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.