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New Books You Should Know (November 2019)

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 12:04am

The Assurance of Salvation: Biblical Hope for Our Struggles

Robert A. Peterson

Zondervan, 2019

192 pages

Robert Peterson always writes simply and yet with genuine substance, and in his newest book he writes to encourage and minister confidence to believers who struggle with assurance. A useful, practical, and helpful book on a most important topic. Also available on Audible.


The Story of Creeds and Confessions: Tracing the Development of the Christian Faith

Donald Fairbairn and Ryan Reeves

Baker Academic, 2019

416 pages

An excellent guide to the church’s early creeds and later confessions along with an engaging account of their surrounding historical narratives. Well informed yet altogether accessible. This will likely be the best resource on the subject.


Repeat the Sounding Joy: A Daily Advent Devotional on Luke 1–2

Christopher Ash

The Good Book Company, 2019

Warm, enriching application drawn from insightful expository and theological reflection on the biblical text. Christian devotional writing at its best—drawn from Ash’s insightful expository and theological reflection on the biblical text. Each of these brief chapters is a delight to read. Joyful Christmastime reading for Christians of every age and experience. Very highly recommended.


Inspired Questions: A Year’s Journey Through the New Testament

Brian J. Wright

Christian Focus, 2019

240 pages

What a great idea, and what a delightful book. A daily devotional of just a paragraph or two for each day, leading us to consider thoughtfully 365 questions (January 1 through December 31) asked through the pages of the New Testament. Ideal for brief personal or family devotions each day.


Am I Just My Brain?

Sharon Dirckx

The Good Book Company, 2019

A fascinating book, important for contemporary discussions regarding naturalism—that humanity can and must be explained in naturalistic terms only. Dirckx, a neuroscientist herself, effectively demonstrates that our cognitive functions, consciousness, self-awareness, memory, emotions, and such cannot be explained simply in terms of brain function. The mind is something beyond the brain, and both mind and soul are undeniable realities that point to our creation in God’s image. A useful resource for theology and apologetics in contemporary discussion.


An Introduction to the Greek New Testament

Dirk Jongkind

Crossway, 2019

128 pages

If questions of textual criticism seem daunting to you, this is the book you want to read first. A deeply informed yet eminently accessible introduction to the ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament, how they are made, their variants, and which manuscript families and traditions are the most reliable. Easily readable for the lay reader who desires an understanding of this important subject.


Precious Truths in Practice: Holding Fast to God When You Are Overwhelmed

Martha Peace

Focus Publishing, 2019

160 pages

Martha Peace is at it again. Just what the title says—a book about God written for life application. Practical yet theologically informed, this is a wonderful resource for personal reading and for women’s Bible studies.

9 Things You Should Know About Hinduism

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 12:03am

This week more than a billion Hindus across the globe are celebrating Diwali. The five-day religious observance, which is also celebrated by followers of Sikh and Jain faiths, is the biggest holiday of the year in India, the country with the largest population of Hindus.

Here are nine things you should know about Hinduism.

1. Although Hinduism is often treated as a single religion, it is more accurate to describe it as a family of religions that share common beliefs and characteristics. Some scholars claim that early Hinduism originated around 5500 BC, making it one of the world’s oldest religions. The term Hindu was first used by the Persians, dating back to the 6th century BC, to describe the people living beyond the Indus River. For more than a thousand years the label had no specific religious connotation. In the early 19th century, though, the term Hinduism was coined by British writers to refer to the family of Vedic religious traditions. Some modern Hindus prefer the name “Vedic religion” or sanatana dharma (“eternal law”) rather than the label Hinduism.

2. Most variations of Hinduism are henotheistic, meaning they worship a single deity yet do not necessarily disbelieve in the existence of other gods. Hindus tend to view individual gods and goddesses as personifications of an immense unifying force that governs all existence and which cannot be completely known by humanity.  The three main deities, known as the trimurti, are Brahma the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver of the universe, and Shiva the destroyer of the universe. Some Hindus would even say Jesus was a manifestation of one of their gods.

3. Rather than a single holy book (such as the Bible or Qur’an), Hinduism has numerous sacred writings. The text known as the Vedas (composed around 1500 BC) is a collection of verses and hymns written in Sanskrit that contains revelations received by ancient sages. The Upanishads is the text that provides the basic source for many important topics of Indian philosophy, such as karma and dharma. Other sacred texts include the Bhagavad Gita (which is part of the epic poem, Mahabharata), the 18 Puranas (which contain 400,000 verses), and the Ramayana, another epic poem.

4. Hindus believe we have four goals in life, known as puruṣārtha (“object of human pursuit”): dharma (conducting ourselves in a way conducive to spiritual advancement), artha (the pursuit of material prosperity), kama (enjoyment of the material world), and moksha (liberation from the attachments caused by dependence on the material world and from the cycle of birth and rebirth). In general, Hindus consider dharma more important than artha or kama, while moksha is considered the ultimate ideal of human life.

5. The sacred texts of Hinduism outline four primary, though not mutually exclusive, paths to experience Brahman, or ultimate reality, and obtain Moksha: Karma Yoga (performing one’s duties selflessly), Bhakti Yoga (loving Brahman through devotion and service), Jnana Yoga (study and contemplating sacred texts), and Raja Yoga (physically preparing the body and mind to allow deep meditation and introspection, so as to overcome suffering caused by material attachments). The postural yoga often used as a form of exercise in the West is derived from raja yoga.

6. Hinduism has no concept of sin, though Hindus believe human beings can create good or bad consequences for their actions. This idea is known as karma (from the Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is “action”), and refers to the law that every action has an equal reaction either immediately or at some point in the future. Good or virtuous actions, actions in harmony with dharma (i.e., conducive with spiritual advancement), will have good reactions or responses and bad actions; actions against dharma, will have the opposite effect.

7. Hindus believe that the soul, atman, is eternal, and that when the physical body dies the soul is reborn in another body—whether of an insect, animal, or human. This continuous cycle of life, death, and rebirth is commonly called reincarnation but in Hinduism is known as samsara. Karma can carry over into a future human rebirth or affect the form the body takes. When a person achieves moksha, they are liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth.

8. With more than 1 billon followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. The vast majority of Hindus (98 percent) live in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Hindus are among the least educated of the world’s major religious groups, with Hindus ages 25 and older having an average of 5.5 years of formal schooling in India, 4.6 years in Bangladesh, and 3.9 years in Nepal. Those who live in Europe and North America, though, tend to be highly educated. In the United States, Hindu adults have an average of 15.7 years of formal schooling, and 96 percent of Hindu adults have post-secondary degrees.

9. Since Hindus tend to have a fascination for sacred scripture, many Christian apologists recommend directly turning to the Bible—rather than relying on argumentation—when evangelizing Hindus. Some recommended passages to walk through with Hindus, missionary and church planter J. Brennan says, are the story of creation (Gen. 1–2), the fall of humankind (Gen. 3), God’s law (Ex. 20:1–21), true uncleanness (Mark 7:14–23), the healing of the lame man (Mark 2:1–12), Jesus defeats Satan (Luke 4:1–13), Jesus’s death (Mark 15), Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28), the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), the Pharisee and the sinful woman (Luke 7:36–50), Peter’s hearers repent (Acts 2:37–41), counting the cost of belief in Jesus (Matt. 10:26–39), and salvation through faith (Eph. 2:1–10).

‘Shawshank’ Still Preaches, 25 Years Later

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 12:00am

This fall marks the 25th anniversary of the release of The Shawshank Redemption. Twenty-five years later, it’s hard to believe this beloved movie, directed by Frank Darabont (The Green Mile), was a box-office flop in 1994. Today it resides atop many “best movie ever” lists—including mine. 

There’s a lot to love about Shawshank. I could write endless pages about the acting, music, cinematography, direction, and so on. But while these are all worthy topics, I’m most interested in the film’s Christian symbolism. From start to finish, intended or unintended, it is saturated with Christian imagery and themes.

With “redemption” in its very title, the film seems to invite a Christian interpretation. And though in general we should be cautious about stretching for theological parallels and “Christ figures” in movies, it’s also worth celebrating when a movie reminds us of the beauty of the Christian narrative. And that’s exactly the sort of beauty I see in Shawshank.

Red’s Testimony

Consider how the “redemption” drama of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) reflects certain aspects of Jesus’s story.

Andy enters the world of Shawshank Prison as an outsider. Red (Morgan Freeman), who becomes Andy’s friend, observes of Andy: “He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn’t normal around here. He strolled like a man in a park without a care or worry. Like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place.” The whole story is told through Red’s point of view and becomes his testimony about Andy. 

Andy is quickly adopted into Red’s friend group, and he begins discipling Red and the gang. Andy teaches them there’s something much better than their bleak surroundings. One especially powerful example finds Andy broadcasting Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” over the PA system to the whole prison. Describing this moment, Red reflects: “I tell you, those voices soared. Higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.” 

Of course, Andy’s ministry to the prisoners is not without danger. Early on, he is harassed by the demonic Bogs (Mark Rolston). The pharisaical warden (Bob Gunton) refuses to see Andy for who he is, and seeks to use him for his own personal benefit. Even in the face of opposition, Andy teaches his disciples to embrace hope. Andy’s training culminates later in the story when he writes to Red: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” 

As the story progresses, we learn Andy has been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. When circumstances reach their grimmest, Andy “dies” (so to speak), descending to the depths of the sewer pipes, before resurrecting on the other side as a free man (as Peter Stevens). Red, the warden, and the guards visit Andy’s cell, expecting to find a dead body. Instead they find an empty cell. This prompts a guard to cry, “Oh my holy God!” Andy’s apparent defeat of death gives renewed hope to the prisoners, and it prompts Red to finally repent of his sins in front of the parole board, resulting in his freedom. In the final scene we see Red next to the Pacific Ocean—a place where sins are remembered no more—and Andy is there too, welcoming him into paradise. 

Living Hope

I first saw Shawshank when I was 12 and immediately liked it. I enjoyed it for its pure entertainment value, but also observed that it had a deeper meaning. At 12, I was quite proud of myself that I knew this movie was not just about a prison break; it was about hope. But even then I knew “hope” is rather vague and rudderless without something firm to be grounded in. It wasn’t until college that I discovered the sort of sturdy hope Scripture describes: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Pet. 1:3–4).

With each subsequent viewing of Shawshank, I’m reminded of this living hope—recalling both the prison of my sin and also the prospect of freedom found in my Savior. 

With every viewing of Shawshank, I’m reminded of this living hope—recalling both the prison of my sin and also the prospect of freedom found in my Savior.

I’m not a “cryer,” but I well up every time at the end of this film. As the dramatic music gently crescendos, Red says:

I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. . . . I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. . . . I hope.

I love how Morgan Freeman delivers these lines. There’s a longing in Red’s voice. He certainly wishes for these things to be true. Yet, there’s also a confidence. He ends by saying, “I hope.” It’s not merely an aspiration; it’s a declaration. 

The next time you watch Shawshank, let it preach. Let its magnificent redemption story point you to the ultimate redemption story of the resurrected Christ—the greatest prison break of all time.

Opening Promo Rate Ends Soon!

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 10:57am

We invite you to join us for The Gospel Coalition 2020 Women’s Conference, June 11-13 in Indianapolis! Along with thousands of other women from around the world, join us for a three day conference studying the book of James and worshiping Jesus Christ.

If you register by Friday, November 1, you’ll save $15 off registration. Bring a group and save even more. 

Register now before the price increases!



5 Ways to Build Trust as a Pastor

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:03am

As a church planter, I was coached to keep a close eye on the “economies” that would affect our ability to pursue our mission. “Pay close attention to the critical numbers. Watch the national and local job markets. And watch your Sunday numbers. We count people because people count.”

Overall, this advice is sound. But it’s incomplete. There is another, far more important economy we must keep a careful eye on: the economy of trust. Trust is foundational to everything we do.

‘Good Name’

Trust of a “good name” runs between members and leaders, and within the leadership itself. It’s what Solomon described in Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

As a church-planting pastor, few things will affect your ability to lead people through difficult seasons like their trust in you. When you have a “good name,” they’re much more likely to both listen to and follow you. Instead of fearing your summons to sacrifice, they’re more likely to hear an invitation to grow in grace. And as you develop a culture that builds trust, the whole community benefits.

As a church-planting pastor, few things will affect your ability to lead people through difficult seasons like their trust in you.

To build trust, people need to see integrity in our intentions, words, and life as a whole. We need to be “above reproach” (1 Tim. 3:2). But how do we create this kind of culture in our church plants? Here are five practices that will help build an economy of trust.

1. See people who need to grow, not problems that need to be solved.

A fellow pastor once told me (in jest, of course), “I’d like ministry a lot more if I didn’t have to deal with people who needed my ministry!” If we’re honest, we’re all tempted at times to see problems instead of people. And when this crops up, we must address the root of the issue in our hearts.

Few things will devastate an economy of trust like gossip, slander, or grumbling against others. The real challenge here isn’t loving the unlovable; it’s overcoming the selfish desire to surround ourselves with people who contribute to our low-maintenance, hassle-free lives. Put another way, the real “problem” may not be the people we’re called to shepherd—it could be us and our pastoral entitlement.

2. Keep confidential information private.

Since ministry is about the heart, we’re often privy to the parts of people’s lives that are usually kept locked behind closed doors. Few things will slam those doors shut as quickly as a loose tongue. This sin not only betrays the trust of those who’ve confided in you previously, but it also keeps others from trusting you in the future.

People are listening to you and the stories you tell. If you share someone’s information that wasn’t yours to share, people may laugh along, but they will quietly lock the door on their hearts to ensure that you can’t do the same thing to them.

3. Lead by example.

Integrity isn’t just about what we say; it’s also about what we do. If we want people to trust our words, they must see them at work in our actions.

Since we tell people that it’s good to foster a servant’s heart, we must be content to be treated like servants.

Since we tell people it’s good to foster a servant’s heart, we must be content to be treated like servants. Since we tell people to work for God’s glory, we must be diligent and productive. Since we tell people to rest in God’s proficiency and power by observing a sabbath, we must repent of our addiction to work and actually rest ourselves. Since we tell people to give financially, we must honor the Lord with the first-fruits of our income.

We shouldn’t be asking anyone to do anything we aren’t willing to do ourselves.

4. Share leadership.

If we want people to trust us, they need to see us trusting them. We won’t build an economy of trust if we don’t actively trust people to do what needs to be done.

This means that we must lead by investing in people to do what would often be accomplished easier, and more efficiently, on our own.

5. Model godly conflict resolution.

I was once told that ministry is a series of hard conversations. The hardest almost always have to do with conflict—especially if we’re the ones at fault. Matthew 5:21–26 tells us to take the first step toward reconciliation by quickly and humbly seeking forgiveness.

An economy of trust isn’t built by being perfect, but by growing a character rooted in grace.

An economy of trust isn’t built by being perfect, but by growing a character rooted in grace. When we humbly own our mistakes, or sin, and then seek restoration, trust often follows. But, church-planting pastors, we need to take the first step here. God often does his deepest work of building trust as we meet people in conflict, armed with humble love rooted in the gospel grace.

Every interaction is making either deposits or withdrawals from our shared bank of trust. Let’s labor to grow that trust.

How Your Church Can Grow in Evangelistic Effectiveness

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:02am

You’ll often hear people connected to The Gospel Coalition critique so-called seeker-sensitive churches. And for good reason. We don’t survey unbelievers to find out what we should do in church. Much has been lost in discipleship from a mistaken effort to treat Sunday mornings like evangelistic meetings. It’s hard to teach the cost of discipleship when you’re trying to make everyone feel comfortable.

At the same time, we can understand why seeker churches took off in popularity. TGC doesn’t simply propose turning back the clock before the megachurch boom of the 1970s and 1980s. Rather, in this time and place where fewer and fewer have experience with church or knowledge of Scripture, we must labor to make the gospel message understandable. And we must be welcoming as we see our churches through the eyes of outsiders, so often bewildered by our peculiar practices and vocabulary.

My guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is Erik Raymond. He’s senior pastor of Redeemer Fellowship Church outside Boston and a TGC blogger. He is also the writer and presenter of Gospel Shaped Outreach, a small-group video and book study published by TGC with The Good Book Company. It’s based on point two—evangelistic effectiveness—from TGC’s five points of gospel-centered ministry in our theological vision for ministry. We talked about how gospel-centered churches can grow in this priority.

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast and check out other episodes in the series Why We Need Theological Vision.

6 Ways to Lead and Love Your Wife

Tue, 10/29/2019 - 12:00am

Marriage is an imperfect picture of a perfect reality.

In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul explains that God designed marriage to be a metaphor for a divine truth, giving our watching world a glimpse of what it’s like to be loved by Jesus.

God wants to use every marriage to display his beauty and grandeur. But how? In part, by husbands leading and loving their wives in godly, nourishing, Christlike ways.

Here are six practical ways a husband can do this.

1. Ask Good Questions

Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Asking your wife intentional questions is a way you can learn about the state of her soul. As a start, here are four questions you should ask your wife on a regular basis:

  • How are you encouraged in your faith and life right now?
  • How are you discouraged in your faith and life right now?
  • How can I pray for you?
  • How can I grow as a husband, father, and Christian?
2. Serve Your Wife

Ask yourself daily, What can I do today to make my wife’s day easier? Perhaps it’s doing the laundry, washing the dishes, taking the kids to soccer practice, or making dinner.

Your home is not only a refuge for relaxation, but also a context to serve.

Husband, remember that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). He didn’t kick off his shoes and demand that we cater to his every need. On the contrary, he washed feet, cared for little kids, and comforted weary people. In the same way, remember that your home is not only a refuge for relaxation, but also a context to serve. Look for creative ways each day to serve your wife at home.

3. Make Time for Your Marriage

If you do not make time for your marriage, you will not have time for your marriage. Life is busy. We must be intentional about prioritizing marital health by instituting calendar rhythms. If we don’t intentionally schedule rhythms for marriage strengthening, our marriages will likely suffer. This will look different for each couple, depending on their season of life, but here are some of the rhythms my wife and I have in our marriage:

  • Pray daily (typically at night)
  • Date weekly (typically Friday nights)
  • Escape monthly (all-day thing)
  • Getaway quarterly (one overnight)
  • Retreat annually (several days together)

Plan regular touch points with your wife—and put them on the calendar.

4. Study Your Wife

The apostle Peter tells husbands to “live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Pet. 3:7). One way we do this is by studying our wives. Do you know your wife’s heart as well as you know the statistics of your favorite sports team? If I asked you for your wife’s current likes, dislikes, and dreams, would you have an answer? You will never learn about these things unless you (1) are intentional in conversation with her and (2) listen more than you talk.

So put down the remote, your phone, or whatever keeps you from talking meaningfully with your wife, and invite her into concentrated conversation. Model James 1:19 in your marriage. Study your wife by listening to her.

5. Learn and Grow Together

Healthy marriages are characterized by a mutual desire for spousal growth. We don’t love our spouse by accepting them “as they are” so much as we point them to become more like Jesus. A key way you love your wife, then, is by prioritizing opportunities to learn and grow with her. Read a book or listen to a lecture together. Go to a conference or discuss Sunday’s sermon.

Husbands, God calls us to lead our wives into spiritual flourishing. Labor to find creative ways to grow and learn together to that end.

6. Be Intoxicated in Her Love

Proverbs 5:19 is one of my favorite verses on marriage: “Be intoxicated always in her love.” The word translated “be intoxicated” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament for a man staggering down the street in drunkenness (Isa. 28:7). The point is for a man to be crazy in love with his wife. Ray Ortlund says of this verse:

This counsel is not trivial. It is the serious wisdom of God, because, as we shall see later in the Bible, marriage points ultimately to the love of Christ and our joy in him. And the striking thing about this wisdom here in Proverbs, coming from ancient times as it does, is that marriages back then could be arranged for economic or political reasons. But the Bible sweeps all of that aside and calls husbands and wives to be head-over-heels in love with each other.

How can you be “head over heels” in love with your wife? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Remind her why you’re in love with her. Write her a card and list specific reasons why you treasure her.
  • Affirm her before others. Esteem your wife in the presence of others by directing their attention to visible graces in her life.
  • Surprise her with acts of kindness. Take the kids and send her out with friends for the night. Show up to her workplace with flowers. Leave her a card before you leave for work.
  • Encourage her with how you see God at work in her life. Take her on a date and tell her, slowly and specifically, how you see growing in her faith. Is she becoming more patient, wise, kind, bold, holy? Tell her and watch her faith fan into flame.

Scripture says husbands should be so in love with their wives that the watching world thinks they’re drunk on love. May it be so of us.

You Pray the Lord’s Prayer. But Do You Understand It?

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:04am

Long before C. S. Lewis ever spoke about “mere Christianity,” the ancient church father Vincent of Lerins called us to hold “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.” Both of these great thinkers were saying that while Christianity has many forms and permutations that can vary over time and space, and many doctrinal configurations based on denomination or social location, even so, there is common core to the faith that all Christians embrace. This essential pith deserves our special attention, for it has come down to us through the centuries as a shared inheritance.

To help us explore this bequest of the ages, Lexham Press is to be commended for initiating its Christian Essentials series, whose goal is to “[pass] down tradition that matters” and “open up the meaning of the foundations of our faith.” Books in the series, released already or forthcoming, cover the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and corporate worship.

The latest volume in the series is The Lord’s Prayer: A Guide to Praying to Our Father by Anglican scholar Wesley Hill, associate professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. This little book combines erudition and piety. At times it seems colored by Hill’s position as a conservative Anglican, such that his anticipated interlocutors or unspoken critics represent the concerns of mainline Episcopalians. Or as a seminary professor, Hill appears to be thinking about potential issues from the academy as often as from the pews. Even so, evangelicals of all stripes will find much common ground here around which to unite. A broad swath of Christians can celebrate Hill’s beautiful treatment of Jesus’s prayer.

Our Father in Secret

Hill wisely begins his meditation on the Lord’s Prayer by examining the context of Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 6:5–8. According to Hill, prayer isn’t about complex words that impress God, but is a simple, quiet, private, and relaxing time of meeting with a Father who loves us perfectly.

Prayer isn’t about complex words that impress God, but is a simple, quiet, private, and relaxing time of meeting with a Father who loves us perfectly.

“We can trade in that performative style of prayer for one that is more homely and familial,” Hill writes. “Unlike human fathers, who are often engrossed in their smartphones and have to have their attention captured in some creative way by their children, God is already and always attentive to his children” (3).

Paternal Meditations

The ancient prayer known as the Pater Noster (Latin for “Our Father”) instructs us that Christian prayer must address the Trinitarian God who is eternally a communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hill highlights the importance of confessing that the first person is always a Father, who eternally begets the Son within the loving delight of the Holy Spirit (12). Prayers addressed to God are made to a Father who knows how (and loves) to give good gifts to his children. And Christ our brother leads us to God our Father.

Although human fathers have often distorted this image, Hill doesn’t let the Christian off the hook when it comes to addressing God as Father (15–17). Fatherhood is an essential aspect of his Trinitarian being. By praying the Lord’s Prayer faithfully, Christians bear witness to our embrace of true Fatherhood, rejecting the lie that this designation of God is in any way “a charter for male domination” (17).

With this paternal background in place, Hill proceeds to the subsequent clauses. Using Hebrew and Greek exegesis of various biblical texts, along with extensive references to church historical figures and modern theologians, Hill wisely and devotionally explains the meaning of the prayer’s seven petitions and its final doxology.

Fatherhood is an essential aspect of God’s Trinitarian being. By praying the Lord’s Prayer faithfully, Christians bear witness to our acceptance of true Fatherhood.

The wording of most of the clauses will be familiar to Christians. Hill uses the ecumenical English Language Liturgical Consultation translation of 1988, whose phraseology is more or less the same as most modern Bible versions. Interestingly, Hill feels it necessary to defend his decision to “retain masculine pronouns for God,” adding the caveat that God certainly is not male “in a literal way” (5). In fact, he goes so far as to say—problematically, in my opinion—that “God’s employment of our language is [nothing] other than analogical” (5). Some readers might want to view the masculine pronouns of Scripture as more than mere accommodation, but as expressing something fundamental and intrinsic about God himself.

These issues aside, Hill handles each of the petitions in the Lord’s Prayer with a skillful combination of elegant prose, pious meditation, and scholarly exegetical adeptness. Literary, artistic, cinematic, and historical allusions, as well as contemporary stories and examples, pepper his remarks. Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) has a prominent place among the theologians whom Hill cites.

Throughout The Lord’s Prayer, social justice issues also make a regular appearance. This might be surprising to readers not used to thinking of prayer as touching on earthly concerns. Yet as Hill points out, the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6 centers on asking God to bring his kingdom into our midst. For the most part, the social issues—such as “cancer, AIDS, sex slavery, rapacious greed, and toxic waste” (42)—are woven into the book in a natural way. Though their presence is perhaps startling at first, Hill shows how they flow naturally from the concerns of Jesus himself. One possible exception is Hill’s example of the Marin Foundation (26–27), an organization in which Christians attend gay pride parades to convey the message, “I’m sorry.” Hill, who is well known through his previous publishing work as a celibate man with homosexual longings, uses this as an example of godly love; but not all evangelicals would agree with this approach.

Even so, this book is by no means a leftist diatribe or the ranting screed of a social justice warrior. Rather, it’s pious and holy in the best sense of these words. Many readers will find these meditations useful, and probably unobjectionable; except perhaps in one instance where Hill has re-translated the common wording of the Lord’s Prayer. This might surprise readers used to hearing the line in a different way.

‘Lead Us Not into Temptation’?

Pope Francis recently stirred international controversy when he criticized the way a phrase of the Lord’s Prayer is rendered in English. Matthew 6:13a reads “And lead us not into temptation” in both the English Standard Version and the New International Version—both widely used translations among evangelicals. This wording precisely follows the King James Version. However, Pope Francis remarked in 2017 that “[i]t is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation. . . .  A father doesn’t do that; a father helps you to get up immediately. It’s Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.” Therefore, in 2019 the Roman Catholic Church approved an official change to the English translation of the verse, so that it will read, “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

For those interested, the Greek phrase is καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν. The debated words here are eisphero, to “lead” or “carry into”; and peirasmos, a “trial,” “temptation,” or “testing.” In what ways does God “lead” us into challenging or even negative experiences? And into what is he leading us—a “temptation” to sin, or a refining “trial”?

After citing the Vatican decision by Pope Francis (71), Hill debates the merits of the point. On the one hand, James 1:13–14 is clear that God doesn’t tempt us, but rather our own desires induce us toward sin. On the other hand, Scripture gives examples—such as when Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac—of God putting his people under intense pressure to see how they will respond (72).

After considering the meaning of peirasmos (73–75), Hill concludes that Matthew 6:13a (cf. Luke 11:4c) should be translated, “Save us from the time of trial.” In other words, God does not dangle temptations before us like the Devil would. He does, however, ordain times of testing for Christians, up to and including the test of martyrdom (though the test is usually accompanied by less dire consequences). How do we pray in such times?

Hill’s focus here is eschatological: “We will be saved from the time of ultimate trial, sheltered from it and spared from ever experiencing its true horrors, because there is One who has already experienced those horrors in our place. Because Jesus was not saved from temptation, we are” (75).

Aid to Worship

The Lord’s Prayer concludes by reflecting on the doxology included in many Bible footnotes for Matthew 6:13: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.” This expression is relegated to footnotes because it does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts, so it’s thought by some scholars to be a later scribal addition. Yet since it is part of the church’s received liturgical tradition, Hill accepts the phrase and meditates on it without any text-critical remarks.

Hill’s book, which is worshipful throughout, rightly concludes in a doxological fashion that points us to our glorious future with God. “[T]here is a coming time when we will have no more need to ask God for bread, for absolution, or for rescue,” he writes. “All of our tears will have been wiped away, death will have been finally defeated, and the earth and its people will be at peace and thriving” (94). Everyone will be utterly satisfied in God. As Hill points out, uttering a hearty “Amen”—let it be so!—is the best response to such a magnificent vision of eternity.

How Can I Know if I’m Being Greedy?

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:03am

In 1 Corinthians 6:10, Paul lists people who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven—and he includes “the greedy.” Presumably, greed is not synonymous with wealth, as there are greedy poor people and generous rich people. It can be hard to know when I’ve crossed the line from making or saving money into the sin of greed. Are there diagnostic questions to help me identify greed in my own life?   

Greed is certainly a deep concern of God’s. In addition to the passage you reference, we see greed described in Scripture as something that brings ruin (Prov. 15:27), stirs conflict (Prov. 28:25), and destroys (Prov. 29:4).

As with most other sins, it’s easy focus on egregious examples or external manifestations while overlooking the roots tangled up in our own hearts. We can point to stereotypes of overpaid CEOs or purveyors of the prosperity “gospel” and say, “That’s greed.” Seeking a definition of sin from extreme cases, though, lets most of us off the hook, since we don’t feel greedy—even as we mirror the same attitudes and habits on a smaller scale.

Greed is an especially easy sin to succumb to in our time and place. Even the term “consumer,” which the global economy is eager to label us with, speaks of an underlying hunger or dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is not money, per se, that is “the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), but the fact that we love it. And as my friend Michael Rhodes writes in Practicing the King’s Economy, “If the biblical authors thought a peasant’s love of money could drag them to hell, what would they have to say to us?”

We don’t serve a god of scarcity, but the God of abundance and provision, who has poured out his bounty on the earth and given us the riches of heaven through the sacrifice of Christ (2 Cor. 8:9). But just as Israel forsook God to follow after the Baals in the land of Canaan—idols that sold them economic promises of rain and harvests and fertile livestock—so we are constantly tempted to turn our attention from the God who gives in order to sacrifice to the Baals of the American Dream.

Compared to much of the modern world—and compared to all of history—every person reading this article is astonishingly wealthy. Yet, as you say, we must be careful not to conflate wealth with greed. Where is the line between healthy participation in economic activity that builds up a community, and a self-replicating cycle of accumulating money and stuff?

If the biblical authors thought a peasant’s love of money could drag them to hell, what would they have to say to us?

You’ll find it in the heart. Greed is an internal sin, a species of covetousness or longing for that which you haven’t been given. It’s less visible as moments of active sin, and more evident in its long-term corrosion of our souls. It’s also a sin of faithlessness; greed is the opposite of trust in God’s provision, a grasping for security instead of resting in him.

As Karen Swallow Prior reminds us, virtues represent the mean between two extremes. You can fall away from economic prudence into one ditch (careless, profligate spending) just as surely as you can fall into the other (an all-consuming quest for wealth that insulates you from surprises).

So how do you when know when you’re veering into a ditch? Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Could you live with contentment on the same income you earned five years ago?
  • Is your gut impulse, when someone asks you for money or time for kingdom ministry, to find a way to give?
  • Do you believe—and act as if—one’s economic status indicates their value as a person?
  • Is there anything in your daily life you could go without in order to free up more money for generosity?
  • Are you willing to forego or limit time spent on a favorite hobby in order to free yourself for service in your church or another ministry?

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course, but if you find it difficult to answer any of these questions with a “yes,” you might be farther down the path of greed than you realize.

We live in a time and place of enormous wealth; in our culture, the soil of our hearts is tilled and prepared for greed to take root. Earthly riches—which can be sweet blessings from God, and part of his plan for taking care of others through us—are a gift that many of us, frankly, are not spiritually prepared to bear.

Taking that warning seriously is a good step toward crucifying the sin of greed in our hearts.

Why Evangelicals Need Theological Retrieval

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:02am

When “Bible answer man” Hank Hanegraaff converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 2017, Rod Dreher (an Orthodox believer himself) invited others evangelicals to follow his lead:

Many evangelicals seek the early church; well here it is, in Orthodoxy. I am sure some will be scandalized by Hanegraaff’s conversion but I hope at least some will wonder how someone as knowledgeable about the Bible as Hank could convert to Orthodoxy, and go to a Divine Liturgy to taste and see what it’s like.

Many evangelicals, especially among the younger generation, seem to feel the allure of this appeal. Testimonies of conversions into both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism abound. Back in 1993, in his foreword to Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, Peter Kreeft described their testimony of conversion into Catholicism as “one of increasingly many such stories that seem to be springing up today throughout the Church in America like crocuses poking up through the spring snows.”

This trend should not be exaggerated or regarded with alarmism. Globally, more people are converting to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism than vice versa. Nonetheless, there is enough movement toward Rome or Constantinople among evangelicals that the phenomenon shouldn’t be ignored—particularly since it often occurs in relation to rather well-known, influential leaders in the church.

When Francis Beckwith converted back to the Roman Catholic heritage of his youth, for example, he had been elected president of the Evangelical Theological Society just four months prior; and many evangelicals had been long familiar with the sociologist Christian Smith’s diagnosis of “moralistic therapeutic deism” before they encountered his book How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps.

In a few cases, strikingly, the allure of the ancient seems to take hold within an entire Protestant institution or setting. For instance, the first paragraph of the back cover the 2016 book Evangelical Exodus: Evangelical Seminarians and Their Paths to Rome narrates a fascinating story:

Over the course a single decade, dozens of students, alumni, and professors from a conservative, evangelical seminary in North Carolina (Southern Evangelical Seminary) converted to Catholicism. These conversions were notable as they occurred among people with varied backgrounds and motivations—many of whom did not share their thoughts with one another until this book was produced. Even more striking is that the seminary’s founder, long-time president, and popular professor, Dr. Norman Geisler, had written two full-length books and several scholarly articles criticizing Catholicism from an evangelical point of view.

In the book’s introduction, Douglas Beaumont observes that “this movement from conservative evangelicalism to Catholicism is not limited to this school; in fact, some refer to the phenomenon as an exodus.” If the term exodus is too strong, at the same time we cannot deny that there is a phenomenon that begs for exploration and listening.

Reactions to a Real Problem

What’s causing the trend? Obviously, every person’s story is unique, and we must leave room for a wide array of different kinds of factors in each case. One recurring theme among these denominational migrations, however, corresponds to Dreher’s interpretation of Hanegraaff’s conversion: the desire for historical depth. Particularly among the younger generation today, there seems to be a deep thirst for historical rootedness that evidently isn’t being met in many evangelical contexts.

Those of who go by the name “evangelical” should give careful attention to this phenomenon. We have much to learn from the testimonies of those leaving our ranks. Many of their criticisms are valid. All too often, evangelical habits of worship and spirituality have been driven by the latest passing fads, with little concern for the historic practices of the church.

And what connection we do have to church history is often limited to our own denominational heritage, with little interest in the broader catholicity of the church.

Not Antonyms

Now, I don’t accept that one must abandon evangelicalism to seek an ancient faith. For one thing, the vision of the earliest Protestants—the reformers themselves—was thoroughly catholic. As severe as the reformers’ criticisms of medieval Roman Catholicism could be, they always distinguished themselves from the Anabaptists, making clear that their intention was to reform, not recreate, the true church of God.

In keeping with this view, they not only regularly retrieved the theology of the early church, but in large measure cast their entire reform effort as its retrieval. John Calvin, for example, summed up the Reformation’s goal this way:

All that we have attempted has been to renew the ancient form of the church . . . [that existed] in the age of Chrysostom, and Basil, among the Greeks, and of Cyprian, Ambrose, and Augustine, among the Latins.

Martin Luther also, for all the harshness of his attacks on Rome, affirmed God’s preservation of the true church amid seasons of corruption. Writing in the 1530s, he declared that the Church of Rome, though compromised, did not nullify the testimonies to the gospel within her.

There is nothing intrinsic to Protestantism that would encourage us to be isolated from the early and medieval church. On the contrary, the best of Protestant theology has always been historically informed. As Timothy George puts it, “For all their critique of the received doctrines of medieval Catholicism, the reformers saw themselves in basic continuity with the foundational dogmas of the early church.”

Exciting Time for Retrieval

Happily, many evangelical leaders today are calling for a more catholic and more historically rooted vision of Protestantism, in line with the vision of the reformers. Kevin Vanhoozer, for example, explores the five solas of the Reformation to envision “mere Protestantism” as a renewal movement for the 21st-century church. For Vanhoozer, the five solas provide “not an alternative to orthodox tradition but rather a deeper insight into the one true gospel that undergirds that tradition.”

Vanhoozer and others have drawn together the Reforming Catholic Confession. This document acknowledges that Protestants have sometimes been divisive and sectarian, but denies that such a posture is necessary to Protestantism. It seeks to recover the “unitive Protestantism” originally expressed in the five solas.

Similarly, the Center for Baptist Renewal is helping Baptists engage the great tradition of the historic church, and other evangelicals are producing helpful works on retrieving the theology of the early and medieval church.

This rising interest in theological retrieval is an exciting opportunity for the church today. Of course, in one sense, theological retrieval is nothing new. The church has always drawn from the past to meet the needs of the present. Nevertheless, our cultural context has created a fresh need for retrieval. In particular, the individualism and autonomy of the modern West have created a sense of barrenness and a loss of transcendence. Retrieval is one vital way to touch this need.

Kanye West: From ‘I Am a God’ to ‘Jesus Is King’

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:00am

Kanye West’s artistic journey has been a wild ride. He’s arguably one of the most significant pop artists of the last 20 years—and certainly one of the most unpredictable.

It’s hard to know which Kanye will show up at any given moment. In the past year, though, we’ve seen the most surprising turn yet: Kanye says he’s become a born-again Christian. His concerts are now gospel-infused “Sunday Services,” and his just-released album is titled Jesus Is King.

What do we make of Kanye’s journey? Is this latest turn a marketing scheme? Or is Kanye an exhausted soul authentically desperate to find a savior beyond himself?

From College Dropout to Yeezus

Kanye burst onto the scene in 2004 with his universally acclaimed debut album, College Dropout. Yet Kanye’s rise to stardom was soon intertwined with controversy and criticism, whether because of strange public outbursts or wildly offensive lyrics. Recently, for example, he sparked appropriate uproar by saying the slavery of African Americans for 400 years “sounds like a choice.”

As Mike Cosper has observed, Kanye’s life exemplifies what Charles Taylor describes as the “cross pressures” of living in a secular age, where we are “buffered” from transcendence and yet perpetually haunted by it.

Kanye’s life has been marked by some of the hardest-to-penetrate “buffers” our secular age has to offer: fame, wealth, significance. All his studio albums have gone platinum. He’s created a high-end fashion line. He’s married to American entertainment royalty, Kim Kardashian. And Kanye hasn’t shied away from boasting in his worldly success. His 2013 album Yeezus even has a track called “I Am a God.”

In spite of his self-proclaimed “god” status, however, Kanye has struggled to find peace. His Yeezus follow up, The Life of Pablo (2016), opens with “Ultralight Beam,” where he states: But I’m looking for more / Somewhere to feel safe, and end my holy war.

Looking for More

However entrenched we our within our “buffers” of hubris, fame, and fortune, the pangs of “looking for more” always haunt us. As African American author and critic Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of Kanye, “There’s nothing original in this tale and there’s ample evidence, beyond Kanye, that humans were not built to withstand the weight of celebrity.”

Kanye’s erratic life and career speaks of this inability to withstand the weight—not only of celebrity, but of self-reliance and self-justification in any form. Whatever else we might say of Kanye’s music and public persona, we can at least see an honesty and vulnerability at play: he knows he’s not OK, and he doesn’t hide that behind a PR facade.

Kanye’s erratic life and career speaks of this inability to withstand the weight—not only of celebrity, but of self-reliance and self-justification in any form.

A few moments in Kanye’s life seem to have particularly jolted him, poking holes in the walls of his “immanent frame.” In 2007, at the height of Kanye’s stardom, his beloved mother, Donda West, died from plastic-surgery complications. This tragedy sent Kanye into a dark state, reflected in the agonized autotune laments of his album 808s and Heartbreak (2008). On “Coldest Winter,” Kanye sings: Goodbye my friend / I won’t ever love again, ever again. For Kanye and anyone who’s touched it closely, death is the ultimate disturber of mere worldly peace.

In 2013, another moment of transcendence hit Kanye when his first daughter, North, was born (Kanye is now a father of four). Among other things, this life-changing event seemed to trigger a sort of moral awakening for Kanye. Often criticized for his music’s misogynistic depiction of women, Kanye has recently moved away from objectifying women in obscenely sexual lyrics. In the last track of Ye (2018), “Violent Crimes,” Kanye prays: Father forgive me, I’m scared of the karma / Cause now I see women as something to nurture, not something to conquer.

From Yeezus to Jesus

And that brings us to Jesus Is King, a remarkably worshipful collection of hip-hop psalms that captures who Kanye has become: a man solely focused on Jesus—a “Christian everything,” as he told Jimmy Kimmel.

Sonically, I believe the production is Kanye at his best. He samples nostalgic, soulful records with layers of choirs and harmonies, a distinct change from the darker mood of his recent albums.

Lyrically, Kanye reminds us of CCM artists from the ’90s (and that’s not a dig). Opening track “Every Hour” begins with a Kanye-less choir repeating over and over: Sing, till the power of the Lord comes down. Other tracks, like “Water,” carry this repetitive structure; it’s as if Kanye can’t stop worshiping. On “Selah,” he references Scripture to describe his newfound freedom in Christ: Ye should be made free, John 8:36 / To whom the Son set free is free indeed / He saved a wretch like me.

The album’s simple, enthusiastic lyrics manifest a refreshingly straightforward, childlike faith that wants to be shared with the world. It’s like the enthusiasm of the lame beggar in Acts 3 who, upon being healed, was “walking and leaping and praising God” (v. 8).

Be Prayerful, Not Skeptical

Anticipating critiques from skeptics, especially in the church, Kanye raps on “Hands On”: Said I’m finna do a Gospel album / ‘What have you been hearing from the Christians?’ / They’ll be the first ones to judge me, make it feel like nobody love me.

Indeed, many Christians are quick to be skeptical about claims of extraordinary conversion. Yet the Scriptures—and Christian history—are rife with stories of those who lived God-hating lives (the demon-possessed, the Pharisees, the apostle Paul, and so on) and yet who were utterly transformed into exuberant broadcasters of gospel grace.

Rather than seeing Kanye as a fraud, can we choose to see him as the tax collector? And can we, as the church, give Kanye what he asks for: Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me / Please, please pray for me.

Lessons for the Church

What can believers learn from the curious case of Kanye? Even as we shouldn’t elevate the significance of his story or claim him as some sort of new evangelical celebrity, we can fruitfully reflect on what Kanye’s conversion says about how “buffered” souls come to Christ in our secular age.

We might reflect on how the triggers of sorrow and family play a role in shaking up one’s buffered existence. How can the church be there for people in these seasons, offering hope in Christ and a community of support? We might also reflect on how we preach the burden-releasing gift of the gospel to a world where people are weighed down and exhausted by various cross-pressures: to perform, to be accepted, to become gods of our own making, to define (and constantly redefine) ourselves in expressive and novel ways.

Kanye can’t bear that crushing weight. No human can.

Or rather, only one human can—and he already bore the weight on our behalf, to the point of death. That’s why we declare in praise, alongside Kanye on the last track (“Jesus Is Lord”), that true freedom comes by laying down our crown, giving up our throne, and paying homage to the only rightful monarch: Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess: Jesus is Lord.

3 Blind Spots of the Young Christian Leader

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:00am

I preached my first sermon as a 16-year-old sophomore in the high-school gym. I began co-pastoring a youth group at 21. I made the rounds at a few local conferences as a 31-year-old college and teaching pastor. I’m currently an executive team member at a gospel-preaching megachurch. 

And today, I’m more suspicious of myself than I was in any of my last 13 years of ministry. I’m confronted every year with blind spots I didn’t previously see. I can’t help but wonder what I’m not seeing today that I’ll see this time next year. 

Here are three blind spots young leaders are particularly susceptible to—ones I’ve discovered from experience.

1. We’re Not as Authentic as We Think

While we say we value authenticity, we may not be as honest with ourselves as we think. Many of us are still discovering our own preaching and leadership voices. We imitate far more than we know. I’ve seen many of my peers leak Keller, Chandler, or Piper mannerisms while they preach (and outrightly regurgitate content as if it were their own). We talk about the theology of cities without knowing any demographic statistics about the suburban city where our own church resides. We passionately hold to positions because of a seminary course we took three years ago, even while we’d fumble through the Bible to find our proof text for that position.

It’s okay to be an echo before you become a voice.

The point is, we’re still in process. We are growing, learning, and evolving as communicators and leaders. As much as we claim being a more honest, “true to ourselves” generation, we’re betrayed by who (plural) actually shows up in our ministries week to week. It’s okay to be an echo before you become a voice. But that echo should have enough integrity to not feign complete originality in what you teach or tweet.

2. We’re Not as Submissive as We Think

I remember sitting with a young leader in his mid-20s who wanted to discuss his difficulty relating to his lead pastor. I wasn’t taken aback by his questions so much as by his surprise at how hard submitting was. I’ve had this conversation many times with different leaders.

Now, I fully sympathize with this struggle. The combination of a broader leadership crisis, all-too-common morality falls, and a Western individualism that makes “me” the ultimate authority has made us naturally guarded when it comes to external authority. But the irony is we’re blind to the danger of our own authority in the process. We’ve mastered the art of being suspicious of others while rarely being suspicious of ourselves.

We’ve mastered the art of being suspicious of others while rarely being suspicious of ourselves.

It’s easy to give lip service to our supervisors . . . without really submitting. It’s easy to gossip or slander behind their back . . . while nodding in agreement to their face. But real submission is uncomfortable because it is vulnerable; it invites another person’s guidance to hold real sway. If submission never feels uncomfortable, we may just be may bowing to an idol of people-pleasing acceptance.

3. We’re Chasing Platform More Than We Think

Given the ubiquity of “platform-building” in the internet age, younger leaders—who’ve grown up in the age of likes and followers and Twitter mentions—are particularly susceptible to this temptation.

How do you know if this is a blind spot in your life? When you simply use the people in your immediate sphere of influence to gain the attention of people outside your immediate sphere, you’re trying to build your audience. If you’re great with SEO, social media, and blogging, but don’t know the pains and struggles of the people you’re called to lead, you’re after platform. 

We need to constantly remind ourselves of the privilege it is to minister in a local context. You get to be in actual, embodied relationships, with a front-row seat to watch God transform lives. In fact, the people to whom you minister are in a sense the ultimate platform, since in loving Christ’s body well, you love him well.

Consider for a moment how much influence you have in your church as a student pastor, worship leader, or ministry intern. Your Christike faithfulness or self-centered folly can have a lasting and profound effect on those around you. While this may feel less romantic than collecting likes and retweets as a digital influencer, it’s just as real of an influence, if not more so. 

How to Adjust Your Vision

So how can we, as young leaders, adjust our vision to better see these common issues to which we’re blind? Here are three suggestions.

1. Get around older leaders who don’t need you.

I recently had a conversation with a pastor in his 60s who was not impressed with me at all. He let me have it with sound counsel, and it was gloriously clarifying (and humbling). We have a tendency to want to be around those who only affirm us. But it’s also important to be around those who don’t need our approval and are willing to speak truth and model faithfulness, rather than just telling us what we want to hear.

2. Build friendships with those different from you.

“Different” can mean ethnically, culturally, in ministry philosophy, or even someone from a different theological tribe. In doing so, you’ll see your own echo chamber shrink (“My world is not the world”) and your view of God’s kingdom grow (“Wow, his reign is bigger than what I thought”). If you can walk away encouraged and challenged through fellowship with someone different from you, you’ll be the better for it, and so will the people you lead. 

3. Listen to those closest to you.

My wife knows my tendencies better than anyone else. When she speaks into my life, I know she’s on to something, even if I don’t like what I’m hearing. Ministry has a way of drawing us toward the public scene, since that’s where the excitement appears to be—but the up-close-and-personal life is where people know us best. Be tethered to the discomfort of the ordinary. It’s where God does some of his most extraordinary heart work. 

It amazes me that Jesus waited three decades before starting his earthly ministry. He knew who he was. His mission was to do the work of the Father, not to build a platform. He came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He was interested in being a servant, not a celebrity. May we follow his example in our own ministry. 

Self-Care or Soul-Care? Yes.

Sun, 10/27/2019 - 12:00am

For many moms, “self-care” is a constant catchphrase. And depending on where you fall on the evangelical spectrum, you either love the phrase or hate it.

You may be a weary mom—exhausted by the little years—and come upon an article talking about how you must first meet your own needs in order to care for your children. “Self-care is the first step to sustainable mothering,” the author says. It makes sense to you. You’re tired. You’re overwhelmed. You see all the needs around you, but feel depleted, left with nothing to give.

Then while scrolling through Instagram later that evening, you come upon another idea: soul-care. “You don’t need self-care; you need soul-care. You need the Bible and you need prayer. Jesus is sufficient for all of your needs,” this person says. This makes sense, too, you think. You know you’re physically drained, but your spiritual reserves are also running on fumes.

Must you choose between soul-care and self-care? A closer look at Scripture reveals that sometimes both are needed. For Christians, these two practices walk hand in hand toward flourishing.

Embodied Life

As human beings, we are both body and soul. To thrive, both need to be nourished and cared for. When we divorce self-care from soul-care, we err in one of two ways. On one extreme, we get stoicism devoid of compassion. On the other, we get selfishness devoid of sacrifice.

Soul-care without self-care treats the body, or even the personality, as a shell that houses the more important part of our selves. It misses the reality of the brokenness of this world and the real ways it affects our bodies. Too much emphasis on self-care, though, makes our ultimate happiness about our physical needs being met. We know from Scripture that physical sacrifice is a part of the Christian life (Luke 9:23). Self-care, like soul-care, must serve a greater purpose that doesn’t just culminate in our needs being met.

Understanding this embodied life helps us join the two together, for the greater good of serving those under our care. You are a soul in a body, so you don’t get to neglect your body—any more than you get to neglect your soul. Your body must be taken care of in order for you to both survive and thrive. You need food. You need water. You need exercise. You need sleep. When Paul writes, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29), he assumes self-care is a basic and valid part of human existence.

You are a finite and limited being, which means your physical body is bound by real limitations. To neglect them is foolish and to your peril—even your spiritual peril.

Embodied Care on Sleepless Nights

I have struggled with severe insomnia since the birth of my third son. I have tried every remedy imaginable, from anxiety medication to essential oils. Thankfully, I now have a regimen that works for me. I have to wind down at the end of the day. I need mindless things in the evening, like television. I need to go to bed early. I wear ridiculous-looking glasses that help eliminate blue light when I watch television. I limit my schedule at night so that I don’t cut into my sleep habits. I drink a special tea at bedtime. I read fiction before bed (nothing too engaging or I’ll be awake for hours!).

Is that strictly self-care? On the surface it looks like it. I’m doing things that seem to only benefit me. But in the same way that I’m a soul in a body, I’m also a human who lives in relationship to others. If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t get up early enough to spend time reading my Bible. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m not able to take care of my children during the day. If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m grumpy with my husband. If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t do the work required of me (like writing this article). If I pretended my needs were strictly spiritual, I would not be serving anyone.

If I pretended my needs were strictly spiritual, I would not be serving anyone.

My battle with sleep is a physical one that has spiritual implications. No amount of reading my Bible and prayer will help me go to sleep. Of course, I know that only God grants sleep (Ps. 127:2)—in fact, this has been the truth that has caused me to depend on him even more in my insomnia. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to work toward healthy sleep habits. My self-care is my soul-care.

Man Who Needed Soul-Care (and Self-Care)

There is biblical precedent for this care, which is important, since this conversation is so fraught with tension among women. Elijah was a prophet of the Lord in ancient Israel. He had a hard job. He spoke God’s words to people who refused to listen and even threatened his life.

Perhaps surprisingly, he also practiced self-care.

We meet Elijah in 1 Kings 19, after a great battle for God in 1 Kings 18. He has just defeated the prophets of Baal, demonstrating to all Israel that only God is God. But this mighty act was not well received by Jezebel, the wicked queen. So Elijah runs. And in 1 Kings 19 we find him in the cave. After all he’s just seen God do, we’d expect him to be energized for the next hurdle. Instead he is weary and discouraged, and he asks God to take his life.

But instead of rebuking him, which is what we would expect, God grants him sleep (v. 5). Then God feeds him, and he sleeps some more (v. 6). Then he eats again, because the angel of the Lord says the journey is too great for him (v. 7). And as if this weren’t surprising enough, verse 8 tells us that he’s strengthened in this way for 40 days. Before God gives Elijah his next task, or even shows up to speak to him, he provides for Elijah’s body.

Elijah’s in an extraordinary circumstance. The task to which God has called him has depleted him. But instead of rebuking him for his frailty, God meets him where is and strengthens his body. There is a time for spiritual restoration, but Elijah first needs physical restoration. You could even argue that self-care, rightly understood, is the very thing that nourished his soul.

Even the great prophet of the Lord was a human being, an embodied person, who needed his physical needs met so he could meet the spiritual needs of others. How much more so you and me? When we forget that we are souls in a body easily ravaged by life in a fallen world, we miss the nourishment we need for the tasks set before us.

To Change America, Invite a Millennial to Church

Sat, 10/26/2019 - 12:04am

The Story: There are now as many Millennials who say they “never” attend religious services as there are who attend once a week. Here’s a simple way to change that trend.

The Background: A recent survey by Pew Research finds that the percentage of American adults that describe themselves as Christians continues to decline. Currently, 43 percent of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51 percent a decade ago, and only one-in-five adults (20 percent) identify as Catholic, down from 23 percent in 2009. 

In contrast, says Pew, all subsets of the religiously unaffiliated population (i.e., religious “nones”) have increased. Self-described atheists now account for 4 percent of U.S. adults, up from 2 percent in 2009; agnostics make up 5 percent of U.S. adults, up from 3 percent a decade ago; and 17 percent of Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12 percent in 2009. Members of non-Christian religions also have grown modestly as a share of the adult population.

Additionally, self-reported attendance at religious services has also declined. The share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percentage points over the last decade. The share who say they attend religious services less often (if at all) has risen by the same degree. In 2009, regular worship attenders (those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month) outnumbered those who attend services only occasionally or not at all by a 52-to-47 percent margin. Today those figures are reversed; more Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54 percent) than say they attend at least monthly (45 percent).

The Christian share of the population has declined and religious “nones” have grown in almost every demographic group measured in the survey: white people, black people and Hispanics; men and women; in all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment.

Religious “nones” are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though Pew notes their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions. And although the religiously unaffiliated are on the rise among younger people and most groups of older adults, their growth is most pronounced among young adults. The percentage change in Millennials (16 percent) is equal to the combined change of the Silent Generation (2 percent), Baby Boomers (6 percent), and Gen X-ers (8 percent). 

Only half of Millennials (49 percent) describe themselves as Christians; four-in-ten are religious “nones,” and one-in-ten Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths. Only about one-in-three Millennials say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month. Roughly two-thirds of Millennials (64 percent) attend worship services a few times a year or less often, including about four-in-ten who say they seldom or never go. Indeed, there are as many Millennials who say they “never” attend religious services (22 percent) as there are who say they go at least once a week (22 percent).

Why It Matters: Oftentimes when we see such trends we are tempted to despair because there is no obvious solution we can implement as individuals. But this time is different. There is a way we could work to turn the tide: invite a Millennial to church. 

In a survey last year, LifeWay Research found that almost one-in-three (29 percent) Protestant churchgoers said in the last six months they had not invited an individual or family to attend a worship service with them at church. 

Church invitations were more rare in some parts of the country than in others. Forty-two percent of churchgoers in the Northeast and 37 percent of Midwesterners said they hadn’t invited anyone. Yet one-in-four Southerners (24 percent) and those in the West (26 percent) also said they hadn’t invited anyone.

When asked about the primary reason they didn’t invite anyone, about one-in-three churchgoers said “I don’t know,” while about one-in-ten (11 percent) said they’re just not comfortable inviting people to church. Another 20 percent said their invitations would likely be rejected. 

Such reasons are not completely unjustified. Only 35 percent of the unchurched say they would attend a worship service if they were invited by someone they knew. But we can’t know if a person is in that one-third of people who will come unless we ask. 

Also, while we should be inviting people of all ages, we should make a special effort to target Millennials (ages 23 to 38). This demographic is the most likely to be not only unchurched but to never have attended a worship service. And based on survey results, there is a high probability that no one has ever invited them to church before. 

So do your part to reverse the trend. Think of a Millennial you know and then invite them to church today. They may say no. But they may say yes. And God could use that simple invitation to change the trajectory of their life for all eternity.

Hope for Hong Kong

Sat, 10/26/2019 - 12:00am

At a recent meal with church friends, someone asked about the most beautiful place we’ve ever visited. Pictures of Yellowstone National Park, Sicily, Prague, and the New England coastline flashed through my mind, but one image remained: Hong Kong. The city skyline before a backdrop of green mountains, as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, is hard to beat.

I grew up in a southern Chinese city named Guangzhou, roughly two hours north of Hong Kong by train. We speak the same dialect, sing the same pop songs, and watch the same shows. I’m accustomed to calling Hong Kong my second home. The small city is packed with different scenery, people groups, and cultures. It is the first lens through which I saw Western culture, and also where I glimpsed the best of Chinese culture.

I remember, as a child in China, watching the 6:30 evening news out of Hong Kong. Often our TV would suddenly switch to a color screen for five to ten minutes, and then everything would return to normal. Or during a special news report, we’d see scenes of birds flying over nature instead of the actual news report. My parents would say, “Ahh, they are talking again about something that we can’t hear.” My 10-year-old brain didn’t understand why certain things were off limits for those of us living in China. That was my first experience of censorship.

After I immigrated to the United States and discovered the spectrum of political opinions and worldviews, I became more aware of the danger of censorship. The audience isn’t just deprived of information on certain sensitive topics, but of entire categories of vocabulary with which to process information. In other words, people are denied different frameworks to make sense of the information they already have.

This is what makes Hong Kong such a fascinating place. It is an intersection of Eastern and Western ideas and cultures. The 99 years that Hong Kong was under British rule—a source of shame to many in China—gave the people of Hong Kong access to ideas and worldviews that most in mainland China didn’t have. But this is also what has, in recent decades, made Hong Kong such a dangerous place in the eyes of the Chinese government.

Intersection of East and West

Under the “One Nation, Two Systems” agreement, Hong Kong is afforded a degree of autonomy and freedom that the people in China don’t have. As travel between the mainland and Hong Kong became much easier in the early 2000s, it promoted not only a greater exchange of commercial goods but also a greater exchange of ideas. The people—and house churches—of China suddenly had access to knowledge they didn’t possess before. Hong Kong became a refuge for churches in China, a place where mainland pastors and believers could gather for training and prayer.

Censorship denies people not only information, but vocabulary and frameworks to make sense of the information they already have.

All of this didn’t go unnoticed by the central Chinese government. Since its return to China in 1997, Hong Kong has noticed a gradual erosion of its freedom and autonomy. The Extradition Bill was another big step in this trend, but even without the bill, the erosion process seems irreversible. (That could be a large part of why protests and unrest haven’t died down after the withdrawal of the bill.) The people—especially the young people—fear that over time, Hong Kong will just become another Chinese city, with social-media access limited, actions monitored, and news outlets censored.

In a sense, censorship is already happening in Hong Kong, but it’s a form of self-censorship. The various sides of Hong Kong society tend to see and interpret events in a way that supports their own positions. There is a spin to everything. The conflict is not just between the people in Hong Kong and the central government in Beijing, but also among different factions of Hong Kong society. As people dig ever deeper into their own ideological positions, the possibility for political compromise and peaceful resolution becomes less and less likely.

What Should the Church Do?

Churches in Hong Kong have faced questions about their social, political, and moral responsibilities. Some accuse the Christian leaders in Hong Kong of advocating for violence, since protests and rallies are often preceded by prayer gatherings. Some say Christians are obstructing justice, since they place their bodies between the police and the protestors. Some denounce the church and church schools as vehicles of Western ideology. Some demand the church condemn the violence and stop harboring protestors. Some call on the church to protest the government, because churches should speak out for the oppressed, and because they also stand to lose in the erosion of their freedom.

The way forward isn’t in choosing a side, but in protecting the distinctiveness of being the church of Christ.

One thing is clear: different factions see Christian churches either as allies or as enemies; they either seek to solicit the churches’ support or to ensure the churches don’t complicate things further. Facing pressure from within and without, some church leaders are struggling to come up with the best way to move forward.

Hong Kong churches are facing an unprecedented test, and it’s becoming harder to discern how they’re called to be a blessing to the city. But precisely in this time, churches can point people to the gospel. Perhaps the way forward is not in pleasing different sides of society or in forming an alliance with the right faction. The way forward may lie in protecting the distinctiveness of being the church of Christ and, as such, being the scaffold of God’s heavenly kingdom come to earth.

Witness to Another Kingdom

The best way to view current events is through the lens of eternity; this perspective is revealed throughout the Scriptures, and it cannot be censored. While public opinions can be swayed by the breeze of news reports, Christians know where their eternal destiny lies—in a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28). The church must steadily preach the gospel, in season and out (2 Tim. 4:2). For only in finding true rest will men cease raging.

Because we hope in a heavenly King, we do not have to take sides to promote an earthly king. Christians don’t have to bend the truth to either support or denigrate any societal faction. If different sides are only interested in a partial narrative that supports their own ideological position, churches should shed light on the full narrative. Whether it is pointing out mistreatment of police officers or violence against protesters, the church defends truth—and as such, should call out any injustice done to anyone.

It is right and just for churches to speak out against unjust laws and defend freedom, but they never have to do it from a place of desperation.

The church can be an agent of love and peace. As we enter the sixth month of protest and unrest, peace in Hong Kong seems like a distant memory or fanciful dream. It’s almost impossible to get anyone to listen to each other, not to mention love each other. But Christians bear the call to love our neighbors—including our enemies—as ourselves. That neighbor could be a protester or a police officer, black shirt or white shirt, blue ribbon or yellow ribbon. The door of the church is open to all who seek refuge in Christ, who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14).

Ultimately, church members can show their hope in Christ by living as people who are truly free (1 Pet. 2:16). It is right and just for churches to speak out against unjust laws and defend freedom, but they never have to do it from a place of desperation. In this, they can perhaps learn from their brothers and sisters in the mainland, who have not ceased to pray for the people who oppress them, share Christ with the officials who arrest them, and love the neighbors who report them. Proclaiming the gospel may even sound more distinct in the face of suffering, since light shines brightest in the dark.

We give thanks to God for preserving the churches in Hong Kong over the last 100 years and for two decades of relative peace and freedom under Hong Kong’s autonomous status. The future of Hong Kong is uncertain, and will likely include further unrest. In the midst of all the rubble, may the scaffold of God’s kingdom rise up to point to a better city.

Evangelizing Youth in a Selfie Age

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 12:04am

“The thing about the Narcissus myth is that Narcissus wasn’t just in love with himself; he was in love with the image of himself. I think that’s very interesting in an Instagram age—we fall in love not even with ourselves, but with the curated image of ourselves we project into the world. And yet it’s so empty, it’s so hollow. So you’ve got this really interesting disjunction between investing in an image and, at the same time, the prizing of authenticity.” — Glen Scrivener

Date: April 2, 2019

Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.


Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.

The Samaritan Woman and Our Barrier-Smashing Savior

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 12:03am

God’s Word tells us that to endure in this life we must fix our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). But what does it mean to fix your eyes on someone you can’t see?

The Gospels tell stories about Jesus that show us his character. We learn how he interacted with people and the world around him. By studying these stories, we learn to set our eyes and hearts on him.

Jesus interacted with all kinds of people, but there’s something beautiful, convicting, countercultural, and transformative about Jesus’s interactions with women.

Backstory on Samaria

To understand the significance of Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman, we should know a little background. Samaritans were of a mixed ethnicity and religion—they were not Jews, but they practiced elements of Judaism and worshiped Yahweh alongside other gods. The Jews spitefully regarded the Samaritans as hated half-breeds. Both the Jews and the Samaritans were hostile toward each other’s cultural and religious practices and sites of worship (Luke 9:53).

As we come to the scene in John 4—to a well in Samaria at midday—there are invisible lines in the sand; unknown to modern readers but well-known to John’s first audience. Cultural lines, religious lines, ethnic lines, and gender lines mark dramatic rings around that particular well. But here’s the thing about Jesus: he’s not afraid to cross lines.

And these crossed lines would forever change the woman of Samaria and many others in that region.

Unexpected Conversation

As John 4 opens, Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Samaria. Tired from the journey, Jesus rests beside a well on the edge of the town of Sychar. As his disciples head into town to buy food, Jesus is left alone. It’s noon and likely hot, and a woman from Samaria arrives to draw water.

Jesus asks the woman for water; she expresses surprise that a Jew would talk to a Samaritan. It was culturally unacceptable for a man to speak with a woman privately (4:27). Jesus, however, cares for people more than he cares for cultural, political, and religious divides. Above all else, he is concerned for the woman’s soul; and he desires to give her living water (4:10).

Cultural lines, religious lines, ethnic lines, and gender lines marked dramatic rings around that well. But here’s the thing about Jesus: he’s not afraid to cross lines.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk, and he ends up telling her everything she’s ever done. Most importantly, he reveals he’s the Messiah she’s been waiting for. With a new heart of love for him, the woman drops everything and runs off to share with her village what she’s learned.

When Jesus and the disciples return to the town center, many of the Samaritans have become believers, and they ask Jesus to stay for two days. During those two days, Jesus and his disciples would have engaged with the Samaritans on an intimate level—eating, talking, living together—despite massive cultural divides.

Breaking Barriers

Jesus did not sin by speaking with the woman alone. Nor did he sin by speaking with a Samaritan, someone culturally and religiously unlike him. In fact, if Jesus had followed the prejudices of his day and not spoken to her, she might never have heard the good news. The people in her village might never have believed.

But Jesus didn’t follow the prejudices of his day regarding gender and ethnicity. On the contrary, he lifted up and honored those the culture marginalized. Surely this was part of his appeal. People used to being dismissed, ridiculed, and rejected were suddenly talking with someone who both saw them and loved them.

Eyes on Him

Jesus made himself known, made himself available, and, most importantly, lovingly knew the Samaritan woman. That’s not just a good story. Jesus has also made himself known to us, is available to us, and lovingly knows our deepest needs and longings. He satisfies us by giving us himself. For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).

If this is true—if his character is true, which it is—then where else would we go? Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, and love the unlikely as he did.

Let’s Retrieve Good Theology—and Not Start with Luther

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 12:02am

I’m often asked in my church history and theology courses, “Why does this class matter for the pastorate? Or on the mission field? Or in my home?” The idea that historical theology can influence or transform how we minister, proclaim the gospel, plant churches, or raise children is foreign to many of my students and, if we’re honest, foreign to many American evangelicals. Sometimes this attitude arises from a kind of latent reaction against Roman Catholicism, and anything prior to the Reformation is viewed under a “fall of the church” paradigm (19). Other times, it arises from a more pragmatic focus: we just can’t see the “cash value” of studying church history or historical theology, especially prior to Martin Luther.

In his new book, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals: Why We Need Our Past to Have a Future, Gavin Ortlund—senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in Ojai, California—wants to help evangelicals understand exactly why and how historical theology matters for the life and health of churches. He argues that “the affirmation of a robust Protestant identity need not prohibit, but should rather encourage, an appropriation of the wisdom of the early and medieval church” (20). In other words, as Protestants we have every reason, right, and compulsion to study historical theology.

Proper Catholicism

Theological Retrieval is divided into two main parts. In Part I, Ortlund gives “A Manifesto for Theological Retrieval,” while in Part 2 he works through case studies of theological retrieval. Ortlund’s primary aim in Part I is to show evangelicals why they not only can (chapter 1) but should (chapter 2) retrieve patristic and medieval (along with reformational) theology. He also details the benefits and perils of retrieval in chapter 3.

In the first two chapters of this section, Ortlund is keen to provide a better model for viewing the past than the common anti-Roman Catholic suspicion of anything prior the Reformation that pervades much of evangelicalism. He contrasts the approach of B. B. Warfield, in which “Protestant theology is the castle in which we safely live: patristic and medieval theology is a dark forest surrounding the castle into which we may occasionally venture,” with “a more inclusive approach in which all 2,000 years of church history function as our most basic theological community, and Scripture alone stands above as our authoritative norm” (30).

This more inclusive approach is modeled, according to Ortlund, by the likes of John Calvin, Martin Luther, Francis Turretin, and John Owen. Instead of viewing historical theology prior to the Reformation as extracting leavened bread from the unleavened, as Warfield does, the reformers and many of their heirs give us warrant to acknowledge a “proper catholicism,” one in which we can affirm “the preservation of the church in every generation,” draw “widely from the wisdom of earlier generations,” and sum up “their own goal as returning to the purity of the early church” (43).

But Ortlund doesn’t stop with the idea that evangelicals can retrieve patristic and medieval theology; he also wants to argue we should do so. He uses the ongoing departures from Protestantism to Rome and the 2016 Trinity debate as examples pointing to a lack of historical-theological depth among many evangelicals. Ortlund says of this historically shallow practice of the faith that

to the extent that evangelicals adopt a kind of “me and my Bible” theological method, as though theology can be done without appropriation of the battles and settlements of earlier generations, we diminish and destabilize our witness. (57)

You need Christian voices of the past to address your theological and pastoral present and guide you into your theological and pastoral future.


we can and should strengthen the vitality of evangelical Protestantism by thinking about our one historical identity with greater scrutiny and self-awareness and doing theology with more self-conscious engagement with the classical creeds, confessions, and theological texts of the church. (57)

In other words, evangelicals need to retrieve patristic and medieval (and reformational) theology so that they both (1) avoid the pitfalls of past theological reflection and also (2) learn from the wisdom of past theological reflection.

In the final chapter in Part I, Ortlund outlines the benefits and perils of retrieval. Regarding the former, he uses three metaphors: going to school, traveling to a foreign country, and seeing a counselor (68). In other words, tradition can teach us what we don’t know, can place us in an encounter with someone who thinks differently than we do, and can provide spiritual resources for present pastoral concerns. The pitfalls Ortlund mentions are distortion, in which we distort the past to fit the present; artificiality, which is akin to proof-texting but with historical theology instead of the Bible; repristination, in which we paper over the problems with a past figure’s position; and minimalism, in which we attempt to minimize disagreement between different historical figures or periods. Ortlund ends this chapter by exploring three neglected figures: Boethius, Gregory the Great, and John of Damascus.

Part II is a bit larger than Part I, but consists entirely of case studies in theological retrieval. Chapters 4 and 5 attempt to retrieve aspects of the patristic and medieval doctrine of God, namely the Creator/creature distinction and divine simplicity. Chapter 6 places the atonement doctrines of Irenaeus, Anselm, and Athanasius in conversation in order to address current controversies over atonement models, while the final chapter retrieves Gregory the Great’s insights regarding the pastoral office.

Theological Retrieval and Evangelical Theology

I can’t recommend Ortlund’s book highly enough for evangelicals—especially those who feel an aversion to appreciating anyone who precedes the reformers aside from Hus and Wycliffe. This book can and probably will convince you that you need Christian voices of the past in order to address your theological and pastoral present, and to guide you into your theological and pastoral future.

As Protestants, we have every reason, right, and compulsion to study historical theology.

Ortlund thoroughly debunks the “fall of the church” myth that still pervades our Christian subculture, both through thinking along the grain of Scripture about “guarding the good deposit” and also through forcing us to read the reformers’ words regarding how they felt about the communion of saints that came before them. He also demonstrates how retrieving the voices of the past can speak to our present through relevant, documented examples. The one perhaps most familiar to this audience is the 2016 Trinity debate; as Ortlund observes, many in that conversation, and particularly those in favor of a functional subordinationist position, would have benefited from retrieving the classical doctrine of God, especially with respect to the Creator/creature distinction and divine simplicity.

Ortlund also adeptly offers many relevant examples of retrieval, from ones used to bolster his points throughout Part I to the four case studies in Part II. If you want method in action, this book is it. Although I have a few questions (e.g., does the cultural landscape he describes fit the majority world church [60–66]? If not, what does retrieval look like for them?) and minor disagreements (e.g., I tend to think the Tolkien analogies in chapter 4 break down much quicker than stated), I want to again commend this book without reservation and with enthusiasm. To state it as strongly as possible, we need this book, and Ortlund is the perfect person to have written it. Evangelicals need historical theology, and we neglect it to our peril. Rather than seeing ourselves as cut off from the pre-Reformation church, we should think together with the communion of all the saints throughout space and time, under the Lordship of Christ, exercised through his Spirit-inspired Word, to the glory of the Father.


Beware of Friendship Idealism

Fri, 10/25/2019 - 12:00am

The words came through an email. As I skimmed through, I assumed I hadn’t read them correctly. My heart began beating quickly as I reread the first few lines and realized, in fact, I had read it right the first time. The biting words sunk in deep. A friend had misunderstood me and not given me the benefit of the doubt, and she was writing to let me know I’d disappointed her.

Whether it’s an inconsiderate word or an unexpected betrayal, we’ve all been hurt by someone we considered a friend. When it happens to me, as it did through that email, my natural tendency is to pull away, erect protective barriers around my vulnerability, and let the friendship fade into the background as if it never existed.

Sometimes, when the wound is especially deep, our tendency isn’t just to write off the friend off but to write off friendship itself. We’re hurt so badly that we give ourselves over to cynicism, bitterness, and resentment. We wonder if friendship is worth the risk of wading through the emotions and hurts, of attempting reconciliation, of making ourselves vulnerable again.

Sure, we’re friendly and sociable at a safe distance, but heart-level friendship? It’s too hard and too risky, and it never quite lives up to our wish-dreams. With idealized expectations, it’s far too easy to feel insecure about or frustrated with reality.

I tend to want to cast the blame for my imperfect friendships on others, but it works both ways. Sometimes I’m the one who hurts others, something I inadvertently did this year. Although my hurt friend brought it to my attention, I initially remained blind to the way I was wounding her, wanting to blame her instead.

But she brought it to my attention again, just as clearly and gently as the first time, and I finally understood the problem I had caused. This friend challenged me to stay in the friendship and work through our differences rather than keep my distance. This felt risky to me; in the end, though, it’s been worth it. What’s more, it honors the Lord.

True Biblical Friendship

Isn’t this what true, biblical friendship is about: being willing to love, forgive, and bear with those we don’t always understand? And being willing to confess sin, inadvertent or not, and receive the grace that helps us grow? This is certainly more characteristic of biblical friendship than the dinner parties and game nights we imagine in our minds. Biblical friendship helps us grow; it sharpens us just as we’re used by God to sharpen others.

Isn’t this what true, biblical friendship is about: being willing to love, forgive, and bear with those we don’t always understand?

Over coffee, a young woman in my church and I discussed these things together, about how we have this stubborn belief that friendship can actually be what we idealize in our heads. She said she wished people would invite her to more things and explained how it seemed everyone was always getting together without her. I admitted that I sometimes envy certain relationships and resent that I’m not included in them. After confessing our self-focused thoughts to one another, the conversation turned to what true friendship is and how it looks in reality.

Isn’t it, we said, an ongoing effort? Doesn’t it require commitment and perseverance? Isn’t it having to deal biblically with our inevitable hurts, being quick to forgive, crossing life-stage boundaries, and refusing to put others in categories? Isn’t it pushing through discomfort and refusing to give up on people, even when they disappoint us? And perhaps the most important question: isn’t it the greater blessing to be a person that seeks this type of community, rather than clinging to false ideals and waiting for it to just “happen” to us?

While it is a greater blessing, friendship remains a risky endeavor.

  • We must look to serve rather than be served, which means it’s possible that we might not be served in the ways we hope.
  • We must be ever willing to broaden the circle, which means we must have an eye for the outsider rather than an eye for how we can be insiders, and it’s possible we might be forgotten in the process.
  • We must be willing to address sin and conflict in appropriate ways, which means it’s possible we might be rejected.
  • We must be willing to be vulnerable, which means we might be misunderstood, and grace might not be extended to us.
New Definition

Instead of holding fast to our ideals, we need to cling to a new definition of friendship, one that allows for awkwardness and risk and fumbling through, because isn’t the road to true friendship paved by these very things? Paul offers a definition of friendship far better than our false ideals:

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Col. 3:12–15)

Paul certainly goes beyond vacationing together and small talk and waiting for someone else to initiate. He exhorts us to actively pursue being a godly friend to others—that is, to actively pursue being patient, forgiving, loving, and thankful for others as we relate to them. The focus is on what we must give to others, not what they might give to us. We don’t do these things because we hope to get something in return—friendship or whatever else. We do these things because that is how Christ showed his love toward us, and biblical friendship will always model itself after him.

Focus on what you must give to others, not what they might give to you.

Until heaven, our community will never be perfect. Not even close. It’s inevitable that we will experience hurt and disappointment in our relationships. But it’s worth the risk. By actively pursuing others in the way Christ pursues us, we extend an invitation for the friendship we desire. But we also discover the beautiful and always-faithful way Christ relates to us. Because we have a sure and steadfast anchor, because we recognize friendship as a gift, we’re willing to embrace the reality of friendship—mess and all.

Melissa Kruger on Asking Better Questions

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 12:04am

One way to teach is to lecture. Certainly it’s more controllable. But does it provide the best way for those we’re teaching to learn?

Creating interaction, some back-and-forth on the text and its implications, with those we’re teaching creates a more fruitful learning environment. But to teach this way, we have to develop our skills in asking good questions as well as avoiding unhelpful or frustrating questions.

In this episode I talked to Melissa Kruger, director of women’s content at The Gospel Coalition, about what kinds of questions help people to learn, especially in a small-group Bible studies. We built our conversation around the helpful articles she wrote a couple of years ago—“4 Types of Questions NOT to Ask in Your Small Group Bible Study” and “Asking Better Questions in Small-Group Discussions.” I also asked Melissa a few questions about her own development as a Bible teacher and what she looks for as she selects women to teach at The Gospel Coalition’s 2020 Women’s Conference.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.