Another Sad Story↑

So for those of you in the United States you have undoubtedly heard about the scandal currently being investigated at Penn State University. The football program is one of the most storied, the coach is already legendary, and the actions of one former assistant have tarnished the memory of all of that, and the lives of a number of young people were drastically impacted.

I don’t really want to add to the tons of articles being written about this. There is plenty out there if you want to find more details about it. What I do want to share is the mental journey that I went through as soon as I heard about this story. Actually the NBC Nightly News segment linked below also took a similar direction. NBC Nightly News

“The sexual abuse of young kids by a trusted authority figure”

Sounds terribly familiar, huh? Just within the United States over the past few decades we have had this or similar scenarios play out over and over again. From the Catholic Church, to the Boy Scouts, and within the most conservative and religious elements of our society as the 20/20 special from April covered. Now to a leader of a football program that was built on a code of honor.

I think for myself when I heard about these incidents as they occurred over the past 10 or 15 years I looked at the institution as lack having some unique dynamic that created this circumstance. But what really do a state university football program, conservative Evangelical Christianity, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church have in common?

Human beings.

That’s about as far as the connections go. Yet, I think that is enough. I think all of these terrible scenarios expose the nature of man as a sinful being who when left to himself is capable of committing awful acts. As a Christian, I find the Bible describes this in a number of places and most notable in this scenario the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. I’m not going to turn “expositional” here but in that portion of his letter Paul is writing to show how all mankind is in need of a righteousness that can’t come from within.

The scandal at Penn State is another reminder to me of how the heart of man is corrupt and for righteousness to come from it can only be the result of something supernatural.

20/20 – “Shattered Faith”

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Awaiting a Savior by Aaron Armstrong←

Awaiting a Savior Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation and the End of Poverty

by Aaron Armstrong

Before I get to the review of the book a little background on the publisher. Cruciform Press is a relatively new Christian publisher. Some might look at that as a negative, but in this case I think it is a huge positive. They are a publisher that is built for the digital world. Yes, they still have print books, but they also are extremely e-reader friendly. Their books come out on a monthly cycle and you can subscribe to have each months book delivered directly to you the first day of the month. The book length is also ideal for the digital era. They are shorter than your average book – typically coming in between 100-120 pages- which makes them a quicker read and very accessible for a wide variety of readers. The final aspect that I’ve really appreciated is that the books they publish are Gospel saturated. They deal with a wide variety of issues – social issues like adoption and abortion, morality, family and parenting, Christian living and more – but all of them are dealt with through the framework of the Gospel. This is a refreshing approach and makes their books highly recommended in my opinion.

Now – enough about the publisher – on to the review!

My Review

This book is targeted at Christians and is a corrective on the approach that many take to addressing the issue of poverty and an articulation of a third approach that is often misunderstood. Here are the two views he argues against:

Some of us hold to a theology declaring that it is our mandate as the Church to bring about the end of poverty. Others, holding a different theology, seem content to do nothing at all and wait for Christ to return. Neither approach is acceptable. (loc. 94)

When I think about most churches that I know and the way that they engage the poor – both domestically and internationally – they fall into one of these two categories. Either “if it is to be it is up to me” or “God will wipe away ever tear from every eye, then so I don’t need to do anything now.” The approach that the author argues for is that the Bible has clear teaching on poverty that has direct implications for Christians today. That will be expounded later in the book.

The author begins with an examination of the causes of poverty. This is an important discussion and his viewpoint offers some clarity on the issue. He holds a somewhat controversial – for some – viewpoint: “The root cause of poverty is sin.” (loc. 85) Some interpret this as a “poverty as punishment” view. The author refutes this. It is not that this person or their parents sinned as a result they are in the current state of poverty (e.g John 9) but the entrance of sin in the world and the effects of the curse from Genesis 3 are responsible for man’s ultimate poverty – spiritually, relationally, and materially). With this in mind efforts that address only the material needs do not go far enough. Yet, on the same hand efforts that ignore the material needs do not go far enough either.

After looking at the cause of poverty he then turns to the biblical teaching and resulting implications. Through both the Old and New Testament there is evidence that God has a significant concern for the physical care of people – both believers and unbelievers. For those who are followers of God he expects “covenant faithfulness” and out of this Armstrong argues that it ought to then lead to “ethical faithfulness.” It is not rooted in our own goodness or morality but in the goodness of God and because in so doing God is glorified and made known to the world. It is not a matter of “legalism” that drives our actions – “I must do this so that I am right with God” – but because we are loved by God we ought to love others.

The gifts of love always precede the demands of love. (loc. 644)

More than a practical, how-to sort of book, this is mostly a book dealing with motivations and reasons why Christians ought to engage in ministering and serving those in poverty around them. Toward the end of the book there are some really helpful ideas and a framework to consider for how you can get involved. However, more than anything the author hopes to cultivate Christians and churches that are truly heavenly minded “clear-eyed, motivated, inspired, and practical in a way that no other perspective can match” (loc. 902) who understand that the Gospel teaches that loving God and being loved by God should result in real and tangible loving of your neighbor because “covenant faithfulness simply results in ethical faithfulness.”

DISCLAIMER: I received a free evaluation copy of this book. I did not receive any monetary payment nor was I required to write a positive review. I hope my comments about the book will help you evaluate whether or not the book is worth purchasing and reading.

The Minority Report↓

The Politics of Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority States: Old Challenges and New Trends by Ziya Meral

This is the fourth article from the Summer edition of The Review of Faith and International Affairs.

Meral, Ziya. “The Politics of Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority States: Old Challenges and New Trends.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9 Summer 2011): 25-30.

Map of the Muslim Population by Percentage in ...
Map of the Muslim Population by Percentage

This was the shortest of the articles thus far. It is also much more historically-orientated and does not provide as much analysis as laying out the historical record. It concludes with a few challenges and applications for the present, but on the whole is basically a historical framework of the treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-Majority states.

In this article Ziya divides the history into four different eras. (1) The Early Era (2) The Powerful Era (3) The Modern Era (4) The Contemporary Era.

The Early Era 610-660 AD

At the very beginning of its founding Islam itself was the minority religion. One of the Prophet Muhammad’s burdens was the polytheism of his people. So when he begins teaching a monotheism that will undercut the idol-worship it was not well received. This led the early Muslims to go from Mecca to Medina. There the message was more openly received and the community was able to consolidate.

During Muhammad’s time in Medina and triumphal return to Mecca, the Prophet emerged as a skillful political leader uniting tribes and demonstrating increasing political and ultimately military power. Thereafter, more domineering and harsher attitudes began to emerge. – Meral, 26.

While not a comprehensive Islamic history this statement provides some oversight to the importance that Muhammad had in the community. He was the religious leader, but was also the political and military leader as well. All the facets of the community were wrapped up in this one man. This helps to understand the vacuum that was created after his death in 632.

The state of non-Muslims during this period is described mostly as ambiguous. Some were friends= and some were foes. There are some instances of forced conversions and others where this was not the case. For really the first 50 years of Islam there was no real coherent framework.

The Powerful Era 661-1924

This second era is by far the longest and in many ways spans too much of a time period to be fully consistent. It stretches from the Ummayyad Dynasty in 661 all the way to the fall of the Ottoman and Qajar dynasties in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Over this extensive period a number of different schools emerged.

The principles of sharia as preached by the Prophet, recorded in the Qur’an, and demonstrated in the Hadith developed into various schools of thought and produced the texts which formulated Islamic jurisprudence. – Meral, 26.

As Islam and Islamic empires spread the desire for non-Muslims was for them to convert. This however was not the case in every instance. So the relations can eventually be summarized in this way:

Hence, generally speaking non-Muslims could dwell in Muslim lands and in theory could be exempted from sharia laws and any coercion to convert to Islam. In return, non-Muslims had to accept a heavy burden of taxation and accept that they had not political rights and were not citizens but merely denizens. The most sophisticated and well regulated version of this was seen in the millet  system in the Ottoman Empire. – Meral, 26.

This, in the general sense, was the state of affairs for most minorities under the various Islamic empires. Certainly there were instances of more freedoms and rights. There were also times of harsher treatments as well. Meral indicates that there is a battle of “revisionist history” taking place. Some camps try to portray a “golden era” from pre-colonialism when non-Muslim minorities and Muslim governments were on good terms. On the other hand some have advocated abuses on the other extreme to buttress arguments of incompatibility between Islam and modern ideas of human rights. Both sides are prone to overstating the reality.

Yet, the actual historical reality shows neither a golden era nor the dark age. Non-Muslims enjoyed relative freedoms but also serious restrictions and persecution at the hands of their Muslim rulers, depending on where and when and with whom they lived. – Meral, 26.

This is the summary of roughly 1300 years of history. A far from simple task.

The Modern Era 1900-1989

This is again a rather ambitious project to tackle without broad-brushing so much so as to really be unhelpful. Meral divides the modern era into two parts 1900-1967 and 1967-1989. During the first section most of the Muslim world was seeking independence and attempting to create some sort of unified state. In some instances Islam was viewed as a defining factor and non-Muslims were forced to assimilate or else faced persecution or elimination. In other instances ethnicity was the common bond and so an Arab could be either Christian or Muslim but by nature of being an Arab was a viable part of the community. Most of the nation-states at this time were built on a secular notion of the state and many flirted with ideas of socialism. However, Meral points to the Six Day War – and the defeat of multiple states and seizure of land by Israel – as a defining moment that signaled the failure of the secular state. This shifted the balance of power away from the secular and toward the Islamists.

At this point many of the Islamist leaders claimed that the Muslim world was the way it was because these nations had forgotten Islam. In this new world the biggest losers were the non-Muslims. While unlike Muslims of the Powerful era the minorities had equal rights on paper they still faced harsh exclusion in day to day living, with only a few exceptions.

In the end this era is “summarized by assimilation, exodus, marginalization, and fatal persecution of religious minorities across Muslim-majority countries.”

The Contemporary Era

In this era, as a result of the previous conditions, the number of non-Muslims has drastically diminished in the Middle East and North Africa. However, at the same time there has been a small but increasing community of non-Muslims emerging in the region. Some of the examples given include more than 35,000 Christians in Algeria. Even Iran has a growing number of conversions. What does this mean?

First, it challenges the homogenized narratives of the nation-states and now these groups have found themselves at odds with the state. In some instances this is viewed as a rejection of national identity.

Second, these conversions challenge the Islamist groups and have created an anomaly in the “us” versus “them” battle they use to explain the world. For Muslim background believers to become followers of another faith it raises a whole series of questions. These converts – apostates – share all of the moral, cultural, and political opinions  yet they differ only in religion. Some have imagined this as a subtle advancement of a “unified Christian West” to corrupt and destroy the social order. While modern conceptions of human rights have helped to limit violent persecution, subtler forms still exist in daily life. In some cases, as is being demonstrated presently in Iran, conversion may be cause for execution. The present case for religious minorities is bleak in most cases.

Conclusion

This historical survey has attempted to show both the good and the bad for religious minorities. There is the potential for minority religious views to co-exist alongside of a Muslim majority. The democratic uprisings of the Middle East have re-introduced the question of what is the place of minorities in these societies. Perhaps the future will offer a more meaningful level of freedoms for those of any faith.

Let us hope and pray that we have all learned our lesson in allowing xenophobia, racism and religious demonization to run free in the 20th century and do not repeat the same mistakes in the 21st century. – Meral, 29.

Part 4 of my review of the Summer 2011 edition of The Review of Faith and International Affairs. Read the introduction to the series here.

Part 1: Forced Faith↓

Part 2: Compelled to Tell↓

Part 3: Religiously Arguing for Religion↓

One God One Message by P.D. Bramsen←

One God One Message

by P.D. Bramsen

I really benefited from reading this book. Even though it took me about 2 1/2 years to finish it, I really did enjoy this book. I first picked it up when I was in St. Louis, Senegal two summers ago. The author lived and worked in St.Louis for a number of years but now has returned to the United States. It was fun for me to be able to imagine some of the scenarios described in this book having seen it firsthand. I began reading a copy that a friend had and really enjoyed the first few chapters I got through. Then I left and it wasn’t till about 6 months later that I happened to attend a conference and the author was also there. So I was able to get a copy of the book for myself. However, over the year and a half since then it wasn’t until about the last month that I picked it back up to finish it.

One God One Message is one part Christian apologetics, one part Biblical theology, and one part story-telling. The author writes from a vast experience of living and working as a Christian in majority Muslim countries and the many conversations he had there. He also has had extensive interaction with people from around the world through various web-based ministries. This background gives him a lot of insight into the common questions and objections that people have to the Bible.

The bulk of the book is an unhurried journey through the Bible from beginning to end. I’ve become more and more convinced that this is so important to understand – and be able to articulate – as a Christian. The overall narrative of the Bible is what gives background to the propositions that we too often articulate. The narrative also provides correctives to a whole host of abuses of “Christianity” throughout history and in the present. Though this exposition of the Bible is largely aimed at non-Christians it was really beneficial for myself to walk through the story of the Bible again.

Before jumping into the story the author devotes a significant section to objections and background information about the Bible. He does a very good job of connecting many important strands and weaving them together to tell the whole story.

For anyone who wants to know more about the Bible and what it is – not what “Christianity” as a formalized religion is – and what it says about man and his relationship to God this book is highly recommended.

If you want to know more about the author some of his other resources visit his website: one-god-one-message.com

Product Description

A DOWN-TO-EARTH MIX OF APOLOGETICS & STORYTELLING FROM THE WORLD’S BEST SELLER. Interspersed with contrastive e-mails from Muslims around the world, this captivating journey through the Bible permits truth seekers to overcome countless obstacles and encounter the one true God and His amazing plan. Third edition (November 2008) includes a thought-provoking Discussion Guide. Here is how one American reader described his experience: ONE GOD ONE MESSAGE answers tough questions. In some mysterious way, I had a sense of drawing closer to the Lord as I read. There have been a few books I have read in which I had this sense. The pages convey the true and deeper heart of God. This was not just a book about facts. I have read many of those. This book reaches to the deeper part of our souls for God to touch. DISCOVER THE MYSTERY. TAKE THE JOURNEY.
from: amazon.com

Reading Today’s Stories…9/16

So it has been a few days since I’ve posted links to news stories around the political-theological-cultural-historical world (at least the part that I’m reading in) so here are a few interesting links I’ve found.

Nancy Fuchs Kreimer: The Good News About American Islamophobia http://huff.to/p6lolR

So I have mentioned a few of the studies referenced in this article before. But this is a summary of a few reports put out that chart the attitudes of American’s toward those of a different religion: specifically Islam. As a country that purports to advance freedom this is a major question we have to face. Read the whole story here.

Why the Kabul Embassy Attack Is Really A Disaster — Registan.net http://bit.ly/qIFrrp

American Embassy in Kabul
American Embassy in Kabul

One of the major news stories from a few days ago was the attack on the American embassy in Kabul. This attack was the first that was able to last until a second day. However, that is not the only reason why this is a significant attack. Though the weapons and tactics were not really significant enough to produce serious damage  on a hardened target like the embassy they do carry a significant message.

As 2011 has ground on, the attacks in Kabul have become more intense, lasted longer, demonstrated better intelligence and tactics on the part of the insurgency, and struck ever more supposedly-secure targets. It is part of a years-old trend in the Taliban insurgency: by engaging in high-profile attacks on targets we assume to be safe, they are engaging in propaganda of the deed, of using their assaults to send a very deliberate message to the Afghan people: you are not safe, you are not secure, and the West cannot protect you. This has gone on for years now. It is not a secret.

Read the whole story here.

Video: Bloodlines Trailer | Crossway http://bit.ly/rbcTbU

I am very excited for this new book to be released later this month. It is written by a prominent pastor and gives his story of growing up within the religious but deeply racist south. It is an extremely important book and I think will be a great help to the church in combating some of the issues in our country today. It has application to how you treat your neighbors who only speak Spanish or how you treat the new family in your kid’s school who pray in a mosque on Friday. What does your faith as a Christian and the Gospel have to say about that situation?  Watch the short trailer below: