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.

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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 (www.answers-to-muslims.com) 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:   www.answeringislam.org.

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 Theological Difference

A concise statement capturing the theological difference between Islam and the gospel:

“Broadly the Islamic dictum runs: ‘To know is to do.’ Ignorance, ‘jahilayyah,’ is the problem. Hence ‘huda,’ revelation is the answer. Humans are amenable to law: They can respond to ‘thou shalt’ and heed ‘thou shalt not.’ The New Testament knows that we can know and not do. We have a defiant ability, a recalcitrance that flouts what it quite well understands. It is this perversity which needs redemption. The world is not righted by good advice, but a love that suffers, that bears, and thus only bears away the wrong and can thus forgive. For Christian faith this redemptiveness characterizes the very nature of God as told in ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb.’ This is the ultimate theological issue between the Qur’an and the New Testament, the mosque and the church” (Kenneth Craig, d. 2012 at age 99).

“In the name of God”

Samuel Zwemer died on April 2, 1952 – the day before I was born. This great Christian missionary saw the supremacy of God in all things. The Bible permeated his life. But he also diligently studied the Islamic doctrine of God. At first he drew stark contrasts with the God of the Bible; later he nuanced his view in wise and winsome ways. Unlike many Christian leaders today, he appropriately praised the all-encompassing idea of God in Islam. He even placed the important Qur’anic phrase, the Bismillah (“In the name of God”) on his study wall in Egypt. He also placed it on the cover of his journal “The Moslem World,” which he personally edited for over 30 years. For him the Islamic doctrine of God, in part, was a great strength, but also in its sad deficiencies also a tragic weakness. Zwemer knew that without a vital relationship with the Trinity, God remained unknowable and impersonal. May God raise up a new generation of Samuel Zwemers!

A Leslie Newbigin Read

A little book, most popular during Newbigin’s life time, but neglected today, yet still worth a read, is “Honest Religion for Secular Man.” (The title reflects the 1960’s).

Chapter 4, “Being God’s People,” is worth the price of the book.

He writes that the church is called to be “a band of pilgrims who have heard the word ‘Go’,” but has too often become “a large and solid building which, at its best can only say ‘Come’, and at its worst says, all too clearly, ‘Stay away’.”

The Practice of Mission Theology

“Theology is important – as long as academic theologizing is not confused with Christian living” (Introducing World Missions, 71).

I get the point, but I would push back in the following ways:

1. “Theologizing” at its best is the highest form of conversation and has intrinsic value in itself. It seeks to think God’s thoughts after him, however feebly.

2. When the Church “does theology” well, it is often the contested place where the Spirit leads God’s people into a deeper understanding of “God and all things in their God-relatedness.”

3. Theology, properly understood and practiced, is itself a component of Christian living; it is best not to extract it from this fuller context. The question is how to practice theology wisely and in submission to Christ, with the aid of the Spirit, and for God’s glory.

4. To do “mission theology,” therefore, (both local or global) is a most worthy exercise in which the Spirit may well lead us into deeper insight into the mission Dei, resulting in more faithful Christian discipleship as the Church participates in God’s mission in the world.