6/29/2007

Immigration - A Christian Response


“WASHINGTON, June 28 — President Bush’s effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration policy, a cornerstone of his domestic agenda, collapsed Thursday in the Senate, with little prospect that it can be revived before Mr. Bush leaves office in 19 months.
The bill called for the biggest changes to immigration law in more than 20 years, offering legal status to millions of illegal immigrants while trying to secure borders. But the Senate, forming blocs that defied party affiliation, could never unite on the main provisions.” –NY Times


The bill was hotly contested, not only in the political realm, but also among Christians. The issue of immigration is very complicated—we need to think about national security, tax breaks and health-care costs. But one thing is sure: Christians need to be careful about echoing the conservative political side of this issue without also thinking biblically about how we, as Christians, are to care for human beings.

As David Gushee wrote,

“The first question a Christian must ask when thinking about immigration is whether the highest priority for us is American self-interest or biblical principles. As American Christians, are we more Christian or more American?...
Biblically, the five most relevant moral principles on this issue are love, justice, hospitality, family and humility.” – “Christian Principles For Immigration Reform”, Associated Baptist Press

The Houston Chronicle reports that both the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptists Convention have adopted resolutions embracing immigrants —both legal and illegal.

"You cannot deny the message of migration in the biblical story, in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God calling people into unknown lands is very central to the biblical story," said Suzii Paynter, directorof the Christian Life Commission for the Baptist General Convention of Texas…
"We have responsibilities as citizens of the United States and the Kingdom of God," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "As citizens of God we have an obligation to reach out and try to meet the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of visitors in our midst and that certainly would include people who are illegal aliens." - "Texas Baptists to launch immigration services," Houston Chronicle


I’ve lined up on the other side of some issues with Richard Land, but here we have the epitome of good "Compassionate Conservativism," a term that has been pretty beat up and brutalized lately. I applaud the Baptists of Texas!

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6/27/2007

Social Justice and the Individualistic Gospel

David Fitch, in an excellent post at Christianity Today’s Out of Ur blog, offers some insights into why we relegate social justice to merely a “program in the church.”

“When we pastors think about leading God’s justice in the church, our first inclination is to organize a ministry. It could be a soup kitchen or an outreach event to the poor "down in the city". Sometimes we will find ways to become active in policy making on the local or national governmental level. We are tempted to make justice into another program of the church.”


The reason for this? It’s because we are so entrenched in an individualistic gospel. When the good news is reduced to just me and my personal relationship with God, then any actions to right injustices are seen as add-ons to that which is truly important. “Sure,” the thinking goes, “we can help the poor, but only as long as we help them each know Jesus as their personal savior.” Social Justice is a second-tier thing, while personal conversion is that which is of top priority.

Fitch says,

“Imagine what it would be like in our churches if there were no such division. If we were not invited to go forward as individuals to receive a packaged salvation from God that gets us out of hell, but instead came forward to become part of what God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ—the reconciliation of all men and women with Himself, each other and all of creation (2 Cor 5:19), which BTW inextricably must still include my own personal reconciliation/relationship with God.”


He concludes by saying,

“If we are to resist the urge to make justice into another church program, then we must overturn this split between the personal and the social. We must go from preaching ‘accept Christ as your personal savior’ to ‘you are invited to enter a relationship with God through Christ that changes everything’. We must go from being justified, to being justice-ified. Justice should no longer be something we do, but who we are.”


In the full text of his post, he discusses how rethinking atonement and justification by faith can cure this dis-integrated gospel understanding.

Check it out: Justice-ified by Faith: Preventing social justice from becoming just another program in the church.

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6/25/2007

A Culture that Revels in Denying the 10th Commandment


You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:17


What would happen if American Christians took seriously the 10th Commandment – the one that tells us not to covet?

Here’s my guess: The economy would collapse.

Our financial system is based on advertising that feeds into a covetous lifestyle. I just saw a story on PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly (“Advertising Ethics”) that talked to Christian leaders about the sins associated with advertising. They talked about sex and violence in ads (which is what we have come to expect Christians to get uptight about), but they never touched upon the single most important sin of advertising: That advertisers seek to make us want things that we do not need. They seek to make us unsatisfied and discontent with what we have, creating in us a desire for that which others have.

What would happen if we Christians would say, “I refuse to be coerced in such a sinful way. I will not give in to the culture of discontent. I will live without the latest gizmo, the most fashionable brand-name clothes. I will become aware that every time I watch TV, read a magazine, listen to the radio, or surf the internet, I am being bombarded with marketing geared to make me covet.”


For an insightful article on how global marketers are seducing young people into a covetous life, see Tom Sine’s article, "Branded for Life".

Also, check out the book by my friend and fellow CCO staffer, Sam Van Eman, On Earth as It Is in Advertising?: Moving from Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope (Brazos Press, 2005).


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6/24/2007

Happening Upon an Alleged Murderer's House

So I'm out biking the other day, cruising around in some neighborhoods near my house, when I happen upon a bunch of people milling around down one of the side streets.

I turn to check it out. "Maybe its a block party or something," I think to myself.

Turns out that the street is blocked by sheriff cars, about a hundred people are standing around looking at a house as people with "FBI" written on the backs of their shirts are loading vans with boxes. Several TV cameras on tripods are pointing at the house. Reporters are milling around, talking on cell phones.

I walk up to one of the neighbors, and ask, "What happened?"

"Oh, that's the house of that policeman - the boyfriend of the pregnant woman who has been missing. I hope he's not guilty."

I felt like a dope. Here, about 3 miles from my home is the house of now-arrested Bobby Cutts, Jr., the suspect in the death of Jessie Marie Davis. At the time, they still had not found the body and had not charged Cutts.

How surreal it seems to have this national murder story happen in our town.

6/22/2007

Fire Destroys The Simple Way Community Center

Early on the morning of Wednesday, June 20, The Simple Way, the ministry community in Philadelphia that Shane Claiborne calls home, experienced a 7-alarm fire that destroyed The Simple Way Community Center and at least eight neighbors’ homes.

The Community Center was the home to The Simple Way's Yes! And… afterschool program, community arts center, and their Cottage Printworks t-shirt micro-business. It was also home for two community members: Shane Claiborne and Jesce Walz have lost all of their belongings, Yes!And…’s after school studio and library were ruined, and community member Justin Donner’s Cottage Printworks equipment and t-shirts were destroyed.

In response, the community has established an emergency relief fund for The Simple Way and for those in the neighborhood who lost their homes.

For more news and how you can help The Simple Way and their neighbors in this time of need, go to their website at thesimpleway.org.

6/20/2007

Just Generosity and Poverty

Here's some great book recommendations from Byron Borger over at Hearts and Minds Booknotes:

Just Generosity and other resources to help "Vote Poverty Out"

I would suspect that some, maybe many, of our readers subscribe to the Sojourner's/Call to Renewal email. A day or so ago they convened a debate among three Democratic Presidential candidates to grill them about "faith, values and poverty." Jim Wallis, as you should know, has long insisted that the Bible speaks about poverty more than any other social issue, and, although Sojourners magazine has written on a wide variety of issues---from being pro-life to taking care of land, from socially-transformative art to contemplative spirituality, from racism to worship renewal---they routinely come back to being committed to peacemaking and anti-poverty justice work. We have been subscribers since their very, very beginning...Even when we don't fully agree, or have our quibbles, we respect them. I will cherish times of not only protesting at the Russian embassy with Jim, but being in worship with them in DC. Jim gave a talk to a standing around crowd here at the shop for us years ago; now he's regularly on national TV, all trimmed up and wearing a tie. You can see his passionate interview from after the debate when he was interviewed on CNN here. You can sign their petition drive, saying that you will take candidate's poverty positions seriously when you vote, here.

I bring this up not only to tell you about Jim's CNN gig, but to note a few other books that may be helpful if you, too, want to "vote poverty out" (a slogan which, for the record, I find more than a bit odd.) We have a large selection of books on economics, politics, poverty and public policy, from all sorts of perspectives, but I will be brief. Here are a few new, essential ones.

Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America (updated and revised 2nd edition) Ronald J. Sider (Baker) $17.99 This new edition does for domestic poverty issues what Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger did for global justice. Simply a must-read, an essential, modern classic. With endorsements from across the political spectrum--from Jim Wallis to John Ashcroft, from John Dilulio to Chuck Colson---this is a work that deserves to be taken seriously, a book which we hope we can sell well. The new edition is really, really important. Come on, H&M fans, this is one to get behind.

Living God's Politics: A Guide to Putting Faith into Action Jim Wallis (HarperSanFransico) $15.95 This is a great study guide that compliments the popular God's Politics. It includes thoughtful readings, Scripture, activities for learning, resources for further involvement. Very useful. We commend this for small groups, Sunday school classes and such, but, for what it is worth, here is a friendly critique by Paul Marshall (author of the very significant God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics.)

Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny (IVP Academic) $19.00 Wow, was I excited to see this, finally. Kemeny, with a PhD from Princeton Theo, a ThM from Duke and an M.Div from Westminister and a professorship at Grove City College, is uniquely qualified to bring together this broad range of author-activists who go back and forth offering feedback and rebuttle to their respective pros and cons. Here is Clarke E. Cochran offering a very thoughtful Catholic perpsective, Derek H. Davis with the classical Separationist view, Ron Sider with his (nearly Reformed and quite evangelical) Anabaptist view, Corwin Smidt with a neo-Calvinist, Principled Pluralist persepctive, and J. Philip Wogaman with a more liberal church "social justice" perspective. I am thrilled to recommend this, and appreciate these five distinct views, each which offers instruction for the faithful in our efforts to be wise and civic-minded, Christ-like citizens who live out the political implications of the gospel. This is serious stuff, so you should start now. You are going to want to have this under your belt as folks start talking politics more and more in the upcoming year.

Compassion, Justice and the Christian Lfe: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor Robert D. Lupton (Regal) $9.99 Anybody who has worked in urban ministry knows Lupton's important name, and respects his good work in inner-city Atlanta. His Family Consultation Service Urban Ministries is a very important model for economic development. The forward is by none other than John Perkins, and this little quote is on the back, by bro Shane Claiborne "Bob Lupton is my favorite "responsible capitalist" but also a dear friend and brother. He's one of the most cutting-edge thinkers on ecomonic development on the planet, yet he's stubborn enough to keep his feet on the ground where struggle still has names..." Lupton's practical stuff about urban renewal (like "10 Questions Donors Ought to Ask Ministries But Seldom Do" and "10 Questions Ministries Ought to Ask Donors But Seldom Do") shows remarkable wisdom born of hard experience. Excellent, brief, clear.

The Fear of Beggars: Stewardship and Poverty in Christian Ethics Kelly S. Johnson (Eerdmans) $20.00 This is brand new in a series of academic books from Eerdmans edited by the Ekklesia Project. This is a must for those who like Shane Clairborne, but want to go deeper, and, more particularly, study the insights from personalists such as Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. Kelly offers what looks like one of the most thought-provoking books in this field, breaking new intellectual ground. Christine Pohl writes "One does not necessarily expect a book on begging and reimagining property relations to sing with theological and historical insights, but (this) does just that. Her account is fascinating and beautifully written." New Monasticism leader Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove offers a rave review on the back, as does Ched Myers calls it "an elegant treatise...her commendation of Francis' 'economic unilateral disarmament' is welcome wisdom in our increasingly hard-hearted agnostic marketplace."

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A New Kind of Conversation is Now in Print


I just received my complimentary copies of a new book from Authentic Media / Paternoster entitled, A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith, edited by Myron Bradley Penner and Hunter Barnes with contributions from Brian McLaren, Mabiala Kenzo, Bruce Ellis Benson, and Ellen Haroutunian.

I was hoping to contribute more to this book, but my health stuff got in the way. My one contribution is found on page 20.

(I just realized that I'm in this book twice: on page 20, commenting about postmodern philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s understanding of the metanarrative, and on pages 144-146, commenting on an approach to postmodern apologetics.)

Pretty exciting to see your name in print!


To read the on-line version of the book, go to the original blog:
A New Kind of Conversation.



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6/14/2007

How to have an Appreciative Inquiry evangelistic conversation

The strength of Appreciative Inquiry is that it focuses on positives rather than negatives in the pursuit of change.

The presumption is that, yes, there needs to be change. Things are not the way they should be. By focusing in on things we can affirm, we are not denying the Fall. Instead, we are shifting our sole focus from the Fall to Creation.

Theologically, when we practice affirmative inquiry, we are saying that the essential nature of humanity is not our depravity but our being created in the image of God. For far too long, our evangelism efforts have started with our falleness, our sinfulness. While our sinfulness is certainly true, it is not the beginning of the story of humanity; the story begins with our uniqueness as image-bearers. The story begins with telling us about God’s glorious intention for humanity: that we would shine forth His glory as we reflect His loving essence.

However, we must be honest while we do this. The goal is not to gloss over where we fall short of that glory. The goal is not mindless happy talk. We can’t ignore the real problems in the world and in our own personal lives. The goal is to approach these issues from the other side, the side that says God is willing and able to empower those who yield to Him to grow spiritually. This spiritual growth is called “conversion” or “transformation” or “redemption” or even “salvation.”

The goal of evangelistic conversations, then, shifts from (initially and primarily) laying guilt on someone about how awful they are. The goal, instead, is to affirm how God has uniquely created, has been calling, and has been molding each person to be what God wants them to be.

There are four stages of Appreciative Inquiry (see diagram). Here is one suggestion as to how to lead a person through AI in an evangelistic conversation. You can tailor these steps if you feel you need to highlight another aspect of the gospel with a particular person or group.

1. DISCOVERY. We help them discover positive things that would glorify God if put to the right use. We steer them away from selfish ambition and toward the things that serve others and cares for the Creation. We begin our inquiry by saying, “Tell me about times when you have experienced living in a way that loves others - when you served others, or cared for the world around you.” “When God looks upon your life, what do you think makes him smile and nod affirmatively?”

2. DREAM. Once we do that, we can help the person dream about what a future could look like if they yielded to God so that they can be all that God intends them to be. As we ask people about what they see as their future, we communicate to them that God is about hope. We move a person into an eschatological understanding of God that is not primarily about Armageddon and being “Left Behind,” but into a positive vision of the way God intends things to be. We continue our inquiry by asking, “What do you think is God’s vision of a better world?” “In a world that is the way God intends it to be, what do you think God would have you doing?” “What would be your unique contribution and purpose in God’s redeemed world?”

3. DESIGN. This is where the rubber meets the road. Here we need to help the person understand God’s way of designing this future vision. We continue through affirmative inquiry to do so, by asking, “The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of all things. When you think of Jesus as redeemer (as the One who can make the world the way God intends it to be), what does that mean to you?” “When you think of the way Jesus lived, died, and resurrected, what does that say about the love of God and his intentions about the world?” The goal here is to help a person come to their own realization (by the conviction of the Holy Spirit) that the world and themselves are not what God intends and that Jesus is the way to make things right. The design phase only is worthwhile if the person yields to God's design for their lives (through their faith in the person of Jesus Christ). A person’s personal design for life will fall short of God’s glorious intentions without the Lordship of Christ. The goal is to reframe a person’s understanding—they will most likely think of Christianity as an institutional killjoy. While that often is the case(!), the person of Jesus Christ came that we would have life in abundance. Jesus' resurrection assures us that God is working toward renewing the creation. Jesus needs to be seen as the person’s personal guide into God's good intentions and dreams for them and the world, instead of a religion that snuffs out dreams. We need to ask, “What will it take for you to trust that Jesus can design your life in the way that is God’s intended purpose for you?” The key issue here is trust. For many people, it is not an easy thing to trust in God. We must gently help them to open their hearts to God. They must decide that their personal design for life is contrary to God's design and turn toward God's design instead (this is repentance).

4. DESTINY. Real change means sustainability. The Destiny Phase of AI suggests that what is absolutely needed is a network-like structure that creates a convergence zone for people to empower one another—to connect, cooperate, and co-create. We are not converted as individuals; we need to be converted into a community that walks with us toward a shared destiny, one in which we all contribute and which needs others in order to arrive at it. This is the beauty of the body of Christ. The eschatological future is not about persons experiencing individualistic bliss in some ethereal heavenly realm. The eschatological future is where God and His People (plural) all live in Shalom harmony on a redeemed earth. This destiny is arrived at in community. So, we ask, “In a redeemed future, people live in peace and harmony with God and each other on a renewed earth. We move toward that future as we live that way in the present. What can you do to connect with God and people in community so that you can positively move toward that destiny?”


More on Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism:


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CCO wins Best Christian Place to Work (again!)


For the fifth consecutive year, the CCO has won top honors in the annual Best Christian Places to Work survey, published each year in Christianity Today.

The result is based on a survey involving more than 11,000 employees in 93 Christian organizations.

Winning our category an unprecedented fifth time is an accomplishment that I, as a leader in the organization, am very excited about.

It means we are leading well.

And we seek to keep doing so, being committed to excellence.

___

The finalists in each category:

Large Organizations (500+ Employees)
Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN
Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, CA
Wycliffe Bible Translators, Orlando, FL

Higher Education (Up to 500 Employees)
Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX
Evangel University, Springfield, MO
The Master's College, Santa Clarita, CA
The Master's Seminary, Santa Clarita, CA
Olivet Nazarene University, Bourbonnais, IL
Phoenix Seminary, Scottsdale, AZ

Media (100-500 Employees)
EMF Broadcasting, Rocklin, CA
Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR
Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, IL

Media (Up to 100 Employees)
Back to the Bible, Lincoln, NE
Howard Books, West Monroe, LA
InterVarsity Press, Downer's Grove, IL

Mission and Parachurch (60-300 Employees)
City Team Ministries, San Jose, CA
CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), Pittsburgh, PA
Crown Financial Ministries, Gainesville, GA
Joni and Friends, Agoura Hills, CA

Mission and Parachurch (Up to 60 Employees)
Amor Ministries, San Diego, CA
Apartment Life, Euless, TX
EQUIP, Duluth, GA
MOPS International, Denver, CO
New Missions Systems International, Fort Myers, FL

Product and Services (50+ Employees)
Alliance Defense Fund, Scottsdale, AZ
Evangelical Christian Credit Union, Brea, CA
Logos Bible Software, Bellingham, WA

Product and Services (Up to 50 Employees)
Church Extention Plan, Salem, OR
Covenant Eyes, Corunna, MI
DeMoss Group, Inc., Duluth, GA
Envoy Financial, Colorado Springs, CO

Christian Schools (90+ Employees)
Fairfield Christian Academy, Lancaster, OH
Indian Rocks Christian Schools, Largo, FL

Christian Schools (Up to 90 Employees)
Christian Heritage Academy, Northfield, IL
First Baptist Academy, Naples, FL
Midland Christian Academy, Midland, VA
Stoneybrooke Christian Schools, San Juan Capistrano, CA

Church Related Organizations
Crossroads Community Church, Cincinnati, OH
The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS
Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, MN

6/11/2007

Theology of Collaboration

I've been very excited about the development of a collaborative network forming in Cleveland among Christian ministries. The group that I help to lead is called "Collaborate for a Greater Cleveland." Our last meeting featured Chuck Warnock speaking on a theology of collaboration. Chuck recently wrote an article in Leadership Journal entitled, "Learn to Partner," detailing how he and his small church were able to make significant Kingdom advances for the good of his community through partnering with others in his community.

This past week, he spoke to us at Cleveland's City Mission about a theology of collaboration. At his blog, Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, Chuck gives this outline on collaboration:

1. Self-limitation. You can call this giving up control, recognizing the equality of others, or partnering. Whatever you call it, the incarnation of Christ is the theological example, and Philippians 2:5-11 is the biblical basis. The point is that genuine collaboration does not occur if the parties are not perceived to be equal participants.
2. Values “otherness.” Pat Keifert’s excellent book, Welcoming The Stranger, points out that we must recognize the “otherness” of God in order to find intimacy with God. The same is true in our hospitality to others — we open ourselves to them and their differences, valuing “otherness” as part of the collaborative process.
3. Recognizes that which unites us. Doctrines divide the world Christian community. And, that’s the purpose of doctrine — to express the convictions that make Methodists different from Baptists, and Baptists different from Pentecostals. But, practices (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for children) can unite us. We can collaborate on practices without sacrificing our doctrinal distinctives.
4. Commits to becoming companions on a journey. The word “fellowship” has its origins in the concept that those on board the same sailing ship were dependent upon each other for a safe and harmonious passage — they were “fellow-shippers” committed to making a journey together. Collaboration of specific projects or ministries calls us to “travel” together on a journey toward our mutual destination.
5. Re-unifies God’s creation. When we collaborate with others in a common cause — particularly if we partner with businesses, governments, civic groups, or other communities that are not thought of as faith communities — we are re-uniting the sacred/secular divide that emerged from the Enlightenment. We begin to see all good as God’s good, whether it credits faith in God or not. So, churches can work with businesses to establish a food pantry, or homeless shelter, or childcare center because these are practices that God encourages.


In the emerging church, we need to figure out ways to partner with other ministries and other institutions in our communities for the purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God. We need to learn how to leverage our strengths and do a better job of mission. The past century saw too much infighting and jockeying for position among Christian ministries and churches that should have been collaborating to reach their community with the good news of Jesus Christ.


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6/08/2007

The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: A Guide for Students

My friend and fellow CCO staffer, Derek Melleby, has written a new book with Don Opitz , The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.

Derek is the director of the College Transition Initiative for The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding through a partnership with the CCO. Don is associate professor of sociology and higher education at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

I'm very excited about this book. Derek and Don know their subject matter. The years of transition from High School through College are the most formative in life. This is why I do what I do in college ministry. Christians at this stage of life can either become dis-integrated in their view of Christian life and work, or they can learn to be thoroughly integrated. What I mean is this: we need to help students understand and live a worldview that does not separate their vocational study into some kind of "secular field" while their spiritual life dries up. They (and all of us!!) need to learn that they can live an integrated life where everything is redeemed through Christ...especially their studies and their vocation. Derek and Don explain this in this new book.


Here's some endorsements:
"The most difficult transition in the life of faith is from high school to college. As many fade away from the faith as come to the faith. Morals, vocation, and the simple development of the mind are each put to the test in a way unlike any time in all of life. This book, while it focuses on learning to think as a Christian, will prove valuable in each of the areas for any student who gives it the time it deserves. Read and listen, I say. If you do, you will rise up and call these authors 'Blessed!'" - Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed

"The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness is an outstanding book about how Christian students can learn to be faithful to their Lord in their studies. This volume shows them why and how. Its biblical moorings, fresh and clear language, and vivid stories give it transformative power. It is pitched at just the right level to reach its target audience. The authors have invested much in writing this insightful book. Those who read it--students and teachers alike--will reap genuine dividends." - David Naugle, professor of philosophy, Dallas Baptist University; author of Worldview: The History of a Concept

"Opitz and Melleby's wonderfully outrageous little book will tickle, inspire, challenge, and encourage students to gain a real life--not just grades, degrees, and jobs. Their message is deeply biblical and splendidly relevant for today's learners and, truth be told, teachers. Well done, faithful servants!" - Quentin J. Schultze, Arthur H. DeKruyter Chair in Faith and Communication, Calvin College; author of Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing?


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