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News & Commentary
What Christianophobia Looks Like in America

New Study: Champions of religious freedom tell Christians, “Keep your faith to yourselves.”

As America’s religious landscape grows more diverse, we see Christianity’s cultural dominance fading. While a vast majority of the country and our leaders still identify as Christian, many conservative Protestants sense a growing animosity toward themselves and their beliefs.

For the Christian Right, recent conflicts around homosexuality, church-state separation, abortion, and other hot-button issues are viewed as threats, indicators that their values are no longer embraced or even tolerated, but under attack.

When Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran was fired earlier this year over a self-published book that briefly critiqued homosexuality, conservative Christians saw the incident as further evidence that they are losing their religious freedom.

Are these Christians worrying for no good reason?

Well, anti-Christian hostility is certainly real, captured by the American National Election Studies, which include questions about animosity toward various social groups. About third of respondents rated conservative Christians significantly lower (by at least one standard deviation) than other religious and racial groups.

The only group to fare worse was atheists, who received low rankings from nearly half the respondents. But while atheists drew more global hostility than any other group, the negative rankings for conservative Christians came from a disproportionate number of white, highly educated, politically progressive, and wealthy respondents.

As this survey illustrates, animosity toward Christians involves racial, educational, and economic factors; the people most likely to hold negative views of conservative Christians also belong to demographic groups with high levels of social power. Rich, white, ...

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Should Unaccredited Bible Colleges Be Allowed to Grant Degrees?

Some Christian schools challenge an Illinois requirement. Experts weigh in.

College students strive for one goal: a degree. Dayspring Bible College and Seminary wants to give them one after they complete its programs. But the suburban Chicago school only issues certificates and diplomas. The Illinois Board of Higher Education forbids Dayspring from offering a “degree” because it doesn’t meet accreditation standards.

Earlier this year, Dayspring and a handful of other Illinois-based Bible colleges filed a federal lawsuit accusing the state board of overstepping the First Amendment and infringing on their rights to free religious exercise and free speech.

The lawsuit argues that the current ban financially hurts unaccredited Bible colleges because it communicates that their education is inferior and thus dissuades prospective students. And if the schools pursued accreditation, which is costly, they would become unaffordable. (According to the lawsuit, Bible colleges generally run 25 to 30 percent of the cost of a liberal arts school.)

Twenty-eight states currently exempt Bible colleges from regulation. One of the most recent states to deregulate was Texas.

In 2007, the state supreme court ruled that the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board could not forbid the unaccredited Tyndale Theological Seminary and Bible Institute from calling itself a “seminary” or using words such as degree, bachelor, master, and doctor. Such terms belonged to the church before the government claimed them.

Nearly 30 Bible colleges were established in the decision’s wake. Yet not all similar schools in Texas liked the ruling. B. H. Carroll Theological Institute continued pursuing accreditation in spite of the outcome. Its spokesperson said, “Accountability is a biblical ...

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The Best Way to Become Like Jesus? Let Jesus Fill Your Vision

An excerpt from 'Rejoicing in Christ.'

Since Christ is our life, the one we are brought to enjoy and the one in whom we live and move and have our being, he must be the secret or mystery of godliness. Only through knowing and relying on him can we become like the living God and share his vitality.

This means that before anything else it matters where we look. Before anything else it matters what fills our vision. For whatever it is that occupies our attention (or, to use Jesus’ words, whatever it is that “remains” in us), that will steer and shape our every thought, motive, and action. You are what you see.

Life, righteousness, holiness, and redemption are found in Jesus, and found by those—and only those!—who look to him. Perhaps I should be clearer: It is not that we look, get some sense of what Christ is like, and then go away and strain to make ourselves similar; we become like him through the very looking. The very sight of him is a transforming thing. For now, contemplating him by faith, we begin to be transformed into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18), but so potent is his glory that when we clap our eyes upon him physically at his second coming, then “when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

That full, unveiled, physical sight of the glorified Jesus will be so majestically effacing it will transform our very bodies around us. The sight of him now by the Spirit makes us more like him spiritually; the sight of him, then, face to face, will finally make us—body and soul—as he is. Contemplating Christ now is thus rather like seeing the morning star at the break of day: both enchanting and full of hope. It is light for now with the promise of so much more to ...

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Beth Moore: When a Big God Escapes Us

We sometimes fail to see Jesus for who he really is, even when he stands right before us.

I was the second-youngest child in a family that took up the better part of an entire pew at our Baptist church. My maternal grandmother lived with us, which meant that every Sunday I heard three generations of my own flesh and blood sing from The Broadman Hymnal. We lived in a college town in the green hills of Arkansas, whose denominations in those days were as distinct as the seasons.

Everyone I knew headed somewhere to church on Sunday morning. Whether we were people of faith was not the question. We were people of church. Still, true faith could be found down the heel-scuffed halls of my church.

All who filled the pews had secrets. Though my family’s could have qualified for daytime television, I know now that no one there was what he or she seemed. We all needed Jesus worse than we pretended. We all had wounds that Sunday mornings had not mended. We needed a Savior willing to stuff himself into the crowded car with us after church and venture behind the dark drapes of our homes. Some of us needed a wonder-worker who could wring honest-to-God miracles out of a house doused in madness, a proper Savior for improper people.

The order of our service usually mirrored that of the previous Sunday. After all, people like order, and my people liked bulletins. We liked to know in advance what hymns we’d sing, who’d bring the special music, and whether we were baptizing anyone that day. We could usually tell the latter by the curtain over the baptistery. (If it was open, somebody was going under.)

The church bulletin also served as a checklist through which one could work toward the goal: the benediction. At our church, it always came in the form of a song, and sometimes we would join hands. The lyrics ...

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Why We're Hooked on Heaven and Hell

What pop culture's afterlife obsession tells us about ourselves.

Ever since humans started telling stories about life, they have also told stories about life after life. We show an unquenchable obsession with the world beyond the grave, and today’s pop-culture narratives offer ample testimony to that fact.

In his workmanlike study Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination (Oxford University Press), Austin, Texas–based writer and scholar Greg Garrett explores this obsession. He looks not only at our tales of heaven and hell, but at tales of the undead (vampires and zombies), of death’s denizens (angels, demons, and the Devil), and of purgatory. For a relatively short book, Entertaining Judgment is a strikingly thorough inventory of these topics, as they appear in such movies and TV shows as The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, Lost, Field of Dreams, Twilight, and even, somehow, professional football. Garrett—a lay Episcopal preacher who teaches fiction, screenwriting, literature, film, and popular culture at Baylor University—manages to namecheck Dante, Milton, Barth, Augustine, and various mythological traditions.

Items of pop culture, Garrett says, can function as “alternative wisdom traditions of a sort, helping readers and viewers to find comfort and make meaning about ethical and spiritual questions.” They help us make sense of challenging concepts, and “along the way, they offer us some peace of mind.”

As a scholar and experienced writer—his previous books include The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in ‘The Matrix’ and The Gospel According to Hollywood, plus some works of fiction—Garrett writes rigorous, readable prose. It is clear he has spent plenty of time with the ...

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Chen Guangcheng, the Voice of China's Voiceless

The 'Blind Lawyer' recounts his fight against Communism's corruptions.

Chen Guangcheng seemed an unlikely hero. Born in 1971 to a poor family in rural China, blind since infancy, and illiterate until his late teens, Chen became his country’s most prominent human-rights activist. His story made international headlines in 2012 when, under house arrest, he made a dramatic escape and sought refuge in the US embassy in Beijing. The Chinese government eventually allowed him to go to the United States.

The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Justice and Freedom in China (Henry Holt) is Chen’s autobiography. It offers both an absorbing story of how a determined, courageous individual can make a difference in the lives of millions and an eye-opening portrait of the desperate conditions endured by China’s rural poor. Chen advised his countrymen about their legal rights, and the book’s title refers to the nickname by which they know him.

Chen’s activism began with a seemingly trivial incident: A ticket collector on a bus refused to let him ride free, as mandated under China’s law regarding those with disabilities. His outrage at this mistreatment propelled him into advocacy for people with disabilities, first at his school in Shandong Province and then on a national level. He educated himself on disability law, petitioned the government in Beijing for better enforcement, and used the media to call attention to violations.

He employed similar tactics to help other victims of official misconduct. When people began to sicken or die from drinking water polluted by a paper mill upriver from his village, he exposed the corrupt officials whom the mill owners had bribed to ignore environmental regulations.

Chen also turned his attention to the plight of women ...

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Interview: The Lost World of Adam and Eve

Old Testament scholar John Walton affirms a historical Adam—but says there are far more important dimensions to Genesis.

In recent years, John Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has been both lauded and criticized for his interpretation of Genesis 1–2. In his 2009 landmark book, The Lost World of Genesis One (InterVarsity Press), he argued that to rightly understand Genesis 1—an ancient document—we need to read it within the context of the ancient world. Read alongside other ancient texts, he says, Genesis 1 is not about how God made the world, but about God assigning functions to every aspect of it. In 2013, Walton contributed a chapter in Four Views on the Historical Adam (Zondervan). There he argued that Adam was a historical person, but also that Adam’s primary function in Scripture is to represent all of humanity. For Walton, Genesis 1–2 is not concerned about human material origins, but rather about our God-given function and purpose: to be in relationship with God and work alongside him, as his image bearers, in bringing continued order to our world.

Walton spoke recently with CT assistant editor Kevin P. Emmert about his newest book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (IVP Academic).

By arguing that the Genesis creation account is not about material origins, you run against 2,000 years of interpretive history. Does that give you pause?

I respect interpreters and theologians of the past. Many of my ideas can be found in the church fathers, and I try to bring out some of that in my research. But we also have information today that most historical interpreters didn’t have, like ancient Near Eastern documents.

Throughout history, theologians responded to the challenges of their day. Today we have different issues on the table. ...

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Contraception and Faith

A compilation of the past three weeks of posts about contraception.

I've been interested in the topic of contraception and faith for quite some time, both in light of my own unwillingness to think about contraception in theological terms in the early years of my marriage (an unwillingness I have observed in others as well), and also in the way decisions about contraception spill into the public square. As the series comes to a close, I wanted to recap the series of posts that provide personal stories and comprehensive views on contraception

Are Christians Afraid to Talk about Contraception?

As I wrote in this introdution to this series, "I hope that this range of voices and perspectives will aid us in thinking through these decisions in a way that brings God into the conversation. I hope they will provoke civil disagreement and growth. I hope they will expose our fears and open us up to life-giving possibilities."

Contraception Saves Lives, Rachel Marie Stone

Here, Rachel's experiences as a doula in Malawi prompted her to take a second look at Margaret Sanger, and, more importantly, to consider the social good of providing contraception for women who want to be able to limit the number of children they conceive.

Questioning Margaret Sanger, Amy Julia Becker

Rachel's post set off a storm of internet disagreement. I responded to the storm with both an apology for the confusion the post provoked as well as a plea to consider the central claim that contraception can save lives.

A Doctor's View on Hormonal Contraception, Dr. Emily Gibson

Many Christians worry that hormonal contraceptive methods work as abortifacients. Dr. Emily Gibson considers the ethical and personal questions that arise with the advent of hormonal contraceptive methods.

Why I Have Seven Children, ...

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The Selfishness of Digital Life ‘On Demand’

Tips for helping teens (and ourselves) find balance in high tech world.

The use of technology can cause any of us to become self-centered. It’s so focused on the consumer! If you trawl online one afternoon for a certain kind of T-shirt or new boots, advertisers for T-shirts and boots will appear on your Facebook news feed for weeks. When you buy a book on or borrow one via a library app, book suggestions will appear, tailored just for you based on your buying preferences and books that other people bought who also purchased the book you did. That computer seems to know you and be conforming to your particular needs! The computer reinforces the untruth: It’s all about me!

But believing what the computer seems to be telling us can lead us straight toward ignoring people around us and their expectations of us. We’re so used to having things our own way, we can become inordinately demanding, always wanting what we want. Without intervention, impressionable teens with their brains still developing are at greater risk of negative beliefs and behaviors becoming the norm than those of us who are older.

Teens can scroll social media, paying attention to who likes their posts. They can comment on what they want to. They may ignore those who ignore them. When they do comment on other posts, it’s often with the intent of drawing attention to themselves. They are in control of what they like, where they spend their moments online, and who or what they’ll ignore or pay attention to. Using search engines and certain websites, teens can investigate what they want to. They can ignore what they decide is irrelevant. They may be curious about a celebrity in their current favorite movie. They may look up details about the launch of a new game.

School assignments ...

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The Unexpected Defenders: Meet the Women Apologists

Apologetics has long been a bastion of men—until now.

Holly Ordway began her conversion to faith in a casino in Reno, Nevada, surrounded by slot machines. She had just competed in a North American Cup fencing tournament and was having dinner with her coach and his wife. “One of the Narnia films had just come out,” Ordway told me. “Our discussion of the film led to the question, Does God exist?

As they talked late into the night, she traveled through a Lewisian wardrobe that landed her in a mysterious new country. “I discovered it was possible to think rationally about the faith,” says Ordway. “There were arguments that at least stood up to preliminary testing. That was a fundamental aha moment, when my intellect was able to wake up and say, Okay, this is interesting. It was frightening and exciting.”

At the time, Ordway was in her early 30s and teaching literature and composition at a public college in Southern California. Since graduate school, she had thought of Christians as superstitious, Christianity as a “blemish on modern civilization,” and the Bible as a collection of fairy tales. “I was radicalized as an atheist and hostile toward Christians in general,” says Ordway.

But as she continued talking to her coach and reading works of apologetics—including N. T. Wright’s defense of the Resurrection—Ordway confessed faith in Christ. Now she finds herself in another new country, directing the master in apologetics (MAA) program at Houston Baptist University (HBU), a small liberal arts college in the heart of the nation’s energy capital. There, she is among a burgeoning group of women who are reshaping apologetics in the West.

“These women are expanding the scope ...

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The Morning After the Pentecostal Murders

Ten years ago, scandal put Sweden’s free churches on edge. Now their prospects are brighter than ever.

Our taxi driver feigns nonchalance, but we are lost. More than once he has reversed our sedan back down one of these serpentine streets, only to try another route to a park that’s supposedly tucked into this residential hill overlooking Stockholm. Perhaps to relieve some of the pressure building in the cabin, I open my window. I can hear the faint strains of Vampire Weekend, so I tell the driver we can take it from here.

We follow the bass line, cutting a path between two homes, then up and to the right. There we’re greeted by a stack of speakers, a Spider-Man bounce house, and a crowd eating hamburgers hot off a nearby grill garnished with tiny American flags. It’s past 8 p.m., but the summer sun is just starting its descent, bathing the city below in a warm light that amplifies its medieval splendor. Red, white, and blue bunting blows in the slight breeze. Snoop Dogg thumps into rotation. Welcome to the Fourth of July, Hillsong Church–Stockholm style.

“We take any chance to have a party,” says senior pastor Andreas Nielsen, smiling at the thought of reporters traveling 4,000 miles only to balance paper plates of potato salad and Frescas at a Fourth of July picnic. Throughout the summer, Hillsong Stockholm hosts weekly parties like this one—“barbeque parties, beach parties, whatever we can come up with”—to let members mingle and invite unchurched friends. It’s a somewhat counterintuitive evangelistic strategy: Swedes get more vacation days than almost anyone in the world, and they spend much of the summer away from the city.

“There’s this perception that no one comes to church in the summer. And a lot of churches shut down for eight to ten ...

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The Civil War Is More Than a Historical Fascination

Why the clash between North and South remains relevant, 150 years later.

Americans have written more than 70,000 books about the Civil War—1 for every 19 hours since Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. We are awed by its sheer magnitude, staggered by its appalling human cost, and inspired by its looming heroes. According to James McPherson, a leading Civil War authority and retired Princeton historian, these factors help to explain why the war fascinates us, but not how it continues to shape us a century and a half later.

The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters (Oxford University Press) brings together a dozen of McPherson’s essays about the conflict. They range widely, investigating the morality of the war, President Lincoln’s effectiveness as commander in chief, and the cultural impact of such unprecedented death and destruction, among other topics.

But McPherson’s most provocative writing explicitly addresses the war’s enduring relevance. He emphasizes three basic factors. The first involves what caused it. “Many of the issues over which the Civil War was fought still resonate today,” he observes. These include “matters of race and citizenship; regional rivalries; [and] the relative powers and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments.”

Equally striking are the war’s consequences. The United States as we know it was conceived not during the American Revolution but in the crucible of the Civil War. The struggle prompted an expansion of the role of government, transformed the US financial system, dramatically expanded the role of the federal court system, and—in the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau—introduced the first major social service agency.

Finally, the ...

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Revival 100 Years After the Armenian Genocide

My family, displaced by the genocide, returned to see Christ at work in our homeland.

One hundred years ago this April, the first genocide of the 20th century began in modern-day Turkey. From 1915 to 1923, 1.5 million Armenians were executed or massacred or died from starvation, torture, or disease.

The phrase “crimes against humanity” was first used to detail the carnage, which many scholars and historians label genocide. During World War I, killing Armenians was the official policy of Ottoman rulers, who suspected Armenians of supporting Imperial Russia, one of their long-standing adversaries. (At that time, the Ottomans ruled western Armenia, and Russia ruled the smaller eastern region.)

“A campaign of race extermination is in progress,” Henry Morgenthau, US ambassador to Turkey, said in a telegram to the State Department on July 16, 1915. Turkish soldiers took all males ages 12 and older from their villages and executed most of them. They sent women, children, and the elderly to concentration camps and the deserts, allowing them to starve by the tens of thousands. About 200,000 were forcibly converted to Islam and had their names changed.

The Ottoman government confiscated churches, monasteries, farms, businesses, and money. Dozens of eyewitness accounts were published at the time. But Western nations did little to stop the slaughter, which Armenians call Meds Yeghern (“the Great Catastrophe”). Nearly all the fatalities occurred in Turkey or border areas. The mass killing of Armenians was so well known in Europe that many scholars believe Hitler referred to it one week before invading Poland in 1939.

The Ottoman Empire’s extermination campaign ultimately failed. Today, Armenia is an independent nation about the size of Maryland. The Armenian diaspora now ...

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Interview: Reading Luke Through Latin American Eyes

Justo González explores underappreciated themes in the books of Luke and Acts.

Justo González is one of today’s most influential theologians and church historians. Born in Havana, González has taught at the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico and at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. He has published more than 100 books, including the 3-volume A History of Christian Thought, the 2-volume The Story of Christianity, and Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective. His latest release—The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel (Eerdmans)—applies a Latin American lens to familiar parts of Scripture. Gary Burge, New Testament professor at Wheaton College, spoke with González about underappreciated themes in Luke and Acts.

How does a church historian end up writing on Luke?

I’m interested in Luke because he is the closest thing in the New Testament to a historian. His history functions as a kind of evangelistic invitation. He wants us to join the story that began with Jesus.

Another reason I’m drawn to Luke’s gospel is because of the themes he emphasizes. Luke pays great attention to issues of gender equality, justice, and caring for the poor. These issues have always been important in my own writing.

When a Latin American theologian reads Luke, what themes get noticed that others might underplay?

When you read Luke with poor people who have no hope, or with people hiding from dictators and death patrols, you see things you might not see otherwise. The most important underappreciated theme is what’s often called “the great reversal.” This is the idea, from Luke 13, that when the kingdom of God arrives, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Or take Mary’s song ...

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What to Do with the Dull Parts of Scripture

Even the building instructions and genealogies provide crucial teaching.

I’m convinced the most boring parts of the Bible can teach us far more than we realize.

If we were to list the most tedious sections of Scripture, three types of passages would probably dominate. First would be the lists: genealogies, exile records, and census information. Second: purity laws, like those associated with the Book of Leviticus. The third type consists of descriptions of buildings, like the second half of Exodus, parts of Kings and Chronicles, and the end of Ezekiel. Many of us are exhausted by reading these sections, skimming them in our Bible reading plans and rarely expounding on them in our preaching and teaching.

Yet they all contain gems that we easily fail to mine. One bit of popular theology, in particular, would be soundly squashed by carefully studying one or two “dull” texts. I’m referring to the idea taught—and even sung—in many churches today, that we need to wait for the Spirit’s presence. A close look at the building descriptions throughout the Old Testament challenges this common misconception.

In the second half of Exodus, God tells Israel how to construct the tabernacle. He gives instructions, in minute detail, on how to fund, build, furnish, and decorate the house of God (Ex. 25–31). They did it all exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses. After 15 chapters of detail, we are relieved to hear that “all the work of the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, was completed” (39:32). And Moses blessed God’s people (39:43). With the house of God finally established, a fiery cloud covered the tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (40:34). Notice the chain of events:

God commands à the people obey à ...

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Which False Teachings Are Evangelical Christians Most Tempted to Believe In?

Hidden heresies come in many shapes and sizes.

That Jesus Isn’t Human

Cherith Fee Nordling

Christians profess Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Scripture, the historic creedal traditions, and the church’s worship robustly intersect at this point.

However, when we examine what it means that Jesus is God’s Son, it’s not long before some common misperceptions—let’s be frank, false teachings—come to light. They center on Jesus’ humanity.

Throughout most of church history, and certainly within historical evangelicalism, the deity of Christ has been undisputed. Not so concerning his humanity. While we affirm Jesus as both fully divine and fully human, we do not take his humanity seriously, especially as his human life relates to our own.

The New Testament takes Jesus’ humanity for granted. That’s what made Jesus’ messianic claims, and the early church’s worship of him as Lord, so radical. In the words of Paul, the incarnate Son “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” (Phil. 2:6). He relinquished his own power by submitting to the limits of a truly human life. This means he lived (and was raised) as we are called to—through the empowering Holy Spirit.

Church leaders in the first several centuries pressed for clarity in worship and proclamation of this one person, the incarnate, preexistent Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Heresies (false teachings that tried to relieve the tension of this mystery) abounded. These false teachings prompted the creeds. The Nicene and Apostles’ creeds among others are shorthand presentations of the gospel. They declare the divine lordship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, the unity of Jesus’ human and divine ...

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