A few days ago I cried — the real, big, splashing version of tears — over a book for the first time in a long time. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were banished from our house because of an open house hosted by our realtor.
So, I had an opportunity to lay on the floor of our quiet and empty church and finish Barefoot: A Story of Surrendering to God by Sharon Garlough Brown. This is the third book in the Sensible Shoes series, a set of novels centred on the spiritual journeys of four very different women who meet at a spiritual retreat centre. The women begin a deep friendship and become spiritual companions to each other through the ups and downs of life.
I love these books. But first of all, a confession. I am a terrible skeptic of Christian fiction, especially if the fiction is for women, or about end times. I wish I wasn’t. I wish I wasn’t so cynical. I try not to be. But sometimes I feel like the novels I am reading are just not good enough. Doesn’t that sound terrible? Don’t I sound like a snob? It’s not that I haven’t read really great, gripping Christian novels. I have. But I’ve also read some not so great ones, and it’s those ones that have made me so grouchy on this topic. Continue reading Why I recently bawled over a Christian novel→
The first time I told another Evangelical I was taking a course called “The Lives of the Saints: Then and Now,” the response to my enthusiasm for my subject was less than enthusiastic. An arched eyebrow. A slight tilt of the head. A look of mild distaste. And then, a one-word reply that communicated restrained surprise. “Really?”
I felt properly put in my place. Evangelicals don’t, after all, venerate Saints. We don’t invoke them, or ask them to intercede for us. I know that. But does that mean we have to ignore their role in Christian history? In our history? Particularly the shared part of Christian history –when all genuine believers were truly part of “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” (to put it in the words of The Apostles’ Creed) because there was only one church.
Long before East and West went their separate ways, long before the Reformation, long, long before there were Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists and Mennonites – there were just Christians. And Christians respected saints.
It began with the Bible. While both Testaments refer to saints, context indicates different understandings of the term in the Old and in the New.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words used to denote a saint imply a person who is pious, holy or godly. If Jesus ever spoke of saints, the gospels do not mention the fact. Other New Testament writers, however, refer to saints frequently, and while the Greek word they use also denotes a person who is morally blameless, consecrated or holy, context suggests that the word is used to designate believers or Christians in general. The fact that all believers were called saints during the New Testament period says more about their standing as redeemed souls (due to the saving work of Jesus Christ) than it implies about any inherent goodness on their part. Continue reading The Saints of old and persecuted Christians today→
The other night, our church hosted a discussion about how to simplify Christmas. We invited a local expert — a busy mother of eight with years of experience fine tuning Christmas — and we sat around and shared ideas.
It quickly grew clear that everyone in the room loved Christmas and the opportunity to host events and cook great meals for the people they love. It also became clear that everyone in the room also felt they were probably doing too much, and receiving too little help.
Another common theme I noticed was that adult children seem to revert a little bit, and they (we) can act like big babies at Christmas.
I admit it. I was one of the few people, it seemed at the time, who didn’t quite love, love, love the New York Times bestselling book by Canada’s best known farmer’s wife: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I loved the concept (and the cover!) but I couldn’t quite relax with Voskamp’s unusual, and to me, too highly poetic, writing style.
When her new book The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life came out, I was eager to see if I could dive into this one a little easier. I could. I truly enjoyed the book and I jumped at the opportunity to interview Voskamp on her media tour that recently ended in Toronto. When I met her in the lobby of the Park Hyatt downtown, she had just landed back on Canadian soil and was relieved and happy to be heading home later that night after her final event.
We had a wonderful interview, which I taped, and we hope to make into one of our first ever podcasts (stay tuned for details in the near future!). The printed interview will appear in the Jan/Feb issue of Faith Today. If you are a Voskamp fan, I think you will enjoy hearing the heart behind The Broken Way.
Gifts range from $10 for soccer balls in Sierra Leone, to $14,000 for the purchase of one rice mill for a village. Midwife training sessions to support maternal newborn child health programs in Guatemala and Honduras are $40. Sponsor a special needs Guatemalan child for $40 a month, through our kids program.
(Watch for more on this topic in the Jan/Feb Faith Today!)
Less than a week before the U.S. presidential election, the presidents of EFC affiliate institutions met in Mississauga for the annual Presidents Day gathering. One of the speakers was Dr. Lee Beach, author of The Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom (Intervarsity Press, 2015). He asked, “As believers, how do we maintain our cultural identity in exile?” In the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election, this topic seems more timely than ever.
Beach said that today, Canadian Christians live in a place where our story is no longer known. More surprisingly, we’re losing sight of our identity as confessing Christians. A friend of Beach’s young son saw a nativity scene, and he asked what it was. Beach contrasted this with his own childhood biblical knowledge: even before becoming a Christian, he knew some Bible stories, such as Jonah and the whale.
With so few Canadians knowing the Christian story, we are starting to lose sense of who we are. Beach drew on the example of the Israelites in the Babylonian exile. They, too, faced challenges preserving their identities in exile:
The Babylonians were celebrating Marduk’s victory over Yahweh. The Israelites had to decide whether they believed that Yahweh would actually be with them.
The Israelites had to rediscover their identity in the midst of exile.
They had to rediscover a community distinctively opposed to the ways of the other nation.
Many people today think of the persecuted Church as some foreign entity in a distant land. But the persecuted Church is the body of Christ – they’re a part of us.
When a pastor is thrown in jail for witnessing about Jesus, that’s our brother being imprisoned. When a woman is ostracised from her community for being a Christian, that’s our sister being rejected. When a young girl is violated for her faith, that’s our daughter being violated. And when a teenage boy has to flee his home for converting to Christianity, that’s our son fleeing.
So we want to invite you to join us in interceding for our persecuted family, during our International Day of Prayer (IDOP) on November 13, 2016.
Charting religious trends in Canada over the past 50 years has been a fascinating experience. Like the announcer who is calling the game from the booth, I have watched a wide range of church leaders down on the field bask in the heady numerical glory days of the late 1960s, only to become less buoyant as the numbers started dropping in the 70s.
From the 1980s onward, it became clear that the Christian church was starting to lose badly. By the end of the century, Mainline Protestants had conceded defeat, while evangelical leaders were determined to at least have prevailing churches, score a few runs and keep things at least somewhat respectable. But the game was clearly out of reach.
Looking back, all of us were pretty myopic. We thought that as Canada went, so went religion in Canada. So it was that we took our religious trends lead from what was happening in the Mainline Protestant domain – the United, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran churches. To the extent that evangelical groups were showing occasional signs of life, those of us in the booth saw such singles and walks as anomalies in need of explanations. Putting things in perspective, we looked to the secularization tide that allegedly had swept Europe, and conceded that our time had come. Continue reading Reginald Bibby on Canada’s Catholics: The World is Coming To Canada→
“The Church is better able to fulfil its prophetic role at arm’s length.” In light of the U.S. Presidential race, EFC President Bruce Clemenger reflects on the difference between calling for justice and remaining non-partisan.
The debate over whether evangelical leaders should endorse Donald Trump became more intense with the release of a 2005 video containing comments by the U.S. presidential nominee about making sexual advances toward married women and kissing and groping women without consent.
This revelation led one prominent evangelical ethicist, Wayne Grudem, to change his mind about endorsing Trump, and Christianity Today executive editor Andy Crouch wrote a strong editorial denouncing Trump and challenging those Evangelicals who support his candidacy. Others, such as Jerry Falwell Jr. have maintained their support. Media outlets are pursuing others who had publicly supported Trump to see whether the events of the last few weeks have changed their minds.
The other day I interviewed Doug Koop, a spiritual health practitioner, and David Guretzki, a theology professor and seminary dean at Briercrest College & Seminary, about how to best help those who are suffering. It was our latest EFC webinar, based on the cover story of our Sep/Oct Faith Today, which Koop wrote.