Guest Author

Christian witness in today’s post-truth society

Posted on

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis

By Tony Watkins.

 

‘Truth has perished; it is banished from the lips’ (Jer 7:28).

We now live in a ‘post-truth’ society. The adjective ‘post-truth’ was Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016. It relates to ‘circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals’. This perfectly describes the 2016 political campaigns leading to the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK and the US presidential election.[1]

Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, said that the term’s rocketing popularity is ‘fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment.’ He suggests that it will become ‘one of the defining words of our time.’[2]

As Grathwohl implies, the term ‘post-truth’ is closely connected with the deluge of ‘fake news’ we have experienced. Jonathan Freedland writes, ‘In this era of post-truth politics, an unhesitating liar can be king. The more brazen his dishonesty, the less he minds being caught with his pants on fire, the more he can prosper. And those pedants still hung up on facts and evidence and all that boring stuff are left for dust, their boots barely laced while the lie has spread halfway around the world’. [3]

The changing news landscape

Why do fake news wildfires spread so quickly across the media landscape? One key factor fanning the flames is, of course, political agendas. Fake news affects far more than politics, but it has recently characterised that sphere of public life to a frightening degree. There have always been lying politicians desperate to promote themselves, and propaganda is a vital tool for any totalitarian state. Yet it does feel that there is something very different about the current political landscape, at least in the West.

Two things are different in particular:

First, social media allow anybody to communicate anything at any time to a vast audience. Donald Trump exemplified this during his 2016 election campaign when he tweeted things that were inflammatory or blatantly untrue, but which resonated well with his target audience. Second, social media have become the main way we access news; so the incomes of established news media are plummeting. They desperately need more clicks on their content to bring in more advertising revenue. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Katharine Viner laments that ‘the new measure of value for too many news organisations is virality rather than truth or quality.’[4]

‘All are greedy for gain . . . all practice deceit’ (Jer 6:13; 8:10).

Fake news is also driven by greed. A great deal of it is dreamed up by teenagers in Veles, Macedonia.[5] Having discovered that they could attract vast traffic to bogus websites by publishing sensationalist stories, they are becoming rich by selling advertising. These teenagers have become masters at click-bait headlines. Interestingly, most fake news stories from Macedonia have been pro-Trump; the hoaxers found during the US election campaign that pro-Clinton stories did not bring in anything like the same traffic.

Macedonia is not the only fake-news factory:

The Czech government now has a unit confronting the flow of potentially destabilising fake news in the lead-up to the general election in October 2017. The false stories (mostly about migrants) come from websites which, the Czech authorities claim, are supported by the Russian government.[6] In Burundi, journalists accuse President Pierre Nkurunziza of using fake news to re-ignite ethnic tensions while simultaneously dismissing UNHCR and EU reports of human rights abuses as lies.[7]

However, fake news is not always created with an obvious agenda. Often on social media, especially following an atrocity or disaster, it is merely careless, unverified reporting which quickly spreads. Anyone who was on Twitter after recent terrorist incidents in Western Europe will know just how much conflicting ‘information’ was circulating.

Information cascades and filter bubbles

Whatever its origin, fake news relies on social media to spread widely and rapidly. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2016 suggests that 23 percent of US adults have shared fake news, knowingly or not.[8] We need to look at sociological and psychological reasons to understand why people share it with others at all.

The key way social media platforms persuade us to share content is by social proof. The more ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ a post has, the more likely we are to like or share it ourselves. And so it spreads in ever-widening circles, accumulating more likes and shares as it goes. It does not take much for an unstoppable ‘information cascade’ to develop.

We also share posts that push our emotional buttons: if something makes us laugh or cry, or angers us, we will share it. We may share something just because the headline or image has stimulated the pleasure centres in the brain—even though we have not engaged with the actual content. If we later see something revealing that what we have shared is false, that affects us less. A rebuttal does not stimulate the brain’s pleasure centres; so we do not bother sharing it. In other words, our response to much of what we see within social media is primal, not rational.

Then there is the problem of confirmation bias. We all have a strong psychological tendency to latch on to information that confirms ideas we already have. Conversely, we tend to avoid or reject anything that challenges us. So we readily believe anything that meshes with our existing worldview or values, and dismiss anything that threatens them.

Even without all these factors, social media platforms would still be ‘filter bubbles’. When we like and click on things in Facebook’s news feed, its algorithm delivers us more of those kinds of things, and less of the content with which we do not engage. Day by day, our timelines become increasingly filled with things that reinforce our perspectives—whether or not they are true.

Truth stumbles in the street

When ‘alternative facts’ take over from truth, a culture is in big trouble. Katharine Viner says, ‘This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means . . . that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.’[9]

Isaiah’s assessment of his society is startlingly relevant: ‘So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey’ (Isa 59:14–15; see also Jer 9:3–6).

The implications for the church are sobering. When public discourse becomes nothing but competing viewpoints claiming to be ‘facts’, debate over the truth of the gospel becomes much harder. Those insisting on the existence of ‘true truth’ are swiftly dismissed as bigots, and their message is ignored. Any appeal to a source of authority, such as the Bible, is neutralised by writing it off as just ancient ‘fake news’.

Where do we go from here?

Paul follows Isaiah in insisting that suppressing the truth brings God’s wrath (Rom 1:18). Will God ‘give us over’ to our pursuit of feelings over truth, so that the West totally loses its bearings and collapses in chaos? Or will we embrace truth and wisdom once more and turn away from the relativistic mess into which we are sliding? We must pray that the West takes this second route and that the majority world does not also become infected by the post-truth disease.

I see some signs that people and even media companies are increasingly troubled by the present state of our society. Mark Zuckerberg has committed to tackling fake news on Facebook[10] and The New York Times has promised a ‘renewed focus on truth and transparency’,[11] for example. Are people realising afresh how vital truth is to society? Or is it just a momentary slow-down in the decline? The role Christians play in society could well be the deciding factor.

Responding to fake news

Christians should be passionate about truth because we follow the One who is the Truth (John 14:6). However, it is inconvenient and uncomfortable to do so; it makes us unpopular and requires courage. Yet we must not flinch from it. That means not only holding to truth intellectually, but living it out day by day.

 ‘The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy’ (Prov 12:22).

It is tempting to share something which fits comfortably with our views, whether or not we are sure of its truthfulness. However, we must never become like those Paul warns against, who ‘gather around them . . . teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim 4:3). Instead, we must resist our confirmation bias, questioning the assertions that come streaming our way. We must not assume that ‘social proof’ proves anything. We must commit to discovering the truth, which includes doing our best to be sure of the sources of the information which comes our way.

Our commitment to truth must take us beyond simply reporting and sharing things that are true. We must be prepared to challenge false assertions and spin, to present alternative viewpoints, and to share fresh perspectives. If the church is to have a prophetic role within society, we must dare to speak precisely those biblical truths which most challenge and discomfort society (Jer 7:27–28; John 16:7–11). Let us pray for courage to do so.

 

 

Tony helps Christian leaders develop a better understanding of how the Bible (especially the prophets) relates to today’s media. He partners with several organisations, including Damaris Norway and the Lausanne Media Engagement Network, for which he is the Network Coordinator. He is a visiting lecturer at the Norwegian School of Theology and Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communications, Norway. Tony is the author of Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema and Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Philip Pullman, and co-author of seven other books. Visit tonywatkins.uk for free resources on media and the Bible.

 

 Endnotes

[1] Editor’s Note: See article by Darrell Jackson entitled ‘BREXIT and Its Impact on European Mission’ in September 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis. See also article by Thomas Harvey entitled, “Trump’s First Hundred Days” in this issue.

[2] ‘Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is . . . Post-truth’, Oxford Dictionaries, 16 November 2016.

[3] Jonathan Freedland, ‘Post-truth politicians such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are no joke’, The Guardian, 13 May 2016. Mark Twain is credited (falsely, ironically) with saying ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’ (or lacing its boots). The Victorian preacher C.H. Spurgeon quoted the saying in Gems from Spurgeon (1859), referring to it as ‘an old proverb’.

[4] Katharine Viner, ‘How technology disrupted the truth’, The Guardian, 12 July 2016.

[5] Emma Jane Kirby, ’The city getting rich from fake news’, BBC Magazine, 5 December 2016; Samanth Subramanian, ‘The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News’, Wired, 15 February 2017.

[6] Robert Tait, ‘Czech Republic to fight “fake news” with specialist unit’, The Guardian, 28 December 2016.

[7] Rossalyn Warren, ‘”Fake news” fuelled civil war in Burundi. Now it’s being used again’, The Guardian, 4 March 2017.

[8] Michael Barthel, Amy Mitchell and Jesse Holcomb, ‘Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion’, Pew Research Centre, 15 December 2016.

[9] Katharine Viner, ‘How technology disrupted the truth’.

[10] Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook note, 13 November 2016.

[11] Minda Smiley, ‘”We are preparing for the story of a generation”: New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet discusses covering President Trump’, The Drum, 12 March 2017.

Lausanne’s first ever open-concept gathering

Posted on

On the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, the Lausanne Movement invited 90 global mission leaders to Wittenberg, Germany, to participate in a gathering entirely dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. New partnerships, collaborative ideas, and exciting initiatives have been formed as a result of the gathering, all of which have the potential to significantly impact global mission over the next 3-5 years.

The room was buzzing with excitement as Lausanne’s first-of-its-kind gathering came to an end on Wednesday in Wittenberg, Germany. During the three days of the gathering, 90 of the most influential men and women in global mission, representing all regions of the world and different age groups, sought to hear from God regarding the first two parts of the four-fold Lausanne vision: to see the gospel for every person and an evangelical church for every people.

’These past three days, we wanted to seek new and innovative ways to work together, in order to see a significant acceleration in the spread of the gospel,’ says Dr David Bennett, Lausanne’s Global Associate Director for Collaboration and Content. ’Because of the high birth rate among Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, the rate of population growth is overtaking the growth of the church in many parts of world, despite the hard work of church planting, evangelism, discipleship, and other areas of mission.’

In preparation for the gathering, Lausanne had asked the participating leaders to identify what they saw as the most critical factors for seeing breakthroughs in global mission, especially from their own perspectives as leaders of various ministries. Through three rounds of research surveys, we arrived at the 12 clusterings of topics that would be discussed and prayed about at the gathering. The participants themselves were then subdivided into 12 corresponding table working groups, based on their individual passions and interests identified in the survey process. These working group topics included clusters of priority areas for mission such as evangelism, church planting, and intentional discipleship.

The gathering’s schedule was unique in that it was designed to depend entirely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There were no plenary speakers other than morning Bible expositions, and participants spent most of their time in table working groups, listening to each other as they spent time praying, dialoguing, and brainstorming about the topic of their working groups.

’Coming into the gathering, we didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we were hoping that it would result in action plans that can start to be implemented in the next months and bear fruit in three to five years,’ says Dr Bennett, in summarizing the Wittenberg 2017 gathering. ’As an incredible answer to prayer, all of the 12 table working groups came up with significant initiatives, ideas, and commitments. These plans are more realistic than we first imagined, not pie-in-the-sky dreams, but big enough steps to significantly accelerate the spread of the gospel in five years.’

One table working group, for example, decided to research ways to provide need-based training tailored specifically for different kinds of evangelists. Another group centered on partnership and collaboration sought to catalyze more partnership for global mission by launching an annual partnership award to highlight the remarkable examples of missional collaboration as a way of inspiring further partnerships, and initial funding for the award has already been committed. Detailed plans and next steps are now being worked out by the 12 table working groups, and Lausanne looks forward to sharing stories of what takes place in the days ahead. Other strategic directions from these initiatives include: making prayer a practical priority in missions; repositioning disciple-making as the church’s primary call; facilitating the continued formation of a local church culture with a kingdom mindset; and encouraging the 2% who are in professional ministry to prepare the 98% (laity) for ministry.

Besides the initiatives and research projects from specific groups, there were overall trends that emerged throughout the conversations among many groups, with the urgency of prayer and partnership topping the list. ’A prophetic call is going out from this place to the global church, reminding us that our first action point is prayer, and the second is to partner more closely together,’ says Dr Michael Oh, Global Executive Director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement, reflecting on the early outcomes of the gathering.

He continues, ’There isn’t a bigger barrier to global mission than the attitude of “I don’t need you.” We know of over half a thousand networks formed to advance global mission. What could happen if these networks partnered deliberately, with a laser-sharp focus for global mission?’

The deliberate partnership and collaboration of diverse peoples across many nations is exactly what happened at this Wittenberg gathering—and it is our prayer that its outcomes will ripple across the world.

’Lausanne’s role was to convene the influencers, set the table, and make space through this unique agenda for God to speak,’ concludes Dr Bennett. ’The participants are now responsible for moving these plans ahead as they made their commitments to each other and to the Lord. We will follow-up with the table working groups to support and encourage progress on the plans launched here in Wittenberg. Mission is ultimately about God, and he’s the one we’re trusting to complete his work on earth.’

Executive Director for AsiaCMS

Posted on

AsiaCMS is seeking to appoint an Executive Director who will take on the leadership role of an expanding missions agency.

AsiaCMS is part of a global network of organisations who obey the call of God to proclaim the Gospel in all places and to draw all peoples into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They equip, train and send mission leaders to various people groups, cultures and countries in the Asian region.

They currently have a vacancy for an individual who can demonstrate the appropriate skill, experience and passion to lead AsiaCMS into its next phase of operations. In particular, they are looking for applicants with the following qualities:

Strategically lead and implement the mission and vision of AsiaCMS Build and lead a team of office-based and regional staff with individual specialisations; this includes direct oversight and annual performance reviews Build relations with wider CMS network, church partners and other stakeholders Identify, develop and implement a fundraising strategy for AsiaCMS

Please pass on the information to any relevant individuals or parties who you feel would be a good fit and benefit from this opportunity. If you would like more information please contact office@nzcms.org.nz. And please pray that God will bring the right person along for this very significant and strategic role.

Who’s telling the story anyway? (Issue 31)

Posted on

By Kate Dugdale (Bishopdale Theological College).

My sisters and I are fairly rambunctious, and talk over each other a lot (to my parents’ frustration!). We also do it to our parents, and I can recall a number of times when Dad would turn to the person who had interrupted and ask, “Who’s telling this story!?”

When we think about the mission of God, this is an excellent question to ask. Every culture – and in the age of globalism, every sub-culture or social tribe – tells a different story which shapes the way we look at the world. For example, Western society tells a story where success is measured in money or fame, and yet, Jesus teaches us not to seek after these things (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes the same event can be interpreted in radically different ways – is it terrorism or holy jihad? For Christians, it’s vital to reflect upon which voices we listen to, and therefore, which story we participate in. We can’t live out of two different realities without risking our own wholeness as individuals.

Your story or God’s?

This question of story becomes even more pressing when we begin to think about the mission of God, because the Gospel, by its very nature, is an invitation to individuals to step out of their own story and into God’s. 

There are two key points that need to be made here. The first is the importance of familiarity with the metanarrative of Scripture (that’s a fancy word that makes you sound smart – it just means ‘the big story’), because it’s an unfinished story which find ourselves in the midst of. Jesus is the centre of Scripture. The Old Testament anticipates Jesus, by telling the story of creation, the consequences of human disobedience, and the history of the people of Israel who God set apart as his witnesses. Israel turns their back on God time and time again, and yet no matter how many times they flip the proverbial bird at God, God continues to remind them of their calling to be a witness to the nations. Even when there are consequences for their sin, God reassures Israel that they belong to him.

At the end of the Old Testament we find Israel waiting for God to send them a leader who would free them from being subject to foreign rule. However, when their Messiah comes, he doesn’t meet their expectations. Instead of coming as a strong man of war, a military conqueror and astute political ruler, Jesus becomes a carpenter in a backwater town, before beginning his public ministry at the age of 30. At the moment when his popularity is exploding and he could ride the wave, he talks about the cost of following him in a way that makes the crowds leave. Instead of destroying the Romans, he’s crucified by them. Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, and we see Jesus’ disciples preach about who Jesus is, the way that he has reconciled humans to God and about his promise to return again.

The difference this makes

This biblical story is probably familiar, but it’s worth revisiting in order to reorient ourselves in the midst of God’s story. This is the second point that needs to be made: as believers in the twenty first century, we should pay close attention to the example of the apostles, for just as they were called to proclaim the Gospel, so are we. The apostles didn’t attempt to build their own international ministry, or develop a website, or release a line of books… Instead they shared the story of God, both by simply teaching about Jesus and through demonstrating it in signs and wonders.

Living from God’s story frees me from the pressure of achievement. I no longer need to be the hero of my own story, because as the one who sets me free, Jesus is the hero of my story. Even more astounding is that God invites me into his story, to participate in what he is already doing and has been doing throughout history. The biblical story reminds us time and time again that it’s God who’s at work – creating, redeeming, and bringing us to the day when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. Even though in the here-and-now, the world is marred by sin, God is in the process of restoring all things. And so, whatever we do – whether we teach theology, or work in retail, or raise our children fulltime, or build houses – knowing the story of God allows us to understand how what we do can fit into that story. We may not be famous or rich, but we can actively point to God through our whole lives and can seek to bring his loving rule to everything we touch.

Understanding the story of God gives us a much richer understanding of what Scripture means when it talks about all the cool stuff God is doing – recreating, reconciling, redeeming, saving, healing. If the Gospel is simply about my salvation, then the story we’re part of is that Jesus died for my sins so I get to spend eternity in heaven in a mansion (or so some of us seem to think.) But when we get this sense that Jesus is the central axis of a much larger story that God is writing, and which we are invited to be part of, it’s like we’re invited to leave a 2D cinema to move into a 3D one instead. The story is the same, but it is a much deeper experience – one which is big enough to encompass the whole of creation. And it’s a story I get to participate in.

Recommended resources

The Bible Project captures the story of Scripture through brilliant videos, graphics and an integrated Bible reading plan. Learn more at thebibleproject.com 

Regent College’s ReFrame Series is a video course for home groups which explores how the story of God impacts all of life. Find out more at reframecourse.com 

Two of the best books that explore the story of God and its implications are The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.

For discussion

What are some of the ‘stories’ our culture pressures us to live out of? 

If you’re honest, to what extent have you been shaped by the stories of your culture instead of the story of God?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

“You filled cemeteries with our children”

Featured Video Play Icon
Posted on

With the current focus on Ramadan and prayer for the Muslim world, we thought it would be good to highlight a recent music video that has come from the Middle East. In western media – and particularly in the minds of many Christians – Muslims are seen and portrayed as being violent, angry terrorists. But the plain reality is the vast (vast, vast!) majority of Muslims are nothing like that. In fact, they despise the way the minority of Muslims practice their faith.

This video in Arabic calls for the worship of Allah “with love, not terror” has gone viral on YouTube, with over two million views in just a few days. It was released at the start of Ramadan and slams terrorists for “filling cemeteries with children.”

Staring Hussain Al Jassmi, an Arabic-language singer from the United Arab Emirates, was released by Kuwaiti mobile telecommunications company Zain on Friday. Amazingly, the video bluntly speaks against terrorism and terrorists, denouncing the way they understand and portray Allah, and contrasting Allah – the giver of life – with terrorists who deal in death. 

The video starts with impassioned lines from a child who addresses terrorists: “I will tell God everything. That you’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks…”

So in this season of Ramadan, let’s make sure we know something about the vast majority of the people who are seeking God this month. Let’s pray that many will truly find the peace they seek in the God revealed in Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah).

Rethinking Community

Posted on

By Cheryl McGrath (CMS Australia).

The following article picks up on the themes from Intermission 30, ‘We’re all called to belong.’ Re-blogged from www.christiantoday.com.au.

Have you seen any articles that have titles like this: “How to Create Authentic Community in Church”, “Designing Churches for Better Community”, “3 Ways We Can Be Better at Doing Life Together”?

‘Community’ has become a buzzword in Christian circles. You’ll hear it in church vision statements, in sermon applications and in Bible study covenants. There are plenty of articles about how pastors can facilitate this kind of community – for instance, encouraging churchgoers to ask each other about deeper questions than just “how are you”, such as sharing a struggle or life event.

This is all coming from a good place. After all, we know that community is essential to our Christian walk (Hebrews chapter 10, verses 24-25). We see it modelled in the early churches of the New Testament, where we see a group of people who operated through diversity (Galatians chapter 3, verse 28), by sharing things in kind (Acts chapter 2, verses 42-47) and by acts of love and faith (2 Thessalonians chapter1, verse 3).

But if we’re trying to ‘create’ authentic community, how authentic is it? And is building community meant to be our goal?

Incidental community

When I think of the best experiences I’ve had of community, I can think of plenty of examples in my life where community was created almost without me noticing. Things like camps, Bible study groups and beach mission are springing to mind, where we bonded because we went through a common journey and all the ordeals along the way. Basically, our community grew because we got together not to build community per se, but to do something else.

On the flip side, I’ve seen well-meaning people in the church grow frustrated that community isn’t working – that their church isn’t mixing together enough, growing annoyed at ‘that person’ who always leaves before the events start, or feeling as though we’re not being vulnerable together.

But real community tends not to happen when it’s our aim. Missiologist Michael Frost writes in his bookExiles:

“… I have come to realize that aiming for community is a bit like aiming for happiness. It’s not a goal in itself. We find happiness as an incidental by-product of pursuing love, justice, hospitality and generosity. When you aim at happiness, you are bound to miss it. Likewise with community. It’s not our goal. It emerges as a by-product of pursuing something else” (p 108)

The suggestion here is that community happens along the journey to something else, rather than being the focus.

So what does this mean for the church?

Community through a common goal

The anthropologist Victor Turner suggested that real community grows out of a shared mission or ordeal (he called this type of community ‘communitas’). This type of relationship is only experienced by stepping out on a common journey together – something outside the community.

By focusing on something beyond ourselves, our differences are less important because we’re focused on something beyond them. Michael Frost writes in Exiles of the early disciples:

“Men who otherwise would have nothing to do with each other are thrown together by their shared devotion to Jesus, and as they journey together, they develop a depth of relationship that literally turned the world upside down.”

A community that’s dependent on our relationships will probably turn into a clique. A community that’s centred on a mission for Christ is a community that anyone can be part of, whether they’ve just joined or have been part of it for years.

I wonder if this could be reflected in our churches? Maybe we should change the question from “Why isn’t community stronger in our church?” to “What can we do together to share what we believe?” This can be anything from local mission, running Bible study groups, supporting a non-profit cause, or starting a new church service.

We should be sure we’re not building community for its own sake. Sharing a mission is what builds community.

Cheryl McGrath is a communications professional and has a background in editing. She works as the Communications Coordinator at CMS Victoria, and lives in Melbourne.

Cheryl McGrath’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/cheryl-mcgrath.html

 

NOTES:

I’ve quoted from Michael Frost’s book Exiles, which you can find on Amazon for purchase.

Victor Turner writes about communitas here:https://books.google.com.au/books/about/From_ritual_to_theatre.html?id=zNoOAQAAMAAJ

I’m indebted to this article for giving me the inspiration for this topic: http://www.nzcms.org.nz/community-is-not-the-goal-issue-30/

How Should Christians Relate to Muslims?

Posted on
Developing a Biblical World-view on Islam By Ida Glaser Now that the Islamic holy month of  Ramadan has started, we thought it would be good to highlight some material on Islam. This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission as part of the LGA Media Partnership. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga.

The UK Times newspaper last autumn introduced its readers to the use of taweez[1] in popular Sufi Sunni Islam. Why? Because it was reporting on the conviction of a Salafi for murdering an imam who practised this form of Islam[2].

 

The variety of Islam

 

Times readers, already familiar with terms like Sunni and Shi’a, Sufi and Salafi, were being introduced to yet another sort of Islam that is practiced by 41% of Pakistanis and 26% of Bangladeshis[3]. How, I wonder, will they integrate this information into the categories of ‘extreme’ and ‘moderate’ Islam that the media have been using hitherto? And how do Christians integrate the variety of Islam into their worldviews?

 

Over the four and a half decades since I perceived God’s concern for Muslims, I have heard many discussions about how Christian mission should be directed. We should focus on ‘folk’ Islam—on the huge percentage of those who use taweez and whose lives are dominated by beliefs in jinn. We should focus on service—to abused women, to minorities suffering from racism and to people in poverty. We should focus on apologetics, on polemics, on dialogue, on co-existence . . . or maybe on political concerns. Perhaps Christians should be at the forefront of countering ISIS-type terrorism.

 

How should we view Islam?

 

Underlying such discussions are questions about how we should view Islam, and these are echoed in the polarized responses to Muslims that are tearing apart today’s evangelical world. I think that the major problem is that we do not know how to fit the variety of Islam into our thought categories. As the secular world struggles to add the world of taweez into its understanding of ‘religion’, so Christians struggle to find room for Islam in their understanding of the world; so we choose existing categories and focus on those Muslims who fit them. Our teachers and preachers urgently need a way of reading the Bible that enables the whole church to relate to the whole variety of Islam and of Muslims.

 

Put this way, we see that the challenge is broader: Islam may be a special case, but we need a biblical worldview that gives a framework for relating to all peoples of all faiths. My book, The Bible and Other Faiths,[4] seeks to provide just that: a way of reading the Bible that so takes into account the religious world ‘behind’ the biblical texts that it helps us to make sense of our own religious world. My recent book, Thinking Biblically about Islam,[5] deals with the special case of Islam.

 

Biblical frameworks

 

Thinking Biblically about Islam develops two biblical frameworks for thought, and applies them in two ways:

 

The biblical frameworks deal, first, with developing a view of humanity that includes Muslims and, second, with developing a way of understanding Islam. The two are related, because ‘Islam’ is practised by human beings—which is, of course, why it displays such variety.

 

The applications ask, first, how we might think about various aspects of Islam—the Qur’an, Muhammad, the Umma, and Shari‘a—and, second, how our biblical studies might transform us in our relationships with Muslim people.

 

The double two-fold analysis reflects a tension that underlies much of the polarization of Christian responses to Islam: that we are trying to understand Islam as a system that post-dates Jesus Christ and sees itself as superseding Christianity, and also trying to relate to the huge proportion of human beings who are Muslims. On the one hand, many Christians feel that Islam should never have come into existence, and that Muslims are intruders in their world. On the other hand, many Christians live in places where they meet Muslims every day, and have Muslims as friends and colleagues and family members whom they love.

 

Here is a ‘taster’ of the two biblical frameworks:

 

The framework for a view of humanity that includes Muslims

 

This is developed from Genesis 4-11. It is a standard analysis of text as a chiasm(the Greek capital chi looks like X)—that is, it has a shape ABCB’A’ or ABA’ or ABCDC’B’A’ etc. The first and last elements ‘match’ as they set themes and subjects, and may repeat words. The central element is the heart of the matter. The intermediate elements ‘match’ (here, they are both genealogies) and tell you how the whole argument sticks together.[6] Hence the analysis matches Genesis 4 and 11, Genesis 5 and 10, and then sees Genesis 6-9 as central.

 

From Genesis 1-3, we learn that all human beings, including Muslims, are both made in the image of God and fallen. Genesis 4-11 gives an analysis of a religious fallen world that can be read as a chiasm. The beginning and the end deal with individual and societal religion; the centre point is the flood story; and in between come the genealogies that are so important to the whole structure of Genesis:

 

A Chapter 4: Human beings outside Eden seek to approach God through a religious act. It is not clear why one is accepted and another is rejected, but it is clear that this results in violence.

 

B Chapter 5: Humans have a common origin, and all (except Enoch who points to a hope of life) share in the genealogy of death.

 

C Chapters 6-9: God’s response to spreading violence is one of anger and pain (6:6). The flood story is read as offering two possible ways for God to deal with the evil—the judgment of the flood, and the covenant commitment that follows Noah’s sacrifice. The latter indicates God’s preference for the duration of history.

 

B’ Chapter 10: Human societies have a common origin, and are under the providential life-giving hand of God.

 

A’ Chapter 11: There is a human tendency to use religion to propagate a particular people’s power and territory. This is dangerous religion, which God will judge in order to limit the resulting evil.

 

This analysis provides some simple but powerful categories for thinking about Sunniand Shi’a, about Sufi and Salafi, and about users of taweez and ISIS supporters who kill idolaters.

 

A: Individual religion. We can understand all Muslims as people trying to approach God, whether with Abel-like or with Cain-like motivations. We can expect violent religious quarrels to arise over questions of what pleases God.

 

So we can expect schisms like those between the Sunni and the Shi’a. However, we can also expect some of the Sufis, who seek the face of God as a lover seeks the beloved, to be ‘Abel’s’ of the Muslim world. The story makes us ask how far we can judge which of the ISIS supporters who sacrifice their own lives are like Cain, and which are like Abel.

 

A’: Societal religion. We can understand the various political dimensions of Islam as manifestations of a normal human tendency to fuse religion, ethnicity and power.[7]We can be sure that, where this fusion builds exploitative power structures that are against God, he will limit the damage that they do to his good creation.

 

B and B’: Genealogies. All this is the shared human condition. Muslims are not intruders in our world: we are all part of God’s world. One implication is that we can expect the Genesis patterns among Christians as well as among Muslims. Christians, too, can argue over who is acceptable to God. Christians, too, can fight and kill each other. Christians, too, can use religion to build empires.

 

C: At the heart of it all is the problem of evil. I do not mean here the question of the origin of evil, although the book does explore some key differences between Muslim and Christian views on the subject through a study of the Adam stories in the Qur’an and the Bible. Rather, the big question raised by the Genesis Noah story is how God deals with evil, and that has implications for how human beings should deal with evil in themselves and in others.

 

This suggests a key to biblically based thinking about the varieties of Islam: we can ask what these particular Muslims see as evil, and how they are trying to deal with it. Take, for example, the taweezusers’ and ISIS supporters’ polarization. Taweez users focus on evils that affect them and their families in their everyday lives; they deal with this through ritual and, often, through trying to control the jinn whom they see as responsible for their troubles. ISIS supporters focus more on political evils, which they see as caused by wrong worship; they often deal with them by trying to destroy the causes.

 

I hope that the Christian reader is by now sharing something of the pain as well as the anger in the heart of God (Gen 6:6). I hope, too, that, like the One whom we serve, that reader is determined to prefer the way of sacrifice and covenant commitment to the way of judgement in response to evil. That takes us to Jesus and His cross, and to the blood which cries out so much louder than that of the martyr, Abel. Perhaps our biggest pain is that that the cross and the blood is missing from Islamic thinking, and so not considered by either taweez users or ISIS supporters in their struggles with evil. That takes us to the heart of the second analytical framework.

 

The framework for understanding Islam

 

This is developed from the transfiguration. Writing the book has led me to realise the centrality of the transfiguration to the synoptic gospels; and John’s Gospel can be read as an exegesis of the transfiguration.[8]

 

The questions to which the transfiguration is the answer are Islamic questions: How does Jesus relate to the previous prophets? What does it mean that he is Messiah? How do we deal with the scandal of His insistence that he will be shamefully killed?

 

Up to this point, the Gospels have been largely in harmony with the qur’anic view of Jesus; and the Qur’an raises the very questions that the Gospels raise. However, Muslims answer them differently.[9] They deny the crucifixion and put Jesus on the same level as all the other prophets. In effect, they reverse the transfiguration and then develop a prophetic-legal tradition built on a figure who combines the law-giving community-founding paradigm of Moses with the law-enforcing monotheistic zeal of Elijah.

 

Such observations provoke a re-reading of the legal and prophetic paradigms represented by Moses and Elijah, not least as ways of dealing with the evils of human sinfulness. On the one hand, how can the biblical material help us to appreciate the strengths as well as the weaknesses of Islam? On the other hand, why is it that the biblical accounts of these prophets find their fulfilment in the cross of Christ rather than in the Medina of Muhammad?

 

Hence, an understanding of the purpose and nature, riches and limitations of biblical law and prophethood offers some categories for thinking about Islam; and it opens a way of reading the New Testament that sheds light on how and why it holds such good news for Muslims. From cover to cover, the Bible speaks into the world of Islam, and into the bewilderment of secular and Christian people who are struggling to understand it.

 

What is the implication for evangelical leaders? Let us seriously put the Bible ‘in conversation with’ Islamic thinking and with Muslim people, and let us preach the whole counsel of God into our hurting world.

 

Muslims are still waiting for the coming of Jesus and other messianic figures, to deal finally with evil by destroying the wicked and rescuing the good. As Christians, too, wait for the final judgment, what difference does it make to our preaching and to our lives that the Messiah has already come, and has dealt with evil on the cross? The cross is the acceptable sacrifice available for the Cain’s as well as for the Abel’s; it challenges all fusions of religion and power, and it brings together, once and for all, the judgment that cleanses and the pain that forgives. How can we make that cross the basis of all our responses to Islam?

Audrey Neureuter

Posted on

Audrey Neureuter, one of NZCMS’ longest serving Mission Partners and an honorary life member, passed away peacefully on Sunday. The funeral will be held this Friday, 11am at St John’s Woolston. The following is a short reflection about Audrey written by Jonathan Carson. 

I first met Audrey as a child living in Pakistan when I was 9. She had just arrived in Karachi in 1956 and came to stay with us for a few days before moving further North. I remember her as someone who laughed a lot and who got on famously with my mother. Years later I joined Audrey in Karachi in 1974 with my young family. By this time she was well established in her Sunday School Publications ministry. She had brought together a team of young men with plenty of talent but who needed a guiding hand. The passing years had not diminished her enjoyment of life and ready humour. She was very highly regarded by the people she worked with and especially the children that she visited in the slums to take her Sunday School programmes to.

However I was engaged in a different programme, so only occasionally got to see her in action. We did see much more of her in the church we both went to where we joined in worship, prayer and Bible studies. In the early 1980’s a renewal movement swept through some of the churches in Karachi and we shared with Audrey in the meetings, seminars and retreats that came out of that movement.

She was diligent and faithful, kind and generous, positive and cheerful. No matter how involved she was in Sunday School Publications and curriculum development, Audrey never lost sight of the fact that people were her primary focus. She left an abiding legacy in the lives of many, many people in Pakistan and New Zealand of self-giving love.

(Picture: Audrey teaching Sunday School many years ago.)

Disciple Making Movements

Posted on

By Kent Parks. 

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission as part of the LGA Media Partnership. Learn more about this flagship publication from the Lausanne Movement at www.lausanne.org/lga.

 

In the mid-1980s, 24% of world’s population (1.8 billion people) had little or no Gospel access. Today, that figure has grown to 29% (2.1 billion people). Two interchangeable terms, while technically different, essentially define this population:

 

Unreached People Groups (UPGs) — less than 2% evangelical Christians (Joshua Project).

 

Least Evangelized Peoples (LEPs) — with little or no Gospel access per a multiple-factor list (World Christian Database).

Tragically, only about 3% of global missionaries serve this 29%. Christ-followers should be outraged by this spiritual injustice. That Jesus’ command to make disciples of all ethne is unfulfilled is disobedience. Doing more of the same activities expecting different results is futile and irresponsible.

 

Mission revolution

A holy urgency has caused many to re-study Scripture as a strategy manual—and has as a result revolutionized results among some UPGs. Sound motives fuel these efforts, including a deep love for Jesus; a joyful desire for all to have the chance to love and serve him; a holy concern to bring spiritual justice; and a commitment to obey Jesus’ command. The resulting radical methodological changes have resulted in amazing results reflected in the quantity and quality of disciples and churches.

 

Church-planting movements

Globally, ‘Book of Acts’-type movements (called ‘Church Planting Movements’ below) have recently emerged, often among the ‘hardest’ peoples to reach. The reality of these movements should not be skeptically or lightly dismissed. These exciting, transformational results—with millions of new believers and churches in hard places—should receive greater emphasis from those committed to bringing Jesus’ gospel to all peoples.

At least 158 Church Planting Movements (CPMs) resulting from a process called Disciple-Making Movements (DMMs) have begun since the mid-1980s, but especially within the last 15-20 years, and largely, but not only, among UPGs.

A movement is defined as when a number of the initial churches each reproduce to fourth generation (great-grandchildren or later) churches. When this ongoing reproduction happens in multiple ‘family-tree branches’, critical mass and ability to reproduce is achieved. This does not seem to be the case if the reproduction stops at only second-generation (children) or third-generation (grandchildren) churches.

 

Biblical model

Jesus launched a movement in three years, with disciples learning to love him and obey all his commands. The numerical growth of disciples in these three years is clear: twelve, 72 others (Luke 10), 500 (1 Cor 15:6), more than 3,000 at Pentecost and then at least 5,000 (Acts 4:4). The belief that God uses people to start movements today is based on Jesus’ promise that His disciples would do greater things (John 14:12-14).

Every segment. Jesus went to every town and village (Matt 9:35-38). He sent the twelve to a specific population segment (Luke 9:1-6). He sent 72 others, but now to all the places to which he was about to go (Luke 10:1-23). Thus, when Jesus expanded their scope to make disciples of all population segments globally, his disciples were already experienced in the pattern.

Jesus’ pattern. His pattern was simple but deep. He modeled it regularly (eg Luke 4 and 8) and sent them to do the same (Matt 10, Luke 9 and 10). He focused on discipling whole groups (oikos—households), such as one of his first households of peace (Mark 1—Simon and Andrew’s household) and the Samaritan village (John 4). Sent workers were to pray for local workers to be found within the harvest. The welcoming person of peace (one spiritually hungry and God-prepared) is the focus. The person of peace opens his/her social unit/group to hear the message. Focusing on discipling whole groups makes great sociological, numerical, and practical sense, which results in sustainable growth.

Holistic role. The disciples’ role is holistic—both to tell the good news of the Kingdom and to heal the sick and cast out demons. They are to depend on the receiving household rather than providing all the resources or answers. They must focus on discipling the household of peace rather than going from household to household. This new group will be better able to disciple and influence their community than the outsider can.

Discipling groups. This focus on discipling groups continues in the Book of Acts, as all but three people (Saul, the Ethiopian eunuch and Sergius Paulus) came to faith in groups. Paul and his teams, following Jesus’ model, started movements among population segments, which were multi-cultural, multi-religious, and often hostile. These movements ensured that all in each area had a chance to hear of Jesus:

 

Jerusalem: ‘numbers of disciples increased rapidly’ (Acts 6:1, 7).

 

 Cyprus: ‘. . . the whole island’ (Acts 13:6). 

 

Phrygia: ‘The word of the Lord spread through the whole region (Acts 13:49).

 

 Galatia: In Iconium ‘a great number of Jews and Greeks believed’ (Acts 14:1); in Lystra . . . ‘some disciples’ (Acts 14:22); and in Derbe . . . ‘won a large number of disciples’ (Acts 14:21).

 

Macedonia: In Philippi, the families of Lydia and the jailer (Acts 16); in Thessalonica ‘some Jews and a large number of God-fearing Greeks and many prominent women’ (Acts 17:4); and in Berea many Jews believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men (Acts 17:12).

Achaia: In Athens ‘some believed’ (Acts 17:34); and in Corinth the family of Crispus and many Corinthians believed (Acts 18:8).

Ephesus: Within ‘two years, . . . all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:10). Some 15 million people (Roman census) in much of the area of modern Turkey could only have had access within two years if obedient disciples were reproducing.

Paul’s missions: Only the use of several disciple-making movements with multiple branches can explain Paul’s following statement: ‘. . . from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum [the Balkans], I [Paul] have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ’ (Rom 15: 19). Within the 15 or so years represented in this statement, Paul and his small teams would not have had the time or physical ability to ‘fully proclaim’ Jesus in this whole area. The only way this scriptural statement could be accurate is if they served as catalysts to raise up reproducing disciples and groups who reproduced all across this region.

 

Some key principles

God through his Holy Spirit is the teacher. The outsider helps new disciples to learn directly from the Father and to obey everything Jesus commanded. (Isa 54:13; Jer 31:33-34; Matt 23:8; John 6:45; 14:25).

Obedience-based group discipleship is an essential factor. Without it DMMs do not happen. The group members hear the Scripture, retell it to each other, discuss God-given insight and the obedience God is asking from the passage. People are to obey what is learned each week. Each person is to share the passage with another. At the next meeting, each shares what they obeyed (or did not) and who they told. Group accountability is built into the process. Their theology is strong. ‘Accurate obedience’ leads to ‘accurate belief’.

Results transform. Testimonies from several movements indicate that alcoholism diminishes in their area. For example, a drunken colonel in South Asia fired his rifle point blank at his newly believing wife—and miraculously missed. He then broke her legs with the rifle. Through her continued witness, he quit drinking and became a believer and reproducing church-starter. In other movements, husbands learn from God to stop beating their wives.[1]

Churches seek God’s provision together to help the poor and widows and orphans in their communities, such as a South Asian movement where whole communities quit selling their daughters into sexual slavery. In another South Asian movement, one church branch hired a Hindu seamstress to train young women to earn a living. They only asked that this training group read each week’s Bible story and ask the simple questions. Soon, the Hindu seamstress, five Hindu girls, and three Muslim girls came to faith and were baptized—along with the Hindu and Muslim families, because they saw the change in their daughters.[2]

 

Movements today

Researchers are tracking over 150 church planting movements, and more are being added every year. There is at least one per continent. Disciples reproduce. Leaders reproduce. Churches reproduce and love and obey him by helping the widow and orphan, healing the sick, stop selling children into slavery, casting out demons, and sharing the good news of the Kingdom:

A movement born four years ago in India has over 7,000 congregations including some eighteenth generation churches.[3] One of the earliest movements began about 25 years ago in another part of India among the Bhojpuri language group. It has been audited several times by researchers. The latest audit shows at least 8 million baptized believers and approximately 200,000 congregations, which serve their community through literacy efforts, health education, etc. Movements of several thousand congregations are growing in several continents in areas hostile to the news of Jesus. A movement has emerged in the US among groups often ignored by existing churches. Exponential growth necessity

Churches must reproduce obedient churches more quickly than traditional expectations because it is the only way to exceed population growth and give all peoples access to the gospel. If it takes five years for a church to reproduce, it will require 30 years for one church to become 64 churches. On the other hand, if each church starts a church every twelve months, 32,000 churches could start (and sometimes have started) within 15 years.

 

Concerns addressed

Does this kind of rapid growth result in heresy? Less heresy is evident in these movements than is often seen in more traditional approaches. Most heresies historically have been fostered by a key leader/s (eg Judaizers), not groups. The group process of obeying God’s Word together reduces this possibility.

Are movement proponents diminishing or insulting existing churches? This is not the case. These proven and biblical strategies to disciple many people groups should excite the church, even if these approaches cause re-examination, discomfort, and change in order to achieve greater impact.

Is not a formally trained human leader required for accurate teaching / prevention of heresy? Might this be an arrogant lack of faith that God is really the best, most able teacher?

Might movement success hurt feelings of traditional workers? The more important concern should be how the Least Evangelized Peoples feel without Christ.

 

Implications

Many missiological theories promote strategies that should reproduce. Church planting movements are based on strategies which have reproduced.

The existence and legitimacy of church planting movements should not be skeptically dismissed, as is the tendency among some in Christian mission circles. The comment that UPGs have been over-emphasized needs to be disputed. The call to have a ‘balanced’ mission emphasis should be affirmed.

It is indeed time to bring balance. At least 30% (not the current paltry 3%) of global missionaries should be assigned to serve the 30% of the world’s population (UPGs) who have never enjoyed gospel witness of any kind, using proven best practices.

Jesus’ simple but deep strategies (rather than our often complex but non-reproducible efforts) need to be used to change whole people groups. These proven, biblical, multiplicative, and transformative discipling methods should be used rather than theoretical, unproven, and unscalable approaches. Church planting movements which transform societies represent the only strategy which brings the scalable growth needed to exceed population growth and to finish the task.