Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Consider Islamophobia

Whoever coined the term "Islamophobia" was quite shrewd. Notice the intellectual sleight of hand here. The term is not "Muslim-phobia" or "anti-Muslimist," it is Islam-ophobia – fear of Islam – yet fear of Islam is in no way the same as hatred of all Muslims. One can rightly or wrongly fear Islam, or more usually, aspects of Islam, and have absolutely no bias against all Muslims, let alone be a racist.

The equation of Islamophobia with racism is particularly dishonest. Muslims come in every racial group, and Islam has nothing to do with race. Nevertheless, mainstream Western media, Islamist groups calling themselves Muslim civil liberties groups and various Western organizations repeatedly declare that Islamophobia is racism.

--Dennis Prager

Prison and the Shoe Bomber

So this is not a great theological insight, but I'd just hate to get stuck in prison for life because I'm the "show bomber." I mean, isn't that a kind of ridiculous title? Son of Sam, Zodiac Killer, 9/11 hi-jackers--evil men no doubt--but they didn't get silly names like "the shoe bomber." Anyway, let's see how well name-it-and-claim-it works for the shoe bomber:

Failed shoe bomber Richard Reid fantasizes that Allah will free him from the Supermax prison cell where he lives in isolation - and in his socks.

"I had a couple of good dreams about my situation changing for the better in the not-so-distant future, so this is a blessing from Allah," Reid wrote in letters obtained by a British newspaper.

"I place my trust in Allah that he will bring that into fruition and ask him to give me patience until the time when that occurs."

The Mirror also secured exclusive photos of the 33-year-old Al Qaeda acolyte who tried to blow up a packed Miami-bound jet with booby-trapped sneakers - and who stares with crazy eyes at the camera.

Behind the British-born Muslim convert are his paltry possessions - a few books about Islam, scraps of writing paper, a bear-shaped plastic container of what appears to be honey resting beside a shabby trunk.

His beard is scraggly and he wears a white, long-sleeved T-shirt and gray sweatpants. He expresses no remorse for his failed attempt at mass murder - and seems serene despite the terrorist path that landed him in prison.

From Here.

Islamic Prohibition on Suicide

You have heart that Islam prohibits suicide, here is the hadiith:

Al Bukhari
Volume 4, Book 56, Number 669:

Narrated Jundub:

Allah's Apostle said, "Amongst the nations before you there was a man who got a wound, and growing impatient (with its pain), he took a knife and cut his hand with it and the blood did not stop till he died. Allah said, 'My Slave hurried to bring death upon himself so I have forbidden him (to enter) Paradise.' "

Quantum Physics and Theology

Every now and then I see a new book and just salivate--metaphorically speaking. One such book is here:

Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship

By: John Polkinghorne
Yale University Press / 2007 / Hardcover

Truth-seeking in science and theology are not that different, says Polkinghorne, who discerns similarities between the perplexities in quantum physics and the problem of evil; the drive for a unified theory and Trinitarian theology; the way quantum theories and Christological controversies emerged historically. 128 pages, hardcover. Yale University.

Who tells a lie on me...

Hadiith al Bukhari
Volume 4, Book 56, Number 667:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr:

The Prophet said, "Convey (my teachings) to the people even if it were a single sentence, and tell others the stories of Bani Israel (which have been taught to you), for it is not sinful to do so. And whoever tells a lie on me intentionally, will surely take his place in the (Hell) Fire."


There is a nice letter below from evangelical leaders to the US President. It is a nice gesture for a two-state solution. But it is, in my view, an impossible goal. A culture of hate and violence has been so profoundly embedded within Palestinian Arab minds that there will always be some who will launch attacks against Israel from their Islamic Palestinian state (and it will be Islamic, have no doubt).

Israel will be constantly distressed by these attacks and they will either have to re-occupy their neighbor or you will have a genuine war between two states.

But a war between two states, however sad and disastrous, may in fact be better though than the current situation of occupation because at least wars between states end eventually. The reasons is that states are sovereign, they are accountable to other states and the addiction to victimhood we find among many Palestinians may in fact shift slightly towards an actual recognition that blaming everyone else for your own problems is not actually a constructive activity. This is true even when others are responsible for many of your troubles, as is the case with Israel.

The situation in Gaza shows this fairly well, I think. It is very clear that you have Palestinian Muslims killing each other in Gaza. Yet if you ask people in the ME they will often blame Israel and the USA. The first rule about the Middle East is: Never take responsibility. That having been said, maybe--just maybe--a two state solution will challenge and make cracks in that edifice of victimhood that holds minds captive throughout the region.

Just Maybe.

And if you don't buy all that, can we take a look at the goal: a just solution. Ah yes, but whose justice? The Islamic concept of Justice (trust me, the Christians will have no say in the new state) is profoundly different than the Christian concept of Justice. In Christianity you have the idea of unalienable rights that people have because they are human. You have no such thing in Islam. In Islam, rights are derived from being rules by an Islamic authority: Muslims have some rights, Christians and Jews have fewer rights, and pagans have the right to leave or be killed. That is, over-simplified perhaps, the Islamic concept of Justice.

So, my dear evangelical leaders, are you not picking up the sword of Christian imperialism again when you insist on your narrow view of universal human rights? Yes you are. Allahu akbar. If you understood justice you would be Muslims.

And there are other problems. But let's take it for what it is: a gesture. And as far as gestures go, this one is...nice.

The first and greatest commandment is this: Thou shalt be nice.

(Sorry for the screed, I don't like writing about politics much, and the situation between Israel and Palestine is, IMHO, utterly hopeless from a political point of view, at least until Jesus comes back. The only genuine solution is the Gospel. Nothing else has the power to heal the sort of anger and hate there.)

Letter to President Bush from Evangelical Leaders

(Hat tip to Shawblog)

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write as evangelical Christian leaders in the United States to thank you for your efforts (including the major address on July 16) to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve a lasting peace in the region. We affirm your clear call for a two-state solution. We urge that your administration not grow weary in the time it has left in office to utilize the vast influence of America to demonstrate creative, consistent and determined U.S. leadership to create a new future for Israelis and Palestinians. We pray to that end, Mr. President.

We also write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope this support will embolden you and your administration to proceed confidently and forthrightly in negotiations with both sides in the region.

As evangelical Christians, we embrace the biblical promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you.” (Genesis 12:3). And precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted. Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors. Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.

Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other. The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states. To achieve that goal, both sides must give up some of their competing, incompatible claims. Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other’s right to exist. And to achieve that goal, the U.S. must provide robust leadership within the Quartet to reconstitute the Middle East roadmap, whose full implementation would guarantee the security of the State of Israel and the viability of a Palestinian State. We affirm the new role of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and pray that the conference you plan for this fall will be a success.

Mr. President, we renew our prayers and support for your leadership to help bring peace to Jerusalem, and justice and peace for all the people in the Holy Land.

Finally, we would request to meet with you to personally convey our support and discuss other ways in which we may help your administration on this crucial issue.


Ronald J. Sider, President
Evangelicals for Social Action

Don Argue, President
Northwest University

Raymond J. Bakke, Chancellor
Bakke Graduate University

Gary M. Benedict, President
The Christian & Missionary Alliance

George K. Brushaber, President
Bethel University

Gary M. Burge, Professor
Wheaton College & Graduate School

Tony Campolo, President/Founder
Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education

Christopher J. Doyle, CEO
American Leprosy Mission

Leighton Ford, President
Leighton Ford Ministries

Daniel Grothe, Pastoral Staff
New Life Church (Colorado Springs)

Vernon Grounds, Chancellor
Denver Seminary

Stephen Hayner, former President
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor
Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the NAE

Jo Anne Lyon, Founder/CEO
World Hope International

Gordon MacDonald, Chair of the Board
World Relief

Albert G. Miller, Professor
Oberlin College

Richard Mouw, President
Fuller Theological Seminary

David Neff, Editor
Christianity Today

Glenn R. Palmberg, President
Evangelical Covenant Church

Earl Palmer, Senior Pastor
University Presbyterian Church Seattle

Victor D. Pentz, Pastor
Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Atlanta

John Perkins, President
John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development

Bob Roberts, Jr., Senior Pastor
Northwood Church, Dallas

Leonard Rogers, Executive Director
Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding

Andrew Ryskamp, Executive Director
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee

Chris Seiple, President
Institute for Global Engagement

Robert A. Seiple, Former Ambassador-at-Large,
International Religious Freedom
U.S. State Department

Luci N. Shaw, Author, Lecturer
Regent College, Vancouver

Jim Skillen, Executive Director
Center for Public Justice

Glen Harold Stassen, Professor
Fuller Theological Seminary

Richard Stearns, President
World Vision

Clyde D. Taylor, Former Chair of the Board
World Relief

Harold Vogelaar, Director
Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice

Berten Waggoner, National Director
Vineyard USA

Monday, July 30, 2007

Pastoral Theology

Profound, insightful, heart-rending, deeply impacting and life-changing. How else can I describe this video?


An Incident from the life of Billy Graham

When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.

The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That'll be ten dollars -- a dollar for every mile you went over the limit."
Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. "You have violated the law," he said. "The fine must be paid--but I am going to pay it for you." He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! "That," said Billy Graham, "is how God treats repentant sinners!"

From TitusOneNine.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Laugh or Cry?

Qatari royals halt British flight

The British Airways flight was destined for Heathrow airport. A British Airways flight was delayed for several hours after women members of the Qatari royal family objected to sitting next to men they did not know. The three wives of Sheikh Badr Bin Khalifa al-Thani refused take up their seats on board Flight 563 from Milan's Linate airport to London Heathrow.

Police and Qatari diplomats became involved before the captain told Sheikh Badr's entourage to leave the aircraft. The Qatari royals eventually ended up getting an Alitalia flight to London. They had been on a shopping day-trip to the Italian city.

'Safety instructions'

In addition to his three wives, Sheikh Badr, a junior member of Qatar's 3,000-strong ruling family, was accompanied by a male relative, a cook and another servant on the flight. After boarding, the women complained about the seats they had been allocated because they were next to men they did not know, a spokesman at Linate said.

Cabin crew tried to move the passengers to different seats, but those travelling with other people refused to change. Sheikh Badr then reportedly got up and walked to the pilot's cabin to complain. A delay of nearly four hours ensued as two members of the Qatari party refused to sit down.

From the BBC

Cathedral Church of Saint George the Martyr in Jerusalem

The Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. Not ancient like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but I always find it inspiring, and it is a place I try to visit every time I am in Jerusalem. Please continue to pray for Abu Daoud and his family as the government (the secret police) has notified us that we must leave the country.

Islamification of the West?

Another Islam-Christian Blow-up on the Horizon?

by Hillel Fendel

"While Christians respect Islam and desire to dialogue with Muslims," Pope Benedict XVI's private secretary says, "[we] must act to protect the Christian identity of Europe."

Msgr. Georg Ganswein, the Pope's secretary, was interviewed in the current edition of Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazine. Though the interview covered many different issues, his comments about Islamic influence in Europe, and what Catholics should do about it, may prove to be the most controversial.

Msgr. Ganswein was asked about Pope Benedict's September 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany, and its criticism of violent trends within Islam. Though the Pope may have intended to warn against religious terrorism, his remarks aroused fury throughout the Moslem world, developing into actual violence in several places. Arabs in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas attacked seven Christian churches, a nun was murdered in Somalia, a call for the Pope's death was issued in London, and Iraqi groups threatened the Vatican.

"I believe the Regensburg speech, as it is known, was prophetic," Msgr. Ganswein told the German magazine, because it countered a "certain naivete" among people who do not recognize that various currents exist within Islam.

"Attempts at the 'Islamification' of the West cannot be denied," he said, according to an English translation in the Catholic Explorer. "And the associated danger for the identity of Europe cannot be ignored out of a wrongly understood sense of respect... The Catholic side sees this clearly and says as much." True respect, Ganswein said, is shown in a dialogue with Muslims that is frank, open and honest.

The Pope's speech in Regensburg speech included a quote from a 14th-century Christian Emperor, who said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Several days afterwards, the Pope related to the speech and the storm it caused. He did not apologize or retract his words, but rather expressed his "deep regret" at its consequences, saying the quote was misunderstood to be his own opinion. He also noted his "high regard" for Islam.

It remains to be seen what type of Islamic reaction will be caused by the papal secretary's warning against the Islamification of Europe and the "associated danger for the identity of Europe."

Eastern Orthodoxy (Part II)

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

2.) I have found that many Evangelicals are surprised to hear that the Holy Spirit is so central to the experience within the Orthodox Church. I think this is because they equate a "spirit-filled" church with a charismatic, Pentecostal context. Can you describe the Orthodox understanding of what the moving of the Holy Spirit amongst the community looks like?

It's funny, but I've noticed that people who come into Orthodoxy from a Pentecostal or charismatic background can be the ones who have the easiest transition. Orthodoxy is, after all, a premodern church--so it includes a natural expectation that there are miracles, healings, angels, and so forth. When you start expecting those things, they start to happen. A few years ago we had a family visiting that included a 3 yr old girl. During coffee hour she saw my husband (the pastor) and told her mom, "There's the man who was singing with the angels!"

We also have an ancient liturgy that gathers the community to pray over the oil that will be used to anoint for healing during the coming year. My husband told me one year that he knew of three people who had arisen from deathbeds after being anointed with this oil.

The worship, of course, is not "free" like it might be in a charismatic church. The thing that struck me abt the liturgy when I started attending was how *intimate* it is. There is a real theme of humility, tenderness, and intimacy that you don't get in Western formal worship. In fact, it is not "formal" in that sense. There's much less fussiness than we had in our Episcopal "high church" worship. The worship is gorgeously beautiful, but not stuffy; the kind of beautiful, joyous combination you aim at for Christmas dinner or a wedding reception. And a service like the one for the anointing oil puts in the priest's mouth prayers that are almost embarrassing, as he stresses to the congregation that he is a sinner, that his thoughts are sinful and unworthy, that the power does not come from him but from God alone.

1054 The East-West Schism

From Christian History:

[...]In 1048 a French bishop was elected as Pope Leo IX. He and the clerics who accompanied him to Rome were intent on reforming the papacy and the entire church. Five years earlier in Constantinople, the rigid and ambitious Michael Cerularius was named patriarch.

Problems arose in Southern Italy (then under Byzantine rule) in the 1040s, when Norman warriors conquered the region and replaced Greek [Eastern] bishops with Latin [Western] ones. People were confused, and they argued about the proper form of the liturgy and other external matters. Differences over clerical marriage, the bread used for the Eucharist, days of fasting, and other usages assumed an unprecedented importance.

When Cerularius heard that the Normans were forbidding Greek customs in Southern Italy, he retaliated, in 1052, by closing the Latin churches in Constantinople. He then induced bishop Leo of Ochrid to compose an attack on the Latin use of unleavened bread and other practices. In response to this provocative treatise, Pope Leo sent his chief adviser, Humbert, a tactless and narrow-minded man with a strong sense of papal authority, to Constantinople to deal with the problem directly.

On arriving in the imperial city in April 1054, Humbert launched into a vicious criticism of Cerularius and his supporters. But the patriarch ignored the papal legate, and an angry Humbert stalked into Hagia Sophia and placed on the altar the bull of excommunication. He returned to Rome convinced he had gained a victory for the Holy See.

Dramatic though they were, the events of 1054 were not recorded by the chroniclers of the time and were quickly forgotten. Negotiations between the pope and the Byzantine emperor continued, especially in the last two decades of the century, as the Byzantines sought aid against the invading Turks. In 1095, to provide such help, Pope Urban II proclaimed the Crusades; certainly there was no schism between the churches at that time. Despite episodes of tension and conflict, Eastern and Western Christians lived and worshiped together.

In the latter half of the twelfth century, however, friction between the groups increased, caused not so much by religious differences as by political and cultural ones. Violent anti-Latin riots erupted in Constantinople in 1182, and in 1204 Western knights brutally ravaged Constantinople itself. The tension accelerated, and by 1234, when Greek and Latin churchmen met to discuss their differences, it was obvious they represented different churches.

Underlying Causes of the Break
What caused the schism? It was not the excommunications of 1054; not differences in theology, discipline, or liturgy; not political or military conflicts. These may have disposed the churches to draw apart, as did prejudice, misunderstanding, arrogance, and plain stupidity. More fundamental, perhaps, was the way each church came to perceive itself.

The eleventh-century reform in the Western Church called for the strengthening of papal authority, which caused the church to become more autocratic and centralized. Basing his claims on his succession from St. Peter, the pope asserted his direct jurisdiction over the entire church, East as well as West.

The Byzantines, on the other hand, viewed their church in the context of the imperial system; their sources of law and unity were the ecumenical councils and the emperor, whom God had placed over all things, spiritual and temporal. They believed that the Eastern churches had always enjoyed autonomy of governance, and they rejected papal claims to absolute rule. But neither side was really listening to the other. [...]

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sweden's Rising Muslim Tide

"I know for a fact that there are small extremist groups in Malmo," says Arjumand Carlstein, a social worker at Malmo Islamic Centre, attached to the mosque. "And apart from the organized groups, you also have the Internet and extremists can easily communicate with each other in other parts of the world."

This global phenomenon appears to be spreading to Sweden. In August, several short video clips appeared on the Internet purporting to show experimental detonations of explosives in a wooded valley, supposedly in Sweden.

In September, another Islamist website claiming to speak for Ansar Al-Sunna, the Iraqi terrorist group, said the group had established "a small isolated training camp in southern Sweden."

"We wish to inform the Ummah," said the website, referring to the global Islamic community, "that the Army of Ansar Al-Sunnah in Sweden are well-trained to defend our holy countries ... having established a Mujahideen training camp, located in Skane [the region in southern Sweden that includes Malmo] ... with the help from Allah."

The website's authors claimed that the camp would only be used to train fighters for combat abroad. However they also promised to "capture and punish" the Swedish Evangelist preacher Runar Sogaard who in March called Islam's Prophet Mohammad a "pedophile" for marrying a girl who, according to many Muslim traditions, was only 9 years old.

The website has since been closed down, and experts interviewed for this article were unaware of any such camps. However, the jihadists' claims suggest that problems lie beneath the placid exterior of Swedish society.

While lavish welfare payments have to some extent enabled Sweden to buy off Muslim discontent more effectively than France, some think this has also fomented other problems by preventing many immigrants from advancing economically or socially in Swedish society.

"The Swedish system is very pacifying," says Carlstein. "A lot of people feel you don't have to get a job or learn the language," adding that unemployment and social immobility can help fuel radicalism.

From CS Monitor

In Europe, skylines reflect the rise of Islam

Across Europe, the Continent's fastest-growing religion is establishing its public presence after decades in basements and courtyards, changing not only the architectural look of cities, but also their social fabrics.

Hailed by many as a sign of Muslim integration, the phenomenon is also feared as evidence of a parallel Islamic world threatening Europe's Christian culture.

"Muslims have come out ... and have become visible," says Claus Leggewie, a political scientist at Germany's University of Giessen who wrote a study on the evolution of the mosque landscape in Germany. "By building expensive, representative mosques, they're sending a message: we want to take part in the symbolic landscape of Germany. We are here and we'll stay here."

Major mosque projects from Cologne, Germany, to Amsterdam to Seville, Spain, have met with fierce opposition and fears that they will serve as breeding grounds for terrorists. Family members of two of the suspects in the Glasgow, Scotland, car bombings this month said the men had been radicalized by Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic revivalist group with plans for an 18-acre complex near London's 2012 Olympic stadium that would house Europe's largest mosque.

Read it all at CS Monitor

Friday, July 27, 2007

Two American Soldiers Convert to Islam, Marry in Afghanistan

From Here:

If the mainstream media picks this up at all, it will be as a heartwarming sidelight to the horror of war, and if the folks at State notice, they'll be showcasing these soldiers as proof that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. No one, but no one, will dare raise the small side issue of the fact that most likely they had to convert in order to marry their Afghan sweethearts, since Islamic law forbids a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man -- although it allows a non-Muslim woman to marry a Muslim man. This double standard is vivid evidence of the supremacist element of Islam, since it is assumed that a woman will become part of her husband's household, such that the Islamic community will by such marriages always increase, and the non-Muslim community always decrease. And that same supremacist element, of course, fuels the jihad that these soldiers are in Afghanistan to fight. Bravo for life's little ironies.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Abu Daoud and his family are passing right now through some truly extraordinary difficulties because of our decision to be a Christian witness in a Muslim land. At times like these I recall the beauty of this church which I have been so blessed to visit.

Salaam and Peace.

Muslim Online Social Networking

From ShawBlog:

Altmuslim is one of the most intriguing web communities/blogs that I know of. Why is it so cool? It presents a community of writing from (mostly western) Muslims who seek to be committed to their faith while embracing the modern world. They are, you could say, “alternative Muslims” - hence the site’s name. The founder of Altmuslim is actually another Austinite who is gaining rapid popularity as a statesmen of a new generation of progressive Muslims in the west not only before Muslims in the West but also before our US government.

I read their articles and, if you have any interest in keeping up with currents within Muslim thought or Muslims in the West, you should too.

As a taste, check out the immensely interesting feature story posted yesterday: “For Muslims, Social Networks Bring New Challenges“. Very simply put, this article acknowledges the incredible ascendancy of online social networking (ever heard of Facebook, Myspace, or Friendster?), and also asks the question, what about Muslim sites for online social networking? There are already some intitiaves in this direction, in fact.

As you read this, you should understanding that you are reading into the future. Muslims love to network, to be social, and to be hip, just like everyone else. What will the future hold, therefore, for Muslim online social networking?

How can online social networking be used for the glory of God in the advancement of His Kingdom?!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

"My Father was stronger than [Satan]"

Segment of a testimony from a convert from Islam, in this case a woman from a Turkish background. She heard the Gospel in Germany. Here is the section from moment of conversion but please read the whole thing:

One day this woman gave me a Turkish Injeel as a gift. I read the Injeel, didn't understand much, but I found it quite logical. Meanwhile my mom left, and went back to Turkey. I gave my boy to a child care center. I was working double shift everyday. I was exhausted.

One day this woman told me, "There is a vacation place I know of. Why don't you go there and spent a couple weeks there?" I accepted her offer. I was introduced to some Turkish believers before I left. We prayed together;

"Lord, If you are really Jesus the Messiah, help me, explain this to me, and answer my questions."

I was traveling in the train and thinking about all I heard, also reading my Injeel. Suddenly, I felt a big joy in my heart. I understood. Love, joy, peace, blessings, and the intimacy of God the Father filled the whole compartment.

The vacation place was owned by some Turkish believers. There I confessed my invitation to Jesus as my Savior and asked Him into my heart for eternity. I was so happy, because I knew I had found my real Father.

Three days later, I got really sick. Just like Satan was talking to me. You can't do it. There are believers here, but when you go to Berlin, I will scare you all the time, and make you crazy. And he was telling me to jump from the window. However, a believer there, cast out Satan in the name of Jesus. After I went to Berlin, Satan was not able to bother me at all, because MY FATHER WAS STRONGER THAN HE WAS.

Jihad and Crusades? Forbidden Words

From The Brussels Journal. Scary when politicians are banned from using words, isn't it?

A glossocrat whose power is based on words is afraid of words. The EU has drawn up guidelines advising government spokesmen to use "non-offensive" phrases when talking about terrorism. The word Jihad should preferably not be used at all, or should be explained as a misunderstood term meaning peaceful struggle against oneself. These recommendations are being implemented. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in an attempt to avoid offending Muslims, in the summer of 2007 banned his ministers from mentioning "Muslim" and "terrorism" in the same breath, following attempted terror attacks staged by Muslims - including several medical doctors - in Glasgow and London.

To quote Paul Fregosi's book Jihad in the West: "The Jihad, the Islamic so-called Holy War, has been a fact of life in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East for more than 1300 years, but this is the first history of the Muslim wars in Europe ever to be published. Hundreds of books, however, have appeared on its Christian counterpart, the Crusades, to which the Jihad is often compared, although they lasted less than two hundred years and unlike the Jihad, which is universal, were largely but not completely confined to the Holy Land. Moreover, the Crusades have been over for more than 700 years, while a Jihad is still going on in the world. The Jihad has been the most unrecorded and disregarded major event of history. It has, in fact, been largely ignored. For instance, the Encyclopaedia Britannica gives the Crusades eighty times more space than the Jihad."

At the same time as the memory of 1300 years of almost continuous Jihad warfare and Islamic aggression is gradually being erased from Western school textbooks, "Islamophobia" is being promoted as a serious challenge. By substituting "Jihad" with "Islamophobia," emphasis is moved from Europeans defending themselves against Islamic violence to innocent Muslims suffering from prejudice and racism. An alternate word thus creates an alternate reality.

The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body

The Word of God at the Mercy of the Body
by Louis Marie Chauvet

This is a simplified version of the longer and quite challenging Symbol and Sacrament.

I have posted several items in the past few months about sacramentality, and specifically the relationship between faith and act, or belief and ritual if you prefer. Evangelicalism teaches that faith and salvation are primarily inward dispositions, they are about accepting the proposition that Jesus is "Lord and Savior" in "asking him into your heart." Not to say that any of this is necessarilly wrong, but let me say that in my view it simply does not account for the centrality of ritual in the OT, the NT, church history, or human history.

So you have kids? Tell me if they are not the most ritualistic creatures in the world! Don't you have a ritual for putting them to bed? And if you change it, well, won't they object? Or maybe they just won't go to sleep. Chauvet, who is Catholic, offers a profound and, to me, revelatory account of the sacramentality of all life. His theology of the sacraments has much to offer to Christians of all traditions though. When I read Symbol and Sacrament I felt that he actually has captured in a very real way the Reformation ideal of honoring correctly both the word announced (Bible and sermon) and the word inscribed on the body (sacrament).

One of the Amazon reviews puts it nicely, "Chauvet is interested in explaining how sacraments "mediate" God's presence, allowing humanity to come into communion with God. Yet he is insistent that one can never hold, control or own God. Therefore, for Chauvet, all knowledge, revelation and experience of God must be mediated by the multiple interactions of the symbolic order. "

Whose Religion is Christianity? by Lamin Sanneh

A prof who has taught at Harvard and Yale, a native of Africa but thoroughly conversant with Western scholarship and literature, and a former Muslim who converted to Christianity (Roman Catholicism specifically), it's hard to see who could be better qualified to tackle this topic.

Unlike Cragg's book, this one makes for a short, easy read. He grapples with questions about colonialism, Western guilt, translation and pluralism, but does so in an easy-to-understand format of question and answer.

Especially good to read along with The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins.

Also available at Amazon.

Call of the Minaret by Kenneth Cragg

I thought I'd post a few book recommendations. Cragg is a former Anglican bishop of Jerusalem and is one of the great scholars of Islam of the previous century. His prose is dense and challenging, and he may seem to treat Islam with kid gloves, but if you learn how to read his subdued style he offers some poignant and crucial criticisms of Islam. Also, his focus on approaching Islam from a Christian point of view is helpful. FInally, this book was written before 9/11 which means it still has a sort of innocence to it, and can thus avoid being an apologetic for Islam or a screed of denunciation.

Available at Amazon, among other places.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Arabic, the Divine Language; Questions about Jesus

Fascinating how Islam resists translation, unlike Christianity:

My parents made certain that I received thorough instruction in Islam. At the age of twelve I was sent to a mullah to study the Quran. One hour a day, every day, I was at the mosque learning the words of the Quran - but not its meaning. Although I memorized much of the Quran, it meant nothing to me because it was in a language I did not know.

The mullahs were afraid to translate the Quran into our own language. Such an attempt would have been considered a sin. Arabic was conceived to be the only divine language, and by learning to read the Quran in the original language in which it was given, I was making myself a better Muslim and I was adding to my chances of getting into paradise. For three years I was subjected to this grueling exercise in meaninglessness. In spite of the boredom and tedium that I and the other fifteen boys in the class felt, I endured it because I was afraid my father would beat me, or even kill me, if I did not attend the Quranic lessons faithfully.

My parents were such strict Muslims that they spent every Friday at the mosque, and my father considered his pilgrimage to Mecca the greatest achievement of his life. We met people from other religions, but we thought of them as victims of error. And we particularly considered Christianity to be false.

After my father died when I was in my teens, I set my heart on becoming an engineer so that I could make a good living and help my country. I enrolled in the Afghanistan Institute of Technology and studied there for three years. I enjoyed my studies immensely, especially since there were no classes in religious subjects.

Religious questions occasionally intruded into my mind, even during those years. I had heard enough about Jesus to wonder if he could be the way to God. I did not find anything in Islam that appealed to me. It seemed that everyone had something to believe in, however. Everyone needed something that gave meaning and purpose to life. I wondered if I should believe in Jesus as Christians did, but I did not take any steps to find out more about him.

When I was studying at the Institute, I tried to forget about religious issues. None of my teachers talked to me about Jesus. None ever tried to influence me to read the Bible or to be converted to faith in Christ. I remember meeting only one Christian who read the Bible, but that individual never spoke to me about Jesus. Since there was a law at that time that forbade Afghans to visit foreigners in their homes, I did not dare to enter the house of any Christian.

One day I came across a book that made a deep impression on me and renewed my interest in the person of Jesus. The book, entitled Religion, was written in the Persian language by a Muslim. It was about the life of Jesus and it raised questions in my mind that I had not seriously considered before. The author described the entrance of Jesus into the world by a virgin. In fact, there were other remarkable things about the life of Jesus that evoked more respect for him than for Muhammad.

From Answering Islam

Ubaidullah bin Jash: First Apostate from Islam

Ubaidullah bin Jash was the first apostate from Islam. He converted to Christianity in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and died there. I love his saying to the Muslims, which one might paraphrase thusly: "We (Christians) see clearly, but you (Muslims) have not yet learned to see completely." One might say the same today, no? From Answering-Islam:

Ubaidullah became a Muslim and married Umm Habiba, daughter of Abu Sufyan. Both he and his wife joined the first band of persecuted Muslims who sought refuge under the Christian King of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in 615AD. Some time after coming to Ethiopia, he gave up Islam and became a Christian, and testified his new faith to the other Muslim refugees. Ubaidullah lived and died a Christian in Ethiopia. Muhammad married his widow. Ibn Ishaq relates:

"`Ubaydullah went on searching until Islam came; then he migrated with the Muslims to Abyssinia taking with him his wife who was a Muslim, Umm Habiba, d. Abu Sufyan. When he arrived there he adopted Christianity, parted from Islam, and died a Christian in Abyssinia.

Muhammad b. Ja`far b. al-Zubayr told me that when he had become a Christian `Ubaydullah as he passed the prophet's companions who were there used to say: ‘We see clearly, but your eyes are only half open,’ i.e. ‘We see, but you are only trying to see and cannot see yet.’ He used the word sa'sa' because when a puppy tries to open its eyes to see, it only half sees. The other faqqaha means to open the eyes. After his death the apostle married his widow Umm Habiba." (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, tr. Guillaume, 1967, p. 99)

From Here

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why ex-Muslims Live in Fear--in America

From Human Events, back in 2004:

These people have to live in fear because of the long-entrenched and continuing unwillingness on the part of American authorities to face up to the realities of Islam. Law enforcement officials either haven't known or haven't cared that Islam mandates the death penalty for those who leave the religion. They assumed, if they knew that this provision existed at all, that Muslims who settled in the United States would discard it and accept the parameters and principles of American secularism. And many have. But many haven't, and it is time that fact be acknowledged. This is especially tough for Westerners, however, since the concept of apostasy is so foreign to today's secular society. As the great ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq noted in a statement read for him last year before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (he could not appear in person because of threats on his life arising from the same Islamic principles): "The very notion of apostasy has vanished from the West. There are certainly no penal sanctions for converting from Christianity to any other religion." However, one who leaves Islam, he explains, "can be seen as someone unnatural, subverting the natural course of things whose apostasy is a wilful and obstinate act of treason against God and the one and only true creed, and a betrayal and desertion of the community." Thus his death is to be actively sought, so as to erase the stain on the community.

"Word and Sacrament"

(Abu Daoud: I have heard this often, that the focus on liturgical worship and sacrament was part of some kind of post-Constantinian corruption of the faith. Rubish, that focus on the sacramental nature of Christian worship predates the closing of the NT canon.)

Many younger evangelicals now argue that traditional marks of the church (word and sacrament) and the classic liturgy are products of Christendom—the era from Constantine to the late 20th century, when Christianity was the culturally dominant religion of the West. But in a post-Christian era, they say, we need to rethink the church completely, from the ground up. What is your response?

Historically, it is not true to say that the liturgy of word and sacrament is a post-Constantinian invention. We see the pattern in Acts 4:42 and in Justin Martyr (2nd century). But the more compelling evidence is the number of incidental details that suggest that by the time of the writing of the New Testament, the Lord's Supper was not only a well-established practice, but quite entrenched in the early disciples' collective memory. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians the Lord's Supper was already "tradition." Why was Jesus recognized by the two disciples precisely when he broke bread (Luke 24:30, 31; cf. John 21:12)? Most evangelical churches do observe word and sacrament in their worship, but they do so haphazardly especially with regard to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, because they lack theological reasons for observing word and sacrament consistently.

Evangelicalism is distinguished by its free church, entrepreneurial, activist, pragmatic, and mission-focused personality. Is it possible for this movement to seriously adopt your proposals, which suggest that it is these very personality traits that have gotten the movement into trouble?

Many evangelicals are already moving in that direction: the convergence movement, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, the Charismatic Episcopal Church, and a significant number of evangelical leaders who have joined Episcopalian, Orthodox, and Catholic churches in recent years. There are many indigenous churches in Africa that do not seem to have any difficulty being evangelical and liturgical at the same time. In fact, I do not only see this as possible but a necessity if the evangelical movement is to grow "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph 4:13).

From Simon Chan

Defining our Enemies

by Mike Liccione

The distinguishing feature of Islamic militancy is that it seeks to make Islam, precisely as such, the explicit basis of political authority wherever it is the dominant religion. For a long time, to be sure, Christians were wont to do the same with regard to their own religion; but save in a few isolated pockets, that approach has been given up, as it should be if Christianity is true. We've learned our lesson. Yet the Muslim world, the Umma, has not learned the lesson. Nor do I think it can. That is the main, underlying reason why the Umma has such a hard time repudiating al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It is the main reason why "Islamic" parties are gaining ground even in ostensibly secular states such as Turkey and Indonesia. All over the Muslim world, we hear more and more calls for imposing sharia, even on non-Muslims when possible. Even now, Christians in Iraq are reduced to the options of oppression or flight; Sunnis and Shi'ites, who seem to agree on little else and continue fighting each other, seem to agree on that much. That's the attitude which is steadily gaining the upper hand throughout the Umma.

Such a totalitarian and ineradicable feature of Islamic militancy is the polar opposite of the ideology that now dominates the Western world: secularism. The core principle of secularism is not the separation of church and state as institutions; most of us believers in the West agree that such separation is good for both. I for one am glad that the papacy no longer has temporal authority and that I live in a country whose constitution ensures religious freedom. For when religion is not adopted freely, according to individual conscience, it is to that extent an obstacle to human flourishing; and that's why people brought up in any given religion ought to think critically about it if and when they can, so that they can make their choice in an informed and adult way, consistently with their God-given dignity. But I object profoundly to secularism.

(Read it all, link is above)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"I found myself reading the Gospel of John..."

Another conversion story, wonderful and powerful. Please read it all. As I have noted before, the Gospels are convincing in and of themselves:

Then September 11, 2001, happened. As the towers collapsed, the last bit of respect I felt for Islam collapsed as well. This catapulted me into an all-out search for Truth.

I was laid off from a very good job as the result of the economic fallout of 9-11. As I was online every day searching for jobs, “for some reason” I frequently landed in Christian chatrooms. One day I even found the Bible in Arabic online.

One late wintry night I found myself reading the gospel of John. I never trusted the Bible, and I was taught my whole life that the Bible is corrupt and has been changed. As I started to read I was astonished. As I began reading about Jesus and his beautiful, pure, sinless, holy, amazing, miraculous life I couldn’t stop. I remember reading the whole Gospel from start to finish. I remember that it was early in the morning when I finished reading. I remember that I began to cry so much that I was worried that I might wakeup my wife and I didn’t want her to see me crying so that she won’t ask me why. A few days later, I logged on to my computer and “for some reason” looked for Arabic churches in the area. I then called one and the voice on the other end of the line told me that his dad was the pastor, but he had passed away. He gave me another number to call—a man named Farooq. This man is my current pastor and the person the Lord chose to lead me to himself. We discussed deep issues like Muhammad’s personality, lifestyle, his many marriages and his many wars. Farooq gave me a book he wrote that compares Islam with Christianity, complete with references from the Koran and the Bible.

As I began reading Farooq’s book, I was both shocked and fascinated. I looked up the Biblical and Koranic references—all of which were actually there—and couldn’t believe my eyes! I realized I had been deceived all my life! The main issue that grabbed my attention was the completely different way the two religions treat women.

I can’t pinpoint the exact day on which Farooq led me in a prayer accepting the Lord in my life as my personal Lord and Savior, but it was sometime in early 2002. I do remember the exact day I was baptized. It was the most incredible and scary day of my life! And I have changed so much since I accepted Christ.

Persecution and Perseverance in India

India's Supreme Court heard a case July 19 about whether Dalits may continue to benefit from affirmative action if they convert to Christianity. Currently, only Hindus and converts to Buddhism and Sikhism can benefit. Although a preliminary report for the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities favored reservation benefits for Dalits regardless of religion, the federal government has done nothing to implement its recommendations. The court, instead of deciding the case, referred the issue to the government, giving it eight weeks to decide whether to implement the report's recommendations.
The Supreme Court's deferral was a disappointment to the Dalit Christian community, said Sam Pal, national secretary for public affairs of the All-India Christian Council. "We have big apprehensions that justice won't be done," he said. "In February, the leader of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes was on record saying that they do not want these benefits to be extended to the Dalit Christians."

From Here

I believe that the future of the faith is largely in the hands of Indian and Chinese Christians. Both countries have very large Muslim populations, btw.

Christ died to save individuals?

Or did he die to redeem a community, which is formed of individuals? This is all linked to the question about the "invisible church" theory which I love to post about, especially since I don't know the answer to the riddle. Here is more from the AoG theologian who thinks and talks like a Catholic but is not. (You know, people have told me I think and talk like a Catholic, can you believe it?!?). All from Here:

Why should evangelicals care about something as arcane as the ontology of the church?

Evangelicals traditionally have been noted for their concern for the ontology of the person. They preach the gospel with the view to getting the individual transformed or "born again." Persons are spiritual entities who, because of sin, need to experience the miracle of conversion. Unfortunately, they have not extended this understanding to the church. They fail to see that conversion is not about transforming the individual, per se, but is incorporation into a spiritual reality—the Body of Christ. Another way of putting it is to say that the church is more than the sum of the individual members—precisely because of her relation to Christ and the presence of the Spirit. Evangelicals' failure to understand this fact has led to their seeing the church as essentially a collectivity of our own making. Church is only a practical way of organizing individual Christians for effective ministry.

Certain consequences follow from such a view of the church. For example, evangelistic outreach to and formation of individuals becomes the paramount concern of the church. But if the church herself is more than an entity of our own making, then different consequences follow. The church will still be concerned about outreach and formation of people, but the overarching reason for being will be defined by her relationship to God. Her response to the revelation of God in worship becomes paramount.

Angelic visit to a Former Muslim

Please read the whole thing, Mere Christianity was part of his conversion, of all things! Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, the gift that keeps on giving. Here is one particularly wonderful part, after he has left Islam for atheism, and before he has embraced Christianity:

Now I am stuck, talking to my self, I know that there’s a God but why He does not reveal Himself to me, I was talking to God saying that I can not be an atheist I know you are there in Quran you said that you are closer to us than the vain cord but I can not feel your presence.

I remember I was crying and praying for God to straight me up and show me himself, but he was not there to answer.

Again at work I got so angry and just left, it was cold and snowing, 17inches are on the ground already, with very fast wind, I realized that in my anger I left my coat at work, but also I was not to go back and pick it up, my pride wont let me do that, I started to feel the cold I no longer able to feel my toes, my nose running, my eyes tearing and my ears hurt so bad .all of a sudden a black pick up truck stops and a big guy red hair red beard in it and he told me to hop in, and I did.

I do not remember if I fell asleep or not but the guy in the truck tapped my shoulders and told me here’s your apartment, I thanked him and wanted to offer him money for the ride, he refused and told me that it is between him and Jesus, and he told me that Jesus loves you, with a mocking laugh I answered yeah I love him too. Then I remembered that I left my keys in the coat at work and I am quite sure that I have locked the door. The guy in the truck then told me open it do not be afraid, I was disturbed by this word, why would I be afraid? It is my apartment, any way, not wanting to look stupid I wiggled the doorknob, and the door opened. I turned around to thank him again but I could not find the truck, so I looked and noticed that there was no grooves in the snow and no tire prints also I went to the street and there was no cars what so ever and I remembered that I did not hear the sound of the engine, I also remembered that I never told him where I lived! I was freaked out and I got inside the apartment made sure to lock the door behind me, I was so scared, and decided to keep it to my self, I thought that there’s no good in telling any body that I am losing my mind.

It was time for my Tuesday meeting with my Christian friends and they called at work to confirm the time but they told them that I left work and did not come back. They called me at home but I did not answer the phone, they were very worried about me .no body ever cared for me before except my family, they came knocking on my door but I did not open. They forced the door open and I can see on their faces the concerns and the questions.

"Ability to Adapt": Mission and History

From and interview with Assemblies of God theologian Simon Chan:

If liturgical worship is such a good preparation for mission, why are Pentecostalism and evangelicalism, which hardly follow the ancient structure of worship, growing so fast?

In the modern age, the free churches are evangelistically successful, but in the broader history of mission that hasn't always been true. Europe was evangelized in the early centuries by missionaries who were certainly not free-church evangelicals. And think of the spread of the Orthodox Church from Russia to northern Africa.

In Singapore, we keep very close statistics about the growth of the Assemblies of God, which is currently the second-largest Protestant denomination in the country. We are good at evangelizing, bringing people in, but we have also noticed that many of those people that we have brought into our churches would over time go to more traditional churches and seeker-friendly megachurches. Our net growth isn't really that much, but in terms of bringing people in, yes, we have significant numbers of people being brought into the church for the first time. It may be that in God's providence he is using free churches, Pentecostals, and charismatics to reach out to the world, but I still believe that his aim is to embrace them all within the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Surely part of Pentecostalism's success is its ability to adapt rapidly in a technological culture.

Pentecostals are definitely very adaptable. They are quick to seize upon new opportunities for the sake of the gospel. They make use of the technologies of the times. There is a certain habit of mind that enables them to readily leave behind things that don't work and to move on to things that they think will work. Whereas the liturgy creates a different habit of mind, a habit of stability. This has its strengths and weaknesses, just as the Pentecostal mindset has its strengths and weaknesses. But in my view, in the modern world especially, the danger of a short memory far outweighs the danger of not being willing to change.

Many people would say the opposite: For the church to succeed in its mission, it needs to be ready to change.

But is that true in the long run? Coming from a Pentecostal background, I'm more sensitive to the dangers that a church is exposed to when it forgets its history.

From Here

Good news for Religious freedom in KSA?

Probably a very small step, but hopefully in the right direction. From SaudiJeans:

So the government have cautioned the the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. “The Ministry of Interior has instructed commission members to strictly abide by the law and hand suspects immediately over to the custody of police,” Arab News reported today.

The statement comes after a July 1 royal directive stating that commission field members must abide by a 1982 order that they have no authority to detain or process suspects. How come this order has been ignored for this long time is beyond my comprehension, but it is obvious that the Commission and those who support them are finally feeling the heat. They should. Unfortunately, it has taken the death of two innocent men for such thing to happen.

I should say, however, that such statement does not necessarily mean that members of the Commission will abide. I mean it has been there since 1982, right? What happens when you put a low and then don’t enforce it is that people start to ignore it and then simply lose their respect to the law afterwards.

Will They Abide?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"It's all quite embarrassing"

There is something beautiful in seeing Christian humility that is genuine. It reminds me of what TS Eliot said, "Humility is endless."

Mike Liccione, upon being asked, Why do you love Jesus? prefaced his answer (which you can read at his blog) like this:

I confess to some reluctance. For one thing, the theme reminds me that I am a sinner, which I am already reminded of rather more than I care to be. Thus, not only do I not love Jesus as much as he loves me, which is a given and inevitable; I don't even love myself as much as he loves me. In fact, I sometimes find myself questioning his judgment for loving me as much as he does; he's a fool for me, with a wisdom greater than I can fathom, let alone muster; and so the truth that I ought to love myself more—or at least more genuinely—than I do is an obligation I need him to help me meet. Then there's the all-too-evident fact that I don't love others as I ought, largely because I don't love him as I ought. It's all quite embarrassing, really.

"Deport all Muslims..."

Wow, but check out the source--he's a Muslim in the USA. Thanks to MEMRI. These are strange days indeed:

Khudayr Taher: Europe and America Should Deport All Muslims - Including Myself

Khudayr Taher, an Iraqi Shi'ite writer living in the U.S. and a regular contributor to the liberal Elaph website, had a quite illiberal suggestion - he asked why Europe and America shouldn't deport their Muslim populations. He wrote:

"Countries have the right to defend themselves and assure their citizens' safety from terrorism. Likewise, it is clear that the source of the terrorist crimes in Europe and America is the Muslims who live in these countries.

"The security services cannot know people's intentions and sort out who is the noble immigrant and who is a terrorist criminal. [But] wherever there are Muslims, their presence has produced crimes of terrorism and murder.

"Among those Muslims in Europe and America who do not practice terrorism, most of them do not have loyalty and sincere attachment to these countries that have offered them all of the means of life in dignity - housing, studies, work, and citizenship…

"The legitimate question is this: Since the security services cannot sort out the good immigrant from the bad terrorist… why don't these countries deport all Muslims, of all races, from Europe and America, and [thus] find rest from the danger of terrorism, and protect their peoples?

"I, as an Arab Muslim immigrant, sincerely call on the countries of Europe and America to deport all Muslims from their territories - including myself, despite my love and my sincere attachment to the U.S…"

Eastern Orthodoxy (Part I)

Have found a wonderful article by the talented writer Frederica Mathewes-Green about Orthodoxy,
and she answers questions about that tradition of Christianity. It is,
of course, here in the Middle East, the main church. Numerically theRussian
Orthodox Church is one of the largest in the world. The Orthodox sent
early missionaries to America (Alaska) and were somewhat successful in
converting the indigenous tribes there. So Orthodoxy, while we often
think of it as being Eastern, also has a long presence in the West.

this blog is about Islam and Christianity, and Orthodoxy has been
through good times and bad the Christians living with the Muslims, I
think it is important to learn about it. I will be posting sections
from her article in the coming weeks, though you are welcome to simply
read it all href="http://www.directionstoorthodoxy.org/mod/news/view.php?article_id=667">here.
The topic is ostensibly the emerging church, a genuinely uninteresting
movement to me, and I think her verdict on it is right on: it's a fad.
An interesting one, but a fad. But there is much in here that is just a
good summary of what Orthodoxy is and is not:

1.) Can you offer some insight about how the Orthodox Church understands
evangelism? Do you feel that, overall, that it is considered a priority
when compared with Protestant Evangelicalism?

The Orthodox Church has a beautiful history of evangelism -- but, unfortunately, it
is largely history. A factor we tend to forget, which has made the path
of Eastern Christianity so different from that of the West, is that for
the most part they have not been free. Many Orthodox lands have been
under Muslim rule for over a millennium, virtually since Islam began.
(Was it Chesterton who said, don't ridicule the Balkans for being so
bellicose; if they hadn't fought Islam to a standstill, we'd be
fighting the same battles in Paris.) Russia and the Slavic countries,
on the other hand, just emerged from nearly a century of Communism--20
million Orthodox died for their faith, including hundreds of thousands
of pastors.

Orthodox who immigrated to the US think of themselves as outsiders for a long time. You see a bit of this in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," where the child Toula compares herself unfavorably with the slim, blonde girls in her school. Orthodox for the most part are not European, their languages don't use the Roman alphabet, and they eat very different foods, so they are inclined to cling to each other. (The branch of
Orthodoxy my family joined is Arabic, which must bear an extra degree
of ethnic prejudice.) Setting out to evangelize their neighbors just
wouldn't occur to them.

(An aside on that: all Orthodox Churches
teach the same faith, and apart from spats here and there, are in
communion with each other; even the ancient split between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches has been bridged. So we could say that today's Greek, Indian, Ukrainian, Ethiopian, Russian, etc Orthodox are akin to the Italian,
French, German Catholic churches a century ago. The work is underway to
make a united American Orthodox Church of the array currently still
identified by immigrant background. But there is this difference from 19th
Roman Catholic churches, however: in Orthodoxy there has never been an
expectation that the churches need a single earthly ruler,ie , a pope.
Orthodoxy is organized at the level of "people, tribe, tongue, and
nation," and that is felt to be just about right. Unity comes from
common belief instead of external organization--anendoskeleton rather
than an exoskeleton. Rome and western Europe were part of this
arrangement until roughly a thousand years ago, when papal claims torulership could no longer be ignored.)

There is an American organization to support missions at home and abroad, the
Orthodox Christian Mission Center, as well as a relief organization,
the International Orthodox Christian Charities. Both great
organizations, but certainly not as developed as Protestant and
Catholic missionary & relief efforts.
The historic pattern or style of evangelism is interesting, however, compared with the West. While Rome decided to do everything in Latin, in order to guarantee
uniformity, in the East the emphasis was on making the faith
understandable. So the Scriptures and liturgies were always translated
into the vernacular, and where there was no written language,
missionaries would devise one. In the 4th century, St Mesrops Mashtots
developed a language for the Armenians, and (I love this) he based it
on the decorations he saw on their homes and around their windows; he
wanted to give them an alphabet that they would find beautiful. In the 9th century, Ss Cyril and Methodius developed an alphabet for the Slavs, and in the 19th
century, Russian missionaries who crossed the Bering Strait to
evangelize the peoples of Alaska ended up devising alphabets for 6
different dialects. Orthodox missionizing prefers to retain and honor elements of native culture as far as possible, which in Alaska, eg
, included retaining totem poles. The book "Orthodox Alaska" by Fr. Michael Oleksa does a good job of using the Alaska mission as a template to explore what Orthodox evangelism is like.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox?!?!

Yes, there are two families of Eastern Churches: Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. And what is the difference? Pretty straightforward: the Eastern Orthodox, like the Catholic and Reformed churches, accepts the Definition of Chalcedon.

Ah, so that doeesn't help much? Well the Definition of Chalcedon, promulgated in 451, stipulates not so much the explanation, but the mystery of the incarnation: That Jesus Christ is at once fully God and fully man. Not a mixture of the two, nor did his divinity consume his humanity. He was both at the same time. 100% human. 100% divine. Wrap your mind around that. But some churches did not accept it, those are what we call the Oriental Orthodox churches. The largest of which are three:

Aremnian Apostolic Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Coptic Orthodox Church

They are each based in their respective countries (Copts in Egypt of course). So here is a statement of "unity of faith" betweeen two of those three churches (though there are other such churches).

Before leaving for the mission field I recall well visiting a Coptic church in my home city. Now I would feel much at home, having been familiarized with that form of worship. But then it was very...different.

In any case, here is the definition of Chalcedon, from a Reformed website no less. We must not forget that this is a profoundly Reformed text, while at the same time being Catholic and Orthodox:

Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D)

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.


And finally, here is part of the text of accordance between the two Oriental Orthodox Churches:

We rejoice with the heartening developments in the lives of these historic Oriental Orthodox Churches, deeply rooted since the beginning of Christian history among the people of Africa. Their theological, spiritual and liturgical heritage, as well as their centuries-long witness to the Gospel, constitute a valuable source of inspiration for many other member churches of the WCC fellowship.

We rejoice with this promising news that extends far beyond bilateral relations by confirming that true reconciliation among churches is possible. We are grateful to each of you, the heads of churches, for the tangible witness you have offered in dealing successfully with church-dividing matters.

We recognize that all the protagonists in this process of healing and reconciliation are well known to the WCC fellowship of member churches as outstanding ecumenical leaders. His Holiness Pope Shenouda III served as one of the presidents of the WCC from 1991–1998. His Holiness Abune Paulos currently serves as one of the presidents of the WCC, having been elected in 2006. His Holiness Catholicos Aram I served as the moderator of the WCC Central Committee for two terms from 1991 – 2006. We congratulate you and offer our thanks to God for this historic achievement.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thinking about Seminary?

I'm not sure if you have thought about going to seminary. SSome people do it just to learn more about the Bible, theology, church history, or what have you. Some people do it as part of their church community, with the goal of discerning together if he should be ordained as a deacon, and perhaps later a priest/presbyter, and maybe even (Subhaan Allah) a bishop.

Here's a great post from a new blog by an anonymous seminarian. He happens to be Anglican (like your truly--though I did not attend an Anglican seminary), but I think his observations will hold ttrue for folks from most any tradition--Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, maybe even to a certain degree Catholic?

From Anglican Student US:

The more interesting dynamic in the class is the young, straight-out-of-college seminarians versus the older, already-been-in-ministry seminarians and the oldest, this-is-my-second-career seminarians. Let me tell you about how this breaks down:

1. I am in the second, middle group, and I am very motivated for seminary and scholastic pursuits but as a veteran minister I am also even more aware of the spiritual needs and personalities that are interacting in the room.
2. The oldest group seems to be motivated by "Just let me pass and get out of here." They want to "move-on!" They are only interested in the seminary courses which will help them in "real ministry" and biblical languages (though theoretically important) don't scratch where they are itching.
3. The youngest seem to be almost ONLY concerned with scholastic work. Maybe this is because they need the good grades to show what they can do in order to move into a job. Maybe since they don't have experience they need to show good grades. But I think it's more than that. The young guys (and they are all men) seem drawn to a kind of intellectual faith. It's almost as if conservative Christianity is truth because it's reasonable and therefore pursuing more academics is a kind of discipleship and pursuit of God. That, it seems to me, makes a fair amount of sense, and I have even heard dear "Uncle John" Stott say something similar; however, I fear, this is putting these guys in the best possible light. Something more...competitive seems to be at play.
* They are mastering every single minute aspect of the language to secure themselves in a air-tight bubble of academic mastery. I say this because their interpersonal skills are very odd. Cocky. Dismissive. And when caught in a mistake in class, they are defensive --almost never admitting they were wrong.
* And maybe this is judgmental but they are also the ones who never come to chapel in the mornings. They seem almost bored by spirituality and by other people.

Is London the new Kabul?

From What's Up in Jordan?

(Abu Daoud: An excellent Jordanian blog!)

Years back, security experts and ordinary people were worried about the return of young mujahideen from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under US watch and patronage, Osama Bin Laden and many other young Arab and Muslim youth were indoctrinated and trained to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan, using heavy doses of religious dogma to increase their zeal.

After paying dearly for this short sighted policy on September 11, 2001, the US was supposed to have learnt its lesson. However, their close allies, the British, continued to try to exploit and appease Islamic extremists, even after a group of them bombed the London subway system on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people. London continues to be the home for the most extreme religious fanatics, operating in total freedom.

So, when a brilliant young doctor and his wife left Jordan two years ago, it might not have been too far fetched that he may become a target for the preachers of hate and violence who call London home (as suggested by Firas). The man and wife had clean security records, and were focused on academic and professional achievement rather than mischief. It has not been established yet in court whether they were really involved in the terror plots or to what extent. However, they do seem to have been mixing with a bad crowd.

Personally, I take little stock in the propaganda that tries to blame such conversions to fanaticism on the freedom which is enjoyed in the west. The descendants of the British Empire on which the sun never set can not be so impotent when dealing with a few loud mouthed welfare abusing fanatics. The country that did not hesitate to destroy Iraq and throw it’s population into massive turmoil in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced can not be so sensitive to the supposed civil rights of a few trouble makers who can be dealt with in a legal and civilized manner. The government that railroaded Abdelbaset Megrahi for the sole purpose of extorting the Libyan government is not so sensitive to due process or justice. The “freedom” argument for such blatant harboring of inciters of terror rings quite hollow.

It is not difficult to conclude that British authorities harbor and tolerate these people because they serve a purpose. I might add that this purpose is not benign. The end result is that terror emanating from the preachers of hate serves to marginalize the Muslim community in Britain, and fosters xenophobia with the British public. Abroad, this tolerance legitimizes extremism, and is a source of pressure on Arab and Muslim countries to act in a similar way with their own extremists. Only a lunatic or a traitor would try to emulate this behavior.

So, while we are worried about fanatics returning from Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan, it might be worth while to remember that Britain is the only country that offers preachers of death residency, welfare and legal protection.


Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad

Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad
By Walid Phares

In the years that followed 9/11, two phenomena characterized the Western public's understanding of the terrorists' ideology. The first characteristic stemmed from the statements made by the jihadists themselves. More than ever, Islamist militants and jihadi cadres didn't waste any opportunity to declare, clarify, explain, and detail the meaning of their aqida (doctrine) and their intentions to apply Jihadism by all means possible. Unfortunately for them, though, those extremely violent means changed the international public opinion: the public now was convinced that there was an ideology of Jihadism, and that its adherents meant business worldwide.

From Ayman al Zawahiri in Arabic to Azzam al Amriki in American English, via all of the videotapes made by "martyrs" in Britain, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the public obtained all the evidence necessary. Against all the faulty academic literature of the 1990's, the statements by the jihadists themselves were very convincing.

The second phenomenon of help to the public was the surfacing of a new literature produced by alternative scholars, analysts, journalists, experts, and researchers who, from different backgrounds and countries, filled in some of the gaps is "jihadi studies." Producing books, articles, and blogs from Europe, India, the Middle East, and North America, a combination of Third World-born and Western-issued scholarship began to provide the "missing link" as to what Jihadism is all about. These factors came together to shift the debate from "Jihad is spiritual yoga" to "Why didn't we know it was something else as well?" And this triggered in response one of the last attempts to prevent jihad from being understood.

In the 1990's, apologist literature attempted to convince readers and audiences in the West that jihad was a "spiritual experience only, and not a menace." [1] That explanation has now been shattered by Bin Laden and Ahmedinijad. So in the post-9/11 age, a second strategy to delay public understanding of Jihadism and thereby gain time for its adherents to achieve their goals has evolved. It might be called the "good cop, bad cop" strategy. Over the past few years, a new story began to make inroads in Washington and the rest of the national defense apparatus. A group of academics and interest groups are circulating the idea that in reality jihad can develop in two forms: good jihad and bad jihad.

Read More »

The practice of not using "Jihad" and "Jihadism" was lately defended by two academics at the National Defense University [2] who based their arguments on a study published by a Washington lobbyist, Jim Guirard.[3] On June 22, 2006, Jim Garamone, writing for the American Forces Press Service, published the study of Douglas Streusand and Harry Tunnel under the title "Loosly Interpreted Arabic terms can promote enemy ideology." Streusand told CNN that "Jihad is a term of great and positive import in Islam. It is commonly defined as striving or struggle, and can mean an internal or external struggle for faith." [4]

The article was posted under the title "Cultural Ignorance Leads to Misuse of Islamic Terms" by the US-based Islamist organization CAIR. [5] Since then the "concept" of deflecting attention away from the study of Jihadism has penetrated large segments of the defense newsletters and is omnipresent in Academia. More troubling though, is the fact that scholars who have seen the strategic threat of al Qaeda and Hezbollah have unfortunately fallen for the fallacy of the Hiraba. Professor Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics in Washington wrote recently that "Jihad has been hijacked" as he bases his argument on Jim Guirard's lobbying pieces.[6] Satisfied with this trend taking root in the Defense intelligentsia of America, Islamist intellectuals and activists are hurrying to support this new tactic.

The good holy war is when the right religious and political authorities declare it against the correct enemy and at the right time. The bad jihad, called also Hiraba, is the wrong war, declared by bad (and irresponsible) people against the wrong enemy (for the moment), and without an appropriate authorization by the "real" Muslim leadership. According to this thesis, those Muslims who wage a Hiraba, a wrong war, are called Mufsidoon, from the Arabic word for "spoilers." The advocates of this ruse recommend that the United States and its allies stop calling the jihadists by that name and identifying the concept of Jihadism as the problem. In short, they argue that "jihad is good, but the Mufsidoon, the bad guys and the terrorists, spoiled the original legitimate sense."[7]

Islamdom Rising in UK

Abu Daoud: And you thought terrorism was not working, but it is! The more Islamic terror in the UK, the more the government goes out of its way to destroy itself and its great educational traditions to pacify a group that is so violent that even when everyone is Muslim (Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen) violence only grows even further. Pathetic leadership in the UK.

But aside from the rant, Islamic education is very weak. No more will people be able to wonder...'Hmmm, that Muhammad guy having sex with a nine-year old girl--maybe that was, like, bad.' Haram! I don't even want to get started. Suffice to say there is no place for criticism or analysis in Islamic education. Creativity and critical thoughts are simply not values within the culture.

Report on the Teaching of Islam in Universities
Barnabas Fund

A recent government report on how Islam is taught in British universities signals another step towards the Islamisation of Britain and its education system. It was launched by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, at the opening of the “Islam and Muslims in the World Today” conference sponsored by Cambridge University on 4 June 2007. Should this report be implemented, education will be handed over more and more to Muslims who will train and shape the next generation. This means a further move towards the establishment of Islam in the UK as a religion of state.

(Full report from www.isic-centre.org)
Source article [Link]

The report was initiated by Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning in the Department for Education and Skills, DfES. Rammell appointed Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, Senior Research Fellow at the Islamic Foundation, Leicester and Director of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education linked to it, to write the report.

It is well known that the Islamic Foundation is an Islamist institute founded by high ranking members of the Pakistani Islamist party, Jama’at-i Islami. However, in answer to questions in the House of Commons about possible links between Ataullah Siddiqui and Jama‘at-i-Islami, Rammell stated that “Dr Siddiqui has assured me categorically that he has no links to the Jamaat-e-Islami Party.” He also stated that neither the Islamic Foundation nor Markfield had any organizational links to Jama‘at-i-Islami. This reveals that Rammell does not understand how Islamists use dissimulation (taqiyya) to hide their real goals while claiming to be moderate and liberal.

Some of the report’s recommendations:

1. Universities should employ Muslim scholars to teach Islamic theology: “Students should be given the opportunity to learn from competent traditionally trained Islamic scholars in at least those parts of the syllabus that directly inform everyday practice of Islam.”

2. All universities must employ Muslim chaplains or advisers to deal with the growing number of Muslim students on campus. More prayer rooms for Muslims should be provided.

3. Islamic Student Societies should be better recognised and encouraged.

4. Universities should cooperate with Islamic schools (madrassas) and colleges (dar al-ulum) to break down the divisions between British society and the Muslim community. Universities should help madrassas and dar al-ulum because they play a key role in Muslim communities and in the training of future community leaders. They need a formal link to higher education qualifications.

5. Islamic studies should be linked to job opportunities such as teaching, chaplaincy and Islamic banking.

6. Universities should provide add-on modules in Islamic studies for all students.

7. Guidance should be given to all universities on Friday prayers, Ramadan and halal food. All university staff should receive awareness training on Muslims and Islam.

An analysis of these recommendations reveals that the report is in fact asking for a privileged position for Islam in the universities. It would seem to aim at transforming Islamic studies in Britain into a Muslim monopoly, a Muslim enclave in which the vast majority of staff and students are Muslim. It is implied that non-Muslim scholars cannot teach Islam because they do not unquestioningly accept its basic premises regarding the revelatory nature and divine authority of Qur‘an and hadith. Should these premises be accepted, the teaching faculty would be limited to traditional Muslim and Islamist lecturers. It is most likely that censorship would develop, affecting choice of staff, teaching methods and acceptable subjects for research and publication.

Islamists have long argued for an Islamisation of all Western academic studies by the introduction of basic Islamic concepts into all branches of knowledge. The aim is to expand Islamic domination into all spheres. The whole system of Western academic education must, say the Islamists, be recast and remoulded on Islamic lines as it is tainted by Christian and pagan influences.

The strengthening of Islamic student societies furthers this aim of Islamisation. Islamic student societies tend to follow radical Islamist and Wahhabi ideology. They usually take strongly anti-Western and pro-Islamist stands on most issues, including anti-Semitic views that regard all Jews as enemies of Islam. Many Muslim students are radicalised during their student years by these societies.

Implementing these recommendations, as the British government has promised to do, would be likely to narrow the scope of university Islamic studies and make them more intolerant and radical. Academic freedom of expression would become limited. Once fully Islamised, there would be little scope for free questioning, doubt and argument, the keys to real advances in knowledge. Muhammad and the Qur’an would be out of bounds as far as questioning their authority and historical development is concerned. This would be an alarming departure from established academic principles of disinterested inquiry. British institutions will come to resemble the Islamic universities in the Muslim world. These are described by Shabbir Akhtar, a well known British Muslim academic and author, who taught for three years at the International Islamic University of Malaysia. As a result of his experiences there, he is now opposed to Islam as a political ideology. The attitude of the Malaysian university authorities was that the West is opposed to Islam and that true Muslims have nothing to learn from Western academic scholarship since God has already revealed the whole truth in Islam. Akhtar experienced how, in Islamic universities, students and faculty alike are focused very much on defending Islam against Western Christian and secular liberal paradigms. He found they had little awareness of history and they unquestioningly accepted all Islamic theological dogma and claims.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Polycarp: Saint, Bishop, Martyr

He lived during the most formative era of the church, at the end of the age of the original apostles, when the church was making the critical transition to the second generation of believers. Tradition has it that he was personally discipled by the apostle John and that he was appointed as bishop of Smyrna (in modern Izmir in Turkey) by some of the original apostles.

48 Council of Jerusalem
57 Paul's Letter To The Romans
65 Peter and Paul Executed
69 Polycarp born
156 Polycarp dies
168 Martyrdom of Justin Martyr

In his later years, he tried to settle disputes about the date to celebrate Easter, and he confronted one of the church's most troublesome heretics, the Gnostic Marcion, calling him "the first born of Satan," when he ran into him in Rome. Polycarp was also responsible for converting many from Gnosticism. His only existing writing, a pastoral letter to the church at Philippi, shows he had little formal education, and was unpretentious, humble, and direct.

Such traits are especially evident in the account of his martyrdom, which was written within a year of his death. It is not clear exactly why he was suddenly, at age 86, subject to arrest, but when he heard Roman officials were intent on arresting him, he decided to wait for them at home. Panic-stricken friends pleaded with him to flee, so to calm them, he finally agreed to withdraw to a small estate outside of town. But while in prayer there, he received some sort of vision. Whatever he saw or heard, we don't know. He simply reported to his friends that he now understood, "I must be burned alive."

Roman soldiers eventually discovered Polycarp's whereabouts and came to his door. When his friends urged him to run, Polycarp replied, "God's will be done," and he let the soldiers in.

He was escorted to the local proconsul, Statius Quadratus, who interrogated him in front of a crowd of curious onlookers. Polycarp seemed unfazed by the interrogation; he carried on a witty dialogue with Quadratus until Quadratus lost his temper and threatened Polycarp: he'd be thrown to wild beasts, he'd be burned at the stake, and so on. Polycarp just told Quadratus that while the proconsul's fire lasts but a little while, the fires of judgment ("reserved for the ungodly," he slyly added) cannot be quenched. Polycarp concluded, "But why do you delay? Come, do what you will."

Soldiers then grabbed him to nail him to a stake, but Polycarp stopped them: "Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails." He prayed aloud, the fire was lit, and his flesh was consumed. The chronicler of this martyrdom said it was "not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace."

Read it all at Christian History