Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Essentialist vs. Cultural Interpretation of Religion

From the editorial of a recent IJFM, quoting an “exceptional” Wikipedia entry on the insider movement.  The long-held traditional, essentialist view of world religious is fading away:

Underlying the question of following Jesus within various religio-cultural systems is an understanding of the nature of world religions. An essentialist approach suggests that each major religion has a core set of beliefs that differs from all the other major religions.  Religions are seen as monolithic, with a prevailing interpretation of core doctrine that defines the worldview of its adherents. A cultural approach to world religions, however, holds that they are a conglomeration of diverse communities, defined more by traditions, history and customs than a singular stated core theology. While the essentialist view has traditionally been held, current research in the field of religious studies challenges the essentialist view (see Religion). Evidence points to a great variety of doctrines and practices within each of the major religious traditions.  In practice, many Hindus, Muslims and Christians follow religious traditions with very minimal personal understanding of core beliefs.

The theology of religious is a broad, deep, and complex issue, but I find this simple nuance above to be quite helpful.  It has more to do with hermeneutics than anything else.

Related: The Anthropology of Islam and Islam is Not a Civilization

Friday, October 26, 2012

Happy Eid!

From, with great videos for Muslims in English, Arabic, and Urdu.  I have these on my mobile phone and share them via Bluetooth as often as I can.  The other day a friend asked me if I was going to sacrifice a goat for the Eid.  I showed him this video and explained to him that Jesus is the “seal of the sacrifices.”

God's Love Story: Abraham's Sacrifice

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Too Tainted by Our Own Culture for Successful Socio-Political Involvement

From Pikkert, Protestant Missionaries to the Middle East: Ambassadors of Christ or Culture?, pg. 268: 

As this thesis has shown, the missionary community to the Middle East is too tainted by its own culture to presume to initiate change on social and political issues. Hence its primary task must be to present the person of Jesus Christ in all his winsomeness, even as it trusts the Spirit to draw people to the Saviour. It must then teach and disciple new believers in core Biblical truths, and draw them into a loving fellowship of believers, but will, once again, have to defer to the Spirit with respect to the nitty-gritty application of Christian truth to socio-political and cultural specifics. In other words, the local community of believers, responding to and wrestling with Biblical truths must, ultimately, be entrusted with the job of forging a church-centered New Testament spirituality applicable to their own culture. The missionary can, at best, guide at the level of basic Biblical principles.

Related: Church Planting or Development? Word and Deed in Biblical Balance

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prayercast | Ishmael (Music Video)

This video inspires me to pray for Muslims. See for videos on many countries and topics.

Jesus and the Cross: Reflections of Christians from Islamic Contexts

Jesus and the Cross: Reflections of Christians from Islamic Contexts (Global Theological Voices) -[Google Preview]-

Reviewed by Paul Shea:

David Emmanuel Singh brings together eighteen scholars from Afghanistan, East Africa, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Palestine, and more to explore Muslim objections and barriers to understanding the cross of Jesus. With rich experience and credibility these new (Baba Immanuel and more) and familiar (Kenneth Cragg) voices reveal how Christians in the context of the Islamic world explain the cross of Christ among those whose traditions and beliefs deny the cross and its implications.

Singh organizes the selections under: The Cross in Scriptures; Reflections from Contexts; and Theological Reflections. Themes from the Old and New Testaments, such as the “lamb of God,” “the suffering prophet-servant,” and fulfillment of prophecy, are introduced in Part One. Part Two is perhaps the most profound contribution, offering regional slants on issues of the cross. Part Three skillfully demonstrates theology from within context with a variety of sometimes complex and challenging reflections on the atonement and incarnation. These essays not only help in the proclamation of the gospel, but expand good theological debate and understanding of the great doctrine of the work of Christ. Here are exemplary case studies for wrestling with other theological issues in global contexts.

From Amazon:

“In the present day, with so much tension between the Muslim world and the nominally-Christian West, it is important to hear the voices of Christians living within Islamic contexts. Such communities have developed strategies for coexisting with their more numerous neighbors. The Christian voices in this volume call for a spirit of reconciliation, drawing on their own experiences and finding inspiration in the message of the Cross. This is a call based on hope for the future, not despair for past conflicts. Such a call deserves to be heard.” -- Peter G. Riddell, formerly Professor of Islamic Studies, and Director, Center for Islamic Studies, London School of Theology

"This work is a valuable reminder that the cross of Christ is relevant to all societies and cultures. It includes potential ways of communicating the meanings of the cross, and also reminders of the path of suffering which may need to be walked." -- Martin Whittingham, Muslim-Christian Links

"The book is an invaluable resource for reflection and study of the meaning of the cross in the world of Islam and in intercultural relations. I cannot recommend it too highly." -- Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at Yale University

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Anthropology of Islam

From the introduction of The Anthropology of Islam, by Gabriele Marranci:

STUDENT: What is Islam?

ANTHROPOLOGIST: Lots of things, of course.

STU: Yeah, but I mean, is Islam its holy books or what Muslims do?

ANT: Neither, I suppose.

STU: Well, it should be one or the other for sure!

ANT: Why should it be so?

STU: I think that the Qur’an and Hadiths, and the other texts, tell Muslims how to be Muslims and this guides their actions.

ANT: OK, we can try an experiment. Get that copy of the Qur’an on my desk. So, tell me what this is.

STU: A book; a holy book, at least for Muslims.

ANT: What makes it holy?

STU: The fact that Muslims consider it so.

ANT: OK, but if you were a Muslim why would you have insisted that this particular book is the holiest?

STU: That’s simple Doc! Because, I would believe the book to be God’s words.

ANT: You see, Islam is not just what is written in its books.

STU: Why not? I don’t follow you.

ANT: Well, it’s very simple. You just said that this book, the Qur’an, is holy because at least one Muslim believes that God revealed it. Now you can agree with me that Muslims, each of them, have to perform cognitive operations to form a cognitive map of what for them is Islam. There is no Islam without mind.

STU: Certainly, you need Muslims to have Islam. Yet I still think that what is written in the sources of Islam shapes how Muslims are. Though there are some cultural differences, I am not sure about your point. I think that something called Islam actually exists.

ANT: OK, we will proceed point by point. Not only do we have different cultures among Muslims but also different interpretations. Which is the most basic element that you need to form interpretations?

STU: First, you need to know at least the language in which the text has been transmitted or trust a translation; but there are also other elements, like personal views and social conditions that surely influence one’s interpretation.

ANT: You are discussing a second order of elements. I asked about the basic element without which we cannot have interpretations, or any other mental process, since interpretations are complex mental processes.

STU: Well . . . the most basic is that you should be able to think. To have mental processes, like thoughts, we need a mind.

ANT: Yes, because for the ‘thing’ we call Islam to exist, we need a mind that can conceive of it, making it part of a mental process.

STU: Why refer to Islam as ‘the thing’ now?

ANT: You have just agreed that Islam exists because of the mental processes allowing some people to make sense of certain texts and practices. Are mental processes ‘real’ things?

STU: Well, I would say that they are exactly that, processes. We make sense of what is around us through mental processes.

ANT: Exactly, we, as human beings, through mental processes form what we can call maps.

STU: I can see that. So you are saying that Islam is just a map.

ANT: Well, more than one, for sure. It’s like one of those maps formed by many other different small maps, which, when put together, represent a vast territory.

STU: And, as you have reminded us many times, the map is not the territory.

ANT: But in this case, we can only know the map, since the territory consists of an endless ensemble of mental processes.

STU: At this point, I do not see the difference between a Muslim and non-Muslim forming mental processes about Islam. What makes them different?

ANT: Nothing, indeed, if we speak of the cognitive processes involved. You know, I have the impression that the most important thing that has been forgotten while studying Muslims is the otherwise obvious fact that they are human beings like me and you.

STU: But, I mean, doesn’t the fact that they believe in Islam make their mind different? Sometimes, in some articles, I come across the expression ‘Muslim mind’.

ANT: Some scholars, and unfortunately some anthropologists among them, have even suggested that a Muslim mind can exist. But how can a mind, which means cognitive processes allowed through neurological activities, be Muslim? Think if we extend this reasoning to other adjectives: Christian minds, Conservative minds, Jewish minds, Scientology minds, Jedi minds and Flying Spaghetti Monster minds.

STU: So, what makes a person a Muslim? I thought that the fact that a person believes in the Qur’an and the sunna and in the shahda, the profession of faith, makes a person a Muslim.

ANT: You are suggesting that it is the person’s act of believing that makes him a Muslim. Let me see . . . do you believe that Juan Carlos I is the king of Spain?

STU: Yes, Doc.

ANT: Are you Spanish?

STU: Of course not. You know I’m Scottish!

ANT: Why are you Scottish and not Spanish, though you believe that Juan Carlos I is the king of Spain?

STU: First, I was not born in Spain, I do not have Spanish parents and, by the way, I do not feel Spanish at all. I am not emotionally attached to the idea of being Spanish. Like during the World Cup, if Scotland is not playing, I can support another team, but when Scotland is playing, I am excited and feel something . . . a particular attachment that tells me that I’m Scottish.

ANT: Indeed, what matters here is that you feel to be Scottish.

STU: Are you suggesting that Muslims are Muslims because they consider themselves Muslim?

ANT: Does it sound so strange?

STU: Well, if you are right it means that the most important aspect is neither what the Islamic texts read, nor what Muslims believe, nor how they act, but rather whether or not they believe themselves to be Muslims, and here emotions play a very important role, as in my case of feeling to be Scottish.

ANT: Yes, this is correct. We need to restart our research, as anthropologists, from that ‘feeling to be’, in this case, Muslim.

I’m not sure every anthropologist would agree with this.  The point is, Islam is diverse and regionally based.  As Christians, we should be more interested in engaging Muslims than we should in engaging ‘Islam.’

Here are a couple more resources I’m reading right now, and I’ll let you know what I think about them:

Anjum, Ovamir. 2007. "Islam as a Discursive Tradition: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors." Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East no. 656-672 (3).

Asad, Talal. 1986. The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam. Center for Contemporary Arab Studies Occasional Papers Series.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

global:church forum (Oct 16-18 LIVE STREAM)


From and

The global:church forum is a gathering allowing the Western church to hear what God is doing in the Global South and East and find out how ministry is done within the context of different cultures and economies. This gathering will create a context for you to hear what God is doing around the world, and then understand how this movement in the non-Western world affects movements, models and methodologies pursued by those in the West.

Cody Lorance responds to Piper on Insider Movements

Piper Responds to the Insider Movement from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Let me start off by saying I’m a HUGE Piper fan.  No other author has impacted me more.  I have tons of respect for him.  I read Let the Nations be Glad! when I was in college, and it literally changed the direction of my life.  I’ve listened to more of his sermons and read more his posts and books than I have anyone else. 

But over the course of the last few years, I’ve been uncomfortable with some of his statements on contextualization and missions to Muslims.  Watching the above video confirmed some of my concerns.  I’m not an “insider proponent" (whatever that is), (neither am I a traditionalist,) but I felt that Piper has some misunderstandings and even (missio)logical fallacies in his arguments.

To that end, I strongly encourage you to read Cody Lorance’s response to Piper on the Insider Movement.  Here are some of Cody’s points:

  • There is no such thing as the “insider movement.” [We really need a better term…]
  • The American church IS ‘insider.’
  • The C Scale is invalid [I think the C Scale is helpful for its original purpose, but is overly simplistic for the issues at stake now].
  • [One of my points- I don’t know of IM people who support MBBs unequivocally continuing to worship in the mosque. You can be insider without ever going to the mosque. And some MBBs respect Mohammed they way I respect Piper.]
  • Persecution is not always for Jesus.
  • The fallacy of saying “Ex-Muslims” or the “National Church in this place” is against this, so we should be too.  [The Catholic church’s counter reformation against Luther comes to mind.]  You can always find MBBs (or missionaries) to support your view.

Here is the main point:

“It is problematic however that so many opponents of IMs are flooding the internet with a lot of misinformation, bigotry, ignorance, personal attacks, and other general silliness. And everyone who “retweets” such drivel is culpable. This isn’t a simple issue. And there are a tremendous number of people who are talking about it that should rather be listening and learning. Actually, we could all do with a little more listening and learning.”

You really need to read Cody’s full post.  It’s short but sweet, and important for the conversation moving forward.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arabian Dawn: Video Testimony of a Saudi MBB

Arabian Dawn from Arab World Media on Vimeo. (HT: MW). 

From Missions Catalyst:

Hearing the distinct voice of a Gulf Arab speaking of how he came to faith in Jesus Christ would be life changing for many seekers in the Arabian Peninsula. The current climate in the Arab world has led many to ask questions about their religious beliefs, but to know that others have asked similar questions and have chosen to follow Christ could cause hundreds, or even thousands, to seriously explore Christianity.

Arabian Dawn is a partnership project between Arab World Media and Middle East Media. [Their] plan is to produce ten to twelve video testimonies of believers in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Yemen. Three testimonies have already been filmed.

This is an exciting project because the viewer is left in no doubt that they have heard the voice of a Gulf Arab who was once a Muslim. No longer will they be able to deny that there are followers of Jesus Christ in the Arabian Peninsula. It will encourage those who have longed in secret to seek the truth, and it will strengthen those who have already chosen Christ by showing them they are not alone.

» Watch the first Arabian Dawn video, the testimony of a believer from Saudi Arabia. (English subtitles).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Secular Leadership Book Affecting a Disciple-Making Movement?

In the forward to Miraculous Movements, author Jerry Trousdale tells the story of CityTeam International which was able to start church planting movements among Muslims in Africa.  Part of the story includes the influence of a book on leadership in their process of learning about starting movements.  Here is the quote:

In 2002, CityTeam International was a seemingly successful “rescue mission” touching the lives of more than five hundred thousand disadvantaged urban dwellers every year. Yet while CityTeam was experiencing God’s blessing in helping-ministries and evangelism, the organization was a failure in discipling its converts to see real transformation in communities. But that was about to change. That year, CityTeam’s CEO Patrick Robertson read Good to Great by Jim Collins, and, inspired by what he felt was a call to recommit CityTeam’s mission to the cause of discipleship, he invited the staff and board of trustees of the organization to begin a journey into a highly intentional focus on obeying Jesus’ last words: “Go therefore and make disciples.”…

Jerry’s story continues with coming into contact with Dave Watson, etc.  But I was struck by the influence that Good to Great had on the process.  I’ve also seen Good to Great recommended at What’s Best Next and been encouraged to read this book from this post: Why Christians Should Read in the Mainstream.

In any case, have you read Good to Great?  What did you think?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Questions Muslims Ask: What Christians Actually Do (and Don't) Believe, Scott

Questions Muslims Ask: What Christians Actually Do (and Don't) Believe, by Robert Scott

From a review at EMQ by Gene Daniels:

Robert Scott’s book, Questions Muslims Ask, is a welcome addition to the current encounter between evangelical Christians and Islam. It is a true apologetic—friendly, yet truth-bearing, offering theological depth while remaining very readable.

From Amazon:

Christians and Muslims don't understand each other very well. Muslims have often heard that Christians worship three gods, or that the Injil, the Christian Scripture, has been corrupted. How can Christians explain their faith in a way that Muslims can understand? In his work with Muslims in central London, Robert Scott has discovered that many are quite open to talking about matters of faith. In this thoughtful and respectful book, he explores common questions and objections his Muslim friends have discussed with him over the years. Ordinary Christians can read this book to better appreciate where Muslims are coming from. Ordinary Muslims can read this book to better grasp what Christians actually believe, and why. With discussion questions for both Christians and Muslims, this accessible book is a helpful foundation for understanding and conversation. Use it to start start and continue fruitful conversations with your Muslim friends.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Middle East Experience

Just wanted to make you aware of an excellent new resource - the only one of its kind - Middle East Experience:
Middle East Experience is dedicated to providing an open-source forum for all the varied voices from today’s Middle East. Whether the voice is Sunni Muslim or Shia Muslim, Christian or Jewish, religious or non-religious, all these distinct voices can be found in one place. From war, oil, economics, the environment, to religious extremism; what happens in the Middle East today affects everyone.
The contributing editors read like a who's who among prominent voices "in the know" on a wide range of issues in the contemporary Middle East.  Continuously updated with numerous videos, book reviews, blogs, and articles, it is a one-stop source for those of you who want an unbiased and open discussion about the region and its many fascinating peoples and places.