Disappointment with the San Antonio General Conference Session

Last weekend was spent at the Calimesa SDA Church Retreat at Pine Springs Ranch in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California. During the Sabbath School time the teacher was addressing the weekend’s theme of “When Things Don’t Turn Out. . .” He was addressing how we should respond when things don’t turn out the way we expect, personally, in local communities, and worldwide. He invited me to be prepared to say something about the General Conference Session and the big thing that didn’t “turn out” there, the vote to give official endorsement to divisions of the church to consider mission as a key factor in decisions regarding women’s ordination. Time ran out before I was able to speak, but I thought my notes there might be useful or encouraging to someone here. My apologies if this blog is annoying to those who might disagree with my conclusions.

Let me begin with the history of ordination. While the word “ordination” appears in the King James Bible, that English word comes from the Latin, it is not found in the New Testament. Ordination as we know it developed gradually over the early centuries and became fixed in the Middle Ages. Ordination of women did not occur then on two grounds: 1) the Bible nowhere required it, and 2) no one had ordained women before, so tradition supported the Bible’s silence on the question. These two reasons also sufficed for the Adventist pioneers, who adopted male ordination from their previous churches. This was not a theological act but a practical one, providing credentials to those who spoke for the church. When I entered ministry in the early 1970s, the traditional situation remained in place and the lack of biblical clarity meant I was neutral to negative on the question when calls to ordain women began in the 1970s.

In the years since, society in many parts of the world has completely changed on the role of women. In the 1950s nearly everyone assumed that some roles should be filled only by men: physician, soldier, lawyer, fireman, police officer, truck driver, President of the United States, and airplane pilot, to name only a few. In more and more places today, women fill virtually all roles in the work place except for ministry in churches like ours. Absent a clear “thus saith the Lord” on the matter, a tradition was threatening to present the church as completely irrelevant to society in many parts of the world.

So I took a fresh look at the Bible in light of the new situation. Acts 15 provides encouragement to do that. The earliest church believed that the Bible (the Old Testament at the time) taught circumcision as an unchanging requirement for salvation. But God’s providence in their experience led them to re-read the Bible and open the way for uncircumcized Gentiles to participate in the church. Things that once seemed obvious from their study of the Bible were no longer so in light of the Spirit’s leading. In my own fresh look at the Bible it dawned on me that the Bible nowhere asks the question “Should women be ordained?” It doesn’t address the issue directly. That means that the “answers” people were finding on both sides of the issue lacked the clarity of direct speech from God. Why doesn’t the Bible address the issue directly? What does that tell us about God? Evidently God never addressed the question in Scripture because He could live with the situation as He found it (male ordination). It was not the most important thing to challenge people with in those days. God addressed people on issues when they were ready to hear it (John 16:12) or when the mission required it (Acts 10-15).

This was the conclusion of the majority of members of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee. For many it was a change of mind. They learned that the Bible does not settle the matter in an absolute sense. Where mission requires it, women can be ordained. Where mission suggests that ordaining women would harm the church in a particular society, it should probably not be done. There were holdouts on both sides who believed the Bible clearly forbade or required universal women’s ordination, but the clearest trend of Bible study was in the direction of mission being the determining factor in any part of the world. That meant the world church allowing local jurisdictions to decide what was the best approach for their areas. This was not a pro-women’s ordination conclusion, it was a pro-mission conclusion. And it seemed to me that this was the only reasonable outcome at the General Conference session in San Antonio (July, 2015). I realize that there are many on both sides who still disagree with me on this. And I affirm them as brothers and sisters who have the same right I do to study and seek the mind of God on this question. Where God has left room for differing opinions, we dare not cut each other off.

Having said this, the denial of the TOSC conclusion and process in San Antonio was heart-breaking for many of us. I was heartbroken for the many women who felt the action showed disrespect to their perception of a call from God to do ministry. I was disappointed for those parts of the world who felt distrusted when their local judgment on the matter was rejected. I felt distrusted and disrespected when my earnest attempts to bring reason into the discussion were summarily dismissed with assertions and condemnation, rather than collegial debate.

But I realize that in the ultimate scheme of things my disappointment and that of others does not matter all that much. If I am right about Scripture and about God, God has been waiting a long, long time to see His people come to their senses on many issues. He has been waiting a long, long time to see healing of the divisions in the universe. He has been waiting a long, long time to see the ministry of women being affirmed by us in the same way He affirms it. If that is true, things in San Antonio didn’t turn out for God either. . .

Review of Adventist Churches That Make a Difference, by Gaspar and May Ellen Colon

A new book is coming out shortly by a couple of friends of mine. I thought you would want to know about it. The book Adventist Churches That Make a Difference, by Gaspar and May Ellen Colon, was designed as an enhancement to the Third Quarter 2016 Sabbath School lessons for the Seventh-day Adventist world church. As such, the book was subject to many constraints. It was held to a brief and fixed length. Each of its thirteen chapters had to be similar in length. And each chapter had to correspond to the topic of that week’s lesson. The format has been a popular one, since many members and teachers are eager to supplement the Sabbath School Quarterly with additional resources.

Given the constraints of the format, I didn’t expect the book to break any new ground. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. This is a landmark book. It not only advocates that every Adventist church should be deeply engaged in its community, but it provides dozens of specific illustrations of Adventist churches around the globe who are doing just that. These kinds of ministries are divided into four types: 1) relief, 2) personal development, 3) community development, and 4) confronting injustice. Colons use a fishing analogy to describe these ministries. 1) Relief is giving a hungry person a fish, 2) personal development teaches people how to fish, 3) community development provides the fishing tools, and 4) social justice makes sure everyone has equal access to the fishing pond.

Gaspar and May Ellen Colon are eminently qualified for the task they take on in this book. For many years she has been in the General Conference Office for Sabbath School/Personal Ministries and Gaspar has been director of the Center for Metropolitan Ministry based at Washington Adventist University. In these capacities they have traveled all over the world encouraging community outreach and observing first-hand the many success stories that are out there. While most churches in the Western world are stuck in neutral, some have actively filled recognized needs in their communities, causing these churches to be highly valued by those outside the church. These success stories are a gold mine of fresh ideas that stimulate thought and provide readers with options that their own churches can consider.

The book is extremely well written and easy to read. The variety of stories keeps the reader’s attention. But the stories are not just random and entertaining, they are structured into a carefully crafted philosophical foundation. That foundation is built on both Scripture and the best scientific evidence of how groups of people relate to each other. While the Colons are not specialists in the Bible, their use of Scripture is measured, solid and persuasive. The stories illustrate how real churches in real communities apply both biblical and scientific principles to real-life problems.

This book is MUST reading, not only for SDA Sabbath School teachers, but for pastors, local and worldwide church leaders and all members who desire that churches make a difference in their local communities.

Combating Terrorism

Recently I presented on the above topic at the first public health conference since the shootings in San Bernardino (which were perpetrated at a social gathering of public health officials). I spoke alongside a couple of muslim scholars representing biblical scholars who are also interested in the Qur’an and Islam. I suggested that Muslims and I share three core convictions that are pertinent to the issue of combating terrorism. I sense that my Muslim co-panelists agreed with me enthusiastically.

The first conviction is that there is a cosmic conflict, or cosmic jihad as Muslims might call it, between good and evil, God and Satan. In texts like Revelation 12, Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, Genesis 3 and Job 1 and 2, the Bible draws back the curtain to reveal behind the conflicts of this earth a universe-wide conflict over God’s character and government. Various aspects of this cosmic “jihad” are also clearly expressed in the Qur’an (1:1-4; 7:11-15, 20-22; 15:39; 17:62-65; 25:52; 26:94-98; 30:11-14; 59:19), building on the earlier prophetic revelations in the Bible. This large theme tells me that there is a battle between good and evil at the heart of every religion, including Islam. Every religion has the capacity for good or for evil. To simply say Islam is a religion of peace or Islam is a religion of violence is not an adequate analysis. Islam is part of the battleground in the cosmic conflict or jihad. Any analysis of the history of Christianity will affirm the same there. All religions here on earth are battlegrounds in the cosmic conflict.

Second, God is a God of love and love requires freedom in order to be truly love. So human beings have been created with the freedom to love God and each other or to be rebellious and violent. That means that there is no compulsion in true religion. The religion that has God’s approval is one that values human freedom and does not coerce. And a God of love and freedom does not normally intervene to interrupt the consequences of human rebellion. Hence the terrorists have the freedom to do their work with all of its horrible consequences for the innocent as well as the guilty (Gen 2:17-17; 3:11; Deut 30:19; Josh 24:15; John 8:32-36; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1, 13; Qur’an 2:256; 4:115; 16:125-128; 17:62-65). Furthermore, the lack of religious freedom in most muslim countries is the work of the evil one rather a manifestation of true faith.

Third, it is a law of life that we become like the God we worship. If we believe that God is arbitrary, punitive, judgmental and severe, we ourselves will become more and more like that. If we believe that God is loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful, we will become more and more like that. In their actions the terrorists betray a horrific view of God, and since they believe that their theology is right, their actions reveal what they think God is like and what God approves. While there are many texts in both the Bible and the Qur’an that have been used to justify such a violent God, both sacred texts climax with a very different picture. The high point of the Bible on this question is John 14:9. There Jesus affirms, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” The life of Jesus, in its love, mercy, kindness and self-sacrifice, is a picture of what the Christian God is truly like. Likewise, in the Qur’an, the high point is in The Opening to the Qur’an (al Fatiha), 1:1-4. The character of Allah is there summarized in two words, merciful and compassionate (compare with Exodus 34:6-7). The God of the Qur’an is not a monster, but is gracious and compassionate toward humanity. In fact, this description of God is at the head of all but one of the suras (chapters) in the Qur’an and the rest of the Qur’an needs to be read with that picture of God in mind. The two high point passages referenced above have many counterparts in both sacred texts. Violent humans have cherry-picked sacred texts for centuries to justify evil actions. But at the core of the Bible and the Qur’an are affirmations of a gracious God. How one reads is a choice, and we become like the God we worship.

Followers of ISIS and al Qaeda might be comfortable in general with the first point. They would see themselves as God’s true warriors, fighting the cosmic jihad for Him on this earth. But the God that they are fighting for is nothing like the God introduced in the opening phrase of the Qur’an. And they certainly do not respect the freedom of any who disagree with them. Their use of sacred texts is selective in the extreme, and the God they worship has all the characteristics of Satan: He is punitive, judgmental, violent, and hates His enemies. In the service of God it is possible to behave like the Enemy (compare Rev 16:2).

The Status of ISIS

In the wake of the Brussels attack (and Paris and San Bernardino and Istanbul) people are wondering if ISIS is getting too strong to stop. Actually the opposite is the case. I believe that ISIS as a traditional caliphate is on the ropes. The recent attacks in Europe are a sign of weakness rather than strength. Let me explain.

The core theology of ISIS is an eschatology grounded in the Qur’an and the Hadith, the normative sources of truth in popular Islam. It envisions the end-time re-establishment of the caliphate, a form of government which is ruled directly by God through a designated caliph, the religious and political successor to the prophet Muhammad. In order to establish a caliphate, you need a trans-national entity (ISIS only declared a caliphate after expanding its territory out of Syria and into Iraq, thus evaporating the long-standing border between the two) that fully implements islamic law (Sharia). And the ruler of that entity must be an adult male of Qurayshi decent (the tribe of Muhammad) and a person who exhibits morality and integrity. Followers of ISIS believe that they have a true caliph in the man who calls himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

A crucial element that distinguishes ISIS from al Qaeda is the possession of a trans-national territory, the Islamic State. In the theology of ISIS, as soon as the end-time caliphate is established, all faithful Muslims are to come to it and pledge allegiance to the caliph. Leaving it for nearly any reason thereafter is considered apostasy. So the fact that they are now sending people on terror missions to Europe is an act of desperation that goes against their own theology.

By declaring a state, ISIS in a sense planted the seeds of its own demise. To run a state, one is actually forced to govern; to collect taxes and provide services, including the kind of conventional military defense that is necessary to hold and govern territory. Governing territory has taken the bloom off the Islamic State dream. The citizens of the Islamic State are becoming increasingly restive. At the same time, the bumbling alliance against ISIS in Iraq and Syria the Levant is now beginning to close in on all sides. Many cadres of ISIS are deserting their forces and sharing their knowledge of ISIS with its enemies. This gives Western intelligence the location of top leaders, who are being picked off one by one.

As a trans-national entity that governs and wages traditional warfare, therefore, ISIS’ days seem to be numbered. But as a force capable of spreading terror outside the Islamic State, they will probably continue for the foreseeable future. The question, therefore, arises, how can Muslims themselves combat terror? What type of theology may be persuasive for those considering jihadism as a way of life?

To be concluded. . .

Can Muslims follow Christ as Muslims?

This is the last in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

We need to clarify this question before we attempt to answer it. Before the Enlightenment and the subsequent modernity project, there was no concept of religion as something separate from culture and ethnicity. This is why the ancient gods were attached to people groups: the gods of the Babylonians, the gods of the Assyrians, etc. The idea that one could choose one’s religious affiliation is a rather new idea, particularly outside of traditionally Christian lands.

This means that as a Muslim encounters Jesus, his worldview, beliefs, values and practices will be gradually reoriented to reflect his newfound Kingdom identity. Some will express this transformation by removing themselves from association with anything Islamic. Others may choose to retain their birth identity when they become followers of Christ: culturally they remain Muslims but spiritually they are disciples of Jesus, and are no longer attached to that which conflicts with their allegiance to Christ.

This is a choice that is best left to the new believer, since for those of us outside of their context, it is difficult to assess how much they can keep and how much is a compromise that leads to syncretism. So our role is to nurture the new believer and constantly ask questions of clarification that may help them to think deeply about matters of faith, practice and allegiance to God in Christ. We offer them biblical guidance but allow them to choose the path to which God is leading them.

How are we to understand Islam then? Islam is contested territory where God and Satan are both at work, acting from within. For the past twenty years I have witnessed the manifold wisdom of God among Muslims. I have seen redemptive windows in their most important ceremonies. I have seen cues about Jesus that point to him as the Word of God, the Spirit of God, sinless, born as God’s mercy to mankind. I have been able to piece together the story of the Great Controversy from the Qur’an and have used it as a bridge to the biblical witness in which Jesus is central. In the poetry of Rumi I have rescued lines that invite intimacy with God. I have found questions that have triggered meaningful and relevant conversations with Muslims. Questions such as, “what does it mean that Jesus is known as Messiah?” or “do you know what Jesus is doing in heaven right now?” “Why is the Sabbath so important in the Qur’an?” Or “how can ISIS be defeated in the way of God?” That question can lead to the understanding that God’s government excludes the use of force.

Like never before, Muslims are searching for partners in faith who are willing to put an arm around them and point them forward. Sadly, such partners are few, since too many are more interested in denouncing than in restoring.

The current crisis of radicalism is waking up the Muslim world, and according to the Qur’an God has a group, the true People of the Book, who can be trusted and will provide answers. God is pouring out dreams and visions in the Muslim world. In addition, missiological research and anecdotal evidence are showing that God is using what Muslims already know about Jesus as a door opener.

Isaiah 60 gives us a window into the future: the descendants of Ishmael are coming to worship God, bringing the gifts from the land. Because of the faithfulness of God, we can joyfully join him in reaching out to Muslims, knowing that the vision is certain, and it will not falter.

I plead with you, dear reader, to change the conversation with regard to Muslims. Make joining God’s mission the burden of your heart and tongue. You will be blessed!

What about the “Muslim God”?

According to the Bible, there is only one God, the One worshiped by Abraham. Other gods do not exist. Satan and his associates are imposters, God’s rivals in name only. Jews, Christians and Muslims agree on this.

This one creator God is known by various names in different languages and those who worship him in all these languages and cultures have very different ideas of who He is. So while we disagree about his nature, the fact remains that there is only one God, whom we all (Muslims, Jews and Christians) worship with greater or lesser insight into his true character and mission.

Are Muslims worshiping a “different god,” meaning a different spiritual entity? No, that is not even possible; because we do not believe a different god exists, unless we are prepared to believe that Muslims worship Satan unknowingly.

Jesus’ example towards the Samaritan woman is instructive here. He did not tell her, “you worship the wrong God.” Instead He told her: “You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” And then he led her into a full understanding of who he was in comparison with that which she did not know. This is what I mean when I say that we move from common ground to higher ground.

What about Mohammad and the Qur’an?

This is the fourth in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

As we briefly consider the contested topics of who Mohammad is and the inspiration of the Qur’an, we need to assess their influence from the frame of the Great Controversy. If we do this, we will ask: In what ways has Mohammad’s presence and the message of the Qur’an advanced or obscured God’s self-revelation? Since there are differences of opinion and interpretation regarding both issues even among Muslims, we need to engage each view in its context, rather than trying to offer a blanket answer.

At the very time when Christianity was experiencing its darkest hours (Christological disputes and the politicization of Christendom), Mohammad rose with a message that had two main pillars: God is One, and there is a Day of Judgment in which the actions of everyone will be brought into account. The Qur’an was the voice by which this call was made, and unlike what most Muslims think today, it bears a positive witness towards the Bible. At the time of Mohammad’s death in 632, more than 10,000 pagans had rejected idolatry and embraced the call to follow the God of Abraham. The extent of the reformation that began under Mohammad’s leadership is hard to over-estimate.

When I am asked by Muslims what I think of the Qur’an, I tell them that in every way in which its message echoes the ancient path of the prophets that came before it, I will accept it. Why? Because truth is truth no matter where it is found. I am not interested in being politically correct, nor culturally sensitive (in the postmodern way), but rather truthful to the way in which I understand God’s mission among non-Christian people groups. This is the positive side of the Great Controversy that, once affirmed, gives me a solid platform from which to bring the biblical story of redemption.

For too long, mission has suffered because Christians have invested their energies pursuing questions related to the origins of the Qur’an, the sexual life of Mohammad, and the violent past record of Islamic wars of expansion. These questions may never be settled among us. I am struggling with some of them myself, since the historical sources give different pictures. In the end, however, keeping our focus on God’s mission makes Satan look smaller. And that gives us reason to hope, which translates into mission.

Good News to the Muslim world

This is the third in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

If you were God, how would you convince your children that you have always had a place for them in your heart? You would do so by showing them the many ways you were always present in their past history. You would open their eyes to see how you are present now. You would reaffirm your commitment to remain in relationship with them throughout eternity.

Muslims see themselves as the spiritual children of Abraham through Ishmael and his mother Hagar. So it is our privilege to open more deeply to them the story of God’s plan for restoring this world from violence and sin through the seed of Abraham. That story centers on the missional heart of God searching for Hagar to offer her and her progeny promises of blessing and greatness. God hears, this is the promise that God made to Ishmael. And as a perpetual reminder of His mercy, Hagar was bidden to call her child Ishmael, “God shall hear.”

God wanted to make Ishmael great from the beginning, but these promises could only be activated as Ishmael’s descendants remained faithful to God. The ultimate blessing of Abraham comes when the descendants of Ishmael accept Jesus, the One sent from heaven, as Lord and Savior; the way, the truth and the life. Muslims are much, more open to consider the plan of salvation after understanding the way in which God had purposed a life of blessing for their community from the beginning.

Those who only see darkness in Islam’s prophet, book and practices will find it difficult to explain how leaving millions of people in darkness is consistent with the mission and character of God. Why would God preclude millions from the light of truth with no apparent reason other than the fact that there were born into “the wrong family”?

The other extreme is to be avoided is to ignore the worrisome signs of deception in Islam, simply because we also find manifestations of truth there. Affirming what is right and true in Islam cannot be a substitute for Gospel proclamation. In other words, the truth we find in Islam is a platform from which to sensitively launch the Story that challenges every other controlling story. The direction moves from God (found in common ground) to God (as revealed in “higher ground”). God’s story says yes and no. Yes to what is right, no to what does not align itself to the will of God.

How God Seeks to Heal the World

This is the second in a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gaby Phillips. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

How is God healing the rift that sin has brought into the world? How is God continuing to be the Creator, and not just the Judge? What was God’s purpose in appointing human diversity (Deut 32:8; Acts 17:26-27)? What is God’s job description? God is in the business of recovering everything that Satan took away, and like the yeast in the dough, he is working from the inside: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.

The path to Abraham (Gen 12) goes through Babel (Gen 11). When God chose Abraham, He chose him for the sake of the broken world that God so loved. When God chose Abraham, it was in order to bless all the families on earth (Gen 12:3). God is the one who blesses, God is the one who curses, and relation to Abraham determines the action that He takes. As Abraham embodies the presence of God amidst pagan nations, the light of God is made known to them, and the Almighty judges the pagan nations in terms of how they respond to Abraham. God’s mission is to seek hosting hearts, willing to live engaged with those God is using to bless them, for in their interaction God becomes known. This mode of divine restoration transforms both the messenger and the host community.

From the time of Abraham on, the God of the Old Testament is pursuing the nations (people groups) with the light of truth, in preparation for the arrival of the Desire of All Nations (Hag 2:7). Later on Paul will tell the Romans that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Rom 1:20.

People have no excuse. Why? Because there is not a single people group left in utter darkness. At the very least each has been exposed to God’s power and existence and is expected to respond to it, for which they will be judged. How did God communicate this knowledge? In the past we tended to limit this knowledge to what could be learned through the study of nature. But we have come to realize that every people group has engaged with its geographical space (nature), and this has translated into culture, music, rituals, ceremonies, folktales, art, language, etc. And while one can see the working of Satan in every culture, one can also see the working of God, if one discovers where to look.

From the beginning, therefore, it has been God’s purpose to flood the earth with the light that knowing Him brings. That light becomes clearer and clearer as people live in submission to His will and respond in worship. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14.

Because God has been in the business of pouring light on every people group in order that they might find him (Act 17:26-27), it is our role to seek where that light is present, and that will require us to wade into the mud of confusion in search for truth.

“Christ was the originator of all the ancient gems of truth. Through the work of the enemy these truths had been displaced. They had been disconnected from their true position and placed in the framework of error. Christ’s work was to readjust and establish the precious gems in the framework of truth. The principles of truth that had been given by Himself to bless the world had, through Satan’s agency, been buried and had apparently become extinct. Christ rescued them from the rubbish of error, gave them a new, vital force, and commanded them to shine as precious jewels and stand fast forever.” E. G. White (Christ’s Manner of Instruction, Jan. 9, 1890)

Aware of the reality of the work of Satan, we are also sent out to cast light, not by cursing the darkness (or exposing the work of Satan as our central message), but by upholding the light of God which dispels the darkness of Satan. It is not denunciation of Satan that turns people to Christ, but helping them behold something better.

So what are the implications of all this for our understanding of Islam? Islam, not just individual Muslims, is a platform in which the Great Controversy is being fought, in which light and darkness are fighting for supremacy, in which peace and violence are struggling for the supremacy. The struggle for the soul of Islam today is one of the venues on this earth where the Great Controversy is being fought.

Islam and the Mission of God

I am sharing a short series of guest blogs from my friend, Gabriela Profeta Phillips (Director of the Adventist-Muslim Relations Center for North America), who spoke last night at Loma Linda. I find her perspective extremely helpful in wrestling through the issues of how Adventists can and should relate to Islam. It is tempting to buy into morbidly negative views of Islam, on the one hand, and overly positive ones, on the other. Gaby here cuts through the debate by reframing it with a fresh perspective. Enjoy. Her words follow, I have taken the liberty of editing somewhat for clarity:

Confusion describes the current state of affairs when it comes to understanding Islam. And there are good reasons for feeling this way. Hardly a day goes by without gruesome violence, bloodshed, and anger in the name of Islam. We live against the backdrop of Paris, San Bernardino and ISIS. We are horrified by the war machines of Syria that kill and maim and show no signs of slowing down. Our world has changed since 9/11 and it is hard to get used to this new one.

When teaching I used to be asked: Is Islam peaceful or violent? My response was to say that the answer depends on whose Islam we are inquiring about. Today, nobody asks that question, the answer seems obvious if you watch the news. Yet things are not quite that simple.

All Muslims (adherents to Islam) have five core teachings: believe in God, in angels, in the revelation of God through sacred books, in the prophets, and in the Day of Judgment. Beyond that there is much diversity of interpretation among Muslims. So the more vulnerable the Muslim community feels in any place, the more likely it is to provide new recruits to groups who claim to be fighting in the name of God. When we view our Muslim neighbors through the darkest possible lens, we increase that very sense of vulnerability which can bring out the worst in people.

As Adventists consider the plight of their Muslim neighbors, what is the best starting point for an evaluation of Islam? What is the biblical approach? If we live under the authority of God as revealed in the Bible, the lenses that guide our enquiry have to start with an understanding of God and the way in which he is active in this world. So the most important question for understanding Islam is: How is God working out His purposes among Muslims and what role does Islam play in His purposes? To the degree that we can answer this question, we can also ask: How do we cooperate with what God is doing?

In the end, the question whether Islam is peaceful or not is not the most important one. It is not Islam that drives the way we do mission, it is God. If we can recapture a clear understanding of the mission of God and from there look at Islam, the confusion we feel about Islam resolves itself. When Islam is viewed through the lens of God’s mission for the world, we find that both God and Satan are at work and we can find evidence of their presence.

We have seen that it is perfectly possible to write books on what is right in the Qur’an and books on what is wrong with the Qur’an. Both kinds of books make sense to many people. So is it a matter of choosing which side to pick? Not really… Let’s understand first what God is doing in the world and then there is the chance we may see the issue with more clarity. To be continued. . .