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Christianity Today's 2019 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.

There’s a funny graphic making the social media rounds that confirms a truth universally acknowledged, at least by bibliophiles. Under the heading “Do I need more books?” sits a pie chart partitioned into a big slice (in teal) and a much smaller slice (in yellow), representing the dueling impulses in play. Predictably enough, the teal portion depicts the overwhelming urge to answer with an emphatic “YES.” But then we confront the nagging, still small voice of conscience, whispering ever so delicately, “also YES, but in yellow.”

As someone who owns a perfectly appropriate, not even slightly excessive, but still fairly large number of books, I know the feeling. Several years ago, I was part of a book club at church. We were discussing a book about books (Tony Reinke’s Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading). At some point, I asked whether anyone else ever felt guilty about devoting too much time to reading, given all the other callings God places on our lives. One young woman in the group thought the question revealed more about the bookworm bubble I inhabited than any spiritual dilemma Christians commonly face. And of course she was right! (Thank goodness that levelheaded young woman later saw fit to become my wife.)

If only through gritted teeth, you can usually get me to concede the sinful temptations that bookaholism encourages. Like any good gift, reading can be overindulged. But each year, as I set the table for another book awards banquet, I try to ease up on the introspection, adopting the literary equivalent of the “calories don’t count” mindset that fuels so many satisfying Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner binges.

During book awards season, at least, the ...

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Beyond Disease Transmission: Evangelical Missions and the Consequences of Colonialism

It matters how the church enters a mission field.

“Three of our children were folded in the arms of the Good Shepherd during the past year. Tuberculosis, the tendency to which was inherited, took each of them. As none of the teachers … or other white people at Unalaska, are so far as we know ever touched by the great white plague, we have come to the conclusion that it is not the climate but the conditions of living that make the disease so prevalent among the natives. Few children in Alaska are well born. Then, the ignorance of the parents, who seem to make it their chief avocation during the long winters to watch lest a whiff of fresh air get into their cabins, and the lack of good food add their contributions to the inherited tendency.”

Annual Report of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1909

Since the news of John Chau’s death reached the wider world, both pundits and people on social media have offered commentary on the merits or folly of Mr. Chau’s actions. One of the strongest criticisms has been the possibility of disease transmission. Recently, Ed Stetzer interviewed experts who helpfully contributed information on epidemiology and missions. While essential to research on colonialism and missions, disease transmission is not the only factor in understanding how disease affects mission fields.

As a historian, I research American missions movements, focusing on how American missionaries were influenced by race theories and how these race theories affected missionary education, proclamation, and public health efforts. As an Alaskan, I was drawn to this history in my home state. My research led me to the troubling story of missions and tuberculosis among Alaska Natives.

The quote that opens ...

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What We Long for the Church to Face about Sexual Violence

Improving our prevention and response to sexual violence will take sustained, significant efforts.

We believe that the vast majority of people of faith, if asked, would state a sincere desire to respond to sexual violence with wisdom, justice and support for victims. Numerous narratives from survivors, however, caution us to consider that we vastly overestimate our readiness to respond well, and underestimate the challenges involved in doing so.

Therefore, we do not place all our hopes in sharing a “to-do list” of strategies for churches. Clergy and leaders can have access to best practices, along with the resources to implement them, and still be stymied by powerful spiritual, psychological, and cultural influences.

These forces complicate and countervail against wise application of knowledge and effective implementation of safeguarding and response measures. In the third of our reflections, we identify and urge consideration of a few of these complicating forces.

1 – Human nature recoils from engagement with sexual violence.

The first may seem an obvious truth, but it is essential to this conversation. Human nature seeks comfort and stability, and resists distress and disequilibrium. Anguish and disruption, however, are unavoidable when sexual violation touches the lives of individuals and those called to act in response.

By their very nature, sexual violations, and their disclosures, throw individuals and systems into disarray. We are inclined to resist this level of disruption and recoil from coming into close contact with the physical, psychological, social and spiritual realities of sexual violence.

However, there is no way to respond to these experiences with justice and accountability without encountering profound disruptions and palpable distress. Avoidance and minimization may temporarily reestablish ...

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Bonhoeffer: Advent Is Like a Prison Cell

In the midst of Nazi resistance, this Christian martyr offered three models for the season of waiting.

On November 21, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter from Tegel Prison. “A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent,” he said. “One waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

The comparison between Advent and a prison cell may seem strange. It evokes powerlessness, perhaps even hopelessness. However, it is this particular type of waiting that Bonhoeffer believes best prepares us for Christ’s coming.

Although a Nazi prison gave him this metaphor, the sermons he wrote during his time of active ministry also present a similar vision of Advent waiting. In these sermons, Bonhoeffer sees the season before Christmas as a sharpened liturgical expression of the tension that informs our entire lives as Christians. Celebrating it prepares us to live as people who have made a radical break with the present world of sin and death and are also preparing for the redeemed future that God has already, in one sense, accomplished. Through Advent, we learn how to live in these two concurrent realities: We have already been delivered, and yet our deliverance is still to come.

Bonhoeffer’s Christmas and Advent sermons highlight three figures who exemplify life amid this tension and, by their example, might guide us through this season. Learning how to wait from these figures will not be warm and cozy but deep, dangerous, and shot through with sorrow and pain.

The first figure is Moses. This is not the triumphant Moses leading the people of Israel through a miraculously parted Red Sea or the lawgiver Moses carrying the stone tablets down the mountainside. Rather, the Advent Moses is the one found in Deuteronomy ...

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