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Christianity Today

  1. His music inspired a generation of Jesus freaks, but he never shook the suspicion of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    In 2014, John Darnielle, of the band the Mountain Goats, gave his first novel an obscure title—Wolf in White Van. In the book, the protagonist described watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network many years before. Televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch were discussing Satanism in rock music with an “expert” guest. The hosts were shocked to learn that demonic messages were hidden everywhere—even in albums from so-called Christian artists. To prove his point, the guest produced a vinyl LP, which was placed on a turntable and played backward. Supposedly a mysterious phrase could be heard: “Wolf in White Van.”

    Why was this phrase so nefarious? Surely it didn’t help matters that the song it was taken from, “666,” was about the Antichrist. But the larger worry was that the artist, Larry Norman (1947–2008), was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Such suspicion dogged the career of the man who was called the “Father of Christian Rock.”

    For decades, Christians have been obsessed with the prospect of hidden messages, both in the Bible and outside it. I confess I spent considerable time in my teenage years listening for purported backward masking on Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Rush records. What possessed earlier generations of evangelicals to spend so much energy on conspiracy theories—to focus less on the songs themselves than what they sound like played in reverse? Why did so many Christians assume that rock ’n’ roll music was the Devil’s handiwork, plain and simple?

    My curiosity led me to a man who, once upon a time, seemed to be the source of all the trouble. Thanks to his estate, I was granted access to Larry Norman’s considerable archives....

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  2. Though evangelicals’ freedom has worsened, Putin remains their best, or only, option.

    Even as persecution climbs for Protestants in Russia, most of its evangelicals continue to support President Vladimir Putin, who won his fourth six-year term in last week’s election.

    Given Putin’s stronghold in the former Soviet state, they don’t really have another choice.

    The incumbent Russian president drew in 75 percent of the vote Sunday, up from 64 percent in 2012. With a popular leading critic, Alexei Navalny, forced out of the race, Putin soundly beat out Pavel Grudinin, a millionaire entrepreneur from the Communist Party; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist with a military background; and Ksenia Sobchak, a former TV host.

    For Protestant voters, who make up only about 1 percent of the heavily Orthodox nation, “their support for Putin would be only a bit below the national average,” according to William Yoder, spokesman for the Russia Evangelical Alliance. “They would not vote for a communist, or a nationalist like Zhirinovsky, and not for a movie-starlet like Sobchak.”

    Like their Orthodox neighbors, Russian evangelicals prioritize family values such as traditional marriage, said Yoder. But leaders do not often speak out to address politics—especially not from the pulpit.

    Pastor Alexei Smirnov, chairman of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, did post a statement this week to congratulate Putin on his victory.

    “In accordance with the Word of God, the Bible, the churches of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists will support you in prayers. As before, our brothers and sisters will make every effort to build not only the Kingdom of Heaven, but also the earthly Fatherland, Russia,” an English translation read.

    “I wish you...

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  3. Dr. David Setran is Price-LeBar Chair of Christian Formation & Ministry at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.

    Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood

    In this episode of Theology for Life, Ed and Lynn discuss with Dr. David Setran about this generation of emerging adults and how they view life and spirituality, and what this means for Christianity.

    Dr. David Setran is Price-LeBar Chair of Christian Formation & Ministry at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.

    Dr. Lynn Cohick is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.

    Dr. Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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  4. What can you do to keep your organization on mission?

    What do these things have in common?

    Each is an example of an organization that lost its way. Somewhere along the line— whether on account of market pressure (Coke), diluted identity (Sony), or the departure of a visionary (West Wing)—each of these trains ran way off its respective track.

    Unfortunately, churches and non-profits are every bit as prone to wander as their business counterparts. In their award-winning book Mission Drift, Peter Greer and Chris Horst describe this as the “unspoken crisis” facing faith-based organizations today.

    How do powerhouse brands like the ones I mentioned above so famously lose touch with their raison d’être? What causes churches and non-profits to slip their moorings and drift out to sea? What can you do to keep your organization on mission?

    Organizational Drift Starts at the Top

    So often, leaders come into their positions with a certain image of what the ideal leader should look like. For some, it’s the deeply convicted stalwart. For others, it’s the creative luminary. Still others aspire to be the courageous hard-charger.

    Each of these images are great. But, when leaders exaggerate one over the others, they can quickly drift off course… and take the entire organization with them.

    In short: if your values get out of whack, so will theirs.

    Assembling a Leadership Mosaic

    For Christians, no monolithic model of leadership will do.

    We worship a God whose redemptive leadership takes shape in manifold ways throughout Scripture. He is our archetype—the one in whose image we’re made...

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  5. The President should go through with his talks—for the sake of three Americans and millions of North Koreans.

    If President Donald Trump meets with Kim Jong-un, he will be the first sitting US president to confer with the head of the North Korean regime. The historic summit would give the president a chance to confront Kim face-to-face about his country’s severe human rights violations—which have concerned Christians, religious freedom advocates, and humanitarians for decades.

    Trump’s not the only one with such an opportunity. US and South Korean officials are scheduled to meet in Finland this week with a North Korean diplomat, and Sweden is in talks to negotiate the release of three American citizens currently detained in North Korea. South Korea has now also proposed three-way talks with the US and North Korea, possibly at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the border.

    The prospect of Trump’s meeting with North Korea has raised questions over what could be accomplished by coming together and concerns about the risks of reaching out to a country whose rhetoric and policy has long been hostile to the US.

    While commentators around the world weigh in, I asked someone who knows the threat of North Korea like few others—John, a Christian refugee who escaped from the country.

    Even though I work for Open Doors, an organization that has supported persecuted Christians for 60 years, I don’t hear from many people like John. Few North Koreans make it out of their home country, and those who do remain secretive to avoid retaliation on their family and friends.

    This North Korean refugee had a warning for Trump and the American officials: “Do not underestimate Kim Jong-un.”

    John went on to explain that even with the rest of the world buzzing about possible denuclearization, North Korea’s state-run...

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