A theologian pondered how we can draw near to the throne of grace and what role prayer plays in this. He thought of a boat that was attached to the shore with a long rope. Once that boat was far out into the sea, the crew began to pull on the line. As the distance closed between land and boat, the sailors might have been tempted to think that they were drawing the land toward themselves. But, of course, the land did not move one inch. Rather, it was the boat that moved as it was steadily pulled toward the land. And just like that, we are to attach our desires to God’s throne with prayer.
Last week I spent an unexpectedly long time in small-town Alaska—in a town that revolves around commercial fishing. If you’ve seen shows like Deadliest Catch, you’ve seen Amaknak Island which forms part of the sprawling Aleutian chain. You’ve seen the town of Unalaska and its harbor, Dutch Harbor. You’ve seen the fleet that heads into the dangerous Bering Sea to fish for crab. You’ve seen the outsized characters who captain these boats and who man them.
We had the interesting experience of spending a couple of afternoons on one of these boats to see how crab is hauled up from the depths (and, later, how it is cleaned, cut, cooked, and devoured). The owners of the boat, a delightful Christian couple, were eager to show us their trade and to answer all of our questions. On Sunday we worshipped with their church as part of our Worship Round the World project. On Monday morning we prepared to head home. And then everything started to get strange.
As morning broke we saw that a deep, low fog had settled in and we learned that every flight to the mainland had been canceled. No ferries run this time of year and there is no other way off the island except to fly, so we would need to wait it out. The fog remained on Tuesday and flights were canceled again. On Wednesday a volcano that had erupted in Russia blew volcanic ash east over the Aleutians and flights were grounded for that reason. On Thursday a volcano in western Alaska erupted and spewed ash west over the Aleutians, once again grounding flights. How the same wind can blow ash both east and west I’ll never know! On Friday the bad weather returned, until finally Saturday was clear enough that planes could once again come and go.
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By Mark Devine — 11 months ago
Looking over the last twenty years, it becomes clear that Keller-movement Evangelicals built platforms, brands, and messages in order to be found winsome by the blue communities they sought to reach. As with the old-line liberalism of Friedrich Schleiermacher, exquisite sensitivity to target audiences will shape the message delivered far more than its deliverers intended.
Tensions churning within the Keller-led Reformed resurgence among Evangelicals eventually found articulation among the movers and shakers themselves. In March of 2021, North Carolina pastor Kevin DeYoung acknowledged that the once nationwide, cross-denominational Calvinist party was effectively over:
On the other side of Ferguson (2014), Trump (2016), MLK50 (2018), coronavirus (2020–2021), George Floyd (2020), and more Trump (2020–2021), the remarkable coming together [of Reformed evangelicals] seems to be all but torn apart…We won’t be able to put all the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together again…
DeYoung accurately identified pressing political realities as key factors in the break-up of the movement. We could add to DeYoung’s list of political flash points: the emergence of critical race theory (CRT), the crisis at the Southern U. S. border, Black Lives Matter, identity politics, and the stunning Biden-supported transgender rights campaign in the nation’s K-12 schools.
More fundamentally, however, are the political sensibilities that precipitated Humpty Dumpty’s fall from his wall. With such a promising start, the movement that put so much stock in being found winsome by its target audience found itself divided over branding strategies that could not please the full spectrum of Reformed evangelicals  Indeed, as a winsomeness campaign targeting blue communities not red, it resulted in a politically-subtle “seeker sensitivity” movement and a church growth model that aimed to please the so-called political party of “compassion,” not “conversativism.” In what follows, I will outline the fruit produced by Keller’s “Third Way,” and I will show how it has impacted Evangelicals.
Keller’s Third Way
Once again, the genesis of this commitment to winsomeness goes back to Tim Keller’s Third Way. As noted in my last essay, Keller encouraged Christian engagement with culture both as the path to clear communication of the gospel and as a necessary protection against compromise of the gospel message through unwitting capitulation to cultural rather than biblical norms. But Keller never called for and never modeled serious engagement with politics. Politics was treated as a dangerous threat to the gospel message and as a temptation to an idolatrous attachment of believers to one political party or to one politician. Accordingly, Keller tried to position his movement between the political parties and above politics writ large in a quest to avoid ongoing responsibility to weigh in on thorny political debates.
The attempt to inoculate his movement from a perceived political minefield appeared in Keller’s first book, the 2008 bestseller, The Reason For God. There Keller outlined for evangelical leaders his so-called “Third Way” whereby Christians could allegedly fly between and above liberal and conservative political loyalties. According to him, Republicans got some things right; Democrats were better on others. Between the two, however, there exists a rough moral equivalence and a freedom to vote as one pleases—or so the argument went.
Nestled in the heart of New York City, Keller’s Third Way appeared to have evangelistic traction in his secular locale. And many young, Reformed evangelicals followed his political example. Unfortunately, Keller’s commitment to winning blue communities with winsomeness broke through his supposed political neutrality. Keller and his followers offered too many reductive caricatures of the political left and right that incentivized critique of conservatives and showed openness to the contemporary social justice movement the Democratic party cherishes.
Keller credits the left with what they want but don’t deserve—the supposed reputation of compassion for the poor and love for justice. He then reductively defines conservatives as primarily concerned with eternal souls, the unborn, and money—a caricature that the left is happy to declare and then impugn. The Third Way means to make it kosher for ostensibly pro-life Christians to vote Democrat while giving an edge to Democrats on the compassion front. Although he identifies as pro-life, Keller recently tweeted, “The Bible tells me that abortion is a sin and great evil, but it doesn’t tell me the best way to decrease or end abortion in this country, nor which policies are most effective.” Really? It is possible that support for the Democratic party might offer “the best way to decrease or end abortion in this country,” when this party not only celebrates abortion on demand at every stage of pregnancy but looks to punish anyone who refuses to publicly celebrate such abortions? I think not!
By Douglas Sean ODonnell — 11 months ago
God has not left us alone. He graciously gives us in his Word his pattern for the good life, offering lessons on discretion, purity, industry, hard work, justice, leadership, and controlling the tongue. To fail to preach Christian ethics is to fail to preach the whole counsel of God.
Focus on the Fear
In his “Introduction to Proverbs” for the ESV Literary Study Bible, Leland Ryken notes that one of the theological themes of Proverbs is “the view of God,” namely, that various proverbs provide a “detailed outline of what God likes and dislikes, values and regards as worthless, and as we contemplate those things, we come to an understanding of God.”1 Put differently, and more specifically, the biblical proverbs as a whole have a Godward goal: the fear of the Lord. As preachers, our job is to focus on that fear.
If we focus on our proper response to God, it protects us from preaching moralistic sermons. Also, with this Godward goal in mind, it is difficult to preach the health-wealth gospel of the popular prosperity preachers. As Arthurs asserts, “Proverbs are not prescriptions for the American dream. They are prescriptions for how to live skillfully in a world created by the sovereign, generous, and fearsome Master.”2 If you are preaching that holy, awesome, powerful God whom you should revere with your face to the ground and sandals off (Eccles. 5:1–7), it is unlikely that you will in the next breath say something that makes you the center of the universe and your best life now the priority.
Preach How to Live
A decade ago, I wrote a book on preaching Christ from Old Testament wisdom literature. I received a one-star review from a pastor who said, “I pity the congregation who sits under this man’s preaching.” Ouch! The reason for that review had to do with that pastor’s hermeneutics. He believed that books like Proverbs taught law, not gospel, and we are to preach them not as commands to keep but as commands that only Christ has kept. Well, I (still!) fundamentally disagree with that theology as it relates to the wisdom literature of the Bible. The wisdom literature, found in both the Old Testament and New Testament, are not ethics to get into the kingdom but ethics for those already in. As Graeme Goldsworthy summarizes, “[The Wisdom Literature] complements the perspective of salvation history . . . [and offers] a theology of the redeemed man living in the world under God’s rule.”3
Douglas Sean O’Donnell and Leland Ryken give pastors tools to better understand the literary nature of Scripture in order to give sermons that are interesting, relevant, and accurate to the author’s intention.
If you fail to preach to Christians the necessity of character formation, you fail to preach proverbs properly. “The real intent” of such literature, states Roland Murphy, “is to train a person, to form character, to show what life is really like and how best to cope with it.”4 God has not left us alone. He graciously gives us in his Word his pattern for the good life, offering lessons on discretion, purity, industry, hard work, justice, leadership, and controlling the tongue. To fail to preach Christian ethics is to fail to preach the whole counsel of God.
Follow the Formula
If you don’t know where to start in heeding the above suggestion, just follow this God-inspired formula. Some proverbs, or strings of proverbs, offer all or a few of these four ingredients: (1) a summons to listen, (2) admonitions, (3) motivation for obeying, and (4) consequences of obedience. For example, Proverbs 4:1–9 combines all four, starting in verses 1–2 with a summons to listen (“Hear, O sons . . . be attentive”), a motivation (“for I give you good precepts”), admonition (“do not forsake my teaching”). It concludes with four more admonitions to “get wisdom” and the positive consequences for doing so: she will keep, guard, honor, and bestow a crown on you. In your preaching, follow that formula.
It is possible, but not recommended, to organize sermons with the structural forms we find in some biblical proverbs. For example, I don’t advise a twenty-two-point sermon on the acrostic poem in Proverbs 31:10–31, or a seven-point sermon based on its chiastic structure. Nor would I recommend dividing the five rhetorical questions (and their one answer!) into your five points. You could do a four-point sermon on the four things that are too wonderful and inexplicable—(1) the way of an eagle in the sky, (2) a serpent on a rock, (3) a ship on the high seas, and (4) a man with a virgin (Prov. 30:18–19)—but it would be a short sermon, I would imagine.
My point is this: where there is clearly structural order that fits a sermonic outline (e.g., the Beatitudes), use the inspired structure. However, a suggested way to preach most biblical proverbs, especially those in the book of Proverbs, is to group verses together thematically.
By Jim Fitzgerald — 2 weeks ago
With this in mind, it’s hard to believe the numbers are exaggerated. In fact, the situation could be much more dire.
The question Evangelicals must answer is this, “Can Christians continue to support Israel’s wholesale slaughter of civilians without losing their soul?” The question should be answered with all haste because a genocide is taking place right before our evangelical eyes. Evangelicals need to come to terms with the reality that the modern nation state of Israel in not biblical Israel. Zionist Israel is a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.
The October 7 attack on Israel was brutal, barbaric, and criminal. On that tragic day, world opinion was squarely behind Israel. That Israel had the right to defend itself after Hamas’s appalling attack was scarcely challenged by anyone. However, it has become increasingly difficult to characterize Israel’s actions since October 7 as self-defense. Over 13,300 civilians have been killed. And alarmingly, 5,600 of those fatalities are children, 3,550 are women, with another 6,000 people listed as missing.
Some Christians want to argue that you can’t trust these figures since they come from the Hamas Ministry of Health. However, by Israel’s own admission they’ve dropped almost 30,000 tons of bombs on Gaza which is one of the most densely populated urban areas on earth. That’s equivalent to two atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima.
Dr Ahmed Sabra, A British cardiologist stuck in Gaza right now while waiting to exit via the Rafah border crossing said in an interview with The Gaurdian, “How can anyone be so heartless as to say the number dead is not accurate. I think the number is understated.” Dr. Sabra, is not alone in his assessment. Many humanitarian workers are making the same claim.
With this in mind, it’s hard to believe the numbers are exaggerated. In fact, the situation could be much more dire.
The question Evangelicals must answer is this, “Can Christians continue to support Israel’s wholesale slaughter of civilians without losing their soul?” The question should be answered with all haste because a genocide is taking place right before our evangelical eyes.
Evangelicals need to come to terms with the reality that the modern nation state of Israel in not biblical Israel. Zionist Israel is a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.
Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, was a 19th century Jew of Eastern European descent who was fully entrenched in the rationalistic philosophy of the Enlightenment. While political Zionists often cloak their nationalistic ideas in religious and biblical language, their own writings demonstrate that they were uninterested in the religious aspects of Judaism. Herzl, along with the other early Zionists who helped to found the nation of Israel, were wholly committed to political Zionism over against Judaism.
As James Gelvin observes, in the minds of the Zionists, one of the greatest achievements of the Enlightenment was that it freed Judaism from the grip of rabbinic dominance. So, Zionism was not primarily a form of religious nationalism. Rather, it was part and parcel of the secular nationalistic fervor that was sweeping across the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Those who think of Zionism as primarily a religious movement in which the Jews believed it was their right and duty to return to their biblical lands are misinformed. In actuality, the early Zionists considered many places in addition to Palestine to form their new homeland including: Argentina, Uganda, and the Mid-Western United States.
Palestine, was not chosen because the Zionists believed that Jews had a biblical right to resettle the land. Rather, it was chosen because the Jewish history in the land would make it easier to recruit other Jews to the Zionist cause. Recruitment was the most formidable challenge that early Zionists had to confront. And that challenge was substantial.
The Ashkenazi (European) Jews had to resort to deception and violence to convince the Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal, and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa to immigrate to Palestine. They used bribery, forgery of documents, and even terrorism to accomplish their ends.
Most of these Jews actually desired to stay in their own countries rather than immigrate to Palestine. However, the Zionists put tremendous political pressure on them to immigrate even using the Israeli Underground to destabilize their communities, and create a climate of fear in their own countries. The Zionists did this knowing that many of these Jews would ultimately lose all their wealth, and all of their assets once they immigrated.
These tactics were deemed necessary by the Zionists so they could establish a critical population mass in Palestine in order for the project to succeed. However, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews were severely discriminated against by the supremacist European Ashkenazi Jews. Even to this day Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews are treated as second and third class citizens in Israel. As a result, they are also more likely to identify and sympathize with the Palestinian people.
It should be obvious that, on the whole, most Jews at that time were not at all persuaded of the necessity of a Jewish state, and many ardently opposed the Zionist project.
In fact, in the early days of Zionism, a group of Rabbis in Munich rejected the idea of a Jewish state altogether on biblical and religious grounds stating that, “The efforts of the so-called Zionists to create a Jewish National State in Palestine are antagonistic to the messianic promises of Judaism as contained in Holy Writ and in later religious sources. Judaism obliges its followers to serve the country to which they belong with the utmost devotion, and to further its interest with their whole heart and all their strength.” Similar statements were made by many Orthodox Jews from all around the world. Indeed, this was the sentiment, not only of Orthodox Jews, but of most Jews at that time.
While not widely reported, Orthodox or Torah Jews still oppose Zionism and call for the peaceful dismantling of the state of Israel. So, it’s important to realize that Zionism, as originally conceived, and as currently practiced, is not primarily a religious project, but a secular nationalistic program. Moreover, it is a militant project.
During the 1930s and 1940s Zionists had three “Hamas-type” terrorists groups: the Haganah group, Irun, and the Lehi group (also known as the Stern gang). These groups committed serial acts of terrorism against the British occupiers, and the indigenous Arab population. They razed villages, bombed markets, hotels, and government buildings killing innocent civilians.
Immediately after receiving its legitimacy from the United Nations in 1947, and after declaring its independence in 1948, Zionist Israel forcibly removed 750,000 indigenous people from their homes and lands. This event is called the Nakba or catastrophe in Arabic.
Forget, for a moment, whether these people are Palestinians or Arabs. We don’t have to go back to biblical times to judge who originally dwelt in this land to determine who has a legitimate right to it by way of inheritance. The people that lived there prior to 1948 were the legal residents of the land under both the Ottoman Empire, and British Mandate Palestine, and they had been the legal residents of that land for multiple generations.
With this in mind, you don’t have to be a biblical or legal scholar to understand that a great injustice occurred in 1948 against the people of Palestine. This process was again repeated in 1967 when 350,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes and land. It seems that nearly every decade since 1948 has had its own Nakba for the Palestinian people, and today 2.5 million Palestinians are confined in an open air prison called the Gaza Strip. Only now, Israel is turning Gaza into a “death camp.”
It’s easy, if not lazy, to accept the official Israeli narrative which says that because Hamas has governed Gaza since 2005 then all Palestinians are responsible for the events on October 7. But upon further inspection, this line of reasoning simply doesn’t add up.
Hamas does not control the ports, the airspace, the fishing rights off the coast, the imports and exports, permitting, small business applications, the influx of food and potable water, the utilities, the boarders, or the checkpoints in Gaza. Israel controls all of these things. Indeed, Israel even controls the collection of rain water in many rural Palestinian territories. So, Hamas cannot be said to govern Gaza in any meaningful way? Gaza, and the Westbank for that matter, are in reality governed by Israel.
Moreover, the civilians in these territories are not only governed by Israel, they are being destroyed by Israel, and Evangelicals in America should be mindful that Christians are dying in Palestine, too.
So, to paraphrase Jesus, “For what shall it profit Evangelicals, if they shall gain the whole of Israel, and lose their own souls?
Jim Fitzgerald is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary in the Middle East and North Africa. His articles have appeared in American Greatness, American Thinker, Antiwar.com, and The Aquila Report.