Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities by Don Little

Muslims who come to Christ face momentous spiritual, psychological and social obstacles that drive many to abandon their faith. Often conversion and discipleship are framed by individualistic Western models that do not acknowledge the communal cultural forces that constrain and shape new believers. Effective discipleship requires a more relational, holistic process of Christian identity development and spiritual formation in community.
In this comprehensive resource, missiologist Don Little engages the toughest theoretical and practical challenges involved in discipling believers from Muslim backgrounds. He draws on New Testament principles, historical practices and interviews with seasoned disciplers ministering in a dozen countries across the Muslim world. Addressed here are key challenges that believers from Muslim backgrounds face, from suffering and persecution to spiritual warfare and oppression. Also included are implications for the role of disciplers in church planting among Muslims. - Intervarsity Press

Don Little offers a needed examination of discipleship among those from a Muslim background in Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities. The book is divided into two parts "Biblical, Historical, and Missiological Foundations for Discipling Believers from Muslim Backgrounds" and "Seasoned Practices in Discipling Believers from Muslim Backgrounds." The first three chapters address conversion and discipleship as presented in Scripture. Little examines Paul's writings and then Luke and Acts in a fascinating look at biblical doctrine and practice.

The chapter on conversion was a delight as Little challenges common perceptions of "being saved" and decisions with the biblical example of transformation, obedience, and discipleship. The following two chapters are an examination of discipleship in Scripture, but reveal that Little clearly has certain focuses, emphases, and points which he desires to make. A thorough and balanced examination of Scripture requires a different book, but Little's introduction of discipleship through an overview of Scripture provides a needed foundation.

The weight of Little's perspective continues to determine the analysis in his chapters on Contemporary Western Evangelical Approaches and Historical Understandings of Spiritual Formation in the Church. Little addresses popular literature on discipleship in a way similar to his examination of Scripture. He addresses perceived strengths and weaknesses in both approaches before turning to the specific topic of discipleship in Muslim contexts.

I was immensely pleased to see Little devote an entire chapter to "Contextualization and Discipleship Within Muslim Communities," and further that he provides a strong critique of Insider Movements and their methodology. While there isn't space to detail the controversies immersing the evangelism of the Muslim world or Insider Movements, it is an issue that every book on evangelism or discipleship in a Muslim context needs to address. At this time it seems that the overwhelming majority of literature on reaching Muslims for Christ endorses Insider Movement methodology or is silent on the controversy. I was actually surprised that Little not only addresses the issue, but does so clearly, stating, "I believe that unhelpful syncretism is more likely to develop, because it is already there in the theoretical foundations, when one adopts an insider approach" p. 116. He goes on to address specific issues stating, "In my experience it is quite rare to find people who have chosen to believe in and obey Christ who want to continue to call themselves Muslims or continue to attend a mosque" p. 118. These statements are to be applauded; however, Little goes on to quote and endorse several missionaries who are indeed involved in promoting Insider Movement methodologies. One of the difficulties in these controversies is that each individual draws lines at different practices and assigns labels and definitions differently. For some, Little's chapter will be shocking, for those like myself it will be a welcome but somewhat unsatisfying entry in the Insider Movement debate.

Little goes on to propose his own model of discipleship, a somewhat complex scheme he calls the Living Pyramid Model. This model, while not offering a practical program or method presents what Little believes to be a balanced, scriptural approach to discipleship in general.

The majority of the book then begins as Little presents and analyzes content provided by 75 disciple-makers involved in discipling BMB's (believers from a Muslim background). Little interviewed each subject (he presents detailed statistics regarding who was interviewed) with the following questions: 
  1. What would you give as a quick definition of discipling? What is it?
  2. How does a believer grow? What is the process that makes growth happen?
  3. How do you disciple individuals in a collective culture? Explore individual versus community.
  4. What is the BMB's  ideal identity in family and community?
  5. What have you seen to be the biggest obstacles to seeing people grow to maturity?
  6. How do you disciple BMB's through persecution and opposition?
  7. Have you had experience with demonic manifestations? If so, what advice do you have?
  8. What are the challenges and opportunities that come through the nature of BMB families?
  9. Let's explore some of the challenges of handling foreign money and foreign support.
  10. What's your integration goal for BMB's? Forming BMB groups? Having them join churches of believers from Christian backgrounds? Other?
  11. What is the ideal role(s) for an expatriate worker(s)?
  12. How do you deal with oral learners? What is the role of literacy in you discipleship?
  13. Anything else? Is there some key thing I have overlooked? Any other comment you want to make?
These responses were then analysed and cross-referenced in a number of different ways leading to a fascinating series of charts documenting the frequency of certain answers and comparing and contrasting the wisdom and emphases these disciple-makers had to offer. The interviews provide a wealth of information and chapter after chapter of fascinating discussion. The information retrieved from these interviews are invaluable and make the book and the discussion within worth the study of every Christian worker among Muslims.

I will be referencing these sections again and again, and found myself informed and appropriately challenged by the varying perspectives presented within the study. While I often wished that Scripture was a greater part of the discussion and analysis, these studies provide the reader with their own opportunity to apply scriptural authority to the discussion. Little's strong perspective does not persevere here, and he reports and analyzes the findings in a clear and objective way; so much so that it is almost jarring when the conclusion of the book abandons the interviews and the objective tone.

Little's concluding chapter is somewhat puzzling as he moves away from the content of the interviews and provides a chapter extolling the virtues of Eugene Peterson's work and perspective and challenging the principles and practices of Church Planting Movements ( of which a number of those interviewed were involved). As a practitioner of Church Planting Movement methodologies I appreciated the challenge, but felt that Little mis-characterized the emphases of what he was critiquing. Again, the length of this review does not permit me to delve into a critique; suffice to say I appreciate Little's emphasis on faithfulness and perseverance with those God has given us to Shepherd while disagreeing with his perception that many focus on speed.

Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities presents a somewhat uneven study of discipleship in general and discipleship in Muslim contexts. It excels while discussing specific issues present in discipling Muslims, and the material present in the appendices, charts, and interviews is well worth the study and purchase of the book. I would not hesitate to recommend it to all of my brothers and sisters working within Muslim contexts and am immensely grateful for Don Little's research. Little's own views on discipleship may have been better suited for a different book, or may have been more gently integrated into the whole. The book remains a valuable resource and discussion as Christians across the world find themselves discipling their brothers and sisters from a Muslim background.

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