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  • Indonesian Churches Organize to Aid Earthquake Survivors
    by Angela Lu Fulton and Isabel Ong on November 25, 2022 at 4:15 am

    After a powerful quake hit the island of Java this week, a network of local Christians raced to help. When Denny Tarigan arrived in the remote village of Gasol, the earthy smell of wet soil assaulted his senses. The sound of ambulance sirens permeated the air. Cars and motorcycles filled the narrow dirt roads. As the Indonesian Christian aid worker looked around, he saw blue makeshift tents lined with mats and blankets that were full of earthquake survivors, including children and the elderly. What he also saw: smiles on the villagers’ faces. “The people are strong enough to survive this,” said Tarigan, who took a 10-hour car ride from his hometown of Yogyakarta to Cianjur, the regency where Gasol is located, on Wednesday. “Most of them just don’t know what to do after this,” he said. “For now, they think that they need help from the government and other [disaster relief] agencies.” While it is common in the United States for churches to engage in disaster relief, in Indonesia most humanitarian aid is provided by government agencies, international NGOs, and Muslim aid groups. It is only in the past several years that Indonesian churches have started to engage in disaster relief, said Effendy Aritonang, the Indonesia country director for Food for the Hungry and secretary of the executive team of Jakomkris, the Christian Community Network for Disaster Management in Indonesia. Engaging the aftermath When the 5.6-magnitude earthquake occurred on Monday morning, Aritonang, Tarigan, and other members of Jakomkris kicked into action. Made up of Indonesian nonprofits and churches, the team called for a coordination meeting to begin identifying needs and figuring out who could provide assistance. A Mennonite group showed up to provide clean water. About 10 doctors and 20 nurses from a Christian ...Continue reading...

  • 3 Popular Misconceptions About Advent
    by Isabel Ong on November 23, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Christian leaders from Brazil, Colombia, France, and the Philippines weigh in on mistaken beliefs about the season. For liturgy-loving Christians, Advent is a season of anticipation, marked by a posture of hopeful and expectant waiting. But for many evangelicals, it may pass by almost unnoticed and unobserved, whether due to an unfamiliarity with the church’s liturgical calendar or a cynicism toward Catholic practices. Advent means “arrival” or “appearing” and comes from the Latin word adventus. Each year, the season begins four Sundays before Christmas and lasts until December 25. It is divided into a period that focuses on Christ’s second coming and another that focuses on his birth. (Orthodox Christians observe a similar event, the Nativity Fast, from November 15 to December 24 before the Nativity Feast on December 25.) Advent began in fourth- and fifth-century Gaul and Spain as a season intended to prepare believers’ hearts for Epiphany (January 6), not Christmas. Epiphany is a day to commemorate the Magi’s visit after Jesus’ birth (in the West) or Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River (in the East). Today, Advent customs may include reading and praying through an Advent devotional and lighting one of four candles inside an Advent wreath each Sunday, corresponding to four weekly themes: hope, love, joy, and peace. Most wreaths also include a centrally placed candle to symbolize Jesus, the Light of the World. Yet, in parts of the Majority World and in countries where Catholicism is the dominant religion, evangelicals do not typically observe Advent. French evangelical churches ignore Advent as part of “a gut reaction against anything that is liturgical, because it smacks of Catholicism,” said Gordon Margery, a Baptist lecturer at the Nogent-sur-Marne ...Continue reading...

  • The Seed of Korean Christianity Grew in the Soil of Shamanism
    by Soojin Chung on November 23, 2022 at 3:30 pm

    An awareness of the spirit world was a crucial component in missionary efforts to spread the gospel. Protestant missionaries arrived in Korea in the 1880s with a burning desire to share the gospel to the locals. This was the golden age of Protestant missions, and missionary records captured detailed impressions of Korea’s political, social, and spiritual atmosphere. The missionaries were perplexed to find almost no evidence of religious life there. Some even defined Korea as a nonreligious country where Confucianism merely served as a philosophical and moral guide for living. They were wrong. As they settled into their new lives, the missionaries soon realized that shamanism was a core religious belief in Korea. American missionary Homer B. Hulbert used the term “spirit-worship” for the animist, nature-worshiping practices he observed there, while fellow missionary George Heber Jones opined that Korea was rich in religious phenomena that comprised a mix of shamanism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Shamanism “appealed” to the Korean person’s soul and “inspired him with fear,” while “Buddhism appealed to his heart and inspired him with admiration and Confucianism appealed to his mind and inspired him with respect and veneration,” Jones wrote in The Rise of the Church in Korea. These missionaries also grew to recognize how influential shamanism was in shaping and contextualizing the Christian faith in the Korean context. Shamanism provided a deep awareness of the spirit world, which cultivated fertile space for evangelism. The female shamans’ spiritual power and authority also proved instrumental in growing a network of “Bible women” in the country. How Christianity arrived in Korea Korean scholars were the first to introduce Catholicism in the country. In the ...Continue reading...

  • Christians Remain a Minority Down Under, but Gen Z Aussies Are Open
    by David Roach on November 23, 2022 at 3:00 pm

    New survey finds just 6 percent of Australians are heavily involved in the faith. Australian Andrew Thorburn was forced to resign last month, just over a day after being named CEO of a professional football club in Melbourne. The reason? His leadership role at City on a Hill, an evangelical Anglican church with traditional Christian views on homosexuality and abortion. The episode seems to reflect the state of Australian spirituality more broadly, as an overwhelming majority of the country isn’t involved in church and more than a quarter have negative attitudes toward Christianity, according to a recent report. Released this month by the research firm McCrindle, The Changing Faith Landscape in Australia found that just under half (46%) of Australians claim Christianity as their religious affiliation. Yet only 16 percent attend a Christian church at least monthly, and just 6 percent say they are “extremely involved” with practicing their Christian faith. Despite the trends, researchers also noted fertile ground for evangelism as most Aussies are open to changing their religious views. “There's certainly a sense in Australia that we are a secular nation and that Christianity clings to the edge of the conversation, useful for a comment or sound bite when needed but not required for policy, etc.,” said Stephen McAlpine, a blogger and national communicator for the Christian ministry Third Space. “It very much feels like an ‘away game’ not a ‘home game.’ I think that we can play that to our advantage because most Aussies are not rejecting something they know from the past and did not like. They're simply not aware of Christianity.” A third of Aussies do not identify with any religion or spiritual belief, while another 13 percent hold spiritual ...Continue reading...

  • Love in a Time of Social Conflict
    by Heather Thompson Day on November 23, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    The cross calls us to sacrificial community, especially during a divided age. In the August heat of 1965, widespread violence and bloodshed tore through the Watts area of Los Angeles. There were more than 30 deaths. Most of those were perpetrated by the police. There was fire and looting and vandalism. At the invitation of Black social groups, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. entered Watts. He later described the protests that followed as “disorganized,” though that was a major oversimplification. “However, a mere condemnation of violence is empty without understanding the daily violence that our society inflicts upon many of its members,” he said. “The violence of poverty and humiliation hurts as intensely as the violence of the club.” King wrote about his interaction with a couple of young men in the wake of the weeklong eruption that destroyed many Black businesses that had been the heart of the community. “We won!” King remembers hearing one exclaim. He looked at the rubble. The ash. The broken buildings. He tallied the dead bodies. “What does winning look like?” he asked the youth. The devastation people are experiencing today is like a wall so high none of us can see the sunlight anymore. Businesses are crumbling. Churches are dividing. A pandemic is raging. “What does winning look like?” King and those with him asked the youth in Watts. And it is a question we must also ask ourselves today. Today, America as a country is at war with itself. And we aren’t just at war with people of other races, and we aren’t just at war with Christianity; our divide seems to be a tribalism so strong that it is separating people of the same family and origin. We are living in a country where Americans feel their political affiliation ...Continue reading...

  • Thanks Be to God for Scripted Gratitude
    by Kaitlyn Schiess on November 22, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    The words I say every Sunday guide me toward gratefulness. I grew up doing sword drills. The Sunday school teacher or youth group leader would yell out a passage, chapter and verse, and we would scramble to find it first. It was important to the churches I grew up in and the evangelical subculture I was raised in that we were “Bible people.” Years later, when I began a doctoral program in political theology, I joined a church in a different tradition than the one I’d grown up in. My new church was still fairly “low church” in many ways—no smells or bells or vestments and a plain church building. But in this context, I encountered sword drills of another sort in the form of liturgy—words meant to engrain God’s Word in our hearts. After the reading of Scripture, the pastor says, “This is the Word of the Lord,” and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” In those two short phrases, I have found a rich theology of Scripture that directly addresses our anxieties about how to use the Bible in a theologically and politically fraught world. As theologian Brad East writes in his book The Church’s Book: Theology of Scripture in Ecclesial Context, the liturgical designation of a text as “the word of the Lord” alerts the gathered community that what they hear is “for them the living speech of God.” This miracle of human and divine words is possible because God delights in using humans for redemptive purposes beyond themselves. While people are “like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field,” as 1 Peter 1:24–25 says, “the word of the Lord endures forever.” Our familiarity with this miracle might conceal how incredible it is. While the books ...Continue reading...

  • This Giving Season, Offer the Poor a Pew
    by Hannah Anderson on November 21, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    Church structures and schedules often make it hard for the working class to participate. Let's change that. As the holidays come around, with them comes a particular generosity and care that’s often expressed through charity initiatives. For the next month, this spirit will give rise to toy collections, food poundings, and coat drives. A lot of local churches will act as points of access and distribution. But what if the poor need something more from Christian communities? What if the gift that churches can uniquely offer them is a place to worship and belong? One of the most discussed religion stories of the past decade is the rise of the “nones,” or those who don’t affiliate with a specific religious community. Today, that number stands at 29 percent of the American populace, up 10 percentage points in as many years. Pew Research predicts that if current trends hold, nones will be a majority by 2070. But the data reveals an even more startling picture among the poor and working class. According to Ryan Burge, author of The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going, 60 percent of nones make less than $50,000 a year, while only 21 percent have a college degree. In a word, church affiliation is increasingly the purview of the educated professional classes. To some, this data might suggest a correlation between religious commitment and the kinds of choices that lead to wealth, based on the theory that faith and local church attendance bring about social success. Others may note that marriage correlates with socioeconomic status, and that adult children of continuously married families are 78 percent more likely to attend church than those from divorced, never-married, or widowed homes. Perhaps those who commit to spouses also end up in more stable places in society.Continue reading...

  • Making a Better Christianity Today: An Update
    by Timothy Dalrymple on November 21, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    In March, we published on harassment reports at CT. Here are the steps we’ve taken since then. One of our deepest prayers and most important objectives over the past year has been that Christianity Today should provide a work setting where the intelligent and kind and immensely talented women who serve this ministry could flourish. Women and men at Christianity Today should be treated with equal dignity and professionalism. They should know they are respected and cared for and should have every opportunity to unfold their gifts for the glory of God and the good of the world. After I came to the ministry in May 2019, it became progressively clear that our organization had work to do on this score. We are deeply grateful for the faithful labors of the men and women who came before us and put us in position to advance the stories and ideas of the kingdom of God all around the globe. Yet many women at our ministry did not find that CT provided a healthy environment. When two women in September 2021 shared about their experiences of harassment by former employees, we lamented with them, asked their forgiveness, and sought to respond with wisdom and love. The employees they named had not been on staff for some time at that point, but their narratives stretched back many years and made it clear that our ministry had done less than love requires of us. Earlier this year, we published an editorial on what we were learning, alongside an independent assessment of our culture and practices we had commissioned from Guidepost Solutions. In the interest of radical transparency, which we felt especially important for us as a journalistic institution, we also published an article in which one of our own reporters examined our ministry and released a podcast episode in which we responded to questions. Our intention throughout has been to ...Continue reading...

  • The Science of Giving Thanks to God
    by Peter C. Hill and Robert A. Emmons on November 21, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    A growing body of research backs the benefits of divine gratefulness, in good times and bad. For many, 2022 has been a difficult year, and the perception of blessings is hard to come by. Once again, we find ourselves in the seeming contradiction of believing in an unconditionally loving, all-powerful God and experiencing the reality of the global crises facing humanity. How might gratitude—and gratitude to God specifically—be vital for flourishing and resilience in today’s world? Amid pandemics, climate change, addiction, political extremism and polarization, financial collapse, crime, inequality, international conflicts, nuclear threat, and forced migration, is there a healing power in gratitude to God? For a while, people relied on personal testimonies and scriptural admonitions to “give thanks” to answer these kinds of questions. Scientifically, research had little to say about being grateful to God since gratitude had largely been studied on a horizontal, human-to-human level. New projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation have theologians, philosophers, and psychologists like us exploring gratitude to our supreme benefactor. Already, these researchers have discovered that believers who experience and express gratitude to God report feeling more hope, higher satisfaction, more optimism, fewer depression episodes, and greater stress recovery. Their studies suggest that gratitude to God magnifies and amplifies the effects of gratitude toward other people. Grateful believers aren’t just happier because they’re better off, either. We see people experiencing gratitude to God in the midst of adversity. Jason McMartin, a theologian at Biola University, in a paper not yet published, contends that suffering intensifies our encounters with God, reframing the experience of gratitude ...Continue reading...

  • Solving Spiritual Abuse in the Church Is Simple and Straightforward—at Least in Theory
    by Timothy Paul Jones on November 21, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    None of Michael Kruger’s proposals are earthshaking, but they require time, effort, and vigilance. Spiritual abuse is far from new, but recent scandals involving high-profile leaders have drawn renewed attention to this reality. Michael J. Kruger’s Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church brings a new resource to the conversation, rich with biblical foundations and practical applications. Kruger isn’t the first name you might expect to see on the cover of a book about spiritual abuse. He’s a well-respected scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Yet, in his role as a professor and seminary president, he has witnessed several recent cases that compelled him to address the issue of spiritual abuse. “Sometimes,” he points out, “you do things not because you want to but because they need to be done.” Bully Pulpit isn’t aimed primarily at abusive leaders. The book is directed first toward Christian leaders, churches, and parachurch organizations that may be hiring and enabling leaders whose practices are opposed to the ideals described in Scripture. Such leaders may embrace orthodox theology even as their habits of leadership distort or ignore the New Testament’s witness. What spiritual abuse is—and isn’t Early in the book, Kruger acknowledges potential misunderstandings related to the term spiritual abuse. He is careful to point out that not every sin a leader commits is spiritual abuse; nor is every slight that a member feels. Spiritual abuse can be confused with calling out someone’s sin, initiating church discipline, and engaging in other legitimate practices of pastoral care. So why use the term spiritual abuse at all, given the possibility of such ...Continue reading...