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Christianity Today Magazine

News and analysis from the world's leading Christian magazine.

Last Build Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:19:22 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2016, Christianity Today

Why Max Lucado Broke His Political Silence for Trump
In the face of a candidate’s antics, ‘America’s Pastor’ speaks out. Max Lucado is a pastor in San Antonio and a bestselling author of 32 books, including the most recent Glory Days. In a 2004 piece, Christianity Today dubbed Lucado “America’s Pastor,” alluding to his broad appeal to mainstream Americans. Part of that appeal can be attributed to his approach to politics: typically, he stays out of it. He never endorsed or opposed a presidential candidate. Then Trump happened. In a recent blog post, Lucado chose to speak out against what he calls Trump’s “antics,” insisting that, “such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election.” We talked to Lucado about his motivation for speaking up and how Trump has changed his attitude toward pastoral involvement in politics. Prior to you publishing your post, “Decency for President” this week, how would you describe your typical approach to politics as a pastor? I don’t even put a candidate’s bumper sticker on my car. People don’t attend church to hear my views on a presidential candidate. In this case, it’s not so much a question about particular policies or strategies about government or even particular opinions. It’s a case of public derision of people. It’s belittling people publicly. It would be none of my business, I would have absolutely no right to speak up except that he repeatedly brandishes the Bible and calls himself a Christian. I wrote this article and sent it to the Trump team in hopes that they would respond. But they never did. I cannot imagine what their world must be like. Who knows? It probably got lost in some email basket out there. But I tried because I felt that that would be more appropriate ...Continue reading... [...]

Interview: N. T. Wright: The Church Continues the Revolution Jesus Started

In his new book, Wright explains that Jesus' death does more than just get us into heaven.


A foundational Christian belief is that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins. For many, the most important result of this is that believers go to heaven when they die. Bestselling author, scholar and bishop, N. T. Wright, thinks we’re missing a critical aspect of what Jesus accomplished on the Cross if we limit our understanding just to this explanation. His latest book, The Day the Revolution Began, explores the Crucifixion and argues that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in tranforming our understanding of this event. Mike Bird, author of What Christians Ought To Believe, interviewed Wright about how Christians should view the Crucifixion.

Tom, you describe Jesus' death as the beginning of a "revolution." What was that revolution and why does it still matter today?

Most Western Christians have been taught that Jesus died so that they could escape the results of sin and go to heaven after they die. The New Testament, however, regularly speaks of Jesus’ death as the defeat of the powers of evil that have kept the world in captivity, with the implication that the world is actually going to change as a result—through the life and work and witness of those who believe this good news. Think of Revelation 5:9–10. Humans are rescued from their sin so that they can be “a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.” That began at Easter and, in the power of the Spirit, has continued ever since. Of course, the “reign” of Jesus’ people, like that of Jesus himself, is the reign of suffering love . . . but that’s a whole other story. Suffice it to say that the vocation of God’s people today is to continue to implement ...

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You Are the Manure of the Earth

Jesus' metaphor about salt was actually about fertilizer.


My first job after graduating from Clemson University was as a quality control chemist at a small pharmaceutical company in Atlanta. It was a great job, but I was far too extroverted to enjoy a career in a lab. Initially, I had enrolled in college with the intention of becoming a physician, but after a spiritual awakening during my senior year, I made a decision to attend seminary instead of medical school. As a consequence, I learned the Bible with the sciences in mind—which has been a continual source of insight into my reading of Scripture.

For example, I was recently doing some research for a lecture on Luke 14:34–35. When I read Jesus’ words—“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”— I decided to look into what Jesus’ original audience might have understood about salt when Jesus taught them to be “the salt of the earth.” When I discovered that salt was used as a fertilizer in Palestine, it permanently changed how I viewed the command to love my neighbor. What previously had been a somewhat strange charge by Jesus to be “salty” became a source of inspiration for Christian life and mission.

You are ‘salt for the soil.’

According to specialists in environmental science and soil chemistry, salt has been a major method of fertilizing soil for centuries.

An old article in the journal Biblical Archaeology, “Salt, Soil, Savior,” stands the test of time. Eugene P. Deatrick, former head of the soils department at West Virginia University, argued that in Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50, and Luke 14:34–35, Jesus was speaking not primarily of salt’s household use but of its agricultural use. According ...

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Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

Even at the ballot box, morality is not relative.


For years, I have urged Christians to take seriously their obligations as citizens, starting with exercising the right to vote. In the public square and at the ballot box, we must be more engaged, not less.

But what happens in a race where Christians are faced with two morally problematic choices? Should voters cast a ballot for the lesser of two evils? This unpredictable election cycle could go in any number of directions, and I keep getting asked this question.

For starters, unless Jesus of Nazareth is on the ballot, any election forces us to choose the lesser of evils. Across every party and platform, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Still, the question is a valid one. Believing in human depravity doesn’t negate our sense of responsibility. By the standard of God’s law, every person is a liar, but that doesn’t mean we should hire an employee we know has a pattern of lying. Jesus taught that all who have lust in their hearts are adulterers, but that doesn’t mean a woman should shrug her shoulders when she learns her potential new husband is a serial philanderer.

When considering the question of choosing between the lesser of two evils, we must begin with what voting is within our system of government. In our system, citizen is an office; we too bear responsibility for the actions of the government. Just as the lordship of Christ made demands for public justice on office-holders in the New Testament (Luke 4:15), the same is true for those who rule as citizens.

The apostle Paul taught that the sword of Caesar is given by God to commend good and punish evil (Rom. 13:1-5). The Bible addresses the limits of this role, recounting those who use the sword in unjust ways and are held accountable ...

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James Dobson: Why I Am Voting for Donald Trump
The founder and president of Family Talk explains why his decision centers on the future of the Supreme Court. What are the strongest arguments for a Christian to support Donald Trump for the US presidency? First, let me say that I will respond to your questions as a private individual and not as a representative of the organization I lead. I don’t vote for candidates or political parties. I support those who will lead the country righteously, honorably, and wisely. In many ways, this is a single-issue election because it will affect every dimension of American life: the makeup of the Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia’s sudden death made this election the most significant of our lifetime. The next president will nominate perhaps three or more justices whose judicial philosophy will shape our country for generations to come. Unelected, unaccountable, and imperialistic justices have a history of imposing horrendous decisions on the nation. One decision that still plagues us is Roe v. Wade, imposed on America in 1973. It divided the nation and has led to the murders of 54 million innocent babies. This killing goes on every day. That leads us to ask what the judiciary will look like in a Trump administration. I attended a June 2016 event called “A Conversation with Donald Trump” in New York, with more than 1,000 other religious leaders. Before the meeting, 30 of us met Trump in a private session in Trump Tower. Most were evangelicals or conservative Catholics. I asked the candidate about his concerns regarding religious liberty. I liked that he promised us emphatically that he will work to protect our religious liberties. He has since released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees that is stellar. We must pray that, if elected, he will keep his word. Trump’s selection of Governor Mike Pence as his running mate ...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... [...]

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

Who’s Who of Trump’s ‘Tremendous’ Faith Advisers
The Republican candidate finally names his campaign’s evangelical connections. Following his much-anticipated confab with nearly 1,000 evangelical pastors and leaders, Republican candidate Donald Trump has released a long list of his born-again advisory board. Not everyone on the board endorses Trump—but they’ve agreed to consult with him as he continues to reach out to an evangelical movement solidly split between the already on-board, the hesitant, and the decidedly #NeverTrump. Some of the 25 figureheads on Trump’s board have relationships with him that go back several years. Some first connected at earlier campaign events targeting clergy. The breadth of his list serves as a reminder of the wide reach of American evangelicalism, from the institutional leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention to the prosperity gospel preachers made famous through Christian TV programming. Below are brief explainers on each of the evangelicals who have signed on to influence the theology of Trump: The Big Names James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family Who he is: Dobson led national Christian ministry Focus on the Family from its founding in 1977 through 2003. He now hosts a radio program called My Family Talk. He also founded the Family Research Council, a Christian lobbying group currently led by Tony Perkins. Dobson, a pioneer Christian psychologist, has penned dozens of books about family life. His wife, Shirley, was the head of the National Day of Prayer Task Force until this year, when she handed over the reins to Anne Graham Lotz. His evangelical ties: Dobson’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all pastors in the Church of the Nazarene. Dobson and the organizations he launched are household names among American evangelicals, synonymous with “family values” stances. ...Continue reading... [...]

Losing Your Religion While 'Black-ish'
Declining faith can feel like a threat to cultural identity for African Americans. When ABC’s Black-ish opened its third season at Disney World—filled with sunny optimism and corporate product placement—I thought the show might be losing its edge. Then came the second episode, entitled “God.” Dre Johnson (played by Anthony Anderson) responds to his teenage daughter Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) growing spiritual doubts. It’s a dramatic shift for a show that usually plays faith for laughs, with Dre’s overbearing mother Ruby and her exclamations about Jesus and other outlandish churchy behavior. As Dre explains in the narration, faith has been a vital part of the African American historical experience, so it makes sense for viewers like me to assume the whole Johnson family believed in God. (Stats back this up too. About 8 in 10 African Americans say religion is very important in their lives, reported Pew Research in 2009, compared with 56% of the general US population.) When Zoey begins doubting God’s existence in a world filled with injustice, her father experiences his own crisis of identity. After noticing a lack of faith among his white affluent coworkers, Dre associates his daughter’s wavering belief with her proximity to affluent white suburbia (a recurring theme on Black-ish). Dre’s suspicion of white affluence is partially rooted in his distrust of his biracial brother-in-law Johan. Freshly returned from Paris, Johan (Daveed Diggs, in an homage to his roles in Hamilton) embodies the European stereotype—sophisticated, worldly, and atheistic. Overreacting like a typical sitcom dad, Dre attempts to ban anything in the home that feels too white—including almond milk, radicchio, and even hummus. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, one of the ...Continue reading... [...]

‘13th’ Introduces America to the Dark History of Our Criminal Justice System
The new Netflix documentary makes the case that to save the future, we need to stop defending the past. “Defend the past. Save the future.” Those words are lighting up TV screens this week, promoting the new NBC time-travel adventure series Timeless. But really, it’s ridiculous. No matter how many people want to go back and “kill Hitler,” the past cannot be changed. Right? Right? I don’t know. Last night, director Ava DuVernay took me back to familiar figures from my childhood. She didn’t “defend the past.” She revealed politicians I remember as heroes to be complicit in things I find difficult to accept. And if you take that journey with me, we might yet become a church that helps “save the future” by refusing to defend our past. DuVernay, who directed Selma—a gripping historical drama that has the gospel blazing through its veins—has just delivered a brilliant lesson in time travel, and its streaming now on Netflix. It’s called 13th. With startling interviews, ugly statistics, kinetically charged animation, and shocking man-on-the-street footage of American history, 13th reintroduces Americans to their very own criminal justice system. I say “reintroduces” because DuVernay films through lenses that reveal a cancer running unchecked. Full disclosure: Despite Jesus’s call for his followers to visit prisoners, I have never stepped through those gates. Remember those religious hypocrites who pass by the man beaten, robbed, and left by the side of the road? DuVernay’s perspective convicts me. I see now how blind I became, proudly pledging my allegiance to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all” while revering politicians who manipulated laws to perpetuate injustice. Informed by the testimonies of historical and ...Continue reading... [...]

Clinton, Trump, or Neither? 3 Views on the 2016 Presidential Election

Ron Sider, James Dobson, and Sho Baraka make the best Christian case for each choice.


As most readers know, a not-for-profit publishing company like Christianity Today has to remain not-for-prophet when it comes to (prophetically) endorsing a presidential candidate. That’s why in presidential elections of the past, CT magazine has opted to simply note the issues that divide the major candidates, or to feature profiles of candidates from the major parties. This year, we’re trying something completely different: advocacy pieces for each of the major party candidates from three evangelical leaders.

Some might wonder if we are legitimizing one or the other candidate by doing so. Not quite: For better or worse, our political system and fellow Americans have legitimized them. They are the major parties’ nominees. But given the unique controversies surrounding each candidate, more Christians than ever are seriously entertaining the idea of voting for neither candidate—thus the third article in the package.

Such election features are designed to help readers make “informed decisions.” (Also see our new election book, How to Pick a President.) We trust that this package will do just that. Yet given the complexities of this election, we’re sure our readers will need not just information but also some unearthly wisdom. —The Editors

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The Cosmos Is Vaster than the Ancients Imagined
Looking at the stars is always humbling. Wrong understandings of their movement are even more so. As a teenager, I frequently climbed on top of my dad’s shop to look at the stars. When I looked upon a clear, unobstructed night sky, it was as if the starry hosts engulfed me. The lights making their slow dance across the heavens gave a perspective of existence that is hard to find elsewhere. It compelled me to reflect on how big God is and how truly small I am. Due to centuries of observations, ideological struggles, and successful scientific endeavors, we know quite a bit about the starry hosts. We know that the universe is vast—that there are billions of galaxies with billions of stars and planets each. And we know that Earth rotates at about 1,000 miles per hour and revolves at a speed of 70,000 miles per hour around the sun. None of this, however, is obvious from an Earth-bound perspective. If I were to go back in time to before the 1600s, though I would be looking at the same starry hosts, I would understand the universe differently. In the early 1500s, a Polish astronomer developed a theory that changed the way we see the universe. The theory was so controversial that Nicolas Copernicus resisted publishing it until right before his death. What was this contestable idea? Copernicus conjectured that the sun, not Earth, was at the center of the solar system. Before Copernicus’ theory became popular, most scientists claimed that Earth was at the center. The idea is not as silly as it seems. Even if the theory ultimately turned out to be false, ancient scientists based their ideas on many complex, reasonable explanations. Suppose you are in the Northern Hemisphere stargazing, and you look up and see the Big Dipper. You will notice the constellation of stars making a counterclockwise, circular motion around ...Continue reading... [...]

Trump Tape Forces Deeper Conversations on Evangelical Ethics
Purity teachings, abortion, Hillary Clinton, and what really matters to American Christians in 2016. By now, you’ve probably seen the 2005 video of Donald Trump bragging to then–Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush about his aggressive groping and kissing of women. If you’re running for election as a Republican, it may have encouraged you to change your strategy. (Arizona Senator John McCain dropped his endorsement. GOP House Leader Paul Ryan has said he’ll stop campaigning for Trump.) But so far, Trump’s most vocal evangelical supporters—including James Dobson, Eric Metaxas, Tony Perkins, and Jerry Falwell—haven’t wavered in their support. (Read CT’s full report.) “The whole thing is baffling yet predictable,” said Jemar Tisby, the president and co-founder of the Reformed African American Network. While allegations of Trump’s previous sexual attacks on women currently make the news, his campaign won the primary while proposing a ban on Muslims from entering the US and attacking a Mexican-American judge for his heritage, actions indicative of a larger thread in Republican history, said Tisby. “That Donald Trump, out of 16 candidates, would end up being the nominee is on one hand utterly perplexing. On the other hand it doesn’t surprise me in the sense that what he’s playing to what has been present in the GOP for decades,” he said. But will this be true in the future? “I’ve seen a lot of people want to say ‘The Religious Right is finished. They don’t have the clout that they had,’” said Matthew Lee Anderson, the founder of Mere Orthodoxy. “I think that it’s way too premature to say that sort of thing. We do need a couple of election cycles…One of the things that I will watch very ...Continue reading... [...]

Interview: The Value of Friends Who Don’t Look, Think, or Vote Like You Do
When you limit your social circles, you limit your opportunities to grow. In an era of stark political division and social-media distraction, genuine friendship doesn’t come easy. Which makes it all the more urgent, says Nashville pastor Scott Sauls. In Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear (Tyndale), Sauls especially advocates taking risks in befriending people unlike ourselves. CT online managing editor Richard Clark recently spoke to Sauls about building God-honoring friendships. Where do we go wrong in our ideas of friendship? One of our biggest mistakes is to limit our circles to people who look, think, and vote like us. It minimizes friction and disagreement—but also the opportunity to grow, to learn, and to have our assumptions challenged. We’ve also substituted digital connectivity for real, face-to-face, life-together friendships. This lets us give edited self-presentations, putting our best foot forward rather than allowing ourselves to be fully known. An essential aspect of community is having people know our best and our worst—our dreams and aspirations, but also our fears, insecurities, and failures. What if we reach out in friendship to someone unlike us, but the other person resists? You at least need the commonality of wanting friendship. David and Jonathan are a great example. One is a blue-collar tender of sheep, and the other is a prince. For friendship to happen, both parties have to be committed. There’s a person in our church who has strong blue-state politics. He asked to be matched to a small group with a bunch of Republicans, because he felt that experience would be valuable. Two years later, he told me that people from that group are some of his best friends. They go on vacations together and do things together on ...Continue reading... [...]

News: InterVarsity Asks Staff to Choose a Stance on Sexuality
Campus ministry's push for theological consistency prompts painful backlash. It’s up to staff members on 667 college campuses to decide whether they share InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s theological beliefs on sexuality, following an 18-month study on LGBT ministry that concludes next month. There will be no morality clause to sign, no list of things they can and cannot do or say, and no statement to verbally affirm, according to Greg Jao, vice president and director of campus engagement for the evangelical student ministry. Instead, if any of InterVarsity’s 1,300 staff members oppose the theological positions detailed in a 20-page document—including prohibitions against same-sex relationships, sex before marriage, divorce, masturbation, and the biblical underpinnings for each—released in early 2015, they are expected to disclose their conflict and leave. “We’re trusting their integrity that they’ll resign rather than continue to work with an organization that disagrees with them,” said Jao. “We framed it as an involuntary termination, even though staff are self-disclosing. We are trying to acknowledge that they would not have chosen this except for the fact we have clarified and reiterated our position.” The policy was reported by Time magazine yesterday, bringing a barrage of public commentary and questions to a sensitive issue that staff members have been weighing for months. Jao says he knows fewer than 10 people who have resigned since this summer; one former staff member estimated it was at least 20. As Christians on both sides react to the news, some say that InterVarsity’s scenario will only become more common for evangelicals and their organizations: Those who have kept their convictions over marriage and sexuality to ...Continue reading... [...]