Richard Mouw Wrestles with Evangelicalism, Past and Present

Reading his book is like enjoying a cup of tea with a wise elder statesman.

Among my favorite books is Catholic activist Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness. When asked why, I often reply, “Because it’s like enjoying a cup of tea with a wise older woman who lived an astoundingly courageous life and led some of the most important movements of her generation.” Day’s book is conversational in tone and might mention names or historical events I don’t recognize. But I tolerate these quirks—in fact, I find them delightful—because I know she has something to teach me.

Richard Mouw’s Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels has a similar appeal. The book wrestles with questions of identity: What is this ever-changing movement called “evangelicalism?” How do we deal with conflict over the meaning of this term and over the direction of the movement itself? And should we even use the “E-word” anymore? As an elder statesman of Reformed evangelicalism, Mouw engages these questions (and others) through stories and reflections from a lifetime of ministry.

He discusses topics as wide-ranging as contextualization and the doctrine of sin, church unity (and disunity), and the importance of mystery, even including a whole chapter on hymnody. But, like tea with an older saint, moments that at first seem like digressions are often where treasure is found, and they all wind back to the book’s main theme: why Mouw remains an evangelical, by name and belief—and why he is “restless” about it.

Though not a memoir, the book walks through Mouw’s own story. As a brainy kid, Mouw found in evangelicalism a nourishing tradition of Christian scholarship that rescued him from fundamentalist anti-intellectualism. …

Continue reading…

Small Town Pastors See More Than Small Wonders

Rural ministry is experiencing a resurgence in the US even as economic and demographic numbers continue their decline.

These days, living in small-town America often means living with less.

2018 marked another year of decline in many rural and small towns: economies suffering; local residents aging or moving away; and many struggling with addiction, disillusionment, or depression.

But just as the nation declares a crisis in small communities, the church has seen new momentum around rural ministry. Proud pastors from blue-collar outskirts, flyover country farmlands, and cozy mountain towns proclaim that in God’s kingdom, less is more.

In new books, blogs, networks, and conferences, these leaders resist popular narratives about rural America to instead embrace the gospel lessons they encounter when doing ministry on a small scale.

“One of the things that the rural church reminds the global church of is God’s commitment to be with people everywhere. We as the people of God have been sent to the ends of the earth and sometimes rural is one of those ends,” said Brad Roth, pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kansas.

“Not every place is going to have the same potential for that growth metric. But every place is still beloved by God and worthy of our best and most thoughtful ministry as the church.”

While plenty of materials are geared toward church growth in bigger congregations, more resources are emerging for leaders in smaller contexts. America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, dedicated its annual pastors’ conference—long the domain of megachurch pastors—to small-church pastors in 2017.

“Despite rapid global urbanization, many millions around the world continue to live in small towns and rural areas. God is calling some of us to live …

Continue reading…

Are We the Ultraviolet Light of the World? Or the X-Rays?

An astronomer ponders one of Jesus’ most memorable sayings.

When Jesus defined himself as “the light of the world,” listeners probably associated those words with common objects well known to them: the hot sun of Judea, the stars twinkling in the sky, the moon shining during the night, torches they carried on the roads, small oil lamps used in their houses, or bonfires lit when camping on a long trip.

In our current age, we associate the light with many other things: the screen of a smartphone, a laptop we use for work, the traffic lights on the streets, fireworks on New Year’s Eve, a television, a laser pointer, car lights, or a child’s toy.

As an astronomer, the majority of my work is based on light. I study astronomical observations of celestial bodies, obtained through telescopes, in order to understand the physical processes behind them. From astronomy, I know there are many kinds of light, so I wondered how that can teach me more about the expression “the light of the world.”

To start with, what is light? Light is electromagnetic radiation that can manifest itself in different ways depending on the range of energy in which we observe it. For example, we have visible light, x-rays, radio waves, ultraviolet light, or microwaves, to name a few. The interesting thing is that, although they manifest themselves in different ways, all these types of light are part of the same physical phenomena. Another fascinating property of the light is that, although they have different energies, all electromagnetic radiation travels at the same speed: 300,000 km/s, a universal constant called the speed of light.

The fact that light manifests itself in different ways is very useful in astronomical research because by observing a celestial object through different …

Continue reading…

One-on-One with Charles Stone on ‘Holy Noticing’

A conversation about Christian mindfulness.

Ed: What led you to discover mindfulness?

Charles: My youngest daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 1. Through the first 25 years of her life she had a dozen brain surgeries, two devices implanted into and taken out of her body, and had part of her brain removed. [She is doing well now and studying to be a chaplain.]

I saw the effects of something wrong with the human brain. Although I had been a Christian for decades, I still greatly struggled with anxiety and worry. Even though I consistently practiced many spiritual disciplines, I still struggled. I wondered if something was wrong with my brain.

And because of my struggle and the fact that we lived in this neuro-psychology world for so long, I began reading about the brain. I enrolled in an executive master’s program in the neuroscience of leadership and wrote my master’s thesis on mindfulness for the Christian leader, which led me into a deep dive on mindfulness.

I began to practice it with great positive effect on my personal anxiety and my walk with Christ.

Ed: How do you define mindfulness?

Charles: I define mindfulness as holy noticing—the art of noticing, with a holy purpose, God and his handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.

Ed: Why should Christians reclaim mindfulness? What are the benefits?

From the Old Testament to the New Testament to the early desert contemplatives, practices like mindfulness have been a part of our faith for centuries. I believe that Christians can greatly benefit by reclaiming this practice, especially as we see the benefits neuroscience is discovering that it brings.

1. It helps us avoid spiritual forgetting. Our tendency to spiritually forget God, by interrupting our thought …

Continue reading…

My Cocaine Habit Was Killing My NFL Dreams

How I found a power greater than the white powder that enslaved me.

Don’t put the powder in your nose,” I said as I looked in the mirror. “Don’t do it.”

I was sure I could talk myself out of snorting cocaine one more time. My words sounded so real, so genuine.

But just like that, I saw my image disappear from the mirror as I bent down and took another hit off the table. It was an awful high. The chemicals of the cocaine laced through my body at the same time they battled against the guilt in my conscience. I would yell at myself, “What are you doing?”

The tragedy of my addiction was that it threatened everything I had worked for. I was a defensive back playing for the San Diego Chargers and living the life I always wanted. I had come up from nearly nothing to get into the league. Since I wasn’t recruited by any of the Division 1 colleges coming out of high school, I ended up playing Division 3 ball at the University of New Haven.

But I wasn’t deterred. I knew I would get to the NFL one way or another. My coach made a flyer about me and sent it to every NFL team each week, inviting their scouts to come watch me play. No one ever showed up, but I didn’t care. Their lack of interest just motivated me to work harder.

Peer Pressure

After my senior year, one season after becoming the school’s first All-American, five teams agreed to watch some of my game film. I got a call from the Los Angeles Rams, who told me they were impressed. “If we have everything we need,” the coach told me, “we’ll take you in the later rounds of the draft—if you’re still available.” Ultimately, I found a spot on the Chargers. (The Rams had drafted me, as promised, but I was cut during the preseason.)

As a rookie arriving …

Continue reading…

Florida’s Oldest Place to Grow Old

Dowling Park was a retirement community built around widows and orphans. A century later, it’s a model for intergenerational ministry.

Charles Moore says he must have heard about Florida’s first retirement community when he was in the cradle in the late 1930s. His father loved reading the Present Truth Messenger, a newspaper of the Advent Christian Church—especially the back-page “Old Folks at Home” section that offered updates about the denomination’s retirement community in Dowling Park, Florida, about 70 miles east of Tallahassee.

“As far back as I can remember him, he used to say, ‘When I retire, I want to go to the Advent Christian Village,’ ” 81-year-old Moore says. His father lived in the community for 21 years and, shortly after his death in 2002, Moore and his wife, Jenelle, decided they also wanted to move from their home in North Carolina to the village in Dowling Park. “I didn’t know of another retirement place in North Carolina or anywhere that was like this one,” Moore says.

Moore’s story is not unique among the community’s members. May Virginia White, 85, is a third-generation resident. Laura Putnam, 84, a retired missionary to the Philippines, grew up hearing about the village through fifth-Sunday offerings her father’s church collected to support the ministry.

Situated on 1,200 wooded acres along the Suwannee River, Advent Christian Village is, according to its website, the oldest retirement community in Florida. But far from a haven for senior escapism, it was born with a baked-in vision for missional living. The nonprofit organization opened in 1913 as a home for both orphans and retired ministers, and today, with its community-run youth mentoring programs and a high rate of volunteering, it may offer a model for post-career seniors who want to get …

Continue reading…

What Shakespeare Taught Me About Ash Wednesday

On the first day of Lent, I’m reminded of a love that “alters not” and “bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

Many years ago this winter, I published my first novel. That was a proud day for me. I had a sense of maybe having achieved something of lasting significance. The novel sold reasonably well, made it into a second and third reprinting, and was even brought out again in mass-market paperback. But three or four years after it first came out, my publisher told me the novel was going out of print. There were a few thousand copies left over, and the publisher would either destroy them or send them to me for the cost of shipping.

Of course, I couldn’t bear to see my babies slaughtered like that, so I sprung for the shipping cost and my brother offered to store them in the hayloft of his barn in Oregon. As President Bush used to say, leave no child behind.

Like the rich man in the parable, I had my harvest stored in a barn. Every summer, I visited my brother in Oregon, sometimes taking a box of books home with me. As summer followed summer, however, I noticed my treasure was showing some signs of wear and tear.

It rains a lot in Oregon, and water had come through a leak in the roof and soaked some of the boxes through. Other boxes had holes chewed through the corners by mice, which also liked to digest the books themselves. The occasional box was torn open by someone curious to take a copy, which was fine with me, but the rest of the books in the open box were left to collect dust and hay and pigeon droppings. Now, after years of careful storage, my literary legacy to the world doesn’t look like much. Last I heard, my brother was using the last of the pulpy remnants to fire up his woodstove.

In the Renaissance they called this the problem of decay, the decay not only of our possessions but inevitably of our own lives. …

Continue reading…

If You Think You Have God Figured Out, You Definitely Don’t

Despite our best efforts to understand his ways, he won’t be bound by our tidy notions of divine etiquette.

About 25 years ago, while neck-deep in my seminary training, I set my sights on a rather high goal: I’d learn the Book of Psalms by heart. Not in a year. Not even in five years. But as long as it took. Inch by inch, I’d explore these ancient hymns, climbing every hill and sinking into every valley, immersing myself in their literary landscape until they became part of me. I settled on a translation, found a chart for working through all 150 psalms per month, and began the journey.

Now, a quarter-century later, I’m still on that journey, that “long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson put it. But one thing I know for certain: The long, prayerful, exploring obedience has benefited me in ways I cannot even begin to put into words.

It has also, more than once, thoroughly unnerved me.

Alongside lofty praise and soaring hallelujahs is raw lament, bleeding with anguish. Next door to G-rated prayers are harrowing petitions laced with graphic scenes of violence. The full range of human emotions—good, bad, and ugly—undulate through these songs of Israel. As shocking as the human element is, however, it’s nothing compared with the God we encounter. The Lord is my shepherd (23:1), but he is also an arm-breaker (10:15) and a teeth-shatterer (3:7). The Lord is my light (27:1), but he’s also pushed me into the darkest depths of the pit (88:6).

In one arresting metaphor, after being full of wrath, jettisoning his rebellious people, and falling asleep, God finally wakes up like a drunken soldier overcome by wine (78:65). Such actions and images, staring out from the pages of the Bible itself, are unsettling to most of us. They don’t fit into our neat and tidy boxes of …

Continue reading…

Saving Retirement

Growing old is not what it used to be. For millions of retirees, that may actually be good news.

Pat Poole felt a mix of relief and uncertainty once he decided to retire from his sales management job at Halliburton at the end of March. An Oklahoma Sooners football fan and an avid golfer, Poole looked forward to more leisure time after leaving the Houston-based global oil service company. But he also had questions. One morning, he put down the TV remote and asked his wife with complete sincerity, “What am I going to do?”

The world is undergoing a massive demographic shift. More than 70 million baby boomers will retire in the next 20 years in the United States alone. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will exceed the number of people under age 18 for the first time in US history. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050.

But as retirement looms for baby boomers, a growing number of them—both Christians and their neighbors—are discontented with current cultural assumptions about it. They’re asking new questions about money, work, time, family, leisure, and a life of purpose.

As Americans live longer, “we do not know what we will be doing with all that time,” Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, told the National Journal. Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, point out that people are living longer than ever before, and the average retiree can expect to live another 20–30 years.

What retirees consistently say they want to do with their time in retirement is spend it with family. But what happens when the realities of caring for needy adult children, looking after aging parents, and spending newfound hours …

Continue reading…

Did Trump and Kim’s Summit Help North Korean Christians?

Experts analyze the impact on persecuted believers after the two polemic leaders walk away without a deal.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as “his friend.”

At extreme odds a year ago, the two leaders met this week in Hanoi, Vietnam, with a new agreement possibly on the table. This time, Trump made friendly overtures to Kim—even going so far as to say he believed the leader had not been directly responsible for the death of an American student. But when the summit ended on Thursday, Trump walked away after the US refused to agree to North Korea’s demand that all sanctions be lifted off the country.

For years, North Korea has been one of the world’s worst countries to be a Christian; Open Doors has ranked it No. 1 for nearly the past two decades. Dozens of volunteers and employees from the many Christian nonprofits that serve North Koreans—believers and unbelievers alike—have had increasing difficulty serving the beleaguered population.

CT asked six experts from the Lausanne Movement’s North Korea Committee, which held consultations before and after the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, to weigh in. Did Trump and Kim’s summit help North Korean Christians? Their answers appear below, arranged from no to yes.

Ben Torrey, director, the Fourth River Project:

My hope is that, as a result of the Hanoi Summit, the existing regional travel restriction that is preventing US citizens from traveling to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will be lifted allowing Christian NGOs and humanitarian workers to enter the country. These workers are doing a great deal to help the ordinary people of the DPRK in the name of Jesus Christ. The US-imposed travel restriction interferes seriously with that mission.

I do not think the summit …

Continue reading…