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On April 3 and 4, 2018, in Memphis, Tennessee, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition hosted a special event titled “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” to reflect on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s tragic death. Jackie Hill Perry delivered this talk during the event. The next generation, I imagine, will be one worth watching. A week or so ago, the largest youth protest since Vietnam took place when thousands of youth from across the nation used their voices to speak out against violence, gun violence, and to speak for gun control. Generation Z, as they’ve been called, has already begun to champion what matters most to them with a passion and conviction that I would think they must have learned from the generations before them. Many of them have seen the protests against police brutality, done by folks maybe a decade or so older than them. They have seen the bent knee during a national anthem and understood it to be a revolutionary act. They have watched their Twitter timelines fill up with a 180-characters-worth of honest and grieving words. Words that have stirred in them a desire to be just as loud for what is right as the silent are being for what is wrong. This generation has learned some things from us. Well, some of us that is. Some of us may not have been alive to get close enough to the windows to see a sit-in in action at a segregated lunch counter. We weren’t there to wave as the Freedom Riders rode past us, resolute in their mission even if it meant that they might die on their way home. Some of us weren’t old enough to watch as Martin and others walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. But when we found out about it, it did something in us. It taught us that to care about injustice is to do something about it. To put ourselves in harm’s way even if that means peace for my neighbor that this work, this work of loving our neighbors and making sure others will do the same, ain’t always comfortable. But by example they’ve shown us that it’s worth it. When it comes to the generation before us, we’ve learned some things. But there are some of us that have learned other things. Some may not have been there to hear the sound of a body swinging back and forth on a tree, the cracking of the branch and the laughter of the ones that made the noose. You might not have been there in the pews when the deacons made sure the colored folks sat in the balcony as not to sit too close to the white parishioners as they heard the preacher tell them that all this segregation that’s going on was the will of Almighty God. Some of you in this room probably weren’t old enough to see all that the generation before you did. But don’t think that in some way you haven’t been taught by it. Taught to not take the death of a brown body serious even when it swings, or should I say retweets, in front of your face. Taught to stay seated in your pew while oppression happens all around you. Taught not in words, usually, but by living, that this work, this work of loving your neighbor and making sure others do the same, doesn’t belong to you. Taught that because your beautiful baby boy can walk down the street with Skittles and tea in his hand when no one threatened by the color of his skin that the privilege of safety means that you are exempt from caring about the price of black pigment. Oh, surely we have learned some things. The generations are always teaching by example. If you read the Book of Ezekiel before, you’ve come across a passage that speaks to this idea of generational teaching. We find the prophet Ezekiel addressing the elders of Israel. God has a message for them, but first he wants to give them a little history lesson. He reminds them about how he rescued the people of Israel out of Egypt, with the promise that he would then bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey. But on the way, as we all do, they started tripping. They, in more ways than one, disobeyed God. And as judgment, God relegated them to a 40-year stay in the wilderness until the entire generation that left Egypt was dead. But while in the wilderness, the disobedience didn’t cease. They continued to walk in unbelief toward God with their idolatrous ways. But eventually, as God said would happen, each one of them perished until the younger generation was the only generation left. And Ezekiel 20:18, God tells the elders about what he told the children that were left and he says: And I said to their children in the wilderness, do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor keep their rules, nor defile yourselves with their idols.I am the Lord your God, so walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you.That you may know that I am the Lord your God. But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes, and were not careful to obey my rules by which if a person does them he shall live. Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations, and disperse them through the countries because they have not obeyed my rules, but have rejected my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. During the 40 years in the wilderness, these children had learned some things. They’d seen some of their parents worship the gods of Egypt. They remembered when their mothers removed the gold earrings out of their ears and watched them turn them into golden calves. They were there when their father slept with the women of Moab and when their family sacrificed to a god named Baal, a god they knew was not the God of Israel, but a god that they thought was more worthy of their worship than the one who took them out of slavery. These children grew up in an environment where the people of God had an allegiance to all sorts of idols and lived by all kinds of statutes that they’ve created for themselves. So, when it was their turn to obey God, when they heard the command of God to walk in his statutes and to obey his rules, the only footsteps they chose to follow were the idolatrous feet of their fathers. And for all we know, they probably thought that generation knew best. Because clearly seeing each and every person in the generation prior to them drop dead in the wilderness wasn’t enough proof that God was not to be played with. The children of Israel had learned some things. Don’t you find it troubling that the letter, a letter from a Birmingham jail, a letter Dr. King wrote in 1963 to Christians, white Christians to be specific, contains in it the same frustrations being voiced to our white brothers and sisters today in 2018? The letter is 55 years old and yet this generation has not fully improved upon the beliefs and the behavior of the prior. The urgency of justice is still being questioned. The hearts of many brown and black believers are still disheartened as their brothers and sisters, the brothers and sisters that they share pews with, who seem to be so unwilling to pursue authentic peace, authentic peace that includes the presence of justice and not the peace that prefers the absence of tension. How could it be that one generation can progress so much and yet be so similar to the generation before them? And all of us, we can see it is because the generations are always teaching in all of us and one way or another have followed in somebody’s footsteps. If we want to equip the next generation for gospel diversity, we have to start here. Our methods have to be modeled if we expect for them to be followed. But we cannot and will not model what we don’t believe. And guess what? Your children, your mentees, your disciples, the people in your children’s group, your youth group, they are learning from you even if you don’t know yet. They’ve seen who you invite over for dinner. They’ve heard how you pray for your country. And some have never heard one plea for the peace of a black mother whose son was killed in a backyard. Or a petition to a God on behalf of a Hispanic teen who was terrified that she would be deported from the one home that she has always known. They are watching who you watch. They are listening to who you are learning from. If there is any indifference in your heart toward gospel diversity, you better know that your indifference will be to them a norm to which their world views will be shaped. But just as the next generation can learn some negative things from us all, because God is in us, with his help we can do what some of our fathers didn’t do. Why? Because we are a chosen race. We are a royal priesthood. We are a holy nation. We are a people for his own possession that we may proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We must show the next generation what it’s like to be a part of a chosen race. A chosen generation. A generation made up of people that are white, and brown, and black, and every other color that God has made for his glory. A generation of folk that God has brought to himself. A generation of people that may have some bad blood inside of their bodies because of sin and their different upbringings, but a generation that will fight for the oppressed in America and beyond, just like the God of Israel fought for the oppressed in Egypt. Let the next generation see what a royal priesthood looks like. How a people who’ve been anointed by the Spirit, sanctified by God, and brought near to his throne through the Son, show them how they move about the world. Show them what a living sacrifice looks like and how it’s not a lamb or a goat, but a body, and bias, and comfort, and fear, and lovelessness, and pride, and privilege, and how this priesthood lays it all down on the altar to be burned before God, so that we can show the new generation what real worship looks like. Show them a holy nation. Show them a nation among many, but a nation under one God and with liberty and justice for all. And don’t get it twisted. This holy nation ain’t America, it’s the church of God. It’s the bride of Christ. It’s a nation whose king was a Jewish man killed by an unjust government as ordained by a sovereign God. This nation looks different than the rest because it’s governed by a God that is good, and holy, and wise, and just, and merciful, and empathetic, and dignifying. And as this holy nation lives among others, the generations will see what it looks like when your ultimate allegiance is King Jesus. Show them what it looks like to be a peculiar people that belong to God. We don’t really belong to this country. We don’t really belong to a political party. We don’t belong even to our economic status. Heck, we don’t belong to this world. We are a people for his own possession. And when we believe that, when we believe that we belong to God, we will live completely free from the statutes and the rules that these identities impose on us. That way, we will love not according to what makes us similar, but we will love in accordance to our Savior if only we would just be who we are. The next generation would learn some things. They would learn something glorious. They would learn about God in us. They would know that the people of God love differently than the world. That the people of God embrace diversity because that’s what God would do. And that’s what God has done. The next generation would follow in our footsteps and then they would come to realize that as they did, they were actually following Jesus, and not a God made in America’s image. They would come to see that as you set your mind on things above where Christ, he is seated at the right hand of God, the place he went after he did what was just and right, the seat he sat down on after dying and raising on behalf of people, that he died [to purchase] for himself [a people] from every tribe, tongue and nation. They would see that because you set your mind up there where he is, that they can, too. When we set our eyes on Christ instead of setting our eyes on our fathers’ idols and everything else that keeps us from gospel diversity, you can be sure that is when we begin equipping the next generation for gospel diversity. You can listen to the episode here or watch a video. View the full article
Small towns and rural areas across the world need churches; they won’t be reached with the gospel by default. And many such places in the United States are growing increasingly secular—churches are dying faster than new ones are being planted. While it’s right to highlight the need to plant churches in large, growing urban centers, we would be mistaken to assume that the gospel will automatically “float downstream” from big cities. If we don’t intentionally give ourselves to seeing churches planted in rural communities, then it won’t happen. But this is not an easy task. Many aspects of rural life go against the grain of our glory-hungry dispositions. Life and ministry in small towns probably won’t win you a large following. You probably won’t grow a big church. You probably won’t receive much recognition. And it will probably be hard. But if you choose to plant a church in a small, forgotten part of the world, you will have the life-giving opportunity to say, with John the Baptist: “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). What small towns need is men and women willing to count the cost and plant churches that faithfully proclaim the gospel in their communities. We need leaders who have a concern for the glory of Christ in the forgotten corners of the earth. One such brother is Will Basham, who I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today. You can listen to this podcast episode here. Related: The Left Behind of Rural America (Collin Hansen and Stephen Witmer) Move Slowly in Small-Town Ministry (Dayton Hartman) The (False) Promise of Small-Town Community (Brett Moser) View the full article
After years of watching the prosperity “gospel” advance in America, Africa, and beyond, a backlash is coming—one grounded in the Word of God and the gospel of grace. It’s thrilling to see. The new documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone, directed by Brandon Kimber, takes aim at this scourge. America has always been a pragmatic, can-do kind of country, and the film argues that the material focus of the prosperity “gospel” suits American culture. In offering this searing critique, which applies not merely to “them” out there but to us (for many of us love money and ease more than we might be comfortable admitting), Kimber first establishes what the true gospel is: good news centered in the finished work of Christ. Standing in the place of sinners like us, Jesus has absorbed the perfect wrath of the Father and made a way out of hell and into heaven. When we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior by God-given faith, we are instantly justified and counted righteous in God’s sight, the very merit of Christ’s now being our own (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 5:1–2; Eph. 2:8–9). Numerous evangelical theologians and pastors comment on this truth in the film, together building a clear and potent case for faith in Christ. True Stories of True Faith American Gospel traces the stories of real Christians whose lives have intersected with prosperity teaching in some way. One woman sobs as she recounts how health-and-wealth teaching ripped her life apart, piece by piece, until she had nothing. The film also introduces us to Katherine Berger, a woman suffering from numerous dreaded illnesses—one after another, it seems—who nonetheless radiates bright faith in God. Also prominent in the film is Costi Hinn, nephew of faith-healer Benny Hinn. Costi served on his uncle’s team as a “catcher” who witnessed apparent miracles around the clock. His testimony—soon to release as a book—takes us into the seamy experience of the faith-healer, an enterprise that preys on the poor and suffering to enrich the flush and covetous. The moment that crystallizes the shameful nature of faith-healing comes when Costi discusses how Benny Hinn would (and does) “heal” people with minor ailments. When it came to terminally ill children and other sufferers facing profound challenges, the “healer” refused. This was the first jarring note in Costi’s young life that eventually led him out of prosperity religion (and that’s what it is—a different religion than biblical Christianity). American Gospel does not hold back; the camera pans back to the outer boundaries of auditoriums at Hinn crusades, where desperate parents cradle diseased children, ignored, unwanted, and unhealed. We watch this, and we hear Justin Peters testify to this experience personally, and we cannot help but feel both sadness and righteous anger—Christ’s own anger. The money-changers are still in the temple, still making God’s name a mockery. This is an exact parallel of what Jesus did not do. He did not enter the ministry to make money. He did not work in the name of God to be popular and liked. He did not heal those who could do anything for him. Rather, he came to the physically and spiritually poor and made eucatastrophes of them all—not only addressing their bodies but, in many cases, saving their souls. He was not in it for himself; he was in it for the Father’s greater glory and the sinner’s true salvation. “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Sadly, Christ’s name is invoked by “faith healers” like Hinn and others whose ministries don’t reflect him. Call Your Skeptical Friends American Gospel succeeds in its mission. It shows the spiritual and even eternal stakes of prosperity religion. It reveals the danger of allowing any endeavor, however virtuous on the surface, to seep into the preaching and application of the biblical gospel. The movie champions the true, saving gospel, and it unpacks this message with clarity and conviction. Here’s hoping many viewers will come across American Gospel on various streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo), and that Christians will find opportunities to watch the film with unbelieving neighbors and friends. The prosperity “gospel” is a great foil by which to evangelize, for it is patently a sham to many outside of the church. A film like this could be a great apologetic for those with a skeptical bent, for example. Though nicely shot and edited, the film could be a bit tighter, and the summation of the gospel message takes some time to unfold. So many voices speaking to different issues can begin to send the brain whirling, though I did appreciate how Kimber mixes in Christian leaders both well known and also lesser known. As is not uncommon today, American Gospel presents the gospel message primarily in terms of justification, which is the heart of the euangelion but not the doctrinal sum. The film references the local church but could say more about its importance. Similarly, the moral implications of the gospel are somewhat muted in American Gospel. If we must not make the moral dimension of Scripture the point of every passage, neither should we lose sight of it. But these are small critiques, not major ones. High Stakes The prosperity gospel comes with a terrific cost, as all false teaching does; it does not merely ruin intellectual systems, it ruins individual lives. We see this firsthand in the film. American Gospel does not merely “destroy arguments” of the prosperity kind in keeping with apostolic aims (2 Cor. 10:4–5). It also shows us that the natural man craves miracles: healing, wealth, favor, better “benefits” and sales “commissions” (this is literally what a Bethel pastor leads a congregation to ask God for), a life stripped free of suffering and challenge. But the miracles God brings in most of our lives are often quite different: quieter, less showy, but powered by the saving gospel. Instead of immediate healing, Christians may well be called to persevere in suffering. Instead of wealth, we may be called to learn contentment in our situation. Instead of coming back from the dead as in “heaven tourism” books, we must all face death and square with mortality. Instead of the cessation of trials upon the exercise of faith, we may be called to endure trials over the long haul. Instead of undimmed favor with power-brokers, we may be called to anonymity and unappreciated toil. Instead of a life of globe-hopping circuit-riding, we may be called to tuck in with our families (especially our children) and love them well, normal day by normal day. Instead of experiencing an unbroken string of personal triumphs, we may take many hits as we await the ultimate cosmic triumph of our warrior-savior, Christ Jesus. These are “ordinary miracles,” the very work of God in us. God will do as he wishes with each one of us. True believers may prosper in earthly terms (this is not uncommon, and our God is a very, very generous and wonder-working God)—or they may not. The point is this: Let us be careful about which gospel we follow. Let us follow the true gospel, not the American one. Let us not believe in secular Christianity, which is what prosperity religion really offers. To this and every other counterfeit we offer not faith, but truth spoken in love—truth calibrated to destroy the lies of the Devil and to rescue the ones who are perishing. View the full article
Singer Mattie Montgomery from popular Christian metalcore band “For Today,” offered a word of caution about popularity gospel, something he says is today’s generation’s prosperity gospel. View the full article
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God bless, William
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