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Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television. Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.
“The Copts of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.
Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.
On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated. Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.
“I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side. “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’
“‘You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”
Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.
“How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked. “If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”
Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.
So also did millions of Copts, recently rediscovering their ancient heritage, according to Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt which subtitled and recirculated the satellite TV clip.
“In the history and culture of the Copts, there is much taught about martyrdom,” he told CT. “But until Libya, it was only in the textbooks—though deeply ingrained.”
The Islamic State ...Continue reading...
What to Make of Donald Trump’s Soul
And how that might shape our response to his presidency.
It has been customary to give a new president 100 days before evaluating his administration. With President Donald Trump, many could not wait even 100 hours—and for good reason. Trump and his team tripped out of the starting block and fell flat on their collective faces. The President’s executive order temporarily suspending refugee resettlement and banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries was an administrative and legal disaster. His every cabinet pick has faced fierce opposition. And amid reports of a White House staff in chaos, the President has only amplified his critique of the press.
Before and after the election, CT has also weighed in on our political or moral concerns about Trump. He has promoted policies and appointed people who work against matters we have editorialized on—his callousness toward refugees and his seeming indifference to the environment are two examples. And while evangelicals may disagree about the President’s policies on such matters, few would argue that Trump is a moral exemplar. Both the Left and the Right have noted vices and ethical problems, from utter self-centeredness to cruel remarks to blatant conflicts of interest, and more.
One dimension that has been mostly neglected, though, especially among Christians, is a matter of some consequence. To understand its gravity, we must begin with the most positive of theological statements: Trump is a man whom God loves. He is a sinner for whom Christ died. Despite his evident moral failings, Trump nonetheless has been created in the image of God. He may be a political and moral enemy for many of our readers, but that is all the more reason we are called to love him and pray for him (Matt. 5:44).
To love such a ...Continue reading...
The March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
How evangelical scientists square their place in the global movement.
Hundreds of thousands of researchers, educators, and doctors will take to the streets tomorrow, holding nerdy signs and sporting pins with slogans like “I Believe in Science.”
For many of them, that’s not all they believe in. Evangelicals’ involvement in the upcoming March for Science reflects their unique place in the sector. Despite all the motivations and concerns they share with their secular counterparts, there’s still some tension over how their faith fits in a field built on empirical facts—especially as the movement employs those facts toward political ends.
The event was initially inspired by fear over anticipated “gag orders” on government scientists following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The march ballooned from Washington, DC, to more than 500 locations worldwide. Over the past three months, organizers pushed for the scientific community to find common ground to celebrate the role of scientific discovery in society and policy.
“I would hope that the presence of Christians in the march can show that theists and non-theists can look through the microscope together and come to the exact same conclusions,” said Mike Beidler, the president of the Washington, DC, chapter of the American Scientific Affiliation, a network for Christians in science. “The only difference is that the theist then moves beyond the awe of discovery to an attitude of worship of the Creator.”
More than 2 million of the 12 million scientists in the United States identify as evangelical, according to research by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund. March organizers nodded to faith’s place at the march when their diversity committee stated a ...Continue reading...
‘The Lost City of Z’ Points to the City That Is to Come
The thrilling story of British explorer Percy Fawcett dramatizes our search for a transcendent home.
James Gray’s The Lost City of Z opens with a rousing sequence of sport: British army officers on horseback, galloping through the picturesque Irish country on a stag hunt. Complete with a bagpipe score, sweeping vistas, and shots of adoring wives and children cheering on their men, the scene embodies masculine attraction to danger, adventure, exploration and competition. When Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) wins the hunt and shoots the stag, he raises a toast with his fellow hunters, with words that should resonate with those of us who just celebrated Easter: “To death, the best source of life.”
The scene is important for character development, positioning Fawcett as an ambitious, genteel, but insecure man seeking to prove his manly mettle and bolster his soldierly reputation. But the scene also introduces some of the film’s questions about the nature of man: What are we really after when we seek to hunt a stag—especially when it’s an animal we don’t need to eat? When we aren’t fighting for survival (as in war or wilderness exploration), why must men seek to fight in sport, game, politics, and more? Need there be a concrete mission or prize, or is the point simply in the struggle itself, the test of strength? In what sense is death the best source of life?
Based on David Grann’s 2009 book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon—and, before that, Grann’s 2005 New Yorker story—the film follows the adventures of Fawcett, who pioneered multiple explorations into the Bolivian jungle between 1906 and 1925. At first commissioned by the Royal Geographic Society to survey the land for mapmaking purposes (and to act as a third party between ...
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...
Why Orthodoxy Appeals to Hank Hanegraaff and Other Evangelicals
An Orthodox scholar offers his insights on a Christian tradition without the theology of Aquinas and Augustine.
Last week, the radio personality many Christians know as “The Bible Answer Man” announced his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.
From CT’s report:
Last Sunday, 67-year-old Hank Hanegraaff and his wife entered into Orthodox Christianity at St. Niktarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The former Protestant is well known among evangelicals as The Bible Answer Man. Since 1989, Hanegraaff has been answering questions on Christianity, denominations, and the Bible on a nationally syndicated radio broadcast.
A champion of evangelical Christianity, he’s best known for arguing against cults, heresies, and non-Christian religions.
Hankegraaff’s conversion didn’t surprise James Stamoolis, the author of Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today, who has previously written on why evangelicals are attracted to this older iteration of Christianity. Stamoolis points to Orthodoxy’s highly sensory services which include both incense and icons, as well as “the whole idea of authority.”
“I know a lot of people who have converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and Orthodoxy because it’s fixed. It’s settled. We don’t have women priests. We’re never going to have women priests,” said Stamoolis, who grew up in the Orthodox tradition but now identifies as a “card-carrying evangelical.”
Ironically, Orthodoxy’s association with tradition came after the church proved to be highly successful at contextualizing across different cultures, says Stamoolis.
“A lot of it has to do with their theological methodology,” he said. “[They] were successful and imbued so much in the culture.”
Stamoolis joined Morgan and Mark ...Continue reading...
Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple
We're missing a broader scope of familial love.
At the center of the remarkable montage near the opening of Pixar’s Up stands the sorrow of infertility.
On one side lie the joys of a budding marriage, and on the other the delights of its twilight. In the hour of crisis, Carl sees Ellie sitting in the garden facing the sun with a forlorn look, feeling the devastation of their joint barrenness. Neither character speaks throughout the montage, but here their silence is particularly apt: the wordlessness of grief weighs heavily upon them, and upon us. Relief begins when Carl, who is by no means immune to their sadness, places Ellie’s “adventure book”—which has many more pages in it for them to fill—in her lap. It is the most beautiful depiction of infertility I know of; it is among the most tender five minutes of film I have ever seen.
But the adventures Carl and Ellie are given in the latter half of their lives are not the grand, exotic drama they had wanted. They hoped to someday live on top of a waterfall. Instead, car tires go flat, the roof needs replacing, and bones are broken. At every turn, the ordinary challenges of living in this world prevent them from pursuing the dreams of their youth. Yet if their adventure book is incomplete when Ellie dies, it is not empty; we glimpse the fullness of their love and feel like it is enough. The sadness at their separation stems not from their inability to live out their dream, but from the reality that they are no longer together.
While the montage is widely regarded as one of the most moving parts of the film, it almost failed make the final cut. Director Pete Docter said the studio was leery of showing their infertility because it was “going too far.” But the filmmakers had no real ...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...
Fox News' Highly Reluctant Jesus Follower
Of all people surprised that I became an evangelical Christian, I'm the most surprised.
Just seven years ago, if someone had told me that I'd be writing for Christianity Today magazine about how I came to believe in God, I would have laughed out loud. If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion—especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt.
I grew up in the Episcopal Church in Alaska, but my belief was superficial and flimsy. It was borrowed from my archaeologist father, who was so brilliant he taught himself to speak and read Russian. When I encountered doubt, I would fall back on the fact that he believed.
Leaning on my father's faith got me through high school. But by college it wasn't enough, especially because as I grew older he began to confide in me his own doubts. What little faith I had couldn't withstand this revelation. From my early 20s on, I would waver between atheism and agnosticism, never coming close to considering that God could be real.
After college I worked as an appointee in the Clinton administration from 1992 to 1998. The White House surrounded me with intellectual people who, if they had any deep faith in God, never expressed it. Later, when I moved to New York, where I worked in Democratic politics, my world became aggressively secular. Everyone I knew was politically left-leaning, and my group of friends was overwhelmingly atheist.
I sometimes hear Christians talk about how terrible life must be for atheists. But our lives were not terrible. Life actually seemed pretty wonderful, filled with opportunity and good conversation and privilege. I know now that it was not as wonderful as it could have been. But you don't know what you don't know. How could ...Continue reading...
The Most Dangerous Thing About Being a Missionary in a Hostile Country
It all depends on how you understand ‘safety.’
The obvious meaning of the title of Amy Peterson’s memoir, Dangerous Territory, is that she lived in a country where being a Christian was dangerous. Owning a Bible, watching the Jesus film, talking to friends and family about Jesus, going to religious conferences—all of it was dangerous. So dangerous in fact, that Peterson won’t mention the name of the country (which is somewhere in Southeast Asia).
But the under-the-surface meaning is that faith is dangerous, that following God is dangerous. Perhaps, even, that God himself is dangerous. Like Mr. Beaver said about Aslan in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Safe?...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn't safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
This God—the good, unsafe God—is not the kind of God American Christians talk about often in their churches. But when Amy went abroad, she encountered him with the force of a head-on collision.
Experiencing a Dangerous God
It’s easy to hear Mr. Beaver’s words about Aslan, apply them to God, and quote them as true. Tingles run up and down my arms when I hear the sentence, and I’m inclined to worship this great, complex God. But being inspired and praising a dangerous God is a lot easier than experiencing him, or watching people we love experience him.
I have spent the last 14 years in three different countries in the Horn of Africa. One of the most common questions I get is: Are you safe? This is a hard question to answer. Do I feel safe? Yes. Am I actually, truly, really safe? Well…Yes. No. What do you mean by “safe?”
Do you mean, “Are there bombs going off and guns everywhere and high risk ...Continue reading...
In ‘The Case for Christ,’ Experience, not Evidence, Is the Real Clincher
Pure Flix's adaptation of the apologetics classic succeeds most where it preaches least.
In his 2008 anti-religion documentary Religulous, Bill Maher was on a mission: His goal was to put religious people in their place once and for all by demonstrating how ridiculous and harmful their beliefs are. With its sub–Michael Moore grandstanding and utter lack of self-awareness, it was an astonishingly foolish film. In lieu of mounting a serious investigation into what makes faith—and the faithful—tick, Maher preferred to point a camera at whichever believers would agree to sign a release, and then badgered and mocked them into oblivion. In only an hour and a half, Maher and his director conducted a master class in how to make a bad film about religion: Prize glibness over substance, treat people like props, and never interrogate your own assumptions.
Movies from Christian film studio Pure Flix are on a mission as well. As the studio’s stated purpose makes plain, they’re out “to influence the global culture for Christ through media,” and that single-minded approach is apparent in the media it produces and distributes. Pure Flix’s output and Maher’s Religulous couldn’t be farther apart on the ideological spectrum, but more often than not, they represent two sides of the same coin when it comes to their inability to conceive of a universe that doesn’t conform to all of their presuppositions. It’s a failure not only of imagination, but also of humility—a failure that may not trouble Maher, but should trouble Christians.
It’s a relief, then, to find that Pure Flix’s The Case for Christ, released in theaters last week, makes an effort to shed the constraints of the “faith-based film” in favor of a more well-rounded vision. ...Continue reading...
The March for Science Isn’t Anti-Religion. Most Scientists Aren’t Either.
What I’ve learned from a decade of studying the faith of researchers.
Most Christians assume that scientists who are atheists are anti-religion. I hear this stereotype a lot when I visit churches. And I used to believe it myself.
This weekend demonstrated it. Not because the March for Science has overcome concerns of divisions and managed to incorporate (most) religious viewpoints into the rally.
But what I have learned in the past 10 years paints a different picture about how scientists feel about religion and spirituality. And it’s not the same as Richard Dawkins, author of the bestselling The God Delusion.
During the past decade, I have led four large studies on the faith perspectives of scientists. The most recent is a research study published in 2016 on the religious views of scientists in eight regions: the United States, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, India, Hong Kong, Turkey, Italy, and France. For the study—the largest ever conducted on how scientists view religion—my colleagues and I surveyed more than 12,000 biologists and physicists, and interviewed more than 600 of them in depth.
Full disclosure: We did find that scientists at top universities are much less likely to believe in God than the general population in several national contexts. And many of them do believe that science is the only true way of understanding the world. However, few are actively hostile toward religion. The proportion who believe there is no God varied immensely by nation, ranging from a high of 51 percent in France to a low of 6 percent in Turkey. But I could count on two hands the number of atheist scientists we met who are as strongly anti-religious as Dawkins, the outspoken evolutionary biologist.
In some national contexts, a majority or near majority of scientists are what I call “complete ...Continue reading...
Evangelism Is Alive in Portland
How pastors, evangelists, and residents are sharing the Good News among the city’s ‘nones’ and Muslim refugees.
Portland (one of the foci of our recent This Is Our City project) continues to provide a glimpse into the future of American ministry. More than a third of its residents are religiously unaffiliated, with minority faiths growing quickly.
Journalist Melissa Binder recently convened a panel on evangelism to the “nones” and Muslim refugees at the Christ & Cascadia conference, an annual gathering of Christian scholars, ministers, and culture leaders around the Pacific Northwest.
Binder spoke with James Gleason, pastor of Sonrise Church; John Baskaron, pastor of Arabic Christian Church; D. L. Mayfield, author of Assimilate or Go Home. Josh Chen, who directs Cru’s city ministry in Portland, later contributed to this conversation.
We live in a city with a lot of “nones,” and many view the church with skepticism or apathy. How does that cultural reality shape your approach to evangelism?
Gleason: We’ve constructed a culture around Christianity that isn’t the gospel. It’s not the gospel that’s the problem. The gospel is amazing. It’s what we’ve done to the gospel. We have to deconstruct the wrapper of culture that we’ve put on.
We want people worshiping God for eternity—that’s no question—but we also want people fed, people healed, and people to find homes. Words and works bind together in a way. When we do both, I think we have an open door for people who are more skeptical of the institutionalized church.
Chen: I’m careful about the language I use when I talk to the “nones,” or really any millennials. There are a lot of words we throw out there that mean something different to the person we’re talking to than what we’re ...Continue reading...
Why Don’t the Gospel Writers Tell the Same Story?
New Testament scholar and apologist Michael Licona’s new book argues that ancient literary devices are the answer—and that’s a good thing for Christians.
Though Michael Licona became a Christian at a young age, he experienced strong doubts while working on a master’s degree in religious studies at Liberty University. That led him to explore the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in his PhD work, and to engage in public debates with leading skeptics and atheists. Driven by a desire to follow the evidence wherever it led, Licona understood that journey might lead him away from Christianity.
In 2010, Licona released his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, which showed that the evidence for the historical resurrection of Jesus is much stronger than any competing explanations, such as the idea that Jesus’ body was stolen by his followers or by his enemies, or that the disciples simply experienced hallucinations of the resurrected Jesus.
Licona, formerly apologetics coordinator at the North American Missions Board, is now teaching at Houston Baptist University and has founded RisenJesus.com. He recently released a new book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press).
What was your upbringing like? Did you grow up as a Christian?
My parents were Catholic and split up when I was five. My mom remarried and we started attending a Presbyterian church. When I was very young, I was obsessed with getting to heaven. I was always asking, “How do I get to heaven, Mom?” And she said, “You just have to do more good than bad.” So, I was constantly thinking, Where am I on that scale?
When I was ten years old, the Presbyterian church had a combined youth group event and they brought this Christian magician in. He did magic to illustrate the message of the gospel. ...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...