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It takes more than good intentions to do urban ministry—it requires spiritual armor.

Dear Sam,

Thanks for going to dinner after church Sunday night. I’m proud of you and your friends for moving into Mechanicsville and giving your lives to the people of that beautiful but broken neighborhood.

Throughout our dinner, however, I felt a vague uneasiness. You work for a great organization. You have a solid support network. You just completed a bachelor’s degree preparing you to work with at-risk youth. By all accounts, you are a woman of prayer and zeal and integrity. So what troubled me about our dinner conversation? I think it is this. I don’t believe the church has prepared you for something that inevitably comes with urban ministry: intense spiritual warfare.

Paul reminded first-century urban Christians, “We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Eph. 6:12). Bible scholars debate the meaning of Paul’s stark warning. At the very least he means this: There are dark spiritual powers in the world opposing God’s work. These dark powers seem especially active in troubled urban neighborhoods.

Paul offers seven ways to engage the powers in his letter to Christians living in the great ancient city of Ephesus:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, ...

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Peter Enns makes the case that Scripture doesn't tell us everything. So does it tell us anything?

"The Bible isn’t a cookbook,” explains theologian Peter Enns in his latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. “When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey.”

Your response to those two sentences will probably determine your overall response to the book. If you’re sick of seeing the Bible as a legal, formulaic, contractual book of rules and recipes—if you prefer the idea of a complex, challenging story full of puzzles, paradoxes, and plot development—then you will probably love it. If you already know that the Bible isn’t a cookbook, wonder whether anyone really thinks it is, feel like you’ve heard dozens of writers making this point before, and roll your eyes involuntarily at phrases like “ancient spiritual journey,” then you probably won’t.

Personally, I find myself somewhat torn. I really like reading Peter Enns. He is creative, scholarly, witty, and at times hilarious. His writing is easy to understand, and he lays out his case clearly. And despite his troubled personal history with conservative evangelicalism, he critiques it without rancor. More important, although the overall message of the book—that the Bible isn’t a rulebook—is a somewhat overdone attack on a straw-man, his seven chapters each make important points evangelicals have often missed.

Those points, in brief: The Bible is, and functions like, an ancient book (chapter 1). God lets his children tell the story, and what they mean isn’t always what we assume it means (chapter 2). The Old Testament narrates different stories in different ways, with specific circumstances ...

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Joshua Dubois, president Obama's former spiritual advisor, recommends readings for those in positions of authority.

As former head of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois was hailed by Time as “pastor-in-chief,” sending President Obama an e-mail every morning with a snippet of Scripture. CT asked DuBois—who recently compiled The President’s Devotional (HarperOne) and who now heads the Values Partnerships consulting firm—to choose the five books every political leader should read.

Bearing the Cross, by David J. Garrow

This biography of Martin Luther King Jr. is a must-read for anyone seeking to build, join, or marshal the forces of a movement. It shows King at his soaring heights and tragic depths, and reminds us that heroes are also flawed human beings. Garrow beautifully recounts King’s dialogue with God—stretching from quasi-agnosticism to genuine relationship with Christ. Bearing the Cross reads like a novel in its retelling of some of the most important decades in American history, and leaders should be able to apply its lessons over and over.

Tally’s Corner, by Elliot Liebow

We often see the poor as “other”—people who deserve help but are not really like us. Tally’s Corner, Liebow’s classic sociological study of men on a particular corner in Washington, D.C., brings us face to face with the working poor. Liebow provides a window into their world, showing that their values are well developed, albeit lived out in situations very different from our own. A great book for anyone interested in serving the poor.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

More than any other book, O’Brien’s short stories—told from the rivers and deltas of Vietnam—ground readers in the sacrifices ...

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