Interview: Across the Globe, Contemporary Worship Music Is Bringing Believers Together

More and more, says scholar Monique Ingalls, it permeates nearly every sphere of evangelical life.

Contemporary worship music, as a distinct genre, has come into its own over the last 50 years. Monique M. Ingalls, assistant professor of music at Baylor University, studies this phenomenon as an ethnomusicologist, looking at the intersection of different social and musical trends. In Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, Ingalls identifies five distinct types of “congregations” that worship together in song. Constance Cherry, professor of worship and pastoral ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University, spoke with Ingalls about how contemporary worship music has reshaped our understanding of worship itself.

Can you describe the different “singing congregations” you studied?

Contemporary worship music has a global profile, but it’s performed in a variety of local contexts, which means that it permeates many different spheres of evangelical life. In the book, I mention five distinct “modes of congregating”: local congregations, concerts, conferences, praise marches, and worship on screen. I try to emphasize how these forms of worship are interconnected and influence each other. Contemporary worship music bridges public and private devotional practices. It connects online and offline communities. And it brings a variety of personal, institutional, and commercial interests into the same domain.

For many believers, this music and the experience of participating in it have come to define what worship is. This is the music they sing during a Sunday church service. It’s what they belt out in a crowd of thousands at traveling worship concerts. It’s what’s on their lips as they progress down the street in a Christian praise march. ...

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One-on-One with Jonathan Merritt on ‘Learning to Speak God from Scratch’ : Part 1

“Most Christians who speak God do so passively.”

Ed: Jonathan, you are (to quote Churchill) a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” When we first met, you were a teaching pastor at an evangelical megachurch, but I’ve seen you call yourself a “liberal Protestant” online. So, are you an evangelical, a mainline Protestant, or what?

Jonathan: Speaking of Christian words, you've used a lot of them here. As a result, answering your question requires a little bit of conversation and context, which I'm happy to provide.

I don't remember labeling myself a "liberal Protestant," but in many ways, that would be accurate. I've always been a part of the Protestant tradition, although I have a deep respect and fascination for the Roman Catholic Church and my spiritual director is a Jesuit priest.

Additionally, I'm somewhat liberal in many regards. I do not think that being a Christian means I have to dismiss the claims of science about issues like climate change or the origin of life, for example.

I wouldn't describe myself as "mainline Protestant" because that implies alignment with a church in a mainline denomination. I actively attend Trinity Grace Church in Tribeca in New York City, which is a Protestant church but not a mainline church.

People have also called me an "evangelical," and I've even called myself that on occasion. Defining what that means exactly is increasingly difficult. The meaning of a word has two parts: definition and connotation. The connotation of the word is synonymous with theological fundamentalism and uncritical Republicanism. I'm not evangelical if that's the case.

But by the best definition of "evangelical," which I argued at The Atlanticis Bebbington's ...

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One-on-One with Brianna Parker on African-American Millennials and the Church

The pressing questions shaping African-American millennial faith are issues of injustice.

Ed: How would you describe the state of Christianity and the church among emerging adults—18 to 29-year-olds—today? What are their biggest questions, concerns, or motivations?

Brianna: It is an exciting time in the church and Christianity for emerging adults. It’s not an easy time, but it’s exciting. The church has, far too often, been bandwagoners who have followed trends as opposed to blazing cultural trails. I’m hoping to see believers begin to invest in the work of entrepreneurs who want to lead and trail blaze in the tech world.

It’s also exciting because we are engaging millennials with unprecedented courage to help us to lead from their lens. The biggest faith question is “why?”. Why does my faith walk matter? Why can’t my relationship with God look different than others in the past? Why can’t I engage God and others in new ways?

I believe the biggest concern is authenticity. This is difficult for many to hear because it shines a light on the dusty corners of our closets, showing the parts we did not expect to be unveiled.

Millennials are motivated by the unknown; they plunge into mystery and paradoxes. The lack of limits and ceiling breakers are motivating and will benefit the kingdom.

Ed: You founded Black Millennial Café in part because you saw a glaring need for substantive research on the religious lives of African-American millennials. Talk a little about how your research meets this need. What are the pressing questions or challenges that are shaping African American millennial faith and relationship to the church?

Brianna: My research allows African-American communities, organizations, and churches, along with those interested in healthy millennial ...

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An Admonition from Chuck Colson: You Are A Symbol of Hope

The Charles W. Colson Scholarship was designed to equip former inmates for ministry. Here is Colson's message to the 2006 recipients.

Hi. I'm Chuck Colson. I'm glad to have this opportunity by way of this video to bring a message to all of you who are Colson Scholars at Wheaton. It's a great honor that you have been chosen to have this scholarship at one of the great institutions in America. I might just tell you a little bit of background on how the Colson Scholarship came to be.

Many years ago, a couple of friends of mine who were on the board here at Prison Fellowship got together and decided it would be a wonderful thing if they set up a scholarship fund just for ex-offenders to come to the premier Christian institution, Wheaton. And so they started this fund and it was unnamed. They came to me and asked if I would let my name be used with it and I said no, because I really was against this idea of Christian celebrities having things named for them. What it does is to exalt man instead of exalting God. And so I really resisted. Then when the program got started, Ken Wessner, who was really the guiding force behind this, and Jack Eckerd, who was a member of this board, very successful businessman, between them they made this possible.

Wessner came to me, and he said, "You know, it would be a lot easier for those young men and women coming out of prison to be respected on the Wheaton campus if they had your name. So I thought about that and prayed about it for a good period of time. And I finally came back to Ken and said, "Yeah, if something's going to be named for me, rather than a builder or rather than something that exalts the individual, I would like these men and women to be known as Colson scholars, because that means they've come from the broken background I came from. That means they know what it is to be broken ...

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Announcing the Launch of the Global Diaspora Institute

The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has partnered with the Global Diaspora Network to launch the Institute.

With migration becoming a megatrend of our times, the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has entered into a partnership with the Global Diaspora Network to launch a Global Diaspora Institute which will serve two vital functions: (1) equip, connect, resource, and mobilize missional leaders in diaspora communities in North America and beyond and (2) help churches in North America to engage with the diaspora and the Global Church.

“We simply cannot deny the enormity of how God used the diaspora to spread the work and message of the gospel. It’s at the front and center of our Christian history,” said Dr. Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. “With hundreds of millions of people living and working outside their homeland today, many of them Christian, we have the opportunity to unveil creative ways to reach our world for Christ through those from many cultures and backgrounds.”

The Global Diaspora Institute is embarking on a significant journey to help churches and Christian leaders to engage the diaspora as a newfound opportunity for the Kingdom of God to grow and flourish. The multi-pronged effort will include research, training, convening, networking, and resource creation across multiple mediums. The Institute is being launched simultaneously with a Lausanne North America Diaspora Strategy Group comprised of top diaspora missiologists.

The Institute will be led by Dr. Sam George, who serves as a Catalyst of Diasporas for the Lausanne Movement. Sam is of Asian Indian origin, born in the Andaman Islands in India, and traces his roots to St. Thomas Christians of Kerala, India. He has lived, studied, and worked in several countries. Sam holds degrees in mechanical ...

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US Catholics Now as Concerned About Persecution as Climate Change or Refugees

But more than a third incorrectly believe Christians suffer less than half of world’s religious freedom violations.

American Catholics are growing more concerned about the fate of the world—and with it, Christian persecution.

More than 9 in 10 now identify persecution as either “very” or “somewhat” severe. This is roughly the same percentage as an identical poll last year, both sponsored by the US branch of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). But over the last 12 months, the share choosing the “very severe” category rose from 40 percent to 46 percent.

And their level of concern went with it, rising 9 percentage points. Last year, 49 percent of Catholics described themselves as “very concerned.” This year, 58 percent.

The poll surveys 1,000 American Catholics across the spectrums of age, politics, and piety, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates.

It showed that intense Catholic concern is growing on several global issues. Those “very concerned” about human trafficking rose from 72 percent to 82 percent. Poverty climbed from 68 percent to 74 percent. The refugee issue jumped from 50 percent to 60 percent. And climate change nudged forward from 55 percent to 57 percent.

So while those unconcerned about Christian persecution fell by half (from 18% to 9%), overall the “church in need” only ranked No. 4 among the list of issues.

But last year, it was No. 5.

Following the 2018 poll, George Marlin, chair of ACN-USA, said it “reveals quite clearly” the need for more emphasis.

It seems to have worked.

“It is heartening to see that US Catholics have a growing awareness of and concern about the persecution of Christians,” he said following the 2019 survey.

“[But] it is telling that [these other issues] get more attention.”

Without ...

Iran was identified in the poll as the nation where persecution is the “most severe.” It is followed by Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Syria, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia, and India. Forty-eight percent believe financial aid is “very important.” ACN has followed up its awareness efforts with a for Christians in the Middle East. Disbursed over the first two months of 2019, two-thirds went to Syria and the rest to Iraq, for emergency services and the rebuilding of homes and churches.

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Has Academic Theology Lost Its Way?

Two theologians ask how their discipline can start mattering to ordinary believers again.

Something is rotten in the state of academic theology.

That, at least, is the bold claim that Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun advance in their compelling new book, For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference. Volf and Croasmun fear that academic theology has lost its way, in part by positioning itself in opposition or even hostility to the church and its ordinary believers. Rigorous research and scholarly writing may not lead inevitably toward an unhealthy detachment, but the reality of that detachment both from church life and the most fundamental questions of human existence is all too common. As a result, regular churchgoers have grown skeptical of academic theology, and non-Christians simply dismiss it as a relic of the past with no legitimate space in the public square. Theology, the authors argue, used to be about the “Big Questions,” but now it contents itself pursuing in-house debates about obscure historical figures and formulations, all while neglecting to make connections with contemporary audiences.

While Volf and Croasmun are certainly not the first to worry that the discipline of theology has moved much closer to the margins over the last century, they describe the situation with new urgency. Academic theology, they argue, has been too willing to seek legitimacy by operating within the “great edifice of science,” which entails submitting to a foreign set of expectations and methodologies. Because of this surrender, they fear it will lose the very thing that makes it unique and meaningful: its capacity to point to the living triune God and articulate the kind of life we should live in response to his revelation.

The authors argue that theology, rather than playing by a ...

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Seven Surprising Ways to Prepare Yourself to Share the Gospel

What does it mean to be prepared to share the gospel?

Anyone who has been around the church for any length of time has heard the exhortation written in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

What does it mean to be prepared to share the gospel? What does this preparation look like?

What often comes to mind is evangelism training, being equipped, learning specific ways to articulate the story of Jesus, practicing telling our story of faith, and a host of other very valuable and important things. These are essential, but not very surprising.

What is surprising for many followers of Jesus is that there are many aspects of preparation that are often simply missed.

As I train leaders, pastors, and church members all over the globe, I am learning that there are some things we need to do as part of our preparation that goes beyond learning evangelism skills. Here are seven ways to prepare yourself to be a person that God can use to share his good news—and to whom others will actually listen.

1 – Walk closely and intimately with Jesus. It is hard to lead people where we don’t go. If you want to shine the light of Jesus, spend time in the presence of the One who is the light of the world! Sit at his feet. Make time to commune with your Lord. Be so close to Jesus that people who are far from him can see that you have been with the One you love above all others.

2 – Learn to be highly responsive to the Holy Spirit. God is speaking, more than we often recognize. The Spirit of the Living God dwells in you if you are a follower of Jesus, the Messiah. Listen. Ask for guidance. Then respond when ...

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America’s Farming Crisis, Laid Bare by Midwest Floods

A deeper problem lies beneath recent stories of swelling rivers, soggy small towns, and feel-good relief efforts.

The fields where my grandfather and his brothers once played football are currently covered by several feet of water.

My grandpa Bert was born in a small Nebraska town called Oakland, a couple hours north of Lincoln, just down the road from Senator Ben Sasse in Fremont. Like much of northeastern Nebraska, these towns are now in crisis, battling the historic flooding that has devastated the state’s farms and ranches, killed three people, and dislocated thousands.

Currently the state estimates $439 million in damages to infrastructure, $85 million in damages to homes and businesses, $400 million worth of cattle lost, and $440 million of crops destroyed, placing the total damages, by my count, at around $1.3 billion.

Floods lay bare that which was already true. This is what the Genesis Flood does, of course, and it is also how Peter describes the coming judgment at the end of all things. He likens it Noah’s flood, going on to say, “the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10).

Athanasius argues that miracles are often a kind of supernaturally accomplished acceleration of natural events: Nature will, given enough time, turn water into wine—rains will fall and nourish grape vines, the grapes will be harvested, and then eventually ferment to become wine. Jesus simply sped the process up at the wedding in Cana. Events like a flood, then, might be read as an inversion of a miracle—a rapid acceleration of the unmaking of the cosmos following the events of Genesis 3.

Sadly, I cannot help but see this quickening destruction happening in my home state. The flood has soaked thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses to ruin in places that already struggled with a trajectory of ...

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Britain Uses Violent Bible Verses to Deny Iranian Convert Asylum

Latest example of immigration officials deploying Scripture to keep former Muslims out of UK comes as Church of England adds an official Farsi liturgy due to demand.

The British government has been using the Bible against Christians seeking asylum after converting from Islam—most recently, citing verses from Leviticus, Exodus, and Revelation as evidence that the faith was not more peaceful, as one Iranian convert claimed in his application.

Anglican leaders and other advocates for refugees condemned the immigration department’s decision to deny the Iranian’s 2016 petition for asylum this week.

The letter sent Tuesday from the Home Office declared that Christianity was not a peaceful religion, bringing up “imagery of revenge, destruction, death, and violence” in Revelation and the line “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you” from Leviticus 26:7.

“These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge,” the government official stated.

The denied applicant’s caseworker, Nathan Stevens, tweeted, “I’ve seen a lot over the years, but even I was genuinely shocked to read this unbelievably offensive diatribe being used to justify a refusal of asylum.” Stevens said he plans to appeal the decision.

Bishop of Durham Paul Butler, who leads bishops in the House of Lords on immigration matters, issued a response on behalf of the Church of England.

“I am extremely concerned that a government department could determine the future of another human being based on such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities,” said Butler.

“To use extracts from the Book of Revelation to argue that Christianity is a ...

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Evangelicals Show No Decline, Despite Trump and Nones

The 2018 General Social Survey reports American evangelicals holding steady amid growth of the unaffiliated—and a surprising uptick for mainline Protestants.

Evangelicals in the United States are holding steady at just under a quarter of the population, according to the latest biennial figures from the General Social Survey (GSS), one of the longest-running measures of religion in America.

Despite the quick pace of news and week-to-week political polling, it’s longitudinal tools like the GSS that give social scientists the best big-picture views of how America’s religious landscape is shifting. The survey has asked about religious affiliation in the same way for more than 46 years, offering authorative, reliable measures of trends in belief and behavior over time.

As Tobin Grant, editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, pointed out: “Changes in religion are slow. No group gains or loses quickly.” (The “nones,” a popular term for the religiously unaffiliated, being an exception—gaining faster than other affiliations tend to because they pull from multiple faith groups.)

That’s mostly what the 2018 GSS results show us. Evangelicals—grouped in this survey by church affiliation—continue to make up around 22.5 percent of the population as they have for much of the past decade, while the nones, now up to 23.1 percent themselves, keep growing. (For comparison, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Survey put evangelicals at 25.4 percent and the religious nones at 22.8 percent.)

Other than one outlier—a slight peak of 24.7 percent in 2012—evangelicals have ranged from 22.5 percent to 24 percent of the US population over the past 10 years. Still, this steadiness doesn’t mean “no change” among the evangelical population. There is always a “churn” occurring ...

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