Two weeks in Turkey recently left me wondering how a land so steeped in Christian history became 98% Muslim. In the first century, this was the area of Asia Minor, famous for Paul’s extraordinary missionary journeys and landmark churches such as Ephesus and Philadelphia. Today Turkish cities are populated with mosques rather than cathedrals and minarets rather than steeples punctuate the skylines.
The Problem with the Cross
I’m told that multiple factors led to this scenario, but while my cousin and I were touring the country, I began reflecting on the experience of Muhammad – the founder of Islam. Muhammad was raised around Christians and accepted some of their teachings, but was unable to accept the pinnacle event in Jesus’ ministry – his crucifixion. So the Koran recognises Jesus as a prophet who was born of the Virgin Mary and performed miracles including healing the blind, multiplying food and resurrecting the dead. However in Islam, Jesus didn’t die on a cross. Instead, he was rescued by God at the last minute and another man who resembled him was executed in his place (Sura 4:157).1
For Christians, this belief may sound a little odd, but for those who are familiar with Middle Eastern culture, it shouldn’t be surprising. Muhammad was raised in an honour-shame culture common to peoples of the east. In these kinds of cultures, people are shamed for not fulfilling group expectations and seek to restore their honour before the community.2 In the ancient world, the cross was the epitome of dishonour: cursed was one who “died on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23, Galatians 3:13). Though historic records unquestionably testify to the reality of Jesus’ crucifixion under the Romans, Muhammad could only accept stories involving mighty displays of power. For Muhammad, it was impossible for a holy man to die in such a shameful way.
Recently I was sent this image on Facebook from an atheist friend:
If you’ve been in church long enough, you’ll know that the story of Abraham offering up his son as a sacrifice is held up as the ultimate demonstration of faith and spiritual maturity. As the story is told in Genesis 22, God ‘tests’ Abraham by asking him to offer up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. Without hesitating Abraham obeys the voice he hears – escorting his son up the mountain, binding him to a stone altar and raising his knife to kill him. It’s a story that’s all the more pertinent given that Isaac was the longed-for son of his wife Sarah; a miracle of providence and the means through which God’s promises for the nation of Israel were to be fulfilled (Genesis 21:1-7).
For Christians, the story reveals a heart that is completely surrendered to the purposes of God and as such, Abraham becomes lauded as the “father of faith” and a model for all of us to follow (Hebrews 11:17-19, Romans 4:16).
And yet if one were to transpose the story onto at 21st-century context as this image so cleverly does, it appears as a gross and perverse oddity, like something out of a dangerous cult. God comes across as a wicked and cruel despot and Abraham, his deluded follower. Or in the colourful words of atheist Richard Dawkins, the God of the Old Testament is a “petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”1
This month, we’re celebrating 10 years of God Conversations (check out our highlights here)!
Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way:
We’d like to thank you for your support and encouragement in the journey, and invite you to get on board with our next season by becoming a prayer and/or financial partner. Our heart is to reach people with the message that God is personal and he wants to speak to each one of us about his plans for our lives. Will you consider joining us?
Become a partner today!
It was the beginning of 2007. I’d just quit my job at Hillsong College and found myself sitting at a desk in Sydney Australia, wondering how I was going to fulfil the mandate I’d been given eight years earlier: “You have a very specific gifting to hear from God – your job is to teach others.” It was followed up by a dream that spoke using a clever symbol of a broken periscope with fuzzy mirrors. My job was to replace those mirrors with clear ones – to help people see what was so often confused and obscure (Listen to how the ministry began in the first GC Podcast: If God Said it, Will it Always Happen?)
Since that time, the message of God Conversations has gone all over the world via face-to-face speaking engagements, podcasts, books, TV, radio, video and magazine articles.
It’s been a wild ride – one where I’ve experienced God’s incredible favour as well as the guidance of some extraordinarily gifted and generous friends and supporters. So this is a thank you to them: my leadership team: Anita, Pete, Dave, Vicki, and to our staff and prayer team: Jenny, Ali and Zoe. It’s also a thank you to YOU: those who have received from the ministry and encouraged us along the way. Will you join us in thanking God for his goodness and in sending up a prayer for the next season? We are committed to reaching millions of people around the world with the message that God is personal and he wants to be involved in our lives through the power of his spoken word!
One of the most surprising findings of my PhD studies is that a significant number of interviewees testified to hearing God’s voice about a future marriage partner.
The stories are pretty dramatic. One man saw a vision of a blonde woman with two small children. Four months later he met her and her children in the exact place he’d seen in the vision. Another heard God speak audibly about a man from another culture, an experience that provided a way to negotiate the avid protests from her family. Another received a word promising her to a man who displayed no interest at the time, but who ended up proposing just as God had said.
Of course, while there are happily-ever-after stories like these, there’s also your fair share of heartbreaking tales. In my studies, one woman (and I have to admit it’s usually the women on this one) thought she’d heard from God about a certain man and wasted her money travelling across the world to seek him out. She later realised “God’s voice” was merely of her product of her own wishful thinking. Another woman had a vision of her prospective husband, describing his appearance and the location of their meeting perfectly. However after dating for some time, they broke up due to irreconcilable differences. Each time, the result was confusion and heartbreak… and you can start to see why many churches actively discourage prophecy in this area.