Pastor-Exegete or Leader-Sociologist? It Matters

As immigration divides the U.S., it seems also to be dividing Christian leaders into two camps: pastor-exegetes or leader-sociologists. (It matters.)

Framing the divide are two books: The Immigration Crisis by James K. Hoffmeier and Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll. Hoffmeier is a pastor-exegete, Carroll a leader-sociologist.

Hoffmeier calls for compassion for those he calls illegal immigrants, but he also calls on the U.S. government to enforce existing laws to monitor and control the nation’s borders. He discusses Scripture passages that demonstrate that border monitoring and control are the right responsibility of any sovereign nation. Monitoring and control were exercised with strength and certainty in the Old Testament era.

Hoffmeier also calls on the Christian church to help illegal immigrants achieve legal status. His book was published in 2009, so it can’t be said with certainty how today’s overwhelming and ongoing illegal immigration would affect his view about the church’s responsibility. The Bible’s references to alien describes a permanent and legal resident of a nation. The word foreigner refers to a traveler passing through a nation for business or other purposes. The foreigner obviously is not a permanent and legally approved resident of a nation. Hoffmeier was born and raised in Egypt and, in 1967, was booted from Egypt with his Canadian parents. He is sympathetic to immigrants, but has no problem using the term illegal immigrants in referring to those who broke immigration law to get into the U.S.

In contrast to Hoffmeier’s argument that a righteous government monitors and controls its borders, leader-sociologist Carroll argues in Christians at the Border that U.S. immigration laws are patently unjust and should be broken. He says U.S. laws deny those outside the U.S. the dignity the Lord demands for all people, regardless of their land of origin or their immigration status. They are made in God’s image and should be afforded rights to live in safety and dignity. Carroll cites sociological realities of the current U.S. immigration rates: the region of origin for most immigrants (Mexico and Central or South America), how many Latinos live in the U.S. (35.3 million as of the year 2000; 40 million as of 2007), the growth rate of the Latino population (50 percent between 1990 and 2000), and how many Latinos are living in the U.S. illegally (between 12 million and 20 million). By those figures, between 30 percent and 50 percent of all Latinos living in the U.S. are living in the U.S. illegally. Carroll calls those millions undocumented immigrants rather than illegal aliens because he rejects what he says is the pejorative term illegal

Carroll asks the reader to feel the pain of these immigrants, who he says live in agony in the U.S. while emotionally tied to their homelands to the south. Carroll argues that most of these immigrants are of Roman Catholic or Protestant heritage. The church in the U.S., he says, must treat them with special care reserved for those in the faith. These immigrants, he says, enrich and energize the U.S. culture. This is not romantic optimism, says Carroll, who adds that he is convinced that change is certain and that it will be fruitful.

Such sociological change in the U.S. seems certain, but it’s not at all clear that it will be positively fruitful. Hoffmeier argues that, although the Lord loves all people regardless of their social and legal status, he also argues that governmental authorities should enforce existing laws that protect national interests as well as the interests of the alien, those living in the land legally. Among those national interests are the security and preservation of the nation’s culture as well as its economic, political and social strength.

Hoffmeier and Carroll see Romans 13 and its application differently. Carroll dismisses the application Romans 13 to the immigration issue, citing that the government’s laws should be obeyed but that a greater law of compassion for all humanity outweighs what he labels as unjust immigration laws of the U.S. He calls for a dialog that can be leavened with grace and any proposed solutions and compromises can be guided by divine wisdom. But the divine wisdom Carroll advocates excludes careful exegesis of the Bible.

Carroll’s quick dismissal of an application of Romans 13 to the immigration issue is particularly troubling. Even though he’s a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, he clearly reveals himself as a leader-sociologist, not a pastor-exegete. Hoffmeier directly challenges Carroll’s arguments. He agrees that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, but says that such a commitment does not mean that a government official or authority should look the other way when a crime is committed. For Carroll’s position to have merit, current American laws must be inherently unjust. I see nothing in Scripture that would abrogate current (U.S.) immigration laws. Carroll’s attempt to equate American immigration law as an example of a conflict between secular and sacred law is a matter of special pleading.

Hoffmeier thoughtfully analyzes the Bible’s description of legal and illegal residence in a foreign land. Although Carroll discusses the biblical issues, he presupposes that a nation’s borders should be completely open because we’re supposed to be compassionate. Carroll delivers an unbalanced application of the Bible that presupposes that borders should not guarded or entry restricted. 

Carroll inflames and condescends in his comments about what he calls the majority population in the U.S. He repeatedly writes sweeping statements that he neither explains nor defends. He wonders how Latinos in the U.S. can raise their children with the positive values of Latin American culture that sometimes clash with those of North American consumerism and individualism. He fails to mention that in the midst of so-called terrible consumerism, most immigrants—legal or illegal—come to the U.S. for a better life. That means more freedom. This more individualism in the U.S. somehow has created opportunity for the millions who push their way in to live in the U.S. They look for freedom and opportunity to determine their own destiny. A better life includes opportunity to earn a decent living, live in a comfortable home and express individual freedom. Carroll insists that Latino immigrants only seek appreciation for their abilities and for their different backgrounds. It seems to me they’re looking for a lot more than that.

Carroll argues that most Latinos are Christian brothers and sisters who share the same values and ethics and are similar to the U.S. majority population. He cites unnamed positive Latin American values that clash with the U.S. majority population’s values.

Carroll is not believable, and his own sociological facts support disbelief. He notes that both illegal and legal immigrants working in the U.S. in 2006 sent $45 billion back to their families and friends in Latin America. (That transfer, of course, hurts the economy of the U.S. and helps Latin American nations where the money is spent.) So, Carroll would allow all to flood into the U.S., get a better job and a better life and send a lot of money back to loved ones in their homeland. Besides that, his quick dismissal of some sections and black-out of other relevant sections of the Bible's teaching on the immigration issue reveals a perspective informed not so much by God's word but far more by man's wisdom.

Hoffmeier the pastor-exegete has the far more complete biblical perspective and properly applies the Bible’s teaching to his own real-life experience. His parental in-laws were legal immigrants from China. He writes: What especially galls immigrants (and those whose applications are in progress) who go through the legal requirements to become immigrants in America is when people do not follow the rules. They think it unjust that while they go through the legal process that can take years, many foreigners enter or stay in the country illegally and benefit from their illegality, being employed, getting social and medical benefits, and seeing their children getting free public education.

An Earnest, Wacked Read!!!

To make it plain, I didn’t like much in Mortimer Arias’ book, Announcing the Reign of God. The crux of Arias’ argument is stated at the book’s close. The Christian church, he says, needs a creative and new understanding of evangelization and must focus on a new kingdom perspective.

He is earnest—relying on 110 exclamation points for urgency in the book’s 139 pages—but his vision of a more just and kinder world is peppered with common criticisms of the Western church, and he argues that broad re-distribution of the world’s wealth will yield the excellent fruit of a great and just kingdom of Christ on earth. Arias also falls into heresy when discussing repentance, the nature of salvation, the understanding of the purpose of communion in the local church and what he calls gross literalist images of second-coming preachers who were an offense to my intelligence and my faith.

Arias is a bishop in the Bolivian Methodist Church and was a professor of evangelism at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He says, The kingdom of God is . . . the new order of love, the kingdom of the Father. The need for a new order of love is made clear by people struggling for justice and freedom from oppressive societies; when so many young people are rebelling against authoritarian religions; when others are running away from neglectful parents; when women are seeking equality and liberation from the exploitative use of patriarchal images of sexual subordination it is essential to recover an understanding of God’s fatherhood and the liberating and fulfilling meaning of the reign of God that Jesus came to inaugurate: the reign of fraternity, the true family of God, the reign of grace.

This reign of grace, as would be expected, translates into a liberal dose of what Arias calls unconditional forgiveness and free forgiveness with no need of individual repentance. If unconditional and free forgiveness is a true understanding of the forgiveness Jesus offers, then who on Earth needs to repent? In Arias' theology, God gives every person unconditional forgiveness and God welcomes every person unconditionally into his heaven. Obviously, if this is so, then Jesus did not need to die and Jesus did not need to rise from the dead. There are many ways to tear into Arias' view, but naming just three: What of Jesus’ admonition of Nicodemus in John 3:3 that You must be born again? What of Jesus’ claim in John 3:18 that a person who does not believe in the Son of God is condemned? And what of the urging of John 20:31, requiring personal belief in Jesus as the Christ in order to be granted eternal life?

Arias argues that authentic liberation is not represented by those who present the false liberation promoted by those who see sinners as people without hope or any possibilities at all. Yet, Arias offers no answer to the many Scriptures that clearly describe all individual people as enemies of God at their core and, as such, are without hope for relationship with him until they repent and turn to salvation offered in Christ.

Troubling also are the author’s inflammatory statements that criticize the fruit of sin but do not connect the sin to a new birth with power to sever the cause of sin at its origin in the human heart. Arias also sees societies and, by extension, the church, as reluctant to recognize the full humanity of disabled people. Arias would re-distribute the world’s wealth by giving unlimited funding for children’s lunches, old people survival incomes and more accessible education and paltry sums given to Third World nations through the World Bank. That’s a good plan, sinners confiscate all the wealth of other sinners expecting to righteously spread that wealth and build a righteous world. Who needs Jesus anyway.

As could be expected, given his commitment to what he calls a new kind of evangelism, Arias espouses a clearly postmillennial view of eschatology and says, We can commit ourselves to the improvement and the transformation of society for the sake of the reign of God, in line with the reign of God. Arias does not argue that a personal encounter with Christ will change a person's heart and lead to a better world. His vision is rooted in a vision for a better world apart from a transformed life in Christ. He embraces the love of Christ without embracing the power of Christ that enables selfless love. Arias’ error is encapsulated in his misunderstanding the very nature of repentance. He argues, for example, that Zacchaeus’ transformation in Luke 19:1-10 came as the result of his change of economic relationships and the implicit change in style of life and priorities Jesus called ‘salvation’ and integration into the people of God. Contrast this view with the Bible's consistent presentation that repentance comes first and is demonstrated in a person's good works.

Announcing the Reign of God is another proof that earnestly urgent sincerity doesn’t prove right doctrine. Saul of Tarsus was earnestly urgent in his sincerity. But he was just wacked . . . until he personally encountered Christ!      

Can Anything Good Come Out of America?

When I read this third book, The New Global Mission by Samuel Escobar, I repeatedly felt like asking, Can anything good come out of America? It seemed Escobar’s answer was a repeated and clear, No. 

OK, I understand that the center of Christianity’s power has shifted away from Europe and the United States and has moved toward China, Africa and Latin America. Western culture has proven itself  increasingly stubborn in resisting the gospel, but the church in China, Africa and Latin America is the spawning bed of innovators and disciple-makers in the third millennium. And I also understand that the Christian church is facing a world that is largely post-modern and post-Christian, leading to an erosion of Christian influence on the forces that shape culture. Christians, particularly those rooted in Europe and the U.S., frequently struggle toward effective missions ministry as they face the new reality.

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So says the theologian Escobar, who is a native of Peru and is president emeritus of the Latin American Theological Fraternity. Escobar reflects on the implications of the new global reality and offers insights into how the church should take advantage of  the shift as it evangelizes in the third millennium. He details on-going struggles for influence, focusing on Western missionaries who are finding it difficult to respond to the massive change. Escobar argues that the ways of missionaries and evangelists from Europe and North America often are rooted in cultural habits and preferences rather than in biblical requirements for conversion and spiritual growth. There must be a distinction, Escobar argues, between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the American way of life.

Today, Escobar says, missionaries and evangelists from the West are engaged in a not-so-subtle struggle for influence with the church in China, Africa and Latin America. Missionaries and church leaders from the West seem unable or unwilling to come to grips with the new realities. The new reality: disciples of Christ outside the boundaries of Europe and the U.S. have immense and growing influence over the missionary methods of the Christian church. At the same time, however, Western managers of those missionaries often measure success solely based upon numbers of conversions. Says Escobar: They (missionaries) have to produce a certain number of churches or conversions within a given time limit, and if they don’t, their failure is considered a sign of inefficiency, lack of faith or poor spirituality. This places intolerable burdens on them . . .    

This criticism may be valid. However, equally valid is the flip-side of the argument. The flip-side says that missionaries must have some accountability for the stewardship of their work. Accountability for one’s work is not a European or American concept. It is a biblical concept. Without it, because human nature is corrupt, it is easy to fall into a standard that fails to hold missionaries to any standard of accountability for the fruit of their work.

Unfortunately, as I heard one senior pastor say in an elder meeting, Missionaries line up a bunch of natives against a wall, shoot a photograph and say, ‘Look at the fruit of my work! Isn’t it great!’ Where’s their accountability for our investment in missions?!

The pastor’s comment, despite its sarcastic bite, reflected a legitimate concern. Yet Escobar mentions nothing of a concern for assessing fruitful ministry. There is no way of knowing whether he is oblivious to the concern or simply is not interested. Escobar frequently repeats his refrain against what he calls the dominant current paradigm for mission (a.k.a. the Western way) that pushes missions as an efficient machine. Spiritual formation is neglected because it does not easily fit the assembly-line paradigm. The factory paradigm encourages missionaries to set objectives for mere outward behavior. It is primarily interested in quantities.

Yes, character and commitment built through spiritual formation are key markings of genuine conversion, but Escobar ignores the reality that the Scriptures also commend other measurable types of ministry fruit. Genuine fruit is a product of an authentic life based upon a commitment to integrity. While Escobar argues against measuring ministry success by quantity, he also argues for measuring success by quality. Really, both are measuring sticks. Escobar values quality over quantity, and who will argue against that? But, truly, measuring quality requires a quantitative exercise of its own. (Some churches measure success solely by quantity. Measuring fruit by quantity always is a serious wrong. Healthy things may multiply, but not everything that multiplies is healthy, as in, for example, cancer cells or weapons of terror or financial debt or even numbers attending worship services.)

There is great error in measuring success primarily in terms of numeric growth, but there also is great error in pretending to measure nothing quantitatively. In any mission, it is encouraging to know the number of children fed or the number of abused women served in court protection proceedings or the number of homeless people placed in shelters or even the number of people who confessed conversion to Christ. It’s simply encouraging to those who work in and support the ministry. But it seems that Escobar sees none of it, except the qualitative factor which, as I said, actually includes significant quantitative elements.

Escobar endorses the argument that, because African culture does not ordinarily focus on individuals, missionary evangelists must aim their work at families and groups of people. This argument ignores the reality that the Bible fundamentally calls for an individual decision for or against Christ. It is true, of course, that the Philippian jailer’s family was saved and the argument for working in families and groups of people is understood as biblical. However, more to the core of the issue of conversion is the individual decision for or against Christ. This is not a Western concept or a Western cultural preference. It is a biblical mandate—as in, for example, Matthew 10:32-39—so that even if father or mother or son or daughter opposes a person’s conversion, that person is responsible to make the decision and will be held accountable for that decision.

Escobar also falls into a related trap when he levels yet another criticism of Western missionaries. He cites the example of an American-trained medical doctor who had to unlearn some of the things he learned about human nature in his American education and needed to learn new perspectives from Africans. Without denying that new perspectives can be useful, unlearning what was learned in America fails to acknowledge that there is good to be gleaned in any culture and tradition, even the sort taught in an American medical school. Or, are we really expected to answer, No, to the jaded question, Can anything good come out of America?

Salvation, Social Justice, Vegans

Christopher J. H. Wright, in his book, The Mission of God’s People, seeks to answer what he calls a broad question, What do theology and mission have to do with each other? He argues that theology (properly understood and applied) must have missional impact and mission must have sound and defensible theological foundations. That makes sense, but Wright runs into deep trouble when his list of missional impact and mission seems to elevate social justice and ecological sensitivity to quasi-salvific status. He also calls for Christians to be irresistibly attractive to the world, but offers zero counsel of how to be so attractive when people either cannot care less about Jesus or despise you and your savior from the get-go.

Wright is the international director of the Langham Partnership International (John Stott Ministries in the U.S.). The book presents a clear, systematic analysis of who God’s people are and what God’s people are to do. He dives into analysis of the Lord’s call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, and argues that God’s people are not only to rejoice in their own salvation, but they are also to bless others as a significant fruit of enjoying their relationship with God.

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Wright asks the question, Do the people of God have any responsibility to the rest of human society in general beyond the imperative of evangelism? Of course, his emphatic answer is, Yes, as he affirms the gospel implications on how Christians are to conduct social justice, pursue fair and equal treatment of people groups, properly care for the Earth, represent the Lord  to the world and attract people to Him. Christians are to embrace the call to be sent ones into the world and actively pursue the work of being a blessing to each and all nations of the Earth.

Wright properly notes that Christians have suffered, are suffering and will suffer for their faith. At the same time, though, he wonders whether Christians are missing out on the excitement and joy of sharing in the God’s attraction (of other people) by failing to have hearts that are fully committed to the Lord God in practical daily living according to his ways and standards. For our mission begins as we seek to live in that way—a way that enables God to attract outsiders to himself. Wright says that the Bible proclaims the kind of people God’s people are meant to be rather than the kinds of things they are meant to say. He calls it missional magnetism. This magnetism should be so attractive that the world takes note and becomes interested in hearing the great truths and changed lives brought by Jesus Christ. The world will see no reason to pay any attention to our claims about our invisible God if it sees no visible difference between the lives of those who make such claims and those who don’t.

That’s nice. But Wright fails to mention in even the smallest way the implications of life in post-Christian, postmodern North America or post-Christian, postmodern Europe. In the post-Christian culture, almost everyone has already heard of Christ and his followers, have been infested with poisonous reports about Christians or have few interactions with Christians. What they think they know of followers of Christ, they do not like. And they have not the slightest interest in following either the hard-edged ways of Jesus or even his softer ways. They have seen the Christians, and they have decided they want no part of them or Jesus. Wright fails to discuss or even mention the challenges of evangelizing for Christ and living for Christ in such a culture.

In expounding Exodus 19:4-6, Wright argues that Christians must live out their identity as ones who truly have tasted God’s grace and mercy. And live with such attractive obedience of ‘good lives’ that people will be attracted to the God you worship, and whatever they say about you, they will come to glorify him. Or, of course, these same people may completely despise you and seek to ruin you or kill you. Wright’s application of Exodus 19:4-6 may be tenable, but again he fails to discuss how Christians are to live in a post-Christian culture that wants no part of it. And he makes no mention of texts such as Matthew 10:16-25 (sheep among wolves), Matthew 10:34-39 (not peace, but a sword), John 15:18-20 (the world hated me before it hated you), Philippians 1:29 (believe in Christ, suffer for Christ) and 2 Timothy 3:12-13 (to live godly in Christ is to be persecuted).

The question of evangelizing and living in a post-Christian culture is connected with the concept of social justice, as in, Wright says, actual actions that you do, not concepts you reflect on or an ideal that you dream about. Wright’s concept of rightly living the Christian life emphasizes social justice and proper care for the Earth. He places social justice and ecological sensitivity in such prominence that they are, perhaps unwittingly, equated with individual believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and thus gaining eternal life. Wright bemoans the use of animals for food, calling meat-eating within God’s permission but hardly within the Creator’s best pleasure. Even if I accept Wright’s argument, am I then to become a vegan to gain God’s best pleasure? The Scriptures simply do not teach this. They do teach us to have dominion over the Earth and all of its creatures (Genesis 1:26), and that it’s no problem to kill and eat (Acts 10:13). Ecological sensitivity and good works in social justice may lead to opportunities to share the gospel, but salvation is not won by good works in social justice and ecological sensitivity. Wright elevates the two, leading to a confused understanding and a false communication of the core identity of salvation.

Despite that severe error, Wright hits the mark with the implications of personal salvation in Christ: If God blesses you, it is so you can bless others. If God redeems you, it is so you can demonstrate redemptive grace to others. If God loves you, feeds and clothes you, then you should go and do likewise for others. If God brings you into the light of salvation, it is so you can shine with a light that attracts others to the same place. If you enjoy God’s forgiveness, then make sure you forgive others. In this sense, all of our biblical theology should be missional.

David Bosch's Transforming Mission

I’ve read four books this summer focusing on the theology behind missions and evangelism. Of the four, I especially liked one, one was good, one was just OK and one was mostly bad because the writer’s theology is just wacked. In any case, I’ll devote four articles reviewing the four books. Below is the first . . . about the book I liked best. It’s the great work of the Dutch Reformed theologian and missiologist David Bosch. Here you go:

In his preface to the 20th anniversary edition of David Bosch’s book, Transforming Mission, Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission, William R. Burrows praises Bosch for creating an oasis that recognizes God’s complete freedom to be who He is. It is we humans who build up illusion-creating systems that tame God’s mystery to make God safe for us. Of course, God is not safe, not for any person and certainly not for any system created and nurtured by the minds and hands of fragile human beings.

Bosch himself experienced the fragility of life and the fruit of a sinful system in 1992 when he bled to death in rural South Africa after a head-on car crash, only one year after publishing Transforming Mission and two years before the end of apartheid. After the crash, passersby called for an ambulance to free him from the wreckage to stop his bleeding. When no ambulance arrived, they called a second time. The ambulance dispatcher reportedly replied, You didn’t say he was a white man. A subsequent investigation proved inconclusive, largely because recordings of the two phone conversations had disappeared.

In Transforming Mission, Bosch clearly describes the certain transience of all things that are not God and all methods and models that do not come from His hand. Bosch first focuses on the New Testament models of mission, detailing the differences and similarities of mission in the entire New Testament and discussing mission practices of the apostles. He follows with descriptions of the many and inexorably shifting historical paradigms of mission in Christian history. The descriptions are completely satisfying for their detailed clarity and thoughtfulness.

If one covering statement is to be offered for a theme of Bosch’s book, it may be, We are the product of our times. Apart from taking right confidence and comfort in the certain reliability of the Scriptures, history shows that human beings have no reason to be certain that their interpretations and, consequently, their life applications of the Scriptures will endure beyond the current generation. This is not to say that the Scriptures are not reliable and that the tenets of the Christian faith are malleable. The Scriptures are completely reliable. The tenets of the faith are not malleable. As the divinely inspired apostle Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20-21: . . . know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Proper interpretation of the Scriptures is not God’s problem. Proper interpretation—and resulting application—always is man’s problem. Man’s interpretations reflect his holiness, his sinfulness  and the powerful unseen influences of the era in which he lives. We would be wise to build a hard strength in the discipline of allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves no matter the influences of the day.

What can be certain is that the gospels reveal the Lord’s heart and standards for the mission of spreading faith in Christ. The gospel of Matthew, written for Jews, is interested in costly discipleship. Matthew’s gospel is not simply interested in the numerical expansion of the church. Says Bosch, Ideally, every church member should be a true disciple, but this obviously is not the case in the Christian communities Matthew knows. If this attitude (of costly discipleship) scares people away, then so be it.

In the gospel of Luke, written for gentiles, the reader is told in nine references that, whatever else Jesus was doing, He was on His way to Jerusalem to suffer and die. The gentile readers know from Jesus words in Luke 24:46-47 that . . . the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke’s particular interest is in the materially and spiritually poor and other marginalized people groups. But what does Luke say in his gospel and in the book of Acts about the materially rich? Acts notes that wealthy and distinguished people joined the Christian community. Both rich and poor are tested for their willingness to follow Christ no matter the cost. Bosch notes: In Luke’s gospel, the rich are tested on the ground of their wealth, whereas others are tested on the ground of their loyalty toward their family, their people, their culture and their work. Just as the materially rich can be spiritually poor, the materially poor can be spiritually poor.

For the apostle Paul, mission means the announcement of Christ’s lordship over all reality and an invitation to submit to it. Paul’s mission is deeply personal, as it is driven by and rooted in the overwhelming experience of the love of God received through Jesus Christ. Bosch cites Galatians 2:20 and Romans 5:5 as evidence of Paul’s devotion to his Savior. Bosch also could have cited Romans 2:4 as further evidence of Paul’s devotion. Paul calls for personal response to the Lord’s astounding love for each person: . . . do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

It is important to note the contrast between the solidarity of the Scriptures and the fractious practices of the church throughout its history. The Scriptures describe coordinated motivation and heart of mission. But church history is marred with fractious, contentious and often vicious persecutions—pitting follower of Christ against follower of Christ—in the name of advancing the Lord’s work on Earth. Despite these terrible divisions, the universal Christian church was and is ultimately battling against the spirits of the age that war against the Lord’s reign.

Bosch notes these terrible divisions as he walks through an analysis of the church’s missionary paradigms in the Eastern church, in medieval Roman Catholicism, in the Protestant Reformation, in the wake of the Enlightenment, in the postmodern world and in ecumenicalism. History marks the ebb and flow of life as a Christian. Whereas the earliest Christians were persecuted, ridiculed, isolated and pursued as ignorant renegades against the state, by the late second century Christian scholars were matching pagan philosophers in erudition and argument for the Christian faith. Says Bosch, Even before the persecutions stopped and Christianity was declared the sole legitimate religion in the Roman empire, the church had begun to be a bearer of culture and a civilizing presence in society.

It is ironic how things have swung around for followers of Christ in the present age. The world is largely post-Christian. Certainly the U.S. and Canada and Europe are post-Christian. Most people know the message of Christ and His offer of salvation. Most have heard of Jesus, they know of His church through relationships with followers of Christ or through the exposure gleaned via the media or through government messaging. They often are committed to non-Christian, pagan, agnostic or atheistic worldviews. Many of them despise the thought of Christ and what they sense is the bad odor emanating from Christians. And so, as Bosch rightly notes, It is today a liability rather than an asset to be a Christian. He notes an ever-increasing tension between the church and secular authorities.

Even with such tension between the church and secular authorities, the church in North America seems to have fallen into what Bosch describes as an effort to re-gain lost ecclesiastical influence. The church appears to act out of what may be wrong motive to win people not to Christ, but to individual churches. . . . there is an implicit (and sometimes explicit) suggestion that competition is necessary. Thus, people in the surrounding community, whether they belong to other churches or not, are perceived as ‘prospects’ to be won. Much of this reflects the tendency toward empire-building—the church cannot resist the temptation to open yet another branch office in an area that looks promising. Whether intended or not, this mentality suggests that it is not by grace, but by becoming adherents to our denomination, that people will be saved.

Bosch goes on to argue that much of so-called contemporary evangelism aims at satisfying rather than transforming people. That seems obviously true, at least in much of the contemporary Christian church in the U.S. and in Canada. Equally obvious, then, should be a call to return to the simple and powerful imperative in Matthew 28:19 to Make disciples. This must include Matthew’s concept of costly discipleship and, as Bosch says, if that scares people away, then so be it.

Who Beats on Women?

Somebody told me that Bible-believing Christians oppress women. At the risk of being accused of Islamophobia, let's see who really beats on women. Interpret for yourself the teachings of the Qur’an, (shown below). You already know what the New Testament says about the way Jesus related to women and the New Testament standards for relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters. Which of them beats on women?

From the Qur’an, the scriptures of Islam:

• One man equals two women as witnesses in a legal matter. Surah 2:282 – And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses - so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.

• A wife is for the planting of the husband's seed whenever he wants to sow; a wife is like land prepared to receive seed. Surah 2:223 – Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves.

• A man is instructed to literally beat his wife into submission. Surah 4:34 – Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance - [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them.

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• A daughter’s inheritance is far less than a son’s and is not total even if there are no sons. Surah 4:11 – Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one's estate.

And this from Muslims: Their religious beliefs and practices, written by Andrew Rippin and published in 2005 by Routledge: While men are free to remarry after divorce, women must wait (while being supported by the ex-husband) to see if the woman is pregnant. The male rules the house in all matters. The religion of the male is presumed to be the religion of the household; thus, a Muslim male may marry a Jewish or a Christian woman, but a Muslim female may marry only another Muslim. A man may marry up to four wives at a time, but a woman may marry only one husband.

 

 

In Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, published in 2004 by Oxford University Press, Tariq Ramadan acknowledges that Muslim women often are treated poorly. But, he says, Nothing in the message of Islam justifies discrimination against women. (I can't even believe he said that, but there it is on page 139.) Ramadan never touches any of the Qur’an verses detailed above.

Am I Islamophobic? Or maybe Ramadan intentionally left those verses out of the discussion because they run contrary to his delusion that the message of Islam treats women perfectly fine. Ramadan’s spin machine doesn’t matter. He can say what he wants. But the bottom line is that Islam teaches men to treat women poorly. That’s never the way with men who love Jesus Christ enough to follow his teachings and the teachings of his Scriptures.