Daily Archives

March 19, 2018

What Is Evangelicalism?

A simple definition based in doctrine, history, or sociology won’t do. But a vibrant stream really does exist. Evangelicalism is one of the largest and most dynamic forms of Christianity in the modern world, but there is an amorphous quality to many words that end with the suffix “-ism,” and “evangelicalism” is no exception. “Evangelicalism” does not have the hard and crisp denotation of a concrete noun such as “Jesuit.” This confusion goes back to lexical roots. The English language uses the Anglo-Saxon noun “gospel” for the Greek “evangel” but retains the Greek root for the adjective “evangelical” and the abstract class-noun “evangelicalism.” There was a time when certain Protestants were called Gospellers, but the obvious link between “gospel” and “evangelical” has now been largely obscured. As an abstract noun naming things that cannot be heard, seen, or touched, “evangelicalism” seems always in need of more concrete definition. Here history helps to clarify the meaning. In common use, “evangelicalism” deals with the doctrines, practices, and history of a class of Protestants that emerged distinctively in the early modern period, endured for three centuries, and spread to five continents. “Evangelical” identified the churches of the Protestant Reformation and their teaching, especially…

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The Focused Leader: Keeping the Mission as the Ultimate Goal

Missional leaders must cultivate biblically-shaped leadership and the gospel-structured mission. Eighteenth-century pioneer of missional theology, Nicolaus Zinzendorf, once quipped, “Preach the gospel, die and be forgotten.” Zinzendorf accurately describes the posture of the missional leader. We don’t need celebrities that dictate to us what our ministry should look like. We don’t need trends to which we conform our personality. Instead, our ministry must be formed around the principle of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We need to approach leadership with Christ-like humility and pursue the noble labor of gospel ministry. We need to preach faithfully the gospel and be forgotten as the church flourishes and magnifies her Savior and Head, Jesus Christ. But gospel ministry is filled with temptations and pitfalls that divert our focus from God’s self-directed mission to personal amusement and self-gratification. In order to keep God’s glory and calling central, the missional leader must intentionally cultivate biblically-shaped leadership and the gospel-structured mission. These two elements are not boxes to cross off on our missional checklist, but the integral structures that define and feed our mission. These two foundational ideas must interplay off each other as they inform our core understanding…

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Joni Eareckson Tada: Why Suicide Is Everybody’s Business

Society’s moral resolve hinges on the interdependence of the sick and the well. Just a few months ago, Britain announced the appointment of a Minister of Loneliness. The post reflects a rising epidemic that’s unique to 21st-century Western society: Many of us are hyperconnected online but simultaneously disconnected from substantive community. We have dozens of “followers” but few true friendships. We can connect with the world with the touch of a button—or the command of our voice—and yet we hardly know our neighbors. The net result? Loneliness. The increasingly common response: suicide. Each year, more than 44,000 people die by suicide in the United States. It is estimated that 25 times that number attempt suicide each year. And the numbers have steadily risen since 2006. Add to that the number of individuals who have chosen physician-assisted suicide—in 2015, 301 people died under Death with Dignity acts in the states of Oregon and Washington alone—and we’re facing a lot of people who have answered “Why not die?” with an empty silence. The vast majority of suicides of elderly or terminally ill people or those with disabilities occur quietly within homes and institutions, far from the media, the courts, and the public…

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Food for Thought: The Theological Life of Pi

The mind-boggling discoveries of computers and what we—and God?—still may never know. For Pi Day this year, chew on this: Does God know all the digits in pi? Or does he know the answer to the myriad of unresolved mathematical problems out there today? The great fifth-century African bishop Augustine of Hippo surely would have answered with a resounding yes, though other Christian thinkers might disagree. He also would likely have taken interest in recent mathematical discoveries made possible by today’s computers, discoveries that resurrect some of these unresolved problems. In 2016, Swiss mathematician and evangelical Christian Peter Trüb’s computer spent 105 days calculating pi out to approximately 22.4 trillion digits—the most digits ever calculated. And this past January, Jon Pace, an electrical engineer and deacon at the Germantown Church of Christ in Tennessee, learned that his computer discovered the largest known prime number and the 50th known Mersenne prime, through an effort begun in 1996 that networks thousands of computers nationwide. Primes are numbers greater than 1 that have no proper factors—the only numbers that can divide evenly into them are 1 and themselves (e.g., 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11). A Mersenne prime is named in honor of…

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Lead Us Not Into Scandal

While some other evangelicals stumbled in national news, Graham's Modesto Manifesto kept him from falling. On countless occasions during his career, usually at a press conference preceding a major crusade, Billy Graham declared that he sensed religious revival was breaking out and about to sweep over the land. In 1948, he happened to be right. During the 1940s, church membership in America rose by nearly 40 percent, with most of the growth coming after the end of the war, as the nation tried to reconstruct normalcy on the most dependable foundation it knew. Church building reached an all-time high, seminaries were packed, secular colleges added programs in religious studies, religious books outsold all other categories of nonfiction, and Bible sales doubled between 1947 and 1952. While Graham and his colleagues in Youth For Christ (YFC) and the Southern Baptist “Youth Revival Movement” were packing civic auditoriums and stadiums, William Branham, Jack Coe, A. A. Allen, and Oral Roberts were filling stupendous nine-pole circus tents with Pentecostal believers desperate to see afflictions healed, devils cast out, and the dead raised. For evangelists, it was like being a stockbroker in a runaway bull market. As in other fields, however, the boom attracted…

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