How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt | Christianity Today

How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt | Christianity Today.

This “CT” story of how Egypt’s Christians are responding to the intense persecution they are suffering at the hands of Muslim terrorists (ISIS) is as heart-warming as the recent slaughter of 21 Libyan Christians is heart-chilling.

As you read the report of this response, may we be led to pray for the body of Christ in that part of the world, and for many others suffering for the name of Christ throughout the Middle East and, indeed, throughout the world.

Here is the first part of the story; read the rest at the “CT” link above.

Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity.

“We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, Two Rows by the Sea was sent to the printer.

One week later, 1.65 million copies have been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever. It eclipses even the 1 million tracts distributed after the 2012 death of Shenouda, the Coptic “Pope of the Bible.” [A full English translation is posted at bottom.]

Arabic tract (outside)Image: Bible Society of Egypt

Arabic tract (outside)

The tract contains biblical quotations about the promise of blessing amid suffering, alongside a poignant poem in colloquial Arabic:

Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

“The design is meant so that it can be given to any Egyptian without causing offense,” said Atallah. “To comfort the mourning and challenge people to commit to Christ.”

The Top 20 Most-Read Gleanings of 2014 – ChristianityToday.com

The Top 20 Most-Read Gleanings of 2014 | Gleanings | ChristianityToday.com.

Every year at this time Christianity Today posts the top stories in the world of Christian news based on what its readers visited the most on the “Gleanings” section of its website (“important developments in the church and the world”).

MIbrahim-2014At the link above is this year’s list of twenty (20) most read stories – with a brief introduction from “CT”. When you see their list, you will understand why these were indeed the stories people were most interested in.

What do Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Meriam Ibrahim, and the KJV have in common? All were subjects of the most-read Gleanings posts of 2014.

This one goes with the picture above, as reported by “CT”:

As advocates for the Sudanese mother sentenced to death for not renouncing her Christian faith topped more than 1 million, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag gave birth early this morning to a baby girl in a Khartoum prison hospital wing.

So reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), as well as her lawyer Elshareef Ali to the BBC. The 27-year-old mother sentenced to death for apostasy named her little girl Maya, according to The Telegraph.

Sudanese authorities are allowing Ibrahim two years to nurse her daughter before they will carry out the death sentence. Ibrahim’s lawyers lodged an appeal last week, according to CSW.

Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1) | Canon Fodder

A Christmas Present from the Mainstream Media: Newsweek Takes a Desperate Swipe at the Integrity of the Bible (Part 1) | Canon Fodder.

BiblestudypicHave you heard about the atrocious, antichristian attack on the Bible published in the latest Newsweek magazine (Dec.23, 2014)? If you haven’t yet, you ought to be aware of this article by Kurt Eichenwald – “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin” (see link to it below).

Michael Kruger, president and professor of NT and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC (and blogger at “Canon Fodder”) has started a thorough review of this article, taking Eichenwald to task for his poor journalism as well as his attack on the Bible.

Here is the opening part of Kruger’s first installment; visit the link above for the critique, and look for the second part in the near future.

It is not unusual for Newsweek, and other major media magazines, to publish critical opinions of Christianity and the Bible during major Christian holidays. I have lost count of how many March/April issues of such magazines have cast doubt on the resurrection, just in time for Easter.

However, the recent Newsweek cover article by Kurt Eichenwald, entitled “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published intentionally (no doubt) on December 23rd, goes so far beyond the standard polemics, and is so egregiously mistaken about the Bible at so many places, that the magazine should seriously consider a public apology to Christians everywhere.

Of course, this is not the first media article critiquing the Bible that has been short on the facts. However, what is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the fact about the Bible.

Being ignorant of biblical facts is one thing. But being ignorant of biblical facts after chiding one’s opponent for that very thing is a serious breach of journalistic integrity. Saying Eichenwald’s article is an instance of “the pot calling the kettle black” just doesn’t seem to do it justice.

C.Hansen’s Top 10 Theology Stories of 2014 – The Gospel Coalition

My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2014 | TGC | The Gospel Coalition.

Year in review-1I have learned to appreciate Collin Hansen’s (editorial director for the Gospel Coalition) annual list of a different nature – the top 10 theology stories of the year. Past years have shown a church world in turmoil for various reasons – doctrinal controversy, persecution, and sin within and without. 2014 revealed more of the same (Posted Dec.22, 2014).

Yet we believe that the church remains our Lord’s and that He is at work in the church, in the world, and in us to accomplish His master plan of ultimate redemption and renewal when He returns in glory, executes His righteous judgment, and makes all things new. May our remembrance of this year’s theological stories remind us of the goal of all things.

Here is Hansen’s introduction and one of the picks that was of particular interest to me. To see the rest of the stories that make his list, visit the “Gospel Coalition” link above.

I’m not satisfied with how we ascribe value to certain news stories over others. While social media direct us to stories that might have been overlooked in older newsrooms, these outlets and cable news lead us to obsess with certain stories and ignore others for no apparent reason. While news editors formerly acted as judge and jury for public knowledge, our mob mentality hardly produces better results. The trending hashtag does not necessarily reflect what’s most valuable in the kingdom of God. In fact, this fallen world threatens to distract us from from thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Phil. 4:8).

As you’ll see in my list of top theology stories, I haven’t solved this problem. You may recognize these stories from your news feed, but you might arrange them in a different order or replace some altogether. I don’t claim unbiased perspective, and even if I did, past failings would betray me (see my lists from 20082009201020112012, and 2013).

…So consider my list an admittedly foolhardy attempt—written from the vantage point of an American who subscribes to The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement—to discern the most important theology stories of 2014. Consider it an opportunity to reflect on whether your priorities align with God’s and a challenge to spread good news in a world that seeks peace but finds none apart from Jesus Christ.

8. Debate over justification and sanctification reaches breaking point.

Can someone be too focused on the gospel? Of course not. Unless “gospel” becomes shorthand for privileging certain biblical teachings and isolating them from others. Then again, Paul told the Corinthians that the matters of “first importance” are Jesus’s death for sins and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3–4). Shouldn’t those priorities dictate how we read the rest of the Bible? This hermeneutical tension didn’t suddenly leap from the biblical text in 2014, but as co-founders Don Carson and Tim Keller noted with regard to recent changes at TGC, the debate over the relationship between justification and sanctification became “increasingly strident” this year with charges of legalism and antinomianism. They said, “Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity.” How do Christians find that unity? Perhaps futher debate will resolve the outstanding issues. But we must all first humble ourselves before the God of the Bible and each other to live out the grace we so fervently preach.

Interpretive dance: BioLogos and the Promotion of Evolution| Daniel J. Devine | World

WORLD | Interpretive dance | Daniel James Devine | Nov. 29, 2014.

Creation vs evolutionThis is a significant “exposure” article by World magazine and its reporter Daniel J. Devine on how BioLogos – headquartered right here in Grand Rapids, MI – is pushing evolutionism in the name of Christian science on a broad spectrum of Christian institutions (posted today, Nov.29, 2014).

There are some familiar names given here, many of them with ties to Christian colleges well known to us. The issue of the historicity, accuracy, and authority of Genesis 1-3 (especially), God’s “book of beginnings”, continues to generate heated debate in Christian circles.

But it ought not, if we hold to the clarity as well as to the authority of Scripture. Truly Reformed Christianity posits that God’s Word sheds authoritative light on science and determines how we understand the things that we see (and don’t see!) in creation, not the other way around. We need to continue to keep our biblical “glasses” on straight in order to see the world right.

Here’s the opening paragraphs to Devine’s article; find the rest at the link above.

Just a five-minute stroll from the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., sits the brown brick building that is home since last year to BioLogos, a foundation pushing churches and believers to embrace evolution, and in the process change how they read the Bible.

The brainchild of Francis Collins, who now heads the National Institutes of Health, BioLogos has taken in nearly $9 million from the Templeton Foundation and millions more from other donors. BioLogos in turn offers grants to church, parachurch, and academic leaders and organizations that promote “evolutionary creation.”

BioLogos president Deb Haarsma, former chair of Calvin’s physics and astronomy department, says churches that support evolution will be more effective witnesses in a culture that reveres science, and will help college students avoid a crisis of faith when biology professors argue for evolution. The BioLogos website states, “Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.”

Antiques and Our Heritage (4) – The Importance of Christian Education

Four weeks ago we began to quote from a selection by John J. Timmerman, former English professor at Calvin College, found in a collection of his writings titled Markings on a Long Journey (Baker, 1982). It is an article he originally wrote for The Banner in September of 1972, and includes his thoughts on some things “old, precious, and beautiful” in the Reformed tradition.

Markings on long journey-TimmermanThe first one was the “antithesis”; the second one was “a sense of sin”; and the third one was “the priority of the sermon in our Sunday services”.  His next one is also significant, because it touches on another matter close to our Reformed hearts – our Christian day schools. He titles this element of our Reformed heritage “the importance of Christian education.”

Here is what he has to say on this subject:

The present Christian school system is a monument to severe early sacrifices and stellar devotion, a genuine attempt to provide an education that tried to apply the best Reformed tradition to the manifold problems of life. I have known men who walked a long way to work all their lives, who denied themselves and their families a car to provide a Christian education for their children. I have known gifted teachers on all levels of teaching who declined prestigious and lucrative positions to serve this cause. I have known board members who spent almost as much time in working for their schools as for their business. All was done in the belief that God would bless a distinctively Christian training for their children and a sound factual and theoretical knowledge of Scripture.

So it is with acute dismay that one sees a gradual erosion in attendance and support of these schools. They have given our children something to give the world; when they vanish, much of this unique knowledge of Scripture and interpretation will also disappear. Particularly distressing is the fact that only about 20 percent of our college youth attend one of our colleges. There may be good reasons why 20 percent should not attend these colleges; I can conceive of no good reasons why 80 percent should fail to do so – unless one calls indifference, apathy, or hostility to these uniquely excellent institutions good reasons (158).

I can only add, What would Timmerman say if he saw things in his denomination now? May we listen and learn, and not lose our zeal for and commitment to our own precious PR Christian schools.

Antiques and Our Heritage (1) – The Antithesis

Markings on loong journey-TimmermanBack in September of 1972, John J. Timmerman wrote an article in The Banner, the official periodical of the Christian Reformed Church, under the title “Antiques and Our Heritage.” Prompted by the plethora of antique shops that may be found along America’s highways, Timmerman proceeded to describe five aspects of the CRC’s heritage that he considered “old, precious, and beautiful.” He continued, “I believe that our heritage has such beliefs, values, and institutions that they are worthy of the honor of pious memory and pervasive influence. I shall refer to five such ‘antiques.'”

And guess what the first one was: “The awareness of an antithesis between believers and unbelievers.” Striking. I give you his description of it, because it is good for every Reformed Christian to remember. Not just those who deny common grace with its bridge from the world to the church.

Antithesis is an old word among us. It was frequently used in classrooms, journals, and sermons thirty years ago. It has been one of our key words, followed by commitment, integration, relevance, and now thrust. These words seem to cluster together in distinct groups. Antithesis and commitment were often used together; whereas integration, relevance, and thrust seem closely related.

All are valuable words and I have no quarel with any of them, but the most important and most forgotten word seems to me to be antithesis. Citizens of the kingdom of God have a distinct supernatural birth, a peculiar God-given task in the world, and  a divine destiny. At the center of life is the Lord Jesus and His Word to which we owe our deepest commitment in love and service. We try to make this commitment relevant without compromising our identity, or washing out our distinctiveness. In this type of thought the Christian was meant to be different from the unbeliever in reflection, language, critical judgment, and manner of life. There was to be no bland adjustment to the relativism of the day; no easy blending with modernity. The word is no longer in fashion, but the reality should be. If Christians become hard to detect, they are not strong Christians.

Taken from Markings on a Long Journey: Writings of John J. Timmerman (Baker, 1982), pp.156-57. We plan to post more of Timmerman’s “antiques” in the future. They are all good food for thought.

More on Sunday Observance from John J. Timmerman

The fundamental outline of Sunday, its mood, church services, and dominant activities were not enormously changed by the thirties and forties. What is certain is that none of us has escaped the indelible impressions of that Sunday. To me the Sunday of my boyhood in Iowa and my youth in New Jersey meant two things supremely. Sunday was to be markedly different from Thursday in church attendance and in other activities which should be spiritually centered, positively contributory to the distinctiveness of the day. The second, in that honorific and stilted phrase, was the preaching of the word. The latter is still, however brilliant or bumbling it may be, the heart of Sunday services. I am thankful for the spiritual insight and inspiration I have received over the years from many sermons. To have attended half of them would have impoverished me; to have fragmented the spirit of the day with antithetical secular diversions would have made it almost indistinguishable from Thursday (p.63).

Markings on loong journey-TimmermanTaken from the essay “Whatever Happened to Sunday?” in Markings on a Long Journey: Writings of John J. Timmerman. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982.

For my previous post from this article, go here (Oct.15, 2014).

Running Toward the Plague: Christians and Ebola

Running Toward the Plague: Christians and Ebola.

Antoine plague-3rd centuryAs the news around the world and in our own country swells with reports of the spread of the ebola virus, I found this brief commentary about how Christians have reacted to plagues throughout history to be a welcome perspective.

Not only is this 21st century plague a sign of our Lord’s coming and the judgment of death He justly brings on sinners (including ourselves apart from His grace!); it is also an opportunity for Christians to show their true colors and minister to their neighbors, believing and unbelieving. Some are showing this already, especially in West Africa.

If ebola came to our neighborhood, would we be willing to do the same? Are we not the only ones who can offer real, abiding comfort and hope – for the living as well as the dying? Something to think about today and in the days ahead.

Here’s a segment of this article; find all of it at the link above.

Between 250 and 270 A.D. a terrible plague, believed to be measles or smallpox, devastated the Roman Empire. At the height of what came to be known as the Plague of Cyprian, after the bishop St. Cyprian who chronicled what was happening, 5,000 people died every day in Rome alone.

The plague coincided with the first empire-wide persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius. Not surprisingly, Decius and other enemies of the Church blamed Christians for the plague. That claim was, however, undermined by two inconvenient facts: Christians died from the plague like everybody else and, unlike everybody else, they cared for the victims of the plague, including their pagan neighbors.

This wasn’t new—Christians had done the same thing during the Antonine Plague a century earlier. As Rodney Stark wrote in “The Rise of Christianity,” Christians stayed in the afflicted cities when pagan leaders, including physicians, fled.

For yet another story and perspective on Christians and ebola, see this Christianity Today story (dated Oct.15, 2014).

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | First Things

A Church for Exiles by Carl R. Trueman | Articles | First Things.

FirstThings-Sept-Oct2014In the most recent issue of First Things (August-Sept., 2014; published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life and dominated by Roman Catholic thinkers and writers – a rather striking periodical for this article) Dr.Carl Trueman (professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia) has a powerful piece on “why Reformed Christianity provides the best basis for faith today”.

The article is titled “A Church for Exiles”, and as Trueman explains, the Reformed faith has all the history, doctrines, liturgy, fortitude and stamina to endure the present circumstances faced now by the church in America, namely, exile from the public square.

You may not agree with all that Trueman states here, but I find his thinking highly significant and relevant to our situation and much in line with our own “world and life view”. There is no idle talk of “cultural transformation” here, based on a “common” grace and common ground with the world. Rather, it is a call for the Reformed church to be solidly and plainly Reformed, as God has called her to be according to His Word.

I give you but a small part of Trueman’s article here; and I strongly urge you to read all of it at the “FT” link above.

 

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.

For Christians in the United States, this is particularly disorienting. In Europe, Christianity was pushed to the margins over a couple of centuries—the tide of faith retreated “with tremulous cadence slow.” In America, the process seems to be happening much more rapidly.

…But of this I am convinced: Reformed Christianity is best equipped to help us in our exile. That faith was forged on the European continent in the lives and writings of such men as Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. It found its finest expression in the Anglophone world in the great Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans of the seventeenth century. It possesses the intellectual rigor necessary for teaching and defending the faith in a hostile environment. It has a strong tradition of reflecting in depth upon the difference between that which is essential and that which, though good, is inessential and thus dispensable. It has a historical identity rooted in the wider theological teachings of the Church. It has deep resources for thinking clearly about the relationship of Church and state.

…We do not expect to be at the center of worldly affairs. We do not imagine ourselves to be running indispensable institutions. Lack of a major role in the public square will cause no crisis in self-understanding.

This does not arise from indifference or a lack of substance, but instead from clarity and focus. Doctrinally, the Reformed Church affirms the great truths that were defined in the early Church, to which she adds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. She cultivates a practical simplicity: Church life centers on the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, and corporate praise. We do not draw our strength primarily from an institution, but instead from a simple, practical pedagogy of worship: the Bible, expounded week by week in the proclamation of the Word and taught from generation to generation by way of catechisms and devotions around the family dinner table.

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