Bethel Music and Bieber Sang It. But Do We Really Believe in ‘Reckless Love’?

Worship experts weigh in on the theology beneath Cory Asbury’s chart-topping hit.

Bethel Music’s Cory Asbury hit it big with his song about the “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

“Reckless Love” reached No. 1 for Christian airplay last week, with more than 10 million listeners, according to Nielsen Music.

It’s also back at the top of Billboard’s hot Christian songs chart, thanks to a boost from none other than Justin Bieber, who recently posted a clip of himself singing the chorus on Instagram before performing the song as part of an impromptu worship set during the Coachella music festival in California. Earlier this year, Israel Houghton offered his gospel cover.

But when worship songs make it big, they also get subjected to a degree of theological scrutiny, and some have questioned whether the message of the hit song misrepresents the nature of God’s love.

“A lot of people have asked why I use the word ‘reckless’ to describe the love of God,” Asbury said in a Bethel Music promo. “I see the love of God as something wild, insane, crazy. The way that he pursues, chases us down, loves, I believe, is reckless. We were going after that really furious, violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God.”

Back in the ’90s, Rich Mullins sang about the “the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.” Similarly, in the worship song “Furious,” Jeremy Riddle, also of Bethel Music, describes God’s love as “furious,” “fierce,” and “wild.”

About a decade ago, Christians were debating John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” over the line “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” More recently, concerns …

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One-on-One with Sam Chan on Evangelism in a Skeptical World

The essence of evangelism is the gospel message—true for all peoples, all places, and all times.

Sam Chan, a practicing medical doctor and a public evangelist with City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia, recently wrote Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News about Jesus More Believable. Below, I talk with him about his new resource.

Ed: Why a book on evangelism?

Sam: Deep down, every Christian wants to tell his or her friends about Jesus. But we also know just how unbelievable the gospel—about a man called Jesus, who is both God and human, who died and rose again 2000 years ago—can often appear.

And we know that our world has changed so much in the last 10-20 years. Our world is so post-Christian, post-churched, and post-reached, that widely accepted methods of evangelism, though once effective, don’t seem to work so well anymore.

As a result, Christians are caught in a hard place. We feel guilty for not telling our friends about Jesus. But at the same time, we feel helpless to do anything about it.

Well-meaning Christian leaders might say to us, “Simply tell your friends about Jesus. Just do it!” But we know that it’s not as simple as that.

Ed: How does this book tackle the task of evangelism?

Sam: I figured that we are now so post-Christian, post-churched, and post-reached that we may as well treat our world as unreached. We’ve turned the full circle!

I wondered how missionaries would bring the gospel to our 21st-century Western world. So I borrowed from what I learnt in my missiology classes—contextualization, cultural analysis, storytelling—and applied it to evangelism in our contemporary world. And voila, out popped this book called Evangelism to a Skeptical World!

Ed: So what are some of the secrets to evangelism in today’s 21st-century …

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Interview: Rosaria Butterfield: Christian Hospitality Is Radically Different from ‘Southern Hospitality’

It has nothing to do with entertainment—and everything to do with addressing the crisis of unbelief.

Before Rosaria Butterfield became a popular Christian author, she was a tenured professor at Syracuse University, a lesbian feminist fighting to advance the cause of LGBTQ equality, and an unlikely convert. In 1999, her life intersected with the gospel of Jesus Christ through a friend’s radically ordinary hospitality. From hating Christians to becoming one, the transformation took place slowly and outside a church pew when the church came to her. In Butterfield’s newest book The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post Christian World, she articulates a gospel-minded hospitality that’s focused not on teacups and doilies, but on missional evangelism. Writer Lindsey Carlson spoke with Butterfield about opening hearts and front doors to our neighbors.

You advocate a kind of hospitality that steers clear of teacups and doilies. How does radically ordinary hospitality differ from what most people think of as “Southern hospitality?”

First of all, it is not entertainment. Hospitality is about meeting the stranger and welcoming that stranger to become a neighbor—and then knowing that neighbor well enough that, if by God’s power he allows for this, that neighbor becomes part of the family of God through repentance and belief. It has absolutely nothing to do with entertainment.

Entertainment is about impressing people and keeping them at arm’s length. Hospitality is about opening up your heart and your home, just as you are, and being willing to invite Jesus into the conversation, not to stop the conversation but to deepen it.

Hospitality is fundamentally an act of missional evangelism. And I wouldn’t know what to do with a doily if you …

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5,000 Pastors Rally to Defend Housing Tax Break Ruled Unconstitutional

Appeal: Exemptions do more than just save pastors $800 million a year.

When a pastor responds to late-night prayer request or invites congregants to his home for Bible study, is he just doing his job or going beyond the call of duty?

That’s not a question for the federal government to decide, according to the Chicago-area pastors and churches appealing a 2017 ruling that declared tax breaks for clergy housing costs to be unconstitutional.

The lawsuit over the longstanding benefit, launched by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) seven years ago, has entered another round of appeals. The Christian defendants, represented by Becket, filed their written appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals late last week.

Last October, the lower court judge sided (for the second time) with the atheist group’s claim that the tax-exemption for housing allowances violates the First Amendment. The pastors’ appeal makes the opposite case: that the special provisions for ministers actually keep the government from unnecessarily meddling in religious affairs.

More than 5,000 pastors from across the country have already signed on to an Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) campaign defending the exemption. The legal team expects several Christian groups, including ADF, to file supporting documentation—amicus briefs—this week, the next step before the case goes to court later this year. (Pastors have until the end of the day on Monday to sign on to the ADF brief at ministerhousing.org.)

“The district court’s decision would … have devastating practical effects on ministers and communities across the country,” reads the opening brief from Becket, a legal team defending religious freedom cases. “For over a century, churches and ministers have relied on these …

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The Moral of Moral Failings of Christian Leaders

The character of Christian leaders is in question. We need to ask why and work for change.

The past few months (and if we are honest, the past few years) have been hard for Christians, and evangelicals in particular. I’ve felt it myself as I’ve had to deal with some good friends confess to failures, and the aftermath that has occurred in their wake.

It’s certainly been much harder on those directly hurt, but it’s impacted many of us.

My love for Christ and his church, and the calling he has given all of us—not just leaders—to represent him well and live lives of integrity has pushed me into places of grief as of late.

When Donna and I were in California in March, we had lunch with Rick and Kay Warren after church. We talked about a Saddleback conference from 2010 where Rick, Kay, and I spoke. Since that conference, about half of the speakers have stepped down from the churches they were serving due to some personal issue.

Half—in eight years.

That’s not right, but it is real.

And, it requires some self-reflection.

Secrets Come Out

One of my best friends recently resigned due to a “morally inappropriate relationship.” He’s still my friend, but before we were friends in ministry, and now we are friends in lament.

One is too many, but there have been far too many moral failures in a world where Christians often claim to be guardians of morality.

Sometimes it’s been more than a moral failure. Sometimes it is an abusive situation, as I’ve written about often. And, it is there where the church needs to stand with the victims—and we have seen that all too often they do not.

Yet, Luke 8:17 of the New Living Translation says this: “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought …

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Willow Creek Promises Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Bill Hybels

“We are sorry,” elder board says as more women claim misconduct.

Last night, Willow Creek Community Church made a promise to its members following the early departure of its founder and senior pastor, Bill Hybels.

“Even though Bill is no longer in his role, our work to resolve any shadow of doubt in the trustworthiness of [Willow] is not done,” the church’s board of elders told members in a Friday evening letter. “With the benefit of hindsight, we see several aspects of our past work that we would have handled differently, and we have identified several areas of learning.”

Last week, Hybels retired six months early after 40 years as pastor of Willow Creek, calling recent allegations against him a distraction for the megachurch and its ministries. Hybels denied any wrongdoing. He did admit regretting that he first responded to the allegations with anger.

Yesterday, the elders similarly expressed regret in the way the church handled the allegations.

“We have at times communicated without a posture of deep listening and understanding,” they wrote. “We are sorry that at times our process appeared to diminish the deep compassion we have for all those involved in these matters.”

Likewise, the elders said they would work on “strengthening the relationship of accountability with our church leaders.”

“Bill acknowledged that he placed himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid,” the elders wrote. “We agree, and now recognize that we didn’t hold him accountable to specific boundaries.”

The elders also said they wished they had worked harder “to collaborate with all parties,” and promised to “methodically examine our church culture, enhancing policies and informal practices …

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One-on-One with Brian Stiller on “From Jerusalem to Timbuktu”

The gospel springs into life and people are transformed.

Ed: What led you to write From Jerusalem to Timbuktu?

Brian: North America media promotes the perception that the church is slowly dying. But in my travels, I see amazing communities of faith. In Latin America in 1900, there were 50,000 evangelicals. Today, there are over 100 million. In China, when Communism took over in 1949, there were about 700,000 Christians. Today, estimates range from 80 to 140 million. So, I asked, “Why? What brought about this enormous leap?”

My curious nature led me down paths of surprises.

Ed: What surprised you most in your research?

Brian: The biggest one was the contemporary role of the Spirit in witness and ministry. Ed, you and I and our generation have lived with a common reference to, and understanding of, the person and work of the Spirit, be it Reformed or Pentecostals.

What I did not see was that prior to 1900, the Spirit seemed to be caught in the shadows of the Father and the Son. There were periodic outbreaks of Spirit empowerment through the centuries, but not an understanding of how the Spirit gifts and empowers us for ministry and service. This breakout in the early 1900s changed the church.

With ministry no longer confined to pastors and evangelists, the laity discovered the Spirit was in them and that they too could exercise gifts of ministry. When this became more common knowledge, it rippled across the world, and the church has not been the same since.

Ed: Does one person or movement stand out for you?

Brian: When I was a young teenager, a South African names Nicholas Bhengu spoke in our church in Saskatoon. I had never heard such preaching, He was an evangelist who built deeply into his own land, creating an indigenous church plant that spread through the southern part …

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Jesus, Take the Control Wheel: Southwest Pilot Saw Flying as Ministry

Fellow Texas Baptists cheer on Tammie Jo Shults, who heroically landed Flight 1390 after engine failure.

BOERNE, Texas (BP)— When members of First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas, heard recordings of radio transmissions from a Southwest Airlines pilot who made a harrowing emergency landing this week in Philadelphia, they recognized the voice as one of their own.

Tammie Jo Shults—the pilot who guided Flight 1380 to the ground April 17 after a midflight engine failure shot debris through a window, killing one passenger—is a recognizable figure at the Texas Hill Country church, which averages 900 in worship. She has led the children’s worship program at First Baptist and taught Sunday School for children, middle schoolers, high schoolers and adults, said Staci Thompson, a longtime friend and administrative assistant in the church office.

“When we heard the voice” in media replays of cockpit recordings, “it was just like talking on the phone. That’s what she sounds like,” Thompson told Baptist Press.

The church was “impressed” but not “shocked,” Thompson said, at reports Shults, 56, landed the plane safely after a 20,000-foot drop in six minutes, then walked down the aisle hugging passengers. The plane was bound from New York to Dallas, and seven of the 144 passengers aboard were injured in addition to the one fatality.

Social media reports by surviving passengers hailed Shults as having “nerves of steel” and being “a true American hero.” One passenger told The Dallas Morning News, “I specifically said to her, ‘Do I get a hug too?’ She said, ‘Of course, I wouldn’t let you by without a hug.’”

Shults’ “biggest goal” amid the emergency landing and subsequent media coverage, Thompson …

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My Son’s Down Syndrome Showed Me the Real Imago Dei

It didn’t look at all like I thought it did.

For the majority of my theologically trained life, my ideas of what it meant to bear the image of God were quite conventional—easy inheritances from systematic theologies or books. We can love because God is love. We have the capability to reason; God is the one in whom no irrationality is found. Our personhood originates in God’s being a person. We exercise will; God is volitional. We’re creative; our God is the Prime Creator. We are creatures of language; God is Logos, the God who speaks.

Our most foundational doctrines are often the ones we build most shabbily on. But the basics were there. That we are made in the image of God is the doctrinal tenet by which Christians understand what it means to be human. Marshaling the claim from Genesis 1:27 that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them,” supported by the weight of the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 11:7, Eph. 4:24, James 3:9), Christ followers maintain that every person bears the imago Dei.

Then I met my son Augustus, who was born with Down syndrome. Gus overturned the assumptions of my theology.

Looking at versus Looking Along

Until then, to my mind, intelligence, rationality, and language were measured against a standard of competency. Those most capable of demonstrating these characteristics best bore the image of God.

But Gus, with his protruding tongue, floppy frame, and inarticulate attempts to speak, posed new questions. What about those who would never reason or speak at an exemplary level? How do people with Down syndrome—how would my boy—carry the imago Dei? Looking at the image of God solely through the steely eyes of doctrine had left me with a sort of astigmatism. Life had now offered me …

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Gleanings: May 2018

Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our May issue).

Supreme Court hears pregnancy centers’ plight

The US Supreme Court will decide in June whether pregnancy resource centers in California must post notices advertising state-funded contraception and abortion, or whether the state requirements violate their free speech. During the oral arguments for National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra in March, justices appeared critical of how the state law may unfairly target pro-life centers. They will also issue in June another First Amendment ruling in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the case of the Christian baker who refused to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Turkey: US pastor faces life sentence on terrorism charges

A year and a half after detaining American pastor Andrew Brunson on what US officials believe to be erroneous terrorism charges, Turkey finally issued an official indictment and began court proceedings this spring. Brunson, an Evangelical Presbyterian who spent 23 years in ministry in the majority-Muslim nation, faces a sentence of life in prison. He is among hundreds accused of conspiring with exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen to overtake the Turkish government in a 2016 coup. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has called on the White House to secure Brunson’s release.

Austria: Iranian Christian refugees stranded by US

A group of about 100 refugees from Iran spent over a year in Vienna, Austria, awaiting resettlement in the United States, only to learn their applications had been denied under stricter requirements set forth by the State Department. Most of those stranded came from heavily persecuted communities of Armenian and Assyrian Christians; they hoped to reunite with family members …

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