When United Methodist Church bishops condemned the U.S. military presence in Iraq, a fax arrived almost immediately at the Century from the Institute on Religion and Democracy's top Methodist watchdog, Mark Tooley. Like some kind of Methodist pope perched over the bishops, Tooley dressed down the bishops: "How woefully absurd that church prelates condemn the United States for attempting to build democracy in Iraq."For three decades Tooley and others at the IRD have been monitoring mainline churches for political statements that are out of step with the views of their rank-and-file members. When there's a gap between the views of church leaders and people in the pews the IRD steps in to take advantage of the controversy.
Brazil offers a major example of the explosive growth of evangelical and Pentecostal churches taking place in the Southern Hemisphere. Reportedly 40 new churches open every week in Rio de Janeiro (and for 50 reales—roughly $23—you can register your new church with the government). Estimates of the number of Pentecostals worldwide vary between 115 million and 400 million.
There is some uncertainty about what to do with the dead. Should we anoint them, embalm them, bury them, preserve them in vaults, or burn them up and keep their ashes on the shelf? Recently people have started doing some disturbing new things with dead bodies—turning ashes into jewelry, or freezing bodies for a day when they can be cloned.
There are good books, there are great books, and then there are books that make you want to send copies to all your friends and pass them out to strangers. Miroslav Volf’s book is one of the few members of that last category.
The myth that sports are racially redemptive makes for formulaic movies. Glory Road feels a lot like Remember the Titans. The films (both produced by Jerry Bruckheimer) show how a team’s drive to win a championship overcomes racial divisions and leads blacks and whites to bond like brothers.
When I asked my friend about his work as an associate pastor, he ripped into his senior minister: “He won’t communicate! He doesn’t even seem interested in what I do at his church!” When I spoke with a senior pastor, he sighed. “Sometimes with my staff I feel like my dad did during a long car trip. When we kids would get rambunctious, he’d take just so much before turning around to give us a good whack.”
At a time when the church had grown cozy with the ruling authorities, and faith had become a means to power, some Christians determined to live out an alternative life grounded in an authentically biblical faith. They headed for desolate places, pooled their resources and dedicated themselves to a life of asceticism and prayer. No, these aren't fourth-century communities of monks, but present-day communities of Christians who are part of a new and radically different form of Christian practice.
With all of its jokes about bestiality, sexual harassment and pimpin’ for drunk ho’s, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is not a film to show the youth group. The humor is vulgar enough to make the producers of South Park blush. But in its own way the movie makes a case for virginity, one likely to gain a wider hearing than a True Love Waits campaign. It’s not only genuinely (if crudely) funny, but surprisingly human.
Brian Flemming is that most dangerous of religious creatures: the former fundamentalist. He is also a gifted satirical filmmaker. The two elements collide and create sparks in The God Who Wasn’t There: A Film Beyond Belief, which is playing at selected venues (see thegodmovie.com) and banking on Internet buzz and word of mouth to gain publicity.
A striking aspect of contemporary Protestant theology is the amount of interest shown in the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, who was long regarded as the champion of rationalism and the “natural” knowledge of God—a theology at odds with a Protestant understanding of the limits of reason.
Bibles are cheap. In their zeal to make scripture accessible to everyone, Protestants have manufactured Bibles in almost every language and made them available for startlingly small sums. Perhaps in doing so they have unwittingly made the Bible cheap not just financially, but theologically.
Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds churns up an emulsion of suspense and horror that engulfs you with the gray relentlessness of a low-grade fever. This is not the kind of thrilling, soaring adventure Spielberg created in Jaws or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; it’s a cheerless piece of visceral manipulation.
Osteen preaches "your best life ever" to 30,000 faithful at his church in Houston. He talks about his elegant home, his well-adjusted kids and his wife—his adoring "partner in ministry." "Be positive," says Osteen, "and you too can have all of these things."