CT Blog

Interview: Stephen Mansfield: Why So Many Conservative Christians Wanted a ‘Pagan Brawler’ in the White House

And how their choice of Trump has affected the church since last year’s election.

Election 2016 ended a year ago, but its effects on American culture, including the American church, persist. Many are still asking how Donald Trump became president, and what part evangelical Christians played in making that happen. Stephen Mansfield, author of bestselling books about the religious faith of recent American presidents, believes that faith matters in the story of President Trump as well. Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him describes Trump’s remarkable partnership with conservative evangelicals. Blogger Samuel D. James spoke with Mansfield about what the events of last year mean for Christians and how a divided American church can heal.

Is it fair to consider Donald Trump a prosperity-gospel Christian?

He’s definitely drawn to the side of Christianity that preaches personal power, prosperity, and success in this world. Part of that preconditioning comes from his years hearing sermons from Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale privately believed in “born again” Christianity, but Trump fed from the stream in Peale’s thought that was essentially secular motivational philosophy. Trump sees himself as a religious man and sees his own success as the result of living out certain religious principles—just not the ones at the heart of the gospel.

You describe how meeting with religious leaders during the campaign gave Trump something of an “education” he didn’t know he needed. Were his stances on religious liberty, abortion, and socially conservative issues a product of political ambitions?

A good illustration is his approach to the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors from endorsing ...

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Zimbabwe Can Be Born Again: Church Leaders Explain Mugabe-Military Crisis

As politicians and media debate coup, evangelicals see ‘opportunity for the birth of a new nation.’

This week, church leaders in Zimbabwe called for prayer—and a transitional government—after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the military.

“We see the current situation not just as a crisis in which we are helpless,” wrote eight evangelical, Catholic, charismatic, and ecumenical Protestant leaders. “We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation.”

Political tensions began last month, flaring up between Mugabe’s two potential successors: his vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa and his wife Grace. The next presidential election is in 2018.

Mugabe took Grace’s side, firing Mnangagwa for “disloyalty.” But then the army took Mnangagwa’s side, placing Mugabe under house arrest and arresting the leaders of Grace’s faction.

The takeover has been peaceful so far, perhaps because Mugabe’s tight-fisted, often cruel 37-year reign was anything but democratic. The country loses at least $1 billion to corruption annually.

One of those calling for Mugabe to step down has been Evan Mawarire, an evangelical pastor who has been arrested twice for his viral online protest of Mugabe’s corruption.

This week, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe joined other church leaders in releasing a joint statement explaining how the current crisis is actually a kairos (opportunity). CT has reproduced their letter in full below:

1. The Moment of TruthMany Zimbabweans are confused and anxious about what has transpired and continues to unfold in our nation. While the changes have been rapid in the last few days, the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the public ...

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Politics & Religion: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Dr. Amy Black is Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College.

Politics & Religion: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

In this episode of Theology for Life, Lynn and Ed talk with Dr. Amy Black about political civility and religion and her book Honoring God in Red or Blue. Is it too late to have humility, grace, and reason as we engage in politics? How do we look at the last presidential campaign season and recover from what was incredibly divisive? What do evangelicals do now to move forward in a helpful matter?

According to Professor Black, politics is about compromise and getting along with people involves compromise. There is no way around this. We need to be able to have meaningful discussions even when we disagree.

Is power zero-sum? Maybe, but it need not be. What does it look like to share power for the flourishing of all? And how can our character impact the discussions around politics that we do have?

Dr. Amy Black is professor of Political Science at Wheaton College.

Dr. Lynn Cohick is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

Dr. Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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China Tells Christians to Replace Images of Jesus with Communist President

Propaganda effort in poor province latest sign of Xi Jinping consolidating control.

Thousands of Christian villagers in China have been told to take down displays of Jesus, crosses, and gospel passages from their homes as part of a government propaganda effort to “transform believers in religion into believers in the party.”

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that Communist Party of China (CPC) officials visited believers’ homes in Yugan county of Jiangxi province—where about 10 percent of the population is Christian. They urged residents to replace personal religious displays with posters of President Xi Jinping; more than 600 removed Christian symbols from their living rooms, and 453 hung portraits of the Communist leader, according to SCMP.

The efforts were part of a government campaign to alleviate poverty in the region, since some CPC members believe families’ faith is to blame for their financial woes, according to SCMP. The poster swaps in villagers’ homes represent the party’s desire to have residents look to their leaders, rather than their Savior, for assistance.

“Many poor households have plunged into poverty because of illness in the family. Some resorted to believing in Jesus to cure their illnesses,” the head of the government campaign told SCMP. “But we tried to tell them that getting ill is a physical thing, and that the people who can really help them are the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi.”

Though the party denies the claim, some Christians in Yugan county say they were told they would not be eligible for government assistance unless their posters were removed.

The news comes weeks after the CPC held its national congress, where Xi continued to consolidate party power and passed a historic measure to write ...

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American Family Values Increasingly Focus on Finances

Study of Trump and Clinton voters finds the economy spilling more into home life.

When asked to name the biggest challenges faced by American families, adults have become more likely to think of financial issues and less likely to bring up social ones—expanding the traditional notion of “family values” to include factors like stress over work and the state of the economy.

This growing affiliation between family and finances, reported in the 2017 American Family Survey, reflects President Donald Trump’s own messaging around family values, which emphasizes hard work and economic security.

Yet the new research, entitled “Marriage and Family in the Age of Trump,” found that evangelicals and conservatives largely remain concerned about cultural issues like single-parent homes, sexual permissiveness, and declining religious affiliation over economic ones impacting their families.

Over the past two years, the proportion of Americans sharing those cultural concerns has decreased by 17 percentage points, while Americans focusing on economic factors has increased by 11 percentage points.

“More people believe that the most serious problems facing marriages and families are economic, and fewer believe that the challenges are primarily cultural,” according to researchers at The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University and Deseret News, which fielded the survey.

More than three-quarters of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton ranked financial concerns among the most important challenges for American families, compared to less than half of Trump voters and just 43 percent of evangelicals. On the other hand, nearly 70 percent of Trump voters and 72 percent of evangelicals cited cultural issues, while less than 40 percent of Clinton voters ...

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The Sweatiest Bible Class in America

Revelation Wellness puts Scripture at the center of its group fitness program.

After attending a few aerobics classes as a teenager, Alisa Keeton knew she needed one of those pink leotards. She begged her mom to outfit her newfound passion and never looked back. Fitness became her life’s work and her ministry.

Keeton, 46, founded Revelation Wellness ten years ago in Phoenix, just as CrossFit and other high-intensity exercise programs were taking off nationwide. But Keeton and her instructors saw that physical activity could go beyond weight loss or strength training. They maintain that holistic health focused on God, not self, enables God’s people to serve him better.

The ministry uses fitness as a pathway to freedom, encouraging participants to ditch what weighs them down physically and spiritually. Prayers and pushups go together. Scripture is preached as reps are counted. Together, healing happens. For Keeton’s team, physical fitness is not the end goal — it is merely a tool to proclaim Christ.

Wellness revealed

The landscape for group fitness classes looks a lot different than the shiny Spandex that filled Keeton’s first aerobics class in the 1980s. She has spent the last 25 years working as a fitness professional, watching workout culture grow simultaneously more intense (think “extreme” fitness challenges and races) and mainstream (Zumba at the YMCA and P90X videos at home).

Keeton’s launch of Revelation Wellness corresponds with a swelling interest in faith-based wellness nationwide.

Pastors led their congregations to collectively shed thousands of pounds, and leaders such as Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, launched programs incorporating the Bible, exercise, and diet. In 2015, the American Council on Exercise predicted an “increase in ...

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How to Help Someone Make the Best Decision of His or Her Life

All Christians are called to share their faith.

Most Christians are not preachers or teachers, and fewer still are evangelists, but all Christians are called to proclaim, to instruct, and to share their faith.

In Ephesians 4, we learn that the Holy Spirit gives preachers, teachers, and evangelists as a gift to the Church. These women and men are given to the body to help all believers be ‘mature’ and active in their ministry of proclamation, teaching, and evangelism. All Christians, then, should be growing and active in sharing their faith, instructing others about Scripture, and proclaiming good news in Christ. This includes helping non-Christians cross the line of faith.

So often, Christians assume that people’s decision to follow Jesus should best be made with a pastor or ‘professional evangelist.’ So often, Christians do the hard relational work of walking with a non-Christian for weeks, months, or even years, but never experience the joyful moment of his or her new birth.

Thinking that somehow/someway the person will eventually get it, many Christians think of evangelism as nothing more than a constant witnessing opportunity. I hear things like “I’m just planting the seed” or “I’m trying to be a good witness” but often we never have any intention of calling for a decision. There is one important thing that you can and should do in your witness—ask for a decision.

Asking for a decision can be terrifying no matter what the response is!

When we ask for a decision, we are putting everything on the table; we are opening the door (or closing the door) to a new normal in the relationship. There is a weight to asking for a decision for Jesus, make no mistake about it.

Asking, however, is just as much a part ...

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Reliving the Reformation, As It Happened

Craig Harline portrays the suspense-filled early years of Martin Luther’s movement, when the outcome was anything but certain.

In this 500th anniversary year of the beginning of the Reformation, publications about the movement, and especially about its prime initiator Martin Luther, abound. Some books will treat him as an iconic figure whose bold declarations shaped Protestantism from its beginnings. Others may present the enormous impact the Reformation had on European history and culture, with Luther as the imposing force that got it all going. No one can deny that the Augustinian friar from Wittenberg University has exercised profound influence in the five centuries that have followed his 95 Theses. But it is altogether too easy to lose Luther the human being as we look back from historical distance. He can become a monumental figure, a bronze statue standing boldly against the background of our contemporary world.

Thankfully, that is not the Luther readers will find in Craig Harline’s book A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation. Harline set out to write a treatment of Luther that would be accessible to the general reader, not primarily the fellow academic reveling in the intricacies of scholarly argument. For those who know the relevant primary and secondary sources, it is clear that Harline has done his research: He moves deftly among competing scholarly views and manifests thorough familiarity with the original sources. But he does so without the heavy weight of ponderous footnoting and citation. What he offers here is a winsome introduction to Luther as the movement that would eventually become the Protestant Reformation gets going with him.

But Harline writes in a way that does not assume the ultimate outcome. He writes “in the moment,” taking pains to present Luther as he moved, lurched ...

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Equipped with Chris Brooks on Moody Radio

I had another opportunity to guest host on Moody Radio.

Last week I had the privilege of once again guest hosting on Moody Radio. I sat in for “Equipped with Chris Brooks,” which airs Monday - Friday from 12:00 - 1:00 pm Central.

On Monday, November 6, my guest was Dr. Jamie Aten, founder and director of Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI).

Disasters and the Christian
What do you do when your world falls apart? Your disaster may come in hurricanes, fires, and floods, or it may be a medical crisis or a shattered relationship. Should Christians process the disasters of life differently than anyone else? Dr. Jamie Aten has made a living by helping people recover from human disasters and he’s known a few personal disasters as well. Along with guest host Ed Stetzer, he will come alongside the suffering with practical advice and real-world encouragement. Join us as we learn to navigate life’s storms together!

On Tuesday, November 7, my guest was Will Graham, evangelist and grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham.

Happy Birthday, Billy!
What do you do when a great man of God reaches his 99th birthday? You celebrate his life! That’s just what we will do on the next edition of Equipped when Rev. Billy Graham reaches this milestone. Billy’s grandson Will Graham shares family stories and the spiritual secrets that have marked the life and legacy of America’s greatest evangelist.

On Wednesday, November 8, my guests were Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research; Kay Warren, Bible teacher, advocate, and wife of pastor Rick Warren; and Dr. Tim Clinton, president of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC).

Mental Health, Suicide, and the Church Those who struggle with maladies of the mind are often misjudged ...

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The Game of Thrones Christians Should Be Watching

Arab believers assess crown prince’s pledge to modernize Saudi Arabia’s Islam.

Before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia stunned the world with his sudden arrest of dozens of fellow princes and millionaires on corruption charges, he stunned many Christians with his stated desire to moderate its version of Islam, commonly dubbed Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 as an alliance between Bedouin warriors of the al-Saud tribe and strict Salafi Muslim scholars following Mohamed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Discovering oil six years later, it also became one of the Muslim world’s wealthiest nations. The combination has led many religious freedom advocates to blame Saudi petrodollars for funding a worldwide rise in Islamist extremism.

But last month, Mohammad bin Salman said his conservative Muslim country would return to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.”

Extremist ideas would be destroyed, the crown prince proclaimed, blaming Iran for sparking Saudi Arabia’s notoriously tight religious control. He pledges now to reverse this and stamp out extremism.

“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia,” bin Salman said. “What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries; one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it.”

But many aspects of Saudi Arabia’s closely regulated enforcement of Abd al-Wahhab’s version of Sunni Islam were in place long before Shiite Iran’s revolution.

Many analysts—including Christians—are skeptical of the scapegoating. In terms of faith, Saudi leaders have long applied the deathbed instructions of Muhammad that ...

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Assimilation & Our Churches: Do We Do It Well?

Collect, Connect, Convene

For those in church leadership, the issue of assimilation typically comes with questions of effectiveness and strategy. Truth be told, there is no one-size-fits-all plan for assimilation in every church.

That said, let me share a few of my thoughts. I’ll start with an analogy that, although not perfect, is nonetheless helpful to make a point.

Assimilation, I would argue, is a bit like staffing a nursery. You never know who is going to show up. And you barely know who will offer to help. And so you take a Sunday draft and everything goes OK. The babies may not be the happiest separated from their parents but, in the end, everybody got taken care of and there were no major problems. Yet internally you feel it is always an area of struggle.

Assimilation can be like this.

The No-Plan Approach

My first comparison between a nursery and the assimilation plan is the no-plan approach. This is quite dangerous for the baby. And it also might drop an adult who shows up for the first time. The only difference between the nursery and the assimilation is that the parents are ultimately responsible for the baby. And guess who is responsible for the newcomer? History calls the church the “Mother Kirche.” This is not because going to church makes you a child of God. Instead, the church is the place where people are trained up to know God. They are looked after and are parented in a responsible way.

The Mini-Plan Approach

The no-plan approach moves to a mini-plan approach when you have a way to gather names. Somebody visits. Someone is a guest. Someone came to something and you gather that. Perhaps you have registers to pass down the aisle, or you have people fill out cards. If we do these kinds of things on a regular basis, we ...

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