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“Abiding Mission”, Discipling Muslims

“Abiding Mission”, Discipling Muslims
August 1, 2017 Kara Martin

Title: Abiding Mission: Missionary Spirituality and Disciple-Making Among the Muslim Peoples of Egypt and Northern Sudan

Author: Dick Brogden

Publisher: Wipf and Stock, 2016

Dick Brogden has extensive ministry and leadership experience in Northern Sudan and Egypt, founding initiatives that provide educational training for business development. He is a man of passion, vision and drive that enables him to encourage others on the journey of ministry, and give focus to ministry among Muslim peoples. This experience means he is well-placed to write this book.

While we are starting to see a number of books now give focus to disciple-making among Muslim peoples, broadening the previous emphasis on evangelism, Brogden’s contribution is to draw the link between the nurture of spiritual life in the ministry worker and making disciples among Muslim peoples. This particular contribution is a welcome reminder that there is an interweaving of journeys, that we cannot ‘do’ discipleship without being in a place of continuing our own discipleship.

Borgden builds his thesis in the book — the publication of his PhD thesis — from two perspectives: a study of John 15:1–17, and an examination of the lives of a number of early missionaries in the Middle East and North Africa. Bringing these individuals into one chapter is a rich resource and reminder of the men and women who have demonstrated faithfulness in disciple-making among Muslim peoples. He includes Daniel Comnodi, Samuel Zwemer, Oswald Chambers, Temple Gairdner, Douglas Thornton, Lillian Trasher, and Lilias Trotter.

“The purpose of John 15:1–17 is to reveal Jesus’ methodology for disciple-making” (p.7) according to Brogden, and he then goes on to build his argument through a word study of ‘abide’ and ‘fruit’ in particular. His exegesis of the passage reflects this assertion regarding the purpose of the passage, and his framing of the Gospel of John as missiological in intent.

Drawing these two streams of study together, we are then taken on an exploration of the practices of ‘abiding’ among mission workers who were interviewed for this study. There is an extremely detailed explanation of the process and methodology of the data collection process that, while necessary in a PhD thesis, is less relevant and actually tedious to a reader of the book.

Team leaders and teams abiding praxis are examined separately, though it is not always clear why, and does lead to a sense of repetition in places. My assumption as a reader is that he wants to show how leaders set the framework for the abiding practices of their teams, though this link is not clear, and the two are used interchangeably at times.

Practices of abiding that were emphasised as formative for team leaders included a regular rhythm of time alone with God — with two hours being seen as a goal average per day — including use of the Bible, worship, listening, music, and suffering, to name a few (28 practices were identified). It was stated that the most common practice of abiding was prayer, though we only get hints of what Brogden means by this (p.138). We know it does not include solitude, because he notes this particularly in the extensive list of practices, saying that it does not play a prominent role in the lives of most leaders.

The primary effect of abiding on church planting strategy was guidance about what to do and not to do, and this is explained in terms of prayer as the starting point for strategy. ‘Abiding gives believers God’s heart for those they are trying to reach’ (p.159).

When Brogden explores team-abiding praxis, he divides it in an interesting way, one that I assume reflects his spiritual background as a Pentecostal in belief and practice: Scripture Solid, Scripture Spirited, and Scripture Sacramental. These are differentiated in the way the team experiences community and prayer, in effect the practice of the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit in the team’s corporate life. He argues that without an intentionality of these practices they fade from a team’s expressions of abiding praxis. For teams, scripture is central to their abiding practices, but there are different expressions of community life, worship and prayer.

Brogden concludes that “[t]he result of this research is a theory of spirituality that posits that missionaries who serve among the Muslim peoples of Egypt and Northern Sudan and abide by continually communing with Jesus, and by lavishing extravagant daily time on Jesus, make disciples” (p.214). The problem I have with this conclusion is that we have no data that shows that this is happening, that disciples are being made. At a theoretical level, a strong case is made for abiding in Christ and for what those practices look like among missionaries in this region. However, there is little or no data regarding the planting of Churches or the disciples being made. While I understand the sensitivity of this matter in this region, the thesis requires some evidence on which to base this claim.

I was excited to see a book on abiding as a practice of disciple-making. It offered the possibility of discussion on an important and often neglected area of study. That Brogden has the experience and passionate engagement himself is clear, however the book was disappointing, overall, for me. The content is lost in the layout and language of a thesis, the theory reviews and the study methodologies. The way they are interspersed throughout the book means there is little flow and this created frustration in reading the book.

I affirm the theme of the book and hope that it could be reworked to capture with clarity the necessity of our abiding in Christ as we minister among Muslim peoples.

Kara Martin is Project Leader with Seed, and former Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College in Melbourne. She is currently under contract to write a two-volume exploration of Workship: how we can worship God through our work. Kara is an avid book reader and book group attendee.

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