2010 October

Dear Oklahoma,

I’m writing in regard to State Question 755, the proposed amendment to the state constitution that would prohibit Oklahoma courts from deciding cases based on international or Islamic Law (Sharia). I’m sure you will have reviewed the ballot measure thoroughly and compared it to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution before voting. This is an important measure, if only because people are talking about it.

But politics aren’t my focus here. I’m more concerned with the spiritual element of the decision you face as a state. Politicians have longs used fear to control and gain popular support. But the Bible is pretty clear that fear is not of God. Prudence, yes, and wisdom, but fear is cast out by perfect love and is contrary to the Spirit we know as adopted children of God. Be certain you’re not voting for the measure because you’re afraid of Muslims, terrorism, or Sharia.

Furthermore, I’d challenge you to get to know one (or several) of the 30,000 Muslims who are reported to live in the State of Oklahoma. In the panel discussion, “Loving Our Muslim Neighbors,” (video below) Pastor J.D. Greear recommends engaging them in conversation by inviting them over for dinner. The opportunity to minister to Muslim people is tremendous. Why not use the question of this amendment as a starting point for a spiritual conversation with a Muslim neighbor?

The resulting conversation would help you form a realistic and informed opinion about Sharia, and could result in opportunities to share your story (or, even better, God’s story) with those who do not know it.

Oklahoma, please pray as you vote on SQ 755. And pray for your Muslim neighbors.

Sincerely,

E. Goodman

Desiring God Q&A Panel – Loving Our Muslim Neighbors from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

For a while there, if you wanted to sell books to Christians you just needed to write one that explains what non-Christian people think about church people. In UnChristian, Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons break the news to evangelicals that Christians are seen as too political and being anti-homosexual. Jim and Casper Go to Church is an atheist’s commentary as he visits some of America’s more influential churches. They Like Jesus But Not The Church is the result of Dan Kimball’s interviews of several people from his community about what the Church looks like from the outside. I’m not against these books. In fact, their content has provided many of us with more authoritative data in support of our warnings to those who are entrenched in the traditional structures.A few years ago, I wrote a post about how non-Christians don’t hate us, they nothing us; and that’s actually worse.

Nevertheless, someone else’s stories will only get us so far. We cannot depend on Jim, Casper, Dan, Dave, or Gabe as our only insight into the mind of unbelievers around us. It’s our job to know what they’re thinking. To be self-aware enough to know how we come across to them. This is the work of the missionary- to effortfully know the people in our communities well enough to know what they think about Jesus, and then to do what we can to challenge their wrong assumptions and walk them through the offense of the gospel.

But rather than see ourselves as Calebs and Joshuas, we’re content to pay strangers to be our spies. Rather than exposing ourselves to what shapes peoples’ thinking, we build our apologetics around what others tell us that non-Christians think. Like a grade-school cheating ring, we’re content to let Mark Driscoll read The Shack for us, and for some other guy to Break the DaVinci Code on our behalf. And don’t even get me started on those of us who depend on daily indoctrination by talk radio propaganda to tell us what “they” think about “us.” Allow someone else to do your homework for you for long enough, and you lose the skills you were meant to learn in the first place.

Without access to real connection to faithful Christians, outsiders are left to outsource their “research” of Christianity. In our absence, they learn what they think they know about us from the haters, celebrities, clowns, and extremists who speak on our behalf.

The only way to truly know the people in our communities is to spend time with them. To move beyond the stereotypes and caricatures and into real interaction that allows dialog and love. If you really want to know what “they” think of “us,” you have to ask (and listen).

The church on mission has a unique challenge: to be both a model of meeting people where they are (contextualization)  and a picture of what redeemed community should be (a glimpse into the Kingdom).

On the one hand, the church must do the work of the missionary, translating message and power of the gospel into local culture. Every local church should be an indigenous expression of Christianity. In order to demonstrate the power of salvation, the redeemable aspects of culture should be retained. Unbelievers should not look at the church and see something wholly other. They should not be so frustrated by our presentation that they cannot hear our message. Instead, they should see in us a clear example of what it would be like if someone from their own culture were to know Jesus. Our model is the incarnation of Christ Himself.

On the other hand, the church is to be a picture of that which is not yet- the kingdom of God on earth. In Christ, we are equal, free, and empowered. We are to demonstrate that to unbelievers in order for them to understand the transformational power of life in Christ. Unbelievers should see the brokenness of their systems in comparison to the peace, unity, hope, and love we know as the body of Christ.

So here’s the difficulty: if your church is located in an affluent suburb, your parking lot might be full of bank-breaking luxury cars during worship. But at some point, discipleship requires an examination of values, stewardship, and spending habits. People must be discipled out of their preferences into Christ-likeness. What would Jesus drive?

This tension is rising to the forefront in evangelical circles. David Platt’s book, Radical, is making waves for its call to abandon material things for the sake of the Kingdom (apparently a novel idea these days). People think that Francis Chan has gone off the deep end because he resigned as pastor of his church and is moving to Asia. These guys started with how things were (large churches in affluent areas) and are moving toward how they should be (following Jesus with reckless abandon).

Believers are called to both: we must engage culture and demonstrate its brokenness by publicly living in the Way. How is your church doing both? When outsiders look in, do they see something that is strangely familiar yet clearly different? The tendency today is to be the opposite: to be quick to point out all of the ways we’re different while proving with our every action that we’re really just the same as everyone else.