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News & Commentary
More Martyrs: ISIS Executes Dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Propaganda video released the same day Justin Welby arrives in Cairo to honor the previous 21 victims.

Once again, ISIS has orchestrated and filmed the dramatic mass killing of African Christians who refuse to deny their faith.

This time, the approximately 28 men targeted by the Libya affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as Daesh) were Ethiopian Christians. In February, the killing of 21 mostly Egyptian Christians drew widespread horror and fears of future massacres, but also led to Egypt's largest Bible outreach.

Describing the 30-minute propaganda video released Sunday, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) explained:

The exact numbers of victims in the latest incident cannot be confirmed. The video of the executions, entitled “Until there came to them clear evidence”, switches between a scene on a beach in eastern Libya, where an estimated 15 men in orange boiler suits are beheaded by masked militants in camouflage, and a scene in a desert area in southern Libya where similarly dressed Daesh members execute a similar number of men in black boiler suits by shooting them in the head. A subtitle refers to both groups of victims as "worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church."

The video also includes scenes depicting the destruction of churches in Syria and Iraq and condemns the doctrine of the Trinity as a form of apostasy. Prior to the executions, an English-speaking masked narrator dressed in black warns that "the nation of the cross" must either embrace Islam, pay the jizya tax or face death.

The New York Times reports more details on the video, as does CNN. Regarding how Mosul Christians were told to convert to Islam or pay a protection tax, the speaker in the video says, "The Christians never cooperated."

The video ...

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‘But Jesus Didn’t Say…’

All of Scripture speaks to Jesusí message.

Remember the old bumper sticker that proclaimed, “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.”? An updated version might read, “Jesus didn’t say it. I don’t believe it. That settles it.”

From Hollywood celebrities to famous pastors, Jesus’ silence is being cited as the final authority on issues ranging from homosexuality to masturbation to street evangelism. This negative hermeneutic is the logical extreme of Red Letter Christianity.

Red Letter Christians emphasize the words of Jesus printed in red in some modern versions of the Bible. The movement made its official entrance onto the evangelical platform nearly ten years ago, setting out “to take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out his radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.”

Red Letter Christians claim, “You can only understand the rest of the Bible when you read it from the perspective provided by Christ.”

But practice can’t be separated from interpretation.

While the highest levels of biblical and literary hermeneutics seem to confound us, a basic and valid interpretive lens for reading the Bible can be as straightforward as approaching a great literary work. (Of course, as most college freshmen will tell you—and this English professor will confirm—skillful reading of literature doesn’t come naturally. It must be learned.)

The inspired Word of God, the Bible is also a literary work written with artistry, a narrative arc, and themes both major and minor. Just as there are valid and invalid approaches to reading Huckleberry Finn, there are right and wrong ways to read the Bible. ...

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O for 7,000+ Tongues to Meep

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word birthed many more.

According to the 2015 edition of Ethnologue, the catalogue of the world’s languages produced by SIL International, there are 7,102 living languages in the world today. This number alone is staggering—but now think about how many dialects there are in the language shared by readers of this article. How could we break it down? By nation: American, British, South African, Canadian, Indian, Nigerian, and Ugandan English, to name just a few. By location: multicultural London English, Appalachian English, Newfoundland English. By community: African American, Chicano, and Jewish English. By social group: the upper-class British variety known as BBC English, the fresh-faced language used by young people sometimes called teenspeak, the informal everyday English used in Singapore, called Singlish.

This is barely the tip of the iceberg, which can be seen as a problem for those who want to preserve some pristine form of English, saving it from the barbarians who are constantly subverting it with slang. But diversity in language, far from being something we ought to loathe, is a remarkable aspect of our bearing the image of God.

When we think of the works of beauty humans have made over the millennia, from cathedrals to frescoes to pottery to pop songs, it’s no surprise that our creativity extends to language, the one creative tool that makes us unique among all other living things.

This seems counterintuitive to those familiar with the story of the Tower of Babel, which seems to suggest that the existence of many languages is a sign of God’s judgment. But that is not the only way to read this story.

Note that the story doesn’t glorify the era when “the whole world had one language and a ...

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The Best Worship Music You Won't Hear on Christian Radio

It's like finding needles in a hymnstack.

Studying the cultural history of contemporary worship music means I listen to a lot of albums. Arriving at the dissertation stage of my doctoral studies has required listening to 40 years’ worth of music from one of the most significant movements in modern church life—the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. It’s a lot of music. And trust me, there’s a lot of ugly.

But because I also serve as a worship director at a local church, listening to contemporary worship music is not just a scholarly exercise—it is also serious pastoral business. My people need solid spiritual food from their church music. They need songs that will sculpt their theological imagination and give voice to their praises, prayers, and confessions. The good news is that both as a researcher and as a worship leader, I have found many artists worth hearing.

To find these artists, I had to go beyond the Top 25 song list from the ubiquitous Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). Today hundreds of talented songwriters are crafting excellent music that will never land on the CCLI charts. Their craft is just as good as that of the heavyweights, and their songs are more musically and theologically diverse. Consider three that represent the breadth and range you’ll find beyond the charts: Liz Vice, Miranda Dodson, and Cardiphonia.

Vice’s There’s a Light is a breath of fresh gospel air. If Grammy-winning artist Israel Houghton fuses gospel with Michael Jackson pop and worship arena rock, then Vice lands on the other side of the gospel coin. She fuses 1970s funk and soul with indie rock layerings, and tops it off with a smoky—even gritty at times—vocal performance. Imagine if Al ...

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Rachel Held Evans Returns to Church

The popular blogger joins the mainline tradition. Can evangelicals wish her well?

Four years ago, Rachel Held Evans spent Easter in the apartment of a funeral home. But there would be no candles lit, no feast after the service. Instead, the group of about 10 had gathered to mourn the death of their church.

The Mission had launched in 2010 at the urging of Brian Ward, Evans’s former youth pastor in Dayton, Tennessee, 45 minutes north of Chattanooga. Like other emergent/missional/ancient-future “experiments,” the house church had a piecemeal, earnest feel to it. Evans was quickly named worship pastor and wrote liturgy for group drawn from the Anglican prayer book. Ward baptized a local guitar player in the Tennessee River. Members volunteered at Dayton’s free health clinic. Evans and her husband, Dan, helped to pay the lawyer’s fee to register the Mission as a nonprofit, a decision that “felt as momentous as a down payment on a house,” Evans writes in a new book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (Thomas Nelson).

But the financial strain capsized the community. The apartment where they met was always cold. Evans realized that she and Dan’s income was so low, they qualified for free care at the clinic. Meanwhile, Pastor Ward found a youth-pastor gig at a United Methodist church in Florida. And Evans wouldn’t return to one for another three years.

A Trail Well Traveled

This Easter, the Paschal candles were lit. And, as she has done most Sundays for the past year, Evans attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, “a bustling little congregation” 45 minutes outside Dayton. It marks the popular blogger’s return to church. It may also mean for Evans, I imagine, a more peaceful relationship ...

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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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Revival 100 Years After the Armenian Genocide

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

UPDATED: Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In Turkey, genocide is a fighting word. Three days after Pope Francis publicly labeled the brutal slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians as "the first genocide of the 20th century," Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, condemned the pontiff's remarks.

"It is out of the question," Erdogan said, "for there to be a stain, a shadow called genocide on Turkey." Today the European Union is due to debate and vote on a resolution to recognize the 100th aniversary of the genocide. At a press conference in Ankara, Erdogan said, "Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it would go in one ear and out the other."

Pope Francis commented on the killing of Armenians on Sunday at the Vatican saying "concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it." The comments were made during Mass in the Armenian Catholic rite, held at St. Peter's Basilica.

This year the genocide anniversary will be commemorated on April 24. The killing took place from 1915 to 1923, and 1.5 million people 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, ...

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Has Mindfulness Supplanted Thoughtfulness?

Love always requires sacrifice.

“Mindfulness” is a buzzword these days. As a recent article in the Sunday New York Times points out:

. . . mindfulness has come to comprise a dizzying range of meanings for popular audiences. It’s an intimately attentive frame of mind. It’s a relaxed-alert frame of mind. It’s equanimity. It’s a form of the rigorous Buddhist meditation called vipassana(“insight”), or a form of another kind of Buddhist meditation known asanapanasmrti (“awareness of the breath”). It’s M.B.S.R. therapy (mindfulness-based stress reduction). It’s just kind of stopping to smell the roses. And last, it’s a lifestyle trend, a social movement and — as a Time magazine cover had it last year — a revolution.

Many Christians will be skeptical of mindfulness simply due to its Buddhist roots, and yet at first glance, there’s something attractive about it. In the midst of an overworked, consumerist culture or production and competition, couldn’t mindfulness offer us all something true and good? Awareness of the present moment—my own emotions, the states of being of those around me, the possibilities inherent in right now—aren’t those all good?

At a glance, sure. And yet, as the author (Virginia Heffernan) of the Times’ piece goes on to note, our current fad of mindfulness is often employed in service of the same work-fueled consumerist values. It will make us, and our children, more productive and less anxious, right?

I think back to my own attempt at greater mindfulness during an exercise “challenge” I committed to with a few friends last year. I pledged to write down everything I was eating and drinking, ...

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Church Plant Funding: How Does It Work?

Raising funds is a vital part of planting churches. How have people done it? What works?

Church planters must thoughtfully consider the strategies for funding their new church. Outside of biblical qualification and calling, this is one of the most important contributing factors leading to a viable church plant in the most predominant model of vocational church planting.

A Funding Model

A few years ago, a denomination started a funding model and was an early adopter of shared partnership funding. The focus was to be certain that the church planter funds come from at least four main sources.

This denomination's model suggested that the planter raise the first 25 percent of the entire budget from friends, relatives, and various churches. If a church planter can’t raise funds, the planter probably can’t plant a church.

There are exceptions to this, but a planter needs to sell the vision to enough people to invest 25 percent of the annual income for the launching of the new church.

Secondly, the planter solicited a local church to provide an additional 25 percent. A sponsoring church needed to get behind the church planter. There may be exceptions to this, but it would be rare. A sponsoring church without financial investment would eventually become apathetic toward the plant and the planter.

The sponsoring church also proved to be instrumental for the planter obtaining other funding. It acted as a validating factor and provides accountability for the new church and pastor.

The third 25 percent came from the regional district or the judicatory. The regional leaders needed to have input into the church plant and into the planter, his plan, vision, and strategy. They would be providing assessment, coaching, training, and they should be willing to invest financially.

And, finally, ...

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Corruption, Poverty Imperil South Africa’s Future

The bottom 50 percent shut out. Evangelicals lament failures.

Returning to South Africa after 22 years, my first reaction is to the reality of stunning, peaceful change. In 1993, I spent six weeks in South Africa. The government released Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, after 27 years. Violence was tearing the nation apart and it was far from clear that the country would hold together.

But it did. Mandela, in his five years as president from 1994 to 1999, proved to be an amazingly wise leader. He rejected revenge, promoted reconciliation, and kept the economy growing. In spite of decades of vicious racist policies under apartheid and three centuries of oppression of blacks under British imperialism, Mandela led the country forward.

He asked Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu to chair the famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It offered amnesty to everyone who committed atrocities if they publicly acknowledged the evil they committed. Mandela’s dream for a multi-racial society offered the world a model of reconciliation after staggering injustice.

Today, the black majority now governs South Africa. The majority party, the African National Congress, endorses a multiracial society. A free press, a significant opposition party, and the relatively independent judiciary all signal that South Africa today is a democratic nation.

A black middle class has emerged. The government has improved education and health care for blacks—ending decades of discrimination. The government has built 1.5 million free homes for blacks, who under apartheid survived in segregated township shacks. My wife and I returned to Soweto (the black shantytown where we lived for a short time 22 years ago) and we saw a vastly transformed urban area with many improved homes.

That is the good ...

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With Children in Foxholes

Dodging election season airstrikes with Sudan's most vulnerable.

In America, I mocked politicians who plundered for votes by shaking hands and plopping kisses on baby’s plump cheeks. Who do they think they’re fooling? Now, after more than a decade of working in Sudan and South Sudan, I’d take those friendly baby-kissing politicians in a heartbeat.

In a region where armed forces drop bombs on the sick and helpless, the leaders don’t clean up their acts and put on a smiling face for elections, which took place last week in Sudan.

President Omar al-Bashir and the governing National Congress Party declined dialogue with the opposition, and he has shown no sign of ceasing the kind of violence that resulted in a 2009 indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. He’s the first sitting president to face such charges.

Al-Bashir has continued his bombing campaign against the rebels, who say their recent offensive is an effort to support election boycotts. Verified attacks in February and March killed 10 people and injured 61 more, including 16 children.

I recently returned from a month-long trip to the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan, where the organization I lead, Make Way Partners, supports an orphanage for 450 children. In my 30 days on the ground, we only had three without bombs.

The day before I left, the kids gathered to sing one last round of songs to celebrate our time together. When they finished, they waited for me to give a final address, reminding them to obey their teachers, do their lessons, and open their hearts to the goodness of God.

Just as they settled down under their school tree to sit and listen, they shot right back up, whirring ...

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Review: Child 44

How to muddle a promising historical adaptation: a mini-masterclass.

mpaa rating:R (For violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality.)


Directed By: Daniel Espinosa

Run Time: 2 hours 17 minutes

Cast: Xavier Atkins, Mark Lewis Jones, Tom Hardy, Joel Kinnaman

Theatre Release:April 17, 2015 by Lionsgate

There can be no murder in paradise, characters in Child 44 repeat at about twenty-minute intervals. The statement expands every time another person says it, indicating by turns their ignorance, brainwashing, or insurrection.

That's because the film (based on the novel by Tom Rob Smith) is set in the USSR during Stalin's reign of terror, and murderers lurk around the corner and in the highest echelons of government. The story follows Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy), war hero turned agent turned low-level enemy of the state and back again, as he investigates an apparent string of murders of children deemed “accidental” by authorities.

In the meantime, his relationship with his beautiful wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) gets complicated when she reveals that their marriage isn't all he thought it was. But the murders keep happening, and the two of them are drawn into a partnership that puts them in danger.

It's hard to adapt a historical novel into a feature-length film; doing so successfully usually requires finding the soul of the story and then streamlining the action so it all points to the plot, stripping out B- and C-level plots that don't tie into the movie's biggest theme. Child 44 proclaims its theme from the start, in the movie's epigraph (yes, “there can be no murder in paradise”), but starts adding others, most notably Demidov's orphaned past and his struggle to locate a real father, which feeds, presumably, his desire to find out who is killing children.

There's also some critique of a regime that controls and reshapes truth through coercion. Also something about the beauty of nature versus the ugliness of forced labor. And then it jumps timelines, and cities ...

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Muslim Migrants Throw Christians Overboard into Mediterranean

Religion involved for first time in common yet deadly sea crossings from Africa to Italy.

Fifteen Muslim migrants face charges of murder fueled by religious hatred after allegedly throwing a dozen Christian migrants overboard this week during a sea crossing from northern Africa to Italy.

Refugees who survived the crossing “burst into tears” as they described the violence to Italian police, AsiaNews reports. Italy and other countries have welcomed more than 10,000 refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea in recent days. Such migrations hit a record high last year, reports the BBC, which has mapped the problem given the journey is also producing record deaths.

The boat in question left Libya with 105 passengers on Tuesday. An Italian navy ship took the remaining passengers on board and transferred them to a Panamanian ship that docked in Italy on Wednesday, according to CNN.

The Christian victims were Ghanaian and Nigerian, and the accused Muslims are from the Ivory Coast, Mali, and Senegal, according to The New York Times (NYT).

Such boat crossings are notoriously dangerous: 400 migrants reportedly drowned when a boat capsized in the sea last weekend, according to Global Research, a Canadian center.

“If the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers,” Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, told the center.

This week’s violence would be the first sign of religious violence on such crossings, Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman in Italy for the International Organization for Migration, told the NYT. Di Giacomo told the newspaper that fighting is common on migrant ships, but is not typically linked to ...

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Not the Christian Zionism You’re Thinking Of

Academics get behind an Israel that God will use for the good of all.

In academic settings, Christian Zionism gets a bad rap. At best, it’s considered a gross misreading of the Bible, self-indulgent theology on the part of Christians. Worse, Christian Zionism is said to ignore the plight of Palestinians and uncritically support Israel and its politics.

But a new conference, being held today in Washington, proposes a different view.

A Palestinian leader who lives in Israel describes how a Jewish state can indeed protect his rights. An attorney probes the charge that Israel violates international law. A Christian ethicist considers the proposition that no Christian should give allegiance to an earthly state, much less a Jewish one. An expert in church disputes unpacks the arguments made against Israel.

These scholars suggest we can support Jews’ return to Israel, according to the promises of Scripture, with sound, responsible theology… and without needing to adhere to the premillennial dispensationalism often associated with Christian Zionism.

The traditional dispensationalist version of Christian Zionism attaches Israel and the church to an elaborate schedule of End Times events dominated by the Great Tribulation and a rapture of the church that leaves Jews and the rest of the world behind. Originating in the 19th century, this school of thought was popularized through the notes of the Scofield version of the King James Bible, then further developed by Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth and the best-selling Left Behind series.

While some of the speakers hold to a new “progressive dispensationalism” that differs from the Scofield version, the majority propose a Christian Zionism without any version of dispensationalism at all. For us, Christian ...

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