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Liberty U founder discusses American Christianity, Trump and church growth

Liberty U founder discusses American Christianity, Trump and church growth

Elmer Towns, Christian academic, pastor, and co-founder of Liberty University, weighed in on the state of American Christianity, politics, and church growth patterns in an interview with The Christian Post. | The Christian Post/Edward Shih

Elmer Towns, a respected Christian academic and co-founder of Liberty University, weighed in on the state of American Christianity, politics and church growth patterns in a wide-ranging interview with The Christian Post. 

At 87 years old, Towns is one of the most respected Christian academics of today. In addition to serving as a pastor and college professor, he’s penned over 170 books and given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in the United States and abroad.

He told The Christian Post that his latest book, The Bible by Jesus: Featuring the Complete Old and New Testament, is a “paraphrase, not a translation.” Despite having eight years of Greek and four years of Hebrew training under his belt, Towns clarified he doesn’t view himself as a “Hebrew or Greek scholar.” 

“I call myself one who is dedicated to the Word of God. I believe in the inspiration of Scripture. I love Scriptures,” he said. 

Towns said the inspiration for the Bible by Jesus book came while reading Psalm 37:4, which reads: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

“As I was reading that passage, I said, ‘God, I prayed many times, but I don't get what I want,’” he recalled. “Then I translated it very freely, and it said something like this: ‘If you make God number one in your heart, then what you want is what He wants, and He will give you what you ask for.’”

What followed was a 13-year-process of interpreting the Bible, from the Psalms to the book of Job. Ultimately, he explained, The Bible by Jesus is a unique presentation of the Old and New Testaments from the perspective of Jesus, the author Himself. 

“It's a tool in the hands of the people to help them understand and apply the Word of God to their hearts,” he said. 

In 1971, Towns co-founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, alongside Jerry Falwell. Today, it is the largest private nonprofit university in the world, including students on campus and in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online).

Throughout his career, Towns has written and lectured on various aspects of church growth, with an emphasis on effective Christian education organizations and pastoral leadership. 

The secret to Liberty’s success, according to the storied professor, is its dedication to raising up and training young men and women who use their talents for the benefit of the Body of Christ, the Church. Every student who attends Liberty is required to participate in weekly worship gatherings, local service projects and global mission trips. 

Liberty, Towns told CP, has sought to intersect education, evangelism, and church growth from the very beginning.

“I said, ‘We're going to start a college. We're going to train people for ministry,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘If you can tie [academics] to churches, you’ll have two things: You’ll have God's blessing on you because God loves the church. Jesus owns the church. The church was His body. And number two, you'll have the blessing of God's people because everyone's tied to a local church.”

“That’s the secret of the success of Liberty. Many Bible colleges train people for ministry, but we train people for local church ministry by being in ministry.”

The former editor of several Christian publications and founder of Fundamentalist Journal and The Journal Champion, Towns also weighed in on Liberty’s prominent role in politics.

Towns contended that progressive liberals are “blinded,” believing truth is subjective rather than objective.  

“They feel they are operating according to the truth ... they are people with strong opinions,” he said. “And on the other side of the aisle is [President] Trump, who is a very strong conservative.”

Towns recalled how back in 2016, he told then Republican nominee Donald Trump: “You want our support? Some of these people are going to doubt if you’re even a Christian because of your identification with playmates and Playboy magazine and some of those sexual things that surround your reputation.”

Trump told him he’d joined a Presbyterian church at a young age, believed Jesus had died for his sins, read the Bible, and abstained from smoking and drinking hard liquor. 

“He (Trump) said, ‘I’ve always believed that; I haven’t changed my mind,’” Towns said. “He said, ‘If you want to judge me about my Christianity, you judge a man by his children. He’s only as good as his children. He said, ‘My children are good Christians.'”

“From that conversation, I think Trump has American Christianity. Whether he’s saved or not, I don’t know. Only God knows that,” he continued, adding that he “understands” why many progressives and some conservative evangelicals are anti-Trump.

However, he added that “Donald Trump agrees with some of the positions of evangelicals some of the time," which is why many support him. 

When it comes to how Christians should vote in the upcoming election, Towns offered the reminder that “we’re not electing a Baptist preacher; we’re electing the president of the United States.”

“Does he have the principles to be the president of the United States? Don’t get into the issue of character,” he advised. “He doesn’t have the character to be a Baptist preacher, but does he have the principles to be the president of the United States? There have been other men who have the right principles but the wrong character.

“He has the right principles. Therefore, vote principles, and vote him in."

Towns, who has studied church growth patterns for decades, said he believes the world is coming “close to the coming of Jesus Christ.”

“Something's happening in the world. Western Christianity has plateaued,” he said, adding that the largest churches are no longer made up of westerners, but of refugees.

“The growth of Christianity in Africa is amazing. The growth of Christianity in South America and Indonesia is amazing,” the former pastor stressed, explaining that the persecuted church has “strong Christianity,” while American Christianity is becoming “weak.” 

Towns pointed out that vibrant, thriving churches are meeting in homes around the world, online, and in underground locations. He explained that the “face” of the church as an organization is rapidly changing. 

“The forms of Christianity around the world are changing,” he said. “Our concept of what a church is, is radically changing. In other words, we think in terms of the building or how big it is. We’ve got to think differently; we’ve got to think about the multisite church.”

Towns contended that the strength of Christianity today are pentecostal churches that reflect the church in Ephesus addressed in the book of Revelation. Pentecostal, he said, is not spelled “with a capital P,” adding: “They’re very quiet. They don’t emphasize their doctrinal differences. They emphasize Jesus.”

Edward Shih contributed to this interview with Elmer Towns.

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