‘The Leftovers’ Explores the Fallout of a Godless Rapture

As it enters its third season, the acclaimed drama continues to take a long, hard look at our responses to loss.

A few years ago, a close friend of mine—a youth minister on his way home from a mission trip—died in a tragic car accident. His wasn’t a martyr’s death, nor a long-fought battle against illness. It was swift. The call to pray for him came at 11 that night, and a couple of hours later came news of his passing. My prayers (or lack thereof) felt meaningless, his death purposeless. My friend was gone, and I’d been left behind.

For the Christian, death is never final. Paul himself euphemizes the death of saints as “falling asleep,” and death is filled with purpose as those in Christ await resurrection on the Last Day. Such hope and truth, however, may be difficult to believe for the friends and family left in the wake of death’s throes. It is the tension of the now and not yet, of knowing spiritual truth but wrestling to believe it—a whisper of doubt that asks, “What if there is no purpose in loss?”

Such is the case in the HBO series The Leftovers, created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (the latter of whom also penned a novel by the same name). Now in its third season, The Leftovers is about a Rapture-like event in which two percent of the world’s population disappears. This “Sudden Departure” happens swiftly, and is a seemingly random, meaningless event void of the spiritual significance found in popular Christian accounts of a Rapture. There is no logical or spiritual reasoning that can make sense of the disappearances. Children and parents, sinners and saints—all disappear, with no discrimination based on morality or innocence.

The premise may seem like a scoff and mockery of the popularized Christian end-times narrative—a Rapture …

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Missions Mapmaker Folds Due to Donor Shifts

In today’s landscape, Christians are less likely to give to support agencies than straight to missionaries.

Global Mapping International (GMI) will close its doors on June 30, more than three decades after it began as a two-year global mapping project.

“We thought we’d get it done and disband in two years,” GMI president and CEO Jon Hirst told CT. “Then we realized the monumental nature of gathering information for the Great Commission was essentially never-ending, and that led to GMI becoming a third-party independent research organization supporting the global church.”

Long before Google Maps, GMI began as an innovative way to support the church, helping foreign missionaries become more effective with custom maps, infographics, and other resources. This week, the organization announced that its outdated funding structure, underscored by a changing approach to mission, will force it to close.

GMI relied too heavily on donors who would rather see them lean on service and product pricing for revenue. “Donors now tend to come out of the business world or entrepreneurial environments,” Hirst said. “They look at GMI and say, ‘We love what you do, but you should be charging ministries for that.’”

“The easiest way to describe what happened is that research costs a lot of money to do well, and it was always dramatically subsidized,” he said. “When we tried to make the transition to multiple revenues streams, we couldn’t make it quickly enough to stay sustainable.”

The organization is best known for its work on the resources in Operation World and for producing mission infographics. Over the past 33 years, GMI also pioneered digital mapping, researched Christianity in India, and taught many missions organizations how to conduct research.

“In …

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When Failure Isn’t an Option: How to Press Forward in Sharing Jesus Even When We Stumble

Failure and repentance secure for us a more ample conception of the grace of God.

When I was in college, one of my InterVarsity leaders introduced me to the book Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. Even though it was published in 1967, the guidance I found in those pages changed my life.

One summer break, when I was back home with my family, I found the same book on my father’s shelf. Like many college kids, I was sure that I knew more than my parents. So you can probably guess how surprised I was to learn that my father and I had both been shaped by the same writer! All these years later I still find direction and wisdom in that dog-eared copy my father passed to me.

Chapter 15 is titled “Searching Tests to Leadership,” which Sanders lists as compromise, ambition, the impossible situation, failure, and jealousy. Recently, I was reflecting on his comments about failure:

If we could see into the inmost hearts of many men whom we think are riding on the crest of the wave, we should experience some great surprises. Alexander Maclaren, the peerless expositor, after delivering a wonderful address to a large gathering, went away overwhelmed with a sense of failure. “I must not speak on such an occasion again,” he exclaimed, while the congregation went away blessed and inspired. Allowance must always be made for the reaction which comes from the rebound of the overstrung bow. Nor can we ignore the subtle attacks of our unsleeping adversary.The manner in which a leader meets his own failure will have a significant effect on his future ministry. One would have been justified in concluding that Peter’s failure in the judgment hall had forever slammed the door on leadership in Christ’s kingdom. Instead, the depth of his repentance and the reality of his love for Christ …

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Dispatches from Baylor: Let Women Lead

We see female professors excel when the people around them support their callings

“A ploughshare is a nobler object than a razor. But if your natural talent is for barbering, wouldn’t it be better to be a barber, and a good barber—and use the profits (if you like) to speed the plough? However grand the job may be, is it your job?”

Harriet Vane, a fictional character created by Dorothy L. Sayers in Gaudy Night, posed this question during a college reunion at Oxford in 1935.

A former classmate, the “outstanding scholar of her year” who “had married a farmer and everything had gone wrong,” reasoned that despite her own difficulties, farming and marriage was “a finer thing than spinning words on paper.”

We can almost hear Sayers’ voice in Harriet’s response. “Look here! I admire you like hell, but I believe you’re all wrong. I’m sure one should do one’s own job, however trivial, and not persuade one’s self into doing somebody else’s, however noble.”

Simple yet profound. Women should do the job to which they are called.

I love Gaudy Night. I loved it even before I realized what a progressive argument it makes about female vocation. As a first-time reader, I was so absorbed with the story that I didn’t pay attention to the author. I was oblivious to how Harriet Vane mirrored controversial moments from Sayers’ own life, including the unhappy end of a long-term relationship and an illicit sexual affair. She also mirrored her exceptional aspects, such as Sayers’ degree from Oxford and her professional success as a single woman outside the hallowed halls of academia.

It wasn’t until I taught Gaudy Night that I really began to understand the implications of its argument: that women …

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Is Orality Really Effective in Sharing the Gospel?

o·ral·i·ty: the quality of being spoken or verbally communicated

Increasing numbers of church and mission leaders are beginning to pay more attention to the orality movement that has emerged over the past 40 years. Some would say that the movement is one of the most significant breakthroughs that has taken place in the church/mission world over the last 500 years. Others have said that it’s changing the face of missions around the world.

These are bold statements and may seem to be overstatements or exaggerations. However, those who have been involved with or observed the movement over any length of time usually agree that God is in fact doing remarkable things in this time of history through the movement.

An interesting phenomenon we often observe is the creativity and innovation that the Holy Spirit gives to those who are properly trained in orality-based methods and strategies. There is an increased recognition of the multiple applications of the concepts, principles, and practices of orality. The mission/purpose statement of the International Orality Network is “Influencing the Body of Christ to make disciples of all oral learners.”

In other words, the ultimate objective in the Great Commission is communicating the gospel to everyone, everywhere, and making disciples among all people groups. That is introducing people to a vital relationship with the Living God and nurturing them to become reproducing followers of Jesus. An important consideration is doing so in ways that are biblical, international, cross-cultural, and reproducible.

On our learning journey in the orality movement, we are discovering many aspects and applications of orality methods and strategies. A very significant feature is simplicity and reproducibility. Actually, orality-based methods are the most …

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Adam and Eve Can’t Save Your Marriage

What Bruce Feiler’s reading of ‘the first love story’ leaves out.

I’ve often wished for a book to hand to wives and husbands preparing to walk out on their families. I could have used half a dozen copies this year. I picked up Bruce Feiler’s The First Love Story: Adam, Eve and Us with hope. Maybe this was it!

Feiler is the best-selling author of nine books, including Walking the Bible, an account of a 10,000-mile journey retracing the steps of the Hebrew patriarchs. He’s widely recognized as an expert on religion and family, and has hosted two PBS series, Walking the Bible and Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler. His most recent book was The Secrets of Happy Families. The topic of marriage, then, was a logical next step.

I began the book with enthusiasm. What a fabulous idea! To harness the power of perhaps the most famous story in the Bible and employ it as an apologetic for the enduring kind of love that God desires in all marriages. Indeed, this is Feiler’s aim: to offer an antidote to our culture’s love affair with pleasure and narcissistic romance.

The need for the book is obvious. Feiler doesn’t waste much space reminding us of our pitiful state, including the staggering number of marriages that end in divorce. Recent challenges of online pornography, polyamory, technology, and a pervasive individualism all threaten our already fragile unions. Under this onslaught, Feiler asks, “Are there any values, lessons, or stories worth preserving?” Which lands us in Genesis, in the Garden, ready to take notes from the first couple.

A Radical Re-reading

Feiler anticipates yawns of irrelevance. He spends a lot of time disproving such charges, tracing our ongoing conflicts—from equal pay to household chores to same-sex marriage—all the way …

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Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?

The age of the Internet has birthed a crisis of authority, especially for women.

Today’s post by Tish Harrison Warren launches a two-month series on the state of women’s discipleship in evangelical America. As evidenced by a recent Twitter discussion, the conversation continues to spread and split into what scientists call a dendritic—a series of branching pathways that resemble a tree or a nervous system. In this case, we have a series of interconnected (and very complicated) questions related to women’s ministry, social media, platform, race and ethnicity, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and ecclesial authority and accountability.

Rather than contain the conversation in one piece, we’re offering a multiplicity of voices on various topics that all intersect at the nexus point of women’s discipleship and the church. Each piece will seek to illuminate the topic from a unique perspective and also interact with ideas posited by previous pieces (even in the form of hearty disagreement). We hope in sum that the series challenges, encourages, and inspires women to, in Warren’s words, “build and shape institutions larger than ourselves” in light of the gospel.
—The editors

The rise of the blogosphere in the early 2000s yielded the genre of the “spiritual blogger.” From the comfort of their living rooms, lay people suddenly became household names, wielding influence over tens of thousands of followers. A new kind of Christian celebrity—and authority—was born: the speaker and author who comes to us (often virtually) as a seemingly autonomous voice, disembedded from any larger institution or ecclesial structure.

Just as the invention of the printing press helped spark the Protestant Reformation and created a crisis of authority, the advent …

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Kendrick Lamar’s Duel with Damnation

The influential rapper’s latest record is all about our fear of being condemned.

Last week, rapper Kendrick Lamar released his highly anticipated third major label album, DAMN. As with all his past releases, critics and fans have been buzzing about Kendrick’s lyrical deftness, musical prowess, and pointed social commentary. Increasingly, however, these conversations have also been centered on the interweaving of his Christian faith into his complex musical narratives. While his first two albums (2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city and 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly) explore Kendrick’s experience of God’s grace through justification and sanctification, all 14 tracks of DAMN. wrestle with anxiety over salvation’s assurance, exploring Kendrick’s fears of condemnation in this life and damnation in the next.

As part of a wave of high-profile, religiously influenced rappers that includes such artists as Kanye West and Chance the Rapper, Kendrick’s not alone in exploring faith-based themes. (Indeed, even modern artists are participating in a long tradition of religious sincerity in mainstream hip hop that includes artists like Tupac, DMX, Lauryn Hill, Mos Def, Mase, A Tribe Called Quest, and many others.) These artists’ approaches to theme and content vary widely; Kanye, for example, spoke of his The Life of Pablo as “a gospel album with a lot of cussing,” while Chance filled his Coloring Book with the sounds of Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, and Chris Tomlin to encapsulate his story of coming to faith.

Kendrick, meanwhile, consistently envelopes his narratives of hope and despair within overtly Christian language and theology. Good kid, m.A.A.d city, for instance, dealt with his salvation experience from the temptations of the streets of Compton (gang violence, …

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For the First Time, Russia Ranked Among Worst Violators of Religious Freedom

USCIRF annual report expands countries of particular concern.

Russia’s ongoing crackdown on religious minorities, foreign missionaries, and evangelists has earned it a spot among the worst countries in the world for religious freedom.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which flags religious freedom violators for the State Department, listed the former Soviet state among six new Tier 1 “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its latest annual report, released Wednesday.

It is the first time in the commission’s almost 20-year history that Russia has made the list. A total of 16 countries currently hold the CPC designation, and another dozen are being reviewed as Tier 2.

Russia is the only country whose repression of religious freedom has intensified and expanded since USCIRF began monitoring it, officials said. The report dedicated seven pages to its problematic policies, from the “persecution of religious minorities in the occupied areas of Crimea and Donbas” to recent moves against non-Orthodox Christians in its heartland.

Last week, Russia’s Supreme Court officially banned Jehovah’s Witnesses nationwide after several years of blacklisting their materials and shutting down regional centers.

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to religious freedom is being eliminated through a flawed application of this law,” which labels the pacifist organization an extremist group, said Thomas Reese, USCIRF chair and a Catholic priest. The commission recommended the US government urge Russia to amend the law to add criteria preventing it from being used against peaceful groups.

Additionally, the commission wants to see more pressure put on Russian officials over repressive application of other laws, including …

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The Skeptical State of Bible Reading in 2017

Two surveys examine who studies Scripture, who doesn’t, and why.

For the most part, Americans have positive things to say about the Bible. More than half call it a good source of morals (52%). About a third say it’s helpful (37%), true (36%), and life-changing (35%), according to a new LifeWay Research survey.

Even more told the American Bible Society (ABS) and Barna Group that they believe it’s the actual or inspired word of God (81%).

But a growing segment— 19 percent in 2017, up from 10 percent in 2011—say it’s simply a book of teachings and stories written by men.

That group has remained fairly stable in recent years (17% in 2013, 19% in 2014, 21% in 2015, and 22% in 2016). So this year for their State of the Bible report, ABS and Barna asked the people in that category a new question: If you think the Bible was written only by humans, do you think it was meant to be manipulative or controlling?

Almost 4 out of 5 skeptics said yes, which adds up to 13 percent of the US population. (A similar number of Americans told LifeWay that the Bible was bigoted (8%) or harmful (7%).)

ABS and Barna labeled them antagonistics. They used the same tag in 2013 for the entire group of skeptics, but then reconsidered.

“’Antagonistic’ may too strongly pigeon-hole those who have not yet embraced the Bible,” Geoffrey Morin, ABS chief communications officer, told CT then. “The new categorization, ‘Bible Skeptics,’ is both more accurate and more hopeful.”

But this year, the survey broke the group in two, and found a marked difference between the resulting 32 percent that remained “skeptics”—those who believe the Bible was not divinely inspired, but neither was it written with the intent to manipulate—and the 68 …

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