Monthly Archives: September 2010

 

Sep

30

2010

Trevin Wax|3:29 am CT

Reaching Muslims for Christ: A Conversation with J.D. Greear

Yesterday, I posted a review of Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim, a new book by J.D. Greear. J.D. is pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina and blogs regularly at JDGreear.com. Today, I’m happy to have J.D. stop by the blog and talk about ministry to Muslims.

Trevin Wax: In your experience, what’s the biggest psychological hurdle that Christians have when it comes to sharing their faith with a Muslim?

J.D. Greear: The biggest psychological hurdle is feeling like they have nothing in common with a Muslim. We think Muslims are a fundamentally different kind of person. But they are made in the image of God just like we are, so they have many of the same questions, ideas, and thoughts.

Secondly, they’re very religious people and, because of that, they have a lot of questions about God. Islam has uniquely prepared them to ask questions about God to which Islam does not give a good answer. Islam, in many ways, paves the way for a Gospel explanation.

So understanding Islam, and understanding the true things that it’s taught about God and the untrue things that it’s taught about God, gives you a great place to show that the Gospel gives a superior answer to these questions.

Trevin Wax: In your book, you write about the time you spent in a predominantly Muslim country. Looking back over your ministry to Muslims, what are some things you’d do differently were you to start over again?

J.D. Greear: I didn’t realize this until I had worked with Muslims for nearly two years, but a “win” in sharing Christ with a Muslim should not be just getting them to pray “the sinner’s prayer.” A “win” is getting them to study the Bible with you.

People with worldviews that are as entrenched as they are with Muslims will not likely be brought to Christ with one conversation. Rather, it is seeing the glory of God revealed in the marvelous plan of redemption in the Bible that can open their hearts to see the glory of Christ.

So have as your goal getting a Muslim to study the Bible with you. Study the stories of the prophets, walk through the Old Testament and show him or her how everything points to Christ. Do it in the form of a dialogue. I think it’s less effective to take the role of teacher, and more appropriate to take the role of “let’s read these together and both learn from the Holy Books.”

Trevin Wax: What are some things you did right?

J.D. Greear: What I did right was really nothing profound, just simply to love people and to pray for them and to be involved in their lives. The more that you listen to people and the more that you get to know them, the more they begin to bare their souls and it becomes much easier to speak the Gospel clearly to them.

Trevin Wax: What kinds of misunderstandings and misconceptions get in the way of starting and maintaining these kinds of relationships?

J.D. Greear: The thing to remember is that these misconceptions and misunderstandings go both ways. There are general misconceptions that Christians have about Muslims, namely that they’re terrorists and that they think about God totally differently.

Some of the misconceptions that Muslims have about Christians that are good to know is that Muslims believe that Christians are morally loose and do not show proper respect for God. In part, that is because they watch TV and see people who wear crosses around their necks like on MTV and they think this is what Christians are like. So entering in with that kind of knowledge and knowing how to overcome those misconceptions is helpful.

Another misconception to overcome is what Muslims believe that Christians believe about the Trinity. They think that our idea of the Trinity is that God the Father and God the Mother had God the Son. We need to explain that we would disagree with that very strongly, and that we hold very firmly, as tightly as they do, to the oneness of God.

Probably the greatest area of misconception and misunderstanding is just simply realizing that Muslims think about salvation differently than we think about it, which means that we need to frame the questions of salvation differently so we can show them that the Gospel provides better answers than Islam does. What this book tries to do is to show the reader that Westerners approach salvation from one front and Muslims approach it from a different one. The Gospel answers both equally, but knowing the separate approaches is helpful.

Trevin Wax: It’s helpful to lay these misconceptions on the table and to talk honestly about our differences. You make the case that Muslims do worship the same God as Christians, although with obvious errors in understanding. Can you elaborate on how you came to this conclusion and how you would maintain major distinctions between Muslim and Christian understandings of God?

J.D. Greear: This is a tough question that has a considerable amount of complexity to it. But at the end of the day, I think the question of whether or not you use the Arabic name for God – Allah – is more of a practical question than a theological one.

Theologically speaking, there is of course only one God. But as I note throughout the book, we see several places where Jesus or the Apostles confronted someone who believed wrong things about God, yet Jesus and the apostles engaged them with the common ground of, “let’s talk about that God you think you know and He is really like.”

For example, in John 4, when Jesus deals with a Samaritan woman who was considerably off on several points about God, Jesus told her that the problem was she did not understand the God that she claimed to worship. Many of the Jews to whom the Apostles spoke did not believe in the Trinity and found it blasphemous. Does that mean that the Jews worship a different God? A better, and more Biblical approach (in my view) is to take the God that they claim to understand and show them what His true revelation is like.

Practically speaking, however, you have to determine whether or not it is more helpful or more harmful to use the Islamic name for God. It is harmful when use of the Islamic name for God cause people to assign the false characteristics to God. But that doesn’t have to happen just because you use the name. For example, Our English word, “God,” comes from German Gott, the name of a false deity. But no one would say that today we confuse the two and assign the qualities of Gott to God.

With Muslims, I would say that more often than not it is more helpful to use the Arabic name for God. They understand that to be the God of Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. That’s a good place to start. Then you can say, “This God you worship, here is what He is really like, according to the revelation.” That said, I would leave this question mostly to the discretion of the person who is on the field in a given situation.

Trevin Wax: Thanks, J.D. for taking the time to talk about these important matters. May the Lord bless our efforts to reach people with the gospel!

 
 

Sep

30

2010

Trevin Wax|2:09 am CT

Worth a Look 9.30.10

Jared Wilson lists 10 reasons for the institutional church:

The institutionalization of the church is what happens when the Spiritual reality of what the church is disappears and all that’s left is the “local” expression/form. But local expressions/forms are important. Here’s, I think, why…

Doug Baker and Nathan Finn write an important article for Southern Baptists on the “States of our Convention”:

For our part, while we are not uncritical toward state conventions (or our national ministries), we believe state conventions must remain important Great Commission partners if Southern Baptists are to fulfill our Lord’s gospel mandate. We further believe that if state conventions focus attention on a core set of ministry priorities, churches will invest greater money in the Cooperative Program.

Marriages are built or destroyed moment by moment:

So, you have to view yourself as a marital mason. You are daily on the job adding another layer of bricks that will determine the shape of your marriage for days, weeks, and years to come. Things in a marriage go bad progressively. Things become sweet and beautiful progressively. The problem is that we simply don’t pay attention, and because of this we allow ourselves to think, desire, say, and do things that we shouldn’t.

Humility in a time of recession:

The fear of the Lord, the Bible says, is the beginning of wisdom. Contrary to received opinion, this verse has nothing to do with frightening people into religious belief. Instead it reminds each of us that we are not the center of the universe and that the sooner we grasp this, the wiser our choices will be. All of us—consumers, business-leaders, and politicians—need to be sufficiently humble to reassess our actions in a time of recession, acknowledge our errors, and then live out the necessary correctives.

 
 

Sep

29

2010

Trevin Wax|3:19 am CT

Breaking the Islam Code: A Review

In the midst of political conflict between Muslims and Christians, ordinary Christians wonder how best to share the gospel with Muslim friends and neighbors. What do we need to know? Where do we start? What are the minefields we should be aware of? We often feel ill-equipped to share the gospel in a way that makes sense to a Muslim.

J. D. Greear’s book, Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim (Harvest House, 2010), is a terrific contribution to the growing collection of resources designed to increase our confidence in the gospel. J.D. pastors The Summit Church in North Carolina. Before arriving in his current place of service, he lived in a predominantly Muslim country for two years. His cross-cultural experience and his pastoral ministry uniquely qualify him to help us understand our Muslim friends, hear their concerns, and answer the questions of their hearts with the only message that satisfies: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The idea of answering the questions Muslims are asking stands at the heart of J.D.’s book. He writes:

“Most Christians explain the gospel in a way that (to use a cliché) ‘answers questions they have not been asking.’ This book will help you see what questions Muslims are asking, and how the gospel provides a unique and satisfying answer to them.” (15)

Of course, it is imperative that we not only answer the questions that non-Christians are asking, but that we also direct them to the questions they should be asking. J.D.’s method takes this truth into account. He does not change the gospel for a Muslim audience. Instead, he encourages us to see the questions Muslims are asking as an open door to begin engaging them effectively.

This book is a mix of helpful information and practical application. J.D. gives readers a quick overview of the religious beliefs of Muslims. He points out misconceptions Christians have regarding Muslims as well as misconceptions many Muslims have of Christians.

One of the flash points that J.D. tackles head on is the question of whether missionaries should use the Arabic term for God: Allah. J.D. says “yes,” and I think he is right. After all, we face a similar problem in our secular society. The word “God” means different things to different people. Many wrongly associate the word “God” with the generic, nationalistic, deistic god of “God Bless America.” Yet Christians in the U.S. continue to use the term “God” to speak of the Father-Son-Holy Spirit. So, just as we take the generic term “God” and fill it with the Triune content we see in Scripture, missionaries should be free to use the Arabic word for God (Allah) and fill that conception with the Christian understanding.

On another note, I like how J.D. simplifies the differences between Islam and Christianity. It all comes down to the need for righteousness. J.D. describes Islam as promoting the view of all man-made religions: our works make us acceptable to God. In contrast, the gospel begins with God’s acceptance of us because of Jesus, a truth which then leads to good works. By simplifying the differences in this way, J.D. shows both how the gospel alone provides salvation.

The latter part of the book includes Christian responses to common Muslim objections. Readers already deep in discussions with Muslims are not going to find all the information they need in these talking points. But those of us who are just now initiating conversations with Muslims will benefit from knowing these objections ahead of time.

Overall, J.D.’s book is a terrific introduction to how to build relationships with Muslims, think through issues of Islamic-Christian relationships, and graciously share the gospel. The appendix helpfully lays out the boundary markers that should inform our understanding of contextualization.

Though Muslim-Christian tensions run high today, this book strikes a hopeful tone. J.D. expects a massive movement of Muslims toward Christianity, and he is doing his best to make that happen. As Christians, we can join him in prayer for God to do a mighty work in places where the gospel has not been embraced.

 
 

Sep

29

2010

Trevin Wax|2:44 am CT

Worth a Look 9.29.10

A provocative article from George Robinson: Why All Good Christians Should Celebrate Halloween

The reason I propose that good Christians celebrate Halloween and stay home from the “Christian alternatives” is that Halloween is the only night of the year in our culture where lost people actually go door-to-door to saved people’s homes . . . and you’re down at the church hanging out with all your other good Christian friends having clean fellowship with the non-pagans.

Pew Forum finds that Americans don’t know much about religion and that atheists and agnostics are more knowledgeable than many believers:

A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Multi-Site Churches: Yea or Nay? A great conversation between James McDonald, Mark Dever, and Mark Driscoll

What to do when you sin against someone:

Reconciliation with a brother or sister takes precedence even over worship. This is truly astounding. It is also one of the most frequently disobeyed commands in all of Scripture.

 
 

Sep

28

2010

Trevin Wax|3:38 am CT

Al Mohler on Why He Changed His Mind on Women Pastors

Al Mohler reflects on why he changed his mind regarding women as senior pastors:

It was in the mid 1980′s, and it was a time of tremendous controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention. The issue of women in ministry, women in the pastorate, was an issue of central controversy.

In 1984, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution (a very contentious moment) on women. It was the first time that this denomination as a whole in terms of its annual meeting in such an official way had made a declaration that the office of pastor was restricted to men as qualified by Scripture. That incited one of the most incredible denominational controversies in the midst of that great controversy of the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s that one could imagine.

Many people took umbrage at that statement. Many people were hurt and outraged and stunned that the Southern Baptist Convention would say that a woman ought not to be pastor.

I was one of them.

I was a student in this institution (SBTS). This institution at that time taught monolithically that women – just as men – could and should be called as pastors in churches. There was no CBMW , no book on recovering biblical manhood and womanhood. You talk about the influence that a preacher or a teacher can set a course of his or her own error leading to others… I can give firsthand testimony of that.

When the denomination adopted that resolution in 1984, I not only took part, I led an effort to protest it. We bought an ad in the Courier-Journal and made a statement about God as an equal opportunity employer. By the way, I did this while affirming biblical inerrancy, absolutely sure that the Bible was the infallible, inerrant Word of God.

There came a day when Carl Henry was here on campus. In the providence of God, it ended up being my assignment to be his host. Incredible privilege! He was already a mentor to me by his writings. I had been anchored in orthodoxy and in inerrancy as his books had had an influence on me.

At one point, it was my responsibility to get Dr. Henry from one end of this campus to the other. As I was walking him along, he brought up the issue of women in the pastorate. He asked me my position on the issue. With the insouciance of youth and the stupidity of speaking more quickly than one ought, I gave him my position. He looked at me with a look that surprised me and said to me, “One day, this will be a matter of great embarrassment to you.” That’s actually all he said. When Carl Henry tells you that on the seminary lawn, the effect of that embarrassment was instantaneous… The shock on his face was enough to arrest me. We talked more; we didn’t get close to that. We did talk about it many times thereafter.

What do you do when Carl Henry tells you, “One day this is going to be a matter of great embarrassment to you?” Well, I went to the library. I looked for every book I could possibly find on the subject. Frankly, the urgency on me was such that I didn’t think I could eat or do anything until I found out why I was going to be so embarrassed. The campus was full of people who appeared to be wonderfully unembarrassed about the issue.

I found very little. There wasn’t much. There was a book by Stephen Clark, Man and Woman in Christ. It led me into, thankfully, some Scripture study. I ended up staying up until I could figure this out. Somewhere between Carl Henry saying what he said to me and the dawn of the next day, my position had completely changed.

Now… Carl Henry didn’t change my position, but he sure did arrest me. It was the Scripture that changed my position. I had to come face to face with the fact that I had just picked this up, I had just breathed this in, and I’d just capitulated it out without checking it according to the Scriptures. By the way, going to the Scriptures, it doesn’t take long. It wasn’t not like I embarked on a lifelong study to discover what Scripture says about this. It didn’t take long at all.

I realized that indeed Carl Henry was right. One day I would be very embarrassed about this. When I saw him the next morning, I was already in a different world.

Source: SBTS Chapel Message, September 14, 2010: Getting it Right, Getting it Wrong, Getting it Fixed, Getting it Done: Learning Ministry from Apollos

 
 

Sep

28

2010

Trevin Wax|2:01 am CT

Worth a Look 9.28.10

Nancy Guthrie pens an open letter to her pastors regarding Glenn Beck:

Thank you for your faithfulness in preaching Christ from the pulpit, not “the principles of America.” Thank you for leaving that to others and reserving the sacred desk at our church for preaching, in the last few weeks, about the once-for-all sufficient sacrifice of Christ, about the privilege we have to approach God in prayer as Father, about Christ as the Wisdom of God, about Christ as the most valuable Treasure in the universe, worth trading everything to have.

35 Witticisms from John Piper (See a few of my favorites below) – HT: Challies:

I don’t know what kind of sentimental ideas you have about Jesus. Just read your Bibles and they’ll go away.

I got all of those facts from this book. I’m not a genius. I just copied things.

“And yet one of you is a devil” This is not encouraging to the disciples. . . . they don’t know who it is. I mean, picture me at a staff meeting  . . . “

Bloggers: Five rules for your “About” page from Seth Godin

Are you a first-year seminary student? If so, then take a look at this helpful post:

As your personal tour guide to the realities of first-year seminary life, I have good news: There is hope. Remember: God has you there so that He can shape you into the person He wants you to be, for His glory. You’re the clay and the Potter’s wheel is just starting to spin. Here are five helpful ways for you to get your bearings…

 
 

Sep

27

2010

Trevin Wax|3:21 am CT

Why I Hate Rating Books

All right, I confess. I don’t like rating books.

Here at the blog, I rate the books I briefly review for my “Book Notes” feature. Each month, I write a mini-review of a book or two for Christianity Today, and I provide a rating. Amazon.com requires me to post a rating too.

But I don’t like doing it.

Yes, I know that people who skim the blog, magazine, or the Amazon reviews find the rating system helpful in gaining quick perspective as to the value of the book. But the subjectiveness and confusion of the rating system bothers me.

Here’s what I mean. Take a look at how I interpret a five-star rating system:

* = Poor

** = Fair

*** = Good

**** = Excellent

***** = Go out and get this book right now! A masterpiece.

That’s my system. But not everyone reading a review analyzes it the same way I do.

So every now and then, I’ll get an email from an author whose book I rated “good” (three stars) on Amazon. They’ll say, “Trevin, was my book really that bad?” And I’ll say, “Not at all. In fact, I thought your book was good.” Then they say, “But you are hurting my overall rating average!” (Translation: “and my sales”). As a sympathetic author who wants to help another writer out, I’ll up the rating to four stars and console myself by thinking, Most people probably think four stars mean what I mean by “good” anyway.

When writing mini-reviews for Christianity Today, I used to submit “in-between ratings”. (3 & 1/2 stars for one book, 4 & 1/2 for another). Why? Because some books fall into that place between good and excellent. So an extra half-star would be like saying, “Very good.” But CT doesn’t do half-ratings, so they round them up instead.

Then there’s the 5-star rating on Amazon. For the longest time, I held back on giving out a five-star rating unless I thought the book was a masterpiece that deserves to be on everyone’s shelf. Then my own book came out, which I am quite sure is not a classic, but hopefully is at least “good.” And all sorts of friendly readers left me five-star ratings on Amazon. I was grateful for their reviews, even if somewhat confused by how others interpret book ratings.

So now, I want to throw up my hands and ask, Does your five-star rating mean you thought the book was good? Is four stars your way of saying “Something is wrong with this book”? Does a three-star rating mean “Don’t waste your time”?

See the dilemma? That’s why I don’t like to rate books. Especially on Amazon, reviewers tend to polarize based on their gut reactions to the book. If most people like the book, the rating is five stars, regardless as to the merit of the work. That’s why C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity has a five-star average, and so does Holy Subversion. Yet our books are not on the same level. No false humility here; this is reality. One is a classic; the other is (hopefully) good work from a young author.

So the ratings system is flawed, and the bugs in the system really bug me. Because we are so quick to praise anything and everything, we don’t leave ourselves with a way to really praise a praise-worthy book. The best of the best are treated like all the rest. As the little boy in The Incredibles says, “When everyone is special, no one is special.”

What about you? What do book ratings communicate to you? And how do you choose to rate something?

 
 

Sep

27

2010

Trevin Wax|2:33 am CT

Worth a Look 9.27.10

The problem of personal preferences:

Here’s something with which I struggle as a pastor—I have personal preferences too. As a leader I can spin my preferences as vision. My position means I get the most opportunities to vocalize what I like. I am called to shepherd a congregation—leading them to join God’s mission. But I can easily champion my preferences as the new direction of the church.

America’s true history of religious tolerance:

In the storybook version most of us learned in school, the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since these religious dissidents arrived at their shining “city upon a hill,” as their governor John Winthrop called it, millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a welcome melting pot in which everyone was free to practice his or her own faith. The problem is that this tidy narrative is an American myth.

Ed Stetzer interviews new president of the North American Mission Board, Kevin Ezell. Here are Ed’s questions:

  • What do you think about your first two weeks at NAMB?
  • There was some concerns from some executive directors from our state conventions. These are good men who were concerned about your giving history while you pastored Highview in Louisville. Any thoughts about their concerns?
  • Any thoughts on how the blogosphere will influence SBC life?
  • Now that you are NAMB president, what would you want Southern Baptists to know?
  • How do you anticipate that NAMB and LifeWay might be able to work together in the future?

One part of the U.S. economy is doing quite well: travel goods

Even as the economy started to slow in 2007, Americans continued to realize the benefit of using travel goods as part of their everyday lives, leading to yet another record year for sales in 2007, according to a new report from the Travel Goods Association (TGA). Travel goods are defined as luggage, backpacks, travel/sports bags, business cases/computer bags, handbags, personal leather goods, and travel accessories.

 
 

Sep

26

2010

Trevin Wax|3:17 am CT

Adoniram Judson's Prayer for More Missionaries

O God, have mercy on the churches in the United States…
continue and perpetuate the heavenly revivals of religion
which they have begun to enjoy;
and may the time soon come when no church shall dare
to sit under Sabbath and sanctuary privileges
without having one of their number to represent them on heathen ground.

Have mercy on the theological seminaries,
and hasten the time when one half of all who yearly enter the ministry
shall be taken by thine Holy Spirit,
and driven into the wilderness,
feeling a sweet necessity laid on them,
and the precious love of Christ and of souls constraining them.

Hear, O Lord, all the prayers
which are this day presented in all the monthly concerts
throughout the habitable globe,
and hasten the millennial glory,
for which we are all longing, and praying, and laboring…
Come, O our Bridegroom; come, Lord Jesus!

- Adoniram Judson, quoted in J.D. Greear’s Breaking the Islam Code: Understanding the Soul Questions of Every Muslim, page 141

 
 

Sep

25

2010

Trevin Wax|3:23 am CT

Les Misérables: Quotes to Ponder (3)

Julie Rose’s new translation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is terrific. On Saturdays, I am sharing some quotes worth pondering (see first and second collections here):

“We chip away as best we can at the mysterious block of marble our lives are made of – in vain; the black vein of destiny always reappears.” (171)

“A white lie, a little white lie, does such a thing really exist? To lie is the absolute of evil. To lie a little is not possible; one who lies, lies wholly; the lie is the very face of the devil.” (179)

“There is a spectacle greater than the sea, and that is the sky; there is a spectacle greater than the sky, and that is the human soul.” (184)

“To write the poem of the human conscience, were it only that of a single man, were it only that of the most insignificant man, would be to meld all epics into one superior epic, the epic to end all.” (184)

“You can’t stop your mind returning to an idea nay more than you can stop the sea returning to shore. For the sailor, it is known as the tide; for the person with a guilty conscience, it is know as remorse. God lifts the soul as well as the ocean.” (189)

“To travel is to be born and to die at every instant. … Everything in life is constantly fleeing in a headlong rush ahead of us. Things cloud over and clear as part and parcel of the same process: first dazzlement, then eclipse; you look, you rush around, you hold out your hands to seize what is passing; every event is a bend in the road; and then, all of a sudden, you’re old.” (208)

“No human feeling ever manages to be quite as appalling as gloating joy.” (243)

“The violent jolts of fate have this peculiar feature, which is that, however perfectly controlled or detached we may be, they drag human nature out of the depths of our entrails and force it to reappear on the surface.” (249)

“A hundred years – that is young for a church and old for a house. It seems that man’s abode partakes of his own brief existence and God’s abode of His eternal life.” (359)