CT Blog

God Shook My World at an EDM Concert

I was rolling on Ecstasy when the scales suddenly fell from my eyes.

I never thought I would become a Christian. I wasn’t raised in church. I grew up believing science had all the answers, that religion was merely lingering superstition from a more primitive time. Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, Jonah living in the belly of a whale for three days—none of it seemed plausible. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, and Jesus Christ probably wasn’t either.

I spent my first 25 years living by my own standards. I thought I could do whatever I wanted as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone. I partied, drank, did drugs, and looked for fulfillment in other people. None of it made me happy. I wasn’t content, no matter what I did.

My journey to faith began six years ago, when I had dinner with a coworker and his wife who were evangelical Christians. There was nothing out of the ordinary about them, but the contrast between our lives was jarring. After dinner, I was meeting up with friends to split up some drugs. My coworker and his wife never got drunk. Instead of getting messed up on weekends, they helped people.

I went with them to church a few times, but nothing stuck. I could see the appeal of a Christian lifestyle. I just didn’t believe any of it.

Cracks in My Worldview

The first thing that shook my view of the world was reading about the many scientists who believe our universe is a simulation. It has seemingly been fine-tuned for our benefit. According to the British astronomer Martin Rees, the values of six physical properties of the universe had to be exactly right for life to exist. Scientists don’t really have an explanation. Some have proposed that we exist in a multiverse made up of an infinite number of possible universes, and we just happen ...

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Why Christians Need to Support Women’s Rights and Religious Freedom in the Muslim World

There is a correlation between these two liberties that must be uncovered.

Although women’s rights and religious freedom are not commonly associated with one another in the world of the 1.6 billion Muslims, there is a correlation that must be uncovered.

According to Women and Religious Freedom by Nazila Ghanea, inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear.

Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly. For the Muslim world, the Quran reads in Sura 2:256, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

Individuals must not be forced to follow a literal interpretation of religious teachings and traditions. Faith under force is invalid and ingenuine. Therefore, it is never in the public’s interest to force belief on individuals, regardless of gender, and restrict their right to question, explore and fulfill their purpose.

In fact, the research shows that women can contribute to greater peace and prosperity of a society when they are free to choose to exercise their own free will and belief (see here).

The Muslim world is expansive and complex, and in growing numbers, Muslims value the ideals of religious freedom and pluralism, even though they may not discuss it openly.

According to Jennifer Bryson, former director of the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom,

Many Muslims are writing and speaking about religious freedom and Islam, not only in response to international human rights discourse, but, significantly and most of all, internally in their own intra-faith discussions about Islam and being Muslim.

When considering the growing movement of women’s rights around ...

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Reflecting on Church Planting in the Aftermath of Being on the StartUp Podcast, Part 2

Three major topics church planters have contacted me about since the podcast began airing.

In one of the episodes of StartUp, my wife Leah is asked about my mental health in relation to church planting. She describes the venture as “inhumane.” I didn’t know she felt that way, but she has seen firsthand the toll church planting can take on someone. It can really beat you up.

At this point, some people will say, “that’s an exaggeration.” Yes, many men and women have had great experiences with church planting. They’ve always had plenty of people, funding, volunteers, and baptisms. That’s great.

My sentiments reveal the experience of the rest of us: those who feel incredibly alone, who scare our families and ourselves with our irritability and anger, who don’t know if they will be paid each month, and who feel like we have to please everyone and are incapable of pleasing anyone.

If this is your experience, then what you are experiencing is inhumane.

I’d like to offer some reflections on a few major topics church planters have contacted me about since the podcast began airing.

Vulnerability

“Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable” is the phrase I’ve seen most in emails since the beginning of the StartUp series.

People from across the spectrum, even if they disagreed with me on everything, were grateful for my openness about my weaknesses and struggles. This surprised me because I honestly don’t feel like I was that vulnerable. Perhaps that’s because some of my issues have forced me to come clean with my struggles, or because I’ve spent a lot of time in therapists’ offices talking about these things.

Or maybe this is because I have seen people’s lives destroyed because they felt like “faking it” was ...

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Should Hymns Keep the Theology of Their Writers?

Experts weighed in.

John Piper needed “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” to match a sermon, so he wrote two new Reformed verses. Many of writer Thomas Chisholm’s fellow Methodists, who “sing their theology,” couldn’t sing along.

Answers are arranged on a spectrum from “yes” answers at the top to “no” answers at the bottom.

“Many gentlemen have done my brother and me . . . the honor to reprint many of our hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able . . . to mend either the sense or the verse.”

John Wesley, songwriter and evangelist, in Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780)

“Hymns are theological statements. John and Charles Wesley convey Methodist ethos in and through hymns. Methodism embeds its theology in song: lyrical theology. To that end, and particularly for Methodism, hymns are not theologically neutral but carry theological distinctiveness.”

Swee Hong Lim, sacred music program director, University of Toronto’s Emmanuel College

“Taking a hymn in a new theological direction is far from novel in church history. (Calvinist George Whitefield altered Charles Wesley’s text “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and made it a smidgen less Wesleyan.) Was Piper wrong to transpose Chisholm’s hymn to a Reformed key? No. Is it always permissible? No. Is it always profitable? No. Is it always faithful? One can certainly hope so.”

David Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture, Fuller Seminary

“It is more urgent for composers to be less concerned with the particulars of our ...

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Gleanings: October 2018

Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our October issue).

Israel: Christians worry about official secondary status

Israel’s legislature passed a special law this summer officially cementing the nation’s nature as a Jewish state. Most provisions aren’t controversial—they formally establish the flag, emblem, and anthem. But Palestinian Christians and some Messianic Jews, along with other religious minorities, object to statutes declaring Jewish settlement as a “national value” and downgrading Arabic from an official language to one with “special status.” “While the idea of the law is straightforward—it’s hard to argue that Israel isn’t a Jewish state—the actual provisions are controversial, discriminatory, and possibly racist,” said Jaime Cowen, a Messianic Jewish leader. Others like The Philos Project’s Robert Nicholson argue the law doesn’t change anything except sentiment. “The best critique of the law,” he said, “may be that it doesn’t really do anything besides stir up unnecessary trouble.”

Canada: Christian college drops sex standards for students

Weeks after Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against what would have been the country’s first Christian law school, Trinity Western University (TWU) dropped its student community covenant at the heart of the controversy. TWU’s law school quest had stalled in court for years after several provincial law societies refused to accredit would-be graduates, citing the covenant’s prohibition of sex outside of traditional marriage. TWU president Robert Kuhn said the school remained committed to its evangelical principles and mission, and the covenant will remain in effect for faculty and staff. The ...

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Interview: Richard Foster: Effort Is Not the Opposite of Grace

As he retires from public ministry, the ‘Celebration of Discipline’ author reflects on the heart of spiritual formation.

Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline 40 years ago as a young pastor. The book—which has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into 25 languages—launched a ministry of speaking, writing, and teaching on spiritual formation and the classic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Foster founded and led Renovaré, a spiritual formation ministry, up until 2008 when he retired from his role as president to make space for new leadership. Foster, now 76, will retire from his public speaking ministry after wrapping up a tour this year.

CT editor Kelli Trujillo sat down with Foster at his Colorado home to discuss how the Christian spirituality landscape has changed—and how he’s changed—over his decades of ministry.

You’ve spent more than four decades of ministry focusing on spiritual formation. At its core, what does spiritual formation involve?

It’s important to be clear what we’re talking about when we say “spiritual formation.” Consider Paul’s words in Galatians 4:19: “I am in travail until Christ be formed in you.” The word travail is a birthing image. He’s saying, essentially, “I am in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” That’s a biblical, foundational way of thinking about spiritual formation.

I think of a couple of old hymns that speak to this. The first is “Rock of Ages”—“Let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure.” That’s the key—the “double cure.” It then says “Save from wrath,” which is forgiveness, justification. But it goes on: “Save from wrath and make ...

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Cover Story: God of the Second Shift

The theology of work conversation is thriving. Why are most workers missing from it?

Our group was white, college-educated, and passionate about helping people find meaning in their careers. We looked at Josué “Mambo” De León, pastor of a bilingual working-class congregation called Westside Church Internacional, eager to hear his thoughts on a recent “faith and work” conference.

“For us, work isn’t about thriving,” Mambo said. “It’s about surviving.”

Between bites of salad, it slowly became clear who the man in a red baseball cap, World Cup T-shirt, and jeans really was: an emissary from another world.

“You start with the premise that you have a job and that you feel a lack of purpose,” he said. “But that doesn’t resonate with us. How are you supposed to find purpose and flourish when you don’t even have opportunities?”

On my way home from the office of the nonprofit I run, Denver Institute for Faith & Work, I stewed over Mambo’s comments. They reminded me of a similar conversation I’d had with Nicole Baker Fulgham, president of an educational reform group called The Expectations Project. Baker Fulgham, an African American working with low-income kids, asked me bluntly: “So when do we start talking about faith, work, and life for fast-food employees?”

In the past decade, the faith and work movement has exploded. Hundreds of new conferences, books, and organizations have sprung up from San Diego to Boston. But there’s a growing anxiety among Christian leaders that our national vocation conversation has a class problem.

A hundred years ago, partnerships between clergy and labor unions flourished. Yet as the forces of industrialization transformed the trades in the late 19th ...

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Evangelicals Argue Against US Reducing Refugees to 30,000

Trump administration says Christians in Iraq face genocide; only 18 have been allowed to resettle in America this year.

A maximum of 30,000 refugees will be allowed to resettle in the United States next fiscal year. The new ceiling imposed by the Trump administration marks a dramatic decrease from this fiscal year’s 45,000-person cap, which had also been a significant reduction.

For three decades before that, the US resettlement ceiling hadn’t dropped below 70,000.

The policy shift was announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday; evangelical and Catholic advocates for refugees were quick to push back.

“This repeated reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the US is incredibly troubling,” said World Relief CEO Tim Breene following Pompeo’s announcement. “Not only is it a continuation of a series of unprecedented attacks on our American values and on the humanitarian nature of the refugee resettlement program, but it falls far short of helping the large number of vulnerable people around the world.”

Joe S. Vásquez, chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, called the decrease “deeply disturbing” and said it “leaves many human lives in danger.”

“To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation,” he said.

Pompeo, who initially argued to keep the number stable at 45,000, defended the administration’s change, asserting it was actually a positive reflection of American values.

“Our proposal of resettling up to 30,000 refugees under a new ceiling reflects the United States’s longstanding record as the most generous nation in the world for protection-based immigration and assistance,” he said.

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Reflecting on the Rewards and Risks of Going on the StartUp Business Podcast, Part 1

'Fascinating' and 'terrifying' are the words that come to mind when I think about my experience of being recorded for days on end.

I recently had the pleasure of being shadowed by an ambitious young journalist named Eric, and his omnipresent microphone. He works for Gimlet Media and produces “StartUp,” a secular podcast with over one million listeners. When Eric decided to focus on church planting in the show’s latest season, I mysteriously and unexpectedly became the subject of the show, along with my wife and the people of Restoration Church—the church I pastor.

As the season aired, I waited silently, hoping that there would be no pressing reason to write or say anything in response. However, I received emails and messages from listeners daily (and unfortunately read the Reddit threads about the show) so I am now overdue to give a thoughtful response.

I thought the season was excellent.

A secular podcast about business startups endeavored to cover the otherwise unseen world of church planting. I knew what to expect. I knew they would imperfectly explain what a church is and how it functions, and I knew they would emphasize the business underbelly of churches, to many people’s discomfort.

Also, months of recording were compressed and edited into less than three hours of content. To be clear, I love Eric Mennel and the whole team at Gimlet. With that said, I want to reflect on my experience with the podcast through three articles.

First, I’d like to talk about the rewards of this experience, followed by a discussion of the risks of entering into this process. Last, I’ll offer some final thoughts on church planting.

The Rewards

Fascinating and terrifying are the words that come to mind when I think about my experience of being recorded for days on end. Fascinated that someone is interested in the details of my life ...

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Why Does the Red Planet Call to Us?

What space exploration tells us about human curiosity, from Eden to Mars.

Blue is the color of Mars at sunset.From the surface, the cold, dim light of the setting sun comes in from the horizon as it competes with the ever-present dust, thick in the air. The plains of graveled hematite that were once shades of ochre and umber by day are now jet and onyx.

In the darkness, Mars may seem to be a dead planet. But in Gale Crater, there is human movement, as NASA’s Curiosity rover slowly treks its way up the shoulder of Mount Sharp.

Mars is not the dying planet sprung from the imagination of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury. Mars is more alive than ever—increasingly populated over the last two decades with the robot explorers of an emergent humanity, propelled by a sense of curiosity that infects our species.

Ecclesiastes 1:13 calls humanity’s curiosity about the universe both a “heavy burden” (in the NIV), but also a gift “given to human beings” by our Creator (in the NRSV). Everyone loves, but God calls us to a higher love. Everyone is curious, but God calls us to a higher form of curiosity.

Last month, after nearly two years of testing and repairs, the Curiosity rover is again drilling into Martian rock in its bid to discover whatever secrets may be hidden within. One of the keys to unlocking those secrets is an instrument the car-sized vehicle carries called the ChemCam, an onboard spectrometer that uses a laser to vaporize Martian rock and then, by reading light waves, can measure the rock’s chemical and mineral makeup.

“Exploring the universe around us is a very God-given activity—to follow our curiosity and to continue the work of exploring God’s creation that has [already] begun,” explains Roger Wiens, a scientist ...

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