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Life Together, Again

After Hobby Lobby, vibrant corporate life is needed more than ever.

If we lived in normal times, few would notice if the Supreme Court agreed that a group had the right to practice its religious views without government interference. The plaintiffs would sigh in relief, the chastised government agency would formulate new rules, and we'd all move on.

Obviously, we do not live in normal times. The farther we get from the Supreme Court's decision on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the less it feels like a victory for anyone. Instead, it reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.

One essential question in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the extent to which a for-profit corporation can hold to a religious (in this case, Christian) identity. In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups "use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission."

The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg's view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon. She articulated an equally small view of nonprofits when she wrote that "religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith."

This may indeed describe the mission of some churches and synagogues. But tragically, it seems Justice Ginsburg has never met a religious community that takes seriously William Temple's words that the church "exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." Such communities, which we regularly ...

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Bad Preachers and the 'Hand of God'

Let's stop missing the point.

Hand of God, Amazon Original Pilot

I love the good ministers on TV and at the movies. But I think we’ve got to learn to watch bad ministers better, too.

Let me explain.

This is the third “pilot season” that Amazon.com has put together, which works this way: you can watch five pilot episodes of new series (three comedy, two drama), then vote to decide which one gets made into an Amazon Original series. There have been five Originals—three of which are for children—but this year’s offerings seem to be swinging for the fences. All five include are for adults (at times, aggressively so) and involve some well-known talent; two are also helmed by film veterans: Cosmopolitans, written and directed by Whit Stillman, and Hand of God, written by Burn Notice’s Ben Watkins and directed by Marc Forster (World War Z, Machine Gun Preacher, Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland).

You’ll probably like Cosmopolitans , set among a group of slightly self-important young expats in Paris, if you like Whit Stillman’s movies: Metropolitan, Barcelona, Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress. It’s a talky sardonic-but-affectionate light comedy of manners.

But Hand of God, as the title implies, is interested in matters of religion, particularly in how it affects the balance of power and violence in America. (Be aware that there’s some nudity, violence, lots of bad language, and some disturbing adult themes on the level of your average prestige cable drama.)

Pernell Harris, a corrupt judge—played by Ron Perlman who, either appropriately or ironically, also played Hellboy—is found naked in a fountain in the middle of town, speaking in tongues. They haul him ...

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20 Truths from The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper

Mike Cosper on the way story plays in to who God is and what Jesus has done.

1. Many Christians were raised to be suspicious of Hollywood entertainment, but all of the warnings seem to have done little to curb what people watch, except, perhaps, to add a patina of shame to any admission of viewing. (17)

2. Storytelling—be it literature, theater, opera, film, or re- ality TV—doesn’t aim at our rational mind,…It aims at the imagination, a much more mysterious and sneaky part of us, ruled by love, desire, and hope. When people, against their better judgment, find themselves hooked on a show, we can trace the line back to find the hook in their imagination. (19)

3. Story is a great gift from a great storytelling God. There is much joy to be had in enjoying that gift as it pops up in the world around us. (25)

4. Stories both entertain and educate, occupying the mind and forming it at the same time.(28)

5. The story told in the Bible encompasses past, present, and future. It tells a story that begins long before us and ends long after us, and it calls us to find our place in its pages. (29)

6. The overarching story of redemption history—the old, old story—can be told through the framework of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. God made the world, sin corrupted it, Jesus redeemed it, and one fine day, God will ultimately restore it. That’s the story of the Bible, start to finish. (37)

7. German astronomer Johannes Kepler once said that all of science was merely “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” The same can be said of the arts. (43)

8. The gospel of God’s kingdom reclaims every good gift as the property of the Creator. (44)

9. We have only one perfect hero, and his story hap- pens in the context of these other ...

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Life Together, Again

After Hobby Lobby, vibrant corporate life is needed more than ever.

If we lived in normal times, few would notice if the Supreme Court agreed that a group had the right to practice its religious views without government interference. The plaintiffs would sigh in relief, the chastised government agency would formulate new rules, and we'd all move on.

Obviously, we do not live in normal times. The farther we get from the Supreme Court's decision on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the less it feels like a victory for anyone. Instead, it reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.

One essential question in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was the extent to which a for-profit corporation can hold to a religious (in this case, Christian) identity. In her dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited approvingly the idea that for-profit groups "use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate a religious-values-based mission."

The words rather than are key. In Justice Ginsburg's view, it seems, corporations cannot serve—or at least the law cannot recognize that they serve—any god other than Mammon. She articulated an equally small view of nonprofits when she wrote that "religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith."

This may indeed describe the mission of some churches and synagogues. But tragically, it seems Justice Ginsburg has never met a religious community that takes seriously William Temple's words that the church "exists for the benefit of those who are not its members." Such communities, which we regularly ...

Continue reading...

Give Us This Day Our Daily Brew

The Christian ties to coffee culture.

As the worship band exists the stage on Sunday morning, the pastor steps up holding the usual sermon supplies: a leather-bound Bible, an iPad with notes, and a latte from the church coffee shop.

This was an ordinary scene at the hip church we used to attend in Houston, where a brown paper cup was the accessory of choice for the pastor and most congregants. We all lined up before the service to purchase our Monk’s Blend teas or vanilla lattes. “Worship is just better when I’m caffeinated,” I often heard people say.

The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte has its own Twitter account, where it is pictured wearing sunglasses and reading a book in a leafy autumn scene. If the personification of this favorite seasonal beverage isn’t a signpost of a coffee-fascinated culture, I’m not sure what is. Following the continued growth of Starbucks and independent shops over the past few decades, Christians — for good or ill—have likewise become enamored with coffee. All manner of congregations, from suburban megachurches to trendy young church plants to mainline churches, have established coffee ministries, built cafes into their facilities, or opened independent shops.

A recent report Louisville Public Media’s Gabe Bullard shows how Christians have actually shaped the popular coffee culture in the trendy, midsized city (also home to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). What this coverage shows is not cultural bifurcation, or the Christian tendency to mimic pop culture, but innovation and community building, one cup of coffee at a time. Christian baristas and coffee shop owners introduced pioneering practices that carried the city’s coffee scene along.

Public perception, ...

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Morning Roundup 9/2/14

Different Thoughts on Race; Faith and Politics; History in Maps

Behind Ferguson: How Black and White Christians Think Differently About RaceMorgan Lee

Excellent article from Morgan Lee (and, welcome, Morgan to the CT family).

I Increasingly Find Conflict Between My Faith and Some Conservative DiscourseEric Erickson

So helpful from well-known conservative commentator, Eric Erickson.

History in Maps—Philip Jenkins

I thought this was remarkably helpful in a simple way. You may also enjoy my interview with Jenkins here.

In this episode, Daniel Montgomery, founder and Lead Pastor of Sojourn Community Church, and I discuss New Calvinism and the challenges of constructive conversations. In this clip, we talk about the importance of humility. Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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Labor Day Roundup 2014

Since I am out today, engaging in neighborhood recreation on a day named for Labor, I still wanted you to have some reading on this day. And, I wanted it to be on the theme of work and labor.

And, for those of you who read the blog in Canada, Bothswana, and everywhere else, please forgive me for this day off and enjoy these summary posts.

First, these is a post I wrote on the sad decline of organized labor.

How Organized Labor Lost Its Way

Trevin Wax has some helpful facts on Labor Day.

7 Things You Don't Need to Know About Labor DayTrevin Wax

And, here are some quotes on work from Matt Perman.

20 Quotes from What's Best Next by Matt PermanMinistry Grid

And, don’t miss this video from J.D. Greear on work.

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Commentary: Desire and Deliverance

Three new documentaries examine Christian faith, homosexuality, and the question of change.

“You can choose to believe or not believe that my experiences are valid. That's OK. I just ask you to keep an open mind and consider that it might be possible that this is a genuine, authentic experience, and that it’s possible for more than just me.”

So says “Rilene” near the beginning of Desire of the Everlasting Hills, a new documentary about three Catholics who chose chastity after being in homosexual relationships (watch online here). She says these words as we see images of her carrying the communion bread and wine—an important image for the film, as “communion/community” is suggested as the root object of the desires indicated in the film’s title.

Rilene’s personal journey out of homosexuality is one thing; but the second part of her statement is most controversial: “that it’s possible for more than just me.” This comment is the furthest the film ventures in the “it’s possible for others too” direction. In an age where (particularly on issues of sexual identity) individual choices are fine insofar as they never suggest themselves as preferred models for others, Desire wisely opts to focus on three people sharing their unique-only-to-them journeys, without any statements of universality. And yet Desire—produced by Courage, Int., a Roman Catholic apostolate focused on ministry to same-sex attracted (SSA) individuals and their families—clearly wants the film to offer models of hope for Christians seeking to reconcile their sexual identity with the teachings of the church.

Each of us has a story and “whether or not this story is welcome, it deserves respect,” writes Fr. Paul N. Check, executive ...

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Where Are the Female Christian Rappers?

As more women top the charts, their Christian counterparts struggle to break through.

It’s hard for fully dressed female rappers to find an audience—particularly those who claim to follow Jesus. A small sorority in an already niche music market, these Christian performers are up against the economic pressures of the industry as well as the cultural expectations often heaped upon women of faith.

Take Houston native HillaryJane for example. Earlier this year, the 20-year-old, once-homeless singer, who began leading preteens in church choirs when she was only a few grades ahead of them, was elated after promoters wanted to add her to a multi-city Christian hip-hop tour. But the offer was rescinded because one of the record labels involved didn’t feel comfortable having her travel with their all-male roster.

The underlying concern: Late nights and close quarters with a mix of attractive, unattached young people might open the door to temptations for inappropriate romantic behavior from anyone involved. Or it could at least look like that was a possibility. (The same thought is probably why you’re unlikely to find a Christian college with co-ed dorms.)

While HillaryJane appreciated the protective concern being shown by her brothers in Christ, she admits the news was disappointing. After her debut EP reached the number 3 spot on the iTunes R&B/Soul sales chart in July, the tour could have been a career boon by introducing her to new, but already endearing, audiences of faith-based music fans. The extended time on the road would also offer a wealth of opportunities to network with other artists and provide a public co-sign from them. Such subtle endorsements from established performers are vital to up-and-coming hip-hop acts.

“I don’t know how V. Rose does it,” ...

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The Wrong Kind of Christian

I thought a winsome faith would win Christians a place at Vanderbilts 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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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 interpretative method 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 ...

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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 Gazas Christians View the Hamas-Israeli Conflict

Baptist pastor Hanna Massad speaks openly about what he sees happening as he helps to shelter Gazas 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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