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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America’s Surrogacy Bump: Is Fertility a Blessing to Be Shared?

Pro-life carriers and Christian bioethicists navigate the patchy landscape for assisted reproduction.

Following months of infertility treatments, Meg Watwood cried in joy when her first ultrasound revealed healthy twin babies. At the doctor’s office three years later, when a scan showed she was pregnant with twins again, there was another mom in the room celebrating.

This time, Watwood was carrying the babies for her.

Amid all the waiting, testing, and praying for her own twins, Watwood had developed a deep compassion for families stung by infertility. She felt called to help, so much so that she offered up her womb to two little embryos from a fellow couple struggling to conceive.

Then last year, she did it again for another couple.

Doctors had deemed that hopeful mom-to-be unable to carry a pregnancy after several failed rounds of intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). The couple, a pair of Texas lawyers who shared Watwood’s pro-life convictions, wanted to give the additional viable embryos they had produced a chance. They were connected to Watwood, a Southern Baptist, by a local surrogacy agency.

“God called me to seek out what seemed like unconventional ways to serve others,” said Watwood, now a 39-year-old mother of four. In the surrogacy process, “Some things will be hard … but you’ll be blessed so far beyond what you could even imagine.”

Watwood is part of America’s rapidly growing surrogacy movement. The number of babies born through surrogacy in the United States, though still relatively small, has quadrupled in just over a decade. And despite ethical questions surrounding the practice, demand isn’t slowing.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, surrogates gave birth to 2,807 babies in 2015, up from 738 in 2004. …

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It Is Not Good for Man—Or Immigrant—To Be Alone

Why pro-family immigration policy is God-honoring and good for the country.

Last summer, I visited a gathering in my neighborhood for some outdoor fellowship on a neatly manicured lawn. There were picnic tables, singing, and steaks in steam trays to feed perhaps 40 people. The group had grown in size over decades, meeting regularly and serving one another, watching each other’s children, fixing roofs, shoveling driveways in winter—including mine.

It was not a church. This reunion of brothers, aunts, children, and grandparents was for an aging Mexican man’s birthday party. It offered the clearest picture I’ve seen of the outcome of so-called “chain migration.”

Political debates about America’s immigration system have increasingly focused on family reunification, the cornerstone of US immigration policy for the last 50 years. The opportunity for lawful residents and citizens to sponsor certain relatives and bring them to America accounts for a majority of immigrants admitted in recent years.

The doctrine was not particularly controversial for the first few decades of its existence. But in the 1990s, academics innocuously minted the term “chain migration” to refer to the idea that people, naturally, like to live near family. It was quickly applied to family-based immigration, however, and weaponized by some who feared an imminent tsunami of low-skilled, cultural “others” would follow their relatives to the United States and wreak havoc on our society and economy.

That our immigration system is bafflingly complex and ineffective is a point of agreement on all sides of the issue, and there is much room for debate about how America should balance its dual ideals of security and hospitality. But Christians should be wary of efforts to do so …

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The 6 Songs Billy Graham Picked for His Funeral

(UPDATED) The evangelist planned his own ceremony. Experts analyze the music he chose.

As Billy Graham is laid to rest in North Carolina today, the 2,000 invited funeral attendees will listen to—or sing together—six songs. Graham, who planned his own funeral [see CT’s live report], was the one who chose them.

In this, he seems to have taken the path of his longtime music director Cliff Barrows.

“I want a lot of music,” Barrows instructed Billy Graham Evangelistic Association choir director Tom Bledsoe before he died in 2016. “And I want the people to sing.”

Graham’s six picks:

  1. “Until Then” (Stuart Hamblen, 1958), performed by musical artist Linda McCrary-Fisher
  2. “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (Edward Perronet, 1779), congregational singing led by Bledsoe
  3. “Above All” (Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, 1999), performed by musical artist Michael W. Smith
  4. “Because He Lives” (Bill and Gloria Gaither, 1970), performed by the Gaither Vocal Band
  5. “To God Be the Glory” (Fanny Crosby/William Howard Doane, 1875), congregational singing led by Bledsoe
  6. “Amazing Grace,” bagpipe escort led by Pipe Major William Boetticher

CT asked worship and hymnody experts what they thought of Graham’s choices:

John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of worship, theology, and congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary:

Each of these songs echoes central themes in Graham’s ministry: All glory be to Jesus, whose death and resurrection set us free from sin. There is also a steady focus here on life with Jesus in heaven, a hallmark of evangelical piety, a strong emphasis on one’s own individual and personal affirmation of faith, …

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Congrats, Billy: Stats Show Your Evangelical Movement Is Still Going Strong

Born-again believers have kept the faith over four decades, while most religious switching has been between mainline Protestants and the “nones.”

Editor’s note: In 2014, CT reported how a massive survey by the Pew Research Center found that American evangelicals were weathering the “rise of the nones” much better than other Christian groups. Today, as Billy Graham’s funeral takes place, an analysis of social science data shows the movement the 99-year-old evangelist embodied remains surprisingly strong.

The religious landscape is a volatile one, with nearly 1 in 5 Americans switching their religious tradition from 2010 to 2014.

We’ve previously examined how Protestants and Catholics changed churches, as well as which segment of the religiously unaffiliated returned to church most, during that four-year window examined by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES).

However, what happens when the time period under study is expanded, from four years to more than four decades? Are evangelicals managing to hold on to their share of the US population? Have those with no religion made significant gains? And what is causing the shifts?

The General Social Survey (GSS) has tracked religious affiliation biannually, beginning in 1972. It provides an unmatched summation of a generation of religious movement. The visualization below, which displays the distribution of seven major religious traditions, tells a compelling story.

For smaller groups, the movement is relatively minor. Since the early 1980s, the Jewish share dropped by about a single point; black Protestants stayed relatively stable; and those with “other faith” remained about 6 percent of the US population.

Similarly, evangelicals and Catholics have almost the same proportions of the population as they had back in 1972. While evangelicals saw a surge in the early 1990s, that …

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