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Do Christian Schools Produce Good Citizens? The Evidence Says Yes.

Christian private school graduates are just as engaged in their communities as their public school peers—if not more.

According to their critics, private Christian schools foster an attitude of isolation and withdrawal from society. And according to their boosters, public schools provide a unique and essential preparation for citizenship in a diverse nation. For the past five years, my colleagues and I at Cardus have been studying these claims, and last week, we released a new study that shows just how little data exists to support them.

Do private schools (whether religious or not) foster social isolation? Do public schools uniquely help to create the “social capital” that comes from diverse friendships and working relationships? Based on the data we released last week, the answer seems to be no on both counts. Adult graduates of Evangelical Protestant, Catholic, non-religious private, and public schools were all as likely to have a close friend who was an atheist or of a different race. The only statistically significant difference we found was that Evangelical Protestants were marginally less likely to have a close gay or lesbian friend—about 57 percent of evangelical Protestant graduates, compared to 69 percent of public school graduates, report a friend or relative who is gay or lesbian.

The Cardus survey, collected in March 2014 and analyzed by the team at the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative at the University of Notre Dame, was designed to give a comprehensive account of how different kinds of high schools contribute to the academic achievement, cultural engagement, and spiritual formation of their graduates.

The results of this survey were mostly consistent with a similar survey we conducted in 2011. While it’s inevitably most interesting to look at the differences among graduates of these different ...

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Why Can't Men Be Friends?

Men and women alike increasingly say they are lonely. It doesn't have to be this way.

In January 1944, several months after he had been imprisoned by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge. In it, he reflected on what their relationship meant to each of them. Bonhoeffer wrote that, in contrast to marriage and kinship, friendship "has no generally recognized rights, and therefore depends entirely on its own inherent quality."

As he penned those lines, Bonhoeffer must have had his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, in mind. With Maria, Bonhoeffer knew where he stood. They were pledged to be married, and all their family and acquaintances recognized their love and were prepared to witness their wedding ceremony, provided Bonhoeffer was released. With Eberhard, on the other hand, Bonhoeffer admitted there wasn't a similarly public recognition. That led to a question: What were Eberhard and Dietrich to one another, and how might their love be preserved and sustained?

Years later, Eberhard addressed an audience member who had come to hear him speak about his friendship with Bonhoeffer (one explored in depth by Charles Marsh in the acclaimed biography Strange Glory). Surely, the questioner said, theirs "must [have been] a homosexual partnership." What else could Bonhoeffer's impassioned letters to Eberhard have signaled?

Bonhoeffer was aware that his friendship with Eberhard was breakable—that no public ceremony or vow kept them tied. That awareness that friendship is fragile has grown more pronounced since Bonhoeffer wrote his letters from prison. Words like suspicion, unsettledness, and doubt best describe our instincts about friendship. We are uncertain about it—perhaps especially between people of the same sex. And, like ...

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I Didnt Marry My Best Friend

Couples need more than just each other.

At many weddings these days, whether on picturesque hillsides or at funky warehouses or in swanky ballrooms, newly minted husbands and wives proudly declare to friends and family, “I married my best friend.”

If you attended a wedding this summer, you likely heard the phrase, now so standard in romantic rhetoric that we forget it’s not part of the traditional ceremony. “I married my best friend” appears in vows, program dedications, toasts, and other aww-inducing moments (not to mention the cards, frames, cufflinks, wine glasses, and other Etsy-inspired wares that attend modern weddings).

The sentiment, repeated in Facebook posts on anniversaries, is shorthand for the special relationship with someone we are comfortable with, who listens, loves, and encourages. From secular folks to Christians who firmly believe that God sent them the one, nearly all the married people I know are “so blessed” (or “lucky”) to get to spend their lives wedded to their best friends.

Even if couples don’t announce that they’re marrying their best friend, many newlyweds live out this philosophy, dropping out of the friend-making game once they have a ring on their finger. Sociologists find that these days, we typically form our most meaningful friendships prior to age 28. Not coincidentally, that’s also the average age we get married.

Marrying your best friend is enough of a cultural expectation that if I admit I didn’t, people might pity me. But here’s the secret: I’m actually the lucky one. I have a husband who isn’t my best friend. And I have a best friend whom I’m not married to. They play different roles in my life, and I need them ...

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Table Manners: Why We Take Communion Every Week

It's a meal that often divides us. It needn't be that way.

I attended church twice a week growing up. I had no choice. It’s not that I disliked church. But like many children, I struggled to understand much of what went on. Easily growing bored, I found ways to entertain myself. I doodled on the bulletin and occasionally timed the pastor’s sermon. I counted the overhead lights, wall panels, and segments in the stained glass windows. While I occupied myself with trivial activities, two details caught my attention: the baptismal pool situated above the choir loft behind the pulpit, and the white table at the center-front of the sanctuary, etched with the words, do this in remembrance of me. Something about the white table got me thinking: Why do we eat bread and wine at the table every few months? And who can eat it?

My church celebrated the Lord’s Supper (also known as Communion or the Eucharist) four times a year. I remember asking why we celebrated it so infrequently. The answer I got never satisfied, and it still doesn’t: “If we do this very often, it will lose its meaning.” Precociously I thought, It doesn’t seem to mean much to us anyway, so why worry about it losing any more meaning? As I grew older, I discovered some churches took the meal weekly. I was then even more dissatisfied with the answer I had received.

Whether you’ve been a Christian since childhood or accepted Christ just recently, you likely have a story about the Lord’s Supper. Your story might include questions or frustrations, maybe even doubts. Our stories explain a great deal, not only about us as Christians but also about how important we think Communion is to our faith and practice.

Christians throughout history have traced their practice of ...

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Ladies, Put Down That Pink Bible

Jen Wilkin equips women to study Scripture more deeply.

I have a confession: I knew I would like Jen Wilkin’s new book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds (Crossway), before I read it. Having become familiar with Wilkin after finding her blog, I was struck by how she proclaims difficult truths without alienating readers. Her teaching—on display as a leader at the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas—is saturated in scriptural insights and demands serious attention.

There is an increasing number of Bible resources for women rooted in sound theology, thanks to teachers like Beth Moore and Kay Arthur. Women of the Word goes further in equipping women with the tools to study Scripture rightly.

Wilkin identifies two significant problems among Christian resources for women: They tend to be emotion-driven and human-centered. Too often, women approach Scripture asking not “Who is God?” but “Who am I?” The latter question certainly has its place, but, as Wilkin objects, “Any study of the Bible that seeks to establish our identity without first proclaiming God’s identity will render partial and limited help.”

She warns against a list of mistaken approaches, such as the “Xanax Approach,” which “treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better,” and the “Magic 8 Ball Approach,” which demands that “the Bible tell us what to do rather than who to be.”

Wilkin then offers a five-step primer for studying Scripture, which she calls the “Five Ps”: Study with Purpose, Perspective, Patience, Process, and Prayer. The goal is to help women grow in Bible literacy. Although the approach is rigorous, Wilkin is quick to extend ...

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News: Should Satan Be Part of Evangelism and Early Discipleship?

Or is the Devil too distracting?

Parents and godparents will no longer have to promise to "reject the Devil and all rebellion against God" at baptisms in the UK's largest denomination, and will instead pledge to "turn away from sin" and "reject evil." Mark Burnett's Son of God film dropped Satan scenes to prevent viewers from focusing on him instead of Christ. Most Christians may not miss him: A 2009 poll found that nearly 60 percent of U.S. Christians view the Devil as only a symbolic character. We asked experts whether Satan should be part of evangelism and early discipleship, or whether it's better to talk about evil and re-educate people on the devil later on. We're posting responses below on a spectrum, from those who think it's better to wait up top, and those who think Satan should be part of early discussions near the bottom of the article.

"For many people, the Devil has been turned into a cartoon-like character of no particular malevolence. The problem is helping people with little doctrinal appreciation to understand what we mean by affirming that the Devil is a defeated power."
Robert Paterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man, Church of England (in comments presenting the revised baptism liturgy to the church's General Synod)

"No, and for some good cultural reasons. C. S. Lewis said that there are two errors to avoid regarding the Devil—to ignore him and to become fascinated with him. The problem is that many in our culture seem unable to engage the concept of the demonic without becoming fascinated in problematic ways."
Jim Beilby, professor of systematic and philosophical theology at Bethel University and coeditor, Understanding Spiritual Warfare

"In Jesus' ...

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It's All Gift

As it turns out, your success probably has little to do with you.

Grace—it is central to the gospel. As Christians, we understand that. Yet many of us operate with an inadequate theology of gift, and gift presupposes grace.

Imagine asking two successful people how they managed to accomplish what they have. The first says, “I’m just very gifted.” The second says, “I’ve just worked very hard.” Who sounds more smug?

Our meritocracy—in which people are valued based on ability alone—has conditioned us to consider it arrogant to attribute our accomplishments to God’s gracious gift. For some reason, gift talk sounds elitist. Conversely, we think we’re being humble when we say we worked hard for our success. The gospel polarity of grace versus works, though correctly understood in theory, is capsized in practice: “You succeeded? You must have worked harder than others,” we think. “You didn’t succeed? Try again.”

For it is by works you have succeeded, not by gifts, so that no one can boast. Logical as it may seem, it’s far from the gospel.

For good reason, Paul referred to spiritual gifts as charismata: gifts of charis, or grace. We all have different gifts, according to the grace given to us (Rom. 12:3–6). Paul also knew that using those gifts was essential for everyone’s flourishing. So he urged people to use what God had given them—but always as stewards, not earners. Sailors work hard to harness the wind, but they’re never so foolish as to take credit for moving the boat.

Yet the meritocratic meme pops up everywhere. Instead of talking about their distinctive gifts, wealthy entrepreneurs often explain their prosperity as the result of diligence, focus, and ...

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Slammed in the Spirit

Hope for a Christian blogosphere that focuses more on God than each other.

Earlier this summer, my daughter came home from Vacation Bible School wearing a thick purple bracelet with bright orange lettering. “Watch for God,” it read. To me, it seemed like an incomplete sentence. Watch for God to what? But my mental sluggishness only revealed a spiritual truth: God seems distant lately, and it’s difficult to see him working.

Overwhelmed with bad news, we tend to view the world through our own small, distorted prisms. Fred Rogers told of how his mother would comfort him as a child when confronted with scary news, “Watch for the helpers,” she’d say. “There’s always someone trying to help.”

But what if we don’t hear about those stories? What if those stories are buried under the rubble of the pessimistic 24-hour news cycle, in which the critical commentator reigns supreme and bad news outweighs the good by 17 to 1?

It’s not just the news’ fault. What really blinds me to the work of God in the world is the troubling public discourse between Christians. We have picked up the cynics’ dialect; we have adopted the tone of negative sensationalism.

Christians too often bury the good and beautiful ways God is working through our constant criticism of one another. Christian bloggers war with one another in battles big and laughably small. Critical articles outweigh positive articles by 3-to-1 on some Christian sites. Almost every viral article or blog post contains a negative component. Out of principle, I’ll refrain from linking to examples, but these headlines should be familiar:

  • “What Christians Get Wrong”
  • “What Christians Need to Stop Saying”
  • “Myths Christians Believe”

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Lecrae Brings Reformed Rap to Jimmy Fallons Tonight Show

Performance with The Roots will be the first by a Christian rapper on late-night TV.

To borrow some popular lingo, Christian rapper Lecrae is blowing up.

His latest album, Anomaly, topped iTunes on the day it was released and took the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200—a first for a Gospel act.

On Thursday, Lecrae will become the first from the resurgent ranks of Reformed rappers to appear on a late-night network show when he sits in with The Roots, the house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He is expected to perform his single, “All I Need is You.”

Listeners began a Twitter campaign to get #lecraeonfallon months ago, and once the appearance was announced on Monday, Lecrae’s label, Reach Records, attributed the decision to his fans.

“Remember when y'all had #lecraeonfallon trending?,” the Atlanta-based rapper asked. “Well guess who is a guest on the show this week?! Tune-in to @FallonTonight on 9/18.”

The prolific hip hop-soul band The Roots joined Jimmy Fallon when he took over Late Night in 2009, and they’ve invited several legendary artists to sit in with them, including Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford, Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley, and John Oats.

Lecrae's Tonight Show gig follows recent features on MTV.com, the Billboard site, and the front page of the Washington Times. CT interviewed Lecrae in 2011 on how he went from addiction to self to Jesus becoming his "drug of choice."

As Christian hip-hop grows in popularity and theological depth (and also develops a critical edge), Lecrae is celebrated an artist who can entertain both Christian and mainstream audiences; last year, he toured with a hip-hop festival featuring secular artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar, and Common.

Previous Christian ...

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Loving the Lost: Churches Without the Broken are Broken Churches

It's easy for Christians to love each other, but it's important for believers to love others as well.

It is a natural thing for Christians to want to be around other Christians. Something special happens in the fellowship of believers.

We can worship freely, study deeply, and communicate clearly. Hanging out with like-minded people who “have their stuff together” is a blast.

But how well are we engaging those who aren’t as spiritually stable as we (think we) are?

I’ve been fascinated by the fact that a lot of Christians don’t seem to like non-Christians—otherwise known as “the lost,” “the unchurched,” or whatever other term you may want to use.

Who Is on Your Friends List?

It is kind of interesting that after coming to Christ and growing in knowledge, we often end up distancing ourselves from some of our former friends. And then, as we begin to grow in spiritual maturity, we find that we have less and less time for the hurting and struggling.

We have found the one thing that meets the need in our lives, but we keep our distance from those who need the very thing we’ve found. I don’t think this separation is intentional, but it does happen, and in the end, our intentions don’t matter.

Our needs get met and we move on, oblivious to a world that is falling apart all around us.

That is not the way of Christ.

Jesus lived differently. One of the common criticisms Jesus faced was that He spent too much time with sinners. He associated with the unwelcomed and unappreciated of society. How many of us could be accused of spending too much time with the “riff raff?"

It wasn’t that Jesus was waiting for Paul to write, “Bad company corrupts good morals” in 1 Corinthians. No one better understood the importance ...

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Strong Performances Highlight TIFF 2014

The six stars who shined brightest at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), like most festivals, tends to be an auteur-focused affair. In the weeks leading up to the event, press releases fly, reminding critics which directors have new films dropping.

But crowds rarely line up on the street across the screening venue hoping to catch a glimpse of Bennett Miller, Jessica Hausner, or Olivier Assayas. Directors’ names carry prestige, but we are still a star-driven culture. People have their favorite directors, but they are in love with their favorite stars.

And, truth to tell, TIFF offered a plethora of great performances. Looking back over the festival, here are six of my favorite.

Aleksey Serebryakov plays Kolya in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan. The TIFF catalog compares Zvyagintsev’s work to Tarkovsky’s. While I see some obvious thematic resemblances, particularly in the use of religious language as a frame, I don’t recall Tarkovsky’s work works eliciting the sorts of memorable performances we get here. Kolya might be a bit of a stock figure for American viewers; he is a stern, Russian patriarch. Serebryakov makes him seem real, though, and that holds are interest until we start to see more to the character than what appeared at first glance.

When I mentioned on Twitter that Kristen Stewart was having a good festival, one of her many fans replied asking if I was being sarcastic. Those who love the actress for her turn as Bella in Twilight are apparently not used to her being treated with much esteem. Stewart shared the spotlight with Juliette Binoche in The Clouds of Sils Maria and Julianne Moore in Still Alice. Both films were vehicles designed to feature the talents of the lead actress, but both needed—and ...

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Three Views: Should Christians Resist Greater Government Surveillance?

In the era of massive data collection, Uncle Sam snoops on a grand scale.

No, Demand Oversight

Keith Pavlischek

First, we need to understand the difference between internal communications content, and the bulk collection and analysis of telecommunication data. When we do, it becomes clear why the National Security Administration's (NSA) use of this data does not necessarily violate our privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.

The debate over the proposed USA Freedom Act has little to do with whether the government is spying on Americans by listening to their phone calls or reading their e-mails. This legislation, simply stated, would restrict the bulk collection and analysis of data about data (known as metadata—numbers dialed, length of call, billing records) in the fight against terrorism. It has long been settled that the Fourth Amendment doesn't protect a conversation that merely has taken place. The Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979), "While the guarantees of the Fourth Amendment are broad, they are not boundless."

The bulk collection of this kind of data is constitutional, yet informed debate on this issue is as difficult for Christians as anyone else. Too often, the debate is reduced to a simplistic choice between good (the right to privacy) and evil (government surveillance). Scholar Benjamin Wittes summarizes this polarized view in his review of No Place to Hide, journalist Glenn Greenwald's book about Edward Snowden: "NSA is unrelentingly evil, its appetite voracious, its purpose political control and the suppression of dissent. Terrorism and other national security interests are mere smokescreens and pretexts for collection that is, in fact, just a repressive instrument."

When privacy advocates don't embrace such ...

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Ian and Larissa Murphy: Trusting God through Traumatic Brain Injury

A viral video made their marriage famous, and now, their story continues.

A couple years ago, a video about Ian and Larissa Murphy’s marriage went viral. In some ways, they exhibit a conventional story of young love. They met in college and wanted to get married. But Ian suffered a traumatic brain injury after a car accident. Their plans were tenuous at best as Ian lay in a coma in a hospital bed.

The accident came 10 months into their relationship. For the next two years, Ian worked to regain his ability to talk, then the couple began talking about marriage. Two years after that, they married on Ian’s late father’s birthday, 8-28-2010—a date referenced in the title of their new book, Eight Twenty Eight. The number also refers to a favorite Bible passage, Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (ESV).

Although both Ian and Larissa contributed to the book, most of the narrative takes place during the years of Ian’s coma and recovery. With graceful prose and fluid storytelling, Larissa explains the factors that led her to remain so intimately connected to Ian even though they were not yet engaged and his prognosis was grim.

At 29, Larissa still sounds at times like a young wife, learning to serve her husband and grow her faith as best she can. She is not a trained theologian, but she does not shy away from the theological questions posed by a traumatic brain injury. She writes honestly about the blessings they have experienced amidst, and even because of, the hardship of Ian’s long recovery and his different life with a disability.

Hers is a testimony to God’s faithfulness amidst woundedness, a testimony to the truth of Romans 8:28, ...

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How to Steward the Power of Marriage

What family breakdown and spiritual friendship have taught me about the family of God.

I am a happily married mother. Most days, I wake up before the sun, and even with all three kids in school I spend the majority of my waking hours on tasks related to their needs. I pack lunches and help with homework and arrange playdates and drive to soccer practice and clip fingernails and toenails and purchase far too many fresh white socks on a regular basis. I pray with my kids and sing with them and read with them and eat with them. It is a full and largely pleasant life marked by plenty of tedious tasks and plenty of laughter.

It is easy to bemoan my situation, and I spent plenty of time complaining to God during the early years of diapers and sleepless nights and sick days and snow days. It is also pretty easy to chastise myself for complaining, because I know how blessed I am to have this husband and these kids. I know I shouldn’t take the joys of each day for granted.

Marriage and children make it easy to complain, easy to give thanks, and easy to remain focused solely upon the concerns of the five people who comprise my immediate family.

But what I have only begun to understand recently is how marriage sets us apart as a family. More than 40 percent of new mothers are unmarried. As Isabel Sawhill wrote recently for the New York Times:

“For every child lifted out of poverty by a social program, another one is entering poverty as a result of the continued breakdown of the American family. If we could turn back the marriage clock to 1970, before the sharp rise in divorce and single parenthood began, the child poverty rate would be 20 percent lower than it is now. Even some of our biggest social programs, like food stamps, do not reduce child poverty as much as unmarried parenthood has increased ...

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Diversity in the Dorm Room

How college roommates teach us about race, culture, and ourselves.

Every fall an extraordinarily stressful ritual takes place in colleges across the country. Eighteen-year-olds embark on a journey of leaving the watchful eyes of parents, to move into a building with hundreds of strangers. Some travel blocks while others cross the country or even an ocean. No matter the distance, all have volunteered to leave their homes, their nests, their tribe. It’s exhilarating to be so free, but also terrifying.

With that terror comes a natural inclination to recreate home, to surround oneself with people that are familiar, perhaps friends from high school or folks from summer camp. In the overwhelming chaos that is the first week of school, it’s not uncommon to shut oneself off to newness.

But in many schools, there is another ritual working against the desire to make all things familiar—the randomly selected roommate—one of the only times in our lives where we are forced to live with someone potentially entirely unlike us. Talk about scary.

I am a member of the random roommate club. During my freshman year, I remember my roommate made a surprising confession. “I was really upset when I found out I had a black roommate,” she told me. “I am biracial, black and white, but as a child my black family members basically disowned my brother and me because we were not fully black. So my experience of other African Americans has not been the best. When I first saw you, I just knew I’d be repeating a long history of rejection, and I was really mad about it.”

Though we both laugh at this story now, the truth is she was not alone in feeling uneasy. Before I met her, I was nervous about the high probability of having a white roommate. Would she would ...

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