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Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2017 19:07:42 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2017, Christianity Today
 



Ravi Zacharias Remembers His Young Protégé, Nabeel Qureshi
The late apologist's mentor and “uncle” says his lightning-bright legacy will live on. [Editor’s note: Zacharias gave the eulogy at “abnormally born” Qureshi’s memorial service on September 21.] The first time I saw Nabeel Qureshi, he sat at a table across from me, his one leg constantly moving almost subconsciously, warming up for a run. It was a habit of his restless disposition. That was Nabeel in true expression; he hated sitting still. He was a man with a mission, ready to run. Sadly, for us, he finished his race all too soon and our hearts are broken at the loss of one who ran with spectacular passion to do what filled his soul. He was a thorough-going evangelical. He held dear the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and carried the message of salvation. Jesus’ grace for a transformed heart was his message. For years as a young man, he labored and struggled to gain “righteousness before God” only to find out that righteousness was already met in the cross through Jesus Christ. That was his message in his best-selling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Qureshi was not just an evangelical; he was passionately evangelistic. He desired to cover the globe with the good news that God’s forgiveness was available to all. I have seldom seen a man with such deep conviction and proportionate passion and gifting. When he spoke, he held audiences spellbound. I invited him to join our team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) four and a half years ago. He placed one condition, and I placed one condition. His condition was that after he joined, he’d travel with me for one year, to observe and learn. I asked that after the year, he’d go to Oxford. I wanted him to complete his doctorate to be better prepared to answer the ...Continue reading... [...]



Bible Study Fellowship Rewrites the Rulebook

From denim to downloads, BSF is loosening up and adapting for millennials.

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Most Monday evenings for the past two years, Naomi Ruth Jackson has ridden her 22-speed bike uphill or caught a bus after work to Westover Hills Church of Christ in Austin, Texas. She meets there with around 450 women for a Bible Study Fellowship class. The 30-year-old is not the lay-focused ministry’s typical participant, having majored in Bible and theology in college. Her own church offers only unstructured Bible study, and her job as a medical records clerk grants her few occasions to re-engage her skills in scriptural interpretation.

The class lasts two hours. It starts with a time of worship at 6:40 p.m., rolls into discussion and fellowship in small breakout groups, and ends with a 40-minute lecture. But rather than deterrents, the breadth and commitment to the 30-week program are draws for Jackson.

“I think about Scripture a lot, but there isn’t always an opportunity to have an audience or be around people who want to discuss that,” she said. “So for me, personally, it meets that need.”

After singing some hymns at a class on the Gospel of John earlier this year, Jackson and about 10 other women filtered into the church’s “cry room” and formed a cozy circle on rocking chairs and a stray pew. A group leader, in her mid-40s, encouraged everyone to share a few words based on questions relating to each chapter of the book.

Jackson had a lot on her mind. She was worried about her younger sister, who had been in a car accident.

“I was frustrated and angry and praying for her,” she said. “I thought to myself, I need to be an advocate for my sister,” as the group studied John 14 about the Holy Spirit’s role as advocate. “And just as that ...

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

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

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

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

Lavish Lifestyle

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

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

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



Christ Called Me Off the Minaret

Through investigations, dreams, and visions, Jesus asked me to forsake my Muslim family.

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"Allahu Akbar. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."

These are the first words of the Muslim call to prayer. They were also the first words ever spoken to me. Moments after I was born, I have been told, my father softly recited them in my ear, as his father had done for him, and as all my forefathers had done for their sons since the time of Muhammad.

We are Qureshis, descendants of the Quresh tribe—Muhammad's tribe. Our family stood sentinel over Islamic tradition.

The words my ancestors passed down to me were more than ritual: they came to define my life as a Muslim in the West. Every day I sat next to my mother as she taught me to recite the Qur'an in Arabic. Five times a day, I stood behind my father as he led our family in congregational prayer.

By age 5, I had recited the entire Qur'an in Arabic and memorized the last seven chapters. By age 15, I had committed the last 15 chapters of the Qur'an to memory in both English and Arabic. Every day I recited countless prayers in Arabic, thanking Allah for another day upon waking, invoking his name before falling asleep.

But it is one thing to be steeped in remembrance, and it is quite another to bear witness. My grandfather and great-grandfather were Muslim missionaries, spending their lives preaching Islam to unbelievers in Indonesia and Uganda. My genes carried their zeal. By middle school, I had learned how to challenge Christians, whose theology I could break down just by asking questions. Focusing on the identity of Jesus, I would ask, "Jesus worshiped God, so why do you worship Jesus?" or, "Jesus said, 'the Father is greater than I.' ...

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Has Christian Psychology Lost Its Place at Southern Seminary?
(UPDATED) President Albert Mohler speaks to CT about the controversy over a longtime professor’s departure. [Updated on September 20 to include a statement from Eric Johnson] Eric Johnson is a leading Christian psychology professor and a 17-year veteran at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Students praise his compassion; fellow psychologists, his scholarship; colleagues, his faith. And many of them are confused why he apparently no longer has a job. Johnson announced at an event earlier this month what he had already told friends in private: He would be leaving the Louisville, Kentucky, seminary at the end of the semester in December. They were shocked to hear his plans to retire, especially when the news came just weeks into his first semester back from a year-long sabbatical and amid the release of a new book. Johnson was the sole proponent of Christian psychology—a counseling approach that draws distinctly Christian practices from the history and traditions of the faith—in a faculty focused on biblical counseling, which emphasizes the sufficiency of Scripture to shape counseling ministry. As an online petition in his defense added signatories by the dozens, the seminary kept the details on Johnson’s status hush. “One of the frustrations of being president is at any moment there are questions, for good policy and structural reasons, I cannot answer,” said Albert Mohler on Thursday night, in his first interview about the situation. The Southern Seminary president declined to make any comment on Johnson’s employment, but repeated what he said in a meeting the day before: “I have tremendous respect for Dr. Eric Johnson. What I said to the faculty in private, I will say to you in public: I have no reason to doubt his character, his commitment to Christ, or his sincerity in signing our theological ...Continue reading... [...]



The Cautionary Tale of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
Their sins and scandals were extreme, but it’s too easy to dismiss them as an aberration. The apostle Paul considered himself the “chief of sinners,” but then again, he never met Jim Bakker. The latter’s ministry got off to an innocent enough start. Jim and his wife, Tammy Faye, were young, no-name, itinerant Pentecostal evangelists when a puppet show they had developed for children garnered the attention of pioneering televangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson took a chance on the entrepreneurial couple, and they made the most of it, breaking out on their own and developing a signature Christian television talk show program, originally known as The PTL Club (the letters stood for “Praise the Lord”), that endeared them to millions of viewers across the country and world. The Bakkers hailed from hardscrabble backgrounds. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s they built a Christian entertainment empire that won accolades from the likes of Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. Until—as historian John Wigger declares in his riveting new book, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire—“it all fell apart.” Sex and Greed Drawing on a wide range of interviews, newspaper reports, and court documents, Wigger expertly documents the larger-than-life transgressions that eventually brought the Bakkers and PTL tumbling down. Where to begin a summary accounting? Perhaps with the sex? Jim Bakker’s December 1980 encounter with a young woman named Jessica Hahn in a Florida hotel room—one which she describes to this day as non-consensual, though she prefers not to call it rape—would prove central to his and PTL’s undoing. But as Wigger shows, it was just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout Bakker’s time at the ...Continue reading... [...]



Of Old Testament Haircuts and New Testament Head Coverings
How Scripture records God consistently defending the humanity and dignity of women against sexual violence and exploitation. Are women human? Dorothy Sayers asked the question in a series of essays published in the early 20th century. For many today, it seems absurd—of course women are human! Yet sub-human treatment of women has endured throughout history, from wife-selling practices in the 18th and 19th centuries to customs today in some parts of Nepal that banish menstruating women to outdoor sheds and expose them to elements that seem harsh for even animals. Any student of history knows that Sayers’s question was relevant for multiple cultures throughout history and remains so for many cultures today. “So God created mankind in his own image . . . male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). The opening pages of the Bible teach that woman was created in God’s image (the crucial dividing line between mankind and beast). But after the fall of man, the history of God’s people gives us much to scrutinize on this question. The exploitation of Hagar in Genesis 16 and the rapes of Dinah in Genesis 34 and an unnamed concubine in Judges 19 offer snapshots of a fallen humanity that regularly views women as expendable sexual objects. God caused such sexual violence to be recorded in Scripture, not to glorify the acts but to show the stark condition of mankind apart from God. Judges in particular tells us that its stories reflect people doing “what was right in their own eyes,” in contrast to what was right according to God’s Law (21:25, NRSV). God did not allow his people to ignore their sinfulness, and he never downplayed its harmful consequences for the most vulnerable in society. The Bible is also clear: God hates inhumane treatment of women. Survivors of sexual violence can know that God sees their ...Continue reading... [...]



Interview: Mary Neal Describes Her Visit to the Gates of Heaven
The best-selling author talks about why she thinks it was real. In 1999, orthopedic surgeon Mary Neal was kayaking on a river in southern Chile when she got trapped under a waterfall and apparently drowned. In the thirty minutes she was "dead," she says, she experienced some incredible things, which she finally described in her book Heaven and Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again (Waterbrook). The book has been on the New York Times best-seller list for over two years now. It is accompanied by two other near-heaven experience books: Todd Burbo's Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which has been there since 2004, and Eben Alexander's Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster), which was published in October. In the cover story in the current issue of Christianity Today(available to subscribers immediately; or click here to subscribe to get access), I try to understand why these experiences fascinate us so, and how we might understand them theologically. I begin that article by summarizing Mary Neal's experience. But I also wanted to hear her tell her own story, and ask her a few questions about it. Let's get right to the point: What happened to you? As background, my husband and I are avid outdoors people and very athletic. We've been kayaking for many, many, many years. We have kayaked on rivers throughout the United States, and we've kayaked internationally. So we decided to go to Chile to kayak with friends who are professionals—they run a raft and kayak company in the United States, and during the winter, they run trips in Chile for Americans. We decided to kayak a section of a river that's ...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... [...]



‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Gets Cosmic Conflict Disturbingly Right
David Lynch’s cult-classic revival is exactly as imaginative—and as uncomfortable—as it always needed to be. “Should we watch Twin Peaks: The Return?” Now that all 18 episodes of David Lynch’s long-awaited television series are available for binge-viewing on Showtime, I’m fumbling with insufficient answers to this question. As I formulate replies, I feel myself fracture into three distinct personalities: (1) The Twin Peaks fanboy who spent a quarter of a century dreaming of new episodes. (2) The film student who finds Lynch’s movies and television difficult to parse. (3) The Christian whose conscience is troubled, because the show’s imaginative brilliance is tainted by graphic scenes of violence—particularly sexual violence. There’s no easy answer. David Lynch doesn’t mean for this to be a comfortable ride. Twin Peaks: The Return is, in fact, about a man split into three personas—possibly more. While the original 1990–91 series began by whispering “Who killed Laura Palmer?” and then asked “Can law enforcement stop an evil spirit?” this sequel series asks “Can multiple manifestations of an FBI agent be reconciled into one human being, healed and whole?” This theme won’t surprise Lynch’s fans. In his book of reflections on creativity, Catching the Big Fish, Lynch expresses his desire to see human beings overcome divided minds and pursue lives of integrity. (He prefers the word “unity.”) But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who need it, here’s a quick review of what preceded The Return. The Story So Far It begins: In the first episode of the original Twin Peaks, a fisherman discovers a popular high school girl dead on the riverbank behind his Eastern Washington home. The resulting investigation leads ...Continue reading... [...]



No Child Left Behind Comes to Awana
The children’s ministry rethinks the competition at its core. One of the most important symbols in modern Christianity is a circle inside a square, its sides marked red, blue, green, and yellow, divided by diagonal lines. For some Christians, it is a literal mark of orthodoxy, a subtle indicator that a church teaches Scripture authoritatively and rigorously (and usually from a particular Reformed, premillennial, cessationist perspective). The square has changed little from its origins in the 1940s at the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. Church youth leader Art Rorheim had been having trouble with traditional two-team games as his youth group grew; his four-team court was designed to let 100 play with little downtime. Now more than 10,000 churches in the United States use it as they host Awana programs. Some of Rorheim’s early games “were unconventional and even illegal,” according to Awana: God’s Miracle, Awana’s official history book. Boys ran out of the building and around the block, then fought in the halls to slow each other down. “That game was short-lived when the church board heard about it,” God’s Miracle notes. Others continue today, largely unchanged since some clubbers’ grandparents’ day. Baton relay races. Three-legged-races. Balloon volleyball. Four-way-tug-of-war. Throwing bean bags to knock over plastic bowling pins. As Awana leaders have seen it, the game circle is why kids showed up week after week, year after year, decade after decade. “Game Time surely is the drawing card to the gospel presented in Council Time!” in the words of God’s Miracle (emphasis in the original). And both fans and critics of Awana stress that its competitive streak doesn’t ...Continue reading... [...]



Think Fake News Is Scary? Try False Teaching
We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth. The headline hit my Facebook feed at the peak of lake season: “Freshwater Shark Caught in Lake Lewisville.” Purportedly, a shocked fisherman landed a shark in the lake adjacent to my town. By the time the local news debunked the story, it had been shared over 100,000 times. It is a classic example of “fake news,” complete with a clickbait photo of a child next to a giant shark on a dock. In a sly stroke of comedy, the fisherman’s name was listed as “Ima Lion,” and his granddaughter’s as “Shebe Lion.” Shared over 100,000 times. The fine residents of Lewisville, minds cuing the theme from Jaws, swore never again to enter the murky waters of Lake Lewisville. My neighbors laughed in hindsight, but the fake news provider laughed all the way to the bank. Fake news is not always as benign as an improbable shark tale. It can influence elections, defame character, incite unrest, and propagate fear. It has always existed, but digital media has given it momentum and reach like never before. Growing awareness of its prevalence and potential dangers has reminded us of the importance of gauging the credibility of a story’s source, fact-checking its content, and analyzing its message for bias. It has also renewed our appreciation for time-tested, reliable news sources that have consistently demonstrated journalistic integrity. Think fake news is scary? Try false teaching. The Christian equivalent to journalistic misinformation commits the same kinds of deception with much more at stake. Like fake news, false teaching has enjoyed a long history. The original misinformer appears in the earliest moments of human history, whispering into Eden’s atmosphere, “Did God really ...Continue reading... [...]



Q+A: Jonathan Falwell’s Caribbean Vacation Turned into Hurricane Relief Ministry
After Irma disrupted his 25th wedding anniversary, Baptist pastor shares how he got Samaritan’s Purse to come to the rescue of St. Martin and why he went right back. When Jonathan Falwell saw the first signs of what would become Hurricane Irma swirling on the weather map, he moved up the dates of his Caribbean vacation—a surprise trip to St. Martin with his wife for their 25th anniversary—just in case. He never imagined they’d be sleeping on pool loungers in a makeshift hotel shelter, coming face-to-face with the destruction of a category-5 storm, or flying home on a Samaritan’s Purse plane. Falwell—son of the late Jerry Falwell and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia—helped coordinate early relief efforts while stranded for days on the island, one of the hardest-hit by Irma. “In a situation like this, I had the opportunity—and I do believe it was an opportunity—to be right smack dab in the middle of it,” he said. “I think it’s just a great reminder of how truly urgent that it is that we get the gospel out to let people see that yes, we live in a broken world, but yes, there is an answer and that answer is Jesus.” In an interview with CT, Falwell shared his prayers, stories, and theological lessons from his time stranded on St. Martin and his involvement in the recovery since then. What went through your mind when you realized Irma was going to hit the island? We got down there, and we were watching the storm. The storm was picking up speed and certainly picking up power. On Monday night, we got a notification that the flights were canceled, the airport was closed, and we weren’t going to get out of St. Martin on the flight that we had intended. It wasn’t until Monday that we knew we were going to have to hunker down and make it through. I just assumed it would be a bad storm—some ...Continue reading... [...]



‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Wants Us to Heed the Threat of ‘Fundamentalism’

Wed, 10 May 2017 07:28:00 PDT

The question is: Which one? It’s no coincidence that The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu original series based on the Margaret Atwood book of the same name, is being released now, more than 30 years after the book’s publication. Capitalizing upon a the parallels between its fictional American dystopia and the distress that many people feel at the current state of American politics, The Handmaid’sTale has been celebrated as a timely entry into the conversation about where we are headed as a nation. In particular, the show makes an uncomfortable connection between the contemporary political language of a “war on women”, as heard in the last several presidential election cycles, and the actual war on women in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are enslaved, mutilated, raped, beaten, and killed. The villains of The Handmaid’s Tale are fundamentalist Christians who, after a violent revolution, run a totalitarian theocratic republic called Gilead in place of the secular state—an echo of the Islamic Republic established in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, around the time when Atwood penned her novel. The highest function of women in this fearful new world is to bear children. Infertility and infant mortality rates, however, are through the roof, so when a member of the pious ruling class cannot have a child, the state sends her a “handmaid” to conceive in her place. The handmaid system provides sexual surrogacy, the depiction of which, once seen, will not soon be forgotten—especially as it is set against a track of “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the show’s most heavy-handed moment. The whole scenario is reminiscent of the story of Hagar in the Old Testament, in which Sarah arranges ...Continue reading... [...]