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Why Can’t We Christians Laugh Anymore?

By Leslie Leyland Fields At a time when evangelicals feel culturally embattled, it seems we’ve lost our ability to laugh. When 50 Shades of Grey took over the world last year, it spawned so much Christian outrage that I took to satire and wrote a piece called “A Modest Proposal: 50 Shades of Grey in Every Classroom.” In it, I commended the author for successfully ignoring ISIS and the wars around the world and instead using her artistic skills toward a far greater social ill: puritanical mores and sexual repression. Both were clearly harming marriages and hampering our over-studious youth. A copy of 50 Shadesin every classroom should do the trick! So many of my (mostly Christian) readers were incensed and offended at my “proposal” that I had to explain I was using satire. And then, to some, I had to explain satire. (My shorthand definition: “When people are deaf,” wrote novelist Flannery O’Connor, “sometimes you have to shout.”) Last week I ventured into political commentary on social media. Along with the cascade of Republicans who were struggling to express their qualified support of Trump, I joked that I too found a way I could support Trump. First, he’d have to choose a smart, non-racist, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Border Crossing: 5 Ways to Move Church Voting Beyond the Status Quo

By Elizabeth Drury Church voting should reflect vision, not current reality. If your church’s voting isn’t diverse, your church isn’t diverse. Like many other tribes, my denomination elects regional officers, committees, and boards at conferences during the summer months. Too often, the voting process works against the values we espouse. I’ll posit a hypothetical Huckleberry District as if it were my own. In a representative governance model like ours, the election process culls a handful of trustworthy people from the mass of larger bodies to form smaller working groups that can efficiently make decisions. Local churches elect delegates, who then elect leaders at an annual regional meeting. At each level, those elected represent equitably the concerns, commitments, and strategic sensitivities of the Huckleberry District. But what is the Huckleberry District? When I try to imagine God’s perspective on this question, a seemingly minor change in focus seems necessary. If the Huckleberry District is primarily the 350 people gathered in the room for annual conference, and if committees and leaders are supposed to reflect that larger body (egalitarian in this example), then based upon the faces historically present, we need to be electing maybe one woman and one person of color. The rest should continue to be white males, as a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Churches in America—Part 3

By Ed Stetzer Convictional Christians are not leaving the faith. In addition to vital trends associated with Protestants and evangelicals, there are three more vital trends that are necessary to make sense of America’s religious landscape. The rise of non-denominational churches. The growth of nondenominational churches is often overlooked in analyses of U.S. religious data. These are congregations that are not affiliated with national church organizations like the United Methodist Church or Assemblies of God. The rapid growth of these churches demands attention. For example, the majority of the 100 largest churches in the U.S. are nondenominational. Soon, the largest evangelical ‘denomination’ will be nondenominational. The stability of historic African-American churches. Historically, African-American churches and denominations have continued to report steady numbers overall. These include denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Baptist Convention, and the Church of God in Christ, which emerged during segregation. Historic African-American churches tend to hold similar beliefs to evangelical churches, but do not prefer to use the evangelical label. Pew Research has found that about 7% of Americans identified with a historically African-American Church in 2009, and a similar number (6.5%) in 2014. The largest among these churches comes from charismatic and Pentecostal expressions, says Johnson and Melton from Baylor. In …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Ghostbusters

By Alissa Wilkinson I ain’t afraid of no ghosts. Your questions, answered. Is this new Ghostbusters movie funny? Yes. How funny? On a scale ranging from whatever Adam Sandler is subjecting us to these days to the Jump Street series? Depends on what tickles your funny bone. You’ll laugh, but sometimes you’ll groan. There are good one-liners and gags (I’m partial, for personal reasons, to Melissa McCarthy’s ongoing war with the Chinese food delivery guy over the number of wontons in her soup), and others that feel half-baked. But on balance, it’s a good time. Why are there a bunch of women starring instead of men? Is this some kind of man-hating gimmick? Why is this even a question? Ghostbusters never succeeded because of its cogent social commentary, thoughtful themes, or innovative plotting. Born of sketch comedy, it’s all about the performances. The original Ghostbusters (which is about six months younger than me) featured mostly actors known for their hilarious work on Saturday Night Live. This one does too. Anyone with half a brain watching SNL these days knows the women have far outpaced the men in the cast for a while. Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy (who’s hosted SNL to great effect), and, above all, the great, zany Kate …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Russia: The Other Christian Nation

By Andrey Shirin A cozy relationship between church and state has lasting implications. Last Thursday, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a new anti-terrorism law, which, among other things, restricts missionary activities in Russia significantly. As was the case in the Soviet Union, believers will be able to evangelize only on property that belongs to their religious organizations and affiliated institutions. Violators may be subjected to steep fines. In addition, the law would tighten government control over Russian Internet providers. While it would be easy to blame these events on the history of communism in Russia, the relationship between church and the state has a longer and more influential history in Russia. A “Harmonious Relationship” Between Church and State In contrast to the cherished ideals of religious liberty and the separation of church and state held in the United States, a major contributing factor to the recent events in Russia is the concept of symphonia, or institutionalized “harmonious relations,” between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state. This intentional connection between church and state allows the Orthodox Church to enjoy all the attendant privileges of political preference and feeds into a uniquely Russian national identity. This recently signed legislation goes a long way toward preserving this …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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20 Truths from Family Life of a Christian Leader, by Ajith Fernando

By Ed Stetzer Joy is not complete until it is shared. 1. Belief is one of the basic values of Christianity and it applies to every area of life. (9) 2. It goes without saying that the greatest desire of Christian leaders for the members of our families is that they become God’s children and follow him. (10) 3. One of the most obvious signs of the primacy of God in the Christian home is prayer. (14) 4. After 38 years of marriage and countless counseling appointments, I have come to realize that what most often takes away the joy and peace of our homes is the refusal to crucify self. (16) 5. If we are causing hurt and unhappiness in our family life because of some problem on our part, we must regard it as an urgent matter that requires immediate attention. (21) 6. A key aspect of the biblical understanding of love is that love is an end in itself and not simply a means to an end. (22) 7. It is very easy for couples to take each other for granted and in the process to overlook expressing their love and concern for each other. (26) 8. One of the most important areas of growth in the Christian …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Sacred Ritual of Church Suppers and Snacks

By Rachel Marie Stone By honoring the gift of food, we honor the body of Christ. The apple juice didn’t taste quite right. Neither did the cookies, which were the store-brand imitation of the better-tasting, more expensive version. And there was always fear that there wouldn’t be enough. There would be pushing and grabbing, big kids taking six cookies, and occasionally tears. Always small for my age, and the pastor’s daughter to boot, I didn’t have it in me to jostle and struggle against the other children for the snacks at coffee hour, at Vacation Bible School, at Sunday school. It wasn’t worth it. “Why does the apple juice at church taste weird? Why do we have ‘creme-filled sandwich cookies’ instead of Oreos?” I asked my mom. Maybe the budget didn’t allow for better. This was a generation ago, and “organic” was not a commonly used term. And anyway, we were just kids. Did it matter, really? The grownups got weak and bitter coffee with powdered non-dairy creamer in thick white Styrofoam cups, and those little powdery donuts that came in white and blue boxes from the grocery store shelves and mysteriously stayed fresh for weeks. Church ladies bought several boxes on sale and stored them in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Clergy Working Fewer Hours, Getting Paid More

By David Brigg Counting the cost is getting easier. The wages of battling sin are getting better for men and women of the cloth. Non-Catholic clergy have experienced significant increases in income even as their work weeks declined by more than 15 percent in recent decades, according to a major new study of clergy compensation published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. (While the non-Catholic category was primarily Protestant, it did include a small number of non-Christian clergy, the study said.) The study is believed to be the first to take into account the benefits clergy receive in the form of housing allowances or living in church-provided residences, which usually cause difficulty in any wage comparison of clergy to the general public. Overall, in inflation-adjusted wages, non-Catholic clergy made $4.37 more per hour in 2013 than they did in 1983. That figure is more than double the wage increase of the average worker with a college degree. In 2013, the average American made $49,225; non-Catholic clergy earned $46,216. Put another way, the general population averaged $21.20 an hour, while church clergy pulled in $18.85 an hour. (Clergy that worked elsewhere, like in hospitals or administration, earned $21.79 an hour.) Like most everyone else in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Am I Humble Enough to Learn from Millennials?

By Nicole Sheets, guest writer Learning from my elders is easy. Learning from those younger than me—not so much. I was at a garden party last summer with my new baby. A group of twentysomethings smiled at her between bites of flatbread pizza and fruity, boozy popsicles. One of them admitted that the baby was cute, but asked: Doesn’t having a baby cramp your style? I told him I was really glad that someone was cramping my style, that I was starting to be afraid no one would ever cramp my style, that I’ve had so much time with my style! It’s one of the big benefits of being an old new mom. If turning 30 meant saying goodbye to my young youth, then 40 is saying goodbye to my youth, period. It’s accepting that some of my wildest fantasies involve eight consecutive hours of sleep, or sitting down in a chair with a magazine, or trying out a new kale soup recipe. As I try to figure out this new stage of life, I find myself more and more irritated by the ideas and habits of younger people. But to my surprise, I’m also discovering how much I have to learn from them. I teach English …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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An Invitation To Our First Billy Graham Center Vision Gathering

By Ed Stetzer We are building a Center that is rock solid on a vision to build One Body of Christ that shows & shares Jesus well in our broken and hurting world. Join us August 25 in Jackson, MS, to learn more! Just a little over a month ago I became the new Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. When I accepted this role, I knew the team at the Center was already doing some great work. So my primary goal here became two-fold: (1) to build on the legacy and work we have done in order to (2) create a Center where partnerships and coalitions are formed and sustained on a level that create deep change across dividing lines and leads us towards a new level of unity around our calling of showing & sharing the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world. You will be hearing that a lot from us in the days to come: ‘showing & sharing.’ The proclamation of the gospel can never be divided from the demonstration of the gospel. Sometimes one rises in urgency over the other, but when laid side by side, the two can never be …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Does Your Church Talk About Prison?

By Morgan Lee The disparities in America’s criminal justice system find an echo in which churches do, and don’t, discuss the issue. In a study of 1,000 mainline and evangelical pastors conducted by LifeWay Research this year, only 26 percent said they had addressed the country’s incarceration rates in the past six months. Four out of five pastors (83%) said they had visited a correctional facility, and about three out of four pastors whose churches averaged 250 or more attendees reported that individual members were ministering to those in correctional facilities (80%), the families of the incarcerated (73%), and those coming home (78%). But these same churches were far less likely to have formal programs: Just over half (53%) said a team from their church worked in correctional facilities. About 1 in 4 churches had a formal ministry to families of incarcerated people (24%) and people leaving correctional facilities (22%). Responses varied dramatically by race. One third of African American pastors (32%) reported mentioning mass incarceration in the last month, compared with only 7 percent of whites. White pastors were most likely to say that they had never addressed it in a sermon (41%). That’s partially because of their audience: About one third of African American pastors …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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I Overlooked the Rural Poor—Then Trump Came Along

By Tish Harrison Warren This election has urban evangelicals paying more attention to the plight of small-town America. I never saw the Donald Trump phenomenon coming. Even as someone with many conservative friends and family members, I didn’t know anyone who supported him during his Republican run. But nearly everyone I know either has a college degree—which statistically narrowed one’s chance of voting for Trump in the primaries—or lives in a city, or both. Trump’s ascent ultimately revealed a large demographic of Americans who were off my radar. Early primary polls showed that his supporters were more likely than voters overall to be poor, white, without higher education, and from rural counties or small towns. Though class conflict and rural/urban divides are not one and the same (there are people of all classes in small towns and in cities), their overlap exposes profound class and cultural divisions in America. Many evangelical leaders have publicly grappled with Trump’s popularity. As America clusters in cities and suburbs—now home to a record 80 percent of the population—our church planting, poverty relief, and outreach ministry have shifted accordingly. For many, rural communities and small towns are faceless places we road-trip through on our way somewhere else. The rise of Trump brought for …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Ten Christian Athletes Who Were Tebowing Before Tebow

By Paul Putz and Art Remillard Christian sports stars have a long history of using their public platform to display their private faith. Clergymen hovering along the sidelines; athletes proselytizing like revival preachers; and “Jocks for Jesus” steadily colonizing locker rooms nationwide. This was the brave new sports world that journalist Frank Deford described in a 1976 three-part series for Sports Illustrated on religion and sports. “It is almost as if a new denomination had been created,” Deford posited. “Sportianity.” Deford was writing at a unique historical moment. Newsweek had proclaimed 1976 “The Year of the Evangelical,” as presidential candidate Jimmy Carter identified as a “born again” Christian. Evangelicals, it seemed, were everywhere—even in the games that people played and loved. More than simply documenting this trend, though, Deford channeled his inner-most H. L. Mencken and produced a whimsical and astute lament of the burgeoning Sportian movement. “They endorse Jesus, much as they would a new sneaker or a graphite-shafted driver,” he quipped. In the 40 years since Deford’s profile, Sportians have become increasingly ubiquitous. Indeed, the mere fact of their presence is no longer noteworthy. It takes a more conspicuous act or angle to get attention: think of A. C. Green’s celibacy, Orel Hershiser’s singing of the doxology, or …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Ann Voskamp: We Must Trade Charity for Solidarity

By Ann Voskamp An excerpt from The Broken Way If you only knew what fire every person is facing, there isn’t one fire you wouldn’t help fight with the heat of a greater love. The day the homeless man moved into our loft, a heat wave broke over us. Gordon literally had nothing the day he showed up, nothing to his name but the sun-faded T-shirt sticking to his back, emblazoned with the words, “Normal people scare me.” A mingling of alcohol and tobacco seeps from his burning pores. My brother and a buddy, they’d found him wandering down an empty back road after a court date, the tongues of his boots panting open, longing for relief. Now he stands in the shade at our back door, asking for water. “You got anything to drink?” he asks me. My brother wonders if we have some work for Gordon. Wondered if we may have a place for him, and maybe—just to start—a glass of water? Gordon uses the tattered edge of his T-shirt to mop this mask of sweat puddling in the etched lines of his face. A silver cross hangs around his neck on this heavy chain. Before I even think, I touch my wrist to find the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: The Value of Friends Who Don’t Look, Think, or Vote Like You Do

By Interview by Richard Clark 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 …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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God Is Not Out to Get You

By Jeremy Treat The Lord delights in you and sings over you. Can you believe it? My high-school basketball coach was a classic, old-school screamer who motivated with fear and shame. His voice was powerful, but I heard it only when I did something wrong. If I turned the ball over on offense or blew my assignment on defense, practice would stop, and the shaming would begin. Red in the cheeks and foaming at the mouth, he would scream until I had to wipe the spit off the side of my face. I never really knew him outside of basketball practice, but I know he was an angry man. Many people have a similar view of God. They believe he’s a grumpy old man who has to get his way, and that when he doesn’t, he will shame, guilt, and scare people to get them in line. Although most wouldn’t say it out loud, deep down even many believers think of God as “the God who is out to get me,” that he is waiting for us to mess up so he can meet his divine quota for punishing sin. Perhaps this comes from a particular teaching or from a bad experience with a church …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Diaspora Missions: Diaspora Churches as Equal Partners in Mission

By Stanley John Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, and Nigerian churches embody the vitality and vibrancy of Global Christianity. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the first united symposium of the Chinese Alliance churches in Canada. These churches are part of the Canadian Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) and offer services in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English languages. They represent nearly 100 churches which account for 20% of all C&MA churches in Canada. There, I met Pastor Solomon Chiang, a seasoned church planter who was pastoring in Taiwan and came to Canada for his theological studies. He then pastored a Chinese church in Parsippany, New Jersey, before moving to the greater Toronto area, where he planted three churches in the last two decades, all of them exceeding several hundred members. He focused his ministry on reaching the Mandarin-speaking new immigrants from mainland China. When asked of the reason why the churches are growing, he simply responds that the church demonstrates Christian love and that is the catalyst that draws people to Christ. On the States’ side, diaspora churches now account for more than 46% of the nearly 2,000 C&MA churches in the Unites States. Pew Forum’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study reports ethnic diversity among North American …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Lovekindness: A Post-Election Path for Christians in America

By Barry H. Corey Democracy sees the value of dialogue for the common good. Where do we go from here? It is November 9, and after an exhaustingly long, divisive election that has at times felt apocalyptic, America now has a new President-elect, Donald Trump. But while there has been resolution to the long-contested question of who will occupy the White House come February, the problems that gave rise to (and were exacerbated by) this horrific election will not be gone from America. We are a nation divided. And the wedges were driven deeper by the vitriol of this campaign. We state our intractable views on everything from race to religion to class to sexuality to culture to Colin Kaepernick. Facebook used to be a place where friends shared updates and photos. Now, it’s a forum for overheated ranting among strangers. Sadly, Christian communities have been complicit in this culture of divisiveness. Whether the topic is Trump, transgenderism, or refugees, on any given day the Christian Twitterverse is barely distinguishable from any other angry subculture. American Christians, like all Americans, are being conditioned by the rhetoric of division. It’s the air we breathe on 24-hour cable news, on social media, and in the click-bait articles that favor unnuanced and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Trump Won. Here's How 17 Evangelical Leaders Feel.

By Compiled by Emily Lund Pastors, authors, and others weigh in on 2016 election. This week, a divisive and unprecedented election season culminated in a win for Republican nominee Donald Trump. Exit polls reported that four out of five white voters who self-identified as “evangelical” voted for him. Following the election, CT surveyed the reactions of evangelical leaders. Responses are listed alphabetically. Matthew Lee Anderson: “I have not lost any of the skepticism” Founder of Mere Orthodoxy “As one who opposed both our major party candidates, I am glad that the campaign is over and hopeful that America will endure the four years ahead. … Yet while the hope I feel is real, I have not lost any of the skepticism I have frequently registered about the effects of a Trump presidency on evangelicalism, on racial minorities, and on America. That skepticism will not be alleviated for a long time to come.” Thabiti Anyabwile: “Now the work begins afresh” Pastor, Anacostia River Church, Washington, DC “I am doing well following the election. Our political process worked again, and that’s a blessing. The result is not what I wanted. Ideally, I longed for a way for both major party candidates to lose. And Mr. Trump’s election was, by a sliver, the worse possible …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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You Are Plural

By Clayton Carlson Trillions of foreign creatures in and on our bodies shape our health, desires, and behavior. Here’s why they matter. Let us make humankind in our image,” said the triune God. And then he made us plural, too. “Male and female he created them,” but we are even more plural than that phrase indicates. Each of us is plural. We might picture our “self” as a single body. We know we’re a grand collection of cells, trillions of microscopic units that do everything from moving blood to processing nutrients into energy. But when we think about these cells, we take comfort that together they’re all one “me,” a huge organism sharing one DNA code that all started from one fertilized egg cell. True, we are that. But we are more: Each of us is a collection of communities, millions of millions of organisms working together, with very different DNA. We have about as many bacteria and other microbes in and on our bodies as we do human cells. For decades biologists estimated that we had about 10 times as many microbial cells as our own. But a new study found that the average man has about 39 trillion bacteria in his body and about …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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