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Grace does not sabotage the pursuit of righteousness but empowers it.
In the now famous October courtroom scene, Brandt Jean turned to the former Dallas police officer convicted of killing his brother, Botham Jean, and said, “I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.” Then the black man stepped off the witness stand and warmly embraced the white woman, Amber Guyger, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for murder.
The scene inspired millions. But any time the radical grace of God becomes manifest, some begin to grumble, and for understandable reasons. As Jemar Tisby noted in The Washington Post, the killing of a black person by a white person is always an iconic event. Such tragedies “aren’t just felt by one black person. The black community feels the impact.” He also said, “Instant absolution minimizes the magnitude of injustice. It distracts attention from the systemic change needed to prevent such tragedies from occurring.”
Tisby is rightly concerned about what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” as in: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance . . . grace without discipleship, without the cross.” Many today would add, “grace without the pursuit of justice.”
Sentimental grace is indeed a danger, and yet so is a grace that is qualified by something we have to do to earn it. Faith without works is dead, as James noted, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the forgiveness that faith receives is, in fact, “instant absolution.” To be clear, this instant absolution took place long before the act of faith, when on the cross Christ announced, “It is finished.” That was the moment when “God was reconciling ...
We must allow Scripture to guide us as leaders without losing sight of all the other wisdom the Bible provides to us.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives us perhaps the best definition of what biblical leadership should look like. He shows us the importance of servant leadership, laying it out for us in Scripture.
Before diving deeper into more Scripture that discusses servant leadership, I want to emphasize that the Bible is not our personal book on leadership. There are biblical texts that teach us about leadership, and leading without the guidance of Scripture is not a healthy idea, but the Bible was not intended to be a leadership textbook.
In this way, we must allow Scripture to guide us as leaders without losing sight of all the other wisdom the Bible provides to us.
With that said, I want to look at a few passages where we get a better image of what biblical leadership should look like.
The Gospels: Being among our people
Luke 22 teaches us that leadership means walking alongside our people. As the disciples debate who should be considered the greatest among them, Jesus reminds them that they should not follow leadership styles of the time.
Instead, they should be among their people, serving them, just as Jesus did when he walked among us on Earth.
In the same way, in John 21 Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. “‘Do you love me?’” Jesus asks. “Feed my sheep,’’ he instructs. This is another example of Jesus reminding us that as leaders, we need to live life with ...
It is central to our faith that Jesus shared our nature. Does that include its fallenness?
As the lights flashed and the music blared out something caught my attention. It wasn’t the flashing lights nor was it the blaring music. As I stood excitedly at my first Chris Tomlin concert I was struck by the lyrics to his song “Jesus Messiah,” a song I was familiar with and had sung in my church many times, but this time, the well-known worship song was different to me.
As the opening chords played, Tomlin began to sing, quoting 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He became sin, who knew no sin. That we might become His righteousness.” I had heard the lyrics before, in fact I had the verses memorized, but for the first time, I found myself asking, “What does this actually mean? What does it mean that Jesus became sin?” This passage had been explained to me as a simple summary of the Gospel—in one sentence!—and yet I suddenly realized something those who explained it to me rarely admitted: it contains a stunning amount of complexity. Did Tomlin know what he was singing? Did I?
So, what connection does Jesus “becoming sin” have to do with my “becoming the righteousness of God?”
To answer this question, we must rethink how we understand sin and salvation. Modern theological language surrounding this topic tends to be forensic in nature, meaning that it is focused on laws and ethics. To be a sinner is to be disobedient, to “miss the mark,” to break the law. Therefore, to be “saved” is to be forgiven of our transgressions. While there are forensic aspects to sin and salvation, it is reductionistic to claim that sin is merely the transgression of a law and salvation is merely legal forgiveness of said transgressions. This ...
Poor Christians were a new target of brokers in 2019, AP investigation finds.
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. The list, obtained by The Associated Press, was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable.
The list gives the most concrete figure yet for the number of women caught up in the trafficking schemes since 2018.
But since the time it was put together in June, investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt. Officials with knowledge of the investigations say that is because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing.
The biggest case against traffickers has fallen apart. In October, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution for speaking out.
At the same time, the government has sought to curtail investigations, putting “immense pressure” on officials from the Federal Investigation Agency pursuing trafficking networks, said Saleem Iqbal, a Christian activist who has helped parents rescue several young girls from China and prevented others from being sent there.
“Some [FIA officials] were even transferred,” Iqbal said in an interview. “When we talk to Pakistani rulers, they don’t pay any attention.”
Before he was named to the university’s top post, law professor Jim Gash helped free a falsely convicted teen in East Africa and became an advocate for justice reform.
A few hours after Jim Gash’s inauguration this fall as Pepperdine University’s eighth president, his wife, Joline, showed up at her husband’s fourth-floor executive suite with a Ugandan medical student.
Tumusiime Henry, 26, had flown nearly 10,000 miles to help celebrate Jim Gash’s unlikely ascension to the top post at the 7,900-student university, which is associated with Churches of Christ.
Henry wore a black suit with a red plaid bow tie as he joined the Gashes in an office overlooking the Pacific Ocean—a postcard-perfect view flanked by Pepperdine’s 125-foot-high monumental cross on one side and a smaller cross atop the stained-glass Stauffer Chapel on the other.
At the inauguration festivities earlier that morning, Henry had sat in the front row as a special honored guest among the thousands of students, dignitaries and faculty members dressed in academic regalia.
As Jim Gash, 52, will tell anyone who will listen, he never would have become president if he hadn’t met Henry.
“It’s all due to this young, brave man next to me,” Gash said of Henry—the nickname by which the aspiring ophthalmologist is known in Uganda, an East African nation that doesn’t have family surnames.
Jim Gash had a life he loved in Malibu, a coastal community about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles. When the Pepperdine law professor reluctantly joined a global justice trip to Uganda a decade ago, he had no intention of ever going back.
“I was very interested in somebody helping there, but it wasn’t going to be me,” he said. “I went once … to show my wife and my kids and my God that I was willing to take a step of faith.”
Three years earlier, Pepperdine ...
The Oxford scholar reflects on the interface between faith and science and how narratives draw us toward belief.
The relationship between Christianity and science is hotly debated, and both believers and skeptics have appealed to Albert Einstein to buttress their positions. Believers point to Einstein’s many references to God while skeptics note his rejection of revealed religion. Alister McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, has written a new book on the famous physicist, A Theory of Everything (That Matters): A Brief Guide to Einstein, Relativity, and His Surprising Thoughts on God (Tyndale).
McGrath also recently published Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith (Baker), in which he argues that stories are an important but often overlooked resource for commending Christianity. In both books, he contends that the Christian faith has a better story to tell than secular alternatives and offers great explanatory power.
Christopher Reese spoke with McGrath about the interconnected topics of faith, science, and apologetics.
You stress in A Theory of Everything (That Matters) that Einstein sought to integrate his scientific knowledge with religion, philosophy, and other disciplines. What can we learn from Einstein’s approach to seeing the bigger picture of reality?
Einstein is emphatic that science is only able to give a partial account of our complex and strange universe. It may help us to understand how our universe functions, but it does not engage deeper questions of meaning and value. For Einstein, it was essential to have a rounded view of this matter, enabling reflective human beings to appreciate new insights into the structure and functioning of the universe, working out what is good and trying to enact this in their lives, and finding ...
Pastors, denominational leaders, and curious Christians need to be reassured—American Christianity is not becoming more liberal.
The fact that the religious unaffiliated have risen from about five percent of Americans in the mid-1970’s to nearly a quarter of the population by 2018 has all sorts of interesting impacts on what an average church looks like on Sunday morning.
Obviously, one of the most important ones to pastors and denominational leaders is: Does my church look different today than it did a few decades ago? More specifically, what does the average church goer believe about the Bible today and how has that changed over time?
It’s notoriously difficult to assess the theological worldview of an individual through a survey instrument but the General Social Survey has been asking respondents about their view of the Bible since 1984.
The question reads: Which of these statements comes closest to describing your feelings about the Bible?
The three response options are:
While we can quibble with the overall measurement validity of these options, it’s fair to say that the first option is a good proxy for an evangelical’s view of the Bible, while the middle one would seem to be more prevalent among mainline Protestants and Catholics, and the last would be chosen by those who aren’t Christians.
How have three views changed over time in the general public?
Well, it’s clear from the above graph that the two outside options are the ones that have seen movement. While the share of Americans who are biblical literalists has dropped by 7.4 percent, those ...
After historic and nearly unanimous referendum, Sidama declared 10th regional state.
In a widely anticipated referendum held in Ethiopia’s Sidama zone last month, an overwhelming 98 percent of voters chose autonomous self-rule.
Across the highland region famed for its flavorful coffee exports, voters lined up as early as 4 a.m. on November 20, smiling and waving their green identification cards.
“For the last two months, the church was praying and fasting daily,” said Tessema Tadesse, pastor of a Kale Heywet church in Hawassa, the capital of Sidama. “And on Sunday, the preaching was around peace, love, and embracing others.”
Kale Heywet (Word of Life) is one of Ethiopia’s largest “Pente” or evangelical denominations, with approximately 1,000 congregations in Sidama alone. (Though Pente, pronounced Pent-ay, originated as an Ethiopian term for Pentecostals, it has come to refer to most non-Orthodox Christians, with the closest US equivalent being evangelical.)
Evangelicalism in Ethiopia originated in Sidama, where 87 percent of the population self-identified as Protestants in the 2007 census. Overall, in Africa’s second-most populous nation, evangelicals only comprise about 19 percent of Ethiopia’s 112 million people, while the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church comprises about 40 percent, according to the World Christian Database.
Tsedaku Ablo Alema, president of the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE), thinks Sidama’s desire for autonomy could stem from the evangelical anti-authoritarian mindset.
“We believe we can understand the Bible, in the priesthood of all believers,” he told CT. “That narrative might have made them think more about the individual.”
Even so, religion was not the source of this political ...
Advent reminds us we've already seen it.
When Mark the Evangelist wanted to sum up the way Jesus started His earthly ministry, he used these words:
The Greek word that Mark uses to summarize Jesus’ message—basileia—is probably better translated with a word that indicates activity. A word like “rule,” “reign,” or even “kingship” is closer to the original meaning of basileia—which means that when Jesus says “the kingdom of God has come near,” He is proclaiming that God is asserting His rule in the world in and through Jesus’ ministry.
But what kind of rule will it be? Coronations can be terrifying. The enthronement of a new king or leader can make one queasy with dread. If you’ve never had to fear when a new prime minister, president, or monarch comes into power, then you have lived a life of rare privilege. For many people in the world—throughout history and also presently, even in the modern West—the passing of power to a new ruler is a matter of gnawing anxiety.
A scene from the end of The Godfather—one of the most haunting pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen—captures this fear well. The protagonist, Michael Corleone, stands near the baptismal font in an ornate Catholic church for his nephew’s christening. As the camera lingers on his stoic facial expression and elegant suit, the scene cuts to a series of assassinations that Michael has orchestrated, which are happening at the very same time as the service of baptism. It turns ...
Though far fewer Americans are writing off charitable donations, most ministries reported stable giving last year. Denominations saw the biggest decline.
It will take months to tally the millions Americans donate to charity on Giving Tuesday. But analysts already know what kinds of charities are favored by American evangelicals—and that the GOP tax reform bill that went into affect last year has had an impact on giving.
Overall, cash giving to evangelical ministries held steady between 2017 and 2018 (the latest year for which data is available), declining 0.6 percent after six consecutive years of increases, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
The virtually unchanged giving levels among evangelical ministries emerged despite a 6.2 percent decline in the stock market’s S&P 500 index, which tends to mirror trends in charitable giving, and despite a 3.9 percent decline in overall giving to religion between 2017 and 2018, according to an analysis by Giving USA.
“I am pleased to see this ongoing support for Christ-centered churches and ministries,” said Dan Busby, ECFA president and CEO. “This generosity positions ECFA members to continue their positive impact for their causes both domestically and internationally.”
The State of Giving 2019 analysis from ECFA considered the finances of more than 1,900 of its accredited members and included $13.9 billion in cash giving. All year-to-year comparisons in the report were adjusted for inflation.
Despite some recent scrutiny over its role as a financial watchdog, EFCA itself has been growing, from 1,409 member ministries in 2009 to more than 2,400 today. (The year-to-year analysis relied mostly on audited financial statements and considered only ministries that were members during both years under evaluation.)
Eleven of the 26 ministry categories ...
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Jesus established the church to be a community of believers, a family, to encourage each other in unity and to project His love to the world. As a family, our goal is to love each other without conditions or expectations