Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

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Jackie Hill Perry on the Gospel for Sinners

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 12:04am

I interact with a lot of women who want to teach the Bible, but something holds them back. They seem to be waiting for a different stage of life, waiting until they are invited, waiting for the right situation, waiting until the kids are grown, waiting until they know everything they think they need to know to be able to stand up and teach.

Not Jackie Hill Perry. Perry is an incredible person, a godly woman, and a really compelling Bible teacher. I loved getting to sit on the front row and listen to her open up the book of Deuteronomy and teach it at The Gospel Coalition 2018 Women’s Conference. But I enjoyed, even more, getting to sit down with her to talk about how God has saved her, is sanctifying her, and is equipping her to teach the Bible. We talked about her mentors (“the Pipe”), her method (ask questions of the text), her tools (her phone),] as well as her new book, Gay Girl, Good God, in which she says she is “leveraging my story so you can see the gospel rightly.”

You can listen to our conversation here.

Related:

Give Kids the Big Picture of Stewardship

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 12:03am

Matt and Kelly Kaye live in Memphis with their two sons, Ross and Nash. To teach Ross and Nash biblical principles of saving and giving, they created TillSOS, a wooden till that helps children manage their money by dividing it into five categories: God, Others, Savings, Spending, and Extra. Under each category, a purposeful Scripture reference is overlaid on artwork, which helps them better understand the true source of stewardship (SOS). The Kayes are hoping to share TillSOS with interested families, but must meet a production minimum through a prefunding order process in order to proceed. Their website is tillsos.com.

I spoke with the Kayes about what they’ve learned about encouraging generosity in the next generation.

Where did your passion for stewardship start?

We think it’s important to define the heart of stewardship, since it’s so much more than handling money. Stewardship is a holistic approach of managing and being responsible for all things in your care. I (Matt) am in the grocery business, and I’m charged by God to manage my business to the best of my talents while it’s in my possession. As a business owner at a young age, I quickly realized that the better a resource is stewarded, the more options I have to enjoy and share the benefits in creative ways.

As far as the passion for stewardship, it certainly took on a new meaning when we had children. We want them to understand, at a much earlier age than we did, that stewardship isn’t our obligation to God, rather it’s our heartfelt response to him.

How did you develop an approach to stewardship with your kids?

Our approach is still evolving, but perhaps the closest thing to a Eureka moment came over Legos. No sooner had the boys gotten another Lego set than they’d turned their eyes to the next one. It dawned on us that none of those Legos held any value because it didn’t cost them anything.

So, we didn’t tell the boys they couldn’t have any more Legos; we simply told them their parents were out of the Lego business. The goal then became to find ways to get money in their hands and coach them on how to appropriately steward it.

We knew we had to train the boys through hands-on experience and to cultivate their hearts with teaching straight from the source of stewardship, the Bible.

The original till

What’s the significance of the name of the product?

Till is defined in three ways, each applicable to our product:

  1. to prepare, cultivate, work
  2. a cash drawer for handling money
  3. a less formal way to say until

SOS is the universal call sign for help, which is relevant to the product’s purpose, and it conveniently serves as an abbreviation for the source of stewardship.

How did you pick the biblical passages you associate with each area of stewardship? How do they play into your routine? 

Attempting to incorporate biblical scripture

We have five categories—God, Others, Savings, Spending, and Extra—and we select verses that go with those categories and hopefully stir the heart. When the heart isn’t in it, we tend to slide down the slippery slope of legalism and self-justification.

We try to encourage generosity and some sacrifice. On payday we sit down; the boys say the category and read the verse out loud. Then they calculate the amount that goes into that category based on a predetermined percentage, which is paid and then they slide their money into the till slot. This is repeated for each category. At the end, they take their God money and place it in their Bible for church.

For Others, money is used for any variety of things: hurricane relief, the Salvation Army, supporting missionaries, and so on.

For Savings, we opened passbook savings accounts so they fill out deposit slips and go to the bank. We said this money is off limits until they’re 21.

Spending is for current and future spending. This money is completely at their discretion.

Extra is simply a rainy-day fund, which they can draw on if they’re low in one area.

In the beginning, we set the baseline percentages for each category. Since then, we let the boys choose percentage allocations that hold firm for one year. This has been a routine for us for nearly six years.

What’s your advice to families with young children who want to shape habits of giving, spending, and saving?  

Beginning to reimagine the concept and product

The most important thing is to actually start, and do whatever you do with consistency and repetition. Begin as early as possible and understand that, while you’re sowing seeds that will bear some fruit under your roof, the primary objective is to prepare them for adulthood.

For earning money, we’ve found that earning opportunities need to be creative, fun, achievable, and worthwhile.

For giving, consider beginning with a family-centered opportunity. One year, we made household buckets for World Relief each month.

For spending, it may sound counterintuitive, but the sooner children begin wasting money, the quicker they will develop an appreciation for it. They’ve got to experience that regret on their own. On occasion, we encourage them to wait 10 days and see if they still want an item. Often, they don’t. Bottom line: don’t make spending taboo, but try and minimize the worldly impulsiveness of it.

We’ve found it’s important to distinguish between short-term and long-term savings. This distinction leads to the “would you rather” conversations about the differences between immediate and delayed gratification. Short-term savings stay in the till for their consumption in the near future. Long-term heads to the bank for adulthood.

One of many many prototypes

Ross and Nash, how do you think using the TillSOS has affected the way you think about work and money? 

Nash: One time, Dad made me go through our routine when I hadn’t earned any money that month. So saying “zero dollars times my percentages equals zero dollars” five times was really annoying, but it made me understand I hadn’t done any work and I wasn’t getting any more money.

Ross: We started a beehive. Dad made me get up when it was still dark and do a lot of things that weren’t very fun. Also, the bee suit is really hot. My dad asked me why I thought he made me do it. I told him because it’s not all honey.

From Concept to Creation. A treasured keepsake for now and a legacy for their children.

How did you decide to turn your experience into a product to share with others? 

Well, I can assure you we didn’t begin with anything like that in mind. We were simply trying to teach our children about the concept of stewardship. It was actually Nash who came up with the idea of sharing with others. We’ve encouraged both boys to think creatively and entrepreneurially, so we asked them if they wanted to give it a go. They said yes.

Through continuous usage, brainstorming, many dead ends, and lots of tinkering, we slowly rounded into a product that seems to be a unique strategy to confront an age-old issue.

How is your TillSOS different from other approaches to shape the financial habits of kids?

Clearly, what we’re trying to tackle is nothing new. You see divided piggy banks, give/save/spend jars, envelopes, wallets, and so on. While each is well meaning and even intentional, something was lacking, and that something was drawing a direct line to Scripture.

We overlayed Scripture onto beautiful works of art on the lids of the TillSOS, which makes for wonderful visual reminders. By utilizing multiple lids, we keep the process fresh with new Bible verses coupled with different paintings. The lids not in use are perfect standalone art pieces that remind kids of the comprehensive nature of stewardship as well as the source of it.

Another difference is that our approach is serious, while remaining age-appropriate. Lastly, we created a product with high-quality materials that would serve as a keepsake for our children to use with their children, as opposed to a poorly constructed, easily breakable, disposable trinket.

What has been the most rewarding part of the TillSOS process for you?

Nash: Reading and seeing God’s Word and how it applies to so many things beyond me.

Ross: I really like drawing, so adding the artwork helps me sort of make it more real.

Nash and Ross: Well, it has been a little frustrating because it has taken so long and there have been a lot of dead ends, but seeing the final prototype was definitively exciting and rewarding.

Matt: Working and brainstorming on a real-life opportunity with the boys.

Kelly: The most rewarding part of the TillSOS process for me has been to watch my sons make the connection that all things (including money) come from the Lord and are his, and that we have the responsibility to use what we’re given for his glory and not just for ourselves. I’ve seen the transition from obedience and obligation to parents to genuine charitable giving to God and others.

For more details, visit us at tillsos.com or email info@tillsos.com.

4 Reasons Every Pastor Needs Silence

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 12:02am

I have spent most of my adult life hating silence—but didn’t know it. It was a major blind spot. I dismissed my constant desire to be with people as merely being extroverted. I attributed my talkative nature to my heightened relational instincts. These qualities appeared to help my pastoral interactions with people, so I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until I began my own journey—through counseling—out of a personal crisis that I was confronted with this long-held deception.

My counselor observed some behavior in my life that went unnoticed by most, but became flags of concern for him. I ran from being alone. I was uncomfortable with silence. I often dominated conversations. This exposed my terrible listening skills, which the counselor was wise enough to connect to the silence issues. He pressed me in this area, and it was difficult. It led to an implosion of my soul, but it began a desperately needed process of healing.

Through this personal discovery, the Lord taught me four lessons about the value of silence.

1. Silence Exposes the Soul

If emotions are the gateway to the soul, then silence exposes the soul. I wasn’t ready to face the ugly things that got exposed. But God in his grace met me in a powerful way, and my journey has brought newfound peace to my soul. It was through silence in a quiet place, meditating on truth, and prayerfully asking for God’s help that I experienced this deeper level of his grace and presence.

If a pastor is to have a long ministry, he must learn to pursue this sort of silence. Such quiet is not some form of secular meditation, but biblical silence and solitude. Don Whitney considers it a significant spiritual discipline of the Christian life. It’s a stillness that allows us to grow more aware of our soul’s activity as the Holy Spirit lives and works in us. It’s a discipline by which we commune with Jesus, becoming more aware of his truth and presence, and more receptive to his unending grace. Puritan scholar and longtime pastor Joel Beeke articulates well the kind of meditation that fosters this experience:

Puritan meditation engages the mind with God’s revealed truth in order to inflame the heart with affections towards God and transform the life unto obedience. Thomas Hooker defined it like this: “Meditation is a serious intention of the mind whereby we come to search out the truth, and settle it effectually upon the heart.” The direction of our minds reveals the truest love of our hearts, and so, Hooker said, he who loves God’s Word meditates on it regularly (Ps. 119:97). Therefore, Puritan meditation is not repeating a sound, emptying the mind, or imagining physical sights and sensations, but a focused exercise of thought and faith upon the Word of God.

2. Silence Confronts the Voices

These voices are the messages we hear about ourselves. They are voices from those across the span of our life that speak messages the enemy loves to whisper again and again in our ears. They are the interpretive messages of those presently in our life. When those voices are harsh, abusive, and lie about our value and identity in Christ, they are unpleasant, and we run from them.

These voices tormented me. Abusive voices from my past, lies from the enemy, and painful words of criticism all created these messages of failure and self-loathing. They were especially loud when I was alone. So, to escape from the voices, I ran from silence. But I needed silence to confront those voices, to counter the lies I’d long believed with gospel truth. Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously addressed these voices in the context of depression:

The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Silence allows us to confront the reality that when we listen to ourselves instead of talking to ourselves, we often hear harsh, soul-crushing words.

3. Silence Teaches Us to Listen

I was deeply troubled to learn that I had been a pastor for so long, and yet remained a poor listener. Sure, I listened, but it was mostly to prepare a response. I needed to learn to listen without needing to respond—just to listen and empathize.

As I embraced silence, I realized I was learning to listen. I heard sounds around me I never noticed before. I felt more receptive to God’s Word. It’s amazing what happens when you’re not preoccupied with trying to figure out what to say or do next.

4. Silence Tests Our Need for Noise

I had no idea I “needed” noise whenever my soul was tormented in silence. Silence exposes the soul and tests how much we’ve come to depend on noise to block out our pain. This is one of many reasons we all need blocks of time away from our phone, email, social media, and every electronic device that creates the constant source of noise.

Pastors don’t have to make much effort to find noise and distraction, but silence is another matter. We must fight for it. Silence challenges us to face our pain and allow the gospel to penetrate deep into our souls, where we find healing.

Embrace the Quiet

While away on a silence retreat, I found these words in a room dedicated to silence and solitude:

The role of silence was deemed to be important here, as a means of ensuring that one did not fritter away precious but demanding leisure through acedia and small talk. Communities which respect human growth probably need to make explicit provision for solitude, otherwise a potential source of enrichment is lost.

I hated silence, but I slowly came to realize I needed to make “explicit provision for solitude” for the sake of my soul.

Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, shame, and death, and has rescued us from the wrath of God we deserve. It’s all by grace. Our identity is now in Christ, and we are eternally adopted children of God. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling each of us by faith, making us more like Jesus every day. And yet, so many Christians fail to experience deeply the power of God’s grace in the gospel.

This includes pastors, and it has been me for most of my ministry.

Silence is a wonderful tool and gift from God to bring that awareness. Embrace silence as that peaceful, healing balm for your noisy, restless soul.

Want to Be Like Jesus? Be Gentle.

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 12:02am

Jonathan Edwards wrote that “a lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper” is “the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians.” And he has something to teach us.

Not many have identified gentleness as a major theme in Edwards (more common are titles such as Jonathan Edwards: The Fiery Puritan), and not many identify gentleness as a major need in the church right now. And yet gentleness is perhaps the most neglected virtue among Christians today.

Edwards wrote in his diary: “A virtue, which I need in a higher degree, to give a beauty and luster to my behavior, is gentleness. If I had more of an air of gentleness, I should be much mended.”

True for him then. True for us now.

Is Gentleness Manly?

But some Christian men resist gentleness because they associate it with being effeminate. Strength and gentleness can seem mutually exclusive. As we picture what it means to man up and be a leader in the home and in the church, gentleness isn’t, for many of us, a defining element of that picture.

The way forward isn’t by choosing gentleness over against manliness, but by rightly defining manliness according to Jesus Christ. After all, if anyone was ever a man, a true man, he is. And while he could drive money changers from the temple, he also delighted to gather up into his arms the little children whom his disciples tried to send away (Matt. 19:13–15). He dealt gently with outsiders. He wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35). He welcomed healthy, manly physical affection with his dear disciples. The apostle John, for example, was (to translate the text literally) “reclining . . . at Jesus’s bosom” (John 13:23—the very relationship said to exist between Jesus and the Father earlier in John 1:18).

Gentleness is perhaps the most neglected virtue among Christians today.

The supreme display of Jesus’s manhood, however, was in his sacrificial laying down of his life on behalf of his bride, the church. When the apostle Paul defines what it means to be a husband, he can speak simultaneously of the husband’s headship and also the husband’s sacrificial, Christlike laying down of his life on behalf of his bride (Eph. 5:25–33). Such sacrifice isn’t unmanly: it’s the supreme display of masculinity.

Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving “leader.” Only a true man can be gentle.

Majestic and Gentle

Men who long to be the leaders God is calling them to be must see that the glory of Christ, into whose image they’re being formed, unites together awesome majesty and tender gentleness.

In the sermon preached at David Brainerd’s funeral, Edwards speaks of what saints in heaven will look on when they see Christ:

The nature of this glory of Christ that they shall see, will be such as will draw and encourage them, for they will not only see infinite majesty and greatness; but infinite grace, condescension and mildness, and gentleness and sweetness, equal to his majesty . . . so that the sight of Christ’s great kingly majesty will be no terror to them; but will only serve the more to heighten their pleasure and surprise.

True manhood, to Jonathan Edwards, isn’t a hard, tough exterior with a soft, spineless interior, but just the opposite—a steely, rock-solid interior mediated through an exterior emanating with the beauty of gentleness. Manliness isn’t machismo. Masculinity isn’t inadequacy-mitigating posturing and chest-puffing. On the other hand, gentleness isn’t cowardice. Both non-gentle masculinity and also non-manly gentleness are to be avoided.

Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving “leader.” Only a true man can be gentle.

We’re after a life that’s both courageous and contrite, both tough and tender, both manly and gentle. But only in the power of the Holy Spirit can we be both at the same time (22).

Walk in a Manner Worthy

The turning point of Ephesians drives home Edwards’s insistence on the importance of gentleness in the Christian life. After reminding his readers what God in Christ has done, Paul tells them what this means for their personal conduct: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all _________” (Eph. 4:1–2).

How would you expect Paul to finish that sentence? We might expect something like “with all sacrifice,” “with all zeal,” “with all boldness,” “with all fortitude.”

Paul says, “with all humility and gentleness.”

That is where the first three chapters of Ephesians take us. Jonathan Edwards understood this point. The lofty theological discourse of Ephesians 1–3 funnels down, above all else, into an aroma of gentleness exuded by ordinary Christians in their ordinary lives. Yet such an aroma isn’t ordinary. It’s extraordinary, supernatural. It’s where the Spirit takes us.

Christian Fire Chief Receives $1.2 Million for Violations of His Religious Liberty

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 5:00pm

The Story: A fire chief that was fired for advocating a biblical view of marriage and sexuality will receive $1.2 million from the city of Atlanta as compensation suffered from unconstitutional harm.

The Background: In 2016, Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired by Mayor Kasim Reed for self-publishing a book on Christian manhood. In the book, Cochran describes homosexuality as a “perversion” and characterizes homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.”

After activists who disagreed with Cochran’s Christian views on sex complained about the book, the fire chief was initially suspended for 30 days and told he would have to complete “sensitivity training.” The city of Atlanta later initiated an investigation that led to the chief’s termination from his job. At the time, the mayor argued the firing of the chief had nothing to do with Cochran’s Christian faith, but rather was because a “lack of judgment.”

Until his dismissal, Cochran had served as the fire chief of Atlanta Fire Rescue Department since 2010. He had previously spent nearly 30 years with the Shreveport, Louisiana, fire department. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him as U.S. fire administrator for the United States Fire Administration in Washington, D.C. He took the job in Atlanta in 2010 at the urging of Mayor Reed.

Cochran was highly regarded in his field, having served as first vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and president of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association and authoring two chapters for the Chief Fire Officers Desk Reference. In 2012, Fire Chief magazine named Cochran “Fire Chief of the Year.” In his personal time, Cochran serves as a deacon and a Sunday school teacher at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta.

An investigative report by the city of Atlanta said that Cochran did not seek approval to publish the book—a claim Cochran disputes—but found no indication that the chief had allowed his religious beliefs to compromise his disciplinary decisions. The investigation claim that led to the dismissal was that there was a “general agreement the contents of the book have eroded trust and have compromised the ability of the chief to provide leadership in the future.”

In 2015, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit on Cochran’s behalf, claiming the “Defendants fired Cochran solely because he holds religious beliefs concerning same-sex marriage and homosexual conduct that are contrary to the Mayor’s and the City’s views on these subjects, and because he expressed those beliefs in the non-work-related, religious book he self-published.”

According to ADF, in December 2017, a federal district court recognized that the city of Atlanta’s actions were unconstitutional. The court struck down Atlanta’s policy that requires government employees to receive permission before engaging in free speech outside of their jobs, the very policy the city used to justify firing Cochran.

This week, the City of Atlanta agreed to pay $1.2 million in a settlement, recognizing that Cochran had suffered unconstitutional harm.

Why It Matters: Fire Chief Cochran’s victory reveals—once again—that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are often intertwined.

In his 162-page devotional book, written on his personal time, Cochran briefly mentions his Christian views on sex and marriage. But the city of Atlanta used the “pre-clearance” rules as an excuse to fire him over speech and beliefs they disagreed with. That’s not allowed by the First Amendment, said the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in its decision in Cochran v. City of Atlanta,

This policy would prevent an employee from writing and selling a book on golf or badminton on his own time and, without prior approval, would subject him to firing. It is unclear to the Court how such an outside employment would ever affect the City’s ability to function, and the City provides no evidence to justify it . . . The potential for stifled speech far outweighs an unsupported assertion of harm.

That ruling sets a precedent that will prevent other government employees from being fired for expressing their personal religious views without approval.

“The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before they engage in free speech. It also can’t fire them for exercising that First Amendment freedom, causing them to lose both their freedom and their livelihoods,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, who argued before the court on behalf of Cochran last year. “We are very pleased that the city is compensating Chief Cochran as it should, and we hope this will serve as a deterrent to any government that would trample upon the constitutionally protected freedoms of its public servants.”

Let’s Be Both Conservative and Radical

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 12:04am

John Stott once said, “Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.” In this new video, TGC Council members Tim Keller, Don Carson, and Stephen Um discuss what this should look like in practice. They talk about the way Scripture is applied in different cultures, the danger of equating cultural traditions with biblical authority, and what it means to be “radical” in application.

Keller says, “You need to be absolutely true from generation to generation to whatever the text actually says. But then, you have to be extremely creative in applying it to new situations.”

You can listen to the episode here or watch the video.

Related:

Do Calvinists Believe Myths That Justify Domestic Violence?

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 12:03am

The Story: A new study says Calvinists are prone to believe “myths” that may lead them to justify domestic violence. But is their evidence to support this claim?

The Background:  Psychologist Steven Sandage, a professor of psychology of religion and theology at Boston University, recently published a study in the Journal of Psychology and Spirituality which implies that Calvinism sometimes justifies or rationalizes violence against women.

In an interview with BU Today, Sandage summarizes his research by saying,“Many Christian theologies emphasize the possibility of finding meaning in suffering, but the New Calvinism seems to promote a rather stoic and un-empathic attitude that valorizes suffering, particularly among women. . . Calvinist beliefs were related to higher levels of domestic violence myth acceptance and lower levels of social justice commitment.”

In the Calvinist view, “God causes all things, including hierarchical social structures and all suffering,” says Sandage. “Domination by the powerful,” be it God or men, “is just and appropriate, and submission to suffering by the less powerful is virtuous and redemptive.”

Sandage is quick to add that not all Calvinists endorse domestic violence myths: “There are many contemporary Calvinists who hold progressive views of gender and other social issues. But our research does offer some data suggesting the ‘New Calvinism’ that combines Calvinistic beliefs and very conservative, binary views of gender may be a kind of theological risk factor for the acceptance of domestic violence myths and other socially regressive attitudes.”

The BU Today article also notes that, “Scot McKnight, a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Illinois, lauds Sandage’s research for drawing ‘accurate and helpful correlations that ought to awaken more theologians and pastors to the implications’ of their theology.

What It Means: When I first heard about (and read) the study, I didn’t give it much thought. It’s the type of social science research that uses biased assumptions and flawed “tools” to generate unsupportable conclusions that can clear the low threshold necessary for publication in a middle-tier academic journal. In the publish-or-perish world of academia, this type of low quality, never-to-be-replicated work is often the norm.

But then I saw that some well-meaning people, such as the respected scholars Scot McKnight, were citing favorably. I’m not sure if those, like McKnight, who agree with the study are also embracing radical feminist theory, whether they didn’t read the study all that closely, or whether they don’t understand the theory behind the claims. For whatever reason, I figured that if reasonable Christians were falling for the spurious conclusions of the study then it might be worth addressing in detail.

As you might imagine, someone who think Calvinists believe “domination by the powerful . . . is just and appropriate” is not likely to be a reliable guide to Calvinistic beliefs. Initially, though, I assumed Sandage and his team were simply afflicted with a virulent case of anti-Calvinism. But it turns out that it’s not so much theological beliefs as an embrace of radical feminist theory that is the driving impetus of the study.

The study itself is rather shoddy and could be picked apart from many angles. But the simplest way to show why is it unreliable is to point out the flaws in its primary diagnostic tool, the Domestic Violence Myth Acceptance Scale.

The Domestic Violence Myth Acceptance Scale (DVMAS) was created by John Peters in 2003 as part of his doctoral thesis in social work. It uses 18 statements to gauge whether a person believes “myths” about domestic violence. To show why this study is unreliable, I’ll be pointing out five main flaws that undermine the credibility of the scale.

First, Peters defines a “myth” as “stereotypical attitudes and beliefs that are generally false.” But that is not the definition of a myth, which is always false, not “generally false.” If there are occasions when a claim is sometimes true, then we must understand the context to determine whether it true or false. But the scale relies on ambiguous claims about “myths” that exclude any nuance or context and negate the usefulness of it as a metric.

Second, the basis for the DVMAS is radical feminist theory. As Peters says,

The radical feminist model . . . contends that the violence supports and is supported by patriarchal oppression of women. This model of violence resulting from patriarchal socialization implies that rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence against woman are part of broader social attitudes toward women.

As we will see later in this article, there is a paucity of empirical support for the radical feminist model of domestic violence.

Third, Peters defines domestic violence as, “Violence between intimate partners which has as its goal establishing and maintaining a culturally sanctioned pattern of power and control by men over women within the context of an intimate relationship.” While that definition is fitting under radical feminist theory, most Americans have a broader view of domestic violence. This mismatch in definition is likely to skew the results.

Fourth, the scale is intended to be a “reliable and valid measure of [DV] myths.” But Peters has no way of determining whether the answers to the 18 statements are in any way connected to actual beliefs about domestic violence. Instead, he simply measures how they are correlated with several other scales, including the Burt’s Sex-Role Stereotype scale [1980] (“a well-validated measure of sexual conservatism which has been shown to be highly correlated with rape myths and with negative attitudes toward domestic violence victims”) and the Attitudes Toward Woman Scale [1974] (“a unifactorial measure of both sex-role conservatism and general attitudes toward women (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974).

Rather than being a reliable measure of what people today believe about domestic violence, the scale merely reflects possible correlations with sexual conservative views held in the 1970s.

Fifth, the score on the DVMAS is determined by asking respondents whether they agree or disagree with common statements about domestic violence. Each of these 18 statements are supposedly representative of a “myth” (as defined by Peters).

For this study, domestic violence myths were therefore defined as statements about domestic violence which invoke either character blame of the victim, behavioral blame of the victim, exoneration of the perpetrator, or minimization of the seriousness or extent of the problem.

Nowhere in his thesis does Peter explain how he determined that these statements, using the wording they do, are myths. He also doesn’t back them up with any empirical research. He simply expects that anyone who starts from the “correct” perspective (i.e., a radical feminist view) would answer in the way he want them to.

This is the fatal flaw in the scale, so let’s examine a few of the statements.

Statement #8 on the DVMAS states: “Most domestic violence involves mutual violence between the partners.”

This is a prime example of the way the scale combines ambiguous language and empirically questionable assumptions to devise a question where political correctness is supposed to trump reality. It’s also an attempt to dismiss anyone who is familiar with the empirical data.

In 2010, Murray A. Straus wrote an article for the journal Partner Abuse in which he says,

Although at least 200 papers report research that found gender symmetry in perpetration, many studies with similar results were not submitted for publication because the authors thought a paper showing gender symmetry would not be accepted or because the authors feared adverse effects on their reputation and employability.

In referring to early studies that had been ignored, Straus says,

Why were these statistics presented and the implications ignored? An important part of the explanation was that these results contradicted the feminist analysis of [partner abuse] that had made both the academic world and the general public conscious of [partner abuse].

This same criticism applies to the DVMAS: it delegitimizes any perspective on domestic violence that disagrees with or contradicts radical feminist theory. This is evident in several other statements, such as “When a man is violent it is because he lost control of his temper.”

For the DVMAS, this is considered a “myth” even though it is supported by empirical research. As Erica Birkleya and Christopher I. Eckhardta wrote in a 2015 meta-analytic review of current research on intimate partner violence (IVP):

There currently exists a substantial, and hotly contested, debate in the [intimate partner violence] field about whether anger has any meaningful relation to IVP whether anger-related constructs should be included in assessment for [intimate partner violence] risk, and whether anger-related variables should be the focus of IVP interventions to any degree. Much of this debate stems from assumptions based on the earliest, and still currently popular, model of IPV etiology: Power and control theory. This model, which is the predominant perspective in the broader IPV field, focuses exclusively on gender socialization patterns and defines IPV as male-to-female violence deeply rooted in gender-based power dynamics that play out in the romantic context. . . . Thus, adherents to this model place little emphasis on factors internal to the individual (such as anger or other negative emotions) as causes of behavior, preferring instead an analysis of community and contextual-based determinants of power-and-control socialization patterns.

The DVMAS is based on just this sort of “power and control theory,” and considers anyone who believes factors internal to an individual (such as anger) are a factor in domestic violence to be embracing a “myth.” The DVMAS thereby demonizes anyone who does not think that “gender-based power dynamics” are the sole factors in the problem of domestic violence.

This view is especially problematic since it has no empirical support. As Birkleya and Eckhardta note,

[T]here is very little empirical support for a strictly gendered analysis of IPV that restricts the understanding of IPV to the behaviors enacted by men towards women, or that organizes IPV risk factors solely around gender-themed attitudes or behaviors, especially as proximal causes of IPV-related outcomes. Rather, the available data suggest a gender-inclusive approach to IPV etiology that considers a wide range of individual, interpersonal, and contextual risk factors that may lead both men and women to act aggressively towards an intimate. Of relevance to this report, several theoretical models appear to offer support for anger, hostility, and internalizing negative affect as important risk factors for IPV perpetration. [emphasis in original]

Out of the 18 statements on the DVMAS, 3 of them (18 percent) are about anger. They are all claims that a reasonable person could believe to be true and yet not consider to be a justification for condoning domestic violence. (The other two questions are “Abusive men lose control so much that they don’t know what they’re doing” and “Domestic violence results from a momentary loss of temper.”)

Some of the statements are similarly biased. For example, statement #7 is “If a woman doesn’t like it, she can leave.” This is a strangely worded question that reveals the general incoherence and ambiguity of the DVMAS. What is the proper answer? The respondent is expected to reply in a way that denies the agency of women. While it is certainly the case that there are a variety of reasons why some women feel they are unable to leave their abusers, the idea that women being able to leave is a “myth” is not only empirically false but deeply misogynistic.

Two other statements on the DVMAS are based on ambiguous terms that require making assumptions based on estimations: “Domestic violence does not affect many people” and “Domestic violence rarely happens in my neighborhood.”

In the first statement, the respondent is expected to determine what is considered “many people.” While they might be wrong, it’s possible that someone could think that domestic violence is a serious problem that nevertheless does not affect many people. In the second, the respondent is expected to guess what is meant by “rarely” and “neighborhood.” Domestic violence is based on socioeconomic factors that are not evenly distributed in all areas of the country. It is numerically possible (and even quite likely) that there will be areas that could be construed as “neighborhoods” in which domestic violence “rarely happens.” There’s no reason to assume that giving the “wrong” answer is believing a “myth.”

Even if we have a strong opinion about how people ought to answer these two questions, we should be able to agree that the questions are not a reliable measure of beliefs.

Out of the 18 statements, four are contradicted by empirical evidence, one is a bizarre claim that denies reality, and two are hopelessly ambiguous. There is no justification—at least not for anyone who doesn’t have an idealogical ax to grind—for trusting a measurement where between 22 and 39 percent of the scale is flawed.

Conclusion

What the paper by Sandage, et al., shows is that there is potentially a negative correlation between Calvinism (which the study doesn’t really measure either) and uncritical acceptance of the radical feminist view of domestic violence. It tells us nothing about how Calvinists actually view domestic violence myths, much less their view on domestic violence. Yet is will lead some people to believe it has found a connection, and lead other people to assume that all modern psychological research is equally worthless.

What makes it even worse is this sloppy and biased study was produced by scholars who are Christians; it might have been more reliable had it been produced by Christian scholars. The distinction, as Nicholas Wolterstorff once said, is that, “To put it in a nutshell, I think the project of being a Christian scholar is the project of thinking with a Christian mind and speaking with a Christian voice within your chosen discipline and within the academy more generally.”

There is nothing in this current study that bears evidence of having come from a “Christian mind” nor dos it speak with a “Christian voice.” In fact, there is nothing in the research that could not have been produced by any non-Christian radical feminist scholar. For that reason, and all the other reasons cited, there is no reason why Christians—or anyone else who doesn’t embrace the intellectual fad of radical feminism—should take the study seriously.

Church Planters Are Stewards, Not Owners

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 12:02am

In the early 2000s, J. G. Wentworth released a television commercial in which various people yelled from their window: “It’s my money, and I need it now!” The commercial ends with the company’s mascot, Mr. Wentworth, saying: “It’s your money; use it when you need it.”

Many consider the commercial cheesy. Nevertheless, it was effective, and it even won a few awards. But what stands out to me is how accurately the ad illustrates our natural disposition toward money and possessions.

As self-centered sinners, we’re inclined to believe the lie that everything we’ve been given belongs to us. I have worked so hard for this. Surely I have the right to do with it whatever I please.

The church-planting pastor is no exception. He may be more prone to view the church he planted as his possession, rather than God’s. But Scripture is clear: we’re stewards, not owners.

Managers of God’s Gifts

God owns everything. “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). The word fullness conveys totality—the world and all the matter that fills it. In other words, there’s not a single atom in the universe that doesn’t belong to God. If that’s true, then the same goes for every penny.

In his wisdom, God has entrusted us to steward what he owns. Stewardship is the careful use and management of the possessions of another that have been entrusted to someone else. Stewards don’t own anything. Everything a steward does is in service to the ultimate owner.

There’s not a single atom in the universe that doesn’t belong to God. If that’s true, then the same goes for every penny.

I once worked in a financial-planning firm as a creative director and wealth coach. In one year, I learned more about money than I’d learned in my entire life until that point. In fact, the relationship between a financial planner and a client is an excellent illustration of stewardship.

The client owns the assets and entrusts the financial planner to act as a fiduciary on his or her behalf. A fiduciary has a legal duty to the client to serve in his or her best interests. Any breach of fiduciary responsibilities is met with stiff penalties by the law.

In other words, if a financial planner ever acts in a manner that benefits his or her practice at the expense of the client, the financial planner has violated his fiduciary responsibility and must be held to account.

Likewise, the highest crime we can commit as stewards is to treat what belongs to God as if it were our own. When we abuse his good gifts, we demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of our role as stewards.

Faithful vs. Unfaithful Stewards

In Luke 12:42–48, Jesus tells the parable of the faithful and unfaithful manager. The faithful, wise manager is described as blessed since he’s found doing the right thing when his master comes. His master rewards him by entrusting him with more responsibility.

Jesus then turns his attention to the unfaithful manager. Assuming the master has delayed his coming, he beats the servants and becomes a glutton and a drunk. When the master returns to discover the servant’s poor management, he cuts him up and casts him with the unfaithful.

When we abuse God’s good gifts, we demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of our role as stewards.

Jesus highlights the urgency of good stewardship. As stewards of the sovereign Lord, we will be held accountable for how we manage everything that’s been entrusted to us: money, time, family, friendships, possessions.

If we use what God has entrusted to us for his glory, to serve the interests of his kingdom, we will be blessed. But if we act as owners—violating our responsibility as stewards—we will be punished.

Stewardship in Church Planting

Jesus’s warning can be directly applied to the church-planting pastor: as a manager of God’s household, under Christ, it is your responsibility to care for God’s flock. Good shepherds of God’s flock recognize themselves to be stewards, not owners.

This charge can be challenging for church-planting pastors. Like entrepreneurs, church planters tend to feel a great sense of ownership, perhaps even more so than other pastors. They often labor long and hard: planting, nurturing, and sacrificing. This is right and good. But once harvest comes, it’s easy to view everything they’ve worked for as their own.

In 1 Corinthians 3:5–9, Paul explains that while he planted and Apollos watered, God gave increase to the church. Paul and Apollos were merely servants through whom the Corinthians believed. They were not owners who could claim credit for the growth; they were stewards whom God graciously used to accomplish his purposes.

If church history has taught us anything, it is this: Church-planting pastors are most dangerous to their flock when they act as owners—men who view God’s people as their possession, to serve their selfish interests—rather than as servants seeking the good of the church and the glory of Christ.

Church-planting pastors are most dangerous to their flock when they act like owners.

One practical way church planters can guard against acting like owners is by proactively seeking and welcoming accountability. A pastor who refuses to live as a man under authority is more likely to feed his selfish desires to the demise of his flock.

Are your fellow elders empowered and encouraged to address sin in your life? Have you surrounded yourself with “yes men,” or do your elders consistently challenge you? Are you open to constructive criticism from your flock? Or have you created a culture of fear and intimidation that encourages them to keep their concerns to themselves?

Every church-planting pastor should ask himself such questions. If you’re afraid of the answers, it’s imperative that you take time to honestly examine your heart. The health of your flock, and the glory of your King, are worth it.

We Welcome TGC Africa

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 2:36pm

TGC Africa has launched.

After two years of prayer, planning, and discussion, the inaugural public meeting has taken place. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with 10 of the initial 12-man Council here in Africa, and I am impressed by their commitment to the gospel, to the exposition of holy Scripture, and to Reformed evangelical confessionalism.

Moreover, they have been drawn from several denominations, and from a variety of countries: two from South Africa, two from Zimbabwe, one from Zambia, one from Tanzania, and so forth. Several more members will be added shortly, representing a few more of Africa’s 57 countries.

The Africa Council has launched their own website: you can find it on a drop-down screen on this site, or at africa.thegospelcoalition.org.

Read more:

WTN Event in Portland Helps Spanish-Speaking Women Teach the Bible

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:04am

Early last week, 15 women Bible teachers from Latin American landed in chilly Portland, Oregon, to attend an event with the Women’s Training Network (WTN). The WTN is TGC’s initiative to equip women in the Scriptures. This week-long gathering was the culmination of months of planning to give women leaders in Spanish-speaking churches biblical instruction that they could then pass on to the hundreds they teach and influence.

The diverse group of women from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean, many of whom didn’t know each other previously, attended full days of training, hosted by volunteers from Trinity Church and Hinson Baptist Church, pastored by TGC council member Michael Lawrence.

The packed schedule included teaching on Bible interpretation, genres, biblical theology, and the practical details of writing an expository message for a women’s conference. Teachers for WTN rotated through the sessions, engaging with the women and being encouraged by their love for the Word of God. The attendees heard the instruction in English, discussed it among themselves in Spanish, and presented their work to the group in a mixture of both.

Benefits and Blessings

One attendee from Columbia told us:

This training opened my eyes in many ways. First, my heart is filled with joy as I rediscovered the history of redemption, seeing that I am part of that history, and recognizing the mercy of God from the beginning of time until now. I was filled with encouragement to start reading the Bible again with the perspective of the redemptive history of God. Second, the training allowed me to understand the importance of bringing Christ, his cross and his grace, to the women whom I teach. I want them to see that for each commandment there is a provision for the Lord’s grace to fulfill it, as a response to his infinite love for us.

In addition to the biblical training, attendees and trainers discussed what it truly means to be grounded in the Scriptures and centered on the gospel. These founding values of the WTN focus not only on the content we teach but also our hearts and attitudes before the Lord.

Each woman who came presented an expository message she had prepared on an assigned text. The group gave both feedback and encouragement. Each woman bought unique gifts to her teaching session, but all were committed to joyfully proclaiming Christ from the Scriptures in their local contexts.

Serving Spanish-Speaking Christians

Coalición por el Evangelio, TGC’s Spanish-speaking counterpart, works to train women in the Scriptures. They’ve been doing this for years through articles, videos, events, and recently a new podcast. This event furthered their work by focusing on gifted Bible teachers from eight countries. It was the first event in a campaign to bring two-day training events to 12 locations across Latin America between 2019 and 2020.

These future training events will help ground women in what God has said, while encouraging them to serve others by teaching and speaking his Word. Coalición hopes to equip more than 2,000 women from 10 countries in gospel-centered teaching. Patricia Namnún, the director of women’s ministries for Coalición, is striving to organize and direct this great work. Would you join us in prayer for the work God is doing among the women of Latin America?

Coalición’s campaign to further equip women is launching this year in Latin America, but the work of WTN begins in the United States in 2019 as well. Our goal to is to train women to interpret, apply, and teach the Bible in whatever context the Lord has placed them. Our two-day intensive events are coming to Charlotte, Portland, Austin, Philadelphia, and Sacramento in the next year. Want more information? More details about TGC’s Women’s Training Network is coming soon.

I Was Shackled by Unforgiveness

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:03am

As believers, we are repeatedly called to forgive others (e.g., Matt. 6:14–15; Mark 11:25; Luke 17:3–4; Eph. 4:31–32; Col. 3:13). But forgiveness is messy, isn’t it? It can be a lifelong process, not just a one-time event. And throughout the process, the temptation to return to old patterns of thinking, engaging, or even ignoring can seem insurmountable.

I am reminded of the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. They had become so accustomed to enslavement that when offered freedom by Moses, they wanted to go back. In fact, they cried out in front of the Red Sea:

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians?” It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! (Ex. 14:12)

Every time I read this story, I think, Seriously, Israel? You’d rather remain in chains than experience freedom? Then the Lord holds up a mirror, and I see my own chains. Chains of unforgiveness.

Chained Down

For many years, I struggled to forgive my father. We’d been inseparable in my early years, but we eventually drifted apart. By the time I entered middle school, the burgeoning divide only widened. Work forced him to spend a lot of time away from our family, and the more he traveled, the more distant he and my mother became. Flickers of frustration erupted into explosive arguments, followed by deafening silence. All the while I smiled and performed on the outside, as sinful resentment and anger sprouted in my heart.

For nearly 20 years, I clung to the hurt inflicted on me like a badge of honor. Oh, how I wore it well. Pain became my story, not for God to receive glory, but for me to receive attention—the attention I desperately craved from the man who had so deeply wounded my heart.

Pride seeped into my spirit, resisting any opportunity for inner healing and connection with my father. Emotional and physical distance felt safe. Year after year, silence between my father and me remained the norm. The thought of obediently walking out of bondage felt frightening, full of overwhelming uncertainty. “Egypt” felt more comfortable. It was simply easier to wallow in past hurt than to throw off the past and be thrust into an unknown future.

It was simply easier to wallow in past hurt than to throw off the past and be thrust into an unknown future.

Nevertheless, the Great Forgiver calls us forward, just as he summoned the Israelites:

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” (Ex. 14:13–15)

Brothers and sisters, loved and forgiven by the Savior, it is time to move forward. Here are three things you can do to pursue forgiveness and freedom, for the glory of God.

1. Decide

My first step toward forgiveness began with a rational, committed decision to forgive my father, plain and simple. I reflected on God’s straightforward charge to “bear with one another and, if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). The Lord forgave me, in spite of my many sins, so I had to be willing to forgive my dad.

My decision had little to do with my emotions. On the contrary, I had to discipline myself—by meditating on biblical passages about forgiveness—to ignore the feelings that threatened to flood my heart and thrust me back into a bitter space. In God’s strength, I refused to return to Egypt.

2. Empathize

As my heart opened to listening to my father, I began to experience him against the backdrop of his own upbringing, and to see that we are more similar than I cared to admit. He’s a sinner, as am I. He needs a Savior, as do I.

Freedom blossomed as I began to look at him as a human being with shards of brokenness—similar to the way God looks at me. My prayers began to shift away from my personal healing and selfish indignation to inner transformation for my dad.

3. Be Still

The roads my father and I traveled to reconnect were occasionally riddled with confusion. What seemed like forward steps sometimes resulted in missed opportunities and miscommunications. Though I attempted to stress and strive my way to unity with my dad, God continually summoned me to be still. It was only in my stillness that I recognized the work he was doing in me, in my father, and in our relationship. God did behind the scenes what I could never have accomplished in the foreground. He healed us into reconciliation throughout a lengthy season, during which forgiveness toward each other prevailed.

God did behind the scenes what I could never have accomplished in the foreground.

On his own accord, my dad confessed his wrongdoings and pursued repentance. It is a humble display that unfolds to this day, as God continues to peel back the layers of our relationship and as memories of our challenging past periodically reemerge.

While Egypt seemed comfortable a few years ago, I have experienced more rest, more peace, and more comfort since I made the decision—compelled by Scripture and empowered by the Spirit—to obediently exit the prison of my past and walk in the direction of true freedom.

Though not always easy, mutual forgiveness continues to abound as my dad and I strive daily to chart a new path. We walk arm in arm now, surrendering resurfaced hurts at Jesus’s feet and meeting each other’s shortcomings with humble understanding and gospel grace. In obedience and love, we choose to spur one another on toward the cross.

American Evangelicals through a Global Lens

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:02am

The standard saga of modern American evangelicalism has been told time and again. It goes something like this: mid-20th-century American evangelicals broke away from fundamentalists, re-engaged society, created the Religious Right in the late 1970s, launched divisive culture wars, and radically transformed politics.

The sketch isn’t entirely wrong—but it’s not the whole story. Viewed mostly through a domestic lens, the mainstream perspective of American evangelicalism has been nearsighted. To see the bigger picture, we need a global lens.

Global Lens

This is exactly what Melani McAlister—associate professor of American studies, international affairs, and media and public affairs at The George Washington University—provides in her recent book, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals. Her global lens complicates the picture quite a bit. She brings out tensions, intricacies, and contradictions within American evangelicalism that few have had the charity and patience—not to mention extensive grasp of foreign affairs and global history—to see. And yet this complex, global story will resonate among evangelical readers far more than will accounts that reduce them to a wing of the Republican Party.

While evangelical readers will discover a wealth of new material about their tradition in these pages, they’ll find much that intimately connects to their experiences. Many will identify with the college students who had their minds opened to the global diversity of Christianity through groups like InterVarsity and Cru. Some will recall bands like Audio Adrenaline and DC Talk encouraging the faithful to serve those in need overseas. They’ll remember the missionaries their church sent to the 10/40 window, their own short-term trips, and the calendars, magazines, maps, missions pastors, and guest speakers from organizations like Voice of the Martyrs that drew their attention to the persecution of their spiritual family abroad and how to pray for them.

Evangelical Internationalism

McAlister threads such pieces together within a broader historical framework of “evangelical internationalism.” From the neo-evangelicals of the 1940s and 1950s to the 2016 presidential election, American evangelicals’ perception of themselves as a global people has greatly influenced their actions at home and abroad. In these formative decades, they devoted tremendous resources to foreign missions, global humanitarian aid, and foreign political activism on issues like international religious freedom, the spread of communism, wars, human rights, refugee crises, impoverishment, and more.

Her transnational framework makes a significant contribution to discussions concerning American evangelical identity (a hotly debated issue at the moment). She begins with the “theological definition,” noting evangelicals’ commitment to orthodox trinitarianism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and conversionism (based largely on David Bebbington’s famous quadrilateral). But no religious identity rests solely on a set of beliefs, she argues, and thus evangelicalism must also be seen “as a way of operating in the world.” Just as central to American evangelical identity is the zeal with which they live out their beliefs on a global stage, manifested in a proclivity for revivalism, entrepreneurialism, populism, individualism, and religious experientialism.

Two postures in particular have defined how American evangelicals operate in the world. First, dissatisfied with consumerist religious life in the secular West, they’ve embraced a deep sense of “enchanted internationalism”—an orientation that idealizes Christianity in the global South as more authentic, passionate, exotic, and richly supernatural. This construction reaffirms and renews their faith and offers them hope for similar spiritual revitalization in the increasingly desacralized West.

The second posture is one of “victim identification.” Using a biblical analogy of the church as a body, American evangelicals have intimately identified with the suffering and persecution inflicted on the members of the body abroad. This self-identification as a persecuted global body has shaped how American evangelicals view themselves as victims too, mobilizing them to vigorously protect and advocate religious freedom for themselves and Christians around the globe.

Global Stage, Actors, and Influences

The book foregrounds global networks like the Lausanne Movement and organizations like World Vision, Compassion International, Cru, and Samaritan’s Purse (all four made Forbes‘s list of the 25 largest U.S. charities in 2015) that have received too little attention in most accounts of American evangelicalism. It also focuses on influential actors who evade simplistic stereotypes. Wishing to treat the racial diversity of evangelicalism (while recognizing that many non-whites don’t self-identify as evangelical), she highlights the mixed experiences of black and white students serving Sudanese refugees in Egypt, African Americans promoting greater awareness of Afro-identity and neocolonialism at the Urbana conference in the late 1960s and 1970s, and a team of black Methodist (AME) and Southern Baptist pastors traveling to Sudan to redeem slaves. Also compared to most accounts, she devotes more balanced attention to women and to the liberal-conservative ideological spectrum of evangelicalism.

Continually reminding readers that causality goes both directions, she also spotlights the influence of global affairs and foreigners on American religious life. She examines key voices from Latin America and Africa at the 1974 Lausanne Congress urging Western evangelicals toward greater concern for social justice, and how divisions over apartheid among Christians in South Africa shaped and split American evangelical opinions on race and colonialism.

Noting that “the biblical interpretations of global South Christians were not under U.S. control,” she tells how American evangelicals felt bolstered when Ugandan ministers took a firm stance against the ordination of gay bishops, but then at odds with their radical advocacy of severe legal punishment against homosexual acts (in some instances even the death penalty). She also offers an insightful and fresh interpretation of the rise of the Religious Right in America by tracing its ideological and rhetorical pillars to evangelical engagement with global affairs and social issues in the late 1960s and 1970s.

International Food for Thought

The book builds on a growing body of literature that attempts to view American religion in the context of world Christianity (I especially recommend reading it alongside David Hollinger’s Protestants Abroad [read TGC’s review]). Her approach follows the transnational and cultural turns in historical studies and builds on recent scholarly trends that work not just with ideas but also with discourses of emotions and materiality (body politics) to capture the fuller picture. But her prose is smooth and accessible to non-academics. While she’s no sympathetic insider, she clearly did her homework to understand “evangelical internationalism,” even traveling with evangelical groups to Israel, Egypt, Uganda, and Sudan, and attending conferences at places like Wheaton College.

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders is bound to make a splash in the academy, but I hope it also finds a wide audience among American evangelicals. It forces believers to see their tradition with new lenses and angles, and it raises many important issues that get to the heart of the evangelical mission. Ultimately, it reminds us that American evangelicals are a complicated people in a complicated world.

Why Did Jesus Say He Will Crush Some to Pieces?

Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:00am

I remember getting the autograph of a Major League Baseball star when I was a boy. I remember my admiration for this player (whose identity is best not revealed) and how I treasured his signature. Then I learned what a nasty person he was. He had a reputation for lying, cheating, and mistreating others. My admiration turned to contempt.

Some respond the same way to Jesus when they read the New Testament Gospels and discover another side to him. The “gentle Jesus meek and mild” turns out to be a “harsh Jesus mean and wild.”

Or so they assume.

Story of Murder

One of the hard sayings of Jesus that turns people’s admiration to contempt emerges at the end of his parable of the vineyard owner and the wicked tenants (Luke 20:9–19). A vineyard owner sends a servant at harvest time to the tenants who leased his vineyard. This owner wants his share of the fruit.

However, the tenants beat the servant and send him away with nothing. This happens two more times. Finally, the vineyard owner sends his beloved son, thinking the tenants might respect him. Shockingly, though, the tenants murder the son.

At the end of the parable, Jesus asks what the vineyard owner will do to the tenants. He affirms the vineyard owner will kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

The point of the parable is clear—especially since the religious leaders knew Jesus told the parable about them. The vineyard owner represents God. The servants are the Old Testament prophets whom God repeatedly sent to Israel. The beloved son is Jesus himself.

After his listeners express shock, Jesus challenges them with a quote from Psalm 118:32: “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Crushed by Jesus?

Jesus will be rejected by the religious leaders—and even suffer death (Luke 19:47). Yet he will become the foundation stone for a renewed temple. At this point, he utters words about himself that turned some people’s admiration into contempt: “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed” (Luke 20:18).

Shocking words. Jesus, the foundation stone, will fall on some and shatter them. He will grind them to powder. This speaks to a seemingly dark side of Jesus’s character—his wrath. What are we to make of an angry Jesus who crushes people? Where is his love? How can Jesus tell his followers to love their enemies (Luke 6:35) if he does not love his?

What Michael Reeves observes about the triune God obviously relates to Jesus:

[If he] is just the biggest boy in the school who must have his every way or else lose it in fits of carpet-biting rage, then his anger is repellent. All his other good qualities would be as nothing when we saw those red eyes.

Making Sense of It All

Here are five observations to help us make sense of our Lord’s shocking words.

1. Jesus speaks about the enemies of God.

Jesus will not crush random people—those at the wrong place at the wrong time. No, he will destroy those who set themselves up against God and his people. This theme stretches back to the beginning of Luke. Mary’s song rejoices in God her Savior, who will scatter the proud and bring down prideful rulers (Luke 1:51–52).

Likewise, Zechariah’s song connects God raising up a king in the line of David with rescuing God’s people from their enemies (Luke 2:69, 71, 74). Jesus becomes the instrument of this crushing judgment.

2. It’s no contradiction for Jesus to express both love and wrath.

This is hard to grasp, because we usually think a wrathful person is not a loving person. Yet, as Michael Reeves says, “God is angry at evil because he loves. . . . [I]t is not that God is naturally angry, but that evil provokes him: in his pure love, God cannot tolerate evil.”

Isaiah 28:21 makes clear that wrath is unnatural to God when it speaks of his judgment and wrath as his “strange work” and his “alien task.” Don Carson puts it like this: “Where there is no sin, there is no wrath—but there will always be love in God.”

3. Jesus loved his enemies by dying for them.

In Luke 20, he speaks about his death when he refers to the killing of the vineyard owner’s son and to “the stone the builders rejected.”

Jesus’s death turns out to be an expression of love because, according to Romans 3:25–26, it satisfies God’s righteous anger against sin (an idea inherent in the expression “sacrifice of atonement”) and thereby allows him to declare guilty sinners just without violating his justice.

4. God is patient in pouring out his crushing judgment through Jesus.

This patience actually creates another problem: God’s delay of his final judgment allows evil to continue. Creation groans. Victims suffer. Evil regimes murder.

Christ the cornerstone is not crushing anyone at present. Yet we know God is not slow in keeping his promise to exclude evil so love can reign. “Instead,” Peter affirms, “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

5. Jesus’s future crushing of evildoers frees us from taking revenge now.

Romans 12:19 says: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” I can therefore love my enemies as Jesus commanded, reflecting God’s kindness to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35).

I express this love in the confidence that wrong done against me will be avenged—either by Jesus pouring out his wrath on evildoers (as the crushing cornerstone) or by absorbing God’s wrath on the cross.

Salvation in No One Else 

In Acts, the sequel to his Gospel, Luke records a striking statement. The religious leaders in Jerusalem asked Peter by what power he and John were able to heal a lame beggar. Peter declares, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:10).

Right after this statement, he quotes Psalm 118:22—just as Jesus did in Luke 20:17: “Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the chief cornerstone” (Acts 4:11). But then, instead of offering a word of judgment, Peter proclaims, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus is the cornerstone. What you experience from him depends on your response. He will crush the proud who resist and oppose him. He will save those who call on his name in faith. Both responses are entirely consistent. Both flow from God’s astounding love.

Why Christians Don’t Go to Church (and Why They Must)

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 12:03am

The Story: A new survey finds the reason people avoid going to church is more often for practical or personal reasons, rather than lack of belief.

The Background: A new Pew Research Center survey asked Americans why they do or do not regularly go to church, synagogue, mosque or another house of worship. The overwhelming reason why people attend such services is to feel closer to God. But their reasons for staying away are more complicated.

Less than one-third (28 percent) say they don’t go because they are unbelievers. Among self-identified Christians, the predominant reason that non-churchgoers offer for not attending worship services is that they practice their faith in other ways. Almost half of evangelicals in this category (46 percent) say this is a very important reason for not going to church more often. The next most common reason evangelicals give for not attending services is that they haven’t found a church or house of worship they like (33 percent).

One-in-five evangelicals says they dislike the sermons, and a little more than one-in-ten (11 percent) says they do not feel welcome at religious services. About one in four (26 percent) cites logistical reasons for not going to religious services, such as not having the time or being in poor health.

As Pew notes, more than half of those who do not attend church or another house of worship for reasons other than non-belief are women, and they tend to be older, less highly educated, and less Democratic compared with those who do not go because of a lack of faith. Meanwhile, those who refrain from attending religious services because they are non-believers are more highly educated and largely male, young, and Democratic.

What It Means: Ask most churchgoers why think people in their community don’t join them in the pews and they’re likely to say it’s because most people aren’t believers. Yet ask those same church attenders how many people in America claim to be Christian and they’ll probably give close to the correct answer (i.e., 75 percent).

Perhaps I’m misjudging their responses, but it’s what I would have answered. As a pastor in a young church plant I tend to think of the “unchurched” as non-believers rather than as merely non-attenders. Despite being hyper-aware of the problem of nominal Christianity in America, I rarely make the connection that my own neighbors are the problem.

And the reason for my cognitive dissonance is likely because I don’t want to call them out on it. I truly believe in the paradox of church attendance: While you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, if you never go to church you probably aren’t a Christian. But I have a hard time speaking that truth to my neighbor. I wish I had the courage to say, as Ricky Jones says,

I want you to understand that being a part of the universal church without submitting to a local church is not possible, biblical, or healthy.

First, it’s simply not possible. To imply you can be part of the greater community without first being part of the smaller is not logical. You cannot be part of Rotary International without also being part of a local chapter. You cannot be part of the universal human family without first being part of a small immediate family.

Second, it’s not biblical. Every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. The letters themselves are addressed to local churches. They teach us how to get along with other members, how to encourage the weak within the church, how to conduct ourselves at church, and what to do with unrepentant sinners in the church. They command us to submit to our elders, and encourage us to go to our elders to pray. All these things are impossible if you aren’t a member of a local church. (See 1 and 2 Corinthians, James, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and 1 Peter for references.)

Asking where the Bible commands you to be a church member is like asking where the USGA rulebook for golf insists you be a human. The whole book is addressed to the church.

This latest Pew survey is a reminder that if I love my neighbor—especially my nominal Christian neighbor—I will tell them, as my colleague Jeff Robinson says, that “when we say church membership/attendance is optional, we are also tacitly rejecting the very people Christ ‘bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28).” I need to find the courage to tell them that Christianity is not a choose-your-own path religion, and that the people we are to associate with have already been chosen for us.

‘First Man’ Omits Something Important—and It’s Not the American Flag

Sat, 10/13/2018 - 12:00am

Damien Chazelle’s First Man is a thrilling, immersive depiction of NASA’s efforts in the 1960s to put a man on the Moon. Based on James R. Hansen’s 2012 novel of the same name, First Man focuses on Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and the harrowing test flights, bruising crash landings, and narrowly avoided tragedies that marked his involvement in the Gemini and Apollo missions—culminating in Apollo 11’s Moon landing on July 20, 1969.

The film’s action sequences are breathtaking, giving viewers a visceral experience of the rickety, screeching, claustrophobic chaos of space travel in the 1960s. If you felt queasy at times watching Gravity, you’ll want to bring some Dramamine along for First Man, especially if you see it on IMAX. The filmmakers do an incredible job capturing the physical, logistical intensity of what was required—and ultimately accomplished—in getting humans to the Moon. And when the “Moon” moment finally arrives in the final act, it is stirring and grand. The film’s music, sound editing, and vérité cinematography make for a truly compelling cinematic experience.

But for all its technical merits, narrative intrigue, and fine acting, something feels hollow. For a movie about so massive a historical event—one most people alive at the time remember watching with bated breath on TV—First Man feels strangely mundane, almost disconnected from its story’s significance and a broader sense of spiritual meaning.

Why the Moon?

First Man makes a point of juxtaposing Armstrong’s lofty space pursuits with his quiet, normal, clean-cut family life. Armstrong is a husband and father who goes off to work each day. It’s just that some days he goes into space and has to tell his boys he might not return.

Naturally, Armstrong’s wife is at times frustrated with her husband’s semi-obsessive, always dangerous lunar ambitions. Playing Janet Armstrong is Claire Foy (Queen Elizabeth on The Crown, but here sporting a somewhat odd American accent). She does a fine job capturing the stress of a wife constantly worried about her husband ending up like so many of their astronaut friends who died in the space race: Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham), Ed White (Jason Clarke), Elliott See (Patrick Fugit), to name a few. In one of her best scenes, Janet confronts NASA chief astronaut Deke Slayton (Kyle Chandler) and compares the Apollo efforts to “a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood.”

Indeed, one of the questions of the film is simply: Why? Why would Armstrong devote himself to so dangerous a task? Why would America invest so much money into the space race? Apart from bragging rights over the Soviets, what was it all for? In the film, Gosling’s Armstrong can only say, “I don’t think it will be exploration just for the sake of exploration.” Later we see a clip of Kennedy’s famous Moon speech (“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”). But beyond that the film doesn’t really grapple with the lunar mission’s raison d’être.

Achievement at What Cost?

Early in First Man we see Neil and Janet Armstrong doing everything they can to heal their 2-year-old daughter of a brain tumor. An aeronautical engineer and industrious aviator, Neil is a man who can fix almost anything. But he can’t fix his daughter Karen, whose death—the film suggests—ultimately fuels his passion to reach the Moon, whatever the cost.

Chazelle seems interested in characters who obsess, sometimes recklessly, with achieving a dream or excelling in a craft. His previous films Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016) tell stories of musicians and actors who place achievement above all, even if it costs their loved ones to suffer. First Man is similar. Chazelle depicts Armstrong as a man whose mission may compromise his own family, even as his family (particularly his late daughter) seems to inspire his astronaut ambitions.

In all three of his movies, Chazelle seems to ponder whether great heights can be achieved without collateral damage. Can one have a healthy family life while also pursuing world-changing greatness? At what cost should we pursue our respective “moons”? At what point should we cease our strivings for the sake of our loved ones? Are we trying to justify ourselves with our costly striving? 

Absent Transcendence

One of the controversies surrounding First Man is what is absent in the film: namely, the iconic planting of the American flag on the lunar surface.

But this omission (which is a bit overblown . . . the film does show the American flag on the Moon and elsewhere) didn’t bother me as much as another omission: the absence of any acknowledgement of God or faith, particularly the Christianity of Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll).

The first man on the Moon may have been Neil Armstrong, but the first meal on the Moon was the Lord’s Supper. But this is not in the film.

The first man on the Moon may have been Neil Armstrong, but the first meal on the Moon was the Lord’s Supper.

We do not see it in First Man, but shortly after arriving at the moon, “second man” Buzz Aldrin said over the radio: “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then observed thanksgiving his way, by taking out a small communion kit that had been prepared by the Houston church (Webster Presbyterian) where he served as an elder. In his 2009 book Magnificent Desolation, Aldrin describes the surreal scene this way:

I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements along with a three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” I poured a thimbleful of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the Moon. . . . I silently read the Bible passage as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.

Armstrong, a deist, did not join Aldrin in taking communion, though he respectfully observed while Aldrin took the elements.

Though the U.S. government at the time refused to make public the Lord’s Supper aspect of Apollo 11’s mission, Aldrin’s faith was not a secret. On the mission’s return voyage, Aldrin read Psalm 8:3–4 (KJV) over a radio broadcast: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the Moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest him?”

For Armstrong, the Moon landing was about what men could accomplish: mankind’s “giant leap.” For Aldrin, the landing was a reminder of God’s glory and mankind’s relative smallness. What is man that thou art mindful of him?

Armstrong’s “giant leap” line (of course) makes it into the film. Aldrin’s communion and Psalm-quoting do not. In fact, Aldrin is sadly portrayed as the film’s most unlikeable character.

Secular Wonder

Is First Man inspiring? Yes. But its inspiration feels thinner than it could have been, in part because the film’s sense of wonder is mostly limited to wonder at what humans can achieve. Wonder at the technical prowess that led to men walking on the Moon (50 years ago!). Wonder at the power of cinematic art to so realistically capture the astronaut’s experience. Wonder at the bravery and innovation of the Greatest Generation. These are wonders indeed.

But what about the wonders Aldrin pondered as he took communion and declared the praises of Psalm 8 in space? What about the wonder of a Creator who created the very atmosphere his image-bearing creatures learned to break through? What about the wonder of an unfathomably large universe that is still only a speck on the canvas of eternity?

Without this higher level of wonder and meaning, even the greatest of humanity’s accomplishments—even walking on a moon—can feel, in the end, somewhat pointless.

God Is Better than an Umbrella

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 12:04am

Nineteenth-century British judge Charles Bowen proved that he was as dire a poet as he was great a jurist. But his ditty has profound theological implications still, perhaps even as his case law becomes history:

The rain it raineth on the just

And also on the unjust fella;

But chiefly on the just, because

The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.

Bad poetry, yes, but lots of good theology there. Think of recent floods and hurricanes: were Christians any better protected than non-Christians? Did the waves hit only homes owned by bad people? No. Homes were hit, regardless of the spiritual status of the owner.

Christians often suffer worse precisely because of their faith, especially if they live in countries where Christians are persecuted. Being a believer in many parts of the world today can cost you your job, your liberty, and quite possibly even your life—though, as the apostle Peter reminds us, persecution should be for our faith, not for being obnoxious (1 Pet. 2:19–20).

Thankfully most of us in the West don’t not face a tap on the door from the local police, although if Britain is any measure, the future status of practicing Christians is no longer something we can take for granted. Still, there are theological issues that Bowen’s ditty encapsulates.

Our secular world puts in in terms of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But in Don Carson’s essential work How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, it’s clear such phrasing is theologically illegitimate. Spiritually we are all sinners, which is why we need salvation in the first place. We are not good. We are fallen, every one of us.

And we live in a fallen world.

It’s a world in which it rains as much on God’s people—the just, or as we would prefer to put it, the justified—as on everyone else. If we live in a flood plain (as is the case with large swathes of rural England), we will get flooded if it rains too much, whether we’re Christians or not. If we live in areas of the United States prone to being hit by hurricanes, the same applies.

On the micro level of individual lives, it’s no different. There’s sickness and death, and sometimes they seems inexplicable to us. But these things too are consequences of the fall. As with Job, who didn’t know why he was suffering, much seems inexplicable to us.

Our Constant Help

While pondering some of these things, my Bible reading happened to be Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is your keeper;

the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

This is who God is. This is our final destiny. We are never alone. We are ultimately kept from all evil, and we have eternal life. God is personal, and he is the Lord who made heaven and earth. The God who created the universe neither slumbers nor sleeps, and he is my keeper. Eternity really is forevermore.

Angry at God?

The default human reaction can be anger—we think we make ourselves feel better by kicking the poor cat. But does our anger at God actually change our circumstances? One could argue it makes things worse, as we have anger added to our pain or sorrow, and anger at our only hope. Without God we are truly sunk.

My wife wanted to see the centenary of her father’s birth in August 2018. She died in June. In one sense she missed it, and of course I had to celebrate without her. But her father was also a Christian, and a friend cheered me by saying, “Well, that means they were able to commemorate it together.” And that’s true. Nothing brings my wife back. But one day she and I will be reunited, her suffering and my sorrow eternally over. That is not feeling, but fact.

Let’s by all means get angry against sin—the ultimate cause of floods, hurricanes, and death. But let’s praise the God of our salvation, without whom everything would be truly hopeless. We suffer here on earth, but we’re never alone. We don’t need an umbrella.

Practicing the Principles of Scripture in the Home

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 12:03am

“We don’t come to this session with any sense that we’ve got it all figured or out or, certainly, that we have the perfect marriage. . . . We do think that God has a lot of wisdom in his Word, and we have seen that wisdom played out in our marriage and in our family.” — Michael Kruger

Date: June 15, 2018

Event: The Gospel Coalition 2018 Women’s Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

You can listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast here.

Related:

Find more audio and video from the 2018 Women’s Conference on the conference media page.

A Guide for Skeptics Intrigued by Jesus

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 12:02am

“Are you saying you have the authority to tell people like me to stop following Jesus Christ?” I asked the secular university student.

We’d just been talking about the Christian view of sexual ethics, specifically my view that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman. He responded that such a view of marriage is unacceptable, so I pointed out the implication of what he was saying, which was that I would need to stop following Jesus.

It was Jesus, after all, who taught that marriage is predicated on the difference between male and female (see Matt. 19:3–6). I’m simply trying to follow his teaching. To abandon my view of marriage would mean to abandon the one from whom I had learned it. I would need to ditch Jesus, and I wanted the student to know this was what he was ultimately demanding. Pressed on this point, he demurred, and the conversation moved on.

This university student claimed to be an atheist. He didn’t believe in God. He didn’t believe in Jesus. And yet it seemed he didn’t fully disbelieve Jesus, either. Something made him hesitate to explicitly tell someone to stop being following Jesus. As sure as he was about all sorts of other matters pertaining to religion, this point made him pause and change tack. He wasn’t quite ready to go head to head with Jesus.

It’s no novelty to observe that we in the West inhabit an increasingly secular culture, and yet there’s still reluctance to fully write off Jesus. Whatever people think of the movement that bears his name, Christ still features prominently in our cultural consciousness as someone we can’t simply ignore, let alone jettison. We may be done with religion, and we may be done with Christianity. But we’re not yet done with Jesus.

Introducing Jesus

Therefore, it’s vital to have a good introductory resource about Jesus: the Jesus who really did come and walk this earth, the Jesus we see so magnetically presented in the Gospels. And yet such resources aren’t in great supply. Books on Jesus tend to be too shallow, too preachy, or too technical for most of the skeptical people I know. In some of the books there’s an axe to grind against some part of the church or a desire not just to introduce you to Jesus, but also to make sure you land in the right place on some specific secondary issues in Christian belief.

So it’s a joy to commend John Dickson’s new book, A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus: An Introduction to the Man from Nazareth for Believers and Skeptics. (I say “new”; it’s actually a revision of an earlier, out-of-print Australian book called A Spectator’s Guide to Jesus.) Dickson is a New Testament historian, public theologian, and local church pastor, and has written two previous volumes in this particular format, A Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments and A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible, as well as other books on the life of Jesus and the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels.

We in the West inhabit an increasingly secular culture, and yet there’s still a reluctance to fully write off Jesus.

A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus examines the various portraits of Jesus we find in both the biblical and also historical record. These portraits include Jesus the teacher, the performer of miraculous deeds, the bringer of justice, the friend of sinners, the claimer of lordship, and the sacrificing servant. For each of these Dickson draws on extrabiblical historical sources alongside the New Testament to show that the unique (and at times) uncomfortable claims Christians make about Jesus have historical basis, and that even the most skeptical won’t be able to dismiss Jesus without sacrificing historical integrity.

Dickson is careful not to over-claim what we can know from extrabiblical sources. He isn’t setting out, for example, to “prove” the resurrection; instead he’s trying to demonstrate the historical veracity of the empty tomb and that the earliest Christians believed in the resurrection, while teasing out some of the implications of this belief for how we think today.

Gentle Guide

There are significant strengths to Dickson’s approach. He isn’t pretending to write as a neutral, dispassionate observer. He’s clear about his own convictions. But the book doesn’t feel partisan, or like he’s relentlessly pushing you to agree with him. He uses mainstream historical research, and by so doing demonstrates the implausibility of the more radical skeptics who attempt to claim Jesus didn’t exist at all, or who argue for a Jesus who bears little resemblance to the Christ of biblical Christianity.

A Doubter’s Guide to Jesus is gentle and gracious throughout. Dickson comes across as sitting next to you, rather than as a fanatic speaking at you or as an academic talking down to you. He writes in a way that’s winsome, thought-provoking, and profoundly illuminating. The chapters are long enough to cover substantial material, but never feel unwieldy or bogged down.

In short, Dickson’s volume is one I would confidently commend to my most secular friends. He models not just good, clear, and compelling writing, but also a way of speaking to skeptics that shows he has listened carefully to them, understood them, and takes their objections seriously. This will easily be one of the top two or three books I press into the hands of others, devotee or skeptic alike.

Is Heavenly-Mindedness for the Privileged?

Fri, 10/12/2018 - 12:00am

When Paul calls us to set our minds on things above, and not on the things of earth, it can feel unloving and unnatural. Isn’t a heavenly-minded posture simply the privilege of those with the resources to avoid worry about health, provision, and safety? Isn’t it counterproductive to call for deeper heavenly-mindedness when dealing with situations of want, oppression, trauma, or even abuse? Does such thinking perpetuate abuse? Is it the case that heavenly-mindedness is of no earthly good?

It’s important for Christians to think through these questions. We image God when we are concerned for the earthly welfare of our neighbors, so it’s important to understand how the Bible’s call to heavenly-mindedness fits with that concern.

I want to reflect briefly on two questions: first, is heavenly-mindedness a practice of the privileged? And, second, does heavenly-mindedness stifle activism and sustain the status quo?

Is Heavenly-Mindedness for the Privileged?

When we read the Bible we should pay attention not only to what it says but also where and when it broaches topics. Heavenly-mindedness doesn’t come up when everyone is safe and happy; it comes up precisely when God’s people suffer the deepest pangs of hurt.

When Christians have been scattered far from home and face the threat of mistreatment or persecution, the apostle Peter reminds them of their “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3–4). Peter calls their attention heavenward in a moment pregnant with danger and pain.

Heavenly-mindedness doesn’t come up when everyone is safe and happy; it comes up precisely when God’s people suffer the deepest pangs of hurt.

Hebrews similarly points Christians heavenward in a situation of trauma and struggle. It seems as though some Christians were mistreated publicly—likely through imprisonment or other such civic penalties (10:32–33). The author encourages them to continue holding on to the promise of heaven: “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (10:34). The “better possession” has given comfort to their waylaid souls.

The author then reminds them of Old Testament saints who looked forward to a heavenly country:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. (Heb. 11:13–16)

Then Jesus is identified as the “author and perfecter of faith” (12:2). He “endured the cross, despising its shame,” and did so “for the joy set before him” (12:2). The author commends Jesus for sojourning obediently and selflessly precisely because he is heavenly-minded.

Heavenly hope sustained the Old Testament saints and Jesus through seasons of difficulty, and it should sustain Christians as well.

Does Heavenly-Mindedness Simply Extend the Status Quo?

Not surprisingly, Christians in situations of oppression and struggle have cherished the heavenly-minded focus of the Bible. Negro spirituals display this Israel-like spirituality, instilling spiritual fortitude by vivid claims to living hope. Heaven wasn’t a privilege possessed only by the master class but a promise that sustained a people terrorized on earth. This heavenly-mindedness continued to mark the piety and preaching of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil-rights movements of the 1960s.

They knew that justice ultimately demands love as a motivating impulse, thus affection for the “better country” must be instilled and sustained to counteract the suffering produced by this country (Heb. 11:16). Far from distracting from concerns for justice and mercy in the earthly city, then, heavenly-mindedness can provide the oxygen and energy by which it proceeds.

Far from distracting from concerns for justice and mercy in the earthly city, heavenly-mindedness can provide the oxygen and energy by which it proceeds.

Heavenly-mindedness provokes a deeper sense of lament and anger at injustice, naming it not only as pernicious market forces, psychological disorder, breakdown in family systems, or political disquiet, but as sin or spiritual violence.

Heavenly-mindedness turns up the volume on our moral register, so we’re more alert to the pains of our sisters and brothers. It not only cues us up to observe and feel such juxtapositions between the blueprints of God’s kingdom and the experience of each day but also motivates us to sacrifice for the sake of the common good.

By fixing our affections and hopes on something deeper and more lasting, heavenly-mindedness frees us to give up what is ours for the sake of others.

Is Church Planting a ‘Young Man’s Game’?

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 12:04am

Is church planting a “young man’s game”? We often hear that it is. Some might think, I’m too old to plant a church.

Perhaps this suggests that younger leaders have more energy to start something new, or that they connect better to unchurched people. Both might be true. 

But young leaders make a lot of mistakes. They can lack perspective. They can be motivated by the wrong things, like setting out to prove something or to be known and praised.

In addition to the pressure of ministry, young leaders may also be newly married or have young children, and this season of life will make planting even more challenging in most cases. Moreover, some young planters haven’t yet experienced much suffering in life. Older pastors are usually better at sympathizing with wounded people, and providing skillful and gracious pastoral care for them.

So, are younger guys better suited for the hard grind of church planting? To help us consider this issue, we’ve invited an old man on the podcast. Today, I’m privileged to welcome my brother, friend, and mentor, the gray fox himself, Steve Timmis.

Steve is the CEO of Acts 29, and has been involved in church planting for a long time. He’s an elder at The Crowded House Church in Sheffield, where we recorded this podcast.

You can listen to this podcast episode here.

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