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Christianity Today Magazine



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Last Build Date: Sat, 18 Nov 2017 20:24:52 PST

Copyright: Copyright 2017, Christianity Today
 



Interview: Stephen Mansfield: Why So Many Conservative Christians Wanted a ‘Pagan Brawler’ in the White House

And how their choice of Trump has affected the church since last year’s election.

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Election 2016 ended a year ago, but its effects on American culture, including the American church, persist. Many are still asking how Donald Trump became president, and what part evangelical Christians played in making that happen. Stephen Mansfield, author of bestselling books about the religious faith of recent American presidents, believes that faith matters in the story of President Trump as well. Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him describes Trump’s remarkable partnership with conservative evangelicals. Blogger Samuel D. James spoke with Mansfield about what the events of last year mean for Christians and how a divided American church can heal.

Is it fair to consider Donald Trump a prosperity-gospel Christian?

He’s definitely drawn to the side of Christianity that preaches personal power, prosperity, and success in this world. Part of that preconditioning comes from his years hearing sermons from Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale privately believed in “born again” Christianity, but Trump fed from the stream in Peale’s thought that was essentially secular motivational philosophy. Trump sees himself as a religious man and sees his own success as the result of living out certain religious principles—just not the ones at the heart of the gospel.

You describe how meeting with religious leaders during the campaign gave Trump something of an “education” he didn’t know he needed. Were his stances on religious liberty, abortion, and socially conservative issues a product of political ambitions?

A good illustration is his approach to the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors from endorsing ...

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Do We Need Another Denzel Washington Christ Figure?
CT asks the actor about his latest movie and Hollywood’s ongoing quest to score the faith audience. To churchgoers, Denzel Washington comes across as the ideal movie star. An Oscar winner accepted among the mainstream elite, he is also open, even evangelical, about his Christian beliefs. In person, the 62-year-old speaks like a Pentecostal preacher about both Christ and his new movie, Roman J. Israel, Esq. He says the legal drama, like many other projects in his repertoire, is influenced by his faith. “I’m doing what God told me to do from the beginning,” Washington told reporters including Christianity Today. “It was prophesied that I would travel the world and preach to millions of people. It was prophesied when I was 20. I thought it [would be] through my work, and it has been.” With a pitchman like that, it is no surprise that Hollywood would maximize Washington’s personal piety by attempting to draw faith audiences to his movies, even violent and R-rated ones like 2010’s Book of Eli and 2004’s Man on Fire. Sony and WIT, a niche public relations company hired specifically to market films to faith communities, flew religion entertainment reporters out to Los Angeles this month as part of a full-court attempt to convince religious moviegoers to embrace Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film is about an experienced, but autistic, defense attorney who must learn to negotiate his values when he’s forced to take over the business side of a historic civil rights firm in Los Angeles. Hollywood has awakened to the power of church audiences, particularly following the success of 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, as well as Christian movies that turned out to be relative box office hits like Heaven Is For Real, God’s Not Dead, and War Room. Secular movies ranging from 2013’s ...Continue reading... [...]



A Punk Rock Rebel Returns to Church
I was parked between “spiritual but not religious” and “New Age dilettante” when depression threw me into God’s arms. I have always been a person of gloom. Even as a small child, I suffered bouts of depression salted with anxiety before I even knew what the words meant. From toddlerhood on, insomnia overtook me as I tried rocking myself to sleep. I didn’t want to get up in the morning. I wouldn’t brush my hair. I didn’t want to go to school. But I did go to church. Until I didn’t. I’m a cradle Christian, raised on Sunday school classes with picture books of Moses bobbing in the basket in the reeds and Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the straw-dusted manger. Christmas Eve meant candlelight services, and the rest of the year was punctuated with youth group performances of schlocky Jesus-pop musicals. I attended Bible study after school, and in the summer our teacher toted us to rallies where I’d win scoops of candy for correctly reciting Scripture verses. My sensory memories of church were always profound: the heady scent of stargazer lilies on the Easter altar, pine boughs and candle wax at Christmas. When “Do You Hear What I Hear?” played on the stereo, hearing “A star, a star, dancing in the night / With a tail as big as a kite” felt like having a hand wrap around my heart and give it a loving squeeze. I even liked the zing of fear I got from scary biblical lore. Watching The Ten Commandments every year, my favorite moment came when I’d superstitiously hold my breath as the spooky Angel of Death drew across the sky, bypassing houses that had lamb’s blood painted on the lintel. Whew, close one! Depression, Sarcasm, and Cynicism Meanwhile, the darkness within kept creeping. Way back in second grade, an upsetting session with a school psychologist had given me the impression ...Continue reading... [...]



Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, but Prosperity Preaching Isn’t for Me

As part of the family empire, I lived a life of luxury. Then doubts began to surface.

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Almost 15 years ago, on a shoreline outside of Athens, Greece, I stood confident in my relationship with the Lord and my ministry trajectory. I was traveling the world on a private Gulfstream jet doing “gospel” ministry and enjoying every luxury money could buy. After a comfortable flight and my favorite meal (lasagna) made by our personal chef, we prepared for a ministry trip by resting at The Grand Resort: Lagonissi. Boasting my very own ocean-view villa, complete with private pool and over 2,000 square feet of living space, I perched on the rocks above the water’s edge and rejoiced in the life I was living. After all, I was serving Jesus Christ and living the abundant life he promised.

Little did I know that this coastline was part of the Aegean Sea—the same body of water the apostle Paul sailed while spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was just one problem: We weren’t preaching the same gospel as Paul.

Lavish Lifestyle

Growing up in the Hinn family empire was like belonging to some hybrid of the royal family and the mafia. Our lifestyle was lavish, our loyalty was enforced, and our version of the gospel was big business. Though Jesus Christ was still a part of our gospel, he was more of a magic genie than the King of Kings. Rubbing him the right way—by giving money and having enough faith—would unlock your spiritual inheritance. God’s goal was not his glory but our gain. His grace was not to set us free from sin but to make us rich. The abundant life he offered wasn’t eternal, it was now. We lived the prosperity gospel.

My father pastored a small church in Vancouver, British Columbia. During my teenage years, he would travel nearly twice a month with my uncle, ...

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The Promise and Failure of Antibiotics

How the church can play a key role in better stewardship of antibacterial medicine and avert a global health crisis.

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In 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics began encouraging doctors to treat certain ear infections with what they called “watchful waiting,” an attempt to combat the skyrocketing incidence of antibacterial resistance that was due in part to the overuse of antibiotics.

For me, that meant when exhausted parents showed up in my ER halfway through a sleepless night with a child cradling a painful ear, I could explain to them that in 95 percent of cases the infection is viral and therefore not helped by antibiotics. We could talk about ways to make the symptoms better, how the infection would likely resolve itself in a matter of days. I could point out that starting antibiotics to treat a viral infection could, in fact, cause diarrhea, allergic reactions, and most importantly, antibacterial resistance that could reemerge as a severe and even life-threatening infection in their child in later years.

I could then give the parents a prescription for antibiotics and tell them that if the fever and pain weren’t gone in 48 hours—the point at which most viral infections would have resolved—they could fill the prescription and start the medication.

I have spent hours on these conversations: urging parents to be patient, reinforcing that antibiotic resistance is a real and dangerous side effect, and trying to convince them that waiting is in the best interest not only of their child but of their entire community. The drug-resistant bacteria that develop from unnecessary or inappropriately administered courses of antibiotics are a real risk to children and everyone children “share their cooties with.” I hand over my prescription, ask them again not to fill it for two days, and then call them back ...

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What’s a Christian to Do with Statements and Confessions?
Public pressure to sign or abstain from them undermines their greatest value. Two recent documents remind us of the importance of doctrinal clarity and how hard it is to achieve unity on doctrine. The Nashville Statement addresses a burning issue of our day: human sexuality. The social and political pressures to deny the biblical teaching on God’s intent for our sexuality are immense, and we believe the statement’s creators clearly grasp the need to stand firm. This is not merely an ethical debate about what one can and cannot do in the bedroom; in fact, on this issue rest crucial aspects of the doctrine of Scripture and theological anthropology. Unfortunately, in attempting to clarify classic orthodox belief, the Nashville Statement ended up confusing some issues and has divided advocates of biblical sexuality. This is in part because it was largely driven by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (although the group had conversations with other organizations) and lacked broader participation, failing to garner a consensus among those most deeply sympathetic to its main affirmations. For example, the Nashville Statement says, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” This critiques those who, while honoring the Bible’s teaching to refrain from same-sex relations, still describe themselves as “gay Christians.” Some signers of the statement have argued that our identity cannot be grounded in a broken state but instead must be grounded in Christ. This argument fails to appreciate the nuances of identity, however. Take the parallel example of Christians who are alcoholics—an admittedly tired and imperfect comparison but one that is still apt. Some long ...Continue reading... [...]



What John Wesley Would Say to Bernie Sanders and Diane Feinstein
The post-Reformation theologian has suggestions for post-Christian America. The United States is currently in uncharted waters, both political and religious. As Harvard comparative religion professor Diana L. Eck noted, “Historians tells us that America has always been a land of many religions, and that is true. … The immigrants of the last three decades, however, have expanded the diversity of our religious life dramatically, exponentially.” Eck connects the dramatic increase in religious diversity since the 1970s with the conscious removal of explicitly racist immigration policies from US law during the Johnson administration. The failure to assist Jews attempting to flee the horrors of Nazi Germany and the success of the civil rights movement both caused calls for less racially discriminating immigration laws, and subsequently, the United States saw the massive surge in religious diversity that Eck speaks of. Religious diversity has always been an American value, but this idea has moved from diversity amongst different primarily Christian groups to a much broader and more visible diversity in the last few decades, due both to fairer immigration policies and the lessening of explicitly Christian influences over national power structures. In the midst of these changes, Americans have had to re-affirm our commitment to religious diversity in a society that is becoming religiously diverse in increasingly tangible ways. And, I would argue, we haven’t done this particularly well at the political level. We saw this on display at the confirmation hearing for recently confirmed 7th circuit Court of Appeals judge Amy Coney Barrett, when she was asked by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) if she were an “orthodox Catholic,” and objecting that she did not have enough experience ...Continue reading... [...]



When Christians Sexually Harass and Assault
Where does our rage belong when egregious actions are committed or defended by a "family member"? Allegations of sexual impropriety against the longtime Religious Right celebrity and current Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore have forced the church to wrestle once again with sexual harassment and assault. While we don’t know whether the claims that seven women have leveled against Moore are true, in general, when people claim to have been victims of sexual assault or abuse, Christians ought to believe them, says Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior. “People are denying the reality that most women grow up and live their lives being harassed, if not assaulted, and being propositioned or being pursued inappropriately,” she said. “Almost every woman I know, including myself, has had something like that happen to them. This is just the world we grow up in.” Prior recently joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editorial director Ted Olsen to discuss how quick we should be to distance ourselves from those who sin grievously or egregiously misrepresent us and what public repentance and confession might look like. Christianity Today: 10 Things Sexual Assault Victims Want You to Know Christianity Today: If You See Something, Say Something Fresh Air: White Evangelicals Conflicted By Accusations Against Roy Moore What is “Quick to Listen”? Read more Subscribe to “Quick to Listen” on Apple Podcasts Follow the podcast on Twitter Follow our hosts on Twitter: Morgan Lee and Ted Olsen Follow our guest on Twitter: Karen Swallow Prior Quick to Listen is produced by Morgan Lee, Richard Clark, and Cray AllredContinue reading... [...]



Evangelical Distinctives in the 21st Century
The first in a series on the meaning and place of a historic movement. The evangelical faith is going through another of its spasms of critical self-reflection. Every week, it seems another prominent person claims that “evangelicalism is in crisis” or that they no longer want to be identified with the word evangelical. This sort of thing happens when some evangelicals do something scandalous in the eyes of another part of the movement. In the recent past, many were disturbed by the televangelist scandals of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and others. Over the last year, many American evangelicals have been aghast at other evangelicals’ support for Donald Trump and their general political conservatism. Meanwhile, the movement has seen increased division over racial reconciliation and sexual ethics. There is nothing new under the sun. I remember my days at evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary in the mid-1970s, deciding that evangelical had no real meaning other than a code word for some that meant “real Christian.” After 50 years in the movement, I’ve come to believe it really does mean something. But like many realities we can’t define with absolute precision (gender differences, happiness, time, consciousness), the reality exists. This series of essays will try to describe the hard-to-pin-down reality that is evangelical faith as it has expressed itself throughout history and today across the globe. It has been and continues to be an extraordinary phenomenon of God, changing not only individual lives but the trajectory of nations. Like all great movements, it is subject to misunderstanding and mischaracterization. Because of the way the media covers it, the larger public today tends to think of it as primarily a political movement with a religious veneer. ...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... [...]



Inside the Museum of the Bible
The new museum wants to ignite passion for the Word through high-tech wizardry and scholarly detachment. Can it do it all? Two blocks south of the National Mall in Washington, DC, a stately brick building with a recessed entrance faces Fourth Street. On either side of the entrance, two bronze doors the height of upended school buses stand adorned with the text of the Gutenberg Bible. They are perhaps the largest-scale homage ever made to the printing plates that brought Scripture into the age of mechanical reproduction, and, as with the original plates, the text on them protrudes backward. It is as though the doors are waiting to come unhitched and fall through a perfect 90-degree arc onto the street, indelibly impressing the city with the Word of God in the Latin of the Vulgate. Each stacked line of text weighs roughly 380 pounds and was individually affixed to the doors. They don’t close, however; their function is purely decorative, and the recessed entrance plaza remains open year round. Beyond these doors opens an enormous hall paved with marble tiles. Looking up, a visitor might see a sprawling digital canopy of trees, one of five possible scenes playing on a ceiling-mounted 140-foot-long LED display. The light emitted by the false sky intensifies in surrounding glass walls and polished floors; bystanders are awash in illumination. At the end of the hall, a floating staircase winds up into the air without the aid of steel supports; docents clad in Ancient Near Eastern garb shuffle by to assume stations in the world of the distant past. On November 17, Museum of the Bible (MOTB) will open its doors to the public for the first time, claiming to be the most cutting-edge museum in DC. Lavish exhibits, futuristic technology, and hitherto-unseen artifacts await visitors on the upper floors, as do lingering questions about the museum’s ...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... [...]



The (Other) Lord of Martin Luther’s Life
What we know—and what we can guess—about the reformer’s wife, Katharina von Bora. How do you write a book about a woman whose life story is vitally important to world history, yet almost completely unknown? It’s hard to overestimate the significance of Katharina von Bora, whose marriage to and influence upon Martin Luther had tremendous implications for the Reformation. But it’s also hard to gather any substantial information about her. We have the bare facts of her life, a handful of letters written by her, and Luther’s own writings to and about her. But we have precious little else. Yet the Reformation’s 500th anniversary has brought renewed attention to its most significant players, and “Katie” Luther is no exception. Hence, we have a new biography by Ruth Tucker, Katie Luther, First Lady of the Reformation: The Unconventional Life of Katharina von Bora. The subtitle is something of a play on words, as one of the things for which Katie is best known is escaping the convent to which she had been sent at the age of five. But as dramatic as that story seems to us now, and as meaningful as her escape was, Tucker wisely cautions us not to romanticize it, or even over-spiritualize it. What Katie Wasn’t As with most of the other aspects of Katie’s life, we know little about why she decided to leave behind the life of a nun—which in some ways was safer and more comfortable than the life of an ordinary 16th-century German woman. Based on the evidence we do have, Tucker suggests that Katie’s approach to faith, and to life in general, was more pragmatic than pious. Although she regularly sat at the dinner table with Martin’s students and heard their in-depth discussions, she was unlikely to have been caught up in theological ideas or doctrinal debates; ...Continue reading... [...]



I Never Became Straight. Perhaps That Was Never God’s Goal.
Why I embraced the Bible's sexual ethic before I understood it. This is not a story of being gay and becoming straight. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to the beginning. My parents met at a gay nightclub in San Francisco. My mother just wanted a safe place to dance. My father was the security guard. He abandoned my mother and me after abusing both of us physically. I didn’t even know he existed until I was 10, by which time my mother had remarried. Growing up, I had no bedtime I can remember. I was allowed to watch horror movies at a young age. When it came to sex, nothing was hidden. There were jokes and stories and, when I was 10, I helped my mother clip images from an adult magazine for a bachelorette party. At 14, I met my first boyfriend. We laughed at each other’s jokes, watched similar shows, and got along easily. But before long he and I broke up, as teenagers do. A year later, I met my first girlfriend in an AP European history class. She was a senior, beautiful and popular. Since I excelled in the class, she asked me to come over and help her study. When we met at her house, something was different. Conversation flowed easily, rapidly, unexpectedly. I was struck by her beauty. The attraction felt like what other girls described feeling for a boy. Over the next week, I began wondering, “Is it okay to feel this way about a girl?” I was vaguely familiar with the notion that church folk condemned such things, but as I tried puzzling out why, I came up empty. Little could I imagine ever understanding the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, let alone submitting to it. The First Kiss I set myself a goal: Before this girl went to college, she would kiss me. I lied about my sexual history, placed myself strategically in her path, and ...Continue reading... [...]



Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters
That he was an ethnic minority shapes how we minister today. After one of my recent lectures, a Christian college student approached me and asked if black people are uncomfortable with the fact that Jesus is white. I responded, “Jesus is not white. The Jesus of history likely looked more like me, a black woman, than you, a white woman.” I wasn’t shocked by this student’s assumption that Jesus was of European descent, or the certitude with which she stated it. When I am in US Christian spaces, I encounter this assumption so often that I’ve come to believe it is the default assumption about Jesus’ appearance. Indeed, white Jesus is everywhere: a 30-foot-tall white Savior stands at the center of Biola University’s campus; white Jesus is featured on most Christmas cards; and the recent History Channel mini-series The Bible dramatically introduced a white Jesus to more than 100 million viewers. In most of the Western world, Jesus is white. While Christ the Lord transcends skin color and racial divisions, white Jesus has real consequences. In all likelihood, if you close your eyes and picture Jesus, you’ll imagine a white man. Without conscious intention or awareness, many of us have become disciples of a white Jesus. Not only is white Jesus inaccurate, he also can inhibit our ability to honor the image of God in people who aren’t white. Jesus of Nazareth likely had a darker complexion than we imagine, not unlike the olive skin common among Middle Easterners today. Princeton biblical scholar James Charlesworth goes so far as to say Jesus was “most likely dark brown and sun-tanned.” The earliest depictions of an adult Jesus showed him with an “Oriental cast” and a brown complexion. But by the sixth century, some Byzantine ...Continue reading... [...]