World Vision Flips the Script on Child Sponsorship

In the ministry’s first major innovation in seven decades, the children now do the choosing.

Almost 1,000 children in rural Guatemala gained sponsors this month from a megachurch in southern Indiana.

But in this case, it was the indigenous children in need who pondered photos of smiling faces and chose one they felt a connection with. And it was the adult donors in the United States who nervously waited, wondering who would pick them.

The role reversal, which World Vision is calling “Chosen,” is the first significant change to the Christian humanitarian organization’s bread-and-butter method of engaging Christians with the world’s needs and equipping children to live healthier and safer lives.

As World Vision explains its “simple yet powerful switch” to child sponsorship:

Chosen starts with people here in the US signing up to be chosen and getting their picture taken. That photo is sent to a community where World Vision works, to be displayed with the pictures of other potential sponsors. The community gathers for a celebration where the kids choose their sponsors. Soon thereafter, sponsors will receive a picture of the child holding their photo and a note letting them know about the child and what made the child choose them.

The goal is to empower children, letting them make the first of many choices during their sponsorship. “We are simply expressing what we believe in a new and fresh way,” Edgar Sandoval, president of World Vision US, told CT. “We are working to empower them to be agents of change.”

For a future report, CT witnessed a choosing ceremony in Chiantla, an ethnic minority community more than 10,000 feet up in the mountains en route to neighboring Mexico, where 819 children picked from photos of sponsors at Northside Christian Church in New Albany, ...

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The Lost Genius of the American Settlement

There's a reason the culture war is so ferocious.

As we accelerate into a year of intense presidential politics, CT will offer essays about how evangelical Christians understand our times and what our response should be. This is the first in an occasional series. --Eds

We live in a time of shifting sand. The avalanche of social, political and legal changes we’ve experienced has left many believers reeling. They are troubled by what they see but also befuddled about how to respond. Amid much wringing of the hands they hear some calling for a circling of the wagons; others insist we must “take America back”; still others counsel “engagement” with the culture, often on its own terms. Confused by their times, many Christians remain uncertain about “what Israel should do.”

This last phrase is drawn from 1 Chronicles 12:32. The historical setting of this passage was also a time of shifting sand. King Saul had become unstable and was all but finished; yet he was still powerful and dangerous. The young upstart David appeared to be the future, but he was scarcely a sure thing. Israel’s tribes faced a ticklish decision. Each had to decide where their loyalties should lie. The tribe of Issachar made the right decision. This, the chronicler informs us, was because they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

This is the challenge many evangelical Christians face in our own generation. Crafting a wise and godly response to what’s taking place around us requires that we understand our times. To gain that understanding, however, we must be willing to look beyond our society’s presenting symptoms to underlying causes. Only then can we make sense of our current cultural predicament.

The Backstory

Thoughtful ...

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Female Evangelical Leaders Have a Hidden Predecessor to Thank

Kathryn Kuhlman’s story offers a case study of the indisputable achievements of strong evangelical women and the equally indisputable roadblocks they often face.

“You have been called ‘hypnotic, charismatic, hypnotizing,’” said Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1974. His guest resisted. With a disarming smile, she said she was “just the most ordinary person in the world.” Carson didn’t buy it. “You’re not quite ordinary.”

With this telling anecdote, Amy Artman launches her masterful biography of Kathryn Kuhlman, a charismatic healing evangelist who emerged in the post-World War II era alongside Oral Roberts. It’s hard to say whether Roberts or Kuhlman was the most prominent healing evangelist of the day, but it’s easy to say that she was the most prominent woman in the field. At the height of her ministry, many people considered Kuhlman “the best-known woman preacher in the world.” Very few female religious leaders of any theological stripe were famous enough to snare a berth on a network talk show like Carson’s.

Kuhlman’s story is a big one, yet she has won little attention from historians. Most American religious history textbooks give her a few sentences at most and some none at all. In The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity, Artman not only rescues Kuhlman from undeserved obscurity but also crafts a sweeping interpretation of the cultural origins of the modern charismatic movement. (Artman is careful to credit her secondary sources, including Edith Blumhofer, David Edwin Harrell, Wayne Warner, and, in the interest of full disclosure, me.)

Artman—who teaches religious studies at Missouri State University—offers ample biographical details, but her main interest lies in two overarching arguments. The first is that Kuhlman was one ...

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Faithful Chick-fil-A Fans Sue San Antonio Over Airport Ban

A new religious liberty law in Texas bars the government from penalizing over charitable donations.

Less than a week after Texas enacted the so-called Save Chick-fil-A bill—which prohibits government entities from taking adverse action against a person based on their support of religious organizations—five San Antonio Christians sued the city over its decision to exclude Chick-fil-A from its airport due to the chain’s donations to evangelical charities.

The lawsuit, filed in September by members of the conservative Christian San Antonio Family Association, asks the court to declare San Antonio has violated state law; prevent the city from keeping the chain from its airport concessions; and prohibit officials from taking “any adverse action” based “wholly or partly” on a person or group’s “support for religious organizations that oppose homosexual behavior.”

Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott himself has defended Chick-fil-A, saying, “No business should be discriminated against simply because its owners donate to a church, the Salvation Army, or other religious organization. Texas protects religious liberty.”

But the city objects to the suit’s claims, in part because Abbott’s new state law, which was passed in June and enacted in September, was not in effect when the city council decided back in March to remove Chick-fil-A as a vendor in a planned airport expansion.

Laura Mayes, a spokesperson for the city of San Antonio, told the Texas Tribune, “Among the many weaknesses in [the plaintiffs’] case, they are trying to rely on a law that did not exist when Council voted on the airport concessions contract. We will seek a quick resolution from the court.”

In moving to exclude the chicken chain, Councilman Roberto Treviño ...

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Why Chris Tomlin Still Dominates Both Radio and Sunday Morning

Today’s most-sung worship anthems come from relatively few songwriters—half are by top hitmakers Tomlin, Hillsong, Bethel Music, and Matt Redman.

Each week, most churches across America turn to a relatively narrow list of songs to give voice to the congregations’ corporate praise since in recent years that Sunday morning music has increasingly resembled Christian radio playlists.

Faithlife Music ranked the top worship songs, based on three years of data from 10,000 churches using its software to display lyrics. Some familiar names appear over and over on the list. Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Bethel Music, and Matt Redman were collectively responsible for half of the top 20 songs:

  1. "Build My Life” by Pat Barrett ft. Chris Tomlin
  2. “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham
  3. “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin
  4. “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong
  5. “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman
  6. “What A Beautiful Name” by Hillsong
  7. “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters
  8. “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury (Bethel Music)
  9. “How Great Thou Art”
  10. “Raise A Hallelujah” by Bethel Music
  11. “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham
  12. “Good Good Father” by Pat Barrett
  13. “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” by Chris Tomlin
  14. “Cornerstone” by Hillsong
  15. “Lord I Need You” by Matt Maher
  16. “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend
  17. “The Lion and The Lamb” by Leeland Mooring, Brenton Brown and Brian Johnson (Bethel Music)
  18. “O Come to the Altar” by Elevation Worship
  19. “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman
  20. “Holy Spirit” by Bryan and Katie Torwalt

Faithlife Music’s trending songs resemble the latest rankings by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI); 16 of them appear on both lists’ ...

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When Satan Takes the High Road, We Take the Low Road

Why humility is one of the most effective tools for resisting the Devil.

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes,” says the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:11. We always forgive people, he says one verse earlier, because we know what the Devil is up to, and we are not having any of it. Similar logic underlies Paul’s insistence that Christians put on the armor of God: “that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). Satan has a plan, but we know what it is so we can stand against him.

I’m not sure how many Western Christians today could echo Paul’s sentiments. Many churches, anxious to avoid seeming spooky, weird, or unhealthily preoccupied with the Devil, throw the baby out with the bathwater. They hardly mention him, let alone teach people how he plans to destroy them and what to do about it. More than a handful of professing Christians don’t believe in him at all, which is just how he likes it. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled,” quips Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, “is convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Obsessing over the Devil makes us fearful and paranoid, but ignoring him altogether makes us naïve and unprepared. So it is significant that two of the four Gospels give us detailed accounts of Satan’s guerrilla campaign against the Lord Jesus (Matt 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13). Reflecting on how Satan attacked him—and how he stood his ground—can be illuminating.

According to Matthew, immediately after Jesus was baptized, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1). (This is worth remembering when it comes to the recent controversy over the Lord’s Prayer and whether God would ever lead his ...

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Interview: Kate Bowler: Why Christian Women Become Celebrity ‘Influencers’

When the path to formal church leadership is blocked, they'll naturally look for other ways to reach an audience.

Tish Harrison Warren lit up the internet with an essay for Christianity Today that asked, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?” In her piece, Warren addressed “a crisis of authority” resulting from so much de facto discipleship occurring on social media rather than in the church—a phenomenon that, for a variety of reasons, women have experienced most acutely.

Even before Warren’s essay was published, Kate Bowler, associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School, was compiling years of research on the conditions within modern American evangelicalism that helped lead to this state of affairs. She discovered that evangelical women, denied traditional means of authority within the church (and sometimes the culture), were becoming increasingly adept at tapping into newer forms of authority brought about by the age of mass media and the cult of celebrity it has wrought. In The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities, she examines how Christian women—within both conservative and liberal church traditions—have exploited the power of beauty, therapy, family, and pop art to exert authority of their own. Author and Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior spoke with Bowler about her book.

One of the unique qualities of your research and writing is that you bring the sort of personal experience to your subject that many scholars, particularly in the field of religion, lack. You have roots in a conservative Christian tradition—but you’re not mad about it. Can you talk about that?

I grew up among the Mennonites in the plains of Manitoba in a broadly evangelical tradition, ...

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A Sixth-Generation Mormon Meets a Born-Again Christian

He asked me how I knew my faith was true. I couldn’t give a compelling answer.

I was a competitive tennis player and an academic high-achiever. Whatever I did, I did it with all of my heart—and being a good Mormon was no exception.

As a sixth-generation Mormon girl, I believed that the Mormon Church was the one true church of God. I believed Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. By age six, I was convinced that having a temple marriage and faithfully obeying Mormon laws would qualify me to spend eternity in the highest heaven—the Celestial Kingdom. There, I would exalt into godhood and bear spirit children. This was my greatest dream.

As a young girl, obedience felt as easy as skipping pebbles. As I entered my teenage years, it felt more like dragging boulders. The burdens included paying a full tithe, dressing modestly, maintaining sexual and moral purity, actively attending church, and obeying the Word of Wisdom (which forbade consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, or tobacco). I longed to make myself worthy of entering the temple one day.

But there were temptations to resist. Throughout high school, Mormon friends of mine began drifting into the world of partying. Alcohol seemed to release them from the striving and shame that comes with performance-based love. It took a will of steel to resist joining them each weekend. For three years I resisted, feeling like a pressure cooker of unworthiness waiting to explode.

Testing My Beliefs

As a senior, I gave up resisting, telling myself that this rebellion would only last for a season. I jumped into the party world with the same passion I brought to the rest of my life, funneling beer without restraint. One party at a time, my conscience started shutting down. I was “unworthy”—and relieved to no longer care.

Yet even as I felt liberated ...

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Interview: Andrew Brunson Expected Persecution. He Didn’t Expect to Feel Abandoned by God.

How the American pastor handled a crisis of faith during his Turkish imprisonment.

Many of the Christians we admire most have been imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Believers like Corrie ten Boom and Richard Wurmbrand are remembered as giants of faith and perseverance, blessed with a peculiar sense of God’s power and presence even in the midst of extreme suffering. In God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance, pastor and missionary Andrew Brunson provides a raw account of his own experience as a prisoner of the Turkish government. Yet his is a story of doubt as well as faith, of depression as well as hope. Writer and former missionary Jaclyn S. Parrish spoke with Brunson about suffering, growth, and dependence on God in the face of despair.

Can you give some of the background of why you were imprisoned?

My wife, Norine, and I were missionaries in Turkey for 23 years, and we never tried to hide our work. We were surprised when we were detained. There was an attempted coup in 2016, but that didn’t change the views of the government leaders. I think it just gave them an opportunity to do many things they’d wanted to do before. It had nothing to do with our arrest; it just created a very tense environment.

When they called us in, we thought we were getting our residence permits. But then they said, “No, you’re being arrested for deportation.” Norine was released after 13 days, but they kept me. There are several reasons, and they changed over time, but the big thing is that they wanted to make an example of somebody, of a missionary, to intimidate other missionaries so that they would self-deport. And they also wanted to intimidate local believers. At some point, the government decided to keep me as a political pawn, a bargaining chip. ...

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‘Evangelical’ Isn’t Code for White and Republican

The movement is richer and more diverse than media portrayals suggest.

There was a time when the term evangelical was a badge of honor, not a cause for embarrassment. In 1976, Newsweek magazine proclaimed “the year of the evangelical,” heralding the new prominence of theologically conservative Protestants with the cover story “Born Again!” At the time, evangelical churches were expanding rapidly, and the movement, which was still politically and theologically diverse, seemed well positioned not only for continued influence but also for a positive effect on the nation’s morals. With a newly elected evangelical Democrat ready to enter the White House—and with evangelicals of both parties embracing racial diversity, antipoverty programs, and a host of intellectual and artistic endeavors—evangelicalism hadn’t yet acquired its pejorative connotations.

Four decades later, this state of affairs is difficult to imagine. The political behavior, sexual peccadilloes, flamboyant posturing, and harsh rhetoric from some of America’s most prominent evangelicals have tarnished the movement’s reputation. For some, the nadir occurred in 2016, when 81 percent of white evangelical voters cast ballots for Donald Trump, with some Christians attempting to excuse his racially charged and sexually crude behavior.

Now that much of the public equates the term evangelical with the Republican Party and conservative politics, is rehabilitation possible? Perhaps, as Thomas Kidd suggests in Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis, it helps to step back and enlarge our field of vision. Seen only from the perspective of the 2016 election, alongside the internal disputes and stagnating membership numbers that have accompanied its increasingly negative ...

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