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News & Commentary
 
 
The Wrong Kind of Christian

I thought a winsome faith would win Christians a place at Vanderbilt’s table. I was wrong.

I thought I was an acceptable kind of evangelical.

I'm not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement.
We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice.

Being a Christian made me somewhat weird in my urban, progressive context, but despite some clear differences, I held a lot in common with unbelieving friends. We could disagree about truth, spirituality, and morality, and remain on the best of terms. The failures of the church often made me more uncomfortable than those in the broader culture.

Then, two years ago, the student organization I worked for at Vanderbilt University got kicked off campus for being the wrong kind of Christians.

In May 2011, Vanderbilt's director of religious life told me that the group I'd helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.

I met with him to understand the change. During the previous school year, a Christian fraternity had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay. Vanderbilt responded by forbidding any belief standards for those wanting to join or lead any campus group.

In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an "all comers policy," which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership ...

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Israel’s Christian Schools Threaten Strike over Government's 'Oppressive Steps'

'Don’t stop us from carrying on our mission,' say 50 schools as Jewish state slashes support.

Calling for change, Israel’s Christian educators might go on strike next week to protest the government’s sharp cutbacks (up to 35 percent) for their schools, which are “recognized, but not official.”

At a press conference in Nazareth today (Aug. 27), Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant school administrators said in a joint statement, “Over the last several years the Ministry of Education has taken unilateral steps that have hurt the Christian schools and their independence. The Ministry has shown disrespect to its unique needs, like the vacation calendar, Christian feasts and other matters.”

School administrators said that if the Israeli Ministry of Education continues its current policies toward their schools that “a strike will be declared.” At this time, there has been no official response from the Ministry of Education. Monday, Sept. 1, is the first official day for attendance at these schools. The schools operate with government financial support, parents’ payment of tuition, and in some cases, overseas support.

The Nazareth Christian website, ComeandSee, said:

...

Some of the Christian schools have been operating continuously for more than 400 years. Today, there are about 50 Christian schools, serving at least 30,000 students from preschool age through high school, regardless of student religious or political affiliations. In some sections of northern Israel (Nazareth and Haifa) a majority of Arab students study at Christian schools.

“These schools meet a need that the state has not fulfilled,” the statement said. Many of the schools have rigorous academic programs. Arab graduates of Christian high schools achieve higher scores on matriculation ...

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Major Missions Agency Picks 'Radical' New President

Megachurch pastor David Platt is now the younger face of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.

Eight years ago, David Platt became one of the youngest megachurch pastors in America. Today the 36-year-old was announced as the next president of one America's largest missions agencies: the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Platt, who has ministered in India, Nepal, Indonesia, and an unspecified country in the Horn of Africa, replaces Tom Elliff, who at 70 is nearly double Platt's age.

Platt has pastored the 4,500-member Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, since 2006, and has called Christians to a movement of radical obedience and discipleship through his ministry Radical and bestselling books Radical and Follow Me.

As head of the IMB, described by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability as "one of the leading ministries making disciples of all people to fulfill the Great Commission,” Platt will oversee 4,800 Southern Baptist missionaries serving among 787 people groups worldwide.

“We talk all the time about laying down a blank check with our lives before God, with no strings attached, willing to … do whatever He commands in order to make His glory known among the nations of the earth,” he told his church. “Over these past months, God has made it abundantly clear… He is filling in that blank check in our lives and family with a different assignment.” [Full video statement below]

Angelia Stewart, a spokesperson for Radical, spoke to Platt's past international experiences in a statement to Christianity Today.

“David Platt has traveled extensively to teach the Bible throughout the United States and around the world. His travels overseas have taken him to places like East Asia, ...

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Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage: An Interview with John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell

John Stonestreet and Sean McDowell share their thoughts on how evangelicals must address same-sex marriage.

John and Sean, why even write a book on the subject of same-sex marriage? The legal?basis of the Supreme Court's ruling just means that it will take a few? years, but many believe the battle is lost. Are you attempting to build a defense after the? battle is over

The tide is almost certainly turning towards the nationwide acceptance of same-sex marriage, as you suggest, and if this were merely a political/legal issue, then I suppose you could describe our book that way. But, it’s not. It’s a cultural issue, a theological issue, and a personal issue. The legal status of marriage does not alter the Christian’s responsibility to and for it anymore than the legal status of the unborn changes our responsibility to and for them.

Some Christians seem to think the world is over since same-sex marriage has arrived. While same-sex marriage undoubtedly raises difficult issues, we think the coming years will offer remarkable opportunities for the church to shine. And, those who are on the right side of right, to paraphrase Ryan Anderson, are on the right side of history. It may take a while, but eventually people will look back at the devastation the sexual revolution has brought and realize that natural marriage is critical for children and society.??

It seems that gay marriage quickly became a religious liberty issue: if you fail to agree with the new definition of marriage, you? don't get to opt your business out of supporting it. How should we? respond to the recent cases of the baker and the florist? On a practical level, we need to think ahead about a number of things. First, we need to be creative in our responses. Daniel is a perfect model. While in Babylon, he was nearly forced to eat non-Kosher ...

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The Wrong Kind of Christian

I thought a winsome faith would win Christians a place at Vanderbilt’s table. I was wrong.

I thought I was an acceptable kind of evangelical.

I'm not a fundamentalist. My friends and I enjoy art, alcohol, and cultural engagement.
We avoid spiritual clichés and buzzwords. We value authenticity, study, racial reconciliation, and social and environmental justice.

Being a Christian made me somewhat weird in my urban, progressive context, but despite some clear differences, I held a lot in common with unbelieving friends. We could disagree about truth, spirituality, and morality, and remain on the best of terms. The failures of the church often made me more uncomfortable than those in the broader culture.

Then, two years ago, the student organization I worked for at Vanderbilt University got kicked off campus for being the wrong kind of Christians.

In May 2011, Vanderbilt's director of religious life told me that the group I'd helped lead for two years, Graduate Christian Fellowship—a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—was on probation. We had to drop the requirement that student leaders affirm our doctrinal and purpose statement, or we would lose our status as a registered student organization.

I met with him to understand the change. During the previous school year, a Christian fraternity had expelled several students for violating their behavior policy. One student said he was ousted because he is gay. Vanderbilt responded by forbidding any belief standards for those wanting to join or lead any campus group.

In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an "all comers policy," which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership ...

Continue reading...

Morning Roundup 8/27/14

Character First; Multi-Ethnic Churches and Injustice; U.S. and Babylon

Character FirstEric Geiger

Eric Geiger with more helpful words on leadership.

Multi-Ethnic Churches Lament America’s Racial InjusticeGabriel Salguero, J. Mark DeYmaz, Le Que Vu-Heidkamp, Jeanette Salguero, Bryan Loritts, David Anderson, Eugene Cho

Important thoughts from a number of multi-ethnic Christian leaders. I've hosted Mark DeYmaz for The Exchange, Eugene Cho for Thursday is for Thinkers, Gabrial Salguero for Thursday is for Thinkers, and Bryan Loritts just recently regarding Ferguson.

Are Christians in America Facing a ‘Babylonian Exile’?David Gibson

Fascinating piece from David Gibson on American Christians and the Babylonian exile.

Guest host Micah Fries hosts Dr. Tony Merida in this episode of The Exchange. Merida founded Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. He also serves as the Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this clip, they talk about justice and how God is a just God. Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll

As God rebuilds, I see Mars Hill shift its focus to love.

For years, Mars Hill has been known as a church that cares deeply about right thinking and strong theology, but rarely do people associate it with love or grace. It harkens Revelation 2:4, where Jesus tells the church in Ephesus that although it endured well and walked righteously, it had abandoned love.

The leaders at Mars Hill are taking that accusation as their own. On Sunday, Pastor Mark Driscoll—my pastor—unrolled a statement announcing his plans to step down while he sorts through years of unresolved conflicts. He dreamed about gradually being known more and more for his love, and not his accomplishments, having planned a sermon series from 1 John on love. He apologized.

The Mars Hill family—my congregation and church family—responded to Pastor Mark’s statement with a standing ovation.

His vulnerability and the occasional tear demonstrated to us he no longer needed to be the fist-pounding, brash preacher that founded the church. The body was ready to forgive him. His statement also came with a dramatic restructuring of internal leadership. An internal elder board was formed with its first goal of resetting the church culture to one known for its love. The already existing Board of Advisors and Accountability will be staffed with more locals, instead of big-name preachers.

The world watched as God stripped Mars Hill of its reputation, many star leaders, its connections, and its own church-planting network. Now the global church has the chance to watch as God rebuilds.

The remake will undoubtedly test the limits of the web. The Internet creates an unprecedented opportunity for sermons to reach the world with the gospel. Those same channels have likewise been used to send discouragement ...

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News: Can You See Too Much Jesus in the Bible?

Why one seminary thinks so and is sending an Old Testament scholar into early retirement.

Throughout history, Christians have affirmed that Jesus is the focus of Scripture. But one Bible scholar is being forced to take early retirement by a conservative seminary for seeing too much Jesus in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament anticipates a Messiah—one who would fulfill the law and redeem Israel—and the New Testament presents Jesus as the fullness of God's revelation. Evangelical scholars agree on that much. But they debate the extent to which the Old Testament—and which of its passages—can be read Christologically.

For example, some believe Psalm 23 describes only the relationship between David and God, while others say the psalm also anticipates Christ's ministry as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–18). Douglas Green, professor of Old Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in Philadelphia, goes further. He argues that Christ is also the sheep.

Green argues that the psalm is messianic prophecy. "'David' is no longer historical King David, but rather 'eschatological David.' … The psalm now predicts that Yahweh will be faithful to his promise to protect and preserve his Messiah at every point in his life's journey," he wrote in one published paper.

Seminary trustees were troubled by Green's interpretation because it clashed with WTS's standards. But in 2009 it unanimously approved a paper he wrote as containing "acceptable clarifications and allowable exceptions" to the school's document on biblical interpretation.

In November, the trustees reversed their decision, stating that portions of Green's interpretive methods were "inconsistent with the seminary's confessional ...

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How Theologians Have Failed Asian Christians—and How They Can Do Better

Rather than forcing “elite” agendas upon grassroots believers, says Simon Chan, we need to take their concerns seriously.

Simon Chan, a theologian living in Singapore, is convinced that most theologians these days are out of touch with the spiritual needs of grassroots Christian communities. In Grassroots Asian Theology, his focus is on Asian Christianity, but he is also concerned with larger questions about the way we do theology. Several times, he cites an unnamed Catholic theologian who observed that, in Latin America, “Liberation theology opted for the poor, and the poor has opted for Pentecostalism.” That comment, Chan argues, also nicely captures the state of theology in Asia. Evangelical theologians, both Western and Asian, have failed to equip local believers with the kind of robust theology that resonates strongly within their own communities.

The disconnect is largely due, in Chan’s account, to ingrained theological habits among “elite” theologians. When thinking about Asia, they typically focus on a particular cultural factor, stressing the necessity of working for political and economic justice, or for addressing the oppressiveness of patriarchy, or for engaging other religions in dialogue. If local Christian communities do not see those approaches as meeting their needs, these theologians assume, it is because they are victimized by “bad faith.” Grassroots believers, then, need to be brought to an awareness of the realities that actually plague their lives.

The reality is, however, that grassroots Christians in Asia have a profound grasp of their own situation, though their impressions differ sharply from those of “elite” theologies. These believers seek out church communities in which these cultural realities are taken seriously in the light of the gospel. And the most ...

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How Gaza’s Christians View the Hamas-Israeli Conflict

Baptist pastor Hanna Massad speaks openly about what he sees happening as he helps to shelter Gaza’s Christians and others during the current conflict.

The summer of violence in Gaza and Israel on Tuesday entered its fifth week after rockets, fired from inside Gaza, broke the latest ceasefire. After the attack, Israel recalled its negotiators from peace talks in Cairo, and Israeli forces launched new airstrikes.

Since the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the IDF has completed 1,300 air strikes, and ground troops have destroyed more than 30 cross-border tunnels. Since January, combatants inside Gaza have fired about 3,000 rockets into Israel. It is the deadliest conflict between Palestinians and Israelis since the Second Intifada, which ended in 2005. As of mid-August, more than 2,000 have died in the current conflict, including 1,975 Gazans (combatants included), 64 Israeli soldiers, and two Israeli civilians.

The Christian minority inside Gaza has not been spared fatalities. But it has also offered shelter, food, education, and medical care to hundreds of Gazans. Hanna Massad, former pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church, has been coordinating Christian aid efforts from his current pastorate in Amman, Jordan. Massad is a graduate of Bethlehem Bible College and earned a doctorate in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. There have been Christians in Gaza since the third century.

Timothy C. Morgan, senior editor, global journalism, and journalist Deann Alford interviewed Massad recently by phone and email as the conflict continued. CT is pursuing a similar interview from the perspective of Christians inside Israel on the latest conflict.

What are Christians inside Gaza telling you?

I was happy to hear about the ceasefire. This morning the news was that, unfortunately, the fighting has continued. Several times daily I communicate ...

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We Need More Than Liturgy

Liturgical worship is the rage among many evangelicals. 'Not so fast,' says a liturgical Christian.

The service was undeniably beautiful. Dedicated pastors and volunteers had planned it for weeks. There were banners, incense, and altar decorations. The sanctuary was packed: more than 1,000 folks overflowed the seats, latecomers standing along the sides and back. The congregation participated with gusto. But after receiving Communion, they marched out of the sanctuary. By the closing hymn, only a few folks dotted the pews that just five minutes before had been filled to bursting.

Some left to cram in work, but many in this particular group were on their way to that night’s parties. In another five hours, many would be passed out on the couches of friends or strangers, a few would be rushed by ambulance for alcohol poisoning treatment, and, most horrific, some would be sexually assaulting their peers or suffering such violence. It was the weekend, and the community in question was a Christian university. The school was by no means a place where only lip service was paid to Christian ideals: students eagerly participated in voluntary ministry, including planning that night’s service. So why were their late-night identities so disconnected from their church identities?

A growing number of evangelicals view failures of faithfulness as lapses in liturgical formation—or claim that participating in liturgical worship is key to transforming our character. Beginning with Robert Webber’s now-classic Ancient-Future series and continuing with such gems as Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells, the movement has produced much good work inspiring evangelicals to incorporate liturgical elements into their services. Calvin College professor James K. A. Smith’s multi-volume Cultural Liturgies project ...

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The Spiritual Blessings of Seeking Solitude

An excerpt from 'A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness.'

There is a silence we choose. Our retreats into our cells of silence and solitude still the noise pollution in our lives so that we might eventually be still. Quieted enough to hear the whispers of God. Still enough to feel the Holy Spirit winds blowing through our lives and to observe the effects of the Spirit winds all around us. We retreat in hopes of delight, in hopes of tasting the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Our eyes adjust. We acquire night vision so that even on the darkest of nights, we're eventually able to see the glory and faithfulness of God. We're able to clearly see the beautiful truths concealed by the helter-skelter of a too-busy, disintegrated daily life.

Our hidden life—how we live in obscurity—is what shapes our character. In this intentional pilgrimage into the desert, our battered, bruised, and banged-around selves can finally crawl out of the fetal position. This is a space where we stretch out to reinvigorate the parts of us that have atrophied. It's where the stress fractures of our lives heal. Here we gain our footing and strength. Here we can finally breathe freely while silently seeking understanding. This cell is simultaneously a hospital for the soul and a training ground for holiness.

Our intentional pilgrimage is not only a form of self-care but also a form of communal care. It demonstrates our deep concern for others. If we truly love others or seek to love others, we'll detach ourselves from them for a while, trusting that our time alone with God will sensitize us to their needs and concerns. Solitary experiences with God form in us the kind of character that loathes sinning against another. Therein we find the motivation to do good to others, including ...

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I Was Saved at Open Communion

Having the choice of taking Communion made it clear to me that I was hungry for Christ.

When I was a child, my father, a secular Jew, paid me a dollar for each volume of the encyclopedia I read. He bought me electronics kits that we played with for hours on the weekends. My mother was a lapsed Lutheran who taught me how to find bargains at the mall. She once told me to put away my books during finals because I was hosting a dinner party that night. "You'll never remember your finals grades, but you'll never forget it if you serve a bad ham."

Our house was loving, loud, and fun, but an undercurrent of anxiety coursed through it all. We were always broke, my parents were usually disappointed with one another, and the world felt scarier than circumstances seemed to demand.

The message of my childhood was clear and insistent: Work, play, and love hard, and at all times stay in control, because something scary is waiting to take you down. I heeded that message into adulthood. I went to a great college, found the perfect job, and chose a wonderful husband. Weaker souls might need a god, but I needed no such crutch. My anxiety would keep me on my toes so that I could orchestrate the perfect life.

That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.

Come to the Table

During the next year, I became a Christian, a member of a tradition whose weak character and intellect I had long disdained. Nothing miraculous happened—no defining moments, blinding visions, or irrefutable arguments. But slowly, imperceptibly at first, I was drawn into the life of faith.

It wasn't clear from the beginning which faith that would be. I visited psychics, read New Age thinkers, ...

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