Saturday, March 27, 2010

John the Baptist Analogy

John the Baptist is to Christians what Jesus is to Muslims.

The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” John 1:29-30

And remember Jesus, the son of Mary, said: "O children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah to you confirming the Law before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad (Mohammed).” As Saff 61:6

Imagine if someone approached you with a new faith message and told you he is a follower of John the Baptist. What would you think?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Christian Response to Islam: A Struggle for the Soul of Christianity, Azumah

From the Lausanne World Pulse March 2010 issue:

One of the crucial issues facing Christians around the world today is finding the right balance in our response to the various challenges posed by Islam and engagement with Muslims. The quest for an appropriate Christian response to Islam and engagement with Muslims has sadly polarized Christians along evangelical vs. liberal, truth vs. grace, or confrontational vs. conciliatory lines.

As an African, my own struggle is the way these positions are presented as absolutes in either/or categories. In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City (9/11), the Iraq war, the Madrid bombings, etc., the division among Christians has deepened. Reflecting on the situation, Joseph Cummings talks of a titanic struggle going on in the heavenly realms—a struggle not between Muslims and Christians or between Islam and the West, but “a struggle within Christianity itself, a struggle for the soul of the Christian faith.”

What Cummings is suggesting, and I couldn’t agree more, is that Islam per se is not necessarily the greatest challenge facing Christians today, but rather how Christians choose to respond to Islam…

The conclusion:

A Ghanaian proverb counsels that if someone deliberately breaks wind into your face and you muster all your muscles to take revenge, you could end up soiling yourself with stool. However we choose as Christians to respond to Islam, the question that should guide us is: What witness are we likely to leave behind in our response, and how will it serve the course of the gospel and our mandate as witnesses to that gospel?

Read the whole thing. (3 pages)


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tokunboh Adeyemo (1944-2010)

Friends, it is with great sadness mixed with joy that I received and now pass along the news that Dr. Tokunboh Adeyemo, giant of the faith in Africa and beyond, has gone home to be with Jesus.  Dr. Adeyemo was born and raised a devout Muslim in Nigeria, and aspired to be president.  The Lord had other plans.  After coming to know Christ in 1966, he became one of the giants of African Christianity in the 20th Century, recently editing and publishing the Africa Bible Commentary, the first Bible commentary ever written exclusively by African theologians.  A top-notch theologian and Bible teacher, his heart always remained for the evangelization of his Muslim brothers throughout his continent and beyond.  Linked below is his plenary speech (his testimony) from Urbana '96, and also a blog eulogy from an African brother.

Urbana Testimony
The Fall of an Iroko Tree

Monday, March 22, 2010

Women in Islam (A couple links)

Some Misconceptions about Women in Islam (Discovering Islam)

Islam gave women rights and privileges at a time when only barbaric manners and values dominated… 

Polygamy in Islam (Discovering Islam)

Islam is criticized for allowing polygamy, for popular culture in the West views polygamy as relatively backward and impoverished.  For many Christians, it is a license to promiscuity, and feminists consider it a violation of women’s rights and demeaning to women.  A crucial point that needs to be understood is that for Muslims, standards of morality are not set by prevalent Western thought, but by divine revelation.  A few simple facts should be borne in mind before any talk of polygamy in Islam…

Related: Polygamy and Discipleship

Where does the Hijab come from? (Islam and Christianity)

What Islamists do not admit is that the custom of the veiling of women in early Islam was not part of the dress code until Muslims conquered Persia and the Byzantine territories in the 7th century. It was only after this assimilation of the conquered cultures that head covering and veiling were viewed as appropriate expressions of Islam practice. Since the veil was impractical attire for working women, a veiled woman was a sign that she belonged to the upper class and that her husband was rich enough to keep her idle.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Relationship Between Social Action and Evangelism

Three assertions in an article at the Briefing called Social involvement and evangelism (Part II): How they relate:

    1. Evangelism and social action are distinct activities;
    2. Proclamation is central; and
    3. Evangelism and social action are inseparable.

The conclusion:

Jesus sends us out into the world to ‘make disciples’. With this in mind, the two key questions are:

  1. How do we make disciples? We make disciples through the prayerful proclamation of the gospel of Christ, in dependence on the Holy Spirit to make the message effective.
  2. What does it mean to be a disciple? We teach disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded, including the command to live in kindness, generosity, love and active concern for those around us.

Read the whole thing (2-3 pages) for explanations of the assertions. (HT: JT)

To this I would probably add that I feel free to do the “good works” that God has prepared for me among Muslims without an ulterior motive.  Even though social action makes the gospel attractive (Titus 2:10), my good works are done simply because, in response to the gospel, I want to be a blessing.  Helping people and contributing to the development of the country I live in is a biblical mandate.  Social action is not just a “tactic” to get people to embrace Christ, but rather a holistic way to love people the way Jesus does.

Related posts:

Friday, March 12, 2010

"I am both Muslim and Christian"

Interesting story in the Seattle Times about an Episcopal priest who is also a Muslim: “The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding is practicing two religions she says are compatible at the most basic level, but many religious scholars insist the two are mutually exclusive.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Christian Love

From the last paragraph of Paul Hiebert’s final book:

As fallen humans we love ourselves.  When we are with others, we love to talk about ourselves and our experiences, show our pictures, and demonstrate our skills.  When we run out of things to say, we move on to find other audiences.  When conversations turn to others and their stories, we are soon disinterested.  To love is to focus attention on the persons around us.  It is to ask them questions about themselves in order to truly learn to know them.  It is to affirm their personhood and the gifts God has given them.  And it is to invite them to come to know Jesus Christ, too, within their cultural contexts, just as we ourselves, by God’s grace, have done.  Such Christian love is the central element in the work of missions.  Without it, all of our best efforts are in vain.

The Gospel in Human Contexts: Anthropological Explorations for Contemporary Missions pg. 199.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stories of God's Amazing Love – Short Arabic Videos is a website for Muslim seekers in Arabic or English with the Shareef Bible translation and several chronological video stories (in Gulf Arabic) that can be downloaded for iTunes, Windows, and Nokia mobile phones. 
I have watched these videos with several Muslims seekers and I think they are a valuable resource.  I appreciate the contextual approach and also that the OT videos clearly point to the gospel.  The total playing time for the 17 short videos is a little over 1 hour.  Here are a list of the stories available:
  1. Story of God’s Love (6 minute overview)
  2. Story of the Beginning
  3. The Creation
  4. The Separation
  5. The Flood
  6. The Tower of Babel
  7. The Sacrifice of Abraham
  8. Prophecy of Isa's Coming
  9. The Birth of Saidna Isa
  10. The New Birth
  11. The Life of Isa Al Mesiah
  12. The Possessed Man
  13. The Trail of Isa
  14. The Crucifixion of Isa
  15. The Resurrection of Isa
  16. The Holy Spirit
  17. The Return of Isa Al Mesiah
Related: Imagination and Story in Evangelism

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Insider Movement Debate: Which C5?

There has been a lot of confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the issue of contextualization as it relates to "Insider Movements", or "C5" ministry, in the Islamic context.  One of the primary areas where I believe these misunderstandings have happened centers around the definitions that we are using for C5.  I would argue that C5 might mean one thing to one person, but something else to another.  I feel that this is chiefly why we have seen such unhelpful polarization.  Below I have constructed two tables that seek to rectify this confusion by bringing clarity to the issue.  I would argue that on the one hand, we should not just blindly seek to implement C5 ministry as some sort of magic bullet - because this can and does lead to unbiblical syncretism.  However, I would also argue that we should not just write off C5 as some sort of unbiblical approach to ministry without first considering that a highly contextualized approach to ministry can truly lead to a healthy, contextualized local expression of the Church.  Thus, the tables below are my attempt to delineate what I see as a "syncretistic" or unhealthy view of C5 ministry versus an "appropriate" or healthy view of C5 ministry.
A tip: you might want to click on the tables to enlarge them!

Table 1 represents most of the fears concerning Insider Movements.  If not carefully monitored and guided, many C5 ministries could end up in this model.  Table 2 represents the exciting possibilities of properly guided (both by man and God) Insider Movements.  I sincerely believe that this transitional model will be acceptable to both sides of the current debate on high spectrum contextualization for two reasons.  First of all, it brings further clarity and distinction to the often-ambiguous Insider Movement discussion in such areas as methodology, ecclesiology, ethics and anthropology.  One of the biggest obstacles in the current debate concerns the overall confusion about what exactly is meant by “C5” or “Insider Movements.”  Different authors have used it in different ways, resulting in more confusion than is necessary.  We can converse more intelligently when we are using the same language about this subject.  In future discussions of C5, we should qualify which C5 we are speaking of.  The second reason why I feel this transitional model will satisfy both sides is that it has a more clearly delineated end goal, which is marked by limits on all sides.  The end goal of Table 1 is unclear, and thus leaves open dangerous possibilities such as syncretism or “Churchless Christianity.”  By way of contrast, Table 2 has a clearer set of guidelines that should not be compromised, and a clearer end goal – an indigenous church movement that is well related to the global church.  I welcome your feedback!

*HU Principle - Homogeneous Unit Principle.  Developed by Donald McGavran, it describes the phenomena that peoples of similar backgrounds are more likely to come to faith together, and would naturally prefer to remain in their homogeneous community.
*Ephesians Moment - Andrew Walls uses this term to describe the epiphany believers experience when they come to understand the concepts in Ephesians 2:14-18.  Thus the HU principle, while effective in describing how a people first comes to faith, falls short of the Biblical ideal put forth by Paul in this text.
*Taqiyya - An Islamic doctrine of dissimulation.  More common in the Shi’a tradition, it allows for deception in times of perceived threat.

n.b. These tables originally appeared in my article published in St. Francis Magazine in August, 2009, entitled "Rethinking the Insider Movement Debate: Global Historical Insights Toward and Appropriate Transitional Model of C5."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?... Lamin Sanneh's Thoughts

Here is an interesting article written by eminent Yale historical Theologian Lamin Sanneh, himself a former Muslim. If anyone is qualified to comment on this topic, it is him! Enjoy...

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

by Lamin Sanneh

If you accept, as Muslims and Christians do, that there is only one God, then it seems theologically imperative to say the God of one religion is none other than the God of the other. Was not the name "Allah" of Arabian Islam the same as the "Allah" of pre-Islamic Arab Christianity? Accordingly, it makes no sense on linguistic or historical grounds to make exclusionary claims for the name "God."

If, on the other hand, Muslims and Christians worship essentially the same God, why do they not call themselves by one common name? Are Muslims and Christians misguided in the nominal distinctions they maintain between themselves with reference to the one God of their faith?
Such tough questions defy a simple dismissal or acceptance of the claim that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. It would seem that President Bush’s claim is adequate insofar as there is only one God, but inadequate with respect to God’s character, on which hang matters of commitment and identity, the denial of which would sever our ties to God.

The Five Pillars of Islam, for example, lay down the boundaries of Muslim practice and identity, with the suggestion that conflicting or different things said about God cannot be equally valid. The Qur’an proclaims: "The true religion with God is Islam" (3:17), and "Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam for your religion" (5:5).

Jesus made a corresponding exclusionary statement: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Islam and Christianity both agree (and are similar here) that truth cannot coexist with its opposite, and is embodied in obedience.
It can be argued that what Christians and Muslims have in common theologically is more important than what divides them. This is Kenneth Cragg’s view, as in his remarks on the prayer tradition in Islam and Christianity (Alive to God: Muslim and Christian Prayers, 1970). Cragg also observes that Muslims and Christians no longer live in an isolated world. People of faith do not have the option of shutting themselves in. Can religious loyalties, he asks. "not be opened in their sympathies and fulfilled, outside their inner shape, in some exterior relationships?" Population, migration, production, development, health and medicine, family life, education -- are not all these in the Muslim and Christian traditions common invitations to worship and prayer rather than secular sanctuaries from which the divine is excluded?

The theological conversation about interfaith relations is important, Cragg accepts, but he thinks there is an equally urgent need to move beyond theological propositions and to be informed by what he calls "a community of reverence," "a converse of soul" in joint prayer and worship. The real test of dialogue is whether people in one faith community can make their own the prayers of another faith tradition, without making faith traditions predatory or obsolescent.
Cragg sees, for example, a bond between Lancelot Andrewes and Shah ‘Abd al-Latif, between Francis of Assisi and al-Ghazali, and between S0ren Kierkegaard and ‘Abd alQadir al-Jilani. Turbaned or not, Muslims are not exempt from a similar challenge. Religion today is all about crossing borders, physical as well as spiritual.

The desire for unity among religions, Cragg thinks, is a holy one. Yet that desire should not make us impatient with what sets us apart. Muslims and Christians agree on the great subject that God exists and that God is one. They disagree, however, about the predicates they use of God. Much of the Christian language about God affirms Jesus as God in self-revelation, and much of the Muslim language about God seeks exception to that Christian claim.

The question, then, is whether their differences condemn Muslims and Christians to estrangement before God as subject. If predicates divide, the subject unites, or should unite. In the things they do and say about God, religious people diverge quite sharply. Yet Muslims and Christians both agree that it is the one God about whom they differ so strongly.
They would not have differences without having in common this one God who inspires them and who lays a fundamental claim on their separate loyalty.

Christians pray "Hallowed be thy name," and Muslims declare "Thee only do we worship." Both ask for God’s guidance, but use different terms for this guidance even though finally it is God who does the guiding. "Guide us in the straight path," the Muslim says in the fatihah, and "Deliver us from evil," the Christian pleads in the Lord’s Prayer. In form and intention there is little to separate the two sides. Their disagreements are family feuds; their mutual jealousies, because of common ancestry; their sibling rivalry, on account of a common parentage.
People fight not just because they are different, but often because they are similar. Monotheist traditions are too close to ignore each other, with the effect that even their mutual compliments raise hackles, as the president’s remark demonstrates.

The bridge for interfaith understanding and peace grows from the principle of respect for the other. This respect offers an approach other than that of simplistic condemnation or approbation. It does not deny truth claims. On the contrary, affirmation of the other is based on truth claims: love of God and of neighbor, for example, is not just a polite suggestion, but the exacting absolute injunction of God who created us "in the image and resemblance of God." It is when God and the neighbor become relative values as matters of individual preference or personal convenience that red flags should start to go up.

This respect for the other, accordingly, is not the preserving of the status quo, which one interpretation of President Bush’s remark might suggest. A Muslim as Muslim cannot be content with mere comparative curiosity about and postponement of Muhammad and his achievements. He or she would commend public commitment to Islam’s truth claims. By the same token, a Christian as Christian may not he content with the view of Jesus as only an ethical example. She would plead personal faith in him as divine truth.

To commend faith in that fashion is to concede that Muslims and Christians are within range of each other, rather than being mutually inaccessible. Their separate or exclusive commendation of faith elicits their proximity to each other, at least enough so that they may engage in mutual scrutiny.

That very process of scrutiny and commendation will likely change previous understandings and attitudes, and will most likely produce commensurate alterations in their faith traditions: conversion causes not just numerical change but mental shifts as well. No faith tradition stands still or alone, except as a relic. Such are the implications of distinction in religious pluralism.

Lamin Sanneh teaches missions and world Christianity and history at Yale Divinity School. He is an editor-at-large of The Christian Century. This article appeared in The Christian Century, May 4, 2004, pp.35-37. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation; used by permission.

(In late 2003 President Bush said, in response to a reporter’s question, that he believed Muslims and Christians "worship the same God." The remark sparked criticism from some Christians, who thought Bush was being politically correct but theologically inaccurate. For example, Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals, said, "The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health. The Muslim god appears to value the opposite." Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The question raises a fundamental issue in interfaith discussion, especially for monotheists. We asked several scholars to consider the question. Lamin Sanneh’s article is the second in a series.)