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.