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  • Was Carnival Rapture Warning Courageous or Inappropriate? Brazil Debates Eschatology
    by Franco Iacomini on February 23, 2024 at 7:05 pm

    After pop star’s surprise witness ends with a bang, evangelical leaders discuss whether to axe apocalypse talk as ineffective evangelism. When two Brazilian pop stars began chatting on live TV two weeks ago, few likely thought their conversation would start a debate about the end times. On February 11, in the midst of Carnival, Baby do Brasil joined fellow veteran Ivete Sangalo in a trio elétrico, a truck equipped with a powerful sound system that drives through the streets as partygoers follow. The two greeted each other in Salvador, a city of nearly three million in northeastern Brazil, and quickly exchanged compliments about their careers. Then Baby do Brasil took the mic. “Everyone, pay attention, because we have entered the apocalypse,” she said. “The Rapture is expected to happen in the next five to ten years. Seek the Lord while you can find him.” Sangalo, who seemingly had not anticipated her cohost venturing into eschatology, made a crude joke. “I won’t let it happen because we will bang the apocalypse,” she said, referencing her new song “Macetando,” which roughly translates to “smashing” or “banging.” Baby do Brasil followed up by asking Sangalo to sing “Minha Pequena Eva,” her hit from the ’90s, which tells of a couple isolated in a spaceship when an atomic war takes place on Earth. “I’m going to sing ‘Macetando’ because God is telling me to,” Sangalo replied. As Baby do Basil shouted, “Oh, glory,” Sangalo began to sing. The awkward exchange soon went viral, generating plentiful commentary, numerous memes, and one TV show anchor even signing off, “Let’s be happy before the apocalypse.” Scorned by many Brazilians (one tweet described the exchange as “clowneries of a believer”), the ...Continue reading...

  • ​​Trump on Track to Sweep South Carolina
    by Harvest Prude on February 23, 2024 at 5:07 pm

    Despite some tension within churches over the candidates, evangelicals mostly side with the former president’s track record over their former governor Nikki Haley. In the lead-up to South Carolina’s primary contest on Saturday, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley held a news conference to tell supporters that she’s “not going anywhere” and is committed to offering voters an alternative to former president Donald Trump. Meanwhile, her presidential rival—who has a 2–1 lead in her home state—spoke at an evangelical conference in Nashville, touting his record on issues important to conservative Christians during his first term and pledging to continue in his second term. Trump pledged to 1,500 attendees at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention that despite threats from the Left, “no one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration, I swear to you.” “Christian voters had a good relationship with Nikki and they liked Nikki, but they do love Trump,” said Chad Connelly, who was at the NRB gathering. The South Carolina native and former two-term chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party is the founder of the conservative Christian organization Faith Wins, which involves 16,000 pastors in evangelical voter registration. Connelly said the thing he hears most from faith leaders is that Trump “did what he said he was going to do … that’s a rare politician. That’s the number one comment.” Specific policies come up more than others: Trump’s releasing a list of potential Supreme Court nominees in 2016 and then nominating three conservative judges to the court, as well as his move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But more than any particular list of issues motivating this election, multiple sources described a deep sense of personal loyalty that ...Continue reading...

  • Gender Difference Is Real, but Too Complex to Spell Out All the Specifics
    by Branson Parler on February 23, 2024 at 5:00 pm

    A theologian articulates an Augustinian alternative to the reigning perspectives on nature and culture. When asked to define time, Augustine remarked that he knew what it was until someone asked him to define it. One could say the same of the term gender in contemporary debate. Although there is no lack of debate about gender, rarely is the term clearly defined. In his book Gender as Love: A Theological Account of Human Identity, Embodied Desire, and Our Social Worlds, theologian Fellipe do Vale aims to bring greater clarity to the concept of gender. In doing so, he refuses the binary framing that casts it as a matter of either pure biology or pure social construction. Instead, he draws on an Augustinian theology of love to argue that gender refers to a “bundle” of human loves and social goods that shape how we manifest our male and female bodies. Further, do Vale clarifies that affirming the basic reality of gender does not entail affirming an exhaustive and fully cohesive understanding of it, in part because our knowledge is shaped by our narrative context. That is, our place in the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation affects both the lived reality of gender and our capacity to know the fullness of what it signifies. Between the essentialists and the constructivists Do Vale’s critique and constructive proposal unfolds in three sections. In the first, he draws on the late theologian John Webster, arguing for a “theologically theological anthropology” that comprehends gender within biblical and theological sources rather than merely building on or reacting to the existing claims of philosophy and sociology. Having laid this foundation, he engages the dominant view of gender today—namely, that we construct it according to personal desires and social conventions rather than inheriting ...Continue reading...

  • Picture Jesus: Is He Shiny?
    by Patrick Schreiner on February 23, 2024 at 5:00 pm

    Christ’s resplendence in the Transfiguration says more than we think. Jesus Christ is arguably the most famous man who ever lived. His image is everywhere. But what did the God-Man from Nazareth actually look like? We often imagine a particular “look” based on artistic renderings we’ve seen, but many of these designs are influenced by the artist’s culture. And while we may be able to assume certain visual traits based on the time and culture in which Jesus lived, there is little explicit evidence for these assumptions. In fact, the Bible tells us very little about Jesus’ appearance at all. Other than Isaiah’s remark that he “had no beauty or majesty” (Is. 53:2), the Scriptures never tell us how tall Jesus was, what kind of hair he had, his body type, the color of his eyes, what sort of clothes he wore, or even the color of his skin. It’s somewhat unexpected for the Bible not to comment on Jesus’ physicality, since back then a person’s physical looks often corresponded to their character traits. Ancient authors might note aspects of their main character’s appearance to highlight or foreshadow something about them. For example, the Old Testament tells us King Saul was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else” (1 Sam. 9:2) and King David was “glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features” (1 Sam. 16:12). Each of these descriptions signaled their heroic and kingly appeal to the people of Israel. The New Testament narrative only focuses on Jesus’ appearance in the Transfiguration (see parallel accounts in Matt. 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36; 2 Pet. 1:16–20). And although there is much we ...Continue reading...

  • The True Master of the Elements
    by Sara Kyoungah White on February 23, 2024 at 2:00 pm

    Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender speaks to a longing C.S. Lewis described—and can remind us of our promises in Christ. He can part water, command fire and wind, and move mountains. He’s not a super-Christian—he’s Avatar Aang, master of the four elements and protagonist of the Netflix’s live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA), which began streaming Thursday. Watching a live-action remake of a beloved animation is fraught with trepidation. In a poor adaptation, humor is either awkwardly forced or axed completely; costumes and casting choices can take on a cosplay veneer; and condensed, mashed, or added storylines suggest a fan-inspired medley put on by a high school drama club. The new ATLA, while a marked improvement from the 2010 travesty, sadly slips into these foibles more often than not. I hate to render that verdict, because I wanted so badly to love this show. And that longing is part of a greater desire to see imagined worlds in the “real world”—to be, as C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it,” to “get in.” Merely looking at a rendering of beautiful stories, the mythologies with which “we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves”—or, in this case, benders and Avatars—isn’t enough. As Lewis recognized, at its heart, this longing is rooted in Scripture (Rev. 22:1–5). And it’s why, even with repeated disappointments (I’m looking at you, Dragonball Z, Beauty and the Beast, and Ginny Weasley), I’ll still watch live-action adaptations every time. I first followed the story of Aang and his friends nearly two decades ago, when Avatar first aired as an animated series ...Continue reading...

  • Can ‘Dirty Money’ Do the Lord’s Work? Indonesian Christians Weigh In
    by Compiled by Mellie Cynthia on February 22, 2024 at 6:00 pm

    How churches and ministries in Indonesia navigate accepting—and refunding—donations from corruption and other sources that conflict with biblical ethics. Indonesia’s Catholic community learned last year that thousands of dollars donated by a public official were proceeds from a multimillion-dollar telecom bribery case. Johnny Gerard Plate, a cabinet minister before he was sentenced to a 15-year prison term, had a history of donating to his religious community in Indonesia’s Christian-majority East Nusa Tenggara province. The court’s decision stated that a portion of these graft funds had been allocated to church institutions, including the Kupang archdiocese, Widya Mandira Catholic University, and the Timor Evangelical Christian Church, a Protestant group in Kupang. Following Plate’s conviction, Catholic authorities pledged to return these donations, emphasizing their commitment to ethical financial practices. This is not the first time Christian officials involved in corruption cases have donated illegal funds to religious organizations. In 2017, former sea transport director general Antonius Tonny Budiono was found guilty of accepting bribes. During the trial, he stated to the judges that he used the funds for orphan care and for renovating a damaged church and school. In response to this case, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) challenged religious institutions, including churches, to conduct financial audits to promote transparency. In a country where the corruption situation has seemingly deteriorated in recent years, CT asked Indonesian church and ministry leaders: “Should a Christian organization ever accept a donation gained from an unethical source?” Answers are arranged from firmly “No” to more nuanced stances: Jimmy Kawilarang, director of Torchbearers Indonesia, West Java: Churches and ministries ...Continue reading...

  • ‘Continue to Remember’ the Suffering in Ukraine
    by Andrew Moroz on February 22, 2024 at 5:00 pm

    Christians should be known for uplifting the afflicted before a distracted world. By now, two years after the initial conflict, many Americans have largely forgotten about Ukraine. As often happens after a global crisis, we eventually become too distracted, irritated, or entertained by other news and media. Of course, there have been other more recent international conflicts as well, which also deserve our attention and prayers. In early 2022, Ukraine began receiving widespread global attention during Russia’s invasion, but much of the initial aid has since diminished. Not only has general financial, material, and moral support been greatly reduced, but in some circles, Ukraine has become a political pawn for some—especially with the US presidential elections fast approaching. When the conflict in eastern Ukraine began a decade ago in 2014, the global community knew Russia was likely preparing for more aggressive actions. But nothing could have prepared me for the morning of February 24, 2022, when I was shaken to my core as images of explosions and armored vehicles began filling the news and internet. I’m a pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia, but I was born in Ukraine and have many friends and relatives who still live there. As the initial shock wore off and I was able to communicate with my loved ones, something was awakened in me. By the second month of Russia’s invasion, when millions of people were struggling to leave Ukraine, I traveled there to encourage and serve those affected by the conflict. I have visited Ukraine four times over the past two years—and have witnessed firsthand the ongoing devastation of war. In my most recent trips, it has been disheartening to meet with fellow brothers and sisters who have felt neglected or forgotten by the global ...Continue reading...

  • Alabama Rules that Frozen Embryos Are Children
    by Kate Shellnutt on February 22, 2024 at 3:43 pm

    The first-of-its kind decision affirms life at its earliest stages but complicates the future of IVF. Last week, Alabama extended protections beyond the unborn in the womb to the unborn outside it, becoming the first state to rule that frozen embryos are children under the law. The decision has elicited praise from some evangelicals who, believing life begins at conception, want to see these “snowflake babies” treated as people rather than as commodities. It’s also complicated the future of in vitro fertilization (IVF) across the state, upsetting parents and prospective parents who have turned to the procedure. At least one hospital system has halted IVF treatments for now. After Roe v. Wade was overturned, parts of the pro-life movement evoked the 14th Amendment, which bars depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property,” and rallied around fetal personhood laws to ban abortion and grant human rights at conception. The move to protect embryos was anticipated by both anti-abortion and reproductive rights activists. It follows a pattern of pro-life policies in the Southern state: Alabama’s constitution protects “the rights of the unborn child,” and the state’s abortion ban went into effect after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022. In a case brought by the parents of several embryos destroyed at a fertility clinic, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed on Friday that unborn children fall under its Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, regardless of “developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics,” that is, even if they are stored in a freezer and have not yet been implanted. An estimated 1.5 million embryos are on ice in the US, and fertility treatments like IVF are becoming more common. ...Continue reading...

  • Like-Minded, Not Like Me
    by Carrie McKean on February 22, 2024 at 2:00 pm

    Birds of a feather might flock together, but Christians must flock to Christ. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Forgive and forget. Growing up in my conservative, mostly evangelical, rural Texas town, I went looking for accepted truisms in the Bible—only to discover they’d never been there at all. Gradually, I came to realize life could be more complicated than those sayings allowed, and yet I’m still surprised every now and again when I find myself clinging to some pithy proverb with the spiritual ardor that ought to be reserved for chapter and verse. This too shall pass. God works in mysterious ways. I walked the aisle of my Baptist church when I was nine years old, accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and never looked back. I was active in Girls in Action, Bible Bowl, and my best friend’s charismatic church youth group. I attended Baylor, a Christian university. Everywhere I turned, I saw people who looked like me, talked like me, thought like me, and worshiped like me. You are the company that you keep. Birds of a feather flock together. I assumed that kind of flocking was biblical in the prescriptive sense. Didn’t the Bible exhort us not to forsake the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:25), placing a high value on “doing life with” like-minded people? Living in such a homogeneous world seemed like the natural order of things. I couldn’t yet see the shadow side—how easily we slip into idolizing our own reflections, mistaking the familiar for the proper and the customary for the righteous. Today my thinking is more complicated. Now that my eldest is a teenager, I see the benefit of encouraging her to flock with friends who share our values or faith. There are no guarantees in parenting, but the company children keep, especially at such a crucial ...Continue reading...

  • God Says My Afro Hair Is Very Good
    by Melissa Burlock on February 22, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    An excerpt on identity, hope, and glory from My Divine Natural Hair: Inspiration and Tips to Love and Care for Your Crown. In Chad, the women say God left a gift in the mountains to make their hair grow. If the flowering plant that produces the seeds, which these women have been blending into a silky powder and applying to their hair with oils for a millennium, is a gift from God, it would only be one of the innumerable ways the Creator’s abundant grace is revealed through Black women’s crowns of glory, given by the God who numbers the very hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). My own hair story is braided with the story of my faith. Like a crown is to a queen, a regal mane is to a lion, or leaves are to a tree, hair is a visually powerful symbol of identity. Thousands of years ago, Nazirites—men and women who showed their dedication to God by letting their hair grow—also believed that hair was inseparable from the identity of a person. The Hebrew root word for Nazirite translates to “an unpruned vine.” Similarly, cutting the hair, or “pruning the vine,” for a Black person can be the same as being cut off from the symbol of one’s identity. The most famous Nazirite was Samson. Unlike other men and women who took the vow to become Nazirites for a period of time, Samson was a Nazirite “from the womb” (Judges 13:5), his entire life dedicated to God. As he grew up and into the purpose God had placed on his life, performing superhuman feats throughout the land, Samson wore his unshorn hair in seven long, thick braids (16:19). He was stronger than any other foe because no razor had ever touched his head—until his lover, Delilah, betrayed him. After she had his braids chopped off, Samson awoke to find himself shaved, weakened, and surrounded by his enemies. They gouged out his eyes and enslaved ...Continue reading...