Blog

Americans Are Fond of the Bible, Don’t Actually Read it

(By Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research). Americans have a positive view of the Bible. And many say the Christian scriptures are filled with moral lessons for today.

However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible.

Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day. And a third of Americans never pick it up on their own, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

Small wonder many church leaders worry about biblical illiteracy, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Most Americans don’t know first-hand the overall story of the Bible—because they rarely pick it up,” McConnell said. “Even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily. The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”

Many unfamiliar with biblical text

Almost nine out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible, according to the American Bible Society, and the average household has three.

But Bible reading remains spotty.

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Americans about their views of the Bible and found significant splits in how familiar they are with the Christian scripture. One in five Americans, LifeWay Research found, has read through the Bible at least once. That includes 11 percent who’ve read the entire Bible once, and 9 percent who’ve read it through multiple times. Another 12 percent say they have read almost all of the Bible, while 15 percent have read at least half.

About half of Americans (53 percent) have read relatively little of the Bible. One in 10 has read none of it, while 13 percent have read a few sentences. Thirty percent say they have read several passages or stories.

Americans also differ in how they approach reading the Bible.

Read more … 

Read more

The Case for Christ: A Realistic Picture of All the Layers of a Person’s Journey to Faith

Raise your hand if you’ve ever read an apologetics textbook or sat in an apologetics lecture and thought, “Wow, this would make a great movie!” Yeah, me either. Because apologetics is logical argument, it’s rhetoric, it’s persuasive speech. Its place is on the stage of a lecture hall in a debate between famous atheists and theologians, right?

Well, what if the movie did have apologetics at its core, but it was wrapped in a compelling true story about one man’s faith journey? With solid writing, well-rounded imperfect characters, and great acting? You might, just might, not feel like you were being lectured at. You might, just might, be intrigued and want to know more.

The Case for Christ definitely had the potential to feel preachy — woven into the story is basically every main point of an Apologetics 101 class — but to me, it really didn’t. Perhaps a skeptic would feel differently, but, for me, the frame story of an investigative journalist going on a quest to disprove Christianity to his recently converted wife really worked. The academic material felt as natural in this story as forensic science does in an episode of Law & Order. Between his interviews of experts and his wife’s more experiential, more relational journey, I think the film related a pretty realistic picture of all of the layers of a person’s journey from unbelief to faith. And it really, really helped that it was based on a true story.

Three years ago, when I reviewed God’s Not Dead, I said that I was hoping it would be a powerful story that I could share with friends who are struggling with their faith or seeking God, or even atheist friends and family. I think I now finally found that film.

The Case for Christ succeeded where God’s Not Dead failed. Both movies attempted to present a logical argument for faith within a compelling frame story. But while God’s Not Dead came off as a flat, hokey story with unrealistic one-dimensional characters, The Case for Christ had a much better, more realistic story with authentic compelling characters, and exponentially better acting. At the same time, it packed more apologetics into a two-hour feature film that I honestly could have ever imagined.

I’ve already talked to a few friends about watching it and letting me know what they think. Do I think this movie or Lee Strobel’s book (or any other book or movie for that matter) will convince all my skeptic friends to believe in Jesus? Of course not. But I think it’s a good discussion starter. I’ll let God worry about the rest.

Related articleSpotlight Interview With Lee Strobel on The Case for Christ: No One Is Beyond Hope

Read more

10 Dangerous Myths about the Persecuted Church

(By Brian Orme, Open Doors). Myths can be dangerous. False narratives can slip into our minds through the news, casual conversations or even social media. The problem is—if we believe these myths, they have the potential to change the way we think, behave and engage the world.

I’ve fallen for many of the myths you’re about to read relating to the persecuted church. In some ways, this post is more of a confessional. But I believe many of these are widespread, and we need to call them out to embrace the full picture of persecution. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are counting on our prayers and support—and we can’t afford to follow false narratives.

1. It’s only persecution if there is violence.

The persecution of Christians includes violence—and we’ve been reminded of this lately with the terrible attacks on churches in Egypt during Palm Sunday worship—but Christian persecution also includes the slow and steady ostracizing and oppression of Christian citizens. We call this the ‘squeeze’. Many regions enforce long-term efforts to push Christians to the margins of society by cutting them off from community life, access to clinics and even jobs—treating them as lower-class citizens. This is also persecution; it’s prevalent and pervasive in places like Bhutan, Vietnam, India and many other regions in the world. The media highlights violence, but the steady non-violent persecution of Christians is large-scale and unthinkable. It’s just not in the news.

2. Christians are persecuted most in the Middle East.

The Middle East is a very difficult region for Christians to live out their faith in public. This is true. In places like Iran, Qatar and Eritrea, being a Christian is dangerous and risky, and it could cost you your life. However, if we’re talking about large-scale persecution, we have to think through the implications of countries like India, North Korea, Nigeria and even China. We don’t see these locations in the news as often, but persecution here—by sheer numbers—is overwhelming and far outnumbers the Middle East. Not that we need to compare regions, but it’s wise to be aware of how vast the issue really is. The Middle East is a dangerous place for Christians, but it’s not the only place.

3. Persecuted believers just want a way out.

This is an important myth to dispel. We should pray for relief and human rights, but many Christians in these difficult regions are asking for us to pray for perseverance. They want to remain in their homeland to be a witness for the gospel.

Read more … 

Read more

A Preview of the UMC Judicial Council’s April 2017 Cases

(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). In the United Methodist Church’s structure, the Judicial Council serves as the equivalent of our denomination’s supreme court. Its next semi-annual meeting will be held April 25-28 in Newark, New Jersey.

Some high-profile cases are directly related to United Methodism’s controversies over sexual morality.

Official UMC policies teach that marriage is only between one man and one woman, say that sex is only for within this covenant, call all homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and forbid clergy from performing same-sex union ceremonies or personally being sexually active in any way outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. However, a relatively tiny but very disruptive minority of UMC clergy have been openly defying these policies.

Given the widespread interest in these cases within and beyond my denomination, as well as widespread misunderstanding of how this process actually works, I offer this overview of all of the cases on which the Judicial Council will rule next week. Five of these seven cases are directly related to our controversies over sexual morality.

Docket #0417-1: The South Central Jurisdiction’s Request for a Declaratory Decision (aka, the Karen Oliveto case)

Last July, delegates in the Western Jurisdiction (one of the five large jurisdictions into which American United Methodism is geographically divided) eventually voted to elect the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto of San Francisco, an openly partnered lesbian, to be bishop, despite the aforementioned policies in the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline.

Oliveto was public about her lesbian partnership since at least 2014, and so the expectation of our church law is that she would have faced accountability for violating the Discipline’s explicit ban on ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” But under California-Nevada Bishop Warner Brown, who retired last year, this did not happen. Oliveto told the media that Bishop Brownhas been very supportive of me and my wife.”

It is proper and important for church leaders and all involved in our denominational discussions to raise such questions as what this election may mean for the Way Forward Commission, why those defending and filing briefs on Oliveto’s behalf were so committed to spending so much time to make sure someone with her bizarre anti-Jesus, pro-demon theology is made a prominent church leader, and why no liberal United Methodist that I’ve seen appears willing to criticize the dictator-like ways in which Oliveto has used the bishop’s office to seek out and attack what she calls “the bad churches” (her actual words!) who hold to official UMC doctrine.

But strictly speaking, the Judicial Council’s rulings next week will not be on such big-picture matters, but rather on much narrower questions of church law. It is even a bit misleading to refer to this case as “the Oliveto case,” as many are doing, since that suggests that this is a sort of trial for Karen Oliveto and that this case is exclusively about her, neither of which is the case.

Read more …

Read more

Western Christians Have No Excuse for Apathy, Ignorance and Silence

When it comes to the massacres of Middle East Christians, Westerners are as silent as Egypt’s churches this Easter Sunday

(By Nicole Foy, The Observer). As Holy Week comes to an end, there have been many reasons for Christians to be confused, concerned, or frustrated over the last year. But this past Holy Week, for the first time, I found myself truly enraged.

I understand that I am more in tune than the average news consumer when it comes to the Middle East and the plight of Christians in that part of the world. Working for a nonprofit that rebuilds the lives of Iraqi Christians devastated by the Islamic State, I live and breathe these stories. But finally, after years of mainstream media silence, Christian genocide is undeniable. Still, a disturbing ignorance persists.

Like many Christians, I first heard of the twin bombings at Coptic Christian churches in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt on the way to my own Palm Sunday service. As I pored over reports of worshippers pulled from the destruction of their churches, I thought that surely this time, it would be enough. This time, Western Christians would awake from their political stupor, clear their eyes of the fog of protests and petty outrage, and unite toward action with one strident voice of solidarity. When the horrific attacks were claimed by the Islamic State, it only heightened my expectation of the outrage I was sure would pour out from worshippers leaving their services with their families.

I was wrong.

Once again, I underestimated the apathy of Western Christians.

In an age of apoplexy over misspoken words, tax returns, violent takedowns of airline passengers, or anything that can be captured by a smartphone, when it comes to the massacres of Middle East Christians, Western Christians are as silent as Egypt’s churches this Easter Sunday.

Western Christians have little excuse for their ignorance and silence. At roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population, the Coptic Christian minority is the Middle East’s largest Christian community—and one of the oldest. Egypt is rich in early Christian history and scholarship; the Gospel writer Mark established its first churches. Yet although the church predates Islam in Egypt, they have borne the brunt of rising sectarian tensions since Arab Spring in 2011 and continue to endure a systematic campaign of terror designed to drive them from the region.

In fact, for many it was the Islamic State’s kidnapping and brutal beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in February 2015 that solidified the Islamic State as the most evil entity in the world.

In the United States, Christians’ only concern is how faith and politics mix. Our greatest challenge—and not to demean it in anyway—is how political correctness impacts the followers of Christ, who are often demonized by the press and on college campuses. But we have it easy compared to our brethren in the Middle East.

Read more … 

 

Read more

ISIS Church Bombings Kill Dozens at Palm Sunday Services in Egypt

(By Jayson Casper, Christianity Today). Attacks at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta killed more than 40 people and injured more than 100 others during Palm Sunday services—including the one where Pope Tawadros II was worshiping.

ISIS claimed responsibility. In February, the Egypt chapter of the Islamist extremists had released a threatening video calling Coptic Christians “our priority and our preferred prey.” Soon after, about 100 Christian families fled their homes in the Sinai Peninsula amid a string of murders.

Reuters reports more details on the bombing in Tanta at Mar Girgis (St. George) Church, which killed at least 27 and injured more than 70. CNN reports more details on the Alexandria bombing at St. Mark’s Cathedral, which killed at least 16 and injured more than 40. [Before ending its live updates, state media outlet Ahram Online put the final toll from Egypt’s health ministry at 29 dead in Tanta and 18 dead in Alexandria.]

Nader Wanis, director of the Arkan Cultural Center in Alexandria, was worshiping at the Anglican Pro-Cathedral only two streets from St. Mark’s when the bomb went off. “It was only a few minutes before serving communion and it shook our whole church,” he told CT. “We were scared, but insisted to continue.”

A member of Tanta’s Christian community described to CT a chaotic scene with many people in the streets. “I don’t know what to say. I’m still shocked,” said the Coptic woman, who requested anonymity. “But people are angry, and don’t understand how this happened amid all the security.” (Two weeks earlier in Tanta, a bomb was defused at Mar Girgis—the city’s largest church—and a local police training center was attacked.)

Tawadros was attending the service at the Alexandria cathedral, which serves as his historical seat in one of the five ancient sees of early Christianity. But the patriarch was unharmed by the suicide bomber, who blew himself up after being directed through a metal detector. Three police officers died in the intervention, according to state media.

Egypt’s Al-Azhar, widely regarded as the world’s highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, strongly condemned the attack, calling it an “outrageous crime.” President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared three days of national mourning.

Read more … 

Read more

Unpack the Worldview Measurement Study with George Barna on The Reconnect

We unpack the Worldview Measurement Study with George Barna in a series of interviews on The Reconnect.

How many Americans actually hold Biblical worldview and what does that mean? It is more than head knowledge. George Barna unpacks both the beliefs and behaviors that make up ”the integrated disciple measure” he is studying. For the first time, research is looking at not just stated beliefs, but expands worldview to include integrating beliefs with behavior seeking to be like Christ in everything “we think, say and do.”

We look at two aspects of the worldview study in depth: ideology and theology – what are they and how are they related? Why do we compartmentalize our faith from our politics? Then we see how a compartmentalization of our beliefs explain “how we got here” politically and culturally.

George Barna is a leader in research and ministry and the author of more than 50 books. Through is research, he has served several hundred parachurch ministries, thousands of Christian churches, and many other non-profit and for-profit organizations as well as the U.S. military. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the American Culture and Faith Institute (ACFI), which recently released findings from an extensive study examining the worldview of Americans.

Visit The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge web site.

Read more

Episcopal Church Installs Stained Glass LGBT Window

(By Jeffrey Walton, Juicy Ecumenism). Controversy about the Episcopal Washington National Cathedral’s stained glass windows caused a stir last year when the previous cathedral dean called for removal of windows marking the lives of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. But a small Episcopal congregation in North Dakota is making news this week with their own new LGBT window dedicated to the gay community.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fargo dedicated a new window on Sunday featuring a rainbow and words from the denomination’s 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?”

Dubbed “Integrity Window” the installation also commemorates English writer St. Aelred of Rievaulx. Aelred authored the treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” and is claimed by some in the gay community for his own deep friendships with men. The window also features a quote from Galatians, a pride flag, the logo of Integrity USA (the unofficial LGBT caucus within the Episcopal Church) and a depiction of the parish’s rainbow-flag flying float from a local parade.

“Loving God, loving your neighbor as yourself, that’s really the basis for all Christian ministry as I see it and I think that’s the basis for how we see GLBTQ inclusion,” Parish Priest-in-Charge Jamie Parsley told local news station KVLY. The window is dedicated “in memory of those who died trying to be their authentic selves.”

Read more … 

Related article and video: St. Stephen’s Episcopal dedicates new window to LGBTQ community

Read more

Breakpoint: Why You Should Watch ‘Facing Darkness’

(By John Stonestreet, Breakpoint). [Tonight is the] one-night showing of a powerful documentary about faith in the face of a deadly epidemic.

If you saw people dying all around you from a plague you didn’t understand and couldn’t control, what would you do?

For Samaritan’s Purse staff members faced with the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia, this wasn’t a hypothetical question. Their answer, because of God’s love and the courage that love gave them, was to join Christians throughout history who ran toward the plague, not away from it.

But to fully understand the power of that decision, we need to take a step back.

Ebola is a terrifying disease. It causes extreme pain, fever, terrible bouts of diarrhea and vomiting and, until effective treatments were developed, was almost always fatal. And because it’s transferred by body fluids, even wiping the brow or holding the hand of someone infected with Ebola means you’re susceptible to getting it, too.

When this horrifying disease broke out in Liberia in 2014, Samaritan’s Purse and the mission agency SIM stayed to fight it. More than 28,000 people came down with the disease in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The death toll reached more than 11,000. Cemeteries in Liberia are filled with gravestones of whole families who died within days of each other.

At first, and despite the disease’s near-genocidal wrath, the world largely ignored this killer plague. But then missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol contracted the disease. It was a terrible blow to the ministry and its work in Liberia, but it also became a turning point in the fight against Ebola.

Now, I’m sad to the world didn’t seem to care until the Americans got sick. But once the world started paying attention, it turned the tide in the fight against Ebola.

Writebol and Brantly, after close brushes with death, responded to an experimental drug that may not have been rushed into use had they not gotten sick as Americans. Money, drugs, and other resources soon poured into West Africa. And just a year later, by late 2015, Liberia was officially declared Ebola free. Donations flooding in to Samaritan’s Purse in response to the group’s work there helped fund a new hospital in Liberia, the most modern one in the country, and research dollars poured into the race for an Ebola vaccine, which progressed to clinical trials last year.

This gripping, tragic, but ultimately redemptive story is coming to a theater near you.

Read more … 

Read Kathy Larson’s interview with Franklin Graham: ‘We Wanted to Produce This Film To Show People What God Can Do in the Middle of a Storm’

Read more

5 Christian Clichés that Need to Die

(By Matt Smethurst, The Gospel Coalition). “Books don’t change people,” John Piper observes. “Paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.”

A good sentence is a gift. We love finding complex truth shrink-wrapped in clear, simple, memorable form. It’s why Charles Spurgeon and C. S. Lewis are dominating a newsfeed near you. Even God likes pithy statements—at least enough to breathe out a whole book of them.

But one-liners aren’t always helpful. Sometimes, in our desire to simplify truth, we can trivialize and even obscure it. And to obscure the truth is to tell a lie.

Here are five popular Christian clichés that are not biblical, and therefore need a memorial service.

1. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

I appreciate the heart behind this statement. It’s true, after all, that God can do anything he pleases (Jer. 32:27), that he sometimes redirects our course (Prov. 16:9), and that he never abandons his own (Heb. 13:5).

But if God closes a door in your life, there’s no guarantee he’ll open a window. He may not open anything. He may want you to realize you have the wrong address.

Scripture is filled with examples of the Spirit closing doors, windows, and any other conceivable entrance to keep one from heading in the wrong direction or at the wrong time (e.g., Prov. 16:9; 19:21; Acts 16:6–7).

I once heard calling described as the trifecta of affinity, ability, and opportunity. Do you like it, can you do it, and is there an open door? Now there are rare times when, if the third piece isn’t in place, God may want you to break down the door. Missionary martyr Jim Elliott once said that a lot of folks are sitting around waiting for a “call” when what they need is a kick in the pants.

But what if God has something else for you entirely? What if he doesn’t want you to move to that city, or take that job, or enter that relationship—whether by door or window?

Maybe he wants you to re-evaluate in light of affinity, ability, and opportunity—your internal desires, your confirmed giftings, and your actual options.

2. “You’re never more safe than when you’re in God’s will.”

Insofar as the safety here is eternal, or means something like “in the right place,” this maxim is gloriously true. Almost every time I hear it, though, the person is referring to physical safety.

Read more … 

Read more