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Christianity Today Magazine

News and analysis from the world's leading Christian magazine.

Last Build Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2017 21:14:02 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2017, Christianity Today

Interview: The Three Myths of Cohabitation
Sociologist Bradford Wilcox reports the surprising results of his new international study on cohabitation and its impact on kids. According to a recent sociological study, cohabitation has a notably deleterious impact on one particular group: kids. “As marriage becomes less likely to anchor the adult life course across the globe, growing numbers of children may be thrown into increasingly turbulent family waters,” writes Bradford Wilcox in Foreign Affairs. A professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, Wilcox and his colleagues recently completed a new study, The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe. The report is the fourth edition of the World Family Map project—which tracks various indicators of family health—and is sponsored in part by the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies. The main study included the United States and 16 European countries. “We were looking at the odds that kids who were born to married or cohabitating parents will still be with their parents when they turn 12,” says Wilcox. “Then we had a sample of more than 60 countries across the globe. When you look internationally at trends, what you see is that there are a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as South Africa, and Latin America, like Colombia, that now have a substantial share of kids being born to cohabiting couples. So the question is: How is cohabitation affecting family stability in those other parts of the world, outside the United States and Europe?” Wilcox spoke recently with CT about the answers they uncovered. From your perspective, what are the most striking or surprising results from the study? In the vast majority of countries that we looked at in Europe, at all education levels, people who are married when they have kids are markedly ...Continue reading... [...]

Listen More, Speak Less to Help After Tragedies Like the Deadly Texas Church Bus Accident

Listening will speak more deeply to survivors than any words you might say.


We live in a world where tragedies come—and come far too often. The world is broken, and tragic moments remind us of that reality. However, it’s unusual to know someone who is on the front page of the news for such tragedy.

But that’s the case right now. A few hours ago, news broke of a bus crasha church bus crash, no less. And the pastor of that church is Brad McLean, who I (Ed) had the privilege of spending some time with in New Braunfels a couple of years ago, and again last year in Nashville.

He’s ministering in the midst of a crisis. And moments like these are when Christians have to learn to listen more because answers are not so easy to give. When catastrophe strikes, we want to know what we can do to help. We want to know what we can say that will bring comfort to those who are hurting.

That’s certainly what Pastor Brad is doing right now, but it reminds us all of what we should be doing.

Words can help ease distress and even spark hope in those in need. However, the truth of the matter is, there are no ‘golden’ words or phrases we can share that will make the pain go away. There’s nothing we can say that will make everything better. That’s why we often feel helpless when disaster strikes. Because our words can’t solve the problem, we are prone to freeze up, say things we normally wouldn’t, or sidestep difficult conversations.

As a result, we often fall into the trap of relying on platitudes that aren’t helpful and can even be harmful for someone going through a trauma. Sometimes, we rely on platitudes because it helps us, the helper, feel less anxious. We toss out a cliché to break the unbearable weight of silence. At other times, we ...

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What's the Deal with Lent?

Skepticism about this season is based mostly on myths and misconceptions.


One day early in our engagement, my then-fiancée now-wife, Laura, and I were locked in a stalemate: Where would we go to church once we were married?

It began politely enough but devolved into exasperation. I wanted to find a church with great expository preaching and rich liturgy. Laura preferred a church with stirring worship and emotive stories of life-change. The conversation went nowhere. Week after week, we searched in vain to find the right church, and each experience gave us something new to critique.

Eventually a friend of ours recommended that we visit an Anglican church in the western suburbs of Chicago. The day we visited was the last Sunday of Epiphany, and the church was preparing for a journey we had never taken: the 40 days of Lent. Without knowing why, we were drawn back to worship with them again, observing this strange communal practice like anthropologists visiting a foreign culture. Don’t all these rituals reflect a works-based understanding of salvation? What’s the point of giving up the comforts of life? God doesn’t need that from us! Like many evangelicals who love the gospel, I had my doubts about Lent.

Thirteen years later, I now pastor an Anglican church in Chicago filled with peo­ple who have little to no background in the cycles of the church calendar—the ancient way of ordering time around the life of Christ and his church, which includes Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, and Pentecost. I frequently have conversations with Christians and spiritual seekers who feel drawn to walk with Christ through the practice of Lent but need to be taught the basics. Perhaps you are in the same place. You might not be quite sold on the idea because you have some lingering qualms ...

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The Integrity Challenge

Organizations that name the name of Christ must communicate truth consistently.


Every Christian with a heart to please Christ faces a daily challenge to maintain and even grow in integrity—to be as good on the inside as we may seem to others on the outside. The measure of character, as has been wisely observed, is what we do and think when nobody is looking. While accountability relationships can be helpful, this is a challenge that must ultimately be faced individually.

In the same way, there are integrity challenges that every organization must face. These challenges have the same root as those that individuals face, centering on honestly being who you say you are and doing what you say you will do. Good organizations face them head on and address the issues publicly and with transparency, normally employing outside auditors to affirm their claims, at least with regard to financial issues.

Less quantifiable issues generally receive much less attention, but it is often these that are most telling for organizations that name the name of Christ.

Some of the most important of these issues might include:

  1. Making clear to all what the organization is in business to do.
  2. Providing a track record of how the organization has gone about achieving its purpose, and what the results have been.
  3. Being explicit about its faith commitments, especially concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.
  4. Explaining how the organization navigates the most divisive issues of the day, whether they are within the Body of Christ or vis-à-vis the society generally.
  5. Being clear about the kind of people the organization wants to join with them, and what discriminatory disqualifiers the organization will not tolerate.

While it would be possible to suggest some organizations that may not have fared ...

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What's Love Got to Do with It? Love, Marriage, and the Gospel
Dr. David Van Dyke joins Drs Cohick and Stetzer for the latest Theology for Life podcast. What is love, and how is it reflected in our lives? How do we have a love stance that is based in action instead of emotion? What is our culture teaching our kids today about love and objectification? What about marriage and the role of love? According to Van Dyke, love is connected to God and goes deeper than our emotions. We must always be asking, “What’s bigger than ourselves in all of this?” How can we help our kids see something different about love than what our culture is teaching us? Van Dyke said first we must model what love is to others and how we handle perceived threats and how we move past those. What does it look like to be angry and still love, or to be wounded and love despite it? According to Van Dyke, some of the strongest bonds of love are built in the repair stage, after we’ve experienced strong emotion. For many in the Church, we idolize marriage. How is the Church to handle marriage today, and our views of it? How do churches need to uphold the sacredness of marriage, and what repairs need to be done? What about hope? Van Dyke said that he loves hearing the hope in middle schoolers because as they experience chaos, they are primed for change. They are open to change, which can lead to doing relationships in new ways. Dr. David Van Dyke is Director if the Marriage and Family Therapy Program and Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Wheaton College. Lynn Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.Continue reading... [...]

In ‘American Gods,’ the Deities of Myth Meet the Modern World

The pilot for the upcoming Starz series raises provocative questions about worship and divinity.


Neil Gaiman begins his novel American Gods with an epigraph from Richard Dorson’s “A Theory for American Folklore.” In it, Dorson asks what happens to demonic beings of one culture when its people immigrate to another. The novel’s central conceit—that certain characters are personifications of the gods of myth—is never overtly stated in the pilot of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s adaptation for Starz. It doesn’t have to be, though; the premise should be clear enough from the title, the leading dialogue, and a preface in which Viking ancestors bring their invisible god to the shores of a new world (and leave him there).

After the preface, the pilot follows the opening of Gaiman’s novel pretty faithfully. Protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison, only to find that the life he was planning on returning to has been cruelly and permanently altered. With no roots and little purpose, he accepts an offer of employment from the shadowy Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Pretty soon, he is fighting a self-identified leprechaun in a bar and being kidnapped by a jealous and suspicious youth in a stretch limo who appears to be in some sort of turf war with Wednesday.

Meanwhile, over in Hollywood, where they worship sex, the equally mysterious Bilquis asks a man to “worship” her during sex. When he complies, she devours him. That scene is prolonged—and graphic. The sex and violence, while not as pervasive as in Game of Thrones, is going to be a tough hurdle for some Christian viewers to clear. So, too, might be some underlying assumptions about whether the Christian religion differs from other religions that tell stories about gods. (Although not ...

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The 'Feminine' Trait Every Christian Needs to Learn
The virture of endurance was a 'female' attribute in New Testament times. On June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a white supremacist gunned down nine African American Christians as they participated in a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Americans were outraged at such heartless and vile racism, but something else gained national attention: The church members forgave the murderer. In fact, such forgiveness is so countercultural that many in the media sought to explain it away by saying that the African American church was fearful of reprisals or was ingratiating themselves to the majority white culture. Fortunately, a few reporters accurately identified the “supernatural” source of such forgiveness—the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. The media missed another crucial, countercultural aspect of the gospel: resurrection hope expressed by endurance. One week after the shooting, believers were back at Wednesday night Bible study, and they have continued ever since. The gospel message of Christ’s loving forgiveness has transformed these believers, and the promise of eternal, resurrection life has given them enduring hope. Forgiveness and endurance shape their values according to God’s kingdom ethics. As Joe Riley, mayor of Charleston, pronounced at the funeral of one church member, “Myra [Thompson] will always be here in the memory of this church. She was a martyr in the continuing fight of human dignity.” During the season of Lent, Christians around the world focus especially on Jesus’s death on the cross and think about repentance and forgiveness. They recall Paul’s words in Romans that they are co-heirs with Christ, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that ...Continue reading... [...]

After 40 Girls Die in Orphanage Fire, Guatemala Asks Evangelicals for Advice
Tragedy becomes impetus for reforms sought by Christian experts. Earlier this month, a fire at an orphanage outside of Guatemala’s capital caught international attention. Forty children died of carbon monoxide poisoning and burns; the tragic event drew worldwide condemnation. But the aftermath of the fire has given hope to those who work with the Central American country’s orphans. As the government turns to evangelicals for help, it seems the tragedy may spark the breakthrough many have been praying for. In some ways, the tragic blaze—set intentionally by children locked in the overcrowded facility—was not unexpected by evangelical experts. In 2006, Orphan Outreach founder Mike Douris told the Guatemalan government that the orphanage’s design wasn’t a good idea. The government went ahead and built it anyway—another link in a chain of wrong moves. For decades, Guatemala has had some of the worst child welfare practices on the planet. In 2015, the country had the second-highest rate of child murders in the world. Of the crimes against children that get reported—including murder, rape, kidnapping—most go unpunished (88%). An estimated 2 in 5 children are malnourished. Among indigenous children, that rises to 4 in 5. Tales of overcrowding, abuse, and malnutrition leak out of orphanages like the one near the nation’s capital, Guatemala City, where dozens died in the recent fire. The infamous orphanage, the Virgen de la Asunción, was built for 400 children but housed about 750. Inside, orphans were physically and sexually abused by staff and by other children. There were complaints about water leaks and poor food quality. Only 3 of the 64 security cameras in the building were working. The conditions resemble fellow public orphanages, ...Continue reading... [...]

Church-Planting Shifts, Part Four: Supporting Planters
Church planting may require supporting church planters, not church plants. Read Part One, The Launch, Part Two, From Nominal to Secular, and Part Three, Preparing Our People for Witness. As I have discussed in this series on church-planting shifts, we must acknowledge that Christianity in the West will be competing more with a secular worldview than it has in the past, when Christendom reigned. The question among missiologists and pastors today arises around the issues of timing: When will this reality exert significant pressure on the present church planting approach, thus requiring immediate change to the predominant approach—reaching nominal Christians? Below I look at some possible implications this evident shift may have for the support structures of most church planting initiatives. With the rising tide of secularism and the ultimate decline of Christian nominalism, we may need to rethink our denominational/traditional church planting support mechanisms. There’s no doubt that nominalism has provided us with a ready base to plant and launch churches. We could plant faster with a Christian base and nominal Christians to reach. But that is changing. This, in turn, has led to a fiscal reality that the way we fund church planting must line up with the new and emerging philosophies of church planting. As we look to the future, we’re going to find it more challenging to fund church plants the traditional way, primarily because the sending context will be vastly dissimilar to our current context. That’s already true in places like Boston or Madison, WI, but it is becoming more evident in Columbus as well. In order for churches to be planted in a more secular society, we need different skills as church planters and we need to take more time to establish credible and significant roots ...Continue reading... [...]

This Unpaid Pensions Case Could Crush Christian Hospitals
Supreme Court will decide if religious organizations qualify for IRS church exemption. Today the US Supreme Court heard a trio of lawsuits on pension plans at Christian hospital systems. So far, the panel of justices seems torn over whether religiously affiliated employers fall under federal requirements for pension benefits. Churches are exempt from the US Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). But the current cases challenge whether such standards apply to employers that are merely affiliated with churches: hospitals, schools, and daycares, for example. Employees who filed the suits argue that the hospitals should comply and, in some cases, pay billions to make up for benefits their workers have missed out on. The Supreme Court’s eventual ruling on the issue, which Religion Clause picked as the No. 4 church-state development of 2016, will impact dozens of similar cases as well as the budgets of a significant slice of America’s healthcare system. (For example, the American Civil Liberties Union found that last year, Catholic hospitals alone provided 1 in 6 patient beds available.) The hospitals involved in the litigation include Dignity Health, which operates Catholic hospitals and employs 60,000 people in 20 states; Advocate, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ and employs 33,000 people in Illinois; and Saint Peter’s Health Care System, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church and located in New Jersey, according to Bloomberg News. The Internal Revenue Service has allowed the Christian hospitals—and hundreds of other religious affiliated institutions—to claim ERISA exemptions. Because of decades of federal approval, the institutions believed they were “proceeding in good faith with the assurance of ...Continue reading... [...]