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News & Commentary
 
 
Saying Goodbye for Good

How to bid farewell as though our bodies mattered.

People can’t say goodbye anymore,” writes the poet Les Murray. “They say last hellos.”

Take, for instance, a recent experience I had with some good friends. They had packed the last of their belongings for a cross-country move and showed up at my door before hitting the road. I tried to make small talk, awkwardly fending off the inevitable parting. Finally, they gave me a hug, and I blurted out, “We’ll have to get together again this fall. Maybe I can make a road trip down to see you.” A last hello is what I was saying, not a goodbye. I couldn’t bring myself to say the latter.

Once, at the end of a degree program, I went to my favorite professor’s office for a similar parting. I had taken multiple classes with him, and his teaching had left a permanent mark on me. I wanted to say that I would miss our regular conversations. We talked uncomfortably for a few minutes. I rose to leave. “Well, I won’t say goodbye,” he mumbled, avoiding eye contact. “You can ask my wife—I don’t do goodbyes.”

In his book A Severe Mercy, a memoir of Christian conversion and student life in Oxford, Sheldon Vanauken tells the story of his last meeting with C. S. Lewis, who had become a friend. The two men ate lunch together, and when they had finished, Lewis said, “At all events, we’ll certainly meet again, here—or there.” Then he added: “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” And with that, they shook hands and parted ways. From across the street, above the din of traffic, Lewis shouted, “Besides, Christians never say goodbye!”

There is, of course, something admirable in all these ...

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Interview: Mark Labberton: This Is the Best of Times for Following Jesus

The Fuller Seminary president sees the churchís moment of cultural exile as a moment of incredible opportunity.

Following Jesus has never been an easy task. All the same, from the time of the disciples until today, Christians have been called to strap on their sandals, so to speak, and walk the road their Lord calls them down. While the basic New Testament call remains the same, though, each age places unique speed-bumps and detours along the path of discipleship. In Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (InterVarsity Press) Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, gives a bracing assessment of the challenges facing the North American church, as well as a hopeful invitation to trust the promises of God as we respond to the call of Jesus in the world. Derek Rishmawy, a minister to students and young adults in California, spoke with Labberton about that vision.

You talk about the crisis and the promise of following Jesus. In a nutshell, what’s the crisis?

The crisis we’re facing is that many people outside and inside the church don’t understand what it’s supposed to be about. It has become encrusted with so many cultural, historical, political, economic forms. As these get thicker and thicker, they distance us from the core affirmation of living as disciples of Jesus. If you look at the New Testament and ask “What is the church?” I think the primary answer is: people living their lives as an act of worship and response to Jesus Christ and seeking to live as daily disciples in community and for the sake of their world. The crisis is that Christians inside the church don’t seem to view this way of life as necessary. This leaves outsiders puzzled about the purpose of the church, because so little of it seems related to Jesus.

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Review: Abraham Kuyper Goes Pop

A brilliant new film series pictures how to live out our salvation.

Genre:Religious

Theatre Release:March 31, 2014 by The Acton Institute

The statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper is all but forgotten in his native Netherlands, but his reputation continues to flourish in the United States among Christians looking for better ways to imagine their role in Western society. They often come to Kuyper for his account of the “cultural mandate”—the biblical theme of responsibility for the world so often neglected in narrower versions of conservative Christianity. But they stay for Kuyper’s most distinctive contribution, his carefully developed account of culture’s “spheres,” each with its own features, functions, and significance. The family, government, science, art, education, and more are each essential. None can be reduced to the other, and each requires particular virtues and bequeaths us particular forms of flourishing.

Now, the Dutch Reformed heartland of western Michigan has given us a cultural product that Kuyper surely never imagined, but that would surely make him proud. It is designed to help the church reclaim our true calling: to live out our salvation, in the words its title borrows from the Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, “for the life of the world.”

Here Comes Everybody

A curriculum of seven films each lasting 15 to 20 minutes, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles advances a sophisticated theological anthropology. Schmemann’s breathtaking sacramental view of ordinary life is here, as are Kuyper’s distinctive spheres. Kuyper’s fellow Dutch Reformed thinkers Herman Bavinck and Lester DeKoster contribute a high view of common grace and human work, respectively. Catholic theologians such as Josef Pieper and Hans Urs von Balthasar testify to the significance ...

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News: New Poll Finds Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies

Survey finds many American evangelicals hold unorthodox views on the Trinity, salvation, and other doctrines.

Most American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church.

A survey released today by LifeWay Research for Ligonier Ministries “reveals a significant level of theological confusion,” said Stephen Nichols, Ligonier’s chief academic officer. Many evangelicals do not have orthodox views about either God or humans, especially on questions of salvation and the Holy Spirit, he said.

Evangelicals did score high on several points. Nearly all believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead (96%), and that salvation is found through Jesus alone (92%). Strong majorities said that God is sovereign over all people (89%) and that the Bible is the Word of God (88%).

And in some cases the problem seems to be uncertainty rather than heresy. For example, only 6 percent of evangelicals think the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God, but an additional 18 percent aren’t sure and think it might be.

Jesus, Almost as Good as His Father?

Almost all evangelicals say they believe in the Trinity (96%) and that Jesus is fully human and fully divine (88%).

But nearly a quarter (22%) said God the Father is more divine than Jesus, and 9 percent weren’t sure. Further, 16 percent say Jesus was the first creature created by God, while 11 percent were unsure.

No doubt, phrases like “only begotten Son” (John 3:16) and “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15) have led others in history to hold these views, too. In the fourth century, a priest from Libya named Arius (c.250–336) announced, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning. … There was a time when the Son was not.” The ...

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Blessed Are the Broke

. . . and rich are the financially desperate. Just ask my family.

It had been more than a year since I had seen her. We’d had our share of good conversations when our kids had attended Christian school together, but her frown moving toward me through the crowd left me looking for escape routes.

She arrived with hands held out to hold my shoulders as she looked me over, shaking that frown at me.

“We’ve missed you,” she said. “How horrible that you had to leave.”

I breathed. “It’s not horrible. Far from it.”

She grabbed my hand.

“No, really,” I said. “Public school is where God wanted us. It was hard to leave, but the school has been a blessing.”

She winked. “It’s good you can say that.”

“I’m not just saying that. I mean it.”

“I’m sure you do.”

And I did. We had left the school because we couldn’t pay the tuition. Years of facing under- then unemployment, compounded by mounting medical debt, will do that. But I had sensed God calling us to our local public school for a long time.

Frowny Face obviously couldn’t believe that. Neither did the people who pitied us during our “terrible” season of being broke. Not with a quiet belief system that’s grown rather insidious among the faithful.

It’s a belief system implied every time a Christian told me to have faith, to keep our kids enrolled in the Christian school because God will provide. It’s a belief system that many Christians don’t name and claim outright but still subtly embrace. It’s the belief that God confirms our faithfulness by adding zeroes to pay stubs, by keeping us healthy, by giving us spouses and babies. That while God may ...

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Bless This Tackle? Not a Prayer

Christiansí misguided fight for football devotions isnít working.

After asking a player to lead the team in prayer, a varsity football coach at an Arizona public prep school recently received a two-week suspension. Coach Tommy Brittain’s punishment has become a rallying point for area Christians who view it as another example of secularism crowding out religion in the public square.

Conservative television and radio have fanned the flames of discontent, even though the question of whether or not coaches, chaplains, or any other adult may lead public school teams in prayer has long been a settled legal matter. Further challenges have come from atheist groups such as the American Humanist Society (AHS) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

Any football fan knows that religion on football fields and locker rooms is nothing new. Over a half-century before Philadelphia Eagle Heb Lusk kneeled on the field and sent up the first-ever end zone prayer during a 1977 NFL game, a brand of Christianity had already become a familiar fixture in football locker rooms. As far back as 1893, a journalist reported that following its victory over Yale in the great Thanksgiving Day game, the Princeton team, “naked and covered with mud and blood and perspiration,” stood in its locker to sing the Doxology “from the beginning to end as solemnly and seriously, as they ever did in their lives.” Today, prayer in professional football is as predictable as The Star Spangled Banner, so much so that heads are no longer turned when NFL teams meet at the center of the field for prayer after each game.

But religion inserted into games sponsored by public institutions is another matter, destined to raise questions about separation of church and state. Following a series of ...

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Interview: The Softer Face of Calvinism

Reformed theology is more irenic and diverse than you think, says theologian Oliver Crisp.

Few figures in church history have been so much loved or hated, admired or despised as John Calvin. Calvinism—the theological orientation bearing the French theologian’s name—has also had mixed reception. Reformed theologian Oliver Crisp, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, says Calvinism and the Reformed tradition is more diverse and amiable than is often thought. CT assistant online editor Kevin P. Emmert talked with Crisp about his new book, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress Press), and the landscape of Reformed theology.

Why do you think it was important to write Deviant Calvinism?

I see a lot of misrepresentations of Reformed theology, among people both inside and outside the Reformed tradition. Many people think Reformed theology coalesces around five points or around the soteriological “doctrines of grace” rather than around historic confessions. And I see a lot of Calvinists who aren’t confessional, when in fact the Reformed tradition very much is. If you truly are a Calvinist, then you should be interested in Reformed confessions, I think. And when we look at the confessional tradition, it seems Reformed theology is broader than the more narrow five-point Calvinism.

Also, a number of people outside the Reformed community tend to associate the Reformed tradition with a narrowly dogmatic—in both senses of that term—way of thinking about the Christian faith. And they are rather disparaging about that. But not all of us are narrowly dogmatic. So I thought, Maybe the time has come to make a case for a more irenic, more sanguine, broad approach to the Reformed tradition, because there are great riches in the Reformed ...

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Goodbye, Mars Hill: Mark Driscoll's Multisite Empire Will Sell Properties and Dissolve

Come New Year's Day, 13 churches will go their separate ways or shut down.

Marking its own Reformation Day of sorts, Mars Hill Church will dissolve Mark Driscoll's multisite network and let each of its remaining 13 churches go their own way.

Founded in 1996, the Seattle-based megachurch planted 15 satellite sites across five states, its passion for creating new churches further evidenced by Driscoll founding the Acts 29 network. By New Year's Day, the multisite organization and the Mars Hill name will be no more.

"Rather than remaining a centralized multi-site church with video-led teaching distributed to multiple locations, the best future for each of our existing local churches is for them to become autonomous self-governed entities," Dave Bruskas, primary teaching pastor, announced today to the Mars Hill family. "This means that each of our locations has an opportunity to become a new church, rooted in the best of what Mars Hill has been in the past, and independently led and run by its own local elder teams."

In the aftermath of Driscoll's surprise resignation, the lead pastor of each current site has three options to choose from by January 1:

(1) becoming an independent, self-governed church
(2) merging with an existing church to create one independent, self-governed church
(3) disbanding as a church and shepherding current members to find other local church homes

Meanwhile, Mars Hill as an organization will dissolve in four steps:

(1) All of Mars Hill’s existing church properties will either be sold, or the loans on the individual properties will be assumed by the independent churches, subject to approval by the lender (2) all central staff will be compensated for their work, and then released from their employment (3) if ...

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The Critics Roundup: “St. Vincent” and “Jane the Virgin”

You know you love Bill Murray.

Everyone loves Bill Murray. Don’t try to dispute it: you know you do. And if you watched Jimmy Kimmel’s latest interview with him, you know that Bill Murray also knows this (but in true Bill Murray fashion, he’s somehow genuinely humble about it). Thankfully, the funnyman is back in a new comedy alongside another fan favorite comedian Melissa McCarthy (if you’re missing her, be sure to catch up on all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, now streaming on Netflix). Their film St. Vincent tells the story of a strange “cantankerous old cuss” named Vincent (Murray) who meets a young boy and the two become inseparable. According to PluggedIn’s Paul Asay, “the film has a nice heart but a messed-up head, and while Vincent's actions aren't meant to be aspirational, they're still not particularly beneficial to watch.” Asay is referring to the film’s crude content, namely an over-indulgent amount of profanity, over the top violence, and other “unremitting bad behavior.” Aside from Vincent’s lewd behavior, the message of the film is as simple and obvious as the character’s “St”: Just like Vincent, “we are more than our vices. We are less than our virtues.” The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis admits St. Vincent “has a couple of things going for it, mostly Bill Murray.” She says, “he scrooge is a particularly durable type” and “it’s a character that Mr. Murray knows something about, having played a version in the 1988 comedy Scrooged.” Although the character may be overdone, Murray portrays him better than those that have come before, because he “pulls out something ...

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Review: Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal does some of his best work in a weird, grotesque, disturbing tale of the mediated life.

Directed By: Dan Gilroy

Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Ann Cusack

Theatre Release:October 31, 2014 by Open Road Films

Nightcrawler is grotesque, an express delivery service for laughter and revulsion. That’s an appropriate mode for a film that is at once a thriller, a social commentary on shock journalism, a satire of the Managerial Man, and a study in obsession. And writer/director Dan Gilroy and his team pull it off.

Jake Gyllenhaal leads the grubby cast as Lou Bloom, an obsessive, manic aspiring businessman with the perfect name. We meet Bloom stripping copper wire in the dead of night. When confronted by a security guard (with a nice watch), Bloom slithers from polite explanation to murder in the blink of an eye. It’s the opposite of a Save the Cat moment, and it sets the tone for what follows.

Soon after this encounter, Bloom passes a vicious accident—cops pulling a woman from burning wreckage. Where some would stare, despite not wanting to, Bloom gets out of his car and gets as close to the scene as possible. A blubby unshaven man muscles past him to get a good shot. This is Joe Loder (played by Bill Paxton), a man who can make a line like “Welcome to the future, brah” sing even when we were supposed to have hit peak irony a few years ago. He’s a stringer, a camera man who chases accidents in the hope of selling footage to TV stations—and he’s just shown Bloom the perfect job. The story is filled out with an excellent cast of grubby characters, from Bloom’s homeless intern Rick (Riz Ahmed) to aging, vulnerable TV producer Nina (Rene Russo).

If you wished Gone Girl had focused more on the world of popular news, Nightcrawler is for you. As Loder puts it, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Nina is up front with Bloom: bring her gory footage from well-off white neighborhoods. ...

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My Son's First Brush with Racism

A Small Talk guest post by Helen Lee

A few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Helen Lee wrote a note on Facebook about her son experiencing derogatory comments related to his race for the first time. I reached out to ask her to reflect upon what God had taught her during that experience for the Small Talk blog series here. Helen brings her usual wisdom and insight to her post today, the fourth in a series that began with Sara Hagerty's children's questions about adoption, and continued with Kateyln Beaty's reflection upon becoming a godparent. Last week, Megan Hill shared thoughts on how to explain adultery to a Sunday school class.

As the mom of a tween-aged son, I can never predict what words are going to come out of his mouth next. Even so, I was taken aback when we were having our routine pre-bedtime conversation and he made this unexpected statement: “Mom, I need to tell you something. Someone made a racist comment at me today.”

Racist. It was the first time I’d ever heard him or any of my three boys utter the word. Although our family had often discussed issues of race and culture in our house, including our own Korean ethnic heritage, we had never done so as a result of any direct race-related barbs. But now my son explained that one of his fellow Little League teammates had used the phrase “ching chong chang” as a joke. Then, after my son tried to explain the inappropriateness of the phrase, the teammate responded by ramping up his use of the phrase, then recruiting another teammate to join in and follow suit.

My son concluded with words that pierced me through: “Sometimes I wish I weren’t Asian. I wish I were more American.”

This from the boy who had been born in the heartland of the ...

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The Streaming Roundup: November Shows and Indie Horror

Plus, more to watch this weekend.

If independent horror films interest you, Indiewire wrote about eight different indies here that are now available on demand, just in time for Halloween. At the top of the list, The Babadook releases on DirecTV today before opening in theatres in November. The very scary movie won prizes at Fantastic Fest last month for its successful mash-up of haunted house and woman-going-insane premises. And Django Unchained became available on Netflix this week. Check out our review here before committing your spookiest evening to a “quintessential Tarantino.”

(Wondering about horror films? We interviewed Deliver Us From Evil and Sinister director Scott Derrickson not once, but twice about his faith and his work as one of Hollywood's most successful horror filmmakers.)

If you’re looking for a lighter way to pass the weekend, you can catch 22 Jump Street on Amazon Prime and catch our review here. Or get an early Netflix start on the Christmas season with The Christmas Candle, based on the Max Lucado book (our review here).

And if you haven’t picked your November binge-watch, check out this list of new shows coming to Netflix here—including additional episodes of Portlandia and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

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Is Gospel Amnesia Creating a Third Great Schism?

Andrew Walker and Robin Parry seek wisdom from the Christian past to heal modern-day church divisions.

Historically, schisms have been rather public, bloody things. This was clearly the case when the church split between East and West. Even though some hope of reconciliation was on the table at various points, excommunications had been traded, Crusades had happened, and everybody knew the two or three theological disputes that needed settling. Roughly the same thing could be said of the split between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Following a number of bloody wars, mutual persecutions, and martyrdoms, the results were different communions, confessional documents, and other marks of separation.

In their recent book Deep Church Rising: The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy, Andrew Walker and Robin Parry argue that, unbeknownst to many, the Western church is in the midst of a third great schism. Unlike the last two, though, the split hasn't resulted in a clear line between new denominations and old ones, but runs right through the various churches of the West. On one side stand those who affirm a broadly supernaturalist Christian orthodoxy embodied in the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds. And on the other, you find those who can at best recite the creeds with their fingers crossed. Having embraced the various presuppositions of Enlightenment and postmodern thinking, they are skeptical of supernatural claims and often doubt the very idea of objective truth.

Set against the backdrop of Western consumerism, our “secular age,” and evangelical tendencies toward thinner understandings of the church, Walker and Parry are worried about a widespread loss of the gospel within the Christian community. Taking a cue from C. S. Lewis, the authors propose a vision for recovering what they call “Deep ...

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Day of the Dead Gets New Life

What does it mean for this Hispanic celebration to go mainstream?

A local store near my home in Ohio carries an assortment of handcrafted items for El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. There are dressed-up skeleton dolls called Catrinas, candles, and colorful paper cutouts, all traditional decorations for altars built to honor loved ones on this holiday. The owner explains that each item is made by Mexican artists, like her, who dedicate their work to the importance of this holiday.

Now, shoppers can find cheap, mass-produced versions of these items sold everywhere from World Market to Oriental Trading Company. With festivities held October 31 to November 2 each year, El Día de los Muertos has become commercialized and marketed along with Halloween. Catrinas printed on paper plates, cups and napkins—basically a fiesta kit—removes the intended meaning of the celebration.

The over-commercialization is disappointing for traditional observers, who hold on to the holiday as a sacred time of remembrance for the dead. Those of us who care about the cultural integrity of the many diverse groups who have found a home in the U.S. can mourn its over-commercialization too. (A similar thing has happened around Christmas—where retailers’ emphasis on Santa, gifts, and decorations distracts from its real meaning.)

But perhaps such hybridization of Halloween and El Día de Los Muertos is not all bad. The new movie The Book of Life, which also celebrates this Mexican holiday, can be used as an example of the way Hispanic culture is being shaped by and is shaping mainstream American society.

In the U.S., El Día de los Muertos has been widely celebrated for decades in the Southwest and other areas with a large Mexican American population. ...

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Toward a Definition of "Religious" Cinema

A modest proposal, lowercase and capital.

Here is a small project for a chilly Thursday night: let's rethink the way we talk about religious movies. (In other words, if you’re at the end of a long work day, maybe go pour your drink of choice and get fortified to help me out with some vaguely philosophical inquiry.)

This reflection is provoked by the nagging feeling I've had—I suspect you have, too—that there's a wide gulf between the various definitions of religious movies that we've been using. But because we're using the same word, I think we too easily get confused and talk past one another.

Here’s one sense of “religious movie”: a film that self-consciously seeks to boost a particular religion, usually with the intent to evangelize the viewer into joining that religion. Let's call this Religious, capital R. It's a movie that is religious by virtue of being of its religion, which almost necessarily is the religion of the filmmaker(s).

Another sort of religious movie is one that deals with and depicts the specifics of religious practice, the type my friend Mike Leary listed here as being of use in the comparative religion classroom. This is a list compiled by someone who knows what he's talking about, and it includes some marvelous films. But I'm going to leave this out of definitions for now, because I don't think this is actually what most people mean when they talk about a religious film—perhaps, unfortunately, because we tend to think of religion as a system of organized belief, rather than a complicated structure of practice and belief. (But do check out his list.)

So I want to talk about another religious—religious, lowercase r. Lowercase-r religious movies ...

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What a Christian Ethic Looks Like Outside

Beauty for the many: Why I side with conservationists over nature mystics.

As I write, my eldest daughter and her family are having a wonderful vacation at an Arizona mountain cabin. This cabin rests on land that my father bought more than 50 years ago from a retired missionary in our church.

The private property is surrounded by public lands. They were originally created as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s larger effort to preserve America’s most beautiful countryside for the benefit of all its citizens. During his presidency (1901–08), Roosevelt set aside 230 million acres for public use—5 national parks, 150 national forests, 18 new national monuments, 51 bird reserves, and 4 game preserves. He also established the U.S. Forest Service, headed by his good friend Gifford Pinchot, the first American to make forestry his profession.

As real outdoorsmen, Roosevelt and Pinchot hated to see the wilderness despoiled by business interests that did not comprehend the fragility of the forests. Roosevelt, an avid hunter, grew concerned that efficiently organized commercial hunters were driving a number of game species toward extinction. This led him to commit to the conservation movement.

Roosevelt and Pinchot fought battles on two fronts. Railroad and lumber interests controlled Congress, which resisted funding Roosevelt’s Forest Service and setting aside lands for public use. When Roosevelt founded the Bull Moose Party, its 1912 platform reflected this struggle: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship ...

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