Apologetics with Muslims Course Taught This Summer by “the boldest evangelist I’ve ever met”!

Within 15 years, the world population of Muslims is expected to increase to over 20%. It is estimated that nearly 7 million Muslims live in the U.S. This presents a tremendous opportunity for the spread of the Gospel among people in one of theSummer2011 most unreached religions in the world.

In my 9 years of teaching at Calvary Baptist Seminary, I have never been more excited than I am about the new emphasis on apologetics. The basic course in apologetics, Intro to Apologetics, is now required for all incoming students. Future electives are on the drawing board. And this summer an introductory course on apologetics with Muslims will be taught by a professor that one pastor in Philadelphia called “the boldest evangelist I’ve ever met.”

Dr. Anees Zaka is an Egyptian-born Christian who has opened dialogue with Muslims in Philadelphia and London effectively for over thirty years. He has shared the gospel in almost every mosque in Philadelphia through his unique style of dialogue known as Meetings for Better Understanding. The class being offered this summer strikes a balance between classroom instruction and actual dialogue with Muslims in the setting of a mosque. Dr. Zaka has a unique combination of cultural and academic familiarity with Islam combined with an unshakeable boldness in sharing the gospel. Students will be equipped to share their faith comfortably with Muslims at the end of the class.

MI640 Introduction to Islam is intended to introduce students to the Islamic faith and life. Special attention is given to comparisons with biblical Christianity and to the methodology of communicating the Gospel to Muslims locally, nationally, and globally.

MI640 Introduction to Islam will be offered June 6-10, 2011. Class size is limited to 15 students, so interested students are encouraged to sign up quickly before the class fills up. See the full Summer 2011 Schedule as well as the Registration form for more information and details.

Why Blog? Ask Luther!

The advent of the internet on a popular level in the mid-1990’s and on a global scale by the turn of the century has had such an all-encompassing effect on the world, that it is virtually impossible anymore to imagine life without it. In the past few years serious thought and writing have emerged about the possibilities of this technology for the spread of gospel and the edification of the church.

Some object to the internet as too uncertain and prone to corruption for any serious use for spiritual purposes. In an attempt to perhaps preserve the old-fashioned ways of print media, some have balked at accepting the internet as a useful tool for God’s church. Perhaps these skeptics should go further back in history to the time when print media was the new technology and was transforming society in a way every bit as radical as the internet today.

Carter Lindberg documents the radical transformation of society in the fifteenth century in his book, The European Reformations (Blackwell, 1996). With the advent of moveable metal type in Germany, inexpensive linen rag paper from China and quality ink, the printing press transformed Europe by the rapid dissemination of ideas. Whereas John Wyclif’s ideas took decades to spread by means of hand-written copies, Martin Luther’s ideas blanketed Europe within six months. By 1500, printing presses existed in over 200 cities and towns. An estimated 6,000,000 books were in print, and half of the 30,000 titles were on religious subjects. Between 1460 and 1500 more books were printed than had been produced by scribes and monks throughout the entire Middle Ages (p. 36).

Books were not the only means of spreading ideas. Thousands of pamphlets and tracts incorporating pictures, images and cartoons flooded the Empire. In contrast to publications from the Middle Ages, which served primarily to preserve and transmit knowledge, the print media of the Reformation had a new function: to transmit opinions. These publications could be enormously provocative by swaying opinions and moving people to action in such momentous ways as to cause governments great concern (p. 37). And the most effective publicist to capitalize on this new tool was Martin Luther. According to historian Mark Edwards,

[Luther] dominated to a degree that no other person to my knowledge has ever dominated a major propaganda campaign and mass movement since. Not Lenin, not Mao Tse-tung, not Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, or Patrick Henry (Edwards,Printing, Propaganda and Martin Luther, xii).

In Wittenberg, Germany, there were seven print shops devoted exclusively to the writings of Luther and his colleagues. In other words, Luther saw the potential of the new technology for the spread of the gospel and sound doctrine, and capitalized on it very effectively.

What does that mean for us? With all the genuine dangers of the internet and the over-connected lifestyle of people in the West, technology is in itself a neutral “thing” that can be used for good or evil. Rather than let the potential good of the internet go to waste, we should use it to the best of our ability for the spread of the gospel and sound doctrine, for the edification of the church and the evangelism of the world. Like Luther, we should discern the possibilities of websites, blogging, social media sites, and whatever else comes along through the internet. Technology should never distract from our calling, but it can certainly help it, if we have a vision for its possibilities.

 

Can You Miss God’s Will?

The opening line of a familiar table grace for children is a good place to jump off this week: “God is great, God is good. . .”.

In the previous post we discussed God’s good heart toward His children. That’s a comfort to be sure – but what if my thick head can’t discern what His good heart is leading me toward? The second principle focuses on God’s greatness, which thankfully is able to overcome my denseness!

Principle #2: Rest in God’s Sovereignty

It’s a familiar old anxiety that has plagued me from college days. Many of life’s decisions are perplexing, with multiple options each looking attractive. You pray. You confess your sin. You search your heart’s motives. You ask for counsel. You weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option comparatively. You want nothing more than to know and do God’s will.

But still, YOU must make a choice. Careful now. What if you didn’t pray enough? What if you left a sin off your confession list? What if your counselor was having a bad day? What if, what if, what if. . .? And what if you left off an important “what if”?!

Do you notice where all the focus is here? On YOU and your ability to discern. Really, this kind of anxiety is evidence of self-reliance. Let’s get our mind off our inabilities for a minute and onto the greatness of our God. The prophet Daniel’s prayer should do it:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.

He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings;

He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;

He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness;

and the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)

Just think of it. The God who loves you unconditionally in Christ is the omnipotent sovereign of the universe. If He is controlling little things like earthly dynasties and pagan rulers, it’s likely He’s up to the challenge of guiding His children through life.

The next time you’re bordering on a panic attack over some decision, just rest in God’s super-ability to guide you safely toward His ultimate goal for you – that of being transformed into the image of His Son (cf. Phil. 1:6).

Putting Out the Fleece (Part 2): Non-Fleece Guidance from God

I begin with an apology. A number of you read the previous post on Gideon’s fleece with interest – followed by mild irritation. After blowing up a favorite method for figuring out God’s will, I left you hanging with no “how to” (if you think I did that just to get you to read this post, you’re giving me too much credit for strategic thinking).

So without further delay, let me provide you with what I see as a biblical alternative to “fleecing” in the form of a few guiding principles. The first two describe a specific scriptural mindset about God’s will – followed by a few principles of “how to.” Space only permits me to cover one principle in each of the next several posts.

Principle #1: Trust God’s Good Heart Toward You

We can rest assured that God has plans for us. He who numbers the very hairs of our heads is certainly not disinterested in the unfolding chapters of our life story. Jeremiah comforted Israel (a disobedient and idolatrous Israel, I might add) with the words, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). If this is true for the struggling Israelites, how much more so for those who’ve been declared perfect in Christ?

We can also be confident that God is not trying to prevent us from knowing His plan, but delights in revealing it to us.

  • “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. . .” (Psa. 37:23).
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6)
  • “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” (Psa. 32:8).

What a wonderful picture! God is “counseling” you with such keen personal interest that He won’t take His eye off you while He does it. Even with the best of intentions, we’re all prone to veer off the path and toward the ditch. But our loving heavenly Father is always right there to gently guide us back onto the path.

Is your God a condemning judge just waiting for you to make a mistake? Is He distant and uninvolved in the real world of your daily experience? If so, look at Him through the clarifying lens of the Gospel. Paul gets it right in Romans 8:32:

“He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

Certainly “all things” includes the guidance we require to get through life without making a wreck of things. This is our good and gracious God. He wants to guide you toward the amazing plans that His good heart has devised for you. You can safely trust Him to do what He promised.

Putting Out the Fleece? (Part 1)

The story of Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40) has often intrigued me.  I’ve faced plenty of decisions in my life where I found myself wishing for divine guidance. When both choice “A” and choice “B” seem equally attractive, how do you figure out which path is God’s path for you? That crossroad is a place where many people feel paralyzed with indecision. What if you choose the wrong path and everything goes haywire?

Gideon was paralyzed at one of those crossroads. Having recently learned that he was God’s choice to deliver the oppressed Israelites from the Midianite desert raiders, he was having a hard time believing it (Judges 6:1-24). His choice was either to believe the angel of the Lord’s confident prediction and suit up for battle (“But I will be with you, and you will strike the Midianites as one man,” 6:16) or stay in the safety of the winepress threshing out his pathetic little pile of grain.

So he devises, apparently off the top of his head, the fleece test. To help Gideon make the decision, God was to cause dew to fall on the fleece, but not on the ground surrounding it. The second night God was to do the opposite. And God came through for Gideon both times!

So, is this a pattern for how to make difficult decisions in life? I’ve never used a physical fleece, but I’ve prayed similar prayers. “Lord, if you want me to ______________ ,then please cause _____________  to happen.” Ever prayed one of those? (Of course you have!) But should you have?

Let me suggest several reasons to you why this story is not a pattern for determining God’s will for our lives.

  1. Gideon already knew what God’s will was, quite clearly: he was to go and fight the Midianites by faith (6:14).
  2. Gideon’s request was born of doubt, not faith. “If you will save Israel by my hand. . .” (6:36)
  3. Gideon’s request was mystical and subjective, similar to pagans manipulating their gods (6:37-38).
  4. Gideon’s request was insincere – after God performed the miracle he asked for once, it wasn’t enough to convince him (6:39).
  5. Gideon clearly knew he was doing something wrong by testing God (6:39). Whose faith was on trial here anyway?!

So why did God grant the request that evidenced a wavering faith? God is gracious, that’s why. Even when our faith is weak and wavering, when we view God like a magic charm we rub for good luck – even then He is gracious to us.  Aren’t you thankful for the grace and patience of God with us when we’re struggling?

So how does one determine God’s will for difficult decisions? Keep your fleece folded and out of sight. I’ll tell you more in the next post.

A Call to Missions If Ever There Was One

American Christians have, for a long time, thought of Christianity primarily through American eyes, often viewing America as the center of the world since the 20thcentury. As a result, the burden for overseas missions represents only a drop in the bucket of our concern, efforts, and consideration. Most American Christians could not conceive of living anywhere else in the world, for if they did, how could they achieve the American dream? It is, after all, an American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As a result, we see few of our young people intending to give their lives to foreign missionary service, and even fewer adults selling all they have to emigrate to a foreign country for the purpose of spreading the gospel. Also as a result, missionaries spend 2-3 years (or more) traipsing across America begging churches to support them so they can get to a field before the next generation of natives dies without Christ. The rest of the world just seems so far away, and most of them don’t speak English, so it’s a bit of a bother to expend too much effort in that direction. We are glad to see the missionaries when they come home on furlough and ask how they can stand living in that awful place, but then quickly forget them when they return abroad.

This pessimistic account is not entirely inaccurate. The truth is, when we think of Christianity, we tend to think only of American Christianity. When we think of heaven, we tend to think of people just like ourselves numbering in the millions, worshipping God around the throne. What we don’t often think about is the fact that there is a whole world of Christians in other countries that don’t think of America as the center of the Christian world, won’t ever be American, and may not even desire to be so. In fact, in some places of the world, the Christian church is actually quite a bit healthier than it is in the U.S. and more populous.

In his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins documents the shift of Christianity to the southern hemisphere of the planet over the past one hundred years:

We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. Over the past five centuries or so, the story of Christianity has been inextricably bound up with that of Europe and European-derived civilizations overseas, above all in North America. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of Christians have lived in White nations, allowing theorists to speak smugly, arrogantly, of “European Christian” civilization…

Over the past century, however, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward, to Africa, Asia and Latin America. Already today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in Africa and Latin America. If we want to visualize a “typical” contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela. As Kenyan scholar John Mbiti has observed, “the centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manilla.” Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is doing very well indeed in the global South—not just surviving but expanding (p. 1-2).

While Jenkins’ comments reveal some disdain for American Christianity, and his figures make no distinction between Evangelicals, Catholics, and other types of “Christians,” his point stands nonetheless. The “average” Christian in the world is not a middle-class white American man (or woman). Population booms and religious shifts have made the world a different place than it was as short a time ago as the 1980’s. By 2015 none of the most populated urban centers in the world will be on American soil. And with the exception of the U.S. and China, all of the most populated countries in the world will be in the global South.

This reality has a number of implications for the work of missions. First, at the present mission work seems to be moving more to a teaching, educational model than a church planting model. Many missionaries have learned that an American pastoring a church of nationals in a foreign country is counterproductive in the long run. The most effective missionaries today seem to be those who go with the intent to raise up a college or seminary for the training of national pastors, and eventually work themselves out of a job as those very men take over the institution. The seminary where I teach has already done that in several countries in Eastern Europe and South America. This trend should compel more and more missionaries to obtain seminary and advanced degrees before going to the mission field, or else they will find themselves unable to train nationals to a level necessary to run their own schools.

Second, there are many countries of the world closed to American missionaries. Yet these very same countries are wide open to people of other nationalities. One missionary I know in Eastern Europe trains men to go into the Muslim “stan” countries such as Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan that are closed to American passports. A similar phenomenon is happening with Asian Christian working in Middle Eastern countries, many at the risk of persecution or death. Rather than giving up on closed countries, we need to continue to seek creative ways to get the gospel into them through believers of other ethnic heritage.

Finally, in the very near future, the tide may change in some countries where Americans find missionaries from Africa, Asia and Latin America knocking on their doors in Anytown, U.S.A. to evangelize Americans. Jenkins notes,

Great Britain today plays host to some 1,500 missionaries from fifty nations. Many come from African countries, and they express disbelief at the spiritual desert they encounter in this “green and pagan land”…Announcing a new missionary endeavor, the Anglican primate of Brazil declared that “London is today’s field of mission. It’s so secular we have to send people for their salvation” (p. 205).

Be prepared to be evangelized by a foreigner!

Revelation 7:9 speaks of a multitude without number from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb. What a glorious day that will be when a countless sea of faces from every corner of the earth will raise their voices like a mighty wave of praise to God! If God designed a global redemption to culminate in such a scene, how much more should we already be thinking of Christianity in such terms? How much more should we be encouraging our children to think naturally about foreign missions? How much more should churches be sacrificing to speed missionaries to the field? How much more should those preparing for missionary service be adequately preparing for long-term effective ministry? And finally, a little closer to home, how much more should we be reaching our own neighbors right next door?

 

The Groomsman’s Joy

A groom considers his groomsmen to be among his most faithful friends and supporters.  How would you feel if you heard about a best man running off with the bride a week before the wedding?  You’d feel disgusted.  The whole scenario seems like a vile betrayal.  However, a much deeper betrayal can be committed by ministers of the gospel.  In John 3:22-30, some of John the Baptizer’s disciples are concerned because Jesus is receiving more attention than John.  Without hesitating, John reminds them of his role as a witness to the Messiah and his joy over Jesus’ growing influence and his own fading influence.  He reminds his audience that he is but a groomsman who wants all the attention to be focused upon the groom and his bride.

It is so easy for those who minister in the limelight to begin to bask in the attention that they receive.  It is easy for those who speak of Christ to inadvertently take the attention that belongs alone to Him.  Christ is not interested in sharing the glory that belongs alone to Him.  We must be vigilant not to steal the attention of which He alone is worthy.  May our joy be that people’s focus on Him increases as their focus on us fades.  After all, we are but groomsmen, privileged to know and love the Groom.

 

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