Just Who Are These ‘People of Faith’ Anyway?

Articulating moral consensus in a pluralistic country.

“We need to stand together with people of faith.”

A former Canadian federal cabinet minister received a warm round of applause from the studio audience when he flourished this line during a national radio broadcast.

Others who heard him were not so sure. The idea of a moral consensus based on a common religious framework has a long history in a North America, one dominated by Christians who recited the Lord’s Prayer in public schools and insisted on Sunday closings to facilitate Christian worship.

At least since the middle of the last century, this consensus widened (in sympathetic reaction to anti-Semitism both home and abroad that was evident around the time of World War II) to include Jews. “Judeo-Christian” thus emerged in the 1940s as an adjective its users hoped would describe everyone—except die-hard atheists.

“People of faith” more recently took over as an even more general and inclusive phrase that means “people who see the world mostly as we do, at least in broad terms.” With the religiously motivated violence of 9/11 fresh on our minds, however, and in the shadow of religiously motivated persecution around the world, surely we have learned anew not to treat “faith” as ever and always a good thing.

Bad Religion

Sociologist David Martin (among many others) has demonstrated that religion is rarely the main cause of violence. Land, wealth, security, prestige, and vengeance are the perennial motives for war. Yet religion has frequently been deployed as a validation, fuel, and rewarder of violence on the grand scale.

As any friendly neighborhood atheist also will gladly tell you, religion has been used to legitimize sexual abuse, justify financial scams, …

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Interview: The Three Myths of Cohabitation

Sociologist Bradford Wilcox reports the surprising results of his new international study on cohabitation and its impact on kids.

According to a recent sociological study, cohabitation has a notably deleterious impact on one particular group: kids. “As marriage becomes less likely to anchor the adult life course across the globe, growing numbers of children may be thrown into increasingly turbulent family waters,” writes Bradford Wilcox in Foreign Affairs.

A professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, Wilcox and his colleagues recently completed a new study, The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe. The report is the fourth edition of the World Family Map project, which tracks various indicators of family health, and is sponsored in part by the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies.

The main study included the United States and 16 European countries. “We were looking at the odds that kids who were born to married or cohabitating parents will still be with their parents when they turn 12,” says Wilcox. “Then we had a sample of more than 60 countries across the globe. When you look internationally at trends, what you see is that there are a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as South Africa, and Latin America, like Colombia, that now have a substantial share of kids being born to cohabiting couples. So the question is: How is cohabitation affecting family stability in those other parts of the world, outside the United States and Europe?”

Wilcox spoke recently with CT about the answers they uncovered.

From your perspective, what are the most striking or surprising results from the study?

In the vast majority of countries that we looked at in Europe, at all education levels, people who are married when they have kids are markedly more stable …

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What’s the Deal with Lent Anyway?

Skepticism about this season is based mostly on myths and misconceptions.

One day early in our engagement, my then-fiancée now-wife, Laura, and I were locked in a stalemate: Where would we go to church once we were married?

It began politely enough but devolved into exasperation. I wanted to find a church with great expository preaching and rich liturgy. Laura preferred a church with stirring worship and emotive stories of life-change. The conversation went nowhere. Week after week, we searched in vain to find the right church, and each experience gave us something new to critique.

Eventually a friend of ours recommended that we visit an Anglican church in the western suburbs of Chicago. The day we visited was the last Sunday of Epiphany, and the church was preparing for a journey we had never taken: the 40 days of Lent. Without knowing why, we were drawn back to worship with them again, observing this strange communal practice like anthropologists visiting a foreign culture. Don’t all these rituals reflect a works-based understanding of salvation? What’s the point of giving up the comforts of life? God doesn’t need that from us! Like many evangelicals who love the gospel, I had my doubts about Lent.

Thirteen years later, I now pastor an Anglican church in Chicago filled with peo­ple who have little to no background in the cycles of the church calendar—the ancient way of ordering time around the life of Christ and his church, which includes Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide, and Pentecost. I frequently have conversations with Christians and spiritual seekers who feel drawn to walk with Christ through the practice of Lent but need to be taught the basics. Perhaps you are in the same place. You might not be quite sold on the idea because you have some lingering qualms …

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Church-Planting Shifts, Part Four: Supporting Planters

Church planting may require supporting church planters, not church plants.

Read Part One, The Launch, Part Two, From Nominal to Secular, and Part Three, Preparing Our People for Witness.

As I have discussed in this series on church-planting shifts, we must acknowledge that Christianity in the West will be competing more with a secular worldview than it has in the past, when Christendom reigned.

The question among missiologists and pastors today arises around the issues of timing: When will this reality exert significant pressure on the present church planting approach, thus requiring immediate change to the predominant approachreaching nominal Christians?

Below I look at some possible implications this evident shift may have for the support structures of most church planting initiatives.

With the rising tide of secularism and the ultimate decline of Christian nominalism, we may need to rethink our denominational/traditional church planting support mechanisms. There’s no doubt that nominalism has provided us with a ready base to plant and launch churches. We could plant faster with a Christian base and nominal Christians to reach.

But that is changing.

This, in turn, has led to a fiscal reality that the way we fund church planting must line up with the new and emerging philosophies of church planting.

As we look to the future, we’re going to find it more challenging to fund church plants the traditional way, primarily because the sending context will be vastly dissimilar to our current context. That’s already true in places like Boston or Madison, WI, but it is becoming more evident in Columbus as well.

In order for churches to be planted in a more secular society, we need different skills as church planters and we need to take more time to establish credible and significant roots …

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In ‘American Gods’, the Deities of Myth Meet the Modern World

The pilot for the upcoming Starz series raises provocative questions about worship and divinity.

Neil Gaiman begins his novel American Gods with an epigraph from Richard Dorson’s “A Theory for American Folklore.” In it, Dorson asks what happens to demonic beings of one culture when its people immigrate to another. The novel’s central conceit—that certain characters are personifications of the gods of myth—is never overtly stated in the pilot of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s adaptation for Starz. It doesn’t have to be, though; the premise should be clear enough from the title, the leading dialogue, and a preface in which Viking ancestors bring their invisible god to the shores of a new world (and leave him there).

After the preface, the pilot follows the opening of Gaiman’s novel pretty faithfully. Protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison, only to find that the life he was planning on returning to has been cruelly and permanently altered. With no roots and little purpose, he accepts an offer of employment from the shadowy Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Pretty soon, he is fighting a self-identified leprechaun in a bar and being kidnapped by a jealous and suspicious youth in a stretch limo who appears to be in some sort of turf war with Wednesday.

Meanwhile, over in Hollywood, where they worship sex, the equally mysterious Bilquis asks a man to “worship” her during sex. When he complies, she devours him. That scene is prolonged—and graphic. The sex and violence, while not as pervasive as in Game of Thrones, is going to be a tough hurdle for some Christian viewers to clear. So, too, might be some underlying assumptions about whether the Christian religion differs from other religions that tell stories about gods. (Although not …

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What’s Love Got to Do with It? Love, Marriage, and the Gospel

Dr. David Van Dyke joins Drs Cohick and Stetzer for the latest Theology for Life podcast.

What is love, and how is it reflected in our lives? How do we have a love stance that is based in action instead of emotion? What is our culture teaching our kids today about love and objectification?

What about marriage and the role of love? According to Van Dyke, love is connected to God and goes deeper than our emotions. We must always be asking, “What’s bigger than ourselves in all of this?”

How can we help our kids see something different about love than what our culture is teaching us? Van Dyke said first we must model what love is to others and how we handle perceived threats and how we move past those.

What does it look like to be angry and still love, or to be wounded and love despite it? According to Van Dyke, some of the strongest bonds of love are built in the repair stage, after we’ve experienced strong emotion.

For many in the Church, we idolize marriage. How is the Church to handle marriage today, and our views of it? How do churches need to uphold the sacredness of marriage, and what repairs need to be done?

What about hope? Van Dyke said that he loves hearing the hope in middle schoolers because as they experience chaos, they are primed for change. They are open to change, which can lead to doing relationships in new ways.

Dr. David Van Dyke is Director if the Marriage and Family Therapy Program and Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Wheaton College.

Lynn Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

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

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The ‘Feminine’ Trait Every Christian Needs to Learn

The virture of endurance was a ‘female’ attribute in New Testament times.

On June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a white supremacist gunned down nine African American Christians as they participated in a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Americans were outraged at such heartless and vile racism, but something else gained national attention: The church members forgave the murderer. In fact, such forgiveness is so countercultural that many in the media sought to explain it away by saying that the African American church was fearful of reprisals or was ingratiating themselves to the majority white culture. Fortunately, a few reporters accurately identified the “supernatural” source of such forgiveness—the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ.

The media missed another crucial, countercultural aspect of the gospel: resurrection hope expressed by endurance. One week after the shooting, believers were back at Wednesday night Bible study, and they have continued ever since. The gospel message of Christ’s loving forgiveness has transformed these believers, and the promise of eternal, resurrection life has given them enduring hope. Forgiveness and endurance shape their values according to God’s kingdom ethics. As Joe Riley, mayor of Charleston, pronounced at the funeral of one church member, “Myra [Thompson] will always be here in the memory of this church. She was a martyr in the continuing fight of human dignity.”

During the season of Lent, Christians around the world focus especially on Jesus’s death on the cross and think about repentance and forgiveness. They recall Paul’s words in Romans that they are co-heirs with Christ, “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that …

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After 40 Girls Die in Orphanage Fire, Guatemala Asks Evangelicals for Advice

Tragedy becomes impetus for reforms sought by Christian experts.

Earlier this month, a fire at an orphanage in Guatemala snagged international attention. Forty children died of carbon monoxide poisoning and burns; the tragic event drew worldwide condemnation.

But the aftermath of the fire has given hope to those who work with the country’s orphans. As the government turns to evangelicals for help, it seems the tragedy may spark the breakthrough some have been praying for.

In some ways, it was not unexpected by evangelical experts on orphans. In 2006, Orphan Outreach founder Mike Douris told the Guatemalan government that the orphanage design wasn’t a good idea.

They went ahead and built it anyway, another link in the chain of wrong moves. For decades, Guatemala has had some of the worst child welfare practices on the planet.

In 2015, the country had the second-highest rate of child murders in the world. Of the crimes against children that get reported—including murder, rape, kidnapping—most go unpunished (88%). Two in five children are malnourished. Among indigenous children, that rises to four in five.

Tales of overcrowding, abuse, and malnutrition leak out of orphanages. The country’s international adoption program had to be shut down in 2008 because children were being sold to or kidnapped for American couples. (At one point, Guatemala made more money on its babies than on anything else—save bananas.)

Guatemala doesn’t have a system for foster care, and there is no culture of adoption. In 2009, just 253 orphans were placed with Guatemalan families. Two years earlier, Americans had adopted 4,726 Guatemalan children.

But that might be starting to change, sparked by the fire that killed 40 girls.

The infamous orphanage, the Virgen de la Asuncion, was built …

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This Unpaid Pensions Case Could Crush Christian Hospitals

Supreme Court will decide if religious organizations qualify for IRS church exemption.

Today the US Supreme Court heard a trio of lawsuits on pension plans at Christian hospital systems. So far, the panel of justices seems torn over whether religiously affiliated employers fall under federal requirements for pension benefits.

Churches are exempt from the US Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), but the current cases challenge whether such standards apply to employers that are affiliated with churches: hospitals, schools, and daycares, for example. Employees who filed the suits argue that the hospitals should comply and, in some cases, pay billions to make up for benefits their workers have missed out on.

The ruling would impact dozens of similar cases, as well as the budgets of a significant slice of America’s healthcare system. (For example, the American Civil Liberties Union found that last year, Catholic hospitals alone provided 1 in 6 patient beds available.)

The hospitals involved in the litigation include Dignity Health, which operates Catholic hospitals and employs 60,000 people in 20 states; Advocate, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ and employs 33,000 people in Illinois; and Saint Peter’s Health Care System, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church and located in New Jersey, according to Bloomberg News.

The Internal Revenue Service has allowed the Christian hospitals—and hundreds of other religious affiliated institutions—to claim ERISA exemptions. Because of decades of federal approval, the institutions believed they were “proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy at Monday’s hearing.

However, lower …

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From Kuyper to Keller: Why Princeton’s Prize Controversy Is So Ironic

Former winner explains how the seminary honor that once brought the Reformed community together is now splitting it.

A large number of the 300 who attended the 1998 Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary were “Kuyperians.”

On 100th anniversary of Abraham Kuyper’s delivering those lectures in 1898, the seminary chose to commemorate the occasion by inviting Yale University’s Nicholas Wolterstorff— a longtime advocate for Kuyper’s thought—to offer that year’s Stone lecture.

It was also the occasion for presenting the inaugural Kuyper Prize—funded by the philanthropists Rimmer and Ruth DeVries, themselves avid Kuyperians—to the Dutch historian and Kuyper biographer George Puchinger.

The Kuyper Prize is much in the news right now. Having designated Tim Keller as this year’s recipient, Princeton leaders announced last week that they are reversing that decision. Princeton’s president acted in response to protests from students regarding Keller’s lack of support for both the ordination of women and LGBTQ causes.

Modeling a marvelous graciousness, Keller has agreed to keep the commitment to give the lead-off lecture for this year’s Kuyper conference, even though there will be no award ceremony.

When those yearly Kuyper events began at Princeton in 1998, many of us in the Kuyperian movement—both in the United States and abroad—were thrilled that this great seminary was not only honoring our hero but also acknowledging that the stream of Calvinist thought he represented continues to be a vital presence within the broad Reformed community.

The news about reversing the decision to honor Keller has spread rapidly within our movement in the past few days, typically with expressions of consternation and feelings of betrayal.

While many of us disagree with …

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