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I Found the Gospel in Communist Romania
And then I shared it with the man the government sent to kill me.
Like most people, I was born with a hunger for truth and freedom. Unfortunately, I was born in Communist Romania under the brutal totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu’s Romania was a land of lies, where simply questioning a government directive could lead to imprisonment, physical torture, and—in some cases—death.
Needless to say, we lived in a constant state of anxiety and mistrust. Anyone could arbitrarily denounce a neighbor, classmate, or family member for making “anti-government” statements. The government even had spies planted in the churches. The best way to avoid trouble was to remain silent, question nothing, and try to blend in.
For years, I watched my parents and relatives play the part of “good citizens” while privately whispering their contempt for the government. I wondered, Why do people always speak in whispers? Why are they so afraid to speak the truth?
‘Do you go to church?’
The more fear battered those around me into silence, the more obsessed I became with finding the truth. After graduation, I went to law school and became an attorney. But my job—assigned by the government—consisted of little more than rubber-stamping newly-created communist rules and regulations. It was demoralizing.
One evening a client came in to discuss some paperwork related to a property settlement. We had been meeting for months now, and frankly, I was exhausted. But this particular client never seemed to get discouraged. He always smiled, and he had a sense of contentment unlike anything I had ever seen. It was as though he were somehow oblivious to all of the misery that surrounded him. He radiated joy and peace, and for some reason, it troubled me.
C. Peter Wagner (1930-2016), Some Thoughts on His Life and Passing
Missiologist, missionary, writer, teacher, and Church Growth specialist
I was sad to hear Peter Wagner died yesterday. He was always a fascinating and brilliant man... and he loved the Church.
Who is Peter Wagner?
For those of you who don’t know who he was, I first knew him as a professor at the School of World Missions at Fuller Seminary. His Wikipedia article has more.
I remember when I first met him. He was lecturing at the Billy Graham School at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. If I recall correctly, he said that Thom Rainer and the Billy Graham School now had the “mantle” of the Church Growth Movement. (Peter was a key leader, if not THE key leader, in the Church Growth Movement before he moved on to other emphases.)
We started corresponding after that meeting. He once sent me a long email, walking through a book I wrote few years before his email, and being so encouraging. He contrasted my thoughts with his own (and others), always encouraging, and making me think. And it came out of the blue on a book I published many years earlier.
The Lives of Peter Wagner
I mostly knew him as a Missiologist and an academic. And yes, he (and Donald McGarvan) partly inspired me that a missiologist needs odd facial hair (true story).
Peter would later change his views and focus on things other than missiology and the Church Growth Movement and, yes, we disagreed. Interestingly, the book I co-wrote on spiritual warfare is, in some ways, a very different view than his and a response to some of the ideas he helped popularize.
But he was always a kind man and a friend.
For example, when I wrote a critique of some of his views, he reached out and said he was thankful for my interaction. Even when you disagreed (and we did), he was kind and open to different views.
Which Peter Wagner?
If you ...
Why I Forgave the Man I Once Plotted to Kill
Revenge fantasies were darkening my heart before I trusted in Jesus.
We had heard the distant gunshots for a few weeks. But that morning they were close and seemed to ring out with purpose. I looked to my older brother and the other adults for reassurance. Their eyes were full of anguish and frustration. All we could do was wait.
The “freedom fighters” arrived. By mid-morning we were all lying face down in the house, listening as bullets whizzed through the air. Between bursts of gunfire, our typically bustling neighborhood was eerily silent. In the lull we could hear voices shouting instructions. If they found out my name, they would kill me.
Fantasies of Food
I was born in Liberia, West Africa, where my father served in the Special Security Service of President Samuel Doe (no relation), who had come to power through a violent military coup ten years earlier. His regime suppressed political opposition and rigged elections to stay in power. The “freedom fighters” had come to remove him, starting a war and killing anyone who worked in Doe’s government and anyone from his tribe. This was the situation in Liberia in August 1990. While the world was focused on Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, millions of Liberians were in the middle of a bloodbath.
I was 11. A year earlier I had lost my mother to illness. Now my father’s life was in danger. A few weeks before the rebel soldiers arrived, he had instructed me to go live with my brother, Roosevelt, and his wife. Bewildered and filled with questions, I packed a small bag with a few sets of clothes.
We lived behind rebel lines for three months, the hardest season of my life. The rebels were ruthless, murdering innocent people on the barest of suspicions.
While we hid, we ate one small meal a day, mostly ...
The Bible Never Says All Men Are Created Equal
How the New Testament offers a better, higher calling than the Declaration of Independence.
An Anglican man rang me out of the blue the other day to ask if the New Testament teaches “equality.” “Not really,” I replied. “The New Testament mentions equality once or twice, but when it comes to social relationships, it is far more interested in concepts like oneness, commonness, partnership, union, and joint-inheritance. If you make all those passages about equality, you flatten their meaning. And in any case, it’s become a blunderbuss word that means everything and nothing.”
Considering the history of the past 50 years, let alone the last 2,000, it might seem unwise to dismiss “equality” so casually. Thankfully, the New Testament presents a better, higher vision.
Two New Testament texts explicitly mention isots, the Greek word for equality, proportionality, or fairness. In 2 Corinthians 8:13–14, Paul urges the church in Corinth to give generously to the Jerusalem church, “that there might be equality.” And in Colossians 4:1, he tells masters to grant their slaves “what is right and fair.”
Most of the famous “equality” passages use quite different language. Galatians 3:28 doesn’t say that there is no Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female because we are all equal, but because we “are all one in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 3:11 doesn’t talk about equality between barbarians and Scythians, but rather asserts that “Christ is all, and is in all.” Ephesians 3:6 doesn’t say that Gentiles are now equal with Jews, but rather that we are now “heirs together.” Ephesians 6:9 doesn’t talk about equality between slaves and masters, but rather that both have the same Master ...
Paul Doesnt Care Whether You Like Him
An excerpt from 'Paul Behaving Badly.'
There’s no way around it. Paul thought he was special. In his defense, Christ did knock him off a horse with a blinding light and an audible word from heaven. Peter saw Christ transfigured, but Paul also saw the glorified Christ. This put Paul in an elite category.
The remarkable thing, really, is how maturely Paul handled his status. Yes, he boasted of his apostleship, but he did so defending his gospel, not his pride. It was essential that the Gentiles he ministered to trusted his pedigree, because the gospel was their only hope and he was the only person preaching it to them. Before they met Paul, the Gentiles were spiritual orphans. They were trapped in a fruitless way of life, far from God and wandering further. Paul understood that “in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15), and he took that role of spiritual father seriously. That’s why he urged the Corinthians to “imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16). They couldn’t read a gospel; those hadn’t been written yet. The only way they could see Jesus was to look at Paul.
Today, Paul is often critiqued for paternalism, an unattractive quality in a culture increasingly sensitive to privileged and overbearing (white) men telling everyone else how they ought to behave. Although to us, Paul may sound paternalistic—authoritative and bossy—his audience would have heard him as paternal—offering the instruction and guidance of a loving father. Paul really and truly considered his converts his spiritual children. His frustration with the “Judaizers” wasn’t simply a theological debate. Like any good parent, Paul was angry at those he viewed as a threat to the spiritual health of his ...
Interview: Evangelism, Without the Weird Aftertaste
How to share the gospel without making other people—or ourselves—so uncomfortable.
Mark Teasdale began life in a “maverick” United Methodist church that emphasized evangelism more than most mainline brethren. When he grew up and moved away, he was shocked to find that many fellow Methodists thought of verbally sharing their faith as a foreign experience. Now, as a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (a Methodist school on the campus of Northwestern University), Teasdale teaches a required evangelism course to students who are often wary, if not opposed outright, to the very idea that evangelism is valuable. Pastor and author Joshua Ryan Butler spoke with Teasdale about his book Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically (IVP Academic).
What are some key stereotypes about evangelism that make some Christians uncomfortable sharing their faith?
Stephen Gunter, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, likes to joke that “for most Methodists, evangelism is that which we did not like having done unto us, which we feel obliged to do unto others.”
I start all my classes asking, “What was your worst experience with evangelism?” I’ve never had anyone say, “It’s always been great!” The negative experience has almost always been somebody preaching at them with a set of propositions, causing an awkward situation where they have to accept or reject the message. We give the impression that evangelism is only about verbal proclamation in monologue form.
You write that evangelism “trades in stories more than propositions.” What do you mean?
I’m not against truth propositions. But stories are important for a couple reasons. First, Christian faith is a story: the work of God through creation, the fall of humanity, ...
Does Protestantism Need to Die?
Or to recover its riches? Two Protestant luminaries look at the legacy of the Reformation, 500 years later.
Now and then, Protestants are stirred to ask whether the Reformation might be bad for the church and the world. Five centuries downstream from 1517, old objections come with the burden of knowing where things occasionally went wrong.
As Reformation heirs prepare to celebrate our 500th anniversary, we do so with a remarkable capacity for self-criticism. At its worst, Protestant self-critique can be a tiresome self-flagellation, a dreary round of virtue-signaling and posturing over the sins of others. But at its best, it can be a time for soul-searching, a source of insight, and a promise of revival.
Two new books show the range covered by the best Protestant self-critique. Peter Leithart’s The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos) and Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Brazos) come to the task from very different angles. Vanhoozer comes to the conversation from a deep dive into the depths of the gospel. Leithart comes back to it from the future.
The End of Protestantism is the long-awaited expansion of the provocative shorter remarks Leithart has made in this vein over the past few years. He hasn’t exactly softened his tone. Here, he announces, “Jesus bids Protestantism to come and die.” But there is more: “He calls us to exhibit the unity that the Father has with the Son in the Spirit.” That is, “we are called by our crucified Lord to die to what we are now so that we may become what we will be.” What draws all of Leithart’s arguments forward is essentially a syllogism: Jesus prays for the church’s unity, and Jesus will get what he prays ...
Incredible Indian Christianity: A Special Report on the Worlds Most Vibrant Christward Movement
Why its the best and worst of times for Indias burgeoning churches.
The world’s most unexpected megachurch pastor might be an illiterate, barefoot father of five.
Bhagwana Lal grows maize and raises goats on a hilltop in Rajasthan, India’s largest state, famous for its supply of marble that graces the Taj Mahal. He belongs to the tribals: the cultural group below the Dalits, whose members are literally outcasts from India’s caste system (and often called “thumb signers” because of how they vote).
Yet every Sunday, his one-room church, with cheerful blue windows and ceiling fans barely six feet off the ground, pulls in 2,000 people. His indigenous congregation draws from local farmers, whose families’ members take turns attending so that someone is tending the family’s animals. The cracks in the church’s white outer walls are a source of pride: They mark the three times the building has been expanded.
Thousands of colorful flags stream down the sanctuary along the blue beams that support the corrugated metal roof. Their rustling approaches a roar.
When asked the reason for the flags, Lal responds, “For joy!” laughing heartily. The decorations are normally used at weddings. “The same feeling should be inside the church. People should feel this is God’s place.”
Yet consider a contrasting megachurch in southern India. A taxi drives under the shadow of Hyderabad’s four-story elevated train, whose massive support beams are marked with alternating colorful gods and goddesses. The roadside, lined with movie posters and squatter tents, gives way to clusters of large stone elephant-headed gods waiting to be painted with customary bright colors. The taxi turns into a dense traffic jam: a mile-long jumble of buses, motorcycles, ...
Gleanings: November 2016
Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our November issue).
Our Favorite Heresies
LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries have once again examined the theological awareness, or lack thereof, of American evangelicals. This time, instead of defining “evangelical” by whether participants identify as such, they used a four-part definition endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals. Below are the 12 areas where believers have most gone astray in their theology:
Note: Evangelicals are defined as those who strongly agree that the Bible is the highest authority; evangelism is very important; sin can only be removed by Jesus’ death; and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior.
China has planned a number of new restrictions on religious activity this fall. The Communist government’s rising red tape includes prohibitions on online religious services, religious events in schools, and organizing people to leave the country to attend religious training or conferences. In addition, religious groups will no longer be allowed to make certain financial investments; foreign donations will be more tightly monitored; and churches operating unofficially could be charged with financial fraud and evading taxes. The rules are part of revisions to China’s 2005 Regulations on Religious Affairs. The stricter regulations open with the assurance that all Chinese citizens are free to believe whatever they want and to engage in religious activity—as long as it’s within the tighter limits.
The publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible has reversed its controversial decision to make the text “unchanged forever, in perpetuity.” The ...
Let My People Build
After 160 years of suppression, Egypt makes room for new churches.
“Long live the crescent and the cross!” shouted Egypt’s parliament in joy. All 39 Christian members joined the two-thirds majority to vote to end a 160-year practice instituted by the Ottomans requiring Christians to get permission from the country’s leader before building churches. The long-awaited reform was promised by the 2014 constitution after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.
The new law shifts authority into the hands of the governor, who must issue a decision within four months of an application and give detailed reasons for refusals. The law also established a process to retroactively license hundreds of churches erected without a presidential permit.
“It is a good step,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, who helped negotiate the draft law with government officials. “If we wanted an agreement to include everything and please everyone, it would have taken 100 years.
“This is the best we can get right now.”
But even as they celebrated, Christians debated if they failed to fully seize a unique opportunity to pursue equal citizenship. Some wanted a unified law for both churches and mosques. Others noted the presence of loopholes that may impede church construction. For example, the “need” for a new church is tied to population growth. And local officials or police may be able to encumber the process if Muslims object.
“The law is a legalized perpetuation of the status quo,” said Ishak Ibrahim, religion officer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). “It does not address the roots of sectarian tension and shows [that] the state prefers adherents of one religion over ...
Why Africa Needed Its Own Study Bible
And why Americans might want one too.
If you ever get invited to a wedding on a Friday night in Morocco, the invitation will say the ceremony starts “the evening of Saturday.” North Africans consider each day to begin the evening before nightfall—just the way Genesis describes each day of the world’s first week: “And there was evening, and there was morning. . . .”
This small connection between Scripture and one of Africa’s myriad cultures appears at the beginning of the Africa Study Bible (ASB), set to launch in February 2017. The first study Bible written by African scholars for an African context, it’s also attracting Western readers.
Using the New Living Translation, the ASB includes explanations of unfamiliar words, African proverbs, and ways to apply Scripture to life in Africa.
“A lot of the analogies and cultural phrases in American study Bibles don’t relate fully to many of the issues a lot of Africans are going through—like civil war, polygamy, and the worship of idols,” said Natalie Cameron, spokesperson at Oasis International, which helped to develop the ASB. Conversely, some Bible stories resonate especially well, such as those of the Israelite tribes, given that many Africans are deeply connected to their own tribes.
Just as Westerners generally spend more time in the New Testament, African Christians can over-relate to the Old Testament, said Priscilla Adoyo, a lecturer at Africa International University who worked on the ASB.
“Sacrifices, blessings and curses, family and other relational practices, drought and famine are all familiar ground to the African,” she said. “Unfortunately, some have embraced the Old Testament teachings and picked and chosen what is ...