You Can’t Have Racial Justice Without a Bloody Cross

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s necessary rebuke on race rests on a sadly truncated gospel.

In 1846, the abolitionist Samuel Brooke published a book called Slavery, and the Slaveholder’s Religion; as Opposed to Christianity, in which he condemned human bondage as “the violation of every principle of human brotherhood, of natural right, of justice, of humanity, of Christianity, of love to God and to man.”

Like so many of his fellow abolitionists, Brooke wanted to prick the conscience of a religious tradition that sang songs of praise to God on Sunday and whipped slaves on Monday. In Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion, writer and activist Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove attempts to take up this mantle, arguing that today’s white evangelical movement remains beholden to a racial ideology that hijacks and distorts the true Christian faith.

Wilson-Hartgrove doesn’t approach the topic of race as an expert, though his experience moving into a majority-black neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, gives him a proximity not shared by many of his fellow white Christians. Yet he offers a remonstrance that many white Christian leaders desperately need to hear. He traces fault lines in American Christianity that have roots in the nation’s founding and shows how white evangelicals have often baptized white supremacy either by endorsement or silence.

We are tempted, of course, to assume that we are well beyond our racial tensions, being more than 150 years removed from the Civil War and more than 50 years removed from the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. But significant tensions remain, and systemic racism, more subtle and pernicious than white bed sheets or lynching trees, still causes suffering for African Americans. Wilson-Hartgrove makes a persuasive …

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Intelligent Designer Babies? Christians Tell Pew Their Views on Gene Editing

Most believers favor using CRISPR technology in babies to fix congenital conditions, but not to reduce risk of disease later in life.

Scientists are finding it easier and easier to alter a baby’s genes, thanks to the groundbreaking CRISPR method. But Americans are divided on which uses of the new technology are appropriate or not.

And for the religious, the ethical lines are even more stringent, according to the Pew Research Center.

In a new report released this week, Pew found 72 percent of Americans support the use of gene editing to help cure a serious congenital disease (one present at birth), while only 57 percent of the highly religious agree. (Pew identifies highly religious Americans as those who attend services at least weekly, pray daily, and say that religion is very important in their lives.)

In the future, medical professionals may also be able to use gene editing to reduce the risk of a health condition that would crop up later in life. Only 60 percent of Americans felt that would be appropriate, while support among the highly religious dropped below 50 percent.

Among the three choices Pew listed in its survey, respondents felt the most inappropriate use of gene editing would be enhancing a baby’s intelligence: 80 percent of Americans believe that would be taking medical technology too far, as do 94 percent of the highly religious.

Overall, white evangelicals and black Protestants (two-thirds of whom identify as evangelicals according to Pew) feel the same about the applications of gene editing, though they invert on using it reduce disease later in life. [The breakdown for all religious groups is in the charts at bottom.]

Pew’s analysis of all the demographic variables found that self-identifying as evangelical on its own did not have any statistically significant impact on whether a person was more or less likely to approve …

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Missionary Identity

The reality is, Christians are interlopers. We are strangers and foreigners.

As Christians, I believe we should always be more driven by our missionary identity than we are by our national identity, our political identity, our environmental identity, our social identity, or even our church identity.

Don’t get me wrong. We ought to love our church. (I know I love my church.) And the Church (with capital C) is the bride of Christ, destined for eternity with God. But here on earth, we must face the reality that our culture is not to be our primary identity.

Our culture is a mission field. We must see ourselves as people on mission. This is not our home. This is our mission field. Therefore, we all must see our vocations as mission—as kingdom work.

Strangers in a Foreign Land

First Peter 2:11 tells us that we are strangers and exiles. This land is not our home. But part of the challenge is that a lot of people want to fight for their homeland instead of acknowledging that we’re supposed to have the mindset of foreigners and exiles.

Let’s put this into the facts that we know about our population. If the percentage of people who are nominally Christian is shrinking and nominal Christians become Nones, then we are dwelling in an increasingly secular land.

As a result, we need a re-emphasis on gospel clarity. Being labeled Christian no longer means a ‘social Christian,’ but instead is someone who’s been changed by the power of the gospel, if indeed you have. This is a vital theological shift in the way we are viewed and should view our land.

Understanding these shifts is necessary in part because we live in an age of outrage. People in our land get ticked off over things that they don’t like. This calls us to gospel clarity. And missionary identity, seeing ourselves …

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Heard the One About the Jewish Man, the Roman Demon, and the Gentile Pigs?

Exploring the multiple meanings behind a New Testament “political cartoon.”

In one of the strangest stories in the Gospels, Jesus delivers a demon-oppressed man, only to send the demon(s) into a herd of pigs, which promptly charges down a cliff and drowns in the sea. You can read it in Mark 5:1–20, and it’s just as bizarre as it sounds.

I remember an older pastor telling me the three questions he’d been asked most often during his 40 years of ministry: What happens when you die? Can I lose my salvation? And what’s the deal with the pigs?

Faced with strange passages like this, it is easy to reach for tenuous points of application. Jesus wanted to show people that one man is worth much more than 2,000 pigs. Mark wanted to remind us how unclean pigs are to Jewish people. Before casting out a demon, you should always ask it for its name. And so on. Even if these things are true (and some of them aren’t), they don’t really get to the heart of the story.

Instead—and this is the case for many passages in Scripture—it is helpful to read the story at three levels. There is always an individual level to biblical texts: What is happening to the particular people in this story? Why? What was it like for them? How does God reveal himself to them? What do we learn from it all? Read like that, Mark 5 is a lovely story of freedom for a damaged man, but the bit about the pigs is still pretty baffling.

Then again, scriptural passages can also be read at the national level. Where are we in Israel’s history? In which phase of the biblical narrative—Eden, Election, Exodus, Empire, Exile, Easter, End—does this story appear? Which covenant is in view? How does the passage shed light on what is happening to Israel (or any other nations represented) through this …

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The World’s Next Religious Freedom Success Story: Uzbekistan?

Officials make their case in DC during the State Department’s religious freedom ministerial.

Uzbekistan is an unlikely poster child for religious freedom.

Open Doors currently ranks the Central Asian nation as No. 16 on its 2018 list of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. The US State Department named Uzbekistan again this year as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC)—a notorious list of religious freedom violators that the former Soviet republic has been included on since 2006.

And yet, four key members of the Uzbekistani government were in Washington on Wednesday, on the sidelines of the State Department’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, in order to showcase the country’s newfound commitment to take religious freedom seriously.

“Uzbekistan has a centuries’ old history of respect and tolerance toward religious groups,” said foreign minister Abdulaziz Kamilov. “Our government treats religious values with profound respect. There are 140 nationalities and 16 religious faiths in our country, with operation of more than 2,000 religious organizations. All these stand as our greatest historical, cultural, and civilization heritage.”

Kamilov said the CPC designation marked a low point in Uzbekistani-American relations—the US had shortly beforehand shut down its military bases there—but he believed that the nation’s modernization could bring the two closer together.

“Our country stands ready for a broad international cooperation in this sphere of religious freedom,” he said.

Uzbekistani senator Sodiq Safoyev suggested that behind the government’s policy change was a belief that addressing the issues of the modern world required economic and political transformation, and that religious freedom would …

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Interview: Revoice’s Founder Answers the LGBT Conference’s Critics

Orientation is not necessarily sexual, Nate Collins says.

The Revoice Conference, which begins tomorrow, has generated a great deal of conversation among theologically conservative Christians. The gathering, according to its website, is about “supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” Much of the controversy has swirled around terms used by proponents to describe who the conference is for and what its goals are.

Christianity Today editor in chief Mark Galli asked Revoice founder Nate Collins about the dispute. Collins is former instructor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a leader at the Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender. He is also author of All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Zondervan, 2017).

What exactly is Revoice?

Revoice is an organization putting on a conference, and the idea behind the conference is to provide a place for conservative LGBT Christians, people who are non-straight and perhaps experienced gender dysphoria of some kind, to gather and to be supported and loved in their attempt to live a long and costly obedience. We all believe that the Bible teaches a traditional, historic understanding of sexuality in marriage, and so we are not attempting in any way to redefine any of those doctrines. We’re trying to live within the bounds of historic Christian teaching about sexuality and gender. But we find difficulty doing that for a lot of reasons.

What are the most common misconceptions of Revoice?

Several people try and make the claim that we’re on a slippery …

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Interview: Christian Artists: Don’t Leave the Bible Behind

Why a Scriptural imagination is essential to the making and enjoying of art.

Recent years have witnessed fruitful conversations about the interplay between Christian theology and the arts. But what these dialogues need most, according to Duke Divinity School theologian Jeremy Begbie, is a firmer grounding in Scripture, the classic creeds, and a Trinitarian imagination. In his latest book, A Peculiar Orthodoxy: Reflections on Theology and the Arts, Begbie draws together such topics as beauty, natural theology, divine and human freedom, and the role of emotion. Jennifer Craft, associate professor of theology and humanities at Point University, spoke with Begbie about the mutually enriching relationship between faith and the arts.

You highlight the value of Reformed theology for conversations about the arts. How do you see it affecting the way we think about and practice the arts in Christian communities?

It’s hard to explain trends. But in the ever-growing ferment between theology and the arts, there are signs of a new interest in the Reformed tradition. The tired old caricature of Calvinism as anti-art has been radically revised. The legacy of writers like Hans Rookmaaker, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Calvin Seerveld continues to be felt, and many are finding that a Reformed outlook brings a much-needed freshness to old debates.

Perhaps its most important contribution is a refusal to blur the boundary between God and world. This doesn’t mean treating God as divorced from the world or indifferent to it. But it does mean seeing the cosmos as made to praise God in its creatureliness—and believing that the arts witness to God most powerfully when they aren’t trying to play at being God. The artist can explore, celebrate, and develop the stupendous variety of the physical world, but …

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Isaac Backus: An 18th-Century Evangelical with 21st-Century Wisdom

On questions of race, religious liberty, and political power, the Baptist preacher should be our guiding light.

Isaac Backus may be the most interesting and influential American you’ve never heard of.

At the peak of his career, Backus (1724–1806) rode thousands of miles per year to preach to and encourage Baptist congregations throughout New England. In one five-month span, he rode 1,251 miles and preached 117 sermons. He operated outside Baptist circles, too. He debated some of the founding fathers of the United States and was part of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the Constitution. He wrote a three-volume history of New England and sent it to President George Washington as a “private token of love.” Backus is the only person I know of who was both groom and minister in his own wedding.

Backus was also profoundly influential, though he has never shared the renown of his more notable contemporaries. All the traveling and preaching he did in the decades before and after the American Revolution helped organize a Christian fringe group—the Baptists—into a unified movement. A century or so after his death, Baptists became America’s largest and most influential Protestant denomination. Furthermore, Backus drafted a bill of rights for America’s proposed constitution that bore a striking resemblance to the one that was eventually adopted, especially in its protection of religious liberty. He turned Jonathan Edwards’s heady theology of original sin into a practical and political theology of religious toleration. The historian William McLoughlin has claimed that the system of church-state relations that governed America until the last generation or so was precisely what Backus envisioned and worked his entire life to establish.

I like to think of Isaac Backus, the unschooled pastor …

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Iranian Christian Refugees Are Still Stranded in Austria. But Are Things About to Change?

Dozens of Christians and other religious minorities from Iran have been on a resettlement roller coaster. It just took a new turn.

Around 100 Iranian refugees who were invited to resettle in the United States and then denied entry after a year of waiting in Vienna have two reasons to hope.

After being rejected from America, the migrants have applied for asylum in Austria and four have already been approved. This latest development occurred after many had already exhausted their savings and been divided from their families—the denials separated two women from their fiancés and cut parents off from their children.

Earlier this year, Austrian member of parliament Gudrun Kugler learned of the refugees’ plight and invited the group to meet with her.

“With tears in their eyes, these people were telling me how much they wanted to start to work and live meaningful lives,” Kugler said. “One young woman told me that she had not been to a school in two years. She could not sleep, and she was self-medicating. This uncertainty was very difficult for them.”

Kugler, who believes helping the community is part of following her call as a Christian, reached out to a number of NGOs to help the migrants find health insurance, enroll in German classes, and take advantage of job training options.

One of her partner organizations, the Nazarene Fund, offered rent support and aid for medical and psychological care and legal services. In addition, it reached out to the US government to learn why the group had been denied entry after their initial acceptance. Since then, the US State Department has asked that the group to resubmit their requests for asylum.

Another reason for hope: Earlier this month, a US district court judge for the Northern District of California sided with the refugees, challenging the US government’s blanket denial …

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One-on-One with R. York Moore on ‘Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and a Guide to Your Place in It’

Jesus does not merely change our world––He changes the world.

Ed: What is ‘the story of everything?’

York: I’ve intentionally written the book to be accessible to ‘nons’ and anti-churched readers. So many great Christian books will never be read by those who need them most because we speak in coded, theocentric language. This book is accessible for the urban justice advocate who has never been to church and for the Harley Davidson biker who lives to glide over the mountains of Virginia.

This book is inspiring for those who have become one of the millions of ‘de-churched,’ who have lost their belief in the possibility of righteousness and beauty. It is accessible for just about any reader and I’ve intentionally made it so by inviting the reader into a story—the story of everything. This is my way of describing the incredible in-breaking kingdom of Jesus and how it invades our darkness and the darkness of the world.

Ed: What was the inspiration behind the book?

York: For the past several years, I’ve watched scores of Millennials come to Jesus in meaningful ways. In recent years, the number of college students coming to faith in Christ through InterVarsity USA has exploded. As I’ve studied the major heart-felt themes of new Christians and those still on their way, I was inspired to write Do Something Beautiful.

My aim is to engage the three major kingdom draws for this generation—righteousness, beauty, and purposed community. These three themes form the foundation for how nons and even anti-churched Millennials are finding their way into meaningful Christian community. There are also two places in the book where the reader can pray to receive Jesus and begin their journey into ‘the story of everything!’

Ed: …

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