Can We Finally Break the Silence Around Tamar?

Telling the uncomfortable story of “desolate” Tamar positions us to show a kind of compassion King David didn’t.

For the past year, I’ve been teaching the Book of Samuel to a group of women at my church. We go through it chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and I challenge them to think critically about what they are reading. The Book of Samuel is filled with stories that ask us to grapple with the sovereignty of God and the severity of sin. But perhaps none is so jarring as the story of Tamar and Amnon in 2 Samuel 13.

I’m sure you know it. Amnon, one of David’s sons, violates his own sister and then casts her aside. When her brother Absalom learns what Amnon has done, he tells her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this thing to heart.” Absalom’s shushing and dismissing are certainly vile, but it is David’s reaction that stuns: “When King David heard all this, he was furious” (vv. 20–21).

Furious. That’s it. No public denouncement of Amnon, no vindication of Tamar. No justice, no words of comfort or kindness for his daughter, just impotent, mute anger. David is silent. He takes no action against Amnon, opening the door for Absalom to have his brother murdered in revenge. And Tamar is left desolate.

Why does David’s anger translate into silence and inaction? Because David sees in his sons an amplification of his own grievous sins. David sacrificed Bathsheba to his lust and then murdered her husband to cover his tracks. Now his two sons fulfill God’s prophecy of judgment by committing heightened versions of his own sins within their own family.

David’s guilt renders him silent. Tamar’s plea to Amnon as he overpowers her rings in the ears of the reader: As for me, where could I carry my ...

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Did God Endow All His Creatures with an Appreciation of Beauty?

When it seems the whole world suffers, animals are still offering praise.

There’s no shortage of ugliness in our world. A quick scan of today’s environmental headlines reveals any number of horrors: burnt-out Californian forests, flooded Midwestern plains. It’s hard to pause to appreciate the wildflowers in bloom when dead whales wash ashore with plastic-engorged stomachs on beaches all over the world.

Perhaps it helps to know that when we fail to see the beauty around us, other creatures don’t. Some scientists now believe that animals appreciate beauty for its own sake.

Usually, the first (and most common) purpose ascribed to beauty is its functionality. Beauty can alert us to healthfulness or the presence of fertility, a useful and vital role in producing healthy offspring. In this scientific view, beauty serves no other purpose than as a genetic signpost.

But another potential exists. Some scientists recently proposed that beauty in the natural world might sometimes exist just for aesthetic purposes. In his book The Evolution of Beauty, ornithologist Richard Prum suggests that some animals may appreciate beauty outside of any reproductive purposes and may choose mates based on an aesthetic sense alone, a phenomenon known as sexual selection. He cites the laborious process a male bowerbird undertakes when building his bower, or nest. “The bower serves no physical purpose other than as a location where courtship takes place,” he says, indicating that this artistic demonstration is meant solely for the female bowerbird’s aesthetic enjoyment.

Jeff Schloss, a professor of biology at Westmont College, said in an interview that Prum’s theories have further inflamed an “ongoing debate” in the scientific world. Schloss, who studies the evolution ...

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One-on-One with Justin Schell on Being Under-Gospeled and Finding God as He Is

"We must learn to enjoy Christ, to see the clear sunbeams of the heart of God the Father, shining on us."

Ed: How long have you been involved in Lausanne International, and what is your current role?

Justin: I have been serving as director of executive projects for the past five years. Our CEO, Michael Oh, recruited me when he was preparing to take on leadership of the Movement.

Ed: Tell me about your current roll and what you do.

Justin: I help design and launch new initiatives within the movement. In that process, we determine what the end goal is and how to get there. We wrestle over: who else needs to be at the table with us? Who needs to speak into this initiative? With whom should we partner?

Typically, it also means building a team or recruiting a long-term director for the initiative, and seeing it through to launch. Every project is different, which makes it both fun and frustrating. I've gotten to help launch recent initiatives like Lausanne Global Classroom, Younger Leaders Generation and initiatives within that, and am now working on an initiative to see affordable, robust theological education made available to anyone, anywhere. Pray for me and for Lausanne.

Ed: Tell me about the gospel and the church in your part of the world.

Justin: After serving on the mission field, I am now in Tulsa, OK. Tulsa is in need of reformation. The leadership of my church here often says that, as a city, it is "over-churched, but under-gospeled."

Being in the Bible Belt, it’s common to see men and women looking for salvation in all sorts of places – usually drastic departures from the living, good, triune God and the faith we find in Scripture.

Some confuse Christianity with being American – a cultural Christianity. So, you get a politicized, ethnocentric faith. Others have been taught that Jesus wants to make ...

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Only Half of Kids Raised Southern Baptist Stay Southern Baptist

Analysis: The bigger factor behind the SBC’s decline isn’t the struggle to gain new converts; it’s keeping their own.

By now, Southern Baptists recognize that their movement is in a decline that shows no signs of changing course.

By their own measures, they’re not adding as many new believers to their flocks each year—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) went from baptizing 321,000 in 2007 to 246,000 last year.

Plus, despite adding more than 10,000 more cooperating churches over the past couple of decades, church attendance across the denomination is also dropping.

In 2006, the SBC had 16.3 million members, now that’s down to less than 15 million, according to the denomination’s most recent Annual Church Profile (ACP).

Outside surveys have also tracked the decline. New findings released this year show the Southern Baptist trajectory more closely resembles the downward trend among the United Methodist Church (UMC), the nation’s largest mainline Protestant body, than fellow evangelicals in non-denominational traditions.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), nearly the same percentage of Americans identified with the SBC as the UMC in the 1980s, then the two denominations’ trends began to separate, and both experienced a slow, steady decline from the mid-’90s on.

While close to 1 in 10 Americans identified as Southern Baptist in 1987, that number has been cut in half to 1 in 20 (4.8%) in 2018. Data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) reinforces this point as well, with 5.4 percent of the sample identifying as SBC.

There are four major ways for a religious denomination to change in size over a longer period of time: They add members through conversions, they keep those born into the faith as they grow up, they shed members through people defecting to other religious traditions, ...

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How Can Today’s Pro-Life Christians Build Trust in the Movement?

Four leaders share their vision for what demonstrating pro-life convictions really looks like.

The recent debates over anti-abortion legislation advancing in states like Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia—some of the strictest bans in the country, seen as precursors to efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade—put the pro-life movement on the spot.

Critics have pushed back against what they perceived as a pro-life position to uphold life by barring abortion but offering little other support for struggling women and families. That’s a common counterpoint from pro-choice advocates, and it’s a stance convicted pro-life Christians aren’t satisfied with either. There is far more to a biblical and moral defense of life and dignity than a political position on abortion.

CT asked four pro-life leaders to share how they believe Christians can build trust in the movement in the face of current critique, cynicism, and challenges. Their responses appear below.

Kelly Rosati, consultant, foster care advocate, former Focus on the Family vice president:

We must walk our talk and care about all life, born and unborn. If we are as serious as we say we are about saving the lives of unborn children, we must come to terms with the reasons for women’s abortion decisions. At the top of the list are two glaring ones Christians could help change: an inability to care for dependents and an inability to afford a baby.

Well-meaning Christians often point out the great work of pregnancy resource centers and churches with outreaches to abortion-risk women. That work is fantastic, but those involved will be the first to tell you it isn’t even close to enough to support the needs of all the women in the US facing an abortion decision. They need what all moms need: sufficient food and clothing for their children, access to ...

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Southern Baptists Down to Lowest in 30 Years

While giving is up, membership, baptism, and church numbers continued to drop in 2018.

A boost in giving—up to $11.8 billion total—and major church growth in Texas was not enough to fend off more than a decade of declines among the Southern Baptist Convention last year.

The nation’s biggest Protestant denomination isn’t as big as it used to be, according to its Annual Church Profile (ACP), released today. Membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018—its first time below 15 million since 1989 and the lowest it’s been since 1987.

“Facts are our friends, even when the facts themselves are unfriendly,” said new Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Adam Greenway. “Heartbreaking to see these ACP declines. We must do better as Southern Baptists. God help us.”

Compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources, the ACP is based on self-reported data from about three-fourths of SBC churches, so it’s not a comprehensive picture but is still used to capture overall trends in the denomination. For more than 10 years, the trajectory hasn’t looked good.

In 2018, baptisms dipped by 3 percent, not as dramatic as the previous year when they were down 9 percent. Overall, Southern Baptists’ namesake practice has reached a historic low of 246,000 baptisms a year—around how many people were dunked by the denomination back in the 1940s, when it was less than half its current size.

“Like many, I am discouraged to see 7,000 less baptisms this year,” said J. D. Greear, SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church, in a statement to CT. “It is the Lord who saves, but this information should spur us on even more to be intentional in evangelism.”

The slight increases in worship attendance and total number of churches in the previous ...

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Getting Married? Some Resources and Humor to Get You Started Right

7 helpful resources provided by my audience on Twitter.

I haven’t officiated a wedding in over a decade—no, scratch that, maybe more. But I’ve just committed to performing one.

Look out, newlyweds!

So, needless to say, I found myself needing some updated pre-marital counseling resources. I took to Twitter hoping to gather insight and found some of the responses rather… comical!

Some of the suggestions included:

  1. Make them listen to one another eat a bowl of cereal…if they can do it, they’ll be fine.
  2. Please talk about thermostat temps. Our premarital counseling completely skipped this crucial issue!
  3. Have couples try assembling a piece of IKEA furniture together.
  4. Make them watch each other load a dishwasher.
  5. Have couples define when they consider a tube of toothpaste to be empty.
  6. Find out if one of the pair is a “snooze button” person.
  7. Send the couple canoeing.
  8. Have them butcher chickens together.
  9. Make the couple take a road trip together with a cellphone-jammer in the car.
  10. Have them figure out which way the toilet paper goes on the reel.

Silly though they may be, I think these responses actually provide us with some important insight. When couples are preparing for marriage, it’s easy to assume that only the big stuff really matters. It’s a given that a couple’s faith convictions, big picture life goals, and expectations for raising a family should line up but other factors are often seen as non-essential.

I think we can all agree that how a person assembles furniture or loads a dishwasher is hardly ‘essential’ to a good marriage. But what we see here is that the little stuff—seemingly insignificant lifestyle choices and daily decisions—are also important to the foundation of a healthy partnership.

That’s ...

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The Gospel Calls Us to Perfection, Not Perfectionism

Holiness is a hard challenge. The key is surrender, not striving.

I’ve been called an overachiever. In elementary school, I considered a B-plus an abject failure, and I was updating my résumé before most kids could spell the word. I used to return my high-school boyfriend’s love letters to him spellchecked—in red ink. A journalism colleague once predicted that given where I was at age 25, my next career move would be a midlife crisis.

You don’t have to be a congenital perfectionist like me to have a problem with perfectionism. Nor must you demand flawlessness in every part of your life. Perfectionism is simply an addiction to control and a refusal to accept imperfection in some human endeavor. Looking at our culture today, I’d say a whole lot of folks suffer from that.

What other common thread links today’s Tiger Moms and Helicopter Coaches, work martyrs who won’t take their vacation days, and exercise addicts who anguish over missed workouts? What connects our soaring rates of pharmaceutical addictions and eating disorders, our escalating levels of anxiety and depression, our epidemic of credit card debt, and the explosive popularity of cosmetic surgery? Many factors contribute to these trends, yes, but a key driver is our demand for perfection.

For believers, spiritual perfectionism is an equally pervasive and insidious problem. It’s dangerous precisely because so many of us mistake it for a virtue. Spiritual perfectionism is that same obsession with control and flawlessness transposed into our relationship with God. It’s rooted in the lie that we can earn God’s love and work our way to heaven. Most of us know better than to think that out loud, and yet we often live like we believe it.

Over the years, I’ve learned ...

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As Violence Escalates in Burkina Faso, Family of Slain Missionary Keeps Serving

Mike Riddering died in the attack that brought about a new era of terrorism in the West African country. Now his relatives are working to bring about revival.

Burkina Faso used to be one of the most peaceful nations in the world. The small West African country of about 19 million people has seen a handful of coup d’etats over its short life, not unlike many of its neighbors, but is consistently ranked among the most conflict-free nations in the world, according to the Global Peace Index.

But that changed quickly just a few years ago when Islamist violence began to surge, starting with a shocking attack in Ouagadougou, the nation’s capital. On January 15, 2016, 28 civilians were killed by terrorists who opened fire at a cafe and then a hotel across the street. Among them was 45-year-old US missionary Mike Riddering.

Since the attack that killed Riddering, the violence has skyrocketed. There have been 230 attacks in three years, killing 65 people last month alone. In just an eight-day span starting in late April, gunmen killed 10 people in two separate attacks on Catholic worshipers and six people in an attack on an Assemblies of God church.

Islamists—including a coalition of al-Qaeda affiliates—are gaining momentum in the region. Earlier attacks, including the one that killed Riddering, were focused more generally on civilians. But World Watch Monitor (WWM) reported last week that the violence is becoming more focused on Christian villages and churches. A spokesperson for the Federation of Evangelical Churches and Missions told WWM that several pastors near the country’s border with Mali have fled the area and that a handful of churches have closed down.

Riddering’s family has followed the surging violence closely. His older brother, Jeff, and sister-in-law, Tammy, plan to move to Burkina Faso this summer to continue Mike’s ministry.

The recent ...

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Strangers in the Land of Startups

A US missions agency is changing the way Spain’s tech hub engages its influx of migrants.

An entrepreneurial hub on the coast of southern Spain houses more than 600 global companies in shiny, modern buildings, with rows of palm trees reflected in walls of windows. The Andalusia Technology Park, or Parque Tecnológico de Andalucía (PTA), is a bit like the country’s version of Silicon Valley. It includes tech startups, multinational companies like Oracle and Accenture … and a 90-year-old US-based missions agency called Christar.

Christar’s international team left its Dallas-area headquarters two years ago for this tech park in Málaga, Spain, eager for the chance to engage social innovation opportunities alongside the public sector. But God had another mission in store for them.

“It’s the best time zone in the world to connect with the rest of the world, there’s a good international airport, and the cost of doing business is no more than doing it in Richardson, Texas,” said Brent McHugh, who became the team’s director in 2013 and oversaw the move to Málaga.

The popular tech park’s business and innovation center was also looking for ways to develop social corporate responsibility, so McHugh hoped to partner with their tech-minded global neighbors—most of whom had no other exposure to evangelicals.

But just as Christar was getting settled, the refugee crisis was in full swing, with thousands of migrants pouring into Europe from the Middle East and Africa. While the continent initially welcomed these newcomers, within months key ports of entry began shutting down. By 2018, the new country of choice was Spain, coming straight through Málaga.

“I pulled back from day-to-day refugee ministry—then God decided to provide ...

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Court Rules Against Gang Members-Turned-Evangelists

Ex-members say they’re uniquely equipped to reach gangs. Former Latin Kings continue to fight Illinois restrictions they believe hamper their right to share the gospel.

Two sets of brothers—Elias and Saul Juarez and Ruben and Oscar Sanchez—said they just wanted to minister to gang members and help the men they worked with leave this lifestyle behind. But they blame an anti-gang lawsuit in their home in Elgin, Illinois, for holding up their work for nearly a decade.

Last week, an Illinois appellate court rejected the brothers’ claims that the state had infringed on their religious freedom rights while enforcing the Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act (STOPA).

The case began back in 2010, when the city of Elgin sued more than 80 alleged members of the Latin Kings, trying to undermine the gang with a measure that authorized police officers to detain and search any gathering of two or more gang members.

Among the targets of the lawusit were Elias Juarez, Ruben Sanchez, and Oscar Sanchez—ex-members of the Latin Kings—as well as Saul Juarez, who was never in a gang. According to their attorney, the suit impeded their ministry by preventing them from organizing events like an anti-gang parade and outreach to warn young people about gangs.

The Juarez and Sanchez brothers argued they were also barred from sharing their faith with existing gang members without fears of being arrested. They claimed that the lawsuit violated the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act by restricting their ability to evangelize.

But the court last Monday concluded otherwise: “The lawsuit here did not constitute a substantial burden on defendants' religious exercise. … Defendants were still able to communicate their faith to Latin Kings gang members after the complaint was filed in this case.”

Oscar Sanchez claimed that the lawsuit had prevented him from ...

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