The Risk of Inviting Jesus into Your Summer

Can this season be one where I grow with God and with my neighbor?

Summer, wrote A. W. Tozer, is “the period of full power when life multiplies, and it is hard to believe that it can ever end.”

But summer’s lease truly hath all too short a date. So here at the beginning of the season, it’s worth asking: What do I really want this summer to be like? How can this season be one where I grow with God and with my neighbor?

That’s an invitation, not an imposition. Christian leaders who read CT can imagine as well as we can the early summer sermon they’re uninterested in hearing: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! … [I]t stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” It’s a wise (and inspired!) proverb, but the assumed application has always sounded unpleasant: Work harder for Jesus! Trade your summer rest for ministry!

Sure, some of us may need the proverb’s admonition to get up off our beds. But many CT readers are already fairly antlike in the summer: volunteering at Vacation Bible Schools, arranging summer mission trips and service projects, picking up the slack as fellow church volunteers travel… And for many Christians, summer is not mostly a time of recreation but of finding seasonal work to supplement a meager income.

The question we want to ask this June, then, is not: What more can you add this summer? Rather, it’s this: What are you looking forward to? What brings you joy about this season? And how can it be more of a blessing to you and to others? What provisions come in summer that can be harvested for a lifetime?

Perhaps you love summer’s longer days. Seize them! It’s much easier to start or rekindle a habit of morning prayer when awakened by songbirds …

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The Unfortunate Pedigree of the Missional Church

Why we need to rethink the church.

A few years ago, I was interviewing Rob Bell for Christianity Today about his book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians. He wrote something in the book that surprised me (imagine that, Rob Bell saying something surprising). So I asked him to clarify himself: “What to you is the purpose of the church?”

“The purpose of the church,” he replied, “is to make the world a better place.” That’s what he had said in the book, and that’s the statement that puzzled me. I frankly couldn’t believe he had said that in front of God and everybody. But as I thought about it, I realized that Bell had expressed precisely the current zeitgeist of the American church. I was less concerned about Bell than I was about the church.

So far in this series, I’ve begun arguing (links to this series can be found here) that the American church, and the evangelical church in particular, has let our activism in the name of God eclipse our passion for God. There is no better place to begin thinking more deeply about how the horizontal has eclipsed the vertical—and how we can reimagine the vertical—than to think about the church. For the next three essays, I want to look at our operative (and I believe mistaken) theology of church. From there, I’ll use some essays to look at how this works itself as well as how it affects various aspects of church life.

Evangelical faith is often criticized for having no ecclesiology, that is, no doctrine of the church. I beg to differ, and instead say that it has an inadequate and truncated doctrine of the church. It’s one reason I believe the movement is in crisis.

From Social Gospel to Missional

From the mid-’60s until 1989, I was a member, …

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Interview: From Tiananmen’s Most-Wanted to Followers of Jesus

Thirty years after the deadly massacre, two dissidents reflect on hope for China.

Though Tiananmen translates as “The Gate of Heavenly Peace,” the Beijing city square is known for something utterly destructive: the June 4, 1989, massacre where Chinese troops fired on nonviolent student demonstrators, killing thousands—deaths that the government still has not publicly acknowledged.

The historic event came amid a national movement for democracy and freedom and set off a spiritual awakening for the Chinese, according to sociologist Yang Fenggang.

Among the young activists who stood in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago were Zhang Boli and Zhou Fengsuo. Both landed on China’s most-wanted list, were imprisoned, fled the country, and live in exile. The pair are also among at least 4 of the 21 most-wanted student activists to come to faith in Christ, with Zhang serving as the pastor of Harvest Chinese Christian Church, a multisite church with locations around the world, and Zhou leading Humanitarian China, which advocates on behalf of political prisoners in his homeland.

“Of the Tiananmen Square student leaders who have converted to Christianity, they tend to see evangelism as the priority,” said Yang, director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University. “A priority of their social activism is humanitarian aid to people in China or exiled in the US, including political dissidents, human rights lawyers, and Christian leaders who have been persecuted for their leadership in the house churches.”

Zhang and Zhou’s historic involvement gives them a unique perspective on the Communist government’s crackdown on China’s growing house church movement, whose leaders were inspired by the Tiananmen activism decades ago.

“We may forget that …

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10 Women Who Are Changing the Southern Baptist Response to Abuse

Meet the survivors and advocates whose voices spurred “holy rumblings” in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

For many years, even as revelations of sexual abuse by clergy had been coming to light for decades in the Catholic church, the evangelical church had not had “eyes to see” or “ears to hear” the extent of its own abuse crisis.

In the words of Bible teacher Beth Moore, “By and large, the naïve couldn’t fathom it, the knowledgeable wouldn’t risk it, the perpetrators were good at it, and the victims were blamed and shamed for it.”

But in 2018 and 2019, women brought new attention to the silent suffering of those whose stories were ignored, stifled, and left untold. Among Southern Baptists in particular, these advocates in churches and ministries platformed the cause and supported survivors pursuing justice, healing, and reform.

Faced with a growing wave of survivor stories and a newspaper investigation unearthing more than 700 victims, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is no longer downplaying the problem. SBC president J. D. Greear said the body of churches needs to “repent of a culture that has made abuse, cover-ups, and evading accountability far too easy,” months after launching a study group to develop new resources and recommend policy changes.

In the SBC, pastors, professors, senior leaders, and even a prominent seminary president—Paige Patterson at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—have lost their positions over mishandled allegations or their own misconduct. Some congregations facing scrutiny over abuse have withdrawn from the SBC. Southern Baptists will vote at their June annual meeting on whether to add a provision threatening to disfellowship churches without adequate protocols for addressing abuse.

More broadly, two states have considered …

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Franklin Graham Declared a Day of Prayer for President Trump. Christian Leaders Weigh In.

How is the church meant to heed Paul’s directive to pray for “those in authority”?

This Sunday, hundreds of Christian leaders and congregations across the US will join Franklin Graham in a special day of prayer for President Donald Trump.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association president, who prayed at Trump’s inauguration, said that the president needs prayer to “protect, strengthen, encourage, and guide” him in the face of political attacks.

He cited the call to pray for leaders from 1 Timothy 2:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (v. 1–4)

Beyond a designated day of prayer, many congregations include political leaders in their weekly petitions during Sunday gatherings. As they pray, leaders often emphasize God’s sovereignty over earthly kingdoms, unity in the body of Christ, and our desire to see goodness and flourishing in our country.

Some US Christians have questioned whether national calls to prayer around certain issues or leaders “politicize” prayer to partisan ends. Each year around holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day, leaders caution against conflating patriotism and worship. (This year, the National Association of Evangelicals has focused on the Great Commandment [Matt. 22:37–39] for its “Pray Together Sunday” over the July 4 weekend.)

Many of the president’s evangelical advisers have signed on to Sunday’s day of prayer, including James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Jack Graham, Robert Jeffress, and Paula White, who …

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One-on-One with Tuvya Zaretsky on Jewish Evangelism

“There is a much greater openness to the gospel among Jewish people in North America, Eastern Europe, and also in Israel today.”

Ed: How long have you been involved with the Lausanne Movement, and what is your current role?

Tuvya: I was at the 1974 Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism in Switzerland, although I was just 27 years old. I’d come to faith in Christ just three years earlier from a background in Judaism. That was my first exposure to the idea of world evangelism.

In 1980, Lausanne sponsored a conference on unreached people groups in Pattaya, Thailand. I wasn’t at that meeting, but it’s where the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) was initiated. It is now among the most mature Lausanne special interest networks and the only one today serving Jewish evangelism globally.

Since 1999, I have served as President of the LCJE International Coordinating Committee. I’m also a Lausanne Catalyst for Jewish evangelism as a bridge between the Lausanne Movement and the LCJE network.

Ed: Tell me about your current roll and what you do.

Tuvya: As a Lausanne Catalyst for Jewish evangelism, I’m one of the representatives of the Jewish evangelism network to the international Lausanne Movement. Membership in our network asks for substantial agreement in principle with the Lausanne Covenant. As President of the LCJE International Coordinating Committee, I’m providing network leadership and focus around the purposes of our network.

The primary work of that ICC is planning and hosting international consultations every four years. We do the same for our LCJE CEO conferences every two years. Our bulletin is now published three times a year, available in print and online. I also liaise our network with the larger Lausanne Movement

The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism is a voluntary and elected position. My full-time …

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Sermons Alone Don’t Make You a Teaching Church

It takes more than a pulpit to train up your people in the way they should go.

The woman was patient and gracious, but clearly concerned.

“Why are we showing this movie, and why aren’t we presenting the gospel as part of the event?”

This friend from our congregation was referring to what had recently become an annual tradition at our church to show the movie The Polar Express on a weekend before Christmas. Each year we welcomed hundreds of excited, pajama-clad children, their parents, and their grandparents into our auditorium for a family movie night. Dozens of volunteers dressed as conductors and engineers, strategically interrupting the movie with ice cream, hot chocolate, and jingle bells to create an evening to remember. The event was intended to be a simple welcome point for families in our community, who were invited to return to our church for Christmas services.

From my perspective, the movie night had a clear purpose. But as I listened to this godly woman voice her concerns, I realized the communication to our congregation had not been as clear as I thought. Our church prided itself on being a “teaching church,” but we had been neglecting numerous teaching opportunities on and off the platform.

Our church describes itself as a “teaching church” because we value the teaching and preaching of Scripture. And of course, churches should absolutely teach the Bible. But as we have discovered, we also need to teach values and behaviorsand that teaching needs to extend beyond the pulpit.

Every church develops a set of underlying, deeply held corporate values about how and why it exists and operates. These values are usually determined by the church’s senior leadership. However, if these values are not regularly and repeatedly taught throughout the …

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Meekness Is Not Weakness

It seems like foolishness to us, but it was one of Jesus’ greatest strengths.

Of all the Beatitudes, I’d guess that “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” is the most misunderstood, mistrusted, and neglected. I think the reason why is because we don’t understand the virtue of meekness and tend to think it indicates weakness.

Certainly, meekness didn’t fit in with the values of the Greco-Roman world of the first century, where humility wasn’t generally lauded as a virtue. Nietzsche, a great admirer of the Greeks, thought meekness was exactly the sort of false virtue that the weak would applaud because, well, it’s about the only virtue they could actually pull off. Since the weak can’t win by the standard rules, they change the rules.

I think most of us are far more Nietzschean than we’d like to admit. At least I am. When I hear the word meek, it seems too insipid, too accommodating, too spineless to be a virtue.

Yet the Scriptures call us to meekness. Besides the beatitude, Moses is held out as a model for being the meekest man on earth (Num. 12:3), Jesus tells us to come learn from him because he is meek and humble of heart (Matt. 11:29), and Paul encourages us to put on meekness like clothing (Col. 3:12). This is not something any Christian interested in following Jesus can afford to ignore.

What, then, is meekness? Well, it can’t be weakness or a lack of courage. Jesus was no pushover—he flipped tables in the temple, showed up in cities where he faced outstanding warrants, and coolly stared down governors and kings threatening him with death.

According to medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, meekness is a gentleness that restrains us from anger or from expressing our anger easily. Reformer John Calvin calls it a “mild …

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How We Have Forgotten God

Evangelical faith is no longer characterized by its initial passion.

The longing to know and love God, to bask in his presence, is core to evangelical life and faith as I understand it. The famous Bebbington quadrilateral describes evangelicals as those who emphasize the authority of Scripture, Christ’s death on the cross, the need for conversion, and a life of service, in both word and deed. That is good as far as it goes, but it does not go deep enough, in my view. There is something that energizes our action, that initiates our first and sustains our ongoing conversion, that draws us repeatedly to the Cross, that compels us to read and obey Scripture. That something deeper is the yearning to know God. (My previous essay, “Monomaniacs for God,” outlines what that looks like in Scripture and church history.)

One can still find this passion in our movement today, to be sure. But it is no longer something that characterizes us. It is not what we’re known for.

One reason I believe desire for God, as such, is core to what it means to be evangelical is what happened at our birth, when the desire for God did indeed characterize the movement. The following historical survey is woefully inadequate to prove this and the subsequent decline of our desire. But I nonetheless believe that, in broad strokes, it is a fair summary of where we’ve been and where we are today.

‘The town seemed to be full of the presence of God’

In the beginning, the American evangelical movement sprung up when, in the 1730s and ’40s, George Whitefield and John Wesley began preaching about the need to be born again. Their preaching revived a dying portion of Jesus’ church, which reanimated a people so that they might enjoy a vital, living, and loving relationship with our Savior. …

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A Major New Study Asks: How Does Church Affect Marital Health?

A recent report suggests that highly religious couples have better relationships and better sex. Domestic violence, however, is the same for them as their less religious neighbors.

Charlie and Marty Coe recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in front of a joyful crowd of family and friends, but things weren’t always so good in their marriage. Although they were very much in love in the early years, by the time they reached their early 30s, they had grown “cold and distant” and were “living the life of married singles.” As they put it, they were “a train wreck waiting to happen,” and though they never discussed it, the threat of divorce “loomed large.” At the time, they attended church but were not living out their faith in their marriage.

All that changed about 38 years ago when the couple attended a Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) weekend they heard about through a friend at church. During the event, an unhappy Marty found the courage to tell Charlie he needed to shoulder a much larger share of the care of their two children. The WWME community also jumpstarted their faith and their marriage, prompting them to pray with and for one another on a daily basis and to become more active leaders in their church. Since then, they’ve enjoyed a vibrant marriage that they continue to share about through their marriage ministry.

This couple’s experience is illustrative of some of the key findings from a new report from the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) and the Wheatley Institution, The Ties That Bind. It finds that “lukewarm” couples—those who attend church infrequently—do not enjoy better relationship quality than secular couples who never attend church, and on some measures, such as men’s infidelity and women’s relationship quality, they actually do worse than secular couples. But couples …

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