Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Plea for Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims

Some selected quotes from Chawkat Moucarry’s article at the Lausanne Conversation, “A Plea for Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims”:

I have never really understood why some people look at dialogue and mission in terms of either/or. Evangelical Christians in particular (whose theology I share) have shown an unwarranted suspicion for dialogue simply because it has been used by some as a substitute for mission. These words should never be divorced: not only are the two words compatible, but they must shape each other…

Is conversion a legitimate outcome to dialogue? Yes: it is perfectly legitimate for believers, who take seriously the exclusive claims of their religion, to try to persuade others. There is nothing wrong with hoping, and even expecting, that some people, having carefully examined these claims, will make a life-changing decision as a result of a transparent and free dialogue. Unless we accept conversion as a possible outcome for dialogue our claim to be tolerant remains unproven.

He also highlights “some implications for us Christians who want to engage missiologically with Islam and Muslims”:

  1. Show respect to Muslims and to what is at the heart of their identity, i.e. their Prophet, their religion, and their Scriptures.
  2. We should do our best to be fair.
  3. We need to study Islam and befriend Muslims.

The conclusion:

A Christian perspective on Islam ought to be incarnational, sympathetic and critical. It should be concerned more with Muslim people than with Islam. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are under a double obligation to love our Muslim neighbours as ourselves and to share the good news with them. Not only do the two commands go hand in hand but the second is best carried out as an expression of the first. Dialogue is indeed the privileged way of ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) to Muslims as well as to other religious communities.

Read the whole thing (3 pages).

Related: Fundamental Difference Between Islam and Biblical Faith (with a link to a PDF of a nice article by Moucarry on Islam)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Contextualization Without Compromise

From Tullian Tchividjian at the Resurgence:

The principle behind Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 9:22 to “become all things to all men” is what Christian thinkers call “contextualization.” Contextualization is the idea that we need to be translating gospel truth into language understood by our culture. Cross-cultural missionaries and Bible translators have been doing this for centuries. They take the unchanging truth of the gospel and put it into language that fits the context they are trying to reach. Contextualization simply means translating the gospel—in both word and deed—into understandable terms appropriate to the audience. It’s gospel translation that is context sensitive.

For some well-meaning Christians, contextualization means the same thing as compromise. They believe it means giving people what they want and telling people what they want to hear. What they misunderstand, however, is that contextualization means giving people God’s answers (which they may not want) to the questions they’re really asking and in ways they can understand.

Why We Can't Ignore Contextualization

This misunderstanding of contextualization has led these people to argue that cultural reflection and cultural exegesis are at best distractions, at worst sinful. They admonish us to abandon these things and focus simply on the Bible. While this sounds righteous, it ends up being foolish for two reasons. First, the Bible itself exhorts us to understand our times so that we can reach our changing world with God’s eternal truth. To not contextualize, therefore, is a sin. And second, we all live inescapably within a particular cultural framework that shapes the way we think about everything. So if we don’t work hard to understand our context, we’ll not only fail in our task to effectively communicate the gospel but we’ll also find it impossible to avoid being negatively shaped by a world we don’t understand.

Contextualization Is Not Just 'Fitting In'

On the other hand, becoming “all things to all people” does not mean fitting in with the fallen patterns of this world so that there is no distinguishable difference between Christians and non-Christians. While rightly living “in the world,” we must avoid the extreme of accommodation—being “of the world.” It happens when Christians, in their attempt to make proper contact with the world, go out of their way to adopt worldly styles, standards, and strategies.

When Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture—for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth—we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise. When we accommodate our culture by jettisoning key themes of the gospel, such as suffering, humility, persecution, service, and self-sacrifice, we actually do our world more harm than good. For love’s sake, compromise is to be avoided at all costs.

Totality and Tension

As the Bible teaches, the Lordship of Christ has a sense of totality: Christ’s truth covers everything, not just “spiritual” or “religious” things. But it also has a sense of tension. As Lord, Jesus not only calls us to himself, he also calls us to break with everything which conflicts with his Lordship.

This is the challenge: If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed because they won’t understand you. But if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change.

Contextualization without compromise is the goal!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Trinity 101 - Modalism

One of the things I often find myself wanting to say to my Muslim friends when describing the Trinity is this: “Of course God is one!  It’s just that he manifests himself in different ways at different times.  Sometimes we see him as Father, sometimes as Jesus, and sometimes as Holy Spirit.”

Now this would be fine to say IF one were to leave out the “at different times” part.  To argue that God manifests himself in different ways (Father, Son, Spirit) is perfectly fine.  But to say that he does this at different times (as if to say that he can only be one “mode” of himself at a time) is heresy.  What makes Modalism (or most any heretical teaching on the Trinity) so attractive is that it makes sense to the human mind.  It seems logical that God could only be one person in himself, and manifest himself as different “modes” at different times.  But this sounds a lot more like the Hindu god Vishnu than the God of the Bible!  For he was, is, and always will be at one and the same time, three distinct persons.  Indeed he manifests himself in these various ways (as Father, Son, and Spirit) but never does he manifest one person and cease to exist as the other two.  All three persons of the Godhead are continually active at all times - even if we are only focusing

Trinity 101 - A Little Background

As you may already know, the word “trinity” is nowhere found in Scripture.  Instead, the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated as the Church fathers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, diligently digested, discussed, and described the ways that God has revealed himself in the Bible.  Far from being a monolithic, logical, easily understandable yet distant being; what they found was a complex, mysterious, humanly incomprehensible yet personal being.  Who would want to worship a god who was monolithic, fully accessible to human logic, fully understandable, and distant?  Not me.  But a God who is complex, mysterious, beyond human ability to fully comprehend, yet personally knowable?  Now that is a God I want to worship!  If nothing else, the triune nature of God is cause for awestruck worship. 

We often take for granted that God is triune (millennia of theological reflection will do that to you).  But we must not forget that the early church did not have thousands of years of Biblical reflection from “A-list” theologians like Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm. Although they did have Athanasius, praise God! (more on him later) Thus, what we take for granted was the very thing that men spent their entire lives trying to describe, define and defend. 

As the early church endeavored to describe God as he revealed himself in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, there were many often well-meaning people (such as Sabellius) who proposed ideas about God and his nature that seemed logical and understandable, but were in direct contradiction to God’s self-revelation in the Bible.  On the other hand, there were other people (such as Athanasius) who proposed ideas about God that did in fact harmonize well with God’s self-revelation in the Bible.  Feeling a strong need to formally accept the Biblical ideas and reject the unbiblical ones, the church fathers formulated the ancient creeds at ecumenical (universal) church councils.  A prime example being the formulation of the Nicene Creed in 325 AD at the council of Nicea.

As was noted in earlier posts, many of the challenges that Islam poses to Christian doctrine are not new.  Instead, these theological issues were dealt with centuries before Islam ever came into existence.  It is my hope that a closer look at some of the theological issues surrounding the Trinity and the Person of Christ will help followers of Christ to better understand their own faith so that they can articulate these crucial issues well to their Muslim friends.  Thus it is to these incredibly relevant theological issues from Church history that we now turn...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

We hate this too!

Have a look at this post from His Peace Upon Us.  Dustin, we couldn't have said it any better brother.  Kind of makes you sick to your stomach to think that Western Christians resort to fear tactics and mistakenly read the "Kingdom of America" into the Bible so often.  Jesus didn't have an unhelpful, defensive paranoia about those who didn't follow him, instead he laid down his life to prove his love to them.  Shouldn't his followers follow suit?

"Trinity 101" and "Christology 101" - A Witness to Islam from Church History

Question: What do repudiating heresies and the formulation of historical orthodoxy in church history have to do with Islam?
Answer: A whole lot!

After reading the comments to a post I made on April 5 about the way that Islam is helping us to sharpen our own theology, I have decided to do a short series of posts that will take a look at some ancient heresies and how the church responded to them.  As we have noted, many of the theological challenges that Islam poses have already been dealt with before Islam ever came into existence.  Therefore, in the interest of helping us to contend for the faith with our Muslim friends, I want to explore a bit of church history and the formulation of what we know as historical orthodoxy.  The two areas I will focus on are the two areas where Islam is most at odds with Biblical faith - the Trinity and the Person of Christ.  In the interest of clarity for future reference, I will entitle all posts as part of either “Trinity 101” or “Christology 101” in the categories of Theology, Church History, Trinity, and Christology.

My hope is that these posts will help our readers to be better communicators of the Gospel among Muslims.  I certainly know that writing them will be very helpful for sharpening my own witness!

I hope to roll out one or two each week, so be on the lookout!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Islam is Guidance: A Complete Legal Code for Humankind

I have a rather large stack of books and tracts Muslims have given me in order to convert me to Islam.  I read them from time to time.  Here is the final section in a booklet called “Discover Islam” edited by the staff at Al Jumuah:

Islam is Allah’s final message, and it offers a complete legal code for humankind.  It eliminates and corrects the human errors that found their way into previous religions in the realm of both belief and practice.  Just as any new revised law supersedes and nullifies what came before it, Islam naturally abrogates all earlier religions.

Without doubt, one will find in every religion, especially those of divine origins, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, noble teachings, good moral values, encouragement toward good deeds and warnings against evil.  However, what distinguishes Islam from other faiths is that Islam goes beyond simply urging people to be upright and honest.  Islam diagnoses illnesses and prescribes the treatment.  It gives practical solutions to man’s problems and provides the means of achieving righteousness and eliminating evil from individual and collective lives.  Islam is guidance for mankind from the Creator who knows what is best and most suitable for His creation.  That is why Islam is called the natural religion of man.

An earlier post on Circumpolar tried to answer the question, What is Islam?  Three answers were given.  I think these answers accurately and fairly represent Islam as Muslims see it.  Islam is:

  1. Outward Conformity
  2. Social Control
  3. Worldwide Political Influence

David Shenk in his book Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church says it best (pg. 170):

The message of biblical faith is that God in the Messiah enters personally into our sinfulness to redeem us from sin and death. God, in the Messiah, actively and personally and lovingly pursues us so that we might be reconciled to him, to one another, and to creation. The message of qur’anic faith is that God, the merciful and compassionate one, sends his will down to us. In submission to his will we find well-being. Jesus offers redemption; the Qur’an offers guidance.

But I would like to hear your perspective.  How would you define Islam?

Related Posts

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Contextualization Debate Hits The NY Times?!

Maybe I'm a bit late in noticing this piece about the Camel Method from The New York Times a few weeks ago.  Just in case you don't have time to read it all, I will provide the following excerpt:

On Feb. 3, Ergun Caner, president of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, in Lynchburg, Va., focused attention on a Southern Baptist controversy when he called Jerry Rankin, the president of the denomination’s International Mission Board, a liar. Dr. Caner has since apologized for his language, but he still maintains that the “Camel Method,” a strategy Dr. Rankin endorses for preaching Christianity to Muslims, is deceitful. 

In my humble opinion, this kind of name-calling and divisiveness is not helpful.

Christianity Today also ran a similar article in their April edition, also focusing on the supposed controversial Camel Method.  If these guys are getting so worked up about something that virtually all missionaries do (use the Qur'an as a bridge to the Gospel), it's no wonder that the Insider debate gets folks so heated!

One theme I would like to point out is that I have noticed that some of the most vocal opponents of contextualization are either former Muslims like Dr. Caner, or Arab Christians who have had to deal with some of the persecution that comes from bearing the name of Christ in Islamic-majority contexts.  And while I tremendously respect their opinions forged in the fire of persecution, I would like to appeal to them to have a bit more grace on this issue, as not everyone who comes to Christ in these contexts is mandated to follow the exact path that they walked.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rick Love’s Review of “A Deadly Misunderstanding”

51eR6cxKEkL__SL160_ A few readers of Circumpolar have asked me what I think of A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide by Mark D. Siljander.  I haven’t read the book.  But Rick Love has and he’s way cooler than me (and you).  Here is an excerpt from his review:

A Deadly Misunderstanding chronicles a dramatic account of Mark Siljander’s journey into bridge-building between Christians and Muslims. If you are interested in peacemaking in general or Christian-Muslim relations in particular, this is a book worth reading. It will deepen your hope for meaningful encounters with Muslims. But beware: this book will stir up your theological categories!…

…In another place Siljander actually does seem to affirm a “new ecumenism and syncretism.” According to Siljander, “Islam and Christianity were not simply overlapping ideas. They were not merely compatible. In the most central sense, they were one continuum” (pg 122).

I find this quote theologically confusing. Yes, there is an overlapping of ideas and there is compatibility in many areas. But a continuum? In what way is there a continuum? Muslims would affirm a continuum. They would argue that Islam builds upon Christianity and thus is the final and authoritative revelation to humankind. I can’t imagine that Siljander believes that.

So what does he mean? I am not sure. But it seems to be an unfortunate
overstatement, undermining the supremacy of Christ and the distinctiveness of the Gospel. I hope some of these statements will be deleted from the next edition of this book.

The reader of this review may be asking: “Ok, Rick, is this a good book or a bad book? Do you like it or not?”

When it comes to reading books (listening to sermons or enjoying a conversation with my friends for that matter), I apply what Paul said to the Thessalonians: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21 NASB). Please note: there is a lot of good in this book! We need to read books like this that “push the envelope” and think “outside the boundaries,” especially in the area of Christian-Muslim relations.

So read this book with an open heart and discerning mind … and let God change your attitude and refine your approach to blessing Muslims!

Read the entire review (3 pages PDF).

See also

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bearing the Name “Christian”

A post from Biblical Missiology by Steve Morrison (this is a blog that strongly opposes all things related to “Insider”) called Bearing the Name : A survey of the use of the name Christian in the early church:

…1 Peter 4:16 “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” [NIV]

So far I have showed from scripture that we should bear the name Christian. I have documented how early witnesses for Christ bore the name of Christian.  Now I want to answer the objections some Christians have today to following 1 Peter 4:16…

Here is the post in PDF.  I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this one!  Do we have to tell our Muslim friends that we are “Christians?”

Here is what the New Bible Commentary says on this verse: 

Christian occurs on only two other occasions in the NT (Acts 11:26; 26:28). In both cases it is assumed to have been used by detractors as a term of contempt. However, people of the day used the Latin ending -ianus (anglicized as ‘-ian’) in two ways which might shed light on this usage. Herod’s followers were called ‘Herodians’ (Mk. 3:6) and so ‘Christians’ could have indicated ‘supporters of Christ’. It was the Roman custom for a person adopted into a noble family to use as his own the family name with the -ianus ending. So a person adopted into the family of Domitius could call himself Domitianus. Antioch (where the custom began—Acts 11:26) was a Roman city, and so Christians there might well have used the name to show that they had been adopted into the family of Christ (Rom. 8:15–17).

The commentary doesn’t answer the question of whether it is mandated in Scripture for us to identify ourselves as “Christians” by name, but I thought the commentary was interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Starting a Bible Study in a Mosque

From the Zwemer Center:

In January Dr. David Cashin visited Nagoya Theological Seminary in Japan to teach a short course on Islam. As part of the course he took 11 students to the local mosque to observe Friday worship and to engage in dialogue. Eight Muslims stayed after the service and engaged in almost two hours of discussion and questions about the Islamic faith. This dialogue culminated with the head of the mosque committee agreeing to have a Bible study in the Mosque! If you would like to know how Dr. Cashin made the invitation to study the Bible click here to watch a narrated power point presentation on “Starting a Bible Study in a Mosque.” You too can begin inviting Muslims to study the Bible with you. If you like this free resource let us know.

The “narrated PowerPoint presentation” is about 12 minutes long.  Uses the Qur’an as a bridge to get Muslims into the Bible.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Orphans and Adoption in the Islamic Context

From Orphans’ Matchbox:

Al-Masyr Al-Youm (an Egyptian news site) today carries a fascinating article on the unique challenges facing orphans born in a Muslim nation.   While highlighting “Orphanage Day” (April 1)—created to remind Egyptians of the orphans in their midst—the article explains that none of Egypt’s estimated 50,000 orphans can expect the permanency of adoption.  The best an Egyptian orphan can hope for is a temporary family, in an arrangement that the child, the family and the broader community all understand will typically not last beyond puberty.  As the article describes, “Even when an orphan is lucky enough to be taken in by a loving family or orphanage, however, the time will come when he or she must inevitably face the world alone.”

The article explains:

In Islam, the concept of child adoption does not exist. Islamic Law does not permit an orphan to take the family name of a non-biological parent. “They should be named after their fathers,” said Al-Azhar University scholar Abdel Mouti Bayoumi.

Foster parents can support the child financially and raise him or her in their home, but, in Egypt, there is nothing called adoption, which is forbidden by both civil and Islamic law– so fostering remains the only option.

Because Islam sets stringent rules governing relationships between males and females, foster parents may not keep an orphan in their home beyond puberty. “Religious rules are such that the mother of an adopted boy or the father of an adopted girl must ask the child to leave the house when they reach puberty,” Sheikh Gamal Qutb, former head of Al-Azhar University’s fatwa committee, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The article notes that, under Islamic law, some foster families are able to keep children beyond puberty if the foster mother was able to nurse the child before it reached the age of two.  Even in such circumstances, however, the child can never become a true member of the family.

“It is a world that considers him of a lower category,” said Iman Shalaby, chairperson of an orphanage in Maadi. “This world lacks a system that eases their integration into society. As a result, the adjustment to life outside isn’t always smooth.”

…For example, when a boy grows up and wants to get married, the family of the bride will inevitably inquire about his parents and family, and the fact that he is an orphan–lacking a known lineage–could end up being a deal breaker. As a result, orphans often marry each other, Shalaby told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

“Orphans in this society require shelter, respect and secrecy of their origin,” she said.

Click here to read the full article

HT: Vitamin Z who remarks “A very interesting contrast between the Christian and Islamic view of adoption.  Speaks volumes as to the differences in worldview.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Shall we thank Islam for helping us sharpen our theology?

The more time I spend interacting with individual Muslims in particular, and with Islam in general, the more I realize how much Christian theology I have taken for granted!  Interacting with Muslims and Islam as a religious system has forced me to reconsider some of the core components of my faith, such as the Trinity, and the deity of Christ.  In fact, I am somewhat sorry to admit that my focus on the Trinity and on Christology has never been sharper, or more intense than in the past few years as I've contemplated apologetic stances in communicating the Gospel with Muslims.   Indeed, how can we expect to discuss the Trinity with those who deny it when we can't articulate it well ourselves?  Or how can we discuss the person and work of Jesus Christ with those who have such a contorted (docetic at best) view of him?

Yes, thanks to Islam, I have delved back into Church history and been forced to re-examine the creeds and confessions of the Church, and to be able to articulate their nuances not merely for the sake of theological reflection with other Christians, but for the sake of the salvation of many people who need to understand these distinctions!  In fact, to use Philip Jenkins' term in his book, The Lost History of Christianity (2008), one way to see Islam is as a Christian heresy.  Given this angle, some of the exact discussions that were had in the Church over fifteen hundred years ago are perhaps more pertinent now in the growing Christian/Islamic discourse than since the day they were first penned.  To that end, I just read the beginning of former Muslim now Christ follower Thabiti Anyabwile's new book, The Gospel for Muslims (2010).  He once embraced Islam because of the simplicity of the idea of the oneness of God (and perhaps partly because of Christians' inability to explain the Triunity of God?)  He says:

"Today, the Christian's task of proclaiming the gospel and persuading their Muslim neighbors and friends depends, in part, on faithfully embracing the mystery of the Trinity... Many Christians have a slippery grip on this cardinal doctrine of the faith, and it makes for rather uneasy discussions with our Muslim friends."

Thabiti, I couldn't agree more!  This is why I say we should thank Islam for forcing us to reconsider and sharpen our own understanding of foundational Christian doctrines.  One question that arises is this: why did it take Islam to force me to sharpen my theology?  I believe the answer is that if you look at the context of the formulation of historic orthodox theology, you see that none of the creeds or confessions arose in a historical vacuum.  Instead, this intense theological reflection on the Trinity and on Christology all arose in response to challenges to the faith (e.g. Arianism, etc.).  And I believe the renewed Christian engagement with Islam is forcing us back to those same roots.  Anyone else find this to be true?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

When should we focus on the cross?

I am reading Carl Medearis’s book Muslims, Christians, and Jesus (2008).  Overall I think it is a nice introductory book on Islam that demonstrates a reasonable and godly approach to sharing Christ with Muslims.  Carl is witty and easy to read.  But one thing I have noticed is that he doesn’t mention the cross a lot in the book.  For example, in “A Story of Faith” he talks about how he and a friend led a Saudi princess into the Kingdom without explicitly talking about the death of Jesus (Chapter 4).  Carl explains (Chapter 5):

Now you may be wondering if I think it’s important for my Muslim friends to know and understand the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Of course it’s vital, but we often forget that Jesus died at the end of his earthly life, not the beginning.  We do present “Christ crucified” but not necessarily on day one.  Let the story be one with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

I often like to say to my friends in the Muslim world, “Let’s talk about Jesus.  Let’s discuss his life, his teachings, his ways.  When we get to that hard part about whether de dies or not, well, we’ll deal with that then.”  In the right time.  In the right way.

Carl references 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Commenting on this verse in The Cross and Christian Ministry (2004), D.A. Carson says (pgs. 37-38):

Focus on Christ crucified.  That is what Paul did: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  This does not mean that this was a new departure for Paul, still less that Paul was devoted to blissful ignorance of anything and everything other than the cross.  No, what he means is that all he does and teaches is tied to the cross.  He cannot talk long about Christian joy, or Christian ethics, or Christian fellowship, or the Christian doctrine of God, or anything else, without finally tying it to the cross.  Paul is gospel-centered; he is cross-centered.

That is more than a creedal commitment; it sets out Paul’s priorities, his lifestyle, and in this context, his style of ministry.  If he really holds that God has supremely disclosed himself in the cross and that to follow the crucified and risen Savior means dying daily, then it is preposterous to adopt a style of ministry and that is triumphalistic, designed to impress, calculated to win applause.

Because Muslims adamantly deny the crucifixion of Jesus, do you think Carl is correct in his approach with Muslims, or do you think his approach is at odds with 1 Cor. 2:2?  In our desire to keep the glorious Messiah continually visible before Muslims, how and when should we focus on the cross?