Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ministry Lessons from a Muslim

I've copied here an article of interest to anyone involved in sharing the gospel. It was written by Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien, published Monday, July 6, 2009

The original can be found at:

A Muslim's unexpected message to church leaders:
Fully embrace your Christian identity.

Eboo Patel is not the most likely seminary professor. His credentials are not the issue. Patel earned his doctorate from Oxford University, and he is a respected commentator on religion for The Washington Post and National Public Radio. He has spoken in venues across the world, including conferences for evangelical church leaders.

What makes Eboo Patel an unlikely seminary professor is that he is Muslim.

The editors of Leadership first encountered Patel at the 2008 Q Conference, where he challenged 500 Christian leaders to change the rules of interfaith dialogue. "Muslims and Christians might not fully agree on worldview," he said, "but we share a world." Patel spoke of his enduring friendships with a number of evangelicals and his desire to move beyond the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric that dominates Christian/Muslim interaction. While holding firmly to his belief in Islam, he also affirmed church leaders. "Even though it is not my tradition and my community," Patel wrote after the conference, "I believe deeply that this type of evangelical Christianity is one of the most positive forces on Earth."

We were intrigued, so we contacted Patel to talk more about the ramifications of increasing religious diversity in America, as well as his outsider's perspective of the church's response. Patel gave us more than we bargained for. He invited us to attend a class he was teaching on interfaith leadership at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Patel is not on the seminary faculty. He serves as the executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC)—a Chicago-based international non-profit that brings together religiously diverse young leaders to serve their communities. The seminary invited Patel to co-teach the course on interfaith leadership with Cassie Meyer, a Christian who serves as the training director at IFYC.

Be more Christian

When we arrived in the class, which included twenty seminarians—men and women from diverse racial and denominational backgrounds—the students were discussing a newspaper article. Patel and Meyer were using the report about tensions between Somali Muslim immigrants and Latino workers at a meatpacking plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, as a case study. The Muslims wanted the factory's managers to adjust production schedules to accommodate their prayer times and holidays like Ramadan. Others in the rural community admitted being uncomfortable with the influx of so many Muslim neighbors—particularly after September 11, 2001.

"Imagine you are the pastor of a church in Grand Island, Nebraska," Patel says to the class. "A reporter from The New York Times calls you because he is working on a story about the conflict between Muslims and Christians at the meatpacking plant. The reporter asks you, 'What should Christians do?' How would you respond?" After a few moments of reflection, a student answers.

"I would talk about the fact that this country was founded on religious freedom," he says. "We have to respect other people's beliefs."

"Yes," interjects another student. "But if they allow the Muslims to take breaks for prayer, it will disrupt the factory's productivity. There is an economic reality to consider. If the plant shuts down, the whole community will suffer."

For fifteen minutes the students debate the matter, fluctuating between constitutional rights and economic realities. Finally, Patel interrupts.

"I'm hearing you articulate two grand narratives. First, the narrative of American freedom. And second, the narrative of capitalism and productivity. But remember, the reporter is not calling you because you are an expert in economics or constitutional law. He's calling you because you are a minister. Don't be afraid to answer the question as a Christian. Answer out of the Christian narrative."

The irony of a Muslim challenging a group of pastors to be more Christian was not lost on the students. Heads dropped as they contemplated a different response to the case study. Cassie Meyer assisted the students by adapting the scenario.

"Imagine you're the pastoral intern at the church in Grand Island," Meyer says, "and you've been given the responsibility to preach a sermon this Sunday addressing the conflict between the Christians and Muslims. What would you say from the pulpit? What would you use from Scripture?"

"The greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors," says one student. "Whether we like it or not, these Somali Muslims are our neighbors and we are called to love them."

"But many in the town don't view the Muslims as their neighbors," says another student. "They view them as intruders, unwanted outsiders, or even their enemies."

"Do you think referring to the Muslims as 'enemies' in your sermon might inflame the problem?" Patel asks.

"I don't think so," the student responds. "Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to show kindness to aliens. But that would have to be made clear in the sermon. The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind." Patel is out of his chair, energized by what he is hearing.

"I want you to see what just happened," he says. "I want to affirm this. You are using the grand Christian narrative to respond to an interfaith conflict. First, I heard the Christian story of loving God and loving your neighbor. Second, I heard the Christian story of the Good Samaritan and the call to love the stranger. By using these stories, you are defining reality through the Christian narrative.

"Remember, the three most powerful narratives on the planet are narratives of religion, narratives of nation, and narratives of ethnicity/race. You cannot afford to forfeit that territory by talking about economics or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Don't be afraid to be Christian ministers. If you don't use the Christian narrative to define reality for your people, then someone else will define reality for them with a different narrative."

Patel's call to stand firmly on the Christian narrative isn't what most students expect to hear from a Muslim professor.

"The more theologically conservative students are usually uncomfortable at the beginning of the course," says Patel. "But they leave feeling affirmed. It's the liberal Christians that are more challenged. They're not used to being told to 'be more Christian.'"

A false dichotomy

The exhortation to "be more Christian" is reiterated repeatedly in the class we are attending, and it represents a different approach to interfaith dialogue. Cassie Meyer says that most Christians have been told there are two ways to engage people from other faiths.

"The more liberal side says that Christians need to let go of their unique identity and affirm that all religions are valid; all roads lead to God. The more conservative side holds firmly to Christian identity and belief, but they sometimes see people of other religions as the enemy, so there is little desire for cooperation," she says.

Meyer believes this dichotomy is one reason some people raised in the church abandon the faith as adults.

"The girl who led me to Christ in high school actually walked away from her faith in college," Meyer recounts. "She was the strongest Christian I knew, but once she left home and started becoming friends with Jews, Hindus, and Muslims, she had a crisis. She'd been told these people were going to hell, that they were the enemy. The only way she could reconcile her friendship and admiration for these people was by abandoning her faith and affirming that all religions are true."

Meyer and Patel believe there is another way. Somewhere between religious relativism and religious fundamentalism is a third option—what they call religious pluralism. This is the foundational principle of the seminary course.

"Religious pluralism is different than relativism," one student tells us. "Relativism says you cannot make exclusive truth claims, that everyone is right. Pluralism simply recognizes that we live in a very diverse culture; there are a lot of different religions. Pluralism means talking about how we can live together and still maintain our own religious identity. Truth claims are okay."

Meyer believes church leaders need to model and teach Christians how to cooperate with and befriend people of other faiths without abandoning their own convictions.

"If we don't," she says, "it will either mean more people will leave the church, or there will be more conflict between Christians and other groups." An African student in the class agrees.

"Where I come from, there is so much conflict," he says. "People are killing each other because of their beliefs. As a Christian, I am called to have compassion on the crowds, like Jesus did, and love my neighbor—even the neighbor I disagree with."

Created in God's image

In our increasingly secular society, many people have come to view religion as a problem and the source of conflict between groups. This sentiment was popularized in John Lennon's 1971 song "Imagine," in which religion is presented as an obstacle to world peace and harmony. But Eboo Patel is helping these seminary students turn conventional wisdom upside down. He sees the potential for greater cooperation and coexistence by embracing our different religious identities, not abandoning them.

"If you enter a ministerial gathering as a Christian minister and downplay your Christian identity in an attempt to make everyone comfortable," says Patel, "as a Muslim leader, I'm immediately suspicious. I don't trust you. Embracing your identity as a Christian creates safety for me to be a Muslim." A student from a liberal denomination jumps in to affirm Patel's statement.

"In my experience, the hardest thing about interfaith dialogue is Christians who are afraid to talk about Jesus, and that's a tragedy" she says. "That's what I appreciate about evangelicals. They enter the room and they want to talk about Jesus. They're not afraid to own their identity and their narrative, and that gives freedom for everyone else to do the same."

"We have often viewed particularity and pluralism as mutually exclusive," says Patel. "We think that if you are one thing, you must be disrespectful of other things."

The message of embracing identity and acknowledging theological distinctions brought great comfort to some students in the class. Maria, a self-identified Pentecostal, was initially hesitant about taking Eboo Patel's class.

"I thought the class was a call to believe that all faiths lead to the same place," says Maria, "and I don't believe that." She went on to explain that her denomination is very intentional about not engaging in interfaith dialogue. But now she realizes how important, and how possible, interfaith cooperation is. "Can my church respect another person's identity? Yes. Can we have mutually encouraging relationships? I believe we can. Can we work together toward a common cause? I believe we can.

"This class has reminded me of a basic Christian belief—that we are all created in God's image," she says. "When I'm in conversation with my friend who is a Muslim, can I honor her as someone created in God's image? I believe that's what God calls me to do."

Michael also confessed to being apprehensive about taking the class on interfaith leadership.

"As an army chaplain, I have to deal with religious pluralism all the time," he says. "But God placed me in this class for a reason, because I've had a very negative view of Muslims." Speaking to Patel, he says, "I'm an African-American man from one of the poorest sections of Chicago. I was raised Pentecostal and now I'm a very conservative Presbyterian. But God has shown me that I need to reach out and view you as a man created in the image of God, respect you, and when possible, work alongside of you. God humbled me, Dr. Patel, in ways you can't even imagine."

Maria and Michael, both from conservative Christian backgrounds, were not the only students challenged by Patel's class. Amy comes from a mainline church with a more liberal theology.

"I grew up believing in Jesus," says Amy, "but I was also told to accept what everyone else believed, too. I was supposed to love and accept everyone, and that meant taking different identities, including my Christian identity, and merging them together. But I've never really understood what that meant. It never made sense to me. How can I believe in Jesus and in everything else?

"This class has helped me see another way. Now I understand that I can love others, I can have compassion for others, I can even work alongside others, and still retain my identity as a Christian. I don't have to give up my belief in Jesus."

Eboo Patel and Cassie Meyer hope their class will create more momentum for interfaith dialogue and leadership.

"With religious conflict on the front page every day," says Patel, "you would think there would be a huge, robust field called interfaith leadership. But there isn't because it is really hard."

"It's not easy to engage meaningfully with others and hold on to your own identity," says Meyer.

"The ability to bring mutually exclusive people together is the gift of the great leaders of our time," says Patel. "If religious leaders will not model for their people how to live beside other faiths, then who will?"

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Psychology: Curse or Blessing?

A recent issue of ADVENTISTS AFFIRM deals with mental health, God's answer to the stress of living. The question: Have we unknowingly absorbed faulty methods in our effort to answer human dilemmas?

(Please click on the title above to go to the original article at Adventists Affirm)

Guest editor, Kenneth Scribner, has researched widely in the Bible, the writings of Ellen White, and the broad area of the helping professions. You may be surprised by what concerned writers are saying. Please ask God to give you discernment and a willingness to study the articles of this volume and choose to let God's will be done in your life and practice. I commend a thorough study of each article. Mercedes Dyer, Ph.D.

"It is Satan's constant effort to misrepresent the character of God, the nature of sin, and the real issues at stake in the great controversy. His sophistry lessens the obligation of the divine law and gives men license to sin." (Great Controversy, p. 569)

Israel's example warns the last-day church that if we do not follow the Lord and His will for us we will be in grave danger. Israel wanted to be like the other nations of her time. Her leaders demanded, "Lord, give us a king!" Samuel was not happy, but God told him to give the leaders what they asked for.

1 Samuel 8:6-9 says: "The thing displeased Samuel, when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, 'Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. Now therefore hearken unto their voice:...yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them."

The warning was given, but the people's request remained the same, "Give us a king to rule over us!" You and I know "the rest of the story."

Today, many of God's people, desiring to be "up with the times," have mistakenly sent forth the cry, "Lord, give us psychologians, i.e., ministers of the gospel of psychology, to guide us in these dysfunctional, abusive, co-dependent times. The church has failed us. It has not met our needs, and pastoral counseling isn't adequate, even if the pastors don't charge us anything. Biblical counseling and prayer are just too simplistic for the complex problems and addictions we face today. We need professional helpers, experts, and 12-step groups that understand our psychological diseases and illnesses. Sin isn't our big issue." So goes the request.

Psychotherapy to enhance "mental health" has become modern man's confessional. Where once church members went to God or to their pastor or even to other trusted fellow church members, for help and guidance with the struggles of life, today they are off to what I choose to call psychologians. Could we hear our Lord speak, He would say, "It is I, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of peace, whom you have rejected."

I am not alone in my criticism. Dave Hunt is not an Adventist, but hear what he says: "Christian psychology represents the most dangerous and at the same time the most appealing and popular form of modernism ever to have invaded the church. Many of today's staunchest evangelical and fundamentalist leaders, in order to be relevant and professionally respected, are preaching a form of Religion Science, apparently without even recognizing it. Psychology, which entered the church as a Trojan horse, now wields such a powerful and all-pervasive influence, that to call Christian psychology into question is taken as an attack upon Christianity itself. This is all the more astonishing when one realizes that, in actual fact, Christian psychology doesn't even exist.

Gary Almy, another Evangelical, adds that the term, "Christian psychology is an oxymoron. The two religions are inherently contradictory."

Paul warned us: "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

This prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes. Another well-informed commentator writes, "The church has capitulated and lost its own identity by allowing (and often encouraging) the norms and diagnoses of contemporary psychology to replace the gospel.

Thus the desire today is for psychologians, who will speak smooth things, things that won't "rock the boat" as it were. Counselors who do not press the matter of personal responsibility, the deadly nature of sin, or our need of repentance, forgiveness and transformation are not facing the true issues of mankind.

"Every week," says another commentator, "500,000 self-help meetings are held in this country. The fastest growing of these free, confessional meetings is Co-dependents Anonymous. There are over 1800 Co-dependents Anonymous groups in this country."

Self-help groups are fast taking the place of prayer meetings. Who becomes the center of focus in these groups, God or self?

Psychology sees mankind as victims, not as sinners in need of the Savior. Persons do not want to face the reality that they are sinning. The conscience of mankind is vanishing.

Psychologists play the blame game. Guilt, they say, is detrimental to mental health. Thus the psychological world has convinced many that what was once sin is now actually a sickness or disease and not really our fault. Having a disease doesn't seem half as bad as saying, "I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

Martin L. Gross makes this comment: "Today, the M.D. psychiatrist and his first cousin, the Ph.D. psychologist, have appointed themselves the undisputed Solomons of our era. The new seer delivers his pronouncements with the infallible air of a papal bull, a stance which intimidates even the most confident of laymen."

I have observed that even ministers, lawyers, and judges too often accept without question these "experts." But there are some 500 studies that show that the results of therapy provided by supposed "experts" are hardly any better and are often worse than the results of the advice of lay counselors. Being "my brother's keeper" would reap better results.

The mental health field today is a confused mass of conflicting theories presented by many who have no belief in God, the Bible, prayer, or Christianity. There are some 250 theories by one count and upwards of 500 theories by other counts, all vying for our attention and dollars. These theories are as varied as their founders. The structure is massive, yet its foundation is flimsy. Psychology would love to be promoted as a science, but it fails to match up to any true science. It is actually a false religion, and if a false religion, integrating it into Christianity will only help to destroy the biblical message on mental health. This issue of Adventists Affirm deals with this problem, but only with a "tip of the dangerous psychological iceberg."

The general subject, mental health, is vital to our church today! A warning needs to be given. "Why Christians Can't Trust Psychology" by the late C. Mervyn Maxwell is an excellent place to begin. Clemency Mitchell shows us how to obtain "positive mental health." Her simple yet profound advice will give us all a NEWSTART. Neal Nedley, a full time practicing physician, deals with one of the most serious issues in mental health today, depression. Vicki Griffin, Health and Temperance Director of the Michigan Adventist Conference office and Paul Musson, a physician in private practice, tell us what happens inside an "Addicted Brain." It is fascinating! Vicki has also contributed an article dealing with her personal struggle with addiction and growth in spiritual and emotional living. Ken Scribner, a pastor on leave, deals with one of the most devastating episodes in the history of psychotherapy, generally termed "Recovered or Repressed Memory." John Treat, a doctoral student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, has written what some may consider a controversial article on self-esteem. Can self-confidence be over stressed? He draws strong words from Ellen White. Also included in this issue is an article written by Ellen White in 1884 for The Signs of the Times. Its message is still relevant today. Judith Vyhmeister, herself a psychiatrist, has contributed a short but powerful article entitled "Deceived." We trust that you will be stimulated by all these significant articles.

(You can paste this url to your browser to go to the magazine where you can find links to the articles mentioned here. )

We want to AFFIRM what ADVENTISTS have long believed, that Christ's "divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust"(2 Pet 1:3, 4).

The question is: Can a Christian use psychology as a tool in ministry. Its corollary is : Can a psychologist use faith as a tool for helping people?

The heart of the matter? Any ministry which has no firm foundation in Holy Scripture does not have power to fully confront the spiritual realities behind much of our behavioural and emotional anguish and will tend to act at best as a band aid and at worst as a deceptive avoidance of evil.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Re: Clinical Pastoral Education .... Did You Know?

... that certain types of mental illness could be understood as attempts to solve problems of the soul, and that some patients can find a cure in the power of religion?
At least according to Anton Theophilus Boisen, who lived from 1876 to 1965. His ideas served as the foundation of modern clinical pastoral education. Considering much current education and practice, one might enquire whether the edifice of counsel is off its Rock.

Boisen may have been quite right, but I prefer to defer to the power of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I know ... that all things ... including incoherent speech, waking nightmares, seven months in a psychiatric hospital and eighteen months in rehab ... all things, work for good to those who Love God, to those who are called according to His purpose, mysterious though it may be!