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Incredible Indian Christianity: A Special Report on the World’s Most Vibrant Christward Movement

Why it’s the best and worst of times for India’s burgeoning churches.

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The world’s most unexpected megachurch pastor might be an illiterate, barefoot father of five.

Bhagwana Lal grows maize and raises goats on a hilltop in Rajasthan, India’s largest state, famous for its supply of marble that graces the Taj Mahal. He belongs to the tribals: the cultural group below the Dalits, whose members are literally outcasts from India’s caste system (and often called “thumb signers” because of how they vote).

Yet every Sunday, his one-room church, with cheerful blue windows and ceiling fans barely six feet off the ground, pulls in 2,000 people. His indigenous congregation draws from local farmers, whose families’ members take turns attending so that someone is tending the family’s animals. The cracks in the church’s white outer walls are a source of pride: They mark the three times the building has been expanded.

Thousands of colorful flags stream down the sanctuary along the blue beams that support the corrugated metal roof. Their rustling approaches a roar.

When asked the reason for the flags, Lal responds, “For joy!” laughing heartily. The decorations are normally used at weddings. “The same feeling should be inside the church. People should feel this is God’s place.”

Yet consider a contrasting megachurch in southern India. A taxi drives under the shadow of Hyderabad’s four-story elevated train, whose massive support beams are marked with alternating colorful gods and goddesses. The roadside, lined with movie posters and squatter tents, gives way to clusters of large stone elephant-headed gods waiting to be painted with customary bright colors. The taxi turns into a dense traffic jam: a mile-long jumble of buses, motorcycles, ...

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News: The Bigger Story Behind Jen Hatmaker
The benefits and challenges of women’s ministry in the age of bestsellers, viral blog posts, and inspirational conferences. The most influential women’s leader at your church may be someone who has never stepped inside its sanctuary. It may be someone your pastor has never even heard of. “If you had to ask, ‘Who's Jen Hatmaker?’ it's time to be more directly invested in the spiritual nurture of half your church,” tweeted Jen Wilkin last month. The women’s ministry leader was responding to the wave of Christian reactions to news that LifeWay Christian Stores had stopped selling books by Hatmaker—one of the biggest writers and speakers among today’s generation of evangelical women—after she spoke out in support of same-sex marriage. Hatmaker’s popularity underscores how women’s ministry has transformed in the 21st century. Christian women increasingly look to nationally known figures for spiritual formation and inspiration—especially when they don’t see leaders who look like them stepping up in their own churches. While various evangelical subcultures may find different female teachers filling their social media feeds and Amazon recommendations (Austin-based Hatmaker seems especially popular among white women in the South and Midwest), the numbers show that the top names in women’s ministry rival or even outdraw high-profile televangelists and megachurch pastors. Titles by Bible teachers Lysa Terkeurst, Priscilla Shirer, and Beth Moore regularly outsell new releases from pastors such as Max Lucado and T. D. Jakes, according to rankings from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Bloggers such as Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp—with books popular enough to land on TheNew York Times bestseller lists—have triple as many Facebook followers as the ...Continue reading... [...]



Does Protestantism Need to Die?
Or to recover its riches? Two Protestant luminaries look at the legacy of the Reformation, 500 years later. Now and then, Protestants are stirred to ask whether the Reformation might be bad for the church and the world. Five centuries downstream from 1517, old objections come with the burden of knowing where things occasionally went wrong. As Reformation heirs prepare to celebrate our 500th anniversary, we do so with a remarkable capacity for self-criticism. At its worst, Protestant self-critique can be a tiresome self-flagellation, a dreary round of virtue-signaling and posturing over the sins of others. But at its best, it can be a time for soul-searching, a source of insight, and a promise of revival. Two new books show the range covered by the best Protestant self-critique. Peter Leithart’s The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church (Brazos) and Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Brazos) come to the task from very different angles. Vanhoozer comes to the conversation from a deep dive into the depths of the gospel. Leithart comes back to it from the future. Future Church The End of Protestantism is the long-awaited expansion of the provocative shorter remarks Leithart has made in this vein over the past few years. He hasn’t exactly softened his tone. Here, he announces, “Jesus bids Protestantism to come and die.” But there is more: “He calls us to exhibit the unity that the Father has with the Son in the Spirit.” That is, “we are called by our crucified Lord to die to what we are now so that we may become what we will be.” What draws all of Leithart’s arguments forward is essentially a syllogism: Jesus prays for the church’s unity, and Jesus will get what he prays ...Continue reading... [...]



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? 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 ...Continue reading... [...]



Interview: Evangelism, Without the Weird Aftertaste
How to share the gospel without making other people—or ourselves—so uncomfortable. Mark Teasdale began life in a “maverick” United Methodist church that emphasized evangelism more than most mainline brethren. When he grew up and moved away, he was shocked to find that many fellow Methodists thought of verbally sharing their faith as a foreign experience. Now, as a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (a Methodist school on the campus of Northwestern University), Teasdale teaches a required evangelism course to students who are often wary, if not opposed outright, to the very idea that evangelism is valuable. Pastor and author Joshua Ryan Butler spoke with Teasdale about his book Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically (IVP Academic). What are some key stereotypes about evangelism that make some Christians uncomfortable sharing their faith? Stephen Gunter, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, likes to joke that “for most Methodists, evangelism is that which we did not like having done unto us, which we feel obliged to do unto others.” I start all my classes asking, “What was your worst experience with evangelism?” I’ve never had anyone say, “It’s always been great!” The negative experience has almost always been somebody preaching at them with a set of propositions, causing an awkward situation where they have to accept or reject the message. We give the impression that evangelism is only about verbal proclamation in monologue form. You write that evangelism “trades in stories more than propositions.” What do you mean? I’m not against truth propositions. But stories are important for a couple reasons. First, Christian faith is a story: the work of God through creation, the fall of humanity, ...Continue reading... [...]



News: 'The Purpose of Christmas'
An excerpt on "A Time for Celebration." The following article is an excerpt from Rick Warren's The Purpose of Christmas. Christmas is a party. Specifically, it's a birthday party — for Jesus — and birthdays are meant to be celebrated. It's why we say "Merry Christmas!" Ironically, at most Christmas parties the person whose birthday we're supposed to be celebrating is completely ignored. He's never even mentioned. Although Jesus is the reason for the season, he's often overlooked or merely mentioned along with Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, the Grinch, elves, and a long list of celebrated fictional characters. As I was writing this little book, I decided to take a survey of Christmas shoppers. I asked, "What are you celebrating this Christmas?" Most answers had nothing to do with Jesus: "I'm celebrating that I made it through another year." "I'm celebrating being home with my family." "I got a Christmas bonus." "My son is home from Iraq." "The candidate I voted for got elected." "I'm celebrating that I've finished all my shopping." "I'm not celebrating anything. I'm just trying to survive." Preparing for Christmas can be a lot of work, especially for moms. With the pressure of buying gifts, sending greeting cards, decorating our homes, putting up lights, cooking, attending parties, and cleaning up afterward, we have little time to actually enjoy the meaning of Christmas. The first purpose of Christmas is celebration! We learn this from the angel's opening statement to the shepherds of Bethlehem. God had wonderful news for us that would cause us all to rejoice, celebrate, and throw a party: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." Luke 2:10 (NIV) The good news of Christmas is worth celebrating for three reasons. It is personal: ...Continue reading... [...]



News: Why Two Tombs Compete for Jesus' Burial
Historic renovations at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre won't change some Protestants' preference for the Garden Tomb. Beneath layers of ancient marble, renovators at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem say they have found what may be the limestone bench where the body of Jesus was laid after his crucifixion. For the first time in half a millennium, church officials have allowed access to a tomb even more famous than that of “King Tut,” the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. However, they can’t say for sure that it is the right tomb. The official purpose of the historic project is to rebuild the Edicule, the shrine in the middle of the church rotunda which encloses the tomb. Built in the early 19th century over previous constructions, the shrine was in danger of collapse and barely held together by iron girders added decades later. Beginning October 26 and working nonstop for 60 hours, a team from the National Technical University of Athens removed marble coverings and layers of fill and debris, before finally reaching the revered limestone level at the base of the tomb. They also discovered, surprisingly, that the limestone walls of the tomb were somewhat intact beneath the layer of marble. “We can’t say 100 percent, but it appears to be visible proof that the location of the tomb has not shifted through time—something that scientists and historians have wondered for decades,” said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence for National Geographic, which documented the discovery. But why is this tomb revered, and not one of the other tombs archaeologists have found in the area, which was a quarry before it was converted to a burial place in the first century? The tradition associated with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre goes back to the fourth century when Helena, the Christian mother of the emperor ...Continue reading... [...]



Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards
Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture. Friends who know my book-besotted line of work sometimes ask whether I actually read, cover-to-cover, all the volumes that come streaming into my office. I have to suppress a snicker, because that’s a bit like asking whether Alex Trebek knows all the answers on Jeopardy! Still, I devoured every word of the four finalists for CT’s first-ever Beautiful Orthodoxy book award. (See the results here.) What, you might wonder, is that high-sounding coinage supposed to mean? Think of everything that makes public discourse today a nails-on-chalkboard nightmare: the screaming matches, the hair-trigger outrage, the glib snarking and self-righteous peacocking. You might call “Beautiful Orthodoxy” our shorthand for the opposite of that—for theological, political, and cultural expression that unites truthfulness and loveliness. The way the gospel does. Plenty of people speak the truth about God and his world, but their manner is abrasive. Others use warm, artful language in the service of half-truths and falsehoods. At CT, we believe in the possibility of truth without ugliness, of beauty without moral and theological squishiness. (Don't take it from me, though. Let editor in chief Mark Galli flesh out our commitment to Beautiful Orthodoxy in this essay and this interview.) As always, we're pumped about these yearly book awards, when we recognize Christian writers for painstaking research and trenchant analysis, for dazzling prose and arresting imagery. What a testimony to the power of beauty and orthodoxy uniting in a delicious feast. Bon appétit. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books Apologetics/Evangelism Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion Os Guinness ...Continue reading... [...]



Trump Won. Here's How 20 Evangelical Leaders Feel.
Pastors, authors, and others weigh in on 2016 election. This week, a divisive and unprecedented election season culminated in a win for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Exit polls reported that four out of five white voters who self-identified as “evangelical” voted for him. Following the election, CT surveyed the reactions of evangelical leaders. Responses are listed alphabetically. Matthew Lee Anderson: “I have not lost any of the skepticism” Founder of Mere Orthodoxy “As one who opposed both our major party candidates, I am glad that the campaign is over and hopeful that America will endure the four years ahead. … Yet while the hope I feel is real, I have not lost any of the skepticism I have frequently registered about the effects of a Trump presidency on evangelicalism, on racial minorities, and on America. That skepticism will not be alleviated for a long time to come.” Thabiti Anyabwile: “Now the work begins afresh” Pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, DC “I am doing well following the election. Our political process worked again, and that’s a blessing. The result is not what I wanted. Ideally, I longed for a way for both major party candidates to lose. And Mr. Trump’s election was, by a sliver, the worse possible outcome in my mind. But I’m confident in the goodness of God and his loving rule of all things. And I’m confident that my ministry of prayer for the president will produce more than all my political participation. Now the work begins afresh—on my knees and in continued engagement.” Barry C. Black: “Grateful, optimistic, and satisfied” Chaplain of the United States Senate "Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States, and I feel grateful, ...Continue reading... [...]



Top Ten Jesus Movies
They've been making films about the Son of God for over a century. Here's one man's list of those that ascend to the top of the cinematic pack. Of the making of movies about Jesus, there is no end. In the first three months of this year alone: Son of Man, which casts a black man as Christ and sets his life in modern South Africa, got positive reviews at Sundance; the makers of Color of the Cross, which also casts a black man as Christ, established a website with trailers for their work-in-progress; and New Line Cinema announced that Oscar nominees Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) will star as the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in a new movie about the Nativity, to be released in time for Christmas. Some of this activity can be credited to The Passion of The Christ, which shattered box-office records and sparked interest in religious films when it came out in 2004. But movies about Jesus have always been popular, especially in times of heightened spiritual interest—the countercultural craze of the 1970s, the millennial anxiety of the late 1990s, etc. No interpretation of the life of Christ can ever tell the full story. That is, indeed, one of the reasons we have four Gospels; each one paints a unique portrait of the Savior and emphasizes a different set of themes. Similarly, no mere movie about Jesus can capture the fullness of his divinity, or the fullness of his humanity, no matter how sincere its makers are; but the better films can help us to see a small part of the bigger picture. This list is limited to those that focus mainly on Jesus' life story as told in the Gospels; thus, it does not include films about characters who are only peripherally connected to Jesus, such as Ben-Hur (1925, 1959). Also, because each film has its strengths and weaknesses, they are listed in simple chronological ...Continue reading... [...]



The Most Uncomfortable Christmas Verse
"But women will be saved by childbearing," may not mean what you think it means. At first, amid the unmistakable crunch of steel and aluminum, I thought I was the victim. A pang of outrage, a twinge of self-pity. But it quickly dawned on me that I was the one who caused the accident. I was responsible for the damage to a stranger’s car. I had caused the stress the man in the other car endured. It was a relatively minor accident, but I still felt the weight of the loss I’d caused both of us. And there was something more than embarrassment and anxiety. There was shame. I felt a specific form of indignity for being a woman who had hit a man’s car. In Saudi Arabia, women have only just been granted the right to vote. But they still aren’t allowed to drive vehicles. Even countries that consider such limitations archaic often hold steadfast to the stereotype of women as bad drivers. It can be a self-fulfilling belief: Studies show that these kinds of negative stereotypes actually affect women’s confidence while driving. I want to prove myself as helpful and responsible, not flighty and negligent. I want to be the person who keeps an accident from happening, not the one who causes it. But I had caused it. Was I really a bad driver? Was I merely fearful of being labeled one because of my gender? Either way, the crash filled me with shame. Like many women before me, I felt both legitimate and illegitimate shame. Like the first woman in the Garden of Eden, I felt the shame of genuine failure. But I also felt the impact of a lingering shame projected onto Eve by Adam, who blamed her for his eating the fruit. Ever since the events of the Fall, women have felt both sides of shame. At Christmastime, we tend to focus on God’s deliverance of the righteous from illegitimate shame. The Virgin ...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 of either the man or the woman ...

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The Real History of the Crusades

Fri, 06 May 2005 13:00:00 PDT

A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again. With the possible exception of Umberto Eco, medieval scholars are not used to getting much media attention. We tend to be a quiet lot (except during the annual bacchanalia we call the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, of all places), poring over musty chronicles and writing dull yet meticulous studies that few will read. Imagine, then, my surprise when within days of the September 11 attacks, the Middle Ages suddenly became relevant. As a Crusade historian, I found the tranquil solitude of the ivory tower shattered by journalists, editors, and talk-show hosts on tight deadlines eager to get the real scoop. What were the Crusades?, they asked. When were they? Just how insensitive was President George W. Bush for using the word crusade in his remarks? With a few of my callers I had the distinct impression that they already knew the answers to their questions, or at least thought they did. What they really wanted was an expert to say it all back to them. For example, I was frequently asked to comment on the fact that the Islamic world has a just grievance against the West. Doesn't the present violence, they persisted, have its roots in the Crusades' brutal and unprovoked attacks against a sophisticated and tolerant Muslim world? In other words, aren't the Crusades really to blame? Osama bin Laden certainly thinks so. In his various video performances, he never fails to describe the American war against terrorism as a new Crusade against Islam. Ex-president Bill Clinton has also fingered the Crusades as the root cause of the present conflict. In a speech at Georgetown University, he recounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 ...Continue reading... [...]



Speak Truth to Trump
Evangelicals, of all people, should not be silent about Donald Trump's blatant immorality. As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments. Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the gospel is at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.” The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things. The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers. On the one hand, we pray for all rulers—and judging from the example of Old Testament exiles like Daniel and New Testament prisoners like Paul, we can even wholeheartedly pray for rulers who directly oppose our welfare. On the other hand, we recognize that all earthly governments partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in what the Bible calls idolatry: substituting the creation for the Creator and the earthly ruler for the true God. No human being, including even the best rulers, is free of this temptation. But some rulers and regimes are especially outrageous in their God-substitution. After Augustus Caesar, the emperors of Rome became ...Continue reading... [...]



God Is Not Out to Get You
The Lord delights in you and sings over you. Can you believe it? My high-school basketball coach was a classic, old-school screamer who motivated with fear and shame. His voice was powerful, but I heard it only when I did something wrong. If I turned the ball over on offense or blew my assignment on defense, practice would stop, and the shaming would begin. Red in the cheeks and foaming at the mouth, he would scream until I had to wipe the spit off the side of my face. I never really knew him outside of basketball practice, but I know he was an angry man. Many people have a similar view of God. They believe he’s a grumpy old man who has to get his way, and that when he doesn’t, he will shame, guilt, and scare people to get them in line. Although most wouldn’t say it out loud, deep down even many believers think of God as “the God who is out to get me,” that he is waiting for us to mess up so he can meet his divine quota for punishing sin. Perhaps this comes from a particular teaching or from a bad experience with a church or a Christian, but either way, this is how many functionally view God. When we open the Bible, we encounter a very different God. The God who delights. The God who sings. The God who saves. The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17) This is one of the most inspiring and encouraging verses that you will ever read—but not in a “power of positive thinking” way. To read this passage merely as an inspirational pick-me-up would cheapen it and obscure its true meaning. To lift the verse out of its Old Testament context and surround it with clouds and doves is to miss the substantive joy ...Continue reading... [...]