I Could Sing This Bridge Forever, If It’s an Antiphon

Modern worship music can seem awfully simple. But it has a vital role to play, especially when paired with Scripture.

If you spend any amount of time in churches that have a notable proportion of people under the age of 40, you’ll hear the genre of music called “modern worship.” The chords are simple, the melodies are exceedingly singable, the sentiments are sincere, and the lyrics are brief.

Like all genres, modern worship has individual examples of real quality, and this week I was in the car singing along with one—Elevation’s 2018 song “Worthy”—that has many merits. I would gladly lead a congregation in it myself, if only to sing this theologically exemplary couplet:

“It was my cross you bore / So I could live in the freedom you died for.”

But as I sang along with the recording, I couldn’t help feeling, not for the first time, that it was incomplete and just a bit thin on its own.

This is not something I feel about a related genre I’ve spent a lot of time studying and, as a worship musician, leading: the choruses of Black Gospel that emerge out of the tradition called the Negro spiritual.

These songs, too, tend to have very short texts. But because they are anchored in the incomparable spiritual depth of the Black church and because they very often pack a great deal of musical subtlety into a seemingly simple musical package, they can sustain a great deal of repetition and only increase in their expressive and formative power. The greatest spirituals—like “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”—can and will be sung for a lifetime and beyond.

Not so much with modern worship. There is something bite-sized about these pieces, which we sing so enthusiastically for a year or three but then lose interest in. And yet I do love singing them, …

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Dallas Willard’s 3 Fears About the Spiritual Formation Movement

Could we miss the whole point?

As a young man, I was privileged to be an eyewitness to the rise of the Christian spiritual formation movement.

It began, in its modern form, in 1978, when Richard Foster wrote what has become the perennially standard text on the spiritual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline. Within a few years of its publication, Christians who had never heard of solitude, silence, or meditation were now practicing these disciplines.

A lot of good was happening, but Richard saw that many Christians were practicing the disciplines in isolation and needed more guidance. So in 1988, he asked Dallas Willard, me, and a few others to join him in forming a spiritual formation ministry called Renovaré (Latin for “to renew”).

Dallas, who served as a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California for 40 years, was one of the most important pioneers in the spiritual formation movement among evangelicals and mainline Protestants. He was close friends with Richard; in fact, Dallas first taught Richard about the spiritual disciplines, which of course were nothing new but were rooted in the ancient church.

In the early days, we experienced a great deal of resistance. Some evangelicals were sure our teachings on spiritual formation were dangerous and the work of the Devil. People would gather outside of our small conferences holding picket signs with messages like “New Age Heresy: Beware.” But the movement was building.

Over their long years of friendship, Richard encouraged Dallas to write about Christian formation, and Dallas eventually penned many influential books, namely The Spirit of the Disciplines; Renovation of the Heart; and his magnum opus, The Divine Conspiracy.

Many others joined in similar efforts. …

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Southwestern Seminary President Resigns

The successor to Paige Patterson cites “reputational, legal, and financial realities” as he moves on to an IMB role.

Adam Greenway has resigned as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary three and a half years after he succeeded fired president Paige Patterson.

Greenway stepped down during a trustee meeting on Thursday and will take a role at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)’s International Mission Board, according to a statement from the seminary.

O. S. Hawkins, retired president of the SBC financial services entity GuideStone, will lead the school as acting president the interim.

Greenway said in a statement:

These days are incredibly challenging in the life of our denomination. They are also challenging times for academic institutions, particularly theological seminaries. In February 2019, Carla and I accepted the call to come back “home” to Southwestern Seminary with an understanding of these challenges, but also with the strong desire to be part of the solution.

What we failed to appreciate was the enormity of the reputational, legal, and financial realities that would welcome us to the Dome—only to be compounded by a global pandemic unlike anything we have ever experienced before.

We have done our best to serve Southern Baptists by helping position our seminary for the future, but much, much work remains to be done. Nevertheless, in the Providence of God we sense a release from our duties here.

Since assuming the presidency at Southwestern, Greenway worked to establish a new era at the Fort Worth, Texas, school, removing stained glass windows commemorating Patterson and other Conservative Resurgence leaders from the school’s chapel and initially making cuts to “recalibrate.”

It hasn’t been a quiet tenure. On top of ongoing litigation around Patterson’s response to …

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At Gracepoint Ministries, ‘Whole-Life Discipleship’ Took Its Toll

As the predominantly Asian American church network expands to dozens of college towns, former members come forward with claims of spiritual abuse.

Gracepoint Church checks all the boxes of a college ministry success story.

Founded in 1981 around the concept of whole-life discipleship, the church—then known as Berkland Baptist—established itself as a home for Asian American students attending the University of California, Berkeley. With the mission to plant “an Acts 2 church in every college town,” Gracepoint stands out among the loose network of predominantly Asian American college churches that pepper campuses across the West Coast and beyond.

Located on over 60 campuses, it has launched church plants in 35 cities nationwide, as well as one in Taiwan, with 15 new churches planted in 2021 alone.

At campus clubs like Klesis and Acts2Fellowship, Gracepoint pushes college students to wrestle with tough questions and pursue church mentorship. At graduation, it encourages young Christians to live life on mission by joining staff at one of its campuses or helping launch a new one. Staying at Gracepoint has a strong appeal, echoing the coming-of-age films that ask, Why can’t college last forever?

“I guess you could say we were just a bunch of people who enjoyed college life so much that we never left it,” the church quips in a promotional video.

“I think people experience a spiritual vibrancy and potency and just a warmth and depth of relationship with God that they haven’t experienced elsewhere,” said Michael Kim, a member at the church’s Santa Barbara campus who was raised at Gracepoint. “For serving members, it’s high pressure, high labor, high toil, but high gratification.”

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The Curious Case of Coronavirus Contagion in Church

Pandemic impact was not as predictable as expected, sociological study finds.

People who went to church during the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns were generally more likely to catch COVID-19. This is fairly straightforward. Yet look a little closer, and the facts get a bit more perplexing.

The “association between attending in-person worship during lockdown and later testing positive for COVID-19 was limited primarily to those who were not previously frequent worship attendees,” according to a study published in the American Sociological Association journal Socius.

Sociologists Samuel Perry and Joshua Grubbs looked at a survey of 1,200 people during COVID-19 lockdowns in the spring and summer of 2020. They found that people who attended weekly church before the pandemic and continued attending, sometimes against health department recommendations, did not notably increase their risk of catching the coronavirus. But those who seldom attended before COVID-19 and started going weekly during the lockdowns did increase their chances. About 17 percent caught the coronavirus between the spring and summer of 2020.

The rates were even higher for those who had never attended before and started going weekly: 28 percent. The reasons are not clear. Perry and Grubbs say it doesn’t seem to be connected to age, race, or safety practices such as mask wearing. The only statistical difference was newly increased church attendance.

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Amid Myanmar’s Civil War, Unity Emerges

Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims—all from different ethnic backgrounds—are coming together to resist the violent military junta.

For the first time since anyone can remember, members of Myanmar’s majority Bamar people are seeking long-term solidarity with the country’s ethnic minorities. Since a coup in February 2021 stunned the world, the military, known as the Tatmadaw, has violently cracked down on both the Bamar and ethnic minority citizens protesting its takeover. Its tactics have included burning down entire villages and firing heavy artillery against its own people. So far, more than 2,000 people have been killed in its countrywide civil war with the poorly armed People’s Defense Force (PDF).

Christian NGO Free Burma Rangers (FBR), which has trained 6,000 ethnic minorities as first responders in the past two decades, has observed this growing unity up close. Increasingly, young Bamar people from cities like Yangon and Mandalay have left their college studies and careers to help the growing popular resistance. Some have gone to the jungles to learn from ethnic armed groups how to fight the Tatmadaw. Others have joined FBR trainings, where trainees alternate between intense physical training and learning how to dress a gun wound or navigate dense jungle terrain.

Even as Myanmar faces its worst fighting in its 70 years as a free nation, many point to the unprecedented unity across ethnic and religious divides. While the country’s Buddhist nationalist leaders previously declared that Myanmar belonged solely to the Buddhist Bamar, now people of all backgrounds have banded together against the common enemy of the military junta.

“This has never happened in Burma, never in my 29 years here,” said Dave Eubank of FBR. “What you have is hope.”

“You are not authentic Burmese”

Religion and ethnicity …

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Top 5 Heresies Among American Evangelicals

It’s 2022, but Arianism and Pelagianism are steadily making a comeback, according to the State of Theology report.

American evangelicals’ grasp on theology is slipping, and more than half affirmed heretical views of God in this year’s State of Theology survey, released Monday by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research.

The report references Ligonier founder R. C. Sproul’s teaching that everyone’s a theologian. “However, Dr. Sproul would be quick to add that not everyone is a good theologian,” it read. That caveat applies to Americans in general and evangelicals too.

Overall, adults in the US are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and his Word year after year. More than half of the country (53%) now believes Scripture “is not literally true,” up from 41 percent when the biannual survey began in 2014.

Researchers called the rejection of the divine authorship of the Bible the “clearest and most consistent trend” over the eight years of data.

“This view makes it easy for individuals to accept biblical teaching that they resonate with while simultaneously rejecting any biblical teaching that is out of step with their own personal views or broader cultural values,” the researchers wrote.

It’s clear that US evangelicals (defined by belief and church affiliation) share some core faith convictions. Well over 90 percent agree that God is perfect, God exists in three persons, Jesus’ bodily resurrection is real, and people are made righteous not through works but through faith in him.

But in some areas, even evangelicals responded with significant misunderstandings and were not far off from the trends in society overall.

In the 2022 survey, around a quarter of evangelicals (26%) said the Bible is not literally true, up from 15 percent …

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British Illustrator Is Drawing All 300 Churches in Her Diocese

The “arty pilgrimage” through Leicestershire has given her a chance to share and deepen her faith.

As England loses a number of its churches and rethinks the role of church buildings, one artist is finding a new appreciation for the over 300 churches in her hometown by drawing each and every one.

Art teacher Hayley Fern pulled out a new sketchbook during a visit to Leicester Cathedral and drew the 900-year-old Gothic-style church, with its pointed arch windows and 220-foot spire.

She enjoyed it so much that she decided to draw the church she attends, St. John the Baptist Church, and then the church she was christened at.

“Somebody actually said, ‘Oh, are you doing all Leicestershire churches?’” Fern said. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. I might just do that.’”

And that’s how her “arty pilgrimage” began.

In her county in central England, there are over 300 Anglican churches, quite a lot but still an obtainable goal, she decided. With each church she adds to her sketchbook—and her social media feeds—she’s learned about nearby places she’d never been or only passed through.

“When you’re visiting a church, you go to the absolute heart of the place. You’re going to the original center of the village or town, the highest point, and it’s often the oldest part,” Fern said. “I’m now really discovering that even the villages and towns that I wasn’t necessarily drawn to actually have these beautiful centers, and the community is really evident there as well.”

A former freelance illustrator, she uses a fine waterproof pen to draw the details: porches and porticos, stained glass windows, neat bricks and cobblestone. Then she fills in with watercolor. Each drawing gets labeled with the church …

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Don’t Quiet Quit the Church

We should continue to let ourselves be amazed by God’s good work whenever and wherever we find it.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

The concept of “quiet quitting”—refusing to do anything but the minimal effort—is all over media these days. Commentators are debating whether or not today’s workers, most notably Gen Z employees, are quiet quitting their jobs.

Count me among the skeptical. Some of the quiet-quitting talk is just another generational caricature (one I’ve not seen any evidence for). And it may well be that workers are getting just as much or more done but are putting healthy boundaries between themselves and their jobs.

Perhaps quiet quitting is happening in some workplaces, although I suspect it’s no more than always. Yet even if mythical, the idea points to something real in many people’s lives: a sense that what they do will make no difference, that things will never change.

I’ve found this mentality to be a genuine temptation in the context of the church.

Those of us who see what’s happening in church life might easily come to the same conclusion that nothing will change, no matter what we do. We might keep attending, keep praying, keep teaching, keep serving—but never really anticipate anything different than the same crises.

I noticed this tendency in myself within the past week.

Recently, I was preaching in a city far from home, and an impressive Baptist Christian in his early 20s picked me up from the airport. As we talked about ministry and what he was doing in the church, he reflected on something I had written here—about how so many leaders I know are demoralized by the craziness of the present moment, both inside and outside the church.

Since he came of age over …

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Belarus Proposes Legislation to Stop Christians From Appealing to the UN

Pentecostals targeted for Bible studies, baptisms, and outdoor worship amid increasing efforts to “repress civil society.”

Six months after a Pentecostal pastor won a religious liberty case before the United Nations, Belarusian politicians are trying to strip citizens of the right to appeal to the intergovernmental organization.

Human rights organizations warn the legislation under consideration this fall “will close one of the last remaining opportunities to seek justice for human rights violations” in the Eastern European country, according to Forum 18, which tracks human rights violations in the region.

The UN was the last court of appeal for Valentine Borovik.

Police raided the Pentecostal pastor’s Bible study in the western town of Mosty in June 2008 and charged him with illegally starting a religious organization. Prosecutors argued that the group did not meet the requirements to register as a church, since there were only 13 adults. But the Christians also could not meet without registering, since they “had all characteristics of a religious community.”

Borovik, objecting to this Catch-22 and claiming he had the right to meet with other believers without registering with the state, was convicted and fined. He appealed and lost, and appealed and lost again.

The case went to the Supreme Court. He lost there too, despite constitutional protections for “the performance of acts of worship and religious rituals and rites.”

“This case exemplifies the difficulties faced by Christians in Belarus,” Mervyn Thomas, founder of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said at the time. “The Belarusian government must be pushed to respect its own laws and international commitments and to allow Belarusians to meet together and practice their faith freely.”

In 2021, Borovik pushed again. He took his case …

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