God’s Peace Is Not Always God’s

How to know when our feelings are truly from the Spirit.

Our deeply reported March cover story examined multiple perspectives on the role of evangelicals in America’s growing commercial surrogacy industry. One supporter of the practice was quoted as saying, “God called me to seek out what seemed like unconventional ways to serve others.” Another said, “I’m so glad I have a peace about this being God’s plan” (emphasis added).

Pulling these quotes is not a judgment on their decision, and this is not an editorial about the ethical dynamics of surrogacy (which are complicated enough to merit a separate piece). Rather, the italicized phrases catch one’s attention for a different reason: They are phrases often used—and misused—by evangelical Christians.

Such phrases run hand in hand with “I felt the Spirit’s leading,” “God spoke to me,” and “I sensed God’s confirmation.” They can be accompanied by a reference to something that brings anxiety or to a major purchase or financial decision or to grave ethical decisions. What all these phrases have in common is this: The self is portrayed as the final court of appeal.

This is no small matter, but one crucial for the health of evangelical Christianity. How do we determine God’s will, especially given that we believe God is active in our daily lives? Unfortunately, in some circles, “God spoke to me” and “God gave me peace” have become unassailable. I was speaking with a friend, wondering about the ethical decision of someone else we read about in the news, when my friend said, “But the story says God spoke to her about it.” As if that settled the matter.

Evangelicals used to be rightly criticized …

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How to Become America’s Fastest-Growing Church? Think Like a Startup.

Cincinnati’s Crossroads uses entrepreneurial strategies for gospel ends.

The fastest-growing congregation in America is one you may never have heard of with a name you hear everywhere: Crossroads Church.

Crossroads are about as common as First Baptists among today’s non-denominational, contemporary churches. But this particular Crossroads, based in Cincinnati, could have a location near you in coming years if all goes according to plan. It has set out to take on nationwide influence, leveraging data from its app and streaming services to choose where to launch new campuses.

Just over two decades old, the booming church still functions like a startup—for good reason. Described by Cincinnati Business Courier as both “an entrepreneurial church and a church for entrepreneurs,” its business mentality has been key to its growth so far and shapes how it will expand—essentially, franchise—in the future.

In 2017, Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research named Crossroads the fastest-growing church for the second time (the first was in 2015). With 14 campuses and 38,000 in attendance, Crossroads added around 6,000 members in 2016—growing at a rate of 25 percent.

Taking ministry out of the box

While keeping focused on Scripture and the Spirit, leaders at Crossroads pride themselves on rethinking the standard tone of church life. They favor catchy language and marketing, powerful messages, and exciting programs. They credit the church’s growth to an entrepreneurial willingness to break the mold—even their own.

“We don’t set out to intentionally disrupt anything,” said Brian Tome, senior pastor of Crossroads, who mingles business metaphors and spiritual allusions.

“But Jesus said he works in new wineskins. He’s not against old wineskins. …

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Indonesian Churches Blasted by Family of Suicide Bombers

Christians outraged at “heinous and gory” terrorist attacks that killed and injured dozens of worshipers Sunday morning.

Suicide bombers launched coordinated attacks on three Indonesian churches during worship services this morning, leaving more than a dozen people dead and at least 40 more injured in a series of bloody blasts that horrified the country’s Christian minority and Muslim majority alike.

Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church (GKI), Surabaya Center Pentecostal Church, and Santa Maria Tak Bercela Catholic Church—all in Surabaya, the second-largest city in the island-chain nation—suffered bombings carried out by six members of the same family, who are believed to be affiliated with Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian terrorist cell aligned with ISIS.

Sunday’s bombings mark the deadliest terrorist attack in the world’s biggest Muslim country since the Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people in 2002.

The current death toll includes at least seven worshipers, plus the six family members who conducted the terror plot. Indonesian police told the Associated Press that within minutes, the father exploded a car bomb into one church building; two teenage sons on motorcycles drove into another; and the mother with two daughters, aged 12 and 9, wore explosives at the third, setting them off as she hugged a churchgoer.

According to initial reports by Asia News, after the explosions at the Catholic and two Protestant churches, police were able to thwart a fourth attack at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Indonesian Church Association and Indonesia’s two biggest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, condemned the attacks. President Joko Widodo called the incidents “cowardly actions” that were “very barbaric and beyond the limit of humanity.”

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One-on-One with Matt Perman on ‘How to Get Unstuck’

By doing our work more effectively for Christ’s sake, we participate with God in his work to renew all things.

One-on-One with Matt Perman on ‘How to Get Unstuck’

Ed: There are many books on productivity, but you write that your book “is about getting unstuck so that you can accomplish God’s purposes more effectively.” Why did you take this focus?

Matt: You are right that there are lots of books on productivity out there. We can learn a lot from them. Yet almost none of them are from a Christian point of view. That leaves a huge gap. I’m trying to fill that gap.

Ed: Tell me about that gap.

Matt: I think there are three reasons we need to fill that gap. First, because the gospel affects all of life. Productivity is a key part of our lives, affecting how we do things every day. So we need to see how the gospel impacts the way we go about being productive. Otherwise, we are “winging it” when we think about how the gospel impacts an immense part of our lives.

Second, I think this is necessary to make the faith and work movement complete. It is wonderful that an emphasis on faith and work is increasing in the church today. Yet this movement often leaves out some of the things people most want to know—how do I do my work better, while still in a gospel-centered way and addressing some of my biggest productivity challenges?

We have to talk about this in the faith and work movement from a researched and informed point of view if we are going to give Christians the help they truly need and help them learn how to reflect the greatness of God in their work, for the renewal of culture and their own fulfillment.

Third, it is exciting to see how the gospel connects to our productivity. When we look at productivity in light of the gospel, we see that productivity practices become a means of advancing …

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Stop Apologizing for Apologetics

But it might be time for it to grow up.

In an episode of the second season of the Netflix series Stranger Things, the four junior-high heroes of the hit series dress up as characters from Ghostbusters for Halloween. In their ghost-fighting jumpsuits with blasting packs on their back, they quickly realize they have, quite embarrassingly, failed to pick up on the unwritten rules of the middle school coming-of-age process. No one wears costumes to school anymore!

As the four friends become aware of their social blunder and the stares and snickers of their peers, one of the boys vents: “When do people make these decisions? Everyone dressed up last year. . . . It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!” His distress is palpable and, for some of us, relatable—consider this a parable for what it feels like to describe yourself as an apologist in today’s academic and theological guilds.

Have We Outgrown Apologetics?

In much of scholarship these days, apologetics is shunned as juvenile. Author and social critic Os Guinness describes mentioning apologetics to his tutor at Oxford, whom he described as an extraordinarily genial scholar. The man “noticeably stiffened. ‘Excuse my candor,’ he said, ‘but I would never use that word again if I were you. Apologetics is a dirty word in Oxford.’ ” In cases like this, it is often the perception of bias and the attempt to convert that is embarrassing.

For others in more confessional circles, apologetics can signal a childish attempt to play by the rules of secularism rather than boldly proclaiming the gospel—the power of God to save. Tacitly—and sometimes more directly—the lesson is clear: It is time to grow up.

“I am not sure that apologetics has not been the …

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Carrying On After Jesus Is ‘Gone’

Jesus’ Ascension seems to happen at a rather inopportune time.

For those following a liturgical church calendar, Pentecost is generally viewed as the climactic moment of Eastertide. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came with stunning fanfare on the little band of believers huddled down praying in that Upper Room. The commotion drew the attention of locals, and in one day, three thousand people came to believe in Jesus. But though Pentecost puts an exclamation point on the preceding 50 days in the Christian calendar, Ascension Sunday provides us needed reflection without which Pentecost doesn’t make much sense.

Acts 2 loses a lot of its meaning without Acts 1.

The first chapter of Acts records the last face-to-face conversation the disciples had with Jesus. They asked him a crucial question in Acts 1:6, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” It’s a question we ask still today as we work to reconcile our current experiences with what we believe God has done in the past and will be doing in the future.

Before the crucifixion, these same disciples had not understood Jesus’ coming death and resurrection. Along the Emmaus road after his resurrection, he connected for them the dots between the Old Testament and his death (Luke 24:13–27). It makes sense then that these same disciples wanted a little more clarity about the next steps after his resurrection. It makes sense that at times we still do as well.

But Jesus didn’t explain the details to them in Acts 1. Instead, in the next verses, he promised once again the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would equip them to be his witnesses to “Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Instead of explaining the details of what happened next, Jesus used language …

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Definitely Keep Insulting Your Kids With Sarcasm. Great Idea.

A godly tongue speaks humor that heals, not hurts.

I grew up in a very funny family—not the kind of funny that sends you to therapy, but the kind that is its own form of therapy. My Irish relatives knew how to lighten even the hardest days with well-timed ironic humor. Some of my funniest memories are at family funerals.

Though I love making people laugh, I’ve had to learn that certain ironic humor doesn’t belong on the lips of the Christ-follower, especially the Christian parent.

Ironic humor involves saying the opposite of what you mean, either in word or in tone. In its positive form, wit, it can be used to diffuse tension, put others at ease, or even pay a compliment. (Think of congratulating someone by remarking with a smile, “It is her burden in life to excel at everything she tries.”)

Those of us for whom no Instagram filter can impart glamor can adopt the hashtag #IWokeUpLikeThis (thanks, Beyonce) with ironic glee. Wit, whether situational or self-deprecating, draws us to the family, friends, party guests, comedians, and public speakers we find funniest.

But ironic humor can also hurt. Sarcasm is wounding wit and differs from ironic wit in one key way: It always has a victim. By definition, sarcasm comes at the expense of someone else. The term itself comes from a Greek word meaning “tear the flesh.” Its subtle shreds actually make it more irresistible to the chronically ironic.

Understanding ironic humor requires a cognitive ability not everyone has. Ironic humor tends to reinforce our sense of intellectual superiority while simultaneously confusing others in the conversation.

Undeniably passive-aggressive, sarcasm cloaks contempt in cleverness. Why insult someone directly in plain speech when I can do so with stealth and artistry? …

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The Ministry of the Disabled

How Christians with intellectual disabilities are serving churches (not just being served by them).

“I can’t wait to see what kind of ministry she will have,” our friend said a few weeks after our daughter Penny was born.

His words surprised me. Penny was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. Her diagnosis swept away one set of expectations about what her life would hold. A different, bleaker set replaced them. In those early days, I did not imagine our daughter having “a ministry” to anyone.

My friend’s words offered me a vision for our daughter’s future that I hadn’t considered. I already assumed Penny would teach me patience and compassion. I assumed she might help me see myself differently and help me understand my own brokenness and limitations. I assumed she would connect me to other people with intellectual and physical disabilities, and that these relationships might usher me into new types of ministry and help me discover new gifts.

But until that moment, I hadn’t considered whether God had gifted Penny for ministry in her own right. I suspect I’m not alone in the way I used to see Penny. Many Christians, if we’re honest, only see the needs associated with disability. But when we only see the needs, we miss out on the gifts.

People with intellectual disabilities are less likely to attend church than members of the general population. According to Erik Carter, a special education professor at Vanderbilt who studies religion and disability, 45 percent of Americans who identify as having a severe disability say they attend a place of worship each month—compared to 57 percent of all Americans.

Carter also reports that for those with disabilities who do attend church services, barriers to full and active participation are significant. Churchgoers with …

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Report: So-Called Christians Have Sense of Humor

The Babylon Bee lampoons evangelical culture and teaches us to lighten up, already.

I don’t know why, but Protestant evangelicals have had a hard time with humor, whether creating or enjoying it. Maybe it’s ancillary to us abandoning the arts. Late night TV is owned by practicing Catholics Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon. No one tells a good Bible joke like Jim Gaffigan, who even refers to his wife as a “Shiite Catholic.” But we, whose claim of “faith not works” should have let us off the hook back in 1517, are so obsessed with working out our salvation with fear and trembling that we have a hard time laughing at ourselves. Until recently, the only humor sanctioned by the Westminster Confession of Faith was the church-bulletin blooper. And one can groan only so long before that tuna hot dish belches back up.

Of course, there is humor in the Bible. Take Job’s snide reply to his accusers and Jesus’ stinging comebacks to the Pharisees. Or how about Paul’s satirical rant in Galatians about circumcision? (I hope no one took him literally). But we got into the habit of reading every verse as if Charlton Heston were bringing it down Mount Sinai. This may be the most cogent argument the Catholic Church had for keeping Scripture out of the hands of the peasants: We wouldn’t get the jokes.

There have been a few pilgrims in the crusade to make Christians lighten up, already. The Wittenburg Door, may it rest in peace, was the Mad Magazine of Christendom. Then the internet came along and opened the floodgates of all sorts of Jesusy humor. (I’ll leave aside the “bitter ex-Christian” sites. They’re like stepping in a Taylor Swift-Katy Perry feud.) Ship of Fools still offers some the best caption contests ever. And Lark News, the first satire …

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Southern Baptist Women Launch Petition Against Paige Patterson

Controversy over past remarks leads Southwestern Seminary to announce a special board meeting.

A growing group of Southern Baptist women called for Paige Patterson to be removed as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) on Sunday, due to what they claimed was his “unbiblical view of authority, womanhood, and sexuality.”

Patterson, one of the most influential leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), has faced widespread criticism in recent weeks for old remarks, including a discussion of divorce in cases of abuse and multiple comments on women’s appearances.

“We cannot defend or support Dr. Patterson’s past remarks,” stated an open letter to SWBTS trustees, which grew from 100 to more than 850 signatories on Sunday night. “No one should.

“The fact that he has not fully repudiated his earlier counsel or apologized for his inappropriate words indicates that he continues to maintain positions that are at odds with Southern Baptists and, more importantly, the Bible’s elevated view of womanhood,” states the letter. “The [SBC] cannot allow the biblical view of leadership to be misused in such a way.”

The letter comes from scores of Southern Baptist women, including leaders such as: Karen Swallow Prior, a Liberty University professor and research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Convention; Lauren Chandler, an author, worship singer, and wife of The Village Church pastor Matt Chandler; Jennifer Lyell, a vice president at SBC-affiliated B&H Publishing Group; and Amanda Jones, a Houston church planter and daughter of Bible teacher Beth Moore. (Victims’ advocates such as Rachael Denhollander and Mary DeMuth also signed on, as did some men, though the petition is intended for women at SBC churches.)

Signatories …

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