True Doctrine Doesn’t Wait

Without good theology, you can’t have Christlike love and compassion.

In a recent email to me, a writer encouraged CT to pursue a new trajectory. He argued we should move away from orthodoxy, even if “beautiful,” and instead in a direction where orthopathy (meaning right feelings or emotions) and orthopraxis (right practice) are seen as “first-order issues responsive to the two great commandments and the mission of Jesus, and witnessed through love and unity.” This is a near-perfect summary of the increasing confusion found in much of Christianity, but especially in the progressive variety.

The reasons for such confusion are many, and some are understandable. Many progressive Christian writers today came from 1990s evangelicalism. If, in fact, that evangelicalism was legalistic, evasive, and self-righteous, it should be rejected.

But reaction to error makes for distorted theology. Robert Barron, in The Priority of Christ: Toward a Post-Liberal Catholicism (Baker Academic, 2016) [p. 13], notes the following about liberalism and late medieval Christianity: “Early modernity saw itself as a salutary response to oppressive and obscurantist strains in Christian culture, but since it was reacting to a corruption of true Christianity, it itself became similarly distorted and exaggerated.” The same can be said about some reactions to unhealthy evangelical faith.

The term orthopathy has various definitions, but in evangelical contexts it generally refers to having the proper emotional and attitudinal posture. And orthopraxis refers to the correct practice of action. That we should be compassionate and ethical nearly goes without saying—our take on “beautiful orthodoxy” certainly includes them. But there’s a reason Paul, in epistle after epistle, …

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‘Tis a Gift to Do ‘Undignified’ Work

Blue-collar labor often goes unappreciated and under-rewarded. How can that change?

When I was growing up, the best TV shows all featured blue-collar characters. Cheers, The Simpsons, Love and Marriage, The Wonder Yearseach centered on the lives of loveable laborers. Cliff from Cheerswas a postman, Homer Simpson pulled levers in a nuclear power plant, and even the disgruntled Al Bundy sold women’s shoes. One episode of The Wonder Yearsfeatured Kevin learning about his dad’s career path from a loading dock worker to a distribution manager. “You have to make your choices,” Mr. Arnold told his son. “You have to try to be happy with them. I think we’ve done pretty well, don’t you?”

What a difference two decades makes. Since 1992, nearly every Emmy for Outstanding Comedy has gone to shows depicting white-collar adults working in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, New York, or Washington, usually without kids. The exception would be The Office, but its humor is based on the idea that selling paper is an utterly miserable and meaningless job. In the NBC drama This Is Us, the story of a construction worker is told in a flashback to the 1970s and 1980s, as if Hollywood believes manual-labor jobs only existed three decades ago.

Not only has the working class gone underappreciated in modern America, but over the past 50 years, lower-wage workers have seen their lives get progressively harder. Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America sheds light on the plight of the working class, arguing that the distress that millions of workers feel today owes largely to federal policies that were supposed to help them.

Productive Pursuits

In the past generation, the central focus of policymakers has been the growth of the economy, as …

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Remembering Rob Moll

Our friend and coworker had joyfully prepared for his tragic death.

Last week, my dear friend and former CT colleague Rob Moll died from a fall while hiking in Mount Rainier National Park. He was only 41 and leaves behind a wife, four young children, other family members, and many friends across a wide range of organizations.

After serving on CT’s staff as an editor for six years, he continued to write for us as he moved to World Vision U.S., Opportunity International, Eventide Funds, and other organizations. His interests, like those of all great journalists, were varied. He cared deeply about theology and wise investing, about scientific findings’ implications for Christian discipleship, and about effective large-scale strategies for economic development. In one of our recent conversations, he talked enthusiastically—with his unique, infectious laugh—about management theories as he sketched out what he hoped would be his third book: The Spiritual Disciplines of Your Career.

But it’s one interest of his I’ve been thinking a lot about this week. For years, Rob thought a lot about death. He volunteered as a hospice chaplain and took a part-time job at a funeral home even before he decided to write his first book, The Art of Dying. Why, I wondered, was such a young guy so interested in learning how to die well? Isn’t that something to think about after midlife? Few healthy and athletic 41-year-olds are as prepared for their death as Rob was. Few are so aware of their own mortality, their short time on earth, and the opportunity to seize our brief moment here with joy, curiosity, and rich relationships.

I am in deep grief over Rob’s death. Other than my wife, the person I’d most like to talk to about it is Rob himself. He’d have some …

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Is the World’s Next Missions Movement in Ethiopia?

Ethiopian churches no longer want to be on the receiving end of the Great Commission.

After Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Western missionaries fled or were forced to leave. Among them were the first two missionaries from Sudan Interior Mission (now SIM), who had planted a church in Sidama, a southern region known for growing coffee. They were attacked on the road and killed. After the Italian occupiers were expelled, SIM sent four more missionaries to Sidama; three were soon killed.

Mourning their losses, Sidama congregations swore an unconventional oath: “We must avenge their deaths by sending out our own missionaries.”

Despite persecution and turmoil, the churches began to do as they had promised. Agedachew Anebo said many of his fellow Christian leaders in Sidama, where the latest census found 4 in 5 people are now Protestants, still recall this story today. One denomination, the Ethiopian Kale Heywet (Word of Life) Church, now has more than 1,000 Sidama congregations supporting more than 250 missionaries across Ethiopia and other nations.

These churches are leading what could be the world’s next major missionary movement.

In Ethiopia, evangelicalism is growing at a faster rate than even the booming general population, already the second-largest in Africa and projected to exceed 112 million people by 2020. According to the World Christian Database, in 1970 the Horn of Africa nation had about 900,000 self-identifying evangelicals, about 3 percent of its total population. By 2015, that number swelled to almost 19 million, or 19 percent of Ethiopians.

Each week, evangelical Christians across Ethiopia gather in buildings ranging from small mud huts to massive megachurches. In the capital, Addis Ababa, signs for new churches and home groups seem to spring up daily. As congregations mature, many …

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Infertility Prepared Me to Reach Other Childless Men

This overlooked group is more isolated than you realize.

“Hi, Sheridan. I hope you don’t mind me, a complete stranger, contacting you, but I can’t talk to my family or friends about this.”

“I am a church youth worker, and my wife just showed me your book. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but could we meet? I feel so lost.”

“I can’t think of anyone to turn to. I feel embarrassed and ashamed.”

Brad, Neil, and Simon (as I’ll call the men who reached out to me with these introductions) weren’t contacting me to confess some secret sin or addiction. The burden they carry is childlessness. For Brad and his wife, six years of trying to conceive had produced only heartache. For youth worker Neil, multiple failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) rounds left him questioning his faith. And Simon feels responsible for the agony his wife feels with every period and negative pregnancy test. With infertility rates rising, these men are not alone in their situation. But they are isolated.

A recent study from Leeds Beckett University confirms that infertility can negatively impact a man’s mental health, self-esteem, relationships, career, and finances. With masculinity in our culture tied so closely to raising children and infertility often viewed as a “women’s issue,” men in this situation often face the crisis alone—even in their churches.

We can help them.

My Story

For 10 years, my wife, Merryn, and I tried to start a family. Our journey included special diets, healing prayer, rounds of IVF, and a year of assessment as potential adoptive parents followed by an agonizing two-year wait for our hoped-for adoptive child. We pursued our dream with all the energy we had, but it never materialized. Exhausted …

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We Love and Loathe God

If we can’t admit that, we won’t make much headway.

With this essay, I will stop introducing chapters of the book that will come out in the spring, When Did We Forget God? (Tyndale). The essays I’ve published here have been mostly critical in nature—it’s my inner prophet coming to the surface. Or maybe just my inner Scrooge. I have a couple more chapters analyzing the horizontal temptation in how we read the Bible and the small-groups movement, and the imaginative reader can probably guess what I might say in such chapters. Let’s just say the temptation to make our faith about ourselves and our feelings is with us always, even to the end of this moral, therapeutic, deist age.

But it would be irresponsible to not at least point some way forward, and the third part of the book attempts to do just that. But now that I’ve finished it, I realize I need to do a lot more reading and thinking about desire, and especially desire for God. So the third part is really just a few forays into a very complex topic.

This column will continue, but it will be more on an occasional basis. As I’ve been preparing these essays for online, I’ve been taking notes on topics that I have not addressed in the book but that might make for good reflections here. But I don’t think I’m smart enough to have something worth reading each and every week, so from this point on, this series will appear as the Lord inspires, or as hubris makes me think he’s doing so.

For now, here is a chapter from the third part of the book.

The Beginning of Desire

The writer of Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The fear he refers to is a healthy reverence and awe. But there is another type of fear we have to wrestle with in our relationship …

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How Can So Many Pastors Be Godly and Dysfunctional at the Same Time?

Illuminating the blind spots in most approaches to spiritual formation.

Pastors can be godly and dysfunctional at the same time. They can be holy and not whole. They can be biblically faithful and psychologically broken. They can be prayer warriors and control freaks, spiritually mature and emotionally repressed. They can sincerely love Jesus yet be addicted to food or porn or pain meds. I know this to be true from experience.

For many years as a pastor, I was godly and dysfunctional at the same time. If you had come to live with me for a week in January 2015, slept on my couch, shadowed me through my day, you would have come away thinking, He’s a godly guy. He loves Jesus. He loves the Bible. He loves thechurch. He cares about his wife and children andmaking a difference in the world for Jesus. But you would have also seen that I was dysfunctional.

In 2015 I was granted a three-month sabbatical. Here’s what I had planned: I was going to finish writing one book, start writing another book, read through Calvin’sInstitutes of the Christian Religion, memorize the Book of James to preach from it in the spring, and brush up on my Hebrew. When I shared these plans with the elders, one of them wryly said, “You going to do anything else?”

But I wasn’t going to dive right in. I was going to take the first week to rest. It was a sabbatical after all! I made it to Wednesday before I started to come unglued. You may know someone with a serious substance abuse issue, a chemical addiction to alcohol or some other drug. Perhaps you’ve seen a documentary on 60 Minutes about people trying to kick their drug habit and going through withdrawal.

That was me in early January 2015. I went through real, physical signs of withdrawal: irritability, uncontrolled craving, edginess, …

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The Nazis Persecuted Him. The Soviets Killed Him. Today He’s Barely Known.

James Edwards’s biography recovers the memory of German theologian Ernst Lohmeyer.

Whenever I teach the history of 20th-century Europe, I incorporate stories from Christians who resisted the evils of totalitarianism. That list always includes martyred anti-Nazis like the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the university student Sophie Scholl. But thanks to theologian James R. Edwards, this fall I can add one more name to that cloud of witnesses: the German Lutheran Ernst Lohmeyer, who stood fast against Nazism and survived fighting in two world wars, only to be executed by Soviet authorities in 1946.

Having first encountered Lohmeyer’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark in graduate school, Edwards’s interest was kindled on a 1979 visit to Greifswald, East Germany. A local pastor told him that “we cannot mention the name of Ernst Lohmeyer” in the city whose university Lohmeyer served as theology professor and president. As he began a decades-long research project, Edwards “joined the small company of people dedicated to remembering, recovering, and recording the life of Ernst Lohmeyer.”

His labors have resulted in a new biography, Between the Swastika & the Sickle: The Life, Disappearance, & Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer. I hope it finds an audience among many Christian readers, for whom Lohmeyer’s life should serve as both an inspiring and cautionary tale.

Deepest Trials

The story begins at the turn of the 20th century, in the home of a Lutheran pastor whose fourth son followed him into the clergy. Young Ernst concluded his 1912 ordination sermon with Jesus’ admonition that the “truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The liberating power of truth became a recurring theme in his life, forming him, as Edwards writes, “to follow a unique course …

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One-on-One with J.D. Greear on the Gospel ‘Above All’ Else

“What the church needs now is what the church has always needed: a return to the gospel.”

Ed: What prompted you to write Above All?

J.D.: Evangelical Christians have always been gospel people. It’s in our very name! The word, “evangelical,” is a transliteration of the Greek word “gospel.” So, in that sense, the gospel has always been our “brand.”

But it seems like a lot of us are increasingly tempted to turn elsewhere for renewal and life and to give our energies to other agendas. I wonder if Paul’s words to the Galatians might characterize a lot of our attempts at ministry today: “You foolish (Evangelicals)! Who has cast a spell on you? … Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1–3).

We get engaged in a lot of things—important things—that end up keeping us from the one essential thing—the gospel.

Think about this: The gospel is the one thing in the New Testament, other than Jesus himself, that is referred to as the power of God. Not contains the power of God. Not channels the power of God, but is itself the raw, unstoppable, death-defeating power of God.

Paul referred to the gospel as “of first importance,” and put so much emphasis on it that he told the Corinthians that he only wanted to talk about one thing with them: the cross of Jesus. Most scholars say that was an overstatement; after all, his letters to the Corinthians are filled with many important instructions for the Christian life. But in Paul’s mind, the gospel was so important he didn’t mind saying it was all he wanted to be known for.

We should be known as a gospel people. We only have bandwidth in our communities to be known for a couple of things. I want that thing to be the gospel. …

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Canadian Anglicans to Continue Same-Sex Ceremonies, Even After Failed Vote

The church’s bishops are “are not of one mind” on the definition of marriage.

Though the Anglican Church in Canada last week failed to amend its canon to sanction same-sex marriages, in the wake of the narrow vote, dioceses have opted to continue with them anyway.

The amendment, first passed in 2016, required a two-thirds majority vote among lay delegates, clergy, and bishops at two triennial general synods in a row. While it met the threshold among lay and clergy (80.9% and 73.2%) during this year’s synod, the bishops’ vote last Friday fell just short of two-thirds (62.2%).

On Monday, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of Canada, read a statement to the delegation saying the bishops “are not of one mind” on the issue, but that “we are walking together in a way which leaves room for individual dioceses and jurisdictions of our church to proceed with same-sex marriage,” according to Anglican Planet.

The initial rejection came as a blow to the majority of Canadian Anglicans, who support same-sex marriage, which has been legal in the country since 2005. But after Monday’s announcement, several bishops indicated that they would be taking advantage of the “local option,” which permits dioceses to follow their “contexts and convictions” on this issue, the CBC wrote.

The conservative minority in the Anglican Church in Canada has raised concerns over the decision to permit same-sex ceremonies despite the failed vote.

“In a church that affirms the ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’ I can’t make sense of what local option means in this context or in the global Church,” Bishop Joey Royal, a suffragan bishop of the Arctic, told Anglican Planet.

“This is something that has not yet been fully acknowledged despite …

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