Building on the Black Church’s Bible Legacy

How African Americans outpaced the country in Scripture-savvy—and why ministry leaders expect even more from them.

African Americans have held tight to their Bibles over the years. Amid cultural shifts in beliefs and reading habits, their demographic consistently outranks other racial groups for their reliance on the Word. Last year, the American Bible Society (ABS) once again named African Americans “the most Bible engaged in the US.”

They are more likely to own a Bible—93 percent of African Americans do, versus 82 percent of Americans overall—and more than twice as likely to say Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine, according to the society’s 2018 State of the Bible report.

“Generally, African Americans are deeply spiritual people. In my generation, many of those that were not church attendees, or even Christian, still had a great respect for the Bible,” said Mark Croston, national director of black church partnerships for LifeWay Christian Resources. “Black people love to quote and tote the Bible.”

Their tight relationship with Scripture grows out of a rich spiritual tradition and can carry on even when other markers of faith fade away. African Americans know biblical narratives on suffering and deliverance because they have lived them and experienced God’s fulfilled promises for themselves, African American church leaders say.

The latest statistics touting African Americans’ engagement with the Good Book present an opportunity to build on the legacy of the black church and bring deeper understanding.

“The results of the survey are encouraging, but they also serve as a core motivation to continue the great legacy of orthodoxy and orthopraxy,” said Earon James, lead pastor at Relevant Life Church in Pace, Florida, and pastor-in-residence at The Witness—A …

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Should Christians Quote Muhammad?

Asia Bibi’s acquittal may model how to persuade Muslims of religious freedom.

Christians breathed a sigh of relief last October when Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five on death row, of blasphemy charges against Islam. What many might not have noticed was the Islamic rationale.

Whether or not she spoke against Muhammad, Bibi was insulted first as a Christian, wrote the judge. And on this, the Qur‘an is clear: Do not insult those that invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge.

The verdict also quoted Islam’s prophet himself: “Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights … I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

And finally, it referenced an ancient treaty that Muhammad signed with the monks of Mount Sinai: “Christians are my citizens, and by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them.… No one of the Muslims is to disobey this covenant till the Last Day.”

Today it can seem like Muslims violate this covenant the world over. But does the Bibi decision validate those who insist that Islam rightly practiced is a religion of peace? And should Christians join Muslims to share verses that comprise the Islamic case for religious freedom?

CT surveyed more than a dozen evangelical experts engaged with Muslims or scholarship on Islam who reflected on three key questions when considering interpretations of Islam that favor religious freedom.

Is It True?

Pakistan’s verdict relied on three sources that inform Islam: the Qur‘an, the Hadith, and covenants.

The Qur‘an is the foundational text, considered to be dictated by Allah. The traditions, or Hadith, were collected by men, are subject to critical review, and have become …

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Abolitionism at the Tipping Point

Slavery has been around since before Moses, but International Justice Mission’s president thinks its demise is only decades away.

During International Justice Mission’s earliest days, founder Gary Haugen was parked in front of a Safeway grocery store one evening crying, worried that his fledgling nonprofit would not make payroll for its half-dozen employees. “This is how the dream dies,” he told himself, before phoning some friends for extra gifts that helped IJM through.

Two decades later, the $74 million organization has a lot of friends. Consider: A small group of donors paid to fly nearly 1,000 staff from around the globe to a conference in Dallas last September, where they joined 4,000 supporters to celebrate IJM’s 20th anniversary. Hundreds of international employees were welcomed with $50 Target gift cards and sent on chartered buses to spend them.

Donors “believed in what we were doing, believed that it was right to pause to thank and worship God for all that he’s done in the last 20 years,” said Sean Litton, IJM’s president.

Litton has witnessed nearly all of IJM’s rapid growth to become what it calls the “largest international anti-slavery organization in the world.” Litton’s time at IJM has taken him from the Philippines to Thailand and eventually to overseeing the organization’s day-to-day operations from its Washington, DC, offices. CT managing editor Andy Olsen, who himself formerly worked with IJM, sat down with the youth-pastor-turned-lawyer to talk about the evolution of IJM and the modern abolitionist movement.

You joined IJM in 2000. The organization was just a couple of years old, and combating modern-day slavery was only emerging as a Christian cause célèbre. What’s changed since then?

The world has clearly woken up to the problem. It’s …

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I Don’t Know Why the Atonement ‘Works,’ But I Know It Does

Christ taking our place on the cross doesn’t always make sense. It doesn’t have to.

Of the many positive things one can say about the analytic philosopher and devout Catholic Eleonore Stump, this one stands out: She is no coward. During her career, Stump has tried valiantly to address the perennial problem of God’s goodness and omnipotence in the face of evil. And now she has published a book, Atonement, in which she dares to offer a new theory of this pivotal doctrine.

Not unlike professional climber Alex Honnold, who scaled 3,000 feet without ropes up the daunting face of California’s El Capitan rock formation, Stump is a person of uncommon skills (intellectual in this case). But unlike Honnold, she is glad to have a few ropes—especially those tethered to Thomas Aquinas—to help her grapple with daunting topics like theodicy and atonement.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to summarize her new view as we might with other atonement theories. For example, the ransom theory argues that Jesus’ death ransoms us from the hold of Satan. The exemplary theory saves us because we are moved by Christ’s sacrificial death to take up a life of sacrificial love. Penal substitution is about Christ paying the just penalty for our sins so that we might be united with him. And so forth.

Stump’s theory could be summarized like this: God is love from beginning to end. This, of course, sounds trite, but in her hands it is anything but. Using Aquinas as a guide to the meaning of divine love, she argues that her atonement theory deals not only with our guilt but also our shame. Not only our suffering but also the suffering our sin has inflicted on others. Not only our past sin but also our current and future sin. Not only our alienation from God but our alienation from others.

Stump puts it …

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Can Anger at God Be Righteous?

The Psalms show us how to faithfully protest to God.

After I was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, I returned to the Book of Psalms anew. I started to pray with psalms that I had merely read before or had skipped altogether. While I was receiving intense chemo, a seminary student told me he was praying Psalm 102 for me.

In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins. (v. 5–6)

My heart skipped a beat. As I read on, I found that the psalm contained a complaint and a petition that I felt deeply but did not know how to express:

In the course of my life he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.
So I said:
“Do not take me away, my God,
in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.”
(v. 23–24)

Please, Lord, my children are one and three. Please don’t cut me off “in the midst of my days.” Your years, oh God, “go on through all generations.” You have plenty.

Evangelical Inconsistency

In this experience, I came face to face with an inconsistency built into my evangelical upbringing. We were a Bible-centered church, memorizing and singing verses from the Psalms along with our other more contemporary songs of praise. Yet, as I began to notice in high school, we picked a narrow band of sentiments: Praise and thanksgiving? Yes. Sadness turned to joy? Yes. Confession to God? Yes. Yet as I read the Book of Psalms, many (if not most) of the Psalms didn’t fit into these molds.

What about psalms that seemed to protest to God, to express anger and fear? I had been taught the Psalms were God’s Word given for our own prayer. But I had no way to incorporate the most widespread type of psalm (about 40 percent of the book)—the psalms …

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Why Human Dignity is a Gospel Issue

Jesus’ message was coupled with the restoration of God-given human dignity — their Imago-Dei.

I am always amazed when I read the story of Jesus healing a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhagic condition for 12 years.

You probably remember the story because, well, Jesus healed her by accident: believing that if she touched him she would be healed, the woman crept behind Jesus in the middle of a crowd and reached for his cloak. She was right: in that very instant her bleeding stopped. And she would have gotten away with it, except Jesus knew what had just happened:

‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’

But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace,’ (Luke 8:45-48).

At first glance this may seem like one of many stories of Jesus’ miracles, but there’s something else going on here. To understand it, we have to dive into the story’s historical context.

According to Levitical law, any woman who had a blood flow — whether due to her menstrual cycle or illness — was ceremonially unclean. In fact, anything the woman touched, from her clothes to the bed she slept on, and anyone who came in contact with her also became unclean. To be declared clean, a person who had come in contact with the woman would have to wash his or her clothes, bathe and wait until evening, when the impurity status was lifted. For the women — and her husband if they had intimate relations …

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Foster Ministry Gets to Keep Protestants-Only Policy—And Federal Funds

Conservative Christians cheer HHS waiver for South Carolina’s Miracle Hill.

Two years in, the Trump administration has continued to extend protections for conservative Christians to keep their faith in the public square—and in some cases, backed by federal dollars.

The latest example came this week as the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted a waiver for faith-based foster care agencies in South Carolina to restrict placements to families that share their beliefs, provided they refer those who do not qualify to other organizations.

The decision came in favor of Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian organization that recruits 1 in 6 of all foster families in the state but risked losing its license (and more than $500,000 in annual funding) due to its placement policy, which excludes non-Protestants.

HHS opted to waive Obama-era requirements that barred publicly licensed and funded foster programs from discriminating on the basis of religion, instead citing protections for faith-based organizations to participate under principles set forth in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

This move follows a trend under President Donald Trump and under HHS purview in particular to rescind earlier restrictions in favor of policies that defer to religious conscience.

“By granting this waiver, President Trump and [HHS Secretary Alex] Azar have shown the entire world that, as Americans, our fundamental right to practice religion, regardless of our faith, will not be in jeopardy under this administration,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said in a statement.

During the first half of his term, Trump repeatedly spoke of religious liberty as a priority, but hadn’t always offered specifics. An executive order on religious liberty issued his first year in office came …

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Keeping Satan’s Fingerprints Off of Your Marriage

Why husbands and wives need to suit up for spiritual war.

It was pitch black as I rode in the back of a safari vehicle, the headlights trying their best to cast a beam down the rocky path through the African bush. In the driver’s seat, a soft-spoken missionary was opening up about difficulties in his marriage: “Sometimes I’d be talking with my wife from another room, and she would burst out in tears. When I came around the corner and asked her face-to-face why she was upset, she said she had heard me say something deeply insulting. The problem was the words she had heard weren’t even close to the words I’d said. After it happened several times, we realized something demonic was going on.” As I listened, a question dawned on me that I’d never entertained before: Do demons actively work to destroy marriages?

We read in the Gospels that Jesus spent much of his ministry fending off evil spirits, and in the Epistles we find sober warnings about the prowling lion seeking to devour us. Despite this, Tim Muehlhoff identifies with many modern Christians in his latest book, Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, when he admits, “To be honest, spiritual battle is simply not on my radar.” In Ephesians 5 and 6, the apostle Paul calls Christians to suit up for spiritual war just after explaining God’s beautiful design for marriage. In Defending Your Marriage, Muehlhoff seeks to do the same.

Satan’s Jealousy

Muehlhoff begins with a biblical exploration of Satan. Mixing Scriptural data with a bit of plausible speculation, he presents an interesting case that Satan’s hatred of mankind is primarily fueled by jealousy. God uniquely bestowed his grace on humanity by fashioning them in his own image and giving them …

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A Time for War and a Time for Peace

Evangelical attitudes on foreign policy are more complicated than the warmonger stereotype suggests.

Since the 1980s, white evangelicals have been among the most ardent supporters of the Republican Party and an aggressive foreign policy. From Ronald Reagan confronting the Soviet Union to George W. Bush and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, they have been more likely to applaud the use of force than their fellow Americans. There have been dissenters—Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo come to mind—but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

We can speak with some certainty about evangelical views on these matters after 1980 because social scientists have been conducting increasingly sophisticated surveys of this demographic. In Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937-1973, Timothy Padgett explores how white evangelicals (hereafter simply “evangelicals”) thought about war and related matters before such surveys existed. Padgett, managing editor of Breakpoint.org, approaches his subject primarily by analyzing articles and editorials in Moody Monthly, Christianity Today, Christian Herald, Our Hope, and Southern Presbyterian Journal (renamed Presbyterian Journal in 1959). He recognizes that this list includes no specifically Baptist, Wesleyan, or Pentecostal journals, and, of course, his study is biased toward the views of the evangelical elites who write for these periodicals.

In spite of these limitations, Swords and Plowshares offers a thorough, accurate, and well-documented account of how evangelicals thought about war and other issues in the mid-20th century. The core of Padgett’s book consists of eight chronological chapters, each of which considers how evangelicals portrayed America’s enemies, described their own country, evaluated the use of military force, and related …

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Hillsong’s Global Appeal, Explained by Sociologists

Australian worship movement flourishes in both post-communist Budapest and post-church Seattle because it confronts the historical establishment.

“What are you saying? What are you thinking? What are you doing?” The man on stage flashes a toothy smile as he scans the thousands of concertgoers on a chilly November evening at Overlake Christian Church, a nondenominational megachurch pastored by Mike Howerton and located east of Seattle, near the headquarters of Microsoft. Last fall, Brian Houston, cofounder and global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, headlined the US-based There Is More tour, incidentally also the name of his 2018 Christian living title and worship album, recorded live at the Sydney, Australia, location.

The Hillsong music itself, with such singable titles as “Mighty to Save” or “I Surrender,” cuts across denominational lines. But in certain cultural or geopolitical contexts beyond Seattle or Sydney, the music has also served to subvert church and state confines. Kinga Povedák, a religion research fellow in Szegad, Hungary, notes how Hillsong’s music fueled an alternative, faith-based youth movement that resisted the tenets of socialism in her country in recent decades.

Through extensive interviews with Hungarian worship leaders and ethnographic study of Pentecostal and charismatic churches, Povedák notes the emergence of Hillsong lyrics in believers’ personal faith stories, as well as within the practices of congregations and religious rituals across various denominations. Young people, from Catholic to Baptist, all sing the same Hillsong tunes that they heard from Hillsong London’s team at a live festival or watched via YouTube, crossing lines that the government and decades of bitter rivalry had reinforced. Povedák labels it a “doubly alternative movement,” sparking …

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