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One formed me. The other entertained me.
On a sunny March afternoon in 2014, I found myself jumping on the L train from Manhattan to Williamsburg to interview a young, urban pastor named Carl Lentz in his luxury waterfront apartment. A trendy evangelical magazine wanted me to profile him. With its nightclub venues and award-winning worship music, his Hillsong church was attracting thousands of diverse young people from around New York City.
Lentz is now featured in an FX documentary, The Secrets of Hillsong, which examines his string of affairs and the embattled church he left behind. The four-episode exposé features a solemn and emotional Lentz sharing that he was sexually abused as a child, admitting to moral failings (from sexual indiscretions to drug abuse), and describing the conflict among Hillsong leadership and staff.
The documentary dropped the same day that another New York City pastor made headlines: Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s founder, Tim Keller, died of cancer on May 19.
In the mid-2000s, both Redeemer and Hillsong drew flocks of spiritually curious New Yorkers, and both brought in around 5,000 attendees weekly across several services. For two years during college, I attended both churches simultaneously. After growing up as a homeschooled pastor’s kid in New England, I moved to New York City for undergrad. But it wasn’t just the star-studded Manhattan sidewalks that grabbed my attention; it was also the churches led by rapidly rising evangelical stars, including Keller and Lentz.
Since then, the evangelical church has been waking up to the pitfalls of platforming and creating celebrity pastors. We’ve watched many of them fall hard into sin after they were groomed for leadership at a young age and given too much power ...
Manifesting isn’t the answer. Consenting to holiness is.
Recently, a psychologist at New York University wondered if young adults were not saving money for the future because they felt like they were putting it away for a stranger. So Hal Ersner-Hershfield conducted an experiment, giving some college students a real mirror and others virtual reality goggles where, with the help of special effects like those used in movies, they could see a future version of themselves at age 68 or 70.
Those who saw the older version of themselves in the virtual “mirror” were willing to put more than twice as much money into their retirement accounts as the students who spent time looking at their younger selves in a real mirror. What’s more, those who glimpsed their future selves were more likely to complete their studies on time, whereas those who didn’t were more likely to blow off their studies. Those who saw their future selves were also more likely to act ethically in business scenarios.
Recognizing and investing in our future selves is certainly a fruitful practice. But it remains inadequate for those who believe in Christ.
When our identity is rooted in the knowledge that we are creatures who were made by God in dazzling glory and created with an original core of goodness and beauty, we can live inspired to become the masterpieces God intended. When we catch a vision for who we might become in the future, we can begin to live as that person now.
When we can imagine ourselves in both our temporal future and our eternal future, we can be inspired toward holiness in our day-to-day lives. In his classic sermon “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis observes, “There are no ordinary people.” He continues, “Remember that the dullest, most uninteresting ...
Conservative and progressive Christians favor different approaches, and both have their place.
What would the parable of the Good Samaritan look like today?
In the United States, the man lying beside the road may well be dying from an overdose of fentanyl.
Over the course of the pandemic, social isolation combined with a flood of super-potent synthetic fentanyl pushed overdose deaths in the US to unimaginable levels, from 70,000 in 2019 to 107,000 in 2021. Will we, like the Levite and priest in Luke 10:25–37, keep our distance?
Journalist Beth Macy’s book Dopesick chronicled the current opioid crisis, inspiring a widely viewed Hulu miniseries. More recently, in Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis, Macy searches out possibilities of hope amid mounting deaths of despair.
The title of Macy’s book comes from her conversations with Rev. Michelle Mathis, who cofounded Olive Branch Ministry, a faith-based organization in Hickory, North Carolina, devoted to reducing harm and death associated with drug and opioid use. Mathis offers a compelling account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead that focuses on an overlooked element in the story:
As Macy describes Mathis’s telling, “Jesus had already performed the miracle; now, it was up to the community to do the stinky, messy work of pulling the burial shroud off Lazarus.”
This “stinky, messy work” ...
Tearfund and A Rocha see the impact in humanitarian crises now and want to organize churches to help.
When Matthew Schroeder thinks about the drought in Ethiopia—the worst in 50 years—he thinks of the starving animals and malnourished people.
When he thinks about the solution, he thinks of the need to address climate change.
“It’s not a one-off thing. It’s not a glitch,” the director of Tearfund Canada told CT.
The Christian relief organization has provided assistance through food programs established to help herdsmen who have been forced to migrate to cities as their livelihoods dissolve. But Schroeder feels compelled to do something more than help those suffering now. He wants to mitigate future droughts by addressing the problem of climate change.
The substantial increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide—caused by burning fossil fuels doesn’t have an outsized impact on the lives of Canadians where Schroeder lives in Toronto. But 7,500 miles away, in Eastern and Northern Africa, the human cost of climate change is very visible.
“We see the effects firsthand,” Schroeder said. “For us, if things get too hot, we’ll just crank up the air conditioning a bit more. But for our beneficiaries in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Sudan, it really is a matter of life and death.”
That’s why Tearfund has taken steps recently to partner with another Christian organization, A Rocha Canada, to better educate people in Canada about the effects of climate change and what they can do to help.
To kick off this partnership, they conducted a survey of 742 Canadian Christians between the ages of 18 and 40 to learn more about what they currently think concerning climate ...
The Spirit is at work, but so are the mechanisms around high-production sets.
“Bigger!” said the voice in my in-ear monitor.
I was on stage in a dark room, nearly blinded by spotlights. It was my first time leading worship at a big regional conference for college students, and one of the production managers in the sound booth prompted me to raise my hands higher, move more, clap more, jump, be more physically demonstrative.
I had always known conference worship sets were orchestrated, but this was the first time I could see the minutiae. At one point, I was told to imagine my arms attached to foam pool noodles, to keep them straight and raise them high. Each song was ranked by “energy level” from 1 to 5, and certain sessions could have songs only above a 3.
I remember wondering, Am I manipulating the people watching, singing, and listening? Am I using music to generate an emotional response in the crowd?
The short answer is yes. Worship music can move and manipulate emotions, even shape belief. Corporate worship is neurological and physiological. Martin Luther insisted that music’s ability to move and manipulate made it a singular, divine gift. “Next to the Word of God,” Luther wrote, “only music deserves being extolled as the mistress and governess of the feelings of the human heart. … Even the Holy Spirit honors music as a tool of his work.”
Songwriters and worship leaders use tempo and dynamic changes, modulation, and varied instrumentation to make contemporary worship music engaging, immersive, and, yes, emotionally moving.
As worshipers, we can feel it. Songs with lengthy interludes slowly build anticipation toward a familiar hook. Or the band drops out so voices sing out when the chorus hits. Plus the lyrics themselves can cue our behavior ...
Experts from around the world explain the consequences of the AI revolution for believers on and off the internet.
Hundreds of millions of people have used ChatGPT since its arrival last November to plan vacation itineraries, help them code better, create pop-culture sonnet mashups, and learn the finer details of their beliefs.
For years, Christians have Googled their theological questions to find articles written by humans answering questions about God and God's Word. Now, people can take these questions to AI chatbots. How will natural language-processing tools like ChatGPT change how we interpret the Bible?
Eight AI experts from around the world— and Chat GPT itself— weighed in.
Pablo A. Ruz Salmones, CEO, X eleva Group, Mexico City, Mexico
As John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (ESV). Thus, interpreting the Bible is, to a great extent, the search for Truth. Large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT don’t have, by definition, a source of truth; it’s simply not in the model—hence why sometimes they make things up and extrapolate. They are incapable of finding truth, so that even when they do stumble across it, they are unable to recognize it as such.
Thus, when reading an output of an LLM regarding the Bible, we must understand that said output does not come from its search for truth within His Word but rather from a mixed “regurgitation” and extrapolation—a.k.a. algorithms—of what others have said. As a result, ChatGPT cannot offer a new interpretation of the Bible by itself; rather, a person querying ChatGPT may find in the chatbot’s answer a new way to interpret the Bible, just as they may find it in an answer offered by a parrot. Because it copies others, the parrot ends up speaking truth, even if it has no idea it has done so. ...
Interview with scholar of American Salafism finds commonalities—and potential for engagement—between the austere Islamic interpretive movement and the Christian community most wary of them.
If one pictures “radical Islam,” chances are the image resembles Osama bin Laden, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the ISIS fighters of Iraq and Syria. And the connotation is that they are out to kill—or at least to turn the world into an Islamic caliphate.
They are known as Salafis: Muslims who bypass accrued tradition to imitate meticulously the example of Muhammad, his companions, and the first generation to follow them. After the death of the prophet in 632 A.D., the nascent faith’s collective zeal established a sharia-based global empire that did not end until the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Muslims who look like these jihadist images are found in every major American community.
Matthew Taylor counterintuitively argues that, at least in the United States, Salafis actually compare better with evangelicals—the religious group with the most unfavorable perception of Muslims in general.
Author of the forthcoming Scripture People: Salafi Muslims in Evangelical Christians’ America, Taylor argues that the Salafi impulse to return to the origins of Islam parallels the evangelical desire to imitate the early church. And both communities, as the title implies, center their approach on sacred text.
The question is: Do the two scriptures take them in radically different directions?
CT asked the Fuller Seminary graduate, now a mainline Protestant scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, to address the common concern about Salafi extremism and to advise evangelicals on how to pursue a path of possible friendship:
What makes a Muslim a Salafi?
Salafism has very deep roots in the Muslim tradition, and the term Salaf refers to the first generations of Muslims. The idea is ...
One generation of Soviet refugees is welcoming another.
Sergei Karpenko’s Chicago church is now almost entirely made up of refugees from the Russian war against Ukraine.
Many of them aren’t from a church background, so the pastor of Bible Church of Ukraine-Chicago spends his mornings eating breakfast with the new arrivals and evenings hosting Bible studies in his apartment.
“It happens by the providence of God that I am here, and God sent new people from Ukraine,” Karpenko, who is Ukrainian himself, told CT. “I never prepared myself for such a ministry. We’re making mistakes and learning. Pray for us.”
Refugees come to his church by word of mouth or through refugee resettlement agencies like World Relief. Some Telegram channels for new Ukrainian arrivals advise them to find a local church for support. Karpenko’s church—which worships in Ukrainian, Russian, and English—tells freshly arrived Ukrainians that they can contact them if they need help, conversation, or friendship.
The US has welcomed about 300,000 Ukrainians since Russia invaded Ukraine. Millions more are refugees in Europe.
Slavic churches are key to helping the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals to the US. Many of these refugees are coming in through a special program (Uniting for Ukraine) that doesn’t go through the traditional refugee resettlement agencies, instead assigning arrivals to individual sponsors.
But in some cases, sponsors disappeared when Ukrainians arrived. Churches are trying to provide a steadier foundation for the new arrivals. For Ukrainian Christians already living in the US, it’s a helpful way to process the war.
“You can’t cry all the time and sit and watch the news 24/7,” said Chicago pastor Russ Drumi, ...
The late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
This piece was adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter. Subscribe here.
“Gandalf isn’t supposed to die.”
That text appeared on my phone yesterday from a New York City pastor who worked closely with Tim Keller. It made me smile and cry at the same time. So many of us called Tim “Gandalf,” in part as a tribute to his frequent J. R. R. Tolkien references, but also because he fit the image of the sage wizard guiding us hapless hobbits out of harm’s way.
In the opening chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien writes that Gandalf’s “fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes, and lights. His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it.”
By any measure, Tim was an impressive figure—the most significant American evangelical apologist and evangelist since Billy Graham. Most people think immediately of his skill in the areas of preaching, cultural analysis, church-planting strategy, and apologetics. All of that is true. But Tim’s real business went beyond his skills and gifts. He was smart, yes, but what made him unique wasn’t intellect but wisdom.
“Well, wait, let’s think about this for a minute, Russell.”
Those words from Tim kept me from more dumb decisions than I can recount. They prefaced the counsel from Tim that kept me in my position as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. In the wake of my refusal to support Donald Trump as president, I was facing significant backlash.
“Let’s list all the people trying to drive me out that are under the age of forty,” ...
From Beirut to Barcelona, pastors reflect on his influence.
“Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthly city,” Tim Keller wrote for CT in 2006. “We must live in the city to serve all the peoples in it, not just our own tribe. We must lose our power to find our (true) power.”
Keller, who died on Friday, May 19, at age 72, launched nonprofit organization Redeemer City to City to train and develop leaders for gospel-led movements in urban settings. His decades-long experience in this field stemmed from establishing Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, a so-called “spiritual desert” in New York City. When the church was founded in 1989, there were only a handful of evangelical churches in the area. Twenty years later, the number of evangelical churches there had swelled to 197.
Among Keller’s many teachings on urban church planting is the notion of a “whole city tipping point,” which occurs when 10 to 20 percent of the population become Jesus-followers and start making visible, tangible impact on the city’s culture. Such a “city-wide gospel movement” is organic, energetic, and Spirit-led, he emphasized.
“Tim Keller taught us that to be a church that is in, for, and with the city, we need to be a present church, a church that serves its neighbors and neighborhood, and a church that’s willing to dialogue with the city and be attentive to its faults, illnesses, needs, and demands. Only then can we be Light for the city,” said Brazilian pastor Digo Karagulian, whose church ministers daily to people living in the Pilar favela (Portuguese for “slum”) next door.
CT interviewed church planters in Barcelona, Beirut, Chennai, Hanoi, Melbourne, ...
for real people
in a real world
Jesus established the church to be a community of believers, a family, to encourage each other in unity and to project His love to the world. As a family, our goal is to love each other without conditions or expectations