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Ravi Zacharias and the Case of Christian Credential Inflation
Many evangelists and apologists have a history of overstating their qualifications. Earlier this week, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) released a statement addressing its namesake’s credentials, which have recently been under fire. “In earlier years, ‘Dr.’ did appear before Ravi’s name in some of our materials, including on our website, which is an appropriate and acceptable practice with honorary doctorates,” stated RZIM. “However, because this practice can be contentious in certain circles, we no longer use it.” From CT’s report: According to the biography currently posted on RZIM’s website, Zacharias received a master of divinity degree from Trinity International University and “has conferred ten honorary doctorates, including a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Sacred Theology.” Up until earlier this year, the RZIM bio had not used the phrase “honorary doctorates;” instead, it had stated that Zacharias had been “honored with the conferring of six doctoral degrees.” The site also previously referred to him as “Dr. Zacharias” through 2014, as did multiple press releases, news features, and event postings. Apologist and religious studies professor John G. Stackhouse wasn’t surprised by the news. “There’s a long and not very edifying tradition of Christian evangelists and speakers inflating their credentials,” said Stackhouse. Stackhouse says that he personally confronted two RIZM employees about problems he saw with Zacharias’s credentials but that no changes were made after the conversation. “Ravi Zacharias is the biggest name in apologetics currently,” said Stackhouse. “As he goes, so goes apologetics so it’s really important that he be ...Continue reading... [...]



Evangelical Christians Are Sick
The movement is driven by a painful awareness that the heart—each of our hearts—is desperately wicked. ‘The scene to me was new and passing strange,” wrote Presbyterian pastor Barton Stone as he witnessed a revival in Kentucky in the spring of 1801. “Many, very many fell down, as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state—sometimes for a few moments reviving, and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan, or piercing shriek, or by a prayer for mercy most fervently uttered.” Small revivals like this kindled that bonfire we call the Cane Ridge Revival, what historian Paul Conkin said is “arguably … the most important religious gathering in all of American history.” One witness described the scene as events at Cane Ridge reached their climax: “Sinners dropping down on every hand, shrieking, groaning, crying for mercy, convoluted. Professors [believers] praying, agonizing, fainting, falling down in distress for sinners, or in raptures of joy! Some singing, some shouting, clapping their hands, hugging and even kissing, laughing; others talking to the distressed, to one another, or to opposers of the work, and all this at once.” So affecting was this event, that in the decades that followed, the prayer of camp meetings across the land was “Lord, make it like Cane Ridge.” Revivals like Cane Ridge are the most dramatic illustration of the point made in the first essay in this series. Historian Perry Miller called Puritan faith a version of Augustinian piety, a piety that is found in the best of American evangelicalism. As Miller put it in talking about the Puritans: As long as it remained alive, its real being was not in doctrines but behind them; the impetus came from an urgent sense of man’s predicament, ...Continue reading... [...]



The Real Story Behind Ray Rice Speaking at Liberty
What does a former abuser talk about at a Christian college? Repentance. On February 3, 2013, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was riding high. That was the day he helped his team win the Super Bowl in a historic game against the San Francisco 49ers. But just one year later, Rice hit rock bottom after being caught on camera brutally knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. After the dramatic and disturbing video footage was leaked on TMZ for all the world to see, Rice was fired by the Ravens, and he hasn’t played professional ball since. Now Rice has a story to tell, a story of how this was the turning point in a lifetime characterized by various kinds of abuses and a deformed image of what it means to be a man. This week 30-year-old Rice shared that story at Liberty University in a special, extended convocation that featured the former NFL player along with a panel of students, administrators, and counselors who shared stories of domestic violence as well as avenues of change and resources for help. (The entire convocation can be viewed here.) The unceasing revelations of recent days of ongoing abuse and harassment by celebrities, leaders, and politicians leave the church with myriad questions, including how to prevent such actions and how to respond to both victims and abusers. As one victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her minister husband, Ruth Tucker writes, “For too long we’ve let external appearances, assumptions about socioeconomic status or education levels, or even a ‘spiritual’ veneer and churchy language hide patterns of abuse.” Another question, however, perhaps the hardest one amid the rawness of these revelations, is this: If we want abusers to repent and be restored, what will we do to facilitate ...Continue reading... [...]



The Reformation, Viewed from the East

An Eastern Orthodox theologian assesses Luther’s famous doctrine of ‘sola fide.’

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Make no mistake: The absence of the Orthodox Church in the Reformation debates of the 16th century is one of the great tragedies of Christian history. What might have happened if Orthodox churches had been party to the theological controversies that dominated 16th-century Europe?

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation provides an occasion for assessing Eastern Orthodox and Protestant attempts at unity on the key Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). Is a consensus possible between the Reformers and the Orthodox Church on this central tenet, which Luther described as “the article by which the church stands or falls?” As an Orthodox theologian, I think the answer is yes, but only if Christ, not justification, is the core of the Christian gospel.

A Dialogue of Fits and Starts

In the 16th century, both East and West were embroiled in all-consuming issues that stunted effective theological dialogue, especially on issues like justification by faith alone. While Catholics and Protestants were undergoing the most turbulent revolution in the history of Western Christianity, the Orthodox Church was trying to survive repressive conditions under Islamic rule in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and the Middle East.

The first positive theological overture came from none other than Martin Luther himself. During the Leipzig Disputation in 1519, Luther defended himself against papal theologian Johann Eck’s accusation that Luther’s views of the papacy had become schismatic or even heretical like those of the Eastern churches. Luther cited Orthodoxy’s unbroken continuity with the great church fathers over the previous 1,400 years to argue that they were not heretical. In fact, Luther stated ...

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Handel’s Messiah: A Brilliant Blend of Transcendence and Transgression
How the composer (and his lesser-known collaborator) wedded Scripture and music in daring new ways. For many of us, Handel’s Messiah has transcended its place as a great work of art and has taken on the status of an almost canonical spiritual text. There are few works in the classical repertory that are so well-known and well-loved by such a variety of people. Even people who don’t usually care much for classical music are familiar with this piece. Is there any other oratorio that could host sing-along performances without the participants fumbling and stumbling over the words? How many artistic expressions of theology or spirituality have opened as many hearts to hearing the words of Scripture as has this magnificent piece of music? It is certainly a piece that has inspired many with its beauty and its testimony to the gospel. Yet by now, the soaring “Hallelujah Chorus” is so familiar that it might seem almost impossible to hear and appreciate Handel’s famed composition in fresh ways. Thankfully, Jonathan Keates’s slim volume, Messiah: The Composition and Afterlife of Handel’s Masterpiece, helps us do just that, partly by reminding us that there was a time when it wasn’t so enthusiastically embraced because it transgressed some of the standard expectations for an oratorio and strove for something new. One strength of Keates’s book is the reminder that it is not only the music of Messiah that is extraordinary. So is the libretto, penned by Charles Jennens, with whom Handel had already shared a series of collaborations. And it is the text of Messiah that makes it so unique. At the time of its appearance, most oratorios told stories through a plot line and delineated characters, with plenty of room for dramatic embellishment. But Messiah doesn’t attempt to tell a specific ...Continue reading... [...]



Evangelicals and Domestic Violence: Are Christian Men More Abusive?
A sociologist looks at the data on domestic abuse against women. As a sociologist who studies family and marriage trends, I predict that in the coming years, we’ll see a growing wave of mainstream media and academic stories contending that religion, especially evangelical Christianity, hurts women, children, and families. These stories will be framed around one key question: Is faith a force for ill in family life—from marriage in general to domestic violence in particular? In recent years, the question has focused especially on spousal abuse against women. For example, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) recently published a report titled, “Submit to your husbands: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God.” The subtitle, too, issued a similar claim: “Advocates say the church is not just failing to sufficiently address domestic violence, it is both enabling and concealing it.” The series, which set off a firestorm between defenders and critics, exposed numerous cases of battered Christian wives who had been neglected or let down by their pastor or Christian counselor. Spotlighted by both ABC’s online and television coverage, the story left the impression that some evangelicals’ support for gender traditionalism and male headship set the stage for abusive behavior. Although it ran in a major outlet half a world away, the story is suggestive of the kind of coverage that is likely to become more common here in the United States. This story and others like it, however, underscore common misperceptions about how religion impacts male behavior in marriage. So, what does the science tell us? Are some forms of evangelical Protestantism bad for marriage and “good” at fostering domestic violence? The answer is complicated, ...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. 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, ...Continue reading... [...]



Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters

That he was an ethnic minority shapes how we minister today.

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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 ...

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Interview: Beautiful Word: The Story of the ESV Illuminated Bible
Renowned designer Dana Tanamachi brings modern illustrations to the ancient text. Centuries before Christians searched Scripture on illuminated digital screens, the Word of God was “lit up” with masterful calligraphy, colorful illustrations, and gold and silver filigree in the illuminated Bibles and manuscripts of the Middle Ages. A new Bible edition from Crossway offers contemporary readers a glimpse of that classic style in an English Standard Version (ESV) Bible glimmering with hundreds of hand-drawn gold illustrations. Christian designer Dana Tanamachi, nationally renowned for her chalk art and lettering work, spent seven months creating full-page illustrations for each book of the Bible and served as art director for the project, which follows Crossway’s launch of a multi-volume reader’s Bible in 2016 and a single-column journaling Bible in 2014. “I’m not aware of anything else quite like the ESV Illuminated Bible,” J. Mark Bertrand, a Bible design expert who runs the blog Lectio, told CT. “Maybe because the ESV Illuminated Bible is a mass market effort, maybe because of the clear influence of the ‘Bible journaling’ trend—which the ESV Journaling Bible helped create—it feels like something unique.” Even with the growth of Bible sites and apps, around 80 percent of Bible readers—and about as many millennial readers—still prefer to study a physical text. New Bible designs and formats aim to make it easier and more engaging for today’s readers to get into the Word. “Our prayer is that the added ornamentation and illustrations will draw the readers’ eyes to the beauty of the Word of God itself,” Crossway writes in the ESV Illuminated Bible. Several more recent efforts to bring the historic practice ...Continue reading... [...]



Directions: Is Christmas Pagan?
Long before Constantine, Christians found ways to redeem local cultures and salvage those elements that naturally pointed to Christ. Q: A friend says her church doesn't celebrate Christmas because it began as a pagan holiday. Why then do most churches celebrate Christmas? A: Was the event we now call Christmas originally a "pagan holiday"? In some ways. Does that mean the church should discard it, along with its lights, tinsel, and increasing commercialism? Only if we are prepared to abandon many other holidays and common Christian practices that the early church co-opted for its own purpose of glorifying Christ. Christmas has its origins in the fourth century. December 25, which Christians now herald as Jesus' birthday, was actually the date on which the Romans celebrated the birth of the sun god. After the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity at the Milvian Bridge in 312, he sought to combine the worship of the sun god with worship of Christ. Christian leaders accepted Constantine's conversion in a positive light and saw the "Christ-mass" celebration as a vital part of the process of converting the pagan world. Long before Constantine, Christians found ways to redeem local cultures and salvage elements in those cultures that naturally pointed to Christ, whether Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Roman. They denounced inhumane pagan practices, but at the same time took over pagan temples and converted them to churches. They replaced the old gods in popular devotion with heroic martyrs of the persecutions. And they replaced the holy days of paganism with festivals of the Christian year. Larger questions loom behind the observance of Christmas: Why a church calendar at all? Why a Sunday? Why an Easter? Is there New Testament authority for religious holidays? As Christmas, Easter, and Sunday all indicate, the ...Continue reading... [...]



How the Coming of the Son Brings Hope to the Fatherless
An overlooked prophecy points to the family togetherness we crave at Christmas. We tell two stories around Christmas. One is Christian, while the other is mostly sentimental. The first story begins (at least in the Gospel of Luke) with an elderly priest named Zechariah serving faithfully at the temple. Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth, his wife, both loved the Lord and likely harbored some hope for Israel to be freed from Roman oppression. The angel Gabriel gives life to their hope by announcing that this barren couple would have a son who would herald the coming Messiah. From there, the story moves to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. The wonder of her pregnancy would surpass that of Elizabeth. Instead of being barren, Mary is a virgin. Instead of preparing the way for the king, her child would be the King himself, created within her womb by the power of the Spirit, God come to dwell among us. We need not rehearse all that follows, save to say that shepherds and angels show up in abundance. The Lord of the universe enters the world through a virgin and spends his first night well loved in a humble manger. This is our Christmas story, rightly celebrated as the beginning of a new era in human history. The other story that dominates the Christmas cards, songs, and movies we’ve come to love centers around a different kind of family. This is the all-American nuclear family, gathered around the tree in matching pajamas and exchanging presents as Nat King Cole croons in the background. Our image of family at Christmas—well-decorated, wealthy, happy, and intact—actually sits uneasily beside the gospel of the first. I have no problem with churches that laud family togetherness during the holidays. Nonetheless, for children without a mother or a father, it can feel like a second Christmas ...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... [...]



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... [...]



When East Meets West
A response to Bradley Nassif's suggestions for Protestant and Orthodox communion. Prospects for church fellowship between the Orthodox Church and churches with roots in the 16th century Reformation have been and continue to be distant at best. This is not a reason to despair. This makes dialogue, official or unofficial, all the more important, not least as a repentant and hopeful protest against divisions which we know are contrary to Christ’s will. The deep scandal of Christian disunity is disobedience to Christ’s command: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Such love is not “tolerant” indifference to true doctrine and right practice but demands patient, persevering effort toward reconciliation with fellow Christians from whom we are estranged. The horror of our divisions lies less in the divisions themselves than in our long acceptance of them and the ensuing enmity or (worse) indifference of divided Christians toward one another. Persistent conversation about the faith, even with no prospect of immediate “results,” is one small but essential way for divided Christians to practice loving one another in imitation of the Savior without whose persistent love in the face of contradiction we would have no hope. An Opening and an Invitation Bradley Nassif’s article “The Reformation Viewed from the East” is a noteworthy example of an Orthodox theologian looking without rancor at a central Reformation teaching, sola fide, and putting the best construction on it. It is an opening and invitation into just the sort of conversation to which we are summoned by Christ’s command. Representatives of Reformation traditions would doubtless have much to say in response. But rather than pursue this particular conversation ...Continue reading... [...]



A Drug Dealer Led Me to Faith
After a childhood marred by substance abuse and a deadbeat dad, I made a friend who would change my life. I was raised in a staunchly atheist household. We never went to church. We never had a Bible. We never talked about God. My father was such an ardent atheist that he demanded my mother spell my brother’s name, Mathew, with only one t to avoid any biblical resemblance. My father then named me Mark. Clearly he didn’t see the irony. I heard about Christianity for the first time at a summer camp when I was nine years old. I was fascinated by the concept of God. Not enough to get me to attend church or read a Bible or whatever else “religious” people did but enough that I found myself going back to the camp every year, talking about God again, and then coming home to a very different life. You could sum up that life as follows: Stealing from cars, stores, the purses of my friends’ mothers—from anywhere we could, really—to get money for drugs, partying, and everything else you do when you don’t have God in your life. The first time I did drugs, I was eight or nine years old. A guy from our neighborhood cooked up some hash and weed for me and some of my friends behind the local convenience store. By ninth grade, drugs were a daily part of my life. At one point, I took drugs that were laced with something dangerous, and my friends watched in horror as I lay in the middle of the street, eyes sparkling, skin gone cold pale. What Do I Believe? My parents divorced when I was eight years old. Shortly thereafter, I acquired a neuropsychiatric disorder called Tourette syndrome, which later developed into obsessive-compulsive disorder. I would adopt a habit—a twitch or a particular noise—and I would do it over and over again for months until another habit came along. I would pound ...Continue reading... [...]