Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’


When Christianity Becomes Uncomfortable

On Sunday, our small group began a study on discipleship, aided by the very good material from Multiply written by Francis Chan and David Platt. The first part of this study challenges us to count the cost of discipleship. I was struck afresh by Jesus’ words in Luke:

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:25-33, ESV)

As an American Christian, I guess I’ve never had to fully weigh the impact of Jesus’ words here. We’ve lived in a bubble of acceptance, especially those, like me, who’ve mostly worked for Christian organizations. Sure, there is the occasional derogatory remark by a unbelieving family member or neighbor. Yet even among those who don’t profess faith, Christianity has been something considered worth commending. For much of the church’s history, this was not the norm. Christianity has been uncomfortable. It has involved cross-bearing.

Jesus wanted his followers to know this. I notice he said these very hard things when the crowds followed him. It’s as if he’s saying to them, “If you are following me for the benefits, for the goodies, for the anticipated health and wellness, well, you’ve got the wrong Messiah.” It’s not that Jesus was sadistic. But the spiritual battle between light and darkness involves hardship, suffering, and a willingness to be considered on the “wrong side of history.”

I think this is where we often get Jesus wrong. I think this is where we often get Christianity wrong. The New Testament knows nothing, really, of the Jesus-as-mascot paradigm. To claim to follow Jesus, but reject the radical new way of life He calls to us to is to reject Jesus altogether. The way of Jesus is better. But many don’t see that. Many of us don’t see that.

For American Christians, I think the coming years will force us to make difficult choices. We will have to choose between cultural acceptance and the way of Jesus. In other words, Christianity, truly bearing the name of Christ, will involve a cross. It will be rough and uncomfortable. Sometimes this discomfort is in the form of cultural rejection. Sometimes it’s the discomfort of forgiving someone we want desperately to despise. Sometimes it’s the self-sacrifice to give ourselves for those we are called to love and nurture: our spouses, our children, our neighbors. Sometimes it’s the discipline to speak the truth in type of love others don’t exhibit. Sometimes it involves making reasoned, winsome arguments in favor of truth that are unfairly dismissed as bigotry.

Are we ready for this? I think of the words of Peter to the first-century church in 1 Peter. He reminded the Church that while they were to assimilate into their contexts, they were to remember their status as strangers and foreigners. Christians follow another King and live out the values of another Kingdom. There would be cultural pressure to abandon Jesus or to synch Jesus with whatever is popular. As if Jesus is the clay and we are the potters. Peter urged the first century church to stand strong, to have courage, but also to do this with a kind of joyful anticipation of the world to come. I’m particularly arrested by Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17, ESV)

Having warmed himself by the fires of cultural acceptance and having also been the doomsday zealot, Peter argued for a third way. Followers of Jesus must be should not be gripped by fear (“nor be troubled”), but give a calm, rational, joyful defense of Christian faith, shaped by gentleness and respect. Being misunderstood, slandered, and disparaged by the culture and even fellow evangelicals is no fun. But our response should not only be courageously truthful, it should be otherworldly in terms of kindness. We not only communicate the values of another world. We speak with rhetorical tools from another world. We shouldn’t add to our suffering with fleshly responses.

As we anticipate life in a post-Christian world, we need to not only reacquaint ourselves with Christian identity (cross-bearing, suffering), but by faith live out this gospel fully before a watching world.





Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a Muslim home, but came to faith in Christ after a search for meaning and truth. He tells his conversion story in a new book,  Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters ChristianityI had the chance to interview Nabeel today for my weekly Leadership Journal blog. This is one of the questions I asked him:

What finally drove you to a point of decision between Islam and Christianity? What was holding you back—and what finally drove you forward?

The first thing that had to happen was that someone had to show me the truth about Christianity. Only when I saw the truth would I be able to assess whether I would follow it or not. David didn’t just tell me why he believed in the gospel, he showed me how we could be confident it is true and therefore everyone should believe it. The historical evidence he provided for Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as Jesus’ claim to be God, made all the difference. When I contrasted the evidence for Christianity against the evidence for Islam I knew that intellectually there was no comparison. So I asked God to reveal himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.

Read the entire interview here:


Christianity As a Word-Centered Faith

Today I interview Karen Swallow Prior for Leadership Journal. Karen is one of my favorite voices in the evangelical world. She’s a fun follow on Twitter. Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and a contributing writer for Christianity Today. I love Karen’s work, because she urges the Church toward a rich and robust love of literature. 

One of the questions I asked her was this:

Why is it important for followers of Christ to read deeply and read well?

Christianity is a Word-centered faith. That term—“Word”—takes on layers of significance, all of which are meaningful and relevant to our faith. Because Christ is the Word and the Bible is God’s revealed Word, it is clear that Christians have a special calling to the understanding of words—and therefore the Word. Neil Postman famously points out in his classic treatise, Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the prohibition of graven images in the Ten Commandments suggests that the Judeo-Christian God is one who is to be known through rational, abstract language rather than the immediate, sensory experience of images as seen in the idol worship of the surrounding pagan cultures. If we know God through reading the Word, then the practice of reading—deeply, faithfully, and well—helps us to do that. Furthermore, reading demanding works of literature that require our time and attention can foster the very spiritual disciplines that enable us to slow down, attend, and heed the Word of God. As our society reverts increasingly to an image-based culture, our calling as a Word-centered people becomes even more compelling and resonant.

Read the rest of the interview here:


5 Great Reads on Gay Marriage

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that gay marriage has been at the top of the news headlines. On Tuesday, voters in North Carolina overwhelmingly approved an amendment to their constitution affirming traditional marriage. And on Wednesday, President Obama, somewhat reluctantly, affirmed the right of homosexuals to get married.

This is a tough, sensitive issue that didn’t begin with President Obama, but bubbled up from the culture. In my view, this was a battle that the church lost years ago, the product of a pragmatic evangelicalism that offered a “lowest common denominator” Christianity  heavy on personal happiness and short on gospel proclamation and spiritual depth. So now we face a hollowed-out culture that has rejected Biblical norms because they never knew them in the first place. I also think evangelicals have often been sloppy in their political engagement, making their political opposition personal to particular politicians and waging unnecessary fights that have diluted their influence.

But enough of what I think. Here are five really great reads on the subject of gay marriage: 

1)How to Win the Public on Homosexuality – Collin Hansen – Gospel Coalition

We’re fighting today over authority, yes, but it’s not straightforwardly biblical. Many gay-rights advocates have excused themselves behind a professed love of God’s Word. You won’t likely win a debate with them by citing Bible verses they’ve been trained to explain away. Rather, we’re losing a more fundamental struggle over the very definition of God. Straight or gay, Reggie or Brett, we’re not satisfied with a God who calls us sinners. Who calls on us to deny ourselves. Who calls our gaze heavenward to receive his blessing: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

I’ve spoken to a number of conservative legal scholars about the subject, and I’ve always heard the same thing: the church lost the battle over same sex marriage three decades ago. How, you ask? Because the church was silent when state after state passed no-fault divorce laws. These bills essentially removed the state from any interest in preserving or defining marriage. No fault divorce laws defined marriage as an agreement between two individuals that may be entered or dissolved as the individuals desire without state interference or prejudice.

3) 5 Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage - Kevin DeYoung

The temptation, then, is for Christians go silent and give up the marriage fight: “It’s no use staying in this battle,” we think to ourselves. “We don’t have to change our personal position. We’ll keep speaking the truth and upholding the Bible in our churches, but getting worked up over gay marriage in the public square is counter productive. It’s a waste of time. It makes us look bad. It ruins our witness. And we’ve already lost. Time to throw in the towel.” I understand that temptation. It is an easier way. But I do not think it is the right way, the God glorifying way, or the way of love.

Homosexuality is not an easy issue. Christians have said a lot of unhelpful things about the subject over the years– but that does not mean we cannot say helpful things now. The most helpful truth is the biblical truth. In the midst of a complicated issue, we need to admit to poor engagement in the past, speak of the complexities of the issues involved, but always point to biblical truth and change that can be found in Christ.

As this happens, faithful churches must be very clear about God’s design for marriage.   We must do so knowing that the message of Holy Scripture is radically different from the society around us.  As all kinds of people show up in our churches, we must show love AND speak truth in a way that honors all of God’s Word.   This will not be easy.  But if we care about people we must do both.

As much as I disagree with this president’s method of interpreting the Bible, I am still commanded to pray for him and his advisors—and I will. Yet at the same time, I have the right and privilege to elect wiser leaders for the days ahead.



Why Christians Are Not the Point of Easter

I’m studying for my Easter sermon. I have to be honest, sometimes I get intimidated by Easter sermons. It’s not that I don’t enjoy preaching about the pivot point of our faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s just that I know on Easter there are those people sitting and listening to my message that probably don’t want to be sitting and listening to my message. (My friends could joke and say this is the case every Sunday!).

Some preachers get really fired up by a crowd of nonchurch people. They are gifted evangelists who are always at ease sharing their faith with hostile hearers. In a Christian sort of way, I envy them. I get nervous. This is a big moment. This could be the only time that some people will hear the gospel. I don’t want to mess it up. This is where God reminds me that He can use my clumsy gospel efforts and form the words to penetrate the heart of sinners. He is sovereign and for that I’m glad.

This year, God has impressed upon me this central idea of the Resurrection: Christianity is not about Christians, but about Christ. Let me explain:

Perhaps the biggest reason that nonbelievers give for not putting their faith in Jesus Christ is the shoddy faith of his followers. I believe it was Ghandi (but don’t quote me) who said he’d follow Christ, were it not for Christians. This is a sad commentary on Christians and the state of the church. And it’s the cause for much lament in the evangelical community today, with competing perspectives battling to define the church’s mission.

There’s a place for this introspection. And it’s true that our lives as believers must adorn the gospel well (Titus 2:10; 1 Peter 3:33-4). It’s true that we, Jesus’ followers, are the only Jesus the lost will see.

And yet, the point of Christianity is not that it produces the best, most disciplined followers (though history might actually argue that point well). But let’s assume that, over all, Christians haven’t done the best job of representing Christ. It’s a big assumption, but let’s go there. This, still is not the point of Christianity.

The point of Christianity is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He’s alive. He defeated sin and death.

The truth is that there may very likely be more disciplined adherents in other religions. There may be more moral, more socially responsible, kinder, gentler souls. But, the point is not that Christianity makes the best people. It’s that Christianity points to Jesus is risen.

Because the point is not that God needs more highly disciplined religious people. Even the highest, most disciplined people fall far short of perfection. Even the most religious can’t be religious enough to erase the curse of their sin. The best of us, regardless of religion or system or code, falls way short. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that even he, the most spiritually astute, religiously devout man of his day, needed to be supernaturally regenerated by a power that could only come from above. This is why the rich, young ruler in Luke 18 went away sad. He had followed the law, point by point, and still Jesus poked holes in his righteousness. This is why Paul said he counted his strict adherence to the law as “dung” (Phillipians 3:8). His works were good, but as a covering for his sin, were as useful as dung. This is the message of the prophet, Isaiah, who proclaimed in Isaiah 64:6 that our best attempts to satisfy God with our goodness are like, “filthy rags.”

The point is that we need something supernatural. We need God Himself to provide a solution. And God did. Jesus came to this earth, in the flesh, absorbed the just wrath of God against our sin, finished the work of atonement, and rose again from death on the third day. Jesus defeated sin and death and His life gives life to dead souls.

The Resurrection is not just a nice capstone to a wonderful religious story. The Resurrection is the story. Jesus wasn’t merely a good example to show us how to be better people on the earth. Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that our dead, spiritually unprofitable souls could experience the regeneration of new life.

So, to the Christian who constantly chafes at his inability to be a good example at work, at home, at play, who broods over the incomplete picture He is giving of Christ, take heart. Know that you’re not the story of Easter. Jesus is. You don’t have to be perfect on Holy Week, because Jesus was. Draw on his love for you and when you do, that love and life will naturally flow out in a way that will point others to the Resurrection they need.

And to those who read this who have rejected Jesus. I say with tears, don’t wait to acknowledge your sin, God’s coming judgement against it. Don’t wait to fall on your knees in faith at the foot of the cross. Don’t wait to accept the rescue of salvation Jesus offers freely. And most importantly, don’t confuse the inconsistencies of Christians like me with the perfection and life of Jesus Christ.

Because us sinful, sometimes nasty, flawed followers are not the story of Easter. Jesus is. He’s alive.



Friday Five: Lin Johnson

Lin Johnson is one of the most influential people in Christian publishing as a writer, editor, and instructor. Perhaps here biggest contribution is her annual Write to Publish Conference, held every year on the campus of Wheaton College. Personally, the Write to Publish Conference has had more influence on my writing career than almost any other factor. It’s one of the premier writing conferences in the country.

Lin is Managing Editor of The Christian Communicator, Advanced Christian Writer and Church Libraries and is the author and co-author of more than 60 books, including Christian Education: Foundations for the Future, Extracting the Precious from 2nd Corinthians, Encouraging Others, and The Book of John from The Smart Guide to the Bible Series. Lin specializes in Bible curriculum and is a Gold Medallion Book Award recipient. She’s a sought-after teacher at writers’ conferences across the country and internationally. Lin was kind enough to stop and answer some questions about Christian writing:

You’ve been a writer and editor for a long time, but perhaps you are best known for helping writers get their start in Christian publishing. What motivates you to continue to educate and assist the next generation of writers rather than seek your own “fame and glory” as it were?

One of my spiritual gifts is teaching, and training writers is a way to use that gift. A great thing about teaching is the ripple effect of influence that goes far beyond a classroom or conference. As I assist people in honing the craft of writing and getting published, their words, in turn, will influence thousands of people I’d never be able to reach.

Write-to-Publish (WTP) has been around for almost 40 years. How did it get started?

It started in 1971 (and missed a couple of years) as a two-week, credit-only, summer-school course at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Eleven years later, it became a one-week workshop to allow more people to attend, then morphed into a conference format a few years later. I worked as assistant director for almost 10 years.

In the early ‘90s, Moody decided to drop several conferences; and Write-to-Publish was one of them. The school gave me the rights to the name, the mailing list, and cassette masters for past conferences.

However, I didn’t have the upfront money to run it as a conference, so I organized a few Saturday seminars at Moody and Wheaton College. Then in 1996, with several interest-free loans from fellow congregation members, I started it as a conference again at Wheaton College.

Why is a conference like WTP so crucial for a writer to break into the marketplace? 

So much of getting published these days is the result of networking, of who you know. At a conference like WTP, you have the opportunity to meet editors and agents who are looking for manuscripts—or they wouldn’t take the time to be there. Plus you get to know other writers who may provide introductions to their editors or agents and share writing leads later.

A conference is crucial for book writers. Every year more book houses close to looking at unsolicited proposals, so it’s difficult to sell a book without an agent. And few agents are interested in writers who haven’t sold books. The way around this Catch-22 situation is attending a writers conference since book editors go to them, looking for new writers.

What are the common mistakes a first-time conference attender might make at a conference like WTP? 

The biggest mistake I see is going to a conference with a myopic focus on selling one or two specific manuscripts, usually books, instead of being open to what God has in mind. His plan is always so much bigger than ours.

Another mistake is not getting to know other writers who attend the conference. Yes, editors are the ones who buy manuscripts; and you want to get acquainted with as many as possible. But networking with writers can pay off in many ways: lifelong friendships, prayer/accountability partners who motivate you get more writing done, passing along your name to editors for other projects.

If you could give one piece of advice (besides attending WTP!) to an emerging Christian writer, what would it be? 

Learn the craft and the market. Editors are looking for polished manuscripts that won’t take a lot of time, which they don’t have, to edit. Learning the craft involves knowing the structure for different types of manuscripts and genres, practice, knowing the proper manuscript format, getting feedback from a critique group or writing partner, and more practice.

Learning the market involves finding what publications and houses take the types of manuscripts and topics you write (the Christian Writers’ Market Guide makes that task easier), following writers guidelines, and analyzing at least one issue of a periodical or a book-house catalog/website. As a magazine and newsletter editor, I get dozens of articles and queries a year that have nothing to do with the audience and type of periodical. Those are guaranteed rejections.


Christianity in the Shadow of the Mosque

As a pastor I’m having increased discussions with Christians on the way to treat our Muslim neighbors. I felt this panel discussion from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was really good at both looking at the increasing Muslim population in our midst, how should we engage them, etc. This is very, very instructive:

A key quote (and I’m paraphrasing) is Russ Moore who says, “You can either consider Muslims a threat and wish them gone or you can consider them as people created in the image of God whom we wish to lovingly win to Christ. But you can’t do both.”



Friday Five: Joe Carter

Joe Carter is one of the most articulate evangelical voices on the intersection of church, culture, and politics. Joe founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tr

ibune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and

as a director of communications for both the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communication.1) You’ve served in a variety of capacities in the conservative movement. What is your impression of the movement as it stands today? 
The first thing that should be said about the conservative movement is that there is no conservative “movement.” The term movement implies that a there is cohesive group that is in agreement about moving toward specific political goals. While individuals aligned with conservatism tend to agree on a general set of principles, they often have radically differing views on where those lead. For example, social conservatives and libertarians are generally lumped together under the rubric of the “conservative movement, yet both groups differ on issues such as same-sex marriage.

The reality is that conservatism is comprised of numerous small movements, some that are flourishing and others that are stagnating. This inevitably leads to internal tensions since established conservative groups, politicians, and media are all fighting for the same attention and donor funding. When specific grassroots sub-movements begins to gain popularity, activists of all stripes try to co-opt it for their own purposes.

A prime example is the Tea Party movement in 2008-2010. Despite the fact that polls and surveys showed that it was largely a subset of the “religious right” movement, libertarians tried to claim it as their own. The media latched onto that spurious impression and tried to create a narrative that conservatives were ready to abandon social issues. Of course that was never true. Most grassroots conservatives are full-spectrum conservatives who don’t make sharp distinction between economic, social, and national security conservatism. This is why I’m optimistic about the long-term prospects about conservatism, despite the problems within the “movement.”

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