Christianity and Politics: If A=B and B=C, then A=C. Or does it?

If I remember 8th-grade math correctly, and if I am hearing some of my fellow evangelicals clearly, either they or I have transgressed a basic principle of math. I’m pretty sure they are the ones who goofed about a basic issue, our worldview. What I mean is that, as a people, we are a priori committed to one worldview that we attempt to draw out from the Bible. Other faith groups in the world have other sources of truth, some authoritative (the Koran), some not so much (Hindu Scriptures), some in-between (Oprah); they develop their worldview from these sources. What happens when a Christian unconsciously synthesizes worldviews? Let’s start with one case and move on to that math issue. Case 1: Ayn Rand I will pick on Rand first. It may be because of some lingering bitterness in my heart, because I made myself finish The Fountainhead, and later on that novel about the train, a book that drove me to distraction. I also read some of her many essays. Ayn Rand called herself a capitalist and has been a huge influence on American libertarians and conservatives in the 21st century. She is also on record as saying: “I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.”[1] And she was an atheist and anti-Christian, since she believed that belief in God was irrational. This is why I was surprised when, a few years back, it seemed like a lot of evangelical Christians were walking around with dogeared copies of her Atlas Shrugged. At that time, some went on record saying, “It’s either Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ, but you can’t have both.” Others countered that… Read More

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Early High Christology and the Legacy of Larry Hurtado (1943–2019)

His first blog post—before academic blogging was a thing—featured 18 humble words: “As time permits, I hope to offer some worthwhile comments on early Christianity and perhaps other subjects too” (July 5, 2010). As of today, his blog has more than 2 million pageviews. His name is Larry Hurtado, and on November 26 he went to be with the Lord. He’s one of the most influential New Testament scholars you’ve probably never heard of. Hurtado wrote mainly for an academic audience, expressing his views on early Christianity through monographs, articles, and scholarly conferences. (Only in 2018 did he write his first truly popular-level book, Honoring the Son.) I remember the frustration I felt when, long after masters-level studies, I was just discovering his writings. I wondered, Why hadn’t anyone mentioned this guy before? While it’s unfortunate that Hurtado wasn’t more widely accessible to lay audiences, his ideas have still made their way from the academy to the pew through hundreds—if not thousands—of students, scholars, professors, and pastors deeply influenced by his work. Profound Influence Despite being born and educated in the Midwest, Hurtado’s academic career began in Canada (1975–1996, Regent College and University of Manitoba) and ended in Scotland (1996–2011, University of Edinburgh). He helped make New College at Edinburgh a powerhouse of biblical studies. He published around a dozen books (as author or editor) and was particularly prolific in shorter, technical writings. Upon his retirement he was named emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology. In October 2018, Hurtado announced he’d been diagnosed with AML, a form of leukemia. Initially the treatments seemed effective, but this past summer it returned aggressively. I was one of likely several people whom Hurtado informed that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill some writing-project commitment—for he only had weeks, at most months,… Read More

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9 Things You Should Know About the Christian Calendar

Today marks the first Sunday in Advent, the first day of the Christian calendar. Here are nine things should know about the cycle of liturgical seasons observed within many Christian churches: 1. The Christian calendar (also known as the liturgical calendar or ecclesiastical calendar) is an annual schedule that commemorates certain days and seasons related to the history of salvation. Some denominations—including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians—observe most of the traditional calendar, while other denominations—including Baptists and most nondenominational evangelical congregations—tend to focus on only a few dates, such as Christmas and Easter. During the Reformation, many of the Reformers retained only what they called the “evangelical feast days.” “Instead of viewing these days as a part of the Christian’s accomplishment of his or her salvation,” says Daniel Hyde, “they viewed celebrating these days as a celebration of the salvation which Christ had already accomplished for them in his Incarnation (Christmas), death (Good Friday), resurrection (Easter), ascending to the Father (Ascension), and giving of his Spirit (Pentecost). They were seen as invaluable times to celebrate Christ and his Gospel.” 2. Advent, which marks the start of the new liturgical year, always begins on Advent Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The term Advent is taken from the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming,” and was from the translation of the Greek Parousia—a word used for both the coming of Christ in human flesh and his Second Coming. The season of Advent is a time when Christians reflect on the comings of Christ to Earth. The first two weeks of the season focus on the future return of Christ at the Second Coming, while the last two weeks focus on the coming celebration of Christmas. As Ryan Reeves notes, the first written evidence of Advent is found in… Read More

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Men: Do You Get Angry at Your Wives?

Married men: don’t pretend to have a glowing testimony in the church when you have wicked outbursts of anger against your wife. Don’t try to hide it or justify it, but rather confess it and put it to death. You know the thing about this bad anger? It’s especially a problem for men. Men, you explode, you shout, you scream. You profess to be a Christian, but just let your wife do something that doesn’t sit right with you: burn the toast. She doesn’t agree with you. Her conduct isn’t just exactly what you want. A lot of men ready to fly off the handle; verbally abuse their poor wife. If you’re a man who’s angry, hot-tempered, you bark at your wife, you lash her with your tongue, but then you walk into this building. You put on a smile like the holy aura is around you. And your wife knows you were just talking to her on the way here in a certain way, or you dealt with her last night in a certain way. Not only do your wife and children know you’re a fake, all the more the Lord knows. And Paul is saying put it off. It doesn’t work to say, “well, you know, I’m just that way.” “I’m naturally hot-headed.” Paul’s saying quit that. Quit acting that way. What you are at home is what you are for real. What you are when you walk in here, that’s not the test. What you are at home, that’s where the real you is. You come into the church and you have this glowing testimony, but you know your wife walks on pins and needles never knowing what’s going to set you off. And there you are out there and you’re sitting there next to the very… Read More

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10 Best Advent Albums of the 2010s

I don’t blame those who dislike Christmas music. Much of what you hear on the radio in December, or over the speakers at the mall, is terrible. But within the vast and diverse genre, there are treasures to be found.  I’ve been encouraged, for example, that in the last few decades there has been a renaissance of Advent–focused Christmas music: music that is theologically rich and, while still joyful, somewhat more somber and serious than pop Christmas radio. This music helps listeners enter into the Advent story in a way that focuses on spiritual contemplation more than tinsel-drenched merriment.  In the last few decades there has been a renaissance of Advent-focused Christmas music that helps listeners enter into the Advent story in a way that focuses on spiritual contemplation more than tinsel-drenched merriment. As a way to celebrate the abundance of such music released in the 2010s, I’ve listed my 10 favorite Advent albums released in the last 10 years. I also created a 100-song playlist (find it on Spotify or Apple Music) that includes selected songs from each album, as well as a bunch of other great Advent songs released by various artists in the 2010s.  In compiling the list below, I focused on albums that contained both excellent original Advent songs and beautiful covers of familiar carols. Another criteria I considered was richness of lyrical content and appropriate musical mood. Advent of all the Christian seasons has a particular mood, and the albums below capture it well. They beautifully contemplate the key themes of Advent—hope, peace, joy, love, waiting, longing, tension—and do so by engaging Scripture in meaningful ways.  I pray these albums, and the accompanying playlist, will meet you this season in a place of quiet reverence and awestruck worship, as together we pause to ponder the… Read More

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The Original Black Friday

At the center of a biblical worldview is a radical recognition: the most horrible thing that ever happened was the most beautiful thing that ever happened.  Consider the cross of Jesus Christ. Could it be possible for something to happen more terrible than this? Could any injustice be greater? Any loss more painful? Any suffering worse? The only man who ever lived a life that was perfect in every way possible, who gave his life for the sake of many, and who willingly suffered from birth to death in loyalty to his calling, was cruelly and publicly murdered in the most vicious of ways.  How could the Son of Man die? How could men capture and torture the Messiah? In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter provides an explanation filled with both horror and beauty: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22–24) The cross was not the end of the story! In God’s righteous and wise plan, this horrible moment was ordained to be the moment that would fix all the dark and disastrous things that sin had done to the world. This moment of death was, simultaneously, a moment of life. This moment of horror was the moment when the beauty of eternal hope was given. This moment of lawless injustice was at the same time a moment of amazing grace. The extreme physical and emotional pain… Read More

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Giving Thanks Is a Community Project

Throughout my childhood, my favorite special event on our church’s calendar was the annual Thanksgiving service. My love for the event was not because of the pies—a groaning potluck table of apple, pumpkin, and chocolate cream with no one to count how many slices we children ate—or the merry fire blazing in the church fireplace. It wasn’t the chance to run unsupervised down the cold, dim, familiar back hallways with sugar-fueled friends. It wasn’t even the promise of a delayed school-night bedtime. I loved it for that moment when we all pulled our avocado-green vinyl chairs into a ragged semicircle around the piano, and my pastor-father said, “Who would like to start with a word of thanksgiving?” And, after a brief silence, someone would rise to her feet and say, “I’m thankful for a new job this year that lets me pay the bills and gives me a chance to use my gifts.” Another would stand: “I’m thankful the Lord used this year’s chemo treatments to send my cancer into remission.” After that, people would rise—or, sometimes, speak falteringly from their seats—in rapid succession. Even as a child, I treasured the privilege of hearing the stories of others’ lives. Every year, we would hear words of thanks for jobs and homes, for pastors and teachers, for physical healing and familial reconciliation, for power over sin and for the unmerited gift of salvation. There were always a few surprises from people who waited for this service to announce a pregnancy or a wedding engagement. There were always a few tears as we remembered faithful saints, gone this year to be with Jesus. At the end of the evening, church members would replace the chairs and rake the fire’s embers into ash. We located our sticky, crumb-strewn pie plates. We plucked mittens… Read More

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Be Thankful

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15 NIV) Thanksgiving. Most think of it as the holiday that kicks of the Holiday season. It features food, family, food, friends, food, football, food… Well, you get the idea. If you wanted to add a “spiritual sounding” word, you could have added “fellowship”, but often that sounds like “food” to many Christians. (The “Fellowship Hall” in the church building is where you eat, right?) Sadly, to many people, Thanksgiving is the time when you gather for feasting and hopefully fun, and there is NOTHING wrong with feasting and fun. But feasting and fun is all that is thought about, except for a quick prayer before the meal. However, those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ have a higher and wider perspective. We know the One to whom we surely must give thanks. So, on the special day set apart for giving thanks in our culture, we will be thankful! Let’s think about some matters for which to give thanks. Feel free to use these suggestions, and develop your own. We thank God for God himself. Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name (Psalm 103:1 NIV) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;his faithful love endures forever (Psalm 107:1 CSB). Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds (Psalm 9:11 NASB). For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen (Romans 11:36 NLT). We thank God for saving grace. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon… Read More

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How to Handle Family Conflict This Holiday Season

The seventeenth-century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes said the state of mankind without civil society is “nothing else but a mere war of all against all.” For many of us, this describes the state of family gatherings during the holiday season. Before we pass the turkey and dressing or open the presents on Christmas morning we have to endure internecine spats with our siblings or parents. Perhaps this should not be surprising since the oldest type of human conflict is family conflict. It started when Adam blamed his wife, Eve, for his disobedience (Genesis 3:12), continued with one of their sons murdering his sibling (Genesis 4:8), and affected just about every major character in the Bible. Even Jesus had to deal with conflicts with his own family (Mark 3:21). “The early chapters of Genesis explain that the brokenness of nearly every facet of family life stems from God’s judgment against our first parents,” says Richard Pratt Jr. “No family is ‘fine,’ ‘without problems,’ or ‘great’ until someone destroys it. Every home is broken from the day it begins.” We should expect conflict among sinners who were or are confined to the same space and a forced to interact with people we’ve known all our lives. This is why children have more conflict with their siblings than they do with their friends. As Scottish researcher Samantha Punch points out, siblings will be there tomorrow, no matter what. “Sibship is a relationship in which the boundaries of social interaction can be pushed to the limit,” says Punch. “Rage and irritation need not be suppressed, whilst politeness and toleration can be neglected.” Research has shown that when siblings between the ages of three and seven are together, they clash an average of three and a half times per hour. The studies found that on… Read More

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How an International Partnership Could Benefit Your Church

Your weeks are crazy. There’s the worship-team meeting, weekly small group, counseling that couple in crisis—oh, and a sermon to write. Add to that your worship space was unexpectedly pulled out from under you, and your children’s ministry director just stepped down. I can relate. My husband and I have served as church planters in both the United States and also abroad for nearly two decades. We know how easily the tyranny of the urgent rules a church planter’s days. Often it’s a great joy. Sometimes it’s a painful slog. But always, we fall into bed exhausted. Church planting is hard work. And so, it’s as unintended as it is certain—urgent, daily needs in ministry are strong gravity, pulling us farther and farther away from where we meant to go with our church plants. Inevitable Inward Drift Church planters are by definition missional. We’re passionate about making disciples; otherwise we wouldn’t be out here. But the great care required by our local churches leaves us with little energy for the going to the nations part of the Great Commission. Our local needs cause us to drift inward, inevitably pushing out our good intentions for global kingdom work. Additionally, there’s confusion and intimidation. To avoid making a global mess, we’d rather stick to what we know in our own neighborhoods. Or we wait for the elusive day when we have the budget, staff, or size that we think is needed for a global partnership. Insofar as our churches join in the discipleship of other nations, our church  members will also be discipled. As a result, we ensure the growth of our churches, but forsake the global mission. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Growing an international church-planting partnership is not as hard as it seems, and—surprisingly—it may just be the… Read More

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