Transhumanism and the Cult of ‘Better, Faster, Stronger’

Why the church should resist technologies that aim to liberate us from ordinary, embodied life.

Amid the pop-culture detritus of my childhood, one unforgettable fragment is the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man. For the children of the 1970s, Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) was our first cyborg, fitted with a “bionic” eye and limbs after a nearly fatal accident. Every episode began by retelling his origin story, as a voiceover intoned: “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster.”

Those opening lines have stuck with me. They were a kind of boyhood liturgy—a ritual repeated weekly as I watched the latest episode. They compress into a few sentences a great deal of what makes technology the central ideology of our age.

It begins with repair (“We can rebuild him”). The Enlightenment philosopher Francis Bacon urged his contemporaries to unlock the secrets of nature for “the relief of man’s estate”—the treatment of injury and illness and the end of material poverty. Who would not welcome, after a major accident, the comforting words “We can rebuild you. We have the technology”?

But the liturgy quickly moves from repair to enhancement—“better than he was before.” After all, if you have the technology to repair someone, why not make some improvements while you’re at it? This, of course, requires a fixed definition of “improvement”—what makes someone “better” than they were. And this the liturgy also supplies in a series of synonyms: “better, stronger, faster.”

In one sense, the vision of The Six Million Dollar Man is coming true. We are able to rebuild human bodies in ever more sophisticated ways. (Just to name one especially …

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Jewish Christians Are Recovering Their Distinctive Religious Heritage

A growing group of Jews who believe in Jesus is crossing boundaries to revive their identity and restore unity in the church.

The lights are dim during a Friday night service in a sanctuary that holds 4,000 people at the non-denominational Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas. Many traditional Jewish elements of the Sabbath are present: There’s a blessing over the bread and wine, candle lighting, a Torah scroll, and a prayer shawl. About 12 musicians play contemporary Christian music that contains a spattering of Hebrew lyrics.

Pastor Greg Stone, associate pastor of Gateway Jewish Ministries, offers a message based on the words of Ezekiel and Daniel to an audience of 700, of whom 30 percent are Jewish, according to an in-house survey. Gateway’s lead pastor, Robert Morris, believes in the principle “first to the Jew” (Rom. 1:16, ESV), therefore the church created this first Friday Jewish service and incorporates Jewish learning in its adult education classes on all six of its campuses. This megachurch of 36,000 also gives the initial one percent of its tithes and offerings to ministries that serve the Jewish people. “It’s part of the DNA of Gateway,” Stone said.

Gateway is only one of many Christian spaces around the world where Jews can foster their identity. In Toulouse, France, Sister Eliana Kurylo, a Jewish Catholic nun from The Community of the Beatitudes, prays Jewish liturgy on the eve of the Sabbath. In Jerusalem, Father Antoine Levy, a Jewish Dominican priest, studies modern Hebrew during a one-year sabbatical from his post in Finland.

Last August, Stone, Kurylo, and Levy joined a group of 40-plus Jewish believers in Jesus from various countries and traditions; they convened at The King’s University in Dallas for the First International/Interconfessional Congress of Jewish Disciples of Jesus.

The conference …

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Jesus’ Life Chosen for Two Very Different TV Series

One is scholarly with a big cable budget, the other is gritty and crowdfunded.

This month brings two profoundly different takes on the biblical Gospels to the small screen. In Jesus: His Life, which premiered Monday and runs through Easter, History seeks to commemorate the Lenten season with a reverent, fast-paced, inclusive miniseries.

“The story of Jesus is one of the cornerstones of Western civilization,” says Mary Donahue, executive producer of the series and senior vice president of programming for History. “Our production partners at Nutopia came to us with this new angle on the life of Jesus. As a network always looking for fresh ways to tell great stories, we were fascinated by the concept.”

History’s docudrama series combines dramatic vignettes filmed on location in Morocco with a wide spectrum of talking-head faith scholars. Its narrative scenes bring to life first-century Judea with desert vistas, elaborate palace sets, and other fitting locales over eight episodes.

Meanwhile, the other TV project has less emphasis on visual spectacle and more on character development. Independent show The Chosen is already turning heads in Hollywood. When upstart platform VidAngel Studios pitched the concept to followers online, they brought in $11 million—a new crowdfunding record for any media project.

Debuting online April 15, The Chosen will reimagine the radical ministry of Christ upending societal norms in a multi-season show. Creators aim for it to be faithful to the biblical text while gritty in tone. “A lot of Jesus projects on-screen are intentionally formal, which often means emotionally detached and less human,” says writer/director Dallas Jenkins.

“We’re striving in this show to lift the curtain and get to what is authentic and real,” …

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Died: Robert Finley, Reformer of Foreign Missions

After preaching at Billy Graham rallies and revivals in Asia, the Christian Aid Mission founder introduced new emphasis on supporting indigenous missionaries.

Robert Finley—who founded Christian Aid Mission, considered the first missionary organization dedicated to supporting indigenous missions abroad—died last week at age 96.

Finley’s long ministry career intersects with major evangelical leaders and organizations, and his early insistence in the effectiveness of local missionaries over Western outsiders has become a driving principle among many missions experts.

“Looking back on 85 years of memories, I am humbled to see God’s hand leading me to be an advocate for native missionaries,” he wrote in his autobiography Apostolic Adventures. “I’ve seen these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much, sometimes their own lives, because of the call of God to reach their own people for Jesus Christ.”

As a young evangelist with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Youth for Christ in the late 1940s, Finley preached alongside Billy Graham at US rallies, with Cliff Barrows leading the crowds in song. Traveling to China and then South Korea as a missionary, he served alongside Bob Pierce, who went on to found World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse.

His experiences in East Asia and India led him to prioritize the work of local missionaries overseas and to start ministries dedicated to supporting their evangelistic work in their own contexts: International Students Inc. (ISI), a college ministry dedicated to reaching and equipping foreign students, and then Christian Aid Mission, which helped fund indigenous missions around the world. (ISI, founded in 1953, partnered with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Navigators for office space and staff in its early years.)

Over its history, Christian Aid Mission has backed more than …

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An MIT Professor Meets the Author of All Knowledge

I used to think religious people were ignoramuses. Then I got smart and took a chance on God.

As early as grade school, when I was a voracious reader and a straight-A student, I identified with being smart. And I believed smart people didn’t need religion. As a result, I declared myself an atheist and dismissed people who believed in God as uneducated.

In high school, I led a classroom debate team arguing for a godless form of evolution, confident my side would win because “this was science.” When the class voted and awarded victory to the creation side, I was dumbstruck. Most people didn’t understand science, I figured—either that, or they were unduly swayed by the most popular girl in class. She had a swimming pool in her backyard and threw fun parties.

At the time, I babysat to earn money. One of my favorite families was a young couple; both the husband (a doctor) and the wife were really sharp. One night, after paying me, they invited me to church. I was stunned—people this smart actually went to church? When Sunday morning came around, I told them I had a stomachache. They invited me again the following week, but once more I came down with another phantom stomachache. The more they persisted, the more I struggled to invent convincing excuses. (You try faking an illness to a doctor.)

Just a Phase?

Eventually, the couple tried a different tack. “You know,” they said, “going to church is not what matters most. What matters is what you believe. Have you read the Bible?” I figured that if I wanted to be an educated person, I needed to read the best-selling book of all time. The doctor suggested starting with Proverbs, reading one chapter daily for a month. When I first opened the Bible—this was the King James Version—I expected to find phony miracles, …

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Black and Evangelical: Why I Keep the Label

A conversation with an incredulous friend gave me a chance to tell my story.

I am both black and evangelical.

Two years ago I was challenged on these dual allegiances because they have been deemed mutually exclusive. It was during the 2016 presidential campaign and I was online registering for the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society. A friend was nearby and, upon noticing what I was doing, exclaimed, “You’re an evangelical?!”

It was a challenging question. For some it would seem odd. My friend is seminary-trained, robustly academic, and his theology abides squarely within the pale of historic Christian orthodoxy. He would seem to be the quintessential evangelical. In spite of this, he has chosen to cast off the label.

Why? Because he is African American and acutely aware of the intricacies associated with being both black and evangelical. He is unsettled by the bifurcation of the Gospel and social ethics. In his estimation, the division is the byproduct of privilege and is a reductionistic understanding of the Church’s mission. While he concedes that evangelicalism is a theological movement, he contends that it has been shaped by the dominant culture. The movement has a cultural identity that debases him based on his ethnicity. Consequently, he has chosen to uphold his theological identity while eschewing the term evangelical and its baggage. In contrast, I have concluded that preserving my theological identity obliges me to redeem the term and unpack the movement’s baggage.

In my opinion, my friend deserved a response. His confusion is understandable because he knows that I affirm his assessment. I too have been wounded by evangelicalism’s posture toward social ethics. But I have concluded that an exodus of ethnic minorities amounts to segregation …

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Missionary Opponents Misunderstand the Waorani Mission. So Do Evangelicals.

Some revere Jim Elliot and his friends as martyrs. Others revile them as oppressors. Both sides have an incomplete picture.

When news broke in November 2018 that missionary John Allen Chau had been killed while trying to contact the isolated Sentinelese tribe off the coast of India, debates about his methods and motivations erupted across the media landscape. Some critics argued that Chau behaved unethically in trying to contact an isolated people who clearly resisted interaction with the outside world. Some Christians wondered whether Chau had gone about his goals in the best way. But for many evangelicals, Chau’s death called to mind the 1956 deaths of Jim Elliot and four other missionaries after they had tried to bring the gospel to the remote Waorani people in Ecuador. Indeed, Jim Elliot had been one of Chau’s heroes.

Perhaps more than we realize, these reactions emerge from longstanding patterns in Western culture. American evangelicals have often celebrated inspirational stories of missionary sacrifice, while mission critics tend to revert to dark stories of colonialism and cultural imposition. Both narratives have been deeply embedded in American culture for more than two centuries. And both, for different reasons, are incomplete and sometimes misleading.

This is why we need Kathryn Long’s book, God in the Rainforest: A Tale of Martyrdom and Redemption in Amazonian Ecuador. Long, a retired professor of history from Wheaton College, gives us the most thorough account yet written of the aftermath of the deaths of Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries. Mission critics may discover that missionary engagement with the Waorani was not quite what they had imagined. For different reasons, evangelicals may discover the same.

The Defining Missionary Narrative

A fascinating, complex, and thoroughly researched work, God in the Rainforest …

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Interview: Across the Globe, Contemporary Worship Music Is Bringing Believers Together

More and more, says scholar Monique Ingalls, it permeates nearly every sphere of evangelical life.

Contemporary worship music, as a distinct genre, has come into its own over the last 50 years. Monique M. Ingalls, assistant professor of music at Baylor University, studies this phenomenon as an ethnomusicologist, looking at the intersection of different social and musical trends. In Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, Ingalls identifies five distinct types of “congregations” that worship together in song. Constance Cherry, professor of worship and pastoral ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University, spoke with Ingalls about how contemporary worship music has reshaped our understanding of worship itself.

Can you describe the different “singing congregations” you studied?

Contemporary worship music has a global profile, but it’s performed in a variety of local contexts, which means that it permeates many different spheres of evangelical life. In the book, I mention five distinct “modes of congregating”: local congregations, concerts, conferences, praise marches, and worship on screen. I try to emphasize how these forms of worship are interconnected and influence each other. Contemporary worship music bridges public and private devotional practices. It connects online and offline communities. And it brings a variety of personal, institutional, and commercial interests into the same domain.

For many believers, this music and the experience of participating in it have come to define what worship is. This is the music they sing during a Sunday church service. It’s what they belt out in a crowd of thousands at traveling worship concerts. It’s what’s on their lips as they progress down the street in a Christian praise march. …

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Lessons from Evangelicalism’s PR Guru

Mark DeMoss represented Christian organizations through highs and lows, but we’re all tasked with representing Christ.

I’ve spent my entire professional life at the intersection of two fields increasingly held in low esteem by much of society: public relations and Christianity.

In January, nearly two years removed from cancer treatment, I announced my decision to close the PR firm that bears my name, after occupying a front-row seat for so much evangelical history. Having worked with some 200 ministry organizations and Christian-owned companies over the past 35 years and following the religion news and trends around them, it seems I’ve seen everything.

I’ve helped tell the stories of millions who professed faith in Christ through evangelistic outreaches, an estimated million men gathered for a solemn assembly on the National Mall, more than 150 million needy children around the globe receiving gift-filled shoeboxes at Christmas, hundreds of thousands of incarcerated men and women and their children being ministered to, a world-class museum dedicated to the Bible erected in our nation’s capital, and the death of the Christian giant of my lifetime, Billy Graham.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been privy to much of the underbelly of evangelicalism. From moral failure to financial scandal, questionable ethics to outright criminal conduct, and lack of love for nonbelievers to blindly partisan political engagement too often detached from the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself”—I’ve observed many of the reasons Christianity (at least the conservative evangelical brand) is viewed so cynically by so many today.

But throughout my career, I felt called to advance and protect kingdom work, inspired by the Exodus 17 account of Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses as he raised the staff of God …

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Announcing the Launch of the Global Diaspora Institute

The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has partnered with the Global Diaspora Network to launch the Institute.

With migration becoming a megatrend of our times, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has entered into a partnership with the Global Diaspora Network to launch a Global Diaspora Institute which will serve two vital functions: (1) equip, connect, resource, and mobilize missional leaders in diaspora communities in North America and beyond and (2) help churches in North America to engage with the diaspora and the Global Church.

“We simply cannot deny the enormity of how God used the diaspora to spread the work and message of the gospel. It’s at the front and center of our Christian history,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “With hundreds of millions of people living and working outside their homeland today, many of them Christian, we have the opportunity to unveil creative ways to reach our world for Christ through those from many cultures and backgrounds.”

The Global Diaspora Institute is embarking on a significant journey to help churches and Christian leaders to engage the diaspora as a newfound opportunity for the Kingdom of God to grow and flourish. The multi-pronged effort will include research, training, convening, networking, and resource creation across multiple mediums. The Institute is being launched simultaneously with a Lausanne North America Diaspora Strategy Group comprised of top diaspora missiologists.

The Institute will be led by Dr. Sam George, who serves as a Catalyst of Diasporas for the Lausanne Movement. Sam is of Asian Indian origin, born in the Andaman Islands in India, and traces his roots to St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, India. He has lived, studied, and worked in several countries. Sam holds degrees in mechanical …

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