Monday, February 28, 2011

Infinite Translatability of the Christian Faith

From Andrew Walls’ The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith, pgs. 22-23:

Each phase of Christian history has seen a transformation of Christianity as it has entered and penetrated another culture.  There is no such thing as “Christian culture” or “Christian civilization” in the sense that there is an Islamic culture, and an Islamic civilization.  There have been several different Christian civilizations already; there may yet be many more.  The reason for this lies in the infinite translatability of the Christian faith.  Islam, the only other faith hitherto to make comparable impact in such global terms, can produce a single recognizable culture (recognizable despite local assimilations and variations) across its huge geographical spread.  This has surely something to do with the ultimate untranslatability of its charter document, the Qur’an.  The Christian Scriptures, by contrast, are open to translation; nay, the great Act on which Christian faith rests, the Word becoming flesh and pitching tent among us, is itself an act of translation.  And this principle brings Christ to the heart of each culture where he finds acceptance; to the burning questions within that culture, to the points of reference within it by which people know themselves.  That is why each phase of Christian history has produced new themes: themes which the points of reference of that culture have made inescapable for those who share that framework.  The same themes may be beyond the conception of Christians of an earlier or another framework of thought.  They will have their own commanding heights to be conquered by Christ.

Related Posts:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

5 Reasons Muslims Follow Jesus: Woodberry Study 2007

From Leadership Journal in 2008:

A survey of 750 Muslims who converted to Christianity shows five predominant reasons they chose to follow Christ.

  1. The lifestyle of Christians. Former Muslims cited the love that Christians exhibited in their relationships with non-Christians and their treatment of women as equals.
  2. The power of God in answered prayers and healing. Experiences of God's supernatural work—especially important to folk Muslims who have a characteristic concern for power and blessings—increased after their conversions, according to the survey. Often dreams about Jesus were reported.
  3. Dissatisfaction with the type of Islam they had experienced. Many expressed dissatisfaction with the Qur'an, emphasizing God's punishment over his love. Others cited Islamic militancy and the failure of Islamic law to transform society.
  4. The spiritual truth in the Bible. Muslims are generally taught that the Torah, Psalms, and the Gospels are from God, but that they became corrupted. These Christian converts said, however, that the truth of God found in Scripture became compelling for them and key to their understanding of God's character.
  5. Biblical teachings about the love of God. In the Qur'an, God's love is conditional, but God's love for all people was especially eye-opening for Muslims. These converts were moved by the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus. The next step for many Muslims was to become part of a fellowship of loving Christians.

The respondents were from 30 countries and 50 ethnic groups. The survey was prepared at Fuller Theological Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies, and reported in Christianity Today.

Muslims are now 21 percent of the world population, increasing from 12 percent in the past 100 years. And the growth rate of Islam is higher than that of Christianity (1.81% per year, compared to 1.23%). Christians still outnumber Muslims, with one-third of the world population naming Christianity as their faith.

In some parts of the world, significant pockets of Muslims are turning to Christ, including North Africa, South Asia, and Indonesia.

The study appears as a chapter in From the Straight Path to the Narrow Way.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

“Sonship” and “Lordship” Translation Issues

From koinonia:

The CT article The Son and the Crescent has caused quite a stir. It examined Bible translations that use a substitute for the term “son of God” to make inroads into the Muslim community.

In response Ed Stetzer looks at reasons to retain “son of God”, Trevin Wax hosts an interview with Hansen and Greear on the issues, and Daniel Kirk argues that it’s more important to insist “Jesus is Lord.”

See also Bible Translations for Muslim Readers by Vern Poythress at Mission Frontiers.

I just want to mention that Kirk’s point is just as problematic, as “Lord” is commonly used by Muslims when addressing Allah.  It is common in the Qur’an as well. I don’t know what is worse for my Muslim friends, hearing Jesus called the “Son of God” or “Lord.” Both titles are repugnant.

Andrew Walls in The Missionary Movement in Christian History (1996) indicates that the first use of “Lord” in Acts 11:20 by Jewish Christians with Greek-speaking pagans could have resulted with “the recognition of the Lord Jesus as one more cult divinity alongside the Lord Serapis or the Lord Osiris” (34). Talk about a serious translation issue in the Septuagint!  Claiming Jesus as “Lord” actually “sharpened the confrontation of early Christianity with the popular religion of the Greco-Roman world” (35). The Septuagint would certainly be labeled syncretistic by today’s standards, and yet look how it was used of God.

Communicating the “lordship” of Jesus to Muslims is perhaps an even more problematic  issue than his “sonship” because of all the different words for “Lord” in other languages (especially Arabic).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why is there a significant increase of Muslims making a commitment to Jesus? 10 Reasons

A paper by Duane Miller “Woven in the Weakness of the Changing Body: the Genesis of World Islamic Christianity.”  At his blog he says, “In this paper I try to analyze some of the main trends that have allowed for a global space wherein conversions from Islam to Christ have increased very substantially since the second half of the 20th Century.”  Here are the 10 factors Miller’s research identified:

    1. Media
    2. Exposure to other ways of life/thought/and religion
    3. Contextualized or culturally-sensitive witness
    4. Living Abroad/migration
    5. Prayers/a move of the Spirit/God‘s timing
    6. Dreams/Visions/Miracles
    7. Greater number of missionaries
    8. Translation of the Bible and material into local languages/dialects/forms
    9. Greater diversity in missionary strategies/platforms
    10. Great boldness in evangelization

Read the whole thing (35 pages).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Insiders and Traditionalists assume or claim about each other

An irenic article from Jeff Morton, a traditionalist (“Historical” in his wording), trying to bring clarity to the debate:

Perhaps a different way to think about our differences is in these statements:

• The IMers believe the theology of the Historicals is bound to the past (a past hallmarked by extraction and failure) and lacks a real understanding of Jesus’ own methodology.

• Historicals believe IMers are blind to the insidious nature of Islam, which negatively affects their methodology.

Read the whole thing.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Son and the Crescent

An article at Christianity Today by Collin Hansen, The Son and the Crescent: “Bible translations that avoid the phrase "Son of God" are bearing dramatic fruit among Muslims. But that translation has some missionaries and scholars dismayed.” 

Hansen does a good job framing the debate.

Related Posts

Monday, February 7, 2011

Christians and Muslims in Egypt

You may have heard about how Muslims protected Christians in Egypt last month by forming a human chain during Orthodox Christmas services.  Now this image is coming out of Cairo this week - Christians returning the favor... Man, I bet the Devil hates to see this!  May Jesus bring the truest Salaam in its fullness!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Luke 15 and a Word about Parables

Listen to this Islamic interpretation of Luke 15:11-32:

In this parable the Father obviously represents God while the younger son represents humankind.  The son leaves home, gets into trouble and finally decides to return to his Father.  He “yistaghfir Allah” (he seeks the forgiveness of God).  On arrival the Father welcomes the son and thus demonstrates the he, the father, is “rahman wa rahim” (merciful and compassionate).  There is no cross and no incarnation, no “son of God” and no “savior,” no “word that becomes flesh” and no “way of salvation,” no death and no resurrection, no mediator and no mediation.  The son needs no help to return home.  The result is obvious.  Jesus is a good Muslim who in this parable affirms Muslim theology.  The heart of the Christian faith is thus denied by the very prophet Christianity claims to follow.  Islam with neither a cross nor a savior preserves the true message of the prophet Jesus.

This is how Kenneth Bailey opens The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants. In his book, Bailey interprets the parable in light of the cultural paradigms of the first century Mediterranean world.  He finds a warrant to introduce the atonement in this parable because the father bore the public shame of his prodigal son’s “death wish” (asking for his inheritance while his father was still alive) by running publically in the street to embrace the prodigal son.  A dignified man in the Middle East would never run without great cost (public shame) to himself.  “This parable depicts a father who leaves the comfort and security of his home and humiliates himself before the village.  The coming down and going out to his son is a parable of the incarnation.  The costly demonstration of the unexpected love in the village street demonstrates a part of the meaning of the cross” (67).

Clearly the Muslim interpretation is flawed with eisegesis, trying to insert the Islamic concept of salvation into the parable. Let’s not forget to interpret the the parable in light of the crucifixion narrative and Jesus’ words in Luke 9:22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

But I wonder if Bailey goes too far as well?  Parables were not meant to teach a summary of everything in Biblical faith, but instead to highlight one main point.  Luke 15 illustrates God’s extravagant mercy for sinners (something, by the way, that Islam and Biblical faith have in common).  Read this from the New American Commentary on Luke 15 (pg. 410):

The question has been raised about whether this parable teaches that God’s forgiveness is “free.” Did Luke believe there was thus no necessity of an “atonement.” One cannot require in a parable such as this, which teaches God’s love for the outcasts and the hostility this encounters, a complete doctrine of the atonement as well. A parable is not meant to serve as a shorter catechism of all Christian doctrine. Luke expected that this parable would be interpreted in light of what he had already said in his Gospel (cf. 9:22), what he would say shortly (cf. 19:10; 22:17–22), what he would write in Acts (4:12; 13:26–39; 20:28), and what they had already been taught (perhaps a tradition such as 1 Cor 15:3–8). The purpose of this parable is to teach essentially one basic point dealing with the situation described in 15:1–2. To ask more of it than this is unwarranted.

The church must continually examine the significance of this parable. Will we be the church of the elder brother or the church of the loving father?

This is the same route Tim Keller takes in The Prodigal God. He warns, “This story is a great metaphor of sin and salvation, but we can’t press every single detail literally” (76).  Keller continues:

Over the years many readers have drawn the superficial conclusion that the restoration of the younger brother involved no atonement, no cost… (82)

Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer.  If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost the one granting the forgiveness. (83)

The younger brother’s restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother.  The father could not just forgive the the younger son, somebody had to pay!  The father could not reinstate him except at the expense of the elder brother.  There was no other way.  But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost.  It is heartbreaking.  The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead.

But we do not…(84)

Praise God for Jesus, who absorbed the cost of forgiveness in our place on the cross!  But the point of the parable does not take us there.

The Cape Town Commitment

Friends, I am very excited to announce the release of the Cape Town Commitment, the result of the efforts of the Theology Working Group chaired so ably by Dr. Chris Wright.  Here is the beginning of the forward, then you can look below if you wish to read the entire thing...

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (Cape Town, 16-25 October 2010) brought together 4,200 evangelical leaders from 198 countries, and extended to hundreds of thousands more, participating in meetings around the world, and online. Its goal? To bring a fresh challenge to the global Church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching - in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas.
The Cape Town Commitment is the fruit of this endeavour. It stands in an historic line, building on both The Lausanne Covenant and The Manila Manifesto. It is in two parts. Part l sets out biblical convictions, passed down to us in the scriptures, and Part ll sounds the call to action.

The Cape Town Commitment

  1. We love because God first loved us
  2. We love the living God
  3. We love God the Father
  4. We love God the Son
  5. We love God the Holy Spirit
  6. We love God’s Word
  7. We love God’s world
  8. We love the gospel of God
  9. We love the people of God
  10. We love the mission of God
PART II  - FOR THE WORLD WE SERVE: The Cape Town Call to Action
  1. Bearing witness to the truth of Christ in a pluralistic, globalized world
  2. Building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world
  3. Living the love of Christ among people of other faiths
  4. Discerning the will of Christ for world evangelization
  5. Calling the Church of Christ back to humility, integrity and simplicity
  6. Partnering in the body of Christ for unity in mission

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pray for Farshid and our Iranian Brothers and Sisters

CGA6.pngFarshid Fathi, who was with us at Cape Town 2010, was recently arrested by Iranian authorities because of his Christian faith.  He was one of 70 Iranian believers arrested by government security forces on 26 December.  According to Elam Ministries, Farshid, like the thirteen others still being held, has been in solitary confinement and subjected to numerous hours of interrogation.
To learn more about the situation, please go to:

Doug Birdsall, Lausanne's Executive Chair, says, "We're deeply concerned by the arrests of Christians in Iran.  We recognize evangelical Christians in Iran who have no other choice but to meet in 'house churches' as a legitimate part of the global church.  We therefore call on the Iranian government to release those arrested and ensure that Iranian Christians are free to worship God and practice their faith in accordance with the United Nations Charter of Human Rights."

Please be praying for Farshid and the other Iranian Christians being held.  Also, consider adding your voice by sending a short email to David Yeghnazar (, Director of Elam Ministries, a ministry that serves the church in Iran.  David was also with us in Cape Town.  In your email simply say that you are in agreement with Lausanne's position and request the Iranian government to ensure that Iranian Christians are free to worship and practice their faith.  Please state your name, your position and your church or organization. 

HT: Archbishop Henry Orombi