Why does anyone become a Christian?

Tim Keller: Many say that Christians who maintain the historic, traditional doctrines are behind the times, are too exclusive, and are “on the wrong side of history.” Two recent books that cast doubt on this view are from historian and biblical scholar Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University Press, 2016) and Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Marquette University Press, 2016). The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by the cultural elites, excluded from circles of influence and business, and often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says that Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups. Why? It was expected that people would have their own gods, but that they would also be willing to show honor to all other gods as well. Nearly every home, every city, every professional guild, and the Empire itself each had its own gods. You could not

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The Crux of Christianity

Mark Thompson: At the heart of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ and the great salvation he has won for us. Christians are not satisfied with a vague and nebulous notion of God or a utopian vision for the human race. We also reject the reduction of our faith to a set of rules or a pattern of moral behaviour. The Christian faith is much more particular than that. It is centred on God’s rescue mission, a mission that makes very clear what God is like and what are his plans for us. This means that at the heart of everything we believe is a particular person and a particular set of events: the person of Jesus Christ and the work he came to do. We know what God is like and we know what God intends for us because Jesus has come and made this clear. Jesus himself went to great lengths to make his disciples aware of why

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How Christianity Flourishes

Jared Wilson: Christian mission has always thrived by surging in the margins and under the radar. When we somehow get into positions of power, the wheels always come off. This is pretty much the way it’s always been. I once heard Steve Brown relate this story on the radio: “A Muslim scholar once said to a Christian, ‘I cannot find anywhere in the Qur’an that it teaches Muslims how to be a minority presence in the world. And I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where it teaches Christians how to be a majority presence in the world.’” Indeed, as Christianity spread throughout the first few centuries as a persecuted minority people, the conversion of Constantine paved the way for its becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire by the end of the fourth century. That’s quite a turnaround for some backwater sect splintering off an oppressed Palestinian Judaism. But as my old religion professor in college,

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Christianity – Something Else Entirely

  Tim Keller: To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as atertium quid, something else entirely. The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you’ (Matthew 21:31).

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Personhood, Grace, and the Sanctity of Human Life

Brian G. Hedges: This week marks the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on January 22, 1973.  Since that time over 55 million babies have been aborted in the United States. That’s about 8 times the number of people who live in Indiana (my state) and over a sixth of the total current population in the United States. Abortion is a polarizing issue in our culture: a moral, political, and religious dividing line that separates ethicists, citizens, and even professing Christians. And while many of my readers value the sanctity of human life and believe (as I do) that abortion is the unjust murder of a human being, it’s all too easy for us to caricature people of the opposing position as monsters who lack any moral conscience whatsoever. Even calling abortion murder will sound (to many) like inflammatory rhetoric that generates more heat than light. The problem, of course, is that while

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Christianity and a Much Deeper Problem Than the Will

Ever wondered what the basic difference between Christianity and Islam is? Read on… From Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church: One time at Cambridge I was talking with a Lebanese Muslim friend of mine about a mutual friend who was a fairly secular Muslim. My friend wanted him to embrace a more faithful Muslim lifestyle, and I wanted him to become a Christian. So, in a strange way, he and I had something in common. We were both concerned about this friend, though we had very different solutions for his problem. We commiserated on the difficulty of living in a secular British culture. Then my friend remarked on the corruption of this Christian country. I responded that Great Britain is not a Christian country, that in fact there is no such thing as a Christian country. That, my friend said, quickly seizing the opportunity, is the problem with Christianity compared to Islam. Christianity does not provide answers and guidelines

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Conservative Christianity and the transgender question

By Russell D. Moore: The Internet is abuzz with conversation about the “T” in “LGBT” this week, after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation supporting “equal access” for students who believe themselves to be the opposite gender from their biological sex. As a conservative evangelical Christian, I believe the so-called transgender question will require a church with a strong theological grounding, and a winsome pastoral footing. Here’s why. Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human. Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves. This is, it seems to me, the question at the

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Do Not Lose The Term “Christian”

Kevin DeYoung: In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. They were known as Christ-people. This is not the only term used in the New Testament. In Acts alone we see Christians called saints, disciples, believers, the church, brothers, Nazoreans, and people of the Way. We can rightly be called by many names. But let me put this before you: don’t lose the term “Christian.” Sometimes you find people who are a little hipper than thou who conspicuously eschew the title “Christian.”  They would rather we called a “Jesus follower” or a “disciple of Jesus of Nazareth.” There’s no problem in using this biblical language, unless it is to steadfastly avoid other kinds of biblical language. In our day there is a certain casualness about “following” someone. It’s what you do on Twitter. It’s what you do when you settle on a school of thought. You follow Keynes or you  follow Hayek. Following is pretty safe. Being called a “Christian,”

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The Litmus Test of Genuine Christianity

Cap Stewart: In our pluralistic culture, churches have become so varied that they spread confusion about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. When it comes to hot-button issues like gun rights, abortion, and homosexuality, professing Christians line up on opposite ends. Can Christianity legitimately be so divided? Or, to put it another way, can anyone discern the “real deal”? Is it possible to know what functional, practical Christianity truly looks like? James, the brother of Jesus, says yes—and he gives us a simple litmus test: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (Jas. 1:27). James provides a short, two-item checklist: (1) love—helping those in need, and (2) holiness—separating from worldly influence. These two traits summarize the practical outworking of a life changed by the gospel. Much of the current division within the church comes from

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The Offense of Christ

Kevin DeYoung: C. S. Lewis was right. Jesus cannot be just a good, moral teacher. He said so many audacious, outlandish things that he must either be a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Jesus was not just one of many pointers; he was the point. Not just a prophet, but the fulfilment of all prophesy. Not just a lord, but the Lord of lords. Not just a godly man, but the God-man. Our world suggests that there are any number of saviours  and they are not all religious or “spiritual.” The world says, “Here’s what will give you purpose. Here’s what will give you meaning. Here’s what will help you feel like a better person. Here’s what will deal with the guilt you have in your life. Here’s what will give you satisfaction.” The list of saviours is ever expanding: technology, art, diets, sex, entertainment, education, morality, humanitarianism, sincerity, hard work, patriotism, politics. But according to God’s Word, they do not save. This has always

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That Idol That You Love, It Doesn’t Love You Back

From Justin Buzzard: Everyone has to live for something and if that something isn’t the one true God, it will be a false God–an idol. An idol is anything more important to you than God. Therefore, you can turn even very good things into idols. You can turn a good thing like family, success, acceptance, money, your plans, etc. into a god thing–into something you worship and place at the center of your life. This is what sin is. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything (even a good thing) more than God. Do you know the idols you’re prone to worship? At our church we talk about 4 root idols that we tend to attach our lives to. CONTROL. You know you have a control idol if your greatest nightmare is uncertainty. APPROVAL. You know you have an approval idol if your greatest nightmare is rejection. COMFORT. You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress/demands. POWER.

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Real Christianity

. John Venn (1759 – 1813): Religion is not merely an act of homage paid upon our bended knees to God; it is not confined to the closet and the church, nor is it restrained to the hours of the sabbath; it is a general principle extending to a man’s whole conduct in every transaction and in every place. I know no mistake which is more dangerous than that which lays down devotional feelings alone as the test of true religion . . . Let us be convinced that all prayer, all preaching, all knowledge, are but means to attain a superior end; and that end the sanctification of the heart and of all the principles on which we are daily acting. Till our Christianity appears in our conversation, in our business, in our pleasures, in the aims and objects of our life, we have not attained a conformity to the image of our Saviour, nor have we learned His

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The difference between Christianity and all other religions

“[Here] you can see the difference between Christianity and all other religions, including no religion. The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, ‘This is what you have to do in order to connect with God forever; this how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.’ But the gospel says, ‘This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.’ Christianity is completely different. It’s joyful news. How do you feel when you’re given good advice on how to live? Someone says, ‘Here’s the love you ought to have, or the integrity you ought to have,’ and maybe they illustrate high moral standards by telling a story of some great hero. But when you hear it, how does it make you feel? Inspired, sure. But do you feel the way the listeners who heard those heralds

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Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Having just returned from a highly profitable trip to The Lebanon, I found this piece from The Gospel Coalition really helpful. I dedicate this post to my new friends in the Middle East. Can someone be both a practicing Muslim and also 100 percent Christian? Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Yes and yes, says Yale Divinity School theologian Miroslav Volf in his new book Allah: A Christian Response (see The Gospel Coalition’s review). Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile draws upon his experience as someone who formerly practiced Islam to respond to Volf’s arguments and efforts to clarify Christian views for Muslims who often misrepresent such doctrines as the Trinity. Contrary to my opening question in the video, Volf does not explicitly state in the book that someone can be both 100 percent Christian and 100 percent Muslim. Rather, he argues more narrowly that you can practice Islam and be 100 percent Christian. He explained in the comments section following TGC’s review

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“Am I Really a Christian?”

Thabiti Anyabwile asks: Have you ever asked yourself that question? “Am I really a Christian?” Does asking yourself that question make you an insecure or perhaps doubtful Christian? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps asking yourself that question is the healthiest and wisest thing you could do spiritually. Or to put it another way, is there any wisdom in never asking yourself that question? Could it be that the most foolish thing we could do is never ask and answer that question with biblical grit? Mike McKinley’s new book, asks and helps answer the question Am I Really a Christian? I’m excited about this book and when you read you will be, too. I’m excited because Mike has lovingly, winsomely, soberly, and helpfully offered a diagnosis of that most deceptive and damaging of spiritual problems: nominalism. How would we know if we’re “Christians” in name only? And if we discovered we were, what should we do next? For answers, check out Mike’s book and

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C.S. Lewis: “Three Kinds of Men”

C.S. Lewis’s short essay, “Three Kinds of Men,” from his collection of essays, Present Concerns (pp. 9-10): There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them. In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade,” “in school” and “out of school.” But the third

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How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?

By Al Mohler. Preaching has fallen on hard times. So suggests a report out of Durham University’s College of Preachers. The British university’s CODEC research center, which aims to explore “the interfaces between the Bible, the digital environment and contemporary culture,” conducted the study to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the College of Preachers. The report is not very encouraging. As Ruth Gledhill of The Times [London] reports, “Sermons, history shows, can be among the most revolutionary forms of human speech. From John Calvin to Billy Graham, preaching has had the power to topple princes, to set nation against nation, to inspire campaigners to change the world and impel people to begin life anew.” Indeed, preaching is the central act of Christian worship, but its great aim reaches far above merely changing the world. The preaching of the Word of God is the chief means by which God conforms Christians to the image of Christ. Rightly understood, true Christian preaching is

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CHRISTIANITY: All About Christ

“To behold Christ and to make others behold him is the substance of his [Paul’s] ministry. All the distinctive elements of Paul’s preaching relate to Christ, and bear upon their face his image and superscription. …The entire Christian life, root and stem and branch and blossom, is one continuous fellowship with Christ.” Gerhardus Vos (HT: Matthew Morizio)

10 reasons churches stall

These are the openning lines of each point from Marcus Honeysett’s excellent article. I recommend you read the whole thing here, and here. 1. The church forgets who we are and what we are for. 1 Peter says that we are a royal priesthood (who we are) for declaring God’s greatnesses to the world (what we are for)… 2. The majority of believers are no longer thrilled with the Lord and what He is doing in their lives. When questions like “what is God doing with you at the moment” cease to be common currency it is sure sign of creeping spiritual mediocrity. When a large percentage of believers are spiritually stalled, the church stalls too… 3. The people get happy with not going anywhere because of the comfort and refreshments on offer. Worse still when people get happy with activities, events, service and even good teaching and preaching but are resistant to challenges to radical living and sacrifice for the

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Beware of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

From my experience this is true of Christian youth culture in Europe, but not in Africa and Asia.  My thanks to Jason Robertson for this: Dr. Albert Mohler reports that when Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is

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