Can We Finally Break the Silence Around Tamar?

Telling the uncomfortable story of “desolate” Tamar positions us to show a kind of compassion King David didn’t.

For the past year, I’ve been teaching the Book of Samuel to a group of women at my church. We go through it chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and I challenge them to think critically about what they are reading. The Book of Samuel is filled with stories that ask us to grapple with the sovereignty of God and the severity of sin. But perhaps none is so jarring as the story of Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13.

I’m sure you know it. Amnon, one of David’s sons, violates his own sister and then casts her aside. When her brother Absalom learns what Amnon has done, he tells her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this thing to heart.” Absalom’s shushing and dismissing are certainly vile, but it is David’s reaction that stuns: “When King David heard all this, he was furious” (vv. 20–21).

Furious. That’s it. No public denouncement of Amnon, no vindication of Tamar. No justice, no words of comfort or kindness for his daughter, just impotent, mute anger. David is silent. He takes no action against Amnon, opening the door for Absalom to have his brother murdered in revenge. And Tamar is left desolate.

Why does David’s anger translate into silence and inaction? Because David sees in his sons an amplification of his own grievous sins. David sacrificed Bathsheba to his lust and then murdered her husband to cover his tracks. Now his two sons fulfill God’s prophecy of judgment by committing heightened versions of his own sins within their own family.

David’s guilt renders him silent. Tamar’s plea to Amnon as he overpowers her rings in the ears of the reader: As for me, where could I carry my …

Continue reading…

Strangers in the Land of Startups

A US missions agency is changing the way Spain’s tech hub engages its influx of migrants.

An entrepreneurial hub on the coast of southern Spain houses more than 600 global companies in shiny, modern buildings, with rows of palm trees reflected in walls of windows. The Andalusia Technology Park, or Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía (PTA), is a bit like the country’s version of Silicon Valley. It includes tech startups, multinational companies like Oracle and Accenture … and a 90-year-old US-based missions agency called Christar.

Christar’s international team left its Dallas-area headquarters two years ago for this tech park in Málaga, Spain, eager for the chance to engage social innovation opportunities alongside the public sector. But God had another mission in store for them.

“It’s the best time zone in the world to connect with the rest of the world, there’s a good international airport, and the cost of doing business is no more than doing it in Richardson, Texas,” said Brent McHugh, who became the team’s director in 2013 and oversaw the move to Málaga.

The popular tech park’s business and innovation center was also looking for ways to develop social corporate responsibility, so McHugh hoped to partner with their tech-minded global neighbors—most of whom had no other exposure to evangelicals.

But just as Christar was getting settled, the refugee crisis was in full swing, with thousands of migrants pouring into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. While the continent initially welcomed these newcomers, within months key ports of entry began shutting down. By 2018, the new country of choice was Spain, coming straight through Málaga.

“I pulled back from day-to-day refugee ministry—then God decided to provide …

Continue reading…

Monomaniacs for God

What it looks like when people remember their greatest love.

I ended the first essay in this series by saying that the deepest crisis of the American church, and of evangelical Christianity especially, is that we have forgotten God. I recognize that it seems absurd to say we have forgotten God when God is on our lips so much of the time. While the numbers are slightly down from previous decades, American Christians worship, pray, read their Bibles, and say in polls that religion is “very important” significantly more than do people in most other nations. If anything, we sometimes talk about God so much, many in the culture are sick of God-talk, especially when his name is invoked in the public square to support one political cause or another. So how can I say we have forgotten God?

Let me begin by picturing what the church looks like when it hasn’t forgotten God. Evangelicals certainly didn’t forget God at the birth of the movement in America, what we call The Great Awakening. But today I believe we have forgotten our first love—more of this in the next essay. But first a reminder of what that first love was like.

The reality of which I am speaking—a church that has not forgotten God—exhibits one principal characteristic: a desire for God. A desire so intense it sometimes looks like drunkenness or even madness.

The first place to go looking for a picture of this passion is Scripture.

Desire from Beginning to End

The most vivid example of such desire is King David. David was known as a man of action, a military leader, a nation’s king, so very busy with the affairs of state. (This is important to note, because later we’ll acknowledge how activism is part and parcel of evangelical faith.) He is also famous for his marital affair with …

Continue reading…

1 in 10 Young Protestants Have Left a Church Over Abuse

As the generation most likely to report experiencing misconduct and least likely to tolerate it, Christians under 35 stand to shape how congregations respond.

Surrounded by revelations of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, younger Christians are more keen to recognize sexual abuse—and less likely to put up with it.

According to a new study sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources, 10 percent of Protestant churchgoers under 35 have previously left a church because they felt sexual misconduct was not taken seriously. That’s twice as many as the 5 percent of all churchgoers who have done the same.

Among the younger demographic, 9 percent said they have stopped attending a former congregation because they personally did not feel safe from misconduct.

Churchgoers ages 18 to 34 are more likely than older generations to report experiencing sexual harassment—ranging from sexual comments and prolonged glances—at church and to know others at their church who are victims (23%).

“It is not surprising that young adults who have only known this frank ‘call it what it is’ sexual culture to be more likely to identify instances of misconduct than older adults,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research which conducted the survey, told CT.

Another factor: Younger churchgoers are also closest to the ages when most sexual assault takes place. The highest risk spans ages 12 to 34, peaking between 16 and 19, according to Justin Holcomb, an expert on sexual abuse in the church and a board member of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment).

While 14 percent of those ages 18 to 34 say that sexual advances from people at church have led them to attend less frequently, just 1 percent of those over 65 said the same. The youngest generation is two to three times more likely than the oldest generation to say they have experienced sexual harassment …

Continue reading…

I Used to Hide My Shame. Now I Take Shelter Under the Gospel.

How a gay atheist teenager discovered Jesus and stopped living undercover.

Bill, I’m gay.”

The word vomited out of my mouth. I had never actually said it before. Not out loud, at least. We were in a mostly empty chapel on the grounds of the University of Virginia, and a dozen or more Campus Crusaders were gathering up on the stage to pray. Bill looked up at the stage, then back down at me.

He nodded toward the door. His tone was hushed. “How about we step outside and talk,” he said. “Someplace more private.”

I imagined that everyone had heard me say what I’d said. I glanced up as others quickly averted their gaze. “I don’t care, Bill,” I told him. “I have to get this out. I’ve never told anyone.”

This was the early 1990s, and I was a newly minted follower of Jesus.

I wasn’t raised Christian. My dad was a senior executive in the federal government, and I was raised in a good secular family in suburban Washington, DC. I had never gone to church or synagogue. I had never read the Bible. I definitely did not believe some ancient Near Eastern sky god was secretly pulling the ropes somewhere. A friend named Spencer once told me I was an atheist. I didn’t argue.

There were two sons in our happy secular household. I was the gay one.

My ‘Velvet Rage’

Though I made crude attempts to hide it, something about me always appeared different. At age six I asked for an Easy-Bake Oven and a miniature porcelain tea set for Christmas so I could serve a proper English afternoon tea with my stuffed animals. Somewhere there’s a photo of me holding a miniature teacup between my thumb and index finger, pinky sticking out like a rainbow flag. I got my Easy-Bake Oven. But then I was sentenced to not one but two terms on a …

Continue reading…

A Pastor’s Restoration Process: Journey to Healing Through the Eyes of Those Closest, Part 3 – Greg

“True restoration focuses on destroying the sin, not destroying the person.”

Ed: Greg, why is restoration so hard?

Greg: I think restoration is hard because there initially is the shock of the exposure of sin. There is shame in the pastor, the leaders, and the church. The process of repentance is long and the wounds to the church are deep.

Ed: What did you say to Darrin in the process?

Greg: Early in the process we talked about who was affected, who was hurt by Darrin’s choices and his sin. We wanted to make sure that he fully understood the consequences of that sin in other people’s lives.

I have been part of several restorations and I have seen many pastors who are confronted about their sin not understand the root of it. We asked Darrin to come clean, to really meditate on and figure out, with counselor’s help, what had happened in this situation.

Beyond that, my role has been to encourage him that while his sin is bad, he is not, and that God loves him and that God has a future that is good. It’s been two parts to the process. First, let’s acknowledge it. Second, let’s acknowledge God’s grace in the middle of it as the repentance continues.

Ed: What does it look like to be a spiritual father?

Greg: I remember when I became a physical father for the first time. I didn’t think I was ready, to be honest with you. I was just a young man and didn’t see myself as a particularly great candidate to be a father.

I think spiritually it’s the same. When I was asked to be a part of Darrin’s restoration and especially when he asked me to be his pastor, I knew what the responsibility was. I knew that it was very important in his process to have a father in his corner, especially in light of the difficult relationship that he had had with his father and that his father …

Continue reading…

Nominate a Book for the 2020 Christianity Today Book Awards

Instructions for publishers.

Dear Publisher,

Each year, Christianity Today honors a set of outstanding books encompassing a variety of subjects and genres. The CT Book Awards, along with our “Beautiful Orthodoxy” Book of the Year, will be announced in December at christianitytoday.com. They also will be featured prominently in the January/February 2020 issue of CT and promoted in several CT newsletters. (In addition, readers will have the opportunity to participate in a marketing promotion organized by CT’s marketing team, complete with site banners and paid Facebook promotion.)

Awards Categories:

  1. Apologetics/Evangelism
  2. Biblical Studies
  3. Children & Youth
  4. Christian Living/Discipleship
  5. The Church/Pastoral Leadership
  6. Culture and the Arts
  7. Fiction
  8. History/Biography
  9. Missions/The Global Church
  10. Politics and Public Life
  11. Spiritual Formation
  12. Theology/Ethics
  13. CT Women*
  14. The “Beautiful Orthodoxy” Book of the Year**

*Learn more about CT Women at https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/.

**Beautiful Orthodoxy is the core philosophy guiding CT’s ministry. It describes a mission, across all our publications, to proclaim the truth, beauty, and goodness of the gospel in a gracious, non-antagonistic tone. Learn more about the cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy from CT editor Mark Galli, in this essay and this interview .

CT Women and Beautiful Orthodoxy are special add-on categories. Books nominated in these categories must have first been nominated in one of the other main categories. (They will be eligible to win more than once.) The add-on fee is $15 for either CT Women or Beautiful Orthodoxy, or $30 for both.

What and How to Submit:

To be eligible for nomination, a book must be published between November 1, 2018 and October 31, 2019. We are looking for scholarly …

Continue reading…

How Palestine Divides Messianic Jews

The complexity of the situation even presents a challenge to Jewish Christian unity.

Among Christians in America, Israel can be viewed as a fulfillment of prophecy, a democratic ally in a region of chaos, or an occupier oppressing stateless Palestinians. How to choose?

Given that 2 out of 3 US evangelicals have a positive perception of Israel, according to LifeWay Research, perhaps a better question is: How should evangelicals identify with the issues Israel faces?

Fortunately, there is a useful interpreter. “If the Christian community wants to understand Israel from a believing perspective,” said Jamie Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and a believer in Jesus, “going through Messianic Jews is best.”

However, the complexity of Israel divides even Messianic Jews in attitude toward Palestine, as illustrated by debate this year over an interview provocatively summarized as supporting ethnic cleansing.

“The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights,” Paul Liberman, executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy (AIA), toldThe Intercept. He described how the lobbying arm of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) was pushing for a shift of US funding from UN–administered Palestinian aid ($364 million in 2017) to an Israeli-led effort offering money to relocate from the West Bank. The goal: eventual annexation of the territory in a one-state solution with fewer Palestinian citizens, maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

First adopted by the MJAA in 2015, the idea reverberated within Messianic Jewish circles once TheIntercept highlighted efforts to harness evangelical influence in Congress and the White House.

“It is not a removal. It is an opportunity for a much better life,” said Joel Chernoff, CEO of the MJAA. “But the demographic …

Continue reading…

Small Groups Anonymous

Why the best church small groups might take their cues from the Twelve Steps.

I used to tell my wife and friends that I needed a “non-small-group small group.” Then I began to wonder if I just needed an AA group. I am not an alcoholic. Alcohol just doesn’t do it for me. But Alcoholics Anonymous does. I attended an AA group while writing a book called Addiction and Virtue, and I’ve missed it ever since.

I am a Christian, or at least I am trying to be. I want to be a disciple of Jesus. But small groups just don’t interest me. I’ve attended many and they have all been more or less disappointing.

I know I’m not the only person who has encountered something spiritually vital in AA that is missing from small groups. My students at Biola University, where I teach a class on addiction that requires their attendance at AA meetings, often express this sentiment. Despite being immersed in the evangelical subculture of our university, most of them describe AA as the most spiritually “real” community they’ve ever witnessed.

This is not an especially new insight. Devotionals and leadership books and church bloggers have long tipped their hats to lessons that can be learned from AA. This magazine, too, has featured an ongoing conversation about the spiritual power of AA.

But in my teaching and research I have yet to see anyone take the comparison between AA and Christian community all the way, indulging it and carrying it to its full conclusion: If we took AA as our guide—all of it—how would we do small groups differently? What, if anything, would change? The question is not too farfetched, since AA began as an offshoot of a once-potent Christian discipleship movement.

AA and transformation

AA founders Bill Wilson and Bob Smith were acolytes of the …

Continue reading…

The Suffering Servant Only Makes Sense in the Context of the Trinity

The historical Christian doctrine helps us to see the goodness of God in Good Friday.

Good Friday sermons aren’t always easy to sit through. They’re even tougher to preach. Never have I been more moved or more likely to squirm in my seat in church than on Good Friday. Perhaps that’s because they invite us to sit in the midnight passages of Scripture, caught up with suffering, death, and the purposes of God. For many of us, it is a trial to read Good Friday texts and still see God as good.

Might I suggest that the careful use of historical Christian doctrine can help?

Take Isaiah 53’s shadowy prophecy of the Suffering Servant. In its own context, mystery lies thick around the Servant. A disturbing portrait of travail and torment mystifies and perplexes, even as it enthralls. In the earlier Songs of the Servant in Isaiah, he is clearly a communal figure for Israel in exile. But in this chapter, the communal figure becomes a concrete individual—an enigmatic and tragic one. Despised and rejected by men, oppressed and led away to death by his enemies, he seems among men the most to be pitied.

The worst of his lot lies not in the abuse by his enemies, or even the rejection of his friends—it is his treatment by God that is most unnerving. Even though he was innocent and there was no “deceit in his mouth,” it seems “it was the Lord’s will to crush him” in order to make “his life an offering for sin” and bring about the salvation of many (Isa. 53:10).

But how could it serve the purposes of Israel’s God to see this righteous one crushed? What does it tell us about the way God treats his servants, his elect? These are truly dark sayings. A gleam of light begins to shine, though, not only when we recognize their fulfillment in Jesus, the …

Continue reading…