Category Archives: missional

Are Allah and God the same?

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

It seems simple. Muslims view Allah as the Creator, the One who called Abraham, who gave the Ten Commandments at Sinai. And there is only one God. So of course Muslims and Christians speak of the same God.

Ask Larycia Hawkins if it’s simple! On Dec 10 she posted on Facebook that she, as a Christian, was going to wear a headscarf (the hijab) during Advent as an expression of compassion and solidarity with Muslims. She invited other women to do the same out of a shared humanity and shared theology: “we worship the same God.”

Wheaton College, where she teaches, immediately suspended her.

There are strong reasons to say that Muslims and Christians do not speak of the same God:
● Christians hold to a Triune God and worship Jesus as God, while Muslims categorically disagree that Jesus is God, rejecting the Trinity.
● If God is not different from Allah, then it was the one true God who spoke to Muhammad, and the Quran contains new revelations from God.

Yet there are also strong reasons to say that Christians and Muslims do speak of the same Creator God:
● Christian Bibles in Muslim areas of the world use Allah as a translation for God. When Christians there read Scripture with Muslims, God is Allah.
● It is easier for Christians to reach out to Muslims when the common ground is emphasized. In Acts 17:23 Paul referred to the Athenians’ altar to an unknown god and said, “What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you.” Paul was seeking common ground with the Athenians rather than focusing on differences. As differences between Islam and Christianity are sharpened, the barrier to conversion grows. Most of those with experience in mission work to Muslims are calling on Wheaton to not discipline Hawkins (as long as she holds Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life”). Robert Priest, a mission and anthropology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote that if Hawkins is dismissed, “Muslims will learn the idea that faith in Jesus requires a repudiation of Allah” and “this will pose an enormous barrier to consideration of the truth and goodness of the gospel.”

So it’s not helpful for Wheaton or any of us to try to pin down whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

A better question: Do our Muslim neighbors have the fullest available understanding of God? The answer: We learn the tender Fatherhood of God and see the gracious mercy of God most fully in Christ!

Update: On Saturday, February 6, Wheaton provost Stanton Jones announced that he had revoked  the termination process. In an email to the Wheaton faculty, Jones wrote that he had “asked Dr. Hawkins for her forgiveness for the ways I contributed to the fracture of our relationship, and to the fracture of Dr. Hawkins’ relationship with the College” and that he had “apologized for my lack of wisdom and collegiality as I initially approached Dr. Hawkins, and for imposing an administrative leave more precipitously than was necessary.”

Nonetheless, in a joint press release, Wheaton and Hawkins, after complimenting each other and stating they “wish the best for each other in their ongoing work,” announced that they will part ways.

New church network that is on a mission

I spent a lot of time on the road last weekend: over ten hours heading to Goshen, Ind., on Friday and the same coming back on Sunday. I enjoyed those hours. As is our pattern, Karen drove and I read aloud to her, finishing two of the Narnia series and making a good start on a George MacDonald novel. We also listened to podcasts, talked, and I caught some cat naps.

The occasion for the trip was an informational event on Friday evening and Saturday for a new network of congregations (most are or were Mennonite Church USA congregations) called Evana (coined from “evangelical” and “Anabaptist”). Two congregations have joined the network; about 30 are in the process of joining.

Evana is clear on same-sex—no pastors and congregations will join who support sexual activity that is outside “a covenant between one male and one female for life.” New waves of congregations might join Evana if more MC USA’s area conferences begin allowing same-sex covenant ceremonies and begin credentialing those in such covenants. (Thankfully, our Virginia conference stated in 2013 that “if a credentialed person conducts a covenanting ceremony for a same sex couple, their credentials will be immediately suspended.”)

Congregations drawn to Evana because of the same-sex issue will find themselves shifting to another reason for being there, though, because Evana has a different focus. The weekend speakers talked about same-sex for maybe a whole half a minute! Their passion is for inspiring member congregations into increased missional engagement in their communities. Their primary question is, “How do we start and strengthen Anabaptist evangelistic churches?” They believe in “a distinctly Anabaptist way of evangelism” that flows from the “healing presence of a local church body that joins justice and evangelism in the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit” and can heal individuals, families, and communities. They have already hired the lead pastor of the largest MC USA congregation (in Cape Coral, Fla.) to help Evana congregations join Christ in healing their communities.

Evana says, “we’re on a mission.” I sense that for a congregation to feel at home in this new network they will need to share in that mission too.


The secret behind George Whitefield’s preaching

The most famous man in pre-revolutionary war America was a preacher, George Whitefield. From 1739 to 1770, his life was one of almost incessant preaching in Great Britain and on seven visits to North America. Many periods of time during those years he was preaching six to eight hours a day, seven days a week. In America he preached in virtually every major town on the eastern seaboard; estimates are that 80% of the entire population of the colonies heard Whitefield at least once. What is more, no preacher retained his hold on his hearers so entirely as he did; his popularity never waned.

To do this, Whitefield had to have phenomenal personal strengths and ability. And indeed he did. He was affable, eloquent, intelligent, empathetic, and strong. And he had a voice like a trumpet. According to many accounts, he could be heard over five hundred feet away. He often preached to outdoor crowds of 6,000 or 8,000 people. (And this was at a time when the population of Boston was not much larger than that.) On occasion the crowds reached 20,000 or more.

To do all that preaching, Whitefield also had to have strong love and knowledge of Scripture. Here’s how he described his hunger for the Bible after his new birth: “I began to read the holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light, and power.”

But I believe his real secret lies deeper. One of his biographers, Thomas Kidd, was struck by something he read in Whitefield’s diary: day after day after day Whitefield recorded the amount of time that day that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Some persons sense fear or anger and then let those things “fill” them. For Whitefield the distinctive aspect of his Christian life was a sense of the Spirit in his life, leading him (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18), and of him yielding to that sense, letting the Spirit control and “fill” him (eg. Acts 2:4,16,33,38; 4:8,31; Eph. 5:17-18).

We who respond to the Holy Spirit are no longer only human; our potential is no longer measured only in terms of our own personal ability and resources. Our life is joined with the life of God. That was Whitefield’s ultimate secret (Acts 1:8). And why his preaching became the main catalyst for a series of revivals known as the “First Great Awakening.”

Wired to share good things that happen

What is the best thing that happened to you last month?

Maybe a thrilling game. Or a great beach or park discovered on vacation. Or a new favorite book and author. Maybe you received a commendation at work. my daughter and husband and grandson Miles Maybe you became a grandfather and got to hold a new grandson a couple hours last week. (Top that!)

Another question. Did you tell anyone about it?

Odds are, you did. An old marketing adage says we tell several others when we have a great experience with a new product. A recent study says that we tell 7.44 people, to be exact. I definitely told many about little Miles the last couple weeks!

James Choung, a favorite author of mine, observes in an Outreach article that it’s as if we are wired to share positive news. In the retelling, we re­experience the wonderful moments and also have the fun of spreading those good vibrations around.

Now another question. As a church, do we or do we not have good news to share? Do we know about the greatest expression of love in the universe? The best hope for humanity?

Yet many of us find ourselves hesitant or plain resistant when it comes to sharing this Good News. Perhaps we worry that the other person won’t receive it as good news. But maybe they will! If it’s our story, most persons will listen with interest.

Or perhaps we are unsure that the church’s good news is true. Many of us have doubts that surface from time to time. I invite you to share any doubts with me. Let’s talk! I’m sure that we as a church still get some individual doctrines wrong. But I’m sure the overall message of our Christian faith is true. I have seen so many ways that our faith helps us

give dignity and respect to every human being we meet,

be good neighbors—ones who can replace selfishness with caring, and

inspire bad neighbors to become good.

How can anything so wise and able to make the world a better place not have some truth worth retelling?!

Mission as hospitality–welcoming people into our world

We often view mission as incarnation, as us going somewhere to be among people. Jesus left heaven and entered our world, becoming one of us (John 1:14) to relate to us and befriend us. We see our mission to those with no relationship to Jesus taking that same form: we enter their world in order to relate to them, be a friend to them, to love them. That’s what Steve & Laura Campbell did when they left our congregation and moved to Montenegro, the European country where less than 0.1% of the population is part of a Bible-based church.

But mission is also hospitality. Love often calls us to welcome other people into our world, in order to accomplish those same things—to relate to them, to be a friend to them, to love them, to draw them with the life we find when Jesus is Lord and Savior.

This can involve inviting persons to our church. Though as fewer in our society go to church while growing up, this works less and less: the unchurched can find the language and songs of church services foreign and intimidating. To walk into a place where one is an outsider takes more courage than many persons have.

Often a deeper form of hospitality is needed: inviting people into our ordinary lives, giving persons a chance to get an inside look at what a life of faith in Jesus means.

This is not tacking more events onto our already busy lives. This is letting persons be with us as we do what we are already doing. We all eat three meals a day. Why not make a habit of once or twice a week sharing one of those meals with a non-Christian? Do your hobby or something you enjoy with others.

While with the unchurched, we don’t need to do or say anything we would not ordinarily do or say. We don’t need to convince them of Christ. Rather, we let them see what living as a Christ-follower looks like Monday through Monday. As Christ shapes and changes our choices and attitudes in our daily lives, we talk about it. And one day, through the Spirit, a conversation about the claims of Christ can be natural and fruitful.

Inviting people in our lives is hard, especially for us who are not extroverts. But Jesus endured much for the sake of mission. The Campbells are too. So can we.

Encountering Jesus…through hospitality

Our congregation’s theme or emphasis this year is “Encountering Jesus.” This is the central experience of our Christian life:

we are disciples or Jesus-followers, meaning we are led by Jesus, our lives are shaped by anything we know of Jesus;

we read the Bible, not simply to learn facts or to find eternal life but because it tells us about Jesus (John 5:39);

we pray and do other spiritual disciplines to create spaces in our days in which Jesus can speak to us through his Spirit;

we do missions or reach out so that that others can enjoy what we have enjoyed in Jesus—grace and truth and “life to the full” (John 10:10).

No one loves us like Jesus: dying for us. No one has power like Jesus: conquering death, hell, and Satan. No one understands life like Jesus: teaching with unequalled wisdom.

So I jump at any chance to interact with and experience this Jesus. Even if it might involve inconvenience or even sacrifice, I am willing, even eager, for it. Even if it might lead to only a glimpse of Jesus, I will do it.

That’s why I have been willing to set out on the “hospitality challenge” which we as a congregation have been doing for several weeks now: praying every morning for an opportunity to welcome and love someone God brings in our life. Perhaps it means I will simply listen to someone I meet, or do them some practical favor, or give words of affirmation and encouragement.

I anticipate encountering Jesus in three ways through this adventure:

the morning prayer (“Lord, please send me a hospitality opportunity today”) will make me more apt to notice any nudges from Jesus during my day;

the interactions with persons will let me see Jesus touching them with his love, power, understanding—perhaps through me;

and, as Jewel wrote in the last newsletter, sometimes I might look into the eyes of a stranger and see Jesus looking at me.

I will enjoy hearing the little reports of what happens as we pray this prayer!

On avoiding Christianese or empty God-talk

I heard Eugene Peterson tell a story about five-year old girl named Charity who’s rather precocious and bold in saying what she thinks. One of her grandmothers is a friend of Peterson and his wife. She told about a visit to Charity’s home that took place shortly after her other grandmother had been there for an extended stay. The first morning of the friend’s visit, at 5:00 a.m., Charity crawled into bed with her, snuggled up, and said, “Grandma, let’s not have any God-talk, okay? Let’s just get on with life.”

The other grandmother is a devout woman who takes her “grandmothering” seriously, seeing religious instruction as part of her responsibility. And Charity had grown rather tired of it all!

Peterson sees Charity’s remark as a prophetic word from which we can all learn. A 20-year old saying those words might be just pushing God out of the way. But at Charity’s age there is an unselfconscious perception of the truth of things. And she caught the gap that can be present between our words and real life. Our talk about God can come across as mere “God-talk” because what we are saying is separated from the way we live.

I don’t want my spiritual life to be disconnected from actual daily life. So one of my personal projects over the years has been to avoid, whenever possible, religious-sounding jargon. When I must use some Christianese, I try to define it using words from everyday life. For instance, “be a disciple of Jesus” can be “live your life as Jesus would if he were you.” “Jesus as Lord” can be “Jesus as Leader.” The “Kingdom of God” can be “where what God wants done is done” (Dallas Willard).

Doing this helps those who are learning the faith, be they five years old or fifty. Our words are more accessible — missionaries aren’t the only ones who should translate their faith into the language of the people. And others can more quickly connect those words with what they see in our life.

And it helps us. If we can’t express a theological or biblical term in our own words, using everyday language, that alerts us that we don’t fully understand it yet. It may only be a truth or a concept that we heard someone else talk about, that we have borrowed without experiencing it for ourselves.

May our words about God align with our life and not just be empty “God-talk.”