Is it the End for Roe v. Wade?

Lots of us woke up this morning to the news that a draft Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision had the support of the majority of justices on the Court. For the first time ever, a SCOTUS draft decision has been leaked weeks before its formal released.

Already tons of digital ink have been spilled (and it’s not even noon as I write this). So let me spill a bit more. Why? Because Roe v. Wade was (and is) one of the most consequential legal decisions of the 20th century. It legalized abortion throughout the United States and made efforts by states to ban abortion essentially illegal. It took decisions regarding abortion away from the states in favor of a national regime where abortion-on-demand was allowed within certain legal parameters.

Even more important, Roe v. Wade represented a shift in the ongoing American conflict regarding human rights and dignity. Before Roe, African Americans and Native Americans were denied the human rights and liberties spoke about in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, and it wasn’t until the 1960s (and a great deal of social conflict) that the country began to apply these rights to those citizens. Now with Roe, the question of whether children conceived but not yet born were entitled to those same rights became front and center. But Roe also forced recognition of the rights of women in our society. Were women truly equal to men in a world where social custom walled off women from many jobs in the workplace and in the social, political, and religious life of our country? What are the limits and boundaries of our human and personal rights when they come into conflict?

I’m not here to rehearse the biblical, theological, historical, and cultural arguments about abortion. Many others have done that far better than myself. The matter that is now front-and-center for Christians like myself is how we follow Christ in a post-Roe context? It’s the same question that many of us wrestle with after the Obergfell decision of 2015 granted legal status to same-sex marriage. Our responses are different, but the cultural impact is in some ways similar.

So, what will a post-Roe world look like? Let me offer some ideas for your consideration. First, overturning Roe v. Wade returns the political calculus regarding abortion to the early 1970s when states made their own decisions regarding the legality of abortion. It won’t surprise you that California (my home growing up) was the first state in the union to legalize abortion. It may surprise you that the governor who signed that act in 1967 was none other than Ronald Reagan.

We’re back to the place where abortion will be legal in some states and illegal in others. Hence, the new abortion battlegrounds will be the state legislatures and courts. Sociologists have suggested that we are in the midst of what they term “the great sort” where people of more liberal persuasion congregate in some states while folks more conservative congregate in different states. Add to that the reality that the political parties are now dominated by extremists on both the left and the right, the contest over abortion will likely become more intense in the years to come. Already this morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders called on Democrats in Congress to immediately kill the Senate filibuster so that Democrats could use their narrow congressional majorities to pass federal legislation making abortion legal throughout the country.

Second, as bad and divisive as our political rhetoric and activity has become, expect it to get worse. Over the past several years, the GOP has moved away from political conservatism to a shrill populism that culminated in the Capitol riots of last January 6. Abortion is something that animates elements of the Democratic left, and I wouldn’t be surprised by any visceral reaction from that side of the political spectrum. Should SCOTUS overturn Roe v. Wade next month, the American political calculus will shift in unforeseen ways. Charlie Sykes over at The Bulwark puts it well. “Instead of lowering the temperature, overturning Roe guarantees that abortion will continue to be the bloody shirt of our politics for decades.”

There are implications for American Christianity. Many (not all) evangelicals have long struggled to overturn Roe v. Wade. Will their tendency be to “declare victory and go home?” Overturning Roe v. Wade will not erase human need and if anything, our cities, states, and nation should be crafting policies that are both pro-woman and pro-child. (I reject the notion that we must trade one for the other.) That means more work for our congregations–not only teaching the gospel but engaging our communities with ministries like foster-parenting, affordable housing, strengthening public education, support for women caught in crisis pregnancy situations; in other words, making our communities places where men, women, and children can flourish.

If Roe v. Wade falls, how will we respond, how will I respond? I won’t “celebrate” because in my view, the hard work is only beginning. It will be a time for both gratefulness and humility. It will be a time for mercy. Maybe it will even be a time when American evangelicalism can shake off its worldliness and become a movement where love for God and love for others take center-stage.

Pray for Ukraine

A short but simple request. Please pray for Ukraine. Pray for:

  1. The thousands of Ukrainian citizens who have been forced to flee their homes.
  2. The Ukrainian military that they will do their jobs well as they defend their country.
  3. For President Zalenskyy and his family that they will be kept safe and able to lead.
  4. For theological students and faculty at several Ukrainian seminaries in Kvyv and other parts of the country, and for Christian pastors and their families as they serve the physical and spiritual needs of the Ukrainian nation.
  5. For wisdom for President Biden and American officials in the difficult decisions they face in navigating this crisis.
  6. Did you know that Ukraine sends more Christian missionaries around the world than any other country in Europe. No wonder the enemy of our faith wants to destroy the country and the Christians who live and serve Christ there.

One other request. Please pray with me that God will end Vladimir Putin’s rule in any way that our Trinue God sees fit. This evil man must be removed from power. May Christ have mercy.

Letter to a Covid Vaccine Denier

In response to our Christmas letter to family and friends, we received a rather curious response from someone who accused us of living in fear because we take the necessary precautions regarding Covid-19. The person told us to start watching vvarious far-right media sources if we wanted to know what was right about Covid-19, and also indicated that “freedom and not safety” should guide our lives. We chose to respond with what we hope was kindness and grace while at the same time offering a clear understanding based on actual medical evidence and not political propaganda. A number of friends have told me of their frustration with vaccine deniers among their family and friends. And one Tennessee megachurch pastor told his congregation that anyone who wanted to wear a mask or who had been vaccinated was not welcome in his church. Sadly, he’s not the only one. So I share this letter with you in hopes that you might find it helpful in interacting with deniers.

II confess that too often my responses to these folks were far too harsh, and the Lord has had to remind me that we should “speak the truth in love.” I’m trying to apply that on this incredibly divisive matter.

January 2022


Always good to hear from you, but I was a bit surprised by your assertion that we and our congregation are “living with fear” by avoiding crowds and wearing masks. We both take what we see as necessary precautions based on recommendations from our physicians and from immunologists from the medical school at Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic, and the Medical School at the University of Minnesota which Dr. Michael Osterholm directs. In addition, Bob was a participant in the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine trials conducted through Tryon Medical Partners, the medical group where both of us have our doctors. When going through the trials, Bob asked a ton of questions of the doctors and the immunologists supervising the trials and came away convinced that the vaccines were effective against the original Alpha variant of the disease. As with any virus (Polio, Measles, Covid-19, etc.) there are mutations as we are seeing with the Omicron variant. After participating in the trials and listening to immunologists like Michael Osterholm and Dr. Ajish Jha at the Brown University School of Medicine. We were convinced even before the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines arrived that Covid-19 would be more like the flu and that we will probably need new vaccines annually.

Regarding our church, we wear masks so that we can worship together in person and protect each other, which is something Holy Scripture encourages us to do. Moreover, our pastor and his wife lost their only child to Covid-19 early last April. He was 37 and had just become eligible to get vaccinated. Before he could schedule a vaccine appointment, he caught Covid-19 on Thursday afternoon and by Saturday night he had to be rushed to the hospital because he was unable to breathe. On Sunday morning, our pastor was interrupted during our second service, he was interrupted and told that his son had just died. I cannot imagine the heartbreak and grief that comes from losing an only child; all of us grieved and mourned his death that week, especially because he left a wife and four children who have had their dad taken from them by this horrible disease. How I wish that he could have gotten the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine three weeks earlier. That is why our congregation tries to care for each other in this matter and why we support the necessary protocols to keep people safe, especially those in our membership who have underlying health conditions. It’s not a loss of freedom for us to care for them; it is our joy in our Lord Jesus Christ to care for them as the Apostle Paul makes clear in Romans 13, Romans 15, and as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5-7.

Regarding the media you ask us to watch, we do not watch any Cable-TV news. We deliberately do not have them on our streaming services because all of them deal in left-wing or right-wing propaganda. We get our news from reading. Bob subscribes to The Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post (a range of political viewpoints), and those sources keep us up with the latest important medical research.

We also follow Covid-19 and other health news from the medical schools listed above. And we think these sources are far more objective and comprehensive than the propaganda on Cable TV. So we feel very free in caring for others and we both feel that the Covid-19 vaccines are truly a gift from our Lord and have saved so many lives. And we thank our Lord Jesus Christ for giving wisdom to our doctors and epidemiologists regarding these things. We realize that nothing is perfect, and that medical people make mistakes, and sometimes serious ones. We recognize that we’re learning more about Covid-19 all the time and that we face a virus that evolves and shifts, and that there will be new guidance that we will have to follow. That is the nature of medical science.

If you haven’t done so, we would encourage you to get the vaccine shots. Even if you have already had Covid-19, they produce antibodies in your immune system that strengthen any antibodies you may already have. They are safe and effective, and they do what they are intended to do—keep folks who get the vaccine safe from hospitalization and death.  Right now, 95 percent of people hospitalized from Covid-19 are unvaccinated and many of them are extremely ill. Lots of people in our area are getting Covid-19 right now and I’m grateful that for most of us the vaccines are working. It is a tragedy whenever anyone dies no matter their vaccination status, and we both mourn for the 900.000 fellow Americans (included several we know) who have died from this horrible disease over the last 21 months, and we’re committed to do everything we can to slow its spread and make sure our relatives, friends, and all of those we work with are cared for. May Christ have mercy on all of us in this difficult season.

Again, it is great to hear from you and we hope that this will be a good year for you.

With love,

The Reading Life

Ever since I was a young boy, I have loved reading. Even today, my personal library is the thing I value most. Marie Kondo, she of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up will never be allowed near my booksheves. Kondo suggests that a home needs no more than 30 books. Hey, I have that many books on my nightstand!

With the new year at hand, permit me to share some of my best reads from 2021 with you. I don’t claim that these are the best books of the year, just that they are books that I particularly enjoyed and that I think you might as well. My reading focuses on three broad areas–history (especially Christian history), theology, and Christian formation. I need to read more novels and hopefully 2022 will be the year I get to some of those on my shelves. So here are my top eight for 2020-21, not in any particular order.

  1. Where the Light Fell: A Memoir by Philip Yancey (Convergent, 2021). Yancey describes his experience growing up impverished in the American South during the 1960s. His father died when he was just a year old leaving Philip and his older brother, Marshall, to be raised by a single parent with little income. The Yancey’s were part of a strict Baptist fundamentalist church in the Jim Crow era and so fundamentalist doctrine and racism mixed together easily in their world. Philip and Marshall react in radically different ways, but were both haunted with sorting out what was real from what was false. Philip’s life and writing points to his continual struggle to do just this and we discover what Flannery O’Connor meant when she spoke of the American South as a “Christ-haunted world.”
  2. Breaking Bread With the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs (Penguin, 2020). Alan Jacobs follows in the steps of C.S. Lewisand suggests the need for reading “old books” (think Chaucer, Melville, Milton, Orwell, and so on) to provide us with the necessary “bandwidth” to ponder and process the information deluge we face in the 21st century. Jacobs suggests that this is the best way we can deal with what he terms “social acceleration,” the sense that we must live with our “petal to the metal” 24/7. Reading older books allows us to inhabit a different time and place and build the “personal density” we need to discern the time and place in which we live.
  3. We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy by Robert Tracy McKenzie (InterVarsity Press). I read a lot of history. I teach Christian history to graduate students. As their instructor, I challenge them to look at actual historical evidence from primary sources themselves, and then think about those sources both historically and theologically. I grew up with the nebulous idea that the United States was a Christian country founded by Christian patriots. But upon reading the evidence, we discover a far more complex story. As George Marsden has shown, the United States has both Christian and secular roots (think George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin). McKenzie helps us recognize that while the United States has some unique Christian roots, it is no more a Christian country than Canada, Italy, Mexico, or Brazil. Hence, our Christian mission should not be formed by the dictates of party or politician, but by the biblical teaching that our true citizenship lies in God’s kingdom ruled by the Triune God.
  4. Travels With George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, 2021). This book combines two of my reading loves–the American revolution and books about the road. Think John Steinbeck meets the Continental Army. Philbrick’s earlier work on the Puritans in Mayflower and the Massachusetts rebellion in Bunker Hill are masterful narratives. Here Philbrick road-trips to all of the locations that our first President travelled to during his three extensive trips through the new republic, and discovers that the country was as politically and culturally fragmented as we are today. I’ve wondered whether the United States can survive another 20 years without coming unglued. Apparently, George Washington wondered the same thing.
  5. Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great Amerian Story by Wilfred McClay (Encounter, 2020). Every American ought to read a good American history especially now. This is one of the best–an excellent survey especially for students and non-historians that captures the essence of the American story as it has unfolded so far. McClay teaches at the University of Oklahoma where he has taught U.S. history for many years, and he narrates the American story based on solid historical evidence and points toward several overarching themes we see as the story unfolds. I spent an enjoyable three weeks with this book last January during the pandemic.
  6. No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear by Kate Bowler (Random House, 2021). Bowler teaches Christian history at Duke Divinity School and has written extensively on the “prosperity gospel” movement that has become a powerful force in American Pentecostalism. While researching that movement, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer and this is her story of navigating that awful diagnosis and what came afterwards. (Fortunately, she survived and is still teaching and writing today.) In her research and in her life, she heard all of the positive-thinking cliches that well-meaning people told her as she suffered and struggled with the possibility of death. Often those maxims hide more complicated realities. For example, when people say “let go and let God,” the more complicated truth is that “God loves you, but won’t do your taxes for you.” Or, instead of “everythng happens for a reason,” the more complicated truth is “We must learn to face uncertainty with courage” (and I would with a deep trust in our God and savior Jesus Christ. A fabulous book if you want to explore a realistic Christian faith.
  7. Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters by Carmen Joy Imes (InterVarsity Press, 2020). OK, this makes my list for more than the quality of the book. Back in the 2000s, Carmen spent many afternoons and evenings studying in the GCTS-Charlotte library and we had some great discussions of theology, history, and biblical studies. She went on for PhD work at Wheaton and has now joined the faculty at Biola University. This, her second book, describes how the events surrounding Sinai recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy form the core of the Old Testament and frame the redemptive events that surround Jesus Christ–his life, death, and resurrection. Carmen writes here not for scholars (though they will benefit from reading), but for pastors and laypeople, especially for those who want to understand how the themes of Holy Scripture fit together. If you want to know more about the Old Testament and how to read it, I can’t think of a better place to start.
  8. Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the Ameriican Revolution by Gordon Wood (Oxford UP, 2021). Gordon Wood is my go-to historians when it comes to understanding how the United States constitution was written, debated, and ratified. It was not a smooth process to get from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, especially given the political independence of the states, the hostility of most Americans toward any kind of central authority, and slavery (the elephant in the room at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia). Wood describes that process and the surprise of many that the constitution was ratified by the states. I grew up with a sense of solidity about the United States. Now, I’m discovering that our divided society has beeen fragile all along and is nothing new, but something that the American founders had to grapple with as well.

So many books. So little time. But reading is one of the best, most enjoyable, and most practical ways to spend your time. You discover that life is far more than your own opinions and views. You also learn to change your mind about things when new evidence and new perspectives challenge you. So I hope that you will spend many happy hours reading in 2022.

I just got the January/February 2022 issue of Christianity Today with their 2022 book awards. The listing is a great place to start selecting titles that you may want to dive into. And the entire issue is a reading feast filled with a dozen excerpts from their awards. I’ll read those to see what titles I might want to read this year. At the same time I value recommendations from friends, announcements from publishers catalogs, and reviews of titles in places like the Wall Street Journal. I also keep an eye out for works by favorite authors like Alan Jacobs, Mark Noll, Alister McGrath, Michael Lewis and others. Most of all, make sure that you regularly read Holy Scripture.

“Free at Last”

“Early Morning, April 4; Shot rings out in the Memphis sky; Free at last, they took your life, They could not take your pride.”

–U2 “Pride (In the Name of Love),” The Unforgettable Fire, (1984)

Each year, as the Martin Luther King holiday draws near on the third weekend of January, I read one book about MLK, the mid-20th century Civil Rights movement, or African American history. Billy Graham was right when he called racism “America’s original sin,” and I think it is impossible to grasp the force of that statement without exploring the impact of Slavery, Jim Crow, and racism in American life.

This year, I found a new biography that looks at MLKs life from a fresh perspective–that of Martin Luther King’s Christian faith and the philosophical and theological impulses that shaped his convictions and his work: Martin Luther King: A Religious Life by Paul Harvey. Harvey, a historian who teaches at the University of Colorado (Colorado Springs), has written extensively about African American history and I’ve been privileged to use his excellent book Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity as a text for my graduate course on American Christian history.

Harvey protrays King “as a prophet in the full biblical sense” (3). He was hard to pidgeon-hole, yet he was clear that his mission involved securing the same rights, liberties, and economic opportunities for African Americans that most whites enjoyed. Politically, he was a social democrat (in the European sense) and not a Communist as many of his racist detractors claimed. Throughout his brief adult life, King tried to teach and practice non-violent protest as the best way to call attention to injustice. Before his assassination, he was imprisoned and illegially surveiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a time when that agency routinely broke the law in its in-house opposition to the Civil Rights movement.

Permit me to take a different approach in my words about Harvey’s excellent work. Obviously, “MLK: A Religious Life” deals with how King’s theological and cultural convictions informed his life and work. Yet, I’ve discovered an interesting sub-narrative in its pages; that of MLK as pastor first at Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL and later as a kind of “pastor-at-large” to over 20 million African Americans living in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. For those of us who are pastors and church leaders, there are valuable ways that King’s ministry can inform ours. Let me suggest several:

1. King understood his calling. At Dexter Ave. MLK enjoyed a successful first year in a relatively obscure location; a far cry from Atlanta; the center of the American South and of African American Christianity in that region. When a series of events thrust him into leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott, the result of Rosa Parks’s unwillingness to give up her bus seat to a white rider, the story hit the newspapaers and MLK started receiving death threats.

A couple of days before a stick of dynamite detonated in front of his home, King experienced a kind of conversion: “Religion had become real to me and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee, I will never forget it. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone” (62-63). MLK “experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced him belfore….My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

God’s call to leadership and ministry is a serious matter and to withstand the pressures of ministry, leaders have to be certain of their calling.

2. King understood his mission, even when God changed the mission. At first MLK was called to serve a specific congregation and he hoped that through his congregational ministry he could fuel a local movement for African American freedom and liberty in the midst of the Jim Crow south. When those efforts met success, God gave him a different, larger mission; one that would tax all of his strength. In that larger mission he would wrestle with the demands of celebrity while trying to accomplish what seemed an impossible task–the complete emancipation of African Americans from political and economic Jim Crow. (Personally, I’m relieved that God never called me to this large of a mission.)

MLK knew that the mission was impossible; there was simply too much opposition from the vast majority of American people at the time and from the minions of local, state, and federal government. White supremacy had been firmly entrenched since the 1870s and to confront that directly could easily lead to violent reprisals as had been seen in Wilmington, NC in 1898, Tulsa, OK in 1921, and in other locations throughout the country. But MLK and his colleagues in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) discovered ways to keep their opponents off-guard through non-violent protest. Non-violence became the heart of the movement as countless men, women, and children were taught how to practice it, and in Montgomery, Birhimgham, Selma, and later throughout the American South, their message of freedom and liberty took hold. Through all of this MLK spent lots of time on the road raising money for the next non-violent action and being the up-front leader of the movement.

Obviously, most of us are not called to the same kind of broad-based ministry and leadership. Most of us are called to serve individual congregations, many of those in rather out-of-the-way places in cities, small towns, and rural areas. Hence, we need clarity about the mission to which God has called us and to the kinds of strategies and tools that God asks us to use. We may not use nonviolent protest, but perhaps God calls to a ministry of peace in communities where conflict threatens the health of a congregaton or ministry.

3. While King exercised the kind of top-down leadership found in many American congregations in the 1950s, he still gathered a group of leaders around him and he listened, even to those who disagreed with his approach. In Montgomery, some felt that others were doing all of the work of the bus-boycott and MLK simply came in and took the credit. In the mid-1960s, when student radcalism emerged in both the anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements, King faced harsh criticism from those who thought non-violence was passe or thought he should join the anti-war movement (something he did later in 1967). Instead of rejecting their criticism, he listened and engaged his critics. He didn’t necessarily think they were right, but he did think he could learn from them.

Yet, MLK did not deviate from his non-violent path. Instead he doubled down with non-violent protests in Chicago and Memphis and laid the groundwork for a poor-people’s campaign in the nation’s capital. His non-violence was grounded in his understanding of human beings and human nature, which solidified during his PhD studies at Boston University in the early 1950s. King was tutored in the Boston personalist school of Edgar Brightman and Harold DeWolf, a school of thought that placed great emphasis on the value and dignity of human beings as created in the image of God. MLK aslo embraced the idea of human depravity articulated by another of his teachers, Reinhold Niebuhr, the most prominent public theologian of the mid-20th century (though King did not share the almost total pessimism about humanity that Niebuhr did).

Those convictions meant that for MLK, ethical ministry was about the value and dignity of the human person and that how we approach ministry must be ethical in practice and in result. I think we can learn alot from King here. Megachurches across the country adopt models of ministry that to put it bluntly are soul-killing; to leaders and to the individual Christians who are part of them.

So far, you might think that I’m offering a portrait of MLK that makes him out to be near perfect. Nothing can be further from the case. The final point that I suggest is something where MLK deeply struggled.

4, King struggled with his own self-care and that led to near implosion of his work and to times of personal moral failure. From the early 1960s on, MLK took little if any time for vacation, rest, and spiritual reflection. He was constantly tired. He needed sleep. He needed time with his wife and children. He did not allow himself time for reading. Why? The cause was too big and too important. There was always a new campaign to organize, a group to meet with, a potential donor whose support was needed to keep things going and pay the team, government officials to meet about policy. It was incessant and unending.

When MLK came to Memphis, on the night before his death, he appeared before nearly a thousand striking garbagemen. (The term “sanitation engineer” had yet to make an appearence.) If you watch the tape closely, you see the fatigue and exhaustion in his eyes. In other words, MLK was running on empty and had been for many months. Perhaps the only thing that gave him energy was the opportunity to speak.

Especially for those who are younger and new to ministry, it is easy to lose yourself in the ministry vocation. After all, the work seems so important; the needs so many; and the expectations so high. How can we not spend almost every waking hour giving ourselves to them? All of a sudden, we collapse. We find ourselves distant from God, from our families, even from our own humanity. MLK is not the only one who burned out; there are hundreds and thousands of folks called by God who did not practice proper self-care and spiritual care. Let me suggest that those are the two most important aspects of life and ministry. The Triume God is not an add-on to our work. He is the essence of it, and if we neglect him we can find ourselves in a very bad place.

For MLK, life came to an end that April day due to an assassian’s bullet. It probably would have even if MLK had tended to his own personal needs and his need to reflect on his realtionship with his Creator. One thing I admired about MLK was his ability to remain resolute in practicing love for all, friend and enemy alike. Harvey suggests that King struggled with anger and at times rage toward his opponents. I think all of us struggle with feelings about our critics. Yet, MLK was able to put those things aside and practice love for others, even the Bull Conner’s and Lester Maddox’s of the world. He knew that their supremacist hatreds harmed themselves far more than they realized. And, he is one of the last great public leaders in America whose work was animated by the Christian faith.


Paul Harvey’s Martin Luther King: A Religious Biography is published by Rowman and Littlefield Press (2021) and in my view represents one of the finest biographies of MLK or of any leader from the mid-20th Century Civil Rights Movement. The book contains an extensive bibliographic essay that covers works related to MLK and the Civil Rights campaigns in which he engaged. Another outstanding resource is the Martin Luther King Encyclopedia hosted online at This comprehensive online reference work is the go-to first source for reseach related to MLK, the Civil Rights movement, and Christian influence in the movement.

Twenty years

Nine-eleven. Or, in numerical terms: 9/11. Twenty years ago today, many woke up thinking “another day.” We had jobs to get to. Kids to drop off at school. Renee and I worked for the same company at that time, and this was a day we would need to take separate cars. She got on the road at just after 8:30 to make the 17 mile drive through downtown Charlotte to the office. I would be 20 minutes behind her as I had a meeting that night and would not be home until late.

Time for a quick breakfast. I flipped off the television and picked up the Charlotte Observer to scan the headlines. All of a sudden, Renee called me from I-77 telling me to turn on the TV because a plane had run into a building at the World Trade Center. I ran to the set and the first image was fire coming out of the north tower. Whatever hit it seemed to be big, and the anchors were speculating about what had happened. The early speculation was a plane had gone off course and accidentally hit the tower.

Then I saw it live. A passenger jet aiming for the second tower, and “Bam!” Fireballs explode. Siding shatters. Black smoke now pouring out of both towers. This was no accident. Something awful was happening. And we knew that the world had changed in front of our very eyes. I called my mother in New Mexico and told her to turn on the television immediately. Then I realized that I had to get to work because our agenda for the office dramatically changed.

Driving south on I-77, I hear the news flashes. Then Pentagon has been hit. The FAA has grounded all aircraft. I look up and there are rows of planes trying to land at Charlotte-Douglas airport. Southbound traffic went crazy as folks realized that this was no longer a normal day.

I get to work where I had a research appointment with a military chaplain to help him with his dissertation research. We crowded into my little office with a black and white TV tuned to the one network station I could get. We watched the chaos, and then saw the towers come down–first the south tower, then the north tower. Then we saw the Pentagon. Finally, we saw Shanksville, PA where one of the hijacked jets had come down in a cornfield outside of town.

The chaplain got a call from his base commander instructing him to return to base ASAP as the military had issued general orders for all soldiers on leave to report immediately. After he left, those in the office sat stunned as we watched the news reports. We cancelled classes that evening and then closed for the rest of the day. That evening Renee and I would join Christians at our church both to process and pray. The grief of the coming days would be intense for all of us amidst all the uncertainty. My mom remembered Pearl Harbor and said that the day felt much like that day decades ago. We’re we once again at war? Was this the beginning of more attacks inside the United States? What seemed like just another day now brought new and unanswerable questions.

What change that day brought to our lives. Thousands of our young men and women gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq in hope that future 9/11-type attacks could be stopped. The kindness and unity we saw in America in that day’s aftermath are gone, replaced by deep suspicion, mistrust, and division that permeates American life, even in our churches. Twenty years ago today, the Internet seemed to hold enormous potential for political freedom, economic opportunity, and even spiritual renewal. Now, our technologies threaten to enslave us with a brave new world marked by authoritarianism, economic division, and decadence. Pay homage to the leader and party on.

Conspiracy theories once confined to the margins of society now animate millions. It started with the bogus claims that 9/11 was an “inside job,” a plot hatched by the government against its citizens. Now we contend with those who tell us that Covid-19 vaccines have nanobots that the government will use to track us. Craziness has become mainstream. We battle a pandemic that continues to kill far more people than 9/11, and the Afghan and Iraqi wars combined. Despite the death of so many loved ones, friends, and colleagues from Covid-19, we turn public-health measures into weapons for political combat.

It’s a picture that can easily lead to despair on this 20th anniversary. However, as a Christian I should not be surprised. Because when I read the Old and New Testament narratives, I’m confronted with the reality that human depravity is embedded in our personal lives, in our interpersonal relationships, in the very institutions of our society (both public and private), even in the very created order itself. Yet Jesus tells us in Mark’s gospel that the Kingdom of God is at hand in the very person of Jesus Christ.

For me, that provokes two responses. First, no matter what happens I’m a citizen of something far bigger than any temporal place. I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and a time will come come when God will triumph and I will live with him eternally with all of his people.

Then, in terms of this world in which we live, our work as Christians is twofold, in light of the Jesus teaching about the essence of the Christian life. We desire that people learn to love God through Jesus Christ and live in ways that contribute to the flourishing of every human being created in his image. That is still true now. Like our Lord and Savior we never give up–we continue to tell people of the gospel freedom that God offers in Jesus Christ. And, we work to create places where human beings can flourish.

Sometimes I wonder why God has placed me here in this time and place, in a society that seems to be crumbling all around me. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo wondered the same thing. He lived in a world of great evil, much like the Europe of the 1930s and 1940s in which the author, J.R.R. Tolkein lived. “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Push Back

At church this morning, I learned that three of our congregants died from Covid-19 in the past week, one of whom was a missionary in Columbia. The disease is ravaging the Charlotte metro-area where I live as well as much of the American South. Vaccination rates here are significantly lower than other parts of the country and given that the Delta variant is as contagious as the chicken-pox, I’m not surprised that our hospitals and ICUs have filled to the breaking point. Throw in a category-four hurricane, and we face a potential meltdown in medical care.

Frankly, I’m baffled. Things have changed so much since last December when the first Pfizer vaccines received emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. (Pfizer was given full FDA approval just last week.) I myself was one of 30,000 participants in the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine trials, something that I wrote about earlier this year. In retrospect, I’m glad that I participated despite the initial risks. I learned so much from doctors, immunologists, and medical professionals about Covid-19, its effects, and the drive to create a safe and effective vaccine to protect as many of our citizens. They have done such good, even sacrificial work providing vaccines that have stood up to scientific trial after trial, and we have excellent scientific evidence that supports their efficacy. Is the shot risk free? Nothing is risk free, but the chances of major illness or death from Covid-19 is far greater than from getting the Covid-19 vaccines.

Yet, thousands throughout the American South are getting very sick and even dying from Covid-19. A few days ago, I started hearing that some people were taking Ivermectin (essentially a horse de-wormer) to treat Covid-19 as opposed to getting the vaccine shot. In the last 48 hours, I read about three individuals, folks whom you would think are sensible adults, die from Covid-19 after trying to stop the disease with Ivermectin, a drug cleared for use in animals. My heart breaks for their wives and children. What would possess people toward off-label usage of a horse de-wormer? Add to that the scores of people who have contracted Covid-19 after refusing the vaccine who plead with others from their hospital beds for vaccinations. Three months ago, I was angry about this. Now, I can only respond with sorrow and despair.

Cheers and Applause?

One of the social groups most resistant to vaccination are those who identify as evangelical Christians. Two days ago, the National Religious Broadcasters fired one of its vice-presidents because he spoke positively about the need for people to be vaccinated. A few days ago, evangelical megachurch pastor Greg Locke called the Delta variant a hoax and the vaccines a government plot. According to the Washington Post, “If ‘you start showing up [with] all these masks and all this nonsense, I will ask you to leave,’ Locke, 45, told scores of Global Vision Bible Church parishioners during his sermon on Sunday. His statement was followed by cheers and applause.”

Cheers and applause in the face of a deadly disease. Let that sink in. I thought Christians were supposed to be about the gospel of life. Locke and many of his fellow megachurch pastors seem more inclined toward a culture of death. Given that like Global Vision Bible Church, the National Religious Broadcasters is located in Nashville, I’m wondering if the evangelical culture of death is now headquartered in central Tennessee. I’m not surprised that many look at this and think, “if that is evangelical Christianity, I want no part of it.”

Well, neither do I; and I hope you don’t either. What’s driving this? First, celebrity culture has infected American evangelicalism, and so-called “evangelical leaders” and megachurch pastors view themselves more as spiritual gurus and empire builders than pastors who provide for the care of souls. Then, an inability to think and act biblically and theologically has made many congregations more American than Christian. Add to that the expressive individualism grounded in the idea that we are responsible to “construct” our own reality and find “our own truth.” We like tyrants who make us feel good. Finally, most media has been reduced to entertainment and exists so that in the words of Neil Postman we can “amuse ourselves to death.” Connect those and the spiritual disaster taking root in evangelical Christianity is easy to grasp.

American Christianity has lost much. We no longer think about important theological ideas like “common grace” and “general revelation” (how God makes himself known through his creation). We have given in to the idolatry of politics. When I was a young man in the 1970s, I remember how evangelicals spoke and sometimes acted harshly toward those mainline Christians who brought politics into church. We thought they had bought into what Jacques Ellul termed “the political illusion.” Guess what. It wasn’t long before American evangelicals were seduced by the same things that the mainline struggled with–power, prestige, money, political favor, empire building. As the political left became more secularized, the Christian right jumped in and pursued all of the things for which we criticized the liberals. From there, it becomes easy to abandon the centrality of Christ.

Push Back Against the Culture of Death

So here we are. Many of us are so anti-government that we embrace the lie that everything the government touches turns to evil. That ideology is far from the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament writers. Biblical truth is alien to the fashionable conspiracy theories trafficked on Cable TV news and in the propaganda from politicians and political parties that fill our social media feeds and our mailboxes. This kind of propaganda views the Delta variant as a hoax, fires people for rightly encouraging people to get safe and effective vaccines, and chooses horse de-wormer as some kind of magic bullet.

We push back in several ways. I think we start with a proper grasp of common grace and general revelation. God has chosen to allow humans to discover things like electricity, nuclear power, airplane flight, and medical knowledge. These are all good gifts from a merciful God who desires that human beings (including you and me) should flourish. Yes, these good gifts can be used for great evil as evidenced by nuclear weapons and the horrid work of the Nazi doctors in World War II. They are not evil in themselves, but because of the fall described in Genesis 3, they can be used for great harm.

We stress in our lives and our churches the centrality of Jesus Christ. Partisan politics has no place in congregational ministry. A few years back, I started reading about congregations (more than you think) who made partisan politics almost a litmus test of faith. Followers of Jesus with different political views were isolated from their congregations because they did not support the strong political views of their pastors and leaders. I see their Facebook posts and the sorrow and anguish in their words. Biblical preaching and pastoral care are replaced with pressures to conform.

My advice to those who express these concerns is twofold. First, speak to the church leaders about your concerns. If they refuse to listen, then take the second step: Find another church where Christ is central. Christ loves Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party members, Independents, and the apolitical; and any congregation that anchors partisan politics in its life and ministry engages in sin.

And we push back by gently encouraging those we know and love to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones. That means we need to understand the fears and concerns of those who are hesitant or opposed to the vaccine. That involves conversing with them. To do that, we need to understand the strong evidence for getting vaccinated (for example, the risk of dying from Covid-19 is far, far greater than the risk of dying from the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines), as well as what is behind the conspiracy theories (which is usually some media darling’s personal agenda).

I’m pushing back because I’m tired of seeing families left in grief and mourning when we have the vaccines and mitigation strategies necessary to stop Covid-19. I’m pushing back because I’m frustrated by conspiracy theories and propaganda dividing our congregations. I’m pushing back because the arguments made by many anti-vaxxers are just like those that pro-abortion advocates use to justify their brutal acts. (“My body, my choice.”) And, I’m pushing back on behalf of many faithful pastors and leaders who are not celebrities, but called by Christ to preach and teach the Scriptures and care for souls like mine who struggle to follow Jesus every day. Hopefully, I push back with care, concern, and grace for others. We speak the truth, but as Paul writes, we “speak the truth in love.” Push back with me today armed with the gospel and Christ’s love for the world, one person at a time.

“Biblical Womanhood” in the Crossfire

One of the things I love about Advent Christian Voices is the ability of those who blog here to disagree respectfully on matters that are often more complex than we like to admit. That is an amazing quality in a time like ours fraught with division and fear of others who see things differently.

I’m diving into one of those areas, and adding my two cents into the good debate that Catherine Rybicki and Luke Copeland have had on these pages the past couple of weeks. This dive is prompted by my reading of Beth Allison Barr’s controversial new book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Woman Became Gospel Truth (Brazos, 2021).

Drop the Hammer

All of us bring spoken and unspoken biases to our work and I am no exception. So, let me state my point-of-view. Since 1977, I have been a biblical egalitarian who thinks that in family, church, work, and life women and men are partners in God’s call to ministry and service. My convictions are strong enough that I could not in conscience sign the 2000 SBC Baptist Faith and Message nor the Danvers Statement of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). My egalitarian convictions began with my experience at a Bill Gothard Basic Youth Conflicts week-long seminar held in Long Beach, CA. Mr. Gothard was the complementarian poster-boy of the 1970s and thousands of evangelicals flocked to his seminars and soaked in his “teachings” about hierarchy. Mr. Gothard illustrated his teaching with his now infamous “umbrella” diagram complete with hammer and chisel; the tools for “molding” people, especially women and children, into his vision of Christian maturity.

I sat stunned as I watched 9,000 people lap up this stuff. No questions were permitted (those who know me know that I had lots of questions that I wanted to ask), especially questions that might challenge the entire house of cards that comprised the Gothard system. A couple of years later at one of his advanced seminars held in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mr. Gothard told the group of pastors and leaders assembled that if a husband was assaulting and beating his wife, the wife had the obligation to stay and accept that in the hopes of witnessing to him. (Fortunately, one of the pastors there stood up in that large gathering, yelled out “you’re crazy!” and stormed out for all to see.) This was complementarian paradise and I wanted nothing to do with it; so I left behind Bill Gothard eager to discover a more Christian way, a way that affirmed the dignity, worth, and giftedness of every Christian man and woman.

Money, Sex, and Power

Fast-forward 45 years past the hundreds of books written and in my view, that way has become more clear even if the issues have become more complex. We’re not only talking about how we order our families, or about who can do what in our churches. Now we face the horrid reality of rampant sexual and spiritual abuse in both Catholic and Protestant churches throughout the United States and the entire world. Not a week goes by anymore when some prominent megachurch pastor or leader is outed because of gross sexual abuse or abuse of power. Richard Foster was right when he argued that almost all sin can be categorized as the abuse of money, sex, or power.

Barr offers her readers a helpful way of seeing how “biblical womanhood” of the past 50 years is more a creation of recent history than of early and medieval Christianity. The historical reality has been that the more centralized institutional structures of church and society become, the most restricted the lives and ministries of women. This is well illustrated by missions history. Many of the great endeavors in world missions were accomplished by women exercising gifts of preaching and teaching that they were not allowed to exercise in North America or Europe. Why? Because there was nobody else to communicate the gospel through preaching and teaching. And the folks who thought it was wrong for women to preach and teach were all thousands of miles away. You know what? God honored those women and thousands of men and women, boys and girls came to know and love Christ because God worked through their preaching and teaching. I’m fortunate to have met a few of them.

John Piper and others like to speak of Christianity as having “a masculine feel” and this “masculine feel” involves notions of authority and submission. This idea has become popular in circles where “biblical womanhood” is taught. Often it is connected to the heretical idea of the “eternal subordination of the Son,” Advocates of this rather Arian concept argue that “the Son, the second person of the Trinity is subordinate to the Father not only in economy of salvation but in his essence” (193). In other words, within the inner workings of the Triune God there is a hierarchical relation of authority and submission. There is a tactical reason for why some advocates of “biblical womanhood” like this idea. As Barr writes, “if Jesus is eternally subordinate to God the Father, women’s subordination becomes much easier to justify” (195-96).

What about the Bible?

All of this is nice, you say, but what about the Bible. Does Scripture not clearly limit the roles of women both in marriage and the church? Space prohibits me from going into all of the exegetical arguments, so let me make two points. First, throughout the Old and New Testaments we see women performing tasks that those who advocate for “biblical womanhood” argue are off limits for them. Junia (yes, she was a woman) was honored among the Apostles according to Paul’s words in Romans 16:7. Phoebe was described as a “deacon” earlier in the same passage. The first two witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection were women and they proclaimed it publicly first to the twelve, and then by extension to Jesus other disciples. Women prayed and prophesized, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. The are more examples. I think we begin with what the New Testament (and the Old Testament) tell us that women actually did, and we interpret the Pauline and Petrine teaching regarding women in that light, and not the other way around.

Second, In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul is clear that we are to “submit to one another our of reverence for Christ.” Then he identifies three pairs where those who are view as stronger (husbands, parents, and masters) and who are weaker (wives, children, and slaves) are asked to practice mutual submission in important ways. As Barr writes, “Instead of endowing authority to a man who speaks and acts for those within his household, the Christian household codes offer each member of the the shared community–knit together by their faith in Christ–the right to hear and act for themselves” (49). Exactly.

I don’t like labels, even though here I’ve used the term “biblical egalitarian” to describe my views. What does that term mean? For me, the following:

(1) Women and men are created in the image of God and hence are equal in terms of identity and function.

(2) There are no ministries in the church of Jesus Christ that are off-limits to women, even preaching and teaching.

(3) Marriage is a partnership where both partners learn to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

(4) There is no place for the spiritual or sexual abuse of women (or men) in the Church of Jesus Christ and instances of that must be addressed with the utmost seriousness when discovered.

(5) There is a place for complementarity as we recognize that there are physiological and emotional differences between men and women, but complementarity does not imply hierarchy in home, in church, and in society.

The writer Dorothy Sayers authored a short book in the first half of the 20th century with a simple question as the title. Are Women Human? You would think that the answer is simple and clear, but Sayers had noticed all of the overt and covert messages in church and society that appeared to scream out, “No, they are not!” She lived in a society where patriarchy was still the order of the day. Hopefully, that will continue to change and Christians like you and me will have opportunity to offer a biblical word that affirms that like men, women truly are human in Christ.


There are several good books that I would suggest for further reflection. The book that I have made mention of here is Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2021), 244 pp. The best exegetical book that I have read is Philip Barton Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 541pp. This in my view is the best exegetical study of Pauline passages in the New Testament where Paul address women in family, church, and society. It solidified my biblical egalitarian convictions through outstanding biblical exegesis of those relevant texts. The little book by Dorothy Sayers is Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Penetrating, Sensible, and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint 2005).

Retirement Thoughts

Earlier today, my friends and colleagues at Gordon-Conwell hosted a retirement luncheon in my honor. It is hard to believe that this was the culmination of 15 years as editor of the Advent Christian Witness followed by 24 years as the Library Director at Gordon-Conwell. Below, I want to share my own reflections which I shared with those assembled at the close of the event. I share them in gratefulness to the Triune God for his providence and care for me over these past many years. I’m not done yet. There is more to do. But this represents the transition to the next stage in my journey of faith. Many of you have shared this with me and I am grateful to you.


Thank you for your kindness toward me this afternoon. It is hard to believe that I’m wrapping up almost a quarter century at GCTS-Charlotte. Over the years, I’ve labored with you to build something special in this place—a campus that could contextualize theological education to a rapidly growing city and metropolitan area. While we probably have not accomplished all that we hoped, we’ve still done a lot against all kinds of odds. Gordon-Conwell Charlotte has been in the center of God’s purposes both for the people of God and for this community.

We have kept the gospel central to our mission. We have sought to prepare people for life and service with academically and spiritually strong programs. We’ve encouraged world missions and involvement with the great matters of contemporary life. We have welcomed Christians of all kinds—Black, Latino, Asian, and White; Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, folks from independent congregations and evangelical ministries, even from the Advent Christian churches where I first learned about following Jesus.

We have over a thousand graduates serving around Charlotte and around the world. Most of all, in the time that I have worked here, those of us who have worked here have sought to be a real Christian community in how we value each other and treat each other. We’ve rejoiced with each other and suffered with each other. We’ve seen times when things appeared impossible, and yet God has sustained us.

I remember being the new kid on the block. Wayne Goodwin gave me a look at the library and I thought to myself, “This will be a challenge!” And those of you who were here when I started know what I’m talking about. When I came, I had three goals in mind. 1. Find ways to serve well our students and faculty; 2. Connect the work of the library to the academic mission of the school; and 3. Build a high-quality theological library focused on the degree programs and courses we offer. That third goal took over 20 years to accomplish, but with a library team like Matt, David, Audrey, Nick Valadez, Abby Vinez, and a host of student workers, we accomplished it. As I have always told the library team, if you love students and you love books, what better job in the world is there?

Last month, during his retirement dinner Rodney shared some things that he has learned about life and leadership in his pastoral and academic ministry. If you will permit me, I would like to do something similar. I’m going to steal some from a poster that had graced my office here and earlier when I worked across town. But first, 25 somewhat  original thoughts:

1. Ground your life in the joy of Christ and pay attention to your own journey of faith. That allows your work to become a sharing of that joy with the others you serve.

2. Never stop learning.

3. Lead by example.

4. Always be willing to do any task that you ask others to do.

5. Listen to individuals on your team. They often have great ideas.

6. Remember that we do not live to work, but we work to live.

7. Almost all library mistakes can be fixed because books don’t talk back to you.

8. Listen, then speak.

9. Read more than one book at a time.

10. Don’t think you have to finish every book that you start (unless it is a textbook assigned by Dr. Davis or Dr. Wheaton.

11. Go see a minor-league baseball game every once-in-awhile. It’s good for the soul.

12. Charlotte is a great city with lots to see and do. Engage with the community in which God has called you to live and work.

13. Remember that technology has its limits. People are not machines.

14. Write personal notes and send them by snail mail. (Think of the joy you receive when you get a personal, handwritten letter or note.)

15. Communicate often and generously with others especially when you are introducing new policies or procedures that impact them.

16. When you get an Email or text message that rings your chimes, wait 24 hours before you respond. You need time to cool down and reflect.

17. If you are finishing an assignment for work or school, never submit it immediately. Wait a day and then give it one final proofreading.

18. Never, never, never, never ask a question that you don’t intend an answer or want someone else to answer.

19. If you have the opportunity, take two weeks off and drive west to the Rocky Mountains. There is something about driving through the Great Plains that opens up your soul and offers a sense of connectedness to God’s beautiful creation.

20. Worship is an embodied experience so be part of a congregation where you can worship and serve.

21. Remember that most sin comes down to the abuse of money, sex, and power. Be very wise in how you approach those areas of life.

22. Don’t be afraid to change your mind about something.

23. Keep in mind how little you know. When I graduated from Seminary, I thought I knew a lot. Now I realize that I know far less than I thought I did. But I know Christ, and that is the one important thing.

24. Remember that legitimate concerns make up only two percent of all the things we worry about. (I confess that this is a hard one for me.)

25. Have a favorite passage of Scripture that frames your life, a theme verse or passage if you wish. Mine is a simple phrase found in Colossians 1:27 “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Let me thank you for making GCTS-Charlotte such a good place to work While here, I had opportunity to work with six of the Seminary’s seven presidents, five Vice-presidents for Academic Affairs, six Charlotte academic deans. I have met and worked with so many wonderful Christian people who have studied and worked in this place.

And that is what has made GCTS-Charlotte such a special place. The people who have worked and studied here. In American organizational life since the industrial revolution there has always been a bias that people exist to serve the organization and that the preservation of organizations is paramount. I disagree with that. I think people are primary and that institutions and organizations exist to promote human flourishing and when they stop doing that, then they are propped up by either fear or force.

I think the Apostle Paul would agree as well. When Paul was challenged about his ministry on behalf of Christ, he responded in a rather startling way. He didn’t point to himself. Instead, he put it this way. “Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all” (2 Cor 2:2). I won’t go into the context of this passage, but when folks ask me about what I’ve done for the past 24 years, my simple answer is “you.” You, all of you who have worked here and you, all of the students who have come through this place, are my lasting legacy. So again, thank you for your friendship, your collegiality, and your love for Christ.

I’ve changed my mind

With formal retirement just over a month away, I’ve been pondering a half-century of adult life and all that has come with it. For example, folks around my age often identify major events that have shaped our human experience–the Cuban missile crisis, the JFK assassination, the Richard Nixon resignation, the Challenger disaster, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I can tell you where I was when those events took place, and I have vivid memories of each.

I’m also fascinated by things about which I have changed my mind. I bet you’ve heard politicians and others brag about how they have never changed their minds. That always scares me because not changing one’s mind at least about some things tells me that you are not open to new evidence or better ways of seeing what you believe and live by. Changing your mind about something now is much harder than it was 50 years ago simply because all of us are bombarded with so much information that we have little time for disciplined thinking about things that matter.

So here is a list of some things about which I have changed my mind. It is not an exhaustive list. Some are trivial; others more important. Some are matters of preference; others a matter of conviction.

  • When I was a young adult, I used to think that preserving and building institutions was the most important thing I could do, especially within American Christianity. Now I’m deeply skeptical of institutions because way too many Christian (and secular) institutions strip the very life out of persons. Persons and communities of persons are far more important than our structures, and our structures should be framed by justice, compassion, and flexibility.
  • In my twenties, John Denver was my favorite musician. In my late sixties that honor goes to Paul McCartney.
  • When I graduated from Seminary, I thought it was important to get people to believe rightly about the right things. Now I see that Christian faith is both affective and cognitive, and in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” You cannot divorce knowledge from love for others.
  • In my younger years, I thought that pets were luxuries that detracted from serving God. Wow, have I changed. Now my cats remind me of God’s purposes for all of creation, and like C.S. Lewis, I will not be surprised if my favorite pets, Marbre and Tuptim, will be part of New Creation that the New Testament describes in various places.
  • When I first started voting, I was a registered Democrat. Now I’m a political independent who thinks that both the D and R parties are dangerous to our Republic.
  • I used to be skeptical about climate change. Now I think the evidence for climate change is overwhelming and that we face hard choices in terms of how we address it.
  • Once upon a time, I was sanguine about megachurches. Now I’m deeply skeptical of the celebrity culture they foment.
  • A long time ago, my favorite beach was Santa Cruz, CA. Now it’s Pawley’s Island, SC. (Let’s hear it for “arrogantly shabby!”)
  • Have you ever thought that you could preserve happiness by keeping everything the same? Yeah, I was there. Now I realize that joy comes as we follow the Triune God in our unique journeys through life.
  • Like a lot of Christians, I went through a big prophecy kick in my teens and early twenties. Now I don’t care about any of that stuff. I simply know three things: Our Lord Jesus Christ will return. Only God the Father knows for sure when that will happen. When it does, it will be beyond my imagination!
  • Family and friends can no longer be taken for granted; they are valuable in and of themselves and are God’s gifts to us.
  • In my early twenties, I was concerned for Civil Rights for African Americans but lived in my own racial bubble. Today, my historical studies have convinced me that African Americans have faced brutal realities long ignored by white folks like me (the evidence is overwhelming), so I’m reading more American history (especially African American history), listening to my African American friends describe their experiences, and looking for ways that I can influence church and society to come to terms with our horrid racial past (which spills into the present).
  • Fifty years ago, I was proud to be called an evangelical. Now I avoid the term like the plague; and prefer the simple term “follower of Jesus.”
  • I used to like labels like “Reformed,” or “Pentecostal,” or “Wesleyan,” or “credo-baptism” (and others). Now I reject labels like these and refuse to be pigeonholed by them. Life is far more complex than labels.
  • In college, I used to think that some ideologies were bad. Now I see all ideological thinking as essentially corrupt.
  • Forty years ago, I found myself mostly reading American theologians. Now I ignore most of them in favor of British theological scholars like N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, John Stott, and others not as affected by the “Modernist-Fundamentalist” controversies that split American Christianity in the 1920s.
  • In the 1980s I did not think NASCAR was even a sport. Now, I love it especially since I’ve seen a few races in person at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • Growing up, my favorite teams were the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. Now my favorite teams are…you thought I was going to say some other teams? Sorry.

That’s an incomplete list, but you get the picture. Changing what we think about some things over time is normal and natural. You know what? I’ll probably change my mind about more things. But the one eternal reality on which I stake my entire life is Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from death. On May 1, 1965, I gave my life to Christ and started on this amazing journey of faith. It is hard and challenging; there are times of deep sorrow and pain as life takes unexpected twists and turns. But ultimately, to turn a phrase from C. S. Lewis, it “surprises me with joy.”