Do This in Remembrance

Participating in the “high holy day” of American civil religion is beneficial for Christians, so long as we do so thoughtfully.

This Memorial Day I’ll make what’s become an annual pilgrimage, to a place made sacred by the struggles of people like my cousin Mike. Nestled in between the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Fort Snelling National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 220,000 American military veterans and their spouses. Most of them died at a ripe old age, but a few of the headstones bear birth and death dates that are far closer than they ought to be. One of those belongs to Mike, a Navy corpsman traumatized by his experience of the Iraq War. He died in 2014 at the age of 33, leaving behind a wife and three young children.

Some of the visitors who had preceded me last year to Mike’s graveside left behind tokens of remembrance. Flowers and a small American flag rested peacefully in the grass. Two of his comrades-in-arms had placed quarters on the headstone.

Nothing remained of my visit but fallen tears, fleeting evidence of the complicated mix of emotions I felt: grief at Mike’s suffering and death, pride for his courage and sacrifice, dismay at humanity’s propensity for violence, anger at the circumstances that led to his death, and uncertainty about how I should participate in the rituals of Memorial Day.

More of the hurt will have healed when I visit this year, but the other emotions have already started to bubble up. So as a Christian, as a historian, and as someone who loved and was loved by a fallen veteran, let me share what I’ve been contemplating as we approach Memorial Day.

We need reminders to remember.

In a sense, every day is a memorial day for Christians, heirs of Moses’ exhortation to the assembly of Israel: “Remember the days of old; consider the generations …

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Church Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part Two)

Measure outcomes, not activities.

Read Church Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important, Part One (The Problem of Measurement Inversion; Defining and Measuring “Healthy Church”; Is Your Organization Suffering from Measurement Inversion?).

Define the Object of Measurement (i.e., Church)

As mentioned above, the end goal for church planters should be a biblically healthy church. The target “biblically healthy church,” however, is too vague to be observed and quantified. The design team needs to take the target and deconstruct it into sub-targets and observable indicators.

Sub-targets are the components that characterize biblically healthy churches. They don’t describe church planting activities, but rather results of those activities. The list of sub-targets, when taken together, should be an accurate description of a healthy church without going beyond the biblical definition of church. The design team prepares a draft list of sub-targets, which they revise and rewrite as they receive input from leaders and practitioners. To keep the list of sub-targets manageable, the final list should be as short as possible (e.g., seven or fewer sub-targets).

The following questions can serve as a guide for the design team as they define sub-targets:

  1. Is the sub-target a description of an outcome (rather than an activity)?
  2. Is the sub-target an essential and irreducible component of a healthy church?
  3. Taken together, do the identified sub-targets comprise an adequate description of a healthy church, or are other components still missing?
  4. Does any sub-target go beyond what is biblical (i.e., do they reflect the organization’s traditions or cultural idiosyncrasies)?

One can think of sub-targets as a success checklist; when the condition is achieved, …

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Moral Outrage in America Is Now for Everybody

Gallup finds record-high liberalism on 10 of 19 issues. Yet moderates and liberals are growing more concerned.

Ask Americans about their personal views on moral issues, and they are more likely than ever to hold a liberal position. Ask them about the country’s moral values, and they’re becoming more and more pessimistic.

The church today finds itself in a precarious position, as an ethical shift pushes public opinion in favor of stances that Christians have traditionally sided against. Meanwhile, Americans from all political and theological stripes have their own reasons to be concerned over moral decline.

In a recent poll, Gallup found a widening embrace for more than a dozen moral issues, including record-high acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy, and physician-assisted suicide.

Of the 19 issues queried about, Americans have become more liberal on 13 of them (with 10 hitting record highs) and stayed consistent on 6—most notably abortion, which 43 percent of Americans and 34 percent of Protestants deem morally acceptable.

Americans have not shifted more conservative on any of the 19 moral issues measured.

“There was a time that basic Christian morality was at least something people were afraid to violate—at least in an answer on a public survey,” said Dan Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in response. “I am not so sure this is reflective of a moral slide, but of greater honesty.”

In May, both Gallup and LifeWay Research released polls showing about 4 in 5 Americans are worried about the moral state of the country. This year, 77 percent say the country’s values are getting worse, the highest level since Gallup started tracking this topic 16 years ago.

Historically, …

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Interview: Ben Sasse: Adolescence Is a Gift, but Extended Adolescence Is a Trap

The Nebraska senator wants parents to get serious about shepherding kids into responsible adulthood.

During the 2016 presidential race, Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, struck a chord on social media with principled opposition to his party’s nominee, Donald Trump. But his posts on the political scene weren’t the only ones getting attention. That same year, his teenage daughter, Corrie, went away to apprentice at a cattle ranch, where she performed variety of unpleasant, sometimes gross-sounding jobs. Sasse began relaying some of her text-messaged observations to his Twitter followers under the heading “lessons from the ranch.” (A sample: “Today we checked to confirm some cows were pregnant—which Megan did by jamming her hand up their rectums. Eww.”)

That dirty, sweaty, achy work builds character is one of many axioms reverberating through the senator’s book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. During his tenure as president of Midland University (a small Lutheran school in his hometown of Fremont, Nebraska), Sasse often observed students who seemed stuck in adolescence, having never acquired the virtues and character traits they’d need to raise families, run businesses, and revitalize communities. His book warns that Americans have lost touch with cultural scripts that used to guide the journey from childhood to responsible adulthood.

Matt Reynolds, CT’s associate editor for books, spoke with Sasse about how parents can equip their children to escape the protective cocoon of extended adolescence.

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Six Ways Men Can Support Women’s Discipleship

Male clergy and laity who want to enable women’s ministry often don’t know how to get involved or what to do.

#AmplifyWomen is a two-month-long series running on CT Women, designed to generate a new conversation about women’s leadership and discipleship. In the last four weeks, we’ve addressed ecclesial accountability, mentorship, platform, and hospitable orthodoxy. Today, Trillia Newbell invites men in the church to support women’s discipleship.

When I first became a Christian at the age of 22, there were two things that I couldn’t wait to do: learn about the Lord and share about him with others. As I dreamed about my future, I determined that I wanted to become a biblical counselor. I told a pastor about this desire, knowing that it would require more education through a counseling program, most likely at a seminary. His response to me was, “Well, you are probably going to be a mom.”

He was right. I did become a mom, one of my greatest joys and gifts in my life. Still, his statement deterred me from pursuing a counseling degree. Although I don’t hold any grudge against that pastor—he was doing the best to counsel me at the time—nonetheless his initial response was ill-advised and unhelpful.

My experience reflects a larger, more widespread challenge inside the church: Male clergy and lay leaders have the power to impact and support women’s discipleship, but many of them (by their own account) fall short. “When you consider how many ministries and committees depend upon the genius, generosity and sweat of our sisters,” writes pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, “it’s almost criminal that most any pastor you meet has no plan for discipling the women of his church apart from outsourcing to a women’s ministry staff person or committee.”

When men don’t …

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The Church’s Three-Part Harmony

Why evangelical, sacramental, and Pentecostal Christians belong together in one body.

Christ prayed that his followers would be one (John 17:11, 22). But the global church is clearly and deeply divided—the Catholics broke from the Orthodox, then the Protestants broke from the Catholics, and now the Protestants are endlessly divided among themselves.

American evangelicals are currently engaged in some soul searching about what precisely constitutes an “evangelical”—and whether that designation is even worth keeping. Many gen-Xers and millennials, unsatisfied with the consumer-style churches favored by their parents, have departed for more liturgical forms of worship characterized by creeds, incense, and rituals. And all the while, especially in the global South, Pentecostal churches continue to grow, though not without creating controversy along the way.

In such an unsettled environment, how can Jesus’ prayer for church unity possibly be fulfilled?

Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University in Canada, has an exciting and promising proposal in his book Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three. Smith has fashioned a beautiful vision for the unity and interdependence of these major streams of the church.

Smith’s descriptors obviously need some teasing out. By evangelical, he refers to those churches characterized by a high regard for Scripture. By sacramental, he has in mind churches—Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian—that place a great deal of weight on the significance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By Pentecostal, Smith means churches that seek the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit and aim to recapture the spiritual vitality of the apostolic age.

What Smith offers is no airy-fairy ecumenical project. His point …

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We Actually Don’t Need a Trinitarian Revival

Attempts to teach a ‘better’ understanding of the Trinity may do more harm than good.

Rumors of the death of Trinitarianism, even rumors of its dearth, have been grossly exaggerated.

This is not to ignore the problems, failures, errors, and weaknesses that sometimes attend it. We don’t need to suppress any evidence in order to reject the drastic diagnosis. When I look around churches and the theological scene today, I see areas of weakness and suggestions for how evangelical Christians in particular can enter into our Trinitarian birthright more fully, more fluently, and more fruitfully. But I have never been able to embrace the idea that the state of the doctrine of the Trinity in contemporary Christian life is so threatened that drastic action is necessary.

The everything-you-know-is-wrong diagnosis fails to distinguish between primary and secondary Trinitarianism. The distinction is a very helpful one. Primary Trinitarianism (the term seems to have been coined by Lutheran theologian Robert W. Jenson) is the underlying reality of the presence and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the life of the church. Anyone who is born of the Spirit and testifies that the Father so loved the world he gave his only-begotten Son (John 3:14–16) is fluently speaking primary Trinitarianism. That person is giving an account of the triune structure of salvation history itself in the Bible’s own language.

If they were to theologize on top of that, they would begin speaking secondary Trinitarianism. In short order they would bring forth words like Trinity, three, persons, and essence; helpful terms that are just a step or two from Scripture itself. As the need arose, they would pursue questions about how the three persons are one God, and how their temporal appearances in salvation history related to …

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The Greatest Threat to the Church Isn’t Islam—It’s Us

A leading Nigerian theologian believes the real danger to Christianity in Africa is in the church.

A good pickpocket works with a partner who will distract the “mark” while the pickpocket steals his wallet, camera, or passport. Sometimes the distraction will be an unwanted conversation, an aggressive sales pitch, or an “accidental” collision in a crowded area—at which point the pickpocket does his work. Right now, Christians are being swindled.

We hear a lot about the threat of radical fundamentalist Islam. Some believe there is an “Islamization agenda” at work that is trying to undermine traditional institutions and replace them with a new Islamic order. To be sure, many horrible acts have been committed under the banner of radical Islam, and there is a real danger. But the truth is this: Overblown fears about a supposed “Islamization agenda” may actually be distracting Christians from the true threat that is stealing away the authentic witness and authority of Christianity.

The Islamization Agenda

Like in many other countries in Africa, the belief in an Islamization agenda is potent, alive, and well in Nigeria. Since the early 1980s, Nigerian Christians have been deeply concerned about the possibility of a secret plan to conform the country to the dictates of Islam.

The seed of this idea goes back to the jihad led by Usman dan Fodio in 1804. His goal was to “dip the Qur’an into the Atlantic Ocean,” meaning that he intended to impose Islam upon the entire nation of Nigeria. Although he died without realizing his vision, dan Fodio left a legacy that the Muslim umma (community) in Nigeria has continued to pursue. Many Nigerian Christians believe that any time a Muslim is president of Nigeria, the Muslims will use that as a platform to pursue their agenda …

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Church-Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part One)

Measure outcomes, not activities.

A few years ago I was part of a breakout group at a church planting roundtable where we discussed the question, “What is church?” The group was comprised of international and regional directors of church planting organizations. About fifteen minutes into the discussion it became apparent that very few of the leaders had a working definition of church that was common to their entire organization. Taken together, these leaders represented hundreds of church planters.

I began to wonder how church planters could be sent to the field without a clear concept of what they are commissioned to do. Would that be acceptable in any other setting? How successful would car manufacturers be if their leaders told factory workers, “Make cars!” and did not provide them with detailed specifications of what they were to build? Absurd! Yet it seemed like that was exactly what many church planting organizations had done.

When church planters don’t have a working definition of church, they are left with important questions they can’t answer:

  • How do they know when they’ve finished the job?
  • How do they give credible progress reports to supporters when there is no clear definition of what they are progressing toward?
  • How do they know that what they are doing today is getting them to the goal?
  • How do they decide where best to use their resources?
  • Furthermore, from an organizational perspective, if leaders have not defined the end goal clearly, can they truly know whether the day-to-day activities of their church planters are actually fulfilling the organization’s mission?

This article presents a method for developing a measurement instrument that can guide leaders to define the end goal (i.e., “church”) …

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ICE Deports Christian Who Fled Persecution Back to Indonesia

Man who sought asylum in New Jersey church caught up in 100-day surge in non-criminal arrests.

Four years ago, eight Indonesian Christians living in a New Jersey church received some encouraging news: despite overstaying their visas for more than a decade, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would not be deporting them.

This year, ICE changed its mind.

Four of the men attended an annual check-in meeting with ICE officials in Newark in March, and authorities asked them to return with their passports in May. But when the men returned last week, this time joined by a lawyer, they were arrested and sent to an immigration detention center.

Yesterday, one was deported back to Indonesia.

“His attorney got a call at 10 a.m. that his stay of removal was denied,” stated Seth Kaper-Dale, Arino Massie’s pastor.

Almost two hours later, Kaper-Dale heard from Massie. “Arino called to say, ‘Pastor, I’m already on the plane. I’m headed for Japan. Thanks for all the efforts of the community. Tell the community I love them. Tell my son I love him,’” Kaper-Dale told about three dozen people gathered for a rally Thursday.

Massie and the three other men, who are still being held, are part of a 40-percent surge in ICE arrests in the first 100 days of the Trump administration. This includes 100 arrests a day of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record.

The same day the Indonesian men were arrested, the first Christian governor of Jakarta was jailed for blasphemy, just weeks after losing a gubernatorial reelection bid. The world’s most populous Muslim country was visited last month by Vice President Mike Pence, who praised its “tradition of modern Islam.”

But Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate country is not as accurate as it once was. CT reported in …

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