I haven’t had a lot of opertunity to update the site recently because I have been busy working on projects with Biblical Missiology. Here is some of what I have been up to recently.
Our media and our politicians are continually telling us what ISIS is and what its connection to Islam is or is not and, regardless of which side of the political aisle they are on, they almost always get it wrong. If you truly want to understand what ISIS is, and why so many “moderate” Muslims are attracted to it, then stop listening to those who don’t know (often because they do not want to know), and start listening to those who have committed themselves to the ideology of ISIS. The following is the conclusion from an article entitled “Why we hate you & Why we fight you” in DABIQ[i] (an ISIS propaganda Magazine). It offers real peek into the motivation of those who have embraced ISIS, and why it is so attractive to so many Muslims. Here is the explanation from ISIS about why they want to kill us.
“What’s important to understand here is that, although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list. The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam. Even if you were to pay jizyah[ii] and live under the authority of Islam in humiliation, we would continue to hate you. No doubt, we would stop fighting you then, as we would stop fighting any disbeliever who enters into a covenant with us, but we would not stop hating you.
What’s equally, if not more important, to understand is that we fight you, not simply to punish and deter you, but to bring you true freedom in this life and salvation in the Hereafter, freedom from being enslaved to your whims and desires as well as those of your clergy, legislatures, and salvation by worshiping your Creator alone and following his messenger. We fight you in order to bring you out from the darkness of disbelief and into the light of Islam, and to liberate you from the constraints of living for the sake of the worldly life alone so that you may enjoy both the blessings of the worldly life and the bliss of the Hereafter.
The gist of the matter is that there is indeed a rhyme to our terrorism, warfare, ruthlessness and brutality. As much as some liberal journalist would like you to believe that we do what we do because we’re simply monsters with no logic behind our course of action, the fact is that we continue to wage — and escalate — a calculated war that the West thought it had ended several years ago. We continue dragging you further and further into a swamp you thought you’d already escaped only to realize that you’re stuck even deeper within its murky waters… And we do so while offering you a way out on our terms. So you can continue to believe that those “despicable terrorists” hate you because of your lattes and your Timberlands, and continue spending ridiculous amounts of money to prevail in an unwinnable war, or you can accept reality and recognize that we will never stop hating you until you embrace Islam, and we will never stop fighting you until you’re ready to leave the swamp of warfare and terrorism through the exits we provide, the very exits put forth by our Lord for the People of the Scriptures: Islam, jizyah, or — as a last means of fleeting respite — a temporary truce.”
While this article declares over and over the “hate” that ISIS has for us, it is not the kind of “hate” that most of us understand. In the very same breath, the article tells us that their “hatred” is motivated out of a desire for our spiritual well-being, for our eternal redemption, to bring us out of darkness and into the light, and to liberate us so that we can enjoy the blessings of life. In order to understand ISIS, one must understand their embrace of these very contradictory ideas, only then will we begin to understand why ISIS is so attractive to so many.
Taking the time to understand ISIS helps us to see those who have embraced its ideology through God’s eyes. People are attracted to ISIS, not because they are “bad people,” but because they have been deceived by bad theology, and bad theology is deadly! Scripture tells us that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14)” and this truth is clearly evident when we read the words of ISIS. And while the theology of ISIS is frightening, we must remember that those who have been deceived by it are people whom God dearly loves and with whom he calls us to share the Good News of the Gospel; they are our neighbors and Scripture tells us to “Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:39) and to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).” As we seek to understand ISIS, let us not forget how God has called us to respond to those who are trapped in it.
[i] DABIQ, Issue 15
[ii] Jizyah is a tax paid by non-muslims living in a state under Islamic rule.
Ayman S. Ibrahim, professor of Islamic studies and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an excellent review of “Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus within Diverse Religious Communities” by Harley Talman and John Jay Travis. In addition to addressing some of the significant shortcomings of this book, his review also outlines some of the significant theological problems with the Insider Movement Paradigm, problems he describes as the “Five Pillars of Insider Moments.” Slightly adapted from Ayman S. Ibraham, they are as follows:
In his review, Ayman S. Ibrahim hits the mark when he states, “these pillars are seriously dangerous, not only in themselves but specifically in their theological, soteriological, and missiological implications.” For those looking for a quick introduction into the world IM, this book review is an excellent place to begin.
“Church, stop sending people who don’t know their God, don’t know their message, and don’t know what it is like to submit to authority. Please, for the sake of God’s glory, stop.”
Steve Jennings, pastor of Immanuel Church of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, in his impassioned plea to the church, describes one of the foundation issues that has lead to our biggest problems in missions today i.e. we are sending people to minister to people abroad who do not have the spiritual maturity or theological training needed to be successful. And rather than helping the ministries of the church abroad, far too often these missionaries are damaging those ministries. Steve asks us (the churches that are sending missionaries) some very good questions, questions that we really need to grapple with before we send another missionary abroad or spend another dollar on missions.
Why would you send someone to plant churches abroad who you would never hire as a pastor or nominate as a lay elder?
Why does it seem that “passion” rather than proven faithfulness is the main criterion for sending men and women to support those church planters?
Why on earth is the bar set lower for the frontlines than it is for the local church?
These are questions we really need to begin asking before we send another missionary or invest another dollar in foreign missions. If we fail to ask these kinds of questions, they may never get answered because too many of our sending organizations stopped asking these kinds of questions long, long, ago, and the resulting damage done by missionaries and bible “translators” is heart breaking. While the concerns raised in this article are concerns I have heard echoed many times by leaders of churches abroad, these are seldom concerns I hear from the organizations that are sending missionaries. This is not the first time I have heard those in church abroad plead with those sending missionaries to STOP what they are doing and work with the local churches rather than against them. In Bangladesh the local church has tried for decades to stop our western missionaries from undermining their work with unbiblical practices, but to no avail. This video describes the same dilemma that has been described by Steve, in this video a couple of Bangladeshi pastors tell us as they describe the problems they are facing because of missionaries sent from the west that:
“I must say that, yes, this is coming from outside from western countries…”
“It is a shame actually, we don’t know how to stop it. The Isai group (converts from a Muslim Background) they are also against that (practices of our western missionaries), and the traditional people (those from a Christian background), they are also against that, but we don’t know who to stop it.”
Please read and consider Steve’s plea to the church, and this video from our Bangladeshi brothers in Christ, and so many other brothers and sisters in Christ that have found themselves powerless to stop the damage being done by the missionaries we are sending.
In a recent article published on the Gospel Coalition website several leaders of the Evangelical church in India are interviewed. In response to the question “Are there particular ways we can better facilitate gospel advance in India?”, one of these leaders responds saying:
“Westerners need to give up ideas such as rapid church-planting movements, rapid discipleship, certain extreme forms of contextualization, and insider movements. They need to realize that planting healthy churches is painstakingly slow, hard work. It requires perseverance, tears, sweat, and even blood. Don’t lambast the missionary efforts of the past; rather, trust the good Lord to give growth as and when he wants. We need to be patient, diligent, hard-working, faithful, and biblical in our efforts, strategies, planning, and implementation.”
This is something I have personally heard echoed by church leaders in many foreign cultures, and sadly it is a reflection of the training that most of our missionaries receive from the agencies that are sending them. It is time for the Evangelical church to hold our missionaries accountable and stop funding those who refuse to work hand in hand with the national churches in the regions they are trying to reach. Too often the cries of the national churches fall on the deaf ears of the missionaries we send to “help.”
Increasingly ‘Allah’ is being used as a word for ‘God’ in non-Semitic language bible translations produced by organizations like Wycliffe, Frontiers, and others and this has raised concerns with the local churches where these translations are being introduced, missionaries who work with these churches, and other bible translators who are concerned about the legitimacy of these new translations. These new Muslim Idiom Translations (MIT’s) are being produced in languages like Amharic, Russian, Persian, etc… that have used other words for God for centuries. In these languages, the use of ‘Allah’ as a word for ‘God’ is a foreign concept ; in these cultures they understand ‘Allah’ much as we do in English i.e. as a name of the Islamic God. In many of these cultures the Christian community has had a very long history of bible translation in which the native word for ‘God’ in their language has been used for centuries. In these cultures, the introduction of a bible that replaces the word ‘God’ with ‘Allah’ is as offensive as it would be if the bibles we read in English made such a replacement. For more information on the use of ‘Allah’ as a name for ‘God’ please read this article.
Here is the Story told
Frequently missionaries who support the use of ‘Allah’ in non-Semitic languages will point to the Frontiers Turkish translation as an example of a non-Semitic language that legitimately uses the word ‘Allah’ as a translation for the word ‘God’. And they are right, Turkish is one of the unique cases where ‘Allah’ can legitimately be used in a non-Semitic bible translation. In the Missions Perspective coarse I took, the session that addressed the use of ‘Allah’ in Christian missions and bible translation presented such an argument. The story we were told in class went something like this:
Well meaning, but misguided, missionaries insisted that the Turkish word ‘Tanri’ be used in bible translations despite the fact that ‘Allah’ was the word that the culture understood as the legitimate word for ‘God.’ These misguided missionaries did not understood is that the word ‘Tanri’ was the word used by the Turkish people to describe a ‘little god’ and not the ‘Supreme God’ and their mistake in choosing the wrong word caused the bible to be misunderstood and largely rejected by the Turkish people. Frontiers came to the rescue with a new bible translation resolved this problem by introducing the word ‘Allah’ as a translation for the word ‘God’ allowing the non-Christian Turkish people to understand the message of the bible for the first time. Unfortunately the existing Christian church in Turkey, who no longer understood how ‘Tanri’ was understood by the larger culture, was angered by this new translation and its use of the word ‘Allah’ for ‘God’ and has been fighting against using the very terminology that allows the larger culture to finally be able to understand the message God intended.
The story presented in my Missions Perspective class is a great story and one that is often repeated but, unfortunately, it is mostly smoke, mirrors, and misdirection intended to deceive. Prior to taking the Missions Perspectives course I had had a number of discussions with bible translators about the Frontiers Turkish bible translation and because of those discussions I had taken a little time to study the history of Turkish bible translation. Because of this background I knew that the dispute in Turkey in regards to the new Turkish bible produced by Frontiers has never been about the use of ‘Allah’ as the word for ‘God.’ What troubled the Turkish church were the terms used for familial language i.e. calling Jesus the “representative of God” instead of the “Son of God” and calling God “Guardian” rather than “Father.” In Turkish ‘Allah’ and ‘Tanri’ are truly considered synonymous word for ‘God.’ Within the Christian church today, older bibles use ‘Allah’ and newer bibles, because of the language reforms, use ‘Tanri’ and the use of ‘Allah’ has never been a significant issue within the Turkish church. The dispute has been entirely about the translation of familial language which until the introduction of the Frontiers version, has been translated consistently in every bible translation including the original Muslim produced translations from the 17th and 18th century. Here is the responses to the Frontiers Translation from the Turkish alliance of Protestant Churches and the response from Thomas Cosmades (One of the most respected scholars in Turkey and translator of a Turkish NT). Note that in neither letter is the use of Allah in Turkish in dispute.
Here is what really happened
Because Turkish (which was originally written in the Arabic Script) was very heavily influenced by Arabic and Islamic culture, the Turkish language presents an unusual case where a non-Semitic language has truly adopted ‘allah’ as a generic word for ‘god.’ The first Turkish translations of the bible were produced by Muslims in the 17th century and were produced for Muslim audiences; these translations used the word ‘Allah’ for ‘God.’ Christians began using these translations centuries ago and continued to use them until new terminology was adopted as a result of the Turkish language reforms of the 1920’s and 1930’s. These language reforms were not driven by Christian missionaries but by the predominantly Muslim Turkish Government. In the late 1920’s Mustafa Kemal, a secular Turkish president, began a campaign of language reforms that replaced the Arabic Script with the current Latin Script and attempted to create a pure Turkish language free from its Arabic influences. As part of this language reform he insisted that many Arabic words be purged from the Turkish language and that Turkish words be used in their place. One of the most controversial mandates was his insistence that the Turkish word ‘Tranri’ be used by Turks as the name for a divine being in every religious context (even Muslims were required to make this change). The adoption of ‘Tanri’ in Christian bible translations was the result of these language reforms and not a result of a movement within the church initiated by well meaning but misguided missionaries as is claimed by some MIT proponents. The following is a quote from a Time Magazine article written Feb 20, 1933 that speaks about this issue. “A hard father to his people, Mustafa Kemal told his Turks last December that they must forget God in the Arabic language (Allah), learn Him in Turkish (Tanri). Admitting the delicacy of renaming a 1300-year-old god, Kemal gave the muezzins a time allowance to learn the Koran in Turkish. Last week in pious Brusa, the “green* city,” a muezzin halloed “Tanri Ulndur” from one of the minarets whence Brusans had heard “Allah Akbar” since the 14th Century.”
The story told about the Frontiers Turkish translation has become part of missionary folklore and is one of the many fictitious that are being repeated by far too many missionaries. Some repeat these stories because they too have been deceived but, sadly, some repeat these stories with the intent to deceive both their supporters and their fellow missionaries.
For several decades some missionaries[i] from organizations like Frontiers, Wycliffe, SIL, YWAM, and others have adopted a form of contextualization known as C-5 contextualization (or “Insider Movements”). These missionaries believe that followers of Christ should remain in the religion of their birth i.e. a Muslim should remain a Muslim, a Hindu should remain a Hindu, etc… Many of these missionaries suggest that asking someone to convert to Christianity is wrong. In Muslim contexts, “C-5 believers” frequently hold views about Christ that mirror the beliefs of the general Muslim population. They may continue to identify themselves as Muslims, continue to affirm Mohammad as God’s prophet, continue to affirm the Qu’ran as God’s word, and reject a belief in the divinity of Christ. Western missionary organizations promoting C-5 contextualization have produced new translations of the bible that harmonize the place and people names with those used and the Qu’ran and replace terms like Father, Son, Baptism, etc.. with alternative language that Muslim audiences find “less offensive.”
For more than a decade the Turkish church has expressed its serious concerns about the methods used and translations produced by these western missionaries. In 2007, Thomas Cosmades[ii] (one of the leading biblical scholars and translators in Turkey), in an open letter, expressed his concerns about a translation being produced by Frontiers. When those concerns were ignored, the Alliance of Protestant Churches wrote a warning letter to the churches in regards to the later published “Muslim friendly” translation.
Today, the pleas of the Turkish church remain unheeded and now leaders (mostly Muslim) in the Turkish government have taken notice of these practices and issued a warning about these missionaries, their practices, and their bible translations. The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Turkish news yesterday (January 19, 2014).
TURKEY’S CiA (MIT) warns government (Prime Minister and Ministry of Religious Affairs) about foreign Christian undercover missionaries posing as Muslims operating under a branch named C-5 in a mission agency called Frontiers. Also mentioned by name are Jeff Carvey in Bursa and Bruce Privatsky in Tekirdag. The article also mentions the attempts of creating a Muslim-friendly Bible translation to entice Muslims.
The complete article (in Turkish) can be found here.
The news article (in English) is now available here
C-5 contextualization and its accompanying translations are hindering the evangelistic work of our brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of the world because it is angering the Muslims they are trying to reach; Muslims who believe Christians are trying to deceive them. When Muslims react in anger to the deceptive methods that our western missionaries have employed, it is our brothers and sisters in Christ who live among them that suffer. Please listen to the pleas of our brothers and sisters in Christ and make sure the money you give to missionaries is not being used to promote the deceptive practices of C-5 contextualization, practices that hinder the Gospel and endanger our brothers and sisters in Christ. More information on this issue can be found on the Biblical Missiology website.
Those supporting “Insider Movements,” like Dudley Woodberry, have been telling us for decades that “conversional protestantism” was ineffective, unwise, and even damaging to the cultures where we have sent our missionaries. They argue that we should not be converting people to Christianity but rather we should be helping them to come into the kingdom of God through their own religious contexts. They say that Muslims should remain Muslims, Hindus should remain Hindus, etc…. So, it was surprising to read an article by John Piper about a research paper published by Woodberry that shows that “areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.” However, before you get your hopes up believing that a change of heart may have taken place, realize that it is Robert Woodberry, and not Dudley Woodberry, who did the research. I truly hope the many Christian missionaries who have forgotten the Great Commission and have endorsed leaving people in the bondage of false religious systems will take the time to read Robert Woodberry’s research because it demonstrates the truly transformative power that accompanies genuine faith in Christ.
Piper’s summery of this research can be found here.
Robert Woodberry’s research paper can be found here.
Loving requires knowing. And in a new book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim’s Journey to Christ (Zondervan), Nabeel Qureshi aims to help Christians better love their Muslim neighbors by providing an insider’s perspective into a Muslim’s heart and mind.
Through personal narrative, Qureshi covers a range of topics including the relationship between the Qur’an (Islam’s sacred text) and Hadith (Muhammad’s words and actions recorded in tradition) as well as the cultural challenges between East (honor-shame cultures) and West (innocence-guilt cultures) in dialogue and evangelism. As one of the newest members of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, Qureshi has the unique ability to address misconceptions on both sides between Christians and Muslims.
I corresponded with Qureshi about what he appreciates about Islam, consequences Muslim converts face, what Western Christians can learn, and more.
As the son of Pakistani immigrants to the United States, you share candidly about the ignorance of many American neighbors and classmates concerning Muslims. What would you like to share with those same people concerning what you appreciate most about Islam?
What I appreciate most about Islam is the discipline it instills in its adherents, the reverence Muslims have toward the Creator, and Muslims’ commitment to memorizing the Qur’an. I think Christians could learn a lot from their Muslim neighbors about memorizing Scripture, approaching God with respect, and pursuing personal discipline.
What are Islam’s main objections to Christianity?
The primary objection Islam poses to Christianity revolves around the person of Jesus. Orthodox Christianity teaches Jesus is the ultimate revelation, God himself, who through his sacrifice on the cross has paid for the penalty of all mankind. The message doesn’t just come through Jesus; the message is Jesus.
Islam, on the other hand, teaches that Christianity is just one of a series of revelations. It teaches that many religious figures have come throughout time, sent by God, Jesus being one of them. He’s no more than a messenger. He didn’t die on the cross, let alone for the sins of mankind. God hasn’t paid our penalty, and we are unsure of our destiny until after the judgment has been cast.
In all these things, Islam challenges the person of Jesus and the path to salvation as taught in Christianity.
Although protected from anti-conversion laws in the West, what real consequences do Muslims still face in converting to Christianity?
Even in the West, Muslims potentially face great sacrifices in following Jesus. Devout families, and even many that are nominal, will dissociate with members who have left Islam. Islam isn’t just a set of beliefs but is seen as a family’s heritage and cultural identity. When a member of the family leaves Islam, it’s often viewed as betrayal. For Muslim women, this may even mean getting kicked out of the home by their husbands and potentially losing custody of their kids.
For Muslims, the decision to follow Jesus often means sacrificing everything. One must truly pick up his or her cross to follow Jesus.
In light of the significant consequences one might face for conversion, why would you tell someone that following Jesus is worth the cost?
As great as the cost can be, there’s nothing worth more than following our Creator in truth and fulfilling the tasks he’s given us. The Christian God is a God of unconditional love, one who grants us peace and directs our every step. To know and be in relationship with him is worth every sacrifice, and he is faithful to restore what’s been lost. Jesus makes it clear that to follow him is to sacrifice and be persecuted. That’s what all the disciples went through, that’s what the early church went through, and that’s what the New Testament teaches us to expect. In our sufferings for Jesus, we are bonded to him and his sufferings for us (experientially, not savingly). It’s worth every sacrifice to be so connected to God, who loves us and created us for this purpose.
The response to a question about the legitimacy of “Holy Hip Hop” from a panel hosted by the National Center for Family-integrated churches erupted into a social media firestorm this past week. The views of the panel can be summed up in the following statement made by Geoff Botkin, he said “And what concerns me about this so called art form, it is a picture of weakness and surrender on the part of people who think that they are serving God and they’re not. They are serving their own flesh, they’re caving into the world, they’re disobedient cowards! They are not willing to engage in the fight that needs to be engaged.” The panel’s harsh criticism of “Holy Hip Hop” has incited a number of responses from men like Mike Cosper, Ligon Ducan, Carl and Karen Ellis, Paige Patterson, Owen Strachan, Jonathan Akin, Brian Davis, and others. What was the heart of this controversy? It was not about the message communicated by these Hip Hop artists (something the panelists acknowledged was doctrinally sound), it was wholly about the style in which it was being presented. The heart of this controversy goes far beyond questions about the legitimacy of “Holy Hip Hop.” At the center of this controversy is a much bigger question, a question that every minister of the Gospel must ask: What are valid expressions of contextualization in Christian ministry?
It is critically important that we do not confuse our cultural standards with the Gospel message. We must be uncompromisingly committed to upholding the truth of the Gospel in all our teaching but we must do so without imposing our own cultural biases on those who come from other cultural backgrounds. We need to remember that we, as Christians, are called to share only the Gospel of Christ. When we elevate our own cultural standards to the same level as the Gospel, we alienate the people around us and draw attention away from the Gospel message we are called to share.
Proper contextualization of the Gospel message is something with which we all must wrestle. Too little contextualization hinders the spread of the Gospel message by imposing barriers that Scripture does not impose. When we suggest that obedience to Christ requires one to abandon a particular style of music, kind of food, style of dress, etc… we have imposed a standard not given in Scripture and have raised an unnecessary barrier to the Gospel. At the same time we must remember that too much contextualization can so compromise the truth of the Gospel that the message of the Gospel itself is lost. While the Hip Hop style of music itself does not compromise the Gospel message, there are aspects of Hip Hop culture that do and we must be willing to abandon those aspects of culture that stand in opposition to the Gospel. For instance, we can praise our Lord with the sound of Hip Hop but the lyrics of many secular Hip Hop songs truly do not belong on the lips of those who proclaim faith in Christ.