Why Conservatives Want Obama to Say “Islamic” Terrorism

Apr 14, 2015 | Trevin Wax

From my latest article at RNS:

When Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president, the Texas Republican asked the audience at Liberty University to “imagine a president who says, ‘We will stand up and defeat radical Islamic terrorism … and we will call it by its name.'” The last part of that sentence was one of the strongest applause lines in Cruz’s speech.

My friends on the left don’t understand why calling Islamic terrorism “by its name” is such a big deal to conservatives. They see the president’s unwillingness to link “Islam” and “terrorism” as a matter of prudence. After all, George W. Bush also went out of his way to differentiate between the two.

Why should President Obama dignify the barbarism of terrorists by sullying the name of Islam, they ask.

Why should the extremists be allowed to claim the name of Islam when the majority of Muslims disagree with their methods and aims?

Besides, we don’t want to incite fear or hatred of the peaceful Muslims in our midst.

Therefore, the thinking goes, the president’s calculated restraint in linking “Islamic” with “terrorism” deserves commendation, not criticism.

Not so fast, say conservatives. Obama has been too guarded in his rhetoric, causing many to wonder if we are underestimating the religious aspect of today’s terrorist threat.

Here are three reasons why conservatives want Obama to mention Islam by name.



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Worth a Look 4.14.15

Apr 14, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth6Kindle Deal of the Day: The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times by Bryan Chapell. $3.99

This indispensable resource helps pastors prepare sermons in the face of tragedies by providing suggestions for how to approach different kinds of tragedy, as well as insight into how to handle the theological challenges of human suffering.

The Gospel Coalition’s 2015 National Conference continues today. You can stream it live here.

David French believes timid Christian professors in secular universities are one of the reasons why “political correctness” is winning the day:

Every single person who is a Christian who stays “in the closet” — who’s timid about his or her faith — provides fuel to the PC fire, contributing to the notion that there really is something to be ashamed of, that what he believes is somehow wrong.

Jake Meador is leading a discussion group on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I love how he introduced Chesterton to the group.

The typical group member likely has not read Chesterton themselves and may not even have heard of him prior to the group. So this is meant to be a way of getting people ready to read Chesterton so that they’re prepared for some of the difficulty (his style as well as cultural references) while also being made aware of the delights of reading him.

John Inazu distinguishes between pluralism and relativism and shows why the gospel is what gives us the confidence to cheerfully persuade our neighbors of the truth:

Confident Pluralism takes both confidence and pluralism seriously. Confidence reinforces the convictions we hold. Pluralism recognizes and reinforces the differences that exist. Confidence without pluralism misses the reality of difference. It suppresses difference, sometimes violently. Pluralism without confidence ignores and sometimes trivializes our stark differences for the sake of feigned agreement or false unity. Confident Pluralism allows genuine difference to exist without suppressing or minimizing firmly held convictions.

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4 Ways to Make the Most of a Conference

Apr 13, 2015 | Trevin Wax


The Gospel Coalition National Conference is being held this week in Orlando. Six thousand people from all 50 states and more than 50 countries will be attending. I’ll be one of them.

In a digital age in which video resources and live streams are available, why does anyone still get together in the same room for a conference? Why does traveling to a certain location continue to matter?

Conferences aren’t going away because we understand there is something special in the act of gathering. We are embodied people, not mere minds waiting to download new information into our brains. If that were the case, why not sing a praise song at home on Sunday mornings and then download the pastor’s podcast? Conferences are special because they bring people together. Literally, together. Not just across the cyberspace, but in flesh-and-blood meeting, with conversation and coffee, in worship and celebration.

Whether or not you’re attending TGC, I hope you’ll consider these suggestions for making the most of the next conference you attend.

1. Have a plan, but be flexible.

Most conferences publicize the schedule of main sessions and workshops beforehand. It makes sense to plan ahead and choose to attend sessions when you are already familiar with the speaker or highly interested in the topic. As you make that plan, pick some sessions or speakers you might be tempted to skip. At a major conference, every speaker is there because they have something to say and are worth listening to. You are more likely to grow when you listen to someone you’ve never heard before.

At the same time, don’t over-schedule your days to the point you are inflexible. One of the best aspects of attending a conference are the spontaneous hallway meetings or running into someone in the bookstore. You may encounter friends or other pastors from your city, or people you met at the same conference the year before. Having a plan keeps you on track, but being flexible opens the door for enjoyable, unplanned conversations.

2. Find a way to rest and refuel.

Pastors need time away for refreshment. That’s why most conferences are designed to feed the shepherd who feeds the sheep. This nourishment takes place in the sessions themselves, of course, but it also takes place in moments of encouragement and fellowship.

I love seeing pastors attend conferences with leaders in their church or staff members. A conference can be a terrific opportunity to grow in the Lord and closer to each other. Don’t miss the opportunity to find time alone with the Lord, to encourage the people you are with, and to learn from the conference speakers. Oh, and make the most of your mealtimes. Enjoy the food and fellowship.

3. Benefit from the bookstore and the booths.

One reason I enjoy conferences is the bookstore. The savvy shopper will find that books related to the conference speakers or theme are significantly marked down in price. Plus, the bookstore usually provides shipping so you don’t have to pack all those books in your carry-on on the way home.

The booths are great for freebies. You get introduced to ministries you may not have heard of before. You come into contact with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. And it’s always nice when booths feature giveaways, incentives, handouts and informational packets.

4. Don’t miss the singing.

My favorite aspect of attending a larger conference is the time of corporate singing. I don’t often get the chance to hear thousands of voices in the same room lifting high the name of Jesus. There’s something special about that moment when you choke up and let your voice fall silent while your heart is carried along with all your brothers and sisters giving glory to Christ. These times of corporate worship can be some of the most fruitful and moving moments of a conference. There’s no substitute for being there.

What about you? How do you determine what conferences you’ll attend? And how do you make the most of your time?

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Worth a Look 4.13.15

Apr 13, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth4Kindle Deal of the Day: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J. D. Greear. $2.99.

Greear unpacks the doctrine of assurance, showing that salvation is a posture we take to the promise of God in Christ, a posture that begins at a certain point and is maintained for the rest of our lives. He also answers the tough questions about assurance: What exactly is faith? What is repentance? Why are there so many warnings that seem to imply we can lose our salvation?

The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference begins today at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. You can live-stream here.

Andy Crouch reflects on forty days without email and smartphones:

The real gift of my absence from screens was that nothing was paying attention to me. Of course my wife and children and friends did, graciously, continue to attend to me (along with gracious hosts in the countries I visited over the past few weeks). But not in the relentless, addictive way that devices do. And in the absence of that constant digital flattery, feeling much smaller and less significant, I was more free to pay attention to the world I am called to love.

What do we learn from Mary Ward and the women who fought against the right to vote? Helen Andrews gives us some historical perspective:

I regret that the anti-suffragists have been scrubbed so completely from our historical consciousness. They were among the very last people ever to take a stand against the politicization of family life, against the elimination of all havens from the culture wars, against the displacement of human relationships by the benevolent state. As those fights rage anew, we are worse off for not having the memory of the antis to call upon.

Shane Morris writes about the sin of pride and how it adapts and hides itself:

The truly insidious thing about pride is that it can adapt and clothe itself in vestments. It can coexist with apparently sincere religiosity, paying lip service to the “immeasurably superior” God while denying His supremacy.

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I Confess That Jesus Rightfully Owns Me

Apr 12, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Sunny_Sky_by_lfcjakeI confess that Jesus is Lord.

I confess that Jesus shares the name and nature, the holiness, the authority, power, majesty and eternality of the one and only true God.

I confess that Jesus died and was raised, opening heaven up to unworthy sinners. I am such a sinner, and I gladly embrace his atonement for me.

I confess that Jesus rightfully owns me, every part of me, every moment of my time, every dollar in my possession, every opportunity granted me, every responsibility thrust upon me, every hope I cherish, every person whom I love and treasure.

I am personal property of the Lord Jesus Christ. He deserves my allegiance, loyalty and trust 24 hours a day, in all places, in all aspects of my life, both public and private. He is worthy of my obedience. He is worthy of my utmost. He is worthy of my very blood.

Ray Ortlund, Jr., A Passion for God, 143-44.

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Bonhoeffer on Embracing Your Times

Apr 11, 2015 | Trevin Wax

tegel-zelleWriting from his cell at Tegel Prison in May 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reflected:

We have grown up with the experience of our parents and grandparents that a man can and must plan, develop, and shape his own life, and that life has a purpose, about which a man must make up his mind, and which he must then pursue with all of his strength. But we have learnt by experience that we cannot plan even for the coming day, that what we have built up is being destroyed overnight, and that our life, in contrast to that of our parents, has become formless or even fragmentary.

In spite of that, I can only say that I have no wish to live in any other time than our own, even though it is so inconsiderate of our outward well-being.

We realize more clearly than formerly that the world lies under the wrath and grace of God. We read in Jer. 45: “Thus says the Lord: Behold what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up. . . . And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not; for, behold, I am bringing evil upon all flesh; . . . but I will give your life as a prize of war in all places you may go.”

If we can save our souls unscathed out of the wreckage of our material possessions, let us be satisfied with that. If the Creator destroys his own handiwork, what right have we to lament the destruction of ours? It will be the task of our generation, not to “seek great things,” but to save and preserve our souls out of chaos, and to realize that it is the only thing we can carry as a “prize” from the burning building. “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flows the spring of life.”

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Which Churches Will Thrive in the 21st Century?

Apr 09, 2015 | Trevin Wax

lonemanFrom my column this week at RNS:

Whenever people today say that Christianity needs to update and adapt its moral standards for the 21st century, I hear echoes from 100 years ago. Back then, the calls for change had less to do with morality and more to do with miracles. But the motivation was similar, and the results are instructive.

What rocked the early 20th century was the call of many church leaders to adapt the Christian faith to the scientific age of discovery. One could not expect thinking men and women to accept at face value all the miracles in the Bible, the thinking went. The biblical testimony of the miraculous was embarrassing to an educated mindset.

In order to rescue Christianity from superstitious irrelevance, many church leaders sought to distinguish the kernel of Christianity (the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man) from the shell of Christianity (miracle stories that came from another cultural vantage point). One could still maintain the moral center of Christianity while disregarding the events that required suspension of disbelief.

As this adaptation spread, belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus was reinterpreted and given a solely spiritual meaning (he is alive in the hearts of good people). Miracle stories such as Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 were given a moral twist (the true miracle is that suddenly everyone shared). The Virgin Birth was rejected altogether.

Meanwhile, churches outside the West were appalled to hear “Christians” reject the clear testimony of Scripture and what the church had always believed. In North America, the rise of the evangelical movement was due, in part, to a desire to reclaim the center of Christianity and refuse to allow contemporary sensibilities to alter the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”

Presbyterian minister and theologian J. Gresham Machen made the case that this refashioning of Christianity was no longer Christianity at all, but a substitute religion with a Christian veneer.

Over time, the effort to save the kernel of Christianity and leave aside its shell had the opposite effect. The distinctiveness of Christian teaching disappeared, and the shell of church rituals was all that remained. This is why, even today in some denominations, bishops and pastors and parishioners openly reject the core tenets of the faith but continue to attend worship and go through certain rites. The denominations that followed this course have since entered a sharp and steady decline.

One hundred years later, the church is once again being rocked. This time, many Christians are calling for us to rethink the “embarrassing” parts of Christianity — specifically, our distinctive sexual ethic. After all, many of the moral guidelines we read in the New Testament were written from another cultural vantage point and are no longer authoritative or relevant today. If Christianity is to survive and thrive in the next century, many of our ancient prohibitions (sex outside of marriage, homosexual practice, the significance of gender, etc.) must be set aside…


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Worth a Look 4.9.15

Apr 09, 2015 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Exalting Jesus in Ephesians (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) by Tony Merida. $2.99.

Matthew Lee Anderson’s take on the Indiana dust-up is one of the most important articles you can read on the subject of religious freedom and gay marriage. It’s lengthy, but you ought to take ten minutes and read it carefully, especially the section on why the legalization of same-sex marriage necessitates coercion in order to uphold and maintain the structures supporting a falsehood.

The conflict with religious liberty is a structural feature of our current pursuit of gay rights, not a bug. An anti-liberal approach toward dissenting views is part of the DNA of the logic of the current gay rights argument. As long as the pursuit of “equality” continues to go forward on the terms it has, religious liberties for non-affirming communities and believers will necessarily be constrained and the opportunities for such believers (who are known to be so) to participate at the highest levels of our society will be cut off.

Trillia Newbell writes about the painful experience of miscarriage and how this fear forced her to grow in her faith:

Once my husband and I resumed trying, I was terrified to find out I was pregnant again. Every strange feeling in my abdomen set off a series of imaginary scenarios, each ending with me in the hospital then coming home without a child. We waited a little longer to tell friends, but we soon wanted everyone we knew to pray for us. We knew we couldn’t handle the pain and suffering of another miscarriage alone.

Let’s no longer discount and disregard the goodness of creation and what God calls us to do with it:

The doctrine of creation is more than a statement of what the cosmos is. The biblical teaching on creation is a manifesto, a mission, a commission that sends us into God’s good but broken world with a calling. I want to summarize this (co)mission in three verbs: image, unfold, occupy. These are “do” words, action terms. Let me unpack each of these elements in more detail.

There’s something hilariously holy in imagining John Wesley doing squats while praying in a closet. Lessons Learned Inside John Wesley’s Prayer Closet:

Wesley kept up his daily regimen by going to bed at nine o’clock and waking at four o’clock, insisting that everyone in his household do the same. He would begin his day by studying the Scriptures and praying. The room that would later become known as the “Power House of Methodism” is about the size of a modern walk-in closet, perhaps six by seven feet, with hardwood floors and a large window to let in plenty of light. When we entered Wesley’s study, I noticed a very odd, spring-mounted bouncy chair. ‘This was Wesley’s workout chair…’

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Paul’s Letter to the Romans Set to Music

Apr 08, 2015 | Trevin Wax


Allow me the privilege of introducing you to Cody Curtis, a composer and the Worship Arts Director at Union University. A few weeks ago, he sent me an advance copy of a 23-track album based on Paul’s letter to the Romans. I’ve listened to The Romans Project straight through several times already, and I love what he has created.

Imagine Paul’s most famous letter set to music in a way that lyrically mines the depth of this letter’s theology, and through music that helps you experience the flow of Paul’s thought. Today, I’ve asked Cody to join me here at the blog to answer a few questions about this project.

Cody CurtisTrevin Wax: Romans is the best-known of Paul’s letters and is generally considered to be the most important. How does setting the major themes of this letter to music help us understand the flow of Paul’s argument and purpose in writing?

Cody Curtis: In setting Romans to music, one of my goals was to reflect the seamlessness of Paul’s argument. Although the letter addresses many and diverse topics, he streams them together in such a way that each point flows smoothly into the next. I recognized that if I were able to preserve Paul’s writing style, the listener would benefit much more greatly in their understanding of the text than if I had instead presented the album as an assortment of unrelated tracks that happened to be based on the same book.

Having carefully outlined Romans, I wanted to show clearly the larger sections and themes of the letter, such as 1:18-5:11 on justification, 5:12-8:39 on sanctification, 9:1-11:36 on God’s relationship with Israel and the Church, and 12:1-15:13 on Christian living. Though there is certainly a great amount of overlap in these sections and some disagreement on the particulars, the big picture of the narrative needed to be evident. One way I hopefully achieved this was in dividing chapters 1-8 and 9-16 into two discs (even though all of the music could fit on one disc). Because the end of chapter 8 marks a significant shift of focus in Paul’s thought, I wanted to the listener to recognize this visually and tangibly.

To achieve a seamless flow and interconnectivity from song to song, I utilized several lyrical and musical devices. One instance occurs at the end of “What Shall We Say, pt. 1″ where I conclude the track with the question, “Why do I still sin?”. This phrase, along with a “sermon clip” that immediately follows, helps transition to the next song in which Paul wrestles with the remaining presence of his sinful flesh. Musically speaking, most of the songs flow seamlessly and directly into the other, even when there is a difference in musical key. I also bring back musical motives at times when I want the listener to remember a previous song.

Trevin Wax: Ever since Steve Jobs gave us iTunes and the iPod, the album as a piece of art has fallen on hard times. But this is a project that isn’t just a collection of stand-alone songs. It’s an experience. It’s meant to be listened to straight through. This makes me wonder if, perhaps, we treat Bible passages the same way we do iTunes songs. That is, we pull them out of context rather than read letters or Gospels straight through, the way they were intended to be experienced. What are the benefits of listening to this album and hearing the whole sweep of Romans in one sitting?

Cody Curtis: There is a real danger in taking verses in the Bible out of context, and many problems in the church today derive from negligence in this area. As you said, books of the Bible like Romans were intended to be read or heard from beginning to end. While there is nothing wrong with reading or meditating on a single verse or passage from this letter (in fact, that is a very healthy exercise), each part of Scripture is best understood in relation to the whole.

The same is true of our album. I designed the songs in such a way that they can easily be listened to as individual tracks, each maintaining a completeness and distinct integrity. However, the listening experience is amplified exponentially when songs are heard in the context of other songs. One example of this is the paired sequence of “No Excuse” and “He Came to Die.” “No Excuse” is a pointed declaration of the condemned state of every human. To isolate this song from its subsequent track, “He Came to Die,” could result in an unhealthy focus on only one part of the gospel, instead of seeing the former song as a necessary backdrop for the good news of the latter.

Trevin Wax: I am amazed at how you were able to put together an album that is simultaneously cohesive and eclectic. So, out of curiosity, let me ask how you decided what styles to employ as you did the album.

Cody Curtis: Every musical decision for this album was based on the text from Paul’s letter: selections of instrumentation, overall tone, scale, and even musical style. While most albums maintain a fixed or limited range of musical style, having a flexibility and fluidity in this area allowed me to express each passage in the clearest yet most imaginative way.

For example, when I was setting to music Paul’s lengthy discourse on the sinful state of every man in 1:18-3:20, I decided I needed a style that could accommodate a quick lyrical pace and convey the unapologetic tone of the message, which then led me to borrow elements from the style of rap. For songs and sections that were more anthemic in nature, the energy of rock-and-roll proved to be a fitting accompaniment (e.g. “A Sure Hope,” parts 1 and 2). The mournful lament of 9:1-5 demanded the evocative voice of a string quartet in the neo-romantic style of Western art music, while the doxology at the end of chapter 11 required a sweeping, more orchestral sound to capture the overflow of Paul’s emotion.

This diversity of musical styles, of course, does put the album at risk of discontinuity, but hopefully I was able to maintain cohesiveness through recurring motivic material, reprisals, and the fact that all of the songs derive from the same literary source.

Trevin Wax: The lyrics here are unapologetically theological. You are hoping to capture the depth of Paul’s theology in music. What role does music play in strengthening our faith and our understanding of Christian theology?

Cody Curtis: Many Christians do not realize how strong of an influence music has over our understanding of God and salvation. Music has a way taking an objective message from the lyrics and speeding it straight to our minds and heart, oftentimes with more permanence than other formats of communication. This being the case, songwriters who compose music for the church need to tread carefully, asking questions like “Are the words I am writing consistent with what Scripture reveals to be true?”; and “Are the lyrics intelligible for the sake of edification, or do they stem more from self-indulgence? (1 Cor. 14)”. This call to caution for songwriters is, I believe, substantiated by James 3:1, which states, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James probably did not have songwriters in mind when he penned this, but it is true that when someone sings a song in a public sphere, the lyrics are typically functioning as a form of teaching, whether intentional or not.

Recognizing the power of music to either strengthen or weaken our faith and doctrine, I labored slowly over the lyrics for the  Romans album. I was careful to sift every word and phrase through the filter of biblical consistency and intelligibility to make sure these songs pointed directly to God’s words, and not my own. Ray Van Neste was an invaluable sounding board to me throughout the writing process. He graciously read through and edited my poetry to help keep me on course.

In addition to making sure that the words were reflective of Scripture, it was also important that I set these words to music that properly complemented the message of the lyrics. It would not have been helpful, for instance, if I set 9:1-5 in a light-hearted, frivolous, and jubilant musical environment. This text requires a more sorrowful and solemn setting to lead the listener in understanding the extent of Paul’s heartbreak for his kinsmen.

Trevin Wax: Your musical interludes and refrains are structured around the outline of Paul’s letter (such as “A Sure Hope” opening and closing the Romans 5-8 section). How much study of Romans did you do in order to “get into” the structure and flow of the letter?

Cody Curtis: This project required a massive amount of study. While Romans was a book of the Bible I knew decently well going into the writing process, there was a lot I needed to learn, both through personal study and the consultation of works by various scholars. I read the letter countless times, paying close attention to how each piece fit together. Certain links became clear over time, like, as you alluded to, the similarities between 5:1-11 and 8:31-39, two passages that both emphasize the assurance of our salvation. Paul’s use of the repeated rhetorical phrase, “What shall we say,” gave structure to the album, as did the fact that the texts from which “No Excuse” and “No Shame” were based could be viewed as counterparts of one another, one expressing the universal effects of sin and one articulating the wideness of God’s saving grace – to everyone who calls on the Lord’s name.

Trevin Wax: For more information on The Romans Album, check out Psallos’ Bandcamp site or iTunes. You can also see a trailer video.


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