Ecumenical vs. Evangelical
by Mike Riccardi

One of the most devastating attacks on the life and health of the church throughout all of church history has been what is known as the ecumenical movement—the downplaying of doctrine in order to foster partnership in ministry between (a) genuine Christians and (b) people who were willing to call themselves Christians but who rejected fundamental Christian doctrines.

In the latter half of the 19th century, theological liberalism fundamentally redefined what it meant to be a Christian. It had nothing to do, they said, with believing in doctrine. It didn’t matter if you believed in an inerrant Bible; the scholarship of the day had debunked that! It didn’t matter if you believed in the virgin birth and the deity of Christ; modern science disproved that! It didn’t matter if you embraced penal substitutionary atonement; blood sacrifice and a wrathful God are just primitive and obscene, and besides, man is not fundamentally sinful but basically good! What mattered was one’s experience of Christ, and whether we live like Christ. “And we don’t need doctrine to do that!” they said. “Doctrine divides!” Iain Murray wrote of that sentiment, “‘Christianity is life, not doctrine,’ was the great cry. The promise was that Christianity would advance wonderfully if it was no longer shackled by insistence on doctrines and orthodox beliefs” (“Divisive Unity,” 233).

The Emergence of the Social Gospel

The result of this kind of thinking was the social gospel of the early 20th century. If what it means to be a Christian has little to do with creeds and everything to do with deeds, then what makes someone a Christian is whether they’re laboring for the betterment of society—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, working for justice, and so on. And so across denominational lines, professing “Christians” were coming together to promote unity around a common mission, even if they didn’t share a common faith. In 1908, more than 30 denominations representing over 18 million American Protestants set their doctrinal differences aside and met in Philadelphia at what is called the Federal Council of Churches. Their great concern was not the Gospel, but how to address the social issues of the day: race relations, international justice, reducing armaments, education, and regulating the consumption of alcohol. This was the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement.

Now, in each of these denominations there were faithful Christians who recognized that—as much as social ills mattered—the body of Christ was not defined most fundamentally by a common social agenda, but by a common confession of faith in the Christ of Scripture. These faithful men, led by the great Presbyterian professor J. Gresham Machen, among others, understood that there were certain fundamental truths that no one claiming to be a Christian could deny. A Christ who is not fully God is a fundamentally different Christ than one who is fully God. A salvation that can be more-or-less earned through good morals and good deeds is a fundamentally different salvation than the one purchased freely on the cross by our wrath-bearing Substitute. A religion built upon the authority of man’s ideas is a fundamentally different religion than one built upon the authority of God as revealed in Scripture. And so these men—pejoratively labeled Fundamentalists—insisted that the doctrinal fundamentals of the Christian faith were non-negotiable, and that, if they were abandoned, it didn’t matter how many people-who-called-themselves-Christians you could gather into one place: there was no true unity.

Strength in Numbers?

The conflict between the Liberals and the so-called Fundamentalists raged on through the ensuing years. In 1948, the World Council of Churches convened in Amsterdam, and embraced as Christian anyone who merely said they believed that Jesus Christ was God and Savior. Delegates from 147 churches brought Protestants, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox persons together from all over the world. Once again, the goal was to show strength in numbers—to portray to the world that “Christianity” was visibly united, a cultural force—and to pool support for worldwide missions and social justice. In every case, these movements and councils lamented the division across doctrinal and denominational lines, and argued that if Christianity is to have any genuine influence in the world, we must be big. And so we must come together. A divided church is an offense to God and a cause of her ineffectiveness in the world, they said.

By the 1950s, the Billy Graham crusades had become an evangelistic phenomenon. Tens of thousands were flocking to hear this evangelist speak, and thousands were making professions of faith in Christ. Now this caught the attention of the liberal ecumenists, because Graham believed in all the fundamental doctrines that they rejected. He believed in the sinfulness of man, the need of a spiritual Savior from sin, and he called for conversions. And yet he was drawing crowds! When Graham began his first crusade in Britain in 1954, the liberal Anglicans denounced him. But by the end of the crusade several months later, they were sitting on the platform alongside him. The Archbishop of Canterbury even gave the benediction at the final meeting.

And it was all—as it always is—driven by numbers. One of the Anglican liberals said of partnering with Graham, “What does fundamentalist theology matter compared with gathering in the people we have all missed?” In other words, Who cares about the theology? Just get the people in the seats! And sadly enough, the uncrucified lust for influence worked in both directions. Iain Murray writes,

“But the truth was that [Graham] wanted the cooperation of these men for the aid that their reputations gave to his work, and for the way it could secure wider denominational support. Winning the mainline denominations remained the primary objective and that could not be done without the good will of the leaders. So both sides were motivated by an ulterior motive. On Graham’s side the motive was to get a wider hearing for the gospel, but in order to do this, he adopted an attitude towards false teachers that is not compatible with the New Testament” (“Divisive Unity,” 240).

Good Morals Do Not Reform Bad Company

And though the motive is almost always pure—that is, to influence the enemies of the Gospel to be swayed from their opinions and embrace the Gospel—when you blur the lines between belief and unbelief, it always works in the opposite direction. 1 Corinthians 15:33Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” You might think, “Oh, I’m just partnering with them so that I can minister to them and so that they can get saved!” But Paul says, “No, don’t be deceived! Good morals do not reform bad company; bad company corrupts good morals.”

And, sadly, that’s precisely what happened to Billy Graham. His biographer, William Martin, records Graham as saying, “The ecumenical movement has broadened my viewpoint.” “I don’t think the differences [between evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism] are important as far as personal salvation is concerned.” And “I feel I belong to all the churches. I am equally at home in an Anglican or Baptist or a Brethren assembly or a Roman Catholic church” (“Divisive Unity,” 243). And in 1997, in a now-famous interview with Robert Schuller, Graham demonstrates the inevitable end of ecumenism when he says,

“I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. . . . They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and going to be with us in heaven” (ibid, 243).

The force of the ecumenical battles could be felt throughout the 1960s, especially as they related to the widening gulf between Anglicanism and British Evangelicalism. Martyn Lloyd-Jones continually exhorted British Evangelicals to disassociate from an Anglican Church that had compromised with liberalism and Roman Catholicism, and to form an evangelical union of churches in its stead. He wrote, “We have evidence before our eyes that our staying amongst [the non-evangelicals] does not seem to be converting them to our view but rather to a lowering of the spiritual temperature of those who are staying amongst them and an increasing tendency to doctrinal accommodation and compromise” (ibid., 242). And as I said, that’s always what happens, because bad company corrupts good morals.

In the mid-60s, the Roman Catholic Church convened the Second Vatican Council, and the effects of the ecumenical movement could be felt throughout. Vatican II was in large measure an attempt to soften and liberalize Catholic dogma. As the years progressed, Anglicanism grew more and more polluted with theological compromise both in the direction of liberalism and Roman Catholicism.

Fighting to End the Reformation

But that’s not the end of the story. In March of 1994, the ecumenical movement breathed new life when 30 well-known evangelicals and influential Roman Catholics signed and published the document titled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT). And in precisely the same spirit as the original social gospel compromisers, the authors and signatories of this document totally downplayed and diminished the fundamental doctrinal differences that separate evangelicals and Roman Catholics, so that we can stand “united” to promote a “Christian” view of society and social issues.

Rome had not budged on their insistence that the Roman Catholic Magisterium, and not Scripture alone, is the infallible authority for the church. They had not rescinded the anathemas of the Council of Trent, which condemn to hell anyone who believes that a man is justified by faith alone, apart from works. And yet in the name of “the right ordering of society,” and the assertion that “politics, law, and culture must be secured by moral truth,” these cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith were marginalized, as if they were not absolutely fundamental to salvation. And one can only grieve that several prominent evangelicals fixed their signatures to this document.

Religious freedom, abortion issues, parental choice in education, a free-market economy, pro-family legislation, and a responsible foreign policy were all good things. But they were not and are not ultimate. But these men made them ultimate. Uniting on these issues became more important than the Gospel. More important than the truth that we’re declared righteous by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Than the reality that Christ alone is the Head of the Church, the sole Mediator between God and men. That the sacrifice He offered as our Great High Priest is so sufficient that it does not need to be repeated each week in wine and wafers.

15 years later, in late 2009, a sort of “ECT II” was published in what is called The Manhattan Declaration. Focusing on the perceived need for co-belligerence on social issues like religious freedom and the right to life, the declaration begins this way: “We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered . . . to make the following declaration.” And so in the first sentence, the writers of the Manhattan Declaration deny that belief or unbelief in the very heart of the Gospel makes someone a Christian. You can be an “[Eastern] Orthodox Christian” while believing you’re saved through baptism; you can be a “Catholic Christian” while believing that Christ’s once-for-all sacrificial death is insufficient to secure your salvation. You don’t have to be Evangelical—that is, you don’t need the Evangel—to be a Christian!

It goes on, “We act together in obedience to the one true God . . . .” And yet it is absurd to suggest that it’s possible to obey the one true God while rejecting the one true Gospel. Paul says that even if he himself, or even an angel from heaven—no matter if he calls himself a Christian—preaches a gospel contrary to the Gospel preached in Scripture, “he is to be accursed” (Gal 1:8Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

Ecumenical or Evangelical?

And so the story of the ecumenical movement is exactly the same. From the Federal Council of Churches in 1908, to the Manhattan Declaration in the present day, it’s the exact same story: Redefine Christianity so that faith in the Christ of Scripture and/or the Gospel of Scripture is unnecessary, so that you can partner with enemies of the Gospel who call themselves Christians, form a large group, and seize cultural influence. But Francis Schaeffer captured well the fundamental failure of the ecumenical movement when he wrote, “What is the use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if sufficient numbers under the name evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical?” (“Divisive Unity,” 243).

If you lose the Gospel, you have no true unity, because the mission of Christ’s Church is not to exercise dominion over society and culture, but to preach the Gospel to every creature—to proclaim the Gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins through faith alone in Christ alone—so that we relieve the eternal suffering that sinful men and women are condemned to face as the just penalty for their sins. And any time throughout all of church history when the professing church has forgotten that, and—however well-intentioned—has compromised to partner in ministry with those who do not share a common faith in the one and only Gospel of Jesus Christ—she has ceased to be the church, and has courted the judgment rather than the blessing of God.

The 19th-century Scottish minister Horatius Bonar didn’t have to live in the midst of 20th-century ecumenism to understand this. He wrote, “Fellowship between faith and unbelief must, sooner or later, be fatal to the former.” Iain Murray comments on this, saying,

“This is so, not because error is more powerful than truth, but because if we befriend the advocates of error, we will be deprived of the aid of the Spirit of truth. If we retain orthodoxy in word, we shall certainly lose its power. Wrong teaching about Christ and the gospel, according to Scripture, is deadly dangerous. Out of good motives we may seek to win influence for the gospel among those who are not its friends, but when we do so at the expense of truth, we shall not prosper in the sight of God” (ibid., 244).

There can be no partnership in ministry between the body of Christ who has been saved by the Gospel, and the enemies of that Gospel. No matter how many other good things they agree on, if you don’t have the Gospel, you don’t have Jesus. And if you don’t have Jesus, you simply cannot be united to those who do.



Mike Riccardi at THE CRIPPLEGATE.


TRAGIC WORSHIP by Carl Trueman


The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.”

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power.

Perhaps some might recoil at characterizing tragedy as entertainment, but tragedy has been a vital part of the artistic endeavors of the West since Homer told of Achilles, smarting from the death of his beloved Patroclus, reluctantly returning to the battlefields of Troy. Human beings have always been drawn to tales of the tragic, as to those of the comic, when they have sought to be lifted out of the predictable routines of their daily lives—in other words, to be entertained.

From Aeschylus to Tennessee Williams, tragedians have thus enriched the theater. Shakespeare’s greatest plays are his tragedies. Who would rank Charles Dickens over Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad? Tragedy has absorbed the attention of remarkable thinkers from Aristotle to Hegel to Terry Eagleton.

Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life. It should provide us with a language that allows us to praise the God of resurrection while lamenting the suffering and agony that is our lot in a world alienated from its creator, and it should thereby sharpen our longing for the only answer to the one great challenge we must all face sooner or later. Only those who accept that they are going to die can begin to look with any hope to the resurrection.

Yet today tragedy has, with few exceptions, dropped from popular entertainment. Whether it is the sentimentalism of the Hallmark Channel, the pyrotechnics of action movies, or the banal idiocy of reality TV, the tragic sensibility is all but lost. This is further compounded by the trivial way in which the language of tragedy is now used in popular parlance. As with defining moment and crisis, the words tragedy and tragic are now expected to perform Stakhanovite levels of linguistic labor. In a world where even sporting defeats can be described as tragedies, rarely do the terms speak of the catastrophic moral crises and heroic falls that lie at the heart of great tragic literature.

Yet human life is still truly tragic. Death remains a stubborn, omnipresent, and inevitable reality. For all of postmodern anti-essentialism, for all the repudiation of human nature, for all the rhetoric of self-creation, death eventually comes to all, frustrates all, levels all. It is not simply a linguistic construct or a social convention. Yet despite this, Western culture has slowly but surely pushed death, the one impressive inevitability of human life, to the very periphery of existence.

Pascal observed the problem in seventeenth-century France when he saw the obsession with entertainment as the offspring of the fallen human desire to be distracted from any thought of mortality. “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room,” he said. And: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

Today the problem is even greater: Entertainment has apparently become many people’s primary purpose of existence. I doubt that it would surprise Pascal that the world has increased the size, scope, and comprehensiveness of distraction. It would not puzzle him that death has been reduced to little more than a comic-book cartoon in countless action movies or into a mere momentary setback in soap operas and sitcoms. Indeed, he would not find it perplexing that the bleak spiritual violence of mortality leaves no lasting mark on the bereaved in the surreal yet seductive world of popular entertainment.

But he might well be taken aback that the churches have so enthusiastically endorsed this project of distraction and diversion. This is what much of modern worship amounts to: distraction and diversion. Praise bands and songs of triumph seem designed in form and content to distract worshipers from life’s more difficult realities.

Even funerals, the one religious context where one might have assumed the reality of death would be unavoidable, have become the context for that most ghastly and incoherent of acts: the celebration of a life now ended. The Twenty-Third Psalm and “Abide with Me” were funeral staples for many years but not so much today. References to the valley of the shadow of death and the ebbing out of life’s little day, reminders both of our mortality and of God’s faithfulness even in the darkest of times, have been replaced as funeral favorites by “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “My Way.” The trickle down economics of worship as entertainment has reached even the last rites for the departed.

Yet tragedy is a vital part of entertainment. Aristotle in his Poetics famously argued for the personal and social benefits of tragic drama. The audience, swept up into the vertiginous moral crises, the magnificent flaws, and the catastrophic falls of the heroes, enjoyed the experience of catharsis—running the gamut of relevant emotions—without being agents in the events depicted on the stage. They left the theater cleansed by the experience and knowing more deeply what it means to be human. They were wiser, more thoughtful, and better prepared to face the reality of their own lives.

Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.

It is therefore an irony of the most perverse kind that churches have become places where Pascalian distraction and a notion of entertainment that eschews the tragic seem to dominate just as comprehensively as they do in the wider world. I am sure that the separation of church buildings from graveyards was not the intentional start of this process, but it certainly helped to lessen the presence of death. The present generation does not have the inconvenience of passing by the graves of loved ones as it gathers for worship. Nowadays, death has all but vanished from the inside of churches as well.

In my own tradition, the historic Scottish Presbyterian tradition, the somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice helped to connect Sunday worship to the realities of life. There are indeed psalms of joy and triumph. The parents rejoicing in the birth of a child could find words of gratitude to sing to the Lord, but there are also psalms which allow bereaved parents to express their grief and their sorrow in words of praise to their God.

The psalms as the staple of Christian worship, with their elements of lament, confusion, and the intrusion of death into life, have been too often replaced not by songs that capture the same sensibilities—as the many great hymns of the past did so well—but by those that assert triumph over death while never really giving death its due. The tomb is certainly empty; but we are not sure why it would ever have been occupied in the first place.

Only the dead can be resurrected. As the second thief on the cross saw so clearly, Christ’s kingdom is entered through death, not by escape from it. Traditional Protestantism saw this, connecting baptism not to washing so much as to death and resurrection. Protestant liturgies made sure that the law was read each service in order to remind the people that death was the penalty for their sin. Only then, after the law had pronounced the death sentence, would the gospel be read, calling them from their graves to faith and to resurrection life in Christ. The congregants thereby became vicarious participants in the great drama of salvation.

There was surely catharsis in such worship: The congregants left each week having faced the deepest reality of their own destinies. Perhaps it is ironic, but the church that confronts people with the reality of the shortness of life lived under the shadow of death prepares them for resurrection better than the church that goes straight to resurrection triumphalism without that awkward mortality bit.

Bonhoeffer once asked, “Why did it come about that the cinema really is often more interesting, more exciting, more human and gripping than the church?” Why, indeed. Maybe the situation is even worse than I have described; perhaps the churches are even more trivial than the entertainment industry. After all, in popular entertainment one does occasionally find the tragic clearly articulated, as in the movies of a Coppola or a Scorsese.

A church with a less realistic view of life than one can find in a movie theater? For some, that might be an amusing, even entertaining, thought; for me, it is a tragedy.

Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. This appeared on FIRST THINGS; June, 2017.



Jun 2017
by Vance Christie 

Mary Slessor (1848-1915), a Scottish Presbyterian, served as a missionary to Calabar (southern Nigeria), West Africa, for thirty-eight years. At that time Calabar was considered one of the deadliest and most degraded countries in all of Africa. While the European slave trade had been largely abolished in Calabar decades earlier, the country’s population continued to be ravaged by intertribal warfare, disease and superstitious pagan practices. Mary compassionately, courageously pioneered in areas of Calabar that other missionaries and even traders avoided.

For the first several years of her missionary career, Mary ministered in two mission settlements, Duke Town and Old Town, on the Calabar River, about forty miles from the coast. She was soon placed in charge of the mission work at Old Town and its three small outstations. In those locations she held regular school sessions for both children and adults during the week, then led worship services and a Sunday School on the Lord’s Day.

One of the horrifying, superstitious practices that Mary and the other missionaries strove to overcome was the custom of killing twin babies. Calabarians believed that the father of one of the twin infants was an evil spirit and that at least one of the twins was a monster. Twin babies were seized, their backs were broken and they were thrown out into the bush to be eaten by wild animals or insects. The infants of slave mothers who died were also left in the wild to perish. The missionaries rescued both those types of endangered infants whenever they could and took them to the missionary compounds where they were cared for and protected.

Mary spoke out against the evils of those forms of infanticide and took several such rescued children under her care. At any given time throughout her missionary career she usually had a number of rescued and orphaned children she was foster parenting. At first the people of Calabar viewed this with suspicion, thinking Mary was in league with a devil and expecting to see her suffer ill effects as a result. But in time their superstitious suppositions faded, and she became known everywhere as “the white Ma who loves babies.” (In Calabar and neighboring regions “Ma” was a term of respect for a mother.)

After twelve years of service in Calabar, Mary was granted the longtime desire of her heart when she was given permission to carry out pioneering missionary work in the previously unreached Okoyong region, a densely forested wedge of land between the Cross and Calabar rivers north of Old Town. The Okoyongese practiced witchcraft and animal sacrifice. They plundered property and slaves from neighboring tribes. They commonly used two superstitious trials-by-ordeal to determine a person’s guilt or innocence if suspected of a crime: boiling palm oil was poured over the hands of a suspect or he was required to drink water mixed with ground powder from the poisonous esere bean. As a result, many innocent people were left badly burned or dead. The illness of a freeman was invariably considered the result of someone having practiced sorcery against him. The local witchdoctor was called to supposedly identify the guilty individuals, who were then executed by decapitation. When a chief died, many individuals were put to death to accompany him into the spirit world. Liquor, guns and chains were practically the only items of commerce that entered Okoyong. Gin or rum was in every home and was drunk by every adult and child, beginning from infancy.

Mary ministered among these desperately needy Okoyongese for many years. Initially she taught school and held Sunday worship services at two substantial neighboring villages, Ekenge and Ifako. She also helped undermine the prevailing and devastating liquor traffic in Okoyong by introducing more beneficial forms of legitimate trade. Okoyongese began giving their time, attention and effort to producing palm kernels and oil to trade with Calabarians in exchange for cloth, pots, dishes and other useful items. In addition to material benefits for the Okoyongese, this trade also resulted in a considerable reduction in the amount of time they spent in useless drinking and fighting.

Eventually the day came when, at Mary’s insistence and for the first time in the known history of Okoyong, the death and funeral of a chief took place without the traditional sacrifice of other individuals to accompany him into the afterlife. Chiefs and other free people, one by one and unknown to each other, secretly came to Mary to thank her for her love and courage as well as for all the peaceful, life-giving policies she was promoting. They encouraged her to keep a brave heart and to continue doing away with the old customs that invariably produced death.

Mary did continue to manifest marked courage in her dealings with the Okoyongese. On numerous occasions she was seen taking large, drunken mean by the neck, pulling them away from their alcohol and throwing them to the ground! She once stopped and confiscated a canoe-load of machetes that were being taken upriver for use in war. Several times she played a key role in preventing tribes from going to war with each other. On one such occasion she intervened between two tribes that were on the brink of attacking each other. Though her heart was beating wildly, she stood between them and made them pile their rifles on opposite sides of her. With mounds of weapons heaped up over five feet high on both sides, she then negotiated a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Four years after beginning her ministry in Okoyong, the British Government asked Mary to carry out a new judicial responsibility in that region. For many years British authorities had exercised only minimal influence over the coastal regions of Calabar, while tribes like the Okoyongese further up the Cross River wholly ignored and opposed British directives. Recognizing Mary’s unique position and influence in Okoyong, British authorities asked her to organize and supervise an indigenous court and empowered her to do all that was necessary to promote the reception of new laws in the region.

Mary presided over the court at various locations throughout Okoyong. Large groups of tribal leaders came to consult her about adjusting their customs to the new laws. Through these activities justice was promoted for the local people and the rule of law was promoted in the region. Though Mary did not relish that type of service, she sought to carry it out faithfully, believing it to be part of the ministry the Lord had for her to do. Those efforts helped to greatly reduce such practices as killing infant twins, the poison bean ordeal and executing individuals at the deaths of chiefs. Mary gained a reputation as a tough but just judge, and Okoyongese came from great distances to have their trials held before her.

# # #

A fuller account of Mary Slessor’s storied missionary career in Calabar is recorded in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). W. P. Livingstone’s Mary Slessor of Calabar, Pioneer Missionary (originally published 1916) is the classic full-length biography of her life. Bruce McClennan’s Mary Slessor, A Life on the Altar for God (Christian Focus, 2015) is a more recent full account of her life.

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie


What Is a Worldview?
FROM James Anderson Jun 21, 2017; TABLETALK


Abortion. Euthanasia. Pornography. Same-sex marriage. Transgender rights. Embryonic research. Genetic enhancement. Christians surveying the cultural landscape in the West have a clear sense that things are headed in a destructive direction. While most believers can easily identify the symptoms of decline, few feel competent to diagnose and address the root causes. There are many complex factors behind these developments, but one invaluable tool for better understanding and engaging with our culture is the concept of worldview. The sociological quakes and moral fissures we observe in our day are largely due to what we might call “cultural plate tectonics”: shifts in underlying worldviews and the collisions between them.

What is a worldview? As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It’s not a physical view of the world, but rather a philosophical view, an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us.

A person’s worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the “big questions” of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we’re here, where (if anywhere) we’re headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now. Few people think through these issues in any depth, and fewer still have firm answers to such questions, but a person’s worldview will at least incline him toward certain kinds of answers and away from others.

Worldviews shape and inform our experiences of the world around us. Like spectacles with colored lenses, they affect what we see and how we see it. Depending on the “color” of the lenses, some things may be seen more easily, or conversely, they may be de-emphasized or distorted—indeed, some things may not be seen at all.

Worldviews also largely determine people’s opinions on matters of ethics and politics. What a person thinks about abortion, euthanasia, same-sex relationships, environmental ethics, economic policy, public education, and so on will depend on his underlying worldview more than anything else.

As such, worldviews play a central and defining role in our lives. They shape what we believe and what we’re willing to believe, how we interpret our experiences, how we behave in response to those experiences, and how we relate to others. Our thoughts and our actions are conditioned by our worldviews.

Worldviews operate at both the individual level and the societal level. Rarely will two people have exactly the same worldview, but they may share the same basic type of worldview. Moreover, within any society, certain worldview types will be represented more prominently than others, and will therefore exert greater influence on the culture of that society. Western civilization since around the fourth century has been dominated by a Christian worldview, even though there have been individuals and groups who have challenged it. But in the last couple of centuries, for reasons ranging from the technological to the theological, the Christian worldview has lost its dominance, and competing worldviews have become far more prominent. These non-Christian worldviews include:

Naturalism: there is no God; humans are just highly evolved animals; the universe is a closed physical system.

Postmodernism: there are no objective truths and moral standards; “reality” is ultimately a human social construction.

Pantheism: God is the totality of reality; thus, we are all divine by nature.

Pluralism: the different world religions represent equally valid perspectives on the ultimate reality; there are many valid paths to salvation.

Islam: there is only one God, and He has no son; God has revealed His will for all people through His final prophet, Muhammad, and His eternal word, the Qur’an.

Moralistic therapeutic deism: God just wants us to be happy and nice to other people; He intervenes in our affairs only when we call on Him to help us out.

Each of these worldviews has profound implications for how people think about themselves, what behaviors they consider right or wrong, and how they orient their lives. It is therefore crucial that Christians be able to engage with unbelief at the worldview level. Christians need to understand not only what it means to have a biblical worldview, but also why they should hold fast to that worldview and apply it to all of life. They should be able to identify the major non-Christian worldviews that vie for dominance in our society, to understand where they fundamentally differ from the Christian worldview, and to make a well-reasoned case that the Christian worldview alone is true, good, and beautiful.

The challenge is greater than ever. But we shouldn’t be discouraged, because the opportunities and resources available to us are also greater now than they have ever been. In the last half-century or so there has been a remarkable renaissance in Christian philosophy and apologetics, much of which has focused on developing and defending a biblical worldview. Whatever God calls His people to do, He equips them to do (see Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 13:20-21). The problem is not that the church is under-equipped, but that she has yet to make full use of what Christ has provided for her.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.


Why Study the Book of Job?
June 19, 2017 by: Eric Ortlund; CROSSWAY BOOKS

The Commonness of Tragedy

It can be easy to think of Job as a book you turn to if some unexpected tragedy happens, but can otherwise be safely ignored. Perhaps the most important reason for reading the book, however, is that Job’s tragedy—an experience of searing pain and loss which did not make sense within any framework Job had—is all too common.

My experience in teaching the book in academic and pastoral settings is that almost everyone in the room knows someone who has undergone a Job-like experience—or they are suffering one themselves. It seems to be not a question of “if,” but “when” God will allow some tragedy too painful to be borne quietly, and we, like Job, will wonder why God would repay imperfect but sincere service and friendship in this way.

Learn to Interpret Suffering

A related reason for studying the book is that it widens our ability to interpret suffering. Biblically, sometimes God allows pain because of sin (as in Ps. 38) or to grow us spiritually: suffering produces character, and character endurance (Rom. 5:3). True as these are, neither can explain Job’s ordeal: not even the Accuser could find some sin which would prompt God’s punishment (Job 1)!

Painful loss can become an avenue for God himself to reveal himself and draw close in a way he never has before.
And Job is presented as a mature believer—although he had to confess sins (31:33–34), the description of his spiritual integrity in 1:1 uses biblical terms to describe settled maturity. Further, the book never resolves Job’s suffering by pointing to some spiritual growth on his part. Rather, Job’s agony ends only in a deeper vision of God (42:5). This is helpful: the book is teaching us that painful loss can become an avenue for God himself to reveal himself and draw close in a way he never has before.

Devotion despite Difficulty

A third reason for reading Job is found in the first chapter: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9). The Accuser argues Job doesn’t really love God for God’s sake, but only because of secondary benefits which accrue in the relationship (the blessings of 1:1–4). Once those benefits are gone, Job will show how he really feels about God—so the Accuser claims.

This creates the deep drama of the book’s early chapters: will Job hang on to his relationship with God when he has every earthly reason to give up on him? It creates drama for the Christian reader, as well, because all of us benefit from our relationship with God in ways different from the central benefits of the gospel: forgiveness of sins and eternal life. If you had to go to the funeral of one of your children on a Saturday, would your worship the next Sunday be just as enthusiastic? God is worthy of that level of devotion—but would we show it?

The author’s purpose in raising this question is not to shame us, but to help us understand why God allows inexplicable suffering. In chapters 1–2, Job proves the genuineness of his love for God: Job has no ulterior motives and treats God as his own reward. The same opportunity is given to us to tearfully but sincerely affirm that we have no treasure on earth more precious than God (Ps. 73:25). And a faith of that quality is the only kind of faith which will save you.


Finding Hope in Your Pain

Finally, Job should be studied because it gives tremendous hope and encouragement in suffering and nourishes endurance in the midst of it. The Lord’s answer to Job in chapters 38–41, far from blaming him as his “friends” did, paints a picture which is realistic about what is still unredeemed about the world, but shows the tremendous joy God takes in his world without ignoring what is wrong with it.

But the Lord does not leave Job there: the final speeches about Behemoth and Leviathan speak of a coming defeat of a great supernatural enemy when God scours all evil from his creation, and the former things pass away. The poetry of these chapters foster the same vision and hope in Christians who know without understanding why.


Eric Ortlund
Eric Ortlund (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is associate professor of Old Testament at Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada.



I Never Knew My Father
I never knew my father, but now I do; let me tell you the why.

Written by E. Calvin Beisner | Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My father went through all he did on Okinawa, and throughout World War II, and never showed the slightest hint of it to his son or daughters. He dealt death to others not happily but because it was his duty. He watched his closest friends and comrades die beside him. He spared me all that knowledge. He showed me only gentleness. I never knew my father. Now I do.

I never knew my father.

He was a very gentle man.

He was there when I was born at 5 lbs. 4 oz. and 24 inches long and the doctor held me up and said, “Jack, you better look down on him now. You won’t for long.”

He was there when in 1956 my mother and my three older sisters and I moved from quiet, semi-agrarian Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he’d taught journalism at the University of Alabama while managing the Alabama Press Association, to crowded, filthy, smelly, desperately poor Calcutta, India, where, working for the United States Information Service, a division of the State Department, he wholeheartedly served two purposes simultaneously—arranging vast shipments of grain to feed millions of starving Indians, and spreading the information about America and her ideals of freedom, constitutional republican democracy, and justice that he hoped would lead the 420 million Indians and their leaders to line up with her instead of with Soviet Russia and its communism and one-party dictatorship.

He was there when my mother contracted a tropical virus that attacked her spinal cord and paralyzed her, and he prayed, “God, you can take my son, just please give me back my wife.”

He was there when, early each morning, my aia (nurse, in Hindustani) arrived to take me by the hand to the Indian family where I spent the day, passing along the way a beautiful green tree with a red-flowering vine hanging from it in the courtyard of our apartment building (giving me a love for natural beauty) and then, on the streets outside, the bodies of those who had died overnight of starvation and disease (giving me hatred of poverty and a desire to protect the poor), and he was there again at night when my aia returned me home to his care after he’d worked all day at the USIS offices or meeting with Indian government officials.

And he was there when, to everyone’s surprise, my mother recovered fully before—to his sorrow for leaving a mission to which he was unreservedly committed—we had to return to America at the end of 1957 with no income and no savings and nowhere to go but the humble home in quiet Sparta, Illinois (home at the time of the world’s largest comic-book publishing plant), where his father the butcher (and faithful member of the Lions Club, collecting used eyeglasses to give to the poor around the world) and his mother the housewife had raised him and his uncle had taught him how to hunt for squirrels, rabbits, deer, and more to help feed his family through the Great Depression.

When we moved to a tiny, tar-paper-covered shack of a house on the wrong side of the tracks in small but historic Owego, New York, on the Susquehanna River, he was there to edit, simultaneously, two newspapers owned by business partners, one a liberal Democrat and the other (like my father) a conservative Republican, and to provide for his family.

There in Owego, the first place we stayed long enough for me to learn what “home” meant, my father (and mother) taught me English to replace the Hindustani that was my first language. And he taught me to play in the sprinkler from the hose in our side yard, how to ride a tricycle, and how to hide behind a bush by the side of the house to pee outside like any good little boy without anyone knowing. (Though he didn’t warn me not to pee into the wind!) And there, without my figuring it out until decades later, he taught me how a father provides for his family when, by his diligent work day and night, he earned enough to move us to a big new house in a new neighborhood high atop Bodle Hill outside Owego (past the IBM plant), where he taught me to play catch and hit a baseball, to climb trees and follow trails through the woods, to make spears and bows and arrows and play Daniel Boone and Mingo opening the frontier for early Americans to spread west across the Appalachians into mysterious Kentucky and Tennessee.

He taught me how to be a father to daughters when he cheered them on in everything they did at school—two of them 13 and 11 years ahead of me, grownups, they seemed, and both so beautiful and talented and sophisticated and so active in community affairs like American Field Service, through which he taught me to embrace people of many nationalities without prejudice.

He helped my mother teach me to read, and he taught me to type—on a Linotype in his newspaper office (like the one below, though that’s not he at the keyboard), the same one that once split the tip of his finger back to the knuckle and from time to time splashed drops of hot lead that made scars on his hands and forearms.

He taught me to fish—first with a cane pole and simple hook and worms, then with a spinning rod using Jitterbugs and Lucky 13’s and other lures, and then with a fly rod using poppers and flies. Once or twice a week in season, he took me to Mr. Ostrander’s pond, where Jake and Kate, the two beavers, made their home and big bass and bluegills lurked among the cattails and lily pads ready to strike suddenly and give a little boy the fight of his life and then become his dinner. He taught me proper knots to tie with fishing line so the line wouldn’t cut itself, and how to choose the right pound test line for the fish we were after, and how to tell from the kinds of insects buzzing around us and scooting across the surface of the water, or whether there were frogs or minnows around, what kinds of lures or flies to choose. He taught me patience when he unsnarled my “birds’ nests” of tangled fishing line that resulted from my impatience, and he taught me good humor when my fly hooked him in the back of the neck because I wasn’t watching carefully where he was when I did my back cast. (That happened several times—and once he hooked me instead!) He taught me to let the little fish go back to grow big, and how to clean the big ones for eating. And from time to time he took me to Mr. Ostrander’s home, where I got to see, even before they went into service, photos of the C-5 A Galaxies Mr. Ostrander had helped design to help American forces do their jobs preserving freedom around the world.

Sometimes he took our whole family to the Teeleys’ farm, where instead of bass we caught catfish and bluegills and he and Mr. Teeley cleaned them all and my mother and Kitty Teeley coated them in cornmeal or flour batter and fried them up to serve with hushpuppies and fresh sweet corn and big, vine-ripened tomatoes and squash, finishing off with watermelon and homemade ice cream.

He taught me to hunt in the winters—to be quiet so I didn’t scare the game, to follow in the tracks he broke through the snow so my little legs could get through, to shoot little stones from my slingshot at the squirrels’ nests high in trees to scare some out for him to shoot with his 12-gauge shotgun loaded with birdshot, or to notice the footprints of rabbits and where they led so they, too, could help feed our family. He taught me that the little ones should be left alone, and the mother squirrels, too, to care for the little ones—only the big, fat, lone ones were fair game.

He taught me respect for guns, and one day, finally giving in to my pleas, he taught me, at about age 7, to shoot his great big 12-gauge. He took me into a ravine, sat me down on the stump of a tree, helped me position the gun at my shoulder and point it at the opposite side of the ravine so we knew no stray birdshot could harm anyone, and then, slowly, slowly, squeeze, not yank, no, don’t pull, slowly, slowly, squeeze the trigger, little by little, until—my ears were ringing and I was flat on my back behind the stump and the branches and sky were swirling above me and my shoulder felt like it’d been run over by a truck. He taught me respect for guns, and for people, and for animals, and for how nature works.

He taught me the wonder of watching airplanes land and take off at Broome County Airport, built partly because of the public pressure he helped generate, over near Binghamton, NY, and how to daydream about where those planes might come from or go to.

He taught me to ice skate on the pond at the IBM plant at the bottom of Bodle Hill, where friends of his worked on top-secret defense-related research. He taught me how close I could come to the bonfire without getting burned, and how to cook s’mores and roast marshmallows over it on the end of long stick plucked from the side of the pond. He taught me that salt melts ice so cars can move despite heavy snow, and how to shovel a driveway so our car could get out, and how to install chains on tires, and how to build an igloo with blocks of dense snow after a blizzard that piled snow as high as our second-story windows, and how to dig tunnels my friends and I could crawl through, when we became Eskimos.

He taught me to care about soldiers’ safety when we watched Combat with Vic Morrow and 12 O’Clock High with Gregory Peck, and how to laugh when we watched The Dick van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show while enjoying my mother’s fresh-baked desserts downstairs in the rec room, and how to laugh even harder when my mother came back from the kitchen with fresh mugs of hot cocoa for my youngest sister and me and stood in front of us with a puzzled look on her face and said, “I remember Gretchen’s cup was in my left hand, but I can’t remember which hand Calvin’s was in.”

He taught me to ride my brand new bike, and how to share it with my sister when she wanted to ride it, and how to forgive her when she disobeyed my command not to try to turn on it and did anyway and fell and scratched up its paint. He taught me to endure pain when I spun out on my bike at the bottom of a hill on a gravel road and chewed up my left knee, and how to make peace and be reconciled with my friends when we got into fights—and how to wrestle and even box (a little bit) but also how to walk away from a fight.

He taught me to write the way a good reporter does, inverted pyramid style, with a strong lead that grabs the reader, and to tell a story straightforward, being fair to all sides and (not as in this piece) leaving my own opinion unwritten. And he taught me the courage of a good journalist when, after months of investigation, he wrote a story about a mafia family, put it on the front page of his newspaper, called his friend at the Binghamton FBI office and told him what he’d written, heard the agent say, “Jack, you can’t do that! They’ll kill you!” and he said, “Too late now, it’s on the press and hits the streets in an hour. I hope you can move fast.” The FBI moved and eventually arrested and got convictions on the mafia don and much of his “family,” but not quickly enough—not before they bombed my dad’s office that night (when no one was there). And he and the other newspapermen in the region taught me teamwork even among competitors when they let Dad’s staff use their shops, their equipment, and their presses to keep publishing the Tioga County Times & Gazette until his office was rebuilt. And he taught me that even children can make news when he reported in the paper that my two little friends and I, discovering a small fire in the nearby woods, put it out all by ourselves.

He taught me to be amazed at the bigness of our country when in the summer of 1966 he moved us from little Owego, New York, to Los Angeles, California, and we drove all the way in our 1963 Chevrolet Impala that we’d named Betsy, and we crossed the great plains, saw the Rocky Mountains growing slowly out of the horizon before us for the first time, drove through them, drove across the Painted Desert and saw the Grand Canyon, then drove across the California desert, with a canvas bag of water tied in front of the car’s grill to help prevent overheating, and arrived in the middle of downtown LA to stay at first in the Hilton, which we were sure was the most luxurious place in the world, and how to be content when his company moved us after a few days to a dumpy little place about eight blocks away.

He taught me to work hard at school even though the sophisticated big-suburban schools of Alhambra were way behind the backward little schools of Owego, leaving me bored beyond description, and how to play basketball and then tennis, at which he had excelled so much in high school and college that he’d been nicknamed “Bill Tilden,” one of the top pros of the day, for his rocket-fast serve. (He’d earned straight A’s all through college at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus except in one physical education course. He’d arrived a couple of hours early the first day hoping to find someone to play a match. He did and beat him 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, only to learn he was the coach. At the end of the semester he beat him again, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, and the coach gave him a D for lack of improvement. Dad was more proud of that grade than all his A’s.) He took the family and me and out-of-town guests to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm over and over because his job as Administrative Executive of the California Newspaper Publishers Association gave him free tickets whenever he wanted them, and there we rode amazing rides and saw dazzling fireworks at night. He took my mother and youngest sister and me to a dinner put on by the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge at the Independence Hall replica at Knott’s, where I got to meet honorees John Wayne, Jimmy Durante, Kate Smith, and Lucille Ball. And he took me with him to his office at work from time to time, first in a downtown skyscraper, then in another out near Los Angeles International Airport, one of the world’s busiest then, making Broome County Airport seem piddling small by comparison.

He showed me how a father takes responsibility, despite high costs and a longer commute, to move his family out of heavy smog when one daughter reacts so badly to it that her life is threatened, and how a father gives his daughters away at their weddings, trusting but wondering, but never forgets that they’re always his little girls. He also showed me how a man controls himself when, having smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for about 30 years, he simply quit, cold turkey, never mentioning it to anybody until my mother, still smoking (she quit later), said in shock, “Jack! I haven’t seen you smoke in three weeks!” and he responded simply, “No, I quit.” That was all.

He took me out to the Anza Borego Desert State Park to camp from time to time, where in the dry desert air we could see more stars than I’d ever dreamed existed. And when he took the family to the outdoor Ramona Pageant in Hemet, where he knew the newspaper publisher and his wife and lots of other people, and I watched Jose Ferrer as the villain (whose name I cannot recall) murder Victor Jory as the hero Alessandro and then we all attended the opening-night dinner and I saw Mr. Ferrer walking toward us and told Dad, “I hate him so much I want to spit in his face,” Dad walked me right up to him, shook his hand, and said, “Mr. Ferrer, my son wants you to know that he hates you so much he wants to spit in your face,” and Mr. Ferrer got down on my level and looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you! That’s a great compliment!” and I learned something of what it means to be an actor.

He had taken us to church all along, but it had never meant anything much to me, other than a time to learn to sing and read music in the children’s choir. It apparently hadn’t meant much to him, either, other than an opportunity to clip his fingernails, which he did faithfully during every sermon. Then one day in the spring of 1969, seeming to think it was kind of a social duty granted the fame of the affair, he took my mother and me to a Billy Graham Crusade at Anaheim Stadium, and there he and I both went down to the field and asked Jesus to come into our hearts and forgive our sins and make us His own. A couple of years later, as it became clear that God was calling me into lifelong ministry, he told me of his prayer when my mother had been paralyzed and that now he knew that God had answered it—He had taken his son, not, as my father had been willing, to die, but to serve Him.

He taught me hard work when he got me started on my first newspaper route, and then mowing neighbors’ lawns as well as our own. He encouraged me as I learned to play trumpet, cornet, and French horn, and then as I sang classical music in school choirs. He prodded me to sharpen my chess skills till I was one of the best on my high school team. And when it came time for college, he approved my saving money by starting at a junior college but after the first three semesters found a scholarship for me at the University of Southern California, where he’d hoped I’d major in journalism but didn’t object when I chose Interdisciplinary Studies in Religion and Philosophy instead. And he made sure that we got to lots of Trojan football games together, including some historic ones against Notre Dame, and to the Rose Bowl several times, too.

He taught me how a husband loves his wife when, after she’d fallen down our stairs in the middle of the night and broken multiple bones and nearly died, he nursed her for months during her recovery and never complained about the burdens he bore.

He showed me how a powerful and successful executive humbly refuses to protest or retaliate (even when encouraged to by board members who promise to back him if he does) when he’s elbowed out of a job by a rival and instead forges a new career, not once or twice or three times but four, among them starting the Western Newspaper Foundation to teach graduate journalism professors how to teach students to write objective news reports instead of advocacy pieces (WNF went bust when the Arab oil embargo caused a recession that dried up support from publishers) and teaching journalism as an adjunct at Pepperdine University in Malibu, then finally becoming executive director of a small Christian ministry whose finances he straightens out.

And then he taught me that money and power and fame in the rat race of southern California just don’t cut it. He sold all and moved himself and my mother to tiny but beautiful Pea Ridge, Arkansas, to fulfill a boyhood dream of owning and running a newspaper in the Ozarks. He bought and rebuilt a near-bankrupt weekly newspaper and within a few years won statewide awards for its outstanding news coverage and editorials.

He wrote me a few months after getting there and carefully visiting every church in the little town—many having split from each other because of family feuds—“This is the most over-churched and under-Christianed place I’ve ever seen.” But he loved the people there and served them with warmth and grace and genuine friendship for eight years, and he discovered more Christianity there than he first recognized.

That move pulled us apart for the first time in my 22 years, during which he taught me to stand on my own two feet by leaving me alone. He was there for advice when I asked it—which I should have done a whole lot more than the once or twice I did in the next two years. But he knew I needed self-discipline more than his guidance.

But he welcomed me with wide-open arms when I asked if I could come and work for him after I, too, got tired of the rat race of southern California—and got two weeks’ notice at work and an eviction notice from my landlord on the same day! So I moved in with him and my mother in Pea Ridge, and there he taught me what it is to be the father of a grown man by treating me as his equal, even though he was so much wiser than I. He gave me big responsibilities with the newspaper, but also made time for us to fish together again. We had our two most wonderful years together there before I went off to do my master’s degree—and met and got engaged to my wife at the start of that time, and he welcomed her, too, with his big arms and bushy eyebrows that made him look like a scarier version of Leonid Brezhnev, when I took her to meet him and my mother.

Four years later, he taught me how a man dies. After a massive heart attack while at my mother’s family reunion in Illinois, he struggled valiantly to recover for months though the doctors initially gave him little hope, and at last he chose the open-heart surgery that went so well that following it his surgeon said, “He’ll be teaching your son how to fish before you know it.”

He improved greatly, was soon up and around and even back to work a little bit, and during that time became more full of joy and peace and generosity than he’d ever been before—which is saying a lot.

Then, without explanation, his condition reversed, and within a week I was standing by his hospital bedside in the middle of the night holding my mother in my arms when he died and we both felt suddenly very, very alone.

The Benton County Quorum Court—Republicans and Democrats alike—honored him with a plaque signed by all its members, lauding his skill and fairness as a journalist whose work had served the whole county. We had a tall pine tree carved into his gravestone, with a shorter one beside it representing my mother under the shelter of his limbs. And when she died, almost 30 years later, my two surviving (oldest) sisters and I, and my wife, buried her ashes in his grave and had his gravestone updated to include her.

But I never knew my father.

He was a very gentle man.

He’d told me little about his service in World War II—mostly about how, because of his skill at mental math, he’d been the best poker player on his troop ship, enabling him to send home money to support my mother and their two little daughters, the second born just before he’d shipped out to the Pacific. And he’d told me that, because of his ability to do trigonometry quickly in his head, he’d been assigned to an anti-aircraft battery attached to his Army unit because he could help the crews by calculating azimuth for them, and that because of his experience as a journalist he’d also written his unit’s journals. (I so wish I could locate them now–them, and the letters between him and my mother during the War.) He’d also explained the origin of the Japanese sword he kept in his closet. “I picked it up on a battlefield on Okinawa.”

A couple of years ago I read Bill Sloan’s The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945—The Last Epic Struggle of World War II. It gave me my first close glimpse at what my father must have gone through. It drove me to tears over and over again. I wrote a brief tribute to my father then on Facebook, which one of my brothers-in-law read. He called and told me that when he’d been dating my sister between tours as a Marine in Vietnam, he and my father had talked at length of their combat experiences. He told me how my father really got that sword. His company was in a firefight, and both sides were nearly out of ammunition. The Japanese mounted a banzai charge, and a captain was rushing at him with sword held high to swing when Dad, with his last bullet, shot him dead. I wanted to learn more but wasn’t ready. I felt like I’d trespassed on holy ground.

Two weeks ago I finished watching for the first time Ken Burns’s The War, a documentary of seven two-hour-plus episodes about World War II. For a documentary about the world’s most horrible war, it is a quiet, even reverential series. But it also contains the most graphic, horrifying footage I’ve ever witnessed—all original—of battle scenes. (If you’re a man, watch it. If you’re a woman, don’t. Sorry, ladies, if that offends you, but you don’t belong in those scenes, and you should never see them.) Burns treats the Battle of Okinawa in the last two episodes, and as I watched I kept thinking, “Will I see my father’s face in one of these men?” I never did. I saw him in every one of them. I cried like a baby. No, no baby can cry like that.

When it was all over, I walked halfway down the stairs, stopped, sobbed, and told my wife, “I never knew my father.”

Now, two weeks later, I think I understand.

My father went through all he did on Okinawa, and throughout World War II, and never showed the slightest hint of it to his son or daughters. He dealt death to others not happily but because it was his duty. He watched his closest friends and comrades die beside him.

He spared me all that knowledge.

He showed me only gentleness.

I never knew my father. Now I do.

E. Calvin Beisner is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor at Covenant College and Knox Theological Seminary.


God Does Not Owe Us a Happy Ending
June 21, 2013 by Tim Challies; INFORMING THE REFORMING

It is a visual age. Cameras are ubiquitous, software is cheap, computers are powerful, and together they give us a video for every occasion. We, as Christians, have a video for every occasion. I love to watch the ones that tell the story of a husband and wife who had been on the verge of divorce but rekindled the flame, the ones about the godly wife who was willing to reconcile with her adulterous husband, the ones telling about the couple who endured the difficulty of a long and complicated adoption but were able to return home triumphant, holding that precious child in their arms, the ones about the dear, elderly man who found joy and contentment in caring for the wife who could no longer recognize or acknowledge him.

These videos provide a glimpse of God’s grace in the lives of his people and they are inspiring in the best sense. They give us hope that if we were to find ourselves in those situations, we would experience the Father’s kindness and blessing.

This world is so broken, so marked by sin, that many of our stories do not end with a kiss
And yet, not every story has a happy ending.This world is so broken, so marked by sin, that many of our stories do not end with a kiss, they do not end with fulfillment, they do not end with a clear purpose. I love these videos just as you do, but they tell only select stories, not every story.

For every powerful story of repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation, there are many husbands who break their vows and never repent, who walk away, never to return. There are wives who are willing to grant forgiveness, willing to save their shattered marriage, except that the husband will not have it. There are husbands who are repentant but wives who cannot or will not forgive. These stories are equally real, but we do not make films for them. We don’t see the soft camera shots and hear the music swell dramatically as she gets served with the divorce papers.

There are the adoptions that fall apart at the last moment, the man and woman who had set their hearts on a child, who had fallen in love with him, who had traveled across the world to pick him up, but who had him snatched away. I have watched a family adopt a child only to find that he was so scarred by his time in brutal Eastern institutions that he returned their love with violence, threats, and sexual deviancy so dark they felt they had to relinquish him. There were no cameras to capture the story and to inspire us with it.

I love to see the film of the elderly husband caring for his dear wife who suffers from Alzheimer’s. It’s powerful and effective and inspiring and I want to be like him should the situation ever befall me. But there is no film for the man whose wife no longer recognizes him and is terrified of him and who, locked into deeper and deeper dementia, must be placed in an institution far from the husband who loves her. There is no narrator to speak words of hope and inspiration.

It is as natural as the sunrise to want to find meaning in our suffering and often we find it, or believe we find it, in a happy ending. It was a grueling time, but I endured it and now I can say it was all worth it because I have the baby in my arms, my marriage has been renewed, my husband is reconciled to me, my prodigal son gave up his rebellion and returned home. But sometimes–oftentimes–the answers are not so readily apparent. So often these films do not represent life as we actually experience it.

But the Bible does. The Bible is full of unhappy endings or unexplained endings. There are Psalms of all praise and all rejoicing, and there are Psalms of pain and bewilderment. There is joy in the Bible, but there is grief too. God saw fit to capture many stories that end without a word of explanation. And these, too, matter to him. These, too, are important and are full of meaning and significance.

There is danger in our dedication to happy endings.

There is danger in our dedication to happy endings. We may come to believe that God extends his goodness and grace only in those situations that end happily. We may believe that a happy ending is what proves God’s presence through it. We may believe that the experiences that do not have a happy ending mean that God is somehow removed from it. We may resent the times that we do not hear the crescendo of the music and see in our own lives a story other people will want to hear.

We all desire happy endings to our suffering. Of course we do. But God does not owe us a happy ending and he does not owe us the answers. At times he chooses to give one or both. At other times he does not. Some day these things will make sense and and in that day we will acknowledge that God has done what is right. But until then, it is faith in his character and in his promises that will sustain us far more than a happy ending.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts (Is. 55:8-9).

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)