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Christianity Today Magazine

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

Last Build Date: Sat, 24 Sep 2016 18:08:37 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2016, Christianity Today

Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors

A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.


An enthusiastic group of 20-somethings from Immanuel Church of the Nazarene in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, recently gathered to share what they love about their congregation. One noted the modern worship music and relevant messages at Sunday morning services. Another said the spiritual depth of the community challenges her to follow Jesus. Still another mentioned the friendships built during a mission trip.

When one 22-year-old offered her two-word answer, every head nodded. It wasn’t the name of a program, but a person: Bill Wallace.

Whether he’s attending their Bible study, showing up to a basketball game, or simply saying “hello” in the hallway, Wallace has made it his mission to ensure that young people know they matter.

Wallace is 76 years old.

Remembering a childhood when adults failed to show up for his important events, Wallace resolved that no young person at Immanuel would experience the same on his watch. Now Wallace and a cadre of senior adults keep showing up—not only at church, but all over town—to cheer on young people and remind them that they have a family at Immanuel. He’s even written a passionate manifesto to recruit other seniors to join his cause.

Our team of researchers at the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary had the chance to meet Wallace and other Immanuel members as part of our four-year study of US congregations that are effectively engaging 15- to 29-year-olds. The 250 evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches we studied represent more than 20 denominations, in nearly 40 states, ranging from new plants to churches more than a century old. Half of the congregations were predominantly white, while one-third were multiracial. The rest were ...

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Sho Baraka: Why I Can't Vote for Either Trump or Clinton
Both candidates fail to address the heart concerns of black evangelicals like me. As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today. As an African American, I’m marginalized by the lack of compassion on the Right. As a Christian, I’m ostracized by the secularism of the Left. As a man, I’m greatly concerned by subversive attempts to deconstruct all “classical” definitions of manhood. I fraternize with a remnant of people who have the cultural and theological aptitude to engage both Carter G. Woodson and G. K. Chesterton. We walk the tightrope between conservatives and progressives. We share an anxiety and sense of displacement in the current sociopolitical landscape. I have had zero interest in either candidate this election. Many people are fearful about the next president, as they should be. Our newly appointed chief will likely nominate Supreme Court justices. The thought of either candidate appointing justices scares me. Many Clinton supporters seek a secular utopia that progresses past logic. Many Trump supporters want to resurrect bigoted ideologies. Neither of these Americas is great to me. True Liberation Ideally, fellow black Christians and I could thrive at the table with conservatives because we agree on a moral code. But it has been shocking to see some conservatives perform verbal gymnastics to support a candidate who has questionable character and vacillates on basic conservative principles. Further, many of our conservative brothers and sisters have justified or ignored the deaths of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other young black men. Many claim their Republican ...Continue reading... [...]

Interview: Stop Snacking on ‘Scripture McNuggets’
A Bible expert diagnoses the bad habits that keep us from feasting on God’s Word. We use the Bible as a manual or answer book. We look to it as a talisman or horoscope. We proof-text, cherry-pick, and impose our own biases. The sins against Scripture are numerous and, according to Glenn R. Paauw of the Institute for Bible Reading, endemic. And don’t get him started on what the Good Book has suffered at the hand of translators and publishers. Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well is Paauw's jeremiad against our tendency to distort, misuse, and misrepresent the Bible. All this mistreatment, Paauw argues, has left us with stunted Scriptures. senior editor Drew Dyck spoke with Paauw about his quest for a bigger Bible. Why does the Bible need saving? God took a risk with the Bible—he gave it to us. It’s in our hands, and we’re free to do with it what we will. We shape it culturally. We shape the actual look and feel of it as an artifact, and we form practices around it. We are capable of imprisoning the Bible, of diminishing its impact. And if we don’t do right by the Bible, the Bible itself suffers. Also, the research is pretty clear that the Bible needs saving. Sure, we say great things about it, but the fact is that it’s not having the impact it could. It’s being misused a lot, and it needs rescuing. A lot of people will agree that the Bible needs saving, but from outsiders: critics and skeptics. But that’s not what you’re talking about. Yeah, that’s the easy out. The easy thing would be to say, “Well, it’s really sad that so many people live their lives without the Bible or are ignorant of it.” And that is sad, but the more dangerous fact is that even those people who think they ...Continue reading... [...]

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... [...]

A Portrait of America’s First Atheists
What life was like for unbelievers long before Christopher Hitchens and company arrived on the scene. There was a time in our nation’s history when “village atheist” was a term of endearment. It introduced a note of affection for the vocal unbelievers in our midst. In 1943, Time magazine referred to the journalist H. L. Mencken, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, as America’s “outstanding village atheist.” Still, the term quietly conceded that flat-out unbelievers have historically been a rare breed in the United States—so rare that you were likely to find only one in any given community. In America, it takes a village to raise just one atheist. Even today, just 3.1 percent of Americans identify as such, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. When a village did manage to raise an atheist, it was almost always a boy. In his lively, informative study, Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (Princeton University Press), historian Leigh Eric Schmidt includes a chapter on Elmina Drake Slenker, a 19th-century woman from Upstate New York. Many readers today disapprove of books solely about men, but organized atheism hasn’t always been terribly concerned with gender parity. Slenker confessed that every place she went, she was the first woman atheist anyone there had ever seen. When the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism (4As) surveyed its membership in 1930, it was 93 percent male. Churches, by contrast, have been a model of balance, with women even outnumbering men in terms of membership. So it is ironic that one of the traditional ways that atheists attacked Christianity was for allegedly being anti-women. When 4As founder Charles Lee Smith debated evangelist and Foursquare Church founder Aimee ...Continue reading... [...]

Why Jesus, Not Salvation, Is God’s Greatest Gift to Us

We’re too quick to see the What instead of the Who.


Jesus is the greatest gift there is. That is a staple of Christian theology, not to mention Christmas cards. Yet as soon as we hear this statement, we’re apt to collapse it into a statement about some other gift, like salvation. Being given Jesus, in our minds, quickly morphs into being given forgiveness, or rescue, or eternal life. Jesus himself, the gift who perfectly embodies God’s generosity and goodness, gets bumped to the third page.

The Gospels don’t do that. From his Incarnation to his Ascension, Jesus Christ puts the liberality and largesse of God on display. It is not just at the Cross, or even in the Resurrection, that Jesus represents the grace, the gift-giving-ness, of God to us. In every miracle, every parable—simply by being in the world at all—Jesus is proclaiming, “God is good, he loves giving, and I’m here, among other things, to prove it.”

Many parables in the Gospels present God as an irrepressible giver, even when the parable has other goals. Once there was a farmer who scattered seed so liberally that most of it didn’t take root. Once there was a king who forgave a debt of 10,000 talents (millions of dollars today). Once there was a vineyard owner who gave people far more than their work was worth. Once there was a father who gave away half his estate to his rebellious son—and then gave him a feast when he came crawling back, having wasted it all. Once there was a nobleman who gave three months’ wages to all his employees, and then went on a foreign trip. Once there was a landowner who gave his vineyard over to tenants. Once there was a king who gave wedding invitations to every undesirable in the county.

It is hard to think of a parable ...

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Dangerous Meditations

What harm is there in achieving a higher state of consciousness through meditation?

Overstressed Americans are increasingly turning to various forms of Eastern meditation, particularly yoga, in search of relaxation and spirituality. Underlying these meditative practices, however, is a worldview in conflict with biblical spirituality—though many Christians are (unwisely) practicing yoga.

Many Eastern religions teach that the source of salvation is found within, and that the fundamental human problem is not sin against a holy God but ignorance of our true condition. These worldviews advocate meditation and "higher forms of consciousness" as a way to discover a secret inner divinity.

Yoga, deeply rooted in Hinduism, essentially means to be "yoked" with the divine. Yogic postures, breathing, and chanting were originally designed not to bring better physical health and well-being (Western marketing to the contrary), but a sense of oneness with Brahman—the Hindu word for the absolute being that pervades all things. This is pantheism (all is divine), not Christianity.

Transcendental Meditation is a veiled form of Hindu yoga, though it claims to be a religiously neutral method of relaxation and rejuvenation. Initiates to TM receive a mantra (Hindu holy word) to repeat while sitting in yogic postures and engaging in yogic breathing. The goal is to find God within their own beings, since God (Brahman) and the self (Atman) are really one.

Differences in various forms of Eastern meditation aside, they all aim at a supposedly "higher" or "altered" state of consciousness. Meditation guides claim that normal consciousness obscures sacred realities. Therefore, meditation is practiced in order to suspend rational patterns of thought.

This helps explain why so many Eastern mystics claim that divine realities are utterly ...

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Ron Sider: Why I Am Voting for Hillary Clinton
This election, there are only two meaningful choices for president. Why one is the far wiser choice. I have not publicly endorsed a presidential candidate in 44 years. But this year—the most important presidential election in my lifetime—I feel compelled to do so. For decades I have advocated a completely pro-life agenda: pro-life and pro-poor; pro-family and pro–racial justice; pro–sexual integrity and pro-peacemaking and pro–creation care. This agenda is expressed in the National Association of Evangelicals’ public policy document “For the Health of the Nation.” For decades, as I applied this agenda, I regularly concluded that Republican presidential candidates were better on issues like abortion, marriage and family, and religious freedom, while Democratic candidates were better on racial justice, economic justice, and the environment. So I have voted for both Republicans (George W. Bush) and Democrats (Barack Obama). But 2016 is astonishingly different from other election years. Hillary Clinton is bad and good in the usual ways. But Donald Trump is not only bad in many of the usual ways—he is also bad in the ways in which I have usually preferred Republicans. Trump’s recent pro-life stand is not credible. Historically he has supported abortion access, even to partial-birth abortion, and still supports Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest supplier of abortions. Trump’s personal marriage record is horrendous. He humiliated his first wife by publicly flaunting an affair. He is now in his third marriage, while Clinton has remained with her husband in spite of his despicable behavior. Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from immigrating to the United States was a fundamental violation of the constitutional protection of religious freedom. So what about ...Continue reading... [...]

Young, Restless, Reformed
Calvinism is making a comeback—and shaking up the church. Nothing in her evangelical upbringing prepared Laura Watkins for John Piper. "I was used to a very conversational preaching style," said Watkins, 21. "And having someone wave his arms and talk really loudly made me a little scared." Watkins shouldn't be embarrassed. Piper does scare some people. It's probably his unrelenting intensity, demanding discipline, and singular passion—for the glory of God. Those themes resound in Desiring God, Piper's signature book. The pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis has sold more than 275,000 copies of Desiring God since 1986. Piper has personally taken his message of "Christian hedonism" to audiences around the world, such as the Passion conferences for college-age students. Passion attracted 40,000 students outside Memphis in 2000 and 18,000 to Nashville earlier this year. Not all of these youth know Piper's theological particulars. But plenty do, and Piper, more than anyone else, has contributed to a resurgence of Reformed theology among young people. You can't miss the trend at some of the leading evangelical seminaries, like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which reports a significant Reformed uptick among students over the past 20 years. Or the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, now the largest Southern Baptist seminary and a Reformed hotbed. Piper, 60, has tinged the movement with the God-exalting intensity of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century Puritan pastor-theologian. Not since the decades after his death have evangelicals heaped such attention on Edwards. Reformed theology often goes by the name Calvinism, after the renowned 16th-century Reformation theologian John Calvin. Yet even ...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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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 Crossway Stopped Translating the ESV
Biblical translation adviser Craig Blomberg on the process, business, and tradeoffs in the world of Bible publishing. Last week, the Crossway board of directors and English Standard Version (ESV) Translation Oversight Committee announced that, after 17 years, it would be making no further revisions to the ESV translation. “The decision now to create the permanent text of the ESV was made with equally great care—so that people who love the ESV Bible can have full confidence in the ESV, knowing that it will continue to be published as is, without being changed, for the rest of their lives, and for generations to come,” the publishers wrote in a statement. (Read CT’s story.) What’s behind Crossway’s decision? Craig Blomberg, who has advised the translation teams of the ESV, New International Version, Holman Christian Study Bible, and New Living Translation in various capacities in his professional career, shared his insights on Quick to Listen this week. “The ESV is produced by a publisher, and men on the committee, many of whom I know, are of the mindset that they want to foster confidence in the Bible as God’s Word,” said Blomberg, who is New Testament professor at Denver Seminary. “I don’t know to what extent the word has gotten around to media, publishers, general public, but when the ESV was first created, the committee continued to meet on a regular basis, as do other Bible translation committees, and made a number of comparatively minor changes and updates to what they believed were improved translations to various passages and then simply introduced them in the new printing without any publicity or any fanfare.” Here’s Craig Blomberg, a New Testament professor at Denver Seminary, offering Morgan and Katelyn an inside scoop into the translation process, whether ...Continue reading... [...]

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: Andy Stanley Explains His ‘Stinking Selfish’ Parents Comment
‘As much as I wish folks would listen to the entire message, it really doesn’t diminish the absurdity of what I said.’ Atlanta-area megachurch pastor Andy Stanley has come under fire for remarks he made about small churches in a recent sermon. Stanley—whose North Point Ministries includes six campuses and over 30,000 attendees a week—referred to parents who attend churches too small to have robust student ministries as “stinking selfish” in a February 28 message titled “Saved By The Church.” Stanley addressed a hypothetical parent who refused to attend a larger church for the sake of student ministry options for their kids. The sermon circulated online, especially as small church leaders raised concerns about his approach. Stanley said: When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church. Instead… you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. They go to college, and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. Guess what? All those churches are big. Faced with the online outcry, Stanley apologized on Twitter, saying “The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend's message is ...Continue reading... [...]

Grapes of Wrath: Refugees Face Steinbeck Scenario in Lebanon's Napa Valley
While US debates resettling 10,000 Syrians, a country smaller than Connecticut struggles with hosting 1.5 million. Faysal stands amid the rolling fields of the Bekaa Valley. Just down the road are award-winning, decadent vineyards—a product of the fertile agricultural region’s 5,000-year head start on Napa Valley. The Romans even chose to build their temple to Bacchus here. Above loom the snow-covered slopes of Mt. Hermon, where many today place Jesus’ transfiguration. Surveying the sea of green plants rustling in a pleasant breeze, the 43-year-old describes what he feels: “A knife in my heart.” For Faysal, a Syrian refugee, the scene is not one of grandeur but of guilt; in the field before him are three of his children—his 15-year-old son and 13- and 11-year-old daughters—bent in half as they weed potatoes instead of attending school. “I have no choice,” says the father of six. In Aleppo, one of Syria’s most war-torn cities, his job as a truck driver once provided a four-room house and a middle-class, urban life. Now, having injured his back in his own efforts at day labor, he can’t pay the rent for their cobbled-together shelter on a farmer’s property. So he just stands and watches his children. And cries. “As a father, what is the purpose of my life if I can’t provide for my children?” he says. “I’m ashamed of the present and the future.” On the shores of the Mediterranean Sea just north of Israel, Lebanon once enjoyed a reputation as the Switzerland of the Middle East, a land of milk and honey. On the eve of Ramadan, Christianity Today visited with World Vision to witness how the Bekaa Valley now recalls John Steinbeck’s Great Depression–era description of the Dust Bowl and California. In the Bekaa, many refugees struggle ...Continue reading... [...]