The Mission of God, Islam, and Beyond

On Sunday mornings we are doing a class entitled The Church, the Gospel, and the Ends of the Earth; these are my notes from those classes.

I. Introduction

One of the things we did overseas was organize various trips where churches would send college students over to various cultural experiences we had planned.  So we had students rooming with Muslim college students engaging in various cultural and academic projects and at one point one of the students, who was also a religious leader at his school, confronted his roommate and said, “I know why you are here.  You are here to convert us.  If you were anyone else I would have you arrested and immediately thrown out of the country.”  This student was a spiritual leader on his campus and he did not turn us in to the authorities.  Why would he do this?  He didn’t turn us in because of their relationship.

We live in America our perspective of Islam is skewed because of events like 9/11 and the recent bombing in Boston.  But we have to step out that American paradigm and view this through the lens of the gospel.  If you remember anything from this morning remember the importance of relationship.  I am not going to break Islam down theologically today; if you want resources on that let me know as I have written much on that topic.  I want us to look at how the gospel speaks to the Islamic worldview as well as several other worldviews.  But if you want to understand Islam theologically make a friend, talk to a Muslim, and find out what they believe.

II. The Challenge of Islam

In a way the challenge of Islam is no different than the challenges we face with any other worldview.  At the same time international politics and the reality of terrorism do present a challenge, not so much for us as followers of Christ, but for us as Americans.  So we must view these issues through the lens of the Gospel.  Albert Mohler addresses this tension in a recent article asking,

Do American Christians really believe that Christianity benefits by being associated with all that America represents to the Muslim world?  To many Muslims, America appears as the great fountain of pornography, debased entertainments, abortion, and sexual revolution.  Does it help our witness to Christ that all this would be associated in the Muslim mind with “Christian” America?  Beyond any historical doubt, the United States was established by founders whose worldview was shaped, in most cases quite self-consciously, by the Christian faith. . .  But America is not, by definition, a Christian nation in any helpful sense.[1]

It is important that we not let our United States citizenship become an obstacle when proclaiming the Gospel.

III. Communicating the Gospel through Culture

A lot of what missions and evangelism is about has been framed in terms of communicating cross-culturally.  The missionary must bridge a cultural gap between themselves and their hearers.  However, in the incarnation Jesus does not bridge a cultural gap.  He becomes a Jewish man and communicates the good news through that Jewish culture.  We too are called to incarnational ministry and I want to look at how we can communicate the gospel through culture.

Robert E. Webber writes, “In a world of competing stories, we call evangelicals to recover the truth of God’s Word as the story of the world, and to make it the centerpiece of evangelical life.”[2]  That is why our current preaching series is entitled “Luke, The Truth: Our Savior, Our Story.”  This story, this gospel that bridges from creation to recreation, shapes the whole of our existence.  And furthermore this story is not simply our story; this is everyone’s story, because it is God’s story.  It is the narrative of God’s gracious redemption set forth before the foundation of the world.  Because this is God’s story we can communicate the Gospel through culture rather than treating the Gospel as if it is a foreign element that must be forced into culture.  As the elements of the Gospel are already imbedded in culture, though we have become experts at suppressing them, we must learn to communicate the story of redemption in a way that undoes all rival stories.

Now let’s break this down into something really simple.  Every rival narrative, every culture can be understood in terms of three tensions.[3]  Does anyone know what two tensions characterize the western worldview?  What about a South American or African animistic worldview?  What about the worldview of a Japanese business man and a Muslim Imam?  So these three tensions of guilt and innocence, power and weakness, and honor and shame explain the worldview of any culture you will come into contact with.

A. Guilt and Innocence

As westerners we are concerned with right and wrong.  We frame the Gospel in terms of penal substitutionary atonement and the central theme of all our evangelistic methods is our guilt, it is about justice and forgiveness in Christ.

But the other themes are there too right?  Can anyone give me an example of honor and shame in western culture?  No matter how many times Pitbull and Ne-yo sing “we might not get tomorrow, let’s do it tonight” and all the freedom brought about by the sexual revolution if you go to any university in America, that still has separate men’s and women’s dormitories, there will likely be a path in between them known as the walk of shame.  So no matter what we do to suppress it these themes are embedded in who we are as humans.

B. Power and Weakness/Fear

Can anyone give me an example of a power and weakness, or power and fear, worldview?  I really tried to bring this theme out when looking at the temptation of Christ.  Jesus overcomes for us and liberates us from our fears; He has triumphed over our enemies at the cross.

C. Honor and Shame

I can distinctly remember pacing near that bus stop for an hour waiting for our friend to arrive so we could go to the market together.  He has promised to meet us there and continued to reassure me via text message that he was on his way.  Unfortunately I was thinking like an American I didn’t understand what was happening.  So I called and informed him that it would be dark soon and we needed to go, basically I was hungry and wanted food, he assured me he was on his way.  I asked him where he was and then I found out that he was working on a school project four hours away.  I brought shame upon my friend, I called him out for breaking his promise.  He would rather maintain his honor, by insisting that he was coming, than endure the shame of admitting that he forgot about his project and would not be going to the market with us.  It didn’t bother me, but I am sure that conversation bothered him a lot.

IV.  A Complete Gospel

The gospel speaks to these three tensions.  Jesus bears the wrath of God so that God can justify the ungodly, He becomes sin for us so that we can become the righteousness of God.  Just as God clothed Adam and Eve in the garden God covers our shame, He will not put those to shame who believe in Him.  He has triumphed over our enemies in the cross and He has been given all power and authority and we will reign with Him.  So at the end of the day my central encouragement to you is not that you go read a book on apologetics and find out all the answers to the really hard questions in life.  No, my encouragement is that you start a conversation and make a friend all the while knowing that not only does the gospel answer those hard questions more importantly it answers the questions that matter.  So get to know someone, know what their questions are, what their struggles are, and then explain how the gospel makes us righteous, covers our shame, and overcomes our enemies.


[1]R. Albert Mohler Jr., “The Challenge of Islam—A Christian Perspective,” Southern Seminary Magazine 81.3 (2013): 28.
[2]Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 120.
[3]For a more in-depth discussion of this please see Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (n.p.: Xlibris Corporation, 2000).

2007-12-10 The Brief

Culture:

Last week I posted on the The Golden Compass and I plan to see the film sometime this week.  Why would I want to see a film that aims to destroy the church?  First, I think there is much we can learn from this film.  Much of what the film hates about “Christianity” is something we should hate.  In the film, the Magisterium, the ruling authority in the Catholic Church, represents “Christianity” as a whole.  While this attack is clearly directed at “Christianity” as a whole, I do not think his terminology here is accidental.  Much of what the world perceives as “Christianity” is not; it is a stagnant cultural force, an institution, which exists to enforce nonsensical cultural forms on others.  I think the same can be said about much of society, what they perceive to be “Christianity” is not and we should rally to put that stagnant, dead, deceptive, manmade “Christianity” to death.  We do that by submitting to the Lordship of Christ and living as the people of God and incarnating the gospel in our culture as servants of those in culture.  Second, I wholeheartedly agree with Al Mohler, “This is about the battle of ideas and worldviews.”  I have had two conversations this week, one about this film and one about another film, which deeply convicted me because I was unable to engage them in the battle of ideas because I had not seen the films.  As Christians we should not be retreating.  We must see these films, discern their true meanings, and then engage in the battle of ideas.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (II Corinthians 10:4-5).

Since the last post on this topic, Al Mohler has done a phenomenal post on the film entitled The Golden Compass — A Briefing for Concerned Christians.

Blogsphere:

Nick Cooper has returned to the blogsphere with his slick new blog Moderate Obscurity.

Justin Tapp has two great posts up on the translation of Scripture: Psalm 1:6 and John 10 and the Jews.  I have commented on the latter post; however, I hope that some of you with an understanding of Hebrew will comment on the first post.

Vintage Faith: While this is not a blog, it is on the internet and there is a blog on the site.  I have recently found Dan Kimball’s website Vintage Faith . . . exploring the emerging church and vintage Christianity.  The website has many great resources that need to be read with discernment.  Yes, that was an oxymoron.  Here is what I mean.  Dan is painting a picture of what he feels the future of the church needs to look like if it is to impact post-christian America.  Much of this picture is extremely helpful and much is not.  His criticisms of stagnant cultural and institutional “Christianity” are very helpful; however, his proposed solutions are not always helpful.  Far too many have reacted in extreme ways against the Emerging and Emergent Church and in so doing have robbed themselves of many fantastic resources to aid them in ministering to the emerging American culture.

I think an example will illustrate this quite well.  For many Karl Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy are viewed as liberal theology.  However, Barth served to buttress the faith against the assault of liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, and Adolf Harnack.  During this time, the main battle was between Liberalism and Fundamentalism while Barth’s Neo-Orthodoxy appeared and combated Liberalism it was also attacked by Fundamentalists.  Looking back it is clear that Barth had numerous critiques of Liberalism which would have greatly benefited Fundamentalists had they taken the time to understand him.  We need to learn from our mistakes and listen to and learn from the Emerging and Emergent Church and move forward to reach these emerging cultures as better-informed and better-prepared followers of Christ.

With that said, Karl Barth is not for everyone and Dan Kimball is not for everyone.  The key is in the word “discernment.”  Honestly, most people are not very discerning and for that reason, I hesitated to post this.  However, for those discerning individuals who do not want to buy his books but would appreciate his insight check the site out.

Unexpected Insights:

These problems, and the answers, are not new.  But the way we intend to tackle them using the small groups of local churches in large numbers is revolutionary.

The bottom line is that we intend to reinvent mission strategy in the 21st century. This will be a new Reformation.  The First Reformation returned us to the message of the original church.  It was a reformation of doctrine – what the church BELIEVES. This Second Reformation will return us to the mission of the original church. It will be a reformation of purpose- what the church DOES in the world.

In the first century, mission strategy was always congregationally based.  The first missionaries were sent, supported, and accountable to local churches.  The church at Antioch was the first to do this.  There were no mission societies, mission boards, or parachurch organizations.  Local churches accepted the responsibility for Jesus’ Great Commission and his Great Commandment, and the growth of the church worldwide was explosive.

Today, most local churches are sidelined and uninvolved when it comes to missions.  The message from most mission and parachurch organizations to the local church is essentially “Pray, pay, and get out of the way.”  But in the 21st century . . . [We] intend to help thousands of other local churches move back to the frontline in missions, in compassion, and in providing the social services that historically the church provided.  I believe the proper role for all the great parachurch and relief organizations is to serve local churches in a supportive role, offering their expertise and knowledge, but allowing the local churches around the world to be central focus and the distribution centers.

I deeply believe that any organization that marginalized or minimizes the local congregation’s responsibility to “Go”, or bypasses the local church’s moral authority to fulfill the Great Commission,  is out of sync with the strategy God intended, and modeled in the book of Acts.

I was quite surprised when I found out who said those words.  I will do another post on this in the coming week and will announce the author then.  In the mean time, I would urge you to resist the urge to “Google” the above quote and simply discuss it.

2007-12-03 The Brief

Politics:

            Campaign 2008: Foreign Affairs presents “a series of articles by the top U.S. presidential candidates previewing the foreign policy agendas they would pursue if elected.”  So far, these are the essays that they have made available, with two more arriving every month.

            The War We Deserve: “Americans now ask more of their government but sacrifice less than ever before.  It’s an unrealistic, even deadly, way to fight a global war.  And, unfortunately, that’s just how the American people want it.”

Culture:

            The Golden Compass: If you have not heard of the controversy surrounding the upcoming film The Golden Compass then it is likely that you will sometime soon.  Al Mohler provides a phenomenal commentary on today’s radio program, “The Golden Compass”: A Clash of Worldviews at the Box Office.  The LA Times is also running an article entitled Religious furor over ‘The Golden Compass’.  If you have not seen the trailers for the film, they are available at the Official Golden Compass website here.  I would agree with Mohler’s advice that spiritually mature individuals should see the film and then seriously discussing the underlying themes which the film promotes.  Sadly, far too many Christians are so ill-equipped in the areas of discernment and apologetics that such a task is impossible.  What about you will you be seeing the film?  If enough people see it, I may have a post where individuals can discuss the film.

            Fire: I am not sure how many of you have heard of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; however, I find their website to be especially informative and it should be a daily read for students who want to stay informed of how their rights are being violated by the educational institutions of this country.

            The Gospel of Judas: I am sure you all remember the controversy caused by the Gospel of Judas last year, which was honestly nothing new as there are numerous Gnostic texts available.  Well the Gospel of Judas is back and causing controversy again, this time the National Geographic Society’s flawed translation is being put under the microscope.  Al Mohler discusses April D. DeConick’s new book, The Thirteenth Apostle:  What the Gospel of Judas Really Says, and her recent New York Times article, Gospel Truth, in his post Revising the Revisionists — New Controversy over “The Gospel of Judas.”  I appreciate DeConick’s willingness to call out the National Geographic Society on their inexcusable mistake, I only hope this stirs up as much controversy as the flawed work’s original publication.

Economics:

            The Dying Dollar: Der Spiegel profiles the plunging value of the US dollar and its affect on the global economic situation.

Random News:

            Ironically, I was talking just this week about the disappearance of the payphone and the LA Times is currently running an article on AT&T’s plans to cut its payphone business by the end of 2008.  The article is available here.

A Biblical Perspective of Politics

Lately the unbiblical perspective from which “American Christians,” namely Evangelicals, approach politics has increasingly burdened me. Perhaps this is because I live in LA and have seen first hand the damaging effects this unbiblical perspective has on those who do not share our convictions. Below is the outline for my upcoming series of posts outlining A Biblical Perspective on Politics. These posts will either convict or anger you so I would ask that all who respond would do so in charity.

A Brief History of Church/State Relations Part One

A Brief History of Church/State Relations Part Two

A Brief History of Church/State Relations Par Three

A Biblical Understanding of Church/State Relations