ISIS Seeks a Stronghold in the Philippines

Many have asked about the stability of the Philippines in light of the conflict between government forces and a puritanical Muslim coalition. At the moment the problem is isolated to an area on the southern island of Mindanao. But more than 300 people have died in fighting with the Islamic State-linked group which seized Marawi on May 23. The attack by a group known as “Maute” (the name of an important Muslim family in the area) and its allies on the island of Mindanao is a warning that the Islamic State seeks to build a base in Southeast Asia.

Government Forces

It is important to recognize that Islam is not just now coming to the Philippines. It has been in the southern areas for many centuries (long before the Americans or the Spanish arrived). Notice the mosques with their minarets in the picture.

Marawi Mosques

The beginnings of Islam in the southern islands actually goes back to the seventh century when Arabic traders and Sufi mystics arrived.. When the Spanish landed in 1521, and the islands became part of “the Philippines” (after King Philip) the explorer Magellan found the thirteen (!) Islamic people group already established, each with their own geographical location, language, culture, and aristocratic leadership. For the next four hundred years, the Spanish colonizers remained at odds with the Muslim Filipinos. By the time the Americans came at the end of the 19th century, and a new republic was established, the Muslim clans were an impoverished minority.

The cultural divide between Muslim Filipinos and what has been essentially a Roman Catholic majority intensified in the 1970s. The global rise of a politicized and puritanical form of Islam, combined with local political problems, led to an Islamic separatist movement. The various factions of this movement have at times engaged in armed conflict with government forces. So in the period leading up to the present crisis Filipino Islam has been a unique mixture of at least seven elements:  Orthodox Islam, folk beliefs, a datu (chief or aristocrat) led tribal social structure, a sense of marginalization from the majority, and a growing separatist aspiration.

What is new is the radicalization of the Filipino Muslims by the forces of such groups as Al-Qaida and ISIS with their extremely violent ideology.  Unfortunately fertile soil (both metaphorically and literally) has been found. It is against this background that the battle for the City of Marawi is taking place. It is part of a much larger challenge.

We need to be praying for peace and safety for all the people in Mindanao area. Pray also that the Church will be ready to endure hardship and compassionately share the love of Christ in the long years that now lay ahead for the Southern Philippines.

Here is a helpful article that explains the military situation.

Here is an important analysis from 2016 that should have warned government authorities of the imminent danger. 


What is “Trinitarian Mission[s]”?

To ask about trinitarian missions on the face of it seems strange; almost like asking about a christological gospel — what other kind of gospel could there be? What other kind of faithful Christian missions can there be except one that is trinitarian? The other response I get: Trinitarian missions what is that, some new thing?

The gospels themselves reveal the trinitarian mission as the mission of the church. Luke takes two volumes to narrative it: with the coming of the Son in his gospel, and the coming of the Spirit and the sending of the Church in Acts. The Johannine “great commission” (as it were) records the trinitarian mission in two condensed verses, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22). Matthew captures the trinitarian nature of missions in the Lord’s final mandate to the Church: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). A robust, biblically faithful, trinitarian theology is vital to the church and its mission.

Muslims Ask, Christians Answer – A Brief Review

Muslims Ask, Christians Answer. By Christian W. Troll, S.J. Trans. by David Marshall. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press 2012.

Useful for engagement with Muslims, this slender volume developed during 40 years of interfaith dialogue and study. Its primary aim is to help Christians understand and answer questions Muslims typically ask. Divided into twelve chapters, it covers topics like Scripture, Christ, salvation, the Trinity, and the Church. Each chapter begins with Muslim questions, and then gives both general and detailed explanations from an Islamic perspective. The author then responds with Christian perspectives and suggestions for answers.

Written from a Roman Catholic viewpoint (chapter 10 is on celibacy), the book seeks to be sensitive to Protestant differences. Furthermore, non-Catholics will find that Muslims often ask about distinctly Roman Catholic doctrines. Chapter 7, “The Holy Eucharist,” is illustrative. “Do you really believe that God is present in this bread and wine? You ‘eat’ God?” Understanding accurately both the Islamic question as well as the Catholic doctrine can lead to a more profitable conversation.

Some of the most difficult questions are addressed head on. For example Chapter 4 on “Muhammad and the Christian Faith” wrestles with whether or not Christians can recognize the Qur’an to contain a word from God and to what extent Muhammad can be recognized as a prophet.

Troll’s book has appeared in a number of editions and translations. A companion web site ( contains a digital edition in eight languages, along with additional questions and answers (244 to date).   This should not be confused with the evangelical and somewhat polemical site:

Dense with insight on the most critical questions, Muslims Ask, Christian Answers merits careful study for engaging intelligently and sympathetically with Muslims. The volume has a helpful bibliography and detailed endnotes. There is no subject index, which along with an index of Islamic terms, would improve an already helpful resource.

The Missional Church in Perspective

This book is a must read for those who want the status quaestionis on  “the missional church.”  A flurry of publications in the last few years on the theology of the Church, on the state of the American Evangelical church (including its increasing diversity), as well as on the global church, make this an exciting period for the study and practice of what it means to be the Triune God’s missional people for the sake of our world.

I am reminded of  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s remark that the only choice for the Church is between concrete statement and silence, and that the Church is lying if it only utters principles.  His overstatement can be forgiven (considering the desperate need to resist Nazism in his day).  This is the point:   “missional” MUST NOT be an mere “master signifier” (see Fitch, The End of Evangelicalism?), rather it must result in the concrete materialization of the Church in our day.  That  is the challenge.  May Christ build his church among us in the power of the Spirit and for the glory of the Father.

Expanding the Church’s Vision of “Witness”

John G. Flett on The Witness of God

This quote is worth pondering.  It sets the present mission of the Church in a richer eternal and Trinitarian context:

“Witness is the nature of the Son’s relationship with the Father (John 14:10), the Father’s relationship to the Son (John 5:32), the Spirit’s relationship to the Son (John 15:26), the Son’s relationship to the disciples (Acts 26:16-18), and the disciples’ relationship to the Son (Rev. 7:9-10).  Witness is not something beyond which the community will move in the eschaton.  It is the very nature of the eschaton, for it is the very nature of the history that is the human fellowship with the divine (pp. 224-225).

While much of Fleet’s book is a critique of the use of the “missio Dei” motif  (it has functioned almost like a “Master Signifier” to link it with the fascinating and troubling book, The End of Evangelicalism? by David E. Fitch).  However, in chapter six  (“The Trinity Is a Missionary God”) Fleet gets to his positive construction.  The following paragraph summarizes his thesis well:

“The question of the grounding and consequent form of mission is, first, a question of who God is in himself.  God is a missionary God because his deliberate acting in apostolic movement toward humanity is not a second step alongside – and thus in distinction to – his perfect divine being.  In his economy, in his movement for the human, God lives his own eternal life….Second, it is a question of how it is actual that this God lives his own proper life in the economy of salvation.  Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and humanity, has objectively completed the reconciliation of the world, and he calls humanity to active participation in the fellowship of God’s self-humiliation and his exaltation of the human.  Third it is a question of the accomplishment of reconciliation. The Spirit acts to secure the human’s subjective involvement in God’s act, uniting the human with the history that takes place first in God’s own life and then in the history of Jesus Christ with us.  Participation in this history takes the particular form of a servant.  That is, the community accompanies Jesus Christ in his mission as she herself is an apostolic community – shaped to be so by the witness of the Spirit” (197).

For a helpful reviews of the book see the following:

Deanna Ferree Womack’s review at Princeton Theological Seminary

W. Travis McMaken  at Der Evangelische Theologe

Sarah Wilson at The Lutheran Forum

And for some helpful background to the discussion, see the post by Andrew Perriman:

“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 1

Another View of “the Story”

The value of seeing the theological big picture is well illustrated at the practical level in James Choung’s evangelistic presentation, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In. In my theology classes I have often assigned students to write their own view of Christian story in 200 words or less (which generally elicits a few frustrated responses). In a second stage, I have them revise the story in a smaller collaborative group (still keeping it at the 200 word limit); this helps to illustrate some aspects of the communal nature of theology. Finally, in a third stage I ask them to rework their narrative in some kind of creative and practical way (e.g., with a PowerPoint presentation, art work, or by converting thei narrative into some type of specific application). While one might quibble about details, James Choung’s napkin sketch would have earned an A+.  The book is published by InterVarsity Press, and was recently reviewed in Christianity Today.

The Trinitarian Story in 100 Words or Less

From the Triune God comes a narrative centering on Christ, God’s incarnate Son, and supernaturally recorded in Scripture. This story begins with creation, reports humanity’s fall, Israel’s history, and God’s redemption in Jesus, the Messiah. People, who by the Spirit’s power repent and believe this good news, experience salvation: deliverance from sin, Satan, and death. United with the crucified and resurrected Lord, believers participate in Christ’s Body, the eschatological community that worships God, serves a needy world, and provisionally embodies God’s coming Kingdom. This blessing is for the whole creation, which will soon be judged and renewed for God’s glory.