Friday, May 24, 2019

Review Article: “Outside In” - Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts

Mark Pickett of UFM Worldwide has recently written a review article of our book, Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts in the journal Foundations.

You can download the PDF here or read the webpage.

It is a very fair and thorough review. On Twitter he called Margins of Islam a “gem.” I like him already. Here are some quotes:

In our day, an unprecedented number of Muslims are coming to Christ. This tremendous answer to prayer should not leave us complacent, however, as the number of Muslims in the world grows by thirty-two million per year, mainly through high birth rates (204). So, the challenge of engaging the Muslim world with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is undiminished.

One of the editors of Margins of Islam, Warrick Farah, argues that, “Islam is perhaps the greatest challenge the church has ever faced. Yet it is not simply that we do not know the answers; we are also unsure of the nature of the problem” (205). As we have seen in politics, so also in making disciples. This slim volume, written by seventeen reflective practitioners with significant experience of a wide variety of Muslim contexts, is a major contribution to examining that problem….

The central concern of the book is, quite simply, to aid cross-cultural workers seeking to communicate the gospel to Muslims by helping them to understand Islam better. Consider it an exploration of the following questions: what is Islam, who is a Muslim, and what difference does it make?

Most books about Islam, by Muslims as well as by evangelicals, describe normative or classical Islam and might be called “Islam from above”. Such books are not wrong. They are just inadequate to explain the huge variety of expressions of Islam one actually finds around the world.

The approach of the contributors to this book is to look at Islam from below

Paraphrasing the work of Shahab Ahmed, Farah defines Islam as “a process of ‘meaning-making’ undertaken by Muslims as they interact in their context with the revelation given to Muhammad” (14).[9] He goes on to propose that we consider viewing Islam as “one strand in the braided rope of society” (18, original emphasis), a model that makes so much sense when one reads the case studies.

Reviewing his own ministry journey, Farah suggests that the braided rope analogy has aided him in forming a missiological understanding.

I assumed Muslims believed the things I thought Islam taught. But when I started to listen and enter the challenge of exploring my Muslim friends’ faith, I discovered that the search for true Islam was not only illusive but also irrelevant. Instead, I decided to build my understanding of Islam on my friend’s understanding because that is what Islam was to him, and in the context of genuine dialogue and witness that is what is most important. (19)…

Farah argues against an essentialist view of Islam. Such a view, he argues, rightly in my view, is a product of the Orientalist movement in scholarship, that emerged in the nineteenth century (196-99). While the editors, at least, want to shun essentialism, they do accept that there are boundaries. Though they do not say so, it would seem that they prefer to view religions as, in Paul Hiebert’s terminology, centred sets rather than bounded sets.[19] Farah wants not only to avoid the false objectivity of a modern approach but also the relativism of a postmodern one (198). Religion, then, is socially constructed – “it would not exist if there were no people” (199). For this reason, we “desperately need to be alert to how we use the category ‘religion’ in mission” (199). This is a vital discussion and, for me, is worth the price of the book.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Is the concept of “worldview” still useful in missiology?

Conversion (coming to faith in Christ) as a “transformation of worldview” is practically canon in evangelical missiology, especially with the publication of Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Baker Academic 2008).

But does contemporary anthropology still use the concept of worldview today?

In his review of Kraft’s book, Worldview for Christian Witness (William Carey Library 2008), Wheaton professor of anthropology Brian Howell said:

Although the worldview concept has become mainstream in missiological circles, it is virtually defunct in use in contemporary anthropology. Kraft uses Michael Kearney’s 1984 book on worldview as the anthropological example; however, there is no anthropological reference more recent than that. Classic anthropology can still speak to us today, but there is a great deal more current theory that is helpful for understanding culture change.

So should we move on from the concept of worldview? Is it really defunct in anthropology? David Beine, in his short research article, The end of worldview in anthropology?, (SIL Electronic Working Papers 2010) concludes with this:

The worldview concept, although no longer in vogue in the dominant paradigm of American anthropology, has remained a fruitful construct of analysis over the past decade for several other valid anthropological paradigms. There seems to be agreement among those still using worldview effectively as an analytical framework, that cultures—if I can
still use that word—do have central ideas or themes that serve to organize a wide variety of things, from material culture to political behavior. And recognizing the limitations, worldview is still a valuable construct for studying and representing these ideas. In the end, I hope the rest of
us anthropologists will not throw the baby (worldview) out with the bathwater (valid concerns of about essentialism); I would rather that those most concerned just help us change the dirty diaper.

It seems to me that the worldview concept can still be employed, but it is wise to note, as Howell reminds us in his review, that “concepts of hybridity, global ethnoscapes, and practice theory-based approaches to agency yield more nuanced understandings of cultural change.”

And yet, despite the ways they are often used in missiology, worldviews and cultures do not have discrete boundaries in today’s globalizing world.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Outlining a Biblical Theology of Islam: Practical Implications for Disciple Makers and Church Planting | EMQ 2019

Here is full access to my article “Outlining a Biblical Theology of Islam: Practical Implications for Disciple Makers and Church Planting,” that first appeared in EMQ in January 2019.

Taking into consideration the ambiguous nature of religion, a reconsideration of the historicity of Islamic origins, and the diversity of Muslim contexts, I discuss the important topics to consider when constructing a biblical theology of Islam. In the light of authoritative biblical revelation, my approach also illuminates the connections between theology-in-context and our practice of disciple making.

Here are the topics I have paired together:

  • Religion and Kingdom Sociology
  • Biblical Anthropology and Idolatry
  • Prophecy and Muhammad
  • Revelation and the Qur’an
  • Christocentric Doxology and Allah

It is obviously a lot to discuss in just over 3,000 words (EMQ’s limit), but these are the major themes that need consideration in our contextual theology of Islam.

Friday, March 22, 2019

We Need to Reclaim the Discourse about Islam in the Church | Martin Accad @IMES

I highly recommend reading this brief reflection of the recent massacre at Christchurch. For practical examples of biblically appropriate Christian engagement of Muslims, see Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts. As the Church, we need to improve how we think and talk about Islam.


We Need to Reclaim the Discourse about Islam in the Church, by Martin Accad:

By now, everyone has heard of the shootings at the two mosques of Al Noor and Linwood in Christchurch, New Zealand, that led to the deaths of 50 Muslims and the wounding of 50 others at prayer on Friday the 15th of March 2019. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident these days, with Muslims testifying to being spat at, or women telling of their hijabs being ripped off their heads, in London and other cities in the West. According to a BBC article, UK police have recorded a 40% rise in religiously-motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, from about 6,000 in 2016 to over 8,000 in 2017-2018, 52% of which were aimed at Muslims.

Bigoted attitudes, so common on social media, and the hateful discourse of politicians, may be broadly identified as contributing to this growing atmosphere of division. But in this post, I want to focus particularly on the rise of negative writing about Islam since 9/11, a large proportion of which has emerged from within Evangelical circles worldwide.

Admittedly, the attacker was not motivated by religious feelings, Christian or other. In an online manifesto published before the attack by a man under the same name as the apprehended attacker, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, he described himself as “a 28-year old Australian citizen” who “espoused far-right and anti-immigrant ideology.”

It is not my purpose here to provide a list of titles of “dangerous” books written about Islam. Indeed, it would not be appropriate to point a finger at books or authors at such a time of high emotions. What I want, however, is to provide a few pointers to readers who want to learn more about Islam, so that they might decide for themselves which writings are motivated by Christly love, which ones lead to life and redemption, and which ones might lead to more conflict, hatred, and death. I will propose here only three principles, given the limited nature of a blog post.

First, it is important to know that Islam is extremely diverse—as diverse at least as Christianity and other faiths. Diversity in religion is usually an expression of diversity in opinion on the interpretation of key texts that are often critical in the inspiration of religious practices that will contribute either to the good or to evil in society. The meaning of a religious book never exists in a vacuum but is always the outcome of a specific interpretation.

Hint number 1: if you pick up a book that seems to paint broad strokes about Islam, representing all Muslims as one thing—whether positive or negative—this should raise your first alarm of suspicion.

Second, the intentions of an author are usually reflected in the tone of writing. If the style of writing is bullish, polemical (warlike), or disparaging, chances are that the author is motivated by his or her own hurt, anger, or fear, or that they are driven by an intentionally divisive and destructive agenda. It is important to note that “polemical” writing is very different from one which is “academically critical.” You can be critical of certain elements of a religious tradition after examining them, without using your findings to discredit the entire religion or its adherents. Academic critique is complex and will generally employ a methodology that appeals primarily to the intellect rather than to emotions. If it is done well, it will give credit where it is due while discrediting some concepts through balanced rational analysis, avoiding generalizations that are disrespectful of people and certainly avoiding personal attacks.

Hint number 2: if the book you are reading employs broad stereotyping and other methods that have been employed by racist ideologies, you might as well put it down. You will not get any wiser about Islam by reading it.

Third, religious traditions are complex and therefore they are to be studied and presented through lenses that bring out their complexities. If the books you are reading about Islam are simplistic (often with simplistic and stereotypical titles), chances are that the author is not well educated in Islam and is simply repeating generalities they have heard at seminars or read in one-sided presentations of the religion. I understand that complex reading is not everyone’s cup of tea and that our social-media age has not trained us to maintain ideas in tension with each another. But the New Zealand massacre has revealed that our world is too fragile for us to accept simplistic ideas uncritically. In addition to the multi-faceted nature of all religions—including Islam—no serious scholar can avoid the fact that religions evolve and change constantly.

Hint number 3: If you are reading a book about Islam that tells you that Muslims will always behave in a certain way because Muslims have always done so throughout their history, you may conclude with confidence that the author is not seeking after the truth but is anxious to represent a certain manifestation of the religion as its eternal and unchanging manifestation. It is not yet too late to put that book down.

The age of social media is an age of citizen activism. Just as citizens have been able to organize and mobilize themselves in solidarity and support of good causes, angry and populist leaders have been able to gather support for destructive agendas leading to lethal action. The minds of this age are shaped by books and the media—whether interactive and social or more conventional. Writers, bloggers, and social media activists have a tremendous responsibility for the way that our societies and communities interact with one another. If you are a writer, God will hold you accountable for the sort of influence you have on people who are impacted by your writing, good or bad. If you are a reader and consumer, God will hold you accountable for what you choose to feed on and what you choose to reject, good or bad. As global citizens, we are responsible for the fate of our world.

Though, as mentioned above, I have chosen not to provide in this post a list of books on Islam that I consider harmful and of others I consider helpful, I will at least point you to my upcoming book, Sacred Misinterpretation: Reaching Across the Christian-Muslim Divide (Eerdmans, to appear on the 7th of May 2019). The purpose of this book is to bring out the historical and interpretive complexity of theological conversations between Christians and Muslims, and to propose ways that we can move those important conversations forward. You can pre-order it now here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Discipleship Movements on the Cover of Christianity Today

AprilThe April 2019 edition of Christianity Today features a cover story about DMM/CPM titled “Making Missions Count: How a Major Database Tracked Thailand’s Church-Planting Revival”: A movement in Southeast Asia shows how real-time reporting is building Great Commission connections.

There are some interesting observations about the oft-debated use of metrics in ministry. It seems to me that the DMMs/CPMs I am aware of are constantly measuring and documenting the growth of the movement. Among other purposes, the use of metrics seems to serve as a kind of compass and a scoreboard that deeply motivates leaders and practitioners.

I am always interested in how Christian media writes about missiology. Commenting on the dynamics of the movement, article author Kate Shellnutt said this:

Out of 13 mother churches, FJCCA has added more than 400 house churches since 2016. Its biggest challenge has been training new leaders, who are tasked with continuing the work of evangelizing and church-planting. FJCCA focuses on a simple gospel presentation, prayer, and intimate fellowship, a model that converts can adopt and take to the next unreached village.

Rinnasak and fellow FJCCA leaders remove any “Christianese” from their phrasing, saying “Jesus bless you” rather than “God bless you” to specifically name the Christian God, and referring to believers’ “life experiences” rather than the more obtuse “testimony.” The association embraces the house church setting. When people convert in far-off villages with no Christian presence, it’s awkward and impractical for them to travel to existing congregations to learn and worship. Even once more mature churches move into buildings for Sunday worship, they still meet in homes as a more familiar location for discipleship.

Evangelists travel to villages with enough people ready to stick around to start the discipleship process. They share Bible stories and personal accounts to point to Jesus. Once people put faith in Christ, they invite them to pray right away for what they need, returning within a day or two to offer further training and materials from the Thailand Bible League, another partner.

Reach A Village noticed that the most effective church planters in the region share these distinctives. In Cambodia and Myanmar, the ministry also found that evangelism is “best carried out by local, indigenous believers and leaders who rely solely on the Scripture and the Holy Spirit with minimal outside interference or restrictions,” Craft said.

“Our ministry partner leader in Myanmar, Michael Koko Maung, once said to me, ‘Christianity came to us like a potted plant. We did not realize that when we took it out of the pot that it would grow so well in native soil.’ ”

FJCCA’s strategy is working, so much that Martin added a new staff member based in Phetchabun province dedicated to managing their figures. And he can barely keep up: Already, the movement has added 11,941 new believers in the past year and a half.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

My Two Recent Articles in EMQ and IJFM

I currently have two articles out at the moment in EMQ and IJFM.

The first is with EMQ and if you are a member of Missio Nexus (most North American agencies are with Missio Nexus, and if your org is a member then you are too), then you have access. If not, I’ll make it available in April. It is called Outlining a Biblical Theology of Islam: Practical Implications for Disciple Makers and Church Planting and is something I wrote as a kind of promo piece for the annual Middle East Consultation in Beirut, Lebanon (I’ll be giving two keynotes this year). Here are the topics I have paired together in the EMQ article:

  • Religion and Kingdom Sociology
  • Biblical Anthropology and Idolatry
  • Prophecy and Muhammad
  • Revelation and the Qur’an
  • Christocentric Doxology and Allah

It is obviously a lot to discuss in just over 3,000 words (EMQ’s limit), but these are the major themes that need consideration in our theology of Islam.

The second article is Adaptive Missiological Engagement with Islamic Contexts at IJFM. This is also Chapter 17 in our book Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts. Here is my outline for the article:

Changing Understandings of Muslim Contexts

  • Postcolonial Studies: “The Muslim World” vs. “The West”
  • Cultural Anthropology: Modern Essentialism and Postmodern Relativism
  • Religious Studies and the Fog of “Religions”

A Call for Adaptive Missiology

  • Towards a Missiology of Islam(s)
  • Idolatry and Mission
  • Transforming Relationships

This is a longer article that deals with epistemology and issues which inevitably color our approaches to reaching Muslims.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.


Monday, January 28, 2019

The Underground Network and Disciple Making Movements: Potentials for Integration?

Underground People by PJ Accetturo:

In this documentary, I look deeper into who the Underground Network is, and why their model for church could change the way the Western Church operates.


[Underground People from PJ Accetturo on Vimeo.]

There seems to be a lot of overlap from this model and disciple making movements (DMM).

Two things stood out to me from the Underground Network: 1) their focus on affinity groups, 2) a decentralized, flat structure that values individual leadership initiative.

Concerning 1, it seems they don’t target whole communities, but gather people together around affinities; like drinking beer, or anti-trafficking, or mentoring teenage girls. I think there is a lot of power in being able to focus on just a single issue and do it really well. This is not the homogenous unit principle but the congruence of cultural values.

Concerning 2, being decentralized and having a difficult time articulating a common vision indicates they are more values based. There are strengths and weaknesses for both vision-based and values-based organizations.

There are several other questions I have in mind though, the major one being fruitfulness and impact. Yes that is great that he started a Bible study with others who like beer, but is it more than just one study? I know of several friends who have done the same thing, but does it multiply and have deep impact in the community? I have similar questions for the other ministries who were spotlighted in the video (other than the Filipino pastor who said they started 100 house churches).

The video brings up an important point, that you really can’t or shouldn’t try to change the culture/structure of the established, attractional/traditional church. Just work in partnership with them and do something alongside them among areas/peoples that they typically miss. We need each other.

Throughout history, God has used two structures for his redemptive, missional purpose in the world. The first is called a "modality" and it refers to an inclusive group of people that nurtures its members and is structured. Examples are a local congregation or what we typically all a “church.” Modality structures handle local matters essential to the group. A second structure is called "sodality." Sodalities serve and extend modalities. Modalities are limited in their capacity because they serve local needs. But sodalities are flexible, exclusive structures that serve special functions. They are task oriented, like a mission agency or an NGO. The local church (modality) is essential for mission, but so is a mission agency or apostolic structure (sodality). Both serve in parallel to one another. Problems exist when one believes it doesn't need the other.

I like the idea that our ecclesiology should include both modalities (local congregations) and sodalities (apostolic bands, NGOs, seminaries)- both structures are biblical and needed in God’s redemptive mission where the “church” is central to transformation.

A final thought, is that I would love to see what it would look like for these ministries to have a more explicit integration with DMM principles, as outlined in Kingdom Unleashed. Sometimes the DMM literature speaks of things like “access ministry” as if it was only tangential to the essential mission of church planting. Instead, the Underground Network rightly conceptualizes this as more central to mission. But from what I can tell, the DBS concept is less prominent in the ministries in the Underground Network.? DBS could be more integrated in these groups to see Jesus-centered diffusion into their affinity groups.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

5 Ways Evangelicals Can Improve Muslim Relationships | EthicsDaily.com

By Wissam al-Saliby at EthicsDaily.com:


At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, a man sitting next to me was writing in Arabic the statement that he would be reading to the council.

Adel was a Tunisian head of a nonprofit. I said hello in Arabic, and we introduced ourselves and exchanged cards.

He looked down at my World Evangelical Alliance card and then looked up. And he said firmly, “I am a Muslim. What is your position on Palestine?”

In the mind of Adel, the word “evangelical” on my business card, far from portraying a community of Christ-followers and imitators, is connected to the injustice and suffering of Palestinians, to America’s support to Israel and to U.S. wars in the Middle East.

For millions of Muslims like Adel, evangelical support for Israel and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East are stumbling blocks for the gospel.

The election of Donald Trump, anti-Muslim discourses and the Stormy Daniels episode seem to have reinforced the perception among Muslims that Islam is on a higher moral ground than the Western Christian faith. I say “reinforced” because in several Arab countries, “Christian” or “Nazarene” has always been a derogatory word.

On April 16-17, I partook in a gathering in Wheaton, Illinois, titled “The Future of American Evangelicalism.”

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share with the participants an Arab evangelical perspective. The starting point for my message to the evangelical leaders in the room, however, was not my conversation with Adel.

Between 2013 and 2017, while leading the Development and Partner Relations department at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Beirut, Lebanon, I witnessed God’s amazing work in the Middle East and North Africa.

The witness of local churches coupled with God’s miraculous pursuit of men and women swelled, in some cases exponentially, the ranks of Lebanese evangelical churches.

My second point to the room was that many Middle Eastern ministries (refugee relief, peace-building, discipleship, medical missions and so on) and churches enjoy the great support and partnership of U.S. evangelical churches, particularly from congregations with majority Republican voters and supporters of President Trump.

And then, I shared with them of my recent encounter with Adel and of the majority Muslim perception regarding U.S. evangelicals.

Evangelical support (of many, but not by all) for U.S. Middle East policy and the actions of Israel against Palestinians are stumbling blocks to many – if not all – Muslims.

We may never know if the number is in the millions or hundreds of millions. We only have anecdotal evidence.

Last month, a friend recounted how he brought a group of Muslim leaders to a recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

At the breakfast, these leaders heard a clear and articulate gospel message from a particular congressman, leaving them thirsty for more. However, their thirst didn’t last long.

A few days later, the same congressman voted in favor of a congressional resolution supporting Israel. In their eyes, the gospel bore no fruit in the life of that congressman.

I would also argue that evangelical support (of many, but not of all) for U.S. Middle East policy and the actions of Israel against Palestinians are stumbling blocks here at the United Nations for staff, diplomatic missions and human rights organizations, who perceive evangelicals as being supportive of injustice and the violation of international law.

What, then, could my evangelical brothers and sisters in the U.S. do who hope to be witnesses to the love of Christ among Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples? These are some recommendations.

1. Encourage evangelical churches to “adopt” an unreached Muslim people group in a given city in the Middle East by partnering with a local ministry (indigenous when available) and include this ministry in their missions support and prayer.

2. Urge evangelicals visiting the Holy Land to fellowship with Palestinian Christians, engage with Palestinian Muslims as witnesses for Christ and spend the last three days of their trip in a hotel within the Palestinian territories.

Currently, Holy Land visits circumvent Palestinians and thus fail to convey an accurate understanding of the situation.

Holy Land pilgrimages are not benefiting the ailing Palestinian economy. Given Bethlehem’s historical importance as a Christian pilgrimage site, this is rather ironic in our current historical moment.

3. Speak up against political and community leaders promoting anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry, much as we should continue speaking out as Christ-followers against anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, sexism or any other form of prejudice.

Are we, as evangelicals, ready to reject and rebuke a simplistic and extreme view of Islam that ignores Jesus’ command to love them as our neighbors, a view that is often promoted (in Lebanon and Europe as well as the U.S.) simply to garner votes?

A recent survey in the United States showed a strong correlation between “Islamophobic” attitudes, “Christian nationalism” and support for certain candidates, parties or policies.

“Overall the strongest predictors of Trump voting were the usual suspects of political identity and race followed closely by Islamophobia and Christian nationalism,” one recent article said.

4. Be cautious of dehumanizing rhetoric in media and political discourses surrounding persons of the Middle East.

This takes place not only in secular media but also in “Christian” media outlets where the facts and sociohistorical context are routinely ignored.

For example, recent headlines from the Christian Broadcasting Network declare things such as “Hamas Sacrificing Children,” “Why Gaza Clashes Aren’t Peaceful Protests but a Hamas-Inspired Death Cycle” and “Hamas Using Palestinian Masses as Newest Weapon Against Israel,” where Palestinians are portrayed as mindless masses, zombies even, with no mention of the Israeli embargo driving Palestinians in Gaza to despair and hopelessness and leading them to demonstrate.

In contrast, the Baptist World Alliance’s recent statement on Gaza said, “Even before the current medical emergency arising from the many hundreds of civilians wounded in the latest clashes, one of our Baptist leaders, who visits Gaza regularly, recently described the situation as ‘virtually no electricity, water, money – or hope.'”

I also invite you to read the Institute of Middle East Studies regional brief on Israel-Palestine for April 2018 and May 2018.

5. Speak up against the “End Times Prophecy” industry.

Media platforms and churches often use End Times Prophecy to shape Christian public opinion regarding Middle East policy, especially in relation to Israel, further demonizing Muslims and Middle Easterners and promoting oftentimes profound misunderstandings of the dynamics shaping the Middle East today.

I invite you to read my post for IMES on this issue from May 2017.

As of March 30, harrowing photos and videos emerged of Israeli snipers shooting unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. In one video, we hear the soldiers rejoicing at the death of a Palestinian.

Israeli snipers shot and killed or maimed women, children, reporters, doctors and medical rescue teams and even wheelchair-bound demonstrators.

The March of Return demonstrators have been falsely accused of violence and even of wanting to sacrifice their children for the sake of a public relations coup.

If we want to pray and show compassion, if we want to honor the commandment to love our neighbor, should we not attempt to see things how the peoples of the Middle East, particularly the Palestinians in the current situation, see them?

Shouldn’t our churches have better engagement of the region and of Muslim communities nearby and far away? Shouldn’t we speak out against those things that profoundly go against our values but are nevertheless attributed to us – lest we be like the man who sought to be justified when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

Wissam al-Saliby currently serves as advocacy officer of the World Evangelical Alliance based in Geneva, Switzerland. He formerly served as ABTS development and partner relations manager. A version of this article first appeared on the IMES blog. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @walsaliby.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Introducing our New Book | Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts

On behalf of Gene Daniels, I’m excited to introduce our new book Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts. Here is the book description:

What do you do when “Islam” does not adequately describe the Muslims you know? Margins of Islam brings together a stellar collection of experienced missionary scholar-practitioners who explain their own approaches to a diversity of Muslims across the world. Each chapter grapples with a context that is significantly different from the way Islam is traditionally presented in mission texts. These crucial differences may be theological, socio-political, ethnic, or a specific variation of Islam in a context—but they all shape the way we do mission. This book will help you discover Islam as a lived experience in various settings and equip you to engage Muslims in any context, including your own.

One of the most succinct and descriptive endorsements comes from Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary:

In a marvelous tour de force, Margins of Islam exposes the widely held, but false assumption that the house of Islam is a monolithic religious entity which either resists or responds to missiological strategies. Collectively, these authors offer up case studies and rich and textured “on the field” experience which reflects the true variegated diversity of Islam. This book is contextual missiology at its finest.

The project was the brainchild of Gene Daniels. I vividly remember sitting next to him on a bus discussing it with him on our way to a conference center from a hotel a couple years ago. His big idea was to gather missionary scholar-practitioners serving in various Muslim settings to explain how they take context seriously and how they deal with the phenomenon that we call “Islam.” I was genuinely surprised and honored when he asked me to be his coeditor!

We immediately started networking and looking for contributors. Gene already had several people in mind. My job was to help edit each chapter and then to produce a concluding chapter that explained the themes of the book. It was a rich learning experience. As I researched for the book, I found myself often disagreeing and pushing back on evangelical treatments of Islam.

My criticism began to take shape and eventually became an introductory chapter—most evangelical missiological treatments of Islam are reductionistic with what I call a “top-down” approach, meaning that Islam (and subsequently, Muslims) can be adequately understood by addressing the Qur’an, hadith, and history of Islam. From this textual understanding, it is assumed that Muslims believe what Islam teaches, and thus there is a “Muslim worldview” and strategies on how to engage it. In this framework, Muslims are often simplified as cultural and spiritual clones of one another.

Many workers have read books based on this top-down approach, but when they begin to engage Muslims in their context, they quickly discover that the Muslims they are working with believe very different things from what “Islam” teaches. While the top-down approach is incredibly valuable, it can also distort our understanding of Muslims if it is our only lens. We also need a “bottom-up” approach that explains the historical evolution of the Islamic phenomenon and the sociological perspectives that accounts for the diversity of Islam today. Ergo my chapter two: How Muslims Shape and Use Islam: Towards a Missiological Understanding.

As I was editing the chapters (which do a wonderful job of combining the top-down and bottom-up perspectives) and after I wrote the introductory chapter, I started to reflect on how recent developments in postcolonial theory, anthropology, and religious studies have influenced mission to Muslims. Gene and I later decided that I would write a theory piece again for a concluding chapter which I titled Adaptive Missiological Engagement in Islamic Contexts. Gene then did a masterful job tying the themes of the book together in the final chapter, “Conclusion: Learning from the Margins.”

Here are the contents of the book:

Foreword, David Garrison

Introduction, Gene Daniels

PART 1: CONCEPTUALIZING ISLAM

1 Who Represents Islam?, Evelyne A. Reisacher

2 How Muslims Shape and Use Islam: Towards a Missiological Understanding, Warrick Farah

PART 2: ENGAGING MUSLIMS

3 The Donkey and the Straw: Reaching South Asian Sufis with the Gospel, Kevin Higgins

4 Secular Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ted Esler

5 Egalité, Fraternité, and Cous-cous: Ministry to Muslims in the Context of a Resurgent Islam and French Laïcité, Rick Kronk

6 Biblical Approaches to the Nurcu Gülen Movement in Turkey, Yakup Korkmaz

7 Magical Mystical Muslims: Sufi-oriented Islam and African Traditional Religion, Robin Dale Hadaway

8 Ordinary Muslims in Pakistan and the Gospel, Warren Larson

9 Ministry to Hui Muslims in China: An Approach to Dual-layered Cultural Settings, Enoch Jinsik Kim

10 Context as Flypaper: The Island of Java in Indonesia, Michael A. Kilgore

11 Liberating Liminality: Mission in the North African Berber Context, Patrick Brittenden

12 Russified Muslims of the Former Soviet Union, Gene Daniels

13 The Queen’s Muslims? Muslim Identities in the UK, Phil Rawlings

14 In the Shadow of a Buddhist Temple: Muslims in Thailand, Alan Johnson

15 Uyghurs of the Tarim Basin: Muslims in Northwestern China, CG Gordon

16 Muslim Youth in a Glocal World, Arthur Brown

PART 3: REFRAMING MISSIOLOGY

17 Adaptive Missiological Engagement with Islamic Contexts, Warrick Farah

18 Conclusion: Learning from the Margins, Gene Daniels

As our endorsements were rolling in, one from JD Payne stood out in particular that helped us identity the biggest potential takeaway from this book:

Margins of Islam takes readers on a global journey revealing the multiple expressions of the Islamic faith… We no longer have any excuse to train others to reach all Muslims in the same way.

I want to thank Gene for this incredible opportunity, and also for our excellent group of contributors who have taught me so much about the variety of Muslims and the varieties of biblical mission in the world today. Go ahead and buy the book on Amazon, and please help us spread the word—you can easily share this from the button on the bottom of the post on the blog. Thank you for considering! We feel this volume represents a significant encouragement for the mission of the church.

SM Post 1

Monday, September 3, 2018

Lausanne Global Analysis: Chapman and Azumah Respond to Taylor

When I first read Jenny Taylor’s brief article Why Grace is Not Enough to Reach Muslims: Balancing Grace and Truth in Outreach, I admit I was surprised that Lausanne would allow an article like this associated with it’s name. It was a bit confusing, and it seemed to imply that anyone who does not truly understand that violence is core to Islam has somehow minimized “truth” in their ministry approach to Muslims.

Thankfully, Colin Chapman and John Azumah have responded with  Islam through the Lens of the Golden Rule: Grace and Truth in Our Approach to Muslims and Islam. Here are their four main points, which I believe quickly get to the heart of many missiological fallacies made when discussing Islam and terrorism:

  1. We must allow Muslims to define what is ‘true Islam’ and remember Muslims are not all the same
  2. Texts are important, but they cannot be considered in isolation
  3. Understanding jihadi violence does not mean justifying it
  4. We too have our failings, and we need to find ways of addressing these problems within our own communities

I encourage you to read these two brief articles. This is an important conversation.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Exposed: Muslim Demographics Video

You might remember this viral piece of propaganda in the missions community. In 2009, I posted the Muslim Demographics Video:

I'm not sure I like the video I'm posting below. It is sensationalistic, mistakes Christendom for biblical faith, and seems to imply that secularism is better than Islam. But it makes a very interesting point about the future influence of Islam. I have heard about it from a couple different sources now. I did not check the stats but I assume they are correct.

Ummm, yeah. I should have checked the stats. I’m so sorry 16 million people have seen this misleading video.

Today, I saw that the BBC has finally fact-checked the video. The blog: Understanding Islam: Toward a Balanced Perspective has posted a nice write-up about it. Here is the link: Is Islam taking over the world?

And here is the new video: Muslim Demographics: the Truth

I apologize for posting the original video 9 years ago. As Christians, we need to recognize fear-mongering when we see it, especially from fellow evangelicals.

At the least, it makes an interesting case study in how some quarters of the missions movement try to manipulate us. Islamophobia is real.

Friday, May 18, 2018

What is sharia law?

From The Sociology of Islam: Knowledge, Power and Civility (p. 79-80):

Based on a Qur’anic keyword meaning the “straight path,” the sharia was first elaborated by Muslim scholars as a philosophical and theological rather than a strictly legal concept (W.C. Smith 1962).

Yet over time and by virtue of the force represented by the rising importance of Sufism as a discipline stressing the inner truth, the sharia, as much as it was seen as the manifestation of divine Will (shar`), also came to represent the outer dimensions of the ethico-religious code of Islam. The sharia happened to be identified with the more systematic dimension of the Islamic normativity, the one that could be formulated in terms of legal norms which, in turn, would be liable – to a not yet exclusive extent – to be enforced. Apart from this technically legal dimension, the sharia covered a comprehensive concept of norm, which included ritual and dietary rules, as well as rules about family, commerce, and social relations more in general. However, this normative idiom, reflecting basic values of humanity, justice, and equality, never became a code in the sense of a closed (and univocally ‘searchable’) text. It rather preserved an inherent, inner pluralism and contestability in the form of a cumulative tradition articulated in translocal schools and local, contextualized sets of practices variably drawing from most pre-Islamic customs.

This is why the understandings of sharia and related practices have been historically dependent on the types of knowledge and the varieties of culture prevalent on a local scale, as well as on the degree of social contention and reconstruction that they authorized. The convergence between concretely practiced Islamic jurisprudence and the idea of sharia was therefore a diversified, gradual, and (at least till the colonial era) never fully accomplished process… Modern attempts to systematize and implement sharia, whether associated with ‘liberal’ and ‘reformist’ or with ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘puritan’ interpretations (all labels that, originating in Western history, should be taken with a grain of salt), have been hardly able to extinguish its historic dynamism. Yet they certainly contributed to obfuscate the consciousness of this dynamism among a mass public, which in the colonial and postcolonial eras has been more prone to appreciate its new rigidified contours.

It is a myth to assume that sharia is a universal, coherent legal code that is ready to be applied. Any missiological approach to Muslims that claims sharia is some sort of spiritual force that means the same thing to all Muslims everywhere has not done enough contextual analysis.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Is There a Christian Double Standard on Religious Violence?

Good article by Brandon Withrow: Is There a Christian Double Standard on Religious Violence?

Nearly 80 percent of Christians don’t think a terrorist acting in the name of Christianity is Christian. But more than half say terrorists acting in the name of Islam are Muslims.

The article does a good job exploring different perspectives on religion and violence using a mosaic of both Christian and Muslim voices. This is a debate with layers of complexity that will probably never end.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Atheist Muslim (Rizvi 2017)

Interesting interview of an atheist Muslim who attempts to retain a Muslim identity while rejecting Islamic ideology. He nuances between extremes on how to define something as Islamic/Muslim. Also helpful is how he describes the errors of the left which conflate legitimate criticism of Islam with Islamophobia and the errors of the right which demonize Muslims. This kind of book nicely illustrates the incredible diversity in the so-called ‘Muslim world’ today.

Here is the interview on Vox: An atheist Muslim on what the left and right get wrong about Islam

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Jesus Christ as the Patron for Muslims | 5 Min Video

Here is an excellent video from Richard Yacoub that explains the implications of patronage for ministry with Syrian refugees. Applications extend to many other contexts as well.

In an earlier article, I said this about the Patron-Client Gospel for Muslim conversions:

Hanaan grew up very disillusioned with the hypocritical lifestyles of some fundamentalist Muslims she knew. One night a man in a brilliant white robe holding a staff appeared in her dream and told her that she was correct to doubt Islam. The next morning she described this event to her loving and devout Muslim father, who told her the person from her dream was Isa al Masih. Eagerly she went to the Qur’an and read everything she could about Jesus, who continued to show up in dreams for many years at key moments in her life.

According to her testimony, Hanaan joined herself to Jesus long before she met another Christ follower who studied the Bible with her for the first time. Like Hanaan, MBBs appear to bond themselves to Christ in a patron-client relationship as they initially begin to understand His lordship and even the atonement.

A biblical, missiological view of conversion must take into account the social context of the first century Mediterranean world (Asia and Africa are much closer to this worldview today than is the West). Relationships were conceptualized around the concept of “patronage,” where “they saw their gods as patrons and benefactors and their own conduct as clients” (Crook 2004, 254). “In this hierarchical society, where the status of the person you follow and to whom you give allegiance is very important, the position of Isa becomes the focus of reconsideration” (Edwards 2013, 84). MBBs relate to Christ in ways that are difficult for Westerners to understand, but make sense in their worldview. Yet this understanding of salvation is commonly found in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Christ is our ultimate Patron (the Divine Lord), we must be found “in him” and part of the new people of God.

See also http://honorshame.com/patronage.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Muslim Christmas Song

Just think of all the important conversations this video can generate: the nature of religion, the origins of Christmas, appropriation, Islamophobia, contextualization, objectivity, religious plurality, interreligious encounter, etc., etc. If you have any thoughts about this video, please comment below.

Raef - The Muslim Christmas Song (Deck the Halls Cover)


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Insider Jesus 6: Conclusion- is God Doing Something New?

Previously, we looked at Insider Jesus 5: Religion and the Mission of Christ. Now onto the final chapter, #6.

This chapter argues for a broader understanding of "church" than is usually defined in Western evangelical terms.

Dyrness believes that the idea of "emergence" is key to understanding insider movements. Everything at the beginning is messy, and always tied to, esp. initially, understanding Christ in local terms. It is the direction towards Christ that is important (hint: think centered-sets, not bounded-sets). Insider movements are unique; they are unlike the old, unlike the others, and unlike the final goal, which is people and the created order restored in Christ to God. The "emerging church" conversation of the early 2000s was like insider movements, but they were movements still situated in historic Christianity. God doing something new outside of Christianity today.

We must recognize that, as cross-cultural workers, we might at times work with groups who are "heretical." But this is a natural part of mission. Dyrness quotes one alongsider, criticized for working with an insider movement, who said, "And what did you think mission was all about; has it not always been about working with groups who have imperfect awareness of God and seeking to bring them to maturity in Christ? " (Kindle 2572-2573). And yes, insider movements may be transitional, but give them time. "These movements represent places where Christ is being named, and we should be careful to honor the ways the Spirit may be at work. Certainly this means at the very least carefully listening to those involved." (Kindle 2595-2597)

But where is the "church" in this conversation? First of all, it is NEVER simple or straightforward for believers from non-Christian backgrounds to simply join the already established institutional church. Part of the problem is that people have tended to view "church"

in a manner that seemed to hover above the complex dynamics of Asian cultures...: “This  generic reference to the ‘church’ assumes a static and triumphalistic ecclesiology— what I call a typical ‘Protestant micro-Christendom.’” This construal of things, Cardoza-Orlandi argues, is a legacy of the Western missionary movement and may hamper “the potential for unique Asian ecclesiologies, grounded in the interplay between mission and what it means to be the church on Asian soil.” 32 Similarly, I would argue that imposing a notion of the church on emergent movements could well obscure our ability to discover new forms of church. (Kindle 2672-2678)

God does indeed work outside the visible church, and beyond our western theologies. But the church should be defined by its theological nature, not its functions. 

So what are some of the ecclesiological features of emerging insider movements?

From an examination of our case studies we can say that these movements are characterized by four common and typical elements that often appear to contribute to emergent forms of church. First, their focus is consistently centered on devotion to Christ— in prayer, song, and biblical reflection, even if Christ is frequently put in conversation with Buddha or Muhammad. Second, we have noticed that these groups typically privilege Scripture— whether sung or taught— even if it is read and compared with other sacred writings. Third, these groups all exhibit various forms of visible fellowship (what the New Testament calls koinōnia), even if, again, these communities are not meant to stand apart from their cultural context. Finally, these groups invariably reflect a deep desire to witness to their faith in Christ within their natural relational networks.  (Kindle 2739-2745).

Thoughts:

  • Dyrness has a high tolerance for ambiguity. He advocates for a more hands-off approach to discipleship. In this sense, he displays a value for individualism and wants to honor the freedom that people have to make their own decisions. Obviously, there are others in the IM conversation who are much more hierarchical in their approach. At this point, I’m not sure if one is more biblical than the other, individualism vs hierarchy. Both are cultural values/preferences that we bring to the biblical text, and tend to color what we see.
  • Up next, I’ll share my review of the book.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Challenging the Monochromatic View of Islam, Accad

From MISSION IN A WORLD GONE WILD AND VIOLENT: CHALLENGING THE MONOCHROMATIC VIEW OF ISLAM FROM A SILENT MAJORITY POSITION, by Martin Accad:

The ‘world religions’ approach has a tendency to view people of faith as prisoners of theological systems, whose every move can be predicted by their communities’ sacred scriptures. Whereas the ‘sociology of religions’ approach offers a dynamic vision of mutually-influential forces between theology and the practice of religion. I would argue that the latter vision offers us a far richer field of inquiry, engagement, and action than the former. From a missional perspective, therefore, it is far more useful, far more empowering and energizing; it invites us to new possibilities in terms of creative and constructive action required for the mission of God.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Polythetic and Progressive Contextualization

A couple notes on George Yip, in his article The Contour of a Post-Postmodern Missiology.

Polythetic is defined as “Relating to or sharing a number of characteristics which occur commonly in members of a group or class, but none of which is essential for membership of that group or class.” Monothetic contextualization assumed that there was such a thing as, for instance, “Arab Culture,” and didn’t make room for diversity. Therefore, in contextualization, one would contextualize to “Arab culture.” But this approach had many problems:

For example, missionaries and missiologists have tried to create the myth that there is a Japanese culture which is homogeneous, that because of Japanese collectivism and their preference for uniformity there is a core of culture and worldview shared by the Japanese. In reality this is far from the truth. Japanese society is, and probably has always been, a society of diversity. Some thirty years ago when I went to Japan as a missionary church-planter I noticed that missionaries did church-planting in many diverse ways, each with a certain degree of success. Many learned the language and culture and tried to contextualize the gospel and plant an indigenous church according to what they perceived to be the Japanese culture. Then there were a few missionaries who did not learn the language well, used English in church-planting, and planted churches similar to American churches. They were able to attract some Japanese, showing that within the Japanese nation there were people who found cultural affinity with the Americans. This example shows that Japan needs many kinds of contextualized churches, including even a non-contextualized form of church. In a society with large intra-cultural variations, polythetic contextualization is more effective than monothetic contextualization. (408-9)

Progressive contextualization seeks to deal with the exceptions and variations within a culture:

There are many methods of Muslim evangelism and many approaches of Muslim contextualization, including the controversial insider movement. All [Yip should say many!] these are based on the assumption that there is a homogeneous and coherent Muslim culture, an assumption that is far from the truth. Both defenders and opponents of the insider movement stand on this faulty assumption. A way out is to use progressive contextualization to study specific cases of insider movements. A number of questions need to be answered. In a context where there is an insider movement, what are the specific culture, structure, and history of that group? What is this situation of power (both hidden and manifested) in that group? The answers to such questions may yield the real cause of the movement, and that may not be the maintenance of Muslim identity. This will help us to make assessments both theologically and pragmatically. (409 Emphasis mine)

I think this is helpful for shedding light on the variations of MBB experiences with “Islam.” Some see it as a form of spiritual bondage, some just as a culture/politic, and some in-between. For instance, see my article on The Complexity of Insiderness. Also note what L.D. Waterman says:

In the Bridging the Divide network, through numerous case studies from scholar-practitioners with a wide range of perspectives and experiences, we have learned of the incredible diversity of contexts within “the Muslim world.” We have noted not only differences of social and political contexts, but also of diverse spiritual alignments and experiences among Muslims. Within these very different contexts, God is working in a variety of creative ways to shine the light of the gospel.

See also: The Essentialist Fallacy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Definitive” “Dazzling” “Extensive” “Groundbreaking” “Impressive” “Game Changing”

From Terry Muck at IBMR:

This is a big book with big ideas. Early readers have already called it “definitive” (Frances Adeney), “dazzling” (Stephen Bevans), “extensive” (William Dyrness), “groundbreaking” (John Flett), and “impressive” (Stanley Skreslet). Let me add “game changing” (or perhaps “theology changing”) and suggest that its future lies in becoming the fundamental text in courses in introductory missiology, theology, and world
Christianity.

Part 1 in the Missiological Engagements series, Intercultural Theology: Intercultural Hermeneutics:

Christianity is not only a global but also an intercultural phenomenon. The diversity of world Christianity is evident not merely outside our borders but even within our own neighborhoods.

Over the past half century theologians and missiologists have addressed this reality by developing local and contextual theologies and by exploring issues like contextualization, inculturation, and translation. In recent years these various trajectories have coalesced into a new field called intercultural theology. Bringing together missiology, religious studies, social science research, and Christian theology, the field of intercultural theology is a fresh attempt to rethink the discipline of theology in light of the diversity and pluriformity of Christianity today.

Henning Wrogemann, one of the leading missiologists and scholars of religion in Europe, has written the most comprehensive textbook on the subject of Christianity and culture today. In three volumes his Intercultural Theology provides an exhaustive account of the history, theory, and practice of Christian mission. Volume one introduces the concepts of culture and context, volume two surveys theologies of mission both past and present, and volume three explores theologies of religion and interreligious relationships.

In this first volume on intercultural hermeneutics, Wrogemann introduces the term "intercultural theology" and investigates what it means to understand another cultural context. In addition to surveying different hermeneutical theories and concepts of culture, he assesses how intercultural understanding has taken place throughout the history of Christian mission. Wrogemann also provides an extensive discussion of contextual theologies with a special focus on African theologies.

Intercultural Theology is an indispensable resource for all people―especially students, pastors, and scholars―that explores the defining issues of Christian identity and practice in the context of an increasingly intercultural and interreligious world.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Challenging the Concept of “The Muslim World”

Contrary to widespread assumption, the term “Muslim world” does not derive from ummah, a concept as old as Islam, which refers to the Muslim religious community. Instead the idea of the Muslim world began to develop in the nineteenth century and achieved full flower in the 1870s. Also mistaken is the belief that Muslims were united until nationalist ideology and European colonialism tore them apart. This is precisely backward; in fact, Muslims did not imagine belonging to a global political unity until the peak of European hegemony in the late nineteenth century, when poor colonial conditions, European discourses of Muslim racial inferiority, and Muslims’ theories of their own apparent decline nurtured the first arguments for pan-Islamic solidarity. In other words, the Muslim world arrived with imperial globalization and its concomitant ordering of humanity by race. The racialization of Islam was bound up with its transformation into a universal and uniform religious tradition, a force in international politics, and a distinct object in a discourse of civilizations. Political strategy and intellectual labor made this new reality, and both Muslims and European Christians took part.

Aydin, Cemil (2017). The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Kindle Locations 91-99). Harvard University Press.

See also: How the Muslim World Was Invented

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Christianity Today Book Awards

From Christianity Today in December 2016, “Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.” From the Missions / Global Church category, the #1 book is…

Joyful Witness in the Muslim World: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters

Evelyne Reisacher (Baker Academic)

“Perhaps understandably, much of our attention to the Muslim world—on the news, and in the church—revolves around war, terrorism, and other pervasive challenges. But Reisacher shows us the story we’re missing. From a lifetime of missionary service, she reflects on how God’s image is beautifully reflected in the Muslim men and women she’s befriended. And she calls us to share our faith not out of fear or anger, but out of joy rooted in the hope of Christ.” —Christopher Horst, vice president of development, HOPE International


Award of Merit

Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements

William Dyrness (IVP Academic)

“The word insider in the title is accurate but also misleading, because the joy of reading this book is learning more about how God acts and moves in people’s lives outside of where and how we might expect. Dyrness takes us through the Bible, theology, history, culture, and case studies to open our eyes to different ways Jesus is being followed today. As a result, our eyes are opened to God’s redemptive grace moving creatively in the world. And we’re better prepared for thoughtful missions work that participates in God’s story without imposing unnecessary cultural baggage.” —Kent Annan, author of Slow Kingdom Coming

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Paul Akin | The Number One Reason Missionaries Go Home

From https://www.imb.org/2017/05/25/number-one-reason-missionaries-go-home/:


The most common reason missionaries go home is not due to lack of money, illness, terrorism, homesickness, or even a lack of fruit or response to the gospel.

Regretfully, the number one reason is due to conflict with other missionaries.

Yes, you read that correctly.

From my own personal experience on the field and after five years training, equipping, and sending missionaries, I have witnessed this truth firsthand. In all my travels around the world, I’ve spent countless days with missionary teams of all types, sizes, and makeups and one reality remains true: none of them are perfect.

In fact, toward the end of the 20th century the World Evangelical Alliance released a significant study that found “conflict with peers” as the top reason North American missionaries leave the mission field.

Why Teams?

In light of the seemingly inevitable conflict with other missionaries, many may wonder why we emphasize teams. The simple answer is that this is the example and model we see in the Bible. Team is the predominant model we see for mission work in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples lived together and did ministry together. Paul and Barnabas—set apart by the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch—went out together on the first missionary journey.

We see further evidence of teams on mission in Paul’s “apostolic band.” One scholar notes that in the New Testament, at least 55 men and 17 women were associated with Paul on his missionary journeys. All this to say, there are biblical, practical, and pastoral reasons why we encourage the formation and sending of missionary teams.

Five Challenges for Missionary Teams

Conflict within missionary teams is inevitable in a fallen world. Here are five challenges that threaten all missionaries and missionary teams.

1. Unmet expectations.

Whether we realize it or not, we all arrive on the mission field with certain expectations. These expectations are shaped and formed by our previous experiences. Unmet expectations related to missionary teams are a real problem, especially for young missionaries with an idealistic perspective of the mission field.

2. Conflict equation.

Sinful people + work with other sinful people + those people trying to witness to and reach other sinful people = lots of sinful people and potential for conflict.

When you join a team on the mission field, you are stepping into this conflict equation and you must acknowledge that reality.

3. Missionary life is stressful.

Missionary life is filled with stress and pressure, and much of it is subconscious. Things that seemed so simple—like driving, grocery shopping, paying bills, or sleeping—suddenly become very challenging and stressful. It’s not always easy to articulate and identify, but subconscious stress is a reality for many missionaries and missionary teams around the world.

4. Jealousy can thrive.

We’re creatures who naturally like to compare ourselves with others. Teams often live life together and are around each other often, so there is a great tendency for envy to creep in. If we aren’t careful, we can compare, become jealous, and in the process destroy a team with our own pride.

5. Sin remains a constant reality.

The bottom line is that we’re sinful people. We’re selfish, we’re prideful, and when put in stressful situations, we’re often poor teammates and partners in the Great Commission.

What’s the Solution?

So, in light of these challenges, what are missionaries and missionary teams supposed to do?

1. Missionaries need to have a realistic perspective of team.

Missionary teams are not perfect and are made up of sinful people. Therefore, beware of going to the mission field with an idealistic and utopian perspective of team.

2. Missionaries must strive to be flexible and adaptable.

Nobody likes teaming with high maintenance people. Most missionaries are entering a culture where they have little control over most things that happen and, as a result, flexibility and adaptability are critical.

3. Missionaries ought to prepare spiritually, physically, and emotionally before going to the field.

As Mack Stiles once wrote, “There is no such thing as transformation by aviation.” Missionaries must intentionally pursue intimacy with Christ and learn to abide in him long before they ever cross geographical, cultural, and linguistic barriers.

In the end, being a good teammate is not just a matter of effort, though that’s important; it’s a matter of grace and mercy. We need God’s grace and mercy on a moment-by-moment basis. We need the gospel to change us from the inside out. We need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, wills, desires, and affection—and in the process make us more like Jesus.

That is the only way we can be the kind of teammates who honor God and help fuel the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Insider Jesus 5: Religion and the Mission of Christ

This chapter is the meatiest of Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements, and if you only read one chapter, it should be this one. Dyrness summarizes most of his main points thus far, and builds upon an interesting discussion of religion in regards to mission today.

Because of the Reformation and Enlightenment where religion became an abstract, cognitive enterprise, Westerns are naturally incapable of understanding other ways that religion can function in peoples lives.

I am using religion in the general sense of the particular cultural practices that develop to express the inbuilt human longing for God— the spaces humans construct to look for and even find God. (Kindle 1908-1909)

Naturally we tend to assume that religion everywhere functions, or should function, in the same way that it does in the West. The result has been the tendency to essentialize religion as a homogenous concept that retains its identity across space and time. (Kindle 1920-1922)

The Western missions movement has tended to radically displace new converts from their place and cultural identities. But…

…what if we thought of religion, or religions, including Christianity, not as fixed entities with clearly defined borders but as fluid spaces that reflect particular cultural situations, where people have developed various ways of responding to God (or gods or the spirits)? Further, what if we understood those spaces as places where people are working out the possible meaning of God’s presence there, “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (Acts 17: 27), as Paul puts it— that is, as hermeneutical spaces where people are not only open to God’s voice but also prepared (by the Spirit) for that word? (Kindle 1955-1959)

In this understanding, the gospel must be framed in the cultural logic and aesthetic patterns that make that place feel like a home. Religion becomes a necessary place for people to work out for themselves what it means to follow Christ.

My goal in this discussion of the nature of religion is not to suggest that the Western view is mistaken, or that the Muslim view is somehow privileged, but to recognize the fundamental differences in these approaches. (Kindle 2006-2008)

It’s not that Western Christianity is bad, but it is just that- Western. Western Evangelical Christianity…

…represents an appropriation by a particular stream of the Christian tradition of early modern (and later Enlightenment and Romantic) sensitivities. This tradition represents, I would argue, an important interpretation of the work of Christ that allows it to be heard in a modern Western setting; it is a critical hermeneutical space. But in terms of the broader Christian tradition, even in terms of biblical teaching, it is not necessarily privileged— even if, for its practitioners, it is a more transparent and satisfying expression of the gospel than any other. It does not represent the full meaning of religion, nor does it exhaust the possibilities inherent in the gospel. 33 Moreover, sensitive listening to Muslim believers discloses practices that, though different from those typical to Christians, issues in experiences that we might characterize as life giving, even if they are not salvific. But if this is so, we might venture to reframe the question raised earlier: might it be possible for other practices, developed in vastly different settings, to be carriers of genuine faith in Christ?

There is indeed a continuity and discontinuity between the gospel and all other religious contexts, including Christian ones. God is at work in all contexts, and yet the gospel is not found naturally in any one culture.

Though all people desire to know God and seek after this God, and though this quest and the wisdom it embraces are expressed in their religion and its sacred practices and writings, the “news” about Christ is not indigenous to any culture. This is to say, God is present and active by the Spirit when the gospel is being proclaimed and Scripture read, in a way that is special and unlike the general way God is otherwise present in all cultures and religions. With all the insider movements we examined, though God was the primary agent, there also were secondary agents— missionaries, Bible translators, and teachers, those who in some way gave witness to the work of Christ and made the Scriptures available. 51 Such activity has been central to the development of Christianity in all its many forms and gives evidence of discontinuity. (Kindle 2240-2247)

Therefore there must be a discontinuity between the gospel and religion. Yet Christ did not come to do away with religion but to transform it from within.

Earlier we discussed Jehu Hanciles’s argument that the missionary movement stemming from the Protestant Reformation did nothing to dismantle the structure of Christendom. By this he means the assumption of a single model of the Christian faith that is tied invariably to Western political systems and culture. As we have seen, these colonialist assumptions have come in for heavy criticism in the last century. As Hanciles put it, by stimulating a wide variety of indigenous movements, or “the message proved to be the undoing of the messenger.” 58 While few missionaries harbor any illusion of rebuilding a Christian empire, there is an important residue of this heritage; for many there is still a belief in a single normative expression of the Christian gospel. Here Hanciles’s discussion is relevant. He writes: “If the Christendom notion of one normative expression of the faith belongs to a passing era, perhaps no concept is more definitive of the new epoch than diversity of forms and expressions.” 59 (Kindle 2312-2321)

So what do we do with syncretism?

Every Christian religious expression represents some combination of indigenous values and religious practices (whether one stands or sits, how one prays or offers gifts, etc.) and the impact of the Christian gospel (the work of Christ as described in Scripture) on this. (Kindle Locations 2336-2338)

So how do we think of mission?

That is, the goal of God’s work is not a perfect religion, nor merely a functioning church, but a new heaven and earth where righteousness reigns. And the Spirit of renewal is busy in every place, seeking those who will be a part of this new creation, who will together grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It is this larger goal that finally motivates our evangelical mission. (Kindle 2429-2432)

Then what is the church? That is the subject of the final chapter.

Thoughts:

  • I found the discussion on syncretism wanting. Of course there will always be mixing, but what are the safeguards? Dyrness would probably say that I am too quick to ask the question.
  • I agree that the gospel must be incarnated into local contexts so that it feels like home, at least both the pilgrim and indigenous principles (Walls) in play (there must be some discontinuity as Dyrness also states). But religion is really conflated with cultural practices in Dyrness’ framework. Or perhaps in my framework they are too easily separated? These assumptions/ presuppositions on the difference between religion and culture are probably the heart of evangelical disagreements on insider movements. In my Complexity of Insiderness article I said that the “term “religion” is vexingly elastic and creates misunderstandings nearly every time it is used in the insider movement debate.

Next, Chapter 6: Conclusion: Is God Doing Something New?