Think Fake News Is Scary? Try False Teaching

We learn to spot a lie by studying the truth.

The headline hit my Facebook feed at the peak of lake season: “Freshwater Shark Caught in Lake Lewisville.” Purportedly, a shocked fisherman landed a shark in the lake adjacent to my town. By the time the local news debunked the story, it had been shared over 100,000 times.

It is a classic example of “fake news,” complete with a clickbait photo of a child next to a giant shark on a dock. In a sly stroke of comedy, the fisherman’s name was listed as “Ima Lion,” and his granddaughter’s as “Shebe Lion.”

Shared over 100,000 times. The fine residents of Lewisville, minds cuing the theme from Jaws, swore never again to enter the murky waters of Lake Lewisville. My neighbors laughed in hindsight, but the fake news provider laughed all the way to the bank.

Fake news is not always as benign as an improbable shark tale. It can influence elections, defame character, incite unrest, and propagate fear. It has always existed, but digital media has given it momentum and reach like never before.

Growing awareness of its prevalence and potential dangers has reminded us of the importance of gauging the credibility of a story’s source, fact-checking its content, and analyzing its message for bias. It has also renewed our appreciation for time-tested, reliable news sources that have consistently demonstrated journalistic integrity.

Think fake news is scary? Try false teaching. The Christian equivalent to journalistic misinformation commits the same kinds of deception with much more at stake. Like fake news, false teaching has enjoyed a long history. The original misinformer appears in the earliest moments of human history, whispering into Eden’s atmosphere, “Did God really …

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God Loves a Cheerful Itemizer

Experts assess how Trump tax plan to double the standard deduction would cost ministries bigly.

If you make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, you’ll probably give less to charity under President Donald Trump’s proposed tax plan.

So says a study commissioned by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs.

Back in May, researchers from Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy ran the numbers on the Trump administration’s proposal to double the standard deduction from $6,300 to $12,600 for individuals, and from $12,600 to $24,000 for joint filers.

This week, key Republicans affirmed the plan, which also increases the child tax credit and eliminates most itemized deductions except for mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

The changes, which still have to get past Congress, would mean less money in the federal government’s pockets—and also mean less for ministries.

“The Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code is just that—a framework,” said Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). “The details”—many of which are left up to Congress to decide—“are what will tell the real story.”

Busby broke down for CT how Trump’s proposals would affect charitable giving:

  • Lowering corporate tax rates and the pass-through rates for small business are pro-growth elements, placing more dollars in the hands of those who support churches and ministries. That is good for ministries, but the impact will tend to be long-term.
  • The elimination of the personal deduction reduces available resources to make charitable deductions.
  • The repeal of the death tax removes the significant incentive for many to make charitable contributions to avoid this tax.

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Interview: Let’s Save the University from Secular Privilege

The academy has lost its pluralism. Here’s how the church can help find it.

This last school year saw a number of incendiary cases related to freedom of speech and freedom of association in the American university. Faculty have experienced what George Yancey calls Christianophobia and student groups, too, have had their fair share of fights on both private and public campuses. At Colorado State University, for example, a Christian organization called Students for Life (SFL) applied for a school grant to bring a pro-life speaker to campus and after their application was denied, filed a federal lawsuit (which they recently settled). SFL joins the growing numbers of Catholic and Protestant student groups struggling to maintain or regain a voice on campuses around the country.

Mary Poplin, who teaches at the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, has spent most of her professional career studying education, worldviews, and most recently, the subject of “secular exclusivity,” which in her opinion has played a significant part in the SFL case and others like it. The author of Is Reality Secular?: Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews, Poplin, along with Barry Kanpol, recently edited a collection of essays titled Christianity and the Secular Border Patrol: The Loss of Judeo-Christian Knowledge.

She sat down with CT in Austin, Texas, to talk about the rising secularity in higher education—and what the church can do about it.

How would you define “secular privilege,” a term introduced by David Hodge in one of the essays in your book?

Here’s a great example. When [US Senator] Dianne Feinstein interviews a candidate, Amy Barrett, for a judgeship, she presumes that she herself is neutral and that this candidate is not neutral just because she’s …

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Alan Jacobs: Hating Your Neighbor Will Make You Dumb

How tribalism and culture-warring have ravaged our ability to think.

Alan Jacobs’s wonderful new book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds never mentions the concept of black magic. But it offers a lively antidote to magical thinking nonetheless.

As any wizard knows, to practice magic is to marshal the powers of the universe into a concentrated point. Spirits, forces of nature, and other humans are subjected to the magician’s wishes. If I practice magic, I am trying to bend reality to my will. Aleister Crowley, the magician dubbed the “wickedest man in the world,” famously summed up the occultist philosophy: “Do what thou will is the whole of the law.”

This might sound like the stuff of medieval fantasy, but a quick glance at our culture confirms that habits of magical thinking are stubbornly persistent. Wherever one finds groups and individuals intent on ramming an agenda through the system—perhaps by manipulating boardroom membership, stacking organizations with the “right” people, or enacting ideologically driven purges—one finds shades of black magic. We don’t call political lobbying the “dark arts” for nothing.

Petitions, protests, and popular rallies reveal our deeply ingrained belief that voices shouting loudly in unison can shape reality. In today’s climate, many of us crave clear battle lines between good and evil and abhor anyone who dares admit that complex problems don’t have simple answers. And heaven help any poor public figures foolish enough to sincerely change their minds.

Repugnant Cultural Others

All these trends have hampered our ability to think carefully, judiciously, and generously. As a professor and public intellectual, Jacobs is well aware of the difficulties posed …

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Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?

A study reveals why relational ministry can leave our inner circle empty.

My pastor recently asked me, “Why is it so hard for people to see pastors as friends and not just pastors?” In one respect, the question caught me by surprise. He is part of a large pastoral staff of a big and vibrant church with a reputation for being highly relational. How can someone whose life revolves around forming caring relationships have a lack of friendship?

It turns out my pastor is far from alone. In a recent study, my team discovered that most relational-style pastors and missionaries average fewer personal relationships than the typical adult, and an alarming number have too few close confidants to support them in their life and calling.

Though it may be tempting to simply encourage ministers to seek more relationships, many ministers are faced with a trade-off between quality and quantity. Those with a large number of very intimate relationships have a smaller overall social network, and those who form lots of relationships have impoverished inner circles. Failing to get the right balance corresponds with burnout and ministry ineffectiveness.

Quantifying an Inner Circle

Our research is rooted in the idea that humans naturally have a certain number of personal relationships to which they gravitate. Known as “Dunbar’s Number” because it was first discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the number of genuinely personal relationships that we can actively maintain averages around 150 people but varies broadly. Some people can handle more and some less, but 150 seems to be the human norm.

Interestingly, Dunbar and colleagues note that 150 people is both the approximate size of typical small-scale human villages and about the number of people who can live or work together …

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Kaepernick, Speech, and a Job: The Cleat May Soon be on the Other Foot

Free speech is important, but is it always helpful, and how does it relate to employment?

Free speech can be quite controversial.

But this shouldn’t be surprising. If we all agreed on everything, we wouldn’t need the First Amendment. Unpopular speech is why we have the First Amendment. And, let me be clear, Colin Kaepernick was exercising his First Amendment right when he kneeled during the national anthem.

Yesterday, President Trump exercised his right to speak out when he called on NFL owners to release players who took a knee during the anthem. And when the president called on fans to boycott NFL football, that was still about citizens exercising a right.

So, none of these things is illegal. But the question is, Are they helpful?

To be honest, I don’t know much about football. Google only recently told me that Kaepernick is a quarterback. He has been protesting what he sees as racial injustice in America by kneeling during the national anthem.

Now, let me say, I’m not a big fan of “totalizing” protests—the national anthem is a symbol of many things and so much of that is good. Furthermore, the flag and the anthem represent the sacrifice of many who have fought and died for freedoms, including the freedom of speech we are discussing today. As such, I do find such protests disrespectful.

However, I do not have to be a fan of the protest to reflect on the president’s comments and how Christians might react. So here are a few ways we might respond to what is now a national conversation surrounding Kaepernick and President Trump.

First, the response of many African Americans (including fellow Christians) should give us pause to reflect on their response.

Sure, I get it. Like me, many of you are offended by people who dishonor the flag and the anthem. Patriotism is important …

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Fake Apocalypse News Shouldn’t Eclipse Real Tragedy News

There are real issues that deserve full coverage, not another fake story about the end of the world.

The need for good journalism has never been more pressing. Time and time again I have written about fake news. And over and over we find more of it, and more people believing it.

Rohingya Muslims are fleeing Myanmar for their lives. Puerto Rico is picking up the pieces after a devastating hurricane. One of the most divisive pieces of legislation in American history is being debated. North Korea and the U.S. are dancing around rhetoric last heard in the Cold War. It appears that no journalist is facing a shortage of issues and controversies worthy of their time—real issues that deserve full coverage and our attention.

In light of all of these significant and worthy issues that should deserve coverage, my question to the media is, why instead have you chosen to dedicate significant time and resources to the ravings of a poorly-credentialed conspiracy theorist like David Meade?

The “expert” of a profession that has been called ‘Christian Numerology,’ Meade has been the subject of article after article, bolstering his claims and linking his views to mainstream Christian theology. While some may see the unfounded discoveries of men like Meade as urgent news, I feel compelled to point something out: there is a lot going on in the world right now.

As I said in the Washington Post, Meade is a “made-up expert in a made-up field talking about a made-up event.” So, why is he in so many news reports today?

Taking Our Eyes Off the Good

In giving people like Meade a platform, media outlets have unwittingly legitimized his illegitimate findings. They’ve given (yet another) ill-informed Christian a megaphone by which he (and others before him) can make Christians look foolish and distract us from …

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Germans Are Welcoming Refugees as a Way to Honor Luther’s Legacy

Asylum seekers and immigrants are big part of the Reformation’s 500th anniversary in Germany.

As a young man, Martin Luther had a persistent, obsessive fear that he was cast out from God’s grace and that it was his own fault. He saw himself as a figurative refugee from the love of God. “My sin lay heavy night and day,” he wrote.

Later, he would lament, “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”

Then, after nailing his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, Luther became an actual refugee from his homeland. Roman Catholic leaders were seeking his life, and he was forced to flee and hide.

Five hundred years later, the Reformer and German icon is strikingly relevant for the issues facing Germany today. Millions of Germans feel attached to Luther and, to many of them, his example urges their country to welcome refugees.

“Luther was so human,” said Markus Ziener, a veteran journalist with the influential German newspaper Handelsblatt who now teaches at a university in Berlin. “Because he struggled, the rest of us who struggle can identify with him and find him very approachable,” Ziener said.

Luther’s quest for the grace of God led him to study theology, the Bible, and the writings of Augustine, and he met a merciful Christ he couldn’t wait to tell others about.

So when Luther wrote his 95 Theses, he was driven by a few simple, democratic ideas—for example, that the grace of God is available to every believer and that everyone is equally free to access that grace through faith. Because they were already assured of God’s love through his unmerited grace, Christians were then to help others in need. According to Luther, “God does …

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Q+A: Jonathan Falwell’s Caribbean Vacation Turned into Hurricane Relief Ministry

After Irma disrupted his 25th wedding anniversary, Baptist pastor shares how he got Samaritan’s Purse to come to the rescue of St. Martin and why he went right back.

When Jonathan Falwell saw the first signs of what would become Hurricane Irma swirling on the weather map, he moved up the dates of his Caribbean vacation—a surprise trip to St. Martin with his wife for their 25th anniversary—just in case.

He never imagined they’d be sleeping on pool loungers in a makeshift hotel shelter, coming face-to-face with the destruction of a category-5 storm, or flying home on a Samaritan’s Purse plane.

Falwell—son of the late Jerry Falwell and pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia—helped coordinate early relief efforts while stranded for days on the island, one of the hardest-hit by Irma.

“In a situation like this, I had the opportunity—and I do believe it was an opportunity—to be right smack dab in the middle of it,” he said. “I think it’s just a great reminder of how truly urgent that it is that we get the gospel out to let people see that yes, we live in a broken world, but yes, there is an answer and that answer is Jesus.”

In an interview with CT, Falwell shared his prayers, stories, and theological lessons from his time stranded on St. Martin and his involvement in the recovery since then.

What went through your mind when you realized Irma was going to hit the island?

We got down there, and we were watching the storm. The storm was picking up speed and certainly picking up power. On Monday night, we got a notification that the flights were canceled, the airport was closed, and we weren’t going to get out of St. Martin on the flight that we had intended. It wasn’t until Monday that we knew we were going to have to hunker down and make it through.

I just assumed it would be a bad storm—some …

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How Do You Solve a Theological Problem Like Maria?

Record hurricane season challenges believers in paradise to trust God amid life’s literal storms.

Christians across the Caribbean are turning to God during a hurricane season like no other. On Wednesday morning, Hurricane Maria landed on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, the strongest to hit the US territory in at least 80 years.

The night before, pastor Gadiel Ríos prayed and read the Bible during a Facebook Live broadcast with more than 100 of his congregants, asking that God intercede to protect them and allow them to bless their island in the aftermath.

“As a congregation, we help each other during the preparation time, pray together a lot more, and help on relief efforts after the event,” said Ríos, lead pastor of La Iglesia del Centro, a congregation of about 350 in Arecibo. “The evangelical church is an ever-present force before and after these dire situations.”

Evangelicals make up about 15 percent of the population in Puerto Rico, where Catholics remain the majority, according to the Pew Research Center. Many churches, including Calvary Chapel of Puerto Rico, held special prayer nights this week to pray for their island and others in Maria’s path.

In practical ways, Caribbean churches have become better prepared for the annual threat of storms each hurricane season: Buildings are constructed to endure hurricane-force winds, forecasters can better predict a hurricane’s path, and social media networks allow congregants to quickly share warnings, pray, and coordinate relief efforts.

“We deal with the hurricane season as a ‘normal’ thing in our region, but the giant scope (size, force, rapidness of development) of Irma and Maria are just of another league,” Ríos explained by email.

Maria arrived about two weeks after Irma skirted Puerto …

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