By / Apr 9

Former CIA analyst and White House National Security Council staffer Paul Miller joins Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow to discuss how the early warnings of a pandemic like COVID19 were missed and what this global event means for the future of politics and international relations. Miller is now a professor at Georgetown University and a research fellow with ERLC. He writes frequently on government, military, and international issues.

In Part 1, we discuss Paul’s stunning article, How the Intelligence Community Predicted COVID-19, and why pandemics are ultimately a governance failure.

In Part 2, we discuss how Christians can cling to the hope of Christ during such difficult times, and why the communist government of China bears ultimate blame for the coronavirus pandemic. 

This episode is sponsored by The Good Book Company, publisher of Where is God in a Coronavirus World? by John Lennox  

Guest Biography

Paul D. Miller is a professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, and a research fellow with the ERLC. Before his career in academia, Dr. Miller served as Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council staff; worked as an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency; and served as a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. Miller holds a PhD in international relations and a BA in government from Georgetown University, and a master in public policy from Harvard University.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Mar 10

“I just really like my work, but I like being home more too,” my friend shared with me over coffee one evening. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be with her kids or that she didn’t have a love for her small business, she just didn’t know how to navigate both well. And she often found her questions unable to be answered by the Christians in her life. She wanted work flexibility, and she wanted to be invested in the lives of her kids—and she is not the only one.

A study by the Institute for Family Studies finds that given the choice, many women would work part-time. In fact, in countries with existing paid-family leave policies, that number rises even higher. This turns the common dichotomy between working moms and stay-at-home moms on its head by revealing that many moms are actually more alike than different. They value parenting, but they also value some form of a career as well. In fact, the study finds that men and women both would change how they worked if the option were there to prioritize family, while still maintaining a career.

There is a lot to dissect in the study. The amount of women who prefer work flexibility is higher than the amount of men who prefer it. This is not surprising given what we know about the biological differences between men and women, and also what we know about how cultural expectations of men and women have long-lasting effects. Women often prefer more flexibility in the early years of their children’s lives because they are the ones who give birth, feed, and physically care for the children. Not to mention the recovery time that comes with giving birth. 

Culturally, women still carry much of the parenting load in the home, which makes flexibility a more favorable option when the child rearing load is lopsided. But the study also highlights the fact that most families prefer a variety of options for dividing up childcare and household responsibilities, leading to the conclusion that what works for one family might not work for another family. 

As a Christian, there are overarching principles to takeaway that can help us in understanding our fellow brothers and sisters as they work and parent. These principles may also help us as we live in community with one another in our local churches, allowing for freedom and nuance regarding our work and family life balance.

Christians are not defined by any one part of their lives. 

The fact that most women have a desire to work outside the home to some degree shows that women (and men) are multi-faceted beings. Women can be mothers. They can be wives. They can be friends. They can be neighbors. They can be employees. Often, they fill these roles simultaneously. When we deny these roles, we impose parameters the Bible doesn’t put in place, and instead discourage women (and men) from flourishing.

Christians are created for work, and that work is done both inside and outside the home. 

The study found that men and women both prefer to have flexibility regarding their paid work and unpaid work (work outside the home and work inside the home). This is largely owing to the reality that all work is created by God, and when we engage in this work we are imaging the God who created us to work (Gen. 1:27-28, Col. 3:23). There should be no competition regarding our work. 

Work done in the home is part of what it means to image God. When you make lunches, do laundry, mow the grass, clean the toilets, attend class parties at school, or take care of a sick kid, you are imaging God. When you create spreadsheets, teach students, write articles, sell operating room equipment, or answer email, you are imaging God. The fact that our paid and unpaid work is so starkly divided in our society is not a commentary on who should be doing the work. Instead it is a revelation on what the Industrial Revolution did to our ideas of work when it took work out of the localized (homes and communities) and moved it into cities and factories.

What this study does is provide us with the freedom to divide care and work according to what works for our family, while also showing us that mothers and fathers care both about the home and the marketplace.

Work in the home and work in the marketplace isn’t necessarily gender-specific. 

The numbers of women who prefer part-time or flexible work is higher than the men. As I already said, that seems like a given since we know men and women are different. However, the number of men who prefer to be flexible or more involved at home is not zero. It’s significant. 

I used to feel guilty when my husband would clean the bathroom while I traveled for a speaking engagement. Or when he spent a Saturday with our kids so I could finish chapter edits for a book I was working on. But he has helpfully reminded me that he is a parent too. He is a member of this household too. We all have a part to play in helping each other flourish, both in our work in the home and outside of the home. So we should let the men help, and let the women work, knowing that each family’s dynamic looks different than someone else’s.

For the Christian, our policies should reflect our values. 

We value life. We value family. We value work, paid and unpaid. We value human flourishing. All of these things are helped by paid-family leave policies that enable families to work in creative ways that meet their needs, not necessarily the needs of the person next door to them. If we value life, then our policies should encompass all of life—from the womb to the tomb (and everywhere in between).

As much as we would like to find a verse in the Bible that speaks specifically to how we work inside and outside the home, it simply isn’t there. Instead, we find a lot of principles that speak to loving our neighbor, raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, working faithfully in whatever our hand finds us to do, and exercising dominion over the world God has made (Mark 12:30-31; Eph. 6:4; Eccl. 9:10). 

What this study does is provide us with the freedom to divide care and work according to what works for our family, while also showing us that mothers and fathers care both about the home and the marketplace. And we would do well to find a way to make those concerns become a reality for people in our communities. 

By / Dec 12

In recent years, there has been an explosion of conversations, books, and organizations focused on championing the deep value of our work. This is a good gift, one that, at its best, recaptures the goodness of creation and the wonder of embodiment. God has placed us in the world not as disconnected souls, but as people who taste and experience life and do our daily work through a dance of muscles, bones, blood, and neurons.

We are bodies and minds

We know that people need to be active and engaged in meaningful physical practices for the health of our bodies, but for mental and emotional health and even spiritual health, too. Embodiment helps us recognize our limits, paradoxically cultivating both true humility and a proper sense of self-worth as God’s handiwork.

In The World Beyond Your Head, philosopher Matthew B. Crawford describes the concept of the “jig,” which he defines as “a device or procedure that guides a repeated action by constraining the environment in such a way as to make the action go smoothly,” something that “reduces the degrees of freedom that are afforded by the environment. It stabilizes a process, and in doing so, lightens the burden of care” (p. 31).

Crawford reminds us that in today’s mediated world, “we often find ourselves isolated in a fog of choices” (p. 6). It has become necessary to “re-jig” our world with natural limits, finding “ways to recruit our surroundings for the sake of achieving our purposes” (p.33). Embodied, physical work itself functions in this way for our brains, helping us to keep our identity and grip on reality in spite of our tremendous, God-given capacity for imagination and intellection.  

For many of us, though, our work seems to resist embodiment—the largely nonphysical realms of writing and studying, or any number of jobs in an age of technology and automation. How do we overcome this? We can try to mitigate the effects through hobbies or exercise, but if most of our waking hours are spent in projects that are intellectual, physically inactive, and isolating from other people, simply adding activities to the periphery of our lives (where they’re most likely to be trimmed out in times of stress or heavy workloads) doesn’t seem to cut it. 

This isn’t a new problem. Today, though, many of the historical “jigs” that forced mental work to be more physical—schools and libraries for scholarship, newsrooms and printing presses for journalism, office buildings for service jobs, ink and paper for writing—have been pushed aside by more “efficient” digital competitors.

Embodied creativity

Particularly in creative fields, the ideal presented to us is an isolated genius, finding his authentic voice and sharing it with an eager, waiting public. But does this really reflect how human beings produce ideas and art?

Singer-songwriter Drew Holcomb recently shared with Rolling Stone magazine how he turned more to co-writing music after seasons of overcommitment (touring extensively and doing much of his songwriting alone) had damaged his physical health and left his creative well drying. What he found was that sharing this load with others actually produced work that was more personal and authentic in some ways than what he’d been able to create on his own. 

“‘They all really pushed me to do things a little differently,’ Holcomb says of his new record’s collaborators. ‘We were able to establish a dialogue about me and my story and the songs still came to a very personal spot. I write from the present moment; who I am and where I am in life.’”

Being limited by our bodies, our world, and our perceptions—and embracing those limitations—allows us to deepen our humility and collaboration gives us an even greater capacity to create and flourish.

Micah Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., practices collaborative creativity in ministry, co-writing sermons with the church’s pastoral team for the past three years, an idea he got from other pastors (specifically Kevin Ezell), that has become a ministry necessity as the church has grown. “Since we all preach the same messages [across multiple campuses and venues, each featuring live preaching] we have to prepare collaboratively,” Fries said.

Though doing sermon preparation this way takes longer, requires more lead-time, and challenges his team to be willing to submit to each other as they work together, Fries says the benefits are undeniable. “Our sermons are simply better. More eyes on the text means a better likelihood of interpreting it correctly. More minds thinking through application and illustrations make these more robust and representative.” Moreover, he says that in the communal nature of this style of sermon preparation his team grows closer together and learns from each other.

Being limited by our bodies, our world, and our perceptions—and embracing those limitations—allows us to deepen our humility and collaboration gives us an even greater capacity to create and flourish. God’s image in each of us is more fully expressed as we share together in the work he sets before: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor” (Ecc. 4:9).

Collaborative worship

Maybe this is why God poured the most intellectual, spiritual, and imaginative activity of all—knowing and relating to a him—into bodies. He doesn’t simply declare the gospel in a booming voice from the clouds, but comes to us as an incarnate Messiah, fully embodied and sharing in our limitations and sufferings, even unto death. He calls us to fellowship with him amid a gathered community of followers who engage in very physical expressions (the bread and the cup, the water of baptism, the breath of singing, hands and feet to serve others) of the spiritual realities he wants us to meditate on forever.

In this way, our worship and our work are brought together, body and soul crying out with Moses, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). 

So how can we put the call to embodied co-laboring into practice in our lives and ministries? 

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Find “jigs” you can put into place to help keep yourself and your family grounded in a smartphone-and-Alexa world. (Andy Crouch’s “10 Tech-Wise Commitments” are a great place to start).
  • Think about projects that are weighing you down at work, home, or church. Are you trying to carry too much alone? Have you asked for help, or just assumed that no one will help you?
  • Ask God to show you areas of life where you are resistant to advice, criticism, and assistance. Ask for his help to change direction and for sisters and brothers to hold you accountable.
  • Ask God to show you ways that you take your body for granted (pushing yourself too hard, not getting enough sleep, exercise, etc.) and work toward building some new habits.
  • Consider how you could reinforce the embodied nature of worship and service through your church (celebrating communion more frequently, more movement during worship, asking members to help more often in care for children, elderly, or persons with disabilities and chronic illnesses within the body, etc.).

As we seek to live out our callings through the physical community and means that the Lord has provided for us, may he grow us spiritually and give us a greater appreciation for our incarnate Savior. 

By / Sep 13

Even as a child, I was fascinated by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Where I lived, it was the only regular religious programming on television, and on it, I found a tawdry mix of the familiar and the different. It was commonplace in the sense that several of the preachers were preaching end-times sermons with big charts like I had seen in my church but very different in other ways. The personalities looked and dressed differently from the people at my church. I remember a lot of phone numbers being flashed on the screen, allowing people to call in their prayer requests or their credit card numbers. But the most fascinating person on the screen was always Israeli televangelist Toufik Benedictus Hinn, better known to the world as Benny Hinn. 

Benny Hinn is famous for large miracle crusades and collarless suit jackets. For millennials, he gained newfound fame and notoriety for a viral video that combined clips of him “slaying people in the Spirit” with the song “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” by heavy-metal-band Drowning Pool. Underneath all the pageantry and theatrics was a theology of health-and-wealth—the “prosperity gospel” or Word-Faith movement. In sum, the Word-Faith movement teaches that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and blessed and that even God is subordinate to the laws of faith that govern the universe. God cannot bless you until you speak blessings into your life by your words of faith. When you give your “seed of faith” (i.e., your money) to prosperity teachers, you can receive a manifold blessing in return. While this “gospel” of prosperity is attractive to the undiscerning and untutored, it more closely resembles New Age philosophy than the gospel proclaimed by the apostles.

God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies is a close-up, insider’s account of the prosperity gospel movement by Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn and the son of Canadian megachurch pastor Henry Hinn. In this autobiographical and theological book, Costi details the luxurious lifestyle he had growing up, moving from crusade to crusade with his father and uncle. Costi was an heir to a multi-million-dollar ministry empire with a lot of perks: private Gulfstream jets, European sports cars, lavish gold-plated hotel rooms, expensive meals, and shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive. Following the lead of his famous family members, Costi had begun his training as a member of the next generation of prosperity preachers. That is, until he realized the prosperity gospel paraded by his family was a false gospel contrary to the one Paul preached (Gal. 1:8).

Like other evangelical books on the subject, Costi does eventually detail the historical roots of Word-Faith in the New Thought movement and traces them to the present through figures like E. W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, and Oral Roberts. Costi offers sound biblical and theological criticism about the “gospel injustice” surrounding the prosperity gospel. He also paints a biblical picture of health and wealth that resorts to neither of the errors of prosperity theology or its mirror, “poverty theology.” But Costi only arrives at these criticisms after describing his journey as someone thoroughly convinced and seemingly “blessed” by adherence to these ideas. With brokenness and humility, he writes about the deceptive doctrines which still keep his famous family from coming to biblical faith and about the great grace he encountered despite losing everything he had to follow the Jesus of orthodoxy.

The remarkable thing is while we who are evangelicals often caricature prosperity televangelists like Benny Hinn as deceitful charlatans, Costi paints them in a much more sympathetic light. He condemns their unbiblical teaching and materialistic practices, but he paints them as men who really and truly believe they are receiving the God-given benefits of their theological system. As Costi became more and more exposed to the money-making mechanisms of the ministry and the effect they had on the underprivileged who followed the ministry, he wrestled with conviction from the Holy Spirit. At first, he attempted to rationalize these prayer-for-money exchanges with proof-texts and the seemingly critic-proof theological architecture he had been taught. Later upon closer study and reflection, he discovered what he initially feared to be true: that this movement was not of God.

Those who lovingly spoke the truth into Costi’s life made a far greater impact than those well-meaning “noisy gongs” or “clanging cymbals” who harassed him because of his family name.

Even as someone who has studied the Word-Faith movement for years, this book gave me some much-needed perspective about ministering to those affected by it. Costi tells horror stories of mistreatment by those who eagerly and ungraciously told him his family members perpetrated a false gospel (something Costi eventually would come to believe himself). There is a place for corrective polemics directed toward erroneous doctrine—and Costi’s book is, in fact, an exercise in that—but many of the tactics of theological shock jocks and social media polemicists would not have won Costi out of heresy. He knew of these things and was repulsed by them. They did nothing to draw him closer to Christ.

Instead, the turning points in Costi’s life came through the personal relationships God brought into his life: a professor who taught him how to read the Bible in its original historical contexts; a baseball coach, who taught him about the sovereignty of God; his future wife, who showed him grace and patience in the midst of family turmoil when she refused to participate in the antics of her new family’s ministry; and a pastor, who pointed him to sound teaching by challenging Hinn to read John MacArthur’s commentary on the Gospel of John.

In that great chapter on love, the apostle Paul said, “If I . . . understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Costi’s conversion story brought Paul’s words here to life. Those who lovingly spoke the truth into Costi’s life made a far greater impact than those well-meaning “noisy gongs” or “clanging cymbals” who harassed him because of his family name. Those who were "dogmatic about certain truths" but "flexible and patient with those who were stuck in their ignorance" made the most significant impact, like his pastor friend, Tony.

Costi closes the book with constructive and practical advice on how to reach people who are deceived by false gospels. He does not encourage proud, mean-spirited, and confrontational evangelism centered around winning arguments and making people look foolish. Instead, he talks about gentle, prayerful, humble, and loving conversations that can compel people out of darkness.

I pastor in an area saturated by Word-Faith churches. Many of the members of our church live in the same neighborhood as one of the prominent TBN personalities. Over the years, I have criticized his "ministry" and theology and even made jokes about his luxurious lifestyle and private jets from the pulpit. But reading Costi’s story, I was convicted of my own insensitivity toward people who were caught up in prosperity gospel doctrine. Costi provides a much-needed reminder that the people who live in these movements are not just detached, heretical ideas, but embodied persons loved and valued by God even if they are deceived by sin and falsehood.

This gospel-centered resource will be valuable for both those inside the movement and those outside of it. Costi speaks truthfully about theological error but graciously speaks about loving people out of it. I highly recommend this book.

By / Aug 27

Our lives can be dictated by our emotions, riding the rollercoaster to the heights in a time when things are going well and crashing into discouragement and frustration when we face difficulties, failures, and obstacles. It’s often a rollercoaster we don’t enjoy, yet getting off can seem impossible.

How do we take away the power from those uncontrollable things around us? How do we develop a contentment that overrides the experience of both the highs and the lows? 

A battle for contentment

I once thought about contentment as a predisposition or a spiritual gift—something that happened to a person like her eye color or athletic ability. Yet, I have concluded that in order to minimize the power of unwanted emotions and to experience the fullness of life in Christ, we must recognize that we are in a daily battle for contentment. 

I recently experienced a season where almost every area of my life went through a major change—having a third child, moving, and a significant job shift for my husband. I had so much to be thankful for and so many prayers answered, yet negative emotions were dominating my days. I was frustrated daily by the actions of my small children. I felt insecure in new and old relationships. I had to step back at work because I couldn’t get it all done. All of these situations left me discouraged, anxious, and jealous of others who didn’t seem to have the same struggles. 

My story and the circumstances are specific to me, but I believe most people can relate to the feelings of not measuring up, being dealt an unfair hand, or being left behind. We wonder why we didn’t get the job, the praise, or the friends. The emotions of discouragement, and even anger, become a powerful force in our lives.

A crippling comparison

In this season, I found myself deep underground on the rollercoaster ride. But the Lord in his kindness began to reveal ways in which I could pursue and experience a contentment found in him alone. I also talked to a counselor and my doctor and would encourage anyone who experiences the emotions I have described to do the same. 

Yet, through Scripture, godly counsel, and prayer, I began to understand my emotional experience largely as the result of my sin and a false gospel I was believing. One regular area of sin was the practice of comparing my life to that of other women. This happened in real life, on social media, at work, and at church. I was watching friends and colleagues achieve goals, become leaders, build beautiful home lives, and flourish in relationships. At least, that’s what I thought. This daily exercise of self-judgement, as well as covetousness, was like a wrecking ball swinging into my heart.

Scripture helped me unwind my twisted heart. At the end of the book of John, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, and Peter repeatedly stated his love for Jesus. Jesus also told him that “someone else will tie your hands and carry you where you don’t want to go,” alluding to Peter’s martyrdom. Peter turned to look back at John and asked Jesus, “What about him?” There seems to be fear, jealousy, and competition mingled together in his words.

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” Some translations read, “You must follow me.”

I have concluded that in order to minimize the power of unwanted emotions and to experience the fullness of life in Christ, we must recognize that we are in a daily battle for contentment.

When we focus our attention on others, whether their successes or their failures, we derail our own relationship with Christ and misunderstand our relationships with others. We need the truth of the gospel to reorient us. Those of us who are in Christ are co-heirs with him through his death on the cross; we are sons and daughters of the King. This links us together as family and partners in the mission of God. We should see each other “as members of one body,” each doing an important and interconnected work. (1 Corin. 12)

We should view those who are unbelievers with compassion because we know they are trapped in sin. We are tasked with sharing the hope we have with them, with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). There is no room for self-focused comparison in this mission. Praying for the people God has placed in my path and seeking to grow in relationship with them are some of the best ways for me to push away sinful thoughts. 

A distorted gospel 

In addition, I found a distorted gospel at the heart of my comparison. I wanted to follow Jesus, but I wanted it to result in ease. I wanted others to see it and applaud. I wanted it to result in the blessings that I had determined were appropriate. In short, I thought my good works counted for something. Paul writes about this warped pursuit of godliness in 1 Timothy 6: 3-8. 

“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

A false gospel brings frustration. My emotional experience was evidence that I was not believing right things about God and about the life of following him. I was being led more by ambition, self-sufficiency, and pride than I was by the Word of God and the Spirit. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul said that those who love money have “wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Mine were self-inflicted wounds. 

The battle of contentment is work. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:11-12, “Flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness,faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called.”  

We need God’s help in this battle. We will find him in the Scriptures. Go to God and let him work in your heart. And may he help us understand rightly our place as his undeserving children, changing how we see ourselves, our lives, and those around us—all for his glory.

By / Aug 19

Evangelism is the one topic that is guaranteed to get the most amens in church and yet produces the most fear and guilt in those of us called to share the good news of the gospel. And today, in an increasingly post-Christian culture, the job of fulfilling the Great Commission seems more impossible than it was a generation ago. 

But there is good news for Christians: the same Holy Spirit who empowered the first-century Church and breathed life into every generation of the Church since is still active today. God is not surprised by your Muslim neighbors, your gay co-workers, and your atheist sibling. And he is calling you to be the very announcement of the gospel to them.

So how do we do this? Three things must happen to a follower of Jesus to motivate him to become a bearer of good news in his circle of influence:

1. Enraptured by Jesus

It strikes me that Jesus’ words to the disciples in Matthew 28 don’t necessarily emphasize the “go,” but the word “teach.” Most Greek scholars agree that go is sort of an English construction designed to help us understand Jesus’ words. The emphasis is on the teaching part. Jesus assumed the disciples would go and tell. After all, they’d just witnessed the bodily resurrection of the Son of God. Nobody experiences that and doesn’t tell someone.

In a sense, we are all evangelists. Even the most introverted person can quickly get animated if the subject is right. Think back on your last few conversations. What dominated those conversations? Perhaps a good experience, like attending a conference, going on vacation, or having someone serve you in a surprisingly good way. I’m guessing you didn’t have to be prompted to retell your story to those close to you.

It works this way with negative experiences as well. When you take your car to a repair shop, you are likely to tell five of your closest friends not to patronize that establishment if they don’t treat you well. And so it goes. You’re an evangelist of the things that matter most to you.

The reason Christians don’t evangelize is not primarily fear or timidity. It’s because we have lost our first love. We’ve forgotten the wonder of that first experience with Christ, when his love flooded our hearts, and we were not the same. We’ve moved past the gospel and it’s become as stale as that 15-year-old living room chair. It’s part of the decoration, part of the things we are used to seeing.

So the way back to a heart for evangelism is not another pulpit-pounding message from the pastor. It’s not another guilt-inducing Christian book. The way back is to fall in love with the gospel once again. Because when you experience Christ, you can’t help but tell someone.

2. Embedded in the community

There is an easy tendency among Christians to gather with other Christians. This is good. There is a need for us to develop rich, deep, lasting friendships with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Furthermore, the life of the Church, this Spirit-knit unity brings God glory and shows the world a glimpse of the world to come.

And yet we must recognize that if we are to be God’s instrument in bringing the gospel to the nations, we must embed ourselves in the very communities he’s called us to reach. But we must do more than this. We must love our communities and their people.

This sounds good in an article like this, but it can get messy, even challenging our biases and prejudices. Immigration has brought a wave of new ethnic minorities, changing the color and feel of our neighborhoods. It’s tempting to view this as a threat to our way of life, but if we’re motivated by the gospel, we have changing demographics as a Spirit-directed, God-sent opportunity for us to reach the nations. The nations are coming to our doorsteps. Will we have open hands or closed fists?

Our calling as evangelists will also require us to build deep friendships with people who might be living in ways that violate our biblical values. We don’t have to condone sin, but if we keep our neighbors at an arm’s length, if we don’t invest our time, resources, and affections, we’ll never get close enough for them to see Jesus in us. We need to embody what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can’t do evangelism from a distance. Instead, we must commit ourselves to know and love people, to build relationships that lead to gospel conversations. 

3. Equipped with a fuller gospel

There was a time when tried-and-true methods, utilizing a few key verses from the New Testament, were all it took to lead a person to Christ. Most targets for evangelism had a background in church or at least a working knowledge of Christianity. But today, our cities are filled with people hailing from all kinds of religious backgrounds, whose knowledge and trust of the Bible is minimal.

This can intimidate us. And yet I think it presents us a terrific opportunity to share the whole story of the gospel, from Creation to Consummation. Many have an idea of what they think the Bible says and why they disagree with it. But few have actually engaged it’s compelling story. The Bible makes a powerful claim and gripping narrative—one that answers the deepest questions of human life and experience.

I used to be intimidated by conversations with people from other religious backgrounds. It seemed all the tools I had were useless with someone who doesn’t accept Scripture as the Word of God. But once I started studying and personalizing the story of the Bible afresh—the thin redthin, red line of salvation that runs from Genesis to Revelation—I was arrested anew by the fullness of the gospel.

Evangelism becomes a joy, really, when we recognize God’s role and our own role. It’s not my job to convert the human heart; that’s work only a sovereign God can do through his Spirit. But it is my job to faithfully and joyfully share the good news of the gospel to those who have not yet heard.

This we can do, not out of guilt, but from a deep reservoir of grace.

By / Aug 16

“But I have a son,” Kate Bowler responded when she was told that she had Stage IV cancer. 

This devastating news came at a point in Bowler’s life when she had it all—a Ph.D. from Duke University, her dream job, her high school sweetheart as her husband, and her first son after a period of infertility. The irony of this timing is that she studies the branch of American Christianity often described as the “prosperity gospel,” which promises health, wealth, happiness, and abundance as long as you have enough faith. 

During this season, Bowler published an opinion piece in The New York Times that went viral because of her story. This piece would later be extended into Bowler’s memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved. Everything Happens for a Reason is the story of Bowler’s ongoing questions about what life looks like in the face of tragedy. Plunged into a world of impending deadlines, foreboding dread, and uncertainty about even the next moment, Bowler invites the reader to consider not only why we seek answers to the problem of pain and suffering in the world but also how we respond when those answers aren’t available.

The lie of wholeness

So often, our response to pain can be to ignore the truth of what’s wrong. However, Bowler has a strong desire to see people, and especially people of the gospel, recognize that our images of perfection and wholeness are not necessarily what they should mean: 

“What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, ‘You are limitless’? Everything is not possible. The mighty Kingdom of God is not here yet. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people of the Gospel meant being people of the good news. God is here. We are loved. It is enough” (21). 

Bowler is able to show, quite clearly, that the prosperity gospel is not just something she had studied, but rather had unconsciously accepted. There is something incredibly hopeful about the promises and abundance offered by this view of reality. And it is not limited to late-night televangelists from the 1980s or modern preachers who talk about the best that God has for you. This is a belief as American as apple pie and baseball—that we can be anything, and there are no limits. It is easy to forget that we live in a world distorted and broken, but sometimes we are reminded in the most painful ways. 

Bowler offers this response to these hard truths: face it clearly and in community. Throughout her memoir, there is the recognition that this is her new reality. After her initial refusal, she settles in to the new routine of surgery, immune-therapy, doctor’s appointments, grim jokes, and the daily reminder that she may not see her next Christmas or Thanksgiving. 

However, also present in this new liturgy of death is the powerful truth that community is essential if we are to face this kind of loss and tragedy. From her college friends, co-workers, church friends, family, and even those she met while writing her dissertation at a prosperity church, Bowler’s memoir is the story of how a community of people around her were instruments of delivering the grace necessary for her to keep going. This is a fact that while obvious, may be harder than ever in our disconnected world where life is mediated through screens and impersonal interactions. Yet, Bowler reminds the reader that true community is essential if tragedy is to be faced with any measure of hope.

The power of touch

What does that hope look like in the face of certain death? It looks like the power of touch (75). Though the prosperity gospel gets much wrong and can devastate lives with its unfulfilled promises, this is something that Bowler thinks it does understand. Unlike some forms of Christianity that may prize dogma and doctrine, the prosperity gospel understands the power of objects and touch in a way that no one else does, with the possible exception of Catholics. In the midst of Bowler’s grief, it’s not the words that she finds most comforting, it’s things: books she can touch, a framed photo of her and her husband, a favorite quote. These mementos and items serve as reminders of a life before her cancer, but also of what there is in her life still. 

As embodied people, we were made to touch and feel. Mementos are physical reminders of the goodness of life. There is a reason that the ancient Gnostics were condemned as heretics: we are meant to value the body and the senses. This is why so often the most comforting thing that a person can do for the grieving is not to speak (especially since we are unlikely to be able to grasp what they are experiencing) but to be present and respond with simple gestures: held hands, hugged necks, and the ability to sit in silence in the middle of the tragedy. Christ knew this to be true when he comforted lepers with a touch, something they likely had not experienced since being diagnosed. Our words will probably fail us, but our presence is a reminder that in some measure we are present with them in their moments of grief and pain.

Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason is a powerful reminder that we are not invincible, no matter what we have accomplished. It is also a beautiful reflection on the power that community plays in the midst of tragedy. May Christians truly be people of the good news as Bowler asks. In the midst of tragedy, no answer is ever truly sufficient to remove all the pain. But may it be said that as proclaimers of the gospel, we do not add the burden of perfection as a requirement for the love of God. Rather, God is here. In Christ, we are loved (already). It is enough. 

By / Aug 14

With Congress in August recess, we take a break from our usual policy focused conversations to bring you interviews with leaders we admire. We hope to bring you interesting profiles of people shaping the world of Christian political engagement. This week, Jeff Pickering sits down with ERLC president Russell Moore to talk about his faith, family, and friendships along the journey from Mississippi to Washington.

Guest Biography

Russell Moore is president of the ERLC. In this role, he leads the organization to connect the agenda of the kingdom of Christ to the cultures of local congregations for the sake of the gospel. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of several books, including Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel and The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home. A native Mississippian, Moore and his wife Maria are the parents of five boys.

Resources from the Conversation

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