Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Cultural Identity

To follow up on the last post, how followers of Christ from another religious background is important.  The extraction model proposes that converts walk away from their cultural identity to a new identity.  I understand the Apostle Paul did indeed say that, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Cor. 5:17). However that in an inward transformation, not a doing away with culture.  Paul was always a Jew and he identified as a Jew.

I recently read a rather dated article (2013) about this issue of identity.  Below you will see a survey of Muslim believers from East Africa and how they navigate their faith (click on image to enlarge).

No matter the context we work in, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Catholic environments, this survey helps us think about how we can help new believers find their identity in Christ without losing their cultural identity.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


In my last post I stated, “Identifying oneself as a Christian is not necessarily wrong, in the right context.”  Some people have asked me to clarify right context, so here it is. 

Almost any place in America (pay attention to almost) I would freely and happily use the term Christian.  Even an American pagan would understand the word Christian and not see it as a loaded political issue.  However, if I were working with Muslims in Detroit the term “follower of Isa” may very well be a preferred term.  To the ayatollah in Iran, to the ISIS fighter in Syria, to the Muslim in the boroughs of New York the word Christian does not conjure up the face of Jesus by the Sea of Galilee but American interventionism. 

To the average Westerner, Islam is not the religion of fasting, praying five times a day or taking the Hajj (what’s that?), but religious outsiders encroaching on the values and lifestyle they cherish.   

To a Hindu a Christian is that Western religion brought over by the colonialists.  However, to the every-day secular, post-Christian or to the average nominal believer, the label Christian is very appropriate. 

To those rattled by me making a case for not using the word Christian to describe myself, two points.  (1) Christian is used only three times in the scriptures whereas the term the Way is used five times (referring back to Christ description of Himself – Jn 14:6). (2) In many situations people qualify their term by adding on that they are “evangelical Christians,” Bible-believing Christians,” “Spirit-Filled Christians,” “Born-Again Christians,” and a hundred other qualifiers. 

The three maxims of real estate are location, location, and location.  The three maxims of communicating the Gospel are context, context, and context.  In my class I make it very clear, it is the context that gives meaning, not the word.  Even God's word has no affect if not put into context.  Know your context and you won’t have a problem identifying yourself in Christ.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I am Not A Christian

Identity in Christ is important.  But does one have to call themselves a Christian to be in Christ?

In a 2013 article in the International Society for Frontier Missiology the issue of identity was presented. Can one be a Hindu/Christian, a Muslim/Christian?

Awal, a Middle Eastern man made this statement,

A while ago my daughter asked me, “Dad, what am I really?  Am I a Muslim or a Christian?”  I said, “You’re a Muslim that follows Christ.  Our Muslim identity is written on our identity cards, it’s our extended family our heritage, our people—but we follow Christ.“

We are not Christians.  We are Muslims.  I no longer care what Christians think.  I care what Muslims think.  However, even if our president asked me, “What is Christ to you?  I would tell him my faith.  I will not compromise Christ—ever, but I am not a Christian.

The ending “-ian” means “belonging to the party of”; thus “Christians” were those of Jesus’ party.  For over two thousand years people of faith have referred to themselves as belonging to the party of Jesus.  Agrippa asked Paul if he was trying to convert him to the Jesus party (Ac. 26:28)?  Identifying oneself as a Christian is not necessarily wrong, in the right context.  In fact, being a Christian has served the cause of Christ well in many parts of the world.  But in the wrong context being a Christian is an obstacle.

In discussing religion with my Hindu landlord years ago he said, “You were born a Christian, I was born a Hindu.”  I quickly corrected him and replied, “I was not born a Christian.  I became a follower of Christ.” 

In another situation I was walking in a Muslim district in New Delhi.  A man who couldn’t figure out why I was in that area (actually I was there to get a haircut) asked me straight up, “Are you Muslim.”  My answer both was both unsatisfactory and confusing when I replied, “I am a follower of Isa.”

To those of us who serve are followers of Christ, whether it be to the Muslim in Detroit or Dakar, to the Hindu in Nepal Kansas City or Kathmandu, recognize that the words we use can be a bridge or an obstacle for those we talk to.  Indeed, in some context’s it’s okay to say, I am not a Christian.