Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Missiological Issues Page 1 of 4

Fruit to Harvest: the key is abiding

In October 2017, a major consultation on Muslim ministries was held in Thailand. It was called, “Abide, Bear Fruit“, and was a follow-up consultation to the one held 10 years earlier, also in Thailand. Both conferences were organized by Vision 5:9, “a global mission network focused on ministry among unreached Muslim people groups”.

The 2007 conference had identified 68 fruitful practices in working among Muslim peoples and these practices have significantly impacted missiological strategy for the past decade. The conference also resulted in a well-known book in mission circles, From Seed to Fruit: Global Trends, Fruitful Practices and Emerging Issues among Muslims.  That book, edited by J. Dudley Woodberry, was reviewed by this blog in a post a few years ago.

How do we decide whether someone is a Christian?

You may have heard comments about “bounded sets” and “centered sets” in missions conversations. Since introduced by Paul Hiebert in 1978, these terms have been part of many missiological discussions. Frequently, in a somewhat reductionistic way, “bounded sets” are seen as Western and traditional and “centered sets” are seen as more progressive.

Let’s review what we are talking about. Bounded sets are defined by the boundaries used to describe the set. For instance, either conversion or baptism might be the boundary for a bounded set of the category “Christian.” According to this way of categorizing people, in order to be considered a Christian, you would have to have a conversion experience or be baptized. Often the list of characteristics that define a Christian are expanded to include things like: going to church regularly, not drinking alcohol, having assurance of salvation and espousing orthodox theology on all major doctrines.

What do we call ourselves?

What label do we use to identify our religious commitment? What label should a convert adopt? These are common questions in Muslim ministry contexts. Many other ministry contexts also grapple with this issue. An internet search for ‘”Christian” or “Jesus-follower” as a label produced over 2,400,000 results (no, I didn’t read them all!). Should we call ourselves “Christians,” “Jesus-followers,” “Christ-followers,” “Born-again Christians,” or some other label?

The problem with labels is that they carry different meanings in different contexts, even within the same culture. In this post we will discuss the labels “Christian” and “Jesus-follower.” Both of these labels are subject to diverse understandings.

Can Jesus followers still call themselves Muslim?

Can followers of Jesus from a Muslim background continue to call themselves Muslims? This post will explore whether one’s Muslim identity as a Christ follower is an ongoing permanent identity or is simply a transitional phase as the believer matures.  Many Insider Movement advocates see the retention of one’s socio-religious identity as permanent (see Rebecca Lewis’s article, “Insider Movements: Honoring God-given Identity and Community,” in Understanding Insider Movements). In fact, retention of one’s socio-religious identity is one of the distinctive elements of Insider Movements. I question whether this is possible without redefining Islam or Christianity or both.

Who defines whether one is a Muslim?

Fred Farrokh is “a Muslim-background Christian who has been involved in ministry to Muslims for over 30 years” (see his article, “Indigenous Perspectives on Muslim Identity and Insider Movements.”) In the last month, Farrokh has written a very helpful seven-part series on “Identity Development and Transformation in Christ” and it can be found on BiblicalMissiology.org.

Talking with Muslims about faith

In my colleague’s review of the book, Dialogical Apologetics, in this blog, Gary Ridley noted that dialogue with adherents of other religions has often been seen as mutually incompatible with evangelism.  Dialogue has been used to describe inter-religious discussions in which evangelism is not seen as necessary or even a desirable goal. The book Gary reviewed points to another way of viewing that dialogue.

I would like to extend that conversation to focus particularly on dialogue with adherents of the Islamic faith. Unknown to most of us,  including myself until recently, Christians have a very long history of these interactions, extending back for many centuries.

Photo by Jessica Sysengrath on Unsplash

Review of Dialogical Apologetics

I have a couple of shelves full of books on apologetics in my library. Some are very philosophical and technical – the kind you need a dictionary handy in order to understand. Some are like cookbooks that give recipes for every question you might encounter in defending Christian faith. A good friend recommended David K. Clark’s book, Dialogical Apologetics: A Person-Centered Approach to Christian Defense, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993. It has been around a while but I was not aware of it.

Clark’s book emphasizes dialogue, a common topic in missiology, especially when interacting with adherents of other religions. Dialogue is often seen as antithetical to proclamation and defense of Christianity. The author makes a case that dialogue does not require neutrality or a commitment to pluralism. He writes:

Can we call Muhammad a Prophet?

Insider movement advocates discuss the appropriateness of converts saying the Shahada which identifies Muhammad as God’s prophet. There is not a consensus on this point. Yet saying the Shahada is part of Muslim identity.  Is there any way that we can refer to Muhammad as God’s prophet without compromising the authority of the Bible?

In 2014 the International Journal of Frontier Missiology published an article by Harley Talman entitled, “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?” (vol.31:4 Winter 2014). Subsequent issues contain responses and counter responses with Ayman Ibrahim (vol. 32:4 Winter 2015; 33:3 Fall 2016) and John Azumah (vol. 33:3 Fall 2016). I am not going to detail their discussion. You can read their whole dialogue in the archives section of the IJFM website.

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