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When beloved congregants turned on me, who could I trust for advice?

Not too many years ago I got lost in the woods near Linville, a small village high in the North Carolina mountains. I had been the Sunday speaker for summertime worship at the Wee Kirk and stayed over for a day to relax. Midafternoon my dog, Wrangler, and I went for a walk in the woods. I’d walked there before and thought I knew the path pretty well; it wound a short distance around and back to a small lake. But as the sun began to set, it became clear that we were terribly lost.

My cell phone was close to powering down, so I realized I better call for help before the charge was totally gone. So I called the nearby Eseeola Lodge hoping I could reach the manager.

“Where do you think you are?” he asked. “Describe it.” I tried to tell him the best I could.

“I think I know where you are,” he said, then told me to go another direction. Confused in the woods and hills I had been headed 180 degrees wrong.

Relieved, I set off again. Wrangler and I walked for a good 45 minutes along trails I did not recognize. As evening closed in, every minute seemed longer. I was still unsure I was going the right way, but I trusted that someone who knew the woods had set me right. Then came a final turn and I saw a security guard waiting with a pickup to take me back to my car.

Lines in a poem by David Wagoner take me back vividly to that lost afternoon.

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

There have been several other seasons in my life in which I found myself feeling lost in a dark wood spiritually and in need of help to find my way back home. Some of these times have come when I have made a wrong turn and deliberately gone in a direction I knew was not ...

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Or is it faith? Or some complex combination of both?

The evangelist Billy Sunday wasn’t afraid to try something new. He would jump on top of a pulpit if he thought it would get attention. He would sell shares of a revival tabernacle, complete with “stock certificates” guaranteeing the bearer a portion of the proceeds, if he thought it would bring in enough money to fund the business of preaching the gospel.

He was a man who believed in innovation. But this was surprising even for him.

In 1934, Sunday was deciding who would publish his next book. He had two publishers, William Eerdmans and Pat Zondervan, come meet him at the same time. Each man was surprised to find the other in the meeting. Then Sunday asked them both to pray out loud. In a prayer competition. Which he would judge. The two men did pray, Sunday judged that Zondervan’s extemporaneous prayer was best, and he awarded the 25-year-old’s company with the contract for Billy Sunday Speaks!

The story is kind of a parable of American evangelicalism. As a parable, it raises a question: Which of these men acted out of faith and which from commercial interest?

Daniel Vaca, an American religious historian at Brown University, offers a clear answer in his new book, Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America. He says all three. All three were acting out of faith. All three were acting out of commercial interest. In fact, when looking at the history of contemporary American evangelicalism, it doesn’t make sense to distinguish between the commercial and the religious.

“Evangelicalism exemplifies what I describe as ‘commercial religion,’” Vaca writes. “Religion that takes shape through the ideas, activities, and strategies that typify commercial ...

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The initiative aims to convert 1 in 5 WEA churches and institutions to renewable power by 2025.

Solar panels could be coming soon to a church near you. Through a campaign called Project 20.’25, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) has set out to get 20 percent of its members to convert fully to clean energy by 2025.

This fall, the global network announced its partnership with Smart Roofs Solar Inc. Together they will help universities, health care facilities, and churches looking to adopt clean power, including offering guidance for local suppliers and providing financing options. The renewable energy initiative builds on the WEA’s efforts to promote creation care, said Chris Elisara, director of the WEA Creation Care Task Force.

Clean energy reduces air pollution, which improves human health and productivity; preserves nonrenewable resources; and cuts down on the emission of greenhouse gases that trap heat and can fuel, among other things, extreme weather that impacts food production and human safety.

“Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions because we know that this is our Father’s world,” Galen Carey, the National Association of Evangelicals’ vice president of government relations, told CT. “We also know that these efforts will particularly benefit our most vulnerable neighbors, those whose health and livelihoods most directly depend on clean air and a stable climate.”

There is also a financial benefit to making the shift to renewable energy, with wind and solar power being the most cost-efficient sources when installing new electricity-generating capacity.

“It doesn’t only make environmental and social justice sense—it makes economic sense,” said Brent Nelson, a group manager in the ...

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As we intentionally draw attention to the Scriptures, which reveal Jesus’s power, presence, ministry, words, deeds, miracles, and wisdom, we should also give concerted attention to the very questions the Holy Spirit inspired for us to read and consider. 

As a full-time prison chaplain for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I have searched the Scriptures to learn as much as possible about every person who spent time in prison, like Joseph, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul.

I have explored various prison ministries to discover the creative approaches others have taken to sustain faithful and fruitful ministries by God’s grace, like Prison Fellowship, The Institute for Prison Ministries, and The Heart of Texas Foundation.

But one thing I had not considered doing until somewhat recently—nor seen others do elsewhere—is engage inmates with inspired questions.

What Are Inspired Questions?

Inspired questions are the ones already asked in God’s inspired Word—the Bible. Do you remember all the questions God asked Job? Do you recall Queen Sheba traveling far to ask Solomon questions? Have you ever noticed how often Jesus asked and was asked questions?

Indeed, questions are numerically significant in Scripture, even if often overlooked. The New Testament alone contains approximately 980 questions.

For example, here are a few questions Paul asked or was asked in the Book of Acts while in custody:

  • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)
  • “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges?” (Acts 25:9)
  • “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?” (Acts 26:27)
  • “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)

Using These Questions for Prison Ministry

As we intentionally draw attention to the Scriptures, which reveal Jesus’s power, presence, ministry, words, deeds, miracles, and wisdom, we should also give concerted attention to the very questions the Holy Spirit inspired ...

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An experienced editor shows how well-crafted words can help us serve God and neighbor.

Rarely does an aspiring writer get invited to sit with an ink-dyed editor to hash over the finer points of storytelling. Twenty-five years ago, fresh out of college, I landed a journalism gig at Maine’s smallest daily newspaper, which happened to have a writing coach. Every Friday after our morning deadline, five other staff reporters and I would gather at a local sandwich shop for lunch with Willis, a former Vietnam War correspondent, who would open a manila file filled with clippings of everything we’d written that week and spread them across the table. Then, over burgers and fries, he’d analyze each article, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph, showing us how to make our writing stronger. His feedback showed. Despite the paper’s diminutive size, we regularly won top awards from the Maine Press Association.

For those who don’t have access to such a coach, longtime editor Andrew T. Le Peau serves the same wise writing instruction in his new book Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality. This is the book for anyone who has said, “I’d like to write, but I don’t know where to begin”—whether you’d like to write a shorter piece for a newspaper or magazine or to write a full-length book. It’s also for those with more experience who’d like to make their writing even better. Le Peau, who worked for more than 40 years as an editor at InterVarsity Press, has also written several Bible studies and books. In the preface to his writing guide he says his desire throughout his career has been “to help people express their ideas as clearly and powerfully as possible.” The same motivation, he says, inspired this book. ...

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With major gatherings and promises of continued religious freedom protections, evangelists are eager to see the gospel keep spreading in the Buddhist nation.

Last weekend the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association held its first rally in Cambodia, with Franklin Graham preaching before thousands in Phnom Penh. Organizers called it a “historic event” and the “perfect time” for the global organization to encourage the faithful minority trying to reach their country for Christ.

Momentum around the spread of the gospel in Cambodia has been mounting for years, with another significant gathering taking place a couple months before.

In October, the government of Cambodia held its largest-ever meeting with Christian leaders, with Prime Minister Hun Sen addressing over 3,000 leaders representing more than 7,000 local churches. It was only the third time in the history of the predominantly Buddhist nation that this official gathering with the head of government had taken place.

Amid heavy security, smiles, and countless selfies, the prime minister entered Koh Pich Convention Center in Phnom Penh. He addressed the Christians gathered and thanked them for their involvement in education, ethics, and social projects. He praised the church’s role in contributing to the peace and stability of the nation through promoting human dignity and unity.

Among the many leaders in the audience were the leaders of the two largest groups of evangelical churches in Cambodia: General Secretary Heng Cheng of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia (EFC) and Pastor Uong Vibol of the National Christian Churches Network, Cambodia Council (NCCN-CC). The chairman of the board of NCCN-CC, Pastor Uong Rein, was appointed to help organize the church leaders and offer prayer for the prime minister and the Kingdom of Cambodia at the event.

Praise from the Prime Minister

The gathering has grown since ...

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I used to be repulsed by Ephesians 5. Then I learned to see Paul’s instructions through a gospel lens.

An excerpt from CT’s Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year. Here’s the full list of CT’s 2020 Book Award winners.

I was an undergraduate at Cambridge when I first wrestled with Paul’s instruction, in Ephesians, for wives to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22, ESV). I came from an academically driven, equality-oriented, all-female high school. I was now studying in a majority-male college. And I was repulsed.

I had three problems with this passage. The first was that wives should submit. I knew women were just as competent as men. My second problem was with the idea that wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. It is one thing to submit to Jesus Christ, the self-sacrificing King of the universe. It is quite another to offer that kind of submission to a fallible, sinful man.

My third problem was the idea that the husband was the “head” of the wife. This seemed to imply a hierarchy at odds with men and women’s equal status as image bearers of God. Jesus, in countercultural gospel fashion, had elevated women. Paul, it seemed, had pushed them down.

Gospel Roles

At first, I tried to explain the shock away. I tried, for instance, to argue that in the Greek, the word translated “submit” appears only in the previous verse, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), so the rest of the passage must imply mutual submission. But the command for wives to submit occurs three times in the New Testament (see also Col. 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:1).

But when I trained my lens on the command to husbands, the Ephesians passage came into focus. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for ...

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Amid show of solidarity by Chaldean patriarch, some Iraqi Christians hope to lead nation to Jonah-like repentance.

Distributing food to protesters with 40 fellow church members under the Jumariyah bridge near Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Ara Badalian made a poignant observation.

“This movement is a flood, occupying the hearts of the youth and the poor, without any religious discrimination,” the pastor of National Baptist Church recalled to CT. “It has broken down all the walls that divided Iraqis.”

It is at the bridges—about a dozen span the Tigris River, which bifurcates the Iraqi capital—where most violence has taken place. The protest movement, which began in October, has resulted in more than 400 deaths, around a dozen of them security personnel. Over 17,000 people have been injured.

In response, the Chaldean Catholic Church decided last week to refrain from holding public celebrations of Christmas, trading tree decorations and holiday receptions for prayers of intercession.

“Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government structure has brought continued corruption and despair,” Bashar Warda, the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, told the United Nations Security Council last week.

“[Iraqi youth] have made it clear that they want Iraq … to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.”

Protesters have demanded the dissolution of parliament, widespread government reforms, and amendment of the sectarian-based 2005 constitution.

Ratified following the United States-led 2003 Iraq War, the current constitution gives the Middle East nation’s Shiite majority (55% of the population) the leading position of prime minister, as well as the influential interior and foreign ministries.

The Sunni minority ...

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YouVersion users look for comfort the third year in row, while Bible Gateway’s list includes John 3:16 and multiple psalms.

For the third year in a row, YouVersion users clung to exhortations against worry more than any other verses in the Bible.

In 2019 YouVersion users read 35.6 billion chapters and listened to 5.6 billion chapters through its online and mobile Bible app. In all of this reading, Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:6 was the most shared, highlighted, and bookmarked verse of the year: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

The verse contains similar themes to YouVersion’s most popular verses in 2018, Isaiah 41:10 (“do not fear, for I am with you”) and 2017’s top verse, Joshua 1:9 (“do not be afraid; do not be discouraged”).

Other popular verses in 2019 were Matthew 6:33 and 2 Timothy 1:7.

“We’re encouraged to see so many people turning to the Bible in response to their worries, remembering what God has done in their lives, and choosing to trust in his faithfulness,” said Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader for Life.Church and YouVersion founder.

CT previously reported on some of the issues white evangelicals say they worry about, according to a Pew Research Center survey: undergoing a personal health crisis (75%), being able to pay their bills (67%), or being the victim of a home invasion (72%) or terrorist attack (66%).

For Bible Gateway users, the most popular verse of 2019 was a traditional favorite, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus’ well-known summary of the gospel alternates with the oft-misunderstood Jeremiah 29:11 as the most-searched ...

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The center is disappearing in American politics and American religion. Moderates are becoming an endangered species.

Sometimes I try to figure out why I am so interested in religion and politics.

The only answer that I can come up with is that religion played such a tremendous role in my formative years, that I am still trying to make sense of how that impacted the person I have become.

I was a kid who went to my Southern Baptist church three times a week, always volunteered to help paint or clean, was the first one signed up for summer camp, and spent most of my waking hours at the house of my youth pastor. I wore Christian t-shirt unironically and threw away my secular music and replaced with (usually inferior) Christian music. I was an all-in evangelical.

Then, I went away to college and had a “this is water” moment. I didn’t jettison all the religious tradition I grew up with, but found that the mainline church is much better fit for me.

Is that transition from evangelicalism to mainline Protestant Christianity a typical religious path? I didn’t have any sense of that, but knew that I had some data that could answer that in the General Social Survey.

The GSS asks respondents, “In what religion were you raised?” And if a respondent indicates that they were raised Protestant, then a second question is asked to determine which specific denomination they were raised in.

These two questions coupled with a question about respondent’s current religious affiliation allows me to sort Protestants into both mainline and evangelical traditions, alongside determining the movement of Catholics and those without a religious affiliation.

First, I wanted to start with retention. I am defining retention as people who were raised in a religious tradition and still affiliate with that tradition as an adult. Which traditions ...

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Founder of Christ for All Nations, the German Pentecostal held one of the biggest evangelism crusades in history.

German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, whose record-setting crusades led him to be nicknamed “the Billy Graham of Africa,” died Saturday at age 79.

His ministry, Christ for All Nations (CfaN), claims that more than 79 million people came to Christ as a result of Bonnke’s career, which spanned from 1967 until his retirement in 2017. The Pentecostal evangelist preached a prayerful message of Christ’s transforming power while also boasting miracles and healings.

“Those who knew him off-stage can testify to his personal integrity, genuine kindness, and overflowing love for the Lord,” said his successor, CfaN evangelist Daniel Kolenda. “His ministry was inspired and sustained by his rich prayer life, his deep understanding of the Word, and his unceasing intimacy with the Holy Spirit.”

Christianity Today reported from Bonnke’s largest in-person event, where 1.6 million gathered on a single night to hear him preach in Lagos, Nigeria. CT featured Bonnke and his ministry in an issue the following year, calling him “one of the continent’s most recognizable religious figures.” Historians have said that no Western evangelist spent as much time in sub-Saharan Africa as Bonnke.

Following his death, many African Christians offered their condolences on Twitter, saying “Rest well” and “Africa will never forget you.” The government of Nigeria stated that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is Muslim, “joins Christendom at large in mourning the passing of renowned evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke, 79, describing his transition as a great loss to Nigeria, Africa & entire world.”

Kenyan politician Esther Passari shared how “I spoke in tongues ...

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