CT Blog

Lead Us Not Into Scandal

While some other evangelicals stumbled in national news, Graham's Modesto Manifesto kept him from falling.

On countless occasions during his career, usually at a press conference preceding a major crusade, Billy Graham declared that he sensed religious revival was breaking out and about to sweep over the land. In 1948, he happened to be right. During the 1940s, church membership in America rose by nearly 40 percent, with most of the growth coming after the end of the war, as the nation tried to reconstruct normalcy on the most dependable foundation it knew. Church building reached an all-time high, seminaries were packed, secular colleges added programs in religious studies, religious books outsold all other categories of nonfiction, and Bible sales doubled between 1947 and 1952. While Graham and his colleagues in Youth For Christ (YFC) and the Southern Baptist “Youth Revival Movement” were packing civic auditoriums and stadiums, William Branham, Jack Coe, A. A. Allen, and Oral Roberts were filling stupendous nine-pole circus tents with Pentecostal believers desperate to see afflictions healed, devils cast out, and the dead raised.

For evangelists, it was like being a stockbroker in a runaway bull market. As in other fields, however, the boom attracted some whose motives and methods were less than sanctified, who fell prey to the temptations described in Scripture as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) but are better known by their street names, “sex, money, and power.” Despite good intentions and behavior, Graham and his associates occasionally found themselves the objects of suspicion and condescension from ministers and laypeople alike. As they contemplated the checkered history and contemporary shortcomings of itinerant evangelism and talked ...

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Faith in Russia: What Does It Mean?

Many Russians, be they Orthodox or Evangelical, will understandably view their homeland with affection, loyalty, and patriotism.

After brief instructions from the Lutheran Archbishop Dietrich Brauer, we processed up the center aisle of the St. Peter-and-St. Paul Lutheran Cathedral in Moscow, launching the 500th Anniversary observance of the Protestant Reformation.

Robed in gowns and hats of all colors and shapes, leaders of various Christian groups gathered in this important Moscow celebration: Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, but there were no Russian Orthodox representative in the procession. As we passed the front row moving toward the raised platform, I saw an Orthodox priest standing.

Even as we gathered around the altar for prayer, he remained apart. Later, I learned that while he would attend the service, he would not join in procession or prayer: according to the ancient Orthodox rule, a priest who prayed with heretics would lose his priesthood.

This is Russia. A country in curious shifts and alterations more mysterious than the Trump/Putin insults and bravados. I live with memory of a state, the Soviet Union, ruled by atheists insisting that the Communist and Marxist dictum of “no God” be their country’s mantra.

But it is wrong to assume that atheism rules, indeed, if it ever did. Make no mistake, this is a religious and, in fact, a Christian country, if one were to define a country by what its people believe. The Pew Foundation noted that 74 percent of Russians identify as Christian. However, even with this remarkable percentage of self-confessed Christians, Russia is dynamically secular, with a definite separation of Christian witness from its civil life, apart from official Orthodox ceremonies.

Its Varied History

To catch up on recent moves by Putin, a quick review of the role of faith in this grand country ...

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Changing Direction – Reflections on the Chicago River at St. Patrick’s Day

When we follow Jesus, we do what the Chicago River did in 1900: we change direction.

My husband and I live in downtown Chicago. Since I work at Wheaton College, people often ask, “Why don’t you live in the suburbs? Isn’t it a hassle to commute every day?” And from those who live in another state and only know the city fromknow the city the news, we often hear, “Is it safe to live in Chicago?”

Living in the city was an intentional choice for us. We wanted to rub shoulders with men and women from all different backgrounds who might be open to hearing about God’s love and his invitation into a relationship. Plus it’s fun! We love the hustle and bustle of the city, the cultural variety of people who live here, and the great activities that happen throughout the year.

As just one example, every year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the local Plumbers’ Union dyes the Chicago River green. This tradition is more than 50 years old and draws over 400,000 spectators to the banks of our river. Some years are a little more interesting than others. In 2013, we stood by the Wrigley Building and saw a flying leprechaun! Admittedly, most of the people who gather are just there to party, but it’s a tradition that we love to attend.

What makes the whole process most amazing to me is where the plumbers put the vegetable-based dye: at the mouth of the river by Lake Michigan. Then the dye flows back through the city, slowly turning the river green. Your see, the Chicago River flows backwards, away from the lake. Until the dye starts to mingle with the water, you don’t really see the direction the water is moving. Once that emerald color starts to mix in, you can begin to trace the currents moving west.

This reversed flow is because in the 1800s as the city boomed, ...

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Five Things that Keep Churches from Change

Being a representative of Christ in a lost world requires change.

Leading a church into revitalization is a daunting task. It takes much prayer, grace, and strength. Churches that need revitalization have often drifted into a place of complacency. The change they need often comes about because of a cathartic moment.

Desperation is quite the motivator. The pastor who leads a church into renewal is doing a great service for the kingdom of God. But it is helpful to understand why churches resist change. I want to look at some of the things that lead to crisis, understanding that if the signs are recognized early enough, it may not come to drastic measures.

First, self-focus.

I’ve said many times that the church is God’s mission to the world. So a lot of time is spent making sure the church is what it should be. A large portion of the New Testament is Paul focusing on how churches and leaders should operate internally and outwardly. There is nothing wrong with self-awareness and examination. We need to take care of family, right?

But because we are human, we have a tendency to create environments to fit our comforts. This happens to individuals, to leaders, and to churches. We do things the way we like them. Eventually, when we do this long enough, we conflate what we like with what God demands.

Ultimately, as we find in the Old and New Testaments, this edges God out of the process. Ironically, we may not even recognize it until one day we are about to close the doors. Churches that turn their eyes from Christ and their hearts from the lost will end up with neither.

Certainly the church is a place of sanctuary, worship, and healing. But Christ didn’t establish the church for its own benefit. So when we live to benefit ourselves, we end up losing our purpose and naturally our place. ...

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Ministries Can Do Better Than Inclusion-Rider Diversity

Rather than wait for outside demands, faith-based organizations should proactively pursue representation as part of their mission.

Once Oscar winner Frances McDormand ended her acceptance speech with the two words “inclusion rider,” so many people Googled the phrase that inclusion became the most-searched word of the night on Merriam-Webster’s site.

In the entertainment industry, a rider refers to special provisions of a contract; in this case, the agreement would require producers to involve a certain level of underrepresented groups in the cast and crew in order for a prominent performer to take part.

The concept was proposed by Stacy L. Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, in the Hollywood Reporter in 2014, as a way to have “women, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of LGBT and marginalized communities who are traditionally underrepresented be depicted on screen in proportion to their representation in the population.” Earlier this month, actor Michael B. Jordan of Black Panther became the first A-list actor to promise he would adopt the inclusion rider in contracts through his company, Outlier Society Productions.

The aims of the inclusion rider, in the context of the film industry, seem straightforward: to incorporate more diversity on screen and behind the scenes, thus promoting employment and capturing more accurately the diversity of human experience.

However, the concept of the inclusion rider has also raised questions of legality, particularly if possible quotas would actually violate certain nondiscrimination laws, like the federal Civil Rights Act, which protects against discrimination in classes such as race, national origin, and sex.

An article in the American Bar Association Journal reports that Kalpana Kotagal, a partner with Cohen Milstein’s civil rights and employment ...

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Keeping the Sabbath Saved My Marriage, My Ministry, and Probably My Life

I used to think resting from work was selfish, until I considered the example of Jesus.

Nearly 10 years ago, as a college pastor at the University of Oregon, I toiled nearly 80 hours a week doing the “work of the Lord.” No boundaries. No rhythms. No intention. No rest. Every crisis was my crisis. Every complaint was my problem. Everything and everyone came to me. The long and short of it. I began to burn out. And I knew there was a problem when I started hoping I would burn out. Burnout offered a way out of all the insanity. Though I had never thought it possible, I was, in Paul’s words, beginning to “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). The cost was high. I constantly got sick, my marriage was struggling, and my ministry became misery as I went frantically from crisis to crisis.

Flannery O’Connor has this little throwaway line where she speaks of a priest who is “unimaginative and overworked.” That was me. There was only one problem: The ministry was thriving. People were getting baptized. Students were repenting. The group was growing. It all came to a head one Saturday morning. After an 80-hour workweek, I scheduled an appointment with a student in our college ministry for 10:00 a.m. that Saturday morning. Having not slept well for over a month, I missed my appointment, not even hearing the sound of my alarm. I woke up to a voicemail on my phone: “How could you miss this appointment? Pastors shouldn’t miss appointments. You have failed me.”

I had become, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, a “quivering mass of availability.” A need-filler. A gofer. A Christian handyman, available to everyone and everything but the Lord my God. Standing there, I nearly broke my flip phone over my knee and threw it against the wall. I had been working tirelessly ...

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Turkey Wants to Keep American Pastor Behind Bars for Life

American officials and supporters say Andrew Brunson has been “unjustly imprisoned” under false charges.

Turkish prosecutors demanded life imprisonment for jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson in an official indictment presented to Izmir’s 2nd Criminal Court on Tuesday.

Arrested without bail since October 2016, Brunson is accused of being “a member and executive” of the Islamic movement led by self-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused of orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.

According to the semi-official news agency Anadolu Ajansi, the formal indictment also charges the pastor with establishing links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and obtaining espionage information for political and military purposes.

If the indictment is accepted by the court, formal trial proceedings are expected to be set in motion against Brunson. To date, neither the pastor nor his lawyer have been allowed any access to the legal file of investigations conducted by Turkish authorities into his case.

Commenting on the indictment, the two vice chairs of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga, said:

USCIRF urges President Trump and others in the administration to redouble their ongoing efforts to secure Pastor Brunson’s release. No stone should be left unturned in our efforts on behalf of this unjustly imprisoned American.

We call again for his immediate release and, if this is not forthcoming, for the administration and Congress to impose targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice.

“USCIRF is appalled that Turkish officials are seeking a possible life sentence for Pastor Brunson and are accusing him of leadership in a terrorist organization,” they added.

“The ...

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What Is Evangelicalism?

A simple definition based in doctrine, history, or sociology won’t do. But a vibrant stream really does exist.

Evangelicalism is one of the largest and most dynamic forms of Christianity in the modern world, but there is an amorphous quality to many words that end with the suffix “-ism,” and “evangelicalism” is no exception. “Evangelicalism” does not have the hard and crisp denotation of a concrete noun such as “Jesuit.” This confusion goes back to lexical roots. The English language uses the Anglo-Saxon noun “gospel” for the Greek “evangel” but retains the Greek root for the adjective “evangelical” and the abstract class-noun “evangelicalism.” There was a time when certain Protestants were called Gospellers, but the obvious link between “gospel” and “evangelical” has now been largely obscured. As an abstract noun naming things that cannot be heard, seen, or touched, “evangelicalism” seems always in need of more concrete definition.

Here history helps to clarify the meaning. In common use, “evangelicalism” deals with the doctrines, practices, and history of a class of Protestants that emerged distinctively in the early modern period, endured for three centuries, and spread to five continents. “Evangelical” identified the churches of the Protestant Reformation and their teaching, especially the Lutheran evangelische church, but the origins of modern evangelicalism, as understood in the English-speaking world, are found more in the popular spiritual awakening of the following centuries in the North Atlantic region. Seventeenth-century movements of devotion such as Pietism, Puritanism, and the Anglican “holy living” tradition fused to generate a general spiritual awakening ...

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The Focused Leader: Keeping the Mission as the Ultimate Goal

Missional leaders must cultivate biblically-shaped leadership and the gospel-structured mission.

Eighteenth-century pioneer of missional theology, Nicolaus Zinzendorf, once quipped, “Preach the gospel, die and be forgotten.” Zinzendorf accurately describes the posture of the missional leader.

We don’t need celebrities that dictate to us what our ministry should look like. We don’t need trends to which we conform our personality. Instead, our ministry must be formed around the principle of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

We need to approach leadership with Christ-like humility and pursue the noble labor of gospel ministry. We need to preach faithfully the gospel and be forgotten as the church flourishes and magnifies her Savior and Head, Jesus Christ.

But gospel ministry is filled with temptations and pitfalls that divert our focus from God’s self-directed mission to personal amusement and self-gratification.

In order to keep God’s glory and calling central, the missional leader must intentionally cultivate biblically-shaped leadership and the gospel-structured mission. These two elements are not boxes to cross off on our missional checklist, but the integral structures that define and feed our mission.

These two foundational ideas must interplay off each other as they inform our core understanding of mission. The biblical shape of our leadership more clearly defines the scope of our mission. As our gospel mission is faithfully lived out, our leadership becomes more finely contoured to God’s calling. The result is a faithful ministry that develops a future generation forged by a passionate pursuit and commitment of mission.

The Shape of the Leader

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, ...

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Joni Eareckson Tada: Why Suicide Is Everybody’s Business

Society’s moral resolve hinges on the interdependence of the sick and the well.

Just a few months ago, Britain announced the appointment of a Minister of Loneliness. The post reflects a rising epidemic that’s unique to 21st-century Western society: Many of us are hyperconnected online but simultaneously disconnected from substantive community. We have dozens of “followers” but few true friendships. We can connect with the world with the touch of a button—or the command of our voice—and yet we hardly know our neighbors. The net result? Loneliness. The increasingly common response: suicide.

Each year, more than 44,000 people die by suicide in the United States. It is estimated that 25 times that number attempt suicide each year. And the numbers have steadily risen since 2006. Add to that the number of individuals who have chosen physician-assisted suicide—in 2015, 301 people died under Death with Dignity acts in the states of Oregon and Washington alone—and we’re facing a lot of people who have answered “Why not die?” with an empty silence.

The vast majority of suicides of elderly or terminally ill people or those with disabilities occur quietly within homes and institutions, far from the media, the courts, and the public eye. These are hurting, despondent people who never make the news and only rarely appear on your Facebook feed. These are the ones living a quiet desperation: The woman with cancer, seesawing in and out of remission. The young boy in a semi-comatose condition, making eye contact, half smiling, and then drifting away again. The carpenter who broke his neck falling from a second-story window and now, abandoned by his wife, lives in a nursing home.

I, too, have lived in this space of despondence—particularly during the first ...

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Food for Thought: The Theological Life of Pi

The mind-boggling discoveries of computers and what we—and God?—still may never know.

For Pi Day this year, chew on this: Does God know all the digits in pi? Or does he know the answer to the myriad of unresolved mathematical problems out there today?

The great fifth-century African bishop Augustine of Hippo surely would have answered with a resounding yes, though other Christian thinkers might disagree. He also would likely have taken interest in recent mathematical discoveries made possible by today’s computers, discoveries that resurrect some of these unresolved problems.

In 2016, Swiss mathematician and evangelical Christian Peter Trüb’s computer spent 105 days calculating pi out to approximately 22.4 trillion digits—the most digits ever calculated. And this past January, Jon Pace, an electrical engineer and deacon at the Germantown Church of Christ in Tennessee, learned that his computer discovered the largest known prime number and the 50th known Mersenne prime, through an effort begun in 1996 that networks thousands of computers nationwide.

Primes are numbers greater than 1 that have no proper factors—the only numbers that can divide evenly into them are 1 and themselves (e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11). A Mersenne prime is named in honor of Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), a French mathematician, theologian, philosopher, and music theorist. These primes can be expressed as 2ⁿ – 1. In the expression for Pace’s Mersenne prime, n = 77,232,917. That’s one less than the number 2 multiplied by itself over 77 million times. Just to write it down would take up the space of about 10 novels the size of Anna Karenina. Trüb’s representation of pi is 1,000 times longer than that.

Why would anyone care to engage in projects like these? Trüb said one reason is ...

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