Skip to content

Most Recent Blog Posts

The Emotionally Healthy Leader: An Interview with Peter Scazzero

Peter ScazzeroHave you ever felt stuck, powerless to change your environment? Do you feel too overwhelmed to enjoy life, unable to sort out the demands on your time? Are you doing your best work as a leader, yet you think you’re not making an impact? Perhaps you need to integrate who you are with what you do by developing a deep, inner life with Christ.

Bible Gateway interviewed Peter Scazzero (@petescazzero) about his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World (Zondervan, 2015).Click to buy your copy of The Emotionally Healthy Leader in the Bible Gateway Store

Explain why any leader of people needs to be emotionally healthy to be effective.

Peter Scazzero: Emotionally healthy leaders possess a significant level of self-awareness and, as a result, love well.

Unhealthy leaders lack, for example, awareness of their feelings, their weaknesses and limits, how their past impacts their present, and how others experience them. They also lack the capacity and skill to enter deeply into the feelings and perspectives of others. They carry these immaturities with them into their relationships and everything they do.

Emotionally unhealthy leaders also engage in more activities than their combined spiritual, physical, and emotional reserves can sustain. They give out for God more than they receive from him. The demands and pressures of leadership make it nearly impossible for them to establish a consistent and sustainable rhythm of life. In their more honest moments, they admit that their cup with God is empty or, at best, half full. I like to say it this way: Their “being with God” is not sufficient to sustain their “doing for God.”

How did you diagnose your own emotional unhealthiness as a leader?

Peter Scazzero: My journey to integrate emotional health and spiritual maturity began in 1996 when I hit a wall. I was tired and stressed as a Christian, losing my soul as I was gaining the world (Mark 8:26). I experienced the ugliness of a church split and saw how easy it was for people to know their Bible well and appear spiritual but still be defensive, arrogant, mean-spirited, and unloving. Finally, my marriage wasn’t going well. The lack of any spiritual formation in emotional health was evident all around me and in me as well. There was no running away from it.

What are the characteristics of an emotionally unhealthy leader?

Peter Scazzero: The deficits of emotionally unhealthy leaders are especially evident in four areas:

They Have Low Self-Awareness

Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to be unaware of what is going on inside them. And even when they recognize a strong emotion such as anger, they fail to process or express it honestly and appropriately. They ignore emotion-related messages their body may send—fatigue, stress-induced illness, weight gain, ulcers, headaches, or depression. They avoid reflecting on their fears, sadness, or anger. They fail to consider how God might be trying to communicate with them through these “difficult” emotions. They struggle to articulate the reasons for their emotional triggers, their overreactions in the present rooted in difficult experiences from their past.

They Do More Activity for God than Their Relationship with God Can Sustain

Emotionally unhealthy leaders are chronically overextended. Although they routinely have too much to do in too little time, they persist in saying a knee-jerk yes to new opportunities before prayerfully and carefully discerning God’s will. The notion of a slowed-down spirituality—or slowed-down leadership—in which their doing for Jesus flows out of their being with Jesus is a foreign concept.

They Prioritize Ministry over Marriage or Singleness

Whether married or single, most emotionally unhealthy leaders affirm the importance of a healthy intimacy in relationships and lifestyle, but few, if any, have a vision for their marriage or singleness as the greatest gift they offer. Instead, they view their marriage or single-ness as an essential and stable foundation for something more important—building an effective ministry, which is their first priority. As a result, they invest the best of their time and energy in becoming better equipped as a leader, and invest very little in cultivating a great marriage or single life that reveals Jesus’ love to the world.

Emotionally unhealthy leaders tend to compartmentalize their married or single life, separating it from both their leadership and their relationship with Jesus. For example, they might make significant leadership decisions without thinking through the long-term impact those decisions could have on the quality and integrity of their single or married life. They dedicate their best energy, thought, and creative efforts to leading others, and they fail to invest in a rich and full married or single life.

They Lack a Work/Sabbath Rhythm

Emotionally unhealthy leaders do not practice Sabbath—a weekly, twenty-four-hour period in which they cease all work and rest, delight in God’s gifts, and enjoy life with him. They might view Sabbath observance as irrelevant, optional, or even a burdensome legalism that belongs to an ancient past. Or they may make no distinction between the biblical practice of Sabbath and a day off, using “Sabbath” time for the unpaid work of life, such as paying bills, grocery shopping, and errands. If they practice Sabbath at all, they do so inconsistently, believing they need to first finish all their work or work hard enough to “earn” the right to rest.

What are the unhealthy commandments of church leadership you write about?

Peter Scazzero: There are four large ones that keep Christian leaders up at night.

The first is that it’s not a success unless it’s “bigger and better.” Numbers aren’t all bad. In fact, quantifying ministry impact with numbers is actually biblical. When it comes to the church and numbers, the problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count. When something isn’t bigger and better, we consider it—and often ourselves—a failure. What we miss in all this counting is the value Scripture places on internal markers.

The second big, unhealthy commandment is that what we do is more important than who we are. Who you are is more important than what you do. Why? Because the love of Jesus in you is the greatest gift you have to give to others. Who you are as a person—and specifically how well you love—will always have a larger and longer impact on those around you than what you do. Your being with God (or lack of being with God) will trump, eventually, your doing for God every time. We cannot give what we do not possess. We cannot help but give what we do possess.

The third deadly commandment is that superficial spirituality is okay. Just because we have the gifts and skills to build a crowd and create lots of activity does not mean we are building a church or ministry that connects people intimately to Jesus. I love the Lord’s instruction to Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

The final is: don’t rock the boat as long as the work gets done. Too much of contemporary church culture is characterized by a false niceness and superficiality. We view conflict as a sign that something is wrong, so we do whatever we can to avoid it. We prefer to ignore difficult issues and settle for a false peace, hoping our difficulties will somehow disappear on their own. They don’t.

What role does reading the Bible play in building emotional healthiness in leaders?

Peter Scazzero: Without being immersed in Scripture on a daily basis, I don’t believe it is possible to lead others for Jesus and to Jesus. How can we unless we are listening to him?

How should leaders be intentional about creating an emotionally healthy culture in their leadership team?

This takes great intentionality and is something I have learned over time and through a lot of mistakes. Emotionally healthy culture and team building is quite distinct in at least four ways. First, we’re deeply concerned for people’s personal spiritual formation and not simply their work performance. We’re asking questions about people’s inner lives with Christ and resourcing them regularly.

Secondly, we confront what I like to call, “elephants in the room.” This refers to inappropriate or immature behavior that happens on all teams. Only now we address it and treat it as a mentoring/discipling moment.

Thirdly, time, energy and money is invested in your team’s personal development. In other words, we’re not simply talking about the work itself, but them.

And finally, we ask questions about people’s marriages and singleness, knowing this is foundational to any long-term, significant work for God that will stand the test of time.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Peter Scazzero: A great way to get started on this journey is to take the free personal or church assessment found on our website at emotionallyhealthy.org—either by yourself or with your team. In it you’ll be able to identify if you’re an emotional infant, child, adolescent or adult. And, of course, read through and discuss with your team the The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World.

Bio: Peter Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City; a large, multiracial church with more than 73 countries represented. After serving as senior pastor for 26 years, Pete now serves as a teaching pastor/pastor at large. He’s the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. He’s also the author of the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Church Campaign Kit and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. Pete and his wife, Geri, are the founders of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a groundbreaking ministry that equips churches in a deep, beneath-the-surface spiritual formation paradigm that integrates emotional health and contemplative spirituality. They have four lovely daughters.

Finding Hope in the Unexpected by Kayla Aimee

Kayla AimeeA pregnancy is counted by weeks and Kayla Aimee (@kaylaaimee) had only completed 24 of the 40 when she unexpectedly went into labor. She thought her church upbringing had prepared her for every circumstance but when tragedy struck and threatened to take the life of her newborn daughter, it felt as though once solid ground had turned to glass beneath her feet, destined to shatter everything she held sacred.

Based on the verse from Hebrews 6:19, Kayla’s poignant and humorous memoir, Anchored: Finding Hope in the Unexpected (B&H Books, 2015), answers the question of where God is in the midst of suffering.

With vulnerability and plenty of wit, Kayla lays bare her struggle to redefine her faith, her marriage, and herself within the context of a tragedy she never saw coming.

Click to buy your copy of Anchored in the Bible Gateway StoreThe following article is an excerpt from Anchored: Finding Hope in the Unexpected.

A Time to Laugh and a Time to Cry

Besides the time spent causing a ruckus in biology class, most of my high school years revolved around the various clubs I was in and the local youth group I was a part of. Apparently extracurricular activities look good on a college application (or so I was told), and that is how I ended up as the vice president of the FCA. That stands for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, in case you were wondering. You might also be wondering what sort of athlete I was and this is where I will inform you that you don’t even have to be an athlete to join the FCA. In fact, you can be quite poor at athletics. You can even be the vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes if you are also the Secretary of the International Society of Thespians. (That’s the Drama Club, for all you non-thespians out there.)

I thought I had all the answers about things like faith and God and spirituality. I mean, people don’t just let you be the vice president of things unless you really know your stuff.

Plus, I was in high school and basically your job in high school is to just assume that you are right about everything. I felt pretty overly confident that I understood how this whole faith
thing worked and was quick to give people answers when they asked. I was like the Vanilla Ice of Christianity: “If you have a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.”

If I didn’t know the answer, then I would just tilt my head and reply knowingly, “Job. The answer to that is definitely in the book of Job.” I didn’t fully understand the book of Job myself, but I figured it would get them reading the Bible and gave myself a pat on the back for that brilliant line of thinking. Plus, I figured a whole lot of stuff went down in the book of Job and so there was probably an answer to their question somewhere in there.

I thought about Job a lot back then and how he went through many of the same trials that I was enduring as a high school girl. I mean, sure Job’s problems were that he lost everything he cared about and was covered in festering boils but that was SO SIMILAR to my problems of not being asked to the prom and running out of concealer. Boils, acne, same thing, Job.

It’s not to say that I didn’t know heartache at sixteen. I pressed my face against the window and watched the taillights of my father’s truck disappear down our driveway. I stayed behind in the house the judge awarded my mother in the messiness of the divorce and thought about Job and why bad things happen to good people. As a teenager, life was hard and confusing and emotional. It was also fairly dramatic, thanks to the fact that I was a card-carrying thespian and all. Of the trials and tribulations of faith, though, I would come to find that I knew little.

In the summer of 2001, I spent my days shopping for matching duvet covers for the college dorm room I would share with my best friend when the seasons changed to autumn. States away a young mother held her four-year-old daughter’s lifeless body close to her in a tragic scene that seems so senseless my hands tremble to type it even now. Jody Ferlaak had stopped for breakfast with her family, in the way that you do on many a leisurely weekend morning. High chairs and hot plates and happy faces smeared with syrup in a completely average morning.

There it is again, tragedy, entirely unwelcome and infringing itself upon an ordinary day. One minute she was eating pancakes and the next a car was driving through the wall of the restaurant, severely injuring her toddler son, pinning her six-month-old baby to the wall, placing her husband in a coma, and killing her daughter. Four-year-old Teagan would never know another autumn.

This was the book of Job playing out in modern day, and it was a far cry from the trite advice I was spouting in my naïve youth across the country.

In my early twenties our paths would cross, and Jody and I formed a friendship that blossomed out of a love of paper crafts and late-night phone calls. One winter day I would find myself lying on a bed at a scrapbooking retreat holding her infant son as I mourned the coming and going of another month without a viable pregnancy of my own. I never wanted to complain to Jody though, who walked through life with a sweet spirit in the midst of its hardships. One child buried and another left severely disabled by a woman who had tried to end her own life with a car and wreaked havoc on Jody’s instead. There was much to mourn, and still Jody found much to give thanks for. Friend and mentor, she would spill out her story with such peace that I was in awe of her faith.

Sitting in the dark of the NICU I thought often of Jody and the question of why burned within me. Why my baby? Why did this happen? Why did a good God allow such severity of suffering to fall upon the innocent? I wished then that I could be more like Jody with a disposition of deep and blessed assurance, the kind that people set to music and printed in choir books. I wished that I had the same peace that all of those songs referenced or at the very least a small reprieve from my pain. But I didn’t have any answers to the whys. My faith was as broken as the little girl lying under the lights, and we were both struggling just to make it out alive.

The hospital chaplain stopped in to see if he could visit with us just as alarms began blaring to signal the rate at which the numbers on the screen were dropping and a nurse worked briskly to push oxygen manually into my daughter’s lungs as her skin mottled gray with the lack of it. The kind man of the cloth reached out his hand and the former vice president of the FCA snarled at him to get out. It wasn’t that I quit believing. It was the fact that I did believe. The chaplain could speak a prayer over us but those words couldn’t be spun into a cord that would keep my daughter here, and that—not the promise of a heaven—was all I wanted.

What I had was a problem. And I couldn’t solve it.

Not on my own.

The above excerpt is from Anchored: Finding Hope in the Unexpected. Copyright © 2015 by Kayla Aimee. Used by permission of B&H Books. www.bhpublishinggroup.com. All rights reserved. Taken from pp. 32-35.

Bio: Kayla Aimee is a writer, mother, and slightly spirited southern girl who spends her days uncovering hope and humor in unexpected places. She makes her home and garden in northern Georgia with her husband, Jeff, and daughter, Scarlette. Kayla shares stories of faith, family and her favorite things at www.kaylaaimee.com.

Bible News Roundup – Week of June 28, 2015

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
Bible Gateway Weekly Brief
Newsletter signup

Verlyn D. Verbrugge, Zondervan Author and Editor, Passes at 72
News Release

Business Owners Display Faith by Scripture, Actions
The Clarion-Ledger
Search for Bible verses on Bible Gateway

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Bible Translation
United Bible Societies
Read the Bible in multiple languages on Bible Gateway

Achieving Accurate Bible Translation
Wycliffe

International Network of Children’s Ministry’s Dispatch Program Welcomes the International Children’s Bible
INCM
Read the International Children’s Bible on Bible Gateway

Books & Culture Symposium on the Historical Adam
Books & Culture
Four Views on the Historical Adam by Matthew Barrett, Ardel Caneday, Denis Lamoureux, John H. Walton, C. John Collins, William D. Barrick, Gregory A. Boyd, and Philip G. Ryken (Zondervan, 2013)

Deaf Bible Making a Change to Help 75% of Deaf Community
Mission Network News

Prison Fellowship International and Bible League International Partner to Distribute the Bible to 25,000 Prisoners
Christian Newswire

Lincoln Cathedral Bible Volumes Reunited After 300 Years
BBC News

400-year-old Bible Arrives in Mendi, Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
EMTV Online

Volunteer Helps Send Bibles Worldwide
The Star Phoenix

Midwest City, Oklahoma Woman on Mission to Reunite Bible with Owner
KOCO TV

Omaha, Nebraska Area to Host its First Scriptorium, Where Memorized Bible Verses are Presented by Individuals
Gretna Breeze
See “Scripture Memorization,” part of Bible Gateway’s Scripture Engagement section

Blackduck, Minnesota Holds Public Bible Reading
The Bemidji Pioneer

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

What Are Some Good Disciplines for Reading Scripture?

howtounderstandthebible

As we near the end of this part of the series of “How to Understand the Bible,” we take up one very practical question: what can we do to make sure we are reading Scripture regularly?


I still cherish my boyhood memories of going fishing with my grandfather. It seems like it was yesterday. One day while I was sorting through the wide variety of tackle I had collected, fidgeting with lures and sinkers and bobbers and the rest in my fancy tackle box, my grandfather looked at me and said: “Mel, you won’t catch a thing unless your hook is in the water.” Of course, he was right. His hook was always in the water, and he had much more to show for it.

ReadingBible

The main principle of reading Scripture for a lifetime of spiritual growth is: just read it. Don’t spend too much time looking for the “just right” study Bible, or other helps. Don’t neglect reading Scripture because you are in a period when you are having a hard time understanding it. And don’t slow down because you have not found a plan that is right for you. Put your hook in the water. Something will happen.

Here are some guidelines for a lifestyle of fruitful Bible reading.

1. Follow a plan, but vary the plan year by year. There are plans that are structured for reading the whole Bible in a year, or two years. The plan may go from Genesis to Revelation, but some plans have you read an Old Testament portion, a New Testament portion, and a Psalm every day, for instance. One very ambitious plan has you reading the whole Bible in 90 days. I like doing that every couple of years. It takes me about a half-hour of reading a day. One plan gets you through the four Gospels in 40 days. Another goes through just the New Testament in a year. There are holiday reading plans for Lent or Advent which really help us focus on the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. You can find verse-of-the-day devotions, but they are of limited worth because you do not get the broad scope of the story of Scripture. Bible Gateway is a good place to find a wide variety of plans.

2. Do not give up. If you start a reading plan in January and falter in March, getting hopelessly behind the plan, just choose another plan for the year. Keep your hook in the water. If all else fails, just read a chapter a day. Consider a day incomplete unless you read something in Scripture.

3. Use a simple tool for a schedule. I like printing out a plan on a single sheet of paper and having it tucked in the back of my Bible. You can use an online scheduling function on your computer or mobile device, but make sure it is a function that is easy to use and easy to access.

4. Decide whether you will make notes or not. Writing your thoughts and questions down as you read helps with comprehension, and many people do it faithfully. I have generally preferred not doing that, however, because I know I will keep reading every day if it is just me and the Bible in my hand. It is different when I am studying Scripture for a group I am in or a teaching I am preparing in which case I take careful notes. You should figure out what works best for you. If taking notes does not bog you down, do it. You will have an accumulating treasure.

5. Know the time of day that is best for you, and set a pattern. This is really important. Lifestyle is about regularity. Most people eat and sleep on a preferred pattern that works for them. So it is with reading Scripture as a lifestyle. I like the early morning when it is quiet in the house and my to-do list isn’t pressing in on my mind. Others find a lunch break or the evening better.

6. Read introductions to Bible books. If you’ve gotten through Numbers and are ready to dive into Deuteronomy, don’t just plow ahead. Take a few minutes to read an introduction which will orient you to the context, circumstances, date, themes, and author of what you are about to read. Study Bibles, for instance, have concise introductions that are no more than a page, for instance, The NIV Study Bible (Zondervan) and The ESV Study Bible (Crossway). But you can get longer introductions in Bible dictionaries or handbooks. Some excellent choices are The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, the New Bible Dictionary, and the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.

7. Allow time for reflection. In today’s hectic world this gets squeezed out, but it is essential. This may mean shutting your Bible, closing your eyes for five minutes and thinking about what you’re read, speaking to God a word of thanks or frustration or inquiry. I find taking a walk after reading to be an excellent way to let the thoughts circulate around in my mind. If there is a single verse, or even just a phrase or a single word, that strikes you powerfully, take some time to ponder it. God the Holy Spirit may be placing a marker in your mind which will be important at some later point in your life. Commit to this: read and reflect.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.

Invitation to the New Testament: An Interview with Ben Witherington III

Dr. Ben WitheringtonOne way to understand the New Testament and its world is to enter into that world and begin to think as the people living then thought. For example, modern culture is primarily text-based with a preponderance of books and documents. But in ancient cultures the oral word was primary and documents were secondary (due, in part, to a low literacy rate).

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Ben Witherington about his book, Invitation to the New Testament: First Things (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Click to buy your copy of Invitation to the New Testament in the Bible Gateway Store

[Also see, Reading & Understanding the Bible: An Interview with Ben Witherington III]

How does the New Testament differ from the Old Testament?

Dr. Witherington: A lot! The New Testament is written by Christians, the Old Testament is written by Jews. This makes all the difference in the world. The New Testament focuses on Jesus, the Old Testament focuses on the one Christians call God the Father. The Old Testament focuses on the story of God’s people up to and beyond the time of the Babylonian exile in 595 BC. The New Testament simply focuses on events that happened in the first century AD.

In what time frame and language were the books of the New Testament written and by whom?

Dr. Witherington: The New Testament was written in Greek from start to finish. It may have in part been based on some Aramaic documents, for example the sayings of Jesus, but it was all written in Greek. It was written almost entirely by Jewish followers of Jesus, with the possible exception of Luke-Acts and 2 Peter.

Describe the culture and context of the world in which the biblical books were written at that time.

Dr. Witherington: The culture was: 1) Patriarchal in character, a male dominant culture. 2) The culture was an honor and shame culture: the highest ethical value was not life or truth, but honor. You’d rather die than be shamed, you’d rather lie than be shamed, if we’re talking about most ancient peoples. 3) The cultures were not democratic and they did not practice modern capitalism. They were barter societies in which money was used for taxes, tolls, and tribute paying. 4) The societies were reciprocity cultures: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. A free gift was looked on suspiciously, or even as an oxymoron. These were payback cultures. 5) Society was very hierarchical, very stratified, divided up between patrons and clients. It was who you knew that most allowed one to get ahead. 6) Education was limited mostly to men, with about a 15% or so literacy rate in the wider culture. 7) Geography, gender, and generation were thought to determine who you were. Where you came from, what sex you were, and who your father was were thought to fix your personality. You were born with it and stuck with it. It was manifested over time. The ancients didn’t much like or believe in change, including the notion of conversion.

When was the New Testament compiled and what was the process?

Dr. Witherington: The New Testament began to be compiled in the first century AD when a collection of Paul’s letters was made (see 2 Pet. 3); Paul’s letters being the earliest New Testament documents in all likelihood. In the early second century there seems to have been a collection and a binding together of the four canonical Gospels, which is the point in time when Luke’s Gospel was separated from his second volume—Acts—even though they were meant to be two volumes of one work. Still later in the second century there were other collections made of writings by the family of Jesus and original disciples (for example, James, Jude, 1 Peter, 1-3 John). Probably the last books to be added to the collection were Revelation and 2 Peter, with the canon being closed in the later part of the 4th century when 27 books exactly were agreed upon by the church in the east and the west.

Why are the books of the Bible ordered the way they are?

Dr. Witherington: If you mean final editing, its because of the story moving from creation to fall, to redemption, and finally in Revelation to new creation.

How is Hebrews 12:2 an example of the challenge Bible translators have?

Dr. Witherington: Hebrew 12:2, in no Greek manuscript, mentions a qualifier to the word ‘faith.’ It simply reads, “looking to Jesus the author/pioneer and finisher of faith.” The faith in question is the same as that described in Hebrews 11, and so it’s a reference to Jesus’s faith and faithfulness, not to ours. As such, the translation ‘author and finisher of our faith’ is missing the point that Jesus is the final exemplar in the hall of faith.

Why do the letters of the New Testament owe more to speech conventions than to letter-writing conventions and why is that important?

Dr. Witherington: It’s important because unlike our culture, these were oral cultures, and the New Testament documents were meant to be heard, not silently read. Not surprisingly then, they primarily reflect oral and rhetorical characteristics more than epistolary conventions. The letters in the New Testament are not like modern letters; they’re more like ancient sermons and speeches.

Why do you say we should call New Testament history theological history telling?

Dr. Witherington: Because the authors are all committed Christians and are proudly interpreting the history they present in light of the Christ event, or theologically. So for instance, they’re not content to say ‘Jesus died on a cross.’ Anyone could say that with little or no faith commitment. They wish to interpret and explain the theological significance of the facts and so they say ‘Jesus died on the cross for our sins.’

What Gospel was written first and when; and what do you mean that it has a theological order to it?

Dr. Witherington: Mark’s Gospel is probably the earliest one, and besides having a broadly chronological ordering, it has a theological ordering as well. So for instance, in the first half of Mark’s Gospel we have people asking all sorts of questions about Jesus and his words and deeds. The WHO question is not answered in this Gospel until in Mark 8 Peter says, “you are the Christ, the son of God.” Thereafter, in this Gospel, Jesus reveals four times in three straight chapters that the Son of Man must suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day rise. In other words, Mark is telling us, ‘until you know who Jesus is, you can’t understand why he had to die on a cross.’

How do you respond when people suggest that the Gospels don’t always agree in their depiction of Christ’s life?

Dr. Witherington: I’d say the Gospels should not be evaluated like modern historical works. They’re more like portraits of Jesus than photographs; beautifully interpretive portraits. Under inspiration, the Gospel writers had a certain freedom to arrange their material to best bring out the major points they wanted to make about Jesus; or put another way, they had the freedom to paint the portrait in ways that best expressed their particular purposes. I’d say the Gospels are like the famous paintings of Rouen cathedral by Monet. Each painting clearly has the same subject, but shaded in slightly different light. Similarly the Gospel writers come at Jesus from slightly different angles. Most of the differences in the Gospels reflect deliberate editing to highlight particular purposes.

What sort of person was Paul, who wrote so many of the New Testament letters?

Dr. Witherington: Paul was probably one of the two or three (along with Luke and the author of Hebrews) most well educated early Christian writers. He was also a very passionate man, committed to his tasks as an apostle, and not prepared to compromise what he saw as the essence of the true Gospel. His passion was for Christ, and for spreading the Good News about him; especially to Gentiles across the Roman Empire, but also to Jews as well.

Why do you call 2 Peter a mystery?

Dr. Witherington: 2 Peter is clearly enough a composite document. It has some Petrine material in chapter one, some material edited from Jude in chapter 2, and some Pauline discussion in chapter 3. We often forget that ancient scribes did not work with the same conventions as modern authors, and in this case 2 Peter owes something to three different famous early Christians.

What do you hope readers of Invitation to the New Testament will glean from it?

Dr. Witherington: My hope would be that the reader would fall in love with the reading of the New Testament and learn its depth and riches, and thereby fall in love with the central figure of the New Testament even more: Jesus.

Bio: Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the MDiv degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a PhD from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies.

Witherington has also taught at Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School, and Gordon-Conwell. A popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges, and biblical meetings not only in the United States but also in England, Estonia, Russia, Europe, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Australia. He has also led tours to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.

Witherington has written over 40 books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications, and is a frequent contributor to the Patheos website.

Along with many interviews on radio networks across the country, Witherington has been seen on the History Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, The Discovery Channel, A&E, and the PAX Network.

OnFaith: An Interview with Corrie Mitchell

Corrie Mitchell, editor-in-chief of OnFaithThe role spiritual faith plays in today’s world is complex and far-reaching. It touches every facet of life, bringing healing and peace at the same time causing division and misunderstanding. Becoming aware of different faiths and how they motivate adherents broadens our perspective and ability to pray intelligently.

[See Bible Gateway’s “Christian Magazines” and “Religion Reporters” Twitter Lists; see ALL our Twitter Lists]

Bible Gateway interviewed Corrie Mitchell (@corriemitchell), editor-in-chief of OnFaith (@onfaith).

Click to visit the OnFaith website

How did you come to OnFaith and what are your duties?

Corrie Mitchell: I started at OnFaith in January 2014 as an editorial intern. At the time, I was a graduate student at NYU’s journalism school finishing up my thesis on indigenous church planting in New York City. The editor at the time, Patton Dodd, allowed me to dive right in and start editing and writing pieces of my own. It was quite the opportunity for me to get hands on experience doing just what I had envisioned when I moved to New York—I was able to combine my passion for storytelling with my heart for my local church community. Then after I graduated, I started as the assistant editor, and at the beginning of 2015, transitioned into my current position as editor-in-chief.

My role now is essentially to run the daily production of OnFaith. Everything that’s published on our site has had my eyes—and often my fingerprints—on it. So, much of my days are spent editing pieces by our contributors and also reaching out to new potential writers. That’s probably the coolest thing about this gig. I get to work with such an array of writers—including those who share my faith and those who don’t; those I agree with and those I disagree with; those who challenge my perspective and those who express exactly what I’m thinking.

In all my editing, my goal is to make sure a writer’s thoughts are expressed in the clearest way possible—and in a format readers want to consume. So, yes, we publish a lot of listicles. But I strive for those to be as substantive and thoughtful as any essay we’d publish. It’s just formatted a bit differently to match how people engage with content online today.

I also write pretty regularly for OnFaith. It’s funny, at NYU I was in the literary reportage program, which trained me to research, report, and write longform narrative nonfiction, so the shorter, shareable style of writing for the Web was totally new to me when I started as an intern at OnFaith.

On top of that, we’re constantly thinking up new projects we can try out at OnFaith. For instance, we started OnFaith Voices as a platform for faith leaders to share their perspectives with a wider audience than they’re afforded on, say, Sunday morning. It’s been exciting to work with a handful of pastors who have important and innovative insights, but might not have a “huge” name or online presence, and provide space for hundreds and thousands of people to hear their voices.

Describe OnFaith, FaithStreet, and the connection between the two.

Corrie Mitchell: I would start by saying that there are three components that make up FaithStreet, one of which is OnFaith, a publication of FaithStreet. The other two aspects that make up FaithStreet are the online church directory and the online giving platform. Currently, FaithStreet has some 17,300 US churches in its directory, the purpose of which is to help people find and connect with local faith communities—for services, classes, events, and anything else a church does. We’ve started to find success with sharing OnFaith’s content with these leaders, and I think it’s really resonating.

FaithStreet started when our co-founders realized how difficult it was to find a church in New York. They wanted to make it easier for people who were new to a city (or a faith) to find a faith community near them. The giving component came later, in 2014, as a way for congregations to easily give online to their local church.

Our goal is to bring those three components together into an integrated experience: a place where users can read OnFaith, keep up with their local congregation, and give.

But we’re really one (fairly young) team, the FaithStreet and OnFaith crew. There are only eight of us right now, so we all work really closely together. I even convince some of the FaithStreet team (and their spouses) to write for OnFaith from time to time.

Did OnFaith begin as a section of The Washington Post?

Corrie Mitchell: It did, indeed. Sally Quinn started OnFaith as the religion blog of The Washington Post website nine years ago when she went to the Post’s owner and said something to the effect of, “We’re not covering religion, but so much of what is going on in the world is about religion. We need to cover this.” And he suggested she start a website—and so OnFaith was born. We’ll always be indebted to Sally for giving OnFaith life, and she remains a close adviser, investor, and member of the team today.

Since then, it’s gone through quite the transition. At the Post, OnFaith very much covered the religion news of the day. That started to change a bit when FaithStreet acquired OnFaith at the end of 2013, and our vision for the site has continued to evolve since then. As it stands, we mostly publish essays and opinion pieces from various faith leaders and other people interested in exploring the intersection of their faith and daily life. We’re more interested in meaning-making ideas than politics, authentic voices than celebrities, and conversations that last than squabbles that are trending.

In a few words, I’d describe what we publish now as thoughtful, millennial-focused, personal, and voice-driven pieces. We’re all about giving leaders a platform to be passionate about their faith.

How broad is the religion spectrum of articles at OnFaith and what topics are covered?

Corrie Mitchell: I would say there is no topic or faith that is off limits at OnFaith. While most of our articles are written from a Christian perspective—to include everyone from the most liberal to most conservative of Christians—we publish writers of all faiths and no faith.

As long as it’s something that appeals to our readership, it’s fair game. We have a really successful series that we started called “10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About…” That’s been a really cool way to explore a wide range of faiths and the theologies within those faiths. So far in that series, we’ve covered topics like yoga, Reformed theology, hell, Ramadan, Mormonism, Sikhism, the Bible, atheism, the Great Commission, prayer…the list goes on—and I hope will only continue to.

In the category of The Bible, what subtopics do OnFaith articles explore?

Corrie Mitchell: First I’d say that if I had to pick one topic that does the best at OnFaith, it’d be the Bible. More specifically, though, we’ve published pieces on everything from how prosperity preachers misuse the Bible to how it addresses homosexuality, trauma, and climate change to how you should read the Bible and which five verses sum up the entire New Testament story. The plan is to continue writing about the Bible as much as possible. The Word of God is something that all Christians are inherently interested in—and from what we’ve seen, people of other faiths (and even no faith) are also curious about it.

Who are your readers?

Corrie Mitchell: It’s somewhat tricky to identify who our readers are exactly, but I can say who our target audience is—us. It’s people like my coworkers at FaithStreet and myself: young, faithful believers who are heavily engaging with and thinking about their own faith and the faiths of those around them. Often, likely because we all live in the city, that also translates to an emphasis on urban believers, but our audience is certainly not limited to that.

When I’m trying to determine whether or not to publish a piece or how we want to address a certain topic, my first thought is, Do I find this interesting? followed by, Would my church community find this interesting? It makes my job a bit easier that I genuinely embody our target reader as a 25-year-old member of a local church who lives in New York City and has an ongoing curiosity about my own faith and that of my neighbors.

What do you hope readers of OnFaith will glean from it?

Corrie Mitchell: I want OnFaith to be that publication people of faith can go to in order to be spiritually fed in a way that spurns them on to deeper study and reflection and engagement. I hope that readers experience their faith in a new way, in a deeper way, because of the perspectives we publish. I hope they read authors they wouldn’t normally be drawn to—and they take from our writers what they deem worthwhile and leave behind what they don’t agree with, but only after careful consideration.

Why should church leaders regularly visit OnFaith?

Corrie Mitchell: Man, I just feel like every piece we publish at OnFaith is going to be useful to some church leader out there. A lot of our content comes from fellow faith leaders, so it’s a way for them to glean what their colleagues are thinking, how they’re preaching, what they’re struggling with, how they’re speaking to their congregations. So I think that part of it is a great tool of both challenge and encouragement. And I also think it’s important because a lot of our writers are the people sitting in their churches—or people who might one day be sitting in their churches. It gives leaders an insight into what their congregations are concerned about, struggling with, and seeking.

I even think the content that doesn’t exactly line up with a given church leader’s beliefs is particularly important for them to check out. I was at a meeting of church planters in New York City one day where Tim Keller was speaking about the very real need for pastors to read widely. He mentioned that when you read or listen to just one theologian, you become a clone, and it’s not until you read hundreds of writers that you will develop your own voice.

That really hit me. As an editor, I could only publish pieces I agree with and think would cause people to believe exactly as I do. Or I could publish a range of pieces that would educate readers and cause them to examine and consequently own their beliefs. The latter is what I hope OnFaith can do—and why I think it’s a particularly great resource for church leaders to consider.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?

Corrie Mitchell: Personally, I’ve been using Bible Gateway since I started reading the Bible and became a Christian. I will say, I’m still super attached to my physical Bible, but Bible Gateway is my go-to for easily searching the Bible for keywords, different translations, and anytime I think, “Wait, where did Jesus say that?” I probably use it everyday at work. And I’m not just saying that because of this interview. Really, Bible Gateway serves a great purpose in making the Bible searchable, available, accessible—and in an aesthetically pleasing way no less.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Corrie Mitchell: I’m sorry for being so long-winded. That’s the longform writer in me coming out. But in all honesty, thank you guys for the opportunity to explain away what I believe is my life’s calling—and why I’m so passionate about OnFaith as a big part of that.

Bio: Corrie Mitchell is editor-in-chief of OnFaith and a graduate of the literary reportage master’s program at New York University. She is a member of Restoration Community Church in the South Bronx.

Bible News Roundup – Week of June 21, 2015

Read this week’s Bible Gateway Weekly Brief newsletter
Bible Gateway Weekly Brief
Newsletter signup

Canadian Bible Society provides Scriptures for Pan Am / Parapan Am Games
United Bible Societies
Read the Bible on Bible Gateway

Chinese Believers Find Joy Through God’s Word
Mission Network News
Read the Bible in Chinese on Bible Gateway

Bible-Based All-Wood Ark Takes Shape in Kentucky Field
NBC News
Read the story of Noah from Genesis 6-9

Rare Copy of First Bible Printed in English to be Auctioned 15 July
The Guardian

Scripture Booklets Make It Easier to Share the Gospel
Mission Network News

A Remarkable Year for Bible Translation
Scottish Bible Society

See other Bible News Roundup weekly posts

Joseph: The Father of Jesus

Gerrit van Honthorst, Childhood of ChristFather’s Day is an annual occasion to help us take stock of what it means to be a father (or, in its broader context, a man in some kind of leadership role with another). We have several previous blogposts we encourage you to read:

What Makes a Good Dad?

Fathers & Faith: New Poll on Struggles with Dads and God

Laban and True Love: Parenting Lessons From a Bad Dad

Click to buy your copy of the NIV Men's Devotional Bible in the Bible Gateway StoreThis year we’re presenting to you the following “interview” with Joseph, the father of Jesus, taken from the NIV Men’s Devotional Bible (Zondervan, 2012).

[Sign up for the free NIV Men’s Devotional newsletter to receive an inspirational email just for men in your inbox once a week.]

[Click to browse gift ideas for dads in the Bible Gateway Store that are appropriate all year long.]

Read Joseph’s story: Matthew 1:16-2:23 and Luke 1:26-2:52.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20-21)

What was the most difficult part about being Jesus’ earthly father?

There were times when I felt very common and not at all up to the task. Occasionally the weight and seriousness of the responsibility would fall on me, and I felt completely inadequate. I was inadequate. Who is worthy to raise the Son of God? I asked God daily for strength and wisdom.

After Jesus was born and you had to flee to Egypt, were you afraid?

Initially, yes, I was very afraid. After the alarming vision, there was this urgency in me. I felt as though Herod’s guards were on their way, and if I didn’t move quickly, then … well, you know. But on our way to Egypt, I realized that God was directing the events here, not Herod or I. I said to myself, ‘Wait a second. God knows the future. If something bad were going to happen, he would help us.’ I thought about the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, and if ever things started closing in around us to that degree, I knew we could be confident of a miracle.

How was your faith changed by that whole string of events surrounding the birth of Jesus?

It wasn’t just my faith. This child upended my whole life. I was talking about this with Zechariah one time, about how we had our whole lives planned until God showed up. Everything about our lives changed. But what a joy!

You mentioned joy. Explain what you mean.

Most people, when they think of Jesus, think about his strong teachings or his miracles or maybe even his death. But when I think of him, my mind goes back to this time, right after he was born. He had just awakened, I was holding him and he was looking around. Very alert. And he looked up at me and with his little fingers grabbed my finger. They say babies that young don’t smile, but he smiled, as if to say, “I’m glad to be here.” You know, Mary witnessed his death, and Peter felt his forgiveness on the beach after the denial. Thomas touched the scars in his hands, and John even saw a vision of him coming back as King. But I held that baby before all that. And that’s something I’ll never forget.

Back to the Future

  • The course of Joseph’s life was entirely redirected by God, and yet he reacted with grace and obedience. How difficult would it be for you to make massive life changes like Joseph? Why?
  • God entrusted the care of his Son Jesus to a man without much in the way of monetary resources. What does this show about God’s view of wealth? Of parenting?
  • Joseph was a man of faith. What have you learned from Joseph’s life that has strengthened your own faith?

Biblica and Zondervan Announce Renewed Commercial License Agreement for NIrV Translation

Read the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) on Bible GatewayBiblica and Zondervan have come together to make the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) of the Bible available to all English-reading children and those who read at a lower level. For centuries, God’s Word has been translated and shared so that all who read it can understand it and experience the good news of the gospel. Biblica and Zondervan are united in the mission to bring the Word of God to people of all ages, including children.

[Browse the variety of NIrV Bibles in print format in the Bible Gateway Store.]

Biblica is pleased to announce its renewed license with Zondervan for the newly updated NIrV translation. The license grants Zondervan the exclusive commercial and non-exclusive non-commercial rights to publish the Anglicized edition of the NIrV, in addition to the Americanized edition. With this contract, Zondervan becomes the exclusive commercial publisher of the NIrV in both American and British editions for North America, the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

First published in 1995, the NIrV is an English Bible translation based on the widely used New International Version (NIV). More people read the NIV than any other modern language English Bible.

[See our blogpost: Zondervan to Release NIV Zondervan Study Bible]

The NIrV was developed for those who read at a lower lever and is very clear and easy to understand. The NIrV has been updated recently to ensure its simpler words and shorter sentences still reflect the accuracy and clarity of the NIV. Targeting a third-grade reading level, the NIrV is the ideal translation for the emerging reader.

“Zondervan upholds the mission to inspire young lives, awaken hearts, and touch souls with Bibles specially designed for children and those who are learning to read,” said Annette Bourland, Senior Vice President of Publishing. “Our partnership with Biblica on the NIrV translation helps us fulfill our mission by bringing the inspired Word of God to children in a way that they can read for themselves and understand.”

Scott Bolinder, Executive Vice President at Biblica, added, “Zondervan has been an effective publishing partner on behalf of the NIrV in North America for over 20 years. We are delighted to now extend their influence, including the Anglicized edition of the NIrV, to the UK, EU and EFTA territories.”

The licensing partnership between Zondervan and Biblica will offer new benefits to retailers throughout Europe and the UK. This agreement helps Zondervan fill a publishing gap in the international market by making Anglicized NIrV product available to retailers, to meet the demand of their consumers. In addition, Zondervan will work closely with Biblica to offer low-cost NIrV ministry products, perfect for evangelistic use. Zondervan also publishes NIrV Bibles for ESL (English as a Second Language) readers and anyone who reads at a lower level.

Zondervan features the NIrV translation in many Bibles for children, including trusted brands like the Adventure Bible and The Beginner’s Bible, known for making the Word of God accessible to children for a quarter of a century. Together, Zondervan and Biblica hope to make Bible reading and deeply understanding God’s message an active part of the spiritual life of children. For more information visit Biblica at www.biblica.com. For more information on Zondervan NIrV products, visit www.zondervan.com.

About Biblica: Biblica provides God’s Word in multiple languages so people can enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and grow in him. We work in Africa, East Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East/North Africa, North America, and South Asia. We translate and publish the Bible in the top 100 major spoken languages in the world and are the translation sponsor and worldwide publisher of the New International Version® (NIV®) Bible, the most widely used contemporary English translation in the world and the New International Reader’s Version® (NIrV®).

About Zondervan: Zondervan is a world-leading Bible publisher and provider of Christian communications. Zondervan, as part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., delivers transformational Christian experiences through its bestselling Bibles, books, curriculum, academic resources and digital products. The Company’s products are sold worldwide and translated into nearly 200 languages. Zondervan offices are located in Grand Rapids, MI. For additional information, please visit www.zondervan.com.

How Can We Know If Someone is Giving False Teaching?

howtounderstandthebible

This is part of Mel Lawrenz’ “How to Understand the Bible” series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.


WolfSheepsClothing

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt.7:15-16).

When I was young in the faith, I had a deep hunger to find the truth of God because I had tasted it, it was deeply satisfying, and I sensed that my soul was just waiting to be revived from some kind of hibernation. So I sought out different Christian teachers and preachers, read some best-selling books, and sampled Christian radio teaching. But I was unsettled by the feeling I sometimes had that the Bible teaching I was hearing seemed only loosely linked with the biblical text, and it was peculiar, out of sync, and did not have the “ring of truth” I experienced when reading Scripture itself.

Some years later, I came to the conclusion that the “smell test” needs to be taken seriously. If we are exposed to teaching that just doesn’t “smell” right, then we ought to proceed carefully. Maybe the teaching is sound and we just need to get in sync with it, or it may be that our “noses” are all right and we’re hearing that most dangerous thing—false teaching.

The Bible itself speaks of “false teaching.” There is a difference between truth and falsehood, and when it comes to Bible interpretation, there is a lot of teaching that is garbage—and it smells that way.

So how can we know if someone is giving false teaching from the Bible?

First, we need to watch out for opportunists. Teachers who gain illicitly from their teaching need to be avoided. It is amazing, really, how many masses of people will follow someone who is manipulative, grossly greedy, and dishonest. They promise prosperity if others make them prosperous, and they laugh all the way to the bank. The short epistle of Jude offers a stark analysis of this kind of false teaching:

These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. … These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage. (Jude 12-13, 16)

This is a stunning description of the destructive effects of “shepherds who feed only themselves.” The passage indicates that we must watch out for the selfishness, fruitlessness, chaos, and arrogance of certain people. They gain influence via their sheer conceit. Ironically, we give them credence on the basis of their pride, the character flaw that most disqualifies them. When we realize we have been sucked in by this kind of false teacher, we need to do some soul-searching to figure out why.

Another kind of false teaching is ill-founded speculation. Some people make a career out of spouting details of topics like spiritual life or prophesy or cosmology, which go way beyond what Scripture actually teaches. There are no controls on such speculation. Sometimes the motive is manipulation—esoteric knowledge can be a power tactic. The last sentence of 1 Timothy is this plea:

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. (1 Tim. 6:20-21 ESV)

Second Timothy contains a similar warning:

Charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Tim. 2:14-17 ESV)

A third kind of false teaching is legalism. Jesus confronted this distortion of the truth of God when he exposed the corrupt side of sectarianism: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). First Timothy 4:3 warns about teachers who “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.”

These and other forms of false teaching all have causes, and sometimes we will avoid spiritual collisions if we see them ahead of time. False teaching can come from naiveté, arrogance, or selfish gain. The problem we face today is that it isn’t hard to grab a microphone, create a webpage, or even self-publish a book. We must make careful choices about whom we listen to, and have the strength to turn away when a suspicious teacher is tickling our ears and offering false comfort.


Get the whole book version of How to Understand the Bible here. Not yet signed up to receive “How to Understand the Bible” via email? You can follow along here at the blog, but we recommend signing up for email updates here. “How to Understand the Bible” is available as a print book at WordWay.org.

Mel Lawrenz is Director of The Brook Network and creator of The Influence Project. He’s the author of thirteen books, most recently Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership.