Evangelical Christians in the United States see morality and Christian influence eroding fast. But that’s not the same as persecution. And we’d better learn the difference quickly, warns Alan Noble in his piece at The Atlantic, or we may lose whatever voice we still have:
“If evangelicals want to have a persuasive voice in a pluralist society, a voice that can defend Christians from serious persecution, then we must be able to discern accurately when we are truly victims of oppression—and when this victimization is only imagined.”
Noble points to several recent trends in the Evangelical world that show a fascination with the allure of persecution:
1) A number of movies have portrayed valiant Christians standing up against oppressors. For example, God’s Not Dead, Persecuted, and, going back a decade or so, the whole Left Behind series tell a similar tale of persecution.
2) Shady news reporting that skews facts (see Noble’s piece for detail) in order to drum up outrage.
Yes, from a global perspective, Christians are a persecuted people. In Asia, Africa, and the Middle East especially Christians are losing their lives for the sake of Christ. So, perhaps, rather than grumbling about cultural shifts that threaten to marginalize them, the question that Christians in America should be asking is “How can we better present the gospel and the joy of God in a way that’s appealing?” See how David Murray recently addressed this at his blog. The book he reviews there is a much-needed manifesto for American Christians: Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It, by Greg Forster. Be sure to check out our author interview with Forster when it appears at Christianity.com.
Your turn: Are American Evangelicals persecuted as much as they think? What leads you to think that way?
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com
Extraordinary stories about the massive number of Muslims converting to Christ are appearing around the world. Recently at World Magazine, writer Warren Cole Smith interviewed 25-year missionary David Garrison who has documented his findings about the Muslim phenomenon. “There is a revival in the Muslim world,” Garrison says. He believes between 2 and 7 million former Muslims have converted to Christianity in the past two decades. His book, A Wind in the House of Islam, contains impressive research to back up his claim.
Why is this happening? Nabeel Qureshi, a popular speaker and author, explains in his book and online testimony that the gospel is being proclaimed with greater effectiveness. Qureshi affirms that the Holy Spirit works primarily by and through Scripture. And in his own experience, he says that subjective visions about Christ were also steps in his conversion from Islam to faith in Christ.
Open Doors USA recently reported a remarkable conversion story of a former Muslim man in Iran named Taher. He would beat his family and even threatened to kill them because of their faith in Jesus. After Taher's family fled abroad, time passed and in his growing despair he cried out: "I will believe in the God who reveals Himself to me." According to his story (here), the living God answered his prayers through a dream. It isn’t clear how much of the Bible Taher was exposed to, but he heard the gospel through the witness of his family and saw the reality of their faith in the face of persecution.
Some believe that these reported visions of “Isa” (the Muslim name for Jesus) could be spurious and, therefore, should be received with caution. Dennis McBride, in particular, writes about this at The Alliance for Biblical Integrity:
If the Isa of Muslim dreams is not the Jesus of the Bible, who is he?
One option is a false Christ appearing as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4, 13-15). But what could the enemy of our souls hope to gain from doing that? Consider this: we have already seen that people with sinful motives have preached Christ for selfish gain (Phil 1:15-18), so it is reasonable to envision the author of pride and selfishness doing the same and in the process potentially:
• Deceiving Muslims into thinking they are worshiping the true Jesus when, in fact, they are worshiping the person in their dreams. All the accounts I have read unquestioningly equate Isa with Jesus.
• Diluting the primacy, centrality and authority of God’s Word by establishing faith based on subjective revelations and experiences (John 20:24-29).
• Creating expectations of evangelism linked to visitations from Jesus. (Some Muslim outreach strategies now include praying that Isa will appear to even more Muslims so more will be saved.)
• Creating expectations of additional visitations from Jesus, such as during times of persecution, and the inevitable disillusionment and confusion that result when those expectations are not met.
• Causing division within the Body of Christ over this issue.
I mention those to illustrate how the enemy could benefit from a phenomenon that on the surface may seems like a kingdom divided. I have not concluded that visions of Isa are necessarily demonic, nor do I believe Muslims are not being genuinely saved. But Muslims who come to Christ do so in the same way everyone else throughout church history has: the Holy Spirit opens their hearts to the truth (Acts 16:14). But the spiritual harm that can result from connecting their faith to subjective mystical experiences can be great, as certain parallel revelatory claims of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (as well as various cultic groups) have demonstrated over the years.
Whether these visions of Isa are true or untrue doesn’t negate that we rejoice with Muslims who are genuinely turning to Christ. Your turn: what do you think? Do you know people of the Muslim faith with whom you can share the gospel?
Alex Crain is the editor of Christianity.com
“Time flies and it does not return. Years pass and we never get them back. It’s the one thing that can never be restored,” wrote Pastor Colin Smith in a recent post at The Gospel Coalition. “Yet, God promises the impossible: ‘I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten’ (Joel 2:25)."
So many feel that much of their lives have been wasted. Is there hope that a promise originally made to the people of Israel can be applied to us today? Yes, says Pastor Smith. Our fruitless, painful, selfish, loveless, rebellious, mis-directed, and Christ-less years can be restored in three ways:
1. Christ can restore lost years by deepening your fellowship with him.
2. Christ can give you remaining years in which more lasting fruit will be born than in all of
your years of small harvests.
3. Christ can restore lost years by bringing long-term gain from short-term loss.
In all of these ways, Christ receives glory for raising up redeemed people. Related to the idea of restoring lost years, other ministry leaders also offer sound words of encouragement:
Steve Arterburn in "New Life Daily Devotion:"
As you continue to seek God’s purpose for your life, you will undoubtedly experience your fair share of disappointments, detours, false starts, and failures. When you do, don’t become discouraged: God’s not finished with you yet.
Read Pastor Smith's entire post here and add to the discussion. Have you seen Christ restore your “locust years,” or have you prayed that He will? Share your experience in the comments section below.
Alex Crain is the editor for Christianity.com
Many Christians can identify with the statement: “Evangelism is not a natural activity,” as Ed Stetzer wrote today on his blog, The Exchange. But many times, we shrink back from witnessing because we think of it in terms of confrontation rather than conversation. Perhaps the primary model of evangelism in our minds is street preaching (click for VIDEO). Most have beheld the scene where a bold young man stands shouting into the open air, often arguing with a heckler as he tries to explain the gospel to a small circle of people. We pass by thinking: “Oh, I could never do that.” So, we go away with the mistaken idea that we cannot evangelize since we’re just “not gifted that way.”
“Many believers would like to be bold about witnessing for Christ,” writes Stetzer, “But there is often a disconnect between aspiration and action. Many Christians are aspirational witnessers—always feeling good about wanting to share Christ. [But] sometimes people need tools or resources that help them to be more evangelistically engaged.”
Of course, the proper motivation to evangelize begins with our own hearts, as one blog commenter noted aptly:
“Could one problem be that we aren't walking as closely with the Lord as He wants and we don't see Him at work on a daily basis in our lives? If we did, we would be so blessed and excited about Christ that we couldn't keep quiet. We don't have to be invasive or intrusive about sharing the gospel... we just have to be walking in step with Jesus and He will do the rest!”
Your turn. Maybe you have a heart for God but can still often find yourself (as I do) to be an “aspirational witnesser." Check out Stetzer’s list of evangelistic tools and see which one fits you:
1. My Hope Campaign.
3. The Story
4. I am Second
8. The God Test
What tools would you add to the list? Which of these do you think would be the most helpful to you in sharing the gospel?
Alex Crain is the editor for Christianity.com