Saturday, July 01, 2006

From Mecca to Calvary

Last week I had the wonderful privilege of speaking at a Carl F. H. Henry Forum on my conversion from Islam to Christianity. The event was sponsored by my current church, Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I post it here with the hopes that it would be an encouragement to the saints to remember the work of God's grace in their own lives and to faithfully proclaim the gospel to their family and friends.

10 comments:

Señor Limpio said...

Amen! May the grace of God be demonstrated powerfully in the lives of those who heard you speak.

Anonymous said...

Thabiti,
Thankyou for putting up your testimony on the blog. My wife and I appreciated your frankness and the encouragment of hearing of God's grace in your and your wife's lives.

I would though like to hear your thoughts on the following - I have a number of friends, who embraced rastafarianism, hebrew israelites, and ethiopian orthodox (other men I know have gone to Islam), in many ways I believe as a response to the failure of churches to articulate accurately the gospel of grace in word and deed. The most tragic example was my friend who was under the teaching of the hebrew israelites and died, and I only really got to dealing with the 'mad' things 'Christians' had said to him.

Do you have any thoughts on reaching these friends, and any particular resources and ways to avoid doing 10 rounds about the church and slavery (about which, Saillant's and Raboteau's books have assisted).

Also, about how our reformed churches should respond. In the UK (where I live) with about 2 exceptions, we haven't really been in the battle yet.

In His Service

Colin

FellowElder said...

Colin,
Thank you for joining the conversation. I'm glad that you and your wife were encouraged by the testimony of God's grace in my life.

You ask really good questions. In my experience with most Black cults (Rastas, Nubian Hebrews, etc.), you're primarily dealing with folks who are trying to reconcile African diaspora history, racial identity and some religious expression. Most are making an idol of their racial, cultural and historical background and aspirations. If they're at all like I was, the legitimacy of any racial teaching depended in good measure on the extent to which it affirmed my own view of "blackness."

So... three general thoughts for you. And praise God that you're wanting to be in fray on this! May He give you much fruit for His glory!

1. Resist the temptation to offer an apologetic for the historical abuses against African peoples in the name of Christ. Lament it with your friends, denounce it as sad evidence that in many cases such persons have not understood what it means to be Christian. You'll be better off not attempting a "comeback" on this issue. Rather, point out that we never judge the truth of a system by the behavior of its adherents. If that were the case, Rastafarianism crumbled with the 1974 military revolt agains Haille Selassie;

2. Resist the temptation to affirm or remain silent on idolatrous views of race. This will be difficult for many... who may feel some guilt or a certain lack of "moral authority" on such questions. But remember, we're told what men are. We are made in God's image, every "race" of man is made from the same blood (Acts 17), and we're all sinners. Don't be shy about pointing out idolatrous, self-worshipping, and self-justifying ideas about race. If the thinking seems to be wrong to you, point it out. And welcome their input on your thinking. But try to keep the conversation on their personal problem with God--their sin and need for a Savior--and off some group identity that creates cover for all kinds of sinful thinking.

3. Hold out the gospel clearly and consistently. You alluded to the need for this. Ultimately, I'm glad that winning our friends doesn't depend on our clever persuasion. Rather, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. Apply the gospel to their lives as the Lord gives you opportunity.

A couple other particulars...
1. Try and discern whether your friends are Rasta in ideology or religion or both. "Every Rasta ain't dread, and every dread and Rasta." There are many who claim to be Rastas who would not at all represent a clear religious perspective, they're "folk" Rastas in a sense.

2. Assuming your friends are of a more religious stripe, you might ask your Rasta friends to consider the geneologies of scripture... that there is no mention of a messianic king from Ethiopia and that the messianic hopes are all fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The key text you'll have to interpret for them is Psalm 87:4-6 (and portions of Rev. 5 and 11), which somehow Rastas believe point to the coronation of Selassie and his second coming. You might also point out the many NT passages that make it clear that there is no other appearance of Christ to be expected other than His coming in judgment. Some believe Selassie to be another incarnation of Jesus.

2. Here's a good primer on Ethiopian Orthodox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethiopian_Orthodox_Tewahedo_Church), which has its roots in the Ethiopian Coptic church until 1959 I believe. Here's a second site sponsored by the church with a great deal more information (http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/english/indexenglish.htm).

Brother, I hope this helps in some way. Be patient. Be faithful with the gospel. I heard street preachers and Christian schoolmates sharing with me for years before the Lord would bring me to faith. God's arm is not shortened such that He cannot save.

Grace and peace,
Thabiti

Alex Chediak said...

Thabiti,

I am having trouble downloading your testimony. Perhaps I am the only one. I tried with Firefox and Internet Explorer. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

BTW, thanks for being willing to review my With One Voice book. I welcome any feedback, brother.

Blessings,
Alex

FellowElder said...

Alex,
you might try going to the CHBC website directly (www.capitolhillbaptist.org). You'll see it there in the middle of the page under "Henry Forum Lectures." I'm using Explorer as well and it seems to be working. I'm afraid this is above my rather unsophisticated technological know-how.
Thabiti

Anonymous said...

Thabiti,

Thankyou for your thoughts - after a move to a new city and workplace, I have had numerous opportunities of witness with friends who have an 'black consciousness' critique of our faith. My 3 year old daughter's friend is related to the most radical black leader in the city (he once called Nelson Mandela a 'sellout') - I am yet to speak with him, but see him at various community functions and if I ever do it will be a very interesting conversation.

I completely agree, with your point about not defending the evils perpertrated in the name of Christianity - and just to agree with the points made. From what you have said on a previous blog, I think we may disagree on the issue of reparations (I agree in principle - but there are obviously practical issues to be worked out) - this can throw people (especially as I am white !)

And yes, to get the conversation onto the gospel is the main thing - sadly some of my friends have not only have historical arguements against our faith, but sadly have arguements from the current behaviour of Christians - so some 'clearing away of the undergrowth', so to speak, has to be done.

One thing that encourages me is that I feel many friends are seeking - again your testimony as one who sat where they have sat encourages me.

If you had one (or more) thing(s)that churches could do, to seek to witness to and reach men and women of these views (obviously in addition to the faithful, accurate, prayer soaked preaching of the gospel), what would it be ?

Colin

FellowElder said...

Colin wrote:
"If you had one (or more) thing(s)that churches could do, to seek to witness to and reach men and women of these views (obviously in addition to the faithful, accurate, prayer soaked preaching of the gospel), what would it be?"

Just two quick thoughts, neither of which are magical program type answers. I hope they're encouraging.
1. "To bring forth fruit worthy of repentance." Be honest and repentant about injustice. The sting of your friends' and my friends' critiques derives its strength from the "know nothingness" that many Christians try to maintain where injustice is concerned. One of the main reasons that radical black nationalists (and theological liberals for that matter) are able to have any sway whatsoever is that theologically conservative, gospel-believing Christians pretend such ignorance when it comes to historical and contemporary injustice. Were we able to muster a solid, biblical theology of social justice--one that did not neuter the gospel or make it secondary--and to act in accord with that theology, we would do much to put both groups out of business in a generation. Maybe that's a bit pollyanna... but you get my point. If we'd tell the truth, confess our sins, and get about the business of demonstrating repentance by fighting against legitimate injustices we would be well ahead of where we are now (Zech. 7:9-10). Our claims to be Christians would be so much more compelling.

2. Be patient and loving. If we're going to reach out to folks like me (of 12 years ago, or like your friend who thinks Mandela is a "sell out" - wow!), we're going to have take A LOT of barbs, insults, and attacks. We're going to have to be willing to hang in there when there is NO visible fruit from folks who treat you like an enemy. But if Christians do that, if the church does that, then I trust that for many people love will win out to praise of God the Father (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12). And remember, the worldview produced by Afrocentrism, Negritude, the New Negro, Black Consciousness and the like does not hold water. Sooner or later, the person involved will come to the end of the false hopes held out by a mythic view of the world. Then they'll be wanting real answers, with real hope, that lead to the One Real God. Let's be ready to give an answer when that happens!

Thabiti
BTW, I'm not opposed to reparations. I think that earlier post raised the question of whether or not the Episcopal church should pay its own members for the sins of slavery. If I'm an American Episcopalian, I'm a bit more concerned about some other gospel-denying developments right now. Certainly issue the apology, certainly think about a Christian strategy of repentance, but I'm not sure about the specific proposal. Seems well short of the needed remedy to me.

Anonymous said...

Thabiti,

Again much food for thought. I agree we need to look at developing a clearer and more solid, ‘biblical theology of social justice’, without putting everything down to personal responsibility and ignoring the reality of racism, class discrimination and privilege – and I am not for one second saying that personal responsibility is not vital, it is just not the whole story. I agree too, that this would answer, many of our critics.

One thing you did not mention which I think is vital is how we need to develop multi ethnic churches and leaderships(in the UK, in our cities there are no real mono ethnic communities – which I have seen in the US). One of the difficulties I have in my city is that there are no black leaders in the conservative / reformed churches in my city. To invite a friend holding the views we have spoken of, to one of our church meetings, whilst they may be challenged by the gospel, and God in His grace may save them there and then, I also know what I think when I step into some of ‘our’ churches and no one speaks to me and the congregation is from a different social class to me… and I will spend eternity with them. If our reformed churches are serious, we need to develop congregations and leaderships which reflect the neighbourhoods in our cities, and be serious and intentional about doing this by God’s grace.

I always remember at the end of Alex Haley’s Malcolm X book, where Malcolm goes to Mecca, after he has left the Nation and meets muslims of all ethnicities. Whilst I’m sure we would question some of this, I’m sure one of the most powerful experiences for the non Christian is to enter into churches like this, which whilst they are out there, certainly in the UK, they are rare. What an answer to ethnocentricism, white, black or otherwise and there are plenty of biblical reasons for seeking this.


Colin

FellowElder said...

Colin, Amen! and Amen! I absolutely agree. Personally, I have great difficulty attaching ethnic adjectives to the noun church. We need an Eph. 2:11-3:6; Rev. 5 vision for the local church and church leaders committed to praying and acting in accord with that vision. What you're pointing to is HUGE, it's a visible commendation of the gospel (John 17:21). Pray that it would be the case in both the UK and the US, and everywhere God's people live!
Thabiti

Anne said...

Thabiti,

I am a comitted Christian, but for various reasons (missionary friend in Duabi, learning Arabic, currently Ramadan) I have been trying to better educate myself regarding Islam. Thank you for your honest and heartfelt testimony. I read "From Mecca to Christ" on Boundless.org, as well as your *Fatherless* article. Thank you for articulating and applying your faith. It has been an encouragement to me.