Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is Allah God? A Relevant Issue?

Here are three similar and complimentary ways to look at the issue, is the God of Islam the God of the Bible?  But perhaps an even more important question- is this even a relevant question for us to invest our time debating or being divided over?

First, from an interview with J.D. Greear:

Theologically speaking, there is of course only one God. But as I note throughout the book, we see several places where Jesus or the Apostles confronted someone who believed wrong things about God, yet Jesus and the apostles engaged them with the common ground of, “let’s talk about that God you think you know and He is really like.”

For example, in John 4, when Jesus deals with a Samaritan woman who was considerably off on several points about God, Jesus told her that the problem was she did not understand the God that she claimed to worship. Many of the Jews to whom the Apostles spoke did not believe in the Trinity and found it blasphemous. Does that mean that the Jews worship a different God? A better, and more Biblical approach (in my view) is to take the God that they claim to understand and show them what His true revelation is like…

With Muslims, I would say that more often than not it is more helpful to use the Arabic name for God. They understand that to be the God of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. That’s a good place to start. Then you can say, “This God you worship, here is what He is really like, according to the revelation…”

Second, here is short take on the issue from Carl Medearis:

Here’s the point – all of us, before we have a real relationship with the real God, have some form of a “fake god” in our heads. But because the real God hears the sincere prayers of sinners (thankfully), He hears us when we call out to him.

So here’s what I say – it’s a moot point to claim that Muslims believe in the wrong god. Since whenever they call out to god (whatever and whoever that is in their minds) with a sincere heart – the real God hears. Just like he did with us!

There is really no good reason for us to insist that Muslims believe in a different God! There’s only One. And when we call out to Him, he comes running!

And thirdly, from Rick Love:

I believe that anyone who affirms monotheism—whether Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Tribal—are worshiping the true God. How can it be otherwise, since there is only one God? But I hasten to add that these monotheists are worshiping in ignorance and they are not saved. I like how the Masai Creed from Africa describes this: “We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light.”

So the issue is, how do you come to know this true God personally resulting in salvation and everlasting life? The answer, of course, is the gospel.

The only way to know God is through Jesus.  A genuine personal relationship with God can only be Christological and Trinitarian.  All other worship of God outside of Christ is “in vain” (Mk. 7:7).  So whether or not Muslims believe in a different God is somewhat of a irrelevant issue, because in fact no one knows God apart from Jesus.  All conceptions of God, whether they are American, Muslim, Asian, Agnostic, Pagan, Mormon, or even “Christian,” all of them are incomplete and inaccurate without the gospel revelation of the Son (Heb. 1:2).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Orality Strategies

Welcome to Orality Strategies

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Our passion is to provide you with resources that help you communicate God’s truth to those who learn best by oral means.

What is Orality?

"Orality" refers to reliance upon the spoken, rather than written, word for communication. Orality is an ancient phenomenon that continues to the present. Before writing was developed, cultures passed along their cultural traditions, including their history, identity, and religion, through their stories, proverbs, poems, songs, riddles, etc. These are all oral art forms; that is, they are spoken, sung or chanted. They were (and still are) often woven into ceremonies, dramas and rites of passage. Purely oral societies pass along everything that matters from one generation to another without putting anything into writing. They rely on the spoken word (including its sung and chanted forms).

That reliance on the spoken word is "orality." But the term means more than that to the experts who study this phenomenon. When people live by orality, it affects a great many things about their culture. If they do not write anything down, for instance, they have to work more on remembering things, so they tend to repeat well-known, treasured sayings and stories. Oral cultures prefer the familiar. It follows that oral cultures may be slow to accept new information, particularly if it does not come in a memorable format.

Oral cultures work at putting every important truth or piece of information into easily-remembered forms. Proverbs are pithy, memorable ways of storing truths. Poems and songs are often easier to remember than simple lists of truths or facts. Oral cultures develop standard ways of structuring proverbs, poems, and stories. Those patterns of organizing spoken language for ease in recall and presentation are also part of "orality."

These are just two facets of orality, but they illustrate that if we want an oral culture to understand a message, it would be helpful to present it in forms that are more familiar to them. By studying orality we get a better understanding of how oral cultures function. That understanding helps us find the best way to present the Bible's message so they can understand it, retain it, benefit from it and pass it to others.

Spiritual Heritage

Contextualization is about making Christianity the spiritual heritage of a particular people.

-Cody Lorance, Contextualization in Church-Planting Missions: What is it?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kingdom Worker Attrition

For those who would like to study missionary attrition, here are some helpful resources.

What is attritionExamining the Faces of Attrition, by William Taylor in Mission Frontiers (1999):

Acceptable Attrition

"Acceptable" attrition arises from such causes as normal retirement, issues related to children (although some issues are a cover for unresolved parental conflicts), a legitimate job change, or health problems. In North America, with an older mission force, these are the top four reasons for attrition.

Preventable Attrition

Some attrition causes could be dealt with before or during field service: lack of home support (not just financial), problems with personal concerns, lack of call (dealt with before field service), inadequate pre-field training, poor cultural adaptation, and some others. The younger mission force faces their own causes of attrition, all perhaps preventable: lack of home support, lack of call, inadequate commitment, and disagreement with the agency.

Desirable but Unrealized Attrition

No formal study that I know of documents this fact, but some missionaries stay who should leave, and they compound the tragedy, in that their staying makes some of the better people leave. It can be a healthy thing to reduce the number of missionaries allowed to stay on the field, but this requires courageous, proactive leadership from the agency or responsible church.

Attrition Among the Vulnerable

Finally, there are "those vulnerable to attrition." What factors in a particular mission society or in a subteam of that agency, perhaps different from one national context to another, cause this segment to be vulnerable to attrition? Mission leaders are wise to address this issue right away.

What are the stats? From Frontline Ministries:

1 career missionary in 20 leaves the field every year.

47% leave their work within the first 5 years!

71% of these losses are for preventable reasons.

International, long-term missionary force estimated at 150,000 (very conservative), 7,650 missionaries leave the field annually!

Over a 4-year term, this number jumps to 30,600!

Over 21,000 of these losses are PREVENTABLE!

In one study, 49% of cases caused by relationship problems.

Top five causes of preventable attrition involve issues of character and relationships.

What are some ways to prevent attrition? A report from the “Reducing Missionary Attrition Project” (2005).


See also Preventing Discouragement and Keeping Church Planters Productive on the Field.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is Islam Violent or Peaceful?

A short post by Warren Larson.  From the intro:

Today there is a polarization as to the nature of Islam: Some say Islam is violent; others insist it is peaceful.  The truth lies somewhere in between those two statements.

The conclusion:

Perhaps we should let both Muslims [peaceful and violent] stand up and concentrate on how we can reach them for Christ.  Such an approach means we let Muslims be the teacher while we are the learner.  We allow Muslims to tell us what they believe rather than assuming we know because we listen to select news media.  We ask Muslims what Muhammad means to them and look for felt needs so that we can present the Gospel with love and understanding.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Concept Creation

There are times when aspects of the gospel and Biblical faith are not foreign to Muslims simply because they’re miscommunicated, but because they’re new concepts altogether:

As we think seriously about contextualizing the message of the Bible, let’s remember that we must also labor to bring about, in the minds of our listeners, conceptual categories that may be missing from their mental framework. If we only use the thought structures they already have, some crucial biblical truths will remain unintelligible, no matter how much contextualizing we do. This work of concept creation is harder than contextualization, but just as important.

- Preaching As Concept Creation, Not Just Contextualization

Which Biblical categories are missing from the Islamic mental framework?

10 Good Reasons to Marry a Muslim

I always like reading people with a good sense of humor.  Here is a post from Elan: The Guide to Global Muslim Culture titled 10 Good Reasons to Marry a Muslim, by Fareeda Ahmed:

Single ladies and bachelors, listen up! The world is melting! Nationality is just not what it was before. In a world where we can have wars on intangible forces ("terror," “obesity,"..."Hannah Montana") it’s clear that borders just don’t mean what they used to. This post-modern nationless world, coupled with the rise of intermarriage - aka “people-flower cross-pollinization,” - has rendered the question “so where are you from?” as obsolete as “so, when was your last polio vaccination?” or “How ‘bout them Crusades?”

Always the trendsetters, Muslims as a people have helped propagate this blurring of borderlines since their emergence from the deserts of Saudi 1,600 years ago - Islam spread as its followers travelled, and its singles mingled with indigenous populations. As a result, Muslims are all over the globe today. And the trend is growing. Muslim genes are spreading faster than viral videos, and it’s not the broadband (though that might be part of it...internet dating, etc).

So are you looking for a long-term relationship? Don’t fight it, people. You read about us in the news every single day - we’re freakin’ famous! Come and melt with us!  Give you one good reason? Sure thing! Here are 10 good reasons to marry a Muslim.

1. Cool Kids’ names - Muslim names are awesome! Don’t get me wrong. I think John, and Jackson, and Bob are all nice names...but when your kids’ names are Jahangir (conquerer of the world), Jalal-ud-Din (the majesty of religion), and Bahar Bano (blooming princess), you’ll be itching for them to fall of the swings so you can yell their names proudly across the playground. i.e. Zahratun Nisa (Women-Flower) ! Get down from those monkey bars this instant!

2. In with the In-Crowd
- Get with it! Muslims are the second-largest religious community in the world. Join the club! Loser.

2a. Diversify Your Gene Portfolio - Tagging onto #2 - the world Muslim population is enormously diverse and varied. It’s sort of like a Whole Foods buffet for genes - you get a little Chinese, a little Italian, and some North African too.

3. Wedding of Your Dreams - Small courthouse ceremony? Or awesome wedding extravaganza with bejeweled camels and a weeklong music and dance festival. (And here’s one way to do it without breaking the bank!)

4. Instant Celebrity- What other group of people is in the news more? Your choices are basically: join a reality tv show (hello psuedo-celebrity Apprentice), become Barack Obama, get fake lost in a flying balloon and hide in your parents’ attic...or become Muslim! If you want to be talked about - Muslim is the way to go!

5. Pull the “M” Card- people have lots of misconceptions about Islam. While we all do our duty to educate them about fasting, prayer, and our traditions, another boon of marrying a Muslim is you get to psych them out too - like, “oh what’s that? That huge paper is due on Monday? Oh right, well that’s a religious holiday for me, a Muslim one. No can do. Sorry.” Or “I’m so bummed I can’t eat that delicious looking roasted intestine sausage link. I’m fasting. What’s that? Yeah, it started uhh right now, like 5 minutes ago. Whattashame.” Or “, I totally meant to call you, but phones are against my religion.”

6. Family Drama and Not Just Yo’ Mamma- Think you’ve got family drama with your 2 evil cousins and weird uncle? Marry into a Muslim family and you’ve just entered stage-right of a saga of epic proportions, complete with evil eyes, cursing of generations, and ancestral feuds. Plenty of fodder if you’re a writer...or a therapist.

7,8,9 &10. You totally thought I was going to list something about ”multiple wives,” didn’t you? Didn’t you? Like saving on wedding expenses by doing 4 brides-in-1, or creating a dynasty of little you’s in one-quarter the time. You were just waiting for it, weren’t you?

Well, sorry, I couldn’t resist: Reasons 7,8,9, &10 = Wives 1,2,3 & 4.

Polygamy: expanding the Muslim empire since 600AD.

You’re welcome, World.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Prophets’ Story – Video Resource

Here is a great new 7 minute evangelistic video in English developed for a Muslim audience (originally done for SE Asians).  I hear they have plans to translate this into other languages. 

You can also download the youtube video above using and just save it in whatever format your mobile phone uses (most use 3gp).  Then you can bluetooth it easily.  Share these with your Muslim friends and comment below.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Next Christian Response to Islam

From Christianity Today, for the American context:

Debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque, followed by the inflammatory press attention paid to Pastor Terry Jones's threat to burn Qur'ans on September 11, has stirred an excess of angst over the Muslim presence in America. Opportunists have exploited that anxiety for political advantage. The overheated debate may be moot: while the legal standing of the planned Muslim community center is solid, its financing is reportedly shaky.

What is not settled is the place of Muslims in American society. Anxiety about Islam has spread in response to proposed mosques in Wisconsin, California, and Tennessee, where an arsonist set construction equipment ablaze. Muslims who wish to build places of prayer meet resistance, both violent and verbal. How should American Christians respond?

Twenty years ago, Terry Muck, then CT's executive editor, wrote presciently about the presence of world religions in America. In Alien Gods on American Turf, he noted that the 1980s influx of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists caused little concern. Nevertheless, Muck observed that "the strain of this diversity" was moving Christians who were traditionally "bedrock supporters" of religious freedom to begin questioning the limits of First Amendment guarantees. "Ten or twenty years from now," he warned, "the full force of non-Christian religions will be felt."

Just 11 years later, terrorists from Islam's Wahhabist fringe attacked the Pentagon, destroyed the World Trade Center, and created an acute awareness of Islam's adherents in the United States.

Muck did not foresee 9/11, but he was certain that the relative invisibility of non-Christian religions would evaporate. He urged American Christians to work out an understanding of their relationship to these faiths. We have not done that well.

America's founding generation faced similar questions. In the article "The Founding Fathers and Islam," the Library of Congress's James Hutson tells how Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Rush, and Richard Henry Lee (who made the motion in Congress that the colonies declare independence) argued for religious freedom for "Mahomitans" to make them feel welcome in the new nation.

Not everyone in that era welcomed Islam. One preacher proclaimed that the religion "breathes nothing but arms [and] is propagated by arms." Yet the president of Yale praised Islam for its strong morality. Islam, like Christianity, taught a system of future rewards and punishments. The architects of America welcomed Muslims because they deemed belief in a carrot-and-stick afterlife essential to their experiment in liberty. If the new state were to prosper, it had to attract moral citizens who worked hard, supported their families, and sacrificed for the common good.

American Christians can adopt the Founders' pragmatism. We can admire the modesty of even the most progressive Muslim women as they resist our amoral society's immodesty. We can affirm the piety that prays five times a day, gives alms, and fasts. We can applaud Muslim efforts to build strong families.

However, Christians must move beyond both fear and mere pragmatism. We must probe our own principles and ask what they lead us to do.

First, Jesus' principles of neighbor love and the Golden Rule demand that we put ourselves in the place of American Muslims. How would we want to be treated if we were nurturing new faith communities and building new churches? At the least, we would want to be known as persons. Christians in communities where new mosques are planned could, for example, create chances for Muslims and Christians to discuss best how to raise their families in an increasingly secular society. Focusing on common challenges can replace fear and division with understanding and cooperation.

Second, concern for fellow Christians living in Muslim-dominated countries should make us cautious about saying or doing things that could worsen their lives. News of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West only complicates their situation. The burden of being Christian varies in severity, but nearly all Christians in Muslim-majority countries live under significant disadvantage. To say, as Newt Gingrich has, that we should allow no more mosques in the U.S. until Saudi Arabia allows Christian churches is to be untrue to our principles. We must model religious freedom as a human right and not fashion our lives after repressive regimes.

Third, as Christ's witnesses, we consider every encounter an opportunity to show non-Christians the grace of Christ. Treating all Muslims as potential jihadists does not open opportunities for sharing the Good News. Suspicion is no foundation for evangelism. On the other hand, befriending American Muslims and defending their freedoms can tear down obstacles.

Like the apostle Paul, we no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view. In our relationship with American Muslims, we must give concrete form to our calling as servants of reconciliation and ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:16-20).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Does Syncretism Mean?

From a web-only resource at Mission Frontiers, What Does Syncretism Mean?, by a Native American, Casey Church (Hole in the Clouds):

I am suggesting that, in the light of the writings of Alan Tippett, in Christopaganism or Indigenous Christianity, edited by Tetsunao Yamamori and Charles Tabor (1975), Dean Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, Patterns for Theology and Mission (2005), Scott Moreau, Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (2000), Eunice Irwin, “The Status of Syncretism in Missiological Studies and a Modest Proposal for the 21st Century From the Perspective of Fourth World Peoples” (2006, Unpublished Paper) and Charles Stewart and Rosalind Shaw, Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism, The Politics of Religious Synthesis (1994), a viable, biblically valid view would be that syncretism is a normative stage in the process of spiritual and cultural transformation, not a fixed end-state (though it could be). Our current evangelical definitions have tended to view syncretism in terms of being a final product – static – the result of people mixing good and evil beliefs or practices.

Charles Kraft notes the question faced by Christian witnesses is, however, “whether any given undesirable state is but a step in a continuing process or whether the changes have virtually come to an end and the people are settled in their present beliefs and behavior” (Kraft 1996, 376). Is someone simply passing through on his or her journey, or have they decided to settle in and dwell there? Another consideration is that syncretism just means mixing, so the church is highly syncretistic and rightly so, since the gospel always gets inside culture (parable of the yeast and the dough, parable of the mustard seed, parable of the wheat and the tares). So, the questions are: is this a step or the end product? And, is this a kind of mixing that respects God and culture, or the kind of mixing that eliminates either God (what most people mean by syncretism) or culture (what the conservatives end up doing).

Peter van der Veer suggests that the term syncretism refers to a “politics of difference and identity” and that as such the notion of power is crucial in its understanding. At stake is the power to identify true religion and to authorize some practices as ‘truthful’ and others as ‘false’ (van der Veer 1994, 196). Syncretism came to be used by defenders of “the true faith” as a protection against illicit contamination - a sign of religious decadence, betrayal of principles, or the corruption of the truth. What it attempted to do was establish itself as the single source of authentication (van der Veer 1996, 197).

True conversion, becoming conformed to the person of Jesus, is a gradual process of socio-cultural change or acculturation. It is not an evenly paced change, but varied, uneven, erratic, messy, unpredictable and fluctuating.

There does exist a legitimate concern about syncretism that I refer to as “negative syncretism,” that is, the rejection of the centrality of the Biblical, historical Jesus Christ as savior, redeemer, reconciler, sacrifice, provider, healer, intercessor, mediator, atoner, protector, etc. The rejection stems from an assumption that other religious beliefs / spiritual practices are equally dynamic in fulfilling God’s intended purposes for creation through Jesus. This syncretism flows out of uncritical religious pluralism. Because of this erroneous or misdirected assumption, negative syncretism is a blending or mixing of traditional non-Biblical religious beliefs with Christian faith, producing a differing hybridized and truncated gospel. To equate these beliefs as synonymous is syncretism because it takes away from the real message of communion - the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ.

Syncretism is problematic when it directs one's allegiance to other than Jesus Christ by reason of a person's participation in a new religious system - one created from the blend, which dilutes or redirects faith to someone/something other than Christ. Kraft (referencing the work of Alan Tippett) refers to this condition as “Christopagan Syncretism” (1996, 376). This occurs when people hear and adopt the stories of the bible in the foreign forms of the missionary, but interpret them in local ways, which might result in, as Kraft notes, “anything but Christianity” (1996, 376).

And so it is often today that church leaders who are “in control” in their respective positions of church polity often interpret new movements as in contradiction to “authentic” Christian faith, because it often flows outside the confines of their culturally informed and shaped traditions of Christianity; this is certainly true in Native ministry throughout North America. When rethinking and defining cultural adaptation as normative, an honest threatening fear of syncretism often surfaces, not because of a mistrust of the Word, but because of the long arm of mission history (Gilliland 1989,13).

There is a trend to define syncretism as simply mixing.  So all churches and Christians would be “syncretistic” to a varying degree.  Abu Daoud calls this “organic syncretism.”  But, in my opinion, I think we would be better would refer to this “mixing” as contextualization or enculturation.  Defining “syncretism” in such a broad way “results in a term that looses its analytic meaning” (Moreau, p. 924).  What this article defines above as “negative syncretism” is how we should plainly define “syncretism.” 

The gospel is cultural permeable by God’s design.  We cannot articulate the gospel or embody Biblical faith in a way that transcends culture (Carson).  The incarnation shows us how God can “mix” with humanity and be without sin, still holy and ultimate and perfect while nevertheless fully human at the same time.  I don’t think it makes linguistic sense to say Jesus was syncretistic.

Of course, we need to watch out for “negative syncretism,” i.e. “syncretism” in our ministries.  But inevitably, Biblical faith and the gospel will always be contextualized.  This is also called contextualization without compromise, done both by indigenous believers and ex-pats, either consciously or unconsciously.  Over-contextualization and under-contextualization can both lead to (negative) syncretism.  Local and imported cultures can each dilute the essential elements of the gospel.

Syncretism is akin to idolatry.  We all have our own idols.  But we shouldn’t, of course.  God is jealous.  However, the process of avoiding or eradicating syncretism is extremely complicated.  I can’t even figure it out in my own life; I need other believers, even ones from other cultures, as well as a correctly interpreted Bible illuminated by the Holy Spirit to see my fake gods.  But indigenous believers will actually be much better at spotting idolatry in their beliefs and practices than outsiders. Expatriates shouldn’t be the only ones who identify something as syncretistic.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Vanguard of all Mission Activity

From Church Planting, Prayer and the Sovereignty of God, by Matt Green:

Our response to the plight of the unreached reveals the depth of our view of God. Do we truly believe it is the mission of God to reconcile the nations to himself? And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, do we believe that our proclamation of the gospel is the means that he has ordained to accomplish this? The Indonesian church planters I met are deeply aware of this truth—and it is what gives them faith when their efforts seem frail in the face of spiritual opposition.

It is what drives them to prayer—the vanguard of all mission activity. As S.D. Gordon writes:

We can do no thing of real power until we have done the prayer thing. Here is a man by my side. I can talk to him. I can bring my personality to bear upon him, that I may win him. But before I can influence his will a jot for God, I must first have won the victory in the secret place. Intercession is winning the victory over the chief, and service is taking the field after the chief is driven off. Such service is limited by the limitation of personality in one place. . . . Prayer puts man into direct dynamic touch with a planet.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Islamophobia in the Church?

From Trevor Castor, Assistant Director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies:

Islamophobia: Fear of Muslims and Islam. On 9/11 of this year a pastor in Gainesville, Florida is calling for all Christians to participate in what he is calling “International Burn a Qur’an Day.” This month Christians gathered outside a mosque in Connecticut to inform worshippers that “Jesus hates Muslims.” The Christian Action Network recently erected a billboard on I-26 near Orangeburg, South Carolina featuring a picture of a fierce Muslim and caption: “Islam Rising, Be Warned.” The Church is becoming obsessed with Islam but often for the wrong reasons.

God’s heart for Muslims in some contexts is being overshadowed by hate-filled media, demonizing Muslims for political reasons. Many conservative “Christian” websites and blogs have jumped on this bandwagon, playing on the fears and emotions of constituents. These politically-motivated organizations have become increasingly hateful towards Muslims and are well-funded in their efforts. Too many Christians have been captivated with their misguided call for patriotism, demanding that Christians rise up in opposition. We are called to declare the glory of the Lord among the nations but some churches are not interested in seeing or being a part of that vision. In contrast, here is an excerpt of an encouraging letter we recently received from a pastor:

“I have become increasingly aware of the possibility that your biggest challenges are not in presenting the Good News to Muslims…it is more likely challenging the ever-growing fears of the American church. My prayer is that God will give you much wisdom and endurance in that effort.”

The pastor’s note was much appreciated. The unwillingness of some churches to support Muslim ministry and the increasing animosity of Christians towards Muslims has become a burden on my heart. Fear and misguided patriotism are two biblical themes that prevented Israel from bringing God’s light to the nations. Will the Church choose to do the same? We must not operate out of fear but from faith. We must not allow the media and political leanings to mold our hearts what to believe about Muslims lest we forget that Jesus has purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. We need people who are passionate about the Great Commission to join with us to see the Gospel penetrate the Muslim world. A seemingly impossible task that Samuel Zwemer addressed with these words 100 years ago: “Faith has the genius of transforming the barely possible into actuality. Once men are dominated by the conviction that a thing must be done, they will stop at nothing until it is accomplished… “I will do as much as I can, says one. Any fool can do that. He that believes in Christ does what he cannot do, attempts the impossible and performs it.”