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Interview: Getting New Yorkers to Hear the Word
How Bethany Jenkins's daily devotionals kickstart common-good Christianity in NYC.
"Bad books always lie," says Bethany Jenkins, quoting the novelist Walker Percy. The quote continues: "They lie most of all about the human condition."
But Jenkins is convinced that Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling do not.
Jenkins and I are walking toward a bench in Central Park in New York City, where the best and worst of the human condition is amplified by 8.34 million residents.
"Where comedians fall into place is that they are so honest about the human condition," says Jenkins, a 30-something resident of NYC for ten years, who says the two comediennes are "like friends." She says, "My generation . . . [doesn't] have much interest in authority. The Four Spiritual Laws, used during my parents' generation to contextualize the gospel, just isn't going to [resonate] for my generation. It's going to be the lived-out lifestyle of the Christian person that will be our biggest example of faith."
After a career on the New York Stock Exchange, the State Department, and Capitol Hill, Jenkins founded the Park Forum to "promote Bible engagement in the urban church on a daily basis." A member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where she is mentored by Kathy Keller, Jenkins and the Park Forum provide daily devotionals and small-group curricula for Christian urban professionals seeking the common good throughout the five boroughs. "As the Park is to the City, so the Word is to Life—we can rest, run, and play in the Word," says Jenkins. The Park Forum blog, "843 Acres," has about 2,200 email subscribers, but many of them don't know Jenkins's name. Yet she has a strong network of friends and fans, as well as a dedicated board ...
Stop Blaming 'The Culture' for Our Distorted View of God
David Wells misses the deeper problem with modern-day spirituality
David F. Wells has written his book again. Indeed, reading a new book by Wells is something like my experience of reading new books by Anne Lamott. About 15 pages in, I find myself asking: Isn't this the same book, again?
Readers who pick up Wells's latest, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway), will find themselves covering the same ground he's covered since No Place for Truth (1993).
Wells—a historical and systematic theologian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—has a fairly simple "big idea": a tale of loss and recovery. Culture has corrupted the church, and renewal means returning to a set of views we have lost. The argument is couched in potted histories that paint thinly with broad brushes, highlighting how the church has been corrupted by modernity and, especially, postmodernity. For Wells, the word is shorthand for everything-wrong-with-the-world.
The genre is pitched somewhere between jeremiad and rant, with predictable protests, retreaded clichés, and lots of complaints about the 1960s. It's like how I would expect a theological grandfather to harrumph about "kids these days." It will convince no one who doesn't already agree.
Because we've listened to the culture rather than Scripture, we've been suckered into a therapeutic rather than a moral view of God: God is reduced to a Therapist and Concierge. Even many conservative evangelicals effectively worship the god of Oprah. On this point, Wells's diagnosis is helpful.
But what's the antidote? As in his previous books, God in the Whirlwind outlines the "view" that needs to be recovered. This view has two countercultural ...
A Nelson Mandela Inspired Fantasy
What if evangelical leaders were to imitate the great South African—Yikes!
In pondering the words and life of Nelson Mandela this morning, a strange thought experiment filled my imagination. I quickly dismissed it as impossible, but then realized the Mandela moment that inspirited the thought experiment was also considered impossible in its day. So maybe, just maybe …
The event took place in 1995. Mandela had been president of South Africa for about a year, and he had been working for national reconciliation, but with half a century of brutal apartheid fresh in everyone's memory, it was slow going, as one can well imagine. But the Rugby World Cup would give Mandela an opportunity to put his money where his mouth was.
This was the first World Cup that South Africa had been allowed to participate in since the end of apartheid—a boycott that Mandela himself had helped orchestrate. But the occasion was a mixed blessing, to say the least, for black South Africans. Rugby was considered the sport of Afrikaners, the despised oppressors, and the national team, the Springboks—and especially their green and gold jerseys—were the symbol of that hated and bloody era. Whenever the Springboks played at home, the blacks who would come to watch were confined to a restricted area, and they always rooted for the opposing team.
Ironies abounded now, since the World Cup was hosted in South Africa, and further, when the dust had cleared from all the preliminary matches, only the All Blacks from New Zealand and the Springboks of South Africa were left standing. Mandela had given the Springboks a new slogan, "One team, one country," but the reality was far from the slogan.
On the day of the final game between Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks, the crowd—with ...
A South African Pastor Shares Why South Africans Honour Nelson Mandela
As Christians around South Africa and the world, Nelson Mandela, we salute you.
Romans Chapter 13 tells us that political and national leaders are given to us by God, and as such, we should honour them. Maybe, in the entire history of the world, certainly in modern history, that has never been as easy to do as in the case of Nelson Mandela. In these days of personal, national and global mourning, I want to honour former President Mandela, affectionately known in South Africa as Madiba, on behalf of the Christians in South Africa, and around the world.
A Man to Remember
Firstly, we honour Mandela for his Christ-like humility and compassion. He was a man who treated street kids with the same dignity he did Presidents.
Secondly, we honour Mandela for thinking generationally. Cyril Ramaphosa said: Mandela was thinking way ahead of us. He had posterity in mind.
Thirdly, we honour Mandela for his commitment to social justice and racial harmony. In the famous 1964 Rivonia trial where he defended himself, he said: "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Fourthly, we honour Mandela for keeping his sense of humour amidst his weighted responsibilities. Once when Desmond Tutu accused Mandela of dressing too casually, Mandela responded, "And this from a man who wears a dress!"
Fifthly, we honour you for your exemplary response to suffering, seeing it as a tutor for some of the deep lessons of life. In his book 'Mandela's Way, Richard Stengel wrote, "Nelson ...
We Still Love Social Media—Filters, Fakers, Hashtags, and All
Our digital connections are far from perfect, but we cant give em up.
Every month, we read studies, articles commenting on studies, and opinion pieces detailing the ways Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media are bad for us. Facebook makes us depressed, Twitter makes us shallow and distracted, and Instagram fuels our envy just as surely as fashion magazines make us feel ugly and frumpy.
Most everyone on social media recognizes that everyone else edits their lives along with their photos just as we do, even if simply to cultivate the impression that we are full of witty nonchalance, or to present a filtered and picturesque versions of our domestic "chaos." Our artful messes might belong in a lifestyle magazine; our small domestic woes do little more than garner a laugh.
Yet, the construction of social media doesn't discourage us. Most of us keep logging on. At least, I do.
In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the feminist scholar Susan Bordo (the author of Unbearable Weight, which I recommend) argues that even when we are aware that digitally enhanced images aren't real, we "still feel powerless to resist their messages." We know that other people's lives aren't really as perfect as they look on Instagram or on their blogs, but that knowledge doesn't stop us from feeling bad when our own lives don't seem to measure up.
Why do we do that? And why do we find it so hard to stay away from social media, even though we feel conflicted about it, and even though we feel relief and pleasure when we fast from it?
"We're creatures of contact, regardless of whether / to kiss or to wound, we still must come together," wrote the late humorist David Rakoff in a key scene in his final book, in which he also ...
Review: Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coens are legend-building again, this time with a striking resemblance to one of their old characters.
mpaa rating:RGenre:DramaDirected By: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund Theatre Release:December 20, 2013 by CBS Films
Folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is having a pretty bad week, probably because he's in a movie written by Joel and Ethan Coen. He got beat up in an alley by a stranger, and he recently lost his musical partner. Some of his friends are making a living with music, but his solo record isn't selling. He's sleeping on people's couches. It's cold out, but he doesn't have a coat. He lost a friend's cat. His sister isn't going to loan him any money. Oh, and he might have impregnated his best friend's wife.
Clearly the only thing to do is set off for Chicago to see Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), a producer who has a copy of his record and is his last real shot at making his passion pay the rent. So he commences hitchhiking and ends up in a car with a washed-up junkie jazz musician (John Goodman) and his brooding beat poet valet (Garrett Hedlund).
Things are not looking up for Llewyn.
Inside Llewyn Davis is a darkly funny film that recreates the texture of the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961, and for those of us who love the Coens' meandering storytelling style, it's a masterpiece. It features some truly outstanding performances, both musical and thespian—particularly from Isaac, who performed the music live, as well as Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, who play Llewyn's sweet-natured best friend Jim and his vitriolic wife Jean (who calls him "King Midas's idiot brother," alongside other choice terms). The Coens collaborated closely with T Bone Burnett, the music producer with whom they worked on O Brother, Where Art Thou (the film's soundtrack also features Marcus Mumford and Punch Brothers). And it looks good, too, thanks to cinematographer ...
Died: Nelson Mandela, South African Leader Who Stood Against Apartheid
The legacy of the president who prized reconciliation has much to teach Christians about the necessity, the difficulty, and the limits of politics.
Many readers will remember the apprehension and delight with which the world watched South Africa in the early 1990s as the racial oppression of apartheid came to an end and the beloved country achieved a peaceful transition to a non-racial constitutional democracy.
The most widely recognized symbol of the struggle against apartheid, and of South Africa in the aftermath of that struggle, was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 to December 5, 2013), known to the millions who loved him as Tata Madiba ("Tata" is "daddy" in Xhosa, and "Madiba" is Mandela's clan name; in the usage of his Xhosa ethnic community is a form of address that shows respect). He died today at 95.
I share the deep affection many feel for Tata Madiba—as a participant, in a small way, in the struggle against apartheid; as a witness to its consequences as an interpreter for the testimony of both victims and perpetrators of gross human rights abuses before South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and as a citizen of South Africa. I am deeply grateful for his leadership both in resistance and as president. I pray that we will see him enjoying resurrection in Christ, come God's new earth.
And yet, and yet.
In the late 1980s we would sing along with Johnny Clegg's band Savuka in their song for the imprisoned Mandela, "Asimbonanga":
For all of the great work of Mandela and his generation, the people of South Africa continue to suffer much violence at one ...
Nelson Mandela Has Died: Some history, thoughts, and reaction from South African pastors
What to Know and How to Pray
Nelson Mandela has died.
His life was a remarkable journey.
Who is Mandela?
Part Abraham Lincoln, part Rosa Parks, part Frederick Douglas, and part Martin Luther King, Jr., Mandela was the face of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and deeply connected to the African National Congress, the political party that (still today) holds the power in the country.
In his youth, he was involved in numerous protests and even some more subversive conspiracies against the Afrikaner establishment. After serving 27 years of a life imprisonment sentence following a conviction for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government in 1962, Mandela worked with then-President F. W. de Klerk in the early 90s to abolish apartheid and bring forth the first multi-racial elections ever in South Africa. That 1994 election saw Mandela become the first black president of South Africa, a position he held until 1999.
Even though Mandela led his revolution through political maneuvers, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he reflected on the work of the church in South Africa regarding the overthrow of apartheid: "The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church."
But, more than that, Mandela held back what many saw as an inevitable retribution after a half-century of racial tension, segregation, and institutionalized racism. As one friend in South Africa told me, "There is much respect for Nelson regarding the fact that he literally stopped a civil war. I have seen racist men honor him at rugby games." It's impossible to underestimate Mandela's influence and reputation, ...
New Life After the Fall of Ted Haggard
How the megachurch healed—by remembering what it means to be the local church.
The fog from the smoke machine is especially thick this Easter morning in Colorado Springs. Green lasers dance across the stage and over the thousands gathered, making no discernible pattern as they slice into the fog. The service this morning is at a fever pitch. A sprawling praise band populates the stage: guitarists and singers, a cellist, a horn section, a dj and turntable, percussionists of various sorts, a keyboardist, a pianist, and a full choir. It's a lot of sound, a lot of light—a lot of a lot.
A lot is the way Easter is announced at New Life Church. You take your standard megachurch service, and you turn it up all the way.
The year is 2006, and New Life has never basked in a brighter spotlight. Ted Haggard, who founded the nondenominational church in his basement in 1984, has been president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for two years, and he's leveraged the position into a formidable platform. Hardly a Sunday goes by without media—tv and newspaper reporters, documentary filmmakers—roaming the building, or without Haggard delivering a tale of expanding influence. He recounts a conversation with a heady politician, or an interview with a cable news talking head, that lets him redefine the evangelical stance-qua-Haggard on whatever issues are making headlines that week: abortion (con), the environment (pro), immigration (pro), same-sex marriage (con), the war efforts in Afghanistan (pro), and Iraq (super-pro).
Those far outside New Life have taken notice. A year earlier in Harper's, journalist Jeff Sharlet christened it the "nation's most powerful megachurch," observing that "no pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction ...
Letting Pastors Be Real
Dale Pyne says when we put pastors on a pedestal, theyre more likely to topple.
As president of Peacemakers Ministries—which has worked with hundreds of churches to quell disputes using biblical principles—Dale Pyne has seen his fair share of pastoral failings. He spoke with CT editor Mark Galli about what pressures tempt pastors to fall, and what they need to finish their ministry with a clean slate.
Aside from a pastor's personal weaknesses, what cultural forces make it harder for pastors to stay true in their calls?
We have a cultural tendency to elevate leaders. Maybe it's because they have an extraordinary education or a title or a position. Maybe it is because they have had a great deal of success in the growth of their church, or as an author or speaker. Whatever the reason, we're creating minigods in our minds and hearts. That creates expectations in leaders, and expectations are the foundations for disappointment.
What does that look like in a local church?
Maybe the pastor receives disproportionately large gifts compared to what's given to associates or other staff. Or the senior pastor is seen as the person that we all go to. It's people saying, "The pastor sat at my table," or, "The pastor was over at my house." As if the pastor is a movie star or sports figure.
I don't know how many times in Peacemakers' work, after coming in to help a church, I've heard elders say, "I wanted to say something, but I thought, Who am I?" We elevate pastors to a place where we feel they know so much more than we do, so we don't hold them accountable to some fundamental issues.
We put them on a pedestal that gets taller and taller. When the pedestal starts to totter, the pastor doesn't have anywhere to go. If he ...
Let Advent Break Your Heart
Pausing in the pregnant darkness of Come, Lord Jesus.
Maybe it's the waning light and earlier evenings as we head into winter. Or the book I just read on the effects of environmental toxins on fetal development and breast milk quality. Or the upcoming anniversary of the Newtown shootings. Whatever the reasons, as we enter Advent, I am increasingly aware of the darkness of this world into which I am bringing my child, due any day now.
It's a deeply disturbing realization. Welcome, little one, to a place where kids are shot in schools and on street corners, wars rage, and corporate interests often trump the common good. The things I see and hear about every day rattle my heart with worry.
Growing up with an overprotective mother, I told myself would never be that fearful and worried about my own children. Now, I realize it is only natural. The small fists and knees jabbing my insides put my inner mother-bear on 24/7 high-alert. I am always on the prowl for potential threats to my child's well-being.
My instinct is to do everything in my power to keep out danger, but if I think I can find a cave isolated enough to protect this child of mine from all the threats this world brings, I am sorely mistaken. I would also be resisting the Advent call to stare darkness in the face and keep being present, holding out hope for something more powerful than death.
Our God did what every mother would shudder to do. He sent his child directly into the heart of evil with no protection, save faith, hope, and extravagant love. God the Father did not shelter Jesus from the terror and loss of living in our broken, bleeding world. He chose instead to be present with us, to enter into our pain. During Advent, as we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the vulnerable Christ child, ...
Thinking Through the Multicultural Church
Just because your church looks diverse doesn't mean it is diverse.
I recently returned from Mosaix' 2nd National Multi-ethnic Church Conference in Long Beach, California I was struck by a few things about the conference that I thought were worth sharing.
Probably the main "news" (as in the newspaper kind of news) out of that conference was Thom Rainer's apology for LifeWay's stereotyping in LifeWay's Vacation Bible School curriculum ten years ago. However, as you can imagine, there was so much more that took place at the conference. As such, I thought I would share a few of my own observations about multicultural church.
My first church was a multicultural (or as some say, multi-ethnic) church, though we were not thinking in those categories. We just reached our poor neighborhood.
My church today would not fit the standard definition of multicultural. It's not because that's not the desire for us to be so. But more, it is impacted by the location where we meet (Hendersonville is 93% Anglo). However, having just recently opened a campus in Gallatin, which is substantially more diverse than Hendersonville, we are excited about the opportunity to seek to become a more multicultural church.
With that in mind, there are four things from the conference that I will keep in mind as we move ahead.
First, just because your church looks diverse doesn't mean it is diverse.
One of the things I have said is that often pastors who say they have multiCULTURAL churches really have multiRACIAL churches. Both are good, but being multicultural is much harder than being multiracial.
You can be multiracial if you simply have "persons of color" who attend your church. They may work in the same places, go to the same movies, eat in the same restaurants, ...
Miracle of Science: 65 Diseases Treated With Adult Stem Cells
Biotech advances could make destroying human embryos for research a relic of the past.
As a young medical student three decades ago, Mark Magnuson learned the basic facts of human development. Among those supposed facts was this one: Adult cells can't change what they are. A heart cell is always a heart cell, a skin cell is always a skin cell.
That's not the case with embryos, whose cells eventually create the entire human body. As embryonic cells divide, they develop distinct identities, becoming heart cells and brain cells and blood cells and every other kind of cell.
It's a process called differentiation. And once it happens, there is no going back. "When I was a medical student, I was taught that a differentiated cell was a differentiated cell," said Magnuson, a professor of medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Stem Cell Biology in Nashville. "That was the end of the line."
Then along came the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell), and everything changed. Over the past eight years, a quiet revolution has taken place in stem cell biology as researchers have discovered that they can actually teach old cells new tricks.
They have learned how to reprogram adult cells so that they can do many things an embryonic cell can do. No human embryos are destroyed in the process. Along the way, embryonic stem cells—just a decade ago hailed as the future of medicine—have largely been bypassed. Some researchers still use them, but for now, the future belongs to adult stem cells and iPS cells, which are adult cells genetically reprogrammed to express specific genes.
Every year for the past 10 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded more adult stem cell research compared with embryonic research. For 2012, NIH grants totaled $146.5 million ...
Why Artists Belong in the Church Nursery
Good things happen when the bearded arts guy takes on the toddler room.
I should probably confess my bias at the outset: I love kids.
As a kid, I loved babies. In middle school, I told my mother that I couldn't wait to be a dad. My sisters and I vowed with no small amount of chutzpah over against Providence that we would each produce four children. (This, in part, was a way to address the certainty that the Almighty had unjustly dealt us only one first cousin. Our children would not suffer the same fate.)
My plan was to get married in my early 20s, then to start having babies by 25, which, I thought, was a perfect age to bring little people into the world. As it turned out, I married just shy of 36 and by God's grace I saw my first baby at 39.
While I wait for God to give us more children, I take pleasure in the children God has already given me and my sisters' children, four of Christine's, two of Stephanie's, whom I have thoroughly enjoyed 15 years now. I also enjoy pretty much anybody else's kids, which is why I had the time of my life during my first stint of service in our church nursery.
As I mentioned to some friends afterward, while half the 1 and 2-year-olds regarded my beard warily, the other half used plastic farm and kitchen utensils to comb it. I'm not exactly sure why that made me so happy, but it did; it was kids being kids and my beard being put to good use.
All morning long, I repeated, "It's ok, it's ok" (to soothe frayed little people nerves); "Please be gentle" (to encourage less semi-savage behavior as some of the more enthusiastic kids made a grab for another child's toy); and "Excellent tea!" (as we celebrated our never-ending tea party).
One of my favorite parts was leading the children ...
And Then God Said, 'You've Got Mail'
Millennials digital overload calls for lessons in mindfulness.
After years of struggle, I came to the light. Specifically, the soft glow of my smartphone screen.
I had tried over and over again to make Bible-reading and daily devotions a regular habit, only to end up shamefully watching my Bible collect dust on my bedside table. Then came the digital world of Bible resources, right on my iPhone, which beckoned to scriptural newsletters, blogs, and apps.
For me, this digital hallelujah moment happened through the Park Forum's devotional blog, 843 Acres. The blog sends out daily emails, following the annual Bible reading plan of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. They hit my smartphone's inbox by 6 a.m. every weekday. As soon as I turn off my alarm, open my New York Times app, and refresh my inbox, it's there.
At this point, my routine has become common among Christians, particularly Christian millennials. Our generation's adoption of social and digital platforms has ushered in a new age of connectivity for our faith. The Barna Group reports that 70 percent of these digital natives read Scripture online. If we don't have the answer to a question, we Google it. We multitask and switch digital platforms to find the information we need.
Yet as much as I love the bite-size format of my email devotional, I can't shy away from the lack of intentionality that pervades the opening, refreshing, and scanning of my emails – even when I'm reading and meditating on Scripture. Or the slavish attention I lavish on my inbox, where a new message always awaits. To co-opt a well-known T.S. Eliot quote, is this how a prayer is to end, not with an amen but a buzz in the pocket?
Even leaders and entrepreneurs within the tech community are beginning to question the ethics ...