How We Read the Bible Rightly and Get It Wrong

Let’s show mercy to those who ‘misinterpret’ Jeremiah 29:11 and other favorite verses.

Imagine yourself as a seminary student. Now imagine yourself as a young, male seminary student with a semi-educated, somewhat emotional, faithful churchgoing but biblically untrained mother-in-law. You like her well enough, but as your own seminary training has increased your exegetical skills, knowledge of church history, and theological acumen, you have found a corresponding increase in discomfort when talking to her about God and the Bible. She is very passionate about the latest devotional book she is reading and the new insights she has gained into passages of Scripture from looking up Greek words in Vine’s Expository Dictionary.

Every time you see her, you sense with increasing intensity that she could be on the cover of the next edition of Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. On your better days you just nod and smile politely. In your grouchy moments you daydream about ripping the books out of her hands, mocking them, stomping on them a few times, and throwing them into the fireplace while quoting Greek paradigms.

But then when you arrive at her house one Thanksgiving, you see something that pushes you over the edge. On the refrigerator, holding up her unrealistic diet plan, is a magnet with a nice flowing script of Jeremiah 29:11—“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” It is obvious that this verse and this diet plan are organically related in her mind. She is taking this verse to heart every day as a promise from God for her success in shedding a few pounds.

How will you respond? Your exegetically and theologically trained mind immediately populates a list of problems with her use of this …

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Christ’s Transfiguration Is a Sneak Preview of Our Future

Jesus’ transformation on the mountain might have more to do with us than we think.

We sometimes forget how strange Jesus was. He did a lot of odd things during his time on earth—he cursed trees, ordered his followers not to tell anyone who he was, associated with gluttons and drunkards, told parables to deliberately confuse people, and claimed to be equal with God the Father while also claiming not to know certain things the Father knows.

And then there was this moment on a mountain: Jesus’ face and clothes start shining for no apparent reason, and two dead guys show up and have a conversation with him. After Peter’s intrusion into that conversation is cut short by a heavenly voice, Jesus and company head back down the mountain and go on with their day as if nothing happened. No big deal.

Maybe it doesn’t strike us as crazy because we’ve got a name for it—the Transfiguration—as though labeling it suddenly helps it make sense. We also suppress the absurdity of this moment if we assume that its sole aim is to prove Jesus’ divinity. If the point of a story is to show Jesus is God, of course crazy stuff is going to happen, so it doesn’t surprise us, doesn’t grab our attention, and doesn’t merit further thought.

But what if that’s not the whole picture? In fact, what if the point of the Transfiguration isn’t just to show how Jesus is different from us (he’s divine) but also to show something about how he’s like us (he’s human)? What if the glory that burst from Jesus on the mountain wasn’t just divine glory but human glory as well—the kind of glory that all those united with Jesus will one day share? Put another way, what if what Peter, James, and John saw that day in the face of Jesus was a mirror image …

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How to Find Hope in the Humanless Economy

Robots could take half of our jobs in the next decade. Here’s why Christians have nothing to fear.

The goal was to save money,” Ken Dean said. A senior IT manager near Sacramento, California, Dean oversaw Sprint’s mailroom operations in the early 2000s. Inside the data center, one of three in the United States, hundreds of employees folded bills and stuffed envelopes.

“Our two largest costs were postage and people,” Dean said. Over time, he discovered what many large companies were realizing—that electronic bills could cut postage costs and machines could replace people. “Eighty percent to 90 percent of what was done in the data center could be done by a robot,” he said. It was his job, identifying technology to make the data center more efficient, and he was good at it. Naturally, expenses shrank. So did the staff.

The technology progressed dutifully to its inevitable destination: In 2008, Dean shut down the company’s last data center. Another 70 employees lost their jobs. A Christian, Dean took some solace in recognizing their God-given value beyond their roles in the labor market. His employees did not. “They were devastated,” he said. “For many of them, their confidence and worth was based upon their paycheck. They did not think they were valuable outside of their work context. There was a lot of fear.”

That was when mailrooms were still a thing. Today, workplace automation—and the fear it evokes—has expanded to horizons previously unimaginable, vanishing drivers from taxis, writers from journalism, and clerks from grocery stores.

Economists describe our current moment by distinguishing between economic growth and an economic pivot. Growth increases goods and services. A pivot, however, is a fundamental shift in how those goods and services …

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Introducing the Director of the New Send Institute

New institute is a partnership between the Billy Graham Center and the North American Mission Board.

I’m grateful to be chosen as the Send Institute’s inaugural Director and am honored to work alongside Dr. Ed Stetzer at Wheaton College and Jeff Christopherson at the North American Mission Board.

I’ve had the joy of planting a vibrant multi-ethnic church in downtown Toronto. Nothing has changed my life more than the people who make up Trinity Life Church and the vision God gave us to make disciples and to plant churches in Toronto. I also had the privilege of witnessing and contributing to a movement of new churches in our city through Send Toronto—the regional hub of the Send Network. While I’m sad to leave Toronto and the many wonderful friends we have there, I’m glad I’m leaving with a healthy and successful church planting experience in the world’s most diverse (and perhaps greatest!) city.

I believe churches that’ll be planted in the future will be Gospel-centered communities effectively evangelizing the hardest to reach and most forgotten in North America. I also believe they’ll be Kingdom-minded communities that are concerned for the common good of society, being salt and light wherever society needs it the most. These churches, I suspect, will be motivated less by fads and trends of a consumerist church culture and more by a genuine move of the Spirit and concern for the most urgent issues of our time.

But in order for us to plant more effective churches for the future, much work needs to be done to catch us up to speed with the fast-changing missional narratives in North America.

From the Sun Belt of America to the Prairies of Canada, the North American landscape is changing quickly. While demographics isn’t destiny, it does indicate that the diversity in America …

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‘Mommy, Is Gru a Good Guy or a Bad Guy?’

‘Despicable Me 3’ recalls the Apostle Paul’s struggle to ‘do the right thing.’

Shortly before my husband and I got married, someone gifted us a copy of Despicable Me—a movie we had enjoyed so much that we added it to our wedding registry. I don’t particularly enjoy kids’ movies, but Despicable Me was such a perfect balance of sentiment and humor, plot and character, that it resonated with me immediately. I was also, however, disappointed by Universal’s decision to follow it up with a series of increasingly minion-laden sequels—not because the franchise seemed unworthy of revisiting but because it seemed not to need it.

For this reason, Despicable Me 3 surprised me. Three movies in, the franchise still works, and works well: Gru’s relationship with his daughters, as well as the new addition of his wife, Lucy, ground the film with a fitting sentiment—one that keeps the value of community at the forefront of this franchise. I also appreciated the film’s acknowledgement of moral complexity, with its inclusion of a character whose path toward righteousness has been, as it is for many, a struggle.

Despicable Me 3 opens on Gru’s failed attempt to capture the film’s villain—Bratt Balthazar, a vengeful ’80s child star seeking retribution on Hollywood for canceling his television show. Armed with fiendishly strong bubble gum and a keytar that (naturally) plays popular ’80s music, Balthazar quite nearly steals the world’s largest diamond—a feat for which Gru is held accountable and ultimately fired alongside his wife.

Rocked by his unemployment, Gru struggles to stand firmly committed to his new crime-fighting creed—a creed for which his minions ultimately abandon him. Gru and family barely have time to lament this fact, …

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A Theology of Play

We don’t have to always be doing something useful.

I’m standing in the fourth fairway, addressing the ball. It’s over 100 degrees in central California and the course has been freshly watered, making the air unbearably humid. But here I am, standing over the ball and completely focused, sweat pouring off my brow and onto my hands and down the golf club shaft. I need to fade the ball just a tad to work it around the dogleg right. Nothing else matters now. The first heaven and earth have passed away. I’ve been raptured away from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Right now there is nothing so important as getting this little white ball into a small hole some 300 yards ahead of me.

I finish the round and, as usual, the demons come. First, the golf demons: “Why didn’t you keep your head down on that shot? What were you thinking on the seventh tee?” Then, the Christian demons arrive, with their incessant liturgical refrain: “Shouldn’t you be doing something useful instead of playing golf?”

These beings also plague me when I sit to watch baseball, football, or basketball. All is well and good for the first quarter or the first three innings. Then I hear, “Shouldn’t you be doing something useful?” The accusers repeat that refrain until I shut off the TV and find something “useful” to do.

The Court of Self-Justification

But for better or worse, I still succumb to the temptations of golf and fly-fishing. And when the demons bring me before the court of self-justification—“Shouldn’t you be doing something useful?”—I am compelled to account for my time. That’s because I’m an evangelical Christian with Calvinist sympathies, a complex syndrome that even prayer and …

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Want to Help Christians Stay in the Middle East? Start with Your Vacation.

Both pilgrims and pleasure seekers allow Arab believers to resist exodus amid ISIS.

Call Ann Fink crazy, but the intrepid grandmother has a tradition to uphold. She’s toured Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with 8 of her 13 granddaughters. Victoria, a preteen, is number 9.

“Her parents are not afraid,” said Fink, a Pennsylvania native, while visiting Egypt with Victoria. “We believe we can die at any time. Only God knows when and where.”

Neither tourist knew just how much visits like theirs support the region’s beleaguered Christians.

From a high-water mark of $7.2 billion in 2010, tourism revenue in Egypt has fallen by 76 percent following the unrest of the Arab Spring. The decline has devastated the economy and, with it, Egypt’s Christians.

Copts, an estimated 10 percent of the population, make up more than half of tour operators and more than a quarter of the tourism workforce, according to Adel el-Gendy, a general manager in the Tourism Development Authority. Christians have better connections to the West, he said, and are often more skilled with languages.

Gendy, a Muslim, has been assigned development of the Holy Family route—25 locations that, according to tradition, were visited by Jesus, Joseph, and Mary as they fled Herod’s wrath. Relaunched with government and church fanfare in 2014, the route is close to being designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, he said. But the project has struggled as tourists stay away.

The route runs through Old Cairo, which boasts churches dating back to the fourth century but feels like a ghost town. Souvenir shops are open, but their lights dim. “Our income has dropped by 90 percent,” said Angelos Gergis, the Coptic Orthodox priest at St. Sergius Church, built above a cave where tradition says the Holy Family …

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3 Ways to Prevent Bible Study Dropouts

What really keeps us engaged with the discipline of studying Scripture.

This summer, churches everywhere are weighing which Bible studies to offer in the fall. With all the busyness typical of our lives, churches face the question: What gets people to commit to faithful participation in a weekly Bible study? Though many may start, few of them finish.

The first time a publisher showed interest in my Bible studies, they told me I would need to shorten them from 11 weeks to 6. Women wouldn’t commit that long, I was told. Nor would they do homework unless it was kept simple.

I knew this was not the case. Every week I watched women turn out in large numbers to the study I led. I was not a big-name Bible teacher. My approach was neither clever nor adorable; we were just doing line-by-line study.

During weeks when my teaching was below average, I wondered myself why women kept coming. But after almost 20 years of leading studies, I realized that we need not lower the bar to draw participants. Actually, the opposite is true: People commit better to studies that ask more of them than simply showing up.

Amid a push for catchy themes and culturally relevant approaches to teaching the Bible, the timeless elements that actually cultivate sustainable Bible studies seem so unimaginative that they often get overlooked: structure, accountability, and predictability.

These elements foster commitment more effectively than the factors we assume are most critical for success: exceptional teaching and solid content. I’ve seen groups meet consistently for years to discuss average or poor content simply because these other three elements were in place. But when they undergird a capable teacher and good content, they create spaces where people are willing to commit, and where mature discipleship can occur.

Structure: …

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What Young Black Women Need from Their Black Brothers—and the Church

African American women still face significant challenges in their relationships with men.

In a recent episode of ABC’s dating show, The Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay, the first black female to participate, broke down in tears. “The pressures that I feel about being a black woman and what that is… I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. The show exposes the fraught dynamics of race, dating, and marriage for black women in America. “Even before the female-led spinoff of The Bachelor … in my mind ‘bachelorettes’ were white women who were brides-to-be or bridesmaids in their best friends’ weddings, throwing parties to celebrate the end of their spinsterhood,” writes Robin Boylorn for Slate. By contrast, “black women were just single and waiting.”

According to Akilah Butler, author of The Love Ethic, in the 1900s, most black adults were married. However, many contemporary black women—especially those who come of age in the inner city—are unmarried and often lack modeling for what a healthy African American marriage looks like. In my region of upstate New York, for example, it’s a rare sight to see a black male under 40 with a black female. (By contrast, my husband’s and my generation, the baby boomers, did tend to date and marry within our race.)

While intermarriage is becoming more common, black women in America still face significant challenges in their relationships with black men, and the problem is doubly difficult for women in the church. According to David Morrow in Why Men Hate Going to Church, “a staggering 92 percent of African-American churches in America reported a gender gap.” According to Morrow’s sources, “75 to 90 percent of the adults in the typical African-American congregation are …

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The BGC Gospel Life Podcast (Ep. 20)

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Episode Twenty | Are You Seeking to be a Fisherman or a Shepherd?

Colleen Cooper, Development Coordinator at the Billy Graham Center, shares a personal example of working through conflict in order to bring deeper conversation and trust. Colleen reminds us that in evangelism, and in all our relationships, we aren’t called to be quick and judging fishermen, but to be caring and compassionate shepherds who tend to those they are ministered to.

Episode Nineteen | Developing a Spirit of Acceptance When We Reach Out to the Unchurched

Rick Richardson, Professor at Wheaton College and head of academic programs and research at the Billy Graham Center, shares a story of a recent evangelism encounter. Rick explains that once unchurched people know they won’t feel judged or pressured by Christians, their hearts warm to the gospel and the opportunities for faith sharing are endless.

Episode Eighteen | Two Practical Ways to Show and Share the Love of Jesus with Others

Wes Holland, Program Administrator of the Rural Matters Institute at the Billy Graham Center, reminds us that God went on a rescue mission for us, and that we must do the same for others. He shares two challenges that will help us truly serve God. These two simple steps – being present instead of just occupying space and writing down our gospel moments in order to share them with others – can make all the difference in seeing those around us come to faith.

Episode Seventeen | When It Seems as Though God Is Up to Nothing

Laurie Nichols, Director of Communications at the Billy Graham Center, reminds us that even when we don’t see God working, He is. And if we remain faithful in prayer and seek ways to reach out to those who don’t yet know the love …

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