Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bible and Qur'an Distribution

While I don't agree with everything in this article from the Economist posted by Notes of an Indian Muslim, I think it's well worth reading (thanks Ronnie!)...

The battle of the books: The Bible v The Quran

The business of marketing the Bible and the Koran says a lot about the state of modern Christianity and Islam
This article appeared in The Economist dated Dec. 22, 2007.
Christians and Muslims have one striking thing in common: they are both “people of the book”. And they both have an obligation to spread the Word—to get those Holy Books into the hands and hearts of as many people as they can. (The Jews, the third people of the book, do not feel quite the same obligation.)
Spreading the Word is hard. The Bible is almost 800,000 words long and littered with tedious passages about begetting. The Koran is a mere four-fifths of the length of the New Testament; but some Westerners find it an even more difficult read. Edward Gibbon complained about its “endless incoherent rhapsody of fable and precept”. Thomas Carlyle said that it was “as toilsome reading as I ever undertook; a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite”.
Yet over 100m copies of the Bible are sold or given away every year. Annual Bible sales in America are worth between $425m and $650m; Gideon's International gives away a Bible every second. The Bible is available all or in part in 2,426 languages, covering 95% of the world's population.
The Koran is not only the most widely read book in the Islamic world but also the most widely recited (“Koran” means “recitation”). There is no higher goal in Muslim life than to become a human repository of the Holy Book; there is no more common sound in the Muslim world than the sound of Koranic recitation.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How should we form our view of the church?

Fruitful Practices researchers Leith and Andrea Gray have stated that (63):

…church planting workers tend to view their mission strategy based on their view of what the church is.

So then, how should we form our view of the church?

Rebecca Lewis argues that pre-existing communities should become the church as she differentiates between planting the church and implanting the church (17):

Typically, when people “plant a church” they create a new social group. Individual believers, often strangers to one another, are gathered together into new fellowship groups. Church planters try to help these individual believers become like a family or a community…

By contrast, a church is “implanted” when the Gospel takes root within a pre-existing community and, like yeast, spreads within that community. No longer does a new group try to become like a family; instead, the God-given family or social group becomes the church.

Following this, the Grays say there are two models for church planting (63):

Some workers follow and attraction church planting model, in which the church is a new structure existing parallel to other social networks in the community. On the mission field, such workers share the gospel with various unrelated individuals and then gather them together into a “church” to which they gradually invite others from the surrounding community.

Other workers hold to a model of the church as the transformation of existing social networks. On the mission field, such workers share the gospel with a community of people who already know each other and that group gradually grows in knowledge of the Bible and obedience to Christ.

Where would someone form their view that the church is the transformation of a social network?  This view would not come from Scripture.  The church in the New Testament was made up of people who had nothing in common but the person of Jesus (of course there were some family conversions as well).

Instead, the “social network” model bases their views of the church primarily on their missiology, and their missiology primarily based off of observation.  Rebecca Lewis (who has been instrumental in her work in insider movements) says (36):

My opinion is that missiology must be based on seeing what God seems to be doing and evaluating that in the light of scripture (copying the apostolic process in Acts 15).

In this same vein, the Grays’ article was highly influenced by Frost and Hirsch, who argue in The Shaping of Things to Come that our Christology informs our missiology which informs our ecclesiology.

Simplistically, we can frame the issue as Jonathan Dodson does here (definitely you should read the comments to his post!):

Alan Hirsch advocates that Missiology should shape Ecclesiology.

Christology → Missiology → Ecclesiology

Ed Stetzer advocates that Ecclesiology should precede Missiology.

Christology → EcclesiologyMissiology

Which do you support and why?

This issue of the primacy of ecclesiology or missiology is a foundational paradigm for how we think about the church and mission.  Dodson follows up with this post:

…which should take priority in determining a missional ecclesiology—missiology or ecclesiology? Both Stetzer and Hirsch have kindly provided their schematics to help clarify their positions. Stetzer writes:

My point is that scripture sets the agenda and has provides direction for all three� one does not �come from� the other but they are all derived from scripture, interact with each other, etc

Ed Stetzer


Hirsch explains: We believe that Christology is the singularly most important factor in shaping our mission to the world and the forms of ecclesia and ministry that form that engagement…Before there is any consideration given to the particular aspects of ecclesiology, such as leadership, evangelism or worship, there ought to be a thoroughgoing attempt to reconnect the church with Jesus; that is, to ReJesus.

Alan Hirsch


Stetzer sets Scripture as the starting place and Hirsch begins with [the biblical] Jesus. What are the implications for these slightly different starting places? Do these differences matter?

It is precisely these differences that determine how we form our view of the church which then creates a difference between the two models of church mentioned above.

We must come back to Scripture to inform our Christology, missiology, and ecclesiology.  And Scripture says the church is more than a transformed social network made up of people who look, talk, and think the same.  Instead, the church is in fact a new social group where allegiance to Jesus and identity in Him is paramount to all other allegiances and identities.  A simple look at the list of the scriptural metaphors for the church should remind us how diverse it is (Payne):

  • Family (Matthew 12:48–49; 1 Timothy 5:1–2)
  • Body (1 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 1:22–23)
  • Priests (1 Peter 2:9)
  • Fellowship (1 John 1:7)
  • Community (Acts 2:44; 4:34)
  • Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • Building (Ephesians 2:19–21)
  • Bride (Ephesians 5:22–33; Revelation 21:9)
  • Branches (John 15:5)
  • Sheep (John 10:1–18)
  • Salt (Matthew 5:13)
  • Light (Matthew 5:14)

IMHO, I think we should recognize that the social network model is a transitional form that can be helpful until we get to more robust, biblical forms of church.  Until then we need to make sure that our ecclesiology is informed primarily by Scripture.  And then, with Christ at the center, both our ecclesiology and missiology can shape each other.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Incarnation and Creative-Access Platforms

I’m thinking about the Incarnation during this Christmas season and thought you might find this interesting.  According to the author of the quote below, “the term creative-access evolved in the 1990’s from the earlier restricted-access once missionaries discovered alternative opportunities for accessing peoples isolated from the gospel.  Creative-access methods are used in countries in which access by traditional missionaries has been restricted for some reason.”

From chapter 8 “Innovation in Mission Operations: Creative-Access Platforms” in Changing Face of World Missions, The: Engaging Contemporary Issues and Trends (pgs. 230-231):

The New Testament is full of examples of creative-access methods.  The incarnation of Jesus himself is a model.  God chose to cross the divine/human cultural boundary and to come to earth as a child born in a livestock feed trough.  He soon became a refugee to Egypt, was raised the son of a carpenter, was followed as a radical rabbi, was crucified as a traitor, and was raised as the Messiah.  The platform was strategic.  It provided access and identity among a strategic people group at the center of God’s plan to reach all peoples on earth.  It allowed Christ to live out his sacrificial mission of atonement.  God incarnate was able to establish a lasting, witnessing relationship with the marketplace people of the world through this platform in Israel.  He did not come as a high priest housed in temple dwellings but as the son of a craftsman who became an itinerant teacher from Nazareth.  The creative-access platform of Jesus Christ laid a foundation for the launching of a global movement of churches planting churches that continues to this day.

Merry Christmas from Circumpolar.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Difference Between Proselytism and Evangelism

From the World Evangelical Alliance in 2003, quoted here:

As there is misunderstanding and misuse of the words proselytism and evangelism in the world today, World Evangelical Alliance wants to share an official definition of these words. WEA strongly rejects proselytism but supports full religious freedom according to the United Nations declaration of Human Rights (Articles 18 and 19). That freedom will give people of every religion the right to share their beliefs and allow everyone the freedom of conscience to believe as they choose.

According to World Evangelical Alliance to proselytize and to evangelize are not synonymous. Citing Dr. John R.W. Stott, “The best way to distinguish them is to understand proselytism as ‘unworthy witness’.

The World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church produced a helpful study document in 1970 titled ‘Common Witness and Proselytism’. It identified three aspects of proselytism. Proselytism takes place
(1) whenever our motives are unworthy (when our concern is for our glory rather than God’s), (2) whenever our methods are unworthy (when we resort to any kind of ‘physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure’), and (3) whenever our message is unworthy (whenever we deliberately misrepresent other people’s beliefs).

In contrast, to evangelize is (in the words of the Manila Manifesto) ‘to make an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it. We wish to be sensitive to those of other faiths, and we reject any approach that seeks to force conversion on them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mission: A Problem of Definition

From Keith Ferdinando, Mission: A Problem of Definition:

At the risk of massive oversimplification, four principal contemporary understandings of mission may be identified. They can be visualised as concentric circles, ranging from approaches which are broad and inclusive, to those which are increasingly narrow in definition.


Because “mission” is over-used and used differently by so many people, Ferdinando asks, “It must by now be questionable whether the word "mission" retains any residual value for missiology.”  He concludes with this:

The great theme of Scripture is God's redemptive mission to call a people for his own glory among whom he will dwell; and those he calls are in their turn to engage in mission as his co-workers by making disciples of Jesus Christ. Definitional ambiguities must not be allowed to obscure the absolute centrality of that vital task.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review of Walking with the Poor, Myers

Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (1999, 279 pgs) by Bryant Myers is a seminal book in Christian community development, perhaps the most often referred to book by Christian professors and practitioners.  His book tackles the big issue of human suffering and how we should view poverty and its causes, including how the the Kingdom of God impacts the world today to create a “better human future.”  In this review I will try to summarize the book as concisely as possible (it’s a dense, rich book) and offer a brief appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses.

Walking with the Poor begins by addressing Hiebert’s “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” including the sacred/secular divide promoted by the modern worldview.  The Church has been captivated by this separation, thinking Jesus is only for our spiritual life, and that God is not really concerned with the material or physical world.  What results is a dichotomy that fails to see that God cares about whole people and that Jesus is Lord of all areas of human life.  Myers explains,

We express our captivity to a modern worldview when we say that holistic ministry means combining evangelism (meeting spiritual need) with relief and development (meeting physical need) as if these were divisible realms and activities.  Then we make it worse by insisting that the church or the evangelism part of our organization do the former, while the development agency does the later.  By so doing we declare development independent of religion, something most of us do not really believe (7).  

Instead, Myers argues that people create society and society shapes people.  The “impact of the fall is on both the individual and the social system, and so the impact of the gospel of the kingdom must be on both” (49).  “The biblical story is the account of God’s project to restore the lives of individuals and communities, marred by sin, so that they can be good, just, and peaceful once again” (176).  People need to be reconciled to God, to self, to others, and to the environment.

Myers believes that the gospel is communicated through life, word, deed, and sign:

The gospel message is an inseparable mix of life, deed, word, and sign.  We are to be with Jesus (life) so that we can preach the good news (word), heal the sick (deed), and cast out the demons (sign)… Each dimension of the gospel message adds meaning to the others. Our life and deeds make our words intelligible; our words help people understand our life and deeds.  Life, word, and deed are signs of the living presence of someone greater than ourselves (134).

The “already” aspect of the kingdom of God is central in Myers’ paradigm of development, and embracing Jesus is the beginning a community’s “story.”  “Only by accepting God’s salvation in Christ can people and the community redirect the trajectory of their story towards the kingdom of God” (112).  And all people are invited to move towards the kingdom, which he defines as the better human future.  “The kingdom vision for the better human future is summarized by the idea of shalom: just, peaceful, harmonious, and enjoyable relationships with each other, ourselves, our environment, and God” (113). 

Christ’s redemptive work is cosmic in scope.  In Myers’ view,

God’s redeeming world does not separate individuals from social systems of which they are a part.  People come first, of course.  Changed people, transformed by the gospel and reconciled to God, are the beginning of transformation… At the same time, however, this individual response does not fully express the scope of God’s redemptive work (52).

Myers further believes that the local church is the center of God’s plan for transformational development (126-128).  [This is why I believe, in a pioneer setting where there is no church yet, we should see church planting as the foundational focus of mission. See Church Planting or Development? Word and Deed in Biblical Balance.]

Now we turn to the fundamental questions that Walking with the Poor addresses.  Moving people towards a better human future means having an understanding of these foundational issues.

  1. What is poverty?
  2. Why are “the poor” poor?
  3. What is transformational development?
  4. How do we work with the poor?
  5. How does Christian witness relate to transformational development?

1. What is poverty?

Poverty is a lot more complex than simply people being in deficit or lacking stuff.  Myers reviews both secular and Christian theorists who give their own definitions of poverty as:

  1. Entanglement - The poor live in a cluster of disadvantages that leave them physically weak, isolated, vulnerable, and helpless.  These dimensions make up a “poverty trap.”
  2. Lack of access to social power – The poor are excluded from the overlapping domains of state power, political power, social power, and economic power.  The values of those powers are so low for the poor that they cannot move out of poverty on their own.
  3. Disempowerment – The poor find themselves ensnared inside a system of disempowerment made up of cultural, societal, biophysical, spiritual, and personal systems.  The poor listen to a “web of lies” and are told by the world that they are God-forsaken.
  4. Lack of freedom to grow – The poor are wrapped in a series of restrictions and limitations in four areas of life: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.  People don’t have the freedom to reach their full potential.

None of these theories are complete but they are all important as they complement each other.  Poverty is a complex, multifaceted phenomena to which there are no easy answers.  Myers doubts that there will ever be a unified model of poverty.

He concludes that the nature of poverty is fundamentally relational:

Poverty is a result of relationships [with God, self, others, environment] that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.  Poverty is an absence of shalom in all its meanings (86).

Understanding poverty as relationships that don’t work as they should is consistent with the biblical story as well.  The scope of sin affects every one of the five relationships in which every human lives: within ourselves, with community, with those we call “other,” with our environment, and with God (87).

And the cause of poverty is fundamentally spiritual:

Sin is what distorts these relationships.  Sin is the root cause of deception, distortion, and domination.  When God is on the sidelines or written out of our story, we do not treat each other well… Without a strong theology of sin, comprehensive explanations for poverty are hard to come by (88).

2. Why are “the poor” poor?

It is important to understand the multifaceted causes of poverty because our understanding of cause shapes our response:

Our understanding of the causes of poverty also depends on where we start looking at poverty, and more important, where we stop looking…  For example, if we are only concerned with needs, we will only seek lack of water.  Without further thought, lack of water is the cause of poverty and providing water is the answer.  However, behind needs are issues, such as ownership of the water.  If this is the cause of the lack of water, then the response is to work on ownership or access.  Yet behind issues there are structures, such as caste, that influence who gets access to water, and which often create insurmountable barriers to access.  Behind structures are groups who inhabit and enforce the structures by insisting that “it is our water and our right to control its use.”  Behind these groups are the ideologies and values that inform the group and shape the social structure, the unspoken assumptions that “we are to be served and they are subhuman and aren’t supposed to drink where we drink.” This is worldview.

This kind of social analysis deepens our understanding of what causes poverty… [But] at the end of the day, people are the cause of poverty, and it is people who must change for things to change (82-83).

3. What is transformational development?

The two goals of transformational development are 1) changed people and 2) just relationships.  By changed people he means a recovering of true identity and true vocation:

We must know who we and the purpose for which we were created.  Therefore, restoring identity and recovering vocation must be the focus of a biblical understanding of of human transformation.  The transforming truth is that the poor and non-poor are made in God’s image (identity) and are valuable enough to God to warrant the death of the Son in order to restore that relationship (dignity) and to give gifts that contribute to the well-being of themselves and their community (vocation) (115).

If poverty is the world trying to tell the poor they are god-forsaken, then transformation is the declaration that they are made in God’s image, that God allowed his Son to die for them, and that God has given gifts to the poor so that they can fulfill God’s creation mandate that they too may be fruitful and productive…

For a Christian understanding of development, restoring identity and vocation is the goal.  This is the only path that leads toward life and that hold the promise of shalom (117).

To move toward a better human future we must encourage and develop relationships that work, relationships that are just, peaceful, and harmonious.  This is the heart of shalom and the only way of leading toward abundant life for all.  Thus transformational development that enhances life works to promote relationships that work as well as they can in a world of fallen people.  Life and relationships are inseparable (120). 

4. How do we work with the poor?

In order to work for just relationships and a recovering of identity and vocation that leads to a better human future, we must work with the poor in ways that that empower them.  All the tools development practitioners use should be seen as tools that the community uses themselves in order for them to do their own social analysis, and not as tools outsiders use to plan.  We disempower the poor when we assume or communicate that we know more about their situation than they do.

Because social systems and human transformation are not linear, it is better to work from a vision-and-values approach instead of a planning-and-management approach.  We need to work with people, not with projects. “It can be argued that empowering participation is the single most critical element of transformation” (149).  The community itself needs to own the vision, and the values/philosophy of work should be biblically-based.

Two overarching approaches to development should be in reducing vulnerabilities and building capacitates.  Both must be done.  Only addressing one without the other will result in the community being frustrated.

5. How does Christian witness relate to transformational development?

For Myers, the gospel is a message of good news that must be verbally announced.  Although the goals of evangelism and transformational development are the same (changed people and changed relationships), evangelism focuses more narrowly on the relationship between man and God, while transformational development is more concerned with all relationships man has (with God, others, self, creation).  The gospel is the “best news” we have, better than making short work of dirty water, parasites, malnutrition, and poor agricultural production:

Our thinking and practice of transforming development must have an evangelistic intent, although this needs to be understood with some care.  This is not a call for proselytism; neither is it a call to coercive, manipulative, or culturally insensitive evangelism.  It is not even a call for all development practitioners to become evangelists… Rather, it is a call to be sure we do our development with an attitude that prays and years for people to know Jesus Christ (205).

Evangelism should happen the same way development does; people must be able to come to conclusions by themselves and have ownership of the truth they discover.  This happens best not by monologue (preaching down at people and thus disempowering them), but by question asking and dialogue. 

Because we are always witnessing to something (even without words), we must be sure that at the end of the day, God is the one who gets the credit.

Ultimately, the best of transformational development deeds are ambiguous.  Good development is being done every day by Buddhists, Muslims, and atheists.  The driving force for Christian witness in the context of transformational development is to be sure that credit is given where credit is due.  We must take great care that we point, not to our own sacrifices or professionalism, and to to the effectiveness of our development technology, but to the fact that the good deeds that create and enhance life in the community are evidence of the character and activity of the God of the Bible, the God whose Son makes a continuing invitation to new life and whose Spirit is daily at work in our world (244).

Some Concluding, Brief Observations

  • Highly theoretical and theological book.  Short on stories and examples.  It’s not for everyone.
  • Repetitive. Said some things over and over. And over.
  • Dense and deep.  Made me think a lot.  I wish I would have read it a couple years ago when I started working in development.  I feel my capacity for social analysis and identifying the causes of poverty has been greatly enhanced.
  • There could have been more said about our motivation and power for working with the poor.  See Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just.
  • Myers didn’t place hardly any emphasis on man’s rebellion being primarily an offense against God.  For a book as theologically based as this was, and for a book that talked a lot about sin, I was also surprised that the topic of hell was never mentioned.  The discussion of sin was basically about the human effects of sin- and Myer’s main paradigm was the gospel for a “better human future.”  But to be fair, the book was about development work.
  • Walking With the Poor is an excellent book for building a framework to understand “the poor” and poverty alleviation.  Overall, I recommend this book even for people who don’t work in development.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When Advance is Small, Slow and More Costly than you Anticipated…

PJ Smyth, leads Godfirst Church in Johannesburg, South Africa and was recently diagnosed with lymphoma.  I think his article is very relevant for those of us working among Muslims.
A couple of months ago, in the space of a few days, my life flipped from a season of being involved in the advancement of God’s kingdom at a decent pace and in an visible way, to a season of being involved in the advancement of God’s kingdom in a less visible, more costly, slower manner. But the great news is that both seasons are equally valid seasons of Kingdom Advance.  
Matthew 13 is probably the Bible’s most comprehensive chapter on the Kingdom of God, where Jesus paints multiple pictures to teach us about how his kingdom advances – seed, yeast, treasure in a field, a fine pearl, and a fishing net. Many years ago I remember hearing David Devenish refer to this as a “depressingly encouraging” portion of Scripture, because, as you shall see, the good guys definitely win in the end, but sometimes victory is slower and more costly than we might anticipate. Let’s take a look:

Kingdom advance is often slow.

Seeds grow slowly and invisibly for a season. Yeast lifts the cake slowly. Title deeds of a property you are buying change hands incredibly slowly (certainly in Africa!). But seeds do grow and cakes do rise and property does eventually change hands. Healing will come. Relationships will be restored. Your unbelieving family members will come to Christ. The vision awaits the appointed time. Though it tarry, wait for it (Hab 2:3).

Kingdom advance is often costly.

You have to sell everything you own to purchase the field of the kingdom. That one perfect pearl will cost you everything. But in gaining that field and that pearl is life that is truly life (1 Tim 6:19). Sometimes bringing the Lordship of Jesus (i.e. the Kingdom of God) to bear on the way you think and behave is costly. Sometimes fighting for faith and joy is costly. Sometimes a friend’s conversion, or the alleviation of poverty or injustice is very costly. Remember, we must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

Kingdom advance often involves disappointment.

In the Parable of the Soil, only 1 in 4 seeds grow to bear decent fruit. An enemy is at work to steal, choke and scorch the good seed, and also to sow bad seed amongst the good seed (Mt 13:25). Some cakes flop. Sometimes you do a lot of fishing and end up with a catch of bad fish (Mt 13:47-50). But take heart, this is an unstoppable, ultimately victorious kingdom.

Kingdom advance often has small beginnings.

A mustard seed is tiny and nearly invisible when it starts out, but it grows huge in due course. Don’t be discouraged by your seemingly small contribution. Don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Don’t fret if you find yourself out of sight, out of mind and stuck in a dark place – it’s called soil. The kingdom seed will grow.
Sobering? Certainly. Encouraging? Definitely. The advance of the Kingdom of God is unstoppable. In confrontation, the stream always overcomes the rock, not through strength, but through perseverance. And so it is with the kingdom. Of the increase of his government there will be no end (Is 9:7). Despite slowness and setbacks, the kingdom advances. Take heart. Roll up your sleeves and go at it again.
HT: Confluence

Monday, December 6, 2010

Where There Was No Church – Integrating Fruitful Practices

WTWNC_coverFrom Fruitful Practice:

If you found this article [Seven Themes of Fruitfulness] helpful, you may want to buy Where There Was No Church, which brings these Fruitful Practices to life. Where There Was No Church is a collection of true stories that show what God is doing through his people among Muslims. If you work in the Muslim world or are interested in doing so in the future, you will find this an excellent resource. The principles illustrated through the stories will also be of value to anyone living among other peoples where there is no church. Questions for reflection (excellent for personal and group reflection) are included to help readers further their understanding of the concepts illustrated in each story. Order Where There Was No Church at Learning Together Press.

You can also order Where There Was No Church on Kindle for $5. (You don’t need an actual Kindle to read it but can download the app for free and start reading the book 1 minute from now).

Where There Was No Church contains real case studies and the entire descriptive list of Fruitful Practices.  I like the case studies because it’s an interactive way to think through which Fruitful Practices were illustrated in each story.  Our team plans to go through this book together and I’m sure it will stimulate some good discussions.

Three Journeys: Jesus, Constantine, and Mohammed

An interesting essay by David Shenk called Three Journeys: Jesus - Constantine - Muhammad.  The essay addresses three different views of peace in our world today. (Shenk writes from the Anabaptist perspective.  One of my favorite comparative books is his Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church.) 

The real value of the essay is in contrasting the journey Jesus took to the Cross with the journey Mohammed took to become a Statesman.  The kingdom of God is so radically different from the kingdoms of this world!

HT: Daniel S.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Seven Themes of Fruitfulness

Here is a short article that summarizes the key fruitful practices of kingdom workers who have planted at least one fellowship among Muslims.  From IJFM Summer 2009 Seven Themes of Fruitfulness by Eric Adams, Don Allen, and Bob Fish: 

These seven themes emerged in an inductive study of our data and our participants. We compared the technical statistics from our survey and key themes from the 115 interviews we conducted with fruitful workers (those who established at least one fellowship). We then highlighted those themes (such as orality and social networks) which are crucial for fostering movements, but are sometimes overlooked by western workers. Here, then, are these seven themes.
  1. Fluency - Effective workers are dedicated to be fluent in language and culture.
  2. Storying - Effective workers employ a strong use of storying throughout their ministry. In fact, storying is often tied with language.
  3. Reputation - Effective workers seek to maintain a valued reputation in the community.
  4. Social Networks - Effective workers maintain a focused involvement in existing social networks.
  5. Scripture Use - Effective workers seek to use the Scriptures in a variety of ways for the local context.
  6. Intentional Reproduction - Effective workers take what they learn and apply it to their life and to their community and pass it on to someone else.
  7. Prayer - Effective workers engage in regular disciplined prayer.

Read the whole thing (7 pages).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Intentions and Deeds in Islam

Here is a great little hadith from Muslim Matters that gives an almost comprehensive glimpse of the Islamic worldview:

Abdullah bin ‘Abaas (peace be upon him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said that Allah, the Glorious said, “Verily, Allah has ordered that the good and the bad deeds be written down. Then he explained it clearly how (to write): He who intends to do a good deed but he does not do it, then Allah records it for him as a full good deed, but if he carries out his intention, then Allah the Exalted, writes it down for him as from ten to seven hundred fold, and even more. But if he intends to do an evil act and has not done it, then Allah writes it down with him as a full good deed, but if he intends it and has done it, Allah writes it down as one bad deed.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Read the commentary on this hadith.

The Hagia Sophia and the Nature of Islam

I had the privilege of visiting the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul recently, which I was really happy about.  It's been a dream of mine for a long time.  So when I finally got to visit what was the largest basilica in the world for over a thousand years, the place with some of the most majestic Christian art and architecture in history, the place where John Chrysostom preached, and the place which was at the center of Christendom in the East before Islam was even a thought, I was...

...really shocked to see these huge, unsightly, totally incongruous black discs with Arabic calligraphy hung around the inside of the church.  I mean, this place is clearly a church.  The place screams "I am a church" from outside and inside.  But when you walk inside and see these large black discs hanging, you realize something is out of place.

As I said, the Hagia Sophia was the world's largest Christian basilica for over a thousand years.  But in 1453 with the Ottoman Muslim conquest of the city, it was "converted" into a mosque.  The Sultan simply painted over the mosaics and hung these big black calligraphy discs and declared it a mosque.

Now this hints at something deeper about the nature of Islam.  I believe that these big black discs which are so incongruous and appear so unnatural-yet-forced inside the church are symbolic of Islam in general.  Just like these discs and some paint were used to cover over a thousand year history of tradition, Islam claims to supersede a long history of Truth that came before it, namely Christianity and Judaism.  Now on the surface it looks pretty coherent - the discs, if you look at them alone, are beautiful.  But once you see what was underneath the paint (the restored mosaics), and once you step back and look at them from a distance, you can see how out of place they are in the building.  By themselves, the discs would be fine.  But hung inside this building, they just don't "fit".

Muhammad has been described as one of the greatest "borrowers" of all time.  In fact, each of the five pillars of Islam can be shown to have been borrowed from Judaism, Christianity, or pagan Arabia.  More so, a brief look at the Qur'an itself reveals at times exact replicas of Biblical stories and at others complete gaps or revisions.  Again, borrowing and covering over.  Muhammad was truly a master of "contextualization" for his audience, adapting forms and rituals and vesting them with new meaning - to the point where the originals were nearly lost.  Thank goodness that Ataturk uncovered the mosaics in Hagia Sophia - no one would have ever known they were there!

To conclude, let's consider the exterior of the building.  You might notice that the domes and minarets that we are so quick to associate with Islam are actually almost carbon copies of Byzantine Christian architecture.  After all, the design of the Hagia Sophia was used as a model for the building of mosques all over the empire, as Christian architects were even commissioned to build mosques!  So the next time you see a mosque, remember that even that design is merely borrowed from Christianity!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Newbigin’s Trinitarian Theology of Mission

From The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Chapter 6):

From "the beginning of the gospel" (Mark 1:1) when Jesus came into Galilee preaching the kingdom of God, the concern of mission is nothing less than this: the kingdom of God, the sovereign rule of the Father of Jesus over all humankind and over all creation.  I have spoken of mission in three ways.  It is the proclamation of the kingdom, the presence of the kingdom, and the prevenience [previous-ness] of the kingdom.  By proclaiming the reign of God over all things the church acts out its faith that the Father of Jesus is indeed ruler of all.  The church, by inviting all humankind to share in the mystery of the presence of the kingdom hidden in its life through its union with the crucified and risen life of Jesus, acts out the love of Jesus that took him to the cross.  By obediently following where the Spirit leads, often in ways neither planned, known, nor understood, the church acts out the hope that it is given by the presence of the Spirit who is the living foretaste of the kingdom.

This threefold way of understanding the church's mission is rooted in the triune nature of God himself.  If any one of these is taken in isolation as the clue to the understanding of mission, distortion follows.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Defective View of Hell or a Defective Heart

Without a doubt, this was one of the key moments at Lausanne. 

Posted at Desiring God:

On Lausanne's website, John Piper's exposition of Ephesians 3 is among the most watched, most discussed, and highest rated sessions from last month's congress in Cape Town. I mention that only to suggest that what he says in it has really struck a cord with those who've heard it.

It was an important and timely word. If you're interested in hearing it yourself, you can now watch or read it on our website.

The high point of the message is when Piper makes this plea to listeners (pardon the length—the context is necessary):

If God had not put Christ forward to bear his own wrath, if Christ had not become a curse for us, as Galatians 3:13 says, then all the nations and all Jews would have perished under God’s wrath and entered into everlasting suffering in hell, as Jesus said in Matthew 25:46.

The reason I draw out this implication of the cross is to hold together in this congress and in the church of Christ two truths that are often felt to be at odds with each other, but don’t have to be.

One truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it impels us out toward the alleviation of all unjust suffering in this age. That’s what love does!

The other truth is that when the gospel takes root in our souls it awakens us to the horrible reality of eternal suffering in hell, under the wrath of a just and omnipotent God. And it impels us to rescue the perishing, and to warn people to flee from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

I plead with you. Don’t choose between those two truths. Embrace them both. It doesn’t mean we all spend our time in the same way. God forbid. But it means we let the Bible define reality and define love.

Could Lausanne say—could the evangelical church say—we Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering? I hope we can say that. But if we feel resistant to saying “especially eternal suffering,” or if we feel resistant to saying “we care about all suffering in this age,” then either we have a defective view of hell or a defective heart.

I pray that Lausanne would have neither.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Jethro? The Wisdom of What God Doesn't Say

I found this intriguing as a lesson in spirituality and leadership, with perhaps additional implications in missiology.  From John Bloom:

God gave very detailed instructions to Moses regarding the construction of the tabernacle and the keeping of the law. So isn’t it interesting that God didn’t tell Moses how to perform his role as judge in Israel?

Instead he allowed Moses to struggle with an overbearing workload for awhile and then sent Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and priest of Midian (a pagan priest?), to give him counsel. In Exodus 18, Jethro observes Moses’ administrative approach to judgment and then gives sage advice on delegation. The outcome was a much more effective and efficient way of serving the people.

Why didn’t God just tell Moses that from the beginning? Why Jethro? I think one very important reason is that God speaks with clarity and preciseness everything that is required to make his people holy throughout the generations—every promise to be trusted and every commandment to be obeyed. But outside of that, he leaves much to our figuring out. And when he guides, it’s usually indirectly.

The vast majority of our methods or systems are not to be considered sacred. God does not intend for every church, denomination, or organization to structure by thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, which is what we would do if we thought this was God’s official way of organizing people.

I love the Bible. God is so wise. He is as intentional in what he does not say, as he is in what he does say.

So in our prayers for strategic and administrative wisdom, we should expect God to send us Jethros and not some special revelation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Does the “Kingdom” Make Sense to Muslims?

Why do we hear the Synoptic Gospels talk so much about the Kingdom but then the Epistles talk so much about Jesus?  Newbigin explains (chapter 5):

In Jesus the kingdom is present.  That is why the first generation of Christian preachers used a different language from the language of Jesus: he spoke about the kingdom, they spoke about Jesus.  They were bound to make this shift of language if they were to be faithful to the facts.  It was not only that the phrase “kingdom of God” in the ears of a pagan Greek would be almost meaningless, having none of the deep reverberations that it evoked from someone nourished on the Old Testament.  It was that the kingdom, or kingship, of God was no longer a distant hope or a faceless concept.  It had now a name and a face – the name and face of the man from Nazareth.

Sometimes I feel that my “Kingdom” talk has the same effect on Muslims as it did on first century Greeks.  In my experience, Muslims interpret “Kingdom of God” as simply meaning “God’s Creation.”  I know kingdom talk is quite popular in Muslim ministry these days, but can anyone else relate to this issue I’m having? 

In any case, it is always a sure thing to just talk about Jesus.

Related Post: The Kingdom, the Cross, and the Church

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mobile Phone-Empowered Ministry

Having short videos on my cell phone to Bluetooth has been a fantastic addition to my witness.  So I was glad to see this recent article in IJFM: The Little Phone that Could: Mobile-Empowered Ministry (HT: TH). 

Here is a nice quote for those expatriates who are content with owning a lame mobile phone (aka my wife):

What a strange world we live in, a world where we highly literate, technologically savvy expatriates who live and work with “backwards” illiterate tribal peoples find ourselves lagging years behind those same people in our use of portable communications and media technology. My western co-worker, for instance, still purchases his mobile phone on the basis of whether or not it has a built-in flashlight with little concern for the fact that the phone has no camera, memory, or Bluetooth connectivity (that’s not to say I haven’t often wished my phone had a flashlight too!). Meanwhile, the local youth among our people are trading in their phones every few months for the latest model and spend hours each day using them to view and send one another songs, videos, and poetry. This is not something unique to the people I work with—the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union estimates that there are now more than five billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide!

You need to get a phone that has Bluetooth capabilities- for Jesus!

How convenient would it be if the mobile phone you carried had a veritable toolbox of songs, poetry and/or videos that point to Christ and which you could share with people you came into contact with throughout the day?…  The great thing is that viewing and sharing photos, music, and videos on mobile phone is now so common among the people group I live among that whipping out my phone and sharing one of these video or audio files with them is completely natural!

Videos can make the gospel viral:

Missions strategists tell us that our outreach should be reproducible by those we are seeking to reach. The ubiquity of the mobile phone’s presence and Bluetooth phone-to-phone connectivity make mobile media ministry eminently reproducible. We simply send Bluetooth videos on to those interested in them and they can then replay them and show them to others. Those other people, in turn, can show them to their friends who in turn can send them on to their wider circle of friends. Rather than solely reaching our limited circle of acquaintances and friends, mobile phone media has the potential to reach thousands and even tens of thousands.

Bluetoothing is not a magic bullet that will start CPMs around the world- it’s just a tool that can be useful.  And by the way, the iPhone is only cool if you can Bluetooth from it.

From the conclusion:

Mobile phones are the most widely used media technology among the unreached today… Are we investigating the amazing new abilities that mobile phone technology brings to the table? Do we recognize that the mobile is the next generation of mass media subsequent to TV and internet, and that its abilities surpass those of the previous generations? Are we finding ways to use these new capabilities to spread the glory of God among the unreached? I challenge you to think strategically while acting quickly to harness the potential mobile phone outreach offers in bringing the gospel of Christ to the lost.

Here are a couple sites in Arabic that have good short videos:

Here is a short English video for Muslims that is available for translation into any language.

Below is a Sabeel Media video on Jesus healing the man with a withered hand:

Stories of the Prophets Jesus اليد الذابلة والمسيح المنتظر from Sabeel Media on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What are the Indications that a Muslim Has Left the Kingdom of Darkness?

From the website of Greg Livingstone, under the Ministry Issues tab, What are the Indications that a Muslim Has Left the Kingdom of Darkness?:

What are the indications that a Muslim has left the Kingdom of Darkness and entered the Kingdom of God’s Beloved Son? I.e., ‘been born again’? Indwelt by the Spirit? Clearly become an obedient follower of Christ Jesus?

  1. S/he has come to understand the facts re: Who Christ Jesus is, and what He was accomplishing in His visit to the earth-the ONE sent from Allah to ransom him, bringing him acceptably to God.
  2. S/he has faced up to fact that he has been a rebel, demanding his own desires, and despite carrying the title, “muslim”, ignoring, not truly submitted to, Allah.
  3. Confessing his sin in heart felt repentance for his disobedience, then determining to look to Allah to change him
  4. Coming to understand that he must rely on the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross as a subsitutionary atonement.
  5. S/he should memorize the titles attributed to Jesus in the N.T., i.e. “Lord of Glory”.
  6. Recognize that Christ is alive, having broken the power of death, and that he is returning to rule the world in peace, removing all suffering.
  7. He is determined to know what God wants through the Scriptures, and to obey, and practice everything Christ and His apostles taught. “God said it, I believe it, that settles it”.
  8. Daily asks what does God want…
  9. Called to new community UMMA, and is determined to live out the “one another” commands demonstrating the difference Christ living in him will make, as a witness.
  10. Desires to forgive those who offend him, and help believers who need reconciliation.
  11. To love his neighbour by seeking to bring them also into Christ’s Kingdom
  12. Understands it has been granted to him not only to believe, but also to suffer for His sake, therefore he will confess Christ as his Saviour and Master.
  13. He lives as a ‘good steward’…“seeking first the Kingdom of God”, i.e. to discover his gifts and role in establishing need-meeting house churches where Christ is not known.

Here is a nice video chronology of the Livingstone’s 50 year ministry.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Should Christians support laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the face veil in public?

From Christianity Today, Christians Should Defend Muslim Liberty:

Joseph Cumming, director of the reconciliation program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, David Johnston, author of Earth, Empire and Sacred Text, and Christine Schirrmacher, a scholar with the Institute of Islamic Studies of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, discuss whether Christians should support laws that ban Muslim women from wearing the face veil in public.

Christian commitment to religious liberty is rooted in Jesus' teaching, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Luke 6:31). When Christians dialogue with Muslims, a vital concern we rightly address is restrictions placed on Christians in Muslim-majority countries. If we want Muslims to uphold religious liberty for Christian minorities, we must defend religious liberty for Muslims when they are the minority.

Some respond, "We will defend Muslims' freedom when Muslims begin respecting freedom for persecuted Christians in Muslim-majority countries." Concern for the suffering church is right (Heb. 13:3), but immediately after the Golden Rule, Jesus adds in the Luke passage, "Do good … expecting nothing in return" (6:35). We must defend liberty for others whether or not they reciprocate. Christians should set a moral example for the world, not wait for others to lead.

But does Islam really require a face veil? This is vigorously debated within the Muslim community. Most Muslims worldwide interpret Islam as requiring a headscarf but not a face veil for women. A minority of Muslims sees the face veil as mandatory or recommended, while an opposing minority sees even headscarves as unnecessary. Should the state adjudicate this debate?

To answer this following Jesus' do-unto-others principle, consider the parallel issue among Christians. Most Christians interpret 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 as not requiring women to cover their heads. But a significant number of Christian women (notably in non-Western and African American churches) do cover their heads in Sunday worship. And some (e.g., traditionalist Mennonites) conscientiously cover their heads throughout the week. Though we each have opinions on this exegetical question, we would not want the state to adjudicate it for us. If we would not want this for ourselves, then Jesus' teaching strongly suggests we should not impose it on Muslims.

But is the veil inherently oppressive to women? In some contexts (for example, Afghanistan under Taliban rule), women have been forced to wear face coverings against their will. In such circumstances, defending women's human rights as equal before the law is a legitimate Christian concern (Gal. 3:28).

Nevertheless, many self-respecting, articulate Muslim women make a conscious choice to veil, or they advocate their sisters' right to do so. Some even see their modest clothing choice as a feminist statement.

When the state compels them to uncover themselves in public, they feel violated. Jesus' do-unto-others principle suggests we let Muslim women speak for themselves about what their clothing choices mean to them.

But what about security when we cannot see people's faces? The state has a legitimate concern to ascertain the identity of people entering sensitive locations like airports. In such venues, however, we already offer women the option of being checked in private by female security personnel.

Jesus' words about logs and specks (Luke 6:41-42) suggest we first must defend Muslim fellow-citizens' liberty in our country, and only then will we "see clearly" enough to ask Muslims about treatment of Christians in Muslim-majority countries. This may make us uncomfortable, but Jesus never said discipleship was anything but costly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Islam and the Goal of Love

From William Chittick on Tabsir:

Love, in short, aims at communion, union, unity. Tawhid is the assertion of oneness and unity, but it is only an assertion, not the reality. Love is the energy that drives the quest for integration. The assertion of unity and the transforming energy must work together to overcome disjunction and disarray, to achieve togetherness and harmony, to actualize oneness and union. Tawhid provides the orientation, love the force. Without tawhid, love is dispersed and scattered; without love, tawhid is empty talk.

That the word “love” expresses the goal of tawhid is a common theme in the literature. Many explain it in terms of “the sentence that expresses unity” (kalimat al-tawhid). That is, the four Arabic words “(There is) no god but God,” the foundation of the Islamic creed.

Achieving the goal depends on overcoming the illusions set up by false realities, aberrant loves and misleading desires. In the language of Sufism, the false realities are called “others,” meaning everything that distracts the heart from the Absolutely Real. Rumi explains that love actualizes tawhid in these terms:

Love is that flame which, when it blazes up,
burns away everything except the Everlasting Beloved.

It drives home the sword of “no god” in order to slay other than God.
Look closely–after “no god” what remains?

There remains “but God,” the rest has gone.
Bravo, O great, idol-burning love!

(Mathnawi, Book 5, verses 588-90)

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tim Tennent's blog, 'Global Talk'

I just want to make you aware of Tim Tennent's blog, Global Talk.  In my humble opinion, he is without a doubt one of the sharpest missiological thinkers in the world today (and a pretty sharp dresser too!).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Gospel and its Results Should be Neither Confused nor Separated

From Tim Keller in Gospel Theology:

What is the gospel? It is not about everything the Bible teaches. It is about how our relationship with God is put right through the work of Jesus Christ.

What are the results of the gospel? They include the eventual healing of the world and all the other alienations resulting from the disruption in our relationship to God. Racism, hunger and poverty, the ravaging and exploitation of the environment—all these enormous problems will ultimately be solved on judgment day, because the rupture in the relationship between God and humanity has been mended through Christ. The gospel is not just incarnation and atonement but also resurrection—Jesus is the first-fruits of the future renewal of the world. Therefore, the gospel—what Jesus has done to put us right with God—points forward to the day when we will also be put completely right in every other way.

The gospel and its results/implications must be carefully related to each other—neither confused nor separated. This is very close to Luther’s dictum that we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that remains alone. His point is that true gospel belief will always and necessarily lead to good works, but salvation in no way at all comes through or because of good works. Faith and works must never be confused for one another, nor may they be separated.

In the same way, once your alienation from God is healed, your other alienations will begin to be healed within and around you, partially now and fully later. Gospel-changed people will be moved to serve their neighbors and use their gifts and resources to alleviate psychological, social, and physical suffering, because of the hope and love the gospel brings.

Having said that the gospel and its results must neither be confused nor separated, we risk making two overgeneralizations. Some people over-emphasize the distinction, and they fail to adequately stress how the gospel always leads to community and justice and peace. On the other hand, some under-emphasize the distinction, giving the impression that gospel work is synonymous with making the world a better place.

I have heard people preach this way: “The good news is that God is healing and will heal the world of all its hurts; therefore, the work of the gospel is to work for justice and peace in the world.” The danger in this line of thought is that the good news becomes a divine rehabilitation program for the world, rather than an accomplished substitutionary work. “Believing the good news” means joining that program, rather than receiving Christ’s finished work. In other words, the gospel becomes primarily a salvation by practice instead of a salvation by faith.

As J. I. Packer says, “The gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving…the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man’s relation with his Maker; … and unless we make it plain that the solution of these former problems depends on the settling of this latter one, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God.”  J. I. Packer, quoted by James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith: A Comprehensive and Readable Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 319.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Tension Between the Pilgrim and Indigenous Principles

513-a0pPs8L__SL160_(HT: JP)  Talking about the book The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in Transmission of Faith by Andrew Walls, Justin Taylor says “Many mistakes in Christian witness and cultural engagement can be traced to ignoring this biblical tension and giving excessive weight to one end of the pole to the exclusion of the other.

Walls explains that “Church history has always been a battleground for two opposing tendencies; and the reason is that each of the tendencies has its origin in the Gospel itself.”

He first looks at the “indigenzing principle”:

On the one hand it is of the essence of the Gospel that God accepts us as we are, on the ground of Christ’s work alone, not on the ground of what we have become or are trying to become. But, if He accepts us “as we are” that implies He does not take us as isolated, self-governing units, because we are not. We are conditioned by a particular time and place, by our family and group and society, by “culture” in fact. In Christ God accepts us together with our group relations; with that cultural conditioning that makes us feel at home in one part of human society and less at home in another. . . .

The fact, then, that “if any man is in Christ he is a new creation” does not mean that he starts or continues his life in a vacuum, or that his mind is a blank table. It has been formed by his own culture and history, and since God has accepted him as he is, his Christian mind will continue to be influenced by what was in it before. And this is as true for groups as for persons. All churches are culture churches—including our own. (pp. 7-8)

Then Walls looks at the “pilgrim principle” of Christianity:

But throughout Church history there has been another force in tension with this indigenizing principle, and this also is equally of the Gospel. Not only does God in Christ take people as they are: He takes them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be. Along with the indigenizing principle which makes his faith a place to feel at home, the Christian inherits the pilgrim principle, which whispers to him that he has no abiding city and warns him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with his society; for that society never existed, in East or West, ancient time or modern, which would absorb the word of Christ painlessly into its system . . .

Just as the indigenizing principle, itself rooted in the Gospel, associates Christians with the particulars of their culture and group, the pilgrim principle, in tension with the indigenizing and equally of the Gospel, by associating them with things and people outside the culture and group, is in some respects a universalizing factor.

The Christian has all the relationships in which he was brought up, and has them sanctified by Christ who is living in them. But he has entirely a new set of relationships, with other members of the family of faith into which he has come, and whom he must accept, with all their group relations (and “disrelations”) on them, just as God has accepted him with his. Every Christian has dual nationality, and has a loyalty to the faith family which links him to those in interest groups opposed to that to which he belongs by nature. (pp. 8-9)

Here we can see these principles on a chart:

  Pilgrim Principle Indigenous Principle
But Not of the World—and Be In It “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15)
Separate—and Participate “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17). “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world . . . since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 5:9),
Confront—and Adapt “The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them. . . . Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:6-11). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands . . . so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11-12). “[I pray] that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2).
Refuse Conformity—and Contextualize “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2) “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:32-33).

“May God give all of us grace to find and maintain the gospel balance.”- JT

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How long until we see ekklesia?

What is ekklesia?  Ekklesia is the NT word for ‘church.’  Louw and Nida describe the meaning of ekklesia as “a congregation of Christians, implying interacting membership.”  The definition continues:

Though some persons have tried to see in the term ἐκκλησία a more or less literal meaning of ‘called-out ones,’ this type of etymologizing is not warranted either by the meaning of ἐκκλησία in NT times or even by its earlier usage. The term ἐκκλησία was in common usage for several hundred years before the Christian era and was used to refer to an assembly of persons constituted by well-defined membership. In general Greek usage it was normally a socio-political entity based upon citizenship in a city-state (see ἐκκλησίαc, 11.78) and in this sense is parallel to δῆμος (11.78). For the NT, however, it is important to understand the meaning of ἐκκλησίαa as ‘an assembly of God’s people.’

Lesslie Newbigin further describes the meaning of ekklesia in chapter 2 of “The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission”:

The community that confesses that Jesus is Lord has been, from the very beginning, a movement launched into the public life of mankind.  The Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament was written was full of societies offering to those who wished to join a way of personal salvation through religious teaching and practice.  There were several commonly used Greek words for such societies.  At no time did the church use any of these names for itself.  It was not, and could not be, a society offering personal salvation for those who cared to avail themselves of its teaching a practice.  It was from the beginning a movement claiming the allegiance of all peoples, and it used for itself with almost total consistency the name ecclesia – the assembly of all citizens called to deal with the public affairs of the city.  The distinctive thing about this assembly was that it was called by a more august authority than the town clerk: it was the ecclesia theou, the assembly called by God, and therefore requiring the attendance of all.  The church could have escaped persecution by the Roman Empire if it had been content to be treated as a cultus privatus – of the many forms of personal religion.  But it was not.  Its affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” implied a public, universal claim that was bound eventually to clash with the cultus publicus of the empire.  The confession “Jesus is Lord” implies a commitment to make good that confession in relation to the whole life of the world – its philosophy, its culture, and its politics no less than the personal lives of its people.

The Christian mission is thus to act out in the whole life of the whole world the confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

We should hope our ministries among Muslims will eventually lead to robust, indigenous expression of ekklesia in their lands.  But are we naive in thinking that may happen in only a couple years?  Might it take a generation or more?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Cape Town Day Six Recap - Abdul

It's hard to believe the conference is over.  What a whirlwind / mountaintop experience.  Had great times the past few days with Joseph Cumming, Ligon Duncan, Michael Oh, Chuck Van Engen, Jason Mandryk, and so many others.  But here are just a few things that will really stick out in my mind as I travel home:

1. The absolute passion with which the Believers from a Muslim Background serve Jesus in their contexts.  These brothers from all over the Muslim world are on fire for Jesus, and unafraid to share it.
2. The picture of Palestinian and Jewish Believers in Jesus praying together for peace, and for the Prince of Peace to reign on the earth in and through their lives.
3. Lindsay Brown's closing address, in which he said some of us may not be at the next Congress because of martyrdom.  He told the story of the Somali leader who was there in 1989 and after turning down a job at the UN in New York to stay in Mogadishu and serve his people, was martyred the next year.  He should have been here at Cape Town, but he is with the Lord now.  It was a call for endurance in suffering.
4. Taking communion tonight alongside a brother from Russia in a wheelchair.  I prayed for him as I cried with him.  Then a Jewish Believer came alongside us and hugged him and cried with him too.
5. Listening to my sisters from Uganda praise the Lord in every circumstance this week, even (especially) when something wasn't perfect, they chose to praise!  One of them, Sarah, was healed from AIDS and has an amazing testimony.
6. Listening to the Gospel being read in Chinese with an aching heart for the 250 Chinese delegates who were detained at the Beijing airport and unable to come.  Just wait until Lausanne IV, there will be so many believers in China by then that the whole Congress will be in Chinese instead of English!

I am sure I will have more reflections as I travel home - some of them might be worth posting.  But if not, just know that I will come away from this conference with an absolute and rock solid confidence in the beauty of what God is building in his global church, along with a sober reminder of the suffering that is yet to come before our Lord returns in glory on that great day!  It was truly a little piece of heaven tonight as believers from almost 200 nations worshiped together in loud celebration of the grace of God displayed in the Crucified and Risen Lord!  Indeed, for this will will worship him forever!  And that is why I do what I do - because I want multitudes of Muslim people who have so little chance to hear the TRUTH about Jesus to be there with us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cape Town – Day 6 – Warrick

This is the last day of the congress.  It has been fun and edifying and long and intense, but now we need to get back to the real world!

I have loved soaking in Ephesians the last few months, and especially opening each morning of this congress by listening together to God speak to His Church through Ephesians.  Such an amazing, deep, rich book.

This morning was appropriately focused on partnerships.  Partnership is hard, and it requires a death to self- that we would die to power in order to see others advance the Kingdom together.  Edinburg in 1910 showed an imbalance of Westerners, but the 21st Century does not “belong to Asia.”  Asians can make the same mistake that Westerners made in the past.

We need to push for a true global equilibrium.  We have to work together.  There is no one single center of Christianity.  It does not help to speak of the “center of gravity” existing in the South.  Jesus is the center.  We all have a wonderful story to tell.  The day of the single superstar is over.

This congress has been very multicultural and very diverse, yet I feel we can have true, long-lasting friendships that inspire us to work together to “reconcile the world to God in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19).

Lausanne III has been a profound experience, and I am grateful for the networking that I feel will benefit the partnerships I belong to.  Getting everyone involved in engaging unreached people groups is what it is all about.

Personally, I have see God answer two prayers for myself; that he would enlarge my vision of himself in Christ, and that he would enlarge my heart for sharing the gospel with the people among whom I serve.  Amen. Thank you Jesus.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cape Town – Day 5 – Warrick

A. Each morning has featured a short video in a series called Scripture in Mission.  These videos raise awareness aimed at eradicating Bible poverty in our world today:

Scripture translation is the number one needed priority throughout the world because it’s impossible to do ministry without a biblical foundation. Look at the present reality in the 6,909 spoken languages of the world.

    1. Only 451 languages have a complete Bible.
    2. Another 1,185 groups have a New Testament.
    3. 843 language groups have only a portion of Scripture. It is estimated that there are 2 billion people in these 2,028 language groups without any Old Testament. It is extremely difficult to make disciples without the Old Testament Scripture explaining the character of God.
    4. Nearly 2,000 language translations have begun work, but as yet do not have one complete book. BUT HERE IS THE TRAGEDY:
    5. 2,252 language groups do not have one verse of Scripture and no one
      is working on them. What can we do to change this? Increasing our
      efforts to launch the Oral Story Bible would be an important first step.

B. Chris Wright presented on… but I missed it because Abdul Asad and I were talking to Common Ground people!  My four concerns of Common Ground (and C5 in general):

  1. Shallow ecclesiology (we want to see the full expression of the church- fellowship is not ekklesia).
  2. Reduced understanding of the Gospel (it’s about more than just salvation- we want to see transformation). 
  3. Unrealistically positive view of Islam (the key issue is not “What does it mean to be a Christian?” but “What does it mean to be a Muslim?”).
  4. Interpretation of “remain” 1 Cor. 7 (I don’t think that text is germane to the conversation).  Related to this a narrow view of spiritual regeneration- it actually means something as it relates to our socio-religious identity in Christ.

The leader from Common Ground is a good guy and he heard these criticisms and actually wrote them down.  That’s a good example for me, to genuinely listen to criticism. 

C. I attended a breakout on Leadership Development: Issues and Solutions.  A leadership covenant is here. Random notes from the session (here is a picture I took of their model): 


  • Good training provides a benchmark.  But even the best of training can’t close the gap between knowledge and change.  Most of “Leadership Development” is really just “Leadership Training.”  Only 3-5% of leaders who get training (without coaching) demonstrate any change in their leadership behavior.
  • Coaching/Mentoring is a developmental relationship.  It provides ongoing assessment, challenge, and support in the leader’s real life (Job Assignment).  It has to happen on the job. 
  • Training in combination with coaching is what actually works.  Training happens concurrently with coaching.  Knowledge and experience should go together. 
  • What Jesus did with his disciples was mentoring.  Coaching is a little bit different technically.  But the point is that there must be a developmental relationship between the mentor and the leader for change to happen.
  • Leaders cannot be mass produced.  More time with less people is the key idea.