Alex Crain

Editor, Christianity.com

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Michael Paulson of The NY Times recently explored the phenomenon that is Hillsong—the multi-million dollar music empire and multi-site church founded in 1983 by Brian and Bobbie Houston in Sydney Australia. Paulson’s article contained a short description of Hillsong by Southern Baptist leader, Al Mohler:

“It’s a prosperity movement for the millennials, in which the polyester and middle-class associations of Oral Roberts have given way to ripped jeans and sophisticated rock music,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “What has made Hillsong distinctive is a minimization of the actual content of the Gospel, and a far more diffuse presentation of spirituality.”

At the time of this writing, Mohler has offered no further commentary or clarification about his statement. But unfortunately among Christians at large, such commentary from a discerning voice like Al Mohler often gets spun as jealous criticism. It’s common to see complaints like: “It’s not for us to judge,” or “This is the kind of Christian in-fighting makes the world see us as unloving and divisive.” Even CharismaNews.com posed the rhetorical question: “What's behind this trend of leaders making appeals to gospel stars such as…Hillsong? Is it the Lord speaking or another spirit?”

So, what’s wrong with Al Mohler’s critique of Hillsong? Nothing at all, actually. Rather, discerning critique from Christian leaders about ministries that profess to represent truth has both grounds and benefits. Christ’s command to go to your brother privately and show him his fault (Matt. 18:15-18) cannot possibly apply to public ministers who make public statements about what the gospel is and what the Bible says. People who claim to speak for Christ are naive in thinking that everything they do and say isn't to be carefully evaluated and—at times—critiqued publicly.

Greg Laurie, a Bible teacher not known for being particularly harsh or judgmental, has written that...

"As believers, we are indeed to make evaluations, to be discerning, and yes - to even make judgments. In fact, the Bible asks, "Don't you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can't you decide even these little things among yourselves?" (1 Corinthians 6:2). We are also told in Scripture that "judgment must begin with God's household" (1 Peter 4:17)."

Christian apologist and writer, J. Warner Wallace, views discerning leaders in the global church as being like tugboats to a large ocean liner:

“[Christianity] is a large, established institution requiring gentle nudging from the tugboats amongst us who want to change its direction.”

In other words, a great benefit that comes from having discerning theologians among us is that we are helped to bring our thinking into greater alignment with Scripture. Such careful thought may not always cater to our feelings or to the kind of idealism that wishes every professing Christian would join hands around a campfire and sing "Kumbayah." But the call to be discerning is more important than these things since being unified in the truth is the real thrust of Christ's prayer for His followers in John 17:19-23.

Your turn: Do you think Christianity is well served by just accepting all things without "judging?" Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." How have you been helped by a discerning friend or Christian leader?
 

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com

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“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” wrote A.W. Tozer over half a century ago in chapter one of his book, The Knowledge of the Holy. A right view of God is necessary not only for systematic theology but also for practical Christian living.

But in many places, the true concept of the holiness and majesty of God has been substituted for such a low view of God that, to quote Tozer, “it is utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men.” Exhibit A: Victoria Osteen’s words from her recent talk at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas…

"I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God—I mean, that's one way to look at it—we're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we're happy. That's the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy. Amen?" (The congregation applauds.)

Social media was abuzz recently with a video clip of the above quote that ended with Bill Cosby saying: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Not only is Osteen’s theology incorrect, it’s impractical. It doesn’t make sense of the despair we see in the Psalms, in Lamentations, or in the suffering of the Apostle Paul. One wonders how Christians today whose lives are marked by deep suffering, tragedy, or persecution for their faith could apply Victoria Osteen’s words.

How would you respond to a God like Osteen describes if you were a Christian dying of cancer, or you just went through a miscarriage, or your 16-month-old child just drowned? You’d want to spit in face of such a God. Only when we have met the biblical God, can we truly grieve and bear the unhappy aspects of life in a fallen world as He walks through those dark times with us (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:1-11).

Bible professor and author, Daniel Wallace, responded to Victoria Osteen's statement with deep concern that her view is the symptom of a much larger problem:

"Some of the most blatant narcissistic blather ever to come from a pulpit can also be laid at their [the Osteens'] feet. Not only narcissistic, but also blasphemous. One has to wonder how a megachurch in the buckle of the Bible belt can go on and on without the congregants waking up and smelling what’s being shoveled in their direction. If Lakewood Church is any indication of the biblical literacy, genuine devotion to Christ, and fellowship of the saints of the American evangelical church, we are in serious trouble."

"The evangelical church in America needs corporate self-reflection and corporate repentance. How we treat one another, how we honor God, what our understanding of and commitment to the gospel is, and how we measure true success all need a serious overhaul. The root problem seems to be twofold: the marginalization of the word of God and the ‘buddyization’ of Jesus Christ."

Your turn: What do you think of Victoria Osteen’s view of God? Is your happiness what 'gives Him the greatest joy?'

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com

Kent_Brantly

After hearing Dr. Kent Brantly publicly thank God for healing him from the deadly Ebola virus, atheist Sam de Brito posted a scathing article at the Sydney Morning Herald that questions Brantly as a true man of medicine. The article entitled: “Science, Not God, Saved Him from Ebola,” takes issue with Brantly crediting God for his healing. Brantly, a Samaritan’s Purse doctor received experimental Ebola treatments at Emory University Hospital after his emergency evacuation from Liberia. He was released from the hospital on August 21, saying, “I am forever thankful to God for sparing my life.”  

While de Brito's perspective is shared by many who doubt the reality of the supernatural, what his critique refuses to grant is the possibility that both aspects of Brantly's healing—the scientific and the spiritual—are compatible. If Dr. Brantly, a trained medical doctor, gives God ultimate credit for saving his life, does that necessarily discount the effort of skilled physicians who used the most of scientific advancements they could in his treatment? No, says Christian apologist Jonathan Sarfati. Such attempts may seem to place Christians on the horns of a dilemma but it is a false dichotomy. Furthermore, anti-theists actually choose not to acknowledge that science pre-supposes the existence of the biblical God.

As Rich Deem at GodandScience.org argues, God uses the advances of science and medicine in the hands of skilled physicians as instruments of healing. Ultimately, every breath is from the Lord, even the breath of those who disbelieve (1 Samuel 2:6).

Your turn: What do you think of Dr. Brantly being mocked for giving God credit for his healing?

Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com

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Paraphrasing a line attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most segregated hour in America is still 11:00am on Sunday morning. It's a sad reality that we see on a weekly basis. Recent racial conflict like that which occurred in Ferguson bear witness to the fact that we are still a long way off from the peace to which God calls us as human beings.

Today at CT, Rudy Carrasco--who has been involved in racial reconciliation ministry through the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) since 1990--offers four principles that guide his efforts to racial reconciliation:

1) Expand the Table (without sacrificing black and white)

2) Personal Relationships

3) Racial Reconciliation 2.0

4) They Are In Their 50s and 60s

The priniciples aren't easily summarized without compromising Carrasco's meaning. So, please see his well-written explanation of them here. These principles can guide each of us as we reshape our thinking in a more biblical way. Notably, at the conclusion of his article, Carrasco is encouraged that: "As we look with a biblical lens into the brokenness of the church and America, there is the possibility of edification and, yes, racial reconciliation."

He is not alone in his thinking. In the past few years, there have been several encouraging signs that the matter of racial reconciliation is on the minds of Christians in America in an ever increasing way. Trillia Newbell, in her book, United, casts a magnificent vision for the kind of diversity and racial reconciliation that God desires in our churches. (See our interview with her here at Christianity.com.) Also, pastor and author, John Piper, promotes and preaches this vision with great impact in his ministry via a book and video entitled "Bloodlines."

At times, church leaders take superficial approaches to foster diversity in their congregations. Raymond Goodlett, co-pastor of a racially diverse congregation in Richmond, Virginia offers wise counsel on that issue and speaks of the importance of deep repentance in this video.

What about you? How do you see the need for racial reconciliation in your church and community? How committed are you to personally take part in achieving it?
 

Alex Crain is the editor for Christianity.com.

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