How Do You Solve a Theological Problem Like Maria?

Record hurricane season challenges believers in paradise to trust God amid life’s literal storms.

Christians across the Caribbean are turning to God during a hurricane season like no other. On Wednesday morning, Hurricane Maria landed on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, the strongest to hit the US territory in at least 80 years.

The night before, pastor Gadiel Ríos prayed and read the Bible during a Facebook Live broadcast with more than 100 of his congregants, asking that God intercede to protect them and allow them to bless their island in the aftermath.

“As a congregation, we help each other during the preparation time, pray together a lot more, and help on relief efforts after the event,” said Ríos, lead pastor of La Iglesia del Centro, a congregation of about 350 in Arecibo. “The evangelical church is an ever-present force before and after these dire situations.”

Evangelicals make up about 15 percent of the population in Puerto Rico, where Catholics remain the majority, according to the Pew Research Center. Many churches, including Calvary Chapel of Puerto Rico, held special prayer nights this week to pray for their island and others in Maria’s path.

In practical ways, Caribbean churches have become better prepared for the annual threat of storms each hurricane season: Buildings are constructed to endure hurricane-force winds, forecasters can better predict a hurricane’s path, and social media networks allow congregants to quickly share warnings, pray, and coordinate relief efforts.

“We deal with the hurricane season as a ‘normal’ thing in our region, but the giant scope (size, force, rapidness of development) of Irma and Maria are just of another league,” Ríos explained by email.

Maria arrived about two weeks after Irma skirted Puerto …

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Of Old Testament Haircuts and New Testament Head Coverings

How Scripture records God consistently defending the humanity and dignity of women against sexual violence and exploitation.

Are women human? Dorothy Sayers asked the question in a series of essays published in the early 20th century. For many today, it seems absurd—of course women are human! Yet sub-human treatment of women has endured throughout history, from wife-selling practices in the 18th and 19th centuries to customs today in some parts of Nepal that banish menstruating women to outdoor sheds and expose them to elements that seem harsh for even animals. Any student of history knows that Sayers’s question was relevant for multiple cultures throughout history and remains so for many cultures today.

“So God created mankind in his own image . . . male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

The opening pages of the Bible teach that woman was created in God’s image (the crucial dividing line between mankind and beast). But after the fall of man, the history of God’s people gives us much to scrutinize on this question. The exploitation of Hagar in Genesis 16 and the rapes of Dinah in Genesis 34 and an unnamed concubine in Judges 19 offer snapshots of a fallen humanity that regularly views women as expendable sexual objects.

God caused such sexual violence to be recorded in Scripture, not to glorify the acts but to show the stark condition of mankind apart from God. Judges in particular tells us that its stories reflect people doing “what was right in their own eyes,” in contrast to what was right according to God’s Law (21:25, NRSV). God did not allow his people to ignore their sinfulness, and he never downplayed its harmful consequences for the most vulnerable in society.

The Bible is also clear: God hates inhumane treatment of women. Survivors of sexual violence can know that God sees their …

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When Disasters Bring Out the Best in Our Gospel Witness

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

Episode 32: When Disasters Bring Out the Best in Our Gospel Witness

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center, talks about the role of people of faith during times of natural disasters. In this moment of need, we can speak into their hurts and lend a helping hand. We can also share the hope we have in Jesus and how He is the one who restores and renews all things.

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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Ravi Zacharias Remembers His Young Protégé, Nabeel Qureshi

The late apologist’s mentor and “uncle” said his lightning-bright legacy will live on.

The first time I saw Nabeel Qureshi, he sat at a table across from me, his one leg constantly moving almost subconsciously, warming up for a run. It was a habit of his restless disposition.

That was Nabeel in true expression; he hated sitting still. He was a man with a mission, ready to run. Sadly, for us, he finished his race all too soon and our hearts are broken at the loss of one who ran with spectacular passion to do what filled his soul.

He was a thorough-going evangelical. He held dear the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and carried the message of salvation. Jesus’ grace for a transformed heart was his message.

For years as a young man, he labored and struggled to gain “righteousness before God” only to find out that righteousness was already met in the cross through Jesus Christ. That was his message in his best-selling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

Qureshi was not just an evangelical; he was passionately evangelistic. He desired to cover the globe with the good news that God’s forgiveness was available to all. I have seldom seen a man with such deep conviction and proportionate passion and gifting. When he spoke, he held audiences spellbound.

I invited him to join our team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) four and a half years ago. He placed one condition, and I placed one condition. His condition was that after he joined, he’d travel with me for one year, to observe and learn. I asked that after the year, he’d go to Oxford. I wanted him to complete his doctorate to be better prepared to answer the toughest questions a Christian apologist faces—and to do it with gentleness, respect, and learning. He agreed.

He called me “uncle.” …

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Died: Nabeel Qureshi, Author of ‘Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus’

Popular apologist’s year-long battle with stomach cancer has ended.

Popular evangelist Nabeel Qureshi, who once sought Allah, has now found Jesus face to face. He died Saturday of stomach cancer.

The 34-year-old convert from Islam was an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) until his diagnosis last summer. He spent months in aggressive treatment, including the removal of his stomach, all the while praying for a miracle to heal him.

In a September 8 video, the last one posted before his death, Qureshi announced that doctors had “given up” on treating him and put him on palliative care.

“If there’s something I’m wrestling with through all this, it’s ‘Where does my faith need to be?’ vs. ‘I, as a believer, am a real person. Where can I actually find my faith?’” he said.

“In other words, do I need to perform? Do I need to say, ‘I’m going to have this level of faith right now.’ Honestly, I don’t think so. I think God understands where I am right now and he comes alongside us in that and he loves us and gives us the strength.”

Qureshi had been receiving treatment at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where his home faced floods during Hurricane Harvey weeks before.

He was raised in a Pakistani-American Muslim family and came to faith reading the Bible to debate a medical school friend. He shared his testimony in his book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and in a 2014 issue of Christianity Today.

The God of the Bible “reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions, and called me to prayer in my suffering,” he said. “It was there that I found Jesus. To follow him is worth giving up everything.”

Ravi Zacharias and his team met with their …

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Dear Secretary Tillerson: Don’t Downsize Religion in Foreign Affairs

Closing the RGA is much more than a bureaucratic loss; it impacts our Christian brothers and sisters around the globe.

As an evangelical leader, one of the few times I had direct access to the previous Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in a meeting put together by Special Advisor Shaun Casey, then head of an independent State Department office called Religion and Global Affairs, or RGA. Casey brought a group of mostly Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders to a lunch gathering at Georgetown University. We shared a meal, listened to a briefing from the secretary, and spent more than an hour discussing foreign policy issues related to peace in the Middle East.

Hosted under the auspices of the RGA, the meeting gave us hope that religious leaders—and the communities they represent—will continue to provide input and insight into US foreign policy decisions. However, if the Trump administration has its way, the RGA office may not remain independent much longer—and it might not exist at all.

Politico recently reported that the current Secretary of State is looking to eliminate the post. In a letter proposing organizational changes, Secretary Tillerson notified Senator Bob Corker and the Committee on Foreign Relations of plans to eliminate the RGA special advisor position and fold only a few of its functions into the Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF). In my opinion, the IRF has a lot on its plate and its mandate is not well aligned with that of RGA.

Although the loss of RGA might seem to outsiders like a bureaucratic loss—just another government office to get the axe—it carries significant import for the church, missionaries abroad, and vulnerable people across the globe.

“Eighty-four percent of the global population self-identifies as religious,” says Doug Leonard, the director of global …

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A Deeper Debate over Drums in Church

Native Christians still wrestle with how their culture fits into their churches.

More than 20 years ago, Mohawk musician Jonathan Maracle says, God told him to use his drum—an instrument used in traditional religious ceremonies—while playing at a conference for First Nation Christians.

The ensuing performance spawned his music ministry, Broken Walls. And it also sparked a controversy.

The next week, when he brought out the drum to play for another community of Native Christians, he was asked to leave the village.

“Religion had come in and taught my people that the drum was evil,” Maracle said. “I had no idea how difficult of a task I had been handed. Nobody was using the drum to worship Jesus at this time in 1995.”

When white missionaries first spread the gospel to indigenous tribes, they often did so in ways that undermined tribal language and culture. Almost all Native Christian leaders agree on that.

But leaders remain divided over what contextualizing their faith should look like—and what role sacred objects, like drums, have in Christian worship.

“There were lots of mistakes that happened historically in Native mission work. But you don’t solve one problem by creating another one,” said Craig Smith, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and president of Tribal Rescue Ministries. “That is what the movement is doing.” He organized a statement for the Christian and Missionary Alliance to warn his fellow Native Christians about “false teaching,” specifically around traditional sacred objects used in a Christian context.

Maracle’s drum playing began during a period when Native American communities were reexamining their own cultural practices—a soul-searching catalyzed by the New Age community’s interest …

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Hath God Truly Said, ‘Avoid Foolish Controversies’?

It turns out that lustily fighting for the truth isn’t what God asks of us.

“Flee from youthful lusts,” Paul warned Timothy (2 Tim. 2:22, NASB). For Bible-believing Christians eager to live rightly, this has long been a key verse. We know that we can grant such youthful lusts no quarter in our lives. So we put filters on our computers, find accountability partners, read books, set boundaries, warn our children, and guard our own hearts, minds, and bodies.

Except most Bible translations have moved away from that phrasing in this particular verse. “Flee the evil desires of youth,” says the New International Version. The English Standard Version goes with “youthful passions.” Because while Scripture gives overwhelming admonition to flee sexual immorality, Paul seems to be warning Timothy about something else here, another wrongly ordered love—a sin—that destroys.

Paul’s command about youthful lusts comes amid several related injunctions: “Warn [God’s people] before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen” (v. 14). “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly” (v. 16). “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (v. 23). It’s the desire to fight foolish error and join fruitless arguments, not lechery, that Paul is anxious about.

His counsel is clearly not just fatherly advice sent along to one hotheaded young pastor. Paul writes the same to Titus: “Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After …

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Protestants: The Most ‘Catholic’ of Christians

New confession by high-profile theologians gives post-Reformation unity a URL.

The most obvious effect of the Reformation—which celebrates its 500th anniversary this year—is division.

It is estimated that more than 33,000 different Christian denominations now exist throughout the world, and much of this is blamed on the Reformation. While not everyone thinks this is a problem, it is a source of concern for Protestants, who are the heirs of Martin Luther’s movement that has tended to create new churches rather than reform existing ones.

The “Reforming Catholic Confession,” released today, aims to demonstrate that—despite “denominationalism”—Protestants are remarkably unified.

Additionally, the new statement of faith, crafted by a team of Protestant theologians and church leaders, aims to show that Protestants are actually more catholic (meaning “universal”) than Roman Catholics, who demand allegiance to the Roman pontiff, or than Orthodox Christians, who reject the claims of Rome but still rely heavily on apostolic succession to guarantee faithful Christianity.

So far, the confession has garnered more than 250 signatories, with a wide swath of Protestant denominations and traditions represented by initial signatories such as Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, philosopher William Lane Craig, biblical scholar Tremper Longman III, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez (a CT board member), and Billy Graham Center for Evangelism director Ed Stetzer (a CT blogger).

The list is primarily scholars and academic leaders, but nearly 20 percent are denominational leaders, pastors, or ministry leaders. Signatories hail from 25 different countries and more than 110 institutions (80 from …

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Questioning Why God Questions

If He wants to have meaningful relationship with us, it will require dialogue.

Why do children ask lots and lots of questions? Aren’t they capable of understanding the answer the first 15 times their parents respond? Why do people make statements about their views instead of asking each other questions? Shouldn’t we be quick to listen to others’ ideas instead of simply asserting our own?

Why does God ask questions?

Isn’t he supposed to be all-knowing?

The ability to ask questions is part of what makes us human. Animals have significant communicative abilities—the ability to signal, to gesture, and to vocalize. They can problem-solve and even reason, as Mexican ecologist Constantino Macías Garcia found in house finches that line their nests with cigarette butts as a chemical deterrent against ticks.

But animals lack the metacognition required to ask questions. Metacognition refers to the ability to think about thinking and implies more than merely taking action or responding to inputs.

Peter Carruthers, in his article “Meta-cognition in Animals: A Skeptical Look,” explains that thinking in humans and animals can be divided into two systems: a lower level that is reactive and a higher level that is reflective. In Carruthers’s classification, animals can make statements because statements come from the lower level of thinking. They can reason that some types of nesting prevent ticks. But animals cannot ask questions, because animals cannot think about the possibilities that questions could evoke.

My cat, Sitka, can tell me he needs food (“meow”), and command me to get him food (“meow, meow, meow”), but he cannot ask me what the food is. He lacks the higher level of abstract thinking needed to ask questions. Being a cat, he probably …

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