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How ‘The Ninth Configuration’ Argues For God’s Goodness

By Nick Ripatrazone The unofficial 1980 sequel to ‘The Exorcist’ offers an answer to its predecessor’s view of evil. Early in The Exorcist, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) has a cocktail party in her home in Washington, D.C. Among the guests is Father Joseph Dyer (William O’Malley), a charismatic priest from nearby Georgetown University. There’s also an unnamed astronaut about to leave on a mission. Chris’s young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is sick and resting upstairs. Father Dyer holds court at a piano, leading the guests in song. He proclaims that “my idea of heaven is a solid white nightclub with me as the headliner for all eternity, and they love me.” Dyer’s performance is interrupted by Regan, who has snuck downstairs. She tells the astronaut, “You’re gonna die up there” and then urinates on the carpet. Chris rushes Regan back upstairs. The party ends, but the film’s drama begins. As soon as Chris leaves the room, Regan’s bed shakes violently, leading to the horrific possession that follows. By the time Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is joined by Father Lancaster Merrin (Max von Sydow) to exorcise Regan, the astronaut has faded from the audience’s memory. Yet screenwriter William Peter Blatty had plans for the astronaut. Forget …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Patriotic Church Services Misunderstand the Military

By Todd Lovell They sing anthems that reverence God and country, but speak little of the lived experiences of veterans. 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 on how a PTSD diagnosis can help and harm, the soldiers of church history, what Jesus said to a chaplain after a suicide bombing, why soldiers crave the extremes of active duty, why we need a better framework for ministering to military members, and why one member of the military is not a conscientious objector.) In what seemed like a fever dream, I found myself peddling hot dogs at a local rodeo one hot September night. I guess that’s what you get when you work as a pastoral intern for a rural congregation in eastern North Carolina. Townsfolk crowded into the bleachers as cowboys and cowgirls tested their strength and dexterity against mighty beasts of burden. After hours of competition, the lights suddenly lowered, and a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian TV Helps ISIS Surivivors

By Jayson Casper in Cairo With the help of Myriam, the girl who forgave ISIS, Arabic broadcaster finds ‘unconventional’ way to bring education into refugee camps. Last spring, a 10-year-old Christian girl famously forgave ISIS for driving her family from their home in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Myriam’s video interview with Christian broadcaster SAT-7 went viral, witnessed by more than 3 million people on television and social media. When Myriam fled from ISIS, so did her friend Sandra. Sandra’s family first took refuge in Lebanon, while Myriam’s family headed for Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq. Eventually, both families settled into a refugee camp at Mar Elias Catholic Church in Erbil. Myriam previously told SAT-7 she had three wishes. The first: For her message of forgiveness to reach the world. Now her second and third wishes have also been fulfilled. She has returned to school, and Sandra has joined her. She now shares a desk with her childhood friend. “I can’t describe the joy that I felt,” Myriam told SAT-7. But the joy of school is unknown to most of the approximately 3.5 million internally displaced children of Syria and Iraq. World Vision estimates that 2.5 million Syrian children—including both the internally …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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All the Justice Money Can Buy

By Mary DeMuth, guest writer From the ‘affluenza’ teen to Steven Avery, there’s a reason we care so much about a fair trail. Shauna Jennings will never forget June 16, 2013. It was supposed to be a happy celebration, the day of her son’s graduation party. But when they came upon an accident on their way, her husband—a pastor and a good man to the core—stopped to help a stranded driver and got struck by a speeding truck. He died at the scene, the sudden, tragic end to their 20-year marriage. Jennings was not alone in her grief; in all, four pedestrians were killed, and two others severely injured. The person responsible—though “irresponsible” seems to be a more apt term in the case—is now a name we know from headlines: Ethan Couch. At 16, he’d been driving his daddy’s pickup at 70 miles per hour, his blood alcohol at three times the legal limit thanks to two cases of beer shoplifted from a local Wal Mart. He also tests positive for Valium. From time to time, we read about such accidents in the news and lament how one person’s bad decisions and foolish actions gravely impact families and communities. The small solace for victims is the hope …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian TV Helps ISIS Survivors

By Jayson Casper in Cairo With the help of Myriam, the girl who forgave ISIS, Arabic broadcaster finds ‘unconventional’ way to bring education into refugee camps. Last spring, a 10-year-old Christian girl famously forgave ISIS for driving her family from their home in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Myriam’s video interview with Christian broadcaster SAT-7 went viral, witnessed by more than 3 million people on television and social media. When Myriam fled from ISIS, so did her friend Sandra. Sandra’s family first took refuge in Lebanon, while Myriam’s family headed for Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq. Eventually, both families settled into a refugee camp at Mar Elias Catholic Church in Erbil. Myriam previously told SAT-7 she had three wishes. The first: For her message of forgiveness to reach the world. Now her second and third wishes have also been fulfilled. She has returned to school, and Sandra has joined her. She now shares a desk with her childhood friend. “I can’t describe the joy that I felt,” Myriam told SAT-7. But the joy of school is unknown to most of the approximately 3.5 million internally displaced children of Syria and Iraq. World Vision estimates that 2.5 million Syrian children—including both the internally …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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C. S. Lewis Was No Sexist

By Gina Dalfonzo Two recent titles explore the great apologist’s relationships with women. During his lifetime, C. S. Lewis was a widely read and respected Christian writer, even though he called himself a “dinosaur” who was out of step with the times. In the decades since his death, his reputation as one of the greatest 20th-century Christian thinkers—or perhaps the greatest—has increased, as more generations come to know and love his works. But was Lewis truly a writer for all people—or was he inherently, irrevocably biased toward his own gender? This question, in some form or other, has dogged the author for decades. Detractors use various passages—Susan turning away from Narnia in The Last Battle for the sake of typically feminine preoccupations; Jane Studdock’s power struggles with her husband, and the way they’re eventually resolved, in That Hideous Strength; and Lewis’s praises of male friendship—to paint him as an incurable sexist. Popular young adult fantasy author Philip Pullman has called him “monumentally disparaging of women,” while literary critic John Goldthwaite accused him of fearing and disliking them. The many contributors to Women and C. S. Lewis: What His Life and Literature Reveal for Today’s Culture beg to differ. Edited by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Importance of Gospel-Centered Teaching in Children's Ministry

By Ed Stetzer Children’s ministry leaders weigh in on why it is important that they teach children in a gospel-centered way. Ed Stetzer:Why is a gospel-centered, more theological curriculum higher on the shelf for you? Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): Christianity is all about Christ. The Old Testament points to Christ. The New Testament is a revelation of Christ. So if Christ is not at the center of what we’re teaching and Christ is not the person that we’re drawing kids to, then we’ve totally missed the point of what it means to be a Christian and to be the body of Christ. So the gospel has to be center and we just need to be more intentional about that in making Christ the center of our life, our teaching, and the life of our homes and our church. Karen Dolan (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City, NY): I would say that I am of the opinion that if we are not teaching a Christ-centered, theologically sound curriculum for our kids, we’re doing them a disservice. If we’re watering down what the gospel is and what it means to know Christ and to be a follower of Him, we’re not teaching these kids enough. And then, that’s not …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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7 Anticipated Books of 2016

CT asked publishers which theology and biblical studies books they were most excited to publish this year. Here are the entries. Modern Christian Theology Christopher Ben Simpson (T&T Clark, February) By putting the story of modern Christian theology against the backdrop of the history of modernity itself, Simpson examines the ways in which theology became modern, while showing how theology contributed to the rise of modernity. None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) Jen Wilkin (Crossway, April) Wilkin highlights the joy of seeing our limited selves in relation to a limitless God—and how realizing this frees us from striving to be more than we were created to be, which is the root of human sin and rebellion. The Church: A Theological and Historical Account Gerald Bray (Baker Academic, April) Bray discusses the four classic marks of the church—its oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. He then surveys the ecumenical climate today and suggests ways that these marks should manifest in our present global context. A Theology in Outline Robert Jenson (Oxford, April) Jenson frames all of Christian theology as a response to the question, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3). He considers how the story that God lives with his people continues, and whether …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Streams of Joy: Into the Heart of Gilmore Girls Devotion

By Kate Shellnutt The creator and co-host of the Gilmore Guys podcast reflects on a year of unexpected success. Kevin Porter can’t emphasize this enough: Nobody expects their amateur podcast to become a hit. Especially not when it’s made by two relatively unknown young guys, recording in a church office. Especially not when your topic is a show that hasn’t been on TV for seven years. Especially not when you’re a pair of dudes talking about every episode of Gilmore Girls. “When we started our show, our greatest ambition was to invite people on who we wanted to talk to or work with in a comedic context,” said Porter, a longtime Gilmore fan who co-hosts with his pal Demi Adejuyigbe, who’s watching for the first time. “We thought it would be fun, maybe some Gilmore Girls fans would find it, and that was it.” And yet, Gilmore Guys reached No. 1 on the iTunes comedy charts about a year ago, with help from early coverage in The Atlantic and a bump in listeners when Serial concluded its first season. In 2015, they regularly featured famous friends from the comedy world, became picked up by the HeadGum podcast network, and built up a loyal …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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InterVarsity, #BlackLivesMatter, Criticism, and Three Suggestions for the Future

By Ed Stetzer What are we to make of the recent InterVarsity comments on #BlackLivesMatter? For more than 60 years, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been a leader in discussions about race and diversity among evangelicals. It began after an incident in the late 1940s, according to former InterVarsity president Alec Hill, who stepped down earlier this year, after being diagnosed with cancer. Here’s how Hill tells the story: ‘One of my favorite InterVarsity stories involves a Trustee, who in 1945 volunteered to host a Bible study in her home,” Hill wrote in 2003. “Unexpectedly, a staff member invited several Black students. When the Trustee objected and threatened to report the staff member to the entire Board, the latter responded—a la Dirty Harry— “please do.” As a result of this incident, the Board passed a resolution forbidding racial segregation at InterVarsity events and calling for unity in the body of Christ. This was a gutsy decision, a clarion call for biblical justice in an era when Jim Crow was alive and well. Today, InterVarsity has become one of the most diverse evangelical ministries in the United States. Of its more than 40,000 students, only 46% identify as White Americans. Conflict is Inevitable in Conversations about …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Year Without Resolutions

By Nicole T. Walters, guest writer The shift from “achieving” to simply “being.” This year I am not making New Year’s resolutions. I am not jotting down goals and dreams, in hopes of becoming a different version of myself. Instead, I am exploring something new this year—or rather, something very old. It all began when I visited a local monastery for some quiet reflection. Being a busy working mom, I was feeling out of touch with time for my own spiritual development. Driven by to-do lists, I felt the need to set some spiritual goals instead of just practical ones. The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, sitting on 7,000 acres of untouched Georgia woodlands, became the perfect retreat for New Year’s Day reflections a few years ago. I was taken by the beauty of the place and intrigued by the life of the forty monks in community there. I attended a retreat at the monastery later in the year, praying and learning alongside the monks. The common prayer and meditative readings were unknown to me as an evangelical, but still sparked a deeper contemplation around God and his gospel truths. The following year, I returned to the abbey church, listening to monks singing midday prayers while asking God to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Year in Liturgical Cinema: Epiphany

By Joel Mayward The Avas and Samanthas of our world—the technological avatars—cannot replace the power of fleshly presence. Note: “A Liturgical Year in Cinema” is an ongoing series, a personal exploration of the thematic connections between the Christian calendar and films. In the Christian year, January 6 marks the celebration of Epiphany, a commemoration of the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Bodies are gross. At least that’s what I learned growing up in a conservative evangelical environment, where I heard numerous warnings about the dangers of sex, the importance of modest attire, and the apparent biblical equation between “flesh” and “sin.” A quick reading of Romans 8 or Galatians 5 drives the point home: flesh = bad. Many evangelicals seem deeply uncomfortable with the human body. So perhaps it’s not surprising that when it comes to the paradoxical doctrine that Christ is both fully human and fully God, we tend to emphasize the latter over the former. Jesus is “God in a bod.” He’s more akin to an alien Superman than a true human. We would never actually say this, but many of us find that our distrust of the flesh makes it difficult to see Jesus as fully human, with …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Christ-Haunted Hindu

By Mitali Perkins Even while I was raised far from Christian faith, God revealed himself through classic children’s books. I was raised in a Hindu home, where Dad taught his children that God was a divine spirit of love. Dad’s job as an engineer took us from port to port, so that by the time I was 11, we had lived in India, England, Ghana, Cameroon, Mexico, and the United States. No matter where we were posted, Dad led us in a daily practice of gratitude to God. I believed in this good God until high school, when a friend was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Clayton’s death opened my adolescent eyes to a world of suffering. What kind of God would allow this and then, according to Hinduism, reincarnate us into a painful world? I grieved for my friend and put my questions—and God—aside for the rest of high school. College, however, engaged me in different philosophies and world religions. The first assignment in my humanities course was to read the Book of Genesis. I was eager to read the Christian Holy Book for the first time, especially because the few Christians living in my dorm seemed caring and smart. But the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Religious Liberty for All: My Article at RNS

By Ed Stetzer How should Christians think about religious liberty? I wrote about it yesterday for Religion News Service. In July of 2015, LifeWay Research published data showing how Americans think of America’s religious landscape. Sixty-nine percent of Americans said that “America is a nation of many religions,” and nineteen percent said America is a “Christian nation.” The same survey provided some encouraging data regarding the most basic religious freedoms. Ninety-five percent of Americans believe Americans should have the “freedom to worship with those who share your faith,” and the “freedom to choose your religious beliefs.” However, one final statistic showed the disparity between how Americans see differences between individual faith and the outflow of that faith into other areas of life. Seventy-eight percent of Americans believe you have the “freedom to run your business in accordance with your religious beliefs,” which is high, but significantly lower than the two most basic freedoms mentioned above. The fact is, religious freedom, and even how it is define, will be an issue for decades to come. And, it’s a multifaceted issue. This year has been filled with stories about religious liberty, including: Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (add link to new story) The Kentucky Clerk who refused to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Refugees on the Roma Road

By Melody J. Wachsmuth in Osijek, Croatia In Europe, Christian ‘gypsies’ best understand those fleeing Syria and Iraq. Months before he encountered the refugees, Aleksandar Subotin had a dream. The 31-year-old Roma pastor saw a large group of people walking through a train station. He had never seen them before, but he knew he was there to help them. He remembered this dream when he first brought 500 packages of food to a refugee processing camp in Kanjiza, Serbia, last fall. “Then I started to pray for God to open doors so we could work with them,” said Subotin, who leads two Roma churches and 15 home groups in northwest Serbia. Like many Christian Roma along Eastern Europe’s “refugee highway,” which stretches from Greece to Croatia, Subotin feels for the families fleeing Syria, Iraq, and other troubled nations. His empathy stems from belonging to a group stigmatized for generations in Europe as “gypsies.” Today, Europe has about 11 million Roma, a collection of related ethnic groups that compose one of the world’s largest people groups without its own nation state, as well as the seat of a massive Christian revival . More so than most European Christians, Roma believers—most of whom are Pentecostals—understand displacement …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Made in China: The Next Mass Missionary Movement

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Chinese Christians plan to send 20,000 missionaries by 2030. Five years ago, more than 200 Chinese Christian leaders were detained before they could board flights to the most diverse gathering of evangelicals ever. Among the 4,000 leaders gathered in South Africa’s Cape Town for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, their empty seats signified the Chinese church’s challenges in engaging world missions. But instead of tamping down the Chinese church’s desire for missions, the Cape Town 2010 incident acted as a catalyst, bringing together the right leaders inside and outside China, ChinaSource president Brent Fulton says. In 2011, 100 of those house church leaders made it to Seoul, South Korea, where the Lausanne Movement held a special conference for them. And this fall, about 850 Chinese leaders gathered for their own missions conference even closer to home. They announced from Hong Kong a long-discussed goal: to send 20,000 missionaries from China by the year 2030. The number is enormous, especially for a country that has sent only a few hundred foreign missionaries so far. Of the world’s top six sending countries, four hover around the 20,000 mark, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: What’s So Dangerous About Grace?

By Interview by Wesley Hill Biblical scholar John Barclay explains why Paul shocked his religious peers—and reminds us how radical the gospel really is. John M. G. Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University, UK, is recognized by his peers as one of today’s most influential New Testament scholars. Barclay began his academic career focusing on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Since then, he has published widely on Second Temple Jewish texts and social history. His book Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora is widely regarded as the definitive treatment of the topic. In the past few years, Barclay has turned his attention back to Paul, most recently with his monumental 2015 book, Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans). For nearly four decades, scholarship on Paul has operated on the assumption that what makes Paul unique is not his view of grace. In fact, many scholars believe he had nothing new to contribute on the topic. Since the advent of the “New Perspective on Paul” in the late 1970s—which shifted attention away from “justification by faith” as the center of Paul’s theology to the social, ethical dimensions of his missionary efforts—many interpreters of Paul have neglected the topic of grace. Barclay’s new book opposes this …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Does Your Church’s Worship Need a Multicultural Makeover?

By Interview by Richard Clark Why local congregations should embrace the music and prayers of other church traditions. What’s the best way to foster unity across cultures in our churches? According to Sandra Maria Van Opstal, an experienced worship leader and trainer, the way we worship together sets the table for Christians to relate across ethnic and cultural boundaries. In The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (InterVarsity Press), Van Opstal (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) explores how worship traditions from different cultures can further the connection between local congregations and believers worldwide. Richard Clark, managing editor of Leadership Journal, spoke with Van Opstal about enlarging the cultural and stylistic boundaries of worship. How did you develop a passion for multicultural worship? As a child, I attended a Catholic parish with my mom, my grandmother, and eventually my whole family. Then, when I was a teenager, my father moved us to a Baptist church. And when I went away to college, I ended up at an urban, African American church. Looking back, I can see how each experience gave me a different foundation. My time in the Catholic Church gave me an appreciation for liturgy. In the Baptist church, I learned about making a personal decision for …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Forgiver Feted

A snapshot of Christian witness in the world (as it appeared in our January/February issue). India: In 1999, dozens of Hindu extremists attacked Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in their sleep, burning them alive. Yet his widow, Gladys, forgave the attackers and continued the couple’s ministry to lepers. In November, she received the prestigious Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice. Previous winners include the Dalai Lama, Malala Yousafzai, and “Machine Gun Preacher” Sam Childers. … …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Five Poverty Busters You Should Know

By Bruce Wydick Why? Because research shows they are making a real difference. As a developmental economist, people often ask me, “What can I do as a Christian to really make an impact on world poverty?” Especially as people consider giving and charitable donations during the Christmas season, the question has inspired me to create a list of five of the most dedicated and innovative Christians I have discovered in my work and research in international poverty alleviation. While some of these individuals help lead Christian organizations, others direct what are essentially secular organizations strongly influenced by their faith. Some are well-known in development circles; others have labored for years outside of the public eye. All share in common a dynamic faith that has helped shape innovative approaches to poverty. They also share a commitment to effectiveness. Not every approach taken by these practitioners has met with instant success. This is okay. Poverty is a tough nut to crack. But through dedication to rigorous evaluation, constant innovation, learning, re-innovation, and the dogged pursuit of excellence in their work, their respective programs share a commitment to genuine impact over feel-good charity. 1. Auyba Guffwan, Director, Beautiful Gate /Wheelchairs for Nigeria. We sometimes hear the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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