Posted by: joels | October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

Sponsor a child online through Compassion's Christian child sponsorship ministry. Search for a child by age, gender, country, birthday, special needs and more.As a guy from a white, middle-class American family, I hardly feel qualified to truly write about the subject of poverty.  I have been in Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya, and I have seen poverty like I have never experienced.  I can’t pretend to know what it’s like.  I can’t even pretend that I have dedicated my life to this point to eradicating poverty.

But notwithstanding this, today is Blog Action Day, and the topic is poverty.  I signed up with to write a post regarding their ministry every month, and this month they encouraged all of their bloggers to write about poverty.  So what follows feeble thoughts about poverty who knows precious little about poverty experientially.

But I have come to believe that we must talk about it, must hear about it, must see it, just learn about it…and perhaps I exhibit part of the problem when I talk about poverty as an “it.”  Poverty is not just a thing.  And one can never truly understand poverty until he knows people who live in poverty, until he befriends them, until he realizes that they have just as much to offer him as he has to offer them.

So what I will attempt to do here is to suggest some ways in which one could begin exploring issues related to poverty.  If I am convinced that poverty is something important, what then?

First, perhaps we should see what Scripture says about poverty, and be willing to reorder our financial lives according to what we find there.  Consider for example this prayer from Proverbs 30:

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.

Third, examine whether we have committed ourselves to systems—governmental, economic, etc—that stem from selfish motives rather than caring ones.  This is an area that I have only recently begun to examine, but one that I am sure I will be studying for some time to come.  Christians en masse have committed themselves to capitalism.

But lately I have been asking this question—to the conservative side of the political aisle: Is a system that is presumably founded on the concept of self-interest really the one that best reflects the mind of Christ?

And to my Christian friends on the other side of the political aisle, I ask this question: Is simply giving the role of provider for the poor to government really what Christ wanted?  Is that maybe abdicating the Christian’s (and the church’s) role of providing for the poor?

Perhaps we have all been held captive to systems when we should have been captive to Christ.  Perhaps we are selfish.  Perhaps we are materialistic.  Perhaps we put in our hope in government.  Maybe we’ve been ignorant.  I don’t know what all the answers are.  But I do know that if we never even ask the questions, we’ll merely remain in apathy (which Christ condemned by the way).

Fourth, there are groups out there doing good, Christ-centered ministry among the poor.  Explore these groups.  Think about supporting them.  If you don’t know where to start, check out Compassion International.  I am very impressed by them, and their ministry not only serves the poor, but connects people in developed countries directly with children in the majority world through the child sponsorship program.  They don’t merely give children bread for today, either.  They seek to develop children into Christ-like leaders for tomorrow.

Lastly, talk about poverty.  Listen to people talk about poverty.  Talk to the poor.  Listen to the poor.  Learn from the poor.  Listen to the cries of impoverished hearts of everyone, including the economically wealthy.  And let it remind us that we need God in every way.  That we need him just as much as the guy living the in the slums does.  Because if we are apathetic about poverty, perhaps we have not truly understood our own spiritual poverty.

Posted by: joels | September 19, 2008

Imagine Drinking This

Jennifer Connelly (who starred in Blood Diamond, a powerful movie about the tragic international trade of conflict diamonds), draws attention to one of the critical questions facing developing nations: clean water.

Imagine having to make the (non) decision to drink dirty water or not drink water.  Forget about deciding between Coke and Pepsi.  How should people in developed countries change?

[Note: I’m not endorsing, in fact, I know nothing about them.  But the point stands.]

Posted by: joels | September 10, 2008

Donald Miller’s Comments on Abortion

Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame, was interviewed about abortion prior to his prayer at the Democratic National Convention. I found his comments intriguing, though I don’t fully agree, as my comments below will make clear.

First, I agree that the Republican Party and evangelicals in general have been too focused on the legal aspect of abortion.  I think Miller–and the evangelical left–gives a healthy reminder that we are to be consistently pro-life, which means that we are to actively work to reduce the sociological antecedents of abortion.

Second, I disagree with Miller on one crucial point.  I do not believe it is the government’s responsibility–and I want to be careful how I say this–to eradicate our sociological ills.

As I watched Bill O’Reilly interview Barack Obama, I was reminded of this stark difference.  Obama pressed O’Reilly on the fact that the wealthier have a responsibility to help their fellow men, including giving up their money to help those with none.  I agree, and I’m glad that Obama has that emphasis.  But I strongly disagree that therefore the government should enact mandatory income redistribution.  Christians should practice voluntary income redistribution.  Not by way of taxes.  But by way of love.  And I believe that conservatives would do well to push for more social justice…not by government control, but by individual and organizational compassion.

Third, I disagree that it is wise to try to work from within the Democratic party.  Sure, I agree, the supposed pro-life stand of the Republican Party has done little in the past 8 years (one of the reasons I’m not a Republican or tied to any political party).  But here’s my bone of contention: the stated platform of the Democratic party is that abortion is a morally legitimate action.  Where then is the basis for reducing abortions?  I would argue that unless one starts with a pro-life basis, he has no power from which to argue for the reduction of the causes of abortions.

I support neither the Republican nor Democratic party.  I am, frankly, disgusted with the whole political scene.  And it does worry me, I must admit, that evangelical Christians are lined up on these political sides.  I once heard something about men not being able to serve two masters.

Posted by: joels | July 9, 2008

Guns, Martydom, and Disagreement

John Piper John Piper wrote a blog entry on June 29th entitled, Guns and Martyrdom. He was expressing the sentiment that it is more Christlike to suffer martyrdom than to kill an assailant.* I have a great deal of respect both for Piper and for that sentiment, and if you have struggled or are currently struggling through the issue of pacifism, then I would encourage you to read his words and consider them.

James WhiteHowever, James White, a man whom I also respect, wrote a response to Piper’s blog post, I Beg To Differ, Brother Piper. He appeals both to Scripture and the Reformed tradition to advocate (violent) defense. I would similarly encourage all to read his post, and to wrestle with the issues that both of these men raise.

*It would seem that Piper may have some pacificistic tendencies in his thinking, though I haven’t seem them expressed quite so explicitly from him before.

Posted by: joels | May 25, 2008

1 Yr of Seminary Reading

This is what 1 year of seminary required me to read. So when I said I was reading a lot…I wasn’t really kidding.

Posted by: joels | April 21, 2008

Oppression Everywhere. Needs Everywhere.

When you open your eyes to see the oppression in the world, injustice–the curse in real life–starts jumping out at you everywhere. The realities of life in communities and cultures other than my own can be astounding and horrifying. Oppression is everywhere. Needs are everywhere. It’s hard to know where to even begin. But I hope that my Christian imagination will be lit to plug in and bring the power of the gospel to bear everywhere I go. No matter where that ends up being.

The following story reminded me of this as it broke my heart. Islamic Schools Lure African Boys into Begging

Posted by: joels | April 5, 2008

Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization

Religion, History, and CivilizationI have just begun reading Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. While I have read several books on Islam before, I have yet to read one by a Muslim. How can I suggest that Muslims should read Christian writers rather than their own in order to understand Christianity if I am unwilling to read their writers about their religion? Thus my journey into Nasr’s book begins. I plan on blogging my thoughts through each chapter, beginning now with the introduction.


Rather than summarizing everything that Nasr says, I will be noting points of interest, novelty, contention, and confusion. Hopefully these will spur me (and perhaps others) on to further exploration.

  • One point that Nasr repeatedly emphasizes in the introduction is that for one to understand Islam, one has to understand it not simply as a religion, but also as a civilization. Islam, both historically and presently, does not create a chasm between the different aspects of life. That is why it is often difficult from us Westerners to understand Islamic culture, for it is not operating under the same church-state divide that we are.
  • “This civilization [Islamic civilization] produced great intellectual figures, a distinct art and architecture, dazzling achievements in science and technology, and an equitable social order based on the teachings of the Quran,” Nasr says on page xviii. Two things occur to me about this quote:
    • We in the West do often forget that some wonderful things did come from the Islamic world. Muslims did at one time advance the study of mathematics and science. Western philosophy was influenced by Islamic thought as well. We tend to think of the rediscovery of Aristotle as a purely Western tendency, and yet Averroes and Avicenna, two Muslims scholars, were highly influential in the West’s understanding of Aristotle. I am not suggesting that Islamic civilization is therefore “right.” What I am suggesting is that we need to get past our bigoted view of Islam which suggests that the only thing any Islamic civilization has done is enslave women and engender terrorism.
    • On the flip side, I wonder about Nasr’s assertion that Islamic civilization produced an “equitable social order based on the teachings of the Quran.” I imagine he will deal with this later (this being only the introduction), but the reality of the world we live in is that a large percentage of the world’s “unequitable” social orders are Muslim. Granted, that is from the perspective of my Western, Christian eyes, but when one sees human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, the statement gives pause.
  • On page xix, Nasr says, “Wherever Islam went, it did not destroy the local culture, but transformed it into an Islamic reality. What were rejected were elements of a clearly un-Islamic nature.” I find this statement interesting on two levels.
    • I wonder if this is not perhaps an unwarranted generalization. I am clearly not an expert on all of the various global expressions of Islam, but from what I understand, in some parts of the world–particularly Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa–Islam has accepted some elements of an “un-Islamic nature.” In fact, many stricter Muslims would reject these animistic expressions of Islam as true Islam. Nasr’s statement is somewhat more interesting when one realizes that he represents a Sufi-influenced perspective of Islam. Many Sunnis and Shiites would reject Sufism as a legitimate expression of Islam.
    • The media often portrays Islam as a monolithic entity, while in fact, Islam did and does take on the local culture of its region oftentimes. For instance, strict Sunni Islam in Arabic-speaking Saudi Arabia can look very different than Islam in the Chinese-speaking Hui people or the French-speaking West Africans.
  • One particularly provoking thought is one that I had not particularly thought of before. Nasr suggests on page xxiii that “the norm in the Islamic world even today, despite all the political tragedies that have befallen it, is not what many in the media and popular literature of the West claim. It is not religious extremism or “fundamentalism”; nor is it secularist modernism. the norm is traditional Islam, in comparison to which both secularist modernism and “fundamentalism” are extremes.” It would be interesting to compare this statement while the new study released by Georgetown University called, Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. I wonder if Nasr is referring to the “street level” view of Muslims, because on the governmental and societal level, it seems as if the two extremes are both norms–e.g., Turkey and Syria on the secular end, and Iran on the “fundamentalist” end. Either way, we need to realize that there are Muslim voices crying for moderation. We ask them to denounce terrorism, but when some do, we seem to ignore it. Further, I find it interesting that Islam is having to deal with the same questions that Christianity is in a way–between fundamentalism, secularism/modernism, and “traditionalism.” And for both, the real question is this: does the middle reflect what true religion is?
  • Nasr makes very clear his position of respect toward other religions on page xxiv. It will be interesting to see how he fleshes this out in the rest of the book.

Nasr represents a “traditional Islam” with Sufi influences. Accordingly, he rejects extremism, both (as he structures it) in secularism and in “fundamentalism.” If this stream of Islamic thought is truly the stream that flows from the source–Muhammad and the Quran–then this should be an intriguing look into how Muslims view themselves, their religion, and the world.

Who Speaks for Islam?Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Gallup Press; March 2008) by Georgetown University Professor John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed sheds new light into what majorities of the world’s Muslims really think and feel.”

Read the full story on the Georgetown University website. The article highlights the following findings:

  • Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustifiable.
  • Large majorities of Muslims would guarantee free speech if it were up to them to write a new constitution and they say religious leaders should have no direct role in drafting that constitution.
  • Muslims around the world say that what they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values — the same answers that Americans themselves give when asked this question.
  • When asked about their dreams for the future, Muslims say they want better jobs and security, not conflict and violence.
  • Muslims say the most important thing Westerners can do to improve relations with their societies is to change their negative views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

I hope to read through the study in the near future, and perhaps post some thoughts on it.

Posted by: joels | March 4, 2008

Dr. Miroslav Volf Lectures on “A Common Word”

This past week, the RTS Orlando community was privileged to hear 4 lectures given by Dr. Miroslav Volf of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. His topic, broadly speaking, was the relationship of Christianity and Islam. More specifically, he discussed the issues surrounding the recent document drafted by 138 Muslim scholars called “A Common Word Between Us and You.” In this post, I would like to briefly summarize what ACW is, and provide links to the numerous responses and resources that have come out since ACW was released. In future posts I hope to look at ACW in more detail and also to examine some of the responses to ACW.

“A Common Word Between Us and You”

On October 13th, 2007, 138 of the most respected Muslim scholars in the world sent “an open letter and call” to “leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere.” “A Common Word” (hereafter known as ACW) is 16 pages long, and therefore offers numerous ideas concerning Muslim-Christian relations. Its main features are the following:

• Christians and Muslims compose so great a percentage of the world’s population that “peace and justice” between them are essential to peace and justice throughout the world.
• Two principles are foundational to both Christianity and Islam: love for the One God, and love for one’s neighbor.
• On the basis of these similar foundational principles, the Muslim leaders say, “we as Muslims invite Christians to come together with us” in order to foster dialogue and promote peace. is the official website. You can find the full text of ACW in several languages there. I would encourage you to read through the entire letter to see exactly what has been said. One other note about ACW is that it represents Muslims from all across the world—from US Muslims, Moroccan, Jordanian, Saudi, Pakistani, and Indonesian (amongst many others).

Christian Responses

Dr. Miroslav Volf, along with his fellows at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, drafted the Christian response that has gained the most notoriety. Hundreds of Christian leaders and scholars have signed the Yale Response. The full text can be found here. Dr. Volf has carried on personal dialogue with several of the primary drafters of ACW, and thus the Yale Response requires a great deal of Christian attention.

John Piper, the well-known pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church released a video that is critical of the Yale Response. He wishes for a response that clearly articulates the gospel, rather than focusing purely on common ground. His video sparked a response from Rick Love, former International Director of Frontiers (a missions agency focused on Muslim lands). He argues for the Yale Response on a number of grounds, but perhaps most importantly on the ground that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Piper then responded to Love with “How Shall We Love Our Muslim Neighbor?” in which he emphatically denies that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Love responded once again, emphasizing apostolic practice as exemplified by Paul in Acts 17. Piper has not yet responded, but Justin Taylor, an associate at Desiring God Ministries, wrote a response to Love on his blog, Between Two Worlds.

The Barnabas Fund, an organization focused on relief for persecuted Christians, wrote a response to ACW. Its response is much longer than the Yale Response, and while it does encourage dialogue, it is much less positive about the intentions and ideas of ACW. I also just discovered that the Barnabas Fund has responded to the Yale Response. I have not yet had a chance to read it, but imagine that reading it will encourage further reflection on the key issues.

On the ACW website, you can also find close to 50 Christian responses from a broad range of denominations. However, none of them have as much significance for evangelicals as the responses mentioned above.

Two Possibilities

Clearly ACW and the Yale Response give us the opportunity for two things: greater peace and dialogue with Muslims and great disagreement within the Christian community. I would like to suggest that whether one accepts the Yale Response or not, Christians should engage Muslims in dialogue, and should charitably discuss the theological foundations behind the various responses to ACW. I hope to write more on this issue in the future after I have reflected on and studied some of the integral issues.