What Edith Blumhofer Taught Me on Writing About Strong Women

A tribute to a pathbreaking Pentecostal historian who also knew the value of a cannoli to a grad student.

When I started writing my biography of Charismatic evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman, I went to Edith Blumhofer for advice. Edith wrote a masterful biography of Pentecostal superstar Aimee Semple McPherson, and another of hymn writer Fanny Crosby, so she knew more than anyone the challenge of writing about strong women in conservative Christian contexts—women who were held to unattainable standards, lived and ministered under intense scrutiny, and sometimes stumbled into ignominy. “People always want to talk about the scandal,” Edith warned me. “You have to talk about the scandal, of course, but you can determine that it won’t be the center of the conversation.” Help the reader to understand the larger story of the person under scrutiny, Edith recommended. And always let these women be human.

Edith, who died on March 5 at the age of 69, was a renowned historian of American Christianity, who wrote groundbreaking books on the history of American Pentecostalism, the Assemblies of God, Christian hymnody, American evangelicalism, and clear-eyed biographies that were deeply sympathetic but never hagiographic. She was also a gifted and beloved teacher. In both her professional work and personal life, Edith saw the human.

I met her in in the late 1990s when I was a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Dr. Blumhofer, as I knew her then, was the Associate Director of the Pew-funded Public Religion Project. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in one of the Project conferences, held at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago. New to Chicago and to the academic world, I was completely freaked out by the whole experience. I had a social anxiety attack of epic proportions—but Edith …

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Moving from a Country Club to a Commissioned Church, Part 2

True church growth transfers people from the domain of darkness into the glorious light of Christ.

On Thursday, we looked at the first three shifts to experience transformation in our churches. Today, I’ll share the final three.

Shift 4: The church must make the shift from swapping members to having the primary growth strategy of going after people who do not yet belong

This seems to be where most churches struggle. According to Rick Richardson’s research, only 40 percent of the churches in America are growing. However, only 10 percent of these churches are experience growth through conversion. That means the other 30 percent of churches that grow are doing so by swapping members. [See his book, You Found Me.]

Don’t misunderstand me here. It’s not like I’m against transferring from one church to another. I realize there are many good reasons to transfer church membership. Other church leaders have written some good articles about this.

What I am suggesting here is for churches to stop relying and [even] celebrating “growth” when the growth has been predominantly through transfer. The reality is, transfer growth is inflated growth. It’s not like transfer growth pushes back darkness. True church growth transfers people from the domain of darkness into the glorious light of Christ.

If we were honest, much transfer growth happens with disgruntled members over tertiary or preferential issues. And rather than sit down to talk about the issue, they leave without notice.

If I had to guess, there are a lot of serial transfer memberships, because if you leave one church because of issues, it is only a matter of time before you leave another church. Why? Because all churches have issues! All churches are made up of imperfect people being perfected into the image of Christ. Therefore, it …

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Why German Evangelicals Are Praising God in English

Through worship, they can connect to the global body of Christ.

English is the first thing you notice at Hillsong Berlin. The church was meeting at the Kino in der Kulturbrauerei—a movie theater in a historic brewery, just one tram stop from the last standing section of the Berlin Wall—but on Sunday night the sign out front said, “Welcome Home.” A smiling cadre of young, fashionable, and diverse volunteers from around the world greeted people in accented English.

Inside, the entire service is in English, including the sermon and all the worship songs. Participants sing “Wake,” “What a Beautiful Name,” and “King of Kings.” Most international Hillsong churches translate their services from the local language into English. In Berlin, there is no translation. The service is just in English. That isn’t Hannah Fischer’s first language, but that’s part of why she comes to Hillsong Berlin.

“People from outside Germany can’t really understand how awkward it is to be Christian here,” she said. “I could never praise God like that in my language.”

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther insisted that Christians needed to hear the gospel in their own language, in words they could understand. When the Reformation swept Germany, people abandoned Latin worship for German prayers and praise.

Today, however, German Christians like Fischer are turning from their own language to a more global tongue: English. They say the foreign language allows them to loosen their German identity, praise God in an uninhibited way, and connect with a global, cosmopolitan Christianity.

Deborah Justice, an ethnomusicologist at Syracuse University, researched transnational evangelical groups in Germany, including Hillsong, …

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Coronavirus and the Church: CT’s Latest News and Advice

Here are CT’s latest articles on how churches around the world are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and how Christians can best be faithful in this season of coronavirus.

We also offer translations of our Martin Luther reflection—which a Singaporean Christian leader called “by far the most scripturally balanced article I have found on what the Christian’s response should be to the coronavirus”—in Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

You can also download a free CT resource, A Concise Coronavirus Guide for Churches, as a PDF at morect.com/coronavirusguide.

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Real Love Requires a Command

Strangers and enemies don’t come naturally.

In a familiar passage from Mark’s gospel, Jesus gets asked what matters most. Embroiled in a cauldron of theological unrest over taxes and what happens after we die, Jesus impressed with agile wisdom. An Old Testament Law professor, overhearing, interjected his own question: “Of all the commandments, which is most important?” (Mark 12:28). There were over 600 commandments in Old Testament Law, the Torah, addressing practically every aspect of Jewish life. Earnest followers of God wanting to live morally had a hard time keeping track. Distill it down for us, will you?

Typically with law professors, Jesus presumed a trap. He’d answer their questions with questions or tell parables with punch lines to trap them. This time, however, at least here in Mark, Jesus perceived his inquirer to be a straight shooter. So he answered plainly: “The most important one . . . is [to] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (vv. 29–30). Orient your entire self in worship to the Lord and everything else falls into line.

This first command is known among Jews as the Shema, from the Hebrew word meaning listen. The Shema hangs on observant Jews’ doorposts, is recited twice every day, and is sought to be the last words spoken at one’s death. I knew a sweet Christian saint who sang the Shema three times a day with his wife. He said he sang it so often because he didn’t want to forget to do it, since, as we all know, loving God is one of those things that if not done deliberately never happens by itself.

Jesus proceeded to add a second commandment, which he equated with the first: “‘You shall love your …

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5 Reasons to Invest in A Custom Home

If you are on the hunt for a new home, then you are certainly in for a long process. From consulting a real estate agent, browsing through the long list of pamphlets, touring an abundance of pre-owned homes, and then making a series of offers, it can be quite stressful. However, there is another route you can take to find your dream home and avoid the mundane routine of the buying and selling processes, and that is investing in a custom home. Having a custom home not only gives you the perfect sanctuary that you have always dreamed of, but it also offers a significant amount of other benefits as well.

1. You can Build Where You Want

If you have ever found a great home, but hated the location, then a custom home can remediate that from ever happening again. You can decide where you want to build and know right from the start that you will love the location. 

2. Built To Satisfy Your Needs

Everyone has deal-breakers that can turn them away from buying a home. Maybe you prefer brick over wood, or your home must have three bathrooms. With a custom home, you can ensure that everything you need or want will be built into the design so you can be fully satisfied. 

3. Custom Homes Are Safer

With the advancements of technology and construction, newer homes are much safer than older ones that were built before the rise of improved methods. Improvements include eco-friendly AC units, garages with infrared beams, hardwired smoke detectors, and materials that are made up of more organic compounds. Collectively, these elements combined make your home much safer to live in.  

4. New Construction Homes Have Great Warranties

One thing you will not be able to get buying an older home is a warranty. This means that anything that happens to the house once you own it is your responsibility. However, when it comes to a custom home, many construction builders offer warranties that will cover an array of issues that they will fix over a period of time, saving you a lot of money. Remember, not all builders have this, so make sure to do your due diligence and research ones that provide it so you can reap the benefits.

5. Enjoy a Brand New Home

Since most homes that are for sale are older, they can come with problems and costly maintenance repairs. They can also feel worn down and old. With a new custom home, you get the enjoy the newness of it and not have to worry about age-related issues for a long time.  


Moving into your dream home that has been entirely designed by your vision is undoubtedly exciting. Not only will this project take a lot less time than traditional home buying processes, you have complete control over every detail, making it perfectly fit for you. If you feel that a custom home is the right choice for you and you decide to embark on this journey, you can solidify your confidence that the end result will be exactly what you want. 

How to Build Trust in Science Within the Black Church

Q&A: Minister and scholar Cleve Tinsley says conversations should address history of inequality and include representation from black scientists.

The conservative Christian who sees science as a threat to faith is a common stereotype. Religious studies scholar Cleve Tinsley IV points out, however, that this view lumps conservative black Protestants into the same category as conservative white evangelicals, neglecting how African Americans’ unique history and justice concerns could shape their views of science.

For Tinsley, whose spiritual formation happened within black evangelicalism, the church was his first site of critical inquiry that set him on a path to become a scholar. Since he is also a minister, he recently used his connection to African American churches to engage congregants in a sociological study.

As part of broader nationwide research at the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University, Tinsley and his colleagues studied three black Protestant congregations—two lower income and one higher income—in Chicago and Houston. Interviewing 50 individuals, they explored how factors like income and education affect views on the relationship between science and faith.

Tinsley and his team wondered whether congregants would mention the history of abuses by the scientific community against African Americans, such as the Tuskegee study from the 1930s-1970s that withheld effective treatment from black men with syphilis or the use of Henrietta Lacks’s “immortal” cells beginning in the 1950s without informed consent.

They found that respondents held a cultural memory of scientific research that reinforced ideas of black inferiority (though they didn’t mention specific events), along with faith concerns that sometimes compounded mistrust of scientists.

Many respondents in the lower-income congregations, and a few in the higher-income …

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Democratic Christians Weigh Their Primary Concerns

The presidential contenders are wooing religious voters. How do the faithful make sure God isn’t a political prop?

Pastor Telley Gadson was the calm center of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, as the congregation prepared for a visit from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and a North Carolina congressman who would speak on Biden’s behalf. The historic black church is known as the 9-1-1 because of its street address. And the church did seem like it was responding to a minor emergency Sunday morning as people rushed around to get ready.

An usher burst into Gadson’s office to announce a reporter from Christianity Today just as two deacons hurried out to make sure good seats had been saved for the Biden campaign staff. But Gadson was calm. “It’s just another Sunday at the 9-1-1,” she said.

The service kicked off with an organ trio, an amplified Hammond backed by thumping bass and drums. As the music started, about 100 people found their places in the purple upholstered pews and another 25 or 26 got up on stage. Everyone started praising Jesus.

A minister stood up and said the thing black Christians say across the South when they gather to worship: “I want to thank the Lord who woke me up this morning.” And the people sang more.

Then it was the congressman’s turn. G. K. Butterfield, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, got up in the pulpit to deliver his message, and the church got quiet. Butterfield said, “I’m here to ask you to support my friend Joe Biden. And it’s easy to do, because I’ve known Joe Biden for a long time.”

Democratic candidates are doing an unprecedented amount of faith outreach this presidential primary campaign. Some Democrats in the past have talked about their faith, like Jimmy Carter and Barack …

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The Cross Changes Everything

Why the Crucifixion is the center of our theology—and our lives.

The cross of Christ is the center of salvation. It is the crucial point, the place of convergence where everything about the gospel comes together. If you interrogate Christian faith and ask, “In one word, how does God save sinners?” the response of a healthy faith will be instantly and confidently to pick out the Cross.

Of course a healthy faith will also ask, “Please, may I have more words than one?” The Cross is meaningfully central only when it is recognized as the center of something vaster. Salvation in seven terms might include, along with the Cross, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, not to mention the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Salvation in 20 words could be explicit about even more ideas that are presupposed in a shorter answer. O for a thousand words to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, to paraphrase Charles Wesley! Christian faith is fluent and eloquent when it comes to salvation; speaking as a theologian, I would love to tell you about salvation in as many words as you will permit me. But just as strong as the impulse to elaborate on the greatness of God in the work of salvation is the impulse to condense the whole message to the key point.

Yet the condensed statement is always meant to call to mind the larger reality. Whenever we say anything about the Cross, we are almost always using a figure of speech called metonymy. A word functions as a metonym when we use it to refer to something else, usually something larger to which it is closely related. When Paul says he boasts only “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14), he is using one thing (a large, wooden object …

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Black Theology Sings of Freedom

To be black and to be Christian is to remember the brutality of our experience and the brilliance of our resistance.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night just to touch him, to lay my hand on him and whisper a little prayer. I am reminded of all the families who prayed over children who never returned again. You just never know.

Prayer can seem like all we can do for young people that look like my son. Imani Perry, in her letter to her sons entitled Breathe, lamented, “There are fingers itching to have a reason to cage or even slaughter you. My God, what hate for beauty this world breeds.”

I know the feeling. Just last summer, during a run, an older white man started taking pictures of me and telling me that I “didn’t belong here.” On the walk home, I stopped, bowed my head, and cried. These were not tears of weakness. I cried because I felt what many of those who looked like me have felt: the tragedy of blackness in an unloving world. My tears were my song, with a “fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still.”

When I arrived home, I told myself: You are black. You are known. You are loved. You must survive. I understand the caged bird a little better now. In its weakness, he opens up his throat still. The caged bird must sing.


Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit. No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these crossroads; has …

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