August 23, 2017 – Finland has reportedly seen a flood of conversions from Islam to Christianity, with hundreds of asylum seekers from the Middle East turning to the Christian faith, officials in the Evangelical Lutheran community said.
Evangelical Lutheran parishes have begun establishing confirmation classes for Muslim immigrants who want to become Christians. Exact figures on the number of recent Muslim converts aren’t available since such records aren’t kept – but conservative estimates on the number suggest several hundred in recent years within the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, according to the Finnish news source Yle Uutiset.
Converts hail from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. As many as 20 Afghani men are enrolled in ‘pre-confirmation’ teaching on the Christian faith at the Tainionkoski parish centre in Imatra, Eastern Finland. Students are assisted by a New Testament in the Dari language, the variety of Persian spoken in Afghanistan. A Dari interpreter is also on hand via Skype to support the teaching given in English.
‘I haven’t been baptised yet, but I’m looking forward to it,’ said one convert, Aliraza Hussaini. Conversion from Islam is a divisive move however, one not readily accepted by many traditional Muslim families; some say that after conversion they are seen as ‘infidels’ in ‘exile’ by family in their home countries.
‘I haven’t been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I’ve converted, it would mean trouble for me,’ said another convert, Golamir Hossaini.
Many of the Imatra confirmation students reportedly cited a disillusionment with the Islamic faith, and say they will probably never return to Afghanistan.
August 17, 2017 – Joseph D’Souza has emerged as one of the leading Christian voices in India. As moderator bishop and the primate of the Good Shepherd Church of India as well as founding president of the ecumenical All India Christian Council, one of the largest interdenominational coalitions of Christians in India, he is primarily known for his work on religious freedom.
This year he spoke at New Wine, a major evangelical festival in Somerset, primarily about his work with Dalits, a poor and marginalised group of people in India.
D’Souza believes that the Church in the global South is the new centre ground for Christian thought. ‘I think very strongly that the Church of the global South now has the leadership, the theology and the practical experience of the past colonial era to speak into Western Christianity,’ he tells Christian Today.
Speaking of the rise of modernity and rationalism and the decline in church attendance across Europe, he continues: ‘I believe Western Christianity is reaping the fruits of individualism. ‘They do not understand the place of the word of God in historical Christianity for over 2,000 years.’
On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, D’Souza says the job is only half complete. ‘I believe the full reformation of the Church is going on now with the insights the global south is bringing. The global south is much more in tune with how we believe God has made us to be.’
As a traditionalist, the debate around sexuality is critical for D’Souza and this is where he really sees, from his perspective, the global south holding firm. ‘It understands the critical nature of the family unit,’ he says. ‘They are actually more modern and radical in that the south is saying, “Who are you to redefine marriage?”
‘We believe this issue is an immensely pastoral issue even as we hold to the Church’s historic definitions of the family as male and female. I have friends who are gay and I love them and accept them and believe they are no greater sinners who need the grace of God than me.’
But it is not just the battleground of sexuality where D’Souza is unafraid to poke the Church in the West. ‘Christians have been nervous about entering the justice area,’ he said. ‘That has been a mistake of the Western Church.
‘If the church had grasped that justice and righteousness was at the heart of who God is, it would have taken a different stand in the apartheid area and in the whole issue of the civil rights in the US.’
It is in this context that D’Souza sees his work for religious freedom in India. ‘Religious freedom is for me a justice issue. It is the work of justice,’ he says.
Christian persecution is rapidly on the rise with Open Doors documenting a threefold increase in attacks. It is now estimated to be the 15th worst country in the world to be a Christian – worse than Egypt, Myanmar and Turkey.
August 3-5, 2017 – Masimba Chimwara, Chairman CBMC Africa shares highlights of his time with the CBMC Madagascar Team. He and Frik van Rensburg from CBMC South Africa spent 3 days in Antananarivo to encourage the team in their strategic planning and training.
“We were greatly encouraged by the group of 21 attending the training on Thursday and Friday which included new members. The group consisted of business men and women and a significant group of young people (students, graduates and young professionals).
The training covered the following areas: CBMC Orientation, Connect 3, Marketplace Ambassadors, and Discipleship.
On the last day the leaders had a Strategic Planning Session which outlined their immediate actions and also to ensure they grow the ministry over the next 2 years. Some exciting outcomes of the Strategic Planning sessions included: to grow from 1 to 5 teams of which one will be a ‘young professionals’ team; a leadership team was selected; to translate the Operation Timothy (OT) booklet from English to Malagasy. We are thankful that a donation of funds was given to enable the printing of OT book 1.
Please pray with us that God would raise up men and women to assist with funds needed to continue to grow and support this ministry in Madagascar.
We praise God for our timely visit, for the committed men throughout the years and for the NEW men and women He has brought into the ministry. Over the years we have planted and watered; now we eagerly trust God to grow it. We are thankful to CBMC SA and CBMC International for financing this mission. What a privilege it is for us to invest time, talents and treasure into building His Kingdom!”
August 4, 2017 – Eric Metaxas What happens when a civilization forgets—or rejects—its roots? We’re seeing it right now.
“Europe is committing suicide. Or at least it leaders have decided to commit suicide.” Those are the opening words of Douglas Murray’s controversial best-seller, “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.”
What Murray means when he says that Europe is “committing suicide” is that “the civilization we know as Europe is in the process of committing suicide.” It’s a fate that neither his native “Britain nor any other Western European country can avoid . . . because [they] all appear to suffer from the same symptoms and maladies.”
It’s Murray’s diagnosis of these “symptoms and maladies” that should interest Christians.
As the subtitle suggests, Murray’s book covers much of the same ground as other recent books by authors such as Mark Steyn, Bruce Bawer, and the French novelist Michelle Houellebecq. These books seek to warn readers about the threat to European institutions and values posed by mass Islamic immigration.
While Murray is, to put it mildly, skeptical about the possibility of successfully assimilating millions of Muslim immigrants and their children, this mass migration alone wasn’t enough to cause the “strange death” alluded to in his title.
As Murray tells readers, “even the mass movement of millions of people into Europe would not sound such a final note for the continent were it not for the fact that (coincidentally or otherwise) at the same time Europe lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.”
In other words, it is mass Islamic immigration plus Europe’s spiritual exhaustion—my words not his—that threaten to put an end to European civilization.
And at the heart of the loss of faith Murray cites is Europe’s turning its back on Christianity.
In one chapter he writes about a sense shared by many European intellectuals, including himself, that “life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow and that life in modern Western Europe in particular has lost its sense of purpose.”
According to Murray, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfill you too.”
The “religion” Murray refers to is, of course, Christianity, which he calls the “source” of European ideas about rights, laws, and the institutions that protect them. He tells his secularized readers that “There is no reason why the inheritor of a Judeo-Christian civilization and Enlightenment Europe should spend much, if any, of their time warring with those who still hold the faith from which so many of those beliefs and rights spring.”
He also derides the varieties of “European Christianity [that] have lost the confidence to proselytize or even believe in their own message.” This lack of confidence, in Murray’s estimation, is why some young Europeans turn to Islam, which doesn’t suffer from the sense that “the story has run out.”
What makes Murray’s account especially interesting is that he is a self-described atheist. His reasons for disbelief aren’t particularly persuasive, but that doesn’t negate his much-needed reminder of Europe’s debt to Christianity and how its rejection of its Christian past threatens its future. The same, of course, could be said about America.
As Murry writes, “If being ‘European’ is not about race—as we hope it is not—then it is even more imperative that it is about ‘values.’ This is what makes the question ‘What are European values?’ so important.”
It’s a question that can’t be answered without first acknowledging the source of those values.
July 19, 2017 – Frans van Santen, CBMC Europe (Europartners)
As you know, Europartners recently had our very first weekend of the Young Professionals Academy in Cluj, Romania. Ron Zwaan and I myself were teaching for two days and had a great time together with 22 participants. Thanks to our volunteers Corneliu and Stephanie Niste, the weekend was very well organized.
Together we discovered our calling and destiny as leaders. It was in a productive, intimate and open climate to which everyone contributed. At the end of the program we had communion, remembering that we all are Christ’s own and live to honor Him.
We would like to share this video with you that Stephanie made. In it you will meet those who were impacted by this weekend and what they plan to do about it. Worth watching!
July 8, 2017 – John Stonestreet In his new book, “The American Spirit,” David McCullough observes, “We are raising a generation of young Americans who are by and large historically illiterate.” And in her Wall Street Journal review of the book, Peggy Noonan recounts McCullough’s description of “a bright Missouri college student who thanked him for coming to the campus, because, she said, ‘until now I never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.’”
While it’s tempting to laugh at the state of history education, and it is really abysmal among most Americans, we should first look in the mirror. And by we, I mean Christians, those of us who follow a historical figure, who actually lived in history, who was born as part of the story of a nation that played a central role in human history, and who lived and died and rose again, in obedience to God the Father who, from all indications in Scripture, is a God concerned with time and place.
In particular, we evangelicals need to take history more seriously. As Mark Noll wrote in his book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” “American evangelicals display many virtues and do many things well,” he writes, “but built-in barriers to careful and constructive thinking remain substantial.”
Now what barriers is he talking about? Some are obvious when we look carefully at our own history. As many, including Noll, have described, evangelicalism began as a tiny reform movement away from larger institutions such as the state-supported Catholic and Anglican churches. Early evangelical leaders stressed things like individual conversion, small groups, and the evangelizing of young people. And Evangelicalism innovated means to grow in faith that were outside of established, traditional channels.
“In general throughout the 18th and on to the 19th century,” Noll explained in an interview with Christian History, “the whole of the English-speaking world [was] moving away from traditional religion defined by respect for authority, respect for the past, respect for the tradition, and moving toward a more individualistic, pragmatic, and practical practice of Christianity.”
What all this means is that the greatest strength of evangelicalism—the emphasis on the personal aspect of faith—may also have become a weakness. In our personal zeal for Jesus, Noll suggests that we’ve neglected deeper, more historically rooted education in the Christian faith and the development of a public theology that can speak broadly to the culture. Or as one of my history teaching friends often likes to say, some of us suffer from evangelical Alzheimer’s.
All of this suggests that we do, in fact, have much to learn from our Christian forebears. A robust study of church history will not only ground us in the rich story of our faith, it will allow us to learn from those who have gone before. After all, we didn’t invent the gospel or the church. And the Bible is not a collection of moral maxims or principles isolated from history. No, it contains the overarching story of God’s interaction with humanity. And God’s concern with time and place means He has historically situated His people, while breaking into history in such a way as to bring about its conclusion and consummation.
And though we find in Scripture saints and heroes, we shouldn’t stop at the end of the New Testament. Two-thousand years of church history has given us believers like Polycarp, Augustine, Francis, Teresa, Carey, Wilberforce, Chesterton, Lewis, Bonhoeffer, Ten Boom, and my friend and hero, Chuck Colson, all of whom modeled the Christian life and left records of their journey.
July 5, 2017 – Eric Metaxas The World Is Becoming More Religious
Ever hear the old saw that religious people are on the wrong side of history? It isn’t true. Turns out, we’re on the right side of the future as well.
A year ago, National Geographic told readers that “religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.”
But as Rodney Stark documented in his recent book, “The Triumph of Faith,” that statement is wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite of the truth. According to Stark, “The world is not merely as religious as it used to be. In important ways, it is much more intensely religious than ever before . . .”
This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. For years, Chuck Colson, John Stonestreet, and I have been telling you about the explosive growth of Christianity around the world, especially in what is called the “global south.”
We’ve told you about what’s happening in places like sub-Saharan Africa, and even China, which, by some estimates may have more Christians than any other country by the middle of this century.
But the story that Stark tells goes beyond these two examples. The growth of Christianity in Latin America is, in many respects, just as amazing as its growth in Africa.
That might sound strange, since Latin America has been ostensibly Christian since the sixteenth century. But until the mid-20th century, it was largely a nominal kind of Christianity. As recently as the 1950s, only between 10 and 20 percent of Latin Americans were “active in their faith.”
The arrival of Protestant missionaries, especially Pentecostals, changed this. Not only did they succeed in turning nominal Christians into practicing ones, they also forced the Catholic Church to, as they say in sports, “up its game.” This, in large measure, took the form of the Charismatic renewal.
Today, Charismatic Catholic rallies fill the same stadiums as Pentecostal ones. And the result is that in large parts of Latin America, sixty percent or more of the people attend church on at least a weekly basis.
Another largely untold story is what’s happening in India. The son of a colleague recently traveled to India. One Tuesday, he went to Mass. When he arrived, he was stunned to see that the church was full—so full that the worshippers poured out onto the street. On a Tuesday.
Late last year, Christianity Today ran a story on “Incredible Indian Christianity.” Since 1980, the number of pastors sent out by the Delhi Bible Institute has grown from 100 per year to nearly 7,600 in 2015. As CT tells us, part of India’s so-called “tribal belt,” which runs across central and northeast India, is becoming India’s “Bible belt.”
But even in Europe and the United States, the rise of secularism has been overstated, if by “secularism,” you mean “denying the supernatural.” For example, sociologists consider Iceland to be one of the most secular nations on Earth. Yet, here’s a list of things that a significant percentage of Icelanders believe in: reincarnation, elves, gnomes, fairies, fortune tellers, and Spiritualism. You find similar results across so-called “secular” Europe.
Here in the U.S., the same period that witnessed the rise in the religiously unaffiliated did not witness a decline in church attendance or an increase in atheists. The increase in the so-called “nones” was a function of people who rarely, if ever, attended church finally admitting as much.
Those who claim that people of faith were “on the wrong side of history” have it exactly backwards. Religion, especially Christianity, is not in decline. It’s going from strength-to-strength. You just need to know where to look, or, in this case, what to read.
Get a balanced perspective on religion in the world. Take a break from reading the National Geographic and pick up Rodney Stark’s book “The Triumph of Faith.”
June 30, 2017 – Eric Metaxas Helping The Next Generation Navigate Today’s World
John Stonestreet and I talk about culture all the time. And we talk about it, we hope, in a way that’s challenging but still easy to understand. Because in these days of cultural upheaval, Christians need to be able to think clearly about what’s happening in the world, how it influences us, and how we are to live in it.
I know Chuck Colson sought to bring that clarity to believers, and it is something John and I try to do every day on BreakPoint.
And now, John is taking that effort to another level with his new book, “A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World.”
John, along with his co-author, Brett Kunkle, have worked with thousands of students and their parents across the country. Parents, of all people, understand the rapid pace of change and moral decline in the culture: headlines about schools secretly giving children hormones to change genders without parental consent, same-sex “marriage,” the ubiquity of pornography, drug addiction, social media, and on and on.
So John and Brett wrote “A Practical Guide to Culture” to help students in their life survive and even flourish in this cultural moment.
Now what makes “A Practical Guide to Culture” so valuable is that even beyond the obvious challenges facing young people today, which they talk about with a rare practical clarity, this book also identifies the unseen undercurrents in the culture that parents often miss—messages about wisdom and virtue, extended adolescence, consumerism, and identity in the midst of the ongoing sexual revolution.
This book is ideal for anyone who cares about and is willing to invest in the next generation. And “A Practical Guide to Culture” lives up to its billing. It really is practical. How do we talk to kids about LGBT issues? How can we steer them away from substance abuse and other addictions? And how do we ground them in the biblical story—the story of God’s grand work of redemption in Christ?
“We didn’t want to stay in the clouds,” John said. The book is worldview and theory applied—something you can pick up and start helping your kids right away.
That’s why each chapter contains both specific strategies and discussion questions. And in part 3 of the book, where John and Brett deal with specific challenges young people face—technology, pornography, consumerism, etc.—each chapter also contains sections on exposing cultural lies, recapturing the wonder of God’s story, action steps, and what John and Brett call “hopecasting,” pointing us to the truth that “God’s story continues to play out all around us.”
I loved what Christian mom and blogger Alisa Childers had to say about it: “Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes me want to buy a whole case and give a copy to everyone I meet. “A Practical Guide to Culture” is that book . . . John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle pull no punches and shy away from no topics in their effort to help young people walk through a secular culture that has become empty of meaning.”
Look, it’s tough being a Christian in these rough cultural waters. I know. That’s why I’m so glad John and Brett have produced this wonderful guide to help us.
June 29, 2017 – The vast majority of adults in Central and Eastern Europe identify with a religious group and believe in God, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries in the region. But those in one country are an exception to this pattern: the Czech Republic, where a majority of the population is religiously unaffiliated and does not believe in God. About seven-in-ten Czechs (72%) do not identify with a religious group, while on a separate question, two-thirds (66%) say they do not believe in God.
About seven-in-ten Czechs (72%) do not identify with a religious group, including 46% who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” and an additional 25% who say “atheist” describes their religious identity. When it comes to religious belief — as opposed to religious identity — 66% of Czechs say they do not believe in God, compared with just 29% who do. (While a lack of affiliation and a lack of belief may seem to go hand in hand, that is not always the case. In the U.S., for example, a majority of religiously unaffiliated adults — 61% — say they believe in God.)
Even in the former Eastern Bloc that was dominated by the officially atheist Soviet Union throughout much of the 20th century, the Czech Republic is a major outlier by both of these measures.
Belief in God is widespread across the region, with a median of 86% across the 18 countries surveyed expressing this belief, including 86% in neighboring Poland and 59% in Hungary. And when it comes to religious identity, the only surveyed country besides the Czech Republic where more than a quarter of people are unaffiliated is Estonia (45%). Ten countries in the region have Orthodox Christian majorities of roughly seven-in-ten adults or more, while four more are majority Catholic.
The Czech Republic has long had a large unaffiliated population, and scholars have cited centuries’ worth of historical reasons for this. In fact, 64% of Czech adults in the Center’s recent survey say they were raised without a religious affiliation. And another Pew Research Center report projects that the country will remain largely unaffiliated for the foreseeable future, as reflected in the survey’s finding that 79% of Czech parents are raising their children unaffiliated.
In addition, 29% of Czech adults who were raised in a religious group (largely Catholicism) are now unaffiliated, a far higher rate of disaffiliation than the regional median of 3%.
As might be expected with so many religiously unaffiliated adults, the Czech public tends to hold less-conservative social views and to participate in fewer religious activities compared with its neighbors. For example, Czechs have among the highest levels of support for legal abortion (84%) and same-sex marriage (65%) in the region. Similarly, they are the most likely to say they never attend religious services (55%) or pray (68%).
A similar pattern emerges when it comes to a variety of religious concepts, such as miracles, the existence of the soul, or fate. For most religious beliefs mentioned in the survey, the Czech Republic has among the lowest levels of belief in the region, and typically falls far below the regional median. For example, 19% of Czechs believe in hell, compared with a regional median of 54% – which includes roughly six-in-ten adults in Poland (62%) and Croatia (60%).
But that does not mean that the country is entirely devoid of religious or supernatural beliefs. Despite relatively low levels of belief in each concept, a majority of the Czech public (65%) believes in at least one of the nine concepts included in the survey (belief in God plus the eight items in the accompanying chart). Even among religiously unaffiliated Czechs, 52% believe in at least one of the concepts, including about a third (32%) who believe in fate (i.e., that the course of one’s life is largely or wholly preordained). And Czechs overall are much more likely to believe in the existence of the soul and fate than they are to believe in God.
Another sign of the Czech Republic’s complex relationship with religion is seen in attitudes toward religious institutions. Despite not affiliating with such institutions in high numbers, Czechs’ views of such institutions are not much more negative than those seen in the rest of the region.
For example, while Czechs are less likely than Central and Eastern Europeans overall to say religious institutions strengthen both social bonds and morality in society, 51% of Czechs agree that “religious institutions play an important role in helping the poor and needy” – almost identical to the regional median of 50%.
The survey also asked about a few potential negative traits of religious institutions, and Czechs are more likely than others to say religious institutions focus too much on rules. But the shares of Czech adults who say religious institutions are too focused on money and power (55%) or too involved with politics (42%) are similar to the regional medians (51% and 39%, respectively).
June 9, 2017 – Eric Metaxas Find out how a famous atheist started a secular humanist on the road to faith in Jesus Christ.
Sarah Irving-Stonebraker was on the fast track to academic stardom. A native of Australia, Sarah had won the University Medal and a Commonwealth Scholarship to undertake her Ph.D. in History at King’s College, Cambridge.
Sarah’s secular humanist perspective fit right in at King’s, and her views of Christians—that they were anti-intellectual and self-righteous—seemingly were confirmed.
Yet, as she details in an eye-opening testimony from the Veritas Forum, a strange thing happened to Sarah inside her secular bubble. Somehow, the truth got in. After Cambridge, Sarah said she attended some lectures at Oxford by the atheist public intellectual and Princeton ethics professor Peter Singer.
Singer, as you probably know, has stirred worldwide controversy by advancing the notion that some forms of animal life have more worth than some human life. Singer doesn’t believe in God, and therefore he sees no basis for any intrinsic human dignity.
During the Oxford lectures, Singer asserted that nature provides no grounds for human equality, pointing to children who have lost their ability to reason through disability or illness. Sarah Irving-Stonebraker’s comfortable secularism was suddenly rocked.
“I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo,” Sarah writes. “I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.”
A few months later, at a dinner for the International Society for the Study of Science and Religion, Andrew Briggs, a Professor of Nanomaterials and a Christian, asked Sarah a perfectly reasonable question: Do you believe in God? Again, Sarah was flummoxed, fumbling something about agnosticism. Briggs replied, “Do you really want to sit on the fence forever?”
“That question,” she now says, “made me realise that if issues about human value and ethics mattered to me, the response that perhaps there was a God, or perhaps there wasn’t, was unsatisfactory.”
Fast forward to Florida, where Sarah was conducting research. She began attending church as a seeker: And she was overwhelmed by Christians living out their faith: “feeding the homeless every week, running community centres, and housing and advocating for migrant farm laborers.”
And when she started reading the likes of Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, she saw the intellectual depth and profundity of their Christian faith. Then this: “A friend gave me C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and one night,” she wrote, “I knelt in my closet in my apartment and asked Jesus to save me, and to become the Lord of my life.”
Sarah’s journey from doubt to faith reminds me a little of another formerly atheist denizen of Cambridge and Oxford—C.S. Lewis. Lewis saw the bleak implications of his worldview, stating, “Nearly all I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real, I thought grim and meaningless.” And just like Sarah, Lewis had good, well-informed Christian friends and colleagues such as J.R.R. Tolkien to point a disillusioned atheist gently to Christ.
As Chuck Colson would say, while there are many good ways to share the good news with people, even scholars, one is to help them follow their worldview assumptions to their logical conclusion. The fact is, the grim, atheistic worldview simply can’t carry the weight of human significance on its bony shoulders.
Created in the awesome image of God, men and women know that life has a meaning beyond “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” People everywhere see the True, the Beautiful, and the Good and long to know their source. And, thank God, He has revealed Himself!