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Written by Steve Taylor Monday, 07 October 2013 00:00

Any Christian pursuing deeper relationships with Muslims eventually has to struggle with this question: Allah and Yahweh—are they the same God? This question became the topic of heated discussion at the annual convention of a notable evangelical denomination this past summer.  Delegates to this gathering were put off by a paragraph in an appendix to a minority report from a study committee working on evangelism in Muslim contexts. (Yes, it was buried that deep!) Here is the offending paragraph:

Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

Pastors, elders, and theologians weighing in subsequently on denominational discussion boards and affiliated blog sites have accused the author of the statement of peddling a rehash of the old line, classical Liberalism opposed by J. Gresham Machen or of enticing the denomination to the cliff of a “syncretism” in which “Islam remains but Christianity is not needed”. The firestorm has not abated.

The author of the minority report, Dr. Nabeel Jabbour, a Syrian Christian by birth, is a veteran of over 40 years of ministry to Muslims in the Middle East. In his minority report and in other writings,* Dr. Jabbour amply evinces a clear commitment to the gospel and to the exclusive supremacy of Christ as the climactic and final revelation of God. The issue Dr. Jabbour raises is, rather, how best to dialogue with people who are still unconvinced: what kind of persons should we be and where should we start?

Context Matters

These concerns are evident even in the immediate context of the offending paragraph (repeated below in bold font):

There is only one God, and He is Yahweh, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the tendency of all human beings to bring down, as it were, that almighty God and to place Him in our little boxes. Those little gods that we tend to create are not the Almighty God. The Jews at the time of Jeremiah did it, although they gave him the name Yahweh. . . . Yahweh, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, cannot be placed into a box.

Are Allah of the Arab Christians and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when we do not have a veil over our eyes and when we do not bring Him down to become our servant who is supposed to answer our prayers and do what we think He should do. . . .

Are Allah of Muslims and Yahweh the same God? Yes, when the veil is lifted from their eyes and Muslims see Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Fine-tuning to see Yahweh as He truly is takes place through Christ. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

There is only one Yahweh, yet all people in all religions project their image of what He is like and assume that they are worshipping that Yahweh when in reality they are worshipping their own creations.

The Allah or God in Islam has 99 attributes, and we would agree with most of them. But the huge missing names are “Father of the Lord Jesus Christ” and “our heavenly Father.” . . . (Emphasis added; repetitive sentences omitted)

Critics insist that it is precisely these missing names (and attending concepts), which are so central to the Christian concept of God, that demand a complete and explicit rejection of any identity between Yahweh and the Allah--as a precondition for any meaningful discussion or evangelism.

An Historical Analogue

But consider this definition for God taught to Christian children for several centuries in certain sectors of the Church: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism [1674]). Most thoughtful Muslims could agree with this statement; there is nothing distinctively Christian in it. Could this definition serve as common ground in a Muslim-Christian discussion?

This could be pressed further: Why would Christian theologians intent on instructing future generations of the Church write such a definition? Why not follow the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed with explicitly Christian claims like, “God is the all-mighty, all-knowing Tri-Personal Creator who was active in the story of Israel, and who is ultimately revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and dwells among us in the person of the Holy Spirit . . . ”?

The authors of the Shorter Catechism were defining God in a context framed by a long discussion spanning over 1700 years and reaching back to Greek philosophers: the Supreme Being had to be defined first in these “essentialist” terms. The “Westminster Divines” wanted to speak into the long conversation about that particular Referent, not start a new conversation about another. Whatever its other merits and demerits, this definition is, in itself, pre-Christian if not “sub-Christian”; but that is part of the necessary price paid to intelligibly inject new meaning into an old and venerable conversation. And the willingness to join that conversation is itself an act of faith in the God who has already been at work in the great conversations of history.

Conceptual Help

It might help to borrow some distinctions from linguistic philosophy. Swiss thinker Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) described meaningful communication as the interplay between three factors:

  1. The “signifier” – the sound or marks on a page that one recognizes as a sign, in our case, the words “Allah,” “Yahweh” or “God.”
  2. The “signified” – the concept, idea, or mental content that a sign (“signifier”) expresses or evokes, in our case the different concepts and theologies that characterize the various Christian and Islamic systems.
  3. The “referent” – the actual thingor person, or set of things or persons, to which a sign (or “signifier”) refers, in our case the actual person God is in God’s self.

The critics of the offending paragraph above assume a virtual identity between their set of “signifieds” (concepts, ideas about God) and the “referent” (God). For them the obvious differences between what they mean by God and what the Muslim theologian means is so great that there cannot possibly be a common referent for a Christian and any Muslim. The Christian is thus duty-bound to start with a different “signifier” (a different name for God) or to start with a list of differences about the “signified.”  The proclamation of the absolute antithesis becomes the sine qua non of faithful evangelism.  For them the conceptual cup of shared language and concepts for evangelism is always less than half empty and the contents poisonous.

The author of the contested quotation, on the other hand, is acutely aware of how all our concepts and systems of concepts about God fall short of God’s true glory and that there is individual variation; not all Muslims are in precisely the same place. The cup of shared concepts is frequently half full and represents a God-engineered starting place for the mysterious process of making disciples.

Pauline Precedent

Paul is the first Jewish preacher on record who, upon observing  rank pagan idolatry, did not heap scorn on it (like the Old Testament prophets rightfully did—Isa 44:18-20, Jer 2:27, Hos 4:12) but rather used it as a starting point: “the God you already worship in ignorance is the one I want to tell you about. . . . he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him -- though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of you own poets have said, 'We are his offspring'” (Acts 17:23-28). Paul did not lead with, “Let me tell you about a different God” but rather with “This is what the God you and your poets have been groping after is really like.” Paul was alert to a rather small set of shared “signifieds” and assumed that he could talk about the same “referent”—he could start where his audience was.

Of course there are risks, dangers of syncretism. This, however, is the point: there are dangers on both sides. Dealing faithfully with the gospel is always a matter of walking a ridge route; one can fall off the path both to the left and the right. The gospel demands a creative faithfulness by which we avoid sliding down either the slope of syncretism (compromising the faith) or the slope defensiveness and fear (bridling the faith). In that spirit we can join with the author of the minority report and issue the Muslim this sincere invitation: come know the Creator God more fully; discover that the one you and your poets have served as “Allah” is the God who through His Son Jesus and by His Spirit wants to be embraced as “Abba.”

  • NOTE:  Dr. Jabbour’s The Crescent through the Eyes of the Cross: Insights from an Arab Christian (Colorado Springs, CO: NAV Press, 2008) is a must read for any Christian serious about befriending Muslims and reaching them with the gospel.

Stephen Taylor is Associate Professor of New Testament. He is a missionary kid fascinated with the question of the relationship between culture and understanding the Bible. Steve is married to Terri who is also intimately involved in global issues; and together they have five fantastic kids. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/stephen-taylor.

 

Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 02 October 2013 00:00

teaching at a missional seminary

A year ago in the fall term Biblical’s faculty reflected on how the missional curriculum is taught at the Seminary. The impetus for the project was the commitment of the faculty to give careful attention to the ways that our theological commitments should shape the delivery of theological education.  Since learning is always interactive, it cannot be separated from the context in which it is taught, that is, the social and cultural milieu that exists when teacher, students, methodologies, theologies, resources, and more combine in what then becomes a multicultural and diverse learning environment. Here are some of the faculty responses to the question...

 

How do your missional commitments shape your teaching?

I approach my courses with the understanding that joining God on mission is paramount to learning or achieving any success in a spiritual discipline. I have students examine their own spiritual formation and preconceived biases and dogmas in which they approach Christ, the Bible and the Church. This exercise serves as the beginning of a deconstruction process designed to open their eyes and ears to the learning environment. The missional approach has challenged my students to recognize and elevate the Kingdom of God above the denominations of man and therefore united students from various backgrounds to grow and serve together.  Professor L. Anderson

I seek to have my teaching shaped by at least the following priorities:  the missional nature and character of God,  the Scripture as the narrative of God’s multifaceted mission centered in Jesus, the realization that we are missionaries to a post-Christian culture, incarnate the whole gospel in faithful and relevant ways, and engage by being present, participating, and partnering with the larger context and community.  Specific ways that this works out in classes are:   1) assignments and discussions that help student appreciate and celebrate the diversity of the church, 2) experiential learning where students seek to expand their repertoire of spiritual disciplines in community, and 3) contextual learning which require students to talk with their people in their ministry context about missional commitments and to conduct missional experiments.   Professor C. Zimmerman

Affirming the responsibility  (Social Change Philosophy)

One of my critical positions as a missional teacher rests on the social change philosophy. As a missional teacher, I maintain that education is a primary force for achieving social change or transforming society. Based upon my belief that that “an important purpose of knowledge construction is to help people improve society,” I encourage my ACS students to examine their own personal and cultural values and identities as missional leaders from Korean and other countries to America, so that they can view themselves not as pathetic “immigrants,” or “broken English speakers” but as contributors to the places where they can serve God and influence their community by thinking and acting Godly in all areas of life as effective witnesses for Christ and active designers of social futures.

Responding to the world (Cross-cultural Philosophy)

My teaching philosophy also aims to prepare students to read and write in ways that will serve them best as members of society by assigning students to negotiate a variety of audiences in different cultural, ethnic, linguistic, socio-economic contexts because I view learning as a negotiated activity. To do that, I provide resources and information as well as opportunities for promoting the development of cultural competence, multicultural awareness, interpersonal communication, and conflict management in our increasingly diverse community by encouraging them to involve in diverse communities and complete their community involvement journals. 

Networking the partners (Partnership Philosophy)

Another important role of the missional teacher is to promote close partnership with the church, community, and home of the students because learning is viewed as a partnership process within an organization. Missional teachers should be aware that an academic program is only a part of the educational process of students and the primary responsibilities for the education of students rest with the teachers, church leaders, students’ family members, and the community leaders, who can play complementary roles in educating missional students. With these partnerships in mind, I try my best to network with people related to the students, so that I can lead the students to spiritual, intellectual, social, and even physical maturity.  Professor C. H. Oh

About the Author

Susan Disston

Dr. Susan Disston

Susan Disston, DMin, is the Director of Institutional Assessment and Hybrid Learning at Biblical Seminary and teaches in the Doctor of Ministry program.

   

Written by Charles Zimmerman Monday, 30 September 2013 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now? 

Matt Reed was gone before I arrived as a student, but I was here as a teacher for Matt’s second stint at Biblical.  We have now served together for 15 years at Calvary Church and my appreciation and respect for Matt have grown with the years.  Matt is the quintessential shepherd, who is willing to dive into the messy details of relationships and walk with people regardless of the difficulty all while manifesting the grace and love of the gospel. 

What years did you attend at Biblical, and what degree(s) did you receive?

I first attended Biblical from 1977-1980. I graduated with a Master of Divinity and also received the homiletic award. I returned in 1988 and finished in 1989 and received a Master of Arts with a counseling emphases.

What have you been doing since then?

Right after graduation, in 1980, I became the assistant pastor at Independent Bible Church in Willow Grove, PA and then in 1984 I became the senior pastor. I left in 1987 and became the executive director of Haycock Camping Ministries – a semi-rustic camping facility that primarily ministered to boys and men through outdoor programming. In 1998 I joined the staff at Calvary Church, Souderton, PA a church my wife Sharon and I attended since we were married. I have served there in various capacities – Transformational Ministries, International Ministries, Adult Ministries, MidWeek Services, Outreach, Large Events and anywhere there has been a staffing need.

I married the love of my live, Sharon, on October 1, 1988. Besides choosing to follow Christ as a teen this was the best decision I ever made. She is truly awesome in every way. Sharon and I love to serve the Lord together. We regularly teach in Calvary’s pre-marriage program, have done some speaking together at conferences, spoken to  our church together on occasion, facilitated and served on many missions trips and taught international leaders in Africa. We have two children; Kelsey who graduated in May 2013 with a double major from Cairn University and is now serving there in a presidential internship and Jared who is a junior at Taylor University in the business department and who is also an outstanding runner on their cross country and track teams.

Sharon and I have had the privilege of traveling to many places both in the states and around the world. Sometimes it was for ministry other times it was for pleasure. Earlier this year we visited our daughter in Prague where she was completing her student teaching requirements at an international school. In October we will be going to Turkey to celebrate our 25 wedding anniversary. While there we will be touring Istanbul and visiting the sites of the seven churches from Revelation. We can’t wait.

Share a favorite memory from your Biblical days.

One of my favorite memories was at an informal nighttime gathering of all the freshman and facility during orientation. The students and facility sat in a circle and introduced themselves include a bit about how they were. When it came time for Mr. Dunzweiler, our theology professor who is now with the Lord, to do so he stood up and said – my name is Robert Dunzweiler and my job here is to be the brunt of Tom Taylor’s humor.

On a more serious note – to this day I still remember some of the message from chapel by both facility and guest speakers. Some of those sermons still impact me today.   

Contact information: mreed@calvary-church.com


Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.

   

Written by Bryan Maier Monday, 23 September 2013 00:00

These are heady days for the counseling department here at Biblical. We are all moving to a new building! Rumor has it that Malcolm Walls will be moving into my old office. Please pray for him as he follows in the very distinguished footsteps of Todd Magnum and myself.  For the third time in my professional career, I will be arranging a new office. Of course before I can do that, I have to pack up the old one and for me that is usually a very nostalgic enterprise.  

As I was packing this time, I came across this photo that has been on my shelf since I moved here in 2006. The photo is of a happy young family and was taken over a decade ago. The man in the photo is yours truly although now you would be hard pressed to find any brown hair. Also, due the wonders of cataract surgery, I no longer wear glasses. The “little boy” in the photo is now five foot, eleven inches tall; just one inch shorter than his father.

And the lovely lady?

She was my wife who was called home in 2010 to be with the Lord she loved so much.  In fact, as I am writing this I remember three years ago this week when we mutually agreed that she would go on a morphine pump; a clear signal that her time on this Earth was drawing to a close. It took another 72 hours for her strong heart to stop beating (Southern women have a hard time going anywhere without their lipstick).

To those who have lost loved ones, photos have can be even more meaningful when it is all we have left.  We celebrate the memories of the photos, but also rejoice that their smile and the gleam in their eyes are not totally lost to history.

And yet there is some ambivalence too.

  C.S. Lewis (whose wife Joy died of the same kind of cancer as my wife) once remarked that he felt the photos of his wife were almost blasphemous. How could you reduce such a complex three dimensional woman to a two- dimensional piece of paper with ink on it?  

I feel that same ambivalence. Michelle was so much more than any photograph could ever capture. So what should I do with this photo? Put it on another shelf? Hide it? Throw it away? I don’t know (although I probably won’t throw it away).

The man and the boy in this photo still have an assignment from God to live out.  And part of my assignment in the next couple of months is to put my new office together. So if you want to see where everything lands, feel free to drop in in a month or so.  By that time, you should see three very organized offices, one in controlled chaos, and mine. 

Don’t forget to bring a housewarming gift!  


Bryan Maier, Psy. D. is an Associate Professor of Counseling & Psychology in the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates.

   

Written by Dan LaValla Friday, 20 September 2013 00:00

When I was growing up, my father was a volunteer in several non-profit and community organizations. He instilled in me that civic duty is the responsibility of every citizen and that volunteers are essential to a healthy community and a means of promoting the safety and moral development of the children in a community. He also repeatedly taught me that volunteering is seldom convenient, especially when you are raising a family; therefore, it requires intentionality and being disciplined with one’s time management. As a result, these are values that I have adopted in my own life and am trying to pass along to my two sons.

I have a friend (we now live in different states) who lives by a completely opposing set of principles which is reflected in one of his often quoted replies whenever I attempted to get him involved or recruit him for various organizations and events, “Volunteering is for suckers.” His principle is based on two personal corollaries: 1.) Anything worth doing is worth doing for money. 2.) While some volunteers are sometimes acknowledged for their service, all volunteers are guaranteed to receive aggravation and criticism as the rewards for their good deeds.

Unfortunately, there is truth in his second point, but it is not a good argument against volunteering, it is simply a fact of life. It is true that the less engaged you are with other people, the less of a chance others can aggravate you. Also, the less you attempt to accomplish anything (whether for pay or on a volunteer basis), the less of a chance you will be criticized. Thus, the only way to avoid criticism or to be less aggravated is to isolate yourself.

Money should not be the only motivator in life, for when it is, it can lead to greater dissatisfaction (Eccl. 5:10) or become the avenue to many other evils (I Tim. 9-11). There are plenty of personal and societal benefits provided by volunteerism. For example, many scientific (medical, psychological, and sociological) studies show that people who are generous with their time and money are generally happier, healthier and live longer.

Further, communities with higher volunteer participation rates benefit from what social scientists call “social capital” or the assets, resources, and benefits associated with the network of social connections that exist between people in a community that encourages and creates mutually advantageous social cooperation. Robert Putnam explains it this way, “…a well-connected individual in a poorly connected society is not as productive as a well-connected individual in a well-connected society. And even a poorly connected individual may derive some of the spillover benefits from living in a well-connected community.”

Unfortunately, volunteering is not an esteemed value in American Society and is on the decline in our civic, political, and religious organizations, including churches throughout the U.S. This fact is well documented in Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam discusses how technology, two career families, suburban sprawl, television and the pursuit of entertainment, and changes in generational and societal values in America are related to the decline in volunteerism. He explains further that decreased participation in political, religious, and civic organizations is strongly associated with decreased civility in a society, increased crime, a lack of trust between neighbors, and greater disparities between the rich and poor.


Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association and is very active in his church and community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.

   

Written by David Lamb Wednesday, 18 September 2013 00:00

As my second son Noah has now passed me in height like his older brother did 2 years ago, I have come to conclude that short is good. Short is the new tall.

Most people in the pew pray for an increase in homiletical shortness (sermons, that is).

We all know about Zacchaeus, the vertically-challenged tree-climbing tax-collector (Luke 19:1-10), but he wasn’t even close to being the shortest man in the Bible, that distinction belongs to Bildad the Shuhite (Job 2:11).

The fourth gospel writer knew how to craft a short three word sentence in Greek, that shrinks down to two words in English, giving us the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35; the NRSV expands this four words, “Jesus began to weep”-what were they thinking?).

The book of Psalms, however, has the unique claim of including the longest chapter in the Bible, 119, as well as the shortest, 117 (I wonder how 118 feels about it’s two famous neighbors?). Let’s look at this shortest of all psalms.

Psalm 117:1

Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love (hesed) toward us,
and the faithfulness (’emet) of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 117 contains only twenty-eight words in the ESV, and this number drops down to only seventeen words in the Hebrew. However, those seventeen words still pack a wallop.

The psalm begins and ends with “Praise YHWH,” the Hallelujah-inclusio (technically, only 117:2 has “Hallelujah” since 117:1 has a similar but slightly different Hebrew form). The audience is boldly commanded to praise him and extol him (extol means to praise lavishly, like über-praise). Only seventeen words and three command praise.

Who’s the audience for this liturgical tidbit?

All nations, all peoples—that sounds pretty much like everyone, which shouldn’t surprise us because God is God of the universe and his mission is extensive, including the entire planet. The creator of the cosmos is to be praised by the cosmos. The concept of universal praise for YHWH is emphasized well in 117:1 with a classic example of synonymous parallelism, where the 2nd line repeats the first with slightly different wording. Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!

Why are we supposed to offer him our über-praise?

The psalm itself provides the answer at the beginning of 117:2, “For great is his hesed toward us.” Hesed love is the best kind of love, that of a parent for a child over a lifetime, that of a spouse for a spouse over fifty years. While one might expect God’s love to be for the nations that are supposed to praise him, this verse informs us it is now for “us.” God loves us greatly. That sounds praise worthy.

And his faithfulness never stops, it just keeps going and going (like the Energizer bunny and more). His love and loyalty to his people endures…forever. More reasons to praise.

While one might not always feel like praising (I’ve already posted on the Biblical blog about lamenting, cursing and repenting psalms), Psalm 117 now commands us to “Praise.”

I praise God for many things, including short psalms. What do you praise God for?

(While short is good, it’s hard for an OT guy to go short with a blog.)


David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also < a href="http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb">http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

   

Written by Sam Logan Friday, 13 September 2013 00:00

What should be done about/in Syria?

How might a missional and evangelical Christian approach this terribly difficult subject? 

The best I can do is offer a few very tentative missional musings. 

These particular musings emerge from the missional commitment that we must be aware of and seek to take full and appropriate account of the perspectives and experiences of evangelical Christians who are not part of our particular culture or milieu.  This does not mean that “their” perspectives are right any more than it means that ours are.  We just need to try to think and act consistently with our belief that we (whoever “we” are) are just a tiny part of the massive church which the Lord is creating for His own honor and glory.

This missional commitment also requires us to be especially careful when interpreting historical events and applying their “meaning” to situations which face us now.  We know that we do not somehow stand outside the flow of history with the ability to look down on what is happening from some kind of epistemological Mount Everest.  We do, of course, have the absolute truth of Scripture to guide us and that is critically important; without it, we would, in my opinion, be totally lost.  But our application of that absolute truth should not be regarded as “inerrant,” especially when brought to bear upon the messy and complicated activities of sinful human behavior.

This missional commitment need not lead to agnosticism in either theology or ethics.  It should, however, lead to a kind of humility when we are dealing with complex situations – like the current situation in Syria.

I will try to apply this general missional commitment to the situation in Syria in two specific ways – first, a factual and historical consideration and second, a personal and spiritual consideration.

Few (if any) people in the entire world have all the facts.  Was sarin gas used in an attack in Damascus?  This seems increasingly likely. But who used that gas? Are we absolutely sure that it was the Assad regime?  Even more difficult (for me, at least) is this question – do we have to be ABSOLUTELY sure before we do anything?  Well, if we don’t have to be ABSOLUTELY sure, how sure do we need to be? 

Many politicians and journalists are comparing the Syria situation to the Iraq situation.  The authorities seemed to be VERY sure that WMD’s were in Sadaam’s arsenal.  It seems they were wrong.  How do we incorporate that lesson into our present discussions?  The September 4, 2013, edition of THE TIMES (London) contained a superb editorial by Daniel Finkelstein entitled “Lessons from Iraq Are Not Lessons at All” (p. 23). In that piece, Mr. Finkelstein gave the best brief analysis that I have ever read of how (and how not) to use the past as a guide to the present or future.  Here are a few of his comments (with which I, as a tiny bit of a church historian) largely agree:

It is quite common in political debate to accuse the other side of fighting the last war instead of the next one.  But it is rare to reflect on the real mistake being made.  The problem is not that the last war was being refought but that a single, individual episode was being relied upon to produce lessons.

So for years, American statesmen were being warned not to engage in military action lest in be another Vietnam.  And indeed, the Vietnam was a disaster that repays careful study.  But it should not be removed from the entire history of the Cold War engagement, the outcome of which was not a disaster.

Generalizing from a single incident is like tossing a coin, having it land heads and concluding that when you toss a coin, it always lands heads.

. . . . . . .

Conflicts always have endgames that are hard to be certain about and aren’t always desirable.  The Second World War didn’t end until 1990 [the tearing down of the Berlin Wall], with a messy stand-off lasting 45 years.  And it could be argued that the Iraq war happened partly to provide a clear endgame because there had been years without one after the Kuwait invasion.

The lesson of history, I’m afraid, is that the lesson of history can never release you from making judgments, ones you sometimes get wrong.

So what’s the result of this particular musing?

It certainly is NOT that we remain paralyzed because of the uncertainty of being wrong.  Judgments must be made.  In this case, a judgment must be made regarding whether military intervention in Syria by the U.S., France, and perhaps a few other countries would be right.  It is just that we all, both those who favor and those who oppose such intervention,  must display historical humility both as we come to our conclusions and as we respond to others who come to the opposite conclusions.  We all have gotten some of our past judgments wrong so it is the height of foolish narcissism to think that there is no way we could be wrong on this one.

This is the factual and historical consideration.  Now for a personal and spiritual consideration.

In all the time that the conflict in Syria has been going on, there had been, every week, a note in our church’s bulletin asking us to pray for a couple in our church.  He is Egyptian and she is Syrian and most of her family is in Syria.  They are both wonderful evangelical Christian individuals with significant experience in living and speaking the Gospel “missionally” to Muslims.  Her family is in great danger in Syria and it is likely that the greatest danger to them comes, not from the Assad regime, but from those who oppose that regime. 

This does not mean that her family’s situation “trumps” all other considerations.  But it does mean that her family’s situation (and the similar situations of other Christian families in Syria) must be fully considered and taken into account as we come to conclusions about what should be done in that battered and beleaguered country.  This couple also believes that if the rebellion against President Assad is successful and he is ousted from power, the result for all Christians in Syria will be dire and will be similar to the situation for Christians in Egypt under the regime of President Morsi.  This is, of course, an “endgame” prediction of which no one can be certain.  But, in what actually did happen in Egypt very recently, there are significant reasons for giving this particular prediction consideration.  And that’s what this missional “musing” recommends – that we seek out and listen to those who have first-hand knowledge of what Syrian Christians are experiencing right now.

I have been in Scotland for the past two weeks and have been particularly fascinated by the intense debates here in the U.K. about Syria.  Inevitably, it seems, harsh words have been spoken by both sides about those who take positions different from one’s own.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if missional Christians could consistently set an example of taking firm positions when necessary but of doing so with the recognition that each of us has been wrong in the past, that we therefore treat our opponents with grace and respect, that we go out of our way to consider the perspectives of those evangelical Christians who are different from us and that we truly seek first HIS Kingdom, even if (as can happen!), HIS Kingdom conflicts with our own.


Sam Logan is Senior Counsel for Major Gifts at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan

   

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