Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Challenging the Monochromatic View of Islam, Accad

From MISSION IN A WORLD GONE WILD AND VIOLENT: CHALLENGING THE MONOCHROMATIC VIEW OF ISLAM FROM A SILENT MAJORITY POSITION, by Martin Accad:

The ‘world religions’ approach has a tendency to view people of faith as prisoners of theological systems, whose every move can be predicted by their communities’ sacred scriptures. Whereas the ‘sociology of religions’ approach offers a dynamic vision of mutually-influential forces between theology and the practice of religion. I would argue that the latter vision offers us a far richer field of inquiry, engagement, and action than the former. From a missional perspective, therefore, it is far more useful, far more empowering and energizing; it invites us to new possibilities in terms of creative and constructive action required for the mission of God.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Polythetic and Progressive Contextualization

A couple notes on George Yip, in his article The Contour of a Post-Postmodern Missiology.

Polythetic is defined as “Relating to or sharing a number of characteristics which occur commonly in members of a group or class, but none of which is essential for membership of that group or class.” Monothetic contextualization assumed that there was such a thing as, for instance, “Arab Culture,” and didn’t make room for diversity. Therefore, in contextualization, one would contextualize to “Arab culture.” But this approach had many problems:

For example, missionaries and missiologists have tried to create the myth that there is a Japanese culture which is homogeneous, that because of Japanese collectivism and their preference for uniformity there is a core of culture and worldview shared by the Japanese. In reality this is far from the truth. Japanese society is, and probably has always been, a society of diversity. Some thirty years ago when I went to Japan as a missionary church-planter I noticed that missionaries did church-planting in many diverse ways, each with a certain degree of success. Many learned the language and culture and tried to contextualize the gospel and plant an indigenous church according to what they perceived to be the Japanese culture. Then there were a few missionaries who did not learn the language well, used English in church-planting, and planted churches similar to American churches. They were able to attract some Japanese, showing that within the Japanese nation there were people who found cultural affinity with the Americans. This example shows that Japan needs many kinds of contextualized churches, including even a non-contextualized form of church. In a society with large intra-cultural variations, polythetic contextualization is more effective than monothetic contextualization. (408-9)

Progressive contextualization seeks to deal with the exceptions and variations within a culture:

There are many methods of Muslim evangelism and many approaches of Muslim contextualization, including the controversial insider movement. All [Yip should say many!] these are based on the assumption that there is a homogeneous and coherent Muslim culture, an assumption that is far from the truth. Both defenders and opponents of the insider movement stand on this faulty assumption. A way out is to use progressive contextualization to study specific cases of insider movements. A number of questions need to be answered. In a context where there is an insider movement, what are the specific culture, structure, and history of that group? What is this situation of power (both hidden and manifested) in that group? The answers to such questions may yield the real cause of the movement, and that may not be the maintenance of Muslim identity. This will help us to make assessments both theologically and pragmatically. (409 Emphasis mine)

I think this is helpful for shedding light on the variations of MBB experiences with “Islam.” Some see it as a form of spiritual bondage, some just as a culture/politic, and some in-between. For instance, see my article on The Complexity of Insiderness. Also note what L.D. Waterman says:

In the Bridging the Divide network, through numerous case studies from scholar-practitioners with a wide range of perspectives and experiences, we have learned of the incredible diversity of contexts within “the Muslim world.” We have noted not only differences of social and political contexts, but also of diverse spiritual alignments and experiences among Muslims. Within these very different contexts, God is working in a variety of creative ways to shine the light of the gospel.

See also: The Essentialist Fallacy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

“Definitive” “Dazzling” “Extensive” “Groundbreaking” “Impressive” “Game Changing”

From Terry Muck at IBMR:

This is a big book with big ideas. Early readers have already called it “definitive” (Frances Adeney), “dazzling” (Stephen Bevans), “extensive” (William Dyrness), “groundbreaking” (John Flett), and “impressive” (Stanley Skreslet). Let me add “game changing” (or perhaps “theology changing”) and suggest that its future lies in becoming the fundamental text in courses in introductory missiology, theology, and world
Christianity.

Part 1 in the Missiological Engagements series, Intercultural Theology: Intercultural Hermeneutics:

Christianity is not only a global but also an intercultural phenomenon. The diversity of world Christianity is evident not merely outside our borders but even within our own neighborhoods.

Over the past half century theologians and missiologists have addressed this reality by developing local and contextual theologies and by exploring issues like contextualization, inculturation, and translation. In recent years these various trajectories have coalesced into a new field called intercultural theology. Bringing together missiology, religious studies, social science research, and Christian theology, the field of intercultural theology is a fresh attempt to rethink the discipline of theology in light of the diversity and pluriformity of Christianity today.

Henning Wrogemann, one of the leading missiologists and scholars of religion in Europe, has written the most comprehensive textbook on the subject of Christianity and culture today. In three volumes his Intercultural Theology provides an exhaustive account of the history, theory, and practice of Christian mission. Volume one introduces the concepts of culture and context, volume two surveys theologies of mission both past and present, and volume three explores theologies of religion and interreligious relationships.

In this first volume on intercultural hermeneutics, Wrogemann introduces the term "intercultural theology" and investigates what it means to understand another cultural context. In addition to surveying different hermeneutical theories and concepts of culture, he assesses how intercultural understanding has taken place throughout the history of Christian mission. Wrogemann also provides an extensive discussion of contextual theologies with a special focus on African theologies.

Intercultural Theology is an indispensable resource for all people―especially students, pastors, and scholars―that explores the defining issues of Christian identity and practice in the context of an increasingly intercultural and interreligious world.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Challenging the Concept of “The Muslim World”

Contrary to widespread assumption, the term “Muslim world” does not derive from ummah, a concept as old as Islam, which refers to the Muslim religious community. Instead the idea of the Muslim world began to develop in the nineteenth century and achieved full flower in the 1870s. Also mistaken is the belief that Muslims were united until nationalist ideology and European colonialism tore them apart. This is precisely backward; in fact, Muslims did not imagine belonging to a global political unity until the peak of European hegemony in the late nineteenth century, when poor colonial conditions, European discourses of Muslim racial inferiority, and Muslims’ theories of their own apparent decline nurtured the first arguments for pan-Islamic solidarity. In other words, the Muslim world arrived with imperial globalization and its concomitant ordering of humanity by race. The racialization of Islam was bound up with its transformation into a universal and uniform religious tradition, a force in international politics, and a distinct object in a discourse of civilizations. Political strategy and intellectual labor made this new reality, and both Muslims and European Christians took part.

Aydin, Cemil (2017). The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Kindle Locations 91-99). Harvard University Press.

See also: How the Muslim World Was Invented

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2017 Christianity Today Book Awards

From Christianity Today in December 2016, “Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.” From the Missions / Global Church category, the #1 book is…

Joyful Witness in the Muslim World: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters

Evelyne Reisacher (Baker Academic)

“Perhaps understandably, much of our attention to the Muslim world—on the news, and in the church—revolves around war, terrorism, and other pervasive challenges. But Reisacher shows us the story we’re missing. From a lifetime of missionary service, she reflects on how God’s image is beautifully reflected in the Muslim men and women she’s befriended. And she calls us to share our faith not out of fear or anger, but out of joy rooted in the hope of Christ.” —Christopher Horst, vice president of development, HOPE International


Award of Merit

Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements

William Dyrness (IVP Academic)

“The word insider in the title is accurate but also misleading, because the joy of reading this book is learning more about how God acts and moves in people’s lives outside of where and how we might expect. Dyrness takes us through the Bible, theology, history, culture, and case studies to open our eyes to different ways Jesus is being followed today. As a result, our eyes are opened to God’s redemptive grace moving creatively in the world. And we’re better prepared for thoughtful missions work that participates in God’s story without imposing unnecessary cultural baggage.” —Kent Annan, author of Slow Kingdom Coming

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Paul Akin | The Number One Reason Missionaries Go Home

From https://www.imb.org/2017/05/25/number-one-reason-missionaries-go-home/:


The most common reason missionaries go home is not due to lack of money, illness, terrorism, homesickness, or even a lack of fruit or response to the gospel.

Regretfully, the number one reason is due to conflict with other missionaries.

Yes, you read that correctly.

From my own personal experience on the field and after five years training, equipping, and sending missionaries, I have witnessed this truth firsthand. In all my travels around the world, I’ve spent countless days with missionary teams of all types, sizes, and makeups and one reality remains true: none of them are perfect.

In fact, toward the end of the 20th century the World Evangelical Alliance released a significant study that found “conflict with peers” as the top reason North American missionaries leave the mission field.

Why Teams?

In light of the seemingly inevitable conflict with other missionaries, many may wonder why we emphasize teams. The simple answer is that this is the example and model we see in the Bible. Team is the predominant model we see for mission work in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples lived together and did ministry together. Paul and Barnabas—set apart by the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch—went out together on the first missionary journey.

We see further evidence of teams on mission in Paul’s “apostolic band.” One scholar notes that in the New Testament, at least 55 men and 17 women were associated with Paul on his missionary journeys. All this to say, there are biblical, practical, and pastoral reasons why we encourage the formation and sending of missionary teams.

Five Challenges for Missionary Teams

Conflict within missionary teams is inevitable in a fallen world. Here are five challenges that threaten all missionaries and missionary teams.

1. Unmet expectations.

Whether we realize it or not, we all arrive on the mission field with certain expectations. These expectations are shaped and formed by our previous experiences. Unmet expectations related to missionary teams are a real problem, especially for young missionaries with an idealistic perspective of the mission field.

2. Conflict equation.

Sinful people + work with other sinful people + those people trying to witness to and reach other sinful people = lots of sinful people and potential for conflict.

When you join a team on the mission field, you are stepping into this conflict equation and you must acknowledge that reality.

3. Missionary life is stressful.

Missionary life is filled with stress and pressure, and much of it is subconscious. Things that seemed so simple—like driving, grocery shopping, paying bills, or sleeping—suddenly become very challenging and stressful. It’s not always easy to articulate and identify, but subconscious stress is a reality for many missionaries and missionary teams around the world.

4. Jealousy can thrive.

We’re creatures who naturally like to compare ourselves with others. Teams often live life together and are around each other often, so there is a great tendency for envy to creep in. If we aren’t careful, we can compare, become jealous, and in the process destroy a team with our own pride.

5. Sin remains a constant reality.

The bottom line is that we’re sinful people. We’re selfish, we’re prideful, and when put in stressful situations, we’re often poor teammates and partners in the Great Commission.

What’s the Solution?

So, in light of these challenges, what are missionaries and missionary teams supposed to do?

1. Missionaries need to have a realistic perspective of team.

Missionary teams are not perfect and are made up of sinful people. Therefore, beware of going to the mission field with an idealistic and utopian perspective of team.

2. Missionaries must strive to be flexible and adaptable.

Nobody likes teaming with high maintenance people. Most missionaries are entering a culture where they have little control over most things that happen and, as a result, flexibility and adaptability are critical.

3. Missionaries ought to prepare spiritually, physically, and emotionally before going to the field.

As Mack Stiles once wrote, “There is no such thing as transformation by aviation.” Missionaries must intentionally pursue intimacy with Christ and learn to abide in him long before they ever cross geographical, cultural, and linguistic barriers.

In the end, being a good teammate is not just a matter of effort, though that’s important; it’s a matter of grace and mercy. We need God’s grace and mercy on a moment-by-moment basis. We need the gospel to change us from the inside out. We need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, wills, desires, and affection—and in the process make us more like Jesus.

That is the only way we can be the kind of teammates who honor God and help fuel the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Insider Jesus 5: Religion and the Mission of Christ

This chapter is the meatiest of Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements, and if you only read one chapter, it should be this one. Dyrness summarizes most of his main points thus far, and builds upon an interesting discussion of religion in regards to mission today.

Because of the Reformation and Enlightenment where religion became an abstract, cognitive enterprise, Westerns are naturally incapable of understanding other ways that religion can function in peoples lives.

I am using religion in the general sense of the particular cultural practices that develop to express the inbuilt human longing for God— the spaces humans construct to look for and even find God. (Kindle 1908-1909)

Naturally we tend to assume that religion everywhere functions, or should function, in the same way that it does in the West. The result has been the tendency to essentialize religion as a homogenous concept that retains its identity across space and time. (Kindle 1920-1922)

The Western missions movement has tended to radically displace new converts from their place and cultural identities. But…

…what if we thought of religion, or religions, including Christianity, not as fixed entities with clearly defined borders but as fluid spaces that reflect particular cultural situations, where people have developed various ways of responding to God (or gods or the spirits)? Further, what if we understood those spaces as places where people are working out the possible meaning of God’s presence there, “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him” (Acts 17: 27), as Paul puts it— that is, as hermeneutical spaces where people are not only open to God’s voice but also prepared (by the Spirit) for that word? (Kindle 1955-1959)

In this understanding, the gospel must be framed in the cultural logic and aesthetic patterns that make that place feel like a home. Religion becomes a necessary place for people to work out for themselves what it means to follow Christ.

My goal in this discussion of the nature of religion is not to suggest that the Western view is mistaken, or that the Muslim view is somehow privileged, but to recognize the fundamental differences in these approaches. (Kindle 2006-2008)

It’s not that Western Christianity is bad, but it is just that- Western. Western Evangelical Christianity…

…represents an appropriation by a particular stream of the Christian tradition of early modern (and later Enlightenment and Romantic) sensitivities. This tradition represents, I would argue, an important interpretation of the work of Christ that allows it to be heard in a modern Western setting; it is a critical hermeneutical space. But in terms of the broader Christian tradition, even in terms of biblical teaching, it is not necessarily privileged— even if, for its practitioners, it is a more transparent and satisfying expression of the gospel than any other. It does not represent the full meaning of religion, nor does it exhaust the possibilities inherent in the gospel. 33 Moreover, sensitive listening to Muslim believers discloses practices that, though different from those typical to Christians, issues in experiences that we might characterize as life giving, even if they are not salvific. But if this is so, we might venture to reframe the question raised earlier: might it be possible for other practices, developed in vastly different settings, to be carriers of genuine faith in Christ?

There is indeed a continuity and discontinuity between the gospel and all other religious contexts, including Christian ones. God is at work in all contexts, and yet the gospel is not found naturally in any one culture.

Though all people desire to know God and seek after this God, and though this quest and the wisdom it embraces are expressed in their religion and its sacred practices and writings, the “news” about Christ is not indigenous to any culture. This is to say, God is present and active by the Spirit when the gospel is being proclaimed and Scripture read, in a way that is special and unlike the general way God is otherwise present in all cultures and religions. With all the insider movements we examined, though God was the primary agent, there also were secondary agents— missionaries, Bible translators, and teachers, those who in some way gave witness to the work of Christ and made the Scriptures available. 51 Such activity has been central to the development of Christianity in all its many forms and gives evidence of discontinuity. (Kindle 2240-2247)

Therefore there must be a discontinuity between the gospel and religion. Yet Christ did not come to do away with religion but to transform it from within.

Earlier we discussed Jehu Hanciles’s argument that the missionary movement stemming from the Protestant Reformation did nothing to dismantle the structure of Christendom. By this he means the assumption of a single model of the Christian faith that is tied invariably to Western political systems and culture. As we have seen, these colonialist assumptions have come in for heavy criticism in the last century. As Hanciles put it, by stimulating a wide variety of indigenous movements, or “the message proved to be the undoing of the messenger.” 58 While few missionaries harbor any illusion of rebuilding a Christian empire, there is an important residue of this heritage; for many there is still a belief in a single normative expression of the Christian gospel. Here Hanciles’s discussion is relevant. He writes: “If the Christendom notion of one normative expression of the faith belongs to a passing era, perhaps no concept is more definitive of the new epoch than diversity of forms and expressions.” 59 (Kindle 2312-2321)

So what do we do with syncretism?

Every Christian religious expression represents some combination of indigenous values and religious practices (whether one stands or sits, how one prays or offers gifts, etc.) and the impact of the Christian gospel (the work of Christ as described in Scripture) on this. (Kindle Locations 2336-2338)

So how do we think of mission?

That is, the goal of God’s work is not a perfect religion, nor merely a functioning church, but a new heaven and earth where righteousness reigns. And the Spirit of renewal is busy in every place, seeking those who will be a part of this new creation, who will together grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It is this larger goal that finally motivates our evangelical mission. (Kindle 2429-2432)

Then what is the church? That is the subject of the final chapter.

Thoughts:

  • I found the discussion on syncretism wanting. Of course there will always be mixing, but what are the safeguards? Dyrness would probably say that I am too quick to ask the question.
  • I agree that the gospel must be incarnated into local contexts so that it feels like home, at least both the pilgrim and indigenous principles (Walls) in play (there must be some discontinuity as Dyrness also states). But religion is really conflated with cultural practices in Dyrness’ framework. Or perhaps in my framework they are too easily separated? These assumptions/ presuppositions on the difference between religion and culture are probably the heart of evangelical disagreements on insider movements. In my Complexity of Insiderness article I said that the “term “religion” is vexingly elastic and creates misunderstandings nearly every time it is used in the insider movement debate.

Next, Chapter 6: Conclusion: Is God Doing Something New?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Insider Jesus 4: Case Studies of Insider Movements Today

Previously we looked at Insider Jesus 3: Religion in the Biblical Narrative, now we look at case studies. Dyrness starts by showing some historical examples of the creation myths in tribal peoples to show how similar their stories are with the Jesus “myth” (i.e. a local deity who had to sacrifice himself to give life to people). According to Dyrness, it is missiologically unwise to just simply neglect these stories and replace it with the Christian story- in so doing we miss the important ways in which God was already at work in that culture and could rob that culture of unique contributions to the understanding of the gospel and the formation of their cultural identity in Christ.

True conversion in this sense did not necessitate abandoning their own spiritual heritage— something that would have been tantamount to denying their own identity. Rather, it meant reimagining this heritage in the light of the new situation; the further revelation of Christ was giving new life to the ancient faith, making possible a renewal of that faith from within. As Paul demonstrated on Mars Hill, their reflection on the gospel could be funded in part by their own religious experience, even if that experience would eventually be transformed by the encounter with Christ…. (Kindle 1401-1405)

It is important to recognize that religious traditions are not homogenous but are fractured arenas of spiritual conflict. Surely violence and corruption must be opposed and overthrown; at the same time, within the impulses for peace and reconciliation— the angels of our better nature— God’s presence and work may be discerned. But second, God is still in the business of speaking to people, and, when this is accompanied by conversation with Scripture, new forms of faith and discipleship can be forged. They are found, that is, if we are willing and able, like Peter in Acts 10, to free ourselves from our inherited religious assumptions. (Kindle 1521-1526)

Dyrness then provides three current examples of insider movements today among 1) Hindus and Sikhs in India, 2) Buddhists in Thailand, and 3) Muslims in the Philippines.

1. The first example is from Darren Duerksen, at Amazon here is the book: Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context: Jesus Truth-Gatherings (Yeshu Satsangs) among Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India. But see his shorter articles at IJFM (2012) and IBMR (2013). Dyrness was Duerksen’s PhD mentor at Fuller. Dyrness summarizes:

I especially want to emphasize that shifting attention away from the ways in which the gospel can be contextualized in these communities, and attending to the emergent interaction between the qualities of the gospel and the communities inherited dispositions, allows a new, generative space to come into view— what Sundermeier has called convivencia. In this new hermeneutical space a new form of Christian discipleship becomes possible, and along the way new insight into both the work of Christ and the value of Hindu and Sikh practices emerges. (Kindle 1704-1708)

2. Next is An examination of dual religious belonging theology : contributions to evangelical missiology by Kang-San Tan. (Click on “Link to institutional repository” for the full dissertation itself) Kang-San is Executive Director of AsiaCMS “based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and a very respected Asian missions leader. Coming from a Buddhist background, Kang-San has worked for the last 5 years as Head of Mission Studies at Redcliffe College, UK. He is a consultant for World Evangelical Alliance and ‘The Lausanne Movement’ on interfaith issues and has written extensively on indigenous Asian mission movements, Asian theology, Islam and Buddhism.” Kang-San Tan claims, “for over two hundred years the Evangelical approach of trying to replace other religions with Christianity has not been successful.

For these believers, the teachings of Buddha find a new setting, and new resonance, when they are understood in the light of the gospel. They provide terms in which the gospel can be seen and accepted. But notice that these terms are not a ladder that is climbed and then discarded but a permanent starting point and a continuing orientation for rethinking the renewing work of God in Christ. Notice too the inclination to return to the book of Acts for guidance in these emerging situations. As with the Yeshu Satsangs, distinctive elements emerge that characterize movements in widely different settings: a consistent focus on devotion to Christ, an impulse to share this good news with family and friends, and regular recourse to learning from Scripture. (Kindle 1752-1757)

3. Finally, by E. Acoba (pseudonym), “Towards an Understanding of Inclusivity in Contextualizing into Philippine Context.” While each of the case studies is valuable, this one is most pertinent to Circumpolar:

Through this process of exploring the nature of prophecy in the light of Muhammad’s teaching, the facilitators were able to show clearly that Jesus, Isa al Masih, was central in the tradition of the prophets. In this way they were making their way toward a Christology that emerged out of the Islamic narrative itself, rather than one imposed by a master narrative of Christian theology. Acoba acknowledges that evangelicals are likely to view this process as syncretism, but he thinks such a judgment fails to recognize the unique hermeneutical process shaped by these Muslim Magindanon believers. Acoba claims this process “also presses towards an acceptance that the gospel narrative is not the domain of the evangelical enterprise alone. In other words, the local practice of hermeneutics is constructing its own narrative of the gospel based on local religious narratives.” 78

This unique interpretive move, I believe, does more than merely suggest the construction of a local theology, though it does this as well. Outside observers should guard against projecting their own religious prejudices on narratives of this kind— whether in judgment or approbation. The truth is that theological formulations simply do not play the same role in Islam that they do in Christianity. (Kindle 1802-1812)

Acoba illustrates this difference later in his article when he narrates an encounter between a missionary he calls Rick and a Muslim believer, Murad. Rick was feeling like a failure after many years of work among Muslim people when even those (like Murad) who had chosen to follow Christ avoided him. Acoba was able to mediate this dispute by pointing out that Murad was in fact deeply grateful for the goodness Rick had shown to him and his family but that he had gone his own way when Rick had not understood the way Murad felt it necessary to practice his faith. 79

On the surface this expresses a classic tension between a missionary and native convert, but in this case I believe something deeper was going on. Two very different ways of understanding life and religion were being played out. Rick had a clear method to his ministry: converts had to attend Bible study, participate in contextual worship weekly, and attend discipleship training; that is, religious devotion had to be expressed in the typical categories and performed in the expected practices of Western Christianity. Murad felt these practices were inappropriate for a Muslim context. At the same time he had no doubt his Muslim identity was compatible with his commitment to Isa al Masih. Though he continued faithfully observing the Five Pillars of Islam, he was also persistent in sharing the good news of Isa al Masih with those around him, attracting others to this new way (including his wife). Rick could not disconnect the good news from the forms that he brought with him from the West; Murad, as Acoba notes, “merely wanted the simplicity of the power of the Good News to be lived out.” 80 This difference is not simply about what Scripture calls believers to do and what another faith has proposed; it is fundamentally about two different notions of what religion looks like on the ground. (Kindle 1814-1829)

Each case study seeks to show how religious practices provide the hermeneutical space necessary for these peoples to attempt to understand what it means to know God in Christ, and necessary to see the truth of Christ understood in the logic of that culture.

Thoughts:

  • This chapter reminds me of the famous quote by Ralph Winter: “Most of those yet to follow Christ will not fit readily into the kinds of churches we now have.
  • Each of these case studies are at the “Reinterpreting Insider” on my Five Expressions of Insiderness model. The “Dual-belonging Insider” is a different expression and is less involved the ritual and theological dimensions of religion.
  • I wholeheartedly agree that much of what people reject is Western Christianity, and not necessarily biblical faith.
  • Most of these case studies beg for more info. I REALLY REALLY want to know more about their Christology and ecclesiology, including their understanding of idolatry, among other things. Thus, it makes it difficult to evaluate.

Next is Chapter 5, Religion and the Mission of Christ for what these movements mean for our conception of mission today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Favorite Introduction to Islam

Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam, by Aaron W. Hughes.

Hughes approaches Islam from the religious studies perspective (not necessarily from Islamics) and tries to steer a middle way between a theological introduction and a polemic against Islam. He shows the diversity of islams today and draws many important contrasts between traditional Islamic teachings (often exposing historical inaccuracies in Islam’s account of its origins) and how Muslims in different places diverge from those understandings. For Hughes, a ‘Muslim’ identity is something more created than it is inherited. I appreciate his ability to portray the complexity of Islam in a way that is not complicated, rather than simply homogenize Islam, which has been so common in books on Islam since 9/11.

I also like The Emergence of Islam: Classical Tradition in Contemporary Perspective by Gabriel Said Reynolds, and A New Introduction to Islam by Daniel Brown.

What is your favorite Intro to Islam, and why?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Insider Jesus 3: Religion in the Biblical Narrative

In Insider Jesus 2: How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal, Dyrness claims that “religions traditions must be in some way capable of being included in God’s project of renewing and restoring the earth” He quotes Isaiah 28:26 “their God teaches them” to show how God is present in cultures. But it don’t get the connection to religious practices from that text. I wonder if we can make the opposite point, i.e. since we can learn from God in ‘mundane’ things like farming (Is. 28:26), why would be reluctant to learn spiritual things from God? That seems to be the point from Is. 28, as the context is about judgement. So I’m a bit unconvinced still that Islamic/religious traditions/practices MUST be somehow (in Christ) capable of being included in God’s project of bringing in the new creation.

This brings us to chapter three: Religion in the Biblical Narrative. Here the summary to the chapter is helpful:

From the biblical narrative we might conclude that though religion can be a carrier of authentic faith and the means of offering appropriate thanks and praise to God, God does not take delight in religion in and of itself. (Kindle Locations 1267-1269)

And though Jewish religious practices in themselves did not constitute the fullness of God’s provision for human salvation [salvation is from God, not from religion], they provided critical and indispensible hermeneutical spaces that allowed believers to work out the meaning and implications of Christ’s life and work. (Kindle 1280-1282)

These religious practices represented resources and situations in which people were called to responsibility before the living God. And I will argue that other religions mutatis mutandis [once the necessary changes have been made] may offer their own spaces in which people can seek after God. Of course they can no doubt represent the futility of human attempts to reach God, but might they not also represent potential places where Christ can be encountered and God’s project worked out? Might they be spaces where something is set in motion, a fresh impulse of the Spirit? This possibility can be illustrated using specific case studies, and it is to these we now turn. (Kindle 1282-1287)

Thoughts:

  • I believe he follows Kraft in that religious forms are neutral and arbitrary.
  • There is a spectrum of ways we can understand the relationship between form and meaning: arbitrary to correspondence to equivalence (Moreau 2012, 95). Dyrness is definitely on the arbitrary side.

Up next, chapter 4, Case Studies.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Justin Long | Why is the remaining task not getting finished, when…

Informative brief read from Justin Long: Why is the remaining task not getting finished, when…. There are more unreached peoples now than there were in the 80s. See this graph:

See also this post of his: Are the numbers of Muslims coming to Christ too small?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Early Muslims Accused Christians of Misinterpretation AND Corruption of their Scriptures

It has been said that early Muslims did not accuse Christians of corrupting their Scriptures, only of misinterpreting them. Refuting that claim is the recent PhD thesis The Bible through a Qur’ānic Filter: Scripture Falsification (Taḥrīf) in 8th- and 9th-Century Muslim Disputational Literature by Ryan Schaffner:

The evidence demonstrates that Muslims were advancing accusations of the Bible’s misinterpretation and textual corruption in the earliest extant disputational literature and thus, the dichotomy prevalent in previous scholarship between early and later Muslim views on the Bible is erroneous. (362-63)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Insider Jesus 2: How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal

Continuing with our tour through Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements. The first post was here: Insider Jesus 1: Intro- The Rise of Contextualization

Here are my notes on Chapter 2 How Does God Work in Creation and Culture? A Theological Proposal

God’s creative and active work in the world continues today, even after the fall. 

In the garden, Adam and Eve’s relationship to God was natural and intimate. There was no need for what we call religion, or for particular religious activity; that would not come until after the break that Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused. Living before the face of God was as normal as breathing; indeed, it was a kind of dance that involved the whole of creation. (Kindle 639-641)

Since God’s primary work was/is in creating and renewing, then in the biblical narrative we see Christ as the fulfillment of this necessary work.

The work of Christ was not simply providing forgiveness for sin, solving the human spiritual condition, though it surely did this. I would claim emphatically that something new was emerging in Christ’s work that brought the whole created order to a new place where the goods of culture (and religion) are given fresh valuation. (Kindle 678-681)

Culture is a human project- it is what we make of creation.

The question now is not how we go about placing the gospel in the culture, but rather, how do we respond, in the light of Scripture, to what God is already doing in a given culture? And how does this continuing work cast fresh light on how we are to understand and obey Scripture? (Kindle 702-704)

So it is not as though God begins to take an interest in human activity when someone begins to pray, or form and practice some religion. No, God has been intimately involved in cultural processes from the start. This means that culture making is deeply and inescapably theological. (Kindle 717-719)

All that contributes to human flourishing, indeed everything that brings delight to the human community, God too celebrates. (Kindle 747-748)

These ideas lead us to perhaps the heart of the argument of this book. And I think the most foundational aspect of Dyrness’ approach to understanding IMs:

This deep connection between faith and wisdom implies that a significant part of every culture, one might say its heart and core, involves the religious practices that have developed in that place. The perennial human search for God animates culture. Religious practices reflect the human desire to respond to the gods or the powers that humans encounter, and in this desire they are also responding to the call of the biblical God. But note the implications of this: if it is true that religious traditions reflect a response, however incomplete (or even misguided), to God’s call, they must be in some way capable of being included in God’s project of renewing and restoring the earth. (Kindle 764-769)

Israel’s religious practices in the OT were not particularly unique, but very similar to their neighbors. What was unique to Israel was the god they worshipped.

Just as the various cultures have contributed their own special gifts to the human community (no culture has a monopoly on life-giving discoveries), so religions in those places often provide life-giving perspectives to people and, indeed, have often been the impetus for human creativity and advancement… But all of this suggests that religion in and of itself is not the means of the renewing work that God intends to complete and has begun in Christ. (Kindle 783-795)

So what does this mean for insider movements? He offers four conclusions.

  1. It is clear that God is at work reordering a fallen world, and therefore all efforts that contribute to this end will elicit God’s approval. (Kindle 823-824)
  2. Just as God delights in goodness and new signs of life, so those responding to this, and all the gifts of creation, with thanks and praise must be pleasing to God. (Kindle 829-830)
  3. The biblical narrative is also clear that this ongoing work of the Spirit, and whatever cultural renewal might be evident, should finally draw people to see in Jesus Christ— and eventually in his death and resurrection— the focus and center of God’s renewing purposes. (Kindle 836-838)
  4. But here is my larger claim: if God is present and working in this or that situation by the Spirit, addressing people in what theologians have called prevenient grace or the general call, this address must be framed in the terms and logic of that culture. This means that we have to pay particular attention to both the logic and the structure of a culture, but also to the ways this logic comes to expression in the religions of that place. This means further that the renewal that God intends will be a regeneration of that logic and structure. (Kindle 842-845)

Thoughts:

  • Are there aspects to Islam that are meant (even implicitly) to be part of God’s project of renewing and restoring his creation?
  • He posits religion as something that is post-fall. Did Adam and Eve have any religion in Eden? (Tennent makes the case that culture is created by God, not something that humans make of creation.)
  • According to Dyrness, the telos of God’s mission is the flourishing of his creation unto his glory, and the gospel the center of that plan. Therefore, anything that works to that end, as long as it is (explicitly?) Christ-centered (and also biblically-based?) meets God’s approval. IMO this is lynchpin of the argument of this book… In this logic, of course a Muslim who comes to faith in Jesus can remain “in Islam” inasmuch as they are Christ-centered and are working towards the flourishing of God’s creation. The point is to see how God is working from within to express the gospel in the logic of that Muslim context.
  • Lots to discuss on this! But for now, my first reaction- just because something new is happening in a culture/religion where “Jesus” is somehow mentioned doesn’t necessarily mean that God is present and guiding the process. What then do we make of the emergence of Islam/Mormonism? How can we judge? I anticipate that he’ll answer this question later.
  • Dyrness is setting the stage for his next chapter, which is to show the function of religion in the biblical narrative.