Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interview with Greg Livingstone, founder of Frontiers

Greg Livingstone is a difficult man to put in a box. He’s a critic of Christian Zionism, American nationalism, and he supports President Obama’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world. He also happens to be the founder of Frontiers, the world’s largest missionary organization dedicated to church planting among Muslim peoples. Says Livingstone, “When you live outside America you come to realize how important it is to be a Christian first and American second.” He currently resides in London, where the Frontiers international office is located. I had a lengthy conversation with him the other day via Skype. Here’s the gist of what we talked about.

Question: So what have you been up to these days?

Answer: I’m the chairman of a strategic partnership for a country in North Africa, which includes 27 agencies; I’ve been recruiting team leaders for the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), planting a church among Pakistani Muslims in UK, and writing, mostly on the history of church planting among Muslims.

Question: In recent years, there's been an increase in Muslims coming to Christ but remaining within the cultural fold of Islam. Some are calling this "the Insider Movement." What is your take on the Insider Movement and how should Christian missionaries respond to this movement?

Answer: Frontiers is getting hit on the left and the right with this. This is very current. My bottom line is we’ve got to be Bereans. It’s not a question of pragmatism, it’s a question of staying within Biblical parameters. What I like about the Insider movement is the movement’s proponents are people that love God convinced it’s not enough to see so few Muslims come to Christ. We’ve got to try something else.

Paul says, “I’ve become all things to all men that I might win some.” So their motivation is good but as Tozer used to say: it’s not the lukewarm Christian that’s in danger of heresy, it’s the passionate Christian. I think the Emergent movement is influencing the Insider movement. Of course, you don’t win a Muslim to Christ by saying that Muhammad was a pedophile, but you’re not going to find your Joseph of Armethia, or Nicodemus if you don’t sit in the same room and find some commonality.

Still, the ‘jury is out’ on the Insider movement. There’s very little indication so far of congregations being established with godly biblically based elders by advocates of the Insider Movement. At some point, Muslims obeying the Lord Jesus are going to join the Rev. 6:9 club. A veteran missionary among Muslims has it right when he says, “Sure leave them in the Mosque; Encourage Muslim background believers to stay with and serve their families. But the vast majority will be banished if they actually share Christ as their LORD and SAVIOUR.

Question: There are some that postulate on the possibility of a mass movement to Biblical faith in Christ as a reformation movement within Islam. Do you see this as a possibility? If so, what form might this take?

Answer: Look at Pakistan today. It’s about 3% Christian, the result of a people movement. But only a tiny fraction are regenerated. They’re not impressing Muslims with their godliness. They’re not witnessing. When you get a mass movement, you’re very much in danger of having 80% chaff and 20% wheat. McGavern taught that’s okay because it’s easier to convert a nominal Christian.

I believe that Revelation 5:9 and Revelation 7:9 is not going to happen without Revelation 6:9 referring to the cost: all the people who will be murdered for their testimony. I think that a lot more people are going to have to suffer and die before we see a breakthrough. Consider what happened in the first and second century. A Muslim who called himself a follower of Jesus told me one time. “I really love Jesus. I really love Frontiers. I just wish you’d get rid of this Jesus dying on the cross for our sins stuff.” Many in the Insider movement seem to be satisfied with simply making people pro-Jesus. Every liberal pastor is ‘pro-Jesus; Gandhi was pro-Jesus; but he never ‘bowed the knee’ to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Question: Traditionally, missionaries in Muslim countries have taken the tent-maker approach. Based on the model of the Apostle Paul, they'll go into a country, start a business and/or a humanitarian organization and evangelize under cover. Do you feel that the tent-maker approach remains a valid model for today? Are there emerging models that may replace the tent-maker approach?

Answer: Actually, I read that Paul took a job only when he ran out of church support. Traditionally evangelists went over to Muslim countries and preached openly. After World War II, when Muslim countries got their independence and stopped issuing missionary visas, we classified countries as open or closed depending on whether they would issue a “missionary visa”. In the 70’s, some of us started asking, “Where did Jesus say go into all the world if you can acquire a missionary visa?” I don’t think the tentmaker movement is really modeled after Paul. Paul didn’t work full time. He only worked a job when he ran out of money.

Now, is “tentmaking” a valid model? Well, we really don’t have much choice. I personally want to send people on teams and make room for all the different approaches. I’ll make the evangelist the VP of Public relations until s/he is expelled! The point is, if we don’t have accountability, you can live in a Muslim country for years, and call yourself a teacher, a businessman etc…but don’t tell others you’re a church planter unless what you’re doing is actually leading to establishing a fellowship of believers!

One must show there’s a connection between what you’re going there to do and what you’re leaving behind. That’s why I believe in agencies which are committed to continuity; i.e. they will keep reinforcing a church planting effort with new people until there’s a church planted that is birthing another church! Evangelists don’t plant churches, because they want to go pray with another unrelated individual. Therefore, the evangelist needs team members who will disciple and gather the new believers. When I’m recruiting for church planting teams, I don’t ask a person how many people they’ve led to Christ. I ask them, what would you bring to a church planting effort?

5. Question: What has been the impact of Christian Zionism on evangelism in the Muslim world?

Answer: Obviously, being pro-Israel no matter what they do, anti Arab is not being Christian. Still, Zionism is not the biggest barrier. Yes, it’s a problem, but let’s just suppose that next week the Palestinian issue is settled; then would Muslims start saying “Oh now we want to look at the claims of Christ?” Not likely. They would find some other reason why they don’t want to listen to Christian preachers.

The bigger problem is the offense of having “Christian” soldiers on “Muslim” soil! The greater reason the Taliban can recruit extremists is because infidels are walking on holy soil ‘taking charge’! It doesn’t matter if it’s Israel or anywhere else. They don’t want infidel boots on the ground. This is why invading Iraq was such a bad idea, because now the Taliban or Al Qaeda recruiter can say, “Look, the Christians are taking over our countries!”

I saw America going to Iraq as Vietnam all over again. But if the American government felt they had to remove Saddam, they should have arranged to place Muslim soldiers on the ground, with the West supporting from the air, intelligence, weapons, etc.

Yes it’s a big problem that Bible believing Christians are doing ‘penance’ for their guilt for not stopping the Holocaust. Worse, some are hoping that by backing Israel, they might get blessed; misapplying Genesis 12:1-3 (where God says to Abraham I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you) thinking, “Let’s bless Israel so that God likes us better!” I simply apologize to my Muslim friends and tell them the Christian Zionists have been taught strange things. Still, it's not Christian Zionism that bothers me so much as evangelicals who demonize Muslims. Islam may be Satan's masterpiece, but 1.7 billion Muslims are not demonic; Christ laid down His life for THEM too!

Question: Has post 9-11 U.S. foreign policy, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, been helpful or hurtful to the cause of Muslim evangelism?

Answer: Obviously it’s negative because it set up an unnecessary clash of civilizations, (and as I said, the Muslims feel “occupied”, or “invaded”. Still these world events are a matter of God’s sovereignty in history prevailing. It used to be difficult to make Christians aware of Muslims. Now Muslims are in the news every day! So if you’re a real Christian and you see what’s happening on the news, first you get irritated or angry, but then the Holy Spirit gets a hold of you and you think, “Maybe I should pray for the Muslims, or even support a missionary to give them the GOOD news?”

Question: Do you see a possible role for missionaries to build bridges of understanding on a socio-political level between the West and Islam? If so, what form might this take?

Answer: This is trendy. Peacemaking is ‘the latest answer’. Several organizations have emerged along these lines. I think the one great thing this movement really has going for it is that it helps to communicate to Muslims, in a friendly way, that they have “Dawa” [Arabic for obligatory effort to convert people to Islam] and we have the Great Commission. Why not give them freedom to evangelize in the West, and give us freedom to do so among Muslims?

I like the way the soft approach people better than the critics who don’t do anything to see Muslims come into Christ’s Kingdom! What good are the workers who simply alarm Christians that the Muslims are the evil empire taking over the world? As my co-worker says, “I’m pretty sure “love your enemies” doesn’t mean kill them”

Do you want to be an obedient Christian? Show me how you’re loving your enemies!
However, much as I appreciate those into “peacemaking and reconciliation with Muslims”, I just don’t think they’re going to establish communities of Muslims loyal to Christ who will demonstrate the difference “Christ in you” makes. Different people have different callings. Peacemaking is a wonderful calling. Just don’t make it a substitute for church planting among the unengaged who still have no ‘lighthouse’ where they live.

Question: Lastly, if you can tell American Christians one thing about the Muslim world that they may not know or understand, what would it be?

Answer: It would be that Muslims are not seeking God any more or less than Americans.

Muslims are in bondage to the prince of darkness just like most Americans. The greatest need is for caring Christians to have a divine appointment (i.e. be led to) a Muslims to whom the Father is revealing Himself. It may be that God has put a Nicodemus in your neighborhood. You wouldn’t want to go to heaven and find out that God gave you an opportunity to witness and you ignored it. If you can think about Muslims but are not moved with compassion, then there are reasons to doubt if you’re a true Christian.

Another thing that Americans need to realize is that for a Muslim to become a Christian, is a traitorous act, equivalent to an American selling atomic secrets to the Iranians. That’s why I don’t mind if Muslim background believers don’t call themselves “Christians”. For 1,400 years, people that call themselves Christians and people that call themselves Muslims have been fighting, bashing, and killing each other. The word “Christian” may be as ruined by history as the word ‘gay’. The issue is to see Muslims passing from death to life, knowing “Isa Al Masih” as their Lord and Saviour.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A review of Rediscovering Values

I've been reading Jim Wallis's writings for the past few years now on the Sojourners blog, but this is the first book I've purchased of his. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "To be great is to be misunderstood." When I Google Jim Wallis I notice that his critics all but accuse him of being a member of the communist party. These same critics are the ones that seem to think that if you don't believe the market should run everything, then you must be a Marxist!

I think that Rediscovering Values can go a long way to silence Wallis's critics if they would just give him a listening ear. Jim Wallis is not saying that he favors a centrally planned economy over a market economy. Neither is he trying to replace capitalism with socialism....or any other "ism." What Wallis is saying is that the private sector, the public sector, and the civic sector should all serve as a system of checks and balances against the other, and neither can function properly without a moral compass that looks out for the common good of all.

Very well written and highly recommended!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aaron in the news

Below are two articles in major online magazines that feature me and my book.

The first is an article by Mark Tooley for Front Page Magazine (David Horowitz's magazine) entitled Evangelical Pacifism in the War on Terror. In the article Tooley calls me a member of the "evangelical elite" which I thought was hilarious! Those of you that know me well, please don't tell him the truth!

The other article is written by Eliza Griswold, a reporter for the Daily Beast. The article is entitled Christianity's New Culture War and features yours truly.

Point of clarification on the Daily Beast article: I'm not against Christians participating in politics. I do think, however, that the way that Christians have been participating in politics, especially over the past 30 years, needs to be seriously rethought.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Pat Robertson may be wrong, but so are academic and media elites

When I was a student at Christ for the Nations School of Missions, I learned about the so-called “pact with the devil” that the African slaves of Haiti made to free themselves from the French. Later I learned about the so-called “renewal of the covenant” presumably made by Aristide in 2003 where he officially recognized Voodooism as a state religion. When the earthquake struck Haiti, I knew that it was only a matter of time before a televangelist would say something that the media would pick up and allow themselves yet another opportunity to paint evangelicals in a negative light. While I agree that Pat Robertson’s comments were embarrassing and offensive (For the record: I don’t think that anyone should ever claim they have divine knowledge as to why a specific natural disaster occurs. Luke 13:2-5 speaks loudly against that), I also think that the reaction of the secular media and some in the progressive faith community has been—good intentions not withstanding—condescending.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive about this. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I visited a peace-oriented church in Albuquerque. After the service I struck up a conversation with a guy that asked me what I do for a living. I told him that I’m a missionary that travels the world and that I lived in Africa for a period of time. When I told him about how missionaries view most African traditional religious practices as demonic, the reaction I got was “Um…oh…that’s nice. I’m sure you see some value in traditional African religious practices (aka withcraft)...don’t you?” I told him the truth. No I don’t.

Here’s the ironic part. While I’m sure that this man felt justified in his appreciation for traditional African culture over and against the supposed mentality of “culturally imperialistic” missionaries, the reality is that millions of African Christians—and I suspect Hatian Christians as well—would agree with me, not him. One of the reasons why Christianity has exploded in Africa, and countries of African descent like Haiti, is because African social systems are structured around fear of evil spirits. Unlike in the West, where the predominant salvation model centers around guilt/forgiveness, in African societies people place their faith in Christ because they view the message of the Resurrection as a cosmic defeat over the power of demonic forces. This is why when Africans (and/ or people of African descent) read their Bibles, most don’t read through the prism of Western liberalism. They take what the Bible says about the supernatural at face value.

Western liberal academia might scoff at the idea that idolatry leads to poverty, but for millions of African Christians, the dots were connected a long time ago. They themselves are fighting against sorcery and witchcraft in their spiritual warfare conferences—without the prodding of Western missionaries. And for good reason. Witchcraft is a poor moral base to build a prosperous society. When people are afraid to succeed in their jobs or businesses because they fear their neighbor will place a deadly curse on them, that’s bad news for the economy. Most African Christian leaders recognize this. This is why when Western media and religious elites treat witchcraft/voodooism as a harmless practice that may or may not be compatible with Christianity, what they’re really doing is trivializing the beliefs of millions of African Christians—a sort of paternalism in reverse if you will.

Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not saying that idolatry/witchcraft/voodooism is the only factor perpetuating poverty in African societies. Certainly the legacy of slavery and colonialism, unfair trade laws, Western interference in internal political affairs and—insert your political injustice here—have all played a role in keeping Africans and people of African descent in economic slavery. But if we in the West want to partner with African- background Christians to bring about social justice in their respective countries, then we need to take their worldview a bit more seriously. If you don’t believe me, read Philip Jenkin’s book The Next Christendom or, better yet, watch any film made in Nigeria. I can’t speak for every African and/or Hatian Christian, but my sense is that while many would be offended by Robertson’s comments, most would also tell us that if African societies are to progress into the 21st century, then both physical and spiritual issues will need to be addressed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Donate to Haiti!

If you're looking for a good organization to donate to help the victims of Haiti, I recommend International Crisis Aid. Pat Bradley has been helping the suffering around the world for years. You can be sure that your dollars will go directly to those in need.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Adventures in parenting, the day I brought my newborn home

Sleep, oh sleep, where art thou? My wife and I's first child, Christian David Taylor, was born last week on Tuesday January 5th. I've been told by the sum total of everyone I've ever met that having children is going to drastically change my life. To demonstrate the truthfulness of that statement, I'd like to tell you about the day my wife and I were released from the hospital and had to drive the three- hour drive from Albuquerque to Farmington.

First stop: Walgreens. Because my wife had a C-section, she needed to continue her pain medication...or else. Unfortunately, when the hospital called in the prescription they didn't tell them that we were coming right away. They also got the prescription wrong, so I ended up having to wait an hour, and still had to go to another Walgreens to complete the order. None of this would have been so bad had we not been so sleep deprived and had we been released from the hospital earlier. But by this time we're pushing late afternoon and we still had to go to my brother in law's house to load up the car (No, I didn't make my wife help me load the car. I'm not that clueless!)

Next stop: My brother in law's house. Neither my brother in law nor his wife were home. It had been hours since little Christian was fed, so my wife asked me to go inside and put their three dogs outside so that she could come in and breastfeed. As soon as I opened the patio door to release the dogs, the alarm goes off! Since I didn't know the code, I frantically tried, unsuccessfully, to contact my brother-in- law's cell phone. I stood outside for about five minutes with zero options on the table. Just as I was imagining the cops coming to take me away in handcuffs, my brother in law arrives. Close call!

After loading up the car we set off for Farmington. Thankfully, the journey was pretty uneventful, except for the three dust storms that we drove through. We arrived home at about 10:15 p.m. I struggled, and struggled, and struggled to get the car seat off the my wife stood in the door crying. I've been told that there's a learning curve to parenting. I'm glad my curve has never been measured geometrically. That would be embarrassing. In case you're wondering, we got the car seat figured out now.

I've been wondering how many moments of spiritual enlightenment I'll have now that I'm officially a parent. Will I understand the Father heart of God better? Will I learn the value of patience and selflessness? Will the Bible come alive to me now that I can relate to all of the fathers in the stories? Right now I'm too tired to think of anything profound. Suffice it to say that after the sleepless nights, the poopy diapers, the pee in the face and--list your parental frustration here--I can honestly say that Christian David Taylor is worth every moment of it. I think that's how our Heavenly Father thinks about His children too.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Life House drama

An acquaintance of mine sent me this video a couple of years ago. I still get choked up when I watch it.

Who needs Hollywood?