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Why Zika, and Other Viruses, Don’t Disprove God’s Goodness

A microbiologist reflects on the problem of evil in human diseases.

It’s been two years since Christian missionaries and aid workers in Zika-infested areas wrestled with whether to stay or go after the virus triggered an international public health emergency. Last week, the CDC released a new report indicating for the first time what happens as babies exposed to the Zika virus grow older—they may face problems when none presented at birth.

Seeing the most vulnerable in our society suffering so cruelly can raise questions about God’s goodness. Anjeanette “AJ” Roberts, a microbiologist and scholar at Reasons to Believe, began thinking about these issues in graduate school.

In the 30 years since, Roberts’s work at the National Institute of Health testing the SARS virus on older mice contributed to an understanding of the pathology of the disease and how it affects older humans. As a postdoctorate scholar at Yale University, Roberts worked on proof of concept vaccines that used the same vector now being used to manufacture the Ebola vaccine.

CT recently asked her to explain how her work affected her view of God and his creation.

What are viruses? Where do viruses come from?

The first virus was discovered in the late 1800s, and it was a virus that infected tobacco plants, the tobacco mosaic virus. The word virus basically referred to a poisonous entity.

Viruses aren’t really living. (Bacteria are actually living cells.) There’s a little bit of debate in the field about whether they’re alive or not, but living things can utilize nutrients for energy and produce waste. Viruses can’t do any of those things. All viruses share the characteristic that they cannot make more virus outside of a living cell.

Where did viruses originate? No one knows. ...

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Evangelical Ethiopian Helps End Orthodox Schism

Africa’s youngest head of state heals the wounds of one of its oldest churches.

Ending 27 years of schism, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in their homeland and in America reunited the two feuding branches of one of the world’s oldest churches.

Ironically, the push came from the Horn of Africa nation’s new evangelical prime minister.

“It is impossible to think of Ethiopia without taking note of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is both great and sacred,” said Abiy Ahmed at the July 27 ceremony in Washington, reported the Fana state-run news agency.

A member of the World Council of Churches, the Tewahedo church split in 1991 due to political manipulations.

After the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) removed the Derg military junta from power, Patriarch Abune Merkorios was forced to abdicate.

He later fled to the United States, where dissidents and diaspora Ethiopians formed a rival patriarchate. According to church tradition, the position is held for life, they maintained.

Following the reconciliation, Patriarch Merkorios will return to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to serve alongside the incumbent Patriarch Mathias, who will maintain administrative authority.

Their honor will be equal, and the names of both will be lifted in prayer as long as both are alive, reported OCP News Service, an Orthodox media network.

All mutual excommunications will be lifted, and bishops appointed by the rival synods will continue in service.

Significantly, delegates unanimously requested forgiveness from the “heartbroken” children of the church.

“Division has no benefit,” Aba Efrem, head of Saint Marcos Church, told the Ethiopian Herald, a government-owned newspaper. “Unity can do more for the church to strengthen peace and love ...

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One-on-One with Joseph D’Souza on GAFCON

Despite the many severe challenges Christians face, the church is growing in India.

Ed: What are some of the challenges Christians are currently facing in India?

Archbishop D’Souza: Since the time of the apostles, Christians have faced persecution and social and political oppression because of their faith. In India, things are not unlike the early days of the church.

In the past few years, persecution against Christians in India has increased severely. In 2017, Open Doors ranked India as the 15th nation most dangerous to be a Christian. This year, India jumped to number 11 on the list.

Most of this persecution is happening at the hands of radicalized religious groups and nationalist extremists. These groups believe India should become a Hindu state, and label Christians and Muslims alike as anti-national. Even Hindus who do not subscribe to this ideology are attacked and accused of being against India’s national interest. The Dalits (or “untouchables”) and tribals, many who are Christians, are also facing severe violence. Violent mobs have rounded up innocent Dalits and Muslims and publicly beaten and executed them on the rumor that they have harmed a sacred cow.

In the swirl of these growing tensions, Christians must battle the false narrative that Christianity is a foreign religion imported from the West bent on converting people through force or fraudulent means. This misunderstanding might stem from lingering resentment from the time of the British Raj. Unfortunately, missiological language used by Western churches, such as “targeting unreached people groups,” has reaffirmed the belief — however false — that Christians use charity and humanitarian aid to convert people.

Several Indian states have anti-conversion laws which are weaponized against Christians ...

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John Inazu: Why I’m Still Confident About ‘Confident Pluralism’

The past two years have only strengthened my belief that tolerance, humility, and patience can help heal our fractious public life.

Two years ago, I published a book called Confident Pluralism. In it, I argue that living together across our differences in this country must begin by acknowledging the depth of those differences. And our differences are indeed deep: We lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing. These differences affect not only what we think but also how we think and how we see the world. Pluralism, the fact of our differences, is a fact of our world.

The past two years have affirmed, if not magnified, these claims. Many of us have experienced increased fracture, animosity, and distrust surrounding politics, religion, race, sexuality, and other important matters. The weakening of major institutions (in politics, education, the media, and religion) and the continued rise of social media have contributed to a crisis of authority. These developments pose significant obstacles to attaining the minimal amount of consensus and sense of belonging that we need in order to make confident pluralism possible. And these challenges are compounded by what political analyst Yuval Levin, in his book The Fractured Republic, diagnoses as misguided nostalgia and lack of imagination from both of our major political parties. But though the challenges have intensified, I am no less committed to confident pluralism. Finding a modest unity across deep differences is not only possible but necessary.

Between Chaos and Control

The premise of confident pluralism is that we can make room for our differences even as we maintain our own beliefs and practices. Doing so requires both legal and personal commitments. When it comes to the law, we must insist that those in power protect our ability to ...

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So, What Comes After Church Growth?

Characteristics of the Church Growth Movement itself present challenges to church multiplication.

The regrettable shortage of multiplying churches can be explained, at least in part, by the lingering implications of the wholesale adoption of business principles and pragmatic schemes that distinguished the church growth era. Today, we awaken to a church growth hangover that colors our thoughts on what we should do next.

While it’s easy to critique the outcomes of the Church Growth Movement, one need not diminish the hopeful aspirations of many of its courageous architects.

Driven by a zeal for Jesus and propelled by a deep evangelistic fervor, men and women sought to leverage their cultural ingenuity to create churches that appealed to the masses and made it possible for many to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. As with any culture-driven ecclesiology, the upcoming implications of these ideas were hard to predict, though we are now better able to appreciate the challenges that were created.

The Challenge of Faltering Methods

The reality is that many of the methods used during the church growth era are no longer producing the same results. As once responsive geographies become less susceptible to the skillful merchandizing toward Christian memory, we find our tools feeble, ineffective, and dull.

And when our tried-and-true methods stop producing, many are propelled toward greater pragmatism—thinking that a procedural change is all that’s needed to get the old machine revving again. A sacred silver-toned bullet.

Change is difficult, particularly among churches that have internalized corporate pragmatism to such a degree that their foundations are the unspoken and unquestioned basis for most metrics of success. Pragmatism tends to skip the messy grind of disciple-making for a more untroublesome operation of ...

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The Healing of Willow Creek

Misguided loyalty harmed this historic congregation. True loyalty can redeem it.

In light of the resignation of its pastoral staff and elder board, it’s time to rally around Willow Creek Community Church with support and prayers. With those resignations, and the repentance they suggest, Willow has an opportunity to enter into a new fruitful season of ministry.

Let’s ponder what has happened in the last few months and why, because a simplistic reading of the events will only tempt Willow—and any Christian institution in a similar crisis—to react in such a way that the fruitful season will wither away all too quickly. Many women have come forward and said Bill Hybels has abused his power and sexually harassed female colleagues. The current leadership, pastors and elder board, have failed early to take seriously the accusations being brought forth. We are wise to try our best to grasp the moral and psychological complexities of what has taken place, so deep redemption can take place.

Rediscovering True Loyalty

Given the number of troubling testimonies about Hybels’s behavior, it’s easy to forget we’re still dealing with allegations and not proven fact. Many are of the opinion—me included—that he is guilty. Hybels, however, continues to deny many of the most serious allegations. It’s not merely an American thing but is also required of Christian charity: The accused are entitled to their day in court. For independent churches in Willow’s situation, that court is the sort of independent investigation that Willow has at long last commissioned. An independent investigation will hopefully be able to bring to light the full truth of the matter. The choice of the organization to investigate, as well as its work, are certainly matters to keep in prayer. ...

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Mattresses, Experiences, and Instagramming Your Worship Service

What place does social media have in our worship services?

When was the last time you bought a mattress? Did you walk around a showroom and awkwardly lie down on several of them? Did you close your eyes, try to get comfortable, and imagine what it would be like to sleep on it day after day? Did you then pay too much, and wait too long for it to be delivered to your house?

No wonder the mattress industry was ripe for disruption. In the same way that Amazon disrupted brick and mortar retail, Uber disrupted the Taxi industry, and smart phones disrupted camera, calculator, and flashlight sales, Casper has done the same for mattresses.

Casper, an online mattress retailer, has been so effective at upending a $29 Billion industry that other companies have quickly followed suit. And just last month, they took things to the next level by building their first brick and mortar store—except, at this one, you can’t buy a mattress.

You buy a nap instead.

Instead of designing their store like other mattress retailers, such as Mattress Firm, The Brick, or Ikea, they decided to create an experience where the mattress was secondary. It’s called the Dreamery in New York City. Here’s how they describe it on their website: “At Casper, we want everyone to sleep better and live better. So we created The Dreamery, a magical place in NYC where you can rest and recharge whenever you want. Because when you snooze, you win.”

Here’s how it works:

  1. Book a nap session: Choose a 45-minute time slot whenever you could use a boost. Walk-ins are welcome, too.
  2. Get some rest: Wind down in the lounge, change into pajamas, and lie down in your own Casper Nook—a perfectly private, quiet pod with an outrageously comfortable bed.
  3. Feel recharged: Embrace your post-nap pep. Freshen up and enjoy a coffee before taking on the rest of your day (or night).

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Onward Christian Superheroes

Two of Netflix’s Marvel heroes arise out of their respective Christian cultures.

Blind lawyer Matthew Murdock (Charlie Cox) sits in the confession booth at a New York City Roman Catholic church describing his family history—that is, his and his boxer father’s violent natures, where they “let the devil in” and people get hurt. But instead of confessing past sins, Matt says, “I’m not seeking penance for what I’ve done. I’m asking forgiveness for what I’m about to do.”

Later that night, dressed in black and a ski mask completely covering his eyes, he attacks criminals engaged in human trafficking, the first of many bloody (though non-lethal) encounters to follow.

With Marvel Studio’s incredible box office success now having earned over $3 billion for 2018 alone for three films—Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp—it might be possible to overlook the presence of more grounded superhero series in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), on Netflix. Superhero mythologies tend toward outright fantasies, with often cosmic levels of power providing conflict for the stories (see Infinity War). But some of these Netflix series—in particular, Daredevil and Luke Cage—take a different path, getting their down-to-earth dilemmas and moral themes from another place: their protagonists’ faith backgrounds.

Just as Phil Vischer promised we’d never see a VeggieTales installment featuring Jesus as a vegetable—it would violate the essential conceit of the stories to feature the Son of God in an animated vegetable world—it’s hard to include Christian themes when a genre tends to work by displacing real-world conflict and psychology into fantastic scenarios featuring super soldiers, ...

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John Piper Changed ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness.’ Experts Weigh In.

Reformed tweaks to Methodist hit raise the question: Should hymns keep the theological orientation of their authors?

The worship team at The Gospel Coalition's recent women’s conference selected “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” to conclude speaker John Piper’s remarks. But the prolific preacher and writer was concerned that the lyrics didn’t thematically match his sermon. So, he wrote two additional verses:

I could not love Thee, so blind and unfeeling;
Covenant promises fell not to me.
Then without warning, desire, or deserving,
I found my Treasure, my pleasure, in Thee.

I have no merit to woo or delight Thee,
I have no wisdom or pow’rs to employ;
Yet in thy mercy, how pleasing thou find’st me,
This is Thy pleasure: that Thou art my joy.

Piper is well known for his Reformed convictions, including the “Christian hedonism” reflected in the new lyrics. But the author of this famous hymn, Thomas Chisholm, was a Methodist, which means that he most likely held Wesleyan-Arminian views like his denominational fathers, John and Charles Wesley (though a third co-founder, George Whitefield, led a Calvinist minority within the movement).

In 2018, a scholarly “vetting team” of the United Methodist Church gave “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” the green light for its theological content, based on the “criteria of adherence to Wesleyan theology, appropriate use of language for God and humanity, and singability.” (The team is tasked with reviewing the CCLI Top 100 because most of its worship songs come from “artists whose theological traditions are not generally Wesleyan-Arminian” and instead are “charismatic, Pentecostal, Calvinist, or neo-Calvinist.”) While the hymn was among the 40 out of 100 top songs deemed to have “few if any obstacles ...

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One-on-One with Karen Swallow Prior on ‘On Reading Well’

Reading good literature well is in itself a practice of virtue.

Ed: The subtitle of your book is “Finding the Good Life through Great Books.” What do you mean by “the good life”?

Karen: Some people think living “the good life” means having career or financial success, traveling the world, and owning lots of things. But in classical philosophy, going all the way back to Aristotle and through the founding of America, the pursuit of the good life, or as it is alternately translated, “happiness,” refers to having the freedom to fulfill our human purpose by excelling at the very things that make us human.

In other words, what makes for a good life is good character. And good character is manifested through the virtues.

Ed: How are these virtues defined?

Karen: Philosophers and the early church fathers put a lot of thought into identifying and examining these “excellencies,” or virtues, that cultivate good character. They include courage, prudence, humility, kindness, patience, diligence—all of which I cover in the book—and many, many more.

Aristotle defined a virtue as a mean between an excess and a deficiency. For example, to be excessively bold is to be rash; to be too lacking in boldness is to be cowardly; the mean between these two extremes constitutes the virtue of courage. Each virtue is a moderation between two extremes, and each virtue depends on all the others. For example, it takes prudence to determine how to avoid both cowardice and rashness in a given situation in order to exercise true courage. And while the origins of these ideas are in Greek philosophy, we find confirmation of them in biblical truth: Philippians 4:5 exhorts believers to let their “moderation be known to all,” as it is rendered in ...

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