Playlist: The Best New Christmas Music

Be of good cheer: We are in a moment of theologically rich, artistically wonderful recordings.

The Advent and Christmas seasons are filled with more than their share of paradoxes. We raid our basements and attics for the nostalgia of Christmases past as we scour websites to buy the latest gadgets as gifts. As the daylight dwindles (at least in the northern hemisphere!) our belief in what we can accomplish in 24 hours reaches new heights. Meanwhile, recording artists are rushing to release their latest attempt to redefine the canon of seasonal classics. As preparations for Christmas productions reach new frenzied heights, I wonder if any church has ever preached Ecclesiastes for Christmas: “There is nothing new under the sun!” The paradoxes of this season can truly be wearying, but there is also endless wonder to be found in the Incarnation. Artists have been finding fresh creativity in meditating on the coming of the One through whom all things were made.

Songs for Advent

In my circles as a worship leader, there has been a growing eagerness to explore Advent and to explore it as more than just a contemplative season before Christmas. The Worship Sourcebook, a key resource for pastors and worship leaders for years, emphasizes Advent not just as a season of waiting but as one “designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. In Advent, we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us—people who wait for the Second Coming.”

So it makes sense that most churches sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which explores images of Christ from the Old Testament. But the musical repertoire is growing as more artists observe the season. The Welcome Wagon has a wonderful retune of the James Montgomery text based in Psalm 72, “Hail …

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God’s Man, for God’s Work: A Tribute to R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

Ligonier Ministries founder was a category 5 hurricane of declaration, persuasion, and instruction.

It is singularly appropriate that R. C. Sproul would go home to be with the Lord in 2017, the year in which we are remembering Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg 500 years ago. Many thousands of people were introduced to the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul through his book and teaching series “The Holiness of God.”

I first listened to it on audio cassette tapes (which dates me), in which he tells the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. The chapter and lecture are called “The Insanity of Luther.” It is classic R. C. You can listen to it on the Ligonier Ministries website, and you should if you have the chance.

No figure in our generation has done more than R. C. to defend, proclaim, and expound Luther’s insights into the Bible’s teaching on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I have met young people on every continent who readily confess their indebtedness to R. C. Sproul (though they have never met him or heard him in person), through the various media of Ligonier Ministries, books, articles, magazines, audio, video, app, and conferences. He is responsible for introducing a generation to the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the glory of the Gospel of justification by faith, salvation by grace, in Christ alone.

I started reading and listening to R. C. as a teenager. My father, a businessman and elder at our local church, served on a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) denominational study committee with him in the 1980s. Dad was somewhat in awe of him after that experience.

My brother John later worked with him very closely as executive producer at Ligonier Ministries for a number of years. My …

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God’s Man, for God’s Work: A Tribute to R. C. Sproul (1939-2017)

Ligonier Ministries founder was a category 5 hurricane of declaration, persuasion, and instruction.

It is singularly appropriate that R. C. Sproul would go home to be with the Lord in 2017, the year in which we are remembering Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg 500 years ago. Many thousands of people were introduced to the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul through his book and teaching series “The Holiness of God.”

I first listened to it on audio cassette tapes (which dates me), in which he tells the story of Luther at the Diet of Worms. The chapter and lecture are called “The Insanity of Luther.” It is classic R. C. You can listen to it on the Ligonier Ministries website, and you should if you have the chance.

No figure in our generation has done more than R. C. to defend, proclaim, and expound Luther’s insights into the Bible’s teaching on justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I have met young people on every continent who readily confess their indebtedness to R. C. Sproul (though they have never met him or heard him in person), through the various media of Ligonier Ministries, books, articles, magazines, audio, video, app, and conferences. He is responsible for introducing a generation to the authority of Scripture, the sovereignty of God, and the glory of the Gospel of justification by faith, salvation by grace, in Christ alone.

I started reading and listening to R. C. as a teenager. My father, a businessman and elder at our local church, served on a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) denominational study committee with him in the 1980s. Dad was somewhat in awe of him after that experience.

My brother John later worked with him very closely as executive producer at Ligonier Ministries for a number of years. My …

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I’m an Evangelical Ecumenist? What Does That Even Mean?

Working with other believers on common issues

I consider myself an Evangelical ecumenist. Big ‘E’ for Evangelical, little ‘e’ for ecumenist because I don’t follow the classic approach to ecumenism.

To put it another way, I don’t believe in searching for the lowest common theological denominatior in a general statement like “Jesus is Lord.” Actually, Jesus is much more than that. For example, he is “the Son of God,” “the One born of a virgin,” he suffered, died, was buried, and rose again, ascended into heaven, and is coming to judge the living and dead. He is the head of the church, which has pastor/elders and deacons, calls people into covenent membership, and baptizes believers.

That’s too specfiic for many big ‘E’ Ecumenists.

But I am more of an ecumenist than are many Evangelicals. I’ve spoken at the national meetings of 50 different denominations and I train pastors, evangelists, lay leaders, professionals, and church planters from all different denominations.

Some don’t like my ecumenism. I was actually accuesed by one leader in my denomination of being an “Evangelical Ecumenist.” He explained I was “the most dangerous person” in the denomination beucase I was, well, an Evangelical ecumuneist.

I like that.

I mean, the part about being dangerous.

Because that’s the kind of danger that Jesus calls us to— acting like the body of Christ.

When Together Is Better

What my ecumenism means is that I avoid saying that all Christians are the same and believe the same— and I believe they can still have the gospel. Yet, I work with others (even more broadly) on common issues, such as the sanctity of life and issues of justice.

What do the Anglican …

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Friends of Zion’s Christians Walk a Fine Line

Overtures by US evangelicals to Arab churches tested by Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

American evangelicals rediscovered their brethren in the Middle East in recent years. The promise of the Arab Spring, followed by the threat of ISIS. Beheadings and other martyrdoms, followed by forgiveness.

Many decided we must become better friends, and work harder for the persecuted church’s flourishing in the land of its birth.

However, President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is putting that new friendship to the test, as Middle East Christian leaders have almost unanimously rallied against the decision.

Trump’s decision would “increase hatred, conflict, violence and suffering,” said the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in a statement in advance of his anticipated announcement.

The Coptic Orthodox Church warned of “dangerous consequences.” The head of Egypt’s Protestant community said it was “against justice” and “not helpful.”

But the strongest testimony may have come from Jordan, where the national evangelical council pleaded against “uncalculated risks” that “may well expose Christians in this region to uncontrollable dangers.”

Despite these dire cries, many conservative US evangelicals rejoiced in Trump’s announcement. Support for Israel is a longstanding mark of much of the community.

“Evangelicals in the US don’t spend enough time thinking about Arab Christians,” said Joel Rosenberg, a dual US-Israeli citizen who last month led a friendship-seeking delegation of evangelical leaders to Egypt and Jordan. Many were members of Trump’s unofficial faith advisory team.

“People who love Jesus haven’t been talking to each other. But we should.” …

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Johnson Amendment Repeal Removed from Final GOP Tax Bill

Trump promise to let churches make political endorsements blocked by Senate rule.

President Donald Trump’s biggest religious freedom policy promise to evangelicals—repealing the Johnson Amendment—will no longer take place via Republican tax reform.

A Democratic senator announced Thursday night that the repeal included in the House version of the tax bill, which would allow churches and other nonprofits to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include a repeal.

According to Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, the Johnson Amendment repeal was blocked by the Senate parliamentarian. Because of a requirement called the Byrd Rule, reconciliation bills—which are passed through a simple Senate majority—cannot contain “extraneous” provisions that don’t primarily deal with fiscal policy, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Trump made political speech by churches a major part of his president platform, and since taking office has repeatedly brought up his pledge to “totally destroy” the 1954 tax code provision named for Lyndon B. Johnson. Trump saw the Johnson Amendment as a restriction on religious groups’ free speech rights, since it prevents any nonprofit from opposing or endorsing a political candidate—therefore keeping political contributions from becoming tax-deductible.

Democrats have opposed the measure, and Wyden said he was pleased they prevented the repeal and would “continue to fight all attempts to eliminate this critical provision.”

Republican Senator James Lankford, a Southern Baptist and religious liberty advocate, criticized the move to block the measure.

“The federal government …

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Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Years

‘A Christmas Sermon for Pagans’ is quintessential Lewis at the height of his renown. ‘Cricketer’s Progress’ is more of a mystery.

Would you imagine that, with all of the cataloging technologies we have working around the clock, one could still discover unknown articles by a very well-known author? While doing research for my PhD, I discovered two such articles by C. S. Lewis. Although published in the 1940s, these articles have been overlooked ever since and don’t appear in the many lists of his works. The thrill of discovery has brought home a few points (of encouragement) in a time when it sometimes seems as though all the stones have been overturned.

In 2013, I was spending my days pouring over old journals and forgotten newspapers from the early 20th century. I wanted to understand just why Lewis had become a household name in Britain during the height of the Second World War for his Christian writings, and why, in the decades since, it has been Americans, rather than the British, who have continued to relish Lewis’s defenses of Christian doctrine.

On one particular, ordinary day, I made my way to the National Library of Scotland in the Edinburgh rain. I stored my dripping coat in a locker and settled myself among the industrious scholars. It was chilly underneath the fluorescent lights. Someone’s phone was chiming intermittently, disrupting the quiet and concentration. After a while, my back ached from hunching over the delicate pieces of paper spread across the table in front of me. I rose to stretch my legs and consult yet another index of British periodicals in the reference section. This small exertion set my blood moving a little freer through my veins. I took down an unfamiliar volume from a nearby shelf, an index to The Strand Magazine. From what was by then a reflex, I flipped to “Lewis, C. S.” To my surprise, …

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A Letter to the Church from R.C. Sproul (1939-2017), His Theology, and His Work in the Gospel

A faithful servant has entered into the joy of his master.

“We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because he holds tightly to us.” – R. C. Sproul (1939–2017)

Today, a legendary theologian passed into the hands of our heavenly Father. Dr. R.C. Sproul went home to be with the Lord this afternoon. He was 78. You can read more from Ligonier Ministries here.

Probably best known for his books The Holiness of God, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, and What Is Reformed Theology?, he was hugely prolific in his writings, including dozens of critical question short books, longer books, and Bible commentaries. As my friends here at Christianity Today wrote, “Sproul’s legacy lives on in generations of laypeople and Reformed leaders whose theology was strengthened and shaped by Ligonier Ministries, the organization he founded in 1971 to fill the gap ‘between Sunday school and seminary.’”

And Twitter is alight with praises and thanks for his life and ministry. Ronnie Martin, pastor of Substance Church in Ohio, explained Sproul this way:

Thanking God for the life and ministry of R.C. Sproul. What I learned and am learning from him:

1. The truth of reformed theology
2. The awe of God’s holiness
3. The comfort of God’s sovereignty
4. The simple, yet profound depths of the gospel

Forever grateful.

For many of us, Sproul was an early shaper of our theology. I remember listening to cassette tape series like The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, and many more. I actually had every single cassette they released. (Full disclosure, my brother-in-law worked at the ministry so I got them cheaply!)

But to be honest, I would have paid much, much more.

I fondly remember watching him write on the board a list of great theologians …

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Died: R. C. Sproul, Reformed Theologian Who Founded Ligonier Ministries

Late PCA leader influenced generations of Christians by filling the gap “between Sunday school and seminary.”

When esteemed Reformed theologian and Ligonier Ministries founder R. C. Sproul was once asked what he wanted written on his tombstone, he replied cheekily, “I told you I was sick.”

That was in 2015, after the teacher and author’s health declined severely following a stroke. This December, the 78-year-old was hospitalized and forced to rely on ventilator support to breathe. His ministry announced his passing on Thursday.

“His tombstone wouldn’t be able to hold the words of what he’s meant to so many,” tweeted Kansas pastor Gabriel Hughes. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Now great is your reward.”

Sproul’s legacy lives on in generations of laypeople and Reformed leaders whose theology was strengthened and shaped by Ligonier Ministries, the organization he founded in 1971 to fill the gap “between Sunday school and seminary.”

Ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Sproul brought theological education to the masses on his radio show Renewing Your Mind, his ministry’s Tabletalk magazine, over 300 lecture series, 90 books, and dozens of articles.

“Through his teaching ministry, many of us learned that God is bigger than we knew, our sin is more deeply rooted than we imagined, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ is overwhelming,” wrote Ligonier Ministries in a tribute.

The global organization shares 2 million “biblical and theological resources” annually, with hundreds of thousands of students, readers, and subscribers in 105 countries.

“It is hard to overestimate his influence on gospel-resurgent evangelicalism,” wrote Russell Moore, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president.

Sproul was an …

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Yes, 100 Christian Kids Are Being Raised by Muslim Families. Here’s the Actual Problem.

The real threat to foster children in the UK (and the US) lies within our own hearts.

For the past few weeks, headlines in the United Kingdom have been full of outrage over Christian foster children being placed with Muslim families, and vice versa.

It began in August, when The Times of London—one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious newspapers—ran a sensational article about a Muslim family fostering a 5-year-old Christian girl. According to the article, they deprived her of bacon, suggested she learn Arabic, and took away her crucifix necklace.

The Times reported that several of the girl’s caretakers wore a niqab or burka, inferring that “generally indicates adherence to a conservative, Salafi-influenced interpretation of Islam that is often contemptuous of liberal Western values.” The reporter blamed government social services for placing the child without considering her religion.

The story was investigated by a senior social worker and almost entirely debunked: no food had been rejected for religious reasons; English was spoken in the home; and the crucifix was so large and valuable that the foster parents had returned it to the child’s grandmother for safekeeping. The social worker concluded the girl received “warm and appropriate care” while she waited for her grandmother—who is also Muslim—to gain approval to take custody of her.

But the damage was already done. The Daily Mail tabloid followed up with a story detailing the reactive anger of members of Parliament, and The Sun tabloid reported that at least 101 Christian children have been placed with Muslim foster families, while 394 Muslim children have been placed with Christian foster families.

Right-wing extremist groups such as Britain First and the English Defence League jumped …

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