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Christianity Today Magazine

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Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2018 19:48:02 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2018, Christianity Today

Bill Hybels Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Former Willow Creek Leaders
John and Nancy Ortberg, others confront megachurch with its own #MeToo moment. “The charges against me are false,” says Hybels of former friends’ “collusion.” When the #MeToo movement arose this past fall, Willow Creek Community Church sprang into action. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or harmed, your pain matters—to us and to God,” the suburban Chicago megachurch posted on its Facebook page, along with details about how to get help. A handful of Willow Creek’s female leaders, including cofounder Lynne Hybels, also joined the Silence Is Not Spiritual campaign, calling on evangelical churches to stand up for women who had experienced sexual harassment and sexual violence. Now the megachurch may have a #ChurchToo problem, one that pits cofounder Bill Hybels against some of his longtime friends. A group of former pastors and staff members has accused Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct, the Chicago Tribune reported tonight. The group includes John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek and longtime friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels. It also includes Leanne Mellado, a former Willow staff member who is married to Santiago “Jim” Mellado, the former longtime head of the Willow Creek Association (WCA) and current president and CEO of Compassion International. At issue are allegations of pastoral misconduct by Bill Hybels, a bestselling author and founding pastor of one of America’s largest churches. “The alleged behavior included suggestive comments, extended hugs, an unwanted kiss, and invitations to hotel rooms,” according to the Tribune. “It also included an allegation of a prolonged consensual affair with a married woman who later said her claim about the affair was not true.” Bill Hybels has denied the allegations and says his former ...Continue reading... [...]

One-on-One with Brian Rosner on Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity

Being known by God brings significance, humility, comfort, and direction.


Ed: How did you get interested in the topic of personal identity?

Brian: It was for very personal reasons. Back in the 1990s I had my own crisis of identity of sorts. Some big changes happened in my life and I found myself asking some uncomfortable questions. I talk about it in the opening pages of the book.

Being a Christian, I turned to God and the Bible for answers. What I found made an enormous difference to me personally. It also dawned on me that I was far from alone in wrestling with questions of personal identity.

In the ensuing years I had conversations with and read about people in all sorts of circumstances—people who’d been made redundant; people whose parents had died; people whose identity online leaves them feeling like a phony; people with questions about gender and sexuality; people who felt deflated by their aspirations for life not coming to fruition; people who felt diminished by consuming responsibilities for children or parents; and people who felt at sea in our rapidly changing world.

As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, at the beginning of a new millennium, the human race seems to be suffering from a collective identity crisis. The book is my attempt to pass on what I’d learned.

Ed: People define themselves in all sorts of ways, with reference to their race, gender, age, marital status, occupation and so on. What does the Bible make of the so-called ‘traditional’ identity markers?

Brian: Such markers of identity are obviously essential for personal identity, but they are not the whole story. They are all important, but none of them is all-important. The Bible judges them to be inadequate foundations upon which to build your personal identity and even warns about putting too much weight ...

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We Need an Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries

Allegations of child sexual abuse and staff cover-up continue to swirl. Let’s set an example for all churches to follow, bringing healing to victims and churches alike.


For nearly six years now, an open wound has been festering in the evangelical community. It’s time for healing to begin.

But that healing cannot begin until we all know the exact nature and extent of the wound; until all the facts are out in the open; until the truth that liberates can be known; and most importantly, if and when it is pertinent, there is repentance.

To put it simply: Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries) and its individual churches and leaders who have been accused of failing to adequately respond to past incidents of child and sexual abuse should submit to a thorough, truly independent investigation.

For six years now—and more intensely in the last few weeks—charges and counter-charges (see links below), accusations and defenses have been conducted in public forums and in the courts, without a satisfactory conclusion. This has left many, many observers bewildered, angry, and deeply suspicious of SGC. What’s worse, these unseemly events reverberate outward, mixing with the #ChurchToo discussion and lingering anger over the Roman Catholic Church abuse scandal. Many now wonder if there has been a habit of covering up and denying child and sexual abuse in evangelical churches in general—if there is something in the evangelical DNA that makes us hesitant to deal with accusations quickly, openly, and truthfully when there is the suspicion of grave sin in our midst.

We call for a fresh and thorough independent investigation not because we believe SGC guilty of every one of its critics’ charges. We are as bewildered as anyone and simply don’t have enough information to make a confident judgment on the matter. We see, however, that SGC and some ...

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Empathy & Evangelism

Empathizing with others leads to greater effectiveness in evangelism.


In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains that empathy is a key to effectiveness. He exhorts us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It’s so easy to jump right into the point that we want to get across, but if we don’t first take the time to understand where others are coming from, there can easily be unintended miscommunication.

Cultivating the ability to empathize with others leads to greater effectiveness in all forms of communication, including evangelism. In fact, Jesus himself models this as he empathizes with our brokenness.

Hebrews 4:15 explains that “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” After emphasizing that Jesus can empathize with our weakness, the writer of Hebrews goes on to say “Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

The fact that Jesus stepped into our world and chose to humble himself is exactly what paves the way for us to understand God and approach his throne of grace with confidence. This same dynamic is true for us as we reach out to others with the gospel.

As we engage those who don’t know Jesus and humble ourselves to empathize with their weaknesses, God becomes more approachable for them.

Since empathy is crucial to our evangelism, how do we intentionally cultivate it in our lives so that we can be more effectively and clearly communicate the truth of the Gospel? Here are four practical steps to help us get started.

1. Be honest with ...

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Mother Mary Is a Sanctuary—and So Are We

Annunciation Day invites us to be vessels of Christ in the world.


This Sunday marks the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary with an outrageous announcement: that she would carry a human child who would also be the child of God. For many Christians, Annunciation Day—which lands exactly nine months before Christmas Day—marks the moment when Christ became incarnate and entered Mary’s womb.

Mary has been a controversial figure throughout the centuries and not just in Protestant circles. For some feminists, she represents the subservience of women in the Christian faith. More recently, however, she has come to represent the opposite: the liberation of the oppressed. Mary’s Magnificat, otherwise known as the Song of the Theotokos, stands for resistance. A poor, obscure woman spoke for those on the margins when she said, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46–55).

Mary’s traditional title of Theotokos, or “God-bearer,” may feel awkward for many Protestants, but it was affirmed by the third ecumenical Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 (That council also reaffirmed the Nicene Creed, a decision that Protestants support.) Theologically, the title underscores what Scripture tells us—that Jesus was both a holy being and also a human baby of Mary’s womb, the divine one who had her DNA and blood running through his veins. This great mystery encourages us to ponder what it means for a woman to bear God.

“Bearing God” is a task not just for women who can carry children but for everyone who will undertake it—so the church has taught for centuries. We, like Mary, are asked ...

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Why Russian Protestants Voted for President Putin

Though evangelicals’ freedom has worsened, Putin remains their best, or only, option.


Even as persecution climbs for Protestants in Russia, most of its evangelicals continue to support President Vladimir Putin, who won his fourth six-year term in last week’s election.

Given Putin’s stronghold in the former Soviet state, they don’t really have another choice.

The incumbent Russian president drew in 75 percent of the vote Sunday, up from 64 percent in 2012. With a popular leading critic, Alexei Navalny, forced out of the race, Putin soundly beat out Pavel Grudinin, a millionaire entrepreneur from the Communist Party; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist with a military background; and Ksenia Sobchak, a former TV host.

For Protestant voters, who make up only about 1 percent of the heavily Orthodox nation, “their support for Putin would be only a bit below the national average,” according to William Yoder, spokesman for the Russia Evangelical Alliance. “They would not vote for a communist, or a nationalist like Zhirinovsky, and not for a movie-starlet like Sobchak.”

Like their Orthodox neighbors, Russian evangelicals prioritize family values such as traditional marriage, said Yoder. But leaders do not often speak out to address politics—especially not from the pulpit.

Pastor Alexei Smirnov, chairman of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, did post a statement this week to congratulate Putin on his victory.

“In accordance with the Word of God, the Bible, the churches of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists will support you in prayers. As before, our brothers and sisters will make every effort to build not only the Kingdom of Heaven, but also the earthly Fatherland, Russia,” an English translation read.

“I wish you ...

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Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood [Theology for Life Podcast]

Dr. David Setran is Price-LeBar Chair of Christian Formation & Ministry at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.


Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood

In this episode of Theology for Life, Ed and Lynn discuss with Dr. David Setran about this generation of emerging adults and how they view life and spirituality, and what this means for Christianity.

Dr. David Setran is Price-LeBar Chair of Christian Formation & Ministry at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.

Dr. Lynn Cohick is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

Dr. Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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The Values-Driven Leader: A Mosaic of 3 Tiles
What can you do to keep your organization on mission? Coca-Cola’s disastrous attempt to sell “New Coke” Sony’s decision to diversify itself into relative obscurity The West Wing, Seasons 5-7 What do these things have in common? Each is an example of an organization that lost its way. Somewhere along the line— whether on account of market pressure (Coke), diluted identity (Sony), or the departure of a visionary (West Wing)—each of these trains ran way off its respective track. Unfortunately, churches and non-profits are every bit as prone to wander as their business counterparts. In their award-winning book Mission Drift, Peter Greer and Chris Horst describe this as the “unspoken crisis” facing faith-based organizations today. How do powerhouse brands like the ones I mentioned above so famously lose touch with their raison d’être? What causes churches and non-profits to slip their moorings and drift out to sea? What can you do to keep your organization on mission? Organizational Drift Starts at the Top So often, leaders come into their positions with a certain image of what the ideal leader should look like. For some, it’s the deeply convicted stalwart. For others, it’s the creative luminary. Still others aspire to be the courageous hard-charger. Each of these images are great. But, when leaders exaggerate one over the others, they can quickly drift off course… and take the entire organization with them. In short: if your values get out of whack, so will theirs. Assembling a Leadership Mosaic For Christians, no monolithic model of leadership will do. We worship a God whose redemptive leadership takes shape in manifold ways throughout Scripture. He is our archetype—the one in whose image we’re made ...Continue reading... [...]

The Christian Case for Trump’s Meeting with Kim Jong-un
The President should go through with his talks—for the sake of three Americans and millions of North Koreans. If President Donald Trump meets with Kim Jong-un, he will be the first sitting US president to confer with the head of the North Korean regime. The historic summit would give the president a chance to confront Kim face-to-face about his country’s severe human rights violations—which have concerned Christians, religious freedom advocates, and humanitarians for decades. Trump’s not the only one with such an opportunity. US and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet in Finland this week with a North Korean diplomat, and Sweden is in talks to negotiate the release of three American citizens currently detained in North Korea. South Korea has now also proposed three-way talks with the US and North Korea, possibly at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the border. The prospect of Trump’s meeting with North Korea has raised questions over what could be accomplished by coming together and concerns about the risks of reaching out to a country whose rhetoric and policy has long been hostile to the US. While commentators around the world weigh in, I asked someone who knows the threat of North Korea like few others—John, a Christian refugee who escaped from the country. Even though I work for Open Doors, an organization that has supported persecuted Christians for 60 years, I don’t hear from many people like John. Few North Koreans make it out of their home country, and those who do remain secretive to avoid retaliation on their family and friends. This North Korean refugee had a warning for Trump and the American officials: “Do not underestimate Kim Jong-un.” John went on to explain that even with the rest of the world buzzing about possible denuclearization, North Korea’s state-run ...Continue reading... [...]

#ChurchToo: Andy Savage Resigns from Megachurch over Past Abuse
Memphis pastor who faced backlash after standing ovation: “Apologies are important, but more is required.” Andy Savage, the pastor who disclosed his decades-old assault on a teen in his former youth group to an applauding congregation, stepped down from his position at a Memphis megachurch on Tuesday. Savage’s January 7 remarks on his repentance regarding the 1998 incident launched months of discussion among Christians, coverage in national news media, and an investigation by Highpoint Church, where he served as teaching pastor. Church leaders had been aware of his misconduct, which had taken place at a church in Houston, prior to hiring him. Though the recent investigation did not uncover further instances of abuse, Highpoint leadership “agrees that Andy’s resignation is appropriate,” the Memphis Commercial-Appeal reported. He has been on leave during the course of the investigation. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Savage’s victim, Jules Woodson, had spoken out publicly about the sexual assault that has haunted her since she was 17 and her disappointment with her church’s response to the crime. She most recently shared her story, and her reaction to Savage’s initial remarks addressing the “sexual incident,” earlier this month in a haunting video by The New York Times. She told the Commercial-Appeal she was still “trying to process” the news of Savage’s resignation. In a statement posted online, Savage addressed the criticism over his initial discussion of the assault, and announced his resignation: After much prayer and counsel, I now believe it’s appropriate for me to resign from my staff position at Highpoint Church and step away from ministry in order to do everything I can to right the wrongs of the past.Apologies are important, but more is required. ...Continue reading... [...]