Saturday, December 31, 2011

Larson’s Review of Chrislam (Anti IM/C4-5 Book)

From Review of Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel:

Chrislam: How Missionaries are promoting an Islamized Gospel

Joshua Lingel, Jeff Morton & Bill Nikides, eds. i2 Ministries Publications, 344 pages, $25.

–Reviewed by Warren Larson, Former Director of the Zwemer Center, and Associate Professor of Muslim Studies, Columbia International University, South Carolina.

The best thing to be said about this book is that it addresses critical issues in mission to Muslims. Insider movement (IM) proponents have received ample press in the past (Mission Frontiers and IJFM) and this text deems it high time to present another perspective. It calls for careful exegesis (62-76) of passages like I Corinthians 9:19-22. It insists Muhammad was not a prophet in any sense of the term and the Qur’an is not divinely-inspired. It opposes removing familial language for God from Muslim-friendly translations (199-226), and though SIL and Wycliffe Bible Translators have issued new guidelines saying “Son of God” will be translated literally in most cases, sees the loophole large enough to justify many problematic “exceptions.” Many readers will resonate with such concerns but question the content and tone of this text.

Chrislam: How Missionaries are Promoting an Islamized Gospel consists of twenty-five chapters and is written by numerous authors. It contains a foreword, acknowledgements, preface, three appendices, bibliography, and an index. Material is divided up into six sections that deal with various subjects, including hermeneutics, translation, missiology, testimonies/interviews of former Muslims, and resources of IM websites, an index and references from both the Bible and the Qur’an.

On the positive side, sections one and five have the most value: The first section quotes IM proponents extensively, however taken out of context, may give impressions never intended by the authors. Section five gives Muslim converts (mostly Bengali) a voice in expressing strong opposition to IM; however other Bengalis could be called upon for the exact opposite view.

On the negative side, the Preface (iii-iv) is especially troubling: It contains inaccuracies, misperceptions and unbiblical attitudes. A statement in the second paragraph, “… [W]hat is at stake is not our personal relationships with brothers and sisters” suggests it does not matter what we say about fellow-believers, as long as we tell what we think is the truth. A comment in the third paragraph makes a generalization about all IM ministries: “… [N]o churches are planted …” Such sweeping statements set the tone for what is to follow. This book is reactionary, primarily a work of extremes, including an alarmist and inflammatory title. Nor is it put together well: One chapter (100-115) argues that Christians should treat Islam like an Old Testament ban, because after all, it is a pagan religion. And Samuel Zwemer’s article (306-308) on secret believers is misplaced; a more fitting quote would have been: “We must become Moslems to the Moslem if we would gain them for Christ” (The Moslem Christ, 183).

This book demonstrates that evangelical Christians have failed to settle an important question peacefully: To what extent can one remain culturally and religiously “Muslim” while seeking to follow Jesus? The opinion of this reviewer is that differences of opinion on such a controversial topic can only be clarified through careful scholarship, mutual respect and face-to-face dialog.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Ten Circumpolar Posts of 2011

10. Salvation sans Jesus? A good point I wish Rob Bell had considered.

9. The Purpose (Vision) and Task (Mission) of Missions These are the most important questions we can answer.

8. The Qur’an as a bridge to… Do we want MBBs to think the Qur’an led them to faith?

7. “I am an Atheist and a Muslim” When Muslims say “Muslim” they tend to think in cultural categories. When we say “Muslim” we tend to think in theological categories.

6. One Cross, One Way, Many Journeys, GreenleeHow we conceive of conversion determines how we do evangelism.” Enough said.

5. Polygamy and Creation Make points Muslims can agree with.

4. Was Mohammed a prophet? How different people nuance the question.

3. Thinking Missiologically About Dreams What do we do when our Muslim friends dream of Jesus?

2. My take on the DG national conference: The difference between evangelism and missions Good exhortation from Abdul Asad on the importance of the unreached nations.

1. The best article on the C3-C5 debate in the last couple years Get yourself caught up on the debate and learn what the real issues are.

Who Is My Enemy: Questions American Christians Must Face About Islam – And Themselves

From Our Top 10 Books of 2011 by Relevant Magazine:

4. Who Is My Enemy: Questions American Christians Must Face About Islam – And Themselves, by Lee C.Camp

The starting point for Lee Camp’s stunning new book is that Christians should take Jesus at His word when He said, “Love your enemies.” This requires a commitment to self-examination as well as the practice of empathy—“empathy that may not agree, approve, or necessarily even tolerate, but nonetheless seeks to understand.” Camp suggests taking the question that was on everyone’s lips after the 9/11 attacks (“How could they do this to us?”) as an authentic agenda for understanding: “What in their experience, in their presuppositions, in their vision, could contribute to the deeds or words or actions we find so unjust and horrid?” Reading Who Is My Enemy reminded me of the growing pains I’d get as a kid, usually at night. It was going to be uncomfortable for a while, but I knew I was going to wake up bigger.

John Pattison

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Free Book on Partnerships

This book has been recommended to me at least four times in the last couple years.  Maybe now I’ll get around to reading it!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest Post: Living with the Wise, Ant Greenham

From Ant Greenham, Assistant Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at SEBTS, and author of Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land.  See also his research published as an article in St. Francis here: Key factors why Palestinian Muslims became Christians.


My friend Tony Maalouf [author of Arabs in the Shadow of Israel: The Unfolding of God's Prophetic Plan for Ishmael's Line] argues persuasively that the magi, or wise men, who visited Jesus in Bethlehem, were Arabs. They came from the east (i.e. from present-day Jordan, or thereabouts), not from the north, like Babylonians, Persians and Greeks, who imposed centuries of hegemony over God’s people as they waited for their Messiah.

Whether they were Arab or not, the magi were quite likely influenced by Babylonian wisdom, as their name suggests. But they definitely had the wisdom to discern that a particular star, whatever it was astronomically, signified an extraordinary birth. In fact, the infant they went to see was not only King of the Jews, but one worthy of worship (Matt 2:2). How did they know this? While not excluding the supernatural, I would like to suggest they read and believed that portion of the Jewish Scriptures written in Aramaic, almost certainly a language they read with ease. The portion concerned is Daniel 2:4–7:28.

clip_image002Reading just this Scripture, they could conclude two things: From the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire, there would be four kingdoms, the last superseded by an everlasting kingdom, set up by God himself (Dan 2:44). The Babylonians, Persians and Greeks had come and gone. They were now in the era of the fourth kingdom, Rome. So it would stand to reason to look for a sign (such as an unusual star) which signified God was about to fulfill his promise. Second, God’s promise was centered in one like a Son of Man, who would be given eternal dominion, and enjoy the adulation of all peoples, nations and languages (Dan 7:13–14). So what else could they do, but respond to the star by going to Jerusalem and inquiring after one who was both human king and divine Lord?

Herod, that impetuous Roman ally, would try to negate God’s kingdom by slaughtering the infants of Bethlehem (Matt 2:16). But God’s word is true, and Jesus was spared to live a perfect life, die on the cross for our sins, rise from the dead, and return one day in glory. The magi, it seems, had the wisdom to understand this. Once they reached their goal in Bethlehem, they worshiped the child Jesus (but not his mother, or Joseph), and presented him with gifts of gold (for a king), frankincense (for a priestly mediator), and myrrh (to foreshadow his death, Matt 2:11).

This advent I am living among a delightful group of Arab believers in Jordan. They certainly have the wisdom to place the Jesus born in Bethlehem, who came to save us from our sins, at the center of attention. As we move into Christmas, it is my prayer that everyone reading this would do so too.

Ant Greenham, December 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rick Love’s Top 10 Books of 2011

From his blog:

  1. Speaking of Jesus: the Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis
  2. Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd
  3. The End of Religion: Encountering the Subversive Spirituality of Jesus by Bruxy Cavey
  4. The Powers That Be: Theology For A New Millennium by Walter Wink
  5. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright
  6. The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than our Lips by John Dickson
  7. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller
  8. Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf
  9. Real-Time Connections: Linking Your Job with God’s Global Work by Bob Roberts Jr.
  10. Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty by Mustafa Akyol

Read his post for an explanation of each book.

Here’s another book that looks very interesting, Textual Criticism and Qur'an Manuscripts.  From Amazon:

In this study, Keith Small applies the principles of textual analysis to twenty-two manuscripts—most of them early—that contain Q. 14:35-41, which describes how Abraham settled his son—presumably Ishmael—in Mecca. Based on a careful and systematic analysis of the manuscripts, Small traces the historical development of the Qur'anic text from the rise of Islam until the 10th century CE. Comparison of the manuscripts with the evidence of literary sources suggests that the text remained open and fluid during the first half of the seventh century, and that the production of a standard text was not completed until the end of that century. This editorial project, sponsored by the Umayyad caliphs, resulted in the destruction of most if not all of the earliest manuscripts, with the result that it is currently impossible to recover the original form of the text. This is an important contribution to scholarship on the Qur'an. (David S. Powers)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The best article on the C3-C5 debate in the last couple years

If you’re like me, you’ve experienced a fair bit of fatigue concerning the contextualization debate among evangelical circles over the last couple years.  Sometimes it seems the issue is getting more and more polarized, with some calling the other a heretic, although there is still hope that all the sides can come together.  In any case, I’m kind of tired of reading the same old arguments and trying to cover the blitz of articles coming at us.

So if you want to get caught up on the most recent articles and thinking, and are trying to find a common path that we can (almost) all agree on, then search no more.  Inside/Outside: getting to the center of the Muslim contextualization debates, by J. S. William tackles all these issues and more. (I also want to brag that Circumpolar’s Abdul Asad is quoted a couple times in the article.) 

While not trying to advocate a certain stance per se, J. S. William summarizes the C5 arguments, clears up common misunderstandings about them, and tries to get past the surface arguments to the heart of the matter.  In bold is an extended outline of the 38 page article – with my own personal (and sometimes tangential) comments of the point at hand:

    1. Introduction – There is a firestorm of controversy around the idea of “Muslim followers of Jesus.”  Unfortunately there is often more heat than light.
    2. Basic Positions on the Debate – There is a difference between “insider” and “C5,” although the terms are often (mistakenly) used interchangeably.  Both sides have similar levels of experience, expertise, and conviction.  Critics range from total rejection (sometimes very mean-spirited criticism) of C5 to respectful engagement with it.
    3. Points of Confusion – What the debate is NOT about.
      1. C5 means Christian missionaries saying they are Muslims – Practically no one does this and no one advocates it.
      2. C5 is about avoiding the persecution Jesus promised – C5ers do not try to avoid all persecution.  The point is that persecution, when it does happen, should be because of someone’s faith in Jesus and not for the wrong reasons.  Many insiders themselves suffer for Christ. C6 follower of Christ may temporarily hide, but this is not desirable and usually due to extreme circumstances.
      3. Like the Emergent Church, IM waters down doctrine and/or redefines orthodoxy to the extent of subsuming orthodox Christian doctrine to orthodox Islamic doctrine – The real association between the two is the asking of questions like, “How do we reach a resistant sector of the global society with the Gospel? Is it perhaps our methods that are flawed?”  IMO, the church in every generation needs to self-asses if they are biblical.
      4. IM does not encourage believers to gather as a “Church” –What we need to do is define the biblical term “ekklesia.”  C5 proponents want ekklesia.  There can be missional reasons for a MBB going to a mosque.
      5. All Muslims believe and practice the same thing, so to be an Insider is to believe and Practice those same things – Islam is extremely diverse.  What does it mean to be a Muslim? The answer varies considerably.  See the posts: “I am an Atheist and a Muslim” and Islam is Not a Civilization.
      6. Only one approach is necessary – C5 could definitely be wrong or at least unnecessary in some contexts.
      7. IM advocates manipulative language in order to sneak in Muslim accommodation and undermine Christian orthodoxy – This charge is subjective and judgmental.
    4. Areas of remaining tension and discussion – What the real issues are:
      1. Can meaning and form be separated from one another? Moreover, is it appropriate and necessary to translate words and forms based on “meaning units” (dynamic equivalency) rather than “word-for-word” or “form-for-form” conversion of terms? – The principal of dynamic equivalence actually has broad, deep support among evangelicals.  Fundamentalists are usually against it.
      2. Are meaning-based translations that seek alternative terms from those that have historically offended and distracted Muslim audiences able to maintain accuracy and faithfulness to the intended-meanings of the text? – This is a tough call. The “Son of God” translation issue for Muslims is extremely complicated, and it may never have a clear answer.
      3. Are there significant numbers of true followers of Jesus who continue to identify themselves as Muslims? Is it important that Western outsiders verify and evaluate this? – Yes many Muslim followers of Jesus exist, although just because something happens doesn’t mean it has God’s approval, nor that it needs Western approval.
      4. Is following Jesus a “religion”? If so or if not, what does this mean for our understanding of a religion such as “Islam”? – This is a key issue.  I have actually written a “Worker Scale” (a la the C Scale) that shows 4 different paradigms how we as evangelical workers understand the theology of engagement with other Religions: 1) Destruction Model “Christianity destroys Islam”, 2) Replacement Model “Christianity replaces Islam”, 3) Redemptive Model “Christianity redeems/changes/transforms Muslims”, 4) Fulfillment Model “Christianity fulfills Islam”.  I’m thinking of posting or publishing this W Scale soon.
      5. What are the elements of genuine Christ-centered discipleship? What role do tradition, historical Christian confessions, foreign missionaries, and the Holy Spirit’s leading have in bringing someone into genuine conformity to Christ-likeness? – The process of discipleship is messy, it is messy in every context, but it is a process nevertheless.  The point is to get MBBs firmly grounded in their identity in Christ and in the Bible and in community with one another.  But how MBBs eventually work out their socio-religious identity and how they deal with idols in their culture is a process they need to be prepared for, not just told what to do by a cultural outsider.
      6. To what extent does a follower of Jesus need to visibly relate to the global body of Christ and traditional churches in their regional area but outside of their typical community? – “Most likely, this debate has more to do with the question of “when” not “if.””  They key is to view all movements as transitional in nature.  How many years did it take until “Christianity” was formed in the 1st or 2nd or 3rd Century Mediterranean world?  As Bosch says in Transforming Mission, “Either the movement disintegrates or it becomes an institution, this is simply a sociological law.  Every religious group that started out as a movement and managed to survive, did so because it was gradually institutionalized” (52).
      7. How should Insiders view and talk about Mohamed? – See the post Was Mohammed a prophet? for various ways people try to answer this question.  Continued allegiance or faith in Mohammed will obviously not help MBBs grow spiritually.  MBBs need to be grounded in Christ and Word alone.  But how they talk about him when witnessing is a different matter.  Syncretism is a serious threat for all of us, not just MBBs.  Each culture has it’s idols: Mohammed, Islam, or the Mosque could all be potential idols for MBBs.
    5. Conclusion – Although we will not totally agree with one another (I disagree with myself at times), Rom. 14-15 teaches us not to judge one another.  Love and humility is needed.  JS William closes the article by offering seven statements he hopes we can all agree on (I include them in their entirety):
      1. We aim to see vibrant, Jesus-loving and Jesus-centered communities that are faithful to the Scriptures and living out their discipleship in their community.
      2. We aim to see people meaningfully connected to their unbelieving social networks, without denying or diminishing Jesus' centrality, for the sake of the Gospel.
      3. We aim to see strong, robust, transformed families.
      4. We aim to live out the biblical calling of teaching, rebuking, warning, and loving new believers as Christ is formed in them.
      5. We aim to be listeners and learners in the midst of that process; we know we bear cultural baggage and we want as much as possible for the Gospel to be implanted within the new culture and to avoid setting a foreign cultural standard.
      6. We believe that those who are joined to Jesus will suffer in this fallen world and will suffer especially for their devotion to Jesus. Though some might look to avoid pre-mature persecution, we do not believe persecution can be completely avoided nor that it should be. "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:16).
      7. Though our time-frames differ for accomplishing it, we aim to see Jesus-centered communities from Muslim backgrounds connected to and embraced by the global body of Christ.

So go ahead and read the whole thing for some light, leisurely reading during the holidays.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christians, Jews, Muslims, and... Lowes?

It's good to see Christians and Jews standing with their Muslim neighbors to support them in this issue.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Both Pro Israeli AND Pro Palestinian

Talking about Israel and the Arabs is a minefield among evangelicals.
There is probably no quicker way to be labeled anti this or pro that.

Mike Kuhn, pg. 109

For anyone working with Muslims the issue of Israel is bound to come up eventually.  So what is the way forward?

For starters, here is a short article: How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus (HT: JC).

One great secular resource is the very unique book called The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.  It’s a narrative non-fiction that displays the humanity on both sides of this complex issue.  I have heard that both Palestinians and Jews claim the book is fair.  But more than fair, it’s also an enjoyable, fascinating read!

See also chapter 7 in Fresh Vision for the Muslim World by Mike Kuhn.

For a solid and balanced biblical-theological perspective, see John Piper’s Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.  Piper also has some shorter resources:

It’s nice to know we don’t have to take sides on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The important thing is to use this issue to point our Muslim friends to Jesus, the hope of all and our only lasting peace.

Related Post: Christ at the Checkpoint

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Arab Spring, Democracy, and the Gospel

From Trevor Castor at the Zwemer Center:

Democracy does not always equate church growth and is not necessarily the most conducive political system for the spread of the gospel. Often times the gospel flourishes under harsh regimes and therefore we do not need to be fearful if Egypt or any other country moves in that direction. We pray for peace but we also pray for the harvest. Let’s be sure that our first concern is for the people of Egypt and other Arab nations to come to a saving knowledge of Christ whether that is politically good or bad for America. Too often our first priority is temporal comforts rather than eternal things. Whatever political power wins the day we pray that the Church will be strengthened and grow in the Arab world.

The Iranian revolution in 1979 began a couple years earlier as a populist uprising.  Khomeini came in to save the day and provided the leadership it needed.  The result was the formation of an Islamic republic.  And since then perhaps more Muslims have come to Christ in Iran than in any other Muslim people or country.  Even though I think people should be free and religious freedom should be universal, I agree with Trevor that we need to be very careful about cheering for democracy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

“I am an Atheist and a Muslim”

How can these identities coexist?  I’ll tell you my tentative conclusions at the end of the post.  (Please note that many Atheist Muslims are not postmodern.)

First, read this excerpt interview of Hamed Abdel-Samad in Spiegel Online (HT: JS William):

SPIEGEL: You advocate a milder form of Islam. What remains of the core of the religion?

Abdel-Samad: My dream, in fact, is an enlightened Islam, without Sharia law and without jihad, without gender apartheid, proselytizing and the mentality of entitlement. A religion that is open to criticism and questions. As far as I'm concerned, I converted from faith to knowledge some time ago.

SPIEGEL: You became an atheist.

Abdel-Samad: No.

SPIEGEL: You might as well admit it. Being an atheist is nothing to be ashamed of.

Abdel-Samad: But it isn't true.

SPIEGEL: Not a single imam, Catholic priest or rabbi would believe you. Believing in God means accepting that something exists beyond knowledge. If you don't share this belief, why do you insist on calling yourself a Muslim?

Abdel-Samad: Believing in God can also mean being at odds with him. I don't pray regularly, and I don't fast during Ramadan. In that sense, I'm not religious. But I perceive myself as a Muslim. It's my cultural community. For me, Islam is also my homeland and my language, and my Arabic can't be separated from all of that. You can distance yourself from Islam but remain within the heart of Islam. I don't want to yield to the fundamentalists who preach violence. They are on the rise.

Next, see these quotes from a very interesting paper from Paul Froese called “I am an Atheist and a Muslim: Ideological Competition and Accommodation in Central Asia.”  The study shows how Central Asian Muslims retained and accommodated their Islamic beliefs and identity during the era of Soviet Communism.  During this era:

“Muslims were not willing to disown their religious members for publicly advocating atheism. As one committed Kazakh communist explained, “I am an atheist but also a Muslim, because all Kazakhs are Muslims and I cannot deny my forefathers”” (25).

“Muslims… differ from Christians in terms of how they understand their religion and their religious identities. The doctrine of Islam is more flexible in terms of how it defines true believers than most Christian churches” (31).

Finally, Malise Ruthven also notes the existence of Atheist Muslims:

The label Muslim indicates their ethnicity and group allegiance, but not necessarily their religious beliefs. In this limited context (which may apply to other Muslim minorities in Europe and Asia), there may be no contradiction between being Muslim and being atheist or agnostic…

So what does it means to be a Muslim?  Islam allows a lot of diversity.  It seems to me that Western Christians think of the terms “Islam” or “Muslim” primarily in theological categories, but many Muslims themselves understand the terms primarily in cultural categories.

So what?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Abu Daoud has posted some thoughtful answers to the questions I asked on this post.  I would love to hear some more feedback from readers.  Go ahead and weigh in on the comments below or on Abu Daoud’s site.

I posted my initial response here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

World Mag Interviews Afghan Convert

I first posted on this story with some reflections here: Advocacy Increases Persecution.  Now a year and half later World Mag posts this interview, Holding Fast:

As churches around the world prepare for Persecution Sunday this month, Afghan Christian Sayed Musa tells how he survived government-led imprisonment and abuse.

As a case study, there are several issues here worth considering:

  1. People can be persecuted for Christ, or they can be persecuted for Western Christianity by calling themselves “Christians.”  Of course the difference between the two is really difficult to discern, and I don’t pretend to know in Musa’s case here.  But some persecution is unnecessary and more a result of association with the immoral West than with the glorious Jesus.  I do wonder about Sayed Musa and this Somali MBB- what if they chose not to call themselves “Christians”?
  2. The language of “conversion” is politically loaded, and whenever persecution hits international headlines there are always other factors involved, as the article clearly shows.  The NT language is really rich and diverse in describing the concept of conversion.  Is there a better English word?
  3. Public advocacy for the persecuted usually puts governments in very awkward situations with the end result usually ending in deportation.  How should we stand for religious freedom without shaming Muslim governments into overreacting?

(These are not rhetorical questions.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Teams and the Refining Work of God

From Appendix 3: “For Team Leaders” in Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers:

When we begin as team leaders we believe we are on board with God’s agenda—an agenda to reach a lost people group, a lost city and to help build His church. This is indeed His agenda, but it isn’t His only one. He has another agenda. One that feels often like it is competing with the one we already own, but which in reality is there to enhance it. This agenda is to invest our lives into a group of teammates so that as a healthy team His work can be accomplished and His love shown. Sometimes this investment takes much sacrifice—a laying down of our own “work” in order that our efforts might be multiplied in others. These teammates aren’t there just as tools to be utilized in completing our vision. They are there to be loved and related to. They are there to refine us and for us to refine them. They are present not to strain us or frustrate us, but to more fully represent Jesus in our location than we could ever do by ourselves. By embracing this reality we honor God, honor our calling and are engaged in the charge given to Peter which is also given to us—“Feed my sheep.”

This is a good reminder that even though they can be difficult and frustrating sometimes, teams are God’s idea.  We mainly hurt ourselves if we think we don’t need the leadership, accountability, and sharpening that teams provide.  Of course we can always take God’s idea of “team” and mess it up (unfortunately we do this all the time), but bad examples don’t mean we can individualistically go as a “lone ranger” just “do our own thing.”  We are communal creatures made in the image of our triune God- we need each other in teams.

Related Posts:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Against My Brother: A Somali Story - video resource

Here is the website, Somali Story.

This story is increasingly common, thanks to the diaspora which is exposing more Somalis to cities and the outside world.  May the Lord bless and build his church among the precious Somali people!  Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Shenk’s Review of Three Books

David W. Shenk, Global Missions Consultant with Eastern Mennonite Missions, reviews three books in the January 2007 issue of IBMR (requires free login):

Muslims and the Gospel: Bridging the Gap. By Roland E. Miller. Minneapolis: Lutheran Univ. Press, 2005. Pp. 452. $35.

Unveiling God: Contextualizing Christology for Islamic Culture. By Martin Parsons. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 2005. Pp. 400. $29.99.

From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way: Journeys of Faith. Edited by David H. Greenlee. Waynesboro, Ga.: Authentic Media, 2006. Pp. 333. $19.99.

These three very dissimilar books have a common vision: bearing faithful witness to Jesus Christ among Muslims. They are an essential resource for those who want to understand the world of Muslims and all who are committed to faithfulness in bearing witness to Christ among Muslims.

Roland Miller ’s Muslims and the Gospel will occupy a central place on my reference shelf and is a “must read” for those committed to bearing witness among Muslims. The book is organized in three major parts: “The Context— Pivotal Muslim Views,” “Bridges for the Crossing,” and “The Task—Connecting Muslims and the Message.”

The opening chapter, “Key Principles for Understanding Islam,” moves beyond the familiar pillars of belief and duty to explore a dozen key themes that form the Muslim worldview. Two especially provocative themes Miller explores are “Success” and “Sense of Perfection.” Miller writes as a friend of Muslims with an empathetic insightfulness that Muslims will appreciate.

The author brings to bear a lifetime of experience, as well as a lively acquaintance with the foundational literature (Qur’an, Hadith, Shari‘a). He is conversant with centuries of theological debates among Muslims. Furthermore, he introduces a broad stream of Christian engagement with Muslims, from the earliest years (e.g., John of Damascus) to modern times (e.g., Henry and Mary Esther Otten). Here I would have appreciated reading more about persons whose roots have been Muslim and who are committed to bearing witness to salvation in Christ.

The final part is an exploration of practical steps for Christians committed to ministry among Muslims. Especially engaging is chapter 11, “The Profile of a Sharing Friend.” In fact, “friend” is the theme that gives this fine book cohesion, with relevance for all of us. Although Miller is a thorough scholar, this book is fully accessible. The personal anecdotes enliven the chapters.

Unveiling GodMartin Parsons’s Unveiling God complements Miller’s volume, for he attempts to develop a Christology that is contextual and understandable and that can be received within a Muslim worldview. He describes the Western church’s creedal Christology as a development within the Hellenistic world, whereas New Testament Christology was honed within a Jewish/Semitic worldview. He focuses on Second-Temple Judaism, which in his view has continuities with Islam. He therefore believes that New Testament contextual Second-Temple Christology provides indicators of how to do Christology within a Muslim context. He demonstrates that in both communities the concept of God was bounded and extrinsic and argues that a relevant Christology must fit within that parameter.

Parsons also develops insights into Islamic theological development. He is in touch with Muslim interpretations of the Qur’an as it relates to God and revelation. He demonstrates a rich acquaintance with the Hadith literature that has relevance to Christology. In fact, in my judgment, this is a seminal contribution of this book. He demonstrates that the Christological questions that Muslims bring to the table force Christians to repent of distorted Christology.

This book invites discussion! A key question for me is his neglect of addressing the incarnation, choosing rather to focus on what he calls the “God side” of Jesus. Does this approach take us in the direction of a Docetic Christology? Parsons relies considerably on epiphany to interpret Jesus. Does such a focus lend itself to a Gnostic understanding of Jesus? There is little reference to Jesus as Messiah, and Jesus as Son of Man is not addressed, although this latter name is the one Jesus most often used to describe himself. The purpose of this book is narrowly focused on making the case for the divinity of Christ and a Trinitarian theology rooted in the oneness of God. The incarnation is not addressed (p. 253).

If Parsons has tested emphasizing the God side of Jesus with Muslims, it would be instructive to know their response. He recognizes that the local church in mission within the Islamic context must develop its own contextual Christology. To what extent has he tested his efforts at contextual Christology with those local churches? What do Muslims themselves say of Jesus the Messiah after they have read the Gospels?

From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way, edited by David Greenlee, addresses such questions. This book explores what it is about Jesus the Messiah that attracts Muslims to faith, and what happens within their worldview when they meet Jesus. The book comprises essays from twenty-two contributors who were participants in a forum of fifty people from twenty countries, a number of whom had recently journeyed from the Straight Path to the Narrow Way. Several years of research preceded the conference.

The presentations of most contributors were an interpretation of their research. The chapters are salted with narrative. The book is in four main sections: “Missiological Overview,” “Understanding the Experience of Coming to Faith,” “Understanding Some Movements to Faith,” and “Concluding Reflections.”

A concluding statement by David Smith embraces three central themes: (1) Muslim converts have seen and experienced sacrificial love shown by Christians; (2) Muslim converts have read some portion of Scripture; and (3) Muslim converts have experienced a special manifestation of the power of Christ. All who are seriously committed to bearing witness among Muslims will want to read this book and be challenged and encouraged thereby.

A pertinent theme that was not explored in the book is reasons that Christians convert to Islam. Equally pertinent would have been consideration of the societies in which very few Muslims are choosing to enter the Narrow Way; little reference is made to such groups. That said, I commend this readable and insightful book; it is pertinent to the mission and calling of the church among Muslims.

-David W. Shenk

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two Approaches to Using the Bible in Mission

imageFirst, from Charles Van Engen, in Mission on the Way (introduction):

[Missiology] attempts to allow Scripture not only to provide the foundational motivations for mission, but also to question, shape, guide, and evaluate the missionary enterprise.

Second, from Rebecca Lewis (pg. 36, note u):

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).

I believe there is a very big difference in these two approaches which explains why people in disagreements (e.g. insider movements) seem to be talking past each another.  In the first approach, the Bible is integral to mission.  In the second approach, the Bible is mainly used for evaluation.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thinking Missiologically About Dreams

imageA woman my wife was discipling had an amazing dream about Jesus where he gave her the Injeel and told her to read it.  She was excited for a while but she didn’t seem to grow.  Incredibly, she also didn’t seem to read the Bible!  She came over to our house again last month and said that she dreams about us all the time. 

Stories about Muslims having dreams can be amazing.  But as Bob Blincoe says, “Dreaming is not discipling.”  Dreams don’t sustain spiritual growth or health.  So how should we think missiologically about our Muslim friends having dreams (and visions)?

Here are a couple thoughts to ponder (remember this is just an amateur blog post):

  1. Dreams happened in the Bible.
  2. Dreams are happening today.  In the Dudley Woodberry study on Muslim conversions to Christ, dreams were on the list of influential factors. (1. The lifestyle of Christians, 2. Answered prayer, 3. Miracles and the power of God in specific situations, 4. Healing 5. Dissatisfaction with the form of Islam or individual Muslims they had experienced, 6. Dreams and visions.)
  3. Asians and Africans have lots of spiritual dreams.  And they usually attach more emphasis to their dreams than Westerners do.  I’ve had Muslims tell me that Mohammed appeared to them in a dream.  I’ve also had Muslims tell me of Americans who have had dreams of Mecca and then converted to Islam.  Dreams are more important to my Muslim friends than they are to me.
  4. There are two errors in regards to dreams, and both are related to “split-level Christianity.”  One error is to deny that God uses them, and the other is to say that God is only working if dreams are present.
  5. Everyone has a different, unique path that they travel to Christ, and there are various factors that lead people to him. In Asian and African cultures (not just Islamic), dreams are a more common conversion factor than in Western cultures.
  6. Dreams can come from God, Satan, or they can come from our imagination.
  7. When John Piper says he is “suspicious” of Muslims hearing the gospel and responding in faith in a dream about Jesus, he is not saying dreams don’t happen.  He’s saying he is suspicious that they are usually the decisive conversion event.  I’ve never heard a story where someone heard the gospel and responded in a dream (have you?).  In the first-hand and second-hand stories I’ve heard, the dream pointed to something, either Jesus, the Bible, or a worker who would share the gospel.
  8. Even the charismatic Paul who had a knocked-on-your-back type conversion event said the gospel is to be communicated through human messengers so that it can be heard and responded to in faith (Rom. 10:13-17).
  9. New research shows that we might be making too much of dreams.  In his study into Palestinian conversions to Christ, Ant Greenham says, “missiologists might find my discovery on dreams useful. Less than half the fifteen Palestinian respondents mentioning dreamlike experiences did so of their own accord [22 converts were interviewed]. Those doing so reflected the key role the experiences played in their conversions. The others associated dreams with their conversions but did not experience them as life-changing encounters. Consequently, dreams or dream-like experiences only stand out when they are a primary vehicle for a convert’s transforming encounter with Christ. This insight on the Palestinian Muslims’ dreams may not be mirrored exactly elsewhere, as other researchers will record the incidence of converts’ dreams (and other phenomena) differently. However, it seems fair to claim the sheer presence or absence of a dream-like experience is unimportant. The essential element to look for is a convert’s transforming encounter with Christ” (pg 174, emphasis mine).

So how should we integrate these insights?  Here are two words of advice:

  1. Those of us who get all uptight about dreams need to embrace the fact that our Muslim friends will have them.  We need to use the dreams (and all events in their lives) to point them to Jesus himself.
  2. Those of us who get all hyped-up about dreams need to refocus on Jesus himself.  Dreams are expendable (Greenham says “unimportant”), but hearing and experiencing the good news of Jesus is not.

Ok, so these are my initial thoughts.  Go ahead and practice 1 Thess. 5:21 and weigh in on the comments below so we can learn from each other.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy Eid

Here is a repost from November 2009: Eid al Adha


Eid al Adha or "Festival of the Sacrifice" is coming up on Friday. The cause for the celebration is the remembrance of Ibrahim's near sacrifice of his son in obedience to Allah. I heard some local MBBs in our country consider this Eid to be their "Easter" and the Eid at the end of Ramadaan to be their "Christmas." Ramadaan celebrates the giving of the Word or Qur'an- the local MBBs celebrate the giving of the Word of God who is Jesus (An Nissa 4:171; Al Imran 3:45).

This Eid is a special time for followers of Jesus to witness. Here are two simple points I generally make during Eid al Adha:

1. The Qur'an tells the story of the sacrifice by ending with "we redeemed him with a great sacrifice" (As Saffat 37:107). (Arabic: وَفَدَيْنَاهُ بِذِبْحٍ عَظِيمٍ) During this time I often tell the shaddah from the Injeel: "There is no God except God and no mediator between him and between the people except the man Christ Jesus who sacrificed himself to redeem all people" (1 Tim. 2:5-6). I ask them "How can the ram be considered "great"? Who is great except God alone? The Messiah is our rescuer who sacrificed himself in our place for our redemption.

2. As you may know, the Qur'an calls Mohammed the "seal of the prophets" (Al Izhab 33:40). (Arabic: خَاتَمَ النَّبِيِّينَ) Muslims take this to mean that Mohammed is the last, superseding, and ultimate prophet of God (who in effect makes all previous prophets irrelevant). Taking this phrase, I call Jesus the "seal of the sacrifices" (Arabic: خاتم التضحيات).

Generally, using this phraseology from the Qur'an has been helpful for me. I am interested to hear if it is helpful for you or even what you think about it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Form of Slavery to Books

I confess to my shame that I feel somewhat guilty for NOT reading all the books and articles and blogs I can on Muslim Ministry.  Can you relate?  Here is book I probably won’t read but I thought the interview was helpful: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books.

From an interview the author gave on his book:

So many Christians treat books [and articles, blogs, etc.] as taskmasters. Most Christians have a stack of unfinished books in their house, maybe on a desk or a bookshelf. Those unfinished books are often a source of low-grade guilt. We’ve been conditioned to think that if we buy a book, we must read it from cover to cover. That’s not true, and I’m trying to loosen Christians from this misunderstanding of what is really a subtle form of slavery to books.

Apart from Scripture, all other books are optional reading. In fact, all other books are tools for us to use in our lives as we see fit. We use books when we need them. This means that we can read books cover to cover if we wish. Or we can read one chapter, or one page. It’s our call. By writing in a book, I claim the book as a tool. I own it; it belongs to me; it was purchased to serve me, and its value to me as a tool far exceeds its resale value. This does not give me license to ignore the truth God teaches me in my reading, but it does liberate me to see books as gifts from God, not as taskmasters. And that’s a very important stage of development for Christian readers.

Of course, I mark all sorts of things in my books, but fundamentally it is a claim of ownership, a claim that reminds me that my books are my tools and that I am not enslaved to them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Factors Influencing Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ

Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy LandMuslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land

Abu Daoud summarizes:

Greenham in Ch 5 provides two lists of categories explaining why Muslims convert:

Lesser Importance are
1) political Instability,
2) Rejection of Islam,
3) Christian Media,
4) Personal Crisis,
5) Community,
6) God’s Honor.

The categories of “Greater Prominence” are
1) Reading the Bible,
2) Role of Believers,
3) Truth of Jesus’ Message,
4) God’s Miraculous Involvement,
5) Person of Jesus.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

my head is spinning

Just finished this book. I’m interested in your thoughts if you’ve read it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Qur’an as a bridge to…

People use the phrase “the Qur’an as a bridge…" differently. 

Here is what I have heard:  “I use the Qur’an as a bridge to…

  1. relationships
  2. the Bible
  3. faith

In your opinion, what could be the implications of view #3?  (Hint: we get the kind of disciples we preach for.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Book We've Been Waiting For

For those of you who don't know about Todd Ahrend or The Traveling Team, consider this your invitation to go hear them speak whenever you can.  I consider it a privilege to call Todd my friend, and I couldn't be happier about the book he recently published, The Abrahamic Revolution.  This book concisely, accurately, and passionately handles the most important topic in the Bible - the fulfillment of the promise that God gave to Abraham once upon a time.  Before reading this book, one could perhaps claim ignorance (although I don't know quite how) of this grand biblical theme .  But after reading it, you should remember the words of David Livingstone who said, "Sympathy is no substitute for action."  This is the book that the Church has been waiting for.  Get it, read it, and find your place in doing it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New Apologetics Website for MBBs

Evidence for God's Unchanging Word is a network of Jesus' followers from across South Asia. We are committed to promoting the seldom-heard evidence for the reliability of God's Word. We believe that God has spoken to mankind through his unchanging Written Word, and we promote the neglected Taurat, Zabur, and Injil. We believe that the Qur'an testifies clearly to the eternal validity of these Scriptures and to the unique role of Jesus as sinless "Messiah" or Savior and Living Word of God. It is through Jesus that we have experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and a new meaning and motivation for life.

We are committed to accurately following the Scriptures, not man's cultural traditions. Just as Jesus was wrongly opposed and condemned by Jewish religious authorities, so too Jesus' authentic followers throughout history are regularly condemned by both Muslim and Christian clerics alike, clerics who too often are more concerned with their narrow cultural traditions than with bold obedience to God's Word. Jesus didn't call himself Christian or Muslim, and his followers simply called themselves "the Way."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My take on the DG national conference: The difference between evangelism and missions

I wasn't able to get to Minnesota last month for the Desiring God national conference, Finish the Mission, so I did the next best thing and downloaded all the talks. And while I certainly enjoyed them, I was struck by one continual note that was just a bit off key throughout the conference. Although the conference was meant to highlight the "task remaining" in world evangelization, there was a continual blurring of the lines between evangelism and missions. The evangelistic mandate is the call for the local church to preach the gospel to all those in the surrounding culture/vicinity who are not yet saved. The missions mandate is the call for apostolic teams (Greek: apostolos = sent ones) to carry the gospel beyond into cultures and vicinities where there are no local churches to evangelize a given people group.  Both are equally important in Scripture, but they are grossly misunderstood.   John Piper is actually one of the voices within evangelicalism that has consistently gotten the distinction right; and this is perhaps why I was a bit disappointed to hear speakers at his conference such as Ed Stetzer saying that he disagreed with Michael Oh when he referred to Japan as the "mission field" - contending that the USA is an equally valid mission field.  Sure Ed, God loves lost people in America just as much as he does those in Japan, but that's not the point!  The point is, don't blur the lines between evangelism and missions by making it seem as though there isn't a different calling (a different job to be done) in reaching the USA and Japan.  In the former, our role is to help local churches evangelize their own neighbors, while in the latter, our job is to start local churches that don't even exist yet, so they can evangelize their own.   That's the difference, and it's an important one.  If we call everything missions, then nothing is missions!

Here is another way to see the difference, using another of the conference speakers' own ministries: When Michael Ramsden speaks to a  group of secular university students in London, that would be evangelism.  But when he speaks to a group of Muslim students in Southeast Asia, that would be missions.  The reason is that the secular students in London could walk into any church on Sunday if they chose to, and hear the Gospel.  So they are lost, but not unreached.  But the Muslim students have no church to walk into in their city, even if they wanted to, so they too are lost, but they are also unreached.  Missions then, is what it means to take the Gospel to the unreached so that a local church can emerge in their city, whereby they can hear the Gospel from their own people some day.  The issue at hand is access to the Gospel - unsaved people in reached people groups have it, while unsaved people in unreached people groups do not!

I hope this brief post doesn't come across leaving folks feeling as though I did not thoroughly enjoy what each speaker brought at the DG national conference.  To the contrary, I did enjoy every talk.  However, I felt it was imperative that I take a minute to voice this one concern.

For more on this crucial distinction, have a look at this excellent post by Dr. Tim Tennent:
There is a big difference between evangelism and missions.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christ at the Checkpoint

This is exactly the type of conversation that evangelicals need to start having if there is any hope to see a meaningful dialogue and witness for Jesus in the Middle East.  We've got to end the love affair with Zionism!  Check out Christ at the Checkpoint.

Shane Claiborne on Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 from Christ at the Checkpoint on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Should we be seeking after signs and wonders?

From Strauss, Encountering Theology of Mission (p. 252):

Church history and the testimony of contemporary missionaries suggest that when the gospel first breaks into a people group or geographic area, the miraculous is frequently present. But the question of how normative such signs and wonders should be for evangelism and outreach where the church is already established and the necessity of signs and wonders for a successful church-planting movement is still an issue of debate among evangelicals.

We must remember that miraculous signs can be duplicated by Satan (2 Thess. 2:9). Furthermore, Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for those who demanded a miraculous sign as evidence of who he was and as a precondition for trusting him (Matt. 12:39). Perhaps the most balanced conclusion is that any biblical theology of mission must put God's power at the center of effective mission and must emphasize that prayer and dependence on God are foundational to the missionary task. It is never wrong to pray for God's miraculous intervention, trusting him to provide it in his time and his way. It is always wrong to demand God's miraculous intervention or to believe that without signs and wonders we cannot be effective in planting the church.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hoskins on the Hadith

From the conclusion of Ed Hoskins’ article in the Oct 2011 Issue of EMQ, What Muslims Really Believe—The Islamic Traditions (requires subscription):

To Muslims, the hadith are familiar stories that play a practical role in their daily lives. By tapping into these, we have a bridge that makes spiritual conversations relevant and accessible.

I conclude with five thoughts.

1. The hadith fill in the gaps of understanding left blank by the Qur’an.

2. In my field-testing, I found no significant gender, geographical, or language ability differences. Well over ninety percent of all Muslims were familiar with my randomly-selected hadith.

3. Knowledge of the Islamic traditions can give us greater understanding and compassion for our Muslim friends and acquaintances. It did both for me.

4. Using the hadith builds near-instant rapport and facilitates deeper sharing. Every time I mention one, I get a smile. That’s rapport which opens the door to greater sharing.

5. Bridges for communicating biblical truth abound in the hadith. The traditions are packed with topics like the “golden rule,” “control your temper,” “God looks at the heart,” “blessed are the merciful,” “feed the hungry,” “separate me from my sins as far as the east is from the west,” and many more. To date, I have thirty-eight single-spaced typewritten pages of these.

More can be found in Hoskins recent book A Muslim's Mind: What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Islamic Traditions (2011).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue Winter/Spring 2011 Issue

Winter/Spring 2011 Issue:

In the featured article of the winter/spring issue of this journal, Dr. Andrew Wingate describes the changing religious landscape in Western Europe, considers changes within the Christian and Muslim communities, and outlines important implications for Christian engagement in interfaith dialogue. Professors Sunday Agang and George Harinck provide reflections on these realities based on their Dutch and Nigerian experiences respectively. Dr. Andrew Smith makes the case for engaging teenagers in Muslim-Christian dialogue in the UK. Syrian born Chawkat Moucarry argues that mission and dialogue are compatible terms that must shape each other.

Download the issue (20 pages)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Radical Love Campaign

Challenging followers of Christ to love Muslims as He does.

Christian relationships with Muslims have often been characterized by conflict, fear and lack of love. This is the opposite of the way Jesus taught his people to live. As his followers, we are promised a love that casts out fear. We are commanded to love neighbor and even enemy. Therefore we resolve to imitate and obey Jesus by making the following pledge:

  • I will repent of any hateful feelings toward Muslims and pursue love.
  • I will pray for Muslims that God will bless them and that they will experience His peace.
  • I will do at least one act of kindness for a Muslim in this next year.
  • I will respectfully share the good news about Christ.
  • I will not spread negative stereotypes about Muslims but will season all my words with grace.
  • I will champion this cause, armed only with love, truth and good deeds.

Be Radical like Jesus. Sign the pledge at and mobilize 10 friends to do the same.

Champion this cause and change the world.

More on the biblical basis for Radical Love

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Islam on Trial

Is Islam peaceful or violent?  How should Christians view the current political discourse on Islam in Western countries? Michael Raiter writes about the nature of Islam here (pages 22-33) by reviewing four recent books written from both sides of the issue.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Purpose (Vision) and Task (Mission) of Missions

What is the purpose and task of missions?  Perhaps no question is more important for those seeking to bless Muslims (or anybody!) in Jesus’ name.  Answering this question would serve as a guide for almost everything we think and do.

Here are a couple quotes from Encountering Theology of Mission that are well worth chewing on.  Here they define purpose of mission (formatting mine):

Doxology is the highest purpose of mission: God is drawing people from every nation to himself who declare his glory and become his worshippers. This worship will endure for all eternity.

Redemption is the foundation of mission in that God himself has reached out in grace to fallen humans by the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ. The work of redemption through his death and resurrection was at the heart of Christ's coming to earth. He thereby provided the way of forgiveness and restoration of the God-human relationship. This was at the heart of the gospel message and the core of the apostolic preaching.

The kingdom of God is at the center of mission in that the work of redemption results not only in personal salvation but in the restoration of God's reign over his redeemed people and through the redeemed community. The new kingdom people, the church, become a living sign of the kingdom in this age as they live under Christ's lordship and work for the cause of holiness, righteousness, and justice in all their relationships and in the world.

Eschatology is the hope of mission because we know that the kingdom will one day come in fullness when Christ returns. In this age the church lives in anticipation of that kingdom by bringing the gospel of the kingdom to the nations. This is done in the confidence that the promise of the Lord will be fulfilled: not only will the gospel be preached to every nation, but from every nation there will be those who embrace the Savior and enter the kingdom.

For this reason the nations are the scope of mission. As revealed in the scriptures, God has a plan to draw the nations to himself. Mission cannot rest until the gospel of the kingdom has been brought to people of every nation, ethnic group, language, and social standing.

Reconciliation is the fruit of mission because mission brings the message of reconciliation to an alienated world. This reconciliation begins with the restored relationship with God and moves outward to restore human relationships, becoming one of the most fundamental signs of the kingdom and evidencing genuine shalom. This too is in anticipation of the fullness of the restoration of all things upon Christ's return.

Finally, the incarnation is the character of mission. Everything the church undertakes in the cause of mission must be characterized by a spirit of humility, selflessness, and sacrifice, for these traits characterized Christ's sending. This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who both empowers and transforms for mission.

We conclude by defining mission in this way: Mission is the sending activity of God with the purpose of reconciling to himself and bringing into his kingdom fallen men and women from every people and nation to his glory. Mission is a sign of the kingdom and an invitation to the nations to enter the kingdom and share the hope of the kingdom promised in Christ's return. (Chapter 4)

The purpose of mission should be distinguished and united with the task of mission.  No “vision statement” (purpose) is complete without a corresponding “mission statement” (task).  Why are we here and what are we supposed to do about it?  Something must happen in order for the vision to be realized.  The task of missions is thus summarized in Chapter 6 (formatting mine):

Mission is God’s sending of Christians, the church, into the world as messengers of reconciliation and renewal to bring men and women of every nation into God’s kingdom.  They are to live as salt and light in their communities as a sign of the coming kingdom when all things will be restored under God’s rule.  However, the church has not fulfilled its mission by merely being such a community wherever it finds itself, as great a challenge as that is.  Rather such communities must be multiplied among the diverse peoples of the world, and this is the task of missions.

Thus the task of missions is the sending activity of the church to create and expand such kingdom communities among every people of the earth.  This will be done through evangelism and church planting that is not satisfied with superficial conversion or institutional advancement.  Rather, these new communities must be nurtured and challenged to manifest the reign of God in word and deed, impacting all areas of life – spiritual, social, mental, and physical – thus furthering God’s mission in the world.

I like these definitions because they integrate holistic service with evangelism and church planting while emphasizing that mission is actually God’s undertaking to redeem his creation back to himself.

So could we synthesize and summarize?  Here’s my stab at it… for the biblical mission (purpose and task) of the church:

  • Vision (what does the Bible envision?): to see lives and communities among all the nations transformed for God’s glory
  • Mission (how is that vision realized?): to foster a movement of indigenously-led, multiplying churches that manifest the rule of king Jesus in word and deed

What would be your biblical vision and mission statements be for the purpose of God through the church (there is more than one way to say it)?  You got a problem with mine?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Muslim Missions: Then & Now (CT article by Woodberry)

Another interesting, lucid, and informative article by Dudley Woodberry, from CT Sept 2011:

Ten years ago, my wife, Roberta, and I were in Peshawar, Pakistan, two blocks from the Taliban hospital. We were in the home of our son and his family, joining in a farewell party for a Christian pilot. Another pilot approached us and said, "I don't know whether I should tell you the news now or after the party." Of course we said, "Now." He said the BBC had just reported that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

A quick check on the Internet showed a little picture of a building with a quarter inch of a flame—one that radiated heat and light through the following decade to where we stand today. That heat and light have generated conflicting responses: increased resistance and receptivity to the gospel among Muslims, and increased hostility and peacemaking among Christians. It has been the best of times and the worst of times for relations between Christians and Muslims…

Keep reading…

From the conclusion:

Ultimately, the future of missions to Muslims will be affected less by the flames of 9/11, or even the flames that started the Arab Spring, than by the inner flames that are ignited if we so follow our Lord, who modeled the basin and the towel, that our Muslim friends may echo the words of the disciples in Emmaus: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Encountering Theology of Mission

51Qu-BcotQL__SL160_I wish this book was required reading for everyone on my team and in my mission organization: Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues (2010).  From Amazon:

This fresh, comprehensive text fills a need for an up-to-date theology of mission. It offers creative approaches to answering some of the most pressing questions in theology of mission and missionary practice today. The authors, who are leading mission experts, discuss biblical theology of mission, provide historical overviews of the development of various viewpoints, and address theologically current issues in global mission from an evangelical perspective. This readable yet thorough text integrates current views of the kingdom of God and holistic mission with traditional views of evangelism and church planting. It also brings theology of mission into conversation with ecclesiology and eschatology. Topics covered include contextualization, the missionary vocation, church and mission, and theology of religions. Sidebars and case studies enable readers to see how theology of mission touches real-life mission practice.

In addition, there is good stuff on the missional church, the relationship between social action and evangelism, spiritual warfare, and contextualization, all while staying focused on establishing “kingdom communities” among the nations.  I really like the discussions of the historical developments of various viewpoints.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pray on 9/11 Video Online

Download it here.  I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  There were a couple aspects I didn’t like.  It was definitely something only an American church could show.  Loritts was calling for a revival in America.  And it appeared at times to mix Biblical faith with Americanism.  For instance, Rankin says,

“…Our international relations are strained, we find ourselves embattled with a global terrorist enemy that has created fear and paranoia.  What a difference it would make in the future if we moved from fear to faith, believing that God’s love could sweep over the Muslim world through our prayers and witness.”

I think unclear language like this only perpetuates the syncretistic confusion between American politics and American Christianity.  But Richardson and Piper were on the right track on in giving a prophetic call to the church to sacrifice that Muslims may come into the Kingdom.

Call to Prayer: Moving from Fear to Faith

I would love to hear your reactions to the video.  And especially if your church watches it on Sunday morning 9/11.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers

The Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers is not a great book, but it is filled with important concepts and is short (112 pages).  The intended audience is for those involved in team-based pioneer church planting.

Friday, August 26, 2011

All of Life is Repentance

Repentance is an important idea in Islam.  But it is a “religious” repentance that Muslims practice.  Here are some concepts from Tim Keller that might prove useful to bridge to the gospel with Muslims: All of Life is Repentance.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Poverty, Getting to the Heart of the Matter

This brief editorial from Rick Wood in the July-Aug 2011 issue of Mission Frontiers is worth reading:

We've all seen them, awful pictures of little children with emaciated bodies, video scenes of long lines of desperate parents seeking help for the children they love at some overrun clinic in some desolate, fly-infested area of Africa or Asia. Or perhaps you have seen stories about the people living off of the garbage piles in Manila or Tijuana. It breaks our hearts. We all wish that something could be done to 'fix' this problem and stop the suffering. We feel helpless against such overwhelming need. Is there anything that can be done? Does the Church of Jesus Christ really have the solution to this problem?

There are many believers who feel that caring for the poor is one of their highest priorities as an expression of their faith. Others say that church planting and discipleship must take priority. Perhaps God has called us to do both in ways that reinforce each other. But how do we go about helping to raise people out of poverty? We see one generation after another grow up and die in poverty with very little change. Is it even possible to make a difference?

Money Is Not the Answer. Aid Is Not Enough.

There are many voices inside and outside the Church that say, “We just need to be more generous.” But is this really the long-term answer? If everyone in the 'developed world' were to give the poor 10 percent of their income, would this solve the problem? Would trillions of dollars collected in the West and shipped off to Africa make any long-term difference in overcoming poverty? It hasn't so far.

As Peter Greer of Hope International reports on page 7, it is estimated that over three trillion dollars has been donated to Africa since 1970. In the process the economic growth rates of many African countries have plummeted. If generosity was all that was needed, should not the three trillion dollars have been enough to at least make a dent in the poverty problem in Africa? Yet things have actually gotten worse. Should we continue to send money in the vain hope of someday making a difference or do we need to rethink our approach?

Empower the Poor to Find the Answer

Regardless of how good our intentions are, without the essential foundation of biblical character all efforts to overcome poverty will fail-no matter how much money is sent. When it comes to poverty, a lack of money is not the cause of the problem, and tons of cash is not the solution. There is nothing wrong with helping people through a desperate situation, and we should do all we can when lives are in imminent danger, but we must focus our efforts on what helps people get out of poverty--not keep them continually dependent on outsiders for their survival.

The strategies employed to help the poor must encourage and support the individual and community efforts of the poor to change their own situation. No amount of outside aid and outside solutions can replace local initiative. No amount of hard work by outsiders can replace the ongoing hard work of the local people in creating jobs and staring their own businesses. The local people have to be empowered to take responsibility for their own lives and be given the spiritual tools, business skills and freedom that can enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. Is there a role for outside help? Yes, but it has to be centered around changing lives from the inside out, not simply putting expensive band-aids on the situation that will eventually wear off. The healing and transformation must come from inside. We can help in this process, but we cannot and should not do it for them.

The Church Has What the Poor Need Most

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, the authors of the marvelous book, When Helping Hurts, explain on page 16 that poverty ultimately derives from the Fall of man and the four broken relationships that have resulted. These are with God, with others, with ourselves and with creation as a whole. These broken relationships have affected all of us, but for the poor they have become a crushing burden that Satan has used to convince the poor to believe a lie and keep them in poverty.

Scott Todd explains on page 17 that the poor have internalized the lies, “Give up! You don't matter. Nobody cares about you. Look around you: Things are terrible. Always have been, always will be.” These are the lies of fatalism, victimhood and powerlessness. They have lost the hope that they or anyone else can change their situation. They have come to believe that no amount of hard work can change their circumstances. These lies must be defeated in order for the poor to get out of poverty, and they can only be defeated by presenting them with the truth of God's love and power through Jesus Christ--just what the Church is best able to provide.

As we establish Church Planting Movements within every people, we will encounter the poor and the lies that have kept them in bondage. As they come to Christ and begin to believe the Truth, they will have the power to defeat these lies and to lay the spiritual foundation from which they can raise themselves out of poverty.

In order to overcome poverty and stay out of poverty, all of us, including the poor, must be committed to doing what is right in the eyes of God--living by biblical principles. When we do, we build up what Ken Eldred calls Spiritual Capital, which is essential for any economy to flourish. See "Spiritual Development" by Ken Eldred.

Biblical principles such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness etc. are essential for an economy to work. The foundation of successful economies is the trust that is built through honest interaction between people. If you destroy trust between people in a society through dishonest transactions and corruption, the economy will decline. The poorest countries on Earth are often riddled with corruption and violence at every level of a society, from the government on down. The biblical character traits that make a prosperous society possible come from lives transformed by Jesus through an effective discipleship process.

Ken Eldred gives the following example: “If one sells something with true weights and measures, then he has completed an honest transaction and has added spiritual capital to his and the nation's account. However, if one fails to fulfill his commitment to replace any defective products he sells, then he has proven untrustworthy and dishonest and has withdrawn spiritual capital from his and the nation's account.

This has profound implications on the development, success, and culture of an economy” (including our own). There's a relationship between economic prosperity and the pervasiveness of biblical values in the culture. Douglass North won a Nobel Prize in economics for demonstrating which "institutions" in a society characterize successful economies. He proved that the trust factor, when pervasive in a society, is one of the "institutions" that lead to a better economy.

Without a moral structure based on biblical principles, short-term self-interest becomes the prime motivation, and people will lie, cheat and steal to get what they want instead of doing the hard honest work that builds the trust and spiritual capital that makes successful economic interaction possible. Transformed lives are the foundation upon which any society can build an economy and overcome poverty.

But economic growth does not come automatically when people commit their lives to Jesus. People need training in ordinary basics like personal money management, how to run a business and good work habits. This should be part of our discipleship too as we plant churches. Church planting should lead to economic growth among the poor. If it doesn't, then something is wrong.

With a combination of effective discipleship and practical, locally-based economic solutions the poor can come to believe that they can do all things through Christ, including raising themselves and others out of poverty. They can then create their own wealth and not be dependent on outsiders for their survival.