As 2017 comes to a close, I thought it would helpful to highlight some of year’s most profound stories, as they impact the Christian faith. The message of the Gospel does not change, but events in the church and surrounding culture have a major impact in how that message is received, both among believers and among those who do not yet believe.
- Racism: The American Sin That Does Not Seem to Go Away. Events in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia reminded me that the tensions between black and white people in America, even among Christians, are still present. What do we do with the legacy of racial-based slavery and segregation, that many American Christians were complicit in perpetuating? I read an excellent book The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee, by R. David Cox, that tells another side of the story of the iconic Confederate general, whose image remains at the heart of the Charlottesville controversy.
- The Resurgence of the Prosperity Gospel. The year 2017 witnessed several tragic natural disasters that will continue to impact many Americans for years to come, from Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Houston, Texas, to other hurricanes smashing through the Caribbean, to terrifying fires destroying many hundreds of homes in Southern California. Many struggle to make sense of natural evil and how God relates to it all. But for a popular band of Bible preachers, these tragedies are merely temporary setbacks that anticipate a time when God promises to grant great material prosperity and success, to those who put their trust in God. But is this message really consistent with what the true message of the Bible teaches? The fact that one of these preachers, whom many say is associated with the Prosperity Gospel movement, was invited to pray at the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, demonstrates that confusion still abounds as to what truly constitutes authentic, orthodox biblical faith.
- Young Earth Creationism Tells an Engaging, Winsome, and Yet Still Provocative Story. Many Christians believe in a literal six 24-hour day story of creation, but have found it difficult to express that belief in a winsome manner, in a culture that is mystifyingly awed by scientific progress. Nevermind that nearly 99% of the scientific community, including both Christian believers and non-believers, accepts that the earth is some 4.5 billion years old. Filmmaker Thomas Purifoy Jr. and Del Tackett put together a cinematographically stunning film, bathed with the politeness of a fireside chat, that suggests that the scientific consensus is simply wrong. Purifoy and Tackett’s Is Genesis History? profiles the work of serious, PhD-credentialed scientists, who believe that the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, of a 6,000 year old earth, is convincing enough to rebuild the foundations of modern science, and reverse the trend towards Christian unbelief, in an increasingly secularized society. This high quality production film promises certainty, in a world in turmoil generated by claims of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” that pervade an increasingly beleaguered mainstream media. But are Purifoy and Tackett fighting the right battle? Do they have their facts right? Who should Christians trust when it comes to science, those within mainstream science, or the renegade few who challenge the mainstream story? Should Christians divide over the age of the earth?
- Who is the God of The Shack? William Paul Young’s book, that just became a movie in 2017, was a huge fictional best seller among evangelical Christians, a good ten years ago. But his recent non-fiction book, Lies We Believer About God, raises serious questions as to the author’s theological orthodoxy. Has William Paul Young become the new Rob Bell?
- The Bible Answer Man Goes Eastern Orthodox. Evangelical apologist and Bible teacher Hank Hanegraaff shocked radio listeners when he announced that he had been received into the Greek Eastern Orthodox Church. Why are some evangelical Christians drawn to Eastern Orthodoxy?
- Has Historic Christian Belief Become Unpatriotically Un-American Veracity blogger, John Paine, asks the question, in view of how former Presidential-contender Bernie Sanders grilled Russell T. Vought, on Vought’s belief in the uniqueness of Christ, in an interview for a job with the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, just down the street, the finishing touches were being put upon the new Museum of the Bible.
- How Should the Church Care for People Who Struggle With Gender Identity and Same-Sex Desire Issues? Eugene Peterson, the translator of the popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, shook readers with his back and forth, shifting stand on gay marriage. A major document, signed by many Christian leaders, the Nashville Statement, sought to clearly lay out God’s purpose for marriage and gender distinctions. But a number of other Christian leaders backed away from signing it, because of concerns, that while it takes the right stand doctrinally, it does so in a manner that fails to adequately express empathetic care for people, in the midst of their struggles.
- Apologist Ravi Zacharias Defends His Reputation. Veteran apologist, Ravi Zacharias, answers critics over concerns about his academic credentials and use of technology in a personal relationship. No matter what your view is of the controversy, it serves as a cautionary tale to guard against the unreflective elevation of a Christian celebrity.
- The Loss of Nabeel Qureshi and R. C. Sproul. The evangelical Christian movement lost at least two major movers and shakers in 2017. Nabeel Qureshi was a young apologist, who left Islam to follow Jesus. Qureshi represented a new breed of Christian apologists, who confidently engage the culture with the claims of Christ. Beloved Bible teacher R. C. Sproul died in the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. R. C. Sproul was probably the closest you could get to a modern-day Martin Luther, raising questions as to what it really means to be a Protestant, evangelical Christian. Among some of the other influential evangelical Christians, who died in 2017, include Robert L. Thomas, one of the older defenders of traditional dispensationalism, and a leading scholar for the New American Standard Bible translation; and charismatic author John Sherrill, who co-authored some of the most influential Christian books in recent generations, including David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade, Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, and Brother Andrews’ God’s Smuggler.