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Last Build Date: Thu, 29 Jun 2017 02:41:24 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2017, Christianity Today
 



Interview: Why the Modern World Is Making Us Miserable

Fri, 26 May 2017 07:00:00 PDT

Mark Sayers asks us to look to the Bible’s steadying influence in an era of cultural turmoil.

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Mark Sayers hears it all the time: Between the election of Donald Trump, Britain’s exit from the European Union, clashes over transgender bathroom use, and the horrors of ISIS, doesn’t it feel like the world has gone mad? In Strange Days: Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval (Moody), the Australian author and pastor applies a biblical lens to the craziness that surrounds us. Hunter Baker, professor of political science at Union University, asked Sayers how Christians can keep their bearings and live kingdom-oriented lives when the world makes no sense.

Why do you suspect that the modern world is making us miserable?

When it comes to ease and comfort, the infrastructure of the modern world is unsurpassed. However, the recent epidemic of mental health challenges is telling us that something else is going on. There’s an interesting phenomenon called the Immigrant Paradox: People migrating from the majority world to the West often experience an initial improvement in health and well-being. Yet, as they become fully assimilated into Western culture, the gains are reversed. It seems there is something about the perks of modernity, and the skewed expectations they create, that throws us off balance.

What do you mean when you say that a secular society has never existed?

God made us as religious creatures. We cannot not worship; the only question is who—or what—we worship. Thus the whole of human life is lived in a religious key. Part of the reason for our increasingly fractious and extreme political culture is this religious impulse. The post–World War II political order attempted to avoid the extremes of left and right. But this is struggling to hold, as many push with religious fervor for the ...

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Cover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church

Some visitors claim to be healed. Others claim to receive direct words from God. Is it 'real'--or dangerous?

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I have seen a man dance holding a translucent scarf, the fabric billowing around his spinning form like a garment made of stars. I have prayed for strangers’ healing from high-blood pressure and unspecified neurological disorders. I have wept with salt-faced abandon as four women prayed over me; I have walked through a “fire tunnel”; I have seen a woman bob in Hasidic fashion over the Bible app on her smartphone.

I experienced all this at the increasingly famous (and, to some, infamous) Bethel Church, and I did so as an evangelical Christian of Reformed persuasion. My parents named me for the Welsh pastor-theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones. My father is a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Jonathan Edwards is one of my guiding lights, Wheaton College is my alma mater, and I attend a Presbyterian church in Toronto where I have never heard anyone speak or pray in tongues.

Yet Bethel has been on my mind since a friend prayed for my healing at a campground in Wisconsin in 2010. She introduced me to the teachings of Bethel’s senior pastor, Bill Johnson, and gave me a few of his books. As Bethel grows, you might very well hear from a few people in your congregation who have traveled to Redding to find out if Bethel is “real”—and who come back proclaiming that revival is under way.

When I set out for Bethel Church—a hub of a global revival movement—I half-expected to discover a rogue organization of hucksters intent on subverting the faith. And I half-expected to discover a community of believers more earnest and devoted to God than anyone I’d ever met. In the end, what I discovered in Redding, California, didn’t fit either narrative neatly.

Bethel Church sits ...

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The Church's Biggest Challenge in 2017
Let’s get unchurched evangelicals back into church, and prejudiced evangelicals back to the Bible. Every week, we are treated to another revelation about the alarming attitudes of white evangelical Christians. You would think that a people steeped in the Bible—which commands and exemplifies concern for refugees and others in dire straits—would find President Trump’s closing the door to the world’s neediest refugees repulsive. But white evangelicals support Trump’s exclusionary policy by a whopping 76 percent. Or take attitudes toward undocumented immigrants. Evangelical Christians believe Jesus died for them while they were lawbreakers. They are a people who know themselves as those who live moment to moment by sheer mercy. You would think these people would try to make at least some allowances for illegal immigrants. It turns out, however, that white evangelical Christians, more than any other religious group, say illegal immigrants should be identified and summarily deported. Since Trump’s election, social and political scientists in survey after survey have tried to unravel the mystery of the 81 percent of white evangelical Christians who voted for him. While the economy seems to be the main reason, with abortion and religious freedom being crucial as well, too many of them seem to show little mercy to those who are not white Americans. Supporting hardline immigration policies does not itself a xenophobe make—in fact, there are prudential reasons for limiting immigration. We just don’t find them persuasive. And when the argument for excluding foreigners from our shores amounts to fearmongering or sheer prejudice, a political issue becomes a matter of church discipline. We’re dealing with character issues among fellow believers. For various reasons, here’s the ...Continue reading... [...]



The Vacuum Christian Indifference Creates

The crisis we face when the church is silent on social justice.

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In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis warns that the enemy sends errors in pairs: "He relies on our dislike of one to send us into the opposite." We’re all prone to address an evil that offends or victimizes us by embracing its flawed opposite. Nowhere is this clearer than the current relationship the church has with social justice, where many American Christians inadvertently embrace the extreme of uncompassionate individualism or permissive secularism. Both are a corruption of the grace and truth that is the gospel, and both feed into one another in subtle but devious ways.

Many conservative Christians reject involvement in what has come to be known as the Christian social justice movement. To them, participation in this movement compromises doctrine by pursuing a false gospel that emphasizes cultural identity, social engineering, and earthly liberation over repentance and spiritual liberation from sin. This world becomes the focus and God’s law is replaced by interpretations of the human experience and relativism. To them, the achievements of this worldly bunch are negated by the frayed social fabric left in their wake. For instance, while they agree with equal treatment under the law for women, many believe the women’s equality movement has become an effort to deny natural gender distinctions and ultimately, to subside biological difference. Accurate or not, many evangelical Christians have used this narrative as justification to disparage and obstruct efforts connected with social justice.

At best, this line of reason ignores injustice; at worst, it rationalizes the church’s participation in the oppressive status quo. From the Jim Crow era to mass incarceration today, overlooking systemic ...

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How Christians See Muslims

Fri, 26 May 2017 07:00:00 PDT

Missions experts urge concern for both souls and security.

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Last December, two Muslim college students visited an upstate New York megachurch as part of an assignment to learn about different faiths. After the service, some congregants shared stories and offered hugs. One called Homeland Security.

The incident was an anomaly. But it still made national news, because it played into stereotypes of American evangelicals’ unfamiliarity with Muslims and tendency to conflate Islam with terrorism.

Surveys suggest that what evangelicals think Muslims think is quite different from how Muslims in the United States and abroad describe their beliefs. White evangelicals are also the least likely Americans to know a Muslim.

This concerns evangelical experts on Muslim missions. Because as more Muslim migrants flee unstable and violent homelands, the mission field that was once half a world away has made its way into many American communities. Last year, the US admitted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, a record high.

“This is the best chance we’ve had in human history to share the love of Christ with Muslims,” said David Cashin, an intercultural studies professor at Columbia International University.

But survey after survey indicates that white evangelicals are the least excited about their new neighbors. They show the highest levels of support for restrictions on Muslim immigration and the most skepticism toward Muslim Americans.

Case in point: President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on travel, which temporarily halts the refugee program and restricts entry from several Muslim-majority countries. Self-identified white evangelicals support the policy by a 3 to 1 margin (Pew Research Center) and are the only religious group in America that has grown more supportive of ...

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Why We Argue Best with Our Mouths Shut

Fri, 26 May 2017 07:00:00 PDT

Science reveals the power of being quick to listen and slow to speak. When Tim Keller announced he would be stepping down from his New York City congregation —known for its outreach to the religiously unaffiliated—he shared his thoughts on how evangelicals could better connect with skeptics. “We could do a far better job of patiently listening,” Keller told The Huffington Post. “And we should not talk until we can represent the skeptic’s viewpoint with empathy so that a skeptic friend says, ‘Yes, that is my hang up; I couldn’t have put it better myself.’ Only then should [we] try to . . . recommend the Christian faith to them.” Keller echoed the conventional evangelical wisdom: “You can’t argue someone into the kingdom.” Both common sense and research confirm this is true; it is very hard to change a person’s strongly held beliefs—religious or otherwise. But if it seems obvious that arguing is not an effective way to win someone over, it doesn’t stop people from trying. From Facebook to family gatherings, our disagreements regularly erupt into arguments. It’s no wonder people often avoid topics pertaining to politics and religion, in both their digital and social lives. It’s often just too risky. If we have any hope for healing the divisions in our society, families, churches, and communities, it will serve us well to learn how to have better conversations. And mounting scientific evidence suggests that the secret may lie in the charge put forth by James: to make every effort to be quick to listen and slow to speak (1:19). Why people resist being persuaded The problem with persuasion is not just that people are stubborn; people change their minds all the time about all sorts of things. The ...Continue reading... [...]



The Case for a 'New Christian Zionism'
Gerald McDermott challenges simplistic thinking about Israel’s past, present, and future. Christians have never been certain about what to do with Israel. This is certainly the case today. On the one hand, many mainline Protestants treat the nation of Israel as an international pariah. They pass resolutions urging boycotts and international sanctions, all while calling attention to the plight of Palestinians who have allegedly suffered at the hands of an oppressive Israeli state. For the most part, their posture echoes that of the political left. On the other hand, in some expressions of evangelical folk theology, especially among older generations, Israel can seemingly do no wrong. The Jews are God’s chosen people, God will bless those who align themselves with Israel, and Israel’s enemies are God’s enemies. These supporters often believe that American flourishing depends in part on US foreign policy aligning with Israel’s interests. Their approach tracks closely with that of the political right. In Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land, Anglican evangelical theologian Gerald McDermott cuts through the simplistic platitudes of both the Christian left and right, offering a third way. McDermott is part of a group of scholars who identify with the “New Christian Zionism” movement. Their goal is to convince contemporary believers that Israel is not the backstory of the church, but a key part of the future of the faith. In Israel Matters, McDermott makes a nuanced case for the centrality of Israel in redemptive history—past, present, and future. Against Supercessionism The key enemy in McDermott’s crosshairs is supercessionism, the idea that the church has replaced Israel in God’s redemptive purposes. He argues that supercessionism ...Continue reading... [...]



Directions: You're Divorced—Can You Remarry?

Q: The New Testament seems to support divorce for a narrow range of reasons, but does it support remarriage?
—K.A.Miller, Wheaton, Illinois

A: There are three New Testament passages that bear most directly on the subject of divorce and remarriage. I suggest that when they are carefully considered, they prove to be both more demanding and less restrictive on the question of divorce and remarriage than evangelicals have often acknowledged.

Luke 16:18 is a very bold, straightforward saying that seems to settle the issue quickly: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (all quotations from the NRSV). Both divorce and remarriage are just plain wrong—right?

Almost all New Testament scholars agree that this saying is an abbreviation of a saying of Jesus that appears in its fuller form in Matthew 5:31–32 in the Sermon on the Mount. After discussing his views contrasted with those in Judaism, Jesus remarks, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

It is noteworthy that Jesus clearly sees some circumstances that legitimize divorce. A marriage continues to be valid until one party dissolves the marriage through unfaithfulness. This so-called exception clause appears here in Matthew 5 and again in Matthew 19 but does not occur in either Mark or Luke.

In a similar passage in Mark 10:11–12, Jesus widens the scope of the teaching to show that such dissolution may apply to the behavior ...

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Is Suicide Unforgivable?
Question: What is the biblical hope and comfort we can offer a suicide victim's family and friends? —name withheld People who ask this question seek biblical grounds for giving hope to the kin of believers who take their own lives. The burden of proof, I should think, lies not with those who offer the solace of grace but with those who deny it. Will Jesus welcome home a believer who died at her own hands? I believe he will, tenderly and lovingly. My biblical basis? It is the hope-giving promise of Romans 8:32, that neither life nor death can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus. How can I trust in this promise and then deny its comfort to people who doubly grieve for brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers who in horrible moments of despair decided to end their lives? I believe that Jesus died not only for the sins of us all but for all of our sins, including the forgotten ones, including suicide--if indeed he reckons it always as sin. The Bible does not seem to condemn suicide. There are, I think, six accounts of suicide in the Bible, the most notorious being those of King Saul (1 Samuel 31:2-5) and Judas (Matthew 27:3-5). Others are Abimelech (Judges 9:50-54), Samson (Judges 16:23-31), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), and Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20). As far as I can tell, none of the six is explicitly condemned for taking his life. Some say that suicide cannot be forgiven because the person who did it could not have repented of doing it. But all of us commit sins that we are too spiritually cloddish to recognize for the sins they are. And we all die with sins not named and repented of. When I was a child, I heard compassionate people comfort the loved ones of a suicide victim with the assurance that anyone who commits suicide is insane at that moment. So, being mad, a suicide victim would not be held accountable by God, despite ...Continue reading... [...]



In 'Cars 3,' Humility Finishes First over Generational Conflict
The classic Pixar franchise returns with a refreshing look at what it means to pass the torch onward. Cars 3 opens in the same way as the original Cars, with Lightning McQueen, the central character, sitting in his trailer before a big race. As usual, McQueen is prepping for the race with a little motivational self-talk: “Focus. Speed. I am speed,” he says to himself. “One winner, 42 losers. I eat losers for breakfast.” After this line, however, the scene goes in a different direction; McQueen follows up with, “Wait. Did I really used to say that?” It’s as if he still can’t believe that he used to be such a jerk. It’s a clear signal from the start that, all these years later, McQueen remains a nice car. The lessons he learned in the original film are still with him. Free of ego, he has the same rundown sponsors and lives in the same rundown town (the economic boom viewers saw in Radiator Springs at the end of Cars having apparently been a passing one), yet he is at the top of his industry—a racing superstar. The problem that McQueen has in Cars 3 has less to do with the out-of-control ego of the original and more to do with something far more intractable: He is getting old. A good percentage of his demographic can relate, as many of the parents who took their kids to see Cars when it was first released in 2006 are now approaching middle-age right along with McQueen himself. Getting old isn’t fun, whether you are a human being or an animated racecar, and it’s not long before McQueen’s legacy is threatened as he is outrun by the next generation of cars. Thanks to enhanced technology and data-driven training, these cars are fast, and McQueen doesn’t have a chance against them. In short, then, Cars 3 turns out to be a story about millennials and ...Continue reading... [...]



Do Pets Go to Heaven?
An author, a professor, and an animal advocate weigh in. Many of Us Hope So Wesley Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism and author of A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (Encounter, 2010). We have come a long way since Descartes claimed that animals are mere automatons without the capacity for pleasure or pain. We now know the contrary is true: They experience. They suffer. They grieve. They love. When it comes to our relationships with pets, we not only take them into our homes: We welcome them deep within our hearts. In fact, some become so attached that they yearn to be with their pets throughout eternity. C. S. Lewis speculated on the eternal fate of animals in The Problem of Pain, suggesting that at least tame animals might enter heaven through their relationship with humans, in the same way that humans do through their relationship with Christ. But I worry that the question of pets in heaven could distort our understanding of eternal life as described in Scripture and Christian tradition. If we are not careful, we could cross the line into a sentimentality that shrinks our eschatological expectation. Our human idea of heaven might be walking an adored dog in the forest, but there is no indication that is anything like God's plan. The question of whether our pets go to heaven requires an examination of the natures of animals, of humans, and of God. Animals have their lives in God. In Psalm 104 we read that animals look to God for their food and that when he withdraws his spirit, they return to the dust. God marks the dropping of every sparrow. But John 3:16 makes no mention of animals. Only humans are made in the divine likeness. Unlike animals, we are moral agents capable of sinning by ...Continue reading... [...]



Christianity Today’s 2017 Book Awards
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture. Make a list of all the blessings the Protestant Reformation has brought, and eventually—long after jotting down iconic phrases like “salvation by grace alone through faith alone”—you’ll get around to the CT Book Awards. Books, of course, had existed long before Luther posted his 95 Theses. But there’s no denying that reading and the Reformation, with a vital assist from Gutenberg’s printing press, soared together. “The Reformation could not have occurred as it did without print,” writes historian Andrew Pettegree in his book, Brand Luther. “Print propelled Martin Luther, a man who had published nothing in the first 30 years of his life, to instant celebrity. It was his genius to grasp an opportunity that had scarcely existed before he invented a new way to converse through books. In the process he changed Western religion and European society forever.” Reading helped fuel the Reformation, and in turn, the Reformation helped fuel the spread of reading. Pettegree again: “Wittenberg, a town that had no printing at all before 1500, would become a powerhouse of the new industry, trading exclusively on the fame of its celebrity professor. And Wittenberg was not an isolated case. In many medium-sized and small German towns, the Reformation galvanized an industry that had withered after the first flush of over-exuberant experimentation.” As we mark the anniversary of the 95 Theses next year (make sure to see CT’s Reformation-themed January/February issue), our spiritual and theological debts to Luther are obvious. But it’s worth remembering, too, how Luther’s prolific pen and publishing genius helped mold evangelicals into a “people ...Continue reading... [...]



What You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These’
A more biblically accurate understanding of Jesus' words in Matthew 25. Most Christians agree that caring for the poor and marginalized is a central tenet of the gospel. And what better passage to reinforce this principle than Matthew 25:40, where Jesus commands us to care for “the least of these.” Many of us readily assume that “the least of these” refers to the poor and marginalized. But are those who Jesus is really talking about? That question might seem trivial, but its importance can hardly be overstated. After all, Jesus ties our eternal destiny to how we treat “the least of these brothers of mine.” In the broader context of the passage (Matt. 25:31–46), the sheep and goats represent salvation criteria—who is in and who is out. It’s a stark picture, with the only outcomes being salvation or damnation. In a breathtaking scene, the Son of Man sits on a heavenly throne surrounded by angels and renders his verdict: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v. 46). One’s eternal security is tied to caring for “the least of these,” whoever they are. Not Who You Think Matthew 25 gives few clues as to who “the least of these” are. They’re described only as hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Building on paucity of information in the text, at least three possibilities have been proposed. First, the “least of these” could be Jesus’ ethnic kin, the Jews—his “brothers.” This view assumes that “all the nations” (v. 32) are Gentiles who are judged based on their treatment of Jews during the tribulation. A newsletter I once received from a messianic Jewish organization broadened the ...Continue reading... [...]



Interview: Q&A: Francis Chan on Rob Bell and Hell
Why 'Erasing Hell' was his most difficult book, how 'Love Wins' prompted repentance, and whether 'Believe in Jesus or you'll go to hell' is good news. Few books have generated as much theological conversation as Rob Bell's Love Wins—and fewer still have sparked several response books within months of their appearance. Francis Chan, whose books Crazy Love and Forgotten God are still on bestseller lists, is a somewhat surprising addition to the pack with Erasing Hell. (Chan's coauthor, Preston Sprinkle, is associate professor of biblical studies at Chan's Eternity Bible College.) Christianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli is the author of another of the response books, God Wins, and interviewed Chan last week. In several places in your book, it's clear that you are conflicted about even addressing this topic. It's weird. I've never felt a need to really respond to someone else's writing. And yet reading Love Wins set a lot of things spinning in my mind. Some of it was concern, but some was doubt: Am I sure of what I believe? Let me go back and study. Several times in the middle of the night I couldn't even sleep. I really believe the Lord wanted me to do this, but there is a wrestling on that point because I thought, "Gosh, that's just not me. That's not what I'm comfortable with. I really don't think I'll enjoy this at all. I'm not looking forward to all the backlash and everything else." The other side was that I was really hoping to discover some things I hadn't discovered before—or maybe this was an opportunity to soften my stance on hell. I was hoping to find that in Scripture. And so when I didn't it find it, it made me even more sick to my stomach. It's weird to write something that you really don't like. It's easy to write for God and about God, because what a thrill to remind the church that the Holy Spirit of God is in you. What a rush! What an ...Continue reading... [...]



Should We All Speak in Tongues?
Some say speaking in tongues is proof of 'baptism in the Holy Spirit.' Are those who haven't spoken in tongues without the Holy Spirit?—Renea Chastain, Phoenix, Arizona One of the most influential and controversial events in the twentieth-century American church was the emergence of the charismatic movement. With its emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, the movement brought elements of Pentecostalism to non-Pentecostal churches. By the early 1960s, Catholics, mainline churches, and many non-Pentecostal evangelicals were experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit through prophecies, divine healings, speaking in tongues, and various physical phenomena. The movement generated much debate about the purpose of these gifts and experiences in the Christian life. Were they legitimate expressions of worship, or just frenzied spiritual emotionalism? Today, evangelicals seem to have made peace with the charismatic movement, embracing many of its practices and agreeing to disagree on others. Indeed, it's not strange these days to find people lifting their hands in the most conservative of evangelical functions. Despite this evolution, many questions remain about the meaning of speaking in tongues. The phenomenon of tongues (or glossolalia) is identified by many as the supernatural utterance of foreign human languages (Acts 2:4,6); others contend that it includes speaking an angelic language (1 Corinthians 13:1) or some other verbal expression requiring interpretation (1 Corinthians 14). For many years, speaking in tongues was seen as the distinguishing characteristic of the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions within the church. Some Pentecostal Christians, in particular, laid heavy emphasis on speaking in tongues as "initial evidence" of baptism in the Spirit. That there was some connection in the scriptural record between baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues is apparent from at least ...Continue reading... [...]