The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election

It’s not Republicans or Democrats, but Christian witness.

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.

The Hypocrisy on the Left

From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation. They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors …

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Interview: Beautiful Word: The Story of the ESV Illuminated Bible

Renowned designer Dana Tanamachi brings modern illustrations to the ancient text.

Centuries before Christians searched Scripture on illuminated digital screens, the Word of God was “lit up” with masterful calligraphy, colorful illustrations, and gold and silver filigree in the illuminated Bibles and manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

A new Bible edition from Crossway offers contemporary readers a glimpse of that classic style in an English Standard Version (ESV) Bible glimmering with hundreds of hand-drawn gold illustrations.

Christian designer Dana Tanamachi, nationally renowned for her chalk art and lettering work, spent seven months creating full-page illustrations for each book of the Bible and served as art director for the project, which follows Crossway’s launch of a multi-volume reader’s Bible in 2016 and a single-column journaling Bible in 2014.

“I’m not aware of anything else quite like the ESV Illuminated Bible,” J. Mark Bertrand, a Bible design expert who runs the blog Lectio, told CT. “Maybe because the ESV Illuminated Bible is a mass market effort, maybe because of the clear influence of the ‘Bible journaling’ trend—which the ESV Journaling Bible helped create—it feels like something unique.”

Even with the growth of Bible sites and apps, around 80 percent of Bible readers—and about as many millennial readers—still prefer to study a physical text. New Bible designs and formats aim to make it easier and more engaging for today’s readers to get into the Word.

“Our prayer is that the added ornamentation and illustrations will draw the readers’ eyes to the beauty of the Word of God itself,” Crossway writes in the ESV Illuminated Bible.

Several more recent efforts to bring the historic practice …

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Saturday is for Seminars and Church Signs

16 shopping days till Christmas

December and January Speaking Engagements

Here are a few places I will be the next couple of months, and then some church signs for you!

December 2017

I’m at Moody Church all Sundays, including morning and evening on Christmas Eve, except these Sundays:

December 17
Highpoint Church
Naperville, Illinois

December 31
Christ Fellowship Miami

January 2018

January 7-10
Southern Union Pastors’ Conference
Orlando, Florida

January 17
Chapel at Judson University
Elgin, Illinois

January 22
Fuller Theological Seminary Church Planting
Houston, Texas

January 23-25
Evangelical Covenent Order of Presbyterians National Gathering
Houston, Texas

January 24-26
Lutheran Brethren Seminary
Fergus Falls, Minnesota

January 29-30
Georgia Baptist REACH Evangelism Conference
Warner Robins, Georgia

Please join me at one of these events, and pray for me that we make much of Jesus at all of them.

Church Signs

… and now a few church signs!

Thanks, @Blue_Bryan!

Thanks, @litlbit3!

Thanks, Jason!

Please tweet your church signs to @EdStetzer (or email to stetzerblog[@]gmail[.]com).

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

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Died: Harry Blamires, the C. S. Lewis Protégé Who Rediscovered ‘The Christian Mind’

Influential theologian and author lived to be 101, and to see his popular book remain in print.

British theologian and literary scholar Harry Blamires, who taught the church to think like Christians in the face of a secularizing culture, died last month at age 101.

His writing career was shaped by C. S. Lewis, who grew to become a friend and mentor after Blamires studied under the acclaimed apologist at Oxford University.

His most famous work, The Christian Mind, pushed readers to extend the Christian worldview into all areas of life—particularly intellectual pursuits. The book, published in 1963 and still in print today, called out “the mental secularization of Christians” and the significance of developing Christian thought as it relates to objective truth.

“The bland assumption that the Church’s life will continue to be fruitful so long as we go on praying and cultivating our souls, irrespective of whether we trouble to think and talk Christianly, and therefore theologically, about anything we or others may do or say, may turn out to have dire results,” Blamires warned.

“With The Christian Mind, Harry began a polemic that he kept going for 40 years,” wrote Brian Davis, a former student of Blamires’s, in a Church Times tribute. “His Christian apologetic sold well in the United States, where he was frequently invited to give lecture tours. Like Lewis, he was particularly popular with evangelicals, without being one himself.”

Author of over a dozen books, Blamires is remembered both for his writing on the church and his work in literature. An Anglican, he spent most of his career at King’s Alfred College, where he served as head of the English department and wrote about greats like James Joyce and T. S. Eliot.

Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image Journal, …

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Handel’s Messiah: A Brilliant Blend of Transcendence and Transgression

How the composer (and his lesser-known collaborator) wedded Scripture and music in daring new ways.

For many of us, Handel’s Messiah has transcended its place as a great work of art and has taken on the status of an almost canonical spiritual text. There are few works in the classical repertory that are so well-known and well-loved by such a variety of people.

Even people who don’t usually care much for classical music are familiar with this piece. Is there any other oratorio that could host sing-along performances without the participants fumbling and stumbling over the words? How many artistic expressions of theology or spirituality have opened as many hearts to hearing the words of Scripture as has this magnificent piece of music? It is certainly a piece that has inspired many with its beauty and its testimony to the gospel.

Yet by now, the soaring “Hallelujah Chorus” is so familiar that it might seem almost impossible to hear and appreciate Handel’s famed composition in fresh ways. Thankfully, Jonathan Keates’s slim volume, Messiah: The Composition and Afterlife of Handel’s Masterpiece, helps us do just that, partly by reminding us that there was a time when it wasn’t so enthusiastically embraced because it transgressed some of the standard expectations for an oratorio and strove for something new.

One strength of Keates’s book is the reminder that it is not only the music of Messiah that is extraordinary. So is the libretto, penned by Charles Jennens, with whom Handel had already shared a series of collaborations. And it is the text of Messiah that makes it so unique. At the time of its appearance, most oratorios told stories through a plot line and delineated characters, with plenty of room for dramatic embellishment.

But Messiah doesn’t attempt to tell a specific …

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How the Coming of the Son Brings Hope to the Fatherless

An overlooked prophecy points to the family togetherness we crave at Christmas.

We tell two stories around Christmas. One is Christian, while the other is mostly sentimental.

The first story begins (at least in the Gospel of Luke) with an elderly priest named Zechariah serving faithfully at the temple. Luke tells us that Zechariah and Elizabeth, his wife, both loved the Lord and likely harbored some hope for Israel to be freed from Roman oppression. The angel Gabriel gives life to their hope by announcing that this barren couple would have a son who would herald the coming Messiah.

From there, the story moves to a young woman in Nazareth named Mary. The wonder of her pregnancy would surpass that of Elizabeth. Instead of being barren, Mary is a virgin. Instead of preparing the way for the king, her child would be the King himself, created within her womb by the power of the Spirit, God come to dwell among us.

We need not rehearse all that follows, save to say that shepherds and angels show up in abundance. The Lord of the universe enters the world through a virgin and spends his first night well loved in a humble manger. This is our Christmas story, rightly celebrated as the beginning of a new era in human history.

The other story that dominates the Christmas cards, songs, and movies we’ve come to love centers around a different kind of family. This is the all-American nuclear family, gathered around the tree in matching pajamas and exchanging presents as Nat King Cole croons in the background. Our image of family at Christmas—well-decorated, wealthy, happy, and intact—actually sits uneasily beside the gospel of the first.

I have no problem with churches that laud family togetherness during the holidays. Nonetheless, for children without a mother or a father, it can feel like a second Christmas …

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Evangelical vs. Born Again: A Survey of What Americans Say and Believe Beyond Politics

Less than half who claim either label have evangelical beliefs. Most likely: African Americans.

For all the handwringing over what the term evangelical means in the political moment of Donald Trump and Roy Moore, only 1 in 100 Americans would take on the term if it had nothing to do with politics.

Meanwhile, the label is primarily a political identity for only about 1 in 10 self-identified evangelicals.

Overall, 1 in 4 Americans today consider themselves to be evangelicals. But less than half actually hold evangelical beliefs.

And when defined by beliefs and not by identity, evangelicals are less white (58% vs. 70%), more black (23% vs. 14%), and more likely to worship weekly (73% vs. 61%). However, they are not more likely to be Republican or Democrat.

These are among the findings of a groundbreaking survey of Americans with evangelical beliefs, released today by LifeWay Research.

Most surveys of religion and politics ask Americans a combined question—“Are you evangelical or born again?”—in order to create their “evangelical” category. LifeWay instead asked about the two self-identities separately, in order to study differences between the two groups. Then researchers compared respondents’ self-identities to their theological beliefs.

“There’s a gap between who evangelicals say they are and what they believe,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, told Facts & Trends.

Among the survey’s findings:

1) Evangelicals by Identity

  • 24% of Americans consider themselves to be an evangelical Christian. Another 12% are not sure.
  • 29% of Americans consider themselves to be a born-again Christian. Another 6% are not sure.

The survey suggests that about 5 percent of Americans accept the born-again label but are uncertain about accepting the evangelical …

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The Reformation, Viewed from the East

An Eastern Orthodox theologian assesses Luther’s famous doctrine of ‘sola fide.’

Make no mistake: The absence of the Orthodox Church in the Reformation debates of the 16th century is one of the great tragedies of Christian history. What might have happened if Orthodox churches had been party to the theological controversies that dominated 16th-century Europe?

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation provides an occasion for assessing Eastern Orthodox and Protestant attempts at unity on the key Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide). Is a consensus possible between the Reformers and the Orthodox Church on this central tenet, which Luther described as “the article by which the church stands or falls?” As an Orthodox theologian, I think the answer is yes, but only if Christ, not justification, is the core of the Christian gospel.

A Dialogue of Fits and Starts

In the 16th century, both East and West were embroiled in all-consuming issues that stunted effective theological dialogue, especially on issues like justification by faith alone. While Catholics and Protestants were undergoing the most turbulent revolution in the history of Western Christianity, the Orthodox Church was trying to survive repressive conditions under Islamic rule in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, and the Middle East.

The first positive theological overture came from none other than Martin Luther himself. During the Leipzig Disputation in 1519, Luther defended himself against papal theologian Johann Eck’s accusation that Luther’s views of the papacy had become schismatic or even heretical like those of the Eastern churches. Luther cited Orthodoxy’s unbroken continuity with the great church fathers over the previous 1,400 years to argue that they were not heretical. In fact, Luther stated …

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Forks & Spoons – A Simple Evangelism Strategy [Gospel Life Podcast]

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

Forks & Spoons – A Simple Evangelism Strategy

John C. Richards, Jr., Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, talks about meals as an opportunity to engage people in faith conversations. Perhaps you’ve been turned down when it comes to inviting someone to church or to a Bible study. One place people are open to, however, is a meal and some hospitality. This Advent, consider ways to open up your home to those who don’t yet know Jesus.

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

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Ravi Zacharias Responds to Sexting Allegations, Credentials Critique

Exclusive: Popular apologist explains extortion lawsuit, while RZIM defends his resume.

Ravi Zacharias built his career defending the Christian faith. Now the famous apologist is defending his own reputation.

Today, Zacharias and his eponymous Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) released their first statements specifically addressing a personal lawsuit involving a married woman who sent nude photos to the popular author and speaker, as well as accusations that Zacharias has misled supporters by inflating his credentials in his RZIM biography.

“I have learned a difficult and painful lesson through this ordeal,” Zacharias said. “I failed to exercise wise caution and to protect myself from even the appearance of impropriety, and for that I am profoundly sorry. I have acknowledged this to my Lord, my wife, my children, our ministry board, and my colleagues.”

An Indian-Canadian convert to Christianity, Zacharias has become one of the best-known living apologists and has authored dozens of books on faith. With almost $24 million in US revenue last year, RZIM sponsors dozens of itinerant preachers and apologists (such as the late Nabeel Qureshi); puts on conferences for Christian leaders; and holds forums on college campuses.

Last month, Zacharias settled a lawsuit with a Canadian couple he claimed had attempted to extort him over messages he had exchanged with the wife.

The federal lawsuit—which was filed by Zacharias, not the couple—alleged that his “friendly correspondence” with the wife evolved over the course of 2016 to her sending him “unwanted, offensive, sexually explicit language and photographs.” In April 2017, the couple sent a letter through their attorney demanding millions of dollars in exchange for keeping the messages a secret.

“In …

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