Fickle Gods and the Wondrous Clarity of the Law

It’s the time of year again when countless Bible readers are about to get bogged down in Leviticus. It’s easy to quickly skim through these sections of the Pentateuch that deal with Israel’s laws, our brains struggling to stay focused and longing to get back to some narrative passages. We read the minute detail of Israel’s purity requirements and wonder if the ancient audience was just as bored as we are. Could there have been a time and a place where hearing Leviticus read actually held the hearers in rapt attention?

Apparently so, even centuries after the fact. No reading of the Psalms can avoid the evidence that the writers of that anthology – and faithful Israel through them – not only found God’s Law interesting, but even delightful. Why did ancient Israel love God’s law so dearly? It was in Tremper Longman III’s How to Read the Psalms where I first came across one of the powerful answers to this question, an answer that continues to serve me today as I try to read and put myself in the shoes of those during that period of redemptive history. In short, they loved the Law so intensely because of its clarity.

To understand this, we need to step back into the religious worldview of the ancient near east. All of the peoples surrounding Israel would have believed in a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Think Dagon, Baal, Ashtoreth (Ishtar), Chemosh, Ra, etc. These so-called gods and goddesses were not necessarily moral, nor were they necessarily loving and committed to the good of their people. They were deeply flawed like humans, except immensely more powerful. And they needed to be constantly appeased in order to guarantee a good harvest, fertility in marriage, or safety from enemy armies.

To top it off, these gods were fickle and hard to predict. Their will could change on a whim. Elaborate divination ceremonies were needed to discern their wills and to (hopefully) avoid outbursts of their wrath. These divination attempts included things like reading the livers of animals, interpreting dreams, and slapping kings until they cried to see if they still enjoyed the gods’ favor. Ancient Arabs, for example, threw a handful of arrows on the ground in hopes of finding meaning in the unique design thereby created.

Remember, life and death and eternity depended on these shifting signs and their subjective interpretations. This meant that the inhabitants of the ancient world lived in a kind of hell of relativity. Their religious systems taught them that your crop’s failure or your wife’s death in childbirth was due to your failure to rightly appease the gods – whose requirements were always opaque and were always shifting, always arbitrary. How could this not foster fanaticism, resignation, or even madness? There was precious little that was solid and unchanging that you could hold onto. You might do everything right according to the oracles, only to find out after the fact that the gods had mysteriously changed the requirements without telling you. How easy it would have been for the priestly class to abuse this system for its own benefit, while the commoners and kings either gave up or gave themselves over to a life of endless striving and fear.

Into this kind of context came the Law of Moses, not only revealed, but even written in language that could be understood by the people. Written down so that it could be regularly accessible for the entire people group and for each new generation. And it was marvelously clear, on points major as well as minor. Don’t make any idols, take the seventh day off and rest, don’t drink blood, treat the foreigners in your midst well, make sure you rinse that pot when you find a dead lizard in it.

We tend to chafe at the sheer number of laws given to the people of Israel, viewing things primary through our new covenant perspective where so many of these laws have now been fulfilled in Christ. And yet a primary response of the ancient Israelites to these laws would not have been a sense of burden. It would have been a sense of tearful relief, even rest. They did not have to live at the fickle mercy of cruel gods. They had one true and unchanging God, who rescued them because of his steadfast love and who now called them to a life conformed to his clear will – his will that would not change or shift. It was solid, dependable, steadfast, not going to cut their knees out from under them when least expected out of some kind of twisted divine freedom. No wonder they loved the law.

Our own age of diversity echoes the fickle relativity of the ancient gods. Within our own cultures, the changing pace of public morality is increasingly hard to keep up with. Lives are destroyed as one slip of the tongue or keyboard violates the shifting sands of what phrases are now safe (clean) and what is bigoted (unclean). The man on the street must live at the whim of the “priestly class” of academics, politicians, celebrities, and journalists who somehow have the inside scoop on what is newly demanded in order to be a virtuous person.

The interconnectedness of the world also brings with it an invitation to fall into relativity. As diverse cultures increasingly interact, the morality of one is seen to be vastly different from the morality of another. For many, this casts doubt on the existence of a universal morality at all. Then languages interact with other languages, highlighting the limitations, weaknesses, and localized viewpoints of each. This casts doubt on any ability to access universal truth through such an imperfect medium as human language. Similarly, the more exposure you have to other cultures and languages, the greater the sense that it’s foolishness to think that you just happened to grow up with the true answers. Yet just like those in the ancient near east, all must be risked upon our attempts to get it right, to rightly discern “the will of the gods.” It’s not surprising then if some of us also turn to fanaticism, resignation, or even madness in response to this uncertainty.

However, just like ancient Israel, believers now don’t have to live at the mercy of the fickle gods. We have God’s Law and his gospel, wondrously clear and accessible. It proved to be a solid rock in the churning sea of ancient polytheism. It is just as stable of a rock in the contemporary sea of progressive culture and globalization.

In a world with nothing to hold onto, we should conduct ourselves with a certain knowing confidence, always ready to invite those weary of the world’s arbitrary demands to something eternally steadfast. “Don’t you want something solid and truly good to hang onto?” “In all the noise, don’t you long for something that is clear and always true?” “Don’t you want access to an eternal definition of love?” We need to keep our eyes peeled for the castaways around us who already know from awful experience how the gods of this age turn on those who were desperately trying to keep up and get it right. They are in need of rescue and rest. We can offer it to them.

The shifting will of the culture, the contradictory decrees of different global cultures, these are not a problem for us as believers. They are echoes of humanity’s desperate need for something solid, universal, and unchanging. And like a weary ancient near east worshiper hearing Leviticus for the first time, we have God’s word. And it is wondrously clear. So clear, it’s worthy of delight.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Grant Me One Muslim Friend

“The most strategic thing we could do to reach the Muslim world is for every Muslim to simply have a believing friend.” As a nineteen-year-old, I remember hearing the missionary-statesman Greg Livingstone share this insight at a gathering in the Middle East. His point was that the vast majority of Muslims today are living and dying without ever hearing the gospel message and seeing it lived out in the life of a good friend. It wasn’t complicated, Greg encouraged us, so much could change by giving Muslims access to Christian friends who would genuinely love them and tell them about Jesus. The simplicity of this idea gave me courage. Having grown up among tribal animists in Melanesia, I might not be the most skilled in engaging Islam, but by the grace of God, I could be someone’s friend.

Being at the very beginning of my gap year in the middle east, my prayer became that God would grant me one Muslim friend who was open to Jesus. He answered, and gave me that friend in the person of Hama*, the jaded wedding musician with a British accent who would eventually come to faith after many misadventures together – including nearly getting blown up by a car bomb. In my friendship with Hama I learned that the relationally-intense culture of those from that part of the world meant that one close friend was truly all that was needed for full-time ministry. This is because a Middle Easterner or Central Asian almost never comes alone, but with their own large network of relatives and friends. One good friend serves as a gatekeeper to an entire community of those who will be open to getting to know you if you are hanging out with their boy, and who may also be open to getting to know Jesus.

The following year I found myself back in the US to finish up university. After a difficult semester at a Christian college in a very rural area, I transferred to a different school in Louisville, KY, in large part because I knew there was a community of refugees and immigrants from the Muslim world there. Once again, my prayer became, “God, grant me one Muslim friend.”

One day I learned about an international festival taking place at a community center in the part of the city where most refugees were being resettled. I hitched a ride with some other students, excited to see if I could make any helpful connections with the Muslim community.

At some point I found myself at the booth of a local library which offered ESL tutoring to new refugees. Somehow the librarian present found out that during my year in the Middle East I had become conversational in one of the region’s minority languages.

“We need you!” she exclaimed. “We have a newcomer, Asa*, who has almost no English. And he speaks the language you do. Please come and meet him this weekend!” Before I knew it, she had signed me up as a volunteer.

I was elated to hear that there was at least one person in my new city who spoke the same minority language that I’d been studying. Maybe Asa would be the friend that I had been praying for. It certainly seemed like a providential connection.

The next ESL session I showed up at the library and was introduced to the other volunteers. One older couple greeted me happily.

“We heard that you speak Asa’s language! That’s wonderful. So glad you’re here.”

“Thanks, I’m excited to be able to help.”

“We are in such need of volunteers, but we keep getting these dratted Baptists who try to worm their way in to proselytize, can you believe that?” said the husband, squinting his eyes and glancing around the room. “Keep an eye out. Well, have fun!”

This comment caught me off-guard, so I don’t know what happened to the color on this Baptist proselytizer’s face in that moment. But my mouth stayed shut.

Soon I was introduced to Asa, a single man in his late twenties. We hit it off immediately. Not only could we speak the same language, but Asa was from the very same city where I had spent most of my gap year. Before long, we were lost in that particular joy and relief that overtakes two speakers of a common languagge who unexpectedly run into each other in a foreign land.

I learned that Asa was not particularly profiting from this ESL group class (the librarian seemed to have a crush on him) and he earnestly asked me if the two of us could meet separately for English tutoring instead. Between his aversion to the class and the class’s aversion to Baptists, I thought this was a great idea. At the end of the tutoring time we exchanged numbers and proclaimed a barrage of respectful farewells to each other. We both left, mutually elated to have a new friend.

The next couple weeks were just like it would have been with a promising new friendship in the Middle East. Lots of calls, lots of hanging out, lots of chai, cutting up, and talking about all kinds of things. Middle Eastern and Central Asian men love to talk, and the particular Western masculinity that focuses on doing rather than talking is one of many factors that contributes to profound loneliness for most refugees from those regions. We had even begun to have our first spiritual conversations, and to my great excitement, Asa expressed interest in learning more.

This was it, I thought, this was God answering my prayers. Asa was going to be like another Hama for me. I was a busy Bible college student, I couldn’t do a lot. But I could be a good friend to a guy like Asa. I was so encouraged by God’s kindness in providing me with this friendship.

Two and a half weeks after we met, Asa called me.

“Hey A.W., I’m… moving to Boston!”

“Boston? That’s like seventeen hours from here. Why?”

“Well, a friend there said he could get me a job.”

“Oh.”

“Can you come by my apartment tomorrow to say goodbye?”

“Sure, I’ll be there.”

The next day I made my way across the city to Asa’s neighborhood, disappointed and feeling a bit misled by God. Things had seemed so providential, so perfect. Why was it turning out this way? Why must I so quickly lose a friend who seemed like he could become a brother?

I walked up the creaky wooden stairwell to Asa’s apartment and knocked on the door. Asa opened it and greeted me excitedly. He was packing, he said, and he invited me to come in and have some chai. In the tiny living room were two other refugee men, one tall and lanky, named Farhad*, and another short and energetic, named Reza*. As Asa packed his small bags, we began to converse in his dialect about his plans. Farhad and Reza turned to me with wide eyes.

“How is it that you can speak _____ ?” they asked. Turns out both of them were from other regional unreached people groups and were also conversational in Asa’s language. To see a skinny white boy speaking this language was one of strangest things they had seen in America so far.

Asa handed me a scarf as a farewell gift and insisted that I exchange numbers with Farhad and Reza. “A.W. is my true brother,” he said to his two other guests, in the honorable overstatement so typical of his people. I smiled, wondering how many cultures would extend brotherhood in this way so quickly. For my part, I sent Asa off with the last New Testament I still had in his language.

Asa left for Boston and I didn’t hear from him again for years. Farhad and Reza, on the other hand, started reaching out to me. Eventually, we started meeting up regularly to argue about politics, culture, and how so-and-so’s people group was related to that other guy’s people group. Sure enough, God opened the doors again for gospel conversation, and before long we had a Bible study going that would at its inaugural meeting run afoul of Al Mohler’s security.

We eventually lost Farhad when discussing Jesus’ call to love our enemies. “If Jesus requires me to love them, then I will never follow Jesus!” he raged during the last time he would ever study the Bible with us. Farhad’s people group had suffered genocide and centuries of oppression at the hands of the dominant people group of his country.

Reza, on the other hand, kept coming around. He became a dear friend. And he became a brother in the faith. What I thought God was doing through Asa, he had in store for me with Reza. One friend who was open to learning about Jesus. One friend who would in turn go on to share the gospel with his network, both Middle Eastern Muslims and Kentuckians.

God had answered my prayers in a way I hadn’t expected. It had first involved disappointment. But it had ended in kindness. As ultimately, it always will.

*Names changed for security

Photo by Sohaib Al Kharsa on Unsplash

Divinity, Prophethood, Judgement, Cheesecake

“So what would you say are the main differences between Islam and Christianity?” asked Hamid*, taking a bite of the cheesecake we were sharing. One welcome development over the past decade has been a tremendous increase in the availability and quality of cheesecake in our Central Asian city.

Hamid, Darius*, and I had gathered at a nice local cafe in order to field Hamid’s many questions. A new teacher of history and comparative religion at an elite local high school, Hamid often found himself at a loss when students asked detailed questions about Christianity. His personal studies on the internet yielded some clarity – as well as a lot more questions.

Darius and Hamid were good friends, and Darius had shared the gospel with him several times. Though neither of us were sure to what extent Hamid’s questions were for his students or actually to satisfy his own curiosity. But we didn’t find it necessary to press. In an honor-shame culture, this sort of “I have a friend who” framing of a conversation allows seekers to explore hard questions as they weigh the risk of admitting that they themselves are having potentially explosive doubts. If the questions were for Hamid himself, then that’s great. And if they’re only for his students? Still great. At the very least, the truth shared now might serve to create in Hamid’s mind what locals call a “brain-worm” that could lead to more searching down the road.

“I mean, other than what you have already described about salvation by faith instead of by good deeds,” Hamid went on to clarify. “I think I understand that point.”

I sipped my hot drink and mulled on how to respond. We had already discussed the key difference Hamid had mentioned, Islam and Christianity’s mutually-exclusive answers to how a person can be saved. I decided to proceed in a slightly different way than I normally would.

“Well, let’s frame the differences in light of three central tenets of Islam’s worldview: the oneness of God (tawhid), prophethood, and the last day.”

Darius and Hamid leaned in. The three aspects of Islamic teaching that I mentioned are so central to Muslims’ worldviews that they are what a certain historical American document might call self-evident – so obvious to locals that they feel that no logical and honest person can ever deny them.

“When we speak of tawhid, or the oneness of God, Islam teaches a simple unity. There is only one God and he exists eternally as one person. However, the Bible teaches something that contradicts this understanding of God’s nature. It teaches that God is actually a complex unity. Yes, there is only one God, but he exists eternally as three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three persons, or three distinct consciousnesses, are equally divine, and completely one in their nature, essence, and will – yet they have distinct roles and they have real relationships of love and communication and glory with one another. In this way, the God of the Bible is totally different from the God of the Qur’an. You would agree that a disagreement about the very nature of God is about as big a disagreement as you can have, right?”

Here Hamid and Darius nodded their heads. Hamid and I had previously spoken of the Trinity while on a picnic together, where he had asked a great question, one which I had never heard before, “Do the members of the Trinity ever compete with one another?” “In only one respect that I can think of,” I had responded after a while, “In giving one another glory.”

“OK, so the Trinity is a big difference,” Hamid continued, “But why do you say there’s a difference in prophethood? Aren’t prophets just men sent by God with a book, preaching God’s message to their people?”

Here I decided to be a little more blunt than usual.

“Well, the writer of the Qur’an, for his own purposes, took Mohammad’s story and did a copy-paste over the story of all the other prophets. So, yes, in Islam all the prophets seem to follow the same script. They are spoken of as basically-sinless holy men who are sent by God to their own people with the message of God’s oneness and the coming judgment of the last day. The message is often communicated to the prophet directly via an angel or some kind of verbal revelation. Many of the prophet’s people reject their message and go on to suffer the consequences. The formula is very simple and is repeated over and over, whether the Qur’an is talking about Moses, Lot, or others. God is claimed to have sent countless prophets to their own peoples in this same formula until sending Mohammad as the final ‘seal’ of the prophets, with a message for all humanity and an incorruptable book. This is why Muslims think that the Injil is one book, given to Jesus, later corrupted, and why most are unaware that there are actually four Injils (gospels), none written by Jesus himself, and unaware that they are only one part of the twenty seven books of the New Testament.

“The prophets in the Bible are very different from prophets according to Islam. They are presented as sometimes very sinful men, chosen by God’s grace to display and communicate God’s message to his people. Yes, this message involves coming judgement and turning from idols to follow the one true God. But it centers around God’s covenant faithfulness toward sinners – including the sinful prophets themselves whose failures demonstrate that we need someone who is more than a prophet. Prophets also receive many different kinds of revelation, whether seemingly more ‘spiritual’ like angels, dreams, or visions, or whether seemingly more ‘natural,’ like doing historical research or writing proverbs. Some prophets write multiple books. Other prophets don’t write any books at all. For many of our books of the Bible we don’t even know who the author was!

“The difference in prophethood between Islam and Christianity is a big one. When it comes to Jesus, rather than him being the final prophet in a long line of sinless men, each with their own people and book, Jesus is the Word of God and the Son of God himself, the only sinless one after many flawed and sinful prophets, whose coming is the climax of God’s revelation to men. All the earlier prophets point to him positively through their inspired writings and faithful deeds, as well as negatively through their sin and failure – kind of like shadows or signs that point us to the real thing.”

“OK,” nodded Hamid, “That’s prophethood. So how is the understanding of the last day different?”

“Well this one connects again to how a person is saved. In Islam, a person is judged based on a scale which weighs their good or bad deeds. The heavier side determines their eternal destiny, though no one can ever know for sure since God’s mercy is presented as unpredictable and mysterious. So in Islam, the last day motivates people to obey based out of fear that their scale will condemn them, or that God may condemn them for some other reason, simply because he is God. There is no certainty about that day of judgment, and a lot of fear.”

Here Hamid nodded his head. Whatever internet Islamic scholars may say, this is very much what Central Asian Muslims on the street believe and live by. Fear is necessary because it keeps us from sinning which will (hopefully) keep us from hell. God can be won over by just enough good deeds (hopefully) – unless he plays a divine joker card and sends some of the undeserving to heaven and others to hell, simply because he’s God and he’s beyond our understanding.

“However,” I continued, “the key for the last day, according to the Bible, is that we are known by God and by Jesus. That we have a relationship with him based on faith in his promises. And that all our good deeds on that day stand as evidence that he knows us already and we know him. They’re not the basis for our acceptance, done out of fear, but the evidence of it, done out of love and gratitude. The last day for a true believer is not something with an uncertain outcome, but a time when we are promised acceptance and welcome by God, who never breaks his promises.”

Hamid sat thoughtfully, “Thank you,” he said, turning to me. “These differences are much clearer for me now.”

I sat back, grateful that some of that I had shared had been understood, maybe even accepted. Believe it or not, convincing local friends that Christianity and Islam really do fundamentally disagree with one another is one of the most stubbornly-difficult tasks we face when we seek to do evangelism. It was interesting to use the Islamic worldview of oneness-prophethood-judgment as a familiar framework for illustrating these crucial differences. Like the scale vs. sacrifice approach, it might be a way to present gospel truth in a concrete fashion Muslims are better able to understand.

We had been talking for a while by this point and I though we had probably given Hamid enough food for thought for one evening. The cheesecake was gone. Likely, he would want to switch topics to something a little lighter.

“OK, then!” Hamid said as he rubbed his hands together. “Next question. Explain to me the different branches of Christianity – and how to keep them all straight. Google was no help on this one.”

We were going to need some more cheesecake.

*names changed for security

Photo by mahyar mirghasemi on Unsplash

Mercenary Dan

“I’m gonna invite you guys over for burgers, like I said. I make a mean American burger. But uh… well, you know how kids are always finding stuff?”

“Sure, they do find all kinds of things,” I responded into the phone, not sure what my friend was getting at.

“Well, I lost a hand grenade somewhere in my apartment. Don’t worry though. I duct-taped the pin so it’s not dangerous. But all the same, I’d hate for your kids to find it under the couch or something, you know?”

“Yeah, uh, that makes sense,” I responded, trying to sound normal.

How do you lose a hand grenade? Then again, I reminded myself that my friend Dan* was a mercenary. Everyone misplaces items from the office every now and then. Apparently mercenaries misplace hand grenades.

There are really only a few types of Westerners you run into in our corner of Central Asia. There are the missionaries, like us. The kids, collared shirts, and kind manners are usually dead giveaways here – as well as any proficiency in local language. Then there are some foreigners who are there only for business or adventure, but these tend to be a pretty questionable crew who can’t help but stick out by their awkward and sometimes scandalous conduct in the local culture. There are also the security contractors, the mercenaries. These former military types have their own dead giveaways. Cargo pants, scruffy facial hair, sunglasses, large muscles, and a kind of gnarled weathered look that comes from spending a lot of lot of time in the sun and in the dust.

The cumulative picture of this small foreign community is a bizarre one. Foreigners in Central Asia tend to eye one another warily from a distance, not sure whether they should interact, suspicious by default of what the other is doing in this desert on the other side of the world. One writer compared these expat dynamics to the desert moon of Tatooine in the Star Wars galaxy. Sure, there are some good guys scattered here and there. But most outsiders who end up in our corner of Central Asia are running from something, or are some kind of bounty hunter.

Dan and I met while I was out on a date with my wife at a local mall. He and his wife were at the same mall, spotted us as fellow foreigners, and asked us about the very restaurant that we were going to. Unlike most other expats, Dan didn’t seem standoffish at all. Instead, he was rather forward, even asking if they could join us for dinner. A split-second pivot from my wife and me had our date night quickly turn into an evangelistic opportunity with these new friends who seemed desperate for connection. Pro tip: date nights are hard to come by on the mission field, so only attempt this kind of move if you are absolutely sure you’ll be able to make up for it soon.

We sat down to dinner and began learning about their story. Originally from Portugal, Dan had been a gun-for-hire all over the world and had seen some truly terrible things. A serious injury landed him in Scandinavia, where his future wife nursed him back to health. They had been in our city for less than a year. Dan was working for a leader of one of the local militias, and his wife had gotten a job at an international school.

“I am the only person in the country with a license to open-carry a RPG!” Dan quickly let me know, proudly showing me the license itself. I was legitimately impressed.

As we talked, I learned that Dan swore like a sailor, was very proud of his Catholic military heritage, but really only believed in the power of weapons and the goodness of animals. He hated most people. But for some reason he liked me, and we began a unique friendship. Dan would tell me horrific stories of battle on behalf of corporations in African jungles. I would spiral the conversation in toward the gospel. Dan would eventually catch on, “How did you get me to talk about this again?” he would ask, squinting his eyes at me as if I were enacting some sneaky plan.

Dan would try to convince me that I would only be safe if I was packing adequate firepower. “I get it. You’re a Christian, you don’t want to kill people. How about a good shotgun? You wouldn’t have to kill them, just maim them with bird-shot! I can get you a real nice one at a great price.” I would shake my head and try to convince him that knowing the local language and culture and relying on local friends could get me safely into places Dan could never get into with his weapons. And that ultimately I was in Central Asia under God’s protection.

We got to share the gospel several times with Dan and his wife, including the time we facilitated a small wedding for them in the living room of the international church pastor. Turns out Scandinavian common law marriage is not recognized in Islamic societies that demand a certificate from an approved religious official. They were going to have to live separately, so we threw together a small ceremony for them and used it as another chance to point them to Jesus.

This meant a lot to Dan. And during the next security crisis he was sure to call me up to assure me that he had various options for armored convoys at a great price should our friends in another city need to evacuate. Then later on in the same crisis, he called me from the front lines, telling me that the news media was lying. Open warfare was taking place a couple hours from us, bodies were in the streets, in spite of the international media claims that it was just a “coordinated training exercise.” Now it was my turn to be grateful to Dan for alerting us to what was really happening when our own government and media were lying and trying to cover things up.

“Dan,” I asked him at one point. “There’s a little airstrip outside of town. If things got really bad and the airport were shut down, could you manage to hire some kind of Russian cargo plane to come in and evacuate us?”

“No,” Dan said. “I couldn’t do that… couldn’t do Russian, that is. I could get you an Emirati one though. But that’ll cost you. No friendship discounts there, ha!”

Eventually, though not surprisingly, Dan got kicked out of the country. Anyone with an open-carry license for a RPG is bound to get into serious trouble sooner or later. At the time of his departure Dan hadn’t yet professed faith in Christ. To my knowledge, he still hasn’t. He is one of many friends (though admittedly one of the more colorful ones) that God brought across our path for a short time and that we tried to share faithfully with. Even with our focus of reaching our Central Asian friends, we’ve never wanted to turn a blind eye to the gospel opportunities with others that may come about. Even if those opportunities are with those we never imagined we’d become friends with – like Catholic burger-cooking mercenaries.

Dan never found the grenade. We never had those burgers he promised. But given the strange way our paths crossed, I have a lot of hope that wherever he ends up God will bring him more believing friends who keep spiraling the conversation back to the gospel. And I pray that even mercenary Dan, who hates most people and has seen so much death, will one day be transformed.

*name changed for security

Photo by Sven Verweij on Unsplash

When My Iranian Friend Took Mohler’s Parking Spot

The year before I got married was the only time I lived on campus at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during my studies there. Two single men from my church had an opening for a roommate, and it proved to be a great opportunity for fellowship as well as saving some money for marriage.

At the time, a group of us were attempting to get a Bible study going among Iranian refugees in Louisville. My roommates agreed that we could host the first one. The only problem was that the individual buildings on campus didn’t have separate addresses. This meant that we could only give the main campus address to our Iranian friends for them to navigate their way there. The plan was for them to call us once they arrived somewhere on campus and for us to direct them to our hall.

I was excited for this Bible study to begin, and while we waited I prepped some chai in the coffee maker and fried up some chicken. Soon, a couple of the attendees arrived. We waited to get started until another new friend, Reza*, had arrived. He seemed to be taking longer than he should. Maybe he had gotten lost?

My cell phone rang from a number I didn’t recognize.

“Hello?”

“Hi, this is campus po-lees,” began the thick Kentucky accent. “Are you A.W.?”

“I am. Is everything OK?” I replied, suddenly nervous.

“Well… I got an Eye-rain-eeun here who says he’s comin’ to your place, but I caught him parkin’ in the president’s parking spot.”

I bit my lip so as not to laugh. Anyone who’s been around SBTS knows that the campus police and staff are very serious about guarding Dr. Mohler’s official spaces, parking or otherwise. Of the hundreds of parking spots on campus, how had Reza managed to park in the only one reserved for the seminary president of all people? I shook my head as the guard continued.

“When I approached him, he took off runnin’! But I caught him and he’s tellin’ me a story I’m not sure I believe. You got some kind of Eye-rain-eeun Bible study goin’ on here like he says?”

“Uh, yes sir, we do. You can let him go and send him over to Fuller hall.”

“Alright, then… well, tell him next time not to park in the president’s spot. Have a good day,” the officer concluded, sounding not quite convinced by our story.

Reza arrived, looking relieved and a little winded. We all had a good laugh as he described what happened.

“I just followed the address on the GPS and it took me right there! I didn’t know that was the president’s special spot!”

“But Reza, why did you run from the campus police?”

“I’m a Middle-Easterner and an Iranian! When the police are coming after us, we have learned to run!” To be fair, Reza’s father had been imprisoned in Iran and Reza had himself to flee the country while still in high school.

We all sat down, passed out the chai, and began our time in the word. We ended up in Romans 5 that day, discussing how in Adam, all die, but in Christ, all can be justified. I distinctly remember when our point landed home for Reza.

“So you’re telling me that I am part of the wrong human family, one that is condemned, and I have to join a completely new human family?”

He seemed very surprised and somewhat incredulous.

“Yes, that’s exactly it!” we replied. “You have to become part of a new humanity, to be born spiritually into a new family by believing in Jesus.”

That day may have been the first time Reza had ever clearly understood the claims of the gospel. Unfortunately, that particular Bible study group soon after fell apart as one attendee claimed that another attendee was a spy – a common reason for group implosion among this particular demographic. However, Reza and I continued our friendship. He later came to faith and is still one of my best friends in the whole world.

The next day I was walking down the hallway on the way to class when I overheard one of the missions professors asking a colleague, “Did you hear about the Iranian who parked in Mohler’s parking space?”

I smiled, quietly enjoying the small disruption our little outreach had caused. From the few brief interactions I’ve had with Dr. Mohler over the years, I’m sure that if he did hear of it, he would have smiled as well.

*Names changed for security

Photo by chris robert on Unsplash

Why We Go Light on Polemics

“You don’t have to point out what’s wrong with our religion. Deep down, we know more than you ever could regarding the dark things in Islam.”

This comment years ago from a Middle Eastern friend has always stuck with me. Over time, it has proven to be sound advice, wisdom that has been borne out in countless relationships with Muslims who are coming from honor-shame cultures.

I’ve never had a personality that naturally goes hard after polemics, which is the practice of highlighting the weaknesses and errors of other religions and worldviews as a method of thereby getting to the gospel. But when locals outright deny, brush under the rug, or just plain don’t know about the the scandalous or dark parts of their holy books or prophet’s life, it is awfully tempting to start attacking these foundations of their belief, even for me.

I am not saying there is never a time to do polemics. After all, Paul says that we “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5). There will be times when we follow the Spirit’s leading into saying something true that makes our hearers very angry – let’s not forget about the example of Stephen in Acts 7. And sometimes a direct assault will land home and result in further questions. But let’s also remember the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4, where Jesus doesn’t take the bait of entering into religious controversy in order that he might more effectively speak to the heart of his hearer. Many times, arguments about controversies are mere talking points or smokescreens meant to deflect from the real heart issues going on.

The main issue I’ve faced with polemical approaches is that they risk triggering a defensive response, where someone is overtaken by the sense that they are duty-bound to protect their community’s honor from the attacks of an outsider, whether they internally side with their community or not. Westerners might feel this way if the attacks aren’t perceived to be fair and balanced. Those coming from honor-shame cultures often feel this fire to defend simply because there is an attack at all – fair or not. This means that someone who might otherwise listen to the gospel can go into fight mode if I start “dishonoring” the creed and traditions of his people – and then the chance to get to the gospel can be lost.

This is where my friend’s comment has proved to be so helpful. By sharing what he did, he let me know that things in Islam’s sources and history like child brides, slavery, wife-beating, the killing of Jews and infidels, the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, and the jihad-gained wealth of Muhammad and his companions are not only known to many locals, but can even keep them up at night. Many Muslims are already wrestling with these things, albeit quietly.

Since this is the case, I don’t have to go to these risky places of conversation early on in my relationship with my Muslim friend. When I share with him about Jesus or we study the Bible together, often he is automatically comparing what he hears with what Islam has taught him. And our conversation can keep on going since no open attacks on honor have yet taken place. Instead, a thousand indirect attacks are taking place and are mounting through the simple explanation and illustration of gospel truth.

Taking a look at how husbands are called to love their wives in Ephesians 5 or how Jesus calls us to love our enemies in Matthew 5 holds up a powerful contrast for a Muslim friend. He must then wrestle with this contrast that his mind is now faced with, the stark difference between texts like these and his own. In this way, polemics are in a sense happening, but indirectly, as a kind of open secret. We both know what is going on, but without verbally acknowledging it we have room in an honor-shame culture to skip the usually-required defense.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for this kind of beginning to eventually lead to an explicit discussion of Muhammad, the Qur’an, or those seventy virgins promised in the Islamic conception of paradise. But the respectful long approach to these topics and the relational credibility established by that point often mean a very different kind of conversation – one where my friend lets me know he’s ready by asking my thoughts on these topics, where he is free to share his own doubts and questions, and where I can say direct things, knowing that they will be heard in love.

There is also a big difference in this area between ourselves and local believers. We’ve found that local believers are able to engage in helpful polemics much more quickly than we are, because they are not viewed as outsiders. This seems to mean that the honor-shame defense mechanism doesn’t trigger in quite the same way for them as it does for us foreigners. This can go too far as new believers from a Muslim background do tend to go overboard with polemics – and at times forget to talk about Jesus. But it generally holds true that they have more of a chance than we do of having their attacks actually heard.

Now, when we’re on a visit and someone publicly goes after the reliability of the Bible, I want to still be ready to respond back with a defense and questions of my own. The door to a kind of “challenge-riposte” conversation has been opened by a local, and to not defend and counter would be viewed as dishonorable. However, even in this kind of context I will hold back on the most controversial topics, knowing that, unfortunately, those from honor-shame cultures can dish the attacks out, but they struggle to take it back without losing their heads. Alas, every culture has its weaknesses.

However, our usual approach to polemics is to go light and indirect, the equivalent of giving a man some roast lamb before we try to take his poorly-cooked rice away. Once faced with the choice, he will want to choose the lamb. But if rice is all he has, he will fight for that bowl of starch with all that he has. Instead, set the lamb down, let him smell and taste it, and then attempt the rice away. This kind of contrast – and timing – can make all the difference.

Photo by Hans Ripa on Unsplash

Fake Beards and Future Believers

This past week Harry* preached for the first time in over two years. One of the only local believers who was present at the very beginning of our church plant, Harry at one point had become a leader in training. Our hopes were high that he would soon become an elder, but he disappeared during a season of church conflict and increased persecution from his tribe. By God’s grace, he’s come back around this past year and has been a steady and positive presence in the church once again. It was a sweet thing to have him preach again, teaching on John 15:12-17, “Friendship with God.” I led worship for the service, playing several of our local worship songs on our beater guitar that sounds half-way ukulele.

Harry is also one of the few locals still around who had met me fourteen years ago when I took a year off from college to come to this particular corner of Central Asia. Somehow the topic of how we first met came up on our ride home after the service.

“So, you remember this song?” I asked as I turned on “Man of Constant Sorrow” by the Soggy Bottom Boys.

Harry clapped his hands and gave a hearty laugh.

“That’s it!” He said. “That’s that ridiculous song you guys sang at the English club.”

My team at that point took part in a weekly English club at the local university. We would typically show a film clip to the hundred or so students gathered in the auditorium and then break up into discussion groups. The problem was the students were mostly very shy and nervous. At that point locals still felt pretty intimidated to be interacting with native English speakers. So we tried various strategies to get them to loosen up, including skits and musical numbers – mostly in vain.

One week for some reason I suggested we do a live rendition of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” from the film, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Perhaps it was my grandmom’s West Virginia mountain holler genes getting the better of me. I was sent to the bazaar to find grey wigs that we could fashion into hillbilly beards and we scrounged up some floppy hats, flannel shirts, and overalls. I played guitar and another appropriately stocky man on our team would be our main vocalist. Three other teammates would provide the backup vocals and the hoe-down dance moves. The performance went off surprisingly well, especially our flourish – when the redneck dancing seamlessly transitioned into Central Asian line dancing. That was, as I recall, the one point we got a little bit of audience interaction. This was appreciated, as it was likely the first time in history that the dance moves of the Appalachian mountains met those of Central Asia.

We finished the song triumphantly – but were met by a room of awkward silence, then a few hesitant smiles. One student started some lonely clapping and we performers shrugged at one another and transitioned on to the next part of the program. Apparently it was too much, too soon, but at least we had had a good time with it.

The one student who clapped was apparently the only student to have also seen the movie. “Better than the film!” He said as he came up to interact afterwards.

As I was to learn many years later, Harry was also in that room of perplexed students.

“I remember you all showing up dressed very strangely and wearing fake beards. Then the big guy started singing and you were on the guitar. I was the only one of my friends who knew a little English, so they asked me what was being said in the song. I couldn’t understand a thing – until the line, I have no frieeends to help me now. I leaned over to my friends and told them, ‘He says he has no friends.’ ‘What?’ they responded, ‘Of course he has friends, who are those other guys up there with him? What kind of a song is this, anyway?’ I just shook my head.”

Apparently Harry and I briefly met that day for the first time, though it would be seven years before we would meet again. Instead, I ended up connected with one of his good friends who had good English. Amet* and I would spend the next nine months meeting up in city parks, walking and discussing the book of Romans, and sitting on the grass while we munched the rice wrapped in grape leaves that his mom would always send with us. I felt sure that Amet was close to faith, but I returned to the States at the end of my year somewhat disappointed that he never crossed the line into confessing and believing.

Six years later I would return to the same city on a vision trip and hear that Amet was now a language teacher for another expat family – and they were having regular spiritual conversations with him. Amet soon brought Harry along, and then got lapped by Harry, who was the first to believe, finally dragging his friend over the line as well. Amet later became a refugee in the West, but Harry stuck around and became a steady disciple.

Harry and I laugh when we remember that goofy bluegrass performance. It’s an odd contrast with the hard road we’ve walked together since then. A road that’s involved being betrayed together by a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Harry’s ups and downs with the church and with his tribe, and our mutual struggle to trust that all this mess is really going to one day result in a faithful church.

Ironically, one of Harry’s greatest struggles has been to believe the opposite of that line from the song – that he has friends who will help him now. He doesn’t have to isolate when things get hard.

He may have many hardships that fill out his testimony, but in God’s sovereignty he can at least begin his story with something funny. “One day these foreign Christians showed up at my university. They looked utterly absurd. And don’t even get me started on their singing.”

*names changed for security

Flatbread and the Kindness of God

It had been a rough six months back in the US. After a life-changing year in Central Asia, I had returned to the States in order to get back to being a college student. My first semester back was spent at an expensive Christian liberal arts school in the cornfields, where reverse culture shock hit me like a locomotive. In addition to this, a long-distance relationship had fallen through, a mentor had died of cancer, and God had seemed to go silent. A friend studying in Louisville, KY, invited me to come and visit his school. The combination of this close friendship, a more affordable school, and city with Middle Eastern and Central Asian refugees caused me to move to Louisville in the summer of 2009.

Sometimes providence shows off. Circumstances fall into place in such an unlikely or personalized way that we can’t help but feel that God is uniquely caring for us as known and loved individuals. Soon after moving to Louisville, I searched the internet for halal markets. These stores are run by Muslims and sell groceries – and particularly meat – that are ceremonially clean for Muslims to eat, or halal. Most cities in Western nations that have resettled Muslim refugees will have a small network of these markets, as well as halal restaurants. I was sorely missing my Central Asian friends. And I was eager to be studying the Bible with Muslims again. So I scanned the search results, zeroing in on a market and bakery that were only one mile from my school – close enough for a student without a vehicle to walk to. Suddenly I leaned in. The name of the bakery suggested that it was run by refugees from the very same Central Asian people group I had just spent a year with. My heart leapt, and I decided to go as soon as I could.

The day I visited the bakery I met Rand*, a refugee from the same people group I had lived with, albeit from over the border in a neighboring country. He was just as shocked and happy as I was when we found ourselves able to converse in his mother tongue. We excitedly told our stories to one another and Rand gave me a precious gift – a stack of warm flatbread, freshly baked in a tanur oven. The smell was incredible, and transported me immediately back to the the windy streets of the bazaar. Not only did Rand bake the stuff, but he even delivered it! Now I was feeling spoiled. He was heading out to deliver his bread to the Middle Eastern restaurants in town, so we said goodbye and I promised to come and see him soon. I turned out of the bakery section of the building and starting exploring the small market.

The market was run by a kind family from Afghanistan. I had never had any friends from that country, and they became my first. Both my focus people group and Afghans are from the Persian-related swathe of Central Asia, and I was amazed to find how much of their culture and vocab was similar to what I had learned thousands of miles away. I gleefully picked up some looseleaf tea and spices to make the local chai I had learned – half earl grey, half black Ceylon, a little bit of cinnamon and cardamom and plenty of sugar. I stepped out of that market beaming, walking home awash in a sense of God’s kindness toward me. A halal market and bakery only one mile from where I lived! New friends from Central Asia! And a chance to step back into a part of the world I had come to love deeply, and which was beginning to shape me deeply in turn.

Nothing very dramatic ever happened at that halal market and bakery, but several very good things did. I got into conversations about Jesus with the Afghan family. I met some new friends there from my focus people group. I helped support refugee businesses by buying tea, happy cow cheese, and flatbread. I took a cute girl on one of our first dates there (a girl who would one day become my wife). That day it was snowing and we had a lovely walk through the snow to the bakery where I got to introduce her to the wonders of warm Central Asian naan and hot chai.

After only a year or so, Randy and his family moved out of state, and it wasn’t long afterward that the market closed also. There’s a very high turnover rate among small businesses like these. I missed visiting them, though by this time I had also found a dozen other Central Asian-owned businesses within a couple miles of my school – much to the surprise of even the missions professors. Iranians in particular are very good at starting businesses in the West that blend in pretty seamlessly, unless one is specifically looking out for them.

But I will never forget that bakery that felt like it was placed there just for this reverse-culture-shocking broke college student who dearly missed Central Asia. In what continued to be a very hard season, it was a tangible sign of God’s kindness – especially that fresh flatbread.

Photo by Syed F Hashemi on Unsplash

*Names changed for security

You’ve Never Heard This (Spiritually) Before

I’ve seen it happen many times. A new believer is sharing their testimony and when speaking of a moment of breakthrough gospel understanding, they say things like,

“I had never heard that before.”

“That was the first time I heard the gospel.”

“No one had previously explained Jesus to me in that way.”

Meanwhile, their longtime believing friend is sitting nearby, with an incredulous look on their face or perhaps a perplexed smile, knowing that that moment was definitely not the first time they had had the gospel presented to them clearly. The new believer represents the first time they understood the gospel as the first time they heard the gospel. And this doesn’t seem to be an intentional revision of the historical record, but an honest representation of their experience. In some mysterious way, there seems to be a memory loss effect upon the mind of an unbeliever when they hear, but don’t comprehend, the good news. Things get blocked out. Then all of the sudden, they’re not any more.

Perhaps you’ve never seen this with unbelieving or newly believing friends, but have experienced a parallel with your own offspring. I know a similar dynamic takes place with our kids.

“Ohhh, why have you never said that before? That makes sense.”

How many parents have heard similar sentiments, knowing that that same truth has indeed been repeated dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in the past? Such moments for the parent are an interesting mixture of perplexity and deep relief that said truth has finally reached its target.

This past week our church plant was studying the person of the Holy Spirit in John 14. In verse 17 it says, “… the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” While discussing what this verse means regarding the truth-revealing role of the Holy Spirit, we turned to 1st Corinthians 2:12-14.

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

These passages are clear. Those who are not yet believers cannot understand the truths of God, because the Holy Spirit and his spiritual understanding have not yet been given to them. The presence of the Spirit in a person is the key that leads to true spiritual understanding and discernment. The natural person cannot understand spiritual things without this key.

I saw it this morning as I shared the gospel with two older men in a money-changing shop – furrowed brows indicating that the message of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus was not quite making sense to them. I’ve seen it for the last three Tuesday nights as a group of us gathered to field hard questions, including those of Darius’* cousin and another close photographer friend. These two former-Muslims/current agnostics are being treated to some excellent apologetics and biblical answers, especially from Alan*, with his scholarly mind and long experience of himself wrestling to find the truth (What a joy it is to see local believers taking a more prominent role in these kinds of conversations). Yet these unbelieving friends grind the gears of their unregenerate minds, seeming to move mere millimeters in terms of actually understanding and agreeing to what we are saying. They will likely not remember the spiritual answers they have been given at this point if they later become believers. And Alan will shake his head when some other guy later repeats the same point and they claim that it’s the first time they’ve heard it.

So what’s the point? Why sow seed that just seems to get eaten by the birds, rich truths that seem to immediately get suppressed and later forgotten? Simply because this is the only way that spiritual understanding comes about – through the unrelenting sowing of God’s word. The Spirit only comes upon those who have heard the words of truth. He does not work without it or around it. He works through his word, period. And from our perspective we cannot see what is going on behind the scenes, which seed is the one that will take root and burst through the concrete. He sovereignly chooses to strike with life sooner, later, or not at all.

To borrow an analogy from Donald Whitney, we cannot control the lightning, but we can set up lightning rods. Lightning tends to strike metal rods, so we would be foolish to not set them out simply because the actual strike is beyond our control. On the contrary, if you want the lightning to strike, then put out as many rods as you can.

It really is OK when our newly believing friends remember things inaccurately. God knows the true part that each and every conversation played and the mysterious ways that the spiritually-dead mind represses things. We can sit back and smile when we have played a part that is now forgotten or even distorted. What really matters is that spiritual truth is now understood by our friends, who are now themselves truly spiritual.

In fact, they are not all wrong when they claim to have never heard said truth before. They just never heard it spiritually.

Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash

*Names changed for security

What of the Miracles Attesting to Islam?

This past week we hosted a Q&A time for the local believing men. For a couple hours, we sat in our living room and engaged difficult questions that they have wrestled with. Together, we attempted to first answer these questions from God’s word and then from other experience and logic.

We didn’t make it through very many questions, spending the time primarily engaging several apologetics issues that local Muslims regularly challenge the local believers with. One very common question is what we make of all the alleged miracles that support Islam’s claims.

Islam leans very heavily on claims of the miraculous in order to prove that it is indeed God’s final authoritative religion. The perfection of the Qur’an’s language – written by an illiterate prophet – is one alleged miracle most Muslims would agree to. It’s also very popular to go into detail about how mysterious Arabic phrases in the Qur’an were in fact prophecies of scientific realities only demonstrated in recent centuries (See the book, “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” for an in-depth discussion of this kind of Islamic apologetics). Islam is divided over whether Mohammad himself did many miracles. His official biography, written in the 700’s by Ibn Is’haq, describes dozens of miracles he performed. But many conservative Muslims debate this, since the Qur’an seems to suggest that the prophet of Islam did no other miracles other than the recitation of the Qur’an.

However, on a folk level, many Muslims maintain that Mohammad did in fact perform many miracles, such as splitting the moon in half at one point, and that Allah continues to give testifying signs that confirm the truth of Islam. Not unlike a Catholic finding a portrait of the virgin Mary in a piece of burnt toast, I’ve heard serious claims that “Allahu Akbar” has been written in the clouds or in the markings of a watermelon skin. Just last night I saw a post claiming that a Muslim scholar drank rat poison after eating some special dates and was unharmed. This was allegedly a fulfillment of a promise regarding said dates from either the Qur’an or the Hadith.

So, the local believers wanted to know, how should we respond when our friends or relatives we are sharing the gospel with make these claims?

“I always ask them, ‘What, where, when, how?'” said Darius*. “It’s all baseless.”

“But what Bible passages can we turn to to help answer this question,” I asked.

The group sat and mulled silently for a second.

“How about Matthew 7:15-20?” one of the other men suggested. “This talks about how we’ll know false prophets by their fruit. The fruit of Mohammad’s life was bad, so we know that we can’t trust his miracles.”

We read the passage together that begins with, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit.”

“Good, and keep reading,” I suggested, “Until verse 23. Notice how it says that many will have prophesied and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, but they don’t actually know Jesus. So there must be another power enabling them to do these signs.”

“The power of Satan?” the group asked. Several of us nodded.

“We have to admit that according to the Bible, it’s possible for people to do real miracles, but with evil power, not with God’s power. Remember Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus chapter 7, how they copied Aaron’s miracle and their staffs also became snakes?”

“Yes! But then Aaron’s snake swallowed the other snakes,” added Henry*.

“So, miracles done through an evil power really are possible, but we can say they will somehow fall short of God’s true miracles,” I suggested. “The magicians of Egypt are soon unable to duplicate the signs of Moses and Aaron.”

“Here’s a followup question, then. Are miracles even enough to validate the truth of a message?”

The group chewed on the question for a moment before affirming that no, miracles alone are insufficient proof.

“So what else is needed? How about agreement with the message of all God’s revelation that has come before?”

“That sounds like 1st John 4,” said one of my colleagues who was also part of the discussion.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Christ is not from God.” (1st John 4:1-3)

Here we spent a little time talking about the false teaching in the passage that denied Jesus’ humanity, and comparing it with Islam, which denies Jesus’ divinity. Even though opposite ends of the heresy spectrum, both are denying key tenets about the person and work of Christ, denying the core of the gospel message.

“So even if false prophets come with powerful signs, if their message denies the gospel taught from Genesis to Revelation, then they are false prophets. Signs must be accompanied by the same message,” we concluded.

“But so many of the miracles claimed by Islam are actually hogwash!” others chimed in.

“Yes, and you can have that discussion if you need to,” I responded. “But you can also just go to these verses (or others like Matthew 24:24 and Galatians 1:8) and show that miracles and signs alone simply aren’t proof of a correct message or religion. And then you can talk about the gospel message.”

The discussion moved on from there to responding to claims that the Bible has been changed and claims that Islam is the final “seal” religion. We ended the night by focusing on the need for God’s word to break down hard hearts, since consistent and clean logic is never enough in these kinds of apologetics conversations.

“Let’s make sure we are responding with God’s word. God promises to use his word in powerful ways, and it is the chosen vehicle of the Holy Spirit, like spiritual explosives. There’s simply no promise that he will use my logic or arguments or experience in the same way.”

*names changed for security

Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash