Talk With the World, Not Just About It: Reflections on the Global Faith Forum (by Joel Rainey)

by Guest Blogger on November 19, 2013 · 63 comments

Joel Rainey is the Director of Missions at Mid-Maryland Baptist Association, an adjunct professor at Capital Bible Seminary and blogs at Themelios (Twitter - @joelrainey). This post was originally published at his site.

Greetings from 30,000 feet!  I’m writing while on my way back from the Global Faith Forum at Northwood Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where I just enjoyed an amazing weekend with many, many world-class leaders.

I’m grateful to Bob Roberts, who has been a friend of several years, but also a great coach to me over the past two years as I have tried to lead our network of churches in engaging the Muslim community in our area.  It all started just over two years ago, when a Maryland state legislator who attends one of our churches called me, and asked if I would be willing to meet with members of the Turkish Muslim community.  At the time, my state and a province in the Republic of Turkey were working on a “sister state” agreement, and this lawmaker asked me to participate in conversations that would alleviate misconceptions that, at that time, Turkish Muslims and evangelical Christians had about each other.  At this point, the sum total of my knowledge about Islam came from two weeks of a 16 week religion course I took in seminary back in the 1990s, which is to say that I knew nothing of substance about Islam–at least nothing beyond the core beliefs of their faith!

This is when I called Bob, and for the past 24 months, God has taken me and a few of our pastors on a roller coaster ride in this new and still-emerging relationship.  I’m still a conservative, evangelical who believes the Bible is the final written revelation of God Himself.  I still believe everything about Jesus, heaven, hell, redemption, atonement, resurrection, and the second coming that I did when I started on this journey.  But if I’ve learned anything over the past 2 years, it is that the way we engage the world needs to radically change if we want that story to get a hearing, and if we want to make the kind of impact on the world that Jesus expects.  Global Faith Forum is one of a few models for how I think this conversation needs to take place.

Bob has created a healthy environment in which strong convictions can continue to be held and openly shared, but also in which friendships among those of the world’s religions are not contingent on whether they become like us.  In this environment, serious conversations that affect  the world can take place with the trust necessary to work together, and move forward toward a better world.  Once you have been honest about your differences regarding eternity, talking through issues related to this present world don’t seem so tough.  The first panel discussion compared and contrasted Jewish, Islamic, and Christian views of just warfare.  The second focused on the various understandings of the role of women in each of these faith traditions–and those discussions were led by women on the platform!  Yep, Christians, Jews and Muslims had an open, public, honest conversation about warfare and women, and no one became enemies!  Subsequent issues were equally intriguing and challenging.  Leaders in business, medicine, education, and government were present, and were equipped to better understand the world and how to make a positive impact.

With Ayatollah Ahmad Iravani, who teaches Islamic Studies at
Catholic University, Washington, D.C.

Various professionals in communications, including Christianity Today Editor Mark Gali, spoke on the importance of messaging in today’s world, and last night, the topic of reconciliation touched on ways that our various faith communities can play a critical role in helping to alleviate conflict around the world.  Prior to that meeting, I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with Ayatollah Ahmad Iravani.  With a short window now open for the United States and Iran to ease the tensions that have existed between our countries for more than 60 years, this Baptist preacher was very interested in what an Iranian-born, Ayatollah who is now an American citizen would want to say to Christians in the U.S.  Be patient, I’ll let you know what he said in a subsequent post!

This morning, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion on using faith in community engagement, and it was great to hear Andy Braner, Suhail Khan and others share stories of how they are using their professions to bring reconciliation in their spheres of influence.

So why would a Baptist pastor responsible to mobilize 60 Baltimore-Washington area churches for Christian missionary work travel to Texas with Christians and Muslims from my area to a meeting like this?

1. Incarnation.  Jesus not only told we who claim to be His followers what to do.  He also modeled how to do it, and post-resurrection tells His disciples in John 20 “As the Father has sent me, so also do I send you.”  A simple glance at the life, message, work, and methods of Jesus reveals the way in which we should engage our world.  Jesus didn’t remain on the precipice of heaven and preach a sermon.  He incarnated Himself among us, walked in our world with us, broke a number of rules of social propriety in order to reach us, and went to those everyone else was either afraid of, or thought were unworthy of redemption (and they were, but so are we!)  My friends in other faiths will tell you that I’m not shy about sharing Jesus, and expressing my desire that they know Him as I do.  But they don’t need me to just preach a sermon.  They need to see the Gospel incarnated.  They need to see me doing what Jesus commands, in the way that He commands it.

2. Trust. Whether it is two diplomats seeking to stave off an international disaster, or a community with various factions that need to understand each other, trust is the first and most important thing you need, and you can’t have trust without relationship.  Many of my Turkish Muslim friends are men with whom I would trust my wife, my children, and my bank accounts, and I think they would tell you the same thing about me.  I genuinely love these men, and trust them.  It has taken time to build that trust.  No, you can’t build it in two days at a conference in Texas, but you can certainly get started developing the kinds of relationships necessary to watch it grow.

3. Peace.  I’ll be honest.  When I watch the way some followers of Jesus so quickly and willingly beat the drums of war, it would make me think Paul had never penned the 12th chapter of Romans.  “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12: 18).  I’m not a pacifist.  I do believe there is evil in the world that at times requires the use of lethal force.  But I’m equally convinced that we in the Christianized west have so twisted just war theory that Augustine would not recognize it if he were alive today.  I don’t believe my Muslim friends and I are currently on our way to heaven together.  But God has placed us on the earth together, and commanded that those who claim to follow Jesus do everything within our power to live in peace.  How can we do that if we aren’t even willing to know our neighbors?

We need more venues like the Global Faith Forum, and I’m thankful for a guy like Bob who will stick his neck out in the middle of the Bible Belt in order to start these conversations.  Stay tuned, because our churches are working to bring a similar event to the Baltimore-Washington area next fall!

1 Chris Johnson November 19, 2013 at 9:12 am

Joel,

“Jesus didn’t remain on the precipice of heaven and preach a sermon.”
Wow, and I am so very thankful he did more than that….what you have written here is so very true, and thanks for sharing this with us…. Jesus perfectly demonstrated genuine love and gives us every opportunity to do the same.

Blessings,
Chris

2 Ken Hamrick November 19, 2013 at 11:24 am

Some things here don’t sit well with me.

But if I’ve learned anything over the past 2 years, it is that the way we engage the world needs to radically change if we want that story to get a hearing, and if we want to make the kind of impact on the world that Jesus expects.

Jesus does not expect us to achieve any particular kind of impact—He expects us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, but God is responsible for the impact.

Bob has created a healthy environment in which strong convictions can continue to be held and openly shared, but also in which friendships among those of the world’s religions are not contingent on whether they become like us.

Considering the magnitude of the current push toward pluralism, and the number of “Christian” denominations apostatizing, it seems irresponsible of you (as one who is not a pluralist) to make a statement that sounds so close to the puralists’ propaganda, as “friendships among those of the world’s religions are not contingent on whether they become like us.” One step beyond, and you will have, “friendship between God and those of the world’s religions are not contingent on whether they become like us.” I would also add that any environment in which non-Christian religious “convictions continue to be held” is not “healthy.” Categorizing diversity of religious convictions as “a healthy environment” is very much part of the pluralists’ propaganda.

In this environment, serious conversations that affect the world can take place with the trust necessary to work together, and move forward toward a better world.

—A “better world” from which to die and go to hell?

…last night, the topic of reconciliation touched on ways that our various faith communities can play a critical role in helping to alleviate conflict around the world…

…This morning, I was honored to participate in a panel discussion on using faith in community engagement, and it was great to hear Andy Braner, Suhail Khan and others share stories of how they are using their professions to bring reconciliation in their spheres of influence.

It is not Biblical for you to speak of false religions and Christianity as if they were all part of the same good and beneficial category of “faith communities.” Scripture knows of no faith except the true faith, and of no benefit from a community of faith except from the true community of the true faith. There is only one conflict that Christ came to alleviate, and that is the conflict between a sinner and God. In fact, many conflicts have been caused by Christ and the preaching of His word to the sinful world: (Matt. 10:34-36) “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

I don’t believe my Muslim friends and I are currently on our way to heaven together. But God has placed us on the earth together, and commanded that those who claim to follow Jesus do everything within our power to live in peace. How can we do that if we aren’t even willing to know our neighbors?

Being willing to know your neighbors is a good thing; but being willing to make them feel good and affirmed about their how their false religious beliefs enable them to make wonderful impact on the world (even bringing about reconciliations) is not a good thing. How will giving them your tacit approval as equals in the “faith community” get them any closer to forsaking the lies and embracing the only Way, Truth, and Life, Jesus Christ?

3 John Fariss November 19, 2013 at 11:39 am

Two things: first, didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers”?

Second, do you really think that the way “we” have been reaching toward the Moslem world has done any good, or been effective, or God-honoring in any way?

OK, a third too: I don’t seen anywhere in the article that Brother Rainey worked toward or advocated “to make them feel good and affirmed . . . their how their false religious beliefs.”

John Fariss

4 Rob Ayers November 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

“Second, do you really think that the way “we” have been reaching toward the Moslem world has done any good, or been effective, or God-honoring in any way?”

When you say this John do you have any examples besides generalities? Examples? Names? Places? Otherwise you are painting with a broad brush, condemning in one fell swoop most (if not all attempts) to reach people with the truth of the Gospel, especially Muslims. Most today would consider Stephen’s approach as ill advised and would prove such ridiculousness by saying they killed him for his brazen approach (See Acts 7).

By the way those who bring God’s peace (shalom) are blessed. What is God’s peace? The gospel. That is why Paul admonished the Ephesians to prepare their way by “…and having shod your feet with the preparation of Gospel of peace.” Ephesians 6:15 NASB. The Gospel brings peace to the soul of those who receive it, anger and rebuke to those who reject it. So peace in this context of the Scriptures and Beatitudes is not peace being the absence of conflict. It is God’s peace who seeks followers not slaves, to set free slaves from bondage. Yet it is not the absence of conflict – no – the conflict is just beginning.

Rob

5 John Fariss November 19, 2013 at 8:25 pm

Rob, of course I was speaking in broad generalities. And I am sure that there are Christians who have faithfully worked in the Muslim world (in the Middle East and in the US) with the Good News of Jesus Christ, though I do not believe I have condemned anyone. I would certainly correct the “any good” part of my question–that was an oversight anyway. But still the question remains: what fruits has the current Southern Baptist approach (be that denominationally or individually) to Islam produced? How many missionaries do we have in the Islamic world? What is our attitude toward Palestinians? If you know of some fruit, please share it with me.

One missionary I got to know quite well a few years ago (not Southern Baptist, but conservative and evangelical) served in Mali. They are majority Muslim, but allow Christian missionaries in. He received very little encouragement from his denomination, and in fact, was eventually recalled because in his little congregation, they did not serve the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. On one furlough before that, he stayed in Ohio, I believe the Cleveland area. Every Friday, he went to the local mosque and worshiped. After a while, worshipers there noticed his “Koran” did not look exactly like theirs, nor did his prayers sound exactly like theirs. He told them that he was a true Muslim, because he had submitted to God in ways they never had (as I am sure you know, “Islam” means “to submit,” and “Muslim” means “one who submits”). Of course, the book he carried was the Bible, and his prayers were always offered in the name of “Isa,” which is the name by which Jesus is identified in the Koran. I don’t know that he had any converts, but he made an impact on the Muslims at that one mosque. His dream was on one furlough to rent a building in an American city with a large Islamic population, and open a “Jesus mosque.” I don’t know that it ever happened, but seriously: can you tell me that with all the polarization we are in today, can you see conservative evangelicals, Southern Baptist or otherwise, supporting something like that? I suppose that is why I like Joel’s post. It is a move in a better direction that the one we are in currently.

Finally, I agree that God’s peace and the absence of conflict are not the same thing. But anyone who has ever been in conflict–whether as a military member in a war zone, or like me, as a police officer in a metropolitan area–I think will agree that the absence of conflict is a whole lot better than its presence. So yes, I believe that those who are peacemakers are blessed, even those who do not know Christ. After all, He never condemned the Pax Romana, and it certainly helped the church to expand.

John

6 Rob Ayers November 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm

John,

We have myriads of full time missionaries currently working in countries predominantly Islamic. We don’t advertize their work because of the danger to themselves and their families – because in practice the “Religion of Peace” often kills maims and destroys those who violate the doctrine of Shirk. At Impact we had a couple of bloggers with pseudonyms because they were currently involved in these nations. So if you are unaware of the work of Southern Baptists, why do you start with the assumption that we are doing nothing? Your cynicism of most things conservative and Southern Baptist is a bit depressing to me.

Rob

7 John Fariss November 21, 2013 at 8:49 am

Rob,

I asked “How many?” and you replied “myriads,” which is not exactly an answer. I too have know Southern Baptist missionaries who served in Muslim areas, and the ones I met eventually left because the SBC’s attitude made it very difficult to work there–and they were conservative enough to satisfy most anyone.

And I never said we were not doing “anything.” I suggested that what we are doing is not very effective. Change my mind, but with evidence, not with criticism!

Also you might be surprised at how conservative I am. But that does not mean I accept everything “conservatives” say without question, or that I believe the SBC can do no wrong.

John

8 Rob Ayers November 21, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I said Myriads John – the number is not publicized for the reasons already given. Effective in your mind? Or in the mind of God and the conscience of those serving (I don’t exactly see you out there with them)? Spare me you straw man about accepting everything that “conservatives” say or do or that the SBC can do no wrong – pleaseeee. Your posts pretty much put you on the cynical side of the ledger most times. If I missed a positive “the SBC and Conservatives are doing this right” post from you, then my apologies – if they exist they truly are a leaven out of a multitude of bushels.

Rob

9 John Fariss November 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Again Rob: change my mind, but with evidence, not with criticism! Were I to be cynical, your reply leaves me amply room to do so. I will instead merely point out that I have affirmed and praised Brother Rainey for his position. You know, we all have a tendency to hear negative statements much louder than positive ones. Is it possible that is why you think I “never” (your word not mine) have a positive comment?

John

10 Rob Ayers November 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm

John,

Post where I said “never” – I said “most” – please kindly read what I have written – I will give you the same courtesy.

Again, the numbers cannot be published because of safety concerns. I have only partial knowledge because I am closely affiliated with two missionary units currently serving far away. They share both setbacks and concerns, but also occasional victories. Of course they would prefer victories only – but are convinced that the method in which they are working is the wise and right course. I will not arm chair their methods being half a world away and safely not under their threat. Perhaps you would consider the same course in your less skeptical days.

Rob

11 Dave Miller November 19, 2013 at 11:55 am

Ken, I think you are making some assumptions and presuming facts not in evidence.

12 Rob Ayers November 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Where are the assumptions and facts not in evidence Dave? It seems to me that Ken quoted extensively and gave proper examples for his argument. Disagree all you wish, that’s fine. Yet what exactly is the “evidence” that is lacking here?

Rob

13 Ken Hamrick November 20, 2013 at 11:54 am

Maybe so, Dave. But what in particular would lead you to think that?

14 Joel Rainey November 19, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Thanks for your comments Ken. I’ve done my best to respond more substantively in a post below that combines your comments with others. Your questions are valid, and express reasonable concerns. As I read your post, there is only one thing you say that doesn’t “sit well” with me:

“Jesus does not expect us to achieve any particular kind of impact—He expects us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, but God is responsible for the impact.”

You and I read the Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Talents very differently my friend. What I read there tells me that my Master indeed expects impact on the world. Salt and Light can’t help but make a difference. I’m sorry that we disagree on this point.

15 Ken Hamrick November 20, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Thank you for your replies, Dr. Rainey. As for the responsibility for the impact of our efforts, I point you to the following:

1 Cor. 3:7-8 ESV
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.

No need to apologize—disagreements are to be expected.

16 Dave Miller November 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Having stated that I do not share Ken’s perspective, I do see a danger here. How do we engage other religions, false religions, in a respectful way while still making our distinctives clear?

17 Joel Rainey November 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Very good question Dave, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers. I’ll try to respond more substantively later in the day.

18 Joel Rainey November 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Dave, thanks for the question. The clearest way I can provide my own answer to it is in the post above, which describes my own actions clearly over the past two years.

A number of questions surface from your readers above, most notably from Ken. While I find “slippery slope” arguments to be a bit adolescent, I do understand the concerns raised here.

First, when I refer to “communities of faith,” I am not negating what Scripture teaches about there being only one true faith. I’m simply acknowledging that these other faith communities exist. Simple as that. The world is quite clear on what evangelical Christians believe, to the extent that I simply don’t find it necessary to place additional appellatives every time I reference Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, et al. True or false, they exist, and I’m simply giving that fact reasonable acknowledgement.

Additionally, we must recognize that groups outside Christendom do some very good things that are very helpful to this present world. I’ve been to central Asia and the middle east, and seen with my own eyes the progress that is being made in health care, education, and science by the so-called “Muslim world.” It is neither a denial of my faith, or an affirmation of theirs to simply acknowledge what I see with my own eyes. In fact, as a follower of Jesus this acknowledgement fits well with the Biblical understanding of the imago dei, and common grace. Ken is absolutely right that all of humanity is fallen in sin, and that repentance from sin and faith in the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus is the only way to fix this problem. Our story makes no sense without this. But likewise, our understanding of sin and redemption makes no sense either of that is where the story begins. The story begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3, with all humanity created in the image and likeness of God, and continues post-fall with an entire human race able–by God’s common grace–to reflect His image in the world in powerful ways, even if they don’t follow Jesus. Common grace doesn’t get anybody into heaven, but God has provided some wonderful gifts that have made this present world a more pleasant place, and He has done it many times through people who don’t know Him as He has revealed Himself in Jesus and the Bible. I find it a bit incredible that just over a year ago, many evangelicals had no problem believing this about a Mormon (to the extent that they were willing to put one in the Oval Office), but somehow begin to struggle with it if we are talking about a Jew or a Muslim. Paul quoted pagan poets to the Athenians because he recognized truth in their words. Admitting points of agreement with those in other faiths isn’t even in the same universe as stating that we all ultimately believe the same thing.

Finally, we are commanded to live in peace with others if at all possible. Last weekend I spent time with people who want peace. Shall I refuse to work with them and allow atrocities to continue simply because they worship a different god? Shall I continue to decry the murder of innocent children in the womb while all but ignoring the Pakistani and Afghan children blown to pieces by American drone strikes, merely because they are in another hemisphere? I understand that making this a better world by itself won’t get anybody into heaven. The Gospels in fact seem to clearly state that many will leave this world and go to hell, regardless of how peaceful they left it. But that’s no excuse to refuse to work with others from other religions who want peace. In many ways, this is the ideal environment in which we can share the message of the Prince of Peace.

Not sure if I answered the question to your satisfaction Dave, but I’d welcome a follow-up from you on this if I’ve missed anything.

19 Joel Rainey November 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

One clarification is needed here: Were my Jewish or Muslim friends to read what I’ve written above, it would not surprise them. They know full well what I believe. I’ve said nothing about them here that I have not already said to them. So it makes the charge of “making them feel good about their beliefs” an untenable one.

We disagree with each other–strongly. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, that we can’t have peace, or that we can’t recognize our common humanity and, in some areas, work together.

20 Dave Miller November 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Thank you for that!

People do not mind disagreement when it is respectful, I’ve found.

21 Ken Hamrick November 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Dr. Rainey,

You stated:

While I find “slippery slope” arguments to be a bit adolescent, I do understand the concerns raised here.

I find attempts to dismiss arguments of substance with mere ridicule to be a bit disappointing. It is true that not everyone who warns of a slippery slope does so justifiably. But it is also true that those who do so justifiably are always dismissed as irrational, alarmist (or “adolescent”, etc.)—right up until what was warned actually comes to pass. Perhaps if more “slippery slope” arguments had been taken seriously in the SBC, we would not have found ourselves in need of a Conservative Resurgence.

22 Joel Rainey November 20, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Ken, I don’t believe I dismissed a single substantive point that you made, nor did I intend to insult or offend you. But I do find “slippery slope” arguments by default to be absent of real substance, and rarely worth our attention. If I believed your post above consisted only of such arguments, I would not have responded at all. Show me where I have clearly violated Scripture and I’ll be glad to listen, and if necessary repent. Ask me a question if you believe I’ve gone too far and let’s have a serious conversation about methodology. That’s an important discussion. But don’t approach me if you don’t believe I’ve violated Scripture simply to suggest that I will automatically end up in a bad place. Its simply not a mature argument.

23 Rob Ayers November 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Then it would have been okay then to not mention the “slippery slope” in your reply – sparing us a discussion of them. Just saying.

Rob

24 Ken Hamrick November 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Dr. Rainey,

You stated:

First, when I refer to “communities of faith,” I am not negating what Scripture teaches about there being only one true faith. I’m simply acknowledging that these other faith communities exist. Simple as that. The world is quite clear on what evangelical Christians believe, to the extent that I simply don’t find it necessary to place additional appellatives every time I reference Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, et al. True or false, they exist, and I’m simply giving that fact reasonable acknowledgement.

On the contrary, you go far beyond merely acknowledging that these other “faiths” exist. With all the warm and fuzzy descriptions that you give regarding these other faiths, how they are worthy of trust even with the lives of your family, how they are capable of so much good in the world, and how we can cooperate with them in bringing about reconciliation in our communities, the reader might get the impression that these other faiths are the next best thing to Christianity. The implications of your article are strong and clear: these other faiths are good and beneficial in many of the same ways that our faith is good and beneficial—except for that minor point that only Christianity will get one to heaven, but that doesn’t seem to garner much attention in all your emphasis about good relationships with these good people who are capable of so much good in the world.
You stated:

Additionally, we must recognize that groups outside Christendom do some very good things that are very helpful to this present world. I’ve been to central Asia and the middle east, and seen with my own eyes the progress that is being made in health care, education, and science by the so-called “Muslim world.” It is neither a denial of my faith, or an affirmation of theirs to simply acknowledge what I see with my own eyes. In fact, as a follower of Jesus this acknowledgement fits well with the Biblical understanding of the imago dei, and common grace.

You know, the Muslim perspective is to weigh the good that one does against the bad (hoping that at the judgment, their good will outweigh their bad deeds). Let’s apply that to the good that you see these other faiths being able to accomplish: take all the good that you think they can do and weigh that against the fact that they heard millions upon millions into hell with their false teaching. Do you still think the world can be a better place because of them?
You stated:

Ken is absolutely right that all of humanity is fallen in sin, and that repentance from sin and faith in the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus is the only way to fix this problem. Our story makes no sense without this. But likewise, our understanding of sin and redemption makes no sense either [if] that is where the story begins. The story begins in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3, with all humanity created in the image and likeness of God, and continues post-fall with an entire human race able––by God’s common grace––to reflect His image in the world in powerful ways, even if they don’t follow Jesus. Common grace doesn’t get anybody into heaven, but God has provided some wonderful gifts that have made this present world a more pleasant place, and He has done it many times through people who don’t know Him as He has revealed Himself in Jesus and the Bible.

God in Scripture does not call us to help sinners “to reflect His image… in powerful ways” so that this present world can be made “a more pleasant place.” Christians are not to be calling people to any good apart from Christ. “Repent!”—yes—but do so as believing in Christ! We are not to be patting idolaters on the back for their good deeds. Neither is the Church to be yoked with the false-faith world in doing good works. My goodness, Dr. Rainey, one could get the impression that you see these “various communities of faith” as joining with us in being “salt and light” in this dark, corrupt world.
You stated:

I find it a bit incredible that just over a year ago, many evangelicals had no problem believing this about a Mormon (to the extent that they were willing to put one in the Oval Office), but somehow begin to struggle with it if we are talking about a Jew or a Muslim. Paul quoted pagan poets to the Athenians because he recognized truth in their words.

Paul quoted the pagan poets, but he did not commend their good works, nor recommend to the Athenians that if they were not willing to believe in Christ, then maybe they could at least join the efforts of the Church to make this a better world. You objection regarding voting for a Mormon for president is a poor strawman. We do not elect a theologian-in-chief but a commander-in-chief. A christian president would be ideal, but not necessary. And it would not matter if the unbelieving candidate were Muslim or Mormon (except maybe for national security concerns—after all, it is not Mormon terrorists who have attacked this country).

25 Ken Hamrick November 20, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Correction: “…they herd millions…” not “…they heard millions…”

26 Ken Hamrick November 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Dr. Rainey,

As it is not my purpose to badger you, but only to articulate valid objections that otherwise might not be registered, I will leave off at this point and give you the last word between us here. I sincerely hope that my objections, though strongly worded, are received in the respectful spirit in which they are intended. Although I disagree with you on these points, I have only admiration for your ministry and heart for Christ—and will gladly admit that you have done far more work for Christ’s kingdom than I will ever do.

Be blessed, nonetheless!

27 Joel Rainey November 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Ken, I’m honestly confused, and unsure of how to respond, as you have put so many words into my mouth above that I have not said, and never would say, and yet end by commending my faithfulness and wishing me well. I can only at this point assume the best in your intentions, thank you for your prayers and admiration, and wish the same for you. Be blessed.

28 Debbie Kaufman November 20, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Joel: I am so supportive of this post, which is refreshing and your answers which are well thought out and needed as well. Working and being friends with Muslims and others of gay community and other religions, they are people first. That is the biggest difference to me. They are not just Muslims or gay or of another religion or culture, they are people with names, families, personalities, many, who I have grown to love as friends.

As with you, my friends and co-workers know what I believe and why. They know I pray for them and I have given the message of Christ. Many of your answers resonate with me, and some of your answer has turned a light on for me. Thank you for your heart Joel. It has always been why I read so much of what you write. It is my hope that every Christian will follow your lead here.

29 Debbie Kaufman November 21, 2013 at 5:43 am

I think some would be surprised to know that contrary to what has been reported by the news or contrary to those who fear Muslims in this country, they are the nicest, most welcoming people I know and I have also worked with Muslim women who wear the covering on their heads while also wearing pants and a shirt. The woman are still fully covered but by wearing a long sleeved shirt and pants.

30 Adam G. in NC November 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I kinda like this method. When you have all three of the “abrahamic” religions on stage engaging each other, it would actually force the observers to see the great differences that Christianity has with the others. It is less conducive to the usual caricatures of Christianity that the others paint and it allows them less room to fall back on the usual “arguments” against our faith that they usually offer.

If the speakers faithfully hold to the gospel, then I see this as being a wonderful apologetics tool. It’s only a problem when you believe that the other two “faiths” have legitimate and compelling answers to the great philosopohical questions when compared to Christianity. They do not.

31 Nate November 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

“But I’m equally convinced that we in the Christianized west have so twisted just war theory that Augustine would not recognize it if he were alive today. ”

Perhaps if he were alive during the 7th century he might have experienced first-hand the conquest of his land when Muslims overran all of North Africa, imposed Islam and subjicated the Christians and the Jews to no longer proseltyze without severe penalties? Not sure he would recognize that either.

Now, having said that, I’m not against what you are attempting, but we are also told to be as wise as serpents while being innocent as doves as we go forth among the wolves. Quite frankly, while I am all for continuing to share the gospel with Muslims, I will remain extremely pessimistic with Islamic leaders until they take the initiative to speak against the violence that is being done on Christian communities all over the Islamic world.

I’m all about living in peace, I’m just not convinced it’s a two-way street.

However, we do need to continue to be open with our neighbors, which I see very differently than partnering with Islamic leaders. I play soccer with a Muslim, he and I are friends and we speak about our faiths, the differences, etc.

32 Joel Rainey November 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Have a lot of personal experience with Islamic leaders Nate?

It would appear that you are suggesting Augustine would have applied a relativistic ethic to just war theory had he only lived through the 7th century. I don’t want to put words into your mouth, so please correct me if I’m wrong. But I hope I am, and that we agree that his structure for determining when lethal force is justified is based in Scriptural principles, and not merely the pressures of any given epoch of history.

I appreciate the context you seek to apply to this situation, but the history is a bit more complicated than you suggest here–and candidly, beyond the purview of this post. Muslims have repeatedly condemned terrorist activity committed in the name of their religion. American media just isn’t very quick to pick up on it. Again, providing you with a bibliography of those statements is beyond the purview of this post. Any religion that has 1.5 billion adherents worldwide will be diverse in interpretation of its source documents, and practice, and this is true of Islam, which is why we absolutely must stop assuming the worst every time we hear the word “Muslim”

I can only say in response that “Islamic leaders” are our neighbors as well. At least, they are my neighbors, so I’m simply doing with them what you describe as doing with your soccer neighbor. I’m grateful you are involved with he and others in this way, and in a very real sense, this is what I’m talking about–getting to know your neighbors and sharing life with them. Additionally, we have people in our churches who work in education, medicine, science and tech, etc., and who work alongside other professionals who adhere to other faiths. What would you encourage them to do? I would encourage them to be the best in their profession that they can be for the glory of God, to engage all others in their profession regardless of the beliefs of others, work together with all others to make a better world, and share the Gospel along the way. And, I would also contend that pastors should model how this is done, just as we are called to model Gospel engagement in other ares

33 Nate November 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Joel,

Why I personally don’t have experience with Islamic leaders I do have history and the current practices going on in Islamic countries (and non-Islamic countries by Muslims), and the lack of Islamic leaders, whether it be in this country or around the world condemning the practice of forbidding proselytizing in Islamic countries. There are also the issues of severe penalties should a Muslim convert to Christianity, etc. Are you implying that this isn’t an overwhelming opinion of Islamic leaders? Furthermore, terrorism (and/or a terrorist) is defined differently depending on whether one is a Muslim or a Christian.

What I’m suggesting about Augustine, by the way, was that you were trying to impose your worldview (and your current view of American Christianity’s just war theory) upon a man who lived in the 5th century. I don’t think I imposed any more of a relativistic ethic to Augustine than you did. I simply retorted by referencing what happened to his country in the 7th century and surmised that he probably would have taken up arms against the Muslims.

Basically I think your point #3 is taking Scripture far out of context because you seem to be imposing an American Nation point of view and automatically assuming it as a Christian one. Not only that, the Scripture says, “if possible, live at peace.” I don’t think the Coptic Christians that were slaughtered were looking to start a war in Egypt. Yes, Islam’s “leaders” condemned the attacks, but they certainly haven’t stopped the continuance of them. Again, the facts are right there in the papers on a daily basis. Correct me if I can’t remember any massacres of Muslims here after 9/11 or after the Boston marathon.

I would argue that Islamic leaders (probably better defined as Islamic countries) are probably more like the Jews in Paul’s day. He went to the synagogues and attempted to share the gospel only to be assaulted by them and so he went to the people (Gentiles and Jews). Islamic leaders (countries) are not open to the propagation of the gospel and they openly work to keep it from coming into their countries, but they expect openness when coming to a non-Islamic one like ours or Western Europe. Moreover, they (Islamic leaders) seek to redefine our own Constitution by attempting to live under Sharia Law in our country, which is certainly not attempting to live in peace, but to subversively change the landscape (see England for example).

So, are you saying that the purpose of Islam is not to bring everyone under the rule of the Koran (Sharia Law)? This can be done by force or by immersion into a society and a reshaping of that society. They have no problem emigrating to other countries and trying to impose Sharia Law onto that country, but they forbid and prosecute those who try and propagate the gospel in theirs.

So, I will continue to build relationships with Jemal and other Muslims that I have as neighbors and friends, but I will not take a rose-colored glasses view of the leadership of Islam or its ultimate purpose and think “we can all just get along”.

34 Joel November 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Nate, thanks for the response. Other than American news media, do you have a source for your claims above. I ask because you make some valid observations that are unfortunately wrapped in very broad generalizations about the Islamic world, including an oversimplified view of Sharia. I conceed your point about religious freedom in these regions. Its a real issue and one that I’m public about advocating. I don’t wear rose colored glasses either. I’ve been doing this for a while and I’m not naive. But I also know that we have to be accurate in order to identify the real and legitimate roadblocks, and your observations sound very similar to a broad-brushed commentary I might hear on CNN. I don’t intend to offend, but simply to point out that misinformation is everywhere on these issues, and its just more complicated than you suggest.

35 Nate November 20, 2013 at 12:30 am

Joel,

I’m not sure that you and I are going to see eye-to-eye on this. I do appreciate any efforts to share the gospel with Muslims. I simply do not believe that Islamic leaders want to live side-by-side with Christians in peace and that is because it is a theocracy. Again, I would say this applies more to Islamic countries, but they are run by their leaders and that attitude is being emigrated with Muslims when they leave those countries and live in others.

The BBC has reported and the Telegraph has written about Muslims trying to impose Sharia Law in England, so I’m not simply getting information from U.S. sources. The Gatestone Institute is an International Policy Council that reported the same issue in France. Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia are seeking moratoriums on Muslim immigration over this reason as well.

Again, I do appreciate yours and anyone’s efforts to take the gospel into hostile places.

36 Joel November 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

Thanks Nate. I too regret that we don’t agree here, but I appreciate the pushback, which allows me to see yoir perspective in a way that can enhance this conversation later. I’m thankful for your engagament as well. I do hope that I can prove you wrong in a way that is for the good of all. :)

As to Dave’s earlier question of “how far do we go?” Im open to continuong that part of this conversation if my answer above left anything out that anyone wants to know.

37 volfan007 November 20, 2013 at 10:59 am

Here’s a video of a mission trip to Honduras….

http://youtu.be/y7U73c8SiUk

38 Marty Duren November 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Joel-
I am grateful for people like you and Bob Roberts who will continually push the barriers of what it means to engage culture. It can be a hard nut to crack. I think most often we in the North American church context frame our missiology through politics rather than through solid exegesis. As a result we are more given to fear mongering over a potential bad end, than a living and teaching clearly expressed, incarnational means.

Reading this I cannot help but think of the person through whom we learn as much about cross cultural engagement as anyone in history other than the Lord Jesus. Paul wrote, “I have become all things to all people, so that I might by every possible means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). The “all people” he references were just as surely enemies of Christ pre-conversion as anyone you engaged last week. I commend you for becoming all things to them that by every possible means you might see a few saved.

If we ignore the burden placed on us, we fall into that comfortable category of becoming some things to some people so that by some means we might save some…then condemn those who do not believe.

Blessings.

39 David Rogers November 20, 2013 at 7:29 pm

The main point of caution/concern I would have related to this is our use of the term (or idea) of unity. Joel, I see (and appreciate) that you did not say anything about unity with non-Christians here. Unfortunately, though, some of the events Bob Roberts has organized and/or participated in have been less circumspect with regard to this. As I understand it, friendship? Yes. Open and honest dialogue? Yes, by all means. Even mutual solidarity and cooperation in working toward peace and justice. But unity (at least in the way we as Christians understand it), no. And I don’t think this is just squabbling over semantics. There is a crucial issue at stake. And I’m not saying that you, Joel, cross or have crossed the line here. From all I can tell, you have not. But I do think, when we broach this topic, this is an issue where we must be very careful.

40 Rob Ayers November 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm

David…

“As I understand it, friendship? Yes. Open and honest dialogue? Yes, by all means. Even mutual solidarity and cooperation in working toward peace and justice.”

I wonder about this statement and your past positions, in particular associations that Christians make with non-Christians in the political sphere. It seems to me (my memory may be fading, so your indulgence) that you have been critical in the past with such alliances – with well known leaders shacking the hands with political compatriots be they Mormon or Catholic, implying in the past that they were unholy alliances. Since the main emphasis of Christians in politics and government bringing about peace and justice, can I understand then that you have changed your mind?

Rob

41 David Rogers November 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Rob,

Thanks for the question. No, I have not changed my mind. What I have a problem with is political alliances that are undertaken in the name of spiritual unity. I make a distinction between unity, solidarity, and cooperation.

As I understand it, we as Christians, together with all humans, are the recipients of the cultural mandate of Gen. 1:28, as well as the renewed and revised version given to Noah in Gen. 9. But the mandate given specifically to the Church is the Great Commission in its various iterations. Thus, as Christians, we have a dual mandate. But we must not conflate and confuse the two. The repercussions of the cultural mandate apply to this world in which we live, while the repercussions of the Great Commission apply to the age to come, as well as to our life as called-out disciples living as aliens in a foreign land during the present age. Whatever we do in solidarity and cooperation with non-Christians, we do as fellow human beings seeking to live in peace and justice in this present world, not as brothers and sisters in Christ working toward an ultimately eschatological Kingdom of God.

Properly understood, I do not believe the cultural mandate is the mission of the Church per se. But it is still valid and applicable for all humanity, both Christian and non-Christian.

42 Rob Ayers November 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Perhaps David you are more informed as I am. But when have Christian leaders implied implicitly or explicitly that they were “spiritually unified” with those of other faiths (with the exception it seems here of Bob Roberts – I am merely responding to the criticism here shared by you and Ken without doing much research on my own, so hounds stay off please :-)). Of those instances where you complained in the past, the leaders who embraced the social views in question of the other (such as abortion) did so without embracing the “spiritual” views of the other. The argument in the last election was that Christians could vote for a Mormon (which I remember you opposed with others) without validating that person’s spiritual views. The vast majority of those Christians who voted did so because they validated the candidate’s social views vis-a-vis their idea about peace and justice = electing a President rather than a Theologian-in-chief. You may believe that you are bearing a bit of nuance, but it sounds to me as if you are in contradiction of Aristotle’s Law(s) of Thought (specifically the Law on Non-Contradiction). I am just asking what is the difference here in your position?

Rob

43 David Rogers November 25, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Rob,

A good example of where I believe the lines have been blurred between cultural solidarity/cooperation and spiritual unity is the Manhattan Declaration. I explain more in depth my thinking on that here:

http://sbcimpact.org/2009/11/27/radical-unity-radical-separation/

44 Rob Ayers November 25, 2013 at 4:19 pm

David,

Not to rehash the Manhattan Declaration – but let me get this right – you would have no argument if the document was a generic understanding of moral good which encompassed all faiths in the world (including “non” faiths such as atheism) yet have a concern that since it was a declaration of intent signed by individuals of Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christianity you would not feel content to sign it. I further noticed that the writers did not UNIFY their positions on calling themselves all together ‘Christian’ but preferred to list themselves SEPARATELY with further recognition that they had many “ecclesiastical differences” yet could lockstep together on these social issues at hand.

Yet I find agreement with you as to your missionary example in Spain with an elder in the Mormon church. I fail to see how a Mormon in the Presidency would be chaos – not the best mind you – but am wondering how better or worse we would be now to what we have currently. We have survived more or less with a Roman Catholic as President – in recent years we had a Quaker, two Southern Baptists, a couple of Episcopalians, and a Methodist occupy the oval office. All have been definitely human, made mistakes, and more or less mouthed American civil religious claims. One of the Southern Baptist(s) could not keep his literal pants on while in office. Would a moderate Mormon be any different than these? The Southern Baptists in office did not exactly create a great wave of notoriety for our brand did they?

Rob

45 David Rogers November 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Rob,

For the most part, I think I have pretty well explained my position in these different articles. I can’t think of anything really important to add here.

The only thing I would say in reply with regard to the Manhattan Declaration is that the term Christian (as well as the term Gospel) was definitely used as embracing (and in a sense, uniting) the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical traditions. I realize there are different understandings of the term Christian according to the context in which it is used–some more theological, others more cultural. But, especially given the backdrop of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and the key participation of the drafters of the Manhattan Declaration in this movement, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a more specifically theological understanding of the terms was intended.

46 David Rogers November 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

As far as the possibility of Evangelicals supporting a Mormon candidate as President of the US is concerned, I am not saying that, ipso facto, that is always a wrong decision. There may well come a time when a Mormon candidate is the “lesser of the evils,” and thus the best overall candidate. In general, I believe it is best to vote for the candidate that most closely matches one’s own convictions on the issues at stake (which in the case of presidential elections are mostly political). In the case of Romney, in addition to the fact he was a Mormon, I was not a big fan of some of his political views.

Also, as a Christian, there are some additional reasons (largely non-political, in this case) that I believe it is not in our interest to have a Mormon president. I explain my thinking on this here:

http://sbcvoices.com/mormons-missionary-strategy-and-american-politics/

47 David Rogers November 25, 2013 at 1:24 pm

I explain a little more about how I think on all this here:

http://sbcvoices.com/i-voted-today-for-tim-pawlenty/

All in all, though, I recognize there is room for disagreement between gospel-centered Christians on how we approach these issues. There is indeed a lot of nuance involved, and navigating through the various issues and their specific application in real life is often tricky.

48 Joel November 20, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Point very well-taken David. Thanks for your input.

49 Paul Romano November 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Joel,
There are four types of people who come alongside you when doing something like this…
1) those who help pull the cart,
2) those who get in the cart and go along for the ride,
3) those that yell and discourage you as pull the cart,
4) those who put rocks in the cart.

50 Ken Hamrick November 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm

That is as true when the cart is headed in the wrong direction as the right.

51 Joel November 23, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Ken, are you saying I’m pulling the cart in the wrong direction? Because 1. Beyond your “slippery slope” arguments and ascribing intent and putting words in my mouth, you have yet to clearly demonstrate where I am unfaithful to Scripture and the mission of God, saving only that what I say doesn’t “sit well” with you. 2. You commend my efforts and state that I do more for the Kingdom than you will ever do. (Which I’m not sure is true) in the midst of your diatribe against my methods. So, you leave me honestly confused here.

52 Ken Hamrick November 25, 2013 at 3:18 am

Dr. Rainey,

Since you are asking me, I will answer. I think Bob Roberts is pulling the cart in the wrong direction, and you are helping to push it. In order to be sure that I am being fair in my criticism, I have taken the time to view many of the videos of past GFF’s—and particularly of Bob Roberts. I will answer you more thoroughly in a blog article in the near future; but for now, I will point out one of the things that Bob Roberts as stated (from the Bob Roberts’ Friday evening keynote address at the Global Faith Forum in 2011 [11:05]):

It means that we serve not to convert but because we are converted and we love God—and the greatest conversion that all of us can have is more conversion of our own faith in our hearts and in our lives.

He’s speaking to people of different faiths, and not only does he say that we do not serve to convert them, but he also says that the greatest conversion that any of them can have is “more conversion of [their] own faith…” How does that fit with your missional mindset?

53 Joel November 25, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Ken, Bob was speaking to a number of faiths, but was speaking about our own, as he always does. Everyond else in that room understood him in that way. I regret that you don’t.

54 Ken Hamrick November 25, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Dr. Rainey,

Your gloss just doesn’t hold true to the context. He was speaking to a “multi-faith” audience about how to work together and get along for the common good. At 00:27, Roberts said:

We are here because we believe that as followers of God (for me as a follower of Jesus), that God expects us to get along. And there’s been too much tension, there’s been too much rivalry, and not enough peace between different people of different faiths. And I live in America; and I believe in freedom of religion. And I want everybody to be able to express their faith, but I don’t want anyone to compromise their faith; but I want everyone to get along in their faith.

At 01:41, he said:

Why are we here? Because we live in a different world where all religions are all places. And we don’t have the luxury anymore of having a competitive philosophy about everything. We can collaborate on many things—there’s some things we’ll never be able to agree on but we can always get along.

At 07:56, he said:

Number one: We start with the hand, not the head. We start working together. We don’t start as preachers talking theology or we’re never gonna get along.

At 10:54, he said:

Sixth: It means from vilifying other faiths and tearing others down to first critiquing your own. But it also means living yours at its best.

Then, at 11:05, he states:

Seventh: It means that we serve not to convert but because we are converted and we love God—and the greatest conversion that all of us can have is more conversion of our own faith in our hearts and in our lives.

55 Ken Hamrick December 1, 2013 at 1:36 am

Dr. Rainey,

My reservations are thoroughly set out here: http://sbcopenforum.com/2013/12/01/serious-reservations-about-the-global-faith-forum/

56 Ken Hamrick December 2, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Joel, et al,

There’s certainly nothing wrong with loving Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc, and with building relationships with them—hopefully for the furtherance of the gospel. And there’s nothing wrong with having discussions with them in a friendly environment of mutual personal respect, such that we can say, “Although I disagree with you about God and Jesus, etc., I still love you, and I want to learn about you, your culture and your religion.”

But I can’t say that there’s nothing wrong with statements, such as the following, by Bob Roberts (to hear them yourself, follow the link in my previous comment):

…I don’t want anyone to compromise their faith…

…It means that we serve not to convert but because we are converted and we love God—and the greatest conversion that all of us can have is more conversion of our own faith in our hearts and in our lives…

…Value your faith. It’s everything…

…See, faith is important in a society, even regardless of the faith. Let me tell you four things faith does in society: it represents the character of a society; it represents the spirituality of a society; it represents the conscience of a society, and it serves to build convictions in the society…

…By the time [Tee] was leaving, a time or two he would say, “Let me pray.” “—But Tee, you don’t believe in God!” “I want to pray anyhow.” Let me tell you what I believe. I believe God hears the prayers of all those people that are seeking Him with all of their being. And that’s why I love Tee. He’s not a Christian. I’m an Evangelical—you bet I wish he was! But I won’t love him any less…

…In one of my meetings this last week I was with a top leader in Vietnam that I admire so much. He’s been in my home, my church, and around my family a lot. In his own way, this man loves God. Over a meal he began to tell me how God has been speaking to him—he can sense God’s presence and is hearing God’s voice and is serving God even though he wouldn’t consider himself a Christian. What’s funny is in my previous life I would have blown all that off. Not anymore—the world is full of Cornelius’ we just don’t recognize the fact that God can speak without using our words or our religion!…

…But one thing I would say to you: keep in mind, no religion or no country is perfect…

It’s not that the GFF isn’t worthwhile or is all together bad. Much of what I found was very good—indeed, the GFF as intended (without the problematic statements such as those above and others) might be at the forefront of what Evangelical missions ought to look like at this point in time. However, sprinkled throughout the Global Faith Forum are statements that are theologically sloppy at exactly the places where such a movement ought to be clear and precise. It is one thing to want to push effectiveness as far as possible by walking a path that is very close to the line of pluralism without crossing it; but quite another to do so without a caution commensurate with the danger involved in being so close to that line. At one point, Dr. Roberts stated, “Everything we do around here is a story… it’s not a set of principles..” A set of well-thought-out principles is desperately needed where so much of what is said and done can be so easily misconstrued as pluralism—or worse, can so easily drift into pluralistic tendencies of thought.

57 Ken Hamrick November 25, 2013 at 3:32 am

continuing…

I was not commending your efforts relating to the GFF or springing from it, but your efforts in other areas of ministry; and I doubt neither your sincerity nor your faith.

58 Paul Romano November 24, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Joel,
When I think of all the negativity and anger toward you and Bob, I think about the criticism Jesus faced when hanging out with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.

Keep up the good work.

59 Rev. Ken Polsley November 25, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Joel,
Any move toward redemptive friendships with a despised people group will be fraught with risks, misunderstandings, and uncertain boundaries. I remember not long after 911, I had a member of our international church leave because she did not think I should be talking to Muslims, even to share Christ with them. I was involved with discussions with a Muslim group at the University of Iowa, who were refugees from Sudan after their leader, Mahmud Muhammad Taha, had been publicly hanged by Jaafar Nimeiri for opposing Sharia law. I was learning that Islam was not any more monolithic in its expressions than Christianity. Was Jesus crossing a boundary when he offered to come visit the Centurion’s home? Surely that could not have sit well with anybody, especially the Zealots. Was he crossing a boundary when he went to dinner at Zaccheaus’ house? Well, he had already picked a tax collector to be a disciple and been to a scandalous party at his house. That was risky behavior. Should he have had conversations with the Greeks in Jerusalem? Should he have drawn close to lepers? One will always risk misunderstanding by initiating friendships with the despised. And unlike Jesus, we will not always be clear about the boundaries, whether we have gone too far or risked too little, or whether our methodology is completely sound or not. And it is possible to get the cart going in the wrong direction, but not taking risks, even with the possibility of errors and certain misunderstandings, does not seem like a good option to me. Brother Joel, I support the risks you are taking even if I am unclear about the finer points of methodology or the exactly proper boundaries for a Christian. I don’t see any problems with talking to another human being, whether it is my agnostic barber, or an Imam at the local mosque.

60 Christiane November 26, 2013 at 1:49 am

You understand how Christ taught how we must work with all mankind when He Himself worked ‘Person’ to ‘person’ with all manner of people
. . . their ‘labels’ didn’t impress Him, and we must follow in His example now.

61 Joel November 25, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Ken, thanks for those words. I don’t have all the answers, and the last thing I want to do is dishonor Jesus–be it through a compromise of His message by sending an unclear sound, or by disobedience to His message by being so afraid to engage that I do nothing. The lines are clear, but our ability to see them with fallen eyes is marred more than either liberals or doctrinal purists will admit. I welcome critique: including the strong sort. Its how iron gets sharpened, but thanks for understanding, & describing my heart and intent well in your post. Blessings to you.

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