CT Blog

Beyond the Nakba: 7 Ways Christians Can Affirm a Positive Future for Palestinians

How to understand the “catastrophe” of 1948 and its impact on today’s Israel.

On April 18, the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s founding. On May 14, Palestinians commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), the year they lost their homeland to a foreign invader. Jews look on the events of 1948 as the correction of an ancient injustice; Palestinians feel that Jewish justice was gained at their expense. If 1948 meant the end of Jewish dispersion, it also signaled the start of Palestinian exile.

The clash between these two views captures the basic dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two national groups, two national narratives, and seemingly no way to reconcile them. For 70 years, the rest of the world has been forced to confront this dilemma and choose a side.

Christians, in particular, want to know who deserves their sympathy and support. For too long, the Christian conversation about Israel has been confined to the realm of theology: Are the Jews still God’s chosen people? Are the promises about the land still relevant? Is modern Israel connected to Bible prophecies? Yet as theologians argue over the details, the conflict persists. Meanwhile, advocates for pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian organizations seem to compete over who can come up with the most insipid spiritual slogan (Bless Israel! Be pro-peace! Pursue justice!), forcing those who crave a more thoughtful response to seek answers on their own.

Lately, evangelicals have become especially interested in the other side. “We’ve heard a lot about the Jews,” they say, “but what about the Palestinians? Who are they? What do they want? How can we help them?” A recent LifeWay Research survey of American ...

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Celebrating David Hesselgrave (1924-2018), Missiologist and Professor

David Hesselgrave is considered the founding dean of modern evangelical missiology.

Nearly a decade ago I had the privilege of co-editing a book alongside Dr. David Hesselgrave called MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium. It was an honor to co-labor on a project with a man who had been so influential not only to me, but to so many in the field of missiology. David set the stage for many rising missiologists to understand cultures and to contextualize each in a way that honors God and others.

Although David has passed away, his legacy will, without a doubt, live on for generations to come.

Academics & Missiology

As I reflect on his legacy and influence, I believe that, in a sense, he could be considered the Dean of Evangelical Missiology. Having served as Professor of Missions at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (in fact even helping to build out the Missions Department to make it a world-class seminary) and co-founded (with Donald McGavran) the Evangelical Missiological Society, his impact reached far and wide into the academic and missional-practitioner world.

If you are an evangelical missiologist, you have been influenced by David Hesselgrave.

And as author of numerous articles and books, including Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, and Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Missions Today, David was a thought-leader in every sense of the term. Look over the curriculum in almost any Missions Department here in North America and beyond and you will likely find David Hesselgrave’s works still as foundational texts in courses.

Nearly every serious missiologist I know today is indebted to David’s courageous and cutting-edge deep dive into how to engage cultures well.

When I talked with my friend and Wheaton colleague, Dr. Scott ...

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Died: David Hesselgrave, Scholar Who Made Missions Cross-Cultural

The Evangelical Missiological Society founder changed how we think of contextualizing the gospel.

David Hesselgrave, the driving force behind the evangelical study of missions in the 20th century, died this week at age 94.

Hesselgrave built the missions program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and cofounded the Evangelical Missiological Society, teaching generations of scholars and missions workers around the world more effective ways to share the gospel across cultures (as referenced in the titles of his popular textbooks: Planting Churches Cross-Culturally; Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally; Counseling Cross-Culturally).

“Not just the volume but the significance of the content of his writings has had tremendous influence and impact in helping us think through the relationship of Christ and culture,” said Craig Ott, TEDS professor of mission and intercultural studies, in a video tribute offered to Hesselgrave in 2012 when he won a lifetime achievement award at the North American Mission Leaders Conference.

Before contextualization became a widely accepted element of mission work among evangelicals, Hesselgrave was among just a few scholars in the 1970s and ’80s who validated the importance of culture as a factor in how people interpret and communicate theology.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, has regularly highlighted Hesselgrave’s scholarship on his Christianity Today blog, The Exchange, and coedited with the late professor the 2010 book MissionShift: Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium.

“You can’t speak to an evangelical missiologist who hasn’t been influenced—in my case, shaped—by Hesselgrave’s thinking,” Stetzer said in the video tribute. “I think he’s left a powerful legacy ...

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Goodbye, Calvin College: Christian Schools Play the ‘Name Game’

New offerings and global reach prompt more institutions to adopt “university” designation.

Almost 900 students graduated this past weekend from Calvin College, taking home diplomas that in just a couple years will be relics from the school’s history. Two weeks ago, the Christian liberal arts college announced plans to change its name to Calvin University by 2020.

Schools across the United States have gradually transitioned from college to university as a way to indicate graduate offerings and compete for clout in the packed higher education landscape—particularly with the influx of international students. Calvin is the latest in a string of evangelical colleges to make the move.

“This direction enables us to live into what has already been true about Calvin, and it will better position us for the innovative work that is necessary for the future,” said Calvin President Michael Le Roy in a press release. “We see this move providing a great opportunity to introduce more people to Calvin’s distinctive Christian mission.”

The Grand Rapids, Michigan, college launched its first graduate degree program in 1974. Informal talks of adopting the university designation have gone on for decades, formalizing over the past year with a unanimous vote from the faculty senate and the board of trustees.

But name changes are not merely branding moves requiring updated letterhead and new school T-shirts. Over the next two years, Calvin will make its change to a university official through legal and accrediting institutions, then will shift its governance structure. Unlike the streamlined college setup, universities typically have leadership in place for each of their schools and programs.

Counting Calvin’s upcoming name change, 15 percent of colleges affiliated with the Council for Christian ...

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Parents: Let Go of Graduation Nostalgia

The end of school invites retrospection. But we have something better to look forward to.

About a week before my eldest child went to college, my family and I took him out for Sunday lunch. During the meal, one of his grandmothers asked me if I wished I could turn back time. My eldest sat beside me with his back straight, looking down at his plate. “Don’t you wish he were little again?” she said. “Sitting in a patch of sunshine in the yard, playing with Legos?” The other grandmother asked the same question with a different phrasing. “Remember the sweetness of those early years? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back?”

Their words, although well-intentioned, wrung the nostalgia right out of me. No, I said. I didn’t want to go back in time. I loved being at home with my kids when they were little, but now, I said, I was eager to see what was ahead for my son. Of course, I was also trying to signal something to him that day while answering their questions; I wanted him to know it was all right with me that he was growing up and moving on. Still, I felt like I was breaking a classic, unwritten rule of having a high school senior: Parents are supposed to be sentimental and even fraught, full of regret and given to ponderous rumination about their children growing up.

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice,” columnist Michael Gerson writes in a beautiful piece about his son’s departure for college. “But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story.”

When I first read Gerson’s words, they shot a dart into my heart. But on further reflection, I think they convey a fundamental untruth: that the best of our lives lie behind us.

I want to be hopeful ...

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Doubt Is Not Unbelief: Evangelicals and the Stigma of Doubt

The key is not the total suspension of confidence or even certainty, but rather the judicious placement of confidence and trust.

The commitment of American evangelicals towards gospel propagation is evident from their dominant presence in Protestant mission (vast majority of U.S. based Protestant missionaries are evangelicals) and in the identities of their greatest heroes like Billy Graham.

Unfortunately, while evangelicals are understandably and justifiably preoccupied with bringing people through the front door of the church, too many seem relatively inattentive and uninformed as to HOW and WHY people are leaving though the back door.

In the past few decades, increased religious mobility, which includes leaving and switching, has been a notable trend in the shifting U.S. religious landscape (e.g., the rise of the religious nones).

This is in part what led me to undertake a research project that would understand leave-taking—the journey from evangelical minister and missionary (specifically those who a had formal theological and ministerial training and served in vocational ministry for at least two years) to the complete abandonment of the Christian faith, including any belief in the supernatural.

This research project, which included 31 in-depth interviews with such deconverts, was guided by the following questions:

  • What sort of religious experiences and influences did participants have in their early periods of social development (childhood and adolescence)?
  • In adulthood, how did participants remember their significant Christian experiences, including their ministerial experiences, and how did they make sense of their religious world when they identified as Christian?
  • How did the process of leaving unfold, and what was it like experientially?
  • What are the salient factors and reasons related to discarding the Christian faith?
  • What are the consequences of leaving the Christian faith, and what life changes accompany it?

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You Keep Using That Word, ‘Christian’

Throughout American history, groups have given it different, often conflicting meanings. Can they all be right?

Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There contains a famous snippet of dialogue between a maddeningly vague Humpty Dumpty and an increasingly puzzled Alice. Humpty insists that by the word glory he means a powerful argument, and Alice counters that glory doesn’t mean that. Carroll describes what happens next:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty, “which is to be master—that is all.”

In Christian: The Politics of a Word in America, historian Matthew Bowman looks to tease out how religious groups in American history have defined, used, and even wielded the word Christian as a means of understanding themselves and pressing for their own idiosyncratic visions of genuine faith and healthy democracy. Like Humpty Dumpty, Bowman does not think there is a fixed definition of Christian to be right or wrong about. There are only different groups attempting to master the term for their own purposes.

Bowman wisely acknowledges that he is not attempting a comprehensive history of Christian or American Christianity more broadly, but rather a selective and indeed eclectic account of several distinct groups. His case studies make for an interesting ride through some familiar and forgotten terrain in American religious history. Bowman begins his narrative after the Civil War by contrasting radical feminist and provocateur Victoria Woodhall’s Christianity with that of the Radical Republicans and Ulysses ...

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20 Cuban Pastors and Spouses Killed in Plane Crash

Nazarene officials say ‘God is still in control’ after regional leaders die on the way home from Havana retreat.

A group of Cuban church leaders died in a plane crash Friday on the way home from a denominational retreat in Havana.

The ten married couples, several of them co-pastors, from Holguín in East Cuba, had spent three days at a Nazarene seminary in the island’s capital. They sang and prayed together on the bus back to Jose Marti International Airport to catch their return flight, Cuba Church of the Nazarene President Leonel López told Nazarene Communications Network (NCN) News.

But they never made it back home. The 20 pastors were among more than 100 people killed when their Boeing 737 airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from Havana around noon on Friday. Just three survivors remain. It’s the deadliest aviation accident in Cuba in three decades.

“In this moment of anguish and pain, we ask for your prayers and help to be able to get through this situation together,” said López.

Among the casualties were the Nazarene Missions International district president and district office secretary and treasurer, NCN News confirmed. The Nazarene victims leave behind eight children between the ages of 7 and 16, and several of the couples also had adult children.

“This has been a difficult time for the Church of the Nazarene, but in these times of difficulties and adversities we know that God is still in control,” said Carlos Saenz, regional director for the Church of the Nazarene Mesoamerica, which dates back more than 70 years in Cuba.

The cause of the crash is still unknown, although the plane was nearly 40 years old and reportedly in poor condition. It had been rented from a Mexican owner and flown by the Mexican airline Global Air.

“We pray to the Lord to fortify the hearts of ...

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In Shadow of Death, Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Relapse on Reconciling

The body of Christ is breaking in Israel amid Jerusalem embassy move and Gaza border violence.

Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.

But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.

A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.

Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.

Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.

“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”

Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.

Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.

And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone.

They did not go to the protests, seen as a Hamas initiative. The Palestinian Authority hasn’t paid salaries in months, trying to pressure Hamas. ...

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One-on-One with Karl Vaters on ‘Small Church Essentials’

Instead of striving for church growth, I encourage churches and pastors to work on increasing their capacity for effective ministry.

Ed: How did you come to write Small Church Essentials?

Karl: Small churches are, by far, the most common expression of the gathered body of Christ. But they are highly undervalued and grossly under-resourced. I know because I’ve been pastoring in small churches for most of my ministry, including the small church I’ve been at for the last 25 years.

Despite the fact that we’re a healthy, vibrant, worshipping, missional church in very populated area, we’ve remained small.

That so-called ‘failure’ caused so much frustration and discouragement that I almost left the pastoral ministry. Then, a friend and counselor encouraged me to find ways of measuring church effectiveness beyond the numbers. That led me to write my first book, The Grasshopper Myth.

As I’ve continued to study, write, speak, and have conversations with thousands of fellow small church pastors, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how to do effective ministry within a small church context. The lessons from those interactions and my own experiences are the heartbeat of Small Church Essentials.

Ed: Why do you think it is so common for people to equate the size of a church with its level of health? Or as you put it, to filter everything through the “church growth lens.”

Karl: I think it’s based on some understandable, but faulty logic—namely, a healthy church will be fulfilling the Great Commission, which means it will grow numerically. That’s a reasonable theory. But any theory needs to be tested against reality. And when we do that, we discover that there are many churches who are fulfilling their role in the Great Commission without getting bigger for a wide variety of reasons.

Ed: How do you ...

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