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Where There Was No Church: Postcards from Followers of Jesus in the Muslim World

by EJ Martin, ed.

Fruitful Practice Research and Learning Together Press, 204 pages, 2010, $12.50.

Reviewed by Benjamin Lee Hegeman, SIM lecturer in the history of Christian-Muslim relations, Houghton College; SIM academic dean at the école biblique en langue baatonou, Benin, French West Africa.

The fascination of this 200-page work lies in its formatting: it is all about stories, or as the cover says, “postcards.” From storytelling (Part 1), to story explaining (Part II), to story discussions (Part III), editor EJ Martin has designed a workshop narrative text to tackle the hardest issues with which Muslim seekers and converts might wrestle. A more accurate title, though, might be Where There Is No Accessible, Acceptable Church in that most of these “name changed, place changed” stories strongly suggest the Middle East, where historic Christianity has never been entirely eradicated. Yet herein lies the rub: the sixty-eight recommended “fruitful practices” for reaching Muslims are hard to find in these ancient churches.

For this reason, emerging Western-trained missionaries are the intended readers and the book is clearly designed to train them in discussing the practices via the lens of seven stories. These practices are the fruit of a conference held in Thailand 2008 and written under the auspices of the venerable Dudley Woodberry.

This workshop and conference-friendly small textbook should enjoy wide circulation in Ministry-to-Muslims ministry training circles, especially among those who wish to advocate insider movement strategies. In advocating this provocative approach, a rich workshop debate should be engendered, both to the unique value as to the deep concern of being Jesus-Muslims for life.

One such debate should be whether non-believing Muslim-seekers can already be called disciples of the Lord Jesus (see believer principles 1-2). The best case for this is Judas, which is the problem. What do we actually produce if we disciple unconverted followers of Jesus if not the same legalism we regret in our evangelical history? The alarmingly high attrition rate among Muslim converts makes this a critical question of discussion. A second debate is how much authenticity to give to the Qur’anic non-deity, non-crucified, non-Son of God Isa as a viable bridge toward the resurrected Lord Jesus.

The stories are written with humility in that “followers of Jesus in these pages don’t have everything worked out.” However, it does assume that the authors have discovered the practices from observable, documented cases. Herein lies the book’s greatest weakness: while there are eight categories of discovery themes (society, believers, God, teams, seekers, leaders, methods, and characteristics), there is no category relating to scripture. This approach assumes that it is biblical and therefore relies unapologetically on social-scientific inductive methods of “discovering what God is currently using to grow his kingdom among Muslims in order to better partner with him” (p. 145). So doing, it lies open to the criticism that the center of authority is moving away from scripture (assumed) to field experience (new discoveries the Holy Spirit is doing!).

This foundational oversight will require workshop leaders to both correct this lack and add further principles during training sessions, all of which we trust will lead to an amplified second edition.

….

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 507-508. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 

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