All posts by Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He is the co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter.

Why Youth Ministers Need to Be Theologians

We expect a certain level of theological sophistication from our preaching pastors. They must at least know church history, systematic theology, and hopefully some Greek and Hebrew so they can properly interpret and apply the biblical text. We’re confident that when we approach them with questions about the canonization of Scripture, the implications of the incarnation, and the doctrine of the body and sexuality, their learning will aid us in responding faithfully to such pressing questions in our culture.

If anything the world bears down with even greater ferocity on the fledging faith of Christian youth. So why should we expect less theological rigor from our youth pastors who serve them through teaching, counseling, and more? Every youth minister needs to be a theologian, whether formally or informally equipped to handle God’s Word with integrity and care.

This new 10-minute video feature insights from David Plant, director of youth ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Cameron Cole, director of youth ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama; and Liz Edrington, who is pursuing her master’s degree in counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. All three serve on the board of advisers for Rooted, which aims to transform student ministry by fostering grace-driven and cross-centered leaders through rich theological and contextual engagement.

This year’s Rooted conference on “Truth in a World of Mixed Messages” runs October 9 to 11 in New York City and features Andrew Wilson as the keynote speaker.


When Jesus Said Farewell

We Christians sometimes buy into a lie. We assume that if we’re not like those hateful, judgmental people who call themselves Christians, then the world will see that we’re actually pretty reasonable folks and want to follow Jesus. We believe that if Christians just cleaned up our act, then Jesus could finally captivate the hearts and minds of our neighbors.

The only problem with this view is that it has no basis in the example or teaching of Jesus. Nice Christians don’t always finish first. Even though Jesus loved perfectly to the end, his closest friends and disciples abandoned him when the political and religious authorities pinned him to the cross. Peter rebounded from his shameful denial of Jesus and vowed to love Jesus by loving his people. His reward? Jesus told him to expect that he, too, would stretch out his hands in unwanted death that would nevertheless glorify God (John 21:15-19).

Christ_Taking_Leave_of_the_ApostlesThe apostle John did not endure such a gruesome demise. But he heard and recorded Jesus’ farewell discourse, in which the Son of God told the disciples that the world would hate them just as they hated Jesus and his heavenly Father for convicting them of their sin (John 15:24).

“If you were of the world,” Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, “the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:19-20).

We should not be surprised that Christians today so easily forget or overlook these bracing words from Jesus. Just days after Jesus said farewell, while they hid behind locked doors in the aftermath of the crucifixion, the disciples obviously missed the significance of their Savior’s teaching: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). They had expected triumphant, bloody insurrection, and instead he gave them a cold, empty tomb. Only in the aftermath of the resurrection, when they saw and heard and touched Jesus in the flesh, did they finally begin to understand that the way of glory passes through Golgotha.

Acting Like Jesus

When we assume the world will love us if we start acting like Jesus, then we’re not actually acting like Jesus. We love to cite Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as evidence of the kind of humble compassion we should emulate. Indeed, it is. But eleven pairs of these feet washed by Jesus scattered away in fear, and one infamous pair scampered to find the chief priests and officers to arrest Jesus as he prayed.

Love for the world motivated by anything other than love for Jesus inevitably fails to offer the kind of love the world needs. Don’t think that Jesus would be any more popular in our day than he was in his own hometown, even his own family. Jesus was known to speak with uncommon authority because he told the truth about bankrupt religious practice. He would do the same among us, calling out the religious and non-religious for idols we have harbored.

When our love is motivated more by approval of the world than faithfulness to Jesus, then we turn against other Christians we believe hinder our goals. Have you noticed this trend? Consider someone who fears that Jesus’ teaching against greed (Matt. 6:19-21) hinders churches from reaching upwardly mobile young professionals. His enemy becomes those Christians who teach “poverty theology” and reject the goodness of creation and the necessity of amassing resources in order to advance the kingdom of God. Notice: rarely do you hear anyone openly say we should disobey Jesus’ teaching. After all, Jesus told his disciples that if they would abide in his love, then they must keep his commandments (John 15:10). Rather, the person asking you to disobey Jesus instead seeks to convince you that the church won’t grow and the world won’t follow Jesus unless you love the world enough to rethink your biblical interpretation. Should you plug your ears to this siren song, you will be accused of being part of the reason why the world has rejected Jesus.

But as we’ve already seen from the example of Jesus, we could change the content or confuse the clarity of his teaching, but the condition of our hearts would still prevent us from following him. Not until Jesus breathed his Spirit on the disciples (John 20:22) so they could recall what he taught them earlier about the coming persecution (John 16:2) did they finally find the strength to obey and proclaim the good news. Apart from the Spirit it’s impossible for us to resist the world as necessary. The world tempts and confuses Christians. Even the enemies who try to kill us think they offer service to God (John 16:2). The apostle Paul regarded himself zealous in his love of God until Jesus blinded him with forgiveness for his sins and grace to walk in true righteousness. When Jesus reveals himself he gives believers eyes to see our sin as futile and his teaching as good and perfect.

Love One Another

Along with sending his Spirit, Jesus gave us a key test of discipleship before he said farewell. “A new commandment I give to you: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

We can see the problem when other Christians lose Jesus by lacking love and prayerful concern for their enemies (Matt. 5:44). But how many of us have likewise forgotten Jesus because in our pursuit of the world we have not loved fellow disciples? We’re so eager to win the world’s approval that we violate the most basic commandments and dare to invoke Jesus’ name in our defense. Don’t trust anyone who attempts to justify his anger at other Christians. And don’t think you can win the world by disobeying any of Jesus’ commands. Jesus’ life, death, and teaching offer our only sure basis for unity among the body of Christ and effective mission in the world.

“Unity should never be attained at the cost of truth,” Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor write in their new book, The Final Days of Jesus, “yet unity is essential among God’s people, particularly in regard to a shared mind and purpose and mutual love in the work of fulfilling Christ’s mission to the world.”

In keeping with Passover custom, Jesus and his disciples would have likely sung Psalms 113-118 together before he said farewell. As Jesus prepared to drink the cup given by his Father (John 19:11) and ascend the cross, the words of Psalm 118 in particular must have offered great comfort and courage in his unique mission. We know he had cited Psalm 118:22-23 in debate with Jewish religious leaders: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23).

We must also consider the repeated refrain that begins and ends this beloved psalm: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1, 29). His covenant love endures even the worst cruelty the world can conceive. It endures the betrayal of close friends. It endures age after age, from Jesus until now and forevermore.

We, too, need these comforting, sobering words today. “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalm 119:8-9). We must neither seek nor expect the world’s approval. And we must claim the promise of God’s Word that we can find refuge in Jesus. As he empowers us to obey his commandments and love his disciples, we testify to a watching world that Jesus has come from the Father (John 17: 23) offering eternal life to all who repent and believe (John 17:3).


Battle of Science vs. Religion: Necessary or Evil?

Red vs. Blue. Alabama vs. Auburn. Ford vs. Chevy. Two rivals enter the arena. Only one rival will leave victorious.

church-history-volume-two-from-pre-reformation-to-the-present-day-the-rise-and-growth-of-the-church-in-its-cultural-intellectual-and-political-context_7314_500Heated though these rivalries may be, they don’t compare to the winner-take-all struggle for the soul of the West. Science vs. Religion dictates our debates and defines our times. The closely watched debate on the origins of life between Ken Ham and Bill Nye confirmed this adversarial narrative. As did a recent essay in the New Yorker, in which Adam Gopnik observed, “Surprisingly few people who have considered the alternatives—few among the caucus who consciously stand up, voting aye or nay—believe any longer in God.” Writing in his widely influential book A Secular Age, the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor argues that Science is winning the argument against Religion not primarily on the facts so much as the intuition: would you rather be on the side of reason and progress or dogma and repression?

Has the argument always been shaped this way? Will it always be this way?

For these answers and more I turned to John D. Woodbridge, research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Along with co-author Frank A. James III, he recently published Church History Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. Among other topics in this 30-minute interview, we discussed the decline of Christianity in the West, challenges to biblical authority, and the damage of Darwinism. Stay tuned for the end of the interview when Woodbridge offers hope for Christians who feel under attack by philosophers and scientists.

You can stream the full interview below, download the mp3, or subscribe to TGC’s podcast on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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Editor’s Choice: The Best of 2013

When I tell people I work for The Gospel Coalition, they almost always ask me if that’s a full-time job. I don’t think they intend to insult me. They just don’t know what we do.

That’s fair, because sometimes I lose track of everything we’re planning and preparing. It’s a good idea, then, to spend some time at the end of the year to reflect on how we’ve seen God at work through our daily editorial content, international outreach, national and regional conferences, print publishing, and special projects. We have a great staff and team of teachers who contribute their considerable time and talent to serve Christians by producing and promoting gospel-centered resources.

Songs for the Book of LukeThis year we followed up our Spanish outreach by collaborating with a sharp, ambitious team to launch a French site. Look for many more translations and international writers to come as TGC International Outreach builds on the more than 63,000 physical resources distributed in 2013 in 11 languages to 40 countries. To further God’s remarkable work in local church music we recorded Songs for the Book of Luke, an award-winning album written by church musicians and intended to serve their peers in worship leading. We also dedicated a blog to asking and answering questions of particular concern to church musicians. Partnering with Keith and Kristyn Getty we recorded an album of modern and traditional hymns sung live at TGC’s 2013 National Conference. Near the end of the year we released “Exult in the Saviour’s Birth,” a special Advent hymn written by TGC president D. A. Carson and TGC Worship editor Matt Boswell. And to help your children learn theology, we’re streaming 111 Songs for Saplings adapted from the Westminster Shorter Catechism and incorporated into the New City Catechism app. Behind these any many other special projects you’ll usually find TGC executive director Ben Peays. For another example see the Storyframes Collective, which celebrates the extraordinary work of God in the lives of ordinary people through excellence in the art of storytelling.

During 2013 TGC also expanded our print publishing in partnership with Crossway. In the coming years you will begin to see more books written specifically by women addressing cultural issues, as well as unique resources focused on faith and work. This cooperative effort expanded our editorial team with new gifted writers and thinkers, including Gloria Furman and Bethany Jenkins. In time for TGC’s 2014 National Women’s Conference we will release our next LifeWay Bible study curriculum, written by Kathleen Nielson. We started this trend in 2013 with the release of The Gospel of Luke from the Outside In, written by David Morlan and edited by Carson. Other LifeWay projects are in the works for 2014 and beyond. Speaking of curriculum, we have contracted with The Good Book Company to produce a series of five guides intended to help pastors and other ministry leaders orient their churches around the marks of gospel-centered ministry outlined in TGC’s theological vision of ministry.

As always TGC events connected like-minded believers and equipped churches to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in everything they say and do. You could devote months to watching and listening to free media from our 2013 national conference in Orlando (translated into five languages). As our staff fanned out around the world, I represented TGC by speaking at regional conferences in such diverse religious contexts as Boston and Birmingham, Alabama, not to mention an international outreach trip through Italy. Next year’s most anticipated international event for us will convene in Geneva with TGC co-founders Carson and Tim Keller. So long as God continues to open doors for the gospel we’ll continue to pray for discernment and walk through them in faith.

My 10 Favorite Resources

Perhaps my greatest privilege as editorial director of TGC is taking a daily big-picture look at the various resources we’re publishing at the site. I benefit from working with exceptional editors and humble writers who consider first how they can honor God and second how they can serve you, our readers, with relevant content. So far this year we’ve reached nearly 9.4 million readers with a 31 percent increase in pageviews compared to 2012. And we’re hopeful that a new website look early in 2014 will aid in this growth. This response affirms us, but it’s not the primary metric by which we judge success. From TGC’s foundation documents we pray that God would work in and through us to accomplish this aim: “to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that we truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age.”

Judging by that criteria, I have compiled a list of my 10 favorite 2013 resources. Please join me in giving thanks to God for how he always provides for us in a timely fashion with timeless wisdom.

Walking with God through Pain and SufferingWalking with God through Pain and Suffering

Review by Joni Eareckson Tada

I have already commended this Tim Keller book to anyone who has suffered or may someday suffer—that is, all of us. And the interview I recorded with Keller goes into details about how he organized the book and what he hopes to accomplish. The review by Joni Eareckson Tada, though, will truly reveal the importance of this work. As someone who has suffered a great deal, she admits skepticism about books on this topic. But she says Keller has given us the most comprehensive book on suffering, a volume that will “wake us up out of our spiritual slumber and get us thinking rightly about the character and compassion of God in these dark, difficult times.”

How to Discourage Artists in the Church

By Philip G. Ryken

If Ryken, TGC Council member and president of Wheaton College, had written the positive angle on this story—”How to Encourage Artists in the Church”—I can guarantee the reaction would have been fairly negative. That’s because most of us struggle to relate to artists, so we unwittingly discourage them in our dismissive words and actions. Clearly the overwhelming response to this article reveals some tension over the arts in the church. As a pastor committed to the centrality of God’s Word in preaching, Ryken helps bridge the divide between artists and other ministry leaders.

Today IS My Wedding Day!

By M. Connor

Last year we published a widely read article from M. Connor about why she walked away before her wedding day. Talking with this new believer I realized she was not just holding out for a better offer. She understood God may never provide her with a husband and children. But she chose to side with her Savior rather than marry a man who did not share her dedication to trust Christ above all. This year we rejoiced to share the beautiful conclusion to the story as she married a godly man she met on the very day last year she was supposed to get married.

Michael Jordan CourtsideDo You Still Want to Be Like Mike? 

By Matt Smethurst

If you visit TGC’s site with any regularity then you owe associate editor Matt Smethurst more thanks than you probably know. In this provocative reflection on Michael Jordan on the occasion of his 50th birthday, Smethurst combines a childhood love for basketball with a mature concern for the superstar’s spirit. We have no greater parable of a man who has gained the world but seems to have lost his soul.

How to Survive a Cultural Crisis

By Mark Dever

I said at the time we published this article that it was perhaps the most helpful and encouraging resource I’ve ever edited for TGC. I stand by that judgment today. Christians rack our brains and wrings our hands over cultural engagement in a changing and discouraging world. But Mark Dever, TGC Council member and senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., offers such profoundly sensible and biblical counsel that I wonder if we often try to substitute complexity for unfaithfulness. Read and re-read the seven principles he offers in this article.

Piper on Regrets and Retirement

Interview by Collin Hansen

Nearly every day I speak with pastors around the world who look up to men like John Piper but only know his life from his sermons, conference messages, and books. They don’t know about his struggles and regrets. They don’t know about his day-to-day pastoral care. We covered those topics and much more in an interview recorded shortly after Piper, a TGC Council member, stepped down as senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

The Complementarian Woman: Permitted or Pursued?

By Jen Wilkin

Even when she’s writing on topics such as parenting, where I don’t have any experience, I always enjoy reading Wilkin. She sees challenges and opportunities in the church that I overlook. Such is the case in this article that encourages us who believe only men should serve as elders in the church to still pursue women and employ their gifts. We can’t just permit women to serve in the church if that means we’re unwittingly passive and dismissive toward their service. This line still sticks with me today: “End the culture of permission and you will dispel the stigma of submission.”

Why We Should Legalize Murder for Hire

By Betsy Childs

Believe it or not we heard from a number of concerned readers who did not realize this piece is satire. To be clear, I don’t think satire is the main or even the most helpful way to open the eyes of our neighbors to the horrors of abortion. But neither does Betsy Childs, who works down the hall from me at Beeson Divinity School. She often volunteers to counsel mothers headed to the abortion clinic down the street from her apartment in Birmingham, Alabama. And she’s a strong advocate for adoption so mothers understand they have a viable option to abortion. By various means may God sear our consciences and end this every-day tragedy.

Paul and the Faithfulness of God

Review by Douglas J. Moo

Only a renowned New Testament scholar such as Moo could so quickly and diligently read and review N. T. Wright’s definitive work on the apostle to the Gentiles. Wright has stirred up no little controversy over the years in debates over the New Perspective and the relationship between justification by faith and judgment according to works. In this review Moo identified the core concerns of Wright’s critics without dredging up all the old antipathy.

God’s Goodness in Your Pain

Video with David Platt, John Piper, and Matt Chandler

You may notice we talk a lot about pain and suffering at TGC. That’s because the Western world seems so reluctant to do so. And you might wonder what such young and seemingly successful ministers like David Platt and Matt Chandler could know about suffering. That’s because much of the church seems to assume that if you love God and do the right things you can probably avoid the hard stuff in life. Sooner or later every one of us will suffer, because every one of us will die and lose the ones we love. Thanks be to God in Christ that he even though he does not promise us good circumstances he guarantees us his loving-kindness and everlasting rest.

God’s Goodness in Your Pain from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2013

The only thing I know about your reaction to this list of top 10 theology stories is that you won’t agree. Maybe partially, but not entirely. And that’s okay. None of us sees the full picture from God’s perspective. In five years we may not be talking about any of these events and trends (see what I mean by reviewing my lists from 2008200920102011, and 2012). Actually, you’ve probably already forgotten a number of entries on this year’s list!

Yet before we turn to 2014, it can be encouraging or at least instructive to take stock of the last 12 months. Perspective is a rare gift in our social media age. If you fasted from Twitter and Facebook this year or traveled overseas then you know what I mean. The controversies that consume so much time and energy in the United States suddenly appear petty or at least irrelevant to most of us. Certainly they don’t hinder God, who has lots of practice working with and through sinners. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? . . . He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision” (Psalm 2:1-4).

So consider my list an admittedly foolhardy attempt—written from the vantage point of an American who subscribes to The Gospel Coalition’s confessional statement—to discern the most important theology stories 0f 2013. Consider it an opportunity to reflect on whether your priorities align with God’s and a challenge to spread good news in a world that seeks peace but finds none apart from Jesus Christ.

If you’d like to go deeper into debating the significance of these stories, and track my greatest hits and misses from past lists, listen to this interview I recorded with Mark Mellinger.

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10. Does it matter who says it if it’s good?

Historically the church has debated whether the validity of sacraments such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper depend on the morality or orthodoxy of the one who administers them. The debate continues today in the case of preachers who achieve great ministry success despite consistently worrisome behavior. Does the authority of the Word depend on the character of the preacher? For that matter, how much do you actually know about your preacher’s private life and whether he really believes what he says? Allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll add new angles to these old debates. Now that he has admitted to inadequate citation, does that mistake invalidate the rest of his work? If he depended on a ghostwriter who said good and godly things, does that means the books should be condemned? No matter how you answer those questions, seriously consider the thoughtful responses to the problem of author platforms and our idolatry of successful ministry leaders.

9. Black and white, we’re closer than ever—and just as far apart as always.

This year was bound to stir up emotions over race relations in America as we remembered the tumultuous events of 50 years ago in 1963. Indeed, George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin revealed that we cannot just move on from our past. Theological unity does not necessarily result in understanding of how life looks from opposite sides of the ethnic divide. At the same time, response to an ill-informed panel discussion on Reformed hip-hop revealed how much evangelicals agree on when it comes to contextualization. We may not agree on the causes of ethnic strife, but we seem to understand that no one speaks from a privileged place of neutrality.

beyonce-super-bowl8. Purity and modesty provoke backlash in a sex-saturated culture.

The year kicked off with a provocative halftime act from Beyoncé at the Super Bowl. Whether you saw power or bondage explains a lot about your views on purity and modesty in a culture that idolizes sex. Few Christians lined up to defend Miley Cyrus when she upped the ante in a MTV Video Music Awards performance that attracted just the kind of attention she desired. But many did weep over who she has become. Meanwhile, LifeWay announced they would relaunch their True Love Waits campaign on its 20th anniversary, even as such high-profile advocates as Joe Jonas confess that the rings did not inspire them to wait for marriage. Pop culture provided the backdrop for vigorous debates about why so few young adults who grow up in evangelical churches resist sexual temptation. Purity has become a loaded term in an age when so many Christians seek forgiveness and hope for wholeness after sin. And modesty has become a weapon in a culture that focuses more on women’s provocative behavior than the men who expect and encourage it.

7. Should American foreign policy privilege Christians?

This year left little indication that U.S. foreign policy prioritizes religious freedom. Washington reached an agreement with Iran’s leaders to curtail their nuclear ambitions, but American pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned. After Western military aid assisted in toppling the government, Libya remains volatile. Witness the murder of American teacher Ronnie Smith, who had been inspired to serve by a John Piper sermon. Media attention has turned to Egyptian Copts, whose security has continued to decline since the United States withdrew support from former president Hosni Mubarak. President Obama’s deliberation over whether to assist rebels in defeating Syrian ruler Bashar Assad provoked an unresolved debate among American Christians. If Syrian Christians support the regime, however despotic, and stand to suffer under whatever radical Muslim group takes its place, can we in good conscience support an American military strike? Or would the common good be best served in a scenario where the Christians endure particular hardship?

6. ‘Gay’ Christians speak out.

Active gays who deny biblical teaching on sexuality have long since spoken loudly and proudly about their lifestyle. But with few exceptions, celibate Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction had largely remained silent about their plight, in part because of fear and misunderstanding within the church. Yes, high-profile examples such as Rosaria Butterfield’s train wreck conversion inspire us. Her story has a happy ending now that she is a mother and wife of a pastor. But what about Christians whose feelings never change? Their plight led in part to Exodus International shutting down and Alan Chambers apologizing for ex-gay ministry. Testimonies such as those featured on the new Living Out site speak to the struggle to walk with God in faith when no relief is in sight. Any hope of changing minds on homosexuality needs to privilege such voices as the rest of us learn to speak with empathy and understanding. The last 10 years of cultural shifts might have looked quite different if the church had invited these believers to speak out earlier.

Duck Dynasty5. Popular TV finds faith.

At the beginning of 2013 you may have never heard of Duck Dynasty. Now you can’t avoid the Robertson clan. Maybe next year Jen Hatmaker will be the breakout star on HGTV. Or maybe Ed Young Jr. as he blends Christianity with a Kardashian flair for reality TV. If you’ll watch it (and oblige their advertisers), TV networks will run it. And the demand right now for faith-themed programming is hot. Breakthrough miniseries hit The Bible guarantees many imitators. Doubtless many viewers only mildly familiar with Christianity can learn about God from the Robertsons. And millions who would never open a Bible watched its drama play out on their screens at home. But as we’ve learned from reality TV, editing makes all the difference. How does our view of God change when we don’t see the full picture? When the Christian’s home life is made for TV, and when God’s Word is constrained by advertising demands, what do we miss? The most recent flare-up over Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality reveals the peril for such Christians, no matter how high their ratings.

4. Culture warriors shift from offense to defense.

President Obama’s re-election late last year ensured that the White House would continue to press the cause of gay marriage and deny the rights of religious institutions to conscientiously object to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage act confirmed that Christians would need to shift strategies. No longer could we press on the offensive for traditional marriage. We would need to enact an defensive strategy to protect the integrity of our schools, hospitals, and businesses. Next year’s Hobby Lobby decision will be another key test. Lest veteran believers see this shift as cultural retreat, new Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore argues that younger Christians activists might be even more theologically conservative than their elders. Indeed, this new strategy will in some way correct mistaken evangelical notions about what can be realistically accomplished through political means in a world that needs the gospel above all.

3. Wrath of God does not satisfy Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The doctrine of propitiation seen in passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 3:25-26 has been debated by theologians for centuries. And the “satisfaction theory” of the atonement is often credited to 11th-century theologian Anselm. Perhaps its most popular expression today can be found in the modern hymn In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” Concerned that the line promotes an errant ”view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger,” a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal committee asked to change the lyrics to say, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” Once Getty and Townend rejected the edit and the Presbyterians dropped the hymn from consideration, outlets such as USA TodayThe Washington Post, and The Economist picked up on this debate that cuts to the core of the good news about Jesus. You don’t often see such an important theological debate hit popular media, but hymns and praise songs do more than biblical commentaries to catechize Christians.

mark driscoll strange fire2. Strange Fire book, conference force evangelicals to pick sides.

We’re living in perhaps the most dramatic global expansion of Christianity in history. Yet many evangelicals often have little idea about what Pentecostals and charismatics believe. Longtime charismatic critic John MacArthur’s new book Strange Fire forces evangelicals off the fence and demands they pick a side: you either see this growth as the work of God or Satan. He contends that if you’re cautiously open to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, then you implicitly endorse common Pentecostal malpractices, such as the prosperity gospel. Already MacArthur has emboldened cessationist allies even as critics pick apart his biblical arguments. When self-described “charismatic with a seat belt” Mark Driscoll showed up uninvited at MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, social media documented this heavyweight clash in real time. That odd encounter produced more heat than light, but MacArthur’s influence will ensure that none of us can remain agnostic to the purpose and practice of the charismatic gifts.

1. Pope Francis makes fast friends.

With Billy Graham nearing the end of his life, only one church leader can compel the world’s attention. Pope Francis assumed leadership of the Roman Catholic Church under peculiar circumstances, and he has captivated attention ever since. It may not be surprising that Pope Francis was named Time magazine’s person of the year when you consider that his competition included the aforementioned Bashar Assad and Miley Cyrus. But when you learn The Advocate, a gay magazine, also awarded him the same recognition, you start to wonder what the world sees in him. When he says “I am a sinner,” do they see humble confession or tolerant surrender? When he says “proselytism is solemn nonsense,” do they see careful differentiation between forced conversions and the gospel call to repentance and faith, or do they see an ally in the effort to privatize religion? When Time first congratulated Pope Francis as person of the year, the editors credited him for his “rejection of church dogma.” But they failed to point to one church teaching he had rejected. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

The world will see what they want in the church, whether for good or ill. And evangelicals will rightly reject Pope Francis’s claim to the keys, but we can’t help watch how the world responds to him for lessons we can learn and implement. May the Lord give us compassionate, humble spirits and open a door for us to proclaim good news of salvation that comes by faith alone.

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Remember, if you want to learn more about why I included these theology stories and ranked them in this particular order, you can download my interview with Mark Mellinger.

Keith Getty on What Makes ‘In Christ Alone’ Accepted and Contested

Last summer the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” made headlines for its lyrical references to the wrath of God and atonement theology. A hymn committee with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) wanted to add the song to their new hymnal, Glory to God, released this fall. But in doing so, the committee requested permission from the song’s writers, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, to print an altered version of the hymn’s lyrics, changing “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The songwriters rejected the proposed change, and as a result the hymn committee voted to bar the hymn.

TGC 13 Keith Kristyn Getty Live Album“The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness,” committee chair Mary Louise Bringle told The Christian Century. The “view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger” would have a negative effect on the hymnal’s ability to form the faith of coming generations, Bringle explained.

This was the second time a hymnal publisher attempted to change the same lyric. In 2010, a hymnal called Celebrating Grace printed “In Christ Alone” with the same altered wording about God’s wrath, unbeknownst to the songwriters. When the Presbyterian committee came across this version, they assumed the amended lyric was an authorized text and requested permission to use it in their hymnal. The Celebrating Grace hymnal’s publisher is now working to address the problem, since the group neither asked nor received permission to alter the text.

Interestingly, a host of media outlets ran articles about this story, including USA TodayThe Washington Post, and The Economist, speaking to the broad reach of the hymn.  According to the Christian licensing group CCLI, “In Christ Alone” remains one of the most popular songs in churches, as their charts indicate it has been the number-one used hymn in the United Kingdom for the past seven years and among the top ten in the United States, Canada, and Australia for almost as long. The song is printed in hymnals and choral publications but also projected on screens, crossing stylistic and cultural boundaries and reaching from mainline churches to contemporary worship movements. It was recently used at the enthronement of the archbishop of Canterbury and also has become an anthem for underground churches throughout the world. Artists as varied as Alison Krauss, MercyMe, Natalie Grant, the Newsboys, OwlCity, and most recently Kristian Stanfill (Passion 2013) have recorded the hymn. Timothy George, the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, recently said he believes the hymn is well on its way to becoming the “Amazing Grace” of this generation.

A few weeks ago a close friend in ministry woke up to learn his 3-year-old son had died overnight with no apparent cause. At the heart-wrenching funeral we sang “In Christ Alone” as an expression of our hope in Jesus and his return. I’m grateful, then, for this opportunity to correspond with songwriter Keith Getty to learn his thoughts about the exclusion of “In Christ Alone” from the Presbyterian hymnal and why he remains committed to the song’s original lyrics.

“In Christ Alone” has become a formative hymn of our generation. What inspired the song?

In 2000, I sat down with Stuart Townend for one of our first songwriting sessions. We’d recently been introduced and encouraged to collaborate as musicians. Stuart’s strengths center around an extraordinary ability with lyrics, while mine lean toward composing melodies, though we each enjoy the freedom of speaking into each other’s work. As artists, we both brought to the table a conviction that rich theology greatly matters in the songs we sing on Sunday morning, that what we sing week after week ultimately makes its way into every part of our faith and life.

I knew I wanted to tell the gospel story in one song, and I’d been working on a particular melody associated with this idea for some time that I shared with Stuart. Through our discussions, I made the suggestion that the hymn be called “In Christ Alone.” Stuart penned the incredible lyric, which outlines the gospel message. It was the first song we wrote together!

I believe the lyrics of “In Christ Alone” succinctly express theological truths about the life, death, and saving power of Christ through his sacrificial death on the cross. Yet the song is more than didactic theology. As we’ve shared the hymn in churches, we’ve witnessed the passion and emotion it evokes. I think this is what makes it so memorable.

In more than a decade now of writing modern hymns together, Stuart and I continue to receive feedback about the effect of “In Christ Alone.” We’re amazed and humbled by the way this hymn seems to have connected with so many people on their Christian journey. Hearing how the song has helped others hold fast to Christ, often in times of great crisis and pain, is deeply meaningful and encourages us to continue writing. Believers are hungry to celebrate truth put to music, and Stuart and I are grateful to have played a small part in helping facilitate such opportunities for the church.

Two groups wanted to change your lyrics in order to circumvent the idea that God’s wrath was satisfied through Christ’s death on the cross. Why was it important this lyric not be altered?

First, it’s important to express how truly honored we feel that these groups would consider adding “In Christ Alone” to their hymnals. We support the approach they take of studying the lyrics of hymns as they select music worthy to be sung and preserved.

However, we believe altering the lyrics would remove an essential part of the gospel story as explained throughout Scripture. The main thread of what we see revealed throughout the Old and New Testament is the need for man to be made right with God. The provided path toward reconciliation came through Christ’s predetermined and perfect sacrifice on the cross, satisfying God’s wrath once and for all. The two hymnal committees wanted to change the lyrics to focus on how Christ’s death on the cross magnifies God’s love for the world. And indeed, God’s love was magnified on Calvary’s hill. Yet the way this occurred was through Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves—shedding his own perfect blood to atone for our sins.

Was the doctrine of propitiation front and center in your mind when you wrote the hymn?

We wanted to explore the scope of the gospel message in one song. As people in the pew sing “In Christ Alone,” we pray they understand the many attributes of God. His sovereign power, grace, love, justice and wrath all are intertwined. And we shouldn’t turn away from exploring his wrath, because through understanding God’s righteous anger toward sin, we understand his desire for justice and peace. As J. I. Packer so clearly explains in Knowing God, God is not just unless he inflicts upon all sin and wrongdoing the penalty it deserves. While we may think it severe, we desperately need God’s wrath—a holy and just response to evil—to restore the broken world in which we live.

I understand some people take issue with the theological perspective that God’s wrath was satisfied through Christ’s death on the cross. Part of this debate centers on whether the cross became the object of God’s wrath. When couched in those terms, God’s anger can sound harsh and perhaps confusing.

Yet I believe this view stems from an inadequate understanding of how God’s wrath differs from our own. Each of us faces the temptation to fashion God out of our own image. And a picture of God formed through our experiences of hurt, anger, injustice, or rage is a sad and vindictive one indeed. But this is not the infinite, good God we serve. God’s wrath is not like our wrath, and his ways are not like our own. Throughout Scripture, the need for atonement to be made is likened to a cup of wrath the sinner must consume. As we know, Jesus drank this cup for us. The cross was a remedy, providing for each of us a way to be saved. It may not be easy to fully comprehend. But we must tread carefully, echoing the thought of Isaiah 45:9: “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?”

Stuart Townend and I believe the doctrine of propitiation plays a vital role in how we understand Christ’s saving work as explained in Scripture. Consequently, the language used throughout “In Christ Alone” is a natural expression of our theological view on this subject.

Why do churches need to be singing a robust view of the atonement?

My pastor friend Alistair Begg frequently describes our culture as one whose people carry out lives of quiet desperation. I think he’s right. Our world desperately needs the hope of knowing Christ’s atoning work is deep and wide enough to cover the most serious sins and utmost despair.

During World War II, the ten Boom family of Holland harbored Jews in their home until the Gestapo arrested the elderly father and his two grown daughters, Corrie and Betsie. Months later, after their father died, the sisters faced unimaginable cruelty in a concentration camp. Yet in the face of extreme darkness, Betsie, in her own dying days, felt compelled to continue sharing Christ’s love with others. She remarked to Corrie that we “must tell them what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”

These words, as recounted in Corrie’s book The Hiding Place are indeed moving and inspirational. But how can we know they are absolutely true? In part, because of the atonement. Because Christ bore for us the weight of the world’s sin, sinking deeper into the pit of separation from God than we’ll ever comprehend.

For this reason, we must sing wholeheartedly about concepts such as penal substitution, as well as the many other attributes of God that unfortunately go ignored in some churches today. The songs we sing have a powerful way of shaping our soul and becoming grafted into our being. This is why my grandfather continued to remember and sing hymns until he died in his 90s. It’s also why modern-day American missionary Gracia Burnham softly sang the hymns she’d memorized in her younger years when she was held hostage in the southern Philippines for more than a year by Islamic militants. She had no access to a Bible or hymnal. The words were written on her heart.

Truth put to music remains with us. It’s why we still sing the powerful lyrics of hymns written centuries ago. Speculation and questioning about theology will come and go, but truth remains. Consider these words of Horatio G. Spafford, penned in 1873: My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!/ My sin, not in part but the whole,/ Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,/ Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Looking ahead, what is your hope for songs written for the church today?

We live during an exciting time in history for believers and for the church. Today there are more Christians in the world than in any other time. More translations of the Bible exist than ever before. Yet it seems the average evangelical knows less about the Bible than during any other period. I believe songwriters have a duty to make sure the Word of Christ dwells richly in the hearts of those in our generation. And part of how this generation will understand its faith is through the words they sing.

We need exciting, passionate songs with beautiful lyrics, rich in theology, and infectious melodies that invigorate our congregations. With every line we write and tune we compose, we need to portray a fuller picture of Christ for the people among us. We need not shy away from the hard, mysterious sections of Scripture. Songwriters need to demonstrate a grasp of the whole biblical context. We must not be afraid to write about hard things. Singing songs with more depth allows us to experience the relief of lifting our eyes off ourselves and toward the unimaginable vastness of our God. This is what I pray for myself and for others creating music for the church today.

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Editors’ note: Thank you to Corrie Cutrer for her help in developing this interview.

Whether we’re mourning or laughing, “In Christ Alone” gives voice to our deepest love and longing. Watch the video to see the rendition recorded live during The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference. You can buy the full album for this song along with many other moving hymns, including “Speak O Lord” and an especially moving a cappella version of “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty!”

Gladwell on Power and the Weapons of the Spirit

As Son of God from before the beginning of time, Jesus wielded unfathomable power. Yet he was born in a lowly manger and learned the carpentry trade in a backwater town. According to the apostle Paul, “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). Yet when confronted by his betrayer, he put up no fight. He told the apostle Peter, ”For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).

Malcolm GladwellPower, then, is not always as it seems. That’s the point Malcolm Gladwell and I recently discussed with regard to his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsI spoke with the bestselling author and staff writer for The New Yorker about why he decided to dig deeper into the famous story of David and Goliath.

“There are real limits to what evil and misfortune can accomplish,” he writes in the book, which I have also reviewed. “You see the giant and the shepherd in the Valley of Elah and your eye is drawn to the man with the sword and shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine” (274-275).

We discussed several fascinating stories, including the Huguenots in south-central France who harbored Jews during World War II. They defied the French police working for the Nazi occupiers and said, “We make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the gospel teaching.” He told the back story of how he got to know Wilma Derksen, a Mennonite woman who found the courage to forgive the man who tortured and murdered her daughter. In the process we observed the striking difference between law and grace in responses to suffering.

Finally, I urge you to listen for our conversation about how authorities with power and privilege game the system against the weak. As you’ll hear from the 30-minute interview, Christians today can learn a few tricks from the civil-rights marches 50 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama. Indeed, the weapons of the Spirit triumph over the ways of the world.

You can stream the full interview below, download the mp3, or subscribe to TGC’s podcast on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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Piper on Pastors’ Pay

I can’t say I relate to reports of pastors earning lavish salaries and building elaborate mansions. But conversations about money and ministry can be just as awkward and frustrating on the other end of the pay scale. For pastors scraping by while working two jobs and churches struggling to meet their obligations, money strains relationships and stretches faith. How do pastors know when they need to ask for more money? How do churches know when they should give it? Such common situations won’t attract investigative reporters, but they can cause just about as much consternation.

Piper SuitJohn Piper could have lived large on his book royalties and speaker fees. So why did he chose to live much more like an ordinary pastor during more than 30 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis? I corresponded with the founder and teacher of Desiring God about hard work, “poverty theology,” how he would advise young pastors, and more.

When did you first realize you would need some plan to handle the money earned from your speaking and writing? Were you ever tempted to keep the money for yourself?

When I began my ministry as pastor at Bethlehem, it had never entered my mind that I would produce a lot of income by writing. I received modest honorariums of one or two hundred dollars for weddings and funerals. I accepted these with thanks. I did suspect that, if I was faithful, income would rise, and sooner or later I would make more than I needed. Therefore, I believed from the beginning that plans should be in place to put a governor on laying up treasures on earth. Otherwise, little by little I might assume that my wants were my needs, and the expenses would expand, as they always do, to fill the income. So Noël and I put in place a “graduated tithe” from the beginning. That is, we tried to give a greater percentage with each salary increase, not just a greater amount.

With the successful sales of Desiring God starting in 1987, I saw that there could be substantial income from writing and speaking. I resolved that I should not keep this money for myself but channel it to ministry. I never doubted that the Lord would provide us with a salary that would be sufficient for our family. So I saw no reason to keep the money that came in from the books and speaking. These royalties and honorariums were being earned while I was pastor of Bethlehem, and so it seemed the church should benefit from them, not me privately.

At first, I thought I could do this simply by channeling the royalties to the church, but realized soon that this had tax implications. Since these royalties were technically in my control as the copyright holder, giving all of them to the church made me liable for income taxes. So we created a foundation. The Desiring God Foundation now owns all the copyrights of my books and intellectual property, and receives and distributes all the income. I have no access to the money at all. I do sit on the board of the foundation with my wife and five others. This board safeguards the aims of the foundation, and makes the decisions to which ministries the income should be given. It is a thrilling ministry.

In addition, we made the decision that all honoraria would go to the ministries we represent, not ourselves. That was usually the church while I was pastor, and now is Desiring God. While I was a pastor at Bethlehem, I never received an income from Desiring God. So for the last 25 years or so, we have lived on one stream of income. That is still the case, as I am now paid by Desiring God. I have never been in any serious need. None of this has felt like a sacrifice. I know myself incredibly rich by the standards of the world. Beyond all doubt, it is more blessed to give than to receive and keep.

Why shouldn’t a pastor of a growing and thriving church earn more money as a reward for his hard work and incentive to stay around? After all, the church would probably suffer financially and numerically if he left.

I never felt that I was the church’s privilege, but that she is mine. To be at Bethlehem was gift, all gift. The mindset that I am so valuable I deserve any benefits that come from my ministry is alien to the spirit of Christ. He came to serve and give his life a ransom for many. Jesus was absolutely indispensable in the ministry he came to achieve, and the whole orientation of it was give, give, give—not get, get, get.

My question is: Why would a pastor want to get rich? Jesus said it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom, and Paul said that those who desire to be rich “fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). These texts, and many others, dispose me to think: my soul, and therefore the good of the church, will be far better off if I put governors on my accumulation.

That “hard work” you mentioned is work for the advancement of Christ’s mission and the good of the church. And every pastor knows that even if “I worked harder than any of them, it was not I but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). And huge waves of this grace break over us from the prayers and partnership of the people in our church. Not only that, but while I am speaking outside and writing, my staff is covering for me in dozens of ways. That investment of time could have focused more directly on the church. It wasn’t. The last thought in my mind was, They owe me. They didn’t. I owed them. To this day, I know that Bethlehem Baptist Church was more a gift to me than I was to her.

Did you ever feel like your church could not or would not adequately provide for your family’s needs? How would you counsel a pastor who feels that way right now?

I never felt that way: $25,000 was more than I needed in 1980, and when my salary broke $100,000 for the first time in my last year at Bethlehem, it was more than I needed. I do not assume this is the case for every pastor. That is why I do not say that the strategies I have used should be applied by all. There are all kinds of situations that may warrant a pastor’s earning and keeping income besides through his church ministry. Paul made tents. But let us be careful here. Paul’s aim was, as he said, exceptional. The laborer should be paid his wages. Don’t muzzle the ox treading out the grain.

Paul’s aim was not to get rich with tent-making and forego church income, as though that little self-denial were a justification of making millions on tent royalties. His aim was to avoid the very appearance of wanting to get rich on the ministry. Paul feared giving the slightest impression that his life work was a “pretext for greed” (1 Thessalonians 2:5). Paul’s mindset was not what he had a “right” to do with his “hard-earned income.” His mindset was to renounce any rights that might make people think he loved money: “We have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).

Is there such a thing as an unbiblical “poverty theology”?

Yes. There is unbiblical everything theology. For example, it would be unbiblical to glamorize or idealize poverty. The Bible steers a middle way between destitution and opulence: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8-9).

When Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20), he meant: God will show himself especially precious and powerful for the poor who trust him, not the poor who don’t know the Lord (“These are only the poor; they have no sense; for they do not know the way of the LORD, the justice of their God,” Jeremiah 5:4).

It would be a mistake to assume all the poor are humble or generous. The ten lepers were all poor. Jesus healed them all. Nine proved ungrateful (Luke 17:17). The rich have no corner on selfishness.

But it would also be a mistake to think that the Bible treats riches and poverty as equally dangerous spiritually. Riches are more dangerous. We never read, “Only with difficulty will a poor person enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23).

How much is too much? Almost any of us in the developed West is much more comfortable than our brothers and sisters laboring for the gospel in the Majority World.

The impossibility of drawing a line between night and day doesn’t mean you can’t know it’s midnight. If someone is starving, they’re poor and need urgent help. If some pastor has ten-times more than the average folks in his church, he is communicating that material things are too important to him. It is a stumbling block.

The Bible commends fasting and feasting—not because food is evil or because no one is starving. It’s because it is evil to be enslaved to good things, and it is good to savor God in his gifts.

I told my children, when the behavior is questionable don’t just ask, “What’s wrong with it?” Ask, will it help me make Christ look great? That was Paul’s passion (Philippians 1:20).

Accumulating money, and buying vastly more than you need, does not make Christ look great. It looks like things are great. There is a reason why Paul said, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8).

How would you advise young pastors with regard to their finances as they begin to be invited to speak at conferences and write books? Would your counsel be different for a rising lawyer or doctor?

Talk to your elders about all these things. Serve them long enough and humbly enough that they know you care about the church, and are not just using the church for career advancement. Don’t move into a kind of ministry they disapprove of.

Put in place an accountability group among them (not from outside) to whom you report all your honorariums and other income outside the church. Work out with them an understanding of what is appropriate for you to keep and for the church to receive. Make the church you serve the place where most of your giving goes.

Plan to live on the salary of the church as soon as possible. Once you are meeting your needs and saving appropriately, increase the percentage of your giving beyond the tithe when your salary increases more than the increase of the cost of living.

Saturate yourself with the words of the New Testament on money. You will find yourself convicted more often than confirmed in your Western wealth. Let this conviction produce wise, wartime living that loves to give more than to keep. Enjoy God’s good gifts by enjoying God in and through them. Know that you will never have this figured out completely. Therefore, be thankful for the gospel of grace that covers all our sin.

Elected Homecoming Queen: An Exceptional Story

Molly Anne Dutton shouldn’t be here today. Not according to the opinion polls. Even many pro-life Christians make an exception that would have snuffed out her life.

Her mother survived every woman’s nightmare: sexual assault. But then her agony was compounded with a positive pregnancy test. As if the situation could get worse, her husband told her to get an abortion or sign the divorce papers.

With the help of Lifeline Children’s Services in Birmingham, Alabama, Molly Anne’s mother chose to carry her to term and give her up for adoption. Due to their service on Lifeline’s board, Molly Anne’s adoptive parents knew of her situation and decided to adopt her.

Two decades later, Molly Anne was elected homecoming queen this fall at Auburn University. Her “Light Up LIFE” campaign sought to educate women about their options when faced with unplanned pregnancy. The horticulture major told me her story, how she understands her adoption in light of the gospel, and why all children made in the image of God deserve a home. Thank you to Betsy Childs for helping me generate the questions.

How and when did your parents tell you the story about your biological mother?

molly-anne-duttonI discovered my story and the story of my birth mother by stumbling upon my adoption papers one afternoon in the attic. I was around 14 at the time. I have always been mesmerized by photos of our family throughout the years; little did I know that my adoption papers were tucked in between the papers of our family history.

Since then, my mom and I have discussed the circumstances surrounding my adoption. In saying that, a great question to then ask is how did I receive the news. I truly believe because I sat as a believer whose hope in Christ, I never saw the details of my birth as a shameful event. What the enemy has intended for harm, the Lord has and continues to use for so much good (Genesis 50:20)

Have you always been comfortable sharing your story?

I love this question. Yes, I have always felt comfortable sharing my story. I am honored to carry this story. Yes, it is unique because my life sounds out the voice that this world does not get to hear often. I know there is power between each space in my sentences and tucked beside each dotted “i” and crossed “t.” There is no power in it because of my words, but it drenches with beauty due to this being the exact picture of our own adoption in Christ. Josh Caldwell, manager of involvement and partnerships at Lifeline Child Services, describes it so perfectly. My adoption might have started as a tragedy, but didn’t our relationship with Jesus also start with a tragedy? That tragedy was dripping the bloodshed of the cross. Today, we stand as sons and daughters in his very kingdom.

Have you thought about what you would want to say to your biological mother? 

My mind, body, and soul are full of gratitude. I’m so unbelievably thankful to God for knitting me; thankful for my parents who so lovingly carried me out of Lifeline in their arms; and I’m speechless before a woman who was courageous to break through confusion and fear to give birth to me. In her womb she carried me, and by her heart she chose to give me a chance to walk and spread the good news of the gospel. Little did she know that her hope would become wrapped up in truth and power.

Your story greatly encourages so many of us, and we’re proud of your fellow students for recognizing you with this honor. But not every adoption has a conventional happy ending. Many adoptive parents take on great challenges with children born with genetic defects and mental disabilities. Why do you think it’s still worth parents taking this risk to adopt even if they don’t know their children will grow up to be like you?

We all need love, and we all deserve a family that loves us, no matter our disabilities. In a lot of cultures, anyone with a genetic defect or mental disability is considered an outcast or unworthy. However, as these children’s parents, men and women get a unique opportunity to pour truth onto the buffet of lies. Yes, the children are worthy. Yes, they are valued. Yes, they too are offered the love of Christ. Obviously, many challenges are presented with a a family walking down that road. However, God has a heart for all. He will bless son, daughter, father, mother alike.

Tell us about Lifeline Children’s Services and what makes their work worth supporting.

Through this campaign, I know there are so many intangible victories that my eyes will never witness while on this earth. In saying that, we all get to witness Lifeline’s fruits. God produces an abundant harvest through Lifeline. The fruit is in every birth mother who walks through the door, every child placed in foster care, and it is in every cry of a newborn child. Lifeline’s heart is in the hope of the gospel. It has and will continue to serve as vessel of righteousness—serving to display the Lord’s splendor. I am honored to support Lifeline, because Lifeline supported me through her availability, through her foundation of the Word, and through her counseling with my birth mother 22 years ago. For information about Lifeline Children Services, check out

Flight or Fright? How to Redeem Halloween

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Every year Halloween seems to grow in popularity. Bigger decorations, better candy, badder costumes. And every year Christians wonder how to handle this strange event that brings neighbors together over ghoulish scenes of death and unhealthy piles of chocolate. Should we steer death-defying teenagers toward Hell Houses to consider the eternal state of their souls? Should we lock ourselves in our living rooms with the lights turned off? Or should we embrace the fun and enjoy the company of neighbors who only emerge this one holiday each year? In short, do we flee from Halloween or seek to redeem the day?

Pumpkin-Cross-CarvedIn the latest Going Deeper with TGC podcast, Mark Mellinger and I talk with Timothy George, author of the recent article “The Gospel of Ghoul” and founding dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. We discussed our culture’s fascination with zombies and vampires and the meaning of All Saints Day. He also explained how we should we can “tweak the Devil” on Halloween. Listen to the whole discussion for his answer to questions of which Protestant reformer he’d want to dress up as and whether we speak too much, not enough, or just the right amount about hell.

As the podcast continues, The Gospel Project managing editor Trevin Wax talks with Afshin Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, about enduring trials and facing genuine persecution. He shares his testimony about how God bore him through trials while growing up in a Muslim home and standing with Jesus against his father.

You can stream the full podcast below, download the mp3, or subscribe to Going Deeper with TGC on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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