«At Christianity Today we believe now, more than ever, our world is in desperate need of truth, goodness, and beauty. That’s why our ministry is so ...»
At Christianity Today we believe now, more than ever, our world is in desperate need of
truth, goodness, and beauty. That’s why our ministry is so committed to our cause of Beautiful
Orthodoxy, strengthening the church by richly communicating the breadth of the true, good, and beautiful gospel.
This cause is central to all we do. Across our ministry you’ll see the gospel of love and hope powerfully showcased, as we speak out on the most important issues of our day.
Enjoy these six recent articles and a series of poems that stand out to me as shining examples of Beautiful Orthodoxy.
HAROLD SMITHPresident and CEO
CT MAGAZINEThe Christians Who Annoy Us Are the Christians We Need Most May 2015 This review, of former editor Collin Hansen’s book Blind Spots, describes how and why today’s church is so divided. Each church “tribe”—which Hansen identifies as the courageous, the compassionate, and the commissioned—has its strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. Which means each tribe needs the other two to live out a full and well-rounded gospel.
Katelyn Beaty, Managing Editor
Katelyn Beaty, Managing Editor
CT MAGAZINEMoore on the Margins September 2015 Russell Moore is heading the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention in a time of massive cultural change. In this profile, former CT news editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey captured Moore’s personality quirks and, more central, how he is helping Baptists to live out a more cross-centered, and less politically motivated, gospel.
Katelyn Beaty, Managing Editor
THE BEHEMOTHAre Butterflies a New Creation After All? February 19, 2015 When some people hear that The Behemoth is a magazine that draws heavily from science and nature, they imagine it full of articles about origins fights and climate policy debates. Instead, they find it full of awe and wonder at a big God and his big world. Whether it’s an article about biology, theology, or history (or in this article’s case, all three), The Behemoth aims to remind readers that creation and its creator are much bigger and much more wonderful than they had imagined.
Ted Olsen, Editor
TODAY’S CHRISTIAN WOMAN
Rather than approaching secular culture and non-believers with a caustic, us-against-them stance, this article epitomizes Beautiful Orthodoxy in the loving and empathetic tone it offers. Communicating the truth with love (Ephesians 4:15) is not just a matter of the words we choose but also the general posture we have toward those with whom we disagree. As a former atheist herself, Dr. Alicia Britt Chole encourages us to embody the gospel by treating atheists friends and loved ones with the same dignity and honor Jesus himself showed to the religious outsiders he interacted with.
Kelli Trujillo, Editor
Natasha Robinson shares why she chooses to go to church with white people and explains why intentionally choosing diversity is important for Christians. She paints a beautiful picture of what can be when we choose to get to know “the other.” Amy Jackson, Managing Editor
BOOKS & CULTUREFour Poems September/October 2015 These are four poems by Brett Foster from the September/October issue of Books & Culture, marking the 20th anniversary of the magazine. Brett died on November 9, 2015. Included below is the introduction that appeared with the poems. Re-reading it now, I am deeply thankful for the hope we share.
We are all strangers in a strange land, but certain circumstances tend to heighten our awareness of that condition. Brett Foster, associate professor of English at Wheaton College, is a poet and translator of poetry, a Renaissance scholar, a lover of Shakespeare and of theater more generally, husband to Anise, father of Avery and Gus, a member of All Souls Anglican Church. In June 2014, out of the blue, he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. The first poem below, “Prayer Before Reading St Mark’s Gospel,” was written in July 2014; the other three are from this summer.
John Wilson, Editor The Christians Who Annoy Us Are the Christians We Need Most Why learning from those outside your tribe is essential to the church’s witness.
Fred Sanders C onfronted with the stubborn fact of church disunity, every new generation of Christians asks the same question: “Why can’t we all just get along?” And every old generation has the same set of answers at the ready. “We already tried to get along before you got here,” say some. “All the things that divide us are nonnegotiable,” say others.
In any generation, the friction among Christian “tribes” is palpable. Collin Hansen, the editorial director for the Gospel Coalition, approaches this subject not as an impartial observer but as a committed member of a particular tribe: the “young, restless, Reformed” believers whose emergence he profiled in a classic 2006 ct cover story and a 2008 book by the same name. Yet his latest work, Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Crossway), suggests a strategy for “church unity and an effective gospel witness in the world.” This is a matter of no small urgency, Hansen argues, because a divided witness won’t suffice to gain a hearing for the gospel in the current cultural climate. In the foreword, NYC pastor Tim Keller describes the book as “an extended essay on how Christians in Western societies today... need to respond to a culture quickly growing post-Christian.” To this end, Hansen proposes that Christians learn from believers who make them uncomfortable, because the ones who annoy us are likely the ones we need most. Instead of trying to be well-rounded, we should settle for being well-surrounded. If we can’t embody all the strengths of every Christian tribe, we can at least associate with brothers and sisters who have what we lack (and lack what we have).
Two-Thirds Blind There are three types of Christians in Hansen’s telling. There are the courageous, who love to take a stand against clear opposition and relish a clarifying doctrinal dispute; the compassionate, who sympathize, listen with all their hearts, and seek to heal whatever pain they find; and the commissioned, who keep their focus on evangelism and outreach to unbelievers, devising new forms of communicating the gospel as the need arises. Each type habitually partners with like-minded believers.
As Hansen writes, “We tend to cluster around Christians with similar personalities, who reinforce our strengths but turn a blind eye to our weaknesses.” And we all have weaknesses. Within each of the three groups, Hansen says, we are “conditioned by our various cultures and experiences to hear certain aspects of the gospel more clearly than others.” Or, to use the metaphor of the book’s title, we can end up “at least two-thirds blind” if we look only with our own eyes.
Even as Hansen celebrates each of the three types, he remains keenly aware of their blind spots.
The courageous, for example, are often so certain of their convictions that they have trouble heeding legitimate criticism, and suspect other Christians of being theologically naive. The compassionate are so motivated to comfort their wounded neighbors that they neglect to speak uncomfortable truths at all, and blame other Christians for doing most of the wounding. And the commissioned are so eager to reach their culture that they uncritically adopt everything the culture has to offer, having no patience for theology or mercy ministry that lacks an immediate evangelistic payout.
Hansen’s key point is that “each group goes bad to the degree it distances itself from the others.” His solution is to have each group confess its need for the others.
This is a brief book (120 pages) geared for immediate impact, written in a tone that alternates between chatty and prophetic. Hansen doesn’t pretend to hover above the fray. He freely admits belonging to the type labeled “courageous,” and that he struggles to see his own blind spots. “With my highly attuned gift for discerning other’s motives,” he observes, “it didn’t take long for me to see what’s wrong with everyone else.” By candidly admitting his bias, Hansen both models what he preaches and tells a more gripping story.
When Hansen realized he could not see past his own presuppositions on crucial questions, he began experimenting with taking the perspective of fellow Christians motivated by mercy or mission. Hansen knows by experience how deep the ruts of routine run: “You bemoan the church’s ineffective public witness in a changing culture, yet you offer the same self-congratulatory solution to every new challenge.” Here is a way out.
Reading Blind Spots, I was reminded of John Wesley’s response to concerns that a growing narrowness and isolation were jeopardizing his revival movement. He watched his Methodist conferences turn in on themselves, splitting apart as they grew self-confident. “I thought it might be a help against this,” he said, “frequently to read, to all who were willing to hear, the accounts I received from time to time of the work which God is carrying on in the earth, both in our own and other countries not among us alone, but among those of various opinions and denominations.” And so he did, giving monthly reports of God’s movements out beyond Methodist land. Today’s evangelicals, no matter where they reside on Hansen’s map of motivations, ought to strongly consider doing something similar.
The Best Defense Strengths are almost always the bright side of weaknesses, and that holds true for Blind Spots. The book’s great strength is in finding a new way to slice the pie. Hansen avoids rehearsing intractable denominational or confessional divisions. He makes no mention of the liberal-versus-conservative narrative that drives our evangelical heritage. By ignoring these categories in favor of his own, Hansen opens up new possibilities. But these fault lines haven’t gone away. It’s left to the reader to figure out how Hansen’s advice would play out across them. And it’s hard to believe his cat-egories (which represent “the heart, the head, or the hands of Jesus”) have as much purchase on actual church life as the older categories, tired as they may be.
But this book of cultural analysis moves almost subliminally towards a concluding Bible study that is its best moment. Hansen paraphrases 1 Corinthians and applies it to the modern church.
“God has a plan to unify us in our diversity,” and our blind spots mean we need to make friends unlike us. Then comes an extended meditation on John 15, and a call to abide in Jesus himself rather than adjusting our mutual perceptions and fiddling with our fellowship ratios. “Abiding in Christ,” Hansen recognizes, “is the best defense against the blind spots that destroy our joy in following Jesus and set us against other believers with different gifts and callings.” Blind Spots dares evangelicals to forge powerful new experiences of unity in diversity. Jesus prayed that his church “may be one,” as the Son and the Father are one, so that a watching world might know God’s loving purposes (John 17:20–23). When we allow Hansen’s trio of “disharmony, discouragement, and disillusion” the final say, the world sees us—and we see each other—through a profoundly distorted lens.
FRED SANDERS teaches theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute. He is the author of The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Crossway).
Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon The leading Christian scholar on transgender issues defines the terms and gives the church a way forward.
Mark Yarhouse I still recall one of my first meetings with Sara. Sara is a Christian who was born male and named Sawyer by her parents. As an adult, Sawyer transitioned to female.
Sara would say transitioning—adopting a cross-gender identity—took 25 years. It began with facing the conflict she experienced between her biology and anatomy as male, and her inward experience as female. While still Sawyer, she would grow her hair out, wear light makeup, and dress in feminine attire from time to time. She also met with what seemed like countless mental-health professionals as well as several pastors. For Sawyer, now Sara, transitioning eventually meant using hormones and undergoing sex reassignment surgery.
Sara would say she knew at a young age—around 5—that she was really a girl. Her parents didn’t know what to do. They hoped their son was just different from most other boys. Then they hoped it was a phase Sawyer would get through. Later, two pastors told them that their son’s gender identity conflicts were a sign of willful disobedience. They tried to discipline their son, to no avail.
Sara opened our first meeting by saying, “I may have sinned in the decisions I made; I’m not sure I did the right thing. At the time, I felt excruciating distress. I thought I would take my life. What would you have me do?” The exchange was disarming.
I have worked with people like Sara for more than 16 years. Although most of my published research and clinical practice is in the area of sexual identity, I regularly receive referrals to meet with people who experience conflicts like Sara’s. The research institute I direct, housed at Regent University in Virginia, published the first study of its kind on transgender Christians a few years ago.
My experiences counseling children, adolescents, and adults have all compelled me to further study gender dysphoria.
From this research and counseling background, I hope to offer the Christian community a distinctly Christian response to gender dysphoria.