horrible death. It was the culmination of a long and painful battle with multiple sicknesses, and hope seemed hopeless.

As I cared for her in those final weeks, I often felt like the hope of Jesus’ resurrection was a biblical and theological truth that I intellectually affirmed but was not sustaining me in those circumstances. It seemed impossible to do anything but despair in those hospital rooms when my Auntie offered up loud cries to God for help as she suffered, or in the ICU when she was in a coma, or in hospice as I watched her slowly transition from this life to the next a couple of weeks before Christmas.

This pandemic is reminding all of us that life is uncertain, fragile, and too short. Along with the rest of creation, Christians should cry out with agonizing groans, disappointments, fears, and brokennes, as we long for the infections, sicknesses, suffering, and deaths to cease. We know this is not the way things should be (Rom. 8:18).

We mourn the world’s current plight. Yet we do not give up on the joy of Resurrection Sunday, with its triumphant hymns proclaiming a risen Savior. Our tears flow from hearts of hopeful lament. We eagerly wait for God in Christ to bring about creation’s redemption from its bondage to sin, sickness, death, and suffering, as we work toward and long for the flourishing of all image-bearers now (Rom. 8:19–21, Gal. 6:10).

We can still have hope amid a pandemic, and even celebrate as we lament, because we believe in a God who proved sickness and death do not have the final word (1 Cor. 15).

Even right now, God is acting on our behalf because Jesus is risen from the dead. The Spirit matches creation’s groans of lament with prayers of inexpressible utterances as he helps us and prays for us when we don’t know what to pray because our current suffering is unbearable (Rom. 8:26–27). The Spirit’s prayers guarantee that God will work out our suffering for our good because of his redemptive work in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28–30).

A little over a year ago, when my Auntie was in the ICU—those hospital wings now being filled with fragile, struggling coronavirus patients—the Lord showed our family the hope of Jesus’ resurrection. Before Auntie died, after 22 years of praying for her and witnessing to her, I had the privilege of leading her to faith in Jesus Christ.

And God has continued his work. A year later, I had the privilege of leading my mom, her sister, to faith in Jesus Christ, and then my 11-year-old son. I don’t know the purpose of Auntie’s suffering and death at the age of 59, and I still mourn her death. But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, my family has hope.

The suffering that inevitably accompanies this pandemic—the death, sickness, fear, loss, isolation, and financial struggle—will be hard to bear. It will seem overwhelming and inexplicable. And yet, it’s incomparable to the glory that God will reveal in us when he liberates the entire creation from its bondage to sin (Rom. 8:18).

Even during this inexplicable time of suffering like we’ve never seen before, when death seems to span the globe and lurk right next door, Christians must remember we are more than conquerors through Christ (Rom. 8:31–39). We are united to God’s love in Jesus Christ by faith because he died for our sins, rose from the dead, and sits at God’s right hand reigning in triumphant victory over the power of sin and death (Col. 1–2).

As he reigns, Jesus prays for us in anticipation of that great day when his redeemed will reign with him on earth in a glorified world (Rev. 19:1–22:21).

In the meantime, we live with the hope of the Resurrection, and we practice a love ethic that compels us to love our neighbors well and wisely and to seek the common good of all people, even when that means we must practice social distancing and stay at home. We dream up new ways to share the message of God’s salvation with—and show the love of Christ to—our family and neighbors for whom Easter Sunday was just another day on the calendar. As the suffering around us grows, we pray for the gospel and God’s kingdom to continue to advance.

Easter Sunday has come and gone, and what lies ahead is unknown even to the best forecasters, statisticians, and scientists. But the truth of the Resurrection has not changed, and our hope in Jesus is still certain because he is risen from the dead!

Jarvis J. Williams is an associate professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s the author of numerous books, including a recent Galatians commentary.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 14, 2020, 09:25:35 am

What Skeptical Scholars Admit about the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

The historical evidence is clear: Those who claimed to see him risen must have seen something.

On June 26, 2000, ABC aired a documentary called The Search for Jesus. The network’s leading news anchor, Peter Jennings, interviewed liberal and conservative scholars of early Christianity about what we can know historically concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The series ended with a striking statement by New Testament scholar Paula Fredriksen, who is not a Christian herself.

Commenting on the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, Fredriksen said,

I know in their own terms what they saw was the raised Jesus. That’s what they say, and then all the historic evidence we have afterwards attest to their conviction that that’s what they saw. I’m not saying that they really did see the raised Jesus. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what they saw. But I do know that as a historian that they must have seen something.
She’s admitting, in other words, that the best available historical evidence confirms that followers of Jesus like Mary Magdalene, his brother James, Peter and his other disciples, and even an enemy (Paul) were absolutely convinced that the crucified man Jesus appeared to them alive, raised from the dead.

Fredriksen is not alone in supposing that these followers must have seen something. Virtually every Bible scholar across the Western world, regardless of religious background, agrees that Jesus’ earliest followers believed he appeared to them alive. This is what launched the world’s largest religion. As a result of these appearances, Jewish fishermen began proclaiming to crowds in Jerusalem that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it” (Acts 2:32). Two thousand years later, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection is proclaimed by billions of Christians in nearly every nation and in almost every language on planet earth.

What did all these witnesses see?

A Bedrock Confession
According to the earliest source we have on record for Jesus’ death and resurrection, a hidden pearl found within 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus appeared to multiple individuals and groups, and at least one enemy. This creedal tradition, according to virtually all scholars, dates to within five years of Jesus’ death. Through this source, we can reach back to the earliest years of the Christian movement in Jerusalem, to the bedrock confession of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Here is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

This catalog of Resurrection appearances is unparalleled in the New Testament, even in all of ancient literature. We learn from this list that Jesus appeared to three individuals: Cephas (Peter), his chief disciple; James, his brother; and Paul, his former enemy. And we also learn that he appeared to three groups: the Twelve (disciples, minus Judas); more than 500 early followers; and all the apostles.

That Jesus appeared to more than 500 men and women at the same time is a truly remarkable claim. Paul boldly puts his credibility on the line when he mentions that most of them are still alive. After all, he is essentially inviting members of the Corinthian church to travel to Jerusalem and speak to these witnesses, investigating for themselves what it was like to see the risen Jesus. We can see, then, that solid eyewitness testimony to the risen Jesus was readily available in the decades following his resurrection. As G. K. Chesterton observed in The Everlasting Man, “This is the sort of truth that is hard to explain because it is a fact; but it is a fact to which we can call witnesses.”

Mary Magdalene also belongs on the list of key eyewitnesses, as she too was readily available to be questioned about her experience with the risen Jesus. As the agnostic New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman writes in How Jesus Became God, it is “significant that Mary Magdalene enjoys such prominence in all the Gospel Resurrection narratives, even though she is virtually absent everywhere else in the Gospels. She is mentioned in only one passage in the entire New Testament in connection with Jesus during his public ministry (Luke 8:1–3), and yet she is always the first to announce that Jesus has been raised. Why is this? One plausible explanation is that she too had a vision of Jesus after he died.” Mary Magdalene was given the high honor of being not only the first to see the risen Jesus but the first person in history to proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).

Whatever these eyewitnesses saw, it transformed their lives to the point of being willing to suffer and die for it. In 2 Corinthians 11:23–33, Paul recounts his almost daily suffering for his conviction that Jesus appeared to him. He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, starved, lost at sea, and daily in danger of all kinds of evil on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire.

We also possess strong historical evidence that certain key eyewitnesses were martyred for their faith. Peter, for instance, was crucified. James was stoned. Paul was beheaded. Whatever they saw, it was worth giving their lives for. They sealed their testimonies with their blood.

The Magic Wand of ‘Mass Hysteria’
In order to explain away these Resurrection appearances, some scholars have speculated that the eyewitnesses were merely hallucinating.

In his excellent book Resurrecting Jesus, New Testament scholar Dale Allison surveys the available scientific studies and literature on hallucinations. In documented cases, he concludes, there are four things that do not happen (or rarely happen). First, hallucinations are rarely seen by multiple individuals and groups over an extended period of time. Second, hallucinations are rarely seen by large groups of people, especially groups of more than eight. Third, hallucinations have never led to the claim that a dead person has been resurrected. And fourth, hallucinations do not involve the person’s enemy. (We could also add the fact that hallucinations typically aren’t known for launching global movements or world religions.)

Yet in the case of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, every last one of these rare or seemingly impossible circumstances has come to pass.

Allison sums up the implications forcefully: “These appear to be the facts, and they raise the question of how we should explain them. The apologists for the faith say that the sightings of Jesus must, given the reports, have been objective. One person can hallucinate, but twelve at the same time? And dozens over an extended period of time? These are legitimate questions, and waving the magical wand of ‘mass hysteria’ will not make them vanish.”

Cautious Agnosticism
The only other answer given by respectable scholars wrestling with this robust historical record is some variation of “I don’t know.” Much like Fredriksen, renowned New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders also represents this cautious-agnostic approach when he writes, in The Historical Figure of Jesus: “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had Resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.”

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Jordan Peterson, the popular professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, also belongs in this category. He neither affirms nor rejects the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. When asked directly if Jesus literally rose from the dead, Peterson responded, “I need to think about that for about three more years before I would even venture an answer beyond what I’ve already given.”

The cautious-agnostic’s position is a respectable one. Even the original apostles did not believe the claim of the Resurrection when the women first told them (Luke 24:8–11). Yet if someone like Peterson, with an open mind and heart, follows the evidence where it leads, I am convinced he will find himself at the feet of the risen Jesus, proclaiming with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Convincing Horatio
The extraordinary nature of Jesus’ resurrection reminds me of my favorite scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play opens with the “wondrous strange” appearances of Hamlet’s dead father to Bernardo and Marcellus and then later to Hamlet’s friend Horatio. Horatio is the skeptic of the group, and Hamlet challenges his disbelief of the supernatural in this exchange:

Horatio: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Shakespeare speaks through Hamlet, telling us to expect the unexpected. Welcome the strange and extraordinary. It is indeed wondrous strange that the ghost of Hamlet’s father is appearing to people, but do not reject it for that reason alone. Your philosophy should be wide enough for the supernatural. More things are happening in our wonderful world (and beyond) than you can imagine. If your philosophy is not wide and open enough to include the miraculous and the extraordinary, then you need a new philosophy.

We should be open to miraculous claims from the ancient world and in modern times. Our philosophies should make room for the unexpected, strange, and extraordinary. And yet, the most important question to ask of any miraculous claim is “What is the evidence?”

We have seen that, even from the perspective of the most skeptical scholars, the weight of the historical record attests that a host of individuals and groups believed they saw the risen Jesus. All the evidence we have suggests that his eyewitnesses were trustworthy and honest. Why disbelieve them?

And if that doesn’t convince our modern-day Horatios, then we can go further, summoning the Twelve and the more than 500 who saw the resurrected Messiah.

We can even move beyond the first-century time frame, exploring how belief in the Resurrection laid the foundations of all Western civilization, inspiring some of the greatest art, literature, music, film, philosophy, morality, and ethics that the world has ever seen. Is this all based on a lie?

And if all that is still not enough, then let our Horatios behold the billions across the world today who readily testify to how the living Christ has transformed their lives. These include intellectual giants who have converted to Christianity from every world religion (or from atheism and agnosticism). In Christ, they have found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

On Easter, these billions were proclaiming the same message the apostles proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

Now more than ever, in this dark, plague-ridden world, your family, friends, and neighbors are looking for hope. The living Christ is the only hope for us all. Before Easter fades into the rush of everyday life, ask your neighbor: What (or who) did all those witnesses see?

They saw hope incarnate, new creation, life in its fullness, God in the flesh.

This indeed is wondrous strange! Encourage your skeptical friends not to stop at “I don’t know.” Give the risen Jesus welcome.

Justin Bass is professor of New Testament at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, Jordan. He is the author of The Bedrock of Christianity: The Unalterable Facts of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection (Lexham Press) and The Battle for the Keys: Revelation 1:18 and Christ's Descent into the Underworld (Wipf and Stock).

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 16, 2020, 11:33:37 pm

Prayer in a Pandemic: Part One

Social Distancing from Each Other, Drawing Near to God

A global pandemic calls God’s church to prayer. On Sunday, March 15, a National Day of Prayer was held regarding the ongoing pandemic that we currently face in our nation. As we face uncertainty about health, jobs, and the immediate future, large numbers of believers in communities and on social media are choosing prayer over paranoia, prudence over panic.

As the spread of the coronavirus touches more lives, shuts down more events, shelters more people in their homes, and awakens more people to the fact that this is real, churches have been challenged to consider both the issues facing corporate worship and how best to minister to the vulnerable. This is indeed a time to remember that prayer serves as the unceasing and appropriate response of believers.

S.D. Gordon observed, "You can do more than pray after you pray, but you cannot do more than pray until you pray." We should be listening to healthcare experts. We should be practicing recommended sanitizing practices, social distancing, and quarantine when necessary. But as God’s children, we do all these practices on the solid foundation of prayer.

In uncertain times, we remember that prayer is far more than a contemplative religious practice. God truly hears our prayers! We aren’t the first to face times like these. We can look to the church in the book of Acts for wisdom; they faced intense persecution, famine, and a litany of ministry issues, all of which they met on their knees.

Prayer serves as the natural foundation of the Spirit's work in Acts. Over the next four articles I want to highlight features about prayer that we see in the Acts. The first thing I want you to see is that the church was birthed in prayer. Acts 1:14 tells us “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer.” Following the Lord’s instruction after his resurrection to his followers, these believers gathered for prayer. Before anything else took place, they were praying together.

Judas has betrayed Jesus and has died. What did the leaders do? They begin to pray for wisdom for Judas' successor. And in his summary of the life of the church in Acts 2, Luke says this: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers." In fact, both Acts 3:1 and Acts 16:16 shows how daily prayer marked their routine. Our first recourse is prayer.

My wife Donna and I got married in college between our junior and senior year. We then felt the Lord calling us to plant a church somewhere. We begin to pray about where and the Lord began to guide us to Buffalo, New York.

We moved there in the time when Buffalo was the fastest shrinking city in America. You read that right. We moved there in the middle of the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s. When we arrived, there were drive-by shootings on our street. But we felt the Lord call us there.

How did we know? We began to say, "Lord, what is your plan for our lives?" I was graduating from college. I started seminary when I got to Buffalo, so I had a lot to learn. But we knew enough to know that prayer was vital, and we began to pray. I remember hearing a pastor say, "Don't go somewhere, don't do something until you are sure God called you to do it." We began to pray and say, "Lord, how would you make us sure?"

I went to visit Buffalo. Donna was working at the time and couldn't go. I went and prayed, and I prayed at a certain intersection on Prospect Avenue where it crosses right in the inner city of Buffalo, New York. I , "Lord, is this what you have in mind for us?" And the Lord, led us clearly, prompting into my heart said, "Come and plant my church." Not Ed's church, but Jesus' Church.

Back then we didn't have cell phones, so I got into the car and began to drive back home.

We had been praying and fasting for over a week at that time saying, "Lord, we can't do anything without the clarity that you give us. We look to what you did in the Book of Acts. And we look for you to do it in our hearts today."

I came back home and Donna said, right away, "I've been praying. God wants us to go to Buffalo." And I said, "Yes, God wants us to go to Buffalo." I called my dad. We were from the other side of the state. I grew up on Long Island, outside of New York city. My dad said, "That's the worst city in the whole Northeast." And it was tough. Someone had a sign on the outside of the town that said, "Would the last worker in Western New York, please turn off the lights?"

But God called us. He called us as we prayed.

We moved to a city in economic distress in a post-steel and post-industrial manufacturing age. But when you know the Lord has led you to do something, you step out in obedience to what the Lord has in mind for you. Just as in the early church in the Book of Acts, we went to the Lord in prayer. He gave us his direction. Two thousand years ago, they went to the Lord in prayer. They then got God's direction.

The decisions we make regarding the coronavirus should be informed by the best in medical wisdom we have today. It is not a mark of faith to ignore fact. But we have hope beyond the immediate and dire circumstances we face. We remember that we are ultimately dependent upon him for guidance now and in the days to come.

Prayer becomes alive when we see the privilege and the joy it is to come before God to bring our needs. To simply worship him and give him thanks. To confess our sin. To be reminded of our one mediator between God and man, Jesus. They could go to God the Father and sing and pray and praise, and the Church was birthed because of those prayers.

We can draw near to God while we maintain social distance from others. Let’s be wise and let’s worship. Let’s use the technology available to pray with others safely. Let’s be servants and be surrendered. Let’s praise and thank God while we love and serve others.

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

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 19, 2020, 06:57:39 pm

How Those Incarcerated Suffer Most in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Whenever systems are broken and dysfunctional, it is always the most vulnerable who suffer the most.

COVID-19 is affecting everybody. But like most catastrophes, the majority of us are inconvenienced, while for the most vulnerable, this virus becomes another life-and-death experience.

There has been a lot of lively debate recently about releasing nonviolent offenders from jails, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities. But what has been missing in the discussion is how it impacts the most vulnerable who might soon be released—and by implication the rest of society, too.

Certainly, a virus like COVID-19 infiltrating into a jail is a cruise ship nightmare on steroids! And the reality is, many who are being held on bail in county jails are there simply because they can’t afford the bail that more wealthy citizens can. In fact, on any given day, 60 percent of the U.S. jail population is composed of people who have not been convicted of anything, but are too poor to post bail or to hire an attorney to work on their behalf.

But let’s think about who this 60 percent of the jail population is. They are largely the homeless, the addicted, those struggling with mental health issues, and the poor.

Data from a national study in five major American cities shows that at the time of arrest, 63 to 83 percent of arrestees had drugs in their system. And according to the Mental Illness Policy Organization, more mentally ill persons are in jails and prisons than in hospitals.

But to simply put these people on the streets—empty streets, nonetheless—may be creating long-term devastation for a short-term fix. Without the much-needed community resources being there to receive them, most will end up back in these jails, but now more likely to be infected with the virus than they might have been by being exposed to staff entering the facilities.

All of this exposes just how broken our criminal justice and social welfare system is. And whenever systems are broken and dysfunctional, it is always the most vulnerable who suffer the most.

Tragically, our jails have become dumping grounds for those whom society has neglected through the closing of countless mental health facilities, not investing in adequate and affordable drug rehabilitation, and preferring to lock up the poor rather than invest in them (though prison is many times more expensive than college education).

Yes, it would be horrible for the coronavirus to be brought in by staff from the outside to the vulnerable incarcerated of whom “social distancing” is a far cry from being possible.

The ministry I serve with works with juvenile offenders. As we have talked with many youth who are to be released soon because of the pandemic, many say they are feeling scared, vulnerable, abandoned, and often despairing of what they will be returning to.

It’s hard enough to be locked up in these days, with no family visits, recovery groups, Bible studies from outside volunteers, school classes, or counseling. As a result, staff are challenged with trying to keep kids focused and occupied 24-7, with very little positive to offer them. And the biggest thing these kids need are positive adults connecting with them.

The actual teachers and counselors and Bible study leaders and recovery facilitators are as critical as the content they bring in.

And yet, believe it or not, many of these kids are most afraid of getting prematurely released into a world that has completely changed since they left it. Re-entry work is hard enough as it is. We labor long and hard to set up jobs, schooling, community-service opportunities, introductions in churches, and other positive peer groups. But none of these are operating now. And so when someone gets out of lock-up and has to fend for him or herself without such resources, the ensuing results are not hard to predict.

Two girls we know who have been part of our Bible study are getting out this week, as there is a big push to release youth across our state. Both are terrified. One will be put into a foster home with four other kids because there is no other place to put her. She knows she needs more support than this will afford her and is rightfully feeling dumped into a situation that bypasses all the work she’s been doing with our re-entry staff to help assure her needs are met and she can successfully transition to healthy adulthood.

Keeping people locked up during a pandemic is not a good thing. But running to quick, short-term solutions may also create much more long-term devastation than so many of our most vulnerable citizens can afford to endure. Most of us will get through this. But not all of us. We are commanded to remember those in prison (Heb. 13:3), and Jesus said that how we treat the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned is how we ultimately treat him (Matt. 25:45).

How can our churches think through providing job training and opportunities for employment for ex-offenders? What about recovery programs during this time, as well as parenting, financial budgeting, and tutoring for many who have missed out on such opportunities because of incarceration?

Let’s pray for those in prison right now, where this is far more than a simple inconvenience.

Dr. Scott Larson is president and co-founder of Straight Ahead Ministries, an international faith-based organization working with juvenile offenders in both detention centers and community-based re-entry.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 21, 2020, 04:36:01 am

Relaunching Church: How to Seize this Moment for Your Church’s Future

What do we want to take into the future from the present crisis?

Each life is shaped by a series of defining moments. Sometimes, these crucial episodes are a single, unpredicted hour within our lives. Sometimes, they are seasons.

It is true that every day of our lives matters, but they do not all have equal weight in shaping the person we will be in the future. For good or ill, our lives are marked by a handful of significant moments.

The same holds true for churches. Each church is defined by key events or periods of time that have uniquely impacted the shaping of the values, beliefs, and practices that it now embodies. The church that you lead has been deeply imprinted by a few defining moments of the past – many of which have little to do with the present, and nothing to do with the future.

But it is an exceedingly rare occasion when both people and institutions all face the same defining moment together. A moment like that calls for a courageous church leadership to become ruthlessly honest about its current state, equally frank about the conditions of the mission field, and then audacious enough to ask the most candid question of all: “How should this shared moment prepare us to become Jesus’ church for the present-future?”

Since we know that this is a defining moment, and we know that this moment is changing both us and the churches that we lead, let me ask a more approachable question: “What do we want to take into the future from the present crisis?”

We at the Send Institute, with our colleagues at Christ Together, have been leading coaching cohorts with over 1,500 churches of numerous denominations across North America, and additionally, dozens of global networks, in order to assist pastors and network leaders in navigating the present crisis into future Kingdom opportunities. Our rubric that underpins the discussion are four strategic stages in navigating a cultural crisis: stabilize, normalize, mobilize, and finally, futurize.

1. Stabilize. This first phase of the COVID-19 crisis was marked by the frenzied, and often frenetic, activity which dominated all available energies in instantaneously creating a new reality on a dime.

For most, this was the process of virtualizing things always thought to be physical. Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Push-Pay – things considered by many as periphery – now occupied most every church leader’s attention. Best efforts were given—sometimes awkward, clunky efforts—in order to bring some kind of stability to a congregation that could no longer congregate.

Things once considered secondary to the Sunday headcount suddenly became primary: missional communities, missional impact within neighborhoods, missional training. The stabilizing season is coming to an end for most churches.

2. Normalize. Once some semblance of stability has been achieved, we naturally enter into the phase that most churches find themselves in right now – normalizing our new reality. Easter is over, high-speed upgrades are tweaked and working, we are semi-comfortable with our tech. So now what?

Many have noticed that the gospel upside to the cataclysmic collapse of our ecclesial praxis is that the basket containing or extinguishing the Light has been crushed—and Light is leaking everywhere.

What day in history has had more ears tuned to the gospel message than this Easter Sunday as it was livestreamed into the living rooms of both the spiritually curious and devout alike? When have neighborhoods had more Christ-followers from various tribes joining forces in prayer-walking, needs-meeting, and gospel sowing than these past weeks? When have more disciples been driven to their knees on behalf of the spiritual and physical condition of others?

Latent within the spirit of Jesus’ disciples is a Kingdom impulse of otherness that is surfacing. It isn’t requiring coaxing and cajoling from sacred professionals to emerge; it is spiritual fruit borne from the Holy Spirit in some of the most unlikely places and people.

And a question starts to fascinate our spiritual imagination: “How will believers who have tasted the mission of Jesus ever again be satisfied with a consumer-centric version of church?”

3. Mobilize. So, we’ve shored things up as best as possible. Ecclesiastical minimalism is something that our circumstances have forced upon us. But in that simplicity, we have been discovering a spiritual verve that we haven’t seen in years. Normalizing the Kingdom priorities and mission of Christ seems to be happening without our usual levers and campaigns.

New and unlikely leaders are emerging with passions and spiritual clarity that are both intoxicating and intimidating. Many do not fit our old forms. We can’t imagine them sitting through our committee meetings, but we also cannot imagine how the whole church could bring the whole gospel to the whole city without spiritual leaders like these.

And then the penny drops. Maybe our Sunday-centric version of church neuters the passions and extinguishes the possibilities for much of the body of Christ. Maybe the body of Christ should more closely resemble the person of Christ in its missionary sentness, prophetic voice, evangelistic power, shepherding instincts, and equipping functions.

Perhaps in this season of simplicity and change, we have the freedom to celebrate new leaders, new voices, and new ways.

4. Futurize. After we stabilize, normalize, and mobilize, then we begin to re-structure ourselves for the future. In an inexplicable way, every existing church has an opportunity to relaunch [1] – much like a new church plant.

For many spiritual leaders, this shared moment in history has been exceedingly clarifying. Things that once occupied our priorities now seem like a life-sized game of trivial pursuit. The mission of Jesus’ church has been refined in our minds and it is so much larger and more exhilarating than producing endless Sunday extravaganzas.

Corporate worship will always be a rallying point, but the gospel mission of the body will require all of the body. We are interdependent. There are no spare parts. No spectators. No unimportant days. No second-class callings.

With metrics recalibrated toward Kingdom impact, the church’s future [2] becomes one of power and redemption. We now have a moment that we can take into the future. May we be leaders of conviction and courage.

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

[1] Dr. John Davidson, Director of Discovery and Development – AOG, spoke about the opportunity for every church to “relaunch” in the wake of this pandemic. John is a missiologist and part of the Send Institute’s Missiologist Council.

[2] I wrote a new book published by Exponential called, Venal Dogmata: A Parable of the Future Church, which, in God’s timing, came out this month. In a narrative fiction, I weave 10 missiological problems within evangelicalism that is keeping it from missional advance – illustrated through an inner-city Philadelphia church that closes – and from its ashes is born a global movement.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 21, 2020, 04:41:07 am

Resilient Church Leadership Initiative Launched to Help Pastors in Crisis

The WCBGC has launched the Resilient Church Leadership initiative to resource, inspire, and connect pastors dealing with both internal and external pressures.

Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Launches Latest COVID-19 Resource—The Resilient Church Leadership Initiative to Help Pastors in Crisis

For the past four weeks, the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center (WCBGC) has been leading the conversation for churches dealing with the largest global crisis many of us will face in our lifetimes.

Recognizing that church leaders are facing challenges on many fronts, the WCBGC has launched the Resilient Church Leadership initiative to resource, inspire, and connect pastors dealing with both internal pressures like burnout and mental stability and external pressures such as moving their church online, caring for their congregations, and ministering well in a time of crisis.

The initiative—a partnership of the WCBGC, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the National Christian Foundation-South Florida, and the Church United initiative—continues the conversation began in December 2019 with the GC2 Summit on Facing Hard Truths & Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Lifeway Research revealed that 23 percent of pastors acknowledge they have personally struggled with a mental illness and 49 say they rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness. Another Lifeway Research study of pastors concluded that 84 percent say they’re on call 24 hours a day and 54 percent find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming. Add the current crisis and the massive logistical, relational, and financial pressures our churches are facing and we have a significant problem.

“I don’t think we can understate how important it is for church leaders to take care of themselves during this crisis,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. “We cannot assume we are well or that all will be well. We need to be diligent to understand how we are and to get the care we need.”

Both national and global agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are taking seriously the impact of COVID-19 fears and anxieties on the mental health of entire populations. Our churches are key to providing hope for those without hope, and the necessity of having healthy pastors is more critical than ever in this regard.

“The adrenaline will wear off as church leaders rise to the challenge of doing ministry in a ‘new normal’—whatever that will even be,” said Jimmy Dodd, CEO/Founder of PastorServe, a partner in this project. “Leader burnout and even depression and other mental issues are on the table.”

Mindy Caliguire, Executive at Gloo and President/Co-founder of, encourages pastors to not neglect their own spiritual health even though workloads grow. “We need to make sure we embrace experiential spiritual practices like meditating on Scripture. Even well-known passages, like Psalm 23, can minister to us in new ways as verses take on new meaning for this time of crisis.”

The Resilient Church Leadership initiative provides both counseling options and multi-media resources for church leaders to understand their own mental health and to find ways to cope with the anxiety and stress that accompany times of crisis. In the days to come, the initiative will also include cohorts for pastors in crisis and an assessment tool to gauge the health of our leaders.

“All of our church leaders want to be healthy for their congregations,” Stetzer said. “But we simply can’t fake it, especially now. Church leaders often don’t know where to turn when they are overwhelmed and facing burnout and mental health concerns. We need to help them to take those first steps that will lead to long-term, healthy ministry.”

The initiative comes on the heels of two significant resources the WCBGC has launched in the past few weeks. Since its launch, tens of thousands of people have visited Coronavirus And The Church, a clearinghouse of free resources for churches and church leaders to help them navigate the COVID-19 crisis. The site, a partnership of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, Rick Warren, and Saddleback’s The Peace Plan, includes sermons, articles, planning manuals, and pertinent CDC information.

Additionally, the WCBGC launched a new podcast to help leaders navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Stetzer Leadership Podcast features more than two dozen interviews with global and national leaders talking about issues related to culture, faith, and mission.

“Our church leaders and our churches are working very hard to navigate this difficult season,” Stetzer added. “We need to be ministering and equipping them as well.”

The Wheaton College Billy Graham Center is a world hub of mission and evangelism training and inspiration. Founded 40 years ago by the Rev. Billy Graham, the Center is committee to convening global leaders for greater gospel impact and creating resources to equip churches and leaders to show & share the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 21, 2020, 03:14:11 pm

Why Married Women Need More Male Friends

Christlikeness, not social distancing, is key to male-female contact in the church.

If I’m being totally honest, I probably would not have written a book were it not for two friends, Dan and Stanford. After church one Sunday, Dan listened as I muddled through some thoughts for an upcoming retreat I was co-teaching with Stanford. “That would make a great book topic,” he said. I dismissed his encouragement with a laugh. But months later, when asked by a publisher if I had any book ideas, his words came back to me.

Dan is one of a number of men over the years who have been friends, allies, and encouragers to me. I’m not alone in this experience. Emily Hunter McGowan, a lecturer at Wheaton College, recently tweeted her acknowledgment to two men who played pivotal roles in her life by naming gifts they saw in her and encouraging her to develop them. Like me, many other women chimed in with similar stories of significant men in their lives. And, like me, many of these women are married.

The idea that married women should have relationships with men they’re not married to raises alarm bells for many, and with good cause. Sexual indiscretions regularly make headlines. Pastors and other leaders now have to contend with the threat of polyamory. And a devastating number of marriages are shaken and shattered by affairs. Naturally enough, we feel an urgent inclination to batten down the marital hatches and protect husband-wife relationships.

In church circles especially, men and women have practiced social distancing of a sort for many years. We lean on the oft-debated “Billy Graham Rule.” We give awkward side hugs. And more often than not, we outright avoid each other. My marriage of 16 years is precious, so wouldn’t it be better to cut off all relationships with other men? After all, Paul advises us to “[make] no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14, ESV) and “stay away from every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).

However, I am increasingly persuaded that Paul’s words about the rules on food and Sabbath also apply to man-made (or woman-made!) rules about married people avoiding the opposite gender: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom … but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23). Colossians is clear that if we are to put our sinful natures to death, we don’t need more caution tape so much as more Christlikeness. Sexual infidelity ultimately results from a lack of character, not a lack of constraints. After all, the safest dog in the neighborhood is not the one on the shortest leash but the one with the most discipline.

“Between legalism and license lies the messier space of wisdom and cultivation of virtue,” writes Tish Harrison Warren in “It’s Not Billy Graham Rule or Bust.” “It is in that space where we—as individuals and in relationships—flourish. People need meaningful relationships with members of the opposite sex, and they need them to be safe, honoring, and full of integrity.”

What’s more, to suggest married people should cut off relationships with the opposite sex fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Christian relationships. On our wedding day, I promised myself to my husband alone, “forsaking all others” in the language of our vows. However, that forsaking applied only to the taking of other husbands and sexual partners. It did not mean forsaking relationships with any and all men.

As a disciple of Christ, I am called to love, serve, help, encourage, and partner with other Christians—not just the “unforsaken” half of the population in the women’s ministry but also the male half. And even though my husband promised himself to me alone—forsaking all other spouses and sexual partners—he is still called for Jesus’ sake to love, serve, help, encourage, and partner with both men and women.

The New Testament makes this calling clear. Men and women who are adopted by God the Father become brothers and sisters to one another in the family of God. The Epistles emphasize this conviction in their consistent address of believers as adelphoi: brothers and sisters in the family of God. (See for example, 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 2:1, and 2:9 as three of 15 references in that letter alone.)

This language is not just metaphorical, as in verses where believers are described as branches to Jesus’ vine or living stones in the temple. The familial language of the gospel is ontological. It describes a new reality of our being. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” enthused the Apostle John (1 John 3:1, emphasis added).

What this means, then, is that as a daughter of God, I’m called to see the men around me at church not as risks I ward off but as relatives I welcome. My goal is not so much to be friendly but to be familial, and this remains true regardless of my marital status. For in the body of Christ, do we not all need one another? If the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” (1 Cor. 12:21), then how can being married mean that I say to half the members of Christ’s body, “I don’t need you?” I cannot. I need my sisters and my brothers in Christ, and they need me.

Cultivating healthy relationships between men and women within the family of God is something God calls us to as his beloved children. Of course, this requires wisdom, character, self-control, and the accountability of community. We are fallen and fallible and should not be glib about these or any other temptations. Yet God has called us to live as the family he has made us to be, which means that as a married woman, I must consider how to cultivate healthy, holy, and wholly appropriate community with the brothers God has given me.

Especially in our current crisis, as we rethink how to do church and how to serve our communities, we need each other more than ever. We cannot isolate along gender lines.

Someday soon, when this pandemic is over, I will worship with Dan and Stanford, my brothers in Christ. I will worship and serve alongside other men, too, some as acquaintances but others as true friends. All of us in the global church will get to worship and serve together again. And when we do, it will be wonderfully familiar and familial.

Bronwyn Lea is the author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World (Thomas Nelson, April 2020). She lives with her family in Northern California and serves on the pastoral staff of her local church. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 21, 2020, 05:08:24 pm

Prayer and Science Have Sparred Before, But It’s a False Dichotomy

How Mike Pence and Queen Victoria both started intellectual debates over these avenues of healing.

Last month, Thomas Chatterton Williams, a contributing writer for TheNew York TimesMagazine and Harper’s Magazine, tweeted an image of Vice President Mike Pence and the members of the Coronavirus Task Force praying in the White House. The simple photograph, originally uploaded to the White House Flickr account on Feb. 26, shows Pence sitting in a chair and bowing in prayer as at least 15 others in the room also pray. Williams seemed to be deeply troubled by the scene. “Mike Pence and his coronavirus emergency team praying for a solution,” he wrote. “We are so screwed.”

The tweet quickly garnered thousands of retweets. Initial criticism was mostly regarding the alleged lack of physicians or medical doctors in the photo. Others noted the few if any public health or policy experts. But ultimately the tweet devolved into a heated debate on social media about science, religion, and the efficacy of prayer. Astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson, for instance, tweeted that the coronavirus crisis requires science, “not magical thinking.” Angela Rassmussen, a virologist at Columbia University, also criticized the prayer. “I have yet to attend a scientific meeting that begins in prayer,” she wrote.

These are just some examples of recent “prayer shaming,” a term describing the ridicule toward people who offer their “thoughts and prayers” for victims of tragedies. But they are also part of an old debate about the conflict between religion and science. A similar controversy raged on both sides of the Atlantic during the second half of the 19th century.

In the fall of 1871, the prince of Wales, Albert Edward, fell gravely ill from typhoid fever. The crown pleaded with British clergy to pray for the prince. They did, and amazingly the prince survived. Queen Victoria called for a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, inviting all clergymen but none of the leading figures of Victorian science.

This enraged the prominent Victorian physicist John Tyndall. Earlier, Tyndall had entered into debate with Oxford theologian James B. Mozley, who defended the evidential value of miracles in his 1865 Bampton Lectures, which were published in 1867. According to Mozley, the “laws of nature” should not undermine belief in miracles, for science rested on the accumulation of empirical evidence and was thus descriptive rather than prescriptive. The principle of induction was useful in gathering information but could not give us a definitive understanding of the natural world.

Tyndall responded to Mozley’s sermons by defending the principle of induction, arguing that it was the backbone of modern science. He maintained that nature had no gaps and that all apparent holes in our knowledge would eventually be filled. Looking at the history of science, he argued that before the scientific method was adopted, “unbridled imagination” caused “keen jurists and cultivated men” to commit atrocious deeds. Science had advanced because its theories and claims could be empirically tested.

After Queen Victoria’s slight, Tyndall published an article in 1872 titled “The ‘Prayer for the Sick’: Hints towards a Serious Attempt to Estimate Its Value.” He proposed an experiment suggested by Henry Thompson, a prominent British surgeon. “I propose to examine,” he wrote, “a means of demonstrating, in some tangible form, the efficacy of prayer.” One hospital ward should be set aside for patients suffering from diseases with known mortality rates, and should for three to five years be made the object of special prayers but not medical treatment. Supervised by “first rate physicians and surgeons,” the progress of these patients would be compared to the progress of patients who had not been prayed for but had been treated medically. Tyndall believed the experiment would demonstrate the superiority of the “scientific” method over spiritual healing.

Tyndall’s “prayer-gauge debate,” as it was called, incensed the religious community. Many theologians argued that Tyndall misunderstood not only the nature of God but also the true nature of prayer.

Some Christians were all too willing to accept the challenge, though—to downplay prayer. For them, the controversy served as a call to reinterpret prayer for a scientific age. These more theologically liberal thinkers strove to bring Christianity into alignment with modern thought. Liberal-leaning clergy supported Tyndall’s exclusion of the divine from the physical world and called on believers to rethink prayer as merely therapeutic in nature.

But the debate is actually much older than the 19th century. The prayer-gauge controversy reframed an older debate over miracles between Protestant and Catholics. The Protestant Reformation powerfully upended traditional understandings of miracles and prayer. According to Martin Luther, for instance, ecclesiastical miracles were “lying wonders” and “tom foolery.” John Calvin explained that one should not expect to see miracles in his day, for “we are not forging some new gospel, but are retaining that very gospel whose truth all the miracles that Jesus Christ and his disciples ever wrought serve to confirm.” In other words, the age of miracles was over. With the Incarnation, God no longer needed to intervene in nature. All alleged miracles were superstitions or diabolical perversions.

But if God no longer intervenes in the physical world, what becomes of prayer? Here, Protestant writers made a distinction between miracles as such and acts of providence. Miracles were dramatic and immediate. But in his providence, God acted through the natural order. The beauty, harmony, and order of nature testified to the power, wisdom, and goodness of God. Law governed the natural world, and God neither broke nor altered these laws.

But this focus on what came to be called “natural revelation” came with a cost. It ultimately helped transform godly natural philosophy (i.e., science) to naturalistic modern science and thus brought about the perception that science and religion are at war. Indeed, Tyndall and others had appropriated the Protestant critique against Roman Catholics and used it against all claims of the miraculous.

Perceptions of conflict between science and religion are one of the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation. While we cannot possibly settle the debate here, the history of theology offers us a more nuanced view of both how God works in creation and the nature of prayer, which I think are especially relevant in such a time as this.

Drawing on development over several centuries by theologians as they grappled with the Bible and their experience of the created world, some Christian thinkers have concluded that God’s usual way of acting in creation is concursus—that is, acting through and alongside the processes of creation that were all made through the Son. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:

God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.

This view is at once more biblical and Christological than the sort of semi-deism that many 19th-century liberal theologians proposed. The Christian faith is not simply a set of personal values or spiritual preferences, but a claim about reality. As Paul put it in his letter to the church in Colossae, Christ is the one in, and through, and for whom all things were created (Col. 1:15–17). We live in a cosmos ordered and sustained by God and destined to be perfected according to his good purpose. All things, whether quarks, cells, organisms, stars, or galaxies, were made and are continuously sustained by God.

When it comes to explaining miracles (and divine answers to prayer), this view calls for multiple layers of explanation—scientific but also theological, among others—to fully capture the richness of God’s activity in creation. Scientific investigation helps us understand some of the “how” of God’s ways of working in and through creation, and the Bible and theology help us understand some of the “why” of God’s intentionality in creation.

In 1919, German theologian Friedrich Heiler defined prayer in six categories—asking for deliverance from misfortune and danger, liturgical or ritualistic prayers, and contemplative prayers, among others. But Heiler felt the highest form of prayer is speaking directly to God without formula or meditation. This is what he called “prophetic prayer,” following after the biblical prophets, in which no limitations are placed on method, location, or liturgical ranking. Prophetic prayer involves importunity, passionate pleading, lament, and even wrestling with God. As biblical scholar N. T. Wright recently observed in a Time magazine op-ed on the pandemic, lament does not always bring answers. But that is not the point. We lament because God also laments with us.

Prophetic prayer is both a gift and a task. Indeed, the whole ministry of Jesus exemplified the prayers of a prophet (Matt. 21:11, 46; Luke 7:16). In fact, a view of creation that affirms Christ’s role in creating and sustaining all things compels us to think about the world’s current meaning and structure, with clear ethical implications. What is creation telling us? While creation is no doubt good, it is also currently an embattled place. All creation is groaning (Rom. 8:22). It has been subjected to disorder. Knowing that Christ responded by intervening in creation to heal the sick, befriend those on the margins, and more, Christians are called to follow his example. Thus, prophetic prayer should be a call to action.

Prayer empowers us to work in the world for God’s glory. We pray not only for personal blessing but for the extension of God’s kingdom. The work of Christ through us does not extricate us from a damned world—it seeks to redeem it. We come before God as finite creatures who do not fully understand, who need the mind of Christ, the wisdom of God, and who rely on the Holy Spirit’s power. We are not in control. We’ve made remarkable scientific and technological advances, but a microscopic organism has unleashed a torrent of disruptions, closing cities and even entire countries. To pray in this time is what people of faith have always done when they face trials and tribulations—pray for wisdom and courage, acknowledging that God is ultimately in control, and that his grace is sufficient, made perfect in our weakness.

James C. Ungureanu is an intellectual historian with a particular interest in the history of Christian thought. He is currently historian in residence at the George L. Mosse Program in History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is author of Science, Religion, and the Protestant Tradition: Retracing the History of Conflict (University of Pittsburgh Press).
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 22, 2020, 06:57:10 pm

Can Staying Home Help Us Regain a Sense of Place?

How rediscovering creation around us can deepen our connection with God.

This year’s Earth Day, unlike any other, feels at once expansive and restricted. As hundreds of millions of the earth’s citizens have been ordered to stay home for the greater good of our species, we live in isolated worlds that feel much too small. Perhaps this time of quarantine brings with it the opportunity to rediscover a sense of place and discover God’s creation anew.

The term “sense of place” has long been used by scientists and anthropologists to describe the meaningful relationship that can arise as a result of deep knowledge of and familiarity with a given place, and it applies to urban and rural settings alike. Having a sense of place can contribute toward deeper responsibility to care for creation and can motivate communities to join together in this common goal.

But acquiring a sense of place requires time and attention—something that Duke University professor Norman Wirzba says can come in short supply in contemporary life. Wirzba, who researches the intersection of ecology, theology, and philosophy, said in an interview that until the pandemic, a hurried, unsettled pace of life was a trademark of 21st-century life. “One of the ways to describe postmodernity is to say that we’re only rushing through places and not ever settling into any place.”

As a result, many of us aren’t even familiar with the everyday flora and fauna outside our front doors. Abbie Schrotenboer, professor of biology at Trinity Christian College, has noticed this same unfamiliarity in her science students. “I get a lot of people who don’t really know much about the local area, even if they’ve grown up in the Midwest.”

Part of the danger in neglecting a sense of place—and the local knowledge that comes with it—is that it becomes easier to take nature’s value for granted or deny it altogether. (Take, for instance, the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s recent removal of a host of biological terms and replacing them with words related to technology.)

There is something deeply Christian in the naming of things: It was one of God’s first commandments to Adam in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:19–20). But in neglecting a sense of place, there’s much more at stake than a dearth of plant knowledge. Identifying a sense of place is part of identifying a calling and naming the connection God asks us to have to the lands in which we dwell. Wirzba said that having a sense of place is crucial to understanding our own purposes as human beings. “If you don’t think you belong where you are, how do you sense that you still matter?”

In his book Our Only World, agrarian champion and Christian thinker Wendell Berry says a deep knowledge of a particular place is crucial to understanding how to steward it well. He uses the foresting industry as an example of what it means to belong to a place. After years spent in a particular forest, a forester comes to know the land so intimately that he can practice his trade without damaging the larger stock of trees. “It is the knowledge that tells one, in a given situation, where to look or what to expect or how much is enough. … This education is ‘observational,’ and it takes many years.” Eventually, this familiarity should lead to gratitude.

It’s key to remember that the ultimate aim of connecting with creation is connecting with the Creator; becoming more aware of our local natural surroundings can speak uniquely to us of God’s love. “Everything that exists, every creature, every place, is God’s love variously made visible, fragrant, tactile, auditory, and delicious,” Wirzba said. Being disconnected from creation, then, is not only unfortunate, but theologically dangerous. “We miss out on the larger meaning of this world in which we live.”

It’s also important to remember, especially in this time of quarantine, that connecting to nature doesn’t require field trips to exotic locales. To help her students build a better sense of place, Schrotenboer has taken both science students and nonmajors to investigate natural areas on the campus of Trinity and the surrounding neighborhood. This investigation includes everything from tallying plant species to setting up remote cameras to keep an eye on local wildlife. For Schrotenboer, even collecting water samples is a chance to wonder at the complexity of creation. “This helps us to monitor the water quality, but to also realize there are living things in there even when you don’t see them.”

Schrotenboer has noticed that for her students, paying attention to the most minute details in nature has deepened their own interests and curiosity and even inspired them to become involved in conservation efforts. “We’re kind of focused on the plants, but it turned out my students got really into finding fungi as well,” leading one student to photograph local fungi and upload the photos to the species’ Wikipedia page. Schrotenboer said the more we notice in our surroundings, the more we are in awe. “When you start to be able to identify and name things, it helps you appreciate all that is there, all the interconnections between different species and parts of the ecosystems.”

For many of us sheltering in place, this time presents an opportunity to slow down and take in our natural surroundings as never before. “It gives a great chance to get to know your own backyard,” Schrotenboer said. Though she acknowledged that not everyone has a yard to call their own, she also pointed out that even highly developed areas often offer parks or nature preserves to explore. She has found access to nature in suburban Chicago, where she currently lives. “When I first moved here, it was with a little bit of trepidation because I didn’t know what the area was like, but I’ve been really impressed by how many little nature reserves there are.”

Wirzba encourages city-dwellers to build a sense of connection with creation in any way they can. “I know it’s difficult when you’re in a city,” he said, “but you can do this even if you’re just growing a tomato plant in a window box.”

For those seeking resources to explore creation, Schrotenboer recommends the plant identification app Seek, which she uses with her students. She also noted that those unable to leave their homes at all can still deepen their sense of place through podcasts like But Why?, aimed at helping children explore the natural world.

She encourages all parents to kindle their children’s natural curiosity when taking walks. “I think a lot of it is just encouraging their natural instinct to explore and be willing to look at the little things. When they’re little, they focus on little tiny pebbles and things like that. Embrace that, whatever it is they want to explore.” Teaching our children to wonder at creation can be a chance to teach them more about God, too. And adults and children alike can be reminded through creation that God calls us to care for each other and share our resources, not to hoard them.

All of this time outdoors presents unique opportunities for Christians to take up the call to care for creation—engaging in citizen science, picking up litter on the trail, or investing in a pair of binoculars and taking up birding as a hobby. All of these things can deepen our sense of belonging to a place and impress upon us the responsibility we all carry for stewarding God’s earth.

In the same way, as we spend time in creation, we can recognize that creation is one of the ways God cares for us. A recent article in Nature shows a deep connection between spending time outdoors and having a sense of well-being. Now, more than ever, we need sources of beauty and hope, and Wirzba says creation can provide just that—if we pay attention. “The thing to do is to sit down and actually take a look at where you are,” Wirzba said. “What places are still producing beauty? It’s springtime, and things are blooming in a lot of parts of the country.”

For Schrotenboer, communing with creation is a way to draw closer to God, no matter what else is going on. “The more I appreciate creation,” she said, “the more I give glory to God as the Creator.”

Perhaps, if there is a spring rain on this Earth Day, we will even see a rainbow, the reminder of God’s faithfulness even in times of travail. “As long as the earth endures,” God instructed Noah, “seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22). If we pay close attention, we can see the coming spring as a song of praise, a hymn to God’s faithfulness.

Elyse Durham is a writer in Detroit. Her work appears regularly in Christianity Today and has also been featured in America Magazine , the Cincinnati Review , and elsewhere.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 27, 2020, 03:16:40 am

Those MAGA-Hat Protestors: Compassion, Contempt, and the Way of Christ

Often, our compassion meters are put on display when it comes to how we respond to those who seem least like us. The way of Jesus is better.

Compassion is an odd thing. When we think we don’t have enough of it, it can emerge from seemingly nowhere. When we are certain we are filled with it, we find we respond in ways we ought not. And often, our compassion meters are put on display when it comes to how we respond to those who seem least like us.

We are seeing a lot of scorn and anger targeted at protestors wanting to open the economy— often MAGA-hat wearing pro-Trump supporters. “They must just be ignorant hicks,” some say. “They are going to get sick—and get us sick.” “What a bunch of idiots.”

It’s important, however, that before we judge, we consider. That before we condemn, we pray. All of those who act in ways we disagree with are made in God’s image. We may believe our thoughts and opinions are the correct ones, but we must never forget that there are two sides of each story and many lenses through which to see the world.

There are a lot of frightened people out there, many of whom were already having financial strains. Now, too many of these people are unemployed or underemployed because of the impact of COVID-19.

So, if you are sitting at home, working from home because your job allows it, have a little compassion for people who are watching their future dissolve, are fearful for their children’s future, and who just want to work.

Compassion or contempt

Hard truth, friends: we have got to listen a bit more to one another right now.

A lot of people are afraid and frustrated. And, there are some groups who are being disproportionately affected. Among them, economically, are working-class white people.

Jenn Thomas, a single mother with two children, is worried about the economic impact of government restrictions on businesses. She observed in an interview, “We can’t just continue to keep closing things up and disrupting people’s lives where [COVID-19] is not affecting people like myself physically."

The story explained that Thomas moved to California to open a hair salon last September. Her business was doing well until the mandated business closures came in response to the pandemic. "I don't want to lose my house," she said. "My livelihood is in dire straits. When is this going to end?" She planned to participate in a protest at the state capital calling for state officials to reopen businesses.

Can you have compassion for her? Does that compassion not apply if she is wearing a red hat?

Like Thomas, many Americans who are currently jobless fear the long-term implications of the closures. They wonder if the restrictions are necessary in areas where the virus doesn't seem as widespread.

They are afraid. The pictures of them, sometimes protesting with political signs, makes them easy to caricature.

But don’t.

We need to feel a sense of compassion, but instead, far too many of us feel contempt.

We explore the issue of contempt at length in Christians in the Age of Outrage— it is one of the great challenges of our day. Far too many people rush to contempt when they might consider compassion.

People are afraid.

I’m not endorsing everything that everyone says. And, I get some politicians are taking advantage of the situation. But, I can’t get past the fact that there a lot of people who are afraid— for their families and their future.

I’m hurting with them.

African Americans

But, of course, working class whites are not the only ones experiencing disruption. Actually, African Americans are dying at a much higher rate.

They are experiencing both economic and disproportionate health challenges.

Jay Banks is a New Orleans City councilman. He is also chairman of one of the many Mardi Gras entities there—one which has seen six of its group die of the disease in recent days. He worries about the disproportionate number in the African American community who are dying from the disease. "You've got to get people to understand just how serious and devastating this thing [COVID-19] is," he says.

The evidence is clear that African Americans are disproportionately affected by this virus. I recently talked to Chicago African American pastor Charlie Dates, who had two members of his church lose their lives to COVID-19. The Church of God in Christ, the nation's oldest and largest African American Pentecostal denomination, reports that well over a dozen bishops and pastors have died.

The statistics are cause for concern: in Cook County, which includes Chicago, black residents make up 23 percent of the population, yet account for 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In Milwaukee, black residents represent 26 percent of the population, but accounted for almost half of the cases and 81 percent of its deaths.

I can’t get past the fact that there a lot of people who are afraid— for their health, for their communities, and for their families and their future.

I’m hurting with them.

Deaths, unemployment, and enough compassion for everyone

So, the statistics on unemployment are dire. In February, unemployment rates were at a multi-decade low of 3.5 percent. The U.S. was cruising along well in terms of jobs. But now, estimates are that unemployment will hit 16 percent by July, the highest since the Great Depression.

Many Americans were already vulnerable economically before the pandemic hit. The working poor, many who live in both rural and urban areas, live just above the poverty line and have no savings or recourse in times of sudden joblessness. "If they don’t show up for work, they don’t get paid. To get to their jobs, they have to take mass transit, putting themselves in closer contact with more people and, therefore, at greater risk of infection," one article noted.

And, still, people are dying. If we open up the economy too soon, more will die.

And vulnerable people are losing everything.

We can care about both

I'm of the opinion that we need to keep our businesses and non-essential services closed as long as we need to keep them closed as long as we are saving lives, and that we must slowly reopen in such a way that we do not have a rush of new cases. Doctors tell us we aren't ready to reopen; business owners are saying we should begin doing so responsibly. We can have our opinions, but during the crisis we must lean on experts to make well-informed, well-considered decisions.

And we continue to be the church. And we cannot do as the church is be blind or insensitive to people who are hurting due to pride, prejudice, or misinformation. We cannot treat urban African Americans who are seeing family and friends die as invisible. Our priority is to all. Always. Neither can we judge Trump supporters based on what we do not know of their lives.

The world does not need more contempt. It needs more compassionate Christians.

Now is the time to move past our narrow thinking, worldview, and experience, and to step into the shoes of the other, for the sake of the other. We need to listen to all who struggle in this pandemic. And the list of those who struggle is long: Trump supporters who have lost their jobs, urban minorities experiencing injustice, those who suffer from mental illness or abuse, healthcare workers unable to be with their families, children in broken homes, single parents, the homeless, the hungry, the hopeless, the elderly.

Now and in the coming days and months our first priority is not to ourselves or our churches. Our first priority is for those suffering and on the margins.

May we never forget it. Jesus didn’t. And his call is still on our lives to leave all and follow him in caring for others. All others.

So, let’s pass on the contempt and follow the way of Jesus.

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

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 27, 2020, 03:19:44 am

An Open Letter to Evangelicals on Self-Less Living During this Pandemic

We may be sequestered, but as we emerge and show our faces in public, the gospel is on trial.

Hidden during this pandemic is another virus, one affecting our church communities, countries, and the world. It doesn’t raise the body temperature or cause shortness of breath; it doesn’t diminish one’s ability to taste or smell. It can’t be detected by a nasal swab or discovered by taking one’s temperature. Neither can one be cured from it by therapeutic drugs, resuscitated from its takeover by a ventilator, or protected from it by a vaccine.

This virus moves stealthily through our personal and community systems, not only in times of crises, but even in the best of times. In certain conditions, it can even be considered not only as normal and natural, but as desirable.

And what is that virus? Self-interest.

Not surprisingly, in times of public fright, when we are unnerved by crisis, overwrought by fear, and frozen by anxiety, “me first” becomes our deafening mantra. Neighbors say it. Political leaders say it. And, in an understandable reflex, I say it too.

Self-interest is a potent cocktail of personal, familial, corporate, and national propensities. It’s an obvious human instinct, be it an adult hoarding toilet paper, a politician denying export of virus-related therapies and equipment, or a pastor proudly defying their government’s request to not hold public services.

“Me first” began when we were infants. Our overwhelming instinct was about self: comfort, warmth, food, attention. As we grow through childhood and then adolescence, we should come to a point in life when our personal needs, interests, and comforts are replaced by an otherness, an ability to see that life is not just about ourselves.

It is test time

Pastors, let us be under no illusion: during this time of global fear and need, we will be tested. We will be seen for our deeds and judged for our generosity. We will be interpreted not by our words but how we move among our community, how the love of Jesus is manifest as we interact with our leaders. There is no hiding today. We may be sequestered, but as we emerge and show our faces in public, the gospel is on trial.

The tough question we might ask is, “How will we pass the test?” How are we leading in helping others do what identifies that which we believe?

Our deeds will be seen. Our identity will be noticed. Like a sticker, it will be pasted across the doors of our churches once we are able to meet together again. How we handle our own needs and those of others will define our witness of Jesus. The way we live now will imprint itself on the memories of our children and grandchildren with a clear picture of what it means to follow Jesus.

Yes, a vaccine will be found for COVID-19. Therapies will mitigate its power. Distancing will tamper its infectious spread. But what will be the test for the church of Jesus Christ, both during and following this virus?

The test is how our words of faith match our care for people. It is not complicated by our view on pre- or post-millennial theology. We won’t be asked if we are closer to Calvin or Wesley in our theology. I doubt anyone will wonder if glossolalia happens at Spirit baptism or after.

Jesus spoke the test:

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matt. 25:35-36)

How the early church responded

The early church, swept up in the epidemic in the mid-3rd century, became a force in treating those sick and dying, a public narrative of the gospel. Christians were outliers in their culture, despised on many sides. But when disease claimed up to a third of the population, their testimony blazed a new era of witness.

Bishop Dionysius wrote,

Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains.”[1]

The gospel provides a thoughtful framework of human life. For the many questions of life, Jesus not only gives answers, but is in himself the answer to ultimate questions.

An Orthodox bishop in Europe during World War 2, troubled by the seducing messages of both Hitler and Stalin, was heard to remark, “When confusion reigns, help children.” What did he mean?

Regardless of confusion, misinformation, or competitive narratives, he said, “Do good.” We never have to wonder what to do, when we know the call from Jesus is simple and straightforward: “Love God and love your neighbor.”

The world is transcribing our testimony. The Acts of the Apostles will add a chapter, describing how we as Evangelicals served during the pandemic.

At our summer church camp, a banner graced the platform of our worship center with these words from Jesus: “By this shall all people know you are my disciples if you love each other.”

Let me suggest three questions to frame our daily lives:

1. On my to-dolist, what includes helping others?

2. This month, what of my personal income is designated for others?

3. In prayer, what inclusions do I have beyond family, friends, and church?

In grade school I had a paper route, and there I met a veteran of World War l. I loved to stop while delivering papers and hear his wartime stories. One I remember this way:

One day, splashed by mud and spattered by the blood of slain comrades, a Salvation Army volunteer came by offering new socks. For me, this was a gift from heaven. But with a difference. While others came by, distributing needed items, there was always a price attached. When I asked the volunteer the price, to my surprise he said it was a gift. No charge.

They passed the test, a witness to Jesus of Nazareth.

Brian C. Stiller is Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance.

[1] Rodney Stark, 1997, The Rise of Christianity, HarperCollins: Princeton NJ, see Ch. 4.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 29, 2020, 10:16:22 pm

Churches: Put Down That Spiritual Gifts Quiz

What the local body misses when it focuses on personality analyses and congregational surveys.

One of my favorite church events has always been the post-church potluck lunch. COVID-19 may have paused our monthly parade of 9-by-13 pans, but I dream of the day when we’ll all be back together in the church basement with our favorite recipes.

As a kid perusing the potluck banquet, I always went for the cookies. As an adult, I try to make wiser choices. I pass up the kielbasa to leave room for some salad, and I take a generous spoonful from otherwise-untouched pans so that no one feels bad. But no matter how carefully I make my selections, the offerings themselves aren’t always balanced. Some weeks, in mysterious synchronicity, everyone shows up with a pasta dish. Other weeks, we all resolve to be healthier, and vegetables take over space usually reserved for desserts.

The composition of spiritual gifts in the local church can look a lot like a meal in the fellowship hall. Sometimes, the church has an abundance of preachers and teachers. Other times, it has no one to fill in when the Bible study leader is sick. Sometimes, the church has plenty of people to cook and clean for the elderly. Other times, it struggles to find any. A church may have dozens of ministry organizers to every one person who can make the coffee, or 15 nursery volunteers to every one who wants to do evangelism. And in many churches, it can feel like a few people have all the gifts, and the rest of us barely have one.

For a generation of Christians versed in personality inventories and enneagram numbers, this environment can feel disorienting and even disappointing. Shouldn’t the gifts and graces in the church be more evenly distributed? Shouldn’t we be able to categorize the gifts in our midst? And shouldn’t our local body contain them all?

After decades of watching these questions play out in my local church and elsewhere, I think it might be time to put down the congregational surveys and spiritual gifts quizzes and learn to enjoy the feast the Spirit spreads for us.

In the New Testament, we find five different lists (Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:8–10, 28–30; Eph. 4:11; 1 Peter 4:7–11) that altogether name dozens of spiritual gifts. Some of the gifts are familiar—evangelism, faith, acts of mercy, teaching. Some are puzzling—what, for example, is the difference between “a message of wisdom” and “a message of knowledge” (1 Cor. 12:8)?

The interplay of the lists only adds to our head scratching. Several of the gifts are repeated in more than one list, while others appear in only one place. Even the two lists in 1 Corinthians—which we might expect to shed some clarifying light—include both repetitions and distinctions.

As I’ve spent time studying these parts of Scripture, one thing seems clear to me. Our attempts to rigidly classify and neatly identify a precise list of spiritual gifts will end in frustration. And that’s exactly the way it should be. Paul and Peter don’t encourage us to chart the gifts in our congregation or even to spend much time worrying about which ones we possess as individuals. In a sense, they want us to put down the gifts quiz—or at least to think and talk about it way less often.

That’s because an overly tidy approach to spiritual gifts misses this ultimate point: The Spirit gives precisely the right gifts in precisely the right measure at precisely the right moment to precisely the right people for the good of the local church. “All these [gifts],” writes Paul, “are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Cor. 12:11).

We see this idea echoed once again in verse 18. Comparing the church to a body, Paul writes, “But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

A few verses later, Paul plainly dismisses any suggestion that some people or gifts are more essential to the body’s well-being than others: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor. 12: 21–22). Again, he asserts, “God has put the body together” (v. 24, emphasis added).

This simple truth shapes our theology of gifts in three distinct ways. First, it gives us confidence: Our specific gifts have an essential, God-appointed place. Second, it humbles us: Our specific gifts are only one part of the body, and we need other people with their unique gifts (Rom. 12:3).

Finally, this truth should increase our love for the local church. The gifts displayed by believers in our local body are exactly what our loving God knows we need. Their gifts are his gift to us. And however cobbled together they might seem, those people and those gifts are placed there with purpose.

Of course, the church is tasked with recognizing and utilizing congregants’ gifts, and the enneagram and other analysis tools can be useful toward that end. But ultimately, God’s desire is to see us look less toward ourselves and more toward the Spirit’s work in our gathered midst. He wants us to set aside our own ideas of what a balanced church looks like, grab a plate, and come enjoy the feast.

Megan Hill is the author of three books, including A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church (Crossway, May 2020). She serves as an editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Massachusetts where she belongs to West Springfield Covenant Community Church.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 29, 2020, 10:19:26 pm

The Noonday Demon in Our Distracted Age

What to do when a Netflix binge brings you more joy than God’s calling.

The spirit of acedia drives the monk out of his cell, but the monk who possesses perseverance will ever cultivate stillness. A person afflicted with acedia proposes visiting the sick, but is fulfilling his own purpose. A monk given to acedia is quick to undertake a service, but considers his own satisfaction to be a precept.
— Evagrius Ponticus, from On the Eight Thoughts

In the first year of my PhD program, I was 21, lonely, disoriented, utterly out of my depth, and unwilling to admit it. Instead of running to my professors for help or diving in at the library, I found myself avoiding homework altogether. I told myself I wasn’t working because I didn’t care about my classes, but the truth was, the fear of failure was too much to bear. I knew God had called me to this task, but as the difficulty of the work set in, my call became a source of sadness instead of joy.

I first heard the term acedia—what Thomas Aquinas defines as “sadness at an interior or spiritual good”—as a graduate student working as a teacher’s assistant for an intro to ethics course. I didn’t think much of it at first, but over time I realized this ancient Christian concept was at the center of my daily experience.

When my PhD program ended, my fight with acedia didn’t. Instead, it shifted to a realm I never expected: my relationship with my kids. It’s impossible to describe the joy of being a parent or the love you suddenly feel toward the tiny human who has been put into your care. However, in the daily grind of early mornings, diapers, cleaning, and endless negotiations, parenthood can seem onerous instead of joyful. Even now I occasionally find myself looking for escapes from the life that’s meant to be my calling and God’s gift.

The term acedia has faded from popular use, but if you’ve been in ministry for long, there’s a good chance you recognize the feeling of dread when faced with certain tasks or the desire to distract yourself with easier or more pleasant work. Instead of feeling joy at the ministry you’ve been called to, you avoid it. And nowadays, the rivals for our attention seem endless: Podcasts fill the silence of our daily commutes, and push notifications break our concentration and keep us reaching for our phones. When God’s calling to ministry loses its luster, apps like Zillow and Indeed remind us of the homes and jobs we could have instead.

Still, the fight against acedia isn’t hopeless. Just as a physician diagnosing a disease can pave the way for treatment, naming this malady and examining its origins may help afflicted pastors tune out the distractions and return with full vigor to their ministry work.

A Failure to Care
The concept of acedia began its life in Greece. Its meaning, “a failure to care,” was applied specifically to the context of a deceased body. Acedia was at stake in Antigone, for instance, when the brave sister defied the king in order to give her brother a proper burial; and in the Iliad, when the Greeks, led by Achilles, fought fiercely to recapture and honorably bury the body of Patroclus.

Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century ascetic and scholar well versed in Greek philosophy and literature, chose this term to describe the distraction experienced by Egyptian monks seeking holiness and divine contemplation in the desert. The temptation of a monk to abandon his spiritual vocation was, for Evagrius, like failing to care for a deceased family member. He tied the term to the “Noonday Demon,” a personification of the pestilence described in Psalm 91:5–6: “You will not fear the terror of night … nor the plague that destroys at midday.” Acedia, according to Evagrius, described a particular demonic attack aimed at disrupting the attention and inner quietness of a devout Christian.

In Evagrius’s day (A.D. 345–399), many Christians chose a monastic life modeled on Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. They moved to the desert to free themselves from distractions so they could do battle against the sinful tendencies of their flesh. Yet monks were sometimes drawn away by recurring thoughts of food and bodily comforts, sexual desires, anger toward others in their community, and sadness at their own failures. Evagrius systematized these thoughts into a list of eight, and, with a few changes, these became the seven deadly sins we know today.

Acedia is unusual in this list because it doesn’t appear to have a consistent focal point like the other sins. Gluttony is always about bodily pleasure, vainglory is always about how a person is perceived by others, but acedia can manifest as almost anything. Evagrius describes it as a general in an army, dispatching temptations strategically to drive its victim from the spiritual battle.

When I describe acedia in my classes, I often use the example of a student who has a major paper to write by morning. The student sits down to write but soon finds herself drifting down the hallway for a snack “to help her concentrate,” checking her email, cleaning her desk, or looking up the lyrics to that great song she just heard on Spotify.

The diverse experiences of acedia described by Evagrius are easy to recognize in contemporary settings. Acedia can begin as boredom—a long, slow day that makes the sufferer think ahead to all the long, slow days stretching endlessly in front of him. It may arise as a grass-is-greener fantasy about a different town, job, or marriage. It can also come as a one-two punch: After an experience of spiritual failure, the sufferer doubts that any of his efforts have made a difference in his spiritual life. Maybe it isn’t worth the work, he thinks. Acedia hurls thoughts like these at its victims in a strategic effort to get them to stop pursuing their spiritual vocations.

Activism Grown Weary
Acedia can be especially dangerous for those in vocational ministry because it attacks the thing that likely drew them to ministry in the first place: caring—about people, personal growth and health, and their very calling. “When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to [care],” writes Kathleen Norris in Acedia & Me.

That it hurts to care is borne out in etymology, for care derives from an Indo-European word meaning “to cry out,” as in a lament. Caring is not passive, but an assertion that no matter how strained and messy our relationships can be, it is worth something to be present, with others, doing our small part. Care is also required for the daily routines that acedia would have us suppress or deny as meaningless repetition or too much bother.

Acedia’s manifestations may seem innocuous next to sins like wrath or lust, but it is no less deadly, because it draws ministers away from the noble mission of communion with Christ. Evagrius wrote about monks who went to visit the sick not because they felt true compassion, but as a way of escaping their rooms and the rigors of prayer and study. “The main issue is not television or Netflix per se,” writes Adrian Boykin, lead pastor of Kearney eFree Church in Nebraska, in an article for Leadership Journal. “It’s about a stage of life in which I, as a pastor, have been tempted to exchange my calling for a paycheck.”

In most English translations of the deadly sins, acedia is translated as sloth, but the two words don't mean the same thing. Acedia can manifest as a lack of productivity, but it can also become hyperactivity. “Hyperactivity and sloth are twin sins,” writes Richard John Neuhaus in Freedom for Ministry. “They are both escapes from the daily renegotiation of our ambassadorship, from the daily resumption of the pursuit of holiness. Acedia is activism grown weary.”

I recently spoke with a veteran pastor of an Anglican congregation in Los Angeles about his experience with acedia. He told me, “For years I have thought that the sin I am most prone to is acedia, which sounds odd to most people since I tend to be so ‘productive.’ But I tend to get distracted, sometimes by social media, but often by other commitments.”

The pastor continued: “What often triggers acedia for me is a sense that those whom I pastor continue to make decisions that seem contrary to what I think would be best for them (for example, to only attend church irregularly). This causes me to feel like a failure while it also sometimes infuriates me and causes me to be judgmental about others. In either case, it tends to lead to acedia, a kind of ‘Well, if they don’t care all that much then neither do I’ attitude.”

Seminary graduate Chad Glazener, in search of his first full-time pastorate, described to me the temptation to fantasize about a future in which he is the senior pastor of a congregation—what his schedule would look like, how he would spend his salary, and more. He feels tempted to avoid the difficult call to wait patiently and actively in the Lord (Ps. 27:14), and he struggles to trust that God will make use of the discipline he develops during this season. Active waiting requires a belief that God is teaching him how to hope without falling into presumption or despair. But it can be exhausting, and it is easy to slip into a posture of forgetfulness or discontentedness in the present season.

Don’t ‘Flee the Stadium’
The ancient temptation of acedia has renewed relevance for us today because the habits it seeks to undermine—sustained attention and interior quiet—are severely challenged in our contemporary context. While a monk may have strained at his window in hopes that someone might visit him, I have a whole internet’s worth of distractions available to me whenever I choose. Not only that, but many of us work in ministry spaces that glorify busyness, rewarding the acedious person and quietly disparaging someone who “wastes” too much time in prayerful meditation. How can we respond to these temptations to be busy without reason and to escape the difficult call of God for something easier?

The desert fathers offer sage advice. Their first recommendation was that the monk suffering from acedia stay put. “Eat all the food you want,” they counseled. “Don’t worry about studying or memorizing Scripture or working. Just don’t leave.” As Gabriel Bunge observes in Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius ofPontus, “The first and most powerful remedy is therefore sheer endurance.” Because acedia tries to move a Christian to “flee the stadium,” or walk away from spiritual effort, the simplest way to respond is simply not to leave.

The sufferer can say, “It may be that this work is accomplishing nothing or that, in another context, my work would be effective and appreciated. Nevertheless, I’m going to stay here and keep doing it.” This method of addressing these attacks through the use of Scripture and short phrases is another strategy Evagrius recommended, and he devoted an entire book of short responses to the eight thoughts (translated by David Brakke as Talking Back). For example, to combat “the soul’s thoughts that have been set in motion by listlessness and want to abandon the holy path of the illustrious ones and its dwelling place,” Evagrius recommends saying Hebrews 10:36–38.

Finally, Evagrius reminds us that this temptation, oddly enough, can be a friend. Acedia, he says, searches out our weaknesses. Yet as Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, God can co-opt even this temptation for our benefit and his glory. When we have learned to resist acedia, we enter into a new kind of spiritual stability. It is like a rigorous training ground that breeds in us greater discipline and devotion if we can learn to not succumb to it.

Fighting acedia reminds us to hope in God, who brings fruit from our labor, even if we struggle to see it. Trusting in his providence helps us hold the course, and after the struggle, Evagrius says, comes “a state of peace and ineffable joy.”

J. L. Aijian is an associate professor of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

This article is from our special issue on 9 Time-Tested Mantras for Ministry: Sage Advice for Pastors, from the Early Church to the Modern Age.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 30, 2020, 03:44:23 am

Three Ways to Reach Out in This Unique Moment in Time

In this moment, we need to reach people where they are, connect with them online or virtually, and be intentional to bring Jesus to people in creative ways.

Our world is changing rapidly. COVID-19 has brought uncertainty, economic turmoil, fear of sickness, and new realities like "sheltering at home." Six weeks ago, most of us had never heard terms like "flattening the curve.” Our world was a different place.

With this in mind, it is helpful to reflect on some practical and effective ways to continue the work of the Great Commission in the midst of a new reality that none of us asked for or saw coming.

Churches seeking to do effective Organic Outreach (evangelism) often seek to draw people onto their campus and invite the world to come to them. An invitation to a great church event will be an effective approach someday, but not this day.

In this moment, we need to reach people where they are, connect with them online or virtually, and be intentional to bring Jesus to people in creative ways.

This means we need to adapt as we share our faith and live as God’s missionary people.

For this to happen, putting on great events at a church will not be enough. The role of leaders in the church is to equip all of God’s people for works of ministry (Eph. 4: 11-13). Here are three simple and familiar ways to do outreach in this unique moment in time.

Pray with People

We should all call, text, or video chat with friends and family members who are not yet followers of Jesus. When we connect with them, we should ask the profound theological question, "How are you doing?" Then, listen. Listen well.

I have asked non-believers that question countless times over the past 30 years and have only had four people say no. And, they said, “No thank you.” They were not angry and I did not experience persecution.

But hundreds and hundreds of non-Christians have been glad to have me pray for them. In many cases, they have tears in their eyes after being prayed for. There is often a powerful sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence after these moments of prayer. And, in many cases, it leads to spiritual conversations and questions.

In a time when there is so much uncertainty and fear, prayer is needed and often gladly received. Get in the habit of asking, "Can I pray for you?" When you do pray, don't turn this moment into a sermon or gospel presentation wrapped in the facade of prayer. Just pray. Cry out to God for help. Use normal language. And pray in Jesus’ name.

Community Service with Gospel Engagement

There are unique ways to reach our community in this moment. Although most parts of the United States and world are asking people to stay home, there are still many needs that we can help meet.

If any church takes time to call their local police, fire, and political leaders, they will discover that there are needs that they could use volunteers to help with. Food donations are needed for local programs, shut-in people need someone to shop for them, etc.

Of course, we need to follow the guidelines given for our community, but people who are healthy and able can still offer help. As a church engages in serving the vulnerable and at-risk people in their community, the door opens for a Christian witness.

Our church has a food pantry year-round. Our local authorities are thrilled that we are still offering this service and the need has increased the deeper we go into the COVID-19 epidemic.

As the economy struggles, more people need this service. Our team members (mostly volunteers) wear gloves, face masks, follow the prescribed guidelines, and they also offer prayer and words of encouragement. Of course, this is offered, not forced.

In addition, each bag of groceries includes a little booklet with a month of devotional reflections.

One key is that we need to train everyone to engage naturally in spiritual conversations when the door is open. Even with social distancing, people can talk on the phone, chat from six feet away, and share their stories of God’s presence and power in their life today.

What better time than now to equip follower of Jesus to articulate the life-changing good news of how Jesus gave his life for our sins and how we can receive his amazing grace by faith in his name.

As we to serve our community in this unique time, we need to be ready to give bread for them to eat, and also offer the living bread of Jesus. We can give a cup of water, but need to point people to the Living Water of the Savior. We can give clothes to keep people warm, but they also need to be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.

We can share our kindness and companionship, but a relationship with the Savior is what every heart is truly longing for. What we give is temporary; what Jesus offers is eternal!

Learn to ask good questions and listen

Many families are spending more time together now than they have in years (or ever). Rather than retreat to separate rooms and binge watch season after season of streaming shows, why not recapture the art of conversation?

Also, friends are looking each other up and reconnecting online and on the phone. What an ideal time to ask good question and listen. We can ask simple questions like, “How are you doing?” “What are you feeling these days?” and “Are there ways I can help you through this time?” We can also go a bit deeper.

Why not spend time asking questions like: What are your beliefs about God? What is your perspective on Christians? What do you think about my faith? Did you grow up in a religious home…what was that like for you? Could you share your personal journey of faith (or lack thereof)? What do you think about Jesus?

Another way to walk with others is learning to hear their stories, listen to their hearts, and discern where they are on their spiritual journeys. Too many Christians are worried they don’t have all the answers.

As you ask questions and let people share their perspectives and experiences, you will learn more about where they are in terms of faith. It might even lead to them asking you to share your answers to the same kinds of questions. It will certainly create spaces for the Holy Spirit to enter in and move in ways we never could.

Down the road, we will reengage people in church events and outreach programs. That’s fine! But today, we need to continue engaging in the Great Commission in some familiar but tailored ways. Then, when COVID-19 and sheltering at home are less central in our lives, let’s remember this moment and add these outreach practices to the flow of our lives going forward.

Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International, and the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy of books and many other books, studies, and articles. He is also a regular contributor to Outreach Magazine.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 30, 2020, 03:47:44 am

How to Talk with a High School Senior Who Is Reconsidering Fall Plans

Encouraging students to accept that they do not need to know how the future will unfold will give them the freedom to live in the present and learn to make decisions from a place of freedom, not control.

Every April, I see an uptick in students and parents who reach out to a gap year. Parents and students alike share the uncertainties about their fall plans—most of which involve college—and are looking to pivot. That’s the norm.

I would not consider this spring normal by any measure.

As initial research by the Art and Science Survey of high school seniors is showing, there are more students who are questioning their college plans.

My experience supports this study. For five years I’ve fielded more calls in April than any other month. This year? It’s spiked. This means more people—parents, youth pastors, mentors—are finding themselves in conversations around this topic.

Here are a few ways to engage a high school senior who is in the throes of the “what’s next” decision.

Throw away the “one right path” idea

As I’ve worked with college students over the past decade, it’s become obvious that somehow many Christian students enter their twenties with this perception that “God’s will” is a tightrope. It’s this narrow, singularly correct path they must follow through life—they’re either on it, or off.

Thus, every fork (read: decision) in the path is a chance to fall out of God’s will. Gripped by fear of disappointing God, decisions have an unwarranted weight of significance.

Jerry Sittser, in his book The Will of God as a Way of Life, offers this perspective,

“...the Bible has very little to say about the will of God as a future pathway. Instead, the Bible warns us about anxiety, and presumption concerning the future, assures us that God is in control, and commands us to do the will of God we already know in the present.”

Jesus is much more concerned about our daily posture and actions than our future plans. Once they embrace this idea, students may find a newfound freedom to live out their faith day by day and be a little less anxious about how their lives may or may not unfold.

Encouraging students to accept that they do not need to know how the future will unfold will give them the freedom to live in the present and learn to make decisions from a place of freedom, not control.

Help your student see the falsehood of the narrow path by sharing, or re-sharing, your story of how you navigated post-high school life. Share the “plan” that you had laid out for post-high school and share how it actually unfolded. Make sure to highlight how your life has turned out differently than you originally anticipated and emphasize how you’ve seen God work through it.

In daily faithfulness to Christ, students will find they have an incredible amount of freedom in the choices they do face like where they are heading after high school.

Second guessing the college decision is okay

Encourage the questions that are being asked to make space for the second-guessing and honest conversation.

COVID-19 has introduced incredible changes into the lives of our high school seniors. Completing final last college visits, finalizing applications, and waiting to hear back on financial aid decisions are just a few of the aspects of senior year that are now already inherently different.

However, one of the hidden benefits from this season is time. Our seniors, who were once maxing out their schedules, now have more time than they can fill.

Instead of surrendering time to endless video games and streaming services, encourage seniors to set aside time to determine what is truly important to them in the next stage of life.

Given the circumstances, it would be valuable for students to consider what is truly important to them and take the time to re-think how their next step after high school will help prepare them for the future.

To get the conversation started, I’ve included a few questions I would ask a senior who’s second-guessing his or her fall plans.

What’s prompting you to rethink your post-high school plans?
How has the pandemic influenced how you’re seeing next fall?
What are you feeling uneasy about?
When you think about life after high school, what matters most to you?
How do your current fall plans reflect those values?
If they do not, what options out there do reflect those values?
Are there doors that are opening in your life now that were not there 3 months ago?
What are the benefits/negatives of these new options?
What steps can you take to explore the new opportunities?
Explore new options

For the student who may decide that he or she would rather wait a year to college, he or she has a surprising (and growing!) amount of options.

A gap year is a time of experiential learning taken after high school that is used to build professional skills, expand practical experience, and grow personal awareness. There are so many gap year options—to jump start your exploration, I’ve grouped them into three main categories:

Volunteering/Internship – Students gain valuable life experience and perspective as they volunteer or intern at a ministry or non-profit. Often, there is a cross-cultural component as they incorporate travel or are based in overseas and/or developing areas. The volunteering and internship type of gap years can really expand practical experience and build service mindset.

Build Your Own – The more adventurous students out there may opt to design their own experience. This usually includes a mix of travel, volunteer work, and short-term work. It’s takes a highly motivated individual to pull this option off. Not only that, but the price tag can get steep quickly. The benefit? Highly tailored to the student’s interests, passion, and strengths.

Programmed – This is probably the most common type of gap year. Often, the program has a main focus: service, academic preparation, faith formation, leadership development, travel. Participants benefit from the expertise of the organization, a set plan and purpose to the year, and the community that forms as a result of the shared experience.

For those who want to deepen their faith before college or whatever else follows high school, a Christ-centered gap year will help a student build a practiced faith, discover their purpose, and discern their callings.

Final Thought

If your senior is in the boat and feeling anxious about next year, they are certainly not alone. As seniors are forced to slow down, confront the uncertainty of the future, and reconsider their options, we have a great opportunity as parents and mentors to speak Truth into their lives and be a part of the conversation as they transition to adulthood and beyond. This could produce untold fruit in their lives as they make decisions in future seasons of life and weigh what really matters.

Charlie Goeke is the director of Vanguard, the gap year of Wheaton College.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on April 30, 2020, 03:52:02 am

How Doctors and Scientists Apply Faith on the Front Lines

Six medical professionals share their spiritual practices in the midst of a pandemic.

In the past few months, scientists and doctors across the globe became public figures as people have sought the latest knowledge gained in the fight against COVID-19, and many of them are Christians. In the US, this is particularly true of those in the medical field. Sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle reported in a 2017 book that when you look at those working at scientific jobs in the United States, such as doctors or nurses (and others), 65 percent identify as Christians, and 24 percent as evangelicals. While the percentage of Christian scientists at elite research institutions is smaller, they are an active bunch and many apply their research out of a sense of service.

CT reached out to a handful of these scientists and doctors to ask them how they’re staying grounded. We contacted people doing research on treatments or vaccines, improving patient care, or contributing to public health responses, some of whom are also working in hospital wards. While we could not include all of the responses we received, we talked to scientists in the US, the UK, Italy, Singapore, and Australia. We asked them how they’re coping and how they’re praying amid this crisis. Many shared anecdotes, Scripture, or prayer requests. They practice faith in a variety of ways, and though they practice medicine in labs and hospitals against different geographic and cultural landscapes, they’re united both in purpose and in spirit.

Francis Collins

Career field: physician and geneticist

Works in: Washington, DC, as director of the US National Institutes of Health.

Focused on: Collins oversees biomedical research in the United States, which is now aiming to develop treatments and a vaccine to control the coronavirus. He receives probably four or five interesting ideas every day, he said, which makes it a challenge to figure out which ones to prioritize. The NIH also manages a hospital that runs clinical trials, now including COVID-19 research. Prior to his NIH appointment, Collins led the team that first mapped the human genome.

How he’s praying: Collins views his calling as a public servant to be a Christian one, where he can wield the tools of science to alleviate suffering. “I pray every morning that I will find a path forward to do that with God’s help. I’m fond of Joshua and the verse in the first chapter: ‘Be strong and courageous.’ I need that. Sometimes I get discouraged and down,” he said. Collins described the grief he’s been feeling, saying, “I’m trying to figure out how to turn that into something, increased self-knowledge as well as actions.”

Collins prays for health workers, who are afraid to go home, and for researchers, who are working night and day to come up with solutions.

Emanuele Negri
Career field: physician

Works in: Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy, as director of a semi-intensive care unit at a local hospital.

Focused on: Negri cares for COVID-19 patients on noninvasive ventilation. His semi-intensive care unit will be adaptable to care needs as the pandemic plays out, he said. His colleagues assume coronavirus infections will go on for several months, though they plan to reorganize the hospital for the next phase as case numbers slope downward following the peak. As a team, they are exploring the hypothesis that patients experiencing lung inflammation may suffer from an amplified immune response called a “cytokine storm,” which they with are targeting in trials with several clinical drugs.

How he’s sharing his faith: Because of all the protective gear worn by medical professionals, Negri’s COVID-19 patients cannot necessarily hear him speak, but they don’t have to in order to experience the gospel. “It’s not a time of witness by word,” he said. “People around me will observe my behavior.”

He shared a letter from one of his hospital’s first patients: “I personally felt a miracle in the sense that the Lord put me in the hands of these professionals who can do their job well and which, in the end, allowed me to embrace my loved ones. I will never forget those sweet eyes hidden behind those plastic barriers. When I can get out of the house again I will meet many people, maybe even some of those who saved my life, but unfortunately I will never be able to recognize these people. I will not know who they are, but my thoughts will go to them forever. To them I will owe the most precious good: life. And to all of them I say THANK YOU.”

“Jesus had ‘sweet eyes’” (Matt. 9:37), said Negri. “It’s almost impossible speak to my patients now, but they need our sweet eyes. We need to pray to show empathy.”

Julia Wattacheril
Expertise: physician scientist

Works in: New York City at a university hospital as director of the Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Program.

Focused on: In addition to maintaining outpatient care via telemedicine, Wattacheril was “redeployed” to work ICU triage overnight, helping make decisions about patients who worsen and need a higher level of care. Within her specialty, she and her group are collecting data to better understand how COVID-19 affects transplant patients, as well as the effects of therapeutics currently being tried. She’s hoping to repurpose an algorithm that might help identify at-risk patients so providers can suitably prioritize needs for recovery.

How she’s holding onto hope: Wattacheril described how she became discouraged recently, as she hoped for changes in leadership—such as a new tone of messaging, more emotional intelligence, and a readiness to comfort others in pain. “I prayed my anger and yelled at God on my roof. Later that day I was reminded—through John 15 about Jesus as the vine and we as the branches—that my job was to abide in Christ. I was too concerned with the fruit and anxious and distrustful of what God was doing.” That reminder helped her remember her purpose, and “hope came online quickly after that,” she said.

Wattacheril also talked about processing grief, saying she uses practices she developed several years ago after experiencing grief. She stays “anchored in prayer,” either by herself or with others. She meditates, seated or on walks, and listens to music or sermons. Also, “I have a beautiful community aligned to help and rally and remind me of what I tend to forget about myself as well as my well-worn Scripture verses with decades of history,” she said.

Lionel Tarassenko
Career field: electrical engineer

Works in: the UK at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering.

Focused on: Tarassenko works with colleagues on developing new patient monitoring techniques, from sensors to machine learning for data analysis. Now, he’s shifted these tools toward the fight against COVID-19. He described three ways the technology has been adapted: (1) the remote management of high-risk pregnant women, with the aim of preventing infection; (2) the triage of suspected COVID-19 patients in “primary care hubs” using video camera technology and (3) real-time monitoring, using wearables, of patients with COVID-19 being treated in isolation wards.

How he applies faith at work: “I am very mindful of the parable of talents and the need to put these talents to the use that God would want me to,” he said.

“I am also very conscious that our world is not limited to what we can see or perceive with our scientific instruments,” he said, quoting Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Justin Denholm
Career field: infectious diseases physician, epidemiologist

Works in: Melbourne, Australia, as medical director of the Victorian Tuberculosis Program at a research hospital.

Focused on: At his hospital, Denholm runs a screening clinic for people suspected of having COVID-19. He also manages patients over the phone so that they can avoid coming into the hospital and calls people to give them coronavirus test results. While he’s very busy with these tasks, he’s also conducting a clinical trial, which is testing a range of drugs for a planned 2,500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

How he’s feeling: “To be honest, at this point I’m pretty tired and find it hard to pray. I take some comfort in thinking that God is with us in everything, whether in illness or in working hard to relieve it,” he said. Denholm hopes that Christians around the world will support each other while physically distanced. “The support of communities is critical for all of us right now, and I’m grateful for all the ways that groups are finding to care for each other, and especially the most vulnerable,” he said.

Lim Poh Lian
Career field: infectious disease physician, also specializing in public health

Works in: Singapore at the National Center for Infectious Diseases.

Focused on: Lim moved to Singapore from Seattle, Washington, out of a sense of calling to serve Christ in Asia, ironically arriving months before SARS hit the country in 2003. Ever since, she’s been involved with outbreaks in WHO and UN advisory groups and task forces.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s been working on the front lines with patients. “I love direct patient care,” she said. “I also help develop clinical, public health, and research protocols.” Her role at WHO focuses on mass gatherings risk assessment.

How her faith impacts her work: “I see my outbreak work as ministry,” said Lim, explaining how her work fulfills the greatest commandment to love God (Matt. 22:37)—by thinking clearly and strategically in outbreak control issues, caring compassionately for patients, and pointing people to trust in God. “Faith in Christ gives me courage and an anchor of rationality,” she said. “God has given us, not a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind—which he expects us to use!”

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2020
Post by: patrick jane on May 01, 2020, 12:12:38 am

Coronavirus Calls for Revival of Real Pentecostalism

Despite errors, Spirit-filled theology can show us how to respond to the pandemic.

It’s not exactly a secret: Many Pentecostals have responded to the current pandemic in ways that are both bizarre and troubling. These responses have overshadowed the sanity and generosity of many faithful, Spirit-filled Christians and reinforced the idea that Pentecostal theology is cheap and silly.

This is unfortunate because Pentecostalism has many gifts to give. At its best, it is mystical and prophetic and teaches us to live deeply prayerful lives. Pentecostal theology teaches us that ministry must begin and end in prayer. It teaches us we must hold high expectations for God to work in the world, along with a deep sense of personal and communal responsibility. It teaches us not to fear the new or idolize the familiar, and that the divine power of Pentecost is the love revealed in the Cross. These are all truths the church needs in this current crisis.

Pray like jazz

If you know anything about Pentecostalism, you know about the prayer. Harvard theologian Harvey Cox compared it to jazz because of its playful extemporization and collaborative enthusiasm. Pentecostals believe this improvisation is a way of keeping rhythm with the Holy Spirit. This is why our prayers often have the spirit of an old-time revival tent—open on all sides and thrown up anywhere, anytime, as God leads. Pentecostal prayer, at its heart, is about radical openness to God, and it is marked by a readiness to be surprised and to be changed.

This openness in prayer leads Pentecostals to be improvisational in other ministries as well. When we are faithful to our calling, we are ready to abandon familiar ways of doing ministry and make ourselves at home in the company of those we are called to serve.

We consider the church neither a means to an end nor an end in itself. Therefore, we are ready to forget familiar ways of speaking and to learn new languages, both literally and figuratively, because we expect to hear God speak in ways we never could have anticipated. This is what it really means to “speak in tongues.”

It is always hard to know what to say in times of pain and loss. But when we are faithful to the wisdom we have received, we know that what we say to others must be shaped first of all by what we say to God on others’ behalf. Faithful ministry, in other words, always begins and ends in intercessory prayer.

Even as we try to give good answers to the many difficult theological questions arising at this time, we should never forget that if those answers are to be helpful, they must be rooted in prayer. This is not polite, self-assured prayer, but raw, unsparing prayer, prayer that laments and protests, demands and interrogates, begs and invokes—prayer that is radically and confidently open to God in front of others and to others in front of God.

I believe the church needs this kind of openness in the midst of this crisis. We need a “holy boldness,” one that has nothing to do with living as if we are protected from harm, claiming secret knowledge about God’s will or asserting power over disasters and sicknesses, but has everything to do with following the Spirit into the darkness, coming alongside those who are suffering, and being Christ to them.

Love like God
Pentecostalism, at its best, is deeply communal and missional. It knows that love for God cannot be separated from love for neighbor and that prayer cannot be separated from action. As theologian Lucy Peppiatt recently observed, Pentecostals not only believe strongly in God’s involvement in every aspect of life but also believe—just as strongly—in the call for God’s people to participate in what God is doing in the world.

In spite of what some might think, this is a constant theme in Pentecostal theology. Daniel Castelo, professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University, argues, for example, that Pentecostal spirituality is a form of mysticism. This is not a mysticism of withdrawal, but of mediation and intermediation. In her recent book, The Spirit and the Common Good, Daniela Augustine, professor of theology at the University of Birmingham, makes the same point: “The Spirit uplifts the Christified human life as the visible means of invisible grace. … Indeed, the healing of the entire cosmos starts from within hallowed, Spirit-saturated humanity.”

All that to say, Pentecostal ministries are moved by this twofold desire: to commune deeply with God and to see everyone and everything else drawn into the same communion. This mysticism is a source of renewal for the church.

Dale Coulter, professor of historical theology at Regent University, has shown how something like that has happened before, in the aftermath of the black death in the Middle Ages. He argues that in this pandemic, once again, “pastors and priests need to become spiritual directors, guiding their flocks as they turn within and find the crucified God.”

Pentecostal theology teaches us to long for the age when all God’s people will be prophets. But we do not think of prophecy as a form of magic. We believe true prophecy is not so much about predicting the future as it is about seeing how God helps us to care for our neighbors in ways they most desperately need.

True prophecy gives us insight into what has happened and is happening, what is truly right and truly wrong in the world, and thus enables us to see into and call forth a better, more faithful future.

Coming into communion with Christ’s passion in prayer, we will find ourselves moved with compassion for others into action. The same Spirit who leads us to turn within, mystically, toward the crucified Christ, will lead us to turn out, prophetically, toward those for whom Christ offered and offers himself. Following the Spirit, we will enter the darkness instead of denying it, trusting that the light of God is already breaking forth from its depths. This is what it means to be prophetic, speaking life into dry bones.

Bless the poor
As a Pentecostal, and a Pentecostal theologian, I feel the need to be honest about our failures, past and present. I know there are hard questions to ask about the integrity and effects of our teachings and practices. And I know this is not a time for nostalgia or idealism.

But I am convinced that it is a time to return to the faithful ways that led to the rise of Pentecostal spirituality and theology in the first place. We need to retune ourselves to the God who tell us it is a commandment—not a compromise—to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially when those neighbors are not like us.

Sadly, many Pentecostals have forgotten the wisdom of their own tradition. In its beginnings, Pentecostalism was a movement of the poor and for the poor. The poor always suffer worst in crises like the one facing us now, so Pentecostals found themselves at the center of the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. A century later, Pentecostalism remains a movement of the poor in most parts of the world.

But in the US, much has changed. Many of us now work at a remove from the poor, both geographically and spiritually, and we are largely out of touch with the material and spiritual needs of those we are called to serve first. Now is the time to make that right. And that begins with a return to the deepest, truest convictions of our mothers and fathers in the faith.

At the revival on Azusa Street, at the very beginning of the Pentecostal movement, pastor William Seymour put it this way: “The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit. … Pentecost makes us love Jesus more and love our brothers more. It brings us all into one common family.”

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I know there are more than a few counterfeits available today. I know there is much that Pentecostals have said that is ridiculous and much that they should have said but haven’t. But there is another Pentecostalism, a mystical and prophetic Pentecostalism, which is a gift of the Spirit. And like many of the Spirit’s gifts, it is offered just as we need it and in ways we never could have imagined. That is precisely the Pentecostalism this crisis calls for.

Chris Green is a professor of theology at Southeastern University and a pastor at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His most recent book is Surprised by God.