24:14 Coalition Update
In this video, Steve Smith provides an 24:14 Coalition update for update for March 2018.
In this video, Steve Smith provides an 24:14 Coalition update for update for March 2018.
“I believe God can do anything! I know He can bring thousands of Tibetan people to Him. I am just not sure He will do that now. I am definitely not sure He will do it through me.” I have often heard these kinds of statements from missionaries on the field, both new recruits and those who’ve labored for years. You can change the name of the people group or nation. You can talk about Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Seiks or Animists.
When we labor to bring the unreached to Christ, we live in a deep tension of faith. We encounter great obstacles that threaten our confidence in God. In our minds we know He is able, even more than able. Yet, we struggle as we face daily realities making disciples in places where His Kingdom is yet to come.
God is looking for people who are willing to hold on tightly to faith in His divine purposes. He’s searching for those who will not only hypothetically believe He can do the impossible, but believe He is able to do it now. God wants to give us hearts that are filled with faith for movements of disciple makers. He wants us to believe that those movements can come through us.
My husband and I have been involved in church planting among the unreached for almost 30 years. We started our ministry in Nepal, shortly after democracy came to that small Hindu Kingdom. In our twenties, with a new baby in a front pack, we took off, driving our scooter on the mountain roads to a small valley area where there were no churches or gospel witness. We were the first missionaries to ever work there. It was exciting and adventurous! We were living our dream and doing what we knew we were called to.
But it got hard. Language learning felt slow. People were initially responsive to us then changed their minds. The police showed up and stopped us from showing the Jesus film. We feared we would be arrested. Though some were interested, no one was willing to be baptized.
Doubt filled our hearts. It was not so much a doubt in God. We knew He loved these people and had a plan for that valley area. We doubted ourselves. Did we have what it takes to plant a church among the unreached?
Then it got even harder. Sickness, betrayals, and fights within the team, combined with many other difficulties bringing discouragement after discouragement.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
We so wanted to please God but we needed His supernatural gift of faith. We needed His help to believe that He existed in that unreached valley and that He would indeed reward us as we earnestly sought Him.
Daily, we cried out in prayer for His Kingdom to come to that valley. As we prayed and believed, we celebrated small victories. A small group of believers, made up mostly of teenage boys formed. We trained and disciple them. Interestingly, the biggest breakthrough happened when we were gone. That sure reminded us that this work was the Lords and not ours!
We left on an extended furlough after almost two years of effort. Before we left, we challenged the fledgling group we had started to continue to meet, pray, study the Word and evangelize others. Laying our hands on them, we commissioned them to do the work of the Kingdom.
Months later we returned. We had no idea what had happened. There had been no contact with them while we were away. It was before the days of smart phones or even email! We were not sure what we would find. Would they all have fallen away? Would the group we started have grown?
In our absence, the believers had grown strong and fully taken ownership of the spread of the gospel. We came back to around twenty who were ready to take the step of baptism. The first solid church was born!
Today, in that valley there are thousands of believers and it is more than ten percent Christian. That church planted other churches that have planted others. Disciples have made disciples. They have sent out missionaries. God more than answered our prayers.
Hebrews 10:23 & 24 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
In our pursuit of disciple making movements among the unreached, we faced obstacles. We hit roadblocks. There is a tension between what we know God can do and what we are experiencing as reality. In those times, we need a gift of faith.
Here are a few questions to consider:
· Who can you “spur on” today in their journey of faith?
· What small victory can you celebrate and praise God for in order to build up your faith?
· What promise has God given that you can declare over your area?
Believe again today for a movement of disciples in your people group. God chose you. He can and will reach the unreached through you! Don’t grow weary…the fruit is coming (Galatians 6:9).
C. Anderson blogs weekly about Disciple Making Movements and Church Planting among the Unreached at dmmsfrontiermissions.com.
She has also co-authored a 30 Day Devotional for Church planters called Faith to Move Mountains.
David Platt is President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists.
David speaks to his new role leading missionaries and to what obstacles the global Church must overcome in order to see movements of discipleship within every people.
With every issue of Mission Frontiers we seek to provide you with cutting-edge strategic insights into how we can overcome the obstacles to world evangelization and more quickly reach each of the remaining unreached people groups. God is working through his servants around the world to create breakthroughs among the unreached. When a breakthrough does occur we want to learn what strategies and practices God is using so we can share them with the rest of the Church and hopefully quicken the pace of world evangelization. This is what we sought to do with our Nov-Dec 2014 issue on Buddhism. As with any new cutting-edge strategy or “technology” there are varying perspectives on their worth or value. Our friends at OMF Thailand expressed to us some disagreement with some aspects of the content of this issue on Buddhism. In the interest of promoting an ongoing, respectful dialog with our readers over the content of each issue, below we are presenting the response we received from OMF Thailand. Following their comments we are also providing a response from the guest editor who was responsible for the content featured in this particular issue. We hope that this stimulating dialog will contribute to greater understanding of the various viewpoints in mission strategy as we move forward to bring access to the gospel for every person, tribe and tongue.
Editor in Chief
Written by David D. Chang with recommendations from the OMF Thailand Strategy Council
OMF Thailand would like to commend Mission Frontiers for dedicating an issue to address the challenges of missions in the context of folk Theravada Buddhism. The various writers in this issue attempted to find an answer to the question, “What is it going to take to see large number of Buddhists turn to Christ?” The missionaries of OMF Thailand affirm this longing. We also appreciate the contributors who stimulated critical reflection, discussion and prayer for the Buddhist world. We agree that various mistakes were made by both Western and non-Western missions. There is still a great need to discover ways to communicate the gospel meaningfully to the Buddhist mindset. What then are the problems with some suggestions presented in this issue? While there are some good proposals by a few writers, there are also serious concerns regarding a naïve and unbiblical approach towards Buddhism, a disconnection with on-the-ground reality, a distancing from the growing national church, and a dangerous promotion of syncretism.
In the lead article entitled “The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism,” Chris Bauer wrote, “But could it be that how we are interpreting Buddhism puts us off target altogether? Could it be that we have never really understood Buddhism and what it is all about?” This is an unfounded and misleading statement. Have we misunderstood Buddhism? Numerous missionaries and Thai nationals have studied Buddhism carefully. Rev. Bantoon and Mrs. Mali Boon-itt stated accurately,
“We see from the Bible that message contextualization is a crucial issue…This means explaining the significance of what Christ did on the cross to Buddhists in carefully selected terms that they can understand and are meaningful in their lives. It does not simply mean taking Buddhist terms to replace Christian terms. Doing so will be negatively perceived by Buddhists.”
Rather than accepting Buddhist terminologies indiscriminatingly, or adding meaning to Buddhist concepts in order for the Christian gospel to “fit like an engine into an empty car,” Buddhism should be acknowledged as it is.
Bauer is correct in stating, “We need to get an understanding of what Buddhism really is.” But can Buddhism really stay Buddhism—as Bauer claims—with or without God? Bauer’s assertion here is not only misleading, but a misrepresentation of existing Buddhist teachings. Theravada Buddhist teachers from Sri Lanka to Thailand to England readily refute the Creator God. “It is not difficult to find in Buddhist texts attacks on the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good Creator of the universe. Even in folk Buddhism, the gods (deva) are not the Supreme Being.
Tan Kang-San, a former Buddhist expressed, “In a genuine Christian-Buddhist encounter, sooner or later, both parties will discover that central to their different system of beliefs is the polarity between theism and atheism.” Eventually, followers of Buddhism advocate a path of salvation through self-effort rather than dependence upon the finished-work of Christ. In order to engage in any kind of honest Christian witness, we must understand the teachings of Buddhism more accurately and plainly. Tan further stated, “Widespread ignorance among Christians and caricatures of Buddhist beliefs are no long tenable in multi-faith contexts where Buddhists are increasingly informed and instructed of their religious teachings.”3
We can agree with Bauer that our aim is not to quarrel over wrong beliefs. We can recognize positive things in Buddhism, and we can certainly make friends with Buddhists. However, Bauer’s view of Buddhism lacks biblical grounding, because he mishandled Romans 1:20. The “eternal and divine fingerprints of God” in this verse does not refer to the philosophies of religious teachers, but refer to the invisible qualities of God himself revealed through creation (Read the verse carefully in the ESV or Greek). The Apostle Paul went on to argue that although human beings were created with an innate knowledge of God, they refused to acknowledge their Creator, but instead gave glory to idols (Rom 1:18-23).
Buddha actually taught against idolatry, and his philosophies are certainly far more sophisticated than folk religions, which include popular folk Buddhism. But Buddha’s teachings are to be considered a form of response to the general revelation of God, not “a masterful preparation for the good news.” Missiologist Alex Smith demonstrated the enormous difficulties in helping Buddhists understand grace and substitution. Christians should recognize that there are elements of culture and religion that can be redeemed, but religious teachings are also used by “the god of this age who has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). Buddhism should not be seen merely as a form of Thai cultural expression, but it is a system of
beliefs and practices that conflict with the gospel of Christ.
The article by Jay Judson entitled “Longing for the Heavenly City” appears encouraging at first. What great news if there is indeed a movement of 42,500 Buddhist background believers that took place within a few years! However, a further examination is needed. Judson attributes the movement to contextualized worship (such as the use of bells and Buddhist phrases), as well as simple methods (a nine year-old girl as the best preacher among 200 churches). The problem is: these kinds of methods have been tried continually in other Buddhist ministry contexts. Using the word sathu instead of amen, contextual illustrations, children repeating Bible stories to their family members have all been done in other locations, but not with similar results.
It is important to distinguish a miraculous anomaly from a proven pattern. Can a child tell the gospel and lead many to Christ? Of course this can happen. But what we see repeatedly in Thailand, based on a research conducted by Marten Visser, is that older people are the best evangelists and young people are often not free to respond until they become adults. Research also shows that most Buddhists need to hear the gospel multiple times through many different contacts before they believe. These are recognized patterns throughout the Thai Buddhist context. We are not trying to limit what God can do in any situation, but we are concerned whether Judson’s descriptions coincide with reality in the Buddhist world. The suggestions in this issue by David Stuart are actually more solid, realistic and encouraging: Be patient, instill a sense of trust, and do not assume a blank slate when we begin ministry among Buddhists!
The article “New Wineskins” by Marie Bauer contains a few stimulating suggestions. The Shan believers should be encouraged to develop their own indigenous worship and to study the Bible for themselves. We share in the distress that Shan believers may lack confidence and feel overpowered by influences coming from Thai Christians. We can also sympathize with the frustration concerning the Thai church’s tendency towards formality, power distance in relationships and institutionalization, which are normal cultural values in Thai society. But is it our job to protect Shan believers from fellowship with Thai Christians? While Marie Bauer is convinced that the SC strategy is the best way forward, she may have unknowingly allowed herself to develop a paternalistic attitude by expressing, “A fledgling Shan believer does not have what it takes to disagree with or stand up against what the Thai church tells him/her is right and wrong.”
Sensitivity to the needs of minority groups is needed. However, Marie Bauer displays an overly negative attitude towards the existing Thai church. It just might be that the consensus among 250,000 ethnic Thai Christians, 160,000 of whom were born in Buddhist families, on what to do and not to do during Buddhist ceremonies is wiser than Marie Bauer’s personal conclusions. The reality is that the growing Thai church is here to stay, and contact or partnership with the national church is unavoidable. Rather than distancing themselves from Thai Christians, minority groups including Shan Christians need to find a way towards healthy interactions without losing their cultural identity.
To say that the Thai church is only doing what was modeled and taught to them by Western missionaries is simplistic and inaccurate. The Thai church has been growing for generations, and gone through the process of indigenization in a variety of contexts. What may appear Western on the surface may actually be truly Thai underneath. Westerners may think that to be truly Thai means liking traditional art, using Thai music instruments, or sitting on the floor during worship. But in reality, most Thais are embracing modernity and do not want to live in the past. Dynamic contextualization means communicating the gospel in an ever-changing society. Thai Christianity is growing and gaining more recognition from the wider Thai society. The Queen of Thailand recently stated that Thais can be Buddhists, Muslims or Christians! This is why a movement away from a “Thai Christian” identity towards “New Buddhism” may not be helpful.
While using the term “New Buddhist” by Thai believers may spark an interest in evangelism as suggested by Banpote Wetchgama, is it helpful and biblical for those who have turned to Christ to avoid being called Christians? Banpote pointed out that the term “Christian” was an insult, but the Scripture actually exhorts us not to be ashamed of the name! 1 Peter 4:14-16 clearly stated, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ…If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
More importantly than what name we prefer to be called—is how we live. Believers must live in obedience to Scripture, and this is not possible unless Thais “turn from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes 1:9). There are external forms of religion and culture that are simply displeasing to God, because they involve idolatry (see Lausanne Covenant below). Jiraphon Serithai suggested, “If we present Him for Thai Buddhists to choose, He will go and sit on the throne of their hearts, even though He might be sitting with all the gods that are hanging on their necks,” and “God will not feel uncomfortable or condemn us. He is very pleased and desires to be with them even though they might wear ten gods around their neck.” At what point are people called to repent and turn from idols?
Many Thais would like to add Jesus to their assortments of gods, but will Jesus be pleased? “Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy” (1 Cor 10:22a)? God is holy, and contrary to what Jiraphon wrote, God’s name can be tainted and disgraced (Eze 20:39). Churches in the New Testament struggled with this precise issue and were commanded to flee from idolatry (1 Cor 10:14, 1 John 5:21). As argued earlier, certain practices in religion cannot merely be considered neutral, but they are an act of rebellion against the Creator. It is wonderful to present Jesus as loving and welcoming. We should also encourage new converts to stay connected as much as possible with their families and social network. But at certain point, a true follower of Jesus must turn from sin, take up their cross and risk rejection from non-believers.
OMF Thailand would like to put forth these concerns for the contributors of Mission Frontiers and its readers. Missionaries should be wary of an overly simplistic approach towards Buddhism—not taking the time to really understand Buddhism, or seeing Buddhism as purely a cultural expression. Be cautious of exaggerated accounts that seem disconnected with reality. Communicate the gospel patiently and study the actual patterns that will lead to a movement. Preventing new believers, from minority or majority groups, from interacting with the national church refuses to take into account what God is doing through the existing national church, ignores the issue of dynamic contextualization, and undermines the new believers’ ability to become part of and learn from God’s worldwide family. Be on guard against syncretism, which overlooks repentance, and allows the Christian faith to coexist with idolatry. Making a mistake in any of these areas will only create greater hindrances to the gospel in the folk Buddhist world. We sincerely recommend further reflections upon these matters and welcome your feedback.
Signed by members of the OMF Thailand Strategy Council on February 10, 2015:
Mark Leighton, Becky Leighton, Marten Visser, Ulrich Kohler, Jeff Callow, Eng Kiat Ng, Jesse Kroll, Rene Aeschimann, David Chang
 Tan Kang San, “Genesis 1-11 and Buddhist Scriptures: How the Gospel Can Transform Buddhist Worldviews” in Communicating Christ in the Buddhist World, Eds., Paul De Neui and David Lim (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2006) Kindle L556. Tan referred to Paul Williams, the President of the UK Association for Buddhist studies and Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy at University of Bristol. Paul Williams, The Unexpected Ways: On Converting from Buddhism to Catholicism. Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 2002.
 Ibid., Kindle L560.
 Ibid., Kindle L709.
 For a fuller discussion on Don Richardson’s proposals in Eternity in Their Hearts and how we should approach adherents of other faiths, see David J. Hesselgrave,Paradigms in Conflict (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2005) 72-74, 81-114.
 While Buddha rejected the worship of idols, he also rejected God. General revelation refers to what God has revealed about himself through creation, and specific revelation refers to the Scriptures – both Old and New Testament. Teachings of world religious leaders outside of Scripture cannot be equated with general revelation, but they should be seen as a form of response to God, whether the response is faith or unbelief.
 Alex G. Smith, “Transfer of Merit in Folk Buddhism” in Sharing Jesus Holistically with the Buddhist World, Eds., David Lim and Steve Spaulding (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2005), 99-124.
 Peter Beyerhaus proposed a view of religion as coming from three sources: human, divine and demonic. See Tan Kang San, Communicating Christ in the Buddhist World, L508.
 Marten Visser, Conversion Growth of Protestant Churches in Thailand (Zoetermeer, Netherlands: Boekencentrum, 2008), 130-131.
 Since the name “Christian” is taken directly from English and sounds foreign, Thais believers may want to use the name Christsasanikachon, Christachon, or Luk Prao Chao. Using the name Puttasasanikachon mai or “New Buddhists” has been promoted, but rejected by both the existing Protestant and Buddhist communities in most of Thailand. Continual usage of the term will only lead to sectarianism, ongoing distancing from the body of Christ and unnecessary criticism from Thai Buddhists.
 See the Lausanne Covenant point 10 on Evangelism and Culture: “Culture must always be tested and judged by Scripture. Because men and women are God’s creatures, some of their culture is rich in beauty and goodness. Because they are fallen, all of it is tainted with sin and some of it is demonic. The gospel does not presuppose the superiority of any culture to another, but evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness, and insists on moral absolutes in every culture.” http://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant (accessed Feb 4, 2015).
We, the contributors of Mission Frontiers appreciate OMF Thailand's thoughtful response to “The Fingerprints of God in Buddhism” Mission Frontiers issue 36:6 Nov/Dec 2014. OMF Thailand has raised significant concerns and we are eagerly reflecting on them. Some of the concerns raised focus on issues that cannot be explored through a blog in an adequate way. For these deeper, complicated concerns, we suggest engaging in conversation in more academic or other appropriate publications. We too share many of the concerns raised, however, we feel that OMF Thailand drew unintended meaning from the articles. Therefore, this discussion can be tremendously fruitful if we engage over time and in appropriate venues, addressing issues that normally don’t surface.
We look forward to seeing large numbers of Buddhists experiencing the fullness of Christ as well as discovering ways God seems to reveal himself.
We recognize and value the contribution of OMF Thailand missionaries over the years, many of whom we have personally had the privilege of working with. We praise God for the fruit that has come as a result of their ministries and continue to bless OMF Thailand. It is our hope that honest, open dialogue will lead to greater understanding, progress, and openness to try new things.
I would like to address OMF Thailand’s concerns in a reverse order, starting with:
OMF Thailand asserts that “Banpote pointed out that the term 'Christian' was an insult, but the Scripture actually exhorts us not to be ashamed of the name!” Yet Banpote never said we should be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ or of the person of Jesus.
Though some read 1 Peter 4:14-16 as instructing us to say “I am a Christian” others read it differently. These others see Peter instructing people to not be ashamed of identifying themselves with Christ. The label “Christian” as we use it today was not Peter’s point. This latter perspective is the one we adopt.
Nowadays, many people all over the world self-identify as Christian. They may or may not be followers of Christ. They use this term because they want to be identified by others as being part of a socio-cultural or ethnic group. This makes it complicated for those who want to be identified as a follower of Christ but who do not want to be seen as part of another socio-cultural group, an identity that also has significant antinomian connotations.
In this light, is it appropriate to require those from Buddhist socio-cultural-religious communities who follow Jesus to call themselves “Christian” just because they now know, love, and follow Jesus? If these followers of Christ cut themselves off from their communities, they may erect strong barriers. Is it right to erect these barriers or is it better to remain within their communities so they can bear witness to what Christ has done for and in them? Is it truly our responsibility to tell Buddhists who want to follow Christ that they cannot unless they adopt a label that is culturally loaded with morally repugnant connotations, connotations that Jesus would not want to adopt?
In her sentence “If we present Him for Thai Buddhists to choose, He will go and sit on the throne of their hearts, even though He might be sitting with all the gods that are hanging on their necks,” Jiraphon Serithai spoke about a process. This is indicated by the words “present Him… to choose”. At this time in their journeys Thai Buddhists have not yet chosen Christ; they are simply moving forward in considering Jesus. This process is happening because Jesus has taken a special place in their hearts.
Jiraphon’s emphasis is that Jesus “desires to be with them” in the same way he desired to be with tax collectors and sinners (Mt 11:19). These tax collectors and sinners started to place Jesus in a special place in their hearts as they experienced the love and grace of God. This was happening while they were still in their circumstances, trying to understand what was actually happening before them. At that point they still wore “ten gods around their neck”.
Of course the question arises “At what point are people called to … turn from idols?”
There will come a point in time, after they have experienced the grace of God, after they have come to understand who Jesus is and what all he has done for them and longs to do in them means. Jiraphon seems to be saying that it is the Holy Spirit who will teach them these things.
In conclusion, what Jiraphon describes is a journey of experiencing grace through non-condemnation. Will Thai Buddhists find Christ if we first and foremost talk about idol worship? Why not talk about the whole underlying fear first that drove them to amulets? She is not endorsing that anyone continue in idol worship; she is describing a process. So, we feel the concern that Jiraphon is promoting syncretism is not warranted. It is our understanding that neither Banpote or Jiraphon promote syncretism.
Is it the responsibility of Christ’s followers to protect Shan believers from a culturally dominant religious community that is overpowering fledgling Shan believers? Yes, we feel that Christ’s representatives have this responsibility, especially when it comes to dismissing Shan culture, Shan language and forcing non-Shan cultural values onto a few Shan believers.
Would Thai believers appreciate it if missionaries stopped engaging with the Thais in the Thai language and only spoke English, actively spreading Western values? Not allowing Thais to freely be Thai? No, they would not because that would be paternalistic. In addition, it would be appropriate for a missionary to protect Thai culture and Thai believers from western cultural domination expressing itself in western socio-cultural-religious forms.
Can anyone rightly claim to speak for 160,000 Thai Christians? Is it really possible that Thai speaking Christians born into Buddhist families have much understanding of Shan ceremonies, especially since there is barely even a handful of ethnic Thais who speak Shan fluently?
Even my own knowledge only comes from over a decade living among the Shan and speaking their language. Can it really be that OMF Thailand is promoting the dominance of the Thai church over ethnic minorities?
In the article and with specific regard to incense, my Shan friend was not told what to do. The idea was hers alone. She was pointed to the Bible rather than being given the “right answers.” Providing the right answer for her would not have facilitated the development of her capacity for critical thinking, and it would also have been a bit paternalistic.
Being in a position of losing one’s cultural identity is already problematic (and it seems like this is the unfortunate reality among the Shan in Thailand). In this light, by suggesting that the Shan “need to find a way towards healthy interactions without losing their cultural identity” while promoting the dominance of the Thai national church appears insensitive to the difficulties the Shan experience. How can it be suggested that they simply accept the situation as it is? Moreover, could not the Thai believers take the step to encourage the Shan to flourish in their Shan-ness?
Bill Smith said: “Don’t take them to church, make them the church.” We believe in the unity of the global body of Christ. We also believe that at the local level that for the fellowship of believers with one another to be truly life-giving it will take place when people come to Christ in families, in communities, rather than as individuals. God desires to transform people’s already existing communities into places of meaningful fellowship.
In addition, the role and power of the patron-client culture should not be underestimated. For a description of the patron-client culture and how it impacts the Thai church, see Steve Taylor’s article in the online edition of Mission Frontiers Nov/Dec 2014. One would expect this to be carried over and negatively impact Thai-Shan relationships.
The issue only had one article that referred to numbers of believers. The emphasis of the issue was on letting the authors tell their story in their own way. Jay Judson chose to mention how many believe in Christ in order to give glory to God for what He is doing. Jay can verify his numbers. The easiest way to find this out is by getting in contact with him. Jay is reporting on a movement in which a normal believer shares her faith with another person and that other person finds to Jesus and in turn does the same. It appears that this movement is reproducing and it is multiplying across generations. Is God actually doing something here? If He is, then it seems inappropriate to dismiss the work of God as “a miraculous anomaly” that doesn’t teach us anything. If we dismiss a few people finding Christ as not enough and tens of thousands as a miraculous anomaly, there is not much at all we are able to learn from. If being disconnected from on-the-ground realities leads to such movements, I want to be disconnected from on-the-ground realities, too!
Approaches toward Buddhism need to be discussed more thoroughly in scholarly missiological journals and in other venues. This is because the issues are not clear cut as they may appear and they are certainly not that easily grasped either. In fact the MF issues we were only able to scratch the surface of these complex issues. If these issues spawn articles in scholastic journals, our efforts will be more than rewarded.
First, we are not attempting accept Buddhist terminology indiscriminatingly. Neither did we advocated for the Thai church using Buddhist terminology per se. Second, “acknowledging Buddhism as it is” seems to come from an essentialist perspective. Essentialism is a valid perspective for certain groupings of any of the high religions. Nonetheless, to view a high religion with millions of adherents solely through an essentialist lens is a bit simplistic. It appears that as it is held and practiced at the grassroots levels there are different varieties of Buddhisms.
OMF Thailand pointed out that Buddhism has no godhead that is the Creator God. Which does not come as a surprise as even Brahman is not seen as the creator godhead in the biblical sense. And it should not be difficult to show that almost none of the many religions of that time had such a godhead. At one time in history “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Rom 1:21) and the consequences were very much existent during Buddha’s time, and even before. So it is safe to assume, Buddha did not know God.
However, this is not the crux of the issue. The real question is: What about God’s invisible qualities? Is it possible to observe His invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature without attributing them to God? It appears so and this appears to be included in what is said in Romans 1:19: “God made it plain to them”. God made these plain to Buddha; but he did not attribute them to God.
So what are these invisible qualities?
Permanence, knowledge, metta (love), karuna (kindness), to list just a few. These are some that Buddha observed and they are part of what some people call general revelation. They are simple truths understood by Buddha, even if he lacked knowledge of God.
Therefore, could a Buddhist attribute them to God? In other words, could a Buddhist build a (biblical) understanding of those terms if he put his trust in God?
It appears that a Buddhist could because these qualities are part of the general revelation that Buddha got from God whether he knew God or not. Hence this revelation could be seen as a preparation for the Good News.
So if Buddhists interpret these terms from the vantage point that there is a God, what would the result be?
However, Buddhists are often perceived to be atheistic? Are they actually allowed to believe in God?
As far as Buddha was concerned, not in a Brahminical godhead. Nonetheless, the biblical God is not the same as the Brahminical godhead, Brahman. We cannot compare apples with oranges. What Buddha pointed out to the Brahmins was that there is no atman within karma, no permanence, no knowledge, only death and suffering and desire. While anatta (no atman), impermanence, ignorance, death, suffering and desire are karmic; permanence, knowledge, and metta (love), karuna (kindness) and other are nibbanic. God revealed to Buddha His invisible qualities and Buddha placed them in the nibbana realm.
But did the Brahmins at Buddha’s time acknowledge those godly qualities or did they attribute them to themselves by using the construct of atman which can be understood as the transmigrating spirit that is Brahman? While nowadays atman is translated as soul/ self (and anatta = not atman as not-self or no-soul), etymologically, this is misleading. Atman, while difficult to translate, is closer to “breath” and therefore is more related to the idea of ‘spirit’, in a similar way as ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. The Brahminical concept of the “immortal atman” was what Buddha was against, hence his anatta doctrine: There is no such thing as an immortal soul or an immortal spirit. Now let’s check how unbiblical that really is: Immortality is coming only from God, we humans have nothing innately that makes us immortal. It was the lie of the snake that we are immortal. So our soul is not immortal but can only be made immortal by God, but what about our spirit? Being aware that I am massively simplifying the concept of spirit, roughly it is that our human spirit is not alive and is not able to make a connection to God by itself, in other words our spirit is dead.
While anatta, impermanence, ignorance, death, suffering and desire are karmic; permanence, knowledge, and metta (love), karuna (kindness) and other are nibbanic. Buddha found God’s invisible qualities and he took them out of the karma realm and made put them into the nibbana realm. This shows where we have to go to find immortality, permanence, life, no death and no suffering: in the kingdom of God.
So far, Christians have tried to convince Buddhists that the kingdom of God is karmic and that God himself is karmic by simply using karmic terms for God (PhraChao in Thai) and kingdom of God/ heaven (sawan in Thai). This means we Christians are making God and the kingdom of God karmic, basically communicating that the Christian God is not permanent, not beyond death, not full of knowledge, not un-conditioned. This is the kind of god that Buddha was against because this kind of karmic god cannot help anyone. As a consequence, this kind of God is perceived as irrelevant. Unfortunately, Buddhists do not have any other means to understand “god” except in karmic terms. The Christian approach to Gospel proclamation has been to proclaim this kind of karmic god to them, trying to convince them that such a god can help them.
While missionaries reject such a heretical understanding, missionaries are the ones who inadvertently have been promoting this heresy Is this insensitivity to what is proclaimed the reason why after 180 years there are only 0.5% ethnic Thai believers?
So, why is this an important issue to discuss. It appears that Jesus’ representatives inadvertently promote an unbiblical understanding of who God is. Then when someone comes to faith that person is extracted from their families and encouraged to change communities. They are to insist that Buddhism (the reified and essentialized version) is wrong and the Christian religion is right, thus perverting the Good News into a fleshly change of religion.
Why is this? It is because Jesus’ representatives could not accept that God could possibly leave His fingerprints within the socio-cultural-religious phenomenon called Buddhism. This is a tragedy!
The writers feel that it is time that this kind of naive and unbiblical approach to Buddhism and the Good News change.
We agree that Jesus’ representatives in Thailand should engage in a long conversation about these issues. Why is nirvana the best word we can find for the kingdom of God, why does it represent the biblical truth in the most accurate way, and why is it not an abuse of Buddhist terminology? Can it be that Buddha’s thoughts were far deeper than negating mono-theism?
In addition, we encourage further discussion about the understanding of spirit, soul, atman, anatta, ruach and pneuma. What are the exact similarities between eternal and permanence? Why would it be appropriate (and necessary) for Buddhists to view God as the Permanent, as Knowledge, as Life instead of impermanent, ignorance and karmic (which includes death and suffering)?
We invite further dialogue on these missiological issues. Hopefully such a dialogue can take place in a safe environment without portraying those moving the conversation forward as promoting syncretism, exaggerating accounts, or adopting unbiblical approaches towards Buddhism. We also hope that clarifying what was meant in these articles will help direct the conversation in a positive direction.
 Buddhadasa rejected “God” as a person, god in phasakhon, but he didn’t reject God in phasatham, God as dhamma. (Boon-It 2007) What we see here is that ‘person’ in the Christian understanding and in the Buddhist understanding are not comparable, why and how so has to be explored further.
 Translating atman as spirit instead of self or soul will mean that anatta is a non-existing or dead spirit, completely incapable to get us anywhere, let alone overcoming suffering and death, which is exactly what Buddha discovered. Clinging to the idea of an immortal atman will not get anyone to nirvana, liberation, or enlightenment. There is no immortal soul/spirit within the karma realm.
 If looking for God and for the Spirit, for permanence and knowledge, for no death and no suffering in nirvana is unbiblical, how can it be biblical to actively place God into the Buddhist karmic heaven?
 Why did Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhadasa) confuse God with karma and taught that the biblical God is ignorance (“Therefore, for Buddhadasa, God is a combination of nescience (อวิชชา) and karma. In that he was the creator he was avijja (อวิชชา); in his providence and as judge he is karma (กรรม).” quoted by Petchsongkram “Talk in the Shade of the Bo Tree”, 1975, page 21 )? It would be interesting to examine the cause of this confusion, especially in light of what Buddhadasa said in other places as those were way more positive.
 Payutto was against the use of Buddhist language for Christians, as Catholics have attempted this already. What Payutto was against was incorporating Buddhism into Christianity and thus show the superiority of Christianity. (Payutto 2002 “Threats to Buddhism in Thailand. Bangkok Buddhadhamma Foundation, quoted in “A Study of the dialogue between Christianity and Theravada Buddhism in Thailand” Ph.D. dissertation by Bantoon Boon-It, 2007. Instead of using Buddhism for “Christianity”, let Buddhists follow Christ as Buddhists. The how and why have not been explored to any depth beyond Buddhadasa.
Many studies in recent years have indicated that Millennials are the generation with the fewest number of Jesus Followers of any previous generation. But how has this well-documented turn-away from Christianity affected this generation's view of the Bible? Has their view of the Bible suffered along with their disinterest in the Christianity?
In a recent study among Millennials, conducted in partnership with the American Bible Society and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Barna Group sought to discover how Millennials' changing views of Christianity is affecting perceptions of the Bible.
The research clearly indicates that there is a lot of work to do to change the sometimes very negative view of the Bible by non-Christian millennials. Fully 60% have never read the Bible and 46% consider the Bible to be either dangerous (27%) or outdated and irrelevant (19%).
As the linked research states. "for non-Christian Millennials, the ‘brand' of the Bible is a negative one...The depth and range of these perceptions signal difficult challenges for younger adults who still believe in the Bible. As Bible skepticism increases in their generation, Christian Millennials will have to face those criticisms head on and wrestle with the implications for their own beliefs. Yet when it comes to the Bible—more than many other areas of their faith—Millennial Christians are starting off on comparatively solid ground."
One of the most interesting and encouraging findings is that the few non-Christian Millennials who started reading the Bible in the last year, did so "after seeing how Scripture changed someone they knew. This points again to the importance of developing meaningful relationships with Millennials and demonstrating a transformed life." There is simply no substitute for personal discipleship done in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Here is the link to the full report and research. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/687-millennials-and-the-bible-3-surprising-insights#.VEk8lktZHRp
This blog post explains how the professions of strategic intelligence analysis and risk management apply directly to missions strategy, specifically as they relate to decisions to deploy, relocate, or evacuate Western Christian Expatriates (WCEs) during security crises.
Its primary intended audience is executives and field leaders in both evangelical mission agencies and evangelical humanitarian NGOs, referred to collectively as “faith-based organizations,” or FBOs. Although there may be times in which the needs of these two types of organizations must be addressed separately, they both share the Great Commission mandate and a critical need for strategic intelligence and biblically based risk-management processes.
Broadly defined, strategic intelligence provides policymakers in government, the military, business, and non-profit organizations with information on a wide variety of issues in order to help those leaders make good plans and decisions. Intelligence is always employed, regardless of context, to help accomplish a mission.
The fulfillment of the Great Commission is the mission of Western evangelical Christian faith-based organizations and their overseas members, Western Christian Expatriates (WCEs). For FBOs, strategic intelligence specifically deals with political, government, conflict, terrorism, persecution, and public safety issues that might affect how they go about engaging in Great Commission work at a local and national level.
Strategic intelligence for FBOs is distinct from, but does compliment, an organization’s missiology. Missiology speaks to the strategies and methods of actually communicating the gospel. Strategic intelligence works within an organization’s missiology to identify the best avenues of carrying the gospel into a geographical location and to identify the threats to WCEs, their work, and their long-term ministry objectives. Strategic intelligence also assists mission executives as they endeavor to maintain long-term, effective ministry, which includes making decisions about relocating or evacuating WCEs in times of crisis.
If we were to put these concepts into business terms, we would speak of “supply chain management” with the gospel being the “product” that is being taken to the “market."1 Missiology deals with the product itself and how it is delivered. Strategic intelligence deals with strengthening and protecting the supply chain, which largely consists of people – WCEs. The way the supply chain is strengthened and protected must be contextualized to both the local security climate as well as the national, or even the international, threats and challenges facing the delivery of the product – the gospel.
With these terms defined, let us move forward and discuss how strategic intelligence that is produced within the FBO realm (instead of by an outside source) can assist ministry executives in making decisions about deployments, relocations, and evacuations during security crises.
Already in 2014, many FBOs have decided to relocate or evacuate personnel in places like Yemen, South Sudan, Ukraine, Libya, and Iraq. Deployment, relocation, and evacuation (D/R/E)2 is perhaps the most sensitive security and member care topic in mission sending strategy. At stake are WCE lives (and sometimes the lives of local believers), the voice and presence of the gospel in certain places of the world, many thousands of dollars in donated funds, and the morale of WCEs who have devoted years of their lives to gospel ministry amongst certain peoples. D/R/E decisions are not to be taken lightly, nor are they to be farmed out to outside consultants. Executives and field leadership must own D/R/E decisions. While these leaders need the best intelligence possible, in the end, only they can ultimately shoulder the responsibility for their decisions.
In the decision-making process, there are “known knowns” (the questions to which you have answers), “known unknowns” (the questions to which you do not have answers), and “unknown unknowns” (the questions you have not yet thought to ask).3 Strategic intelligence helps change “known unknowns” into “known knowns,” but perhaps more importantly, strategic intelligence can help decision makers identify the “unknown unknowns” that will need to be asked and answered in D/R/E situations. Many of these answers can only be found at ground level, either within the field leadership team or with the WCEs themselves. Thus, strategic intelligence is designed to guide a decision-making process, not present a scientific formula for making a decision.
Executives and WCEs in the field need to evaluate numerous factors in D/R/E situations. First and foremost, they need to consider (or even determine) their organization’s risk tolerance based on biblical doctrine and their organization’s stated duty of care for their personnel. After these foundational issues are considered, the questions on the chart below can be used to help guide the decision-making process.
Prior to going to the chart, however, another important term must be defined. “Effective ministry” is the actual participation of WCEs in their assigned work.4 Effective ministry involving WCEs cannot exist if WCEs are forced to evacuate or remain in hibernation for long periods of time. This is because, in those cases, WCEs are, for all practical purposes, separated from the community they are assigned to engage. If conditions force the cessation of effective ministry prior to relocation or evacuation, relocation and evacuation will likely do no harm to the ministry than has already been done. On the other hand, premature sheltering in place, hibernation, relocation, or evacuation can put a stop to effective ministry before circumstances force a halt. Therefore, the definition of effective ministry should be taken into account when defining an organization’s risk tolerance.
The above chart represents only the beginning of a discussion that should take place internally whenever an organization is faced with a D/R/E decision. Concilium’s International Affairs Group (IAG) is available to consult, and subscribers are encouraged to commission country-specific reports answering as many of these questions as possible. IAG may well identify further questions that can help guide an organization’s decision-making process.
Concilium Secure is available to coach organizations on defining risk tolerance, duty of care, and crisis management policies; as well as developing a risk assessment matrix, emergency action plans, and crisis response teams. Finally, Concilium Secure is also available to train WCEs in risk mitigation best practices.
The concept of applying “supply chain management” to missions risk management was originally presented by Scott Brawner in his 2012 article, “The Biblical Basis for Supply Chain Management.”
Relocation is defined as moving personnel from one location to another within the same country. Evacuation is defined as removing personnel from one country to another. The former is often short term and does not require the use of a passport. The latter is often long term and does require the use of a nationally-issued visa.
Donald Rumsfeld memorably used this terminology on 12 February 2002 during a Department of Defense press briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers.
“Effective ministry” for an evangelical mission agency may be defined quite differently from a Christian humanitarian NGO, but the decision-making process is similar for both.
This question should always be asked as a safeguard against becoming complacent or too comfortable in an environment. Once WCEs are directly targeted due to their work, effective ministry becomes extremely difficult to maintain, either because personnel are forced to flee or because they are arrested, deported, kidnapped, or killed.
Reach Beyond’s Mission Manifesto articulates renewed passion and purpose in fulfilling 82-year-old ministry’s efforts to reach the unreached COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – HCJB Global announced today that the 82-year-old ministry, founded in Quito, Ecuador, is changing its name to Reach Beyond. The new name and the release of the Reach Beyond Mission Manifesto are intended to encourage and challenge Christians worldwide to reach beyond their comfort zones and perceived limitations to share the love of Jesus in places where the gospel has seldom, if ever, been heard.
The mission is defined by the tagline, “The Voice and Hands of Jesus. Together.” Through its “voice” ministries, the mission works with partners to use radio and modern media to make the gospel accessible in places where it typically isn’t available.
The “hands” ministries of the mission provide much-needed healthcare service in places where even common medical help isn’t readily available. Reach Beyond “hands” ministries takes many forms, including mobile community healthcare clinics, counseling centers in war-torn areas, clean water projects and general hygiene training, all with an emphasis on demonstrating the love of Jesus to recipients of the care.
Reach Beyond also values partnership with local Christians, churches and ministry partners as its core way of operating, signified by the word “together” in its tagline.
“For more than 80 years our missionaries and partners have boldly been going to places where people have never had the opportunity to experience the love of God,” said Wayne Pederson, president and CEO of Reach Beyond. “But now is the time to accelerate and multiply those efforts. Through the use of modern media and healthcare, we work arm in arm with partners to show people that a relationship with Jesus Christ can change their lives forever.”
The “Reach Beyond Manifesto” challenges believers to reach beyond borders and their own comfort level in an effort to accomplish the “great commission.” It serves as a declaration for how the renamed Reach Beyond wants to invest its time and efforts in making Christ known to the ends of the earth. It’s also a call — and a challenge — for other Christians to recommit themselves to the same effort.
To read and sign the “Manifesto,” visit http://www.reachbeyond.org.
“With all the technology, knowledge and experience available to us today, there is no reason why we can’t make Christ known to everyone on the planet,” said Pederson. “We hope the ‘Reach Beyond Manifesto’ causes all like-minded Christians to renew their commitment to demonstrate God’s love as His ‘voice’ and ‘hands.’”
Founded in 1931 as World Radio Missionary Fellowship Inc., Reach Beyond has focused on making disciples of Christ around the world. With ministries in more than 100 countries, Reach Beyond equips partners to air Christian content in more than 120 languages and dialects. The name change also reflects the ministry’s ongoing international focus and commitment to reach areas where less than 2 percent of the population is Christian.
“Adaptability has always been a strength of the mission,” said Curt Cole, executive vice president of international ministries. “When the best model was to own a large hospital or broadcast over shortwave radio, the mission leveraged those strengths. Today, technology and the world are changing, and we are adapting. That’s why we place such a high premium on partnerships with local Christians. They know their own culture and needs far better than we do. If the need is for a small, community healthcare clinic or a local FM radio station, we’re committed to equipping the people with all the resources they need to reach their own people in their own culture.”
HCJB Global’s “Beyond the Call” radio program, on more than 1,000 stations around the U.S., will now be called “Reach Beyond.”
“The new name is much more than a brand change,” Pederson said. “Reach Beyond is a reflection of our ministry DNA. It’s about doing whatever is necessary to reach those who have never heard the name of Jesus. In essence, it’s a call to Christians to reach beyond their comfort zones and challenges them to actively participate in making Christ known among the nations.”
The organization hopes the “Reach Beyond Manifesto” will serve as a call to action for Christians to focus their attention and efforts on those areas of the world where Christ has yet to be proclaimed.
“We hear it every generation, but perhaps it’s more true now than ever,” Pederson said. “We are at a pivotal time in our history. We have the means and ability to spread the message of Jesus to everyone who is alive today. We can accomplish this by renewing our commitment and reorganizing our priorities. Reach Beyond wants to be on the forefront of this new gospel era and encourage others to join us in making Christ known in every country, city, village and community around the globe.”
For 82 years the passion of Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB Global) (http://www.reachbeyond.org) has been to make disciples of Christ. Using mass media, healthcare and partnership around the world, HCJB Global has ministries in more than 100 countries. The gospel is aired in more than 120 languages and dialects. Thousands of healthcare patients are meeting Jesus. Local believers are being trained as missionaries, pastors, broadcasters and healthcare providers.
To schedule an interview with a key leader from HCJB Global, contact Ty Mays @ 770-256-8710 or [email protected].
The following is the entire 1st chapter from from David Garrison's forthcoming book A Wind in the House of Islam and is posted with permission of WIGTake Resources. For more information about the book or for permission to use content from it please go to www.WindintheHouse.org. This is an expanded and updated version of the published article God is Doing Something Historic
A wind is blowing through the House of Islam. The House of Islam, Dar al-Islam in Arabic, is the name Muslims give to an invisible religious empire that stretches from West Africa to the Indonesian archipelago encompassing 49 nations and 1.6 billion Muslims. Dwarfing the size of any previous earthly kingdom, Islam directs the spiritual affairs of nearly a quarter of the world's population. But something is happening today that is challenging the hold that Islam exercises over its adherents.
Today, in more than 60 separate locations in at least 17 of the 49 countries where Islam holds sway, new communities of Muslim-background followers of Christ are emerging. Each of these movements has seen at least 1,000 baptized believers and at least 100 new worshipping fellowships, all of whom have come to Christ over the past two decades. In some countries the communities have grown to number tens of thousands of new Muslim-background followers of Christ.
Though the total number of new Christ followers, perhaps as many as one to five million, may be a statistically small drop in the vast sea of Islam, they are not insignificant. Not limited to a remote corner of the Muslim world, these new communities of believers are widespread, from West Africa's Sahel to the teeming islands of Indonesia -- and everywhere in between.
The price these converts pay for their conversion has not diminished with the arrival of modern times. Qur'anic prescriptions remain unflinching: "...if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them" (Qur'an An-Nisa 4:89b). And these religious renegades are paying an incalculable price for their spiritual migration to Christ. Yet they continue to come. What began as a few scattered expressions of dissent is now emerging as substantial, and historically unprecedented numbers of Muslim men and women wading against the current of their societies to follow Jesus Christ. And it is only beginning.
To grasp the weight of this phenomenon, one must view it in light of the nearly 14-century backdrop of Islamic expansion and interaction with Christian populations. Within a century of the Prophet Muhammad's death in 632, his Arab warriors had defeated both Byzantine and Persian superpowers that had dominated the world, directly and through their predecessors, for more than a thousand years. Along the way, they subjected millions of Christians to Islamic governance.
Islam's advance did not stop until it had reached the Pacific Ocean in the 13th century and breached the walls of Constantinople in 1453. In many respects the advance of Islam, though more subtle, continues to this day. But, following the example of its founder, the Christian faith does not die easily. Though conquered by Islamic armies, Christian populations lingered for centuries before persistent pressures and incentives to conversion eventually took their toll, relegating Christian ancestry for millions to a distant memory.
The purpose of this review, though, is not the well-documented advance of Islam, but rather Christianity's re-emergence within the Muslim world. The Christian resurrection has been a long time coming.
Muslim Movements to Christ Through History
Though there were doubtless individual conversions among Muslims here and there over the years, the first three and a half centuries of Muslim-Christian interaction saw no popular movements of Muslims toward the gospel. It was not until the 10th century, nearly 350 years after the death of Muhammad, that we find the first historical evidence of any communities of Muslims converting to Christianity.
In the waning years of the Abbasid Caliphate, centered in modern-day Iraq, growing numbers of Arab and Seljuk emirs wrested themselves from Baghdad's control and forged their own lesser dynasties. In the years 972 and again in 975, the Byzantine emperor John Tzimisces seized the opportunity to capture territory on his southern border along with several cities in Syria and Palestine. It was purportedly in response to "the financial exactions of their Moslem rulers" that, in the year 980, an Arab tribe comprised of 12,000 men, plus women and children near the ancient city of Nisibis, on what is today the Turkish border with Syria, cast their lot with the Byzantines and were baptized into the Christian religion. In the turbulent centuries that followed, however, these dubious gains and much more were lost.1
Twenty-first century researchers may rightly challenge whether these 10th century tax converts were true believers or not. They do merit mention in this historical review, though, if only to illustrate how rare it was to find any sizable conversions from Islam. Apart from this incident, no additional movements to Christ appeared in the first 500 years of Islamic advance.
Crusades, Inquisitions and Other Failures
Though the Crusades (1096-1272) can be seen as Christian Europe's imitative response to centuries of Islamic jihad, these military forays proved counterproductive to the advance of the gospel. Christian minorities in lands dominated by Muslim governments actually showed a marked increase in conversion to Islam during these centuries, as their patriotic loyalties came into question in the face of European armies invading under the banner of the cross.2
One political exception to the crusading spirit of the times took place in the Sicilian kingdom of Roger II. Roger was a French Norman conqueror who, by 1130, had consolidated control over Sicily and southern Italy. Roger forged a Norman-Arab civilization at the multi-ethnic crossroads of Byzantine, Arab, Greek, and his own Norman cultures that developed into the most prosperous in the entire Mediterranean. Resisting the anti-Islamic conventions of the day, Roger's inclusive social experiment flourished for nearly a century as ideas, language and trade flowed between Muslims and Christians. There is no report of how many Muslims may have converted to the Christian faith during this century, but it deserves mention here as one of the few interludes in an otherwise catastrophic interchange between the two great religions. The experiment ended in 1224 when Roger's grandson, Frederic II, expelled all Muslims from the realm.
The 13th century saw a new impulse of Christian outreach to Muslims, particularly in Spain where Islamic control was in retreat after half a millennium of domination. Well before the completion of the Catholic Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula in 1492, European Christians were pressing their faith among the Muslim populace.
In 1219, the transcendent character Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) walked across the entrenched battle lines separating Crusader and Muslim armies near Damietta, Egypt to convert or attain martyrdom from the Fatimid ruler and nephew of Saladin, Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. Though Francis achieved neither, his concern for Muslim souls was transmitted to the fraternal order that bore his name.
Among his early Franciscan imitators was Englishman Roger Bacon (1214-1294) who bucked the political passions of his contemporaries to advocate the evangelization rather than subjugation of the Muslims. All that was required, he insisted, was that they be "taught the Catholic doctrine in their mother tongue."3 Flemish Franciscan William of Rubruck (1220-1293) set out in 1254 to do just that. Commissioned as a missionary to the Muslim Tatars of Constantinople, William overshot his target, eventually journeying 5,000 miles to the palace of Mongke Khan in Karakorum, Mongolia. Like their founder, Francis of Assisi, despite their noble intent, neither Roger Bacon nor William of Rubruck saw much in the way of harvest among Muslims.
A similar zeal for Muslim souls was found in Francis of Assisi's contemporary, the Spaniard, Dominic de Guzman, whose Dominican Order, despite dedicating itself to preaching the gospel to the Saracens (as Muslims were anachronistically called) saw little fruit. Neither founding saint could claim a single Muslim movement of at least a thousand converts to Christ (or to Catholicism for that matter), though, they did stimulate a more spiritual and less violent approach to Islam.
In 1240, one of Dominic's successors, Raymond of Peñafort, resigned his post as the third master general of the Dominican Order to spend his final three decades in Spain mobilizing the Church for missions to Muslims. Raymond inaugurated a school of Arabic in Barcelona and Tunis, and persuaded his friend and fellow Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, to write the Summa Contra Gentiles as an apologetic response against both Muslims and Jews.4 These resources for communicating the Catholic faith, coupled with the breaking of Islamic governance in Spain would contribute to the re-Christianization of Iberia in the subsequent centuries. Unfortunately, Raymond also employed the brutal Inquisition as a tool to force conversions and ferret out heresies among the Spanish Muslim and Jewish populations," throwing into question the depth and integrity of these conversions.5
It was on the eastern side of the Mediterranean that another Dominican, William of Tripoli (ca. 1220−1275), born and raised in the last Crusader outpost of what is modern-day Lebanon, purported to have seen "many Muslim converts come to faith."6
William is a curious fellow perhaps best known to posterity as one of the two missionaries sent by Pope Gregory X in 1271 on an ill-fated journey with Marco and Matteo Polo to the Mongol courts of Kublai Khan. Illness curtailed William's trip after going only as far as Armenia in eastern Turkey.
For our purposes, though, William may be more significant for his success in reaching Muslims of the Levant "without benefit of arms or philosophical argument." William credited his studies of Islamic culture and language with making his success possible.7 Given that William's very presence in the Levant was only made possible by century-long military crusades into the region, history may rightly dismiss his claims of being "without benefit of arms." We have no record of how many Muslims actually responded to Williams' appeal, yet with the collapse of this last Latin outpost in the Middle East in 1291, less than two decades after William's death, it is doubtful that any of his fruit survived.
Certainly one of the most heroic missionaries to the Muslim world was the Catalonian mystic, Ramon Llull. A master of Arabic and student of Islam, Llull rejected the crusader paradigm to make three missionary journeys to Algeria and Tunisia before finally gaining the martyrdom he desired in the Algerian coastal town of Bougeia around 1315. Lull, like his Franciscan and Dominican contemporaries, was exceptional for eschewing violence and pursuing a reasoned Arabic-language witness to Muslims. Nonetheless, like his Franciscan and Dominican contemporaries, Llull could report very few converts to the Christian faith.8
Though it did not take place right away, the renewed zeal for reaching Muslims was not entirely without consequence. After the reconquest of Grenada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain, in 1492 the Catholic Archbishop, Hernando de Talavera, compelled the clergy under his authority to learn Arabic and use tact and persuasion to convert the Muslims in their parishes, respecting the rights of Muslims to retain their religion, property and laws. Partly as a result, during the decade between 1490 and 1500, "thousands of Moslems were baptized."9 It is difficult to assess the voluntary motivation for these baptisms, though, in light of the impending Inquisition that always loomed as an incentive to conversion. By 1610 all remaining Muslims, including the Moriscos or crypto-Muslims of Spain, were expelled from the Iberian peninsula.
By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Protestant and Catholic Counter Reformations were churning through Western Europe distracting attention from the collapse of Greek and Middle Eastern Christianity in the East in the face of a swelling Ottoman empire. Western Christians turned their attention overseas to colonial adventures in the Americas, Africa and Asia, trading conflict with Muslims for easier gains among non-Muslim populations. As the first millennium of Christian Muslim interaction drew to a close, millions of Christians had been assimilated into the House of Islam, while not a single uncoerced Muslim movement to Christ had taken place.
The Colonial Era
The 16th and 17th centuries launched the age of Western colonial expansion with Spanish and Portuguese trade and conquests in Africa, Asia and the Americas, with Dutch, French and English traders racing to catch up in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though European colonization went hand-in-hand with the missionary enterprise in most of the non-Western world, the same could not be said of the colonizers' encounters with Islam. European traders typically took one of two approaches in relation to the Muslim populations they encountered. If the ports were controlled by Muslim sultans, the Europeans conspired with local non-Muslim factions to divide and conquer to gain an advantage. If the foreign lands contained insurmountable Muslim populations, the Europeans took a more accommodating approach, suppressing missionary efforts so as not to enrage local sensibilities.
By the close of the colonial era, Catholic mission historian Joseph Schmidlin had to admit: "Taken as a whole, the Moslem world with its two hundred million worshippers of Allah, has up to the present hour held aloof from both Catholic and Protestant Christianity, despite valiant efforts of individual missionaries."10
Schmidlin went on to lament,
...the Crescent in Asia and Africa has even pressed forward to such an extent as to have become the most powerful rival of the Christian missions. Nevertheless, one must not for this reason declare that the Moslem is absolutely unsusceptible to conversion or incapable of receiving the Gospel, since Christian communities were actually formed from among them, even during the nineteenth century -- at least by the Protestants in the Dutch East Indies, and in isolated cases as the result of Catholic efforts in Kabylia (Algeria) -- and have continued ever since.11
The two exceptions that Schmidlin highlights, "the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia)" and "Kabylia (a Berber region of Algeria)" bear closer scrutiny, as rare examples of Muslim movements to Christ in the great age of Western colonial and missionary expansion.
In the century following their 1806 arrival on the island of Java, Dutch armies rolled over most of the independent Muslim sultanates of what would become Indonesia. As had occurred in other European conquests, the Dutch pattern of colonization avoided conflict with the Muslim populations. Of the 245 missionaries that soon arrived in Indonesia, most were sent to evangelize the outer islands where Islam had not yet become established; only a few were sent to Java and their task was to minister to anyone except Muslims."12
For their part, Indonesians generally found the austere Dutch Calvinism unappealing, while Muslim nationalists pointed to its foreignness as a reason to embrace Islam and resist the West. By 1914, Abraham Kuyper, the most influential Dutch Reformed Church leader in Holland, suggested that with only 1,614 converts including women and children, perhaps it was time for the mission to exit Java due to its lack of response.13
Even as European churchmen were mired in frustration, Eurasian and Indonesian lay evangelists began espousing a more indigenous gospel witness and making progress. A local Javanese evangelist named Radin Abas Sadrach Surapranata (1835-1924) built on the approach of these early Indonesian indigenizers to greatly expand the response to the gospel. For this he is remembered by Indonesian Christians as "Sadrach: The Apostle of Java." Sadrach used the newly published Javanese Bible translation and aggressive apologetics to engage Muslim leaders in debate, then gathered converts into contextualized, indigenous mesjids of Javanese Christian communities called Kristen Jawa, rather than extracting them into the local Dutch Christian churches.
At the time of Sadrach's death in 1924, between 10 and 20 thousand Javanese Christians could be traced to the Apostle of Java's ministry.14 Though they represented only a fraction of the world's most populous Islamic country, these Kristen Jawa marked a historic breakthrough, as the first uncoerced Muslim movement to Christ in nearly 13 centuries of Christian witness to the Muslim world.
On the other side of the Dar al-Islam another experiment in ministry to Muslims was counting some success. In 1830 Algeria came under French control and was ruled as an integral part of France until its independence in 1962. Yet it was not until 1868, following a devastating famine that left many Arab and Berber orphans, that the Catholic church began actively witnessing to its Algerian Muslim citizens.
Charles Martial Lavigerie (1825-1892) arrived as the archbishop of the See of Algiers in 1868 and soon began gathering famine orphans into villages for ministry. Fearing popular unrest, the governor-general of Algeria, Marshal McMahon, forbade proselytizing Muslims. Lavigerie complied, ordering his priests to refrain from baptizing any of the non-Christians among whom they ministered.
In 1874, Lavigerie took an important step in removing barriers to Muslim reception of the gospel when he founded the Société des missionnaires d'Afrique (Society of missionaries of Africa), popularly known as the Pères Blancs or White Fathers, after the white Arab cassock and woolen scarf they adopted. The White Fathers learned Arabic and embraced many of the customs of the Muslim peoples among whom they served in hopes of easing the way for gospel transmission.
Nonetheless, the first baptisms did not take place until 1887, when three Kabyli Berber boys who were visiting Rome for the jubilee of Pope Leo XIII "tearfully implored baptism and received it...."15 That same year, Lavigerie allowed, for the first time, religious instruction, and then only if the local community was in agreement.
The Kabyle Berbers proved to be the most responsive of North Africa's Muslim peoples, but they hardly exhibited what could be called a movement to Christ. Many Islamic and Catholic obstacles stood in their path, not the least being the burden of Algerian subjection to the foreign, culturally Christian, French occupation force. As a result, as late as 1930 one could count no more than 700 baptized Catholic converts among the Kabyle.16
The latter decades of the 19th century saw the arrival of numerous Protestant missionaries into North Africa. Despite the heroism of the many who labored there, history records accurately and succinctly: "not many converts were won." 17
In addition to these two movements, identified by Father Joseph Schmidlin, there was one other movement of which both he and historian Latourette were likely unaware. At the turn of the 20th century, in the northwestern highlands of Ethiopia, near the city of Gondor on the Blue Nile, some 7,000 - 10,000 Muslims came to faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized. Far removed from most missionary activity, this movement traced itself to a single Muslim sheikh named Zakaryas who had a vision in 1892 that prompted him to seek out an Arabic Bible, which he obtained from Swedish missionaries. In 1910 Sheikh Zakaryas was baptized in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Debra Tabor. By 1915 his movement was estimated as high as 10,000, a figure reduced to 7,000 by the time of his death in 1920. We have limited knowledge of Zakaryas' message, but it is clear that he had "an unusual grasp of the Qur'an and possessed dialectical skills in presenting the superiority of Jesus."18
Though the 19th century was heralded as "The Great Century" of Christian expansion around the world, the century closed with only two Muslim movement to Christ, comprised of at least 1,000 baptized converts, in nearly 13 centuries since the death of the Prophet Muhammad. It would be 65 years into the 20th century before the next Muslim movement to Christ would appear, and this one occurred under great duress.
Twentieth Century Breakthroughs
In 1965, Indonesia had the largest Communist Party in the world. In October of that year, an aborted Communist coup triggered a bloodletting that would not stop until half a million Indonesians were dead. Anyone with Communist or atheist leanings was imprisoned, executed, or massacred.19 Indonesia's New Order government that rose to power in the wake of the violence, abolished Communism and atheism in one fell swoop, demanding that every Indonesian citizen adhere to one of the nation's five historic religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism or Buddhism. In the scramble that followed, two million Indonesians, some of whom had come from at least a nominally Muslim background, entered the nation's Protestant and Catholic churches.20 Though it would be difficult to see this as a volitional turning of Muslims to Christ, it did result in many individuals later receiving Christian instruction and coming to faith who might otherwise have not.
Additional Muslim movements to Christ in various corners of the Muslim world did not begin appearing until the 1980s. Young Christians in the West invigorated by the Jesus Movement embraced the call to frontier missions to the world's remaining unreached people groups. Near the top of every list was the world's nearly one billion unreached Muslims.
The next movement emerged in the most unlikely of places. After the shock of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, many Iranians discovered that an Islamic state was not the panacea they had imagined. By the mid-1980s, Armenian Pentecostals in Iran were seeing growing numbers of Shi'ite Muslims turning to them to hear the gospel. By the end of the 1980s, in the face of severe government persecution, there was an indigenous growing swell of Muslims into the Christian faith.
The late 1980s and 1990s also witnessed the resurgence of Christianity among the Kabyle Berbers of Algeria. As a bloody struggle between the military government and Islamists raged, eventually claiming more than 100,000 civilian lives, Berbers in Kabylia renewed their search for alternatives, and found them in late-night shortwave gospel radio broadcast and illicitly distributed Jesus Films, with the result that thousands of Berbers quietly turned to the gospel while the rest of the country descended into civil war.21
The early 1990s saw the fall of the Iron Curtain and the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. Millions of Turkic Muslims in Central Asia who had grown up under Soviet atheism were suddenly faced with a new horizon of possibilities. American, European and Korean evangelicals seized the window of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) to bring the gospel to the descendants of the Golden Horde. By the end of the 20th century, evangelical Christianity could claim indigenous movements among Azerbaijani, Kyrgyz and Kazakh populations with beachheads of believers among most of the other Turkic Central Asian people groups.
South Asia's Bangladeshi population also proved to be fertile ground for the gospel in the 1990s. Widely viewed as a cyclone-addled, failed nation state, Bangladesh was, in fact, a churning mass of hard-working and intellectually vibrant humanity who were transitioning from their ancient animistic Hinduism to a growing Islamic identity conflicted by the still-raw wounds of atrocities committed by their Pakistani co-religionists in the 1971 War of Independence.22 In the midst of this percolating Bengali cauldron, the gospel was spreading virally, prompting tens of thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims to seek out baptism as evidence of their newfound faith in Isa al-Masih, Jesus the Christ.
To recap our review of the history of Muslim movements to Christ, in Islam's first 13 centuries we found a handful of coerced conversions to the Christian religion, but only two voluntary movement of at least 1,000 Muslim conversions to faith in Christ: the Sadrach Movement in late 19th and early 20th century Indonesia and the simultaneous Sheikh Zakaryas movement in Ethiopia. This was followed by the fear-induced influx of two million Indonesians into Christian churches in 1965. Then, in the final two decades of the 20th century, there was a surge of eight additional movements. These occurred in Iran (2), Algeria, Bangladesh (2), and Central Asia (3). By the close of the 20th century then, 1,368 years after the death of Mohammad, there had been only eleven movements of Muslim communities to faith in Jesus Christ.
In this long and frustrating history that has seen tens of millions of Christians absorbed into the Muslim world. The extreme scarcity of Muslim response to the gospel makes the events of the 21st century all the more striking.
In the first 12 years of the 21st century, we have already been able to identify an additional 70 movements of Muslims to Christ. These are 70 movements that have begun in this century alone, 86 percent of all the Muslim movement to Christ in history. These 21st-century movements are not isolated to one or two corners of the world. They are taking place throughout the House of Islam, across the Muslim world. In Africa, in the Persian World, in the Arab World, in Turkestan, in South Asia and in Southeast Asia, something is happening, something historic, something unprecedented.
A wind is blowing through the House of Islam.
K.S. Latourette, History of the Expansion of Christianity, Vol. 2, pp. 310-311, citing the earlier work of Alfred Von Kremer, Culturgeschichte des Orients, Vol. II, pp. 495-6.
For a good introduction to motives for conversion to Islam see R. Stephen Humphreys, "The Problem of Conversion," in Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry (London: Princeton University Press, 1991), pp. 273-283. Also, Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity, The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia -- and How It Died (New York: Harper One, 2008).
K.S. Latourette, Expansion, Vol. 2, pp. 319-320.
"St. Raymond of Penafort" in Catholic Encyclopedia. Cited 28 November 2012. Available online at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12671c.htm
Raymond of Peñafort," in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., Vol. 11, (Detroit: Gale, 2003), pp. 936-937.
J.F. Hinnebesch, "William of Tripoli," in NCE, 2nd edition, Vol. 14 (Detroit: Gale, 2003), p. 754.
Thomas F. O'Meara, "The Theology and Times of William of Tripoli, O.P.: A Different View of Islam," in Theological Studies, Vol. 69, No. 1.
Latourette, Expansion, Vol. 2, pp. 321-323.
Latourette, Expansion, Vol. 2, pp. 314-315, citing Lea's The Moriscos in Spain, pp. 12-31.
Joseph Schmidlin, Catholic Mission History, (Techny, IL: Mission Press, SVD., 1933, p. 584.
Don Dent, "Sadrach: The Apostle of Java," pp. 2-3. Unpublished paper cited 28 November 2012.
Dent, "Sadrach," p. 27, citing Sumartana, Th., Missions at the Crossroads: Indigenous Churches, European Missionaries, Islamic Associations and the Socio-Religious Change in Java 1812-1936 (Jakarta: Gunung Mulia, 1993), pp. 89-92.
Dent, "Sadrach," p. 26, citing Sutarman S. Partonadi, Sadrach's Community and Its Contextual Roots: A Nineteenth Century Javanese Expression of Christianity (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, 1988), p. 129.
Schmidlin, Catholic Mission History, p. 591.
K.S. Latourette, Expansion, Vol. VI (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1947), p. 17, citing Antony Philippe, Missions des Peres Blancs en Tunisie, Algerie, Kabylie, Sahara (Paris: Dillen & Cie, 1931), pp. 143, 145, 146.
Latourette, Expansion, Vol. VI, p. 19.
E. Paul Balisky, "Shaikh Zakaryas (1845-1920) Independent Prophet Ethiopia" in Dictionary of African Christian Biography. Cited on the Internet 1 July 2013 at: http://www.dacb.org/stories/ethiopia/zakaryas2.html
"Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966." Cited 28 November 2012. Available on the Internet at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_killings_of_1965–1966
Avery T. Willis, Indonesian Revival: Why Two Million Muslims Chose Christ (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1977).
Ahmed Bouzid, "Algerian Crisis, No End in Sight." Cited 2 Dec. 2012. Online at: http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/algbouz.htm
Bengalis' intellectual legacy took a severe blow when the invading Pakistani military summarily executed thousands of academics, social and political leaders at the end of the war. Nonetheless, Bengalis proudly count three Nobel laureates from among their ranks: Rabindranath Tagore (1913), Amartya Sen (1998) and Muhammad Younis (2006).
Our January-February 2013 Reaching the Unengaged issue has proven to be quite popular. This comes as no suprise as this topic is in the forefront of the minds of those interested in the frontiers of mission. One of the most talked about and shared articles from this issue has been an article written by Mike Latsko entitled The Most Abominable "Word". Tomorrow, February 28th, Mike will be hosting a webinar through Missio Nexus on the topic of Unengaged Peoples. If you are part of a Missio Nexus affiliated organization you can register for this webinar for free. There is a fee for others, but it is a small price to pay to be part of this excellent conversation. Go here for more information and registration details about the webinar.
Mission Frontiers is breaking some new ground and we want to hear from you. We are in the initial stages of getting Mission Frontiers onto tablets and e-readers and want to know which of these tools you use and let you play around with our first shot at Kindle and iPad versions.
Mission Frontiers has been around since 1979. A lot has changed in that time. Perhaps the biggest changes have been in the areas of information and communication. You probably don't gather information and communicate like you did in 1979 (certainly not if you were born after 1979).
Publishing has been greatly effected by these changes. Devices like the Kindle and iPad are game changers. A single file uploaded to Amazon or Apple can reach millions of users without the traditional cost associated with printing, shipping, and handling.
This represents a huge opportunity for a publication like Mission Frontiers. Profit is not our goal. Our goal is supporting a global movement to establish church planting movements among the 10,000 unreached peoples (ethnic groups) of the world. We want as many people as possible reading and benefiting from Mission Frontiers. We see these new digital publishing options as incredible assets to help us achieve that goal.
We invite you to help us get there. If you have an iPad or Kindle we encourage you to download these sample files and give them a look. They are very basic versions of Mission Frontiers, nothing like what we ultimately want to produce. We plan to take full advantage of the features these new devices allow (rich media experiences with photos and video), but for now we'd like to get the content out there as it is. Consider this an 'alpha test'1. Don't have one of these devices? Share this page on Facebook, Twitter, or by email with your friends who might.
Please use the comments for feedback and ideas. If you have more detailed feedback or prefer to use email, you can reach us here.
(Check here for help getting the file to your Kindle)
You use these files at your own risk. Sure they can't erase your hard drive or crash your e-device. But don't blame us if they do.
In his previous writing Patrick Johnstone introduced his paradigm of “Affinity Blocs” and “People Clusters” to describe and categorize the world’s many people groups, but in The Future of the Global Church he “unpacks” this paradigm in far greater detail. So what’s new about this paradigm, and what is its practical significance? Are these blocs and clusters mere “categories of convenience,” or do they help us to obey Christ with greater clarity and fullness? Notice, too, that this paradigm carries with it an advocacy that the global Church give proportionally more energies to the world’s least-reached people clusters, so in this video I ask Patrick what kinds of particular opportunities and challenges are connected with these peoples. Finally, Patrick’s book carries an urgent plea that local churches, mission agencies and training institutions find new means of partnership in the Great Commission, so I asked him why such partnership is often so difficult and what new forms of partnership are needed.
Patrick Johnstone is an evangelical optimist who writes “in the face of a prevailing pessimism and creeping universalism.” But does he have good reasons for his optimism?
Check out this video to see if you’re content with his answers. One thread in his optimism is the astonishing growth of Evangelicals in recent decades, yet he also sounds a cautionary note that Evangelicals “may be sowing the seeds of their own spiritual demise.” Find out what he means by that. Finally, watch the video to discover what this 73-year-old statesman wants to say to the Millennial generation now weighing the Great Commission for themselves.
This article is an abridgement of “A New Look at Translating Familial Language,” forthcoming in The International Journal of Frontier Missiology 28:3 (2011).
A well-educated non-Christian woman was reading the Gospel of Luke for the first time. She came to Luke 2:48, where Mary says to Jesus, “Son,…Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (ESV). The woman said, “I can’t accept this! We know that Jesus was born from a virgin and did not have a human father!” She protested strongly that Joseph could not have been Jesus’ biological father, and she cited this statement in Luke as “proof that the Bible has been corrupted and is unreliable,” meaning the translation was corrupt. What could have been the cause of her misunderstanding?
The problem for this woman was that the word used for father in the Bible translation that she was reading is biological in meaning. It is not normally used for non-biological fathers, such as stepfathers and adoptive fathers. Thus it implied that Joseph had sired Jesus by having sex with Mary. The word was equivalent in meaning to the English words biological father, genitor, and procreator, rather than to social father, pater, or paterfamilias. The biological father is the one who begets the children. The social father is the one who raises the children as their father, looks after them, and has authority over them.
In a typical family, the same man is both the social and biological father, i.e., he is a parenting father, meaning he is the provider of both paternal DNA and paternal nurturing to the same child. In some cases, however, the social father of a child is not the biological father. An adopted child, for example, has an adoptive father and a birth father. These categories are shown in table 1.
Table 1 Categories of fatherhood and corresponding English terms
It is crucial to note that social father and biological father are overlapping categories, and a parenting father is in both categories. So a man can be described as a child’s social father without implying that he is the child’s biological father as well, even if most social fathers are also the biological fathers of the children they raise. In Luke 2:48–49, both Joseph and God are called in Greek Jesus’ patêr “social father.” Since neither one passed DNA to Jesus, the paternal relationship was not only social but also non-biological.
As shown in table 1, the English word father is broad in meaning and not necessarily biological, since one can be a father to someone without having sired him or her. In some languages, however, the word commonly used for a paternal family member is limited in meaning to biological father, so it is not used of a stepfather or adoptive father. In the translation read by the woman above, the word used to translate patêr “social father” actually meant biological father; this implied that Joseph had sired Jesus and hence that Mary was not a virgin when she conceived him. It was not an accurate translation.
A similar distinction exists between social son, which signifies a filial social relationship to a father, and biological son, which signifies a filial biological relationship to the source of one’s paternal genes. Again, in a typical situation the same person has both relationships; a parented son receives his DNA and paternal nurturing from the same man. In some situations, however, this is not the case; Jesus received paternal nurture from Joseph but did not receive DNA from him. These categories are shown in table 2.
Table 2 Categories of sonship and corresponding English terms
The English word son covers all three categories, but in some languages the word commonly used for a male child of the family is limited in meaning to biological offspring. Such a word does not accurately describe Jesus’ relationship to Joseph.
Biblical Greek and Hebrew have one set of terms signifying social familial relationships, similar to English father and son, but with broader application, and a second set for biological familial relations, like English procreator and offspring.2 In a nurturing biological family both sets of terms apply to the same people. A stepson, however, is not called a biological son, and a disowned biological son is no longer a social son.
It is important to realize that to express divine familial relationships, the Bible uses the Greek and Hebrew social familial terms, not the biological ones. It presents the essence of God’s fatherhood of us in his paternal care for us as his loved ones rather than in siring us as his biological offspring.
While in Hebrew and Greek the social familial terms are the ones commonly used to refer to members of one’s family, in some languages the biological terms are most commonly used. Other languages, like Arabic and various Turkic languages, lack a set of social familial terms, and neither adoption nor step relations are recognized, so to convey a non-procreated familial relationship one must use a phrase, such as like a father to me, or use a term for paterfamilias (head of family). When translating the Bible into such languages, it would be inaccurate to translate the Hebrew or Greek word for a social father or son using a word for a biological father or son in the target language unless the relationship is truly biological. This is especially the case with regard to the Father-Son relation, which was generated non-biologically, without procreation. Translating Father and Son with biological terms has caused readers to think the text claims that Jesus is the offspring of God procreating with Mary, and this has caused Muslim readers to reject such translations as corrupt and even blasphemous.
It is the task of Bible translators to communicate “the meaning of the original text…as exactly as possible…including the informational content, feelings, and attitudes of the original text” by re-expressing it “in forms that are consistent with normal usage in the receptor language.”3 It might seem astounding, therefore, that Bible translations would ever use expressions that misrepresent the divine relations by implying they arose from sexual procreation. However, this has happened in the history of Bible translation for two reasons. One is that translators have historically preferred word-for-word translations of key biblical terms. Some translators are under pressure to do so even if it misrepresents the meaning, as it can when the target language requires the use of a phrase to express a non-biological familial relation. Another reason is that some translators simply used the most common words in the target language for all familial relationships, even if those words were biological in meaning and a different, specialized term was required to express the social or non-biological relationships in the family of God.
The reality is that there are usually semantic mismatches between the words in any two languages, especially if they are from different language families and different cultures, and translators often have to use phrases in the target language to express the intended meaning of a single term in the Greek or Hebrew text. Not understanding this, some well-intentioned Christians have insisted that the Bible translators in other countries produce word-for-word translations of familial terms because they mistakenly assume that every language describes familial relations in the broad sense expressed by the common English, Hebrew, and Greek familial terms. But that is not the case, and the common, single-word terms used for family members in some languages are strictly biological and are inappropriate for describing the family of God. The problem is that these translations end up attributing a biological meaning to the fatherhood of God, implying he reproduced the Son, the angels, or even the spirits of people through sexual activity. This meaning was not communicated by the original-language expressions, and it conflicts with the intended meaning of the text.
This mistake results in readers understanding the Lord’s Prayer to say “Our Begetter, who is in heaven,” and understanding Jesus to be “God’s (procreated) offspring.” The “longing of creation” (Rom 8:19) is understood to be “for the revealing of God’s biological children.” Such wordings are inaccurate because they add a procreative meaning that was absent from the original, and they sideline the important interpersonal relationships that were expressed in the original text. Readers from polytheistic religions readily accept that gods procreate with goddesses and with women, and they assume the phrase Offspring of God signifies a procreated origin. Readers in many Muslim language groups understand Offspring of God in a similar way, namely that it means God had sexual relations with a woman; unlike polytheists, however, they reject this possibility and consider the phrase to be a blasphemous corruption of the Bible that insults God by attributing carnality to him. They fear that even saying such a phrase will incur the wrath of God. These misunderstandings disappear, however, when translators express the divine familial relationships in ways that do not imply sexual activity on the part of God. Muslim readers and listeners can then focus on the message without being preoccupied with the fear of attributing carnality to God, and when they do, they recognize that the deity and mission of Christ is evident throughout the Gospels. This highlights the fact that translators are not trying to remove original meanings from the translation that might offend the audience. On the contrary, their concern is to avoid incorrect meanings that fail to communicate the informational content, feelings, and attitudes of the original inspired text.
If translators wish to avoid those mistakes and express the divine familial relations in non-biological terms, then what expressions can they use?
Translators ask people from the intended audience, both believers and others, to read or listen to passages of Scripture in which these alternative wordings have been used; then they ask them questions to find out what they understood these phrases to mean in context. Based on this feedback from the community and feedback from other stakeholders, the translation team and the local editorial committee, with the help of an outside translation consultant, decide which translation is best. There may be several cycles to this testing phase until the best solution is found.
The authoritative text of Scripture is the one God communicated to us in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. The task of translators is to enable readers to understand the message that God communicated via this original text. Because of differences in language and context, to communicate God’s message in another language requires both text and paratext. The paratext can effectively define the biblical meaning of an expression used in the translated text as long as that expression does not already mean something contrary to biblical meaning.
The paratext consists of any introductory articles, footnotes, glossary entries, and parenthetical notes in the text that the translators wrote as an integral part of the translation to explain terms, unfamiliar concepts, and essential background information. So even if translators find a way to express divine fatherhood and sonship in the text, it is also important to fill out the meaning of the expression in the paratext. In a non-print Scripture product, the paratext consists primarily of introductions to sections of text. So what should be included in the paratextual explanation of Son of God?
Church history and contemporary scholarship emphasize two components of meaning of the term Son of God:
Bible scholars suggest that the mediatorial meaning is the most prominent in many contexts of Scripture, but they also recognize that the Bible uses the phrase with six additional components of meaning: familial/relational, incarnational, revelational, instrumental, ethical, and representational. All these can be explained to readers in the paratext, usually in a mini-article, in the glossary, and in footnotes. While the mini-article goes into depth of meaning, the explanatory notes remind the audience that the phrase “Son of God” does not mean God’s procreated offspring but means that he is the eternal Word of God (ontological and revelational), who entered the womb of Mary (incarnational) and was born as the Messiah (mediatorial), and relates to God as Son to his Father (familial).
Although the concept signified by Son of God is rich in meaning, there are advantages to expressing the familial component in the text and explaining the other components in the paratext. This provides for consistency among translations and consistency with church tradition. More importantly, it is primarily the familial component of divine sonship that Christ imparts to believers, and he is the “firstborn among many brothers,” all under the paternal care of God as loved ones in his eternal family. This is not easily communicated if the familial component of Son of God is not expressed directly in the translated text.
Although Bible scholars agree on the prominence of the Mediatorial meaning of the term Son of God in most New Testament contexts, yet because of the advantages of expressing the familial component in the text, it is clearly best to do that and to explain the mediatorial and other components in the paratext. In particular, we believe mediatorial terms like Christ or Messiah should be used only to translate Greek Christos and should not be used to translate words like Son.
There have been a number of misperceptions about the translation of divine familial expressions, especially in languages spoken by Muslims, and these have been aggravated by the current level of tensions in the world. The explanation above clearly states that this is a linguistic issue, in which translators seek to communicate the social familial meanings of the Greek and Hebrew expressions while avoiding the wrong meaning that God reproduces children through procreation. This is the meaning of accuracy in translation. But it might be helpful to address the misperceptions as well:
Contrary to what some people imagine, the use in translation of non-biological expressions for Father and Son
Various Bible agencies are seeking to explain translation principles and dispel these misperceptions. Wycliffe Bible Translators (USA), for example, includes the following point in its statement of basic translation standards:
In particular regard to the translation of the familial titles of God we affirm fidelity in Scripture translation using terms that accurately express the familial relationship by which God has chosen to describe Himself as Father in relationship to the Son in the original languages.4
It is not accurate to use expressions which mean Jesus’ sonship consists of being the offspring of God’s procreation with a woman.
In order to accurately convey divine fatherhood and sonship, translators need to use expressions that are as equivalent in meaning as possible to the Greek and Hebrew terms for social son (huios and ben) and social father (patêr and âb) and to avoid biological expressions of the form God’s Offspring or the Procreator of our Lord Jesus Christ, because these are understood to signify biological relations generated through a sexual act of procreation. In this way translators can enable new audiences to understand the biblical sense in which God is our father and Christ is his son, as well as understand the relationship of Joseph to the boy Jesus.
Ultimately it is comprehension testing that plays the crucial role in the process of translation, because there is no other way to ascertain what a particular wording in the text and paratext actually communicates to the audience or to discover which wordings communicate most clearly and accurately. That is why translators and churches “test the translation as extensively as possible in the receptor community to ensure that it communicates accurately, clearly and naturally.”5 Across the world, this approach to first-time translations has been found repeatedly to offer the best success at enabling new audiences to comprehend the biblical message and to respond in faith, as God enables.
We gratefully acknowledge the helpful input, feedback, and support we received from many translators and other interested parties, and from Bible scholars such as Prof. Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary and Roy Ciampa of Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
See "A Brief Analysis of Familial Terms in the Bible" in The International Journal of Frontier Missiology 28:3 (2011).
Forum of Bible Agencies International, Basic Principles and Procedures for Bible Translation, PDF.
See www.wycliffe.org/TranslationStandards.aspx. See also www.wycliffe.net/Missiology/BibleTranslationandMission/tabid/94/Default.aspx?id=2213, http://www.wycliffe.net/AboutUs/PositionStatements/tabid/97/Default.aspx?id=2396, and www.missionfrontiers.org/blog/post/bible-translations-for-muslim-readers
FOBAI, Basic Principles.
What wisdom is needed in producing Bible translations for Muslims? An article recently published in Christianity Today by Collin Hansen, entitled "The Son and the Crescent" (February, 2011): 19-23 (cover story) takes up this question. I commend the author for the ways in which he tries to give a balanced account of the difficulties involved in translating the Bible in Muslim contexts. But I am dismayed that the article expresses an unnecessarily critical view of some more recent approaches to translation.
Let me elaborate. The article in Christianity Today in its first part explains a major issue about Bible translation in Muslim contexts. Muslims have been taught that the expression "Son of God" for Jesus is blasphemous, because, it is alleged, it means that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary in order to father Jesus. The issue presents a major barrier for Muslim understanding of the Bible. "Son of God" in many circumstances is a taboo expression, and Muslims superstitiously avoid a book containing it.
The article in Christianity Today also indicates that there is disagreement among missionaries and translators over what wording to use. On the one side is the danger of Muslims rejecting the Bible before they understand it. On the other side is the danger of compromising what the Bible actually says.
The Christianity Today article discusses alternatives now being tried for the taboo expression "Son of God," for example, expressions like "spiritual Son of God," "beloved Son who comes from God," and "Beloved of God" (pp. 20-21). The last of these expressions, "Beloved of God," sounds less helpful to English ears, since many people are loved by God, and love in English does not connote the family relationship that is implied by the word "Son." However, it should be noted that the expression "Beloved of God" is being tried out and tested as a possible translation in language situations where the expression is regularly used in the language in question to refer to a man's only son. So it means more in these languages than it does in English.
The case with "Beloved of God" illustrates a broader difficulty. What do the expressions in these other languages actually mean? The differences in nuances of meaning between English and other languages make the whole discussion difficult for readers who think only in terms of English. The initial reaction from a reader might be, if an expression means "Son of God," you have to translate it "Son of God" in every language. That reaction seems natural, but it fails to understand that in some languages there is no way to do that. The target language, the language into which one wants to translate, may have no obvious expression that means exactly what "Son of God" means in English--or what the analogous expression ho huios tou theou means in Greek. In fact, in English the word "son" is capable of referring to a biological son, a biological grandson or great-great-grandson (see Matt. 1:1, "David, the son of Abraham"), a son by right of inheritance, an adopted son, the second person of the Trinity as the unique divine Son, and Christians as spiritual sons by adoption and union with Christ the Son. That is quite a range of usage. Other languages do not necessarily match this usage with one word. In some languages there may be one term for biological generation and another for personal family relationship.
Words do not match in a one-to-one fashion across languages. The difficulty is a general one, and is not confined to religious vocabulary. But meanings can still be communicated faithfully, provided we recognize a difficulty when it appears. We try patiently to find a way to express the meaning in the target language. But expressing the meaning faithfully may sometimes mean searching for the right expression, rather than immediately choosing an expression in the target language whose words seem to a native speaker of English to match English words at some points.
This difficulty confronts us even when we try to process and understand an article like the article in Christianity Today. For example, the article talks about the attempt to use "spiritual Son of God" in a translation. But strictly speaking "spiritual Son of God" is an English expression. No translator is using it in a translation. What it proposed for a translation is an expression in the target language. That expression does not really match the English expression "spiritual Son of God" in all respects. Rather, it has its own nuances. And, as a whole, those nuances may be very close to what "Son of God" means in English. Similarly, "beloved Son who comes from God," another expression given in the article, does not literally appear in any translation. It is an English expression. It is trying to represent in English some things about the precise wording in the target language. But it does not represent them with complete accuracy in English, even grammatically, because "who," "of," as well as the other words simply do not match the target language. The article talks about Muslims misunderstanding "the phrase 'Son of God.'" But strictly speaking, they are not misunderstanding "Son of God," but rather an expression in their native language. That expression does not have exactly the same meaning that "Son of God" has in English, or the analogue in Greek. And that is the problem, not the English phrase "Son of God."
The article in Christianity Today may be doing its best to convey some idea of the challenges. But it simplifies. One might even say, from a technical linguistic point of view, that it falsifies what is going on, because everything is being rendered in English, and that tends to convey--especially to people with experience with only one language--false ideas about the meanings of words, constructions, and whole expressions in other languages.
Granted the limitations involved in rendering everything in English, the Christianity Today article is nevertheless quite informative. But then on p. 23 my name appears as one of several scholars who have said that "Messiah" is not completely equivalent to "Son of God." And indeed, this is true. My discussion appears in a 2005 internet article entitled, "Bible Translation and Contextualization: Theory and Practice in Bangladesh." Unfortunately, because of the context, the article in Christianity Today may appear to suggest that my position criticizes Rick Brown and all others who are seeking alternatives to a taboo expression "Son of God." This is not true, as a careful reading of my article will show.
In the 2005 article I point out that the expression "Son of God" is sometimes used in the New Testament to refer to the Messianic figure for whom the Jews hoped. For example, in Matthew 26:63 the high priest presses the question: "... tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." The expression "Son of God" is brought into close relationship to "the Christ," that is, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. The association made by the high priest doubtless arises partly from a passage like Psalm 2:7, "The LORD said to me, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you,' " which the New Testament shows is fulfilled in Jesus the Christ (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). Hebrews 5:5 says explicitly that Psalm 2:7 applies to Jesus appointment as high priest, which is part of his mediatorial and Messianic role. Nevertheless, the expression "Son of God" is not completely equivalent to "Messiah," because it has associations with family, intimacy, and love.
It is important that people learn that the Bible is not saying Jesus is a "son" in exactly the same way and at the same level as in the normal process of biological reproduction in human families. The word "son" is used analogically rather than on the same level. At the same time, it is also important that, for the long run, we enable people to see the biblical teaching that there is an analogy between the divine relationship of Father and Son in the Trinity and the human relationships of father and son among human beings. This analogy is particularly evident in the Gospel of John, which sometimes uses the expression "the Son" as well as "Son of God," and which uses the expression in close relationship to the designation of God the Father as "Father."
As a result, I am critical of any translation that would put into the New Testament text the expression "Messiah" (or equivalent) instead of "Son of God" (or equivalent)--with no further explanation. But this kind of translation is not what Rick Brown or other respected Bible translators are considering. There are other alternatives, such as "spiritual Son of God" and "beloved Son who comes from God," both of which clearly retain the idea of a relationship analogous to a human family relationship between father and son. We must be sensitive to how people actually hear and understand a Bible translation, as well as what we ourselves intend when we use a particular expression.
Let me put it another way. Suppose we choose in the target language a particular promising-looking expression, with the intention of having that expression mean "Son of God" (in the sense given to "Son of God" in some passage of the Bible). Our choice does us no good if that is not what our chosen expression in fact means in the target language. Languages will bend and adjust to new expressions to some extent, but one must not try forcibly to thrust in a meaning that is alien to the character of the language and thereby generates constant misunderstanding. Carefully selected expressions may succeed better in representing and communicating meaning than an expression that violates a taboo and that produces the wrong set of associations when it is heard.
My 2005 article also notes the possibility of using footnotes or other accompanying explanations. Fuller explanations that are printed along with the text of the Bible enable readers in the long run to see more thoroughly and deeply the full implications of the meaning in the original languages. I fully support such explanations, and think that in many circumstances they offer an excellent means of avoiding the two extremes, either creating offense through a taboo expression or leaving out an important aspect of meaning.
Christianity Today mentions other scholars--for instance, Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary and Jack Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary--along with me (p. 23). They too have concerns about losing meaning. Obviously I cannot speak for them. But I suspect that they are articulating the same concerns that I have articulated above. They want to make sure that meaning and family associations do not drop out. But that is very different from rejecting translations that retain the meaning while avoiding a taboo expression.
It is also worth saying that Bible translation achieves more or less accuracy, not perfection. We are thankful that people can be saved from hearing the gospel in a Bible translation, even though the translation has not captured every last ounce of meaning. The central message is still clear. The translation is still the word of God, because it does express the meaning of the original, even if not every last ounce. No translation is going to capture every nuance of meaning in the original in a perfect way; and that is one reason why we train some people in knowledge of the original languages, and why we have preachers to continue to expound the meaning. It does not mean that we give up on translation or underestimate its value.
People who are sensitive to fine nuances of meaning and who know the original languages sufficiently well begin to recognize that translation is a matter of more or less, not always the exact representation of every aspect of meaning. If you say it one way, you put in the background one aspect that is there in the original. If you say it another way, you risk dropping some other aspect. If you say it a third way, many readers will misunderstand you, even though you yourself know what it "is supposed to mean." Adding notes and explanations ("paratext") is one way of supplying more information to the reader in tough cases, especially in important cases like the translation of "Son of God."
The explanations can provide a literal word-for-word rendering of the key expression "Son of God" to indicate to readers the nature of the issue, and also provide explanations of the theology of the Bible concerning the Son of God. Such explanation can also indicate where some nuances may otherwise fail to appear in translation. Critics and Bible users would be wise not to be overly critical when the challenge is this complex.
There is a final irony. The article in Christianity Today specifically mentions Rick Brown as one of the people who are advocating the legitimacy of replacement expressions instead of a taboo expression "Son of God." Christianity Today sets forth my position as if I oppose Dr. Brown. In fact, I comment favorably on his approach at more than one point in my 2005 article:
Rick Brown indicates that in some contexts one may use an expression like 'spiritual Son of God' to head off the misunderstanding. In such a context the less literal translation may be better in representing the meaning.
Thus Brown's suggestion above, involving the use of footnotes and other aids, may prove superior in the long run.
My article also includes a footnote acknowledging the help I received from Rick Brown in producing the whole article.
We should rejoice that we are seeing Muslims who are reading the Bible. And we should rejoice that Bible translators are paying close attention to what a variety of expressions mean in a target language, and are trying hard to convey meaning accurately for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of souls. This process can help to overcome barriers of misunderstanding among Muslims, without compromising the message of the Bible.