Lead Us Not Into Scandal

While some other evangelicals stumbled in national news, Graham’s Modesto Manifesto kept him from falling.

On countless occasions during his career, usually at a press conference preceding a major crusade, Billy Graham declared that he sensed religious revival was breaking out and about to sweep over the land. In 1948, he happened to be right. During the 1940s, church membership in America rose by nearly 40 percent, with most of the growth coming after the end of the war, as the nation tried to reconstruct normalcy on the most dependable foundation it knew. Church building reached an all-time high, seminaries were packed, secular colleges added programs in religious studies, religious books outsold all other categories of nonfiction, and Bible sales doubled between 1947 and 1952. While Graham and his colleagues in Youth For Christ (YFC) and the Southern Baptist “Youth Revival Movement” were packing civic auditoriums and stadiums, William Branham, Jack Coe, A. A. Allen, and Oral Roberts were filling stupendous nine-pole circus tents with Pentecostal believers desperate to see afflictions healed, devils cast out, and the dead raised.

For evangelists, it was like being a stockbroker in a runaway bull market. As in other fields, however, the boom attracted some whose motives and methods were less than sanctified, who fell prey to the temptations described in Scripture as “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) but are better known by their street names, “sex, money, and power.” Despite good intentions and behavior, Graham and his associates occasionally found themselves the objects of suspicion and condescension from ministers and laypeople alike. As they contemplated the checkered history and contemporary shortcomings of itinerant evangelism and talked …

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Is ISIS Really Muslim?

Christians can learn from Egyptian debate over terrorism and true Islam.

For Egyptian Christians, 2017 was the deadliest modern year on record. At least 87 were killed by terrorists.

But despite being labeled by ISIS as its “favorite prey,” Copts were only 12 percent of such fatalities last year. Far more Muslims died in extremist violence at the hand of fellow believers.

Unless they aren’t believers at all.

If American Christians often don’t know how to understand Islam, they can take some comfort knowing that Egyptian Muslims struggle too.

A tragic case study occurred in December, when more than 300 people were killed at a Sinai mosque belonging to a Sufi order. Sufi Muslims are known for their mystical practices in search of spiritual communion with God. Many also seek intercession at the graves of Muslim saints.

In casual but solemn conversation at an upper-class organization in Cairo, one well-educated Egyptian woman reflected on the tragedy with colleagues. “Yes, but they are Sufis,” she said. “They’re not really Muslims.”

The woman was not making light of the massacre, nor justifying it. But she had internalized a message preached by another type of Muslim—Salafis—who judge Sufi practices to be outside the bounds of orthodox Islam. And when Salafis become jihadists, they may well kill Sufis as apostates.

In angry conversation with a middle-class taxi driver in Cairo, one typical Egyptian denounced ISIS for its crimes against both mosques and churches. “No, we can’t say that they aren’t Muslims,” he said. “Of course they are.”

What causes such confusion? Innocent victims, praying in a mosque, are placed outside of Islam while murderers, salivating at the entrance, remain in the faith?

At issue is …

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What Is Evangelicalism?

A simple definition based in doctrine, history, or sociology won’t do. But a vibrant stream really does exist.

Evangelicalism is one of the largest and most dynamic forms of Christianity in the modern world, but there is an amorphous quality to many words that end with the suffix “-ism,” and “evangelicalism” is no exception. “Evangelicalism” does not have the hard and crisp denotation of a concrete noun such as “Jesuit.” This confusion goes back to lexical roots. The English language uses the Anglo-Saxon noun “gospel” for the Greek “evangel” but retains the Greek root for the adjective “evangelical” and the abstract class-noun “evangelicalism.” There was a time when certain Protestants were called Gospellers, but the obvious link between “gospel” and “evangelical” has now been largely obscured. As an abstract noun naming things that cannot be heard, seen, or touched, “evangelicalism” seems always in need of more concrete definition.

Here history helps to clarify the meaning. In common use, “evangelicalism” deals with the doctrines, practices, and history of a class of Protestants that emerged distinctively in the early modern period, endured for three centuries, and spread to five continents. “Evangelical” identified the churches of the Protestant Reformation and their teaching, especially the Lutheran evangelische church, but the origins of modern evangelicalism, as understood in the English-speaking world, are found more in the popular spiritual awakening of the following centuries in the North Atlantic region. Seventeenth-century movements of devotion such as Pietism, Puritanism, and the Anglican “holy living” tradition fused to generate a general spiritual awakening …

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Interview: Billy in the Oval Office: A Story of Faith, Friendship, and Temptation

Journalist Nancy Gibbs recalls Graham’s relationship with six decades of American presidents.

In 2007, Time magazine veterans Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy coauthored The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. The best-selling book chronicled Graham’s influence on American presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush.

On April 25, 2010, Graham hosted Barack Obama at the Graham family home in Montreat, North Carolina, making Obama the 12th chief executive to interact with Graham, something no other religious leader has done. The two of them prayed for each other during their 35-minute meeting, according to reports. (Donald Trump attended Graham’s 95th birthday party in 2013.)

Graham’s relationships with different presidents varied widely. He skinny-dipped in the White House pool with Lyndon Johnson, played golf with John F. Kennedy, and counseled the Clintons after the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

But Graham acknowledged that his relationship with Richard Nixon, tainted by partisan politics, was the one most harmful to the evangelist’s gospel mission. Timothy C. Morgan, director of Wheaton College’s journalism program, interviewed Gibbs before Graham’s death.

As journalists, Michael Duffy and you had rare opportunities to interact one on one with Billy Graham. How would you describe him in personal terms?

One description I love is the writer who, looking at Billy Graham’s long arms and long legs, said that it looked as though God had designed him to be seen from a distance.

This figure could fill a stadium with 50,000 or 100,000 people, night after night after night. We imagined this huge public personality. What was most surprising to us the first day we went to Montreat was how completely disarming he was. We were struck by his humility, the gentleness, the quiet, confident …

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How Christian Faith Led a Single Woman to Defy Chairman Mao

Lin Zhao’s faith led her to embrace China’s Communist movement—then pay the ultimate price for opposing it.

Nelson Mandela. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King Jr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. When we think of 20th-century political dissidents who were people of faith, these are the names that spring to mind. And for good reason: These men left an indelible mark on humanity with their resolve and fortitude, their eloquent words, and their profound wrestling with what it meant to oppose injustice. Now, thanks to the research of historian Lian Xi, we have a new name to add to the list: Lin Zhao, the only Chinese citizen known to have openly and steadfastly opposed communism under Mao Zedong.

Lian Xi, a professor of world Christianity at Duke Divinity School, has written extensively about China’s modern encounter with Christianity. His first book, The Conversion of Missionaries (1997), is a critical study of American Protestant missions in early 20th-century China. His second book, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (2010), examines the transformation of missionary Christianity into a lively, indigenous Chinese faith. Lian began researching the life of Lin Zhao in 2012, and he received a copy of her prison writings the following year. The resulting book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China, draws from those prison writings, years of interviews and correspondence with those who knew Lin Zhao intimately, and extensive field research in Suzhou and Beijing.

Lin Zhao’s story is not easy to read. It has few glimpses of hope and far more despair than triumph. Doubtless, Lian bears secondary trauma from living with it for so many years. Yet knowing Lin Zhao’s story feels essential for anyone who wants to understand the true cost—to mind, body, and …

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One-on-One with the Authors of Participating in God’s Mission: A Theological Missiology for the Church in America

The church, God’s mission, and the challenges of a changing culture

Ed: Why did you write this book?

Craig and Dwight: It is our assessment that two great unravelings are occurring in America at the beginning of the 21st century. The first is the continued unraveling of the Enlightenment project that over several centuries provided for a ‘can do’ optimism and expectation of progress within U.S. culture.

The erosion of confidence in the country’s ability to manage successfully its future in making life better for all is dramatically diminishing or being challenged by emerging generations.

The second is the continued unraveling of the ‘churched culture’ built upon the expectation that the church was to have a major role to play in shaping the cultural ethos and providing moral values for shaping life. This expectation was inherent within the European tribal Christian faith traditions that immigrants brought to the colonies and which eventually became Christian denominations in America.

There are many factors contributing to these two unravelings which are laid out in the book in detail. For example, changing immigration patterns and the overall composition of the population, declining influence of the Christian faith in society, membership decline or plateauing of growth in the majority of denominations, the rise of the majority church in the Global South, the increased polarization of society, etc.

While Christianity in America has undergone at least four major transition phases over the last 400+ years, what is important to understand is that the present and fifth transition is a type of ‘change in kind.’

The church in America is now undergoing a major deconstruction of its historical identity and its organizational and institutional systems. This is requiring …

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Resurrecting the Church Signs

Who says Christians aren’t funny? Check out some of these signs.

Thanks, @jwritebol!

Thanks, @dirkwmiller!

Thanks, @tombuck!

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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Why Didn’t God Make You More Beautiful?

The glorious gospel needs ordinary people.

Perhaps you are one of the blessed few who are entirely content with their appearance. Perhaps you never stand in front of the mirror, as I did this morning, wondering as you take in the image before you, “Why didn’t God improve on that?”

While we’re at it, why didn’t God make you smarter? Stronger? More creative? More insightful? More wonderful in every way?

If, like some irritating friends of mine, you happen to be reasonably good-looking, talented, prosperous, healthy, and happy, asking such questions could seem downright greedy. But lots of us are obviously lacking in one or more of these zones.

Or so it would seem.

But in the kingdom of God, things are not always as they appear.

Jesus is pausing with his disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi. He asks them how he is currently viewed by the populace, and the response seems very promising: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:14).

One would think a rabbi couldn’t do any better, but Jesus then asks the disciples their opinion.

Peter, one of those keen pupils who instantly sticks up his hand whether he knows the answer or not, replies at once: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

For once, Peter is right, and Jesus blesses him. But “then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”

This is a bit disappointing. Peter finally gets an answer right, and he can’t tell anyone? In fact, he gets The Answer right and he can’t tell anyone? Why in the world not?

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the …

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How Will Hollywood Handle the Spiritual Themes in ‘A Wrinkle in Time?’

Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel are wondering whether the film will do justice to the “cosmic questions” the book raises.

You’ve heard the buzz: A Wrinkle in Time, based on the classic children’s book by Madeleine L’Engle (1918–2007), hits theaters this week as a $100 million Disney movie.

A lot more than money is riding on the film’s success. Not only is the sci-fi novel beloved by millions of readers—since winning the 1963 Newbery Medal, it has sold upwards of 16 million copies—but its author was one of the most adored writers of Christian faith in recent history.

As I’ve learned while writing her spiritual biography (A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, which releases in August), her fans among millennials and my own Generation X, in particular, are as vast as the cosmos she so loved. For many who struggle with faith and doubt, L’Engle has become a kind of patron saint for the wavering, the wondering, and the wounded.

No pressure, Hollywood.

This new adaptation of Wrinkle, directed by the irrepressible Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th, Queen Sugar), stars no less than Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Pine. Frozen’s Jennifer Lee adapted the storyline for the screen, and along the way the main characters have been creatively recast as a multiracial family. DuVernay herself is the first female director of color to oversee a budget this size.

Newcomer Storm Reid plays Meg Murry, the story’s teen protagonist, who is sent by a triad of angelic beings (Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which) on a quest to find her missing scientist-father trapped behind a dark force in the universe. The “Mrs” trio teaches Meg and her companions how to fold, or wrinkle, the space-time continuum so they can skip from galaxy to galaxy, planet to …

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Evangelicalism Is Far Deeper, Wider, and Greater Than the Foibles of the Moment

An excerpt from ‘Still Evangelical?’

Editor’s note: This excerpt is taken from Karen Swallow Prior’s chapter, “Why I Am an Evangelical.”

I came to Christian faith at a very young age and never wavered in my faith or in my trust in Jesus as my Savior. Sadly, the message from my evangelical tradition was that while trusting in Jesus ensured I would go to heaven instead of hell, but there didn’t seem to be much else to it —other than avoiding sin in order to get more jewels in my heavenly crown—and, of course, telling as many other people as I could about Jesus so they could go to heaven and wear a jeweled crown.

But a more mature, robust evangelicalism eventually taught me how to think and love like a Christian. Evangelical writers and thinkers helped me face, understand, and challenge the movement’s tendency toward anti-intellectualism and its undervaluation of beauty. Evangelicalism eventually taught me that “being saved” was not just about the afterlife but also the abundant life, not just for me as an individual but for all of humankind.

And so evangelicalism created an activist spirit within me, molding and refining a passion to do right politically, socially, personally. The evangelical leaders of the later 20th century taught and led me in my efforts to promote human life at every stage. And the evangelicals of the 18th and 19th centuries inspired me to knit those efforts into a holistic pursuit of the flourishing of all human life and God’s creation.

I find something powerfully humanizing about facing honestly the weaknesses of my tradition and working to overcome those weaknesses from within. Evangelicalism is far deeper, wider, and greater than its particular foibles born of particular times. …

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