Religion Today Summaries - February 24, 2006

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - February 24, 2006

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.


In today's edition:

Christian Mobs Seek to Avenge Deaths


A story in the Houston Chronicle reveals that Christian mobs in Onistsha, Nigeria attacked Muslim motorists and traders Wednesday, leaving more than 30 people dead, according to witnesses. Riots sparked by the publishing of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad continued into a fifth day. Nationwide, the death toll reached at least 80. The mobs burned two mosques and looted and destroyed Muslim-owned shops as they sought vengeance for similar attacks against Christians in two predominantly Muslim cities in northern part of the country. "They've been killing our brothers and sisters in the north," men shouted Wednesday. The attacks in Nigeria began this weekend, months after the cartoons were first published in a Danish newspaper and weeks after they ignited a wave of unrest in Muslim countries from Egypt to Indonesia that left about 28 people dead. But the clashes in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, have been the deadliest, and the first involving counterattacks by Christians. Religious violence has flared in recent years in this West African nation, which is split roughly in half between a Muslim north and a Christian and animist south. More than 1,000 Nigerians were killed in fighting between Christians and Muslims in 2004.


Attacks on Copts Expose Egypt's Secular Paradox


According to the Washington Post, on Jan. 17, an Egyptian police official, tipped off that Christians were trying to have a building they called ‘’a guest house’’ officially recognized, stopped by to inspect. Inside were big crucifixes, a hidden baptismal font, and pictures of a resurrected Jesus, saints and patriarchs. For 35 years, the congregation and priests labeled the place a guest house to avoid restrictions on church construction in Egypt. But "This is not a guest house," the official said with surprise. "It's a church." According to those who described the incident, the monks, priests and worshipers answered: “That's right. What of it?” The next day, a mob of Muslim rioters invaded the neighborhood and tried to burn down the building. Only a frantic defense by the Christians and heavy smoke kept the mob at bay. Police officers stood idly by. One Christian man was killed by a blow to the head. The sectarian battle was one of a series that have recently pitted the minority Coptic Christians against the majority Muslims. Repeated instances of violence have brought to light a persistent paradox of Egyptian life: Although officially a secular state, Egypt is in many ways an Islamic entity in which non-Muslims are accommodated but not exactly on an equal footing. Egypt’s constitution specifies Islam as the official religion; Copts make up less than 10 percent of the population. If the tensions are not new, the willingness of the Copts to stand up is.


The Good and Bad of Religion-Lite


Wealthy megachurches, derided as “religion-lite” and “Disney-Jesus,” are becoming the scourge not just of the secular world but also the traditional church, according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The more popular and powerful churches become, the more they are disparaged as narcissistic and corporate. Defined as having more than 2000 attendees a week - as well as spectacular music performances and charismatic preachers - megachurches regularly provide fodder for critics, including the head of the World Council of Churches, Samuel Kobia, who this week warned that the megachurch movement was dangerously shallow. "It has no depth, in most cases, theologically speaking, and has no appeal for any commitment. That can be quite dangerous… because this may become a Christianity which I describe as 'two miles long and one inch deep.'" So why are megachurches attracting so many followers? First, they make people feel good. More than half of respondents to a 2005 study said their megachurch worship was: "filled with a sense of God's presence", "inspirational" and "joyful." There is energy to most of the services that is lacking from most traditional churches. And you won't hear much talk of hellfire or gloomy things. Instead, many megachurches preach the good life Jesus wants you to have here and now. The World Council of Churches is right to warn against mass-produced, corporate-like theology. But the success of megachurches is also a rebuke to flagging mainstream Christian groups who desperately need to modernize themselves.


Emerging Church Mixes Constructive Criticism with Errors, Prof Says


The emerging church movement has started a helpful conversation about the need for churches to be relevant to postmodern culture but commits fatal errors in the areas of evangelism and the authority of Scripture, says Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Speaking at a breakout session of the sixth annual “Give Me an Answer” collegiate conference in early February, Lawless told students that the emerging church movement tends at times wrongly to deemphasize the necessity of a personal relationship with Christ. “I think the emerging church movement is helpful to us when they talk about transformed lives. They do not help us when they go so far as to suggest or hint at [salvation] happening apart from a personal relationship with Christ.” Lawless emphasized that the movement is so new that it is difficult to define who it includes or what it believes. But he listed several general characteristics of the emerging church: a sense of discontent with the church as it is; a desire to engage culture as it is; a desire to be missional in North America; a focus on relationships and small groups; an emphasis on transformed lives on earth; a belief in worship as a gathering rather than a service; and an understanding of evangelism as a process more than a proclamation. Lawless concluded that there are several ways in which the emerging church movement errs, but reflecting on its thinking can teach all believers valuable lessons.