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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 crime 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 its the new norm. Others dont 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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Interview: How Boko Haram's Murders and Kidnappings Are Changing Nigeria's Churches

Leading Nigerian evangelical says Christians wont abandon the North.

In recent weeks, Boko Haram, the Sunni terrorist group in northern Nigeria, has doubled down in its ongoing killing spree, taking the lives of Christians by the hundreds and also declaring an Islamic caliphate in the region, local church leaders report.

In April, the group’s kidnapping of 276 girls, mostly Christians, from a school in Chibok drew global outrage. But 219 of those girls are still missing as are hundreds of other abducted children. The group has killed at least 2,000 Nigerians in the first six months of this year, according to Nigerian officials. In total, 650,000 people fled northern Nigeria to escape violence. Some 1,600 Nigerian Christians have died at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups, according to the Jubilee Campaign.

This week, at the six-month anniversary of the Chibok kidnappings, rallies have been held in Nigeria, the U.S., and other nations to press Nigeria's government to do more to rescue the kidnapped girls and suppress Boko Haram.

A leading Nigerian evangelical, Samuel Kunhiyop, author of African Christian Ethics,serves as general secretary of Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), a 5-million-member denomination in Nigeria. ECWA has been doing frontline evangelism in Nigeria since 1954. In recent years, this group has planted hundreds of congregations in Muslim areas of Nigeria. Kunhiyop spoke with Timothy C. Morgan, CT's senior editor for global journalism.

Is Nigeria as bad as we read in news headlines?

It’s even worse. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, over 50 in Kano alone. One church and ministry has been built seven times and destroyed seven times. Another has been built three times and destroyed three times. Pastors have been murdered in their ...

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Interview: Nancy Writebol: Ebola Is a Spiritual Battle

The missionary nurse who survived the deadly virus says medicine alone won't cure West Africa.

Since the Ebola outbreak began this spring, nearly 10,000 instances of the virus have been recorded—and that number could grow to 1.4 million, says the Centers for Disease Control. (The World Health Organization offers a much more conservative estimate of 151,000.) The threat barely registered on Americans’ radar until SIM nurse Nancy Writebol and Samaritan’s Purse doctor Kent Brantly were both diagnosed in July. This week, the first person diagnosed with Ebola inside the United States died, and five U.S. airports announced they are instating screening procedures for travelers arriving from West Africa.

Writebol, who has previous experience working in Ecuador and Zambia, moved to Liberia with her husband, David, in 2013. Nearly a month into treating infected patients, Writebol learned she herself had contracted Ebola. After she and Brantly failed to improve in West Africa, they were flown back to the United States, where they both were treated with the experimental and controversial ZMapp antibodies. Both recovered fully.

Writebol and David, currently based in North Carolina, spoke with CT editorial resident Morgan Lee about treating Ebola, where God went during her illness, and her thoughts about those who protested her return to the States.

What is a Liberian hospital like during an epidemic?

In many of the hospitals, there was no protective gear, and nurses were working without gloves and masks. We [SIM] had the advantage of being partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, which had flown in everything we needed to protect our healthcare workers. But still there was fear of being in an isolation unit and working with people. It took time before nurses could see that, yes, they could be protected ...

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Biblical Literacy by the Numbers Part 2: Scripture Engagement

Biblical literacy cannot exist without regular Scripture engagement.

It's All About Engagement

The bottom line is that too many Christians are simply not reading and studying their Bibles. This goes beyond simple trivia questions aimed at revealing how few facts we know about our Bibles. American evangelicals increasingly lack a spiritual depth. Our lives betray a lack of Christian character. We don't seem to be very Christlike to a watching world. So what do we do about it?

There are several things we can do to reverse biblical illiteracy here in America. At LifeWay Research, we define Bible engagement as "allowing God, through His Word, to lead and change an individual's life—one's direction, thinking and actions." When we compiled all the data from our most recent study on Bible engagement, we found this maxim to be true: Engaging the Bible impacts one's spiritual maturity more than any other discipleship attribute. In fact, "reading the Bible" topped our list of things we found impacting spiritual maturity (followed by such things as praying for unbelievers, confessing sins and asking God for forgiveness, and witnessing to an unbeliever).

With research showing Bible engagement being so important to life change and spiritual maturity, is there any doubt our failure to read our Bibles impacts everything? The Holy Spirit works though the Scriptures, leading us to maturity in every area. That can't happen if we are not in the Word.

What Leads to Bible Engagement?

When we talk about research, we look for things that predict—if you do one thing, you're likely to do another. We found eight things that lead to a higher likelihood that people will engage the Bible, which leads to growth in everything else. (Spiritual growth ...

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Why Do We Still Need Womens Conferences?

Q cofounder explains the purpose behind gathering as women.

Q began seven years ago as a way to gather Christian leaders and influencers to mobilize around the common good in our cities. My husband Gabe and I cofounded the organization, and over the years, we have had significant numbers of women participate as speakers and attendees.

While some Christian conferences and events face criticism for underrepresentation, our national gatherings are a refreshing exception. In fact, women made up half of the more than 10,000 participants in our recent Q Commons event, held in more than 60 cities across the globe.

So it makes sense to ask: Why would an organization like Q have a gathering specifically for women?

Q Women held its first national event last year in New York City, and we are preparing to gather hundreds of women together for our second annual event, this time in Nashville.

We are always grateful when we have an equal amount of men and women in the broader conversation, and I don’t ever want to take away from that. But we believe also that talks geared around women can create more space for them to respond.

After all, Q stands for questions, and there are a lot of questions that women today are asking, specifically around embracing their God-given calling.

Last year at Q Women, we defined calling and why it matters. We gave action items for the room to explore what this looked like for each of them. Some women came with a complete understanding, others were wrestling through what that looked like.

This year will be encouragement and tools on how to live faithful to the call we’ve been given. What are the ingredients for sustaining this? How can we see calling as obedience instead of our agenda? How do we humble ourselves to the One who calls?

We’re ...

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Three Views: Do the Common Core Education Standards Endanger Religious Freedom?

Why a nationwide standard for classrooms may cause concern.

Yes, Beware Belief Police
Kevin Theriot

Common Core will likely have only an indirect effect on religious liberty—at least initially. But advocates for religious liberty and the family still have genuine cause for concern. Common Core creates another tool for big government (judges, legislators, and education policymakers) to control the beliefs and actions of parents and their students.

The Supreme Court has long recognized that parents have the right to direct the education—religious and otherwise—of their children. In 1923, the Court ruled in Meyer v. Nebraska that parents have the right to teach their children a foreign language at a young age. Two years later, the Court bolstered parental rights in the Pierce case, in which it held parents could educate their children in parochial instead of state-mandated public schools.

But lower courts have seriously undermined parental rights in recent years. A federal appeals court denied the right of parents to opt their public school children out of explicit sex education in Massachusetts. And the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals infamously said in 2005 in another sex-education case, “Once parents make the choice as to which school their children will attend, their fundamental right to control the education of their children is, at the least, substantially diminished.”

The harmful trend is that parents cannot opt their children out of classes that conflict with their religious convictions. That restriction is likely to creep into parochial schools and even homeschooling through national education standards specifying what all students must be taught in order to move on to higher education. Voluntary alignment with Common Core standards ...

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Antiheroes and Saints

Where do we get the inclination to emulate or praise our protagonists?

I teach a class on cultural criticism, and each student leads a twenty-minute discussion on an article of his or her choosing from the recent press. On Monday, a student brought in Emily Nussbaum's article on “the female bad fan.”

The bad fan is the “loyal viewer, often a guy, who views antiheroes as heroes”—who sees Walter White or Frank Underwood as the guy to be emulated, who “shrugs off any notion of moral complexity” and roots for Walt's wife Skyler or any of Frank's adversaries to be eliminated.

There's a parallel, Nussbaum says, in shows like The Mindy Project:

The topic came up during my conversation at The New Yorker Festival with Mindy Kaling, the creator and star of “The Mindy Project.” As we talked, Kaling made a strong case for one way in which her series has been misunderstood: her idea for Mindy Lahiri, she said, wasn’t a spunky role model like Mary Tyler Moore. She also wasn’t trying to create a flawed comic protagonist with a voice-of-reason quality, in the tradition of Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope. Instead, she was going for the Michael Scott, the Larry David, the Kenny Powers—truly screwed-up bigots and basket cases who were, nonetheless, the rowdy centers of their respective shows.

The Mindy Project—and other shows like Girls and Veep and Inside Amy Schumer and more—present (presumably mostly female) viewers with protagonists not really meant to be emulated; they're just characters, and they're funny to watch partly because they're messed up.

You're meant to love Mindy, the way you love your friends because they're your friends, not because you want to be them. You're also ...

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Chasing the Christian Movie Audience

The new art and science of reaching the fifth quadrant.

The discussion started in earnest around the time Disney released The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, back in 2005.

Author C.S. Lewis maintained throughout his life that the Narnia books weren't religious allegories but merely contained religious symbolism—and those were certainly hard to miss in the film.

Many also noted the presence of Walden Media (owned by Christian conservative Philip Anschutz) among the film's backers. After Anschutz said he thought Walden Media projects should carry moral messages, a few critics described the Narnia films as propaganda, meant to saturate Hollywood with a conservative agenda.

But with the success of the film ($739 million worldwide box office from a budget of $180 million), the industry wondered if faith-based movies might become an established trend.

Director Mel Gibson had blindsided everyone the year before (2004) when The Passion of the Christ returned a staggering $611 million from a $30 million budget. It was quite a feat for a release far outside the usual summer blockbuster window, and seemed to pave the way for movies about religion, rather than just those containing Christian elements.

Like all Hollywood trends, religious movies have had their booms and busts. The high point came with films like The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and films based on similar aesthetics, like Cleopatra (1963).

More recently—aside from the odd historical one-off, like 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ—Hollywood has been content to occasionally merely repackage Christianity, rather than film Bible stories. A good example was The Matrix films, borrowing heavily from both ...

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Toward Viral: What Exponential Growth Might Look Like: The Summit Church

Exponential growth requires sacrificial planting, and The Summit Church shows that.

The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham has been planting churches in both North America and Internationally since the beginning. Over the years they have planted 23 churches in North America and 47 churches internationally. They have recently made an intentional shift in strategy to be a sending church. This means they will train a planter and send him out with 20+ people to plant a new church in a new city.

Their strategy is to plant multiplying churches by raising lead planters, training them, and sending them out with a team of people from our church. They identify potential church planters and putting them in a leadership development pipeline. At the end of that, most will go through a 9-month residency where they remain on staff while being trained to plant, refining their vision, raising money, building a team, and developing a strategy before they're sent out.

The Summit Church has a different strategy for their International plants. Most of their International church plants are among unreached people groups. The strategy is to send out missionaries from the church that will live and work among these people with the goal of sharing the gospel, making disciples that make disciples. They try to find and train indigenous leaders to plant indigenous, self-replicating churches. The pastors identify potential International church planting leaders about a year from when they're ready to go to the field and take them through a yearlong training process, and then in most cases they send them out in teams that operate like small house churches.

Financially, The Summit Church devotes 16.2% of our budget is dedicated to missions. For their North American plants The Summit provides a residency and 3 years of financial ...

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Interview: How Culture Shapes Scientists' Thinking About God's Planet

Former Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich challenges the notion that religion and science inhabit separate spheres.

Owen Gingerich grew up in a Mennonite home on the plains of Kansas, and he retains much of the plainspoken and humble demeanor of his upbringing. He has spent nearly his entire academic career at Harvard University, first as a student and then as professor of astronomy and the history of science. Now retired, he recently published God’s Planet, which examines the scientific discoveries of Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, and astronomer Fred Hoyle. The book uses these lives to consider areas of overlap between science, philosophy, and religion that are often overlooked in scientific accounts of the world. CT senior writer Tim Stafford spoke with Gingerich about his view on the relationship of religion and science.

God’s Planet uses storytelling to focus on personalities. Why did you take this approach in a science book?

God’s Planet came out of a series of lectures I gave at Gordon College. I don’t know how the inspiration struck, that I could center it around three quite different people who had transformative ideas that took people a long time to wrap their heads around. My first chapter asks the question, “Was Copernicus right?” that the earth goes around the sun, rather than the sun going around the earth. Today, everybody would say, of course he was right. Yet it took 150 years for a majority of educated people to accept that the earth moves through space. Why? There is a question there about how scientific ideas work with a whole structure of other ideas.

I have been doing a lot of work on Darwin for another book, The Divine Handiwork. Even today you have in America only a fair majority of people who accept his theory of evolution. How is that?

And finally, to bring in a ...

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School Prayer Doesnt Need a Comeback

Why this prayer-loving, evangelical mom wont be joining the movement.

It was a mistake to read about Janine Turner’s push to bring prayer “back” to school so early in the morning.

During those first few quiet moments—just before I rouse my middle-schooler for early morning band, then my daughter for her grade-school patrol duties, then my youngest for the nightmare that is waking up for second grade every single day—the last thing I want to read is anyone suggesting 15 minutes more of anything during the school day. Even if it is prayer. Especially if it’s prayer, actually.

Then came my next mistake of the day: reading what Facebook commenters had to say about the article. “It’s about time we put God back in school.” “No coincidence: schools got violent when we took God out of them!” Likes all around. These self-proclaiming Christian people were apparently totally comfortable with the idea that we are powerful enough to remove God from the world he created. Fine with this blasphemy that we can take God out of schools, just like we can take Christ out of Christmas.

This conception of God, though, is not one that I can get behind. I object to any mission to bring prayer “back” to school because I can’t support the faulty theology—downright heresyof implying God is only around to hear our prayers when the building sanctions his presence.

Prayer never left schools. And God never did either. To suggest otherwise should make us shudder. And yet, that’s what campaigns full of good God-fearing folks seem to be saying.

To what avail? What are we communicating with our laments over godless classrooms and demands for established prayer times? We insinuate we have the power to take and put ...

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