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Our Beautiful, Broken Christian Ancestors

As a Southerner, I have to grapple with my forebears tainted legacy. As a believer, I have to do the same.

I am a seventh-generation Texan who has ancestors from all over the South. When I think of the South, I see my grandmother’s hands, gnarled with arthritis—hands that picked and shelled native pecans and mastered a rolling pin. I imagine my great-grandfather’s dusty feet as he walked from Arkansas to the Gulf Coast looking for cheap land, a kid leading a milk cow. I think of live oaks and tall pines, Jekyll Island and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, bourbon and fried okra.

I also think of my ancestors from Mississippi—small-scale cotton farmers who owned slaves. I think of the graveyard where my parents will be buried, where, according to local lore, slaveholders and slaves are buried side by side. I think of Jesse Washington, a teenager who in 1916 was lynched an hour from where I live. I think of segregation, Jim Crow, and redlining. This, also, is part of my culture and story, even part of me, my blood, and my kin.

Both the North and the South practiced racial injustice, but in the South the legacy is unavoidable. Nearly as soon as they are old enough for moral reasoning, white Southern kids face this complexity: those before us who have committed atrocities also gave us life. Their legacies of goodness and evil are entwined.

At the heart of the broad, longstanding debate about the Confederate Flag on US public grounds lies a deeper question: How do we respond to evil in our history?

In the face of centuries of systemic racism, some Southerners have responded with a sort of ancestor worship, an idolatry of the past that makes us apathetic and defensive. Loyalty to those before us is exalted over love for those around us.

Clarence Jordan, a scholar and ...

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70,000 Worshipers Dump TV for Church

Tech-savvy Oklahoma megachurch is now Life.Church.

One of the country’s largest evangelical churches is giving up on .tv.

Last year, lost its $185,000 bid to distribute .church, one of the newest domain names on the market.

This month, however, the Oklahoma-based multi-site megachurch, which draws 70,000 weekly attenders to its 24 campuses in 7 states, adopted that new domain and a new name to match anyway.

Their new site, now known as Life.Church, debuted last week. It’s one of 12,998 websites with the .church domain.

Bobby Gruenewald, Life.Church innovation pastor, is pleased with the change.

“We believe the transition to Life.Church creates the opportunity to share and talk about the church in a natural way,” he said in statement. “Plus, it’s a more effective way for people to find and identify us as a church, too.”

Life.Church wasn’t the only faith-based group vying for the right to distribute new domain names. Several other groups were more successful with their bids.

The Vatican controls .catholic, the American Bible Society owns .bible, and the Christian Broadcasting Network runs .cbn.

Donuts Inc., a for-profit company, owns .church.

“We were pretty bullish on .church because we know that there are many in the faith-based community that maybe weren’t able to get the name they wanted with legacy domains like .com or .org,” spokesman Mason Cole told CT.

Donuts Inc. currently has 183 domain extensions, including .email and .company.

Its most popular domain, .guru, is used by 66,000 sites.

Life.Church, one of the pioneers of multisite video teaching, is known for its innovative use of technology.

In 2007, Gruenewald created the popular YouVersion, a free Bible ...

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3 Ways Tesla Affects Your Church Metrics

Pastors, you can learn a lot from Tesla when it comes to evaluating your church's effectiveness.

When you think of Tesla, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

For most people, it’s electric cars, but what if I were to tell you that this was not going to be their greatest legacy? Yes, they did vastly expand the driving range of an electric vehicle from 73 miles (117 km) to 200 miles (320 km) on a single charge. Yes, they did reimagine the electric car and the way that it is powered. Yes, they did open up the black box on their technology patents so that other car manufacturers can benefit from and improve on their technology. However, since electric vehicles only account for one percent of the market, unless more people begin to buy electric vehicles, Tesla’s impact will be small, if not negligible. In addition, with the recent report that revealed Tesla loses more than $4000 on every Model S car that they sell, the future is looking dim for them.

Although Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, may want his company to be remembered for electric vehicle technology, he might actually be inadvertantly writing his legacy elsewhere. Even more than their advancement in battery technology, I believe that the greatest impact that Tesla will make in the automobile industry is from their dashboards. After all, while only one percent of customers might buy an electric car, one hundred percent of vehicles have dashboards. Have you ever seen the dashboard on a Tesla? It feels like a thing of the future. Not only have they gotten rid of all the manual dials and gauges and made them digital, but they have also reimagined what a dashboard could be. I wouldn’t be surprised if other car manufacturers quickly follow suit. Here are three ways that Tesla has reimagined the dashboard.

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Was the Samaritan Woman Really an Adulteress?

We know her as sexually immoral. Her community would have known otherwise.

Florence came to my house twice a week, selling vegetables. She carried on her back a bag weighing nearly 40 pounds. With its strap across her forehead and the load on her back, she hunched along dirt roads about two hours each way to the cluster of houses where my husband and I lived in Kijabe, Kenya. There, my husband helped start and served as the executive director of a children’s hospital, and I taught at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology.

One day, as Florence rested with me on my porch, we began to chat about her life. She told me her husband had died when her children were young. It was important that she remarry, she said, so her children could have a father figure. Her parents sought a suitable spouse, and the man they chose was her grandfather’s age. Florence smiled, confessing that at first she disliked the idea. But then she saw the wisdom of their choice. I later met him, a wonderful, wizened man—mostly blind and deaf, but dignified. Florence cared for her elderly husband, and the marriage gave her stability and self-respect.

As I listened to her, I began to think about the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4–42). And I saw parallels immediately, even as I recognized the distinct qualities of each culture. Florence’s experience with marriage seemed unusual to me, but her culture approached marriage in ways similar to the ancient world.

While in Kenya, I also learned that some couples didn’t have a wedding, but simply “set up house” together. They called each other husband and wife, had children together, and were seen by their community as married. They had no money for a wedding ceremony, and no government certificate establishing their ...

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Fear of Missing Out Isn't Just a Season

FOMO is real, and it takes on a new dimension at midlife.

We humans have always been prone to wonder: What if I’m left behind? What if I’m forgotten? What if I blew my only chance at success? Why is everyone else having such a great life?

Now we have an easy descriptor for this below-the-surface panic that shapes our behavior, thoughts, and prayers. It’s Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. Now in my 50s, I’m more inclined than in earlier years to experience the rear-view-mirror corollary, which I’ve dubbed Fear Of Having Missed Out (FOMHO).

We learn FOMO/FOHMO early. “But Mom, everyone else is going!” a fifth-grader wails after a parent says no to a mall trip. My mother’s stock response in these instances was usually, “If everyone else was jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you follow them?” The question was meant to warn us about blindly following the pack, yet I remember thinking to myself, I probably would. I can swim! Jumping seemed far less scary to me than being excluded.

Our fears of being left out can serve a purpose. According to psychologist Audrey Sanz, attentiveness to social dynamics is so essential to our survival that it is wired into our neurobiology. “Because being left out is considered that important an event for us to pay attention to and to respond to quickly, we actually have a part of our brain that is specialized for sensing if we are being left out,” she said. “Not having vital information or getting the impression that one is not a part of the ‘in’ group is enough for many individuals' amygdala to engage the stress/activation response or the ‘fight or flight’ response.”

Many of us come closest to the kind of adrenaline-fueled FOMO/FOHMO ...

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What We Can Learn from the NFLs Domestic Violence Problem

Like NFL wife Dorothy Newton, many victims of abuse suffer in silence.

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy returned to the field Sunday for the first time after his suspension for assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. Especially after the notorious Ray Rice footage last year, we’ve come to view domestic violence as a troubling shadow side to pro football.

Seven players have been arrested for domestic violence incidents since Rice’s scandal a year ago, despite the league’s efforts to improve policies. There are enough cases of domestic violence, assault, drunk driving, drug possession, and more that it was remarkable for recent news to proclaim September the first calendar month in six years without an NFL player arrest. (Then, they discovered a rookie player got caught speeding on the last day of the month.)

Most official cases of domestic abuse involving famous athletes make the news and get posted in public databases for all to see. But that’s far from the norm in this country. The vast majority of abuse incidents remain behind closed doors, secrets that victims are afraid to confess, discuss, or bring to authorities. Those who suffer at the hands of their partners have stories just as harrowing, but even their close friends might not know it.

One woman shrank away as she told me how her seminary-attending husband badgered, harmed, and threatened her. “He would never hurt the kids,” she said. But one night, she feared for them and herself, and she escaped.

Another spoke of the time her husband yanked the phone from the wall and chased her with a loaded gun. She fled, but didn’t know where to run. She found shelter in a nearby field, eventually securing rescue through a coworker.

Domestic abuse occurs when a person tries ...

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Monday is for Missiology: What is the Missional Church?-- a New Series

"Missional" has been used and abused for years. What does it mean and what does a missional church look like?

The Missional Church

What is a missional church? One would think the answer to this question is obvious. A church that practices missions, right? Or is it mission? It is not an easy task. Missiologists, ecclesiologists, theologians, pastors, and church leaders have been wrestling with this question for some time now.

Before we can answer the question “What is a missional church?” we must first tackle the thorny issue of just what it means to be “missional.” The word “missional” is used in such a variety of ways it is in danger of becoming meaningless. The term ends up being like an ecclesiological Rorschach test. More often than not, how people describe the “missional church” says more about themselves than what it says about a biblical portrait of the church.

Some have argued we should simply jettison the word “missional,” but I do not believe that is the best move. Instead, we should work hard to frame a definition. The term can serve as a guide for the church as it seeks to be a witness in its culture. As more churches and leaders engage in the missiological dialogue, defining the core terms of this conversation has become more important.

A few years ago, I collaborated with a group of missional thinkers including Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, Linda Berquist, J.D. Greear, and others in order to provide some parameters for how we used the word “missional.” We drafted a document, “Missional Manifesto.” (You can read the full text of the “Manifesto” online here.) The preamble of the “Missional Manifesto” explains our focus:

Redeeming the integrity of the word missional is especially critical. It is not our ...

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Just Try Something: A Dispatch from the New York Film Festival

When it comes to movies, it might be better to try and fail than to play it too safe.

One of the best and most exhausting things about being a film critic is the festivals. At some shorter festivals (like Sundance) you can see five or six movies a day, if your coffee is strong enough. But it’s over relatively quickly. At others, like the New York Film Festival—which just concluded its 53rd year—the screenings for press begin long before the festival opens. So by the time you get to the end you can barely remember the beginning, almost a month ago.

Whether it's a sprint or a marathon, though, the good thing with all those things bouncing and echoing off each other in your brain, you make discoveries about movies, and also about yourself.

I saw fourteen films at the New York Film Festival this year. But it was only this morning, as I walked out of my final screening and across the plaza at Lincoln Center, that I realized what I’d learned. It was this: the movies I kept thinking about tried something audacious and failed in some way.

It’s hard to find ways to restate the essence of the most common movie review I have to write: “It’s fine, I guess.” Marvel may be everyone’s favorite whipping boy these days, but that’s because they keep turning out passably watchable, increasingly forgettable films that we all keep seeing anyhow. In many corners of Hollywood, that’s the M.O.—figure out what people will pay to see and then just make a lot of it. It's an industry. There are bottom lines and profits to be considered. Romantic comedies did it for a long time, as did movie musicals, and action thrillers, and the genre I think of as “tangentially Christmasy movies,” and the faith-based film industry seems to have gotten ...

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Arguments for the Creator Point to Inconsistent Worldviews

Both Christians and non-Christians see evidence for a Creator. How does this belief affect our lives?

The Nagging Feeling of a Creator

As a Christian, I doubted my belief in God. This doubt was born of inexperience with the Christian community as well as inattentiveness to the life of the mind. I set out to answer my doubts and found that there were many arguments for belief in the existence of a Creator. One of the main arguments that brought me back around to belief was the argument from the Moral Law. According to a recent survey by LifeWay Research, I’m not alone. The majority of 1,000 people surveyed appear to believe that the existence of good and evil—from where we derive morality—points towards the existence of God, as the standard of goodness and as the moral lawgiver.

Beyond merely theorizing on the existence of good and evil, we live as if there are good and bad things to do in a day, even if we profess to deny the existence of good and evil. We strive to do what is good; at the very least, what we perceive is “good for us.” We humans have a nagging concept of goodness present in our lives, regardless of how we describe it. From where does such an idea come? For a majority of those surveyed by LifeWay Research, the idea of a standard of goodness derives from the nature of a perfectly good Creator, “who defines morality.”

For the non-religious, according to the survey, the existence of morality is a less convincing argument, with 53 percent disagreeing with the statement, “Since people have morality, I think there is a creator who defines morality.” While that statistic is no surprise, the surprising statistic is the 33 percent of the non-religious who agreed with this statement. From the statistic, without reading too far into the results of this general ...

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Leaving Patriarchy in the Past

Scripture affirms sweeping male authority, says John Stackhouse—just not for all time.

What are the proper, God-ordained roles for men and women—within the church, the family, the workplace, and broader society? In answering these questions, conservative evangelicals often identify as “complementarians” (men and women have distinct, complementary roles), while their counterparts call themselves “egalitarians” (men and women collaborate in fulfilling responsibilities given equally to both).

John G. Stackhouse Jr., the Canadian evangelical scholar and commentator, cuts across these familiar alignments in his new book. As a self-styled “conservative egalitarian,” he parts company with liberal feminists who reject Scripture for promoting a timeless patriarchy. But he also finds fault with evangelical egalitarians who reinterpret numerous passages to say something other than what the church has historically believed them to say.

In Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism (IVP Academic), Stackhouse acknowledges that various New Testament passages advance a sweepingly complementarian viewpoint. He maintains, however, that once a culture has left its patriarchal origins behind, these passages are no longer meant to be obeyed.

The book identifies a double tradition in Scripture regarding slavery and the status of women. In each case, there are passages that appear to bless the status quo, while other words and themes gesture in liberating directions. Stackhouse resolves the tension by viewing affirmations of the status quo as temporary—meant to be superseded, in time, by the larger message of liberty.

Stackhouse recognizes that most egalitarians will find his position too conservative. In mainstream Muslim cultures, for instance, he discourages ...

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