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When God Makes Sunbeams Collide with Waterfall Spray

Rainbows signify something more than a post-Flood peace offering.

There is more to a rainbow than meets the eye. In one sense, I mean that literally: The human eye cannot see the colors at either end of the spectrum, despite the pictures you see in children’s Bibles. But in another sense, I mean it symbolically. The rainbow carries a number of meanings in Christian thought to which many of us are blind. I count at least five.

Rainbows mean beauty. This is true for everyone, whether or not they have ever heard of Noah. Few things in creation compare to the beauty of sunbeams colliding with waterfall spray, as refracted shards of color scatter in all directions. When Ezekiel is trying to describe the indescribable—“the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (1:28)—he draws on the most splendid images in creation, like an expanse of glittering crystal (1:22) or a sapphire throne (1:26). But his portrait culminates in the dazzling brightness of “a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day” (1:28). Rainbows testify to the abundant beauty of the God who makes them.

Their gorgeous appearance results from the fact that they display unity in diversity. In a rainbow, one color (white) is shown to be many (red, indigo, yellow, and the rest), and many come together into one. That fusion of color is one way of looking at the ecclesiology of Revelation: The people of God are pictured as warriors, witnesses, worshipers, and wedding guests wearing white, yet also as a multicolored, multiethnic multitude, a city adorned by precious stones of all colors, from jasper to sapphire, emerald to amethyst. (This point is obscured today, because we use the word white to refer to people who patently aren’t. Nobody called themselves white until the 17th century, ...

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Sparing Nineveh: US Pledges $300 Million So Iraq’s Christians Can Return Home

A new round of funding, plus improved processes, will help minority faiths rebuild four years after ISIS pushed them out.

The problems facing persecuted faiths in the Middle East are too complex to be fixed by money alone. But experts are hopeful that doubling US assistance to Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, along with improved understanding of the region’s minority groups, will make a major difference for Christians returning there.

A year ago, Vice President Mike Pence pledged direct support to Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities forced out of their homelands in Iraq by ISIS. Religious freedom advocates and groups in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq cheered the news from a US administration that had long promised to prioritize persecuted believers, only to disappoint such groups when—due to bureaucratic hang-ups—the money didn’t come.

Now, the Trump administration has engaged leaders on the ground and doubled down on its promise to help. The government’s latest multimillion-dollar assistance plan, announced Tuesday, brings the total funding over the past year for religious minorities in Iraq to nearly $300 million, with allocations to rebuild communities, preserve heritage sites, secure left-behind explosives, and empower survivors to seek justice.

The announcement came just as Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, complained that “there’s been nothing up to now” from the US.

But American efforts in the beleaguered region already show signs of improving.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) “has been very slow in getting aid out the door, and it’s just starting to make a difference, with reconstructing schools, electricity switched on, etc., since mid-September,” said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious ...

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One-on-One with Andy Stanley on ‘Irresistible,’ Part 2

I'm talking with Pastor Andy Stanley on his newest book and seeking the Bible.

Ed: So, if the resurrection story itself is of such great importance, how do we keep from reinterpreting Jesus without the text? If the Bible is authoritative, we should know what Jesus thinks about these other things based on what's in the Epistles, right?

Andy: Well, again, I think we almost have to go author by author as we think about the relationship of those New Testament authors to Jesus. Obviously, the Apostle Paul got what he knew about Jesus historically from Peter and John; aside from what was revealed to him in this mysterious time when he was off by himself.

Of course, other people would say that the reason that Paul never mentions much about the narratives of Jesus is because he didn't know about them, which I completely reject. Obviously, what he was writing in the Epistles was circumstantial as it related to what was going on in local churches.

In my book, I spent a great deal of time arguing for the fact that the Apostle Paul is basically taking Jesus’ one commandment and saying, "Hey, gentiles. This is what it looks like in marriage. This is what it looks like in relationships. In all of your relationships, take your cue from Christ Jesus. Submit to one another as unto the Lord."

I think the Apostle Paul is problem-solving in the church and applying the new command that Jesus gave to specific cultural contexts. Paul's language "in Christ" is a reference to being in and a part of the new covenant, and all of that is essentially an expression of or an extension of what Jesus launched.

In first and second Peter, it's a little bit different, because if we believe Peter actually wrote or dictated those documents, he's an eye witness who is problem solving in the church ...

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What the Kavanaugh Saga Says About Our View of Sin

Our political loyalties often prevent us from thinking biblically about the human condition.

I’ve read the words “credibility” and “character” more in the past two weeks than in the last two years. The underlying question—whom can we trust?—sits at the heart of our (un)civil discourse and seems to be the salient concern behind the Kavanaugh-Ford conversation. Both my newsfeed and personal inbox have been flooded with heartbreaking stories from people who’ve experienced assault (and therefore believe Christine Blasey Ford), as well as testimonies from those who personally worked with Judge Brett Kavanaugh (and therefore believe him). The court of public opinion has issued similar verdicts. The words “liar,” “saint,” and “smear campaign” are leveled with conviction and indignation against both. People may be sharply divided in their conclusions, but they seem to agree on one thing: There’s a guilty party and an innocent one, and it’s obvious which one is which.

As Christians, we affirm that character matters, and the way we handle accusations matters, too. But our attempts to find people above approach don’t negate the fact that we are, as theologian Francis Schaeffer put it, “glorious ruins.” Humans are capable of both egregious sin and tremendous good, and when our political discourse leads us to vilify or canonize people, we’ve overlooked or overemphasized either one or the other—sin or goodness. If we find ourselves continually drawing fixed conclusions along partisan lines, it suggests that our red-tinted or blue-tinted spectacles are preventing us from thinking deeply and biblically about the human condition.

The Kavanaugh-Ford conversation strikes at the center of my work in the areas ...

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I Found Hope in My Husband’s Chronic Illness

Disability changed our family. It also brought us closer to these three Christian truths.

My husband Andrew’s foot ailments have given me a curious window into the Christian life.

Before he and I were dating, his first swelling incident was misdiagnosed by a college nurse, and we only discovered the mistake when it happened again five years later. Both seemed like freak incidents. Then in 2012, on a summer mission trip in the Middle East, his left foot swelled up and left him on the couch for the remainder of the trip. Much of his life since has been progressively couch-bound.

Every contradictory explanation added to the pain. How do you treat something that you can’t pin down? In 2013—around the same time that we found out we were pregnant—we discovered that one of the bones in Andrew’s feet had broken so many times that it had died. I didn’t even know bones could die. It would have to be removed, lest his body begin to eat it away, clearing itself of the decay.

Andrew doesn’t have an interesting injury story—he didn’t kick down a door to save a child or get into a fantastic sports accident. His feet are simply shaped all wrong for bearing weight, and it took two decades for that harvest to reap its fruit. Looking at him, one would never guess his body is so structurally unsound or that he’s had four foot surgeries in five years.

Even though his disability is often invisible to others, his vulnerability has dramatically changed our family life. Our daughter has always known her dad with some kind of “boo boo.” Sometimes she knows what’s going on because he has a giant pink cast on his foot that is highly visible. Other times his pain is hidden. He can’t play with her outside, even though he can walk around the house without crutches. ...

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One-on-One with Andy Stanley on ‘Irresistible’

I'm talking with Pastor Andy Stanley on his newest book and seeking the Bible.

Ed: Why did you decide to write Irresistible?

Andy: I love the local church. I’m concerned about the church’s messaging in a world where people can discover ‘what else’ is in the Bible without ever owning or reading a Bible.

Every high school senior and college freshman is a click away from a podcast, YouTube video, or blog that undermines faith, Christianity, and—in particular—the Bible. I’m convinced the time has come for us to step back onto the foundation of our faith—the event of the resurrection of Jesus. Irresistible reflects the approach I’ve taken to talking about the Bible for the past several years.

Ed: In your book, you talk about changing the way you talk about what you believe, not what you believe. Tell more about what you mean.

Andy: Well, I’m trying to put the words of Jesus, Paul, James and all the New Testament authors back in their mouths. Pastors have been saying “The Bible says” or “The Bible teaches” for generations. But, of course, the Bible itself has never uttered a word. Consequently, most Bible-believing Christians think the Bible is the foundation of our faith, that somehow the Bible created Christianity. It didn’t.

The church fully assembled the Bible in the fourth century. There were tens of thousands of Jesus followers long before the assembly of the Bible as we know it. So, in Irresistible, I encourage writers, teachers, and preachers to quote the inspired human authors rather than “the Bible.”

Now, for Bible-believing people, this makes little to no difference. But for those who don’t yet believe, this approach can make a big difference. Besides, the authors of the Bible were moved by the ...

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Christian, What Do You Believe? Probably a Heresy About Jesus, Says Survey

Third study of the state of American theology, examining 34 beliefs, released by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research.

American evangelicals are “deeply confused” about some core doctrines of the Christian faith—and the fourth-century heretic Arius would be pleased, according to a new survey.

For the third time, Ligonier Ministries has examined the State of Theology in the United States, conducted by LifeWay Research and based on interviews with 3,000 Americans. The survey, also conducted in 2014 and 2016, offers a detailed look at the favorite heresies of evangelicals and of Americans at large.

Ligonier wanted to know what Americans “believe about God, salvation, ethics, and the Bible.”

“Overall, US adults appear to have a superficial attachment to well-known Christian beliefs,” stated the ministry. “For example, a majority agreed that Jesus died on the cross for sin and that he rose from the dead.

“However, they rejected the Bible’s teaching on (1) the gravity of man’s sin, (2) the importance of the church’s gathering together for worship, and (3) the Holy Spirit,” stated Ligonier. For example:

  • More than two-thirds (69%) of Americans disagree that the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation—and 58 percent strongly disagree. Ligonier finds this “alarming.”
  • A majority of US adults (58%) said that worshiping alone or with one’s family is a valid replacement for regularly attending church. Only 30 percent disagree.
  • A majority of US adults (59%) say that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being.

Ligonier cites relativism for such a “casual outlook.” In the survey, 6 in 10 Americans agree that “religious belief is a matter of personal opinion [and] not about objective truth”—and 1 in 3 evangelicals (32%) say the ...

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Leah Sharibu Inspires Nigeria’s Christians, Faces Execution by Boko Haram

Beleaguered believers rally behind Dapchi schoolgirl’s example of keeping the faith under pressure.

Christians in Nigeria are desperately praying for 15-year-old Leah Sharibu as the one-month deadline to save the only Dapchi schoolgirl left in Boko Haram captivity draws to an end this week.

The terrorist group’s ISIS-affiliated faction threatened last month to kill the teenager, who was held back for refusing to renounce her Christian beliefs. The other hostages, 104 of her schoolmates, were released following negotiations with the Nigerian government in March.

Her resolute faith in the face of death has inspired evangelists, pastors, and everyday Christians across Africa’s most populous nation.

Boko Haram started in 2002 as a nonviolent sect meant to purify Islamic practices, but in recent years rose to the second deadliest group in the Global Terrorism Index, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and more than 2 million people displaced.

In February, its ISIS wing abducted 112 female students preparing for final exams at Government Girls’ Science and Technical College Dapchi in the northeastern state of Yobe. Six of the girls from the all-female boarding school died during captivity while one escaped, leaving Sharibu the only Dapchi student still with her abductors.

“The other nurse and midwife will be executed in a similar manner in one month, including Leah Sharibu,” the sect threatened on September 18 in a video of the execution of Saifura Khosa, a midwife with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Days before the execution video emerged, Sharibu pleaded for rescue in a 35-second audio clip.

“I am calling on the government and people of goodwill to intervene to get me out of my current situation,” she said.

“I am begging you to treat me with compassion. ...

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Gordon-Conwell Appoints Acclaimed Fuller Missiologist as Next President

Scott Sunquist will be the third global missions expert leading a top seminary.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary has appointed Scott W. Sunquist—dean of Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies—as its next president, making it the third major evangelical seminary to put a missiologist at its helm.

With an interdisciplinary background studying evangelism, church history, and the global church, Sunquist reflects the missional focus at Gordon-Conwell and the growing presence of missions experts in seminary leadership. He will succeed current president Dennis Hollinger, who will retire at the end of this school year.

“The appointment of Scott Sunquist signals to me the commitment of the trustees to affirm the strong theological heritage of Gordon-Conwell, as well as the need for a leading seminary like it to engage in the major cultural and ecclesial challenges we face in our day,” said Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Gordon-Conwell alumnus, in a statement to CT.

Sunquist will join Tennent and Denver Seminary’s Mark Young as missiologists appointed to lead major seminaries accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

“Scott Sunquist’s disciplinary specialties suit Gordon-Conwell’s mission and current direction quite well,” said ATS executive director Frank Yamada.

“While Sundquist is an ordained minister in the PCUSA, presidents of ATS schools come from many diverse contexts,” he said. “The most common candidates come from the church—denominational executives or executive pastors of larger congregations—but many come from theological schools, quite commonly as former academic deans and faculty with administrative experience.”

A multidenominational ...

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The Irresistible Connection Between the Old and New Testaments

Why Andy Stanley's “unhitching” robs Christianity of power.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus finishes a long series of parables by asking his disciples, “Have you understood all this?” They reply, “Yes.” Then Jesus closes his teaching, saying, “Therefore, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (13:51–52).

Like many Matthew scholars, I think that the “new” that Jesus refers to is his teachings passed on to his disciples, as with the immediately previous parable. The “old,” then, refers to the Scriptures that Jesus has on his lips throughout the gospel: the Law of Moses and the psalms of David and the words of the prophets. Not all Christians have received the old as “treasure,” however. At least since the time when Peter and Paul carried the good news of Jesus beyond the boundaries of Israel, Christians have struggled with the Old Testament (OT). Some outright reject the OT. Others simply ignore the OT unless it somehow illuminates a passage in the New Testament (NT). Whether through disdain or neglect, Christian history tells us that many Christians have not found the OT a “treasure” to their faith.

Within this long tradition stands Andy Stanley, who received some sharp criticism earlier this year for claiming in a sermon that Christians should “unhitch” themselves from the OT. But, to be fair to Stanley, many preachers and teachers have unhitched themselves in practice from the OT, even if they have not made that clear in the stark way that Stanley did back in April.

Thus, while I find Stanley’s position troubling, I also think it provides an opportunity ...

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Dealing with Disillusionment

We can step into the disillusionment of those around us for the sake of God’s mission.

Pick the topic these days and you’ll find no shortage of opinions and plenty of people willing to give them. It’s tempting to simply write off the angst of those around us or, perhaps worse, to join the fray by spewing our own bloviations. These choices, however, are not the only two alternatives.

We can step into the disillusionment of those around us for the sake of God’s mission.

Shared Struggle

For starters, disillusionment with the state of the world provides a point of contact with those far from God but close to us. It doesn’t take a Spirit-filled conscience to notice when cultural trends are out of step with what is good, beautiful, and whole.

Those filled with God’s Spirit are empowered to see beyond superficial, temporal answers to complex problems in a sin-fractured world. God’s kingdom citizens often grapple to find beachheads to proclaim the good news of Jesus in an increasingly secularized culture so such shared disillusionment allows them to demonstrate for others why the good news is actually good news in concrete situations.

A Disruptive Voice

For such witness to take place, Christian missionaries must stop short of sharing the despair of others. Disillusionment is a valid, even expected, emotion for those living as aliens and strangers in this world.

Despair is not. It’s the natural outcome for those whose only hope is tethered to this world. Despair happens when hope disappoints, a reality that should not be true for those whose hope is tied to something that nothing in this world can take away.

Disciples of Jesus can disrupt despair by pointing beyond this life to an eternal hope that will not disappoint.

A Wasted Opportunity

Many intuitively recognize the need for Christian ...

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