Monthly Archives: March 2010

Sandra Bullock’s Dilemma, John Piper’s Decision, and Parenthood’s Complexity

David Brooks poses an interesting question in his column today:

Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

He concludes his editorial with this–it’s worth chewing on:

[M]ost of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.

Adultery and the dissolution of a marriage is always a complicated matter, and I of course don’t know the particulars of this sad situation.  I can say, though, that Brooks’s words make one think, especially as so many of us are thoroughly enmeshed in modernity, with its hyper-speed, adoration of status and money, and distaste for traditional–seemingly enduring–things.

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Collin Hansen reflects on John Piper’s recent announcement to his church that he will be taking some time off to focus on his marriage and soul. Hansen’s historical work in the piece deserves careful pondering.

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As you may have seen elsewhere, the Christian Science Monitor just did a story on surging Calvinism that prominently features Capitol Hill Baptist Church.  I recognized a number of people in the pictures–pretty cool.  With thanks to Stuart Taylor, one of my mentors in the faith, for the link.

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Some of you may be watching the engrossing tv show Parenthood on NBC.  It follows the various branches of an extended family as they confront the challenges both traditional and modern that so many families today wrestle with.  I thought this piece on the show was worthy of attention.  The author, Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune, calls for one of the show’s characters, Julia Braverman-Graham, to continue to honestly reflect the realities of working motherhood.

In particular, this section of the essay struck me as noteworthy:

So do me a favor. Don’t blow this. Don’t be picture-perfect “Cosby Show” Clair Huxtable working mom. Don’t be “Desperate Housewives’” Lynette Scavo mess of a working mom. The archetypes don’t leave a lot of room for being insanely enamored of your kids.

Just be a working mom who desperately tries to please her boss, compete with the stay-at-home moms for face-time, find more time for her daughter and still squeeze in wife/sister/daughter/homeowner duties.

I know. It sounds impossible. But here’s a tip: Have more tender moments with Sydney. Cut out paper dolls. Do each other’s nails. Make pancakes and play Candyland and Uno and tell her stories about your childhood.

Read the whole thing.

I discussed this article with my wife, a homemaker who identified the excellent point I now seek to develop.  Many modern women today, intimidated by archetypal June Cleaver and Betty Huxtable figures, scoff at these figures, viewing their lives as impossible to achieve.  While few stay-at-home moms would claim that their lives are complex, it seems unrealistic to suggest that traditional womanhood makes life harder than modern womanhood.

Why?  Because the Tribune piece, as is common to more contemporary feminism, seems to suggest that women can do it all.  They can be a lawyer working 90-hour weeks, “have more tender moments” with their kids, and ” still squeeze in wife/sister/daughter/homeowner duties.”  Let me just say that a woman in action boggles the mind.  I grew up under a very gifted woman and I live with one now.

However, I have to call bluff here.  How on earth can even the most omni-competent mother simultaneously complete all her responsibilities at a very demanding job, increase her special time with her children, and function in all her other roles–wife, family member, child?  That’s unrealistic.  It’s unfair.  It’s exhausting, damaging, and dangerous, whether for the woman herself, her kids, or her marriage.

Maureen Dowd, a feminist’s feminist, noted some time ago that “blue is the new black.” In public, and to her credit, she noted that modern women are unhappy, and that this unhappiness is tied to a feminist way of life.  She would not agree with much of what I stand for, I’m sure, but her candor suggests what I’m getting at here: the Julia Braverman-Graham model is untenable.  It won’t hold.

Or, if it does hold, it will come at great cost.  There is no substitute for quantity with children.  If you want to love them and see them flourish, you simply must spend lots of time with them–not time on your cell while they play, not time on the computer while they try to get your attention–but real, thick, loving, focused time.  Moms have an essential role to play on this point, even as dads do as well when their daily out-of-the-home work ceases.

Heidi Stevens is a gifted writer, and I’m guessing she’s a very sweet mother, but her model is deeply flawed.  Just as men don’t need to run themselves into the ground for the sake of career, women don’t need to run themselves into the ground for the sake of some vaunted but impossible ideal of womanhood.  Nobody said June Cleaver’s life was easy.  There’s no way, however, that an honest viewer could say that Julia Braverman-Graham’s life is any easier. The exhaustion, frustration and guilt she feels stems in substantial part not from the reactions of others, but from the model she follows.

(Image: Babble.com)

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Michael Horton, Darryl Hart on “Church Parents,” and the Death of Private Practice

If you haven’t read recent texts by Westminster West professor Michael Horton, you should.  He’s a cultural critic of evangelicalism and has much good to say.  Here are some videos to check out.

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While we’re on the subject of cultural critics of evangelicalism, we visit historian Darryl Hart’s blog for a provocative piece.  I heard Hart at the recent Wheaton conference on the early church, where he jokingly called the church fathers the “church parents” in light of gender inclusive language.  I found that hilarious, though it proved highly socially awkward, as no one else laughed.  He also went after the term “gathering”, noting that “we Presbyterians have conferences, not gatherings.” 

By the way, does anyone find it funny that Hart has a blog?  Seems so–I don’t know–modern.  He’s a must-read, wherever he writes.

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From the NYT, we find that “More Doctors Taking Salaried Jobs” over private practice:

[A]n increasing share of young physicians, burdened by medical school debts and seeking regular hours, are deciding against opening private practices. Instead, they are accepting salaries at hospitals and health systems. And a growing number of older doctors — facing rising costs and fearing they will not be able to recruit junior partners — are selling their practices and moving into salaried jobs, too.

As recently as 2005, more than two-thirds of medical practices were physician-owned — a share that had been relatively constant for many years, the Medical Group Management Association says. But within three years, that share dropped below 50 percent, and analysts say the slide has continued.

For patients, the transformation in medicine is a mixed blessing. Ideally, bigger health care organizations can provide better, more coordinated care. But the intimacy of longstanding doctor-patient relationships may be going the way of the house call.

Of course, I’ve never had a house call.  But despite the paper’s assurance that these changes have “very little” to do with recent developments in health-care legislation, I’m calling bluff here…

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I just saw the list of some of the books for the Band of Bloggers event at T4G, and it is a sweet collection.  Just saying.

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Omega Males, David Brooks, and the Importance of Glamour

Slate recently ran a story about men they called “Omega males.” Definitely not Alpha, not quite Beta.  Essentially, this class of men is drifting through their post-college and thirtysomething years, not making much of themselves, struggling to find love, and making little dent on the world. This kind of guy seems to have proliferated in the current day, and that is a problem, even for mainstream cultural commentators.

Here’s a snatch from the piece:

In the social hierarchy of a wolf pack in captivity, the omega ranks below the alpha and beta wolves. In human terms, if an executive or a warrior is an alpha male and a nice-guy middle manager like The Office‘s Jim Halpert is a beta male, then Greenberg and his brethren are omega males. While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up. Greenberg says of his somewhat stunted best friend, “We call each other ‘man,’ but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people.” The omega male is not experiencing the tired trope of the midlife crisis. A midlife crisis implies agency, a man who has the job and the family and chooses to reject it. The omega male doesn’t have the power to reject anything—he’s the one who has been brushed off.

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David Brooks weighs in on the recent legislation on health-care:

[W]atching all this, I feel again why I’m no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party. The essence of America is energy — the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans who built the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts.

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Have you heard of the MacDowell Colony?  It’s some kind of ridiculously cool artist’s retreat paradise.  Writers, musicians, artists and other creative types stay for a spell and pump out masterpieces.  In the words of Tina Fey: “I want to go to there.”

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We need to think about glamour. Here’s why.

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A deeply inspiring worship song.  We need more Revelation-inspired worship songs.  The language cannot be beat.

(Image from Greenberg)

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Revival–In Maine!?

Note: this is a cross-post from Church Matters, the 9Marks blog.  I am posting it here only because this good news deserves to be spread.

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Several hundred years ago, revival broke out in New England under the watchcare of America’s greatest pastor, Jonathan Edwards.  275 years later, it may be happening again.

From Downeast magazine, a secular publication covering life in Maine, comes this hugely unexpected news: Maine, one of the spiritually “darkest” states in New England (America’s least Christian region), is apparently experiencing a revival.  Evangelical churches emphasizing biblical literacy and doctrinal solidarity are seeing up to 20% increased attendance in recent days.  This, to say the least, is a shocker.

Here’s what Cynthia Anderson writes in “Sanctuary”, the article covering this seeming phenomenon (read the whole thing–it’s that encouraging): 

The three Sunday services at Calvary Chapel regularly draw more than two thousand people. Turnout is similar ten miles away at Bangor Baptist Church, which has on its grounds two radio stations and the largest Christian school in the state. A few exits down Route 95 in Waterville, Faith Evangelical Free Church — originator of a popular YouTube series of skits based on the TV show The Office — also draws large crowds. Indeed, attendance at the state’s evangelical churches has swelled in recent years as mainline denominations have continued to struggle. According to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 37 percent of those Mainers who identify as Protestant now consider themselves evangelical.

The numbers, say religious experts and church leaders, suggest a surge of interest in Bible-based Christianity, particularly north of Portland. “It appears that there’s some sort of revival going on in central Maine,” says Ves Sheely, district superintendent of the Evangelical Free Church in New England. Sheely, who travels the state as he makes the rounds of the association’s sixty member churches, has observed new churches opening and attendance at existing ones rising. “I see an increased openness to spiritual life, here more than in other parts of New England. I see evidence of a new interest in Jesus.”

Others concur. “There is a trend of people going back to church here, especially to the more literally Bible-based churches,” says Jerry Mick, pastor of Bangor Baptist, where the nine hundred-person average weekly attendance reflects a 20 percent increase in two years. In the Bangor area alone there are more than forty churches, close to half of which are evangelical — including Nazarene, Baptist, Assembly of God, and non-denominational. Such religiosity is all the more notable given that the Pew study showed only 59 percent of Mainers are “absolutely certain” God exists, compared with 65 percent of those in the Northeast and 71 percent nationally.

The article, as one can see, doesn’t given a ton of hard data.  There’s a good amount of anecdotal evidence referenced here.  Furthermore, we all know that Christians have historically had a tendency to claim revival–and church growth–where it may or may not actually have happened.  If the testimony recorded here does reflect reality, however, this is a most unexpected and welcome development.

Can I give you a little context here?  I’m from Maine.  Real Maine–the deep country.  I am from a church that averaged between 30 and 70 people in attendance each week during my childhood.  Precious few people were saved during my time at First Baptist Church of East Machias.  This despite the faithful preaching of the gospel, the sacrificial evangelistic efforts of church members, and devoted members committed to imaging the gospel.  I knew of no revivals; my high school had perhaps 3-5 Christian students total.

When I went to college, I went to a vibrant church in Brunswick, Maine of between 200-300 members.  I thought it was a megachurch (seriously).  The congregation sponsored a radio ministry, had an education wing and pastor’s offices, and more.  I could barely believe my eyes.

Why do I share this?  Because, in my limited experience, revival in Maine–no, revival in New England–is almost unheard of.  Though far from Maine now, I keep tabs on my beloved home state, and I know that now, just as always, many churches fight for their very existence.  Many pastors work bivocationally.  Asbury’s circuit-riding has not died out; I know preachers who serve several tiny congregations that are the only gospel witnesses within miles.  If this revival (and other renewal efforts discussed by folks like Soong-Chang Rah) is indeed happening, and it seems it is, this is some of the most encouraging spiritual news I have ever heard regarding my home state and home region.  Ever.

I’m sure that many readers will lack a direct connection to Maine; whatever the case, would you join me in prayer for this development (and for other regions of our country and world)?  It may well be another confirmation that even in the darkest of times (a recent cover story by Newsweek showed that North American Christianity is indeed struggling in many cases), God has not forgotten His people.  As He has so often shown His church throughout the ages, He is faithful, He is strong to save, and His gospel of the kingdom is pushing back the thickest darkness through a mixed group of churches and faithful believers. 

In the land of Edwards, it seems, revival has come again.

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To begin learning more about New England Christians:

New England Center for Expository Preaching (note the May 2010 pastor’s conf featuring Mark Dever)

NETS Institute for Church Planting

Bangor Baptist Church

Calvary Chapel of Bangor

Faith Evangelical Free Church

2008 Pew Survey

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Johnny Cash’s Vision: The Majestic Son of God

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in  blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

–Revelation 19:11-16 (ESV)

You know that Johnny Cash song “When the Man Comes Around”?  I love how that song captures the majesty, the spine-crackling scariness, of Jesus Christ.  In numerous places, the Scripture pictures God and His Son in these terms.  In soft, wishy-washy, felt-needs evangelicalism, where worship songs are really all about us, and sermons revolve around what we want, and God seems small in our everyday lives, this kind of passage is especially strange.  Jesus going to war is not the image we regularly lift up on Sunday morning.

In a way, that’s understandable.  We tremble for those outside of Christ.  We pray for them to escape this vengeful Son.  In another way, however, it’s not.  The Son of God as pictured in the Bible is not tame and weak and boring.  He’s awesome.  In his second coming, He is the scariest hero literature has ever known.  No science fiction ruler or fantasy king comes close.

Revelation is a tough book to understand, but it also includes some really important passages on Christ that, regardless of our view of the millenium, need to factor heavily into our daily worship and our devotional lives.  Speaking as a young, wannabe pastor-theologian, while we definitely need to try hard to study and understand Revelation (as with all of Scripture), we can fall into the trap of viewing the book as only a kind of theological puzzle to decipher.  I’m afraid that this happens to many Christians.  Those who don’t love untangling dense theological knots might stay away from this dramatic text as a result.  If and when this is the case, our exegetes and theologians have done us a disservice.  On a literary, theological, and spiritual level, Revelation is engrossing and deeply rewarding, if we read it with patience and an openness to all of its beauty, not just its apocalyptic code.

If we only to study it along one line, we will miss many things, including Christ the warrior-king, who infuses our worship with smoke and flame.

(Image: White Men Can’t Blog)

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David Dockery on the Great Commission Resurgence

Have you wondered what on earth the “Great Commission Resurgence” is in recent months?  You may know it’s a development in the Southern Baptist Convention.  But until now, you might have found little concrete information about it.

If that is the case–and I suspect it is for a bunch of people–you should check out the new Insight Podcast with David Dockery of Union University.  The podcast is hosted by Doug Baker of The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma), and it delves extensively into the “GCR”–what it is, how it started, and Lord willing, where it is going.  Doug is a gifted interviewer with a keen understanding of the SBC, and Dr. Dockery is perhaps the senior statesman of the SBC. 

Whether you’re a Southern Baptist or not, give this podcast a listen.  I don’t care if you’re Presbyterian, Acts29, charismatic, Anglican, or nondenominational–this is a gospel development.  By this I mean that an entire denomination, a massive movement of churches, is reorienting its structure and funding to more effectively promote the gospel.  This is worth listening to, and this is worth praying for.

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Here are some other resources related to the GCR:

Danny Akin’s message that is credited as the origin of the GCR’s public initiation: http://betweenthetimes.com/2009/04/16/akin-axioms-for-a-great-commission-resurgence/

http://baptistmessenger.com/editors-journal-all-eyes-on-nashville/

http://baptistmessenger.com/seeking-renewal-will-the-gcr-change-the-sbc/

Here is Dr. Mohler’s column which he wrote exclusively for the Baptist Messenger:
http://baptistmessenger.com/the-great-commission-resurgence-southern-baptists-aim-to-do-more-together-for-the-glory-of-god/

Baptist21, the youth movement of the GCR: http://www.baptisttwentyone.com/

GCR website: http://www.pray4gcr.com/what-is-gcr/

Commentary from Timmy Brister on the future of the SBC: http://timmybrister.com/2009/11/17/charles-finney-cooperation-and-the-gcr/

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Band of Bloggers at Together for the Gospel

Have you heard about the upcoming Band of Bloggers event at Together for the Gospel in just under a month’s time?  Timmy Brister, the event’s planner, recently announced it.  Here’s the essential information:

The theme for this year’s meeting is Internet Idolatry and Gospel Fidelity.” With the advent of new media and the increasing influence of technology on our lives, it is important to address the relationship of the gospel to technology, especially the areas where we are tempted with idolatrous desire (power, identity, influence, acceptance, control, etc.).  While the internet, with all of its platforms (such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be a powerful tool to leverage our lives for the gospel impact, we want to examine our hearts to bring to light the various ways in which the idol factory of our hearts challenges and subverts the very gospel which we long to embrace.

The format for this year’s gathering will be similar to last year.  We will begin with a catered lunch, listen to 4 speakers address a subtopic on the theme, and transition to a moderated panel discussion with questions fielded from attendees.  The guys I have asked to speak this year are: Justin Taylor, Jonathan McIntosh, Trevin Wax, and Jared Wilson. I am thrilled that these guys have agreed to lead the discussion, and I believe you will be blessed and challenged by their contributions to this important topic.

The meeting will take place at The Galt House (the Archibald Room) on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 from 11:00am-12:45pm.  The Galt House is located just two blocks away from the Louisville Convention Center and is connected to the Center via a skywalk.  Due to limited seating, we encourage you to register early as every BoB gathering to date has reached capacity prior to the event. Registration for this gathering is $25 and simply covers the cost of the catered lunch.

This is exciting news.  I’m thrilled to be a small part of this event through moderating the panel.  I’m also looking forward to the free books that Timmy magically procures for this event year-after-year.  I haven’t seen any hard figures, but I’ve heard that those who pay the $25 cover will receive around $200 worth of free books.  If that is not economics working for you, show me what is.

If you’ll be at T4G, make it a part of your plans to come to BoB.  It’s a very fun gathering and is a rare opportunity for the blogging community to get together.  Hope to see you there in a few weeks’ time.

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The Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Here’s some cool news: the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School now has an online presence: http://jecteds.org.

Visitors to the site will find information about the center, details on upcoming lectures, and a regularly updated blog which includes brief book reviews by Center Director Doug Sweeney.  Those interested in Edwards studies will want to take note of the first two lectures held for the JEC at TEDS.  George Marsden of the University of Notre Dame will speak on “Jonathan Edwards for the Twenty-first Century” on Nov. 3, 2010 at TEDS.  Richard Muller of Calvin Theological Seminary will speak on “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice” on September 29, 2010 at TEDS.

Here’s a snatch from the “About” section that will give you a feel for the center:

The Jonathan Edwards Center is a ministry of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Located on the campus of TEDS (Deerfield, Illinois), it exists to promote and serve the conversation unfolding on Edwards, America’s preeminent pastor, theologian, and philosopher. It has a special burden to engage the life of the church, though it is engaged on multiple levels with scholarly study of Edwards and his world.

The JEC at TEDS will definitely reach a scholarly audience, as one can see, but a major part of its mission is to engage the life of church people with the riches of the Edwardsean ministry and theology.  Visit the site, sign up for the blog, and join the center as we seek to deepen our appreciation for the great God Edwards worshipped.

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Book Alert: Josh Harris on Theology; Carson, Moo, Naselli on the New Testament

Josh Harris has just released Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why it Matters (Multnomah, 2010).  I am working my way through it and finding it a rewarding read.  The purpose of this book: to communicate the need for a deeper walk with God, a theologically rich way of life.  This is an excellent aim, and it is carried out with Harris’s trademark lively, friendly style.  The guy has a great sense of humor and, most importantly, a passionate love for the Lord.

This would be a helpful book for any Christian who hungers to know God more intimately but who struggles to know where to start.  So many books, so little direction.  Harris walks the reader through his journey into a theological life in accessible terms, allowing us to see how his own faith has deepened and his vision of God has expanded over time.  Pick up Dug Down Deep, and get a copy or two for your child, your friend, your coworker who could benefit from a wise, pastoral, engaging word from a faithful man.

Wanted to pass on word about a splendiferous new book on the New Testament that will richly reward its readers: Introducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to its History and Message by D. A. Carson and Doug Moo (edited by Andy Naselli, PhD student under Carson at TEDS; Zondervan, April 2010).

I’ve looked through this edited version of a previous NT introduction by Carson and Moo and it looks very helpful.  Andy put in hours on this project, whittling down the content of two respected NT scholars to the kernel of NT doctrine.  Be prepared for all kinds of data in a small, 160-page format (and look for Andy’s trademark numbered lists!) that will appeal to readers of all backgrounds and levels.  If you’ve ever wanted, for example, D. A. Carson’s thought in bite-sized form, here it is.

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Global Christianity and Cultural Engagement

It’s exciting to announce that the Henry Center is partnering with the Lausanne movement, begun three decades ago by Billy Graham and John Stott, to publicize both the cause and the 2010 conference.

In conjunction with Lausanne 2010, the Center will host a conversation on conversation on global Christianity and cultural engagement on March 17, 2010 at 9am at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in ATO Chapel.  This exciting conversation will feature such leading evangelical thinkers as Tite Tienou of TEDS, Doug Birdsall (Executive Chairman of Lausanne), Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, Bethany Hoang of International Justice Mission, and Peter Cha of TEDS.  Skye Jethani of Leadership Journal will moderate the discussion.

Trinity is one of a select group of locations for Lausanne gatherings, including New York City, Boston, and Pasadena.

Visit http://www.lausanne.org/global-conversation/chicagotrinity-gathering.html for more information.  The event will likely be live-streamed and recorded for later posting on this website.  If you’re in the area, consider yourself invited to the discussion; if you’re out of town, the live-stream may be of interest.

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