Sunday, October 6, 2019

Review of Margins of Islam in Missiology

Here are the last two paragraphs of the review of Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts in the journal Missiology: An International Review, Vol 47, Issue 4, 2019 (subscription required):

Part III reflects on the case studies and provides practical application. Farah’s “Adaptive Missiological Engagement” reckons with the challenge of postcolonial studies within missiology and argues for the place of anthropological study in missiology. He encourages “supra-religious” missiological engagement (201) that challenges idolatry in all forms and focuses on making disciples rather than attempting to define an ideal Islam.

This compendium is highly recommended for seminaries, courses on Islam, and those ministering among Muslims. The book provides a particularly insightful contribution to contextualization debates among Muslims by giving concrete examples of missiological questions among diverse Muslim expressions. The four theoretical chapters in parts I and part III are worth the price of the book as missiological reflection on issues surrounding engagement to Muslims and Islam in a postcolonial age. The authors have not only described the “margins of Islam” but also shown how thoughtful engagement with these so-called margins is central to faithful witness to Muslims communities.

Read the whole thing. Buy the book.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Warren Larson Reviews Margins of Islam | Zwemer Center

From Warren Larson at the Zwemer Center blog:

At first glance, because of its title, one might assume this slim book is about Muslims who are on the fringes of Islam. Not so. It is about ordinary, every-day Muslims, situated somewhere between “orthodox” and those who have been separated from Islam (like the Ahmadiyya). In other words, the authors are talking about the majority, or vast majority of Muslims in the world–all of whom see themselves as followers of Islam.

This review will first discuss what the book is about and move on to say why it is so valuable for Christian mission among the 1.8 billion Muslims in our world. It will close with a brief summary of my contribution (Chapter 8) on what it means to reach folk Muslims for Christ in Pakistan.


The text presents fourteen case studies by scholar-practitioners. These include Sufis and folk practices in Asia and Africa, secular Muslims in Bosnia/Herzegovina, Berbers, followers of Fetullah Gulen in Turkey, Russified Muslims, Thai Muslims, Chinese Hui, and Uyghur Muslims. It talks about varied Muslims in France and the U. K. and one chapter deals with “glocal” (global and local) Muslim youth. The final chapter does an excellent job of summarizing the burden of the book: Mission to Muslims must begin at the local level, where they live, how they live, and what they say about themselves.

The contributors are addressing some fundamental questions: What, after all is Islam? Is it a religion, culture, or something else? And, who speaks for Islam? Unlike the all-too-common, prevailing assumption that views Islam as monolithic (Essentialism), these scholar-practitioners see it as a kaleidoscope. The material is a collection of representative examples of various kinds of Muslims throughout the entire world, and Kenneth Cragg’s cogent comment sums it all up, “A Muslim is what Islam tells them to be, and Islam is what a Muslim says it is.”

That is what makes this text different than most others on Islam. Generally, texts on Islam are simplistic, covering topics like the Qur’an, the five pillars, and possibly a bit of the Hadith thrown in for good measure. Yes, Islam may have its pillars and rigid rules on submission to Allah, but that is not the end of it. A “textual approach” is not completely off base, but is too narrow, viewing Islam from above. These authors see it from below.


First, the book is important because it corrects some inaccurate ideas about Muslims. The chapters look at Islam as it is, not at what we imagine it to be. For example, in talking about Islam in Java, one writer explains that years ago, he was informed by a Christian speaker that Muslims in Indonesia are not “real Muslims.” “They are,” he said, “just folk practitioners.” They might be a different kind of Muslim, but they are nonetheless Muslim. And, by the way, it is no longer accurate to speak of “The Muslim World.” The “over there” has become “over here.”

Second, the book corrects unhelpful and harmful attitudes. For example, one author talks about a British pastor who categorically stated the Muslim religion is to blame for all the atrocities Muslims carry out. Perhaps he is basing this on a claim by Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi (former IS leader), who on May of 2015, in essence said: “Of course Islam is not peaceful; it was never intended to be a religion of peace, because we’re fighting against infidels all over the world.” But Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi clearly does not speak for all Muslims.

Third, it holds before us the urgent need to win more Muslims for Christ. In the past, for various reasons, missionaries used to say Islam was the greatest challenge to the church. This is still true. Even though Muslims are now coming to Christ in the tens of thousands every year, Islam is growing annually by 32 million (mostly biological growth). The point is, we are not keeping up, and must do better. This book suggests that engaging them at the local level (Adaptive Mission) will produce more fruit.


Finally, Chapter 8 of the book (written by this reviewer) focuses on folk Muslims in Pakistan as only one example of what it means to reach them at the local level. My chapter states that in some ways, traditional and folk Muslims have things in common. Both have the idea that God predetermines everything by his white-hot power. For years, theologians of Islam have debated predestination, but as the following verses show, the Qur’an allows little room for human choice. For example, “No soul can believe except by the will of Allah” (10:100); “Ye will not except Allah wills” (76:29-31a). There are at least twenty-one statements that suggest God lets stray whom he will and guides whom he will.

Such theology pushes “ordinary” Muslims to believe that if God guides you, that is great; if not, you are doomed. In contrast, Jesus’ followers have hope and assurance. The Hebrew word barak (blessing) literally means to “bend the knee,” but it is not a matter of submitting to God as a slave. We are his beloved children, and so the true meaning of blessing is joy and trust, unmarred by fear and care. And since we are his children, we can always praise him because he is looking out for us.

I go to on to say although one would think because Pakistanis believe the overall will and control of Allah is final, and that one must trust in his sovereign will in the face of disease and death, the fact is they spend vast amounts of energy and money trying to fight it. Shrine activity is how Muslims put a human face on religion in trying to meet their felt needs. Hence, a thorough understanding of felt needs will open many doors for the spread of the gospel. If Allah is not delighted by obedience and is not displeased by sins, nor hostile to the arrogant, they must look for a way to have their needs met.

Moreover, if Allah’s hand is not close to protect and his eyes are indifferent to hostile forces, then charms, spells, curses and incantations must be used to gain peace for the soul and health for the body. Illness does not just happen, say Pakistani Muslims: it befalls victims because of hostile forces like the evil eye and other menacing forces. Ordinary Muslims need physical, emotional and spiritual healing and a Christian worker must work, not only in a scientific way, but in a spiritual manner. The gospel alone brings deliverance. And since veneration of pirs in Pakistan is done in an attempt to fulfill a deep felt need (it leaves the heart empty), the cross-cultural worker must make much of Jesus as the only one who has the power to save them from Satan, fear of evil spirits and terror of the grave. Muslims feel a great need to know God personally and the good news is that they can through Christ.

In conclusion, Margins of Islam is an extremely valuable guide for understanding and reaching Muslims in the 21st century. The contents do not provide simple answers, but the book’s strength is that it shows how we can communicate the gospel to Muslims on the local level. In the end, only God can give the kind of fruit we so desperately look for, but this book will help workers minister to Muslims through “adaptive mission.”

Buy Margins of Islam on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sacred Misinterpretation | Accad 2019

Sacred Misinterpretation: Reaching across the Christian-Muslim Divide, by Martin Accad (Eerdmans 2019). From Amazon:

Promotes gracious interfaith dialogue on sensitive theological issues

Theological issues are crucial to how Christians and Muslims understand and perceive each other. In Sacred Misinterpretation Martin Accad guides readers through key theological questions that fuel conflict and misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians. A sure-footed guide, he weaves personal stories together with deep discussion of theological beliefs.

Accad identifies trends, recognizes historical realities, and brings to light significant points of contention that often lead to break-down in Christian-Muslim dialogue. He also outlines positive and creative trends that could lead to a more hopeful future. Fairly and seriously presenting both Muslim theology and a Muslim interpretation of Christian theology, Sacred Misinterpretation is an essential guide for fostering dialogue and understanding among readers from both faiths.

Full Table of Contents for the First Three and Final Chapters:

  1. Introduction
    1. Christian-Muslim Interaction
      1. The Context of My Writing
      2. What Does Theology Have to Do with Conflict and War?
    2. The Kerygmatic Approach to Christian-Muslim Interaction
    3. The Islamic Phenomenon
      1. Islam’s Prophet in the Kerygmatic Approach
      2. The Qurʾan in the Kerygmatic Approach
      3. Muslims in the Kerygmatic Approach
      4. Purpose of Relationship with Islam and Muslims
      5. Methods Used in the Kerygmatic Approach to Islam and Muslims
      6. Expectable Outcomes
      7. A Legitimate Insider’s Knowledge of Islam
    4. The Suprareligious Approach and the “Two-Buildings” Analogy
    5. A Book Respectful Enough of Islam for Muslims to Read It
    6. A Biblical Theme: God’s Agenda
      1. Understanding the Importance of Mercy
      2. Adopting an Attitude of Humility
      3. Seeking Ways to Act Justly
      4. Mercy, Humility, and Justice in the Context of Lebanon
      5. Political Conflict and the Role of Religious Dialogue
  2. ​Hermeneutics and Dialogue
    1. Christian Misrepresentation: Reading Christian Thinking into the Qurʾan
    2. Christian Misrepresentation: Giving Primary Attention to Literary Context
    3. Muslim Misrepresentation: Reading the Bible Muhammado-centrically
    4. Comparative Observations on Textual Interpretation
    5. The Legitimate Interpretation of the Qurʾan
      1. Language and Grammar
      2. Occasions of the Revelation
      3. Interpretation Proper
      4. Stories of the Prophets and the Biography of Muhammad
      5. Identification of the Obscure
      6. The Theory of Abrogation
      7. An Argument against the Claim of Medinan Abrogation
      8. Tradition versus Opinion
    6. Legitimate Christian Interpretation of the Qurʾan
      1. The Importance of Context
      2. Interpretation and the Emergence of Doctrine
      3. Historical Context
    7. Sacred Misinterpretation and the Emergence of Religious Monologue
    8. Establishing a Hermeneutical Method for Christian-Muslim Theological Dialogue
      1. The Promise of Hermeneutics in Christian-Muslim Dialogue
      2. Study the Internal Muslim Understanding
      3. Study the Historical Dialogue
      4. Identify Historical Deadlocks
      5. Search for Hermeneutical Keys to Break the Deadlock
    9. Globalizing the Theological Conversation
    10. Closing Considerations: Continuity Rather than Discontinuity
  3. ​God in Christian-Muslim Dialogue
    1. Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?
      1. Timothy George
      2. Miroslav Volf
      3. Imad Shehadeh
      4. Summarizing Reflection
    2. Islam and the One God
      1. The Qurʾan’s Vindication of Jesus
      2. “I Would Never Say What Is Not Rightfully Mine to Say!”
      3. Jesus Affirmed That “There Is No God But God”
      4. Jesus Affirmed and Practiced the Worship of God Alone
    3. God in Islam
      1. Islam’s Doctrine of Absolute Monotheism
      2. The Qurʾan’s Rebuttal of the Christian View of God
      3. The Qurʾan’s Rebuttal of Christ’s Divinity
      4. Summarizing the Metadialogue on the Doctrine of God
      5. Hermeneutical Keys in Building Bridges beyond Conflict
      6. Using Deadlocks as Assets
      7. Concluding Thoughts
      8. Further Reading and Research
  4. Who Jesus Is Not according to Muslims
  5. Who Jesus Is according to Muslims
  6. Muslim Strategies in Approaching the Bible
  7. Taḥrīf and the Corruption of Scripture
  8. Islam’s Muhammado-Centric Reading of the Bible
  9. Muhammad as Paraclete
  10. ​Beyond Conflict
    1. Legitimate Ways for Christians to View Islam
    2. A Simple Definition of Islam
      1. Two Stages of Muhammad’s Life
      2. The Meccan and Medinan Qurʾans
      3. Meccan and Medinan Muslims Historically and Today
    3. Muhammad and Early Islamic History as Paradigm
    4. A Case for Meccan Islam
    5. Muhammad in the Context of Dialogue
      1. Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad
      2. The Two-Times Theory
    6. The Status of Muhammad for a Christian
      1. Muhammad—a Bridge to Christ?
      2. A Call to Awakening for People of Faith in the Twenty-First Century
      3. Imagining a New Future
      4. A Call to Social Action
      5. A Call to Political Activism, Peacebuilding, and Courage
      6. A Call to Worship

In the introduction, Accad says that “the general Christian reader who does not wish to engage with the more technical and historical sections of the seven core chapters (3-9) can still benefit from the book by reading the opening and closing pages of each chapter.”

This important book provides a hermeneutically robust, historical-theological understanding of Islam. Highly recommended.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Review Article: “Outside In” - Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts

Mark Pickett of UFM Worldwide has recently written a review article of our book, Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts in the journal Foundations.

You can download the PDF here or read the webpage.

It is a very fair and thorough review. On Twitter he called Margins of Islam a “gem.” I like him already. Here are some quotes:

In our day, an unprecedented number of Muslims are coming to Christ. This tremendous answer to prayer should not leave us complacent, however, as the number of Muslims in the world grows by thirty-two million per year, mainly through high birth rates (204). So, the challenge of engaging the Muslim world with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is undiminished.

One of the editors of Margins of Islam, Warrick Farah, argues that, “Islam is perhaps the greatest challenge the church has ever faced. Yet it is not simply that we do not know the answers; we are also unsure of the nature of the problem” (205). As we have seen in politics, so also in making disciples. This slim volume, written by seventeen reflective practitioners with significant experience of a wide variety of Muslim contexts, is a major contribution to examining that problem….

The central concern of the book is, quite simply, to aid cross-cultural workers seeking to communicate the gospel to Muslims by helping them to understand Islam better. Consider it an exploration of the following questions: what is Islam, who is a Muslim, and what difference does it make?

Most books about Islam, by Muslims as well as by evangelicals, describe normative or classical Islam and might be called “Islam from above”. Such books are not wrong. They are just inadequate to explain the huge variety of expressions of Islam one actually finds around the world.

The approach of the contributors to this book is to look at Islam from below

Paraphrasing the work of Shahab Ahmed, Farah defines Islam as “a process of ‘meaning-making’ undertaken by Muslims as they interact in their context with the revelation given to Muhammad” (14).[9] He goes on to propose that we consider viewing Islam as “one strand in the braided rope of society” (18, original emphasis), a model that makes so much sense when one reads the case studies.

Reviewing his own ministry journey, Farah suggests that the braided rope analogy has aided him in forming a missiological understanding.

I assumed Muslims believed the things I thought Islam taught. But when I started to listen and enter the challenge of exploring my Muslim friends’ faith, I discovered that the search for true Islam was not only illusive but also irrelevant. Instead, I decided to build my understanding of Islam on my friend’s understanding because that is what Islam was to him, and in the context of genuine dialogue and witness that is what is most important. (19)…

Farah argues against an essentialist view of Islam. Such a view, he argues, rightly in my view, is a product of the Orientalist movement in scholarship, that emerged in the nineteenth century (196-99). While the editors, at least, want to shun essentialism, they do accept that there are boundaries. Though they do not say so, it would seem that they prefer to view religions as, in Paul Hiebert’s terminology, centred sets rather than bounded sets.[19] Farah wants not only to avoid the false objectivity of a modern approach but also the relativism of a postmodern one (198). Religion, then, is socially constructed – “it would not exist if there were no people” (199). For this reason, we “desperately need to be alert to how we use the category ‘religion’ in mission” (199). This is a vital discussion and, for me, is worth the price of the book.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Is the concept of “worldview” still useful in missiology?

Conversion (coming to faith in Christ) as a “transformation of worldview” is practically canon in evangelical missiology, especially with the publication of Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Baker Academic 2008).

But does contemporary anthropology still use the concept of worldview today?

In his review of Kraft’s book, Worldview for Christian Witness (William Carey Library 2008), Wheaton professor of anthropology Brian Howell said:

Although the worldview concept has become mainstream in missiological circles, it is virtually defunct in use in contemporary anthropology. Kraft uses Michael Kearney’s 1984 book on worldview as the anthropological example; however, there is no anthropological reference more recent than that. Classic anthropology can still speak to us today, but there is a great deal more current theory that is helpful for understanding culture change.

So should we move on from the concept of worldview? Is it really defunct in anthropology? David Beine, in his short research article, The end of worldview in anthropology?, (SIL Electronic Working Papers 2010) concludes with this:

The worldview concept, although no longer in vogue in the dominant paradigm of American anthropology, has remained a fruitful construct of analysis over the past decade for several other valid anthropological paradigms. There seems to be agreement among those still using worldview effectively as an analytical framework, that cultures—if I can
still use that word—do have central ideas or themes that serve to organize a wide variety of things, from material culture to political behavior. And recognizing the limitations, worldview is still a valuable construct for studying and representing these ideas. In the end, I hope the rest of
us anthropologists will not throw the baby (worldview) out with the bathwater (valid concerns of about essentialism); I would rather that those most concerned just help us change the dirty diaper.

It seems to me that the worldview concept can still be employed, but it is wise to note, as Howell reminds us in his review, that “concepts of hybridity, global ethnoscapes, and practice theory-based approaches to agency yield more nuanced understandings of cultural change.”

And yet, despite the ways they are often used in missiology, worldviews and cultures do not have discrete boundaries in today’s globalizing world.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Outlining a Biblical Theology of Islam: Practical Implications for Disciple Makers and Church Planting | EMQ 2019

Here is full access to my article “Outlining a Biblical Theology of Islam: Practical Implications for Disciple Makers and Church Planting,” that first appeared in EMQ in January 2019.

Taking into consideration the ambiguous nature of religion, a reconsideration of the historicity of Islamic origins, and the diversity of Muslim contexts, I discuss the important topics to consider when constructing a biblical theology of Islam. In the light of authoritative biblical revelation, my approach also illuminates the connections between theology-in-context and our practice of disciple making.

Here are the topics I have paired together:

  • Religion and Kingdom Sociology
  • Biblical Anthropology and Idolatry
  • Prophecy and Muhammad
  • Revelation and the Qur’an
  • Christocentric Doxology and Allah

It is obviously a lot to discuss in just over 3,000 words (EMQ’s limit), but these are the major themes that need consideration in our contextual theology of Islam.

Friday, March 22, 2019

We Need to Reclaim the Discourse about Islam in the Church | Martin Accad @IMES

I highly recommend reading this brief reflection of the recent massacre at Christchurch. For practical examples of biblically appropriate Christian engagement of Muslims, see Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts. As the Church, we need to improve how we think and talk about Islam.

We Need to Reclaim the Discourse about Islam in the Church, by Martin Accad:

By now, everyone has heard of the shootings at the two mosques of Al Noor and Linwood in Christchurch, New Zealand, that led to the deaths of 50 Muslims and the wounding of 50 others at prayer on Friday the 15th of March 2019. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident these days, with Muslims testifying to being spat at, or women telling of their hijabs being ripped off their heads, in London and other cities in the West. According to a BBC article, UK police have recorded a 40% rise in religiously-motivated hate crimes in England and Wales, from about 6,000 in 2016 to over 8,000 in 2017-2018, 52% of which were aimed at Muslims.

Bigoted attitudes, so common on social media, and the hateful discourse of politicians, may be broadly identified as contributing to this growing atmosphere of division. But in this post, I want to focus particularly on the rise of negative writing about Islam since 9/11, a large proportion of which has emerged from within Evangelical circles worldwide.

Admittedly, the attacker was not motivated by religious feelings, Christian or other. In an online manifesto published before the attack by a man under the same name as the apprehended attacker, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, he described himself as “a 28-year old Australian citizen” who “espoused far-right and anti-immigrant ideology.”

It is not my purpose here to provide a list of titles of “dangerous” books written about Islam. Indeed, it would not be appropriate to point a finger at books or authors at such a time of high emotions. What I want, however, is to provide a few pointers to readers who want to learn more about Islam, so that they might decide for themselves which writings are motivated by Christly love, which ones lead to life and redemption, and which ones might lead to more conflict, hatred, and death. I will propose here only three principles, given the limited nature of a blog post.

First, it is important to know that Islam is extremely diverse—as diverse at least as Christianity and other faiths. Diversity in religion is usually an expression of diversity in opinion on the interpretation of key texts that are often critical in the inspiration of religious practices that will contribute either to the good or to evil in society. The meaning of a religious book never exists in a vacuum but is always the outcome of a specific interpretation.

Hint number 1: if you pick up a book that seems to paint broad strokes about Islam, representing all Muslims as one thing—whether positive or negative—this should raise your first alarm of suspicion.

Second, the intentions of an author are usually reflected in the tone of writing. If the style of writing is bullish, polemical (warlike), or disparaging, chances are that the author is motivated by his or her own hurt, anger, or fear, or that they are driven by an intentionally divisive and destructive agenda. It is important to note that “polemical” writing is very different from one which is “academically critical.” You can be critical of certain elements of a religious tradition after examining them, without using your findings to discredit the entire religion or its adherents. Academic critique is complex and will generally employ a methodology that appeals primarily to the intellect rather than to emotions. If it is done well, it will give credit where it is due while discrediting some concepts through balanced rational analysis, avoiding generalizations that are disrespectful of people and certainly avoiding personal attacks.

Hint number 2: if the book you are reading employs broad stereotyping and other methods that have been employed by racist ideologies, you might as well put it down. You will not get any wiser about Islam by reading it.

Third, religious traditions are complex and therefore they are to be studied and presented through lenses that bring out their complexities. If the books you are reading about Islam are simplistic (often with simplistic and stereotypical titles), chances are that the author is not well educated in Islam and is simply repeating generalities they have heard at seminars or read in one-sided presentations of the religion. I understand that complex reading is not everyone’s cup of tea and that our social-media age has not trained us to maintain ideas in tension with each another. But the New Zealand massacre has revealed that our world is too fragile for us to accept simplistic ideas uncritically. In addition to the multi-faceted nature of all religions—including Islam—no serious scholar can avoid the fact that religions evolve and change constantly.

Hint number 3: If you are reading a book about Islam that tells you that Muslims will always behave in a certain way because Muslims have always done so throughout their history, you may conclude with confidence that the author is not seeking after the truth but is anxious to represent a certain manifestation of the religion as its eternal and unchanging manifestation. It is not yet too late to put that book down.

The age of social media is an age of citizen activism. Just as citizens have been able to organize and mobilize themselves in solidarity and support of good causes, angry and populist leaders have been able to gather support for destructive agendas leading to lethal action. The minds of this age are shaped by books and the media—whether interactive and social or more conventional. Writers, bloggers, and social media activists have a tremendous responsibility for the way that our societies and communities interact with one another. If you are a writer, God will hold you accountable for the sort of influence you have on people who are impacted by your writing, good or bad. If you are a reader and consumer, God will hold you accountable for what you choose to feed on and what you choose to reject, good or bad. As global citizens, we are responsible for the fate of our world.

Though, as mentioned above, I have chosen not to provide in this post a list of books on Islam that I consider harmful and of others I consider helpful, I will at least point you to my upcoming book, Sacred Misinterpretation: Reaching Across the Christian-Muslim Divide (Eerdmans, to appear on the 7th of May 2019). The purpose of this book is to bring out the historical and interpretive complexity of theological conversations between Christians and Muslims, and to propose ways that we can move those important conversations forward. You can pre-order it now here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Discipleship Movements on the Cover of Christianity Today

AprilThe April 2019 edition of Christianity Today features a cover story about DMM/CPM titled “Making Missions Count: How a Major Database Tracked Thailand’s Church-Planting Revival”: A movement in Southeast Asia shows how real-time reporting is building Great Commission connections.

There are some interesting observations about the oft-debated use of metrics in ministry. It seems to me that the DMMs/CPMs I am aware of are constantly measuring and documenting the growth of the movement. Among other purposes, the use of metrics seems to serve as a kind of compass and a scoreboard that deeply motivates leaders and practitioners.

I am always interested in how Christian media writes about missiology. Commenting on the dynamics of the movement, article author Kate Shellnutt said this:

Out of 13 mother churches, FJCCA has added more than 400 house churches since 2016. Its biggest challenge has been training new leaders, who are tasked with continuing the work of evangelizing and church-planting. FJCCA focuses on a simple gospel presentation, prayer, and intimate fellowship, a model that converts can adopt and take to the next unreached village.

Rinnasak and fellow FJCCA leaders remove any “Christianese” from their phrasing, saying “Jesus bless you” rather than “God bless you” to specifically name the Christian God, and referring to believers’ “life experiences” rather than the more obtuse “testimony.” The association embraces the house church setting. When people convert in far-off villages with no Christian presence, it’s awkward and impractical for them to travel to existing congregations to learn and worship. Even once more mature churches move into buildings for Sunday worship, they still meet in homes as a more familiar location for discipleship.

Evangelists travel to villages with enough people ready to stick around to start the discipleship process. They share Bible stories and personal accounts to point to Jesus. Once people put faith in Christ, they invite them to pray right away for what they need, returning within a day or two to offer further training and materials from the Thailand Bible League, another partner.

Reach A Village noticed that the most effective church planters in the region share these distinctives. In Cambodia and Myanmar, the ministry also found that evangelism is “best carried out by local, indigenous believers and leaders who rely solely on the Scripture and the Holy Spirit with minimal outside interference or restrictions,” Craft said.

“Our ministry partner leader in Myanmar, Michael Koko Maung, once said to me, ‘Christianity came to us like a potted plant. We did not realize that when we took it out of the pot that it would grow so well in native soil.’ ”

FJCCA’s strategy is working, so much that Martin added a new staff member based in Phetchabun province dedicated to managing their figures. And he can barely keep up: Already, the movement has added 11,941 new believers in the past year and a half.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

My Two Recent Articles in EMQ and IJFM

I currently have two articles out at the moment in EMQ and IJFM.

The first is with EMQ and if you are a member of Missio Nexus (most North American agencies are with Missio Nexus, and if your org is a member then you are too), then you have access. If not, I’ll make it available in April. It is called Outlining a Biblical Theology of Islam: Practical Implications for Disciple Makers and Church Planting and is something I wrote as a kind of promo piece for the annual Middle East Consultation in Beirut, Lebanon (I’ll be giving two keynotes this year). Here are the topics I have paired together in the EMQ article:

  • Religion and Kingdom Sociology
  • Biblical Anthropology and Idolatry
  • Prophecy and Muhammad
  • Revelation and the Qur’an
  • Christocentric Doxology and Allah

It is obviously a lot to discuss in just over 3,000 words (EMQ’s limit), but these are the major themes that need consideration in our theology of Islam.

The second article is Adaptive Missiological Engagement with Islamic Contexts at IJFM. This is also Chapter 17 in our book Margins of Islam: Ministry in Diverse Muslim Contexts. Here is my outline for the article:

Changing Understandings of Muslim Contexts

  • Postcolonial Studies: “The Muslim World” vs. “The West”
  • Cultural Anthropology: Modern Essentialism and Postmodern Relativism
  • Religious Studies and the Fog of “Religions”

A Call for Adaptive Missiology

  • Towards a Missiology of Islam(s)
  • Idolatry and Mission
  • Transforming Relationships

This is a longer article that deals with epistemology and issues which inevitably color our approaches to reaching Muslims.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Underground Network and Disciple Making Movements: Potentials for Integration?

Underground People by PJ Accetturo:

In this documentary, I look deeper into who the Underground Network is, and why their model for church could change the way the Western Church operates.

[Underground People from PJ Accetturo on Vimeo.]

There seems to be a lot of overlap from this model and disciple making movements (DMM).

Two things stood out to me from the Underground Network: 1) their focus on affinity groups, 2) a decentralized, flat structure that values individual leadership initiative.

Concerning 1, it seems they don’t target whole communities, but gather people together around affinities; like drinking beer, or anti-trafficking, or mentoring teenage girls. I think there is a lot of power in being able to focus on just a single issue and do it really well. This is not the homogenous unit principle but the congruence of cultural values.

Concerning 2, being decentralized and having a difficult time articulating a common vision indicates they are more values based. There are strengths and weaknesses for both vision-based and values-based organizations.

There are several other questions I have in mind though, the major one being fruitfulness and impact. Yes that is great that he started a Bible study with others who like beer, but is it more than just one study? I know of several friends who have done the same thing, but does it multiply and have deep impact in the community? I have similar questions for the other ministries who were spotlighted in the video (other than the Filipino pastor who said they started 100 house churches).

The video brings up an important point, that you really can’t or shouldn’t try to change the culture/structure of the established, attractional/traditional church. Just work in partnership with them and do something alongside them among areas/peoples that they typically miss. We need each other.

Throughout history, God has used two structures for his redemptive, missional purpose in the world. The first is called a "modality" and it refers to an inclusive group of people that nurtures its members and is structured. Examples are a local congregation or what we typically all a “church.” Modality structures handle local matters essential to the group. A second structure is called "sodality." Sodalities serve and extend modalities. Modalities are limited in their capacity because they serve local needs. But sodalities are flexible, exclusive structures that serve special functions. They are task oriented, like a mission agency or an NGO. The local church (modality) is essential for mission, but so is a mission agency or apostolic structure (sodality). Both serve in parallel to one another. Problems exist when one believes it doesn't need the other.

I like the idea that our ecclesiology should include both modalities (local congregations) and sodalities (apostolic bands, NGOs, seminaries)- both structures are biblical and needed in God’s redemptive mission where the “church” is central to transformation.

A final thought, is that I would love to see what it would look like for these ministries to have a more explicit integration with DMM principles, as outlined in Kingdom Unleashed. Sometimes the DMM literature speaks of things like “access ministry” as if it was only tangential to the essential mission of church planting. Instead, the Underground Network rightly conceptualizes this as more central to mission. But from what I can tell, the DBS concept is less prominent in the ministries in the Underground Network.? DBS could be more integrated in these groups to see Jesus-centered diffusion into their affinity groups.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

5 Ways Evangelicals Can Improve Muslim Relationships |

By Wissam al-Saliby at

At the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March, a man sitting next to me was writing in Arabic the statement that he would be reading to the council.

Adel was a Tunisian head of a nonprofit. I said hello in Arabic, and we introduced ourselves and exchanged cards.

He looked down at my World Evangelical Alliance card and then looked up. And he said firmly, “I am a Muslim. What is your position on Palestine?”

In the mind of Adel, the word “evangelical” on my business card, far from portraying a community of Christ-followers and imitators, is connected to the injustice and suffering of Palestinians, to America’s support to Israel and to U.S. wars in the Middle East.

For millions of Muslims like Adel, evangelical support for Israel and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East are stumbling blocks for the gospel.

The election of Donald Trump, anti-Muslim discourses and the Stormy Daniels episode seem to have reinforced the perception among Muslims that Islam is on a higher moral ground than the Western Christian faith. I say “reinforced” because in several Arab countries, “Christian” or “Nazarene” has always been a derogatory word.

On April 16-17, I partook in a gathering in Wheaton, Illinois, titled “The Future of American Evangelicalism.”

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share with the participants an Arab evangelical perspective. The starting point for my message to the evangelical leaders in the room, however, was not my conversation with Adel.

Between 2013 and 2017, while leading the Development and Partner Relations department at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Beirut, Lebanon, I witnessed God’s amazing work in the Middle East and North Africa.

The witness of local churches coupled with God’s miraculous pursuit of men and women swelled, in some cases exponentially, the ranks of Lebanese evangelical churches.

My second point to the room was that many Middle Eastern ministries (refugee relief, peace-building, discipleship, medical missions and so on) and churches enjoy the great support and partnership of U.S. evangelical churches, particularly from congregations with majority Republican voters and supporters of President Trump.

And then, I shared with them of my recent encounter with Adel and of the majority Muslim perception regarding U.S. evangelicals.

Evangelical support (of many, but not by all) for U.S. Middle East policy and the actions of Israel against Palestinians are stumbling blocks to many – if not all – Muslims.

We may never know if the number is in the millions or hundreds of millions. We only have anecdotal evidence.

Last month, a friend recounted how he brought a group of Muslim leaders to a recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.

At the breakfast, these leaders heard a clear and articulate gospel message from a particular congressman, leaving them thirsty for more. However, their thirst didn’t last long.

A few days later, the same congressman voted in favor of a congressional resolution supporting Israel. In their eyes, the gospel bore no fruit in the life of that congressman.

I would also argue that evangelical support (of many, but not of all) for U.S. Middle East policy and the actions of Israel against Palestinians are stumbling blocks here at the United Nations for staff, diplomatic missions and human rights organizations, who perceive evangelicals as being supportive of injustice and the violation of international law.

What, then, could my evangelical brothers and sisters in the U.S. do who hope to be witnesses to the love of Christ among Middle Eastern and Muslim peoples? These are some recommendations.

1. Encourage evangelical churches to “adopt” an unreached Muslim people group in a given city in the Middle East by partnering with a local ministry (indigenous when available) and include this ministry in their missions support and prayer.

2. Urge evangelicals visiting the Holy Land to fellowship with Palestinian Christians, engage with Palestinian Muslims as witnesses for Christ and spend the last three days of their trip in a hotel within the Palestinian territories.

Currently, Holy Land visits circumvent Palestinians and thus fail to convey an accurate understanding of the situation.

Holy Land pilgrimages are not benefiting the ailing Palestinian economy. Given Bethlehem’s historical importance as a Christian pilgrimage site, this is rather ironic in our current historical moment.

3. Speak up against political and community leaders promoting anti-Arab or anti-Muslim bigotry, much as we should continue speaking out as Christ-followers against anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, sexism or any other form of prejudice.

Are we, as evangelicals, ready to reject and rebuke a simplistic and extreme view of Islam that ignores Jesus’ command to love them as our neighbors, a view that is often promoted (in Lebanon and Europe as well as the U.S.) simply to garner votes?

A recent survey in the United States showed a strong correlation between “Islamophobic” attitudes, “Christian nationalism” and support for certain candidates, parties or policies.

“Overall the strongest predictors of Trump voting were the usual suspects of political identity and race followed closely by Islamophobia and Christian nationalism,” one recent article said.

4. Be cautious of dehumanizing rhetoric in media and political discourses surrounding persons of the Middle East.

This takes place not only in secular media but also in “Christian” media outlets where the facts and sociohistorical context are routinely ignored.

For example, recent headlines from the Christian Broadcasting Network declare things such as “Hamas Sacrificing Children,” “Why Gaza Clashes Aren’t Peaceful Protests but a Hamas-Inspired Death Cycle” and “Hamas Using Palestinian Masses as Newest Weapon Against Israel,” where Palestinians are portrayed as mindless masses, zombies even, with no mention of the Israeli embargo driving Palestinians in Gaza to despair and hopelessness and leading them to demonstrate.

In contrast, the Baptist World Alliance’s recent statement on Gaza said, “Even before the current medical emergency arising from the many hundreds of civilians wounded in the latest clashes, one of our Baptist leaders, who visits Gaza regularly, recently described the situation as ‘virtually no electricity, water, money – or hope.'”

I also invite you to read the Institute of Middle East Studies regional brief on Israel-Palestine for April 2018 and May 2018.

5. Speak up against the “End Times Prophecy” industry.

Media platforms and churches often use End Times Prophecy to shape Christian public opinion regarding Middle East policy, especially in relation to Israel, further demonizing Muslims and Middle Easterners and promoting oftentimes profound misunderstandings of the dynamics shaping the Middle East today.

I invite you to read my post for IMES on this issue from May 2017.

As of March 30, harrowing photos and videos emerged of Israeli snipers shooting unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. In one video, we hear the soldiers rejoicing at the death of a Palestinian.

Israeli snipers shot and killed or maimed women, children, reporters, doctors and medical rescue teams and even wheelchair-bound demonstrators.

The March of Return demonstrators have been falsely accused of violence and even of wanting to sacrifice their children for the sake of a public relations coup.

If we want to pray and show compassion, if we want to honor the commandment to love our neighbor, should we not attempt to see things how the peoples of the Middle East, particularly the Palestinians in the current situation, see them?

Shouldn’t our churches have better engagement of the region and of Muslim communities nearby and far away? Shouldn’t we speak out against those things that profoundly go against our values but are nevertheless attributed to us – lest we be like the man who sought to be justified when he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

Wissam al-Saliby currently serves as advocacy officer of the World Evangelical Alliance based in Geneva, Switzerland. He formerly served as ABTS development and partner relations manager. A version of this article first appeared on the IMES blog. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @walsaliby.