Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Patron–Client View of the Gospel in “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes”

I have previously blogged on A Patron – Client View of the Gospel as a key way to understand MBB journeys to faith in Christ, and, by implication, how we can share the gospel with Muslims.

Based on some feedback I’ve received from the article, it seems extremely difficult for most Westerners to grasp the concept.  In that respect, I highly recommend Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, which does a fantastic job of explaining culture and interpretation in an enjoyable and edifying way. 

Here are some selected quotes on the concept of patronage as it is found in the New Testament:

Joining words together, though, can be far more significant than merely vocabulary. Some words have special meanings when they are paired with other words. In the New Testament, for example, the word charis means "grace." Pistis means "faith." What we didn't know until recently-what went without being said in Paul's day- was that those two words together described the relationship between a patron and his or her client.

In the Roman world of the New Testament, business was conducted through an elaborate system of patrons and clients.' When we watch the movie The Godfather, we are seeing the modern remains of the ancient Roman patronage system. Like Marlon Brando who played the godfather in the movie, the ancient patron was a wealthy and powerful individual (male or female) who looked after his or her "friends" (clients). The complex world of Roman governmental bureaucracy, the far-reaching tentacles of the banking system (usually temples) and the pervasive and powerful grasp of the trade guilds made it impossible for ordinary craftspeople or farmers to conduct business on their own. They were entirely dependent upon their patrons. Like most unwritten cultural rules, everyone knew what was expected of a patron and a client, even though expectations weren't engraved on a wall. Everyone knew a patron's role was to solve problems for his or her clients, whether it was trouble with the local trade guilds, refinancing a loan or smoothing over tensions with city leaders. When Paul was staying in Thessalonica, it was reasonable to expect Jason to handle the "Paul problem," which he did by asking Paul to leave town (Acts 17).

In that world, an ordinary craftsman or farmer didn't have the social skills or connections or wealth to negotiate with the various powerbrokers of a city. He would seek out an individual, a patron, to help. Marlon Brando captures the sentiment well. The local merchant wants help. The godfather says, "So you want me to do you this favor?" Both sides understand the agreement: the godfather solves the problem, and the merchant now must be loyal to the godfather and be ready to help if he is ever summoned. In the Roman system, likewise, the client couldn't earn the "favor"; the patron showed "kindness" to help. Seneca, a philosopher from Paul's time, said the patron and the client had a relationship, a form of friendship.6 The client was now a "friend" of the patron, but not a peer. The client was expected to reciprocate with loyalty, public praise, readiness to help the patron (as much as he could) and, most importantly, gratitude.' This kind gift had strings attached. (All gifts in antiquity had strings attached.) Seneca called it "a sacred bond."' The recipient of the gift was obligated to reciprocate. Paul introduced Lydia to Christianity (Acts 16). She reciprocated by hosting Paul and his team at her estate.

The language of patronage permeated everyday life. We know well the Christian terms grace and faith, but these were common before Paul used them. They were part of the language of patronage. When the patron gave unmerited gifts of assistance, these were commonly called charis, meaning "grace/gift.."10 The client responded with faithfulness to the patron, called pistis, or "faith."" We see that when Paul explained our new relationship with God, he used something everyone understood: the ancient system of patronage.12 Taken together, this vocabulary-so central to the Christian faith-means something different than the sum of its parts.13 (Kindle Locations 847-866).

Now Paul wasn't opposed to the patronage system; he probably couldn't imagine a world without it (Kindle Location 1802).

Because it was impossible to escape the patronage system, Paul worked within it, even in his explanation of the Christian message of salvation. Patronage had its own vocabulary. Words we usually consider particularly Christian terms-grace and faith-were common parlance before Paul commandeered them. The undeserved gifts of assistance the patron offered were commonly called charis ("grace" and "gift").' The loyalty the client offered the patron in response was called pistis ("faith" and "faithfulness").9 Roman philosophers noted that when one received a god's favor (charis), one should respond with love, joy and hope.10 When Paul sought to explain the Christian's new relationship with God, then, one of the ways he did so was in terms of the ancient system of patronage - something everyone understood. In other words, it went without being said that relationship is the premier and determinative aspect of charis, grace (Kindle Locations 1808-1813).

I believe that relationships today in Africa, the Middle East, and throughout Asia are largely defined by patronage, whereas in the liberal, democratic cultures of North America and Europe, relationships are defined by equality and freedom (except in politics).  If this is even remotely close to reality, how can Westerners use the concept of patronage to share the gospel with Muslims?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Circumpolar Welcomes Gene Daniels to the Blog

Update: Forgot to mention his posts also show up on his blog

I’m really excited that Gene Daniels has decided to join the blog team at Circumpolar.

Gene is a PhD student and a missiologist who leads a team of missiological researchers in the Muslim world.  I have been learning from him for a while now.  Gene is a practitioner with a heart to bless Muslims in Jesus’ name.  He also has a keen eye for missiological fallacies and is able to get to the point of an issue without polarizing the debate or looking for a quick “fix” for the problem.

I’ve really enjoyed his articles and previous posts. Here is a sample of some of his publishing:

Book: Searching for the Indigenous Church: A Missionary Pilgrimage

His interview in Christianity Today Worshiping Jesus in the Mosque (I promise he didn’t choose the title!)

“CITO” vs. “Socio-religious Insider” Article in IJFM.

IJFM articles: A "Bazaar" Mission Strategy, Describing Fruitful Practices: Relating to Society

EMQ Articles: Fruitful Practices: Studying How God Is Working in the Muslim World (10/2011), Personal Piety vs. Institutional Aid: A Case for a Return to Alms-giving (10/2008), The Character of Short-term Mission (04/2008), Event-speech as a Form of Missionary Education (01/2008), Mission-Church Relations in Post-Soviet Central Asia: A Field Study(10/2007), Receive or Use (07/2006), Searching for the Indigenous Church: A Missionary Pilgrimage(04/2006), Leadership on the Move: From One Culture to the Next (04/2006), Missionaries, Churches and Home Assignment (04/2005), Decoupling Missionary Advance from Western Culture (10/2009), The Converted Missionary: Becoming a Westerner Who Is Not Western-centric (01/2011), Saying the Shahada: Matters of Conscience, Creed, and Communication (07/2014).


What his video on YouTube: Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches


Welcome, Gene!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How do I talk with Muslims?

Whenever I travel and speak to a group of Christians, one of the first questions that comes up is something like this; "How do I talk with Muslims, since they are so against the gospel?"

Aside from the fact that most Muslims have never heard the gospel, so they can hardly be against it, I always answer with two easy to remember points:

1) be an openly religious person. Secular society here in the West has beat us down with the idea that religion is supposed to be a private thing kept to  yourself. That is a lie. I am a deeply religious person, and my faith impacts many of the things I say and do. If you are the same, then be up front about that with your Muslim friends. As it fits the conversation, talk about how you raise your kids and spend your money differently from many in America because of your faith. Don't fall into the trap of thinking religious=hypocrite, your Muslim friends probably don't think that way.

2) pray at the drop of a hat. If we are people who believe God is actually listening, then we probably pray about all kinds of things; sickness, financial problems, our worries, etc. The Muslims you meet have many of the same problems. When they express them to you, simply offer to pray in a very low keyed way. Something like this usually works great, "You know Akhmed, Jesus told his followers to pray in his name. So whenever one of my kids is sick I pray and ask God to heal them. Can I do the same for your little boy?"

You will be quite surprised to find that the vast majority of Muslims will be happy for you to pray for them, right on the spot. What could be better than inviting the living God to intervene in their situation, through the name of Jesus?

You may not be an expert in Islamic culture or be able to explain the nuances of theology. But if you will consistently do the two simple things above, you will surely and gently nudge your Muslim friends toward the gospel. And you can trust the Holy Spirit to handle the rest.