Playlist: The Best New Christmas Music

Be of good cheer: We are in a moment of theologically rich, artistically wonderful recordings.

The Advent and Christmas seasons are filled with more than their share of paradoxes. We raid our basements and attics for the nostalgia of Christmases past as we scour websites to buy the latest gadgets as gifts. As the daylight dwindles (at least in the northern hemisphere!) our belief in what we can accomplish in 24 hours reaches new heights. Meanwhile, recording artists are rushing to release their latest attempt to redefine the canon of seasonal classics. As preparations for Christmas productions reach new frenzied heights, I wonder if any church has ever preached Ecclesiastes for Christmas: “There is nothing new under the sun!” The paradoxes of this season can truly be wearying, but there is also endless wonder to be found in the Incarnation. Artists have been finding fresh creativity in meditating on the coming of the One through whom all things were made.

Songs for Advent

In my circles as a worship leader, there has been a growing eagerness to explore Advent and to explore it as more than just a contemplative season before Christmas. The Worship Sourcebook, a key resource for pastors and worship leaders for years, emphasizes Advent not just as a season of waiting but as one “designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. In Advent, we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the Second Coming.”

So it makes sense that most churches sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which explores images of Christ from the Old Testament. But the musical repertoire is growing as more artists observe the season. The Welcome Wagon has a wonderful retune of the James Montgomery text based in Psalm 72, “Hail …

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Friends of Zion’s Christians?

Overtures by US evangelicals to Arab churches tested by Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

American evangelicals rediscovered their brethren in the Middle East in recent years. The promise of the Arab Spring, followed by the threat of ISIS. Beheadings and other martyrdoms, followed by forgiveness.

Many decided we must become better friends, and work harder for the persecuted church’s flourishing in the land of its birth.

However, President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is putting that new friendship to the test, as Middle East Christian leaders have almost unanimously rallied against the decision.

Trump’s decision would “increase hatred, conflict, violence and suffering,” said the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in a statement in advance of his anticipated announcement.

The Coptic Orthodox Church warned of “dangerous consequences.” The head of Egypt’s Protestant community said it was “against justice” and “not helpful.”

But the strongest testimony may have come from Jordan, where the national evangelical council pleaded against “uncalculated risks” that “may well expose Christians in this region to uncontrollable dangers.”

Despite these dire cries, many conservative US evangelicals rejoiced in Trump’s announcement. Support for Israel is a longstanding mark of much of the community.

“Evangelicals in the US don’t spend enough time thinking about Arab Christians,” said Joel Rosenberg, a dual US-Israeli citizen who last month led a friendship-seeking delegation of evangelical leaders to Egypt and Jordan. Many were members of Trump’s unofficial faith advisory team.

“People who love Jesus haven’t been talking to each other. But we should.” …

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God’s Man, for God’s Work: A Tribute to R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

Ligonier Ministries founder was a category 5 hurricane of declaration, persuasion, and instruction.

It is singularly appropriate that R. C. Sproul would go home to be with the Lord in 2017, the year in which we are remembering Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg 500 years ago. Many thousands of people were introduced to the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul through his book and teaching series “The Holiness of God.”

I first listened to it on audio cassette tapes (which dates me), in which he tells the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. The chapter and lecture are called “The Insanity of Luther.” It is classic R. C. You can listen to it on the Ligonier Ministries website, and you should if you have the chance.

No figure in our generation has done more than R. C. to defend, proclaim, and expound Luther’s insights into the Bible’s teaching on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I have met young people on every continent who readily confess their indebtedness to R. C. Sproul (though they have never met him or heard him in person), through the various media of Ligonier Ministries, books, articles, magazines, audio, video, app, and conferences. He is responsible for introducing a generation to the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the glory of the Gospel of justification by faith, salvation by grace, in Christ alone.

I started reading and listening to R. C. as a teenager. My father, a businessman and elder at our local church, served on a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) denominational study committee with him in the 1980s. Dad was somewhat in awe of him after that experience.

My brother John later worked with him very closely as executive producer at Ligonier Ministries for a number of years. My …

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Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Years

“A Christmas Sermon for Pagans” is quintessential Lewis at the height of his renown. “Cricketer’s Progress” is more of a mystery.

Would you imagine that, with all of the cataloging technologies we have working around the clock, one could still discover unknown articles by a very well-known author? While doing research for my PhD, I discovered two such articles by C. S. Lewis. Although published in the 1940s, these articles have been overlooked ever since and don’t appear in the many lists of his works. The thrill of discovery has brought home a few points (of encouragement) in a time when it sometimes seems as though all the stones have been overturned.

In 2013, I was spending my days pouring over old journals and forgotten newspapers from the early 20th century. I wanted to understand just why Lewis had become a household name in Britain during the height of the Second World War for his Christian writings, and why, in the decades since, it has been Americans, rather than the British, who have continued to relish Lewis’s defenses of Christian doctrine.

On one particular, ordinary day, I made my way to the National Library of Scotland in the Edinburgh rain. I stored my dripping coat in a locker and settled myself among the industrious scholars. It was chilly underneath the fluorescent lights. Someone’s phone was chiming intermittently, disrupting the quiet and concentration. After a while, my back ached from hunching over the delicate pieces of paper spread across the table in front of me. I rose to stretch my legs and consult yet another index of British periodicals in the reference section. This small exertion set my blood moving a little freer through my veins. I took down an unfamiliar volume from a nearby shelf, an index to The Strand Magazine. From what was by then a reflex, I flipped to “Lewis, C. S.” To my surprise, …

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Two Marvelous Truths Help Me Say No to Sexual Sin

As a same-sex-attracted woman married to a man, I was struggling to ward off temptation on my own power. Then God showed me I didn’t have to.

Author’s Note: In October of this year I had the privilege of publicly sharing my story of coming to Christ from a background of same-sex attraction and atheism. The response to that story was deeply personal for many. A great number of readers—some straight, most not—wrote to ask me about what my married life looked like now. Specifically, how did I live with an attraction to women that had not been taken away, while following Christ and married to a man? This piece is an attempt to show how God has met me in this. But more importantly, I hope it can be an encouragement to you—that God desires and is able to meet you as well, whatever your persistent temptations may be.

The driving clamor of my heart was the most physical sign of my despair, attended by tears. But it was the emotional weight that truly bore me down. The sickening feeling of complete impotence, the mania of a trapped animal. I had committed no sin—wait, had I not? Was that right?—yet I seemed on a collision course with the sure destruction of my ministry, my marriage, my sense of self in Christ, and my relationship with him.

That this was happening after years of obedience increased the dread. Would I never be safe or free? In my early years in Christ, sexual disobedience had been a frequent, painful tripping point. But slowly, my muscle of obedience grew stronger.

I wonder now if that was less spiritual victory than victories of my will. Each time I chose sin after coming to Christ, the pleasure was adulterated with pain. The embarrassment of failure and the crush of relational strain between myself and God blighted my Christian life, like stubborn weeds. The ugliness of this had a strong deterrent effect over time.

This …

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Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.

Could any Bible verse double as a mission statement for CT’s books section? Perhaps Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on whatever is “true,” “noble,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable.” Or Romans 12:2, with its admonition to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or any number of passages from Proverbs that sing the glories of wisdom.

I suspect, however, that Matthew 19:14—“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”—would not garner many votes.

As CT’s books editor, I confess that children’s books are mostly an afterthought. Sometimes they arrive in the mail, but I instinctively toss them aside. Not that this comes as any great surprise. Magazines like CT cater to grownups. You’re not here for hard-hitting reviews of Goodnight Moon or The Cat in the Hat.

But of course our readers wear many hats, “mother” and “father” prominent among them. As a token of appreciation for parents, we decided to debut a new category this year, Children and Youth, encompassing everyone from little tykes to teens.

With that, let’s get to the awards. As always, we hope you’ll discover a shelfful of delights—for children of all ages. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books

Apologetics/Evangelism

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between

Gregory Koukl (Zondervan)

“The Story of Reality is a fresh combination of apologetics and evangelism in a very readable format. It meets one of the greatest needs of a predominantly secular …

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The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election

It’s not Republicans or Democrats, but Christian witness.

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.

The Hypocrisy on the Left

From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation. They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors …

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Interview: Beautiful Word: The Story of the ESV Illuminated Bible

Renowned designer Dana Tanamachi brings modern illustrations to the ancient text.

Centuries before Christians searched Scripture on illuminated digital screens, the Word of God was “lit up” with masterful calligraphy, colorful illustrations, and gold and silver filigree in the illuminated Bibles and manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

A new Bible edition from Crossway offers contemporary readers a glimpse of that classic style in an English Standard Version (ESV) Bible glimmering with hundreds of hand-drawn gold illustrations.

Christian designer Dana Tanamachi, nationally renowned for her chalk art and lettering work, spent seven months creating full-page illustrations for each book of the Bible and served as art director for the project, which follows Crossway’s launch of a multi-volume reader’s Bible in 2016 and a single-column journaling Bible in 2014.

“I’m not aware of anything else quite like the ESV Illuminated Bible,” J. Mark Bertrand, a Bible design expert who runs the blog Lectio, told CT. “Maybe because the ESV Illuminated Bible is a mass market effort, maybe because of the clear influence of the ‘Bible journaling’ trend—which the ESV Journaling Bible helped create—it feels like something unique.”

Even with the growth of Bible sites and apps, around 80 percent of Bible readers—and about as many millennial readers—still prefer to study a physical text. New Bible designs and formats aim to make it easier and more engaging for today’s readers to get into the Word.

“Our prayer is that the added ornamentation and illustrations will draw the readers’ eyes to the beauty of the Word of God itself,” Crossway writes in the ESV Illuminated Bible.

Several more recent efforts to bring the historic practice …

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Saturday is for Seminars and Church Signs

16 shopping days till Christmas

December and January Speaking Engagements

Here are a few places I will be the next couple of months, and then some church signs for you!

December 2017

I’m at Moody Church all Sundays, including morning and evening on Christmas Eve, except these Sundays:

December 17
Highpoint Church
Naperville, Illinois

December 31
Christ Fellowship Miami

January 2018

January 7-10
Southern Union Pastors’ Conference
Orlando, Florida

January 17
Chapel at Judson University
Elgin, Illinois

January 22
Fuller Theological Seminary Church Planting
Houston, Texas

January 23-25
Evangelical Covenent Order of Presbyterians National Gathering
Houston, Texas

January 24-26
Lutheran Brethren Seminary
Fergus Falls, Minnesota

January 29-30
Georgia Baptist REACH Evangelism Conference
Warner Robins, Georgia

Please join me at one of these events, and pray for me that we make much of Jesus at all of them.

Church Signs

… and now a few church signs!

Thanks, @Blue_Bryan!

Thanks, @litlbit3!

Thanks, Jason!

Please tweet your church signs to @EdStetzer (or email to stetzerblog[@]gmail[.]com).

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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Died: Harry Blamires, the C. S. Lewis Protégé Who Rediscovered ‘The Christian Mind’

Influential theologian and author lived to be 101, and to see his popular book remain in print.

British theologian and literary scholar Harry Blamires, who taught the church to think like Christians in the face of a secularizing culture, died last month at age 101.

His writing career was shaped by C. S. Lewis, who grew to become a friend and mentor after Blamires studied under the acclaimed apologist at Oxford University.

His most famous work, The Christian Mind, pushed readers to extend the Christian worldview into all areas of life—particularly intellectual pursuits. The book, published in 1963 and still in print today, called out “the mental secularization of Christians” and the significance of developing Christian thought as it relates to objective truth.

“The bland assumption that the Church’s life will continue to be fruitful so long as we go on praying and cultivating our souls, irrespective of whether we trouble to think and talk Christianly, and therefore theologically, about anything we or others may do or say, may turn out to have dire results,” Blamires warned.

“With The Christian Mind, Harry began a polemic that he kept going for 40 years,” wrote Brian Davis, a former student of Blamires’s, in a Church Times tribute. “His Christian apologetic sold well in the United States, where he was frequently invited to give lecture tours. Like Lewis, he was particularly popular with evangelicals, without being one himself.”

Author of over a dozen books, Blamires is remembered both for his writing on the church and his work in literature. An Anglican, he spent most of his career at King’s Alfred College, where he served as head of the English department and wrote about greats like James Joyce and T. S. Eliot.

Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image Journal, …

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