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Discussion | Christian News | Chaplain's Office => Christian and Theological News => Topic started by: patrick jane on July 02, 2020, 10:30:18 am

Title: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 02, 2020, 10:30:18 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118172.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/pandemic-lessons-eurasia-churches-coronavirus-covid-russia.html








5 Pandemic Lessons from Eurasia’s Evangelical Churches










How congregations in the former Soviet Union are responding to the coronavirus challenge can help the global church think better about buildings, young professionals, and persecution.


For many Western Christians, Eurasia is uncharted territory, and no less so amid this pandemic. In the midst of troubling COVID-19 tallies from the US and Europe, little is heard about what is happening in this strategically important region, situated with Europe to its west, China to its southeast, and the Muslim world to its south.

Yet the way local evangelical churches are responding to coronavirus challenges speaks volumes about their way of life and ministry, as well as their future missions potential.

National church leaders testify that the situation in Russia—with more than 640,000 confirmed cases, the third-worst reported outbreak in the world after the US and Brazil—and other Eurasian nations is alarming. Health systems, economies, transportation, and security systems are on the verge of collapse. Mass testing for COVID-19 is not happening. Governments deny access to reliable information. And all the while the war in Ukraine continues, and restrictions on religious freedom and human rights increase in Russia, Belarus, and Central Asia.

The former Soviet Union is a gray zone where hybrid systems have emerged which imitate the developed world while using talk of democracy, free markets, rule of law, independent media, freedom, and human rights to mask their absence. Given these circumstances, evangelical churches are under constant pressure both from government authorities and wider society, which are dominated by either aggressive Orthodoxy, Islamism, or a secular Soviet mindset.

However, the challenge of the pandemic has lit a spark which casts light on the little-noticed but active and essential role of evangelical churches in this gray zone. Based on my extensive conversations with local leaders, here are five lessons that Christians worldwide can learn from their brothers and sisters in Eurasia:

Lesson 1: When the government is helpless and public institutions are paralyzed, the church is on the front lines.
Under the circumstances, people have no one to turn to other than the church and volunteers. And this creates unprecedented opportunities for sharing the gospel beyond church walls. Regular church members serve as agents or angels of hope for thousands of people paralyzed by fear and poverty. When regular church activities come to a halt, it prompts many young Christians to begin thinking about what they can do for others.

For example, Sergey, a young Russian pastor from Buryatia (a region of Siberia bordering Mongolia), shares his experience:

“Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations,’ and our government said, ‘Stay home.’ We were faced with the question of how to help people without breaking the law. Our team registered as volunteers and received special volunteer movement permits. Some of us sewed masks, others collected and distributed food donations to those in need, and others answered calls to a hotline, offering much-needed counseling and encouragement.

“One day we were asked to visit a woman who had been severely beaten by her husband. She had gone blind and was alone. We expected her to have a lot of questions about how God could have allowed this to happen to her, but instead she eagerly listened as we told her about Jesus and she prayed to accept Him as her Lord and Savior. We prayed for her, for healing for her soul, spirit, and, of course, her eyes. She is very lonely and would like us to visit more often to tell her about God. After encounters like that, you begin to appreciate things you almost didn’t notice before and took for granted: your ability to see, hear, walk, and live.”

These positive examples serve to introduce many people to the church and change their attitude towards it. “All non-Orthodox churches are considered illegitimate in Russia,” said Sergey. “However, now a lot of good things are being written about us online and on TV. While before the evangelical church was considered a sect, now we are practically heroes!”

Lesson 2: In addition to formal church structures, it is important to have parallel networks of informal leaders.
In critical moments when church structures are paralyzed, these leaders in the field—not the office—can take the lead. For example, Mission Eurasia began training young leaders in 2004 from 14 countries through its School Without Walls program, which emphasizes serving beyond the church building. It is an invaluable resource for local churches to have relationship-based regional networks of young leaders with experience working together, especially during a crisis of large institutions and structures.

Another important group is young professionals. Normally churches overlook them; however, now churches are praying specifically for doctors and teachers. Now that churches are closed, everyone understands that it is Christian professionals out on the front lines. They have become more visible. And this experience should change us forever.

We should not wait for the next crisis; we should mobilize churches now to strengthen ministry to young professionals, through training, caring for, and supporting them. If they are the front-line workers of the church, then they deserve better treatment and better resources. In the coming years, we should focus on helping those professional communities which are critically important to the life of our whole society—that could be called to the front lines at any moment. At Mission Eurasia, we call this movement “Mission in Profession.” It is a new, fresh initiative which could change our way of thinking about missions, vocation, the church, and young professionals’ place within it.

Lesson 3: Christian communities need to develop their own internal culture of generosity.
When the whole world is in crisis—when borders are closed, and giving to global missions declines—we need to count, first and foremost, on local resources.

I remember back in 2005 when the Russian government refused to recognize Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child gifts as humanitarian aid. Authorities claimed, “Russia is rich and can take care of its own children.” That same year, Russian evangelical churches began their own Christmas gift distribution project called Gift of Hope. It turned out that churches were glad to put together gifts for orphans and children from needy families. Since then, the ministry has continued to grow. It is not well known in the West but is well known in Eurasia, and many churches have even developed their own local initiatives—the idea has become contagious. Today, as the lockdown continues, instead of Gifts of Hope for children, churches are putting together “iCare” grocery packages for hungry families.

All this is not to say that churches in Eurasia do not need help. Help is needed more than ever, especially in the dark corners of Eurasia such as the Russian-controlled separatist regions of Ukraine or the far-flung regions of the Caucasus and Central Asia. However I am convinced that when we in the West know the extent of local generosity, we will be happier to support churches in Eurasia—adding our international assistance to their sacrificial giving, thereby sharing in their needs and blessings.

Lesson 4: Churches without comfortable, well-equipped buildings are more flexible and creative in missions outreach.
In Russia and many other countries of Eurasia, the government can easily confiscate, bulldoze, or shut down an evangelical church’s building. Therefore a majority of churches have faced difficult choices, weighing the risks of continuing to actively reach out to their community or calmly enjoy a comfortable church life in a well-equipped location with no external outreach activity. During the pandemic, churches without buildings responded more quickly, because they lost less. They were able to mobilize to serve others instead of grieving over their empty building.

Media attention has been fixated on the Orthodox churches, which continued public services during lockdown in defiance of government restrictions. In the Orthodox tradition, the temple is everything, and without the temple and sacraments there is no church. In contrast, evangelical churches which have learned to live and serve “without walls” are in a much better position. While Orthodox churches fight for their traditional liturgy formats, evangelical churches are reaching new missions fields—online and in homes.

Many call themselves “Church Without Walls,” putting an accent on their flexible format and missional nature. For example, pastor Igor says that the quarantine has not in any way limited his congregation’s activity: “We were not tied to a particular location or ministry format, therefore we do not feel that we have less work or fellowship. In fact, the opposite has occurred, because during lockdown everyone wants to hear about God and no one refuses assistance or prayer.”

Lesson 5: Ministry during lockdown serves as a valuable lesson for future periods of repression and persecution.
This is not the first time the church in post–Soviet Eurasia has been in lockdown. It survived 70 years of aggressive atheism, when almost all churches were closed. While Soviet communism feels like the distant past, the lessons of that history—learned through underground ministry, personal evangelism, and a battle for freedom—are still relevant today.

For example, pastor Sergey serves in a Russian-controlled area of Ukraine, and he said when church services were forbidden, he wasn’t discouraged—because he still remembered church services in Soviet times:

“I realized that now was the time for individual meetings and family visits, for speaking without a pulpit or microphone but rather heart to heart. In the very first week of lockdown, two people confessed their sin and made peace with God. They had never attended church before the lockdown. But God found them. I am grateful for the new opportunities created by this situation.”

The church of post–Soviet Eurasia was cleansed through trial by fire, and the current challenges are unlikely to limit its ministry but instead serve as a powerful stimulus to renew its mission and to grow in leadership, generosity, and creativity. These lessons from evangelical churches in Eurasia during this pandemic serve as a reminder that in times of external difficulties and limitations, God renews the church, activating its young and creative powers for ministry “without walls.”




Michael Cherenkov is executive director of Mission Eurasia’s field ministries.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 02, 2020, 10:48:56 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118123.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/june/reflections-from-christian-scholar-on-social-justice-critic.html








Reflections from a Christian Scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics












Looking at Marxism and Critical Race Theory in light of the problem of racism in America.


During the weeks following the death of George Floyd, I have been following the news with an increasing sense of sadness and concern for the problems facing the United States regarding race and racism.

I’ve been unsure how to respond as I’ve scrolled through social media and watched increasingly polarized rhetoric on both sides of the political aisle—except to listen to the voices of Black friends and neighbors who are hurting and to pray for justice.

I’ve tried to apply the biblical principle of being “slow to speak” (James 1:19), but I’ve been convicted recently about joining a particular thread of the (inter)national conversation taking place among those who share my faith in Jesus Christ and want to support truth and justice without compromising on principles peculiar and integral to our faith—principles that they are afraid might be stealthily replaced by rhetoric from other, incompatible frameworks of thinking.

Two frameworks I’ve been hearing about increasingly often are familiar to me from my own field: Critical Race Theory and Marxism. Because I have some expertise in these areas, I want to offer some thoughts and, hopefully, clarification to the conversation.

I’ll begin by giving some credentials, not to ask for accolades but to indicate why I want to address these areas of the cultural conversation in particular. I have two English degrees (B.A. and M.A.) from a Christian university and a Ph.D. in literature and criticism from a state university.

In my field, Marxism is one of the most commonly studied and most influential perspectives, and Critical Race Theory is also a significant force and gaining momentum. As a result, I’ve studied these theories extensively.

What gives me an unusual perspective in my field, however, is the fact that my primary research interest—and the topic of my doctoral dissertation—is twentieth-century Russian literature. My studies have convinced me that the sufferings and deaths of millions are not only correlated with but largely caused by the Marxist-Leninist agenda, and I am therefore deeply opposed to Marxism as a framework.

I hope that, knowing this, those patient enough to read these notes will acquit me of being a closet Marxist covering a secular agenda with a veneer of Bible verses.

That said, I do believe that some reactions to the protests following the death of George Floyd in particular and the Black Lives Matter movement in general are based on a failure to recognize important nuances in the conversation.

I’m going to address what I believe to be some problematic reasoning I’m seeing come from Christian sources on race:

Argument #1: Like all sin, racism originates in the human heart. Therefore, the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change. “Systemic racism,” on the other hand, is a Marxist idea.

Response: The first sentence’s claim is true. If you believe in original sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5), you have to admit that any sin originates in the human heart. Sin might be aggravated by circumstances, but circumstances don’t cause sin. However, the conclusion that the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change is true but incomplete.

If people are born in sin and people build a society, that society will be structured in ways that reinforce whatever sins dominate the hearts of those who build it. Therefore, even if many people’s hearts change a few generations later, those structures might still perpetuate the problems associated with that society’s “original sins.”

This is why—and I believe this is an important distinction as well—it is possible to recognize that many individual police officers might not be racist and still believe that changes in police departments need to take place to discourage injustice.

What those changes might be—alterations in training, changes in criteria for which areas are patrolled more often, etc.—is an important conversation, but having it does not mean condemning all police officers, many of whom are no doubt grieved at the horrific actions of other officers, such as the murderer of George Floyd. The problem can be built into structures and (some) individual hearts.

Here is how the above arguments are distinct from Marxism:

Marxism posits that socio-economic forces create the problem, not that they perpetuate the problem. A true Marxist does not believe that individuals have essential selves apart from the historical contexts in which they develop.

As an atheistic philosophy, Marxism does not allow for belief in a soul, and therefore, people are merely the products of the world they live in (referred to as a “superstructure” of social norms, historical forces, religious ideas, etc.).

The way to change people is to change society, and, for those who follow the most progressive version of Marxism, to dismantle society and recreate it from the ground up (this is what Lenin tried to do in Russia and Mao Tsetung tried to do in China). I know people who hold to the most extreme version of this philosophy.

If you believe (as I do) that sin, such as racism, originates in the human heart and merely manifests itself in society, you can recognize the above project as fundamentally utopian. It won’t work because whatever society you build from scratch will still have problems (perhaps new ones, perhaps the same ones) because you won’t have fixed the source of the problems (the human heart).

Only one Person can eradicate sin from the world, and I pray for that Person’s coming with an increasing sense of urgency these days.

However, to reject the claim that “fixing society at the structural level will fix everything” does not mean that we should reject the idea of being good stewards of the society in which we live. The fact that we will never be able to eradicate sin (this side of the resurrection) does not mean we should sit back and allow it free reign.

Those among my fellow believers who oppose abortion are already recognizing that sin and its effects can be addressed on both individual and societal levels. Meeting with a desperate woman outside a clinic and convincing her not to end her baby’s life is addressing it at the individual level.

But many who reach out to prospective patients outside clinics also campaign for legal protections for the unborn and support clinics (like our local Blue Ridge Women’s Center) that provide desperate women with other options, resources, counseling, and support. Other systemic changes might involve better guarantees for parental leave, stronger incentives for paternal involvement or financial support, and funding for adoptive and social service venues.

Addressing the problem of abortion at the systemic level does not mean caving into Marxism unless we believe that doing so is the only, complete, and permanent solution.

I firmly believe that if we are to work toward racial reconciliation, we need to admit that the history of racism in the United States (slavery, Jim Crow, etc.) has left us with problems that need to be addressed at the heart level AND at the structural level.

Argument #2: Critical Race Theory is a Marxist framework, and therefore, it is antithetical to the gospel.

Response: Critical Race Theory is indeed deeply informed by Marxism. As a result, I recognize that, as a Christian scholar, I will not agree with all of its tenets. However—and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who wrote a dissertation about the ways in which Russian poets coped with Marxist-Leninist oppression—Marx was not wrong about absolutely everything. Very few thinkers are (probably because they are all made in God’s image) wrong about everything.

Here are two statements on which I, as a Christian scholar, actually agree with Marx—while vehemently rejecting his philosophy as a whole:

1) Power does exist, and people do sometimes use it to oppress others.

Reading the Old Testament will make these truths abundantly clear (Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, the list goes on). And everyday experience makes these truths abundantly clear. Just ask anyone whose boss fired him/her for no good reason. Even Marx’s cited evidence for the above truths was legitimate. During the Industrial Revolution, factory workers had few legal protections, worked overly long hours in unsafe environments, and received few benefits and low pay.

2) Oppressed people do suffer, and their suffering is often unjust.

I actually believe that as a Christian, I have a much better foundation for supporting the above statement than Marx did. If people are merely cogs in the wheel of history, it’s hard to explain why anyone should care if they suffer. The fact that most Marxists I know are deeply compassionate people is, I believe, a testament to their humanity (being made in God’s image), not their philosophy.

Because I believe people are made in God’s image (Gen. 1); the God whom I worship warned his followers repeatedly not to oppress the poor, widows, foreigners, etc. (cf. Deut. 15:7 and countless other passages); and Jesus reached out to those whom society despised (women, Samaritans, etc.); I can argue with confidence that my faith is wholly consistent with working to mitigate oppression in the society in which I live.

By doing so, I am not embracing an alternate gospel but merely living in a way consistent with the gospel I have embraced since I was a child.

What some are referring to as “social justice” these days—making sure our laws and institutions don’t make it easier for the powerful to oppress marginalized groups—often refers to good, old-fashioned biblical justice.

This may mean that those who have more should be given structural incentives to share with those who have less. Ruth was able to pick up the grain from behind Boaz’s reapers because he was following the biblical mandate for them not to go back and pick up what they’d dropped—that was reserved for the poor and the immigrants. He could have argued that it all belonged to him, since he planted it, but he was willing to share.

Requiring him to give up every scrap of grain from his field to distribute it equally among the whole town would have been Marx’s solution, but requiring him to leave a little behind was God’s solution (Lev. 23:22).

Exactly how the principle of protecting the poor should be translated into legislation and cultural practices today is a separate question—one I’m not prepared to address here. Some incentives already exist (e.g., tax breaks for charitable donations). I’m merely pointing out that Christians who express concern about the disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” should not be labeled Marxists by other Christians on that criterion alone.

And if the term “social justice” is sometimes co-opted by Marxists, rejecting the concept outright robs Christians of the chance to become part of the conversation regarding its definition and application. It is a fluid concept right now, and using the term in a way that validates biblical principles of justice can help shape the way in which the cultural conversation develops.

Backing out of the conversation, on the other hand, involves relinquishing the chance to have what could be an important, positive influence.

Argument #3: The Black Lives Matter movement is Marxist and supportive of the LGBTQ community’s attempts to criminalize traditional, biblical views of sexuality.

Response: The official Black Lives Matter movement, started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, is indeed built on a Marxist foundation and deeply involved with LGBTQ agendas. I took an entire doctoral-level cultural studies course on the Black Lives Matter movement, so I’m very aware of these connections.

However, as the course in question also involved a study of Twitter campaigns and hashtags (yes, people study Twitter in academia these days), I became just as aware that most people who use the #blacklivesmatter hashtag have no connection to the movement proper.

The hashtag itself speaks a truth, and people who hold up a sign at a protest proclaiming that truth are not necessarily involved with or even aware of the tenets of the movement proper. Conversations surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests should not assume that the slogan is owned by the movement (nor should the movement itself try to “own” all those who use the hashtag or the slogan).

I also believe that if Christians fail to become involved in promoting the truth behind the slogan, we are lending credence to the Marxist claim that Christianity exists merely to perpetuate the injustices it (Marxism) seeks to correct.

I think many of my fellow believers would be surprised how many people in my field are disgusted by our faith not because they believe we hold outdated ideas about God (though that’s a common belief as well) but because we’ve failed, so many times throughout history, to stand up for the oppressed.

My response to that disgust is that they’re not wrong about Christians having done the wrong thing at many times throughout history but that, when Christians have done the wrong thing, we’ve been acting in a way inconsistent with the tenets of our own faith. Because I believe that even Christians struggle with sin, I’m not surprised when I study history and read about my brothers and sisters having massive blind spots and acting accordingly (it makes me wonder what my own massive blind spots are).

But I do believe that those blind spots are just that—blind spots, areas in which they failed to see the truths of Scripture or understand how to apply them. When I see atrocities perpetrated by Lenin, Stalin, or Mao, however, I see the source of those atrocities built into their own philosophy and its assumption that creating a virtual paradise (a classless society) is possible and therefore worth achieving no matter what the cost.

Also, for the record, those in the LGBTQ community are highly sensitive that they not be left out of conversations involving justice for other marginalized groups. While I hold to a traditional, biblical view of sexuality that would offend many in the LGBTQ community, I do believe it is important that they be treated like the human beings they are, and I am willing to listen to them even if I will not agree with all of their claims.

There is a real fear among members of the LGBTQ community that they will suffer violence and dehumanization from others (and instances of such violence are well-documented).

As human beings, they deserve protection from those threats. Conversations over the distinction between disagreement and dehumanization are difficult because they involve questions regarding identity categories, but I hope and pray that such conversations can still happen.

Argument #4: The concept of “white privilege” is unjust because it blames white people today for atrocities, such as slavery or segregation, that were set up generations ago and that they had no hand in creating. It also suggests that white people today should feel guilty for racism even if they are not racists themselves.

Response: Some people probably do use the term “white privilege” in this way (the conversation is developing at such a rapid pace that such terminology is developing new shades of meaning at an accelerated rate). However, the term is helpful in describing a real phenomenon—one that I’ve personally witnessed taking place. Bear with me, and I’ll define it first, then share a personal story to illustrate what I mean.

“White privilege” refers to the phenomenon in which white people receive certain societal benefits that they did not earn—benefits they receive by default simply for being white.

To be clear, I do not feel guilty for being born white. I was created that way, and it’s no more a sin to be born white than it is to be born a member of any other race.

However, I do recognize that some people—and some institutions—will respond to me differently because I am white. I do not, for example, get followed around department stores by loss-prevention officers because I look like “the kind of person who might steal something.” My Black friends do have that happen to them.

This is where the term “privilege” gets sticky, because it can be understood to mean I have a benefit that I shouldn’t have—i.e., that we should both be followed around the store. Actually, however, what I’m receiving is the benefit of the doubt—the default assumption that I’m going to be honest until I do or say something to undermine that assumption.

What the concept of privilege actually suggests is that we should both get the benefit of the doubt. It is not a privilege because I shouldn’t have it; it is a privilege because I have it and other people just as honest as I am do not have it. The term, in this context, calls attention to an unjust and illogical disparity in expectations.

Now, how should I respond? Should I feel guilty for the racism informing the tendencies of loss-prevention officers to target customers other than me for surveillance?

I shouldn’t feel the guilt of being individually culpable for what other people do. After all, I didn’t ask the loss-prevention officers to follow other people around. However, I should feel guilty if I recognize the larger problem at work here—both individual and systemic racism—and do nothing about it.

I can’t fix it single-handedly, but I can speak up. I can vote. I can teach texts in my classroom that confront these issues. I can say something when a white friend tells a racist joke. I can listen to my friends of color when they share their experiences and allow myself to be guided by their insight. If I don’t, I’m part of the problem and share the guilt of perpetuating it (even though I didn’t personally cause it).

I might also feel other emotions, such as anger, which is a proper response to injustice. This is, in fact, exactly what I felt when I visited the local social security office to get an updated card after my wedding thirteen years ago.

My sister, a Korean-American adopted at three-months-old and naturalized as an American citizen in early childhood, had gotten married to her husband in the same ceremony. She, being more on top of things than I was, had already gone to the office to get her card. She had taken the required documents listed on the website—birth certificate, current social security card, a photo ID, etc. When she arrived at the office and showed her papers, however, they demanded more: they wanted to see other papers, records, etc. that were not officially required when she already had a valid social security card.

I remember them demanding that she make several trips to their office—I even remember hearing that they wanted to make her take a test in American history (because all real Americans apparently know their history so well). Finally, she got the card.

Having heard about all the hoops they had made her jump through, I was nervous about going to get my card. I double-checked that I had everything—birth certificate, social security card, photo ID, etc.

When I got to the window, I handed over my current card and said I was there to get an updated card with my new name. The woman behind the counter handed it to me without even asking to see my driver’s license.

When I got back to my car, I called my sister and ranted about what racist jerks ran the social security office and how outraged I was on her behalf. I probably felt a little self-righteous, if I’m honest, for my outrage, and I do believe I was right to feel the outrage. I shouldn’t have felt so righteous, though.

A more righteous person would have walked back inside and asked to speak to the employee’s supervisor. Maybe I wasn’t a racist, but I didn’t do anything to challenge racism when it hit me in the face, and so, notwithstanding my righteous anger, I failed to do the right thing because I don’t like confrontations.

I hope and pray that, given the injustices on national news these days, I will do the right thing the next time I get a chance to. It’s why I’m writing this essay-length note, knowing full well that my Marxist friends (if they take the time to read it) will not appreciate my objections to their philosophy and that some of my Christian friends (if they take the time to read it) will see me as selling out.

I want to do the right thing this time, though, and so I’m doing my best to add to a difficult conversation. I welcome any and all honest responses, whether they agree with me or not. There are important questions being raised about issues that directly and/or indirectly affect my brothers and sisters in Christ—and my friends of other faiths and no faith who share similar concerns about justice.

So I’ll end my long reflections by saying, on or off social media, let’s talk.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 02, 2020, 10:52:11 am

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118182.jpg?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/aimee-byrd-genevan-commons-reformed-opc-facebook-comments.html







How a Reformed Facebook Group’s Private Comments Turned Into a Public Dispute












The social media saga involving Aimee Byrd and Genevan Commons calls for discipline, justice, and restoration beyond “cancel culture.”


In an era when swift social media reactions and public repudiations offer an instantaneous form of rebuke and discipline, what role does the church have in holding its leaders and members accountable for online speech?

Aimee Byrd has found herself at the center of this question. The author of Why Can’t We Be Friends?, Byrd has come under fire from some within her Reformed theological tradition for her latest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The fight has largely played out on blogs and in private online discussions, but also has Byrd and her critics each calling for Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) sessions (church elders) to take action.

Two weeks ago, screenshots from a private Facebook group called Genevan Commons were posted on an anonymous website that describes itself as an “archive of reviling, cyberbullying, harassment, sexism, and racism among church officers and laypeople.”

Byrd’s supporters have challenged the harsh comments within the Facebook group’s threads, including remarks that address her motives, appearance, and relationship with her husband. They’ve asked whether the leaders responsible will be held accountable for the remarks.

“We are greatly concerned that officers of the church, who have sworn to be accountable to ‘their brethren in the Lord’ would attempt to hide behind a group that pledges itself to secrecy, as if ‘locker room talk’ could somehow be exempted from the accountability of the church on the basis of an alleged right to privacy,” read a statement signed by several dozen OPC pastors and elders.

Byrd was well known for blogging as “The Housewife Theologian” at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and for co-hosting the Mortification of Spin podcast with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. The Alliance ended its years-long partnership with Byrd earlier this month after she declined to answer questions related to her latest book.

While Genevan Commons represents a small sliver of the Reformed corner of the Christian internet, believers across traditions have followed Byrd’s saga as a case of online chatter turned ugly.

In the quick back-and-forths in posts and comments, arguments over competing doctrine can easily collapse into character assassination and unbiblical speech, said Daniel Darling, author of A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good.

“I think a lot of pastors and leaders forget that when they’re online, they’re in public,” said Darling, vice president for communication at National Religious Broadcasters.

Joe Thorn, a pastor and podcaster based in Illinois, said pastors whose discussions and ministry extend online need to become fluent in apologizing for their mistakes. He told CT he’s seen too many fellow pastors respond to online criticism by defending their own stances and growing more convinced of their own righteousness.

Thorn himself has had to apologize, publicly and privately, for things he’s said online. “My life is accountable to the elders and congregation of Redeemer Fellowship,” he said—and that includes the comments he makes on his social media accounts and as co-host of the Doctrine and Devotion podcast.

In Byrd’s case, most of her fiercest critics are OPC pastors and elders. The denomination is relatively small, with about 300 congregations across the US and Canada. As a member, Byrd pledges to submit to the governance of her congregation and “heed its discipline, even in case you should be found delinquent in doctrine or life.”

So far, her leaders have not subjected her to church discipline over her books or blog posts, which she says are in line with the confessions of her faith.

But that hasn’t stopped her critics. When members of the Genevan Commons found Byrd’s accountability lacking, they wrote blog posts with specifics about how to oppose what they described as Byrd’s feminism. Byrd told CT that her detractors called ahead to at least one of her speaking engagements to inform the retreat center of concerns over Byrd’s teachings.

Group leaders have defended their remarks and the Genevan Commons group.

“The idea that I’ve tried to create a place where we are unaccountable is foolish,” wrote Shane Anderson on The Daily Genevan in April. “In life many discussions are considered appropriately private, and yet the Christian ought to know he can be brought to account both by church discipline now and on the day of judgment before Christ. I have no problem with that, and they should stop pretending that I have some secret, hidden agenda or actions.”

The anonymous website GCScreenshots featured not only the Facebook group’s remarks against Byrd and other Reformed women, but also a list of the hundreds of Facebook users who belonged to the group, including the church affiliations of the pastors and elders who were members.

Todd Pruitt, who has publicly defended Byrd, lamented that the hundreds of users who never slandered Byrd appeared on the list of members. Both he and fellow podcast co-host Carl Trueman heard from dozens of men who belonged to the group but didn’t realize it or never commented. One pastor told Pruitt his wife’s employer was contacted over his membership in the group.

Steven Wedgeworth, a Presbyterian Church in America pastor who appeared to make crude comments in a screenshot posted by the site, alleging that the images were edited to omit context or to wrongly indicate that some of his negative comments were about Byrd.

Byrd fired back on her blog last week, disputing Wedgeworth for minimizing the group’s slanderous comments.

“I’m tired of making a case that is blatantly obvious,” wrote Byrd, referencing that multiple sources have surfaced screenshots showing similar patterns of harmful language. “Why do I have to say all this? Why am I the one defending my reputation? When will there be a conversation about qualifications for those in spiritual authority over Christ’s sheep?”

Concerned OPC elders have been working to assemble evidence of sinful speech from the group. Mark Garcia, an OPC minister and president of the Greystone Theological Institute in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, said denominational leaders had contacted him privately for advice on the best way for a presbytery to discipline those who penned the comments in question.

When Garcia saw rude messages in the Genevan Commons group, he says, he left the group and used his personal Facebook page to repudiate the sinful things others said about Byrd. (Former members say the group still exists, but it’s smaller and more tightly moderated.).

Garcia believes it’s fair to critique Byrd’s work online, but a discussion of “the ethics of her behavior, deceit, and the like” does not “belong in those contexts, in social media, or anywhere else except for the one context where the Lord has provided for her accountability: her session,” he told CT.

Garcia is continuing to pray that God will “bring swift justice, peace, and unity to his people in the ministry of his wise Spirit.” He fears the process will be hampered by allegations of slander both on the part of Byrd’s critics and her supporters.

But there’s good reason the church doesn’t match the pace of so-called cancel culture, leaders say. Within the church, the goal of discipline is restoration and growth in godliness, as opposed to in the broader culture, where the goal is punitive silencing and ostracizing.

“The wheels of Presbyterian justice move slowly. There’s wisdom in that,” said Pruitt, who recently deleted his Twitter account out of concern he was spending too much time in fruitless debates. “Sometimes in our zeal to be vindicated we can cause collateral damage that’s ungodly.”

The opportunities to speak out and offer influence also heap additional responsibility on Christian leaders. Just look at the warning of “stricter judgment” in James 3:1, followed by the instructions around taming the tongue, said Darling.

“When you speak online, people are watching. We have to weigh our words,” he said. “We forget that bearing false witness online is an actual sin.”
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: Chaplain Mark Schmidt on July 02, 2020, 11:07:49 pm
This is sad the bullying and lying have become so easy on social media it has now reared its ugly head even amongst those that are supposed to be above it and leading us away from it.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 06, 2020, 10:48:55 am

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118227.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/can-we-now-agree-that-its-time-to-become-different-kind-of-.html







Can We Now Agree that It’s Time to Become a Different Kind of Church?










How are the times changing? Here are four cultural realities which require a different kind of response from the church.


Times change—sometimes at a seeming snail’s pace, and other times at a breathtaking pace that’s more closely akin to that of a cheetah sprinting after a fleetfooted gazelle.

For many, on the surface at least, the last several decades have appeared to be relatively stable for church planting methodologies.

Numerous church planting leaders saw little incentive to change, and instead, insisted on plotting a future course that was eerily reminiscent to the past. Disregarding the cultural realities that are shaping the mission field, we have doubled down on a church planting idea that assumes a resident religious memory, but only to diminishing returns on our investment.

In some cases, we have learned to plant larger, but almost always to thinning evangelistic effect.

It would seem that many of us are convinced that we are still in the “church growth golden age” (circa 1985) by deploying methodologies that prioritize launching worship experiences which bake in the consumeristic value of excellence and the principal metric of attendance.

And so, we continue to send courageous church planters who heroically attempt to start new churches that are built upon an erroneous cultural assumption that there still exists a marketshare with ‘church-going credentials’ residing in most North American communities.

Ultimately, here’s the big problem.

When culture is tiltedtoward the church, we instinctively know what to do. We woo them and welcome them in with a warm and sincere greeting. Hand them a gift bag. Invite them to a meet and greet with the pastor. And get them to sign up for the new member’s class. Its muscle memory for most of us.

But what happens when the culture is tilted away from the church? What do we do when there are only social disadvantages to our evangelical ties?

Perhaps most have awakened to the reality that somehow, the ground has fundamentally shifted under our feet. We call to mind the men of Issachar who helped King David “understand the times and know what Israel should do” (1 Chron. 12:32).

How are the times changing?

Here are four cultural realities which require a different kind of response from the church:

First, there is a rapid shift from secularism to secularity.

Secularism was, and is, a good news belief system. It’s purported good news is that society functions best when rid of the oppressions of religion as it sought to create religiously neutral landscapes free from the societal perversions of religion. But secularism did not account well for the persistence of religious belief, nor the abundance of immigrants who migrated in carrying their religious beliefs with them.

In place of secular‘ism’ we find a new reality; secular‘ity’. Secularity doesn’t seek to eradicate religion; it merely sets them all (secularism included) on the buffet table of worldview options. People are left to determine for themselves which of an endless array of spiritual alternatives provide the best sense of grounding for their lives.

Second, there is a rapid shift from theoretical truth to demonstrable truth. The value of what is hypothetically true is of less worth in the minds of most today than what demonstrably actually works.

For many moderns this is a stunning reversal of the prevailing spirit in which they were raised. Modernism sought after impartial truth. In that worldview, evangelistic techniques had apologetical underpinnings that assumed that if people simply learned of the veracity of Christianity, then their spiritual conversion would naturally follow.

But the ideas implicit within postmodernism diluted this notion of truth. Words alone seemingly lack meaning, and every absolute truth claim was met with skepticism. What now seems to stir curiosity is the expediency of truth.

Does my Christian worldview actually work? If divorce rates are similar inside and outside the church, many move along to try other choices on the buffet. If personal faith doesn’t transfer into community engagement, the veracity of that faith becomes immediately suspect.

Now, more than ever, our day demands missionaries like Elijah (1 Kings 18) who can show the superiority of the one, true God over and against all competitors by the authenticating substance of their lives.

Third, there is a shift from distant pitches to relational proximity.

The previous two shifts call for the third. If the goal is to prove truth, then one merely has to articulate that truth in a compelling and convincing way. Sadly, we’re all also aware that at times these truth statements have morphed into angry shouts rather than winsome testimonies.

What’s required today is the relational proximity designed to marry a compelling gospel message with a believable gospel messenger which, integrated together, coexist as Exhibit A for the superiority of Christ. People must see that Christ is better.

This leads to a clear problem—how do onlookers see the superiority of Christ when believers are cloistered away in insulated containers, sealed and protected from possible contamination from spiritual outsiders? The answer is clear: They cannot.

Fourth, there is a rapid shift toward a deployed and decentralized church.

Some missiologists have been arguing for the necessity of such a shift for decades. What these voices have been unsuccessfully heralding for years, COVID-19 accomplished in days. God allowed the church to be locked out of its confining container and sent into world.

Never before in North America has the need been greater for believers to live as lights to the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14-15).

Now distant from church gatherings are programs, the local church must become resoundingly local in deployment. People must strive to connect with one another, love their neighbors, meet real needs, listen to hurts, and live as agents of the kingdom. But sadly, far too often a gathering-centric church is not well prepared to deploy disciples into Christ’s mission.

So, what do these changing times mean for God’s church?

Three paradigm changes become essential.

First, we need a different kind of church. Rather than a hyper-focus on the gathering, we must prioritize equipping people for a disciple-making movement. Disciple-making is the goal, not a hopeful byproduct of the gathering. By decreasing our focus on the gatherings as an end, we now have the margin to increase our effort to make disciples who live vibrantly sent lives.

Second, we need a different kind of church planter. If our focus shifts to invading the secular space with believers who model the superiority of Christ, then we need church planting teams that are within relational and credible proximity.

Such work will happen best through teams of interdependent leaders who can live out their sacred callings and unique giftings by deploying together as co-vocational teams. And the side benefit is this, we begin to develop an infinitely reproducible blueprint for new believers to pattern.

Third, we need a different level of gospel collaboration. The scorecard has shifted in ways that are hard for many to get their minds around right now. Think about how foolish the question, “How many did you have?” sounds right now.

I believe that this is for our good. Now we must think less about ourselves and more about the spiritual state of our communities. And to that end, we must work together with other churches to see that everyone has a chance to see, hear, and respond to the good news invitation of Jesus Christ.

Can we make these changes? Of course. Will we? Only time will tell.

Who will make these changes? Those who know the times and adapt with Spirit-guided wisdom.

May God multiply this camp across North America.







Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute - an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 06, 2020, 10:55:12 am

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/117851.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/christian-summer-camp-cancel-coronavirus-pandemic.html







Welcome to Christian Camps’ Weirdest, Hardest Summer











More than a hundred sites have called off their peak season, while others reduced and reimagined their staple programs.


The sounds of Christian camp are the soundtrack of my summers. Joyful shouts from the athletic fields echo across the valley in the afternoons, and voices lifted in praise roll from the chapel at dusk.

Each year, my family moves to the grounds of the 250-acre camp in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, where my husband serves as executive director. During the off-season, we long for camp and pray for the rowdy campers and staff members who will trek down the gravel lane the next summer.

Camp can be a peaceful place. But this year, many camps are eerily quiet. The ones that are open are emptier than usual. Staffers wave instead of smacking high-fives. The smells of disinfectant and hand sanitizer overpower the familiar cedar cabin scent. “Let’s go wash our hands!” is a common refrain. Like so many things in the age of coronavirus, camp is not the same.

When the pandemic shut down schools and businesses back in the spring, Seneca Hills Bible Camp and Retreat Center, where my husband works, became a food distribution site for kids to get free meals on the weekends. Other Christian sites, like Camp Cho-Yeh outside Houston, offered their cabins to health care workers who needed to isolate from their families while treating COVID-19 patients. Crescent Lake Bible Camp in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, was among the locations that replaced spring break camps with childcare programs for frontline workers.

Like most businesses and ministries across the country, Christian camps felt the economic halt right away. Church retreats and events were called off in March, April, and May due to bans on mass gatherings across the states. Before long, camps were forced to grapple with the unimaginable: no summer camp.

By May’s end, more than 100 Christian camps had announced cancellations. Most of the rest made dramatic changes to summer programming. Summer camp can represent half of a camp’s annual revenue or more, so skipping it for a year comes as a massive financial blow.

Dan Busby, president emeritus of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, predicted camps and conferences would be among the ministry sectors hit hardest by the shutdowns because of their seasonality. Camps owned by a single church or regional church body can barely hold on from month to month.

In March, Vanderkamp Center, an ecumenical campsite in upstate New York, announced it would be shutting down for good after 55 years of ministry, citing faltering finances and the COVID-19 pandemic. LifeWay Christian Resources canceled 311 camps and events scheduled for this summer. It announced plans to sell the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina, which called off its traditional two-week camp sessions and postponed the rest of its programming (like sessions for families).

Industry experts predict that summer 2020 is only the beginning, and the coronavirus crisis is going to hamper enrollment for years to come. With families unable to afford the cost or afraid to send their kids into close quarters where viruses can spread quickly, Christian camps aren’t just asking whether they can survive one year with no camp or fewer campers—they’re looking at perhaps two or three years below the capacity they’re used to.

Camp after quarantine
Camp directors and staff will tell you it’s not the financial pressure but the campers themselves who inspire them to keep camp going somehow. They see camp as a crucial place to train the next generation of Christian leaders—a gospel-infused, community-centered environment away from screens and school pressures.

Camp staff know firsthand that the concentrated fellowship time in the cabins and on the grounds stands to bear gospel fruit in young believers.

“After COVID-19, we will see a groundswell of support for this distinctive ministry,” said Gregg Hunter, president of the Christian Camp and Conference Association (CCCA). “People will be hungry for a new experience, and I believe their souls will need feeding.”

Experts agree.

“We have to be prepared that there will be long-term impacts on the psyches of these young people,” said Jacob Sorenson, a researcher and consultant specializing in Christian summer camps. “They need places of healing when this is done, and camp can be one of those places.”

But the pandemic isn’t over, and this year, many camps decided to do the unthinkable. They called off summer offerings, some for the first time ever. Others opted to transfer activities to the virtual realm they’d otherwise encourage campers to escape.

The future of Christian camps may depend on how ministries respond to this crisis. Camps stake everything on trust. Many of the CCCA’s 870 members built their reputations on growing the faith of young campers over decades of ministry, establishing relationships with churches, and serving families across multiple generations.




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Over the years, camps have reassured parents that their children will be spiritually nurtured and kept safe as they swim, climb, and play. In recent years, they have emphasized that staff members are background-checked and trained to protect campers from abuse. And now, camps must meet the challenge of keeping participants safe from the coronavirus—whether that means taking new precautions or canceling camp for a season.

Camp Cho-Yeh in Texas was among the first to say it would stay closed for the summer.

“It makes me so sad to think that this place is going to sit empty over the course of the summer,” president and CEO Garret Larsen said in a video in late March.

With over 4,000 campers attending the camp each summer for Bible studies, color war competitions, rock climbing, archery, and water games, Cho-Yeh’s enrollment ranks in the top 5 percent of summer camps in the US. It brings in $4 million of its $7 million budget during summer.

Cho-Yeh was set to run out of cash in May, but a Paycheck Protection Program grant extended the camp’s resources by eight weeks. Larsen initially cut 42 of the camp’s 50 full-time staff members. Then, once Texas lifted its mandatory 14-day self-quarantine rule for travelers, the camp opted to move forward with a shortened season—1,500 campers over five weeks instead of the typical ten.

COVID-19 represents a unique threat to the camping landscape. From hugs and high-fives to team-building activities and cabin bunk beds, camp and social distancing do not mix. In 2009, swine flu loomed over summer plans but was manageable: The H1N1 virus could be treated with antiviral drugs, and patients needed to be quarantined only until they had been fever free for 24 hours. But the new coronavirus has been harder to track and contain, due to a longer incubation period.

Camps that serve medically vulnerable populations or that meet on college campuses had to cancel in-person summer camp, according to the American Camp Association.

Certain state restrictions, such as in Arkansas, mandated that camps stay closed through May, when they would typically be training staff to prepare for campers in June, July, and August.

Most camps tried to minimize risks by cutting programs and amping up health precautions. Cho-Yeh developed a cohort model for keeping campers in smaller groups, shortened sessions to give more time to clean in between, and adopted protocol for isolating kids who show COVID-19 symptoms.

SAMBICA in Bellevue, Washington, did away with camp-wide gatherings and overnight camps and restricted enrollment to county residents.

Forest Home Christian Camps in California had a plan in place—screening for sick campers, upgrading air filters, providing hand sanitizer, and isolating the sick—but in the end, its Mill Creek Canyon site had to call off this summer’s camps and retreats. “Given the close community experience of camp with large group gatherings, group dining, team competitions, and shared lodging, we did not see a practical way to operate camp safely,” it stated.

Word of Life Youth and Family Camps, one of the biggest Christian camps in the country, canceled summer camp and fall retreats at its home campus in the Adirondacks.

Like many camp ministries shifting plans, the camp asked participants to consider registering for a 2021 session or even donating their deposit rather than requesting a refund. “As you can imagine, this situation has significant stewardship challenges and any gift would be much appreciated,” the New York–based camp wrote. “We need your support and contributions in order to sustain our current operations and to continue sharing the gospel with this generation and generations to come.”

Groups that had registered for LifeWay’s 96 FUGE camps were given the option to transfer their deposits to a 2021 session or accept a 50 percent refund and 50 percent LifeWay credit.

Other camps are asking for additional donations to see them through the uncertainty that will extend well beyond the lifting of public-gathering bans. Cho-Yeh’s Larsen suspects that after canceling some 2020 sessions, enrollment in 2021 will not return to pre-pandemic levels.

Camp as spiritual formation
Christian camp is a special place for folks like me. Year after year, I get to watch shy campers slowly open up. I see counselors’ beaming faces as they describe campers praying to receive Jesus as their Savior. I watch my own sons’ sense of adventure, confidence, and faith grow as they play and help during our summers spent at Seneca Hills.

Camp is also a special place for the Christians who were those shy campers and new believers, who trace the pivotal moments in their spiritual journeys to cabins in the woods.

“The typical camp experience, when done well, is a quantum leap forward for people’s faith formation,” said Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.

“My hope and prayer is that camps, youth leaders, churches, and youth ministries will pray and come up with some creative options.”

Research indicates that there’s something particularly effective about the setting as a tool for spiritual growth.






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Sorenson, the camping consultant, found that two months after attending camp, 96 percent of campers reported that camp helped them grow in their faith, and 94 percent reported growing in their knowledge of God. His research also shows that attending a Christian summer camp correlates with a lasting increase in self-confidence, commitment to personal devotions, church attendance, faith conversations and practices in the home, and understanding of faith’s relevance to life (Sorenson calls this “horizontal faith”).

Other research has been more mixed, with a study in the journal Leisure/Loisir finding that the initial spiritual high after summer camp can fade over time.

One of Sorenson’s biggest takeaways, though, matches the goals of camps that focus on getting kids to unplug and play together: Young people admitted that camp freed them from electronics and social media.

As Christian camps increasingly compete with more options for kids’ summer schedules—including sports training and school activities—they have positioned themselves as a uniquely outdoorsy, incarnational, and community-driven option. In an era when teens and children have less contact with creation, camp provides an ideal location to encounter God and build friendships with each other without the distractions of school and smartphones.

But this year, many camps that couldn’t count on holding in-person activities over the summer opted to try to offer online programs rather than cancel summer activities altogether.

“In a lot of ways, it’s the antithesis of what camp is for us,” said Kellie von Borstel, camp director of Montlure, a Presbyterian church camp in Arizona. “We’re doing this because we don’t want to cancel summer camp.”

Montlure decided to offer virtual camp after calling off its overnight and day camp programs for the summer. It is using a virtual camp portal through the Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center Association, where campers can log in to participate in each day’s camp activities: craft how-tos, hiking videos, and online Bible studies.

While virtual camp is better than no camp, many kids were weary of Zoom by summer. When surveyed in the spring, less than a quarter of families were interested in enrolling in online camp.

Camps like SAMBICA in Washington offered “Camp in a Box” for elementary schoolers who couldn’t attend in person this year, with art supplies and camp swag, plus interactive videos.

To some outsiders, the efforts to pivot or offer camp activities in the midst of a pandemic may seem a bit much. What’s one year, after all? But for those of us in the camp community, our prayer is always that this summer would be the one that changes lives, that we would witness the undeniable work of God among us in our staff and campers.

Camp doesn’t just have the potential to change the lives of the kids who attend, but it impacts their families for generations to come. I think of the story of Caleb and Luke Fugate, brothers who each worked at Seneca Hills for six summers and now serve in pastoral and youth ministry. Members of the Fugate clan have camped and worked at Seneca Hills for three generations, but only because Caleb and Luke’s Uncle John accepted Christ there as an 11-year-old camper and returned home to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to share the gospel with his parents and siblings.

Those kinds of stories still happen. In Johns Creek, Georgia, 1,000 families find Perimeter Church each year through Perimeter’s Camp All-American. Roughly 40 percent of the camp’s families have no prior church affiliation.

So whether through an abbreviated session, an online rally, or a socially distanced campfire, we entered the summer with the expectation that God would be at work as he always is, and that he would provide the financial backing to get us through this difficult season and the ones that lie ahead.



Megan Fowler is a contributing writer for Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 06, 2020, 10:59:46 am

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118213.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/sober-curious-movement-recovery-alcohol-pandemic.html







A ‘Sober Curious’ Quarantine Broke My Christian Perfectionism












While researching young adult ministry, I discovered the younger generation had something to teach me about my approach to alcohol.


She couldn’t have been younger than 65. Fit, trim, close-cropped silver hair, loading her third case of wine into her Costco cart. The man next to her laughed and said, “You’re going to ride this out in style, eh?”

She smiled. It was just days before Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued stay-at-home orders.

It seems that she was not alone. Health officials issued warnings about drinking during quarantine, citing the 55 percent increase in alcohol sales in the week ending on March 21. Other reports indicate that online alcohol sales jumped more than 243 percent during the pandemic. Coronavirus-induced drinking memes swept across the internet, showcasing a nation’s coping mechanism for times of crisis.

But the pandemic has also coincided with a growing number of Americans rethinking their relationship with alcohol. Though far less meme-worthy, the “sober curious” movement has taken off recently, prompting people to make intentional choices about what, why, and how often they drink.

Named after the book Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington, it’s gaining popularity among young millennials and older Gen Zers who are looking for a healthier lifestyle. There are now “nonalcoholic spirits” that are soaring in sales, thousands joining groups to promote “sobriety as a lifestyle,” and even bars that offer a wide range of mocktails or cater specifically to people who are sober curious or in recovery.

No longer is sobriety seen as just the last resort for people whose lives are falling apart. Many in the sober curious set would not label themselves as traditional alcoholics, but they do wonder if their drinking is a problem and recognize the benefits of ditching the booze.

Over the years, I’d asked myself the same kinds of questions. When my children were toddlers, and the gray Michigan winter days blurred into one long Groundhog Day, I caught myself anxiously watching the clock for 5 p.m. when I could open up a bottle of Pinot Grigio.

I started wondering if that extra glass was really necessary, and if things would be easier if I didn’t have to fight the morning mental fog leftover from the wine the night before. Would life be better without alcohol? And more to the point: Did I like the release brought on by my glass of wine just a little too much?

I didn’t identify with the term alcoholic because, to be honest, my drinking didn’t look different from my friends—Christians who, like I did, devoted their life in some way to promoting the gospel message. After all, I reasoned with my inner doubts, I wasn’t living in the gutter! I had two advanced degrees, a nice home, steady work, two strong, confident daughters, and a healthy marriage. What was the problem?

It wasn’t until I discovered the sober curious movement that I found the language for it.

During the pandemic, I attended 30 online recovery groups for alcoholics in 30 days. The first thing I learned was that the people in these groups weren’t the people I imagined them to be: struggling for work, struggling in relationships. Instead, the women were especially high achieving. They were doctors, lawyers, marathon runners, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. In their life before, they drank to manage their extraordinary responsibilities. To my utter shock, their stories did not sound any different from mine.

But there was another lesson I learned. It was one of those lessons that upends everything, that gets in the roots and the cracks of your character, that digs out the deep-rooted weed sown into your soul long ago. I realized that the very skills that helped me survive a dysfunctional home—perfectionism, overachievement—were killing me as an adult. And I had to let go. I had to change.

Some Christians fall into a cycle of perfectionism and achievement and ultimately dejection when they fail to live up to impossible standards because they believe God will not accept them any other way. I cycled because I believed tectonic plates would shift if I wasn’t perfect.

If you had asked me, I would have told you, “Of course, I know the world won’t fall apart if I’m not perfect.” I knew it, but I didn’t know it the way I know I love my daughters. God did not require, expect, or even ask me for perfection. He never had. But those meetings helped me see how much I stood upon my own perfectionism. Being at those recovery meetings cracked the ground beneath me and forced me to stand back on the solid ground of my faith.

As a researcher at Denver Seminary who studies ministry to young adults, I had read studies on addiction and virtue and heard of young adults asking: Why isn’t the church more like recovery groups?

Indeed, people who populated these meetings demonstrated more vulnerability than I have seen in any church group. Perhaps because you’re known the second you step in the door. And because you’re known, you know you don’t have to hide your pain and failures behind a façade or a smiling face. The people in recovery groups have already met their worst selves. The world can be a brutal place, and they are not afraid to say it.

As a sober curious person who has turned down more than a few drinks at Christian events, it’s occurred to me that alcohol is the only drug you have to explain not using. Embarrassed, I’ve whispered to bartenders more than once at open bars, “Just a ginger ale please.” Not imbibing at Christian events sometimes raises eyebrows and other times stokes jokes about whether or not you are a “fundie”—a fundamentalist who judgmentally looks down on drinking. (When did non-imbibing become something you have to explain around Christians?)

Paul references our call to “not treat with contempt” those whose faith leads them to not indulge (Rom. 14). Perhaps in America today, that means not assuming all of us who are “free” to drink will choose to, and not second-guessing those who pass on alcohol for a range of reasons.

Because of my work in young adult ministry, I also see the sober curious movement as an example of how the younger generations can lead the older. They’ve been willing to rethink categories and overcome the stigma to embrace a life sans alcohol, or with a lot less of it. And the research is backing up their instincts that sobriety really is the healthiest option.

On June 9, the American Cancer Society, in a major move, issued new guidelines on the consumption of alcohol and cancer risk. It recommends not one, not two drinks per day for optimal health, but none. Not drinking alcohol is the third most important thing you can do to decrease your risk of cancer, just behind not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, studies show that mental health is affected even among moderate drinkers.

Going without still is not always the easy choice. Sometimes, nothing sounds better than sitting in my backyard as the sun sets over the Rockies with a charcuterie board and chilled glass of Pinot Grigio. But I know that in forgoing that, I will go to bed and wake up with peace and mental clarity to face my day. I will enjoy a deep connectedness with God and my family. Most of all, I will experience life unblunted. I will walk through valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death, without the aid of alcohol to number the pain. And I will summit mountaintops, joys unnumbered, living in high definition.


Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 08, 2020, 04:50:18 pm

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https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/churches-coronavirus-new-york-times-churches-are-taking.html







Churches, Coronavirus, and the New York Times












Describing churches as a "major source of Coronavirus cases" is odd, since that's not even the case their own article makes.


The New York Times just published an article with this headline: "Churches Were Eager to Reopen. Now They Are a Major Source of Coronavirus Cases."

Headlines are chosen by editors, and don’t always tell the whole story, of course.

However, the lede continues: "The virus has infiltrated Sunday services, church meetings and youth camps. More than 650 cases have been linked to reopened religious facilities."

As someone who has strongly advocated for churches to take COVID seriously, and whose church is not yet meeting, this article seems to tell a different story than its title.

For example, they report:

More than 650 coronavirus cases have been linked to nearly 40 churches and religious events across the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, with many of them erupting over the last month as Americans resumed their pre-pandemic activities, according to a New York Times database.
That’s 650 since the beginning of the pandemic. There are now 3 million people infected.

Furthermore, there were 60,000 cases each of the past two days in America. That's almost 100 times the 650 case that the NYT reports in churches for since the beginning of the pandemic.

Let me unpack some of the obvious issues with the article.

First, churches have cooperated.

Churches have been remarkable partners in the fight again the coronavirus, with the vast majority closing their gatherings all around the country. Yes, there have been a few outliers, but their paucity demonstrates the cooperation of churches with officials throughout this pandemic.

Churches have overwhelmingly been partners with health authorities and have carefully taken each small step.

Second, hyperbole helps no one.

It is strange (at best) to use words like “major” and “erupted” when describing 650 cases. (You could easily write an article with the headline, “Of the 3 million cases, only 650 connected to churches.”)

On that point, the headline is misleading. Having 650 cases in my county might be news, but 650 nationally out of three million cases is a headline looking for a story. The real story is this: churches are gathering and remarkably few infections are taking place.

Third, the article understates the obvious.

In fact, it buries something quite essential: “... some of the recent cases appear to have occurred in churches that did not require masks or keep members apart.” For example, 236 cases in Oregon were linked to one church in that state. The church, Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City, was apparently not following protocols:

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that a deleted video from the church’s Facebook page showed “hundreds of worshipers singing, dancing, and jumping around” at a May 24 service despite the governor’s orders restricting gatherings

This one church out of 300,000 in the country accounted for about one-third of the total in the NY Times article.

To be clear, every case matters—every life matters. But making churches out to be the problem does not come from the data.

It is worth saying again that I’ve been one of the most cautious. I hosted an early Facebook Live viewed by almost 200,000 churches urging churches to take the crisis more seriously. My church is not gathering. I’ve cautioned churches not to rush to do so.

Furthermore, church IS a riskier activity. It is indoors. There are a lot of people. That’s why we need to take this seriously, and so many churches are.

And that’s the story that got missed.

Fourth, this kind of article causes people to dismiss important information.

I’m a subscriber to the New York Times. Good journalism matters.

And, good journalism needs context. There are over 300,000 churches in the United States, the overwhelming majority who are doing amazing in their COVID response.

This article illustrates why the Knight Foundation and Gallup found in a 2018 poll that American's trust toward the media continues to decline. Most adults have lost trust in the media. Articles like this won't help in rebuilding trust.

Don't misunderstand; gathering is risky, and proper protocols need to be followed. But, churches are doing so. Pastors care for their people and have represented the balance between gathering and safety overwhelmingly well.

The picture used for the NYTimes article is from a Calvary Chapel. The Calvary Chapel I visited on Sunday is more representative of their network of churches in particular and most churches in general. They literally have cones between every car, clearly defined zones, health and cleaning teams, and more. They are following the rules and observing proper protocols.

Will there be an outbreak at a church that follows the rules? Yes. Just like there will be at colleges that meet this fall, and at Amazon warehouses, big box stores, and at workplaces. That’s why we need to continue to be careful.

However, articles like this create a false narrative concerning churches and places of worship, convince people that their reporting on religion can’t be believed, and enflame rather than inform.

Finally, this article simply misses the point.

It provides the opposite of its headline. A few churches have made some bad decisions and this has led to community spread. However, even in these cases, your chance of catching the virus at church is—based on the data—remarkably low.

And, if you make wise choices, it is even lower.

We all recognize the difficulties we face today, whether we are talking about churches, workplaces, schools, or sports. Inflammatory articles like this help no one but may instead cause undo harm both to the subject and to the source.

The New York Times is a place for serious journalism, and much of this story is good work— the quotes, the personal stories, and more. However, it frames the story in a way that is unhelpful and ultimately misleading. And, the New York Times needs to take churches, and their work to protect their own people, more seriously.





Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article and have updated it.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: Chaplain Mark Schmidt on July 09, 2020, 12:36:16 am
I got from this is that no matter the media source, take time to check everything as everything has an agenda anymore.  This just reinforced it and makes me sad to see it is oozing its insidious self into religion.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 09, 2020, 07:20:16 pm

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118293.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/pregnancy-deli-meat-prohibitions-miss-point-of-childbearing.html







Why ‘Ditch the Deli Meat’ and Other Prohibitions Miss the Point of Pregnancy












Childbearing is too often defined by restrictions against vice instead of invitations to virtue.


When I was pregnant with my first child, I looked for books to tell me what it all meant. I wanted to know how I should understand the strange situation of having a whole other mysterious person folded up inside my middle. Surely I had entered into a special spiritual category. When I made choices about what to do, I was taking another person’s safety into account. And when I prayed, two of us were already gathered, so Jesus must have been present with us.

In addition to asking big questions, I was also following guidelines, as American women have grown accustomed to doing in pregnancy. I was watching my diet, avoiding medicines and household chemicals, walking carefully, taking vitamins, and drinking tankards of water. The implication of prenatal instructions was that following them to the letter would ensure a healthy baby.

Of course, prenatal good behavior doesn’t guarantee a healthy baby. But if not, what is the point of doing all this stuff? Pregnant mom rules are focused almost entirely on vice and the avoidance of it. Women who are “with child” are warned away from drugs and strong drink, deli meats and soft cheese, acne lotions and champagne toasts. Even resting has rules. We’re told which side of the body is best to sleep on.

These prohibitions matter, of course, but they also blind us to the bigger picture. We call out the vices of childbearing without having any notion of what the virtues might be. Applying the framework of virtue to pregnancy isn’t necessary for persuading a woman to do good on behalf of a child—she’s already doing that—but rather for naming this good.

To be sure, talking about virtues alongside pregnancy requires caution. Pregnancy itself is most certainly not a virtue; it only gives opportunity for the practice of it. Nor should we equate female flourishing and female virtue with motherhood. At its best, the concept of prenatal virtue defeats some assumptions that are left over from antique ways of thinking about pregnancy. By focusing on actions, we affirm childbearing as more than passive waiting. And by noting how these positive choices (not just negative ones) shape character, we recognize that pregnancy is a sphere of astonishing moral action.

When we fail to think about prenatal nurture in terms of what is true, noble, and lovely (Phil. 4:8), we leave unsung a glorious aspect of our embodied creation. Those who believe that God knits together babies in secret (Ps. 139:13) but have nothing to say about women’s prenatal acts miss a chance to proclaim this splendor.

What, exactly, do virtues look like in the context of pregnancy? By traditional count, the virtues include four “classical” or “cardinal” ones—prudence, temperance, courage, and justice—plus three “theological” ones: faith, hope, and charity. To varying degrees, these seven and more are called into service during childbearing. Hope anchors a woman when her conditions are discouraging. Temperance might well describe the many abstentions of pregnancy. Justice—giving each person what is due—is rendered in providing the dependent fetus what is needed to survive and thrive.

Nonetheless, four virtues in particular stand out.

First, prudence.
Prudence is practical wisdom, the first of the virtues and an enabler of all the others. It applies principles to contingencies. For the pregnant woman, prudence builds a bridge between fetal-development facts and the daily experience of carrying a baby to term. Mothers-to-be are given warnings that they might harm the fetus by standing too close to a microwave, listening to loud music, bathing in water that’s too warm, or eating canned tuna or brie or pineapple. In this context, prudence cuts a path between extremes of overreaction and paralysis. It also requires a great deal of discernment.

Prudence is essential for onlookers, too, as it obligates us to see things as they actually are. For millennia, men were credited with the agency of reproduction, women were seen as passive vessels, and the entire process of gestation was viewed as spiritually unremarkable. But we can apply practical wisdom to correct that appraisal. For millennia, pregnancy was cast as “waiting while doing nothing of significance.” But we can use a century’s understanding of maternal-fetal physiology to laud women’s collaboration with the creative work of God.

Second, charity.
Charity—love!—may be the virtue most obviously engaged in pregnancy. Arguably, charity starts with affirming the goodness of another person’s existence. In the words of the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, “It’s good that you exist; it’s good that you are in this world!” By offering nurture to a child in the months before birth, a woman expresses charity and says in so many words: It is good that you are, and I will help you be in this world.

Of course, this expression comes at a great cost. For a human to exist, someone else has to give, and give in ways that sometimes wound. Bringing a new person into the world can cause hemorrhoids and heartburn, tears and scars. We need a virtue framework to help make sense of this fact. In other words, the habits taken up by the pregnant woman are significant not only in making her a mom. They’re also essential to shaping the sort of person she is: a woman of great charity who follows in the footsteps of Christ, both in terms of her love and sacrifice.

Next, hospitality (a subsidiary virtue).
The parallels between pregnancy and hosting a houseguest are irresistible. When a guest comes to stay in our home, we might move furniture, prepare a room or couch, change linens, adjust our plans around guests’ needs, offer special meals, and give other forms of welcome. A pregnant woman does all of those things inside the space of her own body. For some children, the room in the womb might be the best place they ever live. Even women who barely have shelter themselves—transient, homeless, or refugee women—provide comfortable housing for the babies they carry.

Scripture and Christian tradition enjoin hospitality as an important duty of the faithful. When we offer kindness to strangers, we might be entertaining angels unaware (Heb. 13:2) or even welcoming the Lord (Matt. 25:35). A childbearing woman, then, displays in her belly not only the telltale signs of a small, new person but also a sign of receptivity to relationship with others and even relationship with God.

Finally, courage.
According to some scholars, Plutarch reported that Spartan women who died in childbirth had their graves marked with a special inscription, honoring them in the same way as men who died in battle. But the courage of childbearing emerges long before the first contraction and comes in the most normal and healthy of pregnancies, not only high-risk ones. Courage entails doing what is right even at a cost to oneself. Pregnant women confront mortality—their own and their child’s—and go to great lengths to shield their baby from harm.

For women who carry an unplanned pregnancy or an unwell child, pregnancy might require an additional act of courage. And for many mothers, being pregnant includes the possibility of bearing a child who dies either through miscarriage or stillbirth. “There is no other experience, in the mix of our many human griefs, that comes close to mirroring this,” writes Union Theological Seminary president Serene Jones. “She carries death within her body ... but she does not die.”

Not every woman who gets pregnant meets this kind of grief. But openness to these griefs is built into childbearing, and that openness requires the virtue of courage.

Margaret Hammer, a Lutheran pastor and the author of Giving Birth: Reclaiming Biblical Metaphor for Pastoral Practice, wonders whether the church will “gain anything important by focusing more attention on the experience of giving birth.” Our answer must be an emphatic yes. Prenatal motherhood offers us a powerful model of virtue in action. It teaches us to care closely for each other, weigh the impact of our deeds on others, take seriously our created condition, and face our dependence on one another and on the Lord.

When we recognize the theological significance of this work, we remember that we are co-creators with God. Nowhere is that truth more manifest than in pregnancy.





Agnes R. Howard teaches humanities at Christ College, the honors college at Valparaiso University. She is the author of Showing: What Pregnancy Tells Us about Being Human.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 10, 2020, 11:10:52 am

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118316.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/joshua-farris-introduction-theological-anthropology.html







The Debate Beneath Our Debates on the Pandemic and the Protests











Our divided responses to national challenges reflect deep divisions on what it means to be human.


All interest in disease and death is only another expression of interest in life.” Novelist Thomas Mann penned these words long ago, and they continue to prove true in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national police protests we’re experiencing today.

These ongoing challenges present litmus tests for our beliefs about ourselves. Our answers to questions like “Should I wear a mask in public?” or “How should I respond to police brutality?” are rooted in our answers to more foundational questions, such as: What does it mean to be human? How much is a human life worth? Who are my neighbors, and what do I owe them? What is the destiny of humankind?

In other words, our divided responses to the pandemic and protests expose the fact that we’re deeply divided over the nature and purpose of humanity. Any meaningful effort to address our nation’s challenges, then, must be grounded in a deep understanding of what, who, and why we are.

It’s precisely these three categories that Joshua Farris explores in his new book, An Introduction to Theological Anthropology: Humans, Both Creaturely and Divine. A theologian and philosopher, Farris has been writing and lecturing on a host of anthropological issues for years. This latest book represents his attempt to distill these issues into a single, accessible volume that traces his answers to the what, who, and why questions.

Competing Narratives

“Humans live and die by stories,” writes Farris. He means that each of us possesses a “narrative identity” that’s made up of the stories we tell ourselves to help us make sense of ourselves and our place in this world. The question, then, is not whether we identify with some overarching narrative but which narrative it is. According to Farris, what primarily distinguishes one narrative from another is its account of human nature. That is to say, our beliefs about who we are and why we exist depend a great deal on what we believe ourselves to be.

There’s no shortage of views on human nature, and Farris does a careful and balanced job of presenting the ones that have been the most influential. Yet he devotes most of his attention to contrasting the two most pressing narratives: physicalism and substance dualism.

In each of its varieties, physicalism is the view that humans—and everything else in the universe—are made entirely of physical parts. We have no souls or minds or any other immaterial parts that contribute to making us what we are. A physicalist could say, “I am my body (or some part of my body), and my body is me.”

By contrast, substance dualism is the view that humans are made up of dual parts: a material body and an immaterial soul. Farris supports a version of substance dualism that sees humans as being identical to their souls. Fundamentally, he argues, each of us is a soul who happens to have a body. “It is not that the body is unimportant to personal identity,” he writes. Our souls are united to our bodies in such a way that they functionally depend on one another. But when our bodies die, our personal identities don’t disappear. We continue to exist as the same persons, albeit in a disembodied state. This means that, though our bodies are important to our personal identities, they’re not essential.

Creaturely Dignity
In a time of global pandemic and protests against racial violence, it would seem the last thing we need to hear is that our bodies aren’t essential to our identities. Farris would argue the exact opposite: We can’t reclaim the full dignity of our bodies without recovering the doctrine that, first and foremost, we are souls.

According to Farris, what’s at stake in the debate between physicalism and substance dualism is the permanence of human identity. Because physicalism is based on a materialistic, evolutionary view of human origins, he argues, impermanence is built into its metaphysics. If each of us is swept up in a cosmic sea of evolutionary flux, can there be any stable ground upon which to fix our personal identities? What makes you you? Your body? As it changes over time, so would your identity. Your memories? They come and go just as quickly.

By failing to establish personal identity, physicalism inevitably opens the door for private, totalizing interpretations of the self, in which people are valued or devalued based on sliding scales of physical characteristics like stage of development, sex, race, ability, and so on. In a world with such arbitrary value systems, individuals are motivated to treat their bodies (and the bodies of others) as malleable means of self-realization. In short, if personal identity has no permanent basis, neither does personal dignity.

The picture is drastically different for substance dualism, says Farris. He’s sympathetic to a modest account of biological evolution—broad enough to include the possibility that God created life on earth gradually, over a long period of time—but he argues that God brings about each person’s particular soul and thereby permanently grounds each person’s identity. Because each of us is identical to our soul, our identity remains intact regardless of the status of our bodies. In effect, substance dualism gives us a sturdy foundation upon which to claim the essential, universal, and permanent goodness of our bodies and all that they comprise: sexuality, gender, race, work, and so on.

Because this is a key benefit of substance dualism, it’s regrettable that Farris doesn’t devote more space to exploring ways that our bodies might inform our personal identities. For instance, if we’re souls, first and foremost, why is it significant that God chose to bind us to particular times and places via our bodies? Why are our immaterial and immortal souls tethered to bodies that require food, sleep, and medicine? Even when Farris addresses body issues such as sexuality and gender, he seems mainly focused on how our bodies bear the marks of the souls that belong to them.

To be fair, Farris devotes more time to body-related issues than most similar books on the subject. Careful readers can extrapolate even more from an ongoing theme he develops: that our bodies allow us to experience God sacramentally in a world where sex, gender, ethnicity, birth, and death all carry theological meaning. Still, his arguments for personal identity and personal dignity would benefit from more explicit and thorough answers to the question, “What are bodies for?”

Divine Destiny
But if Farris undersells human creatureliness, it’s because he’s intent on selling a more neglected matter: human divinity. As its subtitle suggests, the heart of Farris’ book is to defend the historic Christian view that humans are both creaturely and divine. By “divine,” Farris is referring to what’s historically been called “deification.” He doesn’t mean literally that we’re gods or parts of God. Rather, he means there’s some transcendent aspect of our being—our souls—that bears resemblance to God.

Because all humans are souls created in God’s image, we all bear some resemblance to God. Yet our sin, Farris writes, “dirties the image of God” in us, preventing us from resembling God as he intends. We’re like seeds, he says, who can only grow into mature fruit-bearing trees after we’ve been showered with the redemptive water found in Christ. By his incarnation, Christ “unites the creaturely nature of humanity with divinity.” By his resurrection, Christ makes it possible for those united in him to fulfill their destiny as humans: to see, know, imitate, and have fellowship with God in ways that mere creatures cannot. In short, we have a creaturely nature but a divine purpose that’s fulfilled in Christ.

During this time of pandemic and protests, we sorely need Farris’s reminder that we humans are both creaturely and divine. When we overemphasize our creatureliness and neglect our divine purpose, we run the risk of totalizing our bodies and reducing the gospel to our preferred set of social policies. When we overemphasize our divine purpose to the neglect of our creatureliness, we diminish our bodies and end up living as though the gospel doesn’t have extensive social implications. As Farris shows, it’s only by emphasizing that we’re both creaturely and divine—body and soul—that we can affirm the full dignity and true destiny of every person.

Politics always swims downstream from nature, so a robust understanding of the what, who, and why of our humanity must be the starting point of any meaningful proposals to fix what’s broken in our society. Farris doesn’t answer every question, and one could disagree with any number of answers he gives. But his keen understanding of the issues together with his God-glorifying vision of humanity makes his book an excellent place to begin.





Timothy Kleiser is a teacher and writer from Louisville, Kentucky. His writing has appeared in The American Conservative, Modern Age, The Boston Globe, Fathom, and elsewhere.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 11, 2020, 09:53:21 pm
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118312.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/one-on-one-with-john-starke-on-having-deeper-prayer-life.html







One on One with John Starke on Having a Deeper Prayer Life










We need a deep, hidden life for a fruitful, public life.


Ed: Why a book on prayer? Have you noticed deficiencies in how we are doing in the church in regards to prayer life?

John: We live in a performative age. “Performative individualism” is how Sophie Gilbert describes our society, where the performance of the self is more important than the reality of it. The most obvious place this shows up is in social media, where we curate our image to give the impression that we are okay and that we’re successful.

But there are also forms of performative individualism in our vocations, relationships, and even our families. Jesus warns against this in “performing your righteousness before others” in a kind of performative spirituality. The fruit of that is a culture of hyper-insecurity, a lack of self-awareness, and deep status anxiety.

We are likely all shaped by this culture in more subconscious ways than we think.

The answer to this performative life is to have a regular, hidden life with God. For many people, that’s intimidating. Oftentimes, when we hear of a “deep prayer life,” they imagine the one or two people in their church who are mature, or pastors, or folks made of different spiritual stuff.

I wrote this book because the Bible imagines prayer to be a very ordinary thing for very ordinary people. The whole first half of the book is aimed at showing that a satisfying and vibrant prayer life is for all who are in Christ.

Ed: What are some of the regular pathways and rhythms of a life of prayer?

John: After we grasp that prayer is possible for us, we learn the pathways. That’s the concern of the second half of the book, where I look at six main disciplines: communion, mediation, solitude, feasting and fasting, and corporate worship. These aren’t complex, but ordinary things.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the most transformative thing you can do is to begin to spend unhurried time with God on a regular basis for the rest of your life. What I try to show in the book is that it’s possible.

Ed: Who have you found to be key people in scripture who have modeled what our prayer life should look like? How can we model these patterns?

John: Jesus gives us a pattern of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. That’s a good place to begin. But Jesus talks quite a bit on prayer. He teaches us we ought to come to God like a father who likes to give good gifts (Matt. 7:7-11); that we ought to pray with faith (Mark 11:23-26); we ought to pray in private (Mark 12:38-40); we ought to plead to God like a persistent widow coming to a reluctant judge for justice or like a tax collector longing for mercy (Luke 18).

But the prayer book of the church is the book of Psalms. Eugene Peterson says somewhere that since the church’s beginning, Christians have learned to pray by praying the Psalms each day. The Psalms contain every human emotion.

They teach us how to pray when we are angry, desperate, joyful, depressed, afflicted, and hopeful. They teach us how to feel or what to say when our lives are falling apart or when we’ve just been delivered.

The easiest way to allow the Psalms to shape your prayer life is to read a psalm a day and ask how this psalm teaches me to talk to God.

Ed: Let’s talk about prayer during these times of Covid-19 and racial injustice. How do we press into prayer now?

John: Covid-19 has taken away a lot of the public and therefore performative elements of our lives, leaving much of it hidden, which can be strategic for our spiritual growth. It might be helpful to imagine ourselves like a seed, buried in the ground.

So much happens to a seed, when buried. It dies, as Jesus says, in John 12. But in doing so, it opens itself up to all the resources of the soil and becomes something greater than it was.

But it had to be hidden to do so. I think there’s a lot to that imagery that we haven’t been able to see and grasp until now.

With racial injustice, there’s a danger of performative justice. In other words, right now, Christians are tempted to say the right things on social media to ensure we are on the “right side” or we don’t have any work to do on ourselves.

Then, once our culture is done being concerned about it, so are we. Having right conclusions about racial injustice is one thing, but to be working against it for only as long as the culture is paying attention is worldliness. We will need something deeper than “cultural support” to be people of justice.

Justice, especially racial justice, is a long road that often takes many hidden acts of sacrifice and suffering. So much is needed that is unseen. That means we will need to know how to work and pray in hidden ways. For many of us, it’s hard to even imagine what that kind of life and work looks like. We need a deep, hidden life for a fruitful, public life.





Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 11, 2020, 09:58:28 pm
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118313.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/one-on-one-with-jerry-root-on-neglected-cs-lewis.html








One on One with Jerry Root on 'The Neglected C.S. Lewis'











What readers of Lewis tend to neglect, are in fact the very books Lewis thought were his best and most important.


Ed: Many are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles and his Christian apologetics. How can you say he was neglected?

Jerry: While Lewis is a well-known author, nevertheless, very few are familiar with his academic books. Yet, these are his best books. They were born out of his professional life and his study as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature while at Oxford and later at Cambridge University. Mark Neal and I wanted to reintroduce these books to a wider public.

Ed: How important are these academic works?

Jerry: Lewis thought them very important. For example, one of the books we highlight, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, took Lewis over 15 years to write. He said that of all the other books he wrote during that time, they were, by comparison, only the ‘twiddly bits.’ That means that Lewis classified as ‘twiddly bits’ Mere Christianity, the Narnian series, his science fiction, and Screwtape Letters. What readers of Lewis tend to neglect, are in fact the very books Lewis thought were his best and most important.

Ed: Do you think some people look past his academic books because they feel too intimidated by the depth of the books?

Jerry: Perhaps. Nevertheless, Lewis was such a great writer that nobody should be intimidated by him. His prose is well reasoned and imaginatively depicted. The material is presented with such wit that even his most rigorous volumes leave the reader chuckling (and in some cases belly laughing).

To be intimidated by these books is short sighted. It is not that we lack the capacity to enjoy them; we often simply lack the discipline to stretch academically.

I think we have become slaves to social media and short sound bites. We want immediate information at our fingertips. Siri and Google have become the gurus of our day. This has contributed to academic laziness.

We lack intellectual rigor and we are often not interested in developing it. On the one hand, we feel awkward when approaching the books that were Lewis’ lifeblood. On the other hand, we forget that any new endeavor will leave us feeling awkward until a certain level of skill is developed.

In fact, if you are not awkward some place in your life, you are just not growing. The very act of reading these neglected books is itself a liberal arts education. Lewis opens more than wardrobe doors.

Furthermore, these books can increase the readers’ capacity to think, wrestle with big ideas, and grow intellectually.

Ed: Can you briefly describe some of the books included?

Jerry: One book discussed, The Discarded Image, was a lecture series on medieval literature that Lewis frequently gave at Oxford University. He introduces students to the medieval worldview preventing them from projecting their twenty-first century values onto the literature of an earlier age.

Lewis says that after the Bible, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy was the most influential book on medieval literature, and until recently a person was not considered educated if they did not know that book.

In fact, Lewis gives Boethius’ answer to the problem of foreknowledge and free will that is so simple and accessible that we wonder why did this question ever perplexed us in the first place.

Another book already mentioned is English Literature in the Sixteenth Century. To write this book, Lewis read every book written in English or translated into English in the sixteenth century.

That was the century of the Reformation. Lewis was one of the few who has ever actually read exhaustively both sides of that controversy. Consequently, his judgments are more informed, and more carefully nuanced.

Furthermore, Lewis’ The Allegory of Love, the book that launched his brilliant academic career, is another one of the eight works highlighted in The Neglected C. S. Lewis.

Ed: But, that material seems “old hat.” What benefit can there be in reading the literature of the past?

Jerry: Every generation can spot the failures of the generations that came before them but lacks the perspective that future generations will have as they judge the failures of our own day.

We cannot travel into the future and look back, but we can read the literature of the past and although they made errors different from our own it is unlikely they made the same kinds of poor judgments we have made.

The past gives us touch points of comparison and the means to evaluate our own time and maybe even correct some of its excesses.

Furthermore, in an age of polarization we would be well to familiarize ourselves with The Personal Heresy. This was a literary debate between Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard of Cambridge University. The controversy produces light not heat.

These two men knew how to argue properly. The debate contains no informal fallacies. It is a model of civil discourse so needed in our age of impatience, angry tempers, and soaring egos. This merely scratches the surface of the wisdom to be found in the books highlighted in The Neglected C. S. Lewis.

Ed: How does this material affect your work as a professor of evangelism at Wheaton College?

Jerry: Lewis once wrote, “Most of my books are evangelistic.” How could this be when he was writing literary criticism, children’s stories, adult novels, poetry, and so forth? In fact, Lewis said we do not need more books by Christians about Christianity. We need more books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.

He wanted to produce books where the Christian worldview was implied and every topic bears the sense and fragrance of Christianity. The gospel makes more sense when everything supports its truth; consequently, one gains a more robust and convincing grasp of the message.








Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: Bladerunner on July 12, 2020, 08:42:22 pm
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118313.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/one-on-one-with-jerry-root-on-neglected-cs-lewis.html








One on One with Jerry Root on 'The Neglected C.S. Lewis'











What readers of Lewis tend to neglect, are in fact the very books Lewis thought were his best and most important.


Ed: Many are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s Narnian Chronicles and his Christian apologetics. How can you say he was neglected?

Jerry: While Lewis is a well-known author, nevertheless, very few are familiar with his academic books. Yet, these are his best books. They were born out of his professional life and his study as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature while at Oxford and later at Cambridge University. Mark Neal and I wanted to reintroduce these books to a wider public.

Ed: How important are these academic works?

Jerry: Lewis thought them very important. For example, one of the books we highlight, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, took Lewis over 15 years to write. He said that of all the other books he wrote during that time, they were, by comparison, only the ‘twiddly bits.’ That means that Lewis classified as ‘twiddly bits’ Mere Christianity, the Narnian series, his science fiction, and Screwtape Letters. What readers of Lewis tend to neglect, are in fact the very books Lewis thought were his best and most important.

Ed: Do you think some people look past his academic books because they feel too intimidated by the depth of the books?

Jerry: Perhaps. Nevertheless, Lewis was such a great writer that nobody should be intimidated by him. His prose is well reasoned and imaginatively depicted. The material is presented with such wit that even his most rigorous volumes leave the reader chuckling (and in some cases belly laughing).

To be intimidated by these books is short sighted. It is not that we lack the capacity to enjoy them; we often simply lack the discipline to stretch academically.

I think we have become slaves to social media and short sound bites. We want immediate information at our fingertips. Siri and Google have become the gurus of our day. This has contributed to academic laziness.

We lack intellectual rigor and we are often not interested in developing it. On the one hand, we feel awkward when approaching the books that were Lewis’ lifeblood. On the other hand, we forget that any new endeavor will leave us feeling awkward until a certain level of skill is developed.

In fact, if you are not awkward some place in your life, you are just not growing. The very act of reading these neglected books is itself a liberal arts education. Lewis opens more than wardrobe doors.

Furthermore, these books can increase the readers’ capacity to think, wrestle with big ideas, and grow intellectually.

Ed: Can you briefly describe some of the books included?

Jerry: One book discussed, The Discarded Image, was a lecture series on medieval literature that Lewis frequently gave at Oxford University. He introduces students to the medieval worldview preventing them from projecting their twenty-first century values onto the literature of an earlier age.

Lewis says that after the Bible, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy was the most influential book on medieval literature, and until recently a person was not considered educated if they did not know that book.

In fact, Lewis gives Boethius’ answer to the problem of foreknowledge and free will that is so simple and accessible that we wonder why did this question ever perplexed us in the first place.

Another book already mentioned is English Literature in the Sixteenth Century. To write this book, Lewis read every book written in English or translated into English in the sixteenth century.

That was the century of the Reformation. Lewis was one of the few who has ever actually read exhaustively both sides of that controversy. Consequently, his judgments are more informed, and more carefully nuanced.

Furthermore, Lewis’ The Allegory of Love, the book that launched his brilliant academic career, is another one of the eight works highlighted in The Neglected C. S. Lewis.

Ed: But, that material seems “old hat.” What benefit can there be in reading the literature of the past?

Jerry: Every generation can spot the failures of the generations that came before them but lacks the perspective that future generations will have as they judge the failures of our own day.

We cannot travel into the future and look back, but we can read the literature of the past and although they made errors different from our own it is unlikely they made the same kinds of poor judgments we have made.

The past gives us touch points of comparison and the means to evaluate our own time and maybe even correct some of its excesses.

Furthermore, in an age of polarization we would be well to familiarize ourselves with The Personal Heresy. This was a literary debate between Lewis and E. M. W. Tillyard of Cambridge University. The controversy produces light not heat.

These two men knew how to argue properly. The debate contains no informal fallacies. It is a model of civil discourse so needed in our age of impatience, angry tempers, and soaring egos. This merely scratches the surface of the wisdom to be found in the books highlighted in The Neglected C. S. Lewis.

Ed: How does this material affect your work as a professor of evangelism at Wheaton College?

Jerry: Lewis once wrote, “Most of my books are evangelistic.” How could this be when he was writing literary criticism, children’s stories, adult novels, poetry, and so forth? In fact, Lewis said we do not need more books by Christians about Christianity. We need more books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.

He wanted to produce books where the Christian worldview was implied and every topic bears the sense and fragrance of Christianity. The gospel makes more sense when everything supports its truth; consequently, one gains a more robust and convincing grasp of the message.








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


some say  The Chronicles of Nardia mirror the Bible. I personally do not think so,

Blade
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: Chaplain Mark Schmidt on July 12, 2020, 09:12:05 pm
Excellent article.  I am presently reading a biographer that is one of the best I have read about CS Lewis
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 13, 2020, 11:43:20 pm
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https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/five-priorities-of-worshipping-church.html








Five Priorities of A Worshipping Church












But what if the normal we once experienced was inadequate and God is using this moment to jar us from complacency?


It’s common to hear people long for a quick return to normal these days. The crisis brought about by COVID-19 has left many Christian leaders reeling and disoriented. “When can we get back to the way things used to be?” Implicit in this question is the assumption that the old normal was entirely good.

But what if the normal we once experienced was inadequate and God is using this moment to jar us from complacency? What if our ‘good ol’ days’ weren’t at all reminiscent of the ‘original normal’?

Our previous normal was certainly convenient—it only required an hour or two on a Sunday for most of us. And it was entertaining as we weekly evaluated whether or not we enjoyed the worship experienced. And it was easy—for most it simply meant sitting still and listening for an hour (or at least look like we were listening.)

But my question remains, “Is this the normal that we really need to return to?” Is this the thing that God meant for us?

Let’s reflect on the opening paragraph of Luke’s testimony about the Antioch church:

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:1-3)

This scene gives witness to the original normal of the church. It’s a picture of the way the church is meant to function. It provides insight into the poverty of our former normal and should create a longing to see a more biblical version of the church emerge in our re-openings.

There seems to be five treasures of an original normal, New Testament Church that are too often missing in the former normal that we just left.

A Worshipping Church Will Prize Missional Agility

Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, with over half a million residents. It was a diverse trading center that quickly became the epicenter of the early Christian movement. We are introduced to the church of Antioch’s founding in Acts 11 as some nameless disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene came to the region preaching the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prior to this moment, the focus of the church’s mission was on fellow Jews, but early believers who immigrated to this region developed a heart for the Hellenistic people. They soon became effective in evangelizing this previously untapped people group.

The Holy Spirit gave this worshipping church a passion for people that led them to declare the gospel to all who would listen. A passion that would continue to mark the Antioch church throughout the book of Acts.

Today, in our scattering, God may be birthing a passion for people who would otherwise not connect with our ‘normal’ church gatherings and events. Missional agility, as in the first century, requires a church to embraces ‘sentness’ as the normal behavior of a disciple.

A Worshipping Church Will Prize a Holistic Strategy

By the time we get to Acts 13, the church plant in Antioch is a little over one year old. Luke mentions that there were “prophets and teachers” in the church who serve to advance the mission.

The prophets were gifted in speaking the will of God, while the teachers instructed the people in practical application to that message. Together, they led the church to understand and undertake the assignments of God’s will.

But there was more. The church also had the voices of Barnabas and Paul speaking into its mission. They were not merely a teaching church, they were a missionary church because of the catalytic shepherding gifts of leaders like Barnabas and the apostolic gifts of leaders like Paul.

This leadership combined to embody the functions Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:11-13 that are necessary for the building up of the body of Christ.

Today, God may be exposing our unhealthy singular dependence on teachers as He is creating an awareness of the biblical necessity of a holistic strategy including other complimentary functions in order to move the Christ’s mission forward.

A Worshipping Church Will Prize Cultural Diversity

It is exciting to look at the makeup of the Antioch church. We have Barnabas—a generous, encouraging, catalytic-shepherd who brought Saul/Paul into the movement. We have black men, Simeon and Lucius from North Africa.

There’s also Manaen, who grew up with Herod Antipas and was a wealthy, older man or high social standing. Finally, we have Saul who was a Roman citizen from Tarsus—a leading Pharisee who was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. Diversity was the homogeneous principle of this city and of the church’s leadership.

Now, more than ever, diversity should characterize the leadership of Jesus’ church in North America. As our communities diversify, our churches should lead the way in the integration of that diversity. Not for political correctness sake, but for the fact that combining diverse cultural perspectives and expressions of following Christ creates a much more robust and holistic disciple.

Splintered silos of sameness solitarily coexisting ensures the perpetuation of an easy, but unremarkable church.

A Worshipping Church Will Prize Spiritual Sensitivity

Notice in verse 2 that the byproduct of worship was the spiritual sensitivity to invent the concept of missionary sending. They were not content to stay and soak in the experience of worship; they were compelled to send themselves so that others could worship. Their worship was designed to recalibrate their spirits to Christ and his mission in the world.

It seems that the truer our worship becomes, the more our priorities reflect the One that we worship. For many of us, worship has long been about ourselves. My personal relationship.

My worship experience. My sacred preferences. But what if our worship was about Christ? What if it cost us something? What if the way we worshipped reflected the One we worship? Would we discover that we once again could hear the voice of God?

A Worshipping Church Will Prize Kingdom Generosity

The missionary heart compelled this new church plant to send 2/5 of their leadership team to a multiply opportunities for the gospel to be heard. Their corporate priorities reflected their individual priorities around evangelism to the Gentiles.

This motivation led the church to a culture of generosity as they corporately invested in sending missionaries—the first record of such a sending church recorded in Scripture.

Only a worshipping community committed to generously offering themselves as a living sacrifice to God would ever take such a risk. Has God stopped calling his church to a bold venture that naturally releases its best people and resources so that the Kingdom can advance in the world? Unlikely.

God is still speaking. Kingdom generosity is still our calling.

But what will be our answer? Re-open to our old, former normal? Or, allow our worship to recalibrate our hearts back to Christ’s original intentions for his church.








Jeff Christopherson is a church planter, pastor, author and Missiologist at the Send Institute - an interdenominational church planting and evangelism think tank. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 13, 2020, 11:46:49 pm
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https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/jen-wilkin-personal-holiness-sin-common-good.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+christianitytoday%2Fctmag+%28CT+Magazine%29








Want to Love Your Neighbor? Start By Fighting Your Own Sin.












When we “make every effort to be holy,” it works toward the common good.


What are some effective ways to love our neighbors? Most of us would say things like taking a meal to someone who is ill or helping repair a broken faucet. Thinking further, we might point to less tangible actions like praying for people, apologizing quickly for an offense, or offering a word of encouragement.

In each case, we think of a positive behavior directed toward someone else. These are the “one another” actions, conforming to the many New Testament instructions on how to treat those God places around us.

Each “one another” is an expression of the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Outdo one another in showing honor, forgive one another as Christ forgave you, bear with one another, submit to one another in love. These expansive expressions of the principles of the Old Testament Law prescribe how we can live in community and offer indispensable instructions for maintaining the common good. Finding meaningful ways to love one another is not simply “a good idea” or “a nice suggestion”; it is the hard work necessary for the well-being of the group.

But to truly love one another, we must direct our efforts at godliness not just toward others, but inward. The call to love our neighbor is given in reference to how we love ourselves. It explicitly links the spiritual health of the individual to the health of community.

Yet we instinctively divide our sins into two categories: those that affect our neighbor and those that affect only us. The ancient god of individualism whispers that some sins are just between God and me. If there are consequences, they will impact only me. And this is simply not true. The consistent message of the Bible is this: Personal sin yields collateral suffering, without fail.

Consider Achan, who believed he could take the spoils of war for himself and conceal them in his tent (Josh. 7). God’s punishment of not only Achan but his entire household drives home the lesson that personal sin is sin against our neighbor. Communal well-being is harmed by individual rebellion.

We are not so different from Achan. We tell ourselves a similar lie as we bow to the god of individualism: “As long as my selfishness is concealed, as long as I don’t act openly on my impulse to belittle, as long as no one knows I am addicted to this behavior, or this substance, or my own bitterness, no one is harmed but me.” But personal sin yields collateral suffering.

Why? Because what we do in the secret place is the most accurate representation of who we truly are. It reveals the motives of our hearts, the overflow of which invariably splashes onto our neighbor. Personal sin yields collateral suffering. But here is good news: Personal holiness yields collateral blessing.

Just as the sin done in secret will be dragged into the light, so also the good work of righteousness done in secret will be rewarded by the Lord (Matt. 6:1–18). When love, joy, peace, and patience are our daily meditation; when kindness, goodness, and faithfulness are our mindset; when gentleness and self-control are our mainstay, these virtues overflow our hearts and become a source of blessing to our neighbors.

We cannot help but interact with one another in life-giving ways when these are the content of our character. Uncommon personal holiness, hard sought, serves the common good.

Thus, perhaps the most basic way to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” is to “make every effort … to be holy” (Heb. 12:14). What if a personal fast from social media made you more eager for face-to-face friendship? What if a quiet decision to delay a purchase made you more generous? What if resting from work made you kinder to your family? An uncommon approach, to say the least—a road less traveled, a narrow path—and the very path of our great high priest, who was tempted in every way we are yet was without sin. Uncommon personal holiness, hard sought, poured out for the common good.

Taking a meal to someone is certainly loving our neighbor. But repenting and turning from our “personal” sins is as well. It is choosing to walk the narrow path of our Savior, that we might love our neighbor out of the overflow.

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 14, 2020, 08:02:45 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118369.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/sweet-surrender-salvation.html








The Sweet Surrender of Salvation









By rising above self-interest we can taste the true honey of new creation.


Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, recently warned that coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day. On Sunday, Florida reported 15,300 new cases, the most of any state in a single day. Epidemiologists keep saying we told you so. We should have seen this coming. The anticipated summer-season wane proved contrary as a hot July in the country’s hottest Southern and Western states ushered in COVID-19 levels surpassing the highs of last April. The ever-burgeoning pandemic coaxed columnist David Brooks to list COVID-19 as first among five epic crises facing our country. Piling on with the pandemic he adds gigantic changes related to race, political alignment, cultural priorities, and economics—all compounding to portend what Brooks labels a “moral, spiritual and emotional disaster.”

Left out of this deleterious deluge, as noted by a profusion of commenters, is the ever-looming cataclysm of climate change. Minneapolis meteorologist Paul Douglas, politically conservative and Jesus loving, reiterates over and over the multiple strands of evidence—CO2 levels at a 3-million-year high, temperatures and sea levels rising, rains falling harder, growing seasons longer, and crazy weather everywhere. Scripture warns of destruction by fire and famine, a portent, perhaps, of global heat to come. Jesus and the prophets tied cosmological catastrophe to wars and strife as harbingers of apocalyptic doom (Deut. 32:22; Mark 13:8; 2 Pet. 3:7; Rev. 8:7). We reap what we sow.

The gospel forecast of “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” induces human longing for new birth (2 Pet. 3:13). “Creation groans” under the weight of that expectancy, forced into futility and frustration as it waits (Rom. 8:19–25). Tensions may be high between now and then, between old and new, but no matter how bad it gets—or how hard or even how good—nothing compares to the glory to come (Rom. 8:18).

Such faith for the future may seem childlike to some—hardly the antidote for a pending “spiritual, moral and emotional disaster.” Yet Jesus is clear: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). To be sure, childlike faith is not childish nor easy. New creation as the upshot of resurrection demands crucifixion, and not just for Jesus. Crosses are borne and shared by us all; our souls forged most intensely and meaningfully by suffering.

Alas, as creatures with low thresholds for pain, humans prefer workarounds, a quick-fix salvation, and symptom relief rather than fundamental and systemic change. Part of the problem can be a truncated view of salvation—a tendency to view oneself through the lens of a “Disney princess theology”—a chronic proclivity for reducing the entirety of Biblical salvation down to a personal transaction between Jesus and me. Exacerbated by the high value of American individualism and the ease of technology, the spiritual life happens by way of a DIY discipleship. Childish, princess wishes stand in for true childlike faith to the extent we can’t even pray as we ought for the transformation we need (Rom. 8:26). Convinced we know best what’s best, we resemble our wayward spiritual forebears without a king, everyone doing as they saw fit (Judges 17:6).

I’m a backyard beekeeper, and I’m currently dealing with wayward bees without a queen. Without a queen, normal bee life in a hive turns apocalyptic. Worker bees’ reflexes activate certain bodily changes as they attempt to rescue their doomed colony. The little buzzers try to fix things by taking on the queen’s job themselves, a futile task they’re not built to do. Worker bees (which are all female) start laying eggs, but their eggs are not fertilized and therefore hatch as drones, useless male bees that just sit on the comb all day doing nothing. Their doom is sure.

The analogy to the futility of quick-fix, DIY deliverance might be obvious, were it not for the fact that queens don’t just disappear. Deeply devoted to their daughters, queens never get up and buzz off. Queens die only when killed, whether by pesticides or the proliferation of parasites, or in my case, human anxiety and carelessness. I crushed the queen without realizing it. Most likely, I got a little frantic in my hive management—countless thousands of bees flying around all at once and threatening to sting—who can see a single queen bee among so many insects swarming in your face? Then again, I thought I knew best.

Scripture continually indicts human sin as the deadly cause and effect of so much evil, physically and metaphysically, spewing its toxic emissions all over creation: a warming and warring earth, repeating patterns of oppression, betrayal and violence that ruin and kill, displace and discriminate. Viruses may not be our fault, but their proliferation is due in part to a woefully deficient health care planning, political ineptitude and inequities, and poverty in impoverished corners with its own roots in social strife and injustice. Earth may be home to millions of species, but only one dominates. Human cleverness, inventiveness, and activities accomplish great good, to be sure, but they also drive most every global problem we face.

David Brooks argues for competent government as a solution, “more C-SPAN than Instagram” as he so cleverly put it. But a “moral, spiritual and emotional disaster” requires more than good government. We know but forget that governments are not God. Governments lie and cannot be trusted. Scripture’s solution is the work of the Spirit evidenced in the good works of God’s people, the “redemption of our bodies” which carry cosmic ramifications far beyond individual betterment. Romans actually uses the singular noun body rather than bodies in narrating redemption, leading some scholars to wonder whether Paul has a whole hive in mind, what he calls the body of Christ, our life together as communities who serve. From birth, we are wired to transcend self-interest, to surrender our individual selves to greater purposes. Only by losing your self can your whole self be realized (Matt. 10:39). Psychologists draw an analogy from bees and call it making “the hive switch.”

A beehive survives because its whole is so much greater than any individual member. The same is true for Christians as church, and for populations as civilizations, and for human beings as humanity. Only when we recognize and surrender to our greater oneness with Christ as queen bee—rising above self-interest in the interest of common goodness—only then do we experience the true honey of the new creation Jesus promises. Christian faith views crises as crosses—be they viral, racial, political, cultural, economic, ecological, or everything all at once—to be borne with self-sacrifice, due repentance, and grace. And as crosses are always subject to resurrection, we trust God will work all of it for the good of us all.






Daniel Harrell is Christianity Today’s editor in chief.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 14, 2020, 10:28:01 am
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https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/mark-buchanan-god-walk-speed-soul.html








The Speed of Our Souls—and Our Soles













An avid walker explains why walking is good for spiritual growth.


I used to dream of a library devoted entirely to walking. Most of the books, spanning the centuries in many languages, would be narratives: accounts of exploration, pilgrimage, jaunts in the countryside, strolls in the city, purposeful journeys, and rambles with no particular destination. The shelves would contain works as various as The Narrow Road to the Deep North and other travel writings by the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bash; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s notebooks recording his impressions of the mountains in Britain’s Lake District (when “fell-walking” just for the experience, not for any practical purpose, was regarded as highly eccentric); Werner Herzog’s memoir Of Walking in Ice; and Bruce Chatwin’s genre-crossing foray into the Australian Outback, The Songlines. Surely, somewhere, there must be an enormously wealthy, passionate walker who would like to endow such a project.

Alas, I never found such a figure. More’s the pity, too, since in the past 20 years alone, enough good walking books have been published to fill a number of shelves in that imaginary library: not only superb chronicles of walking but also books about walking, the most influential and widely imitated of which is Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking. In recent years especially, there has been a vogue for books that champion walking with considerable fervor. (See, for instance, Antonia Malchik’s A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time, and In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration, by Shane O’Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin.) And for readers who want to have their cake and eat it too, there’s a subgenre I call “cynical-inspirational,” including books such as John Kaag’s Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are and Erling Kagge’s Walking: One Step at a Time, both published in the past couple of years. (Someone should tell these pedestrian philosophers that a walker never takes “one step at a time”: Before one step is complete, another step is already in progress.)

As a lifelong walker (and non-driver) with my own mini-library of walking books (not to mention magazines like the issue of Freeman’s that includes the essay “Walking While Black” by my dear friend and walking companion Garnette Cadogan), I have viewed these developments with mixed feelings. Much as I value walking, I don’t want to sell it to anyone, and I don’t want anyone trying to sell it to me. But isn’t that attitude prideful, a bit too fastidious?

The Pace God Keeps
Which brings me to the book under review. Mark Buchanan is a Canadian pastor and the author of many books. His latest, God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul, is unapologetically inspirational in its intent. He hopes to motivate readers who walk only when it’s obligatory (they are legion) to walk more, yes, but his goals extend well beyond that. He wants all of us to think about walking and practice walking with a new mindfulness, informed by God’s self-revelation in Scripture. To this end, Buchanan draws on a rich variety of biblical texts; the motif of walking, he argues, runs through the Bible in a way that most of us have never noticed.

Before going further, I need to tell you two things. First, there is a lot in God Walk that rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes this is a matter of disagreement with an argument; in other instances, it’s a matter of taste or style (and the distinction between principled disagreement and “taste” is often difficult to make). But, second, there is a lot in God Walk that I value; I’m not at all sorry to have spent time reading and thinking about the book, and I am happy to add it to my walking library.

I love the way God Walk opens, with an epigraph from Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama’s wildly idiosyncratic, insightful, and sometimes maddening little book, Three Mile an Hour God. It’s worth quoting the full passage from which the epigraph is taken:

God walks “slowly” because he is love. If he is not love he would move much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is “slow” and yet it is lord over all the other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depths of our life whether we notice it or not, whether we are currently hit by a storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.

If you have read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, you will recall a striking and oft-quoted passage that Buchanan refers to in his first chapter, when he suggests that we walk not only for utilitarian reasons but to be “closer to reality”:

We walk because three miles an hour, as the writer Rebecca Solnit says, is about the speed of thought, and maybe the speed of our souls. We walk because if we go much faster for much longer, we’ll start to lose ourselves: our bodies will atrophy, our thinking will jumble, our very souls will wither.

Do you not feel this?

I do.

I walk because three miles an hour seems to be the pace God keeps. It’s God speed.

I wish that Buchanan had done more to tease out the implications of a “slow God” who condescends to us, walking with us at the speed of love, which is also the speed of thought. Alas, he does so only very intermittently. Instead, in his first chapter, he makes a move that left me scratching my head and tugging at my beard. Under the subhead “A Physical Discipline,” he tells us that the “seed of this book was annoyance, or grief, or something in between.” What caused this feeling? Well, you see, “many spiritual traditions have a corresponding physical discipline and Christianity has none. Hinduism has yoga. Taoism has tai chi. Shintoism has karate. Buddhism has kung fu. Confucianism has hapkido. Sikhism has gatka.” But Christianity? Zilch.

You can guess where Buchanan takes this. We hear a little bit on Gnosticism (“incarnation’s mortal enemy”), followed by the preposterous assertion that the “Christian faith” once had “a corresponding physical discipline” but “then lost it.” And this discipline, of course, was walking.

I’m not going to undertake here the wearisome job of sorting out all of the ways in which this is wrong, conceptually muddled, and lacking in evidence. At first, I found it hard to believe that Buchanan seriously believed this himself. But never mind. This setup gives him a rubric of sorts—chapters 6 through 15 explore different facets of walking (“Walking as Exercise,” “Walking as Friendship,” “Walking as Remembering,” and so on).

But it isn’t necessary to buy the argument about recovering Christianity’s “lost” discipline (a “physical” discipline that is also a “spiritual” discipline) in order to profit selectively from Buchanan’s many-sided reflections on walking and the Christian life. Some readers may connect particularly with his account of “Walking as Prayer,” others with “Walking as Attentiveness” (one of my favorite chapters) or “Walking as Suffering.” I can’t imagine many readers making their way through the book without several such experiences of deep resonance and illumination.

More Awake, More Attentive
At the end of each chapter, under the heading “God Speed,” Buchanan includes a brief reflection set apart typographically from the main text. These oblige the reader to make intuitive connections; they function a bit like the sudden juxtapositions in haiku. My favorite among them is the one at the end of Chapter 15, “Walking as Flight,” which offers a fresh angle on Søren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard was “odd,” Buchanan acknowledges, but his father was even odder. He would take his two sons on walks around the streets and shops of Copenhagen, visiting the tradesmen. “It was a delightful daily ritual.” But, Buchanan adds, “these walks were all imaginary.” The father recounted them to his sons as they sat together in their house, as if telling them a story. “Odd” doesn’t begin to describe it.

And yet, however strange and perhaps even deforming it must have been to grow up in that setting, Kierkegaard’s “imaginary walks . . . did nothing to hamper his creativity.” Indeed, Buchanan suggests, they “prepared him for the real thing” (when he grew up, he walked the streets of Copenhagen daily). They “made him more awake, more attentive, more humble, more curious, more approachable.” And then we’re able to see how Kierkegaard’s imaginary walks bear on the theme of “Walking as Flight”: “For your next walk, imagine you are that person, that man, that woman, that child,”—in other words, a walker “displaced by war or hunger or catastrophe.”

Should you read this book? The answer might depend on your impressions of these few pages on Kierkegaard. If you don’t like them, you probably won’t enjoy the book. But if, like me, you find them absorbing, yes, by all means, you should read God Walk. No doubt you will have your own quibbles with the author, and you will find some parts of the book more appealing than others, but you won’t regret having made the journey.








John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 16, 2020, 11:53:57 pm
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118404.jpg?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/archaeology-swbts-lipsomb-ortiz-davis-patterson-lanier.html








Largest Evangelical Archaeology Program Finds New Home in Nashville












Southwestern’s former president Paige Patterson connected outgoing professors to Lipscomb University.


After they were dismissed from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTWS) within a few minutes of each other in March, Steve Ortiz and Tom Davis put their heads together to pray and figure out what they were going to do.

Ortiz and Davis were both seasoned directors of archaeological projects in Israel and across the Middle East. While at SWBTS, the third-largest seminary in the United States, they saw the Tandy Institute for Archaeology contribute to the school’s growth and vision. The institute had about two dozen MA and PhD students, making it the largest archeological program at an evangelical school.

The two professors expected cutbacks in 2020 because of COVID-19 and ongoing financial challenges facing higher education. But they had no idea their jobs were on the line.

It didn’t seem right to them. As Ortiz and Davis reviewed their accomplishments of the preceding decade, they came up with a growing list of accomplishments. They’d done an amazing amount of research since Ortiz started as director.

“We saw how God had been growing the Tandy and providing us projects that were already funded and just needed our staff members and our students,” Ortiz told Christianity Today. “So we said, ‘Let's see if somebody will hire both of us.’”

One of the first people they called was former SWBTS president Paige Patterson, who had been a strong Tandy supporter. Patterson suggested they talk with Mark Lanier, a Houston attorney and the founder of the Lanier Theological Library.

Lanier was in touch almost immediately and said he would like to see them hired at his alma mater, Lipscomb University, a 129-year old, Churches of Christ-affiliated school in Nashville. Ortiz and Davis didn’t know anything about Lipscomb, except that Lanier was on the board of trustees.

“God is amazing,” Ortiz said. “On the day we got our notification that we were being fired, we already had somebody talking about a potential job offer that evening.”

Lanier didn’t waste any time taking his vision to Lipscomb president Randy Lowry and the rest of the trustees. “I think within two weeks we had the entire deal put together,” Lanier said.

Classes start in Janurary
The new Lanier Center for Archaeology was announced on the college’s website Wednesday. Ortiz and Davis will join the faculty in the fall, and the school will start offering archaeology classes in January, when it expects to complete the accreditation process. There will be a graduate-level program as well as undergraduate courses.

Ortiz was the principal investigator and co-director of the Tel Gezer Excavation Project and is also participating in a dig at Tel Burna, both in Israel. Davis directs the Kourion Urban Space Project at the early Christian site in Cyprus and is part of an ongoing project documenting findings in a temple in Egypt.

Lipscomb provost W. Craig Bledsoe said the center for archaeology “will provide our faculty with new opportunities to collaborate as well as to share and apply their knowledge and expertise. We look forward to the impact this program will have not only on Lipscomb but also on the field of archaeological research on the whole.”

Lipscomb faces the same economy and the same coronavirus-caused disruptions as other Christian schools and universities, according to Lanier, but the administration and trustees were excited about the new opportunities.

“Lipscomb is looking at this as a wise use of our opportunities, resources, talents, and gifts,” Lanier said. “We want this program to grow and thrive and become a world-recognized program both within Christianity and even outside the Christian circles.”

The program is funded for five years, after which it will be reevaluated.

“Because of Steve Ortiz and Tom Davis, we will go from zero to 60 faster than a Tesla,” Lanier said.

Graduate students transferring
Many of the graduate students from SWBTS are transferring to Lipscomb and will not have to restart their degree programs. Two international students are tied to Texas seminary by the terms of their student visas and will not be transferring to Nashville.

Some of the students have filed a complaint against SWBTS with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional accrediting agency. The complaint says that when a graduate-level academic program is canceled “SACS standards call for the need for teach-out plans to offer students a chance to continue their degree with 1) minimal disruption, 2) be reasonable, and 3) offer a chance to transfer to comparable programs.”

Like fellow professors, Oritz and Davis are not sure at this point how much of their teaching will be in person and how much will be online this fall. But they are eager to get started and pleased to have found a new home at Lipscomb.

“At SWBTS, we thought that was the end of archaeology,” Ortiz said. “And now all of a sudden we're at Lipscomb and we have a bigger footprint and an institute that wants us there, that’s a big difference.”
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 17, 2020, 09:46:36 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118416.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/perils-of-white-american-folk-religion.html








The Perils of White American Folk Religion














Many Christians unwittingly practice a counter-faith that doesn't know how to deal with racism.


In June, 2020, Dan Cathy, the CEO of Chick-fil-A; Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church; and Lecrae, a platinum-selling recording artist, gathered to discuss the tortuous death of George Floyd, choked by officer Derek Chauvin, who put his knee on the unarmed man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. They gathered to talk about Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased down by armed residents, surrounded, and shot to death in Glynn County, Georgia, on February 23. A potential cover-up protected the murderers.

After Rayshard Brooks was killed by police in the drive-thru of an Atlanta Wendy’s, Cathy, Giglio, and Lecrae sat together to talk about racism and the church’s role. Over 60 percent of white Christians think pastors should not talk about race. Forty percent believe race and immigration should never even be a topic in church. Meanwhile, an equal number of black folks say that pastors and churches should. This shows that racial reconciliation conferences do not work. Before reconciliation can be introduced, we have to embrace the truth.

In the aftermath of terrible state violence in other countries, truth and reconciliation commissions convened to bring reparative, restorative, or punitive justice. This happened in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, in South Africa after the fall of apartheid, and after what is termed the “Dirty War” in Argentina. This has never happened in the United States.

These secular governments understand a fundamental reality that should be familiar to followers of Jesus: We confess and God forgives. Truth and acknowledgement come before reconciliation. Christians of every color should have a firm, biblical grasp of the necessity for individual and collective confession and repentance before forgiveness and reconciliation can occur.

When we trespass, we must wrestle with the gravity of personal and corporate sins—including sinful actions we were not even aware of, injustices we benefit from, and results that we did not intend. We must lament, confess, and repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19). Only then are we truly reconciled to God through Christ Jesus and sent, equipped, to be ministers of reconciliation to others (2 Cor. 5:18).

In well-resourced, often white evangelical churches, entire ministries and parachurch organizations disciple people out of patterns of sin, struggles with alcoholism, and drug addiction. Ministries serve those in need while reinforcing their personal dignity and value. But such compassion toward sinners and the needy gets lost once the topic turns to white supremacy.

White Christians and those pursuing whiteness often become defensive and angry when asked what Jesus would say about the race-, class-, gender- and ideologically based hierarchy evident in our world. The inability and unwillingness to acknowledge and confess what exists and repent creates conditions for violence and oppression against people of color. Our country and its churches are socialized to not critique white supremacy.

The church has been instrumental in the creation, defense, and propagation of the myth of whiteness under the reign of White Jesus. Jemar Tisby, author of the best-selling The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, lays out clear and searing connections between the enslavement of Africans and leaders of white congregations. “Many of the men who conducted night rides” that terrorized black communities with burned crosses and lynchings were the very same men who “ascended to pulpits to preach on Sunday.”

Go back further, detailing how 15th-century church edicts exalted those with lighter skin and rejected the personhood of those with darker skin. A series of Roman Catholic decrees (the Doctrine of Discovery, 1493) codified white supremacy and sanctioned genocide, rape and abuse against African and Native peoples. Theologian Willie Jennings asserted the purpose was to bring people and the planet to “maturity.”

Colonialism created a counter-faith I call White American Folk Religion (WAFR). It’s a set of beliefs and practices grounded in a race, class, gender, and ideological hierarchy that segregates and ranks all people under a light-skinned, thin-lipped, blond-haired Christ. Americans of every color and racial assignment must reckon with the current and historic reality of a country and its churches rooted in White American Folk Religion. WAFR fuels ignorance, complicity, and willing participation in the patterns of injustice that perpetuate the death and degradation of brown, black, and indigenous women and men. Yet, in this moment of racial turmoil, those entangled in WAFR believe it is their right and responsibility to speak, teach, and lead.

In our post-colonial world, and especially in the United States, Western seminaries and theology prioritize whiteness and defer to white men like Giglio and Cathy—evangelical, older, white, wealthy, well-known, well-educated, well-connected, able-bodied, and gainfully employed—and regard them as credible and trustworthy, though neither Giglio nor Cathy is an expert on American policing or the history of a racism that promotes mass incarceration and instinctively perceives black bodies as criminal in every community. Neither of them has done the inner work to decolonize and disempower their frames of WAFR reference. They were not chosen to lead this dialogue in front of cameras and congregants in a crisis because of their experience or expertise but because they fit the description of authority.

There are many leaders who could have led this dialogue with clarity, conviction, and compassion and who are already leading Christ-centered, Holy Spirit–filled movements. They were passed over in favor of these, like too many in the white church and of the world, who speak lies from the pit of hell about how slavery is a “white blessing” from their Christ in their stained glass windows.

Colonialism succeeded. Racism is pervasive—so much so that we are often unaware of the depths of our socialized sin and individual participation. Giglio apologized on Instagram and asked for prayer. What he did not do was confess how his seminary training and discipleship did not prepare him to lead in this moment; that he is stepping down and stepping back to make space for the women and men of color to lead this conversation; and that he will take their direction. Often, white Christians are not willing to believe, let alone follow, people of color or rigorously engage in the process of detangling the Jesus of scripture from WAFR. This is what the work of decolonization looks like.

Pastors of every color in Giglio’s position must acknowledge that western theology and praxis are intertwined with WAFR and confess where they lack the personal and institutional wisdom to comprehensively resist white supremacy. Church leaders that are ill-equipped to lead and teach on issues of ethnic justice and reconciliation should confess their limitations and empower leaders of color to shepherd them and their congregants towards the Acts 2 community of true fellowship and wonder and unity and prayer (Acts 2:42–44). In the face of certain backlash, pastors must do more than denounce racism. Christians need to be discipled out of prejudice, bias, and WAFR. This begins with white pastors confessing complicity in racist systems and testifying to God’s grace and forgiveness in their own lives; then they can lead others to do the same.

How amazing it would be if pastors and leaders who benefit from the racism in their families and institutions repented for not resisting racist actions, ideology, and theology? What if pastors repented publicly for not rejecting the curse of Ham, not standing up for the Japanese during internment, or participating in white flight because people of color moved into “their” neighborhoods? What if parents asked for forgiveness from God and their children for saying, “You can marry anyone but one of them”? What if Christian families and institutions quantified their benefits from slavery and genocide of native peoples and allocated money toward financial reparation? This would be profound, powerful, and beyond significant for people of color. White people too would be liberated from the false burden of superiority, the lie of white supremacy, and enter into the desegregated, reconciled family of God. No more statements, panel discussions, conferences, or book clubs; what we need is lament, confession, repentance, and a refusal to conform to the world’s racist patterns. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we might all be one and preview the coming “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9–17). We can experience a slice of this future on this side of heaven if, as the body of Christ, we embrace truth and reconciliation in the United States.








Jonathan Walton is the author of Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free. He is also an area director for InterVarsity NY/NJ focusing on spiritual formation and experiential discipleship. He is from Southern Virginia and lives in New York City.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 17, 2020, 10:57:09 pm
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118413.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/renovated-jim-wilder-dallas-willard-brian-science.html








Stuck in a Spiritual Rut? Neuroscience Might Have the Answer.













How better understanding our brains can help us grow in conformity to Christ.


Read your Bible. Pray. Go to church—twice on Sundays. And don’t sin. Be sure not to sin.

This was the extent of my spiritual formation.

Of course, no one talked about spiritual formation when I was growing up. Reading the Bible, fasting, and prayer were part of my devotions, not part of a package of historic “spiritual disciplines.” These were just the things we did to grow our faith—to become holy, as God is holy.

And the simplicity of these activities served me well. Until—while in college—they didn’t.

That’s when I encountered Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, soon followed by Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, and his Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. These books opened my heart and mind to broader streams of God’s life-giving water. They led me down God’s ancient paths of transformation.

As for so many, discovering this wider tradition of spiritual disciplines—which included practices like meditation, fasting, and Sabbath rest—was a revelation and a relief. I no longer had to cut my own path with God, each day, alone. Now an ancient way stretched before me that I could walk with others.

Jim Wilder’s new book, Renovated: God, Dallas Willard and the Church That Transforms, integrates these ancient pathways with findings from brain science about our neural pathways. Wilder shows how contemporary neuroscience transforms our understanding of spiritual formation.

(Before Willard’s health began to decline, Wilder’s goal had been to co-write this book with him. As a witness to their original collaboration, Wilder alternates his own chapters with chapters by Willard, based on transcripts of the lectures he gave at the 2012 Heart and Soul Conference. These chapters, which summarize his thoughts on human life and the process of spiritual maturity, are the perfect introduction for those unfamiliar with his work.)

Stalled Growth
After a couple of years spent zealously practicing spiritual disciplines, two realizations emerged. First, it seemed many of my friends either resisted them or could not engage with them. They were not experiencing transformation like I had.

Second, these practices didn’t fix everything in my own life. I still struggled with sin. I would often go through the motions. And I fell into a new legalism just as my spiritual maturity plateaued. I wondered why my growth had stalled out.

I soon found that other church leaders were wondering the same things. Why do some people benefit from spiritual disciplines while others seem to flounder? Why do some people embrace them wholeheartedly while others just shrug them off? And why, after these disciplines help us grow for a time, does the fruit sometimes begin to fade?

Renovated speaks to these very questions. Wilder’s book is for those feeling stuck in a spiritual-formation rut, for those longing to see others grow spiritually, and for those interested in how brain science transforms our understanding of spiritual growth.

Fast-Track Training
Wilder’s book recommends three main shifts in how we understand the process of spiritual formation. The first is a shift from thinking about God to thinking with God.

A. W. Tozer famously said that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Yet Wilder, leaning on what we know about the brain, argues that thinking about God is too slow of a mental process to actively transform our lives. He calls it a “slow-track” mental process that can only focus on one thing at a time. Thoughts that develop on this slower track appear in our minds too late to inform actions in real time.

This slow-track process is great when there is time to pause and reflect on complex problems. It’s less helpful, however, amid the stress, fear, and disappointment of everyday life. As Wilder observes, our slow-track thinking focuses “our attention just in time to see our sinful reactions,” but not in time to follow Jesus at the speed of life.

A better alternative, Wilder argues, is thinking with God, which utilizes “fast-track” mental processes that can focus on (and react to) multiple things at once.

Have you ever reacted to a dangerous situation without thinking? Have you ever responded to someone in a way you regret? This is your fast-track brain at work. Wilder explains that our fast-track brain “produces a reaction to our circumstances before we have a chance to consider how we would rather react.”

These instantaneous reactions will probably go awry if our fast-track brain has been trained the wrong way. But they can be useful if it has been trained in a good way. A fast-track mind trained according to God’s will is able to think with God in the midst of real-time interactions.

Thinking with God is like how a sports team wordlessly works together to achieve its goal. Or how a jazz band spontaneously flows together. When a team or a band practices together—stopping and starting over again until everything is flowing smoothly—this is like thinking about God (slow-track). The game or the performance is like thinking with God (fast-track).

Relational Capacities
But the difference between thinking about God and thinking with God is more than just the difference between practice time and game time. We might be tempted to assume that a shift toward thinking with God would focus on our actions more than our thoughts. And in a certain sense, programs of spiritual formation do tend to emphasize our practices more than our underlying beliefs.

But even spiritual practice only gets us part of the way toward spiritual maturity, because true spiritual transformation requires a change in our fast-track brain. And changing our fast-track brain is connected to growing our relational skills and capacities.

As Wider explains, our spiritual maturity is directly related to our relational maturity. And unfortunately, most spiritual disciplines do not focus directly on growing relational capacity. They aren’t meant to do that. However, since God is a Trinity, and therefore relational, it makes sense that our relational capacity would be connected to our spiritual maturity.

Relational skills (like shared gratitude, calming the body when stressed, understanding nonverbal cues, and practicing emotional attunement) grow through relational exercises. And when our relational skills and capacities grow, so does our ability to connect to our relational God.

When we reach a spiritual wall or plateau, we often either double down on our spiritual practices or cast them aside. But brain science tell us that the better answer is working to grow our relational skills as a means of growing our relational and spiritual capacity.

From Me to We
The third shift Wilder describes is from a form of discipleship rooted in me to one rooted in we.

From our first cries to our final breaths, the necessity of being attached to someone—first to our parents and then to a larger group—means that my sense of “me” is always built upon an established sense of “we.” Our semi-automatic reactions to life are marked indelibly by the people we spend the most time with, the group we identify with. At the most basic level of our brains, we become like the ones we love.

Growing up, we all receive a fast-track pattern (or a “program file,” as Wilder calls it) that tells us how “my people” act in a given situation. And because this program file is buried in our fast-track brain, it is incredibly hard to override when we are tired, stressed, afraid, or angry.

Because of this, Wilder argues that true transformation comes through changing our understanding of who “my people” are and how they act. As he writes, transforming our character “depends on becoming attached by love, joy, and peace to a new people.” And this is why discipleship is fundamentally a we, rather than me, activity.

By ourselves, it is nearly impossible to change the assumptions of our fast-track brain and the actions that flow out of them. Instead, our character changes in and through community as a process of trial and error, which involves learning how the people of God act in various situations. We first see how more mature disciples behave in the crucibles of everyday life. Then we imitate their reactions as best we can. And eventually we spontaneously act in a way that witnesses to our identification with a new people—the people of God.

Spiritual practices done alone will not change our character. They may help a little. But relational skills grown through community will lead to lasting transformation.

The goal of all spiritual formation is being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), who was fully human as well as fully divine. So it only makes sense that a deep understanding of our humanity—including our brains—should inform that process. Renovated is a gift to the church, to all who long to understand the impact of neuroscience on spiritual maturity, and to all who were blessed by the work of Dallas Willard.







Geoff Holsclaw is a pastor at Vineyard North church in Grand Rapids, Michigan and an affiliate professor of theology at Northern Seminary. He and his wife Cyd are co-authors of Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us (InterVarsity Press).
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 18, 2020, 09:59:04 pm
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118354.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/convergence-of-missio-dei-and-imago-dei-way-to-understand-d.html








The Convergence of the Missio Dei and the Imago Dei: A Way to Understand Discipleship












If churches (and thus leaders) would understand discipleship in this way, I believe it would help reframe the insalubrious discipleship practices and programs seen today.


I’ve had many conversations over the years with people affiliated with the church where I’ve asked them, “Are you a Christian?” to which they would respond, “Yes, of course.” Following their admission, I would ask them, “How do you know that you are a Christian?”

This is where it got interesting. Overwhelmingly, the majority of the time people would respond, citing “Christian activity” like baptism, Bible reading, praying, attending church, and tithing.

Here’s the problem: none of these activities make one a Christian. Yet, it seems that the church groomed a generation to think that way—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Therefore, we are now dealing with a Christian generation who understands Christian maturation more as assembly-line activities (or doing) rather than identity-forming understanding (or becoming).

What makes someone a Christian—a believer or follower of Christ–is his or her faith in the Lord Jesus to save them from their sin and to become his or her King. The reason I know that I am a Christian is because of a conscious decision I made around 30 years ago to confess my sins, to turn away from my sin of living life according to Josh, and to turn to Jesus as my Savior and King.

That’s how I know I am a Christian. And it is who I am that now informs and gives shape and formation to what I do (or how I live).

In this first post, I want to share three baselines for helping churches and believers understand a foundation of discipleship and thus hopefully help begin to solve the discipleship crisis in the church.

Humanity’s Shattered Image

Almost every single person reading this article has used a mirror lately. Maybe it was to brush your teeth or your hair, to make sure your wardrobe matched, or to back out of your driveway.

Imagine the next time you go to use a mirror and you find it has shattered? In looking at the mirror, what do you see? A distorted, fractured, and fragmented image. As a result, the mirror no longer gives you a whole and complete picture. It’s not that it has ceased to be a mirror. It still offers a reflection.

However, rather than presenting a full and complete image, because it has been shattered, the reflected image is distorted and damaged.

Humanity was created to be the mirror of God. Human beings were created to reflect God’s image to the created order (Gen. 1:26). Christopher Wright states, “The image of God is not so much something we possess, as what we are. To be human is to be the image of God.”[1] John Calvin conveys that man will represent and reflect God’s image, which will shine forth in the mind, the will, and all the senses.[2]

However, when Adam and Eve fell (sinned) in the garden they shattered the imago Dei in their lives.

Keep in mind that we still are very much human. Sin did not destroy the imago Dei in humanity. However, sin shattered and thus distorted, damaged, and fractured our lives from giving a whole, complete reflection and depiction of God.

This shattered image plays out in a host of ways. Identity crises, image issues, sexual brokenness, racism, ethnocentrism, violence, abortion, etc. are all effects of sin shattering God’s image in humanity.

The Missio Dei Seeking to Restore the Imago Dei

At the time Moses wrote Genesis, kings and emperors would erect images throughout their kingdom signifying their reach and reign. Many scholars, therefore, believe that God intended to convey this message to humanity—that they were created to reflect his glory in who they were and how they functioned.

In other words, they were to reflect God’s character, nature, attributes and thus enact his kingdom on earth as it was enacted in heaven.

Such imaging is only possible when men and women are in a right relationship with God, fellowshipping and enjoying perfect communion with him. However, when Adam and Eve rebelled and sinned against God, they severed the perfect fellowship and communion with God, thereby shattering his image in (or on) them.

While men and women would still function as humans, the fundamental functions would, in fact, be distorted either by being misguided, misdirected, misappropriated, and mishandled. In other words, sin damaged the nature of who they were and thus damaged how they functioned.

Functionally, God wanted humanity to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth, subdue the earth, and have dominion on the earth (Gen. 1:28). G.K. Beale argues, “God’s ultimate goal in creation was to magnify his glory throughout the earth by means of his faithful image-bearers inhabiting the world in obedience to the divine mandate.”[3]Here are three headings to summarize the creation mandate into the fundamental functions of humanity: relational, cultural, and managerial (steward/overseer).

These three functions are alive and well within the human race today. Although these functions are to be practiced with the glory of God as the aim, they are not because of the Fall. Because of humanity’s shattered image, these functions are misguided, misdirected, misappropriated, misunderstood, mishandled, and misused.

We live in a fallen world, with a fallen race (humanity), and with a fallen race, comprised of damaged image bearers, you will find broken and fractured relationships, corrupted culture, power-craved individuals and peoples, and overall bad stewardship of life.

All of this is found both on the micro and macro level of humanity, and we all (at some time) have been guilty of breaking and fracturing a relationship, corrupting culture, abusing power, and having bad stewardship.

Enter the missio Dei. At its core, the mission of God is to create a people for himself (from all peoples) that would reflect his glory in all spheres of life (see Adam, Israel, Jesus, the church, and New Creation). Therefore, the missio Dei, at the core, aims at restoring and renewing the imago Dei in men and women .

Francis DuBose in his work, God Who Sends, highlights the relationship between the imago Dei (image of God) and the missio Dei (the mission of God). DuBose argued, “To recover the lost image of God in humanity is what the Bible is all about. And one of the major salvific themes of the New Testament is how that image has been restored through the redemptive work of God in the Second Adam, Jesus Christ.”

The Apostle Paul, in a few places, captures this notion of redeeming and renewing God’s image in man (Col. 3:10; Rom. 5:12-21; 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:45-49; 2 Cor. 3:12-18).

As Dubose put it, “just as God’s first mission (“the incipient sending”) was to deal with the problem of the broken image of God in the first family, so God’s final mission in Scripture (the ultimate sending in Jesus Christ) was to restore that image of God in the new family of the redeemed.”

Getting Discipleship Right

Matthew 28 contains Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations.” There were two parts of disciple-making—baptism and teaching. Baptism was this obedient act of identifying with Jesus. Teaching all that Jesus taught them was the way they would instruct believers about their new life in Christ.

Disciple-making, in sum, is the convergence of the missio and imago Dei. Therefore, discipleship could be defined as the restoration process of learning what it means to be truly human after the likeness and image of Jesus.

In his book, Simply Christian, N.T. Wright expresses, “Learning to live as a Christian is learning to live as a renewed human being, anticipating the eventual new creation in and with a world which is still longing and groaning for that final redemption.”

For those who like formulas, here’s a sequential discipleship formula based upon the above information and definition:

Who I Am (IDENTITY) + What I Do (IDENTIFIERS) = Who or What I Reflect (IMAGE)

This formula is extremely important. Why? Because if we get the formula wrong or we put the identifiers before the identity, the product will be a distorted image. [Note: This is what happened at the Fall!]

For instance, if we focus on the identifiers as activities that feed one’s identity, then one or two things can happen—particularly for “Christians.” First, they will be tempted to see their activities as what “makes” them a Christian. This may cause them to have a form of Christianity that’s grounded upon a works-based salvation.

Second, they might have a tendency to forget who they are because they struggle with keeping up with all the activities. Thus, missing a devotion here, a service there, a prayer there, might lead to doubt, depression, and discouragement.

True Christian discipleship is rooted in Christ’s identity. Paul says, “For I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

I’m a Christian, once again, because I’m in Christ, Christ is in me; I died to myself, and rose to new life in Christ. Because my new life is hidden with Christ (Col. 3:3), I surrender my life (all facets and spheres) to allow Him to live through me. My behaviors, functions, and thus my identifiers flow from of my identity.

The end result? As I am shaped into the likeness (and identity) of Jesus, my life reflects the glory of God and his Kingdom—that which it was meant to do all along.

If churches (and thus leaders) would understand discipleship in this way, I believe it would help reframe the insalubrious discipleship practices and programs seen today. And this will be greatly needed as we navigate a post-COVID world.

[1] Wright, The Mission of God, 421.

[2] John Calvin, Calvin Commentary Series, ed. Rev. John King, The First Book of Moses called Genesis (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2009, reprint), 96.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 82.

____________________________________________________________________________

Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 20, 2020, 03:42:04 am



(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/117822.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/vivian-mabuni-cultural-buddhist-tirade-christian.html







The Tirade That Made Me a Christian
















After an unwelcome move halfway across the world, I vented my anger to God. Then I learned to give him control.


I can still smell the incense. My dad would light three sticks of it, prop them up in a bowl of uncooked rice, kneel, and bow until his forehead met the ground. Three times he would bow—slowly, reverently—and the room would grow somber and silent. I remember watching the smoke curl in the air and disappear into the dining room lights.

Platters of our favorite Chinese delicacies filled the dining table. My mouth waters thinking about the sea cucumber, bamboo shoots, abalone, extra-large shrimp, flavorful shiitake mushrooms, and special vegetables we procured from the only Asian supermarket in our area—which was still over an hour away.

A single chair, situated away from the table, represented the spirit of my grandmother. Each dish represented a special offering to honor her memory. She had died from lung cancer, and I had never met her in person. I only knew of her from a portrait in my dad’s office. When I was a little girl, this portrait frightened me—I was convinced her eyes were following my every step.

After all the family members took turns kneeling and bowing, my dad would take the incense out the back door, and we would sit down to enjoy the feast.

The Glow of New Life


I grew up in a culturally Buddhist home. By “culturally Buddhist,” I mean that religion didn’t influence my day-to-day life. When it came to rituals like honoring the spirit of my grandma, I was only going through the motions.

Our family lived in Boulder, Colorado—a beautiful city nestled in the mountains. The fresh mountain air was scented with pine—and sometimes pot. Boulder is filled with granola-type hippies, plenty of new-age crystals, and throngs of the spiritually open-minded. Growing up culturally Buddhist in an immigrant home, I knew nothing about American holidays except for what I learned at school. Christmas revolved around presents and Santa Claus. Easter had something to do with a giant white bunny, jelly beans, and colorful hidden eggs.

During my sophomore year of high school, a friend I sat next to in math class, Jean, underwent a notable change in disposition. Intrigued, I asked her the secret of her newfound glow.

“Well, Viv, I became a Christian. I have a personal relationship with Jesus now. He died to forgive my sins, and now I’m born again and made new. The glow is from my new life in Christ.”

Oh, no. Disappointment filled me from head to toe. Jean was funny and smart. How could she get duped into becoming a weird Jesus freak? But over the course of the year, the change in her stuck, and she continued to transform before my eyes. God worked in her life in specific and unexplainable ways. She liked to say that human beings could never be satisfied with relationships, shopping, awards, or achievements. God had made people with a God-shaped vacuum that only he could fill.

My heart felt restless. Even as a teenager, I could already see the futility of going after bigger, brighter, better. The temporary thrill of winning an award or buying something new to wear could not relieve the emptiness I felt inside.

I started going to church and attending the youth group, mostly to check out the cute boys at first. Before long, I started asking questions and learned that I wasn’t expected to have blind faith. Over time, I grew captivated by the person of Jesus, who spoke words of radical hope. His invitation to enter a relationship with the God of heaven proved irresistible. The summer before my junior year of high school, I gave my heart and life to Jesus—or so I thought.

I knew Christians were supposed to read the Bible, so I bought a copy at the bookstore. But no matter how much I read, very little made sense. To be honest, I found the Bible pretty boring. I also knew that Christians were supposed to pray, but whenever I tried, I would get distracted or fall asleep.

On Sundays, if I happened to wake up in time, I would drive by myself to church. I cried through every song during worship. I wanted to know God, to love him and live for him. But then I would drive home, and life went on as usual. I would return to my selfish ways and take matters into my own hands. Christianity wasn’t working for me, so I planned to casually toss it aside like just another teenage phase.

Then my life got turned upside down. My dad went through a midlife crisis and moved our family from Boulder to Hong Kong. I had big plans for my senior year. Now they were dashed. I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t read or write Chinese, and I didn’t speak Cantonese (we grew up speaking Mandarin, a completely different dialect). Everything was different: the currency, the climate, the culture and customs, the ferry, the red taxicabs, and the railway system.

I remember sitting on my bed in our little flat, tears burning in my eyes. Angry and confused, I unleashed my frustration and let God know exactly how I felt. But at the end of my tirade, I added a sincere prayer: “In my heart of hearts, I want to know you and do your will. I need a church and a youth group, some Christian friends. And if you do that, I will give you my whole life. I’ll hold nothing back.”

Into God’s Hands
Shortly thereafter, I got involved with the debate team at Maryknoll Convent School, the all-girls Catholic school I attended. One of the top schools in Hong Kong, it sat at the corner of a busy intersection in Kowloon. The girls at Maryknoll were polished and confident. I’d never been in a more academically challenging environment.

Classes there were taught in English, but the students bantered in Cantonese. When I learned that the debate team competed in English, I decided to take part. The girls on my team became my closest friends.

After one of the debates, a boy from a rival boys school approached me. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you a Christian? Would you like to come to our youth group?”

The following Friday, I attended the meeting, hosted at a Christian and Missionary Alliance church near our home. That night, I learned that the Christian life wasn’t just hard to live—it was impossible to live, at least by our own efforts. God supplied the power source. Reliance upon him and his Spirit enabled us to live as Christians.

When we moved to Hong Kong, all the things I had clung to so tightly were suddenly stripped away. But in their place came a spiritual breakthrough. For the first time in my life, I felt willing to give God total control. Once I made this commitment, Scripture came to life in a new way. And God’s Spirit began to lead, guide, comfort, and convict.

In Hong Kong, I met regularly with a mentor who showed me how to study the Bible and live out my faith. I asked her a thousand questions, and she faithfully invested her life in mine. I wrote her name next to Hebrews 13:7 in my Bible (“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.”), and since then, I’ve added the names of several others who have aided my spiritual growth.

Over the years, I’ve often needed to recommit to God’s rule and reign. This was especially true as I puzzled over my career path after college and suffered through financial challenges, family and ministry heartbreaks, and a cancer diagnosis several years ago. But each time I placed my heart, life, plans, hopes, and dreams into God’s hands, I found that his faithfulness is unwavering.







Vivian Mabuni is an author, speaker, and host of the podcast Someday is Here. She and her husband have served with Cru for 31 years. Parts of this essay were adapted from her book, Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discovering the Joy of Saying Yes to God (WaterBrook).

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: Bladerunner on July 20, 2020, 07:53:09 pm



(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/117822.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/vivian-mabuni-cultural-buddhist-tirade-christian.html







The Tirade That Made Me a Christian
















After an unwelcome move halfway across the world, I vented my anger to God. Then I learned to give him control.


I can still smell the incense. My dad would light three sticks of it, prop them up in a bowl of uncooked rice, kneel, and bow until his forehead met the ground. Three times he would bow—slowly, reverently—and the room would grow somber and silent. I remember watching the smoke curl in the air and disappear into the dining room lights.

Platters of our favorite Chinese delicacies filled the dining table. My mouth waters thinking about the sea cucumber, bamboo shoots, abalone, extra-large shrimp, flavorful shiitake mushrooms, and special vegetables we procured from the only Asian supermarket in our area—which was still over an hour away.

A single chair, situated away from the table, represented the spirit of my grandmother. Each dish represented a special offering to honor her memory. She had died from lung cancer, and I had never met her in person. I only knew of her from a portrait in my dad’s office. When I was a little girl, this portrait frightened me—I was convinced her eyes were following my every step.

After all the family members took turns kneeling and bowing, my dad would take the incense out the back door, and we would sit down to enjoy the feast.

The Glow of New Life


I grew up in a culturally Buddhist home. By “culturally Buddhist,” I mean that religion didn’t influence my day-to-day life. When it came to rituals like honoring the spirit of my grandma, I was only going through the motions.

Our family lived in Boulder, Colorado—a beautiful city nestled in the mountains. The fresh mountain air was scented with pine—and sometimes pot. Boulder is filled with granola-type hippies, plenty of new-age crystals, and throngs of the spiritually open-minded. Growing up culturally Buddhist in an immigrant home, I knew nothing about American holidays except for what I learned at school. Christmas revolved around presents and Santa Claus. Easter had something to do with a giant white bunny, jelly beans, and colorful hidden eggs.

During my sophomore year of high school, a friend I sat next to in math class, Jean, underwent a notable change in disposition. Intrigued, I asked her the secret of her newfound glow.

“Well, Viv, I became a Christian. I have a personal relationship with Jesus now. He died to forgive my sins, and now I’m born again and made new. The glow is from my new life in Christ.”

Oh, no. Disappointment filled me from head to toe. Jean was funny and smart. How could she get duped into becoming a weird Jesus freak? But over the course of the year, the change in her stuck, and she continued to transform before my eyes. God worked in her life in specific and unexplainable ways. She liked to say that human beings could never be satisfied with relationships, shopping, awards, or achievements. God had made people with a God-shaped vacuum that only he could fill.

My heart felt restless. Even as a teenager, I could already see the futility of going after bigger, brighter, better. The temporary thrill of winning an award or buying something new to wear could not relieve the emptiness I felt inside.

I started going to church and attending the youth group, mostly to check out the cute boys at first. Before long, I started asking questions and learned that I wasn’t expected to have blind faith. Over time, I grew captivated by the person of Jesus, who spoke words of radical hope. His invitation to enter a relationship with the God of heaven proved irresistible. The summer before my junior year of high school, I gave my heart and life to Jesus—or so I thought.

I knew Christians were supposed to read the Bible, so I bought a copy at the bookstore. But no matter how much I read, very little made sense. To be honest, I found the Bible pretty boring. I also knew that Christians were supposed to pray, but whenever I tried, I would get distracted or fall asleep.

On Sundays, if I happened to wake up in time, I would drive by myself to church. I cried through every song during worship. I wanted to know God, to love him and live for him. But then I would drive home, and life went on as usual. I would return to my selfish ways and take matters into my own hands. Christianity wasn’t working for me, so I planned to casually toss it aside like just another teenage phase.

Then my life got turned upside down. My dad went through a midlife crisis and moved our family from Boulder to Hong Kong. I had big plans for my senior year. Now they were dashed. I didn’t know a soul. I didn’t read or write Chinese, and I didn’t speak Cantonese (we grew up speaking Mandarin, a completely different dialect). Everything was different: the currency, the climate, the culture and customs, the ferry, the red taxicabs, and the railway system.

I remember sitting on my bed in our little flat, tears burning in my eyes. Angry and confused, I unleashed my frustration and let God know exactly how I felt. But at the end of my tirade, I added a sincere prayer: “In my heart of hearts, I want to know you and do your will. I need a church and a youth group, some Christian friends. And if you do that, I will give you my whole life. I’ll hold nothing back.”

Into God’s Hands
Shortly thereafter, I got involved with the debate team at Maryknoll Convent School, the all-girls Catholic school I attended. One of the top schools in Hong Kong, it sat at the corner of a busy intersection in Kowloon. The girls at Maryknoll were polished and confident. I’d never been in a more academically challenging environment.

Classes there were taught in English, but the students bantered in Cantonese. When I learned that the debate team competed in English, I decided to take part. The girls on my team became my closest friends.

After one of the debates, a boy from a rival boys school approached me. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you a Christian? Would you like to come to our youth group?”

The following Friday, I attended the meeting, hosted at a Christian and Missionary Alliance church near our home. That night, I learned that the Christian life wasn’t just hard to live—it was impossible to live, at least by our own efforts. God supplied the power source. Reliance upon him and his Spirit enabled us to live as Christians.

When we moved to Hong Kong, all the things I had clung to so tightly were suddenly stripped away. But in their place came a spiritual breakthrough. For the first time in my life, I felt willing to give God total control. Once I made this commitment, Scripture came to life in a new way. And God’s Spirit began to lead, guide, comfort, and convict.

In Hong Kong, I met regularly with a mentor who showed me how to study the Bible and live out my faith. I asked her a thousand questions, and she faithfully invested her life in mine. I wrote her name next to Hebrews 13:7 in my Bible (“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.”), and since then, I’ve added the names of several others who have aided my spiritual growth.

Over the years, I’ve often needed to recommit to God’s rule and reign. This was especially true as I puzzled over my career path after college and suffered through financial challenges, family and ministry heartbreaks, and a cancer diagnosis several years ago. But each time I placed my heart, life, plans, hopes, and dreams into God’s hands, I found that his faithfulness is unwavering.







Vivian Mabuni is an author, speaker, and host of the podcast Someday is Here. She and her husband have served with Cru for 31 years. Parts of this essay were adapted from her book, Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discovering the Joy of Saying Yes to God (WaterBrook).

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.


why would a person have to recommit themselves to the Lord...Did they leave HIM....If so they were never with Him....

Blade
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 21, 2020, 06:01:34 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118471.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/church-planting-leaders-fellowship.html







Church Planting Leaders Fellowship
















I can almost say for certain that, in our lifetime, there has never been a more appropriate time to think and talk about innovation in mission and church planting.

About a year ago when we were planning the theme and deciding speakers for the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship’s summer gathering, we had no idea this year we would be meeting amid a pandemic. So it feels only right, and maybe even a little prophetic, that on July 28-29 church planting leaders from all over North America will be gathering virtually to learn and discuss research, development, and innovation in church planting.

This year’s speakers (who were selected long before any of us ever uttered the word “coronavirus”) may be the closest experts we have to what it means to lead churches and church planting strategies in a time of decentralization and digitization.

The line-up and topics speak for themselves:

Session 1: Brian Sanders on Micro Church Planting
Session 2: Sheryce Nguyen on Multihousing Church Planting
Session 3: Jeff Reed on Online Church Planting
Session 4 and 5: Len Sweet on Trends and Trajectories for Church Planting and Multiplication in the West
Session 6: Robin Wallar on Collegiate Church Planting
In addition to sharing how their movements and strategies are effectively seeing churches being planted, we’ll also hear how some of these movements are innovating during this time.

In a normal summer, CPLF meets on the campus of Wheaton College at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. However, because of the unique circumstances of the pandemic, our gathering is moving to a total virtual experience. This means that the teams and staff of CPLF members will be able to participate as well, broadening the reach of this year’s content and speakers.

As mentioned in the Church Planting Manifesto for a 21st-Century North America, because of an unprecedented rate of change in demographics, culture, and how people think about faith and religious gatherings, innovation and collaboration must be ingrained into our church planting systems and processes. And now with the pandemic on hand, the opportunity for research and development is immense.

This summer’s CPLF will provide church planting leaders with vision and actual models of how some missional movements are effectively reaching people in a more decentralized and digitized fashion. And as we have seen over the last few months, the pandemic has thrust decentralization and digitization onto us whether we were ready or not.

What we have been calling a “new normal” is quickly becoming just normal.

If you lead church planting for a denomination or network, we would like for you to consider joining CPLF as a member. Our team will gladly be in touch with you to help you become part of our learning community. Just fill out the application form: newchurches.com/CPLF.

The CPLF is a partnership between the Send Institute, LifeWay Research, and NewChurches.com.








Daniel Yang is Director of the Send Institute, a think tank for church planting in North America, leading and overseeing all of its initiatives. Prior to directing the institute, he planted churches in Toronto where he also helped recruit, assess, and train church planters through the Send Network and the Release Initiative.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 21, 2020, 06:08:43 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118481.jpg?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/john-powell-texas-pastor-killed-highway-new-caney-emanuel-c.html








Texas Pastor Killed While Helping Stranded Driver








Southern Baptist leaders mourn the sudden death of the 38-year-old church planter.


John Powell, a church planter outside Houston and a former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary staff member, was killed in a highway accident over the weekend. He was helping a driver who had stopped in traffic.

The Houston Chronicle reported that in Powell’s final sermon to his congregation, Emmanuel Baptist Church in New Caney, Texas, he “preached on Psalm 72 and prayed that ‘in the poor man’s distress, Christians might be there.’”

Less than two weeks later, on Saturday, July 18, Powell and another man pulled over to assist a car that had caught fire after hitting a truck. Powell, 38, was struck by a semi and killed, according to a report from the Sherman, Texas, police department. The driver of the car that was on fire survived.

News of Powell’s death was shared on social media by Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore was a friend and former professor of Powell’s.

“I am shocked and shaken and grieving this morning, beyond what I can say,” Moore wrote on Twitter. “My former student John Powell was killed last night, hit by an eighteen wheeler while helping stranded motorists off of a highway.”

Nathan Lino, one of Powell's closest friends in the ministry and the pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, which sponsors Powell's church plant, told Baptist Press that “planting a church is extraordinarily difficult, and so I got to see John under enormous stress and at all times he wanted to know and do the will of Christ. He loved the local church. As much as John loved to preach, and he did, he had an equal passion for the personal wellbeing of his people.”

Powell left behind his wife and four young children. He and his family had moved to New Caney, north of Houston, from Hamlin, Texas, in 2016. He had previously been director of admissions at Southern Seminary and discipleship pastor at Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, according to his ERLC bio.

On Sunday, news of his death was met with grieving and tributes on social media.

“It is impossible to imagine the heartbreak of this young family in the death of their husband & father & of this church in losing their pastor,” wrote Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “But John Powell loved Christ, preached Christ, trusted Christ. Our hearts break for them. This is why we sing that all we have is Christ.”

Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called Powell “one of the best men I’ve ever known.”

Author and pastor Dean Inserra described Powell as a humble pastor who did not seek the spotlight.

“He never cared about being known,” wrote Inserra. “Faithfully plowed daily as a family man and local church pastor. He did not sweat what many sweat.”

A GoFundMe site to raise funds for Powell’s family was set up by Andrew Walker, a professor at Southern.

“We are asking for friends and family to help care for the Powell family as they deal with unspeakable tragedy and grief,” the appeal reads. “As they have shown all of their family and friends love in times past, let us now, as the body of Christ, show them love and care.”

On Monday, Emmanuel released a statement, saying the work of the church goes on.

“This past weekend, our church experienced one of the greatest tragedies we can imagine,” the church said. “Pastor John Powell, in an act in the image of His sacrificial Savior, was killed in a traffic accident. While we deeply grieve this loss, we remember what he would want us to remember: that Christ is the head of this church, and the vision and passion that John instilled in us is still alive.”

The Houston Chronicle quoted from his final sermon: “How could we pray that God would have compassion on those that need it while not having compassion on them ourselves?” he had asked, 13 days before the highway accident. “It would be like praying for someone who got robbed and beaten and thrown into a ditch alive while we pass on our way to wherever we’re going.”
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 24, 2020, 07:33:42 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118566.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-web-only/jon-tyson-beautiful-resistance-joy-conviction-culture.html








I’m Awash in Christian ‘Content.’ But Am I Living Like Christ?












Jon Tyson’s celebration of joyful, countercultural faith offers a convicting heart check.


What voices are loudest in my life?

Last fall, I wrote this question on a sticky note and posted it near my desk as a reminder to examine who I’m listening to and what I’m being formed by. Between the endless streams of social media posts, the cacophony of podcasts and playlists, and the ever-expanding pile of books on my nightstand, I had no shortage of distractions from the voice of God in my life.

What we listen to forms us. The most persistent voices—including the quiet ones whispering lies we’re too distracted to notice—can indelibly shape who we are, changing our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We can say all the right words on Sundays and in small-group settings, but when the explicit spiritual agenda has been lifted, how do we live? Are we being shaped into the image of Christ or the image of the world?

In Beautiful Resistance: The Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise, Jon Tyson, pastor of Church of the City New York, challenges believers—particularly those in the United States and other Western contexts—to resist the cultural syncretism of our age. Identifying heart postures, attitudes, and actions that our culture drives us toward, he leads us back to the countercultural, higher call of Christ.

What does it look like to live as a Christian in the world? What does it look like to model the way of Christ, moving beyond spiritual talk to actually walking as one shaped by the gospel? These are the underlying questions Tyson poses.

A Stirring Gospel

I came to Beautiful Resistance familiar with Tyson’s teaching. I listen to Church of the City’s sermon podcast on a near-weekly basis, and I appreciate how Tyson relates the gospel to our current moment, especially as it bears on New York City, where he lives and serves. He deftly weaves together scriptural truth with revival history, current events, and a spiritual hunger to see God launch fresh waves of faith. Tyson doesn’t teach an overly individualistic self-help Christianity or a sleepy moralism that quotes Scripture but lives as if the Holy Spirit is no longer active. Rather, he preaches a stirring gospel, true to its source and confident that God is at work in the world today.

Beautiful Resistance exemplifies this sort of teaching. Developed from a series of sermons Tyson preached in 2018, the book is a call to counteract the discipleship of our culture with a deep spiritual formation founded in the way of Jesus. It’s a call to devote ourselves to the way of Christ—through worship, rest, fasting, hospitality, honor, love, sacrifice, and celebration—so that the church can shine like a city on a hill.

Tyson frames his book with the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose commitment to Christ compelled him to boldly oppose Hitler and the Nazis—the dominant forces of his day. As Bonhoeffer witnessed German churches capitulating to Nazi powers, he determined that believers needed a deeper discipleship, one that cultivated what Tyson describes as an “unflinching loyalty to the cross.”

Tyson doesn’t draw direct parallels between Nazi Germany and the United States, and he doesn’t explicitly name any recent controversies involving evangelicalism and partisan politics, but he is clearly concerned with how such compromises harm the church that God loves. And he’s concerned that our culture is doing a better job discipling us than the church is.

As the world becomes more polarized, the church seems to become more polarized with it. As the world lashes out in contempt and vitriol toward political and cultural opponents, the church does the same—despite the fact, Tyson reminds us, that Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies. As the world embraces fear and hate and stubbornly clings to any power it can grab, the church too easily and too often follows suit.

In eight of his nine chapters, Tyson identifies a worldly posture or attitude that he sees the church easily falling into and fleshes out the Christian alternative. His examples include idolatry (both of religious moralism and of cultural values), busyness, fear of those who are ethnically or culturally different, and contempt for those with different beliefs. He points out that unless we’re paying attention, we’ll naturally follow the paths our culture is shepherding us down.

None of the attitudes or practices that Tyson recommends are new to the teachings of Christianity, but setting them alongside their worldly counterparts provides a convicting heart check. How have I idolized morality or religiousness? How have I drowned out God’s voice with constant busyness? How have I harbored fear or contempt toward those different from me?

Christians in the West don’t lack Christian content. We have plenty of resources for digging into doctrines like the Trinity, the imago Dei, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and so on. But ideas and doctrines, while essential, are not compelling apart from lives that emulate Christ. The way we carry ourselves in the world is just as important as the creeds we profess. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge … but do not have love, I am nothing.”

This gap—a lack of love, for God and for neighbor—is what Beautiful Resistance seeks to address. And although it takes a careful look at the way culture is forming and shaping us, it’s not a book about what’s wrong out there. It’s about what’s wrong or off-balance within the church. It’s a mirror to see the mote in our own eye, a test to learn whether we are salt that’s lost its flavor.

Before Tyson tackles the loves and loyalties that compete for our devotion, he spends a chapter homing in on the church. He writes briefly about the church’s failings in recent years, but he doesn’t stay there for long. Instead, most of chapter one focuses on the church’s three core identities as the bride of Christ, the temple of God, and the body of Christ. This grounding is crucial for readers in a culture that elevates all manner of rival identities—professional, socioeconomic, sexual, political, and everything in between. Digging into the church’s true identity helps us define ourselves solely by our relationship to God.

This realignment is the first step toward countering our cultural formation. If we’re the people of God, if we’re his church, then the way we live should reflect that.

A Shining Light
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus illustrates the hypocrisy of the religious elite by presenting the Samaritan, an outcast from Jewish society, as the one who best embodies the command to love one’s neighbor. While the priest and Levite cling to fear and self-preservation, the Samaritan risks his safety to help the beaten-down traveler.

The blindness of the religious elite in this story should catch our attention. Roads at the time were notoriously dangerous, and there were strong cultural and contextual reasons for the priest and Levite to avoid stopping to care for a stranger left for dead. Their actions are logical. But they aren’t actually right.

Every culture has conventions and norms that shape default attitudes and behaviors. Some of these norms develop in response to legitimate fears and dangers. But what happens when they put our own needs or desires at the center, rather than God and his love for the least and the lost? What happens when cultural norms take stronger root in the church than the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and to love your enemies? During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus asks, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matt. 5:46).

There are parts of gospel living that sit well in our cultural context, and those parts are important, but it’s the parts that run counter to our culture that demand the firmest degree of commitment. Where our culture holds those different from us at arm’s length, we need to show hospitality and honor. Where our culture drives us toward spiritual apathy and cynicism, we need to foster a hunger to see (and celebrate) God’s work in the world. Where our culture drives us to cling to power and privilege, we need to sacrifice for the good of others.

Yes, these things are always important for Christians to do, but in a cultural context that normalizes the opposite, countercultural faithfulness is what enables the gospel to shine.

Without ragging on the church or the culture, Beautiful Resistance candidly confronts the ways God’s people are being shaped for compromise, with or without their knowledge. Tyson’s heart is clearly for God’s people to catch a vision of God’s work, in and through us, as we joyfully devote ourselves to the way of Christ in a world that desperately needs a shining light.






Meredith Sell is a freelance writer and editor living in Denver, Colorado.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 26, 2020, 03:47:55 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118604.jpg?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/supreme-court-nevada-church-casino-open-coronavirus.html







Supreme Court Rejects Nevada Church’s Appeal to Reopen Like Casinos














Conservative justices say 50-person limit for houses of worship is “obvious discrimination.”


A sharply divided US Supreme Court denied a rural Nevada church’s request late Friday to strike down as unconstitutional a 50-person cap on worship services as part of the state’s ongoing response to the coronavirus.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court refused to grant the request from the Christian church east of Reno to be subjected to the same COVID-19 restrictions in Nevada that allow casinos, restaurants, and other businesses to operate at 50 percent of capacity with proper social distancing.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley argued that the hard cap on religious gatherings was an unconstitutional violation of its parishioners’ First Amendment rights to express and exercise their beliefs.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal majority in denying the request without explanation.

Three justices wrote strongly worded dissenting opinions on behalf of the four conservatives who said they would have granted the injunctive relief while the court fully considers the merits of the case.

“That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a dissent joined by Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

“We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility,” Alito said. “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine or to engage in any other game of chance.”

Kavanaugh also wrote his own dissent, as did Justice Neil Gorsuch, who said:

In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion.

The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.

David Cortman, senior counsel for Georgia-based Alliance Defending Freedom representing the church, said in an email sent to the Associated Press late Friday that they were disappointed in the ruling but will continue to work to protect Calvary Chapel and others “from discriminatory policies that put religious groups at the back of the line for reopening.”

“When the government treats churches worse than casinos, gyms, and indoor amusement parks in its COVID-19 response, it clearly violates the Constitution,” he said.

The group of Nevada churches challenging the policy included Southern Baptist congregations, and leaders of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission were also disappointed in the decision.

“Nevada from the start should have relied on pastors and religious leaders to be partners in combating Covid-19 as they have apparently done with casino magnates,” said ERLC president Russell Moore. “As virtually every court and almost every religious organization has affirmed: the state has legitimate rights and obligations to protect public health in an emergency such as this. Every restriction, though, must be both rooted in compelling interest and be consistently applied.”

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley appealed to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a US judge in Nevada upheld the state’s policy that allows casinos and other businesses to operate at 50 percent of normal capacity.

The appellate court in San Francisco is still considering the appeal, but it has denied the church’s request for an emergency injunction in the meantime. Its ruling July 2 pointed to the Supreme Court’s refusal in May to strike down California’s limit on the size of religious gatherings.

The church in Nevada’s Lyon County appealed to the Supreme Court six days later, asking for an emergency injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the cap on religious gatherings at least temporarily while the justices consider the merits of the case.

“The governor allows hundreds to thousands to assemble in pursuit of financial fortunes but only 50 to gather in pursuit of spiritual ones. That is unconstitutional,” its lawyers wrote in their most recent filing to the high court last week.

The church wants to allow as many as 90 people to attend services at the same time — with masks required, sitting 6-feet apart — at the sanctuary with a capacity of 200. Other secular businesses in the state that are allowed to operate at half capacity include gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and water parks.

Nevada’s lawyers said last week several courts nationwide have followed the Supreme Court’s lead in upholding state authority to impose emergency restrictions in response to COVID-19.

“Temporarily narrowing restrictions on the size of mass gatherings, including for religious services, protects the health and well-being of Nevada citizens during a global pandemic,” they wrote.

Alito said in the lead dissent that by allowing thousands to gather in casinos, the state cannot claim to have a compelling interest in limiting religious gatherings to 50 people — regardless of the size of the facility and the measures adopted to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The idea that allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 worshipers present a greater public health risk than allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity is hard to swallow,” he wrote.

Kavanaugh said he agreed that courts should be “very differential to the states’ line-drawing in opening businesses and allowing certain activities during the pandemic.”

“But COVID-19 is not a blank check for a state to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services,” he wrote in his own dissent. “Nevada is discriminating against religion.”
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 26, 2020, 03:54:41 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118604.jpg?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/july/supreme-court-nevada-church-casino-open-coronavirus.html







Supreme Court Rejects Nevada Church’s Appeal to Reopen Like Casinos














Conservative justices say 50-person limit for houses of worship is “obvious discrimination.”


A sharply divided US Supreme Court denied a rural Nevada church’s request late Friday to strike down as unconstitutional a 50-person cap on worship services as part of the state’s ongoing response to the coronavirus.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court refused to grant the request from the Christian church east of Reno to be subjected to the same COVID-19 restrictions in Nevada that allow casinos, restaurants, and other businesses to operate at 50 percent of capacity with proper social distancing.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley argued that the hard cap on religious gatherings was an unconstitutional violation of its parishioners’ First Amendment rights to express and exercise their beliefs.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal majority in denying the request without explanation.

Three justices wrote strongly worded dissenting opinions on behalf of the four conservatives who said they would have granted the injunctive relief while the court fully considers the merits of the case.

“That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a dissent joined by Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

“We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility,” Alito said. “The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine or to engage in any other game of chance.”

Kavanaugh also wrote his own dissent, as did Justice Neil Gorsuch, who said:

In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion.

The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel.

David Cortman, senior counsel for Georgia-based Alliance Defending Freedom representing the church, said in an email sent to the Associated Press late Friday that they were disappointed in the ruling but will continue to work to protect Calvary Chapel and others “from discriminatory policies that put religious groups at the back of the line for reopening.”

“When the government treats churches worse than casinos, gyms, and indoor amusement parks in its COVID-19 response, it clearly violates the Constitution,” he said.

The group of Nevada churches challenging the policy included Southern Baptist congregations, and leaders of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission were also disappointed in the decision.

“Nevada from the start should have relied on pastors and religious leaders to be partners in combating Covid-19 as they have apparently done with casino magnates,” said ERLC president Russell Moore. “As virtually every court and almost every religious organization has affirmed: the state has legitimate rights and obligations to protect public health in an emergency such as this. Every restriction, though, must be both rooted in compelling interest and be consistently applied.”

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley appealed to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a US judge in Nevada upheld the state’s policy that allows casinos and other businesses to operate at 50 percent of normal capacity.

The appellate court in San Francisco is still considering the appeal, but it has denied the church’s request for an emergency injunction in the meantime. Its ruling July 2 pointed to the Supreme Court’s refusal in May to strike down California’s limit on the size of religious gatherings.

The church in Nevada’s Lyon County appealed to the Supreme Court six days later, asking for an emergency injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the cap on religious gatherings at least temporarily while the justices consider the merits of the case.

“The governor allows hundreds to thousands to assemble in pursuit of financial fortunes but only 50 to gather in pursuit of spiritual ones. That is unconstitutional,” its lawyers wrote in their most recent filing to the high court last week.

The church wants to allow as many as 90 people to attend services at the same time — with masks required, sitting 6-feet apart — at the sanctuary with a capacity of 200. Other secular businesses in the state that are allowed to operate at half capacity include gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and water parks.

Nevada’s lawyers said last week several courts nationwide have followed the Supreme Court’s lead in upholding state authority to impose emergency restrictions in response to COVID-19.

“Temporarily narrowing restrictions on the size of mass gatherings, including for religious services, protects the health and well-being of Nevada citizens during a global pandemic,” they wrote.

Alito said in the lead dissent that by allowing thousands to gather in casinos, the state cannot claim to have a compelling interest in limiting religious gatherings to 50 people — regardless of the size of the facility and the measures adopted to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The idea that allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 worshipers present a greater public health risk than allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity is hard to swallow,” he wrote.

Kavanaugh said he agreed that courts should be “very differential to the states’ line-drawing in opening businesses and allowing certain activities during the pandemic.”

“But COVID-19 is not a blank check for a state to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services,” he wrote in his own dissent. “Nevada is discriminating against religion.”

(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118608.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/nevada-supreme-court-churches-casinos.html




We Can’t Roll the Dice on Religious Liberty: Nevada, the Supreme Court, and Churches







Religious liberty still matters in the midst of this pandemic.


The Supreme Court has chosen in a 5-4 ruling not to grant injunctive relief to churches in Nevada in light of the state’s arguably inconsistent Covid-19 guidelines. In doing so, the Supreme Court let stand what is wrong: churches are being treated differently than similar gatherings. Multiple justices in the minority wrote dissents, and those help us to see the issues in play. I’ve quoted the justice’s words since their expertise is more important (and informed) than mine.

Justice Neil Gorsuch explained in his dissent:

This is a simple case. Under the Governor’s edict, a 10-screen “multiplex” may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps sic people huddled at craps table here and a similar number gather around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But, churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting 50 worshippers—no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear masks, no matter the precautions at all.
Gorsuch is correct. It was a simple case.

Even left-leaning Vox (known for its explainer articles) was surprised, asserting that Roberts is supportive of state officials “even when they hand down public health orders that draw constitutionally dubious lines.”

As I (and many others) have consistently said, that’s a line that churches cannot accept. Other states have consistently applied the rules in similar settings.

The SCOTUS Blog put it quite forthrightly:

A divided Supreme Court on Friday night turned down a request by a Nevada church for permission to hold services on the same terms that other facilities in the state, including casinos, are allowed to hold gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The key argument was:

The church stressed that it is willing to comply with rules regarding masks and social distancing (both of which were largely absent from a photo included in the church’s brief, taken at a crowded Las Vegas casino on June 4); all that it was asking, it emphasized, was to be treated the same as everyone else.

Context

Let me take a moment to remind us that religious liberty is so important that it is enshrined in our Constitution’s First Amendment. Furthermore, such freedom is beyond (and before) our Consitution.

Such rights are endowed by our Creator, not our founding documents.

Now, for those reading who may not know my thoughts on these issues, I’ve written in national publications that churches should consider not meeting (before that was mandated), and been extensively involved in equpping churches to do ministry while not gathering on Sundays. And, I’ve also defended religious liberty for all. Both issues matter to me.

Caring for our neighbors in a pandemic matters. And caring for religious liberty also matters.

We can (and should) be concerned about both.

Rolling the Dice

Justice Brett Kavaenaugh explained in his dissent that the transmission risk “is at least as high at restaurants, bars, casinos and gyms as it is at religious services.” Additionally, the states can “subject religious organizations to the same limits as secular organizations,” they can’t “impose strict limits on places of worship and looser limits on restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms, at least without sufficient justification for the differential treatment of religion.”

The Supreme Court is the law of the land, but there is also a higher law. When they are wrong, and they have been before, we need to do what is right.

I get that this seems like a little small thing to many, but it has been what many of us have said is too far—many Christian leaders have said we would speak out if a state crossed the line and treated churches differently. And, it is more than just one case. It is a principle.

Gorsuch went on to say, “In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion.”

Justice Samuel Alito also explained in his dissent, “allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 worshippers presents a greater public health risk than allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity is hard to swallow.”

Indeed it is. And we should not.

There are churches in other places choosing to disobey state mandates when the laws are rightly applied, and I am not talking about them in this article. I’ve been careful to talk about the consistent application of the law, even having a long discussion with John Inazu, a leading religious liberty scholar to help churches understand that states can restrict worship gatherings when consistently applying mandates.

This, on the other hand, is an inappropriate overreach which, in not checked, could have significant implications.

We simply can’t roll the dice on religious liberty.

So, the question remains, how should churches respond?

First, churches should consider their own context.

In Illinois, we have no rules—only guidelines. Yet, my church— like many others— is not meeting yet. We want to love our neighbors and make choices. If meeting puts people in danger, don’t meet.

The fact that the Supreme Court made a bad ruling does not mean your church should rush to meet in your context. There are many factors to weigh in that decision. A bad ruling on this issue does, however, mean that you should speak up and out.

Second, churches need to remember that gathering is a major part of a church’s function.

Gathering is a mark of what a church is. It is central to church life.

Thus, we should all want to meet—to work toward it. And, when it is denied, we should grieve over its loss. And, finally, when it is denied wrongly, we should take action.

Third, churches need to recognize that this was the line that we all said should not be crossed, and respond accordingly.

Nevada won the injunction battle, but churches need to help the state back up and make the right choice. This is the line that every mainstream evangelical group said they would draw, and it has now been crossed.

Thus, when the Supreme Court does not follow the long-held traditions of the law, and does not grant relief when states unfairly singles out churches, I will support churches that (when following the first two points) choose to meet and follow the guidelines for similarly-meeting groups.

To quote Alito’s dissent:

The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities.

As Justice Gorsuch put it, “There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesar’s Palace over Calvary Chapel.”

But, unlike New York, Illinois, and California, people in Nevada are living in that world. And, we need to speak up. And, for those churches that gather Sunday, contrary to the Nevada governor’s order, but by following all the rules that theaters and casinos do, and working to keep their parishioners safe— I stand with you.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to agree that churches should be meeting. You don’t have to agree that it is safe. However, we can and should agree that churches should not be treated differently than similar contexts. That’s fundamental to our approach to religious liberty and in general.

This crosses an important line. It’s time to speak and time to act.








Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article. You can contact the Nevada governor here.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 27, 2020, 11:31:10 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/117820.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/hope-beyond-vaccine.html








Hope Beyond a Vaccine













Remember that Christian purpose has always been rooted in the not yet.


Surveying the calamitous landscape wrought by the tiny coronavirus, Tom Frieden, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conceded a grim reality: “This is here to stay, in all likelihood, until we have a vaccine, and a vaccine could be a year or two away.” And that’s the optimistic scenario. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, described the possibility of developing a reliable vaccine anytime soon as “a moon shot.”

This does not bode well, as I badly need a haircut.

It does not bode well for my barber either, one of the millions of people now out of work. Aside from the moon shot, or viable treatment options, the only shot at returning to some semblance of normal requires corralling our way to herd immunity. The risk is well rehearsed: viral exposure, widespread contagion, infection, disease, and more death. By the time we arrive, businesses will have been decimated and churches shuttered. Millions more jobs will have evaporated, poverty and indebtedness will have soared. Emotional devastation litters the route: depression, brokenness, terror, and grief. Some say it feels like the end of the world.

For Christians, the end of the world is the end of all hope because, for Christians, hope ends with its fulfillment. Jesus returns in glory to make all things new (Rev. 21:5)—so much so that the word hope never even appears in Revelation. Biblical hope is not especially optimistic but rather is the fruit of suffering, perseverance, and character (Rom. 5:3–4). Author Marilynne Robinson describes biblical hope as “constantly and intensely vulnerable.” G.K. Chesterton added, “It is only when everything is hopeless that [Christian] hope begins to be a strength at all. . . . it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.” Paul assures us that hope cannot disappoint because it’s anchored in love, and love never fails (Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 13:8).

Still, perseverance requires patience, and patience is a virtue nobody has time for. Huddled in our houses, waiting for a vaccine, we wonder how long we can endure. In Revelation 6, martyrs who died for their faith huddle in heaven and wonder how long. As we wait for the end, Peter reminds us how, with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and any slowness on God’s part is not really slow. What feels like forever is actually God being patient with us—“not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8–9). Throughout the Bible, trouble and hardship—pandemics and problems—all shatter illusions of human power and control. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, and all are justified freely by God’s grace (Rom. 3:23–24). God has the power. God has the control.

The coronavirus has proven an equalizer. It infects righteous and unrighteous alike. But there’s viral inequity, too. The aged, the poor, the marginalized, and the already sick suffer and die disproportionately compared to the wealthy, the strong, and the privileged. This was the reason for the heavenly martyrs’ plea. Having suffered injustice on earth, they demanded to know how long till God would ride out in judgment and “avenge [their] blood” (Rev. 6:10).

In response, the martyrs are all given white robes and told to hold their horses, so to speak. Because our hearts and hurts so easily deceive us, Scripture continually cautions against throwing stones or passing judgment, lest ye be judged. To wait in hope for the Lord, “our help and our shield” (Ps. 33:20), starkly counters empty optimism or wishful thinking. To wait in hope for the Lord aims at a future so sure we can live as if it’s already happened. We are new creations now (2 Cor. 5:17).

In Christ, the future breaks into the present, pulling and empowering us forward to persevere with a purpose. Virtue begets virtue, and thus endurance produces character. As harbingers of new creation, we can provide foretastes of glory intentionally when we love our neighbors and enemies, when we forgive those who wrong us, when we care for the poor and the sick among us, when we speak truth and make peace and do right.

As I wait for my haircut, my barber waits for a paycheck. It’s the same for so many who serve—from housecleaners, restaurant workers, warehouse stockers, and delivery drivers to health care providers and doctors. I did what I could for my out-of-work barber: I contributed to a salary fund for him, even as my hair grows to my shoulders.

It’s a small offering given all I’ve received. But it’s a sure sign of the sure hope we hold to as we wait on Jesus to return.








Daniel Harrell is editor in chief of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 29, 2020, 09:42:42 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/117904.jpg?w=940)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/july-august/steven-lawson-new-life-christ-born-again.html








Even Among Well-Meaning Christians, ‘Born Again’ Is Often Misunderstood








Recapturing the meaning of a much-stereotyped phrase.


Being called a “born-again Christian” can mean many things to many people. For some, it means you are a Bible-thumping fundamentalist or a political conservative. For others, it means you were converted at a Billy Graham crusade. Countless stereotypes have created endless confusion.

In New Life in Christ: What Really Happens When You’re Born Again and Why It Matters, Steven J. Lawson moves beyond today’s (mis)use of the phrase to recapture its biblical meaning and extraordinary significance for the Christian life. With pastoral care, he takes us back to that eerie late-night encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus, like many today, was as religious as they come. By today’s standards, he would be the popular pastor or professor everyone knows and respects. That makes Jesus’ words of warning so surprising: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (v. 3). Nicodemus admits he has no idea what Jesus is talking about: “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter into their mother’s womb a second time to be born!” (v. 4).

As the teacher of Israel, Nicodemus should have remembered Moses and the prophets, who used several metaphors to describe this second birth. Moses told the people of Israel they needed God to circumcise their hearts (Deut. 30:6), and Ezekiel promised Israel that one day God himself would act as a surgeon, removing the dead heart of stone and implanting a heart that beats (Ezek. 36:26). Jesus may move the metaphor to the delivery room, but the message is the same: Unless the Spirit of God does something supernatural, we remain spiritually lifeless.

Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning Christians today can get this miracle backwards. We think the new birth is something we must do. But that misses the miracle of it all. It also misses the meaning of the metaphor: Birth is something that happens to us, not something we accomplish. How much more so with matters of the heart? Lawson stresses that the new birth is the work of the Spirit, not the work of any sinner. Jesus says as much when he tells Nicodemus that one must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5). But like the wind, the Spirit is sovereign, blowing wherever it wishes (v. 8).

That might sound unnerving to evangelicals today, in that it pictures the new birth as something other than an offer we can choose to accept or reject. But Jesus is in the habit of turning preconceived assumptions upside down, even if they belong to Israel’s most renowned scholar. The reason Jesus’ words are so shocking is this: Like babies in the womb, we can do nothing to bring about this new birth. It is not something we initiate. Nor is it a cooperative effort between us and God. It is completely his doing, a phenomenon so unnatural it can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

As Lawson reminds us, accepting Jesus is not what triggers the new birth, as if God sits around waiting—hoping!—that somebody somewhere will believe so that he can make that person alive. In reality, apart from new life, we will never believe. Our depravity is that pervasive, sin’s grip that enslaving. In another audacious exercise in ticking off Israel’s religious experts, Jesus tells the Pharisees not only that they won’t come to him for life but also that they can’t (John 6:44, 65). Not unless Jesus draws them, that is; until then, they will never believe in the Father who sent him.

The fact that the new birth produces faith and repentance, rather than stemming from them, is truly liberating. We do not preach or evangelize as if we must somehow work the sinner over until he or she is willed into the kingdom. We are more like the prophet Ezekiel: God tells us to speak words of life to a valley of dry bones. They are dead until they begin to rattle and come alive (Ezek. 37).

The point is, let’s remember who the true miracle worker is: God, not us. We tell others about King Jesus, and then we wait and watch the kingdom fill up, as the Spirit who created the cosmos creates new life in hearts otherwise dead in darkness. No, we can’t see the wind. But we know its power because we can see its effects: a kingdom full of new life in Christ.







Matthew Barrett is associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of many books, including None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God (Baker Books).
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - July 2020
Post by: patrick jane on July 31, 2020, 10:52:12 am
(https://www-images.christianitytoday.com/images/118666.png?w=700)
https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/july/keep-your-distance-words-of-medical-advice-from-surgeon-gen.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+christianitytoday%2Fctmag+%28CT+Magazine%29








Keep Your Distance: Words of Advice for Churches from the Surgeon General









Jerome Adams, Surgeon General of the United States, offered important medical guidance for faith communities today.


Ed Stetzer:

There is a growing pressure from congregations of all faiths to begin to meet… What medical advice would you like us to communicate to churches from you?

Surgeon General Adams:

I completely get it. That's one of the problems is human nature. You all know this as faith leaders, it is hard to get people to stay the course. It is hard to get people to do something when they don't see a reward for themselves on the back end. It is hard to get people to do something that's hard without a timeline that they're working towards, where they know when it’s going to end…

Arizona was one of the hardest places in the country. Just three weeks ago, the cases were running out of control. We were able to turn that around by doing the simple public health measures…

So my, my message—if I was talking to your congregants—would be number one, we can turn this thing around in three to four weeks, by doing three simple things:

Embracing wearing face masks when we're in public,
Making sure we're washing our hands frequently for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer, and
Then watching your distance.
The hard one is watching your distance, because there's some details in there that are important, and that includes not having large gatherings and no house parties, no going to bars, and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people and maintaining six feet of distance from others. It sounds simple—but truly that's what we need to do and the reward that you get on the back end, if we do that, we can turn around our rates in three to four weeks, to be able to open schools, to get back to worship.

We need people to understand that when we get the younger people—especially who are our problem folks, not just for COVID, but you know, in an array of different areas, but also our people out there with the most energy and the most ability to spread messages—if we can get them cooperating, then in three to four weeks, we can drive down rates in communities to the point where we can open up places of worship.

Look at New York, literally the hardest place in the world and their positivity rates are now well under 5%, they're in a position where they can open schools and open places of worship back again.

People need to know that if we don't get spread under control, it is not going to be safe to gather once again…

Ed Stetzer:
Part of the challenge is that 70% of churches, according to a Lifeway Research study released a couple of days ago, are actually meeting again already. I know you're not giving directives or mandates, but what medical advice do you want us to articulate to our faith communities?

Surgeon General Adams:

So, medically, if you are already meeting, I would say number one, make sure you're protecting the vulnerable. Make sure people who are older and people who have chronic medical conditions aren't coming to those meetings or that you give them consideration, because those are the people who are most at risk of dying or having severe complications from COVID-19. You need to protect those folks.

If you are meeting, make sure you do it in a socially distanced manner, at least six feet and encourage people when they're around other folks who aren't in their household to wear a mask. If you are meeting, understand that this virus likes to spread person to person. The closer we are to one another, the more likely it is to spread. The further away we are, the less likely it is to spread. The more barriers we have in between—and a mask is a barrier that prevents those droplets from coming out when we're talking or singing or coughing—the barriers we have prevent spread from the virus.

The final thing to tell those folks is—if you want to open and stay open—then you have to be the loudest advocates in the community of wearing a mask and doing the things that will lower that background transmission rate.









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