Interview: Andrew Peterson: Creativity Isn’t Just for ‘Creatives’

Artists and storytellers cultivate beauty and mystery. So do teachers, parents, and church potluck planners.

God’s creativity informs the calling of songwriters, novelists and painters. Does it do the same for pastors, parents, and plumbers? In Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, musician and award-winning novelist Andrew Peterson explores how believers of all kinds participate in the “great mystery of creativity,” combining anecdotes from his own journey with a nuts-and-bolts look at the work of making songs and stories. W. David O. Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, spoke with Peterson about the art of telling the truth as beautifully as possible.

What can your book offer to artist readers?

I hope they will find a fresh passion for doing whatever creative work they’re called to do. While I was writing, I kept asking myself: Is this encouraging? And I mean that literally, as in, “Will this give someone courage?” I hoped, first, to be as honest as possible about the mental battles I’ve experienced and, second, to offer some practical advice. The idea was to tell people they aren’t crazy if they feel lost in the woods—and then to show them a trail.

What can it offer to non-artist readers?

All of God’s creatures are creative in some way. To use J.R.R. Tolkien’s word, we’re all subcreators made in the image of a Creator. That’s why I object when people refer to themselves as “creatives,” not only because it sets up a sort of “creative class” (which strikes me as presumptuous) but also because implies that non-artists aren’t called to create.

My wife is a prime example. She would never call herself as an artist, but she’s one of the most ...

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What Would Jesus Ask?

Asking ourselves questions found in the Bible can transform our spiritual life.

Have you ever been around a child who did not stop asking questions? Do you recall doing the same thing when you were young?

Even as adults, much of our day is still spent asking others for information—soliciting feedback on a project, for example, or requesting status updates on an event. We probably spend even more time each week with those closest to us enquiring about work, school, marriage, parenting, leadership, time management, and the direction of our lives. But have you ever paused to consider asking inspired questions?

What are Inspired Questions?

Inspired questions are the ones found in the inspired Word of God—the Holy Scriptures. They help us sense the presence of God in our life and empower us to become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s moving. They reveal our hearts in ways other questions cannot. They help us discern God’s calling on our lives. They drive us deeper into our own reading of the Holy Scriptures. They are a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking key information in the Bible. They persuade us toward a godly direction. Indeed, they are for everyone who lives on this planet for the simple fact that God’s Word is for everyone. The fact that the Spirit inspired them means we are meant to ask and consider them as well.

Yet in the age of secular counseling, and now question-centered therapy, inspired questions have largely been set aside. Even though they are among the most effective and time-tested ways to help us diagnose our spiritual condition, strengthen our walks with God, and foster our journey with others, many Christians don’t understand what they mean for our spiritual growth. Maybe now is the time to notice and note the question-driven nature of the Bible. ...

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One-on-One with Steve Green, President of Hobby Lobby on 'This Beautiful Book'

Today I talk with Steve Green about "This Beautiful Book", which was just released.

Ed: You and your family founded the Museum of the Bible in D.C. You clearly believe the Bible is important and have worked extremely hard to educate as many people as possible about the Bible. Where does your love for the Bible come from?

Steve: My wife and I both grew up in Christian families who actively served in their churches. As children and teenagers, we went to Christian camps and youth conferences. (Actually, the first time we met was at a church camp, although we didn’t start dating until later.) Our parents raised us to look to the Bible for life guidance and hope.

Like so many young families, we had to wrestle with raising children, making ends meet financially, dealing with debt and budgeting. In our case, we looked to the Bible for answers.

We believe, like billions of people in the world, that the Bible is what it claims to be, the inspired word of God. We spend time in it regularly. In times of hardship, we go to the Bible. In times of worship and joy, we go to the Bible.

Ed: The subtitle for your new book is “An Exploration of the Bible’s Incredible Story Line and Why It Matters Today.” Why does the Bible matter today?

Steve: The Bible is the best-selling book around the world, regardless of culture, economic status, education levels, and political and social situations. Its status has remained unchanged. Daniel Radosh, writing for the New Yorker, points out, “The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year.”[1]The Bible resonates with all of humanity like no other book.

Throughout the years, the Bible has continued to have an impact on individual lives and ...

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Interview: Kay Warren: Moms of Kids with Mental Illness Need Christ and Community

The California-based ministry leader recently hosted a retreat for mothers of suffering kids.

I first met Kay Warren a few years ago when we served together on a federal task force focused on the intersection of faith and mental health, a topic that has touched both our lives in profound ways.

Like many Christian women, I’d followed her from a distance for decades, admiring her advocacy on HIV/AIDS issues and global orphan care and tracking all that God was doing through her and her husband, Rick Warren, at Saddleback Church in California. But then I got to know Kay at a more personal level, as a faithful and compassionate friend who understands what it means to be a mother of a child with serious mental illness.

Warren has extended this friendship to many others like me. After her son Matthew’s death by suicide, she made a commitment to help mothers in similar situations. This passion led to a new retreat called Breathe, held recently in San Juan Capistrano, California and attended by almost 90 moms of children with mental illness.

After the event, I spoke with Warren about the isolation of parenting someone with mental illness, the comforts of Scripture, and what she’s learned about God after Matthew’s death.

With all the advocacy and educational work that you do on mental health issues, why was doing a retreat for moms a priority?

After Matthew died, I talked to hundreds of parents who have kids with mental illness. And it slowly began to dawn on me that not only did parents not have enough support, they didn’t have good community.

There are a lot of reasons for that. There’s stigma and discrimination against people living with mental illness. In the Christian community, there’s a standard that we feel like we have to measure up to—you know, perfect marriages, perfect ...

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US Pastor Still Detained in India, Awaiting December Trial

Bryan Nerren “always knew the danger” of missions in South Asia but longed to see revival in Nepal.

Each year, when Tennessee pastor Bryan Nerren delivered the closing message at a conference for Nepali Christian leaders in South Asia, he called them to persist in ministry despite the associated risk in a Hindu-dominated region sometimes hostile to their faith.

Now, Nerren, 58, is living out his sermon more than at any time in his 17 years of mission trips to South Asia, trapped in India for more than a month and prohibited from returning home following a six-day imprisonment. While Indian officials charge him with failing to fill out proper paperwork to declare the cash he was carrying, Nerren’s attorneys call the charges unjust and the detention an example of religious persecution.

Nerren, pastor of the nondenominational International House of Prayer in Shelbyville, Tennessee, did nothing wrong and “is essentially being held hostage in India for his Christian faith,” according to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the evangelical legal organization representing him. “He deserves to come home.”

Released on bail October 11 in the Indian state of West Bengal, Nerren had his passport seized by a judge while he awaits a December 12 court date. Despite backchannel work by the Trump administration and three US senators, Nerren’s family doesn’t know when he will return home.

Arrest and imprisonment

Nerren’s legal trouble began October 5. He and two other American ministers cleared Indian customs upon arriving in New Delhi and proceeded through security to board their domestic flight to the northeast Indian city of Bagdogra to lead a conference there, the ACLJ reported. After Nerren answered questions for an hour in New Delhi about the cash he was carrying—including ...

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The Motivation of Transformation

Personal transformation had powerful missionary implications.  

Before and after pictures are compelling. In a glimpse they communicate that something—often someone’s life—has changed.

Lost in all of the talk about evangelism and mission is the fact that, far too often, it’s been a long time since many people have actually seen God’s Spirit transform someone’s life. Yes, they’ve likely heard the stories.

They are familiar with the pastor’s clever tales about salvation and life transformation, but these stories are often about people and places they’ve never met and haven’t seen first-hand. Some of these individuals can recount their own personal story of transformation, but even these stories have accumulated dust over the years.

Many in the church haven’t had a front-row seat to observe God orchestrate powerful acts of deliverance and change.

Over time, a lack of visible transformation fosters a certain predictable apathy. We know that God can save. We know that he does bring freedom from sin. We’re aware of the hope found in Jesus.

Yet, like a certain diet or exercise regimen, mere affirmation of potency does nothing if not matched by actual practice. We may know in theory, that something, or someone, is transformative, but we all need personal examples of that change to continue to inspire our actions.

We read these stories in the journey of Israel to the promised land.

Time and again, each of the 12 tribes are mentioned, the various land allocations described, and the people accounted for. God’s deliverance wasn’t for a vague powerful group, but real-life people who experienced the power of God in a personal way.

When Moses testifies that the Israelites were cared for the in the wilderness, that they were ...

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A Report from the Religious Liberty Front Lines

An experienced litigator explains why believers and nonbelievers alike have a stake in defending America’s “first freedom.”

As a leading attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Luke Goodrich has helped litigate some of the most important religious liberty cases heard by the United States Supreme Court over the past decade. Decisions in these cases have protected the ability of churches to select the ministers they desire, kept a family-owned company from having to provide insurance that covers abortifacients, and ensured that a prisoner could grow a short beard as required by his faith.

Goodrich has also written a book, Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America. Typically, attorneys are not known for their crisp, clear prose, but I’m pleased to report that Free to Believe is a pleasure to read. Goodrich is an excellent writer, and throughout the book he scatters stories and personal anecdotes that help bring to life what could otherwise be a dry subject.

A Robust Defense

Goodrich begins by offering a robust, Christian defense of religious liberty. He argues that God created men and women in his image, that he intends for us to be in relationship with him, and that this relationship must be freely chosen. Religious liberty is first and foremost a God-given right grounded in a biblical conception of justice, not a gift from the state. It is a right that God provides to all of his image-bearers, not just those who already follow him.

From the Roman emperor Constantine to the present day, Christians who have access to political power have been tempted to use governments to promote their understanding of Christian orthodoxy. This is unfortunate, Goodrich argues, because true faith cannot be coerced, rulers are poor judges of religious truth, and, most fundamentally, when “the government punishes someone for ...

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Another Way for Immigration Reform? How Evangelicals Can Help Lead It

Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform allows evangelicals to voice their support.

This August, after more than three decades in the United States, 66-year-old pastor’s wife Julita Bartolome was deported.

Her U.S. citizen husband, a Baptist pastor and a custodian at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, had been trying since 2002 to get his wife permanent legal status. Now separated from his wife by an ocean, he intends to keep trying to get her back.

The case has many troubled, particularly among the evangelical community, of which Julita and her husband are a part. Many are asking if there is a better way than this.

They’re not alone in asking this question. One local church in the heart of the Bible Belt recently lost 150 congregants to an immigration raid. Another town – Morristown, Tennessee – found itself deeply shaken in the aftermath of a 2018 raid. Many of its residents are evangelical Christians who voted for President Trump despite – or even because of – his harsh rhetoric on immigration. Yet the raid complicated and colored their perspective.

“When I heard ‘crack down on illegal immigration,’ I interpreted it as a crackdown on illegal immigrants that were criminals,” Krista Etter told This American Life “If there was a drug situation, you know, violent criminals, pedophile, any kind of situation of that nature. That’s what I expected…I don’t think anybody ever really stopped to think that they were going to go after the family man working at the meatpacking plant. That’s not what I had in mind.”

David Williams, a Southern Baptist pastor in Morristown, concurs: “I think people were voting for a secure border. You know, surely people didn’t vote that families would be separated, and that families ...

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What Kanye West’s Sunday Service Taught Me About Grace

When I visited Kanye's Sunday Service, I was met by contradiction, a mix of characters, and a spiritual lesson.

It’s Sunday morning and I’m on my way to worship service—a normal part of my weekend routine except for the fact that it’s 4 a.m., I’m embarking on a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Sacramento to Southern California, and the service will be led by Kanye West.

Coinciding with the release of his much-anticipated ninth studio album, Jesus is King, West released $10 tickets for his “Sunday Service” at The Forum, a 17,500-seat stadium in Inglewood that formerly hosted the Los Angeles Lakers. I bought tickets on a whim and convinced my friend Vince, who is also a bit impulsive, to attend the show with me. Groggy and a little delusional, we laugh about what a bad idea this is (we also plan to make the drive home immediately after the show).

We listen to the new album on repeat as we drive, dissecting each bar and rating his tracks as I quietly hope that the performance will paint a clearer picture of West’s new status as an unlikely evangelical darling. But when we arrive at the venue, the tangle of contradictions only seems to grow.

By the time we arrive, the typical pre-concert rituals are already underway, but against the backdrop of the album’s strong religious message and iconography the scene is disorienting. Masses wait in line to snag limited edition Yeezy merchandise—one crewneck with pictures of a medieval dark-skinned Jesus runs for $250—a woman poses provocatively in front of a banner that read “Jesus is King,” and the unmistakable scent of California kush punctuates the air.

“He’s tapping into an urban market,” says Susie Seiko, an LA musician and longtime West fan. Seiko, who frequents multiple churches in the area including ...

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Split the Cedars of Lebanon: Evangelicals Balance Prayer, Protest, and Politics in Ongoing Uprising

With a prayer tent going up in Beirut square, participants see a “spiritual dimension” to anti-corruption demonstrations.

At first, it was two high school girls.

The education minister in Lebanon had just canceled classes nationwide due to an explosion of popular anger at proposed taxes. Public squares in Beirut and other cities swelled with demonstrations. The two students asked Steve White, principal of the Lebanese Evangelical School (LES), if he would join them and protest too.

White, a Lebanese citizen since 2013, became principal in 2000, succeeding his English father who’d held the post since 1968. Founded by a British missionary in 1860, LES preaches the gospel clearly and is one of the top schools in Lebanon. But it bucks the sectarian trend of community enclaves as 85 percent of its students are Muslim—most coming from the Shiite community. Discussion about religion and politics is forbidden.

The protests began October 17. At the height of student interest, White arranged four school buses for a unique civic education. Though he knows his students well, he couldn’t tell their breakdown by sect: Sunni, Shia, or Christian.

Which fit perfectly with the protests.

“I got excited because it was not religious,” said White. “It was nonsectarian: all of Lebanon together, no flags, no parties, they were cursing everybody.”

White did not approve of the cursing. But he did of the “everybody.” The slogan adopted by protesters: “All of them means all of them.” It targeted the leaders of Lebanon’s multiple religion-based political parties, accusing them all of corruption.

Transparency International ranked Lebanon No. 138 out of 180 in its 2018 corruption perception index, listed from clean to corrupt.

Traditionally viewed as the guardians of each sect’s interests, Lebanese political ...

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Despite HHS Change, Christian Foster Agencies Still Fight LGBT Requirements

The new federal policy doesn’t stop legal battles on the state and local levels.

Evangelicals celebrated the recent news that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will no longer enforce an Obama-era mandate that required foster and adoption agencies receiving federal funds to place children with same-sex couples.

But while the new policy will soon allow faith-based agencies to obtain government grants without setting aside their religious beliefs on sexuality, the same agencies face growing pressure from city and state governments. Regulations on prominent foster care ministries have resulted in several legal clashes over the past few years, with one case headed to the Supreme Court next week.

“Faith-based agencies … still need help from SCOTUS,” Becket Law attorney Lori Windham said on Twitter. “The federal rule will not stop Philadelphia or Michigan from discriminating against faith-based foster and adoption agencies.”

On November 1—the start of National Adoption Month—HHS announced that it will reissue guidelines that require adoption agencies applying for government grants to comply only with nondiscrimination provisions approved by Congress. The proposed rule will require agencies to abide by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act—all of which protect citizens against religious discrimination but do not mention sexual orientation.

“This is not a narrowing rule that excludes gay people and others from serving children,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed about the proposed regulation change. “Instead, the regulation merely ensures that no one is kept from serving, while ...

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