Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Three Reasons the Church in Iran is Growing


Iran Open Hearts in a Closed Land

Mark Bradley

Authentic, 2007, 114 pp., ISBN 978-1-85078-770-9

To order this book click here.  

From David Mays book notes:

Mark Bradley gives a very concise and readable overview of the historical and current reasons Iran is so closed to the Gospel and why the hearts of the people are so open to Jesus.  The author also recommends a very attractive 30-day prayer guide for Iran.   See it at

While the Iranian government is actively strangling the established churches, the underground churches are growing.  Its continued growth is likely for three reasons.  One, it is very secretive and hidden from authorities.  Two, the churches are very active and vibrant.  Most have never been in a church building, so Christianity grows up around the Scripture, spreads by relationships, and takes on natural cultural forms.  Three, new members recognize the urgency of telling others and take on a sense of ownership very quickly.

Read all David’s notes on the book.  Buy the book.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why do Muslims Send Prayers on the Prophet Mohammed?

You can read about it here (I tried to make it more readable):

Of the greatest blessings that Allah (ta’ala) has given to mankind is sending the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) as our guide and the Qur’an as our Book.

With the exception of Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), every Prophet and Messenger sent by Allah (azza wa jal) was sent to a specific nation for a specific time period. Allah (ta’ala) chose Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) as the Messenger for all the worlds and raised his status and mention among all of mankind.

Allah (ta’ala) describes this bounty that He gave to the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) in the Qur’an,

وَرَفَعْنَا لَكَ ذِكْرَكَ

and We have raised for you your mention. (94:4)

We bear witness five times a day that he is the Messenger of Allah, we send peace upon him during our prayers, we open our gatherings with his mention after the mention of Allah (azza wa jal) and we ask Allah to bless him before we make a duaa [prayer request]. All of these acts show that we bear witness that he (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) delivered the message. Bearing witness that he delivered the message necessitates his love, his obedience and sending salah when he is mentioned, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

Allah (azza wa jal) says,

إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَمَلَائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا

Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O you that believe! Send your blessings on him, and salute him with all respect. (33:56)

The ayaat in the Qur’an that commands the believers to do good deeds or refrain from evil actions begins with “Ya ayyuhal latheena aamano”, “O you who have believed” however this ayah does not begin in this way. Rather, Allah (ta’ala) mentions that He and His Angels send blessings and greetings on the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) first before calling the Believers to follow. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) calls the believers, because of your emaan [faith], send salah and salaam on the Messenger. The Scholars of tafseer [interpretation] state that this is to show the honorable and elevated status of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) as well as to show the honor in the act of sending salah on him. If Allah and His Angels do this action, it should motivate the Believers to do so as well…

Why do we Send Salawat [Prayers] on the Prophet?

If a close relative of ours passed away, such as a parent or a sibling, we would vehemently ask Allah to forgive them, to grant them security, and to enter them into Jannah [paradise]. The Believers are those who love the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) more than their family, wealth and their own selves so just as we would ask Allah to forgive and bless our relative, we should send prayers upon our Messenger (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) who, by the bounty and mercy of Allah, has taught us our faith. Allah azza wa jal says,

هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولًا مِّنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِن كَانُوا مِن قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ وَآخَرِينَ مِنْهُمْ لَمَّا يَلْحَقُوا بِهِمْ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ ذَ‌ٰلِكَ فَضْلُ اللَّهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ ذُو الْفَضْلِ الْعَظِيمِ

It is He Who has sent amongst the unlettered a Messenger from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to purify them, and to teach them the Book and Wisdom (Sunnah),- although they had been, before, in manifest error;-As well as (to confer all these benefits upon) others of them, who have not already joined them: And He is exalted in Might, Wise. Such is the Bounty of Allah, which He bestows on whom He wills: and Allah is the Lord of the highest bounty. [62:2-4]

We send salawat on the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) to acknowledge the great blessing that Allah has given us by sending the Messenger to us. Just as prayer is a manifestation of our love, gratitude and obedience to Allah (azza wa jal), sending salawat on the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) shows our love for him, our respect for him, and our obedience to him.

We must also remember that Rasul [the Messenger of] Allah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was only a man who does not possess any power to harm or benefit us. Many from amongst our Ummah have taken their love of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) to an extreme that is not only forbidden in our religion, but does the exact opposite of their intended goal. Worship is exclusive for Allah (azza wa jal) and obeying and loving the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) falls under the worship of Allah…

Read the whole thing, especially the “Benefits and Virtues of Salawat.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Suffering and Persecution, Mission Frontiers Jan-Feb 2010 Issue

Ralph Winter

Recapturing the Role of Suffering Nik Ripken (4 pages) [This is an important article on persecution and church planting.]

The testimony of believers living in the midst of persecution challenges the church in the West, and its emissaries, to recapture a biblical missiology—a missiology that is mature enough to embrace suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom. Believers in settings of persecution, through numerous interviews, suggest that the church in the West has lost its missiological edge and that it has grown soft in the face of overt persecution.

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ John Piper (2 pages)

More and more I am persuaded from Scripture and from the history of missions that God’s design for the evangelization of the world and the consummation of his purposes includes the suffering of his ministers and missionaries. To put it more plainly and specifically, God designs that the suffering of his ambassadors is one essential means in the triumphant spread of the Good News among all the peoples of the world.

The Other Side of the Cross: Suffering and the Glory of God Bob Sjogren (2 pages)

A contemporary worship song includes these lines for the believer to voice to Christ: "Like a rose, trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me, above all."

Excuse me? Did Christ think of me “above all” while he was on the cross? The Scriptures don’t point us in that direction. Did he think of us on the cross? Yes. Above all? No. Let’s get this straight!

Just as there are two sides to a coin, so are there two sides to the cross. For generations, many in the Church have only known one side of the cross. It’s a side that can point to ease, safety and comfort. But it’s now time for the Church to grow up and look at the other side of the cross—the one that points us to suffering.

The first side we are all familiar with: Christ died for us. But there is a second side to the cross: Christ died to magnify and vindicate the glory of his Father. This is the side with which we are unfamiliar. This is the side where we are weak and need to grow deep roots.

Read the entire issue.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Encountering the World of Islam Online Courses

Online Classes (

Take EWI Online!

Encountering the World of Islam is now available online for those who do not have a course available in their area.

EWI Online is a 12-week course featuring expert speakers and an online mentor with experience living among Muslims. Students will complete each lesson's work and assignments at their convenience and discuss the week's material using discussion forums. Though the class is not self-paced, there are no live online sessions required.

Course Assignments
To complete this course online, students will have weekly assignments, including: textbook readings, downloading and listening to audio or video lectures, and online discussions with other class members. In addition, students must meet a Muslim and visit an Islamic center in their local area and take four quizzes and one exam online. A certificate will be issued for successful course completion.

Software Requirements
To take EWI Online, you will need Internet access, a valid email address and the ability to download and listen to mp3 files; viewing lectures as streaming video is optional.

Course Fees
Tuition for EWI Online is $229.00 and includes a course textbook shipped to you (international shipping requires an additional fee).

See Online Classroom Registration Instructions for information on how to register for an online class.

Upcoming course dates:

Winter 2010 will begin January 4, 2010.  Register now.

Questions? Contact us at

Monday, December 14, 2009

5 Reasons the Gospel is “Inimical” to the Islamic Worldview

Here are the reasons from Muslims themselves at

“Question: “I want to know why didn’t Muhammad die for your sins?” -John  [I wonder if “John” thought he stumped them with this question?]

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear questioner, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.

First of all, it is to be made clear that the entire concept of someone dying for our sins is in utter contradiction with the Islamic view of the nature of man and God. In Islam, every individual is responsible for his/her own salvation. Everyone, male or female, can directly approach God without any intermediary of a prophet, saint or priest.

Answering the question you raised, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto,Ontario, Canada, states:

It seems to me that you are coming from a Christian background. In order for you to be able to understand the Islamic position, it is important to be clear about certain points.

First, Islam, unlike Christianity, does not teach a concept of “original sin”. Adam’s sin was his and his alone; and, according to the Qur’an (for the Qur’anic narration of the story of Adam and Eve, see: the Qur’an: 2: 30-39; 7: 19-25; 17: 61; 18: 50; 20: 116-122, etc.), God forgave both Adam and Eve when they turned to God in repentance; accordingly they were once again restored to divine mercy. Hence, there is no concept of Adam passing on to his progeny an original sin, and therefore no need for stipulating a redeemer for such sins.

Second, as there is no original sin, every one is born into a state of fitrah, a state of natural innocence; sin is acquired later by our own conscious and willful actions. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Every child is born into a state of fitrah (natural state of innocence.)”

Third, Islam teaches that God is All-Compassionate and All-Merciful; He is not bound by the rule of a blood sacrifice in order to forgive His servants. To assume that God can forgive only by accepting a blood sacrifice and therefore to state that Jesus or Muhammad died for our sins is not acceptable in Islam. Allah says: (O My servants who have wronged against their souls! Do not despair of Allah’s mercy! For Allah forgives all sins; for He is indeed Forgiving, Compassionate. Turn to your Lord repentant, and submit to Him before the torment overtakes you when you shall not be helped.) (Az-Zumar 39: 53-54)

Fourth, Islam teaches that every individual is responsible for his/her own salvation. Not Abraham, or Moses, or Jesus, or Muhammad can save us; they are only capable of saving themselves through God’s grace. In the words of the Qur’an: (Whoever commits a sin commits it only against himself. Allah is Knowing, Wise.) (An-Nisa' 4: 111); (Allah does not charge a soul with more than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.) (Al-Baqarah 2: 286); (Each soul earns only on its own account, nor does any laden (soul) bear another’s load.) (Al-An`am 6: 164) (Whosoever goeth right, it is only for (the good of) his own soul that he goeth right, and whosoever erreth, erreth only to its hurt. No laden soul can bear another's load.) (Al-Israa' 17: 15)

Fifth, everyone, male or female, can directly approach God without any intermediary of a prophet, saint or priest. God is closer to us than our own jugular veins. Almighty Allah says in the Qur’an: (We verily created man and We know what his soul whispereth to him, and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.) (Qaf 50: 16) (When My servants ask you about Me, tell them I am nigh, ready to answer the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to Me; therefore let them respond to Me and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way.) (Al-Baqarah: 186)

So, the entire concept of someone dying for our sins is inimical to the Islamic world-view or understanding of the natures of man and God. Islam beckons us all to respond to God’s message and receive His grace and salvation through faith, good works and leading a responsible moral and ethical life.

Excerpted, with some modifications, from:

Related Questions

- Is Man Born Sinful?

- Is the Prophet (PBUH) an Intermediary Between Man and Allah?

Allah Almighty knows best.”

How would you respond to this?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Discovering Church Planting

Here is a book I am currently reading onlineDiscovering Church Planting, An Introduction to the Whats, Whys, and Hows of Global Church Planting, by J.D. Payne.  

Alan Hirsch said this about the book: “J.D. Payne has here gifted the church with a missiologically sound, theologically literate, and practically thorough guidebook on the vital task of multiplication church planting.  Of the plethora of books on the subject, this is a standout work.”

(If you subscribe to Circumpolar via email or a reader, and you can’t see the Google book reader below, view this post on the blog.)

The 25 chapters of the book are organized into four sections, (1) Discovering Biblical and Theological Foundations, (2) Discovering Missiological Principles, (3) Discovering Historical Paradigms, and (4) Discovering Contemporary Issues.

In a recent interview, the author J.D. Payne said this about the purpose of the book: “I begin by ironically writing that ultimately the book is not about church planting, but Kingdom expansion through disciple-making. While there are many ways to plant churches, biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. Therefore, a heavy focus of this book is about Kingdom growth through the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and yes, churches. As the gospel transforms lives and churches are planted, those new Kingdom citizens must set out to expand the Kingdom by living according to a Kingdom Ethic, thus transforming their societies with the gospel.”  This sounds like a really helpful book!

Here are chapter summaries of his first 3 chapters.

Chapter 1. Understanding Biblical Church Planting

  1. There is no command in the Bible to plant churches.
  2. It is in the process of making disciples that churches are planted. [We are told to make disciples, not plant churches. It is out of a disciple making movement that churches are planted.]
  3. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.
  4. Church planting is at the intersection of ecclesiology and missiology.
  5. A theological framework for church planting should at least include missio dei, incarnation, and the Kingdom of God.
  6. A Great Commission theology supports the missionary practice of church planting.
  7. The four necessities of church planting are (1) sowers, (2) seed, (3) soil, and (4) Spirit.

Chapter 2. Ecclesiology and Church Planting Part 1

  1. How church planters answer the question, What is the church? influences their strategies, methods, and philosophies related to global disciple making.
  2. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.
  3. The Bible is the starting point of the development of a biblical ecclesiology.
  4. Church planters should work to plant indigenous/ contextualized churches.
  5. Indigenous churches are self-identifying, self-teaching, self-expressing, self-governing, self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-theologizing.
  6. A paternalistic ecclesiology forces the church culture of the church planters onto the newly planted churches because it is believed that the church planters’ culture is best.
  7. A pragmatic ecclesiology assumes that a particular expression of the church is healthy and beneficial to all because it “works.”

Chapter 3. Ecclesiology and Church Planting Part 2

  1. The New Testament refers to a universal and a local expression of the body of Christ.
  2. In the New Testament those who are part of the [universal] Church are also part of a [local] church.
  3. It is very important for church planters to understand Jesus’ teachings on the C/church as well as the biblical metaphors describing the C/church.
  4. The church consists of kingdom citizens in accordance with the kingdom ethic as described in the Scriptures.
  5. The kingdom ethic involves the relationships between kingdom citizens with God, other kingdom citizens, and those outside the kingdom.
  6. The church comes into existence as the Holy Spirit brings baptized believers together who understand and identify themselves as the local expression of the Church.

Buy the book.

The Essence of the Church, Julien

Quoted in Discovering Church Planting, pg 44:

“In his article, “The Essence of the Church,” Tom Julien discussed the fact that many church planters often define the local church in terms of their cultural preference, which can lead to problems on the field.  Julien admonished church-planting teams first to come to an agreement on what the local church is so they will know what they are planting.

Our problem is that we identify the local church by her cultural and historic expression, more than by her biblical essence. To arrive at a clear definition of the local church we must make a distinction between the two. Sluggish thinking here will lead to differing assumptions in the church-planting team that will affect the basic principles of any church-planting ministry. The more focused we are on essence, the less attachment we will have to any particular cultural expression of the church. On the other hand, if the form or cultural expression of the church becomes our reference point, adapting to different cultural situations will create tension.

The New Testament reveals the church both in her essence and expression. With regard to the essence of the church, this revelation is given in images and presented as fact; with respect to the cultural expression of the church, this revelation is given as example and is descriptive rather than prescriptive…

Let us come back to our original question: "What is a local church?" We have said that a local church is a visible manifestation of the biblical essence. Most of us, however, need something more concrete to work with. It is crucial that every church-planting team agree on a working definition, in concrete terms, that grows out of essence, and not expression. This definition must include those elements that are indispensable to the identity of a church, and omit those that are not. This definition identifies the seed for church planting.

Here is an attempt at such a definition. Members of every church-planting team need to be unified with respect to what they are planting, even if it takes months of struggle to agree.

A local church is an organized body of baptized believers, led by a spiritually qualified shepherd, affirming their relationship to the Lord and to each other by regular observance of the Lord's Supper, committed to the authority of the Word of God, gathering regularly for worship and the study of the Word, and turned outward to the world in witness.”

Taken from Tom Julien, “The Essence of the Church,” EMQ April 2008.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Do we share a common love for God?

Part of the latest meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society met to discuss “A Common Word Between Us and You” and the controversy surrounding it with various Evangelical and Muslim leaders.  (Read here for more background information.)

Desiring God has made the panel discussion available on audio.  I thought the discussion was very interesting.  Interfaith dialogue is new between mainstream Muslims and Evangelicals- it seems a bit bumpy so far.  Here are some of the audio portions of the panel:

  • Muslim Perspectives on the Writing of "A Common Word"
  • Christian Defenses of the Yale Response to "A Common Word"
  • Christian Objections of the Yale Response to a “A Common Word”
  • Q&A (this was the best portion, very interesting)

    Piper objects to the dialogue because he feels the common ground that forms the basis for the dialogue (love for God and love for neighbor) doesn’t exist.  Here is part of what he said:

    “What is the central summons of A Common Word? The phrase “a common word between us and you” is taken from the Qur’an (Aal ‘Imran 3:64; A Common Word, p. 13). Quoting God, it says, “O People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians]! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God . . . .” This quotation is important because it makes clear that the central summons of A Common Word is not that we agree as monotheists on the formal principles that love to God (whoever he is) and love to neighbor (whoever they are) are a formal common ground. That may be true. But what the quotation from the Qur’an makes clear is that the central summons of A Common Word is that Christians and Muslims actually love the same God…

    It’s clear from the phrase “our common love for God” that those who wrote this either misspoke (which is unlikely, since too many other traits of the document point in this direction) or that they agree with A Common Word that the common ground for Christian-Muslim dialogue is not a formal similarity in our religions but, in fact, a shared love for the one true God and for our neighbor.

    The flaw in the common ground proposed by A Common Word and embraced by the Yale Response is that Jesus makes clear that this common ground does not exist. And my contention would be that this absence of such common ground must be made explicit—not to destroy dialogue or to undermine peace, but (from the Christian side) for the sake of forthright, honest, biblically faithful, Christ-exalting, trust-preserving dialogue, and for the sake of truth-based, durable peace.

    • Jesus said, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him” (John 5:42-43). When Jesus says, “receive him,” he means receive him for who he really is: the divine, eternal Son of God who lays down his life for the sheep and takes it up again in three days. If a person does not receive him in this way, that person, Jesus says, does not love God.
    • Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:22-23). When Jesus says, “Honor the Son who sent him, he means honor the Son for who he really is as the divine, eternal Son of God who laid down his life for the sheep and took it up again in three days. The person who does not honor him in this way, Jesus says, does not honor God.
    • Jesus said, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:18-19). This means “know” Jesus for who he really is. So the person who does not know Jesus as the divine, eternal, crucified, risen, Son of God does not know God.

    Historically Muslims do not know Jesus, honor Jesus, or receive Jesus for who he really is—the divine, eternal, Son of God, who laid down his life on the cross for sinners and rose again the third day. Therefore, Jesus says, such Muslims do not know God and do not honor God and do not love God. As offensive as this is, Jesus said it to the most Bible-saturated, ritually disciplined, God-aware, religious people of his day.

    Therefore, the central summons of A Common Word, shared by the Yale Response, is deeply flawed. In fact, the proposed common ground does not exist. I believe there is a better way forward among Christian and Muslim scholars and clergy. From the Christian side, it will be honest, biblically faithful, cross-centered, Christ-exalting, trust-preserving dialogue.

    I believe with all my heart that, as forgiven sinners, who owe our lives to blood-bought grace alone, we Christians can look with love and good will, and even tender-hearted compassion, into the eyes of a Muslim and say: I do not believe you know God or honor God or love God. I hope through our conversation that you will see the truth and beauty of Christ-crucified and risen for the sins of everyone who trusts him. And if we were threatened right now, I hope that I would lay down my life for you.

    If love toward God is to be spoken of as essential to Christian faith, it must be spoken of the way the apostle John does: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10).”

    Piper’s response certainly raises a lot of issues.  I think readers of Circumpolar would all agree that Jesus is the only way to God and that all people are eternally lost without Christ.  But the question is: Do Muslims and Christians believe in the same God?  And do Muslims love or honor God, even if they try without Christ?

    What do you think?

  • Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Muslim Followers of Jesus? Lausanne Global Conversation

    From the Lausanne Global Conversation:
    “We invite you to join the conversation on Muslim-background believers.

    Can one be a Muslim and a follower of Jesus? Yale University scholar Joseph Cumming lays the foundation for the conversation in his article Muslim Followers of Jesus?
    Selected writers respond:
    Also see more on the topic from around the web.
    Join in the conversation by Adding Your Response.”