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The late writer’s books upended the way I think about almost everything.

After I heard the news of the death of Frederick Buechner this week, I walked over to a bookcase in my study that I visit more than any other.

These shelves are filled with what seems too small to say are my “favorite” authors. These are the ones who kept me Christian, who upended the way I think or feel about everything. The Buechner section of that bookcase seems like a disorganized chaos. There’s no coherent genre. Here’s a novel, there’s a Bible study, here’s a dictionary, there’s not just one but several autobiographies.

And there’s no coherent chronology, either. They are stacked not in the order they were written but in the order that I found them. That’s because, when I look at each one, I am retelling myself a story—of when I discovered each one of them, and what it was like to read each for the first time.

When I stand in front of those shelves, I’m doing what Buechner asked us all to do. I am listening to his life, and to my own.

The first book on the shelf is an old copy of A Room Called Remember, a collection of essays that I discovered as a teenager while rifling through the discard table of a public library. When I started reading, what caught my attention was a serious Christian who seemed to see what I could feel but couldn’t really articulate: that life is a mystery, a mystery that’s a plotline, a plotline that connects us with the story of Jesus.

These stories, he wrote, “meet as well as diverge, our stories and his, and even when they diverge, it is his they diverge from, so that even by his absence as well as by is presence in our lives, we know who he is and who we are and who we are not.”

A ...

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At 70, Frederick Buechner looks back on his ministry in letters. (From 1997)

Frederick Buechner died today (August 15, 2022) at age 96. Christianity Today has covered his books extensively over the years, and published several profiles of the beloved writer. Our sister publication Books and Culture was also enthusiastic; among its many reviews and pieces on Buechner was this 1997 profile by Philip Yancey.

Frederick Buechner has met Christians who remind him of American tourists in Europe: Not knowing the language of their listeners, they speak the language of Zion loudly and forcefully, hoping the natives will somehow comprehend. They seem cocky with faith, voluble with their theology, and content with a God who resembles a cosmic Good Buddy. Their certitude both fascinates and alarms him. “I was astonished to hear students at one Christian college shift casually from small talk about the weather and movies to a discussion of what God was doing in their lives. If anybody said anything like that in my part of the world, the ceiling would fall in, the house would catch fire, and people's eyes would roll up in their heads.”

Buechner himself has gained a reputation as a writer who speaks of his faith in more muted tones. Apart from a few childhood encounters, he hardly gave church a thought until he wandered into one in Manhattan as a young novelist whose star had flared brightly but briefly on the New York literary scene.

For him, faith was a pilgrimage undertaken voluntarily as an adult, a journey fraught with risk. Buechner’s chronicles of that journey have, almost uniquely among modern writings, managed to attract readers from two polarized worlds, the Eastern elite and conservative evangelicals. His work divides evenly between fiction (14 books) and nonfiction (13 books), and ...

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When Christian investors focus solely on avoiding unethical causes, they miss a chance to build up good corporations and ministries.

In 1971, the Episcopal Church ignited modern “values investing” when it challenged General Motors’ policies in apartheid South Africa. Holding a meager 0.004 percent of shares, the church introduced a board resolution (alongside Black pastor and GM board member Leon Sullivan) that sparked a movement and changed corporate America’s approach to apartheid.

Those Christian activist investors were building on a long legacy of faith-aligned financial management, stretching from Jewish law to John Wesley’s admonitions against investing in alcohol and tobacco. But over the past 50 years, the church’s approach to values-aligned investing has stagnated even as the mainstream world has fully embraced the concept.

In 2020, there was approximately $106 trillion in managed assets around the world, and at least $35 trillion of that was in “ESG” mandates—those with some explicit focus on environmental, social, or governance concerns. Most major investment and wealth managers now have clear ESG policies and capabilities with defined agendas, sometimes under alternative monikers like “responsible” or “ethical” investing or corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Asset management firms like Blackrock, State Street, and Vanguard—which collectively own almost 20 percent of the S&P 500—regularly push companies to adopt environmental or social policies aligned with their agendas.

The sovereign wealth funds of countries like New Zealand, Norway, China, and Saudi Arabia shape companies and policies all over the world. And huge US pension plans like CalSTRS and the New York State Common Retirement Fund often enforce new policies on asset managers and companies ...

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SBC has commited to cooperating with the federal investigation, which spans multiple entities.

A federal investigation will look into the largest Protestant denomination’s response to abuse, following a bombshell report commissioned and released by the Southern Baptist Commission (SBC) in May.

The SBC Executive Committee confirmed on Friday that the Justice Department “has initiated an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention, and that the investigation will include multiple SBC entities.”

The general counsel for the Executive Committee (EC)—which oversees day-to-day business for the convention and was the subject of the SBC’s own abuse investigation—said the EC has received a subpoena, but no individuals have been subpoenaed at this point.

The SBC and its entities have committed to cooperating with the investigation.

A statement signed by the presidents of each SBC entity and seminary referred to their involvement as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and abuse reform.

“While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future,” it read.

An independent investigation by Guidepost Solutions into the EC, released in May 2022, found that over the past 20 years, its leaders had compiled a secret list of more than 700 abusive pastors, mishandled allegations, and mistreated the victims who asked for help.

The investigation, which cost over $2 million, spanned 330 interviews and five terabytes of documents collected over eight months.

Hours before the EC confirmed the Justice Department ...

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The Southern Baptist congregation led by Acts 29 president Matt Chandler maintained it hadn’t done anything wrong, infuriating the family of the victim.

The Village Church, a large Southern Baptist church in Texas pastored by Matt Chandler, has announced it reached a settlement with a woman who had reported one of the church’s pastors sexually assaulted her when she was 11 years old.

But the conflict isn’t over. The church statement said, “We maintain and firmly believe that we committed no wrong,” and noted that the woman couldn’t positively identify that it was the church employee who abused her.

The woman’s family protested, saying in a statement that the church’s statement was “not fully truthful, transparent, or caring for the traumatized.” The family has left the church over the handling of the case.

“The attempt to communicate care in one sentence followed by language that invalidates and dismisses the merits of the victim's claims is not the way to express care, compassion, and truth,” the family said. “And then we wonder why so many victims of trauma are leaving the church.”

The settlement comes in the context of Southern Baptist churches wrestling with how to respond to a report documenting extensive abuse in the denomination.

The civil lawsuit against The Village Church was filed under the name Jane Doe, but the mother, Christi Bragg, recounted the details of what happened to her daughter on the record to The New York Times in 2019. The girl reported to her mother the year before that back in 2012, a pastor at a church summer camp, Matthew Tonne, had touched her in her bed with her undergarments pulled down. The mother immediately filed a police report and reported the incident to the church. The church said it also immediately filed a police report. Tonne maintained his innocence.

The ...

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The fantasy role-playing game’s theological dimensions can be spiritually formative.

In my four years of teaching theology at Wheaton College, one of my most memorable meetings was with a student wanting to know how best to defend Dungeons & Dragons to skeptical relatives.

Students ask me all kinds of things during my office-hours appointments, but this was a first. I was aware of D&D’s role in the satanic panic of the 1980s, but I assumed most suspicion toward the game had disappeared now that cooler heads and more informed minds had prevailed.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Dungeons & Dragons is the oldest commercially available fantasy role-playing game. Now in its fifth edition, D&D has been around since 1974 when Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published their first set of rules.

Though it’s been played for almost half a century, we’ve witnessed something of a revival in recent years, spurred by the success of Stranger Things, D&D web series like Critical Role, and the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s also a whole field of interdisciplinary scholarly research on role-playing games (RPGs) of all kinds.

I started playing D&D a few years ago, motivated largely by a desire to connect with my adolescent son. Eventually, our whole family joined in the fun.

The first lockdown of the pandemic soon turned our family’s occasional dabbling into a weekly commitment. As I’ve written elsewhere, my family has survived the pandemic by both praying together and playing together—D&D has become for us what soccer or tae kwon do might be for others.

I’ve spent most of the past couple years serving as the game’s facilitator or narrator—referred to as a dungeon master—but I have also played in a few short-lived campaigns as one of ...

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A growing breed of unchurched evangelicals is poised to heighten the culture wars.

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

“If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t wanna go,” Hank Williams Jr. sang. “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I’d just as soon stay home.”

The song was, of course, meant to be more of a praise of the South than a developed eschatology. But after detailing all the things he loved about his home region, Hank Jr. concluded that if these things were missing from eternity, then “just send me to hell or New York City; it would be about the same to me.”

Recent studies show that, increasingly, white Southern evangelicals are deciding that when it comes to the church, if not to heaven, they’d just as soon stay home.

Last week here, I referenced an analysis by historian Daniel K. Williams (no relation to Hank) on studies of a fast-growing trend among white Southern Protestants who seldom or never attend church and yet self-identify as evangelical Christians.

To recap, Williams points to data on how these unchurched evangelicals are not secularizing in the same way as, say, people in Denmark or Germany, or even as folks in Connecticut or Oregon.

Unchurched evangelicals in the South not only keep their politics but also ratchet up to more extreme levels. They maintain the same moral opinions—except on matters that directly affect them (like having premarital sex, smoking marijuana, and getting drunk).

This category of lapsed and non-church-attending evangelicals are now, as Williams points out, the largest religious body in the South. They are also lonelier, more disconnected, angrier, and more suspicious of institutions.

These findings have seismic implications for ...

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Pay attention to the sin of passivity, especially in church leaders dealing with abused women.

In a lot of undergraduate psychology programs, a legendary crime case comes up. Kitty Genovese was raped, robbed, and repeatedly stabbed outside her Queens, New York, apartment building in 1964.

Although the killing was horrific, the case isn’t studied for its gruesomeness. Professors don’t generally focus on Genovese or her murderer but rather on the bystanders and neighbors who, according to reports, heard her screams for help but didn’t act to save her life.

Their supposed indifference is explained by a social theory known as the “bystander effect,” which says a bystander is less likely to assist someone if they’re in a group rather than alone.

In short, the response to one woman’s murder reveals the common evil of people “standing by” out of self-protection and passivity.

Something similar happens in Judges chapter 19. An unnamed victim is identified by her connection to a Levite. This man, commanded to follow God’s Law, should have been her safeguard. But shockingly, he throws her into the hands of her abusers.

The Old Testament is packed with narratives of seemingly obscure women like the Levite’s concubine. Some of these stories are rarely taught and largely unknown. And yet, they are part of the canon of Scripture—divinely inspired words that unfold the grand story of redemption. So what do we miss from the larger portrait when we overlook its dimmer corners?

And how might these dark stories—in this case, the account of a molested woman and her indifferent priest—diagnose our own hearts amid the church abuse crisis of our day?

In the Book of Judges, we find a Levite man bending God’s law by marrying a nameless ...

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Overall, more than half of church leaders have seen members suffer depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.

Most pastors have seen mental illness in their pews, while some have seen it in themselves.

A Lifeway Research study explores US Protestant pastors’ experiences with mental illness and how well their churches are equipped to respond to those who need help.

A majority of pastors (54%) say in the churches where they have served on staff, they have known at least one church member who has been diagnosed with a severe mental illness such as clinical depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia.

Most of those pastors had experience with a small number of members: 18 percent say one or two and another 18 percent say three to five. Fewer pastors say they’ve known 6-10 (8%), 11-20 (5%) or more than 20 (6%). Around a third (34%) say none of their church members have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, while 12 percent don’t know.

“There is a healthy generational shift occurring as younger and middle-aged pastors are much more likely to have encountered people in church with severe mental illness than the oldest pastors,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

“However, it is not clear whether the presence of those with difficult mental illnesses is increasing among church members or if they have simply felt more comfortable sharing their diagnosis with younger pastors.”

Pastors 65 and older (46%) and those with no college degree (52%) are more likely to say they haven’t known any church members with a severe mental illness.

Twenty-six percent of US Protestant pastors say they have personally struggled with some type of mental illness, including 17 percent who say it was diagnosed and 9 percent who say they experienced it but were never diagnosed. ...

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After Lambeth conference steers bishops to agree to disagree on LGBT clergy and marriages, African conservatives chart a new course.

At least 125 Anglican bishops gathered at the Lambeth conference in Canterbury, England, endorsed a decades-old resolution against “homosexual practice” along with a new provision that “renewed steps be taken to ensure all provinces abide by this doctrine in their faith, order, and practice.”

The conservative Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) launched an effort last week to have Resolution 1.10, adopted at Lambeth 1998, reaffirmed as the official stance of the Anglican Communion after 2022 conference leaders scrapped an initial plan to affirm the resolution among an array of “calls” or statements on pressing issues.

With about 85 million adherents, the Anglican Communion is the third-largest body of Christians worldwide and exists in 165 countries. Some 650 bishops attended Lambeth, which concluded August 8 and was last held in 2008, meaning the GSFA campaign garnered votes from about one-fifth of clergy present.

“I give thanks to God for all the bishops who have reaffirmed Lambeth 1.10–in its entirety–as the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on Marriage and Sexuality,” said Archbishop Justin Badi, primate of South Sudan and GSFA chair. “We have been greatly encouraged by the bishops worldwide at this conference who have expressed their support, in whatever form, for the Communion to be governed by biblical authority.”

Badi has emerged as a leading voice for conservatives and has not minced words in his criticism of liberal theology. To demonstrate their resolve, he and other conservative bishops at Lambeth refused to receive communion at services in the historic 1,400-year-old Canterbury cathedral, where Augustine served as a ...

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