Christian witness among Muslims and ‘encroachment ‘

Fred Farrokh has recently published an article titled “Contextualization and ‘Encroachment’ in Muslim Evangelism”. Farrokh is introducing a new, specialised meaning of the word encroachment:

This essay introduces the concept of encroachment as another important fine-line tension which has emerged in ministry to Muslims. Encroachment occurs when Christian messengers enlist and redefine sacred Islamic texts, persons, and identifiers in a way that usurps from the indigenous communities those texts, persons, and identifiers.

Farrokh goes on to explore some popular missiologists’ encroachments—Kevin Higgins and Kevin Greeson being key among them. He also does a fine job showing that re-envisioning the ‘prophethood’ of Muhammad and filling the word ‘Muslim’ with a new meaning are also encroachments. He also mentions how the sword cuts both ways and notes some Muslim encroachments on Christian terms and vocabulary.

The fine insight behind the introduction of this new technical definition—something that has been stirring in my mind for some time—is that communities are the arbiters of their own boundaries. It is for Muslims to decide the meaning of the word Muslim. It is for Muslims to decide the significance of Muhammad being the “seal of the prophets”. It is not for Christian thinkers or missionaries, regardless of their intentions.

One can hope for thoughtful responses to Farrokh’s irenic and well-researched paper.



Sin and Death in *Two Stories of Everything*

In Two Stories of Everything I take a more Eastern Orthodox approach to the Fall. I argue that the main enemy is death, that death entered the world through sin, that sin is a very real problem, but that redemption in Christ addresses more than just sin alone, and that sin is one symptom of death. A colleague and reader, George, asked about this. Here is his question and my answer (with some editing, of course):

Hi Duane,

So, to my first question about your book. I am certain I will have many questions, mostly about Islam, but my first question is actually about Christianity. In Chapter 4 you write that “Christianity proposes that the foundational problem is death.” This really caught my attention, because I have never actually seen it written that way before. You state that sin is a manifestation of death, and state that the problem of death is deeper than the problem of sin.

It is a very interesting way of looking at it. But to be completely honest, I really don’t agree with it. Now my purpose is not to start an argument. It is inevitable that friends will disagree on something. […] So I will be very interested to read why you believe that death is the foundational problem proposed in Christian theology.

Hi George,

Love the question. It is a very good one. Let me outline where I’m coming from with this. […] What I’m doing in emphasizing the problem of death is actually returning to an older, pre-Reformation vision. The emphasis on sin as the fundamental problem is largely a characteristic of the Reformation. And that makes sense in its historical context. The presenting issue for Luther was the sale of indulgences, and those were very specifically purposed to erase a very certain type of effect of very specific sins. So I don’t think I’m saying anything fundamentally at odds with the main gist of the Reformers, it’s just that they were focused in a very specific issue, and I’m focusing on a much larger stage–the entire metanarrative of Christianity.

I’m returning to an older, Eastern Orthodox approach to the problem. At Bible college you were given Bible verses that prioritized sin, and so you were taught that it is the fundamental problem.

However, note that in the Garden narrative there is no mention of the word sin though death is there. Also, note that at the eschaton the last enemy to be destroyed is not sin, but death. Note also that Paul is very concerned with certain principalities which keep the world in bondage. Those are Sin, Death and the Law. Paul hardly worries about Satan–he’s concerned with how Christ is victorious over these three principalities. Also, the great victory of Christ is Easter–Christ is victorious over death. In being victorious over death he can then grant us the forgiveness of sins, not the other way around.

Note also the central role of the word ‘life’ in John’s gospel. In him was the life…I am the way, the truth and the life…whosoever believes in him will have everlasting life…I am the resurrection and the life…and the list goes on. But your Bible college, I’m guessing, did not teach you soteriology from John, or Genesis, or Revelation. And when taught from the Pauline epistles the central concern of Paul with the principalities was rarely, if ever, mentioned. No worry, that is very common. Christians the world around focus on the texts that agree with them and don’t address the ones that leave them mystified.

In the book I use the phrase, more or less, ‘the entrance of death through sin,’ and that is most concise summary of how I view the issue. The fundamental problem is indeed death, but there is also a priority for sin in that the original distrust of God (i.e., the first sin) was the conduit for the corruption of the cosmos.

Another point: an ignorance of the problem of death can lead to a wan view of the redemptive nature of Christ’s work. Death means the child with cancer. Death means human trafficking. Death means the earthquake that kills thousands of people who have not committed any deliberate sin that would presumably warrant an earthquake.

Death does keep us separated from God. Death is the cancer infesting our souls and bodies. Death is the reason that we sometimes do not know right from wrong. Death is the reason that sometimes knowing right from wrong we choose that which is evil, destructive. Sin is giving in to death. Sin is saying no to life. But again, the fundamental problem is death. Killing the cancer–not just treating the most drastic symptom.

Peace and grace! I love these conversations. Hope you are well and send out Epiphany blessings to everyone there.


Al Kresta interviews me for Ave Mario Radio

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Al Kresta, the host of Kresta in the Afternoon for Ave Mario Radio. He’s a sharp guy and always has some good questions. Here is the most recent interview on my new book, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity.

Here is the link to the audio at Ave Mario Radio, or just listen to it right here from my own blog:

The interview with me begins at 21 minutes, but the first section, with John Allen on the Vatican and China, is also very interesting!


Ordination to the Priesthood

On February 18th of 2018 at the Anglican Cathedral of Madrid I was ordained as a presbyter of the Anglican Communion by the Rt. Rev. Carlos Lopez Lozano. Below is one picture, though you can find more pictures and details at the cathedral blog (though in Spanish).

With the Rev. Pete Wait and Rev. Eric Fenton (right), who came form the USA for the occasion

My response to Erin Bartram’s “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind”

Dr. Erin Bartram has written a beautiful indictment of American higher education. She has composed a post wherein she explains how she gave up trying to get that treasured tenure track position in American higher ed. She tells us of her sense of calling to be a professor, her joy in sitting on committees (commendable), and her sense of despondent letdown in never being hired to that coveted tenure track position she felt was her destiny.

It resonated with me.

I have never shared a response to someone else’s blog post here before, but here goes:


I was deeply touched by your wonderful, melancholy post. I have a PhD in Divinity from Edinburgh, which I’m not sure is elite or not. The thing is that while doing the PhD (awarded in 2014) and through now I have been continuously employed but as a minister and missionary in the Anglican Church, which means I always had a steady if humble income (probably similar to yours as an associate professor).

But I, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther, have always tried to keep one foot in the world of academia–teaching “The God Class” (think “Survey of the Christian Faith”) here, “Intro to Philosophy” and “Bible as Lit” there. Most recently my cutting edge research into the lived theology of converts from Islam to Christianity led to teaching–wait for it–“Research and Composition”.

Two years ago I was asked to consider moving to Spain to plant a church here and do some other stuff. With a wife and three young kids it was a big ask. Sharon and I prayed about it. I felt like I had to really investigate all options in higher ed before committing to such a move and so I did. I did the CVs and teaching statements (“I don’t  actually know what that is.” –Pinkie Pie, My Little Pony, sorry for not using Chicago….), I did the “make a video and send it to us…” I did the interviews via Skype or what have you. I did the hours of composing a detailed custom q&a document because I had made it to “the last round”–and that while in Mexico for a wedding of a friend from middle school. Some people encouraged me, saying that my area of research (ex-Muslims) was so avant garde, who could resist? Others said that my main area of research was politically incorrect, as it implied that maybe something was lacking in Islam. Anyway, like you, nothing. Enormous amounts of time. Enormous amounts of energy.

My story is different, though, because for me that served as confirmation that God (the same one my Catholic sisters form the 19th Century were concerned with) was calling us to Spain, where we have now been for half a year. But I did feel that hurt, especially at first. Some positions I didn’t care about. But a few of them just seemed…so good. Like such a right fit. Also, I have friends from Edinburgh who, like you, felt that calling–that vocation–to be a professor, but have not been able to secure those positions. So what you wrote touched me.

I don’t know the answers either, but I do know there is something deeply flawed in higher ed in the USA today. There is something evil in telling everyone they must go to college, for it makes the BA or BS little more than the high school degree of yesteryear. There is something foolish in the proliferation of administrative positions in the American university while the number of professors remains more or less stagnant. There is some transgression in practically forcing young people to accrue large amounts of debt so that they will not be able to move out, get married, and have kids if they so wish. In sum, I do not offer any advice, but I offer compassion–a ‘suffering with’–though not to the full extent that you have suffered. It is limited. But it is real.

And here, for your enjoyment, is that most excellent Pinkie Pie quote (this is what comes from having kids…)


Chuck Huckaby on *Two Stories of Everything*

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Rev. Chuck Huckaby on Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity recently. The two-part post has his review and then an interview. This is from the interview:

CH: You write: “After living in the Middle East for most of a decade, I must say that I find the public religion of Muslims (and Eastern Orthodox Christians) compelling and refreshing. Yes, sometimes it can be confrontational, but the introspective Christianity of the West with its quietism and compartmentalization strikes me as defeatist, bland, and feeble-hearted.” This relates to one of the key elements of secularism, the internalization of belief. You expanded on this in the book, but I wonder if you have seen this done in a Western context?
DM: The word introspective is from Latin and means looking inwards. The response to this is public religion, meaning an expression of religious commitment lived out in the midst of the people. I have seen baby steps towards this in America—it is easier in Europe. A church opened its grounds to local families for a movie night and it was well-attended, for instance. But that was still on the church grounds. I remember doing theology at the pub in Edinburgh with a local church. The deacon, who was quite liberal I’ll say, and I went to buy pints at the bar and this old Scotsman just saw his collar and started telling him about God. The point is he wore his collar in public, and that allowed a space for witness.
I’m in Spain and I wear my clericals several times a week because our cathedral is a very busy place. One day an old Spanish lady stopped me in the street and said, “I’m glad to see a priest wearing a collar! They used to do that all the time!” So obviously she thought I was a Roman Catholic priest, not an Anglican deacon, but it doesn’t really matter. We need to find ways of bringing the presence and reality of our religious commitment into the public world. No, we don’t need to be confrontational and abrasive—though we should realize that God may indeed call us to that sometimes. And here is me as the evangelical preacher who wants a practical application for everything: be deliberate about saying grace with your family when you eat out. Hold hands, bow your heads, make the sign of the Cross. Not to impress people. But to witness to Christ. To witness that his Church is still alive and well and it’s there at Applebee’s or Taco Cabana.

Read it all at his blog Disciple Making in the Historic Church.


Paul Martindale reviews *Living among the Breakage*

I’m happy to share with you Paul Martindale’s very positive review of Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians (Pickwick, 2016). Martindale teaches missions at Gordon-Conwell and the review was originally published in Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Here is a section:

There is tremendous value in reading through this work as it shows how the life within developing communities intersects with new identity formation, the process of inculturating the gospel in a new context, new power structures within the Church, conversion, and the development of new ‘liberation’ and wisdom theologies. 

Drawing from specific case study interviews and a wealth of excellent missiological sources, Miller has helped to expand the field of ex-Muslim studies in constructive directions. Serious students of religious conversion and contextualization in former Muslim communities and church-planting in Islamic contexts will want to read and carefully consider this work. 

Read it all at the EMQ website.