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5 Tips for Training Little Evangelists

Faithful speech doesn’t need to rely on formulas.

In fifth grade, I received evangelism training through my church. It went something like this: Memorize a series of verses (the famed “Romans Road” of evangelizing), identify an unbelieving friend, ask her to get together, share the gospel, and invite her to place faith in Christ.

My Sunday school teacher spent the summer helping us learn the words we would need to know, and in late August, she drove two of us to pick up a classmate and test our skills. I remember nervously sipping a milkshake next to our target unbeliever, terrified I wouldn’t get the formula right or remember the Sinner’s Prayer. I don’t remember whether the evening ended in conversion, so I’m guessing it did not.

I’m not here to knock my well-intentioned teacher nor critique the various memory tools or verbal formulas for evangelism. God certainly uses these means. But my husband and I chose a less formulaic approach to train our children to be invitational, relational, and convictional in the speech they used to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

It may seem counterintuitive to train children in gospel words even before they themselves have professed faith. But when we focus less on apologetics and more on Christian speech, these patterns can and should be taught as soon as they start to talk.

First, we should train our would-be tiny evangelists to be fluent in kind words. Children in Christian homes should be taught to forgo sarcastic, bullying, and teasing speech for gracious, encouraging, and affirming speech. When we model and reward kind speech inside our homes, our children are likely to use it outside of them. Kind language is in short supply in our culture, and children who learn to stem the tide of vitriol ...

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Female Evangelical Leaders Have a Hidden Predecessor to Thank

Kathryn Kuhlman’s story offers a case study of the indisputable achievements of strong evangelical women and the equally indisputable roadblocks they often face.

“You have been called ‘hypnotic, charismatic, hypnotizing,’” said Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1974. His guest resisted. With a disarming smile, she said she was “just the most ordinary person in the world.” Carson didn’t buy it. “You’re not quite ordinary.”

With this telling anecdote, Amy Artman launches her masterful biography of Kathryn Kuhlman, a charismatic healing evangelist who emerged in the post-World War II era alongside Oral Roberts. It’s hard to say whether Roberts or Kuhlman was the most prominent healing evangelist of the day, but it’s easy to say that she was the most prominent woman in the field. At the height of her ministry, many people considered Kuhlman “the best-known woman preacher in the world.” Very few female religious leaders of any theological stripe were famous enough to snare a berth on a network talk show like Carson’s.

Kuhlman’s story is a big one, yet she has won little attention from historians. Most American religious history textbooks give her a few sentences at most and some none at all. In The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity, Artman not only rescues Kuhlman from undeserved obscurity but also crafts a sweeping interpretation of the cultural origins of the modern charismatic movement. (Artman is careful to credit her secondary sources, including Edith Blumhofer, David Edwin Harrell, Wayne Warner, and, in the interest of full disclosure, me.)

Artman—who teaches religious studies at Missouri State University—offers ample biographical details, but her main interest lies in two overarching arguments. The first is that Kuhlman was one ...

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When Satan Takes the High Road, We Take the Low Road

Why humility is one of the most effective tools for resisting the Devil.

For we are not unaware of [Satan’s] schemes,” says the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:11. We always forgive people, he says one verse earlier, because we know what the Devil is up to, and we are not having any of it. Similar logic underlies Paul’s insistence that Christians put on the armor of God: “that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11). Satan has a plan, but we know what it is so we can stand against him.

I’m not sure how many Western Christians today could echo Paul’s sentiments. Many churches, anxious to avoid seeming spooky, weird, or unhealthily preoccupied with the Devil, throw the baby out with the bathwater. They hardly mention him, let alone teach people how he plans to destroy them and what to do about it. More than a handful of professing Christians don’t believe in him at all, which is just how he likes it. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled,” quips Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, “is convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Obsessing over the Devil makes us fearful and paranoid, but ignoring him altogether makes us naïve and unprepared. So it is significant that two of the four Gospels give us detailed accounts of Satan’s guerrilla campaign against the Lord Jesus (Matt 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13). Reflecting on how Satan attacked him—and how he stood his ground—can be illuminating.

According to Matthew, immediately after Jesus was baptized, he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (4:1). (This is worth remembering when it comes to the recent controversy over the Lord’s Prayer and whether God would ever lead his ...

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Interview: Kate Bowler: Why Christian Women Become Celebrity ‘Influencers’

When the path to formal church leadership is blocked, they'll naturally look for other ways to reach an audience.

Tish Harrison Warren lit up the internet with an essay for Christianity Today that asked, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?” In her piece, Warren addressed “a crisis of authority” resulting from so much de facto discipleship occurring on social media rather than in the church—a phenomenon that, for a variety of reasons, women have experienced most acutely.

Even before Warren’s essay was published, Kate Bowler, associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School, was compiling years of research on the conditions within modern American evangelicalism that helped lead to this state of affairs. She discovered that evangelical women, denied traditional means of authority within the church (and sometimes the culture), were becoming increasingly adept at tapping into newer forms of authority brought about by the age of mass media and the cult of celebrity it has wrought. In The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities, she examines how Christian women—within both conservative and liberal church traditions—have exploited the power of beauty, therapy, family, and pop art to exert authority of their own. Author and Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior spoke with Bowler about her book.

One of the unique qualities of your research and writing is that you bring the sort of personal experience to your subject that many scholars, particularly in the field of religion, lack. You have roots in a conservative Christian tradition—but you’re not mad about it. Can you talk about that?

I grew up among the Mennonites in the plains of Manitoba in a broadly evangelical tradition, ...

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A Sixth-Generation Mormon Meets a Born-Again Christian

He asked me how I knew my faith was true. I couldn’t give a compelling answer.

I was a competitive tennis player and an academic high-achiever. Whatever I did, I did it with all of my heart—and being a good Mormon was no exception.

As a sixth-generation Mormon girl, I believed that the Mormon Church was the one true church of God. I believed Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. By age six, I was convinced that having a temple marriage and faithfully obeying Mormon laws would qualify me to spend eternity in the highest heaven—the Celestial Kingdom. There, I would exalt into godhood and bear spirit children. This was my greatest dream.

As a young girl, obedience felt as easy as skipping pebbles. As I entered my teenage years, it felt more like dragging boulders. The burdens included paying a full tithe, dressing modestly, maintaining sexual and moral purity, actively attending church, and obeying the Word of Wisdom (which forbade consuming alcohol, tea, coffee, or tobacco). I longed to make myself worthy of entering the temple one day.

But there were temptations to resist. Throughout high school, Mormon friends of mine began drifting into the world of partying. Alcohol seemed to release them from the striving and shame that comes with performance-based love. It took a will of steel to resist joining them each weekend. For three years I resisted, feeling like a pressure cooker of unworthiness waiting to explode.

Testing My Beliefs

As a senior, I gave up resisting, telling myself that this rebellion would only last for a season. I jumped into the party world with the same passion I brought to the rest of my life, funneling beer without restraint. One party at a time, my conscience started shutting down. I was “unworthy”—and relieved to no longer care.

Yet even as I felt liberated ...

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Interview: Andrew Brunson Expected Persecution. He Didn’t Expect to Feel Abandoned by God.

How the American pastor handled a crisis of faith during his Turkish imprisonment.

Many of the Christians we admire most have been imprisoned for the cause of Christ. Believers like Corrie ten Boom and Richard Wurmbrand are remembered as giants of faith and perseverance, blessed with a peculiar sense of God’s power and presence even in the midst of extreme suffering. In God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance, pastor and missionary Andrew Brunson provides a raw account of his own experience as a prisoner of the Turkish government. Yet his is a story of doubt as well as faith, of depression as well as hope. Writer and former missionary Jaclyn S. Parrish spoke with Brunson about suffering, growth, and dependence on God in the face of despair.

Can you give some of the background of why you were imprisoned?

My wife, Norine, and I were missionaries in Turkey for 23 years, and we never tried to hide our work. We were surprised when we were detained. There was an attempted coup in 2016, but that didn’t change the views of the government leaders. I think it just gave them an opportunity to do many things they’d wanted to do before. It had nothing to do with our arrest; it just created a very tense environment.

When they called us in, we thought we were getting our residence permits. But then they said, “No, you’re being arrested for deportation.” Norine was released after 13 days, but they kept me. There are several reasons, and they changed over time, but the big thing is that they wanted to make an example of somebody, of a missionary, to intimidate other missionaries so that they would self-deport. And they also wanted to intimidate local believers. At some point, the government decided to keep me as a political pawn, a bargaining chip. ...

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‘Evangelical’ Isn’t Code for White and Republican

The movement is richer and more diverse than media portrayals suggest.

There was a time when the term evangelical was a badge of honor, not a cause for embarrassment. In 1976, Newsweek magazine proclaimed “the year of the evangelical,” heralding the new prominence of theologically conservative Protestants with the cover story “Born Again!” At the time, evangelical churches were expanding rapidly, and the movement, which was still politically and theologically diverse, seemed well positioned not only for continued influence but also for a positive effect on the nation’s morals. With a newly elected evangelical Democrat ready to enter the White House—and with evangelicals of both parties embracing racial diversity, antipoverty programs, and a host of intellectual and artistic endeavors—evangelicalism hadn’t yet acquired its pejorative connotations.

Four decades later, this state of affairs is difficult to imagine. The political behavior, sexual peccadilloes, flamboyant posturing, and harsh rhetoric from some of America’s most prominent evangelicals have tarnished the movement’s reputation. For some, the nadir occurred in 2016, when 81 percent of white evangelical voters cast ballots for Donald Trump, with some Christians attempting to excuse his racially charged and sexually crude behavior.

Now that much of the public equates the term evangelical with the Republican Party and conservative politics, is rehabilitation possible? Perhaps, as Thomas Kidd suggests in Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis, it helps to step back and enlarge our field of vision. Seen only from the perspective of the 2016 election, alongside the internal disputes and stagnating membership numbers that have accompanied its increasingly negative ...

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A Foster Mother, a Murderer, and a Seemingly Simple Yes

How a shocking gesture of grace changed them both from the inside out.

When the words murder and motherhood share the same book title, it’s a safe bet that a tale of tragedy will follow. But Debra Moerke’s new memoir, Murder, Motherhood, and Miraculous Grace: A True Story, reads more like a narrative of redemption than a depressing true-crime story. In a little over 300 pages, the book tactfully recounts a real-life tragedy in order to demonstrate how God’s miraculous grace was present all along. Moerke’s gentle retelling is shaped by the fires of trial, refined by the passing of time, and leavened with the humility that comes from patient reflection.

The Moerkes’ story began with one small “yes” in 1996, when Deb and her husband, Al, agreed to foster a drug-addicted newborn. When asked to take the baby’s four older siblings—ages three, four, five, and six—they responded with another “seemingly simple yes.” Over the previous 14 years, the Moerkes had fostered around 140 children, and they knew how desperately hurting children need loving caregivers.

Among the Bower children (the book uses pseudonyms for its central characters), five-year-old Hannah was the most affectionate. She was always willing to hold hands, cuddle, giggle, and smile. But she was also anxious, prone to wild swings of emotion, and easily brought to tears. Deb suspected abuse. A tip from a friend would later confirm that Hannah’s biological mother, Karen, was responsible. Though Deb warned the Department of Family Services of the potential danger, her efforts fell on deaf ears, and Hannah disappeared from Karen’s custody. Her body would be found months later.

As the Moerkes grieved, they received more unbelievable news. Karen, in prison while ...

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Jesus Didn’t Suffer to Prove a Philosophical Point

What the cross teaches us about his remarkable patience.

One of the most remarkable things about Jesus’ suffering is his patience. He could have used miracles to make himself impervious to discomfort and to achieve instantaneous results, but he didn’t. Jesus was conceived in his mother’s womb, then waited nine months to be born. He grew up working with his father as a carpenter. He waited 30 years to begin his public ministry, withholding his identity as the Messiah until the right time.

Jesus also showed patience with suffering. Augustine argued that Jesus teaches us true patience by his willingness to suffer evil: “Properly speaking those are patient who would rather bear evils without inflicting them, than inflict them without bearing them.” Jesus was patient in suffering not to prove a philosophical point; he was patient for our sake.

This idea that suffering requires patience is difficult to hear. One of the greatest blessings of the modern world is the way that science, technology, and medicine have relieved us of much suffering, especially as compared with previous generations. But this blessing hides a danger. We have come to believe that no one should have to suffer.

There is a very Christian, humanitarian impulse in this desire to help relieve the suffering of others, but this impulse can also lead into falsehood. Compassion—literally, “suffering with”—can degrade into sentimentality, which cannot bear the thought of suffering. We suppose that the highest good is to avoid suffering.

This becomes particularly dangerous when we decide that certain kinds of life are not worth living. While this is a modern impulse, we also see it in the New Testament, in a pivotal conversation between Jesus and Peter, as the latter is grappling ...

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Our Stories: Seeing Through the "Before" and "After"

Our testimonies should point to God's faithfulness even before our conversion.

Much ink has been poured into the power of personal testimony—as it should. We live in a world of story, of narrative. For millennia, we have been calling people into the grand narrative that we call Scripture. We’ve used what God has done in our lives to invite people into a bigger story.

“I once was blind, but now I see,” for all of its glory is often way more complicated than it sounds. We have obstacles both inside and outside to understanding our stories and what God is up to.

For many of us, “I once was blind, but now I see” is our echo through the hallowed halls of both institutionalized religion and a skeptical world that can easily strip us from seeing the creator of our story—God himself.

Just a few days ago, our staff went through the sometimes-painful-but-always-inspirational practice of sharing our testimonies of how we came to faith. They were as varied as each person—from early-life conversion to finding Jesus just outside the pit of hell.

For some, it was easy to share, even natural. For others, old wounds reemerged and threatened to overwhelm. In his Requiem for a Nun, master writer William Faulkner writes this pithy line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

So true. Our personal testimonies, as one of my friends recently commented, are our “pearl of great price”; they are the key to understanding a good part of who we are. For better or worse. Even in Galatians 1:13-24 we read of Paul’s testimony:

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous ...

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Should Christian Leaders Preach Their Doubts from Social Media Pulpits?

Experts respond.

Over the summer, former pastor and I Kissed Dating Goodbye author Joshua Harris announced on Instagram the “deconstruction” of his faith. Then, a Hillsong songwriter—Marty Sampson—posted that he too was “losing his faith.” CT asked several Christian voices to share some considerations around when and how prominent figures should disclose their doubts and disbelief.

Michael Hidalgo, pastor of Denver Community Church, author of Unlost

For leaders, these are teachable moments to show helpful ways of engaging questions, skepticism, and doubt. This demands honesty and authenticity with themselves, other leaders, and those who have entrusted them with influence. Should leaders do this, we will encourage others toward the same kind of authentic faith, and come to see we are all simply sojourners in relationship with the endlessly knowable God.

Lore Ferguson Wilbert, blogger at Sayable

It should comfort those following to see leaders with an early and consistent willingness to be wrong, repent, ask forgiveness, change, and remind others that they are not God but they look to him as the unchangeable one. Yes, Christian leaders should disclose their fears, doubts, and shifts regularly. Will it hurt? Maybe. But it is good for God’s people to see the Great Physician administering healing to even great Christian leaders.

Mandy Smith, pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, author of The Vulnerable Pastor

Sharing doubt models the entire experience of faith to followers, reminding them not to let doubt grow in silent shame. Of course, there are unhealthy ways to share doubt. When done wisely, it releases both leader and followers from the idolatry of human leadership. . . . At difficult ...

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