How to Liberate Ourselves from the Perils of Platform

For writers, bloggers, and speakers, the pitfalls of self-promotion are offset by a robust vision of women’s gifts in the church.

#AmplifyWomen is a two-month-long series running on CT Women, designed to generate a new conversation about women’s leadership and discipleship. Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere? launched the series and was followed by an interview with a mentorship expert. This week we hear from Sharon Hodde Miller on how sharing your platform with others is an act of stewardship and a model of discipleship.

For my doctoral research, I met with women at evangelical seminaries to hear about their stories, their hopes, and their dreams. The women represented different ages (ranging from 22 to 65), different races, different life stages, and different church experiences. The one thing they had in common was their evangelicalism. As I interviewed each one, I was surprised by one common theme: the guilt.

Over and over, I heard from women who agonized over their decision to enroll in seminary: Can I justify the huge financial risk? Will I be able to find a job afterward? Is this a self-serving decision? Because of these looming questions, the women cataloged their motives relentlessly. While some women doubted the purity of their ambitions, one woman freely described her education as “selfish,” since she had enrolled in seminary simply “to get closer to [God].” Other women were not so nonchalant; their self-searching had become paralyzing.

What I am discovering, however, is that this female angst is not limited to seminary. It’s also visible in discussions surrounding self-promotion and platform—a term used to describe the size of one’s following or audience, online and elsewhere. As evidenced by recent conversations on social media, scores of women experience similar struggles with …

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Stewarding Knowledge in Crisis

After 33 years, Global Mapping International is closing.

Winston Churchill has been credited with saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Actually, it’s more likely that this idea came from a doctor: M.F. Weiner in a 1976 article, “Don’t Waste a Crisis – Your Patient’s or Your Own,” in the Journal of Medical Economics.

Regardless of who said it, the bigger question is this: “What is our responsibility as stewards of knowledge in the midst of a crisis?” I’m going to apply this to my own situation as CEO of Global Mapping International (GMI), but you can just as easily apply this question to many other scenarios.

Take, for example, the chance to share your faith with someone who is going through a similar significant life event. Or maybe making life changes when confronted with a serious illness or the loss of a job. In crisis, we have the opportunity to evaluate, learn, and change. In fact, it is in (and shortly after) those liminal moments of disequilibrium when the most insight, revelation, and understanding can come.

As we embrace this idea of stewarding knowledge in a crisis, let’s first define stewardship. I’ve learned much from my good friend Dr. Kent Wilson, who, in his recent book Steward Leadership in the Nonprofit Organization, defines it this way: “A steward is anyone who manages the property and resources belonging to another in order to achieve the owner’s objectives.” I’ve underlined several sections to emphasize important points that have impacted me.

First, anyone can be a steward of resources if the owner extends the opportunity. Second, a steward can never forget that he/she is not the owner. And finally, the steward’s use of resources must be in line …

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What the Church Says to Terrible People

‘Welcome to the club.’

When asked why it was important to him to have a cabinet that was 50 percent female, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau coolly responded, “Because it’s 2015.” In other words, “It should just be obvious to any decent, thinking person.”

In 2017, this sort of rhetorical flourish is even more common. Online discourse is littered with listicles like “9 Steps to Becoming a Decent Human Being.” A quick Google search for the phrase “being a decent person doesn’t cost you anything” yields dozens of unique memes.

How did the charge to be a “decent human being” become so persuasive?

In his book A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor suggests we are making up for the motivation gap in what he calls the “modern moral order.” At its heart is a sort of “secularized agape,” a universal benevolence and moral burden towards all people. This burden is rooted not necessarily in God or the divine but in our shared sense of dignity. Recognizing the universal dignity of all becomes essential to affirming our own.

The shared acknowledgement of mutual human dignity is an undeniably positive development. It has motivated and reinforced international humanitarian efforts, anti-racism initiatives, and other beneficial movements.

But Taylor questions whether this source of moral energy is really enough to sustain our universal “benevolence.” After all, Taylor notes, “never before have people been asked to stretch out so far . . . as a matter of course, to the stranger outside the gates.” In the long term, without the fundamental energy of the gospel, what would broadly fuel these measures?

The answer is shame.

One way to gin …

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Wants Us to Heed the Threat of ‘Fundamentalism’

The question is: Which one?

It’s no coincidence that The Handmaid’s Tale, the Hulu original series based on the Margaret Atwood book of the same name, is being released now, more than 30 years after the book’s publication. Capitalizing upon a the parallels between its fictional American dystopia and the distress that many people feel at the current state of American politics, The Handmaid’sTale has been celebrated as a timely entry into the conversation about where we are headed as a nation. In particular, the show makes an uncomfortable connection between the contemporary political language of a “war on women”, as heard in the last several presidential election cycles, and the actual war on women in The Handmaid’s Tale, where women are enslaved, mutilated, raped, beaten, and killed.

The villains of The Handmaid’s Tale are fundamentalist Christians who, after a violent revolution, run a totalitarian theocratic republic called Gilead in place of the secular state—an echo of the Islamic Republic established in Iran after the 1979 Revolution, around the time when Atwood penned her novel. The highest function of women in this fearful new world is to bear children. Infertility and infant mortality rates, however, are through the roof, so when a member of the pious ruling class cannot have a child, the state sends her a “handmaid” to conceive in her place.

The handmaid system provides sexual surrogacy, the depiction of which, once seen, will not soon be forgotten—especially as it is set against a track of “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the show’s most heavy-handed moment. The whole scenario is reminiscent of the story of Hagar in the Old Testament, in which Sarah arranges …

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The BGCE Gospel Life Podcast (Ep. 13)

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Episode Thirteen | Listening: The Beginning of Love

Christina Walker, Associate Director of Academic Programs at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, discusses Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and the first service we owe to others. We must begin with listening to others. In the cacophony of noise, will we be the kind of people who will truly love others best by actually getting to know them? When we talk with non-Christians, our first step might just be closing our mouths.

Episode Twelve | Inconvenient Evangelism Moments

John Richards, Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, discusses inconvenient evangelism moments and how we can begin to step into them in order to see God change lives. John uses personal examples to encourage us to actually pray for ‘inconvenient’ moments for the furtherance of the gospel and the potential of changed lives. We must remember that one moment can impact someone’s eternity.

Episode Eleven | Why Do Words Matter?

Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, discusses the intersection of showing AND sharing the love of Jesus. Why did Jesus come, and how do we hold in tension serving others and proclaiming Christ to others? The gospel isn’t something we do; it’s something Jesus did. How are we responding?

Episode Ten | Is There Really a Need for You in Kingdom Work?

Colleen Cooper, Development Coordinator at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism shares that too often it’s easy to compare ourselves to others and assume we aren’t good enough or prepared enough to share Jesus with others. But what if where you are right now is good enough, and if God needs you to impact our world for Christ? How would …

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Moral Law: Americans Agree on More Morality, Disagree on Method

Survey examines attitudes on where morals come from and how to bolster behavior.

When it comes to morality, evangelicals and religious “nones” overwhelmingly agree on one thing: it’s declining.

One factor: Too many laws regulating moral behavior have been removed, according to 7 in 10 Americans with evangelical beliefs. Yet 6 in 10 believe that such laws are not effective at encouraging people to act morally.

A new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds that most Americans worry moral behavior is on the decline.

In a representative survey of 1,000 Americans, researchers found 81 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “I am concerned about declining moral behavior in our nation.” Nineteen percent disagree.

Worry about morals differs across demographic lines, but remains consistently high. Most Americans older than 65 (85%) are concerned about declining moral behavior, as are those 18 to 24 (71%.) Those with graduate degrees (72%) agree, as do those with a high school degree or less (85%).

So do Christians (85%), those of non-Christian faiths (70%) and “nones”—those with no religious affiliation (72%). White Americans (82%), African-Americans (86%), Hispanic Americans (73%) and Americans of other ethnicities (75%) agree as well.

Yet Americans disagree over whether morality can be legislated.

Almost two-thirds (63%) agree with the statement, “Implementing laws to encourage people to act morally is not effective.” Thirty-seven percent disagree. The views of Americans with evangelical beliefs are not statistically different: 59 percent agree, and 41 percent disagree.

On the other hand, fewer than half (44%) agree with the statement, “The fewer laws regulating moral standards, the better.” Fifty-six percent disagree.

Men (49%) …

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Christian Governor of Jakarta Jailed, Found Guilty of Blasphemy

Indonesian court gives Ahok harsher sentence than prosecutors requested.

Indonesia’s top Christian politician has been convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison.

Prosecutors had recommended a light suspended sentence for Jakarta governor Basuki Purnama (popularly known as Ahok) after blasphemy charges led to his failed bid for re-election last month. Instead of finishing his term running the capital city through October, Ahok will now have to appeal his conviction from jail.

The New York Times offers more details, as does Reuters.

“It’s a sad day, and it’s frightening,” Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Times. “If the governor of Indonesia’s largest and most complex city, and who is an ally of the Indonesian president, can be brought down and humiliated this way, what will happen to normal Indonesian citizens?”

“This verdict and the sentence imposed represent an outrageous miscarriage of justice,” stated Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s East Asia team leader, Benedict Rogers. “It also represents a further, and severe, erosion of Indonesia’s values of religious pluralism as set out in the Pancasila, the state ideology.

“Indonesia’s ability to hold itself up as an example of a moderate, tolerant, Muslim-majority democracy is further threatened and is now very questionable.”

Being ethnically Chinese, Ahok is a double minority in the world’s most populous Muslim nation. About 1 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people are ethnic Chinese, while less than 9 percent are Christian.

The verdict comes a day after Indonesia’s president banned a hardline Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, because it threatened national unity with its protests …

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Fundamentalists, Modernists, and the Rest of the Story

Early 20th-century evangelical history was more than two camps lobbing grenades at each other.

Geoffrey Treloar’s The Disruption of Evangelicalism: The Age of Torrey, Mott, McPherson and Hammond feels like the culmination of a very long project. Back in 2003, historian Mark Noll inaugurated InterVarsity Press’s five-volume series on the history of evangelicalism with The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys. He described the series as a whole, in the introduction to that book, as accessible to any reader, yet footnoted for scholars; global in scope, though grounded in the English-speaking world; and centered on “evangelical religion, as understood by the evangelicals themselves” while attending to historical context. Subsequent volumes appeared in chronological order, except for this one, which marks the end of the series but covers the penultimate time period, 1900–1940.

The early 20th century is generally considered the low point in the long sweep of evangelical history. Superstar evangelist Dwight L. Moody died in 1899, and his mantle would not be taken up by Billy Graham until after World War II. Key events, including World War I, the Great Depression, and the rise of fascism in Europe, offered little to cheer. The period also saw the infamous fundamentalist-modernist controversy, which split numerous denominations and religious institutions along lines of biblical interpretation, doctrine, openness to scientific inquiry, and posture toward the outside world.

In a move reminiscent of the “new academic hagiography” advocated by historian Rick Kennedy (see Chris Gehrz’s post at The Pietist Schoolman blog), Treloar seeks to rehabilitate this era, casting it as a time not of narrowness and rancor but of breadth and creativity. Instead …

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SEND Institute: A New Learning Community for Church Planting

The Billy Graham Center partners with the North American Mission Board.

For nearly 40 years the Billy Graham Center (BGC) at Wheaton College has served as a hub of mission and evangelism training and inspiration. Rev. Billy Graham sought to develop a Center for strategic planning, inspiration, and preparation of leaders to fuel the evangelism mission of the Church in the world.

Today, the BGC uniquely blends practical missions with academic rigor to empower Christian leaders in nearly every sector of society to lead with the gospel in all they do. In addition to recently launching the Evangelism Leaders Fellowship (ELF) for denominational and network missions leaders and the Rural Matters Institute for pastors and leaders serving in rural settings, the BGC is partnering to launch the SEND Institute, a think-tank on church planting.

Needless to say, I’ve cared about church planting for a long time. But, over time, roles change. I’ve planted churches, and I’m thankful for that, but now I think we need a place for church planting thought leadership, serving all kinds of gospel-focused groups, to help church planting move to a new level of effectiveness in mission.

When I transitioned to my role as the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center last year, one of the first meetings I had was with Kevin Ezell and Jeff Christopherson of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention.

NAMB has recently retooled and refocused on church planting. They have, in my view, put a much needed greater focus on church planting, and decided to be the best-in-class in what they do—primarily church planting now.

And they have done that. In my view, NAMB is now leading the way in North American church planting.

So I flew down to see Kevin and Jeff and told them that …

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Starving Myself Meant Losing Myself

For years, I looked at myself in mirrors only to see mirages.

Back in that other life—before a mortgage, midnight wakings with babies, and shoveling snow on Saturday mornings—my husband and I would often venture from our home in Los Angeles to Las Vegas. We weren’t gamblers but rather lovers of deserts and the high, clear mountain air of Mount Charleston. Along the 15 Freeway we’d snake through the Mojave Desert surrounded on all sides by barren lands and crooked cacti. Once, I looked out my window, right in the middle of the Mojave, and saw a lake.

“Paul,” I asked my husband, “has it rained? I’ve never seen that lake before.” “It’s not a lake,” he answered, “it’s a mirage.” But the lake was there, huge and sparkling in the sunlight before me, and yet, in truth, it was nothing more than a convincing illusion. It wasn’t the first time my eyes had deceived me, and it was not to be the last.

Related to the word mirror, the term mirage comes from the French word se mirer, “be reflected” and the Latin word mirare, which means, “look at.” It is fitting, then, that for most of my life, I’ve looked at myself in mirrors only to see mirages.

For 10 years, I suffered from anorexia. Recent studies have shown that eating disorders are on the rise, especially in China, among women of color, in women over 40, and among children. Not even men are immune. According to USA Today, a study released last week suggests that “many young men suffer from undiagnosed eating disorders and distortions of body image.”

These disorders are both mental and physical illnesses fraught with complexities that researchers have struggled to fully understand. Why do only some women (and …

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