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Why the supernatural events of this season are both credible and incredible.“I don’t believe that.”I’d just read my four-year-old the story of the angel Gabriel meeting with Mary. I tried not to panic.“Well, do you believe that God made you?”“Yes, I believe that.”“And do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?”“Yes.”“And that he rose from the dead?”“Yes.”After more gentle probing, it turned out it was really just the angel that she didn’t buy. But nonetheless, my daughter isn’t alone in her natural skepticism about the supernatural. When we stop to think about it, Christmas stretches our credulity. It comes complete with an angel appearing, a virgin conceiving, a star guiding, and heavenly hosts singing. How can rational, scientifically literate, 21st-century people like us believe such things, when even a child finds them hard to take?Here are four reasons to believe in Christmas in all its supernatural glory.1. Miracles aren’t hard for God.If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’re familiar with an a fortiori or “how much more” argument that draws secondary conclusions from a greater first point. For instance, Paul reassures the Christians in Rome of God’s care by saying this: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Paul argues from the greater thing to the lesser. If God gave up Jesus for the sake of believers, surely nothing else will be too hard for him to give!By similar argumentation, to believe in the God of the Bible who created the universe and not to believe in miracles is rather obtuse. It would be like my daughters believing ...Continue reading...
Catholics celebrate the return of religious artifacts taken by US soldiers as spoils of war.After waiting more than a century for the United States to return a trio of church bells looted during the Philippine-American war, a Catholic parish on the Philippines island of Samar will finally be able to ring them again.The Balangiga bells were handed over to officials this week and will spend a few days on display at a national museum before making their way home to the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir (St. Lawrence the Martyr), where they originally hung before US forces took them as spoils of war following a 1901 massacre.The three metal bells, each between 23 inches and 30 inches tall, have taken on meaning as national symbols of freedom and resistance for Filipinos and Catholics, who have petitioned the government for their return since the 1950s.According to accounts of the Balangiga massacre, Filipino fighters snuck into San Lorenzo in a plot against American troops occupying the small town. They tolled the church bells to signal their attack, which left 48 Americans dead. In a retaliatory strike on the small town, US soldiers killed thousands and claimed the bells from the ruins of the church building.Those who defended US possession of the bells, including some descendents of servicemen who fought at Balangiga, saw them as instruments of war. They had been kept on military installations—two at a US Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and another at a US Army post in South Korea.Their return, two years after the military gave back another Philippine church bell that used to be on display at West Point, represents the US finally righting a longtime rift with the southeast Asian nation.“… Church bells belong in churches calling the faithful to worship. They don’t commemorate military deeds,” ...Continue reading...
Former staff criticize shuffling of funds and 50-mile noncompete agreements for former pastors.In an investigation published by World magazine yesterday, former Harvest Bible Chapel leaders raise concerns over the Chicago-area megachurch’s operations, including claims of shuffling funds between related ministries and efforts to restrict former staff through noncompete clauses and nondisclosure agreements.Harvest officials said in a statement to CT that the report “fails to uncover desired scandal” and represents “the opinions of a few disgruntled former members” rather than the views of the church’s current elders.In October, Harvest along with lead pastor James MacDonald filed a defamation lawsuit against the author of the World article, Julie Roys, for “asserting false allegations” during her eight-month investigation.In the “Hard times at Harvest” article, Roys follows up with a trio of former Harvest elders who had a falling out with the church in 2013. MacDonald issued an apology over their “unbiblical discipline” in 2014. Leaders stated today that “Harvest Bible Chapel has owned its mistakes and endured to become a happier and healthier church” since.“Subsequent to the most vocal departures, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel designed a system of Elder government filled with meaningful accountability for staff and active involvement of volunteer Elders that exceeds in every way the former system filled with conflicts of interest and poor decision making,” they stated.However, the former elders continue to critique the financial and organizational structures at Harvest, which numbers 13,000 attendees across its seven locations.World reports that Harvest shifted funds from MacDonald’s popular radio program, Walk ...Continue reading...
In the world's most bookish country, evangelicals are taking up the ministry of translation.In the pitch dark of Christmas Eve in Iceland, after family dinner and unwrapping presents, the lights stay aglow for another special tradition: reading. Not just reciting the Nativity story or The Night Before Christmas; book lovers in the tiny Nordic nation spend the night cracking into the shiny new hardbacks they received as gifts.Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson, a pastor in Reykjavík, remembers his father staying awake until 6 a.m. on Christmas, curled up with a box of chocolates and whatever book he’d received that year.Even in the 21st century, the decades-old read-a-thon carries on. Bolstered by a cultural love for stories (dating back to the Viking sagas that chronicle the island’s history), Iceland now publishes and reads more books per capita each year than almost anywhere else.Though sales have dipped due to digital options, Iceland’s printing output has remained steady at about 1,500 books a year, according to government statistics. The bulk of the new titles come out in the months leading up to Christmas during Jólabókaflóð, or the “Yule Book Flood,” so they can be given as gifts and read during the holidays.For years, Gunnarsson has dreamed of his own three kids getting to unwrap one particular book: The Jesus Storybook Bible.Though the popular children’s Bible has sold 3.2 million copies in 38 languages, Icelandic wasn’t one of them. Few evangelical books at all make it to the overwhelmingly secular island, deemed the “most godless country in Europe.” And just one version of the Bible is available in print in the local language.But this year, Gunnarsson finally was able to give his kids—and hopefully thousands of others—an ...Continue reading...
Can't get enough of Christmas? You'll love the prequels and sequels.It is the season for prequels and sequels. Mary Poppins is the big sequel this year. It’s the first year since 2012 that there hasn’t been a hobbit or a stormtrooper on the big screen. Fans will have to wait until next Christmas for Star Wars: Episode IX.I watched the first Star Wars—later retitled as Episode IV: A New Hope­—when it came out in 1977. I might not have seen it at all had our dorm’s resident adviser not insisted I go. He said, “Looper, you’ve got to see this movie. There’s a guy in it that looks exactly like you. Exactly.”“Really?” I asked.“You’ll know him when you see him. His name is Chewy.”The movie was fun and my friends and I saw the resemblance with my doppelganger, but I didn’t realize at the time that the movie fit into a larger narrative. It had a backstory—a prequel—and would have a fore-story—a sequel.Christmas is like that. It is intriguing and satisfying: the tale of an unwed mother and an ostracized family, an angelic messenger, and noble shepherds. We can enjoy it without knowing the rest of the story—or even that there is a rest of the story. We can enjoy it, but we won’t grasp its importance until we understand how Christmas fits into the larger narrative.Christmas has a prequel and a sequel, and it only makes sense within the context of the larger story of what God is doing in the world. What makes this story different from others is that we are not merely viewers; we are participants. The story is interactive: We have a role and the story adapts itself to how we play it.The origin story of ChristmasWhat is the prequel to the Christmas story? To relate it in any detail ...Continue reading...
I never imagined my fibromyalgia would help me serve refugees. But chronic pain is something we both understand.“It’s just the stress of being a college student,” the doctor assured me. “Try to get some more rest and you’ll feel better soon.”“Your blood work came back completely normal,” another doctor said. “Have you considered going to therapy? Because to me, it sounds like you might just be depressed.”I had been bouncing around from one doctor to another for two years, trying to find a medical explanation for the pain I felt in every joint and muscle of my body during every minute of every day. Sports medicine doctors told me I had overexerted myself as a dancer in high school. Chiropractors told me that regular adjustments would relieve my pain. Internists instructed me to try gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and processed-sugar-free diets. But none of them could find any abnormalities in my body to explain why I was in pain.Finally, one doctor implied what the rest may have been thinking: that the pain was all in my head. I was devastated. Doctors—the people I most needed to help me cope with my very real pain—refused to believe me. I was studying to be a Bible translator, but I could barely make it through a day of classes before collapsing in my dorm room early each evening. Why? I asked God over and over. What was the point of this pain? And worse, why would no one believe it was real? Sometimes God’s purposes are not clear in the moment, and this was one of those moments, but over the next several years, I would begin to catch glimpses of how God could use my pain to comfort others.During the years that my symptoms and concerns were being callously ignored by medical professionals, I had no idea that every day women across the US and around the ...Continue reading...
(UPDATED) Beth Moore and other leading Christian survivors don't just want to take the church to task. They also believe it plays a key role in helping victims heal.[Editor’s note: This post has been updated with comments from afternoon speakers, including Max Lucado, Nancy Beach, and Ed Stetzer.]“I am a survivor. My home was my unsafe place. My church was my harbor.”Growing up as a victim of abuse, Bible teacher Beth Moore was grateful that she could escape to her church. But in retrospect, she wished it could have done more.“I have often wondered what a difference it would have made if that same harbor had not only been a place to hide, but a place to heal,” Moore said during a summit held Thursday at Wheaton College to address the evangelical church’s response to abuse in the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.The Southern Baptist ministry leader has repeatedly spoken out on the issue over the past year, joining a wave of evangelicals calling on churches to more explicitly condemn, prevent, and help the victims of sexism, harassment, and abuse.“What if I had heard my pastor or my teachers express what I was going through? Call it what it was? Tell me that I wasn’t to blame and not be ashamed? What if they shared a safe place I could go and tell what I endured? What if I had known I wasn’t alone? What if I had known that there was help? What if tens of thousands of us had?”Today, Moore joined major evangelical leaders—including Australian evangelist Christine Caine, bestselling author and San Antonio pastor Max Lucado, and Seattle pastor Eugene Cho—for a Billy Graham Center event called Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence.The event represents the largest inter-denominational response to sex abuse since #MeToo took off last fall.More than 500 people registered ...Continue reading...
We are going to hear the voice of survivors, trauma counselors, and Christian leaders who will call evangelicals to a better way.Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”The reality of that agony is more real than ever as this powerful imagery speaks volumes to an important issue we face as a nation, and inside our church walls, today. The issue of sexual abuse and scandal has rocked and ravaged our front pages, our computer screens, and our congregations within the past year.Women across the country—and around the world—have put up with too much for too long. The tidal wave of reports bringing their stories to the surface in a tidal wave of reports called us all to reckon with the #metoo movement.Last year, Time Magazine’s person of the year was actually more than one person. That annual high-profile cover showed us “The Silence Breakers,” those behind the movement that gave voices to so many women.But well over a year after this all began, we still have so far to go—especially in the church.What followed #metoo was #churchtoo—the telling of stories of abuse specifically within the context of church life. The posts, tweets, and hashtags once again flooded our social media pages and dominated conversations everywhere. And still, the stories haven’t stopped.Most are aware of the fire being felt by the Catholic Church for the behaviors of priests and bishops towards children. Some of the headlines this past year alone have read, “American Priest is Accused of Molesting Boys in the Philippines” and “U.S. Catholic Church Hit with Two National Lawsuits by sex-abuse victims” and “Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says.” The pope, in response to what happened in Pennsylvania, wrote ...Continue reading...
Why history's wisest figures have seen a connection between reading well and living well.When I was a young girl, I gathered up all my books from my bedroom, carried them downstairs into our finished basement, arranged them on a bookcase, and opened my own little library. I’d like to say I did this in order to let my friends check out the books to read, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I made them do it. Now as an English professor, I make my students read books, and it has been both my passion and my job to encourage people to read widely.When I began teaching, I found I had to become a kind of apologist for literary reading. Some of my Christian students (along with their nervous parents) were wary of reading “worldly” literature by authors who, perhaps, were hostile to the Christian worldview. As a young professor at an evangelical university, I developed an approach to teaching my classes that began with a biblical basis for reading literature, including literature that is not necessarily “Christian.” I came to relish every opportunity to teach my students (and sometimes their parents) how such reading ultimately can strengthen one’s Christian faith and worldview. I became an evangelist for reading widely.Then, over the past several years, something began to shift. Now nearly everyone seems to be reading more—and more widely. I seldom encounter students who have been sheltered from diverse points of view, transgressive ideas, or atheistic arguments. Or even Harry Potter. Between blog posts, Twitter feeds, listicles, and long-winded Facebook rants, everyone seems to be reading something most of the time—right from the palm of their hand. Yet we don’t seem to be better readers. In fact, we seem to be worse. (Just spend two minutes following ...Continue reading...
The Chicago musician begins his first sabbatical with a famous 80-year-old devotional.After years of referencing his Christian faith on social media and in his Grammy-winning hip hop albums, Chance the Rapper has set out on a sabbatical to study and meditate on God’s Word.He shared a glimpse of his morning devotions—a page from Scottish theologian John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer—with 9.2 million followers on Instagram on Monday.The 25-year-old rapper posted a picture of the second day of the devotional, a prayer entitled “Continued Dependence Upon You” [full text below].A Diary of Private Prayer reflects the personal religious practices developed by Baillie—a longtime seminary professor and church leader in Edinburgh in the mid-20th century. He and his brother Donald were considered among the greatest mediating theologians of their day. The book has sold more than a million copies in 20 languages since it was released in 1937.Chance’s venture into Baillie’s best-known work comes a few days after the musician told fans he’d be traveling out of the country on his “first sabbatical” and would be dedicating the time away to studying Scripture.“I’m going away to learn the Word of God which I am admittedly very unfamiliar with. I’ve been brought up by my family to know Christ but I haven’t taken it upon myself to really just take a couple days and read my Bible,” he stated.“We all quote scripture and tell each other what God likes and doesn’t like but how much time do we spend as followers of Jesus to really just read and KNOW his Word. I’m definitely guilty of not devoting time to it.”Over the weekend, he also posted on his Instagram stories a picture of the cover of Tim Keller’s ...Continue reading...
He came to divide sons from their fathers and daughters from their mothers—not to promote “family values.”An excerpt from CT’s Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. Here’s the full list of CT 2019 Book Award winners.When many people think of North American Christianity, one of the first words that come to mind would be family. Part of that is good, necessary, and unavoidable for a church on mission. If we are going to disciple people, we must teach them to keep themselves from idols (1 John 5:21), and many of the idols of our age come under the rubric of allegedly freeing people from the “constraints” of family responsibility and even family definition. When the outside culture valorizes sexual promiscuity, gender confusion, a divorce culture, and the upending of marriage, then the church must work hard to articulate a different vision. There is a danger, though, that comes with any mission, and this one is no exception.The outside world is interested in order and stability. In that sense, the world can see the value, in most cases, of “The Family” in a way that it would not see the value of, say, the doctrine of justification by faith. Churches can talk about the family, then, in ways that seem immediately relevant even to their most metaphysically disinterested neighbors. With the secularizing of Western culture, many churches find that their neighbors simply aren’t asking questions like “What will I say when God asks me, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ ” They find people are asking, “How can I find sexual fulfillment if I’m not married?” or “How can I stop arguing so much with my husband?” or “How can I relate to my kids during the teenage years?” For many churches, the family then becomes the point of contact with ...Continue reading...
In the midst of Nazi resistance, this Christian martyr offered three models for the season of waiting.On November 21, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter from Tegel Prison. “A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent,” he said. “One waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”The comparison between Advent and a prison cell may seem strange. It evokes powerlessness, perhaps even hopelessness. However, it is this particular type of waiting that Bonhoeffer believes best prepares us for Christ’s coming.Although a Nazi prison gave him this metaphor, the sermons he wrote during his time of active ministry also present a similar vision of Advent waiting. In these sermons, Bonhoeffer sees the season before Christmas as a sharpened liturgical expression of the tension that informs our entire lives as Christians. Celebrating it prepares us to live as people who have made a radical break with the present world of sin and death and are also preparing for the redeemed future that God has already, in one sense, accomplished. Through Advent, we learn how to live in these two concurrent realities: We have already been delivered, and yet our deliverance is still to come.Bonhoeffer’s Christmas and Advent sermons highlight three figures who exemplify life amid this tension and, by their example, might guide us through this season. Learning how to wait from these figures will not be warm and cozy but deep, dangerous, and shot through with sorrow and pain.The first figure is Moses. This is not the triumphant Moses leading the people of Israel through a miraculously parted Red Sea or the lawgiver Moses carrying the stone tablets down the mountainside. Rather, the Advent Moses is the one found in Deuteronomy ...Continue reading...
Improving our prevention and response to sexual violence will take sustained, significant efforts. We believe that the vast majority of people of faith, if asked, would state a sincere desire to respond to sexual violence with wisdom, justice and support for victims. Numerous narratives from survivors, however, caution us to consider that we vastly overestimate our readiness to respond well, and underestimate the challenges involved in doing so.Therefore, we do not place all our hopes in sharing a “to-do list” of strategies for churches. Clergy and leaders can have access to best practices, along with the resources to implement them, and still be stymied by powerful spiritual, psychological, and cultural influences.These forces complicate and countervail against wise application of knowledge and effective implementation of safeguarding and response measures. In the third of our reflections, we identify and urge consideration of a few of these complicating forces.1 – Human nature recoils from engagement with sexual violence.The first may seem an obvious truth, but it is essential to this conversation. Human nature seeks comfort and stability, and resists distress and disequilibrium. Anguish and disruption, however, are unavoidable when sexual violation touches the lives of individuals and those called to act in response.By their very nature, sexual violations, and their disclosures, throw individuals and systems into disarray. We are inclined to resist this level of disruption and recoil from coming into close contact with the physical, psychological, social and spiritual realities of sexual violence.However, there is no way to respond to these experiences with justice and accountability without encountering profound disruptions and palpable distress. Avoidance and minimization may temporarily reestablish ...Continue reading...
It matters how the church enters a mission field. “Three of our children were folded in the arms of the Good Shepherd during the past year. Tuberculosis, the tendency to which was inherited, took each of them. As none of the teachers … or other white people at Unalaska, are so far as we know ever touched by the great white plague, we have come to the conclusion that it is not the climate but the conditions of living that make the disease so prevalent among the natives. Few children in Alaska are well born. Then, the ignorance of the parents, who seem to make it their chief avocation during the long winters to watch lest a whiff of fresh air get into their cabins, and the lack of good food add their contributions to the inherited tendency.”– Annual Report of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1909Since the news of John Chau’s death reached the wider world, both pundits and people on social media have offered commentary on the merits or folly of Mr. Chau’s actions. One of the strongest criticisms has been the possibility of disease transmission. Recently, Ed Stetzer interviewed experts who helpfully contributed information on epidemiology and missions. While essential to research on colonialism and missions, disease transmission is not the only factor in understanding how disease affects mission fields.As a historian, I research American missions movements, focusing on how American missionaries were influenced by race theories and how these race theories affected missionary education, proclamation, and public health efforts. As an Alaskan, I was drawn to this history in my home state. My research led me to the troubling story of missions and tuberculosis among Alaska Natives.The quote that opens ...Continue reading...
Two Indian missions experts weigh in on how the young American's failed attempt will impact local efforts to reach Andaman tribes.John Chau first heard of North Sentinel Island about 10 years ago, when the Washington state native made it his calling to evangelize the residents of the remote island on the other side of the world. But evangelicals in mainland India have known about the indigenous tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands—territories under their country’s federal rule—for decades.Two Indian missiologists shared their perspectives with CT on the young American’s failed attempt to evangelize the Sentinelese and how the story of his death may impact future efforts to reach tribal groups in the islands.Even in India, Chau Raised Awareness of the SentineleseAtul Y. AghamkarIndia is a complex land with the most sophisticated, well-educated, urban, globalized, wealthy elites on the one hand, and—as recent news has reminded us—some of the most isolated people living in primitive conditions on the other.The Anthropological Survey of India has identified at least 4,635 distinct people groups, including a large tribal population of about 10 million people (7–8% of the country), often referred to as adivasis, meaning “original inhabitants,” or “scheduled tribes” in government records.The Andaman Islands are home to four “Negrito” tribes—the Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa, and Sentinelese—believed to have arrived from Africa some 60,000 years ago. The neighboring Nicobar Islands are home to two “Mongoloid” tribes—the Shompen and Nicobarese—believed to have come from the Malay-Burma coast 1,000 years ago. The number of original inhabitants of these islands is slowly diminishing, and some are even on the verge of extinction.The Sentinelese—the ...Continue reading...
Investigation by Fort Worth Star-Telegram finds 400 allegations against 168 leaders spanning almost 200 churches and institutions.Hundreds of women and men have accused leaders of independent fundamental Baptist churches of sexual misconduct in a major investigative report published last weekend by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.The series uncovered 412 allegations of abuse across nearly 200 churches and institutions, which by definition exist apart from denominational affiliations and in contrast to more mainstream Baptist or evangelical bodies like the Southern Baptist Convention.“From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar: A music minister molested a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina and moved to another church in Florida,” the Star-Telegram wrote. “Another girl’s parents stood in front of their Connecticut congregation to acknowledge their daughter’s ‘sin’ after she was abused by her youth pastor, beginning at 16. This year, four women accused a pastor in California of covering up sexual misconduct and shielding the abusers over almost 25 years.”In all, 168 leaders—including some of the most prominent pastors among the group’s thousands of US congregations—faced abuse accusations over incidents spanning from the 1970s to present-day.More than 130 of them have been found guilty of rape, kidnapping, sexual assault, and a litany of other crimes, with most victims being children and teens, according to a database compiled by the Star-Telegram. Dozens of abusive pastors had multiple victims—one raped 11 girls in his congregation—and several had abused children as young as 7 years old.Victims repeatedly cited deference to pastoral authority as a factor for why they initially trusted their abusers and why it became so difficult to bring their wrongdoing ...Continue reading...
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.There’s a funny graphic making the social media rounds that confirms a truth universally acknowledged, at least by bibliophiles. Under the heading “Do I need more books?” sits a pie chart partitioned into a big slice (in teal) and a much smaller slice (in yellow), representing the dueling impulses in play. Predictably enough, the teal portion depicts the overwhelming urge to answer with an emphatic “YES.” But then we confront the nagging, still small voice of conscience, whispering ever so delicately, “also YES, but in yellow.”As someone who owns a perfectly appropriate, not even slightly excessive, but still fairly large number of books, I know the feeling. Several years ago, I was part of a book club at church. We were discussing a book about books (Tony Reinke’s Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading). At some point, I asked whether anyone else ever felt guilty about devoting too much time to reading, given all the other callings God places on our lives. One young woman in the group thought the question revealed more about the bookworm bubble I inhabited than any spiritual dilemma Christians commonly face. And of course she was right! (Thank goodness that levelheaded young woman later saw fit to become my wife.)If only through gritted teeth, you can usually get me to concede the sinful temptations that bookaholism encourages. Like any good gift, reading can be overindulged. But each year, as I set the table for another book awards banquet, I try to ease up on the introspection, adopting the literary equivalent of the “calories don’t count” mindset that fuels so many satisfying Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner binges.During book awards season, at least, the ...Continue reading...
Until God showed me that there's more to life than making people laugh.For the longest time, comedy was my religion. As a stand-up comedian, I performed in bars, theaters, and restaurants that functioned, essentially, as my churches. If you asked about my theological perspective, I would have replied that I was a comedian first and an atheist second. For me, a Christian life and a comedian’s life were polar opposites. I was only interested in getting to the next show and making people laugh.I grew up in a Methodist church, begrudgingly participating in the yearly Christmas pageant. As one of the three wise men, my costume consisted of an oversized men’s bathrobe that dragged behind my feet like a wedding veil made of shag carpeting. We had no frankincense, so I carried a bottle of cologne in a decorative glass shaped like a pirate ship. The scent of Old Spice would hover around me as I progressed past the stained-glass windows toward the manger scene by the altar.Nothing specific happened to scar my view of religion. I simply drifted away. In my eyes, I was a good person, and that was all that mattered. Every now and then, I would try attending church or reading the Bible, but the commitment was always short-lived. Whenever I got to Matthew 10:37 (“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”), I would close the book and walk away. The truth is, I was uneasy with the concept of making God the most important thing in my life—more important than your spouse, your child, your dog, or your Xbox. That type of thinking was anathema to me. I was quite clear on my goal in life: I wanted to be a comedian.Nothing to SayI attended the (now-closed) Second City Training Center in Cleveland, where I studied improv theater and comedic writing. After ...Continue reading...
Four practical steps churches can take to eliminate sexual violence.In our first article we shared lessons taken from our work as mental health professionals with survivors of sexual violence. We continue the conversation here by offering further considerations for churches wishing to respond to sexual violence in an informed manner. We do not consider our assertions and recommendations to be exhaustive, but offer them as pieces of an important, broader conversation.1. Recognize that sexual violence is in the sanctuary. Given the prevalence rates of various forms of sexual violence, churches must continue coming to terms with the reality that members in their congregations have experienced sexual violence.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report sexual violence involving physical contact at the astounding frequencies of one in three women and one in six men (2018). Child sexual abuse is underreported, but estimated at one in five girls and one in 20 boys (The National Center for Victims of Crime, 2012).Over 7,000 claims of sexual abuse by church staff, congregation members, volunteers, or the clergy were made to just three insurance companies over a 20-year period (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2007). Recently, a study of over 300 alleged child sexual abuse cases in protestant Christian congregations found the overwhelming majority took place on church grounds, or at the offender’s home, most frequently carried out by Caucasian, male clergy or youth pastors (Denney, Kerley, & Gross, 2018).Beyond the large number of individuals directly affected by sexual violence, many more lives are impacted indirectly through relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, or in connection to the larger community. Without an acceptance of the scope of this problem, along with the ...Continue reading...
An interview with experts. Ed: What is the danger when someone from outside comes into contact with an uncontacted tribe like John Chau did with the Sentinelese?Dr. Kristen Page: Any time you have a naïve population coming into contact with "outsiders" for the first time, you have a risk of disease transmission. There are numerous examples of diseases being moved around by a host (person) who shows no symptoms.One of the more publicized recent examples is the import of Cholera to Haiti by UN aid workers responding to the earthquake. In U.S. history, the importation by colonists of smallpox, influenza, measles, and tuberculosis caused significant loss of life for indigenous peoples.I realize that the missionary vaccinated himself and quarantined himself, but effective vaccines for parasites do not really exist. Vaccines are in development for malaria, leishmaniasis, and hookworm, but Mr. Chau would not have had access to them as they are only in the testing stage of development. Most vaccines he would have received would be for viruses. I'm not sure how long he was quarantined, but that wouldn't necessarily help prevent the transmission of a bacterium or a parasite that is patent (shedding infective stages), but not causing symptoms, because he would not have been treated for them.Dr. Vanya Koo: Lack of immunity is always a risk for disease transmission. The Conquistadors in South and North America are good examples where the native naïve populations were decimated – some unintentionally, but some on purpose – by the diseases that missionaries brought with them.Based on my searches, there are no 'modern' history records of a missionary transmitting an infectious disease to a previously-unreached population. ...Continue reading...
Creation care does more than conservation. It cultivates faith formation, says A Rocha.In the world of high-energy, high-entertainment Vacation Bible Schools and summer kids camps, “Wild Wonder” stands out as an un-flashy alternative, incorporating quiet activities like bird watching and nature observation alongside music and games. Developed by the Christian conservation organization A Rocha USA, Wild Wonder’s new program explores environmental stewardship and spiritual formation in the context of the outdoors.“The main vision behind the camp is that we want kids to know they are beloved creations,” says A Rocha’s curriculum manager Flo Oakes. “We call it creation care camp, but we are God’s creations and we want kids to know that God loves us each deeply.”CT spoke with Oakes to learn more about Wild Wonder’s unique approach to discipleship in the woods.Your curriculum delves deep into theology with kids, from themes of God as the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer to the idea of the new heavens and the new earth. What drives this theological focus?Among many Christians, there is a lingering idea that goes all the way back to the early heresy of Gnosticism. It’s the idea that earthly things—matter, stuff, our bodies, anything physical—are inferior and that the only thing to hope for is a heavenly place we’ll get to someday. I think some Christians have a hard time with environmental conservation because they’ve been taught to ask, “Well, why does it even matter? It’s just the earth.”To be clear, our motive in creating this camp wasn’t “we’re going to make a green, environmental VBS where we just teach kids how to take care of the earth.” There’s no deeper meaning in that—essentially, ...Continue reading...
Randall Stephens's history pays attention to political and cultural flash points—without losing focus on the music itself.Every few years, it seems, what some call the “mainstream media” rediscover Christian rock. Sometimes it’s treated with reverence and respect, as in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s now-classic 2004 account of tagging along at a Christian music festival for GQ. More often, it’s treated like a sociological oddity: a strange footnote in the history of American pop, a foreign culture to be explained with an anthropologist’s rigorous eye. Just this September, The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh wrote a mini-history of Christian music (“The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock”) that took the genre seriously, but still contained whiffs of the incredulous stance preferred by many music writers: Can you believe that band you like—take your pick from among U2, Bob Dylan. Paramore, Evanescence, Switchfoot, Sixpence None the Richer, The Killers, and the list goes on—might actually be Christian?What Sanneh’s piece got right, thankfully, was its attention to just how common Christian pop music is today—how central it is, in sometimes unrecognized ways, to American popular culture. (Though when he says this would have been hard to imagine in 1969, I’m not so sure; “Spirit in the Sky” was a hit single that year, and the previous year saw the release of perhaps the most overtly religious rock record of all time, The Electric Prunes’s Mass in F Minor.)Indeed, Christian rock has had a strange and circuitous journey back to the center of American culture. Randall J. Stephens’s The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll describes this sometimes paradoxical path. Stephens traces the roots of ...Continue reading...
There are things about Chau's story that raise questions worth our consideration.Missions, as the world has seen this month, is controversial.John Chau’s missionary journey to North Sentinel Island has captured the attention of the world. Many have written their thoughts, and I’ve done my share as well (see part 1 here and my Washington Post article here).Many hot takes were written, and people were understandably passionate. As this news has faded from its fever pitch, I’d like to think through some of the missiological questions that still need to be addressed.It is important to note that we can still appreciate Chau's passion while we also consider and discuss some of his methodology.We’re going to do that here.My guess is that many missiologists will be doing that for years to come. (Wheaton College missions professor, and former missionary working with tribes in Papuau New Guinea, had an early discussion on a recent Facebook live.)John ChauLet me first begin by saying that Chau's death is tragic and grieves me personally as a missiologist and a catalyst for missionaries. We learn from his social media, journals, friends, family, and preparation that John had a genuine passion for unreached people groups, and he was seeking to share the love of Jesus with people around the world. This is commendable and brave, especially all of his preparation in the many years leading up to this encounter.I wish that so many Christians sitting at home unengaged in God’s mission would be a lot slower to criticize.His passion is a key factor of his story that is important to note, highlight, and celebrate. It takes a brief moment of bravery to do one extraordinary action, but Chau’s deep conviction is evidenced by his years of working toward his engagement of the people of ...Continue reading...
Continuous worship brings together Christians in the Netherlands across denominational divides.A marathon worship service held by a church in the Netherlands to shield a family of asylum seekers has garnered worldwide attention. The feat has proved impressive for its longevity alone—now going on six weeks—but also represents a unique ecumenical moment among Christians in the tiny European nation.Dutch law generally prohibits officials from interrupting a religious service, so Bethel Church in The Hague has kept worship going non-stop in order to turn its church into a sanctuary for an Armenian family who face expulsion. The congregation—part of the Protestant Church of The Hague and the country’s largest denomination, the Protestant Church of The Netherlands (PKN)—could not pull off the almost 1,000 hours of worship on its own, so its leaders have tapped more than 500 pastors from across traditions to participate.“What this church asylum is teaching me in the first place is how enormously connecting and boundary-shattering the most basic compassion can be,” Axel Wicke, a pastor at Bethel, told CT.“Here in the Netherlands, we have a huge amount of different Christian confessions, some of which originating in very ugly theological or liturgical fights. However, here at the church asylum in Bethel, none of this matters and everyone is working together…,” he said. “Very often, one pastor hands over the service to another colleague, with whom he would never be able to share anything else, either theologically or liturgically.”The service has brought together not only PKN pastors—who, after a 2004 merger, represent most Reformed and Lutheran churches in the Netherlands and about 9 percent of the population overall—but also smaller denominations. ...Continue reading...
The CCM pioneer used to talk faith with George H. W. Bush and Billy Graham. This year, he performed at both of their memorial services.Michael W. Smith’s hit song “Friends” has been sung thousands of times over the decades, but never quite like today’s performance at the funeral service for President George H. W. Bush at the National Cathedral in Washington.Not only was Smith backed by a full orchestra and a 150-person choir, but he also sung it as a personal farewell to the leader who, to his surprise, became his longtime friend and fan. Bush died on Friday at age 94.“First and foremost, I hope the song is very honoring of the president because he loved the song,” Smith said in an interview with CT. “The last time I saw him, when we said goodbye, he gave me a hug, pointed his finger in the air, and with a twinkle in his eye, said, ‘Friends are friends forever.’”The contemporary Christian music (CCM) chart-topper first played for President Bush in the White House after a Christmas special in 1989. They struck up a friendship that led to regular visits to the late president’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine; relationships with the rest of the Bush family; and even travel together.“He’s just been an inspiration to me,” the three-time Grammy winner said. “We didn’t talk about politics much. But we did have a lot of conversations about God and faith.”“One thing that tied us together was his relationship with Billy Graham. There were times we would get Billy Graham on the phone and talk,” Smith said, remembering them standing on the deck conversing with the late evangelist, whose memorial service and funeral the singer performed at earlier this year.Bush requested “Friends,” his favorite song of Smith’s, for his funeral. Smith sang ...Continue reading...

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