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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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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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News: Orthodox Rabbis Say Christianity is God's Plan, Vatican Says Stop Evangelizing Jews

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Experts assess letter exchange marking 50th anniversary of famous detente. Five decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church famously acknowledged the unique relationship between Jews and Christians. In the wake of World War II, the Vatican officially rejected anti-Semitism and a common manifestation—charges of deicide—and affirmed the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetete declaration, a group of Orthodox rabbis signed and released a statement this month acknowledging that “Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.” In separating Jews and Christians, God was not separating enemies but partners with significant theological differences, the rabbis wrote. “Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty, so that all humanity will call on His name and abominations will be removed from the earth.” A week later, the Vatican honored the Nostra Aetete anniversary by releasing its own statement, this time saying that Catholics should not evangelize Jews—at least in an organized way. The back-to-back events weren’t unrelated: Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, signed the first document and spoke …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Good News Behind Why Teens Don’t Need a Bible for Christmas

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Most practicing Protestant youth already own one—and they’re reading it, according to researchers. Virtually all Americans ages 13 to 17 who identify as Protestant, attend a religious service at least once a month, and say their faith is very important in their life, own a Bible. And most of them are reading it, according to a new survey from the American Bible Society and Barna Group. Almost three-quarters read their Bible weekly or more: 16 percent read every day, 37 percent read several times a week, and 21 percent read once a week. Another 13 percent read once a month, 5 percent read three or four times a year, and 8 percent read less than that. When you add in the 91 percent that hear the Bible read aloud at church once a week or more, it adds up to about 95 percent of practicing Protestant teens (79% of whom are non-mainline) hearing or reading the Bible at least weekly. The numbers are similar to their adult counterparts—in a similar survey, 80 percent of practicing adult Protestants said they read the Bible once a week or more, and 90 percent hear the Bible read aloud at least once a week at a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Five Errors to Drop from Your Christmas Sermon

By Andreas Kӧstenberger and Alexander Stewart If you want to help people see Christmas with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies. Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers: Have you thought about your Christmas sermon or lesson yet? If you want to help people celebrate Christmas this year (and every year) in keeping with established facts—not later legends, traditions, or popular imaginations—start by avoiding these common mistakes. 1. Don’t add details that aren’t in the text. This might seem obvious but bears repeating because it happens so often. The massive annual proliferation of Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and TV specials perpetuates these added details and gives the impression that they are facts. The infancy narratives in the Gospels lack many of the details that have been fabricated in subsequent centuries. For example, they don’t tell us about the nature of the stable (cave, open-air, wood, etc.); whether there even was a stable; whether or not there were animals nearby; or the number of wise men. These magoi (not kings and not necessarily three in number) almost certainly didn’t arrive on the night of the birth as most manger scenes depict. And a star wouldn’t have been suspended right above the roofline. With no mention of a stable, the manger could …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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‘I Am Called a Cult Leader. I Really Don’t Care.’

By Bob Smietana How one of the world’s most beloved worship songs reportedly helped to fuel spiritual abuse at Wayne Jolley’s The Gathering International. For the past decade, “How Great Is Our God” has been one of the most popular worship songs in the United States. The song’s success helped to make Chris Tomlin the world’s top worship leader, and turned his co-writer Ed Cash into one of the most sought after Christian music producers in Nashville. It also helped launch what former members are calling a cult. Cash is a leading member of the Gathering International, a small group of followers devoted to Wayne “Pops” Jolley, a prosperity gospel preacher with a history of alleged spiritual and sexual abuse. Jolley’s followers, including Cash, call him a prophet and their spiritual father. They answer his sermons with “Yes, sir” and shower him with gifts and tithes in exchange for his blessing. They also submit the details of their lives—where to work, where to live, and who to associate with—for his approval. According to former followers, no one is allowed to question Jolley’s decisions. “Correction upward is always rebellion,” he often tells his followers. His critics, he says, are controlled by demons. And congregations that are run by a church board—rather than …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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Teen Mania: Why We're Shutting Down After 30 Years of Acquire the Fire

By Morgan Lee CT Exclusive: Ron Luce explains why global youth ministry is calling it quits. ‘There are three stages of every great work of God,” Hudson Taylor, the well-known British missionary to China, once said. “First it’s impossible, then it’s difficult, then it’s done.” Teen Mania founder Ron Luce quoted Taylor when explaining to CT why the nearly 30-year-old ministry announced it would cease operations. “Honestly, the hardest part about our closure is for people to misinterpret what the closing of a chapter means,” Luce said in an hour-long, exclusive interview. “Scripture talks about old and new wineskins. Sometimes old wineskins don’t need to be used anymore. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of Christian organizations that become institutions, that are dead and dry, and they’re old wineskins. We don’t want to become that. So it’s not a bad thing to say that the wineskin is done. We feel like we’ve completed this assignment.” An Army of Young People Luce became a Christian at the age of 16 and immediately devoted his life to youth ministry. An Oral Roberts University graduate, Luce participated in Young Life and Youth for Christ. But at age 25, Luce was hungry for something larger. So he said he …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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What Is Church Attendance Like During Christmastime? New Data From LifeWay Research

By Ed Stetzer Most Americans attend church during the Christmas season, and many would come if invited. Recently, LifeWay Research conducted a study to learn more about church attendance patterns during Christmastime. Historically, pastors and church leaders know that Christmastime attracts more visitors than perhaps any other time of the year, outside of perhaps the Lenten and Easter season. Carol Pipes, editor of Facts & Trends, wrote the story for LifeWay Research: In a recent poll of 1,000 Americans, LifeWay Research found six out of 10 Americans typically attend church at Christmastime. But among those who don’t attend church at Christmastime, a majority (57 percent) say they would likely attend if someone they knew invited them. “Regular churchgoers may assume the rest of America has already made up their mind not to attend church,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. “In reality, many would welcome going to a Christmas service with someone they know.” Americans living in the South (66 percent) and Midwest (64 percent) are more likely to attend church at Christmastime than those in the Northeast (57 percent) and West (53 percent). And throughout the U.S., more women 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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Vintage Church Fights to Stay Open Amidst Neighbor Complaints and Criminal Summons

By Ed Stetzer A church in New Orleans has filed suit because its pastor has been issued a criminal summons for the church being too loud. Religious liberty is always a tricky subject. People clearly have the right to worship, and what you’ll find in an increasingly secular society is the desire to reduce the right to “worship” God in your head as being the new and acceptable form of religious liberty. However, the right to practice our faith involves more than believing in our heads, and the new frontier for religious liberty will actually be around issues of zoning. No township, municipality, or city is going to deny a church the ability or the freedom to “worship,” they are just going to restrict through zoning laws where they can worship. For example, they can’t have a church in this zoning area, or the volume has to be this level. In 2011, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, then with Christianity Today, now with the Washington Post, wrote a story in the Wall Street Journal about how zoning laws are lagging behind the latest religion trends in America. She quoted me saying, “The future of religious liberty is going to be in the area of zoning …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Unexpected Book of the Bible that Comforts Me the Most

By Laura Turner In the midst of my anxiety, I remember God’s power through reading Revelation. I was nine years old the first time I watched Psycho. My mother brought it home from Blockbuster and lined the three of us kids up on the couch. I remember being confused—this wasn’t our usual cartoon fare—then terrified. That night, I slept with one eye open (which is to say, not at all) because I was sure that Norman Bates was going to creep through my bedroom window. I eventually fell asleep in the early morning hours and came home from school the next day ready to watch Psycho again. It remains one of my favorite movies, part of a genre that proves terrifying viewers is one of the most powerful effects a film can have. In the same way that horror films and Shirley Jackson offer me some odd comfort, I am drawn over and over again to the book of Revelation. I have struggled with anxiety most of my life, and many well-meaning friends have pointed me to passages like Matthew 6:34 or Philippians 4:6. But as I read these verses urging Christians not to worry, I’d wonder, what was wrong with me, that …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Divine Rise of Multilevel Marketing

By Kate Shellnutt, with reporting by Hannah Anderson Behind the $34 billion industry making its way to your church. Heather St.Clair’s phone peeks out of the plum, pleather laptop bag she totes around a women’s retreat in Lynchburg, Virginia. Before dinner with friends, she grabs the phone, swipes the oversized screen, then flashes a smile. “I just made $50!” she announces. Last year, St.Clair became a seller with Thirty-One Gifts, a Christian-owned company that makes customizable bags and accessories. She wanted to get a deal on her laptop bag, and has since hosted 22 parties—in person, through catalog orders, and online. In July, the 38-year-old mother of four drove six hours to attend Thirty-One’s national conference in Columbus, Ohio. There, the arena glowed pink from the crowd of 9,000 women dressed to match the signature magenta logo. Each wore a string of ribbons designating their achievements and goals: “Paid off debt!” “Empower women!” “Live for me!” Thirty-One Gifts has drawn in 300,000 sellers since Cindy Monroe founded it in 2003. “We are a business that’s helping women make more income so they can reach their dreams and look for what God’s calling them to do,” said Monroe, 41, who named the company for Proverbs 31’s Wife of Noble Character. Last year, Thirty-One Gifts …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By Jackson Cuidon The magic is back. mpaa rating:PG-13 (For sci-fi action violence.) Genre:Action, Fantasy Theatre Release:December 18, 2015 by Disney Yes, it’s good. I don’t want you skimming paragraphs trying to find the sentence where I say it’s good, so here it is. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a spectacularly good movie. Now, explaining why it’s good is the real uphill battle. The hype has been ridiculous. If do-overs existed for movies, then The Force Awakens is pretty much the do-over for 1999’s The Phantom Menace. It’s been a decade since our last Star Wars movie, and arguably three times that since one that wasn’t a heavily-qualified “good.” So the question looms: can a modern movie capture what made the first trilogy so magical? That word comes up a lot in any discussion of what makes Star Wars special. It’s just got such tremendous multivalence: movie magic, the magical “Force,” the magic of suspension of belief, CGI wizardry, et cetera, ad Entertainment Weekly-ish nauseum. Magic, it turns out—in all its meanings—is what makes Star Wars so special, so distinct, so disappointing when it fails, and so thrilling when it succeeds. … We open on the desert planet of Jakku, where Rebel Alliance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Don Verdean

By Alissa Wilkinson Can a satire about Christian subculture get it right? mpaa rating:PG-13 (For crude and suggestive content, some language and brief violence.) Theatre Release:December 11, 2015 by Lionsgate I mean this in a good way: Don Verdean probably never had much of a chance. It’s a satire set in American church culture, which means it will offend those Christians who don’t find that funny. And a lot of its humor relies on the audience’s insider knowledge of the obsessions and verbal tics of a subculture to which many of them don’t belong. That probably explains why, the first time I saw it, the laughter in the theater was restricted to a few chuckles—except for two people obnoxiously howling at the screen. One was some guy near the back of the room. The other was me. Jared and Jerusha Hess (the Mormon filmmakers who brought you Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre) tell the story of Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell), a “Biblical archaeologist” who’s built his career and reputation on work he believes in wholeheartedly. He digs up discoveries in Israel and brings them to the United States. From there, a 1990s-style promotional video tells us at the beginning, Don travels around the country with …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Preachiness Never Changed Anybody's Mind

By Russell Moore An excerpt from CT’s Beautiful Orthdoxy Book of the Year. I once clicked off a television program I normally love, because it just became too preachy. This episode was about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. A cartoonish, stereotypical Religious Right activist insisting on abstinence education frustrated the task of educating persons about proper condom use. The storyline enabled a series of coarse jokes, sprinkled with ongoing messages that abstinence doesn’t work and hurts people, and that government officials need the courage to fight the ideologues. I, of course, am a conservative evangelical Christian who believes, with the historic Christian church, that chastity until marriage is God’s design and is necessary for human flourishing. I also think many efforts at sex education—those built merely around disease and pregnancy prevention rather than human dignity—have hurt people and diminished civil society. I’m not afraid of hearing other viewpoints. I turned off the television not because I was outraged, but because I was bored. This program was presenting a viewpoint with the kind of smug assurance of rightness that simply caricatured the views I hold. I’m not worried about televised comedies. I was provoked, though, to think about how often we, as the Body of Christ, do the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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North Korea Sentences Canadian Megachurch Pastor to Life in Prison

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra (UPDATED) Toronto pastor who made hundreds of humanitarian trips dodges death penalty. North Korea has sentenced the pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches to life in prison. Hyeon-Soo Lim, leader of 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in suburban Toronto, has been held by North Korea since January, and allegedly confessed in August to conspiring against the government of Kim Jong-Un. According to the official Korean Central News Agency, state prosecutors argued for the death penalty against Lim in Wednesday’s 90-minute trial, reportsThe New York Times. The defense begged for mercy, pointing to Lim as a fellow Korean and his alleged confession. Lim’s lawyers asked for a life sentence “so that he can witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity,” reports Reuters. The government accused Lim of “trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system,” among other charges, reports CBC News. The Canadian foreign affairs department called the sentence “unduly harsh” in light of Lim’s “age and fragile health.” —– [Originally published on August 3 at 11:50 a.m., entitled “North Korea Reveals Why It Captured Canadian Megachurch Pastor | After hundreds of humanitarian trips, Toronto pastor …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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News: Died: Ian Howard Marshall, Courageous and Winsome Bible Scholar

By Bob Smietana A tribute to the New Testament expert who kept the flame of evangelical scholarship from burning out. Ian Howard Marshall, a gentle giant among New Testament scholars, died December 12 from pancreatic cancer. He was 81. Marshall was the honorary research professor at Aberdeen University in Scotland, where he taught for three decades. He was former editor of The Evangelical Quarterly and author of Kept by the Power of God: A Study of Perseverance and Falling Away, Luke: Historian and Theologian, The Origins of New Testament Christology, and many other works. Marshall was one of the great British evangelical scholars of the second half of the 20th century. “New Testament interpretation will be much poorer as a result of his death, and I doubt we will see another like him for some time,” said Stanley E. Porter, professor of New Testament at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario. Porter, one of Marshall’s former doctoral students, said Marshall was also a fabulous mentor and example to younger scholars. He was “honest, interested, and humble—besides, of course, being firmly evangelical in the best sense,” said Porter. At the beginning of his career, Marshall’s approach to the New Testament seemed antiquated, and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Neither Heroes Nor Head-Cases

By Zachary Moon A better framework for ministering to military members. This June, CT drew attention to veterans’ experiences in the cover story “Formed by War.” To continue the discourse sparked by that story, alongside the Centurions Guild, CT is hosting an online series called Ponder Christian Soldiers. (Read the introduction to the series here, and the following installments here, here, here, and here.) The following essay is from Zachary Moon, a military chaplain currently serving with the Marines and author of Coming Home: Ministry That Matters with Veterans and Military Families (Chalice). We were back at Camp Wilson, deep inside Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base, Southern California. With its rudimentary structures for sleeping, eating, hygiene, and church services, it was not civilization, but it was more than we’d had in a while. We sat on metal benches waiting for hamburgers, sipping on sodas, and sucking in the conditioned-cool air. We wore the dusty grime and smells of desert living, and a real shower was still three days away. Working together in the same battalion, we had known each other for more than two years—an eternity in an ever-rotating military. He was a junior officer …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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