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.