Celebrate Sexual Ethics. Don’t Apologize for Them.

We can take pride and joy in the historic, biblical view of human sexuality.

Over the last five years, an increasing number of believers have changed their stance on sexual ethics and slipped from the grounded banks of orthodoxy into the current of the times. Several public figures, in particular, have come out as “affirming” and brought thousands with them. Those of us with a historic, biblical view feel at times defensive or discouraged, and our posture—quite understandably—is one of “holding our ground” against theological erosion.

In the midst of this tumult, we risk losing sight of what the church has to offer: not just a critique of false teaching (although that’s needed) but an alternative model, a bold vision of how orthodoxy enables deep, well-ordered love. As we encourage others to “stay on the bank,” we have the privilege of pointing them toward a picture that reveals God’s purpose for human sexuality.

Although the prohibitions of Scripture look to many like loveless, heartless “don’ts,” these commands grow out of a positive vision of human flourishing. Ask almost any same-sex attracted, abstinent Christian and they’ll tell you this vision requires imagination, sacrifice, and even suffering. But they’ll also tell you that it comes with freedom—not the freedom of libertinism but the freedom of aligning with the divine design for human intimacy. We publish their testimonies year after year because we believe their lives manifest the hardwon goodness of following God’s Word.

Church history offers another witness. For over 2,000 years, the church has been teaching a robust biblical anthropology, and we take seriously the cumulative weight of that teaching. The Holy Spirit, too, adds to the image. …

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The Rise of the Bible-Teaching, Plato-Loving, Homeschool Elitists

How evangelicals are becoming the new champions of the pagan classics.

In the fall of 2018, I spoke at Mars Hill Academy, a classical homeschooling co-op in Lexington, Kentucky. It began in 1995 and offers classes in Latin, Western civilization, rhetoric, and worldview, as well as English, math, and science. A cynic might have warned me that I would be greeted by insular families trying to protect their children from secular culture, a rigid Bible-only approach to learning, a legalistic mindset, and a withdrawal from civic engagement.

What I found instead were parents, students, and teachers with a shared vision of an educational program steeped in the Great Books and committed to glorifying God, freeing the mind from the marketplace of idols, and shaping virtuous, morally self-regulating citizens.

I’ve seen this phenomenon in many of the classical Christian schools I’ve spoken at—with some startling moments. Once, while explaining to an attentive group of teachers and students that the classical virtue of courage represents the Golden Mean between a lack of courage (cowardice) and an excess of courage, I asked what Aristotle might have meant by an excess of courage. A nine-year-old boy in the front row with white hair and a piercing glance shouted “bravado.” This young man had already begun to absorb the classics.

As in most schools I’ve visited, Mars Hill’s curriculum balances pagan (i.e., Homer, Aristotle) and medieval Christian (i.e., Dante, Chaucer) authors with major authors from the last 500 years of European and American literature (i.e., Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Faulkner).

In contrast, Western society today is increasingly eager to cut itself off from both its Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman roots. America’s elite universities, and increasingly …

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Interview: There’s More to Romans Than Personal Salvation

How Western readers miss the meaning of Paul’s letter—and how an Eastern perspective can correct the imbalance.

For much of church history, Christians have brought Western cultural assumptions to their reading of Scripture. But as the church’s geographic center of gravity has shifted from the West to the Majority World, believers across the globe have come forward to offer fresh insights on God’s Word. Jackson W. (a pseudonym), an American-born theologian teaching at an Asian seminary, builds on that work in his latest book, Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes: Honor and Shame in Paul’s Message and Mission, which reexamines the apostle’s famous letter. Missiologist Jayson Georges, coauthor of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials, spoke with Jackson about the value of bringing East Asian perspectives to bear on the message of Romans.

The ideas in Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes emerged from both your research and overseas ministry experience. Can you share some of the story behind the book?

For some time, I’ve noticed confusion stemming from the way Western Christians evangelize and explain Christianity to people in China. Whether you talk about certain terms, concepts, or emphases, there is a basic disconnect. However, the Bible has several themes that make more sense to a typical person in East Asia: specifically, issues related to honor, shame, and group identity.

At the same time, many Westerners overlook the significance of honor and shame in the Bible and the Christian life. Their reading of Romans minimizes the importance of honor and shame. For them, Romans is definitive proof that legal categories trump all other metaphors and concepts in Scripture. So I figured I would make my case from perhaps the most so-called “legal” book in the New Testament. …

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Sharing the Gospel in a World Filled with Good News Messages

Here are five elements that makes people share good news.

All people seem to possess an innate ability to share a gospel message. Whether it’s an exercise regimen, a holistic health remedy, a debt-reduction strategy, or any of a myriad of other supposed life-hacks, people of all personality types are bold and courageous when it comes to championing their good news message.

The words used give insight into the worshipful undertones they purport: “life-altering” and “transformative” seem to top the list. The relative value of such plans or products aside, the way they captivate our attention and our conversations provide insight into the lack of evangelistic fervor demonstrated by many supposed followers of Jesus.

What’s required for people to speak good news?

First, a shared need

The assumption driving good news messages is that all people have a common need, even those who might not know they do. People can relate to feeling fatigued from time to time, struggling with nagging health challenges, battling a pervasive mental fog, wishing their waistline was a bit smaller, or the fear of living paycheck to paycheck.

These challenges seem common, so when someone has an apparent solution to remedy one or more of these problems, it’s assumed that everyone else needs the answer as well. We’d be foolish or selfish to keep a message to ourselves if so many of our friends and family members are looking for answers to the same questions.

Could our evangelistic apathy be traced, at least in part, to a minimization of sin and the necessity of salvation from the wrath of God due to all sinners?

Second, personal transformation

Those gossiping their good news life-hacks have personally benefited from the message they share. For some, this benefit is financial. …

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Mexican Pastor and Priest Murdered at Their Churches

Cartel violence and threats escalated in August, and a Christian leader who ran a refugee shelter remains kidnapped.

A Roman Catholic priest and an evangelical pastor in Mexico were killed this month, and another pastor was kidnapped, according to published reports.

José Martín Guzmán Vega was killed on August 22 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, in northeast Mexico, according to the Catholic Multimedia Center (CCM). The priest of the Cristo Rey parish in the San Adelaida area of Matamoros was stabbed several times at about 10 p.m. inside his parish building, according to CCM, citing neighbors who heard cries within. He was 55.

His death brings to 27 the number of priests killed in Mexico since 2012, according to CCM. The state attorney general’s Investigative Police officers were still looking for a motive and the assailant(s) at this writing. In recent years drug rings have targeted both Protestant and Catholic leaders for their opposition to trafficking in illegal substances.

“So far this year, various incidents against priests and other clergy have been recorded, such as the case of a priest wounded by gunfire in Cuernavaca, Morelos [state], and the death threats against various priests in various areas of Veracruz,” CCM reported.

On the other side of the country, in southwest Mexico’s Oaxaca state, pastor Alfrery Líctor Cruz Canseco was shot to death in Tlalixtac de Cabrera on August 18, shortly after leading a worship service at his Fraternidad Cristiana (Christian Brotherhood) church, according to local news reports. Authorities were reportedly still investigating a motive for the gunman approaching the Protestant pastor and shooting him in his car outside the church site.

Church members reportedly managed to apprehend the suspect and turn him over to police. Pastor Cruz Canseco died …

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Bridges of God: The Church and the Rural-Urban Divide

Since the dawn of Christianity, God’s people have been called to be a bridge across the barriers constructed by any given society.

In 1954, Donald McGavran, a third-generation missionary in India who would go on to found Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission, published Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions.

In the book, McGavran offered western missionaries a new paradigm for ministry that cut against the dominant mission-station approach that catered to Western individualism by pulling converts out of their relational networks.

McGavran’s proposal emphasized the evangelistic power of interconnectedness. He witnessed entire “people movements” when new converts were encouraged to return to their social networks and families rather than take up residence in a walled-off missionary compound.

In the years since, there have been many justified critiques of the church growth movement that McGavran’s work eventually helped launch, but the principle that God uses relational bridges in the work of his kingdom is something that in retrospect looks so obvious that one wonders how missionary organizations could have ever missed it. Yet they did.

We still do.

Although the correlation between the current state of the church in America and McGavran’s work is hardly one-to-one, the reality today is that we in the church in America still need to be extremely intentional about cultivating relational bridges, especially as our nation approaches what is sure to be another divisive election season.

As a pastor of a small, rural church, I feel this need keenly. If history is any indicator, one of the most polarizing divides heading into the 2020 election cycle may again be the divide between those—Christian and non-Christian alike—who live in the nation’s rural regions and those who live in more urban areas. …

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Lose Your Faith at an Evangelical College? That’s Part of the Process

Research shows that students at CCCU schools are more likely to face a religious crisis than their secular counterparts.

It was quiet in the morning chapel when a Bethel University student took a pen and paper and put words to the fear: “Does God really love me?”

Then another student at the small evangelical school in Mishawaka, Indiana, took another piece of paper and wrote, “Am I good enough?”

Three students wrote, “Can a loving God send unbelievers to hell?” Six asked, “Why does God answer some prayers and not others?” Twelve: “Is Christianity the only way?” Twenty: “Is God really real?”

Shawn Holtgren, Bethel’s vice president for student development, was not surprised at the questions and doubts, which come up for students every year.

“In youth group they were surrounded by likeminded kids, and then they come to a place like Bethel, and they enter into a more searching phase,” Holtgren told CT. “It’s a process of beginning to question.”

A new two-part study published in Christian Higher Educationshows how common it is for students at evangelical colleges and universities to struggle with their faith. In fact, they are more likely to feel unsettled about spiritual matters, unsure of their beliefs, disillusioned with their religious upbringing, distant from God, or angry with God than their peers at secular schools as well as those at mainline Protestant and Catholic institutions.

Jennifer Carter, an assistant professor of leadership at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, analyzed surveys of more than 14,000 students at 136 colleges and universities, looking for patterns and predictors of religious struggle.

Carter found that students at evangelical schools experience “unique patterns of religious struggle.” At most …

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In the Face of Sexual Temptation, Repression Is a Sure-Fire Failure

How do we solve the problem of desire? Christian asceticism offers an alternative way.

My first relationship to desire was to give in to it. As a teenager in the early aughts, I believed that life was found by identifying my desires and rushing toward their satisfaction. I played this out in academics and especially in sexuality. My life beat to the pulse of Ariana Grande’s chant, “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.” The right response to desire was indulgence.

Unbeknownst to me as a nonChristian, the purity movement was running in parallel. Those who experienced that movement from the inside have spent recent months breaking down its excesses and missteps. Their conclusion (and mine) is that repression and avoidance are unbiblical responses to desire, no more Christian, perhaps, than my teenage, atheistic abandonment to it.

In the midst of these reoccurring public square discussions, the tension between libertinism on one side and repression on the other leaves most of us yearning for the reasonable via media, the middle way between failed extremes. In that space, is there a scripturally sound theology of desire?

Yes. I want to suggest that Christian asceticism, ancient though it is, offers a way forward. It uniquely treats God as the end, not the means, of desire.

It also circumvents the shortcomings of repression and avoidance. Here, I’m not talking about biblically wise avoidance. It is stupid and unsafe to put ourselves in places where we know we will be strongly tempted to lust or sin. Temptation, while not sin, is not safe for us; Jesus commands us to pray that we would be kept from it. Similarly, Paul’s admonition to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) can’t mean any less than this.

Instead, I want to point out that repression and avoidance have …

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Confessions of a Chinese Dreamer

When my immigration status jeopardized my college goals, I discovered my true identity.

The summer of 2009 was one of the scariest times of my life. I should have been excited about heading to Northwestern University on a scholarship. Instead, I struggled to sleep. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a precarious immigration status, my future rested on my academic performance. I didn’t have safety nets if I fell short.

I was born in the historic city of Nanjing, China. My family was not particularly wealthy, but we were established in society and considered an “intellectual” clan.

“Nothing is more important than learning,” declares an ancient Chinese saying, underscoring the pervasive Chinese belief that education is foundational to self-development and success. That pressure is heightened by intense competition among millions of students vying for limited spots at Chinese universities and prestigious universities abroad.

In fourth grade, I immigrated to the United States to join my mom, who had moved there five years earlier in 1994. My mom struggled to learn English in her 30s, but she persisted and completed a master’s degree. Her education helped her land a job immediately after graduating, which led to a dependent visa for me. She did it all for me, and I wanted to make her proud.

After overcoming significant language and cultural barriers, I caught up in my American school and began to excel. I wasn’t the smartest kid around, but I studied hard to honor my family. I thought that if I got good grades and got into a good college, then a good life would follow.

My mom and I came from an atheist family, but by God’s grace, we experienced biblical hospitality and heard the gospel from a few Americans who ultimately led us to Christ. Still, while I pronounced …

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Praying With Fire

What Moses and the burning bush teach us about approaching God.

There are many reasons I don’t pray: distraction, busyness, or the sense that I should be doing something. These are all terrible, of course, but I think the saddest reason is simply boredom. If you’ve grown up in church or simply acclimatized to the secular air we breathe, prayer can appear as small potatoes. It’s something good you know you’re supposed to do because God, like your Great Aunt Suzy, would like you to call more often. But there is little urgency or anticipation.

How much would change, I wonder, if we looked to the story of Moses and the burning bush as our paradigm for prayer?

We begin inauspiciously enough, with Moses tending sheep in Midian. Here he is, minding his own business, living his everyday life, when the fantastic intrudes upon him. On the “Mountain of God,” he sees a bush that was on fire, yet “it did not burn up” (Ex. 3:2). Unlike every other flame, this one uniquely did not depend on the bush for fuel, so it did not consume it but was nevertheless somehow transcendently present within it.

Curious at this sacred phenomenon, Moses approaches but stops short when God calls him by name from the flame, “Moses! Moses!” After recovering from the shock, he humbly replies, “Here I am.” To which the Lord responds by warning him, “Do not come any closer. . . . Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:4–5). Moses rightly obeys, and from there his improbable interview with the Flame continues with the astonishing gift of the Divine Name and a commission to liberate Israel.

The whole encounter is remarkable, but it is particularly significant that the Holy One appears as fire, not …

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