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Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

One abolitionist believed that God had called him to radical action against slavery in the United States. He killed pro-slavery settlers in the territory of Kansas. He led escaped slaves to Canada. And he tried to spark an uprising of slaves in the South that would not only destroy slavery but overthrow the Federal Government.

Another abolitionist believed that slavery could be economically strangled without bloodshed. If slavery could be prohibited in territories like Kansas, it would become too costly and the South would have to give it up. But he did not believe in a morally pure utopia, in…


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Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

Evangelical Christians are grappling with how to resist evil — just like everybody else in America. We see evil all around us. We feel the urgency to do something about it. We have tried to act, but our plans are never enough. The evil persists. Sometimes our plans create fresh evils that we didn’t expect.

How should Christians resist evil today?

Part of the problem is we can’t agree on what evil is. Whether the issue is racism, capitalism, sexual abuse, public health policy, or government corruption, Christians won’t stop arguing with each other about what has gone wrong. …


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“Return of the Prodigal Son,” Rembrandt (1620–69), Metropolitan Museum.

About twenty years ago, after witnessing some of the results of Reformed theology on church life, I did a close study of 2 Corinthians. I had seen churches split into ever-smaller factions over fine points of doctrine. The tone of conferences got darker each year. I kept running into leaders whose idea of discipleship was brow-beating people into abstract doctrinal “unity.”

Whatever this was, I felt, it was off track.

The Reformed awakening in the 1990s attracted people who wanted a radical change. People saw that churches were compromising with the immorality and soft-headed spirituality of American culture. They demanded…


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Photo by Marius Masalar on Unsplash

Among conservative evangelicals, authority is usually a matter of command and obedience. It is hierarchical. God is on top. He has authority to command everyone. Underneath God, other authorities can also give commands: office holders, law enforcement, parents, pastors, elders, teachers, etc.

The most direct way you obey God, then, is to obey the authorities he set over you. Various factions of evangelicals express this hierarchy differently.

Some factions express it as a literal flow chart from God to the state all the way down to you. Other factions are uncomfortable with this model. They treat God’s authority as a…


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Photo by Antonio Alcántara on Unsplash

In writing about Jerry Falwell, Jr., I said that evangelicals are in an institutional crisis, a declining confidence in the integrity of our churches, schools, and mission organizations. The scandals that afflict ministries, like Falwell’s, are only part of this story. In some ways, the scandals skew the issues we need to face. We can understand failures over money or sex more easily than the insidious abuses that rob people of sleep, make them question their standing before God, or drive them out of the faith entirely.

Consider one recent story about the internal struggles of Acts 29, the church…


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Photo by Andrew Bowyer on Unsplash

Late last week, Jerry Falwell, Jr. was finally dealt with — sort of. The executive committee of Liberty University’s board of trustees placed him on an “indefinite” leave of absence for posting a scandalous photo on Instagram. The photo showed him on a yacht with his pants open, a suspicious drink in his hand, and his arm around a woman who was not his wife. This came on top of other scandals involving his making loans to a pool boy to start a club in Florida and wearing a face mask with a racist reference on it.

They lost me…


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Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

The phone camera feeds people’s passion for justice. We capture all sorts of crimes with our phones. A few minutes of wobbly video footage can make you feel like a first-hand witness to a traffic accident, an assault, or a murder. But the footage raises questions. Does a video really make you a witness? Should witnesses decide who is guilty? Is justice a demand for truth or satisfaction?

These problems are not new. In the past, you could always get information about an event that you didn’t see and feel like you were there. Gossip, for instance, has always felt…


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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Dear Public Health Leaders:

One of the first churches I served was in a small mountain community in Oregon. When I shook hands with people, many of them were missing fingers. There were lots of other injuries too: spines, knees, eyes, and ears. The highways were marked with crosses where loved ones died in accidents. We were in timber country.

Their perspective was: Life is hard. Bad news will come. The sheriff may knock on your door tomorrow. Find something to smile about today. No use worrying.

I notice some of you in the public health community admitting mistakes in…


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Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

With institutions across the nation failing in their core missions, the local leader has daily frustrations. She is the business owner, school principal, or corporate executive who has built a team, a service, and a way of life for herself and others. She wakes up each morning with responsibilities. Meeting those responsibilities takes all her smarts and competence. But her success gives satisfaction to herself and security to those around her. Her success also nourishes the community: she provides a setting where diverse people meet, talk, and work together.

Local leaders in businesses, non-profits, service organizations, and churches make our…


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“Chernobyl” by Ilja Nedilko on Unsplash

The Covid-19 pandemic has turned up the heat on institutions that were already weak. We are now experiencing the meltdown of nearly every major institution in American life — including churches. Personal and political agendas have cancelled stewardship.

Consider the network of institutions that make up our public health system: medical schools and journals, hospitals, international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), and Federal agencies like the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Debates among these institutions over how Covid-19 is transmitted have thrown the public into confusion and suspicion. …

Matthew Raley

Pastor. Author. Violinist.

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