My latest article just came out in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, “Saying the Shahada: Matters of Conscience, Creed, and Communication.” Normally EMQ articles are only available to paid subscribers, but they keeping this one open as a teaser for new subscribers. The link below will take you to the article.
I just came home from a mission consultation with over 150 people in attendance. These were field missionaries, sending agency people, as well as church and para-church leaders, coming from over 30 different countries.
Yes, you read that right. There were missionaries and other mission leaders from more than 30 home sending countries. This incredible diversity hints at the mosaic that is 21st Century missions.
Many North American Christians have slowly become aware of the global nature of the Church. But it is another step entirely to imagine that Christians around the world are, just like us, sending their own missionaries. Many places that only a generation ago were major mission receiving centers are now home to indigenous mission sending agencies.
For example, I had lunch one day during the conference with the director of a mission sending agency in West Africa. Next summer their agency is celebrating 40th years of sending their own Africans as missionaries to Muslims. They now have African missionaries working in 34 Muslim countries and he was actively looking for new places to engage the task.
Long gone are the days when taking the gospel to the world was the “white man’s burden.” (I’m not sure that was ever true). Today in the Muslim world we joyfully labor side-by-side with brothers and sisters from Korea, India, Nigeria, Lebanon, and a host of other places that most Americans think about as places to send missionaries.
What a beautiful thought, world mission as a mosaic of Christ’s redeeming love among the nations.
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It seems Islam is in the news more than ever, and unfortunately little of it is good news. War, kidnappings, and genocide may sell lots of news but does not warm the heart. Many Christians are deeply concerned as they read about great evil being done under the banner of the world’s second largest religion. Adding fuel to the fire are the many pundits, some knowledgeable and some not, who purport “explain” Islam.
A week does not go by without someone asking me about this. Often their question is something like, “Does Islam really teach Muslims to kill us?
But with almost as many interpretations of the Qur’an as there are Muslims, that is a very difficult question to answer. The nightly news seems to give the most time to the extremists who read the war passages of the Qur’an dead literal, whereas there are also some very significant Islamic leaders who say the exact opposite. Thankfully none of this really matters in my ministry because I never talk to a religion.
Think about it, religions are fairly abstract things. They are in one sense real, but they don’t live and breathe. They seldom move-in next door.
On the other hand, Christian ministry is about the concrete biological things we call people, or in our case, Muslims. So, while I don’t feel qualified to say whether or not Islam is a “religion of peace,” I can say that the vast majority of the Muslims I have met were peaceable people.
I have lived with Muslims, worked with Muslims, ate with Muslims, even argued with one in a Mosque (although not something I would recommend). But in all those interactions I have never had one threaten me. These Muslims who have not threatened me are not the ones shown on television because such peaceful people don’t sell news like a bearded guy with a Kalashnikov does.
Sure, I realize there are Muslims out there that would do a Christian harm just because he is a Christian. But the chance of you ever meeting one of those is quite slim. In fact, I would be willing to wager that you have a much higher chance of being killed by a driver who is texting than by a Muslim who hates Christians.
So, is Islam a religion of peace? Let Muslim scholars fight amongst themselves about that one. As for me, I will just keep trying to show Muslims the love of God in Christ and not worry about it.
Whenever I travel and speak to a group of Christians, one of the first questions that comes up is something like this:
“How do I talk to Muslims, since they are so against the gospel?”
Aside from the fact that most Muslims have never heard the gospel, so they can hardly be against it, I always answer with two easy to remember points:
1) be an openly religious person. Secular society here in the West has beat us down with the idea that religion is supposed to be a private thing kept to yourself. That is a lie. I am a deeply religious person, and my faith impacts many of the things I say and do.
If you are the same, then be up front about that with your Muslim friends. As it fits the conversation, talk about how you raise your kids and spend your money differently from many in America because of your faith. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking religious=hypocrite, your Muslim friends don’t think that way.
2) pray at the drop of a hat. If we are people who believe God is actually listening, then we probably pray about all kinds of things; sickness, financial problems, our worries, etc. The Muslims you meet have many of the same problems. When they express them to you, simply offer to pray in a very low keyed way. Something like this usually works great, “You know Akhmed, Jesus told his followers to pray in his name. So whenever one of my kids is sick I pray and ask God to heal them. Can I do the same for your little boy?”
You will be quite surprised to find that the vast majority of Muslims will be happy for you to pray for them, right on the spot. What could be better than inviting the living God to intervene in their situation, through the name of Jesus?
You may not be an expert in Islamic culture or be able to explain the nuances of theology. But if you will consistently do the two simple things above, you will surely and gently nudge your Muslim friends toward the gospel. And you can trust the Holy Spirit to handle the rest.
You cannot get very far into ministry with Muslims before you run face-first into the question of Muhammad. He is one of the most revered figures of human history, he is honored, at times even idolized, by one-fifth of the world’s population. Sooner or later you are likely to hear one of your friends ask, “What do you think of our prophet Muhammad, pbuh?”*
So, what should a committed Christian think about Muhammad? Well, I will not even try to answer that question, although I do think we should be as generous as possible since John 3:16 probably applies to him too.
I think the better and more pressing question to ask might be, “What should a committed Christian say about Muhammad to their Muslim friends?”
I realize wadding into this argument is akin to diving into tepid, muddy water, but I think it worthwhile to at least splash around its edges a bit.
This reminds me, just a little bit, about an incident in the life of another extremely influential figure of world history. If I remember correctly he was being questioned by the national religious authorities about his stand on taxation, and he replied something like, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
There are two points in this we should not miss:
1. Jesus did not directly answer their question, and there are times that neither should we.
But most importantly,
2. Jesus talked about God, not Caesar.
Have you ever noticed that if you meet a physician in some social setting they often end up talking the practice of medicine. Same thing with politicians, they tend to talk politics. In other words we talk about what we are about. Jesus spent his time talking about God because that is who he came to reveal.
So, if Jesus is what I am about, then I should be talking about him – not Oprah – in my social engagements. While I do agree that Christians should be well-rounded, knowledgeable people, I still assert that our conversations expose what is in our hearts. But now I digress, back to Muhammad.
Certainly there are times when we need to have something to say about a major world figure such as Muhammad. But for the most part our Muslim friends will feel quite honored if we know anything about their prophet other than the caricatures presented in the nightly news. Some of us may even know quite a bit about his life, but I don’t think we need to say very much.
Or I love the way the I heard another missionary put it. When describing a conversation with some Muslim scholars he said, “I am not an expert on Mohammad. If you want to learn about him go talk to the Imam. But I am an expert on the person of Jesus, I can tell you about him.”
And that sounds about right to me.
*PBUH means “peace be upon him,” spoken by many devout Muslims in reverence whenever mentioning Muhammad’s name.
I want to briefly point out a couple new things you will find on the left-hand sidebar:
- Toward the bottom of the page you will find a place to sign-up for email notices whenever there is a new post.
- At the top of the sidebar you will see a link to “Circumpolar,” this is a blog with various writers who are all dedicated to ministry in the Muslim world. There is a great deal of insightful and thought provoking information on Circumpolar. (the owners of that site have graciously asked me to join their team of bloggers, I hope I don’t ruin their reputation
I hope you take the time to sign-up and also for a quick trip over to Circumpolar. I think you will be glad you did.
Being someone who tries very deliberately to be both a Christian and a scholar, I find that am often caught in a tension. The “Christian” side of me is supposed to just believe (or so I am told), while the “scholar” side of me wants to understand, to know, to apply reason. Can we as Christians do both, or are the people at Beryl Baptist right?
I have a very unusual academic career. I started my serious scholarly work in my 30s and while actively engaged in ministry in Central Asia. It took well over 10 years for me to complete my MA and Doctorate. But the advantage of this was that I had more time to integrate my scholarly self into the man of faith I already was. Thus over time I realized that the faith-verses-reason construct is not only a false dichotomy, but is an example of what happens when Christians allow secularist to control the language of our conversation. Let me briefly explain, and then apply this to mission.
A false dichotomy is an error of reason which says there are only two options, something is either A or it is B, when in fact there are other ways to think about the issue. The conflict between “faith and reason” is at least partly rooted in the way the language of the issue has been hijacked.
Usually the conflict between faith and reason is framed as being between using our heart (faith) or our head (reason). Since we all want to be thought of as intelligent people, it seems that the head is better of the two.
But the Bible tells me that it is with my heart that I both think and believe:
- The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge… (Prov. 18:15).
- If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Rom 10:9)
Therefore the idea that faith and reason originate in different locations within a person is a purely secular view of man, not the biblical one. And with that misnomer corrected, the false dichotomy loses its power.
While this is philosophically interesting and all that, you may be asking “How does this relate to mission in the Muslim world?” I’m glad you asked.
Anyone reading this obviously has some interest in missions research. Yet for many in the church these two words don’t really go together because “mission” is about faith, whereas “research” is about logic and the rational mind. However, as men and women of God we can use our hearts to both embrace the knowledge generated by research and the new faith we see springing-up in the Muslim world.
With a whole and fully integrated heart we can approach the world, both learning and believing, not being forced to do one or the other. Or to sharpen the point to the Muslim world. We can both study what God is doing and embrace the vision given to John the Revelator:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands (Rev 7:9)
With the one and self-same heart we can both believe this vision will come true and understand how that is happening.
Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matt 22:37-38).
In the church world we do a pretty good job of at least trying to love God with our heart and soul, but what about with our mind? Well, for starters we should note what Strong’s tells us about this Greek word, it is dianoia, and it refers to the exercise of “deep thought,” or “understanding.”
Now, lets bring it close to the purpose of this blog and ask, “What does loving God with “all our mind” look like in mission?”
To me it means that we reach beyond overused, cherry-picked Bible verses and really think about what we do in mission. In order to love God with all our minds as a part of mission we must slow down enough to think, reflect, and carefully consider what we do. Sometimes this may take the form of studying Scripture concerning some aspect of mission. Other times this might be thinking long and carefully about our behaviors and practices as we go about mission.
This seems simple enough–except that our society values action over though. We esteem “doers” instead of “thinkers. ” My mentor in mission research often talks about becoming a “reflective practitioner,” i.e. a missionary who takes time to reflect deeply on what they are doing.
I could have avoided many of the mistakes I have made in mission over the years (and in aspects of my life) if I would have slowed down enough to reflect on the situation. But it is a learned behavior, something I am still trying to learn.