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Sunday, May 12, 2019

‘The Elusive Presence’ with Mark Galli

‘The Elusive Presence’

I’ll be starting a new online column for CT on Wednesday, May 15. I’m borrowing the title (above) from a book I read some years ago: The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology by Samuel Terrien. To be frank, I can’t remember much from the book, but the title has stuck with me as an apt description of how God intersects with our lives. The theme of the column is summed up in many of the psalms, like 63, which begins:
O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
Your unfailing love is better than life itself …
This will be my take on the fundamental “crisis” in American Christianity, and evangelical faith in particular, and what I see in Scripture as the way forward.
Transcending Race
This week’s long read is an interview with Thomas Chatterton Williams, author of the new book Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race (due out on October 15). Williams is the son of a black father and white mother, husband to a white wife, and father of a daughter who looks, as he puts it, “very Scandinavian.” This last surprise prodded him to rethink his ideas about race, and he started exploring that theme in the book:
It ended as an argument against race, just all the way, saying that we’re not going to transcend racism so long as we believe that you are a different race than I am, which necessarily imposes and implies hierarchies. So, I don’t think you can transcend racism without transcending racial categorization, and the book became a kind of memoir making an argument.
The argument is nuanced, of course, and the title of the interview seems misleading (“The Singular Power of Writing”), because the most refreshing and provocative insights are about race.
Now in the Company of Heaven
It’s been one of those weeks: Three people who have shaped contemporary Christianity have passed. First was Warren Wiersbe, who has been most well-known to older evangelicals and who was a superb preacher and biblical expositor with an irenic spirit. Next, we heard of the untimely death of Rachel Held Evans, who died at age 37 of complications from an infection. Evans was a controversial blogger and writer, known for her strong criticism of and eventual departure from evangelical faith. That being said, even conservative evangelicals like Ed Stetzer wrote moving tributes about her.
Finally, and probably the person who will make the most lasting imprint on Christian life and thought, is Catholic philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities, which “provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers” (USA website). It’s probably not right to bet on sainthood, but I nonetheless wager that he’ll be nominated for such in the next few years.
‘Things Clicking into Place’
Then there are those who are beginning their walk with God, like New York Times columnist David Brooks. In his latest book, he recounts his spiritual journey:
“We were implanted somehow with these very high and lofty desires,” Brooks said, “and across human history, those desires have almost always included the desire to meet God.” That, in a sense, is a form of grace. “The world is just much more enchanted than it needs to be,” he told me. “We’ve been given these gifts.”
Grace and peace,

Mark GalliMark Galli
Mark Galli
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

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