Friday, February 27, 2015

Beating Back ISIS, by Martin Accad

Accad responds to the Atlantic article I linked to last week in a post titled Beating Back ISIS on the IMES blog. For those who read the Atlantic article, Accad has some analysis that is really insightful. Here are his main points:

  1. It would be far better for everyone if Muslim apologists stopped dissociating ISIS from some supposed ‘true Islam.’
  2. We need to understand ISIS for what it truly is: a deeply religious, fundamentalist, ‘restorative’ ideology, with long and deep roots both in history and in decades of radical preaching in certain types of mosques across the world.
  3. Non-Muslim slanderers of Islam need to stop applying principles to Islam they would not accept being applied to themselves.
  4. Given the particular apocalyptic views of ISIS and its global recruits, which Graeme Wood highlights in his article, I agree with him that a massive ground-attack on ISIS is not the solution.
  5. When Muslim apologists feel that they need to reject ISIS as non-Islamic, they risk obstructing a more fruitful fight against ISIS consisting in drying-up the ideological pools of ISIS recruitment.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants, by Graeme Wood

After I received a forth email empathically encouraging me to read What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood, I decided to invest one hour needed to fully engage it. I was glad I did.

Wood paints the phenomenon of the ISIS narrative within the contemporary Islamic scene, and offers some very insightful commentary while doing so. One short-coming of the article is that he only offered one other competing Islamic hermeneutic, and as far as I know, there are many. Wood unfortunately presupposes that the traditional Muslim understanding of Mohammed is credible, which is problematic in my opinion. Other important voices are here, for instance.

But it is still a great read, as long as we understand that groups like ISIS come and go in Islam, even if ISIS is one of the most impressive. (One one the most helpful sources for helping me understand Islam and its internal conflicts is this summary: Islam is Not a Civilization.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

American Protestant Pastors vs. Americans on “True Islam”

From Ed Stetzer, NEW RESEARCH: How Americans View Islam:

Forty-five percent of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, "gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like." … The pastors had a much darker view of Islam than Americans at large. In contrast, in the second survey, 27% of Americans say the Islamic State reflects the true nature of Islamic society.

Why do Pastors have a much more negative view of “Islam” than typical Americans? I’ve got my theories, but I’d love to hear yours.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Common Fears

This past fall I had the privilege of visiting the great nation of Russia--not once but twice. One of those trips was focused on challenging and equiping national Christians to reach out to the Muslims in their midst.

(BtW, for those who love statistics, Moscow now has the largest population of Muslims of any city in Europe, 5+ million)

Anyway, I found it interesting that our dear Russian brothers and sisters struggle with their feelings about Muslims pretty much the same way American Christians do. They intellectually know they should love Muslims in the name of Christ, but they still feel afraid since they are different.

Perhaps the simple fact that I am referring to "Russian brothers and sisters" can help us. For many Americans, the words "Russian" and "brother" or "sister" do not naturally go together. Because of geopolitics many Americans cannot see past the few differences to the many commonalities we share.

In a very different sort of way, I hope we can learn to see the commonalities we share with Muslims. While they do not (yet) share our faith, they do share with us deep commonality as people created in the image of God. They are monotheists. They have families and fears. Some of them are proud and pompous as a New York Stock broker, others are as gentle and humble as my granny Ann.

Don't get me wrong, the differences are real, but often the first step in mission is seeing the commonalities we have with people instead of the differences. Differences create a sense of fear, and that often stops us from acting in faith.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On Arguing About What “Real” Islam Is…

See this helpful little book: Reaching the Heart and Mind of Muslims by Matthew Stone. Some of the chapters are fun, and some are very basic. Here is a great quote about the point of debating the true nature of Islam (pg. 6-7):

Models are helpful, in the same way that habits are helpful. They both allow us to navigate through new and sometimes confusing situations without always starting at ground zero. Models are like maps where map are pictures, simplified pictures or representations of territory. They are condensed and accessed when we need them. However, maps are not territory. Some maps are good maps and help us steer through geography without too many problems. Some maps aren’t quite so good and end up having us go down paths with dead ends or venturing into dangerous territory. Models can be helpful, but they should never be confused with territory itself. Maps can never give one the feel of the land, its uniqueness, its smells, and its sounds. If we focus exclusively on the map and not the territory, we miss the richness of the land.

Models for reaching Muslims are also maps. They aren’t necessarily bad, but they are not a replacement for experiencing individual Muslims and the richness of their culture, groups, families, and individuality. Models of missions are helpful when viewed in a big brush stroke kind of way, but they are not helpful to the degree that they get in the way by having us focus too much on the model and too little on the uniqueness of the Muslim right in front of us. Too many Christians place their faith in the map and devote too much time arguing with other Christians about why their map is the best map.

This should encourage us to view “Islam” as simply being what people who profess it actually believe and do (Bates and Rassam 2001, 89). Biblically-based ministry in the Islamic world is not about engaging Islam per se, but rather about engaging Muslims. Romans 1:18ff does not refer to systems such as “Islam,” but to humankind. It is people who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” and thus need to be the focus of the gospel (Walls 1996, 66).

So whether or not the Islamic State, Saudi Sunnis, or Hezbollah represent “real” Islam is not a major concern for me. As ministers of the gospel, we start with people in the complexity of their contexts. It’s not our job to define Islam, but to present biblical faith. Yet the complexity of people in their contexts must be embraced without resorting to reductionistic oversimplifications which often lead to the type of decontextualized approaches to Muslim ministry that can be commonplace in evangelical missiology.

Monday, December 15, 2014

BMB Training Site

Why have we created a website devoted to BMB discipleship?  It is because discipling BMBs is an urgent task.  We view discipleship as the task of helping believers grow in the likeness of Christ (Eph 4:15), maturing from new believers into active servants of God who can lead others (2 Tim 2:2).  We can see the urgency of the task from five different angles:

The Biblical Angle.  The biblical mandate is clear: make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).  If we merely make converts but then provide them with no means of discipleship, we do not obey Christ’s commission fully.

The Pastoral Angle.  New believers are like tender shoots that need care and watering in order for their roots to be anchored firmly in the ground.  This is the pastoral responsibility of mature believers who open their hearts and homes to BMBs.  Without this, disillusioned BMBs may turn away from the Christian community and even from the Christian faith.

The Sociological Angle. When Muslims turn to Christ, they experience a loss of social identity and often face difficult challenges in relating to their former Muslim communities.  Discipleship is the key process by which BMBs can learn how to live in their new Christ-centered identity and represent Christ to their former Muslim communities.

The Educational Angle.  Educational theory has demonstrated three areas in which people mature: the head (cognitive), the hands (behavioral), and the heart (affective).  We need to facilitate Christian growth in these three areas.  So, for example, a new believer should learn not only what Scripture teaches (head), but also put it into practice (hands) and come to love God more through the process (heart).

The Missiological Angle.  The future of missions among Muslim groups depends on the current generation of BMBs being trained in God’s word and sent out to train others.  If discipleship is ignored in one generation of BMBs, the next generation will lack a solid foundation for growth, an attractive Christ-like community and the motivation for spreading gospel witness to neighboring communities.

Discipling BMBs is an urgent task, and we hope this website will provide the tools for the task.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam

In conservative Arab Islam, inquiring about problematic issues from religious authorities is not looked upon favorably. However, the Arab Spring and greater access to social media is changing this reality, even in Saudi Arabia. See this interesting piece in Foreign Policy:

Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam

In Saudi Arabia, a new generation is pushing back against the government’s embrace of fundamentalism. But is the kingdom ready for nonbelievers?

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Biblical and Contextual Grid for Understanding Dreams and Visions in the Context of MBB Conversions

From my own research on Arab MBB conversions, about 1/3 of the 50 participants had a dream or vision that they remarked was a factor that facilitated their journeys to faith in Jesus. Tom Doyle says the same thing below, 1/3.  There are actually many other factors that occur more frequently for different MBBs in their coming to faith experience (more on this later), but dreams are happening.

I have blogged on this topic before: Thinking Missiologically About Dreams.

Also, in a previous article I said this (footnote 8):

The influence of dreams in MBB conversions to Christ has been well-documented, with many popular level books being published such as Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? (Doyle 2012). Tom Doyle postulates that “about one out of every three Muslim-background believers has had a dream or vision prior to their salvation experience” (2012, 127), although he does not cite the study he refers to. Dreams may be more spiritually significant for (non-Western) Muslims because their worldview is more attune to the supernatural world than the Western worldview (Musk 1988; cf. K. 2005). Greenlee notes that dreams tend to occur at the introductory stage of the conversion process, not at a later stage of confirmation or validation of the decision to convert (Greenlee 1996, 129). Anthony Greenham found that dreams among Palestinian converts did occur, but were not perceived to be significant factors by the MBBs who had them (2004, 174). It might be possible that MBBs’ dreams may be more significant to Western Christians than they are to MBBs themselves. Nevertheless, dreams are an important psychological and supernatural factor to consider in research. Doyle concludes, “Dreams alone aren’t enough. No one goes to sleep a Muslim and wakes up a Christian. Jesus’ personal appearances are an incredible work, but He still uses godly people to share the gospel that brings salvation” (2012, 241).

Now I want to point you to a helpful resource on the topic (HT: David Greenlee), Dreams and Visions: Muslims' Miraculous Journey to Jesus by Rick Kronk.  He says dreams have the potential for “non-literary personal revelation.” Here is an excerpt where he summarizes “a biblical grid for understanding dreams and visions in the context of conversion” (pgs. 134-35):

  1. “Dream and vision events are the product of the unconscious exercise of physiological faculties that may be used of God to communicate to an individual, even to bring that person to the brink of conversion.
  2. Dream and vision events used of God (of the Old and New Testaments) for spiritual ends do not require previous faith in God nor agreement with biblical truth. Such is the case for the dreams and visions experienced by Abimelech (see Gen. 20:1-18), Nebuchadnezzar (see Dan. 2:1-45, 4:4-37), Pilate’s wife (see Matt. 27:19), and Saul (see Acts 9:1-19).
  3. Dream and vision events use of God for spiritual ends are comprised of directives and symbolic content that are in agreement with the Scriptures.
  4. Dream and vision events intended to bring an individual to faith in Christ do not include complete gospel content. Instead, they motivate the dreamer to consider his spiritual need by heightening his perception of ultimate issues –life, death, judgment, etc. –with regard to Christ, the gospel, and biblical information in general. A review of dream and visions accounts suggest that the greater the previous exposure to Christian religious information, the greater the specificity of the dram or vision event.
  5. Dream and vision events intended to bring an individual to faith in Christ are not direct causes of salvation. Therefore, in order for salvation of an individual to result from a dream or vision experience, a third-party messenger ‘outside’ the dream or vision event must provide the gospel content that the dream or vision experience has suggested.
  6. Dream and vision events used of God for spiritual purposes are non-ordinary means by which God communicates to an individual. That is, dreams and vision events intended to convey spiritual content occur irregularly and without noticeable pattern. The Bible offers no indication that they may be induced, coerced, or otherwise produce by either the dreamer or an enterprising missionary.”

One important observation, so we don’t slip into paganism as we examine dreams, either in Muslims’ lives or even our own lives:

Christians must realize that not all dreams are revelatory, either in actuality or potentially so (92).

Why are dreams seemingly so important for Muslims? Why do Muslims get excited when they have dreams of Mohammed, Jesus, or something other that is spiritually significant? Here is one last quote from the book that is worth chewing on (Kindle 1033ff):

Not only are dreams and visions considered to be vehicles of divine communication, but Mohammad himself noted that though his death would signal the end of Koranic revelation, God would continue to reveal Himself through dreams and visions to the Muslim community. In this way then, dreams and visions have become a successor of sorts to the revealed Koranic message. As such, dream interpretation, for the Muslim, serves as a form of unmediated access to God.10

Following the eventual death of the prophet and the ending of Koranic revelation, dreams and visions grew in importance as means of hearing directly from God. As a result, the science of dream interpretation developed and prompted the compilation of interpretation manuals to assist in decoding the meanings of recurring symbols in the dream and vision events. What is remarkable is to what extent these dream manuals played a role in the religious life of the Muslim in the succeeding centuries following the death of Mohammad—an indication of just how prominent the phenomenon of dreams and visions had become.

Lamoreaux remarks, “…to judge from the number of dream manuals alone, one would have to conclude that the interpretation of dreams was as important to these Muslims as the interpretation of the Koran. Some sixty dream manuals were composed during the first four and a half centuries of the Muslim era. During that same period, very nearly exactly the same number of Koranic commentaries were composed.”11 Clearly, dreams and visions played a central role in Muslim religious life. A historical review of the development of the rise of interpretation manuals and dream experts leads us to conclude that for a Muslim, “…to reject dream interpretation, is to reject the Prophet and his commands. …it is [therefore] incumbent on good Muslims to attend to their dreams and their prophetic significance.”12

[Quotes from Lamoreaux, The Early Muslim Tradition of Dream Interpretation (2002)]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Saying the Shahada

My latest article just came out in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, "Saying the Shahada: Matters of Conscience, Creed, and Communication." Normally EMQ articles are only available to paid subscribers, but they keeping this one open as a teaser for new subscribers. The link below will take you to the article.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Is Allah God?

Many Christians reject the idea that the term "Allah" could ever possibly refer to the God we love and serve. Although there is linguistic commonality between Allah and the Hebrew word "EL," it is hard for us to imagine anything good associated with the word.
And the fact is, American Christians have good reasons for a strong emotional reaction. The news has burned this word into our consciousness on the lips of angry crowds shouting  "Allah Akbar!"
But this week I was reminded that we are not the only ones whose feelings are evoked by this ancient Semitic word.
During a seminar about reaching Muslims in Russia, a dispute arose about using the word Allah. Some church leaders said they could not believe that any Christian would want to use the term Allah as they spoke to their heavenly father. 
Then a brother stood up. He is from a small tribe in the Caucasus mountains who have been Christian for over 800 years. He said, "All my life I have read a Bible that tells me about Allah who created the world. All my life I have prayed to Allah, our father in heaven. When I hear this name I have a warm and safe feeling because this is the One who sent his Son to save us."
Perspective is everything. Of course, it would be bizarre for someone in an American church to refer to the father of Jesus as Allah. But can we also see that it would be a sad twist of Christian truth to deny the same word to brothers who have all their lives known Allah as the name for the true and living God? To what word would we have them turn?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Difference Between T4T and DMM

This is an informative 5 minute video from Roy Moran. (HT: Abdu Al-Musloob)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Patron–Client View of the Gospel in “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes”

I have previously blogged on A Patron – Client View of the Gospel as a key way to understand MBB journeys to faith in Christ, and, by implication, how we can share the gospel with Muslims.

Based on some feedback I’ve received from the article, it seems extremely difficult for most Westerners to grasp the concept.  In that respect, I highly recommend Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, which does a fantastic job of explaining culture and interpretation in an enjoyable and edifying way. 

Here are some selected quotes on the concept of patronage as it is found in the New Testament:

Joining words together, though, can be far more significant than merely vocabulary. Some words have special meanings when they are paired with other words. In the New Testament, for example, the word charis means "grace." Pistis means "faith." What we didn't know until recently-what went without being said in Paul's day- was that those two words together described the relationship between a patron and his or her client.

In the Roman world of the New Testament, business was conducted through an elaborate system of patrons and clients.' When we watch the movie The Godfather, we are seeing the modern remains of the ancient Roman patronage system. Like Marlon Brando who played the godfather in the movie, the ancient patron was a wealthy and powerful individual (male or female) who looked after his or her "friends" (clients). The complex world of Roman governmental bureaucracy, the far-reaching tentacles of the banking system (usually temples) and the pervasive and powerful grasp of the trade guilds made it impossible for ordinary craftspeople or farmers to conduct business on their own. They were entirely dependent upon their patrons. Like most unwritten cultural rules, everyone knew what was expected of a patron and a client, even though expectations weren't engraved on a wall. Everyone knew a patron's role was to solve problems for his or her clients, whether it was trouble with the local trade guilds, refinancing a loan or smoothing over tensions with city leaders. When Paul was staying in Thessalonica, it was reasonable to expect Jason to handle the "Paul problem," which he did by asking Paul to leave town (Acts 17).

In that world, an ordinary craftsman or farmer didn't have the social skills or connections or wealth to negotiate with the various powerbrokers of a city. He would seek out an individual, a patron, to help. Marlon Brando captures the sentiment well. The local merchant wants help. The godfather says, "So you want me to do you this favor?" Both sides understand the agreement: the godfather solves the problem, and the merchant now must be loyal to the godfather and be ready to help if he is ever summoned. In the Roman system, likewise, the client couldn't earn the "favor"; the patron showed "kindness" to help. Seneca, a philosopher from Paul's time, said the patron and the client had a relationship, a form of friendship.6 The client was now a "friend" of the patron, but not a peer. The client was expected to reciprocate with loyalty, public praise, readiness to help the patron (as much as he could) and, most importantly, gratitude.' This kind gift had strings attached. (All gifts in antiquity had strings attached.) Seneca called it "a sacred bond."' The recipient of the gift was obligated to reciprocate. Paul introduced Lydia to Christianity (Acts 16). She reciprocated by hosting Paul and his team at her estate.

The language of patronage permeated everyday life. We know well the Christian terms grace and faith, but these were common before Paul used them. They were part of the language of patronage. When the patron gave unmerited gifts of assistance, these were commonly called charis, meaning "grace/gift.."10 The client responded with faithfulness to the patron, called pistis, or "faith."" We see that when Paul explained our new relationship with God, he used something everyone understood: the ancient system of patronage.12 Taken together, this vocabulary-so central to the Christian faith-means something different than the sum of its parts.13 (Kindle Locations 847-866).

Now Paul wasn't opposed to the patronage system; he probably couldn't imagine a world without it (Kindle Location 1802).

Because it was impossible to escape the patronage system, Paul worked within it, even in his explanation of the Christian message of salvation. Patronage had its own vocabulary. Words we usually consider particularly Christian terms-grace and faith-were common parlance before Paul commandeered them. The undeserved gifts of assistance the patron offered were commonly called charis ("grace" and "gift").' The loyalty the client offered the patron in response was called pistis ("faith" and "faithfulness").9 Roman philosophers noted that when one received a god's favor (charis), one should respond with love, joy and hope.10 When Paul sought to explain the Christian's new relationship with God, then, one of the ways he did so was in terms of the ancient system of patronage - something everyone understood. In other words, it went without being said that relationship is the premier and determinative aspect of charis, grace (Kindle Locations 1808-1813).

I believe that relationships today in Africa, the Middle East, and throughout Asia are largely defined by patronage, whereas in the liberal, democratic cultures of North America and Europe, relationships are defined by equality and freedom (except in politics).  If this is even remotely close to reality, how can Westerners use the concept of patronage to share the gospel with Muslims?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Circumpolar Welcomes Gene Daniels to the Blog

Update: Forgot to mention his posts also show up on his blog

I’m really excited that Gene Daniels has decided to join the blog team at Circumpolar.

Gene is a PhD student and a missiologist who leads a team of missiological researchers in the Muslim world.  I have been learning from him for a while now.  Gene is a practitioner with a heart to bless Muslims in Jesus’ name.  He also has a keen eye for missiological fallacies and is able to get to the point of an issue without polarizing the debate or looking for a quick “fix” for the problem.

I’ve really enjoyed his articles and previous posts. Here is a sample of some of his publishing:

Book: Searching for the Indigenous Church: A Missionary Pilgrimage

His interview in Christianity Today Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque (I promise he didn’t choose the title!)

“CITO” vs. “Socio-religious Insider” Article in IJFM.

IJFM articles: A "Bazaar" Mission Strategy, Describing Fruitful Practices: Relating to Society

EMQ Articles: Fruitful Practices: Studying How God Is Working in the Muslim World (10/2011), Personal Piety vs. Institutional Aid: A Case for a Return to Alms-giving (10/2008), The Character of Short-term Mission (04/2008), Event-speech as a Form of Missionary Education (01/2008), Mission-Church Relations in Post-Soviet Central Asia: A Field Study(10/2007), Receive or Use (07/2006), Searching for the Indigenous Church: A Missionary Pilgrimage(04/2006), Leadership on the Move: From One Culture to the Next (04/2006), Missionaries, Churches and Home Assignment (04/2005), Decoupling Missionary Advance from Western Culture (10/2009), The Converted Missionary: Becoming a Westerner Who Is Not Western-centric (01/2011), Saying the Shahada: Matters of Conscience, Creed, and Communication (07/2014).


What his video on YouTube: Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches


Welcome, Gene!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How do I talk with Muslims?

Whenever I travel and speak to a group of Christians, one of the first questions that comes up is something like this; "How do I talk with Muslims, since they are so against the gospel?"

Aside from the fact that most Muslims have never heard the gospel, so they can hardly be against it, I always answer with two easy to remember points:

1) be an openly religious person. Secular society here in the West has beat us down with the idea that religion is supposed to be a private thing kept to  yourself. That is a lie. I am a deeply religious person, and my faith impacts many of the things I say and do. If you are the same, then be up front about that with your Muslim friends. As it fits the conversation, talk about how you raise your kids and spend your money differently from many in America because of your faith. Don't fall into the trap of thinking religious=hypocrite, your Muslim friends probably don't think that way.

2) pray at the drop of a hat. If we are people who believe God is actually listening, then we probably pray about all kinds of things; sickness, financial problems, our worries, etc. The Muslims you meet have many of the same problems. When they express them to you, simply offer to pray in a very low keyed way. Something like this usually works great, "You know Akhmed, Jesus told his followers to pray in his name. So whenever one of my kids is sick I pray and ask God to heal them. Can I do the same for your little boy?"

You will be quite surprised to find that the vast majority of Muslims will be happy for you to pray for them, right on the spot. What could be better than inviting the living God to intervene in their situation, through the name of Jesus?

You may not be an expert in Islamic culture or be able to explain the nuances of theology. But if you will consistently do the two simple things above, you will surely and gently nudge your Muslim friends toward the gospel. And you can trust the Holy Spirit to handle the rest.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pluralism, Relativism, and Exceptionalism

Here is a nice piece of political theology that is relevant for anyone working in a place where Christians, Muslims, Gay Rights Activists, etc., coexist:

Pluralism does not entail relativism. Living well in a pluralist world does not mean a never-ending openness to any possible claim. Every one of us holds deeply entrenched beliefs that others find unpersuasive, inconsistent, or downright loopy. More pointed, every one of us holds beliefs that others find morally reprehensible. Pluralism does not impose the fiction of assuming that all ideas are equally valid or morally benign. It does mean respecting people, aiming for fair discussion, and allowing for the right to differ about serious matters...

The argument for pluralism and the aspirations of tolerance, humility, and patience are fully consistent with a faithful Christian witness. And in this age, they are also far likelier to resonate than arguments for religious exceptionalism. The claim of religious exceptionalism is that only believers should benefit from special protections, and often at the cost of those who don't share their faith commitments. The claim of pluralism is that all members of society should benefit from its protections.

HT: Tish Warren


Friday, August 22, 2014

What do you think about Muhammad?

You cannot get very far into ministry with Muslims before you run face-first into the question of Muhammad. He is one of the most revered figures of human history, he is honored, at times even idolized, by one-fifth of the world's population. Sooner or later you are likely to hear one of your friends ask, "What do you think of our prophet Muhammad, pbuh?"*

So, what should a committed Christian think about Muhammad? Well, I will not even try to answer that question, although I do think we should be as generous as possible since John 3:16 probably applies to him too.

I think the better and more pressing question to ask might be, "What should a committed Christian say about Muhammad to their Muslim friends?"

I realize wadding into this argument is akin to diving into tepid, muddy water, but I think  it worthwhile to at least splash around its edges a bit.

This reminds me, just a little bit, about an incident in the life of another extremely influential figure of world history. If I remember correctly he was being questioned by the national religious authorities about his stand on taxation, and he replied something like, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God."

There are two points in this we should not miss:

1. Jesus did not directly answer their question, and there are times that neither should we.
But most importantly,

2. Jesus talked about God, not Caesar.

Have you ever noticed that if you meet a physician in some social setting they often end up talking the practice of medicine. Same thing with politicians, they tend to talk politics. In other words we talk about what we are about. Jesus spent his time talking about God because that is who he came to reveal.

So, if Jesus is what I am about, then I should be talking about him - not Oprah - in my social engagements. While I do agree that Christians should be well-rounded, knowledgeable people, I still assert that our conversations expose what is in our hearts. But now I digress, back to Muhammad.

Certainly there are times when we need to have something to say about a major world figure such as Muhammad. But for the most part our Muslim friends will feel quite honored if we know anything about their prophet other than the caricatures presented in the nightly news. Some of us may even know quite a bit about his life, but I don't think we need to say very much.

Or I love the way the I heard another missionary put it. When describing a conversation with some Muslim scholars he said, "I am not an expert on Mohammad. If you want to learn about him go talk to the Imam. But I am an expert on the person of Jesus, I can tell  you about him."
And that sounds about right to me.

*PBUH means "peace be upon him," spoken by many devout Muslims in reverence whenever mentioning Muhammad's name.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On the Nature of Christianity and Islam

Wilken, Robert L. 2009. "Christianity Face to Face with Islam." First Things:

“Christianity seems like a rain shower that soaks the earth and then moves on, whereas Islam appears more like a great lake that constantly overflows its banks to inundate new territory.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

“Discipleship” as Key Sound Bite for Communicating Biblical Mission

As someone who is involved in missions leadership, I understand the challenges facing evangelical sending agencies today in communicating vision, purpose, branding, and management. We all want to be unique, relevant, and Biblical.

I also understand that there are certain trends that rise and fall in the missions scene.  Church planting was all the rage a few years ago. And now it’s movements. Other trends include the rise of the term ‘transformation’ and the emphasis off the church and onto the kingdom.  This is related with holistic or integrated mission and on caring for the poor. Other long-lasting trends include the unreached or least-reached, and the use of metrics to evaluate our effectiveness. Of course every trend and emphasis has a way of highlighting only part of the nature of Biblical mission.

But is there a way for sending agencies to tie all of this together in a way that is not reductionistic?

Maybe. How about “discipleship?”

I’m interested all the talk these days on disciple-making movements. It might just be trend as well, but somehow I think that, as a necessary sound bite used in communication, it comes closer to recapturing the essence of what we’re doing across ALL contexts, more than church planting or integrated development or peace-making or proclamation or compassionate evangelism.

I want to commend Melanie McNeil’s Mission Paradigms: Is Discipleship Important? to you. It’s not an eloquent article (she’s a better writer than I am!), and I don’t agree with everything the says, but she makes a case of discipleship to be a key metaphor to reclaim Biblical mission in our world today (of course, discipleship has to be properly defined!).  From the conclusion:

We have explored the way the task of mission is described today by modern mission agencies, and I have argued that the reductionism of modern missions has resulted in a narrow definition of God’s commission. I have shown that the definitions of the task being used today fail to embrace the whole of God’s vision for the world he created. Whole life discipleship, the radical journey into relationship, and maturity of relationship with God is the core of God making his name known in the nations. God invites us to participate with His mission, and this will require a radical shift in the mission paradigms of today.

I have sought to demonstrate that such a shift opens up paths of radical transformation that impact both lives and communities, but it will come at a cost. The question is whether we in missions, and the Church, are prepared to count the cost and move into new things together with God, and with each other.

The review of methods and vision and mission statements here is not a judgment on any individual agency or strategy. It is a call for all of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ to embrace whole life discipleship and the radical rule of God in our lives and organisations.

Related Post: The Purpose (Vision) and Task (Mission) of Missions

Monday, July 28, 2014

“Adaptive Evangelism” in Resistant, Islamic Contexts

I’m currently working on a theory of “Adaptive Evangelism” in resistant, Islamic contexts that is based on Arab MBB conversion factors. 

I’m ‘adapting’ the concept from the book Adaptive Leadership

By “adaptive” I mean that there is not a one-size-fits-all type of evangelistic approach that can be used to reach Muslims for Christ.  Evangelicals are often prone to “method chasing,” which is searching for a technical solution to the problem of Muslim evangelism.  (The Camel Method might come to mind.) 

A simple technical solution, such as “evangelism should be done in such and such a way…,” (which is very common in current missiology) is inappropriate. There is no one single method or solution to the challenge of evangelizing Muslims.

Muslim evangelism is not a technical problem (i.e. a known problem with a known solution, like a doctor performing heart surgery) but is instead an adaptive challenge (both the problem and solution are unknown) that requires people working together to attempt to discover new, personal, and biblical-missiological paradigms of effective kingdom witness in resistant, Islamic contexts.

More to come… (probably summer of 2015…)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Research and Worship, by Gene Daniels

From the personal blog of Gene Daniels, Research and Worship:

…Some years ago I was studying interviews with church planters in various parts of the Muslim world, looking for those key insights into how God was using them. One day during that project, sitting at my desk in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, I read about a fundamentalist Muslim soldier who came to Christ when a foreign missionary had the courage to share a New Testament with him.  My eyes welled-up with tears. I set my work aside, got on my knees and wept. Here research was painting a picture, showing me a miracle of God that many of my fellow Americans would find hard to believe. Worship was the only proper response.

Along this same line, worship should rise-up in our hearts anytime we encounter the amazing beauty of the gospel crossing new cultural frontiers. We should marvel everything new nations and peoples are woven into the tapestry of God’s kingdom. I guess that is one of the reasons I love to do mission research, it often evokes such wonder and awe that I can’t help but worship.

While there are many ‘practical’ arguments for doing mission research, its ability to push the soul to worship is reason enough for me.

See his book: Searching for the Indigenous Church: A Missionary Pilgrimage

Related: CT Cover Story: Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque, “CITO” vs. “Socio-religious Insider”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Both Pro Israeli AND Pro Palestinian

Whenever things heat up with Israel, people want to know how to think about the conflict in a way that is fair and balanced. Here is a repost of something I put together in 2011. It’s a group of some of the best resources I’ve found on the subject.  Please link to other resources in the comments.

Talking about Israel and the Arabs is a minefield among evangelicals.
There is probably no quicker way to be labeled anti this or pro that.

Mike Kuhn, pg. 109

For anyone working with Muslims the issue of Israel is bound to come up eventually.  So what is the way forward?

For starters, here is a short article: How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus (HT: JC).

One great secular resource is the very unique book called The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.  It’s a narrative non-fiction that displays the humanity on both sides of this complex issue.  I have heard that both Palestinians and Jews claim the book is fair.  But more than fair, it’s also an enjoyable, fascinating read!

See also chapter 7 in Fresh Vision for the Muslim World by Mike Kuhn.

For a solid and balanced biblical-theological perspective, see John Piper’s Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.  Piper also has some shorter resources:

It’s nice to know we don’t have to take sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The important thing is to use this issue to point our Muslim friends to Jesus, the hope of all and our only lasting peace.

Related Post: Christ at the Checkpoint

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Two Triangles: the Gospel for Animists

Christopher Johnson modified his original presentation called Victorious Jesus and put it on a website called, “Two Triangles: the Gospel for Animists.”  Here is his introduction:

I shared the gospel countless times with Muslims, and for some reason they didn't seem interested. After creating the two triangles, I realized I had stumbled onto something that could change the way we share the gospel with Muslims and with anyone who believes in the devil.

Watch him explain his approach here:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Significance of the Naja Case Study

IJFM recently released Sixteen Features of Belief and Practice in Two Movements among Muslims in Eastern Africa: What Does the Data Say? by Ben Naja.  I think the publication of the empirical study is highly significant. 

Obviously, just because something is happening doesn’t automatically mean God is blessing it. However, this Naja case study shows, regardless of our positions or opinions, that the Holy Spirit (apart from a postmodern expatriate missionary!) is birthing emerging expressions of “church” in frontier settings where MBBs retain, to some degree or another, a “Muslim” identity.  (Whether or not they will always have a “Muslim” identity is another issue.)

Followers of Jesus in these movements:

  1. trust in Jesus alone for salvation, forgiveness, blessing and protection
  2. believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross for
    their sins
  3. have been baptized
  4. pursue a dual identity (social and cultural insider, spiritual outsider)
  5. do not acknowledge Muhammad as a true prophet nor trust in his power to intercede
  6. no longer consider the Qur’an as their sole and highest authority
  7. pursue diverse practices with regard to mosque attendance
  8. feel that they are a part of the worldwide family of God
  9. attend ekklesia meetings at least once a week
  10. read or listen to the Bible frequently
  11. share their faith
  12. have family members who also follow Jesus
  13. have been persecuted
  14. experience the supernatural power of God
  15. are frequently from a Sufi or other non-Wahabi background
  16. grow into more biblical expressions of faith and practice over time.

Here is an extended quote from the article:

My research provides empirical evidence that Jesus movements are a God-given way in which many Muslims are coming to saving faith in Christ. In addition, two features of these movements—pursuit of a dual identity and regular ekklesia gatherings within the Muslim community— are not simply theoretical possibilities, but actual reality.

In the literature on insider movements, supporters and opponents are divided as to whether such movements are a modern theoretical construct concocted by Western missiologists or whether they are actually happening as a God-given phenomenon in the Muslim world today. My research on these two Jesus movements in Eastern Africa seems to suggest the latter. These movements appear to have been divinely initiated and are not the result of a new strategy developed by a few mission strategists from the West. In fact, no Western gospel worker even knew about them at first. Only at a later stage, as more things were happening, were these movements brought to the attention of field practitioners. These practitioners then sought to find biblical guidelines and answers to the missiological questions these believers were asking.

Whatever their origin, the data make it clear that Jesus movements among Muslim communities are happening; they are an undeniable reality today.

My findings show that many followers of Jesus in these two movements pursue a dual identity. Culturally and socially, these believers are Muslim, while spiritually they are disciples of Jesus. They are still part of the wider Muslim community, even though their thinking diverges theologically and spiritually from that of mainstream orthodox Muslims. Their Muslim communities do not seem to mind that much what these disciples actually believe and practice, as long as they do not bring shame or offense to the community.

Within the wider umbrella of at least some expressions of Islam, there seems to be room for many deviant views, practices, and opinions. This is true not only for members of Jesus movements, but also for the very numerous members of Sufi orders or other Muslim sects.

The findings presented here show discreet gatherings of disciples of Jesus within a wider Muslim community to be a reality (and one that can now be carefully documented). The existence of “visible/invisible” informal groups of disciples (ekklesia) who regularly gather in the midst of Muslim communities might be one of the most important findings of my research.

These informal ekklesia are “invisible,” in that they do not actively seek public recognition by displaying Christian symbols or engaging in practices generally connected with Christianity (such as large buildings, loud music, or full-time clergy). But they are nonetheless very real or “visible” fellowships because actual people are meeting at actual times in actual places on a regular, at least weekly, basis.

Structurally, these ekklesias usually follow the lines of natural family and other pre-existing social networks. Rather than extracting members from their networks into an aggregate church, the kingdom of God and its values are implanted into them.

Given the rather authoritarian character of Islam, open or normal ekklesia gatherings do not seem to be an option. Nevertheless, my research shows that—however unlikely on a theoretical level—a new redemptive community within the old is an actual reality.