Anti-Christian Tribal Vitriol: How Joy Behar & ‘The View’ Exposed Our Christian Achilles Heel

COMMENTARY

I’m so fed up… I just can’t hold my tongue anymore… I’m gonna let loose and I don’t care about the consequences — that’s the way many Christians feel about the way the secular media and progressive elites attack our faith. But it’s also the way I’m feeling lately about the way many of us lash out in retaliation.

If you missed the story this week, Joy Behar of ABC’s “The View” basically said Vice President Mike Pence is mentally ill for talking to Jesus and listening for God’s voice.

Pence’s reply was godly, honest, and firm. You can watch it here. There was nothing wrong with the way he responded. Others weren’t quite so measured.

Here are a few tidbits from the Right attacking “The View”: “Low life Wackos,” “They are the dumbest people on TV,” “Morons,” “Behar is an utter nut case.”

On the other big story of the week, here are few tidbits from the Left attacking Trump after the Florida shooting: “BLOOD IS ON YOUR HANDS,” “They couldn’t care less who these white homegrown terrorists kill,” “Thoughts & prayers isn’t working!!!”

Those few relatively tame comments are just the tip of the iceberg in a broader battle in our culture — it’s about more than one progressive talk show host criticizing a faith she doesn’t understand, or another heated debate in the aftermath of a tragic shooting.

It’s about the liberals and atheists who blast Christians for offering prayers for the victims of school shootings, attacking the sincere faith of fellow Americans.

It’s about the Christians who use hate-filled language to retaliate against their perceived enemies, possibly inhibiting the faith journey of others.

It’s about the breakdown of our conversational inhibitions, thanks in part to the liberating effect of Social Media. If you read the comments people are making on Facebook and Twitter, it’s clear that our verbal filters have become completely unhinged. It’s been going on for years now, and I’m sick of it.

There’s a new buzzword going around that pretty much sums up the state of our society these days — “tribal.”

It seems like the only word sufficient to describe the meltdown of our “civil” discourse.

To be sure, that verbal violence is only rivaled by the real world violence that has infiltrated our schools, our churches, our concerts, and even our congressional baseball fields.

The vitriol and hatred is being spewed by both sides on a regular basis — with so much at stake, people seem to feel they need to get their point across through extreme rhetoric.

On the Left, there’s sincere concern about those in need, and stopping gun violence through new laws. On the Right, there’s legitimate concern about our religious freedoms and preserving what remains of the Godly underpinnings that led to much of the success of this great American experiment.

Sadly, as each side screams louder and louder to try to convince the other side how right they are, in one sense no one is listening anymore, but in another sense, we’re all listening, and the message is pure destruction.

This commentary is not about violence in Hollywood films and video games, or about President Trump’s tweets, though his words matter greatly as America’s leader.

This is about you and me. It’s about our role in this world as people who claim to be Christians.

Some of what’s been taking place is the exact opposite of what Jesus and the Bible teach us. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive over and over and over and over again.

Jesus taught us that souls matter more than anything else. And the truth is, souls matter more than the institutions of our society.

True, none of us want to lose our freedoms. It’s certainly a fight worth praying for and battling for in the public arena in a civilized manner.

But if the end result of our battling causes us to view our opponents as our enemies and to forget the eternal worth of their souls, then we have done the exact opposite of what God intended us to do on this earth.

How can we love our supposed enemies when we’re screaming at them in a fit of rage and calling them names? Can we as Christians not disagree with others without being disagreeable?

The Bible further teaches that we are not supposed to battle PEOPLE at all, we’re actually in a spiritual battle against unseen forces:

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6

So if Joy Behar decides to label Christians as mentally ill, should we as Christians then attack her and attack others who are ignorant about the love of God and the spiritual truths of the world?

Attacks on Christianity are guaranteed. Jesus promised they would happen. He didn’t say we shouldn’t defend the faith, but he didn’t want us to do it with the same tactics as the anti-Christian crowd.

We’re supposed to be salt and light, but we’re not supposed to pour salt into the wounds of people who don’t know Jesus, and we’re not supposed to blind them with the “light” of our brilliant retaliations. We don’t want to blind anyone from seeing the light of the kingdom.

When we stoop to the same level of tribal vitriol, we’re actually becoming anti-Christian ourselves by undermining the very message our founder taught — always show love, give mercy, live by grace.

Jesus said to win souls — he did not say to win debates at any cost without regard for the eternal worth of your fellow humans.

The words we use as Christians are sometimes our achilles heal. Words hurt. Words matter. God created the world with His words, and we destroy it with ours.

As our world continues to spiral away from God, let’s seek to bring it back to God by behaving like Jesus, by offering love and grace to those who have come to expect the opposite from us.

The Bible really says it best in Ephesians 4:29-32 —

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Apollo Quiboloy, Megachurch Pastor Who Claims to Be Appointed Son of God, Detained With Piles of Cash

(Photo: Facebook)Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.

Apollo Quiboloy, a popular megachurch pastor from the Philippines who boasts some 6 million tithing followers in that country and worldwide, was detained by federal agents in Honolulu, Hawaii, last Thursday after some $350,000 in cash and parts to assemble military-style rifles were discovered on his private jet.

Quiboloy, who leads the Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church, was among six people on his Cessna Citation Sovereign when Customs and Border Enforcement agents boarded it just before departure and found the cash and gun parts, Hawaii News Now reported. The cash was all neatly folded $100 bills stuffed inside socks in a suitcase.

Felina Salinas, 47, of Makakilo who was the only U.S. citizen on the jet, told authorities the cash was hers and she was arrested. It is against federal law to take more than $10,000 out of the country without declaring it. Salinas, who appeared in court on Wednesday, is the business manager of a branch of Quiboloy’s church in Hawaii and a loyal supporter. She only declared $40,000 so she was charged with attempted bulk cash smuggling.

The pastor’s jet, said to be worth at least $15 million, remains in Hawaii and the federal government is reportedly working to seize it. Quiboloy, who was reportedly in Hawaii for a concert, returned to the Philippines on a commercial flight.

Salinas was released on $25,000 bond and she is scheduled to return to court on Feb. 27.

Quiboloy, who is a former member of the United Pentecostal Church, founded the Restorationism church in 1985 after he said he received a calling from God. According to Asia Times, God came to his mother in the form of a cloud after he was born, and declared, “That’s my son.”

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“When the Father called me, He isolated me in two mountains. He let me go through some spiritual experiences that I never had before. He said, ‘I’ll give to you the spirits of these ministries: the mosaic, solomonic and the prophetic ministries.’ And in those visions, I (and many others) saw myself standing, as three, big, spirit-like men entered my body. The interpretation was of the three ministries – the mosaic, the solomonic, and the prophetic ministry – entrusted to me by the Father,” he notes on the church’s website. He calls himself the appointed son of God.

Since his calling, Quiboloy has grown wealthy and is a longtime friend of controversial Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

He claims to have 4 million tithing followers in the Philippines, 2 million more overseas, and reaches 600 million viewers worldwide through his TV station, Asia Times said.

In a 2010 interview with ABC News, Quiboloy said every member of his kingdom shared his wealth and is welcome to stay at his mansion. He further noted that God revealed to him in 1983 that he should own a jet and argued that everyone should accept what they get from God in life, even if it is poverty.

“If it is not God’s will for me to have these things I have, you can take it away,” he said. “It is God’s will that we follow. … If he wanted me to live like a rat, if he wanted me to live in wealth or in poverty, it does not matter to me. Put me there and I’ll be happy as long as it’s God’s will.”

Iranian Christian Sent to Brutal Evin Prison, Known for Torture, Pressuring Believers to Deconvert

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)Evin House of Detention in northwest Tehran, Iran.

An Iranian Christian who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his faith has reportedly been transferred to the infamous Evin prison in Tehran, known for its brutal treatment of Christians and attempts to get them to deconvert.

Naser Navard-Goltapeh’s 10-year prison sentence was upheld in November 2017, after being accused by the government of attempting to establish an underground church, which is illegal in the Islamic republic, as reported by Mohabat News.

“The court based its decision to convict Naser Navard-Goltapeh on a report by the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, allegedly providing ample evidence that he attempted to undermine national security through establishing an ‘illegal house church network.’ However, when asked for the report to be presented to his attorney, the court refused,” said Kiarash Alipour, a spokesman for the Article 18 organization, a Christian rights advocacy group.

The Christian man was arrested back in June 2016 along with three other Christians at Azerbaijan’s “Word of Life” church in Baku.

Navard-Goltapeh’s attorney, Hossein Ahmadi Niaz, had tried to claim that his client had attended worship meetings that were focused only on his faith and nothing else, but attempts to have the Ministry of Intelligence help in reducing his sentence were unsuccessful.

Navard-Goltapeh has now been sent to Evin prison, which is known as being one of the most brutal prisons not only in Iran, but in the world.

Persecution watchdog and human rights groups regularly report of large scale prison beatings and torture going on in its premises, including an incident in 2014 where a Christian pastor was among 30 prisoners badly beaten during a raid.

Evangelical church leader Farshid Fathi suffered a broken foot during the raid, while the other prisoners had fractured skulls and broken ribs and limbs.

A famous case that made national headlines in America concerned pastor Saeed Abedini, who says that he was tortured on a daily basis in Evin, with authorities attempting to get him to renounce Jesus Christ.

Abedini, who was released and returned back to America in 2016 after serving three and a half years in prison in Iran, said that he was held in prison sections so dangerous that even the guards did not wander in.

“There were 120 murderers there who killed someone in the prison after they had been arrested for killing someone before they came to prison. Guards would not dare come to that section,” he recalled in an interview. “The first two nights that I was there, four people were killed in prison fights by swords and knives, right in front of my eyes.”

“I was physically and emotionally abused during my time there,” Abedini added.

“That was the way the Iranian hardliners wanted to show their anger to America and Christianity by torturing me day and night as a Christian American pastor and break me and make me kneel down and make me to deny my faith to Jesus Christ as My Lord and Savior who went on the Cross to pay the death punishment of my sins.”

Mission groups, such as Elam Ministries, have said that despite the government’s crackdown on believers, the Christian faith is steadily growing in Iran.

“Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years — such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime,” Mohabat News reported.

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

The New View of Heaven Is Too Small

Heaven isn’t what it used to be.

A friend of mine’s favorite Sunday school song growing up was “Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit,” the first verse of which goes, “Dwell in me, O Blessed Spirit, Gracious Teacher, Friend Divine. For the home of bliss that waits me, O prepare this heart of mine.” But my friend, Laura Smit, who is now a theology professor at Calvin College, notes that this song is now revised in the hymnal to read “For the kingdom work that calls me, O prepare this heart of mine.” Apparently, those revising the song worried that speaking of the “home of bliss that waits me” leads to otherworldly passivity. Rather than prepare our hearts for the “home of bliss” in the age to come, we should focus on “the kingdom work that calls me.”

This revision reflects the broader trend of evangelical scholars and pastors countering a wispy, ethereal view of heaven, separated from our present life. Rather than use “rapture” movies to scare non-Christians into faith so they are delivered from the burning earth, these evangelicals insist that Christian hope is not for the annihilation of the earth, but the restoration of all creation to service of the Lord. Our heavenly hope is that the Lord sets things right, and heaven comes to earth. Our kingdom work now anticipates the new creation to come, in which we reign with King Jesus in the renewed creation.

I embrace the main features of this counter-narrative to the rapture account. Redemption restores God’s good creation. Heavenly hope involves a material, embodied restoration. Heaven and earth will come together as Christ’s kingship is recognized by all creation. Moreover, we should embrace “the kingdom work” that calls us, as the revised song states. Yet, I also sense that we impoverish our hope for heaven when we turn it into an expression of our current activist emphasis upon “kingdom work.”

Resurrection Hope in the Present Age

New Testament scholar Richard Middleton speaks for many in this “kingdom work” movement in insisting that “we need to drop pious ideas of a perpetual worship service as our ultimate purpose in the eschaton.” Instead, we need to focus on what we will do in the new creation. Likewise, in his popular recent book, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love, pastor John Eldredge laments that “everybody I talk to still has these anemic, wispy views of heaven, as a place up there somewhere, where we go to attend the eternal-worship-service-in-the-sky.” Instead, “the renewal of all things simply means that the earth you love—all your special places and treasured memories—is restored and renewed and given back to you.”

A watershed book for the recent discussion of these issues was N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Wright presents a forceful counter to a “rapture-based” view of heaven where the earth is left behind. As he does so, he presents a wide-ranging vision of how the church is to “bring real and effective signs of God’s new creation to birth even in the midst of the present age.”

A key verse for Wright is Paul’s admonition at the end of his great exposition of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 to “give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (15:58). While many interpreters understand this “labor” as preaching the resurrected Christ (referenced by Paul several times earlier in the chapter), Wright claims that all faithful actions in the Christian life will “last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there.” These actions give signs of what is to come:

What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.” Christian identity in the present age and the age to come is framed in terms of what we as humans do. For only will our own actions, as “real and effective signs,” last into God’s future; in the coming age God will undertake “fresh projects” through us as actors “in his new world.”

Hopeful or Harmful?

While I celebrate Wright’s holistic vision in Surprised by Hope, his account here creates more problems than it solves. What does it mean for our actions to “last” into the new creation? Wright unpacks his idea by saying, “I don’t know what musical instruments we shall have to play Bach in God’s new world, though I’m sure Bach’s music will be there.” Our present actions—whether in composing a cantata or a poem or sewing or caring for the needy—are signs of the coming new creation. But is this really a healthy way to cultivate resurrection hope?

A friend of mine is facing death; he spent his life as an auto mechanic. Will his repaired cars make their way to the new creation? If not, why does Bach’s contribution have kingdom value, while my friend’s does not? Likewise, a pastor in my home state of Michigan mentioned to me that many members of his congregation assume that there will be plenty of woods and deer in heaven. So naturally, they fantasize about shooting a 39-point buck in the heavenly woods. Can deer hunting be a clue, a “real and effective sign,” of the coming new creation? Why include the human labors of Bach but exclude those of Michigan hunters?

Middleton, Wright, and others have sought to counter a “boring” view of heaven. But is the solution to focus on our own desires and actions as “effective signs” and project them into the future? I fear that such an approach does not generate a cosmic view of God’s work in restoring the whole creation (as they desire), but small, individualized versions of paradise.

Instead of this approach, we should rediscover the wisdom in the historic Protestant notion that God provides “means of grace” to the church—real and effective signs, through the Spirit, through which the Father gives his people concrete foretastes of Christ’s coming kingdom.

Preaching the gospel of Christ, as in 1 Corinthians 15, is the Spirit’s instrument for transformation. In addition, many Protestants add the sign-actions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These Protestant traditions assume that not all “spiritual experiences” are equal—instead, we need to gather corporately to hear Scripture proclaimed and to look to Christ himself as the one who will give us a taste of heaven. For he is the one who has gone to heaven before us, and through the Spirit, we are united to him. Rather than discuss whether we will be pulling out rifles to shoot deer in heaven, we need to hear, wash, eat, and drink the Word together in these acts of worship, receiving real and effective signs of the age to come.

Concrete New Creation Hope

How can the celebration of a sacrament, such as the Lord’s Supper, lead us to properly cultivate new creation hope? When we come to the Table, we enter into a corporate experience of worship where the biblical images for the coming age are at the center. Consider just two.

Temple: We come to Christ, the Temple, the dwelling place of God, as people whose true identity is to be temples of the Holy Spirit. Personally and corporately, we receive atoning forgiveness and new life from Christ, the High Priest. We also feed upon Christ as the manna in the wilderness—manna that provided a foretaste of the promised land of milk and honey and was placed in the Temple’s Holy of Holies.

Marital Fellowship: We celebrate together at the Table in joyful yet aching anticipation of the wedding feast to come. In the Old and New Testaments, the Lord speaks of his people as his spouse, and Revelation speaks of the coming “wedding feast of the Lamb.” This is not just an abstraction, either now or in the age to come. As we celebrate the Supper now, we celebrate a foretaste of a great feast that includes table fellowship with peoples of all nations and cultures and ethnicities. We’re brought together as a people who praise and delight in our life-giving spouse and lover, Jesus Christ.

These concrete “instruments” of the Spirit do not give us a to-do list of tasks—for now or for the age to come. To the contrary, through the Word and Sacraments, the Spirit does something greater than disclosing a list of tasks: the Spirit reveals our true and future identity in Christ, which even death itself cannot sever.

Thus, I’m left with a conclusion that is unfashionable at the moment, against the grain of the cottage industry of recent evangelical books: that it’s basically right to see worship as central to the “purpose” of the eschaton. By this, I don’t mean that hitting a high C in singing or mastering our footwork in the worship-dance will be central. Rather, corporate worship is an appropriate image for our final end because the Triune God and his glory will be the central actors in the age to come. Our lives will be lived only in him, always pointing beyond themselves to the Lord of life; we won’t be defined by what we do.

The central question is not what we will do in heaven, but what drama will we be incorporated into? If this is our question, we find our acting instructions in receiving God’s Word in worship exalting Christ our Lord, not in setting our eyes our own good deeds of “kingdom work” now.

If we have a problem with imagining heaven as a gathering of worship of the risen King, the real issue may be with our expectations of worship. All too often, we would rather sing of our own deeds now than to worship in anticipation of the delights of communion with God and one another in the coming age. “Let earth and heaven combine/Angels and men agree/To praise in songs divine/The incarnate Deity” (Charles Wesley).

I recall a pastor of a church focusing on ministry to millennials who shyly mentioned to me that in five years of ministry, he had never even spoken of the coming culmination of the kingdom. “We just focus on how we can participate in the kingdom in our practices here and now,” he said. But as he said it, he realized that there was something hollow about this. Is our action, our own work, at the center of the cosmos? Does this really reflect Paul’s lofty hope that the Lord is “achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” with our present order? (2 Cor. 4:17)

Paul, for one, values our all of our work as Christians as labor that brings glory to God. Yet he declares, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Fruitful work now is “necessary,” he says. But it pales in comparison to Christian hope. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil. 1:21, 23). We can and should offer our lives as service to God in the world, whatever our vocation and whatever our calling.

For both Bach and the auto mechanic down the street, heavenly hope is not to keep doing what we have been doing or what we wish we could have done in this earthly life. Life in the coming age will be better because of who we will be: adopted children of the Father who will be fully and completely united to the Son, Jesus Christ. For “to live is Christ,” and we will never need to move beyond delight-filled communion with our spouse and Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary. His latest book, released today, is Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table (Eerdmans).

40 Influential Christian Books

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From Rembrandt to Joseph Noel Paton, the Bible has been the subject of painting and the arts for hundreds of years, visually beautifully depicting deeper interpretive readings of the scriptures and the thoughtfulness and philosophies of life which have sprung from its application. So too, in literature, intelligent scholars through the ages have published innumerable insights about the Bible, its interpretation and influence.

Every thoughtful Christian can probably appreciate these 40 volumes in the journey to grow into a deeper understanding of life and existence through the Bible.

Including such great authors and thinkers as C. S. Lewis, Thomas Kempis and Martin Luther, our readers recommend the reading of these books for profound scriptural knowledge. These books have influenced countless Christians across vast periods of time.

These 40 books are organized into a free slideshow which will both provoke and validate you in your reading and scholarship. Even if you are short on time, you will probably grow deeper by choosing to read at least one of these influential books. Though potentially challenging, we believe it will be well worth your while.

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1. How Should We Then Live? — Francis A. Schaeffer

Theologian and thinker Francis A. Schaeffer wrote this major book in 1976 as a reflection upon society’s state of affairs while presenting the need for affirmation of a Christian ethic and biblical morals in culture.

“Few Christians have had greater impact during the last half of the twentieth century than Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer,” Lane T. Dennis, publisher of Crossway Books, wrote in the foreword of the book. “A man with a remarkable breadth of cultural interest and with penetrating insight into post-Christian, postmodern life, Schaeffer was also a man who cared deeply about people and their search for truth, meaning, and beauty in life. If there is one central theme throughout Schaeffer’s twenty-four published books, it is that ‘true truth’ exists as revealed in the Bible by ‘the God who is there,’ and that what we do with this truth has decisive consequences in every area of life and culture.”

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2. God in the Dock — C. S. Lewis

God in the Dock is comprised of C. S. Lewis’ essays posthumously collected, addressing theology, ethics, religion, spirituality and thought and expressing his profoundly Christian observations and insights as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of our time.

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3. Knowing God — J. I. Packer

J. I. Packer, in his classic work Knowing God, has greatly shaped Christian readers to know God more deeply by sharing about God and his attributes — His love, grace, majesty and wrath — and the benefits of an intimate relationship with Him.

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4. The Imitation of Christ — Thomas à Kempis

One of the most widely circulated and translated Christian titles other than the Bible itself, The Imitation is a devotional and religious classic written in the 1400s by an Augustinian monk which clarifies instructions for withdrawing from worldly vanities and seeking spiritual life.

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5. Absolute Surrender — Andrew Murray

Based on a series of Andrew Murray’s sermons, this work provides a step-by-step challenge for readers to truly surrender life absolutely to God and to fully experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit and Christian liberty.

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6. Commentary on Galatians — Martin Luther

Martin Luther’s writing in the 500 years since the Reformation has influenced far reaching spheres across Christianity, religion, democracies, economies and societies. And as he studied Galatians, as well as Romans, Hebrews, and Psalms, he developed the doctrine of justification by faith alone, by God’s grace.  This book, his commentary on Galatians, has become a classic masterwork.

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7. Life Together — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Renowned German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer sustained a fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years of Germany. In Life Together, he recounts practical advice on how to sustain real Christian fellowship for families and groups. 

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8. The Hiding Place — Corrie ten Boom

The Hiding Place is Corrie ten Boom’s account of helping Jews escape from the Nazis. Her family perished in concentration camps and she was the only survivor. This book shines a light on the dark history of the time and about how faith ultimately overcomes evil.

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9. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs — John Foxe

First published in 1563, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs challenges believers to live out the faith under any and every circumstance — no matter the cost — by telling the courageous stories of dozens of Christian martyrs tracing back to Reformation-era England.

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10. Institutes of the Christian Religion — John Calvin

A seminal work of the Protestant Reformation, Institutes of the Christian Religion serves as an introduction to Protestant faith and is still read by theology students today. The book covers a variety of doctrines, from the church to justification by faith, and from God’s sovereignty to Christian liberty — a monumentally important publication from the 16th century.

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11. The Ragamuffin Gospel — Brennan Manning

The classic Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning illustrates the need for the acceptance of God’s grace by all people and emphasizes the power of grace to change lives — in spite of our own failures, misgivings and disappointments.

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12. The Phenomenon of Man — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In his quintessential work and French bestseller, visionary theologian and biologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin discusses the evolution of living organisms from inorganic matter — and argues that humanity, too, is also evolving toward an “omega point.”

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13. What’s So Amazing About Grace? — Philip Yancey

Yancey coins the term “scandal of grace” in his best-known book What’s So Amazing About Grace? He shares about grace at the street level and how Christians should show more of it, as grace is enough to cover even the most horrific sins of mankind.

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14. A Christian Manifesto — Francis A. Schaeffer

Schaeffer’s 1981 manifesto was meant to be a Christian response to The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the Humanist Manifesto, and literally calls Christians to be the salt of culture and history-makers by returning to faith in Jesus Christ and the Western Judeo-Christian values.

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15. The Problem of Pain — C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis, in his 1940 classic The Problem of Pain, attempts to reconcile God’s goodness and power with the reality of pain, suffering and evil in the world — tackling human sinfulness, animal suffering and the existence of hell — and rejecting these as reasons for disbelief in God.

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16. The Return of the Prodigal Son — Henri J. M. Nouwen

The Return of the Prodigal Son is one of Henri Nouwen’s most popular books and was written after the theologian encountered and meditated upon the Rembrandt painting of the same name. The book illuminates all aspects of the famous biblical parable for fresh understanding by readers.

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17. Letter From Birmingham Jail — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Letter From Birmingham Jail is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, as a response to a letter Martin Luther King, Jr., received from critics, fellow clergymen who asked him to drop his campaign for non-violent action. The letter, which famously stated, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” became one of King’s most powerful written statements and a rally call for an end to racism.

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18. Peace With God — Billy Graham

Billy Graham is known by many as the most prominent preacher of the 20th century, with the Gospel message reaching hundreds of millions and even billions of people through his rallies and media. In his classic bookPeace with God, Graham shares how every person can receive inner peace from God for free, by grace.

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19. The Philokalia

Other than the Bible, the Philokalia has been referred to as the principle spiritual text for the Eastern Orthodox Church, written by spiritual masters between the 4th and the 15th centuries and compiled by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth in the 18th century. The writings are focused on spirituality and man’s union with God.

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20. Hinds’ Feet on High Places — Hannah Hernard

Hinds’ Feet on High Places is a successful allegorical tale published in 1955 about a symbolic character searching for God’s wisdom and guidance to lead her to a higher place.

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21. Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis

In this letter, Pope Francis calls all Christians and all humans to dialogue about our common home and focuses on consumerism, development, degradation, and the Gospel message as viewed through creation.

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22. The Normal Christian Life — Watchman Nee

The Normal Christian Life, a book by Watchman Nee that originated as a series of addresses which later became magazine articles, presents the path of faith and spiritual principles in simplicity as foundations for Christian life.

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23. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist — Norman L. Geisler

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist guides readers through arguments, examinations and investigations of several aspects of the Christian faith. It is a thought-provoking resource for skeptics about Christianity as well as for Christians hoping to better articulate the faith.

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24. Original Blessing — Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox, an influential leader within the Creation Spirituality movement, in this work focuses on the Original Blessing man received from God — in contrast with the Original Sin, the fall of man — and God’s creative and spiritual energy expressed in humans.

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25. The Language of God — Francis Collins

A leader for the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins advocates in The Language of God for theistic evolution — logically correlating faith and science and presenting evidence for belief while expressing wonder at God’s creation.

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Mere Christianity.

26. Mere Christianity — C. S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis’ famous argument for Christian doctrine was based off of BBC radio addresses he gave during the Second World War and was first published as a unit in 1952.

Available here

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27. The Screwtape Letters — C. S. Lewis

Another C.S. Lewis classic, this 1941 satirical novel follows a veteran demon who writes correspondence to others in Hell on how to deceive human beings and recent converts to Christianity.

Available here

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28. My Utmost for His Highest — Oswald Chambers

A daily devotional first published in 1923, this book is a compilation of Oswald Chambers’ preaching to students and First World War soldiers, where he served as a chaplain.

Available here

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(Photo: Zondervan/Lee Strobel)The cover of “The Case For Christ” by Christian Apologist Lee Strobel.

29. The Case for Christ — Lee Strobel

In this critically acclaimed apologetics work, journalist Lee Strobel interviews experts to see if there is evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The book traces his own journey from atheism to Christianity.

Available here

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30. The Pursuit of God — A. W. Tozer

Aiden Wilson Tozer’s 1948 classic on how to seek God, the impulse to follow Him, and the need for faith even in secular endeavors continues to inspire to this day.

Available here

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31. Orthodoxy — G. K. Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton’s 1908 apologetics work focusing on how the author came to believe in Jesus Christ has been labeled by many as the prolific author’s most important work.

Available here

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32. The Cost of Discipleship — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the phrase “cheap grace” in this influential theological work, which powerfully warns Christians against compromising with secular society.

Available here

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33. Confessions — St. Augustine

St. Augustine of Hippo’s personal and profound autobiographical account of his tumultuous spiritual life and pre-Christian misdeeds serves as powerful reading over 1,500 years after it was first published.

Available here

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34. God’s Smuggler — Brother Andrew

Brother Andrew offers an unforgettable and harrowing account of his efforts as a young man to smuggle Bibles into countries where Christianity was persecuted.

Available here

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Zondervan PublishersIn his new book “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,” Nabeel Qureshi tells the story of his conversion from Islam to Christianity.

35. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus — Nabeel Qureshi

In this heartfelt and intellectual best-seller, Nabeel Qureshi documents his spiritual journey from his devout Muslim upbringing to his conversion to Christianity.

Available here

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36. Cold-Case Christianity — J. Warner Wallace

Homicide detective and former atheist J. Warner Wallace investigates the claims of Christianity, applying his knowledge of criminal investigation to craft an interesting apologetics work.

Available here

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37. The City of God — St. Augustine

The City of God is St. Augustine of Hippo’s 5th century masterpiece whose philosophical ideas on the righteous City of God and wicked City of Man continue to influence western culture.

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38. The Pilgrim’s Progress — John Bunyan

John Bunyan’s 17th century Christian allegory contains a profound two-part story about a man’s journey from the City of Destruction to Heaven, that entertains readers up to the present day. At one point, it was second only to the Bible in popularity.

Available here

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39. Loving God — Chuck Colson

Former Nixon Administration “hatchet man” Chuck Colson’s amazing examination of the cost of Christian discipleship continues to challenge the Church.

Available here

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40. The Cross and the Switchblade — David Wilkerson

David Wilkerson’s true account of his evangelism efforts among troubled inner-city teenagers remains a powerful testimony to the witness even in a violent, drug-ridden setting.

Available here

Are Selfies Evidence of the ‘Last Days’? John Piper Answers

(Screengrab)Pastor John Piper.

Theologian and Desiring God founder John Piper is weighing in on selfies, urging Christians and social media users to recognize that in a self-obsessed culture their self is actually meant to point to God.

In response to a question he was asked Monday about whether the large presence of selfies and self-centered social media is an indication that the last days are near — where 2 Timothy 3:1-2 speaks of “difficult times” and people being “lovers of self” — the theologian said yes and no.

“Vlogs, selfies, and self-focused social media are often (not always) an expression of the self-exaltation, self-preoccupation, and self-fascination of these last days,” Piper acknowledged.

“But no, these new technologies are not the emerging of such final experiences of sin. They’ve always been there. The new technologies are giving new ways to express old sins.”

While these are the last days, they are not the very last days, he continued, and Christians ought to wait in hopeful expectation of an all-satisfying Christ who will one day return.

“When Jesus came into the world as the long-expected Messiah, he declared the arrival of the kingdom of God, which the Old Testament anticipated as part of the last days,” Piper explained.

And at Pentecost Peter explained that the supernatural events that were occurring were the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s words, when he said “and in the last days it shall be … that I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh.” These “last days” Joel was referring to in the time just after Jesus came to earth were the start of the “last days” and we have been living in them ever since, Piper argued.

That the Apostle Paul counseled Timothy to “avoid such people” who are “lovers of self” indicates that the last days had already arrived, because the people to avoid were already present, not 2000 years away from showing up brandishing smartphones, he said.

“God gave us a self, not so that we would have something to exalt in, but something to exalt with. He gave us a self, not to be the object of our joy, but the subject of joy. That is, not to be the focus of happiness in front of the mirror or the selfie, but the furnace of happiness in front of Jesus.”

And the self is an instrument of worship, he went on to say, a “desire factory” that points to something outside of ourselves, the joy of the Lord, since nothing in this world ultimately satisfies.

“The desires of the human self are meant to lead us to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore,” he said, making a reference to Psalm 16:11.

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Christian Unity in Ashes

E. C. is a Presbyterian. I am not. I know that he’d love to make me so. He fits Presbyterianism. He loves the arc of the liturgy, the commitment to ever put God’s grace and covenantal faithfulness in the foreground, and their interpretive lens toward scripture. While I respect his convictions, I am not particularly drawn to the Presbyterian ethos. My friend Bruce is a Quaker. He loves the communal discernment of the Spirit and the diligent pursuit of acknowledging the image of God in every human. I’m not antagonistic toward either of those positions, but they aren’t enough to make me a Quaker. I’m something else. And yet, every winter we three pastors leave the comfort of our desired theological homes to share an Ash Wednesday service.

A Day for Humility

We can join together on Ash Wednesday because the day is about humility. When else in the Christian life do we acknowledge that we are but dust?

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
~Traditional Ash Wednesday Blessing

To have the ashes smeared on our foreheads is to embrace a grim truth about our limits: We are not God. From dust we were made—we all arrive here from the same humble beginnings. No one among us came from anything other than the earthly design of human birth. And to dust we shall return—we are mortal. What we have on this earth will end. After a good long life, perhaps, or maybe far too early. Regardless, death’s grim grip will overwhelm even the strongest will.

We each live subject to the human constraints of death, weakness, sin, shame, and pain. The ashes remind us that we are but fleeting flowers in a field, here today and gone tomorrow. The rest of the year we may be tempted to mask, hide, deny, or run away from our constraints. Perhaps, we think, we can undo our weakness. Or maybe we can live only out of our strengths, thus avoiding the need to display our weaknesses before others.

Or worse, perhaps we deny our constrictions by making them seem inconsequential compared to the apparent weakness of our neighbors. Maybe we think to ourselves, Well, they’re lazy because they’re on Medicaid. Whereas at least we work to earn our benefits. Perhaps we think their worldview is contemptible, while our own captures the whole of global complexity. Or maybe we think their theology is flawed or unrefined, while our own derives from the very mouth of God. But in each case, we see only through our limited perspective.

Ash Wednesday compels us to look all of this square in the face. It is a public rehearsal of Jesus’ parable:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)

Humility Leads to Unity

This moment of dust serves two crucial purposes in the journey of a disciple. It is a reminder that no matter how we change and grow, we are altogether different from the one we worship. It is also a reminder that no matter how pure we may think ourselves, we are altogether the same as every human around us: dust.

The ash should reorient our approach to the greatest commandments: We love God not out of equality but out of grace. If we occupy a space at God’s side, it is not because we’ve climbed there; it is because he’s stooped to be near us. Meanwhile, we love others not paternalistically but side-by-side in the earth’s ash. If our theology is truer than that of our brothers and sisters, it has not a whit to do with us.

It is this lesson about our proper place that makes Ash Wednesday the perfect day to seek Christian unity. Too often we live in our doctrinal bubbles, presuming that the Holy Spirit has given our tribe an inside knowledge into the fullness of God’s character. We find assurance in the ironclad boundaries of our statements of faith. We hold fast to the blogs that proudly bolster our theological beliefs. And we think, How could anyone believe anything else?

But the ash upon your head tells a different story. As logical as your statement of faith may be, it does not increase the limits of your human frailty. You cannot capture the fullness of God. The fullness of God is revealed in Christ and in Christ alone. All articulations fall short because they are articulated by mere dust. We see now through a dark glass, and we do well to remember it. The future of Christianity depends upon it.

As CT has noted in several recent articles, evangelicalism is undergoing change. While no one knows what comes next, I fear we will find ourselves only more divided by our claims of doctrinal superiority. We don’t like that word, doctrinal, anymore, but all that threatens to deepen the old divides is the same as its ever been. Every generation dupes itself into thinking that its own timely changes are pure and new. But there is nothing new under the sun. Division comes from pride, and unity will always come from humility.

Ash Wednesday itself is old, but the tradition of humility signified by ash goes back to the days of the prophets. When we adorn ourselves with the mark of our humility, we join with Mordecai, who wore ashes while appealing to God to save the Jews; with Job, who wore ashes while submitting in smallness to the great Creator; with Daniel, who wore ashes while pleading in captivity; and with all the nameless saints who have swiped their foreheads symbolically over the millennia. When faced with cultural challenges and shattering circumstances, the saints of the past survived best when they emulated the self-lowering example of Christ. So too for us in these days of uncertainty.

For my friends and me, Ash Wednesday serves as a moment to detox from the machinations of cultural chaos. It is a launching point for cooperation throughout the year. Lowering our heads and admitting our limits in February tends to fix our posture toward one another. We can switch pulpits, care for widows and orphans together, raise money together, encourage local nonprofits together. We cooperate not because we’re great, but because we’ve been reminded we’re not. We have limits—sharp, dusty limits. And if we are dust, we might as well be so together.

Matthew Ingalls is the pastor at River Street Church of God in Newberg, Oregon. He is also the author of The Upside Down Way and blogs at jesusandhisway.com.

1 Dead, 3 Others Injured After Congregant Goes on Stabbing Spree in Texas Church

(Photos: Facebook)Frank Castillo, 61, and his pastor Janson Abraham, 54, were victims in the church stabbing in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Wednesday February 7, 2018.

One man is dead and his pastor is now battling for his life in the hospital after a member of the church in Corpus Christi, Texas, went on a wild stabbing spree during a mid-week worship service. Two others were wounded Wednesday.

Police have not yet established a motive for the attack but Nueces County jail officials told KRISTV that the suspect, Marco Moreno, 28, was booked and charged with one count of murder and three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He remains in custody in lieu of bail set at $1.45 million.

Corpus Christi Police said they were called to a residence in the 1200 block of Cambridge Drive at about 7:00 p.m. Wednesday for reports of a stabbing. Online records show a church known as “Kingdom Acts Ministries International” with the same address.

When the Officers arrived they were directed inside the house where they found four people suffering from stab wounds. Witnesses identified Moreno, a member of their congregation who was still inside the house, as the attacker. They reported that as many as 20 people were at the house for a worship service when Moreno stabbed the four people.

Frank Castillo, a 61-year-old member of the church, reportedly died inside the church during the attack. 

Church members could not provide a motive for Moreno’s actions.  

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(Photo: Police)Marco Moreno is the suspect in the Corpus Christi, Texas, church stabbing.

Corpus Christi police Lt. Chris Hooper told the Associated Press that they suspect that mental illness could have been a factor in the attack.

“The officers at the scene suspect there is a mental health issue with the offender,” Hooper said, noting that Moreno has an “alcohol- and drug-related history” with police.

He said a band member was stabbed in the neck and the pastor, identified as 54-year-old Janson Abraham, was stabbed in his chest. Both men are battling life-threatening injuries. The other two male victims suffered puncture wounds — one to his hand and the other to his arm — while trying to get the suspect away from the pastor, AP reported.

On its Facebook page, the church is described as an “international and non-denominational organization that is dedicated to reach the nations with true love, pure Gospel-the Word of God-and service to Humanity.”

“We dedicate ourselves to teach the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a lifestyle of worship. Kingdom Acts focuses on reaching people through the gospel and gradually bringing them to the redeeming knowledge of Jesus Christ,” the church notes.

Church member Elena Flores, who said she and her husband arrived late for the service on Wednesday, told KRISTV that she was shocked by what happened.

“I never thought this would happen,” she said. “I never thought I would be a witness to this or my husband. We arrived late so I was thinking that could have been my husband because it seems like he was going after the guys, the men.”

Church members say the pastor’s children witnessed the attack. Flores also noted that Moreno had been attending services at the church for quite some time.

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