A Look at Notable 2017 Publications

TEDS President offers his annual list of best books

As we move closer to the conclusion of the 2017 calendar year, it seems like a good time to look back at some of this year’s important publications. It is impossible to keep up with the ever expanding number of books that are published each year and I make no claims to have surveyed all the possibilities for inclusion on this list. I am thankful for the opportunity once again this year to share these reflections with you.

Looking for the Right Gift

If you are looking for an inviting book to give as a Christmas present, please allow me to suggest God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Proverbs by Tim and Kathy Keller (Viking). Similarly, I am delighted to draw your attention to an extraordinarily helpful guide on John’s Gospel, John 1-12 For You, by Josh Moody (Good Book Company). I would also heartily recommend Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like without Christianity by Jeremiah J. Johnstone (Bethany House). The subtitle provides the introduction to this insightful volume. Another highly readable volume is the work by Trevin Wax, This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel (B&H), which I gladly recommend.

Collin Hansen is to be commended for putting together a most engaging edited volume called Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor (Gospel Coalition). Another splendid book to add to this list is the insightful work by Alan Jacobs, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds (Currency). Trillia Newbell’s children’s book, God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story of God’s Delightfully Different Family (Good Book Company), will make a nice gift for young families. She has also written a terrific book with the …

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Bolivia Makes Evangelism a Crime

Evangelicals are ‘deeply worried’ about socialist government’s changes to the penal code.

This coming Sunday, evangelical churches in Bolivia will observe a day of prayer and fasting in the wake of their socialist government introducing potentially severe restrictions on religious liberty.

“Whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom, or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalized 5 to 12 years of imprisonment,” reads article 88.1 of the mountainous South American nation’s new penal code, authorized December 15.

Changes to the code also permit abortion during the first eight weeks of pregnancy and expand punishment of “recklessness, negligence, malpractice” in all careers—worrying professionals from doctors to journalists.

The changes were approved several weeks after Bolivia’s Constitutional Court lifted term limits, allowing President Evo Morales to run for office indefinitely.

“It is deplorable that Bolivia becomes the first Latin American country to persecute the rights of freedom of conscience and of religion, which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the declaration of San José de Costa Rica, and our Constitution,” the National Association of Evangelicals in Bolivia (ANDEB) stated when the changes were introduced.

The code “is imprecise, ambiguous, badly written, contradictory, and its punitive power can constitute state abuse,” ANDEB later stated after the changes were approved. Bolivia’s population is 77 percent Catholic and 16 percent Protestant, though Morales, the Andean nation’s first indigenous president, has been walking the country back from its official Catholicism since 2013.

“Will they denounce …

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How ‘Oh Happy Day’ Gave Gospel a New Beat

A tribute to the legendary composer, singer, and pianist Edwin Hawkins.

The first time I heard Edwin Hawkins and the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day” was in June 1969 in base housing at Itazuke Air Base outside Fukuoka, Japan. Every day, I’d race home from school and turn on Armed Forces Radio to tune into the 30-minute block of rock-and-roll.

At first listen, I was mesmerized by Hawkins’s sound. Oh, wow. I loved it. I was hooked.

Growing up in the Air Force (my father a career officer), I was surrounded by gospel music. Unlike the other services, the Air Force was integrated upon its founding after World War II. Our friends and neighbors were African Americans, playing Mahalia Jackson (of course), the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Pilgrim Travelers, and the rest. Their music became the soundtrack of my life.

But the Sensational Nightingales never sounded like this. “Oh Happy Day” had that throbbing, stuttering, 4/4 beat, the syncopated “He taught me how” section, the low, throaty voice of Dorothy Combs Morrison (which set me up for Mavis Staples, who I wouldn’t hear for another year or two once we’d returned stateside). It didn’t sound like the Top 40 radio I’d been used to.

Oh, I’d been hearing soul music on Top 40 for some time—Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave … all of whom had deep gospel roots. But this was gospel gospel. On the radio. I fell hopelessly in love with it and trotted down to the Base Exchange (BX) every day until the 45 finally arrived. I still have it, too.

Hawkins never had another Top 40 hit, but he had a long and successful career in gospel music, helping revitalize the gospel choir sound, making choirs cool for kids again.

When he passed on Monday of …

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One-on-One with Scott Breslin on Embracing Our Priestly Nature at Work

There is innate dignity to every occupation and job a Christian might do.

Ed Stetzer: What was the reason for writing Embracing Our Priestly Nature at Work?

Scott Breslin: I wrote the book to help rekindle the notion of the priesthood of all believers in a way that was both theologically sound and practical for ordinary Christians. There are many teachings out there on the theology of work, but very few demonstrate the link between our theology of work and our priestly identity.

Knowing that every follower of Jesus has a God-given priestly mandate adds an important degree of clarity to our role in life and gives innate dignity to every occupation and job a Christian might do. At the core of every follower of Jesus exists a priestly DNA, designed by God to be a prominent part of our self-identity. However, like a slow burning ember, our priestly nature risks remaining obscure and inconsequential unless fanned to life. This book was written to be that fan.

Ed: Why do you feel this book is necessary/critical for the global missions movement right now?

Scott: I believe it will take the whole Church to reach the whole world. It will certainly take much more than missionaries, pastors, and evangelists.

If God’s people don’t embrace their priestly identities in ‘secular’ work places, I cannot imagine a scenario where the peoples of the earth will ever be reached. The job is just too large. We need to remember that the gospel is not simply a message that can be transmitted digitally around the world via electronic media, although that is also important.

In almost all cases, God’s kingdom advances via the presence of human agents (i.e. priests) on the ground. It is a job too big to be delegated to mission organizations alone… there are just too many unreached. The unreached …

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Sometimes Our First Step in Evangelism Is Not Jumping in with a Gospel Presentation

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Sometimes Our First Step in Evangelism Is Not Jumping in with a Gospel Presentation

Kerilee Van Schooten, Church Evangelism Research and Ministries Coordinator at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, talks to us about what it means to simply listen and be present when we enter into certain conversations. It can be difficult to just sit and be with someone in pain, but sometimes, that’s what God calls us to do. After we’ve done that and demonstrated our care and love, God just may open up doors to gospel proclamation.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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Why I’ve Spent Half My Life Helping North Korea

Despite political and military tensions in the region, the director of Christian Friends of Korea is committed to medical ministry.

North Korea’s recent decision to participate in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics comes at a time when the country has arguably never been more isolated from the West. Recent actions and counteractions between the United States and North Korea have led to unprecedented tensions in a long-strained relationship. The State Department issued a travel ban that forced about 200 Americans working there to leave before it went into effect, and more recently, the United Nations initiated new sanctions against the country.

Despite the risks and restrictions—some of which have been ongoing for decades—American Christians have found ways to minister to North Koreans in need. For some, it means teaching young people at the evangelical-founded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. For Heidi Linton, who serves as the director of Christian Friends of Korea (CFK), it means serving gravely sick North Koreans.

CFK describes its mission as sharing “God’s heart of love and grace to the North Korean people primarily within the context of tuberculosis and hepatitis.” “These are both very serious diseases in North Korea that affect hundreds of thousands—probably millions,” said Linton, who has been working in the country since the mid-1990s.

Linton, along with her American team members, must now secure special validation passports to continue working in North Korea. She spoke recently with CT about her family’s long connection to North Korea, her personal relationships with citizens of the closed country, and the role Billy Graham played in catalyzing CFK’s work.

To what extent has fear factored into your work?

How can you avoid fear when it comes to North Korea? That said, I …

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What Persecution Is, and Isn’t, and How to Respond to Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List

Our misuse of ‘persecution’ disrespects believers for whom any public reference of their faith could mean death.

Having just come out of the holiday season, many of you will likely remember recent rhetoric surrounding a certain conflict—one that some have called the “war on Christmas.” For those of you who aren’t aware or haven’t heard the news, some Christians felt they could not wish others “Merry Christmas” or were feeling disrespected when some would wish them “Happy holidays” instead of their preferred “Merry Christmas.”

Perhaps for perspective we should instead read Open Door’s 2018 World Watch List.

Just this past Wednesday, the organization released their annual report, which ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Among the worst of the worst were North Korea and Afghanistan, which claimed the first and second spots, respectively.

According to the list, the two were nearly tied. Pakistan scored highest in terms of incidents of church or church building attacks, abductions, and forced marriages. The rise of intense persecution in central Asian countries, as well as Hindu and Buddhist nationalism in other parts of the continent, were also noted by the report.

But we mustn’t overlook another important facet of the report—one that gives us a picture of the kinds of persecution our brothers and sisters in Christ experience on a day-to-day basis: during this most recent reporting period, Open Doors found that 3,066 Christians were killed, 1,252 abducted, 1,020 raped or sexually harassed, and 793 churches attacked because of their expressed faith in Christ.

Persecution isn’t something we just read about in history books. It’s unfortunately alive and well—a tragic, yet very real, occurrence for many Christians …

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Simone Biles, #MeToo, and How Christians Must Respond

This is a problem we all must address.

Just tonight, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles joined the chorus of women who’ve bravely brought their stories of abuse into the public light. Biles, 20, made this announcement detailing the ways her former team doctor, Larry Nassar, abused both her and other teammates.

#MeToo, it seems, continues on, as it should until every story is heard and each and every church becomes a place of healing and restoration for all who have been treated as anything less than worthy of one made in the image of God.

We’re living in a time of confession—one focused on openness and honesty about the ways women have been abused and mistreated. This only comes after decades spent trying to deny truth and sweep exploitation under the rug.

Much of this started with one of the most shocking news stories this nation has seen in years—a story about one man’s desire to conquest not just one, but multiple unwilling women. Over the course of his career as a Hollywood mogul and movie producer, Harvey Weinstein took it upon himself to sexually harass and assault countless female coworkers and acquaintances.

Common Factors

Although the list continues to grow, many have already come forward to speak and share their stories about their encounters with Weinstein. Despite the differences between these women, several common descriptors can be used to characterize Weinstein perpetrators and his victims.

First and foremost, these encounters were exploitative.

Many victims of Weinstein and others are often young women forced to ward off approaches made by much older, aggressive men. Regardless of age, however, exploitation happens all to frequently and should be forcely condemned by all of us.

Women are not resources to exploit.

The exchanges were …

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Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., and Having a Dream

Lessons from the life of Dr. King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day—a Monday dedicated each year to celebrating the legacy of a man who labored tirelessly for racial equality.

As the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, I’ve naturally taken particular interest in a certain relationship: that is, the friendship between Rev. Billy Graham and Dr. King. Graham spoke of this friendship in a press conference he gave in Bonn, Germany, in the spring of 1970. He remarked on King’s work, arguing that as a social reformer, his goal, ultimately, was to fulfill the same mission Graham worked towards—just through different means. (Be sure to read his actual words.)

Graham’s point, especially in today’s cultural context, is a critical one. Mission is a broad term, and is more than gospel proclamation alone. The message of Christ’s love and redemption is always at the heart of the work we do, certainly. But that doesn’t mean that all our day-to-day work looks the same.

Martin Luther King Jr. worked, among other things, to free African Americans living in the United States from the oppression of segregation. He worked day and night speaking, writing, and organizing events and groups of leaders with the goal of doing justice for those who are oppressed.

King ultimately dedicated his life to this cause because he had a dream—but not just any dream—a mission that led to a dream.

Our engagement of issues of race remind us that Jesus came not just to save those with a certain skin color, but every tongue, tribe, and nation on earth. His love wasn’t ‘color-blind’ because different colors didn’t scare him. His love, poured out on that old rugged cross, was for all people. …

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Why Chile’s Churches Are Under Attack as Pope Francis Visits

Evangelical and Catholic churches targeted by radical members of a largely Christian indigenous group.

Today vandals in Santiago, Chile, firebombed three Catholic churches just ahead of Pope Francis’s scheduled visit to the South American nation on Monday.

Notes left at the scene warned that “Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe,” and indicated members of the Mapuche indigenous group were responsible.

The Mapuche originate about seven hours south of the capital city, where radical members have burned down 27 Catholic and evangelical churches in the past three years.

Responsibility for the attacks is claimed by an extremist group called Weichan Auka Mapu. It leaves behind messages with demands, such as the release of Mapuche prisoners or the return of Mapuche land which it says was taken by the Chilean government in the 19th century.

A high percentage of Mapuches now identify as Christian: 55 percent are Catholic, and 32 percent are Protestant. But for others, Christians are still seen as invaders complicit in the government’s actions.

Of the 20 churches burned down between 2015 and 2016, 12 were Catholic and 8 were Protestant. In 2017, a further 7 have been torched. These churches also served as schools, meeting places, and shelters for those fleeing natural disasters. Many belonged to the poorest sectors of the poorest region in Chile, and were attended by Mapuches themselves.

The leader of an Assemblies of God church burned down in July recalled the moment his attractive wooden church—built 15 years ago using money raised by church members—was reduced to ashes.

Juan Mella, who is also head of the local pastors’ council, said the event demonstrated an intolerance among the Mapuches.

“Each human being can have their own views with regard to faith, spirituality,” he …

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