Sunday, February 07, 2010

In the image... of a creative God

For the last two years I have been writing a book. Well, it hasn't been continuous work but the initial writing and re-writing happened a couple of years back and then it's been the last year doing the layout, proofing, proofing and more proofing. It's now available on Amazon:

Below is the introduction to the book... to hopefully show you where it's going.


For many years I have been involved with trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people: young people through the youth groups at various churches, and others through media in the UK. More recently it has been through media in the Middle East and, of course, directly with the occasional person I might talk to about Jesus: everywhere from a transatlantic air flight to a meeting in the street.

I don’t think I do it well. Looking around, I’m not sure many of us do it very well.

Some people I know are much more open and will talk about Jesus with almost everyone they meet… even with a stray customer coming out of the same restaurant in a same lift or elevator. But it’s not how often we share Jesus that matters so much as whether we really do communicate.

When we try to explain who Jesus is to Muslims, it’s pretty hard. And most of us feel we don’t do that at all well.

I started writing this book as a result of attempting to develop methods for evaluating what we are doing in our media communication of the love of God to Muslims. The following methods were developed by a Muslim Background Believer with whom I shared my thoughts. In the process we became friends.

For some time the group I am involved with had been longing for a set of tools to help us evaluate what we do. Someone from another group worked with us for about six months, trying to get his head around the problem. He wrote, we talked, he thought. He talked with Arabs and he tried different methods, but it just didn’t ‘come together’.

However, something in the chemistry of having this friend from that background in our office every day for six to eight weeks worked, and we ended up with something we have found helpful. One of our aims, as a group, is to act as a catalyst for sharing the Gospel with Muslims through media. My colleague Peter said this should not just stay with us, but be shared further with others trying to do the same thing. So I started to write a book.

As soon as I started I realised that I wanted something out of it myself. Even if it never gets published my desire is that it will accomplish the second aim. That is, to help me think through the issues relating to communicating Christ in a post-modern Muslim context. I added the word post-modern because I think it’s relevant for two reasons.

People have talked about this being a hinge generation, passing through from one established world view to another. Though the implications are very different in East and West I think something similar is happening all over the world.

As I see some post-modern attributes in the youth of the Middle East, I also see examples of pre-modern thought among the older generation there. There are two results of this: Firstly, there is a major culture gap between generations in the Middle East. Indeed, I would see the difference between a young person in the Middle East and their parents as being similar to the difference between a young person in the West and their great-grandparents.

Secondly, there is another significant culture gap when Western modernists attempt to communicate Christ to a simultaneously pre-modern and post-modern Middle East. It is as if people from the West attempt to sail through the gap between the two world views, without really making contact.

Much is written about post-modernism in a Western context, but almost nothing is being written from the point of view of the Middle East. So this book is a journey for me to research, and think through, and see what new things God is doing in the region. God is, as He always has been, creatively dealing with the world.

We need to catch some of that creativity in communicating Jesus. This is a journey that can particularly influence the way we communicate the Good News to people from the Middle East.

There has been talk of an ‘online church’ linking believers from the Middle East together in secret. We have been working towards building online communities who have decided to follow Jesus. However, despite many reservations about the institutionalised church, I am not sure how the body of Christ can be anything other than incarnational. We are commended to meet together, and an online community lacks much that we gain from face-to-face communication and physically shared worship.

There is a third aim in writing this book for me, and that is to re-discover my place in the Body of Christ.
Recently I have become somewhat disillusioned with traditional evangelical church structures and communication techniques, tiring of its output of modernist verbiage. Though I am comfortable sharing the Good News about Jesus, I am not sure that the church is very good news for me, let alone the average Muslim.

Philip Yancey shares a similar path, though his disillusionment and re-finding happened when he was younger. GK Chesterton and CS Lewis were the two authors who he felt helped him along the path.

Although separated from me by a vast expanse of sea and culture, they kindled hope that somewhere Christians existed who loosed rather than restrained their minds, who combined sophisticated taste with a humility that did not demean others, and above all, who experienced life with God as a source of joy and not repression.1
In answer to the question Why did I return? Yancey explains:

My career as a journalist gave me the opportunity to investigate people… who demonstrate that a connection with God can enlarge, rather than shrink, life. I began the lifelong process of separating church from God. Though I emerged from childhood churches badly damaged, as I began to scrutinise Jesus through the critical eyes of a journalist, I saw the qualities that so upset me – self-righteousness, racism, provincialism, hypocrisy – Jesus himself fought against, and that they were probably the very qualities that led to his crucifixion.2

If we are to communicate the love of God to the people of the Middle East, we will need to find ways to separate their preconceived ideas (some of them painfully true) of the ‘Christian message’ we communicate, from the person who is both our and their Messiah.

While you are reading this, you will find that there are areas I leave open to discussion or debate. Sometimes those are in places where I cannot personally see a clear Scriptural direction. Other times, I do see a clear Scriptural direction, but know of other Biblical followers of Jesus who see things differently. One of the major differences between following Jesus and being a Muslim is the acceptance of diversity. We should celebrate this. It’s part of our freedom in Christ. He treats us as people with whom He wants a relationship.

Post-modern Christians frequently object to didactic - formal, structured, unidirectional teaching. They do not talk about a set of doctrines, but about a dialogue. This book, then, is an attempt to start such a dialogue.
Richard J Fairhead
Autumn 2007
1 Soul Survivor – Philip Yancey – page 41
2 Soul Survivor – Philip Yancey – page 42-43