Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pluralism, Relativism, and Exceptionalism

Here is a nice piece of political theology that is relevant for anyone working in a place where Christians, Muslims, Gay Rights Activists, etc., coexist:

Pluralism does not entail relativism. Living well in a pluralist world does not mean a never-ending openness to any possible claim. Every one of us holds deeply entrenched beliefs that others find unpersuasive, inconsistent, or downright loopy. More pointed, every one of us holds beliefs that others find morally reprehensible. Pluralism does not impose the fiction of assuming that all ideas are equally valid or morally benign. It does mean respecting people, aiming for fair discussion, and allowing for the right to differ about serious matters...

The argument for pluralism and the aspirations of tolerance, humility, and patience are fully consistent with a faithful Christian witness. And in this age, they are also far likelier to resonate than arguments for religious exceptionalism. The claim of religious exceptionalism is that only believers should benefit from special protections, and often at the cost of those who don't share their faith commitments. The claim of pluralism is that all members of society should benefit from its protections.

HT: Tish Warren


Friday, August 22, 2014

What do you think about Muhammad?

You cannot get very far into ministry with Muslims before you run face-first into the question of Muhammad. He is one of the most revered figures of human history, he is honored, at times even idolized, by one-fifth of the world's population. Sooner or later you are likely to hear one of your friends ask, "What do you think of our prophet Muhammad, pbuh?"*

So, what should a committed Christian think about Muhammad? Well, I will not even try to answer that question, although I do think we should be as generous as possible since John 3:16 probably applies to him too.

I think the better and more pressing question to ask might be, "What should a committed Christian say about Muhammad to their Muslim friends?"

I realize wadding into this argument is akin to diving into tepid, muddy water, but I think  it worthwhile to at least splash around its edges a bit.

This reminds me, just a little bit, about an incident in the life of another extremely influential figure of world history. If I remember correctly he was being questioned by the national religious authorities about his stand on taxation, and he replied something like, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God."

There are two points in this we should not miss:

1. Jesus did not directly answer their question, and there are times that neither should we.
But most importantly,

2. Jesus talked about God, not Caesar.

Have you ever noticed that if you meet a physician in some social setting they often end up talking the practice of medicine. Same thing with politicians, they tend to talk politics. In other words we talk about what we are about. Jesus spent his time talking about God because that is who he came to reveal.

So, if Jesus is what I am about, then I should be talking about him - not Oprah - in my social engagements. While I do agree that Christians should be well-rounded, knowledgeable people, I still assert that our conversations expose what is in our hearts. But now I digress, back to Muhammad.

Certainly there are times when we need to have something to say about a major world figure such as Muhammad. But for the most part our Muslim friends will feel quite honored if we know anything about their prophet other than the caricatures presented in the nightly news. Some of us may even know quite a bit about his life, but I don't think we need to say very much.

Or I love the way the I heard another missionary put it. When describing a conversation with some Muslim scholars he said, "I am not an expert on Mohammad. If you want to learn about him go talk to the Imam. But I am an expert on the person of Jesus, I can tell  you about him."
And that sounds about right to me.

*PBUH means "peace be upon him," spoken by many devout Muslims in reverence whenever mentioning Muhammad's name.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On the Nature of Christianity and Islam

Wilken, Robert L. 2009. "Christianity Face to Face with Islam." First Things:

“Christianity seems like a rain shower that soaks the earth and then moves on, whereas Islam appears more like a great lake that constantly overflows its banks to inundate new territory.”

Saturday, August 9, 2014

“Discipleship” as Key Sound Bite for Communicating Biblical Mission

As someone who is involved in missions leadership, I understand the challenges facing evangelical sending agencies today in communicating vision, purpose, branding, and management. We all want to be unique, relevant, and Biblical.

I also understand that there are certain trends that rise and fall in the missions scene.  Church planting was all the rage a few years ago. And now it’s movements. Other trends include the rise of the term ‘transformation’ and the emphasis off the church and onto the kingdom.  This is related with holistic or integrated mission and on caring for the poor. Other long-lasting trends include the unreached or least-reached, and the use of metrics to evaluate our effectiveness. Of course every trend and emphasis has a way of highlighting only part of the nature of Biblical mission.

But is there a way for sending agencies to tie all of this together in a way that is not reductionistic?

Maybe. How about “discipleship?”

I’m interested all the talk these days on disciple-making movements. It might just be trend as well, but somehow I think that, as a necessary sound bite used in communication, it comes closer to recapturing the essence of what we’re doing across ALL contexts, more than church planting or integrated development or peace-making or proclamation or compassionate evangelism.

I want to commend Melanie McNeil’s Mission Paradigms: Is Discipleship Important? to you. It’s not an eloquent article (she’s a better writer than I am!), and I don’t agree with everything the says, but she makes a case of discipleship to be a key metaphor to reclaim Biblical mission in our world today (of course, discipleship has to be properly defined!).  From the conclusion:

We have explored the way the task of mission is described today by modern mission agencies, and I have argued that the reductionism of modern missions has resulted in a narrow definition of God’s commission. I have shown that the definitions of the task being used today fail to embrace the whole of God’s vision for the world he created. Whole life discipleship, the radical journey into relationship, and maturity of relationship with God is the core of God making his name known in the nations. God invites us to participate with His mission, and this will require a radical shift in the mission paradigms of today.

I have sought to demonstrate that such a shift opens up paths of radical transformation that impact both lives and communities, but it will come at a cost. The question is whether we in missions, and the Church, are prepared to count the cost and move into new things together with God, and with each other.

The review of methods and vision and mission statements here is not a judgment on any individual agency or strategy. It is a call for all of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ to embrace whole life discipleship and the radical rule of God in our lives and organisations.

Related Post: The Purpose (Vision) and Task (Mission) of Missions