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What we learn about Bible figures from the clothing they put on, take off, and tear apart.Storytellers know that the unfolding of dramatic events can be hard to follow. So to help their audiences make sense of what is happening, they often insert symbolic clues. In cartoons, the villains scowl and speak with gravelly voices, and the heroes smile and sound all-American. In movies, a menacing bassline announces the arrival of a dangerous person, while comic figures appear with bouncier melodies.In the story of Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, and David, you can guess what will happen by looking at their clothes.Some of this works at a simple level. When we first meet Goliath, he is covered from head to foot in scaly armor, which makes him look like a serpent or even a dragon. So when we find the snake-like accuser lying dead, his head crushed by the anointed king, we are not especially surprised. We first meet Samuel as “a boy wearing a linen ephod” (1 Sam. 2:18). Straightaway, we know he will function a bit like a priest.Right after this, we hear that “each year his mother made him a little robe” (2:19). This garment will represent Samuel’s prophetic authority throughout the book. When Saul rips Samuel’s robe, he accidentally foreshadows that his kingdom will be “torn” away from him and given to David (15:27–28).Saul, likewise, has a robe that symbolizes royal authority (or lack thereof). In one of the story’s dramatic moments, David refuses to kill Saul while he is going to the bathroom, instead cutting off a corner of his robe (24:4–5). At face value this is an act of kindness, as David spares the man trying to kill him. But as readers, we know there is more going on. Saul’s kingdom will indeed be “cut off” and given to David, and it ...Continue reading...
Christians explore how ecological work can support the gospel mission.The first time Joel Kelling saw the Jordan River, on a 2010 Oxford University field trip, he was stunned. He was one of only two Christians in his group, and his traveling companions were unimpressed by the puny, polluted river.“It didn’t have the wonder I anticipated,” he said. “It’s small, it’s low, it’s brown, and it’s unrecognizable from what we might imagine the great River Jordan to be.”As a Christian, Kelling felt “a strange sense of responsibility” for the state of the river. “You think we should have been the ones protecting this resource.”Now an Anglican missionary serving in Jordan with his wife, Fiona, Kelling hopes to work with EcoPeace, a local environmental NGO, to bring the Jordan’s plight to his community’s attention. “A lot of people locally don’t even know what state [the river] is in,” he said. But between political turmoil, the refugee crisis, and other local conflicts, Christians living in the Holy Land have many things vying for their attention.Before the 1960s, the Jordan looked much like it did at the time of Christ. Its annual flow hovered around 1.3 billion cubic meters a minute. “It used to be a powerful river,” said Theodore Varaklas, a tour guide based in Jerusalem. “It was dangerous to cross.” Today, the Jordan’s waters have been reduced to 20 to 30 million cubic meters—a mere trickle of their former flow. The river is now so narrow that in some places you can hop from one bank to the other.It is an exercise in cognitive dissonance to stand on this river’s polluted shores and believe that it is the Jordan referenced 186 times in Scripture. This ...Continue reading...
Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our March issue).James MacDonald takes indefinite sabbaticalThe founding pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel stepped away from preaching and leadership duties in January while the megachurch undergoes a “peacemaking process” after a legal clash with longtime critics. James MacDonald and Harvest dropped their defamation lawsuit against two bloggers and former Moody Radio host Julie Roys, who had alleged mismanagement at the Chicago-area multisite church. MacDonald confessed to battling “cycles of injustice, hurt, anger, and fear, which have wounded others without cause.” During his sabbatical, the church has pledged to hear out former members and critics and review church processes.World Vision forced out of PakistanAfter 13 years of providing emergency relief and children’s programs in Pakistan, World Vision has been ousted from the Islamic Republic along with 17 other international NGOs representing $130 million in assistance. After Pakistan revised its registration process for foreign charities following the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, dozens of groups—including World Vision and two Catholic charities—failed to secure legal status and spent years appealing the decisions before being expelled in late 2018. The Christian aid organization said it “regrets the effect that the cessation of our work will have on the vulnerable communities with whom we worked, but respects the government’s right to decide who may work in the country.”Ukraine’s Orthodox Christians split from RussiaThe Ukrainian Orthodox Church was officially granted ecclesiastical independence this year, marking the biggest schism in Christianity since the Protestant Reformation. Amid ongoing political clashes ...Continue reading...
Rural ministry is experiencing a resurgence in the US even as economic and demographic numbers continue their decline.These days, living in small-town America often means living with less.2018 marked another year of decline in many rural and small towns: economies suffering; local residents aging or moving away; and many struggling with addiction, disillusionment, or depression.But just as the nation declares a crisis in small communities, the church has seen new momentum around rural ministry. Proud pastors from blue-collar outskirts, flyover country farmlands, and cozy mountain towns proclaim that in God’s kingdom, less is more.In new books, blogs, networks, and conferences, these leaders resist popular narratives about rural America to instead embrace the gospel lessons they encounter when doing ministry on a small scale.“One of the things that the rural church reminds the global church of is God’s commitment to be with people everywhere. We as the people of God have been sent to the ends of the earth and sometimes rural is one of those ends,” said Brad Roth, pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kansas.“Not every place is going to have the same potential for that growth metric. But every place is still beloved by God and worthy of our best and most thoughtful ministry as the church.”While plenty of materials are geared toward church growth in bigger congregations, more resources are emerging for leaders in smaller contexts. America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, dedicated its annual pastors’ conference—long the domain of megachurch pastors—to small-church pastors in 2017.“Despite rapid global urbanization, many millions around the world continue to live in small towns and rural areas. God is calling some of us to live ...Continue reading...
After LifeWay pulls James MacDonald's Bible studies, Christians consider if and when a leader's teachings remain edifying after a scandal.When a prominent pastor is forced out of the pulpit in the midst of scandal, scrutiny, or wrongdoing, the body of Christ winces. “Not another one.”As more preachers gain national (and global) followings through books, podcasts, and other resources, the fallout around disgraced leaders extends across the church at large. Christians are left to reckon with how or whether they will continue to engage their past teachings.America’s largest chain of Christian bookstores, LifeWay Christian Resources, decided to stop selling titles by former Harvest Bible Chapel pastor James MacDonald after his termination this week, taking down all 58 of his items from its website.LifeWay, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), will also no longer print the books MacDonald released over the past three years through LifeWay Press and B&H Books, including Lord, Change My Attitude Before It’s Too Late;Think Differently, Act Like Men—The Bible Study; and The Will of God is the Word of God Companion Guide.Previously, LifeWay has pulled titles from Mark Driscoll and Jen Hatmaker and books about heaven tourism due to doctrinal standards. Individual churches have also opted to no longer make resources by their former pastors available, as Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale did with Bob Coy’s popular sermon podcast after he resigned due to a “moral failing” in 2015.But the decision of whom to continue to read, listen to, learn from, and support is often left up to individual believers. Christians understand that none are without sin, and God uses imperfect vehicles to convey his perfect gospel—but when do their personal shortcomings affect the message they teach?CT asked several ...Continue reading...
“I have found the story of the thief on the cross profoundly helpful in challenging this assumption...that entrance into everlasting joy depends on living a good enough life.”Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?”Colin: Church health is not the same as church size. I come from the U.K., where secularism has made deeper inroads into the culture than here in the U.S. Church attendance has dropped dramatically but, in my opinion, church health in the U.K. is better than it was 20 years ago.One reason for this is that as nominal Christians abandon the faith and leave the church, those who remain realize their dependence on God in new ways. When numbers go down, spiritual temperature can go up, and I have seen new resilience, new cooperation, new faith and new venture in many U.K. churches.If that happens here in the U.S., we may be in a better position than before and, like Gideon’s army, more useful to the Lord than when our numbers were larger.Ed: Evangelism has especially fallen on hard times. It seems that everything else—even good things like discipleship—has overwhelmed our passion for sharing the love of Jesus with others. What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?Colin: I really appreciate the focus of Amplify on evangelism. Discipling goats is an impossible task. The first priority is always that a person becomes one of Christ’s sheep.Evangelism today needs to begin further back. For much of the 20thcentury, Christians were able to assume a basic understanding of who God is, what sin is, and why we need a Savior.When people ...Continue reading...
Science seeks to fix aging and death. But a Christian vision of the good life might actually embrace them. A preacher’s kid growing up in the Bible Belt, Micah Redding had a particular view of the physical world and God’s work in it. Singing popular hymns like “This World is Not My Home” and “I’ll Fly Away,” he took away this message: It’s all going to burn anyway, so why bother with the environment or curing diseases? That’s a distraction from the gospel. Our bodies don’t go to heaven, just our souls.When he started studying the Bible for himself and reading authors like N. T. Wright and C. S. Lewis, Redding formed a theology that more closely embraces the material world. “If we believe the material world is good, we have to engage in the transformation of it,” he said. He sees science and technology as part of God’s vision for the world, which, for him, includes radical life extension.Redding points to Isaiah 65, where “one who dies at a hundred years will be thought a mere child,” as well as the extremely long-lived Genesis patriarchs. “Scripture really places this value on human life, relationality, and productivity,” he said. “We have to appreciate that idea as part of our embrace of the material life.”In 2013, Redding founded the Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA), a group bringing faith and ethics into transhumanist conversations. Transhumanists, who believe that human capacities can be enhanced by science and technology, hold a gamut of views. Some are anti-aging researchers applying biomedicine to improve humanity. Aubrey de Grey, for instance, who headlined a recent CTA conference, studies preventative maintenance for the human body and believes the first human to live to 1,000 has already been born. ...Continue reading...
Christian leaders have their own reasons for not reading Scripture.It’s worth remembering that Augustine was “weeping, with agonizing anguish in [his] heart” over his inability to control himself before he read Romans 13:13–14.We tend to think that Scripture usually works the other direction. We read seeking instruction, wisdom, or intimacy and then read a challenging word like Paul’s that prompts contrition: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” We’re convicted by Scripture, then we repent.But in Augustine’s archetypal testimony, Confessions, that’s not what happened. First he was in anguish, then he heard a child chanting, “Pick it up! Read it! Pick it up! Read it!” He wrote (in Sarah Ruden’s 2017 translation) that when he obeyed the voice and read Paul’s words, “I didn’t want to read further, and there was no need. The instant I finished this sentence, my heart was virtually flooded with a light of relief and certitude, and all the darkness of my hesitation scattered away.” His response was not to wallow or to regret how long it took him to repent. Instead, he immediately and joyfully told his friend Alypius and his mother what had happened.Many times the Holy Spirit really does use Scripture to illuminate our sin and to make us deeply uncomfortable. It is, after all, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). And “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Heb. 12:11). Nevertheless, ...Continue reading...
Are emerging adults are leaving their faith behind? We are hosting a conference to explore this question.It seems every few weeks a new article makes the rounds on social media heralding the collapse of religion in America. Often central to these pieces is an emphasis on the role of emerging adults, focusing either on their declining church attendance or their rejection of traditional beliefs or practices.Emerging adulthood describes that phase of life between adolescence and full adulthood as marked by transitions like marriage and kids, settled careers, and owning a home. This life stage covers people ages 18-29 or so.So what are we to make of the claim? Are emerging adults are leaving their faith behind?Yes.And no.And maybe.Let me explain…Let’s start with yes. There is ample evidence to suggest that many emerging adults are questioning the religious beliefs and practices of their Christian upbringing while still others are leaving church altogether.According to the Pew Religious Landscape study published in 2015, younger emerging adults (18-24), identify as nones at a 36 percent rate compared to only 25 percent in 2007. Just last month, LifeWay Research reported that “two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22.”While many return, Kara Powell in Growing Young estimated the long-term loss at around 50 percent of those who initially left. Attempts to explain this exodus vary and often include descriptors of emerging adult spirituality like “Spiritual by not Religious” to characterize those who still value spirituality but have rejected religious organizations or doctrines as ways of pursuing their spiritual interests.Turning to the ...Continue reading...
This grain's genome echoes of the strength found in the diversity of God's people.Like many kids, I grew up picking wild grasses believing that they were wheat. I would pick one from the yard of my childhood home, believing the harvest I held in my hands could be transformed into food. As I grew up, I quickly learned that the “wheat” in my yard was far from a bountiful harvest and instead was actually weeds and wild grasses.Yet, my childhood confusion about wheat is, in one sense, understandable. Wheat is a part of the grass family. In Matthew’s telling of the Parable of the Weeds, the “weeds” represent darnel, “a poisonous weed organically related to wheat, and difficulty to distinguish from wheat in the early stages of the growth,” writes New Testament scholar Craig Keener.In the Bible, wheat is used as a metaphor for the people of God. The scientific study of wheat prompts reflection on how what distinguishes God’s people and how our vast diversity can strengthen us all.Wheat’s genetic makeup has baffled scientists. But last summer, after 13 years of research, a team of international scientists cracked the wheat’s genome to reveal the baffling, beautiful genetic material that makes wheat, well, wheat.Essentially, a genome contains all of the genetic knowledge needed to create and sustain an organism.It would be easy to assume that the wheat genome would be more straightforward to sequence than the human genome. After all, human beings are the crowning achievement of God’s creative work while wheat is a mere plant. However, the wheat genome holds mysteries that offered significant challenges to research scientists who wanted to understand this plant at the most minute level.The full sequence of the human genome was published in 2003, ...Continue reading...
Now we live in a new age of technology, and it is having massive, unforeseen effects.We live in the age of technology. This age has been characterized in other ways by other people, social commentators, and gurus of culture.Famously, Canadian philosopher Dr. Charles Taylor calls our age the “age of authenticity.” To be authentic is the final word in credibility. We must be true to ourselves. Dr. Ed Stetzer calls our age the “age of outrage.” We are constantly annoyed at each other and positioning for our tribal groups to gain precedence over one another.What is behind this?Part of it is philosophical. Dr. Neil Shenvi has described how “critical theory” is moving from the universities to the mainstream, and in some cases to the unthinking church. Critical theory is based on the proposition that we are defined by the group to which we belong—gender, race, culture, and others—and that each of these groups is vying for hegemony over the other.In addition to these philosophical roots, there is also a technological engine that is driving the development. The printing press changed Europe and changed the world. The use of gunpowder changed the world through shifting the balance of power to those who could employ it best.Now we live in a new age of technology, and it is having massive, unforeseen effects.Not all of technology, by any means, is bad. Just as pornography is widely available across the globe and into the privacy of home more than ever before through the smartphone, so also are Bibles, various translations, biblical teaching, and spiritual resources.In the smallest village where books would take months to penetrate, there are now farmers with smartphones.We must not be luddites when it comes to technology. But we must also be aware of what it is doing to ...Continue reading...
This grain's genome echos of the strength found in the diversity of God's people.Like many kids, I grew up picking wild grasses believing that they were wheat. I would pick one from the yard of my childhood home, believing the harvest I held in my hands could be transformed into food. As I grew up, I quickly learned that the “wheat” in my yard was far from a bountiful harvest and instead was actually weeds and wild grasses.Yet, my childhood confusion about wheat is, in one sense, understandable. Wheat is a part of the grass family. In Matthew’s telling of the Parable of the Weeds, the “weeds” represent darnel, “a poisonous weed organically related to wheat, and difficulty to distinguish from wheat in the early stages of the growth,” writes New Testament scholar Craig Keener.In the Bible, wheat is used as a metaphor for the people of God. The scientific study of wheat prompts reflection on how what distinguishes God’s people and how our vast diversity can strengthen us all.Wheat’s genetic makeup has baffled scientists. But last summer, after 13 years of research, a team of international scientists cracked the wheat’s genome to reveal the baffling, beautiful genetic material that makes wheat, well, wheat.Essentially, a genome contains all of the genetic knowledge needed to create and sustain an organism.It would be easy to assume that the wheat genome would be more straightforward to sequence than the human genome. After all, human beings are the crowning achievement of God’s creative work while wheat is a mere plant. However, the wheat genome holds mysteries that offered significant challenges to research scientists who wanted to understand this plant at the most minute level.The full sequence of the human genome was published in 2003, ...Continue reading...
Though extremists separated me from my husband years ago, I know who holds us together.Two years ago this Valentine’s Day, I arrived in the United States after fleeing persecution in Pakistan. When I describe my journey, I often tell people it was like a journey from hell to heaven. I really do love it here.But the holiday where Americans around me celebrate romantic love is bittersweet. Although I have been married to my husband for seven years, we have only been in the same country for one Valentine’s Day. He has not yet made his journey “from hell to heaven.”Shortly after we married in Pakistan—a marriage arranged by my parents, who were thrilled that he was Christian, well educated, and taller than I am—my husband started a website to tell the stories of persecuted Pakistani Christians. Soon after the website launched, we were in danger.We set out to flee, but my husband was captured by extremists. I continued with my plan to escape Pakistan, thinking my husband had been killed. I knelt in church every day praying for his safety, even though the evidence told me it was futile.Only later, after I had left the country, did I learn that he had been tortured and left for dead. A passerby found him and saved his life, but the opportunity for him to come with me had passed, and he had to wait for another chance. By that time, my application for refuge in the US was already in process, and our separation was in the hands of systems larger than us. We never wanted to be apart, but now we had little choice.Our marriage has crossed continents and oceans, and even though many people think I’m crazy for staying in it, I have never considered getting out. Distance doesn’t matter if the roots are strong. I can bear the pain and uncertainty of physical separation far better ...Continue reading...
Rebel Wilson's latest film reflects the common urge to trash romance. But love stories point us toward a deeper affection for God.Every year, Valentine’s Day brings with it the release of movies that fall into the much-maligned genre of “rom-com.” Warnings against romantic fiction go back at least as far as 1605 to Cervantes’s Don Quixote. More recently, the novelist Curtis Sittenfeld casually dismisses “most romances [as] badly written.” Ella Cerón in GQ calls them “one-degree-from-creepy.” Others consider the genre “emotional porn.” And in the Christian world, some voices warn that romance fiction is not “edifying” in the definition of Philippians 4:8.Not unlike a lot of single women, I have a complicated relationship with romantic narratives and for a long time, simply didn’t enjoy them. In my 20s, I became a career-driven woman who people didn’t think was “into that kind of thing,” so I started to think I shouldn’t be. Then came the experiences with real-life romance. I went through some relationships that left me feeling prickly about ideal romantic stories that unfailingly led to a “happily ever after.” (The Romance Writers of America defines the modern genre as “a central love story” with “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending,” so a happily-ever-after in some form is required.)During the years when I couldn’t enjoy romance, I felt rather proud of my aversion. I was like Rebel Wilson’s character Natalie in the recently released movie Isn’t It Romantic, calling romance and rom-coms “unhealthy, unrealistic, and toxic,” especially for women.Although I wouldn’t defend the entire genre, nonetheless I have come around to the counter-argument Natalie’s best ...Continue reading...
The fruit of the Spirit is No. 1 at Bible Gateway—in both English and Spanish queries.Of the 920 million readers who visited the world’s top Bible website last year, most are literally searching for love more than anything else.Only 3 of the other 9 fruits of the Spirit joined love among Bible Gateway’s top searches of 2018: peace (No. 2), faith (No. 3), and joy (No. 4). The pattern holds true in Spanish-language searches, though gozo (joy) ranks 12 slots lower [full lists below].Love has been the most popular topic at Bible Gateway, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year by reaching more than 14 billion views, ever since the site’s inception in 1993. Such searches perennially spike on Valentine’s Day.“This may be the time of year that we talk most loudly about love, but [our] usage statistics show us that we long to understand and experience love throughout the year,” stated Andy Rau, Bible Gateway’s then-senior manager for content, in a 2017 post.In 2014, when the site first offered more detailed stats, CT reported how “the word never fell out of the top 10 searches, and was the top searched word more than 200 days of the year.”In contrast, searches for lust only came close to love on one day: September 30, 2015.Overall, searches for heart, pray, and spirit rose the most from 2016 to 2018. All rose in rank by double digits. (CT analyzed the top 2018 verses of Bible Gateway vs. YouVersion in December.)Among CT’s coverage of Valentine’s Day, last year—on the first VaLENTine’s Day since WWII—CT noted how Twitter suggested chocolate and alcohol would be absent from many dates, while Tish Harrison Warren reflected on God’s message on “Ash Valentine’s Day.”Bible Gateway’s top 25 topic searches ...Continue reading...
"It's important to remember that the gospel matters more than politics."Ed: You're often featured on outlets that aren’t exactly evangelical bastions and they listen to you defend the President. Would you say that you are a supporter of the President now, as a private citizen?Cliff: I'm certainly a supporter of the overwhelming majority of the agenda that he is trying to implement. When I'm supporting him, I plan to be vocally supportive and when I think that there are areas where he could do better, I'm going to be willing to share those thoughts as well. I think going towards 2020, we're likely to have a very similar situation as 2016, with a liberal pro-abortion democrat candidate versus Donald Trump, who has governed as a pro-life conservative. When there's that A/B option, I'm going to always go with the conservative, pro-life option and that would be Trump in that case.Ed: Is there anything else that you learned during your time in the administration that you feel could be helpful for pastors or Christian leaders?Cliff: Sure. I think if there was anything that I was naive about going into this it was my assumption that we would be able to have a nuanced conversation about anything in the current media landscape. People have probably seen a lot of headlines about the book. I would just love for them to cut through some of that and actually read it—I think there’s a lot there to be learned.Ed: This administration probably has more evangelicals in cabinet posts than any other administration in history. Why? Has that impacted the feel of the White House at all?Cliff: Well, sitting on the cabinet with evangelical men and women does not necessarily translate into a changed atmosphere at the White House, because they don't work at the White House—they ...Continue reading...
Mass crowds celebrate 1979 uprising as Christian watchdogs lament surge in arrests.Hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded streets nationwide on Monday, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.Not present were dozens of Christians with no freedom of movement.“For 40 years, the Iranian government has harbored an intolerant view towards Christianity,” said Mansour Borji, advocacy director at Article18, a Christian human rights organization focused on Iran.“Administrations have changed and the methods have varied, but the objective remains the same: to restrict Christians’ influence on all spheres of Iranian life.”An in-depth report on violations against Iranian Christians in 2018 was jointly released last month by Open Doors, Middle East Concern, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Article18. It was a first-time collaboration for the groups—in order to amplify their voice, Borji said.The report stated that according to public records, 29 Christians were held in detention in 2018 for terms of 6 months to 10 years (if formally sentenced at all). Eight were released.The report emphasized that many more detentions of Christians remained undocumented.Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the freedom of religion, including the right to adopt a faith of one’s choice and to publicly practice and teach it.Iran ratified the ICCPR in 1975, prior to the 1979 revolution which ended 2,500 years of monarchy.But Christians are not the only victims.The latest annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) states that in Iran dozens of Sufis—Muslims with mystical practices—have been imprisoned, fined, or flogged; 90 Baha’is—an offshoot of Islam that ...Continue reading...
Leak of “highly inappropriate” comments by founding pastor of Chicago-area megachurch caps months-long clash with critics.In the midst of efforts to reconcile with longtime critics, Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.”Harvest elders announced this morning that they were forced to take “immediate action” on Tuesday to end his 30-year tenure.“Following a lengthy season of review, reflection, and prayerful discussion, the Elders of Harvest Bible Chapel had determined that Pastor MacDonald should be removed from his role of Senior Pastor. That timeline accelerated, when on Tuesday morning highly inappropriate recorded comments made by Pastor MacDonald were given to media and reported,” they wrote.“This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors.”MacDonald took an “indefinite sabbatical” in January, following a tumultuous few months defending Harvest in a defamation lawsuit against its critics and in the aftermath of a World magazine investigation into mismanagement at the church.The public scrutiny continued with pushback against MacDonald’s decision to preach at a Harvest affiliate in Florida during his sabbatical. Then, a famous friend of his, Chicago shock jock Mancow Muller, spoke out in a local newspaper against the manipulation and ego he observed around MacDonald’s “cult of personality” at Harvest. On his radio show, Muller later aired what sounded like clips of MacDonald making harsh comments toward media who had covered the story.Now, the church has decided its longtime leader won’t be coming back.Muller had prematurely announced the ...Continue reading...
Many Christians affirm evolution once researchers leave room for God's role in it.Most Christians today agree that human evolution is real—and that God had a hand in it. The findings are part of a new study released this month by the Pew Research Center, which surveyed more than 2,500 Americans.Fifty-eight percent of white evangelical Protestants and 66 percent of black Protestants selected “Humans have evolved over time due to processes that were guided or allowed by God” when asked, “Which statement comes closest to your view?”Only four percent of white evangelical Protestants and six percent of black Protestants said that natural selection is real but God had no role. The remaining 38 percent of white Protestants and 27 percent of black Protestants said humans have always existed in their present form.But when asked the same question differently, the results varied. When forced to choose between evolution or creationism, 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants select the creationist stance. Fifty-nine percent of black Protestants chose creationism too.According to Pew, the results show that, perhaps, we have been posing the evolution question all wrong. When given the opportunity to say that God played a role in evolution, many Christians will reject the classic creationist viewpoint. Pew adds that people should not be forced to “choose between science and religion” but encouraged to share their beliefs on both science and God’s role in it.Similarly, in a 2013 study by Jonathan Hill, a sociology professor at Calvin College, a third of creationists said that being correct about the creationism theory wasn’t important.“The way you ask someone about human origins will play a substantial role in the type of response you receive,” said ...Continue reading...
CT's editor in chief on today's aired remarks.The controversy around James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, swirls ever more intensely. I would like to clarify a few things so that in the debate surrounding this topic—especially CT’s coverage—people can have a better notion of how we cover such controversies.First, we want to address MacDonald’s alleged derogatory remarks about various members of CT’s staff broadcast today on Mancow, a radio show based in Chicago. MacDonald is clearly angry with the way CT has covered his leadership at Harvest, and he’s succumbed to the temptation to slander me, threaten our CEO, and denigrate others. This is unfortunate. But this is part of the life of journalism, because we know that we’re not exactly popular with people about whom we have to report bad news. We also know that people (including me) privately say things in anger that they later regret. So we’re not going to blast back at MacDonald or to demand a public apology. The only things we demand are that he deal fairly with his accusers, that he tell the truth about what’s been going on at Harvest, and that he make amends if and where he has misused his office.Second, as MacDonald’s reaction demonstrates, it’s common for people on both sides of a dispute to believe that CT is against them. It’s pretty clear by his slanders that MacDonald thinks we have it out for him. That’s ironic, because his accusers, whom he sued, believe we’ve taken his side. They base their accusation on the fact that we gave him space on our Speaking Out forum to explain why he believes it is biblical to sue fellow believers.In fact, this is a tradition at CT: to allow mainstream, otherwise orthodox evangelicals ...Continue reading...
This phenomenon affects many, and pastors may be particularly susceptible.“You’re a fraud.”“Everyone’s going to find out…eventually.”“Just stop, it’s not worth it.”“What difference do you think you’re actually going to make?”If you feel like I’ve just read your mind, welcome to the club! You’re officially a member of Imposter Syndrome Anonymous. In fact, since you’ve had these thoughts for a while, you might as well become a lifetime charter member. There’s just one catch—you can’t cancel your membership. It’s kind of like Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”In 1978, researchers Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the phrase—the Imposter Phenomenon—and captured the essence of this very thing that seems to be progressively troubling so many of us. And with our lives increasingly being lived online, along with our follower counts displayed in a showcase for the world to see, this topic is of particular importance. After all, what’s healthier than comparing ourselves to one another in all of our filtered glory?Although Clance and Imes initially researched how Imposter Syndrome affected high achieving women in a pre-internet and pre-social media world, 40+ years later it’s become quite apparent that this syndrome now affects everyone.After all, when was the last time you found yourself in a room and felt like you didn’t belong—even though you had the academic credentials, degrees, experience, or whatever else you needed to get in? Or, have you ever wondered when people were going to find out and discover the real you? The you underneath the surface that you’ve hidden away? ...Continue reading...
How a retired Anglican priest and a young church music director created Liturgical Folk.In 2015, when retired Anglican priest Nelson Koscheski shared one of his religious poems with the young music director at his Anglican church in Dallas, he never expected the poem to become a folk song. Koscheski thought the poem, which is about the Transfiguration, might make a good hymn, but would probably end up like most of his others—glanced at perfunctorily and then disregarded.But the music director, Ryan Flanigan, was so moved by the poem’s beauty that he set it to a simple folk tune, which he incorporated into the church’s Transfiguration Day service.“For the first time, I realized that my poetry was a form of ministry,” Koscheski says.Since then, Flanigan, now 39, and Koscheski, 77, have written almost 50 hymns together. Under Flanigan’s direction, the cross-generational partnership has grown into a multifaceted folk music project. The two named the project Liturgical Folk, and in 2017 released their first two albums through the producer Isaac Wardell, who works with acclaimed religious musicians like Josh Garrels and Sandra McCracken. Liturgical Folk released their third album last fall and their fourth this February.They are not alone. Rather, they are part of a growing number of Anglican musicians who are rearranging traditional hymns, adapting liturgy to contemporary music and writing songs of their own, says Bruce Benedict, the chaplain of worship and arts at Hope College in Michigan and founder of Cardiphonia, which resources the greater church with liturgical music.“Liturgical Folk is really just sort of one group of folks that have been doing this for 10 or 15 years,” he says.How did this movement come about?In the late 1970s, a group of Anglican churches ...Continue reading...
The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News collect 380 allegations spanning 20 states in an unprecedented look at sexual misconduct across the denomination.A landmark investigation into hundreds of cases of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches opened with a collage of pictures of the offenders, row after row of headshots and mugshots of men who had been accused of abusing a total of 700 victims over the past 20 years.In Sunday’s report, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News were able to do what victims say the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has failed to for years: provide a picture of the extent of the abuse within the Southern Baptist Convention and a database of those found guilty of their crimes.With allegations against 380 church leaders in 20 states (a majority of whom were convicted or took plea deals), it’s believed to be the biggest report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptists in the movement’s history. The report confronts the longstanding defense that the organization can only do so much to monitor abuse since affiliated congregations operate autonomously.Another set of pictures captures a sense of the impact of abusers in Southern Baptist congregations. In response to the investigation, Southern Baptist women and fellow Christians shared childhood photos on Twitter from the age when they first suffered abuse.Dozens joined a thread started by Living Proof Ministries founder and popular Bible teacher Beth Moore, including advocate and abuse survivor Jules Woodson and other ministry leaders.Over the past couple years, the #MeToo campaign has raised awareness about abuse within the SBC and galvanized official efforts to improve the denomination’s response. Last December, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram rounded up more than 400 allegations among independent Baptists, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission ...Continue reading...
"Jesus set us up in such a way that it requires his whole body to bring the whole gospel to the whole geography."Ed: Tell me about the Church of Western New York and Pentecost Together. The video shows a remarkable array of Christian leaders who I never imagined seeing together in one place. What did you do and how did you get there?Jerry Gillis: Two things. We've had two large scale events for the church in western New York. One was a 2013 Good Friday Together. We basically gathered ourselves together in downtown Buffalo and had worship and communion. There was preaching around the seven last sayings of Jesus during the time leading up to his crucifixion. We took up an offering and invested it into the city through a number of different city initiatives, whether that was toward education, housing, or other similar things.And then we had another event in June of 2017, which we called Pentecost Together. It took place around the time of Pentecost, June 9th, which was right before Pentecost Sunday. Thousands of believers from all across the western New York region gathered together to worship. We hosted it in the First Niagara Center, which is in downtown Buffalo where the Sabers play.To be able to have those kinds of events in the First Niagara Center takes time and intentionality – those things don’t just happen. Over the course of the last 12 years or so there has been a relational development in the Church of Western New York where brothers and sisters in Christ have determined that we are better together.We believe that no local church can do the ministry and mission that Jesus has called us to on their own. Jesus set us up in such a way that it requires his whole body to bring the whole gospel to the whole geography.So there were a lot of relational investments – meetings, coffees, breakfast, lunch, hanging ...Continue reading...
Two new books consider the personal, practical, and theological sides of welcoming the stranger.I recently spoke at a church in the Midwest. My exhortation included a reminder of God’s image in our refugee neighbors, including those families caravanning out of violent communities south of our border. When we see strangers through the eyes of Scripture, our obligation differs from what the pundits and politicians preach on cable news. We find ourselves at the Nile’s edge, like Pharaoh’s daughter, poised to receive the Hebrew baby from the other side of the river. We see a person under threat of a death edict and respond with welcome.In the lobby after the service, several people rushed over to thank me for speaking directly about refugees and immigrants. “I’ve been waiting for someone from the pulpit to say something,” one woman said as she pressed her hand in mine. I expected to be chided for talking about a controversial topic or accused of wading into politics. However, to my delight, congregants were glad to hear a word from our holy book about modern sojourners and our role.What became clear that Sunday morning was that we not only need but also want to have better conversations about immigrants. We want to hear the clear instruction of Scripture regarding refugees. We want the opportunity to wrestle together about how to welcome strangers, even as we remain vigilant about possible dangers. Often we look to our pastors and other church leaders to host these discussions. So where do church leaders begin?Diminishing the DistanceKent Annan, director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College and cofounder of Haiti Partners, offers a place to start our education in You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us. As a veteran of international ...Continue reading...

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