Friday, December 18, 2015

Thinking Culture: Peacemaking, a Wheaton Professor and 'God vs Allah' Debate

Are you a cultural observer? I try to be and I believer it is necessary for living with Gospel intentionality. In these new Thinking Culture posts, I want to look at recent news that is shaping our cultural but always from the perspective of Living Sent Today. The following are my reflections about some of the major news of this past week. 


“Gunshots fired into a mosque in Connecticut. Armed men protesting the ‘Islamization of America’ outside Islamic centers in Texas. Death threats called in to mosques in Florida, Maryland and Virginia.”

This is the opening line of a recent CNN report (12/11/15) entitled, “Threats, harassment, vandalism at mosques reach record high.”
Some may say this backlash is to be expected after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks and all the news of ISIS.  But such reaction is never the best course of action. Violence only begets more violence and leads to more causalities in this war of worldviews. This should never be the response of Christians, and sadly Christians are involved. 

Jesus in the 'Beatitudes' outlines the best way to live so as to be blessed of God. The seventh instruction in his short list is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). 

To listen to much of the rhetoric coming from Christians today, the conclusion needs to be that many have forgotten this requirement or otherwise relegated it to selective usage. But doing so we negate the blessings of God as the Lord is under no obligation to bless us without obedience to his will and way, which certainly includes how we relate to others__ even our enemies. (see Romans 12:17-21). 

We need a more thoughtful response. My friend Jason Clarke offers training in this area of peacemaking at  Jason made the point over coffee this past week that peacemaking needs to be at the forefront of our Gospel witness and I certainly agree. I think Jesus would too.


A tenured Wheaton College professor, Larycia Hawkins, who wore a hijab in solidarity with Muslims was put on administrative leave this past Tuesday by her evangelical Christian school. Professors Hawkins had posted on social media: 

“I love my Muslim neighbor because s/he deserves love by virtue of her/his human dignity. I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” 

I applaud Ms. Hawkins for her expression of love and show of solidarity with Muslim women. Muslim women, especially, need such vocal and visible support, as they too often live in fear and isolation. They need the friendship of Christian women.

Ms. Hawkins is also correct that both Christians and Muslims are “people of the book.” While Muslims do not accept the whole Bible, they do accept the first five books of the Old Testament and they do revere the Gospels, or ‘Injil.’ Muslim respect for the “Injil” allows for bridges of understanding from the Quran to the Gospel. 

Is Ms. Hawkins conclusion about God and Allah being the same correct? It's a complicated answer. Technically, from a point of logic, Ms. Hawkins statement is not incorrect but more needs to be offered than social media often permits. Theologically, there are deep differences that need to be considered. What we should not do is make this a point of contention that erects barriers to the Gospel as so often happens. 

My friend Cody Lorrance offers a take on this story at his blog


Let's consider this question further with some Biblical examples. Many Christians object to the idea that there is any commonality between Allah and God. Arguments form over the attributes of God vs. Allah but let’s back off the arguments and ask some questions. 

Can we first agree that we all have an imperfect knowledge of God? Starting there we can explore the nature of our God who is beyond knowing fully. We will find there are many commonalities and one great exception - Jesus or how he is understood. 

      Can we also agree that we are or should be seeking to know the truth, as much as we can, about God? We never arrive in this pursuit but learn more about his nature through our life with him. Many Muslims are “truth-seekers” and open to conversations about God if we take the time to listen. Have a conversation, not a debate. Bridge differences, don’t argue. Our purpose is not to win arguments but to share Good News. 

      Even if there are irreconcilable differences between God and Allah here are a few thoughts that inform my thinking for living everyday life with Gospel intentionality: 

1.  There is only one creator we call 'God' but he has many names in various languages.

      This informs a common starting point in reaching other cultures. Many religions offer some form of a creation account, Muslim look to Genesis. In the Apostle Paul’s ministry in Athens, Paul encounters the pagan religion of the Greeks. Paul finds a temple altar to an “unknown God” and uses this as a bridge to tell the Greeks about who this “unknown God” is. (see Acts 17:16-34), Muslims believe in the creator, but God is “unknowable” to them, so it’s a great place to start a conversation and follow Paul's example.

(     (Note: the etymology of the word "God" is adopted from a barbaric proto-Germanic tribe.)

2.  Without Christ our available knowledge about God is incomplete. 

This informs our missional approach to crossing-cultures. In the Apostle Peter’s ministry to Cornelius, we find this Roman who although spiritual (like many Muslims) does not understand the Good News of Jesus Christ yet. But God has to first deal with Peter’s cultural bias so that the Gospel advances to the Gentiles. Peter makes this insightful declaration, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (see Acts 10). Muslims believe in the prophets, revere Abraham, Moses, David and others, but they don’t yet know that Jesus is more than a prophet offering forgiveness of sin. Like Peter, it’s our job to go and tell them; and we can start with what they do know.

3.       God is known by many names and natures, even in Scripture. 

This informs our approach to reaching others who have a different understanding. In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan women at the well, we find a cultural difference in understanding God. The Jews pointed to Abraham as the father of the faith, while the Samaritans looked to Jacob as the father of their faith. Jesus points her to himself filling in the missing pieces (see John 4:1-26). Muslims know something about Jesus but we need to fill in the missing pieces. We cannot do so while arguing about the nature of God. 

Today, we could paraphrase John 4:25, “The Muslim woman said, “I know that Isa al Masih” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Muslims believe Jesus is the 'Messiah' (sura 3:25, 19:30) and are awaiting his return but know very little about him. Let’s introduce them to him now so they are prepared for his soon coming. 

Here is another thoughtful posts I read this week on the “God vs Allah” debate is here. The reason I am calling these posts 'Thinking Culture' is because that is exactly what we need today. A thoughtful and thinking people produces a thinking culture (Proverbs 23:7).

When the angels announced the arrival of Jesus on earth, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” It’s our assignment for Living Sent Today to think well about and share the news of his favor - his mercy, grace, salvation and peace - in all its fullness, to all peoples, including Muslims.

May the Lord bless you and your this Christmas with all of his goodness in Immanuel, God with us. 

Ps. Fair warning, I hope to be blogging more in 2016. Have a Jesus filled New Year! 

Monday, December 7, 2015

San Bernardino Reponse: Border Patrol, Gun Control or the Gospel Goal

Another week and tragically another terrorist attack by radical Islamists. My heart and prayers go out to the families and victims of this most recent attack. 

These are dangerous times. The threat of Islamic State is a reality globally and now closer to home. Much prayer is needed and it is right for our leaders to call for prayer. However, the response by some Christian leaders is misguided at best. 

Jerry Falwell, Jr, president of Liberty University, is urging students to carry concealed weapons on campus in order to “end those Muslims” who might attack the campus. Promoting self-defense is one thing, Jesus did (Luke 22:35-38 ) but such bravado is another. Is this really what a Christian leader should set as an example for his young students?  How does that aligns with Jesus' call to "love our enemies, do good to those who persecute you"?

Franklin Graham called on President Obama, in a Facebook post, to close the border to all Muslims until they can be fully vetted, whatever that means. This post has received over 100,000 "Likes." Rev. Graham wrote on Friday: “Mr. President, we don’t need more gun control—we need border patrol." Of course, that misses the fact that one of the assailants was born here.

Franklin continued, "No Muslims should be allowed into this country until there’s a process in place to fully vet them. We’ve got to turn away those who could potentially pose a threat until this war with radical Islam is over.” How does such isolation align with Jesus' call to "go into all the world." or to welcome the stranger?

While Franklin called for prayer of the victims and families of this terror attack, he said nothing about the need to share the Gospel with or a witness to Muslims. That’s not to say that Franklin doesn’t think that needs to happen. As President of Samaritan's Purse and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin leads organizations that bring the Gospel to the least, last and lost, including in the Muslim world.   

It is to say, as a leading Christian public figure, Franklin ways into the political much more often than the spiritual in these matters. Doing so, Franklin is promoting an agenda other than being Good News to Muslims everywhere, including the U.S.A.. Franklin is not alone in doing so, of course. 

There is NOT a lot of public attention paid to how the Church needs to arise to the Gospel opportunity of millions of Muslims who now call the U.S.A. their home. No doubt, that very few pastors have preached a message about the need to bring the Gospel to our Muslim neighbors. Very few Christians are regularly praying for Muslims in their communities to be saved. 

What a missed opportunity it will be for local churches, if instead of getting the Good News to Muslims now in the U.S.A. we continue to focus on the political solutions. We won't win the " war with radical Islam" using conventional warfare methods. Radicalized Muslims want this war and are willing to die for their beliefs. We need to think differently than our enemies. Jesus did.

When you first saw the front-page headline of the Daily News (pictured at top) what was your initial response? Was it to emotionally bash the “Liberal Media” for dismissing prayer or for calling for "Gun Control"? Or, was it to ask the question, “what does this mean from a Biblical perspective?” I would wager that for the majority of American-Christians the response was the first. 

But the fact is that “God isn’t going to fix this”...until his people, who are called by his name, drop the fearful response, turn from our ways of expecting the government to "fix this," pray for and become people of Good News to our Muslim communities in the U.S.A.

The Lord is clear that he works in response to what his people do and how we live. Maybe the Daily News front-page declaration should serve as a prophetic wake-up call that God is waiting for his people to do more than pray after another terror attack. Could it be God is waiting for a “pre-emptive strike” - reaching every Muslim in the U.S.A., and throughout the Muslim world with the truth of who Isa is for them. Jesus is still waiting for the mandate he gave his Church to be completed, that is his first priority and it must be ours. 

As this story unfolded last week, I was at the Finishing the Task conference at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, about 50 miles from this attack in San Bernardino. I had the privilege of listening to amazing reports of what the Lord is doing in the Muslim world and the movements to Christ happening in many places we think of as dangerously Islamic. God is at work in the Muslim word bringing many to faith in Jesus. Imams involved in advancing radical Islam, former terrorist trainers, are repenting and  pledging their very lives to carry the Gospel to the remaining “Unengaged People Groups,” their fellow Muslim in their home countries.

A biblical promise we have is that the Lord will “heal our land” but that only happens as his people live in accordance to his will. Living our comfortable lives in the U.S.A. as a protected haven as we wait for heaven, is not the Lord’s first concern for Americans. It's not a safe call to follow Jesus. It's certainly not a call to close our borders and carry guns so we can "end those Muslims." 

We are called to pray for our nation's leaders and we must (1 Timothy 2:1-3). While such calls as made by Falwell and Graham may resonate in these dangerous time, we who follow Jesus are here for a higher purpose. The Church must not respond in fear calling for protection but in love calling for repentance. It is for this reason that Jesus entered our dangerous world.

Living Sent Today means our priority isn't “Border patrol” or “Gun Control” but the Gospel goal for “all nations."