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What You Probably Dont Know about The Least of These

A more biblically accurate understanding of Jesus' words in Matthew 25.

Most Christians agree that caring for the poor and marginalized is a central tenet of the gospel. And what better passage to reinforce this principle than Matthew 25:40, where Jesus commands us to care for “the least of these.” Many of us readily assume that “the least of these” refers to the poor and marginalized. But are those who Jesus is really talking about?

That question might seem trivial, but its importance can hardly be overstated. After all, Jesus ties our eternal destiny to how we treat “the least of these brothers of mine.” In the broader context of the passage (Matt. 25:31–46), the sheep and goats represent salvation criteria—who is in and who is out. It’s a stark picture, with the only outcomes being salvation or damnation. In a breathtaking scene, the Son of Man sits on a heavenly throne surrounded by angels and renders his verdict: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (v. 46). One’s eternal security is tied to caring for “the least of these,” whoever they are.

Not Who You Think

Matthew 25 gives few clues as to who “the least of these” are. They’re described only as hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Building on paucity of information in the text, at least three possibilities have been proposed.

First, the “least of these” could be Jesus’ ethnic kin, the Jews—his “brothers.” This view assumes that “all the nations” (v. 32) are Gentiles who are judged based on their treatment of Jews during the tribulation. A newsletter I once received from a messianic Jewish organization broadened the ...

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Hannah More: Powerhouse in a Petticoat

Meet the heart of William Wilberforce's abolitionist movement.

Imagine yourself seated at a fashionable London dinner party in 1789.

The women are wearing hoops several feet wide, their hair dressed nearly as high and adorned with fruit or feathers. In between hips and hair, bosoms overspill. The men sport powdered hair, ruffled shirts, embroidered waistcoats, wool stockings, and buckled shoes. Politeness and manners reign around a table laden with delicate, savory dishes.

As guests wait for the after-dinner wine to arrive, a handsome but demure woman pulls a pamphlet from the folds of her dress. “Have you ever seen the inside of a slave ship?” she asks the natty gentleman seated next to her. She proceeds to spread open a print depicting the cargo hold of the Brookes slave ship. With meticulous detail, the print shows African slaves laid like sardines on the ship’s decks, each in a space so narrow, they can’t lay their arms at their sides. The print will become the most haunting image of the transatlantic slave trade—as well as a key rhetorical device used to stop it.

The woman sharing it is Hannah More.

“What William Wilberforce was among men, Hannah More was among women.” So the Christian Observer proclaimed upon More’s death in 1833. Wilberforce, the parliamentarian and politician, was the most public face of the campaign, and today is nearly synonymous with the British abolitionist movement. By contrast, as a woman who could not even vote or join abolitionist societies of the day, More was destined for obscurity. Yet historians agree she was the single most influential woman in the British abolitionist movement. One biographer said her efforts formed “one of the earliest propaganda campaigns for social reform in English ...

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Let Kelly Gissendaner Live

The Georgia Department of Corrections has done its job. She should not be executed.

It sounds like some Georgia state officials are desperately trying every trick in the book to not execute Kelly Gissendaner. Last Wednesday’s scheduled execution was postposed "due to weather and associated scheduling issues," department spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan said.

Then last night, the Georgia Department of Corrections issued a statement: “Within the hours leading up to the scheduled execution, the Execution Team performed the necessary checks. At that time, the drugs appeared cloudy. The Department of Corrections immediately consulted with a pharmacist, and in an abundance of caution, Inmate Gissendaner's execution has been postponed."

If these are in fact mere delaying tactics, we wish them success, because the governor of Georgia simply does not have the authority—nor does the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles have the desire—to grant clemency.

So we wish God’s speed and success to anyone anywhere in the Georgia Department of Corrections who can delay and/or prevent Kelly Gissendaner from being killed by the state.

Make no mistake, Gissendaner is guilty as guilt can be, as she stated in a clemency petition:

There are no excuses for what I did. I am fully responsible for my role in my husband’s murder. I had become so self-centered and bitter about my life and who I had become, that I lost all judgment. I will never understand how I let myself fall into such evil . . .

So Gissendaner, 46, was duly convicted of plotting to kill her husband, although it was her boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who carried out the gruesome deed in February 1997. Once they were arrested, plea bargains were offered to both to guarantee only life ...

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LSD, Revolution, Buddhism, Then Jesus

The conversion of an original Jesus freak.

Some of my friends—those of us who used to say things like, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—now joke with each other that if you remember the 1960s, you weren’t there. Our memory gaps from the countercultural era have nothing to do with our encroaching senility.

As a college student, did I really run into a friend at a Grateful Dead concert, where, already high on pot and hashish, we did a line of cocaine for good measure? Did we really wear tie-dyed bandanas and our hair halfway down our backs as we wandered through a haze of incense and strobe lights set to the opening riffs of “Purple Haze”? Did we really take LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and other hallucinogenic drugs to explore the outer frontiers of the cosmos, with its “deep” insights? Insights that produced deep responses like, “Far out, man”?

Our band of cosmic travelers was on a quest—to right the injustices of poverty, racism, and war, but also to fill the void of loneliness. We questioned authority; we questioned everything. The Moody Blues’ song “Question” described us perfectly:

Why do we never get an answer
When we’re knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war?

’Cause when we stop and look around us
There is nothing that we need
In a world of persecution
That is burning in its greed.

Potent Elixir

I had not always been such a questioner.

I was raised in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago by nurturing, pious Catholic parents alongside a sweet, near-perfect sister. I went to a school where nuns administered doctrine and the occasional light corporal punishment. At age 7, I became an ...

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News: Prominent Chinese Christian Convert Accuses Another of Rape

Yuan Zhiming of China Soul on leave as more accusations emerge following claim by Chai Ling of All Girls Allowed.

As campus rape gets widespread scrutiny at America’s elite universities, top Chinese Christians in China and the United States are debating a Princeton incident from 1990.

The alleged rape involves two prominent activists associated with the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who converted to Christianity and now have international platforms. The alleged victim says she is attempting to live out Matthew 18 and has taken her case to the wider church after years of private appeals. The accused pastor allegedly argues that the two engaged in “sexual immorality,” but that he isn’t culpable for his pre-Christian past because they are now both “new creations in Christ.”

Four years ago, Chai Ling, a leader in China's 1989 democracy movement, accused Yuan Zhiming, a dissident and a doctoral student at People's University, Beijing, in 1989, of raping her in her Princeton, New Jersey, apartment in 1990. Neither was a Christian at the time of the alleged assault, which occurred while Princeton University hosted them under an initiative for Chinese student dissidents.

Chai Ling is a two-time Nobel Prize nominee and one of the world’s most prominent critics of China’s one-child policy through her organization, All Girls Allowed. Yuan Zhiming is a well-known apologetics figure among the Chinese Christian diaspora as the founder of China Soul for Christ Foundation and producer of an acclaimed documentary, The Cross: Jesus in China.

Since the initial accusation, Chai has continued to seek a confession from Yuan that he raped her. But he has denied the rape allegation. After first contact with Chai, Yuan reportedly said, “Chai Ling, you are a young Christian, and you don’t ...

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Do Digital Decisions Disciple?

Online evangelists report the equivalent success of one Billy Graham crusade per day.

Three years ago, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) shifted its focus to online evangelism. It laid off about 50 people—10 percent of its staff—and “redeployed resources to focus on areas of greater impact.”

The change seems to be paying off. In 2014, the BGEA shared the gospel with almost 9.5 million people around the world. Of those, only about 180,000 were in a live audience at a crusade, while 7.5 million were reached through BGEA websites.

Of the 1.6 million people who told the BGEA they prayed “to accept Jesus Christ as [their] Savior” in 2014, less than 15,000 did so in person, while more than 1.5 million did so with the click of a mouse.

Since the BGEA launched its family of evangelistic websites—which include SearchForJesus.net and PeaceWithGod.net—less than 4 years ago, more than 5 million people have indicated a decision for Jesus.

More than 20,000 people view a gospel presentation every day, essentially “a crusade a day online,” said John Cass, the BGEA’s Internet evangelism director.

And the BGEA isn’t even the biggest kid on the block. Global Outreach Media (GMO), which began in 2004 as part of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) and spun off in 2011, reports more than 30 million online decisions for Jesus in 2014 out of 400 million viewed presentations across its 250 sites.

The numbers are mind-boggling—and accurate, said Michelle Diedrich, GMO’s chief marketing officer. “We have had our tracking and reporting verified and our systems audited. The great thing about the Internet is it’s all trackable.”

While some doubt that eternal salvation can be gained with the click of a button, ...

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Welcome to the Golden Age of Global Charity

Thanks to innovations in accountability, poverty-fighting efforts are flourishing like never before.

The global aid industry is experiencing an unparalleled era of evolution and transformation. Globalization of media has increasingly brought the plight of the world’s poor, disadvantaged, and disabled before our eyes. A growing awareness of the chasm between the privileged and the poor has spawned a tremendous burst of creativity in efforts to end poverty.

At the same time there has been an increasing demand for heightened scrutiny over the impact of poverty programs. Do any of them really work?

New evaluation tools have been adopted by a generation of academic researchers keen to answer this question, and we now have an array of surprising results. In A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, husband and wife Nicholas Kristof (columnist for The New York Times) and Sheryl WuDunn (a business executive and former Times journalist) chronicle these exciting developments. This is the best new book for those with a passion for understanding the most innovative and effective ways to love their global neighbor.

Restoring Accountability

The size of the charitable aid industry would surprise most people. The 1.4 million charities in the United States alone receive $1.5 trillion in revenues every year, mostly from private donations and government grants. Kristof and WuDunn point out that just in terms of its sheer mass, the charity industry is enormous, more than twice the size of the U.S. defense industry. The central theme of A Path Appears is how charitable endeavors are being transformed by a series of welcome innovations.

For example, until recently there has been very little understanding of whether dollars given to purported beneficiaries have translated into actual benefits. In many respects ...

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The Word, the Flesh, and the Biblical Epic

What do we do with Biblical epics in light of Scripture?

Earlier today I got an email from a group of college students from the Midwest who asked this question: How are we as Christians supposed to process, respond to, and view Biblical epic films in light of Scripture?

I think that's an important question. Last year saw two major Hollywood-produced epics (Noah and Exodus) plus Son of God, an edited-down version of The Bible TV miniseries. I'm not even sure how many are slated for 2015, but I know for certain that there are multiple adaptations from the Old and New Testaments en route, a sort of revival of the “sword-and-sandal” mid-twentieth century heyday. (That spate of Biblical epics is far more complicated than we often assume; I wrote about it six years ago for Christianity Today.) If the subject interests you, the best person I know to read is our contributor Peter Chattaway, whose blog is a treasure trove of information on Bible movies past and present. I don't need to tell you that the reception of Noah and Exodus was mixed from Christians, with everything from four-star reviews to accusations of heresy. That means the students' question is important for more than just a class assignment. I'm not a theologian or a philosopher, but here is how I think about it. (Please forgive my lousy Greek.) First, I have to think about what a work of art is. The definition I've been working with for some time now is this: art is the cultural artifact—the thing that humans make—that requires both maker and audience in order to complete it. It has both form and content. More on that in a moment. This isn't a definition of good art, mind you—just art generally. But it suggests that if I make a painting and hide it under ...

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Good Christian Girls Get Angry

No longer in denial: Letting God use our anger.

I heard my words first, then I heard the emotion behind them.

“Don’t you understand what she said?” I snarled at the woman at the cash register, gesturing to my cousin, who was having trouble communicating her request. “She wants that one.” The woman ducked her head and silently took down the item. She averted her eyes as she scanned it and added it to our purchases.

My stomach rolled at the shame I knew she felt, a shame I caused. My tone was condescending, angry, and full of hate. I was too full of rage—at myself, at her, at everyone around me—to apologize and could only stomp off when our purchase was complete.

It had taken me eight months to get to this point. That’s how long I had been living in mainland China, and how long I had endured insults from locals for my poor Mandarin skills and my even poorer understanding of the local culture. Like a good Christian girl, I didn’t let myself get angry about it. On my good days I acted as if the barrage of cruel comments and actions was mildly amusing. On my not-as-good days I told myself they were trivial annoyances I could shake off.

Then came that interaction with the woman at the grocery store. She was younger and physically smaller, and in a less powerful position than I. I couldn’t remember bullying anyone before. I was known for my kindness and compassion, yet here I was, shouting in Mandarin over the simplest of misunderstandings.

The anger I denied ever having ballooned and festered into rage over which I had no control.

For most of my life I read those well-known verses from the New Testament—“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph. 4:26) and be “slow ...

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How Texas Became a Conservative Evangelical Powerhouse

Robert Wuthnow investigates the causes of the Lone Star States political transformation.

I grew up in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s. During my childhood, Texas was a purple state. Both major parties represented us in the Senate, and the governorship oscillated between Democrats and Republicans. Things have changed quite a bit.

In November 2014, Republicans swept the mid-term elections throughout the United States. In Texas, the margin of victory was surreal, with Republican Governor-Elect Greg Abbott defeating Democratic Candidate Wendy Davis by more than 20 points. Yet how did Texas, which in the 100 years between the end of Reconstruction (1877) and the inauguration of Jimmy Carter (1977) sent only one Republican to the Senate and none to the governor’s mansion, become the geographic locus of the Republican Party? In Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State, Princeton Sociologist Robert Wuthnow contends that religion played a major role in that transformation, reaching all the way back to the founding of the Republic of Texas (1836) in order to investigate the grassroots causes of the shift in voter alignment in the Lone Star State.

Texas Turns Purple

Prior to the Civil War, as natural disasters, disease, and potential attack by Native Americans threatened white families that settled Texas, religion brought hope and comfort. It also shaped civilization in the “rough country.” As historian Sidney Mead has persuasively argued, the lack of an established church left America without a central authority empowered to teach virtue to the populace. Instead, various denominations cooperated to shape a generally Protestant public morality.

In the Republic of Texas, they did the same. Over time, schools and communal organizations, informed by Protestantism, ...

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Parents: Give Up Your Great Expectations

Embracing the imago Dei over childhood milestones.

Daniel Kish is blind. And he can see. In a segment from the new podcast Invisiblia, featured on This American Life, we meet Daniel and hear his fascinating story. (For anyone interested in the influence of expectations upon individuals and their communities, this episode is worth listening to in full.)

In short: After surgeons removed his eyes when he was 13 months old, Daniel’s mother made the uncommon choice to allow him to climb and run and navigate the world on his own. Eventually Daniel developed a way to see around him by making clicking noises comparable to bats using echolocation. He learned to ride a bike, went to a typical public school, and developed a love for hiking. MRI evidence shows that Daniel’s clicks activate the visual cortex in his brain just as opening my eyes stimulates my visual cortex. In other words, Daniel literally is a blind man who can see.

His story commands attention, yet Daniel insists his abilities aren’t that remarkable. Raised under the assumption he could function independently, he believes blind people who need significant assistance are the product of low expectations, not the inevitable result of losing vision.

Modern research bears out Daniel’s assertions. When teachers are told ahead of time what to expect from their students (i.e., this student is an “A student” or a “D student”), the teachers’ expectations affect the students’ grades. Similarly, as Stanford Professor Carol Dweck explains in her book, Mindset, students who think that their intelligence is fixed learn less than students who assume they can grow in intelligence.

I’ve seen the same thing with our oldest daughter Penny, who has Down syndrome. ...

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Review: The Drop Box

It doesnt prove that these kids are worthwhile; it just shows that they are, and that's what's beautiful.

mpaa rating:Not RatedGenre:DocumentaryDirected By: Brian Ivie Run Time: 1 hour 19 minutes Cast: N/A Theatre Release:March 03, 2015 by Focus on the Family / Kindred Image

Brian Ivie’s documentary The Drop Box is an emotional balancing act: on one side is the heartbreaking fact that millions of children are abandoned at birth around the world every year. On the other side is the triumphant story of The Drop Box’s Pastor Lee Jong-rak, pastor of Jusarang (God’s Love) Community Church in Seoul, South Korea.

Pastor Lee’s family and a handful of volunteers work to provide a home for over a dozen mildly to severely disabled children (including Pastor Lee’s son), and since December 2009, they have saved the lives of hundreds of abandoned newborns through their “baby box.”

The concept and apparatus are simple: mothers who are unable to care for their children, as often for social reasons as economic ones in Seoul, can leave their babies in the box for Pastor Lee to care for. The box itself is like a cupboard: the baby is placed inside a padded, heated compartment, and when the door shuts a bell rings to alert the house.

Pastor Lee stays up most nights to listen for the bell, and the first thing he does after carefully lifting a baby from the box is kneel to pray. He’ll then get the baby to a hospital and pass him or her on to an orphanage or adoption agency.

The process is remarkably seamless. The mothers remain anonymous, the child is immediately given care, and the box is open to any who need it. But the work has complications. Many of the children are disabled, and the lack of records makes hospital visits challenging. Pastor Lee’s own health has suffered from his tireless work ethic. And there are all the children who live with the Lees permanently, most of whom need constant care. From the film’s perspective, though, none ...

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Review: Maps to the Stars

A well-acted but excessively bleak satire of the Hollywood echo chamber.

mpaa rating:R (For strong disturbing violence and sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some drug material.)Genre:DramaDirected By: David Cronenberg Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Evan Bird Theatre Release:February 27, 2015 by Focus World

One of David Cronenberg’s trademarks as a filmmaker is his exploration of the body, particularly the horrors of its fragility. Through films like Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986) and Existenz (1999), he helped pioneer the “body horror” genre. He adopted bogeyman tropes to stories where the scares come not from external monsters or villains, but from within—from the embodied self’s toxic neurosis.

His movies have a cold, nihilistic view of humanity in the modern age. Humans are often indistinguishable from animals (bursts of animalistic, emotionless violence are regular Cronenbergian motifs) or simply machines, soulless cogs in a meaningless web of money, sex, drugs, and power.

Maps to the Stars, a harsh and exaggerated look at the bleak goings-on of celebrities in Los Angeles, is no exception. With its body-image obsession, Botox body-alteration tendencies, and animalistic views of sex and survival, Hollywood is in many ways the perfect backdrop for Cronenberg’s “body horror” fascination.

Almost too perfect.

Maps zeroes in on all the worst things about Hollywood (especially actors) and cynically pushes them to the limits of grotesquery, but does it have anything insightful to offer? Unlike other “inside Hollyweird” films by auteur directors, Maps is neither beautiful (like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive), nor smart (like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation), nor funny (like Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration). It’s just gross.

Maps follows a series of interlocking, incestuous (both figuratively and literally) storylines involving a cadre of highly unlikable Hollywood people: an aging actress (Julianne Moore, exceptional as always), a schizophrenic ...

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The Long Tail: Love Me, Traitors and The Widowmaker

Global takes on stories about hookers, wannabe punk rockers, and . . . coronary artery scanning?

Alissa’s note: Ken Morefield, a long-time contributor to Christianity Today Movies and a cinephile and critic for whom I have great respect, writes a monthly post we call “The Long Tail.” Each month, he looks at a few films that are being primarily distributed to American audiences through DVDs or Internet streaming and tries to surface some movies that might otherwise fly under the radar. Look for a new column every first Tuesday of the month!

Now entering its thirteenth year, Film Movement’s “Film of the Month Club” is cherished by fans of world cinema who may not be able to afford to attend festivals. Subscribers get a feature film on DVD, often weeks or months before that film is available via streaming outlets.

The Club’s January and February selections highlight the value of the service, particularly for those of us who don’t live in major metropolitan areas and don’t have access to specialized brick-and-mortar DVD outlets. Love Me and Traitors are interesting, engaging films that transcend their genres largely because they don’t play out their genre stories in settings with which American viewers may be unfamiliar.

Maryna Gorbach’s and Mehmet Bahadir Er’s Love Me is a cross between Pretty Woman and The Hangover, with just a splash of Before Sunrise. Cemal (Ushan Çakir), a Turkish man on the verge of an arranged marriage, is dragged by his uncle to a bachelor party weekend in Ukraine. In a landscape of brazen sex industry tourism, Cemal’s half-way decent guy credentials are established by his reluctance to engage in prostitution—at least in its official forms. Whether he can withstand the peer pressure to take advantage ...

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