Article by: Ivan Mesa
The following quotes are from Tony Reinke’s new book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You (Crossway, 2017). Appropriately enough, Tony inspired the 20 quotes idea.
While a full-length TGC review is forthcoming, I’ll take this occasion to state that Reinke’s book is convicting and hope-giving. What I appreciate about Reinke’s book is that it doesn’t merely provide a checklist of behaviors to change but an entire approach—a worldview—to establish. He wants to help Christians be deliberate, others-minded, and God-honoring in their use of smartphones rather than being used (mastered?) by them. Not only is Reinke well versed in the latest research (look at the footnotes), but he grounds all he does in the timeless truth of God’s revelation. I think it’s fair to conceive of this book as a biblical theology of technology. If you’re like me and have often felt convicted about your smartphone use, then pick this book up. I know it’ll serve you well.
“[W]e all need to stop and reflect on our impulsive smartphone habits because, in an age when our eyes and hearts are captured by the latest polished gadget, we need more self-criticism, not less. . . . Our personal freedom from the misuse of technology is measured by our ability to thoughtfully criticize it and to limit what we expect it to do in our lives. Our bondage to technology is measured by our inability to thoughtfully criticize ourselves. What shall it profit a man if he gains all the latest digital devices and all of the techniques of touch-screen mastery but loses his own soul? Are we courageous enough to ask?” (23, 194)
“Too often what my phone exposes in me is not the holy desires of what I know I should want, not even what I think I want, and especially not what I want you to think I want. My phone screen divulges in razor-sharp pixels what my heart really wants. The glowing screen on my phone projects into my eyes the desires and loves that live in the most abstract corners of my heart and soul, finding visible expression in pixels of images, video, and text for me to see and consume and type and share. This means that whatever happens on my smartphone, especially under the guise of anonymity, is the true exposé of my heart, reflected in full-color pixels back into my eyes.” (26–27)
“The philosophical maxim, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ has been replaced with a digital motto, ‘I connect, therefore I am,’ leading to a status desire: ‘I am ‘liked,’ therefore I am.’ But our digital connections and ticks of approval are flickering pixels that cannot ground the meaning of our lives. And yet, I seek to satisfy this desire every time I cozy up to the Facebook barstool, to be where every friend knows my name, where my presence can be affirmed and reaffimed at virtual points throughout the day. I want anything to break the silence that makes me feel the weight of my mortality. . . . Nothing puts social media and smartphone habits into context like the blunt reality of our mortality. Let it sink in a bit. Feel the brevity of life, and it will make you fully alive.” (46)
“For those with eyes to see, Christ’s return is so imminent, it potently declutters our lives of everything that is superficial and renders all of our vain distractions irrelevant. To put it another way, our battle against the encumbering distractions of this world—especially the unnecessary distractions of our phones—is a heart war we can wage only if our affections are locked firmly on the glory of Christ. The answer to our hyperkinetic digital world of diversions is the soul-calming sedative of Christ’s splendor, beheld with the mind and enjoyed by the soul. The beauty of Christ calms us and roots our deepest longings in eternal hopes that are far beyond what our smartphones can ever hope to deliver.” (50)
“In the smartphone age, we are bombarded daily by the immediate: Facebook updates, blog posts, and breaking news stories. Yet the most important book for our soul is ancient. God’s Word demands our highest levels of literary concentration because it requires relational reading: not the superficial chitchat of a cocktail party, but the covenantal concentration of marriage vows. God’s Word is an invitation to orient our affections and desires. Our challenge is to use social media in the service of serious reading.” (89)
“We cannot suppress our souls’ appetite for what is awe-inspiring. The goal is not to mute all smartphone media but to feed ourselves on the right media. We were created to behold, see, taste, and delight in the richness of God’s glory—and that glory often comes refracted to us through skilled artists. Our insatiable appetite for viral videos, memes, and tweets is the product of an appetite for glory that God gave us. And he created a delicious world of media marvels so that we may delight in, embrace, and cherish anything that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise. This will keep us very busy marveling at Scripture, at nature, and at God’s grace in the people he created.” (100)
“We are composites of the people we want to conform to, and this conformity defines one of the most powerful lures of our smartphones. Digital technology now accelerates and particularizes our search for belonging.” (111)
“Whether or not we see it, worship is the fundamental dynamic of our molding. And this is why, no matter how fiercely independent we are, we never find our identity within ourselves. We must always look outside of ourselves for identity, to our group fit and to our loves. Both dynamics reveal the truth: we are becoming like what we see. We are becoming like what we worship. Or, to put this in Facebook terms directly, we are becoming like what we like.” (112)
“The smartphone is causing a social reversal: the desire to be alone in public and never alone in seclusion. We can be shielded in public and surrounded in isolation, meaning we can escape the awkwardness of human interaction on the street and the boredom of solitude in our homes. Or so we think.” (124)
“Online, we offer up our lives in stories forged by self-interpretation, and only rarely is our interpretation called into question. In person, however, our interpretations can be pushed back, questioned, and challenged, all for our own good. Friction is the path to genuine authenticity, and no amount of online communication can overcome a lack of real integrity. We must be real with the people God puts into our lives. We must tell the truth. We must be honest at school. We must be wise with our money. We must be trusted friends. We must be reliable at work. The world needs what we must be: God-centered, joyful, and trustworthy men and women. We are not awless; we are fallen repenters who require relational friction to grow and mature. We are authentic believers who are committed to replacing easy relationships with authentic ones. . . . Eye-to-eye authenticity is the key to empathy, humility, and trust in our relationships, and these are skills we all need.” (125–6)
“Technology . . . makes us think we can indulge in anonymous vices, even conceptually, without any future consequences. Anonymity is where sin flourishes, and anonymity is the most pervasive lie of the digital age. The clicks of our fingertips reveal the dark motives of our hearts, and every sin—every double-tap and every click—will be accounted for. . . . [N]o addiction in our lives is hidden from the eyes of God. Our Creator is no respecter of privacy laws. His omnipresence shatters the mirage of anonymity that drives so many people to turn to their phones and assume they can sin and indulge without consequence.” (133–134)
“Digital consumerism is directly at odds with many of the most fundamental convictions of the gospel. Spiritual authenticity is measured by faith in the unseen truth of God, not by confidence in the visible consumables of our age.” (138)
“To live an abundant life in this insatiable consumer society, we must plead in prayer for God-given power to turn our eyes away from the gigs of digital garbage endlessly offered in our phones and tune our ears to hear sublime echoes of an eternal enthrallment with the transcendent beauties we ‘see’ in Scripture.” (144)
“Whether it’s a ‘breaking-news’ alert, a direct-message prompt, a text message, or a news app, our phones make our lives vulnerable to the immediacy of the moment in a way unknown to every earlier generation and culture. Social media and mobile web access on our phones all drive the immediacy of events around the world into our lives. As a result, we suffer from neomania, an addiction to anything new within the last five minutes.” (148)
“Lacking self-control over the volume of our data ingestion introduces burdens that our physical bodies cannot carry. . . . By grace, we are free to close our news sources, close our life-hacking apps, and power down our phones in order to simply feast in the presence of friends and enjoy our spouses and families in the mystery, majesty, and ‘thickness’ of human existence.” (150, 151).
“My desire to never be socially left out comes at the price of beeps, pings, and endless feed refreshes. I constantly check my phone to make sure I’m not missing anything. But others also pay a price for my so-called ‘relevance.’” (154)
“FOMO [fear of missing out] is neither unique nor modern. It predates the acronym coined in 2004, it predates WiFi, and it predates our smartphones. FOMO is an ancient phobia with a history that reaches back far before we started using our opposable thumbs to text one another gossip. We can say that FOMO is the primeval human fear, the first fear stoked in our hearts when a slithering Serpent spoke softly of a one-time opportunity that proved too good to miss. ‘Eat from the one forbidden tree, Eve, “and you will be like God.”’ What more could Eve or Adam want—to escape creaturehood, to become their own bosses, to preserve their own independence, to define their own truth, to become all-knowing, and to delight in autonomous regality. They could keep all the glory for themselves by becoming gods and goddesses! Who could refuse the irresistible chance to become godlike in one bite? These words—this lie!—were loaded with a succulent promise too good to be true. It was false flattery. It was Satan’s attempt to dethrone God by spinning words into an insurrection by God’s own image bearers. In other words, FOMO was Satan’s first tactic to sabotage our relationship with God, and it worked. And it still does.” (158)
“In an age when anyone with a smartphone can publish dirt on anyone else, we must know that spreading antagonistic messages online, with the intent of provoking hostility without any desire for resolution, is what the world calls ‘trolling’ and what the New Testament calls ‘slander.’” (166)
“Our gluttonous fascination with the failures of others long predates social media. Faultfinding is an ancient hobby, meant to prop up a façade of self-importance, even among Christians. Faultfinding destroys our love for others. Faultfinding runs contrary to Calvary. In Christ, our pardoned sins are plunged into a grave—but the slanderer keeps going at night to exhume his neighbor’s sins in order to drag those decomposing offenses back into the light of the city square.” (169–70)
“We grow emotionally distant with our expressions. We become content to ‘LOL’ with our thumbs or to cry emoticon tears to express our sorrow because we cannot (and will not) take the time to genuinely invest ourselves in real tears of sorrow. We use our phones to multitask our emotions. In the age of the smartphone, we are both trying to escape emotion and trying to ‘plug the need for contact with the drug of perpetual attention.’ This juxtaposition, by necessity, makes us broadly connected but emotionally shallow.” (179)
Previously in the “20 Quotes” series:
- Erik Raymond’s Chasing Contentment (Crossway, 2017)
- Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ (Crossway, 2016)
- Tim Keller’s Hidden Christmas (Viking, 2016)
- Scott Sauls’s Befriend (Tyndale House, 2016)
- Ray Ortlund’s Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel (Crossway, 2016)
- Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him (Crossway, 2016)
- Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God (Viking, 2016)
- Mark Dever’s Understanding the Great Commission (B&H, 2016)
- Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ (Crossway, 2016)
- Albert Mohler’s We Cannot Be Silent (Thomas Nelson, 2015)
- Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s The Compelling Community (Crossway, 2015)
- Russell Moore’s Onward (B&H, 2015)
- Rosaria Butterfield’s Openness Unhindered (Crown & Covenant, 2015)
- Tim Keller’s Preaching (Viking, 2015)
- Tim Keller’s Prayer (Dutton, 2014)
- Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word (Crossway, 2014)
Ivan Mesa is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Robert Kolb
Lyndal Roper—professor of history at Oxford—has written a new biography of Martin Luther titled Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet.
Her goal is neither to “idolize” nor “denigrate” Luther, nor does she “wish to make him consistent.” She aims instead to understand him and the “convulsions” both he and Protestantism in general unleashed (xxx). Roper examines Luther’s relationships with family, mentors, and students; his theological and pastoral concerns; and his sociological context to give readers a fuller picture of the man and his time.Luther’s Relationships
Roper situates Luther in the complex of personal relationships of the Reformation. Especially prominent in her story are those she deems “father figures” for Luther—including his own father; his Augustinian superior, Johannes von Staupitz; and his colleague, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt. After analyzing these relationships, Roper writes that Luther was unable to “transmit a sense of God’s fatherly care for the believer” (195). She concludes that “it is the distance, rather than the personal closeness, of God that lies at the center of Luther’s theology” (195). Yet this conclusion ignores the Reformer’s concept of the immediate, effective presence of God in his Word in all its forms, and his providential care for human beings in daily life.
Roper also treats Luther’s relationship with his mother, Margarete, and his wife, Katharina. His marriage had many features that are “chauvinist” from a modern perspective, but it was also loving, open, and in some aspects progressive (he left his possessions to her in his last will and testament despite that being against Saxon law).
Further, her treatment of Luther’s students is curiously lopsided. Roper focuses on one student with whom he had severe difficulties, Johann Agricola. Though she doesn’t ignore the theological side of their rupture, she could’ve made clearer how serious Agricola’s confusion of law and gospel was for Luther. She doesn’t counterbalance this story with examples of the warm relationships Luther enjoyed with many students who adored him. The book also could’ve benefited from a more thorough examination of Luther’s complex relationship with Philip Melanchthon.Luther’s Context
Luther’s focus on the physical elements of God’s creation occupy Roper’s attention in several different arenas, including his understanding of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, his beliefs about the blessings and abuses of sexuality, and his often crude use of the physical in his polemic. It’s puzzling, then, that she doesn’t treat the Ockhamist tradition in which Luther was educated as part of the background for these attitudes. His doctrine of creation—derived at least in part from Ockhamist principles, and not only from his “radical Augustinianism”—accounts for much of Luther’s “remarkably uninhibited views about sexuality—and consequently marriage” (275).
Among the many strengths of this study are Roper’s illuminating sketches of Luther’s social and economic contexts—from his entrepreneurial family to the societal dynamics in Wittenberg to the political intricacies of the German empire. More than most Luther biographers, Roper highlights his thoughts on martryrdom, and her development of this thread is quite helpful. She captures the drama of the conflicts that marked Luther’s career, and her lively style keeps readers engaged throughout. Her thoughtful observations pierce through commonplaces on Luther. For example, she judges Luther’s rendering of the New Testament into German “a deeply personal translation that seems to have been written in a single breath” (197).
While Roper’s treatment of some issues is uneven, these bumps in the road didn’t interrupt my pleasure in reading the book. Although I would always like more discussions of Luther’s theology, Roper does pay attention to Luther’s theological concerns and takes them seriously. She sensitively depicts his pastoral care while presenting his rage against the enemies he perceived to be threatening the gospel. She understands that his “hatreds” cannot be fully grasped without reference to his passion for caring for God’s people.
For my students, I still prefer Scott Hendrix’s Martin Luther, Visionary Reformer for several reasons, including his greater emphasis on Luther’s thought. But instructors in Reformation studies should read Roper for a profitable expansion of their understanding of the man and his period. All who are interested in the German Reformer will gain new insights from this carefully crafted account.
Lyndal Roper. Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet. New York: Random House, 2017. 576 pp. $40.
Robert Kolb (PhD, University of Wisconsin) is mission professor of systematic theology emeritus at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including The Genius of Luther’s Theology, Luther and the Stories of God, Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith, and The Christian Faith: A Lutheran Exposition. Kolb is also co-editor of The Book of Concord (2000 translation). He has lectured at more than 40 educational institutions on five continents and at many ecclesiastical gatherings. Since 1996 he has been Gastdozent at the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany.
Article by: Paul Tripp
Parenting is much more than controlling the behavior of your children. Parenting is actually about heart exposure and heart change. We know only Jesus Christ can create the kind of lasting change in the human heart that will transform behavior. In this workshop, Paul Tripp (author of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family) speaks on how to let the gospel shape what you say and do with the children who have been entrusted to your care.
- Parenting with a Big Gospel Picture
- The Down-to-Earth Gospel for Parenting
- How to Raise Changing Children in a Changing Culture
- How God Grows Us Through Parenting (video)
- Engaging Children’s Hearts So They Live for the Glory of God (audio)
Paul Tripp is a pastor, author, and international conference speaker. He is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. This vision has led Paul to write 13 books on Christian living and travel around the world preaching and teaching. Paul’s driving passion is to help people understand how the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks with practical hope in everyday life. His latest book is Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Crossway, 2012).
Article by: Tim Keller
Early Christians before Constantine were highly persecuted for being too exclusive, narrow, and strange, and yet at the same time they were fast growing, especially in the urban centers. (See, for example, Alan Kreider’s chapter “The Improbable Growth of the Church” in The Patient Ferment of the Early Church.)
This has been called an effective “missionary encounter” with Roman society. There was both offense and attraction, confrontation and persuasion. Christianity didn’t adapt to culture in order to gain more adherents, but neither did it remain a small, withdrawn band. Christianity confronted and critiqued the culture, and believers suffered for it—yet the faith also convinced many, attracting growing numbers of converts daily.What Can We Learn?
It’s obvious in Western societies that Christians are again seen as too exclusive and narrow, and that they too may soon be excluded from many government, academic, and corporate jobs, and be socially marginalized in various other ways.
What can we learn from the early church so that we can have our own effective missionary encounter?
First, we must avoid thinking that faithful witness will mean either fast, explosive growth (if we get the ministry formula just right) or long-term dwindling with little fruit or impact. First Peter 2:11–12 gives us a brief summary of the original missionary dynamic when it tells us, in one sentence, that some outside the church accused and persecuted them, while others saw their good deeds and glorified God.
Second, we must avoid either assimilation or rigidity. There are indeed those who, in order to draw thousands, play down the more offensive and demanding aspects of Christianity. There are also those who insist that any effort at all to adapt our evangelistic presentations to particular cultural mistakes and aspirations is wrong. Yet Gregory of Nyssa, in the prologue to his Great Catechism, insisted that you couldn’t win a polytheist and a Jew by the same arguments. You must frame your exposition of the gospel differently in each case. So must we.
Here are five things our missionary encounter might contain.1. A public apologetic, both high-level and street-level.
The early church developed effective public apologetics (e.g., Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, and Augustine). We must not present a purely rational apologetic, but also a cultural one. Augustine developed a “High Theory” critique of pagan culture. He defended the exclusive-looking beliefs of Christians like this: “Our beliefs and lives do not in any way weaken the social fabric—rather they strengthen them. Indeed, you will never have the society you want if you maintain your polytheism.”
But besides high-level critical theory, there must also be street-level apologetics. We need to show how the main promises secular culture makes regarding meaning, satisfaction, freedom, and identity can’t be fulfilled. We need an explosion of “memoir” apologetics—thoughtful, accessible, and wildly diverse stories of people who encountered Christ and had their lives changed by the gospel. We also need a host of accessible books putting forth the “deep logic” of Christian sexuality. Finally, public apologetics in a post-Christian society will have to include public repentance for the failures of the church in the past and present.2. A counterculture.
Like the early church, we should be an alternate society with several characteristics:
- We should be marked by a striking multi-ethnicity. Christianity is far and away the most ethnically and culturally diverse religion in the world. This is an enormous credibility factor for Christianity. Yet the Western church often doesn’t look multi-ethnic to its culture. The public spokespersons for the church should be from as many different racial groups as possible.
- We should be pioneers in civility, in building bridges to those who oppose us. The earliest Christians were viciously persecuted and put to death, but the church practiced forgiveness and non-retaliation. Nowhere in the West are Christians facing this, yet many respond to even verbal criticism with like-toned disdain and attacks. Christians should be peacemakers instead of pouring scorn on our critics and “sitting in the seat of mockers” (Ps. 1:1).
- We should be famous for our generosity, care for the poor, and commitment to justice in society. The church should be well known as the main institution working to organize poor and marginal communities to advocate for their own interests with government and business.
- We should be committed to the sanctity of life, and to being a sexual counterculture. The church today must not merely maintain the traditional sex ethic among its own people, but it must learn to critique the false cultural narratives underlying our society’s practice and view of sex.
Today’s church must equip Christians with a doctrine of vocation to integrate their faith with their work. This “faithful presence” within vocational fields would help lead, among other things, to a reformation of capitalism (restoring trust to the financial markets through self-regulation), to a reformation of politics (restoring not just centrism but bipartisanship), and to a reformation of the academy, the media, the arts, and technology. (To better understand “faithful presence,” see James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World and TGC’s eBook interacting with it.)4. An evangelistic stance and approach.
There’s no evangelistic presentation that perfectly fits every culture, since every culture needs the basics of sin and salvation to be communicated in a comprehensible way. The gospel relates to other religions and worldviews by means of “subversive fulfillment”—that is, the gospel fulfills culture’s deepest aspirations, but only by contradicting the distorted and idolatrous means the world adopts to satisfy them.
Today’s church must discover various ways to present the gospel to our culture and its various subgroupings, not merely through preaching but through every Christian learning to be public about their faith in their walks of life. (To better understand how the early church did evangelism, see Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church and Evangelism through the Local Church to consider what’s possible today.)5. Christian formation in a digital age.
The early church formed people into vibrant Christians in the midst of a pagan culture. Its members had sharply different priorities concerning money and sex, and in many other regards. Alan Kreider points out that early Christians achieved this distinctiveness through up to three years of catechetical training, through the strength of their community and relationships, and through rich worship.
The church in our day faces the same challenge. In the midst of a secular culture with its narratives (e.g., “you have to be true to yourself,” “you have to do what makes you happy,” “no one has the right to tell anyone else how to live”), how do we form Christians shaped more by the biblical narrative? But we also face something different: communication technology. In a digital era, a person can daily absorb thousands of words and hundreds of ideas that can undermine the power of what happens in face-to-face interaction. In this situation, how do we form people who are distinctly Christian?
This will entail, at least: (a) new tools of catechesis formed to present all the basics of Christian truth as a direct contrast to the narratives of late-modern culture (e.g., “You have heard it said—but I say unto you”); (b) worship that combines ancient patterns of liturgy with cultural forms; (c) great use of the arts to tell the Christian story in stories; and (d) theological training of both ministers and lay leaders to conduct these kinds of formative practices. (For information on Christian formation see: James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love and his cultural liturgies series, as well as the New City Catechism.)
Editor’s note: The article appeared in the Redeemer Report.
Tim Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York, and author of numerous books. He is also co-founder and vice president of The Gospel Coalition. For more resources by Tim Keller visit Gospel in Life. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Darryl Williamson
In the final scene of the film Risen, after Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples go out to spread the gospel with new purpose in their lives. As they’re departing, Peter asks Clavius, the Roman military tribune, “Will you join us in Jerusalem? This Spirit we are promised, we are called to receive it!” Confused by this declaration of a new vocation, Clavius asks, “But you are called to be a fisherman.” Peter replies, “Aye, for men! How can I now do anything else?”
Peter’s single-minded focus seems consistent with Jesus’s words about what it means to follow him. In Mark 12, Jesus gives the rich young ruler, a man divided between his faith and his wealth, a new commandment—one requiring all his life to be subject to Jesus. The message is clear: The lordship of Christ demands a life of devotion, and all competing good things must fall in line behind him and his cause.Feeling Conflicted
Paul teaches that the life of a minister should exemplify wholehearted devotion to God. To support this all-consuming vocation, the church should financially support his work: “The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should make their living by the gospel” (1 Cor. 10:14).
Paul, however, chose not to claim this right of support at times. Sometimes he received the support of churches (2 Cor. 11:7–9); other times he constructed tents to meet his financial needs. He was vocationally nimble, not wanting to burden local congregations who couldn’t bear the financial costs of his ministry. When there was money to support him, he received it. When there was not, he worked.
This kind of vocational nimbleness can be challenging for a minister. I’ve served as the lead pastor of my church for seven years, setting forth a city-focused gospel mission, mentoring men and other leaders, spending time with members in fellowship, investing myself in extensive biblical and theological reading, and serving on the boards of two gospel-focused organizations. During this time I’ve also worked full-time as a software executive—a position that requires not just my time but also my leadership focus and creative energy.
When fellow believers hear about my two roles, I am often commended and congratulated. Yet I usually don’t feel praiseworthy; I usually feel conflicted. I’ve worried that, when I stand before the Lord, instead of hearing, “Well done,” I’ll hear, “Why didn’t you trust me? What were you afraid of? Did your life as a pastor model wholehearted devotion to me?”Three Considerations
Theologically and practically, how should we view bi-vocational pastors? Should they be commended for their sacrifice and the special burden they carry? Or should they be challenged to surrender their lives fully to the calling God has placed on them?
As a bi-vocational pastor, I’ve thought deeply about this and would like to offer three considerations.
First, most bi-vocational pastors serve in churches that cannot afford to pay them a livable wage. Depending on your source, the median American church size is 75 to 90 people. Many of these congregations are vibrant, healthy, impactful, and gospel-centered—yet they remain small. Their budgets are often tight, and they provide the level of support they can. Such churches and their pastors should be commended for serving God to the best of their ability while the pastors concurrently labor in full-time, non-pastoral employment.
Second, a bi-vocational pastor should examine his life and endeavor to be in full-time ministry if possible. He should assess his priorities and conform his material expectations to the Lord’s calling on his life to proclaim the gospel—all the while not neglecting his family. His wife and children shouldn’t have to embrace a vow of poverty, but his family should live simply and with little debt (2 Cor. 2:17; Heb. 13:5).
Third, churches led by bi-vocational pastors should examine their commitments and priorities. Many Christians don’t see the necessity of pastors working full-time in gospel ministry and don’t perceive the spiritual implications when a pastor’s attention is divided. When Paul discusses the call to proclaim Christ in Colossians 1:28, he is speaking about preparing God’s people for judgment before God himself. There is nothing of greater importance for the pastor. Even sheer spiritual self-interest should stir God’s people to do all they can to enable their pastor to devote himself fully to the work of caring for their souls. A congregation makes a meaningful and tangible impact when they sacrifice so that their pastor can minister on their behalf and labor to expand the kingdom of God.
The full-time pastor, of course, shouldn’t squander the sacrifices God’s people have made to enable him to devote himself fully to ministry. How severe the judgment must be for those pastors who take this liberty, made possible by the sacrificial commitment of believers, and then waste it through laziness, irresponsibility, or sin.Variations of Grace
Bi-vocational pastors seeking to be devoted full-time to their churches can pray vigorously for the Lord to change their circumstances through church growth, an increased commitment from their members, or a stronger contentment resting on fewer things. Such pastors recognize they cannot give themselves fully to the ministry of the Word and prayer when most of their days are given to work outside of the church.
Nevertheless, bi-vocational pastors can give themselves meaningfully to kingdom work—even as they accept that God may continue to exhibit his sovereign power in less than ideal circumstances. Bi-vocational pastors are not spiritual failures who have faulty faith; they are variations of God’s multifaceted grace. On that great day when they stand before God, they will be grateful for every inconvenience they embraced for the glory of the Savior and the joy of the flock.
In the meantime, may bi-vocational pastors guard their hearts and minds vigorously as they give themselves to the work given to them, knowing the One they serve is faithful and will not forget their labors (1 Cor. 15:58).
Darryl Williamson is the lead pastor at Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa, Florida. He is BST Global's Product Director of Knowledge Management, Product Director of Information Delivery, and a member of the BST Global Executive Management Team. Darryl leads product envisioning and product management for the reporting, analytics, performance management, collaboration, and document management aspects of BST Global's software solutions. He is currently working on his MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, is married to Julie and they have two adult children. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Scott Steltzer
“This is so boring!”
I didn’t say it out loud, but I thought it several times. It was my first time hunting, and I had sat still for 10 hours. Apart from the occasional leaf rustling, a couple squirrels, and a bird or two, I saw nothing.
But I’ve since realized something: I didn’t see anything that day because I wasn’t really looking. No, I didn’t see the animal I was hunting, but I missed out on something far greater: God’s glorious creation. The problem wasn’t with his creation. The problem was with me. The sky hadn’t taken a 10-hour vacation from declaring divine glory that day. I was just oblivious to it.
I suspect I’m not alone.
A couple years ago I overheard two summer campers talking as they watched squirrels play. One said, “It’s not like squirrels ever glorify God!” The other replied, “Yes they do; they glorify God just by being squirrels.” Both campers were seeing the same squirrels and yet, their experience of God’s creation in that moment was vastly different. One saw glory, the other did not.
Summer looms. We modern people often prefer the comfort of air conditioning to the afternoon breeze on a hot summer day. We tend to choose the light radiating from a handheld device over the starry night sky. Much like that young camper, even when we are outdoors, it’s far too easy to miss the majesty of God’s creation.
David spent many nights in a field with no one to talk to but his father’s sheep—uninspiring company for a teenage boy. But at some point, the companionship of the night sky slowly—or perhaps suddenly—broke through to him. David saw and heard something that captured his attention. The skies spoke, and he wrote.Four Reasons to Look Up
In the first four verses of Psalm 19, we encounter four truths that encourage us to look up from our phones and soak in God’s creative splendor.
1. Creation speaks (v. 1).
David declares that creation is revelatory. The skies unveil and proclaim God’s glory. They testify to his existence, his beauty, his power. Having heard creation’s voice, David challenges us to perk up our ears. Psalm 19 is a clarion call to lean in and listen to the chorus of voices, for it is not only the skies that speak, but all of God’s creation.
2. Creation speaks constantly (v. 2).
David also tells us creation is speaking day and night. The heavens and skies take no vacations. They are unrelentingly doing what they were created to do. Their speech pours forth abundantly—like an overflowing fountain, not barely noticeable droplets.
3. Creation speaks our language (v. 3).
David tells us no matter what language we speak or what culture we inhabit, God’s created order communicates in a way we can understand. It crosses all cultural boundaries.
4. Creation speaks everywhere (v. 4).
David implies there is no place we can go to remove ourselves from the speech of God’s creation. One thinks of his question in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your presence?” The natural world everywhere declares God’s glory.Enrich Your Bible Reading
But are we listening? That’s the question, isn’t it? Like an ostrich, my head was buried in the sand of technological distraction for far too long. But I’ve come to see how profoundly this matters because of the innate complementarity between God’s world and God’s Word. A heart attuned to creation’s song is better positioned to comprehend and cherish the truths of Scripture. This is true even with the simplest of terms. Humor me for a moment and read this list aloud to yourself. Shut your eyes after each word and let your mind make the biblical connections:
Sheep. Green grass. Stars. Sun. Tree. Branch. Seed. Root. Light. Sky. Rock. Stream. Sand. Wave. Storm. Cloud. Lightning. Thunder. Mountain. Field. Cliff. Dust. Stone. Locust. Flower. Sparrow. Desert. Sea. Fire. Water.
Since we understand God more deeply through both his Word and his world, withdrawing from creation hampers our understanding of God. To be on a hike and seek refuge from the wind in a rock cliff is to experience Psalm 71:3: “Be to me a rock of refuge.” To fall out of the boat while whitewater rafting and be safely pushed into an eddy is to experience Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” To walk in a garden and ponder Jesus’s words about birds and flowers in Matthew 6, or his discussion of vines and branches in John 15 is to see those passages come alive.
God’s creation is not just background music to his redemptive hymn; it is the harmony that adds beauty to the whole melody.
God’s creation is not just background music to his redemptive hymn, it is the harmony that adds beauty to the whole melody. In a pivotal moment of God’s redemptive plan, as Christ hung on the cross, we read:
There was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. . . . Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God.
The dark sky magnified the truth that the judgment we deserved was applied to the Son. The darkness of the heavens declared God’s glory and the black skies proclaimed his handiwork on that dreadful and wonderful day. And when the centurion saw the Word made flesh magnified by the dark skies, he gave the only appropriate response: praise.Develop Eyes to See
That our culture is simultaneously drifting from biblical moorings and retreating from meaningful interactions with God’s creation is not coincidental. David linked the two. Cultivating eyes to see and ears to hear God’s revelation in both Scripture and nature is of great value in knowing him more intimately.
The truth is we will not likely change our cultural patterns and indoor tendencies. More time outdoors will accomplish nothing. More winter skiing, more hikes in the woods, more fishing trips will not, in themselves, make any difference. Again, the difference comes to those who listen. The reward comes to those who, like a young shepherd, cultivate the ears of their heart to hear their Maker’s magnificence. Psalm 19 invites us to marvel anew at God’s Word and God’s world.
As a director of a summer camp, I’ve seen rich fruit in young people who have learned to view creation with wonder. We train our summer staff to see all of life through the lens of Scripture. We also train a smaller group to lead campers on a “creeking trip”—wading and climbing through a mountain creek. I love teaching the staff to look with fresh eyes and listen with fresh ears to everything around them. On many occasions, the very way we experience God’s world—including the way we read his Word—has been changed as we’ve encountered our Maker in a small creek that continues to do what he created it to—proclaim his glory.
Scott Steltzer is an ordained chaplain in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He serves full-time with Summer’s Best Two Weeks, a Christian sports and recreational camp in Boswell, Pennsylvania. Scott, his wife, and their four children enjoy the adventure of living in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.
Article by: Jeffrey Keenan
Earlier this month, the world was shocked by a story about an Australian company that makes jewelry out of human embryos. The company, Baby Bee Hummingbirds, caters to people who have leftover frozen embryos from the in vitro fertilization process. The “straws” in which the embryos are stored are cremated and turned into pendants. Company founder Amy McGlade believes Baby Bee Hummingbirds is pioneering a “sacred art” that gives families with extra embryos another option besides storage, donation, or destruction.
The original article told the story of a couple with seven remaining embryos who took advantage of this new option. Their embryos were cremated and put into a heart-shaped pendant worn by the mother, Belinda Stafford. “Now they are forever with me in a beautiful keepsake,” Stafford said, adding that she finally felt comfort, joy, and peace.Material Fraud
While it seems embryo jewelry resolved a difficult situation for the Staffords, nothing could be further from the truth. The embryo jewelry concept provides false comfort through deception and denial. First, the whole process appears to be a hoax. I’m a reproductive endocrinologist who has personally performed more than 1,000 frozen embryo transfers. Frozen human embryos are delicate and microscopically small. When the straws storing them are cremated, the embryos themselves would essentially be vaporized.
What remains in the “embryo ash” turned into jewelry, then, aren’t the embryos, but burnt remnants of the device in which they were stored. Baby Bee Hummingbirds could take a coffee straw from a fast food restaurant, burn it, put it into jewelry, and produce substantially the same product. Though a simple DNA test on the ashes could prove the legitimacy of the company’s claims, it hasn’t made the results of such tests available to the public.Moral Fraud
“Embryo jewelry” appears to be fraudulent, but regardless of the content of the pendants, the company is perpetrating an even bigger fraud: the idea that the creation of such jewelry is not identical to embryo destruction. The Staffords said they didn’t have the heart to destroy their remaining embryos, but they turned them over to Baby Bee to do exactly that.
My point isn’t to condemn the Staffords. They found themselves, perhaps unwittingly, in a difficult and emotionally charged situation. Disposing of remaining embryos is a matter of great angst, and couples facing this decision deserve to be treated with compassion. The tragedy is that the Staffords were deceived into believing embryo jewelry isn’t embryo destruction. Stafford herself called the embryos “her babies” and mistakenly believed that she was somehow preserving them by turning them into jewelry. How alarming to see the horror of death so easily spun into a symbol of comfort and joy.Moral Solution
The truly life-affirming solution would have been for the Staffords to donate their remaining embryos to another couple waiting to welcome children into their home. The article said donation wasn’t an option for the Staffords, but it’s unclear if they were unable to donate or whether donation was an option they had personally ruled out.
The organization I help lead, the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), would have been glad to accept the Staffords’ seven remaining embryos. We take embryos free of charge from donors all over the United States and from some foreign countries as well, including Australia. How I wish this couple would have chosen life for their embryos and turned to us instead of Baby Bee.
Embryo donation isn’t an easy step for couples to take, but it’s the only life-honoring one.
The Staffords aren’t the only couple to face this dilemma. In the United States alone, hundreds of thousands of these embryonic lives are frozen in time. At the NEDC, we’ve had the privilege of helping thousands of lives out of the freezer. About 650 of those have come to birth and found themselves ushered into the arms of caring mothers and fathers.
Embryo donation isn’t an easy step for couples to take, but it’s the only life-honoring one. Naturally, the thought of turning one’s genetic children over to another family can be jarring. The key, however, is to consider the best interest of the embryos that have been created. Don’t they deserve a chance at birth and a full life?
At the NEDC we do all we can to ensure their placement into stable, loving homes—in some ways mimicking the traditional adoption process. Donors can have open or anonymous relationships with the adopting couples, most of whom have spent years battling infertility. The ability to help another couple build the family they’ve always dreamed of is another beautiful dimension of embryo donation. Perhaps the Staffords would have received far greater comfort in having a relationship with the birth family of their donated embryos and seeing them experience the joy of growing up in a loving family.
While it was heartening to see widespread outrage at the concept of so-called embryo jewelry, increasing awareness of and participation in embryo donation and adoption would be even more encouraging and constructive.
Jeffrey Keenan is a reproductive endocrinologist and has been in practice since 1990. He serves as president and medical director of the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Article by: David 'Gunner' Gundersen
Maturity will always be in high demand. Societies need good citizens. Nations clamor for noble leaders. Businesses seek out responsible employees. Parents long for prudent children. And the church of Jesus Christ, wherever it’s healthy, is marked by maturing members.
Like farmers want their harvests ripe and fathers want their sons wise, God wants his people mature. But right when everyone’s desperate for more true grownups, we’re delaying the process of growing up. We’re doing one of the most dangerous things any society can do: keeping our youth young.
So how can the next generation move toward maturity? How can adolescents grow into young adults? How can college students move through the college years with increasing integrity, character, maturity, skill, and productivity?
Here are six basic steps to help the saplings of the next generation add rings as they reach for the light.1. Wake Up: Desire
The first step toward maturity is wanting it. This virtue—basic desire—sits at the core of who we are and what we become.
Like children, all young adults grow whether they want to or not. They gain life experience; they acquire relationships; they develop an educational portfolio. But there’s a difference between haphazardly developing and intentionally maturing. Maturity, at its most granular levels, requires desire. When a young man or woman wakes up to his or her own human potential, to a sense of God-given responsibility, to the healthy weight of stewardship invested in every son of Adam and daughter of Eve, they have awakened at the crossroads where the path to maturity begins.2. Sign Up: Commitment
But desire alone is not enough. Without a concrete set of roles and commitments, even a healthy desire for maturity can become just a compost pile of good intentions. There’s a reason would-be soldiers enlist, would-be graduates enroll, and would-be couples get engaged. Commitment—embracing specific roles and responsibilities—strengthens us by making us shoulder the real weights of life.
When I was an 18-year-old sophomore, I worked as the intramural sports coordinator at my Christian college. I organized leagues, ran sign-ups, scheduled games, refereed every sport, and problem-solved all over the place. I’d held a paper route as a young teenager and mowed lawns in high school, but this was my first experience dealing with hundreds of people and dozens of interpersonal and logistical challenges. I was often uncomfortable, and as a gatekeeper and referee, often criticized. But I started learning a different level of responsibility, and I started growing up.
We mature when we hold concrete roles and responsibilities, because we’re yoked to commitments that require us to be faithful even (especially) when the task gets heavy and the going gets tough.3. Show Up: Faithfulness
Signing up is one thing. Showing up is another. There are too many young people who want to move up but don’t want to show up. They want the platform without the persistence. They want favor without faithfulness. But the main part of maturity (and influence) is simply showing up when we said we would and doing what we know we should. The majority of maturity is faithfulness.
You can’t lead if you’re not around. You can’t serve if you don’t come. You can’t help if you’re not here. So if you want to mature, start by making wise commitments, and then follow through on those commitments. Sign up, then show up.4. Shut Up: Humility
You also have to learn to shut up. As we move through adolescence into young adulthood, we’re sometimes tempted to think and act like we know far more than we do. Why? We’re becoming conscious of the world and ourselves, we’re putting some ideological pieces together for the first time, and we’re beautifully and naïvely simplistic about life. So we start speaking up and speaking out.
But open mouths often marry closed minds and birth terrible children. Our opinion-sharing can easily outrace our lesson-learning, and we can become walking illustrations of Proverbs 18:2: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
Rather than sharing humbly while seeking to learn, we often speak arrogantly while seeking to lecture, long before our time has come. But the truly maturing know maturity takes time. Maturity, then, also knows how to shut up and learn in sincere humility. “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Prov. 1:5).5. Step Up: Courage
Closing our mouths and opening our ears is a vital discipline. But we should develop it out of humility rather than fear, patience rather than indifference.
It’s not wrong to want, or to have, influence. It’s not wrong to step up and speak up—to be a courageous servant leader for the good of others. In fact, it’s one of the most important responsibilities every human being bears. Even when we’re young, we have an obligation to step up and exert godly influence in any number of situations: leading a group, voicing the truth, defending the oppressed, standing for what’s right, contributing with our gifts.
Not only can we add value to any situation by stepping up, but we also grow. Leading others teaches you how to lead. Teaching something is the best way to learn. Using your gifts is the best way to hone them.
So if you want to mature, you must also learn to step up and speak up and lead out in appropriate ways in appropriate settings for appropriate purposes. No one matures much without exercising a regular dose of courage.6. Get Up: Resilience
“Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth,” says the philosopher-boxer Michael Gerard Tyson. If you want to grow, you’ll have to face the challenges that growth entails. Maturing and marathoning have this in common: It’s going to be a process, it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to hurt. You’ll have to hit walls and push through them. You’ll have to get knocked down and get back up. And if you never get knocked down—if you never fail, or suffer, or wilt under the pressure—then you’re probably not trying anything that requires the stoutest forms of maturity.
The only way to learn how to get back up is to get knocked down, just like the only way to learn how to climb out of a pit is to tumble into one. There’s no such thing as maturity without resilience, so there’s no way to become mature without developing some real-time resilience along the way.Growing Up
The process of growing into the people God has designed us to be is invigorating, but it’s also challenging. Often, we seem to be aiming for a charcoal outline of our future selves that can seem distant and underdeveloped.
While maturity isn’t simple, it’s also not complicated. Basic maturity follows this basic path: desire, commitment, faithfulness, humility, courage, and resilience. So if you want to grow up, then start by waking up, signing up, showing up, shutting up, stepping up, and then getting up when you trip or tumble or get knocked down.
The church and the world are starving for mature Christians. So reach for the light, grow strong, and stand tall.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
David 'Gunner' Gundersen serves as Lead Pastor at BridgePoint Bible Church in Houston. He previously served as a professor at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary. You can connect with Gunner through his blog or Twitter.
Article by: Joe Carter
The Story: According to a new Gallup survey, a record number of Americans now consider behaviors that the Bible condemns to be “morally acceptable.”
The Background: Since the early 2000s, Gallup has tracked Americans’s views on the moral acceptability of various issues and behaviors. The overall trend clearly points toward a higher level of acceptance of a number of behaviors that the Bible clearly condemns. In fact, Gallup notes, the moral acceptability ratings for eight of the 19 issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.
The first number in each category list the number who consider the behavior to be “morally acceptable,” while the second number is the percentage that consider it to be “morally wrong.” The third number is the percent change from 2001 to 2017. An asterisk indicates and issue that is at a record high level of acceptance.
• Sex between an unmarried man and woman* — 69 / 28 (16 percent)
• Gay or lesbian relations* — 63 / 33 (23 percent)
• Having a baby outside of marriage* — 62 / 33 (17 percent since 2002)
• Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos — 61 / 33 (9 percent since 2002)
• Doctor assisted suicide* — 57 / 37 (8 percent)
• Abortion — 43 / 49 (1 percent)
• Pornography* — 36 / 61 (6 percent)
• Sex between teenagers — 36 / 59 (4 percent since 2013)
• Suicide — 18 / 76 (6 percent)
• Polygamy* — 17 / 80 (9 percent)
• Married men and women having an affair — 9 / 88 (2 percent)
As Gallup notes: “Of the 19 issues included in this year's poll, 13 show meaningful change in a liberal direction over time, regardless of whether they are currently at their high point in Gallup's trend. No issues show meaningful change toward more traditionally conservative positions compared with when Gallup first measured them.”
Why it Matters: Currently, a majority of Americans now believe that fornication between adults, homosexual behavior, having a child outside of marriage, and doctor-assisted killing to be “morally acceptable.” If the current trends continue, in 10 years (2027) more than one in four Americans will also consider polygamy and suicide to be morally acceptable.
Despite the increase in people who don’t identify with religion, a large majority of Americans—roughly seven in ten—continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. What this means is that a large percentage of people who consider themselves to be Christians consider behaviors that the Bible clearly states are sinful and immoral to be “morally acceptable.”
There are many reasons that Christians are rejecting biblical moral norms. Some are merely ignorant about what the Bible teaches, while others are clearly in rebellion and willing to pervert or reject God’s Word. In almost all cases, the root issue is an unwillingness of Bible-believing Christians to simply state, “You can’t be obedient to Christ and consider behavior he abhors and condemns to be ‘morally acceptable.’”
Perhaps it’s because we fear being called “legalists” for standing up for what the Bible teaches. Maybe we believe that people will flee our churches if we require them to adhere to the Bible’s moral commands. Or maybe we are ourselves are too biblically illiterate to provide counterarguments.
For whatever reason, we are failing to be faithful to Christ and his call to proclaim the gospel when we allow Scripture to be perverted and rejected by those who claim to be our fellow believers. Given the choice, many people would certainly prefer to be able to endorse fornication, polygamy, and suicide, and so on, and still be able to consider themselves “good Christian folk.” But that isn’t an option, and we shouldn’t pretend that the moral requirements of Scripture are optional for Christians. We can’t earn our salvation by adhering to God’s moral commands; salvation comes only from the blood of Christ. But we bring down his wrath upon our ourselves when we call evil good and good evil, and when we put darkness for light and light for darkness (Is. 5:20).
Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He serves as an elder at Grace Hill Church in Herndon, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Alastair Roberts
In Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female, journalist Ashley McGuire articulates the crisis of sexual identity facing the contemporary West, all in a punchy and accessible style.
McGuire explores numerous fronts of the current assault on the reality of sexual difference: children’s toys and education, cultural discourse around the terms “sex” and “gender,” colleges and their sexual culture, the military, emergency services, the entertainment industry, legal developments, social norms, and the gender identity movement. Each front is presented through a litany of journalistic anecdotes and symptomatic causes célèbres. Together they reveal a society fraught with conflict over one of the most basic human realities—the difference between men and women.
Throughout her treatment, McGuire goes against society’s blindness to the reality of significant and unavoidable difference between men and women. Nature, of course, won’t readily function as the docile handmaid of our ideological fancies. McGuire presents case after case in which the lie that there’s no significant difference between the sexes is embarrassingly exposed. A noncompliant natural order reasserts itself, despite all our attempts to resist it. Unfortunately, in the single-minded pursuit of ideology, the rebuffs of nature are answered with redoubled efforts to erase sexual difference, accompanied by recriminations blaming an unenlightened society for the (natural) failure to realize the vision.Beauty of Difference
The ideological fear of sexual difference, however, isn’t well grounded: were we to welcome and attend to the differences between the sexes, our respective dignity would be heightened, not diminished. To live as equals, McGuire contends, we must rediscover and appreciate our differences, no longer being “scared of our own selves” as sexed persons:
Sex doesn’t need to be a fault line in a battle, or a source of national scandal. The difference between the two sexes should be the starting point for a more authentic equality. This does not mean a return to the times when women were denied basic goods like an education or the vote. Those times suffered under an equally problematic misunderstanding of the difference between the sexes, one that denied where the sexes truly are the same, namely in their intellectual capacity and their contributions to civic life. But it is also an affront to equality to say men and women are identical, and to deny that a civilized society requires certain corrections to accommodate the unique needs of the female sex. (192)
McGuire affords us glimpses of a more positive vision, one in which our differences can be celebrated as distinctive gifts, in which men and women are not competitors but companions and collaborators, admiring and respecting each other’s unique strengths. She laments the demise of chivalry, for instance, reminding her readers that “it is sexual difference that activates chivalry, and women are its primary beneficiaries.”Women on Their Own Terms
McGuire’s interest is primarily focused on the damaging effects that denying sexual difference has on women. A gender-neutralized society, she argues, decreases women’s happiness and well-being, alienating them from their very bodies and selves, in order that they might more effectively function in masculine roles.
For instance, women’s “emotional sensitivity with its natural fluctuations” is dulled with pharmaceuticals, enabling and encouraging “women to take on behaviors that are typically approved by men” (154). By forcing women to adapt to male norms, it blinds them to their own particular strengths—strengths by which both they and society at large can greatly benefit. Without wanting to abandon a pursuit of equality, McGuire wants us to reframe it, recognizing the equal dignity and value of men and women, each on their own terms.
The roots of our cultural failure to handle sexual difference responsibly can be traced back to the sexual revolution and the second wave of the feminist movement. McGuire singles out Simone de Beauvoir’s famous claim, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” as a crucial move in the rise of a dysfunctional ideological approach to sexual difference.
This claim, further radicalized in the thought of subsequent theorists such as Judith Butler, untethered cultural expressions of gender from the natural reality of sexual difference. Attributing the many apparent differences between the sexes to culturally imposed gender roles, the stage was set for a crusade to uproot all gender norms and to take the persistence of difference as proof that the revolution simply hadn’t been as thoroughgoing as it needed to be.Depth of the Problem
McGuire’s book is neither an academic nor a theological treatment of the question of sexual difference, and anyone hoping for such treatments will likely be disappointed.
Sex Scandal displays many of the characteristic failings of more journalistic accounts of cultural phenomena. Cases of ideologically motivated confusion regarding sexual difference aren’t hard to come by, but might provide a distorted impression of the shape of public opinion. As McGuire herself acknowledges, “One loud customer who takes to the media can drown out 1 million others who are too busy to politicize their everyday shopping” (6).
It’s important to recognize that both the prominent reporting of scandalous cases and the power of extremists to spread their norms are greatly increased by the rise of social media, which exposes us to stories that tickle our prejudices, heightens the polarization of the political landscape, and diminishes the power of moderates. In order to deal with such a complex information landscape, I was expecting closer and more strategic analysis of the social patterns of ideological dissemination, the mechanisms by which gender ideology gains ground, and the material factors that make our society ripe for its rise.
While McGuire occasionally reveals profound moral dimensions of the questions of sexual difference, she doesn’t explore them. I suspect her own religious convictions couldn’t readily be exposed in a book aimed at a general audience. Without the more expansive horizon that the Christian faith affords (or even more developed philosophical thought, for that matter), sexual difference can’t achieve its true salience.
The magnitude of the imaginative and cultural shifts required to think properly about gender make it difficult for any book designed to be palatable to a wide readership to address many of our most fundamental societal dysfunctions. Attempts to dislodge the orthodoxies of autonomous individualism, for instance, would meet fierce resistance on many fronts.
Sex Scandal is a frequently depressing book on account of its subject matter, yet McGuire’s discussion often provides a refreshing and positive counterpoint to the destructive social trends she describes. The book isn’t an explicitly Christian book and, apart from a couple of references to papal statements on gender issues, betrays little of the author’s own Roman Catholic convictions. However, any Christian reader will find much with which to resonate.
Ashley McGuire. Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2017. 256 pp. $27.99.
Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University in England) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
Article by: Bernard N. Howard
In 2004 the Church of England began its first internet church: i-church.org. It still exists today, with a pastor and members who interact with one another online. But is it really a church? Many churches in America are made up of multiple campuses, but from a biblical point of view, is it possible for one church to be located in numerous places?
These questions are more than theological teasers; they have real significance for God’s people. Darren Carlson, president of Training Leaders International, recently observed, “The greatest problem in missions right now is disagreement over what constitutes a local church.” That’s not a small statement.
Clearly we need to think with care about what a church is, so that like a biologist classifying insects we can distinguish between a biblical church and something that belongs in a slightly different category.Dictionary Definitions
The English word “church” has a number of meanings, most of which are religious. But the Greek word ekklesia—the Bible word translated “church”—is different. Non-Christians in the first century wouldn’t have thought of it as a religious word. To them it simply meant “a gathering” or “an assembly.”
In every New Testament usage, while ekklesia can mean more than a gathering, it never means something unrelated to a gathering.
In the New Testament, ekklesia is sometimes used in that ordinary way (Acts 19:32 is one example), but more often it’s used for something new and specifically Christian. The writers of the New Testament chose ekklesia as the word for this new thing because its everyday meaning—assembly, gathering—was a good fit for their purposes. In every New Testament usage, while ekklesia can mean more than a gathering, it never means something unrelated to a gathering.One Universal Gathering in Heaven
The most important gathering in the New Testament is the gathering of all Christians around Jesus in heaven—an assembly that’s already in place:
You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to . . . the church of the firstborn. . . . You have come . . . to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant. (Heb. 12:22–24)
God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:6, see also Col. 3:1–4)
As you come to him, the living Stone . . . you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:4–5)
D. Broughton Knox, principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney from 1959 to 1985, unpacks this truth in his essay “The Church and Denominations”:
Since Christ is now in heaven, it is there that the New Testament thinks of him as building his church, because the church of Christ is the assembly which he calls into being around himself. This supernal church or assembly around Christ is a present, not merely a future reality, and we are to think of ourselves as already members of it, assembled with him in heaven.
For now, this is a spiritual rather than a physical gathering, but spiritual things are no less real than physical things. Our union with Christ through faith means we’re with him in heaven even while we’re also on earth. Paul sums it up when he describes the Colossians as “in Christ [heaven] at Colosse [earth]” (Col. 1:2).
At the risk of confusing the spiritual and the physical, I find it helpful to visualize my membership in the heavenly church like this: Through faith I’ve been elongated so that while my feet are on earth, my head is in heaven with Jesus and his people. Alternatively, think of those TV shows where a character turns to the camera to speak directly to the audience. It’s as if the character is simultaneously in two worlds: the world of the show and the world of the audience. Christians similarly “turn to the camera” whenever we remind ourselves that we belong to Jesus’s heavenly assembly and are here on earth as its ambassadors.Many Local Gatherings on Earth
It’s important to study the heavenly church before describing the local church, because faithful local churches are earthly displays of the heavenly church. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 18:20 (a verse that finishes off a short passage about the local church): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” On earth, as in heaven, the church assembles around Jesus.
The local church isn’t a piece of the heavenly church—like a tiny chunk broken off a big cookie. Instead, it’s a miniature realization of the whole heavenly thing.
How does this happen in practice, given that Jesus is physically absent here on earth? The answer is through his Word, because that’s how those who don’t see Jesus believe in him (John 20:29–31). Yet this doesn’t mean that any gathering of believers with a Bible is automatically a church. In context, the assembly in Matthew 18:20 is one that exercises formal discipline, thereby implying repeated gatherings and accountable members (Matt. 18:17–18).Churches Are Divine Creations
While we rightly identify true churches by external attributes like the preaching of the gospel and the faithful administration of the sacraments, we shouldn’t define a church as the sum of those external attributes. Defining a church that way leaves out God’s all-important role in establishing and sustaining churches (see Acts 20:28 and Rev. 2:5). Robert Banks expresses this well in his influential book Paul’s Idea of Community: “The ekklesia is not merely a human association, a gathering of like-minded individuals for a religious purpose, but is a divinely created affair.” Here, then, is a simple definition: The local church is a community gathered around Jesus by his Word. Note that it says “a community,” not “any group.” As mentioned above, the community envisaged in Matthew 18:15–20 is one that gathers repeatedly and exercises formal discipline.
This definition shouldn’t be treated as an excuse to wait passively for Jesus to do the gathering. Since he uses human instruments to start and maintain churches, those he sends to do such work should press on with it, by his energy (Col. 1:29). As John Calvin put it, “He instituted ‘pastors and teachers’ [Eph. 4:11] through whose lips he might teach his own” (Institutes, IV.i.1).Sunday and the Rest of the Week
By now it should be clear that the local church isn’t a piece of the heavenly church—like a tiny chunk broken off a big cookie. Instead, it’s a miniature realization of the whole heavenly thing. It contains the essential components of the heavenly church that is currently gathered around Jesus and will appear with him when he returns in glory (Col. 3:4). This reality should transform our attitude toward our own church. The people we gather with are people we’re simultaneously with in heaven, in Jesus’s presence. One day we’ll all be in his presence not only spiritually but also physically. Meditating on this thought should stir up a longing for good relationships with fellow church members, especially when we keep in mind that “the church of God [was] bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Another application, which brings us back to the questions at the start, is caution in ecclesiological experimentation. The local church is a physical gathering, so i-church.org isn’t a true church. For the same reason, it would be better, biblically speaking, to view a multisite church as a collection of churches with pooled leadership, rather than one single church. That kind of arrangement can be helpful as a temporary measure designed to result in fully planted churches.
But when multisite churches don’t have that aim, it’s accurate to say they’ve departed from the biblical model. This departure can have grievous consequences. For example, if the damage from any pastor’s fall is considerable, how much more devastating when the fallen pastor is the centerpiece of numerous congregations in different places? Lead pastors of multisite churches, why are you holding on so tightly to your campuses? As Jared Wilson boldly says in an article on celebrity pastors, “When we franchise rather than plant, we cooperate with the idolatry of the consumer.”
Jesus assures us in Matthew 18:20 that a church can exist when just two or three people assemble in his name. Of course, the rest of the New Testament qualifies that in various ways, such as the character and ability requirements for elders. But don’t let Matthew 18:20 suffer death by a thousand qualifications. It’s an absolutely thrilling truth, with the power to inspire church planting, church revitalization, and plain old church attendance in every corner of the world, right up until the day Jesus makes the many churches one.
Bernard N. Howard is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He is the pastor of Good Shepherd Anglican Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Now and again Bernard blogs at sixtyguilders.org. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Staff
“Seeking your satisfaction from God doesn’t mean he never sends you into the desert. Instead, he sends you into the desert and then makes the desert rain and bloom.” — Bobby Jamieson
Text: Psalm 84
Preached: December 27, 2015
Location: Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge, England
Bobby Jamieson is a PhD candidate in New Testament and affiliated lecturer in New Testament Greek at the University of Cambridge. He previously served as assistant editor for 9Marks. Jamieson lives with his family in Cambridge, England, where he is a member of Eden Baptist Church.
You can listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week here.
Article by: Tim Keller, Stephen Um, Jason Cook
“What is gospel-shaped mercy?”
Jason Cook (TGC editor and associate pastor of Fellowship Memphis in Tennessee), Tim Keller (senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City), and Stephen Um (senior pastor of Citylife Presbyterian in Boston) discuss this question in a new eight-minute video.
This seven-week track written by Stephen Um and recently released by TGC and The Good Book Company explores what it means to be a community engaging the world with compassion and justice.
Christians have rightly been suspicious of churches that give themselves to political and social campaigns—and seem to lose focus on the gospel at the same time. Over seven weeks explore how a right understanding of the gospel moves us towards ministries of mercy.
This track stimulates discussion as to how this looks in everyday life and in your local church context. The leader’s kit contains everything you need to lead this flexible curriculum in your church and small group.
- Help, Don’t Hurt, the Poor (Brian Fikkert)
- Piper, Keller, and Carson on Mercy Ministry vs. Gospel Proclamation
- Sharing Dinner and Jesus with Strippers (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra)
- Scary Mercy (Dave Dunham)
Tim Keller is senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Manhattan, New York, and author of numerous books. He is also co-founder and vice president of The Gospel Coalition. For more resources by Tim Keller visit Gospel in Life. You can follow him on Twitter.
Stephen Um is senior pastor of CityLife Church in Boston, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is president and executive director of The Center for Gospel Culture.
Jason Cook is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, focusing on pastoral ministry and integrating faith and work. He is associate pastor of preaching at Fellowship Memphis. He earned his MDiv from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, where he helped to build Iron City Church, a multi-ethnic ministry in one of America's most segregated cities. He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi on a football scholarship. He is married to Courtney, and they have two children, Charlie and Cager. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: R. Paul Stevens
The challenges of later life are similar to midlife but ramped up a notch. Aging people are challenged by the surrounding youth culture. Rapid changes, especially in technology and the internet, leave them behind. Their mobility and energy are reduced. Formalized and institutionalized retirement sets people up for a season of continuous leisure and sloth. This leads to profound challenges to self-worth, as people are no longer identified by their career.
Aging people experience progressive losses: parents, friends, colleagues, career, driver’s license, and perfect health. Then life-threatening health challenges are encountered, usually heart disease or cancer. And finally, there is the certainty of death.
In these realities, though, there are implicit spiritual incentives to grow. Here are three ways to encourage and exhort the aging.1. Experience Intensification
At 80 years old, my father—an active and productive person through his youth and midlife—had a double stroke and spent his last years unable to speak and eat. He simply was. I used to fly to Toronto, where he was hospitalized, and sit by his bed, reading to him, praying with him, and, perhaps most important of all, acknowledging he was precious and a gift—not that he had gifts or was using gifts but that he was a gift. I often wished I could understand what he was thinking, feeling, and experiencing, but, alas, he could not speak. He had shifted from doing to being.
Society presses us into a mold of accomplishments—résumés, accolades for things made and done, places traveled, jobs held, even roles undertaken in the church and not-for-profit organizations. But gradually we get asked less and less, like an international speaker who recently told me “the invitations have dried up.” For people whose life was wrapped up in their daily work, who lived for their work, actual retirement is a kind of death. And it is not surprising that some—mostly men—sometimes die shortly after retirement. There is nothing left to live for.
Yet this transition can be life-giving if we can shift to nurturing, discovering, and affirming who we are as people, and especially in Christ—priests, princes, and prophets, sons and daughters of God, and companions in his kingdom. These biblical descriptions aren’t things we have to accomplish. It is done. Thus Paul says, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16). And this includes not viewing ourselves from a worldly point of view.2. Embrace Simplification
Aging usually involves pruning our lives of some material things. As Cicero famously said, “Can anything be more absurd in the traveler than to increase his luggage as he appears near his journey’s end?” Yet this is what some do. They build larger homes when they are empty-nested and accumulate more and more things. Most, though, reduce rather than increase things, and in so doing, open themselves up to fewer encumbrances and distractions.
I recently received an email from a friend of almost half a century. He put it this way:
For me, the outstanding feature in the last years has been the essential tendency toward greater simplification. Activities that energized me now leave me cold. I have no interest in acquiring literary, philosophical works as well as art books. Finally, I am no longer tempted to buy discs. [I don’t want to give] the impression that I am now experiencing continuous boredom. It is just that certain things and activities that I liked in prior times sound to me superfluous, without depth.
Much is said in the Scriptures about a simpler lifestyle. The Israelites were warned of the dangers of the too-comfortable life of nice houses, growing herds, increasing income, and abundance of food (Deut. 8:11–19). Jesus himself lived simply and encouraged “an attitude toward possessions free of preoccupation and anxiety” (Luke 12:22–32).3. Cultivate (Practical) Heavenly Mindedness
One of the most common discussions today among aging people is what we’ve put on our “bucket list”—that is, things we want to do, experience, and see before we die (travel to Antarctica, see the Grand Canyon, bungee jump, spend a winter in Hawaii, and so on).
There is nothing wrong with such a list, except that it may reflect the need to squeeze out of this life everything we can—as though there is nothing more. But there is more. A lot more. A wonderful more. And it is a “more” that the process of aging invites us to consider. For the Christian, the “more” is even more enjoyable, more satisfying, and more lasting. Indeed, it endures forever. It is the full experience of God’s kingdom and life in a new world engulfed by his unmediated presence.
Unfortunately, being “heavenly minded” is often equated with being of no earthly good—with being out of touch with reality. But C. S. Lewis observes,
The Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most about the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth, and you will get neigher.
It is precisely this perspective that the Book of Revelation gives: practical heavenly mindedness. It is not primarily a book of predictions. It is an exposé. It is how the world looks to a person in the Spirit. And it teaches us the ways to cultivate practical heavenly mindedness: (1) to live with kingdom consciousness, living and working in the certain hope of the final triumph of God’s reign, (2) to see time as a gift, not just a resource to be managed, and (3) to invest in projects, work, and relationships that will outlast the grave—not just “spiritual” work but all good work done with faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 15:58).
Intensification, simplification, and practical heavenly mindedness. Aging is not the progressive loss of humanity. It is the reverse. It should make us more human and not less. Like all spiritual growth, we must cooperate with the God who loves us and seeks to humanize us. And this involves battling the vices of aging and nurturing the virtues of late life.
Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from R. Paul Stevens’s book Aging Matters: Finding Your Calling for the Rest of Your Life (Eerdmans, 2016).
R. Paul Stevens sits on the faculty of the Regent College, where he has also served as academic dean. His primary focus in teaching and writing is equipping the whole people of God for leadership, and his mission is to empower the whole people of God to integrate their faith and life from Monday to Sunday. Stevens is a craftsman with wood, words, and images, and has worked as a carpenter, a student counselor, a pastor, and a professor. Making his home in Vancouver, he is married to Gail and has three married children and eight grandchildren.
Article by: Kristen Hatton
It doesn't matter where you live, what type of school system you’re in, or who your kids’ friends are, there’s no foolproof way of avoiding middle-school meanness. That’s not to say the meanness doesn’t start before middle school, nor that it ends before high school—or stop in adulthood, for that matter. But by and large the drama, the cattiness, the dismissiveness, the name-calling, the online bullying, the rejecting, and the outright hateful words and behavior start blowing up big time around middle school.
We’re often left wondering why these kids who used to be so good—kids who should know better—are behaving so terribly. And how do we handle it? Whether our child feels like the victim, is caught in the middle, or is the one misbehaving (we’re fooling ourselves if we think our kids never fall into this category), parenting through the drama and meanness is hard.Heart of the Problem
External factors like family, environment, friend groups, and life circumstances may contribute, but they aren’t the primary problem. The primary problem is our kids’ hearts, and our hearts too—it’s a universal human heart problem. Therefore, we must consider the heart to properly address the unkind actions. If we only deal with the outer behavior, we’ll never effectively change what’s really going on.
As we chisel beneath the behavior, we discover what’s driving it. External factors can influence, yes, but we act according to the inclinations of our hearts. And all of us have a natural bent toward sin. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
We have sin-sick hearts. All of us.
When we understand our true diagnosis as an across-the-board condition, we can start from a place of compassion with our own kids, and toward others. When our child knows this is our condition, too—that we are in the same sin-ridden boat—they’ll be more receptive to our probing questions. This shared need for grace gives us patience and gentleness as we help them excavate the root of their behavior.Idol Factor
The heart is the driving force behind why any of us do what we do. So whatever is ruling our hearts—whatever means most to us—will be the influential tug that determines our words and deeds, our motives and agendas.
When Jesus is central in our heart, our words and action will reflect him. Yet when something other than Jesus dethrones him, things go badly. Whatever we seek to find life in apart from the true God—a person, an object, a desire—is a false god. It soon becomes the ruling idol of our heart.
What we view as our ultimate identity is where we seek fulfillment. So our teenagers look for life in appearance, acceptance, affirmation, significance, popularity, and love. (Sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it?) Whatever it takes to get what they think they must have, they will do. Their ruling idol—in the classroom, the lunchroom, on the stage, the field, and social media—will determine their behavior.
Now it makes sense why a 13-year-old girl utters a snide comment to a classmate if she feels jealous or insecure and doesn’t know her worth. In a twisted way, she feels better by making someone else feel worse. Or a youth who’s starved for attention and love at home—it makes sense why he craves attention from others, even in negative ways. He’s looking to know his worth, to know he’s accepted and secure.
Ultimately, though, only God can fill us. Only God can make us whole. Only God is big enough to fill the chasm that drives us to turn to empty gods.Painful Love
When we talk to our kids about mean behavior and don’t discuss idolatry, we neglect helping them discern the true nature of their dissatisfied hearts, the depth of their sin, and their profound need for a perfect Savior.
But when we dig deeper with our kids, and they begin to grasp the extent and frequency of god-replacements popping up in their hearts, we shepherd them toward the Good Shepherd himself. We want them to obey out of love for the One who rescued them. Through painful and complicated discussions, we raise children who have compassion on others. And as they begin to find their acceptance, love, and worth in Jesus, they are freed to share with others the grace they’ve received.
Kristen Hatton is author of the teen devotional Get Your Story Straight, with her second book, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World, due from New Growth Press in May 2017. Kristen discovered her passion for teaching, speaking, and writing about grace and growth in the gospel through many years of leading a teen girls Bible study. She resides in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her pastor husband and their three teenagers. To learn more, visit www.kristenhatton.com.
Article by: Dan Doriani
A renowned Reformed pastor, great preacher, visionary leader, and tender man endured such criticism from his church that he almost despaired. He told one of his confidants, “After 12 years as a pastor, I had to put a wall between myself and my people so I wouldn’t have to quit the ministry.”
“Jack” was another esteemed pastor. An excellent preacher with sterling organizational skills, he fostered healthy church growth and led numerous citywide ministries. When he retired, the leaders of the pastoral search team visited me. We spent an hour getting to know each other, then their presentation began. Before long, I felt compelled to interrupt, “Please don’t tell me your goal is to find a senior pastor who’s more of a shepherd than Jack.” Faces fell.
“How did you know?”
I replied: “Jack is friendly and socially adept, but clearly not as sociable as you are—we just spent an hour talking about our families. Jack is always busy preaching, teaching, and leading. Your church has 3,000 people, so you know he can’t know everyone. But you’re sad he doesn’t really know all 60 elders. Since you admire him, you long to know him and hope you will know your next pastor. But no one is equally gifted at everything, and everyone’s time is limited. Therefore, if this search led to a man bent on shepherding, he would inevitably be less devoted to preaching or leadership. But after 25 years with Jack, the church expects and needs a senior pastor who preaches and leads with excellence. If you want a consummate preacher, teacher, and shepherd, you want the perfect pastor.”
In short, the committee loved Jack, but they also thought, We need to fix his weakness. They forgot that everyone has weaknesses.‘We Need to Fix Him’
My work often leads to sustained conversations with elders, unordained leaders, and pastors of large, complex churches. With rare exceptions, churches are quite vocal about the flaws of their pastors, whether newly installed or long faithful. Good churches wish it were different, but they tend to think all will be well if the pastor improves, and they take better care of him.
At first, churches are eager to care for new pastors, especially senior pastors. They want to ensure that he has time for his family, that he doesn’t work too hard, that he joins a gym or a club. They want to treat him well—certainly better than the last pastor, who finished his tenure visibly exhausted. This intention is typically more enthusiastic than resolute, for the tone changes a few years into the pastor’s tenure.
The main problem is almost always criticism and opposition. Every pastor who effectively leads an influential church will face opposition. Heroes like Anselm, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Edwards tasted fierce resistance, even hostility. Because they enacted essential reforms and addressed burning theological debates, confrontation was inevitable.
Anyone with great skill and influence becomes a target. Similarly, a rapidly growing church will rouse opposition from its community, as neighbors protest increased traffic, and nearby pastors—possibly motivated by jealousy—imagine they detect heterodoxy.
These troubles are inevitable but manageable. The principal challenge lies within the pastor’s own church.Five Causes of Criticism
This spring, I spoke to a group of large-church pastors, staff members, and elders. During a Q&A, an elder asked, “What is the single greatest problem facing pastors today?” I replied, “The greatest problem is internal opposition from subversive co-leaders and self-appointed critics within the church.” The pastors released a collective groan of recognition and assent.
I will briefly mention five causes of criticism and focus on the fifth.
First, a pastor may face full-blown antagonists who will lie, deceive, and manipulate to destroy him and control the church.
Second, a pastor must negotiate with talented, successful, and therefore opinionated people who love him but believe he’s dead wrong about a critical issue.
Third, a pastor pays for the errors of his subordinates. If a staff member commits a major sin, the senior pastor properly faces questions: Did he fail to address a nascent problem? But catastrophes can be unforeseeable.
Fourth, a pastor see problems that appear to invite, even demand, reform. Most people resist change. Further, those committed to the existing order will be inclined to resist proposals for a new system. New pastors know it is wise to delay changes, if possible, to build trust while making non-controversial improvements. Bold changes arrive later.
Machiavelli said there is nothing more difficult in leadership than creating a new order. Everyone who’s done well under the old system is an enemy, and those who may do well in the new order will be lukewarm allies. Machiavelli is needlessly pessimistic, since a manifestly flawed order always attracts reformers, and there is a minority that simply likes change. Nonetheless, pastors do court opposition when they initiate change.
But I want to focus on criticism directed at a pastor’s genuine flaws.
Finally, every senior pastor deserves criticism for two reasons. Above all, every pastor is a sinner. Pastors sin both in their private lives and in their work. When thwarted, they become harsh or angry. When self-discipline wanes, they prepare inadequately to preach, lead, or shepherd.
Further, no pastor has all the skills to lead well. To be sure, certain pastors lack self-discipline and essential abilities. But let’s focus on pastors with character, skill, and a capacity for work. Even they are criticized for their inadequacies, often fiercely and shamelessly, by their own people.
For example, senior pastors with great skill as preachers and leaders suffer criticism for deficient people skills. Some pastors are awkward or aloof. But even friendly, perceptive pastors hear this criticism. Why? Highly gifted preachers and leaders probably are less adept with people. Who excels at everything? Beyond that, senior pastors must push through demanding schedules. That can make them seem abrupt. Everyone is finite. Faithful pastors face demands on their time, so they cannot socialize freely. This is unavoidable, yet it offends. Yes, the ideal pastor will be equally adept at (1) preaching and teaching, (2) casting vision and leading, (3) and counseling and mentoring. But no human excels at every task.
Consider that God ordained three ongoing offices for Israel: prophet, priest, and king. None but Jesus held all three offices. Few had even two: Melchizedek was priest and king, Moses was a prophet and kingly leader, and David was king and prophet, at least informally, through his psalms. Even if we add a few more dual-role leaders, almost no one had two offices and no one but Jesus had all three.
The implication is clear: No church should expect its pastor(s) to excel in the prophetic, kingly, and priestly aspects of godly leadership. No one is equally gifted and passionate about the prophetic (teaching and preaching), the kingly (leading and organizing), and the priestly (shepherding and prayer). Even if a pastor were capable in every area, he’ll find one exhilarating, the other exhausting.Better Way
Why does the church freely, cruelly criticize its pastors for falling short of perfection? Why do we forget that Jesus alone is perfect, that Jesus alone redeems? To demand perfect skill, holiness, and ever-effective labor from anyone is akin to idolatry. Grace-centered churches must know this. But churches idolize their pastors one day and savage them the next. Americans can’t bear disappointment in silence, and all too often, we behave more like Americans than disciples.
The author of Hebrews names a better way: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls. . . . Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:7, 17).
Dan Doriani serves as vice president of strategic academic projects and professor of theology and ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary. He previously served as senior pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Clayton, Missouri.
Article by: Jaquelle Crowe
Jonathan Edwards had an intense fear of wasting time. Like, scary intense. Reading his resolutions always sobers me. I mean, what 19-year-old writes, “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump”?
But Edwards grasped something we too often don’t. He grasped that life is short and only meaningful if lived for God’s glory. He understood that wasting time is a symptom of taking our eyes off the gospel.
The problem is that we do take our eyes off the gospel, and that means we do waste time—especially us teenagers. Every day, in fact, we waste time. There are even certain time traps teens (even and especially Christian teens) fall into again and again. Let me show you five.1. We waste time when we don’t do the things we should do.
As Christians, we’re called to a life of hard work and good deeds, but we’re tempted to neglect responsibility. Every day there are a thousand things we should do. From the mundane to the momentous, we have chores, homework, and jobs, as well as opportunities to read, play with our siblings, treasure a sunset, wash the dishes, pray, write, exercise, pick up milk at the store, and pursue the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).
“For we are [God’s] workmanship,” Paul writes, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). As the very creations—the images—of an infinitely good God, we were created to do good. And he’s prepared in advance these good works for us.
So we waste time when we don’t look for those good deeds—or when we find them and choose to avoid them. In a painfully convicting way, James goes so far as to say that if you know what you should do and you don’t do it, that’s sin (Jas. 4:17).2. We waste time when we abuse media.
Here it is—the obligatory media point, where I list statistics from the million-dollar studies showing how the typical teenager watches 20 hours of television a week and how we’ll have seen over 350,000 commercials by the time we turn 18. That doesn’t include the dozens of hours we spend online every week or the numberless minutes on our smartphones.
Don’t get me wrong. These statistics can be helpful in certain contexts. But for us? Telling me that a faceless team of experts say I watch too much TV in a week is neither beneficial nor impactful. Chances are I already know that. I know I can use movies or Pinterest or Twitter to put off good works or godly habits.
But do I realize that seemingly innocuous time spent on those things can sometimes be sinful? I don’t think so. I don’t realize that I’m accountable to God for my time. And that’s why I waste it.3. We waste time when we’re busy with the wrong things or for the wrong reasons.
In and of itself, busyness isn’t sinful. We can be busy with the right things for all the right reasons. But busyness can become wrong.
I’m not talking about a job or school or even time spent with friends or family. I’m not talking about time spent cultivating godly habits. I’m talking about time spent going somewhere you shouldn’t go, spending time with someone you shouldn’t spend time with, investing time pursuits that are sinful, or pouring too much time into pursuts that are trivial in light of eternity.
And I’m too often guilty of the latter category. While there are good, momentary pleasures we should enjoy here, they can’t claim all our time. Because they might make us miss kingdom opportunities. They might waste good works. So what can we change?4. We waste time when we avoid our problems.
Sometimes we pursue busyness to avoid a hard issue we don’t want to face. We use busyness as an excuse to not have to reckon with reality. When we don’t have time to sit down and eat dinner as a family, we don’t have to deal with underlying resentment. When we don’t have time to fill out college applications, we don’t have to deal with our parents’ expectations. When we don’t have time to study with our friends, we don’t have to deal with their emotional baggage. This kind of busyness gives us an appealing sense of escape.
But that’s the absolute wrong way to handle our problems. Our lives are part of something much bigger and more important than just us. While we’re tempted to escape problems temporarily through busyness, it only delays the inevitable. We’ll still eventually have to deal with life. Sadly, problems don’t get fixed by ignoring them. Indeed, putting them off does more harm than good—not only does it waste time, but it burdens us with stress.5. We waste time when we don’t rest.
There’s a big distinction between laziness and rest. Laziness is selfish time spent in violation of God’s command; it’s self-absorption and idleness when we’re called to work. Rest, on the other hand, is a God-given method of worship that allows us to refresh our hearts and minds. Laziness is bad; rest is profoundly good.
So, when busyness keeps you from rest, you’re violating God’s command. Rest is obedience. Jen Wilkin writes, “The God who grants us soul-repose commands our worship in the form of bodily rest. The worshiper is blessed in obedience.” When my family prays together at night, my younger brother frequently asks that God would grant us good sleep so that we can wake up refreshed and ready to serve him anew in the morning. He understands what I often miss—rest makes us better workers and better worshipers.Life Is Brief
The gospel changes everything—including how we spend our time. Life is brief, after all. Teenagers can so easily waste it in sinful busyness or laziness or distraction or discontentment.
Or they can use it for Jesus. Living for him means we view our life as his. And it means we joyfully declare with teenaged Jonathan Edwards: Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
Editors’ note: This article is adapted from Jaquelle Crowe’s new book This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway, 2017).
Jaquelle Crowe is the editor-in-chief of The Rebelution and a writer from eastern Canada. She’s the author of This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway, 2017). You can follow her on Twitter.
Article by: Phil Letizia
In the technological world, we can choose what is close and what is distant—even death. In his book The Slavery of Death, Richard Beck writes:
Prior to the industrial revolution and the advent of modern medicine, our experience of death was more direct and immediate. Death was a daily reality. (29)
Today our culture prefers to keep death at arm’s length. What does this mean for pastoral ministry, and particularly when ministering to those facing end-of-life uncertainty?
Beck—a psychologist and theologian—argues that the removal of the immediate presence of death during the industrial and technological age has not only instilled a heightened fear of death, but also inflamed the manifestations of anxiety in our daily lives. Through the changes in our food preparation and consumption, the popularity of funeral homes, and the availability of specialized hospice care, the modern world allows us to outsource dealing with death to someone else.Death Anxiety
Ironically, the ability to outsource dealing with death hasn’t freed us from its fear. What has taken root instead, Beck argues, is a “death anxiety” that underlies all other forms of anxiety and drives us to distraction:
In an attempt to manage or reduce our anxiety, we are driven to embrace distractions, entertainments, and comforts. The illusion of a deathless society can only be maintained by a vast industry of such distractions and entertainments. (29)
Our fascinations with legacy, and the continuation of our name and achievements, are also attempts to circumvent death. For Beck, these “identities are being driven, deep down, by death anxiety” (37).
Some channel their death anxiety into searching for a technological solution to death. Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist, has invested in numerous projects focused on life-extension, human biology, and the eventual prospects of immortality. Thiel sees the ultimate victory over death as small, winnable medical interventions that will eventually cure disease and extend life. He says, “In practice, it will always be framed in terms of these very specific interventions, and it seems to me in every instance the moral answer has to be, yes, we should do this.”
As pastors, we struggle to grapple with our culture’s death anxiety while ministering to those facing end-of-life medical decisions. Within our congregations, individuals and families are also experiencing death anxiety.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, led by researchers in the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, found that people with high faith commitments were three times as likely to choose “intensive medical care near death.” Essentially, those who profess the promise of eternal life are more likely to prolong life, despite significant financial expense and much physical pain. The anxiety of death seems to plays a powerful role in the end-of-life choices made by faithful Christians.
How, then, are we to cultivate a pastoral and theological response to the death anxiety that leads many to choose life extension in an attempt to forestall death? And for those not facing end-of-life decisions, but living under the burden of death anxiety, how do we give them hope?Freed from the Burden
The answer is found in the glory of the resurrection. In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As followers of Jesus, we believe the “light of life” has swallowed up the darkness of death. The resurrection reveals God’s glory in a way that speaks directly to the anxieties that accompany death. The psalmist writes, “For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Ps. 56:13).
In the resurrection of Jesus we now live with an eternal and eschatological vision that can change the way we encounter physical death. We’re given what theologians call a “beatific vision”—a heavenly vision of God and his eternal glory. Now, while we live facing the uncertainties of life, “we see in a mirror dimly,” but the promise of the resurrection is that we will one day see him “face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Kyle Strobel writes,
This sight is transformative, it is beatifying, because it is a knowledge of God, and, furthermore, a knowledge of God for me. . . . It is in Christ that we share in this vision, through the dark glass of faith now, and in clarity for eternity.
While technology continues to push society forward, pastors must teach congregations to see a seismic difference between the promise of life-extension and the promise of abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). We must free them from the burden of anxieties rooted in the fear of death, and set their sights on the light of life found in the resurrection of Jesus.
Only then will we be able to walk faithfully alongside those overwhelmed by end-of-life medical decisions—encouraging them to see Christ’s resurrection as the promise of our abundant and eternal rest in him.
- A Dying Man Taught Me How to Live (Ivan Mesa)
- The God Who Broke My Heart (Russ Ramsey)
- Her Dying Discipled Me (Phil Leitzia)
Phil Letizia is assistant pastor of discipleship at Boynton Beach Community Church (PCA) in Boynton Beach, Florida, and a PhD student in practical theology at the University of Aberdeen.
Article by: Ivan Mesa
On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I asked Barton Swaim—author of the award-winning book The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics and writer for The Wall Street Journal and The Times Literary Supplement—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction, books that have shaped him most as a writer, and more.
What books are on your nightstand right now?Apart from books I’m reviewing, or reading in order to write about them, I’ve been slowly going through a little work from the early church called Octavius by the otherwise unknown church father Marcus Minicius Felix. It’s a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan, circa AD 200. A friend told me to read it years ago, and I forgot until recently—it’s a marvelous work, and more up to date, in its way, than many a modern defense of Christianity. What’s one book you wish every evangelical would read and why? I wouldn’t propose to say what everyone, or every evangelical, should read. I’ve only read the tiniest slice of great books in the world—who am I to pronounce? And yet . . . if you forced me to name one, it’d be Pilgrim’s Progress. A century ago that book had been read by the great majority of literate people in the anglophone world. Now you encounter Christians who’ve never heard of it. Crazy. Everything to be learned about the Christian life from an uninspired book is in that one. What are your favorite fiction books?
- Evelyn Waugh’s novels—Decline & Fall, Vile Bodies, Scoop, and especially A Handful of Dust.
- P. G. Wodehouse’s books, especially though not exclusively the Jeeves and Wooster ones.
- A House for Mr. Biswas, V. S. Naipaul’s great novel, is a favorite.
Also in the On My Shelf series: Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler
Ivan Mesa is an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He and his wife, Sarah, live in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.
Article by: Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra
The church members gathered for coffee hour at Redeemer Presbyterian Church knew something was wrong when the polite man quickly shouldering his way through the crowd—“Excuse me, excuse me”—was followed seconds later by uniformed police.
The man had robbed an adjacent parking garage and then raced into an alley to get away—an alley ending in the open door of the fellowship room where pastor Tim Keller was chatting with congregants after the service.
“The only exit from the church was to come back up to street level and come out the front door,” Kathy Keller remembers. The man found it, tearing out of the church right in front of Kathy and her three sons, who were sitting in their minivan while waiting for Tim.
All three Keller boys—ages 6, 10, and 12—flew into the back seat to watch as police caught the man, threw him across the hood of the car parked behind them, and cuffed him.
“Which I have to say is one of the reasons I loved raising our kids in New York,” Kathy said. “You didn't have to lecture them about the evils of drink when they saw drunks vomiting on the sidewalk, nor on the dangers of theft when they saw thieves being cuffed six inches away from their noses.”
But to be honest, that wasn’t how she felt when Tim first suggested they move from Philadelphia to New York City to plant a church. In the late 80s, New York was reaching the peak of its crack cocaine addiction. Violent crime rates had never been higher.
The spiritual scene wasn’t much better: Less than 1 percent of those in center city Manhattan self-identified as evangelicals. Without a lot more connections, experience, and money, you’ll have a really hard time, New York insiders told them. Odds are you won’t last five years.
But Keller’s plant has lasted nearly six times that. When he preaches his last sermon on June 25, Redeemer will be 28 years old. Over nearly three decades, attendance has soared from around 50 to more than 5,000. The congregation expanded into two, then three locations. They ministered to thousands through Hope for New York, re-imagined employment through the Center for Faith and Work, and launched a church-planting hub now called City to City.
And yesterday, when the congregation voted to split Redeemer’s campuses into three distinct churches, it wasn’t an ending so much as another beginning. Redeemer, which has helped to plant hundreds of churches in New York and around the world, is replanting itself.Starting from Scratch
Tim Keller was his own third choice to pastor Redeemer. He was a professor at Westminster Seminary when the then-14-year-old Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) asked him to start a church in New York City. The idea was ambitious, both for a teenage denomination and a 30-something seminary professor.
He said no, offering to help them find somebody else. That turned out to be harder than it looked; both men he asked also said no.
At the same time, he felt both put off and drawn to “the arrogance, fierce secularity, diversity, power, and spiritual barrenness” of New York, he wrote in Center City Churches in 1993. He began to wonder if this wasn’t what attracted missionaries to a new field.
He mentioned it to his wife, Kathy, who laughed. “Take our three wild boys (the victims of below-average parenting, as well as indwelling sin) to the center of a big city?” she wrote in 2012. “Expose them to varieties of sin that I hoped they wouldn't hear about until, say, their mid-30s? My list of answers to, ‘What is wrong with this picture?’ was a long, long one.”
She wasn’t wrong: New York circa 1990 wasn’t the ideal place to raise a family. Homicides peaked at 2,245 during Redeemer’s first full year, right in line with the rising violence in other American cities, as crack cocaine flooded the streets. (In comparison, New York had a record low 333 murders in 2014.)
The worship space the Kellers ended up renting, a Seventh-day Adventist church two blocks off Central Park, was in the most prosperous neighborhood in the city, the Upper East Side. Yet just three and a half weeks after Redeemer opened the doors, 28-year-old Trisha Meili was brutally raped and beaten as she jogged in the park; three years earlier, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin had been strangled and her body left there. The crime had spread everywhere.
“On a typical day in 1989, New Yorkers reported nine rapes, five murders, 255 robberies, and 194 aggravated assaults,” the New York Daily News reported. Carole Kleinknecht, who counted Redeemer’s offering for the first year or so, kept it safe between services by hiding it in paper lunch bags in the heating ducts in the back of the kitchen.
So it was no wonder that “New York was depopulating. Churches were selling their buildings,” said Carole’s husband Glen, who moved to the city in the mid-‘70s to work with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). In 1980, Manhattan’s population fell to 1.4 million, the lowest in 100 years. By the end of the decade, apartment rents across the city were dropping—sometimes as much as 20 percent—for the first time since before World War II.
“Starting a church in New York City was something not just beyond my talent and ability, but pretty much beyond [the] talent or ability [of anybody] that I knew,” Keller said in a Redeemer video. “Therefore, if God was going to do it, he would not be doing it through the talent of the minister, but through . . . a person who loved and depended on him.”
Keller was reading The Christian in Complete Armor by Puritan William Gurnall, and came across Gurnall’s assertion that it takes more courage to be a Christian than an army captain. “I realized, ultimately—yes, I didn’t have the prayer life I should have, I didn’t have the love of God I should have—but ultimately, to not go was just simply cowardice. And it was not being faithful to the One who had the bravery to come from heaven to earth and go to the cross for me.”
So in February 1989, Tim and Kathy started driving up from Philadelphia to New York every Sunday afternoon. Keller led a Bible study with about a dozen people, a step of obedience that “broke open” his prayer life, he said.
They’d find a babysitter for the afternoon, but would always bring one son along. They wanted to acclimate the children to the city, and also to “show the people we were bringing our family here,” Keller said. “I wanted them to see our family, and not just me.”
It was a strong signal right off the bat: The Kellers were here to stay.
Their commitment to the city in turn inspired commitment to them. Congregants loved Keller’s vision for their home, his insistence that the city was valuable and worth reaching. Kleinknecht liked that view so much he committed to joining without ever hearing Keller speak.
He was in for a pleasant surprise.Preacher
Keller’s first sermon at Redeemer was at 6:30 p.m. on April 9, 1989, two Sundays after Easter.
“We said, ‘Well, there it is. God isn’t in this. We’ll pack up and go home,’” Kathy later wrote.
But 10 minutes later, dozens of people filled the pews. “No one had explained the New Yorker’s peculiar relationship to start times, something to do with public transportation as much as with ambivalence,” she wrote. (It took several more weeks of late-arriving congregants—and relief after early rushes of disappointment—to figure it out.)
“I felt awkward,” said Keller, who preached from Hebrews 7. “I liked my first sermon, but I’m not sure anybody else did.”
Carole Kleinknecht did. She remembers almost every word.
“I was so struck by his first sermon,” she said. “Mostly it was the subject, and God speaking to me. But part of it was realizing that, quite by accident, we had gotten the most compelling, gifted speaker.”
She wasn’t the only one who thought so. The 50-odd people who heard it came back, and then came back again with their friends. By September, Redeemer had 150 people coming to two services; by the end of the year, they averaged 250.
But Keller is a careful planner. (He keeps a detailed schedule several months out.) And even though the indicators were all good, the risk still scared him to death.
“I remember that for weeks and weeks and weeks, every morning I would wake up, and it was like there was a chasm open at my feet,” Keller said in a City to City interview. “I felt like if I strayed a couple of inches off, I’d fall in.”
He didn’t fall in. In June 1991, Redeemer stepped off of denominational assistance. With an average attendance of 725 and a budget of $583,000, the church plant’s success was jaw-dropping.
“Everyone who remembers those first three years says they’ve never seen anything like it,” Keller said. “We had conversions, a sense of God’s presence, changed lives—all the stuff everyone hopes for and we hoped for. But it was unusually thick and rich—beyond anything we expected.”
Keller had achieved what many critics thought couldn’t be done. Amid the crack cocaine and handguns, among Wall Street investors and liberal intellectuals, he preached a conservative theology replete with complementarianism, five-point Calvinism, and hell. And 15 years later, Christianity Today was calling Redeemer “one of Manhattan’s most vital congregations.”If You Build It
Keller’s preaching style is calm and intellectual, much more professorial than firebrand. That fits well with the audience he keeps in mind while he prepares: unbelieving and ambitious intellectuals in academia, business, and the arts.
“The preacher has to anticipate questions and objections to the evangelical message that would be raised by Jewish persons, socialists, Wall Street brokers, aspiring actors, gay rights activists, politically correct graduate students, and young second-generation Asian American professionals,” he wrote in Center City Churches in 1993. “If we always preached as if these kinds of people were present, they would come or be brought.”
In other words: “If you build it, they will come.” Or, more to the point, if you preach in this way, people will bring non-believing friends. And just like the White Sox came to Kevin Costner’s baseball field in Field of Dreams (the movie opened the same summer as Redeemer), Redeemer’s pews filled up. Three years old, the church had grown to a thousand mostly single professional people (there were only 30 children).
Each week about 60 people walked in for the first time. Keller estimated in Center City Churches that around 15 percent to 20 percent of those attending weren’t Christians. Only one-third had an evangelical background.
They were professionals (99 percent in 1993), city dwellers (91 percent) and gay (at least 12 percent). Twenty percent were non-white; of the Asians and Hispanics, four-fifths were second generation.
The professional trajectory would lead Redeemer to launch the Center for Faith and Work (CFW) ten years later. In 2015 alone, more than 240 people participated in courses connecting their work to their faith, about 1,000 people came to events on the doctrine of calling, and judges awarded prizes and grants to non-profit and for-profit ventures.
The multi-ethnic trajectory was harder to see in the early years. Today, Redeemer is about 45 percent Asian, second- or third-generation immigrants whose parents belonged to a wave of Koreans and Chinese landing in the city in the late 1980s and starting their own churches.
It’s hard to tell exactly why they first flocked to Redeemer, but Keller has a theory.
“For the first year, when you walked in the door and looked up front, you saw two faces. You saw me and you saw the pianist, who was Chinese,” he said. “Next thing you know, about six months later, I look out there and I see white people and Asian people, and I’m wondering why. It could be that at some subliminal level, people walked in the door, they saw themselves up front, and they felt a little more welcome.”Growing Up in New York
Redeemer grew more slowly but still steadily through the ‘90s, with Keller preaching to intellectuals using 20-page bulletins designed for newcomers, explaining and including the liturgy, songs, and biblical texts. The church offered enough options to make anyone happy: a mix of historic and contemporary songs at 10 a.m., classical music at 11:30 a.m., a longer sermon with time for questions at 4 p.m. (question time was eventually expanded to every morning service), and a contemporary music service at 6:30 p.m. Some came twice; Keller preached a different sermon in the last service.
Eventually, not even multiple services were enough. But Redeemer was not originally meant to be a multi-site church. So when it grew too large for the rented space in the Adventist church, Redeemer moved a mile down the road to the 2,000-seat Hunter College auditorium.
Moving solved the seating problem, but not the park problem. The auditorium is two blocks from the east side of rectangular Central Park. But there are no subways underneath the park, and buses take a long time. So even though the park is only half a mile wide, Redeemer’s location on the east side wasn’t drawing many from the west side.
Planting a west side church was the natural answer. But in this case, it wasn’t that simple.
“[A west side plant] would be far enough away to reach new people who would not cross the park, but not far enough away to not be crushed” by the existing church, Keller said. Who would go to a small plant when the founding church and pastor were one mile away?
So Redeemer obtained a second campus on the west side in 1997, and was soon offering morning and evening services on both sides of the park.
But Keller plays the long game, and knew he couldn’t pastor both sites forever. So in 2009 Redeemer began preparing for his retirement, laying down concrete plans for the multiple sites to become multiple congregations over the next decade. In October of 2012 they added a third location downtown. Each campus had a staff and lead pastor to care for the people at that location; Keller cycled among the three pulpits.
The goal was to strengthen the congregations until Keller’s retirement, when each would step out on its own and plant three new churches.
“This as a more constructive model than is often done where a large congregation is built very much around the personality of the preacher, and when that preacher’s gone, the whole thing kind of dissolves,” Capitol Hill Baptist Church pastor Mark Dever told Christianity Today.
Transforming into three daughter churches and nine granddaughter churches is fitting for Redeemer, which has championed church planting based on Keller’s reasoning that new congregations are the best way to draw new people. Eventually, they’d help to plant so many churches that Keller would co-write a manual on it and found the Church Planting Center—later City to City—to facilitate the work around the world.
Since its 2001 inception, City to City has helped to train more than 13,000 leaders and to start 423 churches around the world. But Keller’s favorite place to plant hasn’t changed: More than 100 of the churches were started in New York City. (While Redeemer’s daughter churches have all been Presbyterian, City to City provides training and help to evangelical churches of many denominations.)
From 1 percent in 1990 to 3 percent in 2011 to 5 percent in 2016—slowly but significantly, the number of evangelicals in one of the country’s most secular cities was inching up.Crime and Consequences
At the same time evangelical church plants were blooming, the city’s crime rate was plummeting, and its population was climbing.
Whether because of Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s zero-tolerance approach, a national easing of the crack cocaine habit, or an improving economy, the city’s homicide rate dropped 85 percent from 1990 to 2014. Transit crime dropped 87 percent. Rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults all plummeted.
Redeemer was hard at work in the middle of it. In 1992, the church founded Hope for New York to organize volunteers, funding, and best-practices training for non-profits in New York. The organization started with one full-time staff member and a few volunteers. By 2016, it was giving away $1.4 million in grants, facilitating 43,000 volunteer hours, and watching 1.6 million people in New York be served by its affiliates.
The whole time, New York’s population was soaring, rising from 7.3 million in 1990 to nearly 8.5 million in 2014.
“When I first got there, two-thirds or three-fourths of the people who moved to New York came from overseas,” Keller said. “People inside America did not go to New York—it was scary and expensive. Today two-thirds of the people who move into New York every year are coming from America. It’s now a destination. People want to be there. It’s cool and hip.”
And then, right in the middle of New York’s two-decade turnaround, a pair of airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers.9/11
Redeemer lost three members that day.
“I remember the smoke from downtown, visible everywhere for days,” Keller told TGC six years ago. “And the stench, the unique smell that also lasted for days. You could smell it everywhere. No one asked what the smell came from. We didn't want to know.”
The church was averaging about 2,800 people a week. On September 16, 2001, about 5,300 showed up. (That wasn’t unique to Redeemer. “The whole city was like that,” Keller said.)
“At one of our morning services, about 15 minutes before it started, the place was packed with lines out the back door,” Keller said. “So I pulled an audible with the musicians . . . and we had ushers go running out and tell people, ‘Come back in two hours and there will be another service.’”
Keller’s still a little surprised that they came back. “Eight or nine hundred people showed up for the second service, even though we’d never had one in that location before.”
He spoke on grief. “The love and hope of God . . . has to be rubbed into our grief, the way you have to rub salt into meat in warm climates,” he said. “Your grief is going to make you bleaker and weaker or it could make you far more wise and good and tender, depending on what you rub into it.”
Not all of the new arrivals kept coming back, but many did. (One is now an elder.) Redeemer’s average attendance grew by about a thousand in one day, or about 35 percent. (Across the city, attendance at churches and synagogues rose about 20 percent, though it didn’t always last.)
At the same time, checks started arriving in the mail.
“Spontaneously, people from around the country sent in $2 million to be used as it was needed,” Keller said. “People took up offerings and just sent them to us because they knew we were there.”
Redeemer’s staff worked overtime, running on adrenaline for nearly a year. They focused on those who lost their jobs since, in addition to the towers, “14,000 or 15,000 small businesses that were south of 14th Street went away overnight,” Keller said. The economic loss hit New York and Redeemer hard. At one point, one-fourth of Redeemer’s elders were unemployed.
The church handed out Bibles, subway passes, and money. “We gave it all away,” Keller said. They also raised funds to beef up their overwhelmed counseling team.
But two years later, the energy and adrenaline had run out. “In hindsight, everybody was exhausted,” Keller remembers. “Both my wife and I had major illnesses during that time. Because of that, I kind of detached from the staff . . . . I somehow thought that it would run without me.”
It did for a while. But then “we looked around and realized the staff was unhappy. They felt detached from me. I had not been a good leader,” he said. “We actually had to rebuild the whole staff.”
The whole city was rebuilding, and many feared New York would backslide into the high crime rates and fleeing population of the 1980s and 1990s.
Instead, 9/11 had the opposite effect. Christian volunteers pouring into the city saw it wasn’t as scary and dangerous as they’d thought, sociologist Tony Carnes said. They stuck around. Crime was on the way out; churches were in.
Nearly 40 percent of Manhattan’s evangelical churches were planted after 2000, according to Carnes, editor and publisher of A Journey Through NYC Religions. During one two-month stretch in 2009, a new church opened its doors in Manhattan’s city center every week.Pipeline
Redeemer was clipping along, developing leaders and helping to plant churches around the world. But City to City’s personal teaching could only go so far.
“We tried so hard to keep a low profile,” Kathy said. “If people asked Tim to appear on the radio or television, we always turned it down. But at one point, some businessmen in our congregation said, ‘If you want to see people carrying this vision forward, you need a pipeline. And in order for that to happen, you need higher visibility. That’s just the unvarnished truth.’”
“Tim put his head down on the table and said, ‘Oh, all right. I’ll write books.’”
He released The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism in 2008. It promptly hit The New York Times bestseller list and garnered awards from Christianity Today and World magazines. He followed nine months later with The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. (“I’m not as prolific as that might seem; both manuscripts were finished at the same time, after years of work!” he wrote later.)
Ever since, there’s been a steady stream of titles, including Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters; Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just; The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God; and Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
The Reason for God shot Keller’s name onto the list of influential evangelical leaders. He became a top conference headliner, notable enough to be covered by The New York Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, and New York magazine. In 2005, he co-founded The Gospel Coalition.
His fame changed things around Redeemer. “It made us a popular destination for out-of-town guests,” Glen Kleinknecht said. Some Sundays it seems “half the church is guests from Europe,” and it’s impossible to tell the New Yorkers trying out church for the first time from the tourists.All Grown Up
That will change July 1, as Keller steps out of the pulpit and back into his old profession of training new church leaders. He’ll be working with City to City and teaching courses for Reformed Theological Seminary in Manhattan as well as a full year of practical, urban ministry training called the City Ministry Year. The goal is to attract and train more people in the distinct skills of working in urban churches.
“In general, people who are trained and experienced in ministry elsewhere do not do as well when they move to global cities to minister,” Keller said. “We need to train people from the ground up right here. That’s what I am committing the rest of my life to do.”
The Redeemer congregations, standing alone, will have their own leaders and staff, run their own ministries, plant their own churches. Eventually, they’ll look less like Keller and more like their own pastors.
For Keller, that’s like watching a child get married.
“You get moved when you’re at the weddings [of your children] and realize this person is really going to somebody else, and now you’re important, but you’re not No. 1 at all anymore,” he said. “That’s exactly what it’s like. . . . It’s sense of loss but also a sense of relief. Obviously, as much as we love our children, the greatest tragedy is when they can’t grow up, or they don’t grow up either mentally or emotionally.”Redeemer’s Influence
It’s hard to calculate just how far Keller’s and Redeemer’s influence have reached.
For starters, they have given Reformed theology “a face, and made it softer, kinder, more compassionate,” said Richard Doster, editor of the PCA’s denominational magazine.
They have also “certainly broadened the perspective in who we work with in church planting,” he said. “You see Keller, at an individual church level, demonstrate a level of collaboration within a city, across denominational lines. That influences us to say, ‘We can work with these people. We don’t have to do it by ourselves, within these borders. We can work with others.’”
New York “was already changing profoundly by the time Keller came,” said Carnes, who has written about Redeemer since the 1990s.
“The spiritual changes started around 1978 in the boroughs (Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Staten Island), but hardly anyone noticed that this was happening . . . because there was little presence of these changes in the center of the city,” he said. “Once Keller gained a beachhead in Manhattan center city, there was a galvanizing effect on the whole city.”
Manhattan is the secular symbolic center to the city, Carnes said. “Once you have altered the symbolism of the center to include religion, and the Christian gospel specifically, people’s mindsets started to change.”
And “because New York City also occupies mindspace around the world,” Carnes said, “a change in its symbolic center starts to have global effects.”
Keller’s still after that symbolic center. He wants the number of evangelicals in New York to triple in the next 10 years—from 5 percent to 15 percent.
“Even more than money, the main thing we need is leaders,” he told his congregation when announcing his career change and intention to train church planters full-time. Then he gave them the same commitment he’s promised since he hauled his children, one at a time, to meet the city.
“Kathy and I are not going anywhere. New York is our home, and you are our people.”
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra is senior writer for The Gospel Coalition and contributing editor at Christianity Today. She earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.