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The Case Against 'Radical' Christianity
Michael Horton's message to restless believers: Stay put, and build the church.
Sometimes you can tell quite a bit about a book from its cover. On the outside, Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan) looks a lot like David Platt’s bestseller Radical, and that’s no accident. Horton, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, a founding figure behind the White Horse Inn’s teaching ministry, and host of its radio show, aims to provide an alternative to trendy calls for radical living. He thinks such calls serve mainly to make ordinary Christians anxious about whether they’re really Christian enough, and pastors anxious about ensuring that their ministries are radically transformative.
Horton comes to their aid with a Reformational perspective that diagnoses such anxieties as the outgrowth of works righteousness. If we are justified by faith in Christ alone, then we need not be anxious to show how Spirit-filled we are by living extraordinary, radical lives. Having already received the promise of the Spirit in baptism—God’s promise, which we can trust he will keep—we are free to serve our neighbors with ordinary good works. We are freed from establishing our credentials before God or our own consciences. And we are even free, Horton states, to enjoy our neighbors as gifts rather than making them into our own projects, as if it was our job to transform their lives.
Horton argues that the underlying theology behind oft-heard calls to be wild and crazy radical believers—as if Christianity were an extreme sport—is works righteousness in a new, consumerist mode. For some time, radical has been a favorite word of advertisers and ideologues alike. Every website with something to sell now routinely promises ...
Powers in the Hood
It takes more than good intentions to do urban ministry—it requires spiritual armor.
Thanks for going to dinner after church Sunday night. I’m proud of you and your friends for moving into Mechanicsville and giving your lives to the people of that beautiful but broken neighborhood.
Throughout our dinner, however, I felt a vague uneasiness. You work for a great organization. You have a solid support network. You just completed a bachelor’s degree preparing you to work with at-risk youth. By all accounts, you are a woman of prayer and zeal and integrity. So what troubled me about our dinner conversation? I think it is this. I don’t believe the church has prepared you for something that inevitably comes with urban ministry: intense spiritual warfare.
Paul reminded first-century urban Christians, “We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Eph. 6:12). Bible scholars debate the meaning of Paul’s stark warning. At the very least he means this: There are dark spiritual powers in the world opposing God’s work. These dark powers seem especially active in troubled urban neighborhoods.
Paul offers seven ways to engage the powers in his letter to Christians living in the great ancient city of Ephesus:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, ...
The Bible Is More Than a 'Mystery'
Peter Enns makes the case that Scripture doesn't tell us everything. So does it tell us anything?
"The Bible isn’t a cookbook,” explains theologian Peter Enns in his latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. “When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey.”
Your response to those two sentences will probably determine your overall response to the book. If you’re sick of seeing the Bible as a legal, formulaic, contractual book of rules and recipes—if you prefer the idea of a complex, challenging story full of puzzles, paradoxes, and plot development—then you will probably love it. If you already know that the Bible isn’t a cookbook, wonder whether anyone really thinks it is, feel like you’ve heard dozens of writers making this point before, and roll your eyes involuntarily at phrases like “ancient spiritual journey,” then you probably won’t.
Personally, I find myself somewhat torn. I really like reading Peter Enns. He is creative, scholarly, witty, and at times hilarious. His writing is easy to understand, and he lays out his case clearly. And despite his troubled personal history with conservative evangelicalism, he critiques it without rancor. More important, although the overall message of the book—that the Bible isn’t a rulebook—is a somewhat overdone attack on a straw-man, his seven chapters each make important points evangelicals have often missed.
Those points, in brief: The Bible is, and functions like, an ancient book (chapter 1). God lets his children tell the story, and what they mean isn’t always what we assume it means (chapter 2). The Old Testament narrates different stories in different ways, with specific circumstances ...
My Top 5 Books for Political Leaders
Joshua Dubois, president Obama's former spiritual advisor, recommends readings for those in positions of authority.
As former head of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois was hailed by Time as “pastor-in-chief,” sending President Obama an e-mail every morning with a snippet of Scripture. CT asked DuBois—who recently compiled The President’s Devotional (HarperOne) and who now heads the Values Partnerships consulting firm—to choose the five books every political leader should read.
Bearing the Cross, by David J. Garrow
This biography of Martin Luther King Jr. is a must-read for anyone seeking to build, join, or marshal the forces of a movement. It shows King at his soaring heights and tragic depths, and reminds us that heroes are also flawed human beings. Garrow beautifully recounts King’s dialogue with God—stretching from quasi-agnosticism to genuine relationship with Christ. Bearing the Cross reads like a novel in its retelling of some of the most important decades in American history, and leaders should be able to apply its lessons over and over.
Tally’s Corner, by Elliot Liebow
We often see the poor as “other”—people who deserve help but are not really like us. Tally’s Corner, Liebow’s classic sociological study of men on a particular corner in Washington, D.C., brings us face to face with the working poor. Liebow provides a window into their world, showing that their values are well developed, albeit lived out in situations very different from our own. A great book for anyone interested in serving the poor.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
More than any other book, O’Brien’s short stories—told from the rivers and deltas of Vietnam—ground readers in the sacrifices ...
The Right Way to Think About Giving to the Poor
Theologian Gary Anderson shows how acts of charity embody faith in the goodness of God and his creation.
In Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition, University of Notre Dame theologian Gary A. Anderson challenges Protestants to take seriously the biblical commands—and promises—about giving to those in need.
Nineteenth-century evangelicals were noted for their devotion to the poor. (Wesleyan denominations such as the Free Methodist Church and the Salvation Army were born out of this passion). But when it came to the poor, 20th-century evangelicals needed a kick in the keister. Future CT editor Carl Henry did that with The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947). So did Evangelicals for Social Action founder Ron Sider with Cry Justice: The Bible on Hunger and Poverty (1980), an overwhelming 220-page compendium of Bible texts.
With their help we learned that the Bible does not ignore poverty, hunger, and the poor. But despite the reawakening of evangelical social justice consciousness in the past few decades, we still need help reading the texts with biblical eyes.
Anderson's book offers a glimpse of what giving to the poor meant to Jews in the centuries before Jesus' birth. It doesn't provide the comprehensive survey that its subtitle might suggest, but it does plow a new furrow that will be helpful both to those who are called to preach about giving to the poor and to those who are called to give (all of us).
'He Who Is Kind to the Poor'
Anderson's new furrow begins in a field unfamiliar to most evangelicals. He examines the way intertestamental Jewish writers applied the message of Proverbs 19:17: "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord and will be repaid in full." During the Second Temple period, writers such as Ben Sira equate giving ...
Faith...from the hyphenated point of view
One might ask what I am doing here, a young Korean-American pastor blogging alongside such well-respected figures as Ed Stetzer and Amy Julia Becker. I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s some kind of mistake. It has something to do with an article I wrote last year for Christianity Today, which was one of the twenty most read articles for that year – number 12 to be exact, ahead of an interview with Billy Graham, but behind an article about Tim Tebow, which is in itself a sad commentary on the state of things. CT editor Mark Galli must have read my piece and assumed that I could write like that all the time, and I didn’t have the heart to tell the poor guy the truth.
Oh well, he’ll realize his mistake soon enough.
All joking aside, I am deeply honored and humbled by this opportunity, and want to use this inaugural post to describe what you might find in this blog. You will often find posts on fatherhood and my life as a pastor, as well as discussions on race and diversity, and the incredibly messy intersection between all of these issues.
But what is more central to this blog is not so much what I write about as the perspective from which I do so. This blog is named “Third Culture”, a term used by sociologists to describe individuals who don’t fit neatly into one cultural category or another, be it ethnically, racially, or culturally. For those kinds of people, they forge for themselves a third culture, a kind of fluid identity which is a fusion of diverse influences and perspectives.
“Third culture” describes my own upbringing and point of view quite well. I am a child of Korean immigrants, and yet cannot speak Korean myself, and last visited that country ...
Interview: Working For Justice Will Make You Uncomfortable
Eugene Cho wonders whether we're willing to go beyond paying lip service to social change.
Eugene Cho, founder of Seattle’s Quest Church and the One Day’s Wages antipoverty nonprofit, is known for his zeal for justice. Yet he’s deeply doubted the sincerity of his and his generation’s commitment—doubts best expressed in the title of his debut book, Overrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? (David C. Cook). Bethany Hoang, founding director of International Justice Mission’s Institute for Biblical Justice, spoke with Cho about rooting our pursuit of justice in the gospel.
What prompted you to write this book?
I went to a basketball game a couple years ago, and the crowd was screaming, “Overrated! Overrated!” at the other team. It’s not that I’ve heard people scream that when I’m preaching, but the possibility of being “overrated” myself is something I’ve sensed throughout my life.
For example, I’ve been speaking, writing, blogging, and preaching about justice. It’s easy to fall in love with the idea. But something gets lost in the actual practice and application. When I started sensing this, I personally felt exposed and began to see the problem in the larger church.
This book began for me when I went to Burma on a research trip. I had thought I would come home with a conviction to write a sermon, maybe a blog post. But instead I sensed the Holy Spirit convicting me to give up a year’s worth of pay.
The conviction was really uncomfortable. It took about three years to come to terms with it, simply because I like stuff. I like money. I like being able to provide for my family. Eventually I came to realize that I really am more in love with the idea ...
Lazy Cultural Engagement
Can we stop proof-texting culture?
I read a good little post at Mockingbird today, and it reminded me why it’s so hard to write about culture as a Christian, for a Christian audience.
In the reflection, Will McDavid wrote that “cultural engagement”—a term I, too, have come to dread—is a poor substitute for the sort of cultural isolation that evangelicals and other Christians embraced in the twentieth century, and have just begun to claw their way out of in the relatively recent past.
But as McDavid points out, our “re-engagement” with culture has sometimes amounted to, well, talking about talking about culture. Things get much trickier when we actually pull out the actual cultural artifacts: it’s one thing to talk about watching movies, and a whole different, more complex thing to try to talk about specific movies (Noah, say, or Before Midnight, or Her, or Free Birds, or Wolf of Wall Street).
I think that’s because we tend to treat actual cultural artifacts in the way we sometimes treat the Bible: as “proof texts” from which we can draw principles or truths for application. Though we love the Bible, we evangelicals in particular have often treated verses as if they stand alone, forgetting that the story in which they appear speaks just as much as the verses themselves. Form speaks, as well as content.
Similarly, Christian critics can lean (lazily) into the idea that products of culture mainly exist as object lessons to be turned into “truths” when we talk about them and figure out how they do or don’t line up with our beliefs. McDavid puts it this way:
Culture, even in its currently “secular” period, does a good job of listening to the voices which ...
On Being An Angry ______ Person
For minorities, there is a big difference between having an anger problem and having a problem that makes you angry.
There was an effort recently to ban the word "bossy", spearheaded by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg. The reasoning behind this is that when “bossy” is used to describe women (as it almost always is), it discourages them from speaking up for fear of being saddled with that derisive term. I had never considered that before, and wondered if there are other words that can have the same effect - adjectives that have specific connotations when employed towards specific people. And I came up with at least one more example, a term which I have heard on a few occasions: angry. People of color and other minorities who are vocal about issues of race and justice are often called angry - “angry asian man”, “angry black guy", “angry feminist lady”, etc.
This might not seem like a big deal because some of these people are indeed angry in a purely objective sense. But the use of this word in this context often carries an additional connotation, that this person's anger is not appropriate or justified. That is what people really mean when they talk about an “angry _____ person” - they are saying, “unnecessarily and excessively angry _____ person.” Intentionally or not, the use of that word implies abnormality, an anger that is pathological in nature, as if a product of genetics, rather than context.
You can see this dynamic at work in nearly every racially charged controversy in American culture, from the riots in Ferguson to debates on football mascots, where people are quick to dismiss the concerns of minorities as nothing more than political correctness run amok. In this way, minorities are often portrayed as having an anger problem, rather ...
What Kind of Sinful Are You?
A spiritual personality test, the Enneagram takes an honest look at our weaknesses.
The first time I read it, I was convinced someone had been following me around. If I kept a journal, I would have been sure they were reading it. As it was, I was certain someone had opened a door inside my mind, walked into the darkest places, and written it all down in this book.
The book was Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert’s The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. (It’s pronounced any-a-gram.) I had been flipping through it, but quickly realized this wasn’t a book to flip through. Intrigued and scared, I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
The Enneagram is an ancient personality typology, understanding people through the lens of their passions and their temptations. The fear came from a desire to turn a blind eye to the worst parts of me. I was pretty familiar with the Myers-Briggs test at that point, and appreciated learning about my type and how I interacted with others. I knew the color of my parachute, had found my strengths, and figured out who moved my cheese. In other words, I was conversant in personality types and leadership literature. But self-awareness, I was learning, only goes so far when you just celebrate your strengths.
At the recommendation of a friend, I took the Enneagram online assessment, which categorizes each person as a number, one through nine. I was a three. It sounded like a nice number—number of persons in the Trinity, number of gifts from the wise men, the number of things that should be in a list. There’s even a Latin saying—omne trium perfectum—that means “everything that comes in threes is perfect.”
Turns out, the Latins never heard of the Enneagram.
If it sounds a little mystical at first, that’s because the roots ...
How to Talk to Parents of Children With Down Syndrome
I am much more inclined to tell the whole truth when you assume she is someone to celebrate.
When people discover that I have a child with Down syndrome, I often receive a murmur and a sympathetic nod of the head. I almost immediately feel something tighten inside my chest, as if I am steeling myself for a fight my opponent doesn’t even know they’ve initiated. Most of the time, that person talking with me is trying their best. Unless they have a family member or friend with Down syndrome, their impressions of our family life come from vague or stereotypical media portrayals. I know my own reaction when we found out, two hours after Penny was born, that her body contained a third copy of chromosome 21. Fear, anger, guilt, sadness. That’s what I felt, and that’s what many people expect when they talk to me about Penny.
But when I talk about Penny with a new person, I want to share the same types of things I would share about any of my kids. I want to share the joy of being her mom, the funny things she says, her love of music even though she sings off-key, her goal for the year of doing a handstand, her precocious reading ability, her Gumby-like body that allows her to flop into poses I could never imagine for myself.
It’s not that there’s nothing difficult about having a child with Down syndrome. It’s just that starting with the hardship betrays her, as if difficulty marks my life as a parent instead of love or joy.
We do go to the doctor more with Penny—regular visits to the orthodontist, ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist, physiatrist and I’m supposed to check in with the cardiologist sometime soon. Penny works with a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, and a special education teacher at school. Her low-muscle tone brings ...
From Midriffs to Social Media: Parenting Teen Girls in the 21st Century
Dont let the topic fool you. Enough is full of substance and wisdom.
Kate Conner likes making lists. The author of Enough—a book I truly enjoyed despite my initial, low-slung expectations—uses lists throughout her work. Her new book’s subtitle, for example, is: 10 Things We Should Be Telling Teenage Girls. And the lists don’t stop there.
To celebrate her 29th birthday, she listed of 29 kind acts she plans to do before 30. On her blog, she uses a pair of clever bulleted lists to explain why she used to hate women’s ministry—and why she no longer does.
So, to honor her penchant for list making, I’d like to respond to Enough by means of two numbered lists. First, may I present:
The Five Reasons I Thought I Wouldn’t Like Enough
1. Conner is mother to exactly zero teenagers herself; I am mother to three (almost four).
Imagine me sitting up a little straighter here, noting with authority that I am the mother of four children, three of whom are teenagers. My daughters are 12 and 14. After dropping those particular bombshells, I’ll point out that I’ve written two fairly well-received books on family life and worked as parenting columnist for one of the nation’s top newspapers.
So… you think you can school me about raising teenagers?
2. I am deeply wary about Christian books in general.
Although several of my favorite and most esteemed friends write Christian books and shatter this notion on a regular basis (and I’ve written what I hope are good books for people of faith myself), I often assume that most of these sorts of titles will be predictable, humorless, and—to employ the “spell-it-out rather than offend” method of delivering unwelcome news—not very S-M-A-R-T.
Deconversion: Some Thoughts on Bart Campolos Departure from Christianity
Bart Campolo's departure from Christianitysome reflections about faith and (our) families.
Recently, I was reading some information on the American Humanist Association related to the controversy surrounding their leading poll on The Pledge of Allegiance. Somewhere in that reading, I came across the name “Bart Campolo.”
If the name sounds familiar to you, it should. His father, Tony Campolo is a prominent progressive evangelical. The last I knew, Bart had followed his dad and was preaching and practicing a left-leaning, though evangelical faith.
But after I Googled his name, I found he didn’t seem to be a part of any Christian ministry, despite having helped found several. He has not blogged at Sojourners in over three years. His personal website is gone. Mission Year, which he helped to start, references him as a co-founder, but he is nowhere among those listed as currently serving with the ministry.
Bart Campolo Now a Humanist Chaplain
While his Wikipedia page only mentions his involvement in Christian causes, I knew I had read about a secular connection. But, just a few clicks down I saw he is the Humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California and a speaker for the Secular Student Alliance (SSA).
On the USC web page, it explains:
Perhaps this is well known in progressive circles, but it was news to me. It was particularly disappointing to me since ...
T. D. Jakes Threatens To Sue Rappers for Sampling His Sermon
Megachurch pastor's unauthorized appearance in Jeezys 'Holy Ghost' remix is latest debate over intellectual property rights of pastors.
A new remix from rappers Jeezy and Kendrick Lamar opens with another voice: the familiar preaching cadence of megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes.
Jakes’s Dallas-based ministry announced last week they will go after the song’s creators for using the sermon excerpt without permission:
The song comes from Jeezy’s album Seen It All: The Autobiography, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts earlier this month.
Despite the title, “Holy Ghost” includes explicit language and references to drug dealing, criminal activity, and betrayal. The song’s hook begins, “Please Lord forgive him, you know he got that thug in him.” Jeezy performed the original song (without Jakes' audio) on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week.
Rap music has a long tradition of sampling from other artists, which has led to lawsuits over copyright infringement.
The 20-second excerpt from Jakes comes from a 2013 message, where he says, “To tell myself, I’m still on fire. I’m under attack, but I’m still on fire. I got some chatter, but I’m still on fire. I got some threat, but I’m still on fire. I got some liabilities, but I’m still on fire. If it’s not amazing that I’m on fire. I’ve been to hell and back, but I’m still on fire.”
"Generally speaking, it is 'fair use,' in the context of a song, to copy elements of ...
Christine Caine, Liberty University to Launch Lean In-Type Program for Christian Women
Propel calls on the church to equip and validate working women.
Christine Caine, the speaker, author, and activist out of Australia’s Hillsong Church, announced last week that she will begin a training program featuring inspirational videos, industry-specific articles, mentorship pipelines, and urban events to encourage Christian women leaders in the marketplace.
“Christian women are on the frontlines with no one supporting them,” she said in an interview with CT. “We’ve got a church that’s already in the world. What are we going to do about it?”
Head of the anti–human trafficking organization A21, Caine discovered Christian women around the globe leading in various business sectors, but at the Christian conferences she headlined, she found that these working women sensed something missing from the training—a giant “gap” in women’s ministry.
A majority of women of faith work outside the home, forcing them to grapple with the now much-talked-about challenges of balancing work and family, duty and calling.
“The openness to speak about women and work changed dramatically after Lean In came out in 2012,” said Diane Paddison, founder and president of 4Word, which provides resources for professional Christian women. “It is wonderful to see another effort. If we work together around this movement, the result will be eternally amazing.”
Caine described Propel as addressing the challenges brought up by Lean In, with the kinds of stirring videos presented by TED Talks, done in a way that’s ...