Tuesday, August 30, 2022

In-Person Event in Chicagoland 9/13: A Conversation with David Garrison

In partnership with the Church Multiplication Institute, the Ephesus Catalytic Partnership Chicago, and Global Gates, the Motus Dei Network invites you to an in-person event at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College on Tuesday September 13th from 10am to 1pm:

Shaping the American Church of Tomorrow by Learning from the Global Church of Today w/ David Garrison

Join this important conversation with David Garrison live and in-person at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. Dr. Garrison introduced the term “Church Planting Movement” (CPM) to North America through his study of the church from around the world. In our gathering, he will share the current status of genuine church planting movements from around the world and how their growth directly impacts the future church in North America. You’ll also hear from a panel of missiologists and practitioners that are helping to move church multiplication and innovation forward here in the Chicagoland area and in the U.S.

The tentative panel of respondents will include:

This is an open event and lunch is provided for those who register here: https://wheatonbillygraham.regfox.com/shaping-the-american-church-with-cxi-and-david-garrison

The event will not be recorded. Feel free to share this invite with others.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Responding to Popular Critiques of Movements

Earlier this year, No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions (9Marks, Matt Rhodes) was published. The book aims to promote missionary professionalism by critiquing what is likened to “shortcuts” and “miracle cures for covid” among Western missionaries. Notably, CPM/DMM “movements methodologies” are the author’s primary concern and what he views as deeply problematic. No Shortcut is highly reviewed on Amazon, although you can also note a few critical reviews as well.

In April, Global Missiology published two contrasting reviews of No Shortcut, one positive by Jackson Wu and another critical review by Dave Coles. Subsequently, the editor Nelson Jennings asked myself and No Shortcut’s author Matt Rhodes to write articles in dialogue with one another about improving today’s missiological discourse on movements. I was pleased that Pam Arlund graciously agreed to coauthor the article with me as I respect her wisdom and experience in these matters.

This process of writing in dialogue took several months and is covered nicely in the editorial written by Nelson: “Missiological Iron Sharpening.” Matt Rhodes’ article, which is a response to Dave Coles’ critical review and to Motus Dei, is here: Advancing Conversations about Proclamational and Movements Methodologies. The abstract:

Movements methodologies have spread throughout much of today’s missions world. The prevalence of these methods necessitates conversation about their validity. This article provides constructive critique of movements methodologies, addresses responses to previous critique, and suggests paths for conversation going forward.

In dialogue with Matt, Pam and myself wrote a response to No Shortcut and attempted to “zoom out” and respond to popular critiques of movements: Discussing and Catalyzing Movements: An Invitation to Research, Sacrifice, and Commitment. The abstract:

As a global discussion and a significantly large phenomenon in the world today, church planting movements (CPM) or disciple making movements (DMM) have attracted much attention and enthusiasm in the missions community. They are widely accepted, and many different agencies have adopted movemental approaches to ministry in the past two decades. However, there is also a minority view of detractors who disagree with the voluminous case studies and published literature on movements. This article responds to some of those critics—represented here by the recently published No Shortcut to Success—by engaging that book’s important critiques but also what this article’s authors believe to be misinformation and ambiguous logic inherent in the book’s arguments. The authors hope that this approach will foster a helpful, constructive, and ongoing dialogue on movements missiology for the missions community.

I encourage you to read the reviews by Wu and Coles before reading the two articles, assuming you have read No Shortcut already. I want to thank everyone in the Motus Dei Network who reviewed earlier drafts of our article and also Pam, Nelson, and Matt for their friendship and cooperation throughout this process.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Genesis and Evolution of Church Planting Movements Missiology

I have recently written a contemporary history of the CPM/DMM phenomenon: The Genesis and Evolution of Church-Planting Movements Missiology. Originally, the article was 8,500 words but I had to trim it down to 5,000 words for publication. I will include more details at a later time but what you can read right now is a concise explanation of how CPM/DMM – a specific type of missiological movement in history – originated and continues to develop.

Here is the abstract:

While the dramatic growth of church-planting movements (CPMs) in non-Christian contexts around the world provides ample opportunity to explain their emergence and significance, a missiology of these movements is struggling to keep pace. This article argues that CPM is a unique feature in the field of mission studies that emerged in the later 20th century. Although it shares some of the same characteristics as the early Church Growth Movement discourse, CPMs today are a specific type of movement occurring mostly in least-reached Muslim and Hindu contexts. CPM missiology contains a number of features and unknowns which demonstrate that the discourse is both evolving and invaluable for how the global church understands mission.

Here is the outline:

  • Introduction
  • Missiological Antecedents of CPM
  • IMB’s Cooperative Services International as the Innovation of CPM
  • David Garrison’s Research and the Formalizing of CPM
  • Flexible and Diverse CPM Strategies
  • The Challenge of Defining CPM in a “Community of Practice”
  • Missiological Discourses Parallel to CPM
  • Conclusion

You can read it here: The Genesis and Evolution of Church-Planting Movements Missiology


Farah, Warrick. 2022. “The Genesis and Evolution of Church Planting Movements Missiology.” Missiology: An International Review, Online First: 1–13. (DOI)

Feedback welcome.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Movemental Turn in Missions: Thoughts on New Eras and New Wineskins

See the latest post at the ABTS blog: A Movemental Turn in Missions: Thoughts on New Eras and New Wineskins.

We are in a new era of missions and we cannot expect to deal with 21st century complexities using 19th century exemplars. The four most prominent shifts in this new era include:

  1. From Western to Indigenous
  2. From Linear Management to Holistic Complexity
  3. From Pastor-Centric Leadership to Mutual Polycentric Leadership
  4. From Institutions to Movements

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

A Theology of Multiplying Disciples: Addressing the Seedless Grape Phenomenon

*First published at the ABTS blog.

While we might prefer eating seedless grapes to normal grapes (unless for some reason you like crunchy fruit), it’s important to know that seedless grapes are artificially manufactured. Scientists have learned how to genetically alter grape DNA to produce seedlessness.

This seedless grape metaphor can be used to discuss ecclesiology and disciple making, because, unfortunately, our churches are often filled with disciples of Jesus who never reproduce. And like the seedless grape, followers of Christ who do not multiply are an anomaly.

In the Kingdom of God, it is abnormal, a spiritual irregularity, not to multiply. As we shall see, it is a far cry from the life and teachings of Jesus who showed that in one normal grape we can see a multitude of ever-growing vineyards.

Before discussing multiplication, however, perhaps a word of caution is appropriate. The focus of our ministry should be the exaltation of Jesus Christ and never a pathetic obsession with numbers or statistics. Furthermore, I do not intend to imply that the primary lens of discipleship is multiplication: the formation of Christlikeness is central.

However, this brief theological piece is specifically about multiplication. Ultimately, to choose between growing in holiness and growing in abundance of fruit is a false dilemma. In the parable of the grain of wheat (“a seed that dies produces many seeds”), Jesus tied self-sacrifice to multiplying (Jn. 12:24). Becoming like Christ should lead to witness that multiplies. For the goal of God-glorifying community transformation, we must think both/and not either/or.

There are three main theological points that address the seedless grape phenomenon in our churches. So, let’s explore this issue by asking the question, “What is the biblical teaching of those who reproduce their faith in Christ in other people?”

1. Multiplication in the Grand Narrative of Scripture: Transcendent Theology, not Self Theology

First of all, it is important to place an understanding of multiplication in the context of the whole Bible. Looking at the very first page of the Bible, we read the commands, “be fruitful and multiply” and “fill the earth” (Gen. 1:22; 28). God’s purpose in Genesis 1 is to share his creation with his images so they can rule it with him in harmony forever.

But of course, after the fall, they filled the earth with violence and corruption. But God aims to remedy this through his promise to Abraham and his numerous offspring, that his blessing will come to all nations (Gen. 12:3).

In the New Testament, the exact words for “fruitful and multiply” that the Septuagint used in Genesis are used repeatedly by Luke to describe how the church grew and multiplied.

We might be sometimes shy of talking about numerical growth, but Luke does not hesitate to use the words “grow” and “multiply” and “increase” to describe the spread of the gospel (Acts 6:1, 7; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 19:20). He also uses modifiers such as “greatly” (6:7), “daily” (16:5), and “mightily” (19:20) to describe the multiplying nature of the Jesus movement.

This theme of disciple multiplication movements in the grand narrative of Scripture is clearest in Isaiah 61:11 and reflected in our grapevine metaphor:

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”

The biblical vision for transformation is the multiplication of disciples and churches who saturate regions and peoples with the life-giving praise of God.

We might ask, what might be the seedless aspects of our ecclesiology? Well, the opposite of the God-glorifying grand narrative of Scripture is placing individual Christians at the center of the story. This happens when we teach that the church exists simply to cater to its members – that God exists primarily for their benefit and comfort.

This all-too-common irreverence misses the beautiful transcendence of being part of something that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our churches, even bigger than our cities or countries. We must call people to join in God’s cosmic and eschatological vision to fill the whole earth with his glory, to be fruitful and to multiply. And we remember, it is only God who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:7).

This brings us to our next theological point that addresses the seedlessness in today’s disciples.

2. Multiplication in the Core Identity of Jesus-followers: Active Production, not Religious Consumerism

When Jesus called his disciples, he said “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt. 4:18). This is so obvious that it is easy to miss: following Jesus means, in part, multiplying. Multiplication is tied to our call to follow-Christ. You cannot follow Jesus and not reproduce your faith.

Paul also integrates this multiplication identity in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Here we see four generations of disciples continuing to pass down their faith. 1) Paul, 2) Timothy, 3) reliable people, and 4) others.

Paul certainly expected disciples to bring forth new disciples and churches to bring forth new churches (2 Thess. 3:1). It is natural for faith to flow because it is tied to our identity. We are called to be active producers of faith, not consumers. The difference is crucial.

What is religious consumerism? This happens when church functions like it has a religious product to market. The church service, led by paid professionals, curates a type of commodity in the form of sermons, media, curriculum, and music. The most professional and attractive churches become the most popular and successful. In this framework, evangelism devolves into a marketing strategy which increases more church members who pay tithes and offerings for the religious product.

When we think of church through the worldview of consumerism, then Jesus becomes not Lord, but a label in the religious marketplace. When Jesus is no longer Lord, then we lose the impulse to multiply from our identity, which originates from how Jesus himself multiplied into his followers.

To recap, we’ve seen multiplication in the grand narrative of the Bible and in the core identity of Jesus-followers. The final theological point that addresses seedless grapes is where it all began…

3. Multiplication in the Practice of Jesus: Concurrent Activities, Not Sequentialism

When Jesus called his disciples, he had them serving almost immediately. There was on the job leadership training. It involved learning by doing. He didn’t only teach doctrine, he also emphasized obedience. He taught ethics and compassion. His kingdom was tangible. His disciples observed and imitated his activities. Jesus dealt with the head, the heart, and the hands, and all at the same time.

This contrasts with what we might call “sequentialism” in our churches today. A traditional program of discipleship often follows a linear process of prayer, then pre-evangelism, then evangelism, then conversion, then discipleship, then theological training, then leadership development, then ministry. When you operate in this sequential fashion, you delay important ministry activity, sometimes even for years.

I once had a conversation with an Arab church leader of several small groups of Syrian refugees in Beirut. He told me he would never let another Syrian lead a Bible study until they had finished reading the entire Bible first. I was not surprised that he was not developing any leaders.

It is counter-intuitive to our linear thinking to do things the way Jesus did them. It’s not that Jesus cared about speed or rapidity, but that the multi-faceted dimensions of spiritual formation occurred simultaneously in his practices. They were happening concurrently, not sequentially or linearly.

The genius of Jesus’ approach to disciple making was early and consistent activity, what we might call obedient-faith discipleship, that creates mature disciples who naturally replicate their faith into others.

So What? Uncultivated Soil in the Middle Eastern and North African Region

As a matter of fact, there are less disciples of Jesus and churches per capita in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) than in any other region of the world. Entire groups of people have no indigenous church and little access to the gospel.

For many reasons both contextual and historical, it might be true that one could be a faithful Christ-follower and never pass their faith onto another. However, given the life of Christ and the teaching of the New Testament, including the testimony of Church history, such exceptions seem to prove the rule.

As the saying goes, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” As the body of Christ in the MENA, we have to take a step back and seriously reexamine if self-theology, religious consumerism, and sequentialism have resulted in disciples and churches that reproduce only with great difficulty, and sometimes never at all.

Instead, we need a dynamic understanding of church that embodies the transcendent glory of God filling the whole earth, joyfully obedient disciples who actively reproduce their faith, and concurrent practices of disciple making modeled on the ministry of our unpredictable Messiah.

God is a fruit lover. He loves all grapes, with or without seeds. And yet, to see disciples of Jesus multiplying disciples of Jesus in the MENA region and beyond, let us abide in him. Apart from Jesus, the true vine (Jn. 15:1), we can do nothing.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Good Ecclesiology Continues Jesus’ Life and Teachings: A Response to ‘The Potential Dark Side of Movements’ | Guest Post by David Garrison

Last week I posted The Potential Dark Side of Movements: Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which was my reflection on American Evangelicalism and movements.

David Garrison, executive director of Global Gates and author of Church Planting Movements and A Wind in the House of Islam, responds with an ecclesiological comparison between Mars Hill and Church Planting Movements (CPM).

Let me toss my two cents into this conversation. Every CPM is different with varying strengths and weaknesses. If, and I doubt it is so, the Mars Hill model is a CPM at all, it would fit on the extreme end of the spectrum as a sort of frankensteinian American mega-church planting movement. In so many ways, it fails to meet any of the descriptive elements found in the CPM phenomena that we’ve been describing around the world for the past 25 years.

In South Asia, as we sought to sharpen our CPM ecclesiology, we looked at the variety of movements around the world and adopted an eclectic approach to incorporating the best elements of ecclesiology that we were seeing. We sought to strike a balance between reproducibility and integrity to the ideal of continuing to reproduce all that Jesus taught and did in his life on earth.

The resulting ecclesiology, we called “A Handy Guide to Healthy Church,” so named because we used the “hand” as a mnemonic devise for teaching and reproducing key elements of the ecclesiology. Essential to this ecclesiology were what we called “antibodies” that fought off the twin maladies of immorality and heresy. The antibodies were woven into the structure of the ecclesiology and included:

  1. Small size of meeting groups that prevented the sort of megalomania that afflicted Driscoll and threatens so many mega-churches today.
  2. Intimate meetings in homes that ensure that discipleship exposes and penetrates every aspect of family life.
  3. Participative Bible study built on 2 Tim. 3:16-17, asking one another the Pauline questions: 1) what is God teaching, 2) what is God rebuking, 3) what is God correcting in my life, and 4) what will I apply to my life this week? This is radically different from the “knower/teacher to passive recipient” model abused by Driscoll.
  4. Shared leadership responsibilities with male and female deacons stewarding the five purposes of: 1) worship, 2) fellowship, 3) ministry, 4) discipleship, 5) evangelism/missions.
  5. Dedicating all tithes and offerings exclusively to one of these five purposes, with none available for salaries, buildings, or property.

These internal checks and balances within our house church network (that produced 106 churches in two years), served as antibodies within the body of Christ to fight off the sort of immorality and heresy that infected Brother Driscoll’s network.

Good ecclesiology that is both faithful to the Christ ideal and nimble enough to keep up with rapidly multiplying new conversions/disciples is a moving target. Our challenge must always be to measure our churches and ourselves by the ideal of: “Is this continuing what Jesus began?” Aiming for anything less, whether it is rapid or slow, Reformed or Charismatic, is missing the mark of fidelity to the One who claimed the Church as His Body.

David Garrison | Executive Director, Global Gates

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Potential Dark Side of Movements: Lessons from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

For me, listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast has been cathartic.

I was a seminary student in the early 2000s during Mark Driscoll’s meteoric rise. Like most seminarians, it was a time of implicitly searching for my own theological identity (for better or worse) in the vast sea of Evangelicalism.

I was drawn to Mars Hill and Driscoll for their focus on contextualization, perceived commitment to “the gospel,” slick internet media, and the hilarious hyperbole in Driscoll’s preaching. I eagerly consumed several of his writings and sermons (I somehow missed his most controversial comments).

At the end of the day though, Mars Hill wasn’t international enough for me and so I never fully opted-in. One of my church partners was affiliated with Acts 29 but cut ties with Driscoll early on, circa 2009, because of his authoritarian leadership style. I was never given details, but it was not an amicable parting.

After a comment I made in 2008 to a Christian leader about my admiration of Mars Hill in the post-everything American scene, I was gently warned by this leader that Driscoll had a history of spiritual abuse. So when word came out in 2014 about the demise of Mars Hill, I wasn’t surprised, and I eagerly wanted for years to hear the whole juicy yet tragic story. This podcast has not disappointed.

However, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is not so much about Driscoll as it is about the evangelical subculture that created the environment for his flourishing. Despite the obvious entertainment value of the podcast, I have lamented my own part in contributing to Driscoll’s noxious celebrity.

Writer and producer Mike Cosper has done an admirable job of highlighting the consumeristic nature of popular Evangelicalism and pointing the listener to repentance and Jesus. At the conclusion of more than one episode, I had some soul-searching prayer times with God. My personal leadership take-a-ways revolve around the concepts of accountability, character, gentleness, and integrity.

But that is not my focus here. I believe the wider lesson pertains to the potential dark side of movements.

Beware the Celebrity Patronage and Sociocultural Ideology

Just because there is a “church planting movement” (as Mars Hill was called) or a Christian movement of some kind, in any context, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Kingdom is spreading. You can multiply healthy disciples, but you can also multiply a harmful ideology covered in a “Christian” veneer. And sometimes it is nearly impossible for insiders to tell the difference between the two.

As the podcast has made clear, both the fall and rise of Mars Hill was closely tied to an ideology created in the image of Driscoll and reflected in certain aspects of American culture. Yes, God still works in broken places where the Bible is preached and the gospel proclaimed. But Driscoll’s framework of chauvinism, combativeness, and autocratic hierarchy bears all the marks of a cult-like leader. As the series finale made clear, Driscoll’s overall message was not the gospel but instead a triumphalistic brand wedded to disproportionate media influence: “Be a winner, like me.”

Why does this also implicate us? The point of the podcast is that this ties in closely with American Evangelicalism. The past several years, and 2020 in particular, has been a time that exposed many of the ideologies inherent in our movement. A number of hard-hitting books and videos have nailed this point home.

To name only a couple, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation exposed the toxic masculinity and Christian Nationalism in the movement. Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump traced the religious right’s co-option of Evangelicalism into conservative politics. Phil Vischer explained how fundamentalists snuck into the big tent of Evangelicalism. And The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism uncovered the deep rootedness of white supremacy in American Christianity. We could also mention an anti-science ideological bias among white evangelicals. And the tendency to embrace baseless conspiracy theories. The list goes on and on.

To simply dismiss these as hit-pieces intended to persecute “true believers” would only reinforce the charge of ideologies in American Evangelicalism. You don’t need to agree with everything to recognize that something has to change.

Some have chosen to abandon Evangelicalism altogether. I think that might be too easy, and also a bit presumptuous. Evangelicalism is a global movement which American Evangelicals do well to realize that they are no longer the leading partner.

The proper response to recognizing ideology in our midst is to repent, lament, and recalibrate Church around the person of Jesus. In the final episode, Paul Tripp shared some sobering and helpful words related to the constant necessity for recalibration/deconstruction (37:15):

We should all be deconstructing our faith. We better do it, because our faith becomes a culture, a culture so webbed into the purity of truth, it’s hard to separate the two. And we better do some deconstructing, or we’re going to find ourselves again and again in these sad places… You know I celebrate the church of Jesus Christ…. I love the gospel, I have no other wisdom than that, but I’m sad for the Church… There is a devastating humility that comes when you are willing to deconstruct something you have given your life to.

Also in the final episode, former pastor and worship leader at Mars Hill, Joe Day, explains how he has disentangled ideology from his faith (35:42):

I was coming to see that I was involved in a very toxic culture for a very long period of time… the theology, the methods, and even the whole outlook on mission and church was all tangled up within that, and it was really hard to know what was what… I think there is so much bullsh*t in Evangelicalism. I think that we’re getting so many things backwards… But for me, I bring it back to Christ… Everything else might be rot, but the person of Christ is still extremely compelling to me.

As the Motus Dei Network studies movements, particularly in the Global South, our contextual analysis of these movements needs to take these lessons to heart. There are sophisticated reporting and verification procedures of these movements already in place to the extent that we know these are healthy movements centered on Christ.

But as the rise of the Mars Hill movement displayed so clearly, we do well to constantly exegete the context and continue to pay attention to potential issues of celebrity patronage and sociocultural ideology. Movements should be christological in nature. The pile of bodies behind the Mars Hill bus paints a vivid picture: any foundation and focus other than Jesus inevitably leads to pain and trauma.

Beware the Anti-Movement Bias

However, in the reaction to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, we may be tempted to an anti-movement bias. Like a pendulum that swings too far in the other direction, it would seem that smaller is better or that the ministry of presence is the only safe way to grow.

To be sure, Christian growth centered around a celebrity, coupled with an ideology, and flavored through the vapor of social media is an immediate red flag. As we discussed, the Mars Hill church planting movement certainly supports the suspicion that quick growth is inherently unhealthy, like cancer. But this would be a fallacy of a selective use of the evidence.

The story of the world is the story of movements, both for ill and shalom, with a lot of variation in between. Biblical faith, by its nature, is a movement of God (in Latin, motus Dei). Every people significantly impacted by Christ had a discipling movement at one point occur in its midst. A theology of multiplication ties movements to the grand narrative of Scripture. Jesus started a Kingdom movement that continues to this day. We are invited to be participants in his movement to redeem all nations back to himself. If anything, we should be biased towards those traditions and theologies that support a stagnant view of the Church and consumeristic Christianity that impede healthy Kingdom movements.

Movements as Biblical Yeast

To summarize, we need to discern the idolatry of charismatic celebrity and fanatical ideology that creates a lot of energy but ultimately burns people out. Jesus and the early disciples displayed what we might call a paradoxical “apostolic calmness” or a “patient urgency” in ministry. There was definitely a passion and realization that God uses people to accomplish his purposes, but also at the same time a trust that ultimately the movement is God’s, not ours. We can rest as grateful participants in movements of his Kingdom instead of building our own.

This focus recognizes the strategic nature of movements as zúme (yeast) in relation to the Kingdom. In the biblical narrative, zúme is used both positively (the parable of the yeast in the flour – Mt. 13:33) and negatively (the leaven of the Pharisees – Mt. 16:6). In the same way, movements start out small and insignificant but eventually have a huge impact, be that good or bad.

Mars Hill was a warning about the potential dark side of movements. Following Jesus, let us aim for Christ-centered Kingdom movements, especially considering the movemental nature of our faith. One third of the world still has yet to hear.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Motus Dei Book Launch Event Oct 20

The first research output from our Motus Dei Network is available now for pre-order, Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations. It releases on October 19.

You’re invited to the Virtual Book Launch on October 20, 9:00-9:45am Central Time US. Register here https://bit.ly/MotusDei and attend for a chance to win a free hard copy and a discount code for purchases. Here is the event schedule:

  • Endorsement by JD Payne, professor of Christian Ministry, Samford University
  • Endorsement by Harry Brown, president of New Generations
  • Book Preview
  • Breakout Sessions with Contributors
  • Chance to win a free book and a discount code for attendees

Feel free to share this with your networks.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Motus Dei book releasing October 19

As you may know, I have been working on a book project for the last four years. I’m excited to announce that it will be releasing October 19th at William Carey Publishing. As an edited compendium, it has over 20 original chapters of research on church planting movements. I’m going through the copy edits now. It is by design a thick volume, and one we hope advances the missiological discourse on movements.

Get your first look here, Motus Dei: The Movement of God to Disciple the Nations

Here is the book description:

Your Place in the Movement of God

An incredible breakthrough in missions history is taking place as disciples of Jesus make more disciples of Jesus around the globe, particularly among the least-reached. But what exactly are these church planting or disciple making movements? Where are they occurring and what are their unifying features? How are they manifesting in diverse populations? And can you or your organization be instrumental in catalyzing more movements? Motus Dei, Latin for “movement of God,” seeks to answer these questions and more.

Warrick Farah has expertly synthesized an extensive conversation between mission practitioners, scholars, and seasoned movement leaders from around the world. The resulting in-depth analysis of movements provides a multi-disciplinary academic investigation of an emerging “movements missiology,” highlighting the importance of theology, social sciences, ethnology and anthropology, communications theory, leadership theory, and statistical analysis. Motus Dei locates the current Church Planting Movement (CPM) phenomenon within modern history, while tracing its roots back to the first century, and articulates a missiological description of the dynamics of Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) in Asia, Africa, and diaspora contexts in the Global North.

Offering over thirty first-hand accounts of indigenous churches planting churches among the nations, Motus Dei provides a seedbed for growing movements in diverse contexts. There are lessons to be learned here by anyone seeking to participate in the movement of God.

A couple endorsements:

I have been writing and teaching on the subject of movements since 2001. People have often asked for more information about such works of the Spirit. Though I have been able to refer to a few sources here and there, I never found a satisfying comprehensive volume. Motus Dei is the compendium of contemporary research and wisdom for which we have been waiting! This groundbreaking book provides a breath of fresh air, answers many questions, and greatly advances the conversation regarding this flourishing field of study.

J. D. Payne, PhD

professor of Christian Ministry, Samford University; author of Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers

God is moving in unprecedented ways! Kingdom movements have happened throughout history, but in the last thirty years God has started more than 1,400 movements with more than eighty million disciples in many unreached peoples and places. Motus Dei is an invaluable effort to evaluate and learn what God is doing in movements for the benefit of both the broader Christian world and movement leaders. “See, I am doing a new thing! … do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19).

Stan Parks, PhD

cofacilitator of the 24:14 Global Coalition; VP of Global Strategies, Beyond; coeditor of 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples: Kingdom Movements Around the World

As one who has spent decades in the worlds of both higher education and church planting, I highly recommend Motus Dei. It is well-researched, very informative, and extremely practical. Motus Dei would serve well as either a classroom text or a field handbook—a one-stop-shop resource on church planting movements.

Bill Jones, DMin

cofounder, Crossover Global; chancellor, Columbia International University


Friday, July 23, 2021

Changed Email Subscription Service

Hi Friends, thank you for following my blog, live since 2008!

Google canceled their Feedburner email subscription service so I have migrated all the new information over to follow.it.

You don’t need to take any action but I thought I would let you know.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Misc Links: Palestine and Power, ‘Isa and Jesus, Mosque Planting and America

A quick post to share three brief articles worth reading.

First, Caleb Hutcherson shares a moving piece on the relationship between power, oppression, and Zionism. Missiological responses to the subject/conflict due well to consider this perspective: Palestine, Evangelicalism, and the Problem of Power

Second, ministry to Muslims in Arab contexts involves the inevitable issue of the translation for “Jesus.” Should it be ‘Isa (the Qur’anic term) or Yesua’ as Christians typically say? In my experience, Arab MBBs get used to using both names without much difficulty- ‘Isa in Muslim contexts and Yesua’ in Christian contexts. There are some compelling and commonsensical reasons for using ‘Isa in Arabic translations of the Bible for a Muslim audience. See Martin Accad, What’s in a Name?: A Case for Using ‘Isa in Arabic Translations of the Bible.

Finally, Jayson Casper has a very interesting article in Christianity Today on American Muslim patterns of “mosque planting” and “unmosqued youth” that resemble Christian semantics on similar issues, especially related to secularism: The American Mosque: More Suburban, Less Conversion.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

American Evangelicals and US Foreign Policy in the ME: Exposing and Overcoming Missional Blind Spots | MJ Bryant

Here is an important study on political theology for American evangelicals engaged in the Middle East. Posted at the website of Nabeel Jabbour https://www.nabeeljabbour.com/american-evangelicals:

American Evangelical Christians often express a desire for Muslims in the Middle East to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus. Many will financially support missionaries who travel to the region to share the gospel with Muslims, while simultaneously giving their support to violent military actions and destabilizing political policies in that very same region. Perhaps it does not occur to them that the political policies they support are often counterproductive to the mission of God in the region.

Download the full document here: PDF | EPUB | KINDLE

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel: How Should We Interpret the Scriptures? | Chapman 2021

In light of recent events this book could not be more timely: Christian Zionism and the Restoration of Israel: How Should We Interpret the Scriptures? by Colin Chapman, 2021. The book description:

How should Christians today understand the many promises and prophecies in the Old Testament about the future of Israel and its land? Are Christian Zionists justified in believing that these have been fulfilled in the return of Jews to their land since the 1880s and the creation of the State of Israel in 1948? This book discusses all the key texts about the restoration of Israel that are quoted in these debates, questioning the Christian Zionist interpretation and offering an alternative. This is followed by a detailed study of two important Old Testament texts dealing with the future of Israel, Ezekiel 33–47 and Zechariah 9–13, understanding them in their original context and exploring how they are interpreted in the New Testament. This is no theoretical, ivory-tower debate. We are dealing here with the most bitter and protracted conflict of the last 150 years; and the way we interpret the Bible has profound political consequences.

The endorsement from Gary Burge:

The church is awash with books about Israel and Christian Zionism written by unreliable and ill-informed nonexperts. Colin Chapman is one of the few international scholars who can address these troubling discussions with authority. He begins with a goldmine of answers for the ten central questions surrounding this religious-political movement. From there he studies the Old Testament prophets' view of the restoration of Israel. As with Chapman's other books on Jerusalem and modern Israel, this volume is grounded in well-reasoned biblical argument and matured wisdom anchored in his long career in the Middle East. Anyone who is drawn to issues of Israel and the Bible needs to have this valuable book close in hand.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Prayer and Movements among Muslims

This is repost from The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. Written by David Garrison: “Why We Must Pray for Muslims Around the World.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2021/april/why-we-must-pray.html

I recently had the privilege of delivering the sermon at my local church. I took the opportunity to share from Acts 17:26-27,

“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

As the author of a recent global survey revealing unprecedented turnings of thousands of Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ, I used the opportunity to point out that it is God who determines the times and boundaries of the world’s peoples. I shared with the congregation that it is no accident that God has allowed more than 3 million Muslims to find their new homes here in the United States.

The reason for this relocation, I said, was so that “perhaps Muslim immigrants in America might reach out for him and find him.” For this divine appointment to be realized, though, requires us to acknowledge that God has also placed us here in proximity to more than 3 million Muslims, so that we would share with them the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

During the invitation, I invited the congregation to pray for Muslims, and for themselves, that God would use us to bring them to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

One man, shoulders slumped, walked down the aisle to the altar where I was standing. As he took my hand, it was evident to me that he was weeping. “I lost my son in Afghanistan,” he said, “And I’ve hated those people ever since. But I know that I can’t follow Jesus and hate Muslims. I want to leave that hatred here today.”

Prayer changes things. It changes the hearts of Muslims even as it changes our own hearts. Let me tell you how I became acutely aware of the impact that prayer has in drawing Muslims to faith. In 2014, I published a book called A Wind in the House of Islam. It was the culmination of a three-year journey that took me 250,000 miles throughout the Muslim world where I was able to gather more than a thousand interviews from Muslims who had come to faith in Jesus Christ and were each a part of a work of God within their community that had seen at least 1,000 baptisms.

In my survey, I heard hundreds of stories of God’s miraculous life-changing intervention into the lives of these formerly devout Muslims that prompted them to not only say yes to Jesus, but to follow him in baptism, an act that could garner them capital punishment. The truth be told, not one of these individuals that I interviewed told me that it was because some Christian on the other side of the globe was praying for them that they turned to faith in Jesus.

However, during the writing of my book, I would often share with my friend, Paul Filidis, the publisher of the Muslim World Prayer Guide the stories I had heard from Imams, Mullahs, and common Muslim men and women who had found Jesus as their Lord and Savior. One day, Paul asked me a simple question, “David, when did these movements begin?”

I knew the answer because my research had included a historic retrospective to identify every time that history had recorded a movement of at least a thousand Muslim baptisms within a particular Islamic community. This historic review was not as difficult as it might seem. In fact, such movements were so rare that whenever they occurred, they made church history. Looking over my spreadsheets, I informed Paul that 84% of all the Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred during our lifetime, in fact, during the past 30 years.

Paul’s eyes immediately filled with tears. “What’s the matter,” I asked. Paul sobbed, “It was 30 years ago, that we began the Muslim World Prayer Guide.” That’s why I know that prayer makes a difference. Prayer is changing the hearts of Muslims.

This is why I urge Christians to pray for Muslims, for their salvation, for their blessing in Jesus Christ. Sadly, many Muslim immigrants to America today see us, evangelical Christians, as their greatest opponents in America. I know that this opposition within the Christian community grows out of fear, and only perfect love can cast out that fear.

None of us can lay claim to the perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), no one except for Christ himself. But when we pray, we acquire the heart of God, a heart that was willing to die for us, all of us (including Muslims).

This year, during the month of Ramadan, April 13 - May 12, a growing multitude of Christians all around the world will join together to pray for Muslims, that God will reveal to them his Son, Jesus Christ.

If you would like to join us in that prayer for Muslims, you need to be prepared for God to change your heart from fear, hatred, or indifference, to love for a people for whom Christ gave his life.

See you at the altar.

David Garrison, PhD, is the executive director of Global Gates (globalgates.info) and the author of A Wind in the House of Islam. To help you in your journey of engagement with God’s heart for Muslims, you can obtain a free copy of the Muslim World Prayer Guide, 30 Days of Prayer at www.globalgates.info/30Days.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier


Alan Hirsch and I wrote a short blog post that contrasts a "typical ecclesiology" with a "movemental ecclesiology" in order to propose a way of imagining Church as a living, distributed, incarnational, network — the very essence and mark of all world-changing, transformative movements.

Friday, March 26, 2021

The Integrative Nature of Movements Missiology

1. Evangelism/Witness. 2. Discipleship. 3. Church Planting. 4. Community Transformation (Justice / Development / Peace Making / Relief / Etc.). The “big four.”

These four are often isolated from each other when we approach ministry or discuss Kingdom mission. So, are “movements” just another ministry to add to the list? Part of the “big five?”

Perhaps the staying power of movements missiology will be in our ability to integrate these ministries together, instead of seeing “movements” as its own distinct program.

For instance, the line between evangelism and discipleship/disciple-making is already fuzzy, and rightly so. And we know how problematic it is to make disciples without seeing people become part of a local church or involved in the forming of local churches. And far be it from us if we don’t see this entire process as wholistic in nature with lives and communities being transformed – the people of God must impact society.

Consider for example what is sometimes called a “discovery Bible study.” A group of people meet to discuss God’s Word. With the presence of a gifted leader, this process provides space for the Holy Spirit to work, leading to both (1) evangelism and (2) discipleship. In a movements ethos, many (not all) of these groups multiply and become churches, or lead to (3) local churches, eventually. And as they holistically obey/practice/embody all that Jesus has commanded, they are both transformed and (4) transforming others and communities in the process.

I propose that an emerging movements missiology integrates these various aspects of Kingdom mission together. But I also think it is important to root this discussion in an understanding of motus Dei that sees life-giving movement as part of God himself. In other words, the motus Dei is something that we participate in as it flows from God’s character.

One further thought, we can talk about movements in places where there is already a local (legacy) church, where people have access to the gospel (to varying degrees), and where kingdom ministry is already happening (to varying degrees). In comparison, apostolic movements would then be a way to distinguish Kingdom initiatives in least-reached places and peoples.


Monday, March 15, 2021

The Motus Dei Network: Fostering Communal Intelligence on Movements

Below is a repost of my recent article at Mission Frontiers - The Motus Dei Network: Fostering Communal Intelligence on Movements. . Download the PDF version here.

Longtime readers of Mission Frontiers are most likely familiar with movements. Movements are indeed an exciting work of God and no mere passing fad in missions. They have occurred in the past and will continue in the future. However, familiarity can sometimes be unhelpful if we have faulty assumptions or if we take too much for granted. One solution to this potential problem is to frame our quest for knowledge about movements through thoughtful and deliberate questioning.

The Strategic Advantages of Research

Asking rigorous questions about movements is not to doubt their existence or to criticize the work of God. Neither should it be seen as criticism of movement catalysts, nor a threat to organizations that promote movements. Good research questions are designed to test our presuppositions and force us to wrestle with the nature and limits of our existing knowledge.

While fundamental to research in general, this helps us discover what is going on behind what is going on.

In studying movements as researchers, we might ask, “What is fostering the irruption of movements in the world today?” How can the stewardship of this knowledge edify the Church and bless God’s work in redeeming all nations back to Himself? However, we do not seek the right answers as much as we seek the right questions and commit to follow the evidence where it leads.

This research quest holds many pitfalls we need to avoid. On one hand, we might become overly pragmatic, believing that movements can simply be managed more efficiently with the right knowledge. On the other hand, we might propagate sterile research for the sake of more research that has little to do with the actual lives of people and leaders catalyzing movements.

The solution is not so much balance as it is integration. Movements research can and should be both practically tangible and also theoretically robust. Through prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit and with the Bible open, asking the right research questions about movements can facilitate this integration. But further to the point, we propose that this approach reframes missiological discourse around a new concept: the motus Dei.

The Genesis of Motus Dei

Motus Dei is Latin and means “movement of God.”

As a theological term, it intentionally mimics the concept of missio Dei which means the sending/mission of God. While not without conceptual problems,1 the missio Dei conversation has contributed much to our understanding of mission through the past several decades. God in His nature is missio, sent into the world. Created in His image, we are also sent into the world to join God in His mission.

Motus Dei invokes a similar albeit different concept. If the nature of our faith is participating in the movement of God to redeem the nations back to Himself, this suggests we need to further investigate the essence of movements and theologies that promote them. We need also to examine those traditions and theologies the church has developed that might impede motus Dei in a specific context.

We have reframed this conversation on movements around motus Dei because we desire, first and foremost, to be rooted and grounded in the life-giving character of God. We aim not simply for acceleration of fruitful ministry and multiplication of disciples, but ultimately for Jesus to receive worship from all peoples. God’s movement to achieve global worship through holistic salvation of the nations is not just something He does; it is part of His very being.

Like the “church growth movement” or the “missional church” conversation from previous generations, motus Dei has two slightly different nuances. As previously explained, it is primarily the situating of a new missiological concept, motus Dei, in the field of mission studies.2 But secondly, it is the creation of a research network and the title of an upcoming book published by William Carey, Motus Dei: The Movement of God and the Discipleship of Nations. In time, we hope these two nuances will integrate into a deeper, richer understanding of motus Dei. Ultimately, we hope this will be as edifying to the Church as the concept of missio Dei has been.

Reimagining Research on Movements

I have personally been interested in movements for around 20 years, ever since I read David Garrison’s booklet Church Planting Movements.3 While causing me to question many of my own assumptions about ministry, the booklet also gave my spirit a joyful hope and gratefulness for the work of God. It even impacted how I read the New Testament. Yet as I continued to learn more about movements, I also discovered the ways movement ideas are perceived and described sometimes cause confusion. Additionally, some may even have a negative reaction before understanding the concept.

In light of this, I began to imagine a missiological research project on the topic of movements. What causes their emergence? How can their description be more nuanced? As I considered these questions, I quickly realized that researching movements is neither straightforward nor appropriate for one person alone.

As movements are a large phenomenon in our world today, researching movements is necessarily a vast exercise. To do it justice requires integrating multiple perspectives and multiple fields of study. This will require asking a variety of questions from a variety of angles. With this robust research approach, we can avoid either sensationalizing the emergence of movements or dismissing movements as the latest fad.

Communal Intelligence and the Body of Christ

It seems natural for people to constantly search for the genius in the room or hope to read books or articles by a single genius who will answer all our questions. But this is a myth, especially in the Body of Christ. We all need each other.

We consider it more helpful to frame our conversation through the concept of “scenius.” As a play on words, this term conveys that the scene itself is the genius. In other words, instead of looking for the genius in the room, we may say the room is the genius.4

The Motus Dei Network is an application of scenius. In order to better understand movements and what God is doing today, we seek to embrace our unity in Christ and learn from one another. Extreme creativity, innovation, and knowledge come best from communal intelligence, not simply lone geniuses or great persons. Motus Dei is our attempt to gather this “ecology of talent” in a way that fosters communal intelligence on movements.

In this conversation, we have catalysts, researchers, leaders, practitioners, theologians and academics. Currently over 100 people are involved: men and women from the Global North and the Global South. This informal network does not intend to train practitioners or mobilize prayer, although as solid mission research we expect it will be a seedbed for both. We are framing Motus Dei as a multi-year conversation on the topic of movements that is informed by missiological research and authentic relationships.

Relationships are important because we do not all agree on what “movements” are, how they should be described or how they should be catalyzed. But more importantly, we refuse to buy into the worldly pattern of controlling the narrative in order to marginalize voices of those who we disagree with. As we challenge the human tendency to form “silos” of information, we anticipate disagreements and even contradictions in our network. Yet we believe our discourse will be richer and deeper for it.

Our first major output from Motus Dei is the book arising from our virtual Movements Research Symposium in October 2020. At this symposium, 20 chapters of the book were presented in abbreviated form and discussed.

We see the symposium and book as only first steps. In the coming years, we intend to have different tracks of smaller working groups gathering to share research and wisdom around different aspects of movements: particularly biblical theology, the social sciences and missional praxis. Missiology includes integration of all three of these streams, so these working groups will be in conversation together.

Join the “Movement” Movement

Motus Dei is a learning community. If you have significant experience in movements and would like to join the Motus Dei conversation, or if you have movements research you would like to share, please connect with us at http://motusdei.network. Until then, enjoy this journey of motus Dei. As you read and reflect on our upcoming book, we pray you will be compelled in wonder and joy to join God’s redemptive movement among all peoples today.

  1. Michael W. Stroope, Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2017). An abbreviated version is Transcending the Modern Mission Tradition (Oxford, UK: Regnum, 2020).

  2. For an initial discussion of motus Dei, see Warrick Farah, “Motus Dei: Disciple-Making Movements and the Mission of God,” Global Missiology 2, no. 17 (2020): 1–10.

  3. David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (Booklet) (Richmond, VA: International Mission Board, 2000).

  4. “Scenius” originated with Brian Eno and I first heard it from Alan Hirsch at his Movement Leaders Collective. See https://movementleaderscollective.com/why-scenius/

Monday, February 22, 2021

How can mission research better serve local leaders’ agendas? | Stan Nussbaum

This is a repost of the CMIW (Community of Mission Information Workers) quarterly bulletin for January 2021, written by Stan Nussbaum. It is short and provides a concise typology of the various kinds of research with attention to movements.

Recent discussion in the new Motus Dei forum on new Christian movements flagged the problem that so few members of the movements were participating in the research network. So far, it is mostly white male outsiders like me. One wrote:

I am in touch with a number of movements that may . . . want to understand and be better equipped to do research. I don't think any of them would be interested in the sort of movement research that helps the wider world know how many movements there are or what their characteristics may be, though two groups of leaders did agree to participate in a project or two like that in the past. My sense from reading the threads here is that the sort of research being proposed . . . is about the internal needs of movements for their own growth and health.

The discussion brought back memories of my 24 years at Global Mapping International (GMI) and our constant struggle to explain our ministry, because “mission research” meant such different things to different groups. I offer the following typology of “mission research” in the hope that it may help CMIW readers explain themselves as well as promote greater attention to a crucial but neglected type of mission research.

Let us classify mission research by the gaps that are driving it. For simplicity, I mention only four common types:

  1. A gap in a local leader’s or organization’s discernment of what to do next;
  2. A gap in a strategic database;
  3. A gap in the academic literature;
  4. A gap on a donor’s checklist.

Gap 1 is the neglected gap mentioned earlier. Gap 2 is UPGs (unreached people groups), language mapping, etc. that GMI was initially designed to serve. Gap 3 is the academic world. Gap 4 is evaluative research, increasingly common.

The critical problem in the mission research community today is that the four types of research are siloed. Western strategists and mobilizers see that Gap 2 gets addressed. Western academics take care of Gap 3. Western donors demand attention to Gap 4. But the “local leaders” are out of sync with the West on all three points:

  • Their mobilization is based more on social networks than geography;
  • They want short useful case studies instead of bulletproof dissertations on niche topics;
  • They want evaluation that rings true to local realities, not evaluation in terms of a foreigner’s categories.

Why don’t local leaders promote research that addresses Gap 1 themselves? Because it is an unknown type of “mission research.” What they know of research that addresses Gaps 2, 3, and 4 does not serve them. Can those of us involved in mission information work help these local leaders imagine research for Gap 1??

I am starting a couple of attempts at that, one of which is for experimental research that local leaders help design themselves. The other is a possible micro-research project in four African countries, focusing on research topics updated monthly by a handful of leaders in each country.

There are also encouraging signs that Silo 3 is reaching out toward Silo 1. For example, the mission statement of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies includes, “responding to issues identified by the church [my italics] with timely, strategic and rigorous research.”
I am less optimistic about the other two siloes but would be happy to be proved wrong there. Let’s see how we can spur each other on toward more “Gap 1” research.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity (Swartz 2020)

If Arab Muslims are the least-reached people in the world, then American Evangelicals are the least-transformed people in the world,” retorted my Arab colleague as I was making my case for the priority of ministry among unreached people groups.

As an American Evangelical with a passion for disciple-making among the unreached, this stunned me. But then again, given all the ugliness that has been unveiled about American evangelicalism in (at least) the past five years, I have to admit, it might be painfully true.

In Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity, David Swartz, professor of history at Asbury University, takes the reader on tour de force understanding of what can also sometimes be understood as “Christian Americanism” abroad. In so doing, Swartz shows how global evangelicalism does not sit comfortably in American clothes, and that American “missions” often has the dual effect of affecting the church in the United States as well. As he deals with people like McGavran, Wagner, Winter, and even Hiebert, I was most impressed with his grasp of the missiological side of the conversation. The description of the book says it best:

In 1974 nearly 3,000 evangelicals from 150 nations met at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Amidst this cosmopolitan setting and in front of the most important white evangelical leaders of the United States, members of the Latin American Theological Fraternity spoke out against the American Church. Fiery speeches by Ecuadorian René Padilla and Peruvian Samuel Escobar revealed a global weariness with what they described as an American style of coldly efficient mission wedded to a myopic, right-leaning politics. Their bold critiques electrified Christians from around the world.

The dramatic growth of Christianity around the world in the last century has shifted the balance of power within the faith away from traditional strongholds in Europe and the United States. To be sure, evangelical populists who voted for Donald Trump have resisted certain global pressures, and Western missionaries have carried Christian Americanism abroad. But the line of influence has also run the other way. David R. Swartz demonstrates that evangelicals in the Global South spoke back to American evangelicals on matters of race, imperialism, theology, sexuality, and social justice. From the left, they pushed for racial egalitarianism, ecumenism, and more substantial development efforts. From the right, they advocated for a conservative sexual ethic grounded in postcolonial logic. As Christian immigration to the United States burgeoned in the wake of the Immigration Act of 1965, global evangelicals forced many American Christians to think more critically about their own assumptions.

The United States is just one node of a sprawling global network that includes Korea, India, Switzerland, the Philippines, Guatemala, Uganda, and Thailand. Telling stories of resistance, accommodation, and cooperation, Swartz shows that evangelical networks not only go out to, but also come from, the ends of the earth.

This book will help missionaries from America see how they are viewed by evangelicals in the Majority World, but it also adds an important piece of postcolonial logic in the globalizing understanding of frontier missiology. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Discerning Spiritual Realities in Islamic Contexts: Missional Reflections of a Boring Charismatic | The Religious Other (Langham 2020)

In this post I would like to introduce a chapter of mine in the recent book published by Langham, The Religious Other: A Biblical Understanding of Islam, the Qur'an and Muhammad.

This chapter is titled, “Discerning Spiritual Realities in Islamic Contexts: Missional Reflections of a Boring Charismatic.” And yes, I did just start my own denomination. Let me know if you also want to join the Boring Charismatics.

From the introduction:

Islam is not a religious system. It is an actual spiritual being that holds people in bondage. Pray with me to break the Spirit of Islam!” exclaimed the conference speaker to begin a time of corporate prayer. The clear implication of his statement was that Muslims everywhere are imprisoned by the same malevolent force and all suffer the identical demonic oppression. And yet, are there other ways to think of the spiritual conflict in ministry to Muslims? Merely asking such a mitigating question often leads to accusations of “minimizing truth” and failing to engage the “dark side of Islam.” So, how do we discern the spiritual realities in Islamic contexts?

Since 9/11, Islam has frequently been denounced by evangelicals as demonic and inherently violent. Within the evangelical community the opening quotation is neither an isolated incident nor even a particular rarity. Especially in the American context, demonization of Islam spans three centuries and finds deep roots in American history. This kind of spiritualizing of a religion’s adherents is often absent when considering Buddhists, Hindus or Mormons. There are historical and political reasons that explain these tendencies, but my purpose here is not to explore these.

Evangelicals who serve within a Muslim context frequently report confrontations with the occult and demonic oppression. Subsequently, there are many extraordinary stories of healing and miraculous divine intervention. Theological hermeneutics and denominational traditions play a large role in shaping practical responses to spiritual conflict, but again, a discussion of these issues goes beyond the scope of this chapter. It is all too easy to get caught in the philosophical/theological crossfire: colleagues of mine who minister in the “signs and wonders” camp claim I am not charismatic enough, while coworkers on the other side of the spectrum accuse me of being too supernaturally oriented. In finding my own place in these issues, I classify my personal theological stance on spiritual gifts and supernatural conflict in mission as that of a “boring charismatic.” I do believe in all the supernatural gifts (although I’m still waiting for mine!), but I’m adverse to the sensationalism that often follows contemporary charismatic movements.

So rather than discuss the practical implications of supernatural ministry among Muslims, my emphasis in this chapter is more fundamental and pertains to our biblical theology of Islam. I will focus on the nature of the spiritual conflict in Islamic contexts. Does the spiritual conflict stem from Islam itself – as an evil spiritual covenant or as an actual demonic entity masquerading as a religion? In what ways are the evil, supernatural powers in Islamic contexts essentially different when compared with other religious traditions? Are military metaphors appropriate for conceptualizing our ministry to Muslims? What exactly are the spiritual realities we face in the Christian-Muslim encounter?

In this chapter, I hope to demonstrate how a biblically-grounded approach to spiritual conflict (and to the “religious other”) can make us more discerning and, in turn, fruitful in our missiological encounter with Muslims.

I continue this with the following sections:

  • Spiritual Profiling?
  • Ordinary Muslim Piety
  • Sources of Spiritual Conflict in Islamic Contexts
  • Idolatrous Loyalty and Spiritual Oppression
  • Beyond Military Metaphors for Mission

This is one of the most challenging pieces I have written on ministry to Muslims, but I believe it is one of the most important and unique contributions I have made. There is a lot in here I wish I would have known 20 years ago.

From the conclusion:

I identified as a “boring charismatic” in this chapter for two main reasons. First, my charismatic emphasis denies the rose-colored lens and affirms the reality of oppressive supernatural conflict among Muslims wherein special gifts and persons are sometimes required to deal with these realities. Secondly, I am “boring” because I avoided the gray lens and the sensationalistic claims that Islam is either some extreme case or a monolithic, evil conspiracy against Christianity.

Understanding the various spiritual realities in Islamic contexts is an exercise in biblical discernment. We seek to relate to Muslims, not under the triumphal metaphor of war and empire, but as people who are very similar to who we once were, including many of the same idolatry and spiritual issues. We must also become sensitive to the temptation of spiritually stereotyping all Muslims or of imagining the activity of Satan at greater or lesser degrees in Islamic contexts compared to all others.

Worship of God outside of Christ and an ultimate faith allegiance to anything other than Jesus opens everyone to spiritual oppression which is especially devastating for those who have not been given the Holy Spirit. In light of this, we proclaim the highest and only hope for Muslims: Jesus! Through faith in him alone we find the freedom we so desperately need. May God grant us the grace, wisdom and perseverance to minister with unwavering trust as we joyfully proclaim the liberating gift of the powerful gospel: “If the Son sets you free, you will be freed indeed” (John 8:36).

Buy the book and read the whole chapter here.

Introducing Hermeneutical Hinges: How Different Views of Religion and Culture Impact Interpretations of Islam | The Religious Other (Langham 2020)

I’m excited to let you know about our new book, The Religious Other: A Biblical Understanding of Islam, the Qur'an and Muhammad which released in December 2020. Here is the book description:

We live at a time when religious diversity has become a fact of life in our globalized societies. Yet Christian engagement with Muslims remains complex, complicated by fear, misunderstanding and a history fraught with political and cultural tensions. These essays, drawn from the 2018 and 2019 Middle East Consultations hosted by the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary's Institute of Middle East Studies, engage the need for a carefully developed theological understanding of Islam, its origins and its sacred text. Weaving together the work of Christian scholars of Islam, the Bible, theology and missiology, along with the insights of ministry practitioners, this book combines scholarly exploration with pertinent ministry practice, offering a rich framework for the church to continue its conversation about its engagement with Muslim communities and its proclamation of Christ worldwide.

I have contributed three chapters in the volume; two of them are new. In this post I would like to highlight my essay in section 5.3, “Hermeneutical Hinges: How Different Views of Religion and Culture Impact Interpretations of Islam.” Here is my introduction.

As Martin Accad has proposed, “Your view of Islam will affect your attitude to Muslims. Your attitude will, in turn, influence your approach to Christian-Muslim interaction, and that approach will affect the ultimate outcome of your presence as a witness among Muslims.” I would like to add a more foundational layer to this proposal, namely, that your understanding of religion and culture will affect your view of Islam. In other words, your view of Islam inevitably hinges upon your approach to religion and culture, and specifically, the relationship between the two.

In this article, I would like to show how these ideas play out in the missiological discourse of ministry to Muslims. In the interest of space, I will not focus on a theology of religion (although the discerning reader will see hints of it throughout). Instead, I will focus on the more basic concepts of religion and culture. As we will see, the contemporary debate concerning approaches of ministry to Muslims is complex, and different presuppositions about culture and religion can lead to drastically different understandings of Islam.

The chapter continues with the following sections:

  • Culture: Secular, Evil or Theological?
  • Religion: Western Invention, Belief System, or Subset of Culture?
  • Epistemological Perspective: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?
  • Form and Meaning: Equated, Separate, or Corresponding?
  • Islam: Cultureligion or Religiolatry?

My approach in this essay offers examples from missiology where different answers to the above questions will take you in diverse directions as you interpret “Islam.”

Here is my final section, Concluding Reflections: Getting Comfortable with Ambiguity:

We are unlikely ever to reach a consensus on a proper biblical theology of religion and culture. With the publication of Christ and Culture in 1951, Niebuhr called this issue an “enduring problem” for the Church through the ages. While we can make some general clarifications, as I have done here, it seems to me that many of these issues can’t be solved at the abstract, theoretical level. There is simply too much knowledge rooted in experience and context making the issues extremely difficult to evaluate in a historically “Western” way, i.e. in the realm of ideas.

Interestingly, during the infamous Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, the assembled reflected on the experience of God’s work among them. A next step in this discussion would be to put approaches of ministry to Muslims in dialogue with the Muslim and MBB experience of Islam (religion? culture? both?), which, as we already know, varies. I am very sympathetic to the charge that this discussion has been dominated by Western voices. And yet I find that non-Westerners and MBBs have similar discussions and similar disagreements around these concepts as well.

Still, we may offer some concluding critiques of the discussion. Many of the approaches to contextualization surveyed here assume that Muslims are practicing, not nominal, Muslims. In my experience, however, many Muslims, if they are practicing at all, use Islamic piety to keep God at a distance, either because they are afraid of punishment or because he is seen as unknowable. A Muslim friend once told me he was looking forward to eternity in Paradise, because in heaven, there “was no more worship.” For him, heaven was a man-centered place of sensual indulgence; God was present only in theory.

Additionally, Muslims do not all share the same attachment to Islam. It should go without saying, that, depending on the context, sometimes you do not have to do anything according to the context! Many Muslims do not desire to follow Christ in ways that are culturally or religiously familiar to them, although some indeed do. And yet, the Gospel has all too often been presented in Western forms, causing it to be rejected as foreign. While this may partially explain some of the tension in our discourse, it does not explain all the historical reasons for the resistance to the gospel in Muslim lands. In some Muslim contexts, there is often a very strong connection between form and meaning. For many Muslims and MBBs, some of the forms are linked with meanings that are nearly impossible to modify.

On the other hand, the automatic equation of form and meaning practically villainizes particular Islamic cultures. For mission in a postcolonial world, we must ensure that our theology of Islam does not speak pejoratively of Muslims and Islamic cultures. Unfortunately, Evangelicals have a long history of failing to obey the Golden Rule of Ethics, “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12). If we understand Christianity as a religious system, we can also demonstrate that “Christianity” has (at numerous times throughout history) done evil things seemingly rooted in the demonic. Does this also mean that “Christianity” has a demonic source? Furthermore, if God saves us from our culture (as some maintain), to what culture do we turn? What is “Christian” culture? Answers only add to the ambiguity.

So, how can we understand Islam? Islam is a process of “meaning-making,” undertaken by Muslims as they interact in their context with the revelation (according to their tradition) given to Muhammad. Islam includes diverse cultural traditions, access to social networks, a sense of belonging with others, and rituals and ceremonies. Phrases such as “leaving Islam” or “remaining in Islam” are often too vague to be meaningful and can actually be confusing in discipleship. For some, “leaving Islam” could mean that a Muslim who comes to Christ must also leave his culture and community, while for others, “remaining in Islam” could mean it is automatically permissible to participate in Islamic rituals. Issues of socioreligious identity are not always clear either. What does a “Muslim” or a “Christian” identity mean within a specific setting? Answers vary with contexts. When we look at Muslim contexts, Islam is not all we see; it is one strand in the braided rope of Muslim societies.

Finally, we haven’t discussed other important issues, such as the nature of the Kingdom of God, the Church, and the gospel. These are also disputed concepts in evangelical missiology. Although we might not agree, and although we need to become more comfortable with ambiguity and messiness, we should still strive for as much Christocentric clarity as possible as we witness to Muslims in diverse contexts. Let us not forget the command to love one another and to love the religious other as we make disciples of Jesus among all nations.

Buy the book and read the whole chapter here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Movements Research Symposium Reflections | Dave Coles on the WEA MC Blog

Dave Coles recently blogged about his experience at the Movements Research Symposium 2020 and it was posted on the WEA Mission Commission blog today:


Here it is below, reposted in full.

Dear fellow participants in God’s mission,

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In early September and early October 2020, a virtual Movements Research Symposium gathered scores of researchers, theologians, and mission leaders from around the world, to facilitate a strategic discussion around the phenomenon of discipleship movements. Plenary and breakout sessions included presentations and discussion of strategic research on global movements to Christ. This symposium launched the Motus Dei (Latin for “movement of God”) Network: a collaboration between mission agencies, movement practitioners, and academic research centers.”

Keynote speakers for the opening day included David Garrison, David Lim, and Craig Ott. Seven additional keynote speakers and 14 breakout speakers with discussion filled out two additional days of interaction. These sessions introduced topics slated to become chapters in a book from William Carey Publishing, targeted for publication in the second quarter of 2021. The final day of interaction included strategic work group sessions on topics including Training of Apostolic Leaders Academic Qualitative Study of Movements, Metrics and Reporting, Sociological-Contextual Dynamics, Biblical Theology of Movements, and Common Good and Social Justice.

The movement paradigm has become a hot topic in the evangelical missions community. In contrast to traditional methods, movement approaches are more group-oriented and tend to facilitate discipleship of others within their contexts. This yields greater potential for growth, both quantitative (more disciples of Jesus) and qualitative (more mature churches).

Researchers have documented the existence of more than 1300 discipleship movements to Christ, the vast majority happening among unreached peoples. Some evangelical mission agencies are energetically pressing ahead with movement paradigms. Yet the deeper work of missiology (understanding these movements from a theological, sociological, and practical perspective), can still greatly benefit from additional research and development.

Both the complexity of the issues involved and the sheer numbers of movements being reported call for multiple researchers, institutions, and agencies partnering together to meet this task. Theology, social sciences, and mission practice offer invaluable tools and perspectives to help us understand God’s work in birthing church-planting movements today which transform lives and communities.

As a member of the Facilitation Team, I personally found it stimulating to hear a wide range of perspectives on movements from so many diverse contexts and diverse researchers around the world. The symposium offered an excellent launch into ongoing discussion about crucial issues related to discipleship movements. Among other things, we discerned together that to improve relationships and mutual comprehension, we need more nuanced understanding of some commonly used terms. We also noted great value in better observing the ways movements are transforming their broader communities, and the importance of improved relationships and understanding between longer-established churches and emerging kingdom movements.

Within the next month we hope to launch a website so that interested others can join us in grappling with these and related issues. For now you can see a bit more on the Motus Dei blog.

The Motus Dei Research Symposium has made a good start toward presenting in-depth descriptions of movements that will bear sustained examination from robust academic critique. We look forward to seeing the Lord increase our understanding of how movements are happening and how they can be fostered more effectively.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Recent Movements and UPG Resources

If you aren’t already, you should be aware of Steve Addison’s Movements Podcast and website https://www.movements.net.

Recently, Steve interviewed Dave Coles on the episode “Telling the Story of Movements.” He has also interviewed Victor John on the episode, “Pioneering Movements in North India.” With 234 episodes and counting, you can tell Steve has done his research!

Together, Victor and Dave authored Bhojpuri Breakthrough: A Movement that Keeps Multiplying. This case study will also be featured in the upcoming Motus Dei volume.

Additionally, the Global Assembly of Pastors for Finishing the Task (GAP4FTT) held a virtual conference in October to build collaboration toward engaging unreached people groups with movements. There are about 50 plenary and workshop videos pre-recorded. You will recognize some of the names and faces from our Movements Research Symposium. This library of resources is available here for the next month. The content is also available on GAP4FTT's YouTube channel.

Excursus: Yep, I did just use the term “unreached people groups” in the above paragraph. That term and concept has fallen into disrepute in some corners of missiology. However, the recent edition of EMQ was dedicated to Rethinking People Group Missiology and has redeemed the concept for me. Easily one of the best issues of EMQ ever. I feel comfortable using the term again.

If you only have time for one article in that issue, I recommend Reimagining & Re-envisioning People Groups by Leonard N. Bartlotti (subscription required). From his section titled “Church Growth Where There is No Church”:

We need to re-envision the connection between the frontier missions and the church growth. Amidst the global flow of goods, ideas, and people, mega-, multiethnic, and urban/regional house church networks are thriving from Argentina and Chile, to Nigeria, India, and Indonesia, as well as the West. Despite common roots and exceptions, the two streams are largely disconnected professionally and missionally. Reestablishing synergy and sharing resources would advance an “all peoples” vision.

UPG enthusiasts need to deconstruct categories and recognize that church movements need not be monoethnic to engage and penetrate UPGs. Gospel freedom allows and celebrates, but does not demand, homogeneous ethnic churches. Some church movements involve ethnic blends, with homogeneity in evangelism, and heterogeneity in discipleship. Others facilitate homogeneity in smaller relational circles, and heterogeneity in larger ones. Homogeneity may suit first generation immigrants, but heterogeneity, the children of immigrants (e.g. pan-Asian and pan-Latino churches). Other churches have an ethnically dominant group plus mixed cultural groups (e.g. Persian, Arab). Mobilizing urban conglomerate churches, house church networks, and proximate believers, and purposefully connecting diaspora disciple making with other frontier initiatives, would help revitalize movement toward UPGs.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes | Richards and James

Richard James is an associate editor for our upcoming Motus Dei volume and will be contributing a chapter tentatively titled, Hearing the Story of “People of Peace” in Luke-Acts.

Together with E Randolph Richards, he has coauthored a new book for InterVarsity titled Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World.

From the back cover:

The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it's easy to misinterpret important elements―or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to recalibrate our vision. Combining the expertise of a biblical scholar and a missionary practitioner, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an essential guidebook to the cultural background of the Bible and how it should inform our reading. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James explore deep social structures of the ancient Mediterranean―kinship, patronage, and brokerage―along with their key social tools―honor, shame, and boundaries―that the biblical authors lived in and lie below the surface of each text. From Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to Peter's instructions to elders, the authors strip away individualist assumptions and bring the world of the biblical writers to life. Expanding on the popular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book makes clear how understanding collectivism will help us better understand the Bible, which in turn will help us live more faithfully in an increasingly globalized world.

Nijay Gupta, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, has a good review of the book at Christianity Today. Here are some highlights from his review:

Richards is a well-respected biblical scholar, bringing reliable insight and interpretation to the study of individual texts. And James (“Richard James” is a pseudonym) has been involved in church-planting ministry in the Middle East. As a team, they deftly weave in modern cross-cultural stories to demonstrate worldview factors and social values of collectivist people. And they cycle back and forth between stories and passages from the Old and New Testaments…

I wish I had been given a handbook like this 15 years ago when I was first learning how to read the Bible well…

A central assumption of this book is the idea that we all read Scripture through our own cultural lenses or “eyes.” That is not necessarily bad. We have two eyes but only one perspective. Many modern Western readers of the Bible see the world differently than the biblical writers and the many characters in our Holy Book. I am thankful that Richards and James wrote this crash course in collectivism versus individualism to help us avoid many faux pas and pitfalls.

Read the whole review. Buy the book.