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How We Forgot the Poverty of Christmas

By Katelyn Beaty The Incarnation is not a story we can package or market. It is also the greatest story ever told. We don’t believe in Christmas anymore. We believe in Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, and Christmas recitals, of course, and even Christmas outreach events and Christmas acts of charity. If you are reading this issue of CT while fighting tryptophan-induced sleep, you know that Christmas has dominated our mass-mediated imagination since before Halloween. Christmas is the piece de resistance of a year spent hustling from one “big event” to another, anticipating the next holiday as we try to enjoy the present one. Christmas is the biggest celebration on the calendar. But we know not what we celebrate. Church leaders are in a major bind with this one. They have to compete with the usual rivals—Santa Claus, TV specials, and generic holiday cheer that can be felt without taking the family to a church. This year, Christian leaders face the allure of the new Star Wars. In a tossup between the baby Jesus and Luke Skywalker, I’m not sure most Christians would bet on the Christ Child over the Jedi Fighter. In an effort to capture their neighbors’ flitting attention, churches have perfected their Christmastime marketing game. It’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Women Who Aborted Feel about the Local Church

Two in three evangelicals were attending monthly or more at the time of their first abortion. On behalf of Care Net, a national network of crisis pregnancy centers, LifeWay Research surveyed more than 1,000 American women who have terminated one or more of their pregnancies. Here’s what evangelicals and churchgoers, defined as those attending church once a month or more, as well as all women who have had abortions, said: Church Attendance at Time of First Abortion 2 in 3 evangelicals were attending monthly or more. (“Evangelicals” is based on self-identification.) Judgment vs. Care Both churchgoers and non-churchgoers equally reported receiving or expecting reactions from local churches that were “judgmental” (1 in 3) or “condemning” (1 in 4). But churchgoers were much more likely than non-attenders to report or expect reactions that were “caring” (31% vs. 7%), “helpful” (28% vs. 7%), “loving” (25% vs. 6%), and “informative” (17% vs. 5%). Still, less than one-third of churchgoers said they received or expected such positive reactions from their local church. Reaction of Local Church (Received or Expected) In the Secret, Quiet Place 52% of churchgoers say no one at church knows they terminated a pregnancy. 38% say someone at church does know (including 55% …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Importance of Leading Kids to Love Jesus

By Ed Stetzer I recently asked #kidmin leaders how they help children love Jesus for themselves. Ed Stetzer: How do we avoid teaching moralistic principles, making the focus moralism, but instead at all ages and at all stages making sure people understand the gospel itself. Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): I think that one of the important things is you know training our teachers because our teachers are the ones that are teaching the curriculum and they are the ones that are imparting the truth to the children. And I think helping them to see that God’s Word is a revelation of Himself. That the hero of the Bible is God. He is telling something about Himself to us and sometimes whether through curriculum or even our own growing up within our church backgrounds, we’ve learned so many of the stories but we always look at the stories through the human points of view and the perspective of you know that person, individual person. Instead of looking at a God-centered view of you know this is God’s revelation to us, something about Himself that He wants us to know and understand. And so I think that a part of helping our children to see that is …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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An Update on the GC2 Summit on the Christian Response to Refugees

By Ed Stetzer Here’s what we have planned so far for the the GC2 Summit on refugees in January. Recently, we announced the GC2 Summit, a gathering for Evangelicals to consider an appropriate response to the growing, global refugee crisis. Here’s the more formal information. The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College (BGCE) and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College (HDI) have announced a summit, in partnership with LifeWay Research, to help Christians respond to the global refugee crisis. The meeting, called a GC2 Summit, will focus on leading a conversation on meeting needs, caring for, and engaging refugees around the world. The GC2 Summit will feature a number of key speakers and collaborators from the Evangelical community who specialize in ministry to refugees, in addition to senior denominational leaders, non-profit, and church leaders. The GC2 Summit will occur in two parts, with the first pre-meeting conversation occurring on Thursday, December 17, 2015, and the second gathering occurring on Wednesday, January 20, 2016. Both events will take place on the campus of Wheaton College. GC2 is a moniker that reflects an Evangelical commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The intent of the gatherings is to reflect on and call for …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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15 Books that Are Good Enough to Give

Holiday book list: Her.meneutics writers recommend their favorites. If you’re a book lover or if you have an avid reader on your list, you’re bound to spend some of your Christmas shopping standing in front of a book display or scrolling through the rankings on Amazon trying to pick the right title. To help a little, here are just a few of our recent favorites. These are the kind of books that we’d be happy to wrap up and give to our friends—or snuggle up and re-read ourselves. Let us know your recommendations in the comments! – Kate For anyone who’s too busy to read: Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Shulte I started listening to Overwhelmed, thinking it would be a self-help book that guided me in simplifying my life. Instead, I am very grateful for Shulte’s thorough investigation of the social and political forces that have resulted in a culture of overwork and particularly the effect this shift in the way we spend our time has had on women and family. I highly recommend it. – Amy Julia Becker For suspense lovers: Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins The premise …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Colorado Springs Pastor Killed in Planned Parenthood Shooting

By Jeremy Weber and Bob Smietana (UPDATED) Attack at abortion clinic leaves three dead and nine wounded. Members of Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs gave thanks on Sunday for the life of Garrett Swasey, a church elder and police officer who was killed on Friday in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic . The congregation of about 100 people watched a video clip of Swasey, a former competitive ice skater, and recalled fond memories of his role as preacher and guitar player for the church’s worship team. “You don’t realize how much you love someone until you can’t tell them anymore,” said Hope Chapel co-pastor Scott Dontanville, according to The Gazette. Church members also prayed for Robert Lewis Dear, who is accused of killing Swasey and two others in Friday’s shooting. “God, we forgive him. We can’t not,” Dontanville prayed, according to TheDenver Post. “You’ve forgiven him. Garrett’s forgiven him.” Bloggers began circulating the words of Swasey’s last sermon, given two weeks ago. “Our objective is not to bring glory to ourselves but to bring glory to God,” he said. “How? By transforming our lives through the gospel. Apart from that it can’t be done, not in our own strength.” Dear is …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Contextualization at Home: How Should We Do Church?

By Ed Stetzer If the world looked at us, could they tell we are on a mission? In many ministry conversations today, you will hear questions like, “Do we need to contextualize the way we do ministry?” or “Do we need to contextualize the presentation of the gospel?” These are good questions. We understand the importance of contextualization when it comes to foreign missions. We know that you need to plant churches in Africa that reflect the current culture of that place. But contextualization is just as important in our Western culture. In this three part series, we are looking at what it takes to contextualize the mission here in the West. To figure out how we carry out the work of God, we need to vigorously consider three issues. Christology: Who is Jesus and what has He sent us to do? Ecclesiology: What expression of a New Testament church would be most appropriate in this context? Missiology: What forms and strategies should we use to be about the Kingdom of God? Why Must a Church Contextualize Its Ministry? As I’ve spoken and encouraged churches and leaders, I’ve often said, “If the 1950’s came back, a lot of our churches would be ready to go.” So in kind of a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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God or Transcripts: Where Do You Put Your Trust?

Too many students (and parents) make idols of grade point averages. Find your hope in Jesus. When I was growing up, there were A-students, and B-students, and C-students, and no one—not the kids, not their parents—worried much about it. We all found our way. A single generation later, my son arrived at our local public high school fresh out of a K-8 parochial environment to discover honors students taking Adderall to give them the edge in AP-cram sessions and the SATs, and parents being called home from PTA meetings to find their high-achieving daughters breathing into paper bags. It’s not surprising that our secular culture has allowed the pressures of quarterly-earnings-report thinking to invade the American childhood in the name of “just wanting them to be happy.” By what other standard would success be measured? But what about those of us who claim to follow a God who promises that our children are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14); that in all things He “works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28); that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Assured that there …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Good Behavior Matters After All

By Christopher J. H. Wright How I discovered God’s plan to reach a lost and sinful world. In the early 1980s, I was a young tutor at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire, England. In a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues said, “These students need to understand that mission is not something we add to the text, an afterthought at the end of our exegesis. Mission is in the origin of the text.” All of our students were preparing for cross-cultural mission. They had to study key passages about Christ, such as Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and Philippians 2. My colleague was pointing out that such texts arose not as isolated doctrine, but amid missionary church-planting and the controversies surrounding it. The New Testament documents, he urged, are intrinsically missional in how they came to be. His words struck me. Of course! Why did I not see that before? I wondered if this applied to the Old Testament. I had completed my doctorate five years prior in Old Testament ethics—the aspect of theology that attempts to determine right from wrong conduct. I wanted to understand and communicate the ethical message of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to help Christians know how to apply it. … The Reason for …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Let Christmas Be Complicated

By Mandy Rodgers-Gates, guest writer We often overlook the tragic backdrop to Jesus’ birth. I have always loved the color gray. All my favorite hoodies, sweatpants, and T-shirts are gray. One Christmas shopping trip, my fashion-savvy mother tried to get me to “please, pick some color besides gray—something bright!” As much as I try to branch out, there is something inexplicably comfortable and comforting about the color. I feel at home in it. Much later, the world itself seemed to turn gray. After six months of struggling with depression and self-hatred in a country that wasn’t my own, I returned home to find my nicely packaged view of how the world works shattered. Gone was the God who did things “for a reason,” the God who, if he called you to a place, would give you a deep contentment, even if circumstances were difficult. My relationship with God went through a fundamental shift then, and the way I see the world has never been the same. As I struggle off and on with depression, I live through seasons of lighter and darker shades of gray. Instead of rose-colored glasses, I see the world through a dimming and dulling filter. But even as the world has turned gray, it has …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Commentary: On ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ After the San Bernardino Shooting

By Andy Crouch Prayer—and lament—is the proper first response to tragedy. We can say with some confidence that all the following are true. 1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope and severity and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place. 1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. Even those far from the church will find themselves, almost involuntarily, addressing God in these moments. This is, in a way, another and perhaps higher form of empathy. It reflects our instinct that our own experience of personhood, identification, and love must ultimately reflect something—or Someone—fundamental to the cosmos who is personal, who has identified with us, and who responds to us and all the world with love. 1.c. Unless the tragedy is literally at our door, this empathic response—call it “thoughts …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Biggest Apology for Christian Persecution of Other Christians Ever

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra In an ‘astounding admission,’ global church leaders repent for past abuse of other denominations. 2015 was a year filled with apologies. Pope Francis offered them to both the Waldensians and the Pentecostals for past Catholic persecution of Protestants. Matt Chandler’s Acts 29 megachurch asked a former member for forgiveness after wrongly subjecting her to church discipline. Bob Jones University said it was sorry for failing sex abuse victims. Turkish Christians asked forgiveness 100 years after the Armenian genocide. Pastor Kong Hee bowed three times after his conviction for siphoning millions from his Singapore megachurch. And Creflo Dollar’s board apologized for seeking $60 million to replace his private plane. But the most significant mea culpa came in Albania from 145 representatives of “virtually all Christian confessions,” who said they were sorry for having abused each other. “We repent of having at times persecuted each other and other religious communities in history, and ask forgiveness from each other and pray for new ways of following Christ together,” wrote the group, comprised of delegates from the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the Pentecostal World Fellowship, the Vatican, and the World Council of Churches. The delegates, who represented more than …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Faith of the Candidates; An Interview With Marco Rubio (Part 1)

By Ed Stetzer I recently talked with Florida senator and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio about his faith journey. His Faith Journey Ed Stetzer: You have one of the more fascinating faith journeys. You kind of run the gamut of conservative American religious traditions but left one went to the other for different reasons. So tell me a little bit about that. I mean beyond what we know. We know you grew up Catholic. You kind of were engaged in the Mormon church and came back to Catholicism. Where are you now? Are you solely a Catholic? I know you’re theologically and doctrinally aligned. Are you an Evangelical Catholic? How do you define yourself? Senator Marco Rubio: I was born into the Catholic church. My family attended the Catholic church. I was eight years old so we followed my parents, primarily my mother into the LDS church for a number of years. And by the time—I was 11 or 12—we had returned to Catholicism. So as an adult—is what I can speak to. Certainly growing up after that I attended Catholic church, was confirmed, married in the church and I’ve never really left the church. There was a time when I became not as engaged in my …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Don’t Call Him Kanye’s Pastor

By Kate Shellnutt Rich Wilkerson Jr., a Pentecostal church-planter with famous friends, gets his own reality show. People magazine and E! Network dubbed 31-year-old Rich Wilkerson Jr. a “hipster celebrity pastor,” after he officiated hip-hop artist Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s wedding last year. Since then, the second-generation Pentecostal preacher has planted a church, filmed a reality series, released a devotional book, and spoken at the Hillsong and Catalyst conferences, all while continuing to pop up on entertainment news sites. (I’m willing to bet he’s the only guy to ever take Instagram photos with Pat Robertson and Justin Bieber in the same week.) And that “celebrity pastor” label? It isn’t going away. “I didn’t pick that title. If that’s the title that the world wants to put on me, then that’s what they’re going to give me,” said Wilkerson, son of Trinity Church Miami pastor Rich Wilkerson and cousin of the late evangelist David Wilkerson. “I don’t see myself that way. I see myself as a person who’s trying to build a church.” Wilkerson led Trinity’s youth ministry, Rendezvous, up until he launched his own congregation, Vous Church, in Miami, Florida, this fall. Vous attracts hundreds of attendees in the artsy Wynwood neighborhood and baptized …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Have Yourself a Merry Little Friendsmas

By Halee Gray Scott The holidays can be hard. Don’t spend them alone. Work has long been my defense against love. In high school, I skipped social activities, sports, family Christmas Eve celebrations, and even my junior prom in favor of running the school newspaper, writing for the town paper, waiting tables, car-hopping at Sonic, lifeguarding, and cleaning churches…whatever I could do to stay busy. Like Bill Murray’s character in Scrooged, work was easier than the hard, frightening labor of building relationships and opening myself up to the pain of rejection. My mother taught me that. The woman who was to nurture me instead physically and verbally abused me; I had a mother, but no Mommy. As a result, I did not trust people. It was easier, safer, to bury myself in work, achievements, tasks, and busyness. But I did not need busyness; I needed love. For most of us, our holiday expectations are tinged with a rosy glow. It’s the time of year for love, connection, and bonding—a perception reinforced with cozy ads and heartwarming movies with happy endings. But life is not a Hallmark movie, and sometimes the holidays hurt. We’re lonely, grieving, depressed, estranged from family, or stuck with dysfunctional relatives. Our …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Hallmark Christmas Movies: ‘Guilty Pleasure’ No More

By D. L. Mayfield, guest writer The good-hearted holiday films prove more popular—and more lovable— than we assume. It starts with a girl. She’s white, with immaculately curled hair. She is shy/clumsy/uptight, but deep down, she wants to open a bakery/be an artist/follow her dreams. Then there’s the boy. He’s also white, with perfect teeth and hair like a businessman from the ‘80s. He works too much/doesn’t care about the holidays/needs help raising his kids because his wife recently died. Maybe the roles are reversed; it doesn’t really matter. The lighthearted conflict between them goes on for 45 minutes to an hour, until they kiss at the end. Cue the music, fade to the credits, and then it starts all over again. This is the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas spectacular, a nonstop lineup of variations on the romantic holiday movie formula. In 2015 alone, Hallmark has released 17 new Christmas-specific movies, adding to their expansive back catalog of made-for-TV films. This year was my first time sitting down to watch their feel-good movie marathon, but the plotlines were familiar to me as an evangelical girl who grew up longing for a safe, happy, magical world where it felt like Christmas every day. While mainstream culture scorns the romance as lowbrow …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christianity Today's 2016 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture. Friends who know my book-besotted line of work sometimes ask whether I actually read, cover-to-cover, all the volumes that come streaming into my office. I have to suppress a snicker, because that’s a bit like asking whether Alex Trebek knows all the answers on Jeopardy! Still, I devoured every word of the four finalists for CT’s first-ever Beautiful Orthodoxy book award. What, you might wonder, is that high-sounding coinage supposed to mean? Think of everything that makes public discourse today a nails-on-chalkboard nightmare: the screaming matches, the hair-trigger outrage, the glib snarking and self-righteous peacocking. You might call “Beautiful Orthodoxy” our shorthand for the opposite of that—for theological, political, and cultural expression that unites truthfulness and loveliness. The way the gospel does. Plenty of people speak the truth about God and his world, but their manner is abrasive. Others use warm, artful language in the service of half-truths and falsehoods. At CT, we believe in the possibility of truth without ugliness, of beauty without moral and theological squishiness. (Don’t take it from me, though. Let editor in chief Mark Galli flesh out our commitment to Beautiful Orthodoxy in <a target="_blank" …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A 3,000 Year Old Version of 'Imagine'

By Sarah Lebhar Hall Isaiah’s song of hope for survivors of terrorism—and what it means this Christmas. On November 13, Davide Martello sat in a German pub watching the France-Germany soccer game when the terror attacks in Paris began. Minutes later, Davide loaded his grand piano on a trailer and drove 400 miles through the night to Paris. He parked outside the Bataclan concert hall—the site of the deadliest attack—and played a beautiful rendition of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” When interviewed later, he said, “I wanted to be there to try and comfort, and offer a sign of hope.” Nearly 3,000 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah wrote a similar song, a song for people who had just been attacked, a song sung to a terrorized people. It was meant to be a balm, a picture of a peaceful future. While Isaiah’s song has a very different message than “Imagine,” the goal is the same: to restore hope in a community that has just lived through a nightmare. Isaiah 9:1–7 contains the now-familiar promise that we celebrate at Christmas: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (ESV, used throughout). But this promise wasn’t given in a vacuum. It was made to people …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Sisters

By Jessica Gibson Good for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but not for much else. mpaa rating:R (For crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use.) Genre:Comedy Theatre Release:December 18, 2015 by Universal Pictures This is a great movie for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who are OK with laughing until they cry at dirty jokes that have no right being that funny. Anybody who’s just one, the other, or neither, should probably steer clear and go see Star Wars. For those of you left in that small camp, you’ve hit a gold mine. Sisters is hilarious in all the worst ways, one of those movies you feel bad for laughing so hard at and enjoying so much. Maybe that’s what makes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in combo so good – they can land some of the nastiest punchlines by making them feel as awkwardly spontaneous as crude jokes should. That chemistry is the most significant thing about the film. The story could be a lot worse, but any movie that bookends an hour-long party plot with brief sympathy-building scenes could be better. Tina and Amy play to their strength of playing off each other as polar-opposite sisters Kate (Fey) …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Wheaton College Suspends Hijab-Wearing Professor After 'Same God' Comment

By Bob Smietana Larycia Hawkins said she wanted to show Advent solidarity with Muslims. A tenured Wheaton College political science professor who pledged to wear a hijab during Advent in support of her Muslim neighbors has been placed on administrative leave. “Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity,” said a statement from the college’s media relations office. “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.” Larycia Alaine Hawkins, who has taught at Wheaton since 2007, announced last week that she’d don the traditional headscarf as a sign of human, theological, and embodied solidarity. “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote in a Facebook post on December 10. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Hawkins also sought approval for her actions from the Council on American Islamic Relations, a sometimes controversial Muslim advocacy group. Her comments made headlines but also led to criticism from other evangelicals. “This statement …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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