Clean Water or the Gospel?

The answer is both.

Today, there are 844 million people around the world without access to clean water; 2.5 billion do not use a toilet to manage their waste. And 3.4 billion people are unreached with the gospel.

The intersection of all three of these is predominately rural villages dominated by animism and other folk religions. What should be our priority as Christians? Provide communities with access to clean water and improved health, or proclaim the transforming truth of the gospel?

As the leader of a Christian water organization, I’ve struggled with this dilemma for years. I firmly believe that we must serve the whole person (body and soul), and I also believe that Christ must be central to all our efforts. If we solely preach the gospel, we ignore their basic physical needs. If we only give them water, teach about hygiene, and build toilets at schools, we feel like we’ve neglected the Christian nature of our work.

How can we meaningfully address people’s physical needs while fulfilling the Great Commission? Here are some guiding principles we have found helpful:

First, clarify our categories.

I don’t believe drilling a well, installing a pump, and teaching people to wash their hands fulfills the Great Commission. It is important work worthy of our support. It can drastically improve people’s lives. However, by itself, it isn’t what Christ commissions the church to do.

I also don’t believe preaching the gospel while ignoring the crisis and hurt people are experiencing is consistent with biblical ethics. Jesus makes it clear that we have a responsibility to help the person who has been attacked by robbers and left for dead (Luke 10:25-37). To simply walk past is not consistent with the teaching of Jesus …

Continue reading…

Can We Handle the Truth About Racism and the Church?

Before racial reconciliation can happen, says Jemar Tisby, American believers need to reckon honestly with the sins of the past.

At the climax of the 1992 classic A Few Good Men, Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) famously screams, “You can’t handle the truth!” Responding to questions from Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) about a military cover-up, he confirms his role in the scandal but maintains that the public would rather not know the ugly and gory details of his job. In The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby (president of the black Christian collective The Witness) adopts the posture of Lt. Kaffee, demanding that American Christians learn and teach the hard truth about the church’s complicity in racial injustice.

For far too long, some in the church have assumed the defiant pose of Col. Jessup. Because this history is so painful to remember, many believers would rather bury it. Others, confronted with the church’s inadequate response, shift attention to a multiracial cast of heroic figures—like William Wilberforce, Francis Grimke, or Martin Luther King Jr.—whose contributions paint the church in a better light.

Of course, as Tisby points out, that these exemplars were small in number and greatly abused by fellow Christians for speaking against racial bigotry. And admirable as they are, they can’t be allowed to obscure the underlying truth: Many white Christians actively participated in racism, and many more sat idly by as it infected every inch of American life. Brutal racial injustice would not have persisted as long as it did, Tisby writes, without “the relative silence, if not outright support, of one of the most significant institutions in America—the Christian church.”

The Path of Least Resistance

The Color of Compromise corrects the record by surveying key points in American …

Continue reading…

Who Owns a Woman’s Body? Not Who You Think.

Why treating the female body like property misses the gospel and fails the unborn.

Modern feminism has spent the last century fighting to give women the freedom to have jurisdiction over their voting rights, their ambitions, and their bodies. Some of the movement has done great good. But some of it has done great harm by reinforcing a common and problematic idea: that women’s rights ought to be understood in terms of property rights. “Owning your own body” seems like a natural enough freedom—who wouldn’t want it?—but in fact, it delivers a reductionistic conception of human flourishing that fails both women and the unborn.

We see this most clearly in the abortion debate, vaulted into the public square 46 years ago with the landmark Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade. Both this ruling and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision codify an ownership view of the self. Women’s bodies are a form of property, and with this property comes the constitutional “right of privacy,” wrote Roe’s majority Court. In practice, that means a man is given a temporary invitation to trespass, and the fruit of that act (if any) belongs to the woman—at least until the child crosses from womb to world.

You don’t have to search far to find arguments for ownership. In response to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood put out a statement that women deserve “the right to control [their] own bodies.” The hallways of Twitter have echoed with a related imperative—that men should “stop controlling women’s bodies.” And the third annual Women’s March will re-up the familiar rally cry, “My body, my choice.”

Advocates of the private ownership view claim that it …

Continue reading…

Asia Rising: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Follow Jesus

China’s church raids drew headlines, but 26 countries—including India—treated Christians worse in 2018.

Christian persecution has worsened in the most populous countries in the world, China and India, putting millions more believers at risk for their faith.

The two Asian nations moved up on Open Doors’s annual ranking of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. India entered the World Watch List’s top 10 for the first time, due to a growing Hindu nationalist threat stirring anti-Christian sentiments. Meanwhile China, where the Communist government continues closing major congregations and detaining Christian leaders, climbed from No. 43rd to No. 27 on the list.

Researchers calculate that 1 in 3 Asian Christians now experience high levels of persecution for their faith.

Year after year, Open Doors has reported on the decline of religious freedom for Christians worldwide—measuring persecution through government restrictions, social pressures, and outright violence.

“In the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria … at least 3,700 Christians were killed for their faith—almost double the number of a year ago (an estimated 2,000)—with villages completely abandoned by Christians forced to flee, as their armed attackers then move in to settle, with impunity,” wrote World Watch Monitor in its analysis of the list. The news service noted that “of the 4,136 deaths for Christian faith that the List reports, Nigeria alone accounts for about 90% (3,731).”

Overall, 1 in 6 African Christians now experience high levels of persecution for their faith, according to Open Doors researchers.

The latest World Watch List indicates that religious freedom restrictions have also become more widespread, affecting 1 in 9 Christians worldwide. An estimated 245 million Christians in the …

Continue reading…

Ministry in the #MeToo Moment

As abuse awareness grows, pastors are searching for ways to protect the vulnerable and care for survivors.

Last summer Stephanie Lobdell, co-lead pastor at Mountain Home Church of the Nazarene in Idaho, started a sermon series on the forgotten characters of Scripture. One of the subjects she wanted to cover was Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, who was raped by a Hivite prince. Her sexual assault ultimately spurred her brothers to massacre the royal’s people (Gen. 34).

Lobdell’s co-pastor and husband, Tommy, was apprehensive about her decision to broach Dinah’s story. “He said, ‘Why are you preaching about rape? It’s such a vile topic. It’s such a sensitive area. Why are you taking that risk?’” said Lobdell. “He felt anxious, like, What’s going to happen when we open this door?

But Lobdell was beginning to feel burdened by sermons in which women’s suffering was “a little side note to what pastors really want to talk about.”

“It was one of those subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit: ‘Here’s a story that gets skipped over. You have a gap in your schedule. What could you put there?’” said Lobdell. “I trusted the Spirit’s guidance.”

Naming Dinah’s experience from the pulpit caused an unexpected chain reaction. “After the sermon,” said Lobdell, “several people shared their own stories with me and expressed gratitude for giving voice to Dinah’s experience. This sermon allowed women to find their stories expressed in Scripture.”

Shortly after Lobdell broached that subject with her congregation, The New York Times released a report on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct. That report launched another, much larger chain reaction: the #MeToo …

Continue reading…

Spiritual Revolutionaries in an Age of Despair

These practices of Anna and Simeon kept them faithful in a time of seeming hopelessness.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. (Luke 2:25)

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36–38)

Anna and Simeon lived in a time of seeming political hopelessness and division, much like our own. Nonetheless, they persisted in faith when many of their contemporaries abandoned the God of Israel. God rewarded their persistence in faith by making them among the first witnesses of the Messiah.

There are many who look upon the church’s apparent infatuation with political power and indifference to corruption and wonder if there is a faithful way forward that remains connected to the great tradition and is able to speak a relevant word in the present moment. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but the testimonies of Anna and Simeon carry within them the spiritual practices necessary to wait for his second coming in hope.

Anna and Simeon at the Turn of the Ages

Before the arrival of the Messiah, the faithful of Jesus’ day had every reason for cynicism. With the fleeting exception of the troubled Hasmonean rule, Israel had been passed from one foreign ruler to the next. Herod was a well-known rogue who owed his position to an equally morally bankrupt Roman hierarchy. In his day, he was most famous for …

Continue reading…

The Rise of Women’s Rights and Religious Liberties in the Muslim World

Tunisia is now the front runner in expanding women’s rights and religious liberties in the Muslim nations.

Tunisia is now the front runner in expanding women’s rights and religious liberties in the Muslim nations. And the world is watching. In 2017, Tunisia’s President Essibsi celebrated his country’s National Women’s Day by calling for a change in the constitution to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

Historically, Islam has prohibited Muslim women from marrying men from other faiths, unless they convert to Islam. However, Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslims.

President Essibsi called on leaders to make changes to Article 73, arguing that the Tunisian constitution, in its sixth chapter, grants citizens the freedom of belief and conscience. In his mission to achieve gender equality, President Essibsi also called for amendments to women’s inheritance. According to Islamic law, women inherit only one half of men’s inheritance.

President Essibsi stated, “The state is committed to achieving full equality between women and men … and equal opportunities for them in assuming all responsibilities, as stipulated in Article 46 of the Constitution.”

On November 23, 2018, Tunisia became the first Arab country to achieve gender equality in inheritance, after the Tunisian Cabinet approved a law that would allow men and women to inherit equal amounts, contrary to what is stipulated in the Quran and Islamic world. Some Muslims object to the new law, claiming it contradicts Quranic verses which state that males should inherit twice as much as females.

However, President Essibsi shared that citizens should be given the choice to follow Sharia Law in inheritance if they so wish. But not through compulsion or force. President Essibsi shared that:

Tunisia’s Constitution supports a civil …

Continue reading…

Pastor Matt Chandler on Going Back to School at The Wheaton Grad School

At 45, Matt Chandler enrolled in the graduate program at Wheaton College. I asked him why.

Matt Chandler and I are both in class right now— finishing up his first week in our graduate program. Last night, I talked to Matt about why he decided to go back to school.

Now, I should note that our program is not a residential program, and Matt is not leaving his church. Our students fly in and out for week-long classes, along with some online classes, and often in academic cohorts that stay together over the course of a degree.

If you are considering going back to school, I also asked Christine Caine similar questions, as she is also a current grad student at Wheaton. You can find our conversation here.

We are glad to have Matt studying in our School of Ministry, Mission, and Leadership.

Ed: You are here with me at your first class in the Wheaton College Graduate School. So, what’s the deal? You’re 45-years-old and you’ve gone all of this way without having a Master’s degree, so why go back to school?

Matt: I’ve committed myself to being a lifelong learner, and so whether that’s books or seminars or schooling, it’s always been my hope that no matter how old I get, I continue to learn and grow in my understanding. I just thought it was time to go back to school. The tools I got in my undergrad have enabled me to get to a certain depth of thinking and interacting. And so, I began to feel, probably a year ago, a bit flat on how I was able to dig and think.

Part of that is that I’m in a specific tribe. The danger of just being stuck in that space is that you don’t get to learn the good that’s out there that maybe your tribe is not familiar with or has never taken the time to consider. So, for me, if I can develop tools that enable me to continue to learn and grow into my 50s …

Continue reading…

I Escaped from Iran, but Not from God

As a child of the Iranian Revolution, I wanted nothing to do with religion.

I was nine years old when I decided that I hated God. I hated him because I believed he hated me first.

It was 1979, during the middle of the Iranian Revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious zealots had recently overthrown the existing government and seized political power. Hundreds of thousands of people had their lives turned upside down in the chaos.

My father was a military officer in the previous regime, and we had grown up on a military base. A couple of weeks into the revolution, I was at school when we were called outside for an unexpected assembly. A soldier read off three names, including mine, and called us to the front. Removing a gun from his holster, he quoted from the Qur‘an and told me he would kill me to deliver a message to supporters of the old regime. Fortunately the school principal intervened, and the soldier relented.

Running for Our Lives

Traumatized, I rushed home to tell my father what had happened. Despite his usual sternness, he took me into his lap and pledged to keep us safe, revealing that plans were underway for an eventual escape.

To me, this felt less like escaping from Iran than escaping from God. We were leaving our home, our family, our wealth, our friends, everything we held dear—all because our country had been victimized by religion gone wrong.

Just days later, our situation grew desperate. Soldiers barged into our home and dragged my father out. One day earlier, revolutionary guards had whisked one of my father’s colleagues off to a public park, where he was brutally tortured, dying seven hours later.

To everyone’s surprise, my father made it home alive, but this only strengthened our resolve to flee. He devised a plan to leverage my mother’s heart issues …

Continue reading…

When Great Writers Wrestle with Faith

Why have so many modern novelists and poets chased after (and fled from) God?

The metaphors we use in given situations show us more about our assumptions than we often realize. In politics, we speak of the “arena,” our “opponents,” or even “battle lines.” Our language betrays a hostile environment filled with warring parties. When we discuss education, we may refer to “values,” “costs,” or “benefits,” revealing economics as our lens for assessing learning.

The title of Richard Harries’s book, Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith, revolves around two contrasting metaphors for writers and religion. On the one hand, Christ is scary, unpursued, and ephemeral, haunting writers like a ghost. In the subtitle, though, the writers are active agents wrestling with an unknown entity, like Jacob with the angel, for the prize of faith. Harries explores both types of artists in his book, those who flee religion and those who chase it. He focuses primarily on those who lived in the 20th century, starting with 19th-century novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky and ending with modern writer Marilynne Robinson.

The Pull of Religion

Harries chooses his 20 novelists and poets from those “who have meant a great deal to me over the years [and] for whom the pull of religion has been fundamental.” His book consists of revised talks on his chosen writers given over the course of a 30-year career. As a retired Anglican bishop of Oxford, he attends more to Oxford-based writers than American readers may expect. Each chapter begins with a brief biography, but key details are sometimes omitted (such as the writer’s homeland), and the pages are littered with misprints and dated references. (At one point, Harries describes a …

Continue reading…