Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is "Folk Islam" the Correct Terminology?

From the Summer 2009 edition of the Zwemer Journal for Muslim Studies, pgs. 15-16:

"Beware of worn-out interpretive stereotypes, such as "folk Islam." Christians in Muslim lands are in the habit of using the term "folk Islam" for any belief or practice that varies from Islamic doctrine, often termed "normative Islam" or "orthodox Islam." Folk Islam has become a catchall term used for practices such as divination, jinn cults, healing and exorcism, pilgrimages to holy places, and hanging a blue bead to protect against the evil eye.

When you view the lives of ordinary Muslims as folksy, deviant, or inconsistent with "normative Islam," you attribute a kind of ontological status to the Islam of Qur'an and Sunna. Do really want to be perceived by the people as having imbibed the Islam of the 'ulamā [scholars], who tend to belittle the ignorant ways of their people? Why should you join them in such judgments? Neither as Christians nor as ethnographers is it our business to decide what the true Islam is.

In your church do you sit on pews? Do you pass an offering plate during worship? Do you bury the dead in a casket? Do you think of "winning them one by one" as divinely ordained? Does one form of worship or singing bless you more than others? The scriptural basis for such beliefs and preferences is doubtful; therefore, if we were to apply to ourselves the same standard often applied to Muslims, many of us would be labeled "folk Christians." Ask yourself how such a label feels before applying it to Muslims.

It is best to avoid the term Folk Islam and speak instead of the "Muslim culture and life ways" of a specific people, time and place. If you are interested in the spirits Muslims believe in, then "the spiritual world of Arab Muslims in Cairo" is a good rubric.

Anthropologists now see the framework of "great tradition" and "little tradition" which was once used to distinguish between "orthodox" and "folk" Islam as an impediment to good ethnographic interpretation. There is a problem also with the assumption that the spirit beliefs of Muslims are survivals of a native "animistic" or "tribal" culture. Sometimes this kind of indigenization of Islam in local forms is demonstrable, but one must be careful, because historical evidence for Islam's assimilation of local spiritual practices may be lacking. What is more, comparative evidence may suggest that Muslims in geographically diverse places share the same or similar ideas and practices, in which case it is unlikely that the source is local animism. ("Animism" may not always the best word either; "spirit beliefs" is more generic and safer.)

Along with anthropologists, Christians should be careful about this kind of religious profiling. We follow Jesus, who loved and honored simple people. He listened carefully to the beliefs of the Samaritans (never calling them "folk Jews") but was often at odds with the theologically adept Pharisees (the 'ulamā of the Jews). Christianity shares at least one conviction with anthropology, that it is unwise to take sides with the powerful, when doing so would preclude trusting relationships with the people."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Top Ten Team Pitfalls, Sinclair

From Appendix 5 of the book a Vision of the Possible; Pioneer Church Planting in Teams by Dan Sinclair:

Top Ten Team Pitfalls

From my observations, it seems that these strategic issues can make a huge difference in the long run to the team's viability and impact. This is a summary of principles found elsewhere in the book. At the very least, this list of pitfalls can make for a lively team discussion!

10. Not being very clear regarding the people group and location the Lord is calling the team to work amongst.

9. Workers absorbed in high-hours jobs, even when not fully necessary.

8. Male workers trying to do everything out of their home, rather than basing ministry from an office or something. It is very common for team leaders to say they've learned this lesson about 3-year mark.

7. Allowing team misunderstandings or team leader / team member differences to fester and go on too long.

6. The team leader not building the team well. Recruiting anything with a pulse, rather than co-workers with a level of proven gifts and maturity.

5. The team leader not responding well to oversight; undervaluing the role of accountability and coaching.

4. Weak commitment to personal and corporate prayer about the work, with expectancy.

3. Not really understanding or being convinced about church planting.

2. Excess time in non-church-planting activities, such as team meetings & team activities, meetings with other workers, correspondence with folks back home, email, etc. [Of course some time spent in these areas is vital. But it can be overdone.] Getting into all forms of field activity other than language learning, evangelism and discipling. Spending too much time in front of computer screens.

1. The team leader being weak, passive, insecure or non-directive in his leadership role—usually due to insecurity and fear of rejection. Not being clear with team members concerning expectations. People begin to operate as a group of "independent contractors" rather than as a team. Team leaders must learn to stay graciously firm about team standards. Likewise there can be insufficient accountability and direction individually of team members' ministries. Weak accountability can lead to permanently weak patterns. Finally, related to this, the team leader can sometimes fail to keep people motivated, eager and expectant about their tasks and goals.

Group Discussion:

Hand out this list to everyone on the team. Take 20 minutes for each person to mark each item as to: a) whether or not they agree this is important; and b) rate it 1-to-5 (with 5 being highest) as how much of a problem it currently is to the team. Then discuss as a group.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Twelve Proofs that Mohammed is a True Prophet

A short article on the prophethood of Mohammed by Shaykh `Abdul Rahman `Abdul Khaliq (head of the Heritage Revival Committee in Kuwait):

"My brothers and sisters everywhere! With this essay, I am not singling out the adherents of Islam - to which I ascribe - but rather I am writing this essay to every man and woman throughout the whole world.

I ask Allah that He facilitates (tat) this essay reaches every ear, falls under the sight of every eye, and is understood by every heart...

Muhammad the son of `Abdullah is Allah's Prophet and the Final Messenger Sent by Allah to the Inhabitants of Earth.

My brothers and sisters everywhere! You should know that the Messenger, Muhammad the son of `Abdullah (may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him) is Allah's Messenger in reality and truth. The evidences that show his veracity are abundant. None but an infidel, who out of arrogance alone, could deny these signs."

These are listed in the article as proofs that Mohammed is a true prophet:

1. The fact that Mohammed was illiterate
2. The prophecies of the Qur'an
3. The literary eloquence of the Qur'an
4. The perfect life of Mohammed
5. The extreme love Muslims have for Mohammed
6. The worldwide influence of Mohammed to this day (the most influential person who ever lived)
7. The way all Muslims everywhere seek to live like Mohammed
8. The uniqueness of Mohammed
9. The fact that people from every ethnic group and social status follow Mohammed today despite persecution
10. The beauty and majesty of the Qur'anic description of Allah and the perfection of Islam
11. The good manners of Mohammed
12. The fact that the law and creed of Islam defies imitation

Read the whole article.

Is it a fair question to ask, "Do Muslims worship Mohammed?" Of course most do not, and it would be blasphemous in Islam to do so, but the affections many Muslims have of Mohammed seems very close to idolatry.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jesus, Pharisees, and Muslims

We all know the importance of ceremonial cleanliness and purification in Islam. For instance, if you touch something haraam you have to wash yourself in a specific way seven times. I have even heard of a ceremonial cleansing prescribed for Muslims if you pass gas while praying. I am not trying to make Islam seem corny; being physically and spiritually clean/pure/spotless is at the heart of Islamic faith, with many rules and regulations to govern what it means to be clean before God.

Much of Islam parallels 1st century Phariseeism. I find it interesting that Jesus and his disciples ceased (or never did in the first place) ceremonial washings before eating (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:2; Luke 11:38) given how important it was to Pharisees. So when I saw the book Learning Evangelism from Jesus I was excited to see in the Table of Contents a couple chapters about how Jesus dealt with Pharisees called, Revealing the Pharisee's Heart, and Religious and Moral Traditionalists: The Problem of Rules and Traditions. Here are some quotes from those chapters:

"Those who think they are well have no need of a physician. Those who believe themselves to be righteous will never listen to Jesus' offer of mercy to sinners. Such people need to be persuaded that they are sick, that they are sinners."

"In Luke 18, Jesus is speaking to some who were "confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else" (Luke 18:9, NIV). As he does on so many similar occasions, Jesus tells a story, this time about two men at the temple… Luke 18:10-13… The story teaches us about three basic characteristics of a Pharisee." 1. Pride, 2. A Critical Spirit, and 3. Lack of Mercy.

"How does Jesus respond to all this seemingly well-intentioned effort to be zealous for God?" [See Mark 7]

"He begins by quoting the prophet Isaiah and accusing them of hypocrisy… An external focus readily decays into hypocrisy, for the outer appearance of spirituality can quickly replace the much more demanding inner devotion of the heart." [Mark 7:6]

"Jesus accuses them of raising human rules to the status of God's law… The apostle Paul teaches in his letter to the Colossians that, despite their appearance of wisdom, such rules for Christian living have no value in restraining the indulgence of the sinful nature (Col. 2:23)." [Mark 7:7]

"Whenever we add our rules to God's law, no matter what the original motivation, the effect will be to replace God's commandments with human rules." [Mark 7:8]

"He says in effect, "The teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes is absolutely worthless in helping you walk in God's ways."" [Mark 7:14-23]

"The words of Jesus to the crowd were so shocking and so radically different from anything they had ever heard before that the disciples did not understand this "parable."" [Mark 7:17]

"Jesus denounces the traditions and spiritual disciplines of the Pharisees and teachers of the law far more strongly that we might expect."

"If we try to make worship obligatory, we will produce either spiritual arrogance or superficial observance and a resistant heart."

"We also need to think about Jesus' evangelistic intent in this discussion of the problem with the rules and traditions of the Pharisees and scribes… Jesus is hard on them because their pride in their knowledge of the laws and their commitment to keep them is an obstacle to faith. His passionate denunciation has the purpose of humbling them."

"When we read in the book of Acts that a great number of the Pharisees eventually came to faith, we know that the Lord's severe words bore their fruit in time; for he did at last gather many of those reluctant and obstinate people to himself."

"The problem we face is this: "When could it ever be appropriate for us to speak to people with the severity of Jesus?" This is a very difficult question to answer, for unlike him, each one of us has a Pharisee in our own heart… Is our denunciation of these obstacles to the gospel motivated by a passion for truth and by compassion for the Pharisees?"

"We must sit at Jesus' feet and recognize that legalism is an implacable enemy of the gospel of grace."

"Attacking legalism is necessary to bring about the salvation of the legalists themselves by humbling them before the Lord, before his truth, and before his grace. Attacking legalism is also necessary in setting people free from the rules that the legalists impose upon them. We are to proclaim liberty: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). This proclamation of liberty from legalism is one of the great friends of true proclamation of the gospel, both to the church and to the world."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Church Planting or Development? Word and Deed in Biblical Balance

What is the gospel? Is it a verbal message of salvation? Is it a cup of clean water? Both? Is it wrong to dichotomize between the physical and the spiritual? What about the temporal and the eternal? In our obedience to the "great commission" should we focus on church planting or development?

For a while I have struggled with the balance of words and deeds as they relate to new covenant ministry. Then I read this quote and it put it all together for me:

Many people who say that evangelism and the Word are more important than mercy and deed base this on a belief that the "spiritual" (ministry of the word) is more important than the "physical" (ministry of deed). It is common to speak of "the priority of the spiritual," but is that a biblical idea? God created both the material and the immaterial halves of reality (Gen. 2:4-7). Both the material and immaterial came under the disorder and decay of sin (Gen. 3:14-19). Moreover, God plans to redeem both our spirits (Heb. 12:23) and our bodies (1 Cor. 15)-both the material and the immaterial. How, then, can we speak about the "physical" as being less important than the "spiritual"? Does God give one priority over the other?...

Having said this, we must nonetheless recognize that, from one perspective, the ministry of the word is the most radical ministry. What do we mean by that? "Radical" often is used to mean "extremist," but that is not the fundamental meaning of the word. The radix is "the root"; to be radical means to go to the root of a thing. We said in an earlier chapter that our alienation from God, our condition of being in a state of "condemnation" (Rom. 8:1-2), is the root from which all our miseries flow. Psychological brokenness, social injustice, and even physical disintegration are due to and flow out of our warfare with God. Thus, the more radical ministry to the condition of man is to proclaim the word of faith (Rom. 10:8-13). There is no more fundamental means to cut the root of sin and death than with the verbal message of the gospel.

Tim Keller, Ministries of Mercy, p. 114

Humankind's greatest problem is a "spiritual" one; separation from God. All other problems stem from our evil rebellion against him. So if our greatest problem is spiritual, then the solution is in kind. Thus, the gospel is a not a cup of clean water, but a cosmic reality of the person and work of Jesus who reconciles humankind with God through his death and resurrection. Carson says this:

Pundits have often noted that many in the Western world have become single-issue people. The church is not immune from such influences. The result is that many Christians assume the gospel (often, regrettably, some form of the 'simple gospel') but are passionate about something on the relative periphery: abortion, poverty, forms of worship, cultural decay, ecology, overpopulation, pornography, family breakdown, and much more. By labeling these complex subjects 'relatively peripheral' I open myself to attack from as many quarters as there are subjects on the list. For example, some of those whose every thought is shaded green will not be convinced that the ecological problems we face are peripheral to human survival. But I remain quite unrepentant. From a biblical-theological perspective, these challenges, as serious as they are, are reflections of the still deeper problem—our odious alienation from God. If we tackle these problems without tackling what is central, we are merely playing around with symptoms. This is no excuse for Christians not to get involved in these and many other issues. But it is to insist that where we get involved in such issues, many of which are explicitly laid upon us in scripture, we do so from the centre out, ie beginning with full-orbed gospel proclamation and witness and passion, and then, while acknowledging that no one can do everything, doing our 'significant something' to address the wretched entailments of sin in our world. The good news of Jesus Christ will never allow us to be smug and other-worldly in the face of suffering and evil. But what does it profit us to save the world from smog and damn our own souls? There are lots of ways of getting rid of pornography. For instance, one does not find much smut in Saudi Arabia. But one doesn't find much of the gospel there, either.

The point is that in all our efforts to address painful and complex societal problems, we must do so from the centre, out of a profound passion for the gospel. This is for us both a creedal necessity and a strategic choice. It is a creedal necessity because this gospel alone prepares men and women for eternity, for meeting our Maker—and all problems are relativized in the contemplation of the cross, the final judgment, and eternity. It is a strategic choice because we are persuaded that the gospel, comprehensively preached in the power of the Spirit, will do more to transform men and women, not least their attitudes, than anything else in the world.

D.A. Carson, For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future, p. 83

I think the fog over what constitutes the "gospel" can be cleared up by distinguishing between the "gospel" and the "effects" of the gospel. When we have been redeemed and are in a relationship with God, then this good news works itself out in all areas of our life holistically. The gospel changes more than hearts because it changes hearts first. But we do a deep disservice to people when we collapse evangelism and social good to the same level. Yes we should "do good to all people" (Gal. 6:10) and "be zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14) and "devote ourselves to good works so as to help cases of urgent need" (Titus 3:14). But we should not forget what makes that all possible to begin with (2 Cor. 5:11ff).

One illustration a friend shared with me recently is the relationship between faith and works. Of course faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). But the precedence is not with works, it is with faith. Genuine faith makes good works possible: the purpose for which we are saved (Eph. 2:10). There is a lot of overlap between church planting and development, but they are not the same. Properly planted churches will have a heart for development, but if not, they are "dead."

What all people fundamentally need is the gospel, and what the developing world fundamentally lacks is not development, but indigenous churches. Meeting the development needs of the world is a job only the Spirit-empowered local church can manage in my opinion. So in our zeal for development we must contend that church planting is the biblical and strategic indispensable focus for the good of people, and ultimately, for discipling nations.


The Gospel Coalition Video Panel Discussion "Gospel Centered Mercy Ministry vs. The Social Gospel" (12 minutes)

"What do missionaries do?" by Michael Griffiths

The Resurgence And: Words and Deeds

Monday, June 1, 2009


From Sam Storms at Enjoying God Ministries on Doors to Demonization:

One of the problems in discussing curses is the failure of most people to define precisely what is meant by the term. Although curses were most often verbalized, biblical curses have little if anything to do with modern profanity. To curse is to call down or a send forth, from a supernatural source, calamity, trouble, chronic harm, or some other form of adversity upon another person or object. It is to speak evil of another person (hence, malediction or imprecation) with a view to inflicting injury (both physical and spiritual).

The Anchor Bible Dictionary says, "to curse is to predict, wish, pray for, or cause trouble or disaster on a person or thing" (I:1218).

Another problem in discussing curses is the misapplication of certain biblical texts. For example, appeal is often made to Gal. 3:13 ("Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'"). The problem is that this text and the OT passages on which it is based all refer to divine judgment, not demonic attack. Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28 are devoted to articulating the grounds on which God will "curse" a person as well as "bless" him/her. Clearly, to be the recipient of a "curse" in this context means you come under divine judgment. God sends calamity or disaster or punishment in one form or another because of disobedience. Likewise, to be the recipient of a "blessing" is to experience his favor, his bounty, prosperity and the like. When Jesus is said to have redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us, the meaning is that he has suffered, in our place, the righteous wrath of God which we justly deserved. Therefore, Christians are no longer subject or vulnerable to a "curse" in that sense of the term.

In Joshua 6:26 and 9:23 a curse is pronounced by Joshua on both Jericho and Gibeon. But again, in both cases this appears to be a calling down of divine judgment, not demonic harm. In 1 Sam. 17:43 we see that pagan people in ancient times (in this case, Goliath) believed that curses (calamity) were the work of their gods. Spoken curses were thought to possess a power that derived from whatever deity they served. A curse was thought to trigger the release of malevolent spiritual energy toward the person or the object being cursed. See also 2 Samuel 16:5-12.

The question remains: Does the Bible speak about demonic curses? Do we read in Scripture of anyone invoking or calling down or sending forth a demonic being to bring pain and problems, harassment and harm, to another person? This would appear to be what the Moabite king Balak asked Balaam to do regarding Israel. God himself forbids Balaam from cursing Israel: "you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed" (Num. 22:12). Although no mention is made of demonic spirits being involved, it is reasonable to think that they would have been the instrument of bringing calamity on Israel had Balaam carried through with this task. As far as I can tell, there is no NT example of a demonic curse, although there are numerous NT instances of a curse as an expression of divine judgment for sin.

Proverbs 26:2 is especially instructive, if we could only figure out what it means! It reads: "Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, so a curse without cause does not alight" (NASB). Or again, "Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest" (NIV). This seems to suggest that a curse is not effectual in itself. If it is undeserved, its impact is undermined. What would be the implications of this? At minimum, it would seem that a curse is, in itself, incapable of leading to demonization apart from the moral complicity of the person involved.