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Billy and Ruth Graham

Ruth and Billy at their Montreat, N.C., home. (Baptist Press photo)

I had the privilege of meeting Billy Graham three times in my life. Each of those encounters gave me a slightly different perspective on both the man and the far-reaching scope of his ministry and influence.

I first met Dr. Graham while a college student at Judson University, where one of his sons was also a student. The chapel was buzzing that morning with news that Billy Graham was present, and I sat down eager to hear the famous evangelist. Instead, we heard the regularly scheduled chapel speaker, and learned that Dr. Graham was there as a parent and fellow worshiper that morning. I had a brief moment to shake his hand after chapel. But the memory I walked away with was of his humility, and that he didn’t need to be in the limelight.

The second time I met Dr. Graham was in the mid-1980’s, when he visited the offices of Christianity Today Inc., where I worked as a mid-level manager. Dr. Graham founded our flagship magazine in 1956, and it had become the primary voice for evangelical Christianity, and a thoughtful alternative to the more liberal Christian Century.

Throughout my 17 years at Christianity Today, we would occasionally discuss whether anyone could personify and hold together the many strands of evangelicalism as Dr. Graham did. The memory I walked away with from those years was that this evangelist, best known for declaring the simple gospel message, also founded worldwide ministries that articulated and defended conservative, evangelical Christianity, even in leading academic and theological circles.

The final time I met Dr. Graham personally was in 1999, when the North American Mission Board and its missionary to the United Nations hosted a dinner for ambassadors and diplomats in New York City. Though the setting was by no means an evangelistic crusade, I listened as Dr. Graham masterfully, disarmingly, and yet directly delivered the gospel message in an after-dinner speech to some of the world’s most influential men and women. I walked away thinking, “That gracious, winsome man uses every opportunity he has to share the gospel.”

In those brief, personal, glimpses, I saw a humble, gracious man, a father and husband who didn’t “need” the spotlight, but who leveraged every opportunity to spread the gospel, both widely around the world and deeply into the most academic and theological circles. I hope that meeting him personally those few, brief times gives me the right to now miss him as personally as I do.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Why I miss Nellie

ib2newseditor —  February 15, 2018 — Leave a comment

Woman praying with her bible on table

Joe Oliver met me at the front door yesterday. One of our faithful zone consultants, Joe was in town for the monthly team meeting before returning to his ministry field in the Chicago suburbs. “We’re praying for you,” he said, helping me pull the door open. His wife, DeWanna, had said the same thing to me on the same spot the month before. And in that moment, I realized that I still miss my mother-in-law.

Folks at my house have been on the injured-reserve list for a while, and I took my turn recently. In this protracted season, I have witnessed Christ at work through coworkers and their wives who have fed us and cheered us and prayed for us. The same is true of church family, who prove they are truly family, when you need them. The soups and casseroles have been terrific, but it’s the assurances about praying for us that stick with us most.

“We’re praying for you” really means something when you know it’s true.

I used to call my grandmother on occasion and ask her to pray for me, especially during college exams. (Desperate times, desperate measures, you know.) And where she left off, my mother-in-law picked up. “Call your mother,” I’d say to my wife. Especially as a pastor in a troubled inner city, I knew we needed to send for back-up. And we got it from 600 miles away. She prayed faithfully, and she would call back wanting to know the results—because she expected results. Nellie has been with Jesus 12 years now, telling him more directly, I hope, that we need his help. Baptists don’t have a doctrine of the communion of the saints, but I hope in the Hebrews 12:1 cloud of witnesses, a picture of the packed stadium at an Olympics-style event, that there’s room for my mother-in-law and so many others still cheering us on toward the faithful completion of our own race.

And not Nellie only.

Over the years, I have counted on the prayers of Louise, Leo, Ruthie, Ethel, Pat, Pam, Carole, Sheila, Yvonne, Bev, Sherry, Millie, Bea, and Arlene, among others. And more recently Susan, Beth, Robin, Kathy, Tammie, Jean, Miriam, Ashley, Diane, and many, many others. And that’s just the women.

I’m beginning to understand why Paul’s “conclusions” to his short letters are so long. There are so many people who deserve a “thank you” for their faithful intercession. If I haven’t said it adequately out loud, please know I’m saying it in prayer.

– Eric Reed

Detour sign in New York

I learned to drive when finding your way around still involved maps—ones that were printed on paper with different size dots to represent population, and different width lines to represent what kind of road it was. To get from place to place, you would locate where you were and where you wanted to go and, most of the time, map out the shortest distance.

This worked well until you came to one of those big orange triangular signs that said “Detour.” Typically, you would be directed off the road with a sign or two and then left to your own resources to find your way back. The objective was to get back to the main road as soon as possible so you could continue your journey. On occasion, getting back to the main road seemed impossible, and you had to find a new way to get to your destination.

Personally, my life recently took a detour (with a cancer diagnosis). Not only am I now on a different road, I am headed for a new and different destination. To be honest, my wife, Robin, and I aren’t sure we know what the new destination will be. This detour is not simply a short-lived excursion, it is a brand-new road.

Sometimes God takes our lives on a detour, at least from the plans we have laid out and from the destinations we were headed toward. And trying to get back to the old road, the former route, is to miss what God wants to do in our life. As one author puts it, the detour has become the new road.

What do we make of this? Is God playing a mean trick on us, or has he changed his mind about his purpose for our lives? As I have thought (and prayed) about this, I have come to a new understanding and appreciation for what God might be doing when he interrupts our personal road maps and seeks to take us to a new destination.

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that many of God’s choicest servants, men and women, experienced some incredible detours. Consider Abraham, who was told to leave his home land and go to a place God would show him (eventually). Ruth, a young bride-turned-widow, also journeyed to a foreign land. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left the family fishing business to wander with Jesus, and the Apostle Paul detoured from persecuting the church to being the planter of churches.

These are just a few of the dozens of examples we could mention. Let me suggest a few possibilities for what God might be up to in the detours of life:

1. You detoured when you trusted Jesus. The truth of the gospel is that we were enemies of God until he intervened and offered us salvation through Jesus. In our old life, we charted our own destination, and it was leading us to separation from God. Our repentance—doing an “about face”—represents the first and most important detour as a disciple of Jesus.

2. Your detour may last for many years before you see the benefit. Joseph was enjoying his time as the favorite son of a wealthy father. Then his brothers threw him in a pit and left him for dead. He was sold into slavery to a foreign king and later thrown into prison, even though he did nothing wrong. Quite a life-changing detour! But after decades and several more detours, Joseph’s position in the foreign land was used by God to meet the need of his people in a time of severe famine. You may not see the benefit or the blessing of a detour for many years to come.

3. Your detour may have a Kingdom impact. Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, may have had the most dramatic detour recorded. From hunting down and wanting to kill followers of Jesus, he became the greatest missionary ever, planting churches all over the known world. Only in heaven will we know how many people came to be followers of Jesus because of Paul’s ministry. This was certainly not his original life’s ambition. Yet you and I have heard the gospel because of Paul’s dramatic detour.

4. Your detour may be for the blessing of others. Consider Abram. He was a herder of livestock. God told him to leave home and set out for a place that God would show him. Not only would God bless Abram, “all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). Abram’s detour resulted in all the nations of the earth being blessed.
So, don’t get in a hurry to get back to your original route. Allow what seems like a detour to be the new route of obedience for your life.

Van Kicklighter is IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team.

Fully staffed Court poised to rule on religious liberty issues

Christians and other conservatives hoped the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court in April would tilt the court toward a favorable view of religious liberty concerns. As a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, Gorsuch’s rulings supported Hobby Lobby and other organizations that opposed—based on their religious convictions—healthcare legislation requiring their employee plans to cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs.

So far, Gorsuch’s previous rulings have extended to his time on the High Court. In June, he was part of 7-2 ruling that found Christian schools should have the opportunity to be awarded government grants for playground upgrades. And this year, the court has agreed to hear the case of Jack Phillips, the Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration.

In 2017, other cases related to religious liberty played out elsewhere in the judicial system:

On Oct. 6, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules to provide relief from the requirement that employers provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions. But a Dec. 15 ruling by a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the new rules.

And late last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the state did not violate the First Amendment rights of Aaron and Melissa Klein, who were fined $135,000 in 2015 for refusing to design and bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. The three-judge panel upheld a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that found the Kleins’ refusal was based on unlawful discrimination against homosexuals.

While Gorsuch’s presence on the Supreme Court was a victory for religious freedom advocates, mixed results from other courts could indicate a contentious year ahead, and new territory for the church to navigate.

– With reporting from Baptist Press

Silent no more, abuse victims speak out

Movie producer Harvey Weinstein was only the first of countless celebrity men disgraced by allegations of sexual harassment and assault in 2017. And as the names added up—each seemingly more famous and more familiar and more unlikely than the last—so did the names and faces of their victims.

On social media, #metoo became a rallying cry for women who have been abused or oppressed or pushed aside or used by men in power. When Time named their most influential people of 2017, “the silence breakers” topped the list.

And lest those outside of Hollywood or Washington fall prey to a cavalier “who’s next” attitude, another hashtag soon appeared on Twitter: #churchtoo, used to denote people who have been abused by religious leaders, or those whose church has failed to support them when they reported an abusive situation.

In January, an associate pastor at non-denominational Highpoint Church in Memphis admitted an instance of sexual misconduct 20 years ago after the victim, then a high school student, shared her #metoo story. When the pastor, Andy Savage, spoke to his church the Sunday after the story broke, he received a standing ovation. His accuser, Jules Woodson, told The New York Times the ovation was “disgusting.”

“It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim,” Woodson said. “What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”

Late last year, more than 140 evangelical women signed on to a statement decrying abuse with the hashtag #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. “This moment in history is ours to steward,” reads the statement. “We are calling churches, particularly those in our stream of the Christian faith—evangelical churches—to end the silence and stop all participation in violence against women.”

As churches and their leaders move into a 2018 still reeling from scandal, the most pressing challenge may well be discerning how the Bible should inform and instruct Christians living in a #metoo culture. And answering this question: When a few women are silence breakers on behalf of a great many, what does that say about what the church is saying to and about women?

“The contributions of women in the advancement of the kingdom are essential and indispensable,” author and teacher Jen Wilkin said at a conference recently. “If we have crafted a vision for the church in which women are extra, in which women are nice but not necessary, we have a crafted a vision for the church that is foreign to the Scriptures.”

Jonathan DavisSeptember 2013 will forever be seared in my mind as when I received the phone call every seminarian hopes for: God had called me to my first pastorate.

Recognizing the weightiness of it all, one thing became quite apparent: I was going to need major help. In God’s providence, that help came in a multitude of ways. One in particular was John Piper’s book, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.”

With a passion and precision that he is known for, God used this veteran pastor to help shape my understanding of what it means to shepherd the flock of God. His thoughts on preaching were priceless, especially knowing I was to be responsible for the weekly preaching of God’s Word.

Within the wisdom of that book, one practical thought on preaching still reverberates in my ministry today. Piper made sure he preached on abortion at least once a year in his church.

“Pastors should put their lives and ministries on the line in this issue,” he writes. He was appalled at the “cowardice of some pastors when it comes to preaching against abortion.”

“If anyone should take up the cause of the unborn, it is the man of God in the pulpit.”

The gauntlet was thrown, and I felt the challenge deeply. I can’t fully explain it, but for me, reading those words was one of those moments when a truth concretized in an instant. I was resolved. There would be no cowardice on this issue on my watch.

Tony Merida (an author and pastor in North Carolina) said, “At its most basic level, expository preaching is preaching in such a way that the listeners get wet with God’s Word after the sermon.” Of this I was convinced. But it was Piper who convinced me that if I was going to discharge my pastoral duty faithfully, then I must make a point to preach the truth of God’s Word on the matter of abortion. He persuaded me that some topics are worthy of deliberate considering because they are just that important. The sanctity of human life is one of those topics.

God’s people are immersed in a culture of death. Whether it’s through the world at large, the onslaught of social media posts, or the inescapable daily news cycle, the spiritual forces of evil work overtime to diminish the value of life.

The cosmic powers over this present darkness are crafty in their attacks against the imago dei. They don’t care how they devalue life.

God’s ordained counter-offensive against this attack is preachers who lead their people by their preaching—empowered by the Spirit of God and armed with his Word. If anyone should take up the cause of the unborn, it is the man of God in the pulpit.

That’s not to say everyone else in the church is off the hook on this matter. But it is to say that if everyone else were to remain silent, there ought to be at least one champion for God’s image-bearers in the womb (and out of the womb, for that matter). That’s you, pastor.

In my own pastoral ministry, I have sought to lead in this way. Over the years, my definition of what I mean by “sanctity of life” has broadened. We generally think of it only being about abortion. But a legitimate category under sanctity of life is the desire for the flourishing of life.

This means in my preaching I’ve not only tried to expose the evil of abortion, but I’ve also sought to bear the gospel on racial reconciliation, proclaim the goodness of God’s design in gender, uphold the roles of men and women in the church and home, and lead God’s people in how to think through issues of euthanasia/suicide.

Now you might be thinking, “Why sanctity of life? Why this issue? Surely there are other matters to fight for as well.” If you think this, you’re right.

The sanctity of life is not the only issue. But it is worthy of a pastor’s prophetic voice in a world full of ears itching for teachers to suit their own passions.

My encouragement to you is the same mandate from Piper that fell on me: “Brothers, blow the trumpet for the unborn.”

Jonathan Davis is pastor of Delta Church in Springfield.

Some events from last year offer insight on issues facing evangelicals and church leaders

If evangelicalism is having an identity crisis, as some religious and cultural observers posit, the issue is whether “evangelical” means a person’s theological beliefs and practice, or is it adherence to a conservative political movement. It has at times meant both, and at points in 2017 we saw the movement struggling with itself over which is “the main thing.”

In this short collection of news stories from last year, we see how evangelicals balanced belief and practice. We witnessed the thumb-wrestling of “Big-E Evangelicalism,” inheritors of the socially conservative political force Moral Majority and keepers of its dwindling flame, and “little-e evangelicalism,” the smaller group who are not merely self-identified evangelicals, but whose core-group of beliefs about Scripture, Jesus, and their relationship to him directly affect their behaviors and drive their moral decision-making.

Donald Trump would not be president without evangelicals, more specifically Big-E Evangelicals, and the presence of some in his administration serves as a reminder of that. There is a group of cabinet leaders and others who meet weekly for Bible study. Spokeswoman (and preacher’s daughter) Sarah Huckabee Sanders is possibly the most visible Evangelical in the White House through her daily televised press briefings.

Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court as a hoped-for advocate for religious freedoms was hailed by church leaders. And Southern Baptists were present on several occasions in 2017 when President Trump signed legislation affecting religious liberty.

But the December loss of a U.S. Senate seat by Republican Judge Roy Moore, Alabama’s Ten Commandments champion, to a pro-abortion Democrat has caused some pundits to wonder if the Big-E political/Republican alliance has weakened, and what that might mean for President Trump in the future. Given the special circumstances in that Senate race, moral accusations against Moore, another conclusion is that the biblical beliefs of little-e evangelicals trumped the Big-E political machine in the privacy of the voting booth.

Similarly, a Democrat easily won the governor’s race in Virginia, whose considerable Evangelical population had previously supported a string of GOP governors. Conservative analyst Stephen Mansfield wrote in a new book that the loss can be attributed partly to the disaffection of evangelicals.

“The young, probably in reaction to Trump and to some of the machinations on the Right, went strongly for the Democrat. I think that is an indication of future trends,” Mansfield said in an interview. “It will probably settle down, but I think that the social consciences of the young are raising some important questions.”

But can those assumptions be applied to the President himself, who a year ago got 81% of the white, evangelical vote? “He’s had about a 10-15% drop-off in support from the evangelical community since taking office,” Mansfield summarized. “So while there may be a sort of exaggerated self-reporting around the time when an evangelical casts a vote, there is some indication that there was never really that depth of devotion. I don’t think their support was ever very deep, and it seems to be weakening quickly.”

One conclusion is that little-e evangelicalism—personal, biblical belief and practice—is being separated from its Big-E political counterpart in this generation.

“Many have analyzed the weaknesses of the current iteration of this movement,” writes conservative Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. “The desire by mid-twentieth-century leaders to foster more widespread cooperation between evangelicals and downplay denominational differences cut believers off from the past, some religion scholars have found…. This has made present-day evangelicals more vulnerable to political movements that appeal to their self-interest, even in contradiction to biblical teachings, for example, about welcoming the immigrant and lifting up the poor. However, evangelicalism is much more resilient than any one form of itself. The newer forms that are emerging are more concerned with theological and historic roots, and are more resistant to modern individualism than older, white Evangelicalism.”

Issues in Illinois
Governor’s race: Evangelicals disappointed by Gov. Rauner’s support for HB 40, which allows state-funding of abortions involving state employees and aid recipients, will be looking for a gubernatorial candidate to support in 2018.

Pro-life advocate Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said she would run against Rauner in part because of his signature allowing the abortion legislation. Ives handily won a January straw poll against Rauner among Chicago-area Republican leaders, but she faces an uphill climb against the well-funded incumbent. Seven Democrats are on the March 20 ballot with J.B. Pritzker the apparent leader.

The general election is in November.

Social issues: After successfully moving legalization of same-sex marriage through the Illinois General Assembly, State Senator Heather Steans and some other representatives are preparing to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana use in Illinois. Steans is using economic growth as an argument for legalization, citing a prediction that 250,000 jobs will be created in the “cannabis industry” by 2020. “As many of you may have heard, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last week that he was rescinding an Obama-era policy that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting operations in states that legalized marijuana,” Steans wrote to supporters. “This change will not diminish our efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis in Illinois.”

A public hearing is scheduled for late January.