Valuing One’s Faith

How does one value one’s Faith. In this case, I am using “faith” to mean the religious belief system one adheres to in some way. I saw something interesting in the book THE SKILLED HELPER, by Gerald Egan (I am quoting from the 1975 version).

“A value, according to Raths and Simon (1966) is something that a particular person prizes and cherishes, even in public when appropriate — something that someone chooses freely from alternatives, after considering the consequences of these alternatives, and that causes a person to act (or to refrain from acting) in a repeated, consistent way. As such, values differ from opinions, interests, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes especially in that these, unlike always find their way into action. Values, then, are related to lifestyle. Another way of putting it is that my values constitute the ways in which I commit myself to myself, to others, and to the world about me. My values are extremely important, for my commitments constitute a significant part of my identity — the person I see myself to be. ” (pages 219-220)

So, what are the qualities of a value?

  • It is prized and cherished (including in public when appropriate)
  • Freely chosen despite the availability of other alternatives
  • Leads to action (or refraining from actions) in a repeated, consistent way. It is tied to lifestyle
  • Leads to my internal and external commitments
  • Effects my self identity

One’s faith can be

  • The religious system that one has expressed adherence too due to socialization or lack of alternatives.
  • A set of beliefs that have no relevance to one’s actions or identity.

The question is where such a faith is a Biblical faith. Many people throw around “Easy Believism” the tendency to identify faith in Christ in terms of a mental assent and a prayer. This sort of faith comes out of two things:

  1. A desire to quantify results. An evangelizer cannot identify whether another truly has been regenerated in their interaction, and cannot see the future to see whether the individual makes a real change of direction, so faith is minimized to a tiny action and a cognitive assent. (I remember the “Hand illustration” for evangelism where the final ‘finger’ is the little finger representing the prayer of salvation. It is the little finger because “it is such a little thing.” Of course, committing oneself fully to another is NEVER tiny.
  2. Tendency of having this view born and developed in regions of cultural Christianity, where there is little pressure to adjust one’s lifestyle, and there are few alternative belief systems that appear to be valid for consideration.

However, I think we must consider whether that is what faith in the Bible actually is. Is that faith?

Faith is not just a belief, it is a value.

Offending for Good Reason

Darrel Whiteman says that one of three reasons for good contextualization is to “Offend for the Right Reason.” After all, Paul noted that the Gospel message is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. Yet at the same time, Paul did try to make the Gospel message palatable or adorned for these groups. Paul expressed the Gospel in terms of Deus or the Unknown God to Greek philosophers. Paul expressed the Gospel in terms of Jesus as the Messiah predicted in Scripture to Jews. So this suggests that there is Offending for good reasons and Offending for the bad reasons. And by inference, one can NOT Offend for good and bad reasons.

Offending for bad reasons can break down communication. It can make the message rejected. It can also cause the Christian faith to be viewed as foreign to the culture rather than a fulfillment of the culture.

Not offending for bad reasons can lead to confusion where the Gospel may be seen as nothing more than “the best of that culture.” Ultimately, it may result in some form of syncretism. That syncretism may be seen in “Situational Reformation” (syncretism due to confusion) or “Syncretistic Incorporation” (syncretism based on the intentional creative act of the receiver).

Not offending for good reasons helps the gospel to localize… feel at home in the new culture. Much of a local culture is good (or at least not bad) so the gospel should not undermine what is worthy of embracing.

Offending for good reasons gives motivation to transformation. If the gospel is totally in line with the culture in every way, causing of no offense, one essentially has a “state religion”– justifying the status quo. But offending for the right reason points to necessary transformation.

Don’t Start Attending Our Church?

In ministry, we are guided, in part, by the Great Commission— to share our faith in season and out of season. And often, this drive to share our faith can often be conflated with a drive to grow our church. I have had this happen to me as well. I have had people share the Christian gospel with me, and I let them do it even though I am already a Christian. But as they shared the faith, it really quickly drifted into “their form of faith” and they seemed genuinely bothered that I was a fellow Christian but not switching to their own specific church, or sect, or theological perspective.

This seems pretty messed up to me, but what about the opposite. Is it okay to be a bit discouraging of people switching to one’s own church? I recall a story of a man who sought to convert to Judaism. Talking to a rabbi, he was shooshed away. It was only with the man’s third attempt to have the rabbi oversee his conversion that the rabbi relented and guided him through the process. As a Christian, this seems weird. While the US Marine Corp has long utilized the slogan “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” to suggest their elite status, Christian churches tend to follow a slogan more akin to, “Come on in, we will take anyone.” And in some ways, that is good. God loves and accepts anyone, so how could we do less?

However, while there is no excuse (that I know of) to discourage someone from following Christ, there can be reasons to discourage someone from switching to one’s own church. Some churches can be toxic and perhaps one doesn’t want to have a young believer thrown into such toxicity. Some churches are not a good fit for someone (this may not be a good reason to reject someone, but it may point to the need of informed decision-making on the part of the person). However, I will give a couple of examples from my setting in missions.

  1. Shortly after arriving in the Philippines, I became a member of a church that organized medical missions. My wife joined that group. Even though it was officially a local church ministry, in practice well over half of those who joined were from other churches. We certainly welcomed our medical team members to visit our church. However, we did not encourage them to change church. Medical missions is based on partnership. When we encourage volunteers to leave their own church and come to ours, it sabotages those partnerships making it difficult to work. If we do a medical mission near our church, if we want to partner with other churches, we really can’t prioritize our church over other churches when it comes to new believers. If we in a distant location we have to partner with another church, we really limit ourselves if we only work with churches that are part of our same association or theology. We need to show these other churches respect if we hope to continue to work with them.
  2. A few years later, we were part of a different ministry… one we started. It was a counseling center where we also taught Clinical Pastoral Education (we are still part of that organization). We were working with a local pastor. Our group was ecumenical, but that particular pastor kept putting pressure on the volunteers as well as the trainees to join his church. That did cause problems. It is hard to get trainees to come if their church or denomination know that we are working in some way to undermine them. In fact, after we had resolved that issue, I had ended up telling more than one person when they were talking about denominations and churches, “Please don’t leave your church (or denomination). We are hoping to continue to work with your church (or denomination), so we hope you will continue to still attend there and serve there.”

If one accepts the catholicity (mystical union) of the Body of Christ, and sees that as preeminent over a particular theological novelty, or a specific sect, I believe one can serve far more effectively in missions. Perhaps a third story would suggest this.

3. My wife led a friend to Christ. Although, we did not pressure her to join our church, she chose to, and, in fact, her family and our family worked together in church for several years. However, soon my wife’s friend had a concern. One daughter was very active in a church that was of a very faith tradition. My wife’s friend wondered what she could do to get her daughter to switch churches. My wife’s suggestion was to not discourage her in any way as to the church she is presently attending. She is not only attending but also involved in ministry there. It is not a cult… let her be. The daughter ended up staying in that church for another year or two. Eventually, she did switch churches. However, she did not join our church or denomination. She actually joined a different denomination and eventually became a missionary. It is my view, at least, that her decision to follow God in missions comes, in part, by not embracing a church wars. (I do remember one time saying something to her disparaging of one aspect of her new denominations’s theology. It did no long-term harm. However, it came from a bad place, not an edifying place.)

I do believe that one problem this competition for church membership can also show itself in confusion as to what the gospel is. As I noted at the start, it seems like for some, sharing the gospel is, for them, getting someone to become an attending and tithing member of their church and the actual message of the gospel is an inadequate and unsatisfying part of the presentation for them.

The Great Commission: Changing the Starting Point

The Matthew 28 version of the Great Commission speaks of developing Disciples. There appear to be three basic steps: They are Evangelize, Baptize, and Teach/Train.

GC Three Cycle

The question is where does it start. Within the context of the various Great Commission versions, the start seems to be with Evangelize. That is because the key issue of the Acts 1 version is for the apostles (“sent out ones”) to serve as witnesses of Jesus and proclaimers of Jesus’s message to the world. And since the recipients are people who are not followers, it rather makes sense that Evangelism is the first step.

Of course, things did change. As Christianity, as a religion, became naturalized to families and communities, there was more of a move toward the initial step being baptism. Babies of Christian families would be baptized and brought formally into the church. the children would be trained within the church until they become confirmed in the Christian faith. So Baptism in this case would be the first step. As a Baptist myself, I don’t really prefer that particular starting point, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

But it could also be argued that Training can (or even should) be thought of as the starting point. This can be seen in a couple of ways.

Number 1.   There has been a growth of “try before you buy.” Many seekers will become involved in church before they decide to believe. They want to see Christianity lived out. That can be awkward, because they may not just sit in the back of the congregation. They may want to jam in the worship team. They may want to discuss uncomfortable topics in Bible study or Sunday School. They may want to get involved with social ministries. They may want to join a short-term mission trip.

This first one can be awkward. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable in church with uncomfortable questions. I remember a woman standing up during church service after a deacon had given an (overly strong, and perhaps manipulative) appeal to tithe, and she asks the question to the entire congretation, “Does God’s love need to be bought?” It was a good question, but the church response was to guide her out of the church. Not ideal. I have sat in an evangelistic bible study with a young man who was dressed in women’s clothes. The bible study leader does a fine job for quite awhile and then the dam burst as she started rattling off every verse she knew that spoke negatively of homosexuality.

In both of those cases, I feel that the guests were handled poorly by Christians. They showed up at the church for some reason. Maybe their reasons were sincere… maybe not. The result was that the church pushed them out. The woman never returned, and although the young man did not walk out of the Bible study, he did not continue with the weekly studies.

Number 2.  Engel and Dyrness in “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000) on pages 65 and 66 note that it is not really Biblical to start with transmitting a message without giving people a “taste” of Christian compassion and holy living. I kind of think that this statement is taken a bit far. However, I do believe it is generally true. Charles Kraft speaks of Power Encounter always preceding Truth Encounter. Again, I think that this pushes a particular tradition rather than expressing a Biblical principle. However, Jesus almost always gave a taste of the Kingdom first. This may be miraculous signs, and healing. It may be violating cultural taboos, and upending social structures.

Engel and Dyrness in the same book (see page 64) described Evangelism as it has become popular in the Market Evangelism of the late 1900s Evangelicalism. They noted the Great Commission became tied to two Omissions:

  • Evangelism became disconnected from Social Transformation. Many believed that social transformation would follow Evangelism. Engel and Dyrness noted that at least since the mid-1800s this has not happened. Social Transformation should work hand-in-hand with (or even precede) Spiritual Transformation. Focusing on cognitive change (without an understanding of how such a cognitive change is supposed to connect to a life lived for God) commonly leads to anemic Christianity.
  • When Evangelism drifts into Marketing a product to as many people as possible to get the most people to make some sort of identifying indication of response, discipleship as a total process tends to wilt.

Perhaps a better idea is to start in a better place:

  1.  Welcome people into the church, bible studies, ministry activities and more as seekers and skeptics to experience the Christian faith lived out, and where they can ask uncomfortable questions and get honest (unpracticed thoughtful) answers. In this way they can experience an aspect of the Kingdom that is tied to the message. Of course, this requires Christians to live out their faith socially, as well as doctrinally. This can result in 4th century Christianity where churches moved from small groups of the faithful to being large groups of the immature. But I don’t think this is a necessary result. A church can be a holy gathering of the faithful while maintaining it as a safe space for inquiry and doubt.
  2. Welcome these people to place their faith in Christ to become what they have been experiencing.
  3. Welcome believers into the mystical church— the body of Christ— through baptism.
  4. The people would were trained as believers become trainers of new seekers and skeptics, living out their faith with humility, and demonstrating holy brokenness and social concern to all. (And the cycle continues.)

I don’t think it is controversial to say that we teach unbelievers. It may sound controversial to say that we disciple unbelievers, but if discipleship is the entire process, of course one must disciple unbelievers. What probably IS controversial is to suggest that Proclamation/Evangelization is most commonly the wrong place to start.

And Evangelism that is built around marketing schemes does tend to lack the Biblical base and Spiritual foundation of regeneration.

I think we need to wrestle with this.

 

 

 

 

It Takes a Network

Back in May 2005, we had an opportunity to do a ministry project with the market kids of Baguio City, Philippines, The market kids (also known as “batang palengke” or “plastic boys”) are children who work in the public open market in the center of Baguio City. They sell plastic bags for the shoppers, offer to carry goods for the shoppers, and sometimes beg. Some are street children, lacking a permanent resident. However, most do have families and homes. About 25% do not go to school, and about 25% are children of Muslim merchants who have moved to Baguio from Southern Philippines.

Our involvement started small. It began in Cultural Anthropology class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. Celia and I were part of a team set up to analyze of cultural group and do a project with them. Our other team members included a pastor from Nagaland, India, and a pastor from Cambodia. We decided to work with the market kids. We discovered that two students we knew, one from the Philippines and one from Papua, New Guinea, worked with them and a ministry set up by Korean missionaries. After spending some time in the public market, and working with the children at the Saturday ministry headed by the Korean missionaries, we decided that we would partner with them to do a medical mission for the children.

Ultimately, the project was fairly successful. Eventually, it faded away and different partners moved away. But many of the children were helped and grew up healthy and godly.  In fact, a number of them are serving in Christian ministry. Below are some of the groups that were part of this somewhat informal partnership. Some were partnered long-term, and some partnered on an event-basis. It does take a healthy network to do ministry. Below is a list of a number of the groups and their role(s) in the ministry partnership, with focus especially on the medical mission that was held.

Korean Missionaries                              Lead Weekly Children’s Program

American Missionaries                           Lead Medical Mission Event

Mission Center/Church                            Provide Location for mission

Filipino Missionary                                  Follow-up Muslim children who come

Several Other Filipino churches             Follow-up children/adults who come.

American Church                                    Fund Medical Mission

Korean Church                                        Fund Children’s program

Filipino Medical Professionals                Provide Medical Care

Numerous Filipino volunteers                 Evangelism, Crowd Control for medical mission

Seminary Students                                 Established initial plans and contacts

Dental School                                         Provide Dental Trainees

Missionary Training School                    Do Circumcisions

“Missions in Samaria” Book

One positive side of enhanced quarantine is the opportunity to make progress on something that one had definitely had on the ‘back burner.’ I decided to try to finish my book “Missions in Samaria” a few months early. When I say it is done, I mean that the first draft is done. It is only about 70 pages, but I am happy where it is— at least for now. My next book will be a collaboration with my wife on a pastoral counseling case workbook. It should be valuable, especially in the Asian context.

If you want to read the first draft of my book, “Missions in Samaria,” click on the link below.

Missions in Samaria rev 0

Of course, if you are bored, you can also look at other books that I wrote or my wife and I wrote, they are listed in:   My Books

3 H’s of Persuasion

I have been going over different Asian religions in my Dialogue in Asian Religions course. I started with Judaism in Western Asia and worked my way across to Shinto in the East. Now I am looking at Atheism. Atheism has deep roots in Asia. Some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism could be described as Atheistic, as can some modern political movements in Asia such as Bolshevism and Maoism. Of course, Atheism is so diverse that it is hard to find commonalities between many atheistic perspectives. That, however, is the point. One doesn’t truly know what another person believes simply by knowing the label they use to self-describe. One must talk with them.

Image result for captain disillusion

I decided to use some comments from my favorite “skeptic” online. His name is Alan Melikdjanian. He is more commonly known as “Captain Disillusion” on Youtube. He is a debunker— particularly of videos that seem to show the impossible. He shows how many of these are made through special video “tricks.” Very interesting. However, I am bringing him up for a talk he gave at Skepticon Australia (2018 I think). The title of his talk to a group of skeptics was “The Unbearable Loneliness of Being Right on the Internet.” While he doesn’t say it directly, the talk is essentially a critique of the “New Atheism” movement that developed in the early 2000s. I really don’t think the movement truly exists. Rather, it was a term coined by a journalist around 2003 (I forgot the journalist’s name) to refer to a rather aggressive evangelistic form of atheism that often shows itself in seeing belief in God or in a religious belief system as a sign of mental deficiency or delusion.

Melikdjanian does not seem to have problems with the evangelistic fervor of these people, but rather that their method often has the opposite effect of what they are seeking. The aggressive negative stance of the “new atheists” tended to lead to pushback seeing these skeptics as jerks (or as Melikdjanian said, falling into the “black hole of assholery”).

He suggested three H’s to describe how skeptics (a term that itself is generally understood as rather negative) can be more persuasive.

H is for Humor. Melikdjanian commonly uses humor to entertain and to educate. Good humor builds bridges between people. Bad humor such as sarcasm (“cutting of the flesh”) drives a wedge. Humor also makes one’s message more interesting, grabbing the attention and sympathy of the respondent. Such humor must be humor that resonates with people outside of the echo chamber of the skeptic community. When humor is used in a self-deprecating fashion (pointing out one’s own weaknesses or mistakes), it can lead into the second H.

H is for Humility. In theory a skeptic is a doubter (even though it has often been used to describe those who are rather uncritical of a naturalist worldview). As a doubter, one should be ready to admit one’s mistakes, and express uncertainty and a willingness to learn. Skeptics too often have been known for embracing a certain “know-it-all” attitude with an associated condescension of other’s views. This seeming lack of humility is not a popular attitude, and even less so in a time being dominated by post-modern thought.

H is for Hope. Melikdjanian notes this is very important. Many people hold to faith beliefs that are out of line with the beliefs of skeptics. Many such believers do so, in part, because it provides a source of hope for them. For a skeptic to encourage a person of faith to leave that faith, the hope lost must be replaced with a new hope. The goal should never be to replace hope with hopelessness.

I think there is a lot of wisdom here, and I believe it applies as much to Christians as anyone else. Christians need to be able to express their faith in a manner that is humorous… entertaining, and enlivening the interest of those who are not Christians. Far too much Christian media is designed to be consumed only by Christians or those who are fully immersed in a Christian worldview. Much of it is boring or nonsensical to those outside of the subculture. It is maddening at times the Christian productions out there. Much of it is low quality. That is worthy of complaint. Worse, however, is that it is often marketed as Evangelistic, and yet uses language and cultural references that are only meaningful to insiders. To insiders, it may be seen as simplistic and boring… but to outsiders, the reaction can be far worse. The Gospel poorly presented CAN be do worse than the Gospel not (yet) presented.

As Christians, we recognize that God knows all things, and that we are not God. As such, we have every reason to be humble and joyously embrace our own ignorance. This should not mean that we revel in ignorance (it is good to study and try to understand), but we should not assume that we know it all and that we are always right about everything. Christians are supposed to be humble, so why not embrace that role? We also should avoid espousing the lie (or at least mistaken belief) that doubt is the opposite of, or contradiction of, faith.

As Christians, we need to help others know that we offer a message of hope. Often we do the opposite, spending more time on judgment than on hope. Why? I think there is still a part of us that think that the Medieval practice of the Morality Play (scaring people into formal adherence) is still a good method today. I am not sure it ever was. We must realize that the Gospel message is an offense to some and foolishness to others. It also undermines much of what others base their lives on. Therefore, when we express the Gospel message, the focus should be more on hope.

 

 

Is Dialogue Contradictory to Evangelism?

Dialogue is in contradiction to Evangelism. Or is it?  Dialogue is generally thought of as conversation between two equals (certainly equals in terms of roles in conversation) so as to achieve mutual understanding. As such it is not driven by a desire to coerce another, or change another’s mind. From this standpoint, it is certainly understandable if Dialogue is seen as contradictory to Evangelism. Some even explicitly (or at least implicitly) say this:

Leonard Swidler:    The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn; that is, to change and grow in the perception and understanding of reality, and then to act accordingly.

Peter Feldmeier:   Be without covert or ulterior motives.  Do not secretly be trying to convert them or prove yourself superior.

Frankly, I agree with them. Dialogue is not to be manipulative. It should be built on mutual respect and openness to learn.

So does that put it at odds with proselytizing? Does it work against evangelism?

No, I don’t think so:

Dialogue IS NOT Evangelism… but it IS Foundational to Evangelism

Dialogue helps one…

  • Understand each other  (head level)
  • Have greater insight with each other (heart level)
  • Reduce social distance (relational level)

So consider three forms of evangelism

#1.  Testifying. Sharing one’s own experience (serving as a witness of what God has done in one’s life).

#2.  Proclaiming. Sharing the gospel message and Christian dogma.

#3.  Arguing.  Seeking to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian faith over the faith of the other (two-way conversation where each is seeking to change the mind of the other).

Now consider these.  Testifying is a more personal form of evangelism and that certainly is helped by a reduced social distance. It would also be aided by an understanding of the thoughts, beliefs, and values of the other so that the testimony can be presented in a way that would be understood well by the other and be relevant to the other.  The same could be said in terms of proclamation and even argument.

So, dialogue  is not evangelism. the process and goals are different. However, healthy dialogue helps to bring connection between the two and better understanding of each other which is pretty necessary to effectively evangelize.

Let’s be honest here. Most of the evangelisitic methods that have been created are based on the presumption that the other person is already (essentially) Christian. For example, the Romans Road presumes that the respondent accepts the authority of the Holy Bible, and essentially has a Biblical understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, and what sin is. The respondent may or may not be “born again” (having allegiance to Christ) already, but probably already is already at least nominally or culturally Christian. Hardly surprising that such methods don’t work well with those of distinctly non-Christian religions or cultures.

If you are interested in knowing more about Interreligious (or Interfaith) Dialogue, consider clicking on the menu above for “My Books” and look at the book “Dialogue in Diversity.” It can be clicked on to purchase, or simply to preview some of it.

Cover front

 

Reflective Book Review: “Principles of Leading Muslims to Christ”

I don’t do book reviews very often. Frankly, I usually read through or skim through books rather than deeply read a book. And I even more rarely read a book in the manner appropriate for critique.  However, the author of “Principles of Leading Muslims to Christ” was one of my students, and I did work through the book cleaning up some aspects. Anyway, here is my rather lengthy review.

The book, “Principles of Leading Muslims to Christ: Effective Contextualization and Dialogue for Transformation and Discipleship,” was written by Adesegun Hammed Olayisola. He is a Nigerian who was raised as a Muslim and trained as a Muslim, before coming to be a follower of Jesus when he was college age.

I find the book has several strengths, one weakness, and one or two things that fit in a gray zone between these points.  I will start with strengths:

1.  It is written from a position of sympathy and love for Muslims. Much Christian writing regarding Muslims tends to embrace negative stereotypes. I once decided to electronically cut ties with a pastor friend who essentially used his FB account to promulgate every hateful click-baity story put out there that degrades Islam or its adherents. The author finds much that is commendable in Islam and its adherents, and chooses not to pander to his primarily Christian audience.

2.  He takes up more space bringing awareness of Islamic teachings over Christian responses to those teachings. Some of this is because of the next point. However, in addition he notes that Christians often have a stunning ignorance of Islamic beliefs (and I would add beliefs of almost all other religions). Effective interaction with Muslims begins from a foundation of understanding, rather than ignorance.

3.  Olayiwola recommends dialogue built off of a foundation of mutual understanding over the utilization of argument,  or special plan or technique. Argument generally drives people further apart and special techniques or procedures often are ineffective because they completely fail to take into account the individuality of belief, personality, values, and situation of the person one is talking to. He recommends using a clarification form of dialogue (as opposed to argumentative or relativizing dialogue), and finds value in the 7 principles of Max Warren for interreligious dialogue.

4.  He emphasizes what needs to be done with those Muslims who decide to follow Christ. He speaks particularly of those Muslims who, like himself, find themselves ostracized by family and community (and for some by nation) because of this change of faith. He gives a lot of good advice as to how to bring them into the community of faith. He does not recommend C5 or C6 groups, but does see the need for churches who are MBB (Muslim Background Believer)-friendly. Ideally, it is pastored by an MBB. He speaks of some of the difficulty and rejection he had with Christians and Christian groups for some trivial things such as his name (an “Islamic” name) and whether being a Christian requires a Muslim to start eating pork, or reject part of his (polygamous) family.

The major negative aspect of the book is that it is roughly edited. I have to bring this back on me. I helped with the editing, but Olayiwola lacks to resources for professional editing. It does show, but I don’t believe that it undermines the book, but readers should be aware of this. <As a person who cannot afford professional editing, and as one who likes to put out books first, and fix some problems in later revisions, I am quite sympathetic of this.>

There are some other things that I consider neither negative or positive, but are worth noting.

  1.  The book arguably is not clearly written to any specific target demographic. The early part of the book spends considerable time talking about the story of Sarah and Hagar. This is shared because it is an important issue for many Muslims. However, for most Christians, Hagar and Sarah of Old Testament characters, and a rather obscure New Testament metaphor for salvation. For many Muslims, the story is much more. The author spent considerable time on this because it is important to Muslims and an important separation point for Muslims and Christians. The likely readers, Christians, should embrace this focus rather than seeking to undermine this focus. (I remember when the author presented this topic in one of my classes, and students began to try to argue with him. It was as if they forgot that the presenter is a Christian who is trying to present Islam from an insiders perspective for the benefit of the class.)  Additionally, context of Islam and Christianity is heavily skewed towards Nigeria. As such he focuses on concerns such as “white weddings,” polygamy, prosperity churches, and shariah. While many readers wouldn’t connect with some of these issues, it is unlikely to be beneficial to speak of Islam and Christianity only from a supracultural, decontextualized, setting.
  2. His principles of leading Muslims to Christ point to the idea that there is no set method. The title of the book should hint at this, but Christians are so used to focusing on methods, that they often struggle with focusing on principles or on process. However, once one embraces a method, one often disregards relationship. Additionally, whatever method works in one context is likely to be unhelpful in many (most… nearly all) other contexts.

I do think this book is valuable to Christians who love their Muslim neighbors. But expect to be challenged.

Olayiwola’s book is available at this time in online sources such as Amazon.com.

NOTE:  Olayiwola used some of what I had written on Interreligious Dialogue. If you want to read up more on this topic, consider my book:

Dialogue in Diversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Chick Tracts” and Fan Service

This is a long post so here is the short version. It is my contention that Chick Tracts (for those familiar with them) are not actually evangelistic tracts. Rather they are fan service created for consumption of and support by their real target– Conservative Evangelical Christians.

One channel I like to watch on the Web is “Comic Tropes.” I used to collect comic books. Even though I stopped years ago, I have fond memories of my collecting and reading days, and film studios turning comic books into motion pictures has kept a lot of those fond memories current.

A Comic Tropes broadcast I recently watched was on “Chick Tracts.”  For those who don’t know, Jack Chick (1924-2016) founded a tract publishing house that still produces mini black and white comic books as evangelistic tracts. The work is very revivalistic and fundamentalist in tone. I was raised in a church that would describe itself as Fundamentalist and Separatist. Chick Tracts were not used in that church, however. But when I went to Cedarville College (now Cedarville University) I attended a church that had a large display of Chick Tracts that one could pick up and share with friends (or enemies I suppose).

At the time I found them interesting, at least as a concept. They were essentially little morality plays in comic form– a bit like the radio plays, “Unshackled.” Unlike “Unshackled,” that tended to be grounded in real stories of people at the Pacific Garden Mission, the Chick Tracts tended to be rather “over-the-top” with stories that were often over-simplified, over-dramatized and unrealistic. However, as one who collected comics, I was well-aware that unrealistic over-dramatization is a pretty common feature in this form of media, and so I did not really let that bother me. I would put a few of them, with some other tracts, in my Bible when I would go over to Ohio Veterans Children’s Home. The kids would rummage through my stuff to read or collect… and some would take the Chick Tracts. Fine.

But I was having some problems with these tracts. One of the ones I had trouble with was the one on Evolution. Reading it, I realized that the primary message to those who believe in Evolution is— insult. <Evolutionists are insane or stupid. You should stop being an insane or stupid evolutionist.> I could not see how the message could possibly be effective to anyone. While I am solidly in the “Design Theory” side of the Cosmogeny spectrum, I could not see any transformative value to insulting people of a different view. I did not see how anyone could possibly read that tract and say, “Wow. I never knew that my beliefs were so messed up. I need to follow God, and stop thinking that my ancestors were monkeys!”  If anything, I suspected that people who were evolutionists would be thoroughly turned off not only by the lack of good argument to change beliefs, but also be turned off by the tone of the comics.

Another one that I had trouble with was one on Catholicism. The tract was essentially the comic adaptation of the teachings of Alberto Rivera (1935-1997). These teachings were quite controversial and polemic in nature. Essentially, according to the tract, pretty much all of evils of the 20th century were directly the result of the intentional machinations of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church (with an added little sideslap at the Orthodox faiths as well). Back then, my experience with Catholicism was pretty limited. Presently living in a country that is over 80% Catholic has increased my education immensely. But as I was reading the tract I quickly noted a trend. The tract would make a lot of outlandish claims that I had not heard before, and then would add a more mundane fact that I knew was actually true. When I started checking the footnotes on the tract— what do you think I found? I suspect you guessed it— the fairly mundane and ambivalent facts were properly footnoted to show veracity to the claims while NO footnotes were given to the more outrageous (and “damning”) claims. Again, I could hardly see who would be swayed by such a comic. I just can’t imagine any thoughtful Catholic thinking, “Oh wow! I have been part of the Whore of Babylon! I must leave it and start attending the church of the fine people who are printing these tracts.” In fact, it had a bit of an opposite effect on me. The poor documentation and deceptive footnoting made me wonder if the Catholic Church might not be so bad of a group after all. In this sense, it is kind of the same as my reaction to the anti-Masonic literature of the 19th century, and the Illuminati conspiracy-mongers of the 20th century. In effect, if a person screams loudly about evil “over there” without justifying the claims, one must wonder if the evil is in the one screaming.

On Comics Tropes, a Chick Tract was presented that I don’t recall reading. Apparently, it is one of only a few that they no longer publish. I can understand why they stopped publishing it. While it was again the typical over-the-top morality play, the underlying plot was absolutely horrible on pretty much every level. The title of the tract is “Lisa.” Lisa is actual the daughter of a man who sexually molests her. Somehow, the secret of this man’s behavior becomes known to people in the neighborhood. A neighbor (a medical doctor I think) says to the man that he knows what the man is doing to his daughter. The doctor goes on to give words of wisdom. The man should seek forgiveness from God and stop behaving this way. The man prays to God and asks forgiveness, and goes home to happily tell his wife and his daughter that he will never be a pedophilic, incestuous rapist ever again.

I hope I don’t need to tell you what is wrong with this story. It is actually what has been wrong with, oh so many, churches in the 20th century. Someone does something horrible in church (or out of church and then comes into the church with a story of God’s forgiveness). The church then asks the person to confess, ask forgiveness from God, and then covers things up. In this tract, the doctor:

  • Did not call the police
  • Did not help the man get counseling or even group support (or even get accountability structures in place).
  • Did not ensure that the daughter is protected from the man’s relapse
  • Did not (as far as the story shows at least) indicate that there was any follow-up and ensuring of honest remorse and determination to change.

Maybe 50 years ago someone could read that tract and see a positive message. Maybe. but I know that I saw problems with a number of the Chick Tracts 35 years ago, and I was an insider (semi-Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian). Today, I am not sure that anyone could read “Lisa” without picking up the message of the church as a place to cover-up evil under the cloud of false repentance and remorse. When I think of this story, I am reminded of so many preachers, priests, and missionaries, who knew how to play the game so as to continue doing evil away from police scrutiny. I am reminded of a few years back when Pat Robertson was trying to build support to get a woman on deathrow for murder to have her sentence commuted because she had prayed to receive Christ (as if, again, seeking forgiveness from God should remove one from punishment from civil authorities). Sheer madness.

Anyway, maybe you can see the video from Comic Tropes.

The host describes himself as a person who is “basically good” without being religious. Before one starts quoting Romans 3, note that he is not saying that he is sinless. He is just saying that he has many qualities that religious and secular ethicists would describe as commendable. I don’t have any reason to dispute this claim. As such, he would appear to be exactly the type of person that the tract “Lisa” was written for. That is because the tract doesn’t actually focus on the pedophilia, the incest, and the rape. The doctor makes it clear that the type of sin is not the key, but just that each person has some sort of sin. And the man in the tract emphasizes that he has been “basically a good person” at least until stressors in his life led to him falling to temptation in one specific area. So the host on this Youtube Channel is a great person to test the tract out… to see if the message resonates with a “basically good but imperfect” person.

The reaction was pretty much the opposite of what the tracts purport to seek— repentance and revival. But I think that this is not really the purpose of the tract. I think it is fan service:

“Fan service, fanservice, or service cut is material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience.”

Think about it for a moment. The audience are conservative Protestant Christians. They are the ones that actually gets the tracts from the publisher and the ones that actually provide funding to keep the presses rolling.

  • Insulting Evolutionists would normally do little to change the mind of evolutionists, but it provides a certain comfort to Creationist Christians who have felt marginalized in schools and academia.
  • Throwing around poorly justified accusations at Catholics is unlikely to be very persuasive to Catholics, but helps non-Catholic Christians fell good that their denominations broke away from one of the major ancient branches of Christianity.

Getting back to the tract “Lisa,” this seems to me to be very much about fan service. After all, the pedophilia and such was pretty tangential to the story. The man’s doctor friend could have said, “I am aware that you misrepresent your income in your federal tax report” or “I see that you fail to keep your lawn trimmed according to local zoning laws.” But by having a non-Christian who rapes his own daughter allows the primary audience (Conservative Evangelical Protestants) to say, “Well it is so good that we are Christians unlike those perverts— those non-Christian incestuous pedophiles.” Unfortunately however, since the writer did not take into account that the seriousness of the sin necessitates a change to the overall plot (it can no longer simply be a simplified story of conversion), the message becomes extremely confused.

There is a place for fan service I suppose. But Chick Tracts are promoted as evangelistic tools… and I have personally seen no evidence that they serve that purpose. I expect that there have been a few people who may have responded positively to their message, but I believe that many have also been turned off to that message. One can’t simply say, “Oh, we just give the message, it is the Holy Spirit who changes the heart.” While salvation is a work of God and not man, our role is not simply neutral, or neutral and positive. We can give the message of God in a way that makes Christianity seem odious to outsiders.

Fan service has its place, but not so much for evangelism to those who are not fans. So if you, as a Christian, want to see “God’s Not Dead,” based on a Christian urban legend I recall hearing back over 35 years ago, that is fine. But don’t bring any non-Christian who has taken an actual philosophy class and knows what philosophy professors really claim and not claim.