Is Islam a Religion of Peace?   1 comment

Posted at 11:08 am in Uncategorized

islamic-peace-symbol-mdIt 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.

Written by GeneDaniels on October 22nd, 2014

Is Allah God?   5 comments

Posted at 4:26 pm in Uncategorized
     Many Christians reject the idea that the term “Allah” could ever possibly refer to the God we love and serve. Although there is linguistic commonality between Allah and the Hebrew word “EL,” it is hard for us to imagine anything good associated with the word.
     And the fact is, American Christians have good reasons for a strong emotional reaction. The news has burned this word into our consciousness on the lips of angry crowds shouting  “Allah Akbar!”
     But this week I was reminded that we are not the only ones whose feelings are evoked by this ancient Semitic word.
     During a seminar about reaching Muslims in Russia, a dispute arose about using the word Allah. Some church leaders said they could not believe that any Christian would want to use the term Allah as they spoke to their heavenly father.
     Then a brother stood up. He is from a small tribe in the Caucasus mountains who have been Christian for over 800 years. He said, “All my life I have read a Bible that tells me about Allah who created the world. All my life I have prayed to Allah, our father in heaven. When I hear this name I have a warm and safe feeling because this is the One who sent his Son to save us.”
     Perspective is everything. Of course, it would be bizarre for someone in an American church to refer to the father of Jesus as Allah. But can we also see that it would be a sad twist of Christian truth to deny the same word to brothers who have all their lives known Allah as the name for the true and living God? To what word would we have them turn?

Written by GeneDaniels on October 17th, 2014

How do I talk to Muslims?   1 comment

Posted at 6:18 pm in Uncategorized

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.

 

Written by GeneDaniels on September 5th, 2014

What Do you Think About Muhammad?   12 comments

Posted at 2:22 pm in Uncategorized

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.

Written by GeneDaniels on August 21st, 2014

A few new features to the site   2 comments

Posted at 1:28 pm in Uncategorized

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 ;-)

circumpolar_2

 

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.

 

Written by GeneDaniels on August 9th, 2014

Wrestling of a Christian Scholar   3 comments

Posted at 2:30 pm in Uncategorized

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?

faith vs reason 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.

Written by GeneDaniels on July 30th, 2014

Loving God with our mind   no comments

Posted at 6:52 pm in Uncategorized

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.

Reflection-Learning-Cycle6

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Written by GeneDaniels on July 15th, 2014

Contextualized Theology   20 comments

Posted at 3:44 pm in Uncategorized

One of the reasons I love the academic discipline we call missiology is because it require rigorous thinking of those who would practice it well. A good example of this comes from something we call contextualized theology. Perhaps the best way to explain is to first look at the two words separately.

At its core, contextualization is nothing more than “taking the context seriously.” We do contextualization when we take into account the various aspects of the setting in question—historic, social, cultural, religious, geopolitical—to name a few. As for theology, it comes from two Greek words theos, meaning “god” and –logia, meaning “utterances, sayings or discourse.” Therefore my simple definition of theology is “man asking questions about God.” Of course biblical theology is “man asking questions about God and finding answers in the biblical text.”

Portrait of a boy with the map of the world painted on his face.This means that contextualized theology is helping people find answers to their questions about life in the Bible. The reason I emphasize their questions is that too often Christians offer Muslims answers to questions they are not asking. So it follows that it is critical for new communities of Christ-followers in the Muslim world to develop their own theology which addresses the realities of their context—or develop contextualized theology.

Of course this must also be “biblical theology,” but that does not mean they should parrot versions of the various theologies we brought with us from the West, which were themselves developed in our particular contexts. Unless these new churches do this, they will be weak and subject to creeping nominalism because our imported answers will not speak to the questions they are asking.

One example will suffice. Which Western theological system—Reformed, Arminianism, Systematic, etc.—addresses a believer’s relationship to their ancestors? I can’t think of a single one that does. At the same time, in many parts of the world a person’s relationship to those who have gone before is one of the fundamental building blocks of worldview.

So what does this tell us? When such people come to Christ do we tell them our God has nothing to say about a matter that is of such great importance to them? We need to ask ourselves, “Does the Bible in fact say anything about ancestors?” And of course the answer is a resounding “yes.” From the numerous genealogies in Scripture to the “great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, the Bible has quite a bit to say about ancestors, we in the West have simply not asked that question, therefore it is not a part of our theological systems.

It may seem a bit scary to think about new churches developing their own theology, but the only reason it scares us is we don’t have enough trust in either the power of the Word of God or the Holy Spirit sent to guide them into all truth.

Written by GeneDaniels on June 17th, 2014

Masai creed   1 comment

Posted at 3:19 pm in Uncategorized

One of the thrills of doing mission research is when you come across a sparkling gem from far afield; below is one of these. It is the Masai creed. If you even recognize the name of the tribe, it is because they were the most feared warriors of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Masai-Portrait-in-the-Grass-003  The creed below was written by Masai believers, over 50 years ago, to express their faith in Christ. In it is a beautiful convergence of universal Christian truth, yet rooted in local venacular:

“We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it. He created Man and wanted Man to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know Him in the light. God promised in the book of His word, the Bible, that He would save the world and all the nations and tribes.

We believe that God made good His promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a man in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left His home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and man, showing the meaning of religion is love. He was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died. He lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch him, and on the third day, He rose from the grave. He ascended to the skies. He is the Lord.

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Him. All who have faith in Him must be sorry for their sins, be baptised in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again. We are waiting for Him. He is alive. He lives. This we believe. Amen.”

 

Although this does not directly concern ministry in the Muslim world, it makes me long for the day when Muslim background believers start writing creeds of their own, expressing the deep truths of Scripture through their own cultural eyes.

Speed the day Lord! Speed that day.

Written by GeneDaniels on May 23rd, 2014

A gravestone and reality   17 comments

Posted at 5:14 pm in Uncategorized

Sometimes the thrill of mission research is in finding something new—like a redemptive analogy that makes the gospel clear to a previously unreached people or tribe. Other times adventure of discovering something very, very old. Some years ago Linda and I had the pleasure of visiting an ancient city, well-known as a trading port for Muslim empires. However, long before the first minaret called to prayer over that Silk Road era fortress, there was a large Christian community living in that area. You can imagine the thrill we felt when we discovered, hidden behind a stone rampart, the ancient gravestone below.

cross-2Besides being distinctly Christian, if  you look closely enough you will see this tombstone is also graced with hints of Celtic Christian art, despite being more than 3,000 miles from Ireland. Of course, without far more time and resources that such a brief visit provided, I cannot answer the many questions such a discovery provokes:

Whose grave did this mark?
Were they from that city or only a trader passing through?
What year was this carved?
Why was it now hidden out of sight? (I do have some good guesses about this one ;-)

But the nature of good research is that one discovery unleashes more questions than it answers. Also, as I have said before, mission research also should invoke some of same awe and wonder we experience on Sunday mornings. Or in this case, a poem:

 

I confess an ancient creed,
Receiving a mercy of eons before time,
My path well-worn by many a sinner and saint.

The One I adore is before any world there was,
This name spoken before the mountains,
His fame from eternity past.

He is the dread of demons,
His face the desire of angelic hosts,
And for his mercy multitudes in darkness wait.

I too will soon join a great cloud of witnesses,
And make my bed in the sleep of death,
Bearing testimony that He is life.

Written by GeneDaniels on May 13th, 2014