members
contact us
Affiliate Resource Feeds
The Gospel Coalition 

Last week the Houthis, an aggressive Shia militant group, staged a coup in Yemen.

Houthis surrounded the Presidential Palace in Sanaa and kidnapped the president’s chief of staff. (Kidnapping is an integral part of Yemeni politics.) Initially it seemed the Yemeni president, A. R. M. Hadi, might be able to negotiate a peace deal with the Houthis. But it soon became clear that the militants had already taken control of about 70 percent of the Yemeni military capability and had no interest in negotiation.

Rather than follow the dictates of the Houthis, President Hadi and his cabinet resigned in disgust. The Houthis are now in charge—but these rebel tribesmen don’t seem to be sure as to how exactly to go about the notoriously difficult job of running the country.

The only certainty in Yemen today is that the future will be volatile and difficult for average Yemenis.

Here is a rundown of the major players.

1. Despite support from America, the weak Yemeni government has been unable to balance all the country’s factions. Before the Arab Spring uprisings, the country was long run by dictator A. A. Saleh, who infamously described ruling Yemen as “dancing on the heads of snakes.” Saleh was overthrown in 2012, yet he continues to maintain a lot of influence in the nation's affairs. The new president, A. R. M. Hadi, was only supposed to preside over the government briefly while Yemen developed its constitution and held elections. That process has been long, difficult, and frequently interrupted by instability. As a result, a legitimate elected government has yet to be established.

2. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) operates mostly in southern Yemen. Yemenis have actually suffered just as much, if not more, than Westerners at the hands of AQAP. AQAP has long been wreaking havoc in Yemen with constant violent attacks against the American-backed Yemeni government. The same week AQAP claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris, they also detonated a bomb outside a police college in Sanaa that killed almost 40 innocent people. Though large numbers of Yemenis do not like AQAP’s presence in their country, AQAP is deeply intertwined with the southern tribes who harbor them more for political and security reasons than for ideological ones.

3. The Houthis are a Zaydi Shia group from northern Yemen. (Zaydi Shias are not of the same sect of Shia Islam as Iranians.) The Houthis have long tried to take over Yemen, but until his toppling, President Saleh was able to contain them in the northernmost areas of the country. Houthis are known to distribute anti-Christian tracts, and their slogan “Death to America! Death to Israel! Curse the Jews!” is spray-painted on walls across northern Yemen. They have established a new constitution for Yemen and are actively trying to govern the country.

4. The Southern Secessionist Movement has been simmering since 2007. Now that the Houthis appear to be running things in Sanaa, the south has declared its independence and is refusing orders from the capital.

5. The United States has been carrying out drone attacks on suspected AQAP militants. They generally hit their intended targets, and Yemenis are not ungrateful for the help containing AQAP. But innocent civilians have been collateral damage as well. Yemenis may not care for AQAP, but they are increasingly horrified by American bombs falling on them unexpectedly from the sky. Now that the friendly Yemeni government seems to have fallen, America must now decide who its new partner in the country will be. The Houthis and AQAP agree on one thing: they hate America and desire to drive all things Western out of the Arabian Peninsula.

6. Iran and Saudi Arabia also each has an interest in the stability of Yemen. Saudi Arabia wants a stable country to its south, and has a history of helping to prop up the central Yemeni government and its economy. On the other hand, Iran has much in common with the Zaydi Shia Houthis. They have been supplying weapons to the Houthis, and there is no doubt that Iran aspires to secure a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.

7. Yemeni Christians are an ancient presence in the area, and may have shared the gospel of Jesus with the Prophet Muhammad. In the 5th century, Byzantine Christians lived in a northern Yemeni town called Najran, not far from where the Houthis are based today. A harsh Jewish ruler massacred thousands of Christians by throwing them into a pit of fire. Their faithfulness in the face of martyrdom is even testified to in the Qur'an (85:4-8). Muslim tradition teaches that surviving Christians from Najran discussed matters of faith with the Muslim prophet Muhammad, rejected his false teachings about Christ, and even prayed Christian prayers in a mosque in Medina.

Najran, as a bustling Christian beacon in the Arabian Peninsula, faded into history. But the Arab church can draw hope from the Najranite sacrifices and identify strongly with their persecution. They pray for the day when many spiritual descendants of Najran fill Yemen and the whole Arabian Peninsula.  

In his interview with The Gospel Coalition about his faith, his football career, and Super Bowl XLIX, Seattle Seahawks assistant coach Rocky Seto asked for one editorial favor.

“Could we emphasize that Jesus is better than anything this world has to offer and that he is the greatest treasure in the entire universe?” Seto said. “Jesus is better than the Super Bowl.”

Seto made the same comment—that Jesus is better than the Super Bowl—in an interview in December 2013. Less than two months later, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl.

On February 1, Seto will win it again if the Seahawks beat the New England Patriots. Even if they lose, though, Seto will continue to preach the same sermon, says Mike Sylvester, director of Athletes in Action at the University of Southern California (USC).

“Don’t get me wrong,” Sylvester said. “Rocky is a competitive man. I’ve only seen a handful of other people who’ve worked as hard as Rocky has . . . but if the Seahawks don’t win, Rock would say, ‘To God be the glory. He’s still on the throne, and he’s still the only one who matters,’” because Seto knows his back-to-back Super Bowls berths would never have happened without his Christian faith.

Dreams of USC

Raised a short drive from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Seto dreamed as a teenager of playing football at USC.

But he wasn’t talented enough to make the transition directly from Arcadia High School. His parents, Japanese immigrants, preferred for him to attend a four-year college. Instead Seto enrolled at Mt. San Antonio Community College with the intention of transferring to USC after two more years of hard work.

“My whole identity was tied into playing football at USC,” Seto says. “If I took care of football, everything would be okay. I thought that, even as a boy, meaning I would feel important, have purpose, and have a mission in my life.”

Two years later, Seto ran out the Coliseum tunnel wearing a USC uniform to play Florida State. Everything wasn't okay, though.

“It was cool. It was really good,” he says, “but I felt something like, ‘Wow, there’s got to be more to it than this.’”

Seto soon heard the gospel from Sylvester and several other Christian teammates, and he realized football wasn’t better than everything.

“The Lord broke me,” Seto explains. “He allowed me to achieve my idol, and he showed me the idol was hollow. . . . From that moment on, I was never the same. Football was really important, but Christ showed me that he’s way more important.”

“[Seto] just had an insatiable hunger,” Sylvester says. “I would just feed him Scripture, and he would eat it up. . . . When Rocky would come up against the hard truth of Scripture where his life was not congruent with it, then Rock didn’t flinch. He’s not a perfect man, but Rock really took and takes Jesus seriously.”

Seto played football during his junior and senior years at USC. After he graduated in 1999, USC accepted him into its graduate school for physical therapy. But to the dismay of his parents and head coach Paul Hackett, Seto felt a calling to be a coach.

Hackett reluctantly offered him a job as an administrative assistant, which required Seto to bring the coaching staff lunch, among other humble office duties. USC fired Hackett two years later, though, so Seto braced himself to be dismissed as a new staff entered.

However, his career was extended by a relationship that began at a USC women’s volleyball game. Seto had only attended the game to impress his girlfriend. But while sitting in the stands, Seto recognized and introduced himself to Pete Carroll, who was there to watch his daughter play. After USC hired Carroll as head coach, he gave Seto a shot as a graduate assistant.

“He really wanted it, really bad,” Carroll tells TGC.

Two national championships, four major bowl victories, and three job promotions later, Seto had worked his way up to defensive coordinator and achieved more at USC by 2009 than he’d ever imagined.

“That [success] was good,” Seto says. “However, I think it was building idolatry in my heart. My identity was in Christ, but it was mixed in with my identity as a USC football coach.”

From USC to the NFL 

Carroll left USC to coach the Seahawks in 2010 and didn’t initially hire Seto. After USC let Seto go during offseason, Carroll offered him an entry-level position as quality control coach.

“That really bothered me,” Seto says. “I was thinking to myself, How come I wasn’t brought up originally? And in my mind, I went from my dream job to what I used to do 10 years ago.”

He wanted to decline the offer, but hours of prayer helped humble him. He accepted. A week later, his father-in-law, who lived in Seattle, suffered kidney failure.

If Seto had declined, he and his wife would not have been by his father-in-law’s side during the next several years of dialysis treatment. Seto would also not have helped introduce a tackling technique to football last year that he and Carroll believe will significantly decrease concussions—an innovation they believe will be their greatest contribution to the sport. And this Sunday, Seto would not have a chance to win his fourth championship.

“He’s my No. 1 guy in terms of philosophy and approach,” Carroll says. “He’s the first guy to keep us on track with all of the things that we believe in, staying in connection with the mentality that we’re trying to promote and the culture that we’re trying to build.”

Seto himself takes little credit. “If it was up to me,” he said, “I wouldn’t have chosen to leave SC and come up here, but God knows better.”

“This Super Bowl thing, it’s such a big deal to the people of the Northwest,” he adds. “You can see how the Seahawks provide identity for so many people. What’s cool is that God has opened up a platform through winning to talk about Jesus Christ, the greatest treasure of all. Why do we want to win? I know the brothers on the team, they want to win to glorify God and tell more people about Jesus Christ.”

Editors’ note: The following article is an excerpt from Praying With Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation (2nd ed.) by D. A. Carson (Baker). In addition, The Gospel Coalition, in partnership with LifeWay, recently published a new group study curriculum for Praying With Paul, co-written by Carson and Brian Tabb. You can also listen to Carson teach on this subject when you register for his workshop at The Gospel Coalition National Conference, April 13 to 15 in Orlando.


Throughout my spiritual pilgrimage, two sources have largely shaped, and continue to shape, my own prayer life: the Scriptures and more mature Christians.

The less authoritative of these two has been the advice, wisdom, and example of senior saints. I confess I am not a very good student in the school of prayer. Still, devoting [space] to their advice and values may be worthwhile before I turn to the more important and more authoritative of the two sources that have taught me to pray.

Among the lessons more mature Christians have taught me, then, are these.

1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray.

We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray. That means we must self-consciously set aside time to do nothing but pray. What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words.

2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift.

Anyone who has been on the Christian way for a while knows there are times when our private prayers run something like this: “Dear Lord, I thank you for the opportunity of coming into your presence by the merits of Jesus. It is a wonderful blessing to call you Father. . . . I wonder where I left my car keys? [No, no! Back to business.] Heavenly Father, I began by asking that you will watch over my family—not just in the physical sphere, but in the moral and spiritual dimensions of our lives. . . . Boy, last Sunday’s sermon was sure bad. I wonder if I’ll get that report written on time? [No, no!] Father, give real fruitfulness to that missionary couple we support, whatever their name is. . . . Oh, my! I had almost forgotten to fix my son’s bike today.” Or am I the only Christian who has ever had problems with mental drift? But you can do many things to stamp out daydreaming, to stifle reveries. One of the most useful things is to vocalize your prayers. . . . Another thing you can do is pray over the Scriptures. . . . It is entirely appropriate to tie your praying to your Bible reading.

3. At various periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer-partner relationship.

If you know how to pray, consider seeking out someone else and teaching him or her how to pray. By teaching I do not mean set lessons so much as personal example communicated in a prayer-partner relationship.

4. Choose models—but choose them well.

Most of us can improve our praying by carefully, thoughtfully listening to others pray. This does not mean copying everything we hear. . . . Not every good model provides us with exactly the same prescription for good praying, exactly the same balance. All of them pray with great seriousness; all of them use arguments and seek goals that are already portrayed in Scripture. Some of the seem to carry you with them into the very throne room of the Almighty; others are particularly faithful in intercession, despite the most difficult circumstances in life and ministry; still others are noteworthy because of the breadth of their vision. All are characterized by a wonderful mixture of contrition and boldness in prayer.

5. Develop a system for your prayer lists.

It is difficult to pray faithfully for a large spread of people and concerns without developing prayer lists that help you remember them. These lists come in a variety of forms. Many denominations and mission agencies and even some large local churches publish their own prayer lists. . . . Many Christians who give themselves to prayer find that, in addition to such published information, it is wise and fruitful to prepare their own lists. . . . Whatever the system, however, use prayer lists. All of us would be wiser if we would resolve never to put people down, except on our prayer lists.

6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession, but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture.

Both theoretical and practical considerations underlie this advice. The theoretical considerations can best be set out by mentally conjuring up two extremes. The first judges it inappropriate to ask God for things. Surely he is sovereign; he does not need our counsel. If he is the one “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11), surely it is a bit cheeky to badger him for things. He does not change the course of the universe because some finite, ignorant, and sinful human being asks him. The appropriate response to him is surely worship. . . . The second extreme begins with the slogan, “Prayer changes things.” Petitionary prayer is everything. This means that if people die and go to hell, it is because you or I or someone has neglected to pray. . . . On the face of it, neither of these extremes captures the balance of biblical prayers, and both of them are reductionistic in their treatment of God. . . . Even a little reflective acquaintance with the God of the Bible acknowledges that he is not less than utterly sovereign, and not less than personal and responsive. . . . Of the various models that usefully capture both of these poles, the model of personal relationship with a father is as helpful as any.

7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers.

Public praying is a pedagogical opportunity. It provides the one who is praying with an opportunity to instruct or encourage or edify all who hear the prayer. . . . Many facets of Christian discipleship, not least prayer, are rather more effectively passed on by modeling than by formal teaching. Good praying is more easily taught than caught.

8. Pray until you pray.

This is Puritan advice. It does not simply mean that persistence should mark much of our praying—though admittedly that is a point the Scriptures repeatedly make. Even though he was praying in line with God’s promises, Elijah prayed for rain seven times before the first cloud appeared in the heavens. . . . That is not quite what the Puritans mean when they exhorted one another to “pray until you pray.” What they mean is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty. To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a while. If we “pray until we pray,” eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will. Even in dark or agonized praying, we somehow know we are doing business with God. In short, we discover a little of what Jude means when he exhorts his readers to pray “in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20)—which presumably means it is treacherously possible to pray not in the Spirit. 


D. A. Carson, Praying With Paul, Second Edition, Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2015. Used by permission. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com.

What if the fall had not happened? Would institutions like the government have a place? Or is it just a necessary evil that exists only as a means to govern sinners and our selfish impulses? In this excerpt, Richard Mouw explores the goodness, purpose, and design of government, showing that—when functioning properly—government can be life-giving.

The basic cultural spheres have been, for [Dutch theologian Abraham] Kuyper, “there” from the beginning. They are somehow “contained in” the creation. In saying that kind of thing, Kuyper is once again going beyond the explicit biblical data. It’s not like we read the Bible saying that God proclaimed, “Let there be art! Let there be economics! Let there be politics!”

So what does it mean to say that these were a part of the original creational design?

Politics and Creation

The Kuyperian insistence that the political sphere was a part of the creational design is especially interesting in this regard. Like any Calvinist, Kuyper insisted that under sinful conditions governments have a God-ordained ministry of the sword. In a fallen world, political authority has a remedial function. For one thing, it holds our sinful impulses in check with the threat of punishment. I might be inclined to drive ten miles per hour over the speed limit, but the awareness that I might have to pay a fine if caught by a patrol car keeps me in line.
 
But government also exercises the ministry of the sword. It doesn’t just threaten punishment—sometimes it actually punishes. The police and military arms of the state are empowered to apprehend criminals and administer justice by the use of force. Thus the apostle’s admonition: “If you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). 
 
Kuyper was not content, however, to restrict the role of government in God’s plan simply to a post-fall function. He insisted that what we experience as political authority under fallen conditions is a manifestation of something already implicit in the original creation design. Kuyper argued in his Stone Lecture on politics that even if the fall had not occurred there would have developed a need for government. Political authority in an unfilled world would not have taken the form of coercive nation-states; rather there would have emerged “one organic world-empire, with God as its King; exactly what is prophesied for the future which awaits us, when all sin shall have disappeared.” Here government is not fundamentally a remedial response to human perversity, but a natural provision for regulating—“ordering”—the complexity of created cultural life.

Counterfactual Exercise

Kuyper liked to think about what things would be like in the creation if the fall had not occurred. This obviously strikes some as highly speculative. And in an important sense it is an exercise in speculation. For those of us, though, who find biblically inspired imaginative proposals to be useful theological exercises, this is not necessarily a bad thing. The posing of “contrary-to-fact” questions of this sort can shed some light for our understanding of the contemporary world.
 
When Kuyper speculates about political systems without the fall, he means to illuminate something important about the need for order in human affairs. Suppose a tuba player who lives in an apartment complex wants to practice on a daily basis at the same as a neighbor puts her children down for a nap. Neither is motivated by sinful impulses—they simply have different desires that are in themselves quite legitimate. The tuba player wants to be a good musician, and the woman wants to be a good parent. Or think about traffic patterns. Even sinless people would have to agree about which side of the road they would use when driving their cars. Thus the need for the regulation of group activities, even when it is not necessary to reinforce such regulative activity with coercive threats. 
 
It is with these kinds of considerations in mind that Kuyper says that even if the fall had not occurred we would still need some kind of regulative governing function. To offer an effective rebuttal to that line of argument, it is not sufficient simply to reject the use of the counterfactual as such; rather it is necessary to show that there is something conceptually implausible about what the counterfactual claim is meant to illustrate—namely, the idea of a political order that regulates life in an unfilled world. 

'Life-Giving' Politics

During the 1970s, I attended a gathering that focused on “radical discipleship,” and one of the speakers kept describing the United States as given over to “the way of death.” His primary example, of course, was the war being waged in Vietnam—this group was critical of that military operation. He formulated his case theologically by citing William Stringfellow’s argument, quite popular at the time, that the United States was the present-day manifestation of the biblical portrayal of fallen Babylon. 
 
As I listened, I was struck by the gap between this un-nuanced rhetorical depiction of the American political system as given over to death dealing and my own experience that week of accompanying our son on his way to school. He had just started kindergarten, and his daily walk to school followed a path through many blocks in the inner city. As I took the journey with him, I was especially aware, as a parent concerned for the safety of our son, of the places where there were traffic lights and stop signs. Approaching the school, I overheard two teachers mention a fire-safety inspection that the city had conducted the day before. Later, as I drove during the noon hour to the campus where I was teaching, I passed another school where a uniformed crossing guard was taking children by the hand to lead them across the street. 
 
These things that I had taken special notice of as a concerned parent—traffic signals, stop signs, speed limits, crossing guards—struck me as life-promoting services provided by the government. I thanked the Lord for them. In the light of those services, the passionate denunciation of “the American system” as given over to “a way of death” was evidence of a theological myopia. 
 
My uneasiness with that kind of perspective was grounded in what I am presenting here as a basic Kuyperian impulse: there is something about government, when it is functioning properly, that fits nicely into God’s basic creating design for human life.

Taken and adapted from Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard Mouw. Copyright © 2011 by Richard Mouw. Used by permission of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49505.


Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.

FOMO is a catchy acronym that stands for "fear of missing out." According to Urban Dictionary it is "the state of mental or emotional strain caused by the fear of missing out; a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity or satisfying event." It’s a joke, a hashtag; an adorable acronym that unfortunately describes deep insecurity that dwells in each of us.   

It is at the root of every sin: the panic that if we obey God we will miss out on something good. It is why we neglect God's call to go to the ends of the earth, because what if we miss out on time with our friends and community here? What if we miss out on marriage? What if we miss out on some career opportunity?  

It is why we give with a begrudging heart or fail to give at all, because it might mean that we miss out on the vacation we crave or the perfect house for hosting. It is at the heart of our discontentment with our stage of life; we can’t shake the feeling that our singleness, our marriage, our health, our kids’ ages, our lack of kids, is causing us to miss out on some spectacular life just out of reach.

Three Precious Promises 

Death itself exists because Eve yielded to FOMO. Unable to navigate the fear that she might be missing out on something, Eve reached up with a trembling hand and pulled the forbidden fruit from the tree. But God has sent his Son to purchase for us these three precious promises that defeat the anxiety of FOMO once and for all.

1. God has bought us an eternity to enjoy everything. 

FOMO feeds on the scarcity of time. It appeals to our awareness that life is but a breath (Job 7:7). We begin to think that this life is our only chance for joy; if miss this moment, there will never be another.

FOMO would have the last word if not for the resurrection of Christ. According to Paul, if this life is the end then we should all be slaves to FOMO. We should eat and drink and make sure we don’t miss out on any earthly pleasure because this is our only shot at joy (1 Cor. 15:32). But the resurrected Christ proves that this life is not our only chance for happiness. We can walk past the pleasures of this world without fear of missing out because we are confident that all this life has to offer is not worth comparing to the joy that awaits us in the next. We can say goodbye to our brothers and sisters and cross the globe for the sake of Christ because we know we will enjoy eternity with them. We can exploit our singleness without regret because we trust that we will be with the perfect bridegroom forever.

We live as those who might be pitied in this life, because we are banking everything on the next life.

2. God has called us to a greater story.

I read a story recently about a heroine who resented her destiny to lead her people to fight against epic powers of darkness. Embracing her calling would mean "missing out" on the simple life of her dreams. I grew irritated with her. I wanted to shake her. She was marked for a magnificent calling—to change the whole world and to set people free from slavery—and she was rejecting it because she was scared of what it might cost. After I put the book down, I lay awake for a long time, sort of trembly and twitchy, because, deep down, I knew that I must often say, "Me too." The war that rages around us is more deadly than any war an author can capture in words. Ephesians 6 tells us there is real battle against cosmic powers that rule over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  

And you and I are set apart to wage that war and destined in Christ to win it. We are a chosen race and a royal priesthood, called to miss out on some of the simple pleasures of this life in order to strike at the prince of the power of the air with the sword of the Spirit. Would we exchange the painful privilege of a divine purpose for the fleeting pleasures of this life?

3. God has given us himself. 

At the heart of FOMO is a fear of missing good. At the heart of our gospel is a God who has sent his only Son so that he could buy for us the great and precious promise that fully crushes the root of FOMO. In him we have every scrap of good.

"Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing" (Ps. 34:9-10).

We Miss Nothing 

Settle it in your heart: as long as you have God, you miss nothing. Psalm 16 assures us that there is no good apart from him and in his presence there is fullness of joy. Fullness. No greater joy can be found anywhere else. The solution to your FOMO is to be with God. 

I can’t shake the thought that God wired our hearts to experience FOMO. While the design has been sabotaged by our enemy, what if it was originally programmed into us to drive us to God? What if we fled from sin because it threatened to cause us to miss out on God? What if we felt so much horror at the thought of missing out on displaying God’s glory that we refused to waste our lives?

Let your fear of missing out drive you to God today. Let your FOMO teach you to pursue purity so you can see more of God. Let your FOMO prompt you to repent fearlessly, refusing to wait for another second to see your Father sprint toward you. Let your FOMO drive you to make radical decisions because you would hate to miss out on a single drop of grace.

Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker. Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2014. 256 pp. $17.99.

Books exploring ecclesiology have flooded from evangelical publishing houses in recent years. Some have stood the test of time. Others have faded into the recesses of bookseller merchandise rooms. Reprinted and expanded volumes prove their value by being reprinted. Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership is one worth noting. The first edition of this book was published in 2005 under the title Elders in Congregational Life. In the decade since, Phil Newton has interacted with pastors and churches to address important questions on eldership in the church, and those discussions have doubtless strengthened this newest edition. Additionally, Newton teamed with Matt Schmucker, whose 10 interwoven chapters give the book “a new level of application and color” (15).

Elders in the Life of the Church aims to provides biblical, historical, and practical reasons for leading the church by a plurality of elders. The book unfolds in three parts:

  1. Why elders?
  2. Four key biblical texts (Acts 20:17–31; 1 Tim. 3:1–7; Heb. 13:17–19; 1 Pet. 5:1–5)
  3. From theory to practice

This book stands the test of time because the need for faithful shepherding will not change, no matter what the church faces in modern culture. Too many churches avoid examining their polity because they’re steeped in tradition or duped by the strong personalities of past or present leaders. Elders in the Life of the Church is full of careful, balanced, informed consideration of the Bible, Baptist history, and practical issues in church life. In an age when many pastors have begun to resemble CEOs more than New Testament shepherds, this book will cause readers to re-evaluate Scripture when it comes to church leadership structures.

Wide Reach

While written from a Baptist perspective, Elders in the Life of the Church is useful to the church as a whole. Indeed, it seems an interest in elder plurality in both Baptist and non-Baptist churches has increased significantly in recent years. In Baptist life the return to elder plurality, though not pervasive, is quite significant. For those in a Baptist tradition skeptical of elder leadership, Newton and Schmucker demonstrate from history that eldership is more baptistic than one might realize. In the end, though, “whether Baptists historically practiced plural eldership is secondary” (37). The primary focus must be to grasp what God has revealed in his Word. Again, churches from other non-Baptist traditions will find the historical, biblical, and practical counsel useful in developing their own ecclesiology.

Elders in the Life of the Church is saturated in biblical exegesis and practical application. No matter where you stand on the issue, most will admit that no single New Testament (NT) text provides all the details necessary for structuring the local church. While admitting elders “aren’t essential in order to have a true church” (197), Newton and Schmucker insist (with good exegetical evidence) that the historical record demonstrates the NT church’s normative practice has plural eldership at its heart. According to the authors, it’s difficult to build an argument against elder plurality in the NT. Their case is worth considering, especially for those who rightly want to give serious attention to the NT pattern for church leadership.

Embrace the Safeguard

Moreover, the authors’ logical arguments only strengthen their exegesis. When it comes to the “super pastor,” they provide a powerful reminder that no one man possesses all the gifts necessary for leading a congregation. As for the churches who’ve been mislead or burned by the “lone ranger pastor,” Newton and Schmucker show that plural eldership is a safeguard that serves to “prevent one man from falling prey to the temptation of dominating a congregation” (80).

From 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (among other passages), the authors contend that elders are called to encourage the life of the church by faithfully instructing and applying God’s Word. Their warm pastoral tone does not soften their prophetic call:

We need leaders in the church who will set aside their preferences for the purpose of maintaining the unity in truth and love. We need elders who will sacrifice their individual priorities for the sake of the congregations. We need men who will labor both to understand their brothers and carefully heed the Scriptures rather than stake out an uninformed position and remain unwilling to learn. We need men who love God and the church more than themselves. (87)

Noting Distinctives

Elders are men who guard their life and their doctrine, men committed to the truth of Scriptures and the good of the church. These aren’t the program-driven pastor-managers but the ones who faithfully teach God’s Word and personally reflect his character (158). By means of thorough exegesis the authors provide a well-rounded picture of the qualifications, expectations, and ministry of elders. Here are a few distinct perspectives set forth in Elders in the Life of the Church:

  • The authors prefer not to distinguish between “ruling” and “teaching” elders (common in some church traditions).
  • They also argue it isn’t necessary to distinguish between bishops and elders, noting that the distinction wasn’t common until Ignatius in the early second century.
  • They contend that the word elder is the dominant term for the church office dealing with the spiritual needs of the church, with the words overseer and pastor being used interchangeably in the NT.
  • As for the synonymous NT terminology, elder emphasizes the spiritual maturity needed for the office, overseer the leadership of the church, and pastor the shepherding nature of the office. (49)

Nitty-Gritty Help

The book also distinguishes between the two biblical offices in a church: elder and deacon. Elders primarily address the spiritual needs of the congregation, the deacons the temporal needs. Indeed, the deacons’ service frees the elders to focus on the doctrine, discipline, and direction of the church. “Elders cannot do everything that needs to be accomplished in the church,” the authors explain. “Deacons serve in partnership with elders as the second of two offices in the church, serving physical needs” (208). Simply put, elders and deacons work together to address the regular business of the church.

Elders in the Life of the Church isn’t just comprehensive from an exegetical and theological standpoint. The authors have gone above and beyond to answer some of the most nitty-gritty questions concerning eldership. To name a few:

  • How does one identify and train potential elders?
  • Who should not be nominated for eldership?
  • How should you navigate the relationships among elders when friendship doesn’t come naturally?
  • What’s involved in transitioning to plural eldership?
  • Can a senior pastor work within a plurality of elders?
  • How do elders function in a congregational church?

Proceed with Patience

It’s important to heed the wisdom of these seasoned pastors, especially if you’re convinced by the case for elder plurality and serve in a church with a different leadership structure. As Newton and Schmucker point out, the process of transitioning to a plurality of elders can take at least 18 months to three years—perhaps longer. One must lay the biblical groundwork, then, before shifting the leadership structure. “Only when a church begins to think biblically will elder leadership seem plausible,” they observe (184). “Radical changes in church polity might not find a welcome reception, so proceed judiciously” (212). In other words, you can win the vote for eldership and still lose your congregation’s confidence.

Having read the first edition and now this newest edition, I believe Elders in the Life of the Church is the most comprehensive, biblical, and practical exploration of this important topic available. Even if you’re already serving in a church with a plurality of elders, this is a helpful tool for continuing to teach your people and train new elders. This book, more than any other I’ve read on the topic, will lay out the basic issues at stake and frame the discussion where it belongs—within the pages God’s Word.

Kurt Earl is a teacher and a coach at Lincoln Christian School in Lincoln, Nebraska. He and his wife, Da'Nelle, have been married for 11 years. Kurt started Compete4Christ and wrote Same Game | Different Fame. You can follow him @KurtEarl14 or @Compete4Christ


How would you describe your work?

As the offensive coordinator for the school’s football team, it’s my job to create an offense, scout the opponent’s defense, create a game plan, structure offensive practice periods, and call the plays during the game. I also teach physical education and Bible and serve as the head track and field coach. A few years ago, as an extension of my vocation and some work I was doing with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I started Compete4Christ, a platform that enables me to encourage coaches and athletes all over the country to be ambitious for God’s glory in competition.

As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work?

Crafting an offensive system and understanding the best ways to use that system against different opponents is a highly creative process. The best offensive coordinators use formations, shifts, motions, ever-evolving blocking schemes, and even the tempo of play to their advantage. One of our greatest strengths at LCS is our no huddle, full throttle approach. The journey from two-a-days to scouting opponents to calling plays and watching the team execute on the field is a journey only a group of image bearers can travel.

How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world?

In America, wearing your pride and anger on your sleeve within the context of sports (in particular, football) is perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged. As a coach, I have the opportunity to watch the circumstances of the game reveal the true character of the players, coaches, and fans. The "Friday night lights" of high school football have a way of bringing us up close and personal with our own sins and the sins of others.

Jesus commands us to "love our neighbors as ourselves." How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others?

If the only thing our players have learned from us as coaches is how to play the game well, we’ve done them a disservice. To truly love our players is to teach them how to play the game of football for God’s fame. If we can teach them how to compete to the glory of God on the gridiron, they’ll be able to apply those same principles to every circumstance for the rest of their lives. 

With the Super Bowl coming up, I need to ask: What makes for a good offensive strategy, and what will each team have to do on Sunday in order to win?

I believe the best offenses have two things: (1) An identity. They know who they are and play to their strengths unashamedly. (2) A system. They have a collection of schemes that fit together in such a way that they always have an answer for potential defensive adjustment. Too many teams have a collection of random plays that don’t complement each other at all.

In championship games, the first five to eight minutes of each half are critical. Whoever wins those minutes will likely win the game. Another critical factor in the NFL are halftime adjustments. The coaching staff that best uses their unique creative ability as image bearers will position their team to win.


Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are condensed.

Recently I had lunch with a new friend, whom I loved getting to know as a sister in the Lord. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re looking to learn all you can—by observing, by listening, by observing how she listens. . . . 

Let me tell you what offered the clearest window into this woman’s heart and mind. It wasn’t just her warm smile, or the energy with which she talked about God’s gracious direction of her path through rough and smooth places. It wasn’t even her description of the way she and her husband minister to a steady stream of people in their urban home, often keeping them for extended visits and aiming to disciple them in the way of Christ by word and example. It was her interaction with a young man who came to fill our water glasses. That’s what threw open the window and revealed her heart.

He was not a terribly noticeable guy—kind of pale, slightly stocky, with reddish scruffy-thick hair and beard—and with sleeves rolled up enough to reveal tattoos on each forearm. My friend leaned over to read the arm closest to her: a short sentence, something about fighting off foxes. As she tried to decipher it out loud, our waiter haltingly explained it was inspired by a line from a Eudora Welty story—“you know,” he said, “that woman from the South who was a really good writer.” (I think I found the line in Welty’s short story “A Worn Path,” in which an elderly grandmother treks from the country to the city for medicine to save her grandson’s life and, encountering all sorts of dangers and obstacles, cries, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons, and wild animals!”)

In response to my friend’s continuing quizzical look and encouraging smile, our waiter explained those words remind him of the hard things we have to fight, the dark things we all face, the “foxes.” But my friend wasn’t done. Her next quick question was: “Well, on the other side of the hard things, what’s your hope?” This young man stopped, looked her in the eyes, and said, “Nobody ever asked me that before. Lots of people ask why the tattoo. Nobody ever asked that.” This led to his rather frank explanation of how he was “raised Christian,” rejected religion, but now chooses to believe there’s a God out there who made everything—a pretty extensive conversation for a guy who was supposed to be pouring water.

He soon had to leave, and we didn’t get too far. But we got a little ways. And that was because my friend first of all saw a person, and then was interested enough to talk with him, and then listen to him, and then ask what most people don’t. It was a great question, one the Holy Spirit can use in the heart of a young man who’s facing foxes head on. It was a salty question. I couldn’t help thinking of the apostle Paul’s instructions: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5–6).

Salt at the Checkout Counter

A few years ago at a women’s conference, a middle-aged woman who’d experienced a life full of hardship and struggle stood in front of several hundred women to tell her story of coming to faith in Jesus. She worked as a clerk in a grocery store located in the same town as the church hosting the conference. One day a warmhearted, salty-tongued woman from the church had struck up a conversation with her while checking out groceries, and was touched by the clerk’s comment about having a hard time of it. This woman began to aim for her new friend’s checkout line, to ask her how she was doing, and to tell her she was praying for her. The story of their growing friendship, their studying the Bible together, and the prayers and ministry of many others in the church would take too long to tell. But it all led to this woman standing at that conference praising God for his saving power in her life, through the death and resurrection of his Son. 

That story stood out to me for its lack of drama. It was about an ordinary process of salt-spreading, close to home and in the rhythm of a normal day. It was about salt we’re all capable of spreading, salt we too often selfishly hoard for ourselves. We need these stories, these salty stories, these stories of seasoning our ordinary days and interactions with speech full of grace.

I was grateful for this most recent glimpse into the heart of a new friend sitting across the table at lunch: she’s one of the salty ones. She not only knows the good news of Jesus Christ as given in the Scriptures; she not only talks articulately about the gospel, and about sharing it; she evidently actually shares it as a regular part of her life—in her church and work, in the privacy of her home, and obviously in the rhythm of her everyday interactions. Her speech is seasoned with salt.

We can pray to be salt-spreaders. We can pray not just that God would help us to obey this instruction, but that he’d make us so full of the gospel’s glories that we wouldn’t be able not to obey. We can pray that, as we faithfully fill ourselves with his Word, it would dwell in us so richly that it seasons all our thoughts and words, even in the rhythm of our ordinary lives. Oh to “make the best use of the time.”

By God’s grace and by his Spirit, may we speak salty words of grace to the people who fill our days.


Editors’ note: Register to see Kathleen Nielson speak at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando. She will be leading a workshop titled “Calling and Callings: ‘Balancing’ Life in Light of the Gospel” and moderating a panel on “Ministry Among Women” with Nancy Guthrie, Gloria Furman, and Melissa Kruger. Or sign up to hear Rico Tice and Rebecca Manley Pippert for their workshop, "Excited About Evangelism? Inspiring Your Church Family to Share Their Faith Today," and Erik Raymond on "Everyday Evangelism." Conference rates increase $40 this week; register now!

What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since I think it is edifying to remember, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished—“I read my Bible, pray, and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”

God would show me what was so hard about it within 18 months. We began attending a church that emphasized fellowship and the “one anothers.” In no time I was getting on people’s nerves, and they were returning the favor. Life in community with sinners doesn’t fit on a Hallmark card. It’s messy and pride-exposing. It is anything but easy.

Love Is Hard 

The difference here is simply the word love. Christianity was easy when I was taking, but it became real when I had to start giving. The difference is love. Love always gives, it rarely takes.

It is not surprising then that God would challenge us to be faithful in our love. When we read any number of passages in the New Testament we end up with that tilted dog reaction to a strange whistle. “Wait, what?”

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32–36)

The kind of love that God models and requires is not natural. It’s not easy. The pagans can do the self-congratulating love. Who can’t love the lovely people who love you? It’s not that hard.

On the other hand, God also wants us to love the unloving and unlovely people. This is the kind of love that reflects Christ’s love in the gospel. The gospel is our model and motivation for love (cf. 1 John 4:7-11).

A friend of mine likes to put things succinctly. He said recently, “You don’t even have a real friend until they have annoyed you. Until they’ve gotten under your skin you’re still in the realm of the superficial.” You haven’t had to love them . . . you just kinda like them.

Difficult Love of God 

Think about what God has done: he has lavished us with his love and then surrounded us with a group of people who are just as needy of that love, and then said, “Go and love one another and show this love to the world around you.” This community should be especially sensitive to this love because they should know how unlovely and unloving they were. They should know and esteem God’s love so highly that they itch to show it to others.

Sadly, this is often not the case. We settle for the kind of love that comes easy and miss out on the kind of love that takes sweat (and grace). The love that God requires from the church is not natural; it takes work and it looks different. It is not the stuff that you hear in the intercom at the supermarket, read in a magazine, or pick up in a romantic drama. Instead of being self-referential, it is self-denying.

If you think that Christianity is easy, then maybe you are not loving people very well. Perhaps you are not living closely to other believers. Perhaps you are not frequently applying the gospel. Perhaps the person and work of Jesus is not the model and motivation for your love. When we examine the Bible and what God requires of us as Christians we see that it is neither easy nor natural. It is hard work that would be impossible without grace. Go ahead, dig in; get your hands dirty—there are plenty of opportunities.


Editors' note: This article was originally published here.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. The first extermination of prisoners took place in September 1941, and Auschwitz II–Birkenau went on to become a major site of the Nazi "Final Solution to the Jewish question." Here are nine things you should know about the Nazi extermination camps:

1. Hitler’s official plan for genocide was developed at the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Fifteen Nazi leaders, which included a number of state secretaries, senior officials, party leaders, SS officers, and other leaders of government departments, held the meeting to discuss plans for a "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe." (The Nazis used the euphemistic phrases "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" and "Final Solution" to refer to the genocide of the Jews.) In the course of the meeting, Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich outlined how European Jews would be rounded up and sent to extermination camps.

2. The Nazis distinguished between extermination camps and concentration camps. The interchangeable terms extermination camp (Vernichtungslager) and death camp (Todeslager) refer to camps whose primary function was genocide. Unlike concentration camps, the Nazis did not expect the majority of prisoners taken to the extermination camps to survive more than a few hours after arrival. In the early years of the Holocaust, the Jews were primarily sent to concentration camps (where they would often die of torture and starvation), but from 1942 onwards they were mostly deported to the extermination camps.

3. Genocide at extermination camps was initially carried out in the form of mass shootings. However, the shootings proved to be too psychologically damaging to those being asked to pull the triggers. The Nazis next tried mass killing by blowing victims up with explosives, but that also was found unsuitable. The Nazis settled on gassing their victims (usually with carbon monoxide or a cyanide-based pesticide). Stationary gas chambers could kill 2,000 people at once. Once in the chambers, about one-third of the victims died immediately, though death could take up to 20 minutes.

4. The use of camps equipped with gas chambers for the purpose of systematic mass extermination of peoples was a unique feature of the Holocaust and unprecedented in history. Never before had there existed places with the express purpose of killing people en masse. These were extermination camps established at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor, and Treblinka. For political and logistical reasons, the most infamous extermination camps were in Occupied Poland,  since Poland had the greatest number of Jews living in Europe.

5. At various concentration and extermination camps, the Nazis conducted medical experiments on their prisoners, which included placing subjects in pressure chambers, testing drugs on them, freezing them, attempting to change eye color by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, and various amputations and other surgeries that were often conducted without anesthesia. The most notorious of these Nazi physicians was Dr. Josef Mengele, who worked in Auschwitz. According to one witness, Mengele sewed together a set of twins named Guido and Ina, who were about 4 years old, from the back in an attempt to create Siamese twins. Their parents were able to get some morphine and kill them to end their suffering.

6.  All the Nazis' enemies imprisoned at Auschwitz were given special badges to mark them out: yellow stars for the Jews, a brown triangle for Roma (Gypsies), a pink triangle for gay prisoners, a purple triangle for Jehovah's witnesses, a black triangle for people who were deemed "asocial elements” (mentally ill, pacifists, prostitutes), and many more marking out each minority.

7.  About 200,000 inmates of the camp between 1940-45 survived. Out of a total of about 7,000 guards at Auschwitz, including 170 female staff, 750 were prosecuted and punished once Nazi Germany was defeated.

8. The most commonly cited figure for the total number of Jews killed is six million — around 78 percent of the 7.3 million Jews in occupied Europe at the time. Additionally, the Nazis murdered approximately two to three million Soviet POWs, two million ethnic Poles, up to 1,500,000 Romani, 200,000 handicapped, political and religious dissenters, 15,000 homosexuals, and 5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses, bringing the total genocide toll to around 11 million.

9. The silent footage shown in this video is from film that was taken by a Soviet military film crew over a period of months beginning on January 27, 1945, the day that Auschwitz was liberated.



Recent posts in this series:

Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • TGC • Prayer in the Bible • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • C.S. Lewis • Orphans • Halloween and Reformation Day • World Hunger • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 6th Street Baptist Church Bombing • 9/11 Attack Aftermath • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues

The Gospel Coalition began with a meeting of prospective Council members on May 17, 2005.

Two years later we held our first National Conference on the campus of Trinity International University, north of Chicago.

Each TGC event during the last decade has aimed to exalt Jesus Christ through gospel-centered teaching of God’s Word. This brief video captures several of the high points, starting in 2007.

We give God thanks for the privilege of promoting gospel-centered ministry for the last 10 years through teaching his Word.

Join us this year in Orlando from April 13 to 15: www.TGC.org/2015 

I have a confession. 

When I was in college, I read a book by a prominent megachurch pastor. The author told me to live like a child of God. He told me God wanted to bless me. He also mentioned that if I only believed, God would give me the nicest house in the neighborhood. That seemed to make sense.

The author explained that he once wanted the nicest house in the neighborhood, and God gave it to him. Here was a man with evidence. Not only did he have the story about the house, and other anecdotes, he also had a very nice set of white teeth (Ah, supernaturally white, I thought). 

This was my first introduction to what is popularly called the “prosperity gospel” or the “health and wealth” gospel. At the time, the logic seemed airtight: “If it worked for him, why shouldn’t it work for me?” 

If I had dug a bit deeper, though, I would have seen the actual reason it worked for him and not for me. It’s because the prosperity gospel is a pyramid scheme. 

What’s a Pyramid Scheme?

Here’s how pyramid schemes work.

Step One: A snazzy entrepreneur wants to make a lot of money. Said snazzy entrepreneur tells two little old ladies that if they sell his “Wow-What-A-Sham 3000,” they can make some dough to pay off their cat-sitting bills. That will cost them a startup investment of $401.76. And yes, Wow-What-A-Sham 3000 is a gimmick. But that’s okay, it’s not really about selling the product anyway; it’s about recruiting more salespeople.

Step Two: These two little old ladies recruit more little old ladies, and give them the same spiel. 

Step Three: At some point, people realize no one wants to buy the Wow-What-A-Sham 3000, and no one is actually selling any Wow-What-A-Sham 3000s. All the buy-in money is funneling straight up to the top. Meanwhile, snazzy entrepreneur is up in his office, cackling, and swimming in wads of cash.

That’s a pyramid scheme. 

3 Ways the Health and Wealth Gospel Fits the Pyramid Scheme

What does this descrption have to do with the book by the prosperity pastor? Everything. Because the prosperity gospel is strikingly similar to a pyramid scheme in at least three ways.

1. It’s based on the deceptive success of the guy at the top. 

I was bamboozled by the prosperity pastor’s ploy in the same way people are fooled by pyramid schemes. They see the success of the guy at the top, and think: It’s working for him, isn’t it? 

Yes, it is. And that’s because someone paid for that pastor’s house. Me. I paid, when I bought the book. So do millions of others, when they bring truckloads of seed-money to his doorstep each weekend. The people who fund the prosperity pastor’s success, in other words, are the people at the bottom of the pyramidOf course it works for him. He’s at the top.

2. It’s a lie told to desperate people. 

Like a pyramid scheme, the health-and-wealth gospel feeds on the down and out. My friend Vallerian Mganga tells me that in Kenya, the health-and-wealth message is the only version of Christianity most people ever hear. My father-in-law, who mentors prisoners, tells me that he runs into this teaching routinely in the prison system. Why? Because the health-and-wealth gospel preys on people desperate for relief. 

Missiologist Paul Borthwick tells of a trip to Ghana, where he witnessed a 300-pound preacher appeal to his body as proof that God had blessed him, and would bless his listener’s seed-money as well. “When you live in poverty” the missionary with Borthwick said, “you don't want to feel loved. You want God's power to make you prosper. . . . [T]hey have been taught [that] money is the way to release the power.” 

The prosperity gospel isn’t just bad theology. It’s a form of oppression.

3. It feeds our idolatry. 

Like the pyramid scheme, the prosperity gospel doesn’t necessarily require financially desperate people. It just needs people who are sufficiently idolatrous. We don’t fall for pyramid schemes because we’re stupid. We fall for them because we want to fall for them. We want the money, health, and esteem they offer—and we want it quick. We want to believe it can all happen with the flick of a “faith” switch in our brains. We want it desperately. 

I’ll never forget the time I challenged my friend’s health-and-wealth notions with the life of the apostle Paul. She replied, “Well, Paul didn’t have enough faith.” That’s what pyramid schemes do: they compel us with our idols. Then they blind us to anything—no matter how obvious—that tells us we’re being conned.

Real Promises of Jesus

Don’t get me wrong: I believe wholeheartedly God wants to bless me. I believe God favors me. I believe he wants me to have the best possible life. But I also believe the good news of Jesus is far better than the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel climbs over people; Jesus descends to pick us up. The prosperity gospel oppresses the poor; Jesus identifies with the destitute. The prosperity gospel fuels our idol factories; Jesus smashes them with a vision of his glory.

The truly good news is this: Jesus’s dreams for us are weightier than the pursuit of health, wealth, and personal success. Jesus doesn’t offer self-esteem; he offers the esteem of God when we give up self-estimation (Matt. 5:3). He doesn’t offer positivity; he offers God’s profound comfort when we’re brokenhearted by sin (Matt. 5:4). He doesn’t offer the nicest house in the neighborhood; he offers hope in the resurrection when we forego personal power (Matt. 5:5). And he doesn’t offer “supernatural favor” from others, but instead offers God’s eternal favor when we’re despised on his account (Matt. 5:10-12).

In short: Jesus is a better God, a weightier God. He’s not a huckster standing on the top of the pile promising us worldly wealth. He’s a God who climbs down to the bottom of the pyramid. He lays himself flat in the dust and stretches out his arms at the cross, where health, wealth, and abundance are nowhere in sight, and he offers us his riches.

If you’ve ever had a prolonged conversation with a Muslim on theology, you know that they are generally well-trained in discussing their problems with the Trinity and divinity of Jesus. It’s hard to break through all the prior teaching and get to a heart level when someone is parroting what they learned at the mosque. So why not consider looking for points of discussion off the beaten path and that may even engage us as Christians at a heart level too?

There are three main intersections where Christian and Muslim thought crosses paths and where we might meet for heart-level discussion. At each intersection, our two faiths diverge. What if we could take Muslim friends to one of those intersections and show them how to take the path to Jesus, rather than the road away from him? Those three intersections are law, logic, and legacy.

Law

Both the Christian and Muslim faiths inherited, in one form or another, the Torah. In the 5th sura (or chapter) of the Qur'an, Muslims find a passage that upholds the Torah as revelation from God and instructs them to look to it for “guidance and light.“ Much of Islamic practice is a variation of Jewish law and customs. For example, during Eid al-adha, a Muslim holiday, Muslims sacrifice a goat or lamb to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Muslim women must refrain from many of their regular activities during a monthly period of “uncleanness.” Muslims absolutely will not accept interest payments on a loan from another Muslim. And “hallal” food preparation and kosher food preparation is strikingly similar. The list of legal and religious similarities between ancient Judaism and Islam is much longer than most Muslims and Jews care to admit. And it certainly illustrates a shared heritage for Christians and Muslims. Muslims have laws about almost every aspect of life. Their imams, or teachers, are the interpreters and teachers of that law. 

As Christians, we can relate to being bound by a law that we cannot faithfully keep. When my friend Fatima told me that she could not open her Qur'an to show me a verse because she was in her unclean time of the month, rather than insist that Islam was oppressing her because she was a woman, I could tell her that she was indeed unclean. I could suggest that God gave women an extra measure of grace by reminding us of our uncleanness every month. Rather than fight the law, as a Christian, I can affirm it and then praise God for making me clean through the blood of Christ. I can meet Fatima at that intersection and then usher her down the path to Christ.

Logic

Both faiths have also been affected by Greek philosophy and have longstanding debates about the relationship between faith and reason. Medieval Arabs translated many Greek works and made them available both to Christian and Muslim thinkers. The Mu’tazilites, a medieval group of Muslim theologians from present-day Iraq, worked on Islamic theology from the perspective that God can be known through reason alone, apart from Qur'anic revelation. And just as, for example, traces of neo-platonism can be seen in later Christian thought, so also Aristotle heavily influenced later Muslim theological works. Islamic theology, like Christian thought, is laced with Greek logical forms.

As a result, we can talk with Muslim friends in ways that make sense to each other. While sitting in a coffee shop in Arlington, Texas, Muhammad told his Christian friend that it is “logically impossible for a holy God to taint his purity by becoming a human.” “Really?” his Christian friend asked him, “Is God able to do anything he wants? Is he truly all powerful, or is there some kind of reason and logic to which he must submit that dictate whether or not he can remain pure if he comes to earth?” “Oh, God is not bound by anything,” he responded. “Well then,” the Christian replied, “is he not powerful enough to come to earth as a man without sacrificing his holiness?” Muhammad was stumped. He took a step down a different path at the intersection.

Legacy

Both Islam and Christianity have had to confront and answer for violence committed in the name of their respective faiths in the quest for an earthly kingdom. Many Muslims have long memories and still hold modern Christendom accountable for the Crusades. In more recent events, many Americans consciously or sub-consciously hold Muslims in general accountable for the events of 9/11. So we can identify with each other in the fact that not every expression of our faiths is one that we personally condone. 

The 24th Sura and 55th verse of the Qur'an states, “God has promised those of you who have attained to faith and do righteous deeds that, of a certainty, he will make them Caliphate [or governing kingdom] on earth, even as he caused those who lived before them to become Caliphates.” Muslims are taught to long for the religion’s early days as a conquering and growing physical kingdom. In those days, its prophet was alive and leading their armies to establish a powerful earthly realm. They have inherited a rich tradition full of rules and regulations for this militaristic advance. But we have biblical instruction that teaches us, first, that our kingdom is not of this earth and does not require violence to establish it (John 18:36); and second, that we will acquire it by inheritance (Matt. 25:34). With confidence in these two principles, we may ask our Muslim friends, “Why must we mere humans fight for his kingdom with guns? Isn’t God strong enough to simply establish his own kingdom and share it with his people as he wills?”

When our Iraqi refugee friend, Zaid, excitedly explains that ISIS has it all wrong, we point to the many verses in the Qur'an used by ISIS. He begins to tire of defending his faith verse-by-verse and historical instance-by-historical instance because there are so many that he must re-interpret. Zaid doesn’t have a Qur'anic scripture in mind to cite, he just has a gut feeling that ISIS is wrong. Even where ISIS steps outside the bounds of orthodox Islam, our friend struggles with explaining Islam’s conquering past and future ambitions in terms that are palatable in the non-Muslim world. But we are able to draw on Zaid’s confidence in God’s power and mercy by pointing him to the king of our heavenly kingdom. While Muslims are bound to uphold Muhammad’s militant style as heroic, we are bound to the heroism of the sacrificial love of Christ.

Our two faiths have faced some similar challenges. How do we fulfill the law? How do we discern between the “common grace” wisdom of the Greeks and revealed truth from God? How do we understand the legacy and vision left to us by our spiritual forefathers? Only one religion has the answer to those challenges. While Muslims stare blankly at these large logs strewn across the path, we see the cross of Christ. Jesus fulfills the law for us. Jesus and his Word is the filter through which we may discern between worldly wisdom and spiritual truth. Jesus is the king of our eternal kingdom.

And at each intersection, we can meet our Muslim friends and encourage them to take up the cross with us and follow Jesus.   

We often compare the story of Hosea and Gomer to the story of God and Israel, and rightly so. Hosea 3:1 says:

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”

The application is clear: Hosea is called to love this adulterous woman in the same way that God loves his wandering-eyed people. But looking back on the complete canon of Scripture, with the Trinity in view, we can make another comparison: Hosea and Gomer represent Christ and the church.

We are Gomer. And that is immensely comforting.

Hosea’s Obedience and Perseverance

One can only imagine Hosea’s surprise when God told him to continue to chase after his adulterous wife. He could’ve given her a bill of divorce. He could’ve walked away. Instead, he heeded the Lord and never deserted her.

In the incarnation, God sent his Son to redeem his wayward people. Jesus Christ, the God-man, obeyed his Father. He sacrificially pursued his people even to the point of having nails driven into his hands and feet by the people he came to save. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked God to give him another way to restore broken humanity, but also said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

God would not allow Hosea a way out; he told him to stay and fight through the grueling pain of lying in bed at night with an adulterous woman. Jesus went to the cross, bearing the wrath of God and the sins of the world on his own shoulders. He didn’t walk away. He didn’t acquiesce to Pilate and save his own skin. Because of his great love for his bride, he laid down his life for her (Eph. 5:25-27).

Gomer’s Disobedience and Indifference

While we’re not entirely sure of Gomer’s love for Hosea, it is clear that her heart is not entirely given to him. Perhaps she loves him but cannot break away from old habits. Though his love for her is palpable, she continues to be wooed by (or perhaps even prey upon) other men.

Throughout the Book of Hosea, we see both the loving-kindness and frustration of God with his people. Like Gomer, they refuse his repeated attempts at reconciliation and continue to ignore his love. But we must remember that God did not leave Israel to continually wallow in her own desires. At least not entirely and not forever.

Christ echoes God’s steadfastness with Israel in Matthew 23:37:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Jesus’s life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming show that God wasn’t telling Hosea to do something he wasn’t willing to do on a much grander scale. He did not forsake his people, despite their long history of disobedience and indifference. The Father’s sending of the Son is the definition of grace: unmerited, underserved, logic-shattering favor.

Story of Hope

We are Gomer. We are spiritual adulterers. We want to have it our way, and we are willing to reject God’s covenantal faithfulness for fleeting one-night stands with idols. While it’s hard to admit that we are no different than Gomer, it’s a truth that we can embrace with humility and comfort.

The story of Hosea and Gomer reminds us that God loves us not because of our faithfulness, but because of his. Christ saves, and continues to intercede for, the bride who covets other men. Until we see God face-to-face, we will continue to be drawn to other things. But for now, our Husband stands and fights.

We are Gomer. And we are hopeful.

J. Ryan Lister. The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 368 pp. $25.00.

Sometimes a book is so ambitious you wonder if the author has bitten off more than he can chew. Questions like “Why did God create the earth, and why is mankind on it?” have been asked for thousands of years. Surely a 300-page paperback could hardly make a dent in the conversation.

Yet in The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives, Ryan Lister sets forth a thesis equal to these monumental questions. And his answers might surprise you.

Begin at the End

To answer these questions, Lister begins at the end of Scripture. Starting with Revelation 21–22 and then covering the whole narrative from Genesis to Revelation, the associate professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, highlights the presence of God as central to the message of the Bible. The divine presence is “not a mystical feeling or emotional charge,” but a “theme on which the story of Scripture hinges.”

This theme gets worked out in two ways, as God’s presence is both a goal and a means of accomplishing his purposes. God creates and redeems in order to reside in a place with a people enjoying his presence forever. However, sin entered the world with cosmic implications as Adam and Eve chose to cast their lot with the serpent. God cursed the ground he’d created and then separated himself from sinful humans. How God accomplishes his purposes in creating and saving by means of his presence then becomes the storyline of Scripture—and of Lister’s book.

Door for Ministry

As I pastor I’m thankful and excited for the possibilities The Presence of God opens for ministry. Several reasons deserve mention. First, I learned how to do biblical theology as I read. Lister is a seasoned guide who moves through covenants and narratives with the confidence of one who’s spent much time in the pages of Scripture. While biblical theology in its current form has been around for decades, it seems to have gained more mass appeal in publishing and as a distinct discipline in recent years. The church must deftly wield biblical theology as one way to answer the ultimate concerns of the world in our time. Lister equips us to do just that.

Second, healthy theological reflection on the theme of God’s presence both helps us to define worship and leads us to do it in a more faithful manner. You may have heard the phrase, “He died for me, so I’ll live for him.” Without wanting to take away any truth from that phrase or criticize the gratitude it reflects, it may be more in line with God’s purposes in redemption to say, “He died for me, so I’ll live with him.”

Along with the ultimate concerns of the world, Lister addresses the ultimate concerns of the church and the gospel. He argues that God announces the completion of his redemptive mission in Revelation 21:3: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” The purpose of God in creating, then, was to share his presence with men and women, dwelling with them as their God and they as his people. Lister argues rightly that salvation isn’t just about its eschatological ends but about how God means to be present with his people both now and forever.

Church ministry can often become trying to figure out what we should do next, how we can further proclaim the gospel, and how we can better engage our neighbors and the nations. But Lister reminds us that what the world needs above all is our communion with the living God. When we give his presence the central place it deserves, our lives and ministries align with God’s purposes for redeeming and sending a people defined by the presence and power of his Spirit.

Third, I’m tempted to say the last chapter is worth the price of the book, but you need to do the heavy lifting of working through the previous ones for the payoff. Here Lister works out the implications for living with God’s presence in its rightful place. The church isn’t simply entrusted with proclaiming the gospel but is itself an instrument through which he accomplishes his mission. If that’s true, then sanctification, worship, evangelism, and missions are not as individualistic in nature as many of our churches seem to functionally assume. The whole body of Christ mediates his presence in the world by proclaiming the gospel and experiencing its blessings. So as the gospel goes to all nations, with churches being established in those areas where there were once no churches, the presence of God becomes manifest in ways that accomplish what he originally set out to do in creating us. As I contemplated these lofty ideas, I realized the implications for life and ministry are endless.

Small Warning

If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted to move so slowly through Lister’s book that keeping focused on the arguments may be a challenge. Each chapter is replete with hefty footnotes—with one topping out at 87 and most with more than 60. While I much prefer footnotes to endnotes, I wanted to run down the trails rather than stick with the main content. Lister employs quotations from his vast knowledge of secondary sources and, while many are helpful (and I now have copious excerpts for sermons, studies, and Twitter), others were cumbersome and redundant. So if you’re like me, you won’t miss much if you save most of the footnotes and block quotations for later.

Throughout the pages of The Presence Of God, you’ll consistently think, learn, and worship as you contemplate life’s most important questions. Since there’s no end to the making of many books, it’s rare to find one that can do all these in a biblically faithful way. Lister enters the conversation and makes more than a dent. Here is a book that has the potential for remarkable influence through recovering a forgotten storyline.

When it comes to the demonic, people fall into two errors—not wanting to talk about it at all, or not wanting to talk about anything else. As C. S. Lewis said, “Humanity falls into two equal and opposite errors concerning the Devil. Either they take him altogether too seriously or they do not take him seriously enough.” So we can’t just pretend that demons aren’t real. But we also shouldn’t attribute every inconvenient circumstance—a dead car battery, a traffic jam, a price increase at KFC—to spiritual warfare.

The questions is: how should we combat the demonic? If Satan is real—prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour—what can Christians do about it? Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 10:19-20: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In one breath, Jesus avoids both modern errors: he acknowledges the reality of spiritual enemies, but reminds us not to be obsessed with them. Jesus consistently directs people away from preoccupation with the demonic. He took on his fair share of demons, but he never tells us to go out demon hunting. Instead, he says to “rejoice that our names are written in heaven.”

Your Primary Weapon

The way to engage the demonic is by focusing on the gospel, the good news that our names are written in heaven. Paul says this in another way in Ephesians 6, talking about the “armor of God” that protects us from demonic forces. The gospel should shield our thinking (helmet of salvation), the gospel enables us to believe God’s promises (shield of faith and belt of truth), and the gospel should cause us to preach the good news to others (feet covered). Summed up? Have faith in the gospel; be covered by the gospel; saturate yourself in the gospel. Because when you are covered by the gospel, Satan can’t touch you.

We can’t engage the demonic by finding the “regional demon” in our area and going toe-to-toe with him. Jesus doesn’t want us playing those sorts of games. Instead, he wants us to focus on something that is stronger than any demon, stronger than Satan himself. Remember the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 12 about a demon being thrown out of a man’s house, but then coming back sevenfold? He said, “The last state of that man was worse than the first” (Matt. 12:45). If he wanted to keep the demonic out, he needed a stronger resident, someone the demon couldn’t take over.

If you want to fight the demonic, don’t focus on the demons at all; just let Jesus be large in your life. Charles Spurgeon said, “The preaching of Christ is the whip that flogs the Devil.” How do you get the Devil out of your home? Out of your church? Out of your life? Preach Christ. Focus on the only one with the power to actually do Satan harm.

Your Primary Ally

Is Satan filling your mind with discouraging thoughts? “You’re a failure; you’ll never be used by God." "You think with your past God still cares about you?” Don't listen. Instead, hear the gospel that says, “I have ransomed you, I have made you my own, I have given you a future and a hope.”

Is Satan afflicting you? Because of the gospel he cannot hurt you. Because of Christ, you’ll walk right over scorpions and serpents, and God will overturn all of his evil plans for good. Does the daily battle with Satan seem hopeless? The gospel says, “The Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). 

I often hear Christians say they are fighting for victory. But the reality is that Christians fight from victory, not for victory. Jesus has already won the victory on our behalf, disarming and defeating every power of darkness that threatens us. So when “this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.” 

TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed. 

Featured TGC Articles

Selma: American History, Raw And Honest | Jason Cook

Selma is much more than Black history. It is American history. It is our history.

 

The Art Of War | Andrew Wilson

Jesus loved the Word of God with his heart (being satisfied by it), his mind (understanding it), and his will (obeying it). If that was true of Jesus, I really want it to be true of me.

 

7 Reasons To Teach Our Children Church History | Jeff Robinson

The benefits of teaching your children something about the key figures and movements from the rich heritage of the church are myriad.

 

4 Reasons To Stop Obsessing About Heaven | Mike Wittmer

Why does heavenly tourism attract so much attention? We might be less obsessed with heaven if we better grasped four things.

 

Who Do You Say I Am? – A Mormon And An Evangelical Discuss Jesus | Joe Carter and Vince Han

Who is Jesus? A Mormon and an evangelical attempt to answer those questions to gain a better understanding of what each faith tradition truly believes about Jesus.

 

Featured TGC Contributor Articles

How Should We Respond to Reports that a Fragment of Mark Dates to the First Century? | Justin Taylor

It was reported yesterday that a three-dozen member team of scientists and scholars—apparently including the well-respected New Testament historian Craig Evans—is working on a papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Mark, discovered as part of an ancient Egyptian funeral mask.

 

9 Myths about Abortion Rights and Roe v. Wade | Kevin DeYoung

Forty-two years ago, the Supreme Court concluded that a woman’s constitutional right to privacy included a right to terminate her pregnancy.

 

Why You Should Trust Jesus’ Unbreakable and Infallible Bible | Trevin Wax

I love reading Andrew Wilson. He’s a winsome, articulate apologist for Christianity whose book, If God, Then What? presents Christian truth in memorable and disarming ways. His newest book tackles the question of biblical authority. Why should we believe the Bible? “Because Jesus did,” Andrew replies.

 

The archaeology of repentance | Ray Ortlund

In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance. Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts.

 

A Prayer for Abiding in Jesus’ Love | Scotty Smith

Dear Lord Jesus, how can it be? How is it possible that you love us as the Father loves you? With unfettered joy, the fullness of affection, and a deluge of delight. We believe, help our unbelief.

 

Coming Next Week at TGC

How to Combat the Demonic | J. D. Greear

Christians should be neither preoccupied with Satan and his demons nor completely ignoring them, J. D. Greear says, but they should realize that because of Christ the forces of darkness are defeated foes.

 

Are You Fighting the New Greed? | Christine Hoover

Christine Hoover explains how social media is birthing a new greed to find accomplishment in yourself, instead of God.

 

Will Heaven Have Oceans? | Dennis Johnson

Dennis Johnson explains what it means when Revelation 21:1 says, "There will be no more sea."

 

Upcoming Events

Albuquerque Regional Conference (March 20-22, 2015)

Assembled Under the Word: Preaching and Christ. Speakers include Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, and David Helm.

2015 National Conference (April 1-15, 2015)

Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth. Speakers include Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Philip G. Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and many others.

Remainder Bin

American Culture

Justice Dept. to Recommend No Civil Rights Charges in Ferguson Shooting
Matt Apuzzo And Michael S. Schmidt , New York Times

The Justice Department has begun work on a legal memo recommending no civil rights charges against a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., who killed an unarmed black teenager in August, law enforcement officials said.

Avoid A Funeral Standoff With Three Easy Questions
Hans Fiene, The Federalist

Funerals can happen fast, and as the Lakewood, Colorado controversy shows, that can cause discomfort for families and congregations. Here’s how to prevent that.

 

Bioethics

Has Roe Already Been Overturned? The Viability Of The Pain-Capable Act
Charles C. Camosy, The Federalist

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation (except for rape or to save the mother’s life). And it’s probably consonant with Roe v. Wade.

How Southern Baptists became pro-life
David Roach, Baptist Press

In 1979, Larry Lewis picked up a copy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and saw a full-page ad listing the Southern Baptist Convention among denominations that affirmed the right to abortion. “Right there beside the Unitarians and universalists was the Southern Baptist Convention,” Lewis, a St. Louis pastor who went on to become president of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), told Baptist Press. “… That bothered me a lot.”

Illinois Abortion Clinics Inspected an Average of Once Every 9 Years
Evan Gahr, The Daily Signal

Forty percent of licensed clinics went between 14 and 17 years without inspections, according to the report. And only one of the federally funded Illinois Planned Parenthood clinics, which are not licensed, was ever inspected—in 1999.

What’s the Problem with IVF?
Matthew Hosier, Think Theology

One of the ethical questions I am most often asked is whether IVF is an appropriate course of action for Christian couples.

Belgium’s euthanasia law gives terminally ill children the right to die
PBS Newshour

More than a decade after Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia, it once again made headlines in early 2014 when it became the first country to lift any age restrictions associated with the procedure.

Complexities of Choosing an End Game for Dementia
Paula Span, New York Times

Jerome Medalie keeps his advance directive hanging in a plastic sleeve in his front hall closet, as his retirement community recommends. That’s where the paramedics will look if someone calls 911.

Miscarriage Of Justice: Is Big Pharma Breaking Your Uterus?
Katy French Talento, The Federalist

Ladies, it’s time you knew what your doctor isn’t telling you. Chemical birth control causes abortions and often has terrible side effects, including deliberate miscarriage.

Is Brittany Maynard’s Husband Fighting the Wrong Battle?
Jennifer Lahl, Center for Bioethics and Culture

This important part of Brittany’s health profile does not appear to be part of her medical history, and it certainly was not part of the larger, very public conversation that followed once she made the decision to end her life.

 

Christianity and Culture

Sunday morning still segregated, study shows
Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group, a LifeWay Research study shows.

The boy who didn’t come back from heaven: inside a bestseller’s ‘deception’
Michelle Dean, The Guardian

Alex Malarkey co-wrote a bestselling book about a near-death experience – and then last week admitted he made it up. So why wasn’t anyone listening to a quadriplegic boy and a mother who simply wanted the truth to be heard?

 

Education

Bible colleges sue for right to issue degrees
John O’Connor, Associated Press

Bible colleges in Illinois have filed a federal lawsuit against state education regulators, seeking the unencumbered right to award degrees to students who complete their programs.

Sex Education in America: How Yesterday’s Extremists Shaped Today’s Sex Ed
Valerie Huber, Public Discourse

In order to influence the future of sex education, we must have a nuanced understanding of its colorful past.

 

International Issues

The African state where a grenade is cheaper than a Coke
Andrew Harding, BBC

The grenades come from China, or Bulgaria. The mortars are Sudanese. The rocket launchers were made in Iran. The bullets are British, or Belgian or Czech. Spain and Cameroon provided the shotgun rounds. And so it goes on.

Niger protesters torched 45 churches – police
BBC

At least 10 people have been killed and 45 churches set on fire since protests erupted in Niger over the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, police say.

 

Marriage Issues

Once, same-sex couples couldn’t wed; now, some employers say they must
Julie Appleby , PBS Newshour

Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry. Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner’s job-based health insurance and other benefits.

 

Politics

If The GOP Can’t Pass A Late-Term Abortion Ban, What Can It Do?
David Harsanyi, The Federalist

Evidently, Republicans don’t feel competent enough to make a case against infanticide. Why else would the GOP pull its 20-week abortion limit bill?

 

Race Issues

A Way Forward: What the Pro-Life Movement Can Teach Us about Racial Reconciliation
Hannah Anderson, Christ and Pop Culture

The task for us, much like it was for abolitionists and early pro-lifers, is to find ways to reveal the humanity of our fellow image bearers.

 

Religious Liberty

Here’s why your state may be expanding religious freedom protections this year
Mark A. Kellner, Deseret News

The rush to enforce same-sex marriage across the country may trigger state legislative efforts to enact local versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Supporters say cultural changes make this necessary; opponents fear boycotts.

 "Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (James 1:21)

In his oft-cited work The Religious Life of Theological Students, B. B. Warfield begins,

A minister must be both learned and religious. It is not a matter of choosing between the two. He must study, but he must study as in the presence of God and not in a secular spirit. He must recognize the privilege of pursuing his studies in the environment where God and salvation from sin are the air he breathes. He must also take advantage of every opportunity for corporate worship. . . . Ministerial work without taking time to pray is a tragic mistake. The two must combine if the servant of God is to give a pure, clear, and strong message. 

Thus Warfield addresses what is perhaps the pastor's single most pressing spiritual question: What is the connection between my ministerial duties and the practice of my faith?

Prep the Mind, the Heart, or Both? 

This article addresses one element of the question—the connection between study of Scripture for personal edification and the study of Scripture for proclamation. Some advocate the greatest possible separation of the two. Others say it is neither possible nor desirable to separate personal and public reading. The argument for separation claims that the preacher must leave aside his interests and first read Scripture analytically. Then he can assess its meaning for the church. If a pastor reads Scripture with his needs in mind, some say he blinds himself to its whole message.

Krister Stendahl said interpreters must keep application, for oneself or others, distinct from exegesis: "When the biblical theologian becomes primarily interested with the present meaning, [he] loses his enthusiasm . . . for the descriptive task." It is better to retain a sense of "the distance and the strangeness of biblical thought," and accept "that our only concern is to find out what these words meant," using methods agreeable to "believer and agnostic alike." When interpreters refrain from mingling the two phases the Bible can "exert the maximum of influence."

Whether this is desirable or not, hardly anyone can practice this approach. Pastors perceive the spiritual value of a passage as we go. When we see possible applications, we focus our exegetical work and examine a passage more closely to see if a hunch is valid or not. More importantly, Jesus linked interpretation and edification. Jesus rebuked Jewish leaders for reading Scripture without seeing its significance. He asked them "Have you not read?" even though he knew they read Scripture. He meant: If a reader can't apply Scripture to the issues of life, he hasn't really read it (see Matt. 12:1-5, 19:4, 22:31).

John Frame wants to erase the distinction between interpretation and application. He said, "The meaning of Scripture is its application." Proper reading of Scripture always seeks faithful practice. We understand Scripture when we know how to use it. Take "You shall not steal." Suppose someone reproduces copyrighted music and cheats on taxes. We could say he failed to apply the commandment, but we could also say he didn't understand it.

Frame and Warfield agree, therefore, that the faithful believer should never study Scripture in a detached way. I wonder if a sensitive reader could turn off interest in godly practices, even if he or she wished. Suppose a seminary professor tells his students, "Many a doctrinal deviation, many a heresy, began with an ill-advised quest for originality in a thesis." Wise students will ask, Am I guilty of such a foolish quest? One can hardly comprehend the words without beginning to apply them. If that holds as we hear lectures, how much more when we read Scripture?

So then, leaders ought to read the Bible with an eye to apply it both for the church and also for themselves. How is it, then, that Warfield had to exhort his students to read spiritually? How do pastors grow dry, at least occasionally, as they study to teach and preach? We may find an answer if we consider the timeline of a believer with Scripture.

How Passionate Believers Read Scripture

As a new Christian, the future pastor's reading is naïve and devotional. He devours Scripture, underlining virtually every word in his new Bible. He feels that God speaks directly to him.

After a few years, the budding leader's reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. He still feels that God speaks to him in Scripture, but he has learned to read texts in their contexts, to attend to genre and more. He reads Bible dictionaries and commentaries. He knows the translation strategies of Bible versions and may use that knowledge to get at the original text.

The future pastor decides to go to seminary, where he becomes a technical reader. He studies Greek, Hebrew, and scholarly sources. He respects the distance between his world and Scripture's. But as technical skill grows, edification declines. The Bible used to read him, now he reads it, even dissects it, grammatically and linguistically. As seminary students gain technical skill, as they should, a shift occurs. As they master the text, the Author's mastery of them fades. The sweet simplicity of devotional reading, of hearing God's message "for me, today," ebbs away.

Eventually, the future pastor remembers that he aims to edify the church. He continues to read technically, but now shares his findings with believers. He becomes a technical and functional reader. His reading may be rather detached personally, but he treasures and organizes his discoveries so he can teach others. While this is an improvement, the student still doesn't profit personally from Scripture.

A wise pastor wants to become a technical, devotional reader. Every technical skill remains, but he reads like a child, letting the Word speak directly to him again. He gains what Paul Ricoeur called a "second naiveté." He is both technically astute and meek. He both receives God's Word and also expounds it. He grows in faith and godliness again. Suppose he reads Matthew 5:22: "Anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca' is answerable to the Sanhedrin." The pastor will explain what "Raca" meant: "'Raca' expresses contempt for the mind—You brainless idiot!'" He will apply this to his people several ways, but he will see his temptation too. Pastors typically have a graduate degree. As intelligent, trained adults, as knowledge workers, pastors are especially tempted to despise the ignorant. He tells others how they can express contempt, and he watches himself too.

Questions remain. Should a pastor try to read Scripture devotionally every day, apart from his teaching for the church? Some will say that is edifying, others will say it's impossible to read Scripture and block out the needs of the flock. When pastors study before preaching, should we look to appropriate it personally at the start, or should we try to wait till the basic exegesis is complete? Each of us will have to answer these questions privately. But Warfield is right, we should "recognize the privilege of pursuing his studies in the environment where God and salvation" are in the air we breathe.

Ted Rivera. Reforming Mercy Ministry: A Practical Guide to Loving Your Neighbor. Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014. 192 pp. $15.00.

Maybe your church is “big” on mercy ministries: weekly food pantry distributions for dozens of clients, successful winter coat drives for local elementary school kids, well-attended legal clinics, among several other initiatives. Everyone seems excited about those ministries, but something doesn’t feel right. For the most part, all of these ministries are run by paid church staff. Though most church members are happy to give financially to such ministries, they rarely come in touch with the people on the receiving side of their aid.

Or maybe your church doesn’t have anything along the lines of mercy ministry. Some members have complained that the church isn’t doing enough—or anything at all—to care for the needs of people in the surrounding community. Others like not having it, thinking that mercy ministry will set the church on an irreversible road to liberalism. Still more are eager to do something but don’t know where to start.

If your church is in a scenario anything like these, I commend Ted Rivera’s Reforming Mercy Ministry: A Practical Guide to Loving Your Neighbor. It will be a helpful resource for your leaders and members as they seek to biblically think through, or rethink, mercy ministry initiatives. Plus, it’s a brief and easy read.

Rivera, associate professor and department chair of the school of religion at Liberty University, defines mercy ministry as “a way of referring to the various ways we, motivated by our Christian faith, attend to the needs of others.” His purpose in the book is to show how mercy ministry relates to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20), and to help Christians “think more clearly and biblically about the ways we attempt to help one another” (7). Thirty-three brief chapters follow, each one devoted to illustrating a particular way in which Christians can identify and practically care for their neighbors’ needs with the gospel in view.

Two main ideas run throughout the book. First—and this is the basic thesis—there is no conflict between helping other humans and evangelism; in fact, Christians are called to do both. While these two activities should never be confused with each other, one shouldn’t consume the other, either. Rather, Rivera argues, “Serving others is often the soil in which the gospel best flourishes” (7).

The second idea permeating the book is that engaging in compassionate service is hard. Like evangelism, mercy ministry implies establishing relationships with people who are needy, flawed, and disappointing—just like you, just like me (10, 14). Ministering to the needs of others isn’t glamorous; usually it’s an expensive, time-consuming, exhausting, emotionally draining, and, many times, thankless endeavor, not to mention sometimes frightening and dangerous. The Lord Jesus never said that Christians should love their neighbor as themselves only insofar as they could stay safe, comfortable, and detached (Luke 10:25–37). Many Christians today, especially in the West, need to be stirred from their “cocoons,” and that’s one of the things Rivera wants to do (9).

Next I will highlight six commendable aspects of Reforming Mercy Ministry.

1. It broadens the scope of mercy ministry.

For those who are uncreative when it comes to mercy ministry, Reforming Mercy Ministry serves as a catalog of ways to help your neighbor. Some of those ideas you probably expect to find in a book like this (e.g. “Feed the Hungry,” ch. 1; “Supply Clothes to the Needy,” ch. 6; “Provide Disaster Relief,” ch. 8), but others might surprise you (e.g. “Fight Pornography,” ch. 15; “Fight Racism,” ch. 21; “Show Respect,” ch. 32). There are plenty of ways to help. Even if you don’t have a lot of resources, there is something you can do.

2. It’s highly practical.

Each chapter of the book closes with a “For Further Reflection” section that offers concrete steps toward action. To feed the hungry, Rivera says, do research about hunger in your area and raise awareness in your church. To fight racism, become friends with someone from another ethnicity. To fight for fair wages, pay fair wages. Picture yourself in someone else’s situation. Pray boldly—woe to those who think prayer isn’t practical—and consider steps beyond prayer. Some issues will call for more thought before taking action, and here Rivera reminds us that being effective is better than just doing something.

3. It’s balanced.

Have you ever read a book intended to inspire you to live selflessly and compassionately but, in the end, actually left you discouraged and almost paralyzed? Where you felt like the impossible burden of reversing the consequences of the fall lay squarely on your shoulders? Reforming Mercy Ministry is not that kind of book. Rivera is clear that Christians cannot bring heaven on earth. But he’s also clear in insisting that, by God’s power, they can make a difference in this broken world. After all, we Christians have the sovereign Lord of the universe on our side, the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20; cf. 116). What keeps us from praying he would do so?

4. It encourages lay member entrepreneurial ministry.

While this isn’t an explicit point in the book, it seems to me Rivera puts the ball on the lay Christian to come up with service initiatives. Mercy ministry, then, is not the sole responsibility of the paid church staff; it’s a ministry of the church, of every Christian. Any Christian reading this book, regardless of his or her position, will be encouraged to pray for, be aware of, and do something about the needs of those around them.

5. It includes ministry both inside and outside the church.

Some people may think of “mercy ministry” exclusively as outreach, and thus apply it only to people in need outside the local church. Those people should probably get to know their fellow church members better! Though Reforming Mercy Ministries does have a general outward-looking focus, Rivera also suggests that, in all likelihood, we may have more than a few people hurting and in need in our own churches. Won’t they be our neighbors? Won’t we, at some point, be their neighbor? (cf. 7, 10).

6. It keeps the gospel as the ultimate goal of mercy ministry.

Probably the most commendable aspect about Rivera’s book is that gospel is not absorbed by the plethora of ways he suggests to care for our neighbor. We might not always have an opportunity to share the gospel with the people we serve, but the gospel must always be our motivation and our goal (29). Consider the following paragraph:

All around us, there are hurting people. And all around the world, there are billions of such people, and we have failed them. I have failed them. I regularly fail them. Too often, because of our own fears, and because of our own spiritual blindness, we have failed to connect how intimately human need is related to one’s openness to the truths of Scripture. When we are able to meet them at their moment of greatest need, we win a hearing. When we speak without addressing how they will obtain that evening’s meal, or when we fail to listen when they are in pain, we lose a hearing. So also, when we bring material comfort, but fail to share the glories of our God in Christ, we provide only temporary solace. We must do more. (178–179)

In sum, Reforming Mercy Ministry is what it promises to be: a practical guide to loving your neighbor. Thought-provoking and challenging, this book is a guide that church leaders and church members will find helpful as they seek to form, or reform, their own mercy ministries.


Editors’ note: This review originally appeared at 9Marks.

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death. We might draw many lessons from Churchill’s life, and not all of them salutary (his views on religion, women, and alcohol come to mind). Nevertheless, Churchill was an inspiring and effective leader in a time of crisis, and it is appropriate to consider what he might teach us today about leadership.

Some Christians have mixed feelings about devoting time to learn from non-Christian leaders. But remember Isaiah calls Cyrus God’s “anointed” (Is. 45:1) and the apostle Paul calls civil authority “the servant of God” (Rom. 13:4). Wherever we find wisdom and leadership at work in the world, they are gifts of God from which we can learn. As John Calvin said, “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall [not] despise it wherever it shall appear. . . . Those men whom Scripture calls ‘natural men’ were, indeed, sharp and penetrating in their investigation of inferior things.”

Here are three leadership principles from Winston Churchill that I draw from Paul Johnson’s biography, each with a corresponding lesson for us in leadership today. (For additional and more thorough lessons from Churchill, see also Collin Hansen’s article "Churchill for Pastors.")

1. Great leaders learn from their failures.

On several different occasions it looked like Churchill’s political career was finished. In 1915 he was blamed for the disastrous effort to seize the Dardanelles straight during World War I, and was demoted and disgraced. His wife would later recall, “I thought he would die of grief.” Then, in 1922, Churchill was again disgraced following the Chanak crisis and lost election—right as he fell ill and needed surgery. He would later comment, “In the twinkling of an eye, I found myself without an office, without a seat, without a party, and without an appendix.”

Having bounced back from both of these failures, he then entered a protracted “wilderness season” in the 1930s. His support for Edward VIII during the abdication crisis greatly damaged his popularity, and his alarm about Hitler pushed him into an outcast position in Parliament. On one occasion, having being shouted down, he stormed out of the chamber and confessed to a friend, “My political career is finished.” Later he would reflect about this time: "I was myself so smitten in public opinion that it was the almost universal view that my political life was at last ended.”

Amazingly, Churchill not only survived these stormy ups and downs—any one of which could have ended his career—but he learned from them and became a better leader because of them. In fact, each episode almost seems designed to prepare him for his greatest service, that of prime minister during World War II. For example, according the Johnson, the memory of Dardanelles was partly what motivated Churchill to insist—against Stalin and Roosevelt—upon a later date for the Allied invasion into northwestern Europe, when it was more likely to be successful. The success of D-Day in 1944 may not have occurred without the failure of Dardanelles in 1915.

            Lesson: Failure can strengthen, rather than destroy, your leadership.

Leaders will experience failure—sometimes disastrous, disgraceful failure that seems to unravel their leadership potential. And it is all too easy to respond to failure with rashness and shortsightedness, rather than grace and perseverance. People and life are often more forgiving that we expect, and if we will humbly seek to learn from our failures, they will usually not destroy us. In fact, our failures may even be the mechanism by which God will prepare us for greater tasks ahead.

2. Great leaders know how to enjoy life.

Churchill was an incredibly hard worker and productive man. He published almost 10 million words over course of his life, regularly worked 16 hour days during busy stretches, was under fire 50 times, was present at or fought in 15 battles, and spent 55 years as a member of Parliament, 31 as a minister, and almost 9 as prime minister. Even after World War II at age 70 he did not retire but spent another decade in public service. The amount of energy with which he embraced life is astounding. 

How did he do it? Paradoxically, Johnson argues that the secret to his productivity was his ability to relax and enjoy life. Family, friends, vacation, laughter, and hobbies were for Churchill part of the main business of life, not mere sidetracks or distractions. He poured the same energies into leisure as he did into work, and over the years this balance became for him an incredible tonic against the discouragements and anxieties of leadership.

Painting, in particular, became a refuge for Churchill after the Dardanelles disaster, and he continued painting all his life, finishing more than 500 canvasses before his death (more than most professional painters). He also spent many hours working on his country home and his garden, and spent much time recuperating there with his family. Johnson claims, “Churchill’s great strength was his power of relaxation” (128) and calls painting “the perfect relaxation from his tremendous cares” (55). 

            Lesson: Hobbies, friends, and joy are essential to success.

The equal intensity of both rigor and relaxation in Churchill’s life reveal something about the nature of productivity in a world created by a God who rested on the seventh day. I wonder if those of us in ministry can especially find a lesson in Churchill’s resiliency. Just as Churchill was able to recover from political failures precisely because politics was not the only thing in his life, so paradoxically we will find resiliency in ministry to the extent that ministry is not our everything.

In particular, friends and hobbies are essential to longevity and durability in ministry leadership. They are healthy, sustaining, restorative influences that provide ballast and perspective amid all the ups and downs of life and leadership.

3. Great leaders focus on their calling.

The confidence with which Churchill responded to the call of leading Britain in her most dire hour is unbelievable—seemingly superhuman. On the night in 1940 he discovered he was to be prime minister, Churchill wrote:

I was conscious of a profound sense of relief. At last I had authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. . . . I was sure I would not fail. Therefore, although impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had not need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams.

Keep in mind that Churchill was facing about as daunting a leadership scenario as anyone ever experienced. The Nazis were sweeping through Western Europe toward Great Britain, and at this point it was far from clear how or whether they would be stopped.

It is astonishing that Churchill felt relieved to take charge of the situation, and impatient to get started. But he seemed to sense that he was born specifically for this task, that his gifts and all his prior experiences had brought him to this moment.

            Lesson: Calling makes the difference.

Leadership, especially in vocational ministry, is difficult and often incalculable. You can be godly, gifted, and make all the right calls—and still fall flat on your face. Leadership is beyond any of us in our natural abilities. There are potential pitfalls in every direction, and the challenges and uncertainties that rise up are impossible to anticipate.

Within the calling of God we find the confidence and strength to lead amid seemingly super-human difficulties. There is a calmness that comes from knowing you are exactly where God has called you to be, that your gifts and experiences are uniquely suited for the tasks set ahead of you.

Sometimes you have stick it out for a while before you find that sense of placement that Winston Churchill found in 1940. But if you persevere within the calling of God, you will eventually discover joy in those moments you were born for, those moments where super-human difficulty is met by super-human confidence.

Maybe those moments are still out ahead of us. Maybe our worst failures are preparing us for them.

Ed Stetzer - Lifeway 

Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."

Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.

I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.

How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"

In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.

We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.

How did you measure success in the past?

I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...

Continue reading...

A Conflict of Christian Visions; An Open Letter to Church Planters; Anti-Psychotic Overmedication

If you are not reading Anthony Bradley, you really should be. In this article, he pushes a bit about our view of the creation narrative. Interesting stuff…

A Conflict of Christian Visions: Gen. 1-2 vs. Gen. 3 ChristianityAnthony Bradley

Christine was recently on The Exchange (along with my friend Kathy Ferguson Litton), for an interview regarding her new book, The Church Planting Wife. Here is a related letter that's worth a read.

An Open Letter to Church Planting PastorsChristine Hoover

We've talked a lot about mental illness lately. I've written for CNN, and at my own blog. The Huffington Post, the Blaze, CNN (here and here), and lots of others have reported on our data. In my most recent article, I wrote about the danger of overmedication. Being an evangelical, one of the biggest challenges is to encourage Christians to see mental illness as an actual illness. We have a long way to go, based on our recent research. However, the other extreme is that of overmedication, as this article explains.

Doctors: Anti-psychotic meds overused for dementia, kidsKim Painter

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with evangelist Luis Palau on The Exchange. What regrets does he have in his experience as an international evangelist? Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

Continue reading...

Large and fast-growing churches make sacrifices for the kingdom of God.

Outreach Magazine just released their Outreach 100 issue for 2013. LifeWay Research does the research for this issue. I was particularly encouraged to see the list focus especially on fastest growing churches. You can subscribe to the magazine here. Here is my article with a bit of analysis of some of the fastest-growing churches in America.

----------------------------

Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Remember folks: facts are our friends.

I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.

On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...

Continue reading...

Evangelicals Wrong on Mental Illness; 4 Public Invitation Tips; Stop Copying

Amy Simpson responds to our research on mental health that has been reported at CNN (here and here), The Huffington Post, the Blaze, and lots of other places.

Evangelicals, You're Wrong about Mental IllnessAmy Simpson

I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.

4 Words to Keep in Mind When You Give a Public InvitationRonnie Floyd

Helpful article on innovation from Justin and Matt.

How to Stop Copying and Start InnovatingJustin Blaney and Matt Carter

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with evangelist Luis Palau on The Exchange. Listen to the advice he had for others who share the Gospel. Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

Continue reading...

How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.

Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.

Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.

Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.

I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.

Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.

Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.

1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.

First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.

Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...

Continue reading...

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission 
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Jan. 27, 2015—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission, responded to today’s announcement by the Mormon Church to support legislation that would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in areas such as housing and employment, as long as the laws protect rights of religious groups.</p> <p>“I have met with Mormon leaders about these issues repeatedly. I think the Latter-day Saints are well-intentioned but naive on where the reality stands today. I do not think, in most instances, sexual orientation ought to matter in housing or employment, but of course the proposals to address these concerns inevitably lead to targeted assaults on religious liberty. This announcement from Mormon leaders has, as I thought, been greeted with hostility from gay rights organizations and disappointment from social conservatives. Nonetheless, I look forward to working with Mormons and others on protecting religious liberty for everyone in the years ahead. </p> <p>&#8220;As Southern Baptists, we believe gay and lesbian persons are created in the image of God and ought to be respected. We also believe that any sexual expression outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally wrong. And we believe that freedom of conscience for those of us who dissent from the Sexual Revolution ought to be maintained.&#8221;</p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_qQICsXTRPl='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_qQICsXTRPl'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

>
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Jan. 22, 2015—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission, responded to House Republicans’ decision to drop the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a major pro-life bill that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.</p> <p>“I am disgusted by this act of moral cowardice. If the House Republicans cannot pass something as basic as restricting the abortion of five-month, pain-capable unborn children, what can they get done? </p> <p>“The Republicans in Congress should come and explain this atrocity to the hundreds of thousands of people gathering here in the nation’s capital to march for life. The congressional Republicans seem to think that pro-lifers will be satisfied with Ronald Reagan rhetoric and Nancy Pelosi results. They are quite wrong.”</p> <p>House Republicans are now scheduled to vote on a bill Thursday that would prohibit federal funding for abortions. This scheduled vote coincides with the annual <a href="http://marchforlife.org/">March for Life</a> event, held in Washington, D.C., on or around the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court&#8217;s decision legalizing abortion in the case Roe v. Wade. </p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_kcbKYflGzc='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_kcbKYflGzc'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

>
<p><span class="caps">NASHVILLE</span> Tenn., Jan. 21, 2015—The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has added new speakers to join its second annual Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” March 26-27 in Nashville, Tenn. </p> <p>New confirmed speakers include: Trip Lee, Thabiti Anyabwile, Derwin Gary, K. Marshall Williams and Frank Page. </p> <p>In light of the national conversation about race in America surrounding the <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/11/24/ferguson-and-the-path-to-peace/">Ferguson, Mo.</a> and <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/12/03/eric-garner-and-the-call-for-justice/">Eric Garner</a> cases, the <span class="caps">ERLC</span> Summit will seek to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches.</p> <p>An updated list of confirmed Summit speakers include:</p> <p><a href="http://builttobrag.com/about/">Trip Lee</a>, Hip-hop artist, Author of “The Good Life” and Founder of Built to Brag in Atlanta, Ga.<br /> <a href="http://tonyevans.org/about/tony-evans/">Tony Evans</a>, Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas<br /> <a href="http://www.derwinlgray.com/">Derwin L. Gray</a>, Pastor of Transformation Church in Indian Land, S.C. <br /> <a href="http://www.naafsbc.org/">K. Marshall Williams Sr.</a>, President of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention and Pastor at Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.<br /> <a href="http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/">Thabiti Anyabwile</a>, Assistant Pastor for Church Planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. <br /> <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/">Russell Moore</a>, <span class="caps">ERLC</span> President<br /> <a href="http://www.jvmpf.org/">John Perkins</a>, President of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Miss.<br /> <a href="http://www.franklinabc.com/pastor">Fred Luter</a>, First African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention and Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La.<br /> <a href="http://frankpage.org/">Frank S. Page</a>, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn.<br /> <a href="http://www.hbcharlesjr.com/">H.B. Charles Jr.</a>, Pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. <br /> <a href="http://www.princeton.edu/politics/people/display_person.xml?netid=rgeorge">Robert P. George</a>, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. <br /> <a href="http://www.danielakin.com/">Daniel L. Akin</a>, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.<br /> <a href="http://www.dahorton.com/">D.A. Horton</a>, National Coordinator for Urban Student Missions at the North American Mission Board<br /> <a href="http://blueprintchurch.org/speaker/dhati-lewis/">Dhati Lewis</a>, Lead Pastor at Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Ga. <br /> <a href="http://sbtexas.com/about-sbtc/jim-richards/">Jim Richards</a>, Executive Director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in Grapevine, Texas<br /> <a href="http://www.trillianewbell.com/">Trillia Newbell</a>, ERLC’s Consultant for Women’s Initiatives<br /> <a href="http://www.davidprince.com/">David Prince</a>, Pastor of Preaching and Vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.<br /> <a href="http://straighttotheheart.highpointeaustin.org/about/">Juan Sanchez</a>, Preaching Pastor at High Point Baptist Church in Austin, Texas <br /> <a href="http://www.sbts.edu/theology/faculty/kevin-smith/">Kevin Smith</a>, Assistant Professor of Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. <br /> <a href="http://jjoshsmith.org/">Josh Smith</a>, Lead Pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas</p> <p>The 2015 Leadership Summit will take place 20 years after the SBC’s historic <a href="http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899">resolution</a> on racial reconciliation and on the week of the 50th anniversary of The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. </p> <p>Keynote addresses, panels and breakout sessions will focus on how churches can reflect the united kingdom of Christ and be a beacon of hope, clarity and restoration to a culture navigating complex questions about race.</p> <p>“The New Testament is clear that the gospel reconciles us not only to God but also to each other,” Moore said. “Racism and injustice are not just social ills; they are sins against God. Racial reconciliation is a matter of what gospel we believe and to what mission we&#8217;ve been called. This summit will help equip us to tear down carnal divisions, to bring about peace, so that churches reflect the kingdom of God.”</p> <p>The main sessions will be live-streamed on erlc.com. Follow the conversation on Twitter by following @ERLC and #erlcsummit.</p> <p>More information can be found <a href="http://erlc.com/summit2015">online</a>. </p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_UrMnYpmzuq='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_UrMnYpmzuq'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

>
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission, commented on today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous 9-0 decision in Holt v. Hobbs to allow a Muslim inmate to grow a short beard for religious reasons. </p> <p>“The Supreme Court did the right thing in this case. Religious liberty isn&#8217;t a prize earned by those with the most political clout. Religious liberty is a right given by God to all people. The Court here respected liberty of conscience and free exercise. Christians and others should be glad, especially in a time when the most basic religious liberties are routinely dismissed in many corners of our national debate. Thomas Jefferson would be proud of this good decision.” </p> <p>The Supreme Court ruled the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (<span class="caps">RLUIPA</span>) protects the right of inmate Muhammad Hobbs to grow a short beard for religious reasons despite the regulations of the Arkansas Department of Corrections. </p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_xmjwtEWTOU='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_xmjwtEWTOU'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

>
<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Jan. 16, 2015—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission, commented on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take up four same-sex marriage cases involving state constitutional amendments that define marriage as the union of a man and woman.</p> <p>“This case could potentially transform the cultural landscape of America. We should pray for the Court, that they will not seek to redefine marriage. Marriage was not created by government action, and shouldn&#8217;t be re-created by government action. Even more than that, we should pray for churches who will know how to articulate and embody a Christian vision of marriage as the one flesh union of a man and a woman in the tumultuous years to come.”</p> <p>In November 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld Ohio’s ban, making it the first federal appeals court to rule states could define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. </p> <p>This will be the second time Supreme Court justices take on the marriage issue. Gay marriage is legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia.</p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p> <p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/186399315&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false"></iframe></p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_gYPXuKdKZl='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_gYPXuKdKZl'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

>

    See our videos on Youtube
     Like our Facebook page
    Follow each of us on Twitter:
    @DrMarkFoley  @DrJoeSavage  @Quinhillyer


    University of Mobile Center for Leadership
    University of Mobile | 5735 College Parkway | Mobile, AL 36613 | PH: 251.675.7551 | © 2009-2012