Still trying to figure out the perfect gift for a father or graduate in your life? Dads and grads are very special to us, however, they can sometimes be a tough crowd to shop for. They aren’t always vocal about what they want or have a tendency to regularly purchase the things that they want making it difficult to come up with gift ideas. What do you get for the person who seems to have everything and has a library packed with unread books? Don’t worry, we have you covered! For several years Missional Wear has become the trusted source for quality reformed theology swag. They have kindly curated a few ideas that will solve your most challenging gift-giving conundrums!
Missional Wear offers over 100 designs available on a variety of apparel styles and colors. Our standard tee has been a long-time customer favorite for those who appreciate a heavier tee. We are excited to announce the return of baby onesies and tri-blend tees that will be back in time for Father’s Day! Check back for regular updates to styles and new designs. Specializing in custom apparel has given us the ability to offer unique products like choosing a theologian’s face matched with a custom quote on the back. Create something that will make them smile!
Coffee and tea drinkers will appreciate the vintage design of this camp-style mug featuring our brand new John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon insignia. This one is a clear winner and will easily become the favorite go-to mug. See more of the entire mug and drink ware collection!
A Five Solas or Spurgeon pint is a perfectly timed gift. Dad will get to enjoy drinking his favorite beverage from it all summer long! Create your own unique set by choosing from ten of our most popular designs.
Posters and Wall Decals
If you love the book of Romans as much as we do, you might just have to get the entire text printed on a poster. This poster has a pleasing design aesthetic with content that packs a powerful punch. It will undoubtedly be the prominent focal point of any wall on which it hangs. Check out our entire series with other popular designs including The Five Solas, Man’s Chief End, and The Resolutions Poster. Another office and dorm friendly gift idea is a wall decal. Decals are easy to apply and cleanly remove from the wall when you are ready to move on.
First, check out the entire catalog of products available at Missional Wear. We offer a wide variety of products and options that dads and grads alike will love! Sometimes a gift card is the way to go. If that is what you need, we offer both digital and physical certificates.
This sponsored post was prepared by Made to Flourish, which is a pastors’ network for the common good.
When we stop to think about it, it is significant that the majority of church members spend most of their time not at church activities, but at work. Yet churches often have a hard time knowing how to equip their people for this important sphere.
In fact, the issue has been overlooked for so long in our churches that one might ask: Is it really the responsibility of pastors to teach their people how to connect their faith and work?
There are two pressing factors that indicate that the answer is “yes.” In fact, this is both an urgent and important need.
The Biblical Mandate
Since the lordship of Christ is holistic, pastors are called to equip their people to follow Christ in all of life—not just part of life. The workplace is a central aspect of most people’s lives. In fact, most of us spend more time at work than in any other single activity.
For that reason alone, pastors need to help people understand what it means to follow Christ at work. Is work just a means to evangelism? Or does it matter in itself? Is the work of an engineer less significant than the work of a pastor? Or do all occupations matter equally? How do you go about your work in a way that is informed by your faith?
People need to have answers to these questions, and part of the church’s task of discipling people for all of life includes providing those answers. Further, the Scriptures have much to say about our work (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Genesis 1:28; etc.). People need to know how to apply these truths in their own work.
As pastors and churches do this more fully, they begin to find that they are not simply being faithful to their call. They are also bringing great benefit to their people. For as congregants begin to understand that their work matters to God, it transforms their perspective on how they can serve God and others in their daily work.
When people realize that work is one of the chief ways that we partner with God to love our neighbor carry our faith into the world, it gives great meaning to the things they do every day—even the most mundane. Work becomes a form of worship, love, and greater fulfillment.
The Cultural Moment
We are also at a unique cultural moment. Tim Keller writes:
In the West during the time of Christendom, the church could afford to limit its discipleship and training of believers to prayer, Bible study, and evangelism because most Christians were not facing non-Christian values at work, in their neighborhoods, or at school. ….In a missional church today, however, believers are surrounded by a radically non-Christian culture. They require much more preparation and education to “think Christianly” about all of life, public and private, and about how to do their work with Christian distinctiveness. (Tim Keller, Center Church, 330)
In other words, because we are now largely in a post-Christian culture, people need to be equipped all the more intentionally for how to think about all of life from a biblical perspective.
Beyond this, more and more people are feeling the need to learn how their faith relates to their work. There is a growing movement of Christians who are hungry for this. As Greg Forster has said, “Work and economics will be at the forefront of the church’s attention in the coming generation.” The church is in a unique position to help.
However, this can only happen if churches themselves first understand the relationship between faith and work, and learn how to weave this understanding into their discipleship and their life as a church.
That can sound like a tall order! Yet, it is a biblical responsibility and called for by our unique cultural moment. Which leads to the question:
So, How Do You Do This?
That’s why Made to Flourish exists. We are a nationwide membership-based organization which aims to provide pastors with relationships and resources to strengthen their ministries and help them connect faith and work for their people.
We do this through our monthly newsletter, online workshops and webinars, training events, and city network gatherings where you can meet with other local pastors. We currently have 12 city networks, 1,118 network members, and more than 1,008 network churches.
We know you are busy, so we aren’t seeking to add one more thing to your plate. Rather, our aim is to help you do what you are already doing more effectively.
If you are a pastor, would you join us? We invite you to apply to join the network on our site. Membership is free, and by joining, we’ll send you some of the best resources we know of on this important subject.
All leaders want to be successful. Success has its perks, but it also has its downside—and being highly successful can have a highly dangerous downside. A leader can become domineering and dictatorial, resulting in devastated lives, decimated churches and demise of ministries. Church leaders without sufficient accountability can fall into destructive leadership styles, immoral behavior or questionable ethical activities. Leadership can isolate and overwhelm a person with demands on their time and energy, making him easy fodder for the enemy of his soul. Burn out, fall out and space out is all too common. The worst part of all? God’s reputation takes a hit.
The solo or CEO style leadership model common in popular Christianity today may be the culprit, when it fails to mobilize and utilize the full breadth of spiritual gifting within the church. Many churches are moving toward a return to:
Notice the key words of this statement. “Plurality” speaks of shared leadership, which includes accountability among equals. When the apostle Paul and Barnabas established churches, “they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, [and] they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23). The contrast between “elders” (plural) and “every church” (singular) suggests a leadership team in each church, with no mention of one individual appointed to having more or independent authority. Accountability would be inherent in such a team. Today, just as in the early church, accountability inherent in team leadership is needed more than ever. The beloved apostle John warns about Diotrophes, “who loves to be first among them [and] does not accept what we say” (3 John 9). Leadership in the church helps stem the Diotrophes syndrome which all leaders struggle with, the tendency to resist accountability to others.
“Biblically qualified” refers to the character traits laid out in key biblical passages (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:28). We must not water down these qualifications or descriptors to an “acceptable” level. The highest standards must be maintained at all levels of church leaders, especially among the elders. “Pastoral” captures the idea of elders who actually shepherd the people of God, not just sit as a decision-making board. Peter wrote to the elders among the scattered believers, “[S]hepherd the flock of God among you …” (1 Peter 5:2).
What’s the answer?
So how does a church go about implementing a genuine, functioning elder form of church government and leadership? Is this model even feasible in our contemporary culture? And how can a church equip a steady stream of biblically qualified and functioning elders?
Free videos & resources
This short blog cannot answer all these questions, but the ministry of Biblical Eldership Resources does address these issues and more. Building on the seminal work of Alexander Strauch (author of the influential book Biblical Eldership), a team of seasoned church leaders has produced over 250 teaching videos complete with outlines and discussion questions. Appealing to every learning style, the sessions are compact (15 minutes long), interesting, practical and most of all, designed for busy elders and leaders.
Whatever the level of leadership, there is something in BER for everyone, from basic biblical foundations of leadership, to transitioning to eldership, as well as practical teaching and training for all aspects of being an effective shepherd-elder.
Imagine you’re meditating on a passage in the Old Testament, unsure about how the passage relates to the coming of Jesus Christ. Maybe you’re alone in private devotions or with friends in a Bible study and all of you are somewhat confused. We’ve all been there. We long to see Jesus in Scripture, but it is sometimes hard to grasp how the Old Testament connects with the New Testament.
While many resources are available on biblical interpretation, it is difficult to find a book that is readable, learned, and trustworthy.
A New Tool for Studying the Bible
Seeing Christ in All of Scripture is designed to help people understand the beautiful, Christ-centered structure of the Bible. While the book is only 87 pages, the four authors have a total of five doctorate degrees (we’ll let you figure out who has two!), over 140 years of experience teaching the Bible, and over 145 years of experience ministering the gospel. Needless to say, this book is nothing if not readable, learned, trustworthy, and packed with rich content.
In many ways, Seeing Christ in All of Scripture is a window into what it is like to study with us at Westminster Theological Seminary. Seeing Christ in All of Scripture is a resounding affirmation of the unified convictions of our present faculty and an example of their classroom teaching.
“This book, by some of the most respected scholars in the world, rightly argues that the context of every biblical verse is the scriptural witness to Jesus Christ and his gospel. I commend this new work to anyone who preaches or teaches or studies the Bible.” —Russell Moore, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
“Westminster Theological Seminary has always led the pack in this quest, and still does, as the present book shows. It is very much on the right lines.” —J. I. Packer, Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology, Regent College
“Anyone who wonders what Westminster Theological Seminary is all about would do well to consult this interdisciplinary commentary on Christ-centered biblical hermeneutics.” —Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“I am happy to recommend this book because, as a Westminster Theological Seminary student in the 1970s, I was so excited about what I was learning that I could hardly wait to get to my classes. Especially wonderful were classes that showed the amazing unity of the Bible when understood in a system of Christ-centered biblical interpretation. That is the same system of interpretation that is taught at Westminster today and is affirmed so clearly in this book.” —Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary
This sponsored post was written by John Majors a writer and speaker for FamilyLife®. John is a host on Passport2Identity™, a new resource that enables parents of teens to have a life-changing getaway with their son or daughter. Click here for a special offer.
Consider the confusing path teenagers must navigate today on just one subject—their sexual identity. Understanding sexuality is difficult enough for any adolescent, but our culture is crammed with confusing questions and messages about gender roles, peer expectations, sexting, pornography, sexual morality, homosexuality and transgenderism. Sexual images and messages bombard us continually.
Without a doubt the teen years are some of the most confusing when it comes to understanding who you are—your identity. But knowing what shapes your identity can make all the difference between flourishing and floundering.
Here are four suggestions for helping your teens discover their identity:
1. Help them respect authority. Driving a car requires a respect for authority: Stop at traffic signals, stay between the lines, obey speed limits. And respect for authority is a thousand times more important for building an identity. For example, teens must decide who their authority is for life’s decisions. What governs their beliefs and behaviors? Help your teens learn that their ultimate identity must be rooted in a timeless authority—it must be rooted in Christ.
Colossians 3:2-3 says, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” – You must look to a timeless authority to gain the proper perspective on who you are – look above – not to the things on earth, which pass away.
2. Help them build a “band of brothers.” Teens often listen to their peers more than their parents. Thus their friends significantly shape their identity—for better or worse. Speaker and author Charles “Tremendous” Jones said, “You’ll be the same person tomorrow as you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.”
One dad I know understood this, so he gathered other fathers and sons he respected and led them through a study of biblical manhood. These young men began to catch a vision for how they could make one another stronger through accountability and encouragement. They kept meeting and eventually created a group that multiplied other groups. But it all started with one dad taking the initiative to connect his son with other young men. What dads and sons could you gather to help your son (or daughter) build a band of friends?
3. Help them do something. Most teens struggle to answer the question, “What am I good at?” Greg Harris, father of author Joshua Harris felt one of his roles as a parent was to help foster the interests he observed in his children. When he saw them taking interest in something productive, he was quick to open his checkbook to help them pursue the new passion. He said, “I wasn’t so much concerned with what they were doing, but that they were doing something.” Help your kids find ways to try a variety of things to see what they’re good at. You don’t have to spend tons of money to get a child going. But get them busy doing something. God will use that to help them identify the gifts and talents He’s given them.
4. Get away and talk about identity. The middle teen years are full of confusion, and it’s probably the hardest season to talk in a way you both really hear each other. To break the cycle, take your teenager away from your normal environment and spend a weekend talking about these issues with the new retreat kit, Passport2Identity, from FamilyLife.
Passport2Identity is two separate resources, one for young men and one for young women, that tackle the tough issues teens face at around the ages of 14-16. The audio teaching comes from over twenty experts including Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Paul David Tripp, Voddie Baucham, Rosaria Butterfield, and more. With this Getaway Kit, a mom or dad can take their son or daughter away for the weekend to discuss what it means to root your identity in Christ as a young man or a young woman.
If you’re interested in Passport2Identity, take advantage of our special offer of 25% off by using the promo code CHALLIES at checkout.
Endorsements for Passport2Identity
“As a father of five sons, this is the resource I’ve been looking for, and praying for. One of the biggest worries parents have is how to get their children ready for independence and adulthood, how to find their way in the world. This burden is especially weighty for Christians, as we must teach our sons and daughters to prepare not only for this life but for the next. This resource is a God-send. You will feel as though you are being mentored personally by wise leaders who have walked this path before you. The end result will be more confident and Christlike parenting, and a word of hope and direction for young men and women at the most formative time of their lives. I highly recommend Passport2Identity, and I wish it had been around when I was in my teen years.” Russell Moore, President Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Southern Baptist Convention
“The materials produced by FamilyLife, such as this new series Passport2Identity, always provide biblically faithful, practical, wise, guidance for parents seeking to train their children to follow the Lord in an increasingly hostile modern culture.” Wayne Grudem, Ph.D. Phoenix Seminary
“Passport2Identity will deepen the connection between moms and daughters and help launch the next generation of Christ-centered, purposeful women.” Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth Revive Our Hearts
This sponsored post was prepared by Michael Horton, author of over thirty books, including the just-released Core Christianity. White Horse Inn, where he teaches and serves as the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine, has recently announced many new free resources for churches in their Campaign for Core Christianity.
Does God talk to us? Lots of people think so. Some attract media attention for claiming to have died and returned from heaven with the details. Others say that God speaks to them every day in audible terms, telling them where to go and what to do. Maybe you wonder, “Why doesn’t that happen to me?”
But the truth is it does happen to you—God still speaks to us today. But he does so through his Word. We speak to God in prayer and he speaks to us in the Bible. God especially speaks to us in the public gathering of his people each Lord’s Day through the preaching of his Word.
So, yes, God does speak to us. But he speaks publicly, through preaching, because the bad news and the good news are not just private feelings but facts of universal significance. This is not to dismiss the wonderful truth that he also speaks to us as we read Scripture and talk to other believers about its teaching. Yet the main thing is to hear God address us regularly through the ministry of fellow believers who are called by God to study and proclaim his Word. God has chosen to use “the weak things of the world” as a means of his powerful working (1 Cor 1:27–28) so that he can receive all the glory (vv. 29–30).
God speaks to us through his Word in a variety of ways. He threatens, promises, comforts, discomforts, judges, justifies, kills, and makes alive by his Word, which is “alive and active” (Heb 4:12). The Holy Spirit is at work in us to open our eyes and hearts to his saving message.
In speaking his law, God does two things. First, he arraigns us before his bar of judgment, showing us our sins so that we will flee to Christ to be clothed in his righteousness. But second, he also guides us by his law in the path of righteousness, loving him and our neighbors in concrete ways. No longer “under the law” in the sense of condemnation, we are free for the first time for love and good works—not to gain God’s favor or to score points by helping others, but simply and truly for God’s glory and our neighbor’s good.
From Genesis to Revelation, God speaks to us. He especially proclaims his Son as the offspring of the woman (Eve) who crushes the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15); as Noah’s ark; as the ram caught in the thicket who took Isaac’s place on the altar of sacrifice; as the greater prophet that Moses expected; as the promised Son of David whose throne is eternal; as the King greater than the weak and false kings throughout Israel’s history; as the true temple; as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
What is the main reason I embrace the Bible as God’s Word? It is hard to reduce my confidence in Scripture to one reason. Most fundamentally, I hear God address me in the Bible, especially in the preaching of his Word. Written by diverse authors over two millennia, the Bible nevertheless has a unity that can be attributed only to a divine author. It truly reads as promise (Old Testament) and fulfillment (New Testament), like any good story. Yet it is the greatest story ever told.
What is poverty? On the face of it this is a simple enough question. When we think of the poor we might immediately think of the troubled neighborhoods in our own city, downtrodden communities, areas often devastated by drugs, social strife, and urban decay. Many would say poverty is the lack of something necessary. The lack of material wealth, good housing, a decent job, access to basic services. However, if you grew up in a poor community you might very well have a different response to that question.
I grew up in the 1980s on a poor housing estate in the south east of England. My mother was a single parent and we lived with my grandparent’s in their four room home. The coal fire kept the house warm, there was always food on the table, and my Mum worked hard filing medical records at the local hospital. Poverty to us was less about a lack of stuff, rather my experience of poverty was more about feeling a sense of alienation and shame. It seemed that no matter how hard we tried we struggled to get ahead - so why bother. What hurt me more than the lack of food on the table was watching a close friend at school spiral out of control because of his drug habit. It was being afraid on my own street because I was daily intimidated by my abuser. It was being a 9 year old kid growing up feeling lost, lonely and afraid.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, paying particular attention to the downtrodden and the poor. So how should the church be engaging the poor? Jesus has given us a mandate and it is clear - go and make disciples. That has to be our response to poverty because that has to be our response to every social challenge we face in society. Make disciples!
The reality is though that while many churches start well meaning mercy ministries, such as food banks and clothing drives, the result is rarely the making of new disciples. Indeed, many mercy ministries actually perpetuate the sense of alienation and shame that the poor experience. While on the other hand there are churches and church planters serving in poor communities who feel discouraged, isolated and lack resources for their work.
Here is the reality, and it has been the reality for over 2000 years now, the poor need healthy, gospel centered churches. Our greatest need is Christ. Our greatest suffering is separation from God. Yes, by all means the church needs to be in poor communities feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and helping the addict. But if that is all we are doing then we are failing miserably and totally missing the point. If we want to be merciful to the poor then make Jesus known. We must be confident in the gospel and committed to building gospel centered churches.
The Church in Hard Places Global Network
Churches in poor communities often share common struggles. A lack of strong and well trained leadership, a lack of resources to fund workers in these communities, a sense of Isolation from the broader evangelical church. Ministry among the poor is more labor intensive and requires different resources than ministry in other contexts. Such ministries are often serving communities unable to viably sustain the work. Training and reproducing indigenous leaders within a poor community requires funding and support from those outside that community.
This is why we have launched the Church in Hard Places Network. We desire to mobilize pastors to equip their churches to make a real difference in socially and economically disadvantaged communities.
This is a global network because no matter where you are in the world, the world’s poor communities share common characteristics:
A densely populated community
Matriarchal leadership and the absence or inactivity of fathers
A socially, economically and geographically isolated population
Higher levels of mental health issues, addiction, abuse, and illiteracy
Ethnically and socially diverse groups coexisting in close proximity but at odds with each other
There are many faithful churches and church planters doing incredibly effective and fruitful work in some of the worlds poorest communities. There is much to be learned from each other and our prayer is that we can equip and strengthen one another as we seek to partner together to produce relevant resources, train indigenous leaders, and work together to build healthy churches.
If you are serving in a socially or economically disadvantaged community would you consider being part of this network? Find out more about our vision for the Church in Hard Places Network at www.churchinhardplaces.com.
This sponsored post was prepared by Zondervan and Nabeel Qureshi.
NABEELQURESHI is the New York Times bestselling author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. His latest book, Answering Jihad, released earlier this month and provides a personal, challenging, and respectful answer to the many questions surrounding jihad, the rise of ISIS, and Islamic terrorism. Last week, his USA Today op-ed was one of the most read and shared articles following the attack on Brussels.
Q: Tell me about your reasons for writing Answering Jihad.
NABEEL: My primary purpose in writing Answering Jihad was to respond to the present climate of confusion in the West. Terrorist attacks occur continuously, and yet our Muslim neighbors whom we know to be kind insist that Islam is a religion of peace. How can we understand this apparent contradiction? Is Islam truly a religion of peace, and if not, why do our Muslim neighbors keep telling us it is? The book is not intended to be a detailed treatise on jihad, but a necessary first step in responding to the present crisis of Islamic violence that I do not think will stop. It is my prayer, as the U.S. and other nations seek a way out of the current confusion and begins to answer jihad, that this book points a better way forward.
Q: You tell the story of your conversion from Islam in your memoir Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Now that you are a Christian, how did you approach writing this book?
NABEEL: Writing the book, I wanted to make sure that I accurately depicted the feelings and beliefs of Western Muslims so that I could write a book that would be informative to them as well as to Westerners at large. In order to do that, I had to revisit how I felt as a Muslim investigating jihad for the first time; I truly was shocked when I discovered for the first time that the foundations of Islam were indeed quite violent, contrary to what I had been taught about “the religion of peace.”
What was particularly difficult was trying to walk the line of sharing this truth about Islam while conveying my heartfelt belief that people should be compassionate towards Muslims. If we overemphasize one aspect, it could appear that we are neglecting the other. In today’s polarized political and social climates, people are staking their positions on either tolerance or truth, but rarely both. I cannot afford to compromise either; my country is under attack by jihad, yet my family remains Muslim.
Q: As a child, you grew up in a Muslim home with several family members having served in the U.S. Military. What values did that ingrain in you?
NABEEL: Our allegiance was to God and country; we were Muslim, first and foremost. As with Americans of other religious backgrounds, our faith was in no way exclusive of our devotion to our nation. According to my parents’ teaching, it was Islam that commanded me to love and serve my country. Islam taught me to defend the oppressed, to stand up for the rights of women and children, to shun the desires of the flesh, to seek the pleasure of God, and to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. By my teenage years I enthusiastically proclaimed Islam to all who would listen, and I usually started by informing them of a teaching that was knit into the fiber of my beliefs: Islam is the religion of peace.
Q: But then September 11, 2001 comes along. How did that change your thoughts on jihad?
NABEEL: On September 11, I was confronted for the first time with the stark reality of jihad. It was not as if I had never heard of jihad before; I certainly had, but I knew it as a defensive effort buried deep in the pages of Islamic history. That is how our imams alluded to jihad, and we never questioned it. As American Muslims we rarely, if ever, thought about jihad. When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. I sincerely believe September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims like my family than for the average American. Not only did we newly perceive our lack of security from jihadists, as did everyone else, we also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes. It felt as if we were hemmed in on all sides. In the midst of this, while mourning our fallen compatriots and considering our own security, we had to defend the faith we knew and loved. We had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as we had always known. I remember hearing a slogan at my mosque that I shared with many: “The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam.”
Q: This led you to studying the history of Islam, in which you discovered a lot of violence in what you were taught was the “religion of peace.” How did you respond to that?
NABEEL: After years of investigation, I had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundations of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take. This conclusion led me to a three-pronged fork in the road. Either I could become an apostate and leave Islam, grow apathetic and ignore the prophet, or become “radicalized” and obey him. The alternative of simply disregarding Muhammad’s teachings and continuing as a devout Muslim was not an option in my mind, nor is it for most Muslims, since to be Muslim is to submit to Allah and to follow Muhammad. Apostasy, apathy, or radicalization; those were my choices.
Q: You make a point of drawing a distinction between Islam and Muslims. Why is that important?
NABEEL: Especially because of the great diversity of Islamic expression, it bears repeating that Islam is not Muslims, and Muslims are not Islam. Though Muslims are adherents of Islam, and Islam is the worldview of Muslims, the two are not the same, as too many uncritically want to believe. On one end of the spectrum, many assume that if the Quran teaches something then all Muslims believe it. That is false. Many Muslims have not heard of a given teaching, some might interpret it differently, and others may frankly do their best to ignore it. For example, even if we were to demonstrate through careful hermeneutics that the Quranic injunction to beat disobedient wives (4:34) is meant to apply to all Muslims today, it would still have zero bearing in my family. My father will not beat my mother. On the other end of the spectrum, criticism of Islam is often taken to be criticism of Muslims. That is equally false. One can criticize the Quranic command to beat disobedient wives without criticizing Muslims. Islam is not Muslims, and one can criticize Islam while affirming and loving Muslims.
Q: Why do you say that the idea of jihad has violent roots in Islam?
NABEEL: Although the average American Muslim agrees that the Quran and hadith are the ultimate basis of their faith, many have not critically read either and would be surprised to find violent, offensive jihad shot through the foundations of Islam. The Quranic revelations reflect the development in Muhammad’s life as he moved from a peaceful trajectory to a violent one, culminating in surah 9 of the Quran, chronologically the last major chapter of the Quran and its most expansively violent teaching. Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians so that Islam may “prevail over every faith.” The scope of violence has no clear limits, so it’s fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued, or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final surah of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites. If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits.
Q: What is the relationship between Islamic and Christian views of Jesus, specifically in terms of violence?
NABEEL: Jesus is surprisingly prominent in Islamic eschatology. In common Muslim views of the end-times, he personally wages war on behalf of Muslims, breaking all the crosses and killing all the swine. In this war Muslims will kill Jews and defeat them, and Jesus will destroy the anti-Christ for their sake. By contrast, in Christianity, Jesus shows Christians how to answer persecution with love. Although this suggestion might seem impossible to some and ridiculous to others, Jesus’s teachings were always radical, and they are only possible to follow if the gospel message is true. If we will live eternally with God in bliss, then we can lay down this life to love even our enemies. In the face of jihad, the Christian Jesus teaches his followers to respond with love.
Q: What do you think is the best way we should answer jihad?
NABEEL: By being proactive, not reactive. It means living life with people who might be different from us. It means stepping out of our comfort zone and loving people unconditionally, perhaps even loving our enemies. We need something that breaks the cycle, and I think that can only be love. Not love as wistfully envisioned by teenagers and songwriters, but love as envisioned by Jesus, a decision to put the needs and concerns of others above our own, even at the cost of our own.
My suggestion is that we engage Muslims proactively with love and friendship while simultaneously acknowledging the truth about Islam. This is not the final step in answering jihad, but it is the correct first step, and it offers a better way forward.
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Aileen and a father to three young children. I worship and serve as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and am a co-founder of Cruciform Press.