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My wife and I are missionaries, as I am engaged in the work of training indigenous pastors. In that context, we were invited to visit Birmingham, England, and, subsequently, in the city of Gurgaon, India, just outside of New Delhi. We were to spend our time in these countries both observing and serving in Christian rehabilitation communities which minister to the most challenging of demographics: addicts, criminals, prostitutes, and all those otherwise invisible to the social consciousness.  Understanding that this presented us with a unique opportunity to witness the transformational power of the Gospel, we had readily accepted the invitation.

I am writing elsewhere of the work that we witnessed during our time in the communities. Those visits presented repeated demonstrations of the grace of God to my wife and me in ways that we had never before imagined and left a profound and indelible mark on our lives. I wish here, however, to relate the story that follows that one. While this is not the substantive narrative of redemption and restoration that the other article will be, it was nevertheless a remarkable display of God’s providential provision – in the most unexpected of circumstances – and ought, therefore, to be shared. This story begins two days before we were scheduled to fly back to the United States.

As our trip neared its end, we planned to take a short trip to the town of Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, as our trip coincided with our wedding anniversary. To get to Agra, we would have to take a train for the roughly 190 kilometer journey. A resident of the rehabilitation center in Gurgaon where we had been staying dropped us off at the local rail station and, with our tickets in hand, we proceeded to the point of entry.

As we approached the security checkpoint where luggage was screened, I witnessed a man examining the papers of each passenger. He would take a quick look and mark their tickets with a stroke of his pen. As my wife and I drew closer, I presented the tickets I had printed after having purchased them on the Indian Railway website. The man took our tickets and informed us that we needed to get boarding passes before we could proceed. Even though the tickets indicated on their face that they were sufficient to gain entry to the train, the idea of required boarding passes was hardly foreign to us, particularly as we had just needed such on our flights from the United States and from England. I asked the man where and how we could get boarding passes.

He led us to a kiosk, where he examined our passports and entered our information on the computer screen. While awaiting the system’s response, he glanced at my wife, who is Malaysian, far more attractive than I deserve, and a dozen years younger than me, as well. He asked about our relationship and, upon learning that she was my wife, he congratulated me for my good fortune and, in that sense of good humor, turned to the screen.

“Your tickets are not valid,” he declared in heavily-accented English. “The railway stopped taking these e-tickets a year ago.”  He went on to say that if we attempted to board, we would be assessed a penalty as unticketed passengers which could easily cost several thousand rupees. Before I could raise much of a protest, he quickly assured me that all would be fine.

“Don’t worry,” he offered; “All you have to do is go……” What followed was an impossibly complex series of directions intended to guide us to the tourism office where, we were assured, the problem could easily be resolved. I asked for clarification, then I asked again; all to no avail. We really had no idea where we even were, and, as anyone who has been to New Delhi can attest, the city is a veritable quagmire of tangled streets with virtually no meaningful directional signs and wildly erratic and quite frightening traffic. Once again, however, our new friend (who had by now identified himself as a police officer) sought to quell our concerns and offered to accompany us in a taxi to the tourism office.

He hurriedly led us out to the car park, where he headed straight for a cab parked near the back. He rattled off the details of our problem to the driver and inquired about the rate to take us to our destination. The cab driver quoted a rate of 500 rupees.

“No, no!” he objected. “These are my friends!”

This seemed to impress the driver somewhat and the rate was reduced to 350 rupees, about $8.00 at the prevailing exchange rate. Consequently, my wife and I – together with our newfound champion – piled into the tiny cab and sped off down twisting alleys and side streets.

“He is taking a short cut,” the officer said, turning around in his seat. “This will get us there much more quickly so that we can be sure to get you back in time for the departure of your train.” That departure was scheduled for 45 minutes later.

In about five minutes, we arrived at a well-lit but smallish office, with a prominent neon sign over the door declaring that this was an official India Tourism Ministry location. The three of us rushed in and the officer led to the desk near the back where a young man – the only person in view – sat before a computer. The officer quickly explained our dilemma and presented the tourism agent with our e-tickets. The agent typed our information into the computer and, agreeing with the officer, informed us that our tickets were invalid and worse: there were in fact no longer any seats available on the train we were planning to board!

“But,” I rebutted, “The tickets say on their face that our seats are confirmed!”

The agent acknowledged that to be true; however, he noted that simply because a website accepted our credit card information (and, thus, our money) did not necessarily mean that the railway would accept the ticket. Sadly, he reminded us that there are lots of scams on the Internet.

“Okay. What are our options?” I asked, resigning myself to the reality of our plight.

He looked online at several trains, only to find that they were all full or, if not, the only seats available were in coach class which, in India, scarcely differs from cattle cars, with passengers sitting on wooden benches in crowded cars. I was not prepared to subject my wife and myself to such conditions for what was supposed to be a short vacation of sorts. Like a ray of light, however, he then thought of a more viable option.

“I can arrange for a car and driver to take you to Agra! You would be there in no time.”

He then offered even more help, as he asked for our return tickets. Obviously, if the tickets I had purchased to go to Agra were invalid, it only followed that the tickets I had purchased for our return to New Delhi the next day were likewise invalid. This was of even greater importance, as our return was timed to coincide with our flight from New Delhi to the U.S. He pulled up the rail schedules.

“This ticket is invalid, as well; also, if you plan to spend the night in Agra, you do not want to be on this train anyway.”

Seeing my confusion, he explained that the train on which I had purchased tickets was scheduled to leave Agra at 3:53 – in the morning. Not being accustomed to using the 24-hour clock, I had failed to realize that the afternoon train I was wanting would have departed around 16:00, not 04:00. Still, as he noted, it was a moot point, as that train was also not reporting any available seats and neither were any of the other trains from Agra to New Delhi the next day.

This was all quite depressing for my wife and me, as we had truly hoped to spend a brief time together on holiday. Also, this was a unique opportunity to do so, as the cost had been very inexpensive. In fact, for both of us to travel to Agra by train roundtrip had only cost $60 (or so I thought) and the hotel was reasonably priced, as well. The agent said that he could arrange a car and driver for the trip to and from Agra, and could even have the fare we had already paid applied to the cost of the car. This indeed sounded promising.

He picked up the phone, dialed a number, and spoke rapidly in Hindi. After listening for a moment, he hung up the phone and said that we could travel by car for only $390! Of course, this was simply not in our budget, and I told him so.

What followed was a series of barters and negotiations, with the agent eventually reproving us for thinking that travel in India was inexpensive. That was precisely what we had thought, and we were determined not to spend a great deal more than we had planned. All the while, the officer was showing us copies of receipts and passport photos and tickets of other passengers who had been in the same position in which we found ourselves and had either been assessed the penalty or, alternatively, had agreed to hire the car.

It was at this point that what had been merely a hint of a concern began to blossom into a full-blown suspicion that all was not as it seemed. In my mind, I began to rehearse the events of the morning. The “officer,” while he was in fact checking everyone’s ticket, was not wearing the pervasive paramilitary uniform so common to Indian airports, streets, and, presumably, train stations. Further, in taking us to the cab, he had bypassed a number of other cabs that were situated much closer to where we had been standing when he delivered his bad news. Also, the very notion that train travel in India was not inexpensive went against everything we had heard from friends and other missionaries who had reported that it was. Finally, and most significantly, I knew that the tickets I had purchased had been issued by the official government site of Indian Railways. The thought that they could have changed their policy regarding online ticket sales was not inconceivable, but the thought that the site would not have been updated for a year, as the officer and agent claimed, was rather difficult to accept.

It was obvious that my wife and I were both having similar thoughts, and, largely through eye contact, we both understood that we were not going to be hiring a car – or making any financial transactions – with these men. Rising from my seat, I told them as much, saying that we would simply forego our trip to Agra and remain in New Delhi until our flight the next evening. Now, any effort at pretense fell away. The agent began almost frantically offering lower and lower prices, seemingly desperate to make the sale. Against his protests, I led my wife to the waiting cab. The officer climbed into the front seat with the driver and, incredibly, began to hatch another scam, saying that he knew the conductor of this particular train and could probably get us on with a substantial reduction of the aforementioned penalty. As we arrived at the station, my wife wisely advised that we disengage ourselves from him. Though he kept following us, shouting after us to come with him, we continued in a different direction.

A few minutes later, we approached the same kiosk where our ordeal had begun. I entered our information, and the system verified that we were, in fact, confirmed for that train. We decided to attempt to board the train using the tickets we had printed. As we approached the security check, I was relieved to see the “officer” standing to the side with a group of travelers. We passed quickly through the gate without incident and made our way to the platform. A few minutes later, the train arrived. We climbed on board and took the seats our tickets declared to be ours. Throughout the entire journey, no one even asked to see our tickets! In fact, as we looked around at other passengers, we saw that many of them held e-tickets in their hands, as well.

Our trip toward Agra was largely composed of my wife and I dissecting the events of our crazy morning adventure. We wondered whether the man at the center of what was obviously a scam was a real police officer and corrupt, or whether he was merely impersonating an officer. We thought the same about the tourism agent (though the signs, sheaves of travel receipts, and passport data would indicate that it was a legitimate – if crooked – enterprise).  We marveled at the ease with which we were drawn into their deception, though we admitted that this is not difficult in a wholly foreign culture where language and standard procedures are unknown. We praised God that we had not fallen further into the labyrinth and lost substantial amounts of money.  We lamented that they were so well-organized that there was nothing we could do to expose their scam. The officer – if indeed he was one – could simply deny our charge, and the taxi’s furious and circuitous route, coupled with the darkness of the predawn morning, rendered hopeless any change of identifying the tourism agent.

My wife did note that we lost the cab fare of 350 rupees. I reminded her, however, that $8 was a small price to pay for the blessing we had received. What blessing? Well, had this ordeal not taken place, we would not have learned that I had purchased a return ticket for a train that ran in the middle of the night! Likely, we would have arrived at the train station shortly before four in the afternoon, only then to learn of the error. The agent was correct in saying that there were no seats available on any other trains that afternoon. Thus, we would have found ourselves in quite a tenuous position, stuck in a city nearly two hundred kilometers from where our flight home was to depart a scant few hours later. All this, of course, would have taken place in an utterly foreign environment as I would have struggled to find a taxi or hire a car to get us to the airport on time. Doubtless, also, the expense – both in dollars and in stress – would have far exceeded the eight dollars spent on the morning cab ride.

Before we had arrived in Agra, my wife and I had concluded that this was simply yet another demonstration of the sovereign providence of God. As Joseph reminded his brothers who had thought to do him ill, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Likewise, the men involved in this attempt to defraud us obviously had sinful and evil intent. Yet we trust in a God Who works all things according to the counsels of His will (Ephesians 1:11) and Who promises that all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28). In the end, we gained a fresh insight into the providence of God, while experiencing an adventure that – though nerve-wracking at the time – gave us a great story to tell and made our trip to Agra an even more memorable affair!


Missions and Muslims: “C-5,” “Insider movements,” and Hyper-Contextualization

In light of the popular missiological themes of hyper-contextualization in Islamic settings, I must categorically reject the ideas of some (e.g., Travis, Massey) to promote or encourage even the appearance of syncretism. With Parshall, I believe that the “C-5” designation represents a dangerous concession to Islam.[1] I am not even wholly convinced with Parshall that the “C-4” approach is biblical sound and theologically consistent. I can find no biblical warrant for “lessening the blow” of conversion; it is a cross that Christ warns may well divide even families (cf. Luke 12:53). There is a cost to discipleship and to mitigate that cost – at the higher cost of denying it (even outwardly) – is simply not the answer. To separate “identity” between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us is to set up a false (or, at the least, deceptive) dichotomy. My faith should spur me on to be transparent and to show to the world precisely who I am and Whose I am.
An interesting story concerns a converted Muslim in Malaysia named Lina Joy. Her story gained international attention as she attempted to legally change her religious status to “Christian.” The courts ruled that Sharia law controlled the case. She was disowned by her family, lost her job, threatened with death, and forced into hiding.[2] This, to me, is more descriptive of one who is wholly committed to Christ than one who practices the Christian faith “secretly” while “pretending” to be a Muslim externally.
John Travis has put forth the notion of “Messianic Muslims,” defining the term in this way: What makes a particular Muslim “C-5” [that is, a Messianic Muslim] is that he has received Isa (Jesus) as Lord and Savior, meets regularly with other such believers, and yet is still seen as “Muslim” through his or her own eyes, as well as the eyes of fellow Muslims.”[3]
Similarly, Rebecca Lewis argues that “insider movements” in Muslim cultures can allow individuals to become “followers of Christ” without “going through” Christianity.[4] She seems to justify this to some degree by claiming that Muslims worship the God of Abraham.[5] I object to this conclusion and believe, rather, that the task of the missionary is not to get the Muslim to understand his god in a different way; rather, it is to be used by the Holy Spirit to show that the Muslim’s god is not God. By conviction, I would have to reject any system that seems to blur the lines of distinction between the false god of Islam and the God of the Bible.
Rebecca Lewis makes the point that, “In many countries today, it is almost impossible for a new follower of Christ to remain in vital relationship with their community without also retaining their socio-religious identity.”[6] She correctly acknowledges that there are many places where one’s religion is printed on birth documents and that changing such designations “is usually seen as a great betrayal of one’s family and friends.” Jesus addressed this in Matthew 10:35, saying that His coming would cause family division. Of course, we ought not seek to have families divided! Yet we must also acknowledge the reality that such may, at times, be the response when someone places their faith in Christ. Like Travis, Lewis seems to be seeking ways to protect the converted from the potential dangers of bearing the cross of Christ. I think that Tennent is right when he says, “A more open witness in a straightfor­ward, but contextually sensitive way seems to hold the greatest promise for effective and ethical Christian pen­etration into the Muslim world.”[7]
While some are blessed to be living in a culture that renders the only danger of conversion to be mild ridicule and a lack of socio-cultural respect, there are others who, by the providence of God, are born into a time or a place where the dangers are significantly greater. The martyrs cataloged in Foxe’s classic work would have had but retain their Roman Catholic designation (or, in earlier cases, acknowledge the Roman emperor) to save their lives. Yet one reads such accounts with awe and appreciation precisely because they did not do so. It is the willingness to sacrifice that validates the reality of the conversion.
Finally, with regard to church planting in the Muslim world, a proper ecclesiology must precede missions. I believe that this is vital and I concur with the Reformational description of the marks of a true church being the pure preaching of the Word, proper administration of the sacraments and the exercise of biblical discipline. Absent these distinctives, what one has is not a true church, but rather some variation of what Christ called a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9, 3:9). A mosque, then, certainly fails to show these marks and is therefore wholly incompatible with the true church of Christ. If a “Jesus mosque” is lead by “Christians,” do they still revere (or even “pretend” to revere) the Qur’an as a sacred text? Do they still follow (or even “pretend” to follow”) the Islamic rituals? If so, they are committing blasphemy against God, Who has made it clear that He is a jealous God and will not suffer any to be worshipped or served beside Him. All believers in Christ – whether Muslim or not – are called to heed Paul’s admonition to the church at Corinth: “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17). At any rate, this world is not our home and any “strategy” that seeks as its chief goal to protect our physical presence in it has pretty much missed the whole point.

[1] Phil Parshall, “Going too Far?” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009): 655-659. For information regarding the “C-scale”, see:
[3] Joshua Massey, “Muslim Contextualization I,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 17:1 (Spring 2000): n.p.
[4] Rebecca Lewis, “Insider Movements,” in Perspectives, 675.
[5] Tim and Rebecca Lewis, “Planting Churches: Learning the Hard Way,” in Perspectives, 692.
[6] Rebecca Lewis, 674.
[7] Timothy C. Tennent, “Followers of Jesus (Isa) in Islamic Mosques,” International Journal of Frontier Ministries 23, no. 3 (Fall 2006):101-115.

A Christian Review of the Qur’an

The Qur’an is considered to be the very word of God by more than a billion adherents to Islam throughout the world. Its content, then, is of supreme importance to those Muslims and is, likewise, important to those who seek to understand both them and their religion and, particularly, those Christians who believe that they are called to evangelize Muslims with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To this end, a careful study of the Qur’an is warranted, and that is the intended purpose of the following review.

Three significant themes which are readily discernable in the Qur’an are: 1) the absolute character of God; 2) the apologetic for Islam and against other religious systems, most commonly Judaism and Christianity; and, most predominantly, 3) the “straight path” by which every life will be judged, resulting in either eternal torment or blessedness. Each of these will be considered, in turn.


In the Qur’an, the character of God is clearly declared and repeatedly affirmed. Each of the 114 suras begins with this refrain: “In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.” Thus, the implication that the God of the Qur’an is merciful is clear. However, the consistent testimony of the Qur’an is that God is sovereign, omnipotent, and omniscient, as well as merciful and compassionate. He is also curiously referred to as “the Best of Schemers.”[1] Perhaps above all, the clear singularity of God is revealed: God is “one single God.” (3:18) Further elaborating on this idea, Muhammad is told to say, “He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him,” (2:112) and Muslims are instructed not to “set up rivals to God,” (2:22) who Himself bears witness that He is the only God. (3:18)

The Qur’an declares that God sovereignly punishes and forgives in accordance with His will. (2:284) An example of God’s sovereignty may be seen in the case of individuals to whom He does not intend to show mercy. The Qur’an states that there are those whom God may intend to be misguided and, in such cases, their hearts are hardened against the truth. Stressing God’s sovereignty, Muhammad is told: “you will be powerless against God” on the behalf of these who “are the ones whose hearts God does not intend to cleanse. . .” (5:41) Further, one reads:

As for those who disbelieve, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not; they will not believe. God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and their eyes are covered. They will have great torment. (2:6-7)

Again, God’s sovereignty is expressed in the idea that even misfortunes occur with the clear permission of God. (64:11) Indeed, an entire sura is dedicated to the theme of God’s sovereignty and is even entitled “Control” or “Sovereignty.” The first verses of this sura establish this doctrine: “Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; who created death and life.” (67:1-2)

Thus, in harmony with His sovereignty, God is also clearly identified as being both omniscient and omnipotent. He asks, “Did I not tell you that I know what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and that I know what you reveal and what you conceal?” (2:33) God’s power is well summed up in this sura: “Everything that is in the heavens and earth glorifies God; all control and all praise belong to Him; He has power over everything,” (64:1)

Finally, God is portrayed as compassionate and merciful, yet even the dispensation of His grace and mercy are subject to His sovereign will. It is said that “God chooses for His grace whoever He will,”( 2:105) and “All grace is in God’s hands: He grants it to whoever He will.” (3:73) As to the Qur’an’s commentary on the compassion of God, there are a number of allusions to this in response to those who are faithful to Islam. (Cf. 32:17; 21:101-104; 42:5) A specific example of God’s compassion may be seen in relation to the restrictions on foods that can be eaten. While there are defined dietary restrictions, these may be waived in the case of true hunger, without the consequence of sin. (2:173) The faithful Muslim is promised in the Qur’an that “God loves those who put their trust in Him.” (3:159)


Yet another persistent theme throughout the Qur’an is the ongoing apologetic in defense of Islam as the fullest revelation of the will and message of God. While there are some rebuttals of polytheism (Cf. sura 6) and disbelievers, in general, (22:19-25) the most pointed verses are directed against the “People of the Book”; that is, Jews and Christians, most of whom are considered lawbreakers. (3:110) At times, the apologetic gets somewhat defensive, as when is it written: “They also say, ‘No one will enter Paradise unless he is a Jew or a Christian.’ This is their own wishful thinking.” (2:111) However, the Qur’an makes a distinction between the two faiths, saying that the Jews are “most hostile” to Muslims, while Christians are “the closest in affection” towards Muslims. (5:82)

To be sure, there are harsh pronouncements in the Qur’an against Jews. First, the Qur’an challenges the Jews, saying, “You who follow the Jewish faith, if you truly claim that out of all people you alone are friends of God, then you should be hoping for death.” (62:6) However, the Qur’an also goes to great lengths to declare the error of the Christian religion. For example, Jesus is quoted as saying that He has been sent to bring “good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad.” (61:6) Regarding Jesus, the Qur’an accords Him the status of a prophet, or “messenger,” of God, but denies the Christological formulations of orthodox Christianity. The Qur’an denies that Jesus is the Son of God, rejecting the premise that “God has a child.” (2:116) The Qur’an denies His divinity, saying, “Those who say, ‘God is the Messiah, the son of Mary,’ are defying the truth,” (5:17) and goes on to say,

The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God. . . So believe in God and His messengers and do not speak of a ‘Trinity’ – stop [this], that is better for you – God is only one God, He is far above having a son. (4:171)

Further, the Qur’an denies that Jesus was crucified: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them.” (4:157)

Finally, the Qur’an declares that Jesus will, in fact, even be a witness against all who believe these things about Him (divinity, death, etc.). (4:158-159) This is because those who “want to make a distinction” between the messengers of God, “are really disbelievers,” (4:150-151) and, consequently, those among the People of the Book who do not believe are “the worst of creation” and can expect no less than eternal damnation. (98:6)


At the heart of the Qur’an, beneath the overarching themes of the absolute truth of the God of the Qur’an and the error of other religious traditions, is the didactic substance intended to direct Muslims on the “straight path,” that they may fare well in the ever-looming judgment at the end of time.

The hope of forgiveness and mercy are offered to those who are faithful: “Believers, turn to God in sincere repentance. Your Lord may well cancel your bad debts for you and admit you into Gardens graced with flowing streams. . .” (66:8) In addition to this repentance, however, the Qur’an describes what must be done in order to be considered “good” in the eyes of God:

The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it. . . who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God. (2:17)

In addition to these instructions, there are also specific “commandments” that are quite similar to the Ten Commandments of the Jewish and Christian traditions: “Do not wrongfully consume each other’s wealth (i.e., “steal”); . . . Do not kill; . . . Do not covet; Worship God; join nothing with Him. Be good to your parents. . .; do not go anywhere near adultery. . .” While there is no prescription for a Sabbath, as such, the validity of it is recognized for the Jews of the ancient world, with God saying that he rejected those who broke the Sabbath. (4:29-32, 36, 47; 17:31ff)

The instruction to strive to be “good” is tied quite closely with the idea of punishment and reward: “Avoid committing sin, whether openly or in secret, for those who commit sin will be repaid for what they do.” (6:120) This leads to the pervasive Qur’anic theme of the Day of Judgment. This time is alternately called the “Overwhelming Event,” (88:1) the “Deafening Blast,” (80:33) the “Day of Truth,” (78:39) the “Great Event,” (69:15) the “Day of Decision,” (78:17) and, particularly for those who are deemed unworthy of God’s mercy, the “Crashing Blow.” (101:102) Perhaps the best way to understand eternal judgment in the Qur’an is in the representative terms “Garden” and “Fire,” as these are identified as the eternal state for the believers and disbelievers, respectively. (2:221) The Qur’an describes each of these eternal resting places:

We have prepared chains, iron collars, and blazing Fire for the disbelievers . . . [while for the believers] God will save them from the woes of that Day, give them radiance and gladness, and reward them, for their steadfastness, with a Garden and silken robes. They will sit on couches . . . with shady [branches] spread above them and clusters of fruit hanging close at hand. They will be served with silver plates and gleaming silver goblets according to their fancy . . . Everlasting youths will attend them . . . (76:4, 11-19; cf. 13:35)

The Day of Judgment, then, is of central significance to the Qur’an. Its occurrence is described frightfully, in apocalyptic language: “When the sky is torn apart, when the stars are scattered, when the seas burst forth, when graves turn inside out: each soul will know what it has done and what it has left undone.” (82:1-5) It is said that at that time, people will come forward to be shown their deeds and judged accordingly. (99:6) While the judgment is the climax of the Qur’an, only God knows when this dreadful day will come, (33:63; cf. 20:15; 87:43-44) and thus life for the Muslim must be lived in anticipation of and preparation for that day, for even the believers cannot be assured of their eternal state. Regarding the fear and punishment of their Lord “none may feel wholly secure from it.” (70:28) The warning, then, is: “Always be mindful of God, and be aware that He is stern in His retribution,” (2:196) for “[e]very soul will taste death and you will be paid in full only on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is kept away from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have triumphed.” (3:185) Hell, or the Fire, is described repeatedly in the most graphic of terms:

Hell blazes fiercely enough. We shall send those who reject Our revelations to the Fire. When their skins have been burned away, We shall replace them with new ones so that they may continue to feel the pain; God is mighty and wise.” (4:55-56)

Thus, being “kept away” from hell is the driving motivator behind much of the Qur’anic instruction.


Perhaps each of the three themes outlined herein can best be seen as interconnected with the others, rather than being taken in isolation. That is, the nature of God demands the forsaking of any other religion, with a view to the eternal state of both those who accept Islam and those who reject it. The Qur’an fittingly provides a helpful synopsis:

Even so, there are some who choose to worship others besides God as rivals to Him, loving them with the love due to God, but the believers have greater love for God. If only the idolaters could see – as they will see when they face the torment – that all power belongs to God, and that God punishes severely. When those who have been followed disown their followers, when they all see the suffering, when all bonds between them are severed, the followers will say, ‘If only we had one last chance, we would disown them as they now disown us.” In this way, God will make them see their deeds as a source of bitter regret; they shall not leave the Fire. (2:165-167)

 The Muslim, then, is exhorted to hold fast to God in order to remain on the “straight path,” and remain on that path, devoted wholly to God, until one’s “dying moment.” (3:101-102) While even this may not assure the devout of admittance into the Garden, it is indeed the only path to that blessed state; anything less will be met with a horrific end. Thus, the faithful Muslim, who believes in the Qur’an as true revelation from God, is convinced of the Qur’anic description of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign yet merciful. Being so convinced, he will oppose religious traditions which challenge his beliefs and he will live his life in accord with the will of God as it is laid out in the Qur’an, in the hope that he may one day enter into Paradise.

 The Christian called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with Muslims should be acquainted with what is contained in the Qur’an in order to engage in meaningful evangelistic dialogue. This is, of course, merely a synopsis – and that of one reviewer; nevertheless, I trust that this information will be of use to the Kingdom in some way.

[1] The Qur’an, translated by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 3:54. All subsequent references are taken from this translation.

Apologetic Methods

There is no consensus among Christian apologists as to a particular system. Some (Sproul, Habermas, etc.) are classical, or evidentialist. Others (Van Til, Frame, etc) are presuppositional, and others have embraced a relatively new idea called “Reformed Epistemology.” This is actually the view that I favor (though I add my own modifications – see my book, Encountering God). Evidentialism says that we can “prove” the existence of God [through arguments from design or universal morality, or by using historical proof such as the Resurrection (a la Habermas)]. Presuppositionalism says that the unregenerate is unable to receive such proofs because their mind is clouded with sin, and so we must start with the presupposition that there is a God and that the Bible is His Word. Reformed Epistemology asserts that belief in God is a “properly basic” belief that is nascent in everyone. This harkens back to Calvin’s notion of the sensus divinitatus (sense of the divine) that is “standard equipment” for us as a remnant of the Imago Dei (image of God). Consequently, we (as apologists) do not have to “prove” God (Evidentialism) or ask our listener to “presuppose” God (Presuppositionalism). We merely present the truths of God and defer to the Holy Spirit to “awaken” that innate awareness of God in our listener, according to His will and His time. Further, Reformed Epistemology acknowledges that this “awakening” can be brought about through any number of impetuses: an experience, a testimony, a theistic argument (teleological, etc), or even simply a fresh consideration of natural phenomena that point to a Creator. The appeal of Reformed Epistemology is that rather than imposing belief in God (or trying to, at any rate) from the outside in (often like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole), this system presents a number of stimuli in the hope that what is already inside (the awareness of God) will rise to the fore and cause the person to respond. Further, this system is significant because it puts the Holy Spirit at the center of the apologetic process and lays all credit for conversion squarely at His feet and not ours. I think that is best. Thoughts?

Only the Bad Die Young? In Search of the “Moral Gene”

 In a study of Darwinian theory, I was recently confronted with the thought that, for evolution to hold true, morality must survive immorality if the world is to get “better” through biological evolution. This means (I think!) that the “bad” ones must die off and the “good” ones must survive.

Of course we all know that this is what evolution teaches with regard to that which is physically good and bad – “survival of the fittest” and all of that. But it must also apply to that which is morally good, right? So, this generation’s kids must be “better” – physically and morally – than their parents. Now, we could easily poke fun and say that the evidence clearly weighs against any hope of that! Yet evolutionary theory requires eons, not decades, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this generation is incrementally better than the previous one. Or maybe it’s kind of a “two-step-forward-one-step-back” thing and it takes a generation or two (or twenty) for any discernable improvement to appear. But that opens up another can of worms. Follow me here.

If person a has child b who has child c (and so on), we are assuming that c (or q, if it takes a while) will be “better” than a. But if b is skipped, how is it that c is better than a? Better yet, let’s go with q. After so many years, surely a provides no personal positive influence on q, so we can discount the possibility of ensuing generations being progressively better because they were taught to be better.

That leaves genetics. No surprise there, right? After all, we are talking about biological evolution. But wait – are we saying, then, that morals are genetic? That “kindness” and “generosity” are inherited through the genes like green eyes and male pattern baldness, maybe just skipping a generation or two before revealing themselves? I know that I have heard of kids being born with green eyes, for instance, when both their parents had brown eyes and you would have to go back to some maternal grandfather to find green eyes in the family. Is that what is going on with the “moral gene”?

Let’s be clear. Evolution doesn’t teach that morals or ethics are innate in all people and only “emerge” to a progressively greater degree as time passes and evolution marches on. If they said this, then they would be faced with the dilemma of saying that humanity’s reptilian ancestors also had this innate morality (discuss that with the next alligator you come across!). No, they insist that – at some point – this sense of morality appeared in the evolutionary chain. But, when? How?

It seems to me that we are faced with a fairly straight-forward choice: either the “moral gene” appeared and progressively evolves through successive generations (occasionally skipping a few, regressing, etc.) or people do, in fact, have an innate sense of right and wrong. Hmmm… this whole thought really has been rather off the cuff, and I haven’t even Googled the evolutionary position – so I may be off by a mile. But I think I’ve got at least a pretty good handle on the logic of it all. That being the case, I think I will go with the second of those two choices. As Paul said, the law of God (“right” and “wrong”) is written on the human heart (Romans 2:15). He further makes the case that – far from evolving – the human race is “progressively” degenerate, actively suppressing the truth more and more (Romans 1:18-32).

So, the “bad” do die young . . . and old . . . and everywhere in between; because we are all bad. We are all sinners in rebellion against a holy God (Romans 3:23). Yet for those who acknowledge that – those who acknowledge that they have been suppressing and rebelling against their conscience (“moral gene”?) that was given to them by their Creator, there is the promise of redemption, atonement, and reconciliation with the God they have spurned (Romans 6:23). Which do you believe . . . and why?

Prayer: The First Resort

I was struck the other day by the way in which a pastor made reference to prayer. Almost in passing, after hearing of a tragedy in someone’s life, he said, “Well, all we can do now is pray.”
All we can do?
Still, such a dismissive attitude toward prayer is all too often the norm – in practice, if not in theory. When we are confronted with a problem, we would much prefer to have the money or the wisdom or the medicine to correct it ourselves. We seem a bit dismayed when prayer is “all we can do.” Yet ought that not be the absolute highest and primary method of dealing with a difficult situation?
Prayer is too often regarded as a “last ditch effort” to deal with a problem. In reality, it ought to be our chief concern. From a broad perspective, prayer is an event of indescribably magnificent dimensions: for it is communion with the Almighty God of the universe. It is His world, after all, and our obstacles, while insurmountable in our own strength, are certainly no challenge to Him. And His Word makes plain His desire that we “cast all of our cares upon Him.” And how do we do that? With prayer, of course.
From a narrower and far more personal perspective, prayer is one of the most common and essential elements imaginable: it is the sustaining breath of spiritual life. To deny the soul prayer is akin to denying the body oxygen. Without it, the believer withers; with it, however, the child of God is more than a conqueror indeed. By grace (and by grace alone), we have been granted access to the One who holds the answer to every question, the solution to every dilemma. His answer, of course, may not always be the answer we want to hear. Perhaps that is why we so often try to solve the problems ourselves first. That way (we erroneously think), we might get the results we think are best. But we cannot solve anything ourselves – at least not rightly or for very long. We are helpless and hopeless apart from Him.
So prayer is, in the first instance, an act of humility. By its very nature, it is a confession: a confession that we acknowledge where the power lies. We accept that the One to whom we pray can actually do something about whatever it is that we are struggling with. However, true and effective prayer demands something else. We must not simply acknowledge that the power is His; we must admit that the authority is His, as well.
He may intervene – or not – in accordance with our best laid plans. We must not come before His throne in prayer dictating, but humbly petitioning – all the while acquiescing to His will and His purpose. Coupling this humble submission to His authority with the confession of His power will lead to an acceptance of His will for – and His work in – our lives. Prayer may effect change in our circumstances. But it will always effect change in us. Let us eagerly approach prayer as the first resort, trusting that He who loves us most knows us best and has only ultimate good in store for us.

Contemplate the Cross

I came across this quote from the Reformed theologian, Francis Turretin. I couldn’t help but think that were we to spend more of our time contemplating The Passion, we would be less concerned and driven by our own passions – whatever they may be.

“As the suffering of Christ is the principal part of the ransom paid for us by him and the special foundation of our confidence and consolation, it should also be the primary object of our faith and the theme of meditation, that with Paul we may count all things for loss but the knowledge of the crucified Jesus. We should attend to it more diligently as Satan the more impotently rages to obscure the truth of those sufferings and to deprive us of their saving fruit.”

– Francis Turretin

A Note for Preachers (and the rest of us as well!)

“Expound the law truly, and open the veil of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin, and damnable; and then as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of him. And then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the hypocrites. And the Spirit of God shall work with you; and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. And all doctrine that casteth a mist on these two, to shadow and hide them, I mean the law of God, and mercy of Christ, that resist you with all your power.”

I recently came across this quote from the English Reformer William Tyndale, and I was moved by the clear and convicting thesis: we must teach the law of God fully (to expose the sinful) and we must teach the mercy of Christ fully (to heal the repentent).

Inevitably, when I hear a sermon or a testimony that omits or dilutes one or the other of these two doctrines, heresy follows close behind. And, no, that is not too strong a word. If the grace of God is offered to or “accepted” by a person with no real sense of their sinfulness and enmity against a holy God, it is cheap grace only, and cheap grace does not save. If the law of God is proclaimed to the exclusion of the grace available for all who thirst for it, the convicted hearer will depart shamed into believing that God’s forgiveness must be earned through penitential deeds. Both extremes are heresy indeed. Cheap grace denies the weight of the Cross; legalism denies its power.

So, whether from a pulpit or over a water-cooler, remember that the Gospel is not just, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Nor is it, “Thou shalt not…” The Gospel is the presentation of both the law of God and the grace of God. The one drives us to our knees; the other drives us to our Savior.

Who invites whom to worship?

I was struck recently by a prayer in a worship service where God was “invited” into the assembly. I suddenly had in my head bizarre imagery of the nation of Israel gathering together in the courts of the Temple and then “inviting” God to join them. It is His house! They were the guests, entering in at His invitation. Though the veil of separation was torn and we may now freely enter His presence, we must remember that it is, in fact, His presence that we are entering. He is, by definition, there.

If He is not “in” the worship service, in fact, then the worshippers are in the wrong place. I am not speaking spatially –and we should not, when speaking of the presence of God. God is, of course, omnipresent. Even more specific to the concept of worship, Jesus promised that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He is there. Yet He is not there because they are gathered in His name; rather, when they are gathered in His name, they are, by that act, drawing near to His presence.

Gathering in His name is, in fact, an act of worship. If we are gathering in His name in our home, we are drawing nigh unto His presence. If we are gathering in His name is a field, on a boat, or in a cave, we are drawing nigh unto His presence. And, if we are gathering in His name in a church building, we are, again, drawing nigh unto His presence. Our gathering is not an invitation to God; our gathering is a worshipful acknowledgment that He is God.

God does not wait to see if we are worshipping Him properly, and then “show up” after we sing the third or fourth song. Much of the evangelical church has turned the very concept of worship on its ear. It is not about man; it is about God. Its purpose is not to make us feel better, or give us an emotional charge that will help us to rise above the challenges in our life. Its purpose is to bring glory and honor and praise to a holy God.

When we gather to worship, we are entering His gates with thanksgiving! We are entering His courts with praise! I think the classic worship song gets it precisely right: we have come into His house, and gathered in His name to worship Him. There is no need to invite Him. There is no need to wait for Him to “show up.” He’s already there; in fact, it was He who extended the amazing, gracious invitation to us, that we might come into His presence and offer sacrifices of praise and worship for who He is and for what He has done for us.

When you enter your worship service next Sunday, remember that it is He who issues the “call to worship.” He is there, awaiting your response. Will you acknowledge that you are on holy ground before the face of God? Or will you simply go through the rituals and motions, and hope that He drops by?

Seeker-Sensitive Churches: A Brief Biblical Critique

There are now many, many churches that have adopted the “seeker-sensitive” model of church growth; that is, they adapt their music, their “look,” their delivery, and even their content so that the unchurched will feel comfortable in the service and not feel as though they had entered into a strange new world fixated upon sin, death, blood, and other such uncomfortable notions. These churches claim that they do present all of those historic truths of the biblical faith – they just tend to put them in other venues, such as discipleship classes and small groups. The Sunday morning service, however, is intended to target those who are “seeking” something. But what are they seeking?


Are they seeking a good time? Then “hip” contemporary music, casual styling, free coffee and pastries, and state-of-the-art drama, dance, and multimedia exhibits may provide that.


Are they seeking answers to questions concerning “life issues,” such as marital trouble, ill-behaved children, financial woes, or low self-esteem? Then pop psychology, couched in the comfortable pseudo-religious language of love, peace, and positive thinking may provide that.  


Are they seeking to validate their spirituality by engaging in something mildly religious? Then the Christian trappings – however vague and innocuous they may be – may provide that.


But are they seeking God? Paul would have thought this idea preposterous. He wrote specifically, in fact, that “there is none who seeks for God” (Romans 3:11; cf. Psalm 53). This he explains in the same letter by saying that the natural man suppresses the innate knowledge of God because natural man has a reprobate mind and is at enmity with God (Romans 1; 8:7).


The seeker-sensitive church, then, cannot be sensitive to a seeker of God, for there are none. Unregenerate man has no interest in the truths of God, no interest whatsoever. In fact, the unregenerate man hates God. Why would he then be seeking God? Only those whose hearts of stone are being replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26); only those who are being quickened from death to life (Ephesians 2:1-5); only those who are being translated from the darkness into the light (1 Peter 2:9) have any interest in the truths of God. But will they find that for which they hunger and thirst in a seeker-sensitive church?


Will they hear the call to repentance? Will they hear of the insufficiency of their own righteousness? Or of Christ who washed us from our sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5)? Or of the atonement made once for all to those who are being saved, that they may be reconciled to God (Hebrew 7:27; Colossians 1:21)? In short, will they hear the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16)? Or will they only hear that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives? Many who hear that and take comfort from it ought rather to be told that His plan for their lives may well be anything but wonderful, for they, in their wickedness and sinful rebellion against the righteousness and holiness of God, may be subject to the imminent onslaught of His dreadful wrath (Romans 1:18; Hebrew 10:31).


The seeker-sensitive church, then, is only sensitive to those who are seeking everything but God. For those who are seeking for God, those who are to receive the inward call from God, such churches are not sensitive at all. This is to their shame. Whenever the church tries to model herself after the world, so that the world will feel at home there, she has abandoned her calling. There is no conversion where there is no conviction, and there is no conviction without sound exposition of the Word of God. There is no redemption where there is no repentance, and there is no repentance where there is no presentation of the law of God. Paul again: “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The words of Christ are both convicting and restoring, and both must be preached. Anything less is another gospel.