CT Blog

Are Christians Donating Too Directly to Missions?

When helping hurts the professional helpers.

Long before Google Maps, a couple of guys in a garage in California figured out how to use personal computers to create a digital map of the global church.

It was 1983, and their two-year project—meant to help organizations see where to send missionaries and who still needed translations of the Bible—grew into an organization called Global Mapping International (GMI).

GMI spent the next 34 years supplying products such as missions maps and studies on how missionaries could thrive. It didn’t charge missions agencies very much and supplemented by asking for donations.

In June, GMI closed its doors, unable to draw enough funding from today’s givers.

“The attention span of the donor is much shorter, and their desire for tangible, immediate impact from their gift is much higher,” said GMI president and CEO Jon Hirst.

Up-and-coming donors are bringing with them a new set of priorities. Nearly a quarter of millennial Christian givers (22%) say efficiency and effectiveness are good reasons to support an organization, compared to 12 percent of those over 35, according to a groundbreaking study by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). It asked about the motivations of more than 16,000 donors to Christian ministries.

Younger donors also are more likely than older donors to research an organization before giving (96% vs. 88%), as well as to choose ministries that do long-term humanitarian work such as caring for orphans (89% vs. 85%) or providing education (76% vs. 68%). They’re less likely to favor things such as making the Bible available (90% vs. 96%), teaching Christians to live as disciples (77% vs. 83%) or strengthening marriages and families (70% vs. 76%), ECFA reported. ...

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Black and White Christian Leaders Lament Charlottesville

Conference call tries to turn ‘pain and anger’ into ‘resolve and commitment.’

They’re angry and sad and scared.

About a dozen Christian leaders shared their reactions to Charlottesville on a Friday conference call organized by Civilitas Group president Doug Birdsall.

“We want to hear of the pain and anger from African American leaders, and we want to hear the resolve and commitment from white leaders,” stated Birdsall, past leader of the Lausanne Movement and the American Bible Society, in an explanatory email. “We also want to hear the pain and anger from white leaders, and the resolve, commitment, and vision of African American leaders.”

The call came amid public condemnations of white supremacy and racism issued by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the World Evangelical Alliance. “Racism should not only be addressed after tragic events, but regularly in our communities of faith,” stated the NAE. “Churches in the United States can lead the way in combatting attitudes and systems that perpetuate racism.”

“The greatest crisis revealed by the election and post-election reality we live in is the exposure of the white American church’s participation in and identification with racism,” stated Fuller Seminary president Mark Labberton in advance of the call. “That this has been historically true is an unlamented fact, and that it is and will define our future seems to me unquestionable.

“Disillusionment with the church and Christian faith has many elements,” he stated, “but this fundamental inconsistency to demonstrate we are living out the faith we proclaim must be high on the list of causes.”

“I feel the frustration of Moses,” said Mark Whitlock, executive director of the Cecil ...

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The Centuries-Old Habits of the Heart

How our accomodation of sin found us out in Charlottesville.

The tragic events in Charlottesville have captivated the attention of the nation, plunging us, yet again, into another period of deep soul-searching over our anguished racial history. President Donald Trump drew criticism from both sides of the aisle for his reluctance to condemn white nationalism specifically in his initial remarks.

As a scholar of political rhetoric, I understand, yet strongly disagree with Trump’s strategy in refusing to condemn white nationalism specifically. A vocal part of his base aligns with this philosophy, leaving him little incentive to risk alienating them. When former Klansman David Duke endorsed Trump during the campaign, the candidate expressed similar hesitancy in distancing himself from white nationalism.

Trump deserves strong criticism for his failure to specifically and clearly condemn white nationalism. The lure of power and votes do not justify his silence. Yet, to criticize an unpopular president is easy. Perhaps the harder, more difficult task we face in the wake of Charlottesville is to consider how we as citizens and Christians engage in a similar type of silence on a regular basis. Many of us mobilize in defense of ideals of equality every time an incident like Charlottesville occurs but quickly retreat to our comfort zones when public attention dies down. Daily battles for equality in church, education, employment, and the criminal justice system are much harder to maintain.

Trump’s silence on white supremacy was not an aberration but a cultural norm. Our disgust with his statement threatens to blind us to the ways in which the American imagination has consistently made room for the ideas of white supremacy to exist alongside core values like freedom, justice, and equality. ...

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'House of Cards' Keeps Scraping the Bottom of Evil’s Barrel

After five seasons, it’s high time the Underwoods’ crimes come home to roost.

This article contains potential spoilers for House of Cards, Seasons 1–5.

Netflix’s House of Cards is now in danger of overstaying its welcome. At five seasons, the story feels bloated, its characters stretched thin. Despite its largely depleted resources, however, there remain a few slender elements that could salvage the show. Though I rolled my eyes at the final episode’s open-ended conclusion, I’ll reluctantly concede that another season of House of Cards might restore some of the show’s bite.

With its muted color palette, finely crafted dialogue, and expert performances, House of Cards wears its prestige drama getup well, but that’s not enough. As the promising but lackluster Ozarkhas recently demonstrated, high production values don’t guarantee a story’s success, and House of Cards season 5 doesn’t quite convince us that what’s happening on its elaborate sets really matters.

The series has always struggled with one major challenge: How do you make a static character interesting? Francis (Frank) Underwood arrives onscreen as a fully-formed monster. From his callous killing of a wounded dog in the show’s opening scenes to his gleefully blasphemous antics in an empty sanctuary, we know immediately that Frank’s insatiable appetite for power is matched only by his ruthless ambition—that he’ll do anything to get what he wants. We may be horrified at the lengths to which he’ll go to secure his wishes, but we’re certainly not surprised.

Compare this to a show like Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad, where we witness a moral transformation that’s as plausible as it is horrifying. (Gilligan pursues a similar trajectory in the stunning ...

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Without Action, We Are Hypocrites

Jesus isn’t impressed by our feelings of moral outrage at injustice.

The influx of Jewish refugees into the United States during World War II led to a significant increase in the level of anti-Semitism in this country. The 1947 Academy Award winning film Gentleman’s Agreement confronted this blatant discrimination in areas such as jobs, housing, health care, and social structures.

Toward the end of the film, we see a conversation between Kathy and Dave, a life-long Jewish American. Kathy declared to Dave that she is not prejudiced, which she supported with the fact that she conceived of the writing of an article on anti-Semitism. She went on to reinforce her open-mindedness by telling Dave how offended she was when a man at a dinner party told a bigoted joke and used racial slurs.

Dave responded by asking Kathy what she did. She replied, “I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to get up and leave. I wanted to say to everyone at that table, ‘Why do we sit here and take it when he is attacking everything we believe in?’” Rather than responding, Dave repeated the questions and asked what she did. She replied, “I just sat there, I felt ashamed. We all just sat there.”

Kathy ultimately realized that sitting there condoned the prejudices. Without action, nothing would change.

Like Kathy, many of us just sit there when we are faced with the realization of the things that break God’s heart. We hear of prejudice or sexual slavery or poverty or of unsaved people, but we just sit there. Like Kathy, we may feel ashamed or get upset when people attack everything we believe in; however, many of us stay at the table and do nothing. We congratulate ourselves on our personal feelings of outrage or on our good intentions to do something—similar to Kathy’s ...

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I’m a Rare Breed: An Elite Chess Player Who’s Open About His Faith

Why I follow Jesus publicly, even when people warn that my career will suffer.

On the small planet where elite chess players dwell, very few people worship Jesus Christ. If anyone discovers that you’re one of those “superstitious,” “narrow-minded idiots,” you’re likely to see nasty comments accumulate on your Facebook fan page. On a regular basis, I receive emails from strangers lecturing me about the dangers of following Jesus. Out of pity or disgust, they wonder how I, the world’s second-ranked chess player, can be so “weak-minded.”

I have been assured that identifying openly as a Christian will interfere with sponsorship, support, and invitations to events. I have been told that spending time reading my Bible, praying, and going to church will inevitably weaken my performance. People plead with me to at least keep quiet. They say thanking God publicly makes me look ridiculous.

So why did I make such a risky move?

Playing it Safe

The Philippines, where I grew up, is a country of God-seekers. People mention God all the time, in just about every context. Everyone believes he exists, even if they’re unwilling to claim much more than that.

As a child, I was informed that you needed to be a good person so that God would give you certain blessings, like food and jobs—which are very important in such a poor country. But this confused me, because it seemed like the bad people received more than the good people. I knew of many famous crooks who went to church, wore religious symbols, and got tattoos of Jesus or a crucifix—and they were pretty rich.

Clearly, many popular beliefs and practices were less a matter of worshiping God than of appeasing the god of luck. One legend had it that if you rubbed a particular part of a particular statue, ...

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Commentary: It’s Not Only Bullies Who Boast

We’re too quick to ignore one of Paul’s most persistent warnings.

This is a good year to think about boasting. That’s true for at least three reasons. Trivially, because American public discourse involves an unusual amount of boasting. (We’ll fix health care for good, or crush ISIS, or “make America great again.”) Historically, because this is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which Martin Luther (among others) saw as a call for the church to boast not in works, but solely in the Cross of Christ. Theologically, because the contemporary church hardly ever mentions the concept—even though the apostle Paul mentioned it dozens of times in just a few short letters.

The problem could be our fairly childish perspective on what counts as “boasting.” To modern ears, it sounds like a six-year-old saying, “My dad is bigger than your dad,” or a professional wrestler’s trash-talk, or perhaps a presidential Twitter feed. So when we hear Paul railing against boasting in anything other than Christ crucified, we might assume it doesn’t apply to us. Boasting? I haven’t done that since “I’m the king of the castle.”

In the ancient world, however, boasting was not just child’s play; it was deadly serious. You would boast as you went into battle, reassuring yourself that victory was certain. Goliath did it to David: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field” (1 Sam. 17:44, ESV throughout). Messengers from enemy nations did it to Jerusalem: One warning mocked “the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (Isa. 36:12). This sort of boasting has provided iconic moments in the history ...

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Are We Missing the Point of Spiritual Disciplines?

The goal isn't merely getting closer to God, but making a difference in everyday life.

One crisp fall morning, I watched my son’s first-grade soccer team attempt to play soccer. Many of his teammates had not played the game before that season. Even a few weeks in, the young athletes were struggling.

While watching, I thought back to their practice earlier in the week and found myself intrigued. During practice, they had executed drills without any problems. They had dribbled, taken shots, and even passed the ball to one another. They looked like they could play soccer—but their practice did not translate into the ability to play a real, live game.

I began to wonder: Why was there such a disconnect between the practice and the game? Were their practices really preparing them to play the game of soccer?

Then I began to think of our churches and ask similar questions. Like my son’s soccer team, don’t we sometimes experience a disconnect between real life and what we “practice” at church? Are Sunday school classes, small groups, and spiritual disciplines the equivalent of ineffectual soccer drills? Perhaps, even when Sunday school classes are full, small groups well attended, and spiritual disciplines regularly practiced, these practices are not helping us know how to love God and our neighbors in the nitty-gritty of real life.

Vertical and Horizontal

These are the kinds of questions Kyle David Bennett asks in Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World. Bennett, a professor of philosophy and director of The Spirituality and Leadership Institute for Young Leaders at Caldwell University, is eager to show believers what it looks like to follow Jesus on the ground. Bennett believes that spiritual disciplines are supposed to help us as we seek to follow Jesus, ...

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The Beginning of Dementia Isn’t the End of Grace

How the church can come to the aid of sufferers and their loved ones.

In the era of modern medicine, a great many human afflictions can be treated, if not cured outright. Medicines easily defeat diseases that once would have killed us, while prosthetics and pain-relief drugs help us adapt to disabling symptoms and incurable illnesses. Dementia, unfortunately, remains neither curable nor especially treatable—and it is only getting more common as our population ages.

Dementia is especially fearsome in a culture like ours, one that treats autonomy as essential to human flourishing. Losing the ability to think and make rational decisions is always a profound loss, but it is especially terrifying for people who value independence so highly. Thankfully, Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by physician John Dunlop is an excellent companion in thinking through the questions that dementia raises.

The first half of the book covers some basic theological precepts about sin, illness, and the body, as well as medical and scientific details about dementia. Dunlop then describes the daily experience of those who suffer from dementia and the people who care for them. Plenty of books and resources contain this sort of information, but this book remains immensely useful for anyone—pastors, family members, or even people in the early stages of dementia themselves—seeking basic facts about the disease and subjects like in-home care or nursing homes. Having spent many years caring for demented people at every possible stage, Dunlop helps readers step into the non-slip socks of a person with dementia and understand his or her frustrations and sorrows.

For the rest of the book, Dunlop asks whether we can find any grace in dementia. To do this, he first confronts the assumption that makes people ...

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Interview: Keith and Kristyn Getty: Singing Isn’t Just for Sunday

Why congregational worship is a feast we prepare all week long.

The Christian musical landscape includes dozens of widely known worship leaders and recording artists but comparatively few hymn writers. Of these, Keith and Kristyn Getty are preeminent. Their songs are enormously popular (over 40 million people sing “In Christ Alone” in church services each year, according to their website). And in June, Keith—who is from Northern Ireland—became the first contemporary Christian musician to be honored as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, an award given by Queen Elizabeth II. Over the last decade, the Gettys have been leading seminars around the United States for pastors and ministers of music. This teaching work forms the foundation of their book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. Steve Guthrie, associate professor of theology at Belmont University (and head of the school’s Religion and the Arts program), spoke with Keith about reinvigorating the Christian practice of singing, in congregations and families alike.

With so many difficult issues facing the church today, why give special attention to congregational singing?

As evangelicals, we take the Bible as our authority. And when we look at the Bible, we find that, actually, the second most common command is to sing. It wouldn’t come up that often if it weren’t extremely important to God. Yet when Kristyn and I started studying this, we realized we couldn’t find good books on singing for ordinary people.

In 2013, we did a series of leadership lunches where we would ask the participants: “What’s the first question you ask about music in church?” And we got a whole range of answers, from production to musical style to personality to presentation. ...

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Parents of Prodigals: Let God Work on Your Anger and Fears

An excerpt from 'Hope for the Prodigal.'

Having a prodigal in our lives can expose us—in a good way—although the exposure doesn’t always feel beneficial at the start. We might not be prodigal ourselves, but ultimately, the crisis shows where we may have gone off the rails or developed false beliefs. God may allow or ordain circumstances that expose our attitudes and beliefs, revealing our deep need for God’s ongoing help.

When my son Christian was still in high school and going through his rebellious season, I (Jim) was senior pastor of Real Life Ministries, as I am now. Our town, Post Falls, Idaho, has a population of about 35,000, and our church has about 6,000 people, so we have a fairly large presence in town. Christian was known in high school, in the community, by the police, and by the church. Christian embarrassed himself and my wife and me publicly on many occasions. It was painful. His DUI and arrests for that and other things put us all in a poor light.

When a prodigal leaves home (or church), chaos and tension can enter a family. It’s much like a hurricane sweeping through. The prodigal leaves and others are left to clean up the mess. Some people try to ignore the problem; some become angry and blame others. Some give in to depression, and in grief over the broken relationships, they withdraw and isolate themselves. Some people live in regret—they dwell on what they wish they’d done or hadn’t done. For me, though I had been sober for many years, the temptation to retreat into alcohol was the strongest it had ever been.

When Christian was going through his difficult season, Lori and I disagreed on how to parent him and sometimes argued about it. The crisis exposed weaknesses in our marriage and in us as individuals. ...

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