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Why We Need to Talk about Trump’s Haiti Remarks
Christians can expand their compassion by looking at the deeper story of development and immigration. Yesterday in a meeting about immigration reform, President Donald Trump questioned why he should accept immigrants from “s—hole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador, and nations in Africa, instead of places like Norway. Even in the constant onslaught of news and tweets, this particular presidential remark contains several issues that are important for us to consider as Christians. For 15 years I’ve lived in or traveled to Haiti as a development worker. On the eighth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake and in the midst of the ongoing congressional debate over immigration reform, here are six important points about the president’s comment: 1. He is naming the fact that life is hard in these countries. Daily life in Haiti is for many people a struggle to survive—even without the crises of violence, political upheaval, earthquakes, hurricanes, and mudslides. To add some specifics, recently a detailed report came out on an alleged massacre by Haitian police officers near an Evangelical Bible School that I’ve visited many times. On this earthquake anniversary, I’m thinking about friends like the motorcycle taxi driver I’ve ridden with hundreds of times. He lost siblings and dozens in his church who were crushed when the building collapsed during a prayer service. In Haiti, over 200,000 children are trapped in forced servitude, about a third of women report incidents of domestic violence, and families struggle to find good options for education. Yes, life is hard. Though the president put it in a crass way, we can pause to ensure we haven’t become numb to suffering of our brothers and sisters.Continue reading... [...]



Looking for Ancient African Religion? Try Christianity.

The African religious imagination already anticipates Christ.

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It’s ironic that as I crossed the Walt Whitman Bridge to attend an urban apologetics conference in Philadelphia I encountered the very religious pluralism that makes conferences such as these a necessity. As my weathered SUV pulled up to the stoplight, I could see the Marcus Garvey–inspired Pan-African flag pirouetting in the wind, and I could hear the amplified, yet muffled, sound of a man’s raspy voice through a bullhorn. He, along with a group of other young men and women, stood on the median with their faces contorted like clenched fists yelling, “Black Power, Black Power,” while others bellowed, “the black man is God!” at passing pedestrians and vehicles.

At the next intersection, a well-groomed man in a fitted black suit, with a tightly-knotted black bow tie, walked up and down the dividing line of the highway selling bean pies and handing out Nation of Islam literature, an entrepreneurial practice that has existed since the early 1930s.

Finally, after parking and inserting some quarters into the meter, a voice behind me yelled: “As-Salaam-Alaikum” (which means “peace be unto you”). I turned around and an older Muslim man with a dyed, carrot-color beard beckoned me over to his table to see his merchandise. “Are you interested in buying some of these organic, scented body oils, beloved? I have ‘Black Coconut,’ ‘China Musk,’ and ‘Arabian Sandalwood.’” After listening to his sales pitch, I bought two scented oils for $10 before heading into the conference.

Traditional African Religions Have an Appeal

As an inner-city dweller, occurrences like these transpire on a consistent basis because our cities are hubs of ...

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In Defense of Pro-Life ‘Hypocrisy’
Analogies between abortion and other “life issues” are shakier than we sometimes suppose. Spend enough time arguing against abortion, and you’re certain to deal with accusations of hypocrisy and inconsistency. If you were really pro-life, critics say, there are other, outside-the-womb causes you would champion just as ardently. In a 2004 interview with PBS host Bill Moyers, Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and social activist, gave voice to this common complaint. “I do not believe,” she said, “that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” Does the pro-life movement have too narrow a focus? Recent Republican efforts to reform our health care laws have vaulted this question back into the spotlight. Opponents ripped the Republicans’ plans as depriving our most vulnerable citizens of health insurance coverage. And they wondered why pro-life conservatives in Congress would neglect going to bat for low-income women—those at greatest risk, in their desperation, of making an appointment with Planned Parenthood. Both friends and foes are always urging pro-lifers to update their list of priorities. A genuine ally of unborn life, they might say, should also oppose the death penalty. Or lobby for restrictions on gun ownership. Or protest America’s wars. Or fight cutbacks to government programs. Or demand action on climate change. Some even lump campaigns against smoking ...Continue reading... [...]



The Rise of Reformed Charismatics
A 21st-century global movement sets the Word on fire with gospel preaching and powerful spiritual gifts. The rollicking worship pulsed for nearly an hour in the humid Sanctuary: energetic singing, hundreds of hands raised, prophetic words referencing the Spirit’s flames, and sparks of spontaneous prayer among strangers from different states and nations. When the worship ended, the crowd sat down, opened their English Standard Version Bibles and settled in for a 35-minute expository sermon on Galatians from King’s Church London teaching pastor Andrew Wilson, who brought a different kind of fire. Each night of the Advance church planting network’s global conference featured this sort of hybrid—doctrinally rich, gospel-focused, Reformed preaching sandwiched between free-flowing charismatic worship—a combination that would make many a Presbyterian (and a few Pentecostals) squirm. But for the crowd gathered at Covenant Life Church in suburban Washington, DC, including pastors from Kenya, Nepal, Australia, and Thailand, it flowed as naturally as it does in their own Reformed charismatic churches—more than 70 of them across the globe. Advance is hardly the only group in the middle of this theological Venn diagram, with growing numbers of theologically savvy, Spirit-filled followers in the United States, Britain, and around the world. Five hundred years after the Reformation, Luther’s 21st-century inheritors are embracing the Holy Spirit in new and deeper ways. Newfrontiers, a network of global “apostolic spheres,” has planted hundreds of churches over the last 30 years, many of which fit the Reformed charismatic mold. The movement’s founder, Terry Virgo, a British pastor, serves as a sort of elder statesman of Calvinist continuationists and authored the book The Spirit-Filled Church. ...Continue reading... [...]



How ‘Oh Happy Day’ Gave Gospel a New Beat
A tribute to the legendary composer, singer, and pianist Edwin Hawkins. The first time I heard Edwin Hawkins and the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day” was in June 1969 in base housing at Itazuke Air Base outside Fukuoka, Japan. Every day, I’d race home from school and turn on Armed Forces Radio to tune into the 30-minute block of rock-and-roll. At first listen, I was mesmerized by Hawkins’s sound. Oh, wow. I loved it. I was hooked. Growing up in the Air Force (my father a career officer), I was surrounded by gospel music. Unlike the other services, the Air Force was integrated upon its founding after World War II. Our friends and neighbors were African Americans, playing Mahalia Jackson (of course), the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Pilgrim Travelers, and the rest. Their music became the soundtrack of my life. But the Sensational Nightingales never sounded like this. “Oh Happy Day” had that throbbing, stuttering, 4/4 beat, the syncopated “He taught me how” section, the low, throaty voice of Dorothy Combs Morrison (which set me up for Mavis Staples, who I wouldn’t hear for another year or two once we’d returned stateside). It didn’t sound like the Top 40 radio I’d been used to. Oh, I’d been hearing soul music on Top 40 for some time—Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave … all of whom had deep gospel roots. But this was gospel gospel. On the radio. I fell hopelessly in love with it and trotted down to the Base Exchange (BX) every day until the 45 finally arrived. I still have it, too. Hawkins never had another Top 40 hit, but he had a long and successful career in gospel music, helping revitalize the gospel choir sound, making choirs cool for kids again. When he passed on Monday of ...Continue reading... [...]



One Does Not Simply Leave Evangelicalism
We agree: It’s a broken word describing broken people in a broken movement. It’s still Good News. Look, we get it. We’re frustrated, too. Have been for decades, but yes, it’s worse now. When pundits talk about “evangelicals,” they don’t mean what we mean. When pollsters count “evangelicals,” they usually don’t count how we count. And when a supposed “evangelical leader” says something unbiblical, we, too, are tempted to tweet our disavowals. Defining evangelicalism as a political movement is not new. When polls, politicians, and journalists see everything through a political lens, it’s not surprising that their main question about any group is “how will they vote?” Remember, the term took off in popular parlance in the mid-’70s because it was identified with Jimmy Carter’s successful presidential candidacy. Still, there’s no denying that a groundswell of evangelical leaders are so frustrated with the politicization of the word and with so many nominal Christians described as “evangelical” that they’re giving up their efforts to reclaim the term. “Let the political evangelicals have the term,” Northern Seminary New Testament scholar Scot McKnight blogged. “Let the rest of us call ourselves Christians.” Baylor’s Thomas Kidd gave the same advice: “Historians (including me) will keep on using the term ‘evangelical’ and examining what it has meant in the past. But in public references to ourselves, it is probably time to put ‘evangelical’ on the shelf. … [J]ust identify with your denomination. (For me, that means Baptist.) Or you can tell people you are a follower of Jesus Christ, or a gospel Christian.” Back in October 2016, Alan Jacobs urged, ...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... [...]



It Doesn’t Get Any More Personal
Why evangelicals give pride of place to penal substitutionary understandings of the Cross. I was sitting outside the library at the University of California at Santa Cruz when two other students walked by complaining about Christian faith in the crucifixion of Jesus. As a young Christian with an interest in working with my cohorts to evangelize the campus, I turned my head to hear more. I don’t remember much of what they said except the exclamation of one of the women: “Dying on a cross—it’s just so disgusting.” To this day I think this young woman grasped better than many Christians the horrific nature of Jesus’ death. We sometimes try to drive this point home by comparing the cross to death by electrocution, wondering if we’d wear necklaces or sport T-shirts with electric chair symbols. But as gruesome as electrocution is, crucifixion is far worse—a long, drawn-out affair, sometimes preceded by bloody scourging, with hands and feet pierced with thick nails, the entire weight of the body suspended at three agonizing points. After hours of agony, you slowly suffocated when your legs could no longer support you and your lungs were smothered with the weight of your body. All this etched in blood dripping mercilessly from head and hands and feet. This young woman had it right. A bloody and violent event stands at the very center of our faith. And it’s not just the event, but its meaning, especially as evangelical Christians see it, that prompts many to recoil in disgust. Evangelicals more than most are deeply moved by the notion that Christ died for us on a cross, that he was a substitute who suffered in our stead, that he endured a punishment we deserved. This idea—summarily called the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement—has fallen from grace ...Continue reading... [...]



The Religious Conflict at the Heart of Our Culture Wars
How theological differences over sex have fueled some of the bitterest political fights of the past century and more. If we want to understand the challenge of disintegrating sexual norms and the culture wars surrounding them, one of the most important things we need is history. This crisis did not just explode out of nowhere in the 1990s or even the 1960s. In Moral Combat, R. Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, reviews a century’s worth of American cultural conflict over sexuality, fueled by a growing divide between religious subcultures. Her account is subtly biased, but readers will benefit from her clear presentation of the longer history and larger significance of our sexual conflicts. Griffith picks up the story in the aftermath of the conflict over the 19th Amendment. With women’s suffrage enshrined in the Constitution, the nation had hardly caught its breath before it was embroiled in a series of political conflicts over sexuality. Suffrage was followed by a series of what we would now call “culture wars” over birth control laws, censorship of pornography, marriage across ethnic lines, Alfred Kinsey’s sex research, and sex education in schools. These led straight into the battles over abortion, sexual harassment, gay rights, and transgenderism that are still raging today. The first and most important takeaway from Moral Combat, then, is that the culture wars are at least a century old. Since the women’s suffrage movement began, there has never been a time when political conflict over sex was not an important presence in American public life. The second takeaway is the centrality of sex to the culture wars. Other issues have been involved, of course. But there is a reason the controversy over abortion shot right to ...Continue reading... [...]



Trump Talk Is Relentless. It’s Not Always Newsworthy.
How to stay informed about what’s important without wearing yourself down. “This is Your Brain on Trump TV,” is the title of a recent piece at The American Conservative published in between the president’s incendiary tweets about North Korea and his leaked disparaging remarks about those from African countries and Haiti. While the former comments caused concern, the latter led to what has now become a routine cycle of debate, criticism, analysis, and pushback. “Trump fascinates all Americans, it seems,” wrote Gracy Olmstead. “We hate him or love him, fear him or idolize him.” Christians are not immune to these reactions, a state that can often leave news consumers exhausted, burned out, and unclear about how to separate inflammatory but ultimately unsubstantial reports from stories reporting on news with severe or dire consequences. “The style of Trump’s comments are like something you’d expect to see out of a soap opera or something on TV and yet they’re happening in the real world, so how are supposed to react to something that in essence seems too incendiary or sensational to take seriously but could threaten nuclear war?” said Olmstead. “What’s the wise and measured stance to take as a media person? As a citizen?” Olmstead joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss how to avoid news burnout, the media’s particular challenge in the Trump era and internet age, and the extraordinary prescience of Neil Postman. 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 Mark Galli Follow our guest on Twitter: Gracy Olmstead Subscribe to Mark’s ...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... [...]



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... [...]



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 ...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... [...]



Is It Robbing God to Tithe on Your After-Tax (Not Gross) Income?
The Israelites were never subject to withholding upward of 15 percent. No, It’s Robbing Yourself Frederica Mathewes-Green My husband and I were newly Christian and in seminary when a friend told us about tithing. She stressed the importance of giving a full 10 percent before taxes, before anything else, so that we would be giving God the first fruits of our labor. We recoiled at the thought, but she said this practice had given God room to work miracles in her life. She and her husband had once put their last dollar in the offering plate, only to have the pastor turn around and give them the whole collection. My husband and I began this plan right away and never even considered making our tithe after taxes. It seemed petty to make such calculations when giving to a God who gave us everything, including his Son. Soon, we had settled into a pattern of giving 5 percent to our local church and 5 percent to charity. But one year, when it was time to renew our annual pledge to the church, I was convicted that a radical increase was necessary. God says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse” (Mal. 3:10, ESV). For our family, that means the local church. So the full 10 percent should go to our church, while charitable gifts (alms) were to be an additional offering. When I began sharing this with my husband, we were in for a surprise. He had separately come to the same conviction. The problem was that we had just promised 5 percent of our income to a missionary. Overnight, we went from giving 10 percent of our income to giving 15 percent. Yet we never suffered. We saw God meet our needs in ways that bordered on the miraculous. People were always giving us things we needed but couldn’t afford: a sewing machine, a lawn mower, a new refrigerator. More than once, ...Continue reading... [...]