Small Town Pastors See More Than Small Wonders
March 11, 2019
Rural ministry is experiencing a resurgence in the US even as economic and demographic numbers continue their decline.
These days, living in small-town America often means living with less.
2018 marked another year of decline in many rural and small towns: economies suffering; local residents aging or moving away; and many struggling with addiction, disillusionment, or depression.
But just as the nation declares a crisis in small communities, the church has seen new momentum around rural ministry. Proud pastors from blue-collar outskirts, flyover country farmlands, and cozy mountain towns proclaim that in God’s kingdom, less is more.
In new books, blogs, networks, and conferences, these leaders resist popular narratives about rural America to instead embrace the gospel lessons they encounter when doing ministry on a small scale.
“One of the things that the rural church reminds the global church of is God’s commitment to be with people everywhere. We as the people of God have been sent to the ends of the earth and sometimes rural is one of those ends,” said Brad Roth, pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kansas.
“Not every place is going to have the same potential for that growth metric. But every place is still beloved by God and worthy of our best and most thoughtful ministry as the church.”
While plenty of materials are geared toward church growth in bigger congregations, more resources are emerging for leaders in smaller contexts. America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, dedicated its annual pastors’ conference—long the domain of megachurch pastors—to small-church pastors in 2017.
“Despite rapid global urbanization, many millions around the world continue to live in small towns and rural areas. God is calling some of us to live …
Interview: How Universalism, ‘the Opiate of the Theologians,’ Went Mainstream
March 11, 2019
Michael McClymond decries the rising popularity of an idea Christians have rejected for most of church history.
Rob Bell made a splash in 2011 with the release of Love Wins, a book that challenged settled Christian understandings of heaven, hell, and divine judgment. But as many critics pointed out in response, Bell’s musings about universal salvation relied on arguments that have been advanced—and mostly condemned—throughout church history. What explains the recent resurgence in self-described Christians affirming (or at least flirting with) universalism? In The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalism, scholar Michael McClymond sets out to answer this question by following the roots of universalist thought all the way back to the second century. His comprehensive, two-volume account maps out universalism’s development down through the centuries and critiques it on theological and philosophical grounds. Paul Copan, professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, spoke with McClymond about his book.
How do you understand the term universalism?
In theological usage, universalism is the doctrine that all human beings—and perhaps all intelligent or volitional beings—will come to final salvation and spend an eternity with heaven in God. This is a theory about a final outcome, and it leaves open the way that this outcome might be attained. One reason my book is so lengthy is that there have been many different kinds of arguments for universal salvation over the last 1,800 years. At certain points, these arguments conflict with one another, so that if someone claims to be a universalist, you might ask: “What sort of universalist are you?”
One division is between the belief that everyone goes immediately to heaven at the moment …
Should ISIS Brides Be Treated Like the Prodigal Son?
March 2, 2019
N. T. Wright suggests Jesus would disagree with the British government. Christian scholars in UK, US, and Middle East weigh in.
N. T. Wright, the esteemed theologian and former Anglican bishop, recently offered brief reflections on the case of Shamima Begum—the British teen now seeking to return home after joining ISIS in 2015—in a letter to the editor of The Times of London.
He wrote that “as a tax payer” he couldn’t fault a previous writer who warned against letting Begum come back, but “as a Christian I cannot help reflecting that if Jesus had thought like that he would never have told the parable of the Prodigal Son, which neatly marks out his teaching both from Islam and from the cold logic of secularism.”
Like Begum, American Hoda Muthana also left her home in Alabama to become an ISIS bride. Both face major government resistance as they seek to leave Syria, with the UK revoking Begum’s citizenship and the US refusing to admit Muthana, saying she never was entitled to citizenship in the first place.
CT asked scholars from the UK, US, and the Middle East: Does Jesus’ memorable parable of forgiveness inform how we treat prodigal daughters who once signed up for a jihadist group? Their answers appear below, arranged from yes to no.
Gary M. Burge, visiting professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary:
There is no doubt that two reflexes are in order when a country considers repatriating a young woman such as Begum who joined ISIS in Syria. A citizenry needs to be aware of the character of Begum’s involvement and consider if she presents a danger. But certainly, a quick-reflex rejection of her return is impulsive and reactive. We also have to wonder if there is an anti-Islamic attitude here. One might wonder if an Irish-American had once joined the IRA in the 1980s, would we have …
Did Trump and Kim’s Summit Help North Korean Christians?
March 2, 2019
Experts analyze the impact on persecuted believers after the two polemic leaders walk away without a deal.
On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as “his friend.”
At extreme odds a year ago, the two leaders met this week in Hanoi, Vietnam, with a new agreement possibly on the table. This time, Trump made friendly overtures to Kim—even going so far as to say he believed the leader had not been directly responsible for the death of an American student. But when the summit ended on Thursday, Trump walked away after the US refused to agree to North Korea’s demand that all sanctions be lifted off the country.
For years, North Korea has been one of the world’s worst countries to be a Christian; Open Doors has ranked it No. 1 for nearly the past two decades. Dozens of volunteers and employees from the many Christian nonprofits that serve North Koreans—believers and unbelievers alike—have had increasing difficulty serving the beleaguered population.
CT asked six experts from the Lausanne Movement’s North Korea Committee, which held consultations before and after the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, to weigh in. Did Trump and Kim’s summit help North Korean Christians? Their answers appear below, arranged from no to yes.
Ben Torrey, director, the Fourth River Project:
My hope is that, as a result of the Hanoi Summit, the existing regional travel restriction that is preventing US citizens from traveling to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will be lifted allowing Christian NGOs and humanitarian workers to enter the country. These workers are doing a great deal to help the ordinary people of the DPRK in the name of Jesus Christ. The US-imposed travel restriction interferes seriously with that mission.
I do not think the summit …
Grand jury indicts 3 Arizona men in connection with child sex case
March 2, 2019
Three Arizona men have been indicted as part of an investigation into child sex crimes and human trafficking, officials said.
Service dog found dead with 100 stab wounds and cut throat at Scottsdale home
March 2, 2019
A certified service dog was found dead at a Scottsdale home on Monday with over 100 stab wounds and a cut throat, police said.
Hashtag Missions: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conferences
March 1, 2019
Gen Z’s digital natives bring followers along for the experience.
“I think what I learned can be summed up like this: I can either live missionally, or live for nothing,” read an Instagram caption posted by Max Park, one of 7,000 young adults who attended the Cross Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, at the start of the year.
That week, another 40,000 showed up for Passion in Atlanta, Dallas, and Washington, DC, and more than 10,000 for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Urbana in St. Louis.
For decades, Christian college students have gathered en masse to praise, pray, and hear the Word preached at national conferences like these, then returned to their campuses reenergized about the gospel and ready to share what they’ve learned.
But in the age of social media, their testimonies don’t wait until they’ve left the stadiums; attendees like Park take their followers along. They process the event through snapshots and social media posts, proclaiming the Good News to their friends in real time.
“These past four days have been incredibly eye-opening and overwhelmingly convicting. … It breaks my heart to see how I have failed to truly live for Christ the way he has called me to,” Rachel Carroll wrote in January, beneath a picture of her smiling with a pack of friends outside Passion’s Dallas event, her third year attending.
This year marks a shift in student ministry from the last of the millennial generation to Generation Z, which the Pew Research Center defines as those born after 1996, a cutoff based largely on technology. Millennials came of age as internet connectivity spread; Gen Z never knew life without it.
At Passion, Louie Giglio declared the advent of the iPhone as one of the most formative things in their lives.
“The phone …
Willow Creek Investigation: Bill Hybels Allegations Were Credible
March 1, 2019
Independent Advisory Group releases report backing claims of pastor’s “sexually inappropriate words and actions.”
An independent investigation has concluded that the sexual harassment allegations that led to Bill Hybels’s resignation last year are credible, based on a six-month investigation into the claims against the senior pastor and into Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) and the Willow Creek Association (WCA).
The newly released 17-page report places the blame for such incidents on Hybels himself and not the broader culture at either organization, though it concludes that both the church and the association could benefit from more thorough written policies to address inappropriate behavior.
After fielding calls, conducting interviews, and reviewing forensics IT findings, the four-person Independent Advisory Group (IAG) investigating Hybels and Willow Creek found that the “collective testimony” of “allegations of sexually inappropriate words and actions” by the now-retired megachurch pastor proved reliable and would have been sufficient reason for church discipline had Hybels not left the church.
A series of allegations against the 67-year-old evangelical visionary became public in a report by the Chicago Tribune last March, where a group of former Willow Creek pastors and staff accused Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct, including suggestive remarks, invitations to his hotel rooms, prolonged hugs, and an unwanted kiss.
Hybels and Willow Creek initially rebutted the claims; eventually, as more women came forward, Hybels resigned, the church launched an investigation, and his successors and church elders stepped down last year as well.
The report into Hybels and the culture at WCCC and WCA was released this week through the church, six months after the team (Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent …
March weather chart
March 1, 2019
March weather chart
77 reasons why you're starting to forget last week's snowfall
March 1, 2019
The weather still might have Phoenix-area residents buzzing, this time about sunshine and warmth.