Best of the Week – 2017/08/18

I’ve started posting a weekly collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume” each week, so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Only a few to recommend this week

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

Podcast Episodes

  • Pass the Mic“Bonus – Current Events: Charlottesville”– Hosts Tyler Burns and Jemar Tisby discuss the events of last weekend in Charlottesville as white nationalists demonstrated around a confederate monument scheduled for removal, counter protests followed, and violence against counter protesters left 1 killed and many others injured.

Best of the Week – 2017/08/09

I’ve started posting a weekly collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume” each week, so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • WSJ, “Could Football Ever End?” – Jason Gay reports on a new study leading many to quit the sport, and he suggests that if football were ever to end, it will be from an internal collapse of the sport as parents and players move to other sports.
  • The Atlantic, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation” – Psychology Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University suggests that the Millennial generation she calls “iGen” faces a mental health crisis due, in large part, to smart phones.
  • The Christian Science Monitor, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” – Michael Spencer’s 2009 article has proven prescient, predicting that Evangelicalism’s identification with right wing politics, its failure to pass on the orthodox faith, and its rampant consumerism will dramatically alter the religious landscape of our nation.
  • NYT, “Google’s War Over the Sexes” – Ross Douthat weighs in on the controversy at Google over James Damore’s manifesto that got him fired.

Podcast Episodes

Best of the Week – 2017/08/02

I’ve started posting a weekly collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I post, but I only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume” each week, so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

Like last week, I’ve included material that’s a few months old.

Blog Posts & Online Journals

Online Newspapers & Magazines

Podcast Episodes

  • Risen Motherhood“How Many Children Should We Have”– Hosts Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler talk about embracing children into family life while raising a number of considerations to balance.
  • Audition: A Podcast of Mars Hill Audio, “Oliver O’Donovan on political theology” – Host Ken Myers interviews the moral philosopher on the Church’s historic belief that governments are expressions of God’s rule, and that the reality of the king of God is a necessary point of reference if we are to understand politics correctly.
  • Radiolab, “From Tree to Shining Tree” – Hosts Jad and Simon explore the forest and uncover the incredibly ability of trees to communicate and create symbiotic relationships with fungi.

Books

  • The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders – an exploration of the doctrine of the Trinity as it relates to Evangelical faith, the gospel, and the Christian life

Best of the Week

I’m going to start posting a weekly collection of blog posts, articles, podcasts, and books that I have found interesting, helpful, challenging, important, or funny. I don’t endorse everything I’ll be posting, but I’ll only post content I think is worth taking the time to consider. We all have to make choices about what content we “consume” each week, so I hope I can point you in directions that are worth your time.

I’ll start with content I’ve come across the last few months, and then I’ll proceed week by week from there.

Blog Posts

Online Newspapers & Magazines

  • USA Today, “‘Born This Way?’ It’s way more complicated than that.” – Alia Dastagir throws a wrench in the rally cry of the mainstream gay rights movement by pointing to the interrelations of biology, psychology, and the social/cultural context in the development of sexual orientation.
  • The Atlantic, “The Church of Crossfit” – Julie Beck highlights how gyms and other secular communities are starting to fill spiritual and social needs for many nonreligious people.
  • NYT, “Gray Matter: Don’t believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.’s” – Psychology professor Clay Routledge explains that while religion is declining, the “religious mind” continues even and especially among secularists because we are hard wired to find meaning and significance in our lives.
  • National Review, “Post-Christian America: Gullible, Intolerant, and Superstitious” – David French interacts with the previous article and argues that although secularists expect a world without religion to be more rational, humane, and enlightened, some evidence suggests post-Christian America will be more tribal and vicious.
  • NYT, “Why I’m Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention” – African American Pastor Lawrence Ware explains why this year’s convention of Southern Baptists with its poor handling of a resolution against the Alt-Right and the marginalization of black leaders has led him to leave the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

Podcast Episodes

Books

Newbigin and the Cruciform Church

Over the last month, I have been slowly reading through Lesslie Newbigin’s famous book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. It’s a treasure, and I regret not having read this book earlier in my education and ministry.

For years now, I have been reflecting on and wrestling with the nature and mission of the church. I have been thrilled to see the emergence of a gospel-centered movement, a recapturing of the gospel for the whole of the Christian life and not just for conversion. However, as the movement has grown, I have been disappointed that this has not produced cruciform churches. In other words, gospel-centered preaching has not, in large part, changed the form or shape of ministry in the American Church. Churches that identify with the gospel-centered movement still tend to be triumphalistic churches of “glory” rather than churches in the shadow of the cross.

I thought this passage from Newbigin (chapter 9, point 7) rightly explains what the character of the church’s ministry should look like:

I have said that it is clear from the New Testament that early the Church saw itself as living in the time between the times, the time when Jesus, having exposed and disarmed the powers of darkness (Col. 2:15), is seated at the right hand of God until the time when his reign shall be unveiled in all its glory among all the nations. The character of this time is given to it by the character of the earthly ministry of Jesus. It is marked by suffering, and by the presence of signs of the kingdom. That is why the Fourth Gospel, in its portrayal of the missionary commission, says that when Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he showed them his hands and his side—the scars of his passion—and he breathed into them the Spirit who is the foretaste of the kingdom (John 20:19-23). The Church in its journey through history will therefore have this double character insofar as it is faithful to its commission. On the one hand it will be a suffering church, because the powers of darkness, though disarmed and robbed of final authority, are still powerful. As Jesus in his earthly ministry unmasked the powers and so drew their hostility on himself, so the Spirit working through the life and witness of the missionary Church will overturn the world’s most fundamental beliefs, proving the world wrong in respect of sin, of righteousness, of judgment (John 16:8). Consequently the world will hate the Church as it hated its Lord. But, on the other hand, just as the ministry of Jesus was marked by mighty works, which for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, were signs of the presence of the kingdom of God in power, so in the life of the Church there will be mighty works which have the same function. They are not—so to say—steps on the way to the kingdom, but unveilings of, glimpses of that kingdom which is already a reality, but a reality known only to those who have been converted, have been turned from false gods to the living God. These negative and positive elements in the life of the Church will be related to each other in the ministry of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10). The cross was a public execution visible to all—believers and unbelievers alike. The resurrection was as much a fact of history as the crucifixion, but it was made known only to the chosen few who were called to be the witnesses of the hidden kingdom.

When the church fails to unmask the powers of the age overturning its most fundamental beliefs (i.e. consumerism, nationalism, etc.) and chooses instead to utilize the powers of the age in order to attract crowds of congregants, it fails to live into its own identity and actually acts in cooperation with the same powers that crucified the Lord whom the Church claims to serve and proclaim! Furthermore, when a church’s “mighty works” serve to point to the glory and importance of itself, or when the “mighty works” are thought to be steps toward transforming the world into the kingdom, she participates in the worship of false gods and shows herself not to have turned to the living God at all.

I long for a gospel-centered movement that produces gospel-shaped (cruciform) churches.

Infertility in the Church

Quite a few couples at the church where I pastor have welcomed newborns into their family over the past few months, and there are more on the way in the coming months. It’s a joyful season as these families and our church community give thanks to God for these children.

But I know that amidst the numerous pregnancies, there are couples mourning because they are struggling to conceive, often after trying for over a year. I know they long to celebrate with their friends, but they also struggle to shake feelings of jealousy, anger, and even bitterness. I remember when my wife and I waited for over a year before she could get pregnant, and it was one of the hardest seasons of my life. Month after month, we experienced hope as my wife analyzed how she was feeling only to experience disappointment once again. And I sense that this struggle is often more difficult for women who can sometimes feel alienated from or betrayed by their own bodies. Perhaps this is part of the curse of Genesis 3:16.

The difficulty of infertility makes thinking carefully about modern treatments especially complicated. Many Christians don’t know that some of the medical capabilities we possess to help couples conceive can entail moral problems with which Christians cannot be comfortable. As a pastor, part of my job is to teach, instruct, and guide people to be faithful in suffering, but sometimes, by the time we hear a couple is struggling with infertility, steps are already being taken that are morally problematic.

I can’t and shouldn’t try to tackle all of these in a blog post, but today I came across a helpful little video on The Gospel Coalition blog of a discussion with bioethicist Dr. Megan Best on infertility (find her book on the subject here). I think it’s a helpful video for those struggling with infertility and all of us seeking to care for and walk with the heartbroken in our midst.

I remember that while my wife and I struggled with infertility, I found hope in God’s promise to barren Israel in Isaiah 54:1-3 and to eunuchs in Isaiah 56:4-5 (ESV):

[54:1] “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
[2] “Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
[3] For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.

[56:4] For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
[5] I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

These verses don’t magically make infertility easy, but they do point us to the faithfulness of God to bring comfort to those who mourn and to bring greater joy to those who persevere in the midst of disappointment.

You can find the blog post on TGC here.

On the Necessity and Importance of Church Membership

Recently, I observed many of my fellow Christians expressing serious frustration and embarrassment on social media regarding a number of public figures (one in particular trumps them all) who self-identify as Christians. To many of my friends, the words and actions of these famous persons who claim a Christian identity not only seem out of step with the Christian faith but bring ridicule and shame upon the Church. My fellow Christians did all they could to signal to others that these people don’t represent Christianity.

This frustration and embarrassment is understandable, but it’s a necessary symptom of ignoring the importance of church membership as most American churches, pastors, and Christians have done. In other words, if we deny the importance of church membership and if we accept the claim that a person can be a Christian and part of the “invisible church” without covenanting with a local body of believers under proper biblical government, then there will always be individuals out there who claim to represent the Christian faith who will deny core doctrines and embrace behaviors out of step with Christ’s kingdom, and we won’t have any basis to deny it.

My point here is this: If you are embarrassed by people who refuse to live repentantly and yet still claim to be Christians, then become a member of a church where church discipline and real membership is practiced. If you float from church to church, if you attend a huge church where there is no possible way pastors can know the sheep and watch over them in any meaningful way, if you are a member of a church that keeps people on its rolls that haven’t been around in years, if your church doesn’t practice restorative discipline, then you are part of the problem and the reason why we will continue to be embarrassed by famous people claiming to represent Christ who will be believed by the world. However, if all of us start taking church membership and discipline seriously, we’ll simply be able to ask such persons, “To which church do you belong? To whom are you accountable?”

When asked if he is a Christian, the famous Neo-Anabaptist theologian from Duke Divinity School, Stanley Hauerwas, has said many times something like this in response: “My friends tell me that I am.” His point in answering this way is to refuse to claim authority as an individual to self-identify with Christ. Hauerwas is getting at the idea that Jesus has given authority to the church to recognize who belongs to him. There is a sense in which none of us has the right to claim to be a Christian apart from baptism and membership in a particular body under biblical lawful government.

With that in mind, here are 6 basic biblical arguments borrowed and summarized from How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Waters on why Christians must join a church.

  1. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) requires that we baptize people into communities where they continue to learn to obey all Jesus commanded.
  2. Many New Testament commands assume and require membership in a particular and defined church body in order to be obeyed, particularly those “one another commands” and those calling Christians to respect, submit to, and esteem those “over you.”
  3. The teaching of Jesus and Paul on church discipline in which the unrepentant are set outside the community assumes church membership.
  4. The practice of the Lord’s Table requires a concrete and particular fellowship to be a meaningful practice where those who have professed Christ are welcomed.
  5. Many passages in the New Testament, like Ephesians 4, speak collectively of spiritual growth. The body of Christ is to grow up together as members are joined to one another.
  6. Elders are given responsibility before God for a particular group of Christians under their care.