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8 Ways to Battle ‘Comfort Idolatry’

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 12:00am

One of Christianity’s greatest idolatries today is also one of the most subtle and insidious: the idolatry of comfort.

Widespread especially in affluent Western contexts, comfort idolatry is the product of a consumerist context that frames everything—including spiritual things—in terms of expressive individualism, self-fulfillment, and “bettering yourself.” In this context, going to church is just one among many other curated things (which may also include podcasts, self-help books, juice cleanses, yoga, backpacking, the Enneagram, Jordan Peterson, and so forth) that can add something to one’s unique spiritual path toward wisdom and wellness and becoming a “better person.”

Because it is so widespread and subtle, this framing doesn’t often seem so deadly. But it turns Christianity into a product akin to a smartphone app: something the “user” can opt in or out of as is convenient, or appropriate as needed but only insofar as it suits them. If it is in any way uncomfortable or costly, the “app” is easily deleted.

But a Christianity that’s accessed only as it suits us, only when it’s comfortable and on our terms, is not really Christianity. To truly follow Jesus is to flip the cultural script on comfort. It is to shift one’s gaze away from a consumer self and toward our worthy God; from an inward, self-help orientation to an outward, others-helping orientation. Healthy Christians are always wary of easing into comfortable Christianity.

A Christianity that’s accessed only as it suits us, only when it is comfortable and on our terms, is not really Christianity. To truly follow Jesus is to flip the cultural script on comfort.

Last year I wrote about eight signs your Christianity might be too comfortable. If that’s us, how can we address it? A good place to start is by recognizing, repenting, and praying for deliverance from this idolatrous temptation. Another foundational step is simply committing to a local church, recognizing that a healthy church should make us feel uncomfortable. But what else can we do? 

Here are eight additional ways a churchgoing Christian can proactively attack, or preventatively avoid, comfort idolatry in the Christian life.

1. Don’t elevate your church preferences as the gold standard.

It’s good to love your church. It’s not good to idolize your church. Sometimes a healthy appreciation for one’s church can turn into an unhealthy, insular orientation that excludes from fellowship (or even orthodoxy) other Christians and church traditions, just because they differ from how your congregation does things.

If you find it unbearable to sit through another church’s service because “it’s not how my church does it,” that’s a problem. The comfort of the familiar becomes idolatrous when anything unfamiliar is delegitimized. Christians and churches should challenge themselves to never assume they’ve arrived at the one, true, gold standard for how to do church.

The comfort of the familiar becomes idolatrous when anything unfamiliar is delegitimized.

2. Learn from and partner beyond your ‘tribe.’

Part of how Christians and churches can avoid the “we are the gold standard” temptation is by seeking to learn from believers outside their particular tribe. Maybe a white pastor could attend a Hispanic pastors’ conference, or a Pentecostal church member could visit an Anglican church, or a 22-year-old could visit a church full of people in their 70s (or vice versa).

Maybe we could reach out to immigrant churches in our communities, serving them but also learning from them. Perhaps we could diversify the blogs and podcasts we take in, and push ourselves to listen more to voices that challenge us. Such things will help pop our insular bubbles and identify ways we have conflated cultural identity with Christian identity.

3. Don’t evaluate church in terms of ‘what I got out of it.’

A simple tactic for challenging consumer Christianity and comfort idolatry is to stop evaluating Sunday morning worship in terms of “what I got out of it.” This tends to reduce the point of church to life-enhancement “takeaways” that only perpetuate the consumer approach.

Instead, as you leave church on a Sunday, ask yourself, “How did I contribute? How did I edify the body of Christ?” Or ask questions that don’t involve personal pronouns at all: “How was God glorified? What attributes of God were evident in the service?” Your assessment of a church should be God-centered, not me-centered.

4. Learn to worship God regardless of the music style.

Our strong opinions about worship-music styles present the greatest opportunities for us to challenge our comfort idolatry. Instead of folding your arms in protest and half-heartedly singing when you don’t like the song or style of music, give yourself to worship even if you hate the music. Try it. It’s liberating.

Pastors and worship leaders: help your congregations by constantly pushing them outside comfort zones. Avoid just one music style. For example, the “Hillsong sound” is great, but it is not the gold standard. Rotate worship bands and leaders who bring different styles. Sing old hymns, new praise choruses, gospel songs, spirituals. Spice it up for the sake of loosening the stiff grips people have on their beloved music preferences.  

5. Arrive to church early and leave later, even if it means more awkward small talk.

As an introvert, I know how stressful and exhausting the pre- and post-church social mingling can be. I also know that when I arrive to church conveniently late and leave the service during the closing prayer, I’m placing my comfort above my spiritual vitality. The fact is, awkward social interactions in church can be a powerful antidote to comfort addiction. Nothing epitomizes the gloriously uncomfortable beauty of God’s family like the weird church people you rub shoulders with on any given Sunday—people with all sorts of backgrounds and personality quirks.

Nothing epitomizes the gloriously uncomfortable beauty of God’s family like the weird church people you rub shoulders with on any given Sunday—people with all sorts of backgrounds and personality quirks.

When we arrive and leave church stealthily, we perpetuate a consumer spirituality that avoids the entanglements of community. When we never bother to make small talk, saints will remains acquaintances and strangers to you—not the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, they could be to you.

6. Give to the point that you feel it in your budget.

Sacrificial giving is a great way to keep your comfort addiction in check. But the sacrificial part is important. It’s easy to give a portion of your paycheck in such a way that you never feel the pinch. It’s harder to be generous when your budget is tight and there seems to be no margin to give.

Cultivating the habit of financial generosity, especially when it it is costly to you, is one of the clearest ways you can place the kingdom of God above your personal comfort. Generosity for gospel advance is always worth it, even if it means we have to scale back our vacation plans, postpone our renovation project, or cut back our monthly latte quota.  

7. Be flexible for the sake of mission.

Comfort idolatry often breeds rigidity in the Christian life—an unwillingness to adapt to change, a nostalgia for “how things were,” a hesitance to uproot when mission calls. A good way to respond to this tendency is to deliberately cultivate flexibility and nimbleness in the way you approach church.

Don’t be so over-scheduled that you can’t have dinner with church newcomers on a whim. Don’t be so tied to your ministry niche that you aren’t willing to jump in and serve wherever there’s a need. Don’t be such a fan of talented church leaders that you don’t celebrate, albeit with sadness, when God calls them to lead a new campus or church plant. Be flexible and ready to move when mission and evangelistic opportunities arise. Be willing to sacrifice comfort and the familiar when the Spirit is at work and the gospel is advancing.

8. Don’t quit the minute it gets hard.

When comfort is a chief value in our spiritual life, it’s easy to justify leaving a church the minute it becomes uncomfortable. Perhaps something about the pastor annoys you. Perhaps you haven’t heard satisfactory answers about a particular theological stance. Maybe the community just doesn’t “get you.” Maybe you feel like your doubts, or passions, are too much for the church to handle.

Some of these may eventually become valid reasons to leave, but none of them should cause you to bail right away. Challenge yourself to stick around even when the honeymoon period wears off. Show up at church even when you don’t feel like it. Do not neglect meeting together (Heb. 10:25). It’s not about whether a church can handle your doubts and your angst. The fact is, God can handle it. And he wants you in a church family, working through the challenges and growing together with other members of the body.

David Robertson on the Cost of Cultural Engagement

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

David Robertson, pastor of St. Peter’s Free Church of Scotland in Dundee, knows the cost of Christian courage. A trustee of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity, Robertson writes pieces for newspapers and magazines, and, through social media and his blog, The Wee Flea, he engages people coming from all kinds of viewpoints on issues at the intersection of the gospel and the culture. He is the author of The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths and Magnificent Obsession: Why Jesus Is Great.

In my conversation with Robertson, we talked about how the title for his blog came from his engagement with Richard Dawkins on atheism, what it’s like to pastor Robert Murray McCheyne’s former church, dealing with accusations that he isn’t nice, and the courage that contending for the gospel in a post-Christian culture requires.

You can listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible here.


When Church Planting Looks Foolish

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 12:03am

We Christians are a foolish lot.

Think about it: in a busy, fast-paced world where there’s always something to be done, where we experience constant pressure, and where efficiency rules the day, we take time to gather with other people every Sunday. We sing, listen to a sermon, and go out of our way to spend time with people afterward for lunch or during the week.

In a world that preaches consumerism and teaches us that people are useful insofar as they benefit us, we pursue reconciliation with those who’ve wronged us. We love those we don’t particularly like—in fact, we endeavor to seek their good, even when it’s costly.

To the outside world, none of this makes sense. Why are we giving up our precious Sundays to spend two hours singing stuffy old songs and listening to some guy go on about a historical figure who died 2,000 years ago? Why would we make time for people we just met? Why would we remain friends with people who add no perceived value to our lives?

More than this, why do we continue to plant new churches in a world that wants nothing to do with Jesus? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s foolish.

Folly vs. Power

The world is right. Our message is foolish, if you don’t have the ears to hear it. Further, planting churches in a world that doesn’t want them seems foolish. But in reality, it’s an opportunity to see the power of God at work. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

When planting a church, there will undoubtedly be people who want to see you fail. They will think what you are doing is foolish.

This work includes trials. When planting a church, there will undoubtedly be people who want to see you fail. Some will stand in direct opposition to the gospel. Folks will think what you are doing is foolish.

At our church here in Brooklyn, we’ve had neighbors slander us and our people, making claims that are not true, in the hopes of seeing us gone. We struggled to find a new home for our congregation because many places are fine with accepting our money, but not our message.

Additionally, we’ve tried to serve at homeless shelters and soup kitchens, only to be met with rejection when they find out what we believe. People have been willing to accept our mercy and justice, just not our reason for doing so.

Small, But Powerful

Preaching this foolish message in hard places will often mean slow growth. While church “success” is not measured in the number of people who gather on a Sunday, we do want as many as possible to hear the gospel.

In our context, we dream of seeing the gospel reign in Brooklyn as in heaven. As we approach our fifth birthday, we’re still a small church (a little less than 200 people). This can sometimes feel discouraging. And the world would want us to believe that our numbers suggest failure.

But a small church still shines gospel light. And a small, foolish-looking light has the power to pierce even the deepest darkness. God has used our foolish little church to do just that in our city. In our short life we’ve seen new believers baptized, marriages restored, the homeless clothed, the hungry fed, children given safe spaces to live, and so much more.

A small church still shines gospel light. And a small, foolish-looking light has the power to pierce even the deepest darkness.

Praise God that he uses the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).

When you are met with opposition, when it seems as though you can’t catch a fair break, don’t quit. Dig your heels into the truth, as gospel power enables you to stand firm. As you do this, you display something the world doesn’t understand.

Upside-Down Kingdom

The world longs to be in community, to be fully known and fully loved. They look at us and they see that love. They see the way we contend for one another and strive with one another, flaws and all.

In a world that preaches a gospel of “be true to yourself,” the church is full of those who die to themselves. May that be our gospel witness. May the world see us and see our love for one another, and thereby know whose we are (John 13:35).

In a world that preaches a gospel of ‘be true to yourself,’ the church is full of those who die to themselves.

The world offers us all sorts of clubs and organizations to bring people together. To find an example, you needn’t look further than any gym across the country. There, you’ll find people forming a team to compete on the basketball court.

For the duration of the game, the team is a unit, working together, striving toward one common goal. But when the pickup game ends, we go our separate ways. That little orange ball might bring people together for a short game, but it isn’t enough to sustain them through disagreements, or pain, or the suffering that life brings.

A community formed by the folly of the cross, however, is anything but temporary and conditional. The church is built on the unconditional love of God in the gospel. And that makes the community of the church, and therefore church planting, unstoppable.

No matter how much opposition we face in church planting, the message of Christ coming to save sinners cannot be silenced. Nero thought he could do it to the Roman Christians, and oppressive governments are trying it now throughout the world. But gospel seeds sown in the midst of persecution can yield abundant harvests.

The church is made up of a long, rich, beautiful history of foolish people walking in the power of God to change this world. As we plant churches, we have the privilege of extending this history until Christ returns.

Let the world call us foolish. Let them oppose our churches. We know who is King, and one day, they will too.

Read Well to Live Well

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 12:02am

Some of the most powerful words in the English language are, “Tell me a story.” Human beings are storytellers and story-listeners and, as James K. A. Smith observes, “Our hearts traffic in stories” (108). The literature of the world expresses our greatest stories, tales that transcend time and place and convey universal human experiences.

In On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books, Karen Swallow Prior—Liberty University professor and author—argues that reading these great works of literature can cultivate a desire for the good life, a life of virtue and excellence. “Reading literature, more than informing, forms us” (22). Prior shows how this virtue formation happens: “Reading well adds to our life,” she observes, “in the way a friendship adds to our life, altering us forever” (18). Prior speaks from experience—great books altered her life forever. (For more on this see her earlier work, Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me.)

In 12 chapters, Prior elegantly examines how 12 virtues are embodied in the classic works of authors like Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Cormac McCarthy, Mark Twain, Shusaku Endo, Leo Tolstoy, and Flannery O’Connor. Prior highlights the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and courage; the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love; and the heavenly virtues of chastity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.

Virtues Explored

Prior begins by grounding the cultivation of virtue in the glory of God: “Human excellence occurs only when we glorify God, which is our true purpose” (23). And because literature can embody both vice and virtue, she aims to help her readers grow in recognizing both, opposing the former and cultivating the latter.

Prior proves an insightful guide to great works of literature. I’ve included a few examples to give a sense of her lucid brevity. In her discussion on temperance and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Prior laments the “suffocating weight” of Jay Gatsby’s excess consumption, and then wisely observes, “Consumption does indeed consume us” (59).

According to Prior, diligence is the “most humble” and “perhaps even the most boring” of the virtues (178). Yet diligence is a necessary ingredient of perseverance. The steady, persistent effort of Christian on his dangerous journey to the Heavenly City embodies this virtue in John Bunyan’s Christian classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.

“Even excessive injustice cannot extinguish the light of goodness,” Prior argues in her examination of justice and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. “From such a vast and dark ocean of wrong, bright rays shine forth from small towers of fortitude, lighthouses in the dark” (80).

In her exploration of the virtue of hope in Cormac McCarthy’s dismal post-apocalyptic novel The Road, Prior remarks: “Paradoxically, the bleak world of The Road is an affirmation, even a celebration, of what is good, all the more marvelous in a world with so little good seemingly left in it” (131).

Prior doesn’t just show how these great stories embody virtue (or its lack). She also demonstrates how reading literature well provides readers with the opportunity to practice virtue through habits of mind. “Reading well is, in itself, an act of virtue, or excellence, and it is also a habit that cultivates more virtue in return” (15).

How, then, does one pursue the joyful and demanding goal of reading virtuously?

Reading Slowly and Deeply

Reading virtuously begins by reading closely, by understanding the words on the page, by “being faithful to both text and context, interpreting accurately and insightfully” (15). This habit of close reading, or deep reading, actually helps to cultivate virtue, because this kind of reading requires patience, the fuel of attentiveness; it requires prudence, a key for interpretation; and it requires temperance, a necessity in setting aside the time required to read well.

Reading well will almost certainly mean reading more slowly. Literature ought not to be gulped down like fast food but digested slowly with careful consideration. “Just as a fine meal should be savored, so, too, good books are to be luxuriated in, not rushed through” (17).

We live in an age when skim reading seems to be the new normal, and so we’re in constant danger of skimming ourselves to death.

We live in an age when skim reading seems to be the new normal, and so we’re in constant danger of skimming ourselves to death. Certainly some books ought to be skimmed. Even Francis Bacon advised, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention” (73). But if we aren’t careful, our ability to do deep reading will become a constant and losing struggle (5).

Slow reading fosters plodding, pondering, reflecting, ruminating, and lingering. In order to remain actively engaged, Prior encourages reading “with a pen, pencil, or highlighter in hand, marking in the book or taking notes on paper” (17). Aside from the highlighter option, this is sage advice.

This habit of reading literature well doesn’t develop overnight. It takes time and practice. “Just as water, over a long period of time, reshapes the land through which it runs, so too we are formed by the habit of reading good books well” (19). But the effort that goes into such a cultivation of habit, Leland Ryken notes, pales in comparison to the manifold rewards of reading these kind of stories well: “Literature helps to humanize us. It expands our range of experiences. It fosters awareness of ourselves and the world. It enlarges our compassion for people. It awakens our imaginations. It expresses our feelings and insights about God, nature, and life. It enlivens our sense of beauty” (34).

Invitation to Love Reading

On Reading Well is exquisitely written and will appeal immediately to a certain kind of reader: the kind who reads a book review about a book about the virtues embodied in reading books; the kind of reader who finds it impossible to pass by a used bookstore without slipping inside in search of a story that will stir a homesick hope within; the kind of reader who, like David Copperfield, reads “as if for life” itself (59); the kind of reader who joyfully affirms with C. S. Lewis, “My own eyes are not enough for me; I will see through those of others” (140).

But even if you’re not yet that kind of reader, Prior beckons you to become one. You won’t find a scolding tone or any long list of books you simply must read before you die. Instead, acting as the English professor we all wish we had in school, she humbly kindles a desire in you to leave her own book behind and reach for that daunting work of literature you’ve never quite finished and was never quite finished with you. I suspect this was one of Prior’s goals all along.

The 17th-century Puritan pastor Richard Baxter wrote, “It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make a man wise or good; but the well reading of a few, could he be sure to have the best. . . . Good books are a very great mercy to the world” (151). Karen Swallow Prior has written a good book about some great books that help us consider and pursue the good life. That is a great mercy indeed, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For as the apostle James writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).

Meet Jonah—the Prodigal Prophet

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 12:00am

Like most people raised in a churchgoing home, I’ve been aware of the story of Jonah since childhood. As a minister who teaches the Bible, however, I’ve gone through several stages of puzzlement and wonder at this short book. The number of themes is a challenge for the interpreter. It seems to be about so many things.

Is it about race and nationalism, since Jonah seems more concerned over his nation’s military security than over a city of spiritually lost people? Is it about God’s call to mission, since Jonah at first flees from the call and later goes but regrets it? Is it about the struggles believers have to obey and trust in God? Yes to all those—and more. A mountain of scholarship exists about the book of Jonah that reveals the richness of the story, the many layers of meaning, and the varied applicability of it to so much of human life and thought.

I discovered that “varied applicability” as I preached through the book of Jonah verse by verse three times in my ministry.

The first time was at my church in a small, blue-collar town in the South. Ten years later I preached through it to several hundred young, single professionals in Manhattan. Then, a decade later, I preached through Jonah on Sundays immediately after the 9/11 tragedy in New York City.

In each case the audience’s cultural location and personal needs were radically different, yet the text of Jonah was more than up to the task of powerfully addressing them. Many friends have told me over the years that the particular Jonah sermons they heard were life-changing.

Structure of Jonah

The narrative of Jonah seduces the reader into thinking of it as a simple fable, with the account of the great fish as the dramatic, if implausible, high point.

Careful readers, however, find it to be an ingenious and artfully crafted work of literature. Its four chapters recount two incidents. In chapters 1 and 2 Jonah is given a command from God but fails to obey it; and in chapters 3 and 4 he is given the command again and this time carries it out. The two accounts are laid out in almost completely parallel patterns.

Despite the literary sophistication of the text, many modern readers still dismiss the work because the text tells us that Jonah was saved from the storm when swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17). How you respond to this will depend on how you read the rest of the Bible. If you accept the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ, a far greater miracle, then there is nothing particularly difficult about reading Jonah literally. Certainly many people today believe all miracles are impossible, but that skepticism is just that—belief that itself can’t be proven. Not only that, but the text doesn’t show evidence of the author having made up the miracle account. A fiction writer ordinarily adds supernatural elements in order to create excitement or spectacle and to capture reader attention, but this writer doesn’t capitalize on the event at all in that way. The fish is mentioned only in two brief verses, and there are no descriptive details. It’s reported more as a simple fact of what happened. So let’s not get distracted by the fish.

The careful structure of the book reveals nuances of the author’s message. Both episodes show how Jonah, a staunch religious believer, regards and relates to people who are racially and religiously different from him. The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be “in mission” in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our own lives and hearts.

Grasping these insights can make us bridge-builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour.

Theology of Jonah

Yet to understand all of these lessons for our social relationships, we have to see that the book’s main teaching is not sociological but theological. Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God—not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is continually thrown into fury or despair. Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma, because he can’t reconcile the mercy of God with his justice.

The book’s main teaching is not sociological but theological.

How, Jonah asks, can God be merciful and forgiving to people who have done such violence and evil? How can God be both merciful and just?

That question isn’t answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matt. 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Rom. 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men.

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11–24), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25–32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners. The parable ends with a question from the father to the Pharisaical son, just as the book of Jonah ends with a question to the Pharisaical prophet. The parallel between the two stories, which Jesus himself may have had in mind, is the reason why I titled my new book, The Prodigal Prophet.


Reprinted with permission from The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy, by Timothy Keller. Published on October 3, 2018 by Viking, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Timothy Keller, 2018.

The FAQS: Christians and the Moral Threat of Sex Robots

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

What just happened?

A Canadian company has announced plans to open a robot brothel in Houston, where customers can rent a sex robot by the hour. While similar brothels are currently operating in such countries as France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Scotland, and the United Kingdom, this would be the first such operation in the United States.

Why is this an issue Christians should know about?

Throughout most of the twentieth century, the average American Christian remained largely unaware of trends in deviant sexual behaviors until they reached either mainstream acceptance or had become large-scale social maladies.

The expansion and ubiquity of technology has caused such problems to rapidly shift from niche concerns to epidemics in almost every community in America. Whereas problems such as pornography and prostitution where once on the margin, the Internet has pushed them into nearly every home.

Similarly, sex robots may seem to be a futuristic concern. But attitudes about sex robots are already becoming extremely permissive. A recent survey found that one in four men (24 percent) and one in ten women (9 percent) would consider having sex with a robot. Only about a third (32 percent) believe having sex with a robot while in a relationship should be considered cheating. And almost half of Americans (49 percent) also believe that having sex with robots will become common practice sometime within the next 50 years.

While we might wish to remain ignorant about trends such as sex robots and virtual reality-based pornography, we need to begin preparing today to respond to the challenges they will cause for our families and church congregations.

(That being said, not every Christian is able to educate themselves about sexual problems without it causing them to stumble. Although the content below is not salacious or prurient, we encourage those who struggle in this area of life to use caution in reading this article and consider whether it might be something you should personally avoid engaging with. For similar reasons, some links to the sources used in this article have been excluded.)

What is a sex robot?

Sex robots are a technologically advanced form of object commonly known as a “sex doll,” “fornicatory doll,” or gynoid. (The term gynoid is derived from they Greek prefix gyne [woman] and is the female equivalent of a male android, a humanoid robot.)

Although sex dolls have been available in the U.S. since at least the late 1960s, advances in technology have led to the creation of gynoids that can move, express emotions, and even carry on simple conversations. Artificial intelligence (AI) and advances in material sciences may soon make gynoids even more life-like and affordable, increasing both the supply and demand for gynoids.

What is the moral problem with using sex robots?

The use of gynoids as sexual objects raises a number of concerns for both Christians and nonbelievers.

The most obvious problem is that it separates sexual activity from the form in which it was intended by God—the physical “one flesh” union of a man and women within the bounds of marriage (Matthew 19:6).

The second problem is that it fosters and normalizes deviant fetishes and paraphilias, including agalmatophilia (sexual attraction to dolls and other figurative objects), somnophilia (sexually arousal to someone who is unconscious), and necrophilia (sexual attraction to corpses).

The third problem is that it reduces male empathy by teaching men to treat women (and sometimes children) as objects and blank canvases on which to enact their sexual fantasies.

The fourth problem is that, when they become part of the mainstream culture, they will erode the intimacy between married couples. According to Dr. Trudy Barber, an expert on the impact of technology on sexual intercourse, sex between couples will increasingly be saved for special occasions as robots step in to satisfy our everyday needs.

These are but a few examples of the dozens of ways this technology will further erode sexual morality.

How are sex robots connected to prostitution?

The use of sex robots is often touted as a way to reduce the demand for prostitution. But numerous studies have found that studies have found that the introduction of new technology supports and contributes to the expansion of prostitution.

“There are more women are employed by the sex industry than any other time in history,” says Kathleen Richardson, a professor of Ethics and Culture of Robots and AI at De Montfort University. “Prostitution and pornography production also rises with the growth of the internet. In 1990, 5.6 per cent of men reported paying for sex in their lifetime, by 2000, this had increased to 8.8 per cent.”

“The arguments that sex robots will provide artificial sexual substitutes and reduce the purchase of sex by buyers is not borne out by evidence,” adds Richardson.

A report by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics says that “we have found no indications that robots will end prostitution or sex trafficking in our investigation or in the surveys.”

What is more likely to occur is that as men use the robots to practice ever more deviant forms of sexual behavior, it will increase their desire to act out such perverse fantasies on human women. Because most women (and girls) will not want to be treated in such an abusive manner, it will increase demand for trafficked victims who are unable to refuse their criminal oppressors.

How are sex robots connected to pedophilia?

Some have argued that child sex robots should be used as a “treatment” for pedophilia. In 2012, a robotics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, argued that people should not only legally be permitted to have such dolls, but perhaps some should be handed prescriptions for them. In his opinion sex robots might function as an outlet for people to express their urges, redirecting dark desires toward machines and away from real children.

Another advocate, Shin Takagi, runs a Japanese company that produces life-like child sex dolls and ships, as The Atlantic notes, “anatomically-correct imitations of girls as young as five to clients around the world.” Takagi, who admits to having pedophilic desires, says, “I am helping people express their desires, legally and ethically. It’s not worth living if you have to live with repressed desire.”

But just as engagement with adult sex robots is likely to increase the demand for human prostitutes, the use of child sex robots is expected to increase abuse of children. As one paraphilia researcher says, contact with [Takagi’s] products would likely have a “reinforcing effect” on pedophilic ideation and “in many instances, cause it to be acted upon with greater urgency.”’

“Treating pedophiles with robot sex children is both a dubious and repulsive idea,” says robot ethicist Patrick Lin. “Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not.”

What policy actions be taken on this issue?

Unfortunately, as with pornography, there are few policy options available to U.S. citizens that can help curb the expansion of this threat. However, there are two ways we can make a difference.

First, at the local level, you can encourage your local city council or zoning commission to impose ordinances prohibiting sex robot brothels in your community. The Houston city council, for example, will be voting today on just such an ordinance.

Second, at the national level, you can support legislation banning child sex dolls. This past June, the U.S. House passed the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots (CREEPER) Act. The legislation prohibits the importation or transportation of any anatomically-correct doll, mannequin, or robot, with the features of, or with features that resemble those of, a minor, intended for use in sexual acts. The legislation is currently before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary. You can call your Senators to encourage them to pass this important legislation.

5 Challenges to Future Missionaries

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 12:02am

Six years ago my family crossed the ocean to plant a church in the Arab world. An Arab ruler had generously granted land for an evangelical church. While there were risks associated with the move, my wife and I reasoned that a door for the gospel had clearly opened. The risks were well worth taking in light of our knowledge of God and his global purposes through the church.

As CROSS19 approaches in January, I’m praying the Lord will use the conference to drive five fundamental convictions deep into hearts and minds.

1. Be Clear about the Gospel

Most any coach will tell you a team never gets past the fundamentals. The same is true with missions. If we begin to think there are matters more urgent than the gospel, we lose the very mission God has given us. Just as the risen Jesus instructed the imprisoned Paul to testify “to the facts about me” (Acts 23:11), our mission is to make the facts about Jesus known to the lost world.

The gospel is an announcement of public facts relevant to and authoritative for every single image-bearer. We need young men and women who will go to the mission field with gospel clarity and gospel urgency—and a commitment to proclaim the facts about Jesus to persuade others to believe.

2. Be Happily and Wholly Committed to the Local Church

The words “happily and wholly” matter. The local church is not an unnecessarily difficult obstacle to overcome in your pursuit of missions. The church is not there to simply sign the approvals you need. The local church is the God-ordained, Jesus-commissioned institution responsible for sending missionaries.

The local church is not an unnecessarily difficult obstacle to overcome in your pursuit of missions.

Even in pioneering contexts where there is no church, healthy missionaries will see their isolation from the church as an aberration, not the norm. We need missionaries who are happily and wholly tethered to the local church, who love the accountability and encouragement she gives, and who are seeking her good through careful, biblical thinking.

At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, the apostle traveled back through cities where he was persecuted to teach and appoint elders in the churches (Acts 14:24–28). The church sent him (Acts 11:30), and planting churches was his aim. Our mission strategies should prioritize the church as Paul did.

3. Be Willing to Go and Stay

We’ve all heard of one-hit wonders: they have a single hit song and are never heard from again. We desperately need young missionaries committed to going and staying for the long haul. God’s glory and eternal worth is particularly magnified in the lives of his servants who labor for years even when there are difficult trials and little obvious fruit. I’m thankful for the Adoniram Judsons, William Careys, and myriad others who continue to teach us that lasting success cannot be measured by what is immediately visible to the eye.

Lasting success cannot be measured by what is immediately visible to the eye.

The church and the world need people whose ambition is to fall like a grain of wheat into the ground and die, and so bear much fruit (John 12:24). We urgently need some who have a vision for steady faithfulness over the long haul, long after the thrill of a conference is over.

4. Be Willing to Persevere in Taking Risks

If you go, it’ll be risky. There is the initial decision and challenges to overcome in getting there and settling. There are immediate risks of what you leave behind. The missionaries I’ve learned the most from are those who don’t settle and get comfortable, but who keep taking God-glorying, faith-fueled risks for the gospel. The horizon of their lives is set on eternity, not retirement, and they keep risking their lives in light of it.

After three missionary journeys, and many conversions and churches planted, Paul could have settled down. Instead, he kept risking his life to testify to the gospel even as a prisoner of Rome (Acts 21–28). May it please the Lord to raise up missionaries whose confidence is firmly rooted in the sovereign God of Scripture—missionaries willing to take risks that make sense only if God is who says he is and can be trusted to keep his promises.

5. Be Steadfast in Prayer

If the Holy Spirit is not central to your missions strategy, you need a new strategy. Missions will always depend on steady, faithful prayer. Only heaven will reveal how many battles have been won through unseen, difficult, sacrificial prayer. The church needs young men and women willing to make that sacrifice.

If the Holy Spirit is not central to your missions strategy, you need a new strategy.

Acts is clear: The gospel wouldn’t have made it to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) apart from a rigorous commitment to prayer (Acts 1:24; 4:31–35; 6:6–7; 28:8). I pray the Lord raises up many who will keep fighting in the trenches, willing to pray down heaven until the Lamb who was slain receives the reward of his suffering.

Each new conference brings many new possibilities. As CROSS19 draws nearer, may the Lord of the harvest raise up laborers (Matt. 9:38) who love his gospel and his church, and who commit over the long haul to labor in his ways to accomplish his glorious ends.

Tim Keller on a Fishy Story

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 12:00am

Jonah is fascinating. It’s considered a prophetic book despite containing only one preaching sentence. (Out of its 48 verses, 47 are narrative.) Jonah is also the Bible’s only prophet sent to the Gentiles. Others speak about the Gentiles, but only Jonah is deployed to them.

And, of course, he gets gulped down by a fish. And lives to tell about it.

Reflecting on the book of Jonah, G. Campbell Morgan once quipped: “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.” In his newest volume, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy (Viking), Tim Keller unfolds Jonah’s classic story with characteristic insight. From beginning to end, Keller draws our attention to the great God—full of justice and mercy—who pursues prodigals and Pharisees alike.

I asked Keller—TGC vice president and former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan—about parallels in Jonah with Luke 10 and Luke 15, as well as lessons from Jonah regarding racism, evangelism and social justice, and more.

How do Jonah’s actions reflect both the younger brother and the older brother in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal sons (Luke 15)?

Many commentators have noticed this. In the first half of the book, Jonah plays the prodigal (Luke 15:11–24)—he runs away from God in disobedience to his will. Then in the second half of the book, Jonah obeys God’s command and goes to Nineveh. But when God has mercy on the wicked pagans, he acts like the elder brother (Luke 15:25–32), scolding God for being forgiving to repentant sinners. On top of this, the book of Jonah ends with a question from God to the Pharisaical prophet, just like the parable ends with a question to the Pharisaical son. And in both cases the narrative ends without us hearing the answer. They are both “cliffhangers.” I’ve read some who thought Jesus had the book of Jonah in mind when he formulated his parable. I think that’s highly speculative, but the similarity between the two accounts is why I named the book The Prodigal Prophet.

You remark that preachers and teachers tend to overlook Jonah’s interactions with the pagans (chs. 1 and 3), “except perhaps to observe that we should be willing to take the gospel to foreign lands.” What’s a key lesson we should learn from these episodes?

Jonah is called to go to people of a different race and religion and preach the will and wrath of God to them. He refuses to go; and even after he goes, he is quick to show his hostility to them. Yet first in chapter 1 and then again in chapter 3, when Jonah is brought into close contact with pagans, they in every way act more admirably than he does. This repeated theme is too prominent to ignore.

The author of the book is showing us that the “wicked pagans” can show more moral virtue than a prophet, a bearer of divine revelation, called by the living God. What are the implications of this? To start with, it’s a theme the New Testament will bring out even more clearly, namely that all of us, pagan and religious, Jew and Gentile, are sinful and lost, and we can only be saved by grace. Another implication is pretty clear—Jonah’s attitude toward the religiously and racially different is being sharply criticized.

How is Jonah the opposite of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10)?

The Good Samaritan and Jonah are both brought into contact with someone who is of a different race and religion. The Samaritan risks his life to help the man in the road. (It was brave of him to stop in such a remote place with robbers about.) On the contrary, Jonah refuses to help one set of pagans (the Ninevites) and runs away, putting another set of pagans (the sailors in the boat) in danger. Jonah had no excuse. He had the book of Genesis. He knew all humans were made by God in his image.

Calvin in his Institutes says that the beauty of God’s image should move us to help any human being, regardless of race, status, or moral desert. The image of God means we should treat other human beings as God deserves: “Each [Christian] will so consider himself . . . a debtor to his neighbors [that] he ought in exercising kindness toward them to set no other limit than the end of his resources” (Institutes 3.7.7). That is how the Samaritan responded, but not Jonah.

“Usually those who are most concerned about working for social justice do not also stand up and speak clearly about the God of the Bible’s judgment on those who do not do his will,” you observe. “On the other hand, those who publicly preach repentance most forcefully are not usually known for demanding justice for the oppressed.” How does the book of Jonah challenge this common dichotomy?

This was my conclusion after studying chapter 3 for a long time. Many preachers say that Jonah probably said more than “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” They assume he preached a message of grace as well. But the text doesn’t say that (and his temper in chapter 4 doesn’t lead us to believe he did). Also, we tend to think that the Ninevites’ repentance was a mass conversion. But there’s no mention at all of the covenant name YHWH, nor any statement that they put away their idols or got circumcised. What the text says is that they stopped doing violence to each other—they stopped exploiting, abusing, and killing each other. And if you look at the prophets’ words to Gentile nations in Isaiah, Amos, and Ezekiel, they also spoke mainly to them about their cruelty and injustice to the weak.

What happened in Nineveh, then, was what we call social reform—and God was pleased enough with it to spare the city. I conclude that Jonah preached God’s wrath, and that the response was social reform. That made me ask, Do those who I know who work in cities for social reform talk much about the wrath of God? And do those who preach the wrath of God publicly also concern themselves with social justice? I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions, but in my experience these things aren’t kept together.

When it comes to evangelism and doing justice, you reject two common ways to conceive of the relationship: “two wings of an airplane” and “means to an end.” Can you flesh this out?

I spend more time on this in Generous Justice. But in this volume on Jonah, in passing, I point out two common views of the relationship of evangelism to doing justice and compassion. The one is the claim that evangelism and justice are “two wings on an airplane.” The problem with this analogy is that (a) it separates the two, instead of recognizing how integral they are to each other in real-time ministry, and (b) it fails to recognize the difference between the church and individual Christians. While the church is to disciple believers to be salt and light—to be involved in doing justice and often in political processes—the church itself should major in the ministry of Word and Sacrament, in producing new Christians and forming them for ministry in the world. I’ve seen many churches who thought the local church elders could not only shepherd the congregation, but also oversee affordable housing projects and so on. That’s neither theologically or practically right.

The single most loving thing we can do for anyone is to help them know Christ forever.

On the other hand, the “means to an end” view is that we only help the poor and work for justice as a way to get people to believe the gospel and get converted. Now indeed, good deeds can lead people to glorify God, as Matthew 5:16 and 1 Peter 2:12 indicate. But we should do good deeds to people simply because we love them. We should evangelize people because the single most loving thing we can do for anyone is to help them know Christ forever. But we should give “a cup of cold water” for exactly the same reason. We do it to love them, whether they believe as we do or not. To give aid merely in order to get conversions—and only as long as we think they may convert—is manipulation, not love.

What are some warning signs that a healthy patriotism is morphing into idolatrous nationalism? Where do we see this dynamic in the life of Jonah?

C. S. Lewis has a great passage in The Four Loves, where he argues that love of country can become idolatrous and thus a vehicle for exploitation and evil. He was writing in the aftermath of World War II, when it was even clearer than today that patriotism can become demonic. Two signs indicate this might be happening in one’s life.

One sign is when your race becomes more fundamental to your identity than your faith in God. Jonah knew that if Nineveh repented and received mercy, it might be bad for his nation. So he put his national interests ahead of the Ninevites’ need to hear God’s truth. That is to make your love for and service to your race and nation more important than your love for and service to God. Lewis adds a second sign. He says when you start to whitewash your nation’s history, when you won’t admit the bad things your nation has done, then you are in danger of beginning to feel so superior to other peoples that you can justify cruelty.

Was Jonah a racist? How would you respond to someone who says, “Jonah’s superiority complex was theological, not ethnic, in nature. Unique covenantal and salvation-historical factors were at play in ancient Israel that do not translate to American racial tensions today.”

Certainly we shouldn’t read modern racial tensions right back onto Jonah. I’m not sure we can say that Jonah looked at the Assyrians exactly the way certain white Americans look at black Americans. But to say that Jonah only felt superior theologically—that reading isn’t sufficient. It doesn’t account, first of all, for Jonah’s refusing a direct order to tell the Ninevites about their sins. If he only felt “theologically superior” to the Assyrians, why not jump at the chance to tell them how wrong they were?

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Ezekiel were all given oracles denouncing pagan nations. None of them refused to deliver them, even though they certainly knew they were theologically superior to the nations. Second, this objection doesn’t account for why the author of the book repeatedly gives a highly sympathetic depiction of the pagans in ways that make Jonah look bad. It’s a strong indication that Jonah’s attitude toward the Gentiles is wrong. John Calvin, no modern liberal, says Jonah’s sin was that he was “very inhuman” in his attitude toward Nineveh. He refused to treat them as human beings in the image of God, and therefore of equal worth with him and his people. I think Calvin is right.

What is “the sign of Jonah” Jesus talks about (Matt. 12:38–42)? In what ways is Jesus the true and better Jonah?

In Matthew 12, Jesus is being asked for a miraculous sign to prove he is who he says he is. The skeptics want more spectacular magic tricks, as it were, so they can be convinced that he’s an authoritative teacher and sage. But Jesus isn’t one more teacher, come to tell you how to save yourself and find God. Rather, he is God himself, come to save and find you. Jesus isn’t another teacher; he’s a Savior.

Jesus isn’t one more teacher, come to tell you how to save yourself and find God. Rather, he is God himself, come to save and find you.

So the miraculous sign of Jonah isn’t so much a display of power as an astonishing display of weakness. Jesus laid aside his divine glory and prerogatives and humbled himself even to the point of death on the cross. Just as Jonah was cast into the water to save the sailors from the wrath of God, so Jesus would be cast into death to bear all the punishment our sins deserve—to save us. And just as Jonah came “back from the dead,” so Jesus was raised for our justification. That’s the sign of Jonah.

With Great Power Comes Great . . . Temptation

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 12:04am

With great power comes great responsibility. But along with that responsibility come temptations—temptations to avoid admitting your mistakes, to use others for your own ends, or to operate out of a sense of entitlement. TGC Council members Russell Moore and Vermon Pierre and TGC editor Sam Allberry sat down to talk about how to be alert to the temptations that come with power.

Allberry points out that it’s a red flag when someone in ministry starts thinking, The ministry exists for me rather than, I exist to serve others. Pierre concurs; it’s vital to remember that “the power that we get is meant to be used in service of others.” Moore recommends maintaining an eternal perspective rather than a short-sighted, self-protective attitude toward ministry. All three recommend taking steps to guard against temptation, such as regularly confessing sin and maintaining friendships with other believers who can hold you accountable.

You can watch a video of the discussion or listen here.


When You Leave the Church You Planted

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 12:03am

Boston has been called a graveyard for church plants.

I don’t know who coined the sentiment (neither do I necessarily buy it), but I can affirm that planting a church in Boston is incredibly hard. And this was all I could think of the day I prepared to announce to our church plant that my family would be leaving after five years together.

We’d accepted an offer to join the leadership team of a church in Memphis, which we were excited about. But that didn’t negate the pain of leaving.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and studying what it means to plant a church. but I had no idea what to expect or how to process the reality of leaving the church I helped plant. Here are six things I learned throughout the process.

1. Mourn

Though this was the first thing I needed to do, I resisted. I didn’t want to face the sadness. But grieving the loss of a good thing is a good thing.

To mourn leaving our church plant meant making space to reflect on our church-planting dreams—the ones we achieved as well as those we didn’t.

Mourning, for me, meant taking stock of all the sacred moments of pastoral ministry: the joys of following Jesus with our church family, the answered prayers, the evidences of God’s grace in establishing a new church in an unchurched city, the shared meals, even the pain and tears.

To mourn leaving our church plant meant making space to reflect on our church planting dreams; the ones we achieved as well as those we didn’t.

I needed to look back at God’s track record of faithfulness and say, with a mix of sadness and joy: This run is finished, and I am grateful to God that he established the work of our hands.

2. Give Others Space to Mourn

Part of leaving includes giving others the space to mourn. While everyone was sad to hear of our transition, some felt it more than others did. No church-planting book gave me insight on what to do when someone locked themselves in our bathroom crying during community group once they’d heard we were leaving.

The beauty of church planting is that our lives are intertwined with our people, which means when it’s time for leaders to leave, we experience the peculiar pain of lives going in different directions. And that is painful for those who’ve trusted us to lead and shepherd them.

No church-planting book gave me insight on what to do when someone locked themselves in our bathroom crying during community group once they’d heard we were leaving.

Don’t take it personally when people are sad, angry, or hurt; rather, give them grace and space to mourn. You’ve likely had a greater effect on their lives than you know, and such reactions are in part evidence that God has truly built a gospel family through your work. (A friend had to remind me how hurt I would be if no cared that we were leaving.) 

3. Say Thank You

For one small moment in my life, I felt like the apostle Paul, thanking the countless people who served, prayed, supported, discipled, and helped plant our church with us.

There people believed in God’s work among us when our church was eight people in a living room, begging Jesus to do something in our neighborhood. These people are church-planting heroes.

It takes a village to plant a church, so leaving means thanking that village. Our departure was a prime time to make sure, once again, that each person in our church—and our external supporters—knew what they meant to us and the eternal effect they’ve had on our city.

4. Celebrate

This might seem strange, but our departure was yet another opportunity to pause and celebrate God’s power to bear life-changing fruit through church plants that declare and display Christ.

No matter the size or scope of your ministry, there is much to celebrate. Ask for stories, big and small. Comb back through your journals for records of answered prayer. Recount the highs and lows with your church and your family. Remember God’s faithfulness and celebrate with others.

Every church plant that has been built on the gospel of Jesus has been an outpost of the kingdom in its neighborhood—and that is cause for communal celebration and praise.

Every church-planting pastor who has labored for the sake of the gospel in his neighborhood has his own story of God’s faithfulness. Remember yours and celebrate it.

5. Believe

When you leave the church you planted, you need to believe and cling to the gospel you’ve been preaching. If you’re like me, transitions are a peculiar time of excitement and fear, confidence and insecurity, and every other emotion in between.

Expect regret to rear its ugly head. Expect your “blooper reel” of leadership mistakes and humiliating moments to get a lot of mental airtime. Reflecting on these things may enable future growth, but you may also be tempted to justify or condemn yourself.

Whether you leave your church plant with feelings of accomplishment, failure, or a mix of both, Christ is your identity and righteousness.

Remember that the quality, effect, and legacy of our church-planting efforts do not define or justify us. Whether you leave your church plant with feelings of accomplishment, failure, or a mix of both, Christ is your identity and righteousness. And you can trust that your church remains in good hands (John 10:27–30).

6. Pray

Finally, leaving the church you planted also means continuing your best labor for your church plant: prayer. With new understanding and deeper affection, those of us who leave our church plants can pray Paul’s words in Philippians 1:3-11 for the congregations among whom we serve and to whom we say our gospel goodbyes:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

What Is ‘Smallfoot’ Saying About Faith and Science?

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

Smallfoot is an entertaining and fun animated musical. A story about a community of Himalayan Yetis whose world is rocked when they encounter a mythical “smallfoot” (human), the film is full of the sort of goofy, Looney Tunes-esque physical humor that kids love, as well as clever jokes and Important Themes that keep parents engaged. But like many ostensibly “safe” kids movie today, Smallfoot contains subtle (and not so subtle) messages that discerning Christian families should sift through together.

Frozen, for example, is a classic case of a popular kids movie whose signature anthem (“Let it Go!”) perpetuates anti-authority, expressive individualism (“No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!”). Such messages are so familiar in children’s entertainment, and pop culture generally, that we hardly recognize them as problematic. Smallfoot is not Frozen, and it has different values and ideas—about faith, science, authority, and power (among others)—but the dynamic is similar. It’s a family film whose endearing qualities might mask some of its troubling ideas. 

Tearing Down ‘Old Ideas’

Smallfoot doesn’t hide the fact that religion is on its mind. The film follows a community of yetis/bigfoots who live in a blissfully insular mountain community above the clouds. They live according a community rule written on stones, kept and interpreted by their spiritual leader, the Stonekeeper (voiced by Common), who literally wears the law/stones in a papal-type vestment. The yetis don’t question the authority or logic of the stones. When someone does ask a question, the Stonekeeper (who feels like a mix of Moses and the pope) repeats the community’s mantra to just “push the questions down.” Don’t question. Just believe. The only thing more dangerous than fear, according to the Stonekeeper, is curiosity.

One of the stones insists there is no such thing as “smallfoot.” So when a young yeti named Migo (Channing Tatum) stumbles on a smallfoot/human—a hilarious TV personality named Percy (James Corden)—and shows him to his fellow yetis, the community is thrown into chaos. The Stonekeeper’s authority and his whole system are undermined.

“If one stone is wrong, then others could be as well,” one yeti says, voicing an argument that is suspiciously similar to liberal claims that any seeming inconsistency or scientifically implausible thing in the Bible means the whole thing is up for grabs.

‘If one stone is wrong, then others could be as well,’ says one yeti, voicing an argument that is suspiciously similar to liberal claims that any seeming inconsistency or scientifically implausible thing in the Bible means the whole thing is up for grabs.

And so the film sets up its prevailing conflict: between faith (driven by fear) and science (driven by curiosity and commitment to truth). The heroes of Smallfoot are the young yetis who dare to question everything. Migo is allied with the Stonekeeper’s daughter Meechee (Zendaya), who leads an underground group called the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society. This empiricist group aims to prove the truth of smallfoot’s existence even if it means the stones are proven to be outmoded myths.

“It’s not just about tearing down old ideas,” one member of the group declares. “It’s about finding new ones.”

Simplistic Binary

Don’t be afraid of truth and new ideas, the film tells its young viewers, even if those new ideas require moving past the old ones. “Don’t leave any stone unturned,” Zendaya sings. “Be the seeker of the truth.” Of course there is merit to this message, especially in our increasingly post-truth age. Curiosity, questioning, and seeking after the truth are good things, and sometimes they do lead us to re-evaluate what we previously believed.

Smallfoot joins films like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (among many others) in showing how seeking truth can be disruptive and dangerous, but ultimately freeing. These films also show how safe, utopian communities, insulated from the dangers outside (whether in different people or different ideas), never work if they are sustained by deception and fear-based control.

It’s true—and instructive to Christian communities—that isolationist, insular approaches to self-preservation often backfire. When a yeti is told by his elders from a young age that smallfoots don’t exist, but then he actually meets and befriends a smallfoot, we can understand why he would never trust the authority of his elders again. The same dynamic is at play for some ex-evangelicals today who grew up in sheltered communities. When they experience “new ideas” that contradict what they were told in their youth (maybe they become close friends with a gay person, or find that the theory of evolution seems reasonable), it’s easy to see why they might be tempted to throw out the “old ideas” of their childhood faith. This is why the Stonekeeper’s anti-intellectual, black-and-white approach (suppress all questioning and just believe the stones!) is such a bad and vulnerable expression of faith, and one the film is right to critique.

It’s true—and instructive to Christian communities—that isolationist, insular approaches to self-preservation often backfire.

But the film’s stereotyping of religion, as basically a man-made sham, is problematic. And its simplistic binary between faith and science dangerously obscures the more nuanced reality.

Most Christian communities I know—the healthiest ones, at least—don’t wield Scripture in the weaponized, fear-based way the Stonekeeper wields his stones in Smallfoot. Most of them actually encourage education, science, the pursuit of knowledge, and don’t see any as a threat to faith. Many Christians are as devoted to the “old ideas” of the Bible, classical literature, and philosophy as they are committed to weighing the merits of “new ideas” in science and contemporary thought, and they see the relationship between the two in terms of mutual enhancement rather than irreconcilable conflict.

Many conservative, Bible-believing, devout Christians see knowledge and science in terms of awe, wonder, and worship. But Smallfoot sees these things mostly in terms of power.

Is Knowledge Just About Power?

Questions lead to knowledge,” a member of the SES says in Smallfoot. “And knowledge is power!”

Indeed, the prevailing dynamics of this film—its understanding of faith, science, facts, deception—are all about power.

In the film, faith (the Stonekeeper and his sacred stones) is just Gramscian hegemony: powerful men using lies and arbitrary rituals to maintain the status quo. In the song “Let It Lie,” Stonekeeper (Common) raps about “good lies to protect our world,” telling Migo that his pursuit of truth is naive: “Do you wanna prevent our own annihilation? / Then our only goal should be to control the flow of information.”

This sort of faith is about fear and control, suppressing knowledge in order to preserve power. And thus the flipside is also about power. Knowledge, curiosity, facts, discovery—these are framed in the film as tools of empowerment. Taking down the man. Breaking free from systems of control. Putting power in new hands. Getting woke.

“You already woke the village, son,” Migo’s dad (Danny DeVito) tells him when the dominos of authority start to fall. “Now make sure they stay awake.”

The film’s obsession with power is certainly of a piece with the 2018 zeitgeist, where gender, race, politics, class, even the NFL, are partisan, bitter battlefields over power. To our shame, many evangelicals have indeed become more known for our desperate grip on power than our Christ-like, gospel-shaped lives. And grievously, science, knowledge, and “facts” have also become pawns in the great power battles of our time.

Smallfoot mirrors this dysfunctional world and sadly encourages the next generation to follow suit. It shrinks knowledge into a power play wherein we get woke and the old order gets gets exposed.

Smallfoot shrinks knowledge into a power play wherein we get woke and the old order gets gets exposed.

Yes, there is freedom in truth, but it should be a constructive freedom—a humble freedom that leads us to worship God, not to gloat in our own enlightenment. When Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), he was talking about the truth of himself. Knowing him. The Proverbs are clear that knowledge and wisdom begin with our devotion to God. Truth is freeing when we find it in relationship with God, not in opposition to him.

Kids need to know that the self-oriented freedom of knowledge in Smallfoot is reductive. Knowledge as merely self-empowerment—just like Elsa’s “no rules for me!” empowerment in Frozen—is actually constricting. A more expansive, truly freeing knowledge is that which humbles us, reminds us of our limitations, and points us to the God who holds together the whole of truth in a world we only know in part.

Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 12:00am

My children recently became excited about limes when they learned they could sell limeade and make their riches. One day at my mother-in-law’s house, they found a large tray full of them. Large, richly green, beautiful limes—which they immediately started plundering. Jackpot.

Except they were plastic. A bowl full of limes holding out the promise of gallons of limeade, only decorative.

Many things can masquerade as the real thing but fail upon closer inspection. Jesus deals with this mismatch in a shocking episode in the Gospels: the cursing of the fig tree (Matt. 21:18–22; Mark 11:12–14, 20–25). In this inverted miracle we see precisely the stakes not only of failing to produce fruit, but of giving a fruitful impression and failing to back it up

Examining the Episode

Jesus enters Jerusalem amid exultation from the masses gathered for Passover. In the morning, as he travels from Bethany, he spots a fig tree “in leaf.” At this point in late spring, most fig trees haven’t developed mature fruit (Mark 11:13). But this particular tree draws Jesus’s attention because it already has a full covering of leaves. It’s an early bloomer. Its foliage signals that it should have early figs.

With that expectation, Jesus inspects the tree. He is immediately disappointed. All leaves, no fruit. All expectation, no satisfaction.

In a shocking turn, Jesus curses the tree and makes it wither from the roots, never to yield fruit again. We are taken aback; this seems stunningly out of character for Jesus, the child-welcomer, compassionate healer, and storm-calmer.

What should we learn from this peculiar scene?

On the surface, it’s an object lesson on the power of faithful prayer (Matt. 21:20–22). But more is going on behind the scenes. The fig tree cursing, an enacted parable of sorts, is also a sober warning for us today—in at least two ways.

1. Fruitlessness leads to judgment.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel is described as God’s vineyard, tree, or planting (Judges 9:8–15; Isa. 3:14; 5:1–7; Jer. 12:10; Ezek. 17:2–10; 19:10–14). As any agrarian Israelite knew, the firstfruits of the harvest belong to God (Ex. 23:19; Neh. 10:35–37), which helps conceptualize their relationship to God: as his own special planting, they must yield spiritual fruit as his covenant people (Ps. 1:3; Jer. 17:8–10). Israel’s fruitfulness (literal or otherwise) is not the basis of their relationship with God, for it is God who gives fruitfulness (Deut. 7:13; 28:4). A lack of fruitfulness is a sign of God’s curse for their rebellion (Deut. 11:17).

This foundational metaphor for Israel’s spiritual health vividly blooms in the prophetic era. The time had come for God’s people to yield fruit that would bless the world (Isa. 27:6). Several times the prophets describe God as inspecting Israel for “early figs,” as a sign of spiritual fruitfulness (Mic. 7:1; Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10–17)—but he finds “no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” So in two exiles (Assyrian and Babylonian), God pours out the curse of barrenness (Hos. 9:16), and Israel becomes a rotten fig (Jer. 29:17).

But all is not lost. God promises to one day replant Israel and produce healthy figs from her again (Joel 2:22; Amos 9:14; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 8:12; Ezek. 36:8).

With this web of background images, light bulbs would’ve immediately gone on in the minds of Jesus’s disciples as he re-enacted Israel’s history by cursing the fig tree.

Light bulbs would’ve immediately gone on in the minds of Jesus’s disciples as he reenacted Israel’s history by cursing the fig tree.

The fruitless fig tree draws us back to prior points in Jesus’s ministry, when God’s people were called to produce spiritual fruit (Matt. 3:8–10; 7:16–20; 13:8; Luke 3:7–9). Jesus has pursued the children of God with compassionate seriousness (Luke 13:34). And the Jewish crowds—gathering to celebrate God’s past act of redemption (Passover/exodus)—have just hailed Jesus as “king” while he leads a new exodus on a meaning-laden donkey (Zech. 9:9).

The eschatological restoration has arrived. Everything is lining up. Israel’s fruit will now be harvested; blessing will now pour forth. While the rest of the nations—the other fig trees—are not yet in season, this one tree is “in leaf.” And both Matthew and Mark, by “sandwiching” the fig tree episode, focus the lens on where it will all transpire: Jerusalem.

  • Matthew: Jerusalem → Fig tree → Jerusalem
  • Mark: Fig tree → Jerusalem → Fig tree

Except there’s no fruit. The fig tree, once again, has failed. The Passover celebration, the tumult, the crowds, the singing—it’s all a show. Jesus enters God’s house of prayer and finds it a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Lots of action, lots of bustle, but no righteousness. Leaves, but no fruit.

So upon inspecting the fruitless tree, Jesus pours out divine judgment via two sign-acts: the future-pointing act of cursing the temple, and the enacted metaphor of cursing the tree.

2. Think about your own figs.

But all is not lost. When the disciples ask Jesus to explain what just transpired, he pivots and talks about prayer. Why? Though they do not yet fully understand, they will be the new caretakers of God’s people (Matt. 21:33–45). They will be instruments by which Israel is transformed—when the Jewish nucleus of Christ-followers extends branches worldwide and brings forth fruit from all nations (beginning in Acts). And, as Jesus teaches here, they will do this by the power of faithful prayer.

Thus the fig tree cursing is not just about historical Israel. It’s about us. It’s about all the people of God throughout time.

The fig tree cursing is not just about historical Israel. It’s about us.

The Old Testament expectation that God’s covenant people bear fruit did not wither on that road between Bethany and Jerusalem when that poor fig tree met its expeditious fate. In fact, the mandate that God’s people bear spiritual fruit has actually intensified in the new era, not weakened (John 4:36; 15:2–16; Rom. 1:13; 6:21; Gal. 5:22; Phil. 1:11; 4:17; Heb. 12:11; Jas. 3:17). Not to earn God’s gardening affection—but to yield that which he has (re)made us to do.

Soberingly, this passage does not just remind us that a Christian by definition must produce spiritual fruit (even if only small early figs). It’s also about the threat of and temptation toward false pretenses of fruit.

The fig tree, like the bustling temple courts during Passover, was putting on a good show. And that made it all the worse. It’s one thing to lack fruit out of season. It’s another thing to lack it while pretending you have it.

So let us be warned.

Our personal lives can look like “in leaf.” Our leaves may look like those of a supermom, a winner, a perfect family, an A-team Christian with an overstuffed schedule of ministry activities. But the root may be withered. There may be no fruit of holiness and no intimacy with God. What’s worse—our leaves may even fool us.

And our churches can do the same. A church’s leaves may look impressive: booming attendance, capital campaigns, clever pastors, impressive music. But what will the Lord find upon close inspection? Will he find only leaves? Or will he find figs, too?

Ministry Is Best Learned in the Trenches

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 9:41am

In this new video, Jeff Robinson—a senior editor for TGC and pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Louisville, Kentucky—discusses the necessity of learning on the job in training for ministry.

Many hopeful men emerge from seminary eager to dive headfirst into ministry. Confident that seminary equipped them with the tools they need for the journey ahead, they find themselves discouraged when the realities of their first call don’t line up with what they came to expect from assigned readings and classroom discussions.

This book, with contributions from 15 veteran pastors, including Daniel L. Akin, Juan Sanchez, Phil A. Newton, and Scott Sauls, offers real-world advice about the joys and challenges of the first five years of pastoral ministry—bridging the gap between seminary training and life in a local church.

Armed with wisdom from those who have gone before them, young pastors will find encouragement to stand firm in the thick of the realities and rigors of pastoral ministry.

Order today!

20 Quotes from Glen Scrivener on the Whole Bible Story

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:04am

The following quotes caught my attention as I read Glen Scrivener’s outstanding new book, Long Story Short: The Bible in 12 Phrases (Christian Focus, 2018). Don’t miss this one.

The Bible tells us that we’re not a mistake or even just a pleasant surprise. We are wanted. We are the planned offspring of the God of love and he longs to share his life with us. (26)

If Adam was head over creation, Eve was the crown. (32)

The next time you say something deceitful, hurtful or proud, you cannot say “I don’t know what came over me.” Nothing came over you. Such sins come out of you. They come from a wellspring that is very dark, very deep and very old. You know it. We all feel it. Adam explains it. (32)

The hope is held out [in Genesis] that one day the Son would be a second Adam, born to answer the first. . . . And this second Adam would give us a second family to belong to—God’s. (39)

God’s first promise was for the man of heaven to descend and save us. Humanity’s plan is to ascend to heaven and “make a name for ourselves.” (44)

This is what we see in the burning bush: not a flame-proof tree but a flame-bound God—one who joins us in the furnace. What arrests Moses’s attention is not a heavenly spectacle but unfathomable love. He’s not the God that we expected. But he’s exactly the God we need. (60)

Nothing shows up my badness like a concerted effort at goodness. (71)

This is serious. We were created to share in the family life of God! Yet none of us live the life of God’s child. This means we don’t belong in the one household we were made for. It’s not so much that my law-breaking doesn’t belong to the life of God. I don’t belong. It’s not simply about broken rules, it’s about our broken humanity. The law shows up my disordered and dark heart. It reveals that I have no right to belong to God’s family. (72)

Just as the “Thou shalts” described the life of God’s Son, so the tabernacle described the death of God’s Son. And just as the commandments show us our sin, so the sacrifices show us our salvation. (79)

This is why the Bible’s teaching about the scapegoat is the reverse of our modern notions of scapegoating. When the Lord takes on the role of Scapegoat it’s not the oppression of the weak. It’s the willing sacrifice of the strong. (81)

As the Israelites came through the Red Sea, delivered from their slave-masters once and for all, they did not instantly enter the “good and spacious land.” In fact they walked out of slavery and into a desert. Here is the way to God’s promised future: God’s people are not teleported into ease and comfort; they are led through trial and testing. In fact the great majority of the books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—are set in the desert. (86)

Today, if a dictator is found to be killing off innocent members of his own country, the international community may give him four days, four weeks or even four months to stop. The Lord gave the Canaanites four centuries to repent of their evil—considerably longer than any other ‘just war’ ever launched. When God’s 400 years of patience run out he judges that culture through Israel. It’s nothing to do with nationality and everything to do with sin (Israel is judged similarly when it falls into the same evils). (90)

Everything about the Old Testament points beyond itself . . . to a future fulfillment:

Christ is the true fulfillment of the law—the Son of God who perfectly lives the Good Life.

Christ is the true tabernacle—the meeting place of God and man.

Christ is the true sacrifice—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Christ is the true priest—the Go-Between who carries us to God.

Christ is the true Joshua—bringing us into God’s promised rest.

Christ is the true king—the righteous Ruler who fights for our freedom.

And Christ is the true land—the dwelling place of God who invites us home. (122)

What we see in Jesus is what we get with God. (130)

Jesus’s cross and resurrection fulfills everything the Bible proclaims. There Jesus showed himself to be:

The true Offspring (or “Seed”), going down into the ground and springing up to new life.

The true Isaac, the beloved Son offered on the mountain but received back alive.

The true burning bush, the great I AM who enters our furnace to secure our redemption.

The true Passover Lamb, slain in our place to deliver us from judgment.

The true Joshua, fighting through the wilderness of death to bring us to his promised hope.

The true David, taking on our Enemy and gaining the victory.

The true Israel, cursed and alienated then raised to a glorious homecoming. (136)

The piling on of grace upon grace is incredible. God had given us his Son. We killed him. In response God says, “I want to forgive you and offer another ‘family member,’ so to speak.” It was a case of: You’ve killed my Son; here have my Spirit! It would be like a Judge telling a condemned criminal that not only was he forgiven for killing his boy, the murderer could have his daughter’s hand in marriage too. Astonishing! (142)

Paul’s labors were aimed, almost exclusively, at establishing churches and his writings were intended, almost exclusively, to encourage churches. . . . Solo-Christianity cannot exist. A member of Christ needs to be a member of the church. (148)

Of all the world’s religious texts, the Bible is the only one that offers hope for these bodies and this world. Other religions may speak of an otherworldly paradise, but they don’t speak of the renewal of this creation. Only the Bible speaks of such an earthed and earthy future. And no wonder. Only the Bible speaks of the world loved into existence. Therefore it’s no surprise that the story which begins with family love, ends in feasting joy. (154)

Many people today fear “fire and brimstone” preaching. It seems that fewer people fear the ‘fire and brimstone’ itself. (158)

Previously in the “20 Quotes” series:

The Old Testament Is Speaking. Listen.

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:03am

One of the greatest evangelical Old Testament scholars of the last century died in 2016. J. Alec Motyer was an Irish theologian, perhaps best known for his magisterial commentary The Prophecy of Isaiah (1993) and for editing The Bible Speaks Today commentary series. Though a world-renowned scholar, Motyer committed his life to teaching ordinary Christians to understand and love the Old Testament.

And we certainly need his help. With the exception of a select number of psalms, a few passages in Isaiah, and a general outline of famous hero stories, our grasp of the Old Testament can be quite weak. Some have even said recently that the Old Testament is dying in certain churches. Why is this so?

According to Motyer, we’ve lost the “voice” of the Old Testament. Knowing that most Christians find it more than a little daunting, Motyer’s newest book (published posthumously) distills the Old Testament’s message into several themes—history, religion, worship, prophecy, wisdom, and theology (the revelation of God). These six themes make up 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today, originally published as A Scenic Route through the Old Testament (1994).

The Old Testament Speaks

Each chapter is an overview of a particular “voice” of the Old Testament (The Voice of History, The Voice of Religion, and so on). Each is also accompanied by one week of Bible readings with brief notes, along with the original daily readings and notes from the first edition in an appendix. Thus readers get an introductory chapter on a core theme in the Old Testament, accompanied by five weeks of daily Bible readings and expositional notes. This structure is particularly useful for daily devotions.

The Voice of History is an overview of the narrative of the Old Testament with special attention to how God’s mighty acts and moral character ultimately makes the historical record reliable. The Voice of Religion focuses on the themes of presence and sacrifice, while the Voice of Worship emphasizes what it was like to be a believer in old-covenant times. The Voice of Prophecy is about the great foundational truths the prophets inherited and applied, and their forward-looking message. The Voice of Wisdom is “a tract for our times,” with observations of daily life that show Christians how to apply God’s wisdom in the world (112). Finally, the Voice of God is about God’s character—his holiness, justice, mercy, and love—which is a summation of the meaning of the divine name.

Surprise and delight awaits us when we take up the Old Testament and listen to God speak.

Although I enjoy reading overviews of the core message of the Old Testament, the real value of Motyer’s book is his expositional comments on the daily readings. This is where the “voice” of the Old Testament really shines. In addition, Motyer often uses beautiful and sometimes humorous word pictures and illustrations in these comments—anything from comparing the Psalms to English and Australian postage stamps (56) to associating the pleasure of reading the Bible with modern advertisements of Bisto gravy (11). Here’s one from the final chapter on the Voice of God:

Instead of Columbus “discovering America,” suppose the American Indians had journeyed east to tell us about themselves and about the marvelous land to the west where they lived. The Old Testament is like that: it is not the account of human voyage of discovery, searching for God, but of God coming to tell us about himself. (121)

This quote and many others like it are just one of the reasons why I recommend 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. There are certain books I’ve read begrudgingly, thinking it might be a waste of time, only to be so edified I come away humbled and feeling a little ashamed. I admit that I approached this book with that attitude. But I’ve come away from reading it with a newfound appreciation for Motyer (a formidable Old Testament scholar), as well as a good book to recommend to other Christians.

Knowing God

Motyer writes, “the men and women of the Old Testament often put us to shame by the reality, the personal quality, the joy, the exuberance, and the knowledge of God that are so clear in their worship and song” (55). I think this is a good description of Motyer, too, who shares a contagious desire to know and understand the God of the Old Testament. Surprise and delight awaits us when we take up the Old Testament and listen to God speak.

The pages of the Old Testament were never intended to be left untouched like dust on an old barn floor. The Old Testament was meant to ransacked.

After all, a failure to understand the significance of the Old Testament is first and foremost a failure to understand God. As J. I. Packer wrote a quarter-century ago, we believers are often content to know about God without knowing God. And knowing the God of the Bible means grasping his full counsel in the Old and New Testaments, not being satisfied with bits and pieces or general outlines.

We believers need a relationship with the Old Testament. We need to slay our tendency to read only the stories and psalms that are most familiar to us. We need to dwell in the Old Testament for an extended time, struggling to understand each book. We need to wrestle with God’s message like Jacob wrestled God, even if it means we come away with a limp. The pages of the Old Testament were never intended to be left untouched like dust on an old barn floor. The Old Testament was meant to ransacked. There are hidden treasures, after all (Prov. 2:4), and only by ransacking the Bible for all its worth does one understand the fear of the Lord, and “find the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:5).

Does the Bible Teach an Age of Accountability?

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:02am

Throughout history Christians have wrestled with the question of whether Scripture teaches an age of accountability for salvation.

Some theological traditions argue for a specific age of accountability for infants and children, while others do not. Those who do assert a child isn’t responsible for the transmission of Adam’s sin to the human race until they reach a certain age.

Most Christian traditions teach that children enter the world fallen due to Adam’s sin, but some argue children are not guilty before God until they knowingly disobey God’s commands. If the child dies before reaching that age, he or she receives salvation based on Christ’s finished work. Once the child knowingly sins, however, they become accountable for their actions and have reached the age of accountability. At that point, salvation comes through conscious, active repentance and faith in Christ.

A related question is the status of those who are unable to respond due to the loss of various mental capabilities by no fault of their own.

How ought we to think about these questions?

Five Biblical Truths

As with any theological question, we must turn to God’s Word for answers. Although Scripture is not exhaustive in answering every question we may ask, it is true and sufficient revelation (Ps. 19:7–14; 2 Tim. 3:15–17). Since no passage explicitly teaches an age of accountability, my reflections on this issue draw from a number of biblical truths.

Here are five points to consider.

1. Scripture teaches twin truths, related to our sin and responsibility before God, that we must hold in tension.

As our covenant head, Adam represented the entire human race and in his disobedience brought sin into the world (Rom. 5:12–21). As a result of Adam’s sin, all humanity is guilty and corrupted, which leads to both spiritual and physical death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1–3).

Although in Adam we stand under God’s judgment, we are also individually responsible for our sin (2 Cor. 5:10). On the final day, no person will be able to say they were unjustly condemned or will be able to blame Adam for their guilt. All humans are under God’s righteous judgment due to Adam’s sin and ours. The difficulty arises in applying the latter truth to infants or those who have limited capabilities due to living in a fallen world.

2. God rightly demands obedience and devotion from each of his image-bearers, but those with more revelation are more accountable.

Sin is a failure to meet God’s absolute demand, and we knowingly disobey. Yet Scripture speaks of a greater accountability for those who know more of God’s revealed will (Matt. 11:20–24; Rom. 2:17–25). All people have the knowledge of God in creation and conscience—and this is enough to condemn us (Rom. 1:18–32). But those who have greater knowledge through God’s special revelation are even more culpable.

3. Christ alone accomplishes our salvation and acts as our Redeemer.

By obeying God’s law for us as our new covenant head and paying for our sin as our substitute, Jesus secures our redemption. By grace through faith in Christ alone, we are justified before God. Apart from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, there is no salvation.

This is true of Old Testament saints as well as new. By grace through faith, old covenant saints believed God’s promises that pointed forward to Christ (Gen. 15:6; Gal. 3:16). Thus Jesus Christ is the ground of salvation for all of God’s elect, and in normal circumstances we receive the benefits of Christ’s work by grace through faith in him. As applied to infants or those without full mental capabilities, if there is salvation for them, it’s never apart from Christ alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). The question hinges on the issue of conscious faith.

4. Under normal circumstances, we only benefit from Christ’s work by repenting of our sins and trusting in him.

So what about these exceptional cases, such as infants or others who lack the capacity to believe? Scripture doesn’t explicitly address the issue; it only offers hints that God shows mercy in these cases. Appeal is often made to texts such as 2 Samuel 12:23, where David says he will go and be with his infant son who died. Yet it’s not a definitive text teaching infant salvation. Nevertheless, when all these “hint” texts are investigated and coupled with the truth that the Judge of all the earth always does what’s right (Gen. 18:25), we can unequivocally affirm—and take comfort—that our triune God, who is gracious, merciful, and just, will do what’s right in every case.

Although there is no explicit biblical text that teaches an age of accountability, in light of all these truths I don’t think it’s unwarranted to agree with many Christians past and present that in these “exceptional” cases, God will demonstrate his grace and mercy in Christ alone. Yet given the lack of explicit teaching in this regard, our greatest hope is to entrust ourselves to God, who always does what’s right for his own glory.

5. While a combination of these hints and other truths leads us to find comfort in God’s mercy in the exceptional cases, we must not allow it to drive us beyond Scripture in ‘normal cases.’

For example, some Christians appeal to exceptional cases to justify salvation in normal cases of people who never hear the gospel. This is an illegitimate conclusion.

Or perhaps a Christian parent wrongly reasons it best not to tell their child the gospel, lest they bring condemnation upon them. This too is illegitimate. God commands us to teach our children the gospel as we entrust them to his gracious care. We must diligently teach our children God’s Word, praying he will open their hearts and grant them repentance and faith.

Even though the Bible doesn’t always explicitly answer our questions, it never fails to lead us to rest in the triune God, in whom all answers are found—our God who is for us and not against us in Jesus Christ.


7 Ways to Teach Children About the Conscience

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:00am

“Ramona’s conscience was hurt, and a hurting conscience is the worst feeling in the world.”

My wife recently discovered that insightful line in the whimsical children’s book Ramona the Brave when she was reading it to our daughters.

Books for children sometimes mention the conscience in passing, but they usually don’t explain what it is and how it works. That’s understandable, because it’s a complex topic. A couple years ago my friend J. D. Crowley and I attempted to address it [read TGC’s review], but our target audience was adults, not children.

Then my daughter Kara, who was 8 years old at the time, asked me if I would write a book on the conscience for children. How could I say no to that?

So I attempted to write my first children’s book (which releases this month): That Little Voice in Your Head: Learning About Your Conscience. Before I suggest how parents can teach their children about the conscience, I want to qualify upfront that I’m not a parenting expert. My confidence level in my parenting ability has consistently decreased as my children have aged; I’m increasingly desperate for God’s help to do what I cannot do on my own—transform the hearts of my children. I get in the way. I sin against God and my children by being impatient, irritable, and unkind, so I regularly ask God and them to forgive me. I don’t want to sound like I’ve got it all together and that you can too if you simply follow my advice.

With that caveat in place, here are seven ways parents can teach their children about the conscience.

1. Talk to Your Children About the Conscience

Often the best way to teach children about something is to informally talk about it when it naturally arises. If you’re reading a book or watching a show together, you can stop and talk about how a character is or isn’t following their conscience—and why that matters.

My children’s book on the conscience is basically a series of conversations between a mom and her little daughter. It’s unrealistic to think that all your conversations will sound like the ones in the book, but the back-and-forth in the book models how some conversations might go.

2. Listen to Your Children Talk About Their Conscience

“Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).

Listen carefully to what your children say, because their words are a window into their heart. Listen to what they think is right and wrong.

When do they think others are guilty of sin? When do they sense they are guilty of sin? Why? What do they think they should do about it? Do they need help calibrating their conscience in a certain area?

3. Encourage Your Children When They Listen to Their Conscience

Sometimes children are convinced that something is wrong when it’s not inherently sinful, and they might confess such a “sin” to you. For example, your child might think that it’s sinful to walk in someone’s home while wearing “outside shoes” if you have a family rule about it. Your child might have a hard time visiting a home where they keep their shoes on. Maybe your child decided to keep their shoes on in the other house but felt terribly about it, and they might confess to you in tears. How should you respond?

At minimum, affirm your child for listening to their conscience and for sharing that with you. Encourage them. Praise them. Don’t scold them. To go against your conscience when you think it’s warning you correctly is always a sin in God’s eyes. As Mark Dever says, “Conscience cannot make a wrong thing right, but it can make a right thing wrong.” But then go on to help them recalibrate their conscience for their next visit.

4. Exhort Your Children Not to Ignore Their Conscience

When you train and discipline your children, appeal to their conscience.

  • “Listen to that little voice in your head.”
  • “When that little voice in your head warns you not to do something, don’t do it.”
  • “When that little voice in your head makes you feel sad for something you did, tell Mommy or Daddy about it. Don’t ignore that voice.”
  • “How do you feel after you ________ [fill in the blank with a particular sin]? Does that little voice in your head tell you that was bad?”

(Not every child would describe their conscience as an actual voice in their head. Some just have a strong sense that something’s right or wrong. It’s an unshakeable impression or conviction.)

Tell your children that the conscience is a priceless gift from God they must not ignore. It can be a warning system that saves them from great harm. If your finger brushes the top of a hot stove, your nervous system reflexively compels you to pull back your hand to avoid more pain and harm. Similarly, the guilt your conscience makes you feel should lead you to turn from your sin to Jesus. God gave you that sense of guilt for your good. Don’t ignore or suppress it.

5. Model Listening to Your Conscience by Asking for Forgiveness When You Sin Against Your Children

Parents are sinners, too. We regularly sin against our children—sometimes directly (e.g., being sinfully angry or impatient with them) and sometimes indirectly (e.g., sinning against someone else while they are looking on).

Every time we sin, it’s an opportunity for us to model repentance.

Every time we sin, it’s an opportunity for us to model repentance. You might say to your children, “Daddy was sinfully impatient with you. God convicted me, and my conscience won’t leave me alone. I feel sorry for what I’ve done. I’ve asked God to forgive me, and now I’m asking you. Would you please forgive me for being impatient with you?”

6. Explain to Your Children Why Consciences Differ

No two people have exactly the same conscience. That’s why passages such as Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 exist. We tend to assume our own conscience is the standard that perfectly lines up with God’s will, but we all have blind spots where we need to recalibrate our conscience so that it functions more accurately. It was complicated enough explaining all that in a book for adults. How do you explain that to kids?

In my children’s book, I attempt to do that by contrasting the rules of one family with those of another. One family might require the children to wash their hands before a meal or to make their bed in the morning, and another family might not. The actions themselves aren’t inherently righteous or sinful. For family rules, a child simply must obey Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

7. Keep Reminding Your Children That Only Jesus Can Cleanse Their Conscience

Talking about the conscience can be a way to celebrate the gospel, because the blood of Christ purifies our conscience (Heb. 9:14). Jesus lived, died, and rose for sinners, and when we turn from our sins and trust him, we can draw near to God “with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

My favorite way to exult in that truth is to sing a stanza from the hymn “Before the Throne of God Above.” Here’s what that looks like in my children’s book (the mommy is talking to her little daughter):

What can make my conscience clean? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

May God help you point your children to Jesus as you teach them about the conscience.

9 Things You Should Know About the Bethel Church Movement

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 12:04am

TGC Australia recently published an article examining the theology and practice of the Bethel movement. The Awakening Australia event—and its main speaker, Bill Johnson—are increasing the awareness of the controversial church throughout the continent. Here are nine things you should know about the Johnsons and the Bethel movement.

1. Bethel Church is a charismatic megachurch in Redding, California, that is primarily known for their popular music label (Bethel Music), worship music, and the teachings of the controversial senior pastors, Bill and Beni Johnson. The Johnsons became pastors of Bethel Church in 1996. In 2005, the congregation withdrew from the Assemblies of God and became a nondenominational church. Since then the church has increased to approximately 9,000 members.

2. Bethel Music is a ministry of Bethel Church that includes a record label, music publishing, and an artist collective that frequently holds tours and events around the world. The president and co-founder of Bethel Music is Brian Johnson, the son of Bill and Beni. One of the most famous musicians to come out of Bethel Music is Jeremy Riddle. A song written by Riddle, Phil Wickham, and Josh Farro titled “This Is Amazing Grace” was listed No. 1 on Billboard’s Christian Airplay Songs chart for 2014. Other Bethel worship songs are also popular in churches throughout the United States and Australia.

3. The Johnsons are frequently criticized for their teachings, which often veers from the suspect to the outright heretical. A prime example is Bill Johnson’s “Jesus Christ is perfect theology,” which claims that it is always God’s will to heal someone:

How can God choose not to heal someone when He already purchased their healing? Was His blood enough for all sin, or just certain sins? Were the stripes He bore only for certain illnesses, or certain seasons of time? When He bore stripes in His body He made a payment for our miracle. He already decided to heal. You can’t decide not to buy something after you’ve already bought it.

There are no deficiencies on His end—neither the covenant is deficient, nor His compassion or promises. All lack is on our end of the equation. The only time someone wasn’t healed in the Bible (gospels) is when the disciples prayed for them. For example, Mark 9 when they prayed for the tormented child. They did not have breakthrough. But then, Jesus came and brought healing and deliverance to the child.

Jesus Christ is perfect theology—He is the will of God. We can’t lower the standard of scripture to our level of experience . . . or in most cases, inexperience. It’s a very uncomfortable realization—not everyone can handle it. Most create doctrine that you can’t find in the person of Jesus. He is the will of God.

4. Beni Johnson also teaches some peculiarly unorthodox views of angelology, such as that there are “different kinds of angels: messenger angels, healing angels, fiery angels” who have “fallen asleep.” In a blog post she wrote, “I think that they have been bored for a long time and are ready to be put to work.” She relates a story about one of her students at the Bethel Supernatural School of Ministry who claims God told her to go to the chapel and yell “WAKEY WAKEY!” As Johnson says,

Nothing happened for about five minutes, so [the student] turned around to cross the road to go over to a shop. As she turned around, she felt the ground begin to shake and heard this huge yawn. She looked back at the chapel, and a huge angel stepped out. All she could see were his feet because he was that large. She asked him who he was, and he turned to her and said, “I am the angel from the 1904 revival and you just woke me up.” She asked him, “Why have you been asleep?” The angel answered and said, “Because no one has been calling out for revival anymore.”

5. Some members of Bethel—including senior pastor Beni Johnson—have allegedly engaged in the practice of “grave sucking” or “grave soaking”—lying on a person’s grave to “soak up” the deceased’s “anointing.” In an interview, Bill Johnson has said that neither he nor Bethel encourages the practice of grave sucking. However, in his book The Physics of Heaven, Johnson says:

There are anointings, mantles, revelations and mysteries that have lain unclaimed, literally where they were left, because the generation that walked in them never passed them on. I believe it’s possible for us to recover realms of anointing, realms of insight, realms of God that have been untended for decades simply by choosing to reclaim them and perpetuate them for future generations.

6. Bethel Church claims to frequently encounter unexplained phenomena both during their services and also in their everyday lives, such as falling gold dust and “angel” feathers. (“The feathers, gold dust, etc. are not things we do,” Johnson says. “They happen.”) They also claim to see a “glory cloud,” the appearance of dust/smoke in their services that they say is a supernatural sign of God’s presence, similar to the pillar of cloud that traveled with Moses and the Israelites (Ex. 13:20–22).

7. Bethel churches frequently promote and teach and preach from The Passion Translation, which Johnson describes as, “One of the greatest things to happen with Bible translation in my lifetime.” As the sole translator, Brian Simmons, says, “The Passion Translation is distinct from other modern English Bible versions in that it is an essential equivalence translation.” But in a review for Themelios, Andrew G. Shead concludes that Simmons abandons “all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50% longer than the original. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture; by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.”

8. Bethel runs a ministry training center called the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM). The school says that what makes the academic instruction at BSSM unique is that it “is taught by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” The school says, “Students will learn how to read, understand, and ‘do’ the Bible, how to practice His presence, to witness, heal the sick, prophesy, preach, pray, cast out demons and much more.”

9. Bethel has a program similar to a church-planting network that “equips and empowers leaders who desire to transform lives and communities through schools of supernatural ministry (SSMs).” Part of the role of such schools is to “pastor people with unique spiritual giftings.” As an article on the school planting website explains,

I knew a man who would know people’s secret sins the moment he laid eyes on them. From what I know this was not a gifting he wanted or sought after, it was just something he experienced. It was a testament to the character of this man that he was also one of the best lovers of people that I’ve ever known. I know quite a few people who, from a young age, saw into the spiritual realm like you and I see into the physical realm. They see angels and demons constantly, without actively looking for them.

I don’t know about you, but until a couple of years ago this was different to how I experienced the supernatural. I’ve never seen someone’s secret sin written across their forehead. Until a couple of years ago, I had never seen demons and angels flitting about, going about their business. I’ve never fallen into a trance, and I’ve yet to be supernaturally transported anywhere. Spiritual gifts manifest differently for different people, and there are those out there who have very unique manifestations of spiritual gifts, and very unique relationships with God as a result.

People label them as mystics or seers. Personally, I believe this is what should be normal for Christians, and is actually accessible to all of us.

Other posts in this series:

Christian Hymns • Hurricanes • Infertility • The STD Crisis • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) • Russian President Vladimir Putin • Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders •  Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State

Still Scandalous: Why This 1994 Book Remains Relevant

Sat, 09/29/2018 - 12:00am

As it has been said, we are doomed to repeat the history we do not read. An important evangelical history—as relevant today as in the 1990s, during my undergraduate years at Wheaton College—is Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994). Noll, an American historian, writes what he calls “an epistle from a wounded lover.” The occasion of his writing was the grief he suffered, as an evangelical scholar, over the “vacuity” of evangelical thought. As a movement, evangelicalism has virtues, Noll explains. Thinking isn’t one of them.

Noll traces the anti-intellectualism of 20th-century evangelical faith. Though we’re descended from the medieval monastic culture of serious learning (“Monks . . . preserved the life of the mind when almost no one else was giving it a thought”), evangelical faith has, at least according to Noll in 1994, abandoned the arts, the academy, and other realms of “high” culture. And while we have inherited a rich Protestant tradition encouraging believers to live their whole lives “coram deo” (in the presence of God), under the influence of 20th-century fundamentalists, we’ve often lapsed into dualistic thinking, dividing the sacred from the secular. Scandalously, the historic “both-and” Christian faith (both evangelism and social justice; both personal conversion and civic engagement; both piety and scholarship) has sadly become, for many evangelicals, an either-or. The scandal remains with us today.

Noll’s particular interest is this evangelical history’s effect on evangelical scholarship. My own interest in Noll’s book, as an undergraduate and 20 years later, is the helpful self-analysis it provides for our movement and its shifting points of emphases. It has left me with an important question: What is the evidence of a life transformed by the good news of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascent, and return?

Truncated Vision

As a child growing up in an evangelical church descended from the fundamentalist movement, I was formed in the kind of Manicheaean, Gnostic, and Docetic traditions that Noll illuminates. The world was a dangerous place, full of ungodly, demonic forces. Our safety was found in retreat, not engagement. The Bible provided all there was to know about ourselves, about the natural world, and about God. Curiosity, apart from biblical study, was no real virtue for the believer; the study of the humanities and the sciences, if not dangerous, was always secondary. And because we sang hymns about passing through this passing world, I had little vision for seeking the common, earthly good of my neighbor beyond sharing the Romans Road.

Mine was the A-B-C gospel my own children learned when visiting a vacation Bible school several years ago: Admit that you’re a sinner; Believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins; Confess your faith in him. On the one hand, this is the gospel—the good news heralded by the apostles as they proclaimed the matters of first importance: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared [to many]” (1 Cor. 15:3–8). And yet, on the other hand, this A-B-C formula can inadvertently degrade, as it did in my experience, into an easy-believism whereby the gospel becomes only the means by which we enter the kingdom—and the elementary curriculum from which we soon graduate.

Noll notes that this A-B-C approach, with its (right) emphasis on personal conversion, largely grew out of the American revivalist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. As America looked to establish her independence from Britain, there was an inevitable anti-tradition, anti-institution pulse to American Protestantism. The inward turn of this revivalist approach prepared the way for the inward turn of the church—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—in response to the what they saw as the rising dangers of textual criticism, higher criticism, and the hegemony of science, developments over which Protestantism fractured. Mainline Protestants championed a social gospel, abandoning many tenets of historic Christian faith, while fundamentalists, fearing theological and moral drift, emphasized personal piety, withdrawal from the world, and eternal fascination with the end times.

Beauty of Orthodoxy

As a child of easy-believism with little appreciation for the gospel’s demands, I had no imagination for the breadth of God’s activity in the world and my responsibilities therein. I couldn’t make sense of Paul’s declaration that the gospel had been preached to Abraham when God told him, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8). I didn’t understand the way in which the gospel lifted the curse of our groaning world. I saw only a world populated by souls, each one needing to be harvested before the mass of our planet burst into flames. Apart from the occasional volunteering at the local soup kitchen, worship was confined to our spiritual duties of reading our Bible, praying, showing up to church, and “keeping oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). I failed to realize, as Noll described of the Puritan understanding, that “a vital personal religion was the wellspring of all earthly good.” I didn’t know what it meant to pray with Jesus, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Beginning with my Wheaton education (and Noll’s book), my adult faith has been about a recovery of the both-and beauty of Christian orthodoxy, which includes a vision of the coming kingdom that heals broken bodies as well as broken souls. This isn’t, of course, an abandonment of the doctrines of biblical authority, of personal salvation, and the eternal realities of heaven and hell. Even in my politely hostile city (Toronto), I’m praying for every opportunity to share the good news that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

But it is to say that believing the gospel—and being transformed by it—makes me concerned about seemingly “secular” issues affecting my closest neighbors, including gentrification, immigration, police brutality, and minimum-wage laws. Like my fundamentalist forebears, mine is a religion of “The Book,” “The Blood,” and “The Blessed Hope” (to borrow categories from another historian, Joel A. Carpenter). It’s also a religion commended by the blazing prophets of old and built on the longing for “justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

I tend to think C. S. Lewis had it right:

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did more for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven.

That’s a history worth repeating.

The Extraordinary Life of Helen Roseveare

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 12:04am

“Helen didn’t always feel peace. She felt frightened and hopeless many times. But each time she kept walking by faith, returning to her hope that the Man of Sorrows, well-acquainted with grief, was her companion and would not let her suffer in vain.” — Betsy Howard

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.

You can find the timeline and chronological listing of Helen Roseveare’s books at

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