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.

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?

 

Understanding the Differences Between the Expansion of Christianity and Islam

Nineteenth-century Christian missions exploded across the globe with the general expectation that the gospel would penetrate the whole world, and that the evangelism of the world would conceivably be completed within a century or so. That sense of optimism is not so prevalent today, probably in part because of the decline of Christianity in parts of the world that were at one time the fountainhead of Christian faith. A review of the past century reveals that regions in which Christianity had at one time taken root have not always remained Christian for long (think Europe). In contrast, Islam’s progress has tended to be more stable, rarely giving up territory once it has been claimed.

In his book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (T&T Clark, 2002), Scottish historian Andrew Walls explains the difference between the expansions of the two major religions:

Islam can point to a steady geographical progression from its birthplace and from its earliest years. And over all these years it has hitherto not had many territorial losses to record. Whereas the Jerusalem of the apostles has fallen, the Mecca of the prophet remains inviolate. When it comes to sustaining congregations of the faithful, Christianity does not appear to possess the same resilience as Islam. It decays and withers in its very heartlands, in the areas where it appears to have had the profoundest cultural effects. Crossing cultural boundaries, it then takes root anew on the margins of those areas, and beyond. Islamic expansion is progressive; Christian expansion is serial (p. 13).

If Walls is correct, this raises some troubling questions. Why does Christianity wax and wane so consistently, while Islam rarely experiences the same fluctuations? Why do the faithful of Christianity possess what seems to be a more tenuous faith?

Walls asks and answers some of his own questions to provide some answers:

Do the resiliency of Islam and the vulnerability of Christianity reflect something of the inherent nature of the two faiths? Does the very freedom of response inherent in the Christian gospel leave it open to ultimate rejection? Is the Christian impact durable only when there is sustained, unceasing penetration of the host culture? Christianity has no culturally fixed element, as is provided by the Qur’an fixed in heaven, closed traditions on earth, perfection in law in shari’a, single shrine in Mecca, and true word every where in Arabic. If the acts of cultural translation by which the Christians of any community make their faith substantial within that community cease—if (if one may use such language) the Word ceases to be made flesh within that community—the Christian group within that community is likely to lose, not just its effectiveness, but its powers of resistance. Most cultures are in frequent change or encounter with others, so the process of translation is endless (p. 13).

In other words, Islam survives in a given culture because it remains unchanged and sees itself as embattled against cultural difference or change. As a result it can remain monolithic and isolated from the culture. In a world distressed by the culture-destroying power of technology, secularization, urbanization, and other such forces, the unchanging nature of Islam provides a rare sense of security and stability. There is no need to contextualize or adapt. Americans, who have grown up in a constantly changing culture, often forget that not everyone in the world embraces cultural change or the overturning of traditional practices to the same extent that they do.

On the positive side, Christianity has thrived in many parts of the world precisely because the gospel is a message to every tribe and tongue, and while the message must remain the same, the medium and the method are readily adaptable to other cultures.

Walls explains further:

This vulnerability [of Christianity] is also linked with the essentially vernacular nature of the Christian faith, which rests on a massive act of translation, the Word made flesh…Christian faith must go on being translated, must continuously enter into vernacular culture and interact with it, or it withers and fades. Islamic absolutes are fixed in a particular language, and in the conditions of a particular period of human history. The divine Word is the Qur’an, fixed in heaven forever in Arabic, the language of original revelation.

For Christians, however, the divine Word is translatable, infinitely translatable. The very words of Christ himself were transmitted in translated form in the earliest documents we have, a fact surely inseparable from the conviction that in Christ, God’s own self was translated into human form (p. 29).

A charitable reading of Walls reminds us that the success of Christianity throughout history in so many cultures has been the gospel’s ability to reach people in any culture while maintaining the positive aspects of common grace in that culture. The vernacular nature of the Christian faith presents a temptation and an opportunity. The temptation is to contextualize the message of the gospel, and thereby to lose it. For this, Christians are rightly criticized by Muslims. The diluted gospel of much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism under the guise of being relevant or old-fashioned, respectively, bears constant witness to this tragedy. The temptation, however, is not necessary, and Christianity can be adapted to various cultures successfully, without compromising the message. Walls concurs:

Christian faith is repeatedly coming into creative interaction with new cultures, with different systems of thought and different patterns of tradition; that (again in contrast to Islam, whose Arabic absolutes provide cultural norms applying throughout the Islamic world) its profoundest expressions are often local and vernacular. It also means that the demographic and geographical centre of gravity of Christianity is subject to periodic shifts. Christians have no abiding city, no permanent sacred sites, no earthly Mecca; their new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven at the last day (p. 30).

At least two implications arise from these distinctions between Christianity and Islam. First, all of us, not just missionaries, need to translate the faith into the local vernacular in which we find ourselves without compromising the gospel. Christianity is not Islam, and so is not culturally monolithic. Second, rather than seeing the expansion of Christianity as a necessarily universal progressive missionary certainty, perhaps we ought to realize that the spread of the faith will probably always be influenced by the currents of culture and the degree to which Christians in a particular location remain faithful. The survival of the gospel in a particular area is not assured apart from the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word. This is an especially poignant reality for the church in America where attention and commitment to sound doctrine has fallen precipitously, and simultaneously, Islam has expanded exponentially. If Islam is hardly ever dislodged once it is established in a region, the only hope for the spread of Christianity is the wholesale commitment of the church to the centrality of the gospel.

 

How shall they hear without a preacher?: Through a Ukrainian window

Today’s wonderings and wanderings were actually written several years ago during a teaching mission to Kiev, Ukraine.  I was reminded of these thoughts as I was wandering through my computer files this week.

Through A Ukrainian Window

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Silent figures cold and gray

Through the sunless dawn;

Off to work at break of day,

Tread along on and on and on.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Workers dressed in grays and browns

Walking on their way to town.

Slosh and jostle, never speak;

As I through my window peek.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

No need of clock or rooster call.

No need of sunshine’s bright embrace.

Each morning stirred from sleep’s slow crawl,

By the murmured shuffling of their pace.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

From bedroom window thinly veiled,

I watch each morning in the dew;

Silent masses without fail,

Pass me by each day anew.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Shadow figures in the night,

Pass in silence left and right.

I see no smiles, I hear no cheer.

They pass below so far — so near.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Marchers silent as they pass.

Eyes with penetrating stare.

Mouths locked in wordless cast.

Is there no joy for them to share?

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Separated by so little space,

From window’s pane to silent race.

Yet a measure too great to span;

Language separates man from man.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

“How shall they hear,” the preacher said,

“About our Savior who has bled?”

“Who gave Himself for them to die!”

But in silence — they pass me by.

Heel toe, heel toe;

On the sidewalk down below.

Chuck McLain

%d bloggers like this: