reimagine-christianity (3)

7 Reflections on the State of the Evangelical Church

on Discipleship.org
 

I am writing to you to share some pastoral reflections on the broader evangelical world. These observations were highlighted during Discipleship.org’s participation at the recent Exponential Church Planting conference in Florida last week. My reflections also come from my home church and the numerous church leaders I have been training and coaching recently.

Here are my reflections.

  1. Evangelical Beliefs are Fracturing in North America.

For almost 200 years, there was a basic Protestant consensus in America when it came to some basic worldview questions. That consensus was shared by Southern Baptists, Churches of Christ, Assemblies of God, and the other churches. That consensus focused on six key items:

  • The reliability and authority of Scripture
  • The necessity of salvation through Jesus Christ
  • The vital importance of evangelism of all people
  • The vital role of the local church for Christian life
  • The morality of the Bible, especially in sexuality and the 10 Commandments
  • Serving others and helping those in need

That consensus is breaking down.

The first item is the most influential. A high view of Scripture leads us to embrace the other elements of evangelical Christianity: the necessity of salvation in Jesus Christ, an emphasis on evangelism, the vital role of the local church, etc.

Yet the reliability and authority of Scripture is being undermined in more and more churches by progressive Christianity.

This movement used to live primarily within mainline, liberal denominations. But it is now gaining a foothold in the evangelical church. Here is a concise definition of the heart of progressive Christianity: the willingness to compromise or reinterpret Scripture to fit in with the progressive ideals of our culture.

Progressives think they are building an on-ramp to Christianity for people immersed in the culture, but, in reality, they are building an exit-ramp for Christians to embrace the views of the culture.

The alternative to Progressive Christianity is biblical discipleship and is characterized by the willingness to uphold the Lordship/Kingship of Jesus as taught in Scripture – regardless of cultural pressures. This rootedness in Scripture’s authority shows why biblical discipleship involves standing against the impulse to force Scripture to fit cultural ideals.

One’s view of the reliability and authority of Scripture is key in navigating this cultural moment. Whereas progressive Christianity is more of a theological movement, there are political movements, both rightist and leftist, which would co-opt and conscript our historic faith to serve as lapdogs to give religious legitimacy to their platforms. Whether the temptation is coming from those on the right and on those on the left, the kingship of Jesus through Scripture is our higher authority and demands our ultimate allegiance.

More can be said about this point, but the key for us is that we are called by Jesus to uphold the primacy and reliability of Scripture.

Much is being lost from the historic Christian consensus in churches today because of the combination of strong progressive cultural pressure and a low view of Scripture.

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The Gospel Coalition and RENEW.org have resources that show a better way on a daily basis. I recommend looking to those two sites for regular guidance.  Additionally, here are four key resources (there are so many) to help you respond to progressive Christianity:

Two Key Books

Two Key Podcasts

  1. Evangelical Christians Do Not Know Scripture Like They Did in the Past.

A big part of the reason why the progressives are winning over more and more evangelical Christians to their beliefs and worldview is that fewer and fewer evangelical Christians are regularly reading their Bibles and actually know the teachings of Scripture. For the last several decades, the typical evangelical church has dropped much of its programming that focused on Scripture (such as Sunday school and Wednesday night services) and they are relying just on Sunday morning sermons to get their people into the Bible. And the sermons are often dependent upon inspiration, personal stories, and practical applications—without a steady diet of biblical teaching.

The sermons inspire people, but too often they do not teach people how to read and understand God’s Word. The net result is that people are spending less and less time in the Bible.

At the same time, individuals and families tend to be reading less and less Scripture at home.

Into this environment, the dominant voices of social media, the university, and entertainment are speaking progressive values. They are discipling the minds of more and more people into ideals built on other worldviews (such as the ideology of intersectional feminism, which you can see played out in many Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity trainings).

Although many of our Western ideals (e.g., the equal value of all people; all ethnicities being of the same family) arise from Christian influence, many newer secular and intersectional ideals do not fit in with the teaching of the Word of God, and many actually work to inflame tensions and divide people into tribalistic camps.

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The church must point to a better way. We must provide a genuine countercultural alternative to what is happening in the world. We recommend a strategy to disciple everyone in Scripture and what it teaches. Here are six specific recommendations that come from my experiences as the lead pastor of my local church.

  • Make sermons primarily expository, teaching through books of the Bible.
  • Make Scripture the primary curriculum for small groups (not just books about Scripture). Get everyone to regularly apply Scripture to life.
  • Develop supplemental discipleship groups (small, I’d recommend 3-5 people only) where Scripture engagement and memorization become the norm.
  • Develop Scripture reading plans that encourage individuals and families to be in the Word daily (e.g., reading through the entire New Testament in 2022).
  • Provide in-depth Bible study classes that require extra reading and Scripture memorization for those who are willing and able to join.
  • Provide special 1.5 to 2-hour in-depth seminars grounded in Scripture at least six times a year.

We want to encourage everyone to personally learn the teachings of Jesus—and put them into practice.

  1. There is a Crisis in Family Discipleship.

It was about a year ago that I first met a senior pastor from a huge church in Austin, Texas. This leader and his church with 6,500 in pre-COVID attendance have a great reputation for adhering to Scripture, leading wisely, and planting churches. The senior pastor told me how, based on the cultural realities revealed during COVID, they pivoted to a focus on family discipleship. They made this the central question they would wrestle with: How could they disciple families to disciple their children so that the children could arrive into adulthood being faithful to Jesus in a culture that would persecute them because of their faithfulness to Jesus?

I met up that same senior pastor at Exponential last week, and he and his team have not lost their resolve or focus. He pointed out several books and trends that describe the strong and ungodly influences gaining ascendancy in our culture. I may not have his words exactly verbatim, but he told me something I found chilling: “Once a child is over 11 years of age and they have been in the public school system, it is becoming harder and harder to disciple that child to uphold the counter-cultural teachings of Jesus.” “We are struggling to effectively help those families,” he continued. “We think it is probably best to focus our energies on the families whose children are at a younger age.”

Wow.

As soon as he said those words, my mind raced to the comments of a thirteen-year-old girl who has been attending our church recently. In a sermon, I mentioned that we have to resist cultural pressure from both the right and from the left. In describing the pressure from the left, I had simply mentioned the pressure from transgender ideology and from those who advocate a LGBTQ agenda in general. The young lady came up to me after the sermon and told me that I was homophobic for what I’d said. Her parents explained to me later that she had learned that at school. Another pastor told me last week of a father he is discipling. The father can no longer have civil conversations with his twelve-year-old son because his son so strongly disagrees with his father on LGBTQ issues.

The Barna Group makes this point: “In some ways, the church is not preparing young disciples for the world as it is. Cultural discernment is about teaching them not just what to think but also how to live. We must prepare them for the world as it truly is, not as we wish it to be.”

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 Our churches must be laser-focused on helping parents with family discipleship. Here are three key resources:

  1. Many Pastors/Leaders are Confused About the Best Direction.

As you can easily guess from what I have written, it is a difficult time to be a pastor/leader in a church. Old models and systems seem no longer sufficient for the times in which we live.

Many pastors were mistreated during the two years that COVID dominated our country. They were beat up by those on the right who did not think they were focused enough defending conservative political values and causes. They were beat up by those on the left who thought they did not do enough to support government vaccine and mask mandates and that they did speak out enough on racial issues.

They are now weary with the realization that some 20% of those who attended church pre-COVID are not returning, unless there is revival in the nation. They are fearful the percentage in their church might be even higher. They are not sure how to navigate the current cultural landmines.

We do not yet have established road maps for how to deal with the current challenges created by ever-present social media, anxiety, outrage, and tech monopolies.

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In addition to serious thinking on methods for navigating this brave new world, we strongly advocate that we must also return to our essential roots and focus on the basics.

  • We have to go back to Jesus,
  • We have to go back to Scripture (as our core curriculum),
  • We have to go back to the gospel, and
  • We have to go back to Jesus-style disciple making. 
  1. Many Pastors are Shifting Their Focus to Disciple Making.

COVID has devastated many churches and shown weakness in all our churches. In many churches, attendance is just getting back to 60% of what it was, with some having an attendance of just 50%. Many Christians have gotten out of the habit of going to church altogether.

Finally, some good news: Almost all church leaders that I talk to are now speaking of the crucial need to focus on disciple making. We’re seeing so much negative fruit of non-biblical thinking and beliefs in many who claim to be Christians—because Sunday mornings are simply not enough. Most realize that if people are not in discipling relationships outside Sunday morning, too many will be lost to the culture.

  1. Focusing on Disciple Making is Easier Said Than Done.

It was over 12 years ago that we first sought to re-focus my home church on disciple making. We switched our focus from Sunday mornings and attractional programming to a focus on discipling relationships. We then also developed what we call “T-Groups” (transformation groups of 3-5 people). We now have around 80% of our members in small groups and T-Groups.

We have not arrived, but we have made good progress.

All of our elders and leaders are on the same page with this focus. And that is a big deal. But we are an anomaly among churches. Most churches talk about discipleship and disciple making, but they don’t have a plan and they are floundering.

Again, we must keep doubling down on our focus and keep working on it with God’s help. But we can thank God for the progress we have made. My hope and prayer is that there will be countless churches to progress beyond my church and others that I know who are focused on creating a disciple making culture. Every day I am learning of churches who are surpassing us in various ways. Let me say it as clearly as I can: a focus on Jesus-style disciple making is the most biblical and important focus your church can possess as it faces the winds of our culture. May God bless you in your efforts.

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At Discipleship.org we have multiple partners who can help you to shift your church to a disciple making focus. Check them out at https://discipleship.org/partners/. 

  1. We Must Double-Down on Becoming People Who Fast and Pray for the Holy Spirit’s Power.

I am convinced that we have great power amid the challenges that we face. In the words of Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We come from a long line of disciples of Jesus going back through twenty centuries who have faced greater challenges than what we face. They endured.

They were strong because they relied on God.

They found power through personal reliance on the Holy Spirit through prayer and fasting. There has never been a better time to become experienced in the spiritual practices of prayer and fasting. Jesus made us a promise in Luke 11: 9-10: “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

It’s time to reclaim this focus.

There is no time that is better.

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GUEST POST~ How Your Worldview Affects How You Make Disciples

Worldview Discipleship

By Freddy Davis

In years past, in America, Christians could easily get away with a superficial understanding of their faith because it was pretty rare that anyone would challenge their beliefs. That was a time when most people actually went to church, at least on Easter and Christmas, when schools would not schedule sporting events on Wednesday evenings because that was prayer meeting night, when school children prayed The Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the school day, and when being a member of a church was a good look for one’s business. In those days, it was pretty much assumed that people believed in God, and if someone came out as an Atheist, it was considered socially scandalous.

 

Of course, even in those days, not everyone was a Christian – even those who self-identified that way. A lot of people who did go to church only did it for show, or because that was their tradition. While they might not have had other scheduled events on Wednesdays, they, themselves, never went to prayer meeting. While the children may have repeated The Lord’s Prayer at school, many, if not most, didn’t really pray it sincerely – it was just a tradition repeated by rote. And many of the business people who were active in church really did view it as a means for making a good impression on people, and networking to promote their business. Yeah, those might have seemed like the “good ol days” for the church on a superficial level, but in some ways the church was a mile wide and an inch deep.

 

So how is it different today? Well, it’s different in a very profound way. In modern society, the script has, in many places, been completely flipped. Now, many people consider it scandalous to be associated with a church, church activities are not considered at all when schools schedule sporting, and other, events, it is against the law to have a school sanctioned prayer, and church is not considered to be a reputation enhancer for business. And, on top of that, it is not unusual at all for people to openly challenge the beliefs of Christians.

 

While in the past, a superficial understanding of one’s Christian faith may have been sufficient in order to successfully navigate local society, in many places that is just not the case anymore. In fact, for people who actually do want to live out their Christian faith, it is not even enough to simply know what we believe – even at a deeper level. If we want to be able to stand upright in the radical anti-Christian society that currently exists, we not only need to know what we believe, but why what we believe is the truth. But even that is not enough in many cases. We even need to know why the beliefs of those coming against us is NOT the truth.

 

So how do we do that? We do it by understanding worldview concepts, and by using those concepts to understand our own faith and the faith of those who oppose us.

 

What is Worldview?

So just what is a worldview? The quick formal definition is that a worldview is the assumptions people make about the nature of reality. That is, it is a set of beliefs that define for an individual what they consider to be real vs. what they consider to be fantasy. Now that is an easy definition to quote, but the depth and significance of the definition needs to be pondered a bit for it to truly hit home in our lives.

 

Interestingly, most people’s worldview beliefs are assumed to the degree that they are totally unconscious. After all, if a person considers certain particular beliefs to be fantasy, it is not even worth the time to give deep thought to them at all. People consider their own worldview beliefs to be true – just because they are true.

 

For example, as a Christian, you believe in God. The idea that someone would say they don’t believe in God seems rather senseless – a fantasy. It seems that way because your experience, at the most foundational level, has brought you to the place where you believe. You have met Christ and interact personally with God in your spiritual life. Many Christians reason that, “Yeah, they say they don’t believe in God, but just wait until a serious crisis hits ....”

 

But here’s the kicker, those Atheists have the same sense of assurance that God does not exist that you have that he does. They look at your belief in God as a fantasy. Very few have ever considered why they believe that way. It is just that, to them, the idea of God simply doesn’t make sense.

 

So a worldview is a set of assumptions that people hold, generally at an unconscious level, that helps them organize their thoughts about what is real and what is fantasy.

 

How Do We Recognize a Worldview?

The next question relates to where a person’s worldview comes from. And there are actually three different possibilities.

 

•Circumstances

The first possibility relates to the environment a person was raised in. Every person has been raised by people who, themselves, held some set of worldview beliefs. Those beliefs were simply assumed to be true, and they taught them to their children by word and by deed without even realizing they were doing so. A social environment just is what it is, and those raised in it just pick it up. It’s never questioned because children don’t know enough to question them.

 

•Conversion

The second place a worldview can come from is by conversion. At some point in life, most people will come face-to-face with an opposing worldview. In many cases, the beliefs they were raised in are strong enough that the conflicting worldview beliefs are merely seen as fantasy – nonsensical.

 

But some people encountering those new beliefs are challenged by them – they somehow make sense. When that happens, it shakes them to the core, because if those new beliefs are true, that means their previous understanding of reality is a lie.

 

This is what happens when a person comes face-to-face with the realization that God is a real person that they can know in an objectively real personal relationship, and they invite Christ into their life. It is a conversion experience. It also sometimes happens the other way around. When a person who was raised in a Christian home is taught the Theory of Evolution in school, for instance, and it somehow ends up making makes more sense to them than the belief that God created life, they will convert to Atheism. The shock of the new belief is such that they change their understanding of reality and convert to believing a different narrative.

 

•Choice

The third place a worldview belief can come from is choice. Since most people’s worldview beliefs are completely unconscious, there is not a conscious choice to be made. But if a person comes to a place where they actually study worldview concepts and learn the various possibilities, it is then possible to analyze those possibilities and choose the one that seems to best match up with what they experience as reality. This is probably the least common way people come to their worldview beliefs because so few people actually ever study worldview concepts.

 

What Are the Implications of Thinking in Worldview Terms?

It is important to understand that grasping worldview concepts is not simply an academic exercise. There are very real and practical implications in these concepts that relate to real life. These implications not only affect our understanding, but also the way we think about our own, and other people’s, beliefs, and the way we interact with other people. There are five primary areas where the practical implications of worldview knowledge come into play.

 

1. It Defines the Essential Elements of the Christian Faith

We are all aware that there is a lot of variety within the Christian faith. Sadly, this variety accounts for much of the division we see within the Christian community. The variety, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes a problem when people who hold certain theological views are not willing to accept those who hold differing views.

 

At this point there is a certain distinction that needs to be made. Not all beliefs within the Christian faith are equal. There are certain beliefs that are essential and others that are not essential.

 

The essential ones actually define the outer boundaries of the faith itself. Those who hold to beliefs that are outside of the essentials are actually outside of the Christian faith. Those essential beliefs relate to what the Bible teaches about God, man, and salvation. We get at these beliefs by answering three questions:

1. Who is God?

2. What is man?

3. What is salvation and how do we achieve it?

 

The non-essential beliefs relate to other doctrines such as what one believes about baptism, predestination, eschatology (last things), and the like. Note, it is not that these other doctrines are not important. They actually are. But they are not important to the extent that they affect whether or not one is legitimately a Christian. A person can even have absolutely wrong beliefs about these non-essential things and still be within the family of believers.

 

Having a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches about God, man, and salvation provides Christians with the absolute essential core elements of the faith. This is the starting point for being able to use worldview knowledge in ways that strengthen our Christian faith.

 

2. It Defines the Essential Elements of Other Faith Systems

The essential beliefs that were referred to in the previous section also have an important part to play in our understanding of other, non-Christian, belief systems. In fact, every belief system in existence has some way that it answers the three essential questions about God, man, and salvation. The answer to these three questions based on the beliefs of any given belief system, defines it’s essential core beliefs. Having that information allows us to understand other beliefs, and gives us a tool to analyze them for truth.

 

3. It Defines the Core of the Gospel Message

There is a third value for understanding a worldview paradigm when it comes to expressing our Christian faith out in the world. As it turns out, not only does knowing the biblical answers to the three essential worldview questions help us understand the core essentials of our Christian faith, it also provides us with the information we need to share our faith. In fact, the biblical answers to the three questions comprise the Christian plan of salvation. We are sharing the gospel message when we share with a non-believer how the Bible answers those three questions.

 

4. It Can Be Used as a Means of Bible Study

Another value of understanding the worldview paradigm is that it helps us focus in on the essential elements of biblical faith as we read the Bible. There are a lot of topics that are addressed in the Bible, and it is possible to discern various doctrines from the biblical text as we read it. Proper biblical interpretation would have us search the entire Bible to see what it says on particular topics, and that gives us the whole counsel of Scripture on those topics. More importantly, as we study the Bible, if we read with a view to how particular passages and verses answer the three essential questions, we have a way of studying the Bible that keeps us focused on the essential core of the Bible’s message.

 

5. It Can Be Used in Incursion Apologetics to Break down Non-biblical Beliefs

One other value in understanding the worldview paradigm is that it gives Christians the tools to stand strong against those who try to attack the Christian faith. These days, many people, particularly those who hold a naturalistic worldview, are not content to merely believe something different, they want to destroy Christians to the greatest degree possible. To do that, they use all kinds of arguments and tactics – from questioning the validity of the Bible’s message, to condemning the beliefs and values of Christianity, to asserting that the Bible has been accurately preserved through the centuries, and others.

 

When people become antagonistic like that, it is generally not sufficient to merely answer their taunts. Rather, one must actually question the validity of the attack itself. The use of a worldview paradigm to understand the beliefs and weaknesses of an attacker is extremely valuable in pulling off that kind of response. When we know what other people believe and why what they believe is not true, we are in a position to make them justify their attack before being required to answer them. This approach also puts us in a position to express the truth of the gospel message and share a Christian witness to them.

 

What Does a Church Need to Do to Prepare its People?

In these days, false beliefs are ubiquitous – that is, there are scores of different false beliefs that are prominent in the public square. So how can a church help its people deal with this issue – not only for helping them discern between true and false beliefs, but also help them become able to share an effective Christian witness in this complicated societal soup?

 

The key is to do what the Bible teaches in Ephesians 4:11-13 – to equip the saints for the work of ministry. We should not abandon the ministry that is already being done, but at the same time an increased emphasis must be placed on Christian discipleship efforts. And a special emphasis needs to be placed on biblical worldview training.

 

Make no mistake about it, this is much easier said than done. People get settled into their regular routines in all areas of life – including church life. But unless this new emphasis is intentionally implemented, Christians will continue falling further and further behind. We need to be equipped!

 

 

MarketFaith Ministries exists to equip Christians to become more knowledgeable of and confident in their Christian faith by providing worldview training. We have resources to help individuals as well as the ability to train congregations to stand strong for Christ in our rapidly declining society. Contact us today at 850-383-9756 or info@marketfaith.org and let’s discuss how to bring this cutting edge training to you. Also, be sure and check out the free worldview training resources as well as those available for purchase on the MarketFaith Ministries website at www.marketfaith.org.

 

Reprinted from Worldview Made Practical; a free e-zine produced by MarketFaith Ministries featuring practical teaching and life tools to help Christians become more effective in their faith life. Discover MarketFaith Ministries at www.marketfaith.org. 

***Related article: The Danger of A Homogeneous Blindspot by Phil Miglioratti

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Guest Post ~ We Are Not Inerrant

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Physicist Richard Feynman

In Leo Tolstoy’s novel The Death of Ivan Ilych, the protagonist, Ivan Ilych, is a smart, competent attorney dying from an unknown cause. Tolstoy describes a scene in which Ivan has a sobering realization while gazing at his sleeping daughter, Gerasim.

“Ivan Ilych’s physical sufferings were terrible, but worse than the physical sufferings were his mental sufferings which were his chief torture.

“His mental sufferings were due to the fact that at night, as he looked at Gerasim’s sleepy, good-natured face with its prominent cheek-bones, the question suddenly occurred to him: ‘What if my whole life has been wrong?’

“It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible before, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true.”

What a probing and hopefully troubling question.

We are all wrong. Both as individuals and collectively, we are wrong about many things.

As a species (homo sapiens), we are undoubtedly and currently doing things that are terribly wrong. Just look at some of the failings of the recent past.

    • Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human chattel, primarily of Africans and African-Americans, that existed from our country’s founding in 1776 until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 (only 250 years ago).
    • After 3,000 years of being considered a wise medical procedure, bloodletting has only recently—in the late 19th century—been discredited as a treatment for most ailments. America’s first president, George Washington, allegedly had 80 ounces of blood drained from his body in a last-ditch effort to save his life.

In the near and distant future, and for the rest of human history, humans will look with aghast at things we now consider normal and acceptable. What we accept as best-practices in the 21st century will be considered uninformed, unnecessary, even harmful, and wrong. (I’ll make a prediction: in the near future we will wonder why, in this modern era, health care was not readily available to every person on the planet.)

On a personal level, you and I are wrong about many things. There are specific areas of our lives that are wrong and need to change. 

      • What if you have lived a self-centered life?
      • What if you have neglected your family?
      • What if you have not lived authentically?
      • What if you have pursued the wrong career?
      • What if you are racist?

When was the last time you admitted being wrong and revised your opinion accordingly? Know this: there are areas of your life in which you are wrong. If you think you’re an exception to this statement, your pushback betrays your naiveté, lack of self-awareness, and error.

The good news is, we can change. Thoreau said, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life through conscious endeavor.”

Take an audit of your life; particularly consider areas in which you have a fixed mindset – areas that have been unassailable, uneditable, and beyond reproach. Also investigate areas that are part of your cultural heritage – ideologies that you inherited from your family and society. (Remember, you were not born with any opinions or beliefs; they’re not part of your DNA, you choose to endorse them.) Consider your blind spots; everyone has at least one. (You’ll need help you on this issue because you are…blinded…to your your blind spot.)

If taken seriously, this exploration could be one of the most significant and revealing events of your life.

We often think that if we admit we are wrong, people will think less of us. I think just the opposite; people will admire us. I’ll close with this story from Adam Grant’s book, Think Again (page 73).

“In the early 1990s, the British physicist Andrew Lyne published a major discovery in the world’s most prestigious science journal. He presented the first evidence that a planet could orbit a neutron star – a star that had exploded into a supernova. Several months later, while preparing to give a presentation at an astronomy conference, he noticed that he hadn’t adjusted for the fact that the Earth moves in an elliptical orbit, not a circular one. He was embarrassingly, horribly wrong. The planet he had discovered didn’t exist.

“In front of hundreds of colleagues, Andrew walked onto the ballroom stage and admitted his mistake. When he finished his confession, the room exploded in a standing ovation. One astrophysicist called it “the most honorable thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

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