Thursday, December 31, 2015

Encountering the World of Islam (2nd ed) now on Kindle

Encountering the World of Islam:

Discover God's Heart for Muslims: Investigate Islam through this positive and hopeful 640-page book. Encountering the World of Islam explores the Muslim world and God's plan for Muslims. Read from a collection of writings about the life of Muhammad, the history of Islamic civilization, Islamic beliefs, Muslims today, and the everyday lives of Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. Gain insight from 80 different practitioners into diverse Muslim cultures and worldviews as well as Christian outreach toward Muslims, our response to Islam, and prayer for the Muslim world. This book is used as the textbook for the Encountering the World of Islam course.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 tackles extremism (HT: MA). While I think we should promote initiatives that work for peace in our world, I do find it ironic that these are Ahmadis who, by many Muslims, are not considered true Muslims.

Matthew Stone recently had a very interesting post about the ellusive “true Islam” debate Are Liberals and Conservatives Asking the Wrong Question about Islam and ISIS? Here is part of what he said:

So the two questions before us seem to be:

  1. Does ISIS represent the true violent nature of Islam?
  2. Is ISIS an aberration of the true peaceful Islam?

Actually I am being overly optimistic. Today the two sides rarely pose these two questions because to do so would assume that the issue is actually open for consideration. Those groups closed the discussion long ago and now unquestioningly declare their view as though it were fact.

I think a better approach would be to revive asking questions without assuming the answer is known, but focusing on asking helpful questions for which an answer is logically possible without simply reflecting bias, prejudice, hate, or hidden agenda. I have a question I recommend being posed to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a question that avoids the fruitless chasing after the elusive true Islam. The question is, “Is this the Islam you want?

Consider a hypothetical responder to that question. If the person answers “yes,” then that individual is either the enemy of peace loving citizens of the world, or ideologically aligned with the enemy. Decisions then have to be made about the pragmatic and legal/ethical steps we should take to address an enemy producing ideology. If the individual is a Christian, those decisions should reflect the values of Christ.

If the person answers, “no,” whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, then the subsequent question is, “Then what are you going to do about this?” What are you going to do about this given the realities of your life and without denying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the innocent Muslim or non-Muslim?

I wish it were as easy as just posing the question and waiting for the answer…

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Response to the Gospel Coalition’s Review of “Understanding Insider Movements”

In case you missed it, Understanding Insider Movements (William Carey 2015) was released a few months ago. For better or worse, now the term “IM” is guaranteed to stick around for a while.

Ayman Ibrahim posted a review of UIM at The Gospel Coalition blog and I responded to him in the comments. I really hope we can move beyond the political nature of the IM discussion and at least not describe it as a monolithic entity as I felt the review did (plus the review described an extreme end of the spectrum which I also felt was inaccurate and unfair). My comment ended being a bit of a book review itself. In any case, I hope not to be drawn into a fruitless blog debate about the merits of IM. :–)

UIM is an important and impressive book. By my count, about 75% of it was previously published. But the sheer volume of the book (64 articles + appendix) is a testimony to the fact that evangelical missiology has made some positive steps forward in the last couple decades. You don’t have agree with everything in UIM (I don’t) to benefit from it. But you can read more of my thoughts here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

CT Book of the Year for Missions/Global Church

From Christianity Today’s 2015 book awards:

Christian. Muslim. Friend. Twelve Paths to Real Relationship

David W. Shenk (Herald Press)

"At a time when relations between Christians and Muslims are more complex than ever, Shenk has given us a wonderfully thoughtful account of how to build real relationships. Without giving formulas or reducing Muslims to a single type, Shenk draws on his vast experience in many parts of the world to provide an encouraging way forward for anyone seeking to share the hope of the gospel with their Muslim neighbors." —Brian Howell, professor of anthropology, Wheaton College

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary

Here is an interesting story on CNN: Could this Quran curb extremism? about the new book, The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary. From Amazon:

An accessible and accurate translation of the Quran that offers a rigorous analysis of its theological, metaphysical, historical, and geographical teachings and backgrounds, and includes extensive study notes, special introductions by experts in the field, and is edited by a top modern Islamic scholar, respected in both the West and the Islamic world.

Drawn from a wide range of traditional Islamic commentaries, including Sunni and Shia sources, and from legal, theological, and mystical texts, The Study Quran conveys the enduring spiritual power of the Quran and offers a thorough scholarly understanding of this holy text.

Beautifully packaged with a rich, attractive two-color layout, this magnificent volume includes essays by 15 contributors, maps, useful notes and annotations in an easy-to-read two-column format, a timeline of historical events, and helpful indices. With The Study Quran, both scholars and lay readers can explore the deeper spiritual meaning of the Quran, examine the grammar of difficult sections, and explore legal and ritual teachings, ethics, theology, sacred history, and the importance of various passages in Muslim life.

With an introduction by its general editor, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, here is a nearly 2,000-page, continuous discussion of the entire Quran that provides a comprehensive picture of how this sacred work has been read by Muslims for over 1,400 years.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Deepening Our Understanding of Honor/Shame

Because we Evangelicals are so stepped in a guilt/innocence paradigm it is hard for many to accept addressing honor/shame as an authentic part of the gospel.  It is not difficult for us to see honor/shame as an important cultural framework, but if that is all it is, then we view it as supplementary to the gospel rather than a fundamental part of redemption. 

This is unfortunately where much of the literature on honor/shame leave the reader. I’m sure this is not intentional, nevertheless, the honor/shame paradigm often comes across as a descriptor of culture rather than an intrinsic part of the gospel. 

This is where Roland Muller’s book “The Messenger, the Message & the Community” stands out. The book’s first edition came out almost 10 years ago (2006), which was before honor/shame became a major missiological topic, therefore I fear many people have missed this important volume. Although there is much to like in Muller’s work, in particular I was fascinated by the strong, coherent argument he makes that shame is a fundamental part of sin, therefore the restoration of honor is an essential part of of in Christ.
It seems to me the core of our Evangelical misunderstanding about honor/shame is that we think of guilt as man’s objective state before God, but shame as only a subjective feeling before  man. So I found it particularly helpful that Muller grounds his argument in the garden of Eden:

“… unfortunately many Christians and some Christian theology stop at guilt, or rather, get so wrapped up with ‘guilt-based theology’ that they fail to notice the other results of sin… When Adam and Eve realized they had sinned, they immediately hid themselves (v. 8).  Adam and Eve were ashamed. Shame had come upon Adam and Eve, but their shame was not for them alone. Shame, like guilt, passed upon all of mankind from that point on. As a result, man is not only guilty from this point on, but man is also in a position of shame before God” (pp 141-142).

Since what happened in the garden forms a backdrop to the narrative of sin that is almost universally accepted, grounding shame there establishes it alongside guilt as a fundamental part of sin’s impact on the human race. Just like guilt, shame haunted man even when he stood before an audience of One, thus it is an objective part of his standing before God.

For this reason and others, Muller’s book is must reading for those trying to fully integrate the honor/shame paradigm into their missiology.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Steve Smith | 4 Stages of a Movement

Here is a brief and helpful article from Steve Smith at Mission Frontiers: 4 Stages of a Movement. For me, it quickly helps explain some of the major tensions/issues that arise when a Kingdom movement breaks out in an unreached people group (UPG) who are near-culture to a institutional church. Well meaning institutional church leaders often use their own paradigms of training for equipping emerging leaders in the movement phase (stage 2) which may actually threaten the movement.

Unfortunately, these same emerging leaders often quickly try to mimic an institutional church which is inappropriate and unsustainable at that time. Similarly, new believers in UPGs who have been taken out of their contexts for short-term training often feel they need to aim for the institutional church far too soon.

In all honesty, “we have to ask whether it is fair to expect a movement to survive only as a movement. 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” (Bosch 1991, 52). Yet I believe this truism is partially why we need to continually reimagine afresh what the church looks like in each generation of every people and place. For instance, as is our reality today, the sheer numbers of Muslim refugees who are coming to faith in many places where an institutional church exists should compel the church to rethink her very nature as the body of Christ. (There are other issues (or cans of worms) like the “homogeneous unit principle” to discuss as well – but more on that later.)

Here are some highlights the the article:

Throughout history, most movements have gone through four phases or stages (and sometimes back again through grass-roots movements) [unreached – movement – formalizing – institutional]. Failure to understand these can create unreal expectations that are inappropriate for a given stage of a movement…

[Stage 3 – Formalizing] The result is that normal disciples can be intimidated from doing the work of the ministry. They do not have the abilities or specialized training/credentials of the professional leaders. Therefore, the concept of the priesthood of the believer (in terms of “every member a minister”) wanes. A smaller percentage of disciples continues in ministering to others. No one intends for this to occur, and many pastors will do their best in stages three and four to build up their church members as ministers and leaders, but the “clergy/laity” divide becomes more profound…

[Stage Four – Institutional] The upshot is that the concept of priesthood of the believer wanes drastically. Believers bring their lost friends to church rather then lead them to faith themselves…

[Stage Four Workers in Stage One] The early church does not appear to have entered this final stage until the Fourth Century A.D. Most movements progress through these stages. The difficulty comes when we lack this historical perspective and try to make sense of movements at earlier stages. What happens when a missionary leaves a stage four church and tries to do evangelism and church planting in stage one? Inadvertently he tries to plant stage four disciples and churches because that is all he knows…

[Stage Two Workers in Stage Four] What happens with believers from stage one or two who visit leaders and churches in stage four? A not-uncommon consequence is death of the movement phase and immediately entering the formalizing and institutional phase.

[Stage Four Leaders Watching a Stage Two Movement] When our whole frame of reference is stage four, it is easy to criticize what we see in stage two. We can easily label the house churches as “not real churches.” Or, we can require that leaders meet certain credentialing requirements before they can perform the ordinances. Or, as we feel compassion for pastors that are bi-vocational, we may dedicate money to fund them full-time, thereby creating a benchmark that is no longer reproducible. In all, we can kill a movement when we implement extra-biblical requirements that are a yoke too heavy into these early stages…

The challenge is to keep a movement at the movement stage as long as possible and to not let the formalizing impede the progress of the kingdom. But when it does begin to slow down, going back to simple biblical processes and methods of earlier stages can spark a new movement.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Towards a Missiology of Disciple Making Movements

In very recent church history, church planting movements or disciple making movements (DMMs) have been observed in several different contexts which are characterized by rapid reproduction within a social network (usually in collectivist societies) of groups of seekers or new believers who study the Bible together and seek to obey its teachings.

In one sense, the DMM “strategy” is not actually a prescriptive methodology but a descriptive account of such movements. Yet books such as Contagious Disciple Making portray DMM as indeed a well-defined methodology. This is because the method of DMM has been reverse-engineered from the phenomenon itself

All new religious/social movements have a mechanism that drives their propagation into society, and DMMs are no exception. According to my friend Christopher Johnson, all DMMs have in common 1) a standard, transferrable liturgy for each meeting, 2) a specific set of easily reproducible Bible lessons, and 3) accountability for evangelism (others would also add extraordinary prayer to this as well). DMMs are not an organic or spontaneous movement of reproducing house churches (HT: NVH). They are a highly organized movement with a clear mechanism (DBS and immediate accountability) for multiplication and diffusion into a social network.

I would therefor argue that the DMM methodology is not biblical per se, but neither is it unbiblical. It is a synthesized strategy that explains why and how new Jesus movements are spreading today (especially in collective cultures). I don’t find examples of the DMM strategy in Scripture, and yet I don’t see anything in Scripture that would contradict the approach, generally speaking.

However, it does seems to me that the DMM strategy needs to be embraced fully- it is not something that one can choose certain elements from and discard others (like inductive Bible study).  Like a car engine, if one piece of the mechanism fails then the vehicle may break down.

Both those who are pro-DMM and those who are cautious of the approach would do well to recognize the nature of DMMs. If there is wisdom in the method then it deserves our serious attention! But at the same time, it doesn’t need to be presented as the biblical approach for engaging lostness.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

C-Spectrum After 15 Years and the W-Spectrum EMQ Podcast

From EMQ #002:

Oct 22, 2015

Keith Peters interviews John Jay Travis on "C1-C6 Spectrum after 15 Years"; Warrick Farah and Kyle Meeker on "W-Spectrum: Worker Paradigms in Muslim Contexts". Both articles were published in the October 2015 issue of EMQ.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Introducing “The W-Spectrum: Worker Paradigms in Muslim Contexts” (EMQ 2015)

On behalf of Dr. Kyle Meeker, it’s my pleasure to introduce The W-Spectrum: Worker Paradigms in Muslim Contexts which is on the cover of the new issue of EMQ (Oct 2015). The article is appropriately paired with Travis’ reflections on 15 years of the C-Spectrum. As you may know, the C-Spectrum is probably the most popular article in the 50+ year history of EMQ.

The idea for the W-Spectrum began in 2006 while I was living among an unreached Muslim people group and interacting extensively with other workers who had an incredibly wide variety of approaches to reaching Muslims. One night I started to write an article I titled “Stuck at C3” which was basically my own reflections as to why some workers were unable (IMO) to get to C4. I created a table to compare the differences between C3 and C4 from the viewpoint of the worker, not the Christ centered community. (Note: a “worker” is any follower of Jesus who has an intentional witness among unbelievers.) However, at a conference a few months later, I shared this idea with some colleagues. One of them, my boss at the time, told me that the C-Spectrum was never meant to describe worker views or practices, only to describe indigenous fellowships. This prevented me from writing an article I would have deeply regretted!

With this insight, I then went and expanded my categories, renamed them from C3 to W3, etc., and reworked the table based on how I would observe workers in diverse contexts explain the reason for their approaches. This process took several years of informal research and listening on my part.

I initially toyed with the idea of having 6 paradigms, but I felt it too was complicated, and then 5 paradigms, but I was nervous people would commit the “middle ground” fallacy and thus be uncritically drawn to the moderate approach. Thus, I ended up at 4 worker paradigms, the W1-4 Spectrum (which do NOT correlate with the C-Spectrum):

  1. Triumph Model- “Christianity triumphs over Islam”
  2. Replacement Model- “Christianity replaces Islam”
  3. Transformation Model- ““Biblical faith transforms Muslims”
  4. Completion Model- “Biblical faith completes Muslims”

While the W-Spectrum was still in draft form, I told Dr. Meeker about it. We are actually cousins (biologically speaking!) and I owe him a whole lot more credit than just for giving me chicken pox when I was five years old. Kyle is basically better than me than everything except fantasy football and ping-pong. He was further able to fine tune the W Spectrum and offer many invaluable improvements.

That being said, while this is all good and nice, the W-Spectrum was still just an unscientific guess at this point in 2011: it needed validation. Meeker then took this on as a missiological project to test as part of his doctoral thesis (“Meeker, Kyle. 2014. Worker Praxis in Muslim Contexts: Discovering and Assessing Paradigms in Kingdom Witness, Talbot School of Theology, Biola.) Basically, we wanted to disprove the W-Spectrum as a tool for helping a worker discover their paradigm of witness among Muslims. Over 200 people responded to an online survey.  But when Dr. Meeker evaluated the data using quantitative statistical analysis, we found that the opposite was true. Hence the birth of the W-Spectrum. (Even if it was “disproved” though, it still would have been interesting to see why.)

Last summer we condensed Dr. Meeker’s dissertation into this EMQ article. I’m glad it took so long and that we had so much input from other workers and missiologists during the process. As you read the article, you’ll notice that we spend more time discussing the nature, usefulness, and limitations of the W-Spectrum than we do actually explaining the paradigms within the W-Spectrum itself. This is partly because we are so concerned of the potential it has to be misused, as was/is often the case with the C-Spectrum. EMQ also has a very low 3,000 word limit.

As a side note for full disclosure- that is a picture of me on the cover. The man next to me was one of the first Muslims that I ever had the privilege to walk with on his journey to following Jesus. My teammate took the picture when we attended a wedding in his village. I rarely dressed like that and only for special ceremonies/occasions (like every other local would), but sometimes also when someone would come to my house to study the Bible.

In any case, the final result of this 9 year process is the W-Spectrum. Scott Moreau says in the editorial of this issue of EMQ:

While the C-Spectrum describes the fellowships that Travis observed (and continues to observe) in Muslim settings, no one has proposed a parallel spectrum of the roles that missionaries take on in Muslim settings. Warrick Farah and Kyle Meeker propose a W-Spectrum to explore this facet.

Read the entire W-Spectrum article. (Subscription required. I’m checking with EMQ regarding what exactly I can share on this blog from the article.)

It is my hope and prayer that the W-Spectrum and the model within The Complexity of Insiderness (which is very different than the C Spectrum) will help advance our missiological discussions into the nature of ministry among Muslims.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Not insider, not outsider, but dualsider.

I.e. someone who is both an insider and outsider, or someone who is neither inside nor outside, but dualside.

Predicting the next missiological buzzword. Remember, you heard it here first. ;-)

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Haram Halal Fallacy

There are certain paradigms of witness to Muslims that treat Islam as an evil, monolithic entity that corrupts everything it touches. Therefore, in this view, when talking about evangelism/discipleship, we should have nothing to do with “Islam.”

The tendency to binary thinking is related to a modern worldview and a naïve realism epistemology. This black and white paradigm also understands theology of religions to mean that Christianity is against Islam and will eventually triumph. There can be no mixing between the Christianity and anything else.

This is fallacious and lazy thinking. See this post by Daniels: Black and White - - or not?. We could easily expose this fallacy by discussing the incarnation and the nature of biblical revelation, but I want to make one quick point… Ironically, this model of missiology also mirrors conservative Islamic law, where everything is either haram or halal. It has a lot to do with with how mainstream Muslims view the world today!


See also The Essentialist Fallacy.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Introducing “The Complexity of Insiderness” (IJFM 2015)

IJFM<br />                          32_2An exciting new issue of IJFM was just released themed “Debating Insiderness” and with it the article “The Complexity of Insiderness.”

I want to point out a couple of features of the article:

  • It is a response to Farrokh and Abu Jazz’s articles in the issue (but also to missiology in general). Both have different understandings of the nature of insiderness. While I think Abu Jazz has a more sensible/realistic/healthy approach, both are still treating the issue in way that I feel is too basic. Thus, I’m advocating to at least recognize the complexity of insiderness. Yet it is actually more complex than I have described!
  • I also wrote the article as an introduction to the phenomenon of insiderness, so that someone with a basic understanding of the issues could quickly see what is happening in the world of mission today.
  • One could think of the model as an I-Scale (Insiderness) à la the C-Scale, but I would prefer that not be the case.
  • I also don’t intend for anyone to say, “This is as far as we contextualize…” and then to refer to one of the expressions listed in this model as a kind of limit, because that would be betray the idea I tried to explain in the conclusion: “Since every context is different, we cannot assess all insiders with broad strokes nor evaluate all insiderness with the same criteria. What we say in hermeneutics also applies in missiology: “context is king.”
  • I tried to be as descriptive and neutral as possible, and then to put the “meat” in the footnotes. I think there are some good ideas in the footnotes. But still, I have been too brief and much more can be said. I’m looking forward to your feedback.

Read the whole thing: The Complexity of Insiderness (2015 IJFM 32:2)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities, Don Little

From Amazon, Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities: Scripture, History and Seasoned Practices:

Muslims who come to Christ face momentous spiritual, psychological and social obstacles that drive many to abandon their faith. Often conversion and discipleship are framed by individualistic Western models that do not acknowledge the communal cultural forces that constrain and shape new believers. Effective discipleship requires a more relational, holistic process of Christian identity development and spiritual formation in community. In this comprehensive resource, missiologist Don Little engages the toughest theoretical and practical challenges involved in discipling believers from Muslim backgrounds. He draws on New Testament principles, historical practices and interviews with seasoned disciplers ministering in a dozen countries across the Muslim world. Addressed here are key challenges that believers from Muslim backgrounds face, from suffering and persecution to spiritual warfare and oppression. Also included are implications for the role of disciplers in church planting among Muslims.

In an email, author Don Little wrote:

As far as I am aware this is the first (and only) book on discipling believers from Muslim backgrounds (BMBs) that is more than simply one person sharing his or her experience.

Buy the book here. Kindle version to be released in a few weeks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Essentialist Fallacy

The essentialist fallacy is committed when an evaluation is made of an “insider” or MBB on the basis of some supposed “real Islam” and not on the basis of how the specific believer relates to the particular context, including his or her local Muslim community. Neither insider proponents nor traditionalists are immune to the essentialist fallacy.

Examples of this fallacy abound in evangelical missiology. I would be interested to see readers of Circumpolar point to some in the comments below.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Muhammad the Spurned Lover

One does not read very far in the Qur'an before it becomes obvious that Muhammad was in some ways a spurned lover. Not that any women turned him away, rather that he longed to be part of the people of God-- but they would not have him.

Mohammad came close enough to Jews and Christians to be attracted to their God. He wanted them to accept him into their story, into their knowing the one true God, but he wanted it on his terms.

In the early Medina years he was not so much about building a community as he was about trying to join one. But again, he only wanted to join if he there was room for him along side the great historical personages of their faith. Of course, we all know that in the end neither the Jews nor Christians allowed him that place, so he made his own.

This desire to share a spiritual inheritance is a major, yet unresolved, motif in Mohammad's narrative. It is unresolved because exactly how Islam relates to its predecessors still hangs like a whiff of smoke in the air, noticeable, but just barely.  It also carries missiological significance.

Our presentation of the Gospel to Muslims must touch this deep nerve. One that offers them a place among the people of the true and living God - but not on their terms, not on our terms - on God's terms.

It seems to me that history is rhyming. Once again globalization is bringing many Muslims close enough to us to see our God. Many them are already wanting to share that narrative, and many more will in the coming years. The looming question to us is, "Will we act like "gatekeepers" who control the door, or like fellow beggars who have found crumbs and want to share?" 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Identity Formation in the NT

Here are some books I want to work through. Does anyone know of attempts to integrate these theological studies with the issues we are facing in missiology?


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Would you dare to love ISIS?

"Would you dare to love ISIS?"

That is the name of the video below, a deeply Christian response to the hate and evil pouring out of Muslim extremists in the Middle East:

There are a number of reasons to take 4 minutes to watch the video, but thinking missiologically I can think of 3 in particular: 
  • Does Jesus' victory over death truly shape our mission praxis? 
  • What does it mean to "love our enemies" within the current atmosphere of Muslim/Christian conflict?
  • Where does martyrdom fit into our missiology?  
I'll leave it to you to wrestle with these, I know I still am.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Atonement Theology for Muslims?

Missionaries and theologians within the New Testament were determined not to identify a single, correct understanding of the atonement but to find context-specific ways of making the word of the cross accessible and challenging to varied audiences…. The images of the atonement that have surfaced in the history of the church have often taken shape through similar commitments to articulating the significance of the cross in particular settings.

This encourages us to believe that no one model of the atonement will fit all sizes and shapes, all needs and contexts where the church is growing and active in mission. This means, ultimately, that the next chapter of this book is being written in hundreds of places throughout the world, where communities of Jesus' disciples are practicing the craft of theologian-communicator and struggling with fresh and faithful images for broadcasting the mystery of Jesus' salvific death.

-Mark D. Baker & Joel B. Green. Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Kindle Locations 2949-2954).

Is this a good start?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Talman Responds to My Response of “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?”

Harley Talman graciously responded to my response of his article. Here are the chain of articles in case you’re interested in following this discussion:

Below is Talman’s response of my response.

Warrick, thanks for your gracious engagement with my study, affirming it while respectfully posing questions, cautions and concerns (which I have put in bold font italics below under the headings of your three major concerns and after which I share my responses):

1. Consistency in our Appraisals of the Emergence of Christianity and Islam

Sound familiar? The Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman come to mind….Would these same scholars of the emergence of Islam do the same thing with the same methods when applied to the early Jesus community?

I appreciate the concern for fairness and consistency in raising this question. I’m not aware of efforts by these Islamic historical revisionists to critique Christian history, but yes, one should expect honest, sincere scholars to be consistent in applying their methodologies. However, Christian historiography has already been subjected to such examination and survived—though not entirely unscathed. One example, the Byzantine influence in shaping Christianity in the Western tradition has been shown to also have a dark side. But Christians who are able to embrace this reality are more open to greater diversity of expression in Christian faith as well as putting an even greater reliance upon the scriptures than on our theological traditions.

Many Jesus Seminar scholars are extremely subjective in their judgments of which verses in the gospels were original. Bart Ehrman is an expert in his field of knowledge, but seems quite willing to mislead readers. (Daniel Wallace, biblical textual critic at Dallas Seminary, refers to these two faces of Erhman as “Good Bart” and “Bad Bart”). I acknowledge the need for judicious acceptance of revisionist historians as some of the most radical proposals are not widely accepted. But “their research does discredit the traditional and popular narrative at a number of points” because it is so much of it is based not on subjectivity, but numerous historical documents and material evidence from archeology. To be sure, the Muslims have been largely unwilling to permit such scholarly explorations and they will strongly react to them. I agree with you that “This is a foundational issue that needs a lot of work.”

2. However, it strikes me as a tad ironic that the only way to allow for the “prophethood” of Mohammed is to deny the traditional Muslim understanding of said “prophethood.”

But my proposals likewise challenge the traditional Christian understandings of prophethood as well, do they not? But there is no escaping the need to confront traditional Muslim views of prophethood at some point—for example, the common Islamic belief in the protection of a prophet from mistakes/sin (ma’sum min al-khata’) must be denied (a denial that is in accord with the Quran).

For so many who follow Mohammed, it is either all or nothing. While I think Talman’s theology could have warrant among some types of Muslims/MBBs, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead of saying that Mohammed is in some way a prophet, wouldn’t it just be enough to agree that he was a skilled leader and wise politician who also happened to say some true and beautiful things? Do I have to go so far as to say he was a prophet in order to build relationships of trust and have meaningful dialogue? Perhaps this is true with some very traditional Muslims, but certainly not with all (in my experience).

Such a minimal affirmation may be enough in some cases, but as you acknowledge, it is unlikely to get you very far with traditional Muslims (who often represent the majority in Islamic societies). Moreover, most Christians who view Muhammad as a false prophet (i.e. agent of Satan) will have difficulty communicating sincere respect for him; their inner attitude will likely surface eventually—especially in cultures that read non-verbal communication better than Westerners.

But I did not intend to convey (and I do not think I did) that this was a “silver bullet” for evangelism or Muslim-Christian dialogue—but it hopefully is a step forward. To be sure, the possible alternative views of prophethood do not resemble most Islamic views, but they should be viewed considerably more favorably than the “false prophet” view that has prevailed among Christians.

More importantly, I would agree with Martin Accad who observes that my article is of more value to Christians in providing some resources for rethinking their theology of religions and prophethood. This will hopefully have positive effects on their attitudes toward Muhammad, Islam and Muslims.

What are the consequences of Talman’s theology of prophethood with Muslims who are close to Mohammedolatry or the prophetological concept of salvation?

Muhammad veneration is certainly a widespread phenomenon/problem, though even many Muslims reject it. But given the existence of a similar phenomenon of Mariolatry in Christianity, is it not better addressed by showing appropriate respect and honor of Mary, instead of denying her any special honor or esteem (as Protestants tend to do)? You will recall I stated that all the prophets point to Jesus; they are merely signposts to “the Way” (Jn. 14:6). Signs have great value to the traveler, especially when he does not know the road to his the final destination. Prophets likewise are thus respected, but their ultimate value is in their Christocentric function. This of course, requires a worldview change for our Muslim friends.

3. Prophethood as a Spiritual Gift for New Covenant, Regenerate Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ

…Mohammed did not seek to advance the Kingdom of Jesus into the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula by making disciples who were zealous for the transformation of lives and communities!

It would be much easier for us as Christian theologians to make room for Muhammadan prophethood if his mission and message conformed more to that of the NT apostles or prophets, or within our traditional categories, expectations or desires. However, the fact that Muhammad did not launch a church planting movement does not necessarily preclude his having some sort of divine mission. (Cyrus, God’s “anointed”, exemplifies that fact that God anoints people in political realms for his redemptive purposes).

As I mentioned in the article, apart from the dubious Islamic historical sources, our knowledge of Muhammad is quite limited. But I think it probable that his attitude and portrayal of Christ was stronger than is usually granted him by Christians. Christian presence in Arabia was likely much greater than the traditional Islamic narrative presents it. Contemporary scholarship is increasingly viewing the quranic context as having considerable Christian presence and a biblical subtext. There was familiarity with biblical narratives and presence of rival Christian factions who were divided over details of philosophical theology, while neglecting the weightier matters of faith. In this regard, Muhammad’s movement was “extremely zealous for transformation of lives and community”, by promoting righteousness, piety (prayer, charity, fasting), and eschatological exhortation to prepare for the Day of Judgment. But his mission, as I view it, was apparently not an exclusivist approach focused on only one Abrahamic tradition; rather, his more inclusive aims seem closer to those of Jerry Falwell’s hopes for the Moral Majority in restoring biblical values to American society to preserve the nation.

In Muhammad’s case his efforts to promote righteousness was orthopraxic. His message seems to me to have a lot of parallels with James’ epistle which focused on righteous living as the test of true faith with very little mention of Christological doctrine.

Furthermore, we should not minimize his insistence on calling Jesus the Messiah (‘Isa al-Masih) when Arab Jewish tribes submitting to his leadership could scarcely have been ignorant of the significance of this claim. Moreover, he countered their boast they that had killed Christ Jesus and finished with him with the retort that it was God who had killed him and raised him up alive to himself (an-Nisa 4:157,158). So there was an important witness to the exaltation of Christ. At the same time, Muhammad did mark out some parameters that Christian theologizing ought not to exceed.

In my opinion, the Qur’anic Jesus, while wonderful and mysterious, is still irrelevant and anemic, all things considered. As as shrewd politician, was Mohammed simply trying to win over more Christians into his ecumenical political movement?

I would agree with you that if one only reads the Quran and neglects the prior scriptures, his understanding of Christ will be quite “anemic.” But the dozens of verses that affirm the biblical scriptures and the repeated enjoining to believe in and even consult those who read them, indicate that the Quran was supplemental, not a replacement for the biblical testimony to Christ (later Islamic doctrinal developments that run counter to this, notwithstanding).

“Trying to win Christians over” may be asking the wrong question or assuming too much. A number of scholars regard Waraqa ibn Nawful, the Christian priest, as the paramount spiritual influence on Muhammad. Joseph Azzi thinks Waraqa was grooming Muhammad to fill his sandals as the leader of his Jewish Christian sect. Block considers it likely that Khadija was a Christian and that other Christian groups spoke of Muhammad’s movement using the same kind of terms they used of other branches of Christianity (e.g., Monophysites & Nestorians) that had alternative Christological views. Muhammad seemed to view his calling as having a wider scope—to call the Arabs back to the monotheism of their ancestor Abraham (Abdul-Haqq) and even to claim the land promised to his descendants (Sebeos).

Yet I am still nervous about extending the limits of general revelation and prophecy in the manner Talman does, because it seems to me then that practically anyone who says something nice about Jesus and the Bible can be considered a prophet.

I hope you are exaggerating or else referring to the way some other people might use “prophet.” I do not think that I, nor any of the theologians that I cite, espouse such an inconsequential view of prophethood. For example:

Tennent embraces Charles Ledit’s designation of two kinds or prophecy: “theological” and “directive”. The former pointed to, and ceased at, the coming of Christ. Taking a cue from Aquinas, Ledit labeled as “directive prophecy” those instances where God sovereignly enlists persons outside the covenant to accomplish his purposes, such as giving guidance to people or even correcting the covenant people. In this vein, Muhammad united the Arabs and turned them from paganism and idolatry to monotheism and an ordered society, also preparing a potential bridge to the gospel of Christ.

I hope my responses reflect a correct understanding of your questions, but recognize that even where they do, they may not fully satisfy you or others. We are greatly handicapped by our lack of accurate knowledge of Muhammad apart from the historical narrative of Islamic tradition. Thus my proposals are somewhat tentative and await confirmation or correction from the results of future historical and quranic studies. While we may not be able to agree on all of issues that you have raised, I am united with you in the effort to move “towards a more helpful evangelical theology of Islam, and that is reason to keep moving this conversation forward.”

Blessings on you and your blogging,

Harley Talman

One final question ;-), for everyone who has read this far. I want to know if we can simultaneously affirm these two claims:

  1. The traditional Islamic version of Muhammed—as the final Messenger of the One, True God who received direct revelation that supersedes and replaces all previous revelations and whose life should be emulated as the authoritative and salvific model for all people everywhere—it is possible to call this specific version of Muhammed a false prophet on biblical grounds.
  2. The actual Muhammed of history, as an ecumenical political leader with a strong vision of Monotheism, is not a false prophet but a regular guy who had a positive effect on his society (according to the moral norms of his day) and could be seen as one who potentially prepares a bridge to the gospel of Christ.

I know I’m getting into deeper issues of epistemology and ontology here, but, at least to me, it seems me plausible that these two claims might subsist in paradox (but don’t quote me)…

The first image of Muhammed exists epistemologically and leads many Muslims away from faith in Christ. The second image exists ontologically and does not seem to contradict any biblical witness. The two images can be held in tension as long as qur’anic historicity, which is denied in the second image, is not subsequently used to refute the first image (i.e. it is inconsistent to deny the trustworthiness of the Qur’an/Hadith and then use it to defend a version of the Prophet).

For me, this paradox partially explains how people can talk past each other on this issue.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Black and White - - or not?

Thinking in terms of "black and white" is common in Christian mission. After all, people are either saved or lost, Christian or not, right? While this kind of binary thinking obscures reality, particularly when it comes to something as complex as cross-cultural mission.

One of my former Muslim friends likes to say that the first few years after he came to Jesus he did not know what he was. He did not know if he was "Christian" or "Muslim," everything was confusing. He told me, "the only thing I <strong>did know</strong> was that I was clinging to Jesus!"

Many people feel like having everything boiled down to good or bad, right or wrong. It makes them feel safe. Not only that, but it is actually easier to think this way.

Despite the incredible complexity God gave our minds, the physical organ of our brain is basically lazy. Without getting too deep into neurological science, due to the nature of biology, our brain seeks the easiest way to process information because that conserves energy. Thus it is easiest to think in terms of black or white because it is simplest.

But a quick look around your home will remind you that most of us enjoy more than the three primary colors. Because of the beauty it brings into our lives, we have learned to think in terms of nuance and shades.

In the same way, our missiology is greatly enriched when we push beyond our natural tendency of binary thinking. While it takes real work to carefully consider nuance and shades of meaning, the effort is more than made up for by the beauty of seeing God's incredibly rich handiwork woven into a great redemptive tapestry.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Response to “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?” by Talman (IJFM 2014)

IJFM<br />                          31_4I consider this a must read for those who are interested in an evangelical theology of Islam: Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets? by Harley Talman. 

The article does an admirable job of nuancing the view of Mohammed between the (unfortunate) binary poles of 1. false prophet/evil leader and 2. final authoritative prophet of the One True God whose message supersedes and replaces all previous revelations. [In my experience, I have noted 8 ways that Mohammed has been called a prophet- see this post: Was Mohammed a prophet?]

Talman’s proposal is to allow for a positive prophetic role for Mohammed- claiming that Mohammed was “messenger” of God does not contradict biblical authority or our testimony of the Lordship of Christ. In acknowledging Mohammed as a prophet, Talman enlarges the role that general revelation plays for unbelievers and expands (reclaims?) the understanding of prophethood. Such a view of Mohammed, however, does not declare him to be as great as Moses; what it does is (according to Talman) enhance our potential for dialogue and evangelism among Muslims.

The article was very insightful and greatly enriches our understanding of “The Prophet” of Islam. Martin Accad discusses more the benefits of the article in his response. I’m not aiming for this to be only a critical post, but I don’t want to repeat what has already been said by Accad. In any case, here are some of my hesitations and questions:

1. Consistency in our Appraisals of the Emergence of Christianity and Islam

Like Talman and many others, I have serious doubts concerning the historicity of the traditional Islamic narratives of Mohammed.

Talman presents an image of Mohammed as a leader of an ecumenical movement (IMO with acute political aspirations) who sought to draw different religious sects together as “Believers” under the banner of the God of Abraham. It was Mohammed's followers who, generations later, drew a sharp, pejorative distinction between the new “Muslim” community of Islam and other religions as they began to venerate Mohammed and claim the previous Books were corrupted.

While I think this understanding of the emergence of Islam best matches the historical record, I am mindful of scholars who do the exact same thing with the emergence of Christianity. For instance see this quote from Talman (pg. 171):

Much of what is considered today as representing “orthodox” Islam likely represents an understanding that developed two or three centuries after Muhammad. The most widely accepted version of Muhammad, based upon Islamic tradition, is dubious.

Now, reread that quote and replace “Islam/Islamic” with “Christian” and “Muhammed” with “Jesus” … Sound familiar? The Jesus Seminar and Bart Ehrman come to mind. In light of this, I think our development of a theology of Islam needs to be robust in it’s critique of the primary sources. Would these same scholars of the emergence of Islam do the same thing with the same methods when applied to the early Jesus community? This is a foundational issue that needs a lot of work.

2. A Missiology of Mohammed and Mohammedolatry

Missiologically, I deeply appreciate what Talman is doing because it actually addresses Mohammed. Too much missiology tries to either ignore or demonize Mohammed; both are neither fair nor realistic. However, it strikes me as a tad ironic that the only way to allow for the “prophethood” of Mohammed is to deny the traditional Muslim understanding of said “prophethood.”

Practically speaking, in building friendships with Muslims, how easy would this conversation go? For so many who follow Mohammed, it is either all or nothing. While I think Talman’s theology could have warrant among some types of Muslims/MBBs, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Instead of saying that Mohammed is in some way a prophet, wouldn’t it just be enough to agree that he was a skilled leader and wise politician who also happened to say some true and beautiful things? Do I have to go so far as to say he was a prophet in order to build relationships of trust and have meaningful dialogue? Perhaps this is true with some very traditional Muslims, but certainly not with all (in my experience).

Another issue to consider is the common practice of Mohammedolatry- where the Prophet is not only revered, but actually worshipped. I believe that there are indeed many Muslims who have formed idolatrous spiritual bonds by actually placing their ultimate faith allegiance in Mohammed’s intercession. In this same edition of IJFM, Pennington (From Prophethood to the Gospel: Talking to Folk Muslims about Jesus) touches on this issue: “the logic of salvation has everything to do with one’s relation to the Prophet Muhammad” (p. 198).

We need to take these spiritual realities seriously. The Bible deals with idolatry in various ways, but what are the consequences of Talman’s theology of prophethood with Muslims who are close to Mohammedolatry or the prophetological concept of salvation?

3. Prophethood as a Spiritual Gift for New Covenant, Regenerate Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ

While Talman starts from general revelation in this discussion (bottom-up?), I would like to start from the perspective of the New Covenant (top-down?).  This is how I think prophets in the kingdom of Jesus operate today, as I have said previously:

Some regenerate, new covenant believers are gifted by the Lord Jesus Christ as prophets (Eph. 4:11). In the New Testament, prophesy is a gift that some believers are given by the Lord Jesus for the edification of the church that will be effective until Christ returns (1 Cor. 12-14). Prophecy in this sense is not authoritative or equal to Scripture (Acts 21:4; 21:10-11; 1 Thess. 5:20-21; 1 Cor. 14:29).  “The essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus” (Rev. 19:10 NLT).  In John’s thought, Jesus is the conquering, crucified lamb, King of kings, Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14), incarnate God-man in the flesh (John 1:1, 14) sent to save people from their sins (John 1:29), usher in the new rule of His kingdom (John 18:36; Rev. 1:6), and raise victoriously over death as the Messiah to commission His disciples to continue His mission of the forgiveness of sins (John 20) and the transformation of lives and communities.

Talman aptly demonstrates how other theologians have argued for a broader understanding of prophethood than I articulated above, so I tread very lightly here. Of course Mohammed operated in a kind of OT, pre-Pentecost type of a setting. But, as we all agree, Mohammed did not seek to advance the Kingdom of Jesus into the peoples of the Arabian Peninsula by making disciples who were zealous for the transformation of lives and communities!

Is it therefor appropriate to compare Mohammed with an OT prophet, even though he lived in the New Covenant “era”? Talman does explain the different types of prophets, but I wish there was a deeper treatment of the New Covenant as it relates to New Testament prophecy in Christ-exalting ministry. What we are left with instead is a kind of lowest common denominator type of reasoning where Mohammed plays a vague and shallow prophetic role.

By contrast, the deeper, Gospel-centered prophetic role of advancing the rule of King Jesus as savior of all peoples is obviously lacking in Mohammed’s career.  In my opinion, the Qur’anic Jesus, while wonderful and mysterious, is still irrelevant and anemic, all things considered. As as shrewd politician, was Mohammed simply trying to win over more Christians into his ecumenical political movement?

While it is definitely true that many Muslims are influenced to embrace biblical faith by the Qur’an, as Talman notes, it is not therefore corollary that MBBs continue to see it as a source of divine authority in their growth in Christ (more on this later). For many MBBs, the Qur’an points to the Bible. All truth is indeed God’s truth, but only the Bible (with the HS) has the power to transform. I’m sure Talman would agree. 

However, sometimes I feel this deeper aspect of New Covenant prophethood can easily become obscured in this complex discussion. But at least this is a discussion that avoids simplistic and binary solutions! Yet I am still nervous about extending the limits of general revelation and prophecy in the manner Talman does, because it seems to me then that practically anyone who says something nice about Jesus and the Bible can be considered a prophet.

So, was Mohammed a prophet? At the least, I think we can say there are other ways to view Mohammed other than as a false prophet- and that is the strength of this article. Despite my reservations, I commend Talman’s article to you as a fine piece of missiology, theology, and scholarship. As Martin Accad shows in his response to Talman, we are moving towards a more helpful evangelical theology of Islam, and that is reason to keep moving this conversation forward.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Beating Back ISIS, by Martin Accad

Accad responds to the Atlantic article I linked to last week in a post titled Beating Back ISIS on the IMES blog. For those who read the Atlantic article, Accad has some analysis that is really insightful. Here are his main points:

  1. It would be far better for everyone if Muslim apologists stopped dissociating ISIS from some supposed ‘true Islam.’
  2. We need to understand ISIS for what it truly is: a deeply religious, fundamentalist, ‘restorative’ ideology, with long and deep roots both in history and in decades of radical preaching in certain types of mosques across the world.
  3. Non-Muslim slanderers of Islam need to stop applying principles to Islam they would not accept being applied to themselves.
  4. Given the particular apocalyptic views of ISIS and its global recruits, which Graeme Wood highlights in his article, I agree with him that a massive ground-attack on ISIS is not the solution.
  5. When Muslim apologists feel that they need to reject ISIS as non-Islamic, they risk obstructing a more fruitful fight against ISIS consisting in drying-up the ideological pools of ISIS recruitment.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants, by Graeme Wood

After I received a forth email empathically encouraging me to read What ISIS Really Wants by Graeme Wood, I decided to invest one hour needed to fully engage it. I was glad I did.

Wood paints the phenomenon of the ISIS narrative within the contemporary Islamic scene, and offers some very insightful commentary while doing so. One short-coming of the article is that he only offered one other competing Islamic hermeneutic, and as far as I know, there are many. Wood unfortunately presupposes that the traditional Muslim understanding of Mohammed is credible, which is problematic in my opinion. Other important voices are here, for instance.

But it is still a great read, as long as we understand that groups like ISIS come and go in Islam, even if ISIS is one of the most impressive. (One one the most helpful sources for helping me understand Islam and its internal conflicts is this summary: Islam is Not a Civilization.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

American Protestant Pastors vs. Americans on “True Islam”

From Ed Stetzer, NEW RESEARCH: How Americans View Islam:

Forty-five percent of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, "gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like." … The pastors had a much darker view of Islam than Americans at large. In contrast, in the second survey, 27% of Americans say the Islamic State reflects the true nature of Islamic society.

Why do Pastors have a much more negative view of “Islam” than typical Americans? I’ve got my theories, but I’d love to hear yours.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Common Fears

This past fall I had the privilege of visiting the great nation of Russia--not once but twice. One of those trips was focused on challenging and equiping national Christians to reach out to the Muslims in their midst.

(BtW, for those who love statistics, Moscow now has the largest population of Muslims of any city in Europe, 5+ million)

Anyway, I found it interesting that our dear Russian brothers and sisters struggle with their feelings about Muslims pretty much the same way American Christians do. They intellectually know they should love Muslims in the name of Christ, but they still feel afraid since they are different.

Perhaps the simple fact that I am referring to "Russian brothers and sisters" can help us. For many Americans, the words "Russian" and "brother" or "sister" do not naturally go together. Because of geopolitics many Americans cannot see past the few differences to the many commonalities we share.

In a very different sort of way, I hope we can learn to see the commonalities we share with Muslims. While they do not (yet) share our faith, they do share with us deep commonality as people created in the image of God. They are monotheists. They have families and fears. Some of them are proud and pompous as a New York Stock broker, others are as gentle and humble as my granny Ann.

Don't get me wrong, the differences are real, but often the first step in mission is seeing the commonalities we have with people instead of the differences. Differences create a sense of fear, and that often stops us from acting in faith.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On Arguing About What “Real” Islam Is…

See this helpful little book: Reaching the Heart and Mind of Muslims by Matthew Stone. Some of the chapters are fun, and some are very basic. Here is a great quote about the point of debating the true nature of Islam (pg. 6-7):

Models are helpful, in the same way that habits are helpful. They both allow us to navigate through new and sometimes confusing situations without always starting at ground zero. Models are like maps where map are pictures, simplified pictures or representations of territory. They are condensed and accessed when we need them. However, maps are not territory. Some maps are good maps and help us steer through geography without too many problems. Some maps aren’t quite so good and end up having us go down paths with dead ends or venturing into dangerous territory. Models can be helpful, but they should never be confused with territory itself. Maps can never give one the feel of the land, its uniqueness, its smells, and its sounds. If we focus exclusively on the map and not the territory, we miss the richness of the land.

Models for reaching Muslims are also maps. They aren’t necessarily bad, but they are not a replacement for experiencing individual Muslims and the richness of their culture, groups, families, and individuality. Models of missions are helpful when viewed in a big brush stroke kind of way, but they are not helpful to the degree that they get in the way by having us focus too much on the model and too little on the uniqueness of the Muslim right in front of us. Too many Christians place their faith in the map and devote too much time arguing with other Christians about why their map is the best map.

This should encourage us to view “Islam” as simply being what people who profess it actually believe and do (Bates and Rassam 2001, 89). Biblically-based ministry in the Islamic world is not about engaging Islam per se, but rather about engaging Muslims. Romans 1:18ff does not refer to systems such as “Islam,” but to humankind. It is people who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” and thus need to be the focus of the gospel (Walls 1996, 66).

So whether or not the Islamic State, Saudi Sunnis, or Hezbollah represent “real” Islam is not a major concern for me. As ministers of the gospel, we start with people in the complexity of their contexts. It’s not our job to define Islam, but to present biblical faith. Yet the complexity of people in their contexts must be embraced without resorting to reductionistic oversimplifications which often lead to the type of decontextualized approaches to Muslim ministry that can be commonplace in evangelical missiology.