Missions to Muslims: Abraham Kuyper Illuminates an Unchanging Goal

This guest post was authored by Joel Wilcox, a member of the editorial team that has worked on the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology.

Reading Abraham Kuyper always makes me think of the adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Readers really can’t deny that Kuyper was a product of his time—deeply concerned about the world, but somewhat condescending toward foreigners; deeply concerned about his country, but aristocratic in his solutions to societal ills; and so on. Yet I’m always impressed by how on-target his words are for today.

In particular, he speaks to my views as a former long-term resident in Southeast Asia among Muslims. Islam is likely the most poorly understood and feared religion among Western Christians (it’s beyond the scope of this post to discuss the validity of that fear). One might expect the same attitude from Kuyper, who led an empire that had brutally lorded its authority over what is now Indonesia—a primarily Muslim country. Imperialist views aside, he saw a deep need to bring the gospel to Muslims not by changing their culture, but by adapting it to faith in Christ. Consider the following, from “Address on Missions,” part of the newly translated On the Church anthology from Lexham Press and the Acton Institute:

Missions among pagans and Muslims, when preaching law and gospel, must be attuned to the distinctive character of the people, particularly the special nature of their idol worship. Complete freedom should be allowed as to the manner in which faith in Christ is confessed, so that when these people are ready to form their own churches their distinctiveness will be preserved.

I’m a member of the missions committee at my church and often hear missionaries complain of other Christians behaving clean contrary to what Kuyper is arguing for here. These missionaries know they are called to bring the gospel to unbelievers, but they bring a distinctly Western flavor of Christianity: Western praise tunes, with the lyrics translated. Western whitewashed churches with steeples. In short, imperialist Christianity. On the contrary, Kuyper, though he certainly had imperialist attitudes, believed that missions absolutely have to be contextualized to be true to the cultures reached.

 Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper

But how do we avoid going too far as missionaries? Was Kuyper intent on, as some missionaries do, allowing Muslims to worship Jesus as secondary to Allah, in mosques, simply praying Christian prayers?

Kuyper has a better answer. He expected missionaries not to be the mavericks I’ve seen on the field, independently “saving souls” and not aware of how to truly quench the thirst for Christ among the unsaved. Once again, he speaks from over a century ago:

Missions among the Jews, Muslims, and pagans has to be carried out through the churches, just as missionary work among the baptized is to be performed by the ministers of the Word.

Add to that the following:

Every notion of a missionary as a hunter who catches souls for Christ must be banned. The missionary is sent by Christ and follows him, seeking his elect. Let’s stop talking about “leading people to Christ” and “saving souls for Jesus.” We cannot save people, not even our own children. Only Christ is able to draw people to the faith.

Kuyper knew that missions would fail utterly without Christ as our guide. Here’s what I take away from his words:

  • We cannot expect the work of the kingdom of heaven to succeed without Christ as its king (read Kuyper’s Pro Rege for more on this). As Kuyper says, it is God who saves souls, through his Son—and it is the Holy Spirit who gives the church courage to tell the nations about Christ.
  • We cannot expect to see a church from every tribe, tongue, and nation without contextualizing Christianity. Our religion must be just as diverse in its cultural flavors as the foods each culture celebrates as its own. Would you bring Thanksgiving dinner to China and expect one of their Muslim minorities—say, Uyghurs—to enjoy it as their own? Then why do we think that our traditional hymns can deeply speak to Uyghurs?
  • On the other hand, we cannot properly contextualize Christianity and still call it Christian unless the Holy Spirit leads us, through his church. Kuyper, as I do, would probably allow Muslim-background believers to call God “Allah” (a word that basically means “God.”) Yet like me, he would never tolerate translating “Son of God” as “servant of God” (I’ve heard missionaries approve of such things if it makes Muslims feel comfortable in the church). 

Though I despise clichés, it’s true: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Missions faced the same challenges in the late 1800s as it does now. Abraham Kuyper makes that clear. Read “Address on Missions” and other timely essays on ecclesiology in On the Church, part of the Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. All twelve volumes of this series tackle tough issues still facing the church many years after Kuyper’s death, and I’m proud to be a part of the team bringing Kuyper’s writings back to light, for missionaries and for Christianity at large.

Look Closer at the Christmas Story During Advent

The Christmas story has become familiar. We know the story well—so well that we sometimes miss its beauty and power. But when we read Scripture closely, we rediscover the infinite wonder of God’s Word made flesh.

This Christmas, commit to looking closer at Scripture and rediscover the wonder of the Christmas story. Centered around the themes of preparation, anticipation, joy, and incarnation, Anticipating His Arrival guides you through Advent as your expectation of Jesus’ arrival grows. This Advent, follow along as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem and his second coming, which we await. This guide through Advent is available for free this season.

To join the reading plan, go to Logos.com/look-closer or the Logos Bible Software Faithlife group.

Tocqueville on Democracy, Local Communities, and Moral Character

This guest post was authored by John D. Wilsey, editor of a new abridgment of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Once again, we have participated in a national community event that takes place every four years—we have elected a president. The new president will be our forty-fifth. It is astounding that Americans have participated in presidential elections regularly every four years since George Washington was elected in 1789. It is even more astounding when one considers that the quadrennial election for president has taken place despite the nation facing some of its most dangerous threats—the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II.

In every presidential election, one group of supporters is jubilant, while the supporters of the losing candidates are dejected. I can certainly relate to that—I cast my first ballot in 1988, and since then I have voted for both winners and losers. The election that has just passed was particularly shocking, because so few saw it coming. Time will tell when, how, and if the country will settle in and be at relative peace with the new administration.

It is indeed interesting how much consternation a presidential contest can achieve among the American people. In my local election, I cast a ballot for a proposed bond measure and another one on a question of whether or not stores could sell liquor within city limits. There was not any public outcry from the losing side of either of these two questions, at least to my knowledge. I can say the same for the election of our state officials. Nobody was in the streets protesting from the losing sides. I have not heard any discontent whatsoever from anyone in my community about the results of our state and local elections.

Why is that? Citizens have a direct and vested interest in their local communities. And while state government is a bit more distant from the citizens, they still have a legitimate stake in their state governments. It is interesting that people have put so much faith in their national government, and in their president in particular. The amount of faith the American people have placed in their national government in general, and president in particular, is demonstrated in the visceral reactions that many have shown in response to Mr. Trump’s victory. 

Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw such a state of affairs in his classic work, Democracy in America. He noted, with sincere admiration, how Americans in 1831-1832 were so deeply engaged with their local affairs. This was the case particularly in New England, where Tocqueville saw that citizens in their townships were deeply engaged in their communal lives because everyone had a stake in the success of their community. The center of political gravity for Americans in New England was not the national, but the local government. Because that was the case, Tocqueville believed that New Englanders were the freest of all the Americans. 

Tocqueville also saw that the Americans of his day were uniquely interested in forming voluntary associations to address issues in which the government had no jurisdiction. At one point, Tocqueville used the example of a local traffic jam—when a road becomes clogged with vehicles and there are no laws to follow and no magistrate present to bring order, Tocqueville said that Americans come together in a voluntary organization to bring order and to clear the road to make travel smooth again. This they do without prompting by the government, but on their own initiative. In the same way, Americans form local voluntary bodies to address hosts of questions and issues, and do so to further their interests independently of the government.

This is how free societies work, Tocqueville said. Laws are important in a democracy, but not nearly as important as the customs, the manners of the people. These manners—the moral character of a society—are what inform the public spirit of the people. They maintain the social integrity of the people and ultimately are the deciding factor on whether a democracy will be defined by liberty or by despotism. 

If a society’s manners are informed by Christian morals through a disestablished church, then liberty can be secured through citizen’s continual engagement with their local affairs through the townships, counties, state, and national government. But if the citizens become too obsessed with self, to enamored of materialistic concerns, and complacent in their local communities, they will rely more and more on a national government to take care of the details that they themselves would have taken care of through their local processes. When that level of complacency prevails, the democracy has become a despotism. 

As we consider our current situation, we should ask ourselves: have we allowed America to become a democratic despotism through our complacency? Have we lost our vested interest in our local communities, and put all our trust in our national leaders to take care of us? Have we allowed ourselves to become so enraptured by national public figures that we adore them or revile them as we would an emperor?

Tocqueville wrote, “For my part, I am persuaded that, in all governments, whatever their nature may be, servility will cower to force, and adulation will follow power. The only means of preventing men from degrading themselves is to invest no one with that unlimited authority which the sure method of debasing them.”

That sounds easy, but Tocqueville’s prescription requires American citizens to be vigilant in their guarding of their local interests, informed by manners that are rooted in morality. When this healthy public spirit prevails, we will find unity and peace in our national polity—even when the person we voted against wins the presidential election.

Karl Barth on Time, Eternity, and Jesus Christ

Recent years have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between eternity and time among philosophers, scientists, and theologians. Theologically, this question gets at the age-old problem of how an eternal God can interact with a temporal creation. A new generation of theologians is not content with the traditional answers proffered through the centuries. An eternal God who is wholly removed from our present experience and affliction, the thinking goes, is not a God we can trust. Karl Barth has been increasingly tapped as a resource for exploring this subject.

Barth’s Christology is neither metaphysical nor merely heuristic; rather, it must be understood as an act—an event. The event of Jesus Christ in God’s life is the only solution to the problem of time and eternity in every locus of theology—whether the doctrine of God, creation, reconciliation, or revelation. Jesus Christ is himself God, creation, reconciliation, and revelation. He is no abstract God but is both the electing, eternal God and the elected, temporal man in one divine act of rapprochement. Further, he is no abstract creature but is both the eternal Creator and the temporal creature in one divine act of rapprochement. Similarly, Jesus Christ is no abstract redeemer but is both the eternal redeemer and the time-bound man of sinful flesh in one divine act of rapprochement. Finally, for Barth there is no abstract notion of revelation but Jesus Christ is both the eternal revealer and the temporal receiver of revelation in one divine act of rapprochement. God, creation, reconciliation, and revelation are the eternal act of God in Jesus Christ, in whom and by whom time is eternity and eternity is time—precisely because and insofar as he has become time. 

This actualistic and temporal way of relating eternity and time is as monumental as it is revolutionary. In an attempt to bridge the infinite gap between eternity and time, Barth brings God and creation together in a third time-sphere—his theology is three-dimensional. He affirms the theological existence of three times: God’s time, our time, and the time of Jesus Christ. This last time is what Barth refers to as Gottes Zeit für uns—God’s time for us (Die kirchliche Dogmatik I/2, 50). Gottes Zeit für uns is a transcendent act of God in the event of Jesus Christ. Here, the Creator and the creature are temporally agglomerated in a perichoretic interpenetration of eternal divinity and temporal creatureliness in which God has become time without ceasing to be eternal. Thus eternity and time will always be one. In other words, they will always be Jesus Christ. For Barth, the rapprochement of eternity and time takes place in a transcendentally temporal act of God in Jesus Christ called “God’s time for us.” It is this act of rapprochement on God’s part that provides the conceptual foundation for Barth’s theologizing about his doctrine of election, creation, reconciliation, and revelation.

For Barth, Jesus Christ is himself a dialectical relation existing always and everywhere as a transcendent event. In him, eternity becomes temporal without ceasing to be eternal. Likewise, in him time is eternal without ceasing to be time. This is a relation-act that takes place in the event of God’s life that is Jesus Christ; it does not occur in “our time.” Our time is fallen time and is therefore incapable of containing God or bearing the acts of revelation, creation, and reconciliation. And it is not God’s time, which exists in a rarefied field of eternity. Rather, it is a third time: the time of Jesus Christ, who is himself God, and as such is also the act of creation, reconciliation, and revelation. He has always been the eternal God without ceasing to be temporal man. He is a time-bound man without ceasing to be the eternal God. Thus Christian theology may never speak about God or man, Creator or creation, Savior or saved, revelation given or received, in the abstract. The church must always speak about eternity and time as the dialectical reality of the event in God’s life who is Jesus Christ. In this way, Barth proposes a consistently, unapologetically, and unequivocally Christian answer to the problem of the relationship between eternity and time. Furthermore, it is also a distinctly theological proposal as opposed to a speculative-philosophical one.

Barth’s theology stands at the juncture of two converging concepts. The first is the idea of a three-dimensional structure, qualified in terms of time. The second is the solution to the eternity/time problem found in a transcendent act of God. If these two insights into Barth’s thought remain underdeveloped, the radical nature of Barth’s proposal is muted or missed altogether. Too often, interpreters resort to understanding his theology as if he allows for a substance ontology. But until Barth is read consistently as a post-metaphysical, dialectical, and actualistic theologian, the greatest depths of his thought will never be plumbed.

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God's Time for Us: Barth's Reconciliation of Eternity and Time in Jesus Christ by James J. Cassidy is now available in all formats.

An announcement from Lexham Press regarding EEC James

Lexham Press has withdrawn from publication Dr. William Varner’s Evangelical Exegetical Commentary volume on James. We discovered that the volume contains a number of uncited and improperly cited passages from other works, blurring the distinction between quoted and original material.

Lexham Press, and the editors of the EEC, are committed to the highest scholarly standards of accuracy and ethical standards of integrity. We regret that these problems were not discovered before publication, and are further strengthening our editorial review process. We will contract a replacement James volume for the EEC from another author. Logos customers who wish to return their copy of James should contact Lexham at customerservice@lexhampress.com to be reimbursed for the amount of their purchase. Customers who bought the print edition may contact us at the same address for return and reimbursement instructions.

We presented our findings and our plans to Dr. Varner; here is his response, which he wishes to make public:

“In assuming too many writing projects, I was not careful enough in this commentary to adequately cite some of my sources. I also was not always diligent to clearly express in my own words material that I gleaned from others. Although I did not deliberately misuse the work of other writers, I sincerely apologize for my lack of care in reporting my research. I ask forgiveness from all who trusted me to be an accurate handler of the Word (2 Tim 2:15), a responsibility that I take seriously.”

We apologize for any problems this may cause for our readers, endorsers, and other partners; we are dedicated to doing whatever we can to put this right and to ensure all Lexham Press publications uphold our commitment to quality and truthfulness.

Brannon Ellis, Publisher, Lexham Press
H. Wayne House, EEC General Editor

Retelling the Story of Atonement

Adam Johnson has already established himself as a leading theologian of the atonement, but in The Reconciling Wisdom of God he considers the atonement in light of God’s wisdom, rather than simply as an act of justice. 

By studying the atonement through the lens of God’s infinite wisdom, Johnson is able to speak meaningfully across the lines between the various theories of the atonement. The Reconciling Wisdom of God genuinely reframes the debate around the atonement in terms of God’s wisdom, making it a vital contribution to this essential debate.

Here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Adam Johnson's new book:

The doctrine of the atonement is a matter of telling a story, or retelling God’s story. One can do it any number of ways. At its heart, the atonement is a story, a history; and as with all stories, this telling is an art. 
Gustaf Aulén, a Swedish theologian, sought to move past the division he perceived between the rationalistic Lutheran orthodoxy and the liberal theology of his day. Aulén argued that we should return to the original or “classic” theory of Christ’s defeat of Satan. Building on a number of passages throughout the Bible, this view emphasizes the role of Satan in God’s fallen creation (Eph 2:2), the power he has over us (1 John 5:19), and the ways in which Christ came to defeat Satan, reestablishing us as the servants of God (Heb 2:14–15).
Aulén’s story caught the imagination of the church, and has proved to be of enduring value. Due in large part to Aulén’s influence, the defeat of Satan as one of the primary aspects of the work of Christ is now a staple feature of any work on the atonement, and is one of the storylines that receives the most creative energy from theologians of the atonement today. But Aulén’s telling of the story has its weaknesses, and unfortunately these have proved to be quite significant, precisely because his story was so compelling. The doctrine of the atonement throughout Scripture and the history of doctrine is far richer, far more complex and delightful than this simplistic story would suggest. While such an abridged story may suffice for bedtime, a far greater and more complex story is necessary to do justice to the drama in which we find ourselves.
The good news is that the doctrine of the atonement, much like Lady Philosophy in Boethius’ classic Consolation of Philosophy, lives still in all her undiminished vigor. The splendor of her clothes, however, is “obscured by a kind of film as of long neglect,” and her dress is “torn by the hands of marauders who had each carried off such pieces as he could get.” The problem is not so much with the doctrine itself as it is with the paltry mindset we have brought on ourselves by listening to distorted and inadequate stories. Stronger medicine is needed: a better, truer, and more faithful story. And for this story we turn to Lady Wisdom, because telling the story of Christ’s work from the standpoint of divine wisdom offers us the best and fullest standpoint from which to appreciate the full height, depth, and breadth of this vast, masterful, and saving story of God’s work for us and for our salvation (Eph 3:18).
What we need is a standpoint from which to view the whole scene. This doesn’t mean that it is the best standpoint in an unqualified, objective sense. Only God can simultaneously appreciate every aspect and dimension of the saving work of Christ. But given our finite and limited grasp of this story—this event—the perspective from which we view it matters greatly. A watchtower may be the best point from which to survey a valley or keep an eye out for forest fires, but is a poor place from which to fish.
As with any story, the doctrine of the atonement has certain key elements that must be in place for the drama to emerge clearly, and for the portrayal of the resolution to be deep and compelling. In this case, given the scope of realities entailed in the work of Christ, it is vitally important to have a sufficiently large structure or framework from which to tell the story. We need the full picture, and this picture begins with the primary character in the story: the triune God. The reason for this is that in this case, the main character and the history as a whole are bound together. God is simultaneously the central actor, the source of the setting and every other character, the one around whom the whole drama revolves, and ultimately the one in and through whom the whole drama is resolved.
I will tell the story of the work of Christ from the standpoint of divine wisdom. As we will see, this standpoint more than any other opens our eyes to the full size and scope of the wondrous, epic story of the work of Jesus. More than any other, this account of the history of Jesus the Messiah of Israel gives us a sense of the whole doctrine; in turn it equips us to tell the story in ever new ways, from ever more perspectives, to the benefit and nourishment of the church.

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The Reconciling Word of God is now available in print and digital formats. 

An Extended Interview with Grant Osborne

Lexham Press is proud to announce a New Testament commentary series from respected biblical scholar Grant Osborne. His seminal work, The Hermeneutical Spiral, has become a standard for biblical interpretation. As a culmination of his life’s ministry, Osborne is bringing his theological acumen to an accessible, application-focused commentary. The Osborne New Testament Commentaries interpret Scripture verse by verse, bridging the gap between scholarship and the church.

After almost 30 years of teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) as Professor of New Testament, Osborne gave his final lecture this year. His first post-retirement project is this New Testament commentary series. With the help of TEDS, we were able to interview Grant Osborne about his new endeavor.

Here is the extended length interview with Grant Osborne about this new commentary series:

The print editions of the first two volumes—Revelation and Colossians & Philemonare now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Four additional volumes—Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians—are available for pre-order on Logos.com.