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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 fan 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 cases, ...

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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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A Word Can Be Worth a Thousand Pictures

Why the pulpit—and not the screen—still belongs at the center of our churches.

Long ago the apostle Paul wrote, “God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21, NRSV used throughout). Preaching, he implies, is essential to God’s purposes. At the same time, Paul tacitly acknowledges that preaching hardly looks like a sensible means to God’s ends. Just words? And inevitably imperfect words at that. Foolishness! Foolishness even then.

But had Paul lived today, in a culture as visual—and as increasingly inattentive to extended verbal discourse—as ours, might he have spoken differently? Might he have said that God has decided to use the foolishness of our feature films, our advertising, and our visual art to save those who believe?

After all, we have learned to be sensitive to cultural context of both the historical possibilities constraining the writers of the biblical texts, who had never seen a movie screen or a television or a tablet computer, and the demands of our own situation. Paul said in the same letter, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Evangelicals in particular have been quick to adopt new methods, eager to use all suitable means in the hopes of saving some. We can’t deny the power of the visual to move us, to connect with the heart as well as the head. Preachers have long been taught to speak so that people can picture what they are talking about. Images, especially moving images, compel us in ways words alone generally do not. Surely we should take advantage of these gifts.

Besides, God did make a physical, visible world. He did not choose to create solely spiritual creatures entertaining abstract ideas. He became incarnate ...

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My Immigration Status: Beloved

In Christ I am more than the Ďcrimeí I committed at age 5.

As proud as I am of my Mexican heritage, there is only one place I can call home: the United States. I belong to the wave of immigrants who arrived in the country as children. All that remains from my early years in Mexico are a few blurry memories, drawn together from what my mother has told me.

My mother lost her first husband in a car accident in 1978. After his death, she traveled for the first time to the States to identify his body and take care of the funeral. She was left to fend for my two older siblings, mourning and under-resourced. About seven years later, she met my father, and I was born. When I was 3, he left our family to marry another woman.

Later, my mother’s love for her oldest son compelled her to travel to the States a second time. She hadn’t seen him since he moved to Orange County at age 14. When my brother learned she was going to leave me with my uncle, he insisted she bring me to keep the family together. Twenty-five years later, here I remain.

We moved into an apartment with my two uncles on Minnie Street in Santa Ana, California, once named the toughest city in the country in which to make ends meet. We faced challenging times. My mom hadn’t been allowed to attend school past the second grade, so she worked mostly babysitting jobs. She wanted to give her children what she had missed: an education. Many times I wished my father had been there to help us financially. The child support was scarcely enough to meet our needs. But more than that, I was hungry for the warmth of a loving father who would protect us and ensure my mother didn’t have to play the role of both parents.

A Profound Wound

As I entered junior high school, I excelled in math and dove into volleyball ...

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You Need a More Ordinary Jesus

We are united with a Christ who seems not to have done much of note for most of his life.

I was in youth group when I first heard that God had an extraordinary plan for my life. This plan would include seeing revival, winning converts, helping the poor, and traveling overseas to preach the gospel, dig wells, and serve orphans. I attended youth conferences like Acquire the Fire where I learned what it meant to be an “on-fire-for-God” Christian, and was then sent out to be—in the words of Delirious?—a “history maker.”

The idea that I had an incredible destiny was only reinforced by my own study of Scripture. When I read the Book of Acts for the first time as a senior in high school, I concluded that the lives and habits of the first Christians were the norm. Like Jesus, they healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, opposed corrupt power structures, and preached to the masses. As Christians, our lives should take on the same quality as Jesus’ right?

Right. But could it be that the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of history, is less extraordinary than the Jesus of Christian conferences and our guilty consciences?

About a year ago, in the CT cover story “Here Come the Radicals,” Matthew Lee Anderson explored “radical” Christianity books from David Platt, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, and Kyle Idleman. Radicals, he noted, aim to understand what Jesus really meant in his teachings, what “radical abandonment to Jesus really looks like,” and “what it really means to follow Jesus.” For them, the “real” Christian life is radically abnormal.

Right now we’re in the middle of a backlash, with critics asking if radical Christianity is realistic or even sustainable. Instead of Radical, Greater, Weird, ...

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News: Was Driscoll's Board a Problem?

Outside Insight: Some say itís the new norm. Others donít consider it biblical.

As Mark Driscoll leaves Mars Hill Church, one question may continue: Will the Seattle megachurch’s governance help or hurt as it moves forward?

Current and former pastors levied charges against Driscoll this summer, including verbal abuse and lying about manipulating a bestseller list.

Driscoll took an “extended focused break” in August after the Acts 29 church planting network removed him from membership. “We no longer believe [Mars Hill’s board] is able to execute the plan of reconciliation” with critics, wrote president Matt Chandler. Days later, speaker Paul Tripp explained he had resigned from Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) because it was an “inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be led.”

Mars Hill leadership had comprised 24 elders (mostly church staff and members). In 2007, the structure became the seven-member BOAA: Driscoll, two other executive pastors, and four independent members. Mars Hill explained it was seeking greater objectivity in the board. After Tripp and another independent member (Chicago megachurch pastor James MacDonald) resigned this summer, Mars Hill replaced them with two Seattle businessmen who are members, and created an additional elder board involving seven lead pastors.

A deeper question raised by the Mars Hill saga asks if nondenominational churches can better govern their congregation and disciple their pastors with elders drawn from within the church body, or if they should seek outside expertise.

The external accountability board is increasingly prevalent, said Scott Thumma, a megachurch researcher at Hartford Seminary. ...

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What the Church Should Look Like

That's what I'd like to help us think about in this blog.

Welcome to “Just Marinating”!

The concept of this name comes from John 15:5, “abide in Christ.” In this context, to marinate means to think about, to meditate on, to dwell on. In this blog, I want to help us think about and meditate on the amazing gospel of grace and leadership in life and the church.

For some reason, God has placed me in positions of leadership at every level of my life. I was a team captain on each of my middle school, high school, college, and NFL football teams.

I never wanted to be a lead pastor, yet God has seen fit to gift me, and sovereignly place me, as founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church—a multi-ethic, multi-generational, mission-shaped, loving community. In just four short years, we have grown in spiritual maturity and influence, and have experienced exponential numerical growth.

I want God to use Transformation Church to influence the church in America towards becoming more Gospel-centered and multi-ethnic.

The world should look at the church and say, “Wow! So that’s what love, reconciliation, and unity look like? I want in!”

If you’re looking for expert advice, I’m not your guy. But if you’re looking for a practitioner who is in the struggle with you, who doubts at times, and who desires to learn and grow in every facet of life, I think we can help each other.

My family and friends call me “D. Gray,” “Dewey,” or “Pastor Derwin.” I’ve been married to my best friend, Vicki, for twenty-two years. Vicki has loved me into being the man that I am, and the man that I am becoming. I couldn’t imagine life without her.

I have two beautiful children; my daughter ...

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Review: The Book of Life

Visually splendid tale of myth and wonder, though not without some disappointingly modern conclusions.

Directed By: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman

Theatre Release:October 17, 2014 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

A busload of spitball slinging schoolchildren are unloaded at a museum, expecting to spend the day menacing the world around them. However, they are greeted by Mary Beth, a quick-witted tour guide who seems knowledgeable in dealing with mischievous tricksters.

Grabbing their attention with an optical illusion that leads to a secret passageway, Mary Beth leads the children to an obscure room where she introduces them to a mysterious book. It’s the “Book of Life,” she tells them, and it contains all of the world’s stories. Inviting them into a particular story, Mary Beth begins reading about San Angel, a Mexican town brimming with myths and traditions. Family histories are reestablished with each generation, for instance, through participation in the Day of the Dead and bullfighting.

So Jorge Gutierrez’s The Book of Life begins when a group of children are enticed by the power of story. The central story unfolding in San Angel is being read aloud as one story among the world’s many.

Mary Beth begins her story three kids and two gods. The three young children—guitar strumming Manolo, bold and fake-mustache wearing Joaquin, and independent-minded María—rollick together about town, each filled with dreams that are like expectations for how his or her story might transpire. They look like wooden puppets—or figurines that Mary Beth can use to visually represent the story to the captivated children.

Manolo’s conflict is that he inherits a family tradition of bullfighting, but he prefers playing his guitar and, though talented at sidestepping charging bulls, doesn’t like the tradition of animal slaughter bound up with the sport’s expectations. ...

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Review: White Bird in a Blizzard

The latest from YA-adaptation darling Shailene Woodley is disappointingly self-centered.

Directed By: Gregg Araki

Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Sheryl Lee, Angela Bassett

Theatre Release:September 25, 2014 by Magnolia Pictures

It’s an updated reverse-role American Beauty—at least, that’s what I was led to believe for the first half-hour.

If there’s anything I remember from college American history classes, it’s the image attached to the idea of “everydayness”—white-picket-fence families taking comfort in conformity, relying on a cycle of working, eating, sleeping, saving (think Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer), and secretly suffering from a lack of substance. It’s a much-seen setting of the 50’s and 90’s, and it makes for great angst-ridden movies like American Beauty, the 1999 film about a comatose Kevin Spacey awakening from this cycle, triggered by his fascination with a cheerleader. Narrating from beyond the grave (as he explains at the film’s start), he can see the dissatisfaction, nervousness, and disillusionment of his daughter and wife.

Also, they literally have white picket fence around their secretly imperfect home.

Now imagine that American Beauty was rendered through the eyes of Spacey’s self-centered teenaged daughter. We’d probably see things only as they affected her, and the end would come as the shock it was not meant to be.

While Kat (Shailene Woodley) is almost nothing like Lester Burnam’s daughter, she does give us a familiar description of life at beginning of White Bird In A Blizzard (based on the novel by Laura Kasischke): “We’re pretending we’re this perfect little family living this perfect little life.” It’s also 1988.

What follows after the first bits should have been, by all appearances, another story of disillusionment and restlessness bred by everydayness. But whether or not you look ...

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When Punishment Isn't the Point

An excerpt from 'True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World'

If everyone, both citizens and those who govern them, is tempted to misbehave, as a Christian understanding of the justice paradox teaches, we should not be surprised that no human legal system has ever produced a just social order. The human desire to control our own destiny and to assume godlike powers for ourselves explains why men and women have repeatedly convinced themselves that the history of failure does not apply to them—that they will be the ones to prove the past wrong.

[Yet] do Christians believe that every attempt to promote justice is therefore pointless? Not at all. A Christian understanding of the limits of law, combined with our obligation to promote the flourishing of others, can give us a vision of justice I call “law with a light touch.”

If all of us are sinful, legal systems must play a double game: restraining the worst wrongs by the citizenry without empowering judges and prosecutors to do wrong themselves. The key to playing that double game well is to limit law’s reach. One implication of this, ironically, is that a less ambitious legal system will often be more effective than a more ambitious one. When it comes to justice, less is often more.

One positive example of how this can work is the civil rights movement. In law schools, we talk a lot about the two great laws that were enacted thanks to the movement: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But changing the law wasn’t Martin Luther King’s primary objective. He was trying to change hearts. King fought and eventually died for the right to have relationship with those who refused to have relationship with him. He wasn’t trying to put anyone in prison. In fact, he and his ...

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When Rural Traditions Get Hipster Cred

Food trends overlook the economic pressures of their origins.

When I was a teenager, my aunt gave me a sage piece of advice. It came in the middle of canning season, when we were eyeballs-high in corn, tomatoes, and green beans.

In our rural community, the months of August, September, and October were spent “putting up” food from our large garden. They were spent in sweltering kitchens, gathering around pyramids of steaming corn and sheering off the sticky, sweet kernels in neat rows. Pots of tomato sauce simmered on the stove while over by the sink, freshly washed mason jars stood at attention, waiting to be filled.

This particular day, we were plowing through a mountain of green beans, and I voiced my teenage frustration with the unfairness of it all. My aunt looked me in the eye and said, “If you don’t want to snap beans when you grow up, you’ll have to marry a doctor.”

I ended up marrying a pastor who is called to rural ministry.

A funny thing has happened since then: country living became chic. Doctors’ wives now snap beans right alongside farmers’ wives—not because they have to but because they choose to. In attempt to live sustainably with local food sources, more people are rediscovering traditional food preservation techniques, prompting MarketWatch to name canning “the year’s hottest food trend.”

Jarden Home Brands, the maker of Ball jars and other canning supplies, has reported steady sales increases over the last five years and even released a line of heritage jars, hoping to tap into the hipster love of nostalgia. Suddenly this hick girl from Appalachia has become the perfect embodiment of the New Domesticity. The jars of applesauce, peach salsa, blackberry jam, tomato soup, and green ...

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Sex and Sunday School

A Small Talk Guest Post by Megan Hill

In anticipation of my new book, Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most, each week I'm featuring a different writer for a guest post. These posts dicuss the ways children's questions, comments, or actions have prompted deeper reflection for the adult. The series began with Sara Hagerty's children's questions about adoption, and continued last week with Kateyln Beaty's reflection upon becoming a godparent. This week, Megan Hill shares thoughts on how to explain adultery to a Sunday school class.

It was an innocent request--"Megan, would you teach my Sunday school class for me next week?"--and an equally naïve acceptance. Little did I anticipate the biblical scholarship necessary for an hour on Sunday morning with the five- and six-year-olds.

When I opened the teacher’s manual on Saturday evening, I discovered the problem. I had not agreed to a nice little Bible lesson on “Adam names the animals” or “Jesus welcomes the children.” Nope. Of all the stories in the curriculum, the lot fell to me to teach about David and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11).

Right from the beginning, I knew I wasn’t going to parse some of the stories’ details—was it rape? was it adultery?—but I still couldn’t avoid the essential problem of explaining sexual sin to little kids.

It seemed to me I had two options. The first option was to use the script provided by the curriculum and say that David and Bathsheba were pretending to be married: “David acted like Bathsheba was his wife, but she wasn’t. This was wicked.”

My policy with my own three children is to always tell the truth. I believe the Bible to be complete truth, ...

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What the Ebola Panic Reminds Us About Worry

Even faced with deadly disease, we can choose to live like Godís in control.

After 21 days in isolation, Louise Troh, her son, and two nephews emerged giving thanks to God. “We are so happy this is coming to an end,” Troh said. “We have lost so much, but we have our lives and we have our faith in God, which always gives us hope.”

Troh was the fiancé of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian citizen who within 10 days of his arrival in the U.S. became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in this country. He died of the disease October 8, while dozens of people who had contact with him remained in isolation. Troh and more than 40 others who were quarantined have now been cleared.

With the end of this quarantine should come a soothing realization: Ebola is not easy to catch. Because Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, it requires physical contact with such fluids. And because patients are only contagious when they show symptoms, it can’t be transmitted by someone who doesn’t feel sick. Two nurses who treated Duncan have contracted the disease, but those with whom he had closest contact outside the hospital have not developed symptoms—and now they are considered beyond the virus’ incubation period.

Ebola’s arrival in the United States has created at least a mild panic, with many afraid to fly, afraid to leave their homes or rub shoulders with their neighbors, afraid to go for treatment to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, where Duncan was a patient. Some are taking sensible and self-sacrificial precautions based on real risk; many are simply living in fear, irrationally allowing worry to keep them from fully showing up in the world.

None of us are strangers to this kind of fear; we are, in a sense, hard-wired for it. We are created ...

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News: Why Your Bible Was Made in China

Does it matter that the Good Book is printed where many Christians lack one?

Should consumers worried about the origins of their clothing, coffee, and chocolate focus on a more spiritual item: the Bible?

Chances are good that your favorite Bible was printed in China. The overwhelming majority of Bibles sold at Christian bookstores or Barnes & Noble were printed there, said Mark Bertrand of Bible Design Blog. And more publishers are joining in.

“A lot of people have misgivings about that,” he said. “Some of it is, ‘Oh, our Bibles are printed in Communist China.’ Others are concerned about the economic situation, about what conditions these Bibles were produced under.”

The Chinese government’s restriction of Bible distribution is also troubling, said ChinaAid’s Bob Fu. “When brothers and sisters are being persecuted and arrested for their beliefs based on the same Bible, what does it mean to purchase an exported copy that says Made in China?”

Since China’s only legal printer of Bibles, Amity Printing Company, published its first Bible in cooperation with the United Bible Societies (UBS) in 1987, 117 million Bibles have followed. More than half of those were printed in the last six years, including 12.4 million in 2013, making China the world’s biggest Bible publisher. Three out of four of last year’s Bibles were produced for export.

“The simple reason is that China is a manufacturing powerhouse in world trade,” said Amity board member David Thorne. “The more complex and interesting answer is that it is the outcome of God’s hand on the mission of the church.”

Choosing a printer comes down to “quality and competitive price,” said Tim Bensen, a buyer at Tyndale House ...

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When Pastors Lose Their Swagger

When pastors lose their swagger, they find the true heart of ministry.

There was a time when I lost my pastor swagger.

Yes, believe it or not, pastors have swagger, and/or mojo. Though we usually spiritualize it and call it "anointing", and/or "gifting". In essence, it is that confidence that a pastor has in his or her skills and abilities, which allows them to minister more effectively, and inspire others to greater faith. Never was my swagger more evident and more utilized than when I planted my own church almost exactly five years ago.

It was also there that I would discover that pastor swagger is an ephemeral thing. Mine started to fall apart only two months after we planted the church, the afternoon that my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Any vestiges that remained evaporated over the next year, as I struggled to care for my wife and kids, as well as our foundering congregation. And when I was forced to close the church because of our meager attendance and dwindling financial resources, my pastor swagger had morphed into a full-blown case of pastoral depression.

Searching for a new position while in such a funk only made things worse. I would read the job descriptions provided by churches, and the lengthy list of expectations that candidates were supposed to meet...and despaired:

"The pastor will be expected to help the congregation achieve the next level of growth and maturity, both spiritually and numerically." Hm, not sure how to do that. But I do know how to CLOSE a church, maybe that counts.

"The pastor will be expected to develop the organizational capacity of the church to better achieve its vision and mission." I couldn't even maintain a church of 40 people - how in the world would I be able to grow a church, much less manage a ...

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