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News: Medical Missionaries' Ebola Pullback: No More Kent Brantlys?

As ministries report record interest in serving, Samaritan's Purse shifts strategy on what expat doctors do.

After contracting the world’s most deadly virus while serving as medical missionaries in Liberia, both Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse and Nancy Writebol of SIM became household names—as did Ebola itself.

They survived. As did Rick Sacra, an SIM missionary doctor from Massachusetts also serving in Liberia. But this week, Martin Salia, a Maryland surgeon serving in a United Methodist hospital in his native Sierra Leone, did not.

He joined the World Health Organization’s tally of 329 health care workers (out of 584 infected) who have died from Ebola so far. The disease has now killed more than 5,400 people out of 15,000-plus reported cases—mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Brantly, Sacra, and Salia were all affiliated with the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), which reports a surge in interest in medical missions. But will we see another Brantly? Christian ministries are no longer letting American physicians get so close to Ebola patients.

Brantly was one of about 900 doctors that Samaritan’s Purse sends to Africa each year to work in missionary hospitals. In Liberia, the Christian relief organization had its expatriate staff switch their focus to Ebola in June, but soon pulled about 60 people back to the US after Brantly and Writebol contracted the virus in July.

Samaritan’s Purse returned American workers to Liberia in September. But their focus is now not on Ebola patients themselves, but on managing the health of nearly 400 Liberian staff running 15 community care centers on the front lines.

“After Dr. Brantly got Ebola, we just thought there’s got to be a better way of doing this,” said Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s ...

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Interview: Forming a Society Worthy of Humans

Robert Sirico says that in order to get economics right, we must first understand what it means to be human.

Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and co-founder of the Acton Institute, is perhaps one of the most economically literate clergymen you will find among America’s public intellectuals. While most seminaries do not train future pastors and lay leaders to think theologically about economics, Sirico says understanding questions about economics is necessary if Christian leaders want to rightly seek the good of society and train others to do the same. Joseph Gorra, founder and director of Veritas Life Center, talked Sirico about economic life and human flourishing.

At this year's Acton University conference, you spoke on how love is an indispensable basis for economic life. To some, that might seem odd if economic life is viewed as the maximization of utility and material well-being.

We can’t enter the marketplace as something other than what we really are, and real human love demonstrates the impossibility of being merely homo economicus (“the economic man”), which is essentially a thesis that reduces human beings to their materiality.

Humans are simultaneously material and transcendent, individual and social. We are not merely individual entities, though we are uniquely and unrepeatably that, even from the first moment of our conception. Yet the whole of our lives we are social and individual, material and spiritual. If we ignore this existential reality, then we fail to understand what it means to be human.

Love—authentic human love—helps us understand this anthropological reality. Even conjugal love offers more than physicality. In this act of love, we offer our whole selves, including our ideals, dreams, and indeed our future to one another—none of which exists in material ...

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Over 25,000 Ebola Orphans at Risk

Churches join effort to care for vulnerable children who have lost one or both parents in West Africa.

“My mama is dead in my house and we don’t know what to do.” In Sierra Leone, an 8-year-old boy called the national hotline by dialing 1-1-7 earlier this month. The father had already died, presumably from Ebola, and this boy was now head of the household with five younger siblings. He had decided to call for a burial team to pick up his mother’s remains.

In West Africa, the death of parents from the Ebola epidemic has caused a surge in orphans. They are mostly young children age 5 and under. Government officials estimate 25,900 or more of them are in urgent need of comprehensive care in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. A very high percentage of these children have lost both parents to the virus. Many of the children are under quarantine. Fearful relatives are shunning or abandoning them as possible carriers of the virus.

But there is something worse for these orphans than abandonment: becoming infected with Ebola. “What I'm seeing on the ground is quite disturbing,” said Susan Hillis, a senior staff adviser in global health with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during an interview from Freetown, Sierra Leone. “Children under 5 in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, where I've been working, very commonly get into the ambulance with mom.”

She said typically an ambulance takes mothers to Ebola centers for admission. But there's no one to take the children. “By that point, everybody knows the mother probably has Ebola, and they are afraid of the children, who could transmit the infection to whoever is going to take care of them."

Until the Ebola outbreak, families often were willing to provide informal foster care. Hillis said, ...

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Why You Can't Read Scripture Alone

Studying the Bible in light of the Great Tradition.

You are a new Christian. You want to learn all you can about the Bible, for you know it is the Word of God, and somewhere you heard that you can know God only to the extent that you know his Word. You know a woman down the street who has walked with God for more than 60 years and has studied Scripture all that time. She has read commentaries, enjoyed attending churches within different denominations, and discussed the deep things of God with other mature believers and pastors.

You consider reading Scripture with her, to glean her wisdom. But you choose to read the Bible for yourself by yourself. You don’t visit the woman because you don’t want her beliefs to influence your own reading. And you want to listen to the Holy Spirit yourself, so you can get to the purity of God’s message untainted by outside influence.

Some Christians, and not just new believers among them, take this “me and God” approach to reading Scripture. They have learned from Matthew 15 not to be like the Pharisees, whom Jesus said exalted human tradition over God’s Word. They also try to heed Paul’s warning not to succumb to “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Col. 2:8, ESV used throughout). They have concluded, therefore, that Scripture teaches that church tradition—and all the perspectives and human-derived interpretations that it carries with it—should not color our reading of God’s Word.

Is that what the Bible itself teaches?

Why Tradition Is Good

Paul commended the Corinthians for “maintain[ing] the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). He urged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions ...

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How Pastors Are Passing the Leadership Baton

Succession plans can destroy a church. Or help it thrive for years to come. What are the keys to success?

Every pastor is an interim pastor.

That statement may sound harsh or abrupt, but it’s becoming a catchphrase. Saddleback’s Rick Warren commented about the quote on Instagram, noting that it’s something his dad—also a pastor—said repeatedly. As William Vanderbloemen and I explain in Next: Pastoral Succession That Works (Baker Books), a day will come for every church leader when a successor takes his place.

And based on our research, the smartest churches address succession head-on. A church that doesn’t handle it well faces significant losses, sometimes to the point of no return. Crystal Cathedral is now bankrupt due in part to succession issues. The same is true of many once-prominent churches, like Earl Paul’s Chapel Hill Harvester Church, that are now gone. An outstanding long-term pastorate offers no guarantee that a church will survive, let alone thrive.

In 1968, 12 years after Jerry Falwell founded Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, the church was drawing more than 2,000 weekly worshipers, putting it on early “top 10” lists from Elmer Towns and John Vaughan.

Then in 2007, at 73, Falwell died suddenly from cardiac arrest. When I interviewed his son Jonathan, I noted that if anyone was high risk, it was his dad—who flew private planes, received death threats for his politics, and had serious health issues. Jonathan technically had been named co-pastor two years earlier, when Falwell underwent two hospitalizations in one month with potential open-heart surgery to follow. But the two never discussed in detail Thomas Road’s future after its founder was gone. “I wish we had talked about it,” said Jonathan. “He wanted ...

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How a French Atheist Becomes a Theologian

Inside my own revolution.

If French atheists rarely become evangelical Christians, how much rarer it is for one to become an evangelical Christian theologian. So what happened? One might argue that with 66 million French people, I’m just a fluke, an anomaly. I am inclined to see it as the work of a God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). Hearing the facts may help you decide for yourself.

I grew up in a wonderfully loving family in France, near Paris. We were Catholic, a religious expression that seemed to arise more out of tradition and perhaps superstition than conviction. As soon as I was old enough to tell my parents I didn’t believe any of it, I stopped going to Mass. I pursued my own happiness on all fronts, benefiting from my parents’ loving dedication. It allowed me to do well at school, learn to play the piano, and get involved in many sports. I studied math, physics, and engineering in college, graduated from a respected engineering school, and landed a job as a computer scientist in finance. On the sports front, after I grew to be 6 feet 4 inches and discovered I could jump 3 feet high, I ended up playing volleyball in a national league, traveling the country every weekend for the games.

An important part of young male French atheist ideals consisted of female conquests. Here, I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life. And in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing the gospel—let alone believing it—were incredibly slim.

New Life Goal

When I was in my mid-20s, my brother and I vacationed in the Caribbean. One day, returning from the beach, ...

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Interview: Philip Yancey: Be Pioneers of Grace in a Post-Christian America

The author lays out a way to witness after churches have lost their cultural privilege.

In his landmark 1997 book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey challenged fellow evangelicals to act in a way that matches their language and beliefs about grace. He returns to this theme in his latest book, Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? (Zondervan), updating the call to grace-filled living within a culture whose Christian consensus has frayed. Author and Christianity Today blogger Amy Julia Becker spoke with Yancey about putting grace into action in contexts where Christianity no longer holds sway.

Why did you choose to revisit the subject of grace?

Sociologist and researcher Amy Sherman has said that Christians tend to have three models for interacting with society: fortification, accommodation, and domination. To put that in layman’s terms: We hunker down amongst ourselves, water down our witness, or beat down our opponents. For many reasons, those aren’t New Testament models.

So what should we be? We need to create pioneer settlements that show the world a different, grace-based way of living.

We have been spoiled in the United States because of our religious heritage. There was once a common Christian consensus. A few generations ago, Billy Graham would fill the largest stadium in any city, stand up, and say “the Bible says,” and have the audience nod along. Today, belief in the Bible can’t be taken for granted, so appeals to the Bible won’t have the same power. The new paradigm, in this culture, is that you reach out with acts of mercy that touch people’s hearts, and hopefully they want to know why.

We hear nowadays about Christian groups losing university recognition or public prayers and Christmas displays being banned. We feel ...

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The News Roundup: Bill Cosby, New Trailers, and 'Better Call Saul'

Plus Sony ditches the Steve Jobs movie and picks up 1984.

Bill Cosby is the center of pop culture conversation this week after NBC and Netflix cancelled their Cosby sitcom plans. TV Land is also pulling Cosby Show re-runs off the docket since numerous sexual assault allegations against Cosby from the past thirty years have surfaced in the past few weeks. Indiewire points out here what this kind of scandal indicates about modern television.

If you missed them while they were gone, fret not: your favorite a capella group is making a comeback (all the way to the world championships) in May 2015. Check out the Pitch Perfect 2 trailer here. Also, Portlandia announced their new premiere date and dropped a trailer— one dripping with the promise of hilarity.

The AV Club tells us here why Sony is ditching the Steve Jobs movie and here why they (with Paul Greengrass) will adapt George Orwell’s 1984.

The Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul, will premiere February 8. Variety has the details and the preview.

And there’s a World War II drama in the works with Mel Gibson and Andrew Garfield entitled Hacksaw Ridge. Variety has the scoop. Documenting tragedy in artistic form finds another outlet in the coming film about the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Most recently, Casey Affleck left the project and Daniel Espinosa is likely stepping in.

Rebecca Calhoun is an intern with Christianity Today Movies and a student at The King’s College in New York City.

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The Critics Roundup: Dumb and Dumber To and Beyond the Lights

The critics are divided on a long-awaited sequel and a tale of pop stardom.

It’s been twenty years since Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels made audiences laugh in the original Dumb and Dumber, and eleven years since the prequel Dumb and Dumber: When Harry Met Lloyd hit theaters. Well, Bobby and Peter Farrelly have answered fans’ prayers: Carrey and Daniels are back and dumber than ever in Dumb and Dumber To. And, despite some ghastly reviews, the movie is actually taking the box office by storm with a number one spot.

This latest Dumband Dumber movie takes place twenty years after the first, when Harry (Daniels) finds out he needs a kidney. Lloyd (Carrey) decides to help his friend out and the movie follows their journey to find Harry’s long lost song. According to PluggedIn’s Bob Hoose, lewd jokes have “been the Farrelly brothers' mode for lo these many years as they've spent decades perfecting the un-art of low comedy.” But, long gone are the days of fart jokes. This latest adventure fits right in with the raunchier comedies of today, and “in this far-off sequel, everything and everyone is as frantic and rabid as the protagonist dum-dums themselves.” Hoose believes the Farrelly brothers have taken it too far this time and audiences will “leave this pic smelling of something far worse than "merely" another gaseous whoosh.” Variety’s Andrew Barker disagrees and believes the “18-years-too-late sequel . . . exhibits a certain puerile purity of purpose, and should accrue healthy profits playing to the nostalgia of the dumb and the dumb at heart.” According to Barker, “Carrey and Daniels certainly appear to be having more fun than most viewers will,” because “the vast majority of the gags ...

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

Why are we supposed to hate this movie?

mpaa rating:PG-13 (For intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.)Genre:Drama, Science FictionDirected By: Francis Lawrence Run Time: 2 hours 5 minutes Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson Theatre Release:November 21, 2014 by Lionsgate

Note: There are, of course, spoilers here for the previous two films in the franchise.

When last we left Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), she had just been rescued from her second Hunger Games arena and what had looked like her inevitable death. We'd discovered that an underground resistance movement is rebelling against President Snow and his forces in the capital of Panem. The rebels pulled Katniss out of the arena and flew her to safety.

As Mockingjay – Part I opens, we learn the fallout of that rescue. Katniss’s fellow tribute, Peeta (Hutcherson) has been left behind and is now either working with President Snow (Sutherland) or being forced into making propaganda videos with Casear Flickerman (Tucci). Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) is convinced that Katniss can be a symbol—the Mockingjay—around which the rebelling districts can unite. But rebel President Coin (Moore) find Katniss’s reluctance suspicious, and is (rightfully) contemptuous of her “demands” on the rebels who want her to participate.

The bulk of Part I revolves around Katniss eventually agreeing to play the part of the Mockingjay—and the lead up to all-out war between Snow’s forces and the growing rebellion.

Would it surprise you to learn that Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has been one of the ten most frequently challenged or banned books in schools and libraries for three of the last four years? The American Library Association tracks such challenges, which it defines as “a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

I’d get indifference. But I don’t get the outright ...

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The Benefits of Having Other People Raise Your Kids

Why doing it all alone isnt the best (or most biblical) parenting strategy.

I sat across from my husband with tears in my eyes as I confessed my horrible failure. I needed my son to spend more time in childcare, and it felt like a personal deficiency. I only have one kid, after all, so why couldn’t I keep up? Why couldn’t I be like those other, better mothers, who dutifully tend to their many children all day long, all on their own? I needed help—more help than I was getting—and I was ashamed to finally say it out loud.

Up until this summer, my husband and I had both been full-time students, splitting our days with our young son. When my husband took a full-time job as a pastor, we settled into more traditional roles. For the first time since our son was born, my husband worked, I stayed at home, and my struggle began.

For months, I was ashamed to admit that I couldn’t do it all; I couldn’t finish my dissertation, write, manage our home, tend to my faith, and make every second of my son’s days “count.” I felt trapped, but what were my options? Our son was already going to daycare twice a week, and I kept remembering the many a church leader I’d heard preach the singular importance of parents: No one can parent your child like you. No one can shepherd your child’s faith like you. You are THE most important person in your child’s life.

That was my struggle: needing help, and feeling like a failure for needing it. However, after discussing the topic with my husband and with God, I reconsidered whether these Christian parenting axioms were entirely true.

On the one hand, the church’s teachings on parenting rightfully tell us that parents have a unique and powerful responsibility in their children’s lives, ...

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Talking with Kids about the Problem of Evil

A Small Talk guest post by Jennifer Grant

As I told my friend Jennifer Grant when I read the introduction to her newest book, Wholehearted Living: Five Minute Reflections for Modern Moms, "I'm ordering this book for all my mom friends this Christmas." Jen is the author of a number of books I've appreciated related to parenting (Love You More and Momumental), and I appreciate her wisdom as a mother with four kids who are all older than mine. All this is to say, I am so grateful that she agreed to contribute to the Small Talk series on this blog and offer some wisdom from the perspective of a mom with older kids.

As he was growing up, my eldest child seemed always to trust me. When I explained to this boy as a toddler that “we” don’t shove other children, chase balls into the street, or touch the stovetop, he regarded me with his big, hazel eyes, nodded, and refrained, from then on, from such misdemeanors.

His three younger siblings were more likely to be rankled by my admonitions, to push back, and—yes—to burn their fingers on hot light bulbs and burners and to upset freestanding displays at the grocery store. (“Clean up in aisle nine!”) But this one child was born with a posture of obedience and trust.

...

Of course, their questions, over the years, got more complicated. “Why is there war?” and “How do I know that God is hearing my prayers?” and “How can God be everywhere at once?” replaced more whimsical ones about whether God sleeps or where, precisely, heaven is located.

Again, I did my best with these questions, acknowledging how tricky it can be (whether you are a child or an adult) to understand holy mysteries. Faith, I’d try to explain, is committing ...

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Asking 'Why Me, God?' But in a Different Way

The question "Why me, God?" can be a lament, but also an expression of gratitude.

I have much to be thankful for this year. January will mark five years since my wife’s breast cancer surgery, after which her chances of recurrence drop significantly. Thinking back to the frightening months following my wife's initial diagnosis, I remember that many doubts and questions dominated my mind. But no question was more paralyzing and difficult to answer than this one, as well as its myriad variations: “Why me, God?”

"God, why did you let my wife get sick with breast cancer? Did we do something wrong? What had we done to deserve this?”

“God, why did you let my church plant close down? Am I a terrible pastor, a failure?"

"God, why have I been unemployed for so long? How am I going to provide for my family, how am I going to afford insurance in case my wife gets sick again?"

"Why God? Why me?"

These are questions that every person asks themselves at some point in their lives. But what sets these questions apart are that they are not just personal but theological in nature, and so lay bare our understanding of self, of God, and of life. As I spent days and nights wrestling with the question, “Why me?” I discovered that two slightly different variations of that question helped transform my lament into thanksgiving. The first question was this:

"Why not me?"

In some way, when I asked the question, "Why me?" there was an assumption that suffering was not supposed to affect me, that it was not appropriate or fair. The entire question that I was asking God was, "God, why me? This kind of thing is not supposed to happen to someone like me. Other people perhaps, but not me."

But the real question is why not ...

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President Obama Cites Exodus on Immigration Reform: 'We Were Strangers Once Too'

(UPDATED) Reactions from Sam Rodriguez, Russell Moore, Jenny Yang, Noel Castellanos on Obama's motive vs. method.

Update (Nov. 20): Tonight President Barack Obama outlined his executive action on immigration reform, which could impact up to 5 million immigrants. He gave two citations: one from former President George W. Bush, and one from Exodus 23.

"Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger—we were strangers once, too," said Obama. "My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."

His three-pronged plan:

  1. "We’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over."
  2. "I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed."
  3. "We’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country."

The third point will prompt much debate (Vox summarizes the talking points on both sides). For initial details, read the President's full speech and the White House's summary. Or watch it:

Among the early reactions, World Relief's Jenny Yang—one of CT's 50 Women You Should Know who coauthored an influential book alluding to the same Old Testament passage—said Obama's action "will only provide a temporary solution" since the US Senate "took the right step forward in 2013 by passing a bill, but Congress was not able to finish the job."

"Congress should see the President’s actions as impetus to ...

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Surprised by Religion at the National Book Awards

Why literary culture in America should cause hope and concern

It felt kind of like the Oscars, well, like the Oscars for book nerds. An evening with awards in different categories, a host who made witty remarks, and palpable excitement in the air. Two nights ago, I sat in an auditorium at the New School in Manhattan, for the privilege of listening as the twenty finalists for the National Book Award read from their work.

I had only read two of the books going in to the evening, and I only heard five minutes from each of the books nominated for the award. But still—what struck me about the selections as a whole was their religious nature. By religious, I don’t mean Christian (with the notable exception of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila). But I do mean works concerned with the nature of reality and of human identity. Books asking the “big questions” of purpose and meaning, of the self versus society, of morality and beauty and the possibility for grace.

John Lahr, for instance, reading from his biography of Tennessee Williams, not only talked about the social shift from a society focused on the common good to a society focused on the self as we moved out of World War Two, but emphasized Williams’ use of the word grace throughout The Glass Menagerie. Where is grace in this changing world? What is more important—the individual or the society? Similarly, the title of Edward O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence might say it all. Even though Wilson posits no faith in the divine, nevertheless the book is laden with questions about sin and salvation, virtue and vice.

Many of the books told stories as a way to help readers understand and have compassion—Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant about ...

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