CT Blog

Urban Mix-and-Match Religion Didn't Start with Nick Cannon

Why this 'new spirituality' is really just old-fashioned syncretism.

After waking up in the middle of the night to the high-pitched cries of my sweet daughter, I rolled out of bed to warm a bottle. With her snuggled closely in my arms, I reached for my iPhone and noticed that I had received a text message from one of the other pastors at my church. It was a link to a recent interview with the rapper, actor, film producer, and social media phenomenon Nick Cannon.

As a pastor in the inner city, I often listen to interviews and podcasts on urban stations so I can stay up to date on some of the prevailing thoughts that influence inner-city culture. With millions of social media followers, Nick Cannon has a cult-like following that adheres to his business advice, wisdom, and insight like a modern day prophet. After placing the baby down, I popped in my headphones and listened to the entrepreneur open up on a wide range of issues including his failed marriage with Mariah Carey, his new NCredible headphones, and even his belief in God.

Cannon, the son of the late televangelist James Cannon, was asked about his eccentric dress and specifically the reason he dons a diamond-studded turban. He mentioned that he wore the garb for religious significance. He'd been studying different religions and cultures, and while he affirmed his Christian roots, he'd become greatly influenced by the teachings of the Nation of Islam, The Moorish Science Temple, and a plethora of other mystical religions.

Cannon goes on to mention that Christianity was his first language but that he is now fluent in a range of different spiritualities as well. As I listened intently, it became clear that his religious worldview was based on a combination of Christian, Islamic, and Moorish thought which frames his unique, personal ...

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Courts Split on US Christians Caught Up in Turkey’s Crackdown

Deportation of evangelist David Byle blocked, while pastor Andrew Brunson still imprisoned without evidence.

As Turkey continues to crack down on dissent in the wake of a failed coup, two longtime American Christian expats are struggling to stay in the Muslim-majority nation they have long served. So far, they have fared quite differently in Turkish courts.

Last week, dozens of US lawmakers called for Turkey to release American pastor Andrew Brunson, who remains imprisoned there with limited access to his attorney and few details about the charges against him.

“We respectfully ask you to consider Brunson’s case and how the recent treatment of Brunson places significant strain not only on him and his family, but also on the robust bilateral relationship between the United States and Turkey,” read the letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and signed by 78 members of Congress.

Brunson’s wife, Norine, is praying the letter comes to the attention of President Donald Trump. After visiting her husband recently in prison—where they have been permitted to communicate through glass—she told supporters, he was “discouraged about the lack (seemingly) of action from the new administration.”

Despite attempts to appeal his case and ongoing campaigns calling for his release, Brunson faces an uncertain future in the country where he has pastored for 23 years. Over the past year, Turkey rose from No. 45 to No. 37 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.

The only American Christian detained in the Muslim-majority nation, Brunson lost his initial attempt to appeal unfounded terrorism charges, and advocates aren’t sure if he’ll be able to continue to the appeals process to a higher court.

After being denied access to embassy officials ...

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All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing

More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.

More than two years ago, suppliers forgave Family Christian Stores $127 million in debt so that it could remain open. Today, the chain—which bills itself as “the world’s largest retailer of Christian-themed merchandise”—announced it is closing all of its stores after 85 years in business.

Family Christian, which employed more than 3,000 people in more than 240 stores across 36 states, blamed “changing consumer behavior and declining sales.”

“We had two very difficult years post-bankruptcy,” stated president Chuck Bengochea. “Despite improvements in product assortment and the store experience, sales continued to decline. In addition, we were not able to get the pricing and terms we needed from our vendors to successfully compete in the market.

“We have prayerfully looked at all possible options, trusting God’s plan for our organization,” he stated, “and the difficult decision to liquidate is our only recourse.”

Tyndale House Publishers chairman and CEO Mark Taylor called the stores “an important outlet for Christian books, gifts, and Bibles for many decades.”

“All of us at Tyndale House Publishers feel a sense of grief over Family Christian’s decision to close the entire chain of stores,” he stated. “Family’s millions of customers now have even fewer options for finding these wonderful, life-giving products. The entire Christian community—indeed the entire nation—will be poorer as a result of this pending closure.

“At the same time that we share our sense of loss, we express our appreciation to Chuck Bengochea and his staff who have worked so hard over the past few years to make the ...

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Give Your Kids the Gift of Absence

Time and attention are not the only ways to bless our children.

When we first moved to Connecticut five years ago for my husband’s job, I decided that I would go without childcare. Our kids were six, four, and two at the time. I wanted to be their source of stability in the midst of their dad’s new job, a new town, new friends, and a new house.

In the years since then, I’ve learned that time is not the only gift we give our children. In fact, I’ve learned that, while parental presence is certainly crucial to children’s development, so too is parental absence. I used to think my children’s wellbeing depended entirely upon my presence, but now I believe that it is equally important to entrust them to the care of other people.

Just a few weeks ago, my husband and I had planned to leave town for a weekend away. The childcare we had in place fell apart at the last minute when my extended family came down with the flu, so I texted a babysitter to see if she could help. “That would be great!” she said. And it was.

That weekend, the babysitter and her mother—who happens to be our kids’ Sunday School teacher—sent me photos of my kids climbing in the nooks of trees near an old train tunnel and one of my daughter Penny (who’s afraid of dogs) sitting with a contented smile next to our babysitter’s dachshund. The next time I saw the mother, she asked if she could “steal our children” again because they’d had so much fun. What began as a source of stress—scrambling for help—turned into an unexpected gift, and in our absence, the kids enjoyed themselves, demonstrated courage and resilience, and became more connected to our community.

Christians talk frequently about the importance of presence, but ...

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As a Special Needs Parent, I Thought I'd Hate ‘Speechless’

Why I was wrong—and what the ABC comedy reveals about conviction and forgiveness.

When I first saw the trailer for ABC’s Speechless, it was shortly after my son was diagnosed with autism, and I was prepared to self-righteously hate it. It conjured the first and only memory I have of my child being mocked: As my son head-butted the side of a car-shaped grocery cart, an older boy in line behind us did the same. Declan thought he was being included in a game. I knew he was being excluded from one.

This is the sort of tone I feared Speechless might strike—one that generated humor by merely playing at inclusion. The 30-minute sitcom features JJ DiMeo, a 16-year-old boy who is rendered speechless by cerebral palsy, and the other DiMeos as they grapple with life as a special needs family in Newport Beach, California. Its premise reads like it should be a drama a la Parenthood. From the get-go, however, it promised to move against the sentimental current that drives most other shows about kids with special needs.

Based solely on the trailer, Speechless seemed uncomfortably irreverent to me, siphoning humor from the special needs community. As I’ve continued to watch it, though, I’ve realized this careful irreverence actually enables Speechless not only to depict the challenges of a special needs family holistically but also to raise broader questions about metaphorical voicelessness and privilege. To accomplish this, the show’s creators tap into the vestiges of a fading form of humor—namely, humor as a form of grace. This unexpected tone won me over as a viewer and empowered me to find a similar grace in my own life.

By the time I hate-watched one episode of Speechless, the sticker shock of my son’s diagnosis had worn off. We were still walking through the heavy moments ...

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Pakistan Convicts 42 Christians of Terrorism After Acquitting More Than 100 Muslims

Divergent verdicts on two of Lahore's biggest religious riots undercuts optimism for new law.

Two of Pakistan’s biggest religious riots have finally gotten their day in court—with strikingly different results.

An anti-terrorism court in Lahore has sentenced 42 Christians for rioting after two churches in Pakistan’s largest Christian neighborhood were bombed in 2015, reports Fides, the news agency of the Vatican.

The ruling comes less than a month after the court acquitted more than 100 Muslims for rampaging through another one of Lahore’s major Christian communities in 2013 over one man’s alleged blasphemy.

The 42 Christians were roughly half of those accused of murder and terrorism after two Muslim men suspected of bombing Sunday services in Youhanabad were killed. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), an initiative of Pakistan’s Catholic bishops, told Fides that they were disappointed that the church attackers have not been punished.

Also left unpunished were the approximately 112 Muslims who were arrested for ransacking, looting, and setting fire to more than 100 homes in Joseph Colony in 2013. The court found them innocent despite eyewitnesses and videos of the attack, reported World Watch Monitor.

“The evidence was not enough to prove the crime,” said judge Chaudhry Muhammad Azam.

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the NCJP, told UCA News, a Hong Kong-based outlet focused on Asian Catholics, that the Joseph Colony ruling was “quite upsetting.”

“Basically, this means that, despite video footage, documents, and pictures of thousands rampaging through Christian properties, the court has not found anyone guilty,” he said. “So mobs are free to do whatever they want.”

The two cases from Lahore, the second-largest city ...

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A Journey of Evangelism in Scripture: The Temple

History reflects a God who deeply longs to be with His people.

From the beginning of time, God’s desire and design is to dwell in and amongst His creation. God’s dream manifests a world of perfect harmony—a world where God is the natural habitat of humanity.

Yet we know the story all too well: man and woman rejected God and chose their own path, resulting in alienation, brokenness, and death. God walked in the cool of the garden and called out to a hiding Adam, “Adam, where are you?”

Even though Adam shunned his Maker, God promised to send a rescue. The enemy would eventually be defeated and God would fully be with His people once again: “The offspring of a woman will crush the head of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15).

From that moment on, history reflects a God who deeply and passionately longs to be with His people. One of the ways He does this is through the Temple. The Temple takes many forms and these forms profoundly inform our evangelism.

Temple Past

The first Temple was built by Solomon and completed in 939 BC. The Temple housed the Ark of the Covenant (which was the structure carrying the presence of God and the Ten Commandments through the wilderness and into the Promised Land). The Temple was also the place where priests offered blood sacrifices in atonement for the sins of the people of Israel. Time and again, the Israelites turned away from God but they could be cleansed from their iniquities at the altar of the Temple through animal sacrifice.

The Temple in Jerusalem was the central place of worship and the place where God could be encountered. The Lord said:

Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the ...

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Empowering Leaders for Strategic Evangelism Leadership

Leaders have the capacity to affect great changes in their communities.

This past January, I taught a class called “Missional Movements and Evangelism” at Wheaton College. One of the students in the class was Josh Fenska, who pastors Redeemer Community Church in Aurora, Illinois. Over the course of three days in class, I was reminded why I believe leaders have the capacity to affect great changes in their communities.

Josh and his leadership team realized that they were not following Jesus’ example of prioritizing care for the vulnerable and marginalized around them. But rather than jump in front of a white board and strategize their way to a solution, they began by repenting and asking what they could personally do to live out Jesus’ call to preach the good news to those on the margins.

These leaders began to seek out places in the community where they could serve and build ongoing, committed, personal relationships with men, women, and children. Before long, one of the elders developed a friendship with three Iraqi refugee children. Soon, they invited them to a Christian youth camp and those kids invited their friends. In the end, 25 Muslim and Hindu children heard the gospel and were loved on by the church. As church members watched leaders engage personally and heard the stories of men and women being transformed, their own desire to reach out to others grew as well.

A turning point in the church’s culture of outreach happened one Sunday morning when a recovering heroin addict shared the transformation that God had done in his life as he was mentored by staff member Josh Anderson. The goal of inviting the man to share his story was not so the church could pitch the mentoring ministry, and there were no ‘next step’ cards passed out at the end of the ...

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Died: Doug Coe, Humble Faith in the Halls of Power

His Fellowship is the force behind DC discipleship and the National Prayer Breakfast.

Doug Coe, the Washington DC pastor and power broker best known for organizing the network of Christian leaders responsible for the annual National Prayer Breakfast, died Tuesday afternoon. He was 88.

His death, from “complications following a heart attack and stroke,” came just a few weeks after Coe attended the prayer breakfast’s 64th annual gathering.

“Despite our personal sadness, we have joy in knowing that he is now with Jesus and at peace,” wrote Coe’s family in an announcement first posted by Patheos blogger Warren Throckmorton, and separately obtained and confirmed by CT. “All for which he gave his life and tirelessly revealed to so many makes complete sense to him now. He is with family and friends who have gone on before, perhaps saying, ‘See, I told you…’.”

“Doug Coe had a tremendous ministry that touched the lives of so many with the love of Jesus Christ,” tweeted Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. “My deepest sympathy to his family in his passing today. He will be greatly missed.”

“Doug didn’t leave home, he went home,” tweeted O. S. Hawkins, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s GuideStone Financial Resources.

Coe led the Fellowship Foundation, often referred to as “The Fellowship” or “The Family,” a network of ministries and small groups that most famously included prayer groups for influencers on Capitol Hill.

The gatherings are confidential, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, to give participants a safe place to discuss faith without fear of political ramifications. The low-profile, secretive ...

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One on One with the Small Church Pastor who "Took Over" the SBC Pastors Conference to Highlight Smaller Churches

An "average" church pastor is the president of the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Ed: You’re a small church pastor and yet you won the election to be President of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. I think there was a message that Southern Baptists were sending to themselves. Sometimes people forget what a typical church looks like in the United States. Why are small churches—which are actually typical churches—overlooked so often?

Dave: We have been using the term “average church.” The Caskey Center uses “smaller membership,” but it is the same thing.

In our convention, 96% of churches have 400 or fewer people on Sunday morning and there are about 150 to 180 mega churches that run over 2,000 at their services. That means that the heart and soul of Southern Baptist work is to be found in churches that have fewer than 500 at Sunday morning worship.

But everything in our life as a denomination seems to be designed around the mega churches. They run things. They are the speakers at conferences, which are often geared toward teaching us how to turn our churches into mega churches like theirs. We love them and appreciate them, but many of our churches are never going to be megas, and in our context we don’t want to be. We tend to ignore the twin realities that many churches are not mega churches and never will be and act as if the SBC is a megachurch factory tooled to produce one product.

We wanted to demonstrate several things. More than anything, we wanted to bless people with quality preaching of God’s word. We also wanted to show that our churches had something valuable to offer our denomination.

I have grown up and spent my life ministering in small to medium-sized Southern Baptist churches. The biggest church I served was around ...

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