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News & Commentary
 
 
News: Introducing the Bible! Now with Less!

Delete the chapter and verse numbers. Kill all the notes. Make it one column. Make a million bucks.

If you watch Adam Lewis Greene's Kickstarter campaign page for more than a couple of seconds, you can see the number of pledges pop higher. With two days left, Greene's goal of raising $37,000 to print a Bible "designed and crafted for reading, separated into four elegant volumes, and free of all numbers and notes" has been met several times over.

In fact, it just surpassed $1 million.

Greene's project, named Bibliotheca, is a (mostly) American Standard Version Bible (with the "thees" and "thous" replaced). But what's catching attention is the layout. Unlike most Bibles printed since Gutenberg, Greene's version has one column, wide margins, a large typeface, and no notes or chapter marks.

The design choices are meant to enhance the reading experience, according to Mark Bertrand, author at the Bible Design Blog. Orders for Greene's project close on Sunday, July 27, almost a month after Crossway released a similar-looking English Standard Version (ESV) Reader's Bible. Like Bibliotheca, the Reader's Bible is meant to be read like a story, with one column and missing chapter and verse notations. Biblica, which publishes the New International Version, released a similar project, The Books of the Bible, in 2007 and 2011.

"Traditionally, reference Bibles look like dictionaries that you look things up in," Bertrand said. "Reader-friendly Bibles are more like novels. I think what is happening is that we're lamenting that people don't read their Bibles enough, and now we've realized the design of Bibles has an influence on that."

"Reader-friendly" Bibles have been tried before, but never caught on, he said. (The notable ...

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News: The Quick Take for July 25, 2014

Lots of superhero news, and the Christian critic who was surprised at the marriage behind 'Sex Tape.'

Streaming Picks

If you're a fan of Joaquin Phoenix, you can check out The Master on Netflix this week. Brett McCracken reviewed the film for us when it was released in theaters. McCracken describes the film (which also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams) as a "Scientology epic [that] explores human nature and our attraction to self-help systems."

Just in time for Christmas in July, Netflix is releasing Christmas with the Kranks. Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen team up as parents who decide they're going to try to nix celebrating Christmas—and chaos ensues.

Netflix also recently starting streaming the 1982 classic Gandhi. Sir Ben Kingsley stars in the film that depicts the life of the attorney who stood up against injustice.

Amazon Prime members can enjoy our classic pick of the week: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World. The 1963 comedy follows the lives of eight vacationers and the gut-wrenching laughter that ensues.

Critics Roundup

Although most would think there would not be any redeeming qualities to a movie with a name like The Purge: Anarchy, PluggedIn's Paul Asay was able to find a few. One character risks his life to save others again and again, and in turn, those he saves "show him how much better and nobler it is to preserve life rather than take it." Despite this, the good doesn't make up for the bad. There is an obscene amount of language and repulsive violence. As Asay notes, the message of the film might just be "that some folks deserve to be purged." Despite the content of the film, the New York Times' Manohla Dargis describes the movie as a "satisfyingly creepy, blunt, down-and-dirty thriller, one of those follow-ups that improves ...

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Review: Hercules

Talk about your therapeutic moral demigods.

mpaa rating:PG-13 (For epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity.)

Genre:Action

Directed By: Brett Ratner

Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Irina Shayk, Rebecca Ferguson, John Hurt

Theatre Release:July 25, 2014 by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

The Starbucks that I sometimes frequent on the way to work has new cardboard cup sleeves. They're snot green and advertise something called the "Steep Your Soul" campaign. Each one sports a unique Oprah quote, such as Be more splendid. Be more extraordinary. Use every moment to fill yourself up and The only courage you really need is the courage to live the life you want.

After seeing the new Hercules, directed by Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, Tower Heist) and starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, I can't believe Oprah didn't get a writing credit. "YOU HAVE IT WITHIN YOURSELF TO WRITE YOUR OWN LEGEND!" screams Hercules to his army before a battle. "You just need to believe you're a hero!" urges Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Hercules' seer pal, a scene or two later as his friend strains his veiny bulges trying to break some chains.

"Don't just stand there, kill someone!" is also a quote in this movie, and it was indeed a temptation after seeing the most lauded exemplar of an ancient civilization reduced to reading his men drafts of self-help books.

See, the conceit of this "truth-behind-the-legend" retelling is that Hercules isn't quite the guy you've heard about. Strong? Yes. Immortal? Ha! All of the crazier stuff is part of a bronze-age social marketing strategy put in place by his bard nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), in order to get their mercenary band to "go viral" and drive revenue. Their promising business model gets interrupted, though, when a routine consulting gig for the King of Thrace (John Hurt) turns into a PR nightmare of epic proportions.

Hercules, as its flame-wreathed poster art suggested, wants ...

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IRS to Atheists: Okay, We'll Investigate Pulpit Freedom Sunday Pastors

Tax agency and FFRF announce settlement, but Milwaukee church disputes the lawsuit's dismissal.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has agreed to investigate the political activity of churches after reaching a settlement with an atheist legal group. But a court has yet to decide whether or not to close the case.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the IRS jointly asked a Wisconsin federal court last week to dismiss a 2012 lawsuit, FFRF v. Koskinen. The FFRF had alleged that the IRS failed to have a policy in place for investigating political activity at tax-exempt churches and religious organizations, nor did the agency enforce its 501(c)(3) codes against electioneering.

Meanwhile, more than 1,600 churches have deliberately broke the existing law since 2008, endorsing political candidates from their pulpits during Pulpit Freedom Sunday events organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The next "showdown" will be October 5.

"This is a victory, and we're pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions," said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in a press release.

However, the case has not yet been closed. Father Patrick Malone of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had been granted permission to intervene on the side of the IRS, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (which represents Malone) has asked the court to dismiss the case but "with prejudice." In other words, Becket argues the FFRF should not be able to sue the IRS again on this particular issue, while the FFRF argues that it should be able to do so.

Regardless of the court's final decision, the IRS won't be free to investigate churches until a moratorium ...

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News: Introducing the Bible! Now with Less!

Delete the chapter and verse numbers. Kill all the notes. Make it one column. Make a million bucks.

If you watch Adam Lewis Greene's Kickstarter campaign page for more than a couple of seconds, you can see the number of pledges pop higher. With two days left, Greene's goal of raising $37,000 to print a Bible "designed and crafted for reading, separated into four elegant volumes, and free of all numbers and notes" has been met several times over.

In fact, it just surpassed $1 million.

Greene's project, named Bibliotheca, is a (mostly) American Standard Version Bible (with the "thees" and "thous" replaced). But what's catching attention is the layout. Unlike most Bibles printed since Gutenberg, Greene's version has one column, wide margins, a large typeface, and no notes or chapter marks.

The design choices are meant to enhance the reading experience, according to Mark Bertrand, author at the Bible Design Blog. Orders for Greene's project close on Sunday, July 27, almost a month after Crossway released a similar-looking English Standard Version (ESV) Reader's Bible. Like Bibliotheca, the Reader's Bible is meant to be read like a story, with one column and missing chapter and verse notations. Biblica, which publishes the New International Version, released a similar project, The Books of the Bible, in 2007 and 2011.

"Traditionally, reference Bibles look like dictionaries that you look things up in," Bertrand said. "Reader-friendly Bibles are more like novels. I think what is happening is that we're lamenting that people don't read their Bibles enough, and now we've realized the design of Bibles has an influence on that."

"Reader-friendly" Bibles have been tried before, but never caught on, he said. (The notable ...

Continue reading...

Connecting Students to God's Mission (Part 2): Sending Students

When connecting students to mission, we must first point them to Jesus, then encourage them to own their mission.

Pointing Students Toward Jesus' Mission

Student ministry must be more than a four-year holding tank with pizza. Kids may be happy and at church when they're younger, but unless they are shown how Christ is significant and His mission matters, they will leave in high school when they get jobs and cars. They have to be challenged to be more than consumers. We must show them how and why they are to be on mission with Christ. Whether you're taking students on local missions or helping them discover their specific identity and calling in Christ, you're likely helping students understand what it means to engage in God's mission.

When students encounter Christ and they've seen parents and influential adults living on mission, they naturally want to use their passions in following Christ. I've seen this in my sixth grade daughter. Her particular focus happens to be on animal welfare issues. She collects money and donates it to a local shelter. She fosters dogs when they are sick. She has a genuine heart for animals. This is part of what Jesus called us all to do, but it does not stop there.

As my daughter seeks the welfare of animals, I am helping her understand the call of Jesus and encouraging her and inviting her to join us in the mission as we seek to reach the lost. She has jumped right in. Yes, she has a love for animals, but she also has a greater love for people and for them to hear the gospel.

She has come with me on ministry trips and outreach opportunities. We have helped renovate a building where we have planted a church. In other words, she is joining Jesus on His mission. I am intentional about encouraging her in this, because I want to teach her that life is not about her. Rather, ...

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Why Singles Belong in Church Leadership

Unmarried ministers offer a unique understanding of devotion to Christ alone.

Each time I read a well-intentioned article on how to make the most of your single years, I scan down to the author's bio and often discover that, sure enough, he's married to his college sweetheart, pulling advice from a brief period of singleness years ago.

Even at 33, I'm a spring chicken to some of the seasoned single men and women before me. These Christians have spent their lives burning with passion, unmet desires, or unrequited love, or have committed to a life of celibacy. These are the clouds of witnesses I look to for wisdom in issues of singleness—not the well-meaning, but hollow three-points and a poem professor with his winsome wife and four little ones. What do I know of his life? The hardships of parenting, husbanding, pastoring, teaching, ministering? But what does he know of mine? If the life of a single Christian, as Paul admonished, is to be undistracted by the world, concerned with the things of the Lord, then unmarried ministers have a unique calling indeed. And it is one the church ought not ignore—or usurp. Where I live, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, young marriages are common. Younger than the national average at least. Yet few single men and women are involved in ministry. My pastor leads a large church-planting network, and I asked him recently, "How many single guys are planting in the network?" He named a mere few. The dearth of undistracted men and women in ministry is sad, but more so, it is alarming. I am in no way discouraging marriage (I want to be married, after all), but I believe the church can do better in this area. If the trend of delayed marriage continues, we must have men and women who have walked the narrow path of godly singleness ...

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News: Sorry 666: Churches Fear 990 More

How more ministries going digital could unwittingly aid atheists targeting church tax breaks.

Critics of churches' favorable tax treatment gained ammunition from a recent investigation by National Public Radio, which questioned why the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has granted church status to 22 of America's 30 largest television ministries.

Only two are accredited by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. But such filings can be legitimate, said president Dan Busby. "The advent of new technologies used by churches to disseminate their message has only served to make distinctions between church and parachurch organizations more complex."

Many churches leverage today's technology so those beyond their walls can participate. But Christian legal experts are concerned that blurred lines between "church" and "ministry" will eventually spur the IRS to reexamine what constitutes a church. (The agency last stripped a nonprofit of church status in 2004, largely because the broadcasting- and publishing-focused group mostly ceased to gather its followers in a physical space.)

In late 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS, arguing that churches should be subject to the same Form 990 paperwork as nonprofits are. A Wisconsin federal court decided that the atheist group had legal standing to proceed.

If the foundation prevails, church formation may be stifled, said Chicago attorney Rich Baker. Few of the hundreds of churches he has represented have the financial resources to complete registration forms and audited financial statements.

"Each signals a greater degree of oversight," said Baker. "If they make churches file as charitable entities, it would have major repercussions."

A federal judge in Kentucky recently dismissed ...

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Interview: Meet the Failed Pastor Who Ministers to Other Failed Pastors

J. R. Briggs sympathizes with church leaders who don't live up to expectations.

As a dynamic young preacher at a large church, J. R. Briggs felt God calling him to start a church plant. Gradually, the church grew, but its growth eventually stalled out. Disappointment led him to found the Epic Fail Pastors Conference—"a gathering for pastors and leaders seeking to understand how God works through failure"—and to write Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (InterVarsity Press). Briggs spoke with Drew Dyck, managing editor of Leadership Journal, about redefining the notion of ministry success.

What attracted you to a topic that most people would rather avoid?

It started with attending pastors' conferences. They featured well-known pastors of large churches, but average pastors were never invited to share their experiences. These events were all about success and getting results. I was in the middle of a painful season of ministry. I needed something that wouldn't discourage me or add to my spiritual vertigo. I wanted to talk honestly. I needed an AA meeting for pastors, but there was no such thing.

Many pastors, ex-pastors, and Christian leaders were desperate for that type of forum. I wasn't trying to create a conference. I simply longed for a space where no one was scared by the shortcomings of other sinners, even if those sinners were also ministry leaders.

Do our issues with failure come from faulty notions of success?

I don't like using the word success when talking about ministry. I'd much rather use words like health, faithfulness, and obedience. Our culture is obsessed with success, and the church is not immune. Pastors are inundated with temptations to chase the wrong things. We need to take a hard look at how we define ...

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What We Talk About When We Talk About 'Birth Control'

Meaningful debate requires us to define the terms of discussion.

Widespread acceptance in our culture of all forms of birth control, including abortion, makes it harder for the Christian to discern if, when, and how to incorporate such practices into one's own life, as well as what place personal convictions have in community and in public policy.

I suspect one of the greatest obstacles to constructive dialogue on the questions about birth control raised by the Hobby Lobby case is the imprecision of the terms being discussed. Perhaps, then, the first step toward finding agreement—or at least correctly identifying at the points on which we can agree to disagree—is to employ common definitions.

The debate around the Hobby Lobby case, birth control methods, and insurance coverage illuminates not only how deeply divided Christians are on these matters but also how ill-defined the central questions are. Questions of conscience are matters for all believers to respect in each other even amidst disagreement. If Christians cannot engage with each other with clarity, respect, and good faith on difficult questions, how will we do so with those outside the church?

In an effort to bring clarity to an otherwise muddled war of words, here are some of the questions central to this conversation. They're not as simple as we might assume.

How does the medical community define pregnancy?

At the heart of the debate is the question about whether or not certain birth control methods prevent pregnancy or terminate pregnancy. Part of the problem in answering even this basic question is that even the term pregnancy is not agreed upon universally and has undergone numerous changes, due less to scientific debates than semantic ones. While the American College of Obstetricians and ...

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News: New Executive Orders on LGBT Discrimination Don't Exempt Religious Orgs

(UPDATED) But Obama won't withdraw memo on religious discrimination.

An executive order President Obama signed Monday prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in federal hiring may not immediately affect many religious organizations, but leaders are still raising their eyebrows.

The executive order amends a 1965 order prohibiting some forms of discrimination by federal contractors. The old text forbade contractors from discriminating "against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Obama's revision adds "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" between "sex" and "national origin."

Many religious organizations, such as World Vision, World Relief, and Catholic Charities partner with the federal government, but often receive grants, not contracts, so are not affected by the order, said Stanley Carlson-Thies, director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

Religious organizations with federal grants are currently protected: A 2007 religious exemption memo from the federal attorney general's office says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act "is reasonably construed" to exempt World Vision (and other religious organizations that administer federal funds through social services programs) from religious nondiscrimination requirements on other federal grantees.

The executive order also lets stand a George W. Bush-era provision allowing religious contractors to hire employees "of a particular religion," said Thomas Berg, a professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas (Minn.).

"Several federal courts have held that this language, incorporated from elsewhere in antidiscrimination law, allows religious organizations ...

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Beyond the Echo Chamber on Gender Roles

Our notion of male and female begins with a robust understanding of creation.

Despite the title of Hannah Anderson's Made for More, the book is actually less about more and more about less. Anderson writes about stripping away the trappings of stereotypes and unbiblical constructs, tearing down the self-made idols of motherhood and husbandry. Her book is an invitation to live in God's image, setting a fairer table and finer feast than almost any book on gender I have read.

The first-time author begins by walking readers through creation—not the creation of man and woman, the imago dei, but the creation of a new believer, that tender sprout of life bursting within. She wrestles with issues of faith in tears and pain, only to find the birth of realization, the a ha! of salvation, continues as we wrest within our souls to discover who we are at our core. Anderson pushes beyond what physical attributes we bear or circumstantial constructs the world has given us to the actual core, to that deep and profound moment when we, like Adam, say, "At last!"

Sadly the "At last!" happens for fewer of us, and so Anderson makes it her aim throughout all of Made for More to draw readers' eyes back to the beauty of the image of God. It is not a book about biblical womanhood, nor a book about how to be a better wife, a more desirable woman, a more chaste single, or more of anything but an image bearer of the Most High. It is a book about humans flourishing under the great weight and light burden of God's design.

It doesn't take more than a cursory glance around the Internet—or in the church pews—to find the discussion on gender raising heated opinions everywhere. The problem though, it seems, is that no one is starting from a common place. Each person's ...

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Interview: How to Avoid the Church's 'Hero Culture'

Chuck DeGroat reveals his strategy for spiritual health while ministering to difficult people.

Shepherding a church or ministry inevitably means dealing with difficult personalities. How can leaders handle hard relationships without buckling under the pressure? Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care and counseling at Western Theological Seminary, as well as a pastor and therapist, tackles the question in his latest book, Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life—Including Yourself (Eerdmans). Daniel Darling, a pastor and author, spoke with DeGroat about embracing vulnerability and avoiding the pitfalls of the church-based "hero culture."

You write candidly about having nurtured suicidal thoughts, even while serving in ministry. Should church leaders publicly share their struggles this way?

I've done research on seminary graduates who had been in ministry five or more years. They were excited to study the Bible, read deep books, and preach. But they weren't prepared for the barrage of criticism, gossip, triangulation, stress, exhaustion, and more.

Throughout my own time in ministry, there have been dark times. I've felt worthless, like it just wasn't worth it, like my wife and I were a thousand miles apart. I've had times when I felt like everyone was against me, when my inner critic was so loud I couldn't think. As leaders, we need greater permission to tell stories that include the darker edges. Every good story involves suffering, death, and resurrection—that's the pattern Jesus set! Why pretend we're superhuman when Christ was fully human?

I distinguish between openness and vulnerability. Vulnerability is saved for a few close friends and one's spouse. Openness is for larger audiences. Good leadership ...

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