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.