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Islam and Christianity: Symptoms of a Wider Issue

Much has been made recently about the comments of a professor from a North American evangelical university stressing the similarity between the faiths of Muslims and Christians. While the questions (and their responses) are not new, they revive passions that rattle the tension between the uniqueness of Christian revelation and the degree of inclusivity of that revelation. vramachandraOn his personal blog, Vinoth Ramachandra, Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, shares his thoughts on recent events at Wheaton College (Illinois, USA) and the much larger question of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. He provides an interesting example wherein the roles are reversed, explaining,

The Malaysian Church, in recent decades, was engaged in a prolonged legal battle with their Islamist-influenced government which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to the supreme God and creator. Church leaders received directives stating that several words of Arabic origin, including Allah, Nabi (prophet) and Al Kitab (Bible) were not to be used by non-Muslims as Arabic was the language of Muslims. Usage by Christians would sow the seeds of “confusion”. The import of Malay Bibles printed in Indonesia (which used Allah) was effectively banned.

Christians countered by pointing out that Allah was the common term used to refer to the supreme God long before Islam came into existence in North Africa. Arab Christians continue to worship God as Allah and Malay-speaking Christians have also been using Allah for centuries. Far from sowing “confusion”, it has facilitated communication and promoted mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.

Clearly this was more than a matter of official historical ignorance. Islamists fearful of the conversion of Muslims sought to deter the latter from reading the Bible by claiming that Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. They have been successful. Christians lost the legal battle, with dire consequences for the future of social justice and religious harmony in Malaysia.

 
He continues in his post to sharply criticize Western Christians who rely upon lazy rhetoric to brush aside an entire world religion, with whom Christianity does share a significant lineage, on the basis of wider, cultural suspicions or political media fears, reminding that,

The actions of the Wheaton College authorities, like much of what is done in the U.S., reach a global audience. I can imagine how they will be seized upon by Islamists around the world as ammunition to deploy against Christians. And how betrayed Malaysian Christians must feel.

American Christians- especially those studying and working in colleges and universities- cannot remain complacent with theological, historical or political naiveté. Willful ignorance is inexcusable. Americans have ready access to a wide range of scholarly literature and the latest information technologies that the rest of us envy. They don’t have to watch Fox News or listen to the latest chauvinist or demagogue. Some of the finest biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians are found in the American Church (sadly, it is not their works that are exported to the rest of the world).

Moreover, every American city is multi-cultural and multi-religious. You can meet Christians from all over the world, as well as thoughtful Muslims from every Muslim sect, Jews, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. You can have your prejudices dispelled, your viewpoints and worldviews enlarged through such encounters and friendships.

If American Christians do not avail themselves of the resources and opportunities on their doorstep, they will remain culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and a deep source of embarrassment to the rest of the global Church.

Three quick thoughts from Ramachandra’s critique:

  1. How to increase the “export” of the finest of North American biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, and historians- is this a matter of educational institutions, publishing business practices, or other factors? I recall when I was living in East Africa that I could see American televangelists broadcast in syndication yet the library of the nearest theological university was woefully outdated.
  2. Given the presence of a wide diversity of cultural and religious adherents living in proximity to us, the church needs resources that will help to bridge these differences, both in fellowship and dialogue outside of the church. There is a tremendous opportunity to re-think our faith and practice when we are nudged to articulate our understanding to people who have had different experiences and commitments than we have had ourselves. (A useful book in encountering this process is Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the Context of World Christianity, or Soong-Chan Rah’s Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, for a more local application.)
  3. I would like to leave Ramachandra’s final sentence to stand on its own, as it is the most poignant of his entire post. I will only embellish his thought to remind us in North American, or any context, that if these are truly the markers of our churches- culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and embarrassing to the global Church, then there is something unhealthy that must be remedied, but this cannot occur unless we are able to evaluate ourselves with humility and grace.

View full post: Pocket-Sized Gods? at vinothramachandra.wordpress.com.

Jesus Without Borders (Interview)

About Jesus without Borders:

Jesus without Borders

Jesus without Borders

Though the makeup of the church worldwide has undeniably shifted south and east over the past few decades, very few theological resources have taken account of these changes. Jesus without Borders — the first volume in the emerging Majority World Theology series — begins to remedy that lack, bringing together select theologians and biblical scholars from various parts of the world to discuss the significance of Jesus in their respective contexts.

Offering an excellent glimpse of contemporary global, evangelical dialogue on the person and work of Jesus, this volume epitomizes the best Christian thinking from the Majority World in relation to Western Christian tradition and Scripture. The contributors engage throughout with historic Christian confessions — especially the Creed of Chalcedon — and unpack their continuing relevance for Christian teaching about Jesus today.


Black Catholics Searching for Recognition, Identity

The Brooks family — Joe, Desiree, Gabrielle and Alyssa — pray after arriving for Sunday Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va., in this 2011 file photo. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

The Catholic Church in the United States likely encompasses every cultural group. African Americans, who comprise about 3% of the membership, bring a unique perspective, yet also face challenges of identifying with leadership and contemporary societal issues.

Anthea Butler (Twitter | Bio), Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (USA) shared with AirTalk, a program of Southern California Public Radio, about the relationship between Black Catholics and the Catholic Church at-large in America.

Interview summary and audio link | Audio only 

Introduction of the segment and Anthea Butler (0:00)

African American Catholics have a long history in the [United States], tell us a little about that. (0:54)

Is there still a connection between the Catholic Church and Black America? (1:40)

AB (2:15) I do think, for Catholics, there’s a sense in which the universality of the church makes you, in one way, try to overlook some of the ethnic things that are happening. On the other hand, you have to deal with them because of the different ethnic communities and parishes.

What role does racial identity play in Catholic worship services? (2:32)

AB (2:35) It plays a very big role- if you think prior to Vatican II, there wasn’t a lot of racial identity. Everybody was forced into the same kind of worship styles and all of that. Post-Vatican II, Black Catholics were able to explore different musical styles with gospel music…so there’s a lot of different ways in which Black Catholics have put forth their culture within the Catholic Church.

How is it different from the way that other Catholics conduct services? (3:08)

AB (3:31) I think the difference is in how Black Catholics were perceived by other Catholics in the church. If you think about immigration and all the ethnic Catholics we have — Polish Catholics, Irish, Germans, Italians, everybody always focuses on them for a culture within the Catholic Church, but nobody looks at Black Catholics, and I think our unique history has a lot of cultural implications, because we’ve had to straddle the line between being Black Americans and being Black Catholics.

What effect has [the rise in Latino demographics in the US] had on black parishes? (3:59)

Has [this effect] led to a number of Black Americans, maybe, not identifying as Catholics? (4:51)

AB (5:10): I do think, however, that by not paying attention in some places- I’m not going to say all- to the needs of Black Catholics, especially with the kinds of priests that are assigned to diocese and parishes, that has caused a real problem. Let’s say you have a priest that does not understand the unique kinds of cultural needs for African American Catholics and they’re, say, from the Philippines or even African priests. That causes a lot of problems.

AB (6:18) It’s really hard, sometimes, to integrate Black Catholics into other parishes if those parishes don’t have Black people already in them, if you know what I mean. It’s hard to put together people and just say “Well, because you’re all Catholics, that’s going to work”. Enculturation just doesn’t mean that you can just throw everybody together and it’s going to be okay. Sometimes, people are really upset about that. That can create a lot of tension.

Pope Francis has spoken out a lot about poverty, corporate greed- he’s remained silent, though, on issues like use of force or recent civil unrest that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri- what do you think Black Catholics are hoping to hear from the Pope during his visit? (6:40)

AB (6:56): I think that they hope to hear several things: One is, I think they would like to hear some comment about racism in America. The Catholic Church’s history with race has been a troubled one in a lot of ways. You have to think about missionary activity and slavery- even though popes spoke out against slavery and issued papal bulls, slavery still happened. This racial situation we are currently in in America right now, especially with mass incarceration and police brutality, I think would be something very important for the Pope to say that Black Catholics want to hear.

Second, I just think that Black Catholics would like to be recognized. We have a huge history here in the United States, the first black Jesuit in the country, Patrick Healy  was the president of Georgetown [University], we have an order which was started by Henriette Delille, the Sisters of the Holy Family, people are hoping that maybe the cause for her sainthood could progress. There’s lots of different ways in which Black Catholics could be recognized by the Pope and I am hoping that we hear something from him while he is here in the United States.


Discussion questions:

What problems can arise from leadership that is not aware of the cultural needs and contributions of a segment of the congregation?

How can a congregation meaningfully engage with different cultural communities within its membership?

Whose cultural identity is most prevalent in your worship service? How do you see this?

How can a congregation appropriately relate to its complicity in past injustice and respond to contemporary challenges?


How Do We Imagine Jesus?

Jesus heals paralized manIn a recent post, Christine Sine reflects on the images of Jesus that are popular among different communities, and how these conceptions can radically affect one’s discipleship and faith. She writes:

I have always been fascinated by how Christians perceive Jesus and love to chat to people from different theological and cultural backgrounds to explore this. I also love to collect images of Jesus from other cultures and have included some of my favourites in this post.

It is interesting to me that early Christians (and the Celtic Christians we so much admire) saw Jesus as a companion and a brother. It was only after the emperor Constantine became a Christian that the view of Christ shifted to more of an emperor figure. No surprisingly as Christendom took hold and wars became justified as holy wars we also started to see images of Christ as a warrior king. (more…)

15 Conversations the Church Needs to Have in 2015

Fuller Theological Seminary surveyed faculty across their campuses and departments to find out what conversations the Church should be engaged in during 2015 and provided links to further reading on the subject (books, articles, and blogs) to help inform those perspectives.

Five of the top six presented spoke about conversations related to diversity, equity, and reconciliation!

An edited screengrab of some of the responses from faculty.

An edited screengrab of some of the responses from faculty.

Read the full responses and see the reading recommendations here: 15 Conversations the Church Needs To Have in 2015

The Ocean’s Influence on Theology

This morning, I came across a quote from Paul Tillich that caught my attention.

tillich

It made me think of the influences that have shaped me into the person who I am today. Usually, we think of teachers, pastors, friends, family members, or authors who have contributed to our development, but Tillich’s quote reminded me of the environmental influences that may, more subtly, effect our perspective. (more…)

Christmas in Africa, Anti-Slavery Trees, and Downward Mobility: A Christmas Roundup

xmasThis week, we have several posts related to Christmas from different perspectives, from the Christmas Tree as an Anti-Slavery symbol, Advent through the lens of downward mobility, and Christmas traditions from several cultures within Africa (the image to the left are children in Ghana dressed up for the holiday!)

Have a Merry Christmas, from every part of our globe!

(Looking for the right gift for yourself or someone you love? Check out our bookstore, powered by Amazon)

(more…)

José y Maria: Still No Room

In the United States, it is typical to rent a room temporarily while traveling. Mary and Joseph were not looking for a room for the weekend, as we are accustomed to doing around the holidays. They were looking for temporary lodging, to fulfill whatever obligations of the census and to be ready in case Mary went into labor. In a town that would have been filled with Joseph’s kin, none were willing to make room for him and his pregnant fiancee. Think less about a “No Vacancy” neon sign and more of being told that there are no guest rooms, no rollaways, no couches, no air mattresses, no floors that you are welcome to. “That girl” is not welcome in our town.

Illustrator Everett Patterson has an image that strikes this chord in scene preceding the nativity we are accustomed to decorating our homes, lawns, and churches.

José y Maria, by Everett Patterson

José y Maria, by Everett Patterson

In his commentary on the piece, he writes, (more…)

Ecumenical Progress: 5 Thoughts on Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue

Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, sign the Joint Declaration - AP

Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, sign the Joint Declaration – AP

Leaders of two major branches of world Christianity joined together on November 30, 2014 to issue a joint statement about the need for shared theological reflection, commitment to common purposes, and dialogue with other religious groups to establish understanding and justice. Special consideration was also given to Christians living in war zones in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the Orthodox world, are pictured here signing the resolution. Below are excerpts from the text (inset), with comments following major sections.

For more on these perspectives, see past posts The Impact of Pope Francis and How the East Sees the West.

1. There is a common lineage and history, even if they have been estranged for centuries. By establishing these models at the outset, the statement invites an atmosphere of familial ties.

We, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, express our profound gratitude to God for the gift of this new encounter enabling us, in the presence of the members of the Holy Synod, the clergy and the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to celebrate together the feast of Saint Andrew, the first–called and brother of the Apostle Peter. Our remembrance of the Apostles, who proclaimed the good news of the Gospel to the world through their preaching and their witness of martyrdom, strengthens in us the aspiration to continue to walk together in order to overcome, in love and in truth, the obstacles that divide us.

(more…)

Good News for the City: Urban Apologetics

Friend of the blog, Ramon Mayo of Urban Ministries Inc. and UrbanFaith.com has an interview with Chris Brooks about his new book, Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers. In the interview, Mayo and Brooks explore the need for thoughtful articulation of the faith to respond to the distinct questions that people are asking. Doing Apologetics from an Urban Perspective opens a conversation about how best to engage the living contexts of our cities with the gospel–acknowledging that both the questions and responses may differ from those of prior generations of apologists.

Chris Brooks is the senior pastor of Evangel Ministries and also the founder and president of the Detroit Bible Institute. He also hosts a Detroit-aired daily radio show, “Equipped For Life,”and is the newly appointed Campus Dean of Moody Theological Seminary-Michigan. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Chris over about his new book “Urban Apologetics” and apologetics in general.

What inspired you to write a book on apologetics?

Two things. First it comes from a passion for the gospel in the urban community. People have intellectual barriers and need answers to their questions about life, so I wanted to provide the answers from Christ and scripture because most people assume that we don’t have answers.

Secondly it stems from our members being sent out to do evangelism and coming back with the questions and objections of the urban community they were sent to. I took it upon myself to develop a specific ministry of equipping Christians to answer people’s objections regarding the faith.

Why do you believe apologetics are important for the urban context? (more…)

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